“Millicent, if you don’t stop eating more than your share, I’m throwing you out the airlock,” Hux lied blatantly as he shoved the overflowing plate of honey and sugar into the ducts. The lizards, now fully grown and squeezed into the too-small space, lapped at it with greedy tongues and wide mouths. Millicent was the smallest of the lot (only half the size of her siblings), and Hux’s favorite. He’d never shove her out of an airlock. He rubbed his finger over her head and she hissed. “How such a small thing eats so much, I’ll never know.”
Hux dropped down from the open duct cover, and counted the time in his head as he put it back into place. He usually had about an hour before Ren started to come around again into a lighter sleep (the Force waking the man up, he assumed) and that was barely enough time to get everything done that he needed to. He knew keeping four finicky Ysalamiri alive in secret would be difficult, but he hadn’t expected it to be stressful, too.
All in all, though, Hux had been lucky: Ren never came to this corner of the ship, so he never noticed the gap in his Force abilities. And somehow, Hux had managed to hide the missing food he’d been shoving through the vents from the man for nearly two weeks. More importantly, Hux thanked the stars every day for Ren’s ability to pass out like a dead man after sex so he had any time at all to feed them with Ren keeping tabs on Hux with the Force near constantly after the debacle of meeting his parents on Kashyyyk.
Hux ran his fingers through his hair as he made sure the kitchen was clean and exactly as it was after dinner. Luck wasn’t the right word. Miracle. It was nothing short of a miracle and a sign from Ren’s Force that he’d kept those lizards a secret. Clearly, Hux was meant to have these Ysalamiri under his service.
He yawned into his hand, checking the time on the clock. He still had a good night’s sleep ahead of him before he and Ren went into town the next day, at least. They were on Messert, the financial hub of the sector, and Ren was certain they could get information here concerning the First Order.
Ren had seen it in a vision.
Hux felt they weren’t far enough away from Kashyyyk if they were still dealing with that planet’s banking buddy, but if Ren believed he’d find something here than so be it. Finding the First Order meant finding Snoke. The sooner that man was dead, the sooner Hux could go back to destroying the New Republic.
With his little ones taken care of, Hux returned to their room and found Ren asleep in their bed, right where Hux left him. Ren’s eyes fluttered as he dreamed, and his fingers twitched into the pillow. Hux breathed out softly and climbed into bed. While he stayed asleep, Ren had been waking up when Hux crawled back into bed for a few nights, and eventually the man was going to come up with a pattern in his half-awake state.
But tonight, Hux was safe.
“I wonder what you’re dreaming about,” Hux said, slipping under the covers and into Ren’s arms. He brushed his thumb against Ren’s temple, leaning forward to kiss the back of his eyelid. “I hope it’s something good.”
Ben finished tapping out the end of his letter to his mother, letting her know what things were like on Messert while he was there. There had been talk of some big financial decisions coming up with the fall of the Order and working around their lost finances his Mother would like to know. She hadn’t asked for the recon, but Ben figured she could use the update. He knew that a few planets, especially the ones as self interested as a banking planet, weren’t great in sending the New Republic updates.
“Writing your mother again?” Armitage asked, dropping a spoonful of honey into his tea. The jar looked near empty, and Ben could have sworn that had been full the other day. He was starting to wonder if Armitage was sneaking snacks at night, though he couldn’t fathom why he’d start that habit now. Maybe he was still upset over the fight with Poe? Armitage sat across from Ben, sipping his tea as he tapped the front of the datapad. “I’d think you’d have run out of things to tell her at the rate you two chat.”
“We don’t talk that much,” Ben said. He proofread his letter, fixing a few things he’d missed in his typing. “Once every few days is not a lot.”
“As someone who speaks to his father once a year, it still seems clingy,” Armitage said, picking up a spoon to stir his tea further. “Especially since you just saw the woman a month ago.”
Ben chose wisely not to comment on the subject of Armitage’s father, and instead changed the subject. “You ready to go into town? I’m hoping to leave as soon as I finish this letter.”
“Yes,” Armitage said. He sipped his tea, relaxing his shoulders. “Are we wandering around while you sense for something again, or do we have an actual purpose?”
“Both,” Ben said, clicking the send button. He set his pad on the table and leaned back. His lightsaber on his built clicked against his hip as he crossed one leg over the other. “I’m going to check out an area on the far side of town for information, and you get some spending money to pick up supplies.”
“I can do that,” Armitage said, smiling into his tea. Ben mentally patted himself on the back. Armitage had seemed tense and on edge the past couple of weeks (Ben had been hovering a bit since he lost track of him on Kashyyyk, he was ashamed to say), so some space to himself would probably do him good. “Any requests?”
“Enough for a few weeks,” Ben said. He crossed his arms on the table. “If I can’t find what the Force wanted me to accomplish here tomorrow, then I’m assuming this was just a good pitstop and I’ll get a hint at our next location. However it turns out, I’m hoping to leave the day after tomorrow.”
“Alright,” Armitage said. He pushed his empty glass away and stood. “I’ll get my coat.”
Ben put his datapad away in his coat and stood, stretching his arms over the shoulder. He was positive from a week of meditation that this planet was important for some reason. The Force had something planned, but it didn’t want to show him what.
Armitage smiled as him as he passed, coat on his shoulders and Ben followed him to the ramp. He’d worry about it later, but for now, he needed to concentrate on the city.
Hux double checked the math of the items in his bag. Through haggling, good deals, and a bit of swapped price tags, he managed to buy six extra jars of honey, two extra jars of syrup, and an extra bag of sugar while still managing to get the required supplies without it looking like Hux spent extra money.
As long as Ren left him alone to put away the groceries (which he always did after Hux said it was “Relaxing” that one time), he’d never be the wiser to the extra groceries. They’d been divided among the bags equally, so that Ren would never notice the extra jars if he just peeked into the bags.
It seemed Hux’s miracle would continue.
In the meantime, he had thirty extra credits and another hour before he was supposed to meet Ren. Hux browsed the stands, looking for some little trinket or treat to spend his last credits on. It was petty, but after Ren had revealed that he had more money than Hux knew about buying that better mattress, Hux had been determined to spend every single credit he was given on each shopping run.
And if it amused Ren to see what Hux came back with extra, that was just a bonus.
Hux came to a small stand on the corner, debating between getting a bag of sweets or picking up a more savory treat to bring Ren when he heard the loud, audible gasp to his left followed by the clatter of something being dropped.
He turned his head toward the clumsy idiot who’d dropped the jar and froze in place, looking into the eyes of a far too familiar face. Hux sucked in a breath and dared to ask, “Lieutenant?”
“General Hux,” Mitaka whispered, voice so low it was almost spoken in awe. He looked around his shoulder and smacked himself lightly on the cheek. “You. It’s you.”
Hux looked around him, seeing the people mill about as usual. This was big. This was bigger than finding the Ysalamir eggs from under Solo’s nose. Hux took a step back from the stand, looking around the market. He needed to talk to Mitaka right now and someplace private.
Finding the perfect location, he grabbed Mitaka by the arm, putting on a polite smile to throw off his stern tone to any onlookers. “I haven’t see you in ages! What a coincidence. Let me buy that for you, and we can catch up down the street at a lovely cafe I saw.”
Mitaka winced as Hux’s grip tightened, but the man nodded in agreement and picked up his dropped item. Hux paid and the two of them walked to the cafe to take a table up in the corner.
Hux felt like his heart was beating a million miles an hour in his chest as he manhandled a stumbling Mitaka into the cafe. Hux needed this. This was perfect. Finding Mitaka was better than anything Hux could have wished for on this planet.
“Oh, we have so much to talk about,” Hux said, as he shoved Mitaka into a seat. Perhaps Hux was getting ahead of himself, but time was short and he had to make the best of this while Mitaka was still in shock. Hux sat military straight in his chair, leaning over the desk like he would in old officer’s meetings. Mitaka automatically straightened his posture. “Starting with why are you here and what happened to my ship?”
“We thought you were dead,” Mitaka said, ignoring Hux’s question. His reflex move to attention calmed as he dropped his elbows on the table. He tugged at the side of his too large clothes (Borrowed? A disguise? Hux could only guess what happened to the man’s uniform.) Mitaka pushed his hair behind his ear. “You. The Starkiller base exploded and you weren’t in the reported group of people who surrendered. How are you here?”
Hux almost felt flattered everyone assumed he had gone down valiantly with his base.
“Ren kidnapped me,” Hux said, snapping his finger in Mitaka’s face. “Focus and answer the questions. Are you still with the First Order and where is my damn ship?”
“You were kidnapped?” Mitaka asked, staring at the table. “By Lord Ren? But he was a traitor, and he hated you. Why wouldn’t he have killed you?”
“He wasn’t done sleeping with me, apparently,” Hux said, not quite ready to admit that Ren loved him yet.
He still didn’t know if he could trust Mitaka with anything other than common knowledge just yet. Speaking, said man had his eyes open as wide as saucers, and the biggest look of shock on his face Hux had ever seen. That could only mean one thing: The man hadn’t known.
Lieutenant Mitaka was one of his most trusted officers. The man always got the job done. Despite a cowardly personality, he never faltered. Mitaka was around Hux as much as Phasma.
Hux felt his jaw drop. “You didn’t know Ren and I were sleeping together. How did you not know that?”
“I didn’t want to assume,” Mitaka hissed under his breath, cheeks turning red. He caught himself and sat back, resuming the military posture. Mitaka held his hand up, shoulders hunched up. “And you two hated each other!”
“You don’t have to like someone to sleep with them!” Hux said right back.
“So did you escape him?” Mitaka asked, clearly attempting to change the topic.
“We’ll get to that,” Hux said, holding up his hand. “I’m asking one more time: Where’s my ship?”
Mitaka swallowed and sunk into his chair. He fidgeted with the menu. “The Finalizer is a system away in hiding. Myself and a small group came here on a shuttle looking for money and support to help rebuild the Order’s funds.”
Hux felt his shoulders relax, sinking into his seat. Their numbers were clearly diminished if Mitaka was running this sort of diplomatic mission, but the Order was there. Hux also noted again that his official status as far as the First Order was concerned was declared “Dead” not “Wanted.”
Ren had been wrong about Snoke having Hux’s head on a chopping block.
“Here’s what’s going to happen,” Hux said. He got up from his seat, moving across the table to sit directly next to Mitaka. He put his arm around the man’s shoulder, cuddling up to make them look less suspicious to anyone looking over at them in the small booth. Mitaka flushed, and Hux smirked. “My time is short, because Ren is here—”
“Lord Ren is on the planet,” Mitaka said, leaning in until their noses nearly bumped as he lowered his voice, body trembling. His flush was replaced with white as Mitaka paled. “Are you serious?”
“Yes, he keeps tabs on me with the Force and I’m stuck on his ship, pay attention,” Hux said. “I’m meeting him in fifteen minutes, so we need to make an arrangement to talk more in private. I’ll meet you here after dark at twenty-two hundred. You will be here, is that understood?”
“Of, of course,” Mitaka said.
“And bring someone else with you,” Hux said. “I want to make sure they believe you when you return to the ship with my instructions.”
“Yes, sir,” Mitaka said. He nodded, shifting under Hux’s arm. He swallowed, gathering himself. “Sir?”
“Yes?” Hux said, leaning back. His mind was racing with the possibilities. He had Ysalamiri that could block the Force, and an opening back into the Order. It was far ahead of scheduled but he had it. He had it! Mitaka hadn’t spoken again, and Hux looked at him. “What?”
“I’m glad you’re alive, sir,” Mitaka said. He rubbed under his eye and wrung his hands together. “It hasn’t been the same without you.”
“Good,” Hux said. He patted Mitaka on the back and stood, checking the time. “I’ll see you tonight.”
He left in a rush, trusting Mitaka would be waiting for him.
Ben scowled, his arms crossed as he leaned against the pole at the designated meeting place. His eyes were closed and he felt Hux moving toward him from across the market, on time as always. Feeling his presence in the Force had become a method of relaxation in itself, just knowing he was there. Ben rubbed the back of his neck as he opened his eyes, looking around the market.
The Force had led him to this planet, but now the feeling was completely gone, like whatever was meant to happen already had.
But Ben didn’t have the slightest clue what that could have been. He must have missed something, because Ben didn’t run into anything in particular that he could pinpoint, and aside from Armitage being slightly restless from cabin fever, there was nothing too out of the ordinary. The shopping wasn’t any better than any other planet, and aside from getting some intel for his mother, they hadn’t accomplished much during their week stay on planet.
“Maybe it was just the info I sent mom,” Ben mumbled to himself. It was possible that small bit of information was more important than he realized. “Always possible.”
A nagging feeling in the back of his mind told him otherwise, but Ben wasn’t sure what else to do about it. The Force worked the way the Force wanted, and it looked like in this case what the Force wanted was just out of Ben’s reach.
Ben closed his eyes and waited a few more minutes, smiling as he looked up to see Hux approaching. The greatcoat around his shoulders floated behind him as a cape, and the shopping bags hung off his arms. No one could say Hux hadn’t picked up some muscle during all of his added domestic shopping trips. Hux smiled when he saw Ren, picking up his pace to meet him.
“You’re early,” Armitage said, almost proud. He handed Ren a small pastry wrapped in tissue paper that smelled amazing, dripping with glaze. Hux took a bite of his own, a bit of the cream sticking to his lip before he licked it away. “Find what you were looking for?”
“No.” Ben pulled down the paper, smiling at his favorite flavor of pastry. Armitage always knew what he liked. He took a large bite, pushing off the pole and starting his walk down the street. When he finished the pastry, he reached down to grab a few of the shopping bags to help carry. “I’m going to spend tomorrow meditating for our next location, and I hope I don’t miss what the Force was trying to show me a second time. It was here, I swear it. But I didn’t find it in time.”
“It’d be nice if your Force could be more specific,” Armitage said, swapping the bags over to his other hand. He tossed his wrappings into a bin as they passed, walking around someone to get closer to Ben in the crowded street. “I feel like it would save you some trouble.”
“That’s not quite how the Force works,” Ben said, looking up at the sky. “Regretfully.”
“Shame,” Armitage said. He took Ben’s hand, lacing their fingers together to hold his hand. The man squeezed and leaned on Ben’s arm. He must have had a good day in the market if Armitage was being this affectionate out in public. Ben couldn’t help the warm feeling that bubbled in his chest as they walked together (he was so smitten, and proud he could finally admit it). Armitage drew a circle with his thumb on the back of Ben’s hand. “But at least you don’t have to worry about it tonight.”
“Planning on distracting me?” Ben asked, tugging them both toward the spaceport where their Silver Wing was docked.
Armitage licked the top of his lip, tugging Ben down into a kiss with their linked hands. He nipped Ben’s lower lip. “Always.”
Ben kissed him back; it looked like he was going to have a good evening to match Armitage’s good afternoon.
Hux typically had gotten over the guilt of using Ren’s exhausted state to hide things from the man some time ago. It was only natural. If you do something often enough, you become desensitized to it. On top of that, it was typically just a beneficial side effect to something they were going to be doing anyway.
He didn’t intentionally initiate sex to get his free time after all the time, just when it was important. Even then, he’d still climb back into bed with a clear conscious knowing what he was doing was for the better good (whether Ren realized it or not).
But this particular night had guilt squirming in his gut worse than usual.
Probably because Hux slipped the man a sedative in the glass of water Hux brought Ren before bed to make sure the Jedi stayed asleep all night this time. It was a breech of trust Hux hadn’t crossed yet, but he had no choice this time.
This was so important.
“Have to be quick,” Hux muttered to himself dragging an old bag over to the vent that hid away his Ysalamiri. He shoved the plate of syrup in front of Millicent and Eudora to appease them. Gertrude and Hester he yanked out of the ducts and shoved into the bag where a small bowl of syrup waited for them. “This bag will be useless afterwards with the mess you two make.”
He shoved the cover back into place (but not before giving Millicent her nightly pet on the head) and jumped off the box he used as a step.
Covering his eyes, Hux held his breath and mentally ran through his plans again. Handing over these two Ysalamiri was a risk, but one he needed to make. Their Force blocking bubble increased when they were in contact with each other, and it was already getting difficult to feed them. If he split it into two groups, it would be easier to take care of the two, and easier to hide them.
He had to trust that his men would do as instructed with the precious things he would be handing over tonight.
Mind made up, Hux made sure the Ysalamiri were distracted with the mess of food leaking into the bottom of the bag before he zipped it up to secure them. He grabbed Ren’s cloak and threw it over his shoulders as proof that Ren was on planet, and went for the ramp of the shuttle, already having wasted too much time. He counted to ten before pressing the open button, hoping the noise wouldn’t make the man upstairs.
He waited for five minutes after leaving the ship to make sure Ren wasn’t dashing after him, before Hux hurried into the city.
If all went well, he and Ren would be on their way home when they took off next.