Actions

Work Header

The Slightest Shift In The Weather

Work Text:

The first time they met, Hux had only just stepped down from a personnel transport and back onto the well-worn deck of the Inquisitor. Arguing with the diminutive woman at his side, still in full field gear with rifle under one arm, he woefully managed not to notice the two men standing silent at the foot of the ramp.

“Are you sure this is him?” The voice, low and rolling, seemed to stumble over the beginnings of harsh laughter. “He looks like a Wookiee. Just a very short one.”

Hux’s attention immediately snapped upward, eyes turned from the now-silent lieutenant still at his side. A moment later, and Hux drew to full halt before the speaker: a hooded figure in black, looming at the side of Hux’s commanding officer. But even with the cowl and the low light both warring for complete concealment of the stranger’s features, Hux could clearly make out the amusement in those large dark eyes. This was a child’s face, on the body of a broad and tall man.

And he was laughing at him.

But Hux had not been raised by savages – nor by Wookiees, for that matter. Clearing his throat, even as he felt the rake of the man’s eyes over his full ghillie suit, Hux turned instead to Colonel Natic.

For his part, the old Imperial only appeared faintly amused by the exchange playing out before him. “Major Hux.” One hand, gnarled and well-riddled with age spots, indicated his left. “This is Kylo Ren, one of the Knights of Ren under the personal command of the Supreme Leader.”

“Sir.” With the salute smartly executed, despite the leaves and vines wrapped about arm and head, Hux then turned his cool gaze upon the other man. He had no such salute for one outside his own Order. “Knight Ren.”

The dark head tilted, his wide lips twitching about a smirk he did not quite indulge in. “We are all Knights Ren,” he offered, hovering very close to something Hux might have called generosity in anybody else. “Call me Kylo.”

His own frown he didn’t bother to hide. “This isn’t a singular meeting?”

Kylo’s odd features, mismatched and almost misshapen in his borrowed shadows, seemed to spasm; at his side, Colonel Natic gave a low cough. “Not at all, Major.” And he turned, nodded his grey head towards the corridor that would take them all deeper into the starship. “If you will accompany me?”

Three steps behind the higher officer, Hux fell into easy military pace – and that despite the suit, as ridiculous here as it had been practical in the rainforest environment of the moon below. The sniper rifle also limited his movement, though its familiar weight was not something he would surrender easily. The slide of dark eyes over him also might have disturbed the rhythm of a lesser man. Hux kept his head forward and his pace even. Only when they had reached the colonel’s office, with the door firmly closed behind them, did he speak again.

“Sir.” At Natic’s raised eyebrow, he indicated the damned ghillie suit. “If I might?”

The silver head inclined, his lips in that small strange smile that rarely left his gaunt features. “Go ahead, Major.”

But first, Hux set the blaster rifle down with a care that could have been labelled as something close to paternal. Only then did he strip away the ghillie suit, its heavy fabric modified for the dense jungle terrain in which they had been most recently hunting. After folding it as neatly as its considerable bulk would permit, he placed it beside the stock of the rifle and turned back to the colonel. This left him in only a sleeveless undershirt, slim-fitting trousers, and the knee-high boots so similar to those of his actual parade uniform. Even so, he snapped off a brisk salute to Natic, and knew it would not have been out of place at inspection.

“Sir.” His hand dropped, and both laced at the small of his back. “Apologies for my lack of proper attire.”

The faint amusement upon the colonel’s face was nothing new, for all it had always left Hux oddly uncomfortable; for a man whose glory days had been in the old Empire, Natic rarely seemed to miss them. “We had thought to give you some time to debrief and decompress from your most recent mission,” he said, mild and simple, “but Knight Kylo here insisted he meet you in the hangar.”

Hux paused, just long enough for his unspoken displeasure to voice itself. “Oh?”

He should not have spoken so, but Natic did not appear to care, instead indicating the bright display of a nearby holo. “There is a mission for you both,” he said, and before Hux could focus upon the data there, “Hux, you are to eliminate the chosen target. Knight Kylo is to accompany you as flanker.”

A frown hovered about his lips for a moment before he permitted it to turn them firmly downward. “I find Lieutenant Tohru more than adequate to the task.”

Whatever the knight’s reaction was, Hux did not see it; he had focused alone on the long, slow blink of the colonel. “Lieutenant Tohru will not be on this mission,” he corrected, languid enough to be nearly bored, and Hux gripped his gloved hands tighter still behind his back.

“The knight replaces her?”

Leaning back, tilting his head, Colonel Natic allowed himself a brief glance sideways; Hux involuntarily followed the movement, saw that Kylo Ren stood still as stone. “It is to be only you and the knight.”

“Sir?”

“Knight Kylo brings this mission from Leader Snoke.” When his face turned again, it caught the light of the holo, and the unreadable orders scrolling across its screen. “He wishes it completed at the earliest convenience.”

A flicker sideways, and Hux saw the knight still had not moved. When Hux looked back to Natic, he found the man had apparently not bothered to check the same himself. “I see.”

And now the man leaned forward, hands laced tight together, the clipped Imperial accent strengthening as he fell into the quick military cadence of orders given. “I will forward the full details to you datapad through the usual encryption channels. Review them while en route, discuss as necessary with Knight Kylo, and complete the mission as outlined.” One hand, uncommonly ungloved, rose to wriggle long fingers at the rifle propped so carefully against the far wall. “Your usual weapon should be sufficient. The transport is waiting in the port hangar. Knight Kylo is aware of the necessary specifics.”

His stomach felt to have performed an entirely non-regulation barrel roll. Not a moment of it showed upon his face, though Hux’s fingers were so tightly laced as to be near-bloodless beneath soft leather. “We are to leave immediately?”

The Colonel smiled, sleepy and self-satisfied. “Yes.”

It took a long moment before he could clear his throat enough to speak. “I have not yet made my report about the most recent mission,” he began, very careful, but already Natic was waving such concerns away as if they were but insects buzzing in his ear, disturbing his afternoon nap.

“The transport time to your mission placement should be sufficient for you to write and submit one. It will be adequate until your return.”

With such thinned lips, he could not smile. But then, Natic would not be expecting it of him anyway. “Of course, sir.”

“While I very much doubt you will have questions about your orders, Knight Kylo has knowledge superior to my own and should be able to clarify most details.” Standing, now, Natic’s watery-pale eyes grew hard, watchful. “It would be better if you avoid communication with any First Order frequencies, encrypted or otherwise, for the duration of your deployment.”

The salute came swift, something he could have performed even in the deepest sleep. “Understood.”

“Happy hunting, Major.” His smile could not be called kind, even before it evaporated as he nodded to the other man, still silent at his side. “Knight Kylo.”

The ghillie suit, still too bulky for anything approaching dignity, folded awkward over his arms. The rifle he kept slung over one shoulder as he moved swift through the corridors. Even though he had no solid idea of where they were going, save for the lower decks and the hangars, Hux kept his head high and his eyes forward. He’d never had much liking for appearing less than perfect, save for when deep in the waiting for a shot.

But Hux garnered little attention, if any; in fact no-one they passed appeared to pay them the slightest heed at all. For his own part, Kylo himself appeared unfazed. The knight kept easy pace with Hux’s military cadence, hood still shadowing his features. He also held their silence though he guided them both to the port hangar.

Hux found it very quiet there, though perhaps it should not have been a surprise given they were deep in the last shift the day cycle. Kylo moved them past the skeleton crew as though they did not exist, an unmarked and very small transport ship his clear destination. It was no First Order ship, either by design or by designation. Even the most desperate of smugglers likely would have turned their nose up at such a wreck, and certainly it would hardly be the preference of civilians with anything approaching actual money.

Hux bit back on several choice observations of his own as he surveyed the wretched thing, tone remarkably even as he said instead, “Is this a deep cover operation?”

“In a manner of speaking.” The releasing hydraulics announced the lowering of the ramp, an unhappy puff of air compared to the mighty hiss of any decently maintained craft. And Kylo grinned, one long arm indicating the way forward. “After you, Major.”

But Hux hesitated. All he had to his name now, besides the clothes he wore, were his blaster rifle and the damned ghillie suit. “I have other gear I should fetch.”

“Everything has been provided for you.” And the corner of his mouth turned upward, just enough. “Though you probably won’t need that specific suit, where we are going.”

“But I—”

“Everything has been provided for you.” A warning note entered his words now, a low and regular pulse not unlike the demand of an emergency siren. “You were not selected on a whim, Major. Your preferences and particulars have been taken into account.”

His skin warmed with irritation, and – embarrassment. The odd uncertainty of the situation was surely to blame; while Hux had known of the Knights before now, he had had never encountered one. Existing outside the military ranks, they had no known rules of engagement. He had never been opposed to improvisation, in principle, but this was not a scenario he had in any way prepared for.

Staring up into the opened maw of the ship, which he still had not stepped a single foot upon, Hux could not prevent his nose from screwing itself up in clear disgust. “Are you piloting this thing?”

“Yes.” One hand moved in an oddly courtly gesture, inviting him forward with easy mockery. “Unless you wish to?”

Any fool could have read the challenge in the knight’s voice – and certainly, a fool would have taken it. Hux only straightened his spine and looked the shadow-faced creature directly in those dark eyes. “I have reports to read and to file.” And then, with perfect grace, “You’re quite welcome to pilot instead, Knight Kylo.”

A smothered snort was all the answer he waited around to receive; Hux had already turned to enter the damned ship, arms filled yet with the rifle and the suit. It truly was a sad little thing: a small crew berthing dominated the middle, with cargo and engine bays behind and below. The cockpit lay ahead, Kylo pushing past to move in its direction.

Hux lingered behind long enough to secure the rifle in a locker. The suit he pressed around it for cushioning, given he hadn’t even been permitted time to fetch its proper casing. But a brief onceover of the other lockers yielded treasure enough in cleaning and recharge tools, a stillsuit, and other such needful things. It seemed the knight had indeed prepared for a sniper of his calibre upon this mission.

“Major.” His voice carried oddly across the space between them, low and resonant in the way of current skipping across a high wire. “We will be launching now.”

The faint scowl smoothed out as Hux proceeded forward; all cadets learned young to school their features to perfect blandness, no matter the thoughts behind. For his own part Kylo had folded his tall body into the ratty little pilot’s chair. Though the hood remained pulled up over his head, he’d wedged a headset beneath it, clearly at ease where he had placed himself.

With brow furrowed, Hux found himself pausing on the threshold. When Kylo paid him not a whit of attention, Hux rolled his eyes, and silently took his own place in the co-pilot’s chair. No doubt Kylo would have little use for him there, if his deft movements over the instrument panel were any indication. Yet Hux had no particular desire to sit further back in the bays meant for flight engineer and navigator. Looking forward, he glanced instead through the transparisteel cockpit windows, found only the near-stillness of the hangar beyond. Rumbling engines stirred unhappily beneath him, and with a tone somewhat petulant. The vessel no doubt was as old as she looked.

“Are we cleared for take off?”

Kylo didn’t turn his head. “Presumably.”

Presumably?” The echo was promptly lost in the lifting roar of engines opening to increased throttle. The ship gave an almighty jerk as it lurched upward, but Hux suspected that had more to do with its non-illustrious pedigree than the pilot; Kylo’s gloved hands held firm over the controls. The faint furrow in his brow of earlier began to deepen, though the ship steadied even as he banked her to one side, coming around to line up with the run-in to the hangar exit.

Which was still closed.

“Kylo—”

“Hush.” A ghost of a grin crept across those shadowed features. Hux had never felt so strongly the urge to reach over and smack someone across the face.

And Kylo grinned wider now, as if Hux had spoken the thought aloud. “No, not right now. Maybe later. I’m working.”

His own eyes widened, tongue half-tangled about some sharp rejoinder. Then, it didn’t matter. Kylo hit sharp acceleration with a suicidal ease, and the blast doors irised open at what felt the very last second. Only by sheer force of will did Hux not clench his eyes tightly shut as they careened out into the black. As they pulled further away the roar of the engines dimmed in the vacuum of space, only the internal thrumming left behind as a dull echo in ringing ears.

Very carefully, and very quietly, he willed his hands to relax their white-knuckled grip upon the co-pilot’s seat. “We didn’t have clearance,” Hux observed, mild enough. Kylo, eyes still forward, gave a light snort; his smile, if that’s what it had actually been, had since vanished.

“We didn’t require their clearance.”

“Well.” His disgust shone clear, even as his heart refused to immediately return to a more seemly slow beat.” Welcome to the Knights of Ren, I suppose.”

“You’re not a knight.” But the sharp sulkiness of the words soon took on a tone far closer to mockery. “But we can pretend. If that makes it any easier.”

The pure oddity of him hurt Hux’s head. Already he was undoing the harness, rising from the seat even though Kylo had not yet pushed them to hyperspace. “I have work to do.”Hux didn’t look back to see what Kylo made of his exit, heard only his flat reply.

“If you insist, Major.”

Despite the rickety nature of the ship – Hux had to wonder what backwater trading post planetoid it had been scavenged from, or if the knights just had some odd preference for such incognito travel; judging by Kylo’s attire, Hux doubted such subtlety was their usual modus operandi – it flew relatively evenly. It proved easy enough to cross back to the living quarters, retrieving the datapad from where he’d stowed it in the ghillie suit upon leaving the transport. That felt a lifetime ago, the mission itself even longer – though both were scarcely an hour in the past, by the chrono.

The brief shudder of the miserable hull heralded their jump to lightspeed a moment later. Glancing up, Hux allowed himself a moment to stare at the smudge of stars across the small, utilitarian viewport of the living quarters. It hardly provided a worldclass view, given the limited field of vision and the scratched, pock-marked surface. But even having spent the vast majority of his life on ageing starships and their support vessels, Hux often felt a strange flutter in his stomach whenever he saw their stark beauty in this sharpened way.

Turning back to his datapad, Hux located the most recent message from the colonel. A simple enough statement of purpose awaited: their target was of some political significance, and was to be eliminated while at his private backwater summerhouse. They would gain passage through a nearby tradeport, the logistics of which were to be managed by Kylo’s “unique skills,” a wording that made Hux’s frown grow all the deeper. Once they had docked Kylo would take them to their pre-prepared hide, where they would wait for nightfall, and for the man to take one of his favoured evening walks. There they would take the target, wait until daybreak, and then return to the Inquisitor.

“Unique skills,” Hux mouthed, again, and ran a hand back through his hair with sudden cold pique. Presumably the phrase referred to the Force; all those enlisted in the Order were quite aware Snoke had great skill in the area, and that his Knights presumably did too. But such mysticism proved of little relevance to the day-to-day functioning of the Order. Hux himself had learned very little about it – the result both of the standard disdain amongst the officers, and the fact he himself had never seen the need, given the near-extinction of Kylo’s kind. Certainly he not expected to be shut away in a strange little ship with one of the knights on a mission as sudden as this one.

He concentrated first upon the variables he did understand. The basic principles of the task were easily enough absorbed. Once he had finished there would be more than enough time to clean and prepare his favoured weapon, before liaising with Kylo to gain a better understanding of Kylo’s own tasks.

But first, Hux had other matters to attend to. He stood from the table with a fierce stretch, the datapad already falling to hibernation; his back gave a low pop, and he groaned very quietly at the pull of tired muscles. It had been a short mission, but the humid air had been an unkind mistress, even with a climate controlled ghillie suit.

Glancing about, Hux saw the small berths, and frowned. The small shuttle presumably had a sonic shower in the same location, though before he checked he moved again to the footlockers he had so briefly explored earlier. There he located trousers and a long-sleeved shirt in his own standard size. Much as they could hardly replace the immaculate lines of his uniform, Hux took them and retreated. Emerging in an efficient few minutes, as refreshed as such facilities would allow, he set about sustenance next. With ration bars and a hot cup of tea to hand, Hux returned to his datapad and set to work again.

Perhaps halfway through his task a looming shadow disturbed his light. When he moved, with a faint tsk of annoyance, it only followed. Glancing up, frowning, Hux found himself face to face with the hooded figure of Kylo Ren.

“You know,” he said in that odd voice of his, somehow wrong in its cadence and clause emphasis, “I didn’t think you would actually write that report.”

Hux met his gaze with even self-possession. “I have finished with the mission brief,” he said, short and steady. “It is needful.”

Like a dread figure from some half-remembered nightmare of childhood, Kylo inched closer. “You haven’t discussed anything of the mission with me.”

“There’s time enough, when I have finished my report.”

Strangely, it was Kylo who looked away first. His gaze flickered sideways to where the smudged waves of hyperspace moved outside their ship – an alarming prospect, if one bothered to remember quite how dinky the damned thing was. And yet Kylo seemed elsewhere; his dark eyes caught the elongated light, rendering them something more stormy and grey.

“Your mission was a success, then?”

With a snort, Hux looked back down to his work. Kylo had interrupted him mid-sentence. He’d quite lost his train of thought, now. “Would you permit yourself to be partnered with somebody who typically does not succeed at their missions?”

A faint chuckle was his reward, the sound oddly hoarse and grating; it could not help but remind him of the over-sized corvids who had lurked in the gardens beyond his nursery as a child. “A major.” The words came marvelling, quiet in their thoughtful ridicule. “And yet, also a sniper out amongst the fray.”

Hux’s lips had thinned, but he did not look up, nor take the bait with anything but mild irritation. “This surprises you?”

“I think it’s curious to see an officer out in the field.”

“Well, I am a field officer.” Now he did glance up, hands folded together before his chin, eyes as cold as the vacuum beyond their thin walls. “But to answer the question you so clumsily never asked: I do have command duties. I even perform them, likely more often than you appear to imagine.” Releasing his tight grip, Hux’s eyes moved back to the paragraph Kylo had now quite ruined beyond repair. He would have to start over again. “But I do have a very particular skillset,” he added as he frowned, “and even with rank advancement I am occasionally asked to participate in certain missions.”

“Which is how we come to be together.”

“So it would seem.”

It should have been the end of the conversational. Certainly Kylo answered with only a thoughtful hum, very nearly tuneless. And then the peculiar man slid into the seat opposite him, halfway around the rounded table. Pointedly, Hux did not look up, though the holopad’s small keyboard didn’t really allow him to type in a way that would communicate his annoyance at having gained an audience. And with that, Kylo’s hand fell flat upon the table, palm-open and as loud as powder shot.

“What if I wish to talk now?” Before Hux could formulate a reply, he added with sulky victory, “You can’t send that report, anyway. Snoke’s orders are that we are to fly under the radar in every sense. Our comms are severely limited.”

Hux shifted down the page, pursed his lips, and began to backspace through an entire paragraph he now deemed worthless to the narrative. “It still needs to be completed.”

“You could do it on the way home.”

“I would rather it be fresh in my mind.”

But far be it from a Knight of Ren to be reasonable, or so Hux supposed; with a flick of Kylo’s fingers from across the table, the datapad went dead. Hux’s own fingers still shifted, pausing a full ten seconds after the screen had disappeared.

And then he could only stare, caught between his original train of thought and a new dawning horror. It was one thing to know that the man likely possessed power of such illogical origins. It was quite another to see it in action.

Then when he swallowed, his throat scratchy and complaining like a bantha plowing through desert sands. “I do hope you remembered to save before closing that down.”

A light snicker gave him no comfort. “Your files are just where you left them.”

Staring at the screen did not bring it back to life any more than repeatedly pressing its power button did. “That sounds like a lie.”

“Have no fear, Major – your precious report will come to no harm from me.”

With a sudden huff of irritation, Hux rose, crossed the floor to the small galley across the way. Much as he’d rather have just punched the man in his shadowed strange face, he did not wish to compromise a mission that appeared to have been handed down by the Supreme Leader himself. And so he busied himself about the hot water, allowing the rising scent of steeping tea to lull him back to some semblance of calm.

Yet when he turned back, mug held between cold hands, the shock of it quite ruined whatever hard-earned equilibrium he had just clawed back.

“Oh.” He blinked once, twice, and then grimaced. “So the hood does come down?”

From beneath the dark cloud of his hair, Kylo tilted his head; Hux had guessed his age at early twenties, but with the light upon him now, for a brief moment it was as if he looked upon a sulky teenager. “You thought it didn’t?”

Very careful, now, Hux picked his way across the room, slid back into his original place. His tea he kept firm between his hands, eyes flicking again to the dead screen of the datapad. “I just noticed you kept it up the whole time you were onboard the Inquisitor. At least, when I saw you, it was always up.”

“I prefer not to be seen.”

“That would be difficult.” At the slight downturning of Kylo’s lips, wide and overly generous as they were, Hux barely repressed an eye roll. “You’re very…striking. Especially amongst officers and ‘troopers.”

A low snort, but from the way Kylo’s gaze briefly moved down over the tattered robes he wore, he took Hux’s point. “I have skills at being…unnoticed, shall we say?”

“That would be useful in this line of work, one should think.”

“Well, I became accustomed to the sensation of being…unnoticed…as a child.” He glanced up now, eyes very dark. “Then, when I was old enough, I weaponised it.”

For all a cold frisson ghosted over the back of his neck, as if five fingers had moved briefly there, Hux remained still in his seat. “Is that why they partnered us?”

“It’s a high priority mission with emphasis on low local impact.” And then he rolled his own eyes, the brief heaviness of the air between them disappearing as suddenly as it had come. “At least, in terms of our own personal effect on things.”

His tone grew edgy. “I read the dossier.” And then, before Kylo could speak, “They want him dead. But they don’t want the Order associated with the hit.”

A raised eyebrow, and Kylo leaned forward on the table, chin cupped by one gloved hand. “You don’t like this idea?”

Though he found himself leaning backward, Hux didn’t know why; in such a stance, Kylo again resembled nothing so much as an overgrown child. “My liking the idea has nothing to do with its validity.”

“You don’t like it.” He said this with clear satisfaction, though seemingly from his surety rather than because he in any way agreed with the sentiment. “Why is that?” he asked, sudden; his eyes had taken on that uncomfortable gleam again, like dark stormclouds building up electric charge. “Don’t worry, Major. I’m not going to tattle-tale.”

Never mind that he looked entirely to be the sort who very much would. Still Hux tilted his head, thoughtful as he searched for an answer that would be candid, if not necessarily complete.

“I’m not a dishonest man, by nature. Lies have their uses, of course, but I find the truth is much more appealing and often far more useful.”

“But we’re not lying about who did it,” Kylo noted. “We are simply not taking the credit.” And, again, Hux felt the weight of the knight’s regard as though it were a blade laid across his throat. “You prefer to take your credit where it is due, Major?”

His tongue moved out, briefly passed over dry lips. “The First Order deserves respect.”

“But surely you can see where association with a death of this magnitude would be disadvantageous, at this time.”

Though he had noticed it from the beginning, Hux could note now that there truly was something very strange about the way Kylo spoke. It came through in the painfully perfect order of the words, the oddity of his forced accent. It was not that Hux thought Basic to be his second or third language. It came across more as though Kylo was simply not accustomed to speaking out loud.

Clearing his throat, Hux now himself spoke with slow care. “As I said, I can see the logic in it.”

Narrowing his dark eyes now, Kylo wore an odd expression that seemed to lurch between victory and frank suspicion. “You want the galaxy to know of you.”

“What?”

“The Order.” The correction was a lazy thing, his dark eyes fathomless against the star-smeared background of the transparisteel. “You want the galaxy to know of the First Order. And its growing might.”

Hux shifted upon the lumpy cushions, feet pressed very flat against the floor. “Well, it is inevitable that they know,” he said, light as the ice that waited with its deepest bulk hidden beneath the surface.  “But yes. The time for skulking in shadows is coming to its end.”

“Says the man who just emerged from the shadows with his kills, and will return to them within the cycle for the same.”

It stung, and Hux could not keep the edge from his voice. “And I will be promoted again, soon enough. And there will come a point where I cannot do these missions any longer.” His smile had become a bladed thing, silver and cold. “You would begrudge me my fun while I can still take it?”

An actual smile moved across his ungainly features: unpractised, yet strangely honest. It didn’t suit him at all. “I told Snoke I wasn’t interested in this mission.”

Hux did not miss the way he spoke the name without epithet. “Oh?”

“He told me I was ignorant of the greater picture.” The smile broadened, grew only stranger yet; Hux was reminded of the way light twisted around the unseen gravitational anomalies of a black hole. “He actually may have been right.”

“From what I understand, he often is.”

Standing, now, Kylo glanced down; the datapad flickered back to life. “Finish your report, Major. We can talk about logistics when you’re done.”

As Kylo retreated back to the cockpit, Hux’s eyes first trailed after him, then held onto the void he left in his wake. Such indulgence did not last long. Prioritisation had always been a particular strength of his. Therefore, with the easy dismissal of having better things to do, Hux bent his head to task and thought of nothing else until it was done.

 

*****

 

He managed a brief nap later, but before that had come an even briefer conversation with Kylo. He had furnished Hux little further detail, and had seemed careless enough about such matters even as he insisted that he knew what would be needful when they were on the ground. When Hux tried to clarify terrain and routes, Kylo had waved it off as unnecessary data; Hux was the shooter, Kylo was the flanker. He ought to concentrate on his shot and leave the rest to him.

“But what if we are separated?”

He’d blinked those great dark eyes; the smile, when it came, was too sharp to be pleasant. “I’m not going to leave you behind, Major,” he said, and for a moment Hux had been quite certain Kylo was going to touch him, was going to lay a falsely genial hand on shoulder or thigh. Instead he had just tilted his odd head, all humour bleeding suddenly from the pale flesh. “You’re my responsibility, now.” Then, leaning close, as if they were something like confidants: “And Master Snoke would be very upset with me, should I leave my toys out in the rain after the game is finished.”

It had been hardly comforting then, and no more so now. Hux had still pulled up the data on atmospheric conditions and the geographical location to begin his shot calculations, and then eventually had taken to one of the small bunks for the first sleep he’d bothered with in nearly two complete day cycles.

When he did awaken, he found no sign of Kylo Ren. He was hardly concerned, for all the tiny proportions of the shuttle ought to have made it frankly impossible for him to disappear so completely. Instead he attended to his brief ablutions in the refresher, and then took a rapid breakfast of hot tea and more of the interminable ration bars.

With these small necessaries satisfied, Hux turned to the lockers to locate what he wanted. Back in the bunkroom he began the slide into the close-knit fabric, slipping in the shunts with long-practised movements. It was hardly a process he enjoyed, but familiarity made the task simple enough, and he admired the efficiency of the thing’s design. There were even occasions in his usual duties where such a suit would have been useful, though he’d never considered actually wearing one outside of a mission of this particular type.

He had already prepared his weapon. Still he went over it again now, then disassembling it to component pieces before stowing the entire rifle neatly inside an innocuous leather satchel. Hux could restore it to full functionality in less than a minute. The much smaller blaster pistol at his hip would however be first resort in the event of ambush or attack, the vibroblade in his boot the next. And even with no weapon to hand, Hux would still have teeth and nails and the wiry strength of a body conditioned to warfare at all levels, both physical and mental.

In another locker, he found civilian clothing to wear over the stillsuit; he had pulled up its hood to check the fit when the voice came from at his back, veering terribly close to amazement.

“What are you wearing?”

Hux scowled, checking the seal, before wincing as it caught an unruly strand of hair. “Standard long-op gear.” And when he angled himself back, his own gaze turned equally as sceptical. “You look like you dragged that outfit out of a garbage compactor.”

And this smile was a strange and lovely thing. “Maybe I did.”

Looking away, sudden heat creeping down his spine, Hux slipped his fingers beneath the tight fabric and readjusted the lay of his hair; it had taken too well to being washed earlier, now far too soft and light for his tastes. “I didn’t realise the Knights of Ren were such ascetics,” he muttered, and then gave Kylo an arch look. “Or so lacking in funds. I could have loaned you a few credits.”

With a smirk, Kylo opened his arms; it only revealed more of the perfectly abominable state of his dress. He could have quite easily passed as a down-on-his-luck Outer Rim smuggler, out on some disreputable run. “We are in deep cover.”

“Fair enough.” Turning again, Hux continued to adjust the hood, keeping all his curses internal as it continued to tangle in his damned hair. Pulling it slightly further forward, he tried again; from behind he heard a faint sound of disappointment.

“Are you actually going to wear it like that?” And then, before Hux could say a word, “I can’t see your hair.”

“Which is the point, as it were.”

That should have been the end of it, and yet a moment later, Kylo spoke again. “You have very unusual hair.”

 “Yes, and I’ve heard every imaginable insult about it over the last twenty-eight years,” Hux replied, edgy and fingers briefly fumbling; with a curse, he yanked them free, glared at his hands. “And you’ll excuse me if I decline to hear any of them over again.”

“I like it.”

He turned too quick, almost overbalancing as his eyes narrowed. But Kylo had vanished, presumably in the direction of the cockpit. With a faint frown, Hux yanked the hood down, and then outright scowled to feel the way his hair puffed up again. Running a hand back through it once more, he shouldered the rifle bag, and returned himself to the front.

Kylo had thankfully strapped himself into the pilot’s chair, attention quite caught up in the checks he needed to run before assuming manual control of the vessel once more. His hands, over-large and yet surprisingly delicate in all movements, were knowing and sure over the controls; age and overuse had rendered most dull, the labels worn and unreadable, though it seemed not to matter to Kylo. Yet Hux was struck more by the fact that he no longer wore the leather gloves of earlier. It was an unusual sight, in the Order. He found himself watching with unabashed curiosity, and startled when Kylo spoke without even glancing back.

“You hardly ever take yours off.”

His fingers tightened over the satchel’s strap. “What?”

“Your gloves.” Kylo reached overhead, flicked a switch; on his board, several warning lights dimmed to low glow. “At the meeting with the Colonel. You were scarcely dressed at all, but you kept your gloves on.”

He pressed his lips together, felt the creak of leather between his fingers. “Observant, aren’t you.”

“It was part of my training.” He looked up then, but only for a moment; with the hyperspace still gleaming beyond the transparisteel, his eyes appeared briefly but entirely white. “And it will be useful enough to you, in time.”

Hux had no real idea what Kylo was getting at. But it wasn’t like it mattered. Stowing the rifle bag in the locker beneath his seat, he then set about adjusting the harness to his own comfort, and then looked steadfastly forward. Still Kylo’s hands moved in deft purpose, caught always from the corner of his eye.

 The drop out of hyperspace came quick, an uncomfortable lurch that made Hux regret even what little food he’d bothered with; again, he had to admit with sour admiration it was more the ship than what Kylo was doing with it. Pushing aside the vestiges of nausea, he frowned instead at the view offered up before him. This was a vaguely familiar system on the Outer Rim, though not one he had been to before. A small shipping hub upon the surface of one of several mineral-rich moons provided export facilities for various mining operations; Hux had already begun to consider whether they might prove useful holdings for the Order, when they began their inevitable expansion in search of new materials.

As Kylo began to ease the ship into the correct approach trajectory for the largest of the moons, Hux gave its backdrop an incurious stare: a great gas giant, looped with silvery rings. He then returned his gaze to their destination, noting from the navcomm that they would be landing at a fairly high latitude. The brief had already mentioned that it had come into the colder season, though the heavy snows of winter were yet some time off by the data Hux had accessed.

“A strange place for a getaway,” he murmured, quite unintentionally; Kylo’s own reply almost sounded amused.

“You would prefer somewhere warmer? More exotic?”

“No.”

Not even such a short answer could deter Kylo Ren, it seemed. “Then perhaps you have something in common with our mark.” His odd words turned sly. “That won’t interfere with our mission, will it?”

“Don’t be an idiot.”

A slow, stilting chuckle answered him first; like the others before it, sounded rusty, little-used. “There are few people alive who would think to call a Knight of Ren an idiot.”

Tapping one long finger upon his armrest, Hux kept his own smirk to himself, and his eyes upon the gas giant. “Well, I was always considered stand-out amongst my peers.”

“Of that, I have no doubt.” One hand rose, gestured with light ease between them.  “There is the port.”

Hux still had no idea if piloting was a standard skill of a knight, but even if it wasn’t, Kylo again proved adequate to the task. It seemed especially impressive given the state of the shuttle; Hux wasn’t entirely convinced from the dying sounds of engine shutdown that it would actually start again. The gleaming eyes of an approaching port agent said much the same thing. As they descended to greet her from the lowered ramp, Hux could see her datapad was already populated with the details of repair and maintenance crews that she would obviously take a cut from.

Kylo waved it all aside; his speech had turned suddenly, oddly, light and easy. “We’re not worried about the boat, we’re only here long enough to grab our shipment and get. Arti Fernha sold it to me.”

Hux kept it quiet as Kylo went through the further motions of the docking procedures, though his skin prickled as Kylo’s voice grew smoother, his actions more animated. It could not but be faintly disturbing, like seeing a marionette’s strings taken up by another, unknown, puppeteer.

A moment later, and Kylo motioned him forward. As the ramp hissed closed at his back Hux shouldered his satchel, voice low. “Are they likely to believe we need the entire day to pick up such a small shipment?”

In answer Kylo ducked his head close, voice scarcely above a conspiratorial whisper; his breath fluttered warm against Hux’s cheek, his own grimace deepening with every moment they spent in such proximity. “Anyone who knows Art would believe it. The man moves about as quickly as a sleeping Hutt after being taken down by a bantha trank.”

Leaning back, Hux still remained grudgingly close enough that their voices could ripple between them in low conversation. “You know this ‘Art’ then?”

“Unfortunately.” Again, one hand moved out, waved careless at the bustling streets they had emerged into. “This port’s known for its cantinas and fine whoring. At least fifty percent of their business is rumoured to come from people waiting for Art to get around to giving them their goods.”

Frowning as the crowd grew denser, pulling the satchel in closer to his body, Hux kept a watchful wary eye on the market street that sprawled before them in never-ending maze. “How is it that he still has any customers?”

“They are very fine goods.” Kylo moved in a manner utterly at odds to the way he’d skulked about the Inquisitor; the long legs flashed in his leather trousers, strides wide, lanky, uncaring. Indeed he now moved like a man who knew exactly where he wished to go. “Don’t worry about the details, Hux. We’ll go set up shop somewhere and then we’ll go to the agreed area.”

His step tripped, just a moment. Kylo glanced over, this smile a mischievous thing that only made the circumstances all that more surreal.

“What?” Again, Kylo gave him no time to respond; in the fading daylight of the little moon, his features seemed softened, flowing together in a way the harsh lights of a starship could never allow. “It’s your name, isn’t it? And here, names are all we need.”

His smile was thin, his step again even and quick. Someone of his kind would never know what it had cost him already, to earn Major. “Of course,” he said, all pleasant purpose, and then, “Kylo.”

But Kylo didn’t even appear to notice the faint venom of it. “We’re not going to bother with drinking,” he said, and one hand closed tight about his upper arm. Before Hux could wrench free, Kylo propelled him sideways, as if he were more contraband than companion. The smoky interior of the low building had his eyes watery, even as he drew a sharp breath, revelled in the burn of it. It earned him the faintest of strange looks from Kylo, but a moment later he made casually for what appeared to be a reception desk, Hux still very much involuntarily in tow.

“Lani.” This grin was very toothy, and yet oddly made Kylo appear older than any previous estimate Hux had made at his age. “How much for the night, for me and my friend here?”

The woman, a wizened little thing with silver-black hair and sharp blue eyes, squinted up at Kylo as if she’d seen him before, and wasn’t entirely sure she cared to again. “Art?”

“Art.” The stretch he gave then was an exaggerated thing, the hem of his loose shirt pulling up enough to reveal just a hint of flat stomach, lightly haired from navel to waistband. Hux’s gaze dropped pointedly to the floor, though he felt the madam’s eyes fall on him. “And we’ve been off-planet for three day cycles and this one’s getting out of hand.” Hux’s head snapped up; it earned him a little pat on the hair, Kylo dropping the woman a knowing wink. “Those little shuttle bunks were not built for men of our size.”

“Finally found someone willing to put up with your nonsense, then?” Even as Kylo flicked her a chit, she reached out with a keycard held between gnarled fingers. “Our beds are much better. Too bad you never want to get to know any of our girls.” Those sharp eyes raked him again, like nails dug into flesh. “Although that maybe explains it.”

“We all have our dirty little secrets, Lani,” he said with cheerful abandon, and then made it even worse with an alarmingly saucy wink. “Let’s go, Red.”

But the persona of the bawdy smuggler faded almost as immediately as it had come. Kylo didn’t even look up after they’d entered their room once the door had been locked firmly at their backs. Hux, however, set his satchel upon the bed and didn’t bother to keep the blistering tone from his voice.

“Was that even necessary?”

“Entirely.” From somewhere in the depths of his long sweeping coat, Kylo emerged with a holopad. After pushing a series of buttons, he propped it up upon the bed, and turned back towards the door.

With a frown, Hux leaned in closer to the holopad. “What is that?” he asked, then almost immediately lurched backward; the projection had resolved itself into two men, young and virile, coming together in a decidedly lascivious cinch.

And a glance upward met with a grin lit from deep inside, mockery edging too terrible close to malice. “I wouldn’t have picked you for a virgin.”

Hux only waved him away, even as he turned resolutely from the beginnings of the inevitable pornography behind him. “You’re going to leave that running all night?”

“Just in case anyone comes and presses their ear to the door.” One of those too-large hands palmed over the lock. Even with such an obstructed view, Hux could make out the screech of twisting wires, the faint sulphurous smell of something burning in abject misery. And this particular smile, amongst Ren’s terrifying arsenal of them, was that of a child learning how to space an unwanted infant sibling out an airlock.

“And they won’t be joining us,” Kylo announced with clear glee as he raised his hand from the ruined mechanics. Hux, who generally thought only in absolutes, promptly thought of the extreme obvious.

“And how are we to leave?”

Already he’d moved over the other wall, long and gangly limbs far more muscular than Hux had earlier assumed, if the abdomen was anything to go by. And the mischief in Kylo’s eyes was bright, a dark hole turned suddenly inside out. “What’s the matter, Major? Never snuck out a window before?”

One exaggerated wink later, and Kylo disappeared out the window with an easy grace that completely contradicted the harsh realities of gravity. With his own bag firmly crossed over his shoulders, Hux leaned out into the encroaching dark of the “hotel’s” side alley; he scowled, but felt no surprise at the complete lack of Kylo Ren visible below. Rolling his eyes – dramatics were the pulpit, not for missions – Hux reached for the nearest ladder, and only then did he climb neatly down into the alley.

“Nicely done.”

Had he been a lesser person, he would have turned about and decked the idiot in his oversized nose. As it was, he leaned sharply away from the voice murmuring into his ear, and checked again the safety of his blaster. “Remember, I’m on a field mission right this moment. As we speak, in fact. Therefore I am capable of more than just sitting behind a desk.”

“Yes. I got quite the fine view of your little rear end as you came down.” Already Kylo moved for the entrance of the alley and the shifting sea of sentients beyond. “It looks to be good for much more than just sitting on.”

Had Kylo still been in range, Hux might have found something to throw at the back of his idiot head. Instead he pulled up the looser of his two hoods, cursing as he moved to catch up. Coming then to Kylo’s side, Hux found them winding through the vendor-crowded streets, the air rich and warm with the scent of a thousand foods Hux likely couldn’t name. The relentless creep of descending night had been broken by the glow of signs and lights, illuminating streets and faces in kaleidoscope colour; behind them, voices rose and fell as they carolled their wares, or invited guests to table and bar.

Eyes fixed firmly ahead, Kylo moved with a purpose that parted the crush before him. Clearly it was not his first time here, though Hux would doubt any previous trips had been on First Order business; the extreme secrecy of their presence and objective said as much, especially as such classification would remain even after it had been achieved. Hux was quite aware he had himself been selected for very particular reasons. Kylo’s own selection had apparently been about more than just his peculiar abilities with the Force.

As the market thinned at its trailing edges, Kylo ducked into a narrow alley: one so dark and narrow Hux himself would have kept walking, had Kylo not taken him briefly about the wrist and pulled him in deep. But he had no time to complain of it; Kylo almost immediately dropped him again, leaving Hux to move awkwardly through the darkness left in his wake. On the other side, Kylo was a featureless shadow of black and grey, beckoning him forward. This part of the shambling city was far quieter, crouched in a grim gloom that came more from squalor and poverty than just the moon’s own axial turn.

A few twists and turns later, and Kylo stopped again, this time before a much wider alley. Towards its narrowing end, Hux found Kylo bent over a great shapeless mass, covered with a thick and grimy tarpaulin. What emerged from beneath had even his breath drawing sharply: a speeder. And a fine and modern thing at that, sleek and very dark, and utterly at odds with the decrepit shuttle that had conveyed them this far.

He could not help but reach out a hand, gentling it over the cold chrome of her side. “You’re driving again, I suppose?”

He hadn’t meant to convey that low wistfulness; it had Kylo turning, and even in the dark his voice sounded almost kind. “Would you like to? I can give you directions.” And then of course he ruined it, voice too warm against his cheek when he added, “It’s noisy out in the open, though. I’d have to whisper them in your ear.”

With hands firmly about the strap of his satchel, Hux rolled his eyes. Again. They were already beginning to hurt from how often he’d done it around him. “After you, Kylo.”

The knight took them high into the hills that surrounded the little port town, propped up behind the edge of the seemingly endless lake. Even on approach Hux had had to admire Kylo’s skill; down here, he could see even more clearly now that the mountains only grew sharper teeth as they heightened.

And here, away from the port itself, Hux could also now begin to see the appeal of the place. While the mountains were no doubt half-hollowed out by the mining operations, the ore did not appear to be refined or smelted nearby. It would instead be shipped elsewhere for the processing that would cause the worst pollution, leaving this area strangely lovely. The bowl of stars that was the sky, inverted over them, glowed only clearer as they left the brilliant rabble of the port behind and below.

Kylo used no lights, and the trail had no illumination of its own. Yet the speeder coursed along at high speed in this darkness, the engine near-silent against the hush of night in the country. And then, even for one who had spent so much time in memory upon starships and space stations, Hux felt for the first time the sensation of flying. With head titled back, the sky rushing past, Hux let the wind ruin his hair, and found he did not care. Kylo presumably was using his Force abilities for navigation. It was an idiot thing to put faith in.

But this is the mission.

A dull sense of loss, strange and entirely unwarranted, settled low in his gut when Kylo pulled off the trail, easing the speeder through semi-dense forest and into a small grove. There, he dismounted, held a hand out. “We walk, from here.”

Hux ignored it, leaping down with hands still firmly cradling his weapon. “What’s with the look?” he asked, low-pitched to stymy the carry of clear night air. “You think I can’t cope with a little hike in the woods?”

Though he snorted, Hux thought he caught the vaguest beginnings of a smile when Kylo turned away. It pleased him. While friendship itself tended to be a waste of time and resources, camaraderie amongst soldiers was an invaluable thing, particularly for those in his own chosen specialisation. Even with a partner clearly as oddly socialised as Kylo Ren.

As they walked, Hux shifted his focus from Kylo to the movement of his own body, and the sounds and shapes of their surroundings. Kylo guided them upon a pathless route, and Hux fell wordless into place behind him. Already it proved steep and densely forested terrain, but he’d spent many planetside expeditions from the starship academies training for such climbs. Any trained sniper was accustomed to hides far from the beaten track, and Hux did not fall behind.

The hide itself proved another clear sign of earlier preparation, likely on Kylo’s part; enough ground had been cleared for Hux to lie down full length, and its terminus was the end of a rock outcropping. Hux ignored the great fall he would have taken had he gone over, instead squinting forward into the darkness to see that their angle and height gave them perfect and unobstructed view: a low long building, with airy wide arcades all around. It seemed every light blazed inside, lighting it up as a beacon, the great house reflected almost perfectly in the still waters of the lake that ran up to its wide front.

“Poor security,” Hux murmured, voice lowered and not at all breathless as he frowned down at where their mark would appear.

“Not really.” But Kylo did not elaborate. Already he appeared to be settling himself in for a long wait, sitting down with his back to one of the great trees that loomed over them. Hux looked to his own work. The rifle, assembled in moments, would have gleamed even in the low light, had he not dulled its casing; it was always tedious to clean it later, but he would restore her when their task was complete. Then, slightly rolling the pack and what little remained within, Hux pushed it close to the cliff’s edge, and there balanced its barrel.

“The target will arrive as scheduled.”

Hux, eyes already focused only upon the details provided by the scope, answered clipped and quick. “Noted.”

“Do you need my assistance?”

“You’re my flanker, not my spotter.” He spoke barely at audible levels when he added, “I can take this part from here.”

That low, odd laugh, again; there followed a ruffle of his clothing, and then further silence. Hux knew he ought to let it go, but he could not help but glance back. Kylo had now seated himself cross-legged, eyes closed, face turned upward. Even with the heavy canopy overhead, starlight still traced cool fingers over the faint translucence of his skin.

“Are you even paying attention?”

Hux had spoken sharper, louder than his training dictated. Kylo’s reply was barely a breath upon the wind. “Yes.”

The prickle over his skin managed to be cool, and yet somehow comforting. With a more natural shiver Hux returned to his scope, and with it the world that made sense. To his left lay his datapad, rich with all the information he could possibly require to take his shot. But at his right he kept a piece of flimsi, and a charcoal wedge. Even from his days in the academy, he had much preferred to work out his calculations this way. The shapes of it felt stronger and truer than anything pushed through the circuitry of the datapad.

Once done, the settings of the rifle tuned and turned, Hux settled down himself: upon his stomach, shoulders relaxed, both hands cradled about the body of his weapon. The stillsuit would take care of the crass needs of a human body. Everything else was his own. His breathing slowed, his heartbeat low and steady; besides that, he concerned himself only with the stillness of his fingers, the sharpened workings of his mind. And then his eyes remained always upon the place where his target would appear.

The rest, he was obliged to leave to Kylo – a kind of trust he was not naturally generous with. But Hux gave it over with an unexpected ease. The colonel would not waste a resource such as Hux. And even with an unknown like a Knight of Ren, it would be illogical to believe this some sort of test. It was only a mission. One that he would accomplish.

Soon.

The man enjoyed going out on his veranda, to observe the lake before him with a good drink in hand. Hux could not begrudge him that. It was a lovely enough view even from their chosen ridge; the rings of the gas giant curved across the sky, translucent and haunting, just dim enough to allow the shimmer of stars behind and around.

With his eyes always upon his mark, Hux carefully removed his glove, then pressed his fingerpad light over the coded trigger. He would let him smoke. He would let him finish. It was all part of the game, even as the endless repetition of calculation and observation and subsequent alteration slowed in his mind. These were all known quantities. He knew his target. He knew his shot. And Hux breathed in, began the count of heartbeat that would lead to the stilling of the one before him.

Fire.

It was not his own voice: too low, too odd by half. But it was right. Hux took his shot and below them, the man’s head vapourised in a puff of red and expanding white. The body took one more step forward, as if surprised; the fresh unlit cigarra dangled, as yet tangled in limp long fingers. Then his knees went, the entire body collapsing with a silent sigh. The screaming behind him spiralled upward, pulsing to match the sudden blare of alarm sirens within the great house.

“They’ll know where it came from,” Hux observed, clinical as the motions that had already dismantled his rifle. “We should move.”

“No.”

He turned, sharp. “What?”

Kylo said nothing, his eyes far darker than the night itself had any hope of being. It prickled down his spine, this sudden cold suspicion. The First Order had not wanted to take credit for this assassination, no – so perhaps instead, they would pin it on an officer with aspirations deemed too high and too reaching. They would name him sacrifice, for the Republic could not accuse the Order of breaking with the accords when they would exact brutal punishment upon one of their own. The job would be done, efficient and perfect, and by legal standards the order had not once broken the treaties they still used as smokescreen and diversion.

Hux’s hand slipped downward, reaching for the blaster at his hip. “Kylo—”

And then, he went very still. But it came of no wish of his own. And when Kylo came very close, his own long body stretched out on the ground at his side, Hux could not pull back from where he pressed to what felt every inch of him.

“Major,” he whispered, “Hush.”

Hux wished only to scream. But he had not been raised a savage, nor as a spoiled brat who would tantrum the moment things did not go as he wished. And in that silence he heard the voices: moving closer, already rising to the ridge.

“They’re coming.” He spoke through barely moving lips, realised Kylo had released whatever bizarre hold he’d taken him with. But even as his hand moved again to the familiar welcome bulk of his blaster, Hux held his current position, asked, “Where did they even come from?”

“Don’t panic, Major. It was not unexpected.”

Even as the tickle of those words against the shell of his ear made him want to squirm, Hux held himself utterly still. “I am not panicking,” he said, and he meant it; he would never had made major from the rifle corps if he was the type to lose his head in such situations. But his temper had him adding, “And what is that supposed to mean?”

Kylo’s eyes remained forward, as dark as the night he gazed deep into. “There was a particular reason I was asked to accompany you.”

“And what is that?”

Again, he pressed too close. Much as instinct and sheer bodily comfort shouted at him to pull away, Hux held still. He had his dignity, and he also had a great deal of sense. He also had a sneaking suspicion what Kylo would say before he did – and it would explain much about the curious lack of care Kylo had displayed towards security in their immediate vicinity.

“I can mask us,” he murmured, and Hux tightened his lips.

“Do we need to be so close?”

The chuckle came odd and lilting. “It’s not so strange,” he said, too soft. “You should be used to not being seen, Major.”

“Only when it is necessary.”

And still his mouth lurked too close to his ear, the breath warm, the words fit to vibrate through his skin. “It is necessary now.”

The voices, barking orders, drew closer still; within moments, lights raked over them, too bright to meet though Hux did not close his eyes. But even so, their strength made it hard to take detailed stock of the guards who had arrived: a half dozen, perhaps, all in dark fatigues and carrying weaponry that could have obliterated them both where they lay.

But there they lay, in the light, and Hux felt Kylo’s light laughter shiver down his stock-still spine.

“There’s nothing here,” said one, in clear disgust. “It’s been cleared as if they planned it, but how could they have done it? The patrols and surveillance would have picked it up long before now.”

“Well, where else could it have come from?”

At the impatience in that voice, the other turned cowed, uncertain. “We could check further along the ridge, sir.”

“Do so.”

This one, obviously the leader, remained behind as the first speaker took the rest of the team with him, save one. She spoke low and almost lazy; something in her voice reminded Hux of Colonel Natic, the kind of career soldier who remained in the ranks more from comfort than actual devotion to the cause.

“It’s not even as if we could guess who did it,” this female voice said. A moment later, with the flick of a lighter, the faint scent of smoke reached Hux’s own nose. “It’s not as if he were without enemies.”

The other man was a wound spring, his irritation flowing through the air with fierce lightning-crack grief. “But who knew he was here? Tonight?”

“Gerut. Calm down. We’ll find the bastards who did it.” The woman took a deep breath, blew out a long cloud of rich smoke. Hux’s own lips moved in yearning echo; it had been too long since his last. Taking another, she added with languid indulgence, “And then you can rend them, limb from limb.”

“But who else will push his accords through the Senate?” The man’s gloved hands were quick, ever-shifting over the stock of his weapon; such lazy trigger discipline had Hux biting his tongue, fighting back reprimands he should not have to give to even fresh cadets. Concentrating on what the man actually said proved far harder. “He had to fight them every step of the way,” the man was saying, and the woman scoffed again from within her cloud of smoke.

“He’s not the only one who worries,” she said. “Organa believed him.”

 Behind him, Kylo stiffened. And yet Hux could pay little attention to that, the conversation before him more interesting by the moment.

“But they say Organa is always jumping at Imperial shadows,” she observed, now, somewhere between exasperated and resigned. “He was her best ally.”

“But not the only one,” he replied, and here his voice strengthened, taking on that pompous self-righteous note so common amongst the Republican propaganda reels. It had never failed to turn Hux’s well-ordered stomach. “You can guarantee it was the First Order behind this. Cowardly bastards. Striking from shadows. You’d expect them to have arrogance enough to come at us head-on.”

Indignation rose in him, furious and fearless. But Hux lay still in silence – now with a large hand over his mouth, and another tight about his upper arm. Hux was no fool; he would not have broken cover, not for this. But in this silence he bubbled with irritation, and no real way of showing it – save, perhaps, through biting.

Don’t.

A telepathic thought: given in the same voice that had called him to war, when it had asked him to fire. And Hux’s brow furrowed, lips white and hands clenched to fists, even as something like amusement moved along the edges of his mind. But it was not his own. This was something different, something chaotic, prickling at the order he so constantly fought to create and maintain, to propagate and perfect.

Just think at me. I can hear it.

Hux kept his attention upon the two security personnel instead; they still talked, every mention of the Order a call to war in his hot blood.

They don’t understand our power.

He hadn’t meant to do that. Hadn’t meant to think at the man behind him. Major, Kylo replied, and his humour pulsed with a dark satisfaction that Hux could not help but lean in towards. Oh, Major. They will.

As the moments dragged on the security personnel fell largely silent, their comms bleeping only now and then with continued call-ins from the others on the mountainside. The woman chain-smoked, a fresh one lit as soon as the old one burned out. Hux could have driven his vibroblade through her throat just for that tease alone. But instead she drifted two steps too close, flicked the most recent butt from careless fingers. She’d gone as far down to the filter as an addict’s temperament demanded, but it had heat enough still. The burn of it against his bare hand had him flinching away, a half-breathed obscenity halted only by Kylo’s warm hand.

Stop.

Trembling with fury, Hux’s hand clenched tight over the handle of the blade. He didn’t want a blaster. He wanted blood. And Kylo’s warm skin pressed tighter against his own, the voice in his head so much richer and far lovelier than the one with which he spoke.

I can make her pay.

The woman had of course moved on to a new cigarra, lit and between her fingers and then between her lips, drawing deep. A moment later, she doubled over, cigarra falling to the ground, hands thrust up to her throat.

“Arelka?” The man’s voice was razor sharp, movements quick as he went to her side. “Arelka, are you all right?”

Gloved hands scrabbled at her throat, chest working in great whooping breaths as she tried desperately to draw air. Even in the low light, Hux could see it clearly: the fright in her wide eyes, reddening where the blood vessels had already begun to burst under the growing pressure.

It had been but moments, though for the unfortunate woman, Hux had no doubt it seemed closer to hours. Pitching forward now, she went down brutally hard on her hands and knees, gasping. The cigarra lay yet discarded, lit and smouldering at her side.

Arelka!”

This time, when she fought for a deep breath, it entered her lungs with unexpected force; she rocked back on her heels, went promptly into fierce coughing spasm. But even with her eyes streaming, head tossed back, hands fisted at her sides, Hux could see clearly the swallow of her throat, the opening movement of her chest. “Went…down the…wrong…way.” Already she staggered back to her feet, the redness in her face not just due to the choking fit she’d only just endured. “I’m fine.”

The dubious tone of the man’s voice really was a lovely thing, to Hux’s mind. “Honestly?”

“It’s this fucking place,” she added, her sentences regaining some real traction. With hand upon holstered weapon, she added with clear disgust, “It’s just…spooky.”

“What?”

“It feels wrong.” And Hux could hear the frustration beneath the fury, could almost sympathise with it. He’d have been embarrassed himself to admit to any sort of non-logical fear in such a place. “Look, if they were here, they’re gone now. Let’s regroup with the others.”

And even though Hux suspected the man was the one in technical charge, he asked the question as if her answer was the one that mattered. “Are you sure?”

When she replied, too quick, it was husky and hoarse and hateful. “I’m sure.” Already she had begun to move, not waiting for permission nor order. “We’re just wasting our time up here.”

When their movements and voices died away, Hux rose in perfect silence. It was accompanied by no attempt at restraint from Kylo, but then he had not been expecting it. Reaching for the still smouldering cigarra, he breathed in deep of the faint tendrils of smoke still rising from its bright burning end. Then it fell from his hand, crushed a moment later beneath the heavy heel of one boot.

“Not your brand?”

Ignoring the way Kylo again stood too close, Hux only snorted, turned away. “Corellian shit,” he muttered, and knelt down to reorder the satchel and its precious content. “That was a very Vader trick.”

“What?”

Something in the air had changed: had turned electric and heavy, as if a current had been sparked to life. Hux frowned, readjusted his gloves. “Choking that soldier, I mean. Old Imperial rumours say Darth Vader favoured a similar manoeuvre.” And now he turned, looked up at the looming silhouette, and felt no fear. “You really are filled with surprises.”

But whatever strange feeling the Sith’s name had invoked in Kylo had quite vanished. When he stepped forward, it was just a little, but just enough, to bring his face out of utter shadow. And he looked nothing if not curious. “You’ve never seen the Force at work before.”

Shouldering his bag and rising in one swift motion, Hux permitted himself a small shrug. “No.”

And Kylo’s lip curled, but from the dark of those impossible eyes Hux could not tell if it were prelude to smile or scowl. “So what do you think of it so far?”

Hux blinked. “Well, I’m not dead.”

And he chuckled, seemingly without humour, spoke again in the hushed whispers of those still upon enemy ground. “Come over here. If you stay close to me, it makes it easier.”

It was a strange feeling indeed, to sit so companionably close to such an odd creature, beneath the spreading dark branches of that great tree. All his muscles had filled with pinging energy, wanting to move, wanting to give over to motion and purpose.

After taking a successful shot, Hux was far more accustomed to an almost post-coital need to be still, half-slumbering in the pleasure of a successful mission until the extraction time. This would be different, it seemed -- and Hux was aware they could not return to the town until at least daybreak, though the mission brief had spoken of late morning. He had at least now a greater understanding of why, given the unseen security and Kylo’s evasion of it, not to mention the mysteriously bad business sense of the unseen Art.

“Major,” Kylo said, very quiet; already Hux’s eyes had fallen closed. Though he rarely gave over such control to even his usual team, it was no longer his concern. With his part of the mission now complete, and successful, he could pause a moment. Their retreat was Kylo’s responsibility.

“We should be quiet,” he said, sharp enough to be warning. At his side, Kylo snorted, but soon subsided into silence. Hux did not mind this: the strange liminal space of waiting. Given that his life aboard the star destroyer consisted of a schedule that emphasised action over reflection, he treasured these silences, never knowing what might rise within them. At his side, Kylo’s breath slowed, his body gone very still; given the nature of his abilities, Hux could only presume it some kind of meditation.

“You’re very calm.”

The voice floated between them, strange and yet clearly audible. Hux frowned. “I thought we were being quiet.”

“I like it.”

He had no answer for those small, soft words. For a moment, it seemed as though Kylo did not either. And then, in a way that seemed merely contrary of Hux’s earlier observed need for silence: “You don’t take calmatives. Medications to slow the heart and mind.”

Hux kept his eyes closed, his breath steady, and willed his hands not to form into fists. “No.”

“You never have.”

“I don’t need to.”

“No.” Kylo shifted, stilled once more. “No, you don’t.”

They lapsed again into silence. Hux supposed he could open his eyes, look to see what went on in the estate below. But he didn’t. Some part of him wondered why they simply hadn’t opened fire upon the ridge, razing it clean in the assumption that even so unfocused an attack might catch the culprits by chance.

But it is very beautiful. Up here. In the quiet.

“You can’t let it go.”

Startled, Hux turned his head, opened his eyes. “What?”

And Kylo stared back at him, head turned, lazy upon his own broad shoulder. “This.” One hand rose, indicated the ridge, the satchel, the distant flurry of discord and anger and grief by the lovely lake far below. “You enjoy it too much.” The edge of those generous lips quirked, terribly close to smiling. “You were made for this. Major.”

“I was raised to the First Order.”

And he shook his head, quiet and knowing. “And you’d give this up for high command.”

His mind prickled, uneasy and strange, as if under external scrutiny. “It’s the natural progression of an officer.”

The faint hum of disapproval had Hux snorting, turning away from those peculiar eyes of his. The Knights of Ren were not Sith, as far as Hux was aware of such mystical matters, and they certainly did not have the rumoured yellow eyes of that cursed order. Somehow the deep black of Kylo’s eyes disturbed him more, for all they caught the light and reflected it back at a brilliance greater than the light’s own.

 And Hux turned his own eyes instead to the sky, cool and clear and calm. The arching rings of the parent planet were not quite enough to dim the stars. And these were stars in an unfamiliar configuration, as seen from this sector, though Hux knew most systems to one degree or another.

Astronomy had been one of his favourite subjects at the academy. At times such as these, he could indulge to his mind’s content in lazy calculations, of projections of travel and distance. The cool night air chilled his skin even through the sniper suit, but he welcomed it against his face. The stars shimmered like pinpricks of white amongst a sea of black ice, contrasted sharply with the faint colour of distant planets. The arm of the galaxy could be seen as low white noise behind that rested upon its lovely faint curve.

“Your mind is very peaceful.”

Hux only just managed to not grind his teeth at the interruption, dreamlike and drowsing as it was. “Yours isn’t, obviously.”

“No. It’s not.”

The conversation ought to have ended there. And yet Hux had always been too curious for his own good, desirous of all information available, even when it was not about something he truly cared to know.

“You say you were sent to accompany me for a particular reason.”

“Yes.”

And for a long moment, he debated keeping the question to himself. But he did not.  “Could you not have done this alone?”

“Yes.”

Kylo’s answers, singular and without emotion, curled his fingers deep into his palms, nails biting skin even through the thick leather. “So why involve me?”

And Kylo half-rose, moved close enough that their faces were but moments from one another. “Because you have your areas of specialisation, and I have mine,” he said, low and rapid, dark eyes swallowing all light, holding Hux’s clear prisoner. “Because I am a knight and you are an officer, but we are both of the First Order.” And his voice turned low, cajoling. “It pleases Master Snoke that we should work together in this way.”

Hux wished for nothing more than to draw away. He held his ground. “Oh, so this was just to see if you were capable of playing nicely with the other toy soldiers?”

“Well, Major?” His lips drew too close, the words ghosted over one high cheekbone. “Did I pass?”

Hux shuddered, unintended and impossible to mask. Yet Kylo had already shifted back, taking up his hand. Even as Hux yanked back, Kylo stripped the glove free, holding him still in a way that suggested Hux’s full strength was but child’s play to his own. And then callused fingertips traced over the meat of his hand; a moment, and the faint sting of the burn had quite vanished.

Only after he had carefully worked the glove back onto Hux’s now motionless hand did Kylo let it go. “Be flattered, Major,” he said, and his eyes seemed to laugh where his odd voice did not. “I don’t show that trick to everybody.”

After that, Hux got the silence he had originally wanted. It felt a hollow victory. But it did allow him something like sleep, though his awareness remained active. Kylo himself appeared to have fallen into some odd kind of hibernation, though Hux did not doubt Kylo knew exactly what happened around them.

The sun had risen high by the time Kylo flowed to his feet. This time he held no hand out to the major. Hux told himself sharply that he had not expected one as they travelled in silence back to the port. Even in broad daylight, Hux could see they continued to go largely unnoticed – but then the crowds made it harder to see anyone at all, for all everyone seemed to glance at one another with suspicion and distrust. Kylo discarded the speeder two or three blocks from the brothel, guided them in the same way they had left; moments later, they descended to pay the bill. Hux had already decided that was Kylo’s responsibility, too.

“Missed all the fun, you two did,” the madam observed as Kylo scribbled carelessly with a stylus upon the extended holopad, and Hux could not help but observe the pure oddity of him like this, long body relaxed against the bench as he all but draped himself over it.

And now he even winked, an exaggerated and terrible thing that somehow still suited his strange features in a way few other expressions seemed to. “Oh, believe me, we had plenty of fun.”

“We had a senator assassinated last night.”

His voice turned sharp, shocked; Hux himself felt the same way, just to see what a fine actor Kylo Ren could apparently be. “What?”

“Terrible tragedy.” The woman’s gaze turned weighted, the wary resignation of a creature who had seen the Empire rise and fall, and would likely see the same of the Republic. “Best you watch yourself. They’ll be making note of all the strangers here last night.”

As they left, Hux close by Kylo’s side, he frowned at the crush of people beyond even the bordello’s side-alley door. “How many strangers would have berthed here last night?” he murmured, confident Kylo would hear despite any ruckus; with eyes ahead, the knight only snorted.

“More than a few.” Then, dipping his head too close to his ear, “Like I said, this place was chosen for very particular reasons.”

Hux turned his own head into it, lips but a moment from the rich warmth of Kylo’s bare skin. “And will we be challenged when we leave?”

“Not at all.” But far from sounding satisfied, his voice only turned bitter and dark. “She knows me.” There might have been a laugh somewhere in there too, broken and bleeding at all its sharpest edges. “She knows I’d never do any such thing.”

After that, they both fell to mutually and wordlessly agreed silence. As promised, they found no trouble upon reaching the docks, the loading of actual cargo smooth and businesslike even as port officials conducted a search of the ship that mysteriously did not extend to either Hux himself, nor to the satchel he carried. Kylo did have some made up history for him that Hux took no interest in, did not even listen to. He knew his own self and that was enough.

And yet, when they were strapped in, lifting off, Hux could not resist one question that was no such thing at all.

“Your real name isn’t Kylo, is it.”

He did not look over, eyes upon the approaching dark of the breaking atmosphere. “No.”

“And your real name has power.”

“All names have power.” But the unexpected resentment of Kylo’s words stole all the real force and fury from them. “The real trick is in knowing how to turn it to your own advantage.”

In one of the small bunks, Hux curled in close upon himself. He could have written his report. Instead, he slept without dreaming, and woke to find hours had passed – far longer a slumber than any other he’d had in recent memory. But his mind felt perfectly clear as he rose, turned to the refresher. Still with no proper uniform to hand, Hux dressed in a fresh pair of trousers, paired with an equally dark shirt, and only then returned to the cockpit. The jolt of the ship dropping from hyperspace must have acted as his alarm call; before the viewport he could see the arrowhead of the Inquisitor before them, approaching sharp and true.

In silence, Hux buckled himself in. The landing procedure moved quick, fluid; this time Kylo actually made active communication with the hangar towers, awaiting permission and clearance for landing. Only when the rustbucket of a ship had shuddered to a halt did Kylo turn to him, and Hux blanched. Kylo was exactly as he’d appeared when they had broken atmosphere upon leaving the moon. It was as if he’d hibernated there in the pilot’s chair, unmoving, unchanging. More Force nonsense, presumably. Kylo seemed made of it.

And he blinked, just once, beneath Hux’s wide-eyed regard. “There we are, Major. Home again, safe and sound. Just like I promised.”

“I don’t recall any promise.”

He grinned, that oddly-fitting expression that seemed like it had originally belonged to somebody else entirely. “It was implied, surely.”

“Surely,” Hux echoed with thin patience, fingers quick over the ragged buckles that he doubted would have given him any security in the event of an emergency. “I need to prepare myself for debrief.”

The darkening of his eyes was all Hux caught of his changing expression; he’d turned his head away, to one of the screens that had already flickered to blank standby. “As do I.”

It seemed the end of the conversation. Yet his feet, well-trained as they were, did not take him to his own tasks. “Do you have quarters onboard?” he asked, sudden; Kylo glanced up again, brow deeply lined, lips lightly curled.

“Why, are you offering to share yours?”

That bright edge of mockery masked something, Hux could tell – perhaps that the blade of it was inclined more towards himself than to Hux. “I already share them with two other officers. But if you promise not to scare them silly, you’re most welcome to accompany me.”

Now leaning back in the seat, Kylo’s fingers moved to the lap belt, rested there with heavy intent. “I have facilities for my use, Major.” And this grin was a small and sly thing. “But your gracious offer is noted.”

Hux turned away without another word. The faint heat on his cheeks was easily enough ignored. Still he found himself rolling his eyes as he retrieved the satchel holding his rifle and datapad.

Upon reaching his quarters, he could not help but be grateful to find neither roommate present. Privacy was a rare luxury in such confined quarters as those above even a mile-long starship. Hux almost missed the shuttle. Cramped as it had been, Kylo had been able to all but vanish within its battered hull, leaving Hux to indulge in something that felt dearly close to solitude.

Except you knew he would be there when needed. When you called.

Having popped the shunts, Hux stripped out of the stillsuit with an entirely inelegant stretch, though it wasn’t as if he had any sort of audience. He even left the damned thing in a puddle upon the floor, desperate for the refresher – though he paused on the way, just long enough to key a meal request. It was a rare treat indeed, even within his own quarters, to be bent buck naked in front of a holoscreen.

The requested rations were waiting for him when he got out, hair damp and dark red as he answered the door. As with the hot water shower, he’d called in a rationed luxury and ordered real food. While it always felt awkward at first, the texture and taste soon lost their strangeness – and the cool fluid of his drink could be nothing but welcome after the bland recycled moisture of the suit.

But he could not help but remember the cigarra he had crushed back at the hide, and not without regret. Such items were not permissible on the starship. When he had command of his own, Hux thought vaguely, he would make it possible. The Resurgent-class ships would be far beyond anything the Empire had constructed, and therefore – nothing ought to be impossible on the flagship of the fleet that would bring down the decadent self-indulgence of the New Republic.

The familiarity of his uniform was welcome as he at last drew one from the closet. Upon completion of his missions he always looked forward to its return, though he felt an odd pang to be back within its orderly confines now. Pushing such trivial feeling aside, cap now firmly in place, Hux left his quarters and began the quick march through the corridors to the colonel’s office.

The shuttle had pinged the man on arrival; his own datapad had chimed soon after with the expected summons. Hux had no idea what cycle or shift the colonel was running on, but considering the nature of the mission he would expect immediate report. And Hux was always ready for verbals, even though the colonel would be able to expect the full written text to soon follow.

The moment after he gave his name to the comm, he found himself admitted into the man’s office. Yet even as the debrief was clearly to begin, he saw no sign whatsoever of Kylo Ren. With hands folded before his chin, the colonel gave a small smile, divining Hux’s thoughts as though he too had the skills of Kylo’s strange order.

“The Knight will have his own debrief session with the Supreme Leader.”

Only his blink gave away his surprise, before Hux managed to quash it down small and low. “Yes, sir. I see. That would be logical enough.”

And Natic tilted his head, the question perfectly curious. “You wished to attend his?”

The thought of it – of standing before the creature that commanded the Order, had the truest influence over what actions it might take next – twisted Hux’s thoughts into brilliant desperate desire. But he only gave a tight nod, face still and serene. “It would have been an experience, certainly.”

Very few of the high command had met Snoke. Natic certainly had not been one of them. With those lazy eyes and disinterest in what lay beyond his own small command, Hux doubted the man ever would. “I wouldn’t be too concerned, Major,” Natic noted, though there was a faint edge to the words now. “I’m certain you’ll have the chance, soon enough.”

The fierce pride Hux felt then was no surprise. He had never doubted it. But he still focused upon the debrief, a simple thing and straightforward thing, for all he could not detail exactly what it was that Kylo Ren had done to mask them so well from populace and security alike. Natic seemed disinterested in such details, congratulated him instead for his success – both in the mission’s objective and also in the unusual collaboration that had been so central to it.

And for all the target had been important, Hux had to believe it was the fact that he and Kylo had worked so easily together that truly mattered. Kylo could have completed the mission alone – and in far less time than they had spent there together. And yet such knowledge left him not insulted, only: curious.

After, Hux did not return to quarters. Given the recent return from the unexpected mission, he had not yet been reassigned to his shift schedule, leaving him at liberty until the next cycle. Having by now reoriented properly to the ship’s chrono, Hux found himself now in the later shifts, already deep into the night. Those on the day cycle would have retired for the evening, and it was yet a reasonable enough hour to go to the officer’s lounge in his sector to seek out decent booze with a degree of quiet. Though he checked his quarters on the way past Hux found still no sign of his roommates – though he had no honest affection for either of them, and no compunctions at all about drinking alone.

That particular lounge also had a rather extraordinary view. The higher-rung officers tended to shun it, their reticence rumoured to be due to safety concerns. As far as Hux was concerned the bridge itself was an idiot artefact of Imperial design, and he could hardly see how the generous viewports of a single lounge could offer less safety than such vulnerable placement of a starship’s command centre. At least it would be rectified in the new designs.

As expected, Hux found it quiet indeed. Perhaps a dozen officers were scattered about the generous space, and only four or five in conversation; the others sat alone, drink or datapad or both in hand. Hux moved to the bar, placed an order with the service droid: an expensive whiskey, though not a luxury undeserved. And he could not help but assume a decent bonus would be coming his way, for a mission completed with such success.

With drink in hand, Hux moved next to the famous uninterrupted stretch of viewport, and one of the low couches laid before its sweeping triangular design. He’d always enjoyed the indulgence of them; the angle meant the ship slanted violently away, and out of view. When one leaned their back up against the transparisteel, it felt almost like sitting upon the edge of the galaxy. With a gloved hand on the glass, and head tilted thoughtful at the pale ghost of his own reflection, Hux took a long sip of the whiskey, and smiled.

“Major Hux.”

He should have been startled. And yet somehow Hux was not. With his eyes still upon the reflection, Hux took another long sip from the glass – this one, until it emptied. Only then did he set it down, though still he did not look back. “Knight Kylo.”

“Might I join you?”

With such dark silhouette, he cast no real reflection. “I didn’t realise your order did much in the way of socialising.”

“It’s not traditional, no.”

Hux kept his silence, and remained still. An answer danced upon the tip of his tongue, uncertain, as yet unspoken.

“I’ve brought you another drink.”

He turned, then. “Why, anyone would think you wanted some favour of mine,” Hux began, and then stopped dead. Whatever Kylo had done in the interim, between landing and debrief and his own arrival here, he had become something very different. The ratty hood had vanished: it made no part of this outfit. Kylo now wore the uniform of the First Order. The rank designation upon his sleeve marked him as something close to warrant officer, but yet still something quite unique from that. Hux supposed dimly that if he looked it up, it would be assigned to the Knights of Ren for the rare occasion they might choose to wear such uniform.

The dark hair had also been pulled back. Such style could not help but emphasise aquiline features, with the nose thrust forward and the jaw and chin and forehead pulling back; it made it seem as if his head tilted forward in endless flight. Pale skin gleamed in the low light, dark moles dotted about its topography like designations upon a star-map.

Kylo raised an eyebrow. “You’re surprised.”

And Hux swallowed against a newly-dry throat. “I would like that drink, now.”

With a low snort, Kylo held it out. Almost snatching it from his large hand, Hux brought it to parched lips, and swallowed deep. It was only half-full when he set it upon the narrow sill.

And then, he glared up at the way Kylo hovered still. “Are you going to sit?”

He did so with a frustratingly graceful motion. The long body proved far easier to see now, away from first those dark robes, and then the ratty civilian gear he’d worn as flanker.

“You’re not drinking,” Hux observed, looking away, the only words that came to mind. Kylo adjusted himself at his side, seemingly far more comfortable with the blatant oddities of their situation.

“I don’t drink.”

Hux frowned. “Personal or professional reasons?”

“Both.”

“So why come to a bar?”

He regretted the words as soon as they emerged; it seemed Kylo was far too practised at taking his openings where he could, and he did so now. “I could feel you,” he said, simple and alarming; Hux reached for his glass.

“More Force nonsense,” he muttered into the whiskey, noting it was exactly what he had ordered himself. But even as he stared into what little remained, Kylo sighed.

“I think by this point you would have realised it’s not nonsense.”

“It’s still beyond my usual brief, shall we say.” Forcing himself to look up, he tilted his glass. “But thank you, all the same. It brought us success.”

And their eyes did not break contact even as Hux swallowed the last of it down. “It did,” Kylo said, very soft. And then he was leaning forward, reaching forward, taking the empty glass from an unprotesting hand. And his eyes, those damned eyes, were on his and filled with stars.

“Shall we use it again?”

Hux could not look away, even as all the good sense in the galaxy told him to cut and run. “What do you mean?”

“I want to kiss you.” One hand rose, took in the sparsely populated room with careless, contemptuous disregard. “But they don’t need to know about it.”

His heart had begun to beat too hard, too fast; even years of sniper training could not bring it to heel. “What?”

“I want to kiss you.” Kylo repeated, strangely patient, for the alert and amused look upon his mobile features. “Don’t you want to kiss me?”

The sudden, jolting truth hit him with the all grace and care of a blaster bolt to the head: he did. And yet he only stared, hands in fists, eyes cold and searching. “This isn’t really the place.”

“It is.” His hand moved again, this time the fingers trailing over the transparisteel of the viewpoint. “You like the scenery, right? I suppose that could count as romantic.”

Hux frowned. “Anyone could see us.”

“No.” The heat of his body proved an extraordinary thing as he moved close, inclining Hux ever so slightly backward. “No, they couldn’t.”

The oddly gentle press of lips burned, and yet did not consume. Hux kept his eyes open. Kylo’s slipped closed even as he moved, soft and close-mouthed. The moment he pulled back Hux pushed himself upright, grasped for his glass; only when it reached his lips did he realise he had long since drained it dry.

And when he made the mistake of looking up, it was to find the flicker of a smile of Kylo’s too-generous lips.

“Was that not to your liking, Major?”

Why?”

It came out harsh, almost violent. Such emotion seemed not to disturb Kylo; in fact, his eyes gleamed, his smile widening. “Because I want it.” And then, with one hand moving to clasp over one thigh, “Because you want it.” And before Hux could wrench away, he leaned forward and pressed his lips to his so he might whisper with sound and motion alike: “Because we are at war, and we should take what we want when it is ours to have.”

Hux closed his eyes. “We should go back to my quarters.”

“They’re not private.”

Now he opened them again, glared at him like he might a particularly slow and doomed cadet. “And this is?” he said, and shook his head in amazed disgust. “What about your quarters? You said you had some?”

“Major.” The palm of his hand cradled his cheek, forced him to look around. “They can’t see us.”

“So you say.”

“Don’t you trust me?” Something close to hurt softened those eyes, made him frown. “You did before.”

“That was then,” Hux said, perfectly petulant and not giving a damn. “This is now.”

The faint laughter made him almost appealing. “But just as much opportunity for trouble,” Kylo noted, and shook his head. “You should trust me, if only for the fact I get insanely jealous.” Again, he drew close. “You think I’d want anyone else to see you like this?”

His brow furrowed, even as he knew he’d regret both the question, and its answer. “Like what?”

One hand, bare of glove, moved down to his groin, cupping over the stirring hardness there. And then, Kylo grasped him, rough and knowing; a sudden gasping breath escaped even his rigid discipline. His own gloved hand clamped over his wrist, glaring up at him even as Hux did not pull where he knew he could not win.

Stop.”

“Why?” Lazy fingers flittered along the hardening length, and Hux grimaced at his body’s perfectly inevitable betrayal. “It’s as it was, in the hide.” And then he smiled, eyes very dark now. “Except there are more stars, up here.”

With the involuntary turning of his head towards the viewport, Hux saw what he already knew to be the truth: a dazzling array of star and planet, taking up so much of his depth of field that it left space for very little else.

But Kylo’s hand, moving over his crotch, kept him firmly anchored to the reality upon the starship. His cock had reached as full an erection as it could, given the limited space available in his trousers; the weight of Kylo’s touch only made it all the harder to not simply give over, undoing belt and flies to take it out and rut like a whore into that callused hard grip. But he kept his eyes on the view, and his voice still held low rippling command.

“No-one will see us?” he asked, tight-lipped and tense. Kylo’s own voice had turned oddly soothing, the words even and sure.

“No-one but us.”

Now Hux’s head whipped around, even as Kylo still worked his hand over his cock; the touch burned too hot, even with the layers of clothing yet between their bare skin. “And what is it that you want?” Hux asked, voice rising, turning harsh and hard. “Hands? Mouths? Something more?”

“I wanted it to be spontaneous, maybe,” Kylo replied, with perhaps the faintest hint of longing disappointment. “But really, after getting my hand on it,” Kylo added, and again he came very close with lips pressed to the hard tense line of Hux’s jaw, “I really do think I want this up my ass.”

Kylo.”

And he chuckled, answered the unspoken question with a casualness that quite caught Hux’s breath in his tightened throat. “No, I don’t do this with everyone.” And any humour vanished now as he looked into his eyes, said soft, “You’re different.”

“It’s not really a compliment when I always knew that anyway.”

The low laughter again seemed terribly at odds with the stunted stilted creature he had first met in the hangar. “Major.”

“Fine.” Hux had never thought to fall to madness, and certainly in not such ignominious circumstances as these. “But you have to swear that this is between just you and me, and no one else.”

The heavy lidded eyes, dark voids reflecting even the low light of the lounge, watched him with easy curiosity. “What possible reason could I have for ruining you?”

“Boredom? Spite? You just don’t like snipers and majors?”

This kiss was an odd thing: the tongue too sloppy, his lips moving too much, that over-sized nose very much in the way. Hux wondered for a moment at Kylo’s experience, as if that could be the one thing that finally brought him to his damnable senses.

Then Kylo leaned back, pulling him down with easy undeniable strength. Hux went without protest, straddling the long body as he pulled himself more fully onto the long couch. The sense of others around them could not be entirely forgotten, but Hux knew how to shut out such trivialities. Now that he had given himself fully to this idiocy, he permitted himself nothing but the hard body beneath him – and Kylo’s hands came about his waist, anchoring him there. Hux’s own moved to either side of his head, elbows forced out, fingers digging into the dark hair, finding it smooth and rich and thick between twisting fingers.

Kylo proved surprisingly pliable beneath the hands that sought to set him into the position that most suited Hux himself. He found that odd; certainly Kylo had not seemed the type to take orders while they’d been on mission. Then the low thrust of narrow hips from beneath him sent Hux’s hands skittering for purchase, their groins coming into faint and fleeting contact. Hux scowled down at him, found Kylo grinning lazily back. With a purposeful thrust of hips, Hux reached between them, ghosted his fingers over his own crotch.

“Right,” he said, breath coming already in low quick pant. “You want my cock.”

One of Kylo’s dark eyebrows arched high, echo of the perfect sarcasm of his spoken words. “I can tell you’re a military man,” he drawled, rocking his pelvis so that Hux could feel the growing hardness there. “You get straight to the point.”

Even with the distraction of Kylo’s cock up against his own ass, Hux tilted around, cast an incurious look over the bar entire. “It won’t be comfortable for you, here.”

Kylo said nothing, his only reply the slide of one hand into the pocket of his strangely regulation trousers. A moment later, and a small silvered tube was pressed into Hux’s gloved hand. Raising it to the light, Hux twisted it before narrowed eyes, and then focused the incredulous gaze on Kylo alone.

“You were that certain you would be able to seduce me?”

“I was certain that I would try.” The challenge remained as languid as the sprawl of his body, but his eyes burned dark and knowing. “I don’t let the things I want slip through my fingers.”

By reflex, Hux drew back; the great hands tightened about his waist, his chuckle stumbling over itself as he again began the lazy roll of his hips beneath Hux’s slighter weight.

“And where do you think you’re going?”

Leaning back further, Hux pressed one long finger to smooth chin, tilting his head with the critical evaluation he saved usually for some particularly tricky issue of engineering. “I need more contact.”

Kylo actually pouted. “No more kissing?” Shifting, again, adjusting easily to the way Hux steadied his seat upon him, he added with exaggerated sigh, “Pity. I was looking forward to more foreplay from you.”

“I think this entire mission was foreplay.”

The low answering snort counted as agreement, as far as Hux was concerned. Not that he cared, given Kylo said nothing more as Hux undid first the belt, then the unseen catches of his jacket. The ravenous gaze was more than enough by way of consent, and Hux allowed himself a faint smile when he discovered Kylo wore no shirt beneath, just a light sleeveless soft thing. Rucking it up with both hands revealed the real treasure of the evening: the hard firmness of muscle, defined and lightly dusted with dark hair. With hands splayed open across its faint rise and fall, Hux grinned wider yet.

“Like what you see?”

The tip of his tongue flicked out, wet the lips of a faintly opened mouth. “Well. I could make out very little of this under your robes, or that dreadful ensemble you wore as my flanker.” Closing his hands, even a little, brought the faint drag of nails over skin. “Even a tailored uniform does you no justice.”

Kylo arched into it, though his eyes never once left Hux’s own. “Yours does not either.” At the affronted look this earned him, Kylo allowed his lip to curl up on one side, flicked lightly at one hip. “You think it makes you look broader, more powerful.” And his eyes moved up, dragged over the slim waist, the broad shoulders. “But the first we met, I saw what was underneath.” His hand tightened on one thigh, skin burn-heat through even the thick material. “And I knew that that was what I wanted.”

A shiver skittered down his spine. Hux could hide it only by leaning down, pressing lips to the skin revealed by his explorations, finding it faintly silvery with old scars. Hux’s lips curled to fierce grin as he dipped his tongue into the dip of his navel; a gasping breath and jumping muscle, and he leaned back, smirk clear and true.

“You want this?”

One hand reached up, to his own head. A sharp tug, and his hair unravelled, came undone: a cloud of dark shining matter spread out about the luminous skin of his strange face. Though Kylo did not smile, Hux could sense the amusement in even the singular word of his reply.

“Yes.”

“We could have done this in the hide.”

“No.” His long fingers had risen now, tangling in Hux’s own hair. And Kylo’s attention wandered with it, catching upon the reflected light of copper and blazing gold. “I wanted you here,” he said, very soft; his eyes were bright where they mirrored the movement of his fingers, as if fascinated by the hair twisted around them. Then he glanced back, sudden, eyes upon the verge of darkest mischief. “Where you wouldn’t be able to forget about me.”

“You think yourself forgettable?”

And Kylo lurched upward, lips upon the quickening pulse at the curve of Hux’s jaw. “After this,” he whispered against his heartbeat, “you’ll always remember me.”

His kiss felt fit to swallow him whole. Again, Hux had the distinct impression that this was not something Kylo did often. That ought to have annoyed him; while a blank slate could be a useful place to begin, he was now in no mood to teach – or even to give orders. But Kylo seemed a swift learner. Perhaps that was yet another odd gift granted by the Force. But while Hux had not yet felt any real sense of someone inside of his head, he’d never known the experience, had no point of reference to compare it to.

And he should have hated it on principle: his mind was his own, and no-one else’s. But it was easier to concentrate upon what little he could see of Kylo’s body, for everything of the damned man proved to be what Hux enjoyed most in a partner. Hard and muscular, its clear strength rippled beneath the clear skin with every movement. Holding such power between his own thighs only tightened what arched above them. With hands pressed over his waist, hips nudging forward over the growing hardness of him, Hux began a low rock. The rising light thrust this earned in return felt promising, indeed.

Kylo’s eyes remained ever watchful, and always upon him. And now, here, they held perfect the reflection of the starfield beyond the transparisteel at their side. Hux willingly met them as he began to work his trousers down. Only then did his eyes close at the relief of it: his cock, pulling free at last. Long and thick, half-hard but growing still, and Hux could not resist closing one hand around it. A faint twinge of regret left him half-breathless; Hux indulged only rarely, and this would have been delicious, inside of him.

Only when he had worked the shaft to full hardness, the flushed head leaking and unhooded, did Hux reach for the lubricant. Even as his chest worked, breath coming quick and harsh, Kylo remained watchful and still – save for the hands that spanned nearly the circumference of his waist. There they clenched tight, and no doubt Hux would have a ring of bruises in the morning: one he’d feel all day, when he tightened his own belt about them.

But he had no sense that Kylo held him there. It was simply an anchor. As if Hux sat upon a quiet sea, but one that might rear to hurricane disorder. And with a slick and sloppy hand, he indulged in another slow working of the great cock, again, already mourning how delicious such width would have felt in his own ass. Then Hux was moving back, bending forward, flicking his tongue over the already-leaking head.

Even as he began to lick and to lave, his slick hand moved down, deep in the warmth between Kylo’s legs. As he pushed low pressure against the furl of skin there, Kylo gave a shaking sigh, lower lip caught between his teeth.

“You move fast.”

“Well, we both know the objective.” His own cock ached in his trousers, yet; Hux pressed forward, one finger breaching to the first knuckle. “We both want it.” And as Kylo’s eyes fluttered closed, he pushed one finger in to the hilt. “Why waste time?”

The noises he made were low, startled. And Kylo’s hands had moved now from the ache of Hux’s waist; one had descended to begin a stuttering stroke over his own cock, though the other rose, slid into Hux’s hair. Usually Hux did not permit his bed partners such liberties. Quite aside from the interest its colour had a habit of generating, he simply hated the sensation of any touch but his own. But Kylo was not directing, not pulling. His fingers were simply: there. And restful, too, even in their slow stroking curiosity.

Hux’s own fingers had far greater purpose; with two now in him, Hux had begun to scissor, to stretch. And Kylo surged beneath him, gasping, very tight. That dark suspicion had returned: Kylo had not done this before. Or at least, not frequently. Hux certainly was no mindreader, but Kylo’s unease, his discomfort, were undeniable. They might have been all small tells, but Hux was no fool. He was also not needlessly cruel, even when invited to be.

But Kylo’s brow creased, eyes popping open as Hux withdrew his fingers. “What? Why are you stopping?”

Already his hands had moved to his own trousers, greasy fingers slipping over the shining buckle, the buttons of his trousers. “You’re not ready for this.”

Levering himself upward on his elbows, Kylo actually growled. The petulant expression would have not been out of place on a child, but the darker fury beneath it spoke of blood and broken bone. “Don’t deny me what I want, Major.”

And with one hand planted upon that glorious chest, Hux shoved him right back down again. “Don’t be such a child, Knight.” As he opened his own trousers, he allowed a gasp of relief; his cock, now free, bobbed between his legs. “You can fuck me. It’ll be easier, I’ve done this before.” And even as he fisted his own aching cock, his eyes were aglint with challenge when he looked up, smile razor thin. “I know what I’m doing.”

It was a risk, given Kylo presumably hadn’t and therefore likely did not know a damn thing, and Hux wasn’t entirely sure he trusted him to be gentle – or not to lose himself in the moment, and drop whatever bizarre sorcery kept them masked from the low hum of the officer’s lounge.

Drawing up now, even with his cock still in hand, Hux cast an assessing gaze around the bar. They still drew no interest, and in fact it appeared there were a few less people than before. For whatever reason – madness, he supposed – Hux could not resist jacking himself, just once more.

The man’s idiocy is apparently contagious, he thought sourly, even as his mind curled at the simple pleasure of his own hand. And then he was letting go, looking back to Kylo as he began to undo the myriad fastenings of the jacket and shirt. Yet he did not shrug them off, leaving them only to hang open.

The eyes upon him were still an uncomfortable thing. Hux usually had little liking for a partner’s regard; while he was well within regulation parameters of fitness, he knew he did not have the physique to impress. He was both too pale, and too skinny – and simply too strange by half, with his translucent freckled skin and his sharp bright hair.

But from Kylo, now, he sensed only honest fascination. Turning his face away, he reached for the lubricant again, voice rough and low.

“I’m not taking my boots off,” he said, and his tight grip masked any attempt at tremor his traitorous body might have attempted. “You’ll have to get up. Let me roll over.”

“No.” And at the incredulous look Hux turned on him, “I want to see your face.”

“Kylo—”

The hiss of irritation vanished beneath his lips, warm and still clumsy, for all the clear intent of their movement. When he withdrew, it was with a slow, thoughtful expression upon those strange features. “On your back, Major,” and though it was no order, he added with soft smirk, “Trust me.”

Hux had no intention of doing any such thing. But he did lower himself down, hand moving between what little angle his trousers would permit of his opened thighs. Fingers, slippery and uncertain, sought out his own entrance; he took a hissing breath at the first pass, and then steeled himself for penetration. With a gasping choke, the fingers moved inside, body at last giving over to what his mind demanded.

Above him, between his legs, Kylo watched with ravenous curiosity, his own hands slick over his hard cock. With a twist of lips that could not quite be called a smile, Hux took his fingers from where they worked his hole, closed them about Kylo’s wrist. Only when he had drawn his hand down did Hux take one of those long fingers, encouraging the longest inside. He followed with one of his own, looked up to see an almost perplexed look upon Kylo’s mismatched and yet oddly lovely features. And he grinned, pushed at the finger with his own, shifting to show Kylo where he might like it the most. With a light snort, Kylo followed: and then they were working, pressing against one another, inside and out.

“You like this?”

“You can’t tell?”

And it was like a shaft of sunlight in his mind, oddly warm and illuminating; Kylo leaned down, pressed their lips together. “Oh yes,” he whispered. “I can tell.”

And then he withdrew, pressing at his thighs until Hux’s knees were drawn up beside him, hips only slightly tilted; for his part, Hux remained still upon his back. But at this angle, Kylo could work his trousers further down, and even the warmed air of the bar breathed cool against the sudden exposure of intimate skin. And yet, before sense could have him rolling away, thinking twice, Kylo slid forward – and then slipped in. Hux gave a long, low groan even as Kylo stopped, hunched over with hair in his eyes and shoulders working over laboured breaths, holding very still.

And Hux could not help his gasping, stuttering little laugh, his own eyes hooded and lazy. “I trust everything is to your liking, then, Knight Kylo?”

A shuddering thrust was his only reply, and Hux laughed out loud. And then, he gave himself over completely to sensation and madness both. One hand thrust out, stabilising himself flat on the couch. The other, he wrapped around his cock, and began an arrhythmic frantic chase of his own orgasm. Kylo, looming above, snapped his hips with increasingly less grace or care, though when Hux looked up through hazy eyes he could see that he was haloed by the stars.

His release caught him by surprise, arrowing through him. Arching his back, mouth wide and soundless, Hux tried to catch the come in spasming, clumsy fingers. Kylo’s great hand followed, catching what he could not; even as Hux stared, boneless and shocked, he took it, drank it: licking it from long languid fingers. And as he smiled, hips still working, Hux felt the heart of Ren’s release. The great cock remained deep inside of him even as Ren leaned forward, pressed their lips together in aching ungainly kiss.

Kylo withdrew with a care Hux would not have expected, could not have hoped to protest. With napkins taken from a nearby table, Kylo was wordless where he helped him, restoring him to order. Only when his uniform had been returned almost to its original state did Hux sit up, throat dry, limbs still too languid to stand. Kylo had fallen upon his back, shirt open, trousers around his knees, monstrous cock still exposed. Hux’s eyebrows drew together even as he slipped his gloves on, grimacing at the faint stickiness he was transferring to their soft interior.

“Are you just going to lie there all night like that?”

“I might.” One hand moved to his cock, already half-hard again, and gave a long and lazy stroke. “It’s a lovely view from down here, after all.”

“Well.” Though he’d turned away, chin pressed high, the way the tips of his ears pinkened likely betrayed him. “Some of us have work in the morning.”

The little gasping breath arrowed straight to Hux’s groan. “How…unfortunate.”

Resolute, Hux looked upon the few remaining occupants of the officer’s lounge, all still quite oblivious to what had happened, to what went on even now. “I have to go.”

“I know you do.”

His jaw worked, for just a moment. He did not look back. “Good night, Kylo.”

“Pleasant dreams, Hux.”

He couldn’t be sure the entire experience hadn’t been one to begin with. But he returned to his cold and narrow bunk, and fell asleep within a minute of his head hitting the pillow. That same simple compartmentalisation remained come the beginning of the beta cycle; given his unexpected callout, there was now considerable catch-up work to be done with his unit.

It was somewhere deep in the gamma shift when he looked up from the drill, noticed Colonel Natic watching from across the hall. Keeping half an eye on the soldiers as he crossed the floor, gave his salute, Hux asked the question as if it were a query about atmospheric meteorological conditions.

“Is Knight Kylo still aboard?”

The man paused, just long enough to leave Hux wondering about the security feeds focused on the officer’s lounges. “Kylo Ren has left the Inquisitor.”

“I see.”

And the man’s hand rested brief upon his shoulder, just heavy enough to hurt. “But I have no doubt you will work together again.”

Hux returned his own attention to his battalion, lips thinned, jaw set. It had been but a mission, and then the decompression afterwards. There had never been any real connection between them. There had been nothing there to lose.

Something about it stung, all the same.

But the colonel had been correct – though it was in fact years before they met again. This time, Hux awaited his announced arrival upon the gleaming perfection of the Finalizer, hands folded behind his back, the general’s uniform pristine and more perfect than ever before.

And yet the man that descended from the ramp of the Upsilon proved a stranger. Hux could make out no sign of Kylo as he had known him: the hooded youth, the ragged smuggler, the sly-eyed officer. This was a beast in a mask, muzzled and scarcely leashed, staring out resentfully from beneath the silver-limned visor that allowed no-one to look upon that which was within.

No, this was not Kylo. This was Ren. Always and only Ren.

But the watchfulness had not changed. Nor had the way he’d come too close, with the unspoken invitation to touch given over in return. He made it more than clear more than once that such advances would not be rebuffed.

But Hux did not tender a one. Ren was a strange creature indeed: volatile, impatient, too filled with power and temper far beyond normal parameters. There had been something merely fascinating about him before, this human creature filled with preternatural power; now, he seemed nothing so much as a crudely-fashioned weapon now on the verge of explosion. When he had first seen the lightsaber, Hux had nearly laughed. The damned thing was a perfect personification of Ren now. Whatever the further years of training under Snoke had done to him, they had clearly wrought irreparable damage. Hux could see nothing beautiful in his handling of the Force now – not when it damaged his ship, decimated his troops, disrupted his plans. So much of it had turned violent and sharp, cruel and needless, as Ren threw it around with careless abandon.

But Hux kept such opinion to himself. They had both become very different people, and with different goals – and there were very different stakes for them all, now. It was one thing for a major to cavort with a knight. But here they were the General over Starkiller base, and the Master of the Knights of Ren. All eyes were upon them both – and the time for childish games had long since passed. Here, there could be no distraction. Only the mission meant anything. And everything.

And then there came the map. Ren, hulking and demanding in Hux’s office, was careless as always, requisitioning the troops he required without grace nor gratitude. Hux could not complain. Snoke had already warned him of Ren’s sudden mission, and the fact he would be entitled to whatever resources he deemed appropriate with which to accomplish it.

But no-one could have warned him of this – of the moment when Ren paused at the door, the helmet turning back. It remained expressionless, unable to be anything else. But the voice was something different. Something remembered, never forgotten.

“You should come with us.”

Hux did not look up from his screen, flicking to another endless scroll of data relevant to Starkiller’s charge cycle. “I am a general, not a grunt.”

“I liked you better when you were a major.” That gave him pause, though he did not look up. Even Ren’s vocal modulator could not hide the little huff of dark laughter. “Now that you are a general, perhaps you have become too accustomed to being seen.” He had come too close, and Hux had not realised; his skin felt three sizes too small, and too hot by half when Ren whispered the next words directly into his ear. “I enjoyed looking at you, then. When no-one else saw what was only mine to see.”

Hux turned around, free hand fisted and furious. But Ren had vanished, in that silent and maddening manner he so favoured. Hux knew he ought to let it go. But he could not resist. Stalking to the hangars, he stood watchful before the hulking shuttle, and waited. He knew it would not take long, this time feeling the man’s approach even though he refused to look.

“Lord Ren.”

“General Hux.” Those dark eyes, though unseen behind the damned mask, still raked over his body. Hux knew it to be perfect in the harsh tailored lines of his uniform. “Are you sure you won’t come hunting with us?”

Of course he didn’t speak quietly. The words projected through what felt the hangar entire, and the faint ripple of surprise amongst the ‘troopers beat against Hux’s sudden headache. A frisson of annoyance accompanied it, though he knew it would not truly be worth the inconvenience of reconditioning. It still remained far from an ideal situation. But he met the visor of that ridiculous mask, his own face set and steady, eyes as cold as the weaponised ice planet that had become his life’s work.

“I look forward to hearing of your success.”

Ren held his gaze just a moment too long. “And so you will.”

From there he turned, striding towards to the waiting Upsilon: a bird of prey at rest in the hangar, wings folded forward in predatory hold. Hux turned himself, away from all of it, returning to the upper levels of the Finalizer at quick military clip. But he did not yet go to the bridge. He had no real desire to watch the departure of the command shuttle.

His own quarters beckoned instead. While he remained yet on shift, this would be only a moment. As the door whisked closed in his wake Hux moved to a locker, one buried deep within in his personal quarters. While left unlocked, it had also remained untouched since his arrival upon the ship.

The item within was a leather bag, black, unmarked. His fingertips ghosted over it with knowing ease, the shape of what lay beneath little more than bitter brilliant memory. The Major had last touched this rifle: cleaned it, dismantled it, packed it away in the days before he had become the Colonel.

And now the General closed the door, flipped the lock – and only then, returned to his command.