Ten mass squadrons of elite Stormtroopers lie dead across this field between Hux and the shuttle back to the Finalizer. One whole division, wiped out in less than an hour.
Broken parts of trooper armour are strewn in the mud, crunch under Hux's boots as he travels from one trench dugout to the next. In his right hand he carries his blaster rifle, glove off so his fingerprint can be read. With his left hand he holds his insides in, because there aren't any bandages, but his skin and muscle isn't there anymore either.
He jerks his chin at the squad leader from the DV division. The trooper nods back, signals the troopers following him to retreat, and they scatter back in the direction Hux just came from.
"Sir, your wounds," TF-8720 says, crouched down in the trench. She's still working on the blasted cannon, pillaging parts to replace the burnt out ones from their sudden surplus of blasters that have no working fingers to pull on the triggers.
"I will hold this position and these innards in all at once, trooper," he barks. Coughs. Feels the tattered edges of his abdomen contort and contract under his bare fingers. Both of his sleeves are soaked through with his own blood, happened before he found his blaster again and started to use just one hand to hold himself together.
"Attend to your task," he commands. She ducks her head immediately, burned copper of her curly hair shining brutal in this foggy sunlight.
Another volley of blaster fire from the Resistance side. Shouts from both ends, Hux drops to his knees and jacknifes forward so his face is near the mud and the toes of his boots still have traction in the mud. He'll have to shove himself up again using his blaster hand, there's no use for it.
He breathes in, breathes out. Count of four in both directions. The whine of the blasters die down, tracers speed overhead and the noise dies. More moaning joins into the wounded fray. He grits his teeth and tenses his legs to ready for the agony of getting back up.
A hand falls to the collar of his greatcoat. The same hand pulls him back up to a stand. This hand belongs to Lord Kylo Ren, lightsabre held powered off and to the side, helmet on, blood-darkened patches splattered against the black of his robes.
"I'm here to save the day," Ren says, serious as the grave. Hux rolls his eyes, shakes off the steadying hand against the back of his neck, staggers a step away.
"Yes, yes. Thank you for finally supplying some relief. If you could use that force magic of yours to turn the tide of the battle, the First Order would be greatly appreciative."
Ren raises his lightsabre aloft, thumb ready at the switch; then he pauses, tilts his head at Hux.
Hux stands ready to Ren's bloodthirsty wail, or whatever it is he likes to do before charging into battle, but the lightsabre remains off over Ren's head and still the man doesn't move.
"Don't you have somewhere to be?" Hux snaps right before he gives in to the urge to fidget.
"Your wounds, General. They're life threatening."
Hux spreads his fingers across his stomach as if to hide the extensiveness of the tear from Ren's prying eyes. "You've seen worse and lived, so I don't see how any of this concerns you."
"Sir, a medroid is on its way here," TF-8720 calls from her work in the trench. Just the top of her head is visible as she peers over the edge at them. "The First Order sent reinforcements regarding the ambush."
Hux nods his head, waves his blaster-hand at her. "Thank you for the update, soldier. Keep the propaganda channel open and get back to work."
Ren's hand lands heavy on Hux's shoulder and spins him with embarrassing ease around so they're facing each other. Hux finds himself with his face a mere two inches away from a gore-splattered helmet. He clenches his teeth and wills himself to not vomit. Not because he thinks Ren doesn't deserve it, but because it would be unseemly.
"I will keep you alive," Ren declares. Still holding Hux's shoulder, he pushes forward, making Hux walk backwards, until they reach the edge of a trench.
Hux drops his blaster and grabs at the arm Ren has on him; he squeezes in warning.
"A medroid is on its way, I have bloody pressure on it, just go kill the Rebel Scum and I'll be fine," he hisses.
Ren lets go of him, finally, but it's not to run off. He calmly tucks his lightsabre into some pocket of his robes and begins to remove his belt.
"Ren, for the love of all things chaotic and obscene, what are you doing?" Hux snarls. He wobbles in place, it makes him angry.
He solemnly hands his belt to Hux, who takes it automatically and immediately wonders why he bothered.
"You'll die if I don't do this," Ren says as he begins to tug his robes loose.
Hux stands there, stunned, holding Ren's belt in one hand and his insides with the other. Then it registers that Ren's pubic hair is on display over some glowing beacon of light and Hux finally snaps, he goes blank, it's all a blur.
He whips the belt around Ren's neck, releases his middle to grab the other end, and heaves to the side. Ren flails, fly open and weird light in his pants doing a strobe effect, then he falls past Hux into the trench next to them.
Hux releases the belt before he can be pulled in too. Ren lands with a crash and splat, right into the pooled mud at the bottom. He staggers back and away before the Force User revives, clutches at his stomach again, tries to shove in a bit of intestine trying to poke out and say hallo to the world.
"Sir!" TF-8720 shouts, grabs his arm. She's covered in mud, smells like burnt circuitry. "The cannon will fire soon, but a medroid is here. You need attention!"
She looks doubtfully at the trench where Ren is slumped. "Does he need attention too?"
Hux comes back to himself, swallows down bile, allows the stormtrooper to lead him by the arm to the medroid. He snarls, "Absolutely not," and jerks his chin at the refreshed troopers following the droid.
The squad leader nods back at him, leads her men into the fray. No one looks down into the trench where Ren is, and Hux hurries away with the droid and TF-8720 before he can find out if the man is still alive or not.
. . .
Not like he's going to show anyone this newfound crash to his vanity. He's supposed to be an officer, directing the battlefield from a place on high and remaining pristine for the duration. Instead he's running supply runs to keep the war effort going and only seeing action when the Resistance bloody well ambushes them, and that action leaves him with a splash of acid residue across his stomach that luckily ran out of steam before it hit intestinal lining.
The Resistance calls that weapon anti-aircraft and anti-war machine. They likely don't care what happens to the soldiers inside said machines, Hux thinks in a rather cynical tone. And they certainly could give a shit about whoever is caught in the blast outside the machine, either.
He rubs at the new and tight skin with one hand under his shirt and uses his free hand to lever off the casing of a fuel cell with aid of a hydrodriver. The engines are quiet tonight, no one wants to be jovial in the face of such an extreme defeat, and the mechanics are welcoming the extra hands now that they're at a diminished staff. They won't gossip too much about the Commanding Officer who likes to tinker, and in exchange he won't dump them on the nearest lava-covered planet when he's next in a rage.
Besides. Ren doesn't come down here. Allergic to the smell of oil or something, Hux wasn't fully paying attention when the subject came up.
The fuel cell is burnt out and dried to a husk, but the wiring is still good. Hux's chosen task for today is to strip as many usable parts from these things and order them in the boxes as he goes, so as to leave them organised and useful for the mechanics in the future.
He pokes at one of the lumpy webbing bits inside the case with the point of his hydrodriver and chews on the inside of his cheek. If he hadn't been raise to the military, he likes to think he would have gone into engineering. Designing buildings and bridges and super star destroyers. And massive planets that eat suns and shit out a nuclear tonnage of weaponised power.
Wait, he did the last item. But he had to delegate so much that it wasn't nearly as satisfying as it should have been.
Something sparks inside the cell at his prodding. He stops cold, gently lifts the tool away from the casing, hisses out a curse that gets the attention from the nearest mechanic, a full three metres away over at the next workstation.
Then the cell explodes in a great big plume of acid and dust, right into Hux's face.
. . .
"There there, deary," The droid chirps, switches the applicator off. "Let that set and we'll get you bandaged, all right?"
Hux glares at the green-tinted piece of shit. Whoever turned on the nurturing instincts algorithm will be demoted and assigned to sanitation when he gets out of here.
The double doors sweep open to let Ren stomp in. He's got his outer layer of robes off, helmet nowhere to be seen, and his face is twisted like he's upset about something.
Hux instinctively tenses. If he sets medical on fire again, he doesn't want to be in here as it happens.
"You need to hold still while I aim, okay," Ren says. His hand goes to his belt, the other holds out like he's trying to placate Hux or something. "Can you do that?"
Hux narrows his eyes, then winces. "If you revisit the insanity from two cycles ago I will resource a scalpel from the surgeon's theatre and castrate you," he says, as evenly as he can manage.
Ren stops taking off his belt, the thing open and partly pulled free from the loops on his wader trousers thing. His shoulders sag. "It's a Force thing, it's not insanity!"
"Oh, naturally. Fucking the pain away is always a good idea, so glad the Force thought of it." Hux would sneer, but that would hurt his face also. The entire right side of the epidermis was eaten away by antiquated acid in moments, only the quick thinking of one of the mechanics who dumped a container full of blue milk on his head saved him from having his skull eaten away and his brain exposed.
He is, of course, quite cranky about the whole affair. "Are you on something? Is that what this is? Some hedonistic prolonged orgiastic ritual you're blaming on the Force now?"
"I can access the healing side of the Dark Side," Ren says. He leans forward, eager, the fly on his trousers slide an inch down from the movement. "I have to use a part of my body that isn't desecrated by destruction, though."
Hux takes that in, considers it, then nods. "Right. You're a virgin, and rather than partake in bought flesh on one of the many Outer Rim planets we deal with on a regular basis, you'd rather attack me when I'm bleeding to take care of it. Brilliant."
Ren's mouth twists into something cruel, possibly a bit upset. "You're not bleeding now and it'd work."
"Oh, quite," Hux concedes. "But you're not objecting to the accusation of virginity."
"I don't need to be a virgin! I just can't have used my purity conduit for destructive purposes!"
Hux stares at Ren and uses every ounce of willpower and dignity he has left in him to not gape like a moron. "Purity Conduit?"
Ren appears to not have heard him. He's staring right at Hux's exposed neck from where his uniform tunic has been pulled away by the droid for a vitals scan. "With the passion of the Dark Side and the Repairing Properties of the Light Side, I can heal any wound, even if the subject is at the brink of death!"
"Eyes up here, Ren," Hux snaps, then he notices something happening in Ren's wader things and becomes alarmed. "Did you stick a bloody torch down your trousers?"
Ren blinks, looks down to check. "No, that's the Force."
Hux gives up. He places one hand over his eyes, winces at the pain from the ruined side of his face but doesn't back down. He has to hide somehow from this surreal episode.
"I cannot believe you, I honestly cannot believe you're this vulgar and inane," he seethes.
"It's not inane! Why do you want to feel this pain, I could fix it!"
Hux drops his hand, tries to ignore the pulsing deep red light glowing from the crotch of Ren's trousers. "Get out."
Ren looks stricken. "But Hux--"
"Get out!" he roars, points at the door. Two medroids beep and rush into the room at the noise, begin to fuss over him.
Ren backs away and through the door. He points at Hux, glares.
"I'll be back!"
"No you bloody won't!" Hux yells back at him, then the doors slide closed with Ren on the other side of them and he's free to have his fit in peace.
. . .
Ren's shoulders are slightly hunched. When paired with the hulk of his armour and the emotionless of his helmet, he comes across as a gargoyle escaped from a Core World theatre production.
Hux is very suspicious about gargoyle Ren's demeanour. No reason, just instinct. And instinct is what he'll blame this feeling of dread coiling in the pit of his stomach on.
Snoke is already beamed into the chamber when they enter side-by-side. The massive force user has his fingers up and pressed against his thin lips, his gaze considering.
"I see you are in the midst of a long line of injuries, General."
"Only two, Supreme Leader." Hux bows his head.
Snoke leans forward in his chair, peers myopically at Hux.
He gestures at Ren, who stands straighter and tilts his head back, chin of the helmet tipping precariously. "Report on the movements of our enemies, Ren."
Hux is starting to feel quite alarmed. More and more by the second, in fact. Ren rattles off planets they found traces of Resistance meddling on as they scoped it out for resources, the dim blip of unregistered ships caught on their ruined supply run trawlers, and then he gets to the ambush on Sigma Delta 10.
"They are using their Force Users to shield them, Master. They destroyed two squads of troopers before I managed to get onto the planet and another six gone before I could stop them."
"Ten mass squads," Hux corrects distantly. He's staring off into space and trying to figure out if the Supreme Leader is threatening him with another injury, not paying proper attention.
"What was that, General?" Snoke asks, sharp.
"Ten mass squads lost before Lord Ren could put a stop to it, Supreme Leader," Hux says. Squares his shoulders. Resolutely ignores the way Ren's shoulders have gone back into a hunched position. "One whole division, sir."
Snoke hums. Tilts his head. "And you say your supplies are being ransacked by the Resistance?"
Hux's jaw clenches of its own accord. "Yes, sir. They apparently have the intelligence to know the Finalizer's route, so they take out whichever shipment is furthest from us at any time."
"And are your injuries interfering with your own response time, General?" Snoke asks. Smiles slowly. Tilts his head to one side. "What when you are refusing to make use of other options."
Hux really doesn't like it when Snoke smiles. It makes the hairs at the back of his neck stand up. And he is absolutely certain at this time that he's being threatened, so all he manages is to swallow loudly and say, "Sir?"
"Perhaps you would be more comfortable with the avenues open to you if you were to partake of some... research?"
Hux nods, slow. "I am always open to research, Sir. On what topic would you suggest?"
Snoke's smile gets wider. He leans back in his throne, makes a dismissive gesture towards Ren.
"Report to me when you finally get a shipment. Not a moment sooner, Ren."
Ren's shoulders are hunched so high they graze the bottom edge of his helmet.
A faint popping of a circuit switching off, and Snoke vanishes from the holochamber. The atmosphere shimmers and retakes the dimensions and appearance of a rather large conference room instead of some cavernous abode.
Hux slowly turns to face Ren. The Knight persists in staring straight ahead.
"Was he talking about--"
"I asked for guidance," Ren interrupts.
Hux will not be deterred. "Guidance about your--"
"It's Force related."
Hux stares at him in abject, horrified wonder.
. . .
He hasn't a clue what they'll do if she falls backwards. Both of them will lunge at her, he supposes.
"X-Wings and Corellian Freighters with upgraded cannons," GO-6660 slurs. Her helmet has long fallen from her arms to the floor. Petty Officer Hnung holds it gently, stands two steps back and to the left of Phasma. "The trawler held for a while, sir. But the shields can't take that much barrage. That much barrage was bad."
Hux clenches his jaw. Damn Hosnian remnants are funding these attacks, if the freighters are involved. He really wishes he'd been more adamant about only destroying the Senate planet when Starkiller was primed. At the very least his head wouldn't hurt as much right now. Mainly because Snoke would have killed him for insubordination.
"You did well, Pilot," Hux says. He inclines his head, tries to meet the concussed vision of the much smaller woman. "Your squad's loss is not in vein, and I commend your quick thinking in such a dire situation."
GO-6660 begins to cry. Big heaping sobs that run ugly down her face. Hux jerks his head at Petty Officer Hnung, steps back so the other woman can begin to escort the pilot to the closest branch of medical. The gunner from the same TIE is already there ensconced in bacta, a last ditch attempt to salvage his life and hopefully three of the four ruined limbs he now possesses.
"What's the Order's line on this trend?" Phasma asks, quietly. Her helmet came off as soon as the pilot was brought in, she fiddles with the edges of it with her eyes downcast.
Hux shakes his head. He doesn't have an answer for her.
Phasma sighs and replaces her helmet. Another officer approaches Hux, shoulders meek and eyes darting around before he comes to attention and salutes.
Hux waves the Officer at ease. His uniform marks him as a mere Petty Officer, but the way the man clutches at his datapad, Hux assumes ambitions are at play.
The officer coughs into the datapad. Hux glances at Phasma, who is back to being stoic in her full-helmeted glory.
"Sir, I'm Roget from down on deck four," the Petty Officer begins, "And Sir, Lord Ren has ordered something called 'pheromone treatment'. He also put in a for a case of self-adhering bandages and a set of educational holorecords of suspicious origin that appear to be about vivisection."
Hux wills himself to not react.
"Is there a point here, Petty Officer?"
Roget's mouth drops open to gape at him. "Uh, Sir. The lads down in Requisitions are just wondering if this is Force Business, sir."
He pretends to mull this over. "Hmm. Yes."
Phasma shifts her weight from one foot to the other, cants her helmeted head to the side presumably to stare at him in his disgrace.
"Yes, it is Force Business, sir? Or yes, you heard the Petty Officer?"
Hux once again wills himself to not react. He doesn't know if he's winning or losing this game of impassivity he's playing, but he'll be damned if he concedes defeat.
"Yes," he says, steps away from the Officer and Phasma in favour of peering over the shoulder of an officer running the RADAR screen.
A murmur of Phasma's vocoder sends the Petty Officer packing, then she clunks away to her side of the bridge for the shift. Hux's shoulders slowly relax; not completely, but enough. A headache is throbbing behind his left eye. He is not pleased.
But then again, neither is the officer manning the RADAR station who now has a Commanding Officer peering over his shoulder.
. . .
Naturally, a crumbling girder off the cargo shuttle choses to snap and fall onto Hux's left leg in appreciation of his attendance.
Hux manages to not shriek in terror when the thing hits him, though he can't help but become annoyed as stormtroopers mill about wringing their hands while he stretches out his leg as per instructions from the summoned medroid.
"Nothing broken, sir," the medroid drones. It's not the same one he had last time, this one is much more solemn and efficient. "Please rest it to resist strain and further injury. When we have thirty two gallons of bacta free, we can heal the injury."
"I don't need bacta, I need a bloody proximity alarm system," Hux grumbles, allows the closest officer to help him back onto his feet.
Petty Officer Hnung coughs out a laugh, then quickly smooths her face back into passivity with wide eyes and a chewed lip. Hux quirks an eyebrow at her, which she avoids by ducking her head.
"I heard yelling," Ren says. He's standing in front of Hux, how in bloody hell did he get here so quietly? Hux looks around the hold for boxes large enough for Ren to have hidden behind and totally misses Hnung being dismissed so Ren can escort him from the hold.
"This one won't be so easy to heal," Ren says. He's got an arm around Hux's middle, Hux's right arm across his shoulders, and Hux has to fight to not use his free hand to grab at a passing trooper so he can demand saving.
"No worse than the gut slice," Hux says, prim and proper. Then he stumbles and Ren has to drag him for two metres before he gets his feet back under him. Any dignity he may have had this morning has clearly abandoned him in favour of greener pastures. Or a Tarkin.
"I can fix this if you'll consent," Ren says. He drags Hux into an alcove in the hall, a slim door opens to a droid repair bay and he slides them both inside. The door remains open, casting light against the steely death-glares of dormant machinery and riotous bundles of rubber tubing.
Ren releases Hux, then continues, "Take off your pants."
Hux leans against a stack of spider droids made for ventilation work. One of the spindly legs pokes into his side, he doesn't care. "Absolutely not."
Ren turns and bangs his fist into the wall. Judging by the shadows from the ill-placed lighting, the wall is now dented. Ren's hand seems no worse for the wear. He whirls back and looms over Hux to snarl, "You want scientific proof of this?"
Hux absolutely does not hunch his shoulders and rear back, though his lizard brain is screaming in a rather high-pitched fashion for him to do so. He peels his lips back in a snarl to make up for it.
"Purity Conduit leavings are high in protein and thyrotropin-releasing hormone!" Ren says. He gesticulates wildly, which Hux watches with great wariness. "It keeps you awake! It's healthy! And when combined with the Force it heals your wounds!"
Hux blinks. "Are there many Force Users who participated in this case study, or did you just wantonly ejaculate onto injured sentients, I wonder."
Ren freezes, hands held high. He begins to shake, just a little. It's a full-body tremor, and Hux associates it with destroyed consoles.
Lucky him, they're in a room full of fairly expensive droids they have no immediate way to replace.
"The Force is all-powerful!" Ren shouts. A couple of passing stormtroopers run past like death is at their heels. "And when the Force is combined with a purity conduit, it's health benefits are miraculous! It would heal you at death's door!"
Hux shakes his head, looks to the ceiling for possible helpful devices to remove him from this situation of threatened necrophilia. Ren growls and flicks his hand near the back of the room.
A stack of floor sweeper droids topple over near the back of the room. It creates a great big crash that neither Hux nor Ren pay the slightest bit of attention to.
"Take off your pants or prepare to feed the plants," Ren says, menacingly.
Hux tilts his head to one side. "Did you just rhyme?"
"...no." Ren's helmet-front cuts to the side as he looks away. His shoulders hitch a fraction. Hux narrows his eyes, because he bloody well did rhyme and he knows it.
"What did I say about this rhyming proclivity of yours, Lord Ren?" Hux asks, silky smooth and letting the words slither out between his teeth. He pushes off from the spider droids and staggers the half-step needed to get right up close to Ren.
"I'm not injured right now, you are," Ren mumbles, the vocoder crackling and humming for punctuation, "You can't push me around, I can push you around."
Hux calmly places one hand on the front of Ren's helmet. His hand neatly covers the visor part, his fingers spread across the brow and the top. Then he pushes, gently but firm.
Ren takes a step back, staggers really, right into the wall. Hux releases him and limps elsewhere. Anywhere. Away.
. . .
Phasma isn't here to act as Hux's buffer this time, because he's in the men's public lav on deck five and she's... elsewhere.
"Sir, Lord Ren has issued another requisition form."
Hux continues to wash his hands carefully, methodically. He leans his bad hip on the sink to take his weight.
"A commanding officer requisitioning things, fancy that," he says, droll.
Roget is not deterred. He brandishes his ever present datapad at Hux. "Sir, he's ordering certain nebulous items from Coruscant."
Hux carefully dries his hands under the blower. He hates this piece of machinery, does nothing but make noise and make his headache worse. Not that it wasn't already worse; the glare of the lights in this lav is truly atrocious and should be classified as a wartime atrocity. They could hold interrogations in here, they're that bright and menacing.
His stomach has been feeling queasy, which could be lingering effects from the acid burn on his abdomen or radiating nausea from the pain in his head. He's been toying with the idea of stopping at medical to seek something preventative just in case it's that cold that's been running rampant through the Finalizer as of late, but he knows that he won't follow through. Don't want to take away from the needed supplies before their next restock is scheduled, after all.
Petty Officer Roget coughs, sounds a bit uncomfortable. Hux realises he's been standing in front of an inactive blower and staring at a wall for who knows how long. Brilliant. Now he has to devote energy to remembering what this asinine conversation was about.
"Let me guess, a full set of those holovids from Glookar the self-help guru?" he asks, finally.
"No, sir." Roget's face takes on a twinge. "There are no holovids in the order."
Hux tries to step around the Petty Officer, but the man refuses to budge. He'd have to squeeze around him if he wanted to flee, and that is so absolutely below him that he'd sooner strangle the man with a braided rope made from toilet paper than drop so low.
"Are you impeding your Commanding Officer from continuing his duties, Petty Officer?" Hux asks pleasantly enough.
That gets Roget to swallow, at least. Unfortunately, he still doesn't move. "Sir, he ordered instruments."
Hux exhales heavily through his nose. "Of destruction? Then it's Force Business, leave him to it."
Roget shakes his head violently. "Rectal destruction, sir."
"...it's Force Business," Hux desperately insists.
Roget is still shaking his head. It is quite possible he is unable to stop.
"Sir, he's using First Order funds to purchase instruments!"
"And I said that it's Force Business and not to be trifled with," Hux snaps. How this man ever got to be a representative of an entire department is beyond Hux, but it is time for this tomfoolery to stop. "Leave it."
The Petty Officer finally shifts to the side, in a despairing sag rather than a genuine deferment to Hux's need to pass. It doesn't matter, he makes use of it anyway.
Hux sweeps from the room, leaving Officer Roget fully traumatised behind him in the lav. The dimmer hallway lights make no difference on the state of the shooting pain behind his eyes, and it irritates him.
. . .
How fresh supplies taken from an unnamed Outer Rim planet on a two day trip to the Finalizer directly can be just rotten enough to poison the total thirty thousand population is beyond Hux's comprehension. He suspects the Resistance is behind it, however. He always suspects the Resistance.
He spends a lot of time seething as each new diminished personnel report comes in to the Bridge, rages internally about underhanded tricks and wishing he still had Starkiller so he could just kill them. He'd be acting in mercy, really. No starvation. No mass vomiting.
Nearly a full cycle after the waves of sickness took a full hold, Phasma turns to him where they're filling in on RADAR and asks, her skin pale and sullen, "Why aren't you puking with the rest of us?"
She sounds resentful, so he tries to be as honest as he can.
"I don't eat when I'm stressed."
Her eyes narrow. "You're always stressed," she croaks, then leaves with great dignity and poise to the nearest trash receptacle to puke for the third time in as many hours.
He finally leaves the Bridge to sleep in his quarters when Phasma is feeling better. He'd nap in a chair to be available, but he needs to escape the wet eyes of all the remaining officers forced to stay on their posts rather than hide in a corner to vomit in peace. He's exhausted, he's gotten only a handful of hours of sleep across the entire four cycles, and he's ready to drop.
The doors to his quarters slides open after the quick biometric scan. He makes to step inside, stops cold, stares.
Ren is sitting on the couch along the far wall, helmet off and staring at his ungloved hands. There appears to be a powerpoint presentation lit on the wallscreen behind him. An animated cartoon sperm with googly eyes wiggles against a pastel wash background covered in a sea of sparkles.
Hux takes all of this in, then waves a hand across the scanner to close the door again, leaving him still in the hall. He breathes heavy through clenched teeth, then goes back the way he came, in the direction of medical.
He'll requisition a cot to nap on. He's only supposed to be out for a couple of hours anyway, it's not a massive inconvenience. Not at all.
. . .
The officers have been hit the worst, incidentally; only a fifth of them are functional enough to fill their posts. Hux cannot help but be paranoid enough to assume that the Resistance wanted it to be that way.
Delta shift ends on the Bridge and Hux staggers away from the Engine Console he's been monitoring, leaves the bridge without so much as a by-your-leave. Mitaka is already there, he knows he's to take charge, so Hux just isn't going to bother with formalities.
There's a conference room on Deck Two that he hasn't crashed in yet and hasn't been scheduled for use since well before the epidemic hit. He forces himself to stand tall in the middle of the turbolift, not lean against the wall, because otherwise he'll pass out right inside the damn thing and won't that be a surprise to the next travelling stormtrooper.
Patrols are thin on this part of the ship. Hux nods acknowledgement to three separate pairs of troopers who salute as he passes, then he turns a corner and has to catch himself on the wall when he stops cold at the sight of Lord Kylo Ren, sans helmet, standing right outside the conference room Hux was heading for.
Ren glares at a passing patrol. They skitter forward quickly, half-arsed salutes at Hux tossed at their own helmets as they flee the area. Hux closes his eyes, counts to ten, then opens them again to see that Ren hasn't moved, is just standing there holding a mug and watching Hux.
Hux sighs, approaches. He's lost the will to force the limp away, so he drags his bad leg and braces himself on the wall as he creeps forward. It's time to call it a day. It's time to just let the Galaxy destroy itself in chaos, he doesn't care anymore.
Ren gestures with one hand at Hux's leg when he comes to a stop a metre away. "You're still injured."
Hux straightens his spine to better glare at Ren eye-to-eye.
"It takes a surplus of bacta to heal food poisoning of such an extreme degree. My injuries are nothing compared to the entire division that collectively vomited until they each suffered from esophageal prolapse."
Ren's face goes slack in wonder, mouth open and eyes glazed. Hux can't stand the sight of it, reminds him of drugs and and shouting mothers.
"What?" he snaps.
"You've reverted to propaganda," Ren says, sounds awed. "It's fascinating."
"I had to do a bloody speech about it on the intranet and you're giving me trouble about fucking propaganda?" Hux slaps a hand against the wall, recoils at the sting of it.
Ren's lips quirk. Hux feels a tendril of annoyance at the pleased expression.
"You're also devolving your speech patterns and reactions to irritants," Ren says. "Master said you'd get like this."
Annoyance gives way to alarm. Hux checks around them for eavesdroppers, finds no one being obvious about it, then leans in and gets his face right up into Ren's.
"You've been talking to Snoke about me? Again? I'm doing a superlative job in the face of these recent disasters and so have my crew. If you've been going behind my back with trifles, Ren, I don't--"
Ren presses the mug into Hux's hands. Hux automatically takes it, jerks away from Ren's face, snaps his mouth shut hard, with a click.
"I asked the Supreme Leader for guidance, like I always do. Enjoy your naptime."
Ren stoops down to pick his helmet off the floor and shoves it back onto his head as he strides away. A cluster of troopers scatter in all directions to get out of his path.
Hux stands there holding a mug of broth, if his nose is to be believed, watching Ren go. The damn mug is the perfect temperature though his gloves. The steam is soothing where it wafts up to caress his bared throat.
He is now confused to all fucking hell.
. . .
It's better than paging through the missives from the First Order Politicos back in the Core Worlds. Hux has reams of platitudes and false promises saved to his datapad, all sent since the ambush that started this downward spiral. Honestly, after Senator Trib's ripping use of a fishing metaphor in regards to Hux's troopers possibly starving to death if more supplies aren't allotted soon, he's considering going AWOL with the entire ship with the intent to "acquire" a self-sustaining resort planet and letting the First Order choke on it.
Phasma clears her throat before she begins to speak. The crackle of the vocoder makes his head hurt worse, he grits his teeth against it.
"Sir, the Requisitions Department has contacted me."
He doesn't want to know about this. "It's Force Business."
"Orders from the Supreme Leader," he says, types a calculation into the spreadsheet without much thought, clicks frantically though the prompts created from that one little action. "Very hush-hush."
"Sir, he just received a shipment of Bothan laceworks."
The casing of the mouse creaks under his grip. "The Resistance won't know what hit them."
"Hux," she all but snarls.
He finally leans back from the terminal and presses the heel of one hand to his left eye. He tries to glare up at Phasma with the right eye, fails miserably because of course she has the high ground here, they both know it.
"What do you want me to say?" he absolutely does not groan.
"I want you to do what you've always done; I want you to take him in hand and get him to stop."
Hux nearly flinches.
"I'm not touching him. I never touch him."
Phasma just stands there and waits. Hux can't figure out if her not bringing up how Hux is the only one Ren allows to tend to his medical care now is a good thing or not.
He tries again, "Force business."
Phasma sighs. The vocoder makes the exhale sound highly disapproving. Then she turns and leaves the bridge without waiting to be dismissed.
Hux decides to be magnanimous and not take issue with the breech in protocol. Mainly because he can't deal with much more verbal clobbering today.
. . .
Hux doesn't have it in him to order them back to work. He's given in to watching the feed himself, though he tries to be discreet by having the video broadcast soundlessly on his datapad so he can pretend to get work done as he watches.
That middling-sized freighter holds shipments of medicine, food, weapons, ammo, and most importantly, soap. It's no wonder the entire staff of approximately thirty thousand is collectively crapping their pants over its appearance.
A scheduled array of beeps sound out from the speakers under the various screens. The entire room breathes a collective sigh of relief. Petty Officer Hnung steps away from her console with a datapad in her hands, which she offers to Hux.
"Manifest to be acknowledged, Sir," she says, teary-eyed.
Hux rips off his righthand glove, shoves it into his pocket, then takes the datapad. There's a new pair of those on board the freighter, he can finally discard these ruined, scuffed things he's had to make do with.
A quick skim shows that the manifest is in order to Hux's best recollection. He presses his thumb over the signature box at the bottom, a soft ping sounds, and the troopers in the cargo hold move en mass to unload, as shown on the screens.
He hands Hnung the datapad back. She inclines her head and returns to her console. The officers begin to cheer and hug each other, someone turns on some jaunty First Order-approved party music. Hux begins to remove his lefthand glove while he rolls his eyes. He'll humour them, but that doesn't mean he's going to join in on the inanity.
Ren comes onto the Bridge just at the officers are onto their fifth "hip hip hooray." He looks about as startled at the display as a man wearing a thickset helmet can ever look as such.
Hux smirks at Ren's obvious discomfort as he sidesteps a droid that came into the Bridge with Ren. His injured leg quakes at the shift in his weight, so he holds out a hand to the nearest console, a shoddy repair job that isn't back in use yet. The empty chair placed before the console bangs into his sore knee, he ends up leaning on the equipment more than he intended and growls.
The rough edge of where he braces himself cuts into his palm. A quick lean away, and he hisses, shakes his hand out automatically, frowns at the blood welling up in the cut. It's a flesh wound, won't even need more than a smear of bacta and some patience, but it's a pisser all the same.
He looks up to see that Ren is on his way to him, one hand out, and Hux can't help it anymore, he snarls and chucks the broken chair at him.
"Don't you start with that again, damnit!" Hux roars. The party music cuts off and the Bridge goes silent.
Ren sweeps to the side, out of the flight path of the chair. He takes another step in advancement and Hux scurries around the console to put the bulk of the obstruction between them.
Ren's vocoder crackles, which is normally enough to put a common soldier in a fit of hysterics. Luckily for Hux, he's no common soldier.
"You're being stubborn," Ren growls. "You're denying yourself more than you're denying me right now."
"No, fairly certain I'm just denying you," Hux snarls back. His hand leaves a smear of blood on the brushed steel of the console, he winces at the unhygenic sight of it.
"You're going to regret this!" Ren shouts. Then with everyone watching he stomps out of the Bridge. The doors remain open in his wake, all the better to let the sounds of destruction tumble down the hall as he gets further away.
All heads are staring at Hux now. Petty Officer Hnung is closest to him, so he whirls on her for convenience's sake. "What?" he snarls.
"Sir, we're just surprised, sir," she stammers. "Normally after you argue a lot you both leave."
Hux stares at her for a moment without comprehension, then it dawns on him. Understanding dawns upon his consciousness like the breaking of a new light in the galaxy, the creation of a new star, the implosion of his brilliant Starkiller.
His officers think he and Ren are fucking.
Oh. Oh, fucking fantastic.
"Phasma," he barks, which the Captain languidly tilts her helmeted head back in her chair to side-eye him through the visor. Her troopers are doing the heavy lifting, she knows it, and he's going to have to let her get away with the disrespect again, damnit. "You have the bridge."
He spins on his heels and stalks from the room, hands clasped behind his back and executing perfect military posture. As soon as the doors are closed and he sees there are no troopers about, he abandons the entire farce and starts to run down the hall in the direction of the crashes.
The noises lead him to one of the closed cafeterias. There are droids hurrying around the room trying to clean the mess as Ren makes it, to no great success. Hux watches for a moment, clenches his fists, feels the sharp pain in his palm and hisses in rage. Then he hurriedly wades through the mess directly to Ren.
He grabs Ren by the arm to stop him from kicking over another table and almost falls over himself.
"Will you stop being so bloody-minded?!" he shouts.
Ren stops flailing his arms around now that Hux is holding onto him. He's still quivering with an ill-kept temper tantrum, Hux can feel the thrumming under his hands.
"You glory in this unnecessary suffering of yours," Ren growls, "You glory in it!"
Hux bares his teeth at Ren's stupid helmet. "Like this Dark Side you subscribe to doesn't have a bit of unnecessary suffering of its own? We're in the business of subjugation now, Ren, suffering is an essential part of the work requirements."
"We're getting bacta!"
"What is this perverse focus on bacta?" Hux asks, rolls his eyes. "You don't use it! You wreck important negotiations with your lack of bacta use!"
"You can heal yourself now. No more limping!"
Hux releases Ren's arm, tries to shuffle back without displaying said limp now that it's the topic of discussion. "I won't bother, it's almost gone anyway. Time heals and all that."
Ren laces his fingers together and hooks them around the back of his neck. He looks like he's trying to put himself into a wrestling lock right there in the midst of the eatery's destruction. "I could have healed you at the start," Ren whines.
Hux crosses his arms and eyes Ren's belt warily.
"I don't find a damn thing you say reassuring at this stage of our shared command, Ren. Especially not anything you might have to say about so-called healing."
Ren releases the stranglehold he has on his own neck and dramatically slumps down onto the lone chair left standing in this part of the room. A herd of droids sweep in from the wall to begin to lever one of the tables back onto its legs.
"I just want to help," Ren says, vocoder whirring noisily. Hux distantly wonders what he could possibly be doing to his voice that would cause that much interference to the mechanism. "Supreme Leader said it was all right when I told him," Ren continue, "Why don't you agree?"
Hux winces at Snoke's title. The last thing he wants to have in a null set together in his head is Snoke and Ren's penis. "Providing insight on why you suddenly have an altruistic streak regarding my welfare might help."
The droids beep in victory as the table is righted. Ren removes his helmet as they twirl around in victory, then slams it down onto the tabletop. One side of the legs break under the force of it and the entire thing collapses again.
Angry beeping fills the room. Ren clenches his hands into his sweaty hair and glares up at Hux.
"You let my mother live, all right?" he snarls.
Hux watches the droids skitter and screech at their hard work being ruined. "What?"
"That's why I want to help," Ren says. He shakes a fist in Hux's direction without looking at him. "You let my mother live."
Hux takes a moment to consider this blatant lie.
"Well, next time I have the opportunity, I'll just have the vicious wench executed cleanly and then you won't have reason to act like a lunatic upon my person or my ship."
Hux makes to stalk out in a fury, but he has to climb over broken furniture and skirt some unstable heaps of cooking equipment on his way to the door so for a dramatic exit there's definitely something lacking.
When he's almost out of the room, Ren calls after him.
"I was lying! Just so you know!"
Hux wills himself not to react. No turning back to shake his fist, no muttered curses, no stomping back to Ren for the express purpose of planting his boot squarely in the centre of Ren's gormless face.
Instead, he just grinds his teeth all the way back to the Bridge.
. . .
The phrase "purity conduit" reappears in Hux's frontal lobe, dances across his eyes in a mocking manner. He squashes it viciously down, tightens his grip on the stack of repair bills and upcoming supply runs he has to intercept before the Resistance does.
It's either finish reviewing these or get some sleep, no time to mull over an insane man's fantasies. He has to juggle things to give the troops the resources they need to function properly, while still conserving resources while the ill are recovering.
His gimpy leg twinges as he shifts in his seat. He grimaces, gives in and props it up on a hard-sided box full of broken datapad parts he wants to have a look at repairing, wills the muscle to stop knotting up and distracting him.
The door to his quarters chime, then slide open before he can accept or reject the caller. Kylo Ren strides in, full regalia, robes sweeping along. He comes to a stop three paces from Hux's desk, and Hux decides to ignore the absolute shit out of him.
"There's a surplus of bacta," Ren says, points at Hux's leg.
Hux hums, pages through another report of food levels, all of them saying what he already knows. "The muscle just knots up now, it will heal on its own. Fascinating fact that might interest you: humans in particular were designed to be self-repairing long before technology came along."
Ren's boots make horrible scuffing noises as he paces. Hux winces at the noise.
"Why will you not let me help you?" Ren growls. He sounds frustrated even with the vocoder doing its job.
Hux's focus is still on the datapad, but he keeps track of Ren's movements in the corner of his eye. "Why do you want to help me so much, that's the pertinent question here. And please don't cite your mother this time."
Ren comes to a stop on the floorspace on the other side of Hux's desk. He throws his hands into the hair, makes grasping motions at some nebulous concept he's apparently desperate to catch.
"I don't like seeing you hurt!"
Hux grits his teeth, closes one report and opens another.
"I know this Force thing you hold so dear is an entirely different animal than those pesky items called "provable science" and "results-oriented focus groups", but I'm tired and I have a headache and this will have to wait for later if you're going to be so vague about it."
Ren freezes mid-air-grasp.
"Orgasms help with migraines. Is your headache at migraine level?"
"Not yet," Hux growls.
The spare chair creaks under Ren's weight as he plunks himself down onto it. He takes off his helmet, holds it in his lap with the face of it in Hux's direction, places his massive hands over his knees.
"I can wait."
Hux drops the datapad onto the desk, covers his eyes with both hands, and struggles not to groan.