After — after, Dameron came to find him.
Hux felt as if he had never breathed so much natural air in his life, but every time he inhaled he felt his lungs burning, leaving him choked up and eager to escape his body. The oppressive humidity and incessant noise of the base and its planet did not help matters.
Hux stayed outside, surrounded by the tall greenery, invasive foliage, and tearful Rebels, in full view of anyone and everyone. He couldn't observe and learn their habits while hiding inside a tent.
“I think I might have forgotten to say thanks.” Dameron sat down next to him, well into his personal space. From what he had seen, it was possible that Hux’s bubble of personal space was far wider than everyone else’s at the Resistance.
“What?” he said, distracted by Dameron’s proximity. He didn’t seem to be using it to intimidate Hux, but it nevertheless kept him on edge.
“Thank you. For saving our lives and for helping us. We couldn’t have done it without you.” His brown, expressive eyes stared deeply into Hux. He felt like he was being tested. Dameron sounded so earnest that it went back around to sounding fake. “You should get some rest,” he said, standing up.
“Wait, what’s going to happen to me?” This moment, his answer was what Hux had staked his whole future on. He tried not to obviously hold his breath as he waited for Dameron to answer.
“You defected,” he said firmly. “You’re safe. I’ll make sure of that.”
He didn’t wait for a response before walking back towards the crowd, which was good because Hux wouldn’t have known what to say. It shouldn’t have felt so colossal. He was, after all, not planning to stick around.
The last place he would have ever considered himself safe was amongst his enemies. Presumably, they didn’t see him that way anymore. It proved how foolish they were; all the more reason to stick to his original plan.
As far as plans went, it hadn’t been much of one. If it hadn’t worked, Hux would have been ashamed of his slapdash efforts — if it hadn’t worked, he would be dead.
He had saved them out of self-interest. He had needed them to get rid of Ren and the Sith mysticism that had invaded the Order, his Order. Once he had saved their lives, he had signed away his.
He would’ve been willing to die for the Order, but not for the farce that had replaced it.
Hux was not a prisoner. He was actually free to wander the base and sit in on debriefing meetings in the command center and take his meals in the mess with the rest of the Rebels. It was obvious, however, that most people had some thoughts on the matter. He had listened as Dameron reassured someone that really, he knew what he was doing when it came to Hux. It was self-delusion at best, Dameron had no idea what he was doing about anything.
Still, it made Hux angry for no reason to prove them right about his intentions. He had been called worse than duplicitous and mendacious and by people whose opinion he valued far more.
Regardless, his freedom was only an illusion; done with the sole purpose of lording the concept of decency and kindness over his head. There always seemed to be someone following him and tracking his movements, down each long, narrow, and unlit pathway that made the base seem labyrinthine. It felt far more menacing than an actual confrontation would have; a threat out of the corner of his eye. It was not a feeling Hux was unaccustomed to, but it never reached the almost comfortingly familiar levels of oppression that it had in the Order. Its ascent was always inexplicably curtailed by Dameron's out-of-nowhere appearance.
“Don’t you have something better to do than to keep an eye on me?” Hux asked, just on the threshold of the command center, on the wrong side of it to make any kind of damage.
“Sure, but I like keeping an eye on you. You’re nice to look at.” Dameron said it in a carefree manner, but there was something behind his words that Hux was missing. Some subtext, a hidden intent. “Sorry, I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”
It puzzled Hux enough that he ended up saying, “it’s fine.” He regretted it as soon as Dameron beamed at him.
Hux couldn’t leave yet. He had no weapons and no means of acquiring one thanks to the shadows constantly lurking in his wake. He didn’t have a ship and couldn’t have piloted one, in any case. He felt light years away from his goal, but he had gotten by with less in the past.
Hux had looked at his surroundings disdainfully. He hoped it had come across as shell-shocked, but he was hesitant to touch anything, let alone sit down on one of the bunks that occupied the space Dameron had led him to.
“I’m gonna have to search you,” Dameron had said. The Millennium Falcon was not a small ship, but Hux had felt crowded and cornered, suffocated by the sound of his own heartbeat.
Hux had not been surprised (they couldn’t have been entirely trusting, after all) but he had balked at the idea of being poked at and manhandled. “That’s unnecessary. I’ll hand over my weapons willingly. The same way I’m choosing to go with you,” he had pointed out.
“That’s great. It will make the process easier. I’m still going to search you, though.” When Hux had opened his mouth to argue, he had said, “I can get Finn or Chewie to do it instead, but it’s happening. Your choice.” Dameron’s words had been firm but he had not been making an effort to reduce the space between them, standing at a safe, nonthreatening distance instead.
If this was what passed as ‘having a choice’ in the Resistance they had no business criticizing the Order’s indoctrination methods, Hux had thought.
In the end, Dameron had stood in front of him as his hands traveled over Hux’s body; his touch business-like, not lingering. It had probably been the most amount of physical contact Hux had had in ages. When Dameron had brushed his knee he had shivered, unable to suppress the reaction. He had hated every second of it.
“All done,” Dameron had said. “I’ll need you out of those clothes too. I’m gonna go get you something less fascist-chic to wear.” He had turned around while Hux boggled at his words.
They didn't have a proper interrogation room. Everything was makeshift and improvised, so the room Hux sat in while answering their questions lacked a menacing quality to it. There were no restraints, no blinding overhead lights, no encroaching darkness. Just a few chairs surrounding a round, brown table in a sparsely decorated beige tent.
He gave them as much information as they wanted. It was inconsequential, it was all either outdated or concerning people who were loyal to Palpatine, to Pryde and Ren’s Order. He had no use for those people and actually appreciated the Resistance getting them out of his way.
It was when they started asking him about where the remnants of the Order (the real First Order) might be hiding out, that he hesitated. Those were the people he needed if he wanted to regroup, continue with his vision. It was not the people he trusted, because he didn’t trust anyone, but it was the people he trusted not to have been on Ren’s side. The ones who understood what the Order stood for and what they should have been working toward.
He claimed ignorance and when pushed, gave them a couple of false leads — planets that were friendly with the Order but not important to its mission. It wasn’t a long-term solution, but he was not planning on making the Resistance his long-term home.
Hux was used to subterfuge, recently more than ever, so he didn’t know why he felt discomfited by his own lies.
In many of his sleepless nights, Hux spent a lot of time lying on his cot replaying the words he had uttered outside of the Millennium Falcon. Trying out the different intonations. Take me with you, an order. Take me with you, pleading. Take me with you, a question. The truth was probably not as absolute as he would have liked to think. It had likely been a mixture of all three.
More importantly is that it had been, of course, just an act.
His new clothes had been that same appalling shade of beige-green that seemed to be the standard Rebel uniform. At least, he would blend in, both with them and with his surroundings; the imposing jungle that they called home, by choice or necessity. The clothes had been both too big and too short on him. The collar had been too open; the shirtsleeves too wide, but not reaching his wrists, forcing him to roll them up.
He had felt weirdly naked without his coat and gloves; his forearms and hands exposed.
“You can have these back,” Dameron had said, handing him his gloves. “I wouldn’t recommend wearing them in this climate, though.”
Hux had taken them and resisted the urge to fidget, to draw attention to himself. He had been exposed enough already.
There was something outside of Hux’s tent. A rhythmic, disruptive sound that kept him awake. He tried to close his eyes and concentrate but it seemed to come from a different direction each time.
He went outside, intent on finding out the source of it but found nothing but silence. The cool air from the trees whipping around him in powerful gusts left him shivering. He had been sweating inside the tent.
Hux felt the vein in his temple start to throb, a deafening thudding noise that distorted his surroundings. It's out of sync with my heartbeat, he thought. The idea seeming to hold more meaning and power than it would have in bright daylight.
“Hey, can’t sleep or are you leaving us already?” Dameron asked.
He had a particular talent for putting people at ease. Hux was not as immune as he would have liked to pretend. “There's—” some noise keeping me awake. He realized how pathetic that sounded before he voiced it. Next he would be crying, seeking comfort, or allowing physical contact. The mere idea made him nauseous.
Dameron waited for a moment but smoothly filled in the awkward silence while Hux searched for something to say. “Flying always helps me take my mind off of things.”
He couldn't possibly be offering Hux a ship or to take him somewhere. “I don't know how to pilot a ship,” he said. It was both the truth and a weakness but it only felt like the former.
“I could teach you. You know, one day. But for now, let me take you up. I could use the break too.”
He walked ahead without checking if Hux was following but then again, he didn’t have to.
He watched Dameron's hands. The way they expertly and confidently moved over the controls. The way they maneuvered the ship, easily gliding up above the atmosphere. The brilliant glow of the moon seeping in through the viewport gave the cockpit a sense of near privacy, intimacy.
“Have you thought about what you’re going to do now that you’re getting a second chance?” Dameron said.
“A second chance?” Hux asked. The very thing keeping him free to regroup the Order was his official status as a defector. He couldn't tell if the joke was on him or them.
“Yes, to do better and make up for the things you’ve done.” Dameron set the ship to autopilot and turned to face him, infinitesimally reducing the space between them.
It grated at Hux, that he would just assume Hux wanted that. Could ever want that. “The things I’ve done? I’m not sure people would consider that possible.”
“It matters that you try.”
“Are you trying to redeem me through the power of compassion? You’re hopeless.”
“And you’re not. That’s my point.” Dameron hovered his hand above his knee for a brief moment; the warmth radiating from him feeling like a brand on Hux’s skin. He ultimately withdrew it and didn’t make contact.
Hux didn’t want to be redeemed, didn’t need it. After everything he had done, it had to have been for something. He refused to have lived just to pile up regrets.
Seeing Ren’s Jedi — Rey, he had remembered right before her name had been mentioned — had sent dread coursing through his body. If Ren could have been believed, she was almost as powerful as he was. Since believing Ren had always signaled a troubling lack of common sense, Hux had interpreted that to mean that she was actually far more powerful and stable than he had any hope of ever being.
He should’ve considered her presence a factor before deciding to leave. He hadn’t run (and that was what he had undeniably done. Not out of cowardice but survival instinct, he had told himself.) from insidious Force torment just to reach a more long-lasting and ghastly fate. At least Ren had needed him functional.
“He’s with us now,” FN-2187 had told her.
She had frowned at Hux, but had nodded in his direction, following the traitor as they had disappeared somewhere beyond the long corridor of the ship. He had felt a moment of surreal detachment settle over him. When it had passed, he had struggled to get his breathing under control for a long time.
Hux steeled himself for her as he had done for Ren. If he avoided her, it would have given her a reason to suspect him. So he prepared and then forcibly relaxed. He was going to get tortured for being a traitor to the cause on one side or another.
She reached him on the edges of the base, where the trees seemed to be soaring and the vegetation seemed denser, the brown undergrowth was tall and unmanaged. It wasn’t far enough to be quiet or maybe Rebels were just bad at managing their volume; had nothing to hide and nothing to fear from being overheard.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” was the first thing Rey said.
“You didn’t.” He was embarrassed to hear it come out defensive.
Hux clasped his hands behind his back and looked down at her. He was used to fearing the Force at eye level and it caught him off guard. He had had it confirmed now that she held more power in her small frame than Ren had done in his awkwardly-proportioned form.
“You’ve probably been hearing this but I wanted to thank you for saving their lives. Poe’s, Finn’s.” She paused and took a breath, before saying, “Chewie’s. I wasn’t there. I was—”
“Busy with Ren,” he finished for her. He didn’t see what she had to feel bad about. She had been the only one who could have faced him, taken him down, ended his reign of terror.
“Yes, I was— I’m glad you saved them and I’m glad you decided to help us.” Her posture was tense but open. It wasn’t tense because of his presence, Hux realized; she was dealing with her own set of aftershocks.
He felt suddenly uncomfortable purposely towering over her. She didn’t seem bothered by it, but it was the kind of empty posturing reminiscent of his father. He let himself relax somewhat, feeling the sense of immediate danger recede. “There’s nothing to thank for. I am glad you defeated Kylo Ren and I was just aiding in whatever way I could.”
She nodded a little to herself. “If you ever need anything — that is, and Poe doesn't get to it first,” she laughed a little, but it didn't feel as if she was laughing at him. She was sharing something with him at that moment but he couldn't figure out what. “Let me know.”
She stood there waiting for something and it took him too long to figure out that maybe she expected him to respond. With a request or an acknowledgment. “I will keep that in mind.”
When she left, he had the urge to call to her, ask her how Ren had died, if he had suffered the way he deserved, but he had a feeling that wouldn’t have been well received.
Instead, he stood there for a long time, feeling like he had experienced something for the first time.
They were far too trusting, Hux thought as he walked into the vast and humid cave that made up their command center. It went past trust to the point of carelessness. Moreover, Hux had done nothing to earn said trust. He hadn’t even done anything in particular to lose their distrust. He guessed that was how much everyone trusted Dameron's word and his suggestion to make Hux feel at home. It was laughable really. Feeling at home would’ve involved a more pervasive feeling of dread surrounding him. The familiarity of survival paranoia.
“So what do you think? What can you tell us about these locations?” Dameron asked, showing him the holomap on the console.
It was a solid plan. A coordinated air strike followed by a ground offensive. They even had the numbers on their side. It had a good chance of succeeding if they hadn’t been walking into a trap. “Where did you get this intel?”
“Not from you. You’re holding out on us,” Dameron said leaning one hand on the table and cocking his hip. His posture was relaxed and friendly, changing the intent behind the words. Context was everything.
Hux was holding out on them, but what he was concealing served a different purpose and what he was sharing was harmless. This wasn’t. “Will you be taking part in this?”
“Yes, of course.”
“That seems unwise. That is, given your leadership position in the organization.” He supposed Finn would be going as well. Did they have any procedures for succession in place? If the way Dameron had been put in charge was anything to go by, Hux doubted it.
“I refuse to send my people into a danger I’m unwilling to walk into.”
Hux searched his words for any hidden meaning, a dig at him that Hux had missed, but found only more of his trademark earnestness. “Two of those locations are traps,” he said and felt the oppressiveness of the cave close in on him. He felt the cave tilt and shake around him, saw himself fractured under the rubble.
“Tell me,” Dameron said, turning to face the map.
Hux never ceased to be amazed by how smoothly he could go from friendly to professional. There was barely any transition; he landed in one without sacrificing the other. As if the two concepts weren’t mutually exclusive. “The outposts on Dhuraman and Otcra. They’re meant to seem like real mining and research facilities, but they’re decoys, meant to lure in the enemy to a certain death.”
The Order had done this often. There hadn’t been a shortage of resources, financially speaking. Furthermore, there had been an abundance of planets that were technically under their rule but held no strategic value to them. They had been nothing if not resourceful. These particular bases, as far as Hux remembered from reports, had weaponized their terrain. They were uninhabited because the area surrounding them had been biologically engineered to emulate the properties of quicksand and lava. Making any attempt at exploring them, deadly.
Dameron stared at him for a long moment after he had explained it, biting his lip.
“If you don’t believe me, you are welcome to verify it yourself. Though you should send someone who won’t be missed, because they won’t be coming back,” Hux said, feeling exasperated that he was being doubted when, for once, there was no reason for it.
Dameron frowned. “No one is disposable here. Either way, I believe you. Thanks.” He moved his hand on the durasteel surface, closer to Hux, but not close enough to connect. “We’re hitting the other locations in two days.”
Hux nodded and refrained from saying be careful. Dameron would never.
It would've been too great a risk for very little and uncertain reward to conceal the danger in those outposts. From a strategic point of view, it would have been foolish to take that gamble. Hux had decided when he arrived here, almost three months ago, that he would not jeopardize his plan by acting hastily. It had taken years to bring the Order to glory, after all. And only mere hours to bring it down, a fact that was accompanied by only a dull ache these days, rather than the crushing heartbreak that marked his last year in the Order. Whatever he had been mourning and grieving for, had long been lost. If it had ever existed to begin with. He would do it right this time.
The mood on the base had been somber, openly mourning. It had been an odd experience for Hux, as an outsider, to walk amongst such unrestrained grief, to see the unity it had seemed to inspire in them. It had been a bubble of a moment where they had bonded over their shared pain, had trusted everyone around them to feel the same. He couldn’t imagine such a thing happening in the Order. It hadn’t happened, actually. No one had mourned Supreme Leader Snoke and no one would mourn Kylo Ren. If anything, Hux would celebrate when it happened.
If it happened. He had felt less certain each second that they could pull it off. Without the leadership of Organa and with the open wound her death had left, it had seemed less and less likely. He had no love for Organa and her ilk, but there had been a sense of professional respect toward her. Beyond that, it had seemed so deeply unfair for Kylo Ren to have claimed another life. For anyone to have ever considered him worthy of such a sacrifice.
That was, perhaps, the kind of unconditional love people claimed parents should have toward their children. Hux wouldn’t have known.
Dameron being their new de facto leader had seemed both deeply unfair and deeply fitting. A massively accelerated rise through the ranks that could only have happened in the Resistance. He was so completely unqualified for the job that Hux had lost any sense of hope he had ever had to see Ren’s Order fail.
Dameron knew. Hux couldn’t believe he hadn’t noticed before, but in hindsight it was obvious. He was friendly to Hux for absolutely no reason, made a point of always including him, and whenever someone objected to Hux’s presence, went as far as to defend Hux’s right to be in the room. “He’s one of us now. Right, buddy?” he said and wasn’t content until Hux agreed that yes, he was uncompromisingly on their side now.
He said things like ‘I’m proud of you’ and ‘I’m sorry I doubted you’ and was so transparent in his attempts at manipulation that Hux was annoyed they had worked.
“We need your help,” Dameron said. Not a trace of self-consciousness in his words. Hux didn't think he had ever uttered those words. He didn't think he was capable of it.
They wanted to use Hux as a glorified propaganda recording for their cause. They had found his people, the ones who were loyal to his vision of order for the galaxy and he was meant to sway them to their side, talk them into walking away from their ideals like Hux had — had pretended to, that was.
It felt like a taunt. To put Hux within reach of his goal and obscenely corrupt it for their benefit. He had to say yes. Not for them, but for himself. This was the closest he would come to fulfilling his plan.
He didn’t have a strategy in place yet, but the last time he had improvised one, it had brought him here. It could had been worse.
When they landed in Beraul, Dameron said, “Hux, you’re with me.” And then added, “give us a minute,” to everyone else.
He sat down by the hatch and motioned Hux to do the same, the physical distance between them feeling smaller than the space they were occupying demanded.
“What is it?” Hux asked.
“You know, I was hoping I’d be able to convince you to abandon your malicious plans and consider actually joining us, but I think I overestimated my powers of persuasion,” Dameron said with a sad smile.
Hux had known, but he still felt a deep sense of anger and humiliation swell within him and threaten to asphyxiate him. “Of manipulation, you mean.”
“Well, you would know.” Dameron swallowed and looked forward at the dying dawn on the horizon where the edges of their surroundings began to look more defined, began to take shape. The shadows were slowly disappearing. “I can't let you go free to roam the galaxy if you plan to terrorize it again. I think you can be more than the things you did with the Order, but I can’t— I can’t trick you into becoming the better person I believe you capable of being.”
Hux looked down and studied his hands, flexed his gloved fingers. “I'm unsure as to what led you to believe that. If it's a general belief that everyone can and wants to be redeemed, you should consider the fact that, even if that were true, there are exceptions to every rule.”
“I do believe that, yes. But while you were busy thinking yourself too clever for us to see through you, you helped us. In ways that went beyond keeping your cover. What I’m saying is, you’re not clever enough to keep me from seeing through you.” Dameron turned to look at him earnestly, searching his gaze.
“What do you believe you saw?” Hux briefly looked away, feeling inexplicably choked up. There was a piercing pain in the back of his skull and his eyes burned.
The wind kept teasing at Dameron’s hair and he pushed his fingers through it before he answered. “Someone who could choose and has already chosen to do better. Someone who could have something better. A better life than what you’ve led. There’s room for you with us and you don’t have to fight tooth and nail for it.”
A bright flash of sentiment, something akin to humiliation made his teeth grind together. Maybe Dameron was right, Hux wasn’t as smart as he thought himself to be. Hux looked up, seeing the last traces of dawn disappear, giving way to the daylight.
“You ready to do this?” Dameron asked into the silence.
“Any particular lines you wish to feed me?”
“Nope, I know you know what to say. I trust you,” he said easily.
Hux felt something lodge itself in his throat and tried to convulsively swallow around it. “You don’t have to keep doing that. I’m doing what you want already.”
“No, hey. I— look, I shouldn’t have. I know it was— I didn’t know how else to get to you. I want you to do this and be on our side, but I want you to want it. I’m taking a leap of faith here. Trust me back.”
An unknown feeling swelled behind his ribs until Hux felt as if his bones were being crushed, pushed out of his skin to make room for it. He breathed out and was surprised to find he could, so he did it again. When he took the hand Dameron was offering, it felt monumental. The idea that he could come out of the other side of this and find solid ground waiting for him seemed implausible.
Dameron’s hand was warm and solid against his as he helped Hux up and he didn’t let go as they made their way forward.