The Upsilon-class shuttle flew easily into the massive docking port on the west end of the ship, its wings folding up as the landing activations were engaged. Hux turned from the bridge, walking to the ramp where Phasma waited with her small partial company of troopers.
Hux assumed Ben would follow him, and he spoke over his shoulder.
“I’ll show you to your berth first; you can rest, then I’ll give you an abbreviated tour of the ship.”
Ben nodded slowly, feeling a little overwhelmed for the first time. He told himself it was just the size of the giant Star Destroyer; who wouldn’t feel intimidated by something like this, stuffed to the brim with stormtroopers? He was a smuggler. He didn’t tend to walk into situations like this by just...walking into them. He shifted the strap of the bag on his shoulder as he walked after Hux. At least, he thought, they hadn’t asked him to hand over his weapons.
“Yeah, sounds good. Looks like you got a good thing going on here.” He glanced over at Phasma again (who was a woman, he reminded himself with some embarrassment, why had he assumed she’d be a man? Maybe because they were nearly the same height?), then looked away quickly. “How many troopers on this thing? Where do you dock the TIEs? How many guns does she have?” He followed Hux, making sure he didn’t lag too far behind as he looked around. He felt like he’d get lost here very easily, and that was an additional embarrassment he really didn’t need.
Hux made a noise as he walked down the ramp quickly, receiving another pad from an officer waiting at the bottom. The one he’d left on the Javelin would be wiped and put into a stack of tech ready for the next data dump. His coat was draped over his shoulders and he gestured, dismissing Phasma and the troopers as he continued through the hangar with only Ben by his side.
“I should tell you that information is classified,” Hux muttered, glancing up at Ben with his pale eyebrows raised. He looking down at the pad and opened it, scrolling through the urgent reports before he answered. “We have nearly two legions of troopers on board, somewhere in between fifty and fifty five thousand enlisted men, twenty thousand officers. Two starfighter wings down both sides of the ship, two thousand turrets, ion cannons and point-defence missile emplacements.”
“Mother of Kwa’th,” Ben breathed, shaking his head slowly. This was so much more firepower than the First Order had shown in its skirmishes on the edges of the Unknown Regions; their minor Outer Rim tormenting of freighters and the occasional smuggling vessel were never considered much more than a nuisance. “How many of these things do you have? How many stormtroopers total?” He rolled his shoulders and put one hand on his blaster as though it was some sort of comfort. He felt himself getting smaller and smaller inside the behemoth.
Hux made a noise, shrugging. He gestured as they exited the hangar, heading to the in-tram station that would allow them to travel to the far southern end of the ship where the officers’ quarters were.
“A fleet, an armament, more every day.”
“But you don’t actively recruit outside of the Unknown Regions. How does that work? The New Republic does keeps tabs on the Outer Rim, and apart from some bits of propaganda that, let’s be real here, nobody takes seriously, you don’t have a presence.” Ben was still frowning as they moved through the ship. His attention was grabbed constantly by passing stormtroopers, who kept to tight, ready formations. They didn’t seem real; they seemed like something taken from a holovid. “How many, total?”
Hux made a noise, frowning as they got to the waiting station. If the New Republic wanted to underestimate them, so be it. It would soon be their downfall. “The First Order is not some fledgling splinter group. We’re aware that many senators like to reduce our actions down to simple extremism. But as you’re seeing here, that isn’t true.” He glanced up, frowning at the schedule, and shook his head.
“Sentients come to us, Ben. We’re finally putting the Unknown Regions in order, we’re establishing an authority away from the corrupt Core and hyped superiority of the Mid-Rim planets.”
“And the white armor and the Star Destroyers and all...this.” Ben gestured to Hux, meaning his uniform. “Why not something new?”
“We have our roots in the Empire, and despite the less than agreeable temperament of the leadership at large, it provided an effective method for ruling large swaths of systems.” Hux made a gesture on the pad as the tram slid to a stop at the station. He got on, knowing that Ben would follow. “Why waste time developing new armor, schematics, uniforms, when we can simply improve on our history?”
That was the vague idea of all of this. Take the old and make it new. Better. Hux knew that while the First Order fleet was smaller than their opponent’s, their technology was advanced beyond whatever paltry starships the Senate still had in their reserves after the galaxy-wide demilitarization agreement. The First ORder ships were faster, larger, more capable. The officers were better educated, the troopers were better trained, the entire Order was a culture of militarism and structure that was unparalleled in the known universe.
“I guess ‘improvement’ is subjective. I can think of a lot of people who aren’t as keen to see those helmets bobbing around as you are. I had one as a kid, stole it from a junk room on a ship my dad got in a trade; I kept it in my room.” Ben leaned back against the wall at the station, folding his arms over his chest. “I kept it hidden, because I knew as soon as it got seen, it would be taken away. Guess what. I was right. And I got sent to bed early, without dinner.”
Hux had to resist rolling his eyes.
“How terrible,” he murmured, glancing at Ben with his eternal eyebrow raise. “That must have been so hard for you.”
Ben snorted and looked over at the general, still smiling a little. He raised one hand and made a rude gesture he’d picked up at a dinner when he was eleven.
“All I’m saying is that it’s not...a popular motif. You get that, right? Most systems aren’t lining up for the Galactic Empire, mach two.” He shifted and made a face, lowering his arms. It hurt to stand like that, pushing the glass deeper into his skin.
“People will have their preconceptions,” Hux muttered, watching Ben, almost...amused by the way the man was acting. Childish, perhaps, but definitely interesting. “And being recognizable is important, even if people recognize the Empire.”
Ben took a deep breath and looked down at his boots. He was leaning in a way he’d practiced very carefully from watching his father, that effortless lean with one ankle crossed over the other indicating that he didn’t have anywhere to be for hours. He’d worked on it for so long it actually was natural, now that Han Solo didn’t even stand like that anymore.
“It’s not always great to be recognized.” He glanced over at Hux. “I’d have figured you got that when people started shooting at you.”
Hux made a noise, still looking down at the pad as the interior of the Finalizer shot past them. The in-tram stopped at stations with almost no kickback, making Hux’s easy stance seem much more impressive. “It is easier to identify enemies when they’re aiming at you.”
“True,” Ben muttered, as much to himself as to the general. “What’re you reading over there? Catching up on the gossip you missed?”
“Yes,” Hux said, frowning. He glanced up as the tram slowed again and gestured, turning to the exit. “Here.”
He got off the tram, tucking the pad under his arm as he walked through to the lift. He waited until Ben was inside before pressing the button to the officers’ level.
“The main bridge is in the uppermost levels,” he explained as they were shot up into the higher sections of the Finalizer. “The high ranking officers’ quarters are just underneath. ”
Ben ran his hand through his hair, looking up as though he’d see anything but the ceiling. How the hells would he find his way back to the hangar when he wanted out?
“Guess I should have brought a change of clothes; didn’t know I’d be staying with the bigshots.” He looked back to Hux, who looked unflappable and still faintly smug. Ben wanted to hit him. No reason. Just because.
“We can get you civilian clothes. Or a trooper’s approximation of civilian clothes,” Hux said, glancing at his pad again. “You can even tear off the insignia, if it offends you that much.”
“I can end up with a whole collection of your sweet patches.” Ben patted his bag. The insignia he’d ripped off the sleeve of Hux’s greatcoat was still tucked into the satchel, which was carrying all manner of random things at the moment. “I’m picky about my clothes though,” he continued, gesturing down at his patched assortment of pieces that was passing as an outfit. “So...just to warn you.”
“I couldn’t care less what you choose or choose not to wear,” Hux said dismissively, glancing at Ben and shrugging. “You’ll have clean clothes; if you...choose to wear them, that’s your decision.”
The lift slowed and Hux exited, walking down the long, mostly deserted hallway. Officers in various states of dress walked past them, some in their full uniform, others wearing loungewear approved for use in the off-duty hours. The officers on this level all wore dark grey, with some red accents on the loungewear, allowing individuality in small, tempered doses. Ben’s clothes stood out in sharp contrast to the sleek lines of the officers’ attire, whether they were dressed formally or not. He felt shabby as he never had when stopping off to visit his mother. Then he just felt like he was something apart from the richly dressed Senators, something roguish and exciting. Here he felt like he should have at least washed his face. He was pretty sure this was not a great first impression.
Many of the officers saluted Hux, although they didn’t stand at attention, inclining their heads slightly as he walked by. Ben continued to look around curiously, trying to ascertain exactly where they were going. He couldn’t imagine the general was going to put him into a berth too close to these men and women, for fear of...what? That he’d start a fight? Steal from their rooms? Bring down the aesthetic of the whole level?
“Where are we headed?” he asked finally.
“The Commander’s wing,” Hux said, and they turned a corner, devoid of officers or doors save for one entrance at the end of the hallway. “There are three berths here; two are reserved for any visiting officer of note. You will have one for your own use.”
He took out one of the code cylinders on his new uniform, holding it to the doors. He led Ben through the main foyer, which displayed a small amount of luxury. It was still militarily-efficient, but the floors were a polished dark grey granite and some of the details along the walls were inlaid with petrified wood.
Hux went over to the right side door, using the same cylinder to open the berth. “This one is yours.”
Ben was still looking around the foyer when Hux pointed out where he’d be staying. He walked over, peeking into the berth as though loathe to walk into a trap. The level of luxury was stepped up from the lounge, but it maintained a certain austerity in the lines and the dark colors. He wasn’t sure if he liked it, but he was definitely impressed.
“Huh...nice. Not what I’m accustomed to, but I guess I can deign to stay here for a bit,” he said, smirking over at Hux to see if he’d crack a smile. Even once. Maybe. Had he ever? Perhaps he never did and his face would split if he tried. Huh.
Hux made a noise, shaking his head. He walked forward into the berth, tucking his cylinder back into his coat. It wasn’t a massive suite, but it had a large living area with a bay window, a low table in front of a couch, a small chair, and in the corner where the would usually be a desk or library sectional, the technician’s table and tools Hux requested had been installed. He went to the table in front of the couch and picked up another code cylinder.
“You have a small galley through there,” he pointed to his left, “although you are free to have meals sent from the kits on the lower levels. Or you can have your own ingredients set up, if you’d like to prepare your own meals.” He pointed to the other side of the berth. “You have your own quarters through there, as well as an attached washroom.”
Hux took a few steps forward, holding the cylinder out to Ben.
“This will allow you access throughout the Finalizer. Information and comm capabilities are attached to the pad on the table.”
“I’m guessing those are pretty restricted?” Ben asked as he accepted the cylinder from the other man, looking down at it for a moment. Hux shifted to put his hands behind his back as Ben looked up again. “You’re not assigning me some sort of security detail to make sure I don’t wander too much?”
Hux frowned, looking skeptical.
“No,” he said carefully, trying to present as much sincerity as he could. “You’re a smart man, and I think that you at least have an inkling of how to behave on board another’s ship. I have allowed you access to most of the Finalizer, although you will not be able to take a transport off without notifying me beforehand, and you will still need to knock before getting into my berth. The comm will work throughout the ship, and you can request access to inter-ship or inter-system communications through me. I’m sure you understand for security reasons I can’t allow you full access to the comm capabilities.”
Going back to the table, he took the pad he had ordered prepared for Ben and brought it over to him, unlocking it with a swipe of his hand over the scanner and tapping on a small icon in the corner.
“A map, if you’re so interested in testing your freedom.”
Ben looked down at the pad, quickly storing away the icons Hux tapped so he’d remember for later. He was pretty sure he’d meet up with some sort of resistance at some point, but for now, he’d play by all of the rules and just feel his way through.
“I’m sure I can find enough to keep myself busy.” He gestured behind them with his thumb. “That bench back there...is that for me to use?”
Hux looked over and nodded.
“I had it replace the library, however if you’d prefer that, I can have it changed.”
“Modular. Nice.” Ben took a deep breath, finally taking his hand off his blaster. He hadn’t realized he’d still been resting his hand on it. “I think I’ll catch up on some sleep.” He had no intention of doing that right away, but it sounded like what he should be doing. He wanted to look over the whole berth, then move on to the rest of the ship.
He also was desperate to eat something. He always forgot how hungry excessive Force usage made him.
Hux made a noise, stepping away to go behind Ben and open the berth door again.
“As you’d like. I will be on the bridge for a few hours before retiring. Keep that cylinder on you or you won’t be able to get off this level or back into your berth,” Hux instructed, eyebrows up slightly. “If you’d like a recommendation on how to spend your time, I’d suggest the simulators.” Hux smirked slightly. “You seemed eager to get your hands on the Javelin, perhaps you’d like to practice flying a TIE?”
Ben looked up from the cylinder he’d been tossing hand to hand. He couldn’t keep the excitement out of his expression; if there was a time to say a man’s eyes were shining, it was at that moment.
“Seriously?” He smirked and shook his head, watching the General carefully. “There’s no way in the fourteen hells you’re going to let me fly one of those things.” He licked his lips. “I mean...if I liked the simulator and I did okay...would you let me fly one of the real ones?”
Hux shrugged, eyebrows up.
“Perhaps with supervision,” he said, still smirking slightly. “Keep records of your sim results on the pad, and I’ll review them. I’ll warn you that TIEs are challenging ships, unlike anything else you’ve ever flown. There are several different versions; Advantage, Avenger, Defender, Interceptor.”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure I can handle them,” Ben said with a casual shrug and a smirk that matched the general’s. “It’s in my blood, after all.”
Hux made a noise, gesturing to the pad. “By all means, prove yourself.” The general nodded towards the personal room, eyebrows up again. “Med kits are in the washroom, in case you were wondering.” Ben nodded as though he’d been just about to ask that question; in reality, he’d been planning on checking through the workbench for something he could use to yank the glass out of his side.
Taking a step back, Hux looked at his own pad before going into the foyer and heading for the exit. “I’m for the bridge. Use Tower to contact me if you need anything.”
“Yeah, of course. Have fun.” Ben stood in the doorway to watch the general leave. “I’m sure I’ll catch up later on.” He wasn’t quite sure what to do first, honestly. He’d been waffling between showering and wandering and briefly napping, but the temptation of a TIE simulator was a siren call that was hard to resist.
Hux nodded and left quickly, the doors snapping shut behind him as he headed back through the officers’ level to the lift, taking it up to the bridge and quickly finding his place on the deck. He was exhausted but refused to show it, giving orders to his bridge colonels and sending a message to Supreme Leader Snoke from his datapad as he listened to reports stream in.
The general tapped a small icon on his pad, a little tracker he had put into the cylinder and pad Ben was currently possessed. Even the general had his curiosity. He could track his guest’s movements as Ben spent a little time poking through his berth, opening every cabinet and other storage compartment, sitting on the bed, turning the water on in the shower without actually showering.
The smuggler was taking stock of everything, trying to plan what he should do first. Insistent parts of him said ‘food, sleep, medical care,’ but really, those were the most boring parts. Tucking the cylinder into his back pocket, Ben picked up the datapad from the low table Hux had left it on, tapping through various icons and screens (some applications had more obvious uses than others, like he knew that TOWER was for communication, but he had no idea what ORDR was for). He swiped through the Kit application, noting the levels of hierarchy even there. The food, even at the highest levels, seemed basic, although there was an array of different and the promise of cooking in a real kitchensacred fire was not unappealing, especially considering the slop he ate while traveling. It wasn’t nutrient paste, after all.
The Reserve app seemed like a strange thing to leave on a pad for his use, he thought as he moved through the screens. What was he going to do scheduling a meeting or a reserving a time in one of the many training rooms available for the officers’ use? He continued to tab through the screens out of curiosity, as he sat on the table with his side aching and his stomach actually growling. He made a noise and tapped the “Sim” option and grinned to himself as he scrolled.
“Let’s see just how much access I have,” he muttered to himself as he tapped on one of the TIE sim time slots. He guessed that the TIE pilots were some of the only people with access to these rooms; they seemed elite from all the things he’d read about the Empire, and considering the verisimilitude the First Order was going for with everything, he guessed that hadn’t changed.
“Enter personal ID code,” he read aloud, then made an annoyed sound. “Well, I don’t have one of those.” He hit the reserve button experimentally, then raised his eyebrows when a confirmation came up with his name and not a code. “Well, okay. Guess I’d better…” He paused and stood up, pressing his elbow into his side as he did. “Go find it.”
On the bridge, Hux received a notification. B. Solo had just reserved a sim room. He smirked, dismissing it, and continued to direct the Finalizer, satisfied to the extreme.
It took Ben the better part of twenty minutes to locate the simulation wing; it disconcerted him slightly that not a single person stopped him. The stormtroopers walked past him with their helmets facing forward; Ben imagined them all watching him out of the corners of their eyes, but he kept moving. Looking down at the pad again, he checked the room number.
“Yeah, okay...sixteen.” He pushed the biggest button on the panel by the door. “Open, damn you. Oh.” He pulled the code cylinder out of his back pocket and looked at it, then held it to the panel as he’d seen Hux do. The door slid open immediately. Ben swore happily under his breath as he walked in, stepping forward as the door closed and locked behind him. It wasn’t just a screen and a set of controls.
He couldn’t help smiling like an idiot as he climbed into the replica cockpit seat and pulled the panel closed. “It’s just like a kriffing TIE,” he murmured to himself, looking around. He’d studied Imperial TIE specs until he could have drawn them by hand; these matched almost exactly. He lightly touched the controls and took a deep breath. “Fuck.”
This was beyond incredible. He ran his hand up the starter panel before reaching up to fully engage the engines. He frowned at one of the lights that was blinking, then made a comprehending noise. This was a real sim pod; he wasn’t just going to watch the viewscreen spin. This seat and control panel would be like actually flying a TIE. He pulled the straps down over his shoulders and across his hips, firmly anchoring himself into the seat. He grabbed the helmet that was hanging on the back of the seat and set it down over his head. It was already plugged into the machine, with the extra data being fed from the machine to the panels by his eyes. Even the sounds were piped in, the distinctive whine of the engines. He could hear his own breathing echoing back to him and smiled.
His first few minutes of flying were largely uncontrolled, though he made it out of the hangar without incident (mostly). The TIE was fast, faster than he’d even imagined it would be, and the controls were hypersensitive and responded to the lightest touch. But Ben Solo was no inexperienced pilot, and had advantages that, as he’d said, were in his blood. So while his first run was shaky, his second run was much stronger, and by the third time, the sim leveled him up and let him try one of the missions. It was a pleasure to give chase and take out ships that, while some had speed, had no chance of outmaneuvering him as he got more and more comfortable with the controls.
His focus was absolute; the sim pod rolled him as the TIE turned to fit between rock formations on an unnamed planet. Distantly, he felt the encroachment of the sharp pain in his ribs as the restraining straps pressed the glass (oh yeah, that, his mind flickered briefly) deeper into his skin. He let it drive him forward, righting the starfighter and increasing his speed, even as he darted around another jagged range. When he finally had the last ship in his sights, his breath was roaring in his ears. He fired and watched the image of the ship exploding with satisfaction, the virtual debris flying into the rocks around it. The mission buzzer flashed above the screen and the pod settled back into position.
Two hours had gone by before he’d even realized it.
It took him longer to find his way back to the officers’ wing; he walked through the lounge area with almost dogged steps. It was less populated this time, and the looks he got were as curious as he’d imagined the hidden expressions of the stormtroopers had been. He pulled out the cylinder to let himself into the berth, then walked over to his own door.
On the command bridge, Hux knew that he couldn’t continue to lead for much longer. There came a point when driving himself too hard meant work slipped and productivity was impossible. It took two hours of pure determination to stay on the bridge and put out all the fires that demanded his attention. Most weren’t terribly important, but he knew that in order to maintain real control over a ship as massive as the Finalizer, and more importantly, over the fleet and Starkiller Base’s construction, he needed to be this kind of committed.
Glancing at his screen he saw that Ben Solo had left the sim stations and was slightly surprised that it had taken him so long to wear himself out. The man really was something else.
Hux made his departure from the bridge, assigning Derr’wan acting command for the remainder of the rotation. There were exceptions, of course, and if there was something dire he would be alerted, but the general needed to rest.
He needed it.
Sighing, he made his way down to the officers’ level, pulling his datapad out and locating Ben. A few minutes ahead of him, by the look of it.
He went into the foyer and then turned to the right, knocking on the door to Ben’s berth.
Ben was sitting on the low table in the main room, having gotten half undressed before he’d decided he was tired and needed to sit down. That’s where he still was. And had been since then. Without really thinking, he took a deep breath and shouted, “Yeah, come in, I’m home.”
Hux opened the door and frowned when he saw Ben shirtless in the main room. He glanced around, confused for a few seconds as he walked in.
“You...haven’t cleaned yourself up at all,” Hux said, the door sliding shut behind him. Ben’s side was still peppered with glass, bloody and bruised. He pulled off his cap, tucking it into his waistband and pulling his coat off. “What were you doing while I was on the bridge?”
Ben took a slow breath and shrugged, watching the general taking his coat off. Did he actually wear that thing all the time? He didn’t move, making no effort to stand.
“I took your advice, believe it or not. I grabbed one of those sim rooms and took a few flights out.” He pointed at Hux, winking. “Feel free to check my scores.”
“I will.” Hux laid his coat over the arm of the couch, frowning deeply. The man was frustrating to the extreme. He sighed through his nose, looking over the smuggler before going into the washroom. He pulled out the small medkit and went into the main room, holding it out to Ben and still frowning.
“You’re going to get an infection.”
Ben looked up, then reached to take the box. He was exhausted, and now with Hux here, he realized he had to make sure he didn’t show it. He sat up, straightening his back slowly.
“I was getting to it. I told you hours ago, it’s not a priority.” He set the box down on the table beside him. “How was your shift? Get lots of military stuff accomplished? Dress anyone down? Fire anyone off into space?”
“It should have been a priority,” Hux said quietly, taking a step back. He swallowed, frowning, knowing that Ben was acting like this to prove something. He picked up his coat, folding it over his arm as he went for the door. He really couldn’t afford to get in a battle of one-upsmanship with Ben Solo.
“I’ll give you the full tour early in the new rotation, eight hours from now. Get your rest.”
“Yeah...yeah. I’ll clean up and crawl to bed after a drink or something.” Ben looked up to watch Hux. “You look like a solid eight hours would do you some good too, sweet cheeks.”
Hux took a deep breath, looking over at Ben. He nodded once and his face looked relaxed. Not smiling, not kind. But not tense. It was about as close to a smile as he had ever let Ben see.
“I’ll be lucky to get six.” He opened the door and stepped out. The doors slid shut behind him, and he went over into his own berth, glad to hear the door lock behind him. Privacy, for the first time in days.
Ben stared at the door for another five minutes before he actually had the wherewithal to stand up and walk to the washroom, med kit in hand. The pain of removing each glass shard woke him up enough to make it into the shower, which while it stung each freshly opened wound was hot and cleansing and pounding. He ached all over; he cursorily dried himself off with the slightly scratchy towel before putting his trousers back on and heading back to the main room. He considered food, but didn’t want to deal with the embarrassment of falling asleep on the galley floor.
The couch was close enough. He made it to sitting, then at some point tipped over and stayed that way. The lights in the room, eventually sensing no movement, went out.
Across the hall, Hux changed quickly into sleepwear, taking his time to fold his uniform and hang up his jacket and coat. Usually Hux stayed up to read reports, or a history, but he was...done. He was done. The young general collapsed into bed, his alarm setting as soon as he signed off his datapad.
Six hours passed fast, even for Hux. He was used to short sleep rotations, but still. Waking up was disgustingly hard, and he would have killed a man for another hour of rest. Instead, he dragged himself out of bed and quickly changed, going out of his berth and heading to the bridge first thing. He relieved Derr’wan, met up with Mitaka and continued to go through reports, directing the Finalizer as they jumped into hyperspace.
He sent a message to Ben’s datapad, telling him that he’d be an hour late, and continued to work. He called a meeting of his officers to review, again, he hoped for a final time, what he had missed while in Ben’s company. Next on the schedule he had to deal with items that had fallen behind.
The officers left and Hux stayed in the meeting room a bit longer, reviewing the minutes and taking time to prioritize the rest of his day. It was impossible. There was no other word for it. He had to stop sleeping. Or clone himself. Those seemed like viable options.
Making a noise, Hux sent another message to Ben, warning of his arrival, then left the meeting room and headed to the officers’ level.
Ben Solo, meanwhile, was still asleep, face down on the couch in his berth. The datapad chimed each time it received a message, but the tinny sound wasn’t nearly loud enough to wake the smuggler.
When the general made his way from the bridge and into the Commander’s foyer, he was surprised that Ben wasn’t....ready? Waiting? He frowned, annoyed, and went over to Ben’s door, knocking on it. When he didn’t respond, Hux opened the door himself, stepping in and tucking the cylinder onto his jacket.
It was a surprise to open the door on a shirtless Ben Solo asleep on the couch. He blinked and he immediately wondered if this was a joke of some kind. He checked his datapad as he walked over, confirmed the time and took off his coat, putting it on the table.
“Get up,” Hux said loudly, kicking the couch in an attempt to get Ben awake. “I have to keep to a kriffing schedule, Solo. I don’t have time for this.”
Ben startled awake, sitting up as his eyes were coming open. He grabbed for the blaster usually on his hip, but the belt was obviously with the rest of his clothes in the washroom. Finding himself without a weapon, he threw his right hand up, though he waited that critical moment before flinging anyone across the room. He blinked at Hux several times, then slowly lowered his arm and yawned.
“Don’t have time for what?” he asked, rubbing both hands over his face.
Hux took a step back, making a disgusted noise.
“I already delayed our meeting an hour, you should have been up,” he said, glaring at Ben. “Get dressed.”
Ben stretched his arms over his head to loosen his shoulders, still watching the general. He sure was uptight on his own ship. Even more uptight than he’d been before. Which seemed impossible, but Ben made sure he was never surprised by other sentients he met in his travels. He stood up slowly, stretching his back.
“Delayed what an hour? What are we doing?” He walked back to the washroom to retrieve his dirty clothes, pulling his shirt on quickly and letting it settle, bunched about mid chest, while he buckled his holster on.
“That is the same shirt you were wearing yesterday,” Hux said through a tight jaw. “Please put on something clean.”
“This?” Ben looked up to see Hux’s exasperated expression, then back down at himself. He pulled the shirt down to cover his bandages, then worked at quickly tucking it in. “This is the only shirt I have with me, sweet cheeks.”
“It is not the only shirt in your berth,” Hux explained, as if to a toddler. “There is a whole wardrobe in your bedroom, if you had the decency to look.” As the general spoke, Ben finished tucking in the torn shirt, ignoring the fact that it was dirty with blood and grime.
“Nah, this is fine. I’m ready to go. Where are we going? You never actually answered before,” he said as he stepped over to Hux, patting his pocket to make sure he had the cylinder he’d gotten the cycle before.
Hux glared at Ben and shook his head. He made a disgusted noise as he looked down at his datapad.
“A tour. What did you want to see?”
“Oh, yeah, yeah. Um.” Would it be too predictable? He didn’t care. “How about the hangars?”
“The starfighter hangars?” Hux made a gesture with a spare hand, nodding. “Sure. Change your shirt.”
“To what?” Ben asked, gesturing around the room. “I don’t know what’s in here! This shirt is fine. Come on, you already said we’re late for your little tour.”
“Ben, for fuck’s sake, you smell.” Hux was frustrated and he didn’t even bother to hide it. “Just put on a clean shirt.”
“I showered,” Ben muttered, walking away into the bedroom sulkily. He slammed his hand against the control panel he imagined controlled a closet of some sort. There were several stacks of shirts and trousers, all identical and dark colored. Tossing his jacket onto the still perfectly made bed, he pulled the soiled shirt over his head and dropped it onto the floor, then grabbed the first piece of clothing from the stack and put it on. “Does this make you happier?” he asked as he walked back to the main room, jacket over his arm.
Hux made a noise, looking up from his datapad. He nodded, tucking his pad under his arm and taking a step back. Frowning, he went into the galley and came out with a probar, holding it out to Ben.
Ben raised his eyebrows, looking from the the standard issue protein pack to Hux’s face.
“Is that your version of nutrient paste? No thanks, I’ll eat later.” His stomach disagreed, growling at the very idea of food. “Whatever. Just give it to me.” He grabbed it from the general’s hand, then pulled it out of its plain silver foil wrapping.
Hux made a satisfied noise, glancing at his coat and then deciding to leave it there. He turned to the door, opening it and going through the foyer. “How do you think you did on your sims?”
Ben walked after Hux, chewing the bar thoughtfully. It was definitely not the best tasting thing he’d ever had, but it wasn’t actually revolting in taste or texture, and he was ravenous. He shrugged, not answering until he’d swallowed what was in his mouth.
“If I’d been less tired, I’d have stayed longer. You were right; those TIEs handle differently than anything I’ve flown before. That’s a ridiculously sensitive set of controls; they respond like thought.” He shook his head, not hiding how impressed he was by the technology.
“They handle like marbles in oil,” Hux agreed, walking with Ben through the officers’ level. “I’ll admit that I’m not a particularly exceptional pilot. I can make my way through a sim, but I wouldn’t put myself in a dogfight.” It was an underestimation of his abilities, but Ben didn’t need to know how far Hux pushed himself to excel.
Ben shrugged, pulling the wrapper down further to get to more of the bar. “I wouldn’t mind spending some more time in that sim pod. And I definitely wouldn’t mind getting my hands on some real controls.”
“By all means, you’re more than welcome to reserve as much time as you want.” Hux gestured, taking out his cylinder to activate the lift. “I’ll look into getting you time in a real fighter.”
Ben smiled to himself, leaning back against the wall as he finished his breakfast. He crumpled the wrapper and shoved it into his jacket pocket. He knew he was acting like a kid promised a toy, but it was impossible not to feel excited over the possibility of actually flying one of those ships.
“Yeah, I mean, if I have time while I’m here,” he replied in a too-casual tone.
“Of course,” Hux muttered, keeping his face neutral. “If you have time.”
Ben followed Hux out of the lift, walking a little more confidently. He still didn’t really know the layout of the ship; he’d intended to look over the various maps that were pre-loaded onto his datapad, but he’d fallen asleep before he could even manage to towel dry his hair. Still, he already felt more accustomed to seeing the brisk officers and the white armor around him, and his gait took on the more casual loping step that his long legs made easy and natural. Hux walked sharply and moved with an efficient speed; Ben took a small pleasure in watching the general check his pace slightly several times to not let the smuggler fall too far behind.
“Where we headed first?” he asked, putting his hands into his jacket pockets.
“We’ll head to the eastern starfighter hangar,” Hux said, pulling out his pad as they waited at another in-tram station. It didn’t escape his notice that Ben was practically jumping around as they walked through the ship. His plan was going along nicely. The young man was being plied with sim runs and the image of power the old Empire held so dear.
Hux was sure that when Supreme Leader Snoke spoke to Ben later that night, he would find the man yielding.
Ben glanced over at Hux, watching the man’s sharp profile as he looked over some sort of information on his datapad. There was so much here he had access to already, as though the general had already taken it as a foregone conclusion that Ben would be staying with them, that there was no danger of information leaking out and making its way to the First Order’s enemies. Maybe they intended to execute him publicly as a show of defiance against anyone in the Senate who did take a stand against them. He considered, almost idly as they waited for the tram, how many of them he could take out on his own if they tried to take him. He still had both blasters. By the time they got onto the tram, he’d already moved on.
“How many sim hours do pilots put in during a week? I’ve never actually talked to anyone...well, that’s a lie. I’ve talked to a few who used to pilot them back during the war. But I mean...they’re my parents’ age, you know? And they get all touchy about the fact that they were flying for the Imperial fleet so you can’t really get too much out of them.” Ben shrugged and ran both hands through his hair.
“In between twenty and thirty hours a week. They also have tactical training sessions, physical training, survival training, and rescue operations,” Hux explained, stepping onto the tram. “We take a lot of pride in our TIE fleets. We make sure that the pilots on the Finalizer are the best the Order has.”
“So, since you never actually answered me earlier, how many Star Destroyers do you guys actually have? Is the Finalizer the head of the fleet? Is it actually your’s, or are you filling in for somebody who’s on vacation?” Ben followed him into the tram, relaxing again into his comfortable leaning pose against one of the rails on the wall, arms folded over his chest. Carefully.
Hux made an annoyed noise, sending a message across the ship. He shook his head and looked up at Ben, glaring slightly. Of course Ben would rely on underhanded jibes to draw out information he wanted. Fine, what use would names be to him anyway?
“This is my ship. We are the paramount of the south and north western quadrants. The Faultless and the Indomitable are the paramounts of the southeast and northeast quadrants. They are not the only Destroyers in their fleet.”
“Huh.” Ben turned his head to watch the ship interior fly by them as they traveled. “I will say, your’s has the best name. Good job with that.” It was a little ridiculous to think of how many Falcons would fit into this gigantic ship. He rubbed his upper arm thoughtfully, eyes still away from Hux.
Glancing over, Hux frowned as he tried to read Ben’s expression. He shook his head and looked down at his datapad again. “Is something wrong?”
Ben shook himself out of his thoughts, which had strayed to how much information he could take back to his mother after being here. Even if he left right now, with just what he’d seen and experienced thus far, he could change everything. He took a deep breath and smirked at the general.
“Wrong? Nothing. I’m still waking up after being so rudely jarred out of my beauty sleep.” He stretched his leg out to kick his foot against Hux’s.
Hux frowned, looking down at his boot and then back up at Ben, annoyed.
“Don’t do that.”
“What? This?” It was too easy to kick Hux again; this time the dirty sole of his boot left a smudge on the pristine surface of the general’s toe, which had obviously been shined very recently.
Hux’s anger flared up, and he took a step away from Ben and set his jaw. He didn’t feel the need to dignify Ben’s behavior with a response and instead opened up his pad, sending another quick missive. Ben snorted and brought his hand up to half cover his smile, then he turned to watch their journey as the tram began to slow.
“Is this it?” he asked, not expecting Hux’s annoyance to last. It was just in good fun, after all.
The general didn’t bother responding, glancing up from his datapad for a second before exiting the tram and walking through the Finalizer to the far side of the ship. He briefly imagined what it would be like to demand Ben clean his boot, holding his dark hair as the smuggler licked the leather to a bright shine.
Hux would admit that it was a briefly satisfying diversion, and his annoyance faded. Ben, obviously, had no idea what the general was thinking, so he just walked after him at his more relaxed pace, taking the time to look around. The ship was a seemingly unending series of tall corridors. He looked over each group of stormtroopers that they passed, but the exceptional Captain Phasma wasn’t around. Or at least, no one else in that chrome armor. For all he knew, that was a signal of rank.
Hux glanced over at Ben, eyebrows up. He watched his gaze for a few seconds before speaking.
“Would you like to try on their armor too?”
Ben looked over, surprised by the question. After a second, he laughed and shook his head.
“I’m not going to play dress up either, general.” He looked forward as they walked through another set of doors, not expecting the huge expanse of the hangar to open up in front of them when they did. The TIE starfighters were black and glossy against the grey walls, arranged in their unique rotational docks for cleaner storage. There were a few pilots standing on the far side of the hangar where one of the ships was suspended for maintenance or repairs, Ben couldn’t tell which. The side panels were huge at this close range, definitely larger than the Imperial ones he’d seen before. He nodded to himself as they walked further into the area, then smiled over at Hux.
“These...these are nice.” The small phrase held a huge, almost adoring compliment.
Hux watched the other man, tucking his datapad away as Ben looked over the neat rows, the perfectly functional order of it all. When Ben turned around, Hux’s eyebrows shot up and he had the decency to look surprised as Ben spoke. The smile he was faced with was bright, natural, completely inviting. It put him off-guard in a very strange way.
He nodded once, not trusting himself to say anything just yet. He glanced around the wing and took a few steps forward, standing next to Ben.
“We can observe the bay from the bridge, if you’d like.”
Ben was still looking over everything, trying to hear what the mechanics were shouting to one another. He nodded without looking at the general. “Yeah, okay.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, still smiling. This was what seeing the past was supposed to be like. Not broken machines or flickering holovids with their tinny voices, the uncertain stories of the old who remembered but didn’t always tell you what they really remembered. This was the past but bigger, fully lit, with a sense of shine and purpose that you could inhale and hold in your lungs. This wasn’t the dirty part of his family’s history. This was what he’d heard, that once, when he was close to sleeping at the temple, when he—
He cut off his own memory and looked over at Hux again. “Can we get there from here?”
Hux was frowning, observing Ben carefully. The officer was trying to figure out what precisely that expression held when Ben looked over the TIE fighters. Stepping back, Hux pointed at the small bridge behind them. “This way,” he said, turning away and heading back to the far end of the wing, scanning his cylinder for the lift that would take them up the single level to the hangar’s small 5-man command bridge.
Ben followed Hux, though he kept stealing glances back at the hangar. As they entered the lift, he resolved to be a little more reserved about the whole thing. He was acting like a child.
“So, you said you’ve flown one? But you’re not really into flying. I know what are you into,” he said when they were facing one another.
Hux shrugged, glancing up at Ben, eyebrows up.
“Not regularly. I see the draw, but my talents lie elsewhere.” He shifted to put his hands behind his back, holding his datapad as he looked over the bay. “I can effectively pilot any ship in the Order fleet to some degree. My TIE skills are rusty, but manageable.”
“But you’d rather be shooting at something,” Ben said as though finishing a sentence for him. He laughed and shrugged one shoulder. “I’ve seen you with a blaster. You’re damned effective; you don’t waste shots.”
Hux made a noise, almost smirking. “Arkanis required mandatory infantry specializations, even for officers.”
“How many hours a week do you spend working on those perfect shots?” Ben could see the pride in Hux’s pale eyes.
“Not as many as I would like. Four to eight hours, on a good week.” Hux sighed, pulling up his schedule and looking over the next week. He put in a ninety minute reservation at the shooting range, setting up reminders as well. Ben watched his hands, curious as always about what he was reading and what he was entering on the pad that he constantly carried around with him.
“I miss that kind of training.” Ben shrugged. “I mean, I keep up on some of mine, the forms and the meditation...sometimes. But the actual weapon training. I miss that.” He laughed and raised his eyebrows slightly. “Obviously, not blaster training. I mean, a gun’s great, but it’s not my first choice.”
“I’m going to assume you’re talking about lightsaber training?” Hux asked mildly, eyebrows up.
Ben nodded, shoving his hands into his pockets again as the lift stopped. He stepped off first, even though he had no idea where he was going.
“Yeah...it’s different. More and less intuitive.” He glanced over as though to make sure the general was following him this time.
Hux let Ben get those few steps ahead of him before walking forward and taking the lead again. As he entered the bridge, the men stood up in unison and saluted, standing at attention for a few seconds before Hux dismissed them with a nod.
“At ease,” he said quietly, going over to Corporal Bant. She was a smaller woman with her dark hair in a severe bun, not a stitch of her out of place. He saluted her smartly and she nodded, taking a step away from the station’s control panels to invite Hux to stand at her place.
“Good to see you down in east wing, General,” she said, her tone casual. She glanced at Ben and smiled a little, inclining her head. “Captain Solo.”
Hux made a noise, putting his datapad on the station dock and glancing back at Ben for just a second before examining the station, pulling up a schedule on the main screen.
“He prefers Ben.”
Ben smiled over at the corporal, that slightly sly smile he’d perfected for certain situations.
“Captain Solo’s not bad either. The general isn’t going to introduce us, I guess. You are…?” Ben was also trying to figure out how everyone knew him. Had there been a shipwide bulletin with his face and name, just in case?
“Corporal Jahnavi Bant, Captain,” she said, still smiling at Ben. “I'm the eastern wing officer.” She stepped forward, holding her hand out for Ben. Ben took her hand to shake, immediately bowing slightly over it to not-quite touch his lips to her knuckles. His uncle Lando would be proud.
“It’s more than a pleasure to meet you, ma’am,” he said, slow to release her hand and step back.
Hux was too focused on the scene to notice Bant’s slight blush and wide grin. He made a noise and the corporal schooled her face quickly, going to Hux’s side.
“There's a tac-run scheduled in half an hour, will there be a viewing ship alongside?”
Bant nodded, pulling up her own release schedule. “Lieutenant Visenya is administering the run from onboard the Singe.”
“Tell him we will be joining him.” Hux settled back, looking over at Ben. “How do you feel about watching a technical?”
Ben met the general’s eyes and nodded, smiling a little more.
“Yeah, that would be fine. Will the corporal be joining us?” He looked over at her and winked, just barely, quickly enough that it was almost nothing.
Bants eyes widened slightly and she glanced at Hux, who shook his head as he stepped away from the console.
“The corporal will attend her station.”
“Well, maybe next time, right?” Ben looked back to Hux again. “When do we head out?”
Hux turned away from the station, picking up his pad as he headed for the lift. “The Singe is being prepared in the starboard bay. Visenya is already there.”
As he passed, Bant smiled again at Ben from her post in front of the console. She saluted him before turning back to the screens. “Have a nice time, captain.”
Ben turned his head to keep his eyes on her’s for that extra minute as he followed after Hux, promising oh-so-much-more if only they’d had the time.
“Will do, ma’am.” If he could have a reputation even within the First Order, that was exactly what he wanted. He smiled crookedly at her, then jogged a step to catch up with his host. “She seems like a gem. You know her well? Like...outside of the ‘no sir’s and ‘yes-sir’s?”
“Corporal Bant is an excellent wing officer. She is capable and safety is her utmost concern,” Hux said, walking to the lift and opening the door for Ben, following him in. “I’m not sure what else you mean.”
“Nevermind. I forgot who I was talking to for a second.” Ben found he was getting good at lounging in the lifts and trams the ship seemed to be mostly made up of. Hux frowned, but stood still in the lift, hands holding onto the datapad behind his back. The smuggler looked up, then pulled the crumpled wrapper out of his pocket and smoothed it out flat to look at it while they traveled upward. “Where do you go to train on the ship? Is there a range?”
“There are a few. I managed to schedule an hour and a half on the long range for tomorrow morning.” He stepped out, walking through the upper level, around the starfighter wing to the docking bay for the Singe. “There are a few stations. If you’d like to tag along, you’re welcome to do so.”
Ben nodded as he walked beside Hux, glancing around at the other people who were all moving along as if they had very important places to be on a very tight schedule. From what he knew of the man next to him, he didn’t doubt that they all believed that with their whole souls.
“Yeah, I was going to ask if you needed private time for all of that or if you wanted company. Same for dinner.” The smuggler smiled a little. “If you do that. Have dinner with other people. Corporals, captains, whoever.”
Hux nodded, gesturing. “If you’d like to eat together, I can arrange that.” He frowned a little as he walked, glancing over at Ben. “Would you prefer to cook for yourself?”
“For us, you mean.” Ben’s smiled was short but genuine. “What sort of real food options are there? Am I going to be chopping up those bars into something that resembles a meal?”
“You can order fresh ingredients up to your room.” Hux opened another set of doors, going into the hangar. The Singe, a long, but compact shuttle, where Visenya was directing a small set of five TIE pilot hopefuls on how to observe the technical. The troopers were in physical training uniforms, with no armor or space suiting on. As Hux approached the Lieutenant saluted and the pilots stood at attention behind him.
“Sir! We’re very excited to have you on board-”
“Yes, of course.” Hux made a dismissive gesture, cutting off the lieutenant. “Ben will be coming with us, he’s curious about our pilot training regimen.”
“Captain Solo, you’re more than welcome to ask me or any of the recruits any questions you may have.”
Hux looked from the lieutenant to Ben, eyebrows up. Ben stepped around Hux to offer his hand to the other man, smiling.
“It’s good to know you, lieutenant.” He gave the man the same smile he’d given Bant, the same if-only-we-were-alone eyes. “I really appreciate that. I do have a question, as a matter of fact. I mean, it’s not directly related to the ships, but I feel like I have to ask it all the same.”
“We’re here to answer any questions you have.” Visenya said, sending the recruits onto the ship with a gesture. Hux stood behind Ben, opening up his pad and frowning as he went through a couple reports.
“How come every single person on this giant ship knows my name before I even introduce myself?” Ben asked with a smile, not looking back. He figured he’d feel Hux’s reaction.
Behind him, Hux rolled his eyes. Visenya made a noise. “There was a notice sent out, of course. As soon as the general returned...and...frankly, captain, you’re the only one out of uniform and your hair is not at regulation length.”
“Regulation length?” Ben laughed easily, running his hands through his hair and turning to look at Hux. “So I don’t pass muster, huh?” He looked back to Visenya. “So do you fly these things yourself?”
Hux glanced up at Ben’s back and sighed as Visenya nodded. “Course I do. Can’t let our pilots think they know everything. They need someone to give them a swift kick to the ass at least twice a month or they get cocky.”
The general didn’t exactly approve of the mouth on the lieutenant, but the man had turned down multiple promotions to train TIE pilots, and Hux knew that he produced results. There was a reason the Finalizer was in charge of two quadrants. Ben felt more at ease with someone who talked so naturally, and he grinned and looked over the recruits who’d neatly arranged themselves in seats.
“I’m trying to convince the general to give me a shot at it. I think he’s afraid I’ll take it out of the hangar and then immediately crash it into the side of his ship.” He chuckled to himself and leaned in slightly. “But I look trustworthy, don’t I?”
“Sir, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but we don’t let anyone touch the inside of a TIE until they log at least one hundred and twenty hours on the sim pods. You need to pass a written exam, have an individualized review of your top five sim flights, and meet the required fitness standards. Though I doubt you’ll have a problem with that part.”
“Lieutenant,” Hux warned, raising his voice slightly without looking up from his report.
“General, anyone who makes a living smuggling doesn’t laze around,” Visenya said quickly, smiling at Ben. “If you can head in, captain, we’re just about to start the tech.”
“Sure thing, sorry for holding you up, lieutenant,” Ben replied, taking that extra second to wink at him before he walked to take one of the empty seats. He’d seen the same thing every time he headed to Hosnian Prime to visit after a smuggling run; if he dressed appropriately for dinner with his mother and behaved as the son of a Senator Princess should, he did not get quite the same response that he got if he went to dinner in his flight jacket with his gloves tucked into his heavy belt. He patted the seat next to his, watching Hux. “Come on over, general.”
Hux followed them into the Singe, sitting next to Ben when the young smuggler gestured him closer. He sighed, sitting down and strapping himself in. Shifting slightly to turn towards Ben, he kept his eyes down on the datapad as he spoke.
“Acting cute won’t get you far on board my ship, Captain.”
“Oh, relax. You should know by now, it ain’t acting. Arrik.” Ben grinned and leaned back comfortably. “Make sure you dress up for dinner.”
“Call me Arrik again, and I’ll put you in the blasting range and see how long your tricks will save you,” Hux said, still not looking up from his pad. Ben put his elbow on the armrest between them and leaned closer to the other man.
“See, that sounds like a good time. If I had my lightsaber, we could really make a good training session of it,” he said, pitching his voice low and quiet to make sure Hux was the only one who heard him.
“I wouldn’t want to harm my ship,” Hux said, still going through some reports from distant sections of the quadrants. “You, however, I can suffer to see hurt.”
Ben laughed at the joke. At least, he assumed it was a joke. He recognized that it was stupid to assume, but he laughed anyway. He chose to take it as a joke.
“Then I guess you’d have to get better at aiming, huh?”
“My aim is perfect,” Hux said. As they spoke the shuttle left the bay, followed by a small compliment of twelve TIEs. Ben turned his head to look behind them at the distinctive scream of the starfighter engines, then followed the sound forward to watch them through the front viewscreens.
“Nobody’s aim is perfect,” he murmured, eyes locked on the TIEs as they started their maneuvers.
“We’ll see.” Hux shifted as Visenya came over to them, holding onto one of the shuttles bars. The entire complement continued away from the Finalizer, and Visenya smiled down at Ben and Hux.
“We’re doing evens versus odds. The fighters have all been re-equipped with ion-based stun cannons which will only momentarily disable the TIEs. They’ll get a chance to limp home.” Visenya laughed, standing up straight and looking out. “Would you like to start the tech, general?”
Hux made a noise, gesturing. “Let Ben do it; he’ll be thrilled.”
Ben heard the obvious sneer in Hux’s voice, and it was starting to get to him a bit. He determined to let it roll off his back, looking up at Visenya and smiling.
“Sure, how do I perform the honor, lieutenant?”
Visenya was smiling as he went over to the wide glass viewport. He tapped the pad and a grid came up over part of the glass, still allowing a good view of the TIEs as they made their way to opposite ends of the battlefield, far enough away that they could still all been seen on the view.
He took a step back, pointing to the pad. “That will give them a one minute countdown.” Ben unbuckled himself and hopped up, walking over to stand by Visenya. He wanted to see this so badly. He wanted it to be fast and sleek and brutally efficient, even in play, even in training.
“Look alive, troopers,” the lieutenant said, raising his voice slightly. “Watch how they prepare for engagement. Keep in mind that they only have one minute to analyze the other team, come up with a plan, and get in formation. YV-2839 is lead for odds, YM-6766 is lead for evens.”
Ben nodded as though the officer was giving this information for his benefit, rather than the group watching closely behind him.
As Visenya spoke the two TIEs lit up on the screen, in bright blue and red, and the teams were lit up on the viewport as well, outlined in faded tones. The lieutenant nodded back at Ben.
“On your mark, Solo.”
“Here we go.” Ben tapped the blinking indicator on the screen, then watched the countdown as the numbers flashed on the screen. Rather than returning to his seat, he stayed by the window as though the few feet would make a difference.
Hux glanced up, looking Ben over. It was obvious that the man was excited to see this sort of display, but for him it was an activity that happened every day on the Finalizer. He had seen his share of practice techs and real fights, and this sort of thing was just another scheduled event.
Two of the five prospective pilots leaned closer together, and one of them almost giggled. Hux looked over, glaring, but the timer reached zero and the dogfight started. Ben’s attention was exclusively on the ships in front of them; with his new experience in the sim pod, he had a vivid appreciation for the way the pilots handled the touchy controls. One of his hands was clenched by his side as he watched and his elbow jerked every time there was a near collision before the pilots expertly pulled away from one another, knowing their limitations.
Hux had seen this sort of thing dozens of times, but he was more interested in Ben’s reactions to the tech than what was actually happening outside the shuttle. The smuggler wasn’t aware of anyone else in the shuttle as he watched. As he analyzed the dogfight, he stole looks at the reported information that was scrolling on the screen. He didn’t know what all the numbers meant, but he could piece together many of them, speed, shots fired, targets hit.
Throughout the tech, Visenya instructed his recruits on the various techniques and strategies the TIE pilots were employing, the way that the teams split up or came together to try to gain the upper hand. Ben let himself be drawn in completely, and by the end of the exercise, his hands were clenched as though they were around controllers and the color was high in his cheeks. He wanted to fly one of those starfighters. Before he left, he promised himself he would.
The tech ended suddenly, with two of the red-evens overcoming the remaining three odds in an incredible display of skill, twisting out of the way, the rolling of the TIEs not impeding their aim as they rolled to get behind the odds. The two TIEs came so close to the odds that the small sparks were visible even from the Singe. Ben held the tip of his tongue between his teeth as he watched, dark eyes intense as they reflected the mock battle in the distance. When the screen flashed the end of the the tech with the final analytics, he stepped back as though moving away from something he’d been involved in.
Hux’s gaze didn’t leave Ben’s back; just as the smuggler was analyzing the starfighters, Hux was taking note of his expressions, his shoulders, his arms and the set of his back. He was taking Ben apart, finding his pride, his ambition, the facets of Ben Solo that wanted more and more and more.
“Even getting behind a TIE is no guarantee of an upper hand. The odds failed because they continued to split up and come together, making themselves too predictable. The evens saw their strategy and took advantage when the odds tried to re-converge for another attack,” Visenya explained as the recruits took notes on their pads, small holo-vids already popping up of the final moments of the tech.Visenya looked back at Ben, smirking slightly. “Did you learn something, captain?”
Ben looked over at Visenya, catching his eye with an expression that was not the flirting of earlier. He nodded slowly.
“All of them depend too heavily on the team. Primarily for defense,” he said finally. “One of the benefits of having that sort of evasive responsiveness is to know you’re on your own.”
Visenya shrugged. “That was the point of this technical. There are others where the TIEs only rely on themselves, but since we generally don’t employ individual starfighters on any mission, we don’t consider it a priority. Working in teams is more difficult, and requires a higher level of awareness and consideration.”
Ben made a noise and looked back to the window and the projected information. “Consideration.”
“Have you been to the sims yet?” Visenya asked, smiling slightly. The stunned TIEs had recovered their controls, and the pilots were all heading back to the Finalizer. The shuttle turned as well, following the last starfighter.
“Mm, yeah.” Ben looked over at the lieutenant and nodded, then smiled ruefully. “I was sort of tired and bleeding, so it wasn’t maybe the best run.” He had no basis of comparison, though he knew his numbers wouldn’t look like it had been his first time.
Visenya nodded, looking over at Hux. The general tore his eyes from the set of Ben’s shoulders to meet the lieutenant’s gaze.
“If you’re willing to make an exception, general, I’d say we can get Captain Solo into a TIE in a few days if he puts in the hours.”
Hux made a noise, shrugging once, glancing over at Ben. Ben raised his eyebrows at Hux, smiling slowly.
“How many hours would you recommend, general?” he asked sweetly, hands clasped behind his back. “I mean, I’m definitely willing to put in the time.”
Hux made a noise, holding Ben’s gaze.
“I’ll think about it.”
Ben rolled his eyes, walking back to flop into the seat next to Hux. He stretched his long legs in front of him comfortably.
“You sound like my mother,” he commented, then grinned at the lieutenant.
Hux snorted, shaking his head and looking back down at his datapad. He didn’t answer and Visenya turned back to the recruits, who were standing in front of the port, trying to figure out if the odds could have won if they had continued to stay apart. Ben watched Hux for a moment before boredom won out and he reached over to grab the pad out of his hands.
“Let’s see what you have going on here,” he said, looking down over the report the general had been giving his attention to. “What sort of programs does the general get? Can I order food from here? And what does ORDR do?”
Hux made a noise, taking a deep breath and allowing Ben to see a map of the quadrant for a few seconds before closing it down. At the mention of the app, one of the pilots glanced over at the two of them before looking back to the holovids replaying the tech.
“The general has classified information on his pad,” Hux muttered, turning it off. Ben sighed and tossed the pad back into Hux’s lap.
“No fun at all, are you?”
“Although I try my best to prevent it at all costs you looked like you were having a good time,” Hux muttered, taking the pad back but leaving the screen black.
“I didn’t say that I wasn’t having a good time. I’ve enjoyed my day, though food would make it better. I meant you. You don’t let yourself have any fun.” Ben slumped further in his seat as though he intended to nap on the way back.
Hux made a noise, frowning. He shook his head. “I’m not sure I have time.”
“Should I set a place for the holopad at dinner?” Ben was smiling as he asked.
“I will have it, yes.” Hux frowned, looking up at Ben. He was frowning, as if he were confused by the other man. He shook his head and sat back in the shuttle’s seat, watching as the ship flew slowly into the Destroyer and into its designated bay. Ben snorted and shook his head, unsurprised by the other man’s answer. He closed his eyes for the last bit of the trip, actually falling asleep in the short space of time. Power naps were a specialty of his.
The Singe docked and Visenya took the recruits out of the ship. Hux stood and frowned at Ben, baffled by how much sleep one man could get in such a short amount of time.
“Wake up,” Hux demanded for the second time that day, nudging Ben’s boot with his own. The smuggler opened his eyes and smiled drowsily for a second, then he took a deep breath and sat up.
“Are we there?” He looked around the empty ship and laughed. “Guess so. It was nice of you to stick around for me. Or were you concerned I’d just hop a TIE on my own?”
“Fortunately, you don’t have access,” Hux said, smirking slightly. “Not until I give it to you.” He took a step back, gesturing to the ramp. “If you don’t mind.”
Ben stood up and ran his hands through his hair as though making himself presentable to the rest of the ship. Instead, the gesture caused the curls to flip the wrong way, giving him the appearance of black horns around his head. He walked ahead of Hux to the ramp, putting his hands back into his jacket pockets as he walked.
“I’m guessing you have to head back to the bridge now. Or even if you don’t have to, I bet you want to. You like knowing everything that’s going on. Even if it’s beneath you.” Ben smiled, then looked back at Hux. “Like counting up armament crates on a shipment.”
Hux made a noise as they left. Visenya already instructing the recruits on what kind of sims to run next. The lieutenant nodded at Ben, and two of the recruits looked back, one of them smiling at the smuggler and another glancing quickly at Hux before looking forward, his shoulders hunching forward. Ben watched all of it, the strange dynamics of a ship that was as large as a space port, the attractions and rivalries that were bound to creep up. He made sure to return smiles aimed at him, and wondered to himself about the looks cast at Hux.
“The ship is going on just fine. I have analytics from the quadrants to review,” Hux said, walking past the recruits with his eyes forward. He went into the hall, hands behind his back again. Ben gave a last wave as he walked past the row and an extra smile and wink for their instructor.
“Thanks for the show, lieutenant. I hope you wouldn’t mind if I bugged you later on for some more TIE information. Specs, flying, all that?” He knew he was making Hux wait for him, and that felt good.
Visenya nodded, smiling a little. The recruits turned in their seats to watch Ben, two of them smiling coyly and whispering very softly.
“Of course Captain Solo. I’ll grant you access to the training schedules and pilot instruction, if you’re that interested.”
Ben glanced over at the two recruits who had their eyes on him, winking before turning his attention back to Visenya.
“Well, I’m not here for that long, but I’d like to get out there and try one for myself.” He held his hand out to the other man. “I’ll look you up.”
The lieutenant nodded, walking around the recruits to shake Ben’s hand. “Of course, captain. Enjoy your stay.”
Ben tossed him a quick salute as he walked into the hallway to join Hux. He elbowed him lightly, then headed back in the direction of the lift. He’d learn the layout of this ship yet.
“I can probably find my way back, or bother enough troopers to get there eventually, if you’ve got places to be,” he said casually, as though they were friends spending a day together.
Hux made a noise as he followed Ben, looking up briefly from his pad. “Before we parted I wanted you to know that I have scheduled a meeting with the Supreme Leader. Would you like to have dinner before or after?” Hux had pulled up his schedule, looking over his day. Ben shrugged and glanced over at him.
“We can do it before, get all that work out of the way. Maybe then you’ll be able to relax and actually enjoy the food. Which...well, I can’t promise how good it’ll be. Depends on what I have to work with. I poked through the Kit application...I think I’ve got that sorted out.” Ben was curious about this ‘Supreme Leader,’ but he was in no way nervous. It was likely going to be some crusty old withered Imperial holdover, sending young men and women to play soldier ‘like in the good old days.’ He knew them from the winning side. The First Order had to have them as well.
Hux made a noise, nodding.
“I would be surprised if you found our selection lacking,” Hux said, looking up at Ben after rearranging a few items on his schedule to accommodate dinner after the holo-call with Snoke. They got on the lift, and Hux sent them downwards, towards the in-tram. “Is there anything else you need from me? Or do you need to go lie down for a few hours?”
“I don’t know. I think I’ll explore for awhile, if that’s okay. Then I’ll order food, then we’ll talk to your supreme buddy, then we’ll eat.” Ben pulled his hands out of his pockets and laced them at the back of his neck as he waited for the lift to stop at their required level.
“You should grab your datapad.” Hux stepped out of the lift, going through the halls to the in-tram station. “There aren’t directions posted on the walls.”
“Oh, so I’m not allowed to just go into your mind and get directions that way?” Ben teased as they walked.
Hux felt anger flaring up, felt that intense need to know more and push Ben away at the same time. He swallowed and glanced over at Ben before stopping at the station. “You are not.”
“Does that apply to everybody, or just you?”
“I can only speak for myself,” Hux said absently, hands behind his back, holding his pad. “However I will ask that you not compel any troopers to harm themselves or commandeer a TIE.”
“I wouldn’t do that,” Ben said, frowning suddenly. “To hurt themselves? Why the hells would I? That’s...there are rules.”
Hux made a noise, glancing over at Ben with real curiosity. “And who would be able to enforce consequences?” he asked, looking confused. “Is it a moral restriction or some sort of ancient coda that will strike you down should you stray?”
“Well, not...I mean, there’s not a person but a…” Ben met Hux’s eyes. He knew the other man believed in the Force (it would be impossible for him not to, at this point), but what could he think of things like the Jedi Order, the Sith, the things he’d been raised on? Even in the Senate there were people who spoke disparagingly of all of it as though it was ancient history, with his Force sensitive mother sitting right there. He’d heard it himself, and even Leia’s hand on his arm hadn’t always managed to stop him from giving a little demonstration. And then it was the fear and disgust in their eyes that made him leave, while these small-minded idiots had the gall to mutter about superstition and ‘that damned Organa boy.’
Hux’s eyes narrowed, seeing Ben struggle to give a straight answer, to have the conviction he craved and wanted. It seemed so obvious, and it was made more obvious every minute that Ben wanted purpose, that he craved direction. He turned slightly, taking up more of Ben’s line of vision.
“But what, Ben?”
The smuggler looked angry when he met Hux’s eyes, but it wasn’t the general he was angry with.
“Whenever...someone uses the Force, there are ways to use it that are…” He paused again to choose his words. “To help or to harm. To help yourself or to help others. We talk about the correct choices that let you walk the light path. That’s the Jedi code, and it’s what I learned. It helps you make decisions when you have choices. It’s…” He could say it here, who else would know?
“Limiting.” He licked his lips. “Not bad, just...there are things it doesn’t let you explore.” That was Hux’s word there. “The other side is the one we’re steered away from, because it’s the easy way. Well. They say it’s the easy path, to be angry, or to be passionate about something. That those are the impulses to control, because if you give into them with the Force, that’s the dark side.” He was silent for a minute as he thought of some of the things he’d done since meeting Hux. Some of them he could never confess to his uncle. “Some say it’s the stronger path though.”
Hearing Ben speak with such obvious confusion only fueled Hux to push him further, to press harder. He nodded once, not looking away from Ben.
“Then maybe it’s the path of stronger men. To control all that power, it would consume a weaker person.” He spoke quietly, intensely. “Nobody does anything without expecting something. Not even Jedi.”
“My grandfather…” Ben swallowed before continuing. “He lost...everything when he…” He shook his head. “The split between the two destroyed everything.”
“You are not your grandfather,” Hux said almost angrily. He set his jaw, taking a step back as the tram came through. He was angry and intensely curious, he wanted to know more, he wanted to pull Ben apart at the seams. Swallowing, Hux put his hand on Ben’s back, pushing him forward. The unfinished phrase hung in the air.
He dropped his hand as they got on the tram, taking a step back and holding onto one of the bars.
“I have a meeting, but I will drop you off at the officers’ level. You can get the datapad and wander as you’d like.”
Ben felt like he had to catch his breath, and he wasn’t quite sure why. He didn’t know why he hadn’t pulled away from Hux’s hand, why he didn’t argue with him now. Instead, he nodded mutely.
Hux didn’t say anything after that, watching his ship pass by. He took a deep breath, glancing over at Ben, watching him carefully.
“We can discuss this further if you’d like.”
Ben kept his eyes forward, his expression not nearly as relaxed as his studied posture.
“What? All you’re going to know about it is what you’ve studied about Sheev Palpatine.” He was careful not to look at Hux. He’d never known a man with eyes that pale that seemed that depthless. “Who...was a strong man. But devious.” He swallowed and shook his head. “We can’t discuss this right now.”
Hux shrugged, looking out the windows again. “As you’d like.” He wasn’t angry or upset; he just knew that this was another move on the board, another angle to consider. Ben Solo who didn’t understand the Force he had, the power he held. Ben Solo who wanted limits, but didn’t want to be limited. He knew and didn’t know, and Hux was a man who wanted to know everything, who wanted to understand every part of the power contained in the man next to him.
Ben didn’t say anything else as the tram took them back toward the officer’s area. He heard Hux’s voice over and over, his tone almost holding the same anger it had back at Madame Zingot’s. You are not your grandfather. That was always the question, wasn’t it? And Ben’s answer was also a question. Why the hells not?
The tram stopped and Hux gestured to Ben as he walked off. He was never sure when Ben would try to listen to his thoughts, and he had to assume that the other man could do so at any time. It was frustrating not to know what powers the other man had at his disposal. He took a deep breath as he walked, going through the ship towards the lift.
“I think that the only parts of the ship you won’t be allowed into is the engine rooms,” Hux explained, his tone clipped and factual. “I will meet you at your berth in six hours. Will you be ready?”
“Yeah...should I meet you somewhere?” He fought to bring up the smile Hux had to expect by now. “Should I change my shirt?”
Hux frowned slightly, looking over at Ben. He was confused; it seemed like Ben was struggling to school his expression.
“If you’d like,” Hux said, scanning his cylinder at the lift. “I’m expected elsewhere. You know which floor?”
Ben gestured in the vague direction he knew he needed to go to get back to his berth.
“Yeah, I can take care of myself. You go to your meeting, general. I bet it’s awful important.” His smile came a little more naturally that time.
Narrowing his eyes, Hux took a step back and nodded. His gaze was piercing and calculating. “Six hours, then.”
Ben gave Hux the same salute he’d given the TIE instructor, then added the wink he’d graced several of the recruits with.
“Come get me when you want me.” Laughing to himself, Ben turned away and started off down the hallway, nodding to an officer who turned to look at him when he started whistling a rude Huttese ditty.
Hux rolled his eyes, turning away and pulling his datapad in front of him. Ben was primed. He was a fire, and he just needed a push to ignite. Hux narrowed his eyes at the datapad, heading towards another level. He wanted to be that push.
Ben spent the hours allotted him walking through the ship, feeling invisible as the soldiers and officers moved around him. He logged a few more hours in the TIE sim pod, finding it easy to lose himself in the maneuvers; while Visenya’s observations were in his head, Hux’s voice wasn’t.
You are not your grandfather.