Lord Ren had a danger about him.
Hux knew it better than anyone. Only a fool could have missed the Force user was not a man to be trifled with. In the First Order, their ranks were equal, giving Hux the freedom to remind Ren of such a fact through banter and commands. But deep down, Hux knew that should they ever find themselves in a genuine fight, Hux would be killed in a heart beat.
He could handle a blaster, but Lord Ren was a living, human weapon.
A man capable of fighting an army by himself would wipe the floor with Hux. Even without the Force the man was formidable. When he wasn’t meditating, he trained. His muscles and physical presence were as intimidating as the Force and lightsaber he wielded.
But that hadn’t been enough to stop the scavenger girl from besting him.
The Supreme Leader called his apprentice back to his private base. Whether the act was a punishment or some form of training, Kylo Ren had been absent from Hux’s ship for an entire year.
Despite the lack of broken control panels and lightsaber damage, the Finalizer had missed the Force user.
It had been too quiet without him.
Hux strode down the hallways of his ship, datapad in hand. He had one last item to take care of before his ship could leave their hiding space and head for the First Order’s next mission location. The Resistance had the upper hand in the war with the devastating loss of Starkiller Base, but only for the moment. After a long year of waiting, the First Order had their heaviest hitter back.
Lord Ren had returned from his training.
If he were even a fraction as powerful as he felt when he walked down the ramp of his command shuttle two days ago, then the mere flesh and blood man may prove more terrifying than the Starkiller Base.
Hux contained the bitterness of his own failures by drowning it in the awe of the man’s new power. It radiated from Ren; palpable in the air and deadly.
He put his datapad under his arm and continued down the corridor toward his destination. Raw power was not the only change that came from Ren’s time with the Supreme Leader.
There was something not quite right about Ren, as well. Something unbalanced and unnerving in a way that made one’s skin crawl when within breathing distance of him. Hux did not often adhere to his animal instincts, but warnings that strong were not to be ignored.
Who knew what Snoke had done to that man in the year he’d been gone?
Hux had been assured day after day by their Supreme Leader that the First Order’s hiding and cowering would not be in vain. Their last “Hope” at winning the war would return stronger than ever, but he never shared any of the details that Ren’s training had contained.
He barely mentioned the man himself outside of “Don’t worry, General. Kylo Ren will return.”
The vagueness had left a bad impression in his mouth.
Hux was still Ren’s equal at least in rank, was he not? He was the highest rank in the First Order—he was owed information.
He stopped outside of Ren’s quarters and raised his hand to knock, but held it just over the door. He wished desperately he could have the same faith their Supreme Leader seemed to have. Whatever had changed in Ren that created such power and unease didn’t seem worth it.
He knocked and the door opened a few minutes later.
Controlling his facial features must have been the first lesson. Ren no longer wore a mask, showing off the slick, raw scar that ran diagonally across his face. No bacta had touched that wound. Ren’s eyes were steel and steady, and his expression gave nothing away to his inner thoughts. If there were emotions boiling under the surface, he hid it nearly as well as Hux did on a daily basis.
That in itself was a scary thought.
“Tomorrow’s itinerary.” Hux flipped the datapad around and Ren took it. He ignored the tremble in Hux’s fingertips. “I would have had the information delivered to your own datapad, but to my knowledge you do not have one.”
And they both knew Hux had brought the information personally because no one else on the ship would go within ten feet of Ren alone. Hux wasn’t the only one who could feel the new wrongness that slopped off him in waves.
“Care to come in, General?” Ren asked, nodding his head toward his quarters. There was a hint of something in his eyes that Hux didn’t like. Something wild and suggestive. Ren stared Hux down. “We can go over it, in case I have questions.”
“You won’t,” Hux said, immediately. “It’s straight forward enough, and I have other things to do.”
“Of course,” Ren said, with a shrug. A small smile stretched the scar on his cheek and he stepped back into his quarters. Ren eyed him over from head to toe with an amused expression. “Then I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yes,” Hux said. He nodded in confirmation and stepped away. “Until then.”
Hux felt Ren’s eyes on his back as he escaped down the hallway. The man hadn’t bothered to hide his amusement at Hux’s terror. His pace increased to further the distance between them, though Hux nearly thanked the man for replacing his fear with anger and embarrassment from being laughed at.
Hux did not know why he had been required to come with Ren on the mission. After his strategic retreat the night before, the shuttle ride turned tense and awkward—for himself. Ren felt nothing of it, content in his own new power and actions. The man licked the side of his lip as they landed, standing before the ramp had a chance to lower.
Officially, Hux was negotiating.
The president desired conditions before they agreed to join the First Order, signing over their loyalty and resources. Hux found it a waste of time; lip service. They were either going to sign over or they weren’t.
Either way, they were taking the planet—the First Order needed it.
His presence was hardly required, as there was only one outcome in the end, but he supposed someone ought to attempt and spare the planet’s people from Ren’s wrath. Hux may even find himself rewarded for gaining the planet and its people without the need for the Supreme Leader’s pet.
Ren tugged on the edge of his hood, drawing the cowl near the edge of his cheek. He wore a smile and his eyes were focused and clear. He walked with a calm confidence that made Hux want to run back into the ship and hide, without a hint of shame from his newfound cowardice. Anyone who saw Ren looking like that would run; it was the logical, sensible conclusion.
A part of him prayed the president signed over their goods quickly. The faster the mission to acquire the planet ended, the faster they could send Ren back into his quarters and hide him out of sight.
Hux had the sickening feeling that Ren prayed for the opposite.
The stormtroopers remained behind in the shuttle as the ramp closed. Hux would have reprimanded them, but he was too jealous. He would have stayed behind too if it wasn’t for his rank and position. The troops remained safe behind while he marched side by side with Ren.
“The First Order has fallen low if we’re negotiating,” Ren said, playing with the fabric of his torn cowl. His lightsaber clicked against his belt. “Before, we would have just taken the planet.”
“I don’t disagree,” Hux said. He checked over his coat and uniform, making sure every piece remained pressed and perfect. “But we need loyal supporters. Those who join with the Order willingly will be less likely to stab us in the back later.”
“How loyal can a group be when they’re making demands before joining?”
He had a point.
Hux did not answer him aloud.
Ren laughed under his breath, putting his Force powers to use to read Hux’s mind and take the win that he’d been right.
An escort met them at the end of the landing pad, taking them to the conference room where they were to see the president. When they arrived at the meeting location, the security officer asked that Hux and Ren disarm themselves. “No weapons were permitted.” Before Hux could argue against it, Ren dumped his lightsaber in the offered holding bin.
“Let’s not be rude, General,” Ren said.
Hux placed his blaster next to Ren’s weapon and sucked in a breath. He didn’t need it, did he? Ren was hinted at much with amused eyes and a knowing touch to his chest. Hux had a far better weapon standing next to him.
“Shall we?” Ren asked. “The president is waiting.”
“Of course.” Hux adjusted his overcoat. He turned to the security guard and steadied himself. “Lead the way.”
Inside, the building was spacious, overly decorated, and filled with personal security composed of soldiers armed to the teeth. They looked as trained and disciplined as his own troops. Hux made note of exits and their numbers while Ren walked idly forward and yawned into his hand. He pushed his hood back, shaking out his hair.
Their escort led them to a plush meeting room, and Hux took a seat at the table. Ren stood behind him after taking his great coat to hang it over the back of the chair.
The pompous president of the planet sat across from Hux and laced his fingers together. He reminded Hux of Millicent—smug and spoiled.
The president laced his fingers on the table and said, “It is good of you to come, General. I do so like to manage these things in person, you see. It is so much better than over a hologram.”
“I suppose I can see the argument in that,” Hux replied. He placed his datapad on the table and held a hand out toward the other man. “I trust that you have looked over the agreement I sent earlier?”
“I have,” the good man said. He rolled his shoulder and shifted in his seat with a pompous huff. “I have some concerns.”
“While I am interested in helping the Order, I have no intention of handing over the sovereignty of my planet.” The man straightened his back. “You must understand.”
“I was led to believe these negotiations would be over minor grievances,” Hux said, hyperaware of Ren’s breathing as it increased behind him. He felt the man’s excitement as he stepped forward to Hux’s side. “We were to adjust time tables, and perhaps looking into a restructuring of the goods to be delivered. Your total loyalty to the Order was not on the table for discussion.”
“Then I suppose we will have to decline completely,” the president said. “I want a partnership. We will not give up our right to lead ourselves with total authority.”
Ren’s finger twitched; Hux caught it in the side of his eye. His instincts screamed to get out of the room, but he had a job do to. Hux spoke with calm his nerves did not support. “That is not acceptable. If you do not reconsider, we will have no other option but to take your planet by force. Surely you would want to spare your people that grief?”
“And with what force do you plan to take my planet?” The president asked, holding his hand to his chest. He laughed, mocking and cruel. “The First Order has been struggling and dying for the past year. The help I agreed to was more of a pity offering for your starving troops than anything else. You have nothing to threaten me with, General.”
“That is incorrect,” Ren said above Hux’s shoulder. He tilted his head, a loose strand of hair falling between his eyes. His smile stretched the edge of his scar in a way that now looked familiar. Ren put his hand on Hux’s shoulder and squeezed. “And you have no intention of cooperating at all.”
“Leave,” the president said, standing up. His guards readied and Hux inhaled from the pain of Ren’s grip tightening. The president pointed his finger at the door. “I gave you a chance, but I will not work with you or your people.”
“General.” Ren’s hold relaxed and he brushed his fingers along Hux’s uniform as he pulled his hand away. Ren was not asking permission when he said, “I believe your job here is finished. Shall I begin mine?”
“Naturally,” Hux barely forced out. His chest was tight. Something very bad was about to happen—and Hux had destroyed five planets. “It’s what you’re here for, isn’t it?”
“I couldn’t have said it better myself.”
Hux couldn’t breathe.
He had heard once that hyperventilating was painful, but it was his first time experiencing it personally. His lungs burned and he felt dizzy. Both hands covered Hux’s mouth to keep quiet as possible, lest he draw Ren’s attention from his “work.”
Wet from the warm splatter of thick blood, Hux made himself as small as possible in the corner of the room. Ren had dismembered the first three guards with Force alone. He hardly needed his lightsaber to rend limbs or remove heads. They popped off with a snap of flesh and squish of meat. They had been the lucky ones, dead in an instant as their blood painted the room and coated Hux and the president at the table with their insides.
The smart ones ran.
When the occupants of the room room had dwindled to a handful of guards and the president, Ren locked every exit with the Force and trapped them all inside. The skin crawling feeling Hux had felt while walking near Ren had its explanation: The monster lurking just beneath Ren’s skin, waiting to come out, showed its gruesome face.
It played with the room’s occupants at its leisure.
Hux stayed out of the way and prayed.
After an hour, Ren lifted the last of the guards. The poor man’s comrades were spread in bloody lumps across the room and in pieces on every surface. They were unrecognizable as human on a first glance, reduced to chunks of flesh and ripped intestines. Ren brushed away the tears of the guard sobbing in his grip with gentle fingers.
He dropped his hand to the center of the man’s chest and Hux held his breath.
Using the Force, Ren yanked the man’s ribcage open. The bones split from his flesh and pierced straight through his uniform. Ren tugged on one, pulling it open as the man whimpered and screamed. Hux covered his mouth harder and swallowed the urge to vomit as he watched Ren reach inside and wrapped his fingers around the top of the man’s exposed lungs.
Ren licked a splatter of blood from the side of his face as the dying guard’s leg’s kicked and his face turned blue. While brutal and unnecessarily violent, it was the satisfaction coming from Ren that turned Hux’s stomach. He had tortured a man or two in his day in the Order, and there was a thrill to be had from it, but Ren had taken it to another level.
If that’s how the monster played with random nobody, what would he do to someone with whom he had a personal investment? Hux pressed his back into the wall when the guard died and went still. Bored with his prey, Ren dropped the dead man and looked around the room. His eyes wandered over Hux for a second before his gaze landed on the only other living thing in the room apart from himself.
The President had wet himself in the corner, as soaked in the loose sprays of blood as Hux himself. In shock, he trembled on the floor—eyes wide and breathing hard through an open mouth to lower the stench of the dead.
Ren held a hand up and waved his fingers toward himself. The Force did the rest, yanking the president out of the corner and onto the table in the center of the room. His head landed where Hux had sat earlier, hitting the side of the table with a deafening crack. Ren shoved him over on his back and contemplated for a moment before jamming his hand into the man’s mouth. Ren dug his thumb under the man’s chin while his long fingers choked him.
“Now that you are the one struggling and dying,” Ren said, calm and even. He patted the man’s cheek. “I’m sure you’ll notice that the First Order is doing nothing of the sort.”
The man drooled around Ren’s fingers, whimpering and pleading for his life with garbled words, struggling to talk around the obstruction. Hux wanted to turn his head away, but found he couldn’t. Ren made him watch with the Force. What a useless waste of energy, but it seemed someone wanted an audience. Hux fought it for less than a second, knowing there was little point, but he had to make some show of strength—almost equally as pointless.
“Die knowing the First Order will take good care of your planet,” Ren said, cordially. “But you are no longer needed.”
He yanked, separating the president’s lower jaw from his head. The wet crack sounded in the room with finality. Ren dropped the man’s jaw, his fingers covered in drool and blood. He rubbed them together, before wiping them off on the front of the man’s shirt. The president gurgled blood as it choked him.
Ren had always been fond of suffocation. A snort escaped Hux, amused at the comparison to the man he’d known before.
It was not until the president stilled that Hux truly feared for his own life and all humor at the situation left him. Ren’s eyes fell on Hux and the madness that had brought on such gruesome violence had not left them.
Hux lowered his hand to his chest. “I take it you are finished?”
Ren strode across the room with ease, passing through the entrails and viscera like he hadn’t painted the room in a bloodbath. He stopped before Hux and held a hand up. He smeared the blood on Hux’s cheek with gentle fingers. A sliver of hair fell across Ren’s face. “There was a time you didn’t fear me at all.”
Hux kept his mouth shut.
“You were always wary,” Ren said. He swiped Hux’s hair back, dragging the thick blood through it. “Aware of our differences, but not afraid. It’s odd seeing you so terrified, General. It makes me wonder what happened this past year to break you so.”
“I could say the same,” Hux said. He breathed through his mouth to avoid the smell of death that coated Ren. “You’ve changed quite a bit yourself.”
“For the better?”
Hux whispered, “Worse.”
What was the point in lying to someone who could tell?
Ren kissed him.
Hux winced, tasting the blood from Ren’s lips and face. The knight cupped Hux’s cheeks, using his thumbs to open Hux’s jaw so their tongues could meet. The rancid taste grew stronger as more filled his mouth.
Ren pushed the two of them flush against the wall. Their clothes squelched as they pressed together, wet and heavy. Ren’s hands found the back of Hux’s head, holding tight. His fingers dug into red hair and pulled to draw Hux closer, forcing him to breathe through his nose as Ren gave no sign of giving up the open-mouthed kiss. The smell of blood filled Hux’s nose with each breath and it nearly choked him.
“I’m surprised you’re so squeamish, General,” Ren said into his mouth. He nipped Hux’s lower lip. “Trembling over here in the corner. What happened to the man who destroyed five planets?”
“He did it from a distance with a beam of energy that burned it all away in an instant,” Hux said back. His eyes darted over Ren’s shoulder at the mess of the room. He grunted, feeling Ren’s erection press into his hip. Hux grabbed Ren’s shoulders, forcing himself to glare but it was difficult under the echo of his own racing heartbeat. “Hardly the same.”
“I’ll give you that,” Ren said. He drew a circle on the back of Hux’s head, rolling his hips upward. He pressed a kiss to Hux’s neck. “Shame you’re not as excited as I am.”
“You’ll have to make do on your own,” Hux said, almost wishing he could match Ren’s enthusiasm. He would lie back and let the blasted man have what he wanted before he decided Hux was more suited for the other sort of fun he’d had. Feelings aside, Hux would rather stay in one piece; he was a survivor. However, no force of will could get Hux in the mood for what Ren ached for when Hux still felt on the verge of throwing up from the smell in the room and his own disgust at Ren’s brutality. “Apologies.”
Ren dragged a hand down Hux’s neck, and popped open his collar top. He dragged the zipper down, exposing Hux’s undershirt. He untucked it, smearing the flakes of blood over Hux’s stomach. “I’ll make it work.”
Fingers dipped below Hux’s belt line and he shoved his face into Ren’s shoulder. Hux concentrated on the smell of Ren’s sweat, blocking out everything else.
As he breathed in, he felt a touch in his mind; the smell of Ren grew and overtook his senses. The scent of death and organs disappeared under the man’s musk like it had never been there. The room fell away from his vision, like a blanket of white had fallen over the background—the Force.
“I told you,” Ren whispered in Hux’s ear. He cupped a tender area and squeezed, drawing a bit of life out of Hux. “Isn’t that better?”
The teasing tone was familiar.
Like the old Ren that bickered with him while walking the hallways of the Finalizer.
Hux focused on that and pretended it was a year earlier, when Kylo Ren was a rival and a pain in his side. Sleeping with that man wouldn’t have been so bad. Hux shifted into Ren’s hold as the man slipped his hand into Hux’s boxers. “You are still a spoiled brat.”
“Hello again, General,” Ren said, laughing. “It’s good to see you.”
“I can’t say the same,” Hux said. He pulled back and grabbed the back of Ren’s neck. He pulled him into a kiss of his own, finding that the taste of blood too had been hidden by the Force—the cheater. Hux tugged the man’s hair. “Take what you want already, because I’m ready to go home.”
Ren snorted and pulled Hux free from his pants. He touched their temples together, keeping their chests pressed close as he reached below to take out his own need. Long fingers wrapped around them both and held them together in a single, strong grip. Hux grabbed onto Ren’s shoulders as the man used his hand to work them both, leaving heavy breaths in his ear.
Heat and pleasure wormed their way through any lingering fear. Hux allowed himself to embrace it and take what he could.
Kylo Ren took more, but the brat still made sure Hux came first. He kissed him hard in the moment as they added one extra fluid to the mess. Ren finished second, grinding his hips into Hux’s stomach and collapsing on him. He pinned Hux to the wall and held him, chest heaving against his own.
The stench of the room came back to Hux and he covered his mouth and nose with his hand, gagging on it. He pushed on Ren’s shoulder and the limp man pulled away. He snorted and blocked Hux’s senses once more.
“Sorry,” Ren said. He yawned into his hand and stepped back, shoving himself back into his pants. “I lost my concentration.”
“I can’t imagine why.”
The man smiled and brushed his hair back. “Come, General. Let’s get our things back and inform any remaining leaders that they have new loyalties.”
Ren retrieved his coat from the chair and shook it out twice before he handed it to Hux. Beyond saving, Hux put it on anyway for the comfort. Ren opened the meeting room door with a flourish, walking forward with confidence and no care for his appearance or the terrified looks of the guards that could now see into the room.
Hux followed him with his shoulders back and head high.
Negotiations went smoothly and the First Order’s sovereignty over the planet had been secured in record time. Ren’s smugness increased with each passing second as the men around them cowered in fear, knowing what he was capable of.
Hux made his way up the shuttle ramp on shaking legs, exhausted and sore. His uniform jacket hung over his shoulders, uncaring of the state of his uniform. As they had not bothered to clean up before addressing the remaining planet leaders, Hux remained coated in blood, viscera and Ren; his hair a mess.
What was the point in hiding it?
Ren strode up the ramp behind him, content and sated.
The stormtroopers, as well trained and reliable as Hux always knew they were, said nothing and plugged in the coordinates for the return trip to the Finalizer. Hux sat in his seat and let his head fall against the side wall. He wanted to sleep for a week, but feared the nightmares that might arrive when he shut his eyes.
“I can stop those for you,” Ren said, taking a seat next to Hux. He pressed their shoulders together, still smiling. “I can take them away as easy as your senses.”
“It would only be fair,” Hux said, glaring from the corner of his eye. It had sunk in around the time Ren kissed him that Hux had been forced on this trip for reasons other than to negotiate terms. Ren’s knowing smile said as much. Hux closed his eyes and crossed his arms as he sunk into the uncomfortable chair. “You’d be the one who gave them to me.”
“Then I’ll see you in my quarters this evening?”
“I’ll keep the nightmares,” Hux said. His nerves had calmed from the sex and success of the mission, but there was still a lingering fear underneath it all. Over it all, however, exhaustion had won out and Hux did not care what Ren did next. “I’ll be staying in my own bed tonight.”
“Then I will see you in yours tonight,” Ren said. He leaned forward and pressed his nose into the side of Hux’s hair, half hugging the man to his chest. “You don’t care what I do, after all.”
Hux had been right; Lord Ren was more terrifying than Starkiller ever had been.
And the universe had just gotten a taste of it.