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Blood's Perimeter

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The long-range blaster was perfectly balanced and steady in his hands. Troopers with any tremors were sent to the infantry, but those with Hux’s control were dispatched to the firing ranges for five years of intensive training. The First Order needed good marksmen, and Hux was the finest among them.

Rain was pattering down on the black plasteel plates of his armor as he lay at the lip of the building’s roof. It wasn’t enough to soak him, but the hair on his uncovered head was damp. He never shot without his helmet in the daylight—his hair was too bright, too red, and would give him away—but at night, when he could retreat into the shadows, he removed it. He liked the feel of the cool, metal scope against his brow as he lined up a shot; it grounded him in the moment before he pulled the trigger.

A voice over the comm earpiece he wore: “Skyline, report. What’s the status of the target?”

Hux sighted through the scope, three hundred meters across to the residential building on the opposite side of the ten-lane street below. The third window from the right on the thirty-second floor: there was a Bith female in the central room, working on what was presumably the makeshift explosive device she would use against the Order’s staging area just outside of the city.

High command had gotten the intelligence just two cycles prior, but hadn’t hesitated in dispatching a covert operations team to take the Resistance fighters down. Hux was in charge of this team: six infantry troopers and one sniper. He had installed himself on the roof the day before, watching his target’s movements and the comings and goings of her associates. He knew she would be alone with the device tonight, and it was high time to make their move.

He replied to his team: “Target is in position. I’m ready to execute the mission. Are you prepared to infiltrate?”

“Affirmative,” said the trooper on the other end of the comm. “Awaiting your signal, Skyline.”

Hux adjusted his position, breathing out the tension that had been building in his back as he lay, unmoving, for the past three hours. He brought the butt of the blaster to his shoulder, resting the muzzle on a tripod. He disengaged the safety with a flick of his thumb, and peered through the scope. Through the red crosshairs he could see the Bith in sharp relief, down to the Resistance patch on the breast of her jacket. He might have liked to aim for that and her heart, but a headshot would be decisively fatal. He didn’t want to leave her injured for his men to deal with. This was his mission, his kill.

“Be ready to enter on my mark,” Hux said over the comm. There was no acknowledgement; his men knew better than to disturb him right before a shot.

Scoping across the distance, he sighted the Bith one last time. Her head was bent down over the object she worked on, a look on concentration on her face. She had done nothing to wrong Hux or the First Order; not yet. But he had his orders, and he had been conditioned from childhood to follow them. Exhaling, he pulled back on the trigger.

The transparisteel window was almost completely unaffected by the blaster bolt. It singed a small hole near the center, but not even rain would get through it. The Bith, though, was unrecognizable in the aftermath.

“Mark,” Hux said. He kept his eye on the apartment, waiting to see his men, in their white armor, burst through the door. But there was no movement, no entrance, nothing.

“BF-9845, report,” he said. “What is your position?”

Silence.

“I repeat: BF-9845, what is your—” Hux was cut short as someone grabbed him from behind, pulling him away from the edge of the roof and across the pea gravel surface. The plates on the front of his armor screeched as he was dragged backwards; his blaster clattered uselessly to the ground. All of the air rushed out of his lungs when the first hard kick landed in his stomach. The black sniper’s armor, softer and more flexible than standard stormtrooper’s armor, gave under the blow, surely bruising Hux’s ribs.

He curled in on himself, grabbing his middle, but managed to look up to see his attackers. He expected the Resistance—maybe they had found him out, or the entire operation had been a trap—but what he saw were the familiar masks of his men, the white of their armor.

“What—” he croaked, around the searing pain in his abdomen.

“Don’t talk,” one of the troopers said. “It’ll just make this worse for you. It’s supposed to be quick, easy. Don’t put up a fight, and we’ll have this done with.”

Hux had been told not to put up a fight before: by his father, when he had dragged him by his shirt collar out of the nursery where his baby brother had been sleeping, and told him he wasn’t needed anymore.

“Bastard boys have no place here,” Brendol had snarled. “You’re superfluous. You’ll go into the Program, and no one need hear of you again.” He had pushed Hux against the wall and sneered at him. “HX-4874. That’s what you’ll be called now. Armitage is dead.”

He hadn’t fought that day, only wept. He was no more than six when the transport came to collect him and took him to Yirium for reconditioning. They had taken his name that day, but in his mind he still held onto one part of it that his father had given him: Hux.

Letting go of his wounded middle, he slapped away the hands that were reaching for him, attempting to pull him to his feet. His father’s words ran over and over in his head: “Armitage is dead.” Dead. Dead. This was an attempt on his life; not the first, but the most brazen. Brendol had finally grown so desperate to be rid of his shame, his illegitimate son, that he had ordered Hux’s own men to kill him.

    Adrenaline surged through him with the realization, making it clear just how bad his odds were: six against one, and all of them armed. Hux didn’t carry a service weapon when he was on a mission, only the blade he kept in a sheath on his left thigh. He reached for it now, drawing it and slashing out at the nearest weak point: the space between plates at a trooper’s knee. The man screamed and collapsed; Hux’s blade came away red. Rolling back, Hux came up into a low crouch, knife at the ready.

“Kriff!” another of the troopers cried. “Don’t let him get away.”

One of the six went to help his wounded comrade, but the other four came at Hux with blasters drawn. When they didn’t fire, he knew this wasn’t meant to be a simple murder. They had specific instructions, likely to make it look like an accident or a slip-up in action. That gave Hux an advantage that he planned to exploit.

Glancing past the advancing troopers, he spotted the roof access door about twenty meters away. If he got past them, he could get to it and lose them on the stairs. He was faster in his blacks than they were in their armor, and if he could outrun them, he might have a chance of getting out of this alive.

“What did he offer you for this?” Hux asked, harshly. “Promotions? New postings planetside? What did Commandant Hux do to get you to kill me?”

“Shut up,” snapped one of the troopers, “and surrender. You can’t win, HX-4874.”

Hux laughed. “Surrender and go meekly to my death? You can get karked before I do that.”

He shot another look at the door, the position of the wounded trooper and his friend, and the men coming at him. Adjusting his grip on the blade, he dug his toes into the gravel and charged forward. One trooper fired, but Hux managed to duck before the bolt hit him. He sank the blade into that man’s neck, leaving it stuck there as he ran for the door. Five bolts followed him, one of them cutting into his right side. He cried out, stumbling, but pressed on until he had the handle of the door in his hand. He threw it open and clattered down the first flight of stairs.

Pain radiated from the wound on his side as he struggled down thirty-five floors. Behind him he could hear the tramping, hurried steps of the other troopers close behind. He was panting, and sweat from both exertion and fear was dripping down his back. When he reached the ground floor, he slid across the smooth tile, frantically searching for an exit. There was an emergency door just to his left, which he raced toward. The alarm blared as he opened it, but he ignored it and ran on.

“Stop! You can’t get away, HX!” the troopers called from behind him, their voices dangerously near.

Hux found himself in a narrow alley, wet with a rain that was now falling harder. He splashed through filthy puddles, fighting his way along. Once, he fell into the wall, sending searing pain up his side; he ground his teeth against it, but it did little to help.

Up ahead, he could see the flash of passing speeders. If he could get to the street, he might be able to get lost in the crowd. Lurching forward, he set off for it, but his vision began to tunnel, making the terminus of the alley seem kilometers away. Still, he surged, but he didn’t see the pothole in the pavement. He stepped right into it, catching his toe at the edge and falling down first onto his knees and then flat on his belly. He moaned as his bruised ribs were concussed again.

“Get him! Get him!”

The voices seemed muffled and far away, but the ground almost shook as their footfalls came closer. Hux was barely able to fight as they pulled him up and slammed him against the nearest wall. He wasn’t given a second before they hit him, a punch to his cheek hard enough to make his teeth rattle. The coppery taste of blood filled his mouth. Another hit came, and then another, driving Hux’s head back against the wall until he saw white.

“Enough, enough,” he heard even through ringing ears. “He has to be recognizable when we bring him back to the ship. Just get him on his knees.” They shoved Hux down until he was kneeling, beaten head hanging. “Two shots. Clean. Make it look like the Resistance executed him, just like we’re supposed to.”

Hux kept his eyes open, even as he felt the pressure of a blaster barrel against his head. At least it would be, as they said, clean. Fuck you, Father. He waited for the darkness, but instead he heard a cry and the crack of plasteel against metal. The blaster at the back of his head disappeared, and he looked up.

The four troopers were scrambling to shoot at a fifth figure among them: large, shadowed, and wielding a small blaster with deadly accuracy. He caught the first of the troopers in the chest, knocking him back and killing him instantly. The next was on the receiving end of a kick to the side of the knee, surely detaching the kneecap. He wailed as he went down. The third trooper was backing away, firing as fast as he could, but the man never wavered. Hux was delirious with pain, but he thought he even saw two of the bolts stop mid-air and fizzle out as if they hadn’t been there at all.

The fourth trooper dropped his blaster to hold up his fists. So that was YT-2386, the hand-to-hand specialist in the team. He charged at the man and nearly got in a blow, but he was countered deftly and knocked onto his back, before the man put a bolt through his helmet. The others were lying on the wet ground, some making noises of hurt, while others were deathly silent.

Hux knelt where they had left him, aching and battered. He could barely see around his swollen eyes, but when a pair of boots came to rest just in front of him, he ventured a look up to see the man who had, inexplicably and capably, fought off four of the First Order’s finest stormtroopers.

He saw dark hair hanging loose around a long face, pronounced chin. The nose was straight and narrow, the mouth wide and lips slightly parted as the stranger breathed through them. He was staring down at Hux with concern in his eyes; it was too dark to make out their color.

“Are you okay?” he asked, his voice muted as if he spoke through a fog. “Can you speak?”

Hux wasn't sure that he could, but he managed, “Yes.”

The gloved man set one hand on his hip, where he wore a leather blaster belt. “Yes to one or to both?”

Hux, fuzzy-headed, ran back through what he had been asked. “Yes, I can speak,” he said, “but no, I am not okay.”

“Yeah, you don't look it,” said the man. “You'll have to tell me what you did to get on the wrong side of four stormtroopers, but let's get you patched up first.” Leaning down, he got one arm under Hux’s and began to hoist him up.

Hux winced. His whole body was raw and abused, and he couldn't decide what hurt the most: the lacerations on his face, the creaking ribs, or the blaster wound in his side. He could only imagine what he looked like to this man, to whom he now owed his life.

“I can't go with you,” Hux said, even as he wrapped his arm around the man’s waist to steady himself. According to the mission parameters, he was to report back to the extraction point at 2300 hours, when the operation was complete. Every part of his conditioning told him that that was what he needed to do, even if the troopers—his men—had just tried to kill him.

In the past, when there had been a series of accidents that should have killed him, he had simply survived and reported back for his next assignment. But this instance was different; Brendol had never gone far enough to attempt a direct assassination. Now, Hux wasn't certain he could go back and resume his duty, not when he knew for certain that his father, a member of the senior command, wanted him dead. The First Order was no longer safe for him.

His stomach dropped with that weight. He had lived in the Stormtrooper Program for twenty-eight of this thirty-four years, and he knew nothing beyond it. Not appearing at the extraction point would constitute desertion. If he were ever caught, he would be put to death anyway. In some way, it made more sense to go back to his life and await death there rather than run until he was found and executed.

“I can't go with you,” he said again, this time planting his feet and resisting his rescuer’s hold on him. “Let me go.”

The man paused. “If I let you go, you'll collapse. You can hardly walk.”

Hux pushed against him, finding him very solid. “I have to report back to…” He hesitated, uncertain what this man’s loyalties were. It could be highly unwise to inform him that he, too, was with the First Order. “I just have to get somewhere.”

“Yeah,” the man said, “to a medbay.” Taking hold of Hux more firmly, he pulled him along, forcing Hux to walk or be dragged. “We’ll see about getting you where you need to go, but first I've got to stop this bleeding, or you're going to faint.”

“No hospitals,” Hux said. Public medical facilities asked for identification, and Hux didn't have that. He was HX-4874.

“Fine,” was the reply. “I've got bacta and some basic first aid supplies on my ship.”

Hux tried once again to stop. “I can't leave the planet. I have to get back—”

“I know,” said the man. “I won't take you anywhere you don't want to go. Well, except to the Falcon, to get you treated before you bleed to death.”

Woozy as he was, Hux wasn't really in a position to refuse. He needed to get his bearings before he could even try to locate the extraction point. Resigned, he leaned into his rescuer and let himself be half-carried down the alley.

“What's your name?” the man asked him as they stepped out onto a mostly empty side street.

The number was on the tip of his tongue, but he swallowed it back down, forcing out: “Hux.”

“Hux,” the man repeated. “I like that. I’m Kylo. I, uh, wish we could have met under better circumstances.”

“Yes,” said Hux. “Kylo.”

It was an unusual name, and wasn't easily identifiable as coming from one part of the galaxy or another. His accent was a mix of Inner and Outer Rim, which Hux couldn't place, either. His native language was Basic, or at least he spoke it without non-native hesitation. As far as Hux knew, though, he could be anyone.

“It's not far to my ship,” Kylo said as he navigated around a surly-looking Bothan making his way down the sidewalk. The Bothan eyed them, but said nothing about Hux’s state or the blood that was smeared across Kylo’s shirt where he held Hux against him. “This isn’t a good part of town. No security. The perfect place to get jumped. Is that what happened?”

“Stormtroopers don’t just attack civilians,” said Hux, terse. “At least not unless it’s under orders.”

“So, they were told to beat you half to death?” Kylo asked.

Hux didn’t answer, having no reason to disclose anything about himself or his circumstances. He needed to get his wounds seen to, and then leave as soon as possible. A niggling at the back of his mind, though, warned him that life debts did not go unpaid.

Nothing was free among stormtroopers. Though they were not paid in currency, there was a trade economy that thrived in the ranks. Favors were done, but payment was always expected, whether that was in the form of another service or something more lascivious. Hux had always kept to himself, and had never had cause to owe one of the other troopers anything, but there was no denying that he would have to offer something to Kylo in exchange for what he had done. But he didn’t have anything, save for his body, ravaged as it was, and his skills as a sniper. If Kylo didn’t want either of those, Hux would have to find another way, and that might take longer than the few minutes, maybe an hour, that they had before Hux was due to appear at the extraction point.

“Well, whatever happened,” Kylo continued; he talked a great deal, “at least I was there.”

Hux conceded to that, but it wasn’t just anyone who could take on four expertly-trained stormtroopers, single-handed, for the sake of a stranger. No one that Hux had ever known would do that. “Do you make a habit of killing First Order soldiers?” he asked. “Just walking down the street waiting for the opportunity?”

“Oh, yeah,” Kylo said. “All the time.” There was a wryness to his tone that told Hux he was joking, but beneath it was a razor-thin trace of admission. He adjusted his hold on Hux, making him hiss. “Kriff, I’m sorry. We’re almost there.”

They had entered the shipping district, where there were landing pads for transports and freighters. A good deal of them were empty at this time of night, but there were three in a row that were occupied. Kylo led them to the first, where a YT-model freighter was docked. Hux didn’t know a great deal about spacecraft, but it was clear this one was nearly an antique.

When they were standing under the belly, Kylo typed in a code on a keypad and the loading ramp began to descend. A jet of condensed air shot down in front of Hux, making him start and tighten his hold on Kylo’s waist.

“You’re all right,” Kylo said. It was meant to soothe, but Hux’s temper flared; he didn’t need to be coddled.

The ramp struck the duracrete of the landing pad with a heavy thud, and immediately Kylo began to draw Hux up into the ship. They went through the empty cargo hold and into narrow passages lined with yellow illuminators. The falls of their boots sounded hollow, as if there was space beneath the grated floor. Hux tried to commit the layout of the ship to memory, in case he needed to make a hasty escape, but it all blurred together in a haze of hurt and lingering disorientation.

They stopped, at last, in the main living compartment, where there was a semicircular bench seat upholstered in a fading orange and a small, round table set for dejarik. Kylo brought Hux to the bench and lowered him onto it. Hux hunched over, relieved to be off of his feet, but made sharply aware of all the places from which pain was radiating in red-hot pulses.

“Stay here,” Kylo said. “I’ve got to go get the first aid kit.”

Hux grunted, watching him disappear around the corner to find what he needed. Hux peeled back the synth-leather of his gloves while he waited. He put them to the side and ventured to touch his wound, gasping as he slid his fingers past the ruined armor and grazed the broken edges of his skin. It would take a great deal more than a field bacta patch to heal the gash; likely sutures, which would mean a medical droid. Unless Kylo had medic’s training, which Hux doubted. He needed to get to the extraction point and back to the First Order for proper treatment.

“Here we go,” said Kylo, coming back into the living space with a small case in his hand. The fingers were sleek and metal, not skin at all, and Hux thought he had imagined it until he took a seat next to him and lifted the lid with his other hand, which was very much flesh and blood.

The kit was a basic one: bacta patches, bandages, stims, and, thankfully, two syringes of painkillers. Hux pointed to one and said, “That first.”

Kylo picked up one of the syringes and grabbed for Hux’s upper arm. It was armored still, so Hux tugged it out of Kylo’s grip, snatching the syringe with his other hand. Quickly, and over Kylo’s surprised protests, he injected the painkillers into his neck. The relief was immediate. The drugs flooded his system with each pump of his heart, clearing his head some and making it possible to see clearly again. When Kylo laid a hand on his side, there was only a dull throb of pain.

“You need to take this all off,” Kylo said. “I can’t get to the wound like this.” He reached for the clasps at the back of Hux’s neck, but Hux pulled away.

“No,” Hux said sharply. “Just give me some bacta gel.” That, at least, would heal the broken vessels and stanch the flow of fresh blood. It could get him where he needed to go.

“All right, fine,” Kylo grumbled, retrieving a tube about the length of his hand from the kit and breaking the seal on the cap. He wasn’t foolish enough to try to apply it, as he had tried to inject Hux, instead handing it over and allowing Hux to do it himself.

The gel was cool on Hux’s bare hand, where he squeezed out a generous amount. He pushed it through the hole in his armor, spreading it over the wound with his forefingers. The gel and blood left smears of thick red on his hand as he pulled it free. When Kylo offered him a towel, he took it and wiped himself clean.

“You need some for your face,” said Kylo. He gave Hux a stern look. “You’ll have to let me do that. You can’t see where the cuts are.”

Hux begrudgingly handed the tube over and tipped his chin up to permit Kylo to smooth the gel over the cuts and bruises. It would take care of the worst of the swelling and seal up any small wounds that had opened. He knew there was one on his lip, which Kylo dabbed at gently as he applied the gel. Hux noted that he used his left hand, not the artificial right one.

Looking up at his face, Hux saw that his skin was dotted with small, dark moles and that his eyes were brown. He bit down on his lower lip, with slightly crooked front teeth, as he worked. A strand of hair slipped down in front of his eye, but he didn’t pause to push it back until he was done with Hux’s face.

“There,” he said, sounded duly satisfied. “I think you’ve probably looked better, and you’ll be shades of purple tomorrow, but the swelling’s going down already.”

The words were strange on his tongue, but Hux said, “Thank you.”

Kylo flashed him a grin. “You’re welcome. Now, you should lie down and get some rest.”

Hux shook his head. “I can’t. I have to go. I’m expected.”

“Like hell you are,” said Kylo, expression darkening again. “You’ve got to take it easy for a minute and let the bacta work.”

Hux knew that, but he had no other choice. The chronometer on his wrist already read 2230. “I appreciate your help, Kylo,” he said, “but this isn’t negotiable. I have to leave.” Pressing his hands down into the upholstery of the bench, he started to rise. His vision went immediately grey around the edges, and his head swam, leaving him to fall back hard against the backrest of the seats.

“Easy, easy,” said Kylo, laying his hands on Hux’s shoulders to keep him in place. “You’re a mess, Hux. You can’t go anywhere.”

“I have to,” Hux mumbled, though he could feel the will and the ability to get up swiftly ebbing away. He was struggling to keep himself conscious, and realized, with dismay, that the painkillers had had sedatives him them. There was no way to get to the extraction point now; his eyelids were already sinking.

He felt himself being laid back onto the seats, but could do nothing to stop it. Before he passed out, he heard Kylo say, “Just sleep. You’re safe.” Hux was convinced he had never been less so in his life.

 


 

The ride in a troop transport was never a smooth one. Coming down through atmo shook the entire shuttle, jostling the men inside as they hung onto the narrow straps bolted to the ceiling. Hux felt himself in one now, being jostled along. But when he cracked his eyes open, he didn’t see the familiar ranks of white-helmeted troopers. The world was tilted to the side, and Hux’s head pounded as he tried to discover where he was.

The passageway was narrow and constructed of silver durasteel; there was a large viewport to the right, a planet visible outside. Forcing his head up, he tried to get a better look.

“Don’t struggle,” said someone nearby, “or I’ll drop you.”

Hux turned his face up, his blurry vision clearing to reveal Kylo. Hux was in his arms, being carried along the passageway. “Put me down!” he demanded, struggling just as Kylo had told him not to. “I can walk.”

Kylo’s grip tightened, pulling him closer to his chest. “Take it easy; I’m trying to help you. You were passed out cold. What was I supposed to do, sit around until you woke up?”

“I’m awake now,” Hux snapped, “so put me the bloody hell down.” He felt the rumble of Kylo’s laugh as much as he heard it, and it rankled him. He despised being the butt of anyone’s joke.

“You’re feisty, I’ll give you that,” Kylo said. “But shut up and stay still for now. We’re almost there.”

Hux made a last twisting attempt to free himself, but when Kylo jostled him again to keep his hold, he gave up. He kept his head up, though, surveying his surroundings. They were no longer on the grungy freighter, but somewhere clean and sleek. The planet outside the viewport was too verdant to be Utel Gamma, where Kylo had picked him up.

“Where are we?” he asked, with less venom than before.

“Somewhere safe,” Kylo replied, “and hidden. Whoever is after you isn’t going to find you here.”

Hux figured that was true. Since neither he nor any of his men had appeared at the extraction point—unless, maybe, the wounded one and his comrade had found their way there—they were likely presumed dead. A search team would be dispatched, and would find the bodies of the others. Without Hux’s, he would be declared missing-in-action. That would surely disappoint his father (with no body to bury), if not his commanding officer, who had liked having him in his unit for the bragging rights. Hux’s record was impeccable.

“Are we even in the Outer Rim anymore?” he said as they crossed the threshold into a larger room: a furnished living space.

“We are,” said Kylo, “just on the other side from where we were.”

He bore Hux across the room—past a sofa and upholstered chairs around a table that seemed to spring up from the floor itself, past a kitchen that Hux could just see beyond a dividing wall—to another hallway, this one lined with doors. Kylo went to the one at the end and, angling Hux down, pressed the button beside it with his silver right thumb. The door hissed open, revealing sleeping quarters: a single cot against the wall and an adjoining refresher. Kylo went over to the cot and set Hux down on it, as if he were something delicate. Hux scowled at him, going immediately to stand.

“Stars, you’re difficult,” Kylo said, setting his hands on Hux’s shoulders and pushing him, none too gently, back onto the cot. “You’re barely holding together. Sit down and let me help you.” When it seemed that Hux wasn’t going to fight him, he backed off, going to the comm unit on the wall. “2-1H, will you come down here? I need a hand.”

Hux tensed. He hadn’t considered that there were others in this place, even if it seemed large enough to house them. But he couldn’t deny that he needed a medic, if that was who Kylo was summoning.

“You should get out of that armor,” said Kylo as he turned back to Hux. “1H will be able to get you stitched up, but it’s got to see the damage.”

Ah, a surgical droid, then; that was better. Hux shifted to the edge of the cot, but paused, eyeing Kylo. “I have to get up to do that. Are you going to stop me again?”

One side of Kylo’s mouth lifted in a half-smile. “No, but I am going to help you.”

“I can undress myself,” Hux grumbled, rising unsteadily to his feet.

Kylo took a sauntering step toward him, looking him over from boots to mussed red hair. “Maybe, but who doesn’t like it when someone else does it for you?”

Hux’s brow creased with suspicion. Nakedness was common in the gang sonics in the troopers’ quarters, so he had no qualms about that, but the innuendo made him wary. He had been approached by other troopers like this before, but he had never permitted any of them to touch him.

Seeing his expression, Kylo stopped. “Just a joke,” he said. “I’ll go if you want me to. 1H will be here in a couple of minutes.”

“No,” said Hux. “I can barely move without opening the wound again. I could use you.”

Kylo’s smile appeared once more. “Watch what you say. I might like being used.”

Hux pursed his lips, displeased and not knowing what to make of the teasing, suggestive tone Kylo seemed to be able to pick up and drop at will. “Just come undo these clasps,” Hux said.

Kylo came around behind him and released the fastenings at the neck of his armor, letting the cool, recirculated air prickle his skin.

“This is a space station of some kind,” he said as Kylo undid the clasps of the breast- and backplates. “What world are we orbiting?”

“Ryden 2,” Kylo said, lifting the plates away and setting them on the floor.

    Hux glanced down at the hole in the right side of the thick base-layer under the armor. The fabric was singed and caked with dried blood. He pulled at it gently, wincing as it stuck to the skin.

“We should soak that off,” said Kylo. “We’ll do the rest and then get you into the shower.”

Hux’s brows shot up. “You have water-based showers here?” He had never actually had  the opportunity to use one; the troopers were permitted only sonics.

“Mmhm,” Kylo hummed, stooping to remove Hux’s greaves. “It’s recirc, but it’s good. I had the filters retrofitted about six months ago, Ryden time. You can get as clean as you want. Take two showers a day.”

Hux wasn’t used to indulging himself, but the prospect of a cool shower in the morning and a hot one at night was almost too good to pass up. Still, he asked, “That doesn’t take away from the reserves for everyone else here?”

“You mean me?” Kylo chuckled. “There’s enough for both of us.” He put the greaves aside, starting in on Hux’s boots. “There’s nobody else here. It’s kind of a stopover place. People come sometimes, but they always go.”

Hux lifted his right foot out of the boot Kylo had unlaced, setting his socked foot on the chilly durasteel of the floor. “You don’t live here, then?”

Kylo slid the discarded boot across to the wall, where it struck with a thunk. “Well, I guess you could say I do. I bunk here when I’m not working.”

Hux ventured the question: “What do you do?”

“Transport mostly,” Kylo said, peeking up to meet Hux’s eyes before holding his boot down so he could pull his left foot out. “You saw my ship. She’s a freighter. I run from here almost all the way to the Unknown Regions.”

The trade routes in the Unknown Regions were controlled almost exclusively by the First Order, and those merchants and traders they contracted with were larger, cartel-run enterprises whose silence could be bought. For an organization that had scraped by on the scraps of the old Empire at its founding, the Order had quadrupled its funds under Supreme Leader Snoke. They could afford to pay the cartels without even dipping into their reserves, or so Hux had once heard a pair of talkative officers say.

Looking down at Kylo, Hux said, incredulously, “A single man operating a transport can afford an orbital station of his own?” Hux was satisfied to see him hesitate as he stood again.

“I’m a good businessman,” Kylo said, cagey. Hux had a dismissive remark on the tip of his tongue, but he swallowed it back down as Kylo added, “Come on, the shower’s through here. Might want to take off your socks, though.”

Hux shucked them, leaving them crumpled on the floor as he followed Kylo into the refresher. It wasn’t overlarge, but the shower cubicle was far more spacious that the sonics Hux was used to. He stopped at the center of the room as he caught sight of himself into the mirror: his face was dark with bruises, which a topical application of bacta couldn’t handle; he would have to be injected with it, or let them heal in their own time.

“Don’t worry,” said Kylo as he turned on the shower, “you’ll still be pretty when 1H gets done with you.”

Hux’s attention was drawn immediately from his reflection to the soft patter of water on steel. It had a different sound than rain: more determined and pointed; he had never heard anything like it. Approaching cautiously, he took in the spray from the showerhead attached to the wall. He reached out, slow and tentative, and put his hand into it. The water was warm, nearly making him sigh.

“You should probably take off your pants,” Kylo said from beside him. “Looks like you’ll never get out of them if they get wet.”

Hux pulled his hand back, woken. “All right.” The skin-tight material of his base-layer was easy to slide down his legs and kick away, leaving him bare from the waist down. He noticed that Kylo had gone away, and was standing across the room with his back to him, busying himself with a stack of white towels. Hux trained his gaze back on the shower and, spreading his toes in anticipation, stepped under the water.

Heat and wet poured over his body, soaking immediately into his shirt and plastering his hair to his skull. The water running over his wound made it sting anew, but Hux disregarded it; this was as near to bliss as he had ever come. He turned his face up into the spray, letting it wash over his bruises.

“Give it a couple of minutes before you try to take your shirt off,” he heard Kylo say over the splash of the water. “Just let it soak.”

Hux turned his injured side into the direct flow from the showerhead, clenching his teeth against the pain. “For a man in ‘transport,’ you know a great deal about treating wounds.”

“A few things, I guess,” said Kylo, a shrug in his voice. “I’ve hauled merchandise for mercs before. I paid attention.”

“Mercenaries,” Hux mused, affecting wonder. “That must have been dangerous.” He himself had learned early how incompetent most Outer Rim mercs were. His first tactical team—six men fresh out of training—had put down a group of twenty without even breathing hard. Kylo didn’t need to know that, however.

“I didn’t fight them,” Kylo said. “I just brought their weapons from one planet to another. But not everyone could handle that kind of work.”

Hux gave a contemptuous snort, which was fortunately masked by the shower. “No doubt,” he said.

There was a pause, but then: “Is that what you are? A merc?”

“Of a sort,” Hux replied. He glanced out through the frosted plas of the cubicle, spotting Kylo’s blurry form against the wall across from the shower.

“Specific,” Kylo said, sardonic. “Fine, I get it; you can’t tell me. I’ll just make up a story.” Hux cocked a brow, though he knew Kylo couldn’t see it. Kylo continued, thoughtfully, “Let’s see. You’re a captain in the Hutt merc force, sent to Utel Gamma to shake down a glitterstim dealer who was cutting himself too big a share of the profits.”

“My,” Hux deadpanned, “how did you guess all that?”

“Hush,” Kylo said. “I’m not done. I see now...everything was going according to plan, and the dealer was about to give up his stash, but then the First Order stormtroopers showed up. The dealer was in league with them the whole time! He was funnelling the extra credits to their operations.”

He wasn’t far off in that, actually. Hux’s team had once been sent to collect the profits from just such an operation. The Order was, if anything, resourceful.

“What happened next?” Hux asked, earnestly curious to see where Kylo’s imagination would take them.

“Well, of course, the secret was out, so the troopers killed the dealer, and then came for you. No loose ends. But you ran. I bet you’re quick, with those long legs of yours. I don’t quite know how they managed to catch you—maybe you didn’t know the city and got turned around in that alley—but they did. And, uh, they decided to rough you up before they put a bolt in your head. But before they could, a tall, devilishly handsome stranger who was quick on the trigger came out of the shadows to save your life.”

Despite himself, Hux smiled just slightly. “You think very highly of yourself.”

“Hey,” Kylo said, sounding affronted, “I did save your life. The least you can do is tell me I’m good-looking and good with my blaster. And brave. Put brave in there for good measure.”

Sobering, Hux said, “You did. Why?” Through the plas, he saw Kylo move from the side of the room to where the mirror was. He appeared to be leaning on the sink below it.

“I’m not just going to stand by and watch someone get shot in the back of the head,” he said, quieter than before.

“What if I had deserved it?” Hux asked. “What if I’m the drug dealer in your story, selling glitterstim to children on the street?”

“Drug dealers don’t wear high-end duraplas armor in ‘Stealth Operative Black.’ You’re a soldier; that much I know.”

Hux licked his wet lips, unable to find a way to deny it. He was turning lies over in his mind as quickly as possible, but before he could decide on one, Kylo spoke again: “The blood should be loosened up by now. Try it.”

Taking the hem of his shirt between his thumb and forefingers, Hux began to lift it away from the wound. The material gave this time, coming up from the skin without sticking painfully. As he stretched up to lift the shirt over his head, the wound pulled and stung; a rivulet of red trickled down his waist and over his hip.

“Is that surgical droid here?” he said, dropping the sodden shirt at his feet.

“It’s outside,” Kylo replied. “Are you bleeding again?”

“Yes.”

The word had just left his mouth when Kylo, holding a towel, appeared around the corner of the cubicle. Ignoring the still-running water, he stepped close to it and shut it off before sweeping the towel around Hux’s shoulders. “Come on,” he said, ushering him out of the refresher.

“Master Kylo,” said the droid standing next to the cot when they got back into the bedroom. It was squat, with a single wheel to move around on. Its head was anthropomorphic, but the body was round and drum-like. Two clamp-like “hands” jutted out from its sides. “Is this the patient?”

“Yes,” Kylo said. “His name is Hux, and he’s been shot.” Still holding Hux by the shoulders, he guided him to the cot. Before Hux could say anything to the contrary, Kylo pulled the towel away and wrapped it around his waist. “Sit.”

Hux did as he was told, sinking down onto the mattress. As soon as Kylo moved away, the droid was there, clucking over his wound.

“No, no,” it said, “this isn’t good at all. You poor young man.” The clamps whirred into different, more precise tools.

Hux fought not to flinch; he had always hated medical treatment. As a sniper, he was removed from the proper battlefield and was rarely injured. This was, in fact, that most severe wound he had ever sustained.

“Well,” the droid narrated, “at least someone thought to stop the worst of the bleeding with bacta. You must be very clever, Master Hux.”

“Very,” Hux grumbled. Across the room, Kylo huffed a laugh.

Moving in, the droid brandished a syringe. “Just a little prick, now, and then you won’t feel a thing.” It injected him with anesthetic near the wound, and almost instantly the dull ache faded. “Best not watch this part, unless you’re curious about surgery.”

“No,” Hux said, turning his head away. He heard the meaty clunk of the staples puncturing his skin to close the wound and felt a little sick.

“All done!” the droid said, all too cheerfully. “Now just bacta gel and a nice, fluffy bandage and you’ll be as good as new.” It paused, looking up at Hux’s face. “Well, another little shot of bacta, a few hours, and then you’ll be—”

“He knows, 1H,” said Kylo. “Just finish up with that, and I’ll take care of the rest.”

Hux glanced at him, surprised. With a perfectly good droid to handle the dressing of his smaller cuts, he couldn’t imagine why Kylo would want to do the work himself. Hux certainly wouldn’t have done it.

The bandage the droid placed over Hux’s side was square and clean. 1H sealed it tightly against his skin, saying, “Leave this on for tonight, but you can take it off when you bathe tomorrow. Let the wound air for a few minutes—don’t towel-dry it—and then put another bandage on.” It added, in a sour voice, “I’m sure Master Kylo can help you if you need it.”

“All right,” Hux said.

1H gave a curt, mechanical nod, before producing another syringe. “This one is for your face. It might sting a bit, but—”

Hux tipped his chin down, offering his cheek. “Go ahead. I can take it.”

There were three short pricks, a feeling of fullness under his skin, and then nothing. When the droid was finished, it wheeled back. “Very good, Master Hux. I prescribe a good night’s rest now.”

“Thanks, 1H,” said Kylo, before Hux could reply. “You can go.”

“You’ll be needing these, Master Kylo,” the droid said, offering a packet of bacta and a few smaller bandages. “You know where I am.” Making what Hux could only describe as a huffy departure, it disappeared through the door.

“You’ll have to excuse him,” Kylo said. “He doesn’t get to see much use these days, so he was pretty excited to get the opportunity to fix up a real injury.”

Hux, amused, waved him off. “I can manage the others by myself. You needn’t bother.”

Kylo sat down on the cot beside him, reaching for his upper arm, where there was a short, shallow cut that Hux hadn’t noticed. “It’s not a problem. It’s just this one, and then you can get some sleep.”

Admittedly, Hux was exhausted, but he couldn’t imagine sleeping here, unguarded. When he was on a mission, he closed his eyes for a few minutes at a time to keep himself sharp, but he never truly slept until he was back in his bunk on the Finalizer. While he had been told Kylo’s station was safe, his habits were going to be difficult to fight.

Kylo’s hands were soft on his shoulder, applying a thin layer of bacta before covering the scratch—that’s all it was—with a bandage. “That’s it then,” he said. “Good as new.” Hux laughed weakly, and Kylo grinned at him. “Let me go find you something to wear to sleep. Most of my clothes will be too big for you, but it’s just for sleeping, right?”

“I don’t need them,” said Hux. “I’m accustomed to sleeping nude.”

Kylo’s brows rose. “Oh, really? Interesting. Well, suit yourself, but I’m going to get you some pants, at least. For the morning.” He got up, standing over Hux, who remained seated. He was very broad across the shoulders, and his light grey shirt—stained with Hux’s blood—was pulled taut across his chest. “Devilishly handsome” might have been too generous, but he was striking.

“What happened to your arm?” Hux asked, eyeing the flash of silver at his side.

Kylo lifted the prosthetic right hand, curling the fingers in toward his palm and then out again. “An accident when I was a kid.” He rolled his sleeve up a few centimeters more, revealing more of the well-crafted metal.

“It’s cybernetic, I assume,” said Hux. “Custom-fitted.”

“That’s right,” Kylo said. “I had to go to the Core to get it made, but I’ve learned to tune it up myself when I have to.” He rubbed his bicep. “Goes all the way up to the shoulder.”

Curious, Hux stood. “May I see it?”

Kylo gave him a look, but nodded. “Sure.” With both hands, he pulled the hem of his shirt out from the waist of his pants and tugged it off over his head. He wore a white undershirt beneath it, the thick straps over his shoulders baring the place where the silver arm met his skin.

Hux came a half a step closer, cocking his head to the side as he studied the way the metal was almost ribbed, each section a joint, to allow Kylo a full range of motion, perhaps even more than a blood-and-bone arm would permit.

“You can touch,” said Kylo, “if you want to.”

Gently, Hux laid a hand on the upper section of the arm; it was cool to the touch. “Can you feel anything?”

Kylo rolled his wrist, making the cybernetic muscles throughout his arm flex under Hux’s palm. “The hand has tactile sensors, so I can still pick things up without dropping them, but the rest is just metal. I can’t feel your hand, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Fascinating,” Hux said, drawing back. “How often does it need to be serviced?”

“Full of questions, aren’t you?” Kylo chuckled. But he answered, “One or twice a standard year. I just take it off and run a software upgrade, lubricate the joints. Nothing really impressive. If I ever really damaged it, I’d have to take it back to Hosnian Prime to get it repaired. I’m only so good with tech.”

Hux wasn’t particularly good with it, either, but it was interesting to him. “It must have cost a great deal.”

Kylo shrugged. “A bit, but I take good care of it, for the most part. It was pretty easy to carry you with it, too. You’re heavier than you look.” At Hux’s frown, he flashed a grin. “Done looking? I’ll go get you those pants.” Turning, shirt in hand, he left the room.

Hux stared at the door that shut behind him, left alone in the silence. On the Finalizer, if it was quiet enough, he could hear the humming of the drive core. The station, though, was soundless, relying on the planet’s gravity to stay in orbit rather than core power. The First Order had a few stations like this one, but far larger and very crowded. The Imperial exiles who had founded the Order had taken their repopulation duties very seriously, and with the advent of the Stormtrooper Program, thousands of children had been recruited to fill the ships and stations.

The officers were fewer and came almost exclusively from Imperial stock, carrying on their parents’ legacies in a new military. At the head of the Order’s ever-growing forces was the youngest general ever to lead them: Brendol Hux II, the brother for whom young Armitage had been cast aside to make way for. His mother was their father’s wife, not a kitchen girl the commandant had dallied with for a few months, so he was the one to bear the family name and rise through the ranks to the top of the Order. Armitage was given a number and put where no one would find him. And even if he did venture to tell the truth, which he never had, he wouldn’t have been believed.

He had been bitter as a teenager, watching his brother advance and win the favor of Supreme Leader Snoke, but those feelings had long passed by the time he finished his special operations training. He lived for marksmanship, and couldn’t imagine a life without his blaster rifle in his hands. His brother may command thousands, but he never learned to shoot outside of a simulator, never felt the rush of a shot landing perfectly between the eyes. Hux was content where he was.

Had been.

He was a deserter now, unable to return to the Order. He had lost his rifle, and his armor was piled in the corner of the room, discarded and unlikely to be used again. He might have escaped with his life, but his father had taken his purpose, and that, he thought, could almost be worse.

The door hissed opened again, admitting Kylo. “Here,” he said, holding out a pair of folded black trousers. “These shouldn’t fall off.”

Hux took them, feeling the soft fabric. It would be the first item of clothing he had worn as an adult that wasn’t standard-issue.

“I’ll go now,” said Kylo. “If you need anything, I’m the first door on the left. Knock hard.” He backed away two steps, gave a small wave with his silver hand, and then went out.

He was gone before Hux even realized he hadn’t thanked him. That was if a simple phrase would even begin to repay the life debt that Hux now owed, which it wouldn’t. Among the troopers, if you saved someone else’s life, they would owe you a great deal of favors. Those ranged from cleaning blasters and armor for a year to giving up recreation hours or submitting to any physical demand that they had.

Upon entering the Program, every trooper was given an infertility vaccination—reversible—and conditioned to control sexual appetites. The vaccination was completely effective, but the conditioning was not. It was difficult for even the First Order’s best behavioral scientists to control the human urges to fight and fuck. Fortunately, the Program’s mixed-gender barracks and frequent combat situations allowed for both.

Debts among the troopers were often paid in the form of sex, as it was easy to come by and universally enjoyed. Hux had known a man who had been rescued during a drop by a young woman, and to repay her, he had taken care of her gear for months and shared her bed for even longer. Hux remembered listening to their barely-muffled grunts of pleasure while he tried to sleep. He had been relieved when the man’s debt was cleared, only to find out that they intended to continue the arrangement anyway. Not all sex was in exchange for something, after all.

Hux had never been in a position to owe anyone anything, having taken care of himself on the battlefield and off, but things were different now. If he had to start paying Kylo back, he might as well do it tonight, offering himself first and negotiating other methods the next day. Dropping the towel from around his waist, he pulled on the trousers and padded out into the hallway, going to the first door on the left. He knocked hard.

There wasn’t a response right away, and Hux considered that Kylo might already be sleeping, but it hadn’t been more than a few minutes. He didn’t bother to raise his fist to knock again, instead just pressing the button next to the door and hoping it wasn’t locked. He heard a click, and then the door slid open.

Kylo’s bedroom was twice the size of Hux’s, and instead of a wall at the far side, there was a massive viewport, displaying Ryden 2 below. Kylo was seated on the floor in front of it, his legs crossed and his hands resting on his knees. His eyes were closed. Hux, barefoot, crept into the room, going to him cautiously. Kylo still didn’t open his eyes, even as Hux came to stand right before him, less than half a pace away.

He seemed perfectly serene, his face lax and blank, breathing steady. A meditation, perhaps? Hux had heard that some entered a state of unawareness when they meditated, completely inside their own heads, but he hadn’t believed it was possible to completely shut oneself off from outside stimuli. It was too dangerous, too, for a soldier.

Slowly, knees creaking, Hux knelt in front of him. With his right hand, he brushed Kylo’s jaw, but he still didn’t move. Puzzled, but determined, Hux cupped his cheek, and, leaning in, whispered, “Thank you,” as he kissed his lips. Kylo’s eyes flew open immediately, wide and bright with astonishment. Hux kept his mouth against his, unsure how to proceed—he had never done this before—but unwilling to relent until Kylo responded. Slipping his hands around Kylo’s shoulders, he crawled into his lap and wrapped his legs around his waist. Kylo made an “mm” sound as he took hold of Hux’s hips, steadying him. Taking that for encouragement, Hux pressed closer, kissed harder. He wasn’t expecting it when Kylo pulled back.

“Hey,” Kylo said, his face still very close to Hux’s. “Hey, stop a second. You’re a little, ah, frisky for someone who almost died. What’s this all about?”

Hux held his gaze, confused and a little irritated at the question. It was obvious enough. “You don’t want it?” he asked.

Kylo blinked once, adjusting his grip on Hux so that he was holding him by the buttocks. “If you really want to kiss me, I’m not going to stop you, but—”

Hux took the opportunity and moved in again, silencing Kylo with his lips. This time Kylo’s mouth was softer, more receptive. With minute movements, he got Hux to relax into it, too, until the emphasis was not on intensity but exploration. Hux understood kisses to be a prelude to the rest, and there was no denying that his body’s interest was piqued by the softness of Kylo’s mouth and the inquisitive swipes of his tongue against the seam of his lips. Hux was surprised, but not unpleasantly, when he parted them, and Kylo slid inside.

Hux’s pulse jumped, blood flowing strongly through his veins and down to his cock. Spurred by the sensation, he clung to Kylo, pushing his own tongue against his. Kylo turned his head to change the angle, and their noses brushed. Strangely, Hux liked that feeling just as much as the kisses, which resumed right away. One hand cupping Hux’s buttock, Kylo moved the other to his side to pull him even closer. As he squeezed, Hux spasmed, in sudden pain.

Shit,” Kylo swore, yanking his hand away from Hux’s wound. “I’m sorry. I got carried away.”

“It’s all right,” said Hux. Fingers at the back of Kylo’s neck, he tried to steer him back into a kiss.

Kylo resisted. “Wait. This is a little crazy. An hour ago you were barely conscious, and now you’re...like this. We should dial this back a notch.”

Hux slid his hands down Kylo’s chest to where his shirt hung by his belt. This was necessary, but now Hux was interested in it; he wanted to continue. “We might as well start now.”

Kylo’s throat worked as he swallowed. “Start what?” he said.

“Paying my debt,” Hux replied. “You saved my life. That can’t go unpaid.”

“You think you owe me... this...for that?” Kylo stammered, gaze darting over Hux’s face, as if he didn’t comprehend in the least.

Hux’s brows knit in consternation. “Yes. Unless you don’t want me.” Part of him was disappointed at that thought.

Kylo blew out a breath. “Well, I don’t not want you, but I don’t expect you to sleep with me, if that’s what this is.”

“You don’t?” Hux asked.

“No!” Kylo exclaimed, taking him by the shoulders and easing him back so that there was some distance between them, though Hux still sat in his lap. “Of course not. You don’t owe me anything, especially not this. Unless you want it.” He shook his head. “But even if you do, this isn’t the time. I mean, is this how it works where you come from?”

“Mostly.”

Stars,” said Kylo. “I, uh, well, where I come from, it isn’t. So, don’t think you have to do anything, okay? Here, just hang on.”

Taking a hold of Hux’s thighs, he started to get to his feet. Hux wrapped his legs tighter around his waist and looped his arms around his neck, and Kylo carried him toward the door. They went back to Hux’s room, where Kylo set him on the ground next to the cot.

“Look,” Kylo said, holding Hux’s face, “if things were different, and we had met in a cantina on Utel, you’d be bunking with me tonight, but we didn’t, and you’re not. I want you to get some rest. Don’t think about what you owe me.”

“It’s a life debt,” said Hux, insistent. “I won’t just let that go.”

Kylo rubbed his thumb across Hux’s still-tender cheekbone. “I know. We’ll talk about it in the morning.” He released Hux and, going to the cot, turned down the sheets. “There’s an extra blanket in the cabinet if you need it.”

Hux nodded, arms hanging limply at his sides. He wasn’t ashamed of himself, exactly, but clearly he had done something wrong, which only served to emphasize that he was now in a world that he didn’t understand.

“Goodnight, Hux,” Kylo said.

Hux replied, “Goodnight, Kylo,” and watched him walk out for the third time.

When he was gone, Hux sat heavily down on the cot. It was spongy and presumably more comfortable than his bunk on the Finalizer. Resigned to never seeing that again, he curled up under the sheets and closed his eyes. He had started the day as HX-4874, a First Order trooper, and now he was ending it as Hux, civilian, fugitive; someone he didn’t know.

Chapter Text

The door closed behind him with a soft hiss, the lock unengaged, leaving Kylo in the steel-enclosed silence of his orbital station. His head was still muddled with the lingering stillness of his interrupted meditation, but he was swiftly, determinedly processing what had happened to pull him out of it: the stray stormtrooper he had picked up in an ill-advised moment of charity in an Utel City alley, barely held together by staples and painkillers, had made an insistent, if inexpert attempt at seducing him in order to pay for his life. If Kylo had been told the story by someone else, he would have laughed in disbelief, but the taste of Hux’s mouth and the smoothness of his skin under his left hand were vivid in his memory.

Lifting that hand to his lips, he rubbed the thumb along the lower, his breath warm and damp against it as he sighed. The mission on Utel Gamma was supposed to be simple: let the Resistance operatives on-planet falsify information about an intended saboteur to allow Kylo to pick up the vital intelligence they had gathered on the First Order from their mole. The transfer had been made successfully, but when Kylo had tried to make contact with Irrel, the Bith head of the Utel contingent, she hadn’t replied. He had been on his way to her apartment, taking a shortcut through the alley, when he had found Hux at the mercy of four stormtroopers. In black, he had stood apart from them, and Kylo had assumed—naïvely—that he was a civilian.

The troopers were easy enough to put down between the blaster Kylo carried on his hip and the Force, which he didn’t use but for situations like this, when he needed to gain the upper hand quickly and without mercy. He broke two of their necks in an instant, shooting the third and the fourth before they could pull the trigger on the red-headed man who knelt, defeated, in a puddle on the broken pavement. Kylo saw the sleek armor he wore, but didn’t think too much of it as he hauled him to his feet and started off toward the Falcon.

He didn’t have a map of the city, so finding a hospital was out of the question until he could get directions, but Hux demanded not to be taken to one anyway. Kylo hated them himself—he had spent too long there as a child, when he had first lost his arm—so it didn’t bother him in the least to skip the white walls and antiseptic smell of a bustling emergency ward. And he was used to basic triage; you didn’t work with the scum of a galaxy on a regular basis without scathe. It wasn’t until he got a good look at Hux’s wound, when they were aboard the Falcon, that he knew there was going to be more to it than slapping on a bacta patch.

Kylo didn’t bother to warn him that the syringes of non-addictive painkillers were laced with sedatives as he injected one straight into his neck. Kylo had winced in sympathy when he pushed the plunger down and the blue liquid raced, stinging, into his veins. Hux had exhaled with relief, his eyelids falling over bruised and battered eyes. He managed to stay awake long enough to reject Kylo’s efforts to help him treat his side before allowing him to apply bacta gel to the lacerations on his face. He had said once again that he was expected somewhere, but already he was succumbing to the sedatives, and Kylo eased him back onto the couch as he drifted into unconsciousness.

Kylo had sat back onto the table, taking a minute to settle his racing nerves. He had looked Hux over in earnest, examining the high-end combat gear: plasteel plates in shining black and a thick woven base layer that looked to be custom-fit. It was unmarked, which was uncommon among mercenary bands, who wore their colors proudly, but made too clearly for combat to belong to anyone but a soldier. Hux didn’t seem too forthcoming with information, and while he had the right to that, Kylo needed to know if he could turn his back on him without putting himself at risk. Not that Hux was in any condition to fight, but Kylo didn’t have the first idea what kind of skills or intentions he had.

There was a way, of course, but Kylo loathed using it. It was invasive and, as his uncle had always told him, an abuse of the power he possessed, a tool employed only by those who were cruel enough to learn it. Unfortunately, Kylo had always had an innate talent. Even before he was born, he had prodded at his mother’s mind, demanding in his curiosity. She had been able to brush off his attempts when she was awake, but in dreams her defenses were lowered, and Kylo—Ben—had been able to push into her thoughts. It had frightened her, and even as an infant, Kylo had been able to sense the dismay that lay under her affection for him. He had felt the conflict in her when he was sent away to his uncle’s school for training: there was sorrow at letting him go, but also relief. Luke would teach him to keep to the light and control his darker impulses.

Kylo hadn’t entered someone’s mind in years. It wasn’t painless or undetectable; reading thoughts was done deliberately and left the subject taxed, sometimes to the point of fainting, if they were not already incapacitated for the interrogation. He preferred that they were. Their minds were fuzzier, the images less clear, but it spared him from watching their faces contort in pain as he forced himself into their heads. Hux, he told himself, wouldn’t remember the discomfort. Kylo would be quick; just a look and then it would be over.

Rising haltingly from his perch on the table, he had crouched at Hux’s side and set his left hand on his bacta-slick brow, just at the hairline. He dipped into the flow of the Force, using its energy to penetrate the flimsy barriers of Hux’s consciousness and slip into his thoughts.

He felt the exhaustion first, the bone-deep weariness that suffused Hux as his beaten body struggled to knit itself back together, aided only somewhat by the bacta. The painkillers kept the worst of the agony at bay, but it colored the edges of his mind with a red-gold aura that grew minutely as the anesthetic wore off by degrees. Around the hurt and tiredness, Kylo began to tease out the most recent memories: the slickness of the bloody gash on his side as he pushed his fingers into it; Kylo’s face fading in and out as Hux tried to focus his vision; the wetness at the knees of his base layer from where he had been on the ground; the burning in his lungs as he raced down flights and flights of stairs. And then he was lying on his back on a roof, staring up at the helmets of stormtroopers as they held him down. Betrayed.

Kylo started at Hux’s recognition of the troopers. They were his men, not First Order goons who had attacked an innocent on the street. Hux was one of them. Kylo pushed deeper into his mind, suppressing the regret as he watched the sleeping Hux knit his brows and frown. In Hux’s memory, he could all but taste the rush of satisfaction and pride as Hux shot down Irrel, the Bith Resistance operative, in her apartment from three hundred meters. Kylo hadn’t known her, but he took a moment to mourn her. He skimmed across Hux’s mind to see the days he had spent observing her, and before that, when the transport had dropped him and his men on Utel Gamma. Kylo’s pulse jumped. If he could go far enough back, he might be able to find out more about the First Order’s operations.

He froze, though, at a small, anguished cry. Looking down, he saw that Hux’s face was screwed up in pain as tears slipped from the swollen corners of his eyes. Kylo drew back from his mind so quickly that Hux whimpered again, hurt by the sudden withdrawal. Disgust and guilt roiled in Kylo’s gut, caustic and deserved; he had gone too far. Not even the Resistance’s enemies—not even the man who had taken pleasure in killing one of them—deserved to have his mind flayed until he wept.

“I’m sorry,” Kylo said as he fumbled with a piece of gauze to wipe the tears from Hux’s temples. Hux relaxed under his touch, returning to an undisturbed rest.

Kylo had rolled down onto his backside, pressing his rounded spine into the hard leg of the table behind him and fisting the gauze in his silver right hand. The tactile sensors registered it, but he couldn’t feel the texture or the salty dampness.

He had left Hux sleeping on the couch and gone to the cockpit, where he collapsed into the pilot’s chair, letting his head fall back against the rest while he ran possible scenarios for what could happen next. The most logical solution would be to drop Hux at the nearest hospital and let the Utel City authorities deal with him, but they would have questions for Kylo, too, and he didn’t need to advertise his presence on-planet. He couldn’t leave him elsewhere, not in his condition, and Kylo wasn’t about to dump him at the First Order recruitment office and hand him back to them. He was effectively a Resistance prisoner now, and should be taken in for questioning and detainment. D’Qar had the medical facilities to treat him, and maybe the higher-ups would be interested in him, but Kylo wasn’t allowed there. His role was as informant and go-between; he wasn’t supposed to have anything to do with the formal structure of the Resistance.

“Stars,” he had sighed, rubbing his brow with the cool metal of his right hand. He needed to get Hux’s wound treated, and if he couldn’t take him elsewhere, he really had only one option: the Ryden 2 station.

He probably should have given it a proper name, but it was meant to be hidden anyway, so he had never bothered. The Resistance had financed its transport to the system, but had funneled the credits through a series of back channels so it couldn’t be directly traced to them. It was, like Kylo, an informal part of the organization, where certain dealings were done without open association with the Resistance operations. Kylo mainly used it to store and move the merchandise he transported as a part of his day-to-day job, one he had inherited from his father. He didn’t call himself a smuggler, but it was, essentially, what he did. He had his shipping permits, even if most of the cargo he carried had to be concealed to get through port checks.

The station would be safe, at least, so Kylo had powered up the Falcon’s engines, requested permission to take off, and set a course for the Ryden system. Once in hyperspace, he had gone to the galley to get a bottle of juice, stopping by the couch on his way out. Hux lay still, as expected, save for the steady rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. The bacta had sealed up the worst of the cuts on his face and dealt with some of the swelling, revealing an oval-shaped face, straight nose—luckily unbroken—that flared just a bit at the nostrils, and a soft, high jaw. His hands, long-fingered and narrow, were lying at his sides, the only bare skin save for his face.

The old Empire had used cloned stormtroopers, all with the same dark hair and eyes, but the First Order’s forces came from mixed stock. Kylo couldn’t imagine, though, there were many men among them who were as red as Hux. His eyebrows and lashes were just as bright as the hair on his head, fiery against the paleness of his skin — where it wasn’t bruised.

“What happened to you?” Kylo said as he watched Hux sleep. He knew he had been betrayed and almost killed by his own men, but the real reason was still buried in Hux’s mind, out of Kylo’s reach. He wouldn’t prod now, or even when he woke up; for the moment he would play dumb, until he could decide how to handle the stormtrooper that had fallen into his lap.

“Yeah,” Kylo huffed as he stood in the hallway just outside Hux’s door on the station. “Right into it.”

Slight and lanky, Hux shouldn’t have fit so well into the place between Kylo’s crossed legs, but he had folded himself around him just right, so that his seat bones rested comfortably on Kylo’s thighs and calves. And, stars, how he’d kissed: abrupt and seeking, making abundantly clear what was on offer.

Still half-dazed from his deep meditation, Kylo had permitted it—enjoyed it—not remembering in those first few moments that Hux was First Order, and his prisoner. He had let Hux press against him and had swept his tongue into his mouth, deepening their kiss. He had liked how Hux’s skinny hips had felt between his hands, and how his heels had dug into his lower back to bring them closer. If he hadn’t inadvertently grabbed Hux’s freshly-bandaged side and made him convulse in pain, he was sure he would have sleepily let Hux go as far as he had intended, whether that put them in Kylo’s bed or ended up on the floor next to the viewport.

But they had stopped, and thankfully. Hux had believed he had to give himself to Kylo, that his body was expected payment. Hearing that, Kylo had felt as though a bucket a water had been thrown over him, extinguishing any desire. His partners chose to be with him; they did not come to him out of obligation. The idea was repellent, and even if Hux was still sitting in his lap, his lips slick with their shared saliva and looking good enough to eat (despite the bandages), Kylo would turn him away. Sex wasn’t currency to pay any debt, especially a life debt.

Having grown up with a Wookiee, Kylo knew the significance in that. His “Uncle” Chewie had stayed on with his father for years in order to pay his life debt, after Han had freed him from Imperial slavery. Han had, at first, tried to say his debt was paid after a few jobs, but Chewie had stuck with him, insisting it was not. Kylo wasn’t certain if they had ever agreed that it was officially done, but Chewie had saved Han’s life many times over the years. By now they were partners and family, and there was no more talk of debts. It wasn’t common for a human culture to swear life debts, but if the First Order did, it was going to make things very complicated, very quickly.

“I need a karking drink,” Kylo grumbled, padding down the hallway, away from Hux’s quarters and toward the kitchen. The illuminators came up to half brightness as he walked in, lighting the way to the cabinet, from which he pulled a quarter-full bottle of blue-green Hosnian whiskey. He chose a tumbler from the shelf above the sink and, unscrewing the cap of the bottle, splashed three fingers of liquor into it. He gulped down half.

He had told Hux they would talk about the life debt tomorrow, and they would have to, but Kylo hadn’t the first idea where to start. Maybe going to his bed would have been enough in the First Order ledgers, but Kylo really doubted it. “We might as well start now,” Hux had said. That implied that sex was just the first step, and if Kylo hadn’t allowed that, then Hux would be thinking of something else.

The last thing Kylo needed right now was a tagalong, like Chewie had been for his father. He worked alone for a reason: he had to protect himself and his ties to the Resistance. And he didn’t need anyone poking around his past. Hux had already asked about his arm—given, it was more about the tech than how he got it—and he didn’t want to dodge those questions if he could avoid them completely. Taking him to Leia was the most reasonable choice, really, life debt be damned, and that meant placing a call.

Knocking back the rest of his whiskey, he abandoned the tumbler and bottle on the counter and cut across the living space to a panel against the far wall. Ejecting a small key from the tip of his prosthetic forefinger, he slid it into the space between panels. A holographic keypad appeared, and he typed in his most recent security code. The panel’s series of locks clicked and it swung open.

The room inside was small, equipped with a single holocomm and one round chair, upholstered in soft synth-leather. Kylo closed the panel behind him and engaged the locks, before approaching the holocomm console. His mother’s private frequency was for emergencies only, but Kylo couldn’t think of anyone else in the Resistance hierarchy he could contact to address this problem. Keying it in, he hit the button to send the comm request, and then went to sit and wait.

The time difference on D’Qar was significant, but it didn’t take long for Leia to answer. Her hologram appeared after only a few minutes, revealing her hair to be in the long braid she wore for sleep and one side of her hastily-donned dressing gown lying crookedly across her chest. “Ben,” she said, sounding as alert as ever, as if she hadn’t just been in bed.

Kylo tried not to flinch at the sound of his old name, the one he had left behind along with his arm when he was fifteen. “Mother,” he began, “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

She dismissed him with a wave of her hand. “It’s all right. What’s wrong? Something happened on Utel Gamma. You didn’t get the information.” The general’s formal disappointment supplanted a mother’s worry in her tone.

“I have it,” Kylo said, reaching into the secure pocket on his trousers. The chip he produced was no larger than his thumbnail. “I’ll send it over as soon as we’re done here.”

Leia nodded, her only acknowledgement, before saying, “Then what’s the matter?”

Kylo replied bluntly, “Irrel is dead. Probably the others, too. The First Order acted on the information we gave them.” He wet his lips, recounting Hux’s foggy memories: “They sent a tactical team. A sniper.”

Leia sighed, closing her eyes for a few seconds. She knew all of the Resistance operatives by name, having given them their orders herself, and felt their loss acutely. “Did you find the troopers?”

“Yes,” said Kylo. “Five of the seven, anyway. Four are dead. The fifth...I took him captive.”

“You did what?” Leia said, brows raised in shock. “Ben, it’s not your place. The Resistance sometimes takes prisoners. You do not.”

Kylo suppressed the childlike guilt at crossing a parent. “I know. I didn’t know he was a trooper when I took him. He was wounded, and I...I saved his life.” He cast his gaze down, unduly sheepish. “The others were attacking him. They had a blaster to his head.”

Leia paused at that, looking hard at Kylo through the holoprojector. “And you stopped them? A conflict among stormtroopers isn’t our concern.”

“I told you, I didn’t know he was one,” Kylo said.

“Until he admitted it to you?”

Heat did rise in Kylo’s face in earnest, then. “I looked at his mind.”

Leia, downcast, made clear this kind of disappointment was wholly maternal. “I see. So, he doesn’t know that you’re aware of what he is.”

“No,” said Kylo, shaking his head.

“And now you’re wondering what to do with him,” she continued, sitting back in her chair, chin high. Kylo didn’t bother to reply; she already knew the answer. “He’s of little use to us if he’s just a trooper. We need someone higher up with more than just basic orders to kill.”

Kylo drew his bottom lip under his upper teeth, anxiety rising in the pit of his stomach. “You want me to get rid of him.”

Leia’s expression—her senator’s face—betrayed nothing. “I’m not suggesting that. You can take him to a world, give him a few credits, and let him go. If he finds his way back to the First Order, he does, but if not, he’s not your burden.”

It’s a life debt. I won’t just let that go.

Kylo met Leia’s eyes through the hologram and said, “I’ll find a way.”

The lines around her mouth softened. “Good. Transfer the information on that chip, and we’ll sort through it. Thank you for doing this, Ben. I’ll be in touch when something else comes up.”

“Goodbye, Mother,” Kylo said, and severed the connection. The blue glow of the hologram winked out, leaving the comm room in murky half-dark. Kylo reclined in his chair, staring up at the durasteel ceiling.

He should have known Hux wouldn’t be valuable to the Resistance. He should have left him on Utel and been done with it, not bring him to the station and patch him up. Leia had said he wasn’t his burden, but he was, and it wouldn’t be as easy as she said to just drop him on some backwater in Hutt space and let him fend for himself.

He had looked so lost when Kylo had told him he didn’t want him, and he had stood with his shoulders hunched and gaze on the floor as Kylo had left him in his room: uncertain, timid. Kylo had had him in his arms, too, and if that didn’t make him his responsibility, he wasn’t sure what else would have.

Prying himself out of the chair, Kylo left the comm room and made his way back to the kitchen. With one more glass of whiskey in hand, he wandered into the living space and sat down on the plush couch. He sipped at the liquor, letting it burn down into his empty stomach, as he watched Ryden 2 through the viewport. It lulled him, and soon he was resting his head on the arm of the couch and closing his eyes. Whatever he had to face with Hux in the morning, he’d do it after a few hours’ sleep.

 


 

When the voice comes, it always carries images with it: a figure in black robes with a saber that crackles with unstable red light. Its face is shrouded, but Kylo knows it well. Ren. Behind him are six others, each of them masked and carrying weapons of their own. The buildings at their backs are burning, casting their long shadows out across the packed dirt of the ground. The air smells of wood-fire, and ash dusts Ren’s shoulders, his cowled head. There’s a girl at his feet, dressed in plain brown and wearing her hair in braids. The light of his saber illuminates her wide-eyed, fearful face for a split second before he cuts her down, but there’s never any cry to hear, only the voice whispering steadily in Kylo’s mind.

“It’s your legacy. You’re to inherit your forebears’ power, wield the darkness that lives inside you. It burns to be free. Let it out. Let go of Ben Solo; he is weak and pathetic, bound by rules that limit his true strength.”

The words slither through him like the touch of long, cold fingers, curling around his consciousness and tempting, enticing, inviting.

“This is your destiny, Ren. Take it! Become what you were meant to be.”

In the vision, Kylo sees himself at the center of his uncle’s temple, the school where he spent his youth, but he’s just a boy, barely a teenager, his cropped hair baring his ears. The hilts of two lightsabers lie on the ground at his feet: one narrow and unadorned, the other heavy and ill-balanced with a thick crossguard. The voice, new to him then, tells him to choose. Kylo extends his boyish right hand, still whole, flesh and blood, toward the heavier of the two sabers.

“Good, boy,” the voice continues. “Reach for what you deserve. Don’t be smothered by the weak-willed Jedi. Come to me. Come into your own. Come, Ren, come.”

In a sudden, eerie instant, Kylo is surrounded by familiar faces: the other padawan and, at the center, Uncle Luke. They are looking on in silence, their gazes dark with judgment. Kylo stares at them, frightened, but he can’t call out to them; his throat his closed, his mouth dry. The gloominess of the light begins to turn yellow and red. The fire. Kylo can feel the heat at his back, but he doesn’t dare turn to look at it. The two sabers are still lying before him, and the voice is insistent now: “Take it. Take it. Take it, Ren.”

The circle of padawan breaks into chaos as the six dark knights charge through it, weapons flashing in the firelight. A boy falls and then a girl. The knight at the forefront carries a two-bladed staff, and he spins it as he approaches Luke. Kylo’s uncle goes for his saber, but his belt is empty; he doesn’t carry it when he teaches. Half-blind with terror and rage, Kylo bypasses the heavy, black saber and grabs the slender one, engaging the blade. It’s red, but it’s smooth and steady. Holding it at high guard, he charges the knight and drives it through his chest.

The voice howls, not in pain, but in fury: “Idiot, worthless boy! I could have given you everything. All the power you could have desired.”

“You won’t have me,” Kylo says. But in this single pause, he’s made a terrible mistake; he didn’t see the knight behind him. His own screams drown out the voice’s final curses as the knight’s weapon tears through his shoulder and arm. The lightsaber falls to the ground, blade disappearing. Kylo collapses, grasping at the wound that is bleeding down his side. He tries to move his right arm, but it’s useless. Tears stream down his face as he gasps for breath, and then the world goes dark.

“You can still take what’s yours, Ren,” the voice says in the blackness. “Come to me.”

Kylo’s reply is deep, his voice as a grown man: “Never, Snoke.”

There’s a broken laugh, a whispered “In time, Ren,” and then silence.

 


 

Kylo jerked awake, sweat-soaked and clutching his right shoulder as aftershocks of pain radiated through it and down to where he thought he felt his arm. The medics said it would never fully go away; a “phantom limb,” they called it. Eyes still closed, he worked the prosthetic fingers into a fist and then out of it again, as if he could feel it stretching. In the quiet of the station, he could hear the nearly imperceptible whirring of the cybernetics.

“Are you awake?”

Awareness hitting him like a slap across the face, Kylo sat up and delved into the flow of the Force, his nearest weapon. Hux, who stood beside the couch, took a measured step back, eyeing Kylo warily. Recognizing him, Kylo stopped and released his hold on the Force; backed down.

“How long have you been there?” he asked, rubbing at his sleep-crusted eyes with his left hand.

“A minute,” Hux replied, “maybe two.” His tongue darted out to brush his lip, and his body was tense, as if ready to flee or attack; Kylo couldn’t decide which. “You were calling out. I could hear you”—he gestured back to where his room was—“from there.”

Kylo lifted his legs from the couch, setting his bare feet down onto the cold floor as he leaned on his thighs. It had been a few weeks since he had last had a dream about the attack on his uncle’s school, when he had faced the six men sent to kidnap and take him to the creature that would be his master, who had been in his head since he was a little boy.

“Sorry,” he said, letting his head hang between his arms. “Nightmares.”

Hux cocked his head slightly to the side, inquisitive. “You said a name. Snoke. How do you know it?”

Kylo peered up at him, quickly searching for a way to deflect. Snoke was his own business, and he had no desire to explain him to anyone, especially Hux. “I said that, huh? I say a lot of things when I’m dreaming. I don’t always know what they mean.” Rising, he used his scant inch or so of height over Hux to stare him down. It wasn’t really a threat, at least not a considerable one. “I didn’t mean to wake you up.”

“No,” Hux said, flatly.

When he didn’t continue, Kylo asked, “Did you get a little rest, at least?” A glance at the digital chronometer on the wall revealed it was nearing 0600 standard. He had slept for about six hours, Hux for seven.

“I did,” said Hux. “And well.” He shifted his weight, moving one hand to where his side was bandaged; his chest was still bare save for it. “I came to ask if you might help me. The droid said I should change this after I bathe. I don’t think I can do it myself.”

“Oh, yeah,” Kylo said. “Of course. Do you want me to take it off for you?”

Hux nodded shallowly. “Yes. I don’t want to tear it.” He seemed genuinely apprehensive, and Kylo felt for him. He hadn’t looked too good while 1H had been stapling the wound closed, so Kylo figured he wasn’t going to want to see much of it while it was still healing.

Kylo took a step closer to him, relieved when he didn’t back away. “Okay, we’ll get it in your ‘fresher.”

Hux took that cue to turn, and stalked in long strides back toward the residences. The door to his room was open, so they went straight through, and Kylo noted that the bed was neatly made, as if Hux had never even slept in it. But the pillow had a creases from being used, which he was glad to see.

He blinked as they entered the refresher, the illuminators having come up to full strength immediately. Hux stopped in the center, very conspicuously not facing the mirror, and watched Kylo approach. His skin wasn’t stark white, but tinged with pink—not a flush, just its natural coloring—making the bandage stand out against it. The tape at the edge was peeling just a little, leaving a sticky residue that Kylo wanted to wipe away with a warm towel.

“Do you want to soak it off again?” he said, glancing between Hux and the shower.

Hux blinked once, thoughtful. “No. The droid didn’t say that. I’ll just take it off.” He seemed very keen on following orders, which Kylo supposed that was a product of his training; troopers did as they were told. Rumor among the Resistance was that troopers were mentally and physically conditioned from infancy to obey out of unflagging loyalty to the First Order. What really happened to them wasn’t known, but it couldn’t have been an easy life, brainwashing or no.

“You don’t have to do everything 1H told you,” said Kylo, “but if that’s how you want to do it, that’s fine.” He came up next to Hux and, cautiously, reached out for his arm. Hux shot him a warning look, but then relaxed, allowing Kylo to lift it up to rest on his shoulder. “Just hang on here,” Kylo said. “In case it hurts.”

Hux swallowed, but gave another nod. “Go on, then.”

Kylo had always been told that ripping a bandage off hurt a lot less than removing it slowly, but he was too afraid of tearing Hux’s staples to do that. Instead, he started at the upper corner of the bandage and began to draw the tape back. Hux’s skin came up with it, but settled back as soon as the adhesive had let go.

“Is that okay?” Kylo said, pausing once the first bit of tape was free.

“Yes,” said Hux, curt, as the hand that rested on Kylo’s shoulder tightened.

“Just tell me to stop if you need me to.” Kylo started in on the next side, exposing the actual wound. It was still an angry red, but it wasn’t raised unhealthily; the bacta seemed to have started mending the skin, though the staples were still necessary to hold the two sides together. Kylo’s own stomach turned a little, but he pushed through it to peel off the last of the tape and remove the bandage completely. “There. Done.”

Hux’s wide eyes were focused on Kylo’s face. They were green, Kylo saw, darker around the pupils and bright as the color radiated out. “All right,” he said.

Kylo held his gaze, gingerly touching the sticky square around the wound. “Do you want me to turn on the shower for you?”

“I can do it,” Hux replied, though he made no move to leave the spot.

Kylo stayed as well, his left thumb just slightly catching on the adhesive residue as he passed over it. Hux was so much thinner than him, despite his height, and Kylo knew he could carry him, even if he was a bit more solid than he seemed. It made sense that he wasn’t a ground trooper; he didn’t have the physique for it. But Kylo had seen in his memories just how lethal he could be with his long-range blaster.

“Let me get it,” Kylo said. He gave Hux’s tender side a last touch as he left him, going to the cubicle and turning the handle to start the water. It spilled down over his forearm, and he left his hand in the spray until he judged the temperature to be warm enough. He stepped back and turned, but the inviting “It’s ready now” died on his tongue.

Hux stood just a pace from where he had been, the black pants Kylo had given him in a discarded puddle on the floor. He held himself tall, his shoulders square, and his arms dangled at his sides, doing nothing to hide his nudity. Kylo stared, frozen and caught wholly off guard; his jaw hung slack, though he snapped his mouth shut as Hux took a few steps toward him.

“Do you want to join me?” Hux said, laying a hand on Kylo’s chest, just above his strongly beating heart. The movement was hesitant, but he brought his other hand to Kylo’s waist, pulling himself closer. The tips of their chilly toes touched. “I’ve heard that’s done, sometimes.”

Kylo’s pulse jumped at his proximity and touch, which was less demanding than before, but not undetermined. He curled the hem of Kylo’s shirt into his forefingers, letting the pinky and ring finger brush the skin he exposed. Kylo shivered under it, nerves alight. Hux never took his eyes off of his face, clearly studying and gauging his reaction. Kylo wasn’t certain how he appeared, but inside he was frantically assessing every move he could make: he could take Hux by the hips and pull him in; he could run his fingertips over his jaw, where red-blond stubble had grown in overnight; he could move his hands down his knobby spine until he reached the small of his back, the tops of his buttocks; he could kiss his parted lips as he let Hux undress him before stepping under the hot water of the shower.

But he did none of these things.

“No,” he said, taking hold of Hux’s shoulders and pushing him lightly back. “I told you you don’t have to do this.”

Hux’s expression darkened, not with anger, but chagrin. There was a sulkiness to his tone as he said, “I have nothing else to give you, but I’m indebted. Why won’t you take this?”

Kylo frowned, disliking how coldly he spat the word “this,” as if was a meaningless transaction. “It isn’t how a life debt goes,” he said, firm. “I don’t have any claim on you...physically.”

“Oh, I see,” Hux said. “You’re not inclined to me.” He looked down, chewing on his full lower lip. “I hadn’t thought of that.” He sounded almost wounded.

“No,” Kylo sighed, sliding his hands down to Hux’s biceps and rubbing lightly with his thumbs. “It’s not that. I’m, uh, ‘inclined.’ It’s just...” He trailed off, searching for what to say. He didn’t need this; he just wanted to do what Leia had said and send Hux away. But instead he found himself saying, “We’ll find another way for you to pay your debt.”

Hux lowered his hands, releasing his hold on Kylo’s shirt. “This would be simpler.”

“Yeah, I know,” Kylo conceded, “but it’s not how it’s going to happen.” With a gentle, but assertive hold, he steered Hux into the shower cubicle. “Get cleaned up, and then come get some breakfast. I’m going to get you some fresh clothes. We’ll have to go planetside to buy you some that fit, but we’ll take care of that later.” When I figure out what do you with you. “Just...have a good shower.” Backing up, he took a last look at Hux—his hair was sodden and stuck to his brow, and water ran down his sleek sides in clear runnels—before fleeing the refresher.

Kylo went straight to his room, keying himself into the door and slamming the button to close it behind him. He fell back against it and took a few deep breaths. “Shit.” In the span of less than twelve hours, he had managed to kark up everything that he needed to go smoothly in his life, and all because he had to play the hero for a pretty stranger with red hair.

He cursed again. Hux was something to behold, and it had taken all of Kylo’s willpower to keep from getting into that shower with him. He would have felt so good under his hands, all soft skin and long lines. Kylo would have washed him from head to toe, careful to skirt around his wound, enjoying the soapy taste when he kissed him after he was clean. Then he would have led him to bed and wrapped them up to sleep for another few hours. It had been months since he had had someone in his bed—never on the station, and never just to sleep—but the prospect was undeniably attractive.

Out of the question.

Peeling himself away from the door, he went across the room to his own refresher and made quick work of a shower and shave. He looked himself over in the mirror as he drew the razor up his cheek, curious what Hux saw. It seemed it didn’t much matter to him whether or not he found Kylo appealing, but Kylo couldn’t help but wonder if he did. Amused by his own vanity, he wiped the shaving cream away from his face and went to dress.

He hated to admit it, but most of his clothes were reminiscent of what his father had always worn: simple trousers, soft shirts with open collars, even the occasional vest. It was inconspicuous, which Kylo did his utmost to be, even when his height and breadth made him stick out in a crowd. He pulled a blue shirt over his head, his wet hair leaving damp spots at the shoulders, and stepped into a set of black trousers. For Hux he chose white and plain green, making sure to find him a belt to cinch at his waist. Clothes in hand, he left his room to knock on Hux’s door. There wasn’t an immediate reply, but he opened it anyway.

“Hey, uh, I’ve got something for you to wear,” he said, loudly enough to be heard in the refresher. “I’ll just leave it here?”

Hux appeared at the threshold, a towel wrapped around his hips. “Wait. The bandages…”

Kylo stopped, saying, “Right,” as he set the clothes down on the bed. The clean bandage and tape 1H had left were still sitting on the bedside table, so he went to retrieve them there. To Hux: “Why don’t you sit down?”

His steps were silent as he made his way over and sat down on the mattress, looking up at Kylo expectantly. Kylo took the bandages and topical bacta packet and sat beside him, the mattress dipping under his weight. Hux’s shoulder collided with his.

“This’ll be cold,” he said, tearing the packet open and squeezing some of the gel onto his fingers. He couldn’t warm it between his hands, seeing as one of them was cool metal anyway.

Hux lifted his arm out of the way. “It’s all right. Just do it.”

Kylo smeared the bacta over the wound as quickly but gently as possible, until it glistened. The gauzy bandage stuck to it, allowing him to apply the tape along the same sticky lines that had been left like a guide. Hux was silent throughout, his expression blank enough that Kylo could assume he wasn’t hurting him.

“Okay,” Kylo said as he drew back. “That’s it.”

Hux shifted his torso, testing the give and pull of the tape. “Thank you.”

Kylo offered a small smile. “It’ll be healed up in no time. You probably won’t even have a scar.”

“I think I might like to have one,” Hux said, brows drawn. He cast a brief glance at Kylo’s arm, though it was covered by his shirt, save for his hand. “A body should reflect its past, shouldn’t it?”

Kylo hadn’t thought of it in that way before; it was unexpectedly sentimental. As a boy, he had been bitter and furious when he had woken up in the hospital with a full part of him missing. He had thought himself crippled, as it was his dominant hand, but Uncle Luke had sat with him for days in the aftermath, showing him his own prosthetic and telling him how he’d grown used to it until it felt no different from his real limb. Kylo hadn’t believed him, especially in the first awkward months of learning to manipulate his new arm, but it had proved true. The arm was no different than the rest of him now, and as Hux said, it did tell the story of what his body had been through and survived.

“Well,” Kylo said, gaze falling on the empty bacta packet lying on his knee, “we can leave this off tomorrow. It shouldn’t get infected. At least I hope not.”

“The droid will see to it if it does,” said Hux, with a kind of confidence Kylo certainly didn’t feel. “It will have to take the staples out eventually.”

“Far as I know, they just dissolve when the skin knits itself back together.”

Hux pursed his lips. “Ah, well. I suppose it won’t matter if it doesn’t scar.”

Kylo had no reply to that, so he kept quiet. They should likely get going if they wanted to get planetside while the sun was still up, but he didn’t move. His thigh was resting against Hux’s, which was hidden by the towel stretched over it, and he had to suppress the compulsion to set his hand on his knee and squeeze, a small attempt at comfort. Instead, he picked up the clothes and offered them.

“Hopefully these’ll do for you,” he said. “I figure you can wear your boots for now, but if you want something else, we can get it.” Hux’s armor was piled in the corner of the room, abandoned.

“I don’t have any credits,” said Hux. “They were...stolen.”

Kylo marked the lie for what it was, but disregarded it. “It’s fine. I’ve got it.” He ventured a crooked grin. “I make a good living, remember? I have a space station.”

Hux eyed him sidelong, but said, “Very well.” He rose smoothly, painlessly, and made to undo the towel.

Kylo shot to his feet and, clearing his throat, headed for the door. “Come to the kitchen when you’re done,” he said. “I don’t have anything really good, but...are ration bars and caf okay?” He rubbed the back of his neck, embarrassed. “I, uh, don’t really cook much.”

“Yes,” said Hux, the corners of his mouth turning up with just the slightest amusement. “I’ve never cooked before, either.”

“Yeah,” Kylo laughed. “My mother wasn’t really the cooking kind and neither was my dad, so I just make do with the best packages credits can buy.”

The was being generous to Leia, in actuality. She had never so much as fixed a prepackaged meal for herself. Raised on Alderaan as royalty, she had had the finest chefs on hand, and even as part of the Rebellion, she had eaten in the mess halls. The senator’s life she had led when Ben was a child didn’t lend itself to cooking, either. Ben’s nanny had done the majority of it, seeing as Leia was out most of the day and Han wasn’t always around. Kylo had a few memories of omelets his father had tried to make; they were not fond ones.

Hitching his thumbs in his belt, he said to Hux, “Glad to hear you’re not picky.”

“I’m not.” Hux once again reached for the towel, giving Kylo a pointed look that conveyed, clearly: I’m removing this. If you’re going, do it now. “I’ll be there shortly.”

Kylo nodded, whirled on his heel, and strode out of the door.

If he didn’t mind military-grade rations, Kylo did have an affinity for strong, good quality caf — another hand-me-down from his father. Han Solo drank it strong and sludgy, which Leia found disgusting, but she had always been a tea drinker anyway. Kylo set up the machine in the kitchen to brew while he rooted around in the cupboards for the freshest ration bars. It had been a while since he had picked up anything new, but he did have a couple of chocolate-flavored ones—his favorite—left. He didn’t even hear Hux’s approach, and started when he turned to see him standing by the counter.

“Stars,” he muttered. “You’re as quiet as a mouse droid.”

Hux traced the square edge of the counter with his forefingers, his eyes cast down. “Yes, I do tend to be. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Kylo waved him off. “Don’t worry about it. Here.” He held out a ration bar, which Hux took and looked over.

“‘Chocolate cake,’” he read. “Is that a sweet?”

Kylo raised his brows, absently crinkling the package of his own bar. “I mean, it isn’t as good as actual cake, but it’s sweet enough. Haven’t tried this kind, huh?”

Hux tore open the package and brought the bar to his nose, sniffing dubiously. “We weren’t issued sweet things,” he said.

Kylo noted his choice of words, likely a slip-up he didn’t even think about; only troopers were “issued” anything. “Give it a try,” Kylo said. “If you don’t like it, I have other flavors. But it goes well with the caf. Sweet and bitter, you know.”

Pulling the wrapper down, Hux took a tentative bite of the bar. He chewed it slowly, as if it were something delectable to be relished. “Oh,” he sighed once he had swallowed, the lean muscles in his throat working.

“Good?” Kylo asked.

“Yes,” Hux replied with fervency. “Very good. It’s...remarkable.” Without hesitation, he took another bite, this one considerably larger.

Kylo turned to the caf machine to hide his grin, though he watched out of the corner of his eye as Hux tore through the bar. Retrieving two mugs, he filled them with caf and offered one to Hux. In his other hand, he held out another ration bar.

“Here,” he said. “Have this one, too.” Hux blinked at him, questioning, but curled his fingers around it as Kylo pushed it into his hand. “Go on. I’ve got a bunch.”

Caf in one hand and bar in the other, Hux moved toward the counter to set the bar down. He sipped at the caf, and his eyes brightened. “This is good, too.”

“There’s more where that came from, if you want it,” said Kylo, taking a drink from his own mug, and nearly wincing at the temperature. Hux seemed unfazed as he drank and ate greedily. “So,” Kylo said as he unwrapped a somewhat disappointing garberry ration bar of his own, “where do you come from? Your homeworld.”

It was idle conversation, but Hux paused in chewing, mug held halfway up to his mouth and a flash of apprehension in his face. Kylo was about to tell him not to worry about it, but then he said, quietly, “Arkanis.”

“Outer Rim,” said Kylo, if he remembered his galactic maps well, which he did. “Not too far from here, really. Wouldn’t take more than five hours in hyperspace to get there.” He paused, but asked, “Maybe you want to go back there?”

Hux frowned into his caf. “I barely remember it. I didn’t spend much time on-world.”

“Yeah,” Kylo said. “I wasn’t on my homeworld much, either. I was only six when I left.” He still remembered how he had wept when his mother and father had ushered him down from the Falcon and toward Uncle Luke’s school. They had embraced him and told him to wipe away his tears.

“This is your place, Ben,” Leia had said. “You’re meant to be a Jedi, just like your uncle. It’s a very special honor.”

Kylo had clung to her leg, leaving wet stains on her dress and begging her not to leave. Only Han’s promise to teach him to fly if he was good boy and worked hard at his training had bolstered him. He had wiped his leaking nose with the back of his hand and held in any further sobs. Han had picked him up and swung him around one last time before setting him on his feet to toddle toward where Luke waited. After that, he didn’t see them for two years.

“I was the same age when I was taken away,” said Hux.

“Is that so?” Kylo said, intrigued. He laughed. “We match, then. Maybe it was the same year. You can’t be much younger than me.”

“I doubt that,” Hux scoffed. “You’re not a day over thirty.”

Kylo saluted him with his mug. “A good guess. I’ve got twenty-nine standard years under my belt. Where does that land you?”

“Thirty-four.”

“Huh,” said Kylo not bothering to hide his surprise; Hux had a much younger look about him. “Wouldn’t have pegged you for that.”

Hux shrugged. “What difference does it make? It’s only five years. Where I come from, we don’t put much stock in age. It’s experience and capability that matter.”

“Arkanis?” Kylo asked. “Or elsewhere?” There was really no reason why Hux couldn’t tell him he was First Order. He had no idea about Kylo’s ties to the Resistance—which Kylo had no intention of revealing—or that he had any particular prejudice against stormtroopers. Unless he considered how ruthlessly Kylo had killed four of them; that might put him off.

“Elsewhere,” Hux said, warning in his voice.

“Right,” Kylo mumbled as he took another sip of his caf. He didn’t want to press, but he couldn’t resist adding, darkly, “Does that make you experienced and capable, then?”

Hux’s eyes narrowed, and he looked Kylo up and down, appraising in a way that made Kylo think that maybe, maybe, he did find him appealing. He tried not to be overly pleased.

“I’m excellent at what I do,” Hux said, lowly.

Kylo sucked his teeth, making a show of his tongue as it touched his lower lip. He was satisfied to see that Hux’s gaze was drawn there. “What is that, exactly?”

Hux hesitated for a moment, but as he set down his mug, he replied, “I’m a marksman. The organization that...employed me was, as you suggested last night, paramilitary.”

The First Order was hardly para military, Kylo thought, but he it let it go. At least Hux wasn’t trying to pass off the combat dress he had worn as something other than it was. Kylo would have had to have been an idiot to buy any other cover story, and he appreciated that Hux didn’t imagine him a fool.

However, he played into the lie, saying, “So you are a merc.”

Hux repeated what he had said before, dodging a forthright answer: “Of a sort. But I believe I am now a freelancer.”

Kylo wasn’t sure if it was a step too far, but he took a chance: “So, you can’t go back to your previous employers? Or you don’t want to?”

“No,” Hux said, curt. “I am...not welcome there anymore.”

“Oh,” said Kylo. He scanned over Hux’s brief, watery memories of his own men turning on him. There were uncounted things that he might have done to deserve an execution, and while Kylo itched to know which of them it was, he couldn’t ask. “You’ve got nowhere to go.”

“No,” Hux said again. “But I couldn’t go anywhere even if I did. My debt requires me to offer my service to you. If you will not be paid in other ways.”

Kylo drained the rest of his caf, setting the mug down with the scrape of ceramic on metal. They had come to this, then. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any better ideas than he had had before breakfast. “I don’t really need a marksman,” he said. “I’m a trader.”

Hux let his hands hang by his sides, rubbing the thumbs along his forefingers. “I have other uses. I’m able, and I can work.” He lowered his gaze, fisting his hands. “Or I can be sold.”

No,” Kylo said sharply. “I’m not a slaver. I would never…no.” He sighed, crossing his arms over his chest. “Can you pilot?”

Hux shook his head.

No one to fill the copilot’s seat, then.

“You like tech.” He opened his prosthetic hand, gesturing toward him. “Can you fix it?”

“Firearms only,” said Hux. “But I’m very good with those.”

Kylo could maintain his own blasters, so that wasn’t really of much help. “What languages do you speak?”

“Only Basic. I can read some High Galactic.”

“Really?” Kylo asked. High Galactic was basically dead, and only a written language. Even his polyglot mother hadn’t learned it. “How’d you come by that?”

Hux looked everywhere but Kylo’s face. “I had some education on Arkanis. A long time ago.”

Kylo again called up everything the Resistance had learned about the First Order stormtrooper program: as far as they knew, children were taken from common homes—farmers’ or laborers’—none of whom would have had any reason to know or teach High Galactic. If Hux had, it implied he had come from somewhere else altogether. And he spoke with an old-world Imperial accent, no traces of Inner Rim coarseness or Core lilt. Kylo eyed him like a puzzle box, wanting to manipulate his cogs and panels until he could unlock what he was hiding.

Tamping down his interest, he said, “No Bocce, huh? That’s what you really need to get by in this business.”

“No,” Hux said, his cheeks pinkening. He was embarrassed, Kylo knew, but the color looked good on him. “I could learn, if you would teach me.”

“I could tell you some phrases, sure,” said Kylo, “but it’ll take time to really pick it up. And I don’t think you’ll be with me long enough for that.”

Hux looked up sharply. “I’ll stay as long as it takes. I must.”

Kylo took a step toward him, tempted to reach out and calm him with a touch. “I know. I’m just not used to having someone around.” He cocked a brow. “And you aren’t really cut out for this kind of work.”

“Then hire me out, if you must,” said Hux, approaching him in kind. “I’ll give you my wages if I’m to be paid.” His eyes flashed. “Sell my skills, or my body, or both.”

Kylo snapped his hands out, landing them hard on Hux’s shoulders. “Enough. I’m not going to sell you to anyone. You’ll work for me. I’ll find something for you to do, even if it’s lifting boxes.” He had droids for that, but if it was the only thing he could think of to keep Hux occupied, it would suffice. He didn’t want to think about what it was going to mean for his jobs for his mother, but he would contend with that when he had to. “You’ll pay your debt, okay?”

Hux glanced at each of Kylo’s hands, one flesh, one silver, and then nodded. “All right.”

Kylo exhaled, releasing him. “Good. Are you finished eating? We should get planetside.” By his reckoning, the sun would be setting in his favorite port town of Hydria, but it was still morning on the central continent, and there was a decent market in Olmek.

“Let’s go,” said Hux.

They left their mugs and the wrappers of their ration bars in the kitchen to be dealt with later, and Kylo led Hux to the lift that would take them to the Falcon. Han would want it back soon, leaving Kylo with his own smaller, newer, and sleeker freighter. Of course, he preferred the old bird, but Han wouldn’t give it up until he was in the grave. “You’re lucky I even let you borrow her, kid,” his father unfailingly told him every time he left the Falcon in Kylo’s care.

She was waiting in the hangar for them, her loading door already open and beckoning. When they reached the cockpit, Kylo swung into the pilot’s chair, but Hux hung back. Peeking over his shoulder, Kylo tapped the chair beside him. “Sit down. I’ll show you a couple of things.”

Hux sank into it, his attention immediately on the console. “It’s complicated,” he said.

“Not really,” Kylo laughed, “once you get used to it.” He ran through his pre-flight checks by rote, but then tapped the ignition button. To Hux, he said, “You push this now.”

Hux laid his finger just beside Kylo’s, pausing to take a breath, and then pressed the button. The Falcon roared to life, and Hux smiled. Kylo returned it as he keyed in the code to open the hangar doors and guided the freighter out into the starscape toward Ryden 2.

“Let me show you what this girl can do,” he said. “Better hold on.” Hux gripped the arms of the chair. “You ready?”

“I am.” And they were off.

Chapter Text

Kylo proved to be an adept pilot, bringing his ship smoothly through atmo and down over a small city whose squat buildings cast shadows in the slanted mid-morning sunlight. The Ryden system had only one sun, but it was massive and burned hot, far from the weak one Arkanis orbited, casting its grey light onto an already grey-green planet. It would be far warmer outside than Hux was used to, and brighter. He had been told that his skin would burn easily in harsh climates, but he had always been in full armor when he deployed outside of the star destroyers on which he had spent most of his life. He was bareheaded now, and wearing only a lightweight shirt and trousers that barely held onto his hips, despite the belt. The sun reflected off the ship’s viewport in a glinting flash, making him blink.

“Here we are,” Kylo said as he set the freighter down on a public landing pad just the other side of a stretch of scrubby grassland. The city lay opposite, sprawling for maybe twenty kilometers, but no more.

“What is this place?” Hux asked.

Kylo powered down the ship’s engines, which whined as they spooled out. “Olmek,” he said. “Capital city of Binnik Province. Not a fancy place, but it’s quiet and we’ll find what we need here.” He swung out of his seat and up, starting out of the cockpit, and leaving Hux to follow.

They stopped in the central living space for Kylo to retrieve a sidearm from a narrow cabinet, which he slid into the holster along his thigh. Hux caught a glimpse of a few more blasters in the cabinet, but he didn’t ask for one. Kylo’s acceptance of his mercenary story was fortunate; however, Hux wasn’t about to push his luck when it came to his trust. He could just as easily kill Kylo and steal his ship—although he had admitted that he couldn’t pilot. He simply let his hands hang at his sides, waiting for Kylo to be finished.

“All right,” Kylo said, flashing Hux a toothy grin. “Let’s get going.”

A blast of dry, sweltering air swept over them as the loading door of the freighter was lowered. The heat wavered over the pavement of the landing pad in clear swells that dissipated several meters above the ground, and the reddish hardpan of the nearby street blazed in the overbright sunshine. Hux could already feel the prickling of sweat at the small of his back, his temper souring. He decided he was not fond of heat this intense.

Kylo strode down the ramp as if unaffected, and Hux stayed at his side, their long steps almost matched. “Just have to check in,” he said. “But then the market’s about ten blocks away. You don’t mind walking?”

“No,” said Hux, though he expected to be hotter still, and displeased, by the time they reached their destination.

They went down the nearby stairs to a booth manned by a rotund service droid, which took Kylo’s credits for the lease of the pad for six hours. Hux couldn’t imagine that it would take them that long to buy a few sets of clothes, but he didn’t question it, instead going along with Kylo as he jogged across the street to a sidewalk lined with white bricks. A few sentient creatures were making their way along it, and a vendor pushing a covered cart from which some kind of skinned rodents hung called out to them in a language Hux didn’t understand. If Kylo did, he ignored him.

As they went away from the docks, the sidewalks began to fill up, passersby walking with their heads down, focused on their own destinations. Most of them were dressed in muted colors that seemed as sunbleached as the planet’s surface, but there were some in finer threads, going by in shaded litters borne by humans in wide-brimmed hats. There was a child in one who pointed at Hux as she and a woman who was presumably her mother passed by, chattering away in the same language the vendor had used.

Beside him, Kylo chuckled. “She was saying how unusual you are. There aren’t many red-haired people here.”

A glance around proved that true: all of the humans in sight had black hair worn long and braided intricately. Hux and Kylo seemed the only two with theirs trimmed above their shoulders. Hux frowned; he didn’t want to stand out.

“What language are they speaking?” he asked.

“Etash,” said Kylo. “It’s the dialect of this part of the continent. I can only make out about half the words I hear, but I know enough to get by if someone doesn’t speak Bocce or Basic.”

Hux listened to the chirped sounds of conversations around him. “I suppose that’s fairly common here, then?”

Kylo slipped past a masked Gand male walking determinedly in the opposite direction, but when he came back next to Hux, he replied, “Laborers and factory workers usually stick to Etash, but anyone who travels, trades, or has money learns Basic. Olmek here isn’t far from the sulfur mines, so there are a lot of Etash speakers around, but you’ll be fine in the market. You ever haggled before?”

“Have I what?” Hux said, wholly unfamiliar with that word.

Kylo raised his brows. “Haggled. Negotiated a price on something?”

Hux had never had credits or the need to buy anything before; the First Order provided everything for its troopers. “I haven’t.”

“Well,” Kylo said, “you’ll get your chance today. Don’t ever pay full price for anything. Talking someone down from the first offer is expected around here.”

Hux shot him a sidelong glance, disbelieving. Surely he wasn’t serious; such a process wasn’t at all efficient. “Why wouldn’t a merchant just set the price he wanted to get for an item and save himself and his customers some time?”

Kylo shrugged. “It’s tradition.”

“Unnecessary,” Hux grumbled, making Kylo laugh.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll teach you how to do it, and you’ll be arguing with the best of them in no time.”

They made their way onto one of the main thoroughfares, at least as far as Hux could judge by the speeders that were zipping along the four lanes between the sidewalks. Most of the buildings were windowless and no higher than five storeys; hardly like the towering complexes in Utel City. Perhaps there were metropolises like it on Ryden 2, but this was not one of them. Still, Hux paid sharp attention to his surroundings, taking stock of hidden places from which they could be attacked and eyeing the beings with whom they shared the sidewalk.

He was conscious of being exposed, and of the gazes that were falling on him and Kylo. They stood head and shoulders above most of the humans, though not all of the other creatures. He knew he would have been just as conspicuous in his armor, but he craved the familiarity of the helmet and plating.

“So, I figure we’ll go to the textiles quarter first,” Kylo said, drawing Hux’s attention back to him. “Get you something to wear. Then maybe we could catch a Cabourian dust match. Don’t think you’ve seen one of those.”

Hux, of course, had not. “And what is that?”

Kylo waggled his eyebrows. “That would spoil the surprise.”

“I don’t like surprises,” said Hux.

“You’re going to have to get used to them if you’re going to be working with me. I hate the same thing all the time.” Kylo gestured with his silver hand, turning the corner onto a side street. “Come on. This way.”

Hux heard the noise of the market before he saw it: a mix of raised, excited voices, the murmurs of different languages, and strange, whining music interspersed with irregular drumbeats. He could smell it, too. The scents were foreign, but enticing: perhaps perfumes, perhaps cooking foods. His mouth watered despite his full stomach.

Chocolate cake. The ration bars he had eaten for breakfast had been unlike anything he had tasted before. Foods for the troopers were bland to the point that Hux barely even registered the scant flavor anymore; he ate to fuel his body and nothing more. But the sweetness of the bar Kylo had given him had exploded across his tongue, delicious and rich. When he had been offered a second one, he had taken it greedily, expecting that he would never have such a thing again. And the caf had been black and thick, stronger than anything he had been served aboard the Finalizer.

He hadn’t missed Kylo watching him eat and drink with interest, and maybe a bit of amusement, but he hadn’t stopped or slowed down. Kylo had chewed his own ration bar slowly, sipping caf from the white ceramic mug, the same as Hux held. He had asked Hux about his skills, the things he could do to pay his debt. To Hux’s dismay, he had nothing to offer, and Kylo had made it abundantly clear again that morning that he had no desire for his body.

The best alternative was to hire him out. Even if he hadn’t done such work before, he was certain he could make a good mercenary. But Kylo had told him he wouldn’t do that, no more than he would sell Hux on the open market. Had Hux been in his place, he would have chosen either of those, the quickest and simplest ways to be done with the matter. Kylo, it seemed, would not do that, instead taking Hux to a market to buy him clothes and telling him he would find a job for him in his own business, whatever that entailed. Hux would have to be an idiot to believe that transport and trade were lucrative enough to support a private space station, but he would play along until he discovered what kind of work Kylo actually did.

That wasn’t all Kylo was hiding, either, of which his nightmares were evidence enough. Hux hadn’t known what to do when Kylo’s cries had woken him. He had come alert immediately, expecting violence, but there was no one else on the station save the two of them, and he recognized Kylo’s deep voice despite the despairing noises he was making.

Hux had crept out of bed and into the living space, hugging the wall and ready to strike if he was set upon. He found Kylo sprawled on the sofa, his left arm slung over his eyes as he thrashed and groaned. Hux had paused just a moment to watch him, uncertain if he could approach or say something to wake him, but then he had said it: Snoke . Hux had taken a step back as if the name could summon the creature to them.

The true name of the Supreme Leader of the First Order was not even known to all the troopers in the ranks. Hux had learned it as a boy; it was something his father had said that still lingered at the back of his mind. Snoke, the being who had taken a sect of Imperial loyalists on the fringes of the Outer Rim and made them into the strongest military power in the galaxy, was not someone anyone outside of the Order knew existed. And yet Kylo had spoken his name aloud, as if addressing him directly.

In part, Hux hoped that Kylo was First Order, but he was equal parts afraid that he was. If he was an informant, he could turn Hux in as a deserter; but a mere affiliate of the Order wouldn’t know the name of its leader. Whatever he was, Hux had even less reason to trust him now, and he absolutely could not reveal his own loyalties. Former loyalties.

He clenched his teeth as he walked beside Kylo. This civilian life was what he had to accept now, distasteful as it was. He hadn’t wished for it; he had expected to spend his life in the Order, until he was killed or grew too old to fight. Now he was whatever Kylo told him to be.

The markets were a panorama of vibrant colors, from the reddish dirt of the narrow lanes through the stalls to the deep blues and greens of awnings above them. Red, white, and gold pennants fluttered from the peaks of tents, and no two wares for sale were the same. It was chaotic and boisterous: the very opposite of the clean, sterile lines of a First Order star destroyer. Hux was stunned.

“Hey.”

He found Kylo a few paces away from where he had stopped at the entrance to the market; he hadn’t realized that he had stuck to the spot.

An easy, indulgent smile spread across Kylo’s face as he hitched the thumb of his silver right hand into his pocket. “You won’t see it all if you stay there.”

Shaking off the awe, Hux went quickly to join him again, and Kylo led them into the din. The people in the lane swallowed them up immediately, pressing them shoulder-to-shoulder. Uneasiness rose in Hux as they cut through the thick crowd. He was used to sharing spaces—there was no privacy in the troopers’ barracks, and there were several thousand souls aboard a star destroyer—but so many bodies so close meant that a hidden blade could sink home before it was seen, or that pockets could be picked. And Hux didn’t care to be touched if his permission had not been given.

“Is it far to where we’re going?” he asked, loudly enough to be heard over the other voices around him.

“Just around the corner,” Kylo replied. Taking Hux by the elbow—Hux almost recoiled—he guided him past a Bith and her human companion into a smaller lane where there were fewer people. Hux took in a lungful of the free air.

The opening of the yellow-striped tent beside them yawned wide, and several pieces of clothing hung from a knotted rope between the supports that held the tent up. The fabric fluttered in the feeble breeze around a sign that read: Tyrish’s Emporium.

“Here we go,” said Kylo, moving Hux toward the opening. Hux allowed it, crossing from the sunshine outside to the dim interior of the tent.

It smelled overmuch of incense inside, but the soaring peak above him made the space seen cavernous. Round, clear lamps stood around the nooks, illuminating the tent enough to make browsing the racks of garments possible; and there were many racks. Hux couldn’t discern if they were organized in any particular way.

“Welcome, welcome,” said a narrow-framed Gungan from near the back of the tent, spreading his arms wide. His fingers were adorned with gemstone-studded rings, and he was dressed in a deep red tunic embroidered with golden thread. His haillus, the dangling ears, were pierced along their entire lengths, small gold cuff earrings wrapping around the outer cartilage. “Come inside, friend, and let us dress you.”

Hux stayed where he was, uncertain, but as Kylo came in behind him, he greeted the Gungan: “Tyrish. Good to see you.”

“Ah!” the gungan exclaimed. “If it isn’t Barthok-An.” He looked Kylo over from boots to nose, scratching the end of his bill. “You’ve come for something new, I hope. I sold that shirt to you nigh on a year ago.”

“I love this one,” Kylo said, plucking at the soft material by his stomach. “And you know I’m a man of simple tastes.” He tipped his head toward Hux. “We’re here for him.”

Tyrish approached in measured steps, appraising Hux as he did. There were bells somewhere on his costume that tinkled with each step.  “What are you called?”

Hux replied with his name, cautiously.

“Hm, yes, Master Hux,” said Tyrish. “These are not your clothes. They fit you very poorly.” He clicked his tongue at Kylo. “You should not have let him outside looking like this, Barthok-An.”

Kylo shrugged, giving him a helpless look. “Didn’t have much choice, but I brought him here first thing. I know you can find him something much better.”

Tyrish sniffed haughtily: “Of course I can.” He reached for Hux, but seeing him tense, pulled his hand back and gestured back behind him. “If you’ll follow me, Master Hux.”

They went to the rear of the tent, where there stood a raised, hexagonal platform atop a soft orange carpet. A tri-paneled mirror reflected it back on itself.

“Step up here,” said Tyrish. “We’ll have to have you measured first.” Disdainfully, he glanced at Hux’s shirt. “Off with this. The trousers can stay for now.”

Hux tugged the shirt from his belt, pulling it over his head; Tyrish took it from his hands and discarded it on a nearby chair. From a hidden pocket, the gungan produced a length of fabric marked with what Hux assumed to be Gunganese characters.

“Arms out,” Tyrish instructed. “Stand tall. Very good.” He started with Hux’s waist, taking measurements while he muttered quietly to himself, before moving on to his chest and then the breadth of his shoulders. He measured the length of Hux’s legs and arms, the width of his neck. When he was finished, he bid Hux step down and sit in the chair on which the shirt he had taken off lay.

“Stay right there,” the gungan said. “I’ll select some things for you.”

Hux did as he was told, folding his hands in his lap and trying not to look at himself in the mirrors; he was sure he wouldn’t recognize himself. Kylo, who had been lingering by a nearby rack of clothing, came closer.

“Tyrish is the best in the market,” he said. “He’s a little extravagant when it comes to doing fittings, but if you let him work, you’ll have an exceptional wardrobe in no time.”

The notion of having a wardrobe at all was still difficult for Hux to grasp. He was used to having uniforms for sleep and exercise, training and battle, but nothing more. The array of garments in the tent was overwhelming.

“What did he call you?” Hux asked, turning his eyes up Kylo. “Barthok-An?”

“Oh,” said Kylo, rubbing the back of his neck. “It’s a nickname. It means, ah, ‘black water.’ Loosely translated.”

Hux cocked a brow. “Why that?”

Kylo shifted his weight between his feet, pressing his lips together. “Well, it comes from how we met. See, I didn’t just happen to wander in here one day; I did a job for one of Tyrish’s suppliers. But it didn’t go very well. I was also hauling a shipment of deep-water nargels from Eria, and there may or may not have been a leak in the tank that got into a store of dye from the shipment. Half of the fabrics were damp and black by the time we got here to drop them off. Tyrish cursed me out for the black water, and it just stuck.”

“You ruined his goods and he gave you a nickname for it?” Hux said, doubting. “Surely he would never have let you work for him again.”

“Actually, I’m the fastest and most reliable transporter this side of the Outer Rim,” said Kylo, with no small measure of pride. “And black just happened to be in high demand that season. Tyrish made a killing.” He grinned. “I make sure not to haul nargels with the cloth anymore, but he won’t hire anyone else.”

Hux managed not to shake his head, but just barely. A trooper who had slipped up that seriously—or even an officer—would have been flogged for it.

“Are you always that lucky in your mistakes?” he said.

Kylo crossed his arms, eyeing him. “I don’t make many. You don’t do well in this business if you can’t see a shipment safely to the buyer.”

“Indeed,” Hux murmured.

Kylo opened his mouth to say more, but Tyrish reappeared before he could speak. The gungan carried a stack of clothing over his arm: trousers, shirts, tunics, and, if Hux wasn’t mistaken, some kind of robe.

“Here now,” Tyrish said, hanging the garments along a bar beside Hux’s chair. “We’ll start with these.”

Hux swallowed, eyes widening. There was already so much; he didn’t know where to begin. Fortunately, Tyrish ushered him into a curtained stall and pushed a set of trousers and a few shirts into his hands, telling him to try them on first and pulling the curtain closed behind him. Hux removed his heavy boots, setting them aside, before unbuckling the belt Kylo had given him and sliding the green trousers down over his hips; he didn’t even have to unfasten them, they were so loose. Unlike those, the trousers Tyrish had given him fit properly, as did the shirt he tugged on.

“Come out, then,” the clothier said from outside. “Let’s see you.”

Hux pushed the curtain aside and stepped out to where Kylo and Tyrish were waiting for him.

Tyrish offered his odd, billed smile once again. “Excellent, excellent. It suits you. Have a look.” He pointed to the mirror, and Hux reluctantly turned to see himself.

The shirt was finer than the one Kylo had lent him—a pale tan color with embroidery at the collar—and the trousers were brown. His hair stood out against the simple colors, burning bright. The expression he wore was still stern, but there was less severity about him in these clothes than the grey, white, or black the troopers wore. He could pass for a civilian after all.

“What do you think, then, Barthok-An?” Tyrish asked of Kylo. “Is he not handsome?”

Kylo smiled one-sidedly, meeting Hux’s eyes in the mirror. “He is that.”

Hux regarded him in kind, strangely pleased at the praise. Though Kylo had refused him that morning and the night before, there was genuine admiration in his gaze. And he had kissed Hux with unmistakable ardor before he had put a stop to it. Maybe he wasn’t as indifferent as he seemed.

“Well, on to the next thing,” said Tyrish, ushering Hux back toward the stall. “We have a great deal more to see.”

Hux spent the next hour, or perhaps two, dressing and undressing, showing each ensemble to Kylo and Tyrish. The gungan approved of most things, but some he dismissed and told Hux to set aside. Hux hadn’t the first idea about which combinations were acceptable, but he paid attention to those that were approved so that he could put them together again when he had to do so alone. By the time they reached the last of the garments, he was thirsty and tired of looking at his own reflection.

“Well,” Tyrish said when Hux came out of the stall wearing a pair of beige trousers with a burgundy stripe along the sides and a cream-colored shirt under an emerald-green tunic belted at the waist, “I believe that’s what you’ll be wearing today. The rest I’ll have packed up”—he glanced at Kylo—“and sent to your ship?”

“All of it?” Hux asked. The bar by the stall was nearly groaning with the weight of the clothing hanging from it.

“Sure,” Kylo replied. “Send it to Pad 15 at 1300. We’ll be back by then.”

Tyrish inclined his head, hand over his heart. “On your account, Barthok-An?”

“Not so fast, you old swindler,” Kylo said, raising a silver finger. “How much?”

Tyrish’s tongue darted out to wet the tip of his bill, but then he said, “Twenty-two hundred.”

Kylo barked a laugh. “Have you been at the barris root again? No more than fifteen hundred.”

“You insult me, Barthok-An,” said Tyrish, though he didn’t sound particularly affronted. “My craftsmanship is certainly worth two thousand.”

“Sixteen,” Kylo said with a shake of his head. “No more.”

Tyrish frowned as much as a gungan could, saying, “Eighteen.”

Kylo heaved a put-upon sigh—surely affected—and said, “Seventeen, or nothing.”

“Seventeen.” Tyrish extended his glittering hand for Kylo to shake, and that, apparently, concluded the deal.

Kylo nodded at him as he released his grip. “You would have charged anyone else twice that.”

“Three times,” said Tyrish. “Easily.” He turned to Hux and gave a shallow bow. “Master Hux, be wary of this one; he’s charming, but he’s got a bite if you’re not careful.”

“You’re damn right,” Kylo drawled. “But the teeth are only for cheating gungans and buyers who think they’re getting my shipments at half price. Especially if they’re one and the same.”

“Bah,” Tyrish groused. “That was one time.”

Kylo tipped his head to the side, conceding, but came back around to face Hux. “Come on. Let’s go get something to drink. And the dust matches should be starting soon.”

“Don’t bet on the reds,” said Tyrish. “They lost me half a day’s profits last week.”

“I’ll take that into consideration,” Kylo chuckled, setting his hand at the small of Hux’s back to usher him out. “See you next shipment.”

Hux squinted as they stepped back into the sunshine, though there were a few grey clouds in the sky now. The dark-colored tunic should have been too warm, but he found it was light enough not to overheat. He didn’t know what had become of the clothes he had worn before, but he assumed they would be sent back to the ship with his new wardrobe. Unless Tyrish had decided they were too old and tossed them sneakily away. It seemed like something he would do.

“The arena is at the center of the market,” Kylo said, pulling Hux along with him as he slipped into the flow of people making their way along the lane. “We should be able to get a decent place if we get there soon.” He still had not said anything about what these dust matches actually were, but Hux had no other choice than to go with him.

They wove through so many vendors and stalls that Hux couldn’t have found his way out if he had tried—and he had an exceptional memory for places. It was fascinating to see the textiles transition to electronic components, weapons, and droids, as if anything imaginable could be found in this place. For all the cities Hux had been in on his missions for the Order, he hadn’t experienced this mix of peoples and goods. He was grateful that Kylo could navigate it well, as he would have been at a loss for where to start or where to stop.

He hadn’t known what to expect when they arrived at the arena, but it turned out to be a twenty-meter pit lined with stone and surrounded by an energy-charged crowd. There were booths at both ends of the pit, the Zygerrians behind the counters handing out some kind of flimsi vouchers. The air smelled of dung and sawdust, but there was an overlaying scent of roasting meat that made Hux’s stomach growl.

“This way,” said Kylo, making for the nearest of the two booths.

There was a digital display hanging at the back of it, advertising several teams, all denoted by color: yellow, blue, green, the reds Tyrish had warned them of, and a series of numbers beside each.

“Those are the odds to win,” Kylo explained, pointing. “Looks like the golds are the favorites, but blue doesn’t look bad, either. Where do you want to put our credits?”

Hux had a rudimentary knowledge of gambling from taking bets on who would win in the training rooms on the Finalizer. His odds were always particularly good, and very few troopers bet against him when he was up for shooting. His hand-to-hand record wasn’t as impressive, but he had come out on top a few times and earned himself someone to clean his gear or five minutes alone in the refresher before the rest of his bunkmates came in. He had, however, never bet with actual credits.

“Green,” he said: a guess, really.

“Blue’s got better odds,” said Kylo. “But you can take green if you want.”

They pushed their way up to the front of the line, getting to the counter where the Zygerrian was waiting.

“Place your bets quick,” she said in a whiny, nasal voice. “They’re starting in eight minutes.” She snapped up the credit chit Kylo passed to her. “How much?”

“Twenty on blue,” he said, “and thirty on green.”

The Zygerrian tapped the chit against the reader, which flashed green, before handing it back to Kylo along with five vouchers. He grabbed them and pushed the three green ones into Hux’s hands.

“Hold onto those. You’ll need them if you win.”

Hux tucked them into the pocket of his trousers, keeping his hand there, too, just to hold them in. He followed close behind Kylo as he cut through the rest of the last-minute betters to find an open spot by the end of the pit. They weren’t right next to the edge, but they were close enough to see down into it. It was filled with dark brown wood shavings, and there were barred cages all along the interior walls.

“Is this an animal fight?” Hux said, not exactly alarmed, but taken aback. He had heard of the brutality of some fighting rings, and while blood was nothing new to him, watching animals tear each other apart for sport wasn’t appealing.

“No, not at all,” Kylo replied quickly. “It’s a ball game. The Cabourians aren’t sentient, but they’re trained to seek the ball and knock each other around to get it. It’s just rough-housing for them, not fighting.”

Hux looked hard at the cages, trying to see any creatures inside them, but they were too shadowed. “How many play at once?”

“Two three-man teams,” said Kylo. He pointed to the display mounted just behind the far side of the pit. “It’s red versus gold to start. They’re only ten-minute matches, so it won’t be long before blue and green are up.”

“It’s blue versus yellow second,” Hux said, reading the board. “Is it knock-out? If one team loses, they’re out of the running and the winning team advances?”

Kylo smiled, nodding. “That’s right. You catch on quick.”

Hux didn’t reply, but rubbed the folded vouchers in his pocket between his thumb and forefinger. It didn’t matter which team won; they weren’t his credits he was wasting. Still, he hated to lose at anything.

“Good morning, one and all!” cried an announcer from her place beneath the scoreboard. “Welcome to the Dust Pit. We’ve got six teams for you today, so I hope you’ve already placed your bets. It’s going to be a good one.” She pointed a long-nailed hand at the pit. “Gates away!”

Three of the cages sprung open and six four-legged reptiles with short, docked tails charged hissing out into the wood shavings. A ball the size of a small melon was dropped into the center of the pit, and immediately the Cabourians were on it, shoving each other out of the way to pick it up in their mouths. Their backs were painted with a stripe of color to denote their teams.

The crowd erupted into cheers as the match began, people urging their favorites on, waving their vouchers. Kylo still held his in his left hand, but he didn’t lift them up or howl with the others. Hux, too, stood quietly, watching with curiosity.

The Cabourians played hard, and, amazingly, were trained well enough to toss the ball between them. The gold team was outperforming the reds, as Tyrish had warned, scoring several points in quick succession. Half the crowd groaned as they passed the goal line once again, with a few curses interspersed. Near where Hux stood was a Togruta who clearly had a stake in this match, its fists balled as it called out encouragements.

When the buzzer sounded for the end of the match, the handlers jumped into the pit to herd the animals back into their cages. The gold team had won, and already betters were making their way to the booths for their payouts.

“Can someone make a living off of this?” Hux asked over the sound of shuffling feet and complaints at the loss of the reds.

“Gambling, or raising Cabourians?” Kylo said in reply.

“Both, I suppose.”

Kylo tucked his hands into his trouser pockets, rocking back on his heels. “Well, it’s not a rich life, but having a farm can support you. There are probably more who earn their keep from their bets. If you get lucky enough, you can set yourself up for a Ryden standard year.”

Hux watched the screen by the booth light up both red and green as credits were exchanged. “The bets we placed were fairly small.”

“Oh, yeah,” said Kylo. “It’s basically nothing, but if we win, we might be able to buy ourselves a nice lunch after this. Speaking of...” He cast a brief glance around them, alighting on a vendor carrying a tray of bottles chilled in steaming dry ice. He waved the woman down, and she started over. “You like lata juice?” he asked.

Hux had never tried it before and said as much.

Kylo perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised by his vast ignorance of common foods, but his brows still went up. “It’s good,” he said. “Cold.”

The vendor took two bottles of thick, orange-colored liquid from her tray and handed them to Hux while Kylo paid. As he had said, the bottles were cold, a welcome respite from the heat of the day. When the vendor had gone away, Hux gave Kylo one of the bottles, watching how he tore the seal open before setting in on his own. Hux eyed it dubiously, but took a tentative sip. It wasn’t as sweet as the ration bars, and there was an acidic tartness to it, but he couldn’t deny that it was delicious as he swallowed it down.

“What do you think?” Kylo asked, the corners of his mouth turning up.

“It’s good,” Hux replied. “Remarkable.”

Kylo’s smile widened to show his slightly crooked front teeth. “What kind of gruel did the mercs give you before if this is ‘remarkable?’”

“Rations,” he said. “The cheapest we could find.” It was close to the truth, anyway.

“We’ll get something proper in you before we leave today, then,” Kylo said. “Oh, here we go; the next match is starting. Blue versus yellow. Let’s see how my boys do.”

They did well, as it turned out, soundly defeating the yellow team, which put Kylo in the running to win. Hux’s green team was in for the next match against black, and he turned his attention sharply to it.

He drank his juice slowly over the next few matches, savoring it. Kylo had long ago finished his and set the bottle down by his feet, but Hux didn’t mind his getting warm. The final match was about to start as he finished it: blue versus green, just as they had hoped.

“You’re going to lose,” Kylo teased, bumping Hux’s shoulder with his.

Hux shrugged. “They’re your credits.”

Kylo grumbled something at that, and Hux had to stifle his laugh.

The noise of the spectators was even louder now as the teams were released from their cages. Green made their move first, scoring before blue. But the blue team came back strong with three goals. Kylo ventured a cheer, and Hux, caught up in the fervor, cried one of his own. It seemed to bolster the green team, and they scored two, three, four times.

The clock was counting down quickly, the ten minutes almost spent, when blue made another goal, bringing them to a tie. With less than one minute remaining, Hux watched fixedly, tense. Just as the buzzer sounded, a green-backed Cabourian crossed the goal line to the sounds of a raucous roar from the crowd.

“Well, kriff,” Kylo said. “Looks like you put the credits on the right team. But I guess I can’t complain. I probably just won back the twenty I bet on blue.” He grabbed the bottles they had set down and made for the Zygerrian’s booth.

Hux turned in his vouchers for a total of eighty credits, which Kylo put back on his chit.

“What do you think about something to eat?” Kylo said as they followed the flow of people away from the arena. “There’s a cantina not far from here that serves the best beer and rotisserie Bantha in the city.”

“I’d like that,” said Hux, his hunger making itself apparent with a rumble.

Kylo laughed. “You’re easy to please. I can appreciate that.”

Hux had been in one cantina in his life, to do reconnaissance on a target. He had kept to the dark corners there, watching instead of joining the others at the bar or a table. His focus was on the Resistance operative he had been sent to assassinate, but out of the corner of his eye, he had caught sight of a man in burgundy by the stage where the band was playing a quirky tune heavy on the pipes.

He was broadly built and blond-haired, with a laidback grin that hit Hux straight in the gut. Hux had been no more than sixteen then and had been startled by his interest in the stranger. Neither men nor women in the trooper ranks had had any real appeal before, but this man Hux found mesmerizing. He had wanted to speak to him, though he wouldn’t have known what to say, but the mission came first.

Hux had followed his target toward the door, giving the stranger a last glance. Just as he was passing by, the man had looked up and met his gaze. His eyes were an astonishing blue, and reflected exactly what Hux couldn’t have: someone outside of the Order. Troopers did not have shore leave like the officers did; their only choices of partners were among their own ranks, and Hux didn’t fraternize. That man had been the first and, Hux had believed, the last person he would let himself desire.

Kylo was whistling tunelessly as they walked along the road at the edge of the Olmek markets, his stride swinging and loose. He his body wasn’t so different from the man in burgundy’s, though he was taller, if Hux’s memory served. And his coloring was the very opposite, but he drew the eye as the other man once had.

He had tended Hux’s wound gently that morning, his hands, both metal and flesh, seeing to him with careful touches. Hux had watched his dark head as he bent to remove the bandage and listened to him ask if it hurt, if he was removing it too fast. The First Order’s medics were brusque at best, sadistic at worst. The times Hux had had to visit them for vaccinations and physical inspections, they had looked at and treated him like an animal at auction: to be checked over quickly, stuck with needles, and then shoved off to make room for the next one. Kylo handled him more delicately than was necessary, but Hux had done nothing to hurry him up.

When he had gone to turn on the shower, Hux had watched him walk, admiring him as he had the man in burgundy. But Kylo he could speak to, could reach out for. And debt aside, he found that he wouldn’t object to going to his bed. He had removed his borrowed trousers and kicked them away, leaving him bare for Kylo to see when he turned back around. There was anxiety, of course, at revealing himself completely, but there was excitement, too. He wanted Kylo to look at him and see something he craved.

“Do you want to join me?” he had asked, coming to stand in front of Kylo, taking hold of his thin shirt and lifting it just slightly to feel the skin beneath. He had hoped Kylo would lay hands on him then, let Hux undress him and bring him under the water. He wanted to wash his body just to feel its unfamiliar contours.

But Kylo had taken him firmly by the shoulders and pushed him away. Hux, discouraged, had made a last, weak attempt to convince him that it would be simpler if Kylo just took what was on offer, but in the end it had made no difference. He had been guided into the shower and abandoned. Like the man in burgundy, Kylo was not to be had.

They stopped on the street outside an alcove into which a heavy door was set. There was no sign or name to mark it as a cantina, but as Kylo pulled open the door, Hux could hear the music and smell the thick cigarra smoke.

“After you,” Kylo said.

Inside it was hazy and dark, the few windows near the doorway covered with sackcloth curtains. The bar was semi-circular, filling nearly the entire building. A few chairs and tables were scattered around by the stage, where a four-piece band played, but most of them were empty. The door closed with a heavy thunk , cutting off the last of the sunlight, and leaving Hux’s eyes to adjust to the dimness. A few of the patrons shot glances at him and Kylo as they sauntered up to the bar, but no one seemed in a hurry to accost them.

The bartender, a Genonosian with a scar across his face, set down the glass he had been wiping and leaned on the bar toward them. “What can I get you?” he asked, voice wheezy and syllables hissed.

“The house ale,” said Kylo. “And…” He paused to allow Hux to give his order, but Hux didn’t know what that would be. The troopers drank water.

“The same,” he managed to say.

The bartender went away to see to their drinks, allowing Kylo to lean in and say, “Their brew is pretty strong. Can you hold your liquor?”

“I believe so,” Hux lied.

Kylo clapped him on the back. “Good. You might have to pilot the ship back to the station if I have more than one.”

“I can’t—” Hux started, protesting, but Kylo cut him off: “I know. It’s a joke. I’ll get us back.”

The bartender put two pint glasses in front of them, the beer amber in color and frothed at the top. Kylo lifted his first in a kind of salute, gesturing for Hux to pick his own up when he didn’t right away.

“A toast,” Kylo said. “To my first crewmember.” He clinked his glass against Hux’s, and then drank. Hux followed suit.

The ale was bitter, and he barely managed to avoid spitting it out. It was far from the tart juice he had enjoyed at the dust match; it was heavy, astringent, and vile. He set the glass down hard on the plasteel of the bar, mouth pinched.

“Not good?” Kylo asked, clearly having watched his reaction.

Hux coughed, wishing for something to wash away the taste. “It’s...fine.”

Kylo lifted a single brow, unconvinced. “Right. Well, if you don’t want to finish it, they’ve got other things. You like whiskey?”

“Does it taste like this?” Hux said.

Kylo shook his head. “No. Fewer hops, more bite. A really great one burns on the way down.”

Hux wrinkled his nose. “And you drink it by choice?”

“You get used to it,” Kylo laughed. He moved a bit closer and gave Hux a wink. “Can’t get drunk any other way, either.”

Hux watched him take another drink, this one deep, and ventured to pick up his glass again. He sucked his teeth, which still tasted of the ale, but then tipped the glass back and drank. It wasn’t as bad the second time, though the it still wasn’t exactly tasty. He swallowed heavily, his stomach roiling as the alcohol hit the emptiness there.

“You said something about food,” he said once he could breathe again. “Bantha?”

“Definitely,” said Kylo, flagging down the bartender again. To him: “Can we get two of the rotisserie wraps with extra sauce?”

The Geonosian grunted, pulling out a small notebook from his back pocket and scribbling their order down. He delivered the paper to the kitchen around the back side of the bar before going to see to other drinkers.

Hux looked around at them curiously, taking in the array of creatures. The First Order recruited only humans, and his contact with aliens had been limited. He wasn’t a xenophobe, but interacting with anyone whose eyes he had to fight to find was something of a challenge. Kylo seemed perfectly at ease among the mixed company, sipping at his drink while he surveyed those around them. He wasn’t the only one who was armed, Hux noted; a number of others around the cantina carried blasters. His fingers twitched at the absence of his sidearm, which he had modified to suit the quirks of his shooting. It was likely back in his locker on the Finalizer, if it hadn’t been disposed of already in his absence.

He remembered clearing out the few belongings of one of his bunkmates who had been killed on a mission. It was done expeditiously and without grief, the items of clothing, armor, and weaponry taken to be broken down or refitted for use by another trooper. It was routine, and watching it happen, Hux had felt nothing. But there was something irksome in thinking that those with whom he had served would cast him off as easily, even if he had done the same.

“So, tell me,” Kylo said, calling Hux back to the present. “What kinds of jobs did you do with your mercs, before they cut you loose?”

Although not all of Hux’s work was so closely tied to the Order’s operations that he couldn’t describe a mission without revealing the most incriminating details, Hux would still have to answer carefully.

“There were all manner of things,” he told Kylo, “but some assignments were more memorable than others.”

“Go on,” Kylo prompted, running his fingers through the condensation on his glass. It was stuffy in the cantina.

“Well,” Hux began, “once we were sent to a world in the Unknown Regions to deal with...a rival merc company.” It had been a Resistance expeditionary contingent seeking to set up a base nearer to central First Order operations. Dangerous for them, but Hux had to admire their boldness. “They were pushing into our territory, and we had to oust them.”

Kylo snorted. “Merc rivalries.”

Hux played at being offended, hoping it was convincing enough to fool him. “We needed to keep our business running without competition. You can’t have another band taking your work.” He shot Kylo a look. “Surely you know that from your own operations.”

“Competition is inevitable in transport,” Kylo said, “but if you get a reputation, it does drum up clients for you. Guess it works the same way with mercs, right?”

Hux really didn’t know, but he assumed. “It does. And we had our reputation to protect.” He took another sip of ale, keeping from wincing this time.

“All right. So what happened? You take them down in a hail of blaster bolts?”

Hux huffed, haughty. “Hardly. It takes far more finesse than that. I spent two days observing them before the rest of my unit even deployed. I identified their leaders: those who, if killed, would leave the others to flounder. Without guidance, soldiers are listless. Some give up.”

Stormtroopers didn’t surrender, but the mercenaries they had faced before had laid down their weapons as soon as their leadership had fallen.

“I learned their habits,” he continued, “studied them until I could identify their weakest points. Those would be where my men—the men—could attack.”

“Marksman and strategist,” Kylo said. “Impressive.”

Hux forced himself not to preen. He was very good at what he did.

Kylo asked, pressing him to say more, “So, what were their weaknesses?”

“Sloppiness,” Hux replied, derisively. “A lack of discipline. They were cautious, but the leaders were far too friendly with their subordinates. That makes their organization and their soldiers’ autonomy even weaker.” He sniffed. “They would be easy to defeat. We decided a daytime assault would be suitable, so I ordered the rest of the men down at midday. There were ten of us and thirty of them.”

Kylo’s brows shot up. “What kind of odds are those?”

Hux gave him a cold smile. “The kind that I prefer. My unit was very capable.”

“You don’t say,” Kylo muttered. More clearly: “Did you take them down, then?”

“It took us eleven minutes,” said Hux. “The infantry approached from the west as a distraction while I shot from the south. Their commanders lasted barely three minutes, and the rest was a basic clean-up job. We took fifteen prisoners. Two of our men were shot, but nothing more serious.”

Kylo said, shaking his head, “Stars. You must have been something to see in action. I don’t know much about fighting, but I’d say that’s pretty damn extraordinary.” He lifted his glass. “I bet you had a steep price for your services, eh?”

“Of course,” Hux said, avoiding specifics. He didn’t know the going rate for hiring a mercenary company. “We did well for ourselves.”

Kylo hummed as he rolled a mouthful of ale over his tongue, and then swallowed. “To look at that armor you had, I’d say so. But if you were doing so well with them, why’d they throw you out?”

Brendol Hux. My father tried to have me killed to sever his last ties to a kitchen woman, with whom he had spent one drunken night, and the bastard son with which she had saddled him.

“A disagreement about the direction of the company,” Hux said, hurriedly fabricating more of the recent past he had decided on for himself. “They wanted to take different jobs.” He tapped the rim of his glass with his thumb, seeing an opening to test Kylo. “They were offered work by the First Order.” He took a drink of ale, but watched Kylo all the while, waiting for a response.

Kylo set his glass slowly down, leaning his left arm on the bar. His tone was even and steady as ever as he asked, “And you didn’t want to work for them?”

Hux replied with a question of his own: “Would you?”

“Depends on what they were paying,” Kylo said, stretching his shoulders back with almost too-easy nonchalance. “I take a job if it’s in my interest. Doesn’t much matter who’s asking, as long as they offer good credits.”

Hux wasn’t certain whether to be relieved or disappointed. Maybe he had expected that Kylo would have certain scruples when it came to his business, but he couldn’t decide if working with the Order would be considered scrupulous or not. To many in the galaxy, they were a holdover Imperial cult that clung to dead ideals and should be disregarded, but others understood more clearly what kind of power they had and what they intended to do with it.

Hux believed resolutely that the Order’s rule would bring structure to a fractured galaxy, as the old Empire once had, but without the fundamental flaws that allowed the Rebellion to overthrow it. Even now that he was no longer a part of the Order, he was determined to aid its cause, even if he had to wait until after his life debt was paid—however long that might be.

“But you don’t agree,” said Kylo, gaze fixed on Hux’s face. “You wouldn’t take credits from the First Order?”

“They have soldiers of their own,” Hux said. “They don’t need to hire mercenaries to die for them. There were better uses for our company. Safer and more lucrative.” He paused, realizing how that might sound. He added, “I’m not a coward.”

Kylo reached across to him with his silver hand and laid it on Hux’s knee. “There’s nothing wrong with keeping yourself out of danger, if you can avoid it. Especially if it’s just a matter of pay. You don’t have to go down fighting for a cause you don’t believe in if you can make enough to support yourself elsewhere.” He squeezed Hux’s thigh. “I know something about leaving when you’re expected to go along with someone else’s plan.”

Hux glanced down at the glinting metal of Kylo’s fingers; they didn’t feel inorganic through the fabric of his trousers. “I didn’t want to go,” he said, quieter than before, and honest. “I belonged with them. But I had no choice.”

“Neither did I,” said Kylo, a distance in his eyes. “I was supposed to do something completely different—live a whole different life—but after…” He released Hux to display his prosthetic. “After this, everything changed. If I had stayed where I had been before, the ones who did this to me might have come back for others. I had to leave to keep them safe.”

Hux watched him flex the fingers. “You said it was an accident.”

“It was,” Kylo said, setting his hand on his own knee. “At least I think so. They weren’t supposed to hurt me, just take me away.”

“Who?” Hux asked.

Kylo took a deep swallow of ale. “Enemies of my family.”

Hux knew he wasn’t saying everything, but he couldn’t fault him for not being forthcoming, when he himself was anything but. “Transport was your only recourse?”

“Not quite,” Kylo chuckled. “It’s a kind of family business. The Falcon is my dad’s ship. He lends her out to me from time to time when he needs to borrow my freighter to look reputable.”

“It’s old, but surely not disreputable,” said Hux.

Kylo’s smile was sly. “It’s just when he flies her. He’s got a reputation in some circles.”

Hux cocked a brow. “Would I know him?”

“I doubt it.” Kylo gestured to Hux’s half-full glass with his own empty one. “You want something else?”

“Just water,” Hux replied. The ale was wet, but didn’t do much to quench thirst when he could barely choke it down.

Before Kylo could wave to him, the bartender reappeared with two paper-wrapped cylinders, both of which he dropped on the bar in front of them. The scent of spiced meat wafted up.

“Thanks,” Kylo said, sliding a credit chit over to him. “Add another ale and a glass of water to the tab before you charge it.” As the bartender went to the console to transfer the credits, Kylo pushed one of the cylinders toward Hux. “Go on. I think you’ll really like this.”

Hux took it—it was warm—and examined the paper, which was folded carefully to hold it in place. When he tugged at a corner, though, it gave way, and a stronger aroma rose. Inside was flatbread wrapped around a layer of shredded, fragrant meat over a bed of purple and green chopped vegetables and topped with white sauce. It looked unusual, but smelled delicious. Folding the paper back from the edge, Hux brought it to his mouth.

His eyelids nearly dropped closed in satisfaction as he tasted the mixture of flavors: seasonings on soft, chewy meat; a creamy freshness in the sauce; and the crunch and earthy sweetness of the vegetables. He was too caught up in it to be embarrassed to hear the deep sound of pleasure he made.

Kylo was grinning at him openly, his own wrap still lying on the bar. “What do you think?”

Hux couldn’t answer around his food, but he chewed it and swallowed heavily. “It’s Bantha, you said?” At Kylo’s nod, he continued, “It’s delectable.”

“I figured you might say that.” He unwrapped his own and inhaled. “It’s my favorite.”

For the next few minutes, they ate in silence, Hux concentrating wholly on his meal. He didn’t pause until he had finished it all and licked his fingers clean. Kylo worked somewhat more slowly, stopping to drink his ale, but he didn’t disturb Hux.

“You’ve got some appetite,” he said once Hux, full to bursting, had leaned his elbows on the bar and reached for the cup of ice water the bartender had brought him. “Did your merc crew starve you?”

“Something like that,” Hux sighed, too content to make up anything more elaborate.

Kylo finished off his ale. “Well, if you’re working for me, you’ll have all the rations you could want. And we can come down here and get a wrap whenever you’re in the mood.”

Hux eyed him, genuinely baffled. “Why does it matter to you what I want?”

“Why do you think it wouldn’t?” Kylo said, brows knit. “Just because you’re indebted to me doesn’t mean that you have no say in your keep.” He scratched the back of his neck with his flesh-and-blood hand, under his hair. “I want you to be okay here. With me. You’re not supposed to suffer through this.”

“Not everyone to whom a life debt has been owed has believed that,” said Hux, remembering more than one payment among the troopers that had been less than completely consensual.

A mix of enmity and pity—a strange combination—flashed across Kylo’s face. “What the kriff did they do to you?” he said.

Hux studied the rounded edges of the ice in his cup, wondering as he hadn’t before what the Order had made him, with its ruthless conditioning. “We were taught to survive.” And to serve.

“You’ll do that with me,” said Kylo, firmly. “I’m not going to put your life at risk.”

If Hux were to die in Kylo’s service, his debt would be paid in full. However, he didn’t think that was what Kylo wanted to hear, so he held the words back. Instead, he said, “You’re the first to tell me that.” When Kylo frowned, he added, “I’ve been a soldier since I was a boy. Being kept from harm is not something I know.”

“Are you going to hate it?” Kylo asked, crumpling up the wrap’s paper and setting the neat ball down beside his glass. “An easy life with a transporter? Nothing to shoot, no enemies to fight. It could be tedious for you.”

Hux shrugged. He would have ample time to mourn his past as they traveled through hyperspace on one of the many jobs they would no doubt be taking in the coming months. For now, he said, “I’ll make do.”

Seemingly satisfied with that, Kylo pushed back from the bar, dropping his feet onto the dusty floor. “We should be getting back. I’ve got some things to take care of before tomorrow.”

“We have work then?” said Hux, sliding off of his own stool.

Kylo’s flinch was fleeting, but Hux didn’t miss it. “Yeah. A pickup in the Inner Rim. You don’t have to come, though; not this first time. You should take some more time to heal up.”

“I’m fine.” Hux lifted a brow. “You did say it wasn’t a dangerous job. I’m more than able to manage something that isn’t active combat.” He was sure he could, in fact, go into a fight without much trouble, but that wasn’t necessary.

“All right,” Kylo said, resigned. “I’ll tell you about it back on the station.”

They went back out in the sunlight, which was burning even hotter and brighter in the midafternoon. Kylo didn’t dawdle this time, leading them briskly through the crowds, which parted for a man of his size. Hux kept pace, though he spared a last few glances for the city around them, as if he wouldn’t see it again. Were this a mission for the Order, it was likely he wouldn’t—they deployed on a world to work, and were then extracted—but Kylo appeared to know the place well, implying that he came here often. Maybe there was another Bantha wrap in the offing before Hux’s debt was paid.

There was a neat pile of plassteel cases on the landing pad when they arrived back, all of them filled with Hux’s new wardrobe. As Kylo keyed in the code to open the loading door, Hux went to retrieve the first of them to carry aboard. It wasn’t overly heavy or large, but Kylo swept in to take it from Hux’s hands.

“I’ll get these,” he said as he held the case easily. “You shouldn’t tear your staples.”

Hux pursed his lips, annoyed, but nodded. “Shall I wait for you in the cockpit?”

“Sure,” said Kylo. “Just, uh, don’t touch anything. If you power up the engines while I’m down here, you might kill me.”

“Wouldn’t want that,” Hux said.

Kylo narrowed his eyes, but when Hux offered a small smile—an admission that it had been a joke—he grinned. “I’ll be up in just a minute.”

Hux turned and went up the platform into the belly of the freighter. He remembered the way to get to the cockpit, but he didn’t take it, instead making a turn to explore the other parts of the ship. Everything was narrow, winding, and weathered. It was the opposite of the clean, sharp lines of the Finalizer, but the freighter—the Falcon—was not a warship.

When he heard the whining of the loading door closing, Hux made for the cockpit, settling into the copilot’s chair and folding his hands in his lap. The clatter of Kylo’s boots announced his arrival, just before he swung into his own seat. His fingers flew over the controls on the console to fire up the ship’s engines, and she rumbled in response.

“Here we go,” he said.

Hux took hold of the armrests as Kylo guided the ship up and off of the landing pad, leaving Olmek behind them. As soon as they cleared the atmosphere the quiet of space enfolded them.

Kylo steered confidently, saying, “I figure when we get back, you can set up your clothes in your quarters on the station. Might want to pack a few changes for tomorrow, just in case we get caught up on the job. Sometimes they take longer than planned.”

“What are we doing?” Hux asked.

“It’s an unspecified cargo,” Kylo replied, sheepish. “Well, at least the most important part is. The rest is supposed to be grain to resupply some colonists in the Unknown Regions.”

Hux blinked once, surprised, but perhaps not completely caught off guard. “That’s not transport; that’s smuggling.”

Kylo tightened his grip on the yoke. “Ah, you might call it that. It’s not something I do all the time, but it pays.”

“I understand,” said Hux.

“You don’t have a problem with it?” Kylo asked, giving him a measuring look.

Hux shook his head. “I’m at your service, whatever that might be.”

“Well, all right, then.” Kylo leaned back in his chair, extending his long arms to reach the yoke. “Let’s get to work.”

Focusing on the starscape beyond on the transparisteel viewports, Hux saw the station and his near future take shape ahead.

Chapter Text

Kylo changed the docking codes for the Ryden 2 station every galactic standard week to ensure that when he left and returned again, they were different. The series of numbers and letters were randomly generated, but when he meditated on them, they were secured in his memory until they were replaced with the next code. He gave them to no one else, not even the Resistance operatives who occasionally passed through the station. He made sure to be there when they arrived and to see them off again before locking everything down and wiping any record of their visit from the databanks of the station’s life support and security systems. As far as anyone who might hack them was concerned, it was only ever Kylo in residence.

And now Hux.

He was in the Falcon’s copilot seat while Kylo flew them back to the station after their morning planetside. Quiet and observant, he was looking at the instrument panels as if trying to decipher what each blinking light indicated. Kylo could tell him, of course, but they had only a short ride between Olmek and the station; a lesson would be more appropriate on a long haul, maybe like the one they would be taking to the Inner Rim tomorrow. It would be onto the Unknown Regions from there, easily an overnight; they’d have time.

Kylo keyed in the codes as they approached the station, guiding the Falcon through the main docking door and inside the bay. As he set her down, he cut the engine and lowered the loading door with a hiss of depressurization. Tapping the comms, he called for the hauling droid: “T4-09 to the hangar. We’ve got cargo to unload.” The droid gave a few acknowledging whistles and beeps over the comm.

“Well,” Kylo said to Hux, “let’s get your things off the ship. We’ll have to carry them from the hangar, though. T4 can’t fit into the living quarters. Do you mind that?”

“No,” Hux replied. “I can get them.”

Kylo ducked out of the cockpit, hand on the headrest of Hux’s seat. “I’ll help. It won’t take more than a couple minutes.” He tipped his head aft. “Come on. Let’s go.”

T4 had already removed the boxes of clothing from the Falcon when they stepped down from the freighter, and was carrying them across the hangar to the door. The droid was heavy and operated on rotary tracks. It had no distinguishable humanoid features—meant for this task and not frequent interface with its owners. Still, Kylo patted its side as he walked by, saying, “Thanks, T4.” It beeped and began to retreat.

There were three plasteel boxes—one bigger than the others—stacked and waiting for them. Kylo took the handle of the largest one, and Hux the other. Together they lifted it and bore it through the doorway into the hall. The central room, where the couches and chairs were situated, was about thirty paces from the hangar, and Hux’s room lay at the end of the corridor on the opposite side. The station wasn’t massive, but it was not particularly convenient to walk with the boxes, and Kylo tried not to wince as the bottom of the one they carried repeatedly hit the tendon in his ankle.

“You’re pretty well set for a while with all of this,” he said to Hux, looking back over his shoulder. “We won’t have to haul this much again.”

“It wasn’t necessary to buy so many things,” Hux said. “I could have made do with half of this.”

Kylo knew that, but as he had watched him try on the numerous trousers and tunics and boots in Tyrish’s shop, he had found Hux’s fascination with the array of colors and fabrics extremely endearing. Kylo had smiled at the wonder in his reactions, even if Hux had tried to appear unaffected. When it came time to negotiate a price, Kylo hadn’t bothered to ask Hux to decide which items he liked best; he bought them all.

Hux wouldn’t have seen it, but the curious look Tyrish gave Kylo at such a purchase for someone else—Kylo would never have spent so much on himself—had him averting his gaze for fear of betraying that he was doting on someone so blatantly. But it was obvious Hux had never experienced anything like the Olmek markets, and he had never owned clothing like he now had. Kylo liked the way Hux looked in the clothes, too, and try as he might to convince himself that he was just outfitting him as was necessary for a partner in his business, he couldn’t wholly lie to himself: he wanted to see Hux wear the shirts that made his hair look aflame and the trousers that followed the contours of long legs, up to a round—

Kylo stopped himself there, before he got carried away. He had rebuffed Hux’s advances, and intended to maintain the necessary distance to keep him from making another attempt, but it didn’t hurt to take good care of him, did it? And he had done. He hadn’t planned on taking Hux to a dust match, or to lunch in his favorite cantina, but he had seen Hux’s interest in everything around him and had wanted to show him more. He wondered what Hux was going to make of life as a transporter, or, as he had said as they left Ryden 2, life as a smuggler.

As they reached Hux’s room, Kylo tapped the keypad, and the door slid open to reveal the narrow bed across from it, and a wardrobe to the immediate left. He led the way to the wardrobe; they set the box down in front of it.

“You can start unpacking,” Kylo said. “I’ll get the other two.”

Hux, a crease between his brows, said, “I can help you. I’ll—”

Kylo shook his head, sliding his hands into his pockets. “Don’t worry about it. Just get your stuff settled in here. I’ll be right back with the rest.”

Hux looked as if he was going to protest again, but his shoulders slumped in resignation. “Very well,” he grumbled.

Amused, Kylo turned back for the hall. He wasn’t halfway across the living quarters when 2-1H, the medical droid, appeared from the storage closet where it usually stayed when it wasn’t in use.

“Master Kylo,” the droid called, rolling to him. “I was hoping I could check in with Master Hux to make sure his wound is healing properly. Would he be amenable to that at this time?”

“You’d have to ask him,” Kylo said. He gestured at the open door to his room. “He’s in there, if you want to.”

“I shall,” said 1H. “I can give you a full report of his condition when I’ve completed my assessment.”

Kylo waved him off. “Don’t worry about it. He can tell me if something’s wrong.” Though Hux seemed the type to conceal pain if it wasn’t overly severe. “On second thought, go ahead. But just the short version.”

1H bobbed its head. “Very good, Master Kylo.”

Kylo watched as it rolled down the corridor to Hux’s room, hearing a distant greeting: “Master Hux, there you are!” Quirking a smile to himself, Kylo headed off for the hangar.

The two remaining boxes he stacked one atop the other and, lifting their considerable weight, bore them both. His prosthetic took most of the burden, but by the time he got down the hall, his flesh-and-blood arm was starting to ache. He stepped into the room, ready to see Hux, but he wasn’t by the wardrobe. There was clothing hanging in it, but he was nowhere to be found. Kylo was about to call for him when he heard his voice from the refresher.

“How long have you been on the station?”

1H, who was presumably with him, replied, “Only the four years since Master Kylo acquired it, but I’ve been with him far longer.”

“Is that so?” Hux asked.

“Oh, yes. His mother and father acquired me to serve him just after the accident.”

“When he was boy?”

“He thought himself a man by then, but he was only fifteen.”

Kylo stifled a laugh; he had very much considered himself grown at that age. He had been the oldest of the apprentices at his uncle’s school, and took that to mean that he could lord it over the others. They hadn’t appreciated it, but for the most part they had tolerated him. After the accident—after the creature called Snoke had sent his knights for him—they were wary of him. He heard talk among them that they didn’t want him to come back.

He hadn’t. Uncle Luke had tried to convince him otherwise, but after the long year Ben Solo had spent in rehabilitation, he had refused to return. It wasn’t because he didn’t want to study the ways of the Force—he did; it was for the sake of the other students. He was a danger to them. Snoke hadn’t gone away after Ben had turned his knights back; he remained at the fringes of his mind, always looking for a way through his defenses.

The power he offered was tempting to an ambitious boy, yet frightening, too. Ben would have had to abandon his family, even betray them, and destroy Uncle Luke’s New Jedi. He wanted to stand out and be great, but that came at a price he wasn’t willing to pay. So he had left his training behind and gone to work for his father, spending the next seven years aboard the Falcon learning the Solo trade.

“Did he need a great deal of care?” he heard Hux say.

“Quite a bit at the beginning,” said 1H. “The wound was severe, and it took time for him to accustom himself to the prosthetic. There was irritation, too, and one or two infections when he didn’t keep it clean enough.”

Kylo remembered both of those times vividly. He had had to remove the arm for three weeks while the antibiotics worked and the skin healed. It had been frustrating to do everything left-handed, and he had ended up with a fair amount of food on his shirts as he tried to eat, but it was then that his father had taught him to shoot with his left hand. He had practiced with both after that.

“Does he do better now?” Hux asked.

“He does,” 1H replied. “I believe he is conscientious to remove the prosthetic when he bathes to keep the skin from getting irritated, though I haven’t asked him in some time. Perhaps I should inquire.”

“It can’t be exposed to water?”

“It can. He can swim with it if he so chooses, but it has to be removed occasionally.”

Kylo oftentimes slept without it when he was on the station, just to give his shoulder a break, but he didn’t make a habit of not wearing it when he had guests. Hux, he realized, was going to be staying far longer than any of those before him. He was in his employ, and he would likely see Kylo without it sometime. Kylo wasn’t fond of that prospect. Without the arm he was incomplete, vulnerable in a way he didn’t like. He was far from defenseless without it, but it had become a part of him. He stretched the fingers now, watching them unfurl without feeling any sensation.

“The mechanism is very complex,” 1H continued. “I’m afraid I don’t know much about it, if that’s what you wish to hear about, Master Hux.”

“No, it’s fine,” said Hux. A pause, but then: “Has he always lived alone here? I can’t imagine that. Last night was the first time I’ve slept in a room alone in many years. Does he enjoy solitude?”

“Since he acquired this station he has operated by himself, yes,” the droid said. “I’ve never known him to complain about being on his own. He does converse with me sometimes. Perhaps those are the times he would rather have company.”

That much was true. After years spent in shared dormitories at his uncle’s school and years of close quarters on the Falcon , he had been relieved to have space to himself. It did get lonely from time to time, but he found companionship planetside when he needed it, and did talk to 1H.

He considered what Hux had said about sharing quarters, assuming that First Order stormtroopers had barracks like any other soldiers. Hux would probably claim that he had lived aboard small mercenary ships—continuing his lies—but this was another moment where he slipped into revealing something that could give him away.

“He won’t appreciate me ruining that for him,” Hux said. “I don’t understand why he insists on keeping me here. There are simpler ways to pay my debt.”

1H hummed. “I can’t know his motivations, but I might suggest that he likes you, and that’s his reason.”

Kylo pressed his lips together, awaiting Hux’s reply. He wanted to know if he would approve or dislike Kylo’s interest in him. 1H was onto something with that guess, after all. Ex-trooper or not, Hux was intriguing.

“If that was the case, would he not have just taken me to his bed?” Hux asked.

“Oh!” 1H exclaimed, clearly flustered by the forthright question. “I, well, ah...Master Kylo has not chosen to share with me his, um, interests in partners, so I’m afraid I have no information on that matter. However, I can say that it’s not common that he brings anyone to the station, or takes on help in his business transactions. I believe it could be safe to say that he enjoys your company. As a friend, perhaps.”

“I’ve not had friends before,” said Hux. “Comrades-in-arms, subordinates, but I considered none of them friends. I don’t know that I could to be that to him, if he should want that of me.”

It wasn’t wholly impossible for Kylo to relate. The other apprentices had been friendlier with each other than they had been with him. Uncle Luke had been his master; and his mother been just that, and a distant parent, letting motherhood come second to her role in the New Republic Senate. Han Solo was maybe the closest thing to a friend he had had, but Ben had still looked up to him too much for that. And by the time Ben was twenty-one, he had started to take his own jobs, bought his own freighter. They grew apart. Since then, he had been, as 1H had said, without many personal ties.

“I daresay it would be good for him to have one,” 1H said. “Do you not like him?”

Kylo tensed, once again waiting.

“I’m grateful to him for saving my life,” Hux said, after a moment. “And it is decent of him not to sell me, even if it makes things more complicated for both of us. We met only a day ago. I’m not sure what to make of him. But he was kind to me today. And he smiles. That is...not objectionable.”

“Well,” said 1H, “that’s certainly a start. You’re all finished, then, Master Hux, and healing rapidly.”

“Thank you.”

Kylo took that for his cue, and cleared his throat. “Hux, are you in here?”

He stepped out of the refresher, shirtless and freshly bandaged. “Yes. I was just being seen to by the droid.” He amended, “1H.”

“Everything’s okay?” Kylo asked.

1H wheeled past, cheerily saying, “It is, Master Kylo. Master Hux is ship-shape. Is there anything else you require of me?”

“No. Thanks.”

The droid went away, leaving Kylo and Hux alone in the room, standing a few paces from each other. Kylo didn’t let his gaze linger on Hux’s bare chest, instead going to open the nearest box. Inside were two pairs of boots, one black and one brown. They were fashioned of buttery leather, real rather than synthetic. Tyrish didn’t deal in subpar wares.

“You, uh, need any help with this?” Kylo asked, looking up to meet Hux’s eyes.

Hux blinked at him once, as if assessing his offer, but said, “I don’t think so.”

Kylo gave a curt nod. “Okay. If you need me, I’ll be in the kitchen.” He had their few dishes from the morning to clean up, but he wanted to let Hux settle in on his own. They would have more than enough opportunity to talk when they set off for the Inner Rim the next cycle. Turning on his heel, he headed out. He waited for the door to shut behind him, but he never heard it. At least Hux wasn’t locking him out.

In the kitchen, he put the mugs they had drunk from in the sterilizer, tossed the wrappers of their ration bars into the compactor, and then leaned against the counter, already finished. Dinner would consist of a ration of another sort, pulled from the conservator and heated. It was plain, but serviceable. Hux seemed easy to please when it came to food.

He didn’t seem to have a taste for alcohol, though. He had spurned the ale in the cantina, and hadn’t appeared interested at Kylo’s description of whiskey. Maybe it was something stormtroopers weren’t allowed, which seemed unduly cruel. Han Solo had a sophisticated palate for the cheapest swill in the galaxy, and he had passed it on to his son. Kylo made a good enough living to buy the better stuff, now, but sometimes there was still something nostalgic about Hutt homebrew.

He considered pouring himself a drink, but decided against it. There were preparations to be made for the job tomorrow, and he needed his wits about him. A thread of suspicion still shot through him, though, knowing that he had a First Order operative on his station. Even if Hux seemed docile enough in light of his life debt, Kylo had been raised to be cautious, maybe even overly so.

His father always had someone after him for one thing or another, and Leia had dealt with cutthroat politicians in the Senate. Her enemies had revealed the truth of her parentage, destroying her, and had succeeded in chasing her out of the New Republic. Only she had seen the threat of the First Order, establishing the Resistance to fight them. Ben had been twenty-three then, and had immediately lent his hands to the cause.

He shed the Solo name, making himself simply Kylo, a reliable, if impish transporter. It was an effective cover for his Resistance involvement, and it had allowed him to help his mother in ways that openly Resistance-associated operatives could not. He was one of her most valuable assets.

Going out of the kitchen and into the living room, he brought up the console on the table. The ghostly blue display showed the main controls and records for the station, including his aboveboard jobs. Tomorrow’s was to go to Venlor in the Inner Rim to pick up a shipment of grain for the markets on Ikel in the Unknown Regions. There he’d be offloading the grain and taking on ten crates of blaster rifles bound for D’Qar and the Resistance. He wouldn’t be delivering them to the planet himself; a Resistance freighter would come to retrieve them at the Ryden 2 station in a few days. It wouldn’t be safe to house them long on the station, and they were sorely needed on D’Qar.

Kylo typed a brief message to the grain supplier, letting her know that he would be arriving at around 1100 hours Venlor time. The transfer should be quick and simple, though the dealings on Ikel would be more complicated. He would have to find a way to throw Hux off the scent of the real purpose of the blasters. Stars, this arrangement was going to be difficult.

A reply to his message arrived with a ping of an alert. His timeline was acceptable, and the supplier would be at docking bay seven to meet him when he came into port. Satisfied, he powered down the console and rose. In place of a glass of whiskey, he decided to make tea, something Uncle Luke had favored and Ben Solo had learned to appreciate.

The fittings in the kitchen had a dispenser for near-boiling water, so Kylo had only to take out the pot, put the leaves in—loose, old-fashioned—and fill it. He set it on the counter to steep, pulling two mugs from the cabinet and, taking a chance, took a spoonful of honey and dropped it into both. Hux seemed to like sweet things. When three minutes had passed, he filled the mugs, stirred the honey in, and headed for Hux’s room.

Kylo found him seated on the bed with the shoulder plate of his tactical armor in his hands. The wardrobe was open, revealing his neatly arranged clothing, but he was preoccupied with the armor. It was familiar for him, Kylo guessed, and putting it aside was maybe not as easy as he made it seem. That had been his life, his purpose, and it had been taken from him by his own men. Kylo hadn’t pushed far enough into his mind to discern their motivations—it was possible Hux didn’t know them—but Kylo would be surprised if he didn’t. Kylo couldn’t help but wonder, though he said nothing of it.

“I brought you some tea,” he offered instead, holding out a mug. “Interested?”

Hux set the shoulder plate down and came to take the mug. His fingers brushed Kylo’s metal ones, which Kylo didn’t feel. He sniffed at the tea and took a small sip; it seemed to pass muster.

“Thank you,” he said.

Kylo saluted with his own mug, looking at the bed, which was the only place to sit in the room. He watched Hux swallow, but he moved toward it, taking a place near the end to leave more than enough space for Kylo. He joined him.

“Seems like you’re all set up in here, now,” Kylo said. “I’ll take the boxes back out. Unless you want to keep one, for the armor. You won’t really need it, but if you want to have it—”

“I don’t,” said Hux sharply. “I’d rather get rid of it.”

“Oh. Okay. I’ll take it.”

Hux was holding his plain white mug by the handle, the rest of it too hot to grasp, but Kylo held it by the body, the sensors in his hand unable to register the heat.

“There’s nothing else we have to do tonight,” he said. “We don’t leave for the job until tomorrow. I was just going to watch a holovid, maybe read something. I’ve got an extra datapad for you, if you want it.”

“I’ve heard of holovids,” Hux said, “but I’ve never seen one. Are they entertaining?”

Kylo shrugged. “Depends on what you’re interested in. Do you like big, over-the-top explosions and speeder chases, or something a little more slow-paced?” He smiled, giving Hux a wink. “Maybe a sweeping romantic vid?”

Hux pursed his lips, considering. “Is there one in particular you like?”

“There’s a few,” said Kylo. “Do you want to watch one with me?”

Hux nodded, almost bashfully. “I wouldn’t mind.”

Kylo grinned more broadly, pleased. “Okay. Let me just get this stuff out of here, and I’ll set something up.” He put his half-drunk tea on the bedside table and set about gathering up the boxes cluttering the room. He paused, glancing at the armor still piled in the corner. Hux followed his gaze and, rising, went to collect it. He dropped each piece into one of the smaller boxes, making a show of nonchalance.

“I’ll be right back,” Kylo said as he hauled everything out into the corridor. Stopping a few steps away, he looked back to make sure Hux wasn’t watching him. He wasn’t in view, so Kylo took the box with the armor and slipped into his own room with it. He wanted to keep it for Hux, even if Hux himself did not. It meant something to him, and there was an off chance he might want it again someday. Kylo had kept one thing from his past, too: Ben Solo’s lightsaber. He didn’t use it often, but it was a part of him that he couldn’t relinquish. Hux deserved to hold on to something as well. Tucking the box stealthily under his bed, Kylo returned to the corridor and the boxes.

Hux had come out into the living room when he returned from the hangar, and he had brought both mugs of tea with him. Kylo retrieved his from the table as he tapped the console again, bringing it to life. He had a collection of holovids he had bought over the years, but he didn’t have to search hard to find the one he wanted: a drama with a smattering of action between dialogs to mix things up. When he had it queued, he gestured to the couch.

“Have a seat,” he said.

Hux did, choosing the far side, away from Kylo. Kylo was only a little disappointed; he wouldn’t have minded having Hux close to him. However, he didn’t blame him for preserving the distance. The holo began just as Kylo sat down, and for the next couple of hours, they were lost in it.

 


 

The towel that hung around Kylo’s neck was damp with sweat as he finished his hundredth push-up. He did them almost every morning, along with lifting some of the free weights he kept in his bedroom. It took about an hour to go through the routine, and it kept him in good form. Occasionally he still performed the katas he had learned as an apprentice, but he needed more space than was available in his room to power on his saber; he generally worked in the living room by the viewports. He didn’t intend for Hux to see him doing that, however, not now; there would be far too many questions, none of which Kylo wanted to answer.

Mopping his brow, he got to his feet with the sole intention of making his first cup of caf. He nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw someone already in the kitchen; it took him a tense moment to realize it was Hux. He was eyeing the caf machine with disdain, arms crossed over his chest.

“Having trouble?” Kylo asked.

“Yes,” he replied, terse. “This should not be an unintuitive process, but…” He turned to Kylo, clearly irritated. “I can’t make it work.”

Kylo bit his lip to keep from smiling; he assumed Hux wouldn’t appreciate being laughed at. “Here, I’ll show you.” Hux made way for him to get by, and he demonstrated filling the reservoir with water, setting it into the machine, and preparing the grounds. It wasn’t difficult, but it wasn’t something that you could figure out easily, either, if you had never tried it before. “There,” he said, flipping the switch to brew the caf. “In two minutes, we’ll have it.”

Hux shot a disgruntled look at the machine, but he seemed mollified.

“Have you been up long?” Kylo said.

“An hour,” said Hux. “I’m not used to sleeping so much.”

It had taken Kylo a while to accustom himself to it, too. At Uncle Luke’s school, the apprentices had risen with the sun to meditate before going to breakfast, and they weren’t in bed before 2100, after their nightly saber training. In the hospital, Ben had slept more than he ever had. Kylo didn’t keep those long hours now, but he still rested more than he had as a boy.

“Well, now you know how to whip up some caf for yourself, if you keep waking up early,” he said.

They had stayed up fairly late the night before, watching three holovids before they finally pried themselves from the couch to retire. Hux had taken them all in raptly. He ate the dinner rations Kylo warmed up for them around 1800 hours, but he never took his eyes off the display. Kylo had spent almost as much time watching him he had the vids, charmed by his interest. If Hux had noticed his attention, he hadn’t let on.

Kylo poured the caf when it was finished. Hux, possessed of a remarkably good memory, went to the cabinet and pulled out two ration bars. He traded one for the mug of caf: cinnamon, seeds, and nuts.

“When are we leaving for the Inner Rim?” he said between bites of his bar.

“An hour, maybe?” said Kylo. “I just need to shower and calculate a course.”

Hux cocked a ruddy brow. “You chart your own courses? Doesn’t the computer did that for you?”

Kylo leaned back on the counter, sipping his caf. “Sure, but my dad taught me to do them by hand, too. I don’t need to, but it’s tradition at this point. A good luck charm for starting a new job.”

“Will you show me?” Hux asked, crumpling the empty ration bar wrapper in his hand.

“Absolutely,” Kylo replied. “I think I’d really like that.” He had good memories of plotting courses with Han, and had once or twice imagined teaching it the same way. He hadn’t expected to have the opportunity, but if it presented itself, he would take it. “I’ll just go clean up, and then we can head down to the Falcon . Go ahead and make yourself another caf, if you want to.”

Hux narrowed his eyes at the machine, making Kylo laugh.

“It won’t bite,” he said. “Or if it does, I’ll punish it accordingly.” He was rewarded with a half-smile. “See you in twenty minutes.” He ducked out of the kitchen and strode back to his room. As soon as the door shut behind him, he was stripping out of his shirt and loose trousers, leaving a trail across the floor to the ‘fresher. He turned the water on hot, jumping into the shower to wash the sweat from his skin.

Cleaned, shaved, and dressed, he emerged to find Hux sitting on the couch with a datapad in his hand. He was idly scrolling up, reading, and he looked at ease, one leg tucked under him and boots still on the floor. Kylo lingered at the wall, just watching him.

The Resistance operatives, even if they stayed overnight, never acted comfortably on the station. Most were stiff and formal with Kylo, whom they knew to be their general’s son. If they expected him to report back to her on their performance, though, they would be wrong. He had no place to criticize, unless they were impressively poor at their jobs or nearly got themselves, or him, killed. Fortunately, Leia chose her people well, and he had had no complaints in the years he had been working with them.

But Hux seemed like he belonged there, in the living room and on Kylo’s infrequently used furniture. It was strange how full the station felt with him in it, after just two days. Kylo had lain awake for a time last night, aware of someone else’s presence in his milieu. The air in the station was different, charged somehow. It might have been unsettling, but it didn’t set Kylo on edge, at least not in a way that implied he was in danger. His nerves were affected, though—heightened. He wasn’t blind enough not to recognize that for what it was: attraction.

Hux was alluring, both in appearance and in his naïveté. Kylo liked introducing him to things, showing him the world he had been removed from in the First Order, and he wanted to know more about him, but have it freely offered rather than plucked from his head by means of the Force. Hux hadn’t exactly warmed to him, but he wasn’t as obstinate as he had been when Kylo carried him into the station. Kylo took that as a victory.

Entering the room, he said, “You ready to go?”

Hux set the datapad down, unfazed, as if he had known Kylo was there the whole time. Maybe he had. He slid his feet into his boots and laced them. “I’m ready,” he said.

Kylo always sat at the table in the living quarters of the Falcon when he drew up his courses. He had a datapad in the ship that easily interfaced with its navigational computer, which checked over his figures. But he rarely got them wrong; numbers came easily to him. As he took a seat, he patted the cushion next to him, inviting Hux to join him. This time they couldn’t sit apart; Hux had to look over Kylo’s shoulder to see the calculations.

He sank onto the bench seat, pressing his thigh against Kylo’s. Kylo could smell the clean scent of soap and a muskiness that belonged to Hux himself; he had all but tasted it on Hux’s lips two nights ago.

Kylo had learned to write with his left hand in the year he had spent in the hospital, so he took up the stylus with that hand and tapped the screen to display the star charts.

“Here we are,” he said, pointing out the dot labeled Ryden 2. The star system bore the Ryden name, too, which became obvious as Kylo zoomed out to show the third quadrant of the galaxy. “We’re headed here.” He traced a zigzagging course between systems, landing them at Venlor.

“Is it that simple to plot the course?” Hux asked. “Just trace across the map?”

“I wish,” Kylo replied. “Let me just pull up the a space to do the math…” For the next ten minutes, he showed Hux the figures required to make a hyperspace jump halfway through the quadrant. Hux observed it silently, until Kylo circled the final number and sat back with a triumphant “Ha! Nine parsecs. Should take about three hours to get there.”

“And now you just plug this into the computer?” said Hux, reaching out with his forefinger to touch the datapad lightly.

“Mmhm,” Kylo said. “Pretty easy, right?”

Hux shot him a glance. “Inefficient to do it yourself, but an interesting process, nonetheless. Thank you for showing me.”

Kylo set down the stylus and slid the datapad over to him. “You can try it, sometime.”

“You would trust me to set a course for you?” Hux said.

“The computer checks it. But you wouldn’t want us to end up in the middle of a sun or something, would you?” He gave Hux what amounted to a pout. “That wouldn’t amount to paying a life debt, if you and I both died.”

Hux huffed. “No, it would not. I do not intend to kill you, Kylo.”

“Well, that’s a relief.” He stood and, taking the datapad, made for the cockpit. Hux took up the copilot’s seat while Kylo ran the computer’s check of the coordinates he had laid out. It approved them, and the navigational displays came to life. “I’ll get us out of here,” he said, “but then it’ll be autopilot until we reach the Venlor system.”

“All right,” said Hux.

With that, Kylo fired up the engines and guided the Falcon out into the starscape. “You want to learn something about piloting?” he asked. “It’s not as hard as it seems, I promise.”

Hux sucked his teeth. “I never said it looked difficult.”

“No,” Kylo said, eyeing him sidelong. “You didn’t.”

Amending the coolness of his tone, Hux added, “But yes, I’d like to learn, if you’re willing to teach me.”

“I wouldn’t have offered if I wasn’t.” Kylo, hands on the yoke, demonstrated how he could maneuver the ship. “Takes a little finesse, but you get used to it. Let’s start with the basics…”

As they shifted to autopilot, he engaged a simulation that would pass the time. Han had told him that you just had to get out there and fly to really get a feel for it, so he had thrown young Ben into deep water to sink or swim. He had offered pointers in the simulations, but never more than that. Fortunately, Ben’s talents were inherited, and he was quick to learn. He was just ten when he did the Kessel Run, Han’s most infamous performance. Ben had managed to do it in twelve parsecs, but not under. It wasn’t until he was eighteen that he did it in eleven and a half, even better than Han himself. His father had been a bit sour about it, but Leia had set him straight and he had clapped Ben on the back and told him he was proud. Han wasn’t free with his compliments, so Ben had relished that one for years.

“Okay, just ease it out now,” Kylo said to Hux, offering far more instruction than Han had. “Steady on the thrusters. Whoa, not so fast!”

Hux had hit it hard and left an energy burn in the back of the simulated hangar. If anyone had been inside, they would have been killed. He rocketed out into space, colliding with a nearby cruiser also in port. The display flashed red: “ Simulation failed .”

Kylo would have been frustrated at that, but Hux sat calmly as ever, simply saying, “May I try again?”

“Sure,” said Kylo, starting over. “Just take it a little easier next time, all right?”

“All right.” His hands were already on the yoke, his gaze trained on the display.

By the time the proximity alarm for Venlor sounded, Hux had successfully gotten the ship out of the hangar, through the busy spaceport, and out into the open. There were still a number of simulations to run through in terms of split-second steering and landing, but he was doing extremely well for a first-timer, and Kylo told him as much.

“I’d like to practice more, if you’ll allow it,” Hux said, letting the praise go unacknowledged.

“Of course,” said Kylo. “I could use a copilot, and if you like it, then all the better.”

Hux nodded. “I believe I do.”

Kylo took the Falcon out of hyperdrive, bringing Venlor into view. It was a massive planet with eighteen continents, all with separate climates and fauna. The largest continent, Errud, was where most of the farms were. They supplied the entire system with food, and it was there they were bound. Kylo took over manual control and began the entry through the atmosphere.

“Errud Plains control, this is the Millennium Falcon requesting permission to land,” he hailed them over the comm.

“You’re cleared,” said a droid on the other end. “Proceed to your destination.”

The main port was large and cluttered with transport ships. The Falcon was far smaller than most of them. They landed at docking bay seven without incident, and made their way out to the loading dock. Kylo didn’t bother to stop and get his blaster; Venlor was far more civilized than Ikel, where they would be in a few hours.

There was a broad-shouldered woman with long blond hair standing at the edge of the dock when Kylo came down the ramp, Hux a pace or two behind him. “Mornin’,” she said in heavily accented Basic. “Right on time ye is. I’s got six hundred kilos o’ barley for ye. You’s got the space for it?”

“I do,” said Kylo. “Bring it on up.”

She inclined her head, turning to the sizable droid behind her. It moved toward the Falcon , a large, sealed plasteel container in its loading arms. Kylo and Hux moved out of the way to supervise, and their supplier stood stoically and unspeaking across from them.

“Six hundred kilos doesn’t seem like much compared to the rest of these ships,” Hux said.

“It isn’t,” said Kylo. “This is a rare shipment. Barley isn’t common out here, and it costs triple was wheat or lorikseed does. The suppliers don’t give it to just anyone.”

The twist of Hux’s mouth was wry. “You’re very self-assured. Do you believe you can do no wrong?”

Kylo laughed. “Oh, I know I can do wrong, and I have, but I take what I do seriously. I’ve got a good reputation; I told you that. You didn’t believe me?”

“I believe evidence,” Hux said.

“Fair enough,” Kylo conceded.

When the loading droid was finished, the supplier sauntered back over to Kylo, holding out her hand. “Half pay now, half pay when delivered.”

Kylo shook. “That’s what we agreed. You have the transfer account. It’ll be done by tomorrow your time.”

“Good,” she said. “Now go. I’s got another shipment to get goin’. Farewell.”

Dismissed, Kylo and Hux returned to the Falcon, passing by the large storage containers. Within five minutes, they were back in the air and leaving atmo.

Kylo rolled his shoulders as they entered hyperspace, the bones popping and groaning. “We’ve got a few hours to kill. I’m gonna clean up my blaster. It’s been a while.”

“May I join you?” Hux asked. “If you have more than one firearm, I’d gladly clean one. I’m good at it.”

Kylo waggled his brows. “I’ll believe the evidence. Come on. I’ve got at least one spare for you to work on.”

He had several, in fact, most of which he had bought himself, but one—the one he usually carried—had belonged to his father. It was practically an antique, but he kept it in good working order, and it served him fine. He unlocked the weapons cabinet with his thumbprint and, reaching in, pulled out one of the smaller, newer blasters for Hux to work on. It hadn’t been used in a while, and wouldn’t take much effort to clean. Hux gave it one look and seemed to realize that, frowning. Kylo left him with it, though, pulling out his cleaning tools in their battered silver case.

He opened it on the table, but didn’t immediately reach for anything; he had to disassemble the blaster first. He was just preparing when he glanced over at Hux. His weapon was already in pieces, all laid out in an orderly square.

“Damn,” Kylo said. “I look away for one minute and you’ve already done that ?”

“I told you I was good at it,” said Hux. He smirked. “Did you not believe me?”

Kylo shook his head, a mix of annoyed and charmed. “Okay, okay, I get it.” He began taking his own blaster apart as Hux took a cleaning rod from the case and slid it down the detached barrel.

“So, you learned to do this with the mercs?” Kylo said.

“Yes.” A simple reply, with no elaborate lie tied to it.

However, Kylo pressed on: “When did you join up with them? How old were you?”

Hux kept his gaze trained on the blaster, cleaning efficiently and with clever hands. “Young. I was raised with them.”

Kylo played along: “Really? That must have been a pretty wild life. I didn’t know mercs kept kids.”

“What better way to train someone?” said Hux. “Start them early and raise them up. But I didn’t go on any missions until I was a teenager. Before that it was just combat training and weapon maintenance.”

“What kind of combat training?” Kylo asked. “Hand-to-hand?”

“Yes,” Hux replied, taking the power cell of the blaster and inspecting it for defects. “It wasn’t my greatest strength given my body type, but I can hold my own in a fight, if I must.”

Kylo wouldn’t have minded seeing that, or maybe taking him on himself. He would bet that Hux was a scrappy fighter, the kind who bit and scratched. Smaller men had to use everything to their advantage. Kylo had always had his size on his side, though it didn’t make him a great fighter. After all, he had the Force, which was a truly unfair advantage in any hand-to-hand combat. He could choke a man out from ten paces.

“You ever make any credits that way?” he said. “Taking it to a prize fight?”

Hux snorted. “I wouldn’t lower myself to that. I’m not a barbarian, like the other—mercs.”

Kylo suppressed a laugh. Hux had a haughty streak, that was for sure—arrogant slip of a man. “Sorry I asked.”

“Are you a fighter?”

“No,” said Kylo. “I’ll do it if I have to, but it’s not how I like to get things done. I’m not a barbarian.”

Hux set down the power cell, eyeing him. “I don’t think you are. If that was the case, you would have left me in that alley.”

Kylo sobered. “Nobody deserves to die on their knees.”

“That’s a noble sentiment,” Hux said. “I’m afraid not everyone thinks that. I might have been one of them.” He fiddled with the cleaning cloth he had taken from the case, not meeting Kylo’s gaze.

Kylo knew how ruthless the First Order could be, and if Hux had been indoctrinated into that mentality, he would be like the rest of them. Kylo had seen in his memories the glee with which he had killed the Bith woman; it wasn’t so hard to believe he was vicious. And yet Kylo wasn’t quite convinced of it. Hux wasn’t soft in the least, but there was humanity to him that the Resistance didn’t see in anyone in the Order. Maybe they had never looked closely enough.

“It’s a rough galaxy,” Kylo said. “It takes a lot to survive, if you’re not born into a comfortable life in the Core, or something stable in the Inner Rim. Nobody’s going to blame you for having sharp edges to deal with that.”

Hux looked up at him, intent. “You tend to find the best in people, don’t you? I’m not a good man, but...” He trailed off, and then: “You’ve treated me better than I deserve.”

Kylo stilled, surprised that Hux would admit he wasn’t justified in his actions, his career. “Hux,” he said quietly, “I don’t believe you’re inherently bad, even if you were brought up to be, well, coarse. You wouldn’t have agreed to pay a life debt if there wasn’t something good in you.” He gave a one-sided smile. “You could have just gone. I would have let you.”

“I know,” Hux said. “But I couldn’t let you. And”—he hesitated—“I’m glad it was you who helped me. You are a good man.” There was color in his cheeks, rosy at this next admission.

Kylo wanted to reach for him, take his hand and press a kiss to the knobby knuckles. He would show him how he wasn’t like the callous troopers in the First Order, who might have allowed him to trade his body for his life. Kylo saw the contradiction in that desire paired with a kiss, but he couldn’t shake it. He wanted to file down Hux’s sharp edges, until he could hold him without cutting his skin.

But, he forced himself to just say, jokingly, “Thanks. I do try.”

The moment was broken, and Hux returned to his work with diligence. When he was finished with the blaster, he reassembled it deftly. Kylo pointed at the cabinet and told him he could help himself to another. Hux took it and began again.

 


 

They entered Ikel space two hours later, having cleaned every blaster in the cabinet. They didn’t say much, but the silence wasn’t uncomfortable. When the proximity alarm sounded, they both returned to the cockpit, Kylo taking the yoke to guide them down to the planet’s surface. This port was smaller and dirtier, the kind of place where Hux’s fabricated merc bands would have operated. Kylo set them down on a rocky, makeshift landing pad. Opening the comm, he dialed in to the frequency the weapons dealer had given him.

“Identify yourself,” said the creature who answered the call.

“Kylo, trader. Here to see Atol.”

“Wait eight minutes, and then come to the platform. He’ll meet you there.” The transmission ended abruptly.

“Well, that’s that, then,” said Kylo. “Come on. We’ll head down now and wait in the cargo hold.”

He had kept his old blaster after he had cleaned it, holstering it on his hip, but he didn’t arm Hux, just letting him follow. He didn’t argue.

After their allotted time was up, Kylo opened the loading door to see a gang of five rifle-bearing goons. Their leader, Atol, was a hulking Aqualish male, carrying an array of weaponry on his person, from blasters to what looked like a curved knife with an eight-inch blade.

“Been waiting for you,” he said as Kylo approached. “You have the grain?”

Kylo didn’t have the first idea what weapons traders were going to do with high-end barley, but he figured it was to upsell the locals. He didn’t want to facilitate that, but they had paid his supplier for it, not him. He was just here to make the transfer and pay for the Resistance’s blasters.

“It’s here,” he said to Atol. “You’re free to unload it. Do you have what I ordered?”

The Aqualish growled, which Kylo assumed was an affirmative. “Ten crates. But we’ve got a problem.”

Kylo clenched his jaw. “What?”

“The price went up,” said Atol. “These are high-quality materials, human. They don’t come cheap.”

“We agreed upon a price,” Kylo said, stern. “Are you trying to change the deal?”

Atol adjusted the blaster belt at his waist, flashing the large blaster that hung there. “It was harder than we thought to get these through First Order territory. We didn’t expect that. We want payment enough for the trouble.”

Kylo resisted the urge to reach for his own sidearm. The last thing they needed was to get hostile. He and Hux were outnumbered by three: poor odds.

“I can give you two hundred more,” he said, “but that’s it.” The Resistance’s funds weren’t bottomless, and that would have to come out of his own reserves. He could afford it, but he didn’t have to like it.

“Ha!” Atol barked. “Six hundred, at least, or the deal’s off.”

Kylo scowled, but they needed these weapons; it was pay or leave the Resistance in the lurch.

“Don’t take too long to decide, human,” said Atol, reaching for his blaster in earnest.

Kylo put up his hands. “Easy. I can’t just pull credits out of thin air. I need some time to get things together.”

Atol shook his head. “Now or never.” He bared his teeth menacingly, and moved to train the blaster on Kylo, but before he could even get it halfway raised, a bolt hit him in the knee. He collapsed with a yelp of pain. One of the men behind him lifted his rifle, but a shot punctured his shoulder, making him drop it. Kylo whirled to see Hux, deadly calm, with the small blaster he had been cleaning pointed at the rest of the goons. They warily lowered their weapons, clearly uninterested in being shot themselves.

“Anyone else care to renege on the deal?” Hux asked, steely.

Atol, gripping his wounded knee, replied, “Fine, all right. We’ll take the three thousand.” He glared at Kylo. “Just leash your dog.”

Two bolts in quick succession landed beside him, singeing the pockmarked ground: a warning, and an effective one.

“Hux, enough,” Kylo said. “I’ll make the credit transfer.” To the Atol’s men: “Get these cases loaded.” He paused, but then gestured at Hux. “One wrong move and you’ll get the same as the others. Got it?”

They nodded, scurrying to unload the grain and take the heavy cases of blasters aboard. Atol managed to get to his feet, wavering only slightly and clearly in pain. He grabbed one of his men, saying, “Get me to a medic, you scum.” The human put an arm around him, and together they limped away.

Kylo supervised the moving of the crates, indicating where they should go in the cargo bay. They were placed carefully by the men, who cast nervous glances at Hux. He still held the blaster at his side and kept his eyes on them. Anger simmered low in Kylo’s stomach at his reckless shooting.

Word would get around to other gangs in the Unknown Regions that Kylo was ready to use force in his negotiations. Leia wouldn’t like that; it wasn’t exactly keeping a low profile. But he couldn’t deny that Hux’s sharp shooting was damned impressive; and he had saved Kylo eight hundred credits. When he said he was an expert with blasters, he hadn’t lied. Kylo had been taught well, but he wasn’t that good; he had never seen anyone that good.

Still, Hux had acted without consulting him. He was supposed to be a subordinate crewmember, not take shots at the first sign of a deal gone bad. Determined to tell him that, Kylo stalked over.

“What the hell was that ?” he demanded, using his scant two inches of height and his breadth to bear down on Hux. “You could have gotten us both killed if they decided to fight back. I didn’t give you an order to shoot. You’re not even supposed to be armed.”

Hux regarded him coolly, unintimidated. “He was going for his weapon. He might have killed you if you didn’t pay him what he wanted, and taken the blasters and your ship for himself.”

“That’s a big assumption on your part,” said Kylo. “He was just trying to threaten me. I could have handled it.”

“Swindlers shouldn’t be given leeway,” Hux said. “They need to be shown that extortion is not something you’ll concede to.” He lifted a contemptuous brow. “Or would you rather give in?”

Kylo’s temper flared at the insinuation. “I had it under control. And I won’t tolerate this kind of thing. You work for me; you do what I say.”

Hux blinked once, slowly. “I understand. I apologize if I overstepped my bounds.”

“You did,” Kylo said. He sighed, admitting, “But you did put Atol in his place, the arrogant son-of-a-bitch. He’ll think twice before trying to pull that again. And...that was some incredible shooting.”

Hux’s lips curved up, proud. “Thank you. I was well-trained.”

Kylo hooked his thumbs into his pockets. “Maybe you could show me a thing or two sometime.”

“I’d be glad to.” He reached out and trailed his fingers up Kylo’s holster to the grip of the blaster, making Kylo’s pulse jump at the proximity. “You’ll need something better than this.”

“I like this one,” Kylo said, wholly focused on Hux’s face: the sultry curve of his mouth and matching flash in his eyes.

Hux moved infinitesimally closer, his hand still on the holster. “Keep it for posterity, but you should carry a weapon that suits your hand and your style. I’ll choose it for you. I know a good fit when I see one.”

Kylo’s throat worked as he swallowed. “You don’t know my style,” he said, quieter than he had intended.

“Not yet,” said Hux. “I’ll have to watch you shoot. Do you get nervous when someone watches you?”

Kylo never had before—he liked to show off for an audience—but he had an inkling Hux’s attention would feel different: fierce and judgmental. That definitely didn’t serve to put him at ease.

“I never have before,” he said. “Do you?”

Hux shook his head minutely. “I was heavily scrutinized in my training. I learned to put everything but the target from my mind. Nerves are not a concern.”

“Right,” said Kylo. “Maybe you can show me that, too.”

Hux’s smile grew wider, though still close-lipped. “That kind of singular focus is rare, but I’m curious if you’re up to the task.”

“Is that is challenge?” Kylo asked.

“Do you want it to be one?” was Hux’s reply. The tip of his tongue darted out to wet his lips, drawing Kylo’s gaze. He was so close. All it would take was an insistent hand at his waist to pull him in and taste him again. From the way he was looking at Kylo, maybe he wouldn’t object.

The blood in Kylo’s stomach dropped to his cock, body catching up to his imagination. Hux’s fingers were still on the grip of his blaster; it would just take a small shift from him to put them between Kylo’s legs. Another rush of blood filled him; in very short order it would be obvious that he was up for something. It took a considerable effort to step back, but he did. Hux’s expression hardened.

“I’ll book us some time at a firing range when we’re back on Ryden 2,” Kylo said, “and I can show you what I’ve got.”

“Very good,” said Hux flatly. “Shall we go, then?” Not waiting for Kylo’s reply, he started up the ramp and into the Falcon . Kylo strode after him, following him into the living quarters. Hux went straight to the weapons cabinet and replaced the blaster he had lifted.

“You can keep that,” Kylo said. “You should have something when we’re on a job.”

Hux tucked it back into the cabinet. “I’ll come get it when it’s needed.”

Kylo unholstered his own and held it out. Hux took it and put it back in its place, then he closed the cabinet. Kylo didn’t bother to lock it with his biometrics; if Hux was going to betray him, he likely would have done it already.

“It’s getting late,” he said, tapping his wrist chronometer. “We should get some sleep.”

“All right,” Hux said. “Is there a particular bunk I should use?”

There were three bunk spaces in the Falcon: one near the lounge seat and two on the other side of the bulkhead, each with three bunks. Kylo occupied the former, so Hux could take either of the others.

“Whichever you want,” he said. “Make yourself comfortable.”

Hux nodded curtly. “May I make use of the head?”

“You don’t have to ask, Hux. You’re part of the crew now.”

“Ah, yes, of course. Very well. I’ll say goodnight.” He retreated, disappearing through the bulkhead door.

Kylo went past his own bunk for the moment; he had yet to get the ship off the ground and into hyperspace. He swung into the pilot’s chair and powered up the ship. Immediately, the alert for a waiting message began to blink and beep. It came in over an open channel, rather than the encrypted one the Resistance used, so he pressed the button to play it.

“Hey, kid,” said Han Solo, “been trying to reach you. I’ve got a job for you. Need you to meet me on Nati 5 as soon as you can. I’ll wait there until I hear from you.”

The message ended there: short and to-the-point, Han’s style. Nati 5 was in the Mid Rim, about eighteen parsecs away. It would take them half the night cycle to get there. Kylo didn’t like that Han hadn’t given any details about the job; that usually meant it was something for Leia, relayed through several channels to keep it disconnected from the Resistance. Still, it was Resistance business, and Kylo didn’t want to bring Hux into that. But they couldn’t divert to the Ryden 2 station first, if Han was waiting.

“Shit,” Kylo grumbled. There was no way around taking him, but he would have to stay with the Falcon. Unless his father planned on taking it back. He cursed again. Han couldn’t have waited another day, could he? Figured.

Resigned, Kylo keyed in the coordinates of Nati 5 and began the takeoff procedures. When they were safely in hyperspace, he leaned back against the headrest of the chair, looking up at the mess of components above. Han, nosy as he was, would want to know all about Hux, peppering him with questions relentlessly. Kylo would have to find a way to rein him in before he pushed too far; as much as Kylo wanted to know about Hux’s real past, spilling it to Han wasn’t his preferred method. And no doubt Han would run straight to Leia. Kylo wasn’t quite ready to face her with his new crewmate. He hated pissing her off, and this was bound to.

He exhaled in a rush. Hux was a burden, but Kylo couldn’t just get rid of him. And if he was being completely honest, he didn’t want to. The way he had looked at him before came back into his mind’s eye, and he let himself dwell on it. Honesty, right? Kylo wanted him. But he couldn’t bring himself to make a move, not when Hux could still be under the impression that Kylo was just taking what he was owed. No, if Kylo took him to bed, Hux would want to go. How to gauge that, though, was, for now, beyond him. It was best to just stay away.

Yawning, Kylo closed his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest, reclining. He’d get up to go to his bunk soon enough, just after forty winks.

Chapter Text

The low humming sound of the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive should have lulled Hux to sleep—it was familiar, like that aboard the Finalizer—but he was lying awake in his recessed bunk with his hands over his chest, staring at the metal above him. After he had left Kylo, he had gone to the head to brush his teeth, and had paused to look at himself in the mirror. He was dressed in a soft cotton shirt and dusky brown trousers: nothing like the black or white of the troopers’ standard-issue garments. He still felt strange in the civilian clothes, but what had happened that evening on Ikel had reminded him of what he was capable.

He knew that it had been wrong of him to take the small blaster he had been cleaning and conceal it in the waistband on his trousers, but he wasn’t about to go into a meeting with arms dealers without a weapon. And it had turned out to be a wise decision. The Aqualish had been fully prepared to draw on Kylo, threatening his life. After what Kylo had done for Hux, it was Hux’s duty to protect him. So he had acted. He was careful not to mortally wound anyone, but the bolts had been sufficient warning.

The rush he got from executing an exemplary shot had filled him, even as Kylo had stormed up and told him off for it. Hux hadn’t expected him to be upset, but he had been bristling with it, warning Hux not to do such a thing without his consent again. It might have been better to be contrite, but Hux hadn’t seen the sense in backing down against thugs. He never would have permitted them to demand a higher price; the First Order did not negotiate with common criminals.

However, he had given Kylo his word that he would not fire without leave again. Kylo had seemed content with that, his hot temper cooling as he complimented Hux’s ability with a blaster. Another wave of pride had surged up in Hux at that; Kylo’s praise wasn’t something he had realized he would value so highly. And it emboldened him. He had dared to step close and touch Kylo’s blaster where it was holstered along his thigh, telling him he could find one that suited him better than the antique he carried.

Hux had always considered choosing a weapon the forging of a partnership, and something of an intimate experience. He hadn’t been compelled to facilitate it for anyone else before, but he found that he very much liked the idea of selecting a weapon for Kylo and watching him fire it. Even more than that, in that moment he had liked how near he was, that it was mere centimeters that separated them. And he had seen it when Kylo had looked down from his eyes to his mouth. They had thought the same thing, surely: How easy it would be to kiss you.

Hux wouldn’t have said that firing his blaster was an erotic experience, but it heightened his senses and suffused him with pleasure. As he had stood in front of Kylo, recognizing his interest, he had wanted to channel that pleasure into something he could share. He wanted Kylo to find his capability attractive, and to act on that. He hadn’t, in the past, been in the position to desire someone’s attention so strongly, but Kylo was introducing him to many things he had never previously experienced.

But then Kylo had stepped away, severing the connection Hux thought he had felt. The disappointment had been immediate, but he supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised. Kylo had made it clear he wasn’t interested in Hux’s body, and any pursuit of him would prove fruitless. Hux couldn’t help the frustration, though, at craving something that he could not have. He wasn’t accustomed to that.

Rolling restlessly onto his side, he tried to get comfortable in the bunk, pulling the blanket up to his shoulder. It had a clean smell, but it was well-used, clearly having been aboard the freighter for many years. It was his father’s ship, Kylo had told Hux in the cantina on Ryden 2. That made it at least thirty years old, but Hux expected it had been flown for many before that. Perhaps Kylo, who had said transport was his family’s business, had spent some of his youth sleeping in this very bunk, under the same blanket.

Hux still remembered the big bed he had slept in on Arkanis: far softer and larger than any of the cots and bunks he had moved into after his father had sent him for conditioning and training. He was sure he would have slept poorly in it, now; it was too much for a trooper, and too much for a transporter’s crewman. He was glad of the simple accommodations he had been given, even if sleep still eluded him.

There was no requirement among the stormtroopers for sleep, so if he could not, he had only to get up and go to the common room to bide his time until he was tired enough to lie back down. Sometimes he cleaned his rifles, others he did calisthenics or ran a combat simulation. He had bested the most difficult sims years ago, but there were times when he returned to them. Given the chance, that’s what he would do now. He had the datapad Kylo had given him, but even its uncounted holos and books didn’t entice him.

Kylo had not forbidden him from leaving his bed, of course. He doubted he would incur any punishment if he got up and wandered the ship a little. Sighing, he tossed the blanket off and got up. He pulled on a pair of thick socks to keep his feet warm, but forwent his boots, leaving them by the door as he slipped out into the corridor.

He was a little thirsty, but instead of ducking into the head for a sip of water from the sink, he made his way to the living area, where the conservator was. “Help yourself to anything you want,” Kylo had said. Hux hadn’t expected to take him up on it so soon, but the allure of one of the bottles of fruit juice that waited in a rack inside of it was too much to pass up.

Light from inside the conservator bathed his face as he opened it and retrieved a bottle of pink juice. With due reverence, he broke the seal and unscrewed the cap. The first sip was delicious and sweet, and he went immediately for another. Before he had even paused for a breath, half the bottle was empty.

From there, he wandered to the lounge seat, sliding into a place behind the holoboard. There was a keypad at the side, where the user could select a game to play. He had been taught holochess as a boy, but hadn’t played in many years. With little else to do, he pressed the button and began a game against the computer. The alien pieces appeared in their appointed places, and he made the first move.

He lost within ten minutes, and irritably began a new match straight away. That went only marginally better, with the computer declaring victory after thirteen and a half minutes. Hux knew there were certain strategies and gambits one could use to win, but he had never learned any of those; his father had shown him the basics only. Nevertheless, he started another round.

His juice was long gone by the time he finally gave up—after losing his fifth game. It hadn’t done much to calm him for sleep, and he considered getting another bottle of juice, but decided that was too much for one night. He shuffled over to the trash compactor and slipped the biodegradable bottle into it, resigned to returning to his bunk. Maybe there was a manual on holochess strategies he could read.

As he was leaving the living area, he caught sight of the open door to the small room in which Kylo was supposed to be sleeping. Even in the murky darkness, Hux could see that the bunk itself was empty, untouched. Brows knit, he cast a glance around, as if he expected Kylo to materialize. But it was likely he wasn’t in this part of the ship. Last Hux had seen him, he had been bound for the cockpit, to get them off of Ikel and back into hyperspace. Certainly he wasn’t still there, just watching the blur of the stars as they flew faster than light between worlds. Hux started toward the fore of the ship.

The cockpit’s instrument panels were lit up with symbols and lights Hux couldn’t identify, even after his flying simulations. Those had been a challenge, and not something he took naturally to, but he found the challenge stimulating. He was looking forward to Kylo teaching him more. And speaking of him:

He was in the pilot’s chair, his head tipped back and eyes closed. One arm was thrown across his chest, gripping his shoulder, but the right one—metal—was hanging half off the armrest, palm up and fingers just slightly curled in. Hux could see that the fingers were padded with a grey, porous material that likely contained the tactile sensors Kylo had described. There were patches of the same material on the heel of the hand and just under the fingers: for gripping. It was a remarkable piece of engineering, a seemingly flawless integration with the rest of Kylo’s body.

Moving as quietly as possible, Hux approached to get a better look. It was too tight in the cockpit for him to stand beside Kylo’s chair, so he took the copilot’s place and, leaning on the armrest, bent to examine the palm. It was the only place Kylo could feel, he had said; the rest of the arm was numb. With careful intention, Hux reached out and set his fingers on the cool metal of Kylo’s wrist. He flicked his gaze up to Kylo’s face to see if he had reacted, but he slept on. So Hux felt along one of the ribbed joints, carefully exploring the surface.

He hadn’t thought much about it the last time Kylo had had it wrapped around him—that first night when Hux had come to his bedroom and offered himself—but he wondered now what it would feel like on his skin. He pressed his palm to the forearm, curling his fingers around as much of it as he could reach. The metal warmed under his touch, though it wasn’t nearly as heated as skin would be. It would be an unusual sensation to feel it against him, but he wouldn’t have shrunk back. He wasn’t put off by the piece of himself Kylo was missing; this arm had borne him from the Falcon to the station, and had held him once before. There was nothing strange or disgusting about it.

Softly, he slid his hand up to the crook of the elbow and onto the bicep. It was slightly contoured to imitate muscle that matched the shape of Kylo’s left arm. Hux traced those rises and shallow valleys, his fingertips bumping over the ridges in the surface. It really was a remarkable feat of engineering. Hux wanted to hear more about the accident that had caused it. Kylo had been cryptic, other than saying that someone had come for him and unintentionally taken the arm. Hux found he wanted to know a great deal about Kylo. Stormtroopers had no childhoods to speak of, or stories of fathers and mothers, like Kylo had, and such things were fascinating to Hux. And yet he did not know how to ask, when he himself was keeping so many secrets. There would never be a fair exchange of information between them; Hux would always have to lie. He was sorry for it, then; he wanted Kylo’s trust.

The payment of his life debt didn’t seem such a burden, now. He was certain this life, for however long he lived it, would be comfortable enough. And surely Kylo would volunteer more information about himself in time. Hux glanced over his chest, where his flesh-and-blood arm rested, and down to his wide waist and square hips. He was impressively built compared to Hux’s leanness, and Hux couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to be handled roughly by him: picked up or thrown onto his bed, held down by his considerable weight. Hux hated ceding power to anyone, but part of him desired just that. Dangerous: it was very dangerous to want such things. Looking at Kylo now, though, he couldn’t deny that he did.

Glancing back up to his face, Hux’s thoughts ground to a very sudden halt. Kylo’s eyes were open, and he was watching Hux with a hazy but clearly alert expression. Hux should have immediately drawn back and apologized for overstepping personal boundaries—but had he? Kylo didn’t appear offended to see Hux admiring him. Maybe even the opposite.

“Hi,” Kylo said sleepily.

Hux took a moment to find his voice. “Hello.”

Kylo shifted slightly, likely stiff from sleeping in a chair for several hours. “What time is it?”

“I’m not sure,” Hux replied, “but it’s been a while. Why did you stay out here?”

“Mm, just too lazy to get up.” He moved his prosthetic arm, making Hux realize he was still holding onto it. Hux still didn’t move away, and Kylo didn’t protest. “Did you need me for something?”

“I was just…” Hux hesitated. “Just didn’t expect to find you here. You’re all right?”

Kylo’s smile was slow and crooked. “Oh, yeah, I’m fine.” He turned to face Hux. “Company was a nice thing to wake up to.”

Hux knew he couldn’t feel his hand on the prosthetic, but he moved his thumb in a kind of stroke. He dared to lean closer. The distance between the chairs was far too wide to let them really get close, but Hux held his gaze and made an effort, hoping his intentions were clear enough.

Kylo lifted his left hand and set it over Hux’s, his broad palm spanning Hux’s narrow fingers. Taking it for invitation, Hux moved to get up and go to him. He was just slipping out of his chair when the proximity alarm sounded from the console. Both he and Kylo looked at it, but Kylo was the first to sit up and start pressing buttons.

“Looks like we’re coming into Nati space,” Kylo said, disengaging the hyperdrive.

A massive gas giant came into sight, filling the viewport. Around it were several small moons. Hux had expected to see Ryden 2, but they had clearly detoured elsewhere.

“Where are we?” he asked.

Kylo looked down sheepishly. “Oh, sorry, I didn’t tell you. I got a comm from an old swindler on Nati 5 who needs to see me.” He bit down on his lower lip. “I told you about my dad, right?”

Hux’s brows rose. “We’re meeting your father?”

“Yeah. He’s got a job for me, and I owe him one.” He was focused on piloting, guiding the ship toward one of the moons. As they came closer, Hux could see the lights that dotted the surface. “We’ll touch down, and then I’ll comm him,” Kylo said. “I just need a quick sonic and a change of clothes.”

“I’ll go put something on,” said Hux. He rose from the copilot’s seat, but stopped to ask, “Will you be needing me, or would you prefer I stayed here?” He didn’t want to stay; he wanted to meet Kylo’s father. But he would do so if Kylo ordered it.

Kylo seemed to consider for a few seconds, but then he said, “Go get dressed. You might as well come along.”

Hux suppressed a smile. “All right.”

He ducked out of the cockpit and made for his quarters to change. He went to wash his face hurriedly in the head before Kylo came for his sonic, and he combed his hair in order. He hadn’t realized how sleep-tousled it had been, and was vaguely embarrassed to have had appeared like that before Kylo.

When he came back out, they had landed in a busy spaceport and there was the noise of the sonic coming from the head. Hux sat down on the lounge seat to wait, detouring only to the weapons cabinet to retrieve his blaster. There was an extra thigh holster hanging inside, too. It needed some oil to soften up the leather, but he strapped it on over his trousers and slid the blaster into it.

When Kylo appeared, he had his hair tied up in a half-tail and a fresh look about him. He grabbed his own blaster, winked at Hux, and led the way out of the ship. As they stepped out into the spaceport, he said, “We’re meeting Dad at his—technically my—ship. It’s not far.”

The traffic around the port was bustling, and they had to dodge several loading droids and a peeved-looking Barabel and his attendant Ergesh. They were caught up in the wind of another ship’s engines as it lifted off, and were once nearly separated. Fortunately, Kylo grabbed Hux by the arm and yanked him against his side as they cut through a crowd. They were still standing close to one another when they approached sleek freighter about the same size as the Falcon, but of far newer design.

“This belongs to you?” Hux asked.

“Yeah,” Kylo replied. “The Falcon is Dad’s, and I think he wants it back. It shouldn’t be too hard to transfer our cargo to the Arrow.”

They approached the loading door of the ship, finding a grizzled man whom Hux guessed to be in his early sixties sitting in a collapsible chair just outside of it. He was fiddling with a component of some sort.

“How many times have I told you not to pull apart my ship, Dad?” Kylo said, though there was no malice in his voice.

The man—unshaven, and scruffy for it—looked up and gave Kylo a smile that his son had clearly inherited. “Hey, kid. It just needs a little tune-up, I promise.”

Kylo shook his head, thumbs hitched in his blaster belt. “So, you mean I’ll probably have to undo it all the minute I get it back to Ryden?”

His father wrinkled his nose. “Watch yourself. I’ve been doing this for decades longer than you have.”

“Don’t give me that,” Kylo said, rolling his eyes. “Chewie taught me ship mechanics, and I know twice what you know.”

Hmph.” He looked from Kylo to Hux, seeing him for the first time. “Well, who’s this, now?” He got to his feet, abandoning the component on his chair.

“Han,” said Kylo, “this is Hux. He’s, uh, part of my crew.”

Han held out his hand. “Now that’s a surprise: my son taking on a crew. Nice to meet you, Hux.”

Hux shook his hand, noting the tight grip. “Likewise. Kylo tells me he learned his trade from you.”

“Damn right, he did,” said Han. “I taught him everything he knows. Well, except ship mechanics, I guess.”

Kylo snorted and got a glare in return. “So, Dad,” he said, “what are we doing out here? I’m supposed to be back at the station for a drop and pickup. I don’t need to be late.”

Han’s gaze flicked to Hux again and then back to Kylo. Something that Hux couldn’t identify passed between them.

“Well,” Han said, “why don’t you two come aboard for a drink and we’ll talk about it.” He started up the ramp, leaving Kylo and Hux to follow him.

The inside of the Arrow was clean and shone with newness, unlike the weathered Falcon. There was a similar living space, though, and they made their way there. Han popped the cork of a bottle of iridescent green liquid and poured three glasses. He pressed one into Hux’s hands, and Hux sniffed at it suspiciously. It burned his nostrils, not boding well for what it would taste like. However, he took a tentative sip. He had to force himself not to cringe as it spread fire over his tongue.

“I’m going to need the Falcon,” Han began as he swallowed a much larger mouthful of his drink. “You’ll have to go quietly on this job, kid, and the Arrow is better suited.”

Kylo nodded. “Fine.”

From the pocket of his shirt, Han pulled a data drive. He handed it over to Kylo. “All you need to know is on there.”

Kylo slipped it into his own pocket. “I’ll take care of it. What else?”

Han shrugged. “Not much, but”—he shot a glance at Hux—“I’d like to hear a little bit about how you ended up with my son.”

“Dad,” Kylo warned. “This isn’t turning into an interrogation. I can take on crew if I want to.”

Han dismissed him with a wave of his glass. “Sure, sure, but you never have before. Can’t blame a man for being curious.” He grinned. “Plus, not everybody wants to get mixed up with people like us. You been in the business long, Hux?”

“No,” Hux said. “I’ve been with Kylo only four days.”

“A recent thing, huh?” asked Han. “Were you looking for a job?”

Hux chose his words carefully. “In a manner of speaking. My previous contract had come to an abrupt end. It was fortunate we ran across each other at that particular point in time.”

Kylo seemed to approve of his circumspect description of their meeting. He said, “It was, yeah. I figured I could use some help after all.”

Han addressed Hux: “It’ll be good for him to have someone else to work with. I always had a copilot with me, and he watched my back.”

“Is he not here?” Hux asked.

“He’s running some errands for me. Should be back in a few minutes.” He took another drink, swirling the liquor in his glass. “He’s been with me a long time. Way before Kylo was even born. You planning to stay on for a while?”

“I believe so, yes,” said Hux. He glanced Kylo. “For as long as he’ll have me.”

Han narrowed his eyes slightly, gaze shifting between the two of them, scrutinizing. Kylo buried his reaction in his glass, and Hux averted his eyes. Han smiled a little too knowingly for Hux’s taste. Hux was afraid he was assuming something about their connection that was not the truth. He regretted his choice of words.

“Well,” Han said, “it’s good for him to have some company, especially some that’s easy on the eyes.”

Dad,” Kylo snarled. “Mind your own damn business.”

Han, unperturbed, chuckled. “Okay, okay.” To Hux: “Want to hear a story about him? Something really embarrassing?”

Kylo groaned. “Why are you like this?”

Hux forced himself to take a drink, and tried to sound as nonchalant as possible when he said, “Go ahead.”

Han slapped his thigh. “That’s the spirit. Well, let me think of a good one. Hm…it was back when he was about seventeen. We were on a run in the Outer Rim, and he was thinking he was going to negotiate the deal with—”

“Stars, not this,” said Kylo.

Han shot him a smirk. “Yes, this. Now keep quiet; you’re ruining the story.” He leaned his elbow on his knee, focused on Hux. “We had an arrangement with some Hutt traders. Not the slavers, mind you, but I have a bit of a history with them, and so Kylo figured he’d take the lead on the deal. He’d never done anything like that before, so he had no idea what he was getting himself into.

“I stayed aboard the Falcon while he set off for their operation, but he had a commlink in his ear so I could hear the deal and give pointers. He didn’t think he needed them, of course, but did he ever.”

Kylo crossed his arms over his chest, petulant, but said nothing to the contrary.

“When he got there,” said Han, “he learned it’s customary to share a couple of drinks. Now, we can hold our own when it comes to the stuff, but he was a skinny kid and they were seasoned drinkers. Took about a half hour for them to really get into it, and already he was feeling it. I was trying to get him to toss the shots over his shoulder, but he was convinced he could still handle the deal with four or five in him.”

“It was seven,” Kylo grumbled. “I’m not that pathetic.”

Han waved a hand. “All right, seven. In any case, when they finally got down to business, this kid was reeling. I was trying to talk him through it, but he was muddling everything I said. It was the Hutts’ plan, of course, to swindle him like that. He held out, though, which I was pretty impressed with, and managed to get a price set. They were just standing up to shake hands and end the deal when his stomach turns and he throws up every one of those seven shots right onto the trader’s feet.”

“You laughed at me over the comm,” said Kylo. “Asshole.”

Han reached out to pat his knee. “We’ve all been there, kid. They still held up their end of the bargain, even though you had to mop up the mess yourself.”

Hux dared to look at Kylo, who downed the rest of his drink in one as if to prove he was better at it now than he had been then. Hux pressed his lips together to keep from laughing.

“Still can’t stomach Endorian vodka, can you?” Han chuckled.

Kylo glared. “No, Dad, I can’t. But you did get me some for my birthday the next year.” He repeated, “Asshole.”

Han sat back in his seat, seemingly very satisfied with himself. “It could have been a disaster, but you managed the deal, kid. I was proud of you. That’s how I knew you were cut out for this and not—”

Kylo silenced him with a look, though Han let slip, “Oh. He’s not one of your mother’s.”

“No,” said Kylo. “He’s mine.”

Hux blinked, startled by the intensity with which he said it—a claim. He had never objected to belonging to the First Order, but belonging to Kylo? Thinking of his life debt, he couldn’t deny that he did. Whatever Kylo wanted of him, he would be obliged to give.

Hux wanted to press: Is there something I should know? But he held his tongue.

“Anyway,” Han said, “I’ve got a hundred of these stories. You want to hear another, Hux?”

Kylo was quick to counter: “He’ll pass. We need to get going. You have a loading droid to move the cargo over?”

Han nodded curtly. “Sure thing, kid. Where are you docked?”

Kylo told him, and he rose to order a spaceport droid to take care of the transfer. He said he would oversee it while Kylo and Hux explored the port.

“It’s not a bad place. Have a look around and then come and say hi to Chewie before you go.” Han grinned. “He’s not quite as red as you, Hux, but he’s got a nice head of hair on him.”

“For stars’ sake, Dad,” said Kylo. “Just leave him alone.”

Hux really didn’t consider the ribbing anything to mind, but Kylo seemed easily annoyed by his father, who, in reality, was very much like him. They both teased and charmed.

“All right, all right,” Han said. “Go get something to eat, or get another drink. This transfer will take a few minutes, and Chewie will want to see you. It’s been months, kid.”

“Okay. We’ll be back in an hour.” Kylo pointed a finger at Han. “Don’t ransack my ship while you’re moving cargo.”

Not wanting to be rude, Hux drank the rest of the liquor he had been given, though he could imagine if he had another glass he might have done just as Kylo did at seventeen. He wasn’t cut out for hard drinking.

He followed Kylo and Han out of the Arrow and onto the landing pad. Han left them there, headed for the Falcon.

“You hungry?” Kylo asked.

“We seem to do a great deal of eating and sleeping,” Hux said. “Don’t we have something better to do while we’re here?”

Kylo shifted his weight back, crossing his arms over his chest. “Well, what would you rather do, then?”

Hux didn’t really have a proper idea, though he didn’t want to admit it. “We can eat, fine, but maybe we could just…look around. Have you been to this moon before?”

“A couple of times. Dad does a lot of work here.” Kylo tapped his prosthetic fingers against his forearm. “We could walk along the wharfs. You ever been by the ocean?”

“Arkanis has lakes,” said Hux. “But I’ve not seen a saline ocean.”

“Well, that’s what we’ll do. And there’s something to eat there, too. Come on.”

The spaceport was massive, covering acres all around them. Hux assumed they would be walking a great deal to get to the wharfs, but Kylo hailed a speeder taxi. He opened the door for Hux and let him climb in first. They were both slammed back against the seats as the speeder accelerated down the street.

“Half of this moon is ocean,” Kylo said as they rode. “The rest is mostly the spaceport. It’s a trade hub more than anything. There aren’t actually any boats at the wharfs; they just call them that. It’s actually a pretty nice part of town, if anywhere on this rock can be called ‘nice.’ You ever been sailing?”

“As a boy,” Hux said. There had been a large lake on his parents’ estate on Arkanis. He had learned to swim in it and had sailed in the boat his father owned. “But not since. Nobody sails here?”

“No. The sea’s a nightmare of undercurrents, and the tides are erratic. It’s just nice to look at when you fly over.”

The taxi stopped curbside in a district lit by halogen lamps and neon signage advertising restaurants, bodegas, and what looked to be houses for playing cards and dice. Hux might have spotted a brothel. The streets weren’t as packed as they had been in the Olmek markets, but there were still a number of people milling around, some arm-in-arm with bottles of some kind of liquid in their free hands.

As soon as Hux stepped out, he could smell the brine of the sea on the cool wind that blew from over the water. It was sharper and more acrid than the muddy foliage scent of Arkanis. Nati 5 didn’t have the dampness that pervaded everything on his homeworld, either. Aside from the ocean itself, it was dry.

Kylo paid their fare while Hux looked around, but when he was finished, he came to Hux’s side and said, “It’s not all that great, but it’s maybe something you’ve never seen before.”

“No,” said Hux. “It’s like nothing I’ve seen before.”

Kylo nudged him forward, toward an alley between shops. “You want to have a look at the water?”

Despite knowing that this place was not Utel Gamma, Hux hesitated at the mouth of the alley. It was dark and narrow, as had been the one in which he had nearly died. Fear was not something he could afford, but he tensed, stilling at the edge of the shadows.

“Hey,” Kylo said, close to his ear. “It’s okay. I’ve got you.” His hand went to the small of Hux’s back, gently urging him on. Hux’s first step was halting, but then he caught his stride and ventured into the darkness.

When they came out the other side, he felt better, and found he was looking out at the black expanse of the ocean just beyond the wharf. The tips of the choppy waves were white and frothy, crashing into one another and plunging back into the water below. It seemed endless, dipping off the edge of the horizon into nothingness beyond.

“It’s something, huh?” said Kylo.

“Yes,” Hux said. “Striking.”

“Dangerous, too.”

Hux could only imagine how easy it would be to drown in the inky ocean. In the distance, he spotted a man drunkenly teetering at the edge of the wharf, walking along it like a tightrope. His companions egged him on from a nearby bench, waving their bottles and clapping their hands.

Kylo, following his gaze, said, “There are droids all around here to fish out anyone who falls. He’ll be fine. Maybe a little damp, but fine.”

Hux looked away, back toward the strip of storefronts, many of which had tables outside, where patrons could eat and drink as they watched the swell of the water. “Do you want to stop for food?” he asked.

Kylo laughed. “Hungry at last. Okay. Let’s get something.”

They decided on a restaurant that served steaming noodle soup, taking seats outside. It was too hot to eat right away, so Hux followed Kylo’s lead and stirred the noodles around in the broth for a few minutes.

“Sorry about my dad,” Kylo said as he began picking at the noodles with chopsticks. “He harasses everybody, but you got the worst of it because it is new that I took you on.”

Hux hardly considered what Han had done harassment. He had memories of humiliating dressings-down by his drill sergeants as a young trooper. They had picked out every flaw he had, from his hair to his flat feet, and berated him for it, told him he was pathetic. That was true abuse. Han had been joking.

“You take after him,” Hux said.

Kylo groaned. “I know, but don’t let him hear that. I’ve spent years trying not to be Han.”

Hux stirred his noodles again. “I never wanted to be like my father, either.”

Around a mouthful, Kylo said, “No? What did he do?”

“Threw me away,” Hux replied, giving voice to what he had always known but never spoken aloud to anyone, especially not the troopers. “I had been replaced by a better child. A legitimate child.”

Kylo’s brows went up. “In what culture does legitimacy matter anymore? It’s archaic.”

“Mine,” said Hux. “Bloodline matters a great deal. My brother was my father’s legacy. I was unneeded, tainted.”

“So, he sold you to mercs?”

It was close enough to the truth, though the life Hux had lived had been far more severe than that. “Yes. He thought I would die with them. I wasn’t a strong child. I wasn’t sick, but not hardy, either. He didn’t expect me to survive for long.”

 “But you did. You thrived.”

“I did. I was the best”—in the Order—“and knowing that, he couldn’t let it stand.” Hux was venturing close to divulging too much, but he continued, “He’s been trying to have me killed for years. Accidents at first, but this last time…he almost succeeded.”

Kylo was focused solely on him, food forgotten. “He got First Order stormtroopers to try to kill you?” At Hux’s nod, he exclaimed, “Karking hell! Your own father?”

“He hates me,” Hux said. Before he thought the better of it, the words left his mouth: “But I’m going to kill him.” When had he resolved that, he wondered. Maybe in this very moment. But he knew it was true. When his life debt was paid, he would find Brendol Hux, and he would kill him.

Kylo rubbed his hands over his face. “You know for sure it was him?”

“Yes. There’s no one else who could have ordered those troopers to do it.”

“Stars, they were right there. One more minute and you would have been dead.”

“Now do you understand why I owe you such a great debt?” Hux asked. “You spared me from my father and, with my life, gave me the chance to destroy him.”

It would be treason to slay a member of the high command, but Hux had already deserted. He could take his father down with him—maybe even his brother, and end the Hux line completely. Presumed dead, he would someday return to the First Order as a wraith and see them both spaced, even if he went with them.

“Is that what you want to do when you’re free of me?” Kylo asked. “Find your father?”

“It is.”

“Do you know where he is? Arkanis?”

“Not anymore,” said Hux. “He’s in the Unknown Regions. It will take work to locate him, but I will.” He could be on any number of star destroyers or worlds. Hux would look, though, until he found him.

Kylo took a deep breath, looking down at his half-empty soup bowl. Hux waited quietly, unsure what else to say. When Kylo finally turned his eyes back up, he said, “You’re not the only one who wants revenge.” He flexed his right hand; the colored lights of the restaurant’s marquee were reflected in the sliver. “I want to find the one who did this to me, and make him pay. And his master, too. But I don’t have the first idea where to find him.”

“You said a name in your sleep,” Hux said. “Snoke. Is that him?”

Kylo seemed to deliberate, but then said, “Yes. He’s been in my head since I was a kid, trying to get me to come to him and...learn.”

Hux wasn’t sure what that would entail, but he didn’t press to know.

“How do you know his name?” Kylo asked.

“He is the Supreme Leader of the First Order,” Hux replied.

Kylo’s shock flashed immediately across his face, his eyes widening and then narrowing, mouth agape. He looked down, cradling his head in his hands. Hux was afraid he might ask how he knew that, but he said nothing, not for at least a full minute.

Finally: “The First Order. He wanted me to serve them.”

Hux said, “But you’re opposed to them?”

“Fundamentally. I was raised to hate everything they stand for. They’re the successors of the Empire, and in my family that’s contemptible.”

“I see,” Hux murmured. So, it came to this. If Kylo ever discovered that Hux was former First Order it would destroy the beginnings of trust they shared. It was likely he would cast Hux out, life debt or no—if he didn’t just decide to kill him. Hux thought the better of that; he couldn’t see Kylo as the kind to kill.

“I should have known Snoke would support their cause,” Kylo continued. “Even if I couldn’t assume he was their leader. He want me to betray my family and what they taught me to believe, all for greater power.”

There, again, was something in Kylo that he was concealing—something concerning his past and what drew the Supreme Leader to him. Snoke sought beings and allies who could strengthen the Order. If he believed Kylo was that, there was something special about him that he had not revealed to Hux.

“But you refused,” Hux said. He gestured to Kylo’s arm. “You fought.”

“Yeah,” said Kylo. “I almost died for it.”

He fell silent, and Hux didn’t speak, either. He pushed his soup bowl away; his appetite had gone.

“We should get going,” Kylo said after a glance at his wrist chronometer. “Dad’ll be done with the cargo by now.”

“All right,” Hux said.

They left the dishes for the service droid to retrieve, and Kylo caught them another taxi. Hux sat quietly, trying to imagine what Snoke could have seen in a smuggler’s son. By all accounts, Hux should hate Kylo, now that he knew he opposed the Order’s goals. But he found that he didn’t. He had more affinity for Kylo than he ever had for the troopers he had been raised alongside. He could lay blame perhaps on how kindly Kylo had treated him—he had not been handled with care in his life—but there was more to it. Kylo inspired loyalty with his jokes and his generosity, all of which stood upon a foundation of capability at his trade. He had accepted Hux into his life readily, upon Hux’s insistence that he stay on and pay his debt. It had changed so much for him, but he took it all in easy stride. Hux could never have done that if he had been in Kylo’s position.

Venturing a brief glance at him, Hux saw his profile silhouetted against the flashing lights outside the taxi’s viewport. Hux imagined tracing the slope of his nose with his fingertips, down from his brow to where it met his lips. Hux would have crept into his lap in the cockpit earlier, setting his knees on either side of Kylo’s thighs and sliding his hands into his hair. He would have kissed him deeply and told him in no uncertain terms that he wanted him. It was not a matter of debt anymore; it was just what Hux desired. He wanted to make that perfectly clear, and would have in that moment, had the proximity alert not sounded. He wasn’t certain another opportunity like that would present itself.

“Here we are,” Kylo said as the taxi pulled up next to the Arrow’s landing pad. Han was once again in his chair, though this time he was in conversation with a towering Wookiee. They both turned as Kylo and Hux approached, and the Wookiee came charging toward them at a lope. It swept Kylo up into an embrace, lifting him off of his feet.

“Hi, Chewie,” Kylo managed.

The Wookiee replied in its own language, which Hux couldn’t understand, but Kylo and Han clearly could.

“I know,” said Kylo. “I’m sorry it’s been so long. I’ve been busy.” Chewie made a sound of protest, so Kylo added, “Honest, I’m sorry. I should have come by the Inner Rim while I was there.”

Chewie seemed to forgive him, setting him back down. Kylo tugged at his shirt to straighten it and ran his hands over his hair.

“Hux,” he said, gesturing him over, “this is Chewie. He’s my…uncle. Hux is my new copilot.”

Hux held out his hand, which Chewie looked at disdainfully before saying something to Han.

Han laughed. “That’s what I said. But I think it’s a good thing. A man gets lonely on long space flights.” He winked at Hux.

Chewie made a braying sound, throwing his head back in what Hux could only assume was a laugh.

Kylo was red in the face, glaring between his “uncle” and his father. “Enough.”

Han grinned, and Chewie bared his teeth.

“Can we just get on with this?” Kylo said. “We have to get back to Ryden.”

“Sure thing, kid,” said Han, rising. He hitched a thumb back at the now-full cargo hold of the Arrow. “Everything’s aboard.”

“What about our personal effects?” Hux asked. He had left his in his cabin on the Falcon. Chewie pointed at the two bags lying at the foot of the loading door. “Ah. Thank you.”

“We didn’t go looking for your diary or anything,” said Han. “Promise.”

Despite himself, Hux laughed.

“Make sure to take care of that job soon,” Han said to Kylo. “You know your mother doesn’t like to wait. You get that from her.”

“I’ll handle it,” said Kylo. “See you later, Dad.”

 Han took a step closer, as if to embrace him, but then held out his hand. Kylo shook it. When Han came to Hux, he also shook, clapping him on the shoulder as he did.

“Take care, Hux,” he said. “And watch out for my son.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“Come on, Chewie,” Han said. “Let’s get back to the Falcon.” They left Kylo and Hux standing in front of the loading door as they sauntered away. They made an odd pair, Wookiee and human, but they clearly knew each other well.

“They’ve flown together for a very long time,” Hux said to Kylo.

“For as long as I’ve been around, and years before that,” Kylo said. He came to face Hux. “They have the same story we do. Chewie came on because of his life debt.”

Hux balked. “And they’ve been together since?”

“Yeah, but don’t think you have to do that.” Kylo lowered his voice. “You’ve got things to do when you’re done with me, right?”

“My father will keep,” said Hux in earnest. “I’m in no hurry to leave you.”

Kylo looked at him intently, as if trying to puzzle him out. “I guess Dad’s right,” he said. “It’s good to have someone along after all this time.” He smiled one-sidedly. “Just don’t tell him he’s right, okay? He’s already puffed up enough.”

“I will say nothing,” Hux promised. “You have my word.”

Kylo reached down to retrieve his duffel bag and slung it over his shoulder. “I’ll show you around the rest of the ship.”

 The Arrow was narrower than the Falcon, its layout more oblong than circular. The cargo bay took up most of the rear of the ship, leaving very little space for the forward living quarters. They passed through the lounge where they had sat with Han before—Hux saw that the bottle of green liquor and their glasses still sat on the central table—and around the bulkhead to a square cabin that housed four recessed bunks.

“This ship really isn’t designed for a big crew,” said Kylo, “so we’ll have to sleep together in here.” He gestured to the starboard bunks. “Top or bottom?”

“I’ll take the top,” Hux said. “Are we meant to sleep now?”

Kylo shrugged. “You can if you want to. We didn’t get much rest before, and we’ve got a pretty long ride back to Ryden. I might get some shuteye. But let’s get off this rock first. You want to see how this ship runs?”

“I’d like that very much,” said Hux.

The cockpit at the nose of the freighter was as small as the Falcon’s, but the interfaces for piloting were far less complex. Kylo explained that modern ships didn’t need as much fiddling to fly.

“The Falcon’s something else,” he said. “I’ve never flown a bird like her.”

Hux took the copilot’s seat, though he folded his hands in his lap rather than reaching for the yoke.

“Here’s the main ignition,” Kylo explained, pointing to a yellow button at the center of the console. “You have to flip the repulsor switches on first, but then you can fire her up. You try it.”

Hux moved three small switches into their “On” position before depressing the ignition. The Arrow’s engines came to life—far quieter than the Falcon’s. They barely registered after the initial start-up. Hux had no particular attachment to the Falcon, and decided he preferred this ship to that. He was already looking forward to feeling how she actually flew.

“Okay,” Kylo continued, “you’ve got to open up the throttle here”—he patted a lever under the ignition—“and ease her up off the ground. Give me your hand.” As he did, Kylo guided it under his gloved right hand on the lever. “Just move it back nice and slow.” As he pulled down on the lever, Hux could feel the minute movement it took to get the Arrow off of the landing pad. “We’re going to go straight up for about two hundred meters to clear the other ships, and then we can speed up.”

They left the ground behind, the viewport confirming the assent that Hux otherwise couldn’t feel, it was so smooth. As they rose up past the other landed freighters and transports, Kylo began to narrate again.

“We’re clear. Take hold of the yoke.” With his left hand he transferred control from the primary interface to the copilot’s.

Hux grasped the yoke in front of him tightly, nervous as he had not been in the simulations. “You’re going to let me do this?” he asked.

Kylo grinned. “You can. It’s not hard. I’ll talk you through it.” Hux focused his attention on what he could see outside, hoping Kylo was right. “Okay, get her nose up a little, until you can see the clouds.”

Hux pulled back on the yoke with ginger care. The Arrow tipped up.

“Good,” said Kylo. “Hold her there. I’m just going to give it some power. Just keep her steady.” He drew back on the throttle again and the ship began to move forward. Hux, white-knuckled, held course. “Tip her up a little more. Good. Some more power now.”

The Arrow sped up, leaving the spaceport behind as they ascended. Hux’s heart was hammering, but it wasn’t all nerves. There was elation at his success, even if Kylo was still leading him along.

“Bring her up about forty more degrees,” Kylo said. “That’s it. Whoa! Right there. We’re going to get up to speed to get out of atmo. You think you can handle it?” His left pointer finger hovered over the switch to return control to his side of the cockpit. “If you’re not ready—”

“I am,” Hux said.

“All right. Hang on.” Kylo pulled hard on the throttle and the Arrow raced into the sky. Hux held onto the yoke with desperation as they tore through the cloud cover and up into the lower atmosphere. It was perfectly clear ahead of them; there was nothing for him to be afraid of. As they burst out into the star-speckled sky, the noise of the wind died and all was silent.

“Well done,” said Kylo. “We need a few hundred miles’ clearance and then we can put her into hyperspace.” He squeezed Hux’s shoulder. “You’re a pilot now.”

Hux finally dared to breathe again, though he still kept hold of the yoke. “I believe I have a few more of those to practice before you can call me that, but I’m willing to do so.”

“You’ll do great.” Kylo released him and flipped the main control over to his side. With practiced ease, he opened up the throttle even more as he keyed in a number of commands into the computer. It beeped in response, displaying Ryden 2 in a hologram over top of the console. Kylo engaged the hyperdrive and the stars blurred around them.

Kylo yawned wide, not bothering to cover his mouth. “Okay,” he said, “I’m definitely going to sleep. Feel free to stay up if you want. The ship is yours.”

He swung out of his chair and wended his way back to the their quarters. Hux hesitated to go, instead watching the stars for a few minutes. He was a bit tired, but not enough to sleep yet. Still, he ventured into the cabin to retrieve his datapad. Kylo was sprawled out on the lower bunk, shirtless and barefoot, and already breathing heavily in sleep. Hux slipped out again without waking him, going to the lounge and tucking himself into one of the chairs.

He powered on the datapad and began to sort through the books he could read. There were hundreds of thousands on the holonet, and he wasn’t sure where to start. However, a new release caught his eye: A History of the Rebellion and the Founding of the New Republic. All the history he knew of the Rebellion had been filtered through the Order, and he realized that the perspective of others might differ quite a bit. It was likely just New Republic propaganda, but he tapped the datapad to bring up the book. The first chapter was titled “Heroes of the Rebels.” He began there.

Unsurprisingly, it started with Leia Organa, Princess of Alderaan turned Rebellion general and then New Republic senator. Hux knew a little about her, but the section gave a number of details about her role in the destruction of the Empire’s superweapons and her mobilization of the Rebel forces. She was made out to be a bold leader, though not without fault. The author of the book told of a few failed missions that had hindered her cause. Some of them involved her twin brother, the infamous Jedi Luke Skywalker.

Hux had only a vague understanding of the mystical power called the Force, and to him it seemed like a legend more than a concrete concept. He had never seen anyone use it, or even heard of anyone who could, aside from the figures who were equally legendary, like Skywalker and Emperor Palpatine. He didn’t necessarily dismiss it completely, but he would have preferred to see proof of its existence.

The chapter continued to detail the twins’ exploits, which Hux grumpily read, skeptical of their veracity. The Order didn’t deny that they had been the crux of the Rebellion, but to the troopers, they were villains who had acquiesced to disorder.

Scrolling to the next page, Hux froze in shock. The heading read “Han Solo” and the picture below was of a young man with a scoundrel’s smile that was immediately recognizable. There, though about thirty years younger, was Kylo’s smuggler father, with a medal around his neck.

Hux delved immediately into the description of his role in the Rebellion, and how he had worked closely with Organa and Skywalker on his famous ship, the Millennium Falcon. But there was no mention of a son. Hux supposed that made sense, if Kylo was born out of wedlock.

“In what culture does legitimacy matter anymore?”

Hux had the impression that Han was the kind who would father an illegitimate child. However, instead of casting him aside, he had raised Kylo, at least after whatever had happened with his arm as teenager. Still, there was no denying that Kylo, who was asleep just on the other side of the bulkhead, was of Rebel stock.

Hux put down the datapad, overwhelmed. He had just shared a drink with a Rebellion general and flown in the ship that had helped bring down the Empire, the legacy of which the First Order was meant to uphold. He had gotten his wish to know more about Kylo, but he never would have suspected this.

Did Han Solo still have ties to the New Republic? Did Kylo do their bidding, too? By all accounts, Hux shouldn’t conscience serving him if he did, but there was no way out of this situation unless Hux decided to kill him and run. It made sense to the most ruthless part of Hux, and yet he knew he couldn’t do it. He was inextricably tied to Kylo now, and stars help him, he would pay his debt, even if it meant betraying everything he had been brought up to believe.

Chapter Text

The boy is sitting cross-legged on a thin cushion, the sea breeze ruffling his short hair as he breathes steadily: count eight in, count ten out. These times are meant to clear his mind and draw his focus to the raw Force, and they do; but there is an undercurrent of something else, something more, flowing through the hidden places in his consciousness where the light is meant to thrive, and yet does not. There are shadows there; there have been for years, and they grow darker as the voice comes to him in sleep.

“Ren,” it whispers when he is deep in dreams. “Lonely, solemn Ren. My child, you’ve been struggling with your training again. The simple tasks Skywalker teaches are not meant for you. There are so many things that suit you better—that will make you stronger—if only you’ll let me teach you.”

Ben Solo tosses in his narrow cot, curious about these promised powers, but knowing that at their heart, they are darkness and corruption. They will pollute him and twist his understanding of the Force into something by which he will always be trapped, never able to go back after the decision is made.

“Power comes with dedication, young Ren,” says the voice in his head. “You must commit yourself to it if you are to learn. There is no in-between place you can inhabit. It is dark, or it is light.”

Uncle Luke says that there is nothing absolute about the Force, that some power comes from the dark and some from the light. There is a balance, he says, and Ben pushes that thought toward the voice as he rests.

Laughter, cold and raspy. “What foolishness. Don’t be taken in, Ren. You will only be made weak by such dilution of strength. Choose your rightful path. Come to me and I will show you the way.”

As he sits in meditation now, Ben tries to bring the light into those crevices where the being known only to him as Snoke thrives. In the shallowest wells he succeeds, but in the deeper places, he can’t make the shadows fade. He is ten years old and he should have mastered the cleansing of this ritual long ago.

“Weakness, weakness,” Snoke hisses in the back of his mind.

Ben seeks the silence again, and, for a moment, finds peace. He is lonely, just as he is accused of being. Snoke exploits those solitary moments, telling him how cared-for he will be when he comes to learn from him. The other padawans are younger than he is and have not half the gifts he does. He learned the saber fast and well, easily besting any competition to the point that no one, save Luke, dared spar with him. And he’s a keen pupil in every other aspect of physical manifestations of the Force, as well as mind tricks. The youngest padawans maybe look up to him, but as they grow and their powers do not eclipse his, their esteem becomes jealousy and they come to resent him. It leaves him friendless, with only his calligraphy for company.

What Snoke offers is careful tutoring and even company. There are six dark figures who linger at the corners of the visions he sends to Ben. “Your knights,” he says. “Your vassals. They will be with you always. They are loyal as the pathetic children you call fellows will never be. Come meet them, Ren.”

Snoke’s voice is little more than an echo as Ben meditates, but it’s still there: “Ren, Ren, they are waiting for you.”

Ben forces the sounds away with all his will as tears slip from his eyes. He wants those knights; he wants that company, that loyalty. He’s so alone. So, so alone.

 


 

Kylo was startled from the dream when his wrist chronometer beeped with the proximity alert: they were arriving at Ryden 2. The hollowness in his chest from those isolated years at his uncle’s school remained for a few moments, but then dissipated. He was not alone on the Arrow, he realized; Hux was here. He silenced the alarm and rolled onto his feet, ducking to keep from hitting his head on the bunk above him. He rubbed his left hand over his face in an attempt to shake off the lethargy. From the nearby locker, he pulled the shirt he had discarded earlier and tugged it over his head. Glancing at the top bunk, he found it empty and still neatly made. A stab of loneliness again. Hux had not slept here.

Stars above, he had told him about Snoke. He hadn’t been able to stop himself after Hux had said that the creature who had haunted Ben Solo since childhood was the Supreme Leader of the First Order. Kylo might not have believed it if it didn’t make perfect sense. The Order was all that remained of the Empire, and they sought to rule the galaxy as Palpatine once had. And Darth Vader had been the emperor’s right hand. There was no doubt in Kylo’s mind that that was what Snoke had wanted of him. He intended him to take up the mantle of his grandfather and become all that he had been. The truth struck Kylo like a blow. He would have to tell Leia as soon as it could be managed. Knowing the identity of the leader of the First Order—and that he was a power Force-sensitive—would be critical intelligence for the Resistance.

Setting that aside for now, Kylo put on his boots and went to the cockpit to decelerate and steer the Arrow back into the station. He input the docking codes, and the door opened to permit him entry. The freighter handled smoothly as he set it down in the hangar, the landing gear barely making a sound as he set it down. The engines spooled out when he cut the power, and he called up the loading droid to take care of the cases of blasters. That left him only to find Hux.

It didn’t prove terribly difficult. He was in the lounge, curled up in a chair, fast asleep with his datapad lying next to him. Kylo paused to look at him, appreciating how small he could make himself in such a limited space. His hands were tucked beneath his head, and his mouth was slightly open as he breathed through it. Kylo was hesitant to wake him, but he went to the chair and laid a hand on his shoulder. Hux jumped, nearly striking Kylo in the face with an errant fist.

“Easy, easy,” Kylo said. “It’s just me. We’re back at the station.”

Comprehension crossed Hux’s face, and he relaxed. “Yes, of course.” Kylo gave him room to get up, and he did. “Do you need my help with the cargo?”

“No, T4’s got it. You can just head in.” Kylo smiled. “I wouldn’t mind a cup of caf. Would you make it?”

Hux lifted his chin with determination—likely to best the machine that had foiled him two days before. “Very well,” he said, and then turned and marched away. Kylo allowed himself a laugh when he had gone.

He gathered both of their bags from the lockers and carried them into the living quarters of the station, where Hux was waiting on the couch with two mugs of steaming caf and a couple of ration bars.

“You don’t have to wait for me,” Kylo said as he dropped the bags. “Eat if you’re hungry.”

Hux picked up a bar and set to unwrapping it while Kylo took the place next to him. He went for his caf first, sipping the dark, fragrant blend.

He reclined against the back of the couch with it in his right hand, playing at contentment that he didn’t wholly feel after yesterday’s revelations. Still, he didn’t want Hux to suspect it affected him as strongly as it did.

“So, we’ve got the rest of this cycle free,” he said. “Nowhere to go today, or tomorrow, probably. I need to go over the data Dad gave me, but we can’t go out until the buyers come to pick up their cargo.” He set his arm on the back of the couch behind Hux’s head. “It’s not the most exciting life between jobs, I have to admit.”

Hux chewed his ration bar. “That was never the case with my previous employers. If we weren’t working, we were training.”

“But I bet you worked a lot,” said Kylo.

“We did, yes. I’m not sure what to do with my time if I’m not kept busy.” He turned to Kylo. “What do you do?”

Kylo often spent hours doing his katas or in meditation, but he chose to reply, “I read a lot, and I do go planetside to explore. I’ve spent days hiking before. Have you been into the wilderness?”

Hux gave a thoughtful nod. “As a sharpshooter, I used to camp for days to learn about my targets before I ever took my shot. I’ve spent three or four days in trees before.”

Considering how he had slept on the Arrow, Kylo could see it. “Well, we won’t have time for that in the next couple of weeks, but we can always go, if you want to rough it for a while.”

“Perhaps later,” Hux said. “I don’t think I’ll mind a few days spent lazily.” He frowned into his mug. “Though I won’t let myself get soft. Is there somewhere I can practice shooting?”

“There are all kinds of ranges planetside,” said Kylo, “but...I can always set you up something in the hangar. It’s about five hundred meters square.” He quirked a smile. “You could show me the ropes of shooting.”

Hux snorted. “You need a sharper blaster before I can do that, as I said.”

“Then we’ll go planetside, and you can find me one. Just like you promised.”

“Did I promise?” Hux asked, regarding Kylo with an intensity reminiscent of how he had looked at him on Ikel, when his hand at been on the grip of Kylo’s old blaster.

Kylo just managed to keep from inching closer to him, maybe reaching down to brush the nape of his neck with his fingers. How he had had his hands on Kylo’s prosthetic in the cockpit of the Falcon. He had seemed so fascinated with it, and Kylo had never wished he could feel the arm more than he did then.

Kylo had been unprotected as he slept there, and should have been troubled to wake to see a former stormtrooper seated next to him, studying him; but he had seen a kind of tenderness in Hux’s curiosity that disarmed him. He wondered what Hux had been thinking of him in that moment. He had moved closer, and when Kylo had set his left hand over Hux’s on his arm, Hux hadn’t pulled away. No, he had made to get up, to cross the distance between them, and maybe, Kylo distantly hoped, come to him willingly.

But still, Kylo was wary. He didn’t know how to decide if Hux’s interest was sincere, or just another attempt to hasten paying his debt. Kylo hated that uncertainty; he wanted Hux, but couldn’t...just couldn’t.

“Well,” Kylo said, “maybe not, but I did say I would let you. That’s close enough to a promise for me.”

Hux smiled slyly. “I look forward to it.” He finished his ration bar and picked up his half-full cup of caf to sip at it.

Kylo ate his own breakfast, considering how he was going to slip away from Hux to load the Resistance data into his private console. He couldn’t show Hux the room where he took his mother’s calls; that was a step too far, even if he was on the cusp of trusting him. Likely he would have to wait until Hux went to sleep for the night. He didn’t like to delay when the information could be urgent, but if he had no other choice, that would suffice.

“You interested in watching a holo?” he asked. “I know we watched a bunch before, but—”

“I’m amenable,” Hux replied. “Is there one on, perhaps, the Rebellion?”

Kylo hesitated. There was something in Hux’s voice that struck him as odd—leading. “Sure. Some of them are old and contrived, but there are couple that aren’t bad. You’re interested in galactic history?”

Hux shifted, as if stalling to answer. “I’ve never had the chance to learn about it, really. I was reading a book last night. It interested me.”

“Okay,” said Kylo. “Let me find one.”

He scrolled through the options on the console and chose a favorite of his when he had been younger: Rebels of the New Republic. It heavily featured his mother and his uncle, but not his father, which was Kylo’s goal. It had been stupid to bring Hux to meet Han; it wasn’t terribly hard to figure out who he was and connect the dots. That didn’t give away Kylo’s ties to the Resistance, but it did reveal his origins and compromise his cover. But could he really have kept that from Hux over the long term? He doubted it. He’d find a way to play it off if the topic came up. It wasn’t the first time he had told someone he was an illegitimate child. And it wasn’t necessarily wrong; his parents had never been married.

Hux was illegitimate, too, he had said, and had been cast aside in favor of a younger, legitimate son in his family. Kylo could only assume that that was how he had ended up in the First Order’s military. His father had wanted to get rid of him, and had found the most efficient way. But if what Hux said was true, and his father had ordered Hux’s own men—his fellow stormtroopers—to kill him, it seemed only logical that this man had clout within the Order itself. Stormtroopers didn’t take bounties. Kylo would have to explore the Resistance’s intelligence files and find out if there was someone else by the name of Hux in their records of First Order personnel.

As he queued up the holo, Kylo sat back again, conscious not to press too far into Hux’s space. The music started as the opening crawl scrolled up across the screen. Hux watched, rapt, as it began. Kylo smiled to himself, fond, and watched.

 


 

When the holo was finished, Hux was quiet, seemingly contemplative. Kylo shut off the console and, eyeing him, asked, “Did you like it?”

“It was”—he paused—“different than in the book I read yesterday. More…theatrical.”

Kylo sat back against the arm of the couch, folding one leg under him. “Well, it’s supposed to be exciting. And it’s a little embellished for the sake of that. There was a whole part about a trash compactor that they left out.” His mother had told that part to him, much to Han’s displeasure. “Most holos and books leave that out. It doesn’t really fit the dignity of the Rebellion.”

“I know what it means to present a certain face,” said Hux. “The New Republic tries to look like a fair and just democracy, but it hides the underbelly of corruption and disorder.”

There was disdain in his voice, but not one borne of experience; he was repeating a script. Kylo knew that the First Order believed the Senate was useless and inefficient, preferring martial law under a single leader: under Snoke.

“It’s not perfect,” he said to Hux, “but it’s not totally dysfunctional, either.” He sucked his teeth, uncertain whether he wanted to continue. He did: “But they did toss out one of their most respected senators over who her father was, which was Bantha shit.”

Hux shifted to face him, wedging himself into the elbow of the couch, between back and armrest. “Who was it?”

Kylo was surprised; he had honestly expected him to know. There was barely a being in the galaxy who wasn’t aware of what had happened all those years ago.

“Her name is Leia Organa.”

“Oh,” Hux spat. “Her.” This time the disgust was as plain in his face as in his tone.

Kylo tamped down his defensiveness. “Yeah, her.”

Hux sniffed, lips downturned. “So, what did she do to get herself ejected from the Senate? Does it have to do with her Resistance?”

“The Resistance came after she was forced out,” Kylo said. “After they found out that the parents who raised her weren’t her true ones. You really haven’t heard this?”

Hux shook his head.

Kylo sighed. “Her father was Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine’s attack dog. The Senate branded her an Imperial loyalist and traitor, and threw her out.”

“Lord Vader had a child?” Hux asked. Kylo didn’t miss the use of the formal—respectful—title.

“Two,” Kylo replied. “Twins. Luke Skywalker is the other.”

Hux’s mouth was hanging open now, and he was leaning ever-so-slightly forward with the intensity of his interest. “They managed to hide that for so long?”

Kylo tried to not to let his childhood bitterness color his words. “They’re good liars, and almost nobody knew, only them and a few people they trusted.” Ben was one of them, but it wasn’t until he was old enough to understand the Skywalker lineage: just after he had had his accident. Luke and his mother had taken him to a discreet location under the pretense of putting his new arm through its paces, but there they had sat him down and told him everything they had never dared divulge to anyone else. Han knew a great deal, but not all of it.

Ben hadn’t known what to think or say. The villain in all of Luke’s stories about the dark side was part of his family, Ben his direct descendant. He wouldn’t have believed it had it come from anyone else, but Leia and Luke had been utterly sincere.

“It’s not something to be ashamed of,” Luke had said, his own prosthetic hand on Ben’s shoulder. “But neither is it something we can speak of again. Do you understand?”

Ben hadn’t, but he had said he did.

After dinner that night, Ben had lain down in his pup tent and tried to let the whirling truths of Anakin Skywalker’s fall settle in his mind. When, at last, he fell into sleep, it wasn’t long before the voice came. It was the first time since the accident. Ben had thought it gone after he refused to go with the knights sent to retrieve him, but there it was, back again.

“Ren, Ren, now you understand the wellspring of your strength,” it had hissed. “You are the next in line to take your place in the dark and harness all it can offer you. It can make you into something greater even than Darth Vader. You are his heir. Come to me, Ren, and I will show you the way.”

Ben’s fear had risen up at Snoke’s return, and he had cowered in the face of him.

“Don’t be afraid, Ren. I will not harm you. You were not meant to be damaged. Come to me. Come to me.

“Get out of my head,” Ben had managed to say, half a plea and half a demand. Snoke had not receded at first, but when Ben pressed again, determined, he had gone away and let him sleep. When he had woken the next morning, he had sworn to himself that he would never become Vader. But he wouldn’t follow the path of his master Obi-Wan, either. Ben would never be a Jedi; he would never tempt fate.

Hux drew Kylo back into the present. “A child is not his father,” he said coldly. “Organa and Skywalker overthrew the Empire and Vader died with it. Did they not clearly prove that they’re not Imperial sympathizers?”

“You’d think they would have,” said Kylo. “But their lineage damned Leia. She’s disgraced, ostracized, and only welcome in the Resistance.”

“But the New Republic supports the Resistance,” Hux said.

Kylo shook his head. “No. The Resistance means to protect the Republic from the First Order, but they aren’t formally supported by the Republic. The Resistance is on its own.”

Hux’s brow was furrowed. Clearly a great deal of the reality of the First Order’s conflict with both Republic and Resistance had been kept from its troopers. It made sense, though, to conflate their enemies and encourage equal hatred. Kylo tried not to think too hard on that hatred. If Hux loathed the Resistance, he could easily come to hate Kylo, too.

“I wasn’t told any of this,” Hux murmured, almost to himself. “Why would they… I suppose this business isn’t in the holos.”

Kylo huffed. “No, but it was all over the ‘net when it happened. You were, uh, really kept on a tight leash when you were younger.” He forced out: “By the mercs.”

“I must have been, yes,” Hux said, staring at his lap.

Kylo wasn’t sure where to go from there, so he got up and went to the kitchen to warm up some rations for them. Like Ben had once needed time to process the truth, Hux could benefit from at least a few minutes without Kylo’s interference. Once the rations were heated, though, he brought them back to the couch and held one out for Hux to take. Hux did, and perked up.

“Are there still records on the holonet of everything that happened with Organa and the Senate?” he asked.

“Sure,” Kylo replied. “Just about anything you could want. It’s been long enough that hundreds of articles have been written about it. You could read for days.”

Hux picked at the wrinkled green peas on his plate. “I might like to do that.”

Kylo swallowed a mouthful of mashed tubers. “Of course. You’ve got the whole rest of the day.”

“Indeed.” Hux finished about half of his food before abandoning it in favor of his room and his datapad.

Kylo let him go, cleaning up the packages and then going back to the couch. He stretched out across it, content in having told Hux what had been concealed from him by the First Order. He had a right to know what really happened in the galaxy without it being filtered through whatever backwards mechanisms the Order had for conditioning its soldiers.

Without other plans for the day, Kylo brought up the console again and put on another holo—something mindless that he could pay partial attention to while his thoughts wandered to and from Hux.

Dinner came and went, but Hux still hadn’t come out of his room. 1H appeared at around 2030 to inquire about Hux’s wellbeing, and Kylo sent it to him. When the droid returned about a half hour later, he had a positive report and had been told that Master Hux was not hungry and would see Kylo in the morning. Unable to do anything but accept, Kylo bided his time for another few hours, until he could guess Hux would be asleep.

He went into his bedroom for a few minutes, taking the time to brush his teeth, but then snuck back out into the living space. At the far side, he entered the biometrics to get into his hidden conference room. The interfaces around him sprang to life as he slid the data drive Han had given him into the console. One of his mother’s lieutenants appeared in the message.

“Kylo,” she said, “this transmission is encrypted at the highest level and should not be disclosed to any operative other than you, not even other Resistance fighters. This information is critical and meant to be treated with the utmost care.

“Our informants in the First Order have gathered intelligence on a project called Starkiller. We do not know anything more than the name, but we suspect it is an offensive of some kind. The informants have gathered more about it, but it cannot be transferred over the holonet for security reasons. The general is therefore dispatching you to rendezvous with the informants and collect the data. It should be returned to D’Qar only. There are security codes to access our base on-planet included in this data drive. They are only good for four days. The meeting with the informants is set for two cycles from now. Send an acknowledgement when you receive this.”

The recording ended, its light dimming and leaving Kylo in the dark. He scanned the drive for the security codes, memorizing them quickly before he destroyed it. He keyed the location of the meeting with the informants into his datapad, which he could transfer to the Arrow. Two cycles left him time to meet the Resistance operatives who would pick up the blasters, and then to prepare for the job.

He lifted the data drive from the console and set it in the palm of his hand. Using the Force, he raised it until it was hovering a few centimeters in the air. He concentrated on each of its constituent parts; it broke into each of them. He bent them out of shape so that it could not be reconstructed, and then collected the parts to be thrown into the trash compactor.

Tapping a command into the console, he brought up the Resistance’s archives on First Order personnel. Some of the records were likely outdated, having been collected by various informants over the years, but it didn’t necessarily matter if the things Kylo was looking for were current. Hux had given him only that name, and while it could easily be his given name, Kylo didn’t think it was. It could have been a nickname, too, but he disregarded that as well. In the personnel records he typed in the three simple letters and hit the search command.

Kylo had never paid much mind to the small details of the Order, but now, when it was pertinent, he desperately hoped it would yield a result. Within twenty seconds, it did.

Two entries found:

Brendol Hux II, general, commanding officer Stormtrooper Program.

Brendol Hux I, commandant, Arkanis Academy.

There was no accompanying image for either of the entries, but that wasn’t surprising. However, the chances were altogether too low that his Hux was not somehow connected to this General Hux and Commandant Hux. One of them could be his father. It would fit. He would have the power to throw Hux into the Stormtrooper Program and then force his men to kill him.

Kylo say down heavily in the single chair in the room, staring at the records. This arrangement with Hux was just going to get more complicated. A sharpshooter—the son of a member of the high command—and a Force-user who had spent his early life being seduced to the dark side by the very creature that led the First Order. They were a ticking time bomb. There was no way they were going to be able to conceal these secrets forever.

He wanted to send a message to Leia about Snoke, but he would not do so over the holonet. He was going to be on D’Qar in a matter of days anyway. There was no way he could bring Hux with him on this assignment; he would have to stay on the station. He wouldn’t like it, but if Kylo ordered him, he would do it. At least Kylo thought so.

Closing the database, Kylo powered down the console and left the room. In his quarters, he undressed and sat beside the wide viewport on a thin cushion to meditate on the mission and all he had discovered. If Snoke came to him again in dreams, this time Kylo would have the upper hand. He knew who he was now, and that gave him all the more power to deny his demands.

 


 

When Kylo was finished with his workout and shower the next morning, Hux was already in the kitchen, dressed—hair made auburn by the wetness of a fresh wash—and with caf in hand.

“I could get used to this, you know,” Kylo said as he took a sip of the caf. “Waking up to hot caf already made for me.” Waking up to you here.

Hux tossed him a ration bar. “If you continue to sleep late enough, you will.”

“Hey,” Kylo grumbled. “I get up an hour before this to exercise. I’m not that lazy.”

Hux cocked his head. “What sort of exercise?”

“Bodyweight calisthenics, mostly. They taught me a circuit in the hospital when I was recovering as a kid. I’ve stuck to it.” He circled his right wrist, the prosthetic one. “And I don’t cheat and use the arm. It stays behind my back for the pushups.”

“Do you think—” Hux started. “Do you think I might join you? If the ritual is a private one, I won’t intrude, but—”

Kylo held up his left hand, silencing him. “No, it’s fine. We can do them out here.” He eyed Hux’s lean form. “I’ll go easy on you to start.”

Hux pursed his lips disdainfully, and Kylo laughed.

“Okay,” said Kylo. “I won’t go easy on you, I promise.”

He turned to his ration bar, and watched Hux looking out the large viewport that took up nearly the entire living quarters’ planet-facing wall.

“When do the buyers come for their shipment today?” Hux asked.

Kylo glanced at his chronometer. “About an hour from now, I think. I’m going to head down to the hangar and run some coordinates before they get here.” He didn’t outright invite Hux to join him, but the question was there.

“I think I’ll continue reading,” Hux said, “but if you require me, I’ll come.”

“No, it’s fine. I’ll take care of it.” He finished his caf and went to put the mug in the sanitizer, but Hux intercepted him.

“I’ll do that,” he said. “Go to your coordinates.”

Kylo relinquished the mug, noting that their fingers touched as Hux took it. It pinned him to the spot for a few seconds before he regained his composure, shot Hux a smile, and turned on his heel.

The Arrow’s auxiliary power hummed to life as he entered and input the data from the Resistance into the navigational computer. It gave him a readout of the planet Kubindi in the Outer Rim, including latitude and longitude of the exact meeting place. It was a rural trading post between two different deserts: just the kind of place where they wouldn’t be noticed among the general riffraff that passed through.

Despite the computer, Kylo went to the lounge and began to draw up the navigational chart himself. It filled the hour before he got a ping on his comm that an unregistered ship was seeking permission to dock. He requested the Resistance access codes and received them word-for-word. He opened the docking bay door to admit the small skiff.

“Morning,” said Kylo as the four operatives descended the loading ramp. “It’s morning here, anyway.”

A woman whose hair was covered with a vibrant red scarf stepped forward. “You’re Kylo.”

He nodded. “That’s right. It’s a pleasure to meet you…”

“Neeran,” she said. “Do you have the cargo?”

Kylo showed her to where the crates were and called for T4 to load them. Neeran inspected them cursorily before she let the droid take over.

“You do good work for the Resistance,” she said to Kylo, almost grudgingly. “Not everyone likes that you don’t declare yourself for us openly, as the general’s son, but—”

“I am carrying out her orders just as they were given to me,” Kylo said curtly. “I’m loyal, if that’s what you’re questioning.”

She lifted her chin, but conceded, “Yes. I understand the value of your position.”

Kylo was about to say more, but he spotted Hux entering the hangar. He told Neeran, “You’re just a regular buyer. This isn’t a Resistance transaction.”

She looked at Hux and then back at Kylo, lifting a brow, but kept quiet.

“Is everything in order?” Hux asked when he got to Kylo’s side. Kylo saw that there was a bulge at the small of his back, betraying the blaster he carried there.

“It’s fine,” Kylo replied. “We’re just finishing up.”

Neeran held out her hand. “Good doing business with you. You’ve received payment.”

Kylo shook. “Yep. Safe travels.”

With her lieutenants in tow, she boarded her ship and fired up the engines. The wind of their exhaust buffeted Kylo and Hux as they took off and disappeared into the sky.

“Well, that’s done,” said Kylo. “Easy enough.”

Hux hummed an acknowledgement.

Kylo shoved his hands into his trouser pockets, rocking back on his heels aimlessly. “So, ah, do you maybe want to run some flight simulations on the Arrow? You did well yesterday, but the sims are still good practice. There are basic ones to start with.”

“I like a challenge,” Hux said.

Kylo chuckled. “I didn’t say you didn’t. I can turn up the difficulty. You want to give it a shot?”

“Yes.”

True to his word, Kylo set the simulation to a higher level, and Hux did acceptably well. He had a knack for it, Kylo had to admit. They spent a couple of hours at it, Hux in the pilot’s seat while Kylo sat back and watched. He let his mind wander a bit as Hux did the same scenarios over and over, but he did his best to give advice when it was needed.

They broke for lunch at 1300 hours, and ate their rations standing in the kitchen. Hux was still fond of juice, which he drank with every meal. Kylo would have to buy more. Now that the weapons exchange was done, they could feasibly go planetside. As they put their disposable plates into the compactor, Kylo asked if Hux would like to.

 “Yes,” Hux replied. He was clearly excited about it, but kept his composure for the most part.

“Okay, then,” said Kylo. “Let’s go.”

They landed at the public docks in Olmek, and together they went out into the blazing sunshine and heat of the afternoon. Their first stop was the bulk markets, where Kylo bought his rations. He told Hux to pick the meals that he liked; Kylo wasn’t picky and he wanted Hux to have something he wanted to eat. Hux gave each ration packet due consideration before he gave their order to the shopkeeper. When they came to the juice vendors, Kylo bought a pack of every flavor to be brought to the Arrow with the rest of their supplies.

Kylo was in no hurry to get back to the station when they were finished. Instead, he said, “Let’s take a ride,” to Hux as he flagged down a rickshaw. They were pressed tightly against each other in the small seat, but at least it was shaded and there was a little breeze. Hux was sweating, Kylo could see; the back of his shirt collar was damp. Kylo himself was hot, and his shirt was sticking to his back. In a few minutes, though, they’d be inside.

They stopped in front of a long, flat-faced durasteel building. The paint above the door was sunbleached, but one could still make out the words: Kelper’s Firearms. Kylo had never been here—he had never felt the need to go shooting for recreation—but it was the most reputable range in the city. He hopped out of the rickshaw, paid and thanked the driver in broken Etash, and headed for the entrance to the building.

A blast of cool air hit him as he and Hux stepped inside. There was a counter a few paces away, where a Bothan sat with a datapad in her hands. She didn’t even glance up as Kylo placed his hands on the counter and greeted her.

“Thirty credits for an hour on the range,” she said. “If you’re got your own weapons, that is. If you need to rent a blaster, it’s fifty. Two lanes for you, then?”

“Just one, I think,” said Kylo. “I’m taking a lesson.” He winked at Hux, who seemed amused.

The Bothan woman slid a credit chit reader across the counter, her eyes still on her datapad. “Thirty it is.” Kylo scanned his chit and she said, “Lane six. There’s a timer above the targets. If you need more time, just comm me.”

Kylo muttered his thanks. Lane six was about halfway down the line of mostly empty firing lanes. He could hear the zip and hiss of blaster bolts hitting the targets, but there was no chatter of conversation among the shooters. The lane was narrow, but there was enough space for Kylo and Hux to fit inside it together.

Kylo drew his old blaster from the holster on his thigh and wrapped his hand around the grip. “I know you don’t like this one, but it’s what I’ve got. They had a pro shop here, though, where they sell newer models.” He made a face, but said, “If you’re looking for something newer for me, that’s where we’ll find it.”

“You really will purchase something new just because I think you should?” Hux asked.

Kylo shrugged. “If it means I can shoot even half as well as you do, I’m willing to do it.” He rubbed the barrel of his blaster affectionately. “It might be time for this old girl to be retired anyway.”

“That should have been done twenty years ago,” Hux scoffed.

“Yeah, yeah,” said Kylo. “I get that you don’t like it. Are you going to watch me shoot, or what?”

Hux crossed his arms and leaned back against the privacy barrier between their lane and the next one. “Show me your best.”

Kylo decided, vainly, to shoot with his left hand first. He lifted the blaster, bracing the butt against his right palm, and fired his first shot. It landed several inches off of the center of the target, but it wasn’t a poor showing. He pulled the trigger four more times in quick succession, displaying his abilities as best he could. He never hit the bullseye, though, which wounded his pride a bit.

“What do you think?” he asked when he was finished.

Hux replied, “You have acceptable form, I suppose, but you hunch your shoulders instead of bracing your frame. Your speed works to your detriment. You don’t line up your shots carefully enough. Before you consider shooting fast, we should realign your stance completely. And the calibration of that blaster is terrible.”

Kylo blinked at the frank, even scathing assessment. “So, I guess you don’t want me to show you my right-handed shots, huh?”

Hux took a step forward. “If it’s as sloppy as your left side, we’ll have to spend just as much time on that.”

Despite his iciness, Kylo found it amusing how seriously he was taking this. Kylo knew he would never be a master marksman, but it also didn’t matter in his line of work. I bet Hux can’t handle a lightsaber, he thought childishly.

“Okay,” Kylo said. “Show me what I’m doing wrong.”

Hux approached in a no-nonsense manner, taking up a perpendicular stance to the target, shoulders square, back straight, feet planted firmly apart. “You start like this. Hold yourself like you intend to hit something, not so carelessly.”

Kylo did his best to mimic him. Hux turned to look him over and, frowning, reached out to shift the cant of his hips and the angle of his shoulders.

“Stand straight,” Hux ordered. “Lengthen your spine.”

A few of the vertebrae cracked as Kylo did as he was told. Hux put one hand at the small of his back and the other over his stomach.

“Tighten your core,” Hux said, rapping his knuckles against Kylo’s abdominals. Kylo flexed them, pulling them in.

Hux rapped again, seemingly satisfied. “Can you hold that position now?” he asked.

Kylo didn’t feel like he was loose enough to fire under attack, and he said as much.

“You’re not under duress in training,” said Hux. “You have to build this foundation before you can ever attempt a firefight.”

He sounded like a disapproving parent, and Kylo almost laughed. Instead, he said, “Yes, sir.”

Hux sniffed, but didn’t tell him not to address him formally. “We’ll start two-handed. Hold your form and aim carefully. Rush it and you’ll just miss.”

Kylo sighted down the barrel, doing his best to focus as Hux commanded. He exhaled as he pulled the trigger and the bolt flared out and singed a black mark on the second-to-center ring, not much better than he had done before.

“You remembered to breathe,” said Hux. “At least you know that much. It wasn’t bad. I place half the fault on that blaster rather than your form.” From his holster, he drew the smaller, newer blaster he used. “Try this.”

Kylo took it and lined up another shot. This time it landed nearer the center. Hux looked smug.

“Okay, all right,” Kylo grumbled. “My old blaster is garbage. I get it.”

“You’re not a bad shot, Kylo,” Hux said. “You just need instruction. Do you want me to show you?”

Kylo made to hand over the blaster, but Hux picked up his old one and got into the same stance in which Kylo had stood. He also shot left-handed. Five rapid shots were off in the space of a couple of heartbeats, and Kylo went wide-eyed to see that every single one had landed dead center.

Kriff me,” he muttered.

Hux held the old blaster with displeasure, but admitted, “It still has some usefulness, but you need a more accurate weapon for a novice.”

Kylo pouted. “I’m not a novice.”

“A capable novice, then.”

“Not better, Hux.”

They glared at each other for a few seconds before Kylo backed down.

“Show me more.”

As he took up his stance this time, with the newer blaster in hand, Hux stepped up behind him and, pressing against his back, made minute corrections to his position. Kylo could feel the expansion and contraction of his chest as he breathed steadily, exhalations stirring the hair at the back of Kylo’s neck. Unbidden, Kylo began to breathe at the same pace, syncing them up. Hux’s arms were against his, his hands cupping Kylo’s.

“Steady,” he said in his ear. “Think about the shot. Envision it before you ever pull the trigger. Close your eyes and tell me what you want to see.”

“A bolt in the center,” Kylo said. “A burn there, marking that I did well for you.” He nearly flinched. That wasn’t what he had meant to say. He wasn’t doing this to please Hux...was he?

“Mm, yes,” said Hux, low. “You’re doing very well. Now, open your eyes, don’t overthink it, and fire.”

As Kylo cracked his eyes open again, the target came into focus. He didn’t hesitate; he took the shot. A tendril of smoke rose from the bullseye and he barked a triumphant “Ha!”

Hux backed away from him, though his fingertips brushed Kylo’s shoulders. “Very good,” he said. “Now you just have to do it by yourself.”

Kylo looked up at the clock above the target. They still had fifteen minutes left of their time. “Watch me give it another try?” He wouldn’t have minded Hux standing against him again, but he figured it was better to actually do it on his own, as Hux said.

“Go on, then,” Hux bade him.

Kylo never managed to make quite the perfect shot he had, but he did a much better job than he had at the beginning. He even switched to his right hand and tried that. Hux offered a few pointers, but mostly let Kylo get a feel for it himself.

When the clock buzzed, ending their session, he handed over the smaller blaster to Hux to holster again. He slid his own home, but said, “Better go pick something new in the shop.”

It turned out to be a fairly small room off the main range, but the human proprietor was much more engaged than the Bothan at the counter had been. “Good afternoon, gentlemen,” he said. “Welcome to Kelper’s Shop. What are you in the market for today?”

Kylo let Hux take the lead: “A midsize cyclical power pack single-barrel. Something that fires neatly.”

Kelper gave Hux a once-over, clearly not having expected him to be so knowledgeable. “Well, we have a selection. Is it for you, sir?”

“For him,” Hux said, indicating Kylo.

“Ah,” said Kelper. “Then we should have something to suit.” He opened the nearest showcase and drew out four different blasters, each of them shiny with newness. Kylo stepped close to look at them. He could tell the aesthetic differences, but when it came to how they were powered and if they shot “neatly,” he was at a loss.

Hux picked up the first of the blasters and tested its weight in his hands. He put it back down and picked up the next one. Kylo watched him inspect each on carefully before he offered the third one to Kylo.

“Tell me what you think of the shape and weight,” he said.

The grip was smaller than Han’s old blaster, but it fit well in Kylo’s palm, and the whole thing weighed far less. He mimed lining up for a shot while holding it, and, to his slight embarrassment, Hux silently took hold of his shoulders and pushed them down; he touched Kylo’s stomach again, testing the tightness of his abdominals. If Kelper had any comment, he kept it to himself.

“This one suits you,” Hux said, his hand still resting on Kylo’s belly.

“You think?” Kylo asked.

“I do.”

Kylo lowered his arms, and Hux moved back. “I guess this is the one we’ll take, then,” he said to Kelper.

“Very good, sir. I’ll have it wrapped up for you.” He glanced down at Kylo’s holster. “Unless you wish to carry it out.”

Kylo touched the old blaster, not quite ready to let it go yet. “No, wrap it up.”

Kelper handed over a padded and bagged parcel a minute or so later, which Hux took while Kylo paid. It was a hefty six hundred credits, but Kylo didn’t mind; he had the credits to spare. And he had enjoyed himself, with Hux teaching him his trade. Kylo would have loved to see Hux in action with his sniper rifle. He must have been something to behold.

“Do you have targets?” Kylo asked. “I’m setting up a range for us back...home.”

Kelper produced a catalog of collapsible and standing targets, which Kylo handed to Hux.

“Pick what you want for the hangar,” Kylo told him.

Hux flipped through a few pages until he found something acceptable, and pointed it out to Kelper. “Two of these.”

“I have them in storage,” said Kelper. “I can get them for you and have them delivered. Where would you like them sent?”

“Landing pad twelve,” Kylo said. “How long will it take to get them there?”

“An hour at most.”

Kylo nodded. “That’s fine. We’ve got another stop to make before we get off-planet.” To Hux: “Let’s go.”

They caught another rickshaw back into the center of town, and it dropped them off right outside Kylo’s favorite cantina. As soon as Hux recognized it, he grinned.

“Rotisserie Bantha?”

“You got it,” said Kylo.

They sat at the bar again, and Kylo ordered two wraps, a glass of whiskey, and a glass of ice water for Hux.

“Thanks for today,” he said as he took a sip of the liquor. “I had a good time. I’m pretty sure if we keep practicing, you’ll make something of me.”

Hux left fingerprints in the condensation on his glass. “You’re already something, but I can make you even better.”

“No doubt about it.”

Their wraps came, and Hux devoured his. Kylo ate a little more slowly and drank his whiskey. Hux eyed it dubiously, but when Kylo pushed it over to him, he picked it up and took a drink. He swallowed it heavily, but managed not to cough.

“You don’t have to like it,” Kylo said.

“You said that some people don’t drink it for the taste,” said Hux, “but the effect. What does that feel like?”

Kylo took the whiskey back and drank it down. “Everything is a little blurry and you can’t always put your thoughts together clearly. If you have enough your mind can go blank; you’re awake but don’t remember anything. And, like my dad said, it can make you sick.”

Hux laid his hand on the bar, tapping his forefinger against it. “I don’t like losing control of myself, but...perhaps if I don’t have too much, then I will feel the effects without being ill.”

“It’s called being tipsy,” said Kylo. “And yeah, of course you can.” He gestured with his empty glass. “You want a couple of shots of this?”

Hux gave a stiff nod. “All right.”

Kylo flagged down the bartender and ordered four shots of the whiskey, which were set in front of them, the shot glasses so full the surface tension was struggling to keep the liquid from spilling out. Kylo lifted one, showing Hux how it was done, and he followed suit. Together they knocked them back. This time Hux made a face, but held his own. Kylo patted him on the back.

“Wretched,” Hux muttered.

Kylo smiled. “Yeah. Another?”

“Yes.”

Hux took two more shots before Kylo stopped him and told him to let it set in before he continued. Hux obeyed, a look of concentration on his face—reflecting on if he was feeling any different yet.

“Lightheaded at all?” Kylo asked.

“Maybe a little,” Hux replied. “More...blurry. As you said. I think I like it.”

Kylo had kept up with him drink for drink and was feeling it himself. It wasn’t anywhere near his threshold, but he was on the pleasant edge of drunkenness. He chanced leaning closer to Hux and taking a breath. He smelled clean, like the same soap Kylo used. Hux turned to look at him, almost catching him out, and Kylo could see that his pupils were dilated; he looked hazy.

“There you go,” Kylo said quietly. “You feel it now, don’t you?”

“Yes,” said Hux, equally hushed. “It’s like floating.”

Kylo traced the edge of the bar with his left hand, edging closer to Hux’s. “Mmhm. That’s a good place to be. You shouldn’t go much further if you want to keep your wits about you.”

“Maybe one more?” Hux said.

Kylo sucked his lower lip into his mouth. He was tempted, but he wasn’t about to carry Hux back to the Arrow. “Why don’t we go back to the station and have one there?”

Hux was quick to agree. “All right.” He slid off of the barstool, wavering a bit on his feet.

Kylo paid the tab and led the way out of the cantina.

The walk back to the docks went quickly, and they spoke little. Hux kept a brisk pace, leaving Kylo to trail behind him, amused. Kylo knew better than to try and pilot with five shots of whiskey in him, so he activated the assisted piloting when they got aboard and into the cockpit. He and the computer both steered the Arrow out of port and into the atmosphere.

“Will you let me pilot again one day?” Hux asked from the copilot’s seat. “I know I’m not very good yet, but maybe in a few weeks?”

“Sure,” Kylo replied. “We’ll stay in open space before you take her out of the hangar, but you’ll catch on quick, I think. You’re a natural.”

Hux’s smile was lopsided, but he was clearly preening.

Kylo landed the ship back on the station, only hesitating slightly to remember the security codes. As soon as the landing gear touched down, Hux was up and headed for the loading door. Kylo powered down the ship and jogged after him.

“You’re in a hurry,” he said as he caught him up in the passage toward the living quarters.

“I like this feeling,” said Hux. “I want another drink.”

Kylo shook his head, all but trotting beside him. “You go sit down and I’ll get you one.”

As they entered the central space of the station, Kylo detoured to the kitchen to get the bottle of liquor while Hux went to the couch and flopped down heavily onto it. He let his head fall back and spread his arms and legs wide. Kylo poured a generous three fingers into their glasses and carried them out, pressing one into Hux’s outstretched hands.

“Sip this,” he said. “It’s not for shooting.”

Hux paused and took a small drink. “It’s better than the stuff in the cantina.”

“That’s true,” said Kylo. “I buy this special. Enjoy it.” He brought his glass up to tap against Hux’s. “Cheers.”

They both sat back, relaxed and languid: a product of both the alcohol and good company. They didn’t always have to talk, Kylo had discovered. Sometimes it was better to just sit quietly; it was never uncomfortable with Hux. They were halfway done with their whiskey before Hux turned to Kylo and spoke again.

“Am I a burden to you?” he asked. “You operated alone for so long. I can’t imagine you had any real desire for me.”

Kylo frowned. “I didn’t expect you, and it’s going to take some getting used to to have you around, but you’re not a burden.”

“I don’t want to be that,” Hux said. He crossed one leg over the other, bringing him nearer to Kylo where he sat a quarter meter away. “I want to be someone on whom you can rely. I take my service to you seriously. I won’t disappoint you.”

Kylo set his hand in the space between them, toward Hux. “Don’t worry about that. I know you mean what you say. But you’re not my servant.” He wet his lips, hesitant, but continued: “I want you to like working with me. I don’t want you to be unhappy here.”

Hux glanced down at his hand, and for a moment Kylo thought he might cover it with his own, but he didn’t. “I was happy in my life before,” he said slowly. “It gave me purpose, and it was all I had ever known. But I believe I can find that in this life, too.”

“Okay,” said Kylo. “You’ll tell me if you’re not, though, right? Not happy?”

“I will tell you,” Hux said. “I give you my word.”

Lifting his hand from its place on the sofa, Kylo held it out. Hux put his into it, and they shook. Kylo smiled and Hux returned it.

“You want another drink?” Kylo asked.

Hux shook his head. “I think maybe I should retire. If we’re to do calisthenics in the morning, I’d like to feel up to it.”

“Sounds good.” Kylo resisted the urge to touch him in some way. “Sleep well.”

Hux rose and looked down at Kylo. “Goodnight.”

After he had gone, Kylo stayed seated, sighing. He had enjoyed their day together, and was already looking forward to their next one. But he would have to stay on the station while Kylo was off on Resistance business. Kylo regretted that, but he had secrets to keep, for now.

Chapter Text

Pulling the gauze and tape away from his side, Hux revealed the blaster wound. In the mirror in his refresher, he could see that the skin was well on its way to knitting itself back together, and the staples had already begun to dissolve. He hadn’t applied the bacta the droid 1H had given him, but that hadn’t seemed to hinder the healing process. It only meant that the tissue would scar in a shock of white. It was smooth, but clearly visible.

Testing his range of motion, he twisted his torso to the left and right. The staples pulled just slightly, but there was no pain. He didn’t bother to cover the wound again, instead pulling on a white t-shirt and padding barefoot through his quarters to the door.

“Stars above!” Kylo cried as it slid open to reveal him standing just outside, one hand poised to knock. Hux tensed, raising his fists to defend himself. Kylo fell back a step, out of range of a strike. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Hux, relaxing, opened his hands and lowered them. “I could have hit you.”

“Yeah,” said Kylo, rubbing the back of his neck. His hair was pulled up into a tail. “It would have hurt. I’m not really in the market for a black eye or a split lip.” He cocked a brow. “Which would you have given me?”

Hux frowned, but when Kylo’s lips curled up in a barely hidden smile, he realized he was teasing him. “Lip,” he said. “Your mouth is a larger target.”

“I don’t know whether that’s meant to be an insult or a compliment,” Kylo said.

Hux gave his lips a pointed look. “Which do you prefer?”

Kylo chuckled. “Compliment, of course. I like to pretend everyone thinks I’m good-looking.”

“You are,” said Hux. It was foolish to imagine that Kylo didn’t know that.

Kylo trained his gaze on Hux. “You mean that.” He stated it, but there was a questioning inflection.

Hux gave a mute nod, the space around them feeling thick and full of static charge. Kylo was just across the threshold, and with a half step Hux could be in his space. They could forgo their training session in favor of something far more pleasurable. All Hux had to do was take him by the hand and lead him back into his quarters, to the bed. He was on the cusp of doing so when Kylo cleared his throat.

“You’re a regular flatterer,” he said jokingly. “I have a mirror.” He huffed. “Come on, let’s go work out.”

Together they went into the living quarters and onto the bit of floor in front of the viewport. There were clouds covering Ryden 2’s sky where the station overlooked it; occasional flashes of lightning tore through them. Kylo lay flat on the durasteel floor, explaining that he began with exercises to strengthen his back, simply staying on his stomach and lifting his arms and legs for several seconds at a time. Hux had no trouble keeping up with him for those, and then for the pushups. True to his word, Kylo did most of them one-handed, though he made sure to do a few with both arms to balance out the musculature of his shoulders. Hux’s were burning by the time they finished their repetitions.

Kylo gave occasional instructions, but Hux followed him without much trouble. As they stretched at the end of the hour, Kylo said, “You did good. You can join me every morning, if you want.”

Hux unfolded himself from over his legs. “I’d like that. Perhaps you’ll spend some time with me in the hangar practicing shooting?”

“Not today.” Kylo got gracefully to his feet and held out his hand for Hux to take. “I’ve got a job to do.”

Hux caught the singular, and frowned. “You aren’t taking me along.”

Kylo looked a little sheepish. “I’m sorry, but no. This is something I have to do on my own.” He rubbed his hands together, chewing his lower lip. “I’ll be gone a couple of days.”

“Oh,” said Hux. He hadn’t expected to be left behind so soon, and certainly not for so long. “I understand. I’m sure I can keep myself busy here.” He expected he could explore the rest of the station, if access wasn’t restricted, and he could shoot, but that filled only a few hours. He would be trapped here with nowhere to go for days.

There was always reading, which he had done a great deal of since Kylo had told him about Leia Organa’s ejection from the Senate. He had gone through article after article, trying to understand how the daughter of the great Darth Vader could have fallen so far as to lead the Rebellion against him and the Emperor. There were numerous condemnations of her loyalties, some even branded her a traitor to the New Republic, an Imperial plant. But she was far from that. She been outspoken against the First Order from the beginning, calling them an Imperial cult which could endanger galactic peace. And she had founded what amounted to a new rebellion: the Resistance.

Hux had not forgotten about Han Solo, either. He and Organa had had an infamous love affair over the course of the Rebellion and in its aftermath, Hux had discovered, but as Organa had taken on a greater role in the Senate, Solo had left her to it and disappeared to do his own work. If he was still in the business of transport, that was what Hux guessed he had returned to.

Kylo’s origins, however, remained a mystery. Hux knew he was twenty-nine years old, which made him old enough to have been born in the early years of the New Republic, several years after Hux himself. By all accounts, Han Solo was still tangled up with Leia Organa at that time, which didn’t rule out the birth of a child. There was a not-so-distant possibility that Kylo was the son of the First Order’s greatest adversary, and Hux was at a loss as to what to do with that information.

“You want some caf?” Kylo asked. “Or would you rather shower first?”

“Water,” Hux replied. “And then caf.”

In the kitchen, Kylo filled a glass. Hux drained it, the coolness welcome; he had sweated a great deal during their workout. Kylo busied himself with the caf machine while Hux leaned against the counter and sipped at a second glass of water.

“When are you leaving?” Hux said as he accepted a mug a few minutes later.

Kylo sprang up onto the counter, legs spread as he sat at its edge. “After I get cleaned up. It’s not too long a trip, at least not the first leg.” He didn’t offer details, and Hux didn’t ask for them.

“Is there anything I can help you prepare?” he asked. “Rations?”

“If you want to bring a few aboard, you can,” Kylo replied. “You pick them. I don’t care much. And you’ve got more than enough to keep you fed while I’m gone.”

Hux nodded. “I have.”

Kicking out his foot, Kylo tapped his toes against Hux’s thigh. “I wish I could take you. I would if I could, but this is something personal and, well, sensitive.” He appeared genuinely contrite. “I didn’t take you on just to leave you around here to kill time. As soon as I get back, we’ll have some more jobs we can run together.”

“I understand,” said Hux. “I will do as you say.”

Kylo bumped his thigh again. “You’re allowed to be unhappy about it.”

Hux traced the handle of his mug with his thumb. He wasn’t quite comfortable admitting this, but he said it anyway: “I’ve never been alone outside of a sniper’s nest. And even then I was in constant contact with my team. I’ve not been on my own before.”

“Oh,” Kylo said, an echo of Hux from a few minutes earlier. Setting his mug to the side, he jumped down from the counter, bringing him closer to Hux. He was still sweat-damp and Hux caught the scent of musk. “I don’t mean to leave you lonely. I can send you holo messages, if you want me to. I’ll show you how to record them on the console, too, so you can send them to me. I won’t be able to get them in hyperspace, but when I come out…”

Hux blinked at him. “You shouldn’t take time out of your work.”

Kylo waved him off. “I’m just sitting around when I’m in hyperspace anyway. I have some old stories I could tell you. If you care about those.”

Hux’s mug was acting as the only barrier between them, and he wanted to put it down and touch Kylo’s chest, his neck, his face. He did care about Kylo’s stories, and his offer of sending messages was a characteristically kind one. If Hux couldn’t go along with him, having those to look forward to while he was gone seemed a fair enough compromise.

“I don’t have as many stories,” Hux said. “But I’ll listen to yours.”

Kylo rubbed his chin. “I don’t know, you’ve got to have some good ones. Or you could just find a book and read it to me.”

Hux’s brows rose. Long ago, in his bedroom on Arkanis, his nurse had read him children’s books. It had soothed him to sleep, and he had loved that nurse more dearly than anyone else in the house for the hours she spent spinning those stories for him.

“I...could do that,” he said haltingly. “Though I don’t know if I’d be good at it.”

“With your voice?” Kylo said. “Of course you would. Pick something you like and just record a couple of chapters. I can listen to them while I’m in hyperspace.”

Hux’s “All right” was quiet, almost meek. “If you’d like that.” He nearly dropped his mug as Kylo chucked him under the chin with his cool, metal fingers and said, “I would.”

The touch was gone as quickly as it had come, and Kylo was reaching into the cabinet for ration bars. He gave one to Hux, but took his own to go. “I’m going to shower, then I can show you the console.” He jogged out of the kitchen, humming something tunelessly.

Hux braced himself on the counter after he had gone, finishing his caf as he tried to make sense of Kylo’s gesture. It seemed perfectly careless, but anything like it among troopers would have been affectionate—if not somewhat condescending. But it hadn’t felt either way; it was another part of Kylo’s good nature rather than what Hux wanted it to be.

Touch me again.

Hux breathed in deeply through his nose, staring at the durasteel overhead. He drank down the last of his caf and saw both his and Kylo’s mugs into the sterilizer. Uninterested in eating, he put the ration bar back in the cabinet and went to his refresher to clean up.

He still wasn’t completely used to the luxury of a hot shower, and was tempted to turn down the temperature, but Kylo had told him he was welcome to all the water he wanted. He left his exercise clothing in a puddle on the floor and slipped into the spray, turning his face up into it with a deep, satisfied sigh. The privacy of his own refresher was even more of a indulgence than the hot water. He had been in gang sonics since the age of six, and shared barracks just as long. Solitude in the station was something he might enjoy, but he was more apprehensive about it than anything.

He had been hoping to spend more time exercising with Kylo. It was good for him, but had also given him the opportunity to watch him move. For a man of his size, the flow of his motions had been strikingly smooth and lithe. He had been wearing only a thin tank top, affording Hux a view of the interplay of muscles in his arms and back—well, one arm, anyway. He went through his routine with an ease that Hux hadn’t matched. Maybe he would manage to get better with time, but he had also been so interested in Kylo that he hadn’t necessarily given all of his attention to the exercises.

Hux’s cock stirred as he stood thinking of him in the shower. Years of shared sleeping spaces had discouraged him from touching himself, though he hadn’t always been able to resist, especially as a teenager in the early days of his firearms training. The thrill of a good shot combined with the noises of his bunkmates fumbling through unpracticed sex had left him desperate enough to get himself off hurriedly under the blankets. He hadn’t done it, though, in months. He thought himself no worse for it, but he had never had someone who affected him as Kylo did in such close proximity.

Tentatively, he took his cock in hand and began to stroke himself to hardness. It took embarrassingly little time, with the memories of Kylo’s elegance as he exercised at the forefront of his mind. He recalled their brief kiss, too: the softness of Kylo’s lips and the warm slide of his tongue. Hux had fit so well in his lap, his legs around his waist and arms circling his neck. Hux hadn’t expected to want him so fiercely, but he had, and he still did.

Pressing the flat of one hand against the durasteel of the refresher wall, he leaned into it, continuing to work his cock. Pleasure was already building to the rhythm of the wet slap of his fist against his skin. He looked down to watch as he did it, seeing the tip appear and disappear as his fingers moved over it. Kylo’s fingers were thicker than his, and his palms broader. Hux wasn’t a small man, but he could imagine Kylo’s grip on his cock would be enveloping. He pressed his lips together, picturing just that: Kylo’s left hand around him, stroking powerfully while he held Hux to him with his silver right arm.

They would be pressed together in the shower after their exercises, bodies soap-slick and heated under the water. Hux had asked Kylo to come into the shower with him before, but had been refused. Days ago he might have been lost and clumsy in his explorations. Now he would be more sure, more determined to discover how Kylo liked to be touched. Hux could take his cock in his hands, but so too could he kneel on the hard floor of the cubicle and put his mouth around him. The troopers in his barracks had spent hours discussing the best techniques to take a man deep into the throat and to use hands and tongue in tandem to please him. Hux hadn’t seen a demonstration, but the descriptions had been vivid enough to give him an understanding of what worked best.

Hux rubbed his tongue against the top of his mouth before opening it to pretend that Kylo was inside. Maybe he would taste of the same muskiness Hux had smelled on him in the kitchen, a scent he had been more drawn to than repulsed by. He could kiss Kylo’s neck, even taste the salt of his sweat. Given the chance, he would touch every available place, from his hair—dark, and soft, if he remembered right—to the rounded ridges of his hip bones. He would go lower, then, to the hair that was equally soft, but curly.

Hux groaned, stroking himself faster now as the water cascaded over his head; droplets hung from his parted lips and from his chin. There was more, too, that they could do. Hux had once dared to wet his fingers with saliva and put one, and then two, inside himself. It had felt strange at first—invasive—but then better. He had been lying on his side in his bunk long after lights out, hands occupied in pleasuring himself as he never had before. That climax had been more intense than any he remembered, and he had made a complete mess of his sheets without a care. He had been told again and again by other troopers that a man’s cock felt even better than his own fingers, but he had never found anyone he would deign to let touch him in such a way.

But now there was Kylo. Hux liked to think that he had a good cock, at least one that would fill him the way the others had said they could. Reaching back now, Hux teased his entrance, easing the tip of his finger in. He could imagine it was Kylo’s, that he was standing behind him with his eyes on that finger penetrating him. There would be more after it, until Hux was stretched enough to take him.

“Are you ready?”

“Yes. Go on.”

And Kylo would take him, carefully at first—he was too kind to be rough—but then harder when Hux asked. And he would, he thought. He wanted Kylo to push him against this very wall and have him until they were both crying out.

Hux pressed a second finger into himself and shuddered, hitting just the right place. He could tell Kylo where that was, and Kylo would see to it. Hux was reaching his peak as he envisioned all of this, of ceding all control of his body to someone else—no, to Kylo.

Touch me again.

Hux came with a long moan, his release spattering the wall only to be washed away seconds later. Knees shaky, he sat on the floor, his legs extended in the generous space. He hadn’t wanted any of this seven days ago; but in just that time, everything had shifted into Kylo’s orbit. Hux was being was drawn to him in steady increments that he feared would only grow until they collided.

 


 

“It starts when you press this button.” Kylo hit it and the console on the table lit up with a message that read “RECORDING.” He was sitting next to Hux on the couch, both of them bent over the console as Kylo taught him to use it for holo messages. The process was simple enough, and Kylo had programmed the console to recognize Hux’s biometrics. He had only to choose a book to read and start recording the messages.

“That’s all you need to do,” Kylo said, cutting off the recording. He sat back, bouncing on the couch cushions and jostling Hux. “What are you going to read me first? Nothing about the Rebellion, okay? I know all that stuff.”

“Something else, then,” said Hux. He would have to decide later; his datapad was still on the bedside table in his quarters. After he had left the refresher, he had toweled his hair dry and dressed as if he was going out rather than remaining on the station. He even put on his boots.

Kylo didn’t really need any rations transferred to the Arrow. He already had everything aboard, and had since their trip planetside yesterday. Putting that aside, Hux went to the viewport and looked out over Ryden 2. The storms of the morning had passed, and the land masses and blue oceans were visible. He wondered if the water was more hospitable somewhere on the planet, rather than the dangerous water on Nati 5. Maybe he could go swimming there someday, if Kylo would take him.

His discontent with being left behind was increasing until it bordered on anger. He didn’t have any right to object to Kylo having a personal errand to run, but he just didn’t want to be abandoned. Surely he could fly with Kylo to the destination and then remain aboard the Arrow instead of going with him. He considered asking him, but he had already been given his directions, and didn’t want to whine about them like a child. Moving one foot back and shifting his weight into it, he crossed his arms over his chest.

There was always the prospect of stowing away. He hadn’t really considered it seriously, but all he would need was to hide until Kylo got far enough away from Ryden that he wouldn’t turn back. Then Hux could reveal himself—likely to Kylo’s intense displeasure. He didn’t want to make Kylo hate him, which something so reckless might cause. Kylo could throw him out on his ass with nothing to show for it. Hux didn’t think he would, but testing Kylo’s goodwill wasn’t altogether wise. No, it would be stupid of him to steal onto the Arrow. He would stay on the station and read his book like he was told.

“You look like you’re thinking hard on something,” Kylo said, coming up beside him. “Pensive. What’s on your mind?”

“Nothing,” Hux replied. “Just looking.”

Kylo mimicked his pose. “It’s a nice planet. Got a little of everything. You ever miss Arkanis?”

“I hardly knew it. I spent more time on starships than planetside.” Hux glanced at him. “You never told me where you were born.”

Kylo sucked his teeth. “No, I didn’t.”

Ah, that was the way of it, then. Hux said nothing else.

“Chandrila,” Kylo said. “In the Core.”

Hux had never been to the Core worlds before. They were the center of the galaxy both physically and in terms of culture and wealth. Chandrila was the seat of the New Republic, Leia Organa’s domain, and maybe that of her lover, Han Solo.

“Did you like it there?” Hux asked.

Kylo replied with Hux’s own words: “I hardly knew it. I spent most of my childhood with my uncle. He lived...elsewhere.”

“But I thought you grew up with your father,” Hux said. “You learned his trade.”

Kylo held up his right arm. “Not until after the accident. But I lived with Dad from sixteen on.”

“And what does your uncle do?”

“He was a teacher. I was one of his students at a kind of private academy.” One corner of his mouth turned up in a half-hearted smile. “It wasn’t a bad place to grow up. I liked it, once upon a time. But I’m glad I took after Han. It’s a better life.”

“He seems like a good man,” said Hux.

Kylo laughed. “Oh, he’s not, trust me.”

“What does that make you?” Hux asked slyly.

Kylo shot him a look. “A no-good swindler to some, but mostly just a decent transporter. I don’t have Dad’s reputation.”

Or his history with the Rebellion.

Kylo had offered to show him the console then, and they had gone over together. As they sat there now, Kylo said, “Well, I had better do the last-minute flight checks before I get going. You want to come down and see?”

“All right.”

They went to the hangar and into the cockpit of the Arrow. Kylo carried a duffel of his clothing for the trip, but Hux was empty-handed. They sat in their appointed places and Kylo walked Hux through a series of preflight procedures, including bringing up a navigational chart. It showed an Outer Rim planet called Kubindi and a certain location on the globe where Kylo would presumably be landing. Hux knew nothing about it.

“Okay,” Kylo said, putting the final coordinates into the computer. “That’s it. I’m ready to go. You want me to walk back with you?”

“No,” said Hux. “Don’t bother. I’ll see myself off.” He rose. “When should I expect my first holo message?”

Kylo grinned. “I’ll surprise you.”

“Very well. Have a safe trip, Kylo.” Hux left him there, making his way into the belly of the ship toward the loading door. He was just reaching it when he spotted an open panel in the cargo hold. It was easily six feet high and five feet wide, perfect for hiding illicit cargo. Or someone about Hux’s size.

Oh, it was a very stupid idea. He had no clothing packed and express instructions to stay on the station. Every year of training in the First Order demanded he follow his orders, but he was already across the hold and slipping into the nook. He was able to drag the panel over, and hoped it wasn’t locked from the outside. He was seated against the bulkhead, his knees pulled up to his chest, when the engines fired up and the Arrow flew out into open space.

 


 

Hux had no chronometer, and unable to tell the time, he simply sat in the hold in a kind of half-meditation, which he sometimes used when he was scouting a target. It was his alternative to sleep. He considered the fallout of this, too, while he waited. He should have been more worried about it, he reasoned, than he actually was. He couldn’t decide if that boded well or ill.

It wasn’t highly perceptible, but Hux felt a certain shift in the Arrow’s propulsion when it slowed. Hours had passed, surely, but how many, he didn’t know. With trepidation, he slid the panel out of his way and crept out of the hidden compartment. He stretched, rolling his shoulders and cracking the vertebrae in his neck. He could wait until Kylo came down to the hold, or go up into the living quarters and just get it over with. Fisting his hands, he decided on going up, and forced himself to start toward the fore of the ship.

Presumably, Kylo was in the cockpit, but Hux didn’t want to startle him there. Instead, he stopped in the center of the lounge and stood waiting. The Arrow shuddered slightly as it landed and the engines began to spool down. Hux braced himself as he heard brisk, heavy footfalls. Seconds later, Kylo appeared, head bent as he looked over a datapad.

“Kylo,” Hux said.

He skidded to a stop a few paces away, looking sharply up. “Hux?”

“Yes.”

The surprise faded, replaced by the expected ire. “What in the kriff are you doing here?” He stormed close, latching onto Hux’s arm and backing him against the bulkhead. “You can’t be here.”

“I know I shouldn’t have come,” Hux said, “but—”

“You knew and you still did,” Kylo snarled. He shook Hux slightly, but without the intention to hurt him. “Damn it all, Hux, why didn’t you just listen to me? You can’t...you can’t know this part of me.”

Hux asked, “Why?”

“Because it’s private . I told you that.” He pinched his eyes shut for a moment, but then said, “Having you here could get both of us killed. The kind of people I have to deal with take these transactions seriously: life and death. If I mess this up, it could ruin years of planning.”

“I...I’m sorry. It was wrong of me.”

Kylo backed away, letting Hux free of his iron grip. “Yes, it was, but you’re here now. What am I going to do with you?”

Hux rubbed his palms on his thighs, a rare show of uncertainty. “I’ll stay aboard the ship. Let you do your business without hindering you.”

“I can’t do that,” Kylo said. “I don’t know how long this is going to take, and...I could use your sharp eyes. But you can’t be part of the deal. You’ll have to stay by the door.” He gave him a warning look. “Will you do as you’re told this time?”

“Yes,” said Hux, contrite. “Should I be armed?”

Kylo tapped the handle of his own blaster—the new one, Hux saw—and gave a short nod. “I don’t know exactly what we’re walking into here, so yes.” He pushed past Hux, heading for the arms safe. Hux caught sight of an unusual cylindrical object fastened to the back of his belt. He had never seen anything like it before, and wondered if that had something to do with the deal Kylo was making.

Hux armed himself, slipping his blaster into its holster. “Do we need to go?” he asked.

“Yeah, we should. Just stay quiet, okay?”

“I’ll be silent,” Hux promised. “Follow your lead. No shooting anyone without permission.”

Kylo’s solemnity cracked for a short laugh. “Better not. Come on, let’s go.”

Leaving the Arrow put them in the middle of a desert, where grit was carried on the wind. There was an outpost about fifty feet away, the corrugated durasteel of the buildings weathered and sand-swept. Hux’s boots sank an inch into that sand as he and Kylo walked toward the outpost.

The interior was dingy, dark, and smelled of animal sweat. A few figures were scattered around, but none of them looked up when Kylo and Hux entered. However, Kylo seemed to know where he was going. There were three humans sitting in a back corner by a makeshift bar, and all of them wore red bands on their left arms, over their clothing. Hux hadn’t noted it before, but Kylo had a piece of red fabric hanging from his belt beside the blaster. Some kind of signal, then.

“Stay here,” Kylo muttered, pointing to a stool near the door. Hux went to it and sat, watching as Kylo sat at the table. He conversed with the other humans, but Hux turned his attention to the other creatures in the building. They kept mostly to themselves, some drinking while others sat in conference or played dice.

There was a digital chronometer on the far wall, and Hux counted the minutes: ten, twenty, twenty-five. He guessed he would be waiting for a while yet, and was about to settle in when he began to see eyes turning toward Kylo’s back table. It was undue attention, impossible to miss. Hux scanned the room and did not like the way hands were straying to where weapons could be hidden. There was tension in the air that Hux recognized. Though he had been warned to stay by the door, he slipped off his stool and went to Kylo’s table. All the humans looked suspiciously up at him.

“Hux,” said Kylo, low. “What are you doing here?”

“We’re going to be attacked,” he whispered. “And soon.” Kylo moved to look, but Hux landed a hand on his shoulder. “Keep your eyes down. We need to go.”

“Who are they?” one of the others asked. “We were discreet getting here.”

“Hired muscle,” said Hux. “Mercenaries.”

“How could they have found out?” said the woman of the group. She looked to be no more than eighteen.

“It doesn’t matter,” Kylo said. “We need to get you off-planet as soon as possible.” He shot Hux a glance. “How much time do we have?”

“Minutes, at most,” Hux replied. “If we get up together, though, they’ll come for us. Do the others have blasters?”

“No.”

“Then we have to cut a path to the door, just you and me.”

Kylo reached around to his back, where the cylinder was clipped. “Let me go first. You just cover me.”

“All right,” Hux said. “As soon as you stand—”

“I know. Stay with me.” With the cylinder in hand, he pushed Hux away from him as he stood up. Everything happened in a flash, then: the mercenaries drew their weapons, as did Hux, and a blade of red plasma shot out from the weapon in Kylo’s hands. He charged toward the bar, where a gaggle of mercs were advancing. In an instant, they were cut down, wounds steaming from cauterization.

Hux was, for a few seconds, completely enraptured. He had only ever heard legends of such weapons, of lightsabers, the laser swords of the Jedi. And here was Kylo, a smuggler of middling repute, wielding one with fearsome precision. The blade sliced through bone and flesh, but also the durasteel of the blasters the mercs carried, without any resistance. It was the most deadly, awesome weapon Hux had ever laid eyes on.

With considerable effort, Hux tore his attention away from Kylo to start shooting, hitting several mercs in quick succession, incapacitating them, but not killing. Kylo wasn’t so careful. With the lightsaber, he cut a swath through the building to the door. Hux stayed at his six o’clock, firing freely at any being that came too close to Kylo. He watched in fascination as Kylo deflected blaster bolts with his saber as if they were no more than flies to swat. Each bolt exploded in a spray of sparks as it hit the blade.

Hux shot by rote, his gaze darting easily between targets. The mercs were sloppy in the face of Kylo, who was admittedly terrifying in his merciless battle rage. Hux was struck dumb once again as Kylo transferred the lightsaber to his right hand and extended his left toward the door. The two mercs in his path went flying back at least three feet and struck the wall with a resonant clang. The door beside them seemed to open of its own accord, and Kylo shoved the three other humans through it to safety. His face was contorted in fury and red with the glow of the saber. Hux would never have expected such furor from the easy-to-laugh Kylo he thought he knew.

“Get out,” Kylo ordered.

Hux went to duck past him, but was nearly intercepted by one of the last mercs standing. The woman froze a pace away from him, her whole body rigid. She wrapped her hands around her throat, scrabbling at it.

“Who do you work for?” Kylo demanded. He still had his left arm extended, holding her up from four paces.

She gurgled something incomprensible, and then gasped as the pressure on her throat was presumably released.

Kylo repeated the question: “Who do you work for?”

“I don’t know,” the woman said, voice broken. “We were hired through an agent. Just supposed to kill the three.” Her eyes were wide with terror. “They didn’t say anything about you.”

Seemingly disgusted with that answer, Kylo, with a flick of his wrist, threw her aside, knocking her unconscious. To Hux: “What are you waiting for? Get out.

This time Hux obeyed without question, dashing back out into the sand and wind. The three other humans were cowering a few feet away. Hux went to them, training his blaster on the door; but he didn’t think any other mercenaries were coming out. He steadied his breathing and his heart rate, as he had been trained to do, all the while waiting for Kylo to appear. He did, after another minute or two.

He looked completely in order, and his lightsaber—powered down to just an innocuous-looking hilt—was in his right hand. He made his way in measured steps across the sand to where Hux’s bedraggled group was gathered. He looked past Hux, though, to the others.

“You’re compromised,” he said. “You have to get to a safehouse and lie low until you get the all-clear. You have an unregistered shuttle?”

The woman nodded. “We’ll destroy it after we get the safehouse.”

“Good. I’ll send word that you should be picked up.” Kylo clipped the saber back onto his belt. “Stay safe.”

They mumbled acknowledgements and scampered away toward the opposite side of the compound, leaving Hux to stare at Kylo’s profile in uncomprehending awe. He had a hundred questions, the answers to which he was almost afraid to hear. Kylo was like some creature out of time: a warrior for the Old Republic in a world where they were extinct.

“Are they all dead?” Hux asked.

“Not all,” Kylo replied coolly. “The survivors can see to their dead and get back to whatever garbage heap they came from to tell their employers they failed.” He turned to Hux, expression hard. “We’ll get off-planet.”

Hux fell into step with him, unspeaking as they made their way back to the Arrow. Once aboard, they went straight to the cockpit, and Kylo fired up the engines. They took off without preamble, Kylo completely focused on his task until they broke atmo. He typed a command into the console, and another world appeared in holographic display. The name read D’Qar.

When the stars blurred as they entered hyperspace, Kylo released the yoke and said, “I need a drink. To Hux: “Come have one with me.”

In the lounge, he pulled out the same green liquor Han had served them and popped the cork out with his teeth. The glasses he poured were not small. He pressed one into Hux’s hands and took a slow seat on the couch. Hux chose one of the chairs across from him. He considered staying silent and just drinking until he was feeling less tense, but decided against it. He had to know.

“You have the Force,” he said, measured. “That’s what it was, wasn’t it? What you did to that woman. I’ve not seen anyone do that. It’s not natural.”

Kylo snorted, swirling his drink around in his glass. “No, it’s not.”

“And,” Hux continued, “the weapon.”

“The only thing I saved after I left my uncle’s school,” said Kylo. “I built it myself when I was twelve.”

Hux tried to fight the disbelief as he asked, “Are you a Jedi?”

Kylo’s laugh had sharp edges. “No. My uncle, my parents...they all wanted me to be, but after this”—he held up his prosthetic—“I had to let it go.”

“Your family,” Hux said. “Your father was a Rebellion general. Your mother...one, too?”

“I should have known you’d figure it out,” Kylo sighed. “You’re smart, and I should never have introduced you to Han.”

Hux took a steadying sip of his drink, making himself say it: “Leia Organa is your mother. And your uncle, Luke Skywalker.”

“Yes,” Kylo said, sounding resigned. “That’s them.”

Kriff me,” Hux muttered, leaning against the backrest of the chair. He hadn’t wanted to believe it, really. He had hoped Kylo was no one. Hux moistened his lips, hesitant. “Are you part of it? The Resistance?”

Kylo set his glass down, looking hard at him. “What if I was?”

Kill him. That was the standard answer for any stormtrooper. But Hux was supposed to be a mercenary, no better than those on Kubindi. He was preparing a flat answer, another lie, but before he could speak, Kylo said, “What does a First Order sniper have to say to that?”

Hux felt as if he had been struck across the face: stinging astonishment colored with betrayal. Kylo knew. He knew and he had played along with Hux’s lies, maybe even encouraged them. And he had the audacity to look perfectly relaxed about it.

“How?” Hux demanded. “How did you find out?”

Kylo blinked owlishly at him. “I have a certain skill that lets me explore someone’s memories. I looked into yours.”

Another strike, this one charged with fury. “You used your Force tricks.”

“What did you expect me to do?” Kylo asked, still calm. “I wasn’t about to take some stranger in tactical armor aboard my ship without knowing something about him.”

Hux was rapidly trying to make sense of all of this. Fumbling, he said, “Are you? Are you Resistance?”

Kylo replied directly, “Yes.”

Hux’s world inverted. All along Kylo had known his loyalties—which were completely at odds with his own—and yet he hadn’t turned Hux out, or killed him, when he easily could have. He had kept him on, treated him fairly, kindly.

“You might have let me die in the alley,” Hux said. “If you knew what I was.”

“I didn’t,” said Kylo. “Not yet. And even if I had, nobody deserves that death. It was an execution, you said, by your father—by proxy. Is he General Hux?”

Hux shook his head. “My brother. My father is a commandant, one of the earliest founders of the Order. My family is old Imperial blood.”

Kylo pursed his lips. “You’re the finest the First Order has to offer.”

Hux ran his tongue along the back of his teeth. “What will you do with me, now?”

“I don’t know,” Kylo said. “I didn’t really think this far ahead. I had hoped I wouldn’t have to tell you.”

Hux scowled indignantly. “You thought I was blind enough to not see who your father was, and not suspect your mother? I’m not a fool, Kylo. If that’s even what you’re really called.”

Kylo rubbed his flesh-and-blood hand over his face. “I’ve gone by Kylo for years, but it’s really Ben. Ben Solo.”

Hux pushed a hand through his own hair, still struggling to grasp everything being thrown at him. “Why would you bother to tell me that? We’re all but adversaries and you’re trusting me with this knowledge? I don’t understand.”

“I don’t think you’re a fool,” Kylo said, leaning on his knees. “I guess I was the blind one, thinking I could keep it from you. And I maybe I shouldn’t tell you any of this, but it’s better.” He opened his hands. “You know I can’t let you leave, now. You know too much. I’m supposed to be a covert operative. You could destroy that with a word to the First Order.”

“I didn’t lie when I said I can’t go back,” said Hux. “I’m a deserter. They would put me to death.” He held Kylo’s gaze. “And I still owe you my life.”

Kylo stared at him, seemingly bewildered. “You hate everything I stand for. You probably hate me. If not for being Resistance, then for lying to you like you couldn’t figure it out.”

Hux was disconcerted, yes, and had been taught to hate the Resistance, but he didn’t hate Kylo, and he said as much. “I don’t. You were—are—better to me than I deserve, and all the while you knew what I was. I will pay my debt to you.”

“You will,” Kylo said, “but you don’t have to be involved with this work for my mother. You can stay out of it, I wouldn’t blame you. Just let me do it and we’ll work the rest of my jobs. I have more of them, anyway.”

“You don’t really think it’s possible to keep that part of your life from me, do you?” Hux asked. “I’m in it now, and I can’t get out again. Let me come with you. I won’t betray you. I can have no contact with the Order again.” It was the utmost betrayal of family and creed, but he belonged to Kylo now and he would learn to accept his loyalties.

Kylo scooted forward to the edge of the couch, until he could lay his hand on Hux’s knee. “You’re something, you know that? You confuse the hell out of me, but I’ve never known anybody like you.”

Hux covered his hand with his own. He said, in earnest, “Nor I you.”

They kept their eyes on each other for a long moment, in contact but unmoving. What needed to be said already had been. This was their truce.

“Well, Hux—”

“It’s Armitage,” Hux said. “My given name. I haven’t used it since I was six years old, but that’s it.”

“Armitage Hux,” said Kylo. “I like it. Do you want me to call you that?”

Stars, no. Just Hux will do.” He cocked a brow. “Ben.”

Kylo made a face. “Absolutely not.”

Despite himself and this bizarre situation, Hux huffed a laugh. “As you say.”

Moving away from him, Kylo picked up his glass again and drained it. “What I was going to say was that I’m about to throw you into the snake pit. We’re going to D’Qar, where the Resistance is based.”

Hux forced himself not to clench his jaw. “I see.”

“It’s going to be complicated with you,” Kylo said.

“I can stay aboard the ship,” Hux offered. “I probably shouldn’t make a nuisance of myself, or cause trouble.”

“For two days?” Kylo asked. “I don’t think so. You’ll have to come. But I, ah, don’t know how my mother’s going to take to you. She wasn’t so keen when I first told her.”

Hux nearly choked on his liquor. “You told her about me?”

“Mmhm. Back when I first found you. I thought maybe you had some information the Resistance could use.” He averted his eyes. “That was the first thing I thought of. Sorry.”

“I don’t blame you,” Hux said. “Why didn’t you take me to her?”

“She didn’t think you would know enough. You were just a trooper. But”—he bit his lower lip—“you’re not. Your father, and your brother…”

Hux thumbed the rim of his glass. “I haven’t seen or spoken to either of them in twenty-eight years. Your mother was right. I don’t know much about high command.”

Kylo rubbed his palms together. “I understand. That might actually make her like you a little better. Maybe she won’t be as tempted to throw you in the brig.”

“I’m going to be a prisoner,” Hux said. He might have thought as much.

“No,” Kylo said. “No, I’ll make sure you’re not. You’re with me. Nobody’s going to do that to you.”

“I’ll just follow your lead, then.” Hux drank down the last of his drink, the burn not so noticeable as it had been the first time. He eyed the bottle.

“Another drink?” Kylo asked.

Hux held out his glass, but Kylo didn’t take it from him. “Let go,” he said. Hux did, and instead of falling to the table, the glass stayed in the air. With a crook of his forefingers, Kylo levitated it to himself and picked up the bottle of fill it again. The liquor spun into a twisting column as it spilled from the mouth of the bottle.

“When did you know you had the Force?” Hux said, plucking the half-full glass from the air when it came close to him again.

“I’ve always known,” said Kylo, seeing to his own glass. “My mother could feel it before I was born. She taught me what she could when I was young, but she doesn’t have the same strength I do. So, she sent me to Luke. To his school. I told you he was a teacher.”

Hux took a drink. “Yes, you did. He taught you...all of this? And what you did at the outpost?”

“He did, starting with the little tricks.” He moved his hand only minutely and the liquor in his glass coalesced into a sphere and rose up above it. He spun it absently. “It’s good way to learn finesse. Not everything about the Force is throwing people across the room. That’s just the most impressive things.”

“You used it when you first found me,” said Hux. “I thought I had imagined it, but you stopped two blaster bolts in midair.”

Kylo dropped the ball of liquor back into this glass. “I try not to use it. It makes me stand out.”

“And a lightsaber doesn’t?”

“Well,” Kylo said, reaching around behind him to unclip the hilt and set it on the table, “when I do certain work, I like to be prepared for anything. We’d be dead if I hadn’t brought it.” At Hux’s curious look, he added, “Go on, you can look at it.”

The hilt was heavier than he had expected, hollow durasteel contoured to the hand. He had never used a bladed weapon other than the small knife he carried. Only hand-to-hand specialists ever learned melee techniques.

“You said you made it yourself.”

“I did,” said Kylo. “All padawans do when we’re old enough to carry one.”

“Padawans?” Hux asked.

“Young learners. Before you’re formally apprenticed, you’re a padawan. It’s a holdover from the Old Republic. Luke didn’t actually know much about it until he read some of the old Jedi texts. He was never a padawan, only an apprentice to two masters.”

Hux ran his thumb over the button to engage the blade. “You were his apprentice.”

“No,” Kylo said. “I left before I could be. But the others were. He was the only master. I was the oldest, and would have been first, but he took on the next in line. There’s more than one Jedi master now.”

“Do you ever see them?”

“Sometimes on D’Qar, if they’re there, but that’s rarely. They have their own business to see to. I couldn’t actually tell you what that is.”

Hux set the saber back down on the table. “Does that mean the masters are stronger than you?”

Kylo frowned, tapping his fingers on the side of his glass. “They’re better trained, and they know more of the nuances of the Force.”

“That’s not an answer,” Hux said.

“I had the most raw strength. The others didn’t always like that.”

Hux recognized the solitude of excellence; he had known it himself. “I was the keenest shot in my unit. I held all the records. I had the admiration of many, but the hatred of more.”

Kylo hummed. “They weren’t really upset when I left. Although there was a girl...she didn’t mind me. But she was too little to know much better. Rey. She’s Luke’s apprentice now.”

“What happened to your arm?” Hux asked.

Kylo chewed his cheek. “It’s a long story.”

“We have time before we reach D’Qar, don’t we?”

“Yeah,” Kylo said. “We do. But there’s something I need to hear first. What do you know about Snoke?”

“Very little,” said Hux. “Most troopers don’t even know his name, only that we have a Supreme Leader. My father spoke of him when I was a child. I was not aware he had the Force.” He tipped his head to the side. “That’s what you meant, before, when you said he came into your head to teach you.”

Kylo nodded. “He’s powerful, but allied himself with the dark side. He was trying to get me to embrace it. He still does, sometimes, in dreams.”

Hux contained his shock as best he could. “You have a direct connection to the Supreme Leader?”

“I guess I do,” Kylo said. “Is that a problem for you?”

“I don’t know what to make of it,” said Hux. “I have never seen or spoken to him. No one outside of high command even entertains an audience.”

Kylo ran his left hand over his hair, tugging briefly at the tail. “He wants an apprentice in me, and always has.”

“You never considered going?”

“Sure I did, but when his knights came to take me away, I chose Luke. I fought them, and they maimed me.”

Hux might have pitied him then, but he didn’t. Kylo surely would rather have had his flesh-and-blood arm, but he didn’t suffer for missing it. “You’re stronger for it.”

Kylo laughed lightly. “I don’t know about that, but I’ve come to terms with it. It’s better than the alternative.” He winced, and Hux filled in the rest for him:

“You could have joined the First Order.”

“Look, Hux,” Kylo said, “I’m not going to make this a problem if you won’t. I won’t make you work with the Resistance—”

Hux held up a hand. “We already discussed this. There will be no problems.”

“Okay,” Kylo conceded. “Sorry to bring it up. I believe you.”

“I suppose, though,” Hux said, “I’m doing what you chose not to do: defect.” It might have felt wrong, but he found it didn’t—not really.

“You didn’t have much of a choice,” said Kylo. “Getting mixed up with me meant you had to do it.”

That was true enough, but he said, “Once I might have preferred death, but I’d rather have this.” He met Kylo’s gaze and held it. “I’d rather be with you.”

Kylo opened his mouth to speak, but Hux shook his head. Abandoning his drink and his chair, he crossed to where Kylo sat. Kylo tipped his face up to see him, and Hux brushed his hands over his hair until he held him at the nape of his neck. Kylo was watching him fixedly, hope worn plainly in his expression. Taking his chance, Hux steadied himself on Kylo’s shoulders and knelt over his lap.

Kylo’s protest was soft: “Hux, you don’t have to.”

“I want to,” Hux said, massaging the back of Kylo’s neck with his fingertips. “Is it really so hard to see that?”

Kylo was clearly warring with himself, but he put his arms around Hux’s waist. “I can’t do it if you think you have to.”

“I did, at first,” said Hux, “but when you refused, I was disappointed. I wanted you anyway.” He tugged at the tie in Kylo’s hair until it slid out. He was loath to even risk saying it, but he did: “If you really won’t have me, I’ll leave you, but—”

“Don’t go,” Kylo said, pulling Hux against him. “If you’re willing—”

Hux shifted even closer. “I’m willing. Do this with me.” He touched the tips of their noses together. “Kylo.”

Stars,” Kylo breathed as he kissed Hux’s mouth.

His lips were soft and full, just as Hux remembered from that first night. They were in nearly the same place they had been: with Hux in his lap, clutching at him hungrily. And there was even greater need now, when it was clear they both wanted to be here. When Kylo’s tongue brushed Hux’s lower lip, he gladly opened for him. Kylo made a low sound, and deepened the kiss. They both tasted of liquor, and Hux savored it along with the slickness of Kylo’s tongue, the heat of his mouth.

He was solid against Hux’s chest and hips as they held each other, and Hux was aware of every place Kylo touched. His hold was firm but not demanding, letting Hux accustom himself to it all. But Hux didn’t want to be coddled; he wanted Kylo to show and teach, take and give whatever he craved.

“You’re torture, you know that?” Kylo murmured as he kissed Hux’s chin and down to his jaw. “Staying away was agony. I wanted everything you’d offered and more.” He sucked at Hux’s pulse point. “I’m a greedy man.”

Hux let his head fall back to give Kylo access to his throat, which he trailed his lips up and down, nibbling. “If you were that, we’d already have been here.”

Kylo ignored that, continuing with his own narration: “When you were in the ‘fresher in nothing at all, I could have devoured you.”

“I would have let you,” said Hux as he sought Kylo’s mouth again. “I wanted to go to bed with you.”

Kylo nuzzled him. “Say it again, so I know it’s true.”

“I want to be in your bed, Kylo,” Hux said. Kylo slid his hands down to Hux’s ass, holding him tightly, fingers digging into the muscle. They kissed hard and long—fevered—as Hux put his fingers in Kylo’s hair. His body was burning, and he was hard in his trousers, cock straining against the fly. He wanted to be out of them, and everything else. Letting go of Kylo, he pulled his shirt from under his belt and off over his head. Kylo’s attention went immediately to his bare chest, where he landed kisses along his flat pectorals. Hux gave a stuttered groan as he took his left nipple into his mouth.

“You’ve got the softest skin,” Kylo said. “And you smell so good . The things I want to do to you...” He lifted his face. “What do you like?”

Hux, conscious of his complete inexperience, replied, “Whatever you do.”

Kylo adjusted his hold on him to fit as much of his ass into his palms as he could. “Tell me what you want.” His smile was feral. “I’ll do just about anything.”

“I…” Hux started. “I don’t know. I’ve never done this before.”

Kylo’s teasing humor faded, his eyes going soft. Hux braced.

“I’m your first?” Kylo asked.

“Yes,” Hux replied. “Is that...a problem?”

Rushed, reassuring: “Of course not. ” He pressed a kiss to Hux’s lips. “We’re just going to have to handle things a little differently.”

Hux pulled back, suspicious. “I want to give you what you want. I’m not afraid.”

Kylo lifted his bare hand to stroke Hux’s back. “I know you’re not. You’re probably the most fearless person I’ve ever met. But we have to do this right.” He glanced to each side of the lounge. “A freighter isn’t really the best place. All we have are bunks. There’s no room for both of us there.”

“Have me here,” said Hux, nipping at Kylo’s lips.

Kylo’s groan reverberated through both of their chests. “Stars, that’s tempting, but we can’t. I don’t have anything we need. I wasn’t exactly expecting this.”

Hux had altogether forgotten about lubricant, protection. “Then what can we do?”

“Everything else,” Kylo said with a grin. “Can you stand up?”

Hux didn’t want to let go of him, but he did, and managed to get to his feet. Kylo stood, too, looking Hux over. With a gentle hand, he touched the skin around Hux’s wound.

“Is this okay?”

“It doesn’t hurt,” said Hux.

Kylo traced the edge. “You’re going to get your scar.”

“Yes.”

“It’ll look good on you.”

Hux caught his hand and brought it to his lips. “Can I see you? You’ve seen me.”

Kylo cupped his chin. “You can see any part of me you want.” He went first for the holster at his thigh, removing the belt along with it. Hux did the same, and laid his weapon aside. Kylo toed off his boots, and Hux had to hold back a laugh at the hole in the toe of his sock. Tyrish would never have stood for it. Hux sat to remove his own boots as well. Logistically, the first night he had gone to Kylo, it would have been much simpler to undress. He had been wearing only a pair of Kylo’s sleep pants, and Kylo had been barefoot. This arrangement was somewhat more complicated. Still, they managed.

Kylo stripped off his shirt and trousers, leaving him in only a pair of black shorts. The floor was cold on Hux’s feet as he stood again to lower his trousers. By the time he stood back up, Kylo was nude and clearly waiting to be appraised. Hux didn’t hesitate. His body was broad from shoulders to waist; his hips were square and the hair between his long legs was dark and well-groomed. The place where his prosthetic arm met his shoulder was slightly scarred, but flesh and metal met smoothly.

“Will this do?” Kylo asked, playful.

Hux stepped over his discarded clothing to lay his hands on Kylo’s chest. He was close enough that their cocks touched, and he shuddered.

Kylo ran his left hand down Hux’s back from shoulder blades to the tops of his buttocks. Since Hux had taken off his shirt, he had been very careful not to touch him with the right. Hux, though, took hold of his wrist and set the silver hand on his hip. Kylo was uncertain, but when Hux touched the elbow and then bicep, he relaxed.

“Sit down,” he said, guiding Hux back toward the chair. He pressed down on Hux’s shoulders until he sank onto it, and then he dropped to his knees between Hux’s spread legs. “This’ll feel good, I promise.” He winked. “I don’t bite.”

Hux was about to ask what he he meant, but before he could say a word, Kylo licked a stripe up the underside of his cock, cutting off any sound other than a shocked gasp. Lips parted, Kylo took the tip of him into his mouth. He paid it good attention before looking back up at Hux and saying, “Put your hands in my hair.” Hux did as he was told, and Kylo went back to work.

Hux was overwhelmed. Kylo teased the tip of him with his tongue before taking Hux deeper, swallowing around him. He took Hux’s testicles in his left hand on rolled them softly. Between that and the feeling of Kylo’s mouth around his cock—faster for a moment and then slower the next—Hux was lost.

Kylo’s head bobbed as he worked, and Hux held tight to his hair. He expected him at some point to gag, but he never did, even when he took Hux almost to the base. From time to time, he would pull up to the tip and look up at Hux through his dark eyelashes. Hux could only imagine how wrecked he himself looked. He was panting, and his entire chest and neck were flushed pink, and burning hot. As Kylo turned his eyes up, Hux took a firmer grip of his hair. Kylo seemed to approve, groaning and sending shockwaves up Hux’s spine.

“I can’t take much more,” Hux said, strained. “I’m close.” It was the due warning so Kylo could pull away, but he didn’t. He took Hux deep again, pressing his forefingers in the place just behind Hux’s testicles. “Oh, there,” Hux gasped as he came. His body shook with it, wracking him with sparks of pleasure. Kylo stroked him through it, until he was tugging at his hair to get him to stop.

“Good?” Kylo asked, his voice raspy.

Hux gave a wordless nod, cupping Kylo’s cheek. Kylo leaned into his fingers, eyes closed.

“Let me do that for you?” Hux said.

Kylo set both of his palms on Hux’s thighs. “We’ll get there, but not yet. Just use your hands.” He took one in his left, kissing the fingertips. “You don’t know how much I’ve thought about watching you touch me with them.”

“Where?” Hux asked.

Kylo turned to the couch again. “I’ll lie down. You kneel over me so I can see you.” He got up, knees creaking, and went to the seat. He lay down, stretching his legs out, and gestured for Hux to come to him. Hux padded over and slung his leg over Kylo’s thighs until he was sitting atop them. It afforded him a good view of his cock: he was thick around the base, an inch longer than Hux, maybe, and he was circumcised.

“It feels so good to have you like this,” Kylo said, his hands behind his head. “After that first night...I needed more.”

“Me, too,” said Hux as he reached down and took Kylo’s cock in his hand. The skin was warm and soft as it slid over the hardness beneath. Kylo closed his eyes for a brief few seconds, but then went back to watching Hux. “How do you like it?” Hux asked.

“However you want to do it,” Kylo replied. “I’ll tell you if I need anything different.”

“All right.” Hux started with slow strokes, as he had done himself in the shower earlier that day. It had been so short a time, and now here he was with Kylo laid out before him, waiting to be pleasured. Another lance of arousal pierced Hux’s gut.

He took Kylo in as he stroked him: planes of stomach and chest to the dip of his collarbone and the mess of his hair and long arms stretched above his head. Hux wanted to taste each place, maybe even mark some of them; once he had something, he claimed it for his.

Ah, that’s so good,” Kylo said, his chin tipped down to keep his eyes on what Hux was doing. Hux turned his attention there, too, and gave a twist of his wrist. Kylo growled. It wasn’t much, but Hux licked his palm to ease the strokes, which he sped until Kylo’s chest was rising and falling with rapid breaths, and the muscles of his legs were taut under Hux.

“Keep going,” Kylo panted. “I’m so close. Hux, stars.” He arched his back as he came, spattering his naked chest and belly with his release. Hux expelled a hard breath at the sight of it: base and erotic. With his free hand, he dipped his fingers into some of it and dragged it down toward Kylo’s navel, a glistening trail. Kylo began to go soft in Hux’s grasp, so he gave him a last touch before letting go.

Hux was about to ask if he should find a towel when Kylo crooked his fingers and his shirt levitated into his hand. He wiped himself clean with it and dropped it on the floor. Arms held out in invitation, he said, “Come here.”

Hux lay down on top of him, kissing him once before laying his head on his shoulder.

Kylo rubbed his back. “If I have my way, we’re going to be doing a lot of that.”

Hux chuckled. “Yes, we are.”

“I wish we hadn’t waited so long, but I don’t regret that we did.” He drew circles absently across Hux’s flanks. “I’d rather have you know the truth about me before we got into this.”

“How did you look into my memories?” Hux asked.

“Well,” Kylo replied, “everything and everyone is connected to the Force. Even if you can’t use it, you have a tie to it. I found it and followed it into your mind. I didn’t look far. Just enough to know that you were a trooper, and that it was your men who tried to kill you.”

“Why did you stop?”

“Because I was hurting you. It’s not a painless process to get into someone’s head.” He toyed with the short hair at the back of Hux’s head. “Not everything about the Force is used for good.”

Hux knew about the dark side, and didn’t bother to ask, even if his knowledge was limited. He wasn’t sure how much he wanted to learn, in the end.

“I’ll tell you anything else you want to know,” he said. “About me, about the Order. If there’s anything I can say that would be of use.”

Kylo held him tightly around the waist with his prosthetic, the metal warmed by the contact. “I should care about the Order, but I’d rather know more about you. Were some of the stories you told me about the ‘mercs’ actually missions with your unit?”

“They were. I have many more. Would you like to hear one?”

“Maybe after we have a sonic and get dressed,” said Kylo. “You’ve got goosebumps already.”

Hux hadn’t realized his body had cooled so much, but he was chilly. “Can we clean up together?”

“No. Unfortunately. That will have to wait until we get back to the station.” He kissed Hux’s hair. “If I can wait that long.”

“I’m sure we can survive a few more days,” Hux said.

Kylo shifted under him, latching onto his ass. “If you think we’re not doing this again before that, you’re dead wrong.”

Hux propped his chin up on Kylo’s chest, looking at him. “I suppose I can agree to that.”

“Suppose?” Kylo asked, wrinkling his nose in false displeasure.

Hux grinned. “I wholeheartedly agree to that.”

Kylo bounced him up with his hips, teasing. “Damn right. Now, kiss me, and then get in the sonic.”

Hux took his clothes with him to the head. He didn’t want to wash Kylo from himself yet, but the sand on Kubindi had gotten into places he’d prefer it not be. When he was finished, he dressed again, though he left his boots off. Those he dropped in the sleeping quarters, where Kylo was lying in his bunk, still fully nude. Seeing Hux, he rolled to his feet and caught him around the waist to pull him in for a kiss.

“Go have another drink,” he said. “It’ll warm you up, and I’ll be right there. Then you can tell me all the stories you have.”

He dashed into the head, and Hux followed at slower pace, returning to the lounge to pour himself more liquor. He sat in the place where Kylo had lain to wait. The revelations of the day spiraled around in his thoughts, but those of the last half hour outweighed the things that, rationally, should be more important. He worked for the Resistance now, and yet all he could think about was the way Kylo had looked up at him with his cock in his mouth, or how relentlessly they had kissed. Hux had known for years that sex was a distraction, and he had thought it one he couldn’t afford as a trooper. With Kylo, though, he was free to enjoy it.

Taking a sip of his drink, he smiled to himself. Kylo had walked in front of him on the way to the head, providing an enticing view of his ass. Hux could imagine the redness of a handprint across one or both cheeks. He wanted to leave them, and then admire his work.

“What are you grinning about?” Kylo asked from where he was leaning against the bulkhead. “Feeling good?”

“Very,” Hux replied. “Will you have a drink?”

Kylo peeled himself away from the bulkhead and sauntered over to take the glass Hux offered him. “Thanks. Can I sit with you?” With Hux’s permission, he took the place right beside him and put an arm over his shoulders, drawing him in. Hux moved close, accepting the embrace. “Okay,” Kylo said. “Give me your best stormtrooper story.”

Hux had one already picked out, and he began, “It was a four-day mission to scout a target and eliminate him…” As he talked, they inched closer to the side of the couch, until Kylo was sitting against the arm and Hux was against his chest, their legs extended side-by-side.

“Tell me another,” Kylo said when he was finished.

“One of yours,” said Hux. “If you don’t mind.”

Kylo set his chin on Hux’s shoulder. “I like listening to you better. Please?”

Hux gave in, and started anew. Kylo held him throughout, his attention never wavering, and Hux was content.

Chapter Text

Kylo lay awake after he and Hux had left the lounge for their bunks several hours and stories later, still caught up in what they had done. Hux now knew all his secrets—his allegiance to the Resistance, his parentage, his name—but he hadn’t turned away; he had come straight into Kylo’s arms. He had been so warm and soft as Kylo held him, and he had made the most arousing sounds as Kylo sucked his cock. Kylo had enough practice and assurance in his technique that he thought he had done well for him; and he had been overcome as Hux had stroked him, his narrow, steady hands grasping his cock, and his gaze flicking over Kylo’s body.

The time they spent together after had been good, too: his arms around Hux as he told him of his missions and the successes he had had. He was an exceptional soldier, if his versions of the stories were anything to go by. Kylo didn’t think he would lie about them, but neither was he falsely modest. The pride was admirable, and endearing. Hux had charmed Kylo from the start, but now he had won him completely.

Finally, Kylo had drifted off to sleep, though he was up only a few restless hours later. He got out of bed and pulled on a shirt and his socks, pausing briefly to venture a look at Hux. He slept soundly on his side, his hair tousled and cheek deep in the pillow. One of his hands lay at the edge of the bunk, and Kylo was so tempted to touch it, but he suspected Hux would wake, and he didn’t want to disturb him. Instead, he snuck out of the room and toward the cockpit.

They were about two hours from D’Qar, and Kylo would have to be prepared with the security codes as soon as they entered the system. The Resistance had regular patrols of X-wing fighters throughout the space around the planet, and they had orders to shoot down anything that didn’t have clearance. The Arrow would be recognized, but she still wasn’t to be trusted until they knew it was Kylo flying her.

In hyperspace, he couldn’t adjust their course, but he pulled up the navigational charts. He barely looked at them, though, thinking instead about what he was going to say to Leia when he turned up with the stormtrooper she had told him to get rid of as not only his crewmember, but now his lover. Not that she needed to know that bit, but she had her ways of finding out. Damn Han; he had been absolutely right in presuming that Kylo would take Hux’s “companionship” if given the chance. And Leia was even more perceptive than Han was. Kylo was better off just being forthright.

However, he wasn’t exactly sure what Hux expected from this arrangement. He had enthusiastically agreed that they would sleep together again, but that didn’t necessarily imply anything more than that. But how he had spoken about staying with Kylo stuck out in his memory: “I’d rather be with you.” There was something there beyond sex, and there had been before things had come to a head. Hux had told him his business with his father could wait, that he wasn’t in a rush to leave his life with Kylo. He had lied—somewhat poorly—about his past, but Kylo thought he had been earnest when he said that. Or maybe it was just him wishing that he meant it.

Kylo powered down the display of D’Qar. He was in over his head with Hux: invested in him, craving him. He was the first man Kylo had wanted to keep in a long time. He would have to, of course—what he said about Hux knowing too much to be released was true—but he wanted a lover in him, too. If Hux would have him.

He extended the fingers of his prosthetic arm, looking over the tactile sensors on the palm and fingertips. He generally didn’t use it in sex for fear that it might put his partner off, but Hux had made a point of setting it on his hip. Kylo hated that he could only feel the resistance of an object in his hand, but at least he had been able to hold Hux with both of them, and to explore him with the rest of his body, his mouth.

He had so many more ideas of what they could do together, and was somewhat annoyed that they had to go to D’Qar instead of returning to the Ryden station, where they could spend days in his bed just learning what they liked and wanted from each other. But maybe they could find quarters on-planet to share. He flinched. It was really going to be impossible to hide from Leia if they bunked together. Ah, kark it; he’d do it, if it Hux was amenable.

Kylo shifted in the pilot’s chair, feeling the blood drop toward his groin. He wanted Hux again, and badly. If he wasn’t concerned about hauling him out of bed, he would have, taking him back to the lounge to strip him down and touch every part of him he could. But he needed rest rather than Kylo’s cock.

Taking the datapad from its dock in the console, Kylo pulled up the book he had planned to ask Hux to read to him if he couldn’t choose anything himself. It was a novel about an Abyssin assassin he had been meaning to read for a while. He figured even if it turned out to be a disappointment, he would have had Hux’s voice to soften the blow. His quiet murmurs of pleasure came back into Kylo’s mind, and he almost groaned. Hux was going to be in his head like this for weeks yet, as it always was with a new lover. Kylo wouldn’t be able to get enough of him.

With the datapad in hand, Kylo propped his feet up on the console and started to read. Hopefully the book would be enough to distract him for a while, maybe until Hux woke up and Kylo could have him again.

 


 

“Hello.”

An hour later, Kylo turned to see Hux—still in his sleeping clothes—standing next to his seat in the cockpit. He was alert, but the vestiges of sleep clung to him, as if he had come here straight after waking. Kylo liked the idea that his first thought was to find him.

“Good morning,” Kylo said, swinging out of the chair. “Did you get some shuteye?”

“Yes,” said Hux. One corner of his mouth curved slightly up. “You might have tired me out.”

Kylo grinned, slipping an arm around Hux’s waist. “Well, I’m glad you’re rested up because I’ve got plans for you.” When he moved in closer, Hux met him for a kiss. He tasted of toothpaste; Kylo wasn’t his first stop, then. More forward than before, Hux tongued Kylo’s lips until he opened his mouth, and then he was inside. Kylo made an approving sound and pulled Hux tighter in to him. Hux slid his hands down to Kylo’s waist to toy with the elastic band of his sleep pants.

“Frisky in the morning,” Kylo said in a brief respite from their kisses.

“Is that wrong?” Hux asked, withdrawing slightly.

Kylo nudged his nose with his own. “No, not at all. I am, too.” A press of lips. “Been thinking about you. Tried to read, but…”

Hux raised the hem of Kylo’s shirt and put his hands under it. “I had hoped you would still be sleeping when I woke. I thought I might see if we could fit two in one bunk after all.”

“We can’t,” Kylo said. “Trust me.”

Hux raised a brow. “Have you tried it before?”

“No. I don’t bring people aboard.” Any liaison he had had was always planetside in his partner’s flat, or a hotel. The Arrow, or the Falcon, were off limits. “I just barely fit in the damned bunk, so trying to get both of us in it...no. Just not possible.”

“Very well,” Hux muttered.

Kylo squeezed his waist where he held him. “We can stay together on D’Qar, if you want. The lodgings are better.”

Hux’s fingers stilled on Kylo’s back. “Stay together openly?”

Kylo tamped down the nervous uncertainty, making himself say, “That’s right,” without adding a questioning qualifier.

“Yes, I’d like that,” said Hux.

Kylo barely kept himself from deflating with relief—and pleasure. “Yeah? Good.” He smiled crookedly, knowing he was probably giving himself away. In over your head.

Hux didn’t seem to mind. His eyes were still on Kylo’s face, and he had resumed the lazy circles he had been drawing at the small of his back. “How long before we’re there?”

“About forty-five minutes,” Kylo said. Against Hux’s cheek: “However will we pass the time?”

Hux replied, “Show me how to suck you.”

Stars, Hux,” Kylo groaned, “you’re going to kill me.” Taking him by the hips, Kylo began to steer him back toward the lounge. “Come on.”

Hux was a quick learner. Kylo, from his perch on the couch, his sleep pants around his ankles, only had to give a few instructions before Hux was taking charge. He was breathtaking with his lips and hand around Kylo’s cock, his sleep-mussed hair falling over his brow when he looked up at Kylo with hungry green eyes. Kylo managed to stop him before he came in his mouth, instead spilling over his lower belly as he finished himself with his left hand.

He could see the question on the tip of Hux’s tongue, but he said, “Not the first time. It takes practice.” Ignoring the cooling come on his skin, he pulled Hux to his feet, divested him of his trousers, and showed him how it was done. They were sitting side-by-side on the couch, both half-dressed and recovering, when the proximity alarm warned them they were a few minutes out from their destination.

Kylo forced himself to stand and set his clothes to rights. “We’d better get dressed. We’ll probably be hauled right off to see my mother, and it’s better not to show up in her office looking like we just woke up, and smelling like, well, what we just did.”

Hux nodded, businesslike. “Of course.” He had brought no changes of clothes when he’d stowed away—Kylo had forgiven him for it at his own peril—so he was stuck with what he had worn the day before.

“All those things we bought at Tyrish’s,” Kylo teased, “and you’ve not got anything with you.” Hux, downtrodden, apologized. Kylo said, “Just a joke. We’ll get you something clean planetside.”

Hux pulled a comb from his locker and set to taming his hair. Kylo ran a brush through his own, knowing his mother would get after him if he looked a mess when he got to the base. She already didn’t like his long hair, and he had Hux; he didn’t need to give her another reason to disapprove. He threw an extra pair of trousers, a shirt, and undergarments into his duffel bag and shouldered it.

They stopped in the galley on their way to the cockpit and grabbed ration bars for breakfast. Bar in one hand and other on the yoke, Kylo eased the Arrow out of hyperspace. Verdant D’Qar came into view several thousand miles away. Unsurprisingly, as soon as they arrived, they were hailed over the comms.

“Vessel, identify yourself.”

“This is Kylo Ren, access code TW9-84U-7PF4, aboard the Arrow,” he said.

There was a pause, and then: “You’re cleared. Welcome back, Benny.”

Kylo frowned. One only person still dared call him that. “I should have known it was you, Dameron. Leia still have you out running the perimeter? I thought you’d be Strategic Something-or-other by now.”

“Ha, ha,” Poe Dameron, one of Kylo’s oldest friends, said dryly. “You know I belong in the air. But I’m thinking you need an escort plantside.”

Kylo rolled his eyes. “Sure.” In the viewport, a battered X-wing appeared forward of the Arrow’s nose, and waggled its wings to port and starboard. Kylo shut off the comms and said to Hux, “That’s Poe. We grew up to together, in a way. His parents knew mine, and we would always spend a few weeks together every year when we were kids. And I usually see him when I’m back here.” They had had a short romance when Ben was eighteen, and Leia had heartily approved, but both of them decided it wasn’t sustainable. They still exchanged holo messages every so often, and Kylo did like seeing him.

“I understand,” said Hux. “Perhaps I can meet him.”

“He’ll be landing with us,” Kylo said, “so you will.”

Freighter and fighter flew down through the atmosphere toward one of the larger continents on the planet. Kylo was asked for another set of access codes, which he gave. Poe greeted the woman on the other end of the comm, and she giggled as she replied to him. He had the heart of everyone in the Resistance.

Kylo set the Arrow down on a landing pad near the X-wing hangar, while Poe chose a spot of open ground next to her. The engines of his X-wing were barely powered down before the canopy was opening and he was jumping out in a flash of bright orange flight suit. His helmet was off and tucked under his arm.

“Come on,” Kylo said to Hux. “Let’s get this over with.”

Poe was already standing at the foot of the loading door as it touched the ground with a hiss of decompression. He trotted up to meet Kylo, holding out his hand to shake. “Hey, Benny, good to see you home.”

“Good to be here,” Kylo said. When Poe’s eyes turned to Hux, he continued, “Poe, this is Hux, my copilot.”

“Well,” said Poe, offering his hand again, “I never thought I’d see the day. Nice to meet you, Hux.” He leaned in. “Don’t believe anything Ben tells you about me, unless it’s good, then believe all of it.”

Hux released his hand, eyeing him distrustfully. “I’ll try to remember that,” he said.

Poe flashed him a blinding smile—his trademark—and announced, “Leia’s probably waiting for you. You want me to take you two to her?”

“I know where she is,” Kylo said. She had an office in the command center, just off the main control room. However, he knew he wouldn’t have to go there. Looking up at the building, he spotted her coming out and walking purposefully toward the Arrow.

Leia Organa might have twice held the title of general, but she still had the bearing of royalty. She was indomitable despite her size—the top of her head barely reached the middle of Kylo’s chest—and even if she was dressed in practical fatigues and a vest, she moved with the unflagging confidence of the princess she had once been. Kylo barely noticed the gaggle of subordinates that trailed behind her. Hux, he saw, was watching her, too, face stony.

“Ben,” she said as she stopped in front of him.

As expected, he stooped to kiss her cheek. “Hello, Mother.”

While he was still within her reach, she patted his cheek. “You look like your father dressed you. Hasn’t that Gungan of yours convinced you to wear something better yet?”

Kylo held back his sigh. “Last time I was in the shop, I wasn’t there for me.” Leia cocked a brow, and he gestured to Hux. “Leia, Hux. He’s the one I told you about.”

Her hard gaze went immediately to Hux, who stood tall in the face of it. His legs were spread at parade rest and his hands were clasped behind his back. “General Organa,” he said.

“You’re called Hux?” she asked, pointed.

He remained steady and calm. “Yes. I believe you know of my father and my brother.”

Kylo recognized Leia’s pause for calculation and recalibration to process this knowledge and best use it to her advantage. She mirrored his pose, chin high, but looked to Kylo. “Why have you brought him here?”

“He works for me,” Kylo said. “I couldn’t leave my crew behind.” Not that he hadn’t tried.

Works for you?” Leia asked. “You were supposed to give him supplies and let him go, not hire him.”

“I’m not paid,” said Hux, taking a step toward them. “I owe Kylo my life. I am working to pay my debt to him.”

Leia pursed her lips, the only public tell she had that she was discomfited. “A life debt? Ben, you should have known better than to allow this.”

Kylo was aware of that, but he was already in it up to his nose. “It’s important to him,” he said, perhaps quieter than he had intended. “So, it’s important to me.”

This time Leia’s shock was apparent. She glanced between Hux and Kylo, both of whom stood silently, Kylo waiting for her to admonish him. But instead she looked Hux over from boots to red hair, and said to him, “Ben is a good judge of character. If he’s willing to vouch for you, I’ll allow you here.”

“I do,” Kylo said.

The flash in Leia’s eyes told him all he needed to know: We’ll talk about this later. “Very well. Ben, you have the information?”

He nodded. The data chip was in his pocket. “We ran into trouble getting it.”

“I know,” said Leia. “The others are in a safe location until they can be extracted. They said you did a very thorough job of clearing an outpost. This was supposed to be quiet.”

“It was unavoidable,” Kylo said. “But I got us all out, didn’t I?”

Leia didn’t take issue with his tone, though she easily might have. He was trained to report to her as any of her other soldiers did, but occasionally he was still her teenage son being scolded for staying out too late and petulantly protesting.

“You did,” she said. “And you have the data on the Starkiller project. We need to analyze it right away.” A cutting glance at Hux. “What do you know about it?”

“Nothing,” Hux replied. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.” Colder: “But I was just a trooper. I am not privy to what my father and brother might know.”

Leia nodded. “There’s a story there I believe I’d like to hear, but not now.” To Kylo: “Turn over the data and we’ll look at it. Meet us in the briefing room in a half hour.” She gestured to one of her assistants, a blond-haired human girl with prominent cheekbones and a pert nose. “Layna will see you situated in quarters. A half hour, Ben.”

“Yes, Mother.”

The girl Layna came trotting forward as Leia marched off, and smiled. “Good morning. We have a pair of huts available for you in”—she scanned her datapad—“sector eight. If you’ll come with me.”

Hux fell into step with Kylo as they walked a pace behind Layna. Kylo said, “You did well with Leia. I’m afraid you’ll have to talk to her again, but—”

“I don’t mind,” Hux said, cutting him off. “She’s not as I expected.”

“And what was that?”

“Someone with more pomp. The First Order officers present themselves in full uniform and with a...retinue, especially General Hux, my brother Brendol. He’s named for my father.”

“She isn’t like that,” Kylo said. “Even when she was princess of Alderaan, she kept the spectacle to a minimum. Was that disappointing to you?”

“No,” said Hux. “She still has a commanding presence without the accoutrements.”

“She’d like that description,” Kylo said. “Given the chance, you two might actually like each other.”

Hux seemed dubious. “Perhaps.”

Kylo knew things would be icy between them, but in all likelihood, Hux wouldn’t have to interact with her much. She was busy, and Hux—even Kylo—were secondary concerns. “When I go to the briefing,” he said to Hux, “I’ll find you somewhere to go. There’s got to be someone to show you around.”

“I can stay in our lodgings until you’re ready for me.”

“No, I want you to see things, and stay with me, as much as you can. I’m not going to be with Leia all of the time.” Kylo didn’t take his hand, but he caught it for a moment to make sure he had Hux’s attention. “I’ll take care of you while we’re here. I promise you that.”

“I’ve gone into more hostile situations than this,” Hux said. “I’ll make do.”

The huts Layna led them to were just that: round-roofed structures with only one room for sleeping and a curtained-off toilet and sink. Showers were shared among the cluster of huts.

“Here we are,” she said. “You can choose which you’ll have, but these two are yours.”

“We just need the one,” said Kylo. If she took issue with that, she didn’t show it. “And we could use a set of clean clothes. Can you find something in his size?”

“Of course,” she said, typing something into her datapad. “Is there anything else you need?”

“Not right now.”

“Very good. I assume you know how to find the briefing room?”

“I do.” She went to turn away, but Kylo stopped her. “Is Poe Dameron going out on another perimeter run?”

She glanced once again at the datapad. “No, he’s groundside for today. Do you need him?”

If anyone would be a good guide around the compound for Hux, it would be Poe. And Kylo trusted him. “Would you mind asking him to come down here?” he asked Layna.

“Certainly,” she replied. “I’ll send him a message. Is that all?”

“It is, thanks.”

She bobbed her head, said “Very good,” and left them.

Kylo adjusted the strap of his duffel bag where it hung over his shoulder and tipped his head toward the door of the hut. To Hux he said, “After you.”

Hux swung the door open and entered, ducking slightly to keep from bumping his head on the lintel. The space inside was small, as Kylo remembered from the last time he had stayed here, but the bed would sleep two, if they stayed close. That he wouldn’t mind. He dropped his bag next to far side of the bed, near the refresher—if it could be called that.

“It isn’t much,” he said, “but can you stand it?”

Hux sat at the edge of the bed. “It’s better than a bunk.”

Kylo went to him and nudged his knees apart until he could stand between his legs. He ran a hand over his hair. Hux looped his arms around Kylo’s waist, resting the forearms on his hips. He liked contact, Kylo was realizing.

“Nobody really touched you much before, did they?” Kylo asked, still petting his hair without disordering it.

“Outside of sparring, no,” Hux replied. “I didn’t allow it.”

“Why?”

“I didn’t want them.” It was said gently, but with conviction.

Two fingers under Hux’s chin, Kylo raised his face. “But you wanted me?”

Hux moved his hands down to Kylo’s buttocks, taking a good hold. “I should think that’s obvious at this point.”

Kylo tugged the lobe of his ear. “Fair enough.” He held Hux by the back of the neck with his flesh-and-blood hand while he put the prosthetic on his shoulder. “You really sure you’re going to be okay here? Nobody should do anything to you, but still.”

“Any Resistance defector to the First Order would be interrogated and imprisoned,” Hux said. “That I’m even permitted to walk free isn’t something I expected.”

Could someone even defect to the First Order?” said Kylo.

“No one ever has. I suspect they wouldn’t ever be wholly trusted, no matter how valuable the information or skills they brought.”

Kylo traced the edge of his shirt collar, where it met his neck. “I don’t know that you’d be trusted here, either. Tolerated, but not trusted.”

“I would do the same,” Hux said. “I wouldn’t let a defector go anywhere unaccompanied, and I wouldn’t give him a tour of the compound.” He raised his brows. “With your friend.”

“We’re not the First Order,” Kylo said. “But watch yourself if I’m not with you. Poe’s a good man, but the others might not be so welcoming.”

“I’ll do that.” He was still looking up at Kylo as Kylo bent down to kiss him. Kylo cupped his cheek as they went into it, lips and tongues slick. Hux was still holding him firmly by the buttocks, of which Kylo definitely approved.

“Knock, knock.”

Breaking apart, they spotted Poe, out of his flight suit and in a leather jacket, leaning against the frame of the door. He was smiling conspiratorially, which Kylo knew meant he had been watching them for longer than he should have. Well, if the word hadn’t been out before, it was now that Poe had caught them in an outright embrace. Hux drew his arms away and Kylo stood tall again.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Poe said, “but Layna said you wanted to see me. I assume it wasn’t an invitation to the show.”

A quick glance at Hux revealed that he was flushed red, and he wasn’t looking at Poe.

“Watch yourself, Dameron,” Kylo warned.

Poe laughed, raising his open hands. “Okay, okay, message received. So, what can I do for you two?”

Kylo backed off enough to let Hux get to his feet (and he finally looked up to meet Poe’s eyes). “I have to meet Leia,” Kylo said, “but I was hoping you’d show Hux around a little. Maybe the firing ranges?”

“Oh, we’ve got a marksman on our hands, do we?” said Poe.

“I shoot,” Hux said, a considerable understatement.

“Well, we can certainly do that.” Poe rubbed his stubbled chin. “And maybe the hangar. Do you fly, Hux?”

“I’m learning.”

“Great!” Poe said. “Then I’ll take you to see my fighter. And you can meet BB-8.”

Hux gave him a mistrustful look. “What’s a BB-8?”

Poe winked. “Nothing bad, I promise. It’s a little droid. Flies with me. It’s waiting outside. Come on, Hux, and we’ll get down to this tour.” He nodded to Kylo. “See you around, Benny. I promise I’ll bring him back in one piece.” With an arm around Hux’s tense shoulders, he ushered him out of the hut. They were just past the threshold when Kylo heard a series of beeps in Binary.

He let them go, heading briefly to the sink to get a drink of water before he left for the briefing with Leia. The water was warm, but most everything on D’Qar was. He pushed his hair back from his face and gave himself a once-over in the crookedly hanging mirror. It would have to do.

There were five people in the briefing room when Kylo arrived: Grand Admiral Ackbar, General Cypress, Vice Admiral Holdo, Vice Admiral Jotis, and his mother. They were all gathered around a console display of a planet, or at least what looked like one. Kylo stepped up next to Leia; her hands were braced on the console control panel.

“This isn’t at all what we expected,” Ackbar was saying. “This is a weapon, not an offensive.”

“A weapon on an unprecedented scale,” said Jotis.

Kylo saw now that there was a structure built into the planet, a circular midpoint with two flanking rectangular indentations. “What is it?” he asked.

“We don’t know much,” Leia replied. “Only that it dwarfs the Death Star. But we don’t have any idea what it does.”

“But we can imagine,” Holdo said darkly. “If the Empire could destroy whole planets, then what can this monstrosity do?”

Kylo used the control panel to spin the image of the weapon. “Is this all we have? No data or plans?”

“Bare bones data,” Leia said. “But not enough to really understand it. It could be anything, and they could deploy it at any time.”

“We have to know more about this ‘Starkiller,’” said Cypress, “and soon.”

“Do we have other operatives inside the First Order?” Kylo asked. “An officer?”

Leia shook her head. “Only the ones you met, and they were techs and sanitation workers. We haven’t ever managed to infiltrate the military. Their officers all come from Imperial families.” She gave Kylo a hard look. “Like the Huxes.”

“I didn’t know anything about them when I found him,” Kylo said. “And he’s just a soldier. There’s more to it than that, but he isn’t high command.”

“The stormtrooper could be lying to you,” said Holdo. “And yet you seem to trust him. Why?”

Kylo frowned at her. “He isn’t, not about this.”

“Ben,” Leia began, more gently, “if this is a personal issue, don’t let that blind you to what is really happening.”

“That’s a diplomatic way to put it, Mother,” he growled. “Yes, I’m sleeping with him. Would I do that if I thought he was lying to me?”

Everyone in the room averted their eyes, leaving Leia and Kylo to hash this out between themselves. Leia’s expression hardened at the admission, and Kylo glowered.

“We don’t always have the best judgment in those kind of situations,” she said. “Trust me, I know.”

Kylo scoffed. “Hux isn’t Han. He has a sense of honor.”

Leia didn’t bother to argue that point; Han’s honor was dubious at best. “But he is fresh out of the First Order. Life debt or no, he can’t have disowned them that easily.” She paused, but added, “Even for you.”

“Bring him in here and have him tell you, then,” Kylo said. “You can ask him yourself. He’s not afraid of you.”

“I never said that he was,” said Leia. “I think you have better taste than that.” Admiral Ackbar cleared his throat, and she reined herself in. “We’ll continue this discussion later. For now, we need to make a plan for what we’ll do with this Starkiller intelligence.”

“What we need is more intelligence,” said General Cypress. “There has to be a way.”

“We already risked the lives of our moles to get this much,” Holdo said. “We don’t have another way in.”

Ackbar sighed. “We’ll have to come up with something, or be at the First Order’s mercy.”

“I’ll have anyone in the Unknown Regions keep their ears to the ground,” Leia said. “Until we have a solution, though, we go on as we have.” Murmurs of agreement. “Thank you all. You may go. Ben, you stay.”

Kylo turned his attention back to the Starkiller hologram, studying it as if he could discern its purpose from scrutiny alone, while the admirals and generals filed out. As the door closed behind them, Leia rounded on him.

“Did you really need to be so crass in a briefing?” she asked.

“I hardly was,” Kylo replied, dismissive. “And you brought it up. I’m not going to lie, either.”

Leia pinched the bridge of her nose. “I’m not here to criticize your choice in partners, Ben, but this is a matter of security for the Resistance. He’s as blueblooded as they come in the Order. Brendol Hux is a diehard Imperial loyalist, and surely he raised his sons to be, too.”

“One of them, maybe,” said Kylo, “but not this one. He’s been trying to kill him. He’s a bastard.”

“Of course Brendol is a bastard,” Leia snapped.

“Not what I meant. I mean...my Hux. He’s a bastard son. His father threw him to the wolves expecting him to die in the Stormtrooper Program.”

Leia flinched. “His own child?”

“Yes,” Kylo said. “He’d be dead if I hadn’t found him on Utel Gamma.”

“What really happened?” she asked.

Kylo leaned back against the console and started to tell her. She listened without interrupting, letting him get the whole story out—save for the details of Hux’s first offer of his body and how they had come together last night.

“You did a good thing,” Leia admitted when he was finished, “saving him like that. No wonder he swore a life debt. But you still should have turned him loose.”

“I know,” Kylo said, “but I couldn’t.”

Leia regarded him steadily, though with her mother’s eyes rather than through the lens of General Organa. “He hasn’t been with you very long. Are you sure it’s a good idea to get involved with him?” Brows raised. “I won’t deny that he’s attractive.”

Kylo rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah, I know that, too. And the sex...well, that’s new.”

“Hm,” Leia said. “I would be a hypocrite if I faulted you for it, but I just want you to be careful. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

Mom,” said Kylo, using the rare informal address. “I’m not a teenager anymore.”

She laughed. “I forget that sometimes.” Taking his hand, she said, “I’ll gut him like a fish if he plays you false.”

Kylo squeezed her fingers. “You said I’m a good judge of character. Have a little faith.”

When she held out her arm, he bent to embrace her. As he always did, he lifted her off her feet and swung her a little.

“I’m getting too old for that,” she said when he put her down again.

“Liar,” said Kylo. “You’re made of durasteel.”

She gave him the kind of grin she had picked up from Han. “Go on, then, get out of here. I’m sure your Hux is waiting.”

Kylo smiled back. “I left him with Poe.”

“You didn’t,” Leia said. “Oh, Ben. The old flame with the new one?”

“That ended eleven years ago, Mother. Poe’s fine.”

She set her hands on her hips. “If he hasn’t already charmed Hux right out from under you.”

This time Kylo actually did scowl, even if he didn’t think Poe would actually stoop so low. “We’ll be in the mess for lunch?” he asked Leia.

“It’s where we all are. You’re both welcome to join us.”

All of the Resistance personnel who were currently active shared meals together in the large mess hall. They sat at common tables where rank or work didn’t matter. Leia often sat with riggers who maintained the X-wings, or comm operators and navigators. She knew her people, and they respected her for it.

“See you then,” said Kylo, and he left the briefing room.

Outside it was already sweltering and humid, though the skies were clear. Personnel were going about their tasks, from guiding transports down onto landing pads to running drills and maintaining droids. The Resistance compound was always busy; there were far more people here now than there had been when Leia had first established it six years ago. They had considerable firepower and a network of informants across the galaxy. For such a short time, it was a remarkable achievement.

Kylo didn’t know where Hux and Poe were at the moment, but he could guess that if they went to the firing range first, they were still there. Hands in his pockets, he walked around the back of the compound on the opposite side of the hangars to where the armories were. They had grown, too, to fit all of the weapons the Resistance was collecting for their eventual offensive against the First Order. At some point they knew their delicate armistice would end and it would be open war. Kylo hoped that by then the New Republic would have recognized the threat the Order posed, but so far they had taken no action on any of the information the Resistance had provided them.

The firing range was set into the thick foliage adjacent to the armory. There were almost always drills taking place, marksmen stationed in their individual firing lanes at practice. Now, though, there was a gaggle of people surrounding one long-range lane. When Kylo came up at the rear of the pack, they burst into applause.

“That’s some damn good shooting,” said a woman nearby. “He hasn’t missed once.”

“Well, he’s been training since he was a kid,” a man countered. “You just picked up a blaster rifle six months ago.”

The benefit of his height afforded Kylo a view of Hux at the center of the group, lying down on his belly at the firing line with a sniper’s blaster braced between his shoulder and a tactical tripod. There was a target set up at eight hundred meters, which Hux was scoping as he lined up for another shot. The first woman who had spoken lifted binoculars to her eyes to watch when he fired. The blaster was nearly silent save for the zip of the bolt when it left the long barrel. Kylo couldn’t see where it hit the target, but he knew it had. More applause.

“I should have put credits on this,” Poe Dameron said from his place near the front of the group. “I could have made a killing, eh, Tether?”

The older man who stood next to him shook his head. “I never thought I’d see that level of accuracy.” To Hux, who was getting to his feet with the rifle in hand: “Do you think you could come by and give my team some pointers?”

“If I’m given leave to, then yes,” said Hux.

“He has it,” Kylo said, pushing his way through the crowd. They parted when they recognized him. “I’d bet our marksmen could learn a lot from him.” He winked at Hux. “I know I did.”

Hux handled the rifle with practiced ease. “If the others are as bad as him, we’ll need more than one session.”

Kylo gave an affronted huff. “You don’t have to tell them all that.”

“My apologies,” Hux said.

“You don’t mean that at all,” said Kylo.

Hux’s smile was aimed right at him. “No, I don’t.”

“Oh, I would have paid to see him school you, Benny,” Poe laughed. “Did he really embarrass himself, Hux?”

“No,” Hux said. “He did very well. For a novice.”

Kylo pulled a face, and Poe guffawed.

Hux passed the rifle back to Tether. “Thank you for letting me shoot.”

“It was my pleasure to see it,” Tether said. “Can I get the team together this afternoon for a lesson?” He glanced at Kylo, and Kylo looked to Hux.

“Certainly,” Hux replied.

Tether thanked him, and then hollered at the group, “All right, you voyeurs, get back to work!” They broke up, most returning to the armories, and leaving Poe, Hux, and Kylo standing in the firing lane.

“I guess I was right that you’d want to come here,” Kylo said to Hux. “Showed everyone up.”

“They could use the instruction,” said Hux. “They’re all green, and haven’t had enough training. I wouldn’t send any of them on a mission, but they told me they’ve been out before.”

Poe said, “You’ll help them shape up.”

Hux nodded. “I’ll try.”

Poe turned to Kylo. “So, you saw Leia and the big bosses. Didn’t take as long as I thought it would. We’ve only just started our tour. But I guess you’ll want to take over from here.” He waggled his eyebrows. “Ben’s better company than me, right, Hux?”

“I appreciate you taking the time to bring me here,” Hux said.

Poe grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. “Sure thing. I’ll let you two get to it, then. I’ll see you at lunch!” He jogged into the armory, just managing to dodge a loading droid carrying explosives.

“Did your meeting go well?” Hux asked.

Kylo latched onto his waist and pulled him in. “Mmhm. You had more fun than me, though.”

Hux laid his hands on Kylo’s chest. “I did, yes. Though the equipment they use is old. Kept well enough, but old. Nothing like the Order’s arsenal.”

“We know what we’re up against,” Kylo said, sober. “It’s not going to be an easy fight.”

“A Resistance victory is highly unlikely,” said Hux.

Kylo knew that, too. “Are you saying that because you want us to lose?”

Hux’s brows knit, and he glanced away. “I just know the odds, and they’re not in your favor. I can’t deny that there’s sense in how the Order wants to rule: efficiency, structure. Everyone knows their place and it makes the whole function. Things here are more lax.”

“That’s not always a bad thing,” Kylo said. “And everyone has a place here, too. We just don’t let it restrict us.”

“Yes, I see that. The Order is highly restrictive. We speak only to those in our chain of command, don’t step out of our roles. I’ve never gotten orders from anyone but my captain. I’ve never been to an officers’ deck. Speaking to a general, like your mother, would never have happened.”

“I would hate it there,” said Kylo. “Living under a regime like that would be unbearable for me. I’d die fighting it.”

Hux took the collar of Kylo’s shirt between his thumb and forefinger, contemplative. “I’ll be by your side. I have to be.”

Kylo touched his brow to Hux’s. “If it comes to war, I’ll release you from your debt. I won’t make you fight for a cause you don’t believe in.”

“I don’t know what I believe anymore,” Hux said. “I’m lost in this.”

“I’m sorry,” Kylo murmured. He meant it, but it didn’t stop him from leaning in and kissing Hux’s mouth. Hux didn’t resist, and they stood there in the firing lane, arms around each other, anchoring themselves in the one thing they knew they both wanted. “Want to see some more of the compound?” Kylo asked when they broke for air.

“All right,” Hux replied.

 


 

They joined a team of mechanics for lunch, and mostly listened to them chatter about their work. One, a girl named Rose, stopped to ask Kylo about the Arrow  and he gave her the ship’s specifications. She was enraptured, and peppered him with questions. He answered them gladly, but was pleased to make an escape when he and Hux were finished eating. Tether had come to ask if Hux would give his squad a lesson at 1700 hours, which left quite a bit of empty time in the afternoon.

Layna appeared just as they were getting up to tell them that the requisitions officer had a change of clothes for Hux if he wanted it, so they went there to retrieve them. The officer was a narrow-faced man with a thin mustache, and he didn’t give Kylo a second look when he also asked for a toothbrush and a bottle of personal lubricant. Hux’s eyes, though, darkened. With clothes and supplies under their arms, they returned to their hut for some time alone after the crush of people in the mess. As soon as the door was closed behind them, Kylo fell back onto the bed. Hux sat more sedately next to him and picked up the bottle of lubricant.

“Is this for us?”

“Of course it is. I told you I have plans for you.” He tugged Hux by the sleeve until he gave Kylo his hand. Kylo kissed the inside of his wrist.

“You’ll have me, then?” Hux asked.

Kylo massaged his palm. “Not yet. We’ll get there, but not yet. It’s not something you rush into.”

“If I want it?”

“Then you’ll just have to wait for a while.” He smiled. “There are still things I want to show you beforehand.”

Hux moved onto the bed, lying down beside Kylo and laying one arm over his middle. Kylo held him absently by the wrist.

“I know about many things,” Hux said. “The troopers don’t hold back. You don’t have to treat me as if I’ve no knowledge of any of this.”

“Knowing and doing are different,” said Kylo.

Hux eyed him. “I’m not afraid.”

Kylo rapped chidingly on his collarbone. “ I know. You’re insistent, I’ll give you that. But let’s at least wait until we get back to the station. I want to do it right.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Hux said.

Kylo agreed, “Okay.” Shifting, he put his arm around Hux’s shoulders and drew him down to lie against his chest. “So, what did those troopers talk about?”

“Everything you might imagine. When you’re not training or on a mission, you find a great deal of time to get into each other’s bunks. Mixed barracks.”

“My uncle kept all the padawans separated,” Kylo said. “We had our own sleeping quarters. I didn’t even kiss a boy until I was seventeen and could get away from Han for a few hours.”

“Still younger than I was,” said Hux.

Kylo nestled him close. For him their kiss had been tentative at first, but then intensified as Kylo woke and went into it. “Was it worth the wait? And don’t tell me it was just to spare my ego.”

“It was,” Hux replied. “And the subsequent ones have been even better.”

“That’s what I like to hear,” Kylo teased. “Tell me more about how good I am.” He expected Hux to laugh, but instead he got the start of a straight-faced, perfectly serious answer.

“Your body is impressive, and your mouth—”

Kylo cut him off: “It’s okay. I didn’t really mean it.”

“Oh,” said Hux. “I didn’t realize.”

“Nice to know you like those things about me, though,” Kylo said, pressing a kiss to the top of Hux’s bent head. “I love that you want me.”

Hux slid his hand down Kylo’s stomach and onto his groin, palming his cock through his trousers. Kylo wasn’t hard, but it wouldn’t take long to get him there if Hux kept at that.

Kylo said, “I didn’t mean right now.”

“I’ll stop, if you’d rather that, but we’ve the whole afternoon…”

“You make a convincing argument,” said Kylo, pushing himself into Hux’s hand. “If you’re up for it, so I am.”

Hux sat up to look Kylo in the eye. He didn’t have to reply; the interest was there in his face. Kylo grinned and lunged up for a kiss. They grabbed for each other, going straight for the loosest clothing they could find and divesting themselves of it. Kylo tugged Hux’s shirt away and set his hands on his chest, thumbs just rubbing the nipples. He was more sensitive there than Kylo was, and Kylo took full advantage.

Hux was struggling with Kylo’s shirt buttons, unable to get them open fast enough. He stared them down contemptuously as he worked his way toward Kylo’s belt. When they finally gave way, he shoved the sides of the shirt away and bent to tongue the valley between Kylo’s pectorals. Kylo lay still for him, though he wanted to be out of his shirt completely. Hux took one nipple in his mouth, and Kylo told him, “Suck hard.” As Hux did, he groaned, hoping for a bruise.

When Hux pulled back, Kylo grabbed him around the waist and tossed him onto his back, allowing him to get free of his shirt. He went for Hux’s belt, opening the buckle with a click of metal and the snap of the leather tail. Hux lifted his hips for Kylo to pull his trousers down his legs.

“Kriff,” Kylo grumbled as he realized Hux was still wearing his boots. He set to unlacing them, though he shot a glance at Hux. “Touch yourself.”

Hux did, stroking his cock to bring himself to full hardness. Kylo loved the thatch of red hair between his legs, vibrant enough to draw the eye again and again. Forcing his gaze away, Kylo finished with the boots and dropped them onto the floor at the foot of the bed. Moments later, he had Hux’s trousers stripped away and he was brushing Hux’s hand away to take his cock into his mouth. Hux gripped his hair.

Kylo sucked him until he was making those noises Kylo liked so much, but not much longer than that. He had other ideas. When he finished with a lingering lick at the tip, he winked. Hux, flushed, seemed desirously bewildered. Kylo hurried to remove his own shoes and trousers, relieved when he lay back down bare. Hux closed his eyes as Kylo touched him, his hands on Kylo’s shoulders, the skin sticky in the heavy humidity. Kylo kissed his neck and nibbled his ear, eliciting the soft sound of his name. It sent an electric shock down his spine.

Hux kissed him light and teasing, pressing and withdrawing. Kylo, impatient, caught his lip between his teeth and sucked. When he let go, Hux’s mouth was red and swollen, and Kylo’s cock jumped knowing he had done that. They were lying close enough that they were touching, and Kylo shifted to push their hips together to provide some friction. Hux responded, rolling into him.

“We could come from just this,” Kylo said. “Well, I could.”

Hux continued to move against him. “Is that what you want to do?”

“Not quite,” Kylo replied. It was good, he wouldn’t deny that, but he knew something better. “Hand me the bottle.” Hux gave him the lubricant, and he poured some out onto his hand. Parting his thighs, he spread it between them. He hadn’t done this in years, and actually quite regretted that. The rest of the lubricant he smoothed over Hux’s cock.

“Did your troopers tell you about this?” Kylo asked as he started to turn onto his side, putting his back to Hux.

“I don’t think so.”

“Come here,” Kylo said, pulling Hux’s arm over his middle to draw him in. As Hux’s cock brushed his slick thighs, he opened them to slide it between them. “Does that feel good?”

Hux moved experimentally, slipping easily in the lubricant. Kylo kept his legs pressed tight together. “I’m to...do it like this?”

“Try it,” said Kylo. “If you don’t like it, we can do something else. But I really like it this way.”

“Does it feel good for you?”

“Yeah, and I can take care of myself while you do it.” He guided Hux’s hand to his cock, which he began to pump steadily. “Go on,” he encouraged. “Hold onto me.”

Hux molded his body to Kylo’s, beginning to thrust between his thighs. He was careful at first, but as he began to get a feel for it, he sped up. His breath was hot against the back of Kylo’s neck, and he was making little throaty sounds. Kylo reveled in their proximity, the soft dampness of Hux’s chest against his back. Hux’s hand was splayed on his chest, giving him the leverage to fuck Kylo’s thighs.

“How’s that?” Kylo asked.

“Good,” Hux replied. “It’s good.” Kylo clenched his hamstrings and quadriceps, and Hux groaned. “Like that. Yes, like that.”

Kylo worked himself, too, a little slower than Hux was thrusting, pleasure pooling in his lower belly as skin met skin. He enjoyed penetration, whether receiving or giving, but there was something about this that was almost more intimate. It connected them, even without one being inside the other. His first experiences had been like this, and it still affected him. Hux was clinging to him in his raw need, enveloping him with his body and his scent. They were both offering themselves, and it united them.

Hux,” Kylo groaned. “I’ve wanted to feel you here since I saw you. Let you take what you need from me.” Hux was shaking behind him, gasping now. Kylo was getting close, too, and he bore down on Hux. “I’m right there. Stars, I can’t wait. Tell me I can come.” He wasn’t sure he had ever sought permission before, even from the partners who tended to want it, but he hoped to hear it now.

“Yes, Kylo,” Hux said. “Yes.

It put Kylo over the edge, and he was wracked with shivers as he hit his peak. Uncaring, he made a mess of the sheets, working himself through the orgasm while Hux stuttered out, “Ah! I’m...there.” Kylo felt the warmth of his release between his thighs, and gave a short moan. He loved that heat, every time.

When Hux finally stilled, they were both sweat-damp and breathing hard. They held tight to each other still, though Kylo took Hux’s hand and entwined their fingers. Hux sighed behind him, squeezing. Carefully, Kylo parted his thighs, and Hux eased his cock free. Kylo was wet with lubricant and cooling come, but he wasn’t yet ready to get up. He brought Hux’s hand to his lips and kissed the knuckles.

“Was that okay?” he asked, even if he knew the answer.

Hux hummed. “It was. I hadn’t thought of it that way.”

“I learned that before anyone ever got inside me,” said Kylo. “It’s a favorite way of mine, actually.”

“You’ll let someone else…” Hux trailed off.

“Let someone fuck me?” Kylo said. “Sure. I like switching around, keeps things interesting. And it feels good.” He held Hux’s arm to him. “You know it’s never supposed to hurt, right?”

“If you’re prepared properly, then no,” Hux said. “Or so I was told.”

“When we get there, we’ll take our time and make it good for you.”

Hux landed a light kiss on Kylo’s shoulder. “I trust you will.”

They lay quietly for another few moments before Hux offered to get a towel to clean them up.

“I’ll get it,” said Kylo.

Hux moved away, allowing him to roll out of bed and wet a towel to clean his thighs. He brought it back to bed and gently wiped Hux’s cock, then he tossed the towel away and lay back down, one hand behind his head.

“So, you delivered the information to your mother?” Hux asked. “Was it worth what we faced on Kubindi?”

“It was, yeah,” Kylo replied. He waited for Hux to press further, but when he didn’t, Kylo continued anyway. “It was about a weapon called Starkiller. It looks like a planet in itself, but it’s more. We don’t have any plans, though, so we don’t have have any idea what it actually does. We need more intelligence, but we don’t have any more operatives in the First Order to get it for us. We need a mole, and we don’t have one.”

Hux was silent for a beat, but then he said, “You could have one.”

Kylo cocked a brow, head turned to the side to see him. “What do you mean?”

“You could send me,” Hux said, moistening his lips. “Let me go back under the auspices of giving information about the Resistance. I could find out more about Starkiller.”

“No,” Kylo said, firmly and without hesitation. “You said you can’t go back. They’ll put you to death.”

“Not if I have something to offer,” said Hux.

Kylo repeated himself, decided, “No.” It was out of the question to put him in a situation where he’d be in that kind of danger. He had barely avoided execution just days before; Kylo couldn’t send him back knowing his father or the high command could have him killed for desertion.

“Is there a better solution?” Hux said. He turned, too, to face Kylo. “Let me do this for you. It will allow me to pay my life debt.”

He was sincere, and objectively it made sense, and seemed their only avenue, but Kylo didn’t want to let him go. He had him now, and he wouldn’t condemn him.

“I can’t send you back there knowing they could kill you,” Kylo said.

“That’s a risk I’ll take for the debt I owe you. Give me this. I can do it.”

“Why would you betray the Order like that?” Kylo asked. “You said before that you don’t know your loyalties anymore. I can’t ask you to do that.”

Hux raised a hand and laid his fingertips on Kylo’s cheek. “You can ask anything of me. I’m indebted.”

“Not this.”

“Kylo,” Hux said. “There’s no other way. I’ll do this.” More stridently: “For you.”

Kylo kissed him, hard and demanding, and Hux held him fast, pushing into his mouth and exchanging breath. He wanted to refuse him again, stars, he did, but if Hux was resolved, Kylo was sure he wouldn’t back down. They were pressed brow to brow as he said, “We’ll have to ask Leia.”

“Take me to her,” said Hux, “and I will.”

Kylo touched the soft, short hair at the base of Hux’s skull. “We can go now, but...I don’t like this.”

Hux smiled just slightly. “I know, but I’ll come back to you, if I can.”

“You will,” Kylo insisted. “You’re my copilot, and I’m already used to having you around. Don’t make me go back to flying alone.”

“Take 1H,” Hux said.

Kylo wrinkled his nose, but when he spoke it was soberly. “I’m not joking this time.”

Hux combed his fingers through Kylo’s hair. “I give you my word that if I can get back here, I will. I’m in no hurry to die.”

“You’d better not be,” Kylo said. He grabbed Hux by the waist and yanked him in, pinning his hand between their bodies at Hux’s groin. “Let Mom wait for another hour.”

Hux latched onto Kylo’s shoulders and grinned.

 


 

They found Leia in the command center two hours and one shower later, looking over some lieutenant’s holo displays. She was fully focused on it, but Kylo knew she had seen him come in. He and Hux stood by until she acknowledged them, the backs of their hands just touching at their sides. At last, she left the display and came to face them.

“Ben, Hux, what can I do for you?”

They had agreed that Kylo would do the talking to start, but that Hux would take over when it came to the details. He had laid out his plan to Kylo in bed, and Kylo had had to admit that there was at least a chance that they would succeed.

“Mother,” Kylo said, “can we talk alone?”

“I suppose,” she replied. “Come on, follow me.” She led them to her private office, where she had her own desk and console. “What is it?”

“We might have an idea of how to get more information on the Starkiller project,” said Kylo. “Well, Hux has an idea.”

Leia’s hard gaze went to him, and he began, “I propose that I infiltrate the First Order on your behalf. At present my status is unknown, though I am likely presumed dead. If I can get back to an Order operating center, I can provide a story of my capture and harrowing escape from the Resistance, with critical intelligence in hand. This would, of course, require a donation of verifiable information on your part. Anything faked will be found out immediately.

“I expect that with that information I will be taken to the Order’s officers and interrogated to provide it. If it’s valuable enough, I might be asked to deliver it in person to high command.” He stared Leia down unflinchingly. “From there I can find a way to get access to the star destroyer’s data banks. Whatever intelligence about Starkiller that is housed there, I can download it and transmit it back to you.”

“‘Find a way?’” Leia said. “You don’t have a plan for how to do that?”

“There are a significant number of variables that could affect the how of it,” Hux said. “I can address them in the moment.”

“I suppose that’s acceptable,” she said. “Risky, but acceptable. What next?”

“There will have to be someone else available to receive the data. A small ship just out of range of the destroyer’s sensors.”

“For transfer and extraction,” Kylo said. Both Leia and Hux turned to him, one surprised, the other annoyed.

“You want to be extracted from the Order after this is finished?” Leia asked. “I might have thought you would want to stay.”

Hux clasped his hands behind his back, a tell for tension Kylo had noted. “I’d prefer to return to Kylo’s service.”

Leia’s expression softened, and she said, “I see. You have feelings for my son.”

It hadn’t been discussed in those exact terms, and Kylo knew there was some truth to it, but his chest clenched for wanting to hear it aloud.

“I do,” Hux said. A quirk at the corner of his mouth. “Despite my better judgement.”

Kylo forced himself not to laugh. Cheeky bastard.

Leia saw it, of course, and frowned. “You, too?” she asked him.

“Yes, Mother,” he replied.

“All right,” she said with resignation. “If this is actually possible, what kind of extraction are you going to need?”

“I believe I can access and jettison an escape pod from the destroyer that your ship could pick up,” said Hux. “It would have to be done quickly.”

“I’d do it,” Kylo said. “The Arrow is fast and quiet. She and I can handle it.”

“Absolutely not,” Leia said. Unspoken: I’m not risking you.

Kylo stood his ground. “Nobody else is better suited. I’m a smuggler. Let me get him out.”

“I told him I’d prefer he didn’t do it, either,” Hux said.

“And I told you I’m going to,” Kylo snapped back, leveling a finger at him.

“All right, all right,” Leia said, intervening. “Say Ben does this. The Arrow isn’t combat-ready. If even one TIE fighter is deployed, they could shoot you both out of the sky in an instant. Won’t someone notice there’s been a pod jettisoned?”

“Yes,” Hux replied. “Hence the speed of the pickup.”

Leia rubbed between her eyebrows. “This isn’t a good idea, any of it. It could end up getting both of you killed and compromising the Resistance.”

“But is this Starkiller intelligence not of the utmost importance?” Hux said. He stepped toward Leia. “I will do my best to get what you need. If I die in the process, you’ve lost nothing.”

Kylo, pained, grabbed his shoulder. “You won’t.” Hux covered his hand with his own, waiting for Leia to respond.

“What happens if you don’t get to a pod, or you don’t get the information?” she asked. “When will Ben know to leave?”

“We’ve decided on eight standard hours,” Hux replied, “and then he’s to return to Ryden.”

Kylo would stay as long as it took, and Hux knew it, but if he was imprisoned or killed, Kylo would eventually have to go. If not, he would be detected by the destroyer. He refused to consider that option overlong; Hux would get out safely.

“This is maybe the most risky plan I’ve ever considered,” Leia said, “but if you think you can pull if off, I’ll get you the information you need.”

“I’ll do everything in my power to make sure it happens,” Hux said. “It’s my life debt paid.” He took Kylo’s hand from his shoulder and, still keeping hold of him, lowered it to his side. Leia nodded, though Kylo didn’t know if that was mere acceptance or approval. He guessed it was the former; Leia wasn’t easy to win over.

“Let me get some people in here,” she said, “and we’ll discuss what information we can send with with you without risking lives. Where do you plan to go to reenter the Order?”

“Back to Utel Gamma,” said Hux, “where Kylo found me. There’s no reason for me to have been taken off-planet. And I know where their operations are there.”

“I’ll take him first to the Ryden 2 station to prepare,” Kylo said. “From there we’ll go to Utel Gamma, and I’ll drop him off. We won’t be in contact until I get the data feed.” He hated this. “But then I’ll know when to pick him up.”

“Very well,” Leia said. “I’ll make the arrangements and you can leave tonight.”

“Not before my lesson with the sharpshooters,” Hux said. “I gave them my word.”

Leia gave Kylo a questioning look, but he just shrugged. She said, “Fine. Be back here at 1900 hours.”

Kylo ushered Hux back out into the command center and then out into the afternoon heat. “I guess we’re doing this,” he said.

“We are,” said Hux. “We’ll get what we need and come back unscathed.”

“Do you actually believe that?” Kylo asked.

Hux kissed him instead of replying, and Kylo let him.

 


 

It was dark by the time dinner in the mess was finished; the days on D’Qar were shorter than on most planets. Stars speckled the sky outside, there was so little light pollution from an almost otherwise uninhabited world. Kylo and Hux had sat together for the meal, this time with most of the marksmen Hux had worked with that afternoon. They had looked at him with reverence, especially the younger ones. Kylo didn’t miss that many of the Resistance fighters were no more than eighteen or twenty. There were veterans—some former New Republic pilots and technicians—but a good number were green and barely out of school on their homeworlds. He was an old man compared to them, though no less committed to the cause.

As he and Hux left the mess, he took his hand, saying, “I want to show you something.”

Hux came willingly along, allowing Kylo to tow him past most of the buildings to the edge of the installation where there were a number of mounds built to shield the operations from hostile fire. They climbed up over a retaining wall onto the short, soft grass, heading to the crest of the hill. Kylo sank down onto it, lying on his back with his face turned up to the starscape. He could even see the milky reaches of the galaxy like a silver-white veil over part of the sky. Hux, taking his cue, lay down beside him.

“I come up here to think sometimes,” Kylo said. “Away from the noise. I don’t always like to be around so many people all the time.”

“I think I’m coming to appreciate solitude,” said Hux. “Or at least limited company. It gives me room in a way I’d never experienced on a star destroyer. No space is wasted, and it’s close quarters. Not much unlike here.”

“You didn’t want to stay alone on the station, that’s for sure,” Kylo teased, bumping Hux’s boot with the toe of his own. “I can’t believe you just stowed away like it was nothing. I was so angry.”

Hux folded his hands over his stomach, pointedly keeping his gaze off of Kylo. “I’m not sorry. I know I did wrong, but I don’t regret it.”

“You got yourself into a mess by it,” said Kylo, “but we wouldn’t be here like this if you hadn’t made trouble for me. I don’t regret you, not for a minute.”

Hux did turn then, the prominent bones of his face making his cheeks look hollow in the scant light. “I took to you from the start. Not just because you were good to me and I hadn’t known that before, but because you fit me into your life as if it was simple and welcome.” He huffed a little breath, a minute smile on his lips. “And you were attractive.”

Kylo laughed. “Oh, do go on. Flattery will get you everywhere.”

“Further than we’ve already gone?” Hux asked, one brow raised suggestively.

“Maybe,” Kylo replied. “At least it’ll make me want to keep you around so I can hear it every day.”

Hux clucked, arch. “You’d get bored with it after a while, I’m sure. There are only so many compliments I can pay you. Though if you don’t mind repetition…”

Kylo wasn’t in the least bit serious, of course, but he winked at Hux, offering a toothy smile. “I’m satisfied just knowing you like the way I look, and how I treat you. You had me from the beginning, even when you were struggling like a caught fish to get out my arms when I first brought you to the station.”

“I don’t like being handled as if I’m delicate,” Hux grumbled. “I’m not.”

“No,” said Kylo. “I won’t make that mistake again. Tough trooper like you.” It was meant playfully, but Hux sobered, facing the sky again.

“If I return from this mission,” he said, “what will become of me?”

Kylo hadn’t had much time to think about it in the rush to make plans and tell Leia. He knew he wouldn’t let Hux go—out of necessity to protect the Resistance, but also for his own desire to have him nearby.

“You’ll work for me,” he said, “just like you told Leia you wanted to. I’ve got lots of work for us, above board and under it. You meant what you said, didn’t you?”

“Of course,” Hux said. “I want to stay on, but what of the Resistance? If they won’t ever trust me, will they allow me to work with you?”

Kylo chewed his lower lip, considering. “They don’t really have a say in who I work with, but I guess that’s a fair question. The leadership may not like it. They’re careful in choosing their operatives when they take on the most sensitive jobs.”

“And you do that,” Hux said.

“Yeah.” Kylo sighed. “If I’m honest, there might be some things you can’t be a part of, elements of Resistance business I have to do alone. I trust you, but Leia…”

Hux shifted beside him, though Kylo didn’t know if it was just to get more comfortable on the ground or because he was unsettled. “I understand that,” he said, “and I accept it. I’ll leave you to your work when it’s necessary.”

“Would you really want to know all of it?” Kylo asked. “You don’t have to be all-in with the Resistance. I’d never expect that of you. Although, you’re about to do something that’s pretty much as all-in as it gets.”

“I’m not doing it for them,” Hux said. “And it’s probably best I stay mostly removed.” After a pause, he added, “I won’t like the secrets. I don’t intend to keep anything from you, but you’ll have to keep the Resistance from me.”

Kylo reached across to him and set a hand on his thigh. “I’ll be as honest as I can. I want you to be able to trust me and know I’m not hiding the things that matter.”

Hux faced him again. “What things?”

“Anything between us,” Kylo said. “How I feel about you.”

“It hasn’t been very long,” said Hux slowly, carefully. “Is it foolish to think there could be real attachment?”

Kylo rolled onto his side to properly look at him, moving his hand up to cover Hux’s where they still rested over his belly. “I know, but it’s there. At least I think so. You’ve got me caught up in you.”

Hux took the hand Kylo set there and rubbed his thumb along its side. “Partnerships are forbidden in the ranks, and I never suffered for not having one. At least, I thought I didn’t.”

“Is that what you want with me?” Kylo asked. He squeezed Hux’s fingers. “Because it’s what I want with you.”

Hux’s reply was quiet but sure: “Yes.”

Kylo bent down to kiss him, and Hux came into it eagerly, lips parted in invitation. Kylo took it.

The shadows of X-wing fighters taking off blacked the stars out as they zipped over the hill when Kylo lay back again, catching his breath, fingers still entwined with Hux’s. They could be distantly heard, but the hill was too far from the launch bay for them to disturb the calm of the air on the grassy mound.

“When do we leave for Ryden?” Hux asked.

“Tomorrow most likely,” Kylo replied. “We’ve got to hammer out some of the details with Leia and the admirals, but we shouldn’t stay around here too long wasting time. It’s better to have done with this and get you back.”

Hux’s chest expanded as he drew in air. “I’m not afraid to face it, but there are a great deal of things that could go wrong.”

“I don’t really want to think about it,” Kylo admitted. “I’m sure you can get it done. I have to be.”

“I might have to face my brother,” said Hux. “I’ve only ever seen him in holovids. Once he addressed all the troopers, but I was five hundred meters away. I have no idea what kind of man he is.” He spat, “Or if he’s like my father.”

“He’s younger than you,” Kylo said, “but already a general?”

“Six years younger. I was sent away from Arkanis when he was born. He was raised to be high command, I’m sure. To rise even higher than my father did.”

Though he didn’t have siblings, Kylo had grown up alongside the other padawans and vied for Luke’s attention. He had been accustomed to being the sole focus of his nanny when he was little, and it was an adjustment to compete. There were times, he remembered, when Luke had been consumed with training the younger students—almost all of them at least three years Ben’s junior—and had left him to lonely hours of copying Jedi texts. He had a good hand for calligraphy, or at least he had before the accident, when he still wrote with his right hand. He had been envious of their comradery in those lessons, and it had only served to isolate him more.

“Were you ever jealous of him?” Kylo asked. “Your brother.”

“I barely knew he existed until he was made an officer,” Hux said. “And by then I was already twenty-four and too focused on my assignments to think about him. I loved my work. I wasn’t interested in command.”

“I think you would have been good at it,” said Kylo. “You’ve got the temperament.”

Hux shook his head. “No. I want a small team at most. I don’t need to send battalions to fight and die.”

“I understand that,” Kylo said. “I never intended to be a leader in the Resistance, either. Or a politician like Leia was before all of this. When I was at my uncle’s school we trained to be independent of politics and war. There are so few Jedi now that they don’t have the strength to sway governments as they used to in the Old Republic. And Luke wanted to stay above it.”

“But he fought in the Rebellion,” Hux said. “How is that staying out of conflict?”

“I asked the same thing when I was a kid. He said that individuals can choose to help a cause if they want to, but the Jedi as a whole won’t take sides.”

“Even against the First Order?”

Kylo shrugged. “They could stand against them, but Luke wouldn’t order them to. That’s the point. Everyone makes their own choice.”

Hux wet his lips, eyes on the sky. “There were once warriors on the dark side, the Sith. Will none of the masters turn to that if given the chance?”

“They were trained to master the light side,” Kylo said. “There are no teachers for the dark.” He paused, correcting himself, “Well, there’s one. Snoke. But I don’t know if he ever approached the other apprentices. I don’t think so.”

“He sought you because you were powerful,” said Hux.

“And because I have the darkness in my blood. Darth Vader’s grandson. He thought I might be drawn to it because of that.”

“But you weren’t.”

Kylo had been for a time, when he was young and curious about the power Snoke offered, when he was hungry to be better and faster than the other padawans. He managed to tell Hux that. “But I rejected him after all. And I’m glad for it.”

“Imagine if we were in the opposite situation,” Hux said. “If you had joined the Order and that was how I met you.” He rubbed his chin with his free hand. “Though I doubt I would have. As Snoke’s apprentice you would have been out of my reach.”

“What fun would that have been?” Kylo said, nuzzling Hux’s ear to smell the cleanness of his hair.

Hux chuckled. “None at all.”

They went back into each other’s arms, uncaring of the stains the grass was surely leaving on their clothes. Kylo had followed a strange path to get to this place in his life, but he wouldn’t undo it. He had a ship of his own, worked for his credits, served a cause he believed in, and now he had Hux. Under the stars of the thousand different worlds that had once separated them, they found each other.

Chapter Text

D’Qar had two moons, one small and rising early in the night—Hux had seen it as he and Kylo had walked back across the base to their hut in Sector 12—and the other massive and bright, hanging heavy in the sky even as the sun was coming up. It was still there now, visible outside the hut’s window, as Hux opened his eyes at dawn. He was lying facing the window, one arm tucked under the thin pillow and the other resting along his side over the sheet he and Kylo had slept under.

When they returned from the hillside, they had undressed one another unhurriedly, and Kylo spent long minutes just feeling Hux with hands and mouth, until Hux broke down and asked him—heatedly—to touch his cock. Kylo, looking utterly pleased with himself, swallowed him down and saw him to climax. He let Hux do the same to him, giving the occasional instruction as a guide. Hux had nearly choked when Kylo came on his tongue, but managed to take it all. Kylo had gotten up right away to get him a cup of water to wash the taste away. They had lain down then to sleep, Kylo curled around Hux, his nose against the back of Hux’s neck.

Hux lay awake for some time, unaccustomed to sharing a bed. Kylo’s heat was all around him and his breath was humid on his skin. He didn’t snore per se, but there was a light wheeze to his inhales that kept Hux on edge. It wasn’t all bad. He smelled good, like sex and the soap they had both used to wash their faces, and he held Hux to him with his left arm slung over his waist, fingers occasionally twitching as he dreamed. Hux was constrained and somewhat nervous at being held so solidly in place without an avenue to escape, but he knew there wasn’t a risk posed to him here. He hadn’t been treated as suspiciously by the Resistance as he had expected to be, even by Leia.

She hadn’t fit his expectations, either. She was royalty, a former senator, and now a leader of a thousand people, maybe more—and yet she dressed unobtrusively and walked among her army as if she was their equal rather than their commander. She spoke with authority, but not harshly, as the First Order’s officers often did. The holovids of his brother, General Hux, showed a vitriolic man with burning blue eyes and the spittle-spraying style of a zealous orator. He meant to intimidate both the Order’s enemies and its own soldiers. He commanded a respect built upon fear and awe—neither of which Leia employed.

She had an odd way of treating Kylo: a mix of mothering and ordering. She still called him Ben, which he clearly tolerated but didn’t appreciate, and while she was curt and businesslike with him at times, she could flip her demeanor completely to regard him as her potentially unruly son. She loved him, that much was plain, and he her. And from what Hux had seen of the way they had spoken in her office, she listened to him when he had something to offer—even if it was bringing a former stormtrooper to her to propose mission that would most likely get Hux killed.

“You have feelings for my son,” she had said.

There was no point in denying it, or playing the matter down. True they had only been together for a short time, but their bond had already begun to solidify by the time Hux kissed him for the second time, and the night before, on the hill, it had been fully and openly made. Excited, eager pleasure welled in him as he lay in bed watching a circle of orange morning light illuminate the spot where one of Kylo’s feet stuck out from under the sheet. He belonged to Hux now and, turning slowly, Hux took him in.

He was splayed out across his side of the bed, on his back with his hair over his eyes and his prosthetic arm hanging off of the mattress. The sheet covered only his hips and legs—save for the exposed foot—leaving his pale chest bare. Where Hux’s skin was fair, he had a pinkish coloring; Kylo, on the other hand, was alabaster. Tentatively, Hux reached for his belly, setting his hand there to see the contrast. Kylo didn’t stir, allowing Hux to study him further. His pulse point rose and fell with each beat of his heart, slow as he slept. He wrinkled his nose as a piece of hair tickled it. Hux gently brushed the hair away, and Kylo sighed.

“Thank you,” he murmured., startling Hux. “And good morning.”

Hux looked at him; his eyes were still closed. “I didn’t think you were awake,” Hux said, his fingers still resting on Kylo’s chest.

Kylo shifted, curling and uncurling his toes to stretch his feet. “Been staying still for a while. I didn’t want to wake you . Shouldn’t have been worried about that, I guess, if you were already up.”

Hux propped himself up on his elbow to get a better view of him. “I still can’t sleep these long hours. I don’t know if I’ll be able to.”

“That’s okay,” said Kylo, reaching blindly for him until he landed a hand on his shoulder. “You get up when you need to. I can always roll over and go back to sleep. Though I’d rather have you here with me.” He cracked his eyes open like a drowsy cat, and his smile was warm. “Was it all right? I didn’t kick you too much?”

“Not once,” Hux said. He didn’t bother to mention the rest; he assumed he would get used to being in Kylo’s bed, if he wanted him there. “Am I going to need my quarters on the station when we return?” he asked.

Kylo blinked, more alert. “You can have them, but you don’t need them.” He rubbed Hux’s upper arm. “You don’t have to bunk with me every night, though.”

Hux raised a brow. “Your bed is bigger than mine. Perhaps softer, too?”

“You’ll just have to find out, won’t you?” Kylo said. Guiding Hux by the back of the neck, he drew him down to his lips. The angle was strange for the first few kisses, but when Kylo raised the sheet out of the way, Hux moved over him, sitting across his hips.

Hux bent down to kiss his chest, where there were a smattering of bruises from the night before. The one over his right nipple was particularly pronounced. His skin was musky from sleep, and Hux nuzzled the crook of his neck to where his hair fell to enjoy it. Kylo rubbed Hux’s thighs with his palms, letting Hux do what he wanted.

Hux took full advantage, lying down over top of him and pressing his hardening cock to Kylo’s. They had had each other as many times as possible over the past two days, and Hux had no intention of putting a stop to it. Now that he knew the pleasure of sex, he planned to discover as much as he could.

He worked his way to Kylo’s mouth again, kissing him deeply and eliciting a deep sound of approval as Kylo latched onto his waist. His hands encompassed a great deal of it, which Hux found he very much liked.

“This is a damn good way to wake up,” Kylo said between kisses. “You naked and on top of me.”

Hux nipped his lower lip. “You won’t get as much sleep if I did it as much as I wanted to.” Reaching between them, he wrapped his hand around Kylo’s erection, giving him a sure stroke.

Kylo breathed out, closing his eyes for a moment. “That’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.” He looked back up at Hux. “I’ll give you anything you want.”

“Not exactly anything,” Hux said, thumbing the top of Kylo’s cock. “You still won’t take me properly.”

He got a stern look, albeit a little hazy with desire. “This isn’t the place,” Kylo said. “But...there is something we could do.”

“What?” asked Hux.

With intent, Kylo brushed his fingertips down the cleft of Hux’s ass to his entrance, pressing lightly. “I could give you my fingers. So you can get used to it.”

“I’ve taken my own before,” Hux said. “Two.”

Kylo gave a contemplative hum. “How long ago?”

Hux averted his eyes, but didn’t lie. “Years.”

“Then you should have a chance to learn again before you try to take anything bigger,” said Kylo. Hux gave his cock a squeeze, and he laughed. “Exactly.”

Hux was somewhat daunted by Kylo’s size, but he still wanted to feel him inside, to offer everything he had to him. Starting with his fingers, though, was a fair compromise.

“All right,” Hux said. “Show me.”

Kylo shifted under him, trying to bounce him up and off of him. “Lie down,” he said. “We can do it on hands and knees, but I’d rather see your face.”

Hux preferred that, too. Swinging his leg over, he rolled onto his back, kicking the sheet away to leave him uncovered. He wasn’t exactly sure how Kylo wanted him posed, but he assumed he would have to be as open as possible. He parted his legs and tipped his hips up. Kylo seemed to approve; he wet his lips as he looked Hux over, his gaze lingering at the juncture of his thighs.

“You are something,” Kylo said as he shifted to kneel between Hux’s legs. He ran his hands up from his calves to his knees, tickling the ginger hair on them.

Hux opened ever-so-slightly more, and Kylo bent to kiss his inner thighs. He nudged Hux’s testicles with his nose, taking one and then the other into his mouth. Hux groaned at the heat and damp of his tongue. With his forefingers, Kylo pressed against Hux’s ass, teasing him, but not breaching him. Knowing he had to relax his muscles to take anything, Hux breathed out and tried to do so.

“That’s good,” Kylo said, rubbing his entrance as if to coax him further. “Hand me the bottle?”

Hux’s hand trembled as he grasped the lubricant on the bedside table and gave it to him. He watched, rapt, as Kylo squeezed some out onto his forefinger and spread it around with his thumb.

“Okay,” Kylo said. “Just breathe.”

Hux did as he was told, preparing himself for the intrusion. Kylo laid his finger against him for a few seconds before he began to push in. Instinctively, Hux's muscles clenched, but with an exhale, he released them to permit more of Kylo's finger inside. Kylo crooked it just at the first knuckle, working to loosen him more. Slowly and with care, he eased in up to the second knuckle. Hux already felt full from just that, but he knew there was a great deal more he would have to accustom himself to before the end.

“You all right?” Kylo asked.

Hux nodded, saying, “Yes. Go on.”

Kylo began to circle the finger, yet again encouraging Hux to stretch and permit him entry. The strangeness began to fade as he worked, and he was able press deeper, into the slick softness past the strong ring of muscle. Hux remembered the smoothness of it from his own experience, and wondered what Kylo was feeling.

Kylo checked in again: “How’s that? Doesn’t hurt?”

“No,” said Hux. “Is it all right for you?”

“Amazing,” Kylo said, smiling. “You feel great, and you’re doing so well.”

Hux warmed at the praise, glad to know he was satisfying the requirements for this act. His erection had waned some, but he reached down to stroke himself and it began to fill out again.

“That’s right,” Kylo said softly. “Keep touching. Go slowly.”

Hux obeyed, and as he moved his hand, Kylo began to draw his finger out and then push it back in. Hux cried a shocked “Ah!” as the tip hit the most sensitive part inside him.

Kylo grinned, expression dark with satisfaction. “Right there, huh? Okay.” He worried the spot with each pass of his finger, and Hux’s heart rate increased, his cock hard again in his grasp. It felt incredible, even better than he recalled from doing it himself.

Kylo poured more lubricant onto his fingers, touching Hux’s rim now with a second one. At his look—seeking permission—Hux said, “Do it.”

He stretched with mild discomfort as Kylo eased both fingers inside him. He worked at the muscles again until Hux relaxed into it; only then did he move deeper. Hux was holding his cock tight in his fist, making it ache, but when Kylo found his prostate again, he released the grip, pressing his thumb to the slit, where there was a spot of wetness. The feelings were mixed and strange, but there was pleasure there that was steadily building. Hux was so caught up in it that he barely noticed Kylo’s knuckles meeting his entrance, the fingers fully inside him.

“You look good,” Kylo murmured, rubbing his thigh with his free hand. “And feel even better.” He splayed his fingers slightly, opening Hux further. Hux panted, losing himself in the sensations. “I’m going to break when I’m inside you. You’re so hot, so tight. Like silk.” He punctuated it with a sure brush of his fingers.

The words and the touch struck Hux like a blow to the stomach, sending sparks of pleasure-pain throughout his body. He pressed his head back into the pillow. “Keep doing that,” he said. “Maybe...faster?”

“Whatever you want,” said Kylo. He began to fuck Hux with his fingers in earnest, making a wet sound that went straight to Hux’s cock.

The fullness was better now, Hux thought, intense in a way he hadn’t known such an intrusion could be. His belly and chest were rising and falling with each instroke of Kylo’s fingers and with the movement of Hux’s own hand on his cock. He was rising to it with startling speed, the pressure building in his gut and making his testicles draw up.

“What do you need?” Kylo asked. “Are you close?”

Yes,” Hux replied, the single word punched out of him as he began to lose control. Looking down his body, he saw that Kylo was touching himself, too, staring at the place where his fingers disappeared inside of Hux. Just knowing that that held him so spellbound put Hux over the edge. He cried out as he came all over himself, spend hitting the divot of his collarbones. Kylo kept moving, kept pressing against his prostate while Hux jerked with each aftershock. He was on fire and nearly blind, his vision white at the edges.

Hux!” Kylo called as he peaked, his come spilling over Hux, too.

Hux watched it with keen interest, feeling the hot fluid across his lower belly, some even on his cock. Kylo’s eyes were tight shut, his mouth open and tongue just touching the slightly crooked row of his upper teeth. His hand was still moving over himself, though lazily, riding out the last of his orgasm. Hux stared at him openly, captivated by the flush from his chest to his cheeks and the supplicant position in which he knelt between Hux’s legs. He was powerful there, but also clearly vulnerable in his pleasure. Hux wanted to see that expression, the shape of his body in this moment, again and again.

Silence descended in the aftermath, both of them speechless and struggling to recover. Hux was mess from belly to chest, pinkened skin spattered with white. Kylo’s fingers were still inside him, and Hux flinched slightly as he removed them. Kylo wiped them on the corner of the sheet, using it, too, to clean Hux. Then he collapsed on the bed beside him, sighing.

“Don’t mind me,” he said. “I’m just going to lie here until I can move again. Maybe by this afternoon.”

Hux smiled, still lying on his back, though he brought his legs together and flexed his feet. He wasn’t overly sore, but he could definitely tell he had been penetrated. It would be even more intense later, when Kylo had him completely. Hux was a little glad it hadn’t been now. He wasn’t exactly prepared to walk into to General Leia Organa’s office to talk strategy right after her son had fucked him. He didn’t trust himself not to limp, and there was no way she wouldn’t know that immediately for what it was.

He didn’t assume that she had any illusions about what was going on between them, of course. Word had surely gotten back to her that they were sharing quarters, and she had asked them outright if they had feelings for each other. However, she didn’t need reminding that they were quite that intimate. When it came to the other troopers, flinching as one sat down in the mess the next morning was fodder for good-natured teasing. Hux had watched it for years, but could never have imagined himself being the butt of their jokes. He was too proud for that. And he was too proud to face Kylo’s mother in that state as well.

“Are we expected at breakfast?” he asked, lifting one hand to put behind his head.

“Probably,” Kylo replied. “And I figure we’ll be briefed after that. Leia doesn’t waste time. She’ll already have found some intel for you to deliver to the First Order.”

In the night, when he couldn’t sleep, Hux had thought a great deal about what he was about to do. It was possible that as soon as he walked through the door into the operations center on Utel Gamma, he would be killed. If he hadn’t been presumed dead, but instead marked as a deserter, other troopers had license to kill him on the spot. They could scan his biometrics and report them back to the Order in a matter of seconds. His body would just be disposed of as neatly as possible: no funeral, no mourners, just efficient removal while a mark was made in his personnel file recording his date of death. That would put an end to any of the plans he had concocted.

It was a stretch that he would even manage it. He was supposed to extract the most highly guarded intelligence from a common data port without any particular slicing skills. He wouldn’t necessarily know the layout of the ship or—more likely—would be unable to get away from his escort. That was assuming they didn’t drug him to get the Resistance information and then execute him quietly, rather than making a spectacle of it.

Hux had witnessed several public executions over the years, some of troopers charged with cowardice. They had refused to fight when it came down to battle, and they were rounded up by their captain and imprisoned for a day before they were put to death. Hux had watched it all impassively, thinking only that it was neater than some of the other deaths he had witnessed. He had gone to sleep those nights without trouble, and had barely thought of those occasions ever again. Presented now with the prospect of it himself, he found he would have preferred to die unnoticed in the alley. Likely his father would be more comfortable with that, too—just making his problem disappear without fanfare. A trooper’s execution caused a stir that drew undue attention to a bastard boy who was meant to be forgotten.

The idea of this mission, in the end, was ludicrous. Hux had little confidence he could actually make it work, but he had managed to convince Kylo, and if Kylo agreed, then it was what Hux intended to do to pay his debt. But he didn’t want to rush headlong to his death, especially not now, when he had fallen into Kylo’s life and somehow won him and his affection. He didn’t want to leave him for the Order. He didn’t want to work for the Resistance, either, but his past was just that; he was ready to leave it behind if it meant Kylo was part of what was to come. At least he had had him for this time. It might have to be enough to sustain him for the rest of his numbered days.

“Good,” Hux said. “Then we should get going, shouldn’t we?”

Kylo groaned, turning toward Hux and slinging a heavy arm over his waist. “Don’t want to get up. Don’t want to put on clothes.”

Hux cupped the back of his head, slipping his fingers into his hair. “You can go naked. It would certainly be entertaining.”

Huh,” Kylo snorted. “If someone paid me enough, maybe, but not just because I’m comfortable and lazy.” He nuzzled Hux’s shoulder. “Don’t you want to stay in bed with me?”

“I’m hungry,” Hux said, twining strands of Kylo’s hair around his forefinger. “And we have work to do.”

“I know,” said Kylo. “But just give me five more minutes to hold you here?”

Hux smiled. “I’ll give you ten.”

 


 

Leia was in her office when they arrived at the command center. At her side was a taller woman with violet hair and wearing a green, featherlight dress that fluttered around her ankles even as she stood still. Her attention went immediately to Hux as he entered, and her eyes narrowed.

“Admiral Holdo,” said Kylo stiffly. “Good morning.”

She gave him only a passing glance before saying to Hux, “You’re the stormtrooper.” She cocked a brow. “Wearing Resistance-issue fatigues.”

Hux had left his soiled clothing behind in the hut and put on those Kylo had requisitioned for him. They were plain and serviceable, enough like his old uniforms that he felt comfortable in them. Despite Holdo’s tone, he didn’t take offense.

“I was in need of something to wear,” he said. “This was what was available. And yes, I am who you said. My name is Hux.”

“As I told you, Amilyn,” said Leia. “Good morning, Hux.”

He inclined his head with due deference. “General.” The corners of her mouth turned up, and he knew he had done right.

“I called Amilyn here,” she said, “to discuss the intelligence we’ll be forfeiting to the First Order. We decided it would be best to divulge something from the fleet, which can defend itself. It will be strategic locations of shipping routes for weapons.” To Hux: “Is that critical enough that it will be of use to you?”

“I believe so, yes,” he said. “Though it must be verifiable within a window of a few standard cycles. They’ll want to act on it quickly, but it won’t be immediate.”

“The ships will stay in position for three cycles,” said Holdo, clearly displeased. “I’m taking a considerable risk for this plan of yours, Hux . If I lose a single life, it’s on your head.”

“Admiral, I don’t think that’s called for,” Kylo said, lowly and thick with warning.

Hux waved him off. “I understand. Your personnel should be in little danger if the situation is handled properly. But I have no control over what the Order will do with the information. It’s outside the scope of my role in this.”

Holdo scowled deeply, but before she could speak Leia said, “We all understand the dangers of this enterprise. Hux is putting himself at risk, too, as is Ben. Nothing like this is gained without a certain measure of risk.”

“Yes, of course,” said Holdo, her concession blatantly forced.

“So,” Kylo began, “what else do we need to know about the fleet?”

Tapping a holoscreen, Holdo brought up the locations of several ships in the Inner Rim, all of which were stationary, as if awaiting orders.

“The Order will know if they just stay in one place that it’s a ruse,” Hux said.

“We’re aware of that,” Holdo snapped, “so that’s why they’ll be taking the prescribed route starting tomorrow, standard time, before you both make your run. All four of them are heavily armed and prepared to hold off an offensive.”

Hux pursed his lips. He had said to Kylo yesterday that the Resistance was seriously outgunned as compared to the First Order. “How large an offensive?” he asked. “Are you prepared to take on a battlecruiser, or a large frigate?”

“Would they send that much firepower for a few weapons transports?” Leia asked.

“They won’t accept information that doesn’t merit it,” Hux replied. “Unless this is critical intelligence, it won’t be worth their time.”

She rubbed her brow, turning to Holdo. “Should we give them more?”

“Not if we can help it,” Holdo said. She gave Hux an earnest, questioning look. “How much do you really think we’ll need?”

Hux said, “Where are the transports bound? Is there a base you can afford to reveal?” He could feel the tension in the room build, even from Kylo. Holdo looked to Leia and Leia at the display. Reaching out, she tapped at the keyboard. A moon nearby one of the ships appeared, a point on its surface flashing.

“This is the Errod shipping center,” she said. “A hub for supplies and recruits.”

“Leia,” said Holdo stridently, “it’s barely armed.”

She rubbed her chin, eyes downcast. “We can evacuate right away. Leave a skeleton crew there to keep the lights on and make it look like it’s still operating.”

“What happens when the Order comes at it with all they’ve got?” Kylo asked.

“They get away if they can,” said Leia.

Hux was familiar with sacrifices for the greater good, and said, “Will they be given orders to stay or will they be volunteers?”

“Everyone here is a volunteer,” Holdo said.

Leia spoke quietly: “No one will be ordered. They can choose to stay or go. If everyone goes, we’ll find another way to man the center.”

“But, in essence,” said Hux, “you’re giving them a suicide mission.” He cast a glance at Holdo. “I will accept responsibility for that, if I must.”

Kylo took a step toward him. “It’s not your fault. We wouldn’t have this opportunity without you. Anyone who elects to stay there is doing it because they believe we’re doing the right thing in getting the Starkiller plans. They know what they’re getting themselves into, just like you do. Just like I do.”

Hux laid a hand on his chest, pressing him back. “Kylo, it’s all right. We’re staking lives on this.”

“I know,” Kylo said, taking the hand and holding it to him. “Yours.”

Hux could feel Holdo and Leia watching them, the admiral more so. It wasn’t open disapproval, but there was concern there. He assumed she knew about their association, since Leia didn’t seem like the type of conceal any pertinent information from her commanders. Hux didn’t look at her, though; he kept his focus on Kylo, feeling the beat of his heart under his fingers.

“I didn’t expect others to be involved,” Hux said. “This is my life debt, my task.”

Leia approached them in measured steps, stopping just a pace from both of them and looking up to see their faces. “This is a Resistance operation now. You are a part of that, Hux, and so will they be. We work together. It’s never been just you.”

She meant it, and he blinked down at her. “I’m doing this for Kylo, not for the Resistance. You should know that.”

“I do,” she said, that barely there smile appearing again. “And I appreciate you being frank about that. But you are doing a favor for one of my operatives and if you need the support of the Resistance, you’ll have it.”

Hux gave a curt nod, pulling his hand from Kylo’s grasp. He offered it to Leia. “On that,” he said, “we can agree.”

“Well, then,” Holdo said, more loudly than was strictly necessary, “we’ll be sending him with the Errod information and the locations of the ships. I’ll contact the fleet captains immediately. Leia, will you see to the shipping center?”

“I will,” Leia replied. “I’ll send the message right away. Hux, how do you want us to transfer the information? A chip?”

“No,” Hux said. “I’ll memorize it. They can take a chip away from me, but they’ll need to keep me alive to verify the information before they can put together an operation.” He wet his lips. “And I’d like to give them all the possible reasons to keep me alive.” He said it with enough levity that he hoped Kylo might laugh, but he was stone-faced, eyes on the Errod display.

“Understood,” said Leia. She gestured to her console. “You can look over the files here. Take as long as you need.”

Hux had a keen memory for figures; it likely wouldn’t take him any longer than ten minutes to cement the coordinates and flight paths in his mind. But he would take his time about it, just to be safe.

“Thank you, General,” he said. “I’ll keep my eyes on my work, as well.”

This time she actually chuckled. “The rest of my files are triple encrypted and locked down. You couldn’t see them even if you were the best slicer in the First Order.”

He offered a small smile. “And I’m not. Just a sharpshooter.”

“Oh, yes,” she said. “Tether had quite a few things to say about your lesson with his unit yesterday. Your expertise is appreciated.” There was mischief in the flash of her eyes. “Did you do that as part of your life debt to my son, too?”

“No,” said Hux, amused. “I did it because I haven’t shown off for anyone other than him in quite some time. Vanity isn’t forbidden in the Order.”

Holdo scoffed, but Leia and Kylo laughed.

Kylo said, “I’m going to have to find a way to put a blaster rifle in your hands on a regular basis, or you’re going to sulk”

“There are shooting competitions on Ryden, aren’t there?” Hux asked. “That will satisfy my needs, I’m sure.”

“You’re also welcome here,” said Leia. “To teach our recruits.”

Hux regarded her steadily, largely concealing his surprise. Part of him wanted to accept that welcome, but he still believed what he had told Kylo: that it would be better if he remained outside of the Resistance.

“I appreciate the offer, General,” he said, “but I’ll leave this to Kylo in the future. Should I survive this mission, I’ll be in his employ only.”

Leia nodded once, slowly. She stepped away and ushered Holdo toward the door. “We’ll be outside if you need anything. Ben, why don’t you come along and leave Hux to this?”

Kylo shot Hux a questioning look, and Hux said, “Go on. I won’t be long.”

“Hold you to it,” said Kylo as he backed away and followed Leia and Holdo out into the command center proper, shutting the door behind him.

Hux went right away to the console and sat down to sift through the information. He began with the base, memorizing latitude and longitude on Errod, before moving to the shipping routes. He would divulge those first, to whet the Order’s appetite, but would only tell high command about the base. It seemed unlikely that a mere trooper would be seen by anyone above the rank of captain, but he had leverage that he planned to use to make himself valuable. Perhaps he would even meet his brother, at last.

When he was finished, he powered down the console and left the room. Leia and Holdo were gone, leaving only Kylo standing out of way of the activity, his hands tucked into the back pockets of his trousers. He seemed out of place among the smartly dressed lieutenants bustling around the center, even a little uncomfortable. He had pulled his hair back into a half-tail, which Hux found endearing. He looked younger, unguarded in his place in a removed corner. Hux crossed the room to him, and as Kylo’s gaze alighted on him, he brightened.

“You get everything you need?” Kylo asked.

“Yes,” Hux replied, tapping his temple. “Are we expected to stay longer here?”

“No. We should get underway as soon as we can.” He touched Hux’s sleeve fondly. “I know we won’t have long, but I want to get you back to the station.”

Hux smiled, very much in agreement. “I’d like that, too. Should we retrieve our things?”

It took only a few minutes to gather Kylo’s duffel. He put Hux’s extra clothing into it and slung it over his shoulder. They didn’t talk about the mission as they walked back toward the landing pads where the Arrow was waiting; in fact, they said little at all. Poe and his rotund droid were waiting when they arrived, in conversation with Leia. All three of them turned as Kylo and Hux approached.

“Well, Hux,” said Poe cheerfully, “it was good to meet you. You take care of Ben, all right? He tends to get into scrapes.” Kylo made a face at him, and Poe winked. “Be careful out there, Benny.”

Kylo said, shaking his hand, “You watch out for yourself in the sky, too.” The droid whistled. “You, too, BB-8.” He stooped down to embrace Leia. “I’ll send a report when we’re back safely.”

“I trust you will,” she said, patting his cheek. “Be careful”—a nod to Hux—“both of you.”

Kylo gave them a last wave, and Hux fell into step with him as they ascended the loading ramp into the Arrow . They went straight to the cockpit and fired up the engines, Kylo wasting no time in getting them off the ground. The Resistance’s central base grew smaller and smaller in the viewport until it was out of sight completely, swallowed up by the thick cloud cover in the lower atmosphere. Kylo guided them smoothly out of orbit and into hyperspace. Hux watched him out of the corner of his eye, waiting for him to speak.

He let his head fall back against his seat, turning to Hux with a lazy smile. “Alone again,” he said. “We’ve got about three hours of flight time. You want a drink?”

“It’s barely past ten hundred hours,” said Hux.

“Juice then,” Kylo suggested. “Or you can just come sit with me for a while. I guess I don’t really need an excuse to get you into the lounge.”

Hux said, “You don’t, no. But I’ll share a bottle of juice with you.” He got up and slipped between their chairs, heading aft toward the galley. He chose a bottle of pinkish juice.

Kylo flopped down on the lounge seat and gestured for Hux to sit between his spread legs, against his chest. Hux tucked himself into the proffered space and opened the bottle. He took a sip before passing it to Kylo.

“May I ask you something about your mother?” Hux said.

“Sure,” Kylo replied, his flesh-and-blood arm settled around Hux’s waist.

“You said you left home at six to study with your uncle, but did you spend a great deal of time with her before you went away?”

“A fair amount, but she was a senator and busy building the New Republic. I saw more of my nanny than I did of her, or my father.”

Hux asked, “Was that all right?”

Kylo shrugged from behind him. “I never knew anything different. I thought it was how everyone’s family was. But Leia would spend time with me when she had it. I remember a few trips to the public gardens, or her playing with me on the floor of my nursery. One thing she did do was get me all the best toys.” He laughed. “I never wanted for model ships or figures of every species I could think of.”

Hux struggled to picture the hard-around-the-edges General Organa on the toy-covered floor of a young boy’s bedroom, making the noises the speeders made as they mock-flew over the carpet. Small Ben’s elated laughter when they crashed with his, Leia’s fond regard for her only child.

“I never knew my mother,” said Hux. “As soon as I was born, my father sent her away and took me into his household. Maratelle, his wife, wanted nothing to do with me, so a nanny was hired to see to my care.” Her name had been Rella and she had had a kind voice. “She was good to me, but always careful never to coddle. My father wouldn’t have tolerated that. Was yours the same way?”

Kylo handed him the juice again. “I should have said ‘nannies’ because I went through one every six months or so. I never failed to scare them off. I didn’t have very good control of the Force when I was little, and when I cried or threw a tantrum, things would break or fly around the room.”

“Is that common with Force-sensitives?” Hux asked, never having seen or thought of one as a child.

“Not really,” Kylo replied. “Most powers don’t manifest until you’re older. I was...an exception.”

He must have been a shaggy-haired boy, with ears sticking out and a crooked smile. It was hard to see him as anything but the broad man he was, but he had likely been a robust child, where Hux had been smaller and slighter—much to his father’s displeasure. Kylo had a mix of his father’s looks and his mother’s, beautiful in a different way than both.

“I’ve heard your mother has the Force, too,” Hux said. “Could she not teach you to control yourself?”

Kylo rubbed Hux’s belly idly, his fingertips worrying the buttons of his shirt. “She wasn’t trained like Luke was. Even to her I was a bit frightening.”

That gave Hux pause. He had been ignored by Maratelle and only seen by his father once a day, but they had been far from afraid of him. Kylo’s power must have been staggering.

“That had to be difficult,” said Hux, “knowing you were so different.”

“I was a lonely kid,” Kylo said. “Even when I was studying with the other padawans. I got used to it, though, as I got older.” He set his chin on Hux’s shoulder. “But I don’t mind company, now.”

Hux tipped his head to acknowledge the touch. “Will you show me more of the Force sometime? More of what you can do?”

“There’s not really much to show. A lot of it is just feeling, sensing the connections between all things. Aside from the combat tactics and the games I showed you before. But…” He took the half-empty juice bottle from Hux’s hands. He was perfectly still, but Hux felt a tug at the buttons of his shirt. One popped free, and then another, and another.

Hux chuckled. “That’s a fine trick. Could you take it all off with just your mind?”

“I’ve never tried,” Kylo said, “but I probably could. In the mood to test it out?”

“Maybe later,” Hux replied. “It’s good just to sit here.”

Kylo nestled him close, saying, “Yeah, it is. Tell me a little about Arkanis? What you can remember.”

It was very little, though there were a few distinct memories. “I remember the rain, and the sound it made on the transparisteel of the conservatory. Consistent pattering and rivulets that spilled down the sides of the windows. I used to lie on my back and just watch the blurry landscape outside.”

Those were the few times during the day that Rella left him, and he always seemed to find his way back to the conservatory, where he had just lain on the tiled floor and let his mind wander. He hadn’t thought much of leaving the planet then, though his father often spoke of his time aboard star destroyers in the service of the Empire. It seemed so abstract to a boy of five that Hux never bothered to give it real consideration. He hadn’t known then that he would spend most of his life in space.

“You sound like you were a more thoughtful kid than I was,” said Kylo. “I wouldn’t have been able to sit still long enough to hear the rain.”

Hux tapped the back of Kylo’s hand with his fingertips. “I doubt you would be able to now.”

Kylo huffed. “If you wanted me to listen, I would. Is your house still there, on Arkanis?”

“I assume so. I haven’t been back to the planet since I was sent away.” He had never felt the compulsion to go back to a life that he barely recalled.

“I wouldn’t mind seeing it someday,” Kylo said. “Arkanis. We could go there, if you wanted to.”

Hux considered. “Maybe. Let’s get through what’s to come first.”

Kylo shifted, bringing his legs over Hux’s as if to hold him there. “We’ll go when you get back. Just spend a few days there getting rained on”—he kissed Hux’s neck—“and keeping each other warm.”

“All right,” Hux said. “We can do that. I’ve heard Scaparus Port isn’t so bad to visit. Can you swim?”

“Sure,” said Kylo. “It’s been a while, but yeah.”

Hux liked the thought of watching him slip through the water of one of Arkanis’s many lakes, his long, white limbs appearing and disappearing in the murky green. They could swim naked, unseen by anyone for miles.

Hux said, “I like the quiet of being underwater. It’s like deep space, but you can feel the pressure around you, reminding you that you’re not in a vacuum. There’s life all around you: fish, plants, insects. You can’t hear it, but you can sense it.”

“That’s like the Force,” Kylo said quietly. “It’s a hum around you all the time, connecting you to the nearest life. If you concentrate hard enough, it envelops you.”

“Can you feel me in it?” Hux asked.

Kylo nuzzled the nape of his neck. “Of course. When you touch someone, you can sense the way they’re woven into the Force, how it flows through them. You’re a strong conduit. Unable to manipulate it, but your presence is strong. If I paid enough attention, I could probably tell exactly where you are in the ship at any given moment, even tell how hard your heart was beating.”

For an operative who prided himself on stealth, that was disconcerting, but Hux had never faced a Force-sensitive enemy before.

“Yet you didn’t sense it when I was stowed away,” Hux said.

“I wasn’t trying to find you. I thought you were on the station.” He laid his prosthetic hand on Hux’s wrist. “It takes a lot of concentration to track someone. Unless you’re bound.”

Hux slid his fingers between Kylo’s silver ones despite knowing he could only feel the resistance of an object against the tactile sensors. “Bound how?”

Kylo seemed to hesitate, but then replied, “There’s a kind of connection two Force-sensitives can form, called a Force bond. It heightens their awareness of each other and allows the flow of emotions and even full thoughts across huge distances. It used to be common between Jedi masters and their apprentices. They fought and worked better together if they were bonded.”

“Is it permanent?” Hux asked.

“Not necessarily,” Kylo said, “but breaking it is incredibly painful. Leaves a hole in both partners that won’t ever heal. It can wane over time if they’re apart, but never really goes away.”

Hux paused to mull over such an indelible connection to someone else. He valued his privacy to a degree that he feared making himself and his innermost thoughts so accessible.

“It’s only between Force-sensitives, then?” he said. “Since both have to be connected to the Force?”

“I’ve only ever heard of it like that,” said Kylo, “but everyone has some manner of connection to the Force. Maybe the bond could be made between one Force-user and a Force-null. I wouldn’t know.”

“Who would?”

“Maybe Luke. Maybe it’s in the ancient texts. Maybe nobody’s ever tried it.”

“I see.”

Kylo squeezed his hand in his metal one, though not too tightly. “I scares me a little, to be honest. Being that open to someone else. You can still hide some things, but according to Rey, it’s not really worth it.”

Hux said, “Rey? Skywalker’s apprentice?”

“Yeah,” said Kylo. “They have a bond. A strong one. They’re uncanny when they’re training, and sometimes in conversation. They just seem to have a discussion between themselves without a word. It’s uncomfortable at times.”

Hux hummed. “I can imagine. So you’ve never—”

Kylo cut him off: “No.”

They were quiet for a beat, Hux finishing the juice, and then he said, “I was meant to be an officer in my father’s image and you a Jedi in your uncle’s. And yet we’re far from that. Do you ever wish it was different?”

“No,” Kylo replied. “Especially not right now.”

Hux smiled. “Especially not right now.” He leaned back into Kylo and closed his eyes, glad for all the missteps that had brought him here.

 


 

1H was waiting in the living quarters when they returned to the Ryden 2 station. “Master Kylo, Master Hux,” it said happily, “you’ve returned. I trust your journey was a successful one.” It regarded Hux with its optical inputs. “Though I was under the impression Master Hux would be staying aboard.”

“Plans changed,” Hux said tersely.

Kylo put an arm around his waist, pulling him in for a kiss. “A lot of things changed.”

“Oh!” the little medical droid exclaimed. “The two of you are involved. I will offer my congratulations and approval.”

It was ridiculous, but Hux found himself averting his eyes with a measure of shyness. He didn’t move away from Kylo, though. Kylo was grinning, kneading Hux’s side where he held him.

“Do you need any medical attention, Master Hux?” 1H asked. “Is your wound healing well?”

Hux hadn’t thought of it in the days they had been gone. “It’s fine,” he said. “Though you can look at it if you’d like to.” He expected it wanted to be useful.

“Of course, Master Hux,” it said, rolling toward the residences.

Kylo let go of Hux to allow him to follow the droid into his quarters. The doors of his wardrobe stood open, and he was glad to see the array of clothing awaiting him there. The Resistance fatigues would be folded and put away posthaste. He stripped out of the shirt first, tossing it on the bed before he sat and lifted his arm to offer the wound for 1H to appraise. It was barely more than a pinkish circle, which was quickly turning white.

“Oh, this is very good, Master Hux,” 1H said, its small instruments prodding at Hux’s tender flesh. “It’s doing well. There’s no need to apply anything else to it. It hasn’t been hurting?”

“No,” said Hux. “You did exceptionally with it.”

The droid tsked dismissively. “Just doing what I’m programmed to do. It was really my pleasure.”

Hux teased, “Perhaps I should go out and get another just to make sure you’re kept busy.”

“Oh, never that,” 1H said, affronted. “I can find ways to occupy myself. Would you care for a complete physical with bloodwork?” He proposed it as if it was a pleasant dinner invitation, and Hux almost laughed.

However, he replied, with the utmost gravity, “I think I’m due for one, yes.”

He sat through a series of tests, including having his blood drawn and run though 1H’s inner workings. At the droid’s inquiry, Hux explained how he had come to join Kylo’s mission, and was duly scolded for stowing away.

“But you met Mistress Leia,” 1H said. “She’s a formidable person. She purchased me for Master Kylo when he was young. Their shared suite in the hospital was my first residence after I was manufactured.”

“She’s formidable indeed,” said Hux. “I’m glad to have met her. She was very different than she had been described to me, or as I had read about her. And I don’t think she exactly approves of me and Kylo.”

“Together, you mean?” the droid asked. “I can’t see why not. It’s more than apparent that you give Master Kylo joy. He’s been in good spirits since he brought you here.” Its tone was knowing. “And you are glad for him, too.”

Hux nodded.

“Then I’m sure Mistress Leia will accept it in time.” The testing apparatus beeped, and 1H declared, “You are in perfect health, Master Hux. Nothing of concern in any of the screenings.”

“Thank you,” Hux said. “Is there anything else?”

1H shook its round head. “No, no. However, if you need me, I am at your disposal.” It made a kind of bow and wheeled itself out, humming happily.

Hux sat back on his hands, taking in the room around him. It felt good to be back on the station, which had already begun to feel familiar. He could see himself spending a great deal of time here, with 1H and Kylo for company. However, he would be leaving tomorrow morning and maybe not returning. That was a cold reality that snaked under his skin and made the comfort of his place here seem hollow.

His face was turned up toward the durasteel overhead when he heard a knock. Kylo stood at the door, leaning on the jamb.

“Everything okay?” Kylo asked.

“Quite,” Hux replied, only half a lie.

Kylo smiled. “Will you come here? I have something to show you.”

Rising, Hux followed him into his quarters. Ryden 2 was clearly visible outside the large viewport, and Kylo’s bed took up a significant part of the adjacent bulkhead. It was neatly made, and one of the chests in which Hux’s clothes had come from Tyrish’s was on the floor beside it.

“What’s this?” he inquired.

“Something I thought you might need,” said Kylo. He opened the chest to reveal Hux’s sniper’s armor, cleaned and plassteel plates gleaming.

Hux had thought it gone. He said, surprised, “You kept it?”

“I figured you might want it someday,” Kylo replied, picking up a shoulder plate. “I still have some things from my past that I hold onto. Maybe you’d want that, too.” He shrugged. “It’s sentimental, I know, but…”

“It was a kind thought,” Hux said, coming up beside him and taking the plate from him. It was cold to the touch. “But I can’t use it.”

Kylo’s brows lifted. “No?”

Hux stooped to set the piece of armor down into the chest. “No. If I was captured by the Resistance and then escaped, I likely wouldn’t have it anymore. It makes more sense to wear civilian clothes.”

“Right,” Kylo said. “I should have thought of that.” He chewed his lower lip. “Do you want me to get rid of this then?”

“Yes,” said Hux, without hesitation. “I’m not a soldier anymore. I’m with you.” He slid his arms around Kylo’s neck and kissed his open mouth. Right now he didn’t want to focus on the next day; their time together was in this place at this moment.

Kylo seemed to understand, and drew him closer. Hux pushed his tongue against Kylo’s, brushing with intent. He was still bare from the waist up, and Kylo’s right hand was cool against his hip. The left was warmer and softer, the thumb stroking. He tugged at the ends of Kylo’s hair and got a few nips in response, stinging his lips.

“I want you inside me,” Hux murmured. “All of you. Before tomorrow.” Kylo groaned into the kiss, and Hux persisted, “Don’t refuse me again.”

“Okay,” Kylo said, hushed. He traced Hux’s spine up to the knobs at the top, right at the base of his skull.

Hux needed more. “Say you want me,” he insisted.

Kylo was quick to comply: “I want you.”

Feeling it down to his bones, Hux turned their kiss violent, pressing relentlessly into Kylo’s mouth and pulling his hair. Kylo grasped at him in return and began to guide him toward the bed. Hux, though, wanted to be naked first. Relinquishing his hold on Kylo, he began to unfasten his trousers and lower them. Kylo took his cue and pulled his loose shirt off over his head.

Hux was a captive audience for his undressing, watching as he pushed his trousers down his legs, leaving him in only his undershorts. They were black and clung to the curve of his backside, the waistband just below his navel, where the V of muscle from his abdomen cut down to his groin. Hux wanted to nuzzle the grooves there until his nose was nestled in the hair at the base of Kylo’s cock.

“You look like you’re going to make a meal of me,” Kylo said, tugging the undershorts away to bare him. He was half-hard under Hux’s gaze.

Stepping out of the pool of his trousers, Hux padded barefoot to him and dropped to his knees. He did just as he had imagined, nosing his way along, dragging his lower lip in a damp partial kiss. Kylo’s skin smelled of musk and heat, both comforting and arousing. Hux kissed the root of his cock, but not further up, saving that for later. Kylo groaned, sliding his fingers into Hux’s hair and massaging his scalp.

Holding Kylo’s hips, Hux rose again, and Kylo yanked him against his chest. Hux let his head fall back as Kylo hungrily kissed and sucked at his neck. A warning not to mark him was on the tip of Hux’s tongue, but he swallowed it back. He didn’t care what the First Order saw when they stripped and searched him.

“Come lie down with me?” Kylo asked as he sucked Hux’s earlobe into his mouth.

Hux hummed an assent and allowed Kylo to pull him onto the soft linens of the bed, guiding him to lie on his back, head on a pillow, while Kylo continued to attentively tongue along his collarbone.

“We’ll go slowly,” Kylo murmured. “Take our time. Be gentle.”

Hux pushed hard against his chest until he reared back far enough to see him. “No,” he said. “I don’t want tentative and careful. I want you to take me.”

Kylo blinked at him slowly, his eyes dark, lids lowered. He was bracing himself with his right arm, but with the left hand, he cupped Hux’s cheek, his thumb over his lips. He said, “I won’t hurt you, even if you wanted me to.”

“I’m not asking you to for that,” said Hux, leaning into the touch. “But I don’t want you to hold back, either.”

Claim what’s yours, he might have said, but it would have sounded too much like the language of his life debt. Kylo had made it clear that Hux did not belong to him, but that he was free to do as he pleased. What he pleased, though, now, was to have Kylo buried inside of him.

“I took your fingers well,” he pressed on. “I’m ready for more.” He swallowed, unused to begging. “Please, Kylo.”

Kylo’s reaction was immediate and intoxicating. He shuddered under Hux’s hands, his lips parting just slightly as he closed his eyes.

Rapt, Hux raised a hand to his cheek and said again, “Please.”

He hadn’t even space to breathe before Kylo was gone, rolling across the bed to the table beside it and pulling out a bottle of lubricant. Hux spread his legs in preparation, and Kylo took his place between them. In seconds his slick fingers were at Hux’s entrance, and Hux willed his body to relax and accept them.

The first was easy, and despite Hux’s insistence, Kylo went unhurriedly, circling and pushing in and out to loosen him. Hux hissed when he pressed against the sensitive spot inside him, and Kylo grinned under the hair that hung around his bowed head.

“Tell me if it’s too fast,” Kylo said, putting the second finger in with relative ease.

“All right,” said Hux as he breathed through the fullness.

Kylo increased his pace, going as deep as he could and then pulling out again, taking much less care. Hux dropped his head onto the pillow and pushed back onto him, demanding more. He groaned, grinding his teeth, as Kylo moved the third finger into him. This was new, and a great deal more. But Kylo didn’t slow down. He pressed in and out with slick sounds that accompanied the consistent stretch of Hux’s muscles. Kylo’s fingers brushed over him again and again, sparking pleasure up through his cock. He reached down to take himself in hand and stroked languidly.

“Keep going,” Kylo said. “If you finish, it’ll be easier for you to take me. You relax more.”

Hux’s stomach clenched with desire, but he shook his head. “I want to come when you’re inside me.”

That elicited another tremble, but Kylo said, “In a minute.”

Hux watched as Kylo shifted to lower himself closer, until his face was all but between Hux’s legs. He turned his eyes up, holding Hux’s gaze, as he took him shallowly into his mouth, the underside lying on his tongue. Hux groaned, caught up in the feeling of warmth and penetration. Together, they were overwhelming.

Kylo was determined in his attentions, his fingers spread to open Hux for him and his mouth wet and tongue clever. His hair was falling around him as he bobbed his head, taking Hux in. He paused once to breathe and Hux saw how flushed he was, how red and shining his lips were. He looked used, and well. Hux pushed his hair back from his brow, fingers snagging in small knots and making Kylo look up at him.

“Now,” he said. “I want you now.”

Kylo, this time, didn’t hesitate or object. He drew his fingers out and, opening the bottle of lubricant again, poured enough into his hand to slick his cock. He grabbed a pillow with his free hand and helped Hux to put it under his hips. It tipped Hux up, putting him on display. Kylo’s attention turned immediately there and, with his left hand around his cock to guide it, lined up with Hux’s entrance.

The first push was intense, revealing just how big he was and how much Hux would have to take. Hux stayed perfectly still, concentrating on permitting him entry. Inch by inch, Kylo began to slide into him.

“Are you okay?” he asked, pausing with his damp hand resting on Hux’s thigh.

Hux actually did take stock. He was full and feeling as if Kylo went any further, he would be rent in two. It wasn’t painful, though, just strange and invasive.

“I’m fine,” Hux replied. “Keep going.”

Kylo did, once against easing himself deeper. The pressure built and built until it seemed everything inside of Hux was shifting to accommodate him. Finally, though, Kylo’s hips met his ass, and it stopped.

Kylo’s voice quavered as he said, “You feel so good. I can barely breathe.”

Hux did so for him, still getting used to the intrusion in his body. He knew they couldn’t just stay still, though, so he wrapped his arms around Kylo’s back and shifted his hips. “Go on. I’m yours.”

Kylo lowered his head to touch his brow to Hux’s. “You’re so much. I can’t…”

“You can,” Hux said, and he kissed him.

The drag of Kylo’s cock made him shudder, but when he thrust back in Hux outright gasped. There was the power of the movement, but also the blunt brush of him against Hux’s prostate. Everything was tingling at once, and Hux clung tighter to Kylo to ground himself.

Kylo built a steady rhythm, chasing his pleasure but not demanding it. At his quiet encouragement, Hux reached for his cock again and began to work himself in time. Kylo kept his eyes closed for the most part, but he tucked his head into the crook of Hux’s shoulder and mouthed at his skin. He mumbled things—“So good. Stars, Hux, you’re incredible.”—as they fucked, some more intelligible than others. Hux focused on it, and it centered him in the moment.

Sweat, the sound of skin on skin, Hux’s own soft grunts with each of Kylo’s thrusts: it all came together in a heady blend of sound and sensation that had Hux’s pleasure building. Having Kylo inside him felt right, now, and he moved to take him deeper and at just the right angle to drive him over the edge. When Kylo bit down on the join of his shoulder, that was it; the orgasm swept over him in electrically charged waves, setting nerves alight. His head was swimming, but he heard and felt it clearly when Kylo cursed, went taut, and came into him.

Hux lay under him for an indeterminate time, lax and coming down from his high. Thousands of worlds in the galaxy and yet somehow they had managed to end up here, together. Hux was glad he had never done this with anyone else. It was right that it was Kylo, whatever had led him to Hux in Utel City that night.

Eventually, Kylo began to go soft and slip out of him. He lifted himself away and crept to the edge of the bed. He knelt there and said, “You should take a hot shower. It’ll help with the soreness.” He held out his hand and Hux took it.

The walk to the refresher was a halting one at first, but he managed to straighten his stride after a few paces. Kylo went ahead into the shower cubicle and turned on the water. Hux gave himself a passing look in the mirror. There was a purple bruise in the shape of Kylo’s mouth between his neck and shoulder and there were a few smaller marks along his chest. He touched them all, tracing imaginary lines between them, and smiled.

“Come on,” Kylo said, catching his wrist and drawing him into the cubicle.

The hot water felt wonderful, and Hux turned his face up into it to let it wash over him. Behind him, Kylo massaged his back with soapy hands.

“Was that all right?” Kylo asked, working away tension Hux hadn’t been aware of. “You liked it?”

“Mm, yes,” Hux replied, sounding to himself like a purring cat. “And I’ll like it again in a few hours.” He was pushing his limits with that a little, he guessed, but it was worth a try.

Kylo chuckled, trying to tickle his sides and failing; Hux wasn’t ticklish. “You need a break. Me, on the other hand…”

Hux put a hand behind him to brush Kylo’s thigh. He wouldn’t mind if they turned about, and he could feel Kylo around him. “We’ll need another shower.”

“We can take as many as we want,” Kylo said between kisses along the back of Hux’s shoulders. “But we should sleep, too. You need to rest before—”

“I’ll survive without a full night’s sleep,” Hux countered. He turned in Kylo’s arms to look him in the face. “If you can.”

Hmph,” Kylo grumbled. “I’ve a good reason to.” He ran his palm over Hux’s wet hair. “There’s so much I still want to know about you.”

For Hux it was the same. They had shared a great deal in such a short time, but there was always more to hear. “I’ll tell you anything,” he said.

Kylo kissed his brow. “Let’s dry off and then I’ll grill you.” A grin. “Are you hurting? 1H could give you a shot.”

No,” Hux said firmly. He had no interest in explaining to the little droid that his ass was aching from sex, even if it knew he and Kylo were lovers. “That won’t be necessary.”

Kylo slapped his buttock and Hux winced. “You sure?”

“Yes.”

They toweled off cursorily before cleaning their teeth and returning to the bed. Under the covers they wrapped their arms around each other, settling comfortably.

“So,” Hux said, “what else would you know about me?” He had no particular stories in mind.

Kylo sighed, breath minty and cool. “Maybe your first mission?”

“It’s a long story,” Hux warned. He liked that memory, however, and would be glad to share it.

“We have all night,” said Kylo. He pinched Hux’s side playfully. “If we need a break, we always have something to do.”

Hux grinned, kissed him, and began to talk.

 


 

Utel City looked different in the daylight than Hux remembered from his nighttime stakeouts. The buildings were less brightly lit, but their transparisteel surfaces winked in the sunshine. Kylo landed the Arrow on a public pad somewhere nearby the place he had docked the Falcon the night Hux had met him. The First Order’s recruitment center was across the city, and Hux would have to take a speeder taxi to get there. Kylo had proposed going with him, but Hux had refused. He preferred to be on his own as soon as he left the freighter. He needed to be in a appropriate mindset for this, and Kylo would be a distraction.

They stood in the cargo bay as the loading door was lowered, Hux dressed in the plainest clothes from Tyrish’s. He had left his blaster in the arms cabinet. The city sounds could be heard even from inside the ship, beckoning him.

To Kylo he said, “I’ll go from here.”

Kylo nodded, his lips a thin, concerned line. “All right.” Uncaring of the passersby, he pulled Hux to him and kissed him hard. “Be careful,” he said stridently. “I’ll be waiting for you.”

Hux cupped his face. “I’ll see you then,” he said. Reluctantly, he eased himself out of Kylo’s embrace. “Goodbye, Kylo.” And then he turned and went down to the ramp.

The hollowness stayed in his chest as he cut through the port hurriedly, though he fought not to dwell on if he would see Kylo again. By the time he hit the main streets, he hailed a taxi and paid with the chip Kylo had given him. The directions he gave were clear, but indicated a cross street a block away from the recruiting center. It wasn’t obviously that, but he knew its location and likely what he would find there.

He was camouflaged amongst the people on the sidewalk as he approached the building, but felt as conspicuous as ever. He ducked into the alcove and paused for just a moment before going through the doors to act the part of a recently escaped prisoner. He had never played a role before, and hoped he would be at least somewhat convincing. After all, he would have to hold up to interrogation. Steeling himself, he burst into the building.

Two young men were standing just inside, clearly having been in conference. They were not uniformed, but similarly enough dressed to indicate that the clothes had been issued. Coolly, they took Hux in, their fingers inching toward their blasters.

“Can we help you, sir?” one of them—dark-haired and snub-nosed—asked with an edge of suspicion. Most recruits were brought or sent here by recommendation of an operative. They had appointments; Hux did not.

He came forward a few steps, but not close enough to seem a threat. “HX-4874 reporting,” he said, feigning windedness.

That snub nose wrinkled. “We don’t have an HX-4874 on the docket for today.”

“No,” said Hux. “You wouldn’t. I was here on a mission a week ago, but was taken captive. I just managed to escape.”

The operatives looked at each other. One went to a console and began typing. The other kept watch of Hux.

“HX-4874 failed to report back to the rendezvous point after an assignment on this planet ten standard days ago,” the one at the console said. “Most of the deployed team was killed. He was presumed dead.”

“Well, I’m not,” Hux said curtly. “And I have important information for the Order. I must see high command.”

Brows rose. They knew as well as Hux did that getting an audience with them would be next to impossible.

“What information?” the snub-nosed one asked.

Hux took his stand. “I’ll give it only to command.”

The second operative snorted, but said, “We’ll send a message to our captain, but you’re not going anywhere until we speak to yours. Who did you report to?”

“Phasma,” Hux replied. “Finalizer.”

Snub Nose reached behind a nearby counter to produce a pair of binders. Hux might have expected this.

“Until we get you checked out,” Snub Nose said, “you’ll go to the brig. Do you do so willingly?”

Hux held out his wrists. “I do. But hurry and contact Phasma. This information won’t keep.”

He was clipped into the binders and led passively into a back room. There was no actual cell to lock him in, but they sat him in a chair and bound his feet, too. They gave him a last mistrustful glare before shutting the door behind them. Hux looked up at the illuminators above him and turned himself fully over to the mission. If he was lucky, in a day he would be with Kylo again; if luck wasn’t with him, he’d he dead.

He thought of the bond Kylo had told him of and envied the Jedi who could communicate across star systems without a word—only impressions, emotions. If he had that with Kylo, though, he would have felt Hux’s fear. Hux was ashamed of that, but he knew Kylo wouldn’t have judged him for it. If anything he would have shared his own apprehension. And if they were so connected, Hux wouldn’t be alone here. Even when he was back on a star destroyer with thousands, he still would be. That solitude wouldn’t go until he was back with Kylo.

I’ll be waiting for you.

Hux hoped he wouldn’t wait in vain.

Chapter Text

Hux wasn’t certain how long he spent in the makeshift brig on Utel Gamma, but he knew he dozed some, resting half alert as he did when he was in one of his sniper’s nests. When, finally, the door opened again, four operatives in street clothes came through. Hux didn’t mistake them for anything other than stormtroopers, no matter what they wore to blend in with the civilians planetside.

“HX-4874,” said one, a woman with angular features and a jawline so sharp it might have cut durasteel, “we’re here to escort you to the star destroyer Finalizer. Your captain is expecting you.”

Unable to rise or salute—which they didn’t deserve; Hux ranked higher—he acknowledged the order with a nod. The troopers freed his feet so he could walk and pulled him roughly up. They shoved him through the door and into the main room, where Snub Nose and the second operative stood out of the way, watching the procession sternly. Hux didn’t spare them a glance as he was marched past them and onto the sidewalk outside. The troopers flanked him on all sides, caging him in and hiding him from most passersby, who certainly would have noticed the binders on his wrists.

“How far is the Finalizer from here?” he asked as they made their way toward an unmarked, utilitarian ground transport. He was pushed inside with a hand on his head and made to sit between two of the troopers.

He had expected to be treated this way—mistrusted and pending ruthless interrogation—but after Kylo’s gentle touches, it felt like a violation. There was a lingering soreness from the night before, aggravated by the hard chair he had been forced to sit in, but he relished it; it was his tie to Kylo and a precious memory of how his body had stretched to take him.

“You don’t need to know that,” said the female trooper curtly.

Hux supposed he didn’t.

The transport zipped across the city, the pilot dodging slower traffic and occasionally throwing Hux into each of the troopers’ shoulders with the momentum of the turns. Nobody spoke for the duration of the ride.

At a public landing pad was a small shuttle, just large enough for the five of them. Hux was led aboard and strapped into a chair, stiff muscles protesting. He said nothing, though, waiting for the engines to fire up and take them whatever distance to where the Finalizer was waiting.

He returned to his rest as they flew, knowing he wouldn’t be permitted sleep upon arrival. He wasn’t offered one of the ration bars the troopers distributed, and he didn’t ask for one. He was accustomed to going without food when he was on a mission, and his stomach was too tight to eat anyway. He’d prefer, too, not to vomit under the influence of the interrogation serums, if they chose to give them to him. If they did, he was bound for execution; he wouldn’t be able to lie about Kylo, about the Resistance. He hoped fervently that the information he gave willingly wouldn’t require extreme measures.

The time that passed was again indeterminate, but when the troopers began to stir, he shook himself awake. The shuttle docked with a slight shudder, the engines spooling down as the side door slid open to reveal the massive hangar bay of a star destroyer. Hux could see banks of TIE fighters across the glossy black deck, and armored troopers were moving through the space, a few pilots along with them.

Hux was pulled up and away from his seat, dragged out of the shuttle and up to where Captain Phasma, his direct superior, stood with her arms hanging at her sides. Her chrome helmet was firmly in place, as it always was. Hux remembered what she looked like—white blond hair, strong nose and chin—but he was more accustomed to seeing her in her armor than out of it.

“HX-4874,” she said. “I didn’t expect to find you alive after your disappearance. I’ve been told you have information. What does it pertain to?”

“The Resistance,” Hux said. “They took me captive during my mission.”

The reply was deadpan, unaffected: “But they released you?”

He shook his head, displacing the already disordered hair over his brow. “I escaped with critical intelligence for high command. It’s extremely time-sensitive.”

Phasma shifted, her red cape swaying around her calves. “Then come with me.”

She took him by the shoulder and pushed him forward. They were watched as they strode across the hangar bay to the lifts. Phasma entered the command for Deck 14, where the brig was. So, that’s how it was to go, then. Hux took a long breath in through his nose, tamping down to unavoidable fear.

He was led into a small interrogation room, the chair standing at the center. Phasma didn’t move him toward it, however, instead locking the door and unshackling him. He rubbed his abraded wrists.

One hand resting on the grip of her blaster, Phasma said, “Talk.”

Hux began carefully: “I have critical intelligence about the location of Resistance shipping and transport as well as an on-planet base.”

“Their main base?”

“No,” he said. “But an important shipping hub and recruiting center.”

“Where?” Phasma asked.

Hux knew it was a gamble, but he replied, “This is too important to work its way up the chain of command. I’ll give the location only to General Hux himself.”

There was a moment of quiet, Hux staring into the chrome facade of Phasma’s helmet and her standing stock still, presumably staring just as intently as he was.

At last, she said, “What makes you think he’d even deign to see you? You’re a trooper. A good one, but still only that.”

Hux ground his teeth. “This is important, Captain.”

Phasma took a step forward, putting her inch or two of height on him to good use. “You’ll give the information to me and I’ll see it reaches him.”

“I won’t,” Hux said. “By the time it does, it will no longer be relevant.” He glared. “Do you think I would lie about this?”

Phasma reached out a gauntleted hand, wrapping it around his throat. “If I vouch for you, it’s my head if you waste the general’s time. Tell me what you know.

Hux swallowed under her fingers, but stood his ground. “Stay and listen to it when I deliver it to the general.”

Phasma shoved him away and he stumbled back a pace, nearly hitting the chair behind him. “I could have you flogged for insubordination. You still answer to me.” She pointed at the chair. “I could compel you to tell me.”

“Then do that, if you must,” Hux snapped, calling her bluff. “If you want to waste time, go ahead. I’ll not fight you.”

She snarled in frustration, turning away and stalking to the other side of the room. Hux watched her warily; his already tenuous fate rested with her. She put her back to him for a minute, maybe two, but then touched the comm receiver on the wall.

“Mitaka,” she said. “This is Phasma. I have information about the Resistance for General Hux. I need to get on his schedule as soon as possible. Highest priority. I have to bring a trooper with me. HX-4874. Run his credentials.” She paused, presumably waiting for this Mitaka to do so. “1400 in conference room five. Understood. We’ll be there. Phasma out.”

Hux didn’t dare show his relief; he just waited impassively for her to speak again.

“All right,” she said, facing him again. “You’ve got your audience. Do not kark this up for either of us. We’ve got a few minutes; let’s get you cleaned up and into something regulation.”

She grabbed him by the arm again, all but dragging him out of the room and into the passage. They took the lift to the Deck 8 and the troopers’ barracks. Hux wasn’t at all unclean—he had bathed with Kylo yesterday morning—but he was put into the sonic and his hair trimmed to suit by a businesslike droid who beeped at him only once when it was finished with its work. Hux thought of 1H with a pang of sorrow. He was issued the troopers’ black fatigues and boots. Despite their familiarity, he felt out of place in them, and watched remorsefully as his civilian clothes were disposed of. In the refresher mirror, he saw himself as he had once been: a loyal trooper. Now, he was everything but.

“Come on,” Phasma ordered when he returned to her. They fell into step together, taking the lifts up to the higher decks, where command was based. The helm of the ship was on Deck 30, but they stopped at 28. The small conference rooms were labeled by number, their doors otherwise completely uniform. They went into room five, where a young lieutenant was waiting, poised with a datapad.

“The General should be along shortly,” he said. “Will you sit?”

Hux didn’t think that at all appropriate, and thankfully neither did Phasma. She told the lieutenant that they would stand and they both took up parade rest, their stance wide and hands clasped behind their backs.

Hux considered what he was about to face. He had been in his brother’s presence only once before in his life: when he was brought home from the hospital. Since, Hux had only seen him in propaganda holos. The resemblance was there, he knew, and he wondered what Phasma and the young Mitaka would make of it. Maybe nothing, but it seemed impossible that they could face each other and not see their shared blood.

Five long, silent minutes later, Brendol Hux II, the youngest general in the First Order at twenty-eight, swept into the room. He was shorter than Hux by about four inches and had a rounder, strong-chinned face than his elder brother did. His hair was just as red, though, and closely cropped to standard, just as Hux’s was. Narrow shoulders were draped over with his greatcoat, the bars on the sleeve designating his rank. His prim hat was on his head, the perfect image of an officer. Bren, his parents had called him as a baby.

Hux snapped to attention, saluting smartly. Phasma followed suit, though the lieutenant kept hold of his datapad without a salute. Hux supposed he was accustomed enough to the general’s presence that it wasn’t necessary.

“Captain Phasma,” Bren said in his perfect Imperial accent, “I hear you have information on the Resistance.” He cocked a haughty brow. “Could this not have been reported to your superior and put in a report to me?”

“I’m afraid not, sir,” Phasma said. “The data is, as I’ve been told, time-sensitive.”

Bren’s gaze cut to Hux, and Hux saw that his eyes were the same green as his own. It was disconcerting how similar they were. If Bren marked it, he didn’t show it, instead saying “You, trooper, are the one who brought it. How did you come by this intelligence?”

“I was taken prisoner by the Resistance on Utel Gamma, Sir,” Hux replied. “They discovered my position. I eliminated the target, but was subdued and taken to their base on-planet.”

He and Kylo had agreed that he would have been kept there rather than being taken elsewhere, otherwise he would not have returned to the Utel City operations center.

Bren hummed, tracing the edge of the spotless conference table; his fingernails were manicured. “At least you managed to complete your mission, even if you failed by getting taken captive. To where did they remove you?”

“A base outside the city,” Hux said, another detail that was based in truth. There was a Resistance operation just beyond the limits of Utel City. “About eight kilometers away, hidden in a former warehouse.”

“You know the location well enough to give it to us?” Bren asked. “Captain Phasma can send a detail to deal with it.”

“I do, sir,” Hux said. He could send them to the warehouse, but they would find nothing. “I’ll provide that as soon as you’ve heard the rest of what I have for you.”

Bren nodded. “And what is that?”

Hux let his arms fall to his sides. “Permission to use the console, sir?”

“Granted.”

Engaging the galaxy display, he called up the coordinates of the shipping routes Admiral Holdo had given him. “These are the locations of six critical shipping routes for Resistance supplies in the next two cycles,” he said. “They’ll be transporting weapons and building supplies, maybe even recruits. We can intercept them and commandeer the cargo, maybe interrogate the crews of the ships.”

Bren manipulated the display to study the routes. “Yes, this could be of use,” he said. “And you got hold of this how?”

“I sliced into their databanks,” Hux lied. “They leave them unguarded. When I escaped, I had just long enough to take whatever I could.”

“That’s very convenient,” said Bren, clearly skeptical. “Are you certain they didn’t let you collect this information as a ploy to fool us?”

Hux typed another command into the console and brought up the location of the Errod base. “They wouldn’t give this up, sir. This is a central operation.”

Bren’s eyes flashed with genuine hunger, and he tapped the display with zoom in. “Two cycles is the time we have to intercept their ships and strike this base?”

“That’s correct, sir,” said Hux. “That’s why I wanted to bring it straight to you.”

“Well done, trooper.” He was facing Hux, seemingly earnest in his commendation. “What’s your unit number again?”

“HX-4874,” Phasma said before Hux could reply. “Sniper detail. He has an exemplary record.”

“The HX units were brought up under my father,” Bren said, looking Hux over from nose to feet. “But you look a bit old to be one of them.”

Hux didn’t blink at he stared hard at his brother. He said, “I entered the Program at six years old.”

Bren’s brows rose. “That’s extremely rare. There haven’t been units older than eight months brought into the Program in decades, and definitely not under my charge.” He took a step closer to Hux, studying him. “You must have had a unique aptitude.”

“No, sir,” Hux said, fighting to keep his voice level. “I was sent here by my father.”

“Ah, you remember your origins,” Bren said coolly. “That must be harder to condition out upon entrance to the Program. It hasn’t seemed to work to your detriment, if what Phasma says about your record is true.”

“I always wanted to serve, sir,” Hux said. “I’m good at what I do, and I’m dedicated to the Order’s cause.” The words were still so reminiscent of the truth that they rolled easily off his tongue.

Bren’s smile was cold and formal. “I have no doubt of that after what you’ve brought us today. You’ve done well, HX-4874. You’re a credit to the Order.”

“Thank you, sir,” Hux said. “I can safely assume that I’ll be reinstated, then?”

“You will be,” said Bren. “After reconditioning.”

Hux’s stomach dropped. Of course, he would be put through the process again; he might have expected it. He hadn’t ever been reconditioned, only having gone through the initial ingest procedure. He remembered troopers who had, though, and they never returned the same. Their memories were spottier; they often didn’t recall troopers they had served with for years. If Hux went through it, it was very likely he would forget his father, his brother, but most of all Kylo. He couldn’t let it happen; he had to find a way off of the Finalizer.

“Yes, sir,” he forced out. It looked that Bren was about to dismiss him, but he jumped at his chance to confront him before he could be ushered out. Hux asked, “Did you ever spend rainy afternoons in the conservatory as boy?”

Bren paused, bewildered. “What?”

“At the estate on Arkanis,” Hux continued. “There was a small conservatory where I watched the rain when Rella was busy.”

Bren’s face went white. “How do you know that name?”

Hux huffed. “She took care of me before she saw to you. I had always guessed they would have kept her on. She was a good nanny. Did she read to you, too?”

“How dare you!” Bren exclaimed, shock giving way to ire. “You have no right to claim to know such... such personal things.”

“I have every right,” said Hux. “I came before you. I would be in your place had my mother not been a kitchen girl Brendol Hux dallied with.” He held out his hands, open-palmed. “Look at me and tell me you don’t see him there, as plain as you see him in you... little brother.”

Bren backed away, eyes wide and almost frightened. “You lie,” he said. “I have no brother.”

Phasma stalked up to Hux and grabbed him by the shirt collar. “Do you want me to hit him, General?”

“No,” Bren said, rushed. “No.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to compose himself. Hux could read his distress and watched with some measure of satisfaction as he tried to make sense of the revelation. When he looked up again, it was at Phasma. “Leave us, Captain. You, too, Mitaka.”

“But, sir,” Phasma protested, “without a guard—”

Bren brushed his greatcoat to the side, revealing a blaster at his hip. “I’m armed, and I still remember my hand-to-hand training. Leave us.”

Phasma released Hux and, without a word, left the room. Mitaka scrambled after her, casting a last worried glance at Bren before he disappeared into the passage outside. Hux remained where he was, blinking slowly at Bren, waiting for him to speak. However, he said nothing, instead going to the console and furiously typing on the blue holo keyboard. In seconds, Hux’s profile was displayed. Bren went straight for the genetic record that was kept on every trooper. He keyed it in along side another—presumably his own—and Hux watched as allele after allele matched up.

“Kriff me,” Bren swore. He rounded on Hux. “How did you know this and I did not? Why have you never tried to contact me before?”

“I didn’t necessarily know that you weren’t aware,” Hux said. “But I figured our father wouldn’t tell you. I was nothing to him after you were born—a bastard to cast off, nothing more. And I didn’t see a reason to contact you. I have no bearing on your life nor you on mine, save for that you’re the general and my commanding officer.”

Bren began to pace, something Hux had seen his father do but did not do himself; he had been trained for stillness. “It makes no sense. With two sons as officers, he might have had two generals to serve. Why put you into the Program?”

“To be rid of me,” said Hux. “I’m a stain on his family name.”

“Oh,” Bren said, freezing. “You’re not just HX-4874. You have... a name.”

He said it slowly, “Armitage Hux.”

Bren rubbed a hand across his face. “Armitage. He called you something different—didn’t name you after himself, as he did me.”

Hux shrugged. “You were the legitimate child.” He sucked his teeth, adding, truthfully, “I likely shouldn’t have brought it up. It makes no difference to either of us, but... I wanted you to know what he’s capable of: throwing a child away, and then, when I didn’t die like he wanted, making a concerted effort to have me killed.”

“What?” Bren asked again, startled. “Surely you’re mistaken.”

“I would be dead now if the Resistance hadn’t picked me up,” Hux replied. “My own men turned on me.”

Bren shook his head, eyes closed and hands clenched into fists. “We have to take this to him, to my—our—father.”

Hux bristled. “No. The only reason I will ever see him again will be to put him in the ground, just as he tried to do to me.”

“You can’t murder him,” Bren said. “You’re a trooper. You wouldn’t have access to him.”

“Am I?” Hux asked sharply.

“What the kriff is that supposed to mean?” Bren demanded.

Hux leveled him with a dark look. “After learning this, do you still plan to recondition me? Our father would without question, if he couldn’t dredge up a reason to have me executed straight away.”

“I won’t kill my own brother,” said Bren. He hesitated, calculating. “But, you’re right, I can’t just throw you away... like he did.” His eyes flashed. “You’re marked a missing in action in your file; I haven’t yet had it updated. If Father finds out you’re alive, will he make another attempt of you life?”

“Maybe not immediately,” Hux said, “but eventually. And I’m certain he would if he knew I had come to you with the truth.”

It was bizarre to face his brother this way. Despite the shock, Bren seemed to be seriously considering Hux’s future, of which he still had full control. For a moment, Hux considered what might happen if he chose to stay. Perhaps Bren would see to it that he could return to his post and continue as a sharpshooter. Perhaps he would promote him and give him his own command. He wouldn’t be a commissioned officer, but he would hold rank over even Phasma. In the space of a heartbeat Hux desired it, but the ambition faded just as swiftly as it had come. He wanted to be with Kylo; he wanted to be free of the Order.

“You’re likely right,” Bren said. “We’ll have to keep you elsewhere until I can find a way to address this with him.”

“Don’t,” said Hux sharply. “Don’t tell him. You’re not responsible for me. I can look out for myself.” He took a step forward, putting him close enough to smell Bren’s aftershave. This man was his blood, but he meant almost nothing to him. He continued, “I don’t want to give him warning that I’m coming for him.”

Bren’s ruddy brows drew together. “You can’t—” He didn’t finish. Hux grabbed him by the neck and wrestled him into a headlock, holding him tightly until he started to go limp. He wouldn’t kill him, but he needed to get away. This was his opportunity.

Laying Bren’s inert body on the durasteel floor, Hux went to the console—open with the general’s credentials. He brought up the main interface and began his search for the Starkiller data. If Bren had even a fraction of his father’s hubris, he wouldn’t have used an alternate name for the files. Hux grinned darkly as that proved true. He prepared the data for transfer, connecting the console to the port Kylo had set up for it. A few seconds passed—Hux held his breath—before the connection was made, but then the data began to flow.

As the transfer worked, Hux opened the personnel records. It was simple enough to find Commandant Brendol Hux. Current location: Starkiller Base, main staffing and training facility. So, if Hux was to find his father, he would have to locate this base, too. He scrolled through some of the information about the program he was in charge of while the transfer completed. It seemed Brendol no longer controlled the Stormtrooper Program, but he still had a role to play in training soldiers. Hux could find a way to him through that pipeline.

The console gave a dainty ping when it was finished, but before Hux logged out of the console, he went into his own file and changed his status to “Deceased.” Let Brendol think he had succeeded. With a decisive few keystrokes, he powered the console down.

“Goodbye, Brother,” he said as he stepped over Bren’s prone form and left the room.

Unfortunately, both Phasma and Mitaka were standing just outside. They turned to look as he stepped into the passage.

“The general is unwell,” Hux said quickly. “He collapsed just a moment ago.”

“Stars above!” Mitaka cried, shouldering past him to get into the conference room.

Phasma’s hand snapped out to grab Hux’s forearm, yanking him to her. “Come with me.” Louder, to Mitaka: “I’m taking HX-4874 to the brig.”

Hux, adrenaline suffusing his body, was forced to go along with her. He didn’t fight, but he was running every possible scenario for escape through his mind. He doubted he could overpower her as he had Bren, not when she was armored, better armed, and better trained, and even if he managed to break free of her, she could shoot him before he got three paces away. Whatever he did, though, it would be have to be before they got to the brig; once he was there, he doubted he would get out again.

Phasma led him to the lift and she entered the appropriate deck level, but as soon as the lift began to move, she slammed the emergency stop. Hux turned to watch her remove her helmet and bare a stern face.

“What did you do to the General?” she demanded.

Hux had no space to lie. “Choked him out.”

“Why?”

“I needed to access to his security clearance on the console,” Hux said. “There was data I had to export.”

Phasmas blue eyes narrowed dangerously. “You’re a Resistance spy.”

“If you must put it in those terms, yes,” he said. “I was sent here to gather intelligence and report it back.”

“Is anything you said true?” she snapped. “The information you gave General Hux? What you said about him... and you?”

Hux nodded. “The information is good, and yes, he’s my brother.”

Phasma looked at the deck readout, pressing his lips together until they were almost white. “When did you turn?”

“It’s not that simple,” said Hux.

Phasma slammed her fist into the wall beside his head. “Don’t you dare lie to me now. I’ll kill you right here for the traitor you are.”

Hux asked, “Why haven’t you already?”

She scowled at him, but replied, “I want to know why the Resistance would ever trust you with a kind of mission like this unless you’ve been a mole here for months, even years. When did you turn?”

“I wasn’t a mole,” Hux said slowly. “I was perfectly loyal all my life, and I had every intention of coming back to the Order after Utel Gamma, but I owed my life to a Resistance fighter. I swore him a debt and this is how I am paying it.” He sighed, falling back against the wall. “I’m not doing this for Organa and her army; it’s for him.”

“You’d betray us for a life debt?” Phasma spat. “You should have just let him kill you.”

“You assume I expected to survive this assignment,” Hux countered. “I knew the chances were slim. You have me now, after all, and you are within your rights kill cut me down.” He tipped his head back to bare his throat, resigned.

Her expression stayed stony, but her gaze darted over his face and neck before coming back to meet his. “Did you actually have a plan to escape?”

“A poor one,” he said. “If he succeeded in locating the Finalizer, there’s a ship waiting for me. I need only to get to an escape pod.” He eyed her critically, reading the palpable indecision. “If you let me go, General Hux will have you executed. But you could come with me.”

The muscles in her throat worked as she swallowed. “Would they take me, the Resistance?”

“It wouldn’t be easy for them to trust you,” Hux said, “but they likely would. They were willing to accept me on one man’s word.”

“They’re fools, then,” Phasma growled.

Hux chuckled, thinking of good-natured Poe and mistrustful Holdo. “I won’t outright deny that, but bring them something of value and they might give you a chance.”

“I know the Program,” she said.

“What do you know of Starkiller Base?” Hux asked.

A twitch at the corner of her mouth betrayed a smile. “I’ve been there.”

Hux surged up from his place against the wall, grasping her arm. “Then come. They could use you.”

She extricated herself from his grip, placing her helmet back over her head. “There’s someone I want to bring along with us.”

Hux’s nostrils flared. “We don’t have time to waste. The ship is waiting.”

“It won’t take long.” She entered a new destination into the interface and reengaged the lift. Hux’s stomach heaved as it sped down.

They came to a stop on Deck 14, the troopers’ barracks. Phasma bid Hux walk at her side, and they went unhurriedly into the passage.

“Where are we going?” Hux hissed.

“Shut up.” was all Phasma said in reply.

Several groups of troopers in their regulation fatigues passed them by, their conversations dying out as they saw Phasma. They weren’t required to salute her, but they owed her respect. They looked Hux over, too, presumably deciding if he had been singled out for good work or for poor performance. Either way, had Hux been one of them, he wouldn’t have envied a trooper escorted alone by his captain.

They rounded the corner into one of the common rooms, where twenty or so troopers were enjoying their leisure hours. When Phasma entered, though, all eyes turned to her.

“FN-2187,” she said sharply, “report.”

From the back corner, a young man with full lips and dark skin got to his feet, throwing down his playing card. “Here, Captain.”

“Come with us,” she bid him.

He strode with haste across the room, dodging chairs and other troopers as they scrambled to get out of the way, until he was standing in front of Phasma and Hux. Hux looked him over. According to his flash, he was an infantry trooper of not particular designation. But he was young and still had time to distinguish himself. However, it was unlikely he’d have the chance, if Phasma was summoning him along with them now. How many troopers wanted to defect, Hux wondered. Perhaps far more than he had ever suspected before.

The three of them took their leave of the common room, none of them saying anything until they once again got to the lift. Phasma gave FN-2187 a quick synopsis of what they were about to do.

When she was finished, the young man stared wide-eyed at Hux. “You came back? You got out and then you came back?”

“I had my reasons,” Hux said. “And you have yours. I won’t ask to know them, and neither will you ask to know mine.”

FN-2187 nodded fervently. “I won’t.” To Phasma: “Where are we going to get a pod?”

“Deck 4,” she replied.

Hux shot her a glance. “Weapons storage?”

“There have been some electrical shorts down there in the past few weeks,” she said. “A few of the escape pods malfunctioned.”

“Accidental launches?” FN-2187 asked.

“They read as launched on the bridge,” she said, “but they never jettisoned. They won’t be in a rush to scan outside the ship for a pod if they think it’s just another malfunction.”

Hux couldn’t really believe that luck; it was too good to be true, and he said as much.

Phasma shrugged. “It’s the best chance we’ve got. Does your ship pilot have a scanner out for distress signals?”

“He should,” said Hux. Kylo, I’m coming back to you.

“Good. Then let’s get this done.”

The lift doors opened to reveal a towering warehouse deck filled with crates of state-of-the-art armaments. Hux could easily guess that all of this was more than what the Resistance had on D’Qar. And there were several other star destroyers in the First Order’s fleet. Leia Organa had to know what she was facing, and yet she didn’t back down. One had to admire that about her.

Phasma led the way through the maze of industrial shelving towering storeys above their heads. These storage decks were survailed, and there were certainly be a record of their coming through, but as long as they were quick about getting out, it wouldn’t raise the alarms right away. The escape pods were built into the exterior hull, their doors locked down until the emergency evacuation was sounded.

“Do you have clearance to access these?” Hux asked. He himself would have had to remove a panel and try to cross the right wires to get the doors to open—another thing he likely would have been unable to do before being caught. Stars above, this had been a tremendously stupid plan on his part.

“You mean this clearance?” Phasma asked as she drew her blaster and obliterated the access panel.

FN-2187 jumped back, just keeping the sparks from hitting his black boots.

The hatch slid open, permitting them entry into the small four-person pod. Hux shoved them both through before he got in himself and engaged the ejection procedure.

“How’s your ship going to find us?” FN-2187 asked around the shaking to the pod as its thrusters began to fire.

“He’ll find me,” Hux replied. “If he’s out there, he’ll find me.” He was slammed back into his seat as the pod shot out from the Finalizer and into space.

 


 

The cockpit of the Arrow seemed unusually cramped as Kylo sat in the pilot’s seat, watching the console for any sign of activity through the port he had established to transfer the Starkiller data. He had been in position off the port flank of the First Order destroyer Finalizer for the past sixteen hours, following four hours in transit from Utel Gamma.

After he had left Hux in Utel City, he had keyed in the location to which the Resistance had tracked the destroyer. Kylo hadn’t told Hux he knew—at least vaguely—where the ship would be, having decided with Leia it was better he knew as little as possible about Kylo’s side of the operation. If the First Order ended up interrogating him by chemicals or force, he wouldn’t be able to give up Kylo’s position. He still had to protect himself if Hux failed to get the data.

Despite having an alert set to raise the alarm the second the data began to flow through the port, Kylo hadn’t left the cockpit for more than a few minutes at a time. He hadn’t slept and he hadn’t eaten more than a chocolate cake ration bar; he thought of Hux’s first reaction to it—wonder, surprise—and willed him to come back safely.

Kylo shifted restlessly in his seat, picking at his cuticles until his thumb bled. He sucked the finger into his mouth, tasting iron.

In the idle hours, his thoughts had turned to the night he and Hux had spent together, Kylo inside of Hux in earnest. Stars, it had been good. Hux had been so pliant and willing; Kylo had been putty in his hands. He would have done anything for him—anything to make him feel good. When he had spasmed around Kylo’s cock and cried out, Kylo had been utterly lost. He had intended to pull out and spare Hux the mess of his spend inside him, but he hadn’t been able to. He had been rooted inside of him, compelled to stake his claim. He was the first to have Hux like this, and there was a considerable part of him that wanted to be the last.

Kylo rubbed his brow, pinching his eyes shut. He had told Hux about the Force bond, and he wanted to lie and say he didn’t know why, but he did. Selfishly, he wanted to bind Hux to him, keep him as he had never desired to keep anyone else. Traditionally, the bond was platonic—as was Rey and Luke’s—and most useful for masters and apprentices to train and fight together, but Kylo thought it could be more than that, if both partners wanted it to be. In times like this, when they were separated, Kylo would still be able to find Hux and feel his ties to the Force. That was, of course, if it was possible to form such a bond with someone who was not Force-sensitive. He intended to ask Luke about it, if even he knew.

It was all dependent on Hux, however. If he didn’t want it, Kylo would respect that. Perhaps he would want to leave him someday and pursue his own life. Kylo wouldn’t have blamed him. There was an entire galaxy out there to explore; Hux needn’t be tethered to Kylo forever. Hearts changed; feelings faded. It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that Hux would tire of him and want to move on. That cut Kylo to the core, but he would have to be prepared for it. Even his mother and father, who had had an infamous love affair, had grown apart in time.

Kylo groaned, head falling back against the rest of his seat. Of all the improbable partners he could find, it had to be Hux. Stars help him, though, he couldn’t imagine anyone else.

In the distance, he could see the massive Finalizer moving steadily through the starscape, its destination unknown to him. At any moment it could go into hyperspace, leaving him unable to follow. The fear hummed through him as a constant, and it kept him on edge. Watching the chronometer, it was nearing the seventeenth hour of his watch. He picked up the datapad he had docked on the main console and typed out a quick status report to D’Qar.

In position and awaiting data transfer. No contact as of yet. Await next report.

He sent the message, but wasn’t able to bring up anything else on the datapad to pass the time. He docked it again and sat back to continue watching out the forward viewport. For a brief moment, he dipped into the flow of the Force, seeking strength and the will to be still and wait, as he had been taught as a boy at Luke’s school. But he was no Jedi, and the discipline had long ago been lost. He floundered, his connection to the Force tenuous at best.

“Kriff,” he cursed, frustrated and keyed up. He needed a drink. Taking a last look at the console, he got up and wended his way into the lounge, where he kept his liquor. He popped the cork of the bottle and poured two fingers into a glass. He sank onto the bench seat, having last sat here with Hux in his arms, and he craved it now like an addict, burning up inside with a need he couldn’t fill.

He was just about to take a sip of the blue liquor when the alarm sounded across the ship. He dropped the glass, hearing it shatter only absently as he ran to the cockpit and threw himself into his chair. The data transfer had started, pouring information into the Arrow’s databanks. It was a massive packet of files, over four terabytes. Kylo stared as the progress bar displayed on the console inched toward completion.

The Arrow’s engines had been at low power to keep up with the star destroyer, but now Kylo increased it in preparation to intercept an escape pod. He turned on the scanners—something that could give him away if the Finalizer’s crew was attentive enough—and waited, watched.

As the transfer finished, Kylo changed the port and began to feed the data immediately to D’Qar. Leia’s people would want to start processing it as soon as possible. Kylo put that out of his mind, though, as the minutes dragged on and there was still no sign of Hux.

“Come on, come on,” he chanted lowly. “Where are you?”

The scanners pinged with a signal. Kylo was careful to check if it was an enemy ship, but it wasn’t a TIE fighter; it was alone. He pulled back hard on the throttle and the Arrow surged ahead to rendezvous with it.

There was no communication from the pod as it came into view, but Kylo went to it anyway, approaching with less caution than he should have and pulled it in to connect to the airlock at the side of the ship. When it was mated, he put the ship on autopilot and bolted down to where they were joined.

He was breathless, heart thundering, as he skidded to a halt outside the airlock. With desperation, he disengaged the seal and, hissing, the door slid open. Just inside the small pod was a shock of red hair.

“Hux!” Kylo called.

“Kylo,” was the response just before Hux stumbled out of the pod and onto the Arrow.

“Stars above,” Kylo said as he gathered Hux up in his arms and pulled him against his chest. “You’re here. You made it.”

Hux took Kylo’s face between his hands and kissed his brow, his cheeks, his mouth. He breathed Kylo’s name over and over.

The relief flooded Kylo’s consciousness, and he barely noticed the two others getting hesitantly out of the escape pod. He thought his mind was playing tricks on him, until he met the eyes of the tall human female. Warily, he eased Hux away from him and growled, “Who are you?”

“It’s all right,” Hux said. “They’re with me.”

Kylo took them in. The blond-haired woman was heavily armored, taller even than Kylo. The man was smaller and dressed in the same black fatigues Hux was wearing.

“Tell me,” said Kylo.

Hux spoke steadily. “They’re defectors. Phasma was my captain, my direct superior. And she brought along FN-2187. They got me out.”

Kylo sucked his teeth, suspicious.

Hux, reading him, laid a hand on his arm. “I don’t expect you to trust them right away, but they wouldn’t be here if they didn’t want to get out of the Order.”

“You can lock us up if you must,” Phasma said. “But we mean you no harm.” She unclipped the blaster from her waist and held it out to him. “We surrender.”

Kylo took the weapon, holding it tightly; he would secure it in the locker in short order. He didn’t like any of this, but he trusted Hux. If he had brought them along, they were sincere in their defection.

“I don’t have a brig on this ship,” Kylo said, “so I don’t have anywhere secure to house you.” To Hux: “I put them in your charge. Don’t let them out of your sight.”

Hux nodded. “I understand.” He took Kylo’s hand and squeezed it. “I’ll be alone with you later.” There was a slight questioning intonation there.

Kylo kissed Hux’s knuckles. “Count on it.” They separated and Kylo continued, “You can have the lounge. We’re going to the station.”

Though he hated to do it, he turned his back on Hux and returned to the cockpit. They needed to get clear of the star destroyer’s space before they were detected. Typing in a command, he jettisoned the pod and input the coordinates for the Ryden 2 station. The stars blurred as the Arrow entered hyperspace, and Kylo allowed himself a breath. He wanted to know what had happened, but he was annoyed that he didn’t have Hux to himself, and that he now had two more First Order deserters to bring back to his mother. She wasn’t going to like it.

With reluctance, he pried himself out of the seat and returned to the lounge. He found Hux on his knees on the floor, wiping up the mess of glass and liquor Kylo had left. Phasma and FN-2187 were watching him, seemingly in confusion.

“Let me do that,” Kylo said. “You should rest.”

Hux glanced up, but then went back to his work. “What happened?”

“I was in a hurry,” Kylo replied. “You came back.”

Hux got to his feet, holding a pile of glass shards in his hand. Kylo took them from him and dropped them into the compactor. The towel Hux had been cleaning with he threw into the sink. Despite their audience, Kylo slipped his arm around Hux’s waist and kissed him softly.

“Thank you,” he said against his lips.

Hux bumped his nose against Kylo’s. “I missed you. All I wanted to do was get back to you.”

Kylo’s chest filled with warm affection. “Did they do anything to you? Are you whole?”

“I am,” Hux said. “They didn’t abuse me.”

“Good,” said Kylo after another brief kiss. “I would kill them myself if they hurt you.”

Hux stroked his cheek, where a day’s growth of beard had come in. “They would have begged for their lives when they saw you with your saber. You’re terrifying.”

Kylo held his gaze, intent. “Don’t take that kind of risk again. I can’t protect you when you’re away from me.”

“I can’t always be,” Hux said. “But I’ll take care when I am.”

Sighing, Kylo rested his forehead against Hux’s. “Tell me what happened?”

“Come sit, and I will.” Holding his hand, Hux drew him down onto the lounge seat, sitting between him and Phasma.

The former captain and FN-2187 had demurely looked away while Kylo and Hux had held each other, but they turned their attention back to them now, ready to listen to Hux recount his story.

It began in Utel City, where he had been held for several hours before being transported to the Finalizer. It was there he met Phasma and was brought before General Brendol Hux II himself.

“You told him you were his brother?” Kylo asked, taken back. “Why?”

Hux shrugged. “Why not? What could the harm be? He had no control over me anymore. Let him know our father for the monster he is.”

Kylo could understand that. “You know where your father is now.”

“Yes,” said Hux. “On this Starkiller base. I intend to find him there.”

“The Supreme Leader is there, too,” Phasma said. “He had a super destroyer where he hid before, but now the base is his domain.”

Kylo turned sharply to face her. “You mean Snoke?”

“Yes,” she replied. “How do you know his name? Few in the Order do, let alone outside of it.”

“We have a history,” Kylo said, unwilling to give any other details.

The knowledge raced around in his mind. If he knew where Snoke was, he might have the opportunity to put an end of his schemes once and for all. If Kylo killed him, he would be gone from his head and the First Order would be leaderless. But he doubted he could do it alone. Snoke was one of the most powerful Force-sensitive beings in the galaxy, if he could reach across the stars without a Force bond to push his way into Kylo’s mind. To even stand a chance against him, Kylo would need Luke, maybe even Rey and the other apprentices to help him. When they got back to D’Qar he could reach out to them.

Phasma cocked a blond brow at him but didn’t press to know more. Hux eyed Kylo, likely guessing what he was considering. He, too, said nothing about it.

Hux continued, telling Kylo how he had subdued his brother and taken the information from the console with his clearance. Phasma came back into it then, offering to help Hux escape if he took her to the Resistance.

“Why do you want to join them?” Kylo asked. “Why not just leave the Order and disappear?”

“Perhaps after I offer my insights to the Resistance, I can,” Phasma replied. “Start a new life, if I can manage it.”

Kylo looked to FN-2187. “What about you?”

“I just wanted out,” the trooper confessed. “I’ll go to the Resistance if you take me, but I don’t want to kill anyone.”

“A pacifist, then?” Kylo said.

“Is there something the matter with wanting to live in peace?” he asked.

“No,” said Kylo. “It’s what we all want.”

Hux told him how they commandeered the escape pod and the rest Kylo knew.

“It’s was luck and timing that saved you,” Kylo managed to say, reaching out for Hux again. “If it hadn’t gone like this, you might have been reconditioned. Or whatever your brother had planned for you.”

“I would have found a way out,” said Hux. “This is where I want to be now.”

Phasma regarded them critically. To Hux: “You said you owed him you life. You didn’t say you were in love with him.”

Kylo’s heart jumped. Those exact words had never been used, and he was sure it was too soon to even consider them. But he saw that Hux’s face was red.

“Given the choice,” Hux said, “I wanted this. I prefer this life.”

“It’s something a trooper never imagines for himself,” said FN-2187 with a hesitant smile. “You’re lucky to have found that, HX.”

“Don’t call him that,” Kylo snapped. “He’s Hux.”

Hux soothed him with a touch. “How long is the flight back to the station?” he asked.

“Two more hours maybe,” Kylo replied. “Are you hungry? Any of you?”

“We should have something,” said Hux. “And maybe a stiff drink.”

Kylo huffed. “I can do that.”

He saw to it that rations were heated and distributed, Hux helping him in the galley. It encumbered them as they worked, but Kylo couldn’t keep from touching him: just little brushes at his back, a hand over his hair, a passing kiss. Hux didn’t seem to mind. They drained the bottle of liquor, FN-2187 coughing and sputtering upon tasting it.

“What is this?” he asked, scowling down at his glass.

“Just drink it,” said Hux. “It’ll steady you.”

He did as he was told and choked the liquor down. His reaction wasn’t unlike Hux’s had been, and it made Kylo smile. FN-2187 was far more skittish than Hux had been, staying close to Phasma and watching Kylo with caution. There wasn’t much Kylo could do to put him at ease—and he wasn’t sure he wanted to—so he let the young trooper be.

Phasma was cool-headed and serene, but Kylo had no doubt she was lethal. He wished he had something for her to change into, putting her armor aside. Maybe she would fit into his clothes, but she likely wouldn’t appreciate it if he offered them.

Kylo hated to see Hux in the standard issue fatigues; he wanted him in the soft shirts and trousers he had bought for him at Tyrish’s. If he was being honest, he wanted Hux in nothing at all, but that would unfortunately have to wait.

Phasma and FN-2187 ate their rations dutifully, Kylo and Hux picking at theirs. Conversation didn’t come easily, the four of them spending more time staring at the floor than looking at each other. Still, Hux sat close to Kylo, his skinny thigh against Kylo’s. As Kylo set his half-eaten rations aside, he laid a hand over Hux’s knee.

When the proximity alert sounded, Kylo all but jumped to his feet, excusing himself to the cockpit. Hux remained in the lounge, keeping watch of Phasma and FN-2187. Kylo guided the Arrow out of hyperspace with practiced ease just as Ryden 2 came into sight. The station glinted just inside the planet’s orbit, marking Kylo’s flight path. He flew the freighter toward it, inputting the access codes to open the hangar bay door.

The station wasn’t designed for prisoners any more than the Arrow was. Kylo had no other choice than to offer the defectors standard quarters aboard. He met them in the lounge again, gesturing for them to follow him.

“You’ll be here,” he said to Phasma as he pushed the button to open the door to one of the small spaces in the residences. The cot was neatly made, the shelves empty. She had a refresher of her own. “I can’t lock you in, but I’ll confine you to quarters.”

She nodded. “I understand.”

FN-2187 looked around at his own quarters in awe. Like Hux, he must never have had a space of his own. Kylo left him there, shutting the door behind him. He stood in the passage, hoping he wasn’t making a tremendous mistake in bringing them here. He could have gone straight to D’Qar, where they could be imprisoned, but it would have been a longer journey and he wasn’t quite ready to face his mother just yet.

“Kylo,” Hux said quietly from beside him. “Are you all right?”

Called back to the present, concern for what was to come fading, Kylo turned around and looked hard at him. Despite what he had faced, he didn’t seem half as tired as Kylo was. But Kylo put that aside, suddenly aware that they were finally alone. He took Hux by the waist with his prosthetic hand, yanking him in. He growled in his ear, “I want you.”

“Yes,” Hux murmured. “Yes.”

They half stumbled their way to Kylo’s quarters, Kylo still holding him tightly and kissing all the exposed skin he could reach. Frenzy was rising in him, all the fear and then pure relief at seeing Hux alive transitioning into yearning to give himself over to him. As they got inside and the door slid closed behind them, Kylo knew what he needed.

“I want you to fuck me,” he said. “Now. Hard. I could have lost you, and I need it.” Shaking hands going to the buttons of his jacket, he got each one free and then threw the jacket aside. When Hux stood still, just watching him, Kylo pled, “Hux, please.”

 In an instant, Hux was across the room, frantically unfastening Kylo’s trousers, pushing them over his hips. They kissed messily as he did, all teeth and tongue. Kylo was ravenous for him, and he would have been on his knees begging Hux to get inside him if he didn’t already seem to be willing to give that to him.

Kylo’s trousers and shorts were shoved down his legs, though he couldn’t take them off over his boots. He didn’t care; he didn’t need to be bare to do this. He turned toward the viewport, bracing his hands against the transparisteel as he offered himself.

“Lubricant,” Hux mumbled against the nape of Kylo’s neck as he kissed him there. He was already tracing the cleft of Kylo’s ass, pushing his fingers in to touch his entrance.

Kylo expelled a hard breath as Hux pressed the tip of his index finger inside him. Unwilling to move from the spot, he reached out with the Force for the bedside table and pulled the little bottle standing there to him. It landed in his palm and he pushed it into Hux’s.

“Go fast,” he said. “I don’t want to wait.”

The lid of the bottle popped open and seconds later Hux’s wet fingers were sliding into him, two to start. The stretch was just this side of too much, but Hux kept on while he kissed Kylo’s neck and jaw, sucking bruises there. Kylo relaxed his body with the ease of practice and Hux soon had a third finger inside of him.

“Now,” Kylo said. “I’m ready.”

In the reflection in the viewport, he watched Hux untuck his shirt and then open the fly of his trousers. He didn’t bother to get them much farther down before he was slicking his cock and lining himself up. Kylo leaned his head against the viewport, fogging it with his breath, as Hux pushed into him.

Stars,” Hux groaned when he was fully seated. Kylo clenched around him and he cried out. “Too much.”

“It’s never too much,” Kylo said. “Go on. Please.”

Hux took hold of his hips and withdrew before driving hard back in. Kylo hit the viewport with the force of it, relishing being handled roughly. Hux’s fingers dug into the crests of his hip bones as he sped his pace.

“I thought I might never have this again,” he said. “Never feel you around me. Never hear you cry out as you come. It wasn’t enough before. I don’t know if it will ever be enough.”

Kylo pushed back onto his cock, taking him as deep as he could. Hux grunted with each thrust, mercilessly taking what Kylo gave. Kylo cursed and mumbled his name against the transparisteel. Ryden 2 spun outside of it, its surface bright in the light of system’s sun.

When Hux came, he clutched at Kylo’s chest, holding himself against his back as his body jerked with each wave. Kylo felt the heat of him inside and trembled. He was hard enough to ache and knew that it would take only a few strokes for him to reach his peak. He hissed as Hux pulled out.

“Turn around,” Hux bid him, and he did.

Hux gave him a deep kiss before sinking to his knees in front of Kylo, face tipped up. “Finish,” he said.

The implication was clear, and immediately Kylo had his hand around his cock, pushing himself toward the edge. Hux looked up at him, eyes alight and lips parted, waiting. He was still mostly dressed, his shirt just open at the collar. There was a mark at the side of his neck, the mark of Kylo’s mouth. With his free hand, Kylo cupped Hux’s cheek and Hux blinked, just the once. Kylo came then, across Hux’s face, from his chin to his brows. Hux watched him through it, until Kylo slumped forward, spent.

Hux stayed where he was for a few moments, but then lifted his shirt to clean his face. Stunned he had let him do it, Kylo knelt too, and kissed him.

“Shower?” Kylo asked.

Hux hummed and nodded.

Still confined by their clothes, they awkwardly got to their feet and removed the rest of them. Both naked, they went into the refresher and Kylo turned on the hot water.

“Did you get the data to the Resistance?” Hux asked as Kylo rubbed his soapy shoulders.

“I did,” Kylo replied.

“Are we going there tomorrow?”

“Yes. You don’t have to go.”

Hux gave him a half-smile. “I go where you go.”

Kylo sighed, touching his cheek. “I’m a damn lucky man, to have you.”

“I know,” said Hux.

Kylo laughed and pulled him into his arms.