But my dreams, they aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be
~Behind Blue Eyes by The Who~
"We're ready to administer the second dose of serum."
Hux nodded at the medic. The first dose hadn't had any noticeable affect other than an increase in body temperature, but they were hopeful that a second dose would begin to show results.
The randomly selected stormtrooper struggled against his restraints as the medic approached him with the syringe, a light sheen of sweat on his forehead from the fever.
"Be still," Hux snapped at him. "The future of the Order rests with this experiment. You should be grateful to be selected."
The trooper ignored him and continued to fight against the straps binding him, but the medic managed to inject him anyway. He calmed for a few moments before resuming his struggle. Only this time the thick, cloth straps binding him ripped almost immediately, tearing as easily as paper.
Hux had one perfect moment of joyful triumph, before the trooper leapt down from the table and knocked the medic across the room with one swiping blow. He immediately turned toward Hux, his eyes bloodshot and pink tinged drool foaming out of his mouth.
Hux backed up against the wall, the door unfortunately on the other side of the rabid test subject. "Stand down!"
Despite yelling in his best command voice, the trooper didn't hesitate in his slow approach. Hux grasped for his blaster, but was met with the empty holster. He'd left the weapon in the antechamber, as was protocol during these experiments to prevent the test subjects from potentially gaining a weapon if something went wrong. It was a protocol that he deeply regretted creating.
He raised his arms to protect himself, but the trooper pushed him hard. Hux could feel something give in his arm right before his head hit violently against the wall. The last thing he saw before he succumbed to the darkness closing in on him was the door sliding open behind the stormtrooper revealing a very welcome red glow.
Hux jerked awake with a gasp, struggling to breathe around an obstruction in his throat.
"Easy," Ren said. "Hold still."
Hux didn't have any choice in the matter, since his body was pressed flat against the bed with the invisible power of the Force. However, Ren's power couldn't stop his frantic and futile attempts to take a breath.
"I said be still," Ren ordered.
Ren yanked at the breathing tube that Hux hadn't even realized was there, ripping it out of Hux's throat without any care taken to be gentle. Not that Hux expected gentleness from Ren.
Airway finally clear, Hux took a gasping breath and immediately started coughing at the burning pain in his throat. Eventually he managed to gasp out, "What happened?"
He looked around the room, expecting to find medics or at least the usual droids--all of which had a nicer bedside manner than Ren--but the entire medical wing was empty of it's usual bustle.
"Your experiment went awry," Ren said. He thrust a glass of water at Hux. He drank it gratefully, relishing the way the cool water felt on his raw throat.
Hux closed his eyes and thought back to the last thing he remembered. He'd been in the labs overseeing the new serum trials when one of the test subjects had gone wild and attacked him. The good news was the stormtrooper had clearly gained super strength, but he doubted that Ren would be playing nursemaid without good reason.
"How badly awry?"
Ren frowned. "Very. We're the only two survivors."
Hux struggled into a sitting position, wincing as he put his weight on his arm. "What? That can't be right."
"The virus you created mutated," Ren explained. "I killed patient zero, but he had already bitten a medic. It didn't take long to spread throughout the ship and everyone it infected has become something worse than death."
"I don't understand."
Ren gave him a long look, before gesturing at the supply closet. The door swung open and a medic stumbled out. She was shuffling strangely and letting out a low moaning sound. She made straight for Ren, her arms outstretched and her hands rhythmically opening and closing in an attempt to grab him even though she wasn't close enough to touch him.
Ren held up one hand and she bounced off of an invisible wall. The barrier didn't stop her and she struggled against it, trying in vain to get to Ren. Hux looked at her face and was chilled to see that her eyes were entirely vacant and her mouth was snapping at the barrier. Pink drool was glistening on her chin.
She turned at the sound of his voice and began shuffling in his direction, but Ren drew his lightsaber and sliced through her head before she had a chance to get close to the bed.
"They're all like that."
Hux struggled to his feet and grabbed a nearby data pad. He entered his credentials and pulled up the lab tests. The videos confirmed everything that Ren had said, but it still didn't explain what had gone wrong. He began pulling up video feeds from around the ship, watching as hordes of the infected stumbled around aimlessly.
"How long have I been unconscious? Why am I not infected?" He backed up the video feeds, trying to see how everything started.
"A week," Ren answered. "Your injuries were extensive, but entirely from being thrown against the wall and it appears that the infection is only spread by being bitten by one of the infected. I arrived before that could happen. You've been locked in here ever since."
"A whole week?" Hux backed up and sat down on the bed. "What have you been doing this entire time?"
He didn't mean it to be an insult, but Ren seemed to take it as one.
"Trying to clean up your mess," Ren snapped. "But eventually I realized it was pointless. This entire ship has to be purged." He gave Hux a long look. "You should be eliminated as well, in case you're a carrier… but I don't feel that's necessary."
Hux sighed and gestured for Ren to join him. Ren only hesitated a moment before sitting down next to Hux on the bed.
Hux gave into the urge to lean against Ren and rest his head on Ren's shoulder. He was sore all over, exhausted to his core, and his mind was shying away from the reality of their situation. And worst of all, his experiment had failed. Months of research had been all for nothing.
The only thing he had left was Ren, but he'd survived with less before.
"Thank you," Hux whispered.
"For what?" Ren asked. His voice was as stiff and tense as his shoulder, but he wasn't pulling away.
"I'm not stupid, Ren. I know there's no way I could have survived if you hadn't looked out for me."
Ren didn't exactly relax, but he leaned into Hux just a little. "The Order needs you. After all someone has to do all of the paperwork. I'm sure as hell not going to."
Hux couldn't hold back a surprised burst of laughter, as inappropriate as it was given the circumstances. "Well we can't have you stuck with requisition forms."
Hux didn't have time to aim properly--there were too many of the creatures--but he hadn't risen to the rank of general due to nepotism. It was quite the opposite actually. He'd had to fight to impress people his whole life and while he'd been lacking in the raw physical strength of some of his classmates at the academy he'd more than made up for it with his extraordinary aim.
He fired his blaster in quick succession, each bolt hitting the infected troopers in the center of their foreheads. He'd set his blaster to its highest setting when Ren told him that destroying the head appeared to be the only way to stop the infected. The symptoms of the virus--mindlessness, shambling, an inability to die from anything but a headshot--closely resembled the old stories about zombies that Hux had read as a guilty pleasure in his youth. For that reason he decided to rename his failed Super Trooper Serum and call it the Zombie Virus.
While he was distracted by his thoughts, a zombie managed to get inside of his personal space, but before he had time to worry about it, it's head was cleaved in two by Ren's lightsaber.
"Watch yourself," Ren said.
Hux shot his blaster over Ren's shoulder and took out the former lieutenant that was almost within biting distance of Ren's back. "You should follow your own advice."
Ren tilted his head, a faraway look in his eyes that indicated he was using the Force. After a moment he jerked his head toward a side corridor. "There are fewer this way."
"I still think it would be more logical to split up. I could set the collision course and you could prepare the shuttle."
As usual, Ren didn't bother elaborating on his refusal. He always had to have things his way, but in this case he did have a point--they would be safer together. However, Hux would rather get things done faster and get off this nightmare of a ship.
His desire to split up was also motivated in part by the desire to return to the lab and recover as many samples of the virus as he could before the ship was destroyed. He'd known better than to suggest that to Ren, though. Ren still had a few scruples left that popped up at inopportune times and Hux had a feeling that recovering dangerous viruses for future experimentation would be one such time.
The journey to the bridge was almost too easy. Ren's senses guided them through the least populated corridors and between the two of them they made fast time. Unfortunately the ease lulled Hux into a false sense of security.
After they'd cleared the bridge and set the Finalizer on a collision course with the nearest star, he headed straight back into the corridor without waiting for Ren. A horde of zombies five deep greeted him on the other side of the door--probably attracted by the noise-- and he only managed to kill two of them before he was knocked down.
Several of the creatures fell on top of him and he struggled to push them away, but it was too late.
Kylo's heart clenched as he saw Hux fall to the ground, several creatures on top of him. He instinctively lashed out with the Force, throwing them all away and creating a bubble around them.
"Are you okay? Did they bite you?" He pulled Hux to his feet and immediately began inspecting him for bites.
Hux pushed at him. "Stop it."
Kylo narrowed his eyes at Hux and diverted his attention from the forcefield-like barrier he was maintaining around them just long enough to brush against Hux's mind. His surface thoughts were a complicated mixture of fear and pain and the iron-willed determination that was always present.
"Where?" Kylo asked, tamping down his own tumultuous emotions and keeping his voice as calm and even as possible. "I can amputate a limb, maybe stop the spread--"
Hux sighed and lifted up his shirt, baring a nasty bite on his abdomen. It was bleeding sluggishly. "I don't think you can amputate this."
"No," Kylo agreed. His stomach twisted as he stared at the bite. He engaged his lightsaber, keeping it lowered for the moment. "I'll make it quick, Armitage. You won't feel any pain."
Hux pressed his hand to the wound and took a step back from Kylo. "Maybe I won't turn. Surely we have some time--"
"Every single person has turned after being bitten," Kylo interrupted him. "But first you'll suffer a high fever and great pain. Let me spare you that."
"Please," Hux said, an unfamiliar desperation tinging his voice. "There may be an antidote in the lab. Let me try that first. If it doesn't work I'll welcome your mercy."
Kylo stared at Hux for a long moment. The safe bet would be to kill Hux now and flee the ship before it entered the star. His own survival was the most important thing and Hux's desperate search for an antidote likely wouldn't bear fruit.
And yet, the safe choice held no appeal. His relationship with Hux had always been complicated at best, but he found the idea of killing the other man distasteful. Returning to fleet without Hux by his side held little appeal and not just because of the paperwork.
Besides, he'd worked hard to keep him alive to this point and what was one more hour in the grand scheme of things?
"Very well," Kylo agreed. He turned his attention to the creatures gathered several deep against his Force barrier. "We'll have to be quick."
Hux stood next to Kylo and drew his blaster. "It's not like I have to be worried about getting bit this time. Lower the barrier."
Hux was sweating by the time they got to the lab. It would be easy to explain it away as the exertion, but Kylo knew better. His flushed cheeks and damp hair were a result of the fever already taking root.
"Why did no one else try an antidote?" Kylo asked as he watched Hux step over the decaying body of patient zero and open a locked cabinet.
"Only myself and the head medic were aware of its existence," Hux said, digging around in the cabinet. He picked up vial after vial, examining their labels before putting them in a bag. "It was created to neutralize the super-strength that we were hoping to create--it's unwise to give someone power without the ability to control that power. I don't know what went wrong with the serum, but perhaps it will work against the Zombie Virus."
"It's an apt description." Hux held up a vial. "I found it." He gave Kylo a long look. "We don't know how long this may take to work. Promise me that no matter what happens you won't kill me until I've turned."
Kylo frowned, but nodded. "Inject yourself now, but then we have to leave while you can still walk. I don't want to carry you and fight our way to the shuttle at the same time."
"But you would," Hux said softly.
The last thing Kylo wanted to do was admit to such weakness so he ignored the comment and instead drew his lightsaber. "I'll clear the way. Stay close behind me."
"Is it over?" Hux asked, when Kylo joined him in the shuttle's small bedroom. Hux had refused to watch the Finalizer's destruction, claiming that he needed to rest. His fever was growing worse, however it was clearly only an excuse to protect his pride. The Finalizer had been Hux's ship and it was now gone because of his recklessness.
"Yes." Ren sat down in the single chair, his lightsaber resting loosely in his hand. He gave Hux a critical once over. He was shivering despite his blankets. "Any change?"
"Not really," Hux answered, his teeth chattering. "I'm so cold, Kylo."
Hux didn't actually ask a question, but there was a plaintive note to his voice and using Kylo's first name that way was a plea in it's own way. Hux only used it when they were intimate and even then only rarely.
Kylo sighed and looked down at his lightsaber. He didn't actually have to keep it at hand. The Force would be enough to protect him should he need it. He set it aside and got onto the much too small bed with Hux. There wasn't enough room for two men of their size, but they didn't need much space since Hux immediately curled into him, seeking out his body heat.
Hux was burning up and Kylo was afraid that if the antidote didn't work soon he really would die. He slid one hand under the blanket and took Hux's hand in his own. Rey had once read the shape of his future by touching his hand and now he reached out into the Force seeking out a vision of Hux's.
The future was a tenuous thing, ever changing, but he cycled through several different paths and in all of them he felt Hux strong and vital for years to come.
He let out a relieved breath and allowed himself to give into his weakness by pressing a gentle kiss to Hux's forehead. "It will work."
"You sound sure."
"I am," Kylo answered. "Go to sleep."
For once Hux actually listened to him.
"What are you doing?" Kylo asked. He wished that he was surprised to find Hux in his new lab on their new ship, watching a bound stormtrooper on the other side of a transparisteel window, but he wasn't. Hux was nothing if not persistent. "Don't tell me you're still trying to create a super trooper serum?"
"Of course not." Hux leaned forward, watching eagerly as the man on the other side of the window let out a loud moan and turned into a zombie.
"What the hell?" Kylo exclaimed, taking a step closer to the window. Thankfully, the man was bound with metal restraints that seemed to be keeping him in place unlike the cloth restraints from before. He spun to face Hux. "Are you mad?"
"Mad?" Hux repeated, his blue eyes glistening with the same fervor that Kylo remembered from his speech before the destruction of the Hosnian System. "Maybe. But just think about it, Ren. This virus could be the weapon we've been looking for. It could ravage entire planets cheaply without wasting their valuable resources the way Starkiller Base and the Death Star did."
"But if it infects our own people--"
"But it won't!" Hux interrupted him, excitedly. He gestured to the stormtrooper who was receiving an injection from a medical droid. "We have the antidote, an even better one than the one used on me."
Kylo watched as the man immediately calmed and fell asleep.
"He'll wake up tomorrow, sick but alive," Hux said. His voice took on a dreamy quality. "Just imagine it. We could hold entire planets hostage, demanding that they submit to the Order in exchange for the antidote." He smirked. "The scientists are working on making a version that would need to be administered every year for use against our enemies. They would be completely dependent on us."
Kylo knew in that moment that Hux was indeed completely unhinged, but also absolutely brilliant. "You realize that you could destroy everything? If the virus mutates it would be an apocalypse unlike anything seen before."
"It's worth the risk," Hux insisted. "I will deliver you the Galaxy. Everyone will bow at your feet, Supreme Leader."
For once Hux wasn't using Kylo's title sarcastically. He was drunk off of the power of his success and the feeling was contagious. Kylo pushed Hux against the transparisteel window and claimed his lips. "I have no doubt."
"We'll be like gods, Kylo," Hux said. He nipped at Kylo's bottom lip, a thoughtful expression crossing his face. "Do you think I'm a carrier?" He nosed his way down Kylo's chin before scraping his teeth against his carotid artery, right next to his scar. "If I bite you will you turn?"
Force help him, but Kylo's body was reacting with arousal instead of horror at the thought. "Not where anyone can see."
He'd make sure to get vaccinated first thing in the morning.