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Thankless

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“It is also said that the critical sale of – ”

"Head Accountant Arstur,” Hux says, holding up a hand to pause the babble of meaningless platitudes, closing his eyes a short moment and taking a slow breath to calm the anxious itch in his blood – this is getting nowhere, nothing has happened, no one has told him anything, and Ren is, for all intents and purposes, asleep at the throne. “I am demanding to read the unabridged documents myself. I don’t want any more of these bloody summaries from you, or your team, or your team’s teams; I want them. Right here. Now.”

“I apologize, sir – sirs,” the accountant stutters, straightening the small set of magnification goggles across beady eyes, hand shaking all the while in clear panic. “None of us are - were… privy to the precise deals that built, and continue to build, the First Order’s coffers. We have, um – ”

“Get out!” Hux shouts, turning to the exit with a pointed finger, utterly drained of all patience. “I’d encourage haste. All of you. I don’t want to see a single one of your humiliated faces until I get documents.”

The scurry of panicked feet is only so satisfactory, and Hux finds himself following the slow spin of the document manager on the holo in front of him. He has spent decades of his life for the goals of this organization, climbed as far as possible in its ranks, overseen its projects, its ships, yet it still seems the tidy running of the simplest, most critical details were dependent on a despot that held every secret close.

“I desire no witness to this mindless bureaucracy,” Ren grumbles, once the last accountant has scuttled in unabashed urgency; the door sliding closed with a miserable finality. It’s the first sentence he’s strung together since the meeting began, so, so many hours ago. “I only require we crush the Resistance – this is your burden. It should have nothing to do with me.”

Hux rolls his eyes, rubbing circles into his forehead with both hands and wishing he could forget his ties to all of this, just let Ren burn it, and himself, to the ground. “Why is every word you say just more moaning on about your own takeover?”

“Because it wasn’t mine,” Ren snarls, suddenly furious, though not particularly surprisingly, as he slams both fists over the table and rises up from his seat. “I spoke plainly, I asked for my shuttle,” he sneers, stalking in a short pair of circles around the table, his ire made manifest in tendrils of nothing ghosting out across the table and causing the display to flicker. “You’re the bastard who declared me the Supreme Leader on little more than reflexive cowardice. I shouldn’t have to do this!”

Hux inhales through clenched teeth, feeling a sharp jolt down into his jaw. “Declared you? You were going to kill me unless I cowed to your sudden coup for Su – Sovereign Lord.”

“No! I asked for my shuttle,” Ren repeats in a low growl, gradually uncurling his fists into tense claws, gesturing forward from where he’s standing again in front of his seat. “Snoke was dead. He wasn’t going to tell you not to, but you went on and insisted trying argue about it – why couldn’t you have simply done what I wanted for once?!”

“Excuse me? You shouldn’t go straight to choking people to get a point across!” Hux shouts, rising from his seat and spreading his hands flat into the table, as close and obdurate as he can get with near a meter of glass and alusteel keeping his poise in check. He wants little more than to test his own hands at crushing a windpipe, for all it would get him killed.

Ren grits out a half-muted scream between his teeth, threading his hands into his hair and turning in on himself. “That is what I do!”

The tension thickens in the few seconds of resulting silence, disbelief and fury warring together into a thick, uncompromising disgust. It is last thing Hux expected: Ren to stand there and confess that he is made of nothing more than selfishness.

“You should never have let it get this far if you weren’t committed,” Hux states low, leaning in further until the small pinpricks of holo light dig into his eyes. He reaches over and turns it off, the budgeting information long forgotten and as useless as the man in front of him. “Even an Academy cadet is more fit than you.”

“It’s mine,” Ren snaps, a snarling expression twisting his features as he peeks up through his hair, turning him into something almost ghastly between the fluid shadows of dark curls. “You lost your chance at glory the moment you folded under my hand.”

Hux takes a startled inhale as shame surges against the splintering limits of his conviction; he should be used to these kicks after the week he’s had, but every one still lashes the breath from his lungs. “Self-centered brat.”

“Perhaps,” Ren agrees, sliding down and back into his seat, lifting his chin with some infuriating resurgence of smugness. “But you revealed yourself a mindless sycophant; no backbone to speak of, despite Snoke gutted at your feet – you’re not worthy to command a circus.”

Chapter Text

 Hux shakes his head, curling his fists tight until he can feel the sting of thinly broken skin against his nails. He shouldn’t have to stand here and take this unabashed insult to his competency, his very pride, though at least Ren hasn’t reached out physically – Snoke would have already seen him to the floor.

He exhales slowly, lowering back into his chair and rubbing at his forehead with a pair of fingers.

 “What is wrong with you?”

Hux finds himself at a renewed loss, mouth opening slightly in surprise. “With me?”

“You’re not…” Ren gestures in a turning manner that could not be more vague, slumping back in his seat as his rage evidently cools into an general befuddlement.

Hux rolls his eyes toward the viewport, exhaling shakily and trying to ignore the nausea roiling now within his gut. He may have some clue what Ren means, but that doesn’t mean he wants to acknowledge it, or face the fact that since Snoke died, he’s suffered a relapse in a lifelong effort that has been largely successful for almost ten years.

It never took much to set off the itching unease that always predicated a panic, but it seems somehow more hair-trigger now, as if time without has only increased the severity. He had thought the attacks gone when he made Lieutenant, believed it once he made Colonel, but they’ve bloody come back, and he’s been unable to enter the overcrowded canteen in over a week because he suddenly remembered how it was to care about the judgement of dull troopers. It’s infuriating to the point of worsening the matter, though he hasn’t quite broken down completely yet, but the judgement of an otherwise apathetic Sovereign Lord isn’t damned helping the matter.

“General, have you…” Ren trails off, a peculiar discomfort splitting across his expression that has little to do with anger.

“What?” Hux asks, feeling a ripple of sympathetic agitation crawl up his spine.

“I told you that Sup – Snoke kept... kept everything he could under control with the Force. Manipulating information; using people like puppets.” Ren leans silently forward into the table for a few seconds, mouth flattening into a pale line as his eyes sharpen into an uncomfortably intense stare, as if picking something apart from the inside. “If you’ve noticed anything in yourself…” He trails off tellingly, eyes cutting away and down to the holo. “It is very likely you were under a similar thrall. You were too close not to be.”

Hux immediately finds himself shaking his head, forcing his hands flat on his thighs. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Ren seems to allow that lie for a few moments, then clears his throat. “You do, General.”

Hux closes his eyes for a short moment, mind dropping blank in a split second of continued denial, but the truth is already splitting him open like a blade. He had always dismissed the sudden peace of his twenties as his own ambition taking precedence, his own will overcoming doubt, but now… He can’t even recall a turning point, or a moment he’d realized his own resolve; the anxiety had all just disappeared, and he’d never, ever questioned it.

He swallows tightly, glancing up to catch Ren’s eyes, to no avail. “Aren't you going to pick up where he left off?”

Ren barks a scoff, wide eyes rising to look back aghast, as if the idea is just that repellent - like he’s not usually eager to mess about in people’s heads. “What?”

“You should!” Hux snarls, slightly startled by the vitriol in his own voice. He’s desperate suddenly for the return of that comfortable drive only for victory, for the First Order’s domination, for the simple confidence in every action. “I can hardly concentrate,” he says, the words barely managing to escape his throat, “I can hardly work… I don’t understand why you’ve not just done it! Like this, I’ve become little more than feckless child.”

Ren shakes his head, short and quick, his hair sweeping mesmerizing across his neck. “The upheaval has – ”

“I don’t need you making excuses for me,” Hux says, taking a short, stuttering breath just after, feeling something stretching thin and taut within his chest; he’s worrying now he might descend into the panic attack he’s managed to fend off all week. He’s not had one in nearly a decade, but… but that’s the issue isn’t it? “Who the hell do you think you are? I can only imagine the regret you suffer not just getting over with it and killing me, and now you stand there and act like you – you care that I’m… Are you just trying to find a reason?”

Ren stares at him for a conspicuous length, giving a baffled little shrug that is almost infuriating in itself.

“To kill me,” Hux says, pressing his lips tight together for a quick moment, then hearing a staggered laugh crawl up his throat. “I need to fail first, so I can be made an example of.”

Ren takes a startled breath, practically spluttering, “Hardly.”

“Why not!?” Hux spits, mortified to hear himself breathing hard, tiring of his own senseless emotion.

“You’re asking – ” Ren actually closes his eyes, exhaling with a peculiar patience that Hux has never seen him exercise. “I don’t understand – do you want me to kill you?”

Hux finds himself biting his tongue for a long moment, then reaches up to press all four fingers of one hand to his brow, concentrating there and desperate to find a modicum of calm. He doesn’t know how to just make Ren understand the torturous, constant skitter of panic and imminent failure beneath his ribs, or the detestation of it returning full force despite his belief it was something he rid from himself by his own will. No, he doesn't want to die, but...

“I can’t do this alone,” Ren announces, his voice a quiet, cracking mutter. He leans into the holo projection and buries his face into folded arms, dark hair cast in shifting blue numbers; he gives a short, bizarre chuckle. “I don’t even know where the money comes from.”

“Neither do I – apparently, no one does!” Hux reaches out and slaps the table hard with a single hand, just next to Ren’s ear in attempt to make him react. He only wants Ren to switch him back on; he wants to forget this emerging paranoia of all the decisions he’s ever made, and the uncertainty of if he would’ve done anything different or worse on his own – how else will he work when the Order arguably needs him now the most? He knows now that Ren could just get rid of it, but the bastard won’t do it – probably out of spite. He wants him to suffer.

“He’s been manipulating me since I was…” Ren shakes his head into his arms, voice muffled, “As long as I can remember. I’m worse off than you.”

“I’m not asking to sympathize,” Hux hisses, curling his hands up on the table and dragging it back to his own chest. “I’m asking you to take up where he left off, as you should want to do.”

Ren is quiet for a long few moments, his hands shifting around his head until he’s looking up, an odd turn at the corner of his mouth. He stares at Hux, his awful, plaintive eyes making it evident he should never have foregone that mask. “I think if we’d made fewer decisions expecting nothing but victory, we would… have been more successful.”

“Are you literally just saying nonsense words?” Hux asks, his voice turning to a pitch that bites at the back of his throat. To do anything believing in less than a victory is ludicrous.

“How many missions did you head worrying they might fail?” Ren asks, his eyes seeming to dart across Hux’s face, down to his shoulders, as if not knowing where to look. “That made you pause with hindsite."

Hux rolls his eyes, gritting his teeth at the affront. “None.”

“Exactly!” Ren says, standing without warning and shoving the half-tonne table further into Hux's chest with little outward effort. He gestures wildly, dragging both hands through his hair, then steps forward and drops both hands to the table to grip around the frame. “Both of us had our distrust repressed, our doubt stifled, and suffered nothing but loss in our arrogance! How many successes could we have had if we simply looked at more than the first presented option? Being punished means nothing if we could never learn.”

“You just regret killing your father,” Hux snarls, feeling an unfamiliar bolt of regret at the back of his throat at the instant the words ring through the air.

Ren goes abruptly silent, hands tightening around the edge of the holotable for a few tense seconds, glass screen creaking against the alusteel surface underneath. He exhales slowly, “Don’t try to provoke me.”

Hux looks away with a scoff, standing from the table with a single shake of his head. He turns to look out into the dark twilight of the Galaxy, taking a slow breath and biting hard against further provocations at the tip of his tongue.

“When Snoke would. Make an example of you, you never seemed to care,” Ren says, now speaking a measure too slow for comfort, as if he thinks the tone will suddenly make the words sensible. “I thought you were without fear, for a time, or simply apathetic, then I decided that maybe you were really that driven toward success, held that hard to the beliefs of the Order.”

Hux tries to ignore him, crossing his arms and digging thumbs hard into the thin flesh under his bicep.

“But now, I know…” Ren trails off for a few moments, then practically huffs under his breath, as if what he’s saying is amusing to any degree. “You were just a droid. He used you to delegate responsibilities and take out frustrations, to address the masses where his visage would only horrify. I don’t need that from you; I barely even know you.”

“Are you done?” Hux asks, keeping his eyes on the stars and refusing to look back, lest Ren notice the nervous way he can’t stop swallowing, his throat now peculiarly dry.

Ren stays blessedly quiet for a few moments, then gives a sharp scoff, audibly slumping back into his seat with a creak of metal seams. He’s ostensibly messing with a display setting when Hux eventually turns around, one hand turning the holo into an eye-searing flicker of color, the other curling tellingly into a tight fist.

Hux exhales slowly, reaching for his coat from the chair. “Are you done?”

“Yes,” Ren snarls, at the very same moment something likely important crumples within the wall. “What do you – where are you going?”

“We have been in here three hours,” Hux says, straightening his lapel and sleeves, neatly ignoring an ingrained urge to straighten his posture – he will die before showing Ren the respect of a superior. “I have pressing responsibilities.”

“More pressing than – ” the door slides shut, effectively muting the great Sovereign Lord.

Hux inhales a deep breath. He looks down the hall, his thoughts of the bridge faltering, and sets in the opposite direction, digging sharp fingernails into his palm.

~

Ren marches up the length of the bridge, glancing across stations just in case his eyes might detect something the Force is missing. The bridge staff is at their usual stiff attention, trying to do their work while attending to him, but it’s not to the point of typical strain – Hux truly isn’t here.

Ren exhales slowly, then glances over to the infrastructure station. “Find General Hux for me.”

“Yes, sir,” the tech nods, tapping into the console with a conspicuous tightness to their shoulders. The tension only ratchets in the next few moments, the tech curling in on themselves like a frightened insect. “I-I apologize, Sovereign. The data is unavailable.”

“His tracker is down?” Ren snarls, bending his hand tight over the station and ignoring the way his blood seems to go cold.

“No! No, it – “ The tech takes a shallow, shaky breath, fingers raising over a pair of outputs from the console. “The tracker says here it’s been inactive for almost six standard years, sir. He’s – he probably removed it, and I doubt it was brought up because he’s, well. He’s – Do you want us to find him and re-implant it?”

“No,” Ren says, taking a step back and glancing to the eavesdroppers on the other side of the station; he ends up reaching for their minds in the same moment he gestures at the technician. “I was – I was confirming this with you. It is a security risk.”

The tech’s expression goes satisfyingly blank, and they nod down to their console with a low hum. “Yes. He is safe, sir.”

Ren grimaces at their bowed head, then dismisses them with a short step away, a further nudge at their mind to forget he was here, and keeps his eyes above everyone’s head goes for the exit. It is a security risk, probably, but he also knows that’s how Hux found him on Starkiller at the brink of death. Hux evidently saw fit to take that particular safety net from himself. Or Snoke did.

The hall greets Ren with a chill, and he looks down the length of it to the lifts with a thick swallow, eyes scanning across the neat lines of troopers and officers. Every single one seems to startle and give berth when their march leads past him, but their distrust is no longer satisfying as it arouses instead a feeling of collapse. He knows most of the First Order look to Hux before him, the battle on Crait proof enough of that, and he... He's not had the time to change that, likely never will if Hux goes suspiciously missing. 

The thought is ludicrous, shaming him the moment it emerges; Hux hasn’t disappeared. He’s likely just sulking in his usual prim fury, but the unsettled feeling between Ren’s ribs refuses to calm.

A pass of the meeting rooms proves empty, as do all the engineering facilities and research barracks, and he feels a fool for checking the lounge facilities but does it anyway, to no avail. He resists a more expedient way to find Hux, as the downside is Hux will definitely feel it – may even think that Ren has changed his mind regarding earlier… statements. He ends up doing it anyway, closing his eyes and exhaling slowly as he skims across the many, many minds of the Supremacy. The criticism will have to be diverted, but he doesn’t feel like checking every darkened corner in the ship for a single man.

It’s easier to find Hux than it usually is, searching for that static mind and instead finding a hurricane of nervous contemplation. Ren probably only makes the issue worse when he prods deliberately hard with his own irritation, as it seems Hux is simply in his quarters, a door down and across the hall from where Ren sits in his own. It’s the only place he hadn’t looked, but to his credit, Hux isn’t the type to retire for idle thoughts. Or he wasn’t… was he? Ren isn’t sure how much of him had been innate self, aside for, it seems, the unpleasant attitude and general disregard for Ren’s authority.

He keeps that in mind as he puts his hand over the scanner to Hux’s door, surprised when it simply slides open, at least until he realizes that must mean Hux has equal access to his quarters. He steps through the narrow entry trap with an embittered mutter, predictably finding Hux just on the other side, sat stiffly on a sofa in front of a full-size holotable and hand lifted as he inspects some complex mess of wiring.

Hux continues to spin the blue prints with an idle finger, then slowly looks up with his usual put-upon glare. “I could feel you rooting around in my head – decided to change your mind?”

Ren glances across the rest of the room, seeking out any irregularities – it’s made difficult by the only point of true light being from the holo.  “Only looking.”

Hux quirks an unamused brow, a dissatisfied sneer flickering across his mouth.

“For you,” Ren clarifies, stepping in closer and feeling oddly exposed, curling his hands into loose fists at his sides. It’s as if something has grown at the back of his mind, implanting an energy that skitters and worsens the few nerves it took walking in here. “Our discussion was not over.”

Hux gives an exaggerated huff, looking back to the blueprints, and suddenly the sensation worsens into little stabs of outright distress. The source of it is him, strong enough now that it’s hemorrhaging through the lingering connection after Ren went searching for his mind.

Ren doesn’t understand how Hux can be at borderline breaking and show only droid-like indifference, but more of that must have been innate than Hux evidently believes – Ren can work with this, embolden it. “You lied,” he says, gesturing down to the holo table, even up-close finding nothing more than scrawled edits of ship design – a veritable hobby for Hux. “This is not anything pressing.”

“It is,” Hux says, gesturing with a twist at the holo and bringing the blue prints out of magnetization, displaying an entire, very familiar ship. “It’s the repairs for your bloody TIE – we went through a manufacturer for the parts, and the proprietors are having something of a personal crisis. We may have to fabricate them on our own.”

Ren narrows his eyes, momentarily forgetting the reason he came here, now curious if this could become an assignment. Manufacturers typically have little loyalty to more than money, but if these ones have decided to cease operations outside of the Resistance… Well, Ren will punish them personally. He needs this TIE.

“Slightly to our fault,” Hux says, tutting under his breath with an allowance he never would have admitted before current circumstances. “Their shuttle seems to have been stolen from Canto Bight, fairly recently, by associates of an exceedingly lucky traitor.”

“And they know?” Ren asks, slowly sinking into the chair just to the other side of the holotable; it’s uncomfortably stiff, the cushion still impeccably square, and very likely unused. “Is that why they won’t send my parts?”

“Hardly,” Hux mutters, sending a short glance sideways, eyes dragging quick down Ren’s figure before looking back down, reaching for his data pad. He uses it to try and mask a telling shift in his seat, posture curling inward and defensive. “It was taken again by that – that arsehole we always end up paying off. The one with the stutter. Their tracker said it was last in Hutt Space.”

Ren reaches out and takes control of the holo with a short swipe, stretching his fingers against a gunner wing. “The one with ‘Don’t Join’ on his hat?”

Hux rolls his eyes at his data pad, a conspicuous tightening at his lips as he bites down on a cheek. “The same. Smug title for a man who continually finds a way to sell information to us.”

“I’ve wanted to kill him since Ganthel,” Ren admits, poking at the cockpit of the Silencer, feeling a twist form at his lips for the little notes on his ‘habitual wear’ around broken throw switches and a glaring red line to a panel near where his foot kicked into during the last dogfight. He hums low, glancing to Hux. “I could, now.”

Hux catches the gaze under his lashes, fingers still poised over his data pad. “No. He’s useful.”

Ren feels his mouth stretch into a frown, looking back down and searching the options on the holo. He quickly finds the alarm option, only to see the design has already been flagged – set to request updates every four ternary cycles. He turns his fingers quickly, setting it to go off every other individual cycle.

“Are you ever going to bring it up, then,” Hux asks, voice going flat, mood turning sour in an unexpected instant, “What you came here to say? Or must I debase myself on your whim, Sovereign.”

Ren tips his head, returning the screen to the TIE, then leans back in his chair with an uncomfortable ache low in his gut. He doesn’t want to acknowledge this, make it something true by speaking it aloud, let alone with a witness likely to use it against him. “I used to know who the scavenger was.”

Hux goes silent for a moment, his eyes going narrow with predictable confusion. "Excuse me?"

“I used to know,” Ren repeats, taking a deep breath and feeling his lungs resist, trying to keep shallow. “Weeks ago, when that Lieutenant reported to me she was in the Falcon, I knew… I knew something,” He looks down to his hand, tensely turning his thumb around and in between his fingers. “But now I know something else.”

“You think your mind has been altered?” Hux clarifies, his voice still frustratingly skeptical.

“I know it has – I know he twisted me into shapes to fit his agenda, to, to – to…” Ren trails off, feeling discomfort build up and threaten to explode into a thousand different directions. He shakes his head, swallowing hard and forcing the anger down into something compact and heavy in his gut. He can deal with it later; he has to control himself. “But now it’s me. It is mine. I own it. I only wish I could get back what I had lost.”

“Ren,” Hux says, exhaling a breath that seems to weigh the room down. He reaches up and runs his hand along his brow, “I am already thinking of all the things I couldn’t do without that influence, I don’t need – ”

“Hux!” Ren interrupts, feeling that prickling itch of anger surface at the back of his mind – why can’t Hux just believe him? He never accepts anything that Ren says without finding some way to disagree. “This is about what I can do now - what you can do. By choice.”

Hux actually seems to listen, leaning back into the sofa with a long, unreadable look that lasts for a few uneasy moments. “Are you truly saying,” he begins slow, “You think I could lead the First Order better without the Force?”

Ren cuts his eyes sideways to stare hard at the shiny corner of the TIE, reining himself as that flush of anger threatens to coalesce as said Force. He came here to prove he’s not Snoke, make Hux accept it, but here he is feeling on the edge of tumbling into being just the same. “I’m saying, General, we both could benefit by learning from Snoke’s fucking hubris.”

“Ah,” Hux intones, his voice losing that dubious note to something that sounds almost like fatigue. “This is still because you want to commiserate – you do realize we’re not friends?”

Ren waits for a few moments, expecting more to that offensive declaration, then frowns when he instead gets an unfamiliar flavor of feigned indifference – Hux blinking at him like a dim animal, mouth set in a flat line. “You’ve yet to organize my death,” he offers, gesturing vaguely and not quite sure what he’s meant to say when Hux isn’t sneering at him, provoking arguments from him like reflexes. “Because you want to kill me up close. With your own weapon, by your own hand.”

Hux blinks at him, expression twisting up with bewilderment before going again cold. “And you take that as some sort of compliment?”

“It is one,” Ren says, feeling surer of his argument the longer he uses it, though that could simply be pride. “You’ve had a lot of other people killed for you.”

Hux evidently finds that some reason to relax, openly rolling his eyes. “You’re still mad.”

“I meant what I said: I don’t need you the way he did,” Ren says, shifting forward to the edge of his chair, pressing one hand to the holotable for leverage. He feels a resurgence of that determination he had back in Hux’s office, driven by disgusted epiphany. “I’m not – I won’t use his methods on you. Any of them.”

“Methods,” Hux repeats with a mocking mutter, tipping his head and looking up through his lashes; a peculiar intensity has formed with little warning, sharp and calculating. “Is this you trying to tell me I won’t find myself being shoved into walls by invisible hands any longer?”

“Not hard,” Ren says, because nudging Hux into door jambs, making him trip and stumble out of that perfect posture, will remain one of his few amusements until his body is at peace in the comforting vacuum of space. “Or anything else that I’ve – I may have taken liberties doing because I saw Snoke do worse.”

Hux’s mouth pinches into a flat line. “He did what he did because it was effective; it worked.”

“It didn’t,” Ren snarls, gritting his teeth as his mind grapples with the lingering reflex to agree that Snoke was always right. He leans further to the edge of the chair, opening his mouth to snap more, then feels shock cascade across his mind as he realizes it’s the same; Hux had developed just as much fear of disagreeing with the Supreme Leader, but he never got to kill him; he’s still set thinking Snoke had been infallible. “You know what he told me – once, after he’d punished you and sent you away with cracked ribs? He said that no matter what he did, it couldn’t break you, because you’d already been broken.”

Hux visibly tightens his jaw, but it’s the only evident response outside the telling absence of reply.

“Are you telling me that was true, General?” Ren asks, lowering his voice, watching the growth of twitching microexpressions at the corner of Hux’s eyes. “Are you so tamed that you need a guiding voice for every action in your life – from me?”

Hux holds his eyes for a few seconds longer, but eventually gives a brusque shake of his head, clearing his throat and looking away to pretend preoccupation with something on his darkened datapad. “You shouldn’t promise anything you can’t fulfill in a temper.”

“It’s not a promise,” Ren says, moving back into the chair with a discordant creak of leather. He finds himself glancing back to the holotable; the TIE that Hux had bitterly designed, but has now revisited in attempt to mend after a senseless fight about his own state of mind. The realization tightens something in Ren’s chest even further, and he stretches his shoulders in attempt to ease it. “But an assurance.”

The room falls uncomfortably quiet for seconds that lead onto minutes, until suddenly, Hux nods, setting his data pad aside and standing in an almost elegant straightening of his spine. He walks the pair of steps between the sofa and chair almost languidly, sliding in close to Ren in a manner that bafflingly makes his ears burn, but the moment is broken handily by a blade appearing almost like magic in the flesh between Ren’s thumb and pointer finger.

“Shit!” Ren hisses, squeezing hard at the pair of thin bones he’s grinding together in his hand, instinct insisting he remove both limb and knife. He forces himself to ease up after that first burst of initial pain fades to a biting tingle, dipping into a heady thump of adrenaline. “Hux?!”

“Alright,” Hux says, using his free hand to grabbing Ren’s and peel it away from his arm, then extracting the dagger with a lurch of burning, stinging pain. “I believe you.”

You can’t stab me and walk away,” Ren snarls, reaching out with the Force and sluggishly tugging at Hux’s jacket; he’s starting to feel an ill-timed, almost hysterical amusement swell behind his ribs. He’s done various cruel things to Hux, but Hux has never done anything like this back, instead always taking it like the good little soldier – he’s almost glad to have been stabbed. “I should strangle you; let the rats – ”

“My ship does not have rats,” Hux interrupts, digging into an inlaid pair of drawers at the wall, barely visible in the dark across the room. He comes back with a small orb in hand, setting it solidly in Ren’s still-outstretched palm. “Fix yourself up, my Lord, though you barely deserve that allowance.”

Ren summarily drops the orb to his feet and stiffly pulls at his glove with an aggrieved bite into his lower lip – it was new, for all that meant now it was severed down the seam and covered in blood. He shakily picks the orb back up, peering across it’s familiar shape and tapping lightly on the evident activator button. “Why did you give me an interrogator droid?”

“Field medic, Ren. It’s a prototype, so don’t crush it,” Hux says, proceeding to grab his data pad and settle back into his seat. The short turn at the corner of his mouth is entirely too smug, and the only sign that he’s given any thought to how close he came to losing his – ah. Hux thinks he’s just won something.

“I wasn’t going to,” Ren mutters, sinking into the chair, trying to convince himself that he’s the one who’s come out the victor – Hux appears, after all, no longer concerned with the Force control. He presses the activator on the droid, letting it go to float and titter on furiously about the deep cut in his hand, now leaking blood in rivulets down his palm and pooling onto the leather. It doesn’t seem to care that its own master is the one who did the deed.

Ren winces as the droid injects him with painkiller, watching it extend needled limbs that proceeding to mend with thin gossamer thread at an almost sickening speed. He keeps his eye on it for a few moments longer, then clears his throat and a glances up, intent to defend himself further, only to find Hux still smirking at his screen, eyelashes practically translucent in blue-tinged light. He seems softer now he’s calm, almost otherworldly – a thought that makes Ren look deliberately back to the droid with a startled breath.

It doesn’t even feel like a revelation, is the trouble – only an observation, like it’s something he’s taken note of numerous times in the past. He quickly becomes almost infuriated by the normalcy of it, as the idle thought brings forward other past musings that must have been suppressed, shunted aside by his Master because they were deemed too distracting. The memories continue to resurface the longer he muses – first, they’re almost dim, hard to pin down, but then more solidly they shove forward, until it’s like a flood, leaving him drowned in chagrin and staring blankly at his hands.

He swallows hard as his neck abruptly flushes hot up to his ears, suffering an unfamiliar embarrassment that has little to do with a failure. He can’t actually pinpoint when it started, even now when concentrating, as thin flickers of thought seem to go on forever – he can recall a fuzzy distraction as far back as meeting Hux: the fullness of his lips when he frowns at some screen, lieutenant’s stripes framing a willowy wrist as he points out strategic points for their fighters.

“Did you want to make some alterations?”

Ren looks up with a start, catching Hux’s eyes and feeling even more surprised by the amusement he finds lurking behind the sarcasm.

"To the TIE,” Hux says, rising from his seat again and gesturing at the table as makes his way back over. He pulls off his gloves, as well, folding them together and laying them neatly on the edge of the holo. “You’re glowering at it.”

Ren shakes his head, feeling the fever return to the back of his ears and eyes tracking Hux’s thin hand as it reaches down to shoo the droid away from the patched injury. “I’m simply meditating on how best to kill you.”

“I’m well adept at recognizing when that’s the case,” Hux says, taking Ren’s hand without so much as a warning and turning it over, inspecting the job. He presses the middle of Ren’s palm with a finger, dragging it up to a thin scar that has little to do with present encounter, then down to the newer line of red. “This is not that – move your thumb.”

Ren rolls his eyes, moving his thumb back and forth while trying to ignore the cool pressure of Hux’s finger. He has odd calluses on the tip, little white marks barely visible up the side, and it takes a moment for Ren to recognize them as scars from prodding wires.

“There, you see,” Hux says, catching the droid without looking as it wanders around him in a listless circle, then deactivating it. “You’re fine.”

“Your sense of self-preservation is skewed,” Ren mutters, flexing his hand further when Hux drops it, feeling a slight twinge of soreness underneath the newly-bound skin.

“Perhaps,” Hux agrees, catching Ren’s eyes in almost a snare; his gaze intense and stern as he takes a step back, setting the droid down on the table near his gloves with a deceptive thunk.

Ren stares back as the seconds count on, slowly becoming certain his blood is turning molten in his veins with how he can feel the burn across the surface of his skin. He doesn’t think Hux could have noticed his attention so quickly, but – he isn’t the same, after all, maybe Snoke was… No. Snoke would have encouraged that fight.

“I would like to make a proposal, actually, regarding the meeting we had earlier with those useless bureaucrats,” Hux says, finally breaking eye contact and settling back into his sofa with a posture that, privately, Ren thinks makes him appear as the lawyer for an antagonist of a holo drama; a smug, cruel act in multiple parts. “And I do not want to be thrown across the room for it, per your assurance.”

Ren feels something settle with the change of topic, tempted to scan across Hux’s surface thoughts, but resigns to face value. He hasn’t no idea what Hux might say about those moronic accountants that would earn violence – unless he’s about to announce Ren is going to have to handle them alone.

Hux nods shortly, giving a quick clear of his throat, then gestures with a single hand, palm open upward. “Were you ever put on the books as the heir the Alderaanian coffers?”

Ren feels his expression fall, having expected that question the least of any, and swallows a stunned demand of what Hux thinks he’s asking; if he’s forgotten he’s not allowed those sorts of questions. He grits his teeth for a few seconds and looks down to his hands, flexing both against his knees. “I don’t know.”

“It may be something to look into,” Hux says, his spine losing some stiffness that had made his question seem almost a presentation. “Your legitimacy within the Elder Houses could leverage potential allies, especially among the older crowd.”

“And the loss of funds could cripple the Resistance,” Ren adds, furrowing his brow and not particularly happy with the idea of such a victory. He wants a real battle, a fight without boundaries or mentors, just his own strength cutting that would-be Jedi down, her blood staining across falling ashes of the rest of her Resistance. 

“Rather the plan,” Hux says, in a snide tone that isn’t quite under his breath.

“Why didn’t you mention this before?” Ren asks, relieving some of the tension in his neck with a short turn of his head, listening to the low crack of vertebra. “With the accountants.”

Hux gives a short, too-careless shrug, something spinning through his mind that sets off a familiar tic in Ren’s defenses, one he’s long refined himself to detect without real effort.

“You’re about to lie,” Ren interjects, catching Hux’s eyes for a quick, accusing blink.

Hux rolls his eyes to glare at the ceiling before looking back down, reaching out for his data pad and typing with almost inhuman speed into a search. He brings up a holonet page covered in headlines and images, tapping on the one that has Ren most uncomfortable, even looking at it from this fuzzy, upside-down position. The feeling only gets worse when Hux turns the data pad around. “See for yourself.”

“That’s from Coruscant,” Ren says, scowling at the befuddled picture of a stupid, ugly child spread across the top.

“Keen eye,” Hux says flatly, jerking the data pad up and down in front of Ren’s face. “Go on. Read the rest.”

Prince Ben New Leader of Imperial Remnant Group!’ A headline unexpectedly flashes in bright red to replace the image, causing Ren to suffer a bitter pain in his thigh, as he squeezes hard into the muscle to keep from reacting in any way other than with mild distaste. The borderline mocking look from Hux is enough to know he should’ve just let himself go.

He reaches out and stiffly takes the data pad with a grimace, sliding the article up with his thumb. It’s not a particularly expository piece – no mention of why he’s with the First Order, what he’s done, or even the Hosnian system, despite the loss of it less than a standard month ago. It does mention that he’s grown into himself, which is somehow both insulting and flattering, if leaning hard on the former.

“Our last feature in this particular publication branded us outright as terrorists, so I feel this is progress,” Hux says, his tone thoughtful, if bearing that idle note of repulsion that he gets when speaking of the Republic, for all that he apparently reads their tabloids. The topic, at least, seems to have subdued the skittering anxiety from his mind, which is only half a relief from the outside. “The only recent image in the entire thing is some security capture from your last visit to Acresus – you look half-drowned even in your helmet.”

“With Girare,” Ren mutters, glancing at the picture for a moment, then clicking backward on the article. His eyes catch on an actor he vaguely recognizes from something Skywalker had watched at the Temple; apparently, they’ve gotten some sort of cyber implants meant to enable escape from Coruscanti trade officials.

“The point I’m hoping to make here,” Hux says, tapping at the sofa with a pointed cough, clearly under some false impression that Ren cannot read and listen at the same time. “Is that despite continually insisting otherwise, you are heir to a rather lot of money and influence, which something we could use at the moment.”

“The scavenger kept calling me Ben,” he says, looking up from the tablet with a twist forming at the corner of his mouth, “Like it might. Awaken something in me. The Light, I guess.”

Hux is silent for a few moments, visibly considering, “And?”

“It didn’t affect me like I had been warned, I only got annoyed,” Ren says, unable to really remember if he’d reacted much to it at all, aside for thinking it was some sign that his own manipulating was going the right way. The memory of is rough now that the false visions have scattered and worn thin, everything he’d done in hindsight clumsy and hackneyed without the guiding pretext of false destinies.

It could have led to turning her Dark, if he hadn’t felt so driven to do it immediately – Snoke had wanted her here, though, which is apparent enough, as well as how much he saw her as a replacement. He just hadn’t wanted to take the time, leading to his own undoing with haste.

Ren won’t let the same happen to himself.

“Ah,” Hux intones, a dubious turn at the corner of his mouth, looking pointedly downward.

Ren spares a glance himself at the data pad, tipping it side to side and exhaling slowly, feeling the rush of temper begin to fade as quickly as it surfaced. “The scavenger at least knew who she was speaking to. The fucking article used a picture of a child.”

Hux stares for a few unnerving seconds longer, then tips his head. “The question, then, Prince Ben, should it inevitably come up, do you promise not to cut the head off a banking clansman?”

Ren suffers a peculiar spasm behind his ribs, something baulking as Hux’s accent curls mockingly around the title. He swallows hard and puts the data pad back down on the table, covering half the holo display with a broken flicker. “One pass.”

“How magnanimous,” Hux says dryly, exhaling a sparse scoff and dropping his hand, leaning into the arm of his sofa. “Are you going to give notice, as well?”

“Depends on the mood,” Ren says, leveling his tone into something flat and hopefully inarguable, for all it’s ever worked on Hux. “That was yours.”

The smirk that grows quick across Hux’s lips is predictably haughty, joined by a low, derisive mutter as he leans forward to retrieve his data pad. “My apologies, Lord Ben.”

Ren bites the inside of his cheek, determinedly ignoring the resurging flush at the back of his neck, refusing to classify it as anger or otherwise. He stands with a slow exhale, then sends a brief anchor of Force just as Hux goes back for the blueprints, shutting the table off and dropping the room into near complete darkness, then flooding it with too-bright light in the next instant as the habitation sensors pick up the difference.

“Ren!” Hux snaps, after a stunned moment, hand curling into a tight fist over the holo table. He looks up with frustration splitting his expression into ugliness, his other hand already around the deactivated med-droid almost as if he plans to throw it. “Get out.

“You don’t give me orders,” Ren reminds, nearly settling back in the chair. It puts him in a difficult spot of favoring Hux one way or another, but getting out of the room seems the most prudent way to make sure he doesn’t fall back to considering things in the silence between them, like plush mouths and scars peeking just under sideburns.