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It has been weeks since Hux last received summons from Snoke. In fact, this is the first since the destruction of Starkiller base. Hux has been stewing ever since and he is more than ready to explain the unfortunate events that had occurred. That Kylo Ren is standing beside right him, is nothing but a bonus in his eyes.

 

“I have summoned you to give you your new orders, General,” Snoke says, casting a weary eye over him. “You will redesign Starkiller base and this time you will make sure that it is absent of flaws.”

 

“Supreme Leader-” He has prepared his case meticulously but he can barely get the title out before he is cut off.

 

“Enough. I will not hear a word against my apprentice.”

 

Hux swallows frustration and makes a display of obsequiousness (he won’t bow his head like Ren but he’ll lower his eyes). He doesn’t need to see Ren’s face to know there’s a triumphant smirk twisting on those full lips. He’s so transparent without his mask, so reliant on it to hide his emotions.

 

“You’re dismissed, General.”

 

Hux gives a nod of the head and excuses himself, walking right past Ren. Sure enough, there’s gloating written all over his face.

 

He waits until he’s out of the room and safely down the hall before he starts recalculating. He suspects that he would feel it if they were in his mind but it doesn’t hurt to take precautions: you never know with Force-users. He’s had to put up with Snoke for a long time but, for all his not inconsiderable efforts, he’s not getting anywhere with him. He favours Ren and always will. There’s no chance of Hux developing Force-sensitivity so nothing he does will ever make his equal Ren in the Supreme Leader’s estimation.

 

Hux isn’t one for wasted energy. He needs a new strategy. The Supreme Leader is unreachable, impenetrable, quite literally inhuman. Kylo Ren isn’t. He’s proven that time after time.

 

The idea is personally distasteful to him but that’s never stopped him before. The plan is almost fully formed by the time he reaches his own quarters.

 


 

 

Early in his career in the Order, he failed an inspection for promotion. It had been a first for him, to fail like this, so officially, so publically. He had his failures in private, kept away from prying eyes so that for all intents and purposes, they didn’t exist.

 

“The troops, the officers, they don’t like you,” the inspector told him, bluntly. She was a short woman, perhaps 5’2, and looked to be in her early forties. He forgot her name but not her words. “You were put up for this promotion based purely on the merits of your work. Frankly, you probably should have been submitted for it earlier but no-one liked you enough to suggest your name.”

 

Hux had stared at her, unbelieving, that even within the order there was such weakness. Feelings didn’t matter. He wasn’t there to be anyone’s best friend. He was there to do a job and he did it damn well.

 

His superior shook her head like she knew what he was thinking. “It shouldn’t be hard. You have great presence and a knack for oratory. The men are on the verge of respecting you already. You just need to gain their trust, their loyalty. It’s not about being friends.”

 

“I submit that my work was technically perfect and that the discipline of the troops was exemplary,” he had said, jaw twitching. He hated the words as they came out of his mouth. They sounded too much like begging in his attempt to hold back the torrent of anger threatening to burst out of him.

 

“It was,” she smiled and patted him on the arm. “Look, your specialism is weapons, isn’t it?” It was a rhetorical question. She knew it was. “Our men and women are our greatest weapons. Yes, you might be able to aim with your non-dominant hand but why would you when you could work far more accurately with the other?”

 

Hux didn’t exactly have a dominant hand anymore – he was born left-handed but his father had insisted on forcing his to write and shoot with his right hand (he had hated his father at the time but he could see the benefits with hindsight) – but he knew what she meant. “You wouldn’t.”

 

“You have failed this inspection,” she repeated again, though it didn’t make it any easier to swallow. “But I am sure I will see you again.”

 

She left abruptly and Hux had to complete the rest of his shift, trying to keep his face carefully neutral as everyone around him plainly wondered about what had happened. He despised them all; the thought of grovelling for their affection was a complete anathema to him that he’d been intently and uncharacteristically relieved after his hours were over. He spent the freedom of his evening indulging in bad habits: he drowned his shame in whiskey until it was dead and burned the remains from his body with hot metal and when he woke up the next morning, he was born anew.

 

He was ready to force people to like him, whether they (or indeed, he) wanted to or not.

 

He did not fail the repeat inspection.

 


 

 

He waits for an opportunity. He gets it a couple of weeks later when he finds himself alone with Ren after a meeting.

 

“Can you only read minds when you concentrate on that person?” he asks, trying to sound casual. His heart is hammering. All the better, he’s supposed to seem nervous, if for different reasons.

 

Hux can tell that Ren is peering at him intently through the mask. He’s suspicious. He’s supposed to be but it doesn’t make it less unnerving.

 

“I need to concentrate in order to extract specific information unless the person is projecting especially loudly,” says Ren, finally. “But feelings are easier. I can usually sense those without even meaning to.”

 

“No wonder you shut yourself away so often,” Hux mutters and it’s a genuine comment. Nothing is more horrific to him than the idea of having other people’s feelings in his head. He can barely stand to witness displays of emotion, let alone have to take them on as though they were his own.

 

“Why do you want to know?” Ren asks, a distinct edge in his voice.

 

This is where Hux really needs to sell it. He shifts in discomfort, flicking his eyes over Ren, and then hastily looking away. He gave a slight cough. “Idle curiosity, Ren. Nothing more.”

 

He walks off. He can feel Ren’s eyes on him as he leaves.

 

So it begins.

 


 

 

He accesses the security cameras in Ren’s room. He watches for a while, long enough to ascertain what he is doing (which is lightsaber practice, apparently) so that he’ll have the memory should he need it and goes back to work. He repeats it every night for a fortnight.

 

He often finds himself watching for longer than he had initially thought necessary but truthfully, the lure of getting something useful on Ren is too much to resist. It’s mostly lightsaber practice, kneeling in front of that monstrosity of burnt plastisteel, and temper tantrums. Occasionally Hux catches him changing or worse (better?) touching himself. He watches those moments extra closely with dispassionate eyes. He has to, it might be crucial to selling the attraction.

 

He never puts a hand to his own cock, even as he feels it stiffen against the confines of his trousers.

 


 

Ren storms into Hux’s office; Hux doesn’t look up from his datapad. He can hear the metallic hiss of Ren’s breath through the mask as he huffs, working himself up or down from anger – it’s always hard to tell.

 

Hux doesn’t break.

 

“You are in no position to bar me from the use of my own shuttle!” Ren snaps, finally.

 

Hux scrolls down, not actually reading any of the messages. “I think you’ll find that I am. I have explained my reasons in the report. I suggest you leave.”

 

Ren yanks the datapad out of his hand with the Force, sending it flying across the room. He sees it spark a little as it hit the floor.

 

“I’ll add that to your tab,” he says, dryly, nevertheless hauling himself out of his chair to stand face-to-face with Ren. “Well, now you have my full attention but it’ll do you little good: my decision is final.”

 

“I suggest you reconsider,” Ren spits through the mask. “I need that ship to continue my search. You do not want to get in my way. I will destroy every inch of your precious ship if you don’t give me what you want.” Ren steps forward.

 

Hux tilts his head slightly, letting his lips part. “Careful, Ren. That almost sounds like a promise.”

 

He can’t see it but he can just feel Ren’s confused frown beneath the mask.

 

Hux takes the opportunity now that he’s got him off guard. It’s so easy. Just pretend he’s going in for the gloat, careless in victory. It’s the sort of thing Ren himself would do. “You going to rip off your helmet and throw it against the wall because things don’t go your way? You going to tear your robes off your chest and scream like a petulant teenager?” He had, of course, seen Ren do exactly that just a couple of days ago after he had failed to execute a particular lightsaber move for the third time in a row.

 

Ren flinches back. “You! You’ve been watching me!”

 

Hux looks away. He needs to play this with embarrassment and frankly that’s not hard. The idea that he could even be remotely interested in Ren is humiliating in of itself.

 

Rough hands grab at his shoulders. “What are you looking for?”

 

He looks up and reaches for the mask, trying to make the movements look unconscious. Ren recoils. Hux stumbles back. Ren knows he wouldn’t do that normally.

 

“I’ll take my leave of you,” he says and leaves in a flurry of awkward strides. He resumes normal pace once he’s out of the door. This shameful attraction is all an act but he still has to resist the urge to run back to his quarters and singe the skin of his wrists until the skin bubbles and blisters.

 


 

 

It’s taking longer than expected. He doesn’t consider himself an impatient man but when there’s every risk he might be killed at any minute with no sign of Ren being even the slightest bit closer to getting it, he can start to feel a little restless. It’s time for drastic measures: he’s got to get someone else involved to spell it out for that boneheaded fool. Not directly of course - that would be too obvious - and he doesn’t feel like having to kill anyone on this ship besides Ren.

 

He needs someone stupid or no, he doesn’t quite mean that, he doesn’t allow stupid people on his ship – he needs someone easily duped and even more easily read.

 

As if by fate (Hux doesn’t believe in fate of course and he despises those who do), Mitaka walks past, giving Hux a nervy little smile like he always does. Perfect.

 

“Lieutenant Mitaka!” he bellows.

 

Mitaka jumps about three feet – he looks like a frightened ewok. “Sir?” he squeaks.

 

“What exactly have you been telling Ren?” he spits. He usually saves this for his speeches but it serves his purpose now.

 

“R-ren? Nothing. What are you talking about, sir?”

 

He grasps at Mitaka’s lapels and wonders a bit too late if it might be over-kill. He supposes he’s committed to it now. He pulls Mitaka a little to emphasise his point. “You need to stop spreading these rumours. Now. I don’t know what you heard or where you heard it from but you need to stop trying to make me look stupid in front of Ren. Do you understand?”

 

Mitaka nods. Hux almost feels bad. Almost is the key word. He lets go and his tone drops to an entirely more reasonable decibel level. “I suppose it could have just been a mistake. You are a good officer and there are so many corrupting influences around that could have misled you down this path.”

 

Mitaka plays along, nodding eagerly. “Please, General, I know I admire you so…” A flush spreads to his cheeks, aware that he’s said too much.

 

Hux bites back his grin. “I’ll tell you what, you do a favour for me and we’ll forget the whole incident.”

 

“There are no favours, General. I follow your orders without question,” says Mitaka, well trained.

 

“Very well. I would like you to go to Ren.” He sees Mitaka swallow nervously but says nothing. “Tell him that my regard for him is the same as it has ever been.”

 


 

 

“I had a very odd conversation with Mitaka,” says Ren, straight to business, no pre-amble. “He was blathering on about how I wasn’t to believe any rumours about you and that he wasn’t the one spreading them and then there was the usual pleading not to be Force-choked.”

 

Hux looks at Ren impassively. “Why are you telling me this?”

 

Ren steps forward. “Your little rat has given away the game. I hadn’t actually heard any rumours until now but I am not stupid. You were watching me on the cameras. Whatever treachery this is, you’re orchestrating it poorly.”

 

Surprise is a difficult emotion to act but he’s had plenty of practice. He practised almost daily at the Academy; putting on that dull wide-eyed expression when they announced in assembly that certain classmates had gone missing or that others were expelled for stealing sensitive data from the mainframe. Of course, they never suspected him in the first place and Ren definitely does but his act is flawless regardless.

 

‘It’s almost better that he thinks I’m plotting against him,’ he thinks loudly. He’s been practising shouting his thoughts but it’s all based upon his assumptions - information about those accursed cults is difficult to dig up, even for him - he thinks it must be like learning to project your voice, something he’s very proficient in.

 

It seems to have worked, though. He can feel something like fingers grasping at his mind. It’s an unpleasant sensation, like Ren is climbing and he’s using Hux’s mind as a place to grip as he scrambles upwards.

 

He pushes Ren back. Not too hard – it is certainly not enough to damage the esteemed warrior – but the shock of it is strong enough to jolt Ren out of his mind. He keeps his hands against Ren’s chest for a moment too long (just long enough) before drawing them back like he’s been burned.

 

He runs off.

 


 

 

Ren comes to his quarters completely unannounced the next night.

 

“I’ve worked it out,” he proclaims, clearly pleased with himself.

 

He takes off his helmet in one fluid motion and shakes out his hair. The effect is obviously intended to be attractive. Hux has to admit the result is quite attractive objectively speaking. Ren is just a weapon but Hux has always coveted the clean efficiency of a blaster, devoted hours to the beautiful complexity of Starkiller’s inner workings, admired the pure simplicity of a sharp knife. Why should Ren be any different?

 

Ren is looking at him with undisguised lust. Hux pretends to be struggling against his own arousal, putting on a pinched expression. He doesn’t have to see his own face to see that his cheeks are flushed.

 

Ren starts to move closer and Hux stiffens, holding all the tension in his shoulders. Ren rests his hands there and Hux has a brief moment of doubt, in which he wonders if Ren isn’t going to just strangle the life out of him. But no, Ren starts to press down, working out the knots with surprising gentleness. The heat spreading over his aching shoulders feels so good. Ren thinks this is his own idea, that this is Hux’s seduction and not his own, and that’s the beauty of it.

 

“Ren…” he groans. It doesn’t require too much acting from him. He has definitely been due a massage.

 

There’s a moment's hesitation from Ren; he bites his lip, in thought, before leaning in as though to kiss him. He stops just short, eyes acutely training on Hux’s face, searching for something.

 

He’s waiting for permission, Hux realises. Hux pretends to give in and closes the distance.

 

The greatest pleasure of all is that his plan is working perfectly, everything just clicking into place.

 


 

 

Ren is smug the next day. Hux expects nothing less. He thinks loud thoughts about Kylo’s perfectly sculpted body and his soulful brown eyes. It’s not technically untrue but Hux feels inexplicably nauseous.

 

Ren is looking at him throughout their shift and Hux wonders why it’s so hard to put the image of the masked figure and the man he had slept with last night together in his mind.

 

He owes himself a drink when he gets back to quarters, that much is sure.

 


 

He’s barely taken a sip of his scotch before the doors swish open and reveal the only person on the Finalizer foolish enough to enter General Hux’s quarters without an explicit invitation. His helmet is in his hand. There’s an assumption behind that but it’s been weeks since their initial encounter and since then, more has passed between them. Enough that there’s more than enough reason for his presumption.

 

“Ren,” he says, ice in his voice. It’s not a charade but it’s the pretence at one.

 

A grin spreads across Ren’s face; this dance has become familiar to the both of them. “Pleased to see me as ever, General?”

 

Hux raises an eyebrow. “Of course.” He steps aside to let Ren in. “Care for a drink?”

 

“I didn’t take you for a drinker,” says Ren, briefly eying the glass in his hand as though Hux intends to poison him. He puts his helmet down on a side table, his dark eyes never leaving Hux.

 

Hux is never sure whether it’s just a habit of his warrior’s training, that he should never take his eyes off his enemy, or if it’s specific to him. It’s never particularly comfortable being the object of Ren’s intense focus but it’s the latter possibility that Hux finds more unnerving (it’s ideal for his plan but that doesn’t mean he has to like it).

 

“I’m not.” All cool, all casual. It’s a habitual lie, not specific to Ren. “But you drive me to it.” He takes a sip and feels the familiar burning sensation spread over his lips. The drink is a part of a never-ending deal with himself: drink (in moderation, only moderation) to prevent the scrape of nails against his palms, scratch the skin until it bleeds to keep him from searing it, burn himself to stop him from…

 

Kylo takes the drink out of his hand and sniffs it experimentally - really, he has the worst manners Hux has ever seen and he’s spent an inordinate amount of time in the outer-rim. Kylo shrugs and sets it aside. He wraps his hands around Hux’s waist – it’s a particular preoccupation of his – and says: “I’d rather taste it on your lips.”

 

It’s a bad line but he doesn’t have time to ponder it for long because Kylo is as good as his word and their mouths are smashed up against each other. He’s used to this now: it’s much like the alcohol actually.

 

“I have work to do,” he mutters up against Kylo’s lips. It’s somewhere between a protest and a statement of fact.

 

“Forget it.” Kylo’s words fall between request and order.

 

He forgets it.

 


 

“Call me 'Kylo', just once, please,” Ren begs. He looks up at Hux with needy wanting eyes.

 

“What difference does it make what I call you?” Hux snaps.” What difference does it make what you call yourself?”

 

“Please,” Ren just repeats, completely ignoring Hux’s coded reference to his given name.

 

Hux sighs and capitulates for the sake of the plan, all for the sake of the plan: “Kylo.”

 

Ren shudders with pleasure at the mere sound of his name on Hux’s tongue, even if it is spoken in long-suffering tones.

 

The power of a simple word is breathtaking. “Kylo,” Hux repeats.

 

The look on Ren’s face is pure ecstasy.

 


 

 

He’s sliding. It’s not noticeable from the outside but he can feel it. His documents file is a mess. He has to swallow the name 'Kylo' on his lips (so sweet, so easy) and force out ‘Ren’ (it’s too short, too sharp now) every time he’s out of quarters. He’s so close to slipping, it’s almost inevitable that he does. He wishes he could just make himself do it and get it over with.

 

He doesn’t.

 

On the bridge he hates Ren. On the bridge, he’s General Hux, pristine officer of the First Order. On the bridge, he’s fine. He wishes he could just stay there forever, to never return to quarters, to never again melt into boneless mess once he passed the threshold between public and private.

 


 

 

Hux walks out of the fresher to find Kylo still there, just lounging on the pillows. He looks so comfortable, so vulnerable.

 

Good, says a distant part of Hux’s brain but the rest isn’t convinced.

 

Hux rubs his towel quickly over his hair before moving on to efficiently wiping the water from his body. Kylo is watching him closely, which wouldn’t be a problem, but that Hux is sure that the intention is decidedly non-erotic.

 

“You have a hairdryer but I have never once seen you use it. It’s not standard issue. Why do you have it?” Kylo asks, eventually.

 

“Maybe I use it when you aren’t around,” he snorts, kicking himself internally for not covering his bases properly, for letting his guard down around his most dangerous enemy.

 

Kylo narrows his eyes but says nothing more. He hopes Kylo isn’t reading his mind now. He wanders over, predatory in his attempts to look casual and takes Hux’s hand. Kylo presses a kiss, with only the barest scrape of teeth, up against the back of his hand and starts to work his way all the way up Hux’s arm.

 

“How did you get this burn mark?” Kylo mumbles, sweeping his lips across the faded pink mark.

 

“Cooking accident,” Hux says, automatically.

 

“When do you have time to cook?” asks Kylo, his voice only slightly softer than the ones he uses in interrogations, which this is starting to feel a lot like.

 

“When I was on leave,” says Hux, unable to contain his irritation. His breath feels trapped in his chest.

 

Kylo looks up, his mouth twisting into an unhappy grimace. “I’m not in your head,” he says, a preface that fills Hux with dread, “but your feelings, they’re…” He gestures vaguely.

 

Hux stares through Kylo. There's nothing to do now. He's been caught.

 

Kylo grips Hux’s hand tight. “It’s a lot like Sith training, isn’t it?” he says. “Creating control, learning to withstand pain. We’re a lot alike.” He sounds almost dreamy now.

 

Hux meets his eyes finally and there’s no pity to be found there. Only understanding. He kisses Kylo and he knows that he means it.

 


 

 

Kylo’s smashing the hell out of a console when Hux next sees him.

 

“Ren,” he says (because that’s what he’s meant to say here).

 

“The scavenger is with my Uncle,” Kylo blurts, only swinging his blade harder. “I have seen it. He’s training her, right now.”

 

“Leave us,” Hux commands the stormtroopers. They seem happy to oblige.

 

“You knew this was going to happen,” he says.

 

Kylo doesn’t respond.

 

“It doesn’t matter,” Hux persists. “You’ll kill them both anyway. If they’re in the same place, it only makes it easier.”

 

Kylo’s shoulders droop a little and he stops, not putting the lightsaber away.

 

“Take your helmet off,” Hux orders.

 

Kylo hesitates and recalls the blade, pulling the helmet off, a sheepish look in his eye.

 

Hux takes Kylo’s chin and raises his gaze up. “We’re the First Order. We don’t need to bow to that ancient cult. You don’t need him anymore.”

 

“That’s not what I-”

 

Hux silences Kylo with a raised hand. “Kylo,” he says because he knows it will calm him (he wishes he could say it’s forced but it isn’t).

 

Kylo droops slightly, anger ceding to quiet despair. Hux takes his hand and pulls off the gloves, bringing it to his lips. “These are the hands that will rid the galaxy of Jedi, once and for all.”

 

“How do you know that?”

 

“Haven’t you worked out by now that I am always correct?” he says.

 

Kylo manages a smile with just the right edge of vicious. “I suppose if I fail I have the consolation that I was the one to break your streak.”

 

“Don’t think about failure: it’s not an option.”

 

Failure seems far more tempting to Hux now but he can’t say that, can’t even allow himself to think it.

 


 

 

Hux has his pillows propped up and he’s working on his datapad, looking at the technical specs for a new weapon. Kylo is in bed next to him. They’re not fucking or fighting or even talking, so there’s no reason for Kylo to be there, but there he is. Hux doesn’t like it. Or he doesn’t like liking it. It’s one of the two.

 

He’s resolutely ignoring him but he can feel Kylo’s eyes on him.

 

“I love you,” Kylo blurts, out of nowhere.

 

Hux looks up from his datapad for a second – he believes the confession deserves some acknowledgement – nods and goes back to work.

 

Hux can still feel Kylo’s eyes on his face. It’s annoying and frankly, rather distracting. He’s waiting for something, Hux realises. “Yes?”

 

“Aren’t you going to say it back?” He’s trying to sound angry but there’s a tremor of fear in his voice.

 

Hux sighs and looks up. “Do you or don’t you have the power to read minds?”

 

“You’d know if I were in your head,” Kylo says, all petulant neediness. “How many times do I have to tell you that?”

 

Hux isn’t so sure he would. His head is so full of Kylo Ren he’s drowning in him. The only time he’s experienced a sensation anywhere close to this was after indulging in way too much scotch. Only this isn’t wearing off. He’s going to work every day, following his routines to the letter, hoping desperately that no-one will notice that his minds swimming in it. His father gave him twelve lashes on the back of his hand the first time he’d caught him drinking to get drunk: a gift to help him curb the impulse to ever do it again. He still does it sometimes but his father’s not there to disapprove. He has to dole out the punishment himself now but he’s not sure how to punish himself for this. Nothing he does seems to help.

 

“I’m compromised,” he says. It seems the only adequate way to express it.

 

Kylo smiles. It ruins Hux.

 

“You love me,” Kylo says, all sing-song voice.

 

“Don’t labour the point,” he scolds, his voice drying up unpleasantly in his throat. “You really didn’t know?”

 

Kylo shakes his head and looks almost shy, strange as it is to describe the knight that way. “I hoped,” he confesses.

 

That this is ruining Kylo too is small consolation, Hux thinks and immediately regrets it. It was never meant to be just a consolation.

 


 

 

“You’re in danger,” says Kylo, all drama.

 

Hux looks back at him, hollow-eyed. It’s here. The real test. “I’m always in danger,” he says, dully.

 

“From Snoke,” Kylo clarifies, as if Hux doesn’t know that’s what he meant.

 

“I see.”

 

“You don’t sound surprised,” says Kylo. He sounds distraught.

 

“He thinks I’m becoming too powerful and unlike you, I’m disposable to him. I always knew this would happen one day.”

 

“Then why did you stay here?”

 

“Because I believe in the Order. My place in it is insignificant.”

 

Kylo’s eyes begin to water and Hux has to beat back a treacherous pang in his chest. He needs this, he’s counting on this, he should be happy.

 

“You’re not insignificant to me.”

 

There it is.

 

“I know what I need to do,” says Kylo.

 

It’s rare to see these moments of clarity from Kylo.

 

Hux isn’t sure how he should play this – surprised or reluctant or pleased. He feels all of those and none of them purely. “I’m not telling you to do anything,” he says, vaguely.

 

“I know,” says Kylo. “I want to.”




 

 

Hux waits. He does not pace. He stands, hands clamped firmly behind his back (he will not tear off his gloves and pick at his hands – he doesn’t do that anymore, it’s part of the deal with himself) and is as still as the statue of him that they’ll inevitably build if they succeed. He doesn’t know why he’s saying ‘they.’ His part is over. He’s pulled the trigger of his dearest weapon and now it’s all a matter of waiting to see if it has found its mark.

 

He mourned the loss of the Starkiller for weeks. He wonders how long he will mourn Kylo. Ren, an insistent voice in his head corrects, as if in preparation.

 

But Kylo rushes out of the chamber, a breathless slash of a smile on his face. He’s covered in blood - face, hands and hair – they’re all coated in it. He shakes his hair out of his face – it’s in complete disarray – and Hux can see that his dark eyes are blazing in triumph. He’s never looked more beautiful.

 

“It’s done, Emperor,” he says and roughly pulls Hux’s face to his. Hux can taste Snoke’s alien blood on Kylo’s lips. 

 

Hux raises an eyebrow. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

 

Kylo gets on his knees. “Emperor.”

 

Hux strokes his hand through Kylo’s mop of hair, pulling his head back so that he could see the other man’s eyes. They’re burning like half-contained fire, mostly tame but not quite. Kylo reaches for the fastenings of Hux’s trousers.

 

“I never said you could move,” Hux says but he doesn’t mean it.

 

Kylo looks at him from beneath his lashes. “All I ask is that I am allowed to serve my Emperor.”

 

Hux grips his hand tighter in Kylo’s hair.

 

“Will you allow it?” The words sound especially delicious falling from Kylo’s lips.

 

“I am a gracious Emperor. I’ll allow it.”

 

Kylo moves in closer but Hux puts a thumb to his lips and stops him in his tracks. He wipes the blood off, it smudging it onto his hand. He only hesitates fractionally before wiping it onto his uniform. He won’t need this anymore. No point being sentimental.

 

“Continue,” he commands.

 

Kylo obeys.

 


 

 

“When I come back, the galaxy will be free of the Jedi once and for all.”

 

“I know,” Hux says. “I won’t let you come back until they’re all gone.”

 

Kylo grins. “I didn’t need any extra incentive, you know.” He leans in to kiss Hux.

 

Hux stops him with just one finger pushed up against Kylo’s lips. “When you get back.”

 

“You’re killing me,” Kylo whines. He leans in again, giving Hux seductive eyes that he’s seen a thousand times before but somehow never tires of.

 

“When you get back,” Hux insists, more for his own benefit. He shudders involuntarily as he realises what he’s just said.

 

Kylo takes advantage of Hux’s moment of weakness to snag a quick kiss. That means he’s noticed. Hux wonders what he’s thinking. He grabs Kylo by the jaw and pulls him back in. No thinking. Not from either of them.

 

Kylo steps back, pulling Hux stumbling forward.

 

“After I get back,” he says, all sing-song mimicry.

 

“I hate you.”

 

That’s Kylo’s cue to say ‘I know’ or to just say it right back. But he doesn’t. He gives Hux a smile like fast fading light.

 

“No, you don’t.”

 

No, he doesn’t.




 

 

Kylo calls him every day he’s away to update him on the progress of the mission. He spends most of the time telling Hux that he misses him or indulging in dirty talk or asking Hux inane questions about what he had for lunch. Hux picks up every call. He has too or he runs the risk of the distance weakening his hold on Kylo.

 

Lying to himself is his latest indulgence and it’s somehow worse than all the others put together.

 


 

 

He should feel happy with Kylo calls him to tell him that it’s over, that he’s coming home. The Jedi are all dead. He's one step closer.

 


 


Phasma folds her arms in front of her armoured chest. “Nearly everything is planned. We have measures in place for every member of the Knights except for Kylo Ren.”

 

Hux says nothing.

 

“We can’t hesitate,” Phasma presses. “He’ll feel it as soon as they’re gone. We can’t give him the chance to strike back.”

 

Hux runs a finger over his bottom lip. “Leave him to me.”

 

Even through the helmet he can see the look and he hates that she knows him well enough to see him like this. “You can’t let sentimentality stand in your way. If he gets wind of this, he’ll kill you.”

 

His gaze is even as he looks back at Phasma. “I won’t. He will. Leave it to me, Captain.”

 

Phasma nods.

 


 

He has Kylo on his knees the moment he steps through the door. He ambushes him so that Kylo won’t have time to react. So that he doesn’t have time to talk himself out of it.

 

He presses the blaster up against Kylo’s skull. “You never read my mind.” He doesn’t mean to say it but it’s off lips regardless. Later, he would realise that he was giving Kylo a chance and he would hate himself for it.

 

“No,” says Kylo and he squeezes his eyes shut.

 

It’s a tiny movement - just the squeeze of a finger - but it’s the hardest of Hux’s life. The fractional hesitation feels like forever, the moment itself is over far too quickly.

 

Kylo is silent and still at last. The conflict is over.

 


 

He announces it that day. He changes first. The people don’t want to see blood. Ren had always seemed less than human to them but blood, well, that would have spoiled the illusion.

 

“Force-users have menaced the galaxy for years. Ordinary people: men, women and children, have been perpetually caught in the crossfire of the petty fighting between the Jedi and the Sith. But they will trouble us no more. They’re all gone. Both Jedi and Sith are destroyed and we will have order.” he says, calmly, before the mass of people.

 

The people cheer.

 

“The chaos is gone!”

 

He pumps his fist into the air. His trigger finger twitches. 

 


 

 

The day that Force-users were wiped from the galaxy becomes a day of interplanetary celebration. It’s not Hux’s idea. It comes from the court, some politician looking to suck up to him. Hux has allowed it because there’s no plausible reason to refuse. The galaxy has been infinitely more stable since they were removed like the tumour they were. There has been peace and prosperity under his rule.

 

He’s the only one feeling less than stable since but he smiles as he gets on the podium and he speaks of the relief, of the burden that has been lifted from the galaxy. He can see himself on screens all around the stage and he almost believes the smile himself.

 

There are no assassination attempts that day. Phasma had been worried about it. He stands out on stage and no-one dares to touch him, immaculate in white and he just smiles and smiles until his face aches and it’s time for him to be taken away.

 


 

 

He’s the Emperor; he’s allowed to get drunk in the sanctuary of his own quarters. He wears a corset for public appearances now to disguise the gut. Can’t let that image slip, not even an inch. It squeezes him in and he’s perfect. He’s absorbed the chaos. It’s contained within the prison of his body, forced down where no-one can see it. Except it isn’t. His finger is twitching again. He holds it down on the table, pressing down with the weight of his other hand. He can still feel it.

 

His head is swimming. He can feel the black tide of emotion rising in him, threatening to spill over. How far would the poison spread if he let it? He wants to break something but that would only be worse. That only reminds Hux of him. Then, a flash of brilliance: like a moment of clarity in the heat of battle.

 

It is time to remove the impurity.

 

He takes out one of his blades (he keeps several on his person at all times because the Emperor is always a target, well-loved or not). He tests the edge (unnecessary, he knows it’s sharp). He lines it up and brings it down. No hesitation. Not this time. The pain is bright enough to cut through the drunken haze.

 

Is this punishment enough?

 

The wound is spurting. He sees blood often but it’s always different when it’s yours. He calls his doctor; she’s always on-call. He congratulates himself on his presence of mind before he sinks to the floor and allows himself a moment to black out.

 


 

 

Hux feels alert, calm, and sober by the time that the doctor comes to his room. He’s sitting in his chair, bandage pressed to the wound (he always has supplies to hand, just in case).

 

“How did this happen?” she asks.

 

He’s not sure if she’s concerned or outraged on his behalf.

 

A pause. He has always planned his self-injuries in advance, taking care to ensure that they can be covered or plausibly explained (preferably both). He hasn’t planned this. He swallows down regret (not regret that the wretched thing’s gone, regret that he has slipped enough not to come up with an answer in advance).

 

“I’m Emperor.” When in doubt, fall back on imperiousness. “I’m not accountable to you.”

 

She lets out a soft breath and Hux can tell she knows. But she’s a doctor: she’ll do her job without questioning him further.

 

He’s glad to have it gone.

 


 

He’s not supposed to drink on the pain medication so he doesn’t take it. He can last. Until he can’t. It aches so bad. He takes three of the pills and chases it with half a bottle of scotch.

 

“Emperor.” The voice is dripping with disdain, familiar, yet he can’t place it. He bolts up. He’s in bed, not on the throne, not on the podium. He usually finds darkness comforting but in the feverish heat, it feels oppressive. There’s a darker figure within the dimness of the room, he realises. An ambiguously shaped patch of darker darkness is hovering above him, pressing down upon him, threatening to crush his chest. He takes a breath in and it feels dangerous. He strains his fingertips to reach for the light.

 

The light flashes on and he expects the darkness to vanish. It only becomes clearer.

 

Ren.

 

“I’m hallucinating,” croaks out Hux. His throat is burning.

 

Ren’s features are expressionless. “Probably.”

 

“Or is this some Force shit?” Disorientation has taken the ability to be eloquent from him.

 

Ren gives a diffident shrug. “Which is worse?”

 

It’s a good question.

 

Kylo sits down on the bed without being invited. “You’re a mess, you know? That stunt with your finger? Force, I was laughing for days.”

 

“I did it for you,” Hux confesses.

 

Kylo laughs now and it’s a terrible sound. “Please, I’m dead. I really don’t give a fuck about your finger. You did it for the same reason you do everything: for yourself.”

 

If that’s true, why has he had no peace since the moment of Ren’s death? He did this for the galaxy.

 

"Why did you let me do this to you?" The question has haunted him for years. If only Kylo had just fought back, if only he had wrestled the blaster from Hux...

 

“I have to go. I’m rather busy,” says Kylo, flatly, disappearing before Hux could say another word.

 

Kylo had never been too busy for him in life.

 

He ventures out of bed, eyes darting around the room, searching for the phantom. His trigger finger spasms. His eyes widen. He looks down. It’s still missing. Of course, it's still missing.

 

It spasms again.

 

He can feel it curl around the trigger of the blaster. His hand jolts back as if to compensate. He would have dropped the blaster were he really holding one. He crumples to the floor, clutching his hand. He knows he must look ridiculous but there’s no-one here to see. There’s no-one anymore.

 


 

 

“You should marry,” says one of his advisers, out of the blue.

 

He stares at her. The words have brought unpleasant and unnecessary images to his mind. He’d been asked to marry once before, a proposal born of desperate longing and played off like a joke. He hadn’t said no but he’d hesitated too long.

 

“You need an heir,” she presses. “And you could use the marriage to draw in other systems. It would be very advantageous.”

 

It would be very chaotic. Hux has an impressive knowledge of history and he knows that empresses meant nothing but affairs, factions and plotting. “I will not marry. I’ll create an heir using artificial womb technology.”

 

She sighs. She sees his mind is made up. “And who will be the mother? We can comb through the database to find a suitable candidate.”

 

“No,” he hears himself say. “No mother.”

 

Realisation dawns on her face.

 

He gives the first genuine smile in months. It’s perfect.

 


 

 

Brendol Hux III wraps his fingers around Hux’s pinkie. He’s unblemished, a perfect copy, unscarred. Free from chaos.

 

Hux has given strict instructions as to how he is to be raised: he’ll have the finest team of nannies, tutors and advisors a future ruler could hope for. He’ll see the boy on special occasions. Can’t let the corruption spread to his only hope. The boy’s progress will be reported back to him – he’ll never be alone. Any warning sign will be reported straight back to him.

 

They take him away. It’s on his own order but something tugs at Hux. He doesn’t move. It’s time to play the waiting game.

 


 

 

“How did you lose your finger, father?” Brendol Hux III asks, wide-eyed and innocent. He’s a teenager but so far, he shows very few signs of adolescent rebellion. He's as perfect as Hux could have hoped for. “They say you fought off a hoard of assassins and the finger is all they managed to take from you.”

 

“Son, if you’re to become Emperor, you must learn not to believe everything you hear,” he says, wryly. He’s been asked about the finger so many times, he’s beyond fear. No-one knows and no-one would believe it if they did.

 

Brendol frowns. “So what did happen?”

 

“That’s a state secret,” says Hux. A smile tugs at the side of his mouth. “You’ll have plenty of those when you’re Emperor.”

 

His son’s mouth is downturned, his eyes far away.

 

“What’s troubling you?”

 

Brendol doesn’t say ‘nothing’: he’s too honest for that. But he doesn't tell him either.

 

“You can speak freely. I’m only your father here,” Hux pushes.

 

“I don’t want to be Emperor,” Brendol says, reluctantly. “I mean, I won’t shirk my responsibilities when they come. I know that the galaxy needs me. But I don’t want to be Emperor. I don’t think that I can follow you.”

 

He looks at the face before him, so identical to his own, and he resists the urge to laugh because he’s finally managed to fool himself. “No good man ever wants to be Emperor,” he says, instead, recalling some old saying. “It’s a sign of your maturity that you do not love the idea as you once did and yes, I do recall your phase of declaring yourself ruler of everything every time you managed to use the potty correctly.”

 

“Father...” Brendol whines and he sounds blessedly like a normal teenager for a moment.

 


 

 

His quarters always feel empty after a visit from Brendol.

 

“I think he’s ready,” Kylo says, conversationally and Hux is unsurprised by his sudden appearance.

 

Hux looks through him to the mirror. There are lines on his face, deep crevices around the eyes and mouth. “I think so too.”

 

“You’re hesitating again, coward!”

 

Hux runs his fingers over the skin of the stub. Kylo’s right. It’s the hesitation he’s paying for.

 

“You killed me for this!”

 

Hux does not flinch. He’s absorbed this truth, it rests in his bones. “I know.”

 

“I don’t see how you’re going to do it with that.” Kylo gestures with disgust.

 

Hux’s face contorts into a smile and there’s liquid brimming at the corner of his eyes. “You want me to try to prove that I can do it but that would be your response, not mine. You never were any good at this.”

 

“And you were too good.”

 

“No such thing. You can always be better,” he says, automatically. They’re not his words, not originally, but they’re a part of his DNA. They’re second-hand beliefs, tarnished just by the merit of being pre-used.

 

“I hate your father.”

 

“You hated your own father, I don’t see how you’re meant to like anyone else’s,” Hux comments, un-phased.

 

“Kylo Ren hated his father. I hate your father because you hate your father.”

 

“Are we back on this again? This hallucination business? This is really is the worst kind of revenge.”

 

“You tell me,” Kylo answers with a smirk. “You tell me.”

 

Hux throws a bottle through him and it smashes up against the wall. He used to keep all his empty bottles as a visual demonstration of his every indulgence. It used to shame him. He has so many now that the loss of one makes no difference.

 

“Childish. What are you going to do next, take my lightsaber and smash the place up? I can give you some tips if you like.”

 

“That doesn’t even make sense. If you’re just a manifestation of my guilt then surely I don’t need any tips from you because I already know.”

 

Kylo shrugged. “You think entirely too much. Always did.” He strides over and Hux feels his hand ghost through his ear. “Maybe I could have done something about that if you hadn’t killed me.”

 

“This is just mental masturbation then,” Hux snorts.

 

“I prefer the real kind,” says Kylo, eying him with a kind of detached lust. There was nothing detached about lust with Kylo alive, nothing detached at all. If anything it lends credibility to the hallucination theory. “Come on, debase yourself in front of me. It’s what you want to do, Emperor. It’s all you can do now.”

 

He wants to disagree but his hands are already at the fastenings of his trousers. He fumbles, his fingers thick and useless with intoxication.

 

“Hurry up,” whines Kylo and he almost sounds like himself for once.

 

Perhaps it’s just a memory playing in Hux’s head.

 

Hux manages it and flings the trousers across the room, starting the frantic and clumsy rhythm of stroking that’s far more Kylo than him.

 

“That’s it,” says Kylo, letting out a little laugh. “Touch yourself and imagine it’s me. Only I never cut off my own finger. I never had a stump.”

 

Hux means to tell him to fuck off but it comes out a mish-mash of syllables. He’s moving faster now, heat pooling in his face. He’s probably not going to come easily. He’s had far too much for that.

 

“You’ve dulled your edge,” Kylo says as if reading his mind, though it doesn’t count as evidence either way. Do Force powers continue on after death? “Wake the fuck up!”

 

A hand runs through Hux’s face and he flinches into thin air. Stupid. Ghosts can’t hurt him even if they are real. Kylo can’t hurt him now. He won.

 

“What are you going to do?” he screams.

 

“Nothing. I’m bored with you.” Kylo disappears into thin air.

 

It takes Hux twenty more fevered minutes to coax an orgasm and he’s strangely disappointed afterwards.

 


 

 

A couple of weeks later and he summons Brendol again.

 

“You’re ready, my son.”

 

“Thank you, father.” He sounds terrified.

 

“Don’t thank me.” He means it. It’s a curse he’s passing on. 

 

His son, his double, looks up at him with wide eyes. He’s seen wide eyes like that before. Kylo appears behind Brendol III and smirks. Hux feels his own eyes widen.

 

His son is not an idiot. He shoots a glance behind him and then focuses back on Hux. “What is it?”

 

Hux shakes his head. Kylo has his hand on Brendol’s shoulder, fatherly like (but not like either of their fathers).

 

“Nothing. Return to your exercises. I have distracted you for too long.”

 


 

 

He’s dressed to perfection. This deserves nothing less. It’s the moment he’s been waiting for all his life, the moment courting so slowly and secretly that no-one else knows he’s been longing. There’s a beautiful symmetry about this. He will be flawless finally. He straightens his collar in the mirror. 

 

“Brendol,” says Kylo, distantly. “Stop fussing. You’re ready.”

 

“You don’t call me that.” Hux hates the crack in his voice.

 

Kylo’s reflection in the mirror just shrugs. “You didn’t call me Kylo. Not even in your head. Not until I begged.”

 

“I call you Kylo now.”

 

“Bit late for that.”

 

Kylo chokes out a laugh and Hux laughs with him. They keep laughing. Hux can’t remember the last time he laughed sober. He laughs and laugh and laughs and when he stops Kylo is gone.

 


 

 

He steps onto the podium and stands up straight. He doesn’t flick his eyes to the left. His trigger finger twitches but that doesn’t bother him now. It's almost comforting. He starts to speak, the words flowing out automatically. He talks of the treachery of the Resistance; he spits of the brutality of their terrorism. He tells them that he will eliminate the threat. The weapon is posed to destroy their base.

 

The blaster hits him right on cue. He spreads his arms wide as he falls. He presses the trigger in his hands and he sees the beam of light shoot across space. It’s all red, so red.

 

Then, a shadow across skittering across his vision.

 

“Ren?” he croaks out, as he hits the ground. “Kylo?” He reaches his hand up. Kylo vanishes. His hand falls with a thud. His trigger finger stops twitching.