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Third Degree

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Hux knows that General Organa doesn’t approve of him. It’s obvious in the way her eyes narrow just so, and her lips thin like that when she looks at him. He’s read enough faces over the years to understand when his talents are considered distasteful.

They’ve often been considered distasteful. 

They’re also considered essential. One of those things people like to pretend they’re above until they aren’t. 

Hypocrites. Hux does not like hypocrites. He’d rather deal with a psychopath who was honest than a ‘good’ man (or woman) who didn’t own up to the harsh realities of life. Being able to judge when someone isn’t being honest with him means he can’t be around people all that much. It’s a constant disappointment for him, and a source of existential dread for others. He’s more often alone than not, now. It’s okay. It’s better off this way.

Hux performs an essential function. If sentient life worked on magical, smooth, well-oiled joints and never creaked, groaned, stuck or went backwards… men (or women) like him would not be needed.

But they were. He was. He is.

Of course, she - of all people - has more reason to flinch in his presence than most. She’s seen what happens when he’s in a room with someone. She’s seen what happens when someone worse than him is in a room with someone. Few people can have come out the other side of an Imperial interrogation room with all their limbs intact.

And that was just the external parts. Hux knows from experience that in some ways, you never leave that room. Not if he does his job right.

“I have… to ask for your help,” she says, and she doesn’t make a lie of her disgust.

He appreciates it. She tries to curtail the depth of her derision, but she doesn’t conceal the existence of it.

“Who’ve you got for me?”

The pause is what catches his attention, makes this more… interesting.

“My son.”

***

Hux does his research on this one. Usually, his targets are the slightly harder-to-crack, but he hasn’t come across a soul he couldn’t have singing like a bird in a week, without even knowing their name. 

He’s good at what he does. It’s why he’s the one they call in these kind of situations. Like it or not, there’s often a time-bound element to captives, or to new recruit testing. Intelligence goes stale faster than bread, and they simply can’t afford to lose it. When he’s vetting a new volunteer, he has to make efficient use of their resources to test just how much they can be trusted with.

It does raise the question in his head of who vets him, because he’s never felt like he’s been tested. Of course, they could just use holo-surveillance and feed it to someone he never meets, but there’s nothing quite like the face-to-face element.

Still. He’s clearly passed the highest level of vetting (or is the only one they haven’t yet tried) if he’s been given the General’s wayward son.

Hux knew as much as everyone else before he was given the dossier, and it only adds a few more details and dispels some of the rumours.

Ben Organa-Solo. He went by that name. His parents kept their respective surnames (two Generals Solo would be confusing, plus he suspects Leia Organa would rather have her husband change than lose her link to her parents), but their first and only child had fused them together. 

Born in the aftermath of the fall of the Empire. Likely born because of the fall of the Empire. There were a lot of children with similar birthdays to him, after all. Hux knows he wasn’t one of them because he’s got a few years on them.

Plus, you know. His father.

Anyway, the less said about him the better. 

The man (he’s a man, now) doesn’t go by that name any longer. Kylo. What the hell kind of name is Kylo? It’s not even pronounced with a ‘kill’ in there (which seems to be the level of his psychological maturity), followed by ‘Ren’. The Ren comes from his mystical order of Knights, apparently, so that one he can’t criticise. Kylo. Two syllables, short and sweet. 

It’s obviously going to be an in with him. Hux has to think which will be the most effective opening gambit: get him on his side by acknowledging his name of choice, or ‘deadname’ him, and refuse his current identity?

Quite often he needs to disrupt the person quickly, but this… his brief isn’t really to bring home the intelligence, but to try something else instead. He’s sure any intel would be suspect, no matter what methods Hux could use on him. It’s not a cracking open his skull his mother wants, but her son.

Hux isn’t too sure her son even exists any more, but he’ll have to speak to the man to see if it’s true or not. 

The file is impersonal, inhuman. It lists facts, but not the gritty reality he sees between the lines. A timeline of events, with the gut feeling gone.

You can read ‘age fifteen’ and think of it simply as a number that follows fourteen, as a three-times-five, or five-times-three. But if you forget what fifteen felt like, it doesn’t give you the complete picture.

Fifteen. Hormones. Angst. Changes. A body ravaged by puberty, a world shifting from innocence to something noxious. A time when friends were vital, but the boy…

He’d already been sent away, hadn’t he? To the uncle. Uncle.

Luke Skywalker. Jedi. Hux has never met a real Jedi, not to his knowledge. He knows the stories (the public ones), the ones which feature Luke dead centre, along side Leia and her errant husband. These people are larger-than-life creatures of legend and myth, and flesh and blood and fallible, all the same. 

He knows. He’s met Leia. An impressive and imposing woman, despite her stature. She claims a room when she enters, and she commands with surety… but she has shadows in her eyes, and pain in her voice. 

It must have been hard growing up as their son, as Luke Skywalker’s nephew. Talk about a legacy to live up to… and that’s his in. That’s where he’ll start.

***

He’s in a transparent cage. 

Like an animal, on display. A huge, open-fronted affair. A theatre, with the fourth wall tangible, there for all to see.

It’s a power-rhetoric, and one he understands well. 

Behind the transparisteel, there’s a simple cot without any sheets (can’t provide him with ligature points or tools), and that’s it. No chair. No table. 

A very, very small toilet and sink in one corner, which Hux is sure only lets water flow when externally approved. He squints and sees to the side of that there’s a very small sign of a sonic shower, and the only door is airlocked, like a spaceship. Food goes in through there, then. 

There are worse places to be kept, but only superficially. There’s no stimulation here, and that will chip away at him. Few people can cope with true deprivation, and it takes a certain mentality to come out the other side. Those who do often do so at the cost of much of their socialisation, reverting to the inside of their mind and remaining there.

The notes didn’t tell him how long Kylo Ren had been waiting to see him. The notes also didn’t tell him how he came to be here, or who had spoken to him. He’d asked, but he’d been refused. Naturally.

The notes had told him that the Force-user would be sedated to a level that verbal conversation was possible (if buggy), but his ‘other’ abilities would be rendered impotent. 

Hux wonders how accurate that statement is. If his Force-powers truly rival those of the late Darth Vader, then how can they be sure? Ren could be biding his time until he sees an out. He’ll have to assess for that.

He walks up to the window. Ren lies on his side, his back to the transparisteel. Hux has made sure he’ll hear him, so he knows that if he’s awake he’ll be aware of his presence. 

Hux does not sit. He wants the other to know that, if he turns. He’ll stand, and he’ll wait. 

Ren does not move. Hux lifts his wrist, and sets his chrono. He’s setting aside an hour each day for the time being, and if it takes a month - a year - that’s fine. He sets the timer going, then clasps his hands behind his back. Ren doesn’t move, other than the steady inflation-deflation of his lungs. Hux watches, and wonders if the other can feel his thoughts through the drugs or not? If so, all he’ll feel is the steady counting of the minutes. Hux knows precisely how long a second is (and how many seconds it takes to lose consciousness, to lose life). 

Tick. Tick. Tick.

The timer buzzes.

Hux turns and walks out, knowing it will confuse the other.

That’s the point.

***

This process repeats for three days, setting the standard. He comes at different times during each day, but he does the same every time. Ren doesn’t turn until the time is almost spent on the third day, rolling over to challenge his eyes.

Hux meets them. He says nothing.

Buzz. Buzz.

He turns to leave.

“Really?” the incredulous voice asks.

“I’ll be back tomorrow,” Hux tells him, and leaves.

Step one.

***

Ren doesn’t look on day four, but on day five the sound of footfall makes him turn.

He looks terrible. The sedatives they’re pumping him with give him an unreal rest, a false sense of calm. His eyes are baggy and his hair lanky. The face underneath both is severe and sharp, and eerily reminiscent of both parents. There’s no hint of humour to the brow, the lips, the eyes. He’s miserable, and Hux can understand that.

“Do you prefer Ren, or Kylo?” he asks, giving him some small sense of choice, of power.

It baffles him, and he watches the mechanics whirr inside the man’s skull. He was expecting Ben, or an imposed handle, wasn’t he?

“Ren,” he says, eventually.

“Hux,” Hux replies. No need for forenames or for rank in here. Hux does have one, but it’s moot. He’s got incredibly high personal scope, much like a doctor does. In his area of expertise, what he says, goes. End. 

Not to mention Ren is outside of the rank structure, here. Outside of everything. A title would be moot, would be more for Hux himself than for Ren, and Hux doesn’t need it.

“What have they told you?” the Knight asks, rolling back away from him. 

“Plenty. But I suspect your version of things will be different.”

“Don’t patronise me.”

“I’m not. You’re a smart man, but so am I.”

Ren’s shoulders tighten. “Tell her she should just execute me, instead of keeping me here like this.”

Interesting. “Who?”

“Don’t play coy with me: I told you not to patronise me.”

“Alright… but why would your mother want to execute you?”

“Because I’m no longer her son.”

“I don’t think it works like that.” It does, in a way. Hux himself is no longer his son. Or… he is, and he isn’t. It’s one of those places where the complexity of reality is more than a yes-no answer can cover. Absolutes aren’t always… hah… absolutely correct.

Silence stretches, then, and Hux lets it for a while. The fact that Kylo already welcomes (or pretends to welcome, and challenges) death says a lot about how low he really is. It’s a cry for help, of course. If he wanted to end it, even with this small, soft-edged cell, there were always ways. 

Of course, those ways were not always easy to stomach. And if you got them wrong, or were stopped before it was too late, the consequences of survival were pretty bleak. He makes a note to ask them to never leave him unsupervised, even by holo-recorder with a sentient on the other side of the lens.

“I’m not going to change.”

“How do you know that? Didn’t you change once, before?”

Kylo’s eyes blaze, then. “So my decision is an informed one.”

“I see. Even though you made it before the legal age of–”

“Get out.”

“My time isn’t up.”

Get out.”

Hux refuses. They stare at one another for a long time, then Ren turns away again. 

Hux waits until his time is up, and then he leaves.

Step two.

***

The next time, Hux enters Kylo’s room. He walks straight for the airlock, and goes through it into the chamber beyond.

He goes unarmed. He’s not an idiot. There’s enough knock-out gas in the canisters attached to the cell’s filtration unit to see to them both, and it kicks in fast. 

Kylo remains on the other side of the room, not coming towards him. He’s obviously wary, and he plasters himself against the wall like a cornered animal.

So very, very telling. Ren draws himself up tall, but it’s the mechanism of a prey-animal, not a predator. Back off. I bite. I swear. 

It’s almost too easy. How has anyone ever missed this? Ren’s all hot air.

“I’m just here to talk.”

“I thought we were doing just fine before.”

“Some things are easier face to face.” Pause. “You can sit down, if you like.”

“I’d rather not.”

Hux shrugs, and does sit down. On the edge of the cot, lifting one boot up and resting it on his knee, clasping his hands in front of him.

“You do know what I’m capable of, right?”

Hux normally does not do this, but this is a different thing, isn’t it? “I know what you think you’re capable of. But you’re not, are you? That’s why you’re in here. You let yourself get caught, clipped, caged.”

“Fuck. You.” Anger, and the taller man swells. 

Something distant crackles, and Hux lifts a hand in a no: stop gesture at the watching staff. 

“I’m here to break you, Kylo Ren. I’m here to break you back to what you were. And I’ll do it. I’ll pull you apart, piece by piece. I’ll rip you into shreds, and leave you lying on the floor.”

Fuck you, I’ll never–”

“And then, when you’re broken down… when you’re back to the primordial sludge I turn you into… you’ll have that choice of yours. Repeat, or repent.”

He knows this is when Kylo will go for him, and he’s prepared. The man is bulky and has the advantage of weight and muscle-mass, even caged as he is. Hux, however, has speed on his side. The punch that comes for him is deflected, the second one dodged, and then he has to duck in to get his blow to Kylo’s side. He takes a swipe to his head, and repays it with a stomp on Ren’s instep.

Things get messier from then on in, until the gas swallows them both up whole.

Step three.