The transparisteel that makes up the viewports on the bridge are filled with the view of an unnamed planet close to the Varl Sector. Explosions on the surface contain enough fury to be seen from the Finalizer's position, 50 miles above the planet's atmosphere.
Hux takes a steadying breath as he settles on a chair before the main communication array. The delta-shift staff all look at him from eye corners and shifty glances, not hiding their fear. He doesn't offer reassurances because it's not his job, but also because he has none to give.
The narrow comm screen along the bottom of the array pings, runs the name of the caller in binary across the screen.
"Lieutenant, bring the communication up on the lead screen," Hux commands, then leans back.
The big wall of a screen flicks on, covers half of the viewports and partially obstructs the careful destruction of the planet below. The holonet shows a Mon Calamari who sits front and centre. Hux sees that Organa is in the background, with a bit of orange that might be a flight-suit, the shimmer of a gold-plated droid.
Hux does not wince at the sight of a ragtag gathering of misfits who managed to successfully repel a First Order-sanctioned Planet Acquisition. But he wants to.
"The General of the Resistance will not proceed with negotiations for a ceasefire unless Lord Ren is in attendance," the old Mon Calamari says. Organa is standing just behind his shoulder and glowering at the screen like a raging wall of righteous vengeance. Or like an upset mother.
Hux cants his head a minutiae to the left and surreptitiously eyeballs Phasma. She shakes her head. He flicks his attention back to the holoscreen, grins with all his teeth at Organa's pinched face.
"I'm afraid Lord Ren is currently in medical so a medroid can shove his intestines back into his abdomen. May I take a message?"
. . .
"I don't believe you."
The General's face is impassive despite the grin. His eyes are cold and like steel and also quite evil. The only movement he makes is a slight flicker to the side to look at something, but he doesn't give an indication as to what.
He also doesn't say a damn word. He's waiting her out, Leia assumes. If they were across a conference table right now she'd throw something heavy at his head, like a chair.
Despite thinking all this, she gives in to his power play anyway. "I don't negotiate with torturers. Bring Kylo Ren out."
"Lord Ren has tortured people." An aristocratic eyebrow arches on the screen.
Leia's jaw creaks. "I don't see what that has to--"
"All due respect, General Organa, and I'm quite certain there has to be some due to you at least in regards to your rank," Hux's lips quirk into a grin as he talks, as he insults her, "but if you won't negotiate with torturers then I fail to understand why you want us to bring our main torturer out to say hallo."
Poe's standing at her side for support and has since the request for negotiations came through the airwaves. He places a hand on her shoulder gently.
"I'm not holding it against him if you won't," he tells her, quiet.
Finn sits against the wall on a squishy couch with BB-8. His head whips up hard enough to crack against the wall and makes Admiral Ackbar give a full-body wince at the noise.
"Of course you hold it against him!" Finn hisses. "What the hell, Poe?"
Leia pats Poe's hand and tries to smile at him in thanks for the comfort. The attempt is an abject failure, but he takes pity and grins back anyway.
She turns back to the communication screen. General Hux isn't even looking at the screen anymore, he's frowning at something to his left.
"Let me rephrase," she says, "I will not negotiate with a genocidal maniac without assurance that a combatant who has recently failed the aforementioned genocidal maniac is not being tortured for said failure. Bring him out, I want a visual confirmation."
. . .
"Well she certainly doesn't pull her punches." Phasma sounds amused.
Hux glares at Phasma. The screen she's holding tilted towards Hux displays Ren's vitals and show an increase in heart-rate. It's concerning, but there's not a lot he can do while he's stuck with this woman.
"General, might I remind you that your fighters are who shot down this so-called failed combatant?"
"He was using the Force to--"
"To rip one of your Chiss allies' throat right out, yes," Hux cuts in with a snarl. "And yet you are concerned for Lord Ren's welfare, after you ordered him shot? What was it that they like to say about a mother's love, hmm?"
General Organa's lip curls. "The shot was meant to be disabling, not fatal."
Hux shifts forward in his seat. Ren's vitals are pinging a bit in distress, it's distracting.
"So what you're really after here, at the expense of more troops on both sides of this war, is reassurance that you haven't killed your bouncing baby boy, am I hearing this clearly?"
General Organa quietly glares at him. He glares right back, then a thought occurs and he bites down on a grin.
"You know, when your face is like that you look exactly like Ren."
The General's face goes blank with shock, and Phasma says, "Sir," quietly.
Hux looks at Phasma. The datapad is turned away. He has the impulse to stand and take the datapad from her.
"Sir, the vitals application has crashed," she says.
Air returns to Hux's lungs with a great expense of effort. "I thought he was dead!" he growls.
Phasma looks unimpressed. "He might be."
On the screen, Organa is turned to her right and speaking to someone. "--no, Poe. It's all right. This is part of the negotiation process."
"General, he's not paying attention. Permission to order an air strike," the Mon Calamari says, loud as can be.
"I don't have time to deal with you miscreants," Hux says as coolly as he can manage. "Do you want a ceasefire or not?"
"I want Kylo Ren on the screen." Organa inclines her head smugly. "Then we can discuss the ceasefire."
Hux grips the arms of his chair tight enough to make the furniture creak.
"He's in medical! One of your ground troops put a blaster rifle bolt through his guts! This is a very natural conclusion for his location if you're a logical and sane person!"
A man clad in a pilot suit tilts into the picture.
"Are you calling the General insane? You're one to talk!"
"Get those vitals back online now," he hisses at Phasma.
The Mon Calamari quivers with fury. "Sir, he's talking about vittles. Permission for air strike?"
. . .
Hux's face twists in anger at someone to his left. He looks quite ugly when he's raging, Leia notices. His face turns similar to a ruddy-faced toddler told recently told "no."
"What do you mean you have to reboot?" He snarls at the poor unknown soldier. "Get another datapad and open it again! Rebooting takes minutes!"
"General Hux," Leia says, firm.
Hux doesn't appear to hear her. "I know it's been a trying day but that doesn't excuse your forgetting how to use such a common piece of equipment that a common mynock probably has its own model!"
Leia grits her teeth and tries again. "General Hux, if you would please--"
"You command stormtroopers because you're smart and have a tactical mind, you don't get to have bad days," he snarls.
"General Hux," she bellows.
Hux snaps his focus back to Leia. "What?!"
"He's a lot more stressed than he used to be," Finn whispers to Poe, completely audible to everyone on the planet. "I think we're getting to him!"
Leia raises her eyebrows and clasps her hands behind her back. "General, if these negotiations are too stressful for you, I'm certain we can come to an accord quickly so you can get some rest."
Hux's lip curls and his eyes flash. Leia instantly feels better. It looks like Finn is right!
"How considerate," the General purrs. "Fine, if you don't want a ceasefire I'll just firebomb this piteous wretch of a strategically placed planet and piss on the ashes."
. . .
"What did I say," he hisses at her.
Phasma doesn't bother to look at him.
"What are the logistics of relieving yourself on a planet made of ashes, Sir?" she asks, dull monotone even without her helmet. Hux nearly recoils but catches himself in time. It wouldn't do to show fear of one of his own subordinates.
"Why don't we have the comm open to medical?" Hux asks a nearby Petty Officer. Eulglag, he thinks is his name.
Eulglag or Galglue or whoever stammers a series of consonants without saying anything of substance in response.
"Do you urinate in a container and we space it directly into the debris?" Phasma says, selects an option on the datapad, then continues, "Or are we creating a highly dangerous and expensive mission with my troopers in EVA suits floating around out there with brooms to bring some ash back here for you to piss on directly?"
The Mon Calamari is the only one on the Resistance side of the holocall who is paying attention to what is going on over on the Finalizer. Hux looks the Admiral in the eye and glares. The creature is unmoved, and also unblinking.
"Captain, I understand you are possibly unnerved by these proceedings..." he begins with, then drifts off without a damn thing to say for a conclusion. He's still in a staring contest with the Mon Calamari. He doesn't know how to tell who is winning.
"The medical application is still offline," Phasma reports. She's getting an edge to her tone, hint of a snarl. "If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say Lord Ren wrecked the place again."
Hux's eyes prickle in the corners. He's definitely losing this contest.
"So he's alive, then," he states, as dull as Phasma and twice as exasperated.
"Most likely, Sir. Shall I send some troopers over to verify?"
The doors to the Bridge burst open with a great gust of whooshing noise. Clomping boots happen, then the doors whoosh closed again.
Hux doesn't let his shoulders sag, he doesn't blink at the Admiral, and he absolutely does not feel any relief whatsoever.
"I felt a disturbance in the Force," Kylo Ren announces, then collides with the back of Hux's chair.
. . .
Poe coughs into his fist. "We got this sewn up if this is their top military commander."
Hux stops his rabid assault of feet and stoops over to pull up the tangled mess of muddy robes. Whoever it is is slightly taller than the General, has a mass of wavy hair all over his head, and his face is streaked with blood and something shiny.
Ben Organa Solo stands in full view of the holoscreen and blinks at Hux. The General, for his part, holds him steady with one hand and glares up at him.
"I thank you for getting him, General," she says, finally.
Finn coughs. "I think he came there on his own."
Leia makes a sharp "shut up" gesture at Finn without looking at him. She can feel him curling in on himself, but she can't bring herself to care right now. Ben is on the screen. He's alive, he's looking at her, he's standing next to a monster and blinking and--
Ben gives her a tentative, blood-streaked grin. Then he waves.
Leia sighs, feeling very tired. "Oh, Ben."
. . .
"It's Kylo Ren, Mom!" Ren shouts. Hux lets go of him and sees that the Knight's hands are curled into fists and is waving them about like a toddler. It would be entrancing if it weren't so alarming.
Hux tries to check on the fragile equipment without Ren noticing, but then Petty Officer Eulglag is lifted by The Force and starts to fly about the room with a screech, so his priorities have to change.
"You can still come home, Ben. The path to redemption is not out there, with them!" General Organa pleads.
Petty Officer Eulglag is joined in the air by a few more enterprising individuals, all of whom Hux will have to personally approve hazard pay and time off with therapy included when this is over.
Two control panels explode over by the RADAR stations. Lieutenant Mitaka shrieks and flings himself back with his arms over his head. Hux watches as Chief Petty Officer Unamo swoops over Phasma's head while howling in terror. Phasma's hair barely ruffles from the close call and she remains callously impassive, as always.
"I do what I want and I want to be here!" Ren howls with Petty Officers flying around them.
"Okay, okay sweetie, you want to be there. I hear you!"
"How much tranquiliser would it take to shoot down a force user, you think?" the pilot off to the side asks no one in particular.
The six flying Petty Officers all crash to the floor-- or in the case of Petty Officer Guck, slams into the wall next to the doors leading off the Bridge-- and Ren turns to focus with scary intent on Hux.
Hux sighs because there's nothing else for him to do.
"I wonder if I'd dare..." Ren says slowly, "To jack off in your hair."
Hux blinks. "Excuse me?"
Ren grabs Hux by his shoulders and examines his face. This is all highly uncomfortable, Hux would like to go somewhere else now.
"There once was a Chiss in space," Ren says gravely.
"Ren--" Hux tries, looking Ren straight in the eyes with as much gravity as he can muster while retaining his recently acquired level of bewilderment.
"..who fixated on General Hux's face," Ren continues.
Hux twists his head to look to Phasma for help. Her arms are crossed, her helmet remains off, and she's glaring murder at him direct. He comes to the conclusion that there will be no aid coming from that avenue of resource.
He grits his teeth and absolutely does not scream. "We are in the middle of negotiations with the Resistance, Lord Ren. Some propriety would be appreciated."
Ren releases him to throw his hands up in surrender. This pacifies Hux for a moment, but then Ren begins to sing.
"Will the wonders ever cease of the bodily fluids in this crease--" he caterwauls, "It's been eight hours already, I guess we'll have to go steady--"
Hux slaps a hand across his face. He can't help it.
"Can we get married on Naboo? I like Naboo." Ren stops singing to tug on Hux's arm gently. "Why haven't you acquired it yet?"
. . .
"Sweetie, what do you--?" she tries.
Ben flings his arms around General Hux's shoulders, which make the evil monster of a human flinch and stiffen. "When the ceremony came to a close," Ren begins to sing, "We all took off our clothes!"
Leia watches in morbid fascination as General Hux grits his teeth in exasperation. Or is it embarrassment? Ben is waving his hands and singing songs his father probably taught him, right in the monster's face.
She's torn between posthumous fury at her dead husband for teaching their baby such tavern-brawl tunes and hopeful pride in seeing her son treasure something he received from his father.
Poe hums a couple bars of the chorus, much more in-tune than her son is. He catches her glare at him and grins in return. "Oh hey, I remember that one."
"General Hux, we can discuss that ceasefire now," she snarls.
Hux drags his hand down his face and gives Leia a level look. He's not appearing so military prestige right now. Might be due to her son spouting lewdness at the man about his appearance.
"Oh, really," he says in monotone.
Leia quirks an eyebrow. Two can play at this game, after all.
Poe snickers loudly and elbows Finn. "Were they like this when you were in? Come on, why haven't we heard about how stupid they are before now?"
Finn shakes his head. "They really weren't. I think something's wrong with Kylo Ren."
"Something's wrong with all of them," Poe scoffs.
Ben staggers off somewhere to the left and something metal creaks in distress. Hux sits back down on his chair and quirks an eyebrow at Leia, who quirks one back. Then a major thud happens and Hux whips his head around.
"You! Go pick up Lord Ren!"
Whoever he's yelling at stammers something, and the General's face gets ruddy with rage.
Leia allows a slight grin.
"Dissension in the ranks, General?"
Hux freezes, half up from his chair. He looks at her for a second, then his mouth goes mean. "Apparently I'm the only one your son won't kill, it seems. Still want to be smug, General?"
Another thud off screen, then the visual display goes black and the sound cuts out.
"They hung up!"
Leia lets out a tense breath through her grit teeth.
. . .
An officer stands next to to Ren, watching the Knight with his hands up in surrender. Hux snarls at him.
"You there. You're demoted."
The officer nods, frantic. "Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!"
Ren moans on the floor.
"Sir, they're reestablishing the connection," Phasma calls over from the communication array.
Hux is too busy kicking broken console parts away from Ren's body to bother with the Resistance. He waves a hand at her without looking. "Answer it while I take care of this, will you?"
The call connects with a trill and Phasma begins to speak. "General Organa, I am Captain Phasma of the First Order. Our own General is unavailable at the moment, would you be amendable to continuing negotiations with me?"
"Where's a medical droid when you need one?" Hux grumbles and drops to his knees on the floor with a wince. Still some slivers of console on the floor, apparently.
"What happened to Kylo Ren?" Organa demands. "Is he still alive?"
Hux presses his hands on Ren's shoulders to steady him while he peers at the man's face. "Ren? Ren, what's wrong with you?"
"He still lives, General," Phasma answers Organa, "but he is currently indisposed. If you would like, I can release his personal comm number to the Resistance for future communication. Provided we reach an agreement on this ceasefire, of course."
Ren pushes himself up and promptly wobbles out a dangerous proposition. Hux grabs him by the arm to get them both standing and braces his feet a shoulder width apart as he holds him up.
"No calls," Ren growls. Tries to growl. He's slurring, actually, and staring wide-eyed at Phasma with this myopic thing going that makes Hux consider brain damage. "Do you know how much she Calls if she knows where you are?!"
Lieutenant Fawen speaks up from her command console on the other side of the room. "Sir, I think he's high as a kite."
Hux stares at her, incredulous.
. . .
"Told you something's wrong with all of them," Poe stage whispers from his perch on the couch arm.
Finn looks between the screen and Poe in a rapid, worried fashion. "What?"
Poe leans down the poke Finn solemnly in the shoulder.
"Now they're talking about mites. They're nuts."
"Sir, if you're able, I believe negotiations can continue. Our connection has returned to a stable level," Phasma says to someone standing off screen.
General Hux's voice is unmistakable but indistinct.
"I'll negotiate with the General only if Kylo Ren is still there," Leia says. Phasma inclines her head at the screen in acknowledgement.
"They're buying time to attack us," Admiral Ackbar mumbles into his uniform collar. "It's a ploy!"
Ben stumbles into view. Captain Phasma moves to the side to allow him more room, and General Hux follows with a hand on Ben's arm.
"Mom, they say I'm at the same atmospheric level of something called a kite," Ben announces. "Mom, what's a kite?"
Leia tries to smile. "I have no idea, honey."
Ren wobbles where he stands. General Hux moves around to Ben's other side and wraps an arm around his back to steady him. Leia narrows his eyes at the evil man.
"The ceasefire, General," she says, clipping her vowels with derision.
Hux is still more focused on Ben than Leia. There's a cut on the side of his face that wasn't there earlier, a slight trickle of blood is running down his cheek and drips off his chin. "Oh, are we back on that little old thing? Everyone seems to be distracted today, I nearly forgot that was our sole purpose in speaking with you miscreants."
"I like being a miscreant. Sounds fun!" Poe says.
Finn side-eyes Poe.
"Is that a verb or a noun?"
Poe scratches his chin. "I don't know. We should ask someone."
Hux rubs at the side of his jaw with his free hand and narrows his eyes at Leia.
"Right, terms. You let us bus our remaining troops off the planet and we'll life the embargo temporarily so you can get your precious replenishment supplies."
. . .
"You take your troops and you leave the system completely."
Hux presses his hand against Ren's stomach to steady him, but the leather of his glove slides across the man's skin too slick to be anything healthy. He pulls his hand away to see a thick wet smear across the fingers and the palm. He frowns at it.
"We retreat a reasonable distance of 30 miles from atmosphere and continue orbit," he answers her without really thinking about it. He tugs on the hem of Ren's tunic. Ren lets him pull the fabric up without comment.
General Organa bares her teeth at him. "It's not a ceasefire if you persist in lurking."
The blaster bolt hit Ren opposite the bowcaster wound he got on Starkiller over a year ago. The slice is taped flimsily shut with little stickers of bandages. The entire thing is smeared in blood and plasma, and the cut gapes despite the bandages.
Hux stares at this abomination of medical care and clears his throat. To Organa he says, "We wouldn't be the First Order if we didn't lurk from time to time."
He brushes his thumb against the edge of the wound. The slightest bit of pressure causes a fresh gush of blood and plasma to eek out. Something visibly shifts under his thumb, and he removes his hand a scant amount to see the brightness of what is probably Ren's innards on display for all.
Illness is not something Hux ever feels, but at this very moment he wonders what it would be like to vomit in revulsion. Would it be a relief?
"General?" General Organa says on the screen. "General!"
Hux looks up to meet Ren's eyes. "Why isn't there bacta on this? Better bandages?"
"I didn't like the droids so I stopped them," Ren answers, simple.
"I don't care about your lurking credo, General, I care about you not reneging on your word," Organa is saying. She sounds distant under all the white noise that is scurrying around in Hux's ears.
He takes a deep breath to centre himself and tries to glare at Ren. "Bacta will help you heal regardless of who puts it in place."
Ren scrunches up his face, not the slightest bit cowed. "Bacta itches."
Hux closes his eyes for a moment, then looks back at the wound. One sticker bandage looks like it is loose on one side. He brushes a finger against it and it comes off of Ren's skin and falls to the floor, a sodden mess of failure.
The rest of the bandages look to be in the same state, to be perfectly honest.
He swallows. "How are you keeping yourself together?"
Ren perks up a bit. "The Force!"
. . .
"They're planning an air strike," Admiral Ackbar sulks.
Someone off screen on the First Order's side loudly vomits. The voice of Captain Phasma tells someone to "clean it up," and there's a scurry of boots in answer.
The General tentatively presses his hand back against Ben's stomach and still won't look back at the holoscreen. Ben is staring at Hux's face with this open expression that Leia has to swallow a lump in her throat against. What has Snoke done?
"I recognise your position, General, but if we were to retreat any further than the offered amount then it will appear as if this is not a ceasefire, it is a loss on our side." Hux finally looks at Leia. He's got this blank look to his eyes that reminds her of a Hutt in the process of ordering her death. "And while I know this would be a boon to your side's morale, we at the First Order are not interested in providing you excuses for hope."
"Nice words, General," she sneers, "but what are you going to do with them?"
Hux grins slow while his eyes remain the careful blankness. His hand spreads wide and possessive across Ben's bared stomach. The picture isn't the best in terms of resolution so she cannot see what's going on there, but Ben is still staring at Hux with wide eyes and his exposed skin looks... wet. With something dark.
"Why, General!" Hux barks out a laugh. It's the kind of laugh that make small children indiscriminately cry. "I'm going to firebomb your precious planet, hang the loss of personnel and resources."
The communication winks out. Slowly the neon green text saying "CALL DISCONNECT, INPUT NUMBER FOR CONNECTION" starts to circle and twirl across the screen as everyone watches, stunned.
Leia swallows against her sudden dry mouth.
"Contact the rebels and tell them we all need to evacuate, Admiral."
. . .
"Lieutenant Jibe, you have the conn," Hux commands as he propels Ren forward, really gets a marching rhythm going. "Captain Phasma, prepare to destroy the surface of that planet with long-range missiles and possibly a warhead if we have one to spare."
Phasma takes a halting step forward in their direction.
"Sir, this is unlike you," she says.
Hux scoffs. "The core will still be acceptable to mine, we won't be out too much."
"It's a mining and agricultural planet, sir!"
"And I am a very very irritated military commander, Captain. Do as I say."
Phasma clunks angrily back to the weapons consoles. Lieutenant Fawen catches up with them like a Hutt-spawned flying fungus, and holds a lit datapad out. "Sir, shuttles are leaving the planet and none of them are ours."
"Let the command vessels leave and shoot down an odd number of troop transports."
Ren whimpers and urps up his throat. Hux tries to angle his body behind Ren so if vomit happens it doesn't happen on him.
Lieutenant Fawen follows them right to the doors, damnit. "No command vessels, sir?"
The doors whoosh open to showcase a vast array of devastation and sparking ceilings. Hux doesn't pause, he doesn't have time. He swallows down a curse, then, "Yes, yes, let Organa live. You heard me."
The doors to the Bridge slide closed behind them, cutting off Fawen's pursuit.
There are quite a few stormtroopers running up and down the halls, ducking into rooms and running back out of them just as quickly. Hux grits his teeth and keeps himself and Ren slogging through the pandemonium, makes mental promises to himself that he'll get a fresh lot of troopers soon and then he can space the current ones. Or send them to die on a planet somewhere, though that won't be nearly as satisfying.
Hux's hand slides along Ren's stomach as they march, as if that'll help keep Ren's innards in. He feels the intestines move against Ren's open flesh and wonders about the prospect of vomiting again.
"You're letting my mother live?" Ren gasps in question. Hux tightens the arm he has around the Knight's waist and veers them around a broken droid set in the middle of the hall. Ren presses his face against Hux's head and drools onto Hux's scalp.
"Only so I can ruin her first. That woman knows how to verbally spar, and I will make her beg for death before I'm done with her."
"I can see that happening," Ren mumbles into Hux's hair, "I often want to beg for death while talking to you."
If Hux were a nastier person, he'd drop Ren cold and kick the bastard right across his open belly. He navigates them around another broken droid-- what the hell is happening to these things? Is that one sparking?!-- and fantasises about Ren's pained screaming in this hypothetical scenario.
Ren's arm starts to slide off of Hux's shoulders. He grapples at Ren's chest to try and slow the eventual disengage. "If I apply the bacta myself will you leave it be?"
"Don't see why not," Ren mumbles with a shaky breath for punctuation.
Hux angles his head so he can get a good look at Ren's face. The man's skin has broken out in a cold sweat, his eyes look less dreamy and more sharp, tense in the corners.
"Analgesics wearing off, I see?"
Ren grimaces at him. "How'd you guess?"
Hux adjusts his grip on Ren and tries to hurry them faster. If Ren passes out, there is no way in kriffing hell that he's dragging the hulk of a man.
"You're no longer improvising terrible poetry at me."
A third droid is off in the corner, and this one is absolutely sparking. Hux gets an inkling that Ren might be to blame, because Medical is two doors down and has flames licking out the wrecked double doors.
He stops their progress so they can watch the flames curl up against the ceiling. Ren shakes in Hux's arms, probably from blood loss, and mumbles something.
"What was that?" Hux asks, dips his face closer, teeth bared.
"They weren't improvised," Ren mumbles a bit louder and stares at his blood-flecked boots.
Hux drops him.