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[...] wars are run, not by logic, but by "gusts of emotion".
-- Arthur C. Clarke, paraphrasing a remark made by Professor J.D. Bernal in the introduction to The Promise of Space.

. . .

There are a variety of legitimate concerns immediately following the destruction of Starkiller; most pertinent being how they're going to generate enough power to get the Finalizer to the First Order-controlled Terra Sool for repairs and fresh personnel.

"Fix the engines," General Hux commands through grit teeth.

Head Engineer Doola has bags under her eyes that could float up and away given the right amount of whimsy. She stares at Hux with a dullness that implies stupidity and taps her fingers on the datapad set on the table before her.

"I can't, Sir, and with all due respect, no matter how many times you make the order my answer will not change."

Perhaps the dull cast to her eyes is not stupidity, Hux muses. Perhaps it is the sign of someone who has welcomed death.

He tilts his head the scant handful of degrees needed to make eye contact with Lieutenant Rang, who swallows and tries to hide his over-large ears with his shoulders.

"Verify, Lieutenant."

Rang fiddles with the controls of a monitor set into the wall; the screen lights up and shows reams of numbers scrolling data at eight point two megabits per second.

"The engines are unable to be fixed at this time, Sir," Rang announces, quite unnecessarily in Hux's opinion. "We shall have to stop at a petrol station in Alpha Sector 8 on our way to the outpost on Terra Sool."

The leather of Hux's gloves creak as he tightens his grip on the arms of his chair.

"We're running on petrol backups? What happened to the solar collectors?"

The Lieutenant swallows. "Burnt out, sir."

"And the generators?" The Finalizer came standard equipped with twelve dry-nanoFET electrostatic generators that produce twenty-million Huttwatts per hour each. Hux naturally had them upgraded to emit fifty-million Huttwatts when he took command.

Lieutenant Rang looks at the screen, at Hux, back to the screen again. "They're not on board, Sir."

"I inspected them myself a month ago!"

Rang's shoulders are so high up that the boy's chin is buried in his uniform collar. "They've been removed, Sir."

Hux gives in to the urge to cover his eyes with one hand. The short reprieve is useless, however, because Doola coughs daintily into her fist and the Lieutenant shuffles on his feet as they watch Hux's moment of weakness.

If he gets a reputation for killing the staff members who displease him, he'll be no better than Lord Ren. He tries to keep this in mind as he drags his hand away from his face and gets out of his chair.

"I expect a report on their whereabouts by start of tomorrow's alpha-shift." He snaps his fingers at Rang, who clicks his heels and salutes. Then he tilts his head at Doola, who is still seated and blinking at her datapad. "I will permit this oversight of your capabilities just this once, but if you do not have at the very minimum a theoretical solution to our engine troubles by end of beta-shift tomorrow I will personally have you executed and promote whomever is rumoured to be your rival to your newly vacant position. Are we clear?"

"Affirmative, Sir," Doola mumbles at her datapad. She slowly raises her arms, braces her elbows on the table, and buries her face in both hands.

Hux grits his teeth and breathes heavy through his nose.

"Get some sleep, Doola," he says, then picks up his comm and personal datapad from the table and strides out of the conference room.

Hux is just about past the four-way intersection that he's taking to the Bridge when his comm pings an alarm. Ren is due to leave on a shuttle to go train with Snoke again in forty minutes, and Hux intends to see him off. Wave a bit. Open a bottle of champagne before the shuttle is even clear of the Finalizer's gravity well.

A handful of Stormtroopers scuttle around Hux where he stands in the middle of the intersection. He ignores them and takes out his datapad, brings up Ren's tracker on the interface.

The blinking red light shows that the nit is still in his quarters. Hux grits his teeth, does an aboutface, and strides back the way he came. Lieutenant Rang and Doola are just outside the conference room and startle as he stomps past without acknowledgement. The entire scene makes his face ache from clenching his jaw so hard.

Down on deck eight, just past the droid repair bay and before the engine coolant systems control rooms, on a short hallway that veers to Port, are the rooms that Hux provided to Ren years ago and that which the Knight still uses. They are as far from civilisation on the ship as Hux could get away with at the time, and Ren never complained, so there he stayed.

The white-painted permasteel walls have gouges and burn marks in excess leading up to Ren's door. The frame to the door itself is melted on one side, the entry keypad is missing entirely. Hux hardly notices the devastation as he approaches, merely wrinkles his nose at the astringent smell of patching that the repair droids are using on some of the deeper marks as he manoeuvres around them.

Ren's door slides open before Hux bothers to knock. He enters the rooms, takes in the mess of clothing scattered everywhere, of which perhaps one or two articles are in a preferred state of cleanliness. A reusable packing crate is in the centre of the room with the lid off and, Hux notes, entirely empty. There's a huddled lump of Force User on the cot bolted to the far wall.

Hux sighs.

"I know that time is in no way a tangible construct as far as you're concerned, but shouldn't you at least plan on a change of underthings for this journey?"

Ren's answer is muffled by his superfluous heap of cloak and robes. "You're not making sense again. Stop it."

"I'm not making sense," Hux says. It's not a question, it's a mockery. He sidesteps Ren's boots and inspects the array of old-fashioned bound-flimsi books Ren's arranged in stacks on the First Order mandatory desk.

A well-used copy of Par Ontham's Guide to Etiquette is on top of the stack closest to the table's edge. He could laugh if he knew how.

"What do you want," Ren grumbles, shifts around in his heap, gives the appearance of a rotting swamp boil for all the good it does him.

"You're to leave for Snoke in less than twenty minutes. Do get up and prepare for your departure, hmm?"

The rotting swamp boil roils a bit and Ren's washed out face pops out of what would be its rear-end if Hux is right about extinct creature anatomy.

"You could've sent a droid."

Hux grits his teeth. "And doom that droid to a fate worse than death? I think not. Now get up and pack."

Ren's imitation of a slug creature comes to an end as he unfolds himself from his cot. His robes are wrinkled beyond salvage and there's a bit of crusted soup on his cloak's hood. He slumps into a sitting position and eyeballs Hux.

"You're not getting rid of me that easy, you know."

Hux's patience is at an end. He takes the three steps needed to close the distance between them, fists both hands in Ren's cloak, and hauls the other man up off the bed. Then he spins the noodle-limbed Knight around and shoves him against the wall next to the door where Hux proceeds to leave him.

"I don't give a damn if Snoke sends you back or not," Hux snaps as he kicks Ren's boots at the Knight's legs and grabs a bundle of dirty clothing to toss into the crate, "But you are not leaving here without luggage. It's unseemly."

"Maker forbid your brainwashed troops thinks something is amiss," Ren mumbles as he rubs at his face.

Hux doesn't respond. Instead, he crams the crate full of Ren's dirty clothing, dumps a stack of dirty dishes on top for good measure. He considers shoving some of Ren's books into it too with a raised eyebrow and intense glare of consideration.

No, Hux thinks, not the books. They might be valuable, and he doesn't have any expectation of Ren actually bringing the contents of the crate back.

Ren slowly slides down the wall to the floor. Hux absolutely does not look at him and focuses on getting the lid to the crate affixed.

"Will you space me when I get back?"

Hux stops and blinks at the lid that won't go down. A sleeve of Ren's tatty secondary robe is sticking out, that's why it's not closing properly. "What was that?" he asks, even though he heard perfectly fine.

Ren groans deep in his throat. "Will you space me? I'm broken, I'm no use to anyone."

The lid finally slides into place and Hux slams his hand on the lock before it changes its mind. Then he stands straight, adjusts his tunic where it had twisted during his valiant struggle, and only then permits himself to roll his eyes at the ceiling.

"Your dramatics are wearing me thin. Please think of my current level of mental instability and stop."

"Snoke will send me back, you know he will," Ren insists as he stares at the floor, "but it'll be to do something stupid like scavenger hunts until he can find a better apprentice. You'd be better off if you space me."

Hux considers the heap of Ren with a tilt of his head. Did Ren mean to reference the career of his own demise or is the man one of those unintentional pun-makers. He rolls his eyes and decides that he doesn't care.

He crouches down in front of Ren, tries to meet his eyes, fails because Ren is being a child about things and closely inspecting his cuticles instead of paying attention.

"Of course not," he says and smacks Ren on the arm to get the Knight to finally look at him. "I'm not in the habit of discarding tools, even the malfunctioning ones."

. . .

The horrible reality of Hux's new, post-ultimate career disgrace situation is: the Finalizer is boring with Ren gone. No amount of fresh stormtroopers and replacement officers out of Arkanis can make up for the fact that the ship now has a surplus of repair droids with nothing to do with their time because their sole purpose of being was to pick up after Ren.

Three weeks after Ren's departure the droids commit a First Order atrocity by establishing a hive mind and "repairing" all the doors in the living sector on deck five. The end result is an array of doors opening and shutting according to a corrupted algorithm uploaded by the droids and not by the commands of the inhabitants of the aforementioned rooms. Medical loads up on crushing injuries and Hux reaches a borderline overdose of surgery-strength analgesics before the mayhem is stopped.

Hux finally orders them powered down and stored in the unused officer's training gym at month three of the hive mind's establishment. They have so many that the overflow ends up shoved haphazardly on empty bunks in the barracks as well.

In addition to the boredom, there is also quite a bit of Loss Assessment that sends Hux crawling into a bottle on the regular. Mixed with his analgesics, this mixture leaves him with a much shorter temper than usual.

"You found the generators where?" he snarls at Lieutenant Rang while the Bridge Staff all very studiously attend to their workstations.

Rang mumbles into his wilted uniform collar and Hux manfully resists the urge to clout the young man about the ears.

"And who, exactly, told the cafeteria staff they could use them for this?" he all but roars. He's loud enough to rattle anything not bolted down, and for a moment after all anyone can hear in the room is the SONAR beeping dismally in the background.

Rang weeps gently into his hands instead of providing an answer. Hux decides that after their staff is entirely replenished, Rang is being reassigned to an Outer Rim planet that is known to be hostile to the First Order. Normally he's against suicide missions on principle, but this has gotten ridiculous.

Five months after Ren has left Hux with empty spaces and malignant droids, I.T. of all departments intercepts some unusual pictograph missives from the Ilium System. Department Head Fleesh brings them to Hux already decoded, sweating profusely through his shirt and wobbling in place.

Hux makes certain not to touch the man as he takes the datapad from him.

"These are from General Organa," Hux asks. Does not ask. He assumes they wouldn't be brought to his attention if the blasted woman wasn't behind them.

Fleesh nods furiously, gulps in some air, then says in a surprising baritone, "She uses the recent dialect of text speak used by teenagers on Coruscant, primarily, and ah it mentions that a member of the Resistance that's pretty high up there has just landed and ah--"

Hux waves his hand at the man to make him shut up.

"Good, yes. Please express my thanks to your department for their work."

Feesh hurriedly backs out of the bridge and Hux hands the datapad to Senior Chief Petty Officer Unamo.

"Set course for these coordinates, we have some Resistance Scum to wipe out."

It's quite nice to not have to seek permission for acts of mass destruction, he muses as he watches Alzoc IV be literally burnt into a crumbling husk under the power of the Finalizer's ion cannons. It's wonderful, in fact.

After the Finalizer breaks orbit from the remains of Alzoc IV, Hux takes his leave of shift with a bottle of Jekk'Jekk Tarr trademarked brand rum and a bouncy ball he found down in Engineering.

Captain Phasma joins him within the hour in the hallway covered with half-patched lightsabre marks on the walls. His first impulse is to offer her a drink; his second is to curl up with the bottle to his chest and glare at her.

Not one to give in to immediate knee-jerk reactions-- not like some people he could name, anyway-- he goes with the latter option.

"Captain," he acknowledges. He's slumped against the wall directly across from some brushed-steel doors and is keeping his reflexes sharp by throwing the stolen ball at it and catching it on the rebound. The rum is over half gone; he'll have to go searching for more if he's to continue along with his chosen activities for the evening.

Phasma gives a quiet "Sir" in response to his greeting. He feels magnanimous so he illustrates his goals and ambitions regarding bouncing contraband for her without prompt; she is so riveted by his dedication that she stands at attention and watches for a few minutes.

Eventually all good things must come to an end, because she asks, "Is this a proper use of your time, Sir?"

Hux bounces the ball, catches it, bites back a sigh. If she isn't going to participate in the wonders of bouncy stolen goods with him then he dearly wishes she would just go away and leave him to it.

"You're not impressed with my current mode of debauched living, is that it?" he asks right before another throw and catch.

"I said no such thing."

Hux drains two long swallows of rum straight from the bottle; he glares at her the entire time.

"Sir," she belatedly adds and inclines her head.

Hux nods, throws the ball again, catches it. "Much better." He takes another swig of rum, then contemplates the label. It has a leering Hutt on it smoking a pipe, which is all sorts of alarming.

"For the record, I'm not impressed with myself either." He brandishes the nearly empty bottle in Phasma's direction. "This is such a low-class brand, I should be drinking ladalum, shouldn't I?"

Phasma's helmet tilts to the side in consideration. Hux assumes that her head is also tilting inside it.

"How circuitous, Sir," is what she finally comes up with.

Hux leans his head back against the durasteel wall and stares at the closed door in front of him. Someone should fix that melted entry pad. Why hasn't a droid been around?

"I miss Starkiller," he finds himself saying apropos of nothing.

Phasma shifts on her feet. "As do we all."

"Using laser cannons to burn a planet to a shell is like bringing a volley of rocks to a blaster fight, damnit." He jerks his head up and points at the ceiling. "We've taken two steps back in evolutionary standards, not to mention wartime ones."

Phasma remains uncowed, but that might be due to her helmet. "Sometimes the most simple forms of destruction are the most effective."

Hux drops his hands. His head hits the wall with a thunk.

"I miss my weapon of mass destruction so much," he says, then covers his eyes with the heels of his bare palms. How far has he fallen that he doesn't know where his gloves are at the moment? How far has he fallen that he doesn't care where they are?

Phasma coughs quietly. Hux drops his hands from his face and tries to glare.

"I'm certain Lord Ren will return to the Finalizer once his training is complete, Sir."

Hux startles against the wall and bangs his head again. In his flail the ball set on the floor next to him rolls down the hall and comes to rest against the dead end.

"Who said anything about Lord Ren?" he absolutely does not yelp. "What?"

"You said you missed--"

"Starkiller," he hisses.

"Oh, we're still talking about Starkiller? I apologise, sir, I became confused."

Hux shifts forward in his fury and has to place both of his hands flat out on the floor and his elbows locked straight to keep himself steady. The bottle of rum falls on its side, the contents slosh about loudly.

"What does Lord Ren have to do with anything? He's partly at fault for my superweapon's demise!" he yells.

Phasma tilts her head. "Only partly?"

"Well the Resistance didn't exactly hang about for a riotous tournament of tiddlywinks out on the surface of my planet, did they?!"

Phasma straightens back to attention.

"Do you know where you are, Sir?"

"I'm on board my bloody ship, don't play that with me!" He slams a hand down onto the floor to make his point.

The vocoder in Phasma's helmet distorts her sigh into a disgruntled crackle as she salutes him.

"I'll leave you to it, then, Sir." Then she turns and marches back down the hall to the waiting stormtrooper guards.

Hux slams both of his hands onto the floor this time.

"I did not dismiss you, Captain!" he shouts after her.

"Has Lord Ren returned?" one of the troopers asks as Phasma reaches them.

Phasma inclines her head to the trooper on the left. Hux narrows his eyes, he might have to kill that one. Personally.

"No, he has not."

"But, uh, Captain, why--"

"As you were, YV-9325," Phasma says, then strides away.

The stormtrooper briskly salutes, the other one follows suit a beat behind.

"Yes, Sir," they chorus.

Hux scowls at the whole lot of them. The stretches of lightsabre wounds on the walls reflect off of Phasma's armour like writhing snakes and he doesn't like it.

. . .

Lord Kylo Ren returns to the Finalizer six months and three weeks after he left it. He emerges from his shuttle wearing a new helmet that looks exactly like the old one, swaddled in a robe that is much more worse for the wear than the one he left in, and doesn't say a word as he disembarks to stride further into the ship, presumably on his way to his quarters.

Hux stands at attention from the glass-plated control room in the hangar to watch the whole affair. He notes Ren's lack of luggage and bites back a sigh. All that running around like a madman to make certain Ren had something, all for nought.

. . .

A stormtrooper from the AR division brought Xagobah fleas onto the Finalizer; the infestation runs rampant throughout the star destroyer within an Imperial week and requires a First Order exterminator to be bused in from Trigalis.

Hux seethes in a dignified manner and relocates himself to an empty conference room to work while his quarters are being fumigated. He has requisition forms and expense reports to scan and authorise, he doesn't have time for this nonsense.

Being low on patience, naturally, means that Kylo Ren stomps in carrying a black plastic trash bag ten minutes after he's settled in to start work.

Hux places his main datapad gently onto the table and quirks an eyebrow at Ren as he lumbers around the oval table to Hux's side of the room.

"You've been back for three weeks and I haven't seen hide nor hair of you, but I retreat to get some work done and up you pop. Daresay I'm on to something."

Ren dumps the bag onto the the table just beyond Hux's careful arrangement of datapads, then stares at him through the helmet. It's a new one apparently, but to Hux it looks exactly the same.

"Onto what, exactly?" Ren asks.

"How to manipulate Force Users." Hux gestures grandly at Ren in his entirety. "All I have to do is genuinely want to be left alone to get work done and you'll crawl out of whatever crevasse you've sequestered yourself in to pester me. Works every time."

Ren stares at him for a moment through the helmet, then with great gravitas turns, opens the black trash bag, and removes a human arm. It's garbed in an orange resistance-issue flight suit, and he dumps it right on top of Hux's piles of datapads.

"I bring you an arm of the Resistance," Ren says in monotone.

Hux stares at it, then sighs and leans back in his chair. Waves a hand at the corpse part.

"Is this a token of your affection?" he asks, feeling tired.

"It's a symbol of what we're working for." Ren's stance has not changed, like an Akk dog awaiting a 'good boy'. Hux tables the urge to be disturbed, will revisit at a later date.

"Oh, we're working for dismembered corpses now?" He asks, perks up proper, gives Ren his best I'm going to destroy your planetary system next if you don't appease my trading demands grin. "How excellent, so glad to be brought up to speed."

Ren finally moves, but it's just to cross his arms across his chest. "If you'd just stop being a snide twit you'd appreciate this gesture."

"I blew up a bloody planet because the wookie who hurt you was on it. This--" and here he hefts the arm up with one hand and bobbles it a bit in his unsteady grip, "--pales in comparison, yes?"

Ren goes preternaturally still.

"You killed my Uncle Chewie?"

"Can't you feel it in the Force or whatnot?" He drops the arm onto the steel table; it makes a loud thump that echoes in the conference room.

Ren's answer is a mumble even with the vocoder. "Not with wookies, no."

Hux leans forward to point at Ren more effectively. "Well, I did. He was on a diplomatic mission for your mother I believe. Alzoc IV was covered with ice, he probably was wearing a jacket when I incinerated the whole bleeding rock."

"What does that have to do with anything?"

Hux slumps back into his chair and squints at the corpse part ruining his equipment. No one appreciates vengeance anymore. Forget nature versus nurture, this is a failure in galaxy-wide cultural conditioning.

"I'm keeping myself amused, that's all," he sighs, then waves both hands at the table. "Thank you for the limb."

Ren swivels his head back and forth, from the limb to Hux to the limb again. He stalks off down the room to the end opposite Hux, walks back. He comes to a stop right next to Hux and crosses his arms, proceeds to loom.

"Do you want it to be a token of affection?" Ren sounds tentative to Hux, who scoffs.

"I want it to not be bleeding onto my paperwork. We'll be docking in Byblos in less than three days and I have to be done with this array without bodily fluids splattered all over."

They're both quiet for a moment as they watch said fluids drip onto the datapads. Hux sniffs the air.

"How long ago did you kill this fellow? It smells putrid already. And why is gore eeking out of it anyway, doesn't that light sword of yours cauterise flesh?"

Ren draws up to his full height. Because he's standing so close his head blocks out the light from the lamp behind him. Hux distantly wonders if this is what it's like for a shaak right before a tusk-cat attacks it.

"It's not working properly at the moment so I'm giving it a rest," Ren snipes, "I had to hack the arm off with a piece of broken ship."

"Properly? What?!" Hux screeches. He throws both hands up to stop Ren from answering and absolutely doesn't kick at Ren's kneecaps. His foot just slipped as he sat up, is all. "No, stop, I don't give a damn, just tell me it wasn't one of my ships that you ripped a piece off of."

Ren removes his helmet and slams it down onto the arm. Blood squirts everywhere. A piece of gore flicks off the end and lands with a wet smack against the opposite wall.

Hux stares at the gobbet of gore on the wall, rolls his eyes, lolls his head against the back of the chair to lazily look up at Ren. "Perhaps you best not put that helmet back on until it's been cleaned of symbolic viscera, hmm?"

Ren snarls wordlessly. Hux gives the taller man the hairy eyeball in warning.

"Forget the symbol," Ren growls.

Hux opens his mouth to say something snide but Ren grabs him by the shirt collar and presses their mouths together before he can get the words out.

Ren's tongue is wet and warm and in Hux's mouth. Hux considers going along with it, he really does, but he also suspects that Ren has a head injury if this is how their arguments are going now.

Hux slams both fists into Ren's shoulders. Ren releases him and staggers back a step. The Knight's eyes are wild and dark and Hux can't deal with head injuries and anger management issues all at once, he has to get out of here.

"Get checked in medical!" Hux shouts over his shoulder as he flees the room.

. . .

On Byblos Hux disembarks a shuttle from the Finalizer with a personal mission of utmost importance. He takes a squad of eight troopers with him, two blaster-rifles slung over his shoulders, and a vibro-chain whip clipped to his belt.

Three hours later Hux returns to the shuttle with two stormtroopers who are laden with three sedated white daux-cats each, no blaster-rifles, and the charred remains of the whip, plus a shiny new box the size of a Reytha loaf of sweetbread.

Hux and the remaining troopers come to a halt before the dispatcher assigned to this series of docking bays. Hux nods at the daux-cats.

"Take them to medical."

The two stormtroopers chorus, "Yes, sir," and march off in tandem.

Hux does not grin in satisfaction about efficiency, but it's a close thing. He turns to the dispatcher and nods. "At ease. Bring me up Lord Ren's location, Petty Officer."

The dispatcher takes a moment to type something into his datapad. The contraption pings and his face pales.

"His tracker says he is inside your quarters, sir," the Petty Officer squeaks.

"Good," Hux says, "quite good."

He notices that that a group of pilots and stormtroopers and officers are all staring at him. He stiffens his posture, and when that doesn't send them scrambling, he sneers.

"Shall I dock all of your pay for work negligence now or later?"

The hangar explodes back into a hub of activity and Hux nods, satisfied. Then he leaves the hangar with a grand sweep of his charred greatcoat and proceeds to stomp directly to his quarters.

As soon as he's safely inside the door, he stomps through the front room, down the short hall, and into the bedroom. There's a heap of Ren's horrific outfit on the floor where Millicent is playing with a loose suspender. She removes herself from the clothing and twines around his ankles, he clucks at her as he steps around her. Then he dumps the nice shiny box on top of Ren, currently sprawled across his bed without a stitch of clothing on.

Ren lifts his head up to peer at the box crushing his genitals and uses one finger to poke at the latch. "What is this?"

Hux crosses his arms and jerks his chin. "Go on then, open it."

Ren struggles to sit up under the weight of the box, gives Hux an unimpressed glare. He delicately flicks the latch with one finger without breaking eye-contact with Hux, but the sparkling lights of the contents capture his attention anyway.

Inside is a carefully gathered cluster of two dozen kyber crystals of various colours and sizes. Ren stares at the box for a bit without blinking.

"I know you find repeat questions below you, but what?"

Hux permits himself that grin of satisfaction now, but only because it's just Ren. "That bloody sword almost exploded in your face this morning."

Ren's eyebrows furrow like rampaging furred space slugs on his face.

"It did not. There was a minor malfunction in the--"

"I queued up the footage from that training room you like to use," Hux snaps, "So kindly shut up."

The Knight snaps his mouth closed and pouts, then pulls the box closer to his chest and folds his long legs up into a lotus position. "Right, fine. Why did you bring me these?"

Hux throws up his hands. "So you can make a new one! Preferably without the explosive function, because there are uses for that type of destruction but not in a weapon you use to bludgeon things."

Ren glares at him. "I use it to cut down my enemies. There's no bludgeoning."

Hux grits his teeth and looks down his nose at the other man.

"If you don't make a new one I'm going to sit on you until you do."

Ren tilts his head as he stares up at Hux in silence. Hux feels a pang of a headache behind his left eye and gives in to the urge to rub at his forehead.

"Perhaps you should have clothing on for this conversation," he mutters, eyes closed.

Hux opens his eyes just in time to see Ren's smirk turn deadly. "You can sit on me if you want, you don't need to bring me presents for an excuse."

"That's not what I meant and you know it."

"After all, you're really skinny. You wouldn't hurt me or anything," Ren continues as if he hadn't heard. Maybe he hadn't. Hux never knows with this man.

"I am leaving now," he announces with quiet dignity.

"These are your quarters."

Hux's fingers twitch with the urge to throttle. "Then you are leaving now."

Ren pokes around the contents of the box and palms a crystal, the smallest one, glittering orange in colour.

"Shall I make something out of this one? It's the colour of your hair."

Hux spins on his heels and stomps out of the room, back down the hall and into the front room of his quarters. The conservator is humming nonchalant-like against the wall. Hux yanks the door open and begins to rummage.

"I should have threatened to shoot you instead," he shouts with his head fully inside the appliance.

Ren has followed him from the bedroom. He carries the box, is still naked, and Millicent the Traitorous Cat follows him adoringly.

"The Force enables me to stop blaster bolts," Ren says as he passes Hux.

"Not if the muzzle is shoved up your left nostril it won't."

Ren puts the box on the dining table and gently replaces the orange crystal amongst the contents. "So is this your version of a token? I bring you a symbol of your victory, you bring me something useful?"

Hux makes it a point to study each and every identical bottle of water carefully. "It is in my best interests that your face is not taken off by your own bloody weapon. No more, no less."

Ren runs quite warm on the spectrum of body-heat. Hux has no idea how he feels about knowing this now, but he doesn't tense when a wall of warmth crowds him up from behind and Ren's whisper of a breath puffs against the back of his left ear.

"Denial looks petulant on you, Hux," Ren murmurs, then pecks him quickly on the cheek before wandering off.

Hux bites back a growl and watches Ren retreat towards the refresher in the reflection on the conservator's brushed steel door.

"Will you stop with that?" he hisses.

"Hmm?" Ren hums and scratches himself, then disappears into the refresher proper. A mere moment later the water function starts up, prattles noisily through the room.

He listens as the refresher assumes a steady drone, then sighs and cracks open the bottle of water he's pulled out of the fridge.

"I don't know why I bother. Righteous indignation never has carried me through to the end," he says to Millicent, who miaows at him in agreement.

He sheds his greatcoat and throws it across the table haphazard, a perk being that it covers the box of crystals from view and hopefully will irritate Ren when he gets out of his wet-like naked romp. Hux then stomps back to his bedroom, and calls for Millicent, "Time for your num nums, pussy cat," as he goes.

. . .

The Captison family is holding a fundraiser at their Senatorial Apartments on Byss and Hux attends begrudgingly but of his own volition all the same. He's the face of the First Order now despite the Starkiller business so it's his job to accept invitations to these sort of things.

He just has to be slick enough to raise funding for their military ventures without being obvious about what said ventures will include. Like genocidal weapons. And sending Lord Ren out to Nor Shadda to force-choke a Hutt on the regular. Basically, they need collateral for another superweapon, even if Starkiller II isn't past the planning stages just yet.

After all, a modicum of resources could be devoted to the research of poison gases while Hux finalises the latest draft of plans.

Some hairless Bith are milling about across the room with their instruments and wearing long black robes. They remind Hux of Kylo in a way, who is back on the Finalizer in another bloody system watching Hux's cat for him. He scowls at his Emente juice piledriver and wants to be elsewhere already.

Captain Phasma walks up to him, carrying her own orange drink and looking mightily uncomfortable. She was required to leave her armour on the Finalizer, so she's wearing a slim black gown over blood-red leggings and a F-11D blaster painted red to match her outfit, slung low on her hip by a bit of chain wrapped around her waist.

Hux nods his greeting. Phasma's carefully blank face is beset by a line of tension in her jaw and it makes him curious.

"Sir," she says, "What is the regulations on setting fire to the seat of a Senator's trousers?"

"Not permitted," he answers. At Phasma's slight shoulder-drop, he quickly adds, "But if you have the name of the planet he's from we can add it to Starkiller II's target list.

Phasma nods, resolute. "I will return with more intel, Sir."

The Captain leaves and Hux sighs into his drink. He bets Ren is dozing on Hux's officer-regulation bed, messing up the blankets and cuddling his cat. How disgusting.

Senator Doritz sidles up to Hux with a grin and a soft "hallo". Hux's grip tightens on his glass even as he returns the greeting.

"You're that bloke from the Academy who set explosives to the administrative building and tried to blame it on an infestation of frog-dogs, are you not?" the Senator asks, rather abruptly in Hux's opinion.

Hux dips his chin into a nod. "A bit of whimsy from a ten year old mind, but yes."

The Senator leans close, bares his teeth. Hux doesn't tense, but he does quirk one eyebrow.

"My sister was staffed on Arkanis until that stunt of yours," Senator Doritz growls, "and if you had set that baradium off it would have killed her!"

Hux's other eyebrow joins its fellow at Hux's hairline.

"I apologise for not following through, then."

Hux finds himself grinning sharply at the Senator's stunned expression. Phasma marches back to him at that moment, he turns to greet her. "Ah, Captain, have you met Senator Doritz?"

He turns back to the Senator to find that the man has already stomped off in the direction of the open bar.

"Sir?" Phasma asks.

He faces her again, shrugs with one shoulder. "Do you know, I almost killed his sister over two decades ago and I believe he expected me to apologise."

Phasma appears to be properly scandalised.

"Whyever would he expect you to do something like that?"

"Haven't the foggiest."

Phasma and Hux cluck their tongues over the audacity of some people, then both drain their drinks at the same time.

The burn of the alcohol subsides too quickly, so Hux nods at the collection of twisted rockmetal sculptures on the centre table. There are over twenty of them, arranged in some significant fashion that completely eludes Hux's reasoning and sobriety level.

"Shall I steal one for Ren, then?"

Phasma stares at him. Her face is much easier to read without the helmet.

"Sir, all due respect, but those are worth ten credits or less apiece."

Hux quirks an eyebrow. "Your point sooner rather than later, Captain."

"You could purchase a hundred for him and still have plenty of credits left over for Starkiller II," she says, flatly.

"No, but theft, you see." He shakes his head and waves his empty glass at the table. Phasma blinks at him but holds her ground.

"He's on orders to indulge his Dark Side," Hux explains, "or however the Supreme Leader phrased it. Theft is darkish, is it not?"

Phasma considers this and toys with her glass.

Finally, "If so, shouldn't he be the one who does the stealing?"

Hux snorts. "I imagine that if an item is stolen, the Force marks it as an object used in malevolent evil or whatnot."

Phasma looks a bit interested and leans in closer. It could also be the fault of the alcohol. "The Force uses identification tags?"

Hux grabs two new glasses of putrid orange cocktail off a passing waiter's tray, hands one to Phasma, and toasts her.

"I haven't a bloody idea."

Phasma returns his toast; they both knock back their drinks.

A waiter sweeps past and takes their empty glasses one-handed while balancing a loaded tray of dirty glassware on the other. Hux and Phasma consider the array of ugly knick-knacks arranged across the room together, then Phasma nods, decision made.

"You should destroy all the other sculptures at the same time you commit the crime so that there are more Dark Side particles."

Hux wobbles in his approval and stops himself from being too enthusiastic about it with a carefully placed hand on a nearby support pillar. "See, this is why we get along, Captain; you're a creative thinker and I appreciate that."

He takes a lit old fashioned candle from a an end table next to his support pillar and wobbles a bit from the burden of his genius, or possibly just from the alcohol. He brandishes it aloft and approaches the table of cheap particle-clung sculptures with intent.

The evening was nearing its close anyway; no harm, no foul.

. . .

Hux wakes from a sound sleep to find Ren moving around the room with the lights set to five percent, muttering in some language Hux does not understand while rummaging through Hux's belongings.

He presses his face hard into the pillow and bites back a groan. When he opens his eyes again, Ren's face is in shadow but from the angle of glittering eyes in the low low light, he's obviously watching him.

"Late to bed and early to rise is a recipe for sleep deprivation and another repair droid uprising," Hux mumbles, mouth pressed to the linen of the pillow slip.

Ren moves like a predator off of a swamp planet, looking to eat little flying creatures and revolutionise hyperspace travel all at once. He perches on the edge of the bed, has to lean down a bit to grab at Hux's shoulder, shoves at it gently.

"On your back. I want to show you something."

Hux doesn't have the energy to fight him him so he does as asked, though not without mumbling, "Are your trousers on? Because if they aren't, I've already seen it, unfortunately."

Ren removes something from his pocket that glows orange in the darkness. Before Hux can say something, Ren has what feels like a thin chain across his collarbone and clips it around his neck.

Hux tries to angle his head so he can see what the fresh hell Ren is putting him through now. He's waking up, unfortunately, and with that awareness comes the realisation that Ren just secured something around his neck that glows.

"What are you doing?" Hux asks, muddled and alarmed all at once.

Ren uses one hand on Hux's shoulder to hold him still, uses the other to tug at Hux's shirt collar to expose his collarbone. He places his bare hand across the necklace and presses it gently against Hux's skin, where a low pulse of warmth seeps into his flesh.

"I'm going to meditate in my quarters. Go back to sleep."

Ren sweeps out of the room. Hux hears him cluck at Millicent, then the front door to his quarters slides open with a shushing noise, shushes closed mere moments after. He lies on his back and blinks at the ceiling wondering what the hell just happened and if he should do anything about it.

There is indeed a faint glow from the necklace, he wasn't hallucinating that, he can see the orange cast against the wall. He uses one finger to gently pull the chain away from his skin, and it goes just far enough for him to tuck his chin against his neck like a Dagobah turtle and glare down his nose at it.

Looks like typical twisted metal links with kyber crystal bits embedded into the material.

A headache starts behind both eyes. He drops the chain back to his neck and rolls his shoulders to try and dissipate the tension. The necklace slides against his skin as he moves, feels exactly like Ren's gloved hand does when he's being fresh and Hux is about to shove him down a flight of emergency stairs next to the turbolifts.

If it really does have kyber crystal shards on it, is this thing even safe for him? He glares at the orange glow against his wall, amends the question to: Does he care enough about his own safety to even try to remove the damn thing?

He's quite tired. The glow is soothing, in its own peculiar way. He turns away from the wall and shoves his face into the pillow, snarls at himself, tugs his shirt collar back up over his collarbone and now over the necklace as well. He has to think about this some more. He has to think for quite a bit on it.

Hux drifts back into sleep before he comes anywhere close to a solid decision.

. . .

The Officer's Training Gym slash Repair Droid Storage Bay is on fire. Hux knows this because a little blinking red light started up on his personal datapad during his latest meeting with the Sanitation Department, and is followed by the Finalizer's alarm systems blaring whoop whoop over the intercom.

Hux sighs and swipes left on the datapad screen. His software permits five open applications at once, and the first in the array is always the Bridge's communication system.

"Mitaka, turn off the noise," he barks at the datapad. A muffled "Yessir" answers through the tinny speaker built into the casing and the noise ceases mid-whoop.

"That was the fire alarm," Petty Officer Joe says. Hux stares at him until he looks down at his own shoes. Hopefully this will teach the PO to not comment upon the obvious in the future.

"Any immediate business that cannot be dealt with on your own?" he asks the assembled officers. All seven of them shake their heads in answer, a couple mumbled No sirs act as noise pollution.

Hux dismisses the officers and refrains from rolling his eyes until they're all out of the room. He really needs to delegate this sort of thing, but to who?

The blinking red light is still flashing on the status bar across the top of his datapad's screen. More pressing needs and all.

Hux meanders to the training room at a decent enough speed, but not really hurrying. He'll pick up the pace if something explodes, not a moment before. Stormtroopers and officers alike avoid him in the halls anyway.

The access panel on the door shifts under Hux's hand. He frowns and inputs the override code, makes a mental note to set a droid on this hall too. The doors swish open to reveal a cloudy ceiling, a cluster of active droids trilling over the remains of a destroyed machine, and Ren standing in the centre of the room, shirtless and holding a big long shiny stick as he watches.

Hux contemplates the stick in particular. The thing is a silvery grey, has a couple discreet knobs around where Ren's grip is, and would look very menacing if it weren't so juvenile.

Ren of course notices that Hux has come inside. He doesn't look at him, just gestures with his free hand at the soap opera scene being reenacted by the droids.

"When did this happen?"

Hux hits the inside access panel with his elbow and the doors close behind him. He watches one of the droids gather a particularly large piece of destroyed machine, hold it close to its chassis, and tilt back, beeping wildly.

"They were desolate without you and formed a hive mind," is all Hux can say about it.

Ren finally looks at him, lips quirked around the edges.

"They were desolate?"

That is bait, and Hux is better than taking bait. He crosses his arms across his chest and quirks an eyebrow instead. "Why was there a fire in here? What have you ruined now?"

Ren rolls his eyes. "I was testing this."

The big long stick in Ren's hands starts to twirl in his grip. It cuts through the smoke like a hot knife through bantha butter, then Ren shifts the position of his thumbs and thick lightsabre bits eek out the ends slowly, malevolently.

The tentacles are purple, they writhe about on what seems to be their own schedule, and Ren looks very pleased with himself as he spins the thing around.

Hux drops his arms to his sides and blinks. Tilts his head to one side. Tries to comprehend and fails miserably.

"And how exactly does a stick with tentacles coming out the ends cause a fire?"

Ren stops looking pleased and stops moving the stick about.

"It's a staff," he hisses.

Oh, naturally. "That makes it much less lascivious, yes of course." Hux leans against the closed door, military regulation be damned. "You still haven't answered my question."

Ren shakes his tentacle staff at Hux, making said tentacles waggle menacingly. "You wanted me to make a new weapon! This is practical!"

Hux checks the access panel, the light is green. He smacks at it twice until the light turns red, then leans back against the door and lets his legs fold up under him like spider joints to facilitate a slow slide down to the floor.

He settles with his legs straight out and crossed at the ankle. Ren is still watching him, but he's stopped with the brandishing of the weaponry so Hux chalks it up as a win.

"I thought you might make a better sword or even a set of better swords," he says, slowly, "Not embark upon the design of new and unusual sorts of.. Things."

Ren considers Hux carefully; it makes Hux's skin itch.

"What?" Hux snarls.

"Want to see how it works?" is what Ren says. Asks. Waggles his stick for emphasis, much to Hux's never ending delight.

Hux would get whiplash from this conversation if he wasn't already used to Ren, he realises. Instead of continuing to be a bastard, he waves a magnanimous hand and bids him, "Oh, do continue."

Ren runs through some slow-moving forms with the staff-- feet spaced apart, switches from one hand to both for grip, then back to one-- and destroys more machinery, which sends the other droids into fits of more holodrama scenarios. Hux sits quietly with his jaw clenched and watches.

After Ren is covered in sweat and relaxes out of his basic stance, Hux slow claps.

"I can't tell if you're being snide or not," Ren says as his lips form a pout.

Hux stops clapping and holds up both hands in surrender. "This is all nothing that can't be achieved by a blaster of course--"

Ren snarls at him.

"--but I realise that this sort of thing is important to you, so I'm attempting to view it from that angle. So no, I'm not being snide."

Ren starts to fidget. He really doesn't look menacing at all without the helmet. It's a good thing that he all but hides in the closest maintenance closet when the troopers are around because he'd never manage to keep a reign of terror going otherwise.

A droid activates on its own from the opposite wall and rolls forward to Ren's mess. Hux draws his legs under him to avoid being run over, uses the opportunity to stand up and approach Ren as one would a spooked Resistance fighter.

After he's done slamming into Ren and making the Knight toddle backwards in rage, Hux spreads his feet to solidify his stance and gestures at the new weapon that Ren is holding carefully away from the both of them.

"We're going to raid a Resistance base tomorrow. Would you like to come along and try that thing out?"

Ren side-eyes him.

""We"? You're going too?"

"I don't have Starkiller to take up my time anymore," Hux sniffs.

Ren's face twists up as he powers the tentacles staff off, but he says nothing.

Hux sighs. "You weren't around then, I suppose? I can't remember."

Ren shakes his head slowly. "No, not really."

"Yes, well. It's a mark of good command to keep a hand in the ground operations, so to speak." Hux waves his hand to illustrate. Ren still looks lost, so he continues, "Before I was required round the clock on Starkiller, I used to attend at least one out of three missions personally."

Ren apparently has nothing to say to that, because he stares at Hux with his mouth open and doesn't even have the courtesy to squeak.

Instead of saying something scathing, Hux decides to watch the droids play some tinny dramatic music and proclaim the dead droid the long lost twin of another. It doesn't matter that all of the droids are of the same manufacturing line and thus identical. If he kept up with the holodramas he'd probably know which plot the mechanical beasts are dutifully plagiarising.

"All right."

Hux was firmly engrossed in the drama, so he starts and glances quickly at Ren, who is staring at him. "Hmm? What?"

"I'll come along. Show off a little."

Hux rolls his eyes "You always show off."

Ren grins. "Not like this I don't."

. . .

The planet they converge upon in the Lahara Sector is absolutely teeming with Allied Resistance members. Hux almost chokes on the saliva of his own satisfaction as a TIE fighter leads their shuttle to the ground and shoots a medical tent to flames at the same time.

"One thing the Resistance will never have is multi-tasking abilities," he declares, pleased. He twists in his seat to check on Ren, who is still crouching behind the last row of seats with his head in his hands.

The shuttle lands with a thump. The atmo drains out of the cabin with a heavy whoosh, and in comes the noise pollution of blaster fire, TIE fighter laser cannons firing volleys, and the pitiful wailing of some injured soldier outside.

Aforementioned injured man is screaming "get it off" like a mantra between sobs so Hux assumes that means that the shuttle landed on him.

Hux rises from his seat and picks up his long-range repeater rifle, slings it over his shoulder. He'd rather have a single-shot blaster to use, but this isn't a situation where he can perch off in the distance and pick off combatants anyway. He turns to check on Ren and finds the space the Knight had been in vacant.

He sighs and stomps down the aisle to the back room where all the stores are kept for possible sieges. The room is dark, Kylo Ren has yet again taken the form of an amorphous blob in the corner, and Hux grits his teeth as the shielding on the shuttle takes a hit from a cannon and makes the ship shake, rattle, proverbially roll under his feet.

"I can't feel if she's here, why can't I feel if she's here?" Ren mumbles in the dark. Hux takes a step closer as his eyes adjust, then decides fuckit and reaches along the wall to locate the light switch.

Ren has his head in his hands and his nose pressed to his knees. It is quite possibly the third most piteous position Hux has had the misfortune to find him in, not counting the implosion of Starkiller base and that time with the silverware slicked with bantha butter.

Hux crouches in front of him, muzzle of his repeater rifle pointed at the door. He feels an overwhelming sense of having done this before, but of course he hasn't, it's just a feeling. "Come on out now and use your shiny new tentacle staff," he says and places a hand on Ren's shoulder. "It'll make you feel better, I promise."

Ren drops his hands from his face. The man's eyes are rimmed red, his cheeks are splotchy, and there's a smear of what might be snot along one side of his mouth and jaw.

"But what if I find my mother?" he groans, drops his head back against the wall.

Hux wants to smack him, but doesn't. "Then I'll shoot her dead and you can stop waking the entire ship up in the middle of the night frothing at the mouth over pesky attachments. Now come along, there's a good murderous intent."

Ren lifts his head and glares at Hux.

"Don't talk down to me!"

Hux glares back. "You're hiding amongst a collection of canned Sullust beans, I can very well talk down to you if I want to."

He stands up and readjusts his grip on his rifle, props the muzzle against his shoulder and extends his free hand towards Ren.

Ren takes the hand, of course. And puts his entire body weight behind pulling himself up with the barest twitch of a grin as Hux snarls at him for being childish.

"You'd really kill my mother for me?"

Hux shakes out his hand and eyeballs Ren with distaste. "I don't see why not. Headshots are my speciality, after all."

With a shrug and a loom, Ren cants his body so he's looking down at Hux with glittering eyes. Hux, to his credit, only clenches his jaw and smacks a gloved hand across Ren's mouth before something untoward can proceed.

Ren rolls his eyes.

"Aren't military men supposed to be crass and loose of morals?"

Hux bares his teeth. It's not a grin. It will never be a grin.

"Careful, your wishful thinking reveals much more of your upbringing than it does mine."

The Knight licks the palm of Hux's glove and Hux removes his hand with a curl of distaste on his lips. He carefully wipes the saliva off the leather down the front of Ren's robes, absolutely does not get a good feel of firm muscle as he does so because that would be gauche, and then turns to lead the way out.

Ren follows. He picks up his helmet on the way out, accidentally careens into the shuttle wall with a curse, stumbles a bit when they reach the exit ramp out the side of the craft.

Hux ignores Ren in favour of taking a deep breath of the ozone and blaster fire smoke that is wafting in the air.

"I love the smell of a good riotous battle, don't you?"

"You also love the smell of a clean litter box," Ren mumbles as he fiddles with his helmet one-handed.

Hux rolls his eyes. "That was a joke, damnit, but I'll have you know--"

Someone shoots a Sonn-Blas FWMB-10. Hux knows the sound because he's got one of his own in his hands. He instinctively ducks, futile or not at least he will have tried, but he halts before he goes too far because a massive orange-cast bubble of wavering transparent material forms around him and sends the series of blaster bolts heading for his head off into the trees somewhere.

The furious action of the battlefield pauses as stormtrooper and resistance fighter alike stop and stare at Hux's flickering bubble of protection. Hux doesn't blame them, he's standing there like a demented mynock and staring as well.

Ren casually slides into the bubble from behind Hux, wearing his helmet with a smug tilt.

"I didn't know if that would work," Ren's voice crackles through the vocoder.

Hux's heart is rabbiting in his chest. He stares at the orange wobbling material of what appears to be a Force Shield around him and breathes slow, steady through his grit teeth. There's a warm pulse of energy around his neck and it takes all of his willpower to not paw at the necklace.

"How do I turn it off?" he asks, nearly bites the words out.

Ren's robes shift noisily as he shrugs. "Will it."

Hux sighs and closes his eyes for a moment. When he opens them again, the shield is gone and the Resistance fighters in particular as all staring at him with wide eyes and open mouths.

This will not do, Hux decides. He hefts the megablaster to his shoulder and casually shoots a Resistance fighter at the other end of the clearing. The rebel scum's head explodes in a plume of gore.

He lowers the rifle and glances over his shoulder at Ren with a grin, "Work to be done, Lord Ren."

As he steps off the shuttle ramp Ren follows him, mimicking Hux's accent in a snivelling tone that transmits even through the helmet. "Oh, work to be done, Lord Ren."

The hum of the tentacle staff powering on pierces the silence of the clearing, someone on the Resistance side of things whimpers, and Hux's grin grows sharp as he leads them both into the fray.