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A truth should exist,
it should not be used
like this. If I love you

is that a fact or a weapon?

Margaret Atwood, We Are Hard

 

Across the frigid medbay, the dull ghost of his reflection stares back him. The darkened flat expanse of the datascreen shows the small smudge of his body: meagre, pale, bleary. Gooseflesh prickles his skin. A throbbing ache thrums in his temples. Soreness seeps into his joints, making his tendons sticky, unwieldy, gummed up. He wants to grind the flat of his molars together until the pressure building behind his forehead starts to chip away, the flakes of enamel and bone sparking and sputtering like a haywire nerve.

He makes a fist against one thigh, watches the blood drain from his knuckles, the skin drawn taut and white. He thinks, absently, about the feeling of punching something, someone: the crinkling disintegration of a cheekbone, the sharp little bloom of skin splitting.

The door slides open, the medic emerging from the darkened corridor: Medical Captain Andal Pierce. Hux remembers promoting him almost a year ago, a preternaturally hurried-looking boy of twenty-one with a sweep of black hair and intelligent dark green eyes. Now, he looks sleep-mussed, vaguely disoriented, more put-upon than usual.

They sent the Captain, Hux thinks, with a thorn of annoyance. Someone’s been talking when they shouldn't be. He immediately blames Mitaka.

“General.” Hux can see Pierce’s jaw working to suppress an urge to yawn as he reaches out and toggles a switch: the medbay screens sputter to life. “My apologies for keeping you waiting.”

Hux squints at the sudden flares of light, the tinkling mockery of files compiling, databases booting up, instruments ready to receive vitals.

Pierce straightens, adjusts the collar of his uniform, retrieves a personal datapad. Hux imagines his own file there, staring up at the captain, the string of vitals the young female medic collected scrolling like a litany of curses, secrets even his own body has been keeping from him.

“What can I do for you, sir?”

“I’m unwell,” says Hux.

As if perhaps he has not come here of his own volition in the middle of the night shift, stripped himself of his uniform down to his undershirt, allowed himself to be prodded, poked, his temperature to be taken, like a child; as if he is not sitting on the edge of a cold, papery cot with his knees together and his shoulders drawn up, the fragility of his own skin exposed and the red rims of his burning eyes untempered by the overhead fluorescence.

“Could you describe your symptoms for me, sir?” Hux sees Pierce’s eyes flicker over the bare skin of his arms.

“Bruising,” says Hux. “Unexplained, at this point. My arms, torso, sometimes my legs. Other lesions. Muscle soreness. General fatigue. Headaches. Some—disorientation.”

Pierce scrolls neatly through something on the datapad. “And for how long have you been experiencing this, sir?”

“A month,” he says. He regrets it, immediately, at the frown that tugs at the corners of Pierce’s mouth. But he continues: “At least. The bruising, that was first.”

“I see,” says Pierce. “Unexplained, sir?”

“The Direllian Plague causes lesions,” he says, feeling increasingly irritated at having to explain himself, frowning down at the ring of purpled, sickly mottled skin around his wrist. He resists the urge to poke at it. “Muscle pain. Fatigue.”

“So does over-exerting yourself in simulations,” says Pierce. When Hux shoots him a sharp, displeased look, he adds: “Sir.”

“It's not as if I'm in there just flinging myself about,” Hux says. “I haven't done a battle simulation in weeks.”

“You don't have the plague,” says Pierce, firmly.

“You haven't done a single test,” Hux says. He presses his fingers into the bruise at his wrist, as if in protest; the dull surge of pain is not nearly as satisfying as he would like. His shoulder still aches. His thighs ache. Everything aches. His eyes are dry. He keeps seeing dark spots at the edges of his vision. There were new scratches along his chest this morning. His throat feels so swollen, he can barely swallow. He's not sure if he'd rather receive a prognosis of rapid, inevitable death or be told he's in complete health, at this point.

“You don't have Direllian Plague,” says Pierce. “If you had Direllian Plague, you would be bleeding from your ears. Sir.”

Certainly something to look forward to, thinks Hux.

“If you had Direllian Plague,” continues Pierce, “You would be vomiting green bile. Your lymph nodes would have ruptured. You would be experiencing extreme gastrointestinal distre—”

“Yes, all right,” Hux shudders.

“You don't have the plague,” says Pierce.

“Clearly,” says Hux.

“But you did faint,” says Pierce.

“I didn't faint,” snarls Hux.

“Yes sir,” says Pierce.

“I,” he says. “May have tripped.”

“Yes sir,” says Pierce, frowning down at his datapad. “Except I see here that Lieutenant Mitaka submitted a report today. In which you—”

Hux levels a stern, practiced glare at him. He feels as though it is a testament to his military prowess and leadership capabilities that even perched on the edge of a cot, in only his undervest and pants, covered in strange bruises, disastrously disoriented and maybe at the tipping point of going completely insane, he is able to see the exact moment that the captain physically shrinks back.

“—tripped.”

“I want your opinion, medic,” says Hux. “Not the Lieutenant’s.”

“Yes, sir.” Pierce gestures at Hux’s left arm with an open gentle lift of his hand, and asks, “May I, sir?”

Hux permits him with a terse nod; Pierce’s palm is warm, his fingers precise when he cups Hux’s wrist and elbow, lifting it, turning it over slowly, and back again.

“How is that, sir?”

Horrible, thinks Hux. Because I am being treated like a piece of brittle glass.

“Fine,” he says. “Sore.”

“And how is your sleep?” says Pierce, turning Hux’s wrist over in his hands, pressing two dry, warm fingertips to the veins on the underside.

“Normal,” says Hux. “Two or three hours.”

The captain glances up at him, subtly, then places Hux’s wrist back on his thigh.

“Except—” Hux starts, and then stops. He feels a sick little furling of nausea in his belly with the realization that it is imperative he admit to it—all of it, even the worst of it all.

“Yes, sir?” Pierce has taken out his pocket scanner and is waving it cursorily around the crown of Hux’s head.

“I've been,” he wets his lips. “Losing time. Sometimes—hours.”

He fears it sounds childlike, petulant. He straightens, says: “It’s very unlike me.”

“Any other forgetfulness?” says Pierce. He clicks off the scanner, glances down at his datapad.

“Yes,” says Hux, begrudging.

“Irritability?”

Always, thinks Hux.

“I suppose,” he says.

Pierce hums under his breath, gaze drifting to the bruises on Hux’s wrist. “Anything else,” he pauses, seemingly considering his phrasing. “Unusual?”

“This whole experience is, I assure you, very unusual,” Hux says, tightly.

“Sir, I mean—have you perhaps been experiencing hallucinations? Auditory? Visual? Seeing or hearing things that aren't there?”

“I’m aware of the definition of hallucination,” Hux snaps.

He has been dreaming, experiencing a sense of psycho-somatic division, as if his body may know something his mind does not. It is unusual, disorienting, vaguely barbaric. Day-dreaming, perhaps. Nightmares? He’s—uncertain. Things run together, it’s all still unclear: the sensation of fingertips grazing the nape of his neck, along his spine, when there is no one in the room. Someone’s voice cradled in the back of his skull like a memory, a sick déjà vu. Words he never remembers having heard. Echoes of his own name in an unfamiliar tone. Thoughts that have felt oddly alien to his own neurons—as if his mind were trying to expel them as a virus, an infection, a blistering parasite.

“Perhaps,” he says. “That may have. Happened.”

“You're not dying, sir,” says Pierce, closing Hux's file with a firm, decisive gesture. The glow of the datapad dims. “You're overtired.”

“What,” says Hux.

“Exhausted,” Pierce says. “You're fatigued. A man with your demanding schedule should be getting twice as much sleep as you are, at least.”

“A man with my demanding schedule,” says Hux, testily, “cannot afford twice as much sleep.”

Pierce frowns, for a moment, and then turns and taps something quickly into the large datapad screen behind him. In response, the medical droid in the corner spits out a series of small medtabs, which Pierce sweeps into a thin, black packet.

“A sleep aid, sir,” says Pierce, pressing the packet into his palm. “Take with plenty of water, approximately thirty minutes before your rest cycle.”

Hux frowns at the black little square in his hand, represses a childish urge to hurl it across the room. His ribs are aching; his headache has started up again. He is a well-tuned apparatus of body and mind, strategy and structure—he doesn't need pills to help him sleep.

“And this,” says Pierce. When Hux glances up, Pierce hands him another packet, slightly larger, in white.

“Vitamins,” says Pierce. “For the bruising, sir. You're clearly operating with some serious deficiency.”

It is, in many ways, the last straw.

“Dismissed,” he barks.

Pierce flinches.

“You are dismissed, Doctor,” he says, slower this time, implying very heavily that Pierce may be an idiot.

“Sir,” Pierce recovers, if barely. “Yes, sir. I'll schedule a follow-up according to your public calendar.”

The mere suggestion of having to slink back into the medbay, stripping down in the cold, recycled air to his most diminished form leaves Hux burning with a desire to fire off several hundred rounds into the most chaotic battle sim he can muster.

“‘Dismissed’ means you are meant to leave,” he says, coldly.

“Sir,” says Pierce, fumbling with the door panel in his haste to comply. “Goodnight, sir.”

Each layer of clothing he dons fortifies his rage. By the time he buttons the front of his uniform, he is fuming, his knuckles trembling as he hooks the last clasp at his throat and smooths down the placket with both of his palms. By the time he fastens his belt, he is furious. By the time he shakes out his greatcoat and swings it over his shoulders, he is seething. He slams the side of his closed fist into the door panel and strides out into the corridor.

Deficient, he thinks, enraged, mocking, the two packets of medtabs clutched in his sweating, overly warm hand. Overtired, fatigued?

“Pah,” he spits. Two troopers moving towards him at the end of the hall seem to wisely reconsider their current path.

Not dying, he feels his lip curling as he mimics Pierce’s thin voice in his own head. You're not dying, sir.

“Bantha shit,” he growls, stabbing at the panel by the entrance to his quarters with the side of his fist. The lights flicker on as he steps inside: the bright little hum seems to mock him it makes his head twinge anew.

“‘Not dying,’” he hisses, to his empty rooms. He can feel the packets starting to crumple in his fist; he hurls them onto his desk. “‘Not dying,’ my kriffing arse.”

He stalks to the far side of the room and flings open the cabinet door. His hands are shaking when he pulls down the bottle and a single glass; even the gentle tinkling is grating, harsh, on his nerves. He grinds his jaw as he pours, but his wrists aren’t steady, and the amber liquid sloshes over the rim of the glass, over his fingers.

“Damn,” he hisses, through his teeth. He brings it to his mouth, anyway, taking a long drink—he can feel the burn on the back of his throat, but he hardly tastes it.

He hates this. He hates it. The way he can feel his own veins collapsing, his own cells dying, neurons firing weakly in an attempt to keep him on his feet; he hates the dark spots crowding his vision, the thick pressure of pain gripping his temples, the apathy in his muscles, all of his acuity and perception closing instead around him like a fog, like a vice. He wants to pace, wants to grind his teeth, wants to scream, just to feel some sort of heightened agency, some sort of power, again.

The thing in his head, this slithering presence of instability: the lost hours, the dropped names, the prickling anxiety of being stalked by some unformed haunting nightmare, the tremulous static of memories he knows he never made, and yet—what if it were real? What if this is me, he thinks, gripped in paralytic terror, alone in his cold quarters, free hand balled into a fist at his side, barely able to breathe. What if this is how I die? Insane, weak, plagued by some creature inside my own head.

He blinks back something burning and wet behind his eyes, and the glass shatters in his hand.

Shit.”

The curse is out of his mouth before he can think. Shit. His hand is stinging; there is blood welling in his palm, liquid and shards of broken glass on the floor at his feet. For a moment, he stares at the dark red pooling in the creases of his hand, considers for the flicker of a second closing his fist and digging his own fingers deeper into the gash in order to have proof of some satisfying surety of cause and effect, that if he brought it to his tongue it would taste of his own blood.

Instead, he pushes into the refresher, finds a towel at the edge of the basin, turns on the tap with his elbow and thrusts his hand under the stream of cold water. His jaw catches, at the pain, and he sucks at his teeth, wrapping the towel around his bleeding palm.

Shit, he thinks again, unbidden, when he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror.

He looks—terrible. Raw, blotchy with pale cheeks and a flushed neck; he’s lost weight, somehow. The hollows of his eyes look deep and violet. There are bruises on his neck too high up to cover with his collar. His mouth looks chapped and swollen, an abrasion against his jawline pink and full of poisonous blood, like a creature has been chewing on him in his sleep.

Not dying, he thinks. Ha.

“If father could see you now,” he whispers. He can hear it, in his voice, unbidden and immediate; the familiarity of the insult almost grounds him, for a moment. That gentle, scathing disappointment—Junior, you know better than that.

He stares his weak, weary-eyed reflection in the face, and takes one long, shaking inhale before turning away.

“Clean that up,” he orders to his empty quarters, and the hospitality droid in the corner burbles pertly to life, scurrying to sweep away the broken glass and suction up the pool of liquid.

Hux watches it work, dully, from his console chair. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see the two medtab packets, still resting where he’d thrown them earlier. He tosses the bloody towel onto his desk, and flicks on his console datapad: his waiting messages and crew reports scattering into their corners of the screen, waiting for his response.

He glances at the medtabs again, makes a tentative fist with his injured hand. When he looks back at the console screen, his vision blurs.

Kark it, he thinks, grabbing the black packet, shaking out two tabs into his still sluggishly bleeding palm. He swallows them dry.

If I’m going to die, I’m going to go out working.

 ---

One standard Imperial month prior.

The mood in the holochamber is tense before either them, or more likely Hux, can contribute an opinion. They have been aboard the Finalizer together for three Imperial standard months, and Hux has yet to demonstrate an ability to hold his tongue. Today, however, it’s their Supreme Leader who has wisdom to impart.

While Hux stands at attention, his pale eyes fixed straight ahead, Ren feels himself begin to slouch, his shoulders rounding in like a pubescent girl attempting to hide the first bud of breasts. At his sides, his fists curl up, the leather bunching between his knuckles. This meeting bores him, despite the pulled taut feeling in the air. There were many, many reasons for abandoning his old life, and one of them, while it may have taken him nearly a decade to admit it, is that he simply doesn't have the patience to be a Jedi. At least he didn't, not as the twitchy, awkward twelve year old he’d been.

He doubts he’d have that patience now. His restlessness has been cultivated.

“There are a myriad of ways in which an alliance with the Giddaak family will be beneficial to our cause,” Snoke drones on. “And it is your responsibility, General, to maintain the kind of courtly…”

Behind his mask, Ren tries to stifle a yawn. He pokes lightly at Hux’s mind for something more entertaining to do with his mental faculties, and is disappointed to find that Hux is actually paying as much attention as he seems to be.

“It is an honor, Supreme Leader,” Hux says, simpering, as always.

“And you, Lord Ren, if you’d care to join us—”

Hux side-eyes him with such intensity that Ren can feel it through his helmet. He jerks his shoulders back, but inclines his head.

“My training—” Ren begins, hoping an excuse might work in his favor, except he can hear Hux mimic him in his own head, a snotty imitation of his voice in echo—my training. Ren coughs. “Deepest apologies, Supreme Leader,” he says instead. “I have been...preoccupied.”

“Your task is altogether more complicated than diplomatic niceties,” Snoke continues. “It would behoove you to listen closely.”

Hux perks up; his busy mental ballet of annoyance, envy, and curiosity leaping into full swing, a Corellian circus of emotion.

“Yes, my lord,” Ren says, ignoring the maelstrom of feelings beside him with effort.

“We have reason to believe that a piece of intel greatly desired by the Resistance has been located on Dagobah.”

“Dagobah,” Ren repeats faintly.

“Yes. And I am burdening you with its retrieval, Lord Ren. A holodrive, with a very particular portion of map in its contents.”

An uncanny feeling settles into Ren’s chest. He knows what this is; he hopes Snoke will not say it.

“The map to Skywalker—” Ren’s eyes squeeze shut ”—no doubt holds some meaning for you. I trust you will exercise restraint, and remember your training with regard to more personal matters.”

“How do you know. How do you know the Resistance.” Ren stutters to a halt. He swallows. “Can you be certain this drive is there?”

“Yes,” Snoke repeats. His voice patient. It’s the voice Ren remembers from his childhood. Placating, calm, stroking the inside of his head, and soothing. “We are done here,” Snoke says. “You have your assignments.”

Then Snoke’s towering holograph disappears abruptly as it always does, like an attempt to avoid further conflict with his charges.

Hux turns to glare at him.

“Cretin.”

“Suck-up.”

The general’s eyes narrow. “I don’t know who you think you are, Lord Ren, questioning our Supreme Leader like you were born with a mythra spoon in your mouth—”

“Shut up, Hux,” Ren spits, anxiety morphing rapidly into annoyance.

“I certainly will not.”

They leave the holochamber, and even as they move into the hall between their quarters, where anyone might happen upon their row, Hux does not shut up.

“I’ve never seen you quite so ruffled, Ren.”

There’s an airiness to his tone. He is all but preening in the aftermath of Snoke’s suggestion that he could possess some old-world grace. When they reach the paired doors that lead to their all-too-close rooms, Hux is full-on gloating.

“Shall I locate the closest piece of helpless machinery for you to mangle? Or are you capable of riding out your foul mood like a normal person? If you are a person, under all that.”

Ren stops. He knows how loud his breath sounds through his vocoder. “I suggest you locate your common sense, General. And tread lightly.”

“You—” Hux sneers. “What could some swampy mudball planet, and a long dead Jedi,” he says it like a curse, “mean to you, a knight of Ren?”

“Hux.”

“You’d think,” Hux laughs, gesturing nonchalantly, “with the way you stomp around my ship, that you were related to that turncoat Darth Vader. The helmet certainly—”

He doesn’t have the opportunity to finish, the insult caught somewhere in Ren’s Force-grip around his throat. Hux clutches at nothing as he's lifted up against his own door. Ren has only done this once before, and it’s more fascinating to watch Hux struggle than he could have predicted: the little sounds from his throat as Ren eases up the pressure only to tighten it again, the hectic red that spreads so quickly across his porcelain-pale cheeks. The fact that Hux has somehow managed to keep hate in his eyes even as Ren robs him of the very air he requires to survive makes Ren wish he had Hux pinned up close, his own bared hand wrapped around that pallid throat. He is about to take one long, damning step forward, when Hux coughs, and Ren realizes his control has slipped.

Kriffyou—” Hux bites out. He is stubborn.

Ren lets him go.

“Maybe I am,” he says, as Hux catches his sodding, uptight breath in front of him, head bowed forward, fingers digging into his knees, the back of his all-too vulnerable neck on display. Ren can see indents from his efforts, his Force-grip as broad as his palms.

Hux deprives him of the view and regains his footing, huffily pushing his undone fringe away from his face. He slams his palm against keypad beside his door and it slides open. With little care for consequences Ren follows him into the dark, staying close until Hux turns on him, fuming, impossibly irate that Ren had the nerve to tramp along at his heels.

“Maybe you're what?” he snaps.

“Related to Darth Vader.”

“Then you’re a traitor, too, and you have no place on this ship, or in this revolution, for that matter.”

“True power—”

“True power is the might of an empire.” Hux makes an impassioned fist with one hand.

And there it is, that bitter fervency Ren finds appealing. He’s seen it before, glowering back at him from his own mirror: that dirty need to prove your worth by deed alone. Hux has—several things Ren finds appealing. The angry flush across his cheeks, for one.

“Darth Vader gave the old Empire its might,” Ren says, switching tactics.

“Anakin Skywalker destroyed it.”

“He failed. He failed where I will, where I will not. I will—”

What?”

“Finish what he started.”

Hux stares at him. For a moment, Ren thinks it will turn uglier, that Hux will laugh at him, like the cruel schoolboy Ren knows him to be. Hux hasn’t lost that scrappy edge yet, however refined he may think himself. It peeks around his corners, sticking to him like a persistent shadow.

“Take off that foolish mask,” Hux says. “Let’s see what Vader’s proclaimed heir looks like.”

Slowly, Ren lifts his hands to the clasps on either side of his head and flips them open. The thin hydraulic hiss sounds and the metallic muzzle lifts, filling his nostrils with the smell of Hux’s rooms: vaguely antiseptic, the familiar odor of paper, ink and collected books, and below all of that, the distinctive scent of expensive aftershave, an indulgence. It makes his lips twitch, that hint of luxury hidden under so much practicality. When the helmet is off and in his hands, his mouth is still hitched into a half-smile.

Hux stares. His jaw falls open like some backwater bumpkin without an ounce of decorum. Ren resists the urge to dig into his mind; surprise enough radiates off of him. Hux’s shock at his appearance feels like a tidal wave. Then he muscles his face into a composed look of disdain, clears his throat, crosses his arms over his chest, and lifts up one imperious eyebrow.

“No wonder you wear a mask,” Hux drawls finally. “You’re tremendously ugly.”

Ren wets his lips. He watches Hux lose just a little of his hard-won equilibrium, and when he brushes ever-so-lightly against Hux’s mind, because he just can't help himself, he's startled by how attractive Hux finds him. It's intoxicating, unexpected. Ren smiles.

“If I’m so hideous, then stop staring.”

“I’m not—” Hux says. He inhales noisily. “Staring.”

“It’s rude,” Ren says, stepping towards him. “To stare.”

You’re rude.”

Ren smirks. “How right you are.”

R-ren—” Hux backs up and Ren drops his helmet to the ground.

The crash of metal on tile visibly jolts Hux and Ren crushes him against the wall. He catches Hux’s impossibly delicate wrists in one massive hand, and brings their mouths together into a kiss that is more teeth than tongue.

Hux moans. No one has ever made a sound like that for him before.

There were—fumblings once. A boy from his childhood on Yavin. An aspiring pilot, a feckless show-off—like his father—he shoves a thick thigh between Hux’s skinny, trouser-clad legs and presses upward, lifting Hux nearly off the ground, grips his wrists tighter and is rewarded with another helpless sound torn from Hux’s already choke-raw throat.

“You’ll bruise,” Ren says. He drags his lips over the smooth skin beneath Hux’s ear.

“I don't—”

“You like to bruise.”

Hux clutches at his hair and pulls their mouths back together. He is hard against Ren’s thigh. They’re both hard. For the first time in his life, Kylo Ren feels ravenous for something other than vengeance. That it’s Armitage Hux, the incessant natter in his ear about this rule or that, matters little in comparison to the way the roar in his head abates when the very same groans his chosen name—a debauched Ren—through kiss-swollen lips, and begins to beg for his touch. For more of him.

He could do this again and again, relive this very moment. He wants to capture it. Keep it. A butterfly trapped under glass, sustained and unfading. His inheritance. He works a hand down the back of Hux’s trousers and grips at his ass. Even through his gloves, Hux’s skin is hot.

“Don’t stop,” Hux gasps.

For the first time in this lifetime, Kylo Ren takes someone to bed.

 ---

When he wakes, the Finalizer has crested its orbit over the sunlit edge of Starkiller’s hulk: as he sets about beginning his preparations for First Shift the light through the window is an enormous slicing crescent of white, widening imperceptibly like the curve of a great, cold talon in the mouth of the universe—a somewhat rare glimpse of the planet’s still secret, emboldening purpose that gives him an unmistakeable surge of pride, of nourishing, chilling refreshment. He even pauses, on his way to the refresher, to stand at the transparisteel by his berth and stretch out a lingering ache in his upper back, to feel the gentle thrill of his own accomplishments, to watch his weapon rise out of horizon of shadow.

He cracks his knuckles, turns his wrists; his body today feels light, buoyed. Strong and loose. Despite the distinctly unenjoyable encounter with Ren in the holochamber, despite the continued niggling sensation that for some unfathomable reason Kylo Ren is preferred, coddled by the Supreme Leader, as if he is some perversely favored child, incapable of wrongdoing despite every single piece of evidence to the contrary—despite this, Hux (as the cold sliver of Starkiller’s light presses through the portal and caresses his face) finds he feels newly inspired by the unorthodox challenge of the Giddaak diplomacy. Even preferring strategy to social nicety. Even while knowing that Ren had been mocking him, behind that hulking metal monstrosity, for what he undoubtedly felt was mere trifle of mere, un-anointed humans, he is almost—looking forward to the arrangements. He will have to make time, today, to put together a roster of potential officers to accompany the meeting. He will have to allot some funds for the acquisition of dinner. Alcohol, too. He supposes the Giddaaks will expect something better than synthetic brandy.

Starkiller’s great crest grows larger. He rubs at his neck. That particular part had been—unpleasant. The feeling of a phantom grip at his throat, squeezing breath from his lungs and focus from his vision. He supposes it may have left a bruise; he frowns down at his hands, and pulls them into fists, absently. His wrists are a little tender, the skin appears vaguely discolored. Perhaps a side effect. He can’t recall pressure on anywhere else than his neck—although it had been distinctly difficult to breathe at the time; most of his attention had been directed there.

He remembers, though, the shock of seeing Ren’s bare face through still-blurred vision. He’d called him ugly, and Ren had stalked off like he had been insulted, like they both didn’t know it was obviously a lie. What a strange thing to want to keep secret, thinks Hux, absently. Strange, that he could so clearly still prove himself to be a brutish animal with such big, childish eyes and floppy, dark curls. That he could have such an oddly lovely human face, after all, and be such a monster despite it. Perhaps because of it.

Still—he hadn’t lost his footing completely. He had bitten out a slur through his own choking breath and Ren had yielded, like a petulant little child who has realized their tantrum is no longer provoking the intended response. The vision of his retreating, skulking back, even through Hux’s blurred vision, had been a triumph of its own, he considers. Not to mention the leverage of Vader’s name. It had seemed to rile something horribly malleable in Kylo Ren.

A disadvantage, he thinks, absently. Perhaps. Or not.

His neck is rather sore, after all. In the refresher, he catches a glimpse of the bruises on his throat in the mirror like a ghostly ring of violet and strange, rasping-flushed pink. A ghastly reminder of Ren’s perverse abilities: crude physicality, a grunting sort of manipulation of the universe’s more delicate sensibilities. But certainly not magic. He splashes a cupped palmful of cold water on his face, pushes his hair back from his forehead with his palms; he supposes that Ren will expect him cowed now. More agreeable. Less likely to push back.

Hux permits himself a smirk, in the mirror. He tugs his jacket on, tucks the high collar under, smooths the placket down: the bruises disappear under the thick, dark fabric.

Not bloody likely, he thinks.

 --- 

The sixth combat droid falls to the ground and Kylo Ren stomps over to it, giving it a good kick in the side with one heavy alusteel-toed boot. The droid beeps once, futilely, before droning out a long mechanical moan and going dark. Ren lifts it into the air with the Force, its broken limbs dangling, and slams it against the far wall, effectively destroying it. Won’t even be good for parts, he thinks, vicious satisfaction curling through him as he powers off his lightsaber, breathing hard. He barely keeps himself from flinging that to the ground as well, but he drops his arms to his side and groans.

He has not slept. He is exhausted.

Somewhere between Hux’s bed and the training room, the panic eating away at him had given way to pure, marrow-deep fatigue—as though he’d been running simulated drills for hours, fighting imaginary enemies until his vision blurred. His hair is matted down, damp at the nape of his neck where sweat has dried and sprung anew. And he still smells like Hux, like he’s sweating Hux out of his pores: Hux’s unexpectedly spicy cologne, the Hosnian Royals he favors with their blue smoke, his saliva.

When they had finished and Ren lay panting beside him—his legs trembling from the unfamiliar effort of fucking someone hard enough to make them scream and scratch at his back—Hux had calmly pulled open his bedside drawer and retrieved a cigarette; he’d smoked it even as perspiration was cooling on his naked, goose-pimpled skin, Ren’s come leaking out of his ass. Ren shivers, remembering it.

Hux had smoked his Hosnian Royal, and beside him, barely verbal, Ren had felt anxiety settle in, a frantic pulsing against his ribcage, the mynock of reason assaulting him, wings beating against his mind. Hux had looked—dreamy, blue smoke shrouding his face like a veil, hair in disarray, the bruising on his throat enhanced by several suckmarks Ren couldn’t remember giving him.

“You should—” Hux had said, between exhales, but before he could finish, Ren had a hand at his temple and Hux was slumped against his spare pillows, unconscious, the butt of his cigarette hanging loosely from his limp hand, collecting ash at its tip as Ren sifted through his mind. 

 

 

 

Hux smokes a Hosnian Royal.

He could not bear the command to leave, and it was surely coming. And he could not bear the thought of Hux’s inevitable regret, of the disgust that would cloud his eyes when the orgasmic haze dissipated along with his blue smoke. He had never—he had never suffered rejection well, and it had carved a chasm into him as a child as he watched people shy away, afraid and wary of his abilities. He had no intention of giving Hux that kind of power, and if anyone was certain to wield it unkindly it was Hux.

In that quiet moment, darker possibilities had plagued Ren too. His legs were still tangled up in Hux’s sheets, but he was overtaken by a premonition: the sudden, mind-numbing understanding that this encounter could be used against them both, plucked from Hux’s mind like ripened fruit, when one day Snoke sought answers Hux might not wish to give. Ren felt close to certain: he had done what was necessary. No good could come of letting Hux remember what had passed between them.

Thinking back on it, standing alone in the training room, surrounding by the wreckage of his emotions, Ren swallows back an anguished cry and calls forth another droid. He powers up his lightsaber, and lets its buzzing crackle drown out his sluggish thoughts as he sets about battling this one as thoroughly as those before it. He has been fighting off his baser urges with violence since he was a child in padawan’s robes, his braid a burdensome weight against his neck.

Ren deflects one bolt from the droid, and then another. He turns, saber raised, and falters—

Hux had said his chosen name.

The thought will not leave him. Hux had said it again and again while Ren stroked into him, and poured himself out inside him. And Hux will not remember it. He won’t remember arching his back and begging for more, or digging his heels into Ren’s skin, and he won’t—

A bolt hits Ren in the shoulder, sending hot, bright-white pain down his arm and upper back, shocking even through his body armor. He falls to his knees, pictures Hux beneath him while his chest throbs and his breath leaves him. He feels a terrible sort of longing, worse than the blast he just took. He gasps, desperate, knowing. He likes Hux—likes his utter fearlessness, and callous ways, his fiery hair, his ardor for their cause, the pinched inexperience that mars his brow when things don’t go his way. He likes Hux and he cannot keep him, but perhaps he can have him. Stars above, Ren knows he wants to.

Where’s the harm? he thinks flippantly, a grim sort of nostalgia for reckless choices surging through him. He gets to his feet.

 --- 

“Lieutenant,” Hux says, at the end of rounds.

“Yes sir,” says Mitaka, not glancing up from his notes.

“You’re from the Rim Belt.” It's not a question. They've not spoken about it in any great length, but Hux knows his careful and exhaustive knowledge of his own officers is an open (perhaps even an oft discussed) secret.

“Yes sir?” says Mitaka; the personal nature of the question is enough to wrest his attention away from the checklist. “I was born on the Leonides.”

Hux considers him. It’s almost a shame, he finds himself thinking. He would prefer Mitaka’s company. But the plain young man is too obviously shipborn and unconnected: hard-working, talented, diligent, sharp-minded—yes. But a hard-working, talented, diligent, sharp-minded shuttlebrat nobody. The Leonides. Scrap metal, now, most likely, drifting like a silent carcass off the edge of some underused shipyard. The Giddaaks would find it insulting. He won’t do.

“Send a comm to Lieutenant Higgins. Find a time for him to meet in my quarters during Fourth Shift.”

For the briefest moment, confusion flickers across Mitaka's face, but he bends his head again to pull up Hux’s schedule with two practiced, decisive clicks.

“Sir, you have an armory review I can move to the Fifth. It should allot you thirty minutes for the Lieutenant.”

“That will do.” He nods. He is feeling—generous. Expansive. Everything is going seamlessly to plan. He adds: “Very competent work this morning.”

“Thank you, sir.” Mitaka’s face brightens, imperceptibly. His thin shoulders straighten; he stands a little taller. Hux, unbidden, thinks of the way he himself used to practice his salute in the mirror as an Academy cadet. The way he learned to turn his cheek and set his shoulders rather than curl his lip when someone muttered the word Arkanis under their breath like it was a slur.

We all grew up in ruins, he thinks, absently. Why should we not hold our heads high when we look at what we’ve built?

“Anything else, sir?”

“You may accompany me to the bridge,” he says. “We can review the updated timetable for the oscillator foundation, now that we’re ahead of schedule.”

“Very good, sir!”

The snap in his step when he moves to follow Hux is bright, smart. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see the way Mitaka is holding his chin—slightly higher than usual, a tilt of hard confidence to the jaw. Hux, with that same broad feeling in his chest from earlier, when he watched the razor claw of Starkiller’s horizon emerge from the dark cycle of orbit, feels oddly, unusually, proud.

--- 

Personnel file: Higgins, Gil. Lieutenant. 00093765-098156759

Species: Human

Height: 170.23 cm

Weight: 61.24 kg

Hair: Blond

Eyes: Blue

Age: 24 SIY

Homeworld: Coruscant

Training: FO-OA, File #4958-69

Assignments: Sunbreacher (Maj. Neelan), File #759-007; Reckoning (Maj. Frenk), File #749-053; Finalizer (Gen. Hux), File #759-001

Personnel notes: Character file #98809; Martial Skill Test file #4099, Firearms subset #024 Strategy subset #056 HTH subset #872; Commanding Officer Reviews file #4

The comm on his outer door pings, startling him out of the file review and the pinched feeling between his brows. He glances at the chronometer on his console out of habit, closes the file with a sharp gesture, straightens his collar.

“Enter.”

He pulls up the Giddaak file on his main screen, adjusts his chair, turns the console on his desk just a few more degrees to the right.

“Sir.” Higgins salutes, in the doorway. “You requested a meeting.”

“At ease, Lieutenant.” He nods at the chair on the other side of his console. “Have a seat.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Hux watches him carefully as he moves across the room and settles into the chair. A smooth transition from discipline to comfort; nothing too untoward. Respectful. The fold of his hands into parade rest is easy and practiced. No signs of anxiety. He doesn’t even let his eyes flicker around the room like most would in a private quarters meeting. His face looks younger even than his age: large, wide-set blue eyes, a little heart-shaped peak to his chin. Smartly parted pale blond hair, an unintimidating neatness about him. The way he crosses his legs is mildly feminine; the confident set of his shoulders is not.

“Are you familiar with the Giddaak family?”

Higgins meets his eyes easily, although there is a sparkle of mild surprise at the question, perhaps. “The Nabooian Giddaaks, sir?”

“Mm.”

“Not—personally, sir.” Higgins opens his mouth to speak again, and then closes it. He’s testing the space between them, Hux realizes. Gauging his reason for being there before shooting off at the mouth. Another good sign—only seemingly guileless.

He leans back in his seat. “You have permission to speak freely, Lieutenant.”

“Yes sir.” There is a very pale flush on Higgins’ cheeks. His accent is clearly very naturally the kind that Hux had been made to practice when he was a child: an easy softness to the shape of his vowels that inspires in Hux an odd pang of envy. “My father—although we’re Coruscanti, he’s been involved in private security in the Expansion. Mid Rim as well. His clientele is. Specific.”

“Imperial loyalists,” says Hux, bluntly.

“Yes, sir.”

“And the Giddaaks?”

“Yes, sir,” says Higgins. “They’ve been frequent clients of his, since about the time I left for the Academy.”

“And would you say they’ve been impressed with your father’s services?” Hux folds his hands in his lap.

“Oh, yes sir,” says Higgins. He is leaning forward, almost imperceptibly. He’s getting it now, thinks Hux. Smart boy. “They’ve been very loyal.”

Hux takes a moment to make it appear as though he hasn’t already made his decision, as though he is studying the young man across from him for any hidden flaws that he has not already with his particular and formidable acumen been able to suss out. He watched his father do this nearly every day, when he was young. Higgins meets the appraising gaze steadily, with his large, clear eyes.

“Good,” Hux says, finally. “I’m enlisting your service for a specific and unusual diplomatic foray. These orders come directly from the Supreme Leader, is that clear?”

“Yes, sir,” Higgins straightens. “Thank you, sir.”

“I’ve initiated preliminary contact with the Giddaaks, which has been met thus far quite favorably,” he says. “The Supreme Leader believes that at the very least a monetary alliance with an old loyalist family would be prudent. And once certain military goals are met, he believes it wise to have in place several sympathetic political figures upon which we can rely for—diplomatic leverage.”

“Very wise, sir,” says Higgins.

“An envoy from the family is scheduled to arrive on the Finalizer in six days’ time. Along with private negotiations, and a limited ship tour, their visit will include a formal dinner. You’ll be attending as an officer representative.”

“It would be an honor, sir,” says Higgins, earnestly.

Hux permits himself an approving nod. “You’ll be briefed ahead of their arrival, but the visiting party will be small. Aanagar Giddaak, one or two of her relatives, perhaps an attendant or advisor.”

Aanagar Giddaak. Sir—” says Higgins. He sounds almost surprised, before he collects himself.

“I told you to speak freely, Lieutenant.”

“The older generation,” Higgins’ mouth quirks in a gentle smile. “They’re certainly sympathetic. I can’t imagine that you’d have any trouble with the matriarch, although if you can’t convince her, that’ll be trouble. She’s the purse strings, sir.”

“And the rest of the family?”

“It’s the younger generation, I imagine,” continues Higgins. “That she’ll have accompany her. But, they’re—feckless. Unmoored. All privilege and no purpose. Not much interest in galactic history, or its future, for that matter. At least that’s how my father has insinuated it.”

“She’ll be bringing her nephew,” says Hux, glancing at the file.

“Which one?” says Higgins. “The tall one? Or the fat one?”

“She hasn’t specified,” says Hux, rather than admitting he has no idea at all.

“If it’s the tall one,” says Higgins, easily, “I’m sure I can be of use to you, sir.”

“I have no doubt you will,” he says, as though he is not at all interested in the fact that Higgins could have meant any number of things by that, most of which make Hux feel increasingly aware of the Lieutenant’s attractive features and slender wrists. “That will be all for now.”

“Thank you, sir,” says Higgins, standing.

“Lieutenant,” he says.

Higgins pauses, folds his hands behind his back. “Yes, sir?”

“The dinner will be formal,” he says. “I’ll have a droid sent to your berth for a dress uniform.”

“Oh,” says Higgins, with a tilt of his head. “No need, sir. I already have one.”

That strange little pang again. For a very brief moment, Hux imagines the young cadet Gil Higgins home on shore leave, taking breakfast with his wealthy, well-appointed family, a crystal glass held to his pink lips, comfortable in formal tails and gold chains, whole and untouched by exile or Galactic trial. The privilege of his family’s history and the luck of the draw leaving them to drift gentle and oblivious. Just as effortlessly, just as brief, he remembers the distinct moment at the Academy when a boy three years younger and two heads higher than him shoved his face into a bowl of training resin and called him—the Commandant’s son—called him “outpost scum.”

“Fine,” he says; he turns in his chair. Suddenly, he is acutely aware of the ache in his neck, the tender bruised skin scraping up against his collar. “Lieutenant Mitaka will send the schedule to your personal console.”

“Thank you, sir.”

He hears the rustle of Higgins’ uniform and the click of his boots as he salutes. He doesn’t turn to watch him leave.

 ---

Hux has been busy, ensconced in his private office, and unreachable. His absence makes Ren feel listless.

He should be planning for his upcoming mission, he should be meditating, searching himself for the answers he seeks, but his focus is off. He is preoccupied—plagued by thoughts of Hux, and the recent… shift in their relationship. He’s annoyed that Hux has been hiding himself away, inaccessible unless Ren wishes to cause a scene and use the Force. Which—he does, but—

Instead he finds solace in mindless destruction, just as he always has. Once, when he was a child, his mother suggested that he take up gardening, holochess, darts—anything to quell his directionless violent urges, and harness the way his inner rage could so easily turn outward.

“You could have a hydrogarden,” she said. “Your very own garden right here on the ship.”

In response, Ben Solo had used the Force to crack the table between them neatly in two, and that idea was put aside.

He never meant to be this way. He still doesn’t understand why he delights in sowing chaos more than anything he’s tried—to grow. It hinders him, as much with his new master as it did with his old. Now, adrift and restless, Ren retreats to his private training room, his robes and helmet abandoned in favor of easy movement. He has kept his suspenders, his sleeveless black shirt, and the thick, black leather pants he favors, but the rest of his usual garments remain in his rooms.

His knuckles are bruised and his fingers still smell like Hux when he brings his cupped hands to his mouth and warms them with his breath. The scent distracts him all over again—that pungent, rather ripe smell of sex that gets under your nails and into the places where your cuticles are torn. Ren finds it intoxicating. Everything about Hux makes him want to inhale deeply, to prod, and poke, and push.

To create chaos where order reigns.

Ren sniffs at his fingers once more, then binds his knuckles in dark tape. He bends down to remove his boots, casts them aside, and bounces softly from side to side finding his stance. There’s so much pleasure in hand-to-hand combat, he thinks, jabbing at nothing. As a padawan, it was the only time they were allowed to touch each other, the only time he would feel real, hot skin under his palms for a very long time to come. With no willing opponent available today, he fights a punching bag equipped with sensors. It shifts away from him as he attacks. He is fleet-footed and drenched in sweat as he exerts himself further. He feels well-worn in a good way, a bit used. He didn’t know sex was such a workout until it left his pelvis sore and his thighs aching—he loves it.

A particularly hard punch causes the binding on one of Ren’s fists to come undone and he breaks to wrap it back up again. When the tape is firmly in place he stands, and finds Hux staring at him from across the room with his back to the door, his brow creased in determination.

Somehow Ren didn’t sense his arrival. How ironic, he thinks, to have the constant subject of your thoughts sneak up on you. He realizes that Hux has been admiring him from behind, and he can sense Hux’s bemused interest in his damp hair and flushed shoulders, the obvious way Hux is staring at the exposed, sweat-slick parts of his chest. He can even sense Hux’s strange, persistent fascination with his suspenders, and his unwavering gaze sends a tingle down Ren’s spine. His stomach drops with surprised anticipation.

“I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that this room is private,” he says, crossing his arms over his chest, and enjoying the way Hux’s focus shifts to this biceps.

“No,” Hux says blandly, one eyebrow arching. “I’m well aware this is your lair.” His hands, knotted together over his chest, twist awkwardly.

Ren barks a laugh. “My lair,” he repeats. “I like that.”

“Well, you are some kind of beast.”

Ren laughs again, finds that he is inordinately pleased to see Hux, and relieved. His favorite remedy for boredom delivered to him as though summoned. It’s a satisfying thought.

“So,” he says, bouncing on his feet again and coming closer. Hux backs up, and Ren smiles. “What brings the General to my lair?

“I—” Hux starts. He gestures at the leather bag suspended in mid-air that Ren has been having his way with and clears his throat. “That can’t be terribly satisfying,” he says, voice steady. “Nothing to sink your teeth into.”

Ren can feel it then, under the insinuating taunt: Hux’s bad day, his self-doubt. The emotions that usually draw him to Ren are smoke-thick in his mind. His petty need to prod at someone to build himself back up, or—and this is where Ren likes to come in—his need for someone tear him down and let him wallow without impunity.

“Are you suggesting an alternative?”

“Well,” Hux replies, stripping off his long gloves and letting them fall to the floor in turn. He begins unzipping his jacket. “I could be convinced to assist you.”

“I’ve asked you to spar with me before and you’ve always declined. Change of heart?”

“Let’s just say, today I think I can take you.”

Ren swallows, images of Hux taking him swimming before his eyes like a flurry of holophotos falling to the ground around him. He watches Hux remove his jacket to reveal wiry, pale arms, his skin nearly reflective in the bright light, and bruised. Hux’s jacket joins his gloves and he stands before Ren in just his undershirt and trousers. He has his shoulders thrown back, and his chin up, but he still looks very small to Ren.

“If you insist,” he says.

“I do.” Hux steps in close. Perspiration covers his brow, a jaw muscle twitches. There’s a bold, violent-looking suckmark on his neck below his ear. Ren can taste the salt-sweet of it. There is—buzzing energy around Hux, loud and insistent, his emotions bleeding into the ether. Frustration at his current directive from Snoke, genteel blood lust, and—a creeping need to submit and be put back in his head again.

“I’ll go easy on you,” Ren says. He looks pointedly at the ring of bruises on each of Hux’s wrists. “You look like you’ve lost a few rounds recently.”

“Don’t presume,” Hux responds, now within spitting distance, “that you know the first thing about what I’ve lost.”

“I would never—”

Hux punches him in the jaw. It’s a sharp little undercut, and Ren’s words die on a growl. He spits out blood from the side of his mouth, and Hux makes a come hither motion at him, his fists raised.

“You’ll regret this,” Ren says, arousal pooling low in his belly.

“Let’s see,” Hux says. He lurches forward.

Ren goes on the defensive immediately, blocking a jab to his solar plexus and catching a punch to the gut when he realizes too late that Hux’s next move was a feint. He lets Hux advance, stepping back, ducking when Hux moves to land another blow.

“Damnit,” Hux shouts, his eyes bulging with rage. “Stop that.” He reaches for one of Ren’s suspender straps, maybe to drag him closer, and Ren dances away, smirking, and then back.

“Stop what?” he asks, and strikes lightly at Hux’s shoulder.

That!”

Hux comes for him again. Ren taps the side of his head with the flat of his hand, then swats at the underside of his chin. Tormenting little hits, too soft to do any damage. Hux hauls his right fist back, thumb tucked over his knuckles and tries to go for Ren’s face again, his lips curled up in a scowl. Ren catches his wrist, and thrown off balance, Hux hooks a foot behind Ren’s ankle and attempts to bring them both down.

He lands on his ass, Hux sprawled out over him, face down, his crotch perfectly placed over Ren’s lap so that Ren can feel Hux’s own erection pressed into his thigh.

“You’re getting off on this,” he crows, breathless and giddy. He clamps both of his arms over Hux’s midsection.

“Kriff you,” Hux mutters into the mat. “You’re a heathen.”

“Ah, ah, ha,” Ren chides. “Speak for yourself.” He slaps Hux’s ass lightly, because it’s there and because he can.

Hux shifts over his thighs. He makes an indiscernible little sound.

“Admit that you are and I’ll let you up.”

“No,” Hux says through his teeth. He shifts a second time, then a third, his fabric covered cock rubbing against Ren’s leg, and—Oh. “Again,” Hux says.

Ren brings his hand down onto Hux’s ass and watches, enthralled, as Hux squirms. Ren spanks him again, and Hux moans.

“Harder,” Hux commands. “Do it harder.” He sounds angry; he is angry.

“Can I—” Ren reaches beneath Hux and touches the waistband of his trousers. He wants to feel Hux’s skin grow red under his hand. He wants to see it. They haven’t done this yet; he hadn’t even thought to try.

Yes,” Hux hisses. He lifts himself up on his forearms and helps shove down his trousers and briefs, revealing his ass to Ren. So pink and soft, Ren thinks, sliding his palm over each asscheek while Hux shivers under his rough hand. And so warm. Ren draws back and brings his palm down again with a satisfying clap.

Ah! Hux goes, like he doesn’t mean to, ah!

Ren spanks him again. And again. Each time his hand makes contact it elicits a delectable, addictive sound from Hux.

Slap, slap, slap.

“Look at you,” Ren says, without intending to. “You love this.” Slap! “Touch yourself, Hux.”

Hux shakes his head. He starts to sob under Ren’s ministrations, bitten back, frustrated, little outbursts, and his muscles twitch and relax between each blow. He digs his fingers into the soft mat and doesn’t call for Ren to stop. He keeps still, seemingly vexed by his own need, and—Ren brushes against his mind—feeling like he deserves to be shoved onto his face and fucked roughly like the Outer Rim refuse he is.

“I told you to touch yourself.”

“No.” Hux turns to glare at him; his eyes are wet. “Stop talking and fuck me.”

“We don’t have any, you know—” Ren gestures.

“Do it dry. I don’t need it.”

“Like hells you don’t.” Hux does. If he wants to take Ren’s cock. Ren knows he does.

Ren—” Hux warns.

Ren hushes him, swats at his ass once more for good measure, and shoves Hux off of his lap and onto his stomach. He tugs his hips up before Hux can complain, and hastily pulls down his own pants so that he can rub his cock against Hux’s hot flesh, sensitive and pulsing against his groin from the attention.

“Fuck,” Hux says. “What the fuck is that?”

Ren bites his lip to keep from moaning aloud. Hux’s commentary nearly ruins him every time. “The reason we need slick,” he says, positioning himself.

Fuck.” Hux shoves back shamelessly against him. Ren’s cock finds a place between his thin, sweat-slicked thighs. He slides easily back and forth, a poor facsimile of fucking, but good, so good. His cock catches on Hux’s rim, and Hux curses again, drops down onto his forearms, and squeezes his thighs tighter together, meeting each of Ren’s thrusts. Ren pulls apart Hux’s abused asscheeks and purposefully rubs his cock over his hole. It clenches, seeking him.

“Don’t you dare come on me,” Hux says.

“Too late,” Ren grunts, and does. He feels Hux’s anger burst like a sun flare. Sometimes you like this, he thinks, and adds, panicked, “I can fix it.”

“You can what?”

Ren doesn’t answer. Instead, he shifts backward and leans down. He gently parts Hux’s ass with one hand, and presses his thumb over his hole, smears his come over the puckered rim, and hears Hux gasp. He presses the tip of his thumb inside, fucks into Hux shallowly, pushing his release into him, and tugs at Hux’s rim lightly until he gapes a little; it makes Ren’s cock twitch needfully. Ren wants to taste him. He replaces his thumb with his mouth and Hux’s entire body shudders.

“Don’t be. Don’t be filthy, Ren,” Hux whines as he jolts back onto Ren’s face.

“I said I'd fix it.”

“This isn't fixing—”

“Make yourself come,” Ren says into his skin, nuzzling the damp peach fuzz around his asshole. “I want to feel you.”

“Feel me?”

“With my mouth. I want to feel you come like this.”

“Oh my stars,” Hux moans, defeated by lust. He wraps a hand around himself and starts to tug at his cock with sharp little movements. His thighs shake. He clenches around Ren’s tongue as he comes, the wet, thick muscle fucking steadily into him. “Oh—!”

Ren grips his hips, holds him steady and licks him through it until Hux is panting with exhaustion, sweat sliding down his back and into Ren’s hair. Hux’s mind is quieter, less fraught. Fall asleep like this, Ren thinks, still using his mouth on Hux, listening to Hux whimper helplessly, and relishing the way he trembles. Fall asleep like this, he thinks, this time with intent. And Hux does, slumping forward into a boneless sprawl.

It is only later, when he’s chasing the taste of Hux at the corners of his mouth, that he realizes Hux came to him for debasement. That Hux used him. That asshole, Ren thinks petulantly.

It makes him glad to have taken Hux’s memory yet again.

--- 

He is leaving Command Conference A, when it happens. As he strides down the corridor with Phasma in tow, not nine or ten paces from the entrance to the bridge, Kylo Ren turns the corner and advances on them, stopping less than a foot away. His concept of personal space has always been—minimal.

“Ah, Lord Ren,” Hux says, tilting his chin upward. “Yet again you’ve neglected to attend a scheduled command meeting. That’s the third absence now in as many weeks. Should I be concerned?”

Ren inclines his hulking, helmeted head. “I have more pressing matters to attend to than your tedious quorums,” he says, through the hiss of the mask.

“Yes, of course,” Hux demurs. “Skulking around the bridge, terrifying my petty officers with your childish tantrums, having your little—rituals with your filthy bowl of ashes. Most pressing.”

Ren’s mask makes a scraping, metallic noise, like the suck of air. For a moment, Hux steels himself for a physical response, and feels a twinge of vibrating pain along his spine when his sore muscles contract. (His neck is still aching; the bruises, strangely, seemingly refuse to fade.) Instead, Ren’s shoulders hunch.

“Supreme Leader requests your attention. An update on the status of your little—dinner party.”

Hux can feel his lip curl. He tamps down on it. “Everything remains on schedule for their arrival tomorrow. I’d be happy to oblige him with the good news.”

“At your earliest convenience,” says Ren. Despite the delicacy of the delivery, it sounds the pure opposite of polite.

Hux barely has a moment to sneer before Ren pushes through them, the edge of his broad shoulder catching Hux’s, and the scent—leather, burnt air, something sparking electric and vaguely, darkly metallic, like the tang of blood—hits him like a slap across his face. The effect is immediate. It starts low in his belly, curling like a tendril of warm smoke. He barely realizes it's happening before he can feel the hot, prickling flush in his cheeks, the constriction of his ribs, the way his pulse skitters over several beats. In his trousers, his cock twitches, and he chokes, involuntarily, at the sensation.

What—

“General?” Phasma has moved down the corridor a few paces, glancing back at him benignly. If she's noticed that he's been assaulted by Ren’s presence and become inexplicably, intensely, horribly aroused, it's not apparent.

“What an utter cretin,” he says, tugging the lapels of his greatcoat forward, still feeling horrendously tight in the throat. He feels as though his breathing must be very loud. “It’s honestly impossible sometimes to remember what use he serves.”

“So you’ve said, sir,” says Phasma, sliding on her helmet.

---

In the quiet dark of Hux’s bedroom, Kylo Ren considers his back.

Freckles dapple Hux’s shoulders, his spine is a little too pronounced with the way he’s curled in on himself, like he has to protect his soft belly, protect it from Ren. The short, jagged scar that runs below his rib cage (“rival cadet, fixed bayonet”) makes Ren think he has to protect himself from the world. It must be true, because the sound of Hux’s tender breath could incite him to violence. Hux has been sleeping for maybe ten minutes now. He’s been working myopically on the meaningless diplomatic task Snoke assigned to him, and his tireless efforts must be taking a toll. That’s surprising, Ren thinks. He always seems untouchable. Until they're here.

If Ren wakes him, maybe they can go again. He’d like that: pushing back into the hot, still-slick part of Hux that keeps opening for him.

Hux snuffles into his pillow, and his shoulders shift. The past half-dozen or so times they’ve done this, Ren had left as soon as he’d taken care of things, but when he returned from the ‘fresher tonight to find Hux in deep-breathed sleep, something made him stay, made him linger after carefully wiping down Hux’s thighs. The Force-sleep he usually employs is deeper than natural sleep, it lets him clean up completely without being gentle, shuffle away the traces of himself he might leave behind without fear of discovery. Natural sleep has forced him to be soft with Hux, and it’s left him feeling blurry at the edges, unsure. He feels a renewed longing lurking somewhere in his chest, trapped, and yearning to fly free.

Ren sighs. They are both still nude. It would be so easy to take Hux again, maybe even rouse him from sleep with it. He reaches out and experimentally runs his knuckles down Hux’s back, over the swell of his ass, and is gratified when Hux presses back into his touch. He slides his fingers into the sleep-warm crease between Hux’s thighs and Hux shifts into them, like he’s seeking them. There are hours until Hux’s next shift on the bridge, ample time for him to take this encounter away too.

Ren wraps his wandering hand around Hux’s hip and tugs him close, takes hold of his hardening cock, and sets about waking him.

---

Hux has never been particularly prone to vanity outside of the need to project and embody the discipline required of an officer, but the pure fussiness of the dress uniform requires a certain—lingering in the mirror.

He turns to the side, frowning. Adjusts the angle of one epaulette. Adjusts it again. Turns back to face the mirror head on. Moves the loop of the gold cord so it sits more firmly under the fold of his lapel. Tugs on the hem of the waistcoat so it falls more cleanly over the top of his trousers. This is absurd, how many pieces there are to it. There’s far too much white. Too many buttons. Even the jangle of the medals pinned at his breast, over the jacket, fail to inspire any real comfort in him. Cylinders are a far more streamlined indicator of rank, he thinks. And functional, as well. This is just useless pomp.

Not a single word better suited to describe the Nabooians, no matter how much of the Mid Rim system’s minimal wealth they still might control. Pomp, useless and overblown. When he'd first received the Giddaak envoy earlier that day, the extravagance of their clothing had seemed particularly garish in the white lights and clean, spare lines of the shuttlebay: the matriarch wrapped in heavy folds of black Velasian silk and spiderwebbed lace, a thick knot of oily royal blue feathers gathered high around her neck. She had a pale, white face crinkled with age lines, whatever hair she may have had left on her withered head ensconced under a black silk cowl and a tall, ornately wrapped skullcap dotted with obsidian-black gems. Hux supposes, pausing again to adjust the line of his waistcoat, that this was meant to be an understated look, perhaps a traveling costume.

Aanagar Giddaak had been polite enough, he thinks. Cordial, if he is being generous. The whole exchange tinged with the sense that she was doing him personally an immense favor by being there at all, that the “mutual” part of the potentially mutually beneficial arrangement was not yet clear to her, nor did she have any interest in acquiescing whatever power she believed she held in the world, no matter how small it might actually be. There was a certain amount of respect he would grant her, for that.

Her nephew, however. The tall one. Loren. A ridiculous, effeminate name for an equally ridiculous, sullen-looking youth of perhaps eighteen or nineteen. In the shuttlebay, outside their transport, Hux had immediately pegged him for a languid, drawling, spoiled brat. Heavy-lidded eyes taking in the gleaming, orderly bays, the organized movements of ‘troopers and mechanics alike, the small greeting party standing at attention before him, all with an infuriating, condescending boredom. The boy had been dressed in black, like his aunt: some sort of shiny, whispering fabric done up high on the neck with silver fastenings. His dark hair pulled back into a series of complicated, coiling loops that managed to look both lazy and overdone, all at once. His face was young and pale, with a long, sloping, aristocratic nose and a slight frown on his wide, plush mouth.

Like a half-dead fish, Hux had thought, firmly, in an effort to dispel the hunted feeling that Loren Giddaak and his very particular juvenile sulkiness looked both familiar and not exactly—unappealing.

His disinterest could pose a problem, Hux had thought, when he’d shaken his hand. If he ended up convincing auntie to keep her credits closer to the family chest just by sheer willful petulance and dour apathy—well.

He tugs on the hem of his waistcoat again. Brushes a bit of lint from the front of the jacket. Thinks of Lieutenant Higgins and the eager certitude of his own usefulness. It takes on a different cast, now, in his head. The idea of piquing interest. As useful as it might be, in dealing with an unanticipated complication, there is something degrading about it. His thoughts flicker through a scattered reel of images: setting bait, the viscous slide of amber honey dripping from a spoon, a wriggling insect caught between a thumb and finger, translucent-paper wings torn, Loren Giddaak’s fleshy wide mouth curled up in a lazy smile.

People are tools, Junior, his father had been fond of saying. They are often unconsciously grateful to be guided where they fit best.

The expansive, suffused, lightly-colored feeling from a week earlier is gone. Now, his body feels vaguely tight and sore, as if he has been spending too much time in training in the holosims. The pain in his wrists hasn't healed. If he is honest with himself, this morning they felt marginally worse. His face looks very pale in the mirror. He casts a quick glance at his open cupboards where his greatcoat hangs. His shoulders feel bereft without it slung around him. The cut of the formal uniform does so little in mitigating the slimness of his torso, and he frowns at his disappointing appearance.

He is nervous. About a dinner party. The urge to curl his hands into fists and scrape at his palms with his short nails makes him feel momentarily panicked, trapped. There is a thick knot of tension taking root beneath his ribs.

“Kark it,” he mutters, a bitter exhale, and turns away from the mirror, grabbing his white gloves from the console desk on the way out.

---

Across the table, Higgins is laughing. Hux pokes at a Shalustan rainbow prawn with his fork. Its dull, boiled-out eyes stare back at him from the nest of beetroot and aquafrisson. If he interprets that even his food is mocking him, things might be going not as smoothly as he had hoped. He picks around the prawn and stabs a wedge of beetroot instead. From the end of the table, Major Banks explains the Academy graduation rankings to a Giddaak family counselor. Next to him, Phasma bites the head off her prawn.

Dimly, absently, chewing on beetroot, Hux thinks of a diagram in one of his childhood holoprojs: The Ecological Order of Arkanis Naturis: Who Eats Whom?

The lights in the formal officers’ mess have been lowered to exactly nineteen percent, the more utilitarian furniture and fixtures temporarily removed in favor of the long, single black table. It has a certain spare elegance to it, although it is still short of what the favored and ancient families of Naboo would be accustomed to. He has spent a considerable amount of time researching possible seating arrangements, although now he questions the block of silence that is Phasma and Major Kaplan at his right.

There are to be three courses, and already by the first dish Hux is decidedly not hungry, not entirely comfortable, certainly not convinced—not convinced that this is in any way going to be a strategic diplomatic coup. Though choosing Higgins could qualify for the most intelligent and astute decision Hux has made in the last week, he finds himself beginning to regret it, if only for how in comparison with Higgins’ obvious ease and innocent sort of charm. Hux’s inexperience burns him like a hot, red brand on his forehead.

He remembers the last time he and his father had dinner together on Arkanis, before he left for his first assignment on the Loyalist II, still at eighty-seven percent completion in a Rim Belt drydock. When finished, it was to be the first of the upgraded Resurgent-class destroyers, a sparkling new flagship under the command of Sevrin Whark—the man who had pinned Hux’s cylinders to his chest at graduation, the man who had requested him personally for the bridge.

The meal then was nothing like this one: just the two of them in the dim dining room of his father’s apartment, sharing the last quarter of a bottle of Corellian brandy and two plates of algae hash. Halfway through the evening, the power went out. There had been, back then, regular brownouts, rolling through the perpetually-damp, half-occupied grey blocks of the outposts. (The hydrostations had been understaffed and regularly flooded. Landslides on the eastern edge of Outpost Nine had made the cables unreliable. The old Imperial Academy, four hundred miles away, had been dark for decades, and swallowed by rain and moss and runoff, the shadow of a monument melting into the soggy earth.) They had a generator; it restored most of the rooms to half-light.

His father always had a particular way in which he ignored the skulking mildew of decay around him. The defiant, mindful flick of the generator switch. His steadfast refusal to leave the planet in the years since Endor. He had not been a sentimental man, but he had kept certain things about him, on his person or amongst his belongings, like a brand of protective, defensive energy, like a man preparing for siege. The holo of Hux’s mother, on the day of their wedding. The ident-tags of favored students, lost to battles and time. His own uniform: still clean, but threadbare.

On that evening, it rankled Hux. The defiance felt sour, senile. Pathetic. None of it had any meaning anymore. His father was an old man who should have died young, when the things he said and the status he wore still had any meaning in the world.

He had still asked him for advice. He assumed it was the proper thing to do.

Follow orders, Junior, his father had said. Until you’re ready to give them yourself.

He went to bed angry, and anxious. In the morning, his father was already gone. He’d packed up his things, dressed quickly, caught the transport shuttle. He remembers glancing out the viewport and watching the dark cloud-grey of the planet curve away into darkness, and feeling something heavy and suffocating release from his chest.

At this meal, however, Hux has already made his speech. He had his glass raised, his other hand curled in a fist and settled confidently in the small of his back. Higgins smiled when he mentioned the “ardor of our ambition,” as if it were an intimate secret they shared, a friendly joke. (It unsettled him, for a moment.) There was polite applause, the clinking of glasses. Aanagar Giddaak leaned in from his left and thanked him for the hospitality.

Small talk comes to Hux so less easily, where for Higgins—he glances across the table again—it seems much more a second nature. The Giddaak nephew’s sullenness seems to have eased to the extent that he appears to be far more interested in the conversation with the Lieutenant at his left than he is with either the food or drink. Hux sips at his own glass, and considers the dark young man: for all his rather showy languor, he had proved himself on the Finalizer tour to have had done at least some research prior to their arrival. On the bridge, he’d leaned in and asked if the turbolasers really did have a recharge at point-four percent faster the previous possible rate. (This, of course, was classified.)

And then there was the exchange in the corridor.

“When are you going to show us the monster?” Loren Giddaak asked, when they had paused outside their guest quarters at the end of the tour.

“I’m sure I don't know what you mean,” Hux said. He’d had a brief flicker of panic that their plans had been leaked, that there were rumors cresting the sandstorms of Naboo of great white hulking maw in the sky sucking stars into its gullet, ruining nebulas, consuming the galaxy atom by atom.

“The monster,” said Loren. “Ten feet tall with a metal head and arms made of fire.”

“You’ll have to forgive my nephew, General,” Aanagar said, with a fierce, prim coldness. “He is far too fond of fairy tales.”

Ten feet tall with a metal head and arms made of fire. He wanted to laugh out loud, when he realized, as much as he also would have liked to stalk down the corridor and deliver a firm boxing into the side of a very specific, childish, infuriating head. Ren.

“Not at all, ma’am,” he said, as graciously as he could manage. “Sir, I assure you there are no monsters in the First Order, save the ferocity of our ambition to right the wrongs brought upon our system by the selfish ravages of the Republic’s greed.”

Aanagar looked mildly impressed. Loren had not.

He had begun counting all the times Loren Giddaak yawned loudly on the tour of the Finalizer. Seventeen, in total. When he yawned again just then in the corridor, Hux decided he hated him.

Lieutenant Higgins seems now to have an entirely different opinion. From across the table, Hux can hear small snatches of the conversation. Can see the immense ease with which Higgins holds himself in formal dress, in the cocoon of idle chatter.

would have loved to see that, Higgins is saying: attention artful and bright. Loren Giddaak is leaning over his own plate to refill Higgins’ glass. Do you know if

He frowns, stabs again at another piece of beetroot; even considers eating it despite his complete disinterest, if only to have something to do. They make an interesting pair of seatmates, he thinks. Small and fair, dark and brooding. Even aesthetics aside, there is something—compelling about watching the effect of Higgins’ guileless poise and easy smile on Loren Giddaak’s sulky face.

Unbidden, he thinks again of that childhood holo: a subsection entitled Mating Rituals in The Forest Fauna of The Lower Borealis. Complicated showy performances of plumage. Vocalizations. Copulation. Often, one of the pair losing a limb in the process. On his right, Phasma downs her glass of wine in one long gulp. Across the table, Higgins places his small, pale hand on the inside of Loren Giddaak’s elbow.

He wonders, idly, around another sip of wine, if Higgins does this often. Flirting. He would have to, to be so accomplished at it. He wonders if Higgins does it here, on board, off duty, leaning easily against the arm of a chair in the officer’s lounge, letting his hand linger on a colleague’s shoulder for just a moment longer than is necessary, speaking airily in the tongue of insinuation, confident in the temptation of one’s own form, one’s own body. Knowing that you have implanted a very particular thought inside someone else’s head to the extent that you can feel their eyes drag after you, when you cross the room. It has been a long time, now, since he himself cultivated that sort of swaying, heady interest in another person.

Something like a sudden heat prickles under his skin, and he almost drops his fork. He swats away the feeling with a surge of reproach. Distraction, Junior, he hears in his father’s voice, and he shoves a forkful of beetroot into his mouth so he can clench his jaw against something other than the watery shame on his tongue.

“Interesting choice of guests this evening, General,” says Aanagar Gidaak, on his left.

He swallows, puts down his fork, glances at her. “We are a military force, ma’am,” he says, weighing his words carefully. His skin is itching uncomfortably under the unfamiliar collar. He feels the need to uncross and re-cross his legs. “Perhaps not all of us are accustomed to refined company.”

She purses her thin lips, face crinkling, ignoring him. When she tilts her head away for a sip of water, the light catching the gems in her headwrap makes him squint.

“I know that young man,” she says, nodding across the table. “I’ve met him before. His father as well.”

He takes a sip of wine, to ease his throat. “I’m aware of that, ma’am,” he says.

“Of course you are,” she says. “I hope you don’t think I meant it as a criticism.”

“Not at all,” he says, and follows her gaze when she glances across the table again.

“It seems, perhaps, you are in fact quite skilled at managing your assets,” she says, meaningfully.

Loren Giddaak has turned his head to murmur something at Higgins’ ear. The particular fall of his dark curls against his jaw makes something twist in Hux’s gut. It is, more than ever before, unsettlingly, sharply, horribly familiar.

Perhaps some ‘assets’ more than others, he considers, and thinks immediately, unwillingly, of Kylo Ren.

Barely more than an hour ago, he’d swept out of his quarters on the way to dinner, rounded the corner, and smacked directly into him. His teeth rattled when his forehead had collided with Ren’s jaw. He dropped his gloves. Ren gripped him, defensively, on his bicep.

Kriffi—” he’d hissed. He’d snatched his arm back. Tried to gather himself.

Ren looked, for a moment, mildly dazed. Sweat cooled on his bare brow, his cheeks flushed. His dark hair looked damp and half-wild. On his way back from the training rooms. Stripped out of his swirling robes, arms wrapped tightly in dark strips of compression-silks, he somehow managed to look even more massive than usual. His wide mouth hung open, a wet slack little space of black between his teeth. His hand flexed like a spasm in the air between their bodies.

He was staring at Hux.

Watch where you’re swinging that oafish body about, Hux had wanted to say, but the words stuck uselessly in his throat.

“Wha—” he started, instead, and then Ren crouched at his feet.

He had a momentary flare of panic at the pure unfamiliarity of it, before he realized that Ren was retrieving his gloves from the floor, straightening and handing them back to him, clenched in one large palm between their chests.

When he tried to take them back, Ren took more than a moment to relax his grip. Their bare hands touched; he had his fingers on the inside of Ren’s large, pale wrist, and he felt pinned, trapped, the weight of Ren’s unwavering stare like a heavy, crushing pressure on his chest, the same scent, like seared animal skins, hot blood, the crackle of burnt ozone flooding his nostrils.

He tried to swallow, and found it very difficult.

“Good luck tonight, General,” Ren said.

He pushed past and left Hux standing numbly in the corridor. It took him three long, unsteady exhales before he could move again.

“That is to say,” the matriarch is continuing, at his elbow. It jolts him sharply out of the memory. He wonders if he has been staring, clenches his hand into a fist atop the table to ground himself. “That I am surprised to see so much discipline in a force so young.”

“Youth may well be one of our greatest assets,” he says, and grabs at the stem of his wineglass for something to ease the sudden sticking dryness in his mouth.

Aanagar makes a throaty noise. Hux supposes it could be a laugh. “And yet with age comes the wisdom of having lived long enough to see youth stumble, as it often does.”

For a moment, Hux thinks he may have offended her, but she continues, shrewdly, “You yourself, General, are not so old, I think. I doubt you have yet thirty years to claim your own.”

Thirty-four, he thinks, and allows himself a small puff of pride. To Aanagar, he nods his head.

“One imagines it would be an advantage to have a father like yours, in that respect,” she says. “Quite the reputation.”

He takes another sip of wine, and wills himself to meet her watery, pale-blue gaze. “An advantage,” he says. “Perhaps. An inspiration, most certainly.”

Aanagar Giddaak’s thin, wrinkled mouth curls in a fine approximation of a smile. “Yes,” she says, echoing herself in the way Hux is coming to realize is about saying one thing in order to not to have to say the other, more finely-pointed thing. “Quite the reputation. We did hear of his passing. Not long ago, if I remember.”

“Five years,” he says. He had not gone to the service. Although he had sent a speech to be read. He supposes it went over quite well. The day in question is rather hazy, considering how much brandy he had to drink by the time he stumbled into his berth. He had tried to smother the strange and disorienting combination of rage and grief into an abortive and furious encounter with his own hand on his prick, as if he could physically wring out whatever last clinging vestiges of the urge to reproduce might still be lurking under his skin. Not his—proudest of moments.

“A pity,” says the matriarch. She lays her light, small, wrinkled hand atop his own and pats it—only once—with the very particular brand of condescension and comfort that seemed, in his limited experience, to belong only to the very old and very rich. He finds himself glancing down, attention momentarily grasped by the crepe-thin translucence of her skin, like wet paper just before it tears at the seams. “Quite the reputation.”

He goes to take another sip of wine, and finds his glass is empty. Foregoing any particular social niceties, he reaches for the carafe, and decides to fill it up again himself.

 --- 

“Good luck,” he'd said. Like an idiot.

He'd karked it all up.

Hux had looked—arresting in his dress uniform, all of that gold braiding looped over his shoulder, the red First Order emblem at his slender throat. He looked—Ren shakes his head—like he belonged somewhere better than the Finalizer, like he was worth far more than the stripes on his jacket. And his mind was in disarray, distracting in its uncommon chaos. Ren felt—he felt the need to soothe him, say something, but his bumbling words only amplified Hux’s unrest, his hand on Hux’s arm had looked unnaturally large. They—may have touched hands. It feels blurred to him now, the memory disjointed. He fled to his rooms, left Hux in the corridor with his mouth twisted into a frown.

That night Ren made a conscious effort to keep out of Hux’s mind while he dined with Giddaak family, unsure that he could keep himself from interfering as Hux’s comfort level likely rose and fell from moment to moment. He can hear Hux now, thinking very loudly, and it would seem that for once he made the rare right choice.

Hux’s mind is so open that Ren can’t keep his hands to himself. It’s far too tempting to listen when his own name keeps coming up, tinged with the frustration he’s come to expect when Hux thinks about him, but just below that—hunger, which he’s far less accustomed to. He can feel: Hux’s disappointment in himself, his belief that the dinner went poorly, that he failed their Supreme Leader, his own particular brand of self-loathing, rank and bubbling. He can sense the abundance of alcohol in Hux’s blood, washing away his inhibitions along with his blasterproof rationale. Hux’s jacket feels too constricting, he would like to be more intoxicated, he’s thinking of going back to his rooms and—Ren feels his face flush—throwing himself nude onto his cool sheets to stroke himself off until fatigue or release can shove him over into sleep.

It’s an opportunity Ren can’t deny.

He’s smoothing back his hair, pulling on his helmet, and attempting not to stalk to the Command Lounge where Hux is currently posted up at the end of the bar, the overworked bartender droid covering Black shift listening to him complain as sympathetically as a droid can. The lounge is empty save for Hux, the droid, and a pair of officers far too pre-occupied by one another to notice anything else.

“Have you come to gloat?” asks Hux, glaring at the lacquered counter.

Ren is aware that he’s looming at Hux’s side, breathing louder than usual, and he consciously unclenches his fists. Hux tilts his lowball glass from side to side, the amber liquid sloshing hypnotically within it.

“Have you?” he repeats, a little sharply, looking up at Ren with a sneer.

“What would you like me to gloat over, General?” Ren asks, choosing to play coy.

Hux snorts inelegantly. He brings his glass to his open mouth, smiling into it, and it clinks lightly on his teeth. “Nevermind,” he says, shaking his head. His uniform is partly undone at the neck, his insignia brooch discarded at some point in the evening. Ren can see the beginning of one sharp clavicle, he can see a fading purple suckmark at the juncture of Hux’s neck and shoulder. It thrills him, that Hux is sitting here on display like this.

“You look defeated,” Ren says. He leans against the bar.

“And to think, I almost asked you to join me for a drink. Fool that I am.” Hux sips his—Brandy, he favors brandy. Sometimes red wine, which the ruby-tinged edges of his chewed up lips hint at.

“Perhaps not here,” Ren says.

Hux stares at him. He tips his head back, attempting to make eye contact through the helmet. His tongue runs over his lower lip and Ren has to remind himself to breathe.

“No, perhaps not,” Hux muses. “Wouldn’t want to scare away the staff with your hideous visage.”

A perverse tingle goes through him, heightens his senses. He's accustomed to this—routine by now. Hux’s eyes glint seductively even as he appears to lose his focus for a moment, looking through Ren instead of at him, and that confirms it as well as peeking into Hux’s head would: the moment Hux starts disparaging his looks, Ren knows it won't be long before he has him on his back.

“There are far better options,” Hux goes on nonchalantly, “in my quarters.” He downs the remainder of his drink. “Far better than this watered-down, counterfeit swill.”

Ren swallows. “I have no doubt,” he says, and places an overabundance of credits on the bar.

Hux glances at the money, then he looks back at Ren and smiles.

In the middle of sixth shift, the corridor between the lounge and their staterooms is empty, the overheads lowered to their buttery, off-hours dimness. Hux has lost some of his stiff posture to drunkenness and Ren watches him, amused, as he loses track of his feet and nearly falls over. When he grabs Ren's arm to steady himself, Ren’s teeth clack in surprise.

“Do you drink, Lord Ren?”

Hux slides his hand over the keypad beside his door rather than slamming it as he normally would and Ren knows with breathtaking confidence that this is a very different encounter than those before it.

“Not often,” Ren says, his voice steady through his vocoder.

“Good, more for me then.” Hux chuckles.

Ren stands awkwardly in the middle of Hux’s front room, the familiar configuration of a long banquette and two armchairs suddenly foreign to him. He has yet to find himself here without first having shoved Hux against a wall with his hips. Now Hux is looser than Ren has ever seen him: sauntering around like some grand dame, an artificial sway to his skinny hips, his affected tone even more of a purr than usual. Ren gets the sense that he has been peeling back Hux’s layers piece by piece since this began and has stumbled upon a new variation altogether. Tonight’s theme: intoxicated, ego-stung, aching to prove himself, and inviting.

“Where are your manners, Lord Ren?” Hux glances over his shoulder as he pulls a bottle from the open cabinet along the far wall. Two ice cubes drop audibly into a glass. “Take off that ghastly mask and sit.”

Ren obeys. He unclasps his helmet and sets it on the ground beside him before settling into one of the low, wide armchairs.

“Gloves, too,” Hux adds without turning.

Ren strips off his gloves and almost apologizes for his rudeness, but then Hux is perched along his chair arm and looking down at him.

“Much more tolerable.” He sounds approving, soft even, and tender probing at his mind reveals the same pulsing attraction Ren has come to expect, especially since Hux grew accustomed to his face. Now he can feel it whenever Hux is near to him, just the barest pressure and it’s there: how annoyed Hux is to find him handsome, and slightly deeper: how he longs to alleviate his frustration in a more carnal sense. Hux takes a deep breath, some of the tension visibly leaving his stiff frame.

“I assume tonight went poorly,” Ren says, giving in to small talk and the pleasure of proximity.

Nabooians,” Hux says darkly.

He hadn’t mentioned it, but Ren remembers Aanagar Giddaak. He remembers meeting her as a child, in his old life. A diplomatic function spent hiding behind his mother’s skirts and then beneath a banquet table when she was swept up into social niceties. He remembers being afraid of Aanagar’s wrinkled neck and grand plumage. She’d offered him candy and won him over, talked to him quietly about his grandmother. That whole glittering world is a distant dream now.

“I’m sure it was fine,” Ren offers, stilted, unsure of how to be kind.

Hux lifts one shoulder, with a faraway look. “I was tempting once, you know.” His tone is nostalgic, a tad dreamy. He sips his drink and Ren touches his mind gently; he’s thinking of that tiny lieutenant, the petite blonde Hux must not know idolizes him; he’s thinking of the lieutenant’s easy smile and effortlessly mannered ways, how well Hux thinks the boy did tonight, and how much better than Hux he managed to be.

Ren shifts uncomfortably in his chair. “You’re—” What? Still very tempting? No longer a child and rightfully so? “Not to everyone’s tastes.”

Hux scoffs. “You’re not to anyone’s tastes.”

Except—he is exactly to Hux’s tastes: brutish, unpredictable, and menacing. Hux would love to command him, to mold him. He would love to make him his creature, and his alone. Ren hums, and spreads his legs apart slightly. He watches Hux’s eyes flit down to his lap, to the erection he’s not hiding. He may be a blunt instrument, but he can play this game.

“When was the last time someone touched you, Lord Ren?” Hux asks, peering at him over the edge of his glass with a flirtatious little smirk. “Or has anyone ever?”

Ren keeps his mouth shut.

“You can tell me, you know. If you’re a virgin. I don’t mind. Not everyone had as. Thorough of an education as I did.”

Oh hells, Ren thinks. His cock thrums in his leggings. He envisions Hux in a thousand different configurations; he’s so small—smaller in his cadet’s uniform, in his Academy uniform, shoved up against the wall of a refresher stall, fucked out on some crinkly old instructor’s desk, some ancient ex-Imp barbarian having plowed him into boneless submission he no doubt begged for. He knows how Hux gets, how wrecked and mewling he is when he’s gripping around the base of a fat cock.

“I’m not a virgin,” Ren grumbles, livid at the thought of every single thing that has touched Hux before him.

“Well, regardless, you're certainly not the first monster I've brought back to my rooms.”

“General—” Ren’s heart speeds up. Hux is coming on to him, crudely. It’s—unfathomable, out of order.

“Let's see what you're hiding under here.” He plucks at the fabric straining over Ren’s crotch. “Can’t possibly be worse than this,” he says, and palms Ren’s cheek from beside him, tugging at his hair in the process. Hux loves calling him ugly; he gets off on it. Ren can’t bring himself to care, not when he’s had Hux spread out beneath him, gasping his name, half a dozen times over. If anything, the consistency of his insults is comforting, considering what Ren’s been doing to his mind.

“It’s much worse,” Ren rumbles, then he gives in entirely and pulls his leggings down to his knees. His cock bobs free, thick and so hard it's curved up towards his stomach, a bead of clear fluid at the tip.

“Oh,” says Hux, breathy. His glassy eyes go wide.

Ren mouth twitches into a smirk; he loves this. Hux’s reaction is always the same: surprise, sparking arousal, willingness to accept a challenge.

Hux sets his brandy down on the side table and slides elegantly to his knees between Ren’s legs without preamble. He covers Ren’s kneecaps with his soft, smooth palms, curls his fingers into the waistband of Ren’s leggings, and holds on.

“I have a talent for this,” he says. “Or so I've been told.” He takes hold of Ren’s cock by its base, and stares at it, his brow creasing, contemplating his plan of attack. It's a sloppy version of the expression he wears during strategy meetings, which Ren has stopped attending due to miserable arousal brought on by watching Hux speak, datapad in hand, the same look of confident calculation on his face.

For a moment Ren considers stopping him. Hux is drunk, obviously so, but then he takes the head of Ren’s cock between his lips, and Ren groans, his uncertainly flaring out hard and fast in favor of the slick warmth enveloping him and Hux’s pleased moan against his skin. Hux’s mouth is stretched wide as he bobs down and then back up. Ren drops his head back onto the cushion behind him and closes his eyes, concentrates on lasting. He grips the chair arms, fingers flexing on the textured fabric. Down Hux goes until Ren feels hot, tight resistance before Hux gags. It makes him harder. Hux does it again to himself, insistent, his face twitching. Ren touches his shoulder.

"You don't have to—"

"Shut up," Hux says to his cock, before trying to take even more of him, his throat constricting with a bone-loosening sensation around the thick head.

"Shhhhh," Ren says, when Hux gags a third time. "Relax. Slow down."

Hux makes an indignant little sound, the humming vibration sends a shiver through Ren. He would be satisfied to have Hux jerk him off from between his knees like this. He wouldn't mind coming all over Hux's flushed face, maybe see those bleary eyes go wide at his release.

"Sit back," Ren says instead. "I'll fuck your face."

 

 

 

Hux complies, sliding his hands down Ren’s legs as he settles back on his folded knees. He looks distinctly unimpressed, even with his eyelids half-closed and his slightly parted lips wet. Ren palms his cheek, rubbing the pad of his thumb over Hux’s shiny lower lip. He stands, slips his thumb into Hux’s mouth, and slides it in and out before he takes his cock in hand and nudges at the corner of his lips.

“Well?” Hux says expectantly.

Ren shuts him up his with cock, popping it past Hux’s teeth, and into the velvet heat of his mouth, the flat of his tongue pressed up all along the bottom of his shaft. Hux sputters around the intrusion, his eyelids fluttering, while he steadies himself by gripping Ren’s thighs, bony fingers digging into muscle, thumbnails pinching Ren’s bared skin. Ren strokes the back of Hux’s head, through his fine, soft hair, and holds him in place. He thrusts forward shallowly. Hux moans around his cockhead, and the vibration goes right through Ren, a straight shot of pure arousal buzzing directly into his veins. He cups Hux’s cheek in his palm, his hand broad enough that he could almost encompass the whole side of Hux’s face; he feels his cock through stretched-thin flesh, and starts to fuck Hux’s mouth as promised.

He tries to go slow at first, go easy, but Hux won't have any of it. He is aflame with desire to prove himself, to show his mettle however possible, to do this: swallow Ren down with sloppy, vitriolic perseverance. His fingers clutch at Ren’s thighs, and as though it were said aloud Ren can hear a tiny plaintive voice inside Hux begging him to go faster, thrust harder. Use me, it cries, both Hux and not Hux at all, the desperate, aching part of him that Ren sees sometimes and savors. He looks down just as Hux looks up, tears glistening at the corners of his pale blue eyes, his forehead wrinkled. A silent please hangs in the air between them. Ren drags his teeth over his lower lip; he takes Hux’s head between his hands, his thumbs coming to rest at the corners of his jaw and presses in. He forces Hux’s mouth wider and shoves in hard. Hux whines, high-pitched and pleased, his eyes slipping shut before his tongue goes lax and his throat opens beautifully to Ren.

Hux radiates relief. His fingers slacken, until he's just holding on lightly and it dawns on Ren, through the hazy wonderment he feels watching Hux take him, that he is keeping Hux fully upright by his neck and jaw, supporting him with his cock, like a hook, while Hux garbles helpless little sounds, drooling down his chin with each thrust.

“I'm close,” Ren says.

Hux squeezes his thigh and it feels like assent almost too late, because Hux’s throat muscles spasm around him and Ren is done, lost to the crashing throes of his own orgasm, and coming with a shout down Hux’s throat. His spent cock falls from Hux’s mouth, and he releases his hold on Hux’s jaw. Hux coughs, swallowing compulsively and licking his lips. Ren catches his breath, and tucks himself away with shaky hands.

"Shall I see you out?" Hux asks, still on his knees, stretching his jaw from side to side, working out the ache of it.

"I—" It catches Ren off guard. His chin wobbles, the words caught up somewhere in him. Hux has never just suggested he leave before. He's always—expected something in return. Ren reaches out and rakes his fingers through Hux's damp, undone bangs. He looks very young.

"It's fine, Ren. I'm not exactly unaccustomed—" His voice has a scratchy, torn-up quality. He sounds wry, tired. In an odd and discomfiting way he sounds like Ren's mother, weary and aware of his place in this moment: alone in his rooms, with Ren gone.

“That's not.” Ren swallows, mouth dry. The same awful longing that grows stronger each day tugs at him; all of the things he’s been told not to feel, piling up inside him, suffocating the blissful after effects of orgasm with terrifying headier emotion. He reaches down to Hux, who takes his hand with a wary glint in his watery eyes, pulls Hux to his feet and tugs him in close. “We’re not done here.”

“That wasn't enough?”

“I haven't kissed you yet,” Ren says, against every better instinct he's ever had. “And you deserve kissing.”

Hux laughs, delighted. “Ren,” he says, tipping his chin up, and presenting his swollen lips.

Ren wants nothing more than to kiss him, keep kissing him. Lay him out on his neatly made bed and tear off what's left of his dress uniform, maybe bind his breakable wrists with that gold braiding and keep him in place, in Ren’s arms until the next Black shift. You deserve kissing—he hears himself again in his own mind, an echo of the past, a part of him long severed. He is no one’s son; he has been warned against the vices of intimacy.

“Ren?” Hux repeats, questioning now.

“I'm sorry,” Ren says, mouth pressed to Hux’s, their lips sliding together, catching. He can taste himself on Hux, and before he can falter like the weak thing he is, he has Hux’s head in his palm and is carding through his mind, filing away this new mistake. Hux sags against him, limp and warm and solid, his eyes slipping closed as if he has simply drifted to sleep. Ren ends their encounter with a nightcap and some relatively pleasant conversation—he can't take all of this away from either of them.

Tears prick Ren’s eyes as he lifts Hux up, cradles him to his chest, and carries him to bed.

 ---

Hux frowns at the open log program on his datapad, at the blinking cursor on the dark screen, awaiting his voice. His legs are aching. His whole upper back feels knotted, abused; there was a fresh string of bruises along his upper arms this morning, at the beginning of shift. In his quarters, he’s lowered the lighting to one-quarter, because his head is throbbing, still, with a now-nearly constant pressure. His throat feels raw and sore, like the scrape of some nascent infection.

The Giddaaks are gone, now. He squinted hazily through their departure, four hastily-swallowed analgesics dulling his hangover, feeling no reassurance at his own undeniable failure when Aanagar Giddaak pressed her thin papery hand over his own and told him that they would be speaking again very soon.

“I—” he starts, and then his voice catches in his throat. The cursor responds, transcribing, and then pauses with him, a sharp, mechanical little mockery.

He’d forgotten Mitaka’s name.

After seeing the Giddaaks off, just before First Shift rounds, he’d been waiting on the bridge when the Lieutenant approached him briskly from the left, the morning’s roster and schedule held out on a datapad. Hux found himself faltering, suddenly stunned at the gaping lack of recognition, the wide, empty space inside his own mind where this person’s identity should be.

“Good morning, sir.”

Hux felt himself blinking at the young man. He clearly paused long enough that the Lieutenant had looked surprised, and extended the datapad again, not so subtly.

“Sir?” he said.

“Yes,” Hux said, and taken the tablet. He bent his head to it, scrolling through, in some lame version of a recovery. “Where are we on the Eastern oscillator corridor bloc?”

“Ninety-six percent completion, sir,” said the other man. “On schedule.”

He’d paused at the bridge roster listing, seeing the young Lieutenant’s familiar-unfamiliar face staring back up at him amongst Higgins, Thanisson, Rodinon. Lieutenant Mitaka, D. It left a strange, unpleasant tang on the back of his tongue, that he couldn’t seem to connect the words to the face. He worked his jaw. Something felt—

“Is something wrong, sir?”

“I don’t know, Lieutenant,” he snapped. “Is there?”

The young man flinched, his plain little face screwing up, for just a moment, before he regained control.

“No, sir,” he said, firmly. The tone of it had felt to Hux like a strange apology, a veneer of formality meant to recover for the earlier intrusion into Hux’s well-being.

So I do know him, he thought. What is this

“Dismissed, Lieutenant,” he managed. “I’ll take rounds alone.”

“Very good, sir,” the young man said, to his retreating back. And then, as an afterthought: “I’ll be on the comm. Sir.”

Lieutenant Mitaka, D.

Back in his quarters, Hux presses two fingers to his throbbing temple, and pulls up the young man’s file on his console, again, for what must be the fifteenth time since the morning shift. It has the same effect. He feels as though the pieces must at some point in time start to fall into place again, but all he can sense at the moment is that same alien disconnect, that misfiring of his neurons, when his brain attempts to join the vague familiarity of the face to the absolute, yawning abyss where the name should be.

He frowns again at the open officer’s log. His weak little attempt—the single letter, the blinking cursor—stares back at him. Stars, his throat is sore. He resists the impulse to rub at it with his palm.

“Delete log entry,” he commands, instead. His voice is thin, raspy, in the quiet. “Close program.”

He feels, as he stands and straightens his uniform, that he might like to have a very strong drink.

 ---

The holomap is a glowing blue spider’s web of constellations. It stretches across the dark ceiling above his berth, casting the whole of the room in cool, pleasant light. On the map’s left is the conspicuously missing piece that has become his mission, its absence of light especially black, a lost puzzle piece surrounded by bright borders, its interior void of stars and planets, moons and trade routes. Ren received a missive that morning; now that the Giddaak family has departed it would seem the Supreme Leader’s focus has narrowed to his own mission, one he has yet to complete.

Ren reaches up and traces along the orange-red path that charts some of his Uncle’s course. It cuts through systems he does not recognize, with names he cannot pronounce and has never heard aloud. When he was a kid, when he was still wearing padawans robes and trotting along at his uncle’s heels, or posted up beside his father on the Falcon, pretending to pilot, he’d thought he’d seen so much of their galaxy. Now he knows how wrong he was, how wrong he was about so much.

With a shift of his wrist, the map turns toward him, putting a portion of the Unknown Regions, which he has never laid eyes on, very close to his face. The muscles in Ren’s neck strain as he tilts his head back and squints at the map, willing it to reveal its secrets with the power of his mind, but he knows: that’s not how the Force works. He could squint and tremor at this stupid map until the universe collapsed and still it would not help. And so, he must go to Dagobah, where he would rather not go, and slog through the mud and his past, which he would rather not do. He shifts the map again, to pull the Dagobah system into focus, and winces.

It is becoming harder and harder to concentrate as the throbbing behind his eyes grows worse.

It’s Hux, and the distress Hux feels is like a migraine pounding at his temples, an insistent ache just behind his eyes. Ren has never suffered from headaches, but over the past few weeks he has become attuned to Hux, intensely aware of Hux’s emotional state, often when he wishes he weren't. He hadn't considered the potential repercussion of acquainting himself so thoroughly with Hux’s mind, and all its—technicalities.

He had known Hux was anxious. That he often paced the command bridge with an aura of palpable unrest about him, that he slept little, that in his stressful moments he dug crescent moons into his palms with his neat little nails, sometimes scraping the skin away altogether. Ren had known these things and he had used them. Not against Hux, not truly, but in his own favor—catching Hux in his darker moments, stoking the fire that consumes his thoughts, and offering him solace from the foul, baseless fear that resides in the eaves of his mind, fear that buttresses his ambition and forms an integral part of him. Ren cannot imagine him without it.

But today—Hux is overflowing, and inadvertently taking Ren with him.

Hux is nervous, his stomach churning; he has attributed it all to hangover. He has—Ren strains to get a better sense of what is causing the unignorable klaxons—Hux has forgotten something, something important, as though it were simply ripped from his mind, only to leave behind an odd gap, a black hole amidst glittering stars.

Ren closes his hand into a fist and the map above him vanishes. Staring at the space where it was, he feels a cold jolt of fear. He may have overestimated his ability to be careful with Hux with such frequency. He searches for his error, goes over their last interaction with a fine-toothed comb, and feels a slow curl of heat in his belly at the memory of it: Hux’s mouth on him, his bleary, lustfilled eyes. The way Hux had swooned in his arms. Ren had been overwhelmed, he knew this. He had wanted much more and feared taking it.

He can admit, now, that he had not been cautious as he rearranged Hux’s mind to his satisfaction. He had felt a—reluctance in himself. A need all his own to let Hux keep something of his choice to flirt so brazenly. And it's possible, that in his distraction—Hux’s soft breath on his neck in sleep, the scent of him lingering in Ren’s nostrils—he may have taken more than he should have. He reaches for his comm, finds that it is not too late, and begins typing.

Can u meet? he sends, then he rests his comm on his chest, screen down, and waits for Hux’s reply. It comes almost immediately.

2033: HUX >> Set up an appointment like everyone else.

Ren snorts. Even rolling around in his own mind on the edge of breaking down, Hux is still himself. I have something of yours, he writes, carefully plodding out the letters with his pointer finger. He is not adept with comm communication, his hands too large, the comm itself too small and breakable.

2041: HUX >> When and where? Hux responds after a time, the grey dots at the bottom of the comm screen having run through their tiny animation over and over.

Where indeed, Ren thinks. Privacy would be good, although strictly speaking he doesn’t have to touch Hux to gain a sense of what is troubling him so acutely. It would certainly be easier to divine the problem if he did, though. And he certainly wants too. He cannot remember a time in recent memory when he didn’t want to touch Hux. That cannot bode well. Ren considers his comm screen. It is fourth shift, there are ample conference rooms they could put to use.

Conference room E, he writes, thinking of its proximity to their rooms, the fact that it is an anomaly on their deck, and rather off the beaten path. 2100.

 --- 

He finds Hux pacing in front of the conference room door at 2105, his hands clasped behind his back, his shoulders tense. The shades are all drawn down, but the room is empty as expected.

“Kind of you to show up, considering you chose the time,” Hux says. He radiates discontent. And...quiet satisfaction to find Ren without his mask.

“General.” Ren nods and holds the door open. Hux pushes past him into the darkened conference room, and to the far side of the large board table.

“Lights to twenty-three percent,” Hux says.

“Are you feeling alright?” Ren lets the door close behind him. He regards Hux as casually as he can and resists the nervous urge to push his hair back from his face.

“What cause have you to ask?” Hux’s tone is sharp. He crosses his arms over his chest and his shoulders bunch up.

“You seem…” Ren begins. Hux stares at him, eyebrows raised. There are dark circles under his eyes, visible even in the dim light. “You seem unwell.”

“I assure you my well-being is none of your concern. Now, why have you yet again impeded my work?”

Ren almost laughs. “I found something that belongs to you,” he says, moving into Hux’s space, and nearer still until Hux’s back is to the wall. Ren can sense when his heart rate picks up, his body reacting to their closeness without knowing why.

“Out with it then,” Hux orders. He does not move away. He doesn’t mind being trapped like this, with Ren between him and the only egress. He likes it in spite of himself, just another aspect of his shaken worldview, nudged right alongside whatever is currently wreaking havoc on his sense of place. Hux’s cheek twitches. “Lord Ren, I insist—”

“Be quiet now,” Ren says.

He strokes his knuckles over Hux’s jaw and watches Hux’s eyes become very, very round. He licks his lips, and places his pointer and middle finger against Hux’s left temple. Hux whines, a strange needy little thing, and Ren presses their mouths together, before he sinks into Hux’s mind. Everything is in such wild disarray, that he finds himself shocked to realize Hux is kissing back, a sure symptom of his confusion. Ren evades falling mental debris as he pokes through the parts of Hux’s head that look the most turned over, as though Hux ransacked his own brain searching for a missing piece. It takes seconds for him to find the cause of all this trouble. There, right in front of the countless files detailing the men and women under Hux’s command, a spot is barely shaded in. Ren pokes at it, gently, and gets back the fuzzy sense of loss Hux feels, a knowing without knowing.

Mitaka, Ren thinks. All this for Mitaka. How stupid. He pulls back, abandoning Hux’s mind and his mouth, and stares at him.

“Wha—” Hux breathes, and pushes forward to kiss him again.

Wait, Ren means to say. Wait, I need to fix this for you. But instead all he manages to do is drop Hux like a rock to the carpeted conference room floor, Force sleep coming to his command far easier than an attempt to explain himself.

 ---

Hux is needed on the bridge. First Shift starts in less than a quarter of an hour and he is needed on the bridge and there is a recently decrypted message on his comm from Aanagar Giddaak waiting for his reply—General, since we were received graciously onboard your vessel a fortnight ago and—and tomorrow he is expected to tour Starkiller’s first completed section of the oscillator chamber. He is needed on the bridge, and he cannot seem to move. He’d caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror on the way to the sonic, and he’d frozen in place. The sight of his own bare back and the curve of his right shoulder made him physically reel back, eyes wide.

He’d woken up sore and decidedly unrefreshed, to be sure. But that was almost commonplace, now. He chalked it up to several very late nights in the last two weeks, spent playing skirmish and catch-up with resources since a supply tunnel on Starkiller’s northern pole had collapsed in a sudden growling beast of a storm (the weather at the poles had become increasingly unstable, anomalous—the meteorological division assured him this would pass once the planet’s wind currents adjusted to its shifting mass). The soreness, he attributed to the fact that he’d been, often against his will, grabbing short snatches of sleep in his console chair during Fourth Shift, when he had the opportunity to sit at his desk undisturbed for several hours with a pile of work orders.

But this

There’s simply no logical explanation. Not a single, solitary, rational reason why he should be covered in a litany of fragile-looking, blue-black, rose-yellow, and violet-green bruises. Why his throat should be ringed high, all the way up to his jawline, with scraping, tender-pink lesions. There is no possible explanation for why he looks so wrecked.

In the mirror, he watches his own fingers trace the delicate mark on the underside of his chin, where his stubble has started to grow in. It feels abraded and strangely heavy, in its aching pulse. When he turns his hand in the reflection he can see the translucent undersides of his own wrists, now striped with deep purple, as if from ligatures. His mouth feels swollen, his jaw aches. His entire body is rasping with a deep, feverish sort of feeling: tired and bottomed-out and raw.

His own gaze makes him cringe: it has the edge of the half-crazed. He has seen it in failed re-conditionings. He has seen it in recordings of the aftermath of Kylo Ren’s particular form of interrogation. The way the human face looks when one has begun to question, however mildly, the pure fragility of one’s own autonomy.

When he drops his gaze, he can see just above the ridge of his hipbone the unmistakeable dark-violet imprint of fingers: fanning out over his skin like the shadow of a birdwing.

It doesn’t make sense.

His comm buzzes from the other room. It sends a flare of startling panic up through his spine, and he draws air in tightly, through clenched teeth, almost choking on the oxygen suddenly flooding his lungs.

Stop this,” he whispers, to his own reflection, as if it will spark his own neurons into firing again, give him something to rely on, something rational and solid and reasoned so that he can find it in himself to tear away from it, pull on his uniform, straighten his spine, leave his quarters with his day prepared. He needs his mind to be sound, this crushing, desperate, disorienting fear left to wither where he leaves it, like a nightmare already in the process of forgetting.

The comm trills again. And again. He wants to put his fist through the mirror.

Instead, he grimaces, turns on the water and splashes his face with two bracing, cold cupped handfuls. When he inhales, he presses his palms to his temples, pushes them along the side of his head. He smoothes his hair back, and refuses to look again at his own face.

 ---

After the Mitaka incident, Ren tells himself he’ll stop. No more lurking around the command bridge, no more meddling in Hux’s mind, and most importantly, no more fucking.

It’s a harder directive than expected.

He meditates. He sits cross legged on the thatched mat in his chambers and opens his mind to the chaotic mess of his feelings. He is attracted to Hux, this much is certain. He likes Hux, which is somehow worse. Just thinking about Hux makes him squirm with self-satisfaction, overwhelmed and instantly aroused. He presses the heel of his hand over his erection, unsure if he’s trying to force it away or indulge himself. He can’t remember ever feeling this sated in his life; he’s never had a steady fuck, his one childhood romance was fleeting, he's never had someone to so much as kiss with frequency. The things Hux lets him say, the way Hux seems to relish his filthiest thoughts—having Hux, taking him—it makes him feel powerful. When Hux falls apart under his hands—his legs wrapped tightly around Ren’s waist, their eyes locked together in moments more intimate than he thought possible—the universe feels within his grasp. In those moments, he is much more than Snoke’s apprentice, he is his own master.

And so he tries to stop, but his self-control has always been famously poor, and attempting to withhold only renews his fervor. He wants to gorge himself on Hux like a child told to abstain from sweets. In a way, he feels he deserves to. If he is besieged by these desires then it must be the will of the Force; if Hux succumbs to him so easily that must be the Force at work as well, and denying what the Force wishes could lead to failure. Why else would he have the ability to set things right once he's had his fill?

He catches Hux after a visit to his pet weapon. Hux is so breathlessly pleased with his progress on the ground that all Ren has to do is insinuate an issue with their current time frame before Hux is spitting mad and ripe to be flipped over and fucked. Ren takes him over a stack of dusty cargo bins in an unused corner of the supply storeroom. His greatcoat is crumpled up over his back, their pants are only halfway down, and Hux continues to tell him off for the first few minutes Ren is thrusting into him, griping through his moans until Ren shoves two still gloved fingers into his mouth and he melts.

The next time, Hux finds him in his private sparring room, brandishing a datapad and complaining about their decimated store of training droids. Ren drops his lightsaber to the ground and kisses Hux to shut him up. Just like the first time, he thinks, unexpectedly sentimental. It makes him grip Hux’s slim hips just a little bit tighter, his fingers leaving fat red prints in Hux’s skin.

It becomes even more of a routine than it was before he accepted this as his fate.

After a particularly unpleasant meeting with Snoke, and several complete cycles later, he pulls Hux into an alcove, and pushes him to his knees. Hux has the same self-deprecating sluttishness to him that he did after the Giddaak dinner, and he goes easily, looking up at Ren’s masked face with a challenging glint in his eyes that only intensifies when he shoves Ren’s tunic out of the way and undoes his trousers.

Well then,” he says, staring at Ren’s fully erect cock like summit to conquer.

“Go on,” Ren says, sliding a gloved hand into Hux’s hair. His warm amusement is lost to the vocoder.

He still doesn’t think about how willing Hux is each time, that path feels treacherous; simpler to maintain the status quo and reap the benefits. Whenever he touches Hux’s mind he feels the same jumble of desire-stress-repulsion, and it’s the repulsion that keeps him on course. Simpler to trust the Force and fuck, run, repeat. But he suspects, rather warily, that it has begun to take a toll.

In his refresher mirror, with only the gauzy light from the sonic illuminating the room, Ren considers his face. He does not look tired; his skin is the same sallow shade, his mouth the same bowed frown, but he feels a troubling mental weariness growing within him. It's not an easy task: taking away whole experiences, wiping a mental slate clean, he learned that lesson. It's fine work, and he's been a blunt instrument for so long that the care and caution required to strip Hux’s mind of their encounters has begun to leave him woozy. He’s noticed a perpetual twitch in his lower right eyelid.

He’s far too aware of how much is at stake each time. He could slip up again, scuttle away the wrong piece of Hux’s mind. Recent memories are easy to strip down; they live in the mental forefront, bright and present, practically sentient things. When he puts Hux down, and dips into his mind, he can never seem to stop himself from reliving what they've just done. With every go the temptation becomes stronger, just as the temptation to be with Hux is never satiated, constant like the Force feels at his fingertips. Hux's mind in the grip of artificial sleep is the most comforting balm Ren knows. Even the muted anxiety that haunts Hux recedes when Ren is inside him like this.

He pulls his tunic over his head and inspects his chest. He has purpling suckmarks above each clavicle, an angry lesion above his left nipple that must be a bite, and four long scratches abrading his left side where Hux clawed at him during their last session with his surprisingly sharp nails.

“These little claws are dangerous,” Ren told him, bringing one of Hux’s hands to his mouth and nipping at the pads of his fingers. “What should we do about them?”

“My nails are not claws,” Hux said, sounding tickled as his other hand dug hard into Ren’s back. He favored Ren with a wicked smile, which left only one option: to bind Hux’s bony wrists above his head and have him again, and for good measure, lick his ass until he begged Ren to stop, all wrung out and barely coherent, his body mottled with the evidence of arduous attention.

Ren turns his back to the mirror and admires a matched set of long red marks over his shoulder blades, deep enough that he could probably stand to use a bacta salve on them. Except—they please him. They are tokens of his work, the things he gets to keep.

 --- 

Hux jerks awake, a hoarse cry stuck halfway up his throat like a surge of bile. He almost wretches at the sudden, disorienting, heart-pounding realization that he has been dreaming, and is now awake, shuddering and soaked with sweat and horribly, achingly aroused.

The dream is still clinging to him: filthy and panicked and drippingly heavy. Hands on his body. A scalding, wet mouth open at his throat, on the inside of his thighs, at the nape of his neck. The powerful grip of someone’s fingers closed around his throat, choking the air from his lungs. The heady, dizzying rush of his vision sparking. The full, trembling, wracked-open feeling of someone inside him. The sensation of being consumed, slowly, methodically, greedily.

His prick throbs again, in his briefs. His undershirt has been rucked up to his ribs; he is drenched in sweat. His skin is prickling; he swallows a lungful of cold, rushing air and gasps, aloud, in the quiet stifling dark of his own room. He tries to calm himself, sucking on another long inhale, presses a palm down against the ache of his erection in an attempt to alleviate the burning edge of it, but the pressure of warm fabric against his cock is excruciating, delicious. It jumps against his palm, thickening, a dampness spread around his fingers, and he moans in spite of himself, curls in on himself on his side, around his hand, into the hot, singular point of arousal.

He shoves his hand down his briefs, circling his dry fingers around the wet head of his prick and—

Oh—” his voice sounds so raw. Hoarse. Used-up. He shudders, his thighs clenching, choking on spittle as he jerks himself roughly, already panting into the sheets, for a moment unsure if he is even awake, if he's somehow still caught in the web of his own unconscious.

In the dream, he had felt trapped, the sensation of someone else’s large body looming over him, around him, a large, warm chest pressed tightly up against the curve of his own spine. The tight feeling in his ribs he has now. It’s the same, like a long connective tissue between sleep and waking, the way the heated panic had inspired an undeniable surge of arousal and need. It was like he had no voice, in the dream, just a single, whining, keening, spiraling want dragged out of his gullet as if there had been a fist shoved down his throat.

He’s panting; it echoes loudly in his ears. His own palm feels weak and dry against his prick, and when he looks down at where he’s curled in on himself, his hand pumping in the fabric of his briefs, it feels wrong, somehow, the familiar but rarely-indulged grip of his own fingers, as if it should be someone else’s—

Fuck,” he groans, shoving his briefs down to his knees and bringing his hand to his face to lick messily at his palm. It’s a little better, this time, when he circles his fingers around the base of his prick again and pushes his hips into the tight grip. He’s leaking already; he feels the precome dribble down over his knuckles, indulges himself by rubbing it back into the slit with the firm pad of his thumb.

It’s not enough.

He curses again, biting it out into the sheets. He hauls himself up onto his knees, bracing one elbow over his head, pressing his burning face into the pillow, shoving his hips up so he can frantically work his fist over his prick in the space between his body and the mattress.

You love this, a voice suddenly resounds in his head, unbidden: singsong, low, a grating whisper ringing in his skull. It’s not his own. It feels foreign and familiar at the same time, the tingling judder of déjà vu. You love being fucked like thismy cock inside you, splitting you open.

He gasps, drooling into the pillow. How, he thinks, even as the damp drag of his palm over his prick makes something white-silver and flickering spark behind his closed eyelids. He feels so empty and yet already stretched-open and ready, suddenly keenly aware of filthy, sluttish need to roll onto his back and draw his thighs up to his chest and shove as many fingers inside himself as he can manage. Whowhere is this from.

You’re so loud, the voice hisses, through the fog of his arousal. Do you even know what a slut you sound like when you’re like this.

He chokes on his own ragged, desperate whine, smothering it in the pillow.

Do I need to gag you, General?

In the dream, the feeling of his mouth being pried open. The taste of leather against his tongue, the smell of warm, dark hair and sweat and burnt atmosphere and that scentoh god, oh god—he’d dreamed that Kylo Ren had had him on all fours and had shoved three gloved fingers in his panting mouth and he’d loved it, trapped and panicked and horrifically aroused and sucking on them until saliva dribbled down his chin.

He pulls his hand away from his prick, frantic, and presses two of his own fingers past his lips, tasting precome and salt and desperation against the flat of his tongue. He almost gags, when his knuckles drag against the roof of his mouth, when he thinks of the feeling in the dream when Ren—Kylo Ren—had closed his teeth on the back of his neck.

He’s shaking, when he slides his knees up, hitches his hips up higher and reaches behind himself with his wet fingers. When he teases at the rim of his hole, presses tentatively, the ease with which both his fingers sink inside, all the way to his knuckles makes him groan out loud: disgusted, heady, something almost like relief.

You can take it, the voice whispers in his head, as if it is right there, at his ear; as if there is a hot, wet mouth open against the damp skin of his throat; as if he is actually clenching down on the burning drag of a thick cock rather than his own two fingers; as if he has actually whined out loud, brokenly, at the breach. Shhthat’s it. That’s good.

He starts to pump his hand, furiously, turning his face fully into the pillow as if to smother himself, drag himself into half-consciousness so he doesn't have to think about his painfully hard prick and the slick, hungry readiness of his own hole and the fact that it all seems to have in this moment taken on a life of its own, because it's not the dream anymore, it's him imagining Ren’s hands spreading him wide, Ren’s cock dragging inside him, Ren’s voice at his ear, hissing: You want me to come inside you, don't you?

Yes, he thinks, and he leans all his weight forward onto his shoulders so he can reach between his body with his other hand and curl his sweaty, shaking fingers around the head of his cock.

You want me to fill you up? Fill up this tight little ass? Until it's dripping down your thighs?

Y-yes,” he sobs, out loud, into the pillow, and comes.

 ---

He cannot sleep, after. He is exhausted, boneless, bottomed-out. But he cannot sleep. He stands under the sonic and turns the pulse up so high his skin starts to feel numb. He feels wild: undone and unmoored.

He has to jerk off again, when he thinks about the state of his sheets, at the memory of his own shameful, desperate rutting. The embarrassment of his desire. He hardly even notices when he comes this time, face pressed against the tile, cheeks hot, the echo of Ren’s voice still clinging to his skull.

 ---

They have built a bridge across the span of the chasm. Above him, there is the raucous echoing of techs at work at the very top of the chamber. When he glances upwards, he can see the white billowing of stormclouds framed behind the webbing of scaffolding, crisscrossing the oscillator’s wide mouth to the sky. Below, he can feel the tug of gravity, the shrill keening of the wind as it is pulled down into the foundation of the chamber, spiralling back up again. His coat whips against his legs.

“The sheer has been a problem, sir,” says Technical Lieutenant Forana, beside him. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see when she points upwards, circling her arm in a wide arc. “We’ve installed a series of dampeners along the diameter. They run on an adaptive algorithm to keep the air cycle as steady as possible. I’m happy to report that this addition seemed to significantly mitigate disruption during the last storm.”

“I want to see those numbers,” he says, above the noise. “And the schematics.”

“Right away, sir,” says Forana, gesturing to Mitaka behind her; Hux watches as they bend their heads together over a datapad, wool caps pulled tightly down over their ears, Mitaka’s cheeks flushed red in the cold.

He flexes his own fingers inside his gloves and glances upwards again. The oscillator tube is ravenously dark and its reflective surface disorienting, distant red worklights blinking at the far, wide curve of the chamber. It inspires in him a distinct sense of awe, this carving out of the heart of a planet, the scraping away of crust and rock and mantle to receive the energy of an entire star, to bend the laws of the universe to his very particular will, to turn gravity on its head. Now, so close to completion, it makes him vaguely dizzy, the pure possibility of it.

He reaches out with one hand and clutches firmly at an alusteel railing at the edge of the bridge. This edging confrontation with the sublime, the gaping drop of the chamber, its rib-clenching monumentality, the thrill of his own pride—these things, he thinks, they would make anyone a little light-headed.

“Sir?” Mitaka, at his elbow, raises his voice over the echoing howl of drilling and wind. “Our shuttle is now scheduled to depart for the Finalizer at sixteen-hundred. Meterological is saying we shouldn’t wait any longer than that, because of anticipated atmospheric disruption.”

He nods, and Forana salutes him. “Sir!” she shouts, as the wind whips up again. “It’s been an honor to have you appraise our work.”

“I’m very satisfied, Lieutenant,” he says, stepping down from the bridge. “I expect you to maintain this level of competency for our next scheduled review.”

“Yes, sir!” Forana keys the exit open for them and steps back to let them through into the holding chamber. When the door hisses shut behind them, the vacuum seal and the sudden, startling dip in pressure makes his ears pop nastily, and it sends another wave of dizziness through him, something sparking unpleasantly behind his eyelids when he squeezes them shut, involuntarily, against the sensation. He winces, realizing that he’s stumbled.

“My apologies, sir,” Forana is saying, stepping forward to key open the next set of doors. When he straightens and glances back, Mitaka is stretching his face in a yawn, tapping rapidly at the side of his skull with one index finger, as if to dislodge the bubble of air trapped between his ears. “I should have warned you about the vac-seal.”

“Not a problem, Lieutenant,” he says, ignoring the surge of nausea roiling in his gut as he fights off another odd wave of vertigo.

“I’ll leave you here, then, sir. We have a LIUV waiting for you and the Lieutenant,” she says, gesturing down the hall. “The trip back to transport dock one shouldn’t take more than twenty minutes.”

The planet’s gravity still feels unnatural, adding an unpleasant buoyancy to his stride. The perfectly articulated, dull, easy stillness of the Finalizer’s calibration is so much more familiar to him, by now. Even walking down the corridor, he can feel the bestial sort of variability about him, under his feet, making his steps uneven, his stability threatened.

Ensconced in the LIUV, tugging his greatcoat closed around his chest as they speed out from the underground tunnel and out into the whipping snow, it hardly feels any better. Something between his ears is still throbbing dully, as if the pressure change is taking its time easing its way out of his skull in a slow leak of air.

“Sir,” Mitaka says, holding out his datapad. “I have those dampener schematics from Lieutenant Forana for review.”

He scrolls through, perfunctorily, but pauses and frowns when he realizes that his vision is vaguely blurred, the numbers swimming queasily across the screen. The LIUV shudders over a icy bit of plateau, and he tugs his cap down when he squeezes his eyes shut against another, renewed vertiginous surge of disorientation.

“Sir?”

When he opens his eyes, Mitaka is staring at him from across the cramped chamber of the LIUV, one hand clutching at the safety harness, his brows drawn together quizzically.

Hux hands him back the datapad, swallowing back a thick, hot slide of saliva. “Have these files sent to my channel.”

Mitaka opens his mouth as he takes the datapad back into his hands, as if perhaps there is something else on the tip of his tongue. Hux gathers himself, meets his gaze with a distinct edge of a challenge. He knows what he must look like: wind-bitten, white-faced, unsteady, purple bruises blooming under his eyes. A feverish tinge to the color of his cheeks. He smeared bacta-gel on a scraped-red, tender lesion on the high pulse-point of his throat just this morning after pretending for three hours that it simply wasn't there. He knows it is still visible, incriminating somehow, like a faded scar. He knows what his uniform is hiding: sore joints, swollen wrists, the spreading sickness of bruises ringing his thighs and hips and neck and ribs, the empty, aching, bottomed-out feeling. He knows that he woke after barely an hour of sleep with a raging, terrifying erection and came all over himself like a first-year cadet with the dorm to himself for the first time, exhausted and gasping with nightmares and sick under the skin like someone has been poisoning him, only now experiencing what happened when the cell degradation reached the surface of his body.

He knows that he is starting to look as tired as he feels.

And yet, he thinks, mustering pridefulness. Here I am. I dare you, Lieutenant.

Mitaka closes his mouth. Glances down at the datapad on his lap, and then briefly, back at Hux’s face.

“Very good, sir,” is all he says.

 --- 

Sir—? Sir!

Something is clutching at him. At his shoulders. It feels heavy, clinging. Unwanted. He bats it away. Tries to bat it away, but his limbs feel leaden, unwieldy. They don’t obey.

Sir, can you hear me? Sir!

Something hard and cold is at his back. His skin is tingling, as if sensation is still very far away from him. He had been standing, he thinks. He’d been standing in the readyroom of the shuttle and––no, he’d been sitting. Had he been sitting? He remembers the glare of a datapad. The engine roar. They’d been taking off. Starkiller growing smaller out the viewport and the swirl of snow in the atmosphere around them, and––

“General––”

He opens his eyes, blinking against the sting of sudden light.

“Do we have medical on the comm?”

Mitaka? He blinks again, and his vision, still cloudy, coalesces long enough for him to make out the pinched expression on the lieutenant’s face.

“Yes, Lieutenant. They’ll be waiting in the docking bay.”

Mitaka’s hand is on his shoulder. He lifts one arm, tries to shrug it off, tries to straighten up once he realizes that he’s slumped against the bulkhead in an ungainly sprawl, but his legs still feel heavy, numbness tingling along his shins.

“Sir, don’t—” Mitaka’s grip tightens against his arm, convulsively, before Hux gives one more shrug and manages to get himself at least halfway upright; the lieutenant snatches his arm back. When he leans in from where he is crouched at Hux’s feet, the nervous lines etched at his brow are swimming in Hux’s vision, bleary and unstable. It makes something unpleasant roil in his gut; he rebels against the impulse to shut his eyes again and tries to focus on the blank bit of wall just to the right of Mitaka’s ear.

“Can you hear me, sir?”

“Yes.” He winces. It doesn’t sound particularly convincing.

“How many fingers, sir?” Mitaka makes an ‘L’ with his index finger and thumb.

Hux glares.

Mitaka exhales, turning to the doorway of the readyroom, where Hux can barely make out the form of the comm-tech and a frantic-looking captain. “I think he’s all right.”

“Return to your stations,” he says. It sounds more like a croak. He winces again, and resists the urge to press his palms to his aching forehead.

“We’ll be landing in just a minute, sir,” says Mitaka, still crouched at the edge of the bulkhead. “Medical will be there to receive you. Just stay where you are.”

“Medical,” he says.

“Yes sir,” Mitaka wets his lips, works his jaw. “You, er.”

Hux takes a deep, shuddering breath and pulls himself all the way to sitting.

“Sir, please—” Mitaka almost reaches out with his hand again to stop him before he sees better of it. “Sir, you fainted.”

“What,” he says. That’s ridiculous. He almost says it out loud. “Get up, Lieutenant.”

“Yes, sir,” Mitaka scrambles to his feet. His hands are clenched at his sides instead of folded neatly behind him at the small of his back. Hux feels his face pulling into a painful frown at this, and at the mess of scattered datapads and files on the floor of the readyroom.

“Clean that up,” Hux says, and presses the back of his skull against the cool alusteel of the wall behind him.

“Yes, sir,” says Mitaka, crouching again the gather up the items behind him.

He fainted? He doesn’t remember that. He doesn’t remember—just the swirl of the storm below them and the giant gaping chasm of the oscillator, and the shudder of the LIUV across the ice, and something roaring in his ears. He exhales, clenching his jaw as he feels his nerves come back to themselves, sensation juddering along his extremities. He flexes his left hand against his thigh: opening his fingers with effort, closing them again into a tight fist over his knee. His neck hurts. He doesn’t remember.

“Dismiss medical,” he says.

Mitaka blinks at him, his arms full of files. “I’m sorry, sir?”

“Dismiss medical,” he repeats. “I’m fine.”

The shuttle makes a long, wide bank; the pull of the anti-grav sends something sparking thunderously through Hux’s skull, and he reflexively squeezes his eyes shut against it. He makes a small noise, low in his throat, before he can stop himself.

“Sir,” Mitaka protests. “I can’t dismiss them. You—passed out.”

“Do I have to repeat my order, Lieutenant?” he says, sharply.

“No, sir,” says Mitaka. “I’ll—I’ll relay to comm.”

He disappears through the door and Hux takes the moment of privacy to exhale, long and hard, through his nose. He permits himself to rub at the piercing ache in his neck, to close his eyes again and let the skittering, uneven rhythm of his pulse settle. He can feel the dull pain of his body now, as he comes back to himself. He can feel the places on his skin where he knows the bruises are, the places deeper still where he feels scraped out, raw, depleted and strange.

Fainted, he thinks.

How pathetic, he thinks.

(It sounds vaguely of his father’s voice. He remembers the moment unbidden when he had been at the Academy barely a year in and his face had met the butt-end of a wildly-swung blaster rifle in martial training. It may have been intentional. Less likely, an accident. Either way, he had blacked out, crumpled to the resin-dust in a heap. When he’d come to, he’d seen stars flickering behind his aching eyes. No one had helped him up.)

And yet. This cannot continue, he thinks. Whatever this is, it has reached the point of extremity. Beyond his considerable control, leaking out of him like a poison gas, insidious, choking, noxious.

He opens his eyes, considers his options. He could go to medical, report his symptoms. A flicker of panic, there: the very distinct possibility that his prognosis would be—negative. That there is something wrong with him. That he is fragile. Ill. That he may not get better.

Alternatively, he could continue to ignore it. Push through it, past it. He could continue smearing bacta-gel on his blooming bruises and raw skin and shove handfuls of stims down his throat to ward off the weakening sensation in his knees. It would feel familiar, he thinks. To attempt to wrest control back from his failing body by sheer force of will.

“We’re landing, sir.” Mitaka’s voice, from the doorway.

You have a job to do, he thinks. You are leading an armada of superior firepower and training to its destiny. You are crafting a weapon from the molten core of a planet. You are harnessing the energy of the stars to bring the very galaxy to its quaking knees and you think you can pause, now, because the weak meat of your body protests?

Pull yourself together, he thinks.

“Acknowledged, Lieutenant,” he says.

They don't speak again until the shuttle is ensconced neatly in its bay on the Finalizer, ion engines hissing coolant and the dull chatter of close-off procedure coming from the cockpit. When he stands, taking a moment to smooth out a wrinkle in his jacket as a way to disguise the unsteadiness of his legs, he can feel Mitaka’s eyes on him, furtively tracking his movements as he pulls his gloves on, gathers his greatcoat into his arms. And when he turns, Mitaka is standing between him and the doorway, clutching his datapad to his chest as though it might serve as some necessary shield.

Hux clenches his jaw. “Was there something else, Lieutenant?”

“I have to file a report, sir.” Mitaka’s round little face is very pale, his brow pinched.

“You will not,” Hux says, pulling his greatcoat over his shoulders.

“Sir,” Mitaka says.

“Dismissed, Lieutenant.”

Sir,” Mitaka says. “You know this isn’t negotiable.”

“Lieutenant!” Hux advances on him, heat sparking under his skin, every tendon in his body pulled taut to the point of snapping. “Do not ever attempt to tell me what is not negotiable on my own karking ship.”

Mitaka flinches. Some of Hux’s spittle lands on his cheek. Behind them, the chatter in the cockpit pauses, the sudden silence like static.

“I have to, sir,” says Mitaka, after a very long beat. “Those are your orders.”

Hux immediately regrets cursing at him. That, he thinks, that was a slippage. Inelegant, disproportionate, brutish, revealing.

“Sir,” says Mitaka. “Sir, if I may.”

“You are on very thin ice, Lieutenant,” he warns, but he is feeling too stretched-out, weary, to put any real heat behind it.

“I have to suggest that you also report to medical, sir. As your schedule allows.”

“As my schedule allows,” he echoes, flatly.

“Yes sir,” says Mitaka. “I can make arrangements for the officer’s medbay to be available for your use during Black shift.”

Hux adjusts the hem of his gloves, tugging them down to cover the edge of a bruise slithering its way out from under the sleeve of his coat. Mitaka’s fastidiousness, he thinks, somehow proving to be inconvenient. It's—troubling.

“I’ll consider it.”

“Thank you, sir.” Mitaka’s face visibly relaxes as he steps to the side, inclining his head. “After you, sir.”

Thank you, sir. He hears the nasty echo of it inside his own head as he sweeps past Mitaka and down the shuttle ramp. The gratitude makes him bristle, the very idea of it. That Mitaka could be placated by that condescension. That he, Hux, should have to be coerced into the self-discipline of care. Still, as he steps out into the shuttlebay, the bright lights make him flinch, and there is a coltish weakness lingering in his limbs.

He tugs the brim of his hat down, shielding his eyes from the glare; he is about to turn back to Mitaka and have him schedule the appointment when he catches a glimpse of frenetic movement at the far entrance to the bay. A scattering of stormtroopers, a flurry of orange-winged techs, a sweep of black. Kylo Ren stalking towards him across the gleaming floor.

A prickle of warmth slithers up his nape. The snap of metallic singe in the air. Something heavy flips in his gut.

Oh, he thinks, eloquently. Oh, fuck.

 --- 

Snoke’s voice is jarring like sudden static, vibrating against the fragile tissue of his brain,nearly painful in its insistence, and only in his mind. He must leave.

Ren packs slowly.

He doesn't have many possessions, but he takes his time going through his trunks and choosing what few things he will travel with. He disassembles his lightsaber, wipes down the kyber crystal and polishes each piece of metal before fitting it all back together again. He gets the sense that Snoke can tell he's dawdling. At least Snoke cannot tell why. The thought of his impending departure fills him with implacable dread, as though an unseen garral were waiting in the dark for him, ready to strike without warning. At first it was the nature of the mission that made him clench his teeth and muscle back anxiety, now it's compounded by the thought of what he leaves behind.

For a brief, unhinged moment, he considers asking Hux to come with him. And imagines his disdain. His curled lip. The cruel set of his eyebrows which Ren has come to—to admire. It makes his chest feel tight.

He looks over the dark pile of his things: the lumpy extra cloak, the holodrive that contains the stupid map, a small bag of toiletries he carries on mission, his cracked datapad with one corner so well-crushed that the glass has chipped off entirely. He has, among his possessions, a single holophoto of Hux, pilfered from the Finalizer archival room. In it, Hux wears his shipboard dress uniform, and can be seen in profile, amidst a group of other young officers being promoted. Ren had to scroll through the ceremony footage painstakingly slow to find just the right moment, then save it and crop it down, feeling spied on as he used the foreign computer console. It is possibly the only image he's ever seen of Hux where he’s smiling. Ren packs this too, like the kind of token old X-Wing pilots might have carried, and is ashamed of himself. He has become attached, the distance will serve him well.

Hux has been planetside for a mere two cycles and Ren feels his absence acutely. He catches himself reaching for Hux with the Force as though he were still on board, stretching himself thin in his—longing . It frightens him, the emptiness edging in at the corners of his mind, how Hux fills it up for him when he’s near. His weakness has the ominous scent of a coming downfall.  

He has been waiting for Hux to return with threatening eagerness. For perhaps the first time ever he checked the docking bay log and sought out the estimated time of arrival for Hux’s shuttle. That hour is nearing as Ren goes over his departure plan. He will leave in the morning. Unlike Hux he doesn't require an entire crew at his back for a simple hyperspace jump and return. Like his grandfather, he has an affinity for flying alone—for the endless whirl of stars through the hexagonal viewport of a TIE fighter, and his own is custom for this very purpose.

With uncharacteristic diligence, he checks the Dagobah coordinates on his console computer for the umpteenth time and runs the simulator on his flight plan. Then his comm buzzes, three times in succession. The emergency frequency. Ren frowns. He fumbles in his robes for it, and nearly drops it before the screen comes into focus.

1635: >> Unknown Lord Ren, my apologies for contacting you personally. The General has fainted aboard his shuttle and I thought it prudent to inform you, should you require his assistance.

1638: >> Unknown This is Mitaka.

1639: >> Unknown Sir.

Ren stares at his comm. He rereads the messages and then he rereads them several times over before he realizes his teeth are bared in soundless snarl.

Hux has fainted. Ren seeks him out with the Force. Strains himself to find the somber Lambda-class shuttle kilometers away and the souls aboard it. Hux’s mental signature is so familiar to him that it practically glows, warm and amber in color, but Hux seems—dimmer, like his mind is still in process of coming sluggishly back online. Ren feels suddenly ill, sweat prickles his brow, he is both clammy and too hot all at once, teetering on the edge of losing the contents of his stomach to the floor. He sits down heavily on the edge of his berth, and resists the urge to shove his face between his knees and hyperventilate. He loses sight of Hux for two Force-forsaken cycles and the man faints. And at the same time, Ren’s cock perks up hopefully in his leggings, called into wakefulness by the proximity of Hux in distress. His mouth waters.

Hux needs him. He can help—such as he knows how. He can take away the cause of Hux’s pain with ease.

---

Hux is pale and drawn, his cheeks have two riotous spots of color despite his overall pallor, and his hat looks slightly crumpled. Something in Ren sparks to life at the sight of him, it rises hot and acidic into his esophagus. Hux looks vulnerable, and it makes a possessive ardour burn through Ren, scorching his veins. He is immediately torn between wanting to set Hux right and wanting to wreck him further.

Why not both? he thinks, and strides towards Hux with heavy-footed purpose. Personnel scatter from his path, and a stroke against Hux’s mind reveals that Hux—that Hux would like to run as well. But also stay. But also flee. Hux feels like a moth caught up in a net, terrified but resigned to being trapped—Ren chews at his lower lip behind his mask—Hux feels primed to be pinned and kept. By him.

“General,” he calls, relishing the way Hux comes to an awkward halt several feet ahead of him, forcing his staff to spill around them like a herd encountering an obstacle.

“Lord Ren,” says Hux, nodding, clearly working to keep steady. Ren can sense the tremor in his limbs, as though he is likely to faint again at any moment.

I did this, he thinks. I made this proud man fall.

“There something amiss with my TIE fighter. I’d intended to travel to Dagobah with it,” Ren says, a clumsy attempt to get Hux alone, and fast.

“Have you consulted a tech?” Hux asks.

“The issue is with some of your personal modifications. I assumed you’d want to inspect them yourself.”

“My modifications—” Hux begins, voice going high-pitched in that way he has, before he stops himself and breathes deep.

Ren grins.

“Yes, Lord Ren. If the issues ,” he seems to grit the word out hatefully, “are of my design then of course I will inspect them personally.”

“Good. Now.”

“Ren.” Hux looks away. “Now is perhaps not the most opportune time, I—”

“I leave at the start of second shift. It’s now or never.” The words feel heavy to him, final, strangely portent.

“You leave tomorrow?” Hux says, fast and slightly strangled, his voice lilting up at the end. Ren can sense his surprise. “Lead the way.”

He stomps with Hux in tow to his very custom TIE sf, equipped with shields and hyperdrive, and before they board, Ren crushes the hyperdrive with his mind and attempts not to wince.

“Well,” says Hux, turning in place and hunching in on himself in the small cockpit. “What’s the problem?”

“Sit.” Ren takes off his mask and watches Hux grow distracted, but he lowers himself  into the pilot seat and looks grateful having done so. Ren swivels the chair away from the window with the Force and Hux shouts.

“None of that—none of your nasty tricks .”

“But the problem is over here,” Ren says, allowing himself a sly smile. He gets to his knees, couches down between Hux’s legs, and taps the alusteel panel just next to Hux’s shiny boot toe. “Don’t you know where the hyperdrive is on a starship of your own design?”

Hux’s face grows blotchier. His breath hitches. “Ah,” he says, his eyes caught on Ren’s mouth.

“Is something wrong, General?” Ren licks his lips, worries the bottom one between his teeth.

“No.”

“You seem distracted.”

“I am not. Now, what’s the trouble?”

“It’s you, actually.” Ren tilts his head to the side, considering. “I see you. You fainted, you’re slipping. I can help you.”

Nothing,” Hux says, venomous, “you could possibly do would help me.”

Ren spreads his palms out over Hux’s skinny, wool-clad knees and lowers his voice to a purr. “Let me help you,” he says, looking at Hux from under his eyelashes. He licks his lips again, and slower this time. “I know what you want.”

“This is just another nightmare,” Hux says, exasperated, throwing his head back and closing his eyes. “This is a dream.”

Ren slides his hands up Hux’s thighs, parting his legs as he goes, fingers pausing at his waistband. He shuffles in closer.

“Sith hells,” Hux whispers. “You’ll never stop tormenting me.”

“No,” Ren agrees. He is captivated by the way Hux’s chest begins to rise and fall hastily. Hux drops a gloved hand into his hair and pulls lightly, as though testing if he’s really there, on his knees, and touching him. Ren moans in spite of himself.

“Oh,” Hux says, going very still. “Do you intend to open that hatch and let me assess the problem?” He tugs at Ren’s hair again, and then Hux’s whole mind fills with yearning. He has wanted to clench his fingers in Ren’s hair for a long time. He’s wanted it for too long––he wants so much, and he’s been dreaming about it. He thinks—he thinks that this might be a dream as well.   

“Hux,” Ren says, his voice turned raspy. He flicks open the button at the top of Hux’s trousers and slowly pulls down his flies. He pushes down Hux’s briefs just enough, and Hux’s erection springs free, as flushed and hard as Ren has ever seen it. His mouth fills with saliva. He hasn’t done this before, but he wants it. Perhaps he won’t return from his mission. Perhaps he will fall to the ghost of his uncle’s long dead master. Perhaps he will drown in a bog, murdered by the weight of his helmet, the bulk of his robes, and his own past.

“Hux,” he repeats. “Let me give this to you. Let me—” he swallows. “Let me taste you.”

“Do it,” Hux says, eyes still closed, his hand buried in Ren’s hair while the other grips the arm seat white-knuckled. “Put that disgusting mouth to good use for once.”

Ren’s cock throbs. He shivers. The insults will sustain him in the swampy dark. He closes his mouth over the head of Hux’s cock, tastes the salty onset of arousal against his tongue, and goes to work.

He’ll request that his command shuttle be prepared for his journey when this is over. It's possible that after today he will never see Hux again. 

 ---

Hux wakes with a start, as if something has reached down into his fitful sleep and pinched his mind awake with a twist of cold and brutish fingers.

It takes a long, dizzying moment for him to remember where he is. Why he is there. At his desk, with an unfinished datalog blinking at him from his console, with his hat crumpled under his elbow, with an untouched glass of water at his wrist, with a blood-stained towel on the floor by his feet. With one hand curled protectively into itself, a dull throbbing in his palm. With his head buzzing, his vision bleary, and the unpleasant lingering of a vivid dream clinging to his body.

He registers the wrinkled medtab packet at the end of his desk, and frowns. It comes back to him, slowly. His nightmare. The incident in the shuttle. Mitaka’s sad and condescending little moue of a mouth. The bright lights of the medbay, the chill air riling gooseflesh on his arms, the twist of Captain Pierce’s frown when he’d lifted Hux’s wrist and taken his pulse. The chalky, bitter taste of the medtabs and how they’d scraped his throat on the way down. And Kylo Ren, like a bloody spectre, chasing his deterioration through it all like a monstrous omen of ill will.

He groans, pushing back in his chair and rubbing at his temples. There is the unpleasant buzzing edge of the medtab narcotic still dragging in his veins. Something in his body still feels foreign, doubled-out, struggling to coalesce. Had he been dreaming again? He can’t tell—

Fuck, he thinks. He wants a cigarra. Wants a drink. Wants to be able to sleep without the threat of inexplicable exhaustion meeting him at the other end, without the menace of slick, desperate dreaming clawing its way up his spine and into his brain. He wants to wake without gasping in the cold, empty air, his skin hot and his nerves sputtering and something filthy coiled deep in his belly.

He reaches across the desk and grabs the medtab packet in his fist, tossing them in the waste disposal hatch at his right.

He wants to stop thinking about Kylo Ren.

His head is spinning: even as he tries to piece it out, put it logical order, find the connective threads and snip them clean, he finds he can barely hold onto the ends of them. One thought slipping wetly into the next, or jarring and leaping over another like the misfire of exposed nerves.

It should be easy, he thinks. Ren’s just a man, he thinks. He’s not a nightmare, not a creature, he thinks, he’s just––but then he’s thinking about Ren’s face: pale and handsome and strangely lovely. Something precious about the rarity of it. That perhaps Hux has been one of a handful of people in the entire galaxy to have seen the expressive dark flicker of his eyes, the twist of his soft mouth, to have heard the odd, low lilt of his voice without the static of the vocoder—

Stop it, he thinks. Just stop.

It doesn’t make sense. His throat is parched; when he grabs the glass of water and downs it, his palm stings with the sudden movement, the pull and tear of a new scab. It should be easy, he thinks again, ignoring the pain. It’s not the first time he’s had to deny distraction, overcome stress. It should be so easy—

Unless.

Unless it isn’t my failing, he thinks, suddenly.

It jolts him; he braces both palms on the edge of his console desk and feels a surge of fury, the coppery taste of rage flooding his mouth.

It’s Kylo Ren, he thinks. He’s doing this. He’s responsible.

He’s on his feet before the thought is finished forming in his head. He stumbles, at the corner of his desk, medication still thick in his blood and vertigo tugging at his limbs, but it hardly matters. There is a small, struggling voice in the back of his mind urging restraint; for moment he hears himself in his father’s voice—measured revenge is the mark of the strategist, Junior, not the wild wailing of a beast.

It’s the only possible explanation, he thinks, regaining his footing enough to stagger to the door of his quarters. Ren’s playing games with him, as if he, Hux, were a bit of half-dead meat before consumption. Manipulating him with cheap parlor tricks, perverting his talents for personal gain—of course. Ren wants something, he thinks. Wants to see how long it takes for me to break. Wants me under his control.

He's across the corridor in three long strides. The lights reflecting off the floors and gleaming walls smear at the edges of his vision. When he slams his fist against the lock console, the pain coursing in his palm sends another jolt of ultraviolet rage spiraling up through his body.

The door hisses open and he slams his shoulder against the jamb in his unsteadiness and the motivation of his anger. Ren’s quarters are ultra-dim, lights lowered to barely-there. Stark, unremarkable, a fair copy of Hux’s own, except for the lump of black fabric (Tunic, he registers, tunic, cowl, jacket) piled at one corner of Ren’s berth.

“Ren!” he yells, into the humming dark.

From the closed door of the refresher at his left, a noise. He turns sharply, like hunted prey, the unfamiliar territory making the hairs on his nape bristle. His pulse is skittering.

“Lord Re—” he starts, but the door to the refresher opens. There is the spill of gauzy blue-white light across the dark floor, the residual purring of the sonic, and then Ren emerges, clothed only in his leggings and naked from the waist up, his broad torso that particular soft sheen of almost-damp, burnished-clean. His hair is undone, heavy, silky-looking waves falling against his jawline. There is a trail of thick, dark curls beginning just below his navel, disappearing beneath the waistband of his leggings.

Hux catches himself sucking air through his teeth, like an animal. He can feel his own thrumming, cardiac-panic in his throat. His mouth is full of hot saliva, blood, anger. He spits. It's infuriating. Disgusting. That Ren should be standing there like that, whole and calm and utterly, sublimely lovely, while he himself feels like—

“I want it back,” he hisses. He isn't sure why he says it.

Ren is silent. The outline of his pale body looks rimmed in light: shimmering, bleary. Hux watches him tilt his head, blinks very slowly.

“General?”

“Whatever you've taken from me,” he growls, advancing. Ren takes a step forward to meet him. “Whatever piece of my mind you've wrested from me and burnt to ash—”

“General—”

Suddenly, it is as if Ren is too close. One of his arms lifts as if to soothe him or ward him off, and Hux lashes out, protective. One elbow slams into the side of Ren’s ribs. He does it again, this time with both hands. He shoves. He hears, distantly, the sound of Ren’s back making contact with the wall. Feels the little oomph of breath push out against his palms. Ren's skin is hot against his palms, it burns, like his fingers will come away blistered and red. He pulls in air again through his teeth.

“General—”

Again, too close. It's inside his head. He's panicking; his vision is swimming. The floor beneath him feels like the surface of a roiling lake; he pushes one aching fist against Ren’s chest again, half to steady himself, half to put some distance between them, but his fingers feel like talons in Ren’s hot flesh. There is molten steel in his veins: heavy, viscous, conductive. He can’t move.

The burning brand of a circle forms around his wrist—Ren is touching him?—and again—“General”—like a deep echo from inside his own skull, and there is the pounding pressure gripping his temples, and the pain in his body, and the horrific, welling panic in his chest, and he feels cornered, attacked, hunted. Fight kicks in, the hot electric switch in the snarling center of his reptilian hindbrain, and he drops his elbow, twists his arm, shoves his weight into Ren’s, kicks one thigh up between Ren’s legs to pin him, wrenches Ren’s trapped hand up and behind his back, against the wall, he has his other elbow at Ren’s windpipe.

“No,” he seethes, against Ren’s throat. “You stay where you are.”

The delicate flicker of Ren’s lashes against his cheek offends him. He releases Ren’s neck, slaps him across the face.

The dry, flat noise of it rattles his skull. Ren’s jaw clenches; there is blood on his cheek. Hux isn't sure where it's from. His palm is stinging again, something wet and warm slithers down his wrist.

“Is this what you wanted?” He can smell it, the same scent, noxious now. It's choking him, the cloying burn of leather and electric singed air. “To see what it would take for me to lash you into submission?”

Through the press of their chests it is as if he can feel the exact thudding of Ren’s racing heartbeat, the heave of his hard, uneven breathing; when Ren lifts his chin and presses the back of his skull against the wall, away from the threat of Hux’s bared teeth and incendiary anger, Hux can see the clenched swallow of air and saliva contracting through his throat. His captured wrists twitch in the tight circle of Hux’s fingers, behind his back. Hux pushes back, to keep him trapped, immobile, until he’s wrested from him whatever perversion of cowardly trickery he thinks would keep Hux under his thumb, and then—

“You’re—” he feels it. Unmistakeable. Hot like a sting against the tensed, aching muscle of his thigh. He shoves his knee up higher between Ren’s legs, roughly testing the edge of it, this sizzling, thick haze between them. Ren makes a noise like a choked-off growl.

Revolted, exhilarated, his nerves spark. “This is making you hard.”

Ren tilts his head, mouth open, black and wet in the pale wash of his face. The smear of blood on his cheek is dripping down towards his chin, catching the light like a slick of oil.

“Speak for yourself,” he says, and rolls his hips—firm, powerful, whorish. “General.”

Hux chokes. His grip loosens. Ren takes the opportunity to slide his free hand between their bodies, his large, hot palm cupping Hux’s own awakened erection through his trousers with a familiarity and brazenness that makes Hux’s already-wheeling head spin.

Stop that,” Hux manages, harshly. He drops his arm from where it’s pressed against Ren’s throat to knock Ren’s hand away.

Ren just smirks at him, blood smeared on his cheek. They’re so close, Hux can taste Ren’s breath against his tongue.

“Snoke didn't even put you up to this, did he?” Even through the panic, the heady disgust, the thrumming dislocation of the medtabs, his own arousal, he attempts to change tactics. “This was all—you. Planting ideas in my head, riling me up, for what? So you could finally know what it feels like to have a prick shoved up your arse?”

For a moment, he thinks Ren is going to fight back, going to strike: his wide, wet mouth opens like a beast tasting fear. And then, his lips curl. There is the white flash of an eyetooth.

“Up to the challenge?” He says.

“Insolent little slut,” Hux growls, shoving his hand up to Ren’s throat again, this time gripping the width of it with his palm just above the bulge of Ren’s adam’s apple.

Ren leans in, pushing at the pressure of Hux’s hand, as if to show merely that he can.

“I asked you a question,” he says, his breathing just this side of labored.

“Give me one reason why I shouldn't leave you here to pathetically rub your own monstrous, ugly prick in the dark,” Hux sneers.

“Because you don't want to,” says Ren. Between the wall and Ren’s back, his wrist twitches in the sweaty circle of Hux’s fingers. His eyes are glittering; he looks thrilled, and it sends another shudder of hot rage and viscous arousal up Hux’s spine. “You want to fuck me.”

“You don’t know what I want,” he says.

“Yes, I do,” says Ren, and bends down to kiss him: scalding, wet, and hungry.

Hux bites him, hard, on the lip. Releases his throat to slap him across the face again, and when the thwack of his palm is echoed by a low, hoarse noise of pleasure from Ren, he gives in. It feels like an audible snap somewhere in his spine, and in one moment all the tension bleeds from his wrists and his shoulders and his neck down to pool in his gut, coiling around his prick, making it twitch in his trousers.

He releases Ren’s wrist from behind his back, and turns him bodily by his hips, shoving his chest up against the wall with one hand firm on the side of Ren’s head, the other unconsciously gripping the hot skin of Ren’s hip, just above the waistband.

This?” He hisses, pressing his clothed erection up against the cleft of Ren’s backside. Ren’s body jerks against him. “Is this what you think I want?”

“Yes,” Ren says, half-choked from where his face is pressed against the wall.

Hux tightens his fingers in Ren’s hair, feels a snarl pulling at his mouth. Ren’s visible cheek is bright red, he’s got both forearms braced against the wall in front of him, and there is a strange bruise on his throat that makes Hux’s mouth water, with the visceral pulsing thought of what it might feel like to scrape his teeth there and feel Ren’s groan against his tongue.

“Fuck,” he whispers.

“That’s the idea,” Ren teases, darkly, and rolls his hips.

“Shut up,” he snaps, and slides his hand around Ren’s body to tug his leggings down, leaving them halfway around Ren’s thighs and trapping the spread of his legs. Ren’s ass is pale, muscular, and Hux lets his palm rest over one cheek, digging his fingers in hard enough to watch the flesh divot red and flushed where he presses.

A half-formed whine drags out of Ren’s throat, and he shifts his hips again, as if to get more.

“Control yourself,” Hux snaps.

“Just do it,” Ren says, a lilt of mockery slipping into his voice. “Unless you don’t know how?”

Don’t know how,” Hux growls, and presses the whole length of his body up against Ren’s back, trapping him, his teeth catching at Ren’s ear when he tugs viciously at his hair. “I could take you like this dry, leave you bleeding, and you’d still be drooling for it.”

“Big talk,” Ren says, hoarsely.

“If I had my gloves I’d gag you with them,” Hux pants, pulling back slightly and going for the waistband of his trousers with his free hand, watching as Ren’s lashes flutter with the suggestion. He gets his flies open and shoves his briefs down far enough that he can pull his own hard prick free: it bobs up against his stomach, already damp at the tip, and it twitches again when he presses back against Ren’s body, grinding against Ren’s lower back.

“Wait,” Ren gasps.

“It’s too late for second thoughts, Ren,” Hux says, warningly, and tightens his fist in Ren’s hair.

“No—” Ren’s right arm jerks, and he pulls his shoulder away from the wall just enough to extend his hand and catch a small vial of oil that comes lurching through the air at his gesture.

“Take it,” says Ren.

The pure surprise of it, and the lurching realization of the ease with which Ren pushed him off, even a little, sends him rocking back on his heels. His fingers loosen in Ren’s hair, his grip twitches at Ren’s shoulder.

“Why should I,” he says, nastily. His throat feels raw.

Take it,” Ren repeats. “And fuck me with it.”

Whatever amount his erection may have flagged in a brief moment of self-doubt, that brings it back to life. He grabs the vial from Ren’s fist and opens the stopper with his teeth, spitting the plug out onto the floor. Releasing Ren’s hair and shoulder, he holds him still with the pressure of his hips, letting his prick rest up against the divot of Ren’s lower back. He strokes himself there, a few times, the sweat of his palm and the few damp bubbles of precome easing his grip. And when he tips the vial over, letting the cool oil drizzle over his prick and his fingers, he watches fascinated, bottom lip between his teeth, as it dribbles through his hand and down onto Ren’s skin, drooling down into his ass.

Ren’s moan is cracked, impatient. He drops his head, bracing his forearms again, and shoves back against Hux.

“You don’t even deserve my fingers,” Hux hisses, against his ear, rolling his hips and letting his prick drag along the slick, hot crease, feeling his breathing hitch when the head of it catches against the rim of Ren’s hole.

Hn,” Ren grunts. “No—just. Just give me your cock.”

“You want it?” Hux says, his voice hitching on the edges, as he pulls at one of Ren’s cheeks to push the head of his prick against Ren’s hole, rubbing it there.

Yes,” Ren pants.

He pushes into him: one long, grunting, stuttering thrust. It’s so tight, he feels his knees weaken, all the breath pushed out of him with one constricted, embarrassing noise that he buries in the burning-hot skin of Ren’s shoulder. Underneath him, Ren jerks, his muscles contracting as if he might buck Hux off of him like a unruly mount.

“Oh—fuck,” Hux hears himself say. He thrusts again, deeper, and again, and feels the exact moment when he bottoms out, when his balls are nestled tightly up against the curve of Ren’s ass. “Fuck.”

Ren whines. He drops one arm from the wall and reaches behind to grip at Hux’s thigh, as if to pull him in even deeper. “Do it,” he says, and however broken it sounds it still to Hux rankles as if it had been an order.

He slaps Ren’s hand away, pins it back where it belongs against the wall and then grabs Ren’s hips with both hands, pulling out harshly so the head of his prick almost tugs free. The hot drag of it makes him feel as if he has been dosed, on top of the medtabs, the vertigo, the fatigue, the illness, the anger: he feels as though he has found something addictive. He thrusts in again, hard, just so he can pull back and feel it over and over and over and over, that coursing liquid thrill of pleasure that whites out everything inside his mind except the needle-sharp tightness of Ren’s body and the scorching heat of his skin.

Hips still pistoning, he runs one palm up Ren’s back, closing his fist again in Ren’s hair, and tugs his head back so he can close his teeth over the dark-red bruise bloomed on the side of Ren’s throat. It tastes coppery, clean, and like salt, and he sucks at the already tender skin, letting the taste flood his mouth.

“Again,” Ren moans, and jerks his head against Hux’s grip.

“What—” the sound of his voice so close, intimate and wrecked, makes something horribly hot and thrilling coil in Hux’s gut. He feels his balls start to draw up, tighten.

“My—hair,” Ren pants. “Pull it. Again. Harder.”

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Hux says, but he does. He tightens his grip at the roots and pulls, timed with a deep, powerful snap of his hips, and Ren’s whole body goes impossibly tight, a wrenching keen tugged from his throat.

He’s coming before he knows it’s happening, shoving his prick harder and deeper into Ren even as he feels himself pulsing inside him. Ren grunts, and Hux is vaguely aware of him dropping one hand to his own cock, jerking himself hard and fast until his body tenses. From where his forehead is pressed to the sweaty skin of Ren’s shoulder, he can feel the moment that Ren comes into his own fist, the long, low groan vibrating inside Hux’s skull.

He is barely inside his own body. He feels at once over-warm inside his uniform and entirely light, airy. Against his face, Ren’s skin feels as though it is tingling, his breathing heavy. When Ren straightens, and Hux feels his softening prick slip free, he groans softly and steadies himself with one hand against Ren’s hip.

Ren turns, his back up against the wall again, and reaches out with one hand to grab at the untucked hem of Hux’s undershirt, tugging Hux to him and wiping his hand off on the fabric in the process.

“That’s disgusting,” Hux says, still dizzy enough to let Ren palm at his waist in a strange, oddly intimate approximation of an embrace.

“Would you rather lick it clean?” Ren asks, with a fatigued arch of one brow, wincing a little when he shifts and lifts his hand, bumping his knuckles against Hux’s bottom lip.

Hux nips at him. “You should be so lucky.”

“What I've done,” says Ren. He lets the pad of his thumb press against Hux’s bared teeth, traces the outline of his bottom lip. He looks unsure, for a moment, more than Hux has ever seen him. It’s odd. “It’s not what you think—”

It renews something frightening and anxious and enraged inside Hux. The whole reason he was ever here in the first place, compelled to rut like an animal in heat, driven out of his own mind by a desire that wasn’t even his own. He stiffens. “Don’t try to reason with me. You think just because you got whatever filthy thing you wanted, you can expect me to ignore the fact that you—”

“Here,” Ren says, softly, cutting him off. “Shh, here.”

He cups Hux’s face with a large, damp palm. Dizzy, still half inside his own orgasm, the sharp edge of anger like a kind of exhaustion, Hux finds himself dipping his cheek into Ren’s touch like it is a balm. He lets the heaviness take over, closes his eyes.

“Shh,” Ren says again. His fingers are pressed against Hux’s temple. There is something strange, for a moment, as if Hux can feel a foreign, tentative pressure inside his own head, a probing, gentle sweep of another presence inside his own. He eyes flutter open.

“Wha—”

Ren’s fingers tighten on his face; everything is plunged into heavy, consuming, empty darkness.

 ---

Ren’s thighs ache. His ass is sore. His throat feels choked raw. He would like to say that this hurried departure is for Hux’s well-being—something he never thought he’d care about—but that’s a pleasant fiction.

Of course, Hux comes to see him off.

He doesn’t remember the previous night, Ren made sure of that, and his eyes sweep over Ren from top to bottom with the same distant disapproval he is used to. So that’s it then, he thinks. This is how it ends. It is the will of the Force.

“Safe journey, Lord Ren,” Hux intones, standing with his shoulders back, his thin chest pushed out, and hands clasped behind himself. He is rigid and stern.

All Ren can think about is rough treatment under those hands: clawing at him, tearing at him. Pulling his hair until he cried out and begged for more. His chin wobbles. He is grateful for his mask, for his high collar and the way it hides his bitemarks.

“Take care of yourself, General,” he says, and before he can think better of it, he steps in close, and inhales deeply, trying to memorize the spice of Hux’s aftershave, his own clean scent. He imagines that Hux still smells a little like their sex. “Remember,” he says, his voice raspier than usual, “I see you.”

Hux’s shoulders tense up, a flicker of distress crosses his features, then he steps back and away. A safe distance to recover his contempt. “I’m sure you do,” he returns. His mouth has a sardonic tilt and his mind feels strangely calm when Ren gently skims it.

Ren’s own chest feels constricted, his breath too loud, the boulders of consequence bearing down on his diaphragm. He never expected—he didn’t realize—that he could lose this strange fight.

Before Hux can turn smartly on his heels and march away, Ren all but runs into his shuttle, tears off his helmet, and retches dryly.

 ---

Through the wide transparisteel expanse of the Finalizer’s bridge, Starkiller gleams back at him like a cold gem. The velvet-black hole of the oscillator chamber is visible from orbit now, pinning Hux back like a great, wide eye. A sucking darkness, an event horizon, a shock of nothingness nestled in a cradle of shining white ice. The light from the blue-hot and distant sun reflects in glittering shards: off alusteel casings, off glaciers, off the rim of the abyss.

Hux exhales, through his nose. It looks—beautiful.

Around him, there is the dull chatter of the bridge. Instruments clicking, comms spitting static, the send-offs and allocations of transports slotting into their bays, TIE fighters wheeling off through the black sky in training formation like murmurs of metallic songbirds. The ordered patterned noise of marching boots from the corridor. The ebb and flow of a mechanical tide: predictive and clean and comforting.

He flexes his hands where they are pressed together neatly at the small of his back. Finds it refreshing, the ease of his joints, the renewed uniformness of his body’s feeling. The absence of pain and that thick, clogged aching. He has slept well. Woke clear-headed. Ran for an hour in the training rooms before First Shift and felt nothing except confident exertion, his heart pumping steadily and his body obedient, under control.

He can feel Mitaka’s gaze following him, from across the bridge. He straightens his shoulders, slightly, and holds his stance. He’s still being watched, he knows: not just Mitaka but a smattering of his senior officers too. The past week has been suffused with hushed voices in the corridors, the prickle of knowing a lingering gaze is following you out the door. The way people tend to treat an animal that has bitten in fright and not malice. The way they handle an object of immense fragility—or danger, perhaps. Breath always knotted halfway up their throats.

But: he is better. Better—that is, he corrects himself, not ill. Seven days now since he visited the medbay, and not a single nightmare. Not a solitary new bruise or raked line of pale-pink, shredded skin. The aching fading from his joints. Something whole and vaguely satiated returning to him. His mind is clearer. He has an appetite, finds his cycle of sleep comes naturally again. His body remembers its former acuity.

He is pleased to give the suspicious gazes reason to relax and turn their attention elsewhere again. Not pleased—he thinks, turning away from the transparisteel and scanning the bridge pit—he relishes it. Relishes the way Mitaka’s wariness has shifted slowly into the soft-tint of surprise, into relief, that things seem to righted themselves just at the teetering edge of capsizing. That surety of command has resumed, that his stalwart faith could be shaken and then restored.

He steps down into the pit, makes his way deliberately through the console decks; out of the corner of his eye he can see when Mitaka turns from the central comm to watch him when he pauses at telemetrics. The lingering pulse of wariness, Hux feels it too. The sense that whatever had brought him almost to his knees hasn’t retreated to its warren, but is lying crouched in wait in some dark and dusty corner of the ship, licking its sullen lips and laving its wounds until the next opportunity to strike.

He follows the flicker of movement on the console screens: ‘Troopers sweeping through the corridors on deck nine, the cycle of the Engineering cameras (ion chambers, coolant room 6, coolant room 4, coolant room 3, catwalk, catwalk, catwalk), shuttlebay one, shuttlebay three, hull cameras 29 through 36 catching the glimmering quiver of a TIE-fighter formation orbiting the bow in a long, wide arc. When the camera-feed on the lower right corner cycles through the Officers’ quarters corridors, his gaze catches on a strange judder, a visual hitch, something unstable and jittering in the usually smooth feedback.

“What is that?” He leans in.

The tele-tech jerks, startled. “Oh—sir,” she says, adjusting her headset. “Sir, we’ve been having some trouble with that particular feed. Looks like degradation in the back-end, maybe. Nothing serious, though.”

He frowns. “Assign a detail to have that looked at by the end of Third Shift tomorrow.”

“Yes, sir!”

The eastern doors hiss open, pulling his attention to central comm again, when Lieutenant Higgins enters with a smart salute in Mitaka’s direction, a datapad tucked under his arm. Hux watches as he hands it to Mitaka, both of their heads bent to the screen as Mitaka flicks through the scroll of information.

Even Higgins reappears, he thinks, feeling a smirk pull at his mouth. After making himself so scarce in the aftermath, as if he couldn’t get reassigned to midbridge fast enough when the whispers in the corridors made it seem as if the fortifications were about to come crumbling down. It’s not as him he can begrudge him, really, he thinks, as Higgins takes the datapad back and lifts his head. Their gazes catch, across the pit, and he watches the little falter in the Lieutenant’s salute, as if he is surprised to see Hux looking as he should be.

He nods his head in response. Smart boy.

It is odd, though, he thinks. That everything should simply stabilize. As if someone in the dark has snapped their fingers and a faulty light had sprung suddenly to life again on command. If he runs through the logic of it in his head, he knows there is a missing piece. The visit to medbay may have soothed Mitaka’s fretting, but he knows where the remainder of the sleep-tabs are: crushed in some waste compactor in the lower decks, likely dust and mold by now. He has abandoned the vitamins as well, left unopened in the bottom drawer of his desk.

“Sir.” Mitaka approaches, stepping down into the pit. “I have tomorrow’s schedule for review.”

He takes the offered datapad, and scrolls through it. It still tugs at him, gently, the sense that the variables of his recovery are not in order. If not the medtabs, if not the trip to medbay, what could be the thing to account for it? More than that, he thinks, what could account for it happening at all in the first place?

The lost hours, the disorientation, the sense that he had been plagued and coerced by some will that was not his own––those things, he thinks, they don’t just happen. (One doesn’t just have a sexual nightmare about one’s horrible co-commander—another part of his mind offers, grimly—whom one hates.) The germination of it, he reasons. It had to start from somewhere.

“Sir?” Mitaka leans in, slightly.

“Very good,” he says, handing the datapad back despite not having taken in much information at all. “Anything else?”

“You have your scheduled meeting with Major Kaplan at 1500, sir. He’s aboard the Dauntless for a staff review, so you’ll have to contact him via comm. And—” Mitaka scrolls through the datapad, once more “—Commander Ren’s shuttle is due to arrive today at 1700, concluding the Dagobah mission.”

His mouth twists, unbidden. “Still no word?”

“None, sir,” says Mitaka.

He resists the urge to roll his eyes. Of course not, he thinks. Far be it from Ren to consider the importance of communication as part of his purview.

“Notify me when they’ve arrived,” he says.

“Very good, sir.”

Mitaka climbs the steps to central comm again, and Hux turns his attention back to the telemetrics screens, where the scroll of ship-wide images are still flickering in turn. Ren, he thinks, darkly. He frowns when he imagines the thought of having that hulking difficulty stalking through the corridors of his ship again. It’s been so flawlessly peaceful, with him gone on Snoke’s inexplicable mission. Nothing damaged, no fits of terror from the staff, not a single ‘Trooper fallen victim to being in the wrong place at the wrong time (namely, at the throat-gripping end of Ren’s fist), not in seven whole, seamless, functional days.

There is a part of himself—the imaginative part—that strains to connect the dots, there. The absence of Kylo Ren as the solitary factor in his strange recovery. The very thought of it, though, that Ren could be single-handedly responsible for his physical deterioration, for his mental anguish, for the shuddering lack of sense of place and time and—it’s just ridiculous.

There’s no way to prove it, anyway, he thinks. How would one even go about attempting to find evidence of—what, he thinks, feeling sour and a bit foolish. What would I even be looking for? Mystical traces of brain-tampering? Quantum disturbances in my ‘aura’? A diagnosis from some Outer Rim witch doctor? Ballistics from some invisible magical bullet?

It’s not as if the Force leaves scars, he thinks.

As if in answer, out of the corner of his eye, he sees the cycle of the Officers’ quarters feed flicker again with its strange, degraded, wavering fluctuation.

Of course, he thinks, his skin suddenly going cold. Something horrible and gut-hollowing clicks into place. The kriffing cameras

---

He’s cancelled his meeting with Kaplan. He’s refused seventeen comms from Mitaka before finally answering and barking at him to stop calling unless the ship is on fire.

It’s impossible.

But there it is, plain and visible and irrefutable. The pure surety of the scroll of characters across his personal console screen. After more than three hours ensconced in his rooms, cross-referencing his own logs, his own memory of lost time, the telemetric-feed outside his quarters, inside his quarters, the recorded Ident-tags of entrances and exits: and there it is, suddenly.

Dozens—dozens and dozens of missing entries. Ravenous black holes of data littering the vidfeeds, the logs, like a digital stream of his own missing memories. And buried beneath every one—deep in the skeleton logic of the algorithms he designed himself, for the Finalizer’s smooth purring underbelly of data—beneath every single one, a string of sixteen numbers belonging to one, single, individual identity. An undeniable biometric marker.

Kylo Ren.

He stares at it, as if willing it to disappear. The line of numbers blinking back at him, steady and unbiased.

He clicks on one, his hand starting to tremble. The night of the Giddaak dinner, he remembers—almost all of it. He remembers bringing Ren back to his quarters. He remembers something approaching pleasant conversation, a little mockery of the Nabooian pretension. He remembers Ren leaving. He doesn’t remember falling asleep.

The hole in the data is like a mockery of his own memory. The vidfeed gone, just gone, and Ren’s exit erased. By Ren’s hand.

His clicks another, the first instance he can find, nearly a month ago. There are hours missing from the feed. He clicks another, and another, all the same: every single gap in the data glaring with Ren’s digital handprint matches to the black, sucking instability in his own memory, matches to his own increasing illness.

His comm buzzes again.

“Yes.” He picks it up; it almost slips from his shaking fingers. His breathing is unsteady; he can feel his heart hammering away in his chest. “What is it.”

“Sir.” Mitaka. He sounds startled to have received a response. “Apologies for disturbing you, sir. I’m notifying you that Lord Ren’s shuttle is due to dock in bay one in five minutes, as scheduled.”

A dark, hard ore of rage cracks opens inside his ribs. Something cold and suffusing and cavernous blooms in his skull.

“Acknowledged, Lieutenant,” he says. His own voice sounds very far away.

On his way out the door, he unhooks his blaster from his belt, and thumbs the safety off.

 ---

In the dim light of his shuttle’s private quarters, Ren sits on the edge of a bulkhead and listens as the ship cools in the bay of the Finalizer. There is the hiss of coolant steaming, ion gas fizzing, hot metal shifting, the chatter of officers and ‘Troopers just outside the door, flicking comms and dialing instruments, rolling through disembarkation procedure.

He is about to stand and slide his helmet on his head when he hears the pounding of heavy footsteps on the open ramp. He doesn't even have to reach out with his mind to realize what is happening: the pure, righteous, scarlet wave of fury is projected like the wave of an explosion. It makes his teeth rattle in his skull, like he has been struck.

Out.”

Through the roar of sensation behind his own eyes, he hears the scrape of Hux’s strained, clipped voice, through the metal of the closed door. It's accompanied by another searing ripple of red-hot anger. Ren clenches his jaw, freezes where he is.

Everyone out.”

There is a puzzled sort of pause. The air feels, suddenly, suffocating to Ren. He swallows, feels the thick, hot slide of saliva down the back of his throat.

“General—” he hears someone start to protest.

Out. Immediately.”

There is a beat, and then a flurry of booted footfalls, a rush of wind he can feel as if against his own skin. Something is thrumming violently inside Ren’s head; he squeezes his eyes shut briefly in attempt to put a block between his own thoughts and the roiling, terrorizing rage on the either side of the shuttle. He thinks, wildly, in his attempt to settle his mind, that Hux will break down the door. He thinks, blindly, in the moments between breaths, as he finds in himself a single grey space of detachment in which to protect his autonomy, that this is it. He is caught.

Hux knows.

In the silence, the thud of his own pulse feels incriminating. Violent. Loud. Even through the grey haze of his own resistance to it he can still feel, like the hissing tingle of snowburn on skin, the shuddering, rippling wall of Hux’s anger. It inspires in his own body something like nausea, he can feel the bile building on the back of his tongue. He clenches one hand into a fist on top of one thigh, and makes to stand, but the shuttle suddenly judders to life under his feet, and he plants both hands flat on the bulkhead as he feels the weight of it shift, feels the engines roar to full power again, feels the gut-gripping lift and charge when the engines receive a jolt of power. The clang of the ramp folding and closing. The air inside the shuttle seals: a gulping vacuum.

He hears through the metal door the startled questing and frantic sputter of the comm; he hears Hux bark back his authentication code; he hears the comm again, uncertain. Apologetic. The shuttle leans into a low, wide bank, and he steadies himself against the bulkhead, leaning into one hand.

He’s going to dump you out an airlock, says a voice inside his head. He’s going to kill you.

The rumble of the engines shifts into stasis mode. Hux has marooned them. The languid, floating drift is—unsettling.

You might deserve it.

There is a long stretch of silence, the background hum of the universe like static in his ears, before he hears Hux shout:

Ren!”

He stays where he is. He is holding his breath. There is something deeply, strangely, powerfully paralytic about what he knows is on the other side of the door.

Kylo Ren!”

There is the roar from Hux, and then the unmistakeable hssst-pang flat-strike of a blaster bolt firing; he hears it strike into the metal of the doorframe, the scarlet-hot hiss of its ricochet.

Two thoughts, immediately and simultaneously warring for space in Ren’s head. He’s going to bring down the kriffing shuttle. And: You can still win this.

He stands. Tosses his helmet to the floor. He feels dimly when Hux’s anger stutters, momentarily, at the violent clang it makes when hitting the metal at his feet. He stalks to the door, presses his palm to the lock.

Hux is standing in the middle of the open and empty cockpit, stance wide and protective. His blaster is pointed directly at Ren’s chest. His eyes are pale, wild; his mouth is open and curled in a bestial sort of sneer. His breathing is uneven, hard and heaving. Just beyond his shoulder, Ren can see through the narrow transparisteel portal the underbelly of the Finalizer’s bulk, grey and heavy in its sleepy orbit.

“Genera—” he starts.

Hux launches at him, like an animal. Before he can react, Hux is grabbing him by the front of his cowl and hauling him out through the doorway, taking the momentum and slamming him back against the opposite wall, against the airlock door. He bites his own tongue, with the force of it, and then Hux is shoving an elbow up under the soft divot of his throat, his forearm forcing the air out of Ren’s lungs in a rush. He tries to cough, to wrench his chin up and away enough to grab at an inhale, but Hux shoves back: he has the blaster cocked against the side of Ren’s head.

“Tell me the truth,” Hux snarls. The small, cold circle of the blaster barrel presses against Ren’s temple; his hand is shaking. His face is flushed, color high on his cheeks. His eyes are bloodshot. “What have you done?” 

 

 

 

Hux smokes a Hosnian Royal.

Ren thinks of the way Hux’s wine-lush mouth had looked when it was stretched around his cock, the way Hux had peered back at him over his bitten, naked shoulder, face wet, eyes dark and heavy with lust, the way his voice had rasped when he told Ren, Do I have to beg, the way his body had bowed, like the arc of fire at the strike of a match, when Ren first pushed his cock inside him, the way his throat had given so sweetly under the press of Ren’s thumbs, the sharp sting and hot spike of arousal when Hux’s hand had swung back and slapped Ren across the flesh of his cheek, the way Ren could envelop the entire curve of Hux’s face with the spread of his palms. The way Hux had felt inside him.

“What have you been doing to me?” Hux hisses. His voice is like static: the low hum of fear and pitchy crackle of desire.

He lifts one hand, slowly. Slides it between their bodies, presses it flat against the center of Hux’s heaving sternum. Through his palm, he can feel the thudding skitter of Hux’s heartbeat.

Everything,” he says.

In the space of a word, in the moment that he spits the truth of it out into the vacuum between them, Ren feels his strength return. It is, almost, like the first time he reached out into the weave of the universe and took what he needed with a single thought. It is power, and it makes his own pulse leap.

Against his own body, he feels the moment that Hux falters. Feels the stutter and disruption in the red wave of anger. The burbling uncertainty of something far more familiar, by now: Hux’s questing, shameful, desperate arousal.

“Everything,” he says, again.

Hux pulls his arm away from Ren’s throat, slams a fist by the side of Ren’s head, and the wall behind him falls away with a sibilant, pneumatic hiss. Hux shoves him with both hands squarely in the middle of his chest, and before he knows it he is trapped in the airlock, Hux’s red face seething at him through the transparisteel window.

“Tell me. Tell me, you horrible—degenerate fiend.” Hux sounds venomous, his fingers twitching by the panel that could easily send Ren to his doom with a simple combination of numbers. “Tell me all of it,” he says, and pounds his other fist against the glass.

A predatory malice settles over Ren as he finds his footing, rocking back on his heels before pressing up to the window. He’s so close his breath fogs up the transparisteel, and before he starts to speak his mouth lifts up into a slow smirk. It’s freezing in the airlock, but he can hardly feel it through the haze of violent lust cocooning him against the cold.

“You should see yourself,” he says, tongue curling over every word. “This is what you look like—when you’re ready for me, when you can’t be sure if you want to kill me, or just get fucked already.”

Hux’s mouth falls open, and his eyes narrow in disbelief.

“You want me to tell you?” Ren permits himself a tendril of pressure against Hux’s mind; he’s met with a wave of pure feeling. It emboldens him, the dark, scarlet eddy of arousal, anger, confusion. “You want me to tell you what a whore you were for it? How you were choking for my cock? How you dropped to your knees before I’d even considered using that pretty mouth?”

“No—”

“The first time, you begged me.” Ren bites his lower lip remembering it; how once he’d maneuvered Hux onto his own bed, the wheels had come off completely, and Hux was writhing shamelessly above him. “Called me Lord Ren, licked your lips like a two-credit whore, and then...” Ren grins. “You sat on my cock.”

“I would never. You’re a disgusting—beast. A monster.” Hux’s voice is ragged.

“General,” Ren sing-songs, taunting, unable to help himself, utterly gone with it. “I didn’t even need to touch you. You stretched yourself open for me that first time. You wanted me to see. Slut.”

Hux stares at him, eyes unfocused for a long second. "The first time," he says faintly, his adam's apple bobbing. "The first time? How many—” his voice breaks, going high-pitched before he can compose himself. “How many times—”

Dozens,” Ren growls, relishing it. “Sometimes twice in one day.”

“That’s not possible.”

“Just last week I had you over your own desk; you left scratches down the whole of my back. Deep gouges. I could show you, they still haven’t healed. Do you want to see? How tightly you clung to me while I bent you in half and fucked you until you screamed? You must have wondered, why your back hurt so much. All that unforgiving metal against your delicate bones.” Ren tsks.

“I'm going to kill you,” Hux hisses, through the comm. He is wild-eyed, breathless. “I’m going to open that hatch and let the vacuum have you, like the detritus you are.”

“You won't,” Ren says. He leans in close again, presses a gloved hand up against the door; imagines he could reach through it, through Hux’s chest, and silence the bloody, frantic, thundering pace of his pulse with his own fist. “Because you want to know what it's like to wake up and know that I’ve fucked you.”

Hux swallows, audibly. Even over the comm.

“You want to look at your wrists and know exactly how they got so bruised. You want to remember the scrape of teeth that left those marks on your throat,” he continues. He feels empowered, reckless. “You're thinking about it now. What you'll feel like the next day, after I've finished with you, and you know exactly what the hitch in your step means."

"Stop it.” Hux looks, through the window, like he might be shaking. His face is ashen, except for the garish flush blooming high on his cheekbones. “I don't give a damn—"

"Open the door. I'll show you how much you do."

He pushes gently into Hux’s mind again, just to be certain that he's not about to actually be sucked into space, and is assaulted by the way he appears to Hux: his cheeks ruddy, his eyes glittering in the half-light from the window; Hux thinks he might be on the edge of tears, ready to plunge into the wanton abyss, to rip the airlock door open and tear Hux apart. He looks like an animal, clothed in dark fur, untamable, too desirable. Hux wants to be eaten raw, that is the truth of it, the glowing ember at the center of his organized mind set aflame.

Ren steps back from the door, panting loudly. He throws an arm out, palm up, and flings the door open with a tremendous screech of metal on metal as the Force moves it in its tracks.

Hux gapes at him, at the space where alusteel once stood between them, his shoulders heaving with unspent emotion. His mouth is open, the space between his bared teeth dark and wet. The blaster slips from his fingers, its clatter echoing.

There is a long moment where the only sound is the ion hum of the engine and their low, ragged breathing.

“You fucked me too,” Ren says, into the silence. “It wasn’t just—you. You fucked me too.”

“Karking hell,” Hux bites out, and he lunges forward, both hands fisting into Ren’s cowl.

He is about to throw up in hands in a parody of self-defense, he is about to tell Hux to leave off, to calm down (the irony tastes sour), but his voice gets stuck in his throat, his tongue working against rising fear—thick, sluggish black, and toxic—that he’s gone too far. The last time Hux was this angry with him he was barely lucid, clinging to very tatters at the end of his mental rope, a firebrand. That hadn’t ended too poorly, Ren thinks frantically, remembering the feel of Hux’s skinny, freckled forearm bearing down on his windpipe. Being touched like that, it hadn’t felt like being Force-choked, not at all like the time he gotten into it with another of his uncle’s pupils and ended up on the receiving end of a sloppy invisible strangulation until he wrested back control. Hux, attempting to crush his throat, had been—exhilarating, overwhelming. He doesn’t know what he expected.

He doesn’t expect Hux to kiss him.

Hux’s mouth presses to his in a familiar, angry slide, like some part of him remembers what kissing Ren ought to be like. Somehow it escaped him, the way Hux remembers his body each time they come together, when he shouldn’t. He shouldn't remember anything at all.

Fuck!” Hux says, directly into his mouth. He tugs at Ren’s ears like he might tear them off before his fingers clasp at Ren’s nape, thumbs digging into skin, into the muscle there. Hux may remember nothing, but here he is: pushing his tongue into Ren’s mouth, gripping at the back of Ren’s neck, lifting one bird limb leg up and wrapping it around the back of Ren’s knee, attempting to almost crawl up him, his chest rising in helpless staccato bursts against his tunic.

He's still furious, cursing himself, cursing Ren—an inspired stream of expletives—when his mouth is free, and Ren, breathless, incredibly aroused, hooks him in close, and heaves him up with the curve of his arm beneath Hux’s bony, perfect, miniscule ass, and the other arm around his waist. Lifts him up until Hux’s face is above his, his brow one big furrow, his eyes fever-bright. They’re kissing again as Ren stumbles backwards towards one bulkhead and then forward to the opposite wall with the intention of pressing Hux into the alusteel and grinding against him until they’ve both forgotten how to speak.

They end up a tangle of limbs and fabric on the cold, metal floor. Ren is certain he’ll be covered in bruises when he wakes for the next cycle, and he absolutely smacked his head on a support beam before Hux ruthlessly clutched at him and dragged them both down.

“Lay your cloak out,” Hux says, as Ren attempts to manhandle him by his slim little waist into a more amenable position than a sprawl.

“Why?”

“I’m not going to let you undress me with nothing but a bare floor beneath us.”

“You’re not always so picky,” Ren mutters, and Hux gapes at him again. He’s been doing a lot of that, opening and closing his mouth like a bewildered fish.

Ren skims lightly over Hux’s mind and is met with a maelstrom of half-formed fantasies, desires—anxieties—about what he’s actually been doing with Ren, about what he’s capable of. A tumult of images dripping with shame: Hux picturing himself spread out across the broad, black lacquered table in conference room D, the shades drawn, three of Ren’s gloved fingers shoved in his mouth, with familiar voices just outside the door—Phasma, maybe? Hux’s little sycophant, Mitaka—and their proximity only riles Hux up, has him moaning around Ren’s fingers like he wants to be heard. A vision of them in the snow on Starkiller, Hux on his knees, letting Ren roughly fuck his face with troopers going about their daily exercises mere meters away. There is an endless array of hazy visions to choose from.

With the cloak laid out, Ren turns to face Hux again, to pick back up where they started, but Hux looks stricken, like a man stripped bare. The bile churning nervously in his stomach is turbulent enough to be heard.

“Did you even go to the Dagobah system,” he spits. “Or did you skulk away to some Force-forsaken corner of the Galaxy to congratulate yourself on ruining me?”

“So much shame,” Ren says softly. “And for what? You’ve always been a man who knows what he wants.”

Hux stares at him. Lifts his chin up, defiant. “What do you know?”

“So much,” Ren whispers. “Take your clothes off.”

“Is this the part in your little show when you fuck me until I forget my own name?” Hux’s fingers are at the throat of his jacket, his thumb hesitating on the clasp.

“Funny you should say.” Ren pulls off his tunic.

Hux delicately removes his uniform jacket, setting it on the ground neatly folded. He gets onto his hands and knees and looks back over his shoulder. His hooded eyes, the flush along the line of his jaw: it has the look of a challenge. “Is this how you like me? When we do this? Ass in the air for you?”

It’s one of the ways Ren likes him. He drops his tunic, lets himself indulge in palming the sweet curve of Hux’s lifted backside, curls his fingers in the waistband of Hux’s trousers and tugs him back, roughly, fitting them together. Hux makes a tight noise, somewhere between protest and arousal. Ren reaches around and unclasps the front of Hux’s trousers, gets distracted by the proximity between Hux’s freckled neck and his own mouth and has to taste him, rubbing up against Hux as he shoves the fabric down around his thighs, letting it bunch up at the knees.

“They’ll wrinkle,” Hux says, so Ren spanks him: a sharp little slap on the outside of his pale, naked flank.

Hux shivers. For someone so cautious, he likes to be treated poorly. They’ve yet to hit a point where Ren’s ministrations were too much for him; from the very beginning, Hux egged him past gentle, fed his more brutal tendencies with high-pitched sounds and yielding flesh. He splays his palm over Hux’s lower back and pushes him forward, puts him on his elbows, then wraps his hands around Hux’s hips, fingers pressing into his soft lower belly, and pulls his ass up even higher. This is another way Ren likes him: on display, edible.

He skims his thumbs over Hux’s ass, dipping them into the space between each cheek, before pressing down and spreading him open, what little meat Hux has catching in Ren’s palms, as he takes a long, tormenting look, admires the way Hux’s neat, tight hole clenches at the cold air. He blows lightly over it, and Hux jolts. He glares over his shoulder at Ren; his fringe has come undone completely. Ren grins at him, his mouth a feral gash, before he lowers his face to Hux’s back and tongues delicately at the very top of his ass.

Hux jolts again and cranes his neck around, both of his eyebrows launched up his forehead. He takes a deep, shuddering breath. “What—are you?”

"Something you like,” Ren murmurs, lowering his mouth back to Hux’s skin.

“Kriffing get on with it, then,” Hux snaps. No, tries to snap. His words come apart in a high-pitched whine as Ren licks a broad swath up the seam of his ass with the flat of his tongue, using his thumbs to pull Hux further apart as he goes.

“Wha—Ren,” Hux says again, vaguely scandalized. But he’s flushed all the way to the top of his nape, the tips of his ears—Ren can see. His head is lolling down between his shoulders; he might be moaning softly. Ren laves over him again and again, until Hux is gasping, thoroughly wet, and contracting under Ren’s tongue.

“Ready?” Ren says, then he points his tongue and presses past the ring of Hux’s hole and into him.

Hux whimpers at the intrusion, his whole body shuddering.

It hasn't been long since Ren did this, but the way Hux tastes, clean, a little musky, makes his head spin. Hux presses back against his face with a groan, and Ren fucks in deeper, knows he’s drooling, and sucks at Hux, gathering up his saliva before diving back in.

"Where did you—” Hux chokes out, “learn how—to do that?"

"On—with you," Ren pants into his thigh, tongue momentarily back in his mouth. "With you." He shoves his face back into humidity between Hux’s legs, and his tongue back into the ring of muscle that opens up sweetly for the seeking tip of it. He attempts to wiggle in as deeply as he can, to have as much of Hux as he can.

Hux gulps noisily, biting off a curse into the fabric rucked up beneath his face. His thighs are shaking.

“I'm going to fuck you now,” Ren says, pulling back. His mouth feels swollen and hot. “If you're ready.” He shifts one hand to Hux’s back, rubs it in slow, soothing circles.

“Do you always ask so nicely?” Hux groans, catching his breath.

“No. Turn over.”

Hux complies, flipping himself bonelessly onto his back, his undershirt still shoved up, his trousers halfway down his legs with his briefs. His erection is vivid red, and curved up over his slightly concave stomach. Hux’s hands flex at his sides like he wants to touch himself, maybe touch Ren.

“Are you going to leave me half-dressed?” Hux asks, tapping Ren with his booted toe.

Ren wastes no time, first pulling off Hux’s boots, savoring the way Hux sighs in relief when the zippers come down and release each of his calves in turn. He tugs down Hux’s trousers with little finesse, intensely gratified when Hux lifts up his ass to help, his lower lip caught between his teeth as he watches Ren beneath his near-transparent lashes. He wants this. He wants Ren. He wants to be naked and laid out and taken and it doesn't matter that he knows how many times Ren’s done this to him before. Seeing Hux look at him sends a fresh wave of lust over him, and he fumbles with his pockets before coming up with a slim tube of lubricant.

Hux narrows his eyes, disgusted even as his thighs fall open. "You just carry around slick like some kind of foul pimp?"

"We've been busy." Ren smirks.

Hux thumps his head back on the ground. "Hells, what did I do to deserve this?"

"You're a very bad man," says Ren. He pulls one of Hux’s legs over his shoulder, then pushes two fingers into him.

Hux makes a sound like all the air has been shoved out of him at once, a dark little ooph. His cock jerks against his stomach at the breach and he reaches out and hits Ren’s thigh where it’s nestled up next to his hip. Ren spreads his fingers apart.

“At least—” Hux grits out. “Let me—ah!—see this cock you've apparently been sticking me with for weeks.”

“Over a month,” Ren says unthinking, watching his own hand.

"A month? Fuck—did you let me do this to you?" Hux squeezes around Ren's fingers where they're shifting inside him, pressing at him. “When I fucked you?”

Ren unsticks his mouth. "I'll show you. If you want. I can show you what it was like—how much I. How much I wanted it."

“Later. Just fuck me already.”

Ren pinches his soft inner thigh. “Fine. But I told you—you get like this. Impatient.” He grabs the waistband of his leggings and drags them down. The elastic catches on his cock. Hux has lifted himself up on his elbow to stare.

“You’re—huge.” Hux’s cheeks color further. He unconsciously licks his lips.

“You've never complained before. You've loved every inch.”

Hux’s pale eyes become very, very wide.

Ren’s heart speeds up, he shivers. This is his favorite part: seeing Hux fall for him time and again. Hux’s thrilled surprise when he sees just how big Ren is, the way he projects exactly what he wants as though he can’t help himself. These moments, when their intentions solidify, have sustained Ren for weeks.

Hux eyes him greedily as Ren takes his cock in hand at the base and taps the head against his asshole, and Hux manages to blush an even brighter red when Ren drizzles lube over them both. Hux has his lower lip caught between his teeth but he still pushes up further on his elbows, like he's fascinated. Ren brushes against his mind to find he is. Beneath his desire Hux is trying to keep all of this carefully filed away, each motion, each touch. He's trying to memorize it all. It makes Ren feel a curdling guilt before he forces that away. Instead, he toys with Hux, pushing his cockhead into him, watching him tense up, waiting, and then popping back out again, head catching on the shiny, pink rim that wants badly to keep him in. Hux is holding himself very still, but his hands are flexing by his sides, and he's breathing noisily through his teeth.

"Stop," he says roughly. "Stop, damn you." Ren freezes, cock in hand. Hux glares at him. "No, I meant. Kark this, lay down."

When Hux climbs on top of him, one knee on either side of Ren’s hips, Ren can't help sliding one large damp palm up Hux's thigh. Hux’s expression is determined, a little bit grim, but he's still a hot red, and his cock is unflagging.

“You look...good,” Ren says. He swallows.

“This had better be,” Hux grinds out, lowering himself down onto Ren’s weeping erection, “the best it's ever been.” He frowns, situating himself, shifting in a way that feels horribly tender to Ren, but when he’s fully seated, he throws his head back and moans. Ren grabs hold of his slender hips and holds him in place. “This had better be the best,” Hux says to the ceiling, vehement.

Ren grunts. It never stops. It never stops feeling incredible. He should say that. Instead he says: “it is.”

Hux snaps forward and takes hold of his shoulders, digging his nails in. “Say it again.” He starts to move, rocking his hips, teasing. It's not enough.

“It's the best,” Ren says.

“Again,” Hux insists.

Hux.”

“Say it,” Hux hisses, lifting himself up, finally, and dropping back down with a guttural sound from somewhere deep inside him.

“It's never been better. It's—you're. You're incredible. I'm in—”

“I hate you,” Hux cuts him off, so Ren takes a sure hold of his hips and lifts him up just enough that he can start fucking him hard, fast, and deep.

Ren closes his eyes, feels himself start to unravel, feels the Force pulsing around them, through them, through him up into Hux, heavy at the points where their bodies touch. He squeezes his eyelids shut. This is new.

Hux slaps him. “Look at me.”

Ren’s hips stutter.

“You have to see me.” Hux is touching himself, milking the head of cock while his thighs clench up around Ren.

“I see you, Hux,” he manages, arching his back. Ren comes hard, spilling desperately into Hux, his entire body tensing up in something like agony.

“Oh—stars,” Hux says. His mouth drops open; he follows Ren, his come streaking up in a high arc onto Ren’s face. Shaking, Hux collapses onto him, kissing him, licking at his cheeks, his mouth, cleaning him up, heedless of the way Ren’s cock slips free. “I hate you,” he says again, kissing Ren, and kissing him again.

 ---

Later, still on the floor, Hux’s head on his shoulder, sweat and come drying on their goosepimpled skin, Hux says to him, “Are you going to take this too?”

Ren cracks open one eye and looks down at him. Hux’s damp hair is fine and soft against his chin. “Take what,” he says.

Hux is very still, against him. “You can't,” he says. Like it is a command.

“I could,” says Ren, because it's true. It tastes sour, though, on his tongue, the idea of it. He lifts his hand and lets his fingers slip through Hux’s hair, lets his thumb graze the sweaty, warm skin of Hux’s temple. This is where he would do it, with his palm cradling the back of Hux’s skull. He could tip him into sleep as easy as breathing, and take every last drop of it. The thought makes something in his chest constrict.

“Don't,” says Hux.

“Why?” Ren asks, tongue thick in his mouth. “Why do you want this?” His heart is pounding.

Hux lifts his head; props himself up on one forearm and stares down at Ren. His eyes, in the dimness, are very bright. His cheeks are still flushed, his lashes are wet and almost invisible. Something of the harshness in his face has smoothed, the willful desperation centered.

To Ren, here, he looks lovely.

“Why did you?” Hux says, simply.

Ren’s breath catches, his heart jitters in his chest, as he knows, in a garish, too tight way, that he was always bound to lose this, and when he tilts his head and presses his lips to Hux’s damp brow, it feels obvious.

He can hear Hux’s exhale; the warm breath against his cheek. “Let me keep it,” he says.

“No promises,” says Ren.

  ---

Epilogue

Does the body lie
moving like this, are these
touches, hairs, wet
soft marble my tongue runs over
lies you are telling me?
Your body is not a word,

it does not lie or
speak truth either.

It is only here or not here.

Margaret Atwood, We Are Hard

 

He is dreaming of an island. A mountain cresting from a wide dark curve of ocean. Around him there is water, and distant voices on the wind, and the smell of salt in the air, and a cool breeze caressing the fine hairs on the back of his neck, and the sky is the color of a pale sapphire, but he does not look at it because he is crouched in the dark sand and has something living pinned between the pinch of his thumb and fingers. It is struggling, as if it has wings. He thinks he is trying to be careful with it.

He in ankle-deep in water, and it is warm. He has the sensation of opening his eyes, although perhaps they were already open, although perhaps it is just the crest of the sun from over the hill, although perhaps it is it him moving out of the way of his own shadow, but when he looks down, again, he sees his own face reflected in the shallow, still tidal pool. It surprises him, the plain honesty of it. He has the sensation in his gut of the feeling after one has leaped off a very great height but before the heavy clutching of gravity begins to pull you down. Free-fall, the catch of breath in his throat, a stutter of his own pumping heart: his own bare cheeks, his own naked face, his own open eyes.

Someone is calling his name. From across the wind there is the sound of a pulse. A throbbing repetition, some strange cry that seems unable to resolve itself and so he lifts his head and suddenly it is like the pull of the earth has caught him after all and the dark wet sand and the warm still water and the sunshine on the back of his neck and the small clutching struggle of the thing in his fist, it all slips away into a wide strip of darkness like someone has tugged the fabric of it out from underneath his legs and he is he might be fa—

He wakes. The room is dark and not his own and it takes him a moment to blink slowly into recognition, until it all hits him at once like a flood. There is a comm beeping steadily and sullenly at the side of the bed. The bed he is in, asleep, which is not his own. And there is a pleasant weight holding him to the mattress, a muss of very soft, fine red hair tucked up under his chin and some of it is in his mouth, and Hux’s body is pressed up against him, naked and flushed pink-skinned, with his face turned into the crook of Ren’s neck, and Ren can feel the moment through the shift in his warm, damp breath against his own skin when Hux through his sleep hears the comm, and stirs. Ren feels his muzzy little exhale, huffing and half-frustrated, feels the moment when wakefulness comes back into his limbs and the curve of his body stiffens, stretches, readjusts. For a moment Ren feels Hux wet his own lips against the skin of his throat, and then he pulls his head away from where it's been resting against Ren’s shoulder, slides his arm out from where it's been looped loosely over Ren’s hip; their ankles brush when he untangles their legs and rolls over, grabbing at his berthside for the comm.

Ren squints at him, drowsy, watches as he types out a quick response on the datapad. His hair is sticking up on one side; there's the impression of creases, pink and flushed, along the curve of his naked back. When Hux sits up, and swings his legs over the edge of the berth, Ren can see the plush-red bruise stretched across the tendons of his throat. The cool air of the room crowds into the space where his body has been.

“I’m needed on the bridge,” Hux says, over his shoulder. His voice is hoarse, quiet, rough with sleep.

Ren shifts, presses a loose fist against his face, scrubbing at his eyes. Hux has leaned over the edge of the bed. The curl of his spine is a neat little ridge of bone; freckles scattered like pale, diffuse light. Ren thinks about running the pad of his thumb down the valley of his lower back. He curls his fingers slightly into the air, into the space between them.

“Go back to sleep,” Hux says, and stands. He tugs his trousers up over the thin curve of his hips with a smart, fastidious gesture. His neck bows, just a little, when he slides his hands to the front to fasten them. Ren tucks his fist under the pillow and thinks about the feeling of pressing his wet, open mouth to the damp, warm tautness of Hux’s belly. He thinks about the taste of Hux’s exposed nape. He thinks about how it feels to have the span of both of his palms spread across the hot, flushed skin of Hux’s back.

Hux disappears into the refresher. There is the spill of light, the sound of water running in the basin; Ren closes his eyes again. The clink of a glass, the soft, low static of the lazrazor, the bright scrape of a comb, a dull tap-tap on smooth metal.

Hours earlier, he'd had Hux tucked over his thighs with one hand pressed against the damp skin at the lowest curve of his spine, and he’d said, Do you want it back?

Do I want what, Hux said, muffled from where he'd been sucking open-mouthed at the underside of Ren’s jaw.

The things I took, he said. From you. Do you want them back?

Hux pulled back, regarding him with a searching frown. He'd looked—pleasantly undone: bitten-red at the mouth, uniform open to his navel, hair still mussed from when Ren had tugged him off his cock and into his lap.

No, he said, finally, and slid a clever hand down between their bodies to circle Ren with his fingers in a way that made dizzying, star-shower-bright static spark from the crown of Ren’s head down to his toes.

Keep them. A telling little arch of his brow: satisfied, almost fond. The new ones are—acceptable.

He hears Hux emerge again; opens his eyes enough to watch him, barefoot, naked at the throat and chest and shoulders and belly, in the dim light, running his palms along his dampened hair, smoothing it back from his face. He open his cabinets and pulls down a fresh uniform; when he tugs the dark undershirt over his neck and down his torso, Ren catalogues the places where his own mouth and fingers have left marks, top-down: behind his left ear, the ridge of his right shoulder, high on the inside of his right bicep, the swell of his left hipbone (he watches Hux’s fingers graze this one, as he tucks in his shirt), both fresh and fading.

Hux sits again on the edge of the berth to pull on his boots. Ren flexes his fingers under the pillow into a loose fist to hold down the urge to press his knuckles into the small of Hux’s back, to reach out with both hands and pull Hux back into the space of his own body, palms at his narrow waist, to be greedy.

Instead, he watches as Hux pulls on his jacket: precise, and measured, and practiced. The slight shrug of his shoulders, the rustle of the fabric, the way he smooths the turn of the collar high against his nape (where Ren has scraped his teeth, where he knows it makes Hux squirm), the dull scrape of the metal fastenings, the shhkt noise when Hux’s fingers slip the belt around his own waist: all of it to Ren feels a little like tracing with the pad of his thumb the leylines of a map of a landscape you have walked with your body only in the dark. Here is where you were. Here is where you are. Here is where you are going to be.

Hux glances back at him. Ren can see the translucent arc of his lashes against the curve of his cheek.

“Go back to sleep,” Hux says, again, and he stands.

Ren yawns; when he presses his cheek to the pillow he can feel how hot his own skin is. He can feel something light and tingling and half-painful growing in the cavity of his ribs, spreading through his limbs like the synaptic leap of energy.

The door slides open, spilling a slice of cold, white light across the floor. Caught in it, Hux is a velvet-black silhouette. When he crosses the threshold, his spine is straight, head held tall. The place where the sheets cocooned his body is still warm, wrinkled.

The door closes. Ren, in the darkness, stretches his arm out into the empty space, presses the back of his hand against the sheets and uncurls his fist. And in the cup of his open palm, he feels the sensation of something fluttering free.