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In A Place Where No One Appeared

Chapter Text

This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
- him I knew so well -
there in a place where no one appeared.

- “Dark Night of the Soul,” St. John of the Cross

Chapter One

The planet was crumbling in on itself, fiery explosions from the internal structure that had been Starkiller Base erupting across its surface. Though the Finalizer was moving away from it and toward a minimum safe distance, General Hux had ordered that the viewscreens continue to display it. If these were the final moments of what he had spent a quarter of his career creating, he was going to appreciate them.

“Sir, Captain Phasma’s drop team has reported back,” said one of the communications techs, a young man whose name Hux did not know. “They’re returning to the Finalizer now.”

“Were they successful?”

“They were, general. Kylo Ren is aboard.”

The tension in Hux’s jaw relaxed slightly. Though Ren was always quick to remind Hux that he was not under his command, Hux knew that Supreme Leader Snoke would have considered it another failure if Hux did not ensure his favored pet was returned to him. However, chasing Ren was not among his favored tasks. He would have felt no pangs of conscience in leaving him behind. Phasma, though, he would have missed.

“Very well,” he said to the communications tech. “Have them report to me as soon as the shuttle docks.”

“I would, sir, but the captain expressly requested that you join them in the hangar.” He looked up nervously. “She said it’s an urgent matter.”

Hux’s nostrils flared. His place was on the bridge, where he could witness the death of Starkiller, as was his duty. Phasma was his subordinate and should do as she was told. Yet, if she went so far as to countermand a direct order, she must have had good reason.

“What is their estimated time of arrival?”

“Eight minutes, general.”

“Fine.” To the officer at his left he said, “Commander Odar, you have the conn.”

“Yes, sir.”

Taking a last look at the fracturing planet in the viewscreen display, he turned and strode toward the door.

Innumerable cargo transports, loading equipment, and packs of stormtroopers were moving across the hangar bay floor when Hux arrived. He passed among them, his hands held stiffly at his sides. A few crewmen saluted as he went past, though they went unacknowledged. Hux’s gaze was fixed on the shuttle arriving in its designated landing area. He stopped just outside the painted red circle, the exposed skin of his face buffeted by the wind from the shuttle’s engines.

As soon as its landing gear touched the ground, the loading door at the stern began to lower. Jets of decompressing air shot down, creating a halo of mist around Captain Phasma’s feet as she stepped down the ramp.

Hux raised a brow. He had expected Ren to appear first, to come storming out with indignance. Though he was almost always masked, he had little ability to hide his emotions. He wore fury and impatience as he did his foolish black cloak: ostentatiously. Had he not known Ren’s penchant for lethal fits of temper, Hux would have laughed aloud at his theatrical attempts at creating a forbidding presence with his sweeping robes. He wondered in passing if all the Knights of Ren were so enamored of melodrama.

“Captain,” he called, loudly enough to be heard over the din of the engines. “My presence was required here?”

“Yes, sir,” she said, resting a hand on the grip of her pulse pistol. “We have a situation.”

“One more dire than the loss of Starkiller Base?” Hux asked, curt.

Phasma didn’t reply. She looked back over her shoulder at the troopers that were descending the ramp. There were two of them, each carrying the handles of a field stretcher. Lying upon it was Kylo Ren, barefaced. A long slash cut across his forehead, the bridge of his nose, and down his cheek. His eyes were closed.

“Is he alive?” Hux demanded of Phasma.

“Yes, sir, but he’s unconscious.”

“What happened?”

“We don’t know. When we found him, he was already down, lying in the snow. He was bleeding heavily.”

Hux held back a curse. To the troopers carrying the stretcher, he said, “Get him up to medical immediately. I want the damage assessed and controlled.” He turned to Phasma. “Captain, I need your full report of the situation. What else did you see? He was alone?”

“He was when we found him, sir,” she said, “but he hadn’t been there long. There were prints in the snow leading away from him. Two sets. Smaller and larger. Male and female I suspect.”

“What else?”

“Whoever he was fighting wasn’t using a blaster. It was close combat.”

“No one can get close to Ren when he has that saber in his hand.”

“Unless they had one themselves,” said Phasma.

Hux frowned. “The Jedi are gone, Ren told me that himself.”

“As you say, sir.”

“Is that all?” he asked. “There was nothing else?”

“There were some residual heat signatures on a ridge just beyond where we located Lord Ren,” she replied. “A ship took off there not long before we arrived. I assume it’s how whomever Lord Ren was fighting escaped.”

“Any idea what kind of transport?”

“Had to be an older vessel, sir. The newer models don’t expend that kind of heat. Their fuel cells are more efficient.”

Hux rubbed a thumb along his wrist where he held it behind his back, considering. “Ren will be able to tell us more.”

“Undoubtedly, sir.”

“You did well in retrieving him, captain,” he said. “You are dismissed.”

Phasma gave a brief salute as Hux made his way back across the hangar floor toward the lifts. It was blessedly silent in the small, superfast capsule that took him from the lowest decks to midship, where the medical bay was housed. It was large enough to accommodate more than a hundred wounded, though it was rarely fully occupied. Crossing the threshold into the main bay, Hux saw at least six of the ten staff medics flitting about between screened beds, the thin datapads in their hands displaying the medical histories of their patients.

“General Hux, sir,” said a tall soldier with a nursing corps emblem on his jacket, pausing a few paces from him. “Can I direct you to someone?”

“To the physician attending Lord Ren,” Hux said.

“That would be Medic Andan. He’s this way, general.” The soldier led him to the far end of the medbay, where there was less activity.

As they approached, a narrow-faced man with round eyeglasses—Andan presumably—stepped out from behind a privacy partition. His eyes widened as he saw them, and he stammered, “G-general.”

“You are in charge of Lord Ren,” Hux said. “What is his status?”

“Status, sir?”

“Is he all right?”

“Oh, yes, general. Well, no. I mean, yes.”

Clasping his hands behind his back and raising his chin, Hux stepped close to the medic. Andan swallowed audibly.  “What are the extent of his injuries?”

“They’re severe, sir, but not fatal.”

“Elaborate please.”

“Of course, sir. He, ah, took blaster fire to the left side of his abdomen. It went deep. He lost a significant amount of blood, but we were able to stop the bleeding. The wound has been stapled and dressed.”

“What else?”

“There’s a stab wound to his left shoulder as well, but it didn’t bleed.”

“What do you mean, it didn’t bleed?”

“It was cauterized, sir.”

Hux’s brows rose. “How?”

“An energy weapon.”

“A high-grade pulse pistol?”

“No, sir. This was a puncture wound. It was made by a blade. Likely a lightsaber like the one Lord Ren carries.”

“You think someone stabbed him with his own weapon?” Hux asked.

Andan pushed his glasses up his nose. “Could be, sir. You’ll likely have to ask him when he wakes up.”

Hux narrowed his eyes. “He’s still unconscious?”

“Sedated, sir. We didn’t want him struggling while we replenish the blood he lost. And the pain...”

“I’m certain that he could endure the pain,” said Hux. “What of the cut on his face?”

“It’s superficial,” the medic said. “It was cauterized as well. Lord Ren is very lucky if he came that close to the blade of a lightsaber and came away with only that small wound.”

“Indeed. How long will he be sedated?”

“As long as is required, sir.”

Hux looked down his nose. “And that is?”

“A  few hours, general. He’s very weak. Shall I send word when he’s recovered enough to wake?”

Hux nodded curtly. “And until then I expect a report of his condition every hour.”

“Yes, sir.”

Hux left him, intending to return to the bridge. He had not yet reached it again when his wristcomm beeped with an incoming transmission. “Hux,” he said as he accepted it.

“General, this is Commander Odar. We’ve reached the edge of the system and are ready to initiate FTL transit. We are awaiting your orders for a destination.”

“Rendezvous with the rest of the fleet in the Outer Rim. We’ll wait to receive our next orders there.”

“Yes, sir. Course set. Will you be taking the conn again?”

“In an hour,” Hux said. “I have some matters to attend to.”

“Understood, general.”

Hux severed the link and let his hand fall back to his side. If they had already arrived at the terminus of the solar system, what was left of Starkiller Base was now little more than dust and debris. There would be no more to see even if he returned to his post on the bridge. Resigned, he entered the command for the lift to take him to his quarters. He had not had time to so much as splash water on his face since the previous day cycle. His uniform was wrinkled and the shirt beneath was stiff with dried sweat. He needed a shower and two fingers of the whiskey he kept in his desk drawer.

His quarters, while not richly appointed, suited him. The desk stood across from a large viewport, which afforded a view of the starscape beyond the ship’s hull. Past the aft bulkhead and through a sliding door was a double bed and partitioned space for a narrow shower, sink, and toilet.

Hux bypassed the bedroom, going instead to the desk and pulling out the bottle he wanted. Setting it on the desktop, he unfastened the clasps of his jacket and shrugged it off. Though his superiors at Arkanis Academy would have chastised him for laziness, he tossed the jacket over the back of his chair instead of hanging it immediately up in the wardrobe that was built into the wall beside the bed.

Taking a tumbler, he splashed the whiskey into it. He lowered himself into his desk chair and took a sip. The liquor burned its way down his throat, leaving a pleasant tingling sensation and the taste of oak and peat.

Slowly, he unbuttoned the cuffs of his black duty shirt and rolled the sleeves up to his elbows. He raked his short fingernails down his forearms, leaving pink trails on his skin. Reaching across to the console at the center of his desk, he tapped in a command to bring up the last vid footage of Starkiller.

The planet’s surface was fissured, each crack glowing a vibrant orange as the underground explosions continued to belch flame into the upper atmosphere. And then in a brilliant flash, it was all over. The world shattered into billions of pieces, some the size of starships, others no larger than a grain of sand. It was strangely beautiful, just as the destruction of the New Republic system planets had been. But the end of this world came with neither glory nor infamy. It was a failure, the collapsing and waste of the First Order’s resources. It did not cripple them, of course, but it was a significant loss. Hux had no illusions about the magnitude of his misprision. There would be consequences for this, and they would not be insignificant.

Drinking down the rest of the whiskey, he poured himself another glass. The repercussions were not within the realm of his control, so he wasted little thought on them. He would confront them when the time came. Until then, he intended to enjoy his drink and then spend a few minutes under the scorching spray of the shower.

Most personnel aboard the Finalizer only had access to the gang showers on the bunk decks, all of which had time limits. Water, while carefully filtered and replenished when they had the opportunity, was not abundant aboard a starship. The officers’ quarters, fortunately, had showers with deeper reserves. Hux, who had learned to keep his hygienic routines as quick and efficient as possible during his tenure at Arkanis Academy, rarely spent more than five minutes in his personal shower, but tonight he intended to take his time.

When he had finished the second glass of whiskey, his head was pleasantly humming. Rising, he left the opened bottle and tumbler on his desk and made his way to the bedroom. He unbuttoned his shirt as he walked, casting it onto the neatly made bed as he passed it. He sat only for a moment to pull off his boots and then his pants.

The shower hissed to life as soon as he pressed the button to engage it, hot water stinging his bare back. Hux braced his hands against the wall and allowed it to wash over him. He stood there, still but for the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed, for several minutes, until his skin was reddened and warm to the touch.

Blinking his eyes open, he reached for the dispenser of standard issue soap, its scent unchanged in all the years of his service. He scrubbed his chest and shoulders first, then his arms and legs. He scowled as his fingers brushed over the long scar on his right thigh. It was a memento from his years at the Academy.

Some soldiers were proud of their scars, of the wounds that marked them as courageous, but Hux despised his. In part it was vanity; it marred the clean lines of his leg. But the scar was also bound up in his past with his father, much of which he preferred not to recall.

The wound had not been particularly deep, but it had bled a considerable amount, making it seem rather more severe than it was. Hux had taken it during a live fire training exercise at the age of seventeen. It had earned him a place in the elite, albeit clandestine squadron of the Academy, the Commandant’s Cadets; his father’s hand-picked protégés. Hux’s fellows had had to go to extraordinary measures to secure their invitations to the Cadets, but far more was always expected from the commandant’s only son. Nothing less than an overt display of commitment would do; the more bloodshed, the better.

Had Hux been just a few millimeters in one direction or another when the energy pulse hit him, it would have severed a major artery, and he would have died within minutes. As fortune would have it, though, he survived, and so did the cadet he had stepped in front of when he had seen that she was standing in the line of fire.

The girl had come to him in the medbay after the wound had been seen to and thanked him for what he had done. He couldn’t remember anymore what he had said to her, but she had seemed satisfied with it. As she had turned to go, however, she had nearly collided with the commandant himself.

Brendol Hux was not a large man, but his presence was never overlooked. For as long as his son could remember, he had worn both his hair and beard close-cropped. This despite the fact that both were thick and full if allowed to grow.

“Excuse me, commandant,” the girl had said as she scurried away from Hux’s bedside, leaving him with his father.

Their greeting was brief and matter-of-fact, superior to subordinate. Then, Brendol asked, “What drove you to put yourself in jeopardy for the sake of another cadet?”

Hux had been carefully considering his answer to that question since he had been carried into medical several hours before. If he did not provide the acceptable response, his father would wait until he gave it. This process sometimes took minutes, other times days. Brendol would give no outward signs of the answer he desired. He simply expected that it would eventually come if Hux—or anyone else for that matter—had the capacity to produce it.

There were two kinds of people in Brendol Hux’s world: commanders and soldiers. Soldiers were not required to examine strategy or study the outcomes of maneuvers. Soldiers were to take orders and follow them unconditionally. That required loyalty and commitment to a cause, but little higher reasoning. Commanders, on the other hand, had to have sharp minds and ready answers to the logic puzzles the commandant enjoyed presenting them with. Commanders were capable of providing the responses Brendol Hux deemed correct, even if after some reflection. Everyone else was a soldier.

Even though all the cadets at Arkanis Academy were in training to be officers, Brendol did not consider them all commanders. Those with the true potential to lead, he decided, should be separated from the chaff and given the opportunity to advance unhindered by their lesser compatriots. The Commandant's Cadets were intended to do just that.

Hux had never once assumed that his acceptance into their ranks was a given. He knew from the day he entered the Academy that he would have to prove himself twice over before he was given even passing consideration. And he had spent years preparing for the moment that the opportunity to do so would arrive. At last, it had. He had only to provide the answer a true commander would give.

“She was in charge of strategic operations for our team during the exercise, sir,” Hux had said. “She had knowledge about the plans that no one else in the squadron did. She was indispensable, but clearly unaware that the position she had put herself in placed her in danger. I took the pulse to prevent our team from losing a significant asset.”

“Did you not consider yourself an asset to the your team, Cadet Hux?”

“I do, sir, but I was more aware of the situation than she was. I was only wounded by the pulse. She would have been killed.”

“And you needed to preserve your strategist.”

“Yes, sir.”

Brendol set his hands on the edge of Hux’s bed rail, his fingers curling around the silver metal. “If she had fallen, could you have found a way to finish the skirmish?”

Hux paused, swallowing. “I could have, sir, but I believed the largest margin of victory lay with her plan. It was too late to change our strategy and still succeed.”

“A fair assessment,” said Brendol. “You thought of your victory above yourself. But in the future, cadet, make sure the only man in that fight who cannot be done without is you.”

“Yes, sir,” said Hux.

Brendol had turned, and for a moment Hux had believed that he had failed, that there was still more to do before he could enter the Commandant's Cadets. But then his father had removed a gold pin from the pocket of his pressed trousers. It bore the emblem of the First Order.

“Report at 0500 tomorrow,” he had said to his son. “It’s time you met the others.”

Hux turned off the water in the shower and ran his hands through his hair. Drops of water hit the floor with soft pats, punctuating the ever-present rumble of the Finalizer’s drive core. He dried himself quickly, hanging the towel on a hook beside the door. He took only a moment to appraise himself in the wardrobe’s full-length mirror before sliding it away to reveal his clean clothes.

He dressed with the precision afforded him by years of donning uniforms, one layer after another without pausing to consider which came first or last. When he had pulled his boots back up to his knees, he took a moment to comb his hair. He had never been able to cut it as his father had done. Vanity again. He had gotten his coloring from his mother, a woman of particular beauty, who had always told her son never to be ashamed of his own fiery hair. Brendol Hux had been a handsome man, but not a beautiful one. His son, however, had been told that he was both.

The beeping of Hux’s console drew him out into the office again. Though he would gladly have enjoyed another glass of whiskey, he corked the bottle and slid it back into the lowest drawer of the desk before accepting the incoming communication.

“General, we’ve received a request from the Supreme Leader to speak to you.”

“Very well,” said Hux. “I will see him in the audience room on Deck Thirty.” Licking his lips, he cleared his throat and tugged at the hem of his coat. The heels of his boots snapped smartly along the corridor as he left his quarters behind.

Even the Finalizer’s largest audience room was dwarfed by the space in which Snoke had conferred with Hux on Starkiller Base. There, his image had towered. Here, it was little larger than Hux assumed the Supreme Leader was in life. He had, of course, never had the honor of being in his physical presence. He wasn’t sure anyone in the Order had.

“General Hux,” said Snoke, his voice still amplified to suit a larger image. “I sent for my apprentice as well. Where is Kylo Ren?”

“He is indisposed, Supreme Leader,” said Hux. “He was severely wounded in the fighting and is being treated in the medical bay.”

Snoke folded his hands at the level of his chin. “Wounded, you say? What manner of enemies did he face?”

“I do not know, Supreme Leader. I have yet to speak to him. As I said, his wounds were grievous and he has been sedated.”

“But you know something more.”

Hux nodded. “He was struck with a lightsaber, and I do not believe it was his own wielded against him.”

“No, it would not be,” said Snoke. “This is the work of Skywalker and his Resistance allies.”

“Do you believe Skywalker himself has returned?” Hux asked.

“No, but there is another.”

“The girl from Jakku. The one Ren let escape.”

If Snoke recognized the venom in Hux’s tone, he did not let it show. “Yes,” he said. “She is capable of much more than Lord Ren suspected. He will not make the same mistake again.”

“I’ve no doubt,” said Hux, thinking of the cut across Ren’s face.

“Nor will you, general.”

Hux looked up sharply.

“The girl played a part in the destruction of Starkiller. As did FN-2187, a trooper under your command, who you let escape.” Snoke sat back in his chair, his fingers tapping the ends of the arms. “I know you find fault with Lord Ren, but do not be so quick to forget your own missteps, general.”

“Supreme Leader, I—”

Snoke raised a hand, silencing him. “There is time yet before I am fully prepared to consider what will become of you after this, General Hux. The same will be said for Kylo Ren. For now, he will need time in the coming days to recuperate. He must soon complete his training, but that cannot be done without the full use of his physical body. You, general, must see to it that he recovers.”

“Of course, Supreme Leader. I will assign the best physicians to him.”

“No. You will oversee this personally.”

Hux tensed. “I am not trained in medicine, Supreme Leader. How am I to care for him?”

“You will leave the doctoring to the medics, of course, but it must be taken care of away from prying eyes. Away from the Finalizer. Take him to a secure location and ensure he is attended to.”

“Where, Supreme Leader?”

Snoke raised his brows. “Does your family not own an extensive rural estate near Arkanis Academy?”

Hux’s fingernails dug into his palms as he clenched his hands. His parents’ home was on Arkanis, though he had not set foot there in fourteen years and he had had no intention of returning unless it was the raze the place to the ground. “Is there no other location that belongs to the Order that might be better suited to this?” he asked.

“Perhaps,” said Snoke, “but it will do you good to be removed from the workings of the Order for a time, general. There are things I must consider about your future. In the interim, you will take Lord Ren to Arkanis.”

Hux could taste bile in the back of his mouth, but he forced himself to say, “Yes, Supreme Leader.”

 


 

Upon leaving the audience, Hux returned to the bridge to relieve Commander Odar. There was little to oversee while the Finalizer traveled through hyperspace toward the Outer Rim, but Hux preferred to spend as much time there as possible before he and Ren were exiled to Arkanis. Pressing his forefingers to his temple, he massaged it gently.

The last time he had been at his family’s estate was the day he had graduated from the Academy, the day of the disastrous party his mother had thrown for him. He had fought with his father that afternoon over his first commission, which soured the evening from the very start. Before dinner had even been served, Hux had packed a small bag and caught the first transport off world.

He didn’t attend his father’s funeral three years later, and his mother had long since left the estate in the care of the staff. It was part of Hux’s inheritance, but he had always intended to sell the place the moment he had the opportunity.

“General Hux, there’s a transmission for you from medical.”

Glancing up from the dossier he had been looking over, Hux accepted the handheld receiver. “What?”

“Sir, this is Andan.”

“Yes, and?”

“I, ah, you wanted to know when Lord Ren was awake. He is, sir.

Hux heard a crash in the background. It was followed very swiftly by a bellowing yell.

“Yes,” said Hux. “I can hear that he’s conscious again. Keep him down there until I arrive.”

Another crash. Hux could imagine Andan jumping at the noise and struggling to push his eyeglasses back up his nose.

“Yes, general,” the medic said. “We’ll...try.”

With a distasteful scoff, Hux handed the receiver back to the communications tech, who was looking at him curiously. “I’m needed in medbay. I’ll return as soon as I’m able.”

“Yes, sir.”

When Hux arrived, the medical station was quieter that it had been before, though perhaps that was only because all the attention in the room was focused on the far corner, where Hux knew Ren was being housed.

“Get your hands off of me!” Ren’s voice. “I don’t need your fucking help.”

“My lord, please lie back. Your sutures could tear.”

“I don’t care. I’m fine. I want out of this bed!”

“But General Hux ordered-”

“I don’t take orders from him!”

“I believe you’ve made that abundantly clear, Lord Ren,” said Hux, rounding the corner into the partitioned area where Ren was sitting in a narrow bed, his stomach and chest wrapped with bandages. Hux gestured to the medics and nurses around them. “ They , however, do take their orders from me. And they’re only doing as they were told, which is see to your injuries.”

Ren glared, the cut on his face making him seem somewhat more sinister. “They’ve done that. Now, tell them to let me out of here. I have to speak with my master.”

“You may, if you wish,” said Hux, “but he will have nothing more to say to you than I do.”

“Which is?”

“That you’re confined to your bed until your physicians release you from it.”

“Snoke didn’t say that,” Ren snarled, digging his fingers into the bedclothes that covered his thighs.

“Not in so many words, no,” said Hux, “but he did put me in charge of your care during your convalescence.”

“I’m fine.”

Hux glanced at Andan, raising a brow. “Is that true?”

The medic’s eyes were round with fright as he looked between Ren and Hux, unsure which of them to speak to. He settled on Ren. “We’ve made up for the blood loss you suffered, my lord, but the sutures on your shoulder and side are still very new. You should move as little as possible.”

“You would recommend bedrest, then?” Hux asked.

“For the time being, yes.”

No,” said Ren.

Hux nearly rolled his eyes. “How long must Lord Ren remain in medical?”

“Preferably until the next day cycle, sir,” said Andan. “We need to make sure there’s no other trauma-”

“Order them to let me go,” Ren said to Hux.

“I’ll order them to sedate you again before I do that.”

Ren glowered, his knuckles white as he fisted his hands in the sheets. “I want to speak to Snoke.”

“You may do what you want when you’ve recovered, but until…” He looked over at Andan. “Until the next day cycle at least, you’ll remain here. The Supreme Leader requires you to be physically well if you are to complete your training.”

The fury in Ren’s face gave way slightly. “He spoke of my training? To you?”

Hux recognized the curiosity in him and resolved to use it to his advantage. Like an uncooperative child, Ren simply needed the proper enticement to behave. “He said only that it is my responsibility to make certain you are prepared to continue training when he is ready for you.” Hux offered his open hands. “I am only doing as I was bid, Ren. I am not, and I do not have any desire to be your keeper.”

Ren narrowed his eyes, but his grip on his blankets released as he said, “Fine. I’ll stay here tonight. In the morning—”

“In the morning,” Hux interjected, "if you are well enough, you will travel with me to a secure location where we will await word from the Supreme Leader.”

Ren’s tone grew dark again. “What?”

To the medical staff, Hux said, “Leave us.”

They did.

Hux approached Ren cautiously, lowering his voice. “I will say this only once, Ren. In order for you to continue your training, you must leave this ship. I do not pretend to understand your rituals or your Force, but the Supreme Leader ordered me to take you from here, and I will do my duty even if I have to knock you unconscious and drag you myself.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “It will be far simpler, though, if you will cooperate. So, will you?”

Ren eyed him. “Where are we going?”

“To Arkanis. Do you know it?”

“I’ve heard of it,” said Ren. “Is there an outpost there?”

“Of sorts. We’ll be staying there until you are well enough to begin your training again.” Hux took a slow step back. “Is that acceptable to you?”

Ren nodded.

“Good. Now, I need to know what happened to you during the fighting at Starkiller. How did you get outside the base?”

“I was following the girl and your former trooper, FN…”

“2187, yes. They were both there?”

“Yes,” Ren spat. “Along with Han Solo and his Wookiee.”

“Solo?” Hux asked. “I thought he was a myth, an embellishment of the tale of the fall of the Empire.”

Ren barked a laugh. “He was real enough, but he’s dead now.”

“You killed him.”

“Yes.”

“But not the girl or FN-2187? Or this...Wookiee?”

“They escaped,” said Ren. “I chased them to the forest, but-” He trailed off, clenching his teeth.

His anger, Hux realized, was not only for them. He had allowed them to best him, and he loathed himself for it. Hux was not altogether unsympathetic.

“It was four against one,” Hux said. “They had a significant advantage.”

“Two,” said Ren. “Solo was already dead, and the Wookiee was elsewhere. Getting Solo’s ship.”

“Don’t tell me the Millennium Falcon is also real.”

“Of course, it is.”

Hux shook his head. Unbelievable as it may seem that it was actually present, a ship as old as Solo’s could easily have left the heat trails that Phasma and her drop team had noticed near where they found Ren.

“So, you fought only the girl and FN-2187?”

“Is that not what I said?”

Hux frowned. Gesturing to Ren’s face, he asked, “Which one of them cut you?”

“The girl,” Ren replied. “She carries Skywalker’s lightsaber. And she is...strong with the Force.”

“Stronger than you?”

The look Ren shot him was murderous. “She’s untrained. With my guidance she could learn to wield the Force as I do, but no, she doesn’t have my abilities.”

“Good,” said Hux. “Do you know where she and FN-2187 might have gone?”

“No, but I’ll kill them both when I find them.”

“Perhaps, but they’re not your primary concern.”

“I won’t stay in bed for weeks,” Ren snapped. “I’m ready to pursue them now.”

“You have your orders from the Supreme Leader. Rest and wait for further instruction.” Taking a step back, he said, “I’ll leave you to do both.”

“Why is he sending you with me?”

Hux stilled. When he didn’t immediately reply, Ren turned a cold smile on him.

“He’s removing you from command.”

“Temporarily.”

“And you believe that?”

Hux’s jaw twitched as he ground his teeth. “Goodnight, Lord Ren.”

A dry laugh followed him out of the medbay.

 


 

When Hux returned to his quarters, he summoned Captain Phasma. She appeared not in her usual armor, but in duty fatigues, her head uncovered.

“Good evening, general,” she said.

“Captain, thank you for coming,” Hux said, walking around from behind his desk. “Will you have a drink?” He offered her the half-empty bottle of whiskey to examine.

“I have an inspection to oversee within the hour,” she said, “otherwise I would.”

“Trooper units?”

She nodded. “A few of them have had to be reconstituted after the losses we took at Starkiller Base. I need to make sure the transfers are settling into their new assignments.”

“New assignments,” Hux mused. “Speaking of that, I myself am soon going to be taking up a new post. A temporary one.” The words, reminiscent of what he had said to Ren earlier, irked him.

Phasma raised a white-blond brow.

Hux sighed softly. “The Supreme Leader has given me a special assignment planetside.”

“For how long?”

“I’m not certain.”

“Is he forcing you out?” Phasma asked, never one for niceties.

“It’s a possibility,” Hux replied, “but one never knows when Ren is involved.”

Phasma didn’t bother to look surprised. So, word of Hux’s conversation with him in the medbay had made its way to her. Undoubtedly half the ship now knew that Hux was to accompany Ren off the Finalizer on the Supreme Leader’s orders.

“You have your duties, of course, captain,” Hux said, “but I did hope that you might be willing to take the time to compile an intermittent report while I’m away.”

The corner of Phasma’s mouth twitched up. “Of course, sir. The Finalizer is your ship. You should be kept abreast of what’s happening aboard her in your absence.”

“Thank you, captain.”

“Yes, sir.” Inclining her head, she turned on her heel and went out.

When he was alone again, Hux considered having another glass of whiskey, but decided against it. Instead, he went to his console and pulled up the contact information for the housekeeper at his family’s estate. He recorded a brief message for her, telling her that he would need the house prepared for him and a guest in two local days’ time. It was a short window, but Hux was certain that the guest rooms were kept clean at all times, even if no one had been in residence in over a decade.

His mother had never been one to suffer negligence from her staff, and as far as Hux knew, Lorna Havlis was still in charge of the household. She would have had the preparations laid for a formal banquet in two days if he had requested it. He smiled to himself at the thought of giving her a challenge. She would chastise him for it later, but she would never disappoint him.

However, he would permit no one in the house save for him and Ren. The estate was meant to be a safe house for them while they were there, a convalescent home rather than the rural retreat it had often been for his parents’ city-dwelling friends. Hux wasn’t certain he could stomach spending more than a week with only Kylo Ren and the house’s staff for company, but he was afraid that he would have to.

Going to the chair behind his desk, Hux sat and considered Ren. Though his ability to manipulate the battlefield using the Force was advantageous in some situations, it seemed that his volatility in all others significantly limited his value. He made for a poor soldier; he thought himself above the command structure of the Order. And perhaps he was, but Hux would have found little use for such a blunt tool. He preferred precision, which Ren did not lend himself to.

Hux had been tolerant of Ren’s presence aboard the Finalizer because the Supreme Leader insisted upon it, but he had never enjoyed the man’s company and particularly disdained his affinity for defacing the ship when the mood took him. They spoke to each other only when necessary, which, up to that point, had thankfully been little. Hux preferred to allow Ren to conduct his business unhindered and meet with him, even by chance, as seldom as possible.

He had arranged it so that Ren’s residence was several decks away from the officers’ quarters, and that his sequestered space included private amenities, from offices and briefing rooms to combat training simulators. While he had free rein of the ship, he, to Hux’s satisfaction, did not stray beyond his own realm unless his presence was required by the Supreme Leader or he was embarking on one of the missions he planned and most often undertook alone.

Perhaps that was why it had been so startling for Hux to find him in the officers’ observation lounge early in the day cycle some weeks after he had first come onto the Finalizer. Hux, newly risen and dressed, had arrived a few minutes before Commanders Tryla and Odar, with whom he was meeting. He had expected the longue to be empty, as it generally was at that time. Instead, he had walked in to find a figure standing before the large viewport at the far end of the room. From behind, Hux could not readily discern his identity and initially assumed that he was one of the other officers.

“Good morning,” he had said, clipped, but not rude, as he strode toward the dispenser to make a cup of tea.

“General Hux.” The voice was different without the modulator in his helmet, but not unrecognizable.

Hux stopped, his back stiffening. “Lord Ren.”

“You were expecting someone else,” he said, turning slightly so that the dim light from the overhead illuminators struck his uncovered face.

Hux’s mouth opened, though just minutely. He had suspected that the mask hid a disfigurement of some sort, or at least an unremarkable face that lacked the necessary unpleasantness to intimidate his enemies. But Ren’s was neither marred nor plain.

He was a young man, certainly no older than Hux himself. His dark hair hung to his shoulders in waves that women would have envied. His face was long, his nose straight. He gazed impassively at the planet they were orbiting, though there was almost a mournful look about him. Perhaps that came from his eyes, which were set deep beneath dark brows.

Hux wet his lips and pressed them back together. “I am. The first of several meetings today.”

“Do you enjoy them, these meetings?” Ren asked. “From what I’ve seen, you spend half of your days in them.”

Hux’s own red brows drew in. “You keep yourself apprised of my schedule, Lord Ren?”

“The workings of this ship revolve around several main points. You’re one of them. And you make no effort to hide your movements on board.”

No, Hux didn’t suppose he did. “The meetings are necessary.”

“Yes,” said Ren. He turned back to the viewport.

It wasn’t a dismissal, but there was finality enough about that single word that Hux could have gone then to retrieve his tea, sat, and sipped at it without saying anything more. Yet, he took a step closer to the viewport and asked, “Have you been to Jakku before?”

“Why would I have? There’s nothing here but desert and ruins.”

“Ruins of one of the Empire’s finest Star Destroyers,” said Hux, putting his hands behind his back. “The Inflictor. Scuttled on the planet’s surface to keep her from the New Republic. An admirable decision by her captain, Ciena Ree.”

“I know the story,” said Ren, “though it’s not always told that way.”

“Oh?”

“More than half of Ree’s crew died when the ship crashed. Had she allowed it to be captured, the Republic would have taken them as prisoners. Many would likely have been pardoned.”

Hux eyed him. “The loss of life was regrettable, but would you have allowed the ship to fall into enemy hands?”

“No.”

“Nor would I, though I will endeavour to avoid a situation in which I would have to consider sabotaging the Finalizer deliberately.”

Ren met Hux’s gaze. His eyes were brown. “I imagine your crew is grateful for that, general.”

“Yes,” said Hux, though his throat was tight.

Ren continued to watch him, unblinking. Hux wondered if he appraised everyone so intently from behind his mask.

Before either of them could speak again, the fall of boots on the floor announced the arrival of company. As Hux glanced toward the door, Ren pulled the hood of his robes up over his head.

“General,” said Commander Tryla, saluting. “Lord Ren.”

Hux nodded in greeting. “Commander.”

Ren said nothing. Hux couldn’t see him, but he had the impression that he did not appreciate being interrupted. Though they had hardly been conversing.

“Is Odar on his way?” Hux asked.

“He is, sir.”

“Very good.” Hux turned to Ren. “Will you join us?”

“No,” was the terse reply as he swept past Tryla and into the corridor.

Once Ren had gone, Hux had turned his attention to the matters at hand, but when he had a few quiet moments later in the day, he had found himself thinking of the one curl of dark hair that had hung over Ren’s brow or the glimpses of the slight gap between his front teeth that Hux had caught as Ren had spoken to him. There was an asymmetry to his features, but it did not make them unappealing.

Leaning back in his desk chair, Hux thought of the cut that was now across Ren’s face. The edges had been almost black when he had first been carried to medical, but when Hux saw him again, the charred flesh had been removed and only the pinkness of new skin remained. With the aid of bacta, the scar would soon turn pale and then begin to fade. Hux wondered if Ren would now consider himself disfigured. Despite the visibility of the wound, Hux did not think it was hideous. In a way, it became Ren as it would few other men, Hux among them.

The flash of an incoming message on his console caught Hux’s eye. Tapping the screen, he engaged the playback. Lorna Havlis, his mother’s housekeeper, appeared, though her face was more deeply lined than he remembered.

“Master Hux, we were pleased to hear from you. I will see the house made ready for your arrival. Have your transport contact us when it docks in Scaparus Port. I’ll send the driver for you and your guest.” She smiled, a warm and familiar expression. “It will be fine indeed to see you home again.”

Hux rubbed his face as the message concluded.

Home.

 


 

“We’ll have the ship in order for you when you return, sir,” said Commander Odar, standing across from Hux in the hangar bay.

Hux shook his hand. “Excellent, commander. I expect nothing less.” To the others in the bay, he said, “Odar is executive officer aboard this ship, effective immediately.”

The soldiers saluted him, but Hux’s attention was drawn from them to the figure approaching from the lift. Kylo Ren was, perhaps for the first time since Hux had known him, without his hooded robes. In their place were plain, black pants, a tunic belted at the waist, and a pair of soft ankle boots. His hair was pulled into a knot at the base of his skull.

His movements lacked their usual fluidity, Hux could see. There was a blatant stiffness in his torso, likely the result of the bandages he still had wrapped around his stomach and shoulder.

Medic Andan had cleared him for release from the medbay that morning. Hux had received the report as he was finishing his breakfast. He had replied that Ren was to gather all the things he would need for an extended stay planetside and meet him in the hangar at 1000 hours. Glancing down at his wrist chronometer, Hux saw at he had appeared on time.

“Ren,” he said, looking him over. “Do you have everything that you require? We’ll need to be going as soon as possible.”

“I do.”

“I don’t recall seeing any of your belongings brought aboard.”

Ren looked down at the clothes he wore. “These are my things.”

“Ah,” said Hux. “Very well then.” He held out a hand toward the loading door. Ren strode past him and onto the shuttle, ducking slightly as he passed inside. Hux exchanged a last look with Odar.

“Good luck, sir,” said the commander.

Hux nodded to him curtly before turning toward the shuttle. The interior was dim and spartan. There were only two chairs beyond those of the pilots. Ren occupied one of them already. Hux took the other. At the back of the passenger compartment was a single footlocker that contained Hux’s personal effects.

“What is our estimated travel time?” he asked the senior pilot.

“Three standard hours, general,” the woman replied. “Port to port.”

“Very good. Send word ahead when we depart. We’re expected at Scaparus by later afternoon.”

“We’ll have you there on schedule, sir.”

Hux sat back against his chair and buckled the chest restraints. Ren, he saw, was not wearing his. He was sitting with his hands flat on his thighs, and his eyes were closed. He was breathing soundlessly.

Hux watched him out of the corner of his eye for a moment, wondering if perhaps he would change position, but he remained perfectly still even as the shuttle’s engines roared to life and the cabin began to pitch with the ship’s motion.

Ren said nothing for the entirety of the journey, for which Hux was grateful. He had no interest in discussing their destination until he was forced to.

Scaparus Port was a backwater by most standards, a city whose export had for many years had been almost exclusively young Imperial and then First Order officers. Arkanis Academy had been one of the finest training facilities in the Empire. When the peace and disarmament accords had been signed at the end of the war, it had been closed. The senior administration had lobbied the New Republic to allow them to establish a school for Republic military leaders, but their efforts had been fruitless. The military was not the jewel in the crown of the New Republic, as it had been in the Empire; the senators had no intention of creating an interplanetary fleet sizable enough to warrant the reestablishment the Academy.

When the foundations were laid for the First Order, though—when the few representatives who had spoken for a stronger, more ordered government than a senate had broken away from the Republic—the Academy was once again put to use as the source of military leadership. Brendol Hux, who had been commandant in the last days of the Empire, came out of the retirement he had been forced into by the treaties to oversee the rebuilding of the Academy to serve the Order. It had already been back in service for several years by the time Hux, then fifteen, entered the ranks.

Though the Academy was located near Scaparus Port, the cadets had rarely been permitted to venture outside its barracks. What few trips to the city they took were closely monitored so as to keep the them—young men and women both—from the cantinas and brothels that were hallmarks of any port town. That didn’t always stop them, of course.

When Hux was eighteen, he had been instrumental in orchestrating a plan to lose their supervisory detail. Having always excelled at strategy, he had succeeded. He and four others—three boys and one young woman—had spent the afternoon getting stumbling drunk and spending their meager allowances on the company of whores. They had all been female, however, which had kept Hux at a distance. His preference was for men and had been all his life.

The distance had worked to his advantage as it turned out. The others had had a peculiar itch to explain to the staff medics later that week. Hux, most fortunately, avoided that fate and the four weeks of latrine duty that it earned them. He had been reprimanded for inebriation, of course, but the punishment had not been particularly severe. His father, who had dealt with the matter, had actually been marginally impressed by the ingenuity it took to escape from under the thumb of their security. And Brendol Hux always encouraged ingenuity in his cadets.

After that adventure, Hux had lost most of his interest in Scaparus. He generally declined to join further excursions into the city, preferring to spend the time in the combat sims or reading the classics of military history in the Academy’s library. It was there that he had met Arcan Wile, the librarian.

Wile had arrived that year to take over the post from the older woman who had held it since before the end of the war. He was fresh out of university, which, as Hux would discover, he had finished two years early. He was only twenty years old, and Hux had been immediately taken with him.

He was cautious at first, remaining resolutely formal when he spoke to him. But Wile had a manner about him that encouraged familiarity. Before long, Hux was addressing him by his first name and conversing with him more freely than he did any of his fellow cadets. The Academy had strict regulations forbidding fraternization, which both of them were conscious of, but were willing to ignore as their acquaintance grew more intimate.

At the beginning, Hux had assumed his attachment was one-sided. Wile was friendly and warm with him, as he was with everyone. Yet, there were subtle changes in his behavior when he and Hux were alone, which was quite often. There were passing touches when he handed Hux one of the old manuscripts, small smiles that made Hux’s stomach clench. It wasn’t until nearly six months had passed, though, that he understood that Wile had been struggling as much as he had to keep their friendship platonic.

Hux had been standing in front of a shelf that held archaic texts from the days even before the Empire when Wile stepped up next him. There was no reason from him to stand with his shoulder touching Hux’s, but he did.

“This one,” he said, reaching out to trace the spine of a particular volume with the fingertips of his left hand. “You’ll enjoy it.”

Hux nearly jumped as he felt the brush of warm skin against his own hand. He thought it was inadvertent at first, but then it came again; the soft contact of Wile’s right hand against the back of his left.

“What’s the topic?” Hux asked, his fingers twitching slightly.

“A tribal conflict on a world called Tansint Gamma,” Wile replied as he hooked his fifth finger around Hux’s.

Hux turned to him, his lips parted as he took in a shaky breath. Wile regarded him silently, waiting. He would not push further without Hux’s consent. Tentatively, Hux raised his right hand to Wile’s jaw.

“Yes,” said Hux. “I believe I would like that very much.”

“I had hoped you would,” said Wile, closing the distance between them and pressing a light kiss to Hux’s mouth.

The affair lasted for the remaining two years Hux was at the Academy. For the most part it was intellectual, as he still slept in the barracks and was required to be present for lights out every night, but they did enjoy the physical aspects of a youthful liaison when they were afforded the opportunity. Wile taught him to give pleasure and to receive it, two aspects of love that Hux had not conceived of as so different before he had experienced both.

When Hux received his first commission, he told Wile that he would write to him. Smiling softly, Wile had cupped his cheek and shaken his head.

“The whole galaxy is ahead of you,” he had said. “This place, me...it’s your past. Leave us behind now.”

Hux had protested, but Wile had stood firm. When Hux left his bed that afternoon, he did not return to it. He saw Wile once more at the commencement ceremony, but after that Hux did as he was bid; he left him and the Academy behind.

“General, we’re inbound,” said the shuttle’s pilot. “We’ll be docking within five minutes.”

Hux stretched as much as the restraints of his chair would allow. Looking over at Ren, who was still sitting perfectly still, he wondered if he had heard. He was certain he wasn’t asleep, but perhaps he was not aware of his surroundings.

Almost as if he had heard Hux’s thoughts, he opened his eyes and turned to him. “How far is our destination from the port?” he asked.

“Three quarters of an hour by speeder,” Hux replied.

Ren nodded and fell silent again.

When they had landed, Hux got to his feet and made his way out of the shuttle. Unsurprisingly, it was raining. However, an older man in a wrinkled shirt and scuffed boots appeared with an umbrella. Hux thanked him.

“Certainly, Master Hux.”

He paused to examine the man more closely. “Harron?”

“Yes, sir,” he said, cracking a smile that revealed crooked teeth. “I didn’t know that you would recognize me. It’s been a fair piece of time since I last drove you home from Scaparus Port.”

“Indeed it has. Shall we, then?”

“Of course, sir.” The old man, who had driven speeder transports for Hux’s family for as long as he could remember, led the way to a luxurious, but now antiquated vehicle just beyond the dock. Hux recalled when it was new.

Stepping inside, he slid over to the far end of the bench seat to make space for Ren. He had waved Harron and his umbrella away, so his hair was damp when he ducked into the speeder. He wiped his face with the sleeve of his tunic as Harron closed the door.

A few moments later, the speeder hummed as it powered up. It eased away from the dock and into the flow of traffic from the port. Hux glanced one last time at the shuttle, the emblem of the First Order painted on its side, and then turned to face forward.

 


 

Once they left Scaparus behind, they entered the countryside just beyond the city. Despite the presence of the Academy, the majority of the planet remained agricultural. Though it often rained on the coast, the climate was drier inland. The summers were warm, the winters mild. It made for an ideal environment for growing grapes. Arkanis’s wines were famous throughout the galaxy. That, at least, was one thing Hux could look forward to when it came to returning to the estate. He and Ren certainly would not want for good drink.

Again, Ren had remained unspeaking as they rode through the hills, though this time he kept his eyes open to look out the window. Hux paid him little mind, especially once they turned off the main track through the region and onto the private drive that led to the estate.

“Here we are, sir,” said Harron as he opened the door after they had come to a stop.

The white gravel crunched beneath Hux’s boots as he stepped out of the transport. Before him was the glass and brick monstrosity that his father had had built for himself as a hunting retreat. It had been featured in a few society publications back when it had first been completed, lauded as an example of refined urban tastes transplanted to the country. Hux had always found it rambling and cold, especially when only he and his parents had been in residence.

As he looked it over, the broad front door swung open, revealing a tall woman with iron gray hair and sharp features. She wore a cream colored pantsuit, its creases perfectly pressed.

“Master Hux,” she said. “Welcome home.”

Hux smiled. “Lorna, you’re looking well.”

Her eyes flicked over his uniform approvingly. “As are you, general.” Looking over his shoulder, she said, “This must be our guest.”

Hux turned to see that Ren was standing a pace behind him. “Yes,” he said. “Lorna Havlis, this is Lord Ren.”

The housekeeper’s brows rose at the title, though just enough for Hux to see. Her expression was schooled again almost immediately. To Ren she said, “My lord, you are most welcome. Please, come inside before the rains start again.”

Hux followed her through the door and into the entryway. It was as airy as he remembered, the ceiling canted and lined with glass. The carefully manicured shrubs his mother had once placed there still remained, their colorful foliage meant to brighten up a space made often dreary by the frequent storms.

“I’ve prepared your room for you, Master Hux,” said Lorna, appearing at his side. “Lord Ren I’ve put in the largest of the guest rooms.” She turned to him. “I’ll show you there now. I’m sure you’d like to clean up before dinner is served.” To Hux, she added, “I trust you can find your way.”

He nodded. She flashed him a brief smile before ushering Ren toward the guest wing. Hux was surprised that he followed without protest or comment. Ren had never seemed one to go along with anything easily, but he gave no trouble to Lorna, at least not that Hux could see. He held back a laugh. Even if Ren had been difficult, Hux had no doubt that the housekeeper would have set him straight. She always had with Hux and his friends from the Academy.

Taking a breath, he started down the hallway to the left. He followed it until he came to the room that had belonged to him as a boy. Hesitantly, he pushed the door open and went inside. It was larger than he remembered, or perhaps it just seemed that way after fourteen years of living aboard starships and on military bases. He had not enjoyed the comforts of civilian accommodations for a long time.

His footlocker had be set in the corner of the room near the closet. Flicking on the light, Hux saw that a full wardrobe had been provided for him. He had asked Lorna to choose a few things, as he had nothing to wear beyond his uniforms, but clearly she had understood that to mean enough shirts and trousers for an entire season. Glancing at the floor, he saw four pairs of shoes lined up neatly. The housekeeper never did anything by halves.

Turning, Hux went to the glass doors opposite the bed. They led out onto a private veranda that looked out over a neighboring vineyard. On the other side of the house was a patch of forest several acres wide that housed the game animals his father used to hunt, but this side, the north side, had a better view.

Hux glanced down at the polished toes of his boots. They seemed out of place against the plush carpet beneath them. Everything about his family’s estate was sumptuous and comfortable, something that Hux’s life was not. He appreciated the uniformity and almost aseptic nature of military life. It was an ordered life, a structured world that Hux fit into. The estate was not a part of that familiar territory.

As Hux gazed out over the vast spaces beyond the veranda, it once again began to rain.

 


 

After a brief shower and a change of clothes—he chose a charcoal gray suit with a red shirt under the jacket—Hux made his way to the formal dining room, where he knew Lorna would have dinner laid. Though the table seated twenty, only two places were set near the head. A pair of tapered candles burned between them.

When Hux arrived, Ren was already there. He was standing in front of the window, much like he had been in the officers’ observation lounge on the day Hux had first seen his face. He was wearing the same clothes he had had on for the journey, but his hair was loose and still slightly wet from the shower.

“Please sit,” said Hux as he pulled out his chair.

Ren didn’t immediately move. “What is this place?”

Hux folded his hands on the table in front of him. “A secure location.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“No?”

Ren turned, his gaze accusatory. “This is a home, and not one that belongs to the First Order.”

Hux held back a sigh. “No, it belongs to me. To my family.”

“Why?”

“Why do we own it?”

“Why did you bring me here?”

“Because we’re unlikely to be found here,” said Hux. “The Resistance is not searching for a personal residence.” He gestured to the seat across from him. “Sit. We won’t be served until you do.”

Stalking over, Ren tugged the chair out from under the table and sank onto it.

Almost immediately, a footman appeared from the unmarked servants’ door. He carried a decanter of red wine. He poured a glass for Hux first and then went to Ren.

“No,” he said. “I don’t want any.”

“It’s good,” said Hux.

Ren shook his head. “I don’t drink wine.”

“Very well,” Hux said with a dismissive wave to the footman. He disappeared through the door again. Hux swirled the red around in his glass, sniffed it, and then drank. It was a good vintage.

Dinner was brought out in short order. It was roast fowl native to Arkanis, long green beans in butter sauce, and whipped tubers. It went well with the wine.

“If this is your family’s house,” Ren said, breaking the silence that had descended between them as they ate, “did you spend your youth here?”

Hux took a sip of water, a little surprised by the personal nature of the question. “Parts of it. Summers mostly. I attended boarding school for the majority of the year. Before I entered the Academy, of course.”

Ren blinked at him. “Cadets enter the Academy at fifteen. You were at boarding school before that?”

“From the time I was eight, yes,” said Hux. “And before that I had daily instruction from private tutors. My father put a great value on education.”

Ren fell silent, though he hardly ate any more.

“Do you not care for the fowl?” Hux asked.

“It’s fine,” Ren replied, terse. Taking up his knife, he tore into the breast and cut off a large chunk. He bit half of it and chewed, leaving the rest on his fork. The tender meat didn’t lend itself to it, though, and fell almost immediately back to the plate. It splashed in the butter sauce, leaving droplets on the opaque glass of the table.

Hux pursed his lips in distaste, but returned to his own meat without comment. He sliced a more manageable piece and drew it politely off the delicate tines of his fork. His mother would have been pleased. Ren’s manners—or lack thereof—would have offended her in the extreme. Of course, she never would have let on during the meal. She simply would have complained of it when she and Hux were alone later.

“You would think he was brought up by rathtars,” he could imagine her saying as she sipped at her fourth glass of sherry. “Hardly civilized.”

Indeed, uncivilized seemed an appropriate description of Kylo Ren. He was boorish and unpredictable. His fits of temper were dangerous and his conversation generally left something to be desired. He exhibited every behavior that had been bred, bought, or beaten out of Hux as the child of a city socialite and her commandant husband.

“Is your room to your liking?” he asked Ren. “If you’d prefer a different one, that can be arranged.”

“It’s fine.” It seemed that was the only answer he was going to give.

“Good. If you need anything, you have only to say. Lorna will see to it.”

“I need to find the Resistance,” Ren snapped. “I should be following the girl. I need to find her before she gets to Skywalker.”

“The Supreme Leader has ordered us to remain here for the time being,” said Hux. “Would you challenge his direct command?”

Ren glared. “I want to speak to him.”

“He’ll contact us when the time is right.”

“And what are we supposed to do until then?”

Hux set his fork and knife down gently. “Medic Andan said that you are to rest and heal for the next week before the physician from Scaparus comes to check in on you.”

“I don’t need to be minded like the child.”

“And you won’t be. You have free rein of the house while you’re here. If you need anything-”

“I don’t need anything from you!” Getting to his feet, Ren stormed out of the room. Hux watched him go, annoyed.

“Master Hux,” said a footman, poking his head into the dining room. “Is everything all right, sir?”

“Yes,” he said, drinking down the rest of his wine. “Everything is just fine.”