He is getting better, he thinks, but subtlety is a skill that Hux has yet to truly master.
“The white one,” Hux says to the merchant. “How much for the white one?”
Hux knows exactly what’s going on here. Clearly the white ysalamir was placed among the common yellow ones in order to draw the eye, to make the more expensive white one appear even more special and desirable. He knows this but it doesn’t stop his heart from being set on it. He has never heard of anyone having a white ysalamir, not even Thrawn. The eyes on the side of its head facing him twitch up towards him at the sound of his voice, judgemental.
The merchant names her price and Hux doesn’t flinch. What Hux is getting, money shouldn’t be able to buy. The fact it can be bought means that no amount will be too much.
“They require a great deal of care, General,” the merchant adds. He nods, waiting for her to go on. “My husband breeds them. There are very few people who can. They are more delicate than they appear. They need….”
He suspects she is going to say the word love, but instead she finishes with, “…attention.”
“I understand.” More than he will say, to her or to anyone.
“It will bond with you quickly. It will think you are its tree, you see. They normally never leave them. It will rely on you for everything that it needs. But it will reward you with utmost loyalty.”
He stares down at the moon-pale creature and then looks back up at the merchant. “Does it have a name?”
The woman shakes her head. “We don’t form attachments to the creatures we sell, General. Name it whatever you like.”
Hux pulls off one of his gloves in a single crisp motion so he can press his thumb to the fingerprint reader that will remove the credits from his bank account. Then he stuffs the glove into his pocket and reaches gently down to pick up his prize. It flinches away from him at first, scuttling a few inches forward until it reaches the edge of the display cage that the merchant has housed it in. He pauses. The ysalamir sniffs his fingertips.
“There you are.”
The merchant stays quiet, approving, as the ysalamir allows itself to be held. He raises it up so it can work itself onto his shoulder, where it perches as naturally as if it had been trained. “There you are,” Hux says again, stroking the flabby pouch under its neck with one bare finger. “Perfectly all right.”
This is the first living thing he has touched with a bare hand in years that was not Lord Ren.
Lord Ren, not Supreme Leader Ren, whom he has never touched.
Though he will. On his own terms.
The ysalamir is lighter than he expected it to be, and it is almost easy to forget it’s there. At one point, during their ride back to the Supremacy, he realizes it has fallen asleep – or at least, he thinks it has; its eyes are shut and its breathing seems softer. Bonding, yes, it does happen quickly. He feels a strange rush of affinity for the stupid, pale little creature whose power belongs to him now.
What Hux is getting from his new pet is the Force-neutralizing ability, of course, but more than that, he will wrench himself onto more equal footing with Ren.
The fact he is summoned to Ren only moments after his return pierces him with a kind of deep satisfaction that he has not known in a long time. He moves at his normal clip towards Ren’s new quarters, accidentally waking the ysalamir.
“Easy,” he murmurs. “I’m taking you to meet a new friend. I’m sure he’ll be quite impressed with you.”
The ysalamir makes the exact sort of impression upon Ren that Hux hopes it will. The mask had been Ren’s only way to shield the exact emotions he was feeling from everyone around him; without it, he is an open book, and his face flashes between several expressions, as clear as if they had been labeled. Surprise. Disgust. Fear.
“Yes, Supreme Leader?”
Ren recovers quickly.
“Is this where you’ve been? Browsing menageries?”
“Using my own time and spending my own credits,” Hux says idly. He feels nearly giddy at the prospect of hiding beneath a mask of his own, one that Ren cannot penetrate. Ren cannot look inside his head, Ren cannot inflict his will, Ren cannot harm him. He pretends to be blank, unworried – not that it would convince Ren or anyone who actually knew him. This is more about getting his own satisfaction. “I was under the impression that you had everything under control.”
“Yes. That isn’t what I meant.”
Ren is a child playing make-believe with a toy crown. It is almost endearing, how ferociously he believes he can lead anyone, when he can barely lead himself.
The ysalamir’s tail flicks around Hux’s chest, and he places his hand supportively beneath it. “Do you like it? Should the girl come back to commit another massacre, I believe I ought to be prepared.”
“It’s not her you’re worried about,” Ren snaps.
“It’s her you ought to be worried about,” Hux answers.
“Then leave the worrying to me.”
“Very well. Was there something you needed, Supreme Leader?”
“I need you to be present. Not running your own errands.”
Hux tips his head, nearly a nod. “Of course."
He’s almost back out when Ren calls, almost like he’s declaring a challenge – "That thing won’t change what’s already in your heart.”
The ysalamir’s tail swishes again, but Hux says nothing.
“It doesn’t change the fact that you’ll obey me regardless.”
“And why is that?” Hux wants to know.
Ren’s stare is unblinking and dark as his mask used to be. “Because you require the will of a Supreme Leader to carry out. Because you need a firm hand. And you know that’s true.”
Hux does not comment one way or the other on the veracity of that statement. “I suppose that’s for us to find out,” he says before leaving the room.
If Ren wants to hold his chain, he will have to figure out a way to do it that doesn’t involve the Force.
And Hux is very, very interested to find out what he’ll come up with.
He gives the ysalamir another pet, and it shifts on his shoulders, nuzzling his cheek, giving Hux a very nice view of its many tiny, pointed teeth. Pallid, tenacious, stubborn, powerful, owned. Of course he and this creature will bond.
“Oh, yes,” he tells his new pet, low so that only it can hear. “You are a Hux, aren’t you?”