Brendol Hux didn't dream.
For a month, or so, Kylo Ren found this fact rather convenient. As a child he'd been plagued by the dreams of all the other souls that shared his mother's military bases. He hadn't realised for first six years of his life. He'd assumed the visions of thrilling high-atmosphere dogfights and adventures across a myriad worlds were his own. That was until he started to remember the details on waking. The voices were not his own, the thoughts were alien to him, and he knew far too much about far off places he'd hardly even heard about. It was unsettling and he began to dread the disorientation of sleep. The last straw had been the realisation of exactly who the young woman in metal bikini was- no young boy should be subjected to his fathers nighttime visions. At eight years old he'd almost be grateful to be sent away from home. Until he'd found himself in a dense forest filled with creepy little fuzzy things that dreamed of murdering stormtroopers; and living in a camp filled with pubescent boys. He was thankful that Snoke had had him spend his adolescent years in relative isolation- wet dreams were humiliating enough when they were just your own.
Years of force training had helped him shield his mind and now he hardly heard the thousands of troops filling the Finalizer. Still, it was pleasant at first to have a sleeping partner with a quiet mind, especially given the man's habit of shouting whilst he was awake. Hux seemed to enjoy shouting. Especially at Kylo Ren. It was practically a hobby. He'd shouted a lot when Ren had announced his intention to share the General's rooms, though he'd objected less to the idea of sharing his bed. Possibly because his mouth was otherwise engaged at the time.
Gradually the novelty of his silent bedmate began to pall. If Hux wasn't touching him as they slept, Kylo would sometimes forget his was there. Or fail to notice that the General had left for the day- usually turning the alarm off as he went too, the bastard. The atmosphere became tense, like a battlefield that was far too calm and peaceful. Ren began to feel on edge.
Hux ran the Finalizer on a 28 standard hour day. He claimed it was for the purposes of efficiency but Kylo suspected it was mostly to suit the man's own body clock. Awake and training by oh five hundred, followed by a tightly scheduled twenty hour shift, a brief break for food (plus anything Kylo might offer) and the General would usually be unconscious by twenty six hundred. Literally unconscious. Occasionally, on especially busy days, Brendol wouldn't even make it the bedroom. Kylo would find him stretched out on his face, on the floor of his antechamber, with his boots still on. Somehow the hair still remained perfect.
Once, a particularly trying skirmish with The Resistance had dragged on through three days and Kylo had been forced to summon his Knights to interfere. Hux had refused to leave the command deck throughout the battle, leaving his subordinate officers impressed that his tactical skills remained so sharp with so little rest. Kylo Ren had been less impressed when he finally returned from the fray - slightly injured and covered in someone else's blood - to find Brendol Hux, the First Order's finest, fast asleep in the fresher cubicle under the jets of now icy water. How the man had managed to remain standing upright Ren would never know. He'd been far too intent of getting himself clean to care and had simply manhandled the redhead onto the floor. The next morning had featured a lot of shouting. Apparently, "it's not your blood! It's not my blood either!" isn't all that reassuring when a man has woken up to find unexplained bloody handprints smeared across his naked arse.
Snoke had asked that a small force of Knights seek out the rumoured relics of Darth Malak on Dantooine. Kylo elected to lead his men in person this time. Ostensibly his aim was to reenforce their training and maintain their cooperative skills; if it got him several systems away from a certain angry General, well that was just a bonus.
After three weeks of nighttime treks across seeming endless plains, Ren was inordinately pleased to get back to the Finalizer.
Though his Knights had performed admirably and all their goals were achieved, Kylo had found the constant exposure to an open sky unnerving. The total lack of cover had gone against every fibre of his being. From his earliest childhood there had always been places to hide- safety under the roofs of caves repurposed into x-wing hangers; comfort into the abandoned corridors of Snoke's ancient palace; blessed loneliness under a dense jungle canopy. Standing on the vast plains of Dantooine the heavens seemed to stretch on forever and a mere lightsaber wouldn't protect him against all that emptiness.
When he heard the unshielded, untutored whispering of his mother's mind echoing across the lightyears, Ren had tried his best to numb the temptation of the Light through sparring and self flagellation. Not for the first time his violence failed him. As his resolve wavered Kylo found another voice murmuring in his ear.
"Really Ren, what does your mother have to offer you now? An absentee, scofflaw, father. A name you outgrew decades ago. A tiny scrap of attention here and there whilst she focuses all her efforts on her precious pilots. I can give you safety, I will give you might. When Starkiller is complete I'll burn the heart out her for you, if you ask it. Stay with me Kylo of the Knights of Ren and we will rule this galaxy."
Ultimately mediation had been forced to take the place of sleep. Specifically Kylo mediated on one question - why had Snoke's usual promissory speech been spoken with the voice of Brendol Hux?
As his personal transport finally drifted gently towards the awesome, shadowy bulk of the Finalizer, Kylo had to admit that he lacked an answer. Hux was about a force sensitive as a spoon, there was no way he'd have heard his mind at that distance without some link between them. No such link existed. Their physical... arrangements... were a matter of mutual stress relief, nothing more. A way for Hux to protect his shiny new flagship from Ren's outbursts by channelling the force user's aggression into more private acts. Sharing his rooms, and his bed, was just convenient.
Kylo Ren knew he wasn't fooling himself when stepping onto the floor of the cavernous docking bay felt like coming home. Stalking through the nighttime corridors brought a sliver of peace that grew into an unnervingly silent wedge of contentment as he approached their quarters.
He disrobed in the antechamber, trying to keep the dust of Dantooine's plains off his fastidious General's floors. The door to the bedroom slid open to reveal Brendol Hux snoring gently under one of Ren's spare cloaks. A warm feeling blossomed in Kylo's chest and he found himself biting at his long fingers to resist the urge to muss the sleeping redhead's hair. Somehow this moment offered everything Kylo Ren had never known he wanted. Of course it was almost immediately ruined by a poorly aimed slap to the crotch.
Without opening his eyes Hux addressed the slightly stooping Knight in a sleep thickened growl, "Ren, stop creeping, you bastard." The General yawned. "Either get in bed or get out of my rooms entirely, you creepy... creepy... space... wizard..."
"What?" Kylo asked. But he was answered by renewed snores. Clearly Hux was too tired even for a proper shout.
Stretching, Ren decided to take the first offer and get straight into bed. He was filthy, but there'd be time to shower in the morning. Perhaps if he shared the dirt he could persuade Brendol to join him in the fresher. With that aim in mind he swiped a dusty hand across the General's face as he slipped into bed behind him.
There was a tall man sitting on the edge of the bed in the dark. He said nothing.
A boy with a dagger through his eye was slowly falling beneath the tank treads.
How had they even gotten a giant dalyrake into the academy, and why did the method matter when he was being torn limb from limb?
A bright red blade shimmers in the dark, the light reflects off skin and sweat and blood.
Mother is crying again. But that isn't his mother.
Perhaps if he kills enough rebels, the blood will cover the stains and the crew won't notice the urine soaking the front of his uniform.
The friendly Colonel always ruffled his hair when he came to call, even today as he passed by on his way to kill father.
His wife is crying again. He doesn't have a wife.
So much blood. Who knew one man could hold so much blood. "Well done boy, you'll do well in the academy."
Kylo Ren wakes with a bitten off scream, soaked in the sweat of the fever ridden man in his arms.
Brendol Hux doesn't dream. But tonight he's on fire and everything is burning.
The bed was drenched in sweat. Hux was hot to the touch. He wouldn't wake. Reaching out with the Force, Kylo touched the General's mind and physically reared back from as he touched the man's dreams. The sensation was almost like having a cup of hot caf splashed over his brain. This wasn't right.
Ren hadn't be sick since he was a very small child. Injured and exhausted yes, but not sick. Skywalker had claimed it as a benefit of the Force but Kylo had always seen illness as an outward sign of inner weakness. Now the human that Snoke had trusted to crush the Resistance was so sick he wouldn't wake. If Hux was weak then so was the First Order.... And Ren too, considering he was still in the redhead's bed... Skywalker must have been right for once. The laws of probability said it had to happen eventually. Yes, that was it.
Kylo summoned a medical droid and then set about restoring order to the room. The droid might have cameras connecting it to the sickbay staff- it wouldn't do for them to suspect that the Master of the Knights of Ren had spent the night in the General's bed. His armour was still scattered about the antechamber, shedding dust and dried blood onto the floor tiles. He couldn't put those back on and risk spreading the filth further. Ren bundled them up in the cloak that had been kicked off the end of the bed, then raided the General's wardrobe. All his own spare gear was still on his transport shuttle. The smaller man's clothes might be a little tight, and too short in the leg, but they'd be plain black, which was good enough for now. Unfortunately, it was two days later when Kylo realised that the shirt he'd pulled on was a gag gift from Captain Phasma. If the medical droid noticed the silvery "Generally Speaking, I'm In Charge" text emblazoned across his chest, it never mentioned it. Perhaps it didn't appreciate puns.
Dantari flu. Ren had brought a potentially deadly virus onto the Finalizer. Snoke was going to kill him. His lack of discipline had lead to the General being infected. Forget Snoke, Snoke was thousands of lightyears away, Hux was going to kill him for this indignity. If he survived. Kylo punched the wall of the fresher to distract his mind from that train of thought.
The medical droid had summoned a legion of cleaning droids to disinfect the General's rooms and help make the sick man more comfortable. A series of injections had reduced the fever and relieved the dehydration, but Brendol still hadn't awoken. The droid had suggested that preexisting exhaustion may have contributed the General's particularly severe symptoms. If he survived the first 60 hours he could still be unconscious for up to a week. Even if he did regain consciousness he'd still be quarantined for at least six days.
Ren needed to leave their quarters to contact Snoke. Control of the Finalizer would need to be passed onto another officer and the rest of his Knights needed to be quarantined. Standard communication systems could not be trusted for contacting such sensitive individuals. The droid had finally agreed to allow Ren out- provided he washed, wore his now sterilised armour over his clothing, and engaged the atmospheric filters in his helmet. Kylo had hardly had to threaten the droid with his saber at all. The droid was still intact. Mostly. Well, it still worked so it wouldn't be that expensive to fix. Probably.
Snoke had seemed distracted and unconcerned about the health of his star General. He never even questioned why Hux was the only one infected. There were no special orders and the flagship was to continue on its predetermined course. Ren felt some of the tension unwind from his spine.
His own men were solitary enough that the rest of the fleet had been put at no risk. They would gather at an abandoned Imperial base and wait out the quarantine together. Kylo relaxed a little further, at least his men could be trusted to be professional.
Which was more than could be said for some of the bridge staff. The silence rippled across the deck as soon as the doors opened and almost everyone was immediately focused on their respective tasks. Almost everyone. The highest ranking officer currently on deck was a Colonel and she was staring at Ren with her mouth open. The next in command was a Major. He seemed to be trying to hide behind Captain Phasma's shiny shoulders.
Ren stared slowly around the command deck whilst he waited for the Colonel to regain control of her jaw. He resented the delay but would grudgingly accept any opportunity to further intimidate the crew.
Finally, it was Phasma who broke the silence, having clearly given up on the quaking Colonel. "Lord Ren, Sir," she said, her own filters making her sound vaguely bored, "would you know the current location of General Hu-"
"Did you kill him?!" Squeaked out the nervous Major, who unexpectedly found himself pulled passed Phasma by a phantom hand at his throat. An awful lot of eyes were turned towards them, though no one was foolish enough to turn their heads.
"You three, with me," Ren replied briefly before leading (and dragging) the command staff into the conference room.
Staring at the two slightly crouching officers Ren briefly considered choking the pair and promoting Phasma in their stead. But he knew she'd refuse to be separated from her armour- others had tried before. Besides Hux would never forgive him for killing such high ranking staff. One day he'd be as powerful as Vader and could snap their necks without a thought. For now he needed the General to cooperate. Assuming he survived.
The tension was back in this shoulders and threatening to develop into a headache.
"General Hux is not dead," Kylo said. The Colonel sighed, relieved. "He is indisposed. Dantari flu. No one but droids and myself are to approach his quarters. Is that understood?"
There was a chorus of "yes, Sir".
"You have the bridge for now, Colonel." Ren said "You, Major, will go wake Lieutenant General Tarkin and inform her that she now has interim command of the Finalizer. Then you will be taking a four day tour of sanitation."
"But, Lord Ren..." The Major gasped, the pressure returning to his throat.
"Five days," Ren hissed.
The Major scrabbled ineffectually at his throat. "Sir, you don't have authority to...." He wheezed.
Kylo Ren twitched his hand, the Major fell unconscious to the tiles.
"Reeducation," Ren said, turning to Phasma and gesturing to the body at their feet. "It seems the crew needs reminding that this is ship is the under joint command of General Hux and myself. Arrange for Tarkin to be informed of the situation."
It was a short walk from the bridge to the General's rooms. He preferred to be close at hand and never trusted an elevator in an emergency situation. As such Ren was surprised when Phasma appeared at his shoulder, apparently already finished with the tasks he'd given her.
"Everyone knows, you know," she said, in a casual tone.
Ren turned his mask towards her but didn't reply. Her own mask stated back impassively. Belatedly he realised it was futile to try intimidate the Captain in the glittering armour.
"No one cares, you know," she continued. "That you're sleeping together. No one cares."
Ren stopped dead in the empty corridor.
"They all think he's mad to do it. I guess in some ways that just makes them respect him more." Phasma shrugged. "But what did you expect the crew to think when multiple medical droids are summoned to the CO's quarters two hours after he was due on the command deck?"
"I didn't kill him." Ren said flatly.
"Of course not." She said. "But a quarter of the maintenance budget is going into repairing consoles that have received your special attentions. It's only a matter of time before that saber of yours goes through someone's chest."
"You really have no concept of respect for authority, do you Phasma?" Ren sighed, the sound mostly covered by the mask filters. Mostly.
Phasma's shiny helmet tipped and Kylo somehow received the impression that she was smiling.
"How is he?" She asked. "Will he live?"
It was Ren's turn to shrug. He was very tired now and the headache had begun in earnest. He just wanted to take the helmet off and ram it through a bulkhead. Turning away from Phasma he wordless set off down the hallway.
"If you need anything the droids can't provide, let me know, sir!" Phasma called as Ren turned the corner.
The helmet crashed into the desk, scattering Brendol's collection of military texts. Ren immediately regretted the throw. Those books had been the source of the elder Hux' genius, and just because his own father had given him nothing of value that wasn't stolen, that didn't mean Kylo couldn't appreciate the value they held for his General.
He tidied the desk. Then tidied it again. Then he gave up on procrastination and turned towards the bedroom.
Hux looked like death would be an improvement. His skin was a blotchy patchwork of unhealthy colours. Livid red across the cheeks and forehead, the rest a vaguely greyish yellow. Every part of his exposed skin was coated with beads of sweat and his clothing was clearly becoming soaked with it again.
A boy with a dagger through his eye was slowly falling beneath the tank treads.
By Vader, what was that?
The mind of Brendol Hux was churning again. It felt unnatural to hear him like this, like an astromech droid had suddenly sat up and sung an aria. Then it was silent again.
The medical droid sat inactive in the corner. A few swift kicks had it reporting the General's vital signs before it limped off to find an undamaged replacement. Kylo had understood enough of the medical information to know that Hux wasn't in immediate danger, but all his readings were outside any comfort zones.
Feeling guilty for creeping when the General couldn't even shout at him, Kylo Ren still sat by the bed and stared for far too long. Nothing changed. The vision of the boy didn't return. Raising a hand Ren reached out tentatively with the Force towards Brendol's mind. Instantly he was overwhelmed. Not the scalding burn of his first attempt. More like falling into a hot spring in winter. Comfortable after the initial shock but not reassuring.
Day-to-day Kylo Ren stayed out of the minds of other beings. Usually a conscious mind was a low level hum- strong emotions broke through but unless they were Force Sensative he heard very little. Of course sleeping was a different matter but he actively protected himself against that. If he were to enter a mind it was for the purposes of torture (these minds reminded him of being tossed on a stormy sea) or training (Snoke had a mind like a millpond, his Knights endeavoured to take the form of mist).
Actively entering the mind of an ally made his skin crawl. Entering the fever dreams of a man he had believe to be free of such things made his throat close up. He was seven years old again, fighting not to drown in a horizonless ocean of jealous, greed, fear and desire.
His General could be dying. He could be brave for him. Kylo Ren let go of reality.
There was a tall man sitting on the edge of the bed in the dark. He said nothing.
When had Hux grown so broad of shoulder? When had his hair turned grey at the temples? Was it the illness? Ren didn't recognise this place. What room was this, and why was there a model Super Star Destroyer hanging from the ceiling.
Hux' mind came into focus. He really should take that down. He was at the Academy now. He was a grown man, all of 14 years old, too old for toys. But it was a model of his father's ship and perhaps it gave mother some comfort whilst they were all away- his father rebuilding the First Order from the ashes of the Empire; he and his sisters in the academy. Yes, he'd leave it there for mother.
How long had his father sat there, in the dark, his strong back hunched like the weight of the Galaxy rested on it.
"Don't get involved with the men in your charge, Bren," his father spoke, voice crackled and tired. The lights from the doorway reflected oddly on his face.
General Brendol Hux Sr, commanding officer of the Empire's last surviving Super Star Destroyer didn't cry. He didn't sit in the dark at his sons bedside and cry silently into his hands.
After a moment he continued, "the women, yes, married one of them if you can. You can interfere with their dose and get them sent away to safety. But not the men."
Fourteen years wasn't enough life experience to show young Brendol the best path through this conversation. He'd woken in the night to find his father cutting away the foundations of his world and had no idea how to respond. He reached for humour.
"I don't think mother will ever forgive you for that," he said, realising immediately his reach had failed. Never forgive you for messing with her dose, never forgive you for ruining her gunnery career, never forgive you for forcing her to have me, never forgive you for trapping her in this house with three children she never wanted. Brendol felt as if his heart was trying to close over itself.
"Better alive to hate me than..." the senior Hux swallowed. "Than dead. Always better..."
The bed creaked slightly as his father headed to the door. In the weird twisted physics of the dream the doorway was impossibly far away. His father shrank into a skeletal figure as he slowly made his way to the door, all his strength and vitality seeming to leech away from him.
"The Punisher was lost to the Resistance today." It was a whisper but Hux heard his fathers words like the tolling of a bell. The door closed, the darkness was complete.
Smiling Uncle Wilhuff, named for the ferocious Grand Moff Tarkin, and about as threatening as a loth-cat, was serving on The Punisher. Uncle 'Uff, father's most dedicated aide-de-camp, finally promoted onto greener pastures. The man who'd taught him to shoot and how to set his hair so it was never out of place. He was dead.
Hux hated the Resistance and the Republic. Somewhere outside the dream Ren breathed deeply, as if he could absorb all that beautiful rage. He hated every last one of them who thought they were too good to be lead, who didn't understand the freedom of not having to choose. He focused on his hate and prayed that sleep would come before his mind could drift too far. The depressurisation drills they'd gone through at the Academy just two weeks before were fresh in his mind. He knew precisely how his Uncle had died. It wouldn't have been pretty.
Fourteen year old Brendol Hux hadn't given much thought to his father's other words. But Kylo Ren found himself disturbed. Who was this young man that his death would reduce such a General to tears. Did "get involved" mean what he suspected? How often did Brendol think about this conversation? Was it frequently replayed in his conscious mind? Or had this been dredged up by the fever? He never dreamed normally, would the suddenly memory unduly influence what they had?
Kylo was beginning to panic. He needed to get out and meditate.
Something was coming out of the darkness. There was a stench of blood, hot and fresh. Kylo felt Brendol's mind resist, lashing out in every direction to escape that smell. Another smell rose up around them as Ren sought a safe route out of the General's mind. Was that boot polish or engine oil? A face was rising up, unbelievably large or impossibly close.
Blood, engine oil, explosive powder and the stink of urine. A half-starved boy stared up from the side of the tank, dust kicking up in clouds from the treads below. Deep soulful eyes, dangerously expressive. Long hair curling just so. It wasn't a boy, it's was Kylo Ren. Grinning wickedly, the figure placed another thermal detonator along the seam of the tank's armour plating. Intent on his work the doesn't see Hux snatch the dagger from his own belt. The first he knows of it the blade is being plunged into his eyesocket. The boy wearing Kylo Ren's face seems surprised as the sole of a leather boot is planted against his chest and he is forced from his perch. The expression doesn't change as the tank treads drag him under.
Back in their dimly lit quarters Kylo Ren surfaces from the General's mind and trips over the cast off bedding as he dashes for the facilities. He misses the toilet and finds himself vomiting into the drain of the fresher. His face is pressed into the tiles but the cool ceramic doesn't relieve the heat under his skin. He can't tell if he's sick himself or if it's an effect of sitting in the other man's dream so long. Ren hasn't felt like this since that damn Dameron kid tricked him into the pilots g-force training rig.
A droid chirrups in disgust from the doorway and does its best to herd him out of the room. It's the same one that fled earlier. Someone had replaced most of the broken attachments and wiped away some of the burn marks. There was a scalpel blade taped to the end of the most badly damaged extending arm. Clearly the crew no longer wanted to spend their budgets on repairs and had chosen to arm the droid instead.
Ren aimed a kick at the droid as it fussily hosed down the fresher. Hux' mind was silent again, truly asleep now, as he should be. Kylo would meditate on what he'd seen and resist the temptation to look again.
Beware: dream violence. Poor Hux, this won't be pleasant.
They're all laughing at him.
Ren tries to lift his head, to look around from his meditation but the bedroom has gone. Distantly he hears the medical droid bleeping in distress but he can't do anything about that now.
They're all laughing at him.
"I'm sorry, Cadet, I didn't quite catch that." The Sergeant Major sneered, a malicious smile on his scarred face. "Could you repeat that?"
"Sir, I want to take my experience tour with The Hammers, Sir," Hux replied, keeping his voice clipped and his gaze fixed on the wall behind the man's left ear.
The Sergeant Major's face was turning a fascinating shade of red as the line of boys standing to Hux' left began to laugh once more.
"Listen here, you worthless pile of Bantha poodoo!" shouted the Sergeant Major, just inches from Hux' face now, spittle flying. "You're supposed to be the best of the best. You eight have achieved the highest scores in the entire Academy this year. This tour is an unrepeatable opportunity to advance your career! These boys have all chosen to serve under the First Order's finest Generals and you tell me you want to serve with the bloody Hammers? Like some kind of lowly stormtrooper?! What's wrong with you, boy?!? How did someone this foolish get into the Academy?!?"
The rant is interrupted by a quiet knock. Cadet Hux doesn't move but Ren can see the figure of Brendol Senior blocking the open doorway. Older than in the previous dream, his greatcoat is hanging loosely around a withered frame, but in silhouette his height and breadth are still imposing. There are Commandant stripes on his sleeves. He's speaking but Kylo can't heard the words over the pounding music. Music? What music? Dream logic takes oveer. Ren cannot pinpoint the change but somehow the office has been replaced by a tank's troop compartment. Beside him Hux is clinging to the webbing lining the walls as the tank slams over rough terrain.
The ridiculously tall blonde opposite is alternately laughing at him and singing along to the obnoxious music. It can't be regulation, that music, but the officers in the main cab don't object. The woman is wearing most of an old set of Stormtrooper armour, though she's modified it with highly reflective tape. That can't be within the regulations either, but then this is the Imperial Hammers Elite Armour Unit and nothing here is entirely as the First Order might wish. That's why he's here, they've been the very best of the best for decades, and Brendol Hux wants the secret to that success. That thought is the first sign Kylo has seen of the ambitious man Hux will become. Let's start here...
The towering woman is working on modifying the helmet at the moment.
"Oi, Cadet! Do try not to puke in the tank, yeah?" She says, laughing at his green face. "Save that for after the battle!"
"What are you doing?" Hux asks, not really caring but hoping to distract himself from the motion of the vehicle.
Hux lifts an eyebrow. He's not very good at it yet, but you have to practice. "What?" He asks again.
"Dazzle. It's the practice of breaking up your silhouette so the enemy can't target you properly," she explains with a grin.
"Oh," he says, deadpan, "so you're not planning on turning yourself into one of those glittery Death Stars they hang up at children's parties; in the hope that the sun will literally blind your enemies with your sparkly glory then?"
This joke delights her. He has made a new friend this day. She spends the next ten minutes alternately berating him for rejecting the offer of proper armour,and carefully explaining the workings of his new stormtrooper blaster. At least that's what she did in reality. Ren receives this concept as a barrage of jumbled memories, like a recording playing at triple speed. He understands the intent if not the content. Here inside the dream the smells are rising again- hot fresh blood, machine oil, explosive powder and something else. The steady tinktinktink coming from outside the compartment feels like a tiny pickaxe into his brain. Why is she still talking, can't she hear that damn noise?
He should open the hatchway and look out at the side of the vehicle. He should stay in his seat and enjoy his first true engagement with the troops that will one day power his great New Empire. He doesn't want to move, but he has no power here. He wants to keep his eyes tight shut but you can't close your eyes in a dream.
Ren is surprised that Brendol seems to know this is a dream. If he is fighting the progression of the narrative this hard, then it must be one he's lived through often.
Hux reaches out a hand and unlatches the rear hatchway. Slowly it falls open and once again he sees that face, so close to his. And that last smell is getting stronger now, so strong Hux feels like his face is burning with shame all over again. A half-starved boy stared up from the side of the tank, dust kicking up in clouds from the treads below. This time he doesn't wear his lover's face and Hux is grateful that Ren won't see his greatest shame. Kylo Ren tries hard not to breathe or even think loudly, in case Brendol detects his presence. But... ''lover'? That's new. It's just a boy, grinning wickedly, carefully lining the seam of the tank's armour plating with thermal detonators. If those blow then the entire machine will be torn in half and every soldier on board will be lost. Hux acts on instinct. The boy has dismissed him as a mere cadet and, intent on his work, he doesn't notice Hux snatch the dagger from his own belt. The first he knows of it the blade is being plunged into his eye socket. The boy seems surprised as the sole of a leather boot is planted against his chest and he is forced from his perch. The expression doesn't change as the tank treads drag him under.
The smell is sickeningly strong now, the stench of urine. Brendol Hux, Cadet of the First Order, son of a great General, has wet himself with fright at the sight of a Resistance fighter armed with a knife and a few thermal detonators. He curses the khaki uniform that shows the stains so well. The detonators still need to be removed and the boy must have had accomplices. Perhaps if he kills enough rebels, the blood will cover the stains and the crew won't notice the urine soaking the front of his uniform. Perhaps he might get sucked beneath the tracks and he won't have to live with this shame.
What comes next is hard even for Kylo Ren to follow, even with his years of fighting through the red vale of a Berserker rage. Every step, every blow is there but the time distorts and the angles twist until the Knight feels quite dizzy.A lot of resistance fighters die. Most of them had been shot but some were stabbed or strangled or stomped into the mud of the battlefield. Hux is found half a mile from the tank, practically incoherent and literally elbow deep in blood and gore. Ren has never wanted to own a photograph of the General until now, but he'd carry this one in his heart if he could.
If anyone notices the smell of urine they never mention it. Phasma drags him up out of the filth and her armour is blindingly bright. Kylo anticipates the transition this time and holds his breathe as the scene shifts. It seems to help the nausea this time. Vaguely he wonders how long the dream is going to last, segueing from scene to scene. Surely the General's mind will drop back into deep sleep again so he can leave. Kylo desperately wants to do some research, and frankly he's getting uncomfortable with the unasked for access to the other man's psyche.
He hates the feeling of blood on his hands. Always has, ever since he was six years old. The battlefield is gone and he's standing in the foyer of the family home. The room is huge, the ceiling far too high up to see through the shadows. The furniture looms above him. The stairs are a cliff-face stretching away to the distant forbidden zone of his father's private study. His hands feel dirty but he can't see anything on them. He wipes them down the legs of his trousers anyway. The main doors slam open like the crack of doom. Automatically he salutes as he turns, a tiny, insignificant child surrounded by neat rows of his wooden troops. The friendly Colonel always ruffled his hair when he came to call, even today as he passed by on his way to kill father. His adult mind knows what the man intends to do but he can't force his child-self to speak, can't raise the alarm. The Colonel won't meet his eye. His hands are shaking. There's a wicked little knife hidden in the sleeve of his uniform. It glints, bright as Phasma's armour, but the Colonel doesn't know the boy has seen it.
The visitor is at the top of the stairs when Brendol carefully picks up his prized possession- a 1/6 scale figure of Darth Vader. The stairs are so very tall and the boy is so very small.
The study door creaks up as Brendol separates the head and its concealed blade from the body.
The Colonel is shaking his father's hand and making small talk as Brendol scrabbles up the stairs. He's moving so slowly up that vertical climb. Too slowly. When the boy reaches the door the Colonel's knife blade is already aimed at his father's kidneys.
The leap seems to take place is slow motion. The older Hux twists and ducks as the young boy slams into his attacker. As the Darth Vader blade drags across the Colonel's throat Brendol is acutely aware of two things- the knife sinking into the flesh of his thigh and his sound of his father's head connecting with the desk. He hardly notices the spray of blood from the Colonel until he has the chance to check if his father is still breathing. Time seems to stretch for hours as he starts at the unmoving man. Finally he shifts. Brendol is so relieved he loses concentration and slips in the spreading pool of red. His mother is screaming again. So much blood. Who knew one man could hold so much blood.
The military police come to deal with the corpse of the traitor who wanted to murder his way to a promotion. "Well done boy, you'll do well in the academy," the policeman says, shaking the young boy's hand. He slips in the blood again, or is he fainting from his own blood-loss?
The hands of the military police reaching for him can't pull little Brendol out of the spreading pool of blood, instead they're dragging him down and through it like a portal into hell. The pain is racing from his leg across his body to his opposite shoulder. Something has a hold on his arm. A face is rising up through the blood, impossibly large. It's teeth are sunk deep into his bones. The stench of blood blends with the smell of boot and armour polish. Four sets of hands are clinging to his bare legs but they can't free him. He's strangely disinterested in the situation, as if the dream has suddenly forgotten to paint the fear and agony across the face of his emotions this time around.
How had they even gotten a giant dalyrake into the academy, and why did the method matter when he was being torn limb from limb? What was that incessant beeping in the distance?Kylo thrashes against the grip of the dream, that had to be a medical droid. Something must be wrong if the General is reliving almost losing his arm to a wild animal without any reaction. He can't escape but Ren thinks he manages to shout out "help him" back in reality.
Hux is watching the separation of his own shoulder with interest. Kylo has seen the scars, traced their paths across his back and chest so many times, but he had always assumed the injury was superficial. A surface bite at most. In fact the joint is entirely exposed as the dalyrake shakes its monstrous head.
The temperature suddenly begins to drop and the scene becomes blurry around the edges. Brandol is screaming now as the room is flooded with adults and someone finally shoots the monster gripping his arm.
The temperature is falling too fast and far far too cold.
Outside the window the snow is falling in the forest and his wife is screaming. He sits at a makeshift desk in a temporary office. Behind him the building of the Starkiller command structure progresses despite the snow. His wife is crying again. In front of his desk is the the old family parlour and his parents sit by the fire. Mother is crying again. Father, already four years dead, looks as he did before the cancer finally took him- parchment skin, skeletal limbs and a swollen abdomen. His wife is screaming.
This scene is too distorted, too strange, multiple events layered one on the other. Kylo can't focus his vision on any one element for more than a moment. Hux' mind is in control here and it is totally lost. Brendol doesn't want to be here any more than Kylo. He's trying to turn away from each element only to confronted by something else he fears just as much. Kylo Ren hates the screaming and the crying, it's too similar to his last day with Skywalker. It's not the impersonal screaming of foolish Republic scum, it's the sound of loved ones suffering. It's the echoes of his mother learning what he'd done at the school. Ben Solo writhes with the pain of it.
At the fireside mother is confessing her sins, all the things she hid from her husband for the good of the family. His wife is screaming. At his desk a communications officer is handing him a note from high command. It will tell him that his wife and son are dead. Kylo claws at the other half of his psyche, forces it down, back into the dark. He needs to concentrate. A son?And yet she is still screaming. Mother is sobbing now, demanding that Brendol Senior do something to keep her son away from boys. The consequences might be dire if they don't. He is a Fiorina child, it mustn't be allowed. Ren wants to focus on this, this unknown term but Hux won't allow it. He's drifting again, unable to escape the scene he's giving into the inevitability of what is coming. Kylo tastes fear. The General's mind is cold beyond freezing now and Ren does not want to look into the source of that bleak chill.
Hux has no memory of this conversation. Father was already in the ground when his grandson mysterious transformed from foetus into cancer and dragged his daughter-in-law into death. When did this conversation even happen? Sitting alone before the embrionic beginnings of Starkiller Base, the desolate young junior officer wants to walk over to the fire and ask. But somehow he knows he's also just child sneaking around, awake long after curfew. Besides he can see his father's swollen stomach moving now.
Somehow, Kylo Ren manages to force his vision out of focus, blurring the scene at the fireside. Though he no longer sees he can still sense the nightmare as it sinks its teeth deep into Brendol's mind.
The stomach cancer that killed the Commandant transmutes into Hux' unborn son. The child is not human, not really, just an endlessly growing parody of life. Dividing and mutating. Absorbing father and mother, office and fireplace, walls and forest until the whole monstrous pulsating mass drops into the ground and ignites at the heart of Starkiller Base.
Hux stands on the edge of the platform. How? Starkiller isn't finished yet, how many years has he dreamed about this tainted triumph?The might of the First Order arrayed before him, millions of soldiers, ready to follow his every command. Deep in the heart of the planet the sun, his son, is consumed and converted into something better. Sheer, uncontrolled, malevolent power becomes blessed order. The Starkiller weapon fires and the heat is searing on his skin. Across lightyears of space the Republic home-worlds light up one by one, then go dark. Reduced to ash. He has brought peace to the Galaxy at last. Perhaps there is some for his own mind as well.
Ren vomits onto the tile as he is abruptly thrown out the other man's dream. He is still sitting in his meditative pose. He can no longer feel his feet beneath him. Distantly he hears the medical droid whistling with relief, the General's fever has just broken. Kylo looks at the clock and finds that almost an entire day has passed. His stomach roils at the memory of those final nightmare visions. Not of that could have been real, surely? How ill was this man, that his mind would build such an endless torrent of horror? He's not sure if he should risk moving but his bladder is shrieking at him. The droid has noticed the vomit and rushes at him; chirping in rage and waving that stupid scalpel. Ren heads for the fresher on heavy tingling legs.
Glancing into the mirror he sees a face much like the General's- lips chapped, eyes fever bright, and skin a dull grey. He needs to wash. He needs clothes that aren't soaked in sweat. He needs to never close his eyes again, Hux' demons are painted on the inside of his eyelids. Leaning his head against the cool tiles Ren concentrates on emptying his bladder and tries not to think. The test of The Cave on Dagobah had been easy compared to this. First things first. Become clean. He heads for the nearest terminal.
Fortunately Phasma is in her quarters, taping her hands in preparation for some kind of training.
"Woah, Ren you look like sh... Hah! Are you wearing Hux' shirt?!" She's laughing just like her dream proxy and Kylo is almost too distracted to recognise the question.
"What?" He asks as he looks down. He can't quite read the letters upside down. "'Gen...er... ally.... Spe...ak..ing, I'm In Ch....' Oh for... argh!!"
With a growl he tugs the stupid shirt over his head and tosses it into the rapidly growing pile of sheets and laundry. Phasma gives an unconvincing shriek and covers her terminal screen with both hands.
"Ok no need for that! I do NOT need to see that!" She lifts a hand from the screen and her expression briefly becomes assessing. "Not bad though. Lucky General."
"Ok, ok," she says. "What can I do for you, Lord No-Shirt?"
Ren has no idea why his isn't currently smashing apart the terminal with his saber, or at the very least Force choking this supremely annoying woman. He grips the edge of the desk and leaves fingerprints in the metal that no maintenance crew can ever properly remove.
"Phasma," he says through gritted teeth. "I can't even begin the explain the last two days. Please, go to my shuttle and retrieve four sets of clothes from the chest on the left of the cockpit."
Sensing the fraying of his last nerve Phasma only nods and murmurs, "yes sir," as she pulls on her boots.
"Anything else, sir?" She asks as she heads for the door of her quarters.
"Food." Ren says. "Lots of it. Oh, and Captain, have you heard of a unit known as the Hammers?"
Phasma doesn't reply, just flexes her right arm to show off the silver hammer tattoo on the her inner bicep.
Ren is in the fresher when Phasma knocks. Although he'd hate to say it out loud- speaking to her earlier did clear his foul mood. He considers heading straight for the door- if she'd been horrified by his bare chest how would she react to the whole show? The thought is out of character. He must truly be ill. It was hard enough taking off the mask outside these rooms. Besides, the water is cold on his burning skin, so he gives her time to leave. No need to break with quarantine protocol.
He had to admit that Captain Phasma is good at completing her tasks. Not just changes of clothes, but nightwear, his brushes and a decent sized towel. Ren will never understand how Hux manages to get dry with what is basically a flannel. The General takes thrift too far sometimes.
Some of the food is self heating and Kylo eats two whole servings to himself before he even considers the box Phasma has left on top of the pile.
It seems to be a munitions case, with a soft lining made from scraps of old uniforms. There's a slab of transparent cast-plast inside. Gently, Kylo lifts it onto the desk. Encased within are two photographs.
The smaller photograph shows a unit of fifty helmetless stormtroopers arranged in three rows, with four empty helmets at their feet to denote their fallen comrades. Front and centre, Hux can be seen shaking hands with their commanding officer. The image was clearly taken at some ceremony long after the battle. Everyone is too clean and Brendol's shock of red hair stands out clearly in front of the shiny white uniforms.
The larger image is closer to the one Kylo had imagined inside the dream. A feral grin splits his General's youthful, blood-streaked face. An equally filthy Phasma drapes an arm about his shoulders and raises the camera high a over their heads. In the bottom corner handwritten silver texts reads "Brendol Hux II: Saviour of The Hammers".
Below the photographs there's a medal. Kylo sits down heavily when he recognises the Vader's Star Of Valor. Only eight had ever been issued by the First Order. It had clearly never been worn.
He can't process this. Sickness and the hours spent in the General's mind have exhausted Ren far beyond the ability to function. He needs sleep- real sleep- free from other people's nightmares. Pausing to ensure that the cast-plast block is secure on the desk, Kylo hits the lights. As he slides into the sheets he's pleased to find the General's skin is cool to the touch once more. The smaller man doesn't react as Kylo settles his face against Brendol's neck. His mind is quiet too, thankfully.
“You're a mess, General,” Ren murmurs, breathing the stale sweat smell from the tangled ginger hair. “Tomorrow....” He's asleep before he can finish the thought.
Note- GC = date counted from the Galactic Concordance that formally ended the Empire, a year after the Battle of Endor
Something cold was poking at his toes. Kylo kicked it. The medical droid stabbed it's scalpel into the side of his foot in retaliation. Well, he had been sleeping peacefully; now he was angry, bleeding and had Force suspended that damn droid somewhere up near the ceiling.
The machine flailed wildly, beeping and chirping as it tried to explain. The other droids needed to see to the General- to clean him up, change his clothes and medicate him. They couldn't do that with Kylo in the bed as well. Plus he's been asleep for over 30 hours. It was sorry it had harmed him. Please could it come down now. Kylo released his grip. The droid dropped to the floor with an indignant shriek.
Half an hour in the fresher, a change of clothes, several mugs of caf and Ren felt vaguely human again. The General looked much better too. There was normal colour returning to his skin at last. He had the beginnings of a beard now, after several days unshaven. Clearly the droids didn't want to attempt it. Kylo didn't blame them. After what he'd seen in the man's mind about his father's near assassination, Ren would hesitate to put a blade near that throat, whether the owner was unconscious or not.
That thought reminded him of what he'd planned to do after Phasma's little surprise yesterday. Clearly the events around the recurring tank dream were based in reality, but what about the rest? Brendol Hux Sr. had been Commandant of the Academy. He'd started the training programme that produced the current round of stormtroopers. So he hadn't been assassinated whilst still a General. But had the attempt really happened like that, or was it just a child's fantasy build around half remembered events? And what about all the other events he'd seen?
He settled at the terminal and used Snoke's overriding passwords to access the First Order personnel files. He wasn't supposed to do things like this without explicit orders, but he imagined that he could spin a convincing tale about wanting to improve his working relationship with the General. He probably shouldn't be thinking about lying to his Master. He probably shouldn't be doing any of this.
Hux' file was huge. Like Kylo's own it started in very early childhood. Clearly Snoke had invested as much time into developing the military potential around him as he had in pursuing Force users. When had Snoke decided that the two of them would be given a command together? Had Kylo's life anyways been leading to this man and these rooms, just as it had been inevitably heading towards his mastery of the Dark Side?
It was all there. Hux had stopped his own father's assassination at the tender age of six. But he hadn't killed the attacker with a Darth Vader toy. For some reason Brendol Sr. had seen fit to train his son in close combat, pretty much from infancy. The boy had been taking part in martial arts contests around that time and had taken to carrying a switchblade everywhere. There were several reprimands from his academy days for refusing to give up the non-regulation weapon.
Ren flips to through to 'Medical History'. The stab wound to the thigh required four days partial suspension in a bacta tank. The arm injury received six years later needed much longer to heal. The images of the injury- still and flat, without the fevered accompaniment of remembered pain- are fascinating. Kylo spends far too much time studying them with a morbid curiosity. It had been assumed that the boy would lose his arm, and the Academy medical staff had tried to refer him for a cybernetic replacement immediately. Commandant Hux had refused and taken the boy off base. Ren recognised the name of one of the surgeons responsible for Darth Vader's survival after Mustafar. He has to take a moment to consider that hands that once touched the great Darth Vader had also wrought those neat scars across his General's skin.
The file linked from the medical details back to Brendol's Academy files. The giant dalyrake had been smuggled into the sleeping quarters by three of Hux' bunk mates, as an ill thought out prank. For their malicious actions all three had been expelled in disgrace. Brendol himself received several commendations during his recovery, having trained himself to shoot and fight with his remaining undamaged limb. Despite predictions that the injury would end or severely impair his military career young Hux had been determined to prove otherwise.
After that point Brendol's career seems to be touched with good luck. After the battle with the Hammers he studiously avoids any further front line engagements. Still he made an impression on high command and he's soon moving up the ranks in mostly administrative roles. He's actively involved in the development of the Resurgent class star destroyers, continues his father's work with Stormtrooper training and by 24 years old he's received the go ahead to produce the Starkiller Base. Ren spends an inordinate amount of time reading all the details of the General's various promotions and only remembers to eat when the medical droid places food directly into his hands. He doesn't usually read like this- preferring to learn through his physical training- he rarely sits for long unless he's meditating. He wonders how Hux deals with the discomfort of spending all day in an office chair. Not surprising that he enjoys the opportunity to stomp around the command deck, shouting orders.
He's procrastinating again. There were several other files directly linked to Hux' own. As well as Commandant Hux, the General's three sisters and the slim file for his mother's truncated military career, there's two very small files that connect to the year Starkiller construction commenced-
Jarita Hux (nee Piett) 2GC-24GC.
No military record.
No criminal record.
Ministry for Loyalty rating- Clear.
Associates of note: Admiral Firmus Piett (paternal uncle).
Arranged marriage application approved 22GC re: Brendol Hux II (Captain)
Cause of death: complications in pregnancy.
Brendol Hux III 24GC
Ren stared blankly at the pathetic little collection of words that were supposed to sum up two lives. He felt mildly nauseous. Unlike the extremely detailed medical files chronicling every treatment the General had ever received, there's nothing at all attached to these records. Kylo doesn't have enough knowledge about First Order record keeping to know if this is simply due to their civilian status. It seems unlikely given the horrifying symptoms Hux' mind had assigned to them the dream. Kylo switched to the father's record- cause of death: gastric cancer. Again accompanied by in depth detail and illustration. Although he didn't recognise many of the technical words, the tone didn't suggest any suspicious elements in that illness.
Closing the General's files, Kylo attempted a general system search for "fiorina" but found only a references to it, mostly in the planet of origin field of personnel records. Interestingly this included Phasma's record. There were no further details however, and no such planet could be found in the navigation systems. A mystery.
An enigma that Kylo was frankly far too tired to investigate any further. Standing and stretching, he turned off the terminal. The change in perspective drew Ren's attention to a small envelope poking out of the line of books on the desk. He gently eased it out of its place. He wasn't going through Hux' things, he was tidying them. Yep, just going to put this little plast envelope away all neat and tidy. Whoops, his hand slipped and the contents was scattered across the desk. Oh lwell, might as well read them now.
The little pack included many of the things other officers might have framed and kept on display- his academy graduation certificate, the paperwork to accompany the Vader's Star and his commissioning parchment as General. There were also three death certificates, for his father, wife, and son; a will leaving his all possessions to further the cause of the First Order; a commemorative pamphlet celebrating the maiden voyage of the Finalizer; and several photographs. One clearly showed the General's wedding day. Almost every member of both family groups was in dress uniform. The bride wore a severe grey dress and shared her husbands rather flat facial expression. An informal photo of Hux Sr and his wife on the bridge of a Super Star Destroyer- a child had written "Ravager" on the back. A small copy of the General's current official portrait. Three red headed women simultaneously making a very rude gesture towards the camera. An official portrait of Commandant Hux. Last, and heavily worn around the edges, there was a smeary grey and black image that Kylo couldn't decipher- "your son" was hand written on the back.
Kylo didn't want to touch the pile of documents any more. He placed them on the desk, next to Phasma's block, and headed to bed.
A bright red blade shimmers in the dark, the light reflects off skin and sweat and blood. The light crackles like fire and solidified hatred. Light shouldn't look so heavy, dragging through the air like an oar through water. The figure wielding the saber somehow moves with speed as it forces the blade through the air. The movements are ungainly but not uncoordinated. There's great skill powering through the too long limbs and the style is intentionally confusing to watch. An attacker wouldn't know where to strike next.
Kylo Ren is impressed. He's practiced for hours in front of mirrors to perfect his fighting technique but he's never seen himself like this. Especially since he'd always been clothed during training. It was unwise to be naked during a saber kata. But now, he is watching himself from the outside now, seeing himself through the lust coloured lens of Brendol's mind. He can feel the General's want, like sitting too close to a fire. It's wonderful.
He's woken abruptly but a searing kiss. On instinct he sends a corresponding wave of lust back through the connection and goes to deepen the kiss.
Hux abruptly withdraws. "Careful, Ren," he says, voice cracking with disuse. "Get out of my head."
"Sorry, you surprised me."
"When did you get back?" Hux yawns. In the dark there's the sound of fingers scratching over beard.
The lights come on and Ren sees Hux is staring into the mirror on the wardrobe door in horror. "What the hell?!? How long was I asleep?!?"
Kylo shifts closer and wraps an arm around the General's waist. "You've been ill," he murmurs, rubbing a cheek against the ginger's stubble. "You've been out for days. Dantari flu. We're quarantined in here."
Hux twists around in the bed until he's facing Kylo. Ren rather hinders the process by refusing to loosen his grip- he's really enjoying the beard.
"Dantari flu? A disease happens to come from the planet you just..." Hux abruptly stops talking. "Get out Ren."
Kylo kisses his neck only to find his movement halted by an iron grip on his chin. "GET OUT."
"I'm not in your head," Ren whines, finally looking up. The General isn't looking at him. He's looking beyond him, through the open door into the next room. His face has turned deep red. His whole body is trembling.
Kylo glances over his shoulder. The bedroom lights are just bright enough to reveal the little pile of Brendol's deepest secrets that Kylo had abandoned on the desk.
The grip on his chin shifts and Ren finds himself dragged towards Hux by the throat. "You misunderstand me, Ren," Hux grinds out, every word clipped and dripping with ice. "Get out of this bed, get out of these quarters and then, for all I care, you can get out of the nearest airlock."
Kylo knows he means it. He suddenly feels like his entire body is being crushed by a vice. The pain in his chest is radiating in waves through his limbs. He wants to say "I can explain" and make everything right, but he can't think of anything to justify the last few days. He'd indulged his curiosity and in the process he'd violated every aspect of Brendol's privacy. There was no way to fix this.
"I can't," he started, "the quarantine."
The medical droid whistled in agreement, there were still 12 hours until they could be tested and released.
Hux glanced briefly at the droid, released his grip on Kylo's throat and left the room.
The General spent the next 12 hours locked in the fresher.
When the droid beeped to signal the end of the quarantine, he emerged looking every inch the untouchable military mastermind. The stubble was gone, the hair was immaculate, his uniform was a little looser than before but his bearing was ramrod straight. His eyes were completely dead. He didn't look at Kylo Ren as the droid tested them both. When the all clear came, he snatched up Ren's pile of spare clothing from the end of the bed, stalked out of his rooms and dumped them in the corridor. By the time Kylo had scrabbled after him the corridor was already empty. Just the echo of his heels against the floor as he marched towards the bridge.
Phasma knew something had gone wrong the instant Hux reappeared on the bridge. The Colonel he relieves from duty receives a forty minute dressing down over almost every aspect of her command decisions. He's not necessarily shouting more than usual, but he is quicker to anger and far slower to forgive. Two navigators and a targeting specialist will be sent to reeducation by the end of the shift. He's noticeably thinner since his illness but somehow it makes him seem streamlined rather than haggard. It's certainly concentrated his rage.
After an hour or two on his feet Hux starts leaning against the edges of consoles as he monitors his staff. Eventually he has to retreat to the chair at the main command console, a position he rarely chooses to occupy. All good officers know the key to a sound ship is an alert bridge. He should stay on his feet to set an example, but he fears he'll end up on his face instead if he doesn't sit down. No one says anything, though he's sure Phasma is monitoring him through her helmet. His watch can't come to an end soon enough. The walk back to his quarters feels like a hike through deep thick mud. Perhaps he shouldn't have returned to duty as soon as the quarantine ended.
Despite his soul deep weariness, Brendol cannot sleep.
His rooms had been deep cleaned whilst he was on duty. The food wrappers Ren had scattered everywhere were gone, along with the piles of clothes and bedsheets that had been awaiting decontamination. And yet the room still feels unclean somehow. Hux considers. It feels like Kylo Ren is just beyond one of the doorways. He's not sure whether it's just the effect of having shared the space for so long or if it's genuinely one of Ren's mind tricks. He decides not to stay to find out.
He spots the case containing Phasma's treasure by the desk. Kylo had at least had the decency to return all the General's precious papers to their envelope. Hux hides the packet in the nightstand on the way out of his quarters. He'll return Phasma her things- that'll give him an excuse to stay out of his rooms a little longer.
When he finally locates her, she's in the officers gym, setting up a punching bag. He places the case on the bench next to her towel, gently enough that nothing is damaged but still with enough force to draw her attention. He doesn't want her failing to see it and leaving it behind. He also doesn't entirely know how to start the conversation they're going to need to have now.
"I don't need it back," she says, adjusting the wrapping across her knuckles, "and besides, it IS yours. YOU earned it."
Hux sighed, "and I gave it to you, as a gift, when you agreed to work under my command."
Phasma punches the bag a few times, the reaches up to adjust the hooks, saying,"only because it's treason to melt down one of those things."
"No. Because it actually meant something to you," he raised a hand as she went speak across him, "you know my reasons for... not wishing to accept it. And I know how seriously you take the blood debt. It makes sense for you to keep it."
She nods and shifts to cover the case with her towel.
"What doesn't make sense," Hux continued, "is handing something like that over to a creature like Kylo Ren."
Oh dear, now he's a creature, Phasma thought, It was only a yesterdaythat he was wearing your shirts and watching over your health. What the hell has Ren done to ruin your weird little relationship?
“What has he been asking you?” Brendol continued in a hiss, “I don't know what he hopes to achieve- Supreme Leader knows every detail of my existence- but I need to know what he's up to, Phasma.”
“All he said to me was to bring him things from his shuttle during quarantine,” she shrugged, “and if I'd heard of The Hammers. I thought he should know what kind of man he was really dealing with, in case he took your illness as a sign of weakness.”
Hux sneered, “What kind of man?! You thought that THAT... that... travesty... was the best... That is NOT who I am, Phasma. It is NOT!”
The other officers in the gym were doing their best not to look up at the General's rapidly rising voice, but the Captain could tell they were listening. She tipped her head towards them slightly. Hux took the hint and fell silent.
“I'm sorry, Sir.”
“That's really not good enough.” He sighed. “Don't tell him anything else. Don't GIVE him anything else. Is that clear?”
Hux nodded and turned to the door, he'd just have to go back to that damn room, that damn bed, and try to sleep.
“I'm sorry you won't let anyone see the real you, Bren.” Phasma muttered at his retreating back. She split the punching bag that evening. Frustrating, foolish man.
Hux moved into new quarters, slightly closer to the bridge, early the next day. No one dared question why.
Everyone on the ship had a theory about it though.
Kylo Ren vanished for three days. Phasma appreciated the relative quiet. Until a team of hanger engineers came to her- helmets in hand, like pathetic rural villagers begging for help with a dragon – to ask her to remove him from Hanger 16. The number of breakages was seriously effecting their monthly budget and frankly no one wanted to work that close to the terrifying Force user. Four men had been choked in the last 12 hours. One had been thrown into a bulkhead.
Captain Phasma found Ren asleep in the cockpit of his shuttle, draped inelegantly across the jump seats. She gently removed his lightsaber from it's place on the console and went back outside.
“Chief?” She called across the hanger. He turned. “Clear the area.”
The Chief Engineer nodded but his staff were already scurrying towards doors. Clearly they'd been expecting this. She waiting until the doors slid into place and the last dropped tool stopped noisily rolling across the deck. She squared her shoulders and removed her helmet.
“OI!! REN YOU MISERABLE BASTARD, GET OUT OF THAT SHIP!!” She shouted, kicking her chromed boots against the access ramp for good measure.
Kylo Ren was out the ship and driving her backwards across the deck faster than she could have raised her blaster. Not that she'd planned to do so, her hands were full anyway. She was definitely glad she'd taken the saber; she'd probably be scattered across the deckplating in multiple pieces by now if he'd had immediate access to the laser weapon.
He looked far worse than he had when he'd called her from the General's rooms. Definitely even more unhinged than usual. No wonder the engineers were scared out of their minds, locked in here with this. She hoped he hadn't broken helmet protocol. The last thing she needed was rumours in the ranks about this youthful, unstable Knight of Ren. The last thing Hux needed was this sensuous face connecting with his reputation.
“Good morning sunshine,” she said blandly. “Time to pack up and clear out. I won't have you sulking in here and scaring my troops when we have perfectly good officer accommodations elsewhere. Besides it's a fire hazard. More so than usual.”
He stared at her, hands still resting around her throat, breathing too fast. He didn't seem to be entirely up to date on the current situation. He looked down and spotted the lightsaber resting inside her helmet. Kylo released her and snatched it up, inspecting it closely.
“What do you want, Captain?” He asked wearily. His voice, usually emotionless thanks to his filters, sounded especially hollow and bleak without the mask.
“The ultimate victory of the Supreme Leader. Order in the galaxy. To see our enemies driven before us. Ten days of shoreleave on Ryloth.” She laughed. “But I'll settle for you out of this hanger and off my hands. If you could undo whatever it was that you've done to General that'd be great too, but I suspect that's asking a bit too much.”
He glared at her, then turned back towards the shuttle. Ren tried to stomp up the ramp but Phasma noticed the dramatic gesture didn't quite work without his boots. She was expecting to have to argue further with him, but as she entered the hold she found him throwing items into a crate.
“What is Fiorina?”
Phasma blinked at the non sequitur. “What?”
“Fiorina. What is it?” Kylo asked, glancing at her as he scooped an odd collection of books and clothes up from the floor. He didn't sound particularly interested in his own question. He sounded like he wasn't even interested in breathing.
“Home,” she shrugged. “The ultimate backwater planet. Land of my fathers.”
“What?” Phasma was at sea with this conversation now.
“Land of our forefathers,” Kylo explained, “that's what people usually say.”
She frowned. “That doesn't sound right, who has four fathers? Look Ren, it's a no where planet in a no where system.” She remembered Hux' request that she not tell the Knight anything, and wondered if it applied to this bizarre line of questioning. “I really can't tell you anything more. I don't go back there often.”
Ren shrugged indifferently and lifted the sealed crate onto his shoulder, shifting it slightly as his other hand fitted his mask in place. “Lead the way Captain.”
“Look, I can put you in the guest VIP quarters,” she said, replacing her own helmet, “they're down in sector 114. It's away from the bridge, which is inconvenient but they're also away from him. I imagine that's for the best for now.”
Kylo didn't rise to the bait. Silence.
“Fine.” The hanger door opened to reveal a pair of stormtroopers mid-argument. They jumped to attention when they realised it was Phasma in the doorway, then each took a step backwards when they noticed Ren behind her.
After some mutual elbowing, the trooper on the left blurted out, “message for Lord Ren, Captain. From Lieutenant General Tarkin, Sir.”
“Well?” They asked in unison, equally unimpressed with the cowering troopers.
“You're needed on the bridge, Sir, at your earliest convenience, Lord Ren.”
“Go,” Phasma gestured, “these two can take your crate to your quarters. On their way to reeducation.”
"Lieutenant General, you wished to speak with me?" Kylo said.The mask made his voice sound less subdued. Good, no need to show weakness to a Tarkin.
"Yes, Lord Ren," she gestured to a subordinate, "Dex, you have the conn."
Stalking down the centre of the deck, shed idly checked the various screens as she passed. This one is always alert Kylo observed, she kept an iron hand on her ship. Ren wonders if he can get Snoke to put her in permanently command of the Finalizer. Hux shouldn't be splitting time between commands with the Starkiller so close to completion. Yes, that sounded like a valid reason for Kylo to never have to see him again.
Tarkin lead him out of the command deck and into an elevator in silence. He followed, becoming mildly irritated as the pause drags out. Eventually he found that they'd made their way to the TIE fighter repair station. The industrial noise was near deafening even through his helmet and he's glad of the filters keeping all the sparks out of his lungs. Tarkin showed no sign of discomfort on her razor sharp face.
"Lord Ren,"she started, once they were standing in an slight alcove, "I have been informed that Supreme Leader Snoke's log in details were used to access certain information from a terminal aboard this ship."
Kylo doesn't offer a response.
"Unless I have been misinformed," she continued, "Lord Snoke is not aboard the Finalizer." More silence from the masked figure. "Since General Hux was apparently too unconscious to use the terminal in his private quarters at the time, I have to assume that the person performing the search was you."
"The dealings of the Knights of Ren are not your concern, Lieutenant General Tarkin." Ren intoned, shifting a hand slightly.
"Please do not try your mind tricks on me, Lord Ren. I would so hate to disappoint you." Tarkin sighed, crossing her arms, "if this were an official enquiry it would hardly be taking place here. I may have information you require. Or I may need to speak directly to Supreme Leader Snoke."
Kylo frowned as his Force touch slipped off her mind, as if it were made of oil. He had always wondered about Vader's willingness to defer the Grand Moff Tarkin. Interesting. He clenched his fist, better to suggest frustration than curiosity.
"Would this be regarding a particular planet?" He asked, pitching his voice for boredom.
She nods, glancing around, "why are you looking for Fiorina?"
"I'm not at liberty to speak."he replied. "Why do you have knowledge of it when most signs of its existence have been removed from the records?"
"What DO you know about about it?"
Ren lets the mask stare at her. He would really rather use the Force and simply take the information, than engage in this ridiculous furtive conversation.
The silence becomes uncomfortable, finally she feels compelled to fill it. "Fiorina was one of Emperor Palpatine's earliest projects," she begins, "and his first error..."
Before the Empire, before Sheev Palpatine ever stood for the role of Senator of Naboo, he had certain business interests that intersected with his study of the Dark Side. Associates of his had a need for rare minerals which, due to their particular radiation signature, could not be mined by droids. A planet had been located that contained high levels of those minerals, as well as the highly sort after crystals used in lightsabers. What it lacked was a breathable atmosphere.
Although droids could not be sent into the mines, they did still function above ground. So it would eventually be possible to terraform the planet and mine there safely. Eventually being a scale of decades rather than years. Darth Sidious did not have the patience for such a tedious process and struck on a faster method.
He proposed the development of a prison planet, specifically to hold those given life sentences. The prisoners would work in the mines, thus generating income rather than merely being a burden on the Republic's economy. His company would pay the Republic for their prisoners and keep some of the profits from the mining. Everyone would benefit. Except the prisoners of course. Palpatine failed to mention that these captives would be sent to a world only in the earliest stages of terraforming. Without a proper atmosphere they would soon succumb to the effects of breathing noxious gases or to the unshielded solar radiation. They would be literally worked to death.
Those who sent their convicts into Palpatine's care were uninterested in their fate. They were under life sentences, there was no reason to expect them to return or to consider their conditions. The prisoners were forgotten by the Republic. The mining company worked out the rate at which the miners would need to be replaced, allowing for the gradual improvement of the atmosphere. They automated the collection of new convicts from the various donor worlds. Each batch would arrive in a single use ship filled with supplies. The only ships that ever left the planet were haulage drones, intentionally built without atmosphere or artificial gravity to prevent stowaways. For the sake of keeping order it was decided that the planet was to be populated only with male prisoners. With limited lifespans and no new generations there would be little motivation towards insurrection. It would also avoid any risk of an 'innocent' population developing and claiming their pathetic civil rights of ownership over the planet.
Palpatine set his plan in motion and moved on the more important things. Like total galactic domination. Fiorina was rarely thought of outside the refineries that accepted the ore shipments.
Four decades later, in the early days of the Empire, Palpatine sent his apprentice Darth Vader to seek out the saber crystals he'd originally detected on his mining planet.
Vader did not find the dreary death camp world he was expecting. When his shuttle landed, the graceful wings folding so neatly, it was to the excited cheering of swarms of children. The population of the planet- never checked by the company and never reported on by the control droids- was far, far higher than it should have been. Not restricted to the bare minimum needed to run the mines, the men had found the time and resources to build a society. Primitive structures has been constructed using materials scavenged from the useless delivery ships. The climate had become surprisingly pleasant, allowing much industry to be completed outside. The droids had received no orders regarding the use of excess miners so they had not interfered as the men build their homes around the mine. A bartering system had sprung up and with it a code of justice. These convicts had somehow built a utopia. There were children everywhere.
Vader, in conference with his Master, concluded that the incoming shipments of convicts had not be sorted properly. Females must have made it to the planet somehow. Darth Sidious was deeply displeased that his planet, intended to punish, had been so distorted. The 501st Legion was dispatched to join their leader and a brutal search was made of the planet. The only females found were children, even after the planet's leaders had been tortured and executed. The female children were removed from the planet. When they were found to be unusually mentally and physically advanced for their age Vader had them sent to the Imperial academies. The males were left behind and all space traffic was cut off. Palpatine would let them starve as punishment. Any remaining ore they collected could be retrieved later.
When a survey team was sent, decades later, to assess the practicality of restarting mining to supply the Death Star Project, they were surprised to find the planet right back in its previous state. Children everywhere, miners healthy and happy (though they really would like their other children back please, and is anyone intending to take away all this ore?). The minerals beneath the planet's surface had apparently accelerated the terraforming process. Fiorina was now self sufficient. The only way to remove the miners society now would be to kill the lot and replace them. Since the Emperor's new battle station would be a major drain on resources it would be easier to keep them. The older miners had no particular interest in the wider Galaxy or the income from their produce, their happy little planet was enough for them. They still wouldn't give up the location of their females but if their sons and daughters wanted to go off to join the Imperial forces they wouldn't object. The whole mess of a planet and the remains of the company infrastructure were awarded to Grand Moff Tarkin and his family to administer.
Fiorina soon became the source of the most promising new troops. The early female adoptees had already risen through the Empires ranks and many held quite senior positions. Others had used their enhanced attributes to marry well and quite a few of the most respected families contained unusually tall or strong women.
Which made the 'incident' in the Stormtrooper academy all the more embarrassing. The men involved were executed. Tarkin ordered extensive tests, first on the dead and later on the original females. They were all affected at a genetic level. Modelling suggested it would linger in their bloodlines for generations. Palpatine was apoplectic with rage, and demanded the immediate extermination of the abominations. Tarkin argued that the loss of so many high ranking officers and promising new recruits would adversely effect morale. He didn't mention that he was fond of his own daughter-in-law.
Ultimately the whole affair with young Skywalker rather distracted the Emperor from his rage over Fiorina. When the Death Star was destroyed and Tarkin himself was lost in the process, Sidious had to concede that his Empire could not afford any more unnecessary losses. However he would not allow this embarrassing episode to mare his glorious legacy.
Fiorina was removed from the records. Doses became mandatory for all troops in all military roles. The Tarkin family continued to take their recruits from the planet, using many as the basis for the elite First Order troops after the Emperor's death. Although the original women were advised not to breed many already had children. The Tarkins had intended to closely monitor these individuals but in the fall of the Empire records were lost. The exact identities of many of the females was now unknown and to enquire would bring attention to the incident. And their own shaky genetic history.
"You have not painted your family in the best of lights, Lieutenant General," Ren said when Tarkin finally wound down.
"Grandfather's diaries included a great deal about Vader." She replied. "I know that you would be able to sense if I withheld anything. I did not want you to give you a reason to try to take anything from my mind."
Kylo preened slightly at the comparison to Vader.
"So your bloodline gives you the ability to block the Force?" He asked, raising a hand in the mind reading gesture.
"No my Lord," she smiled, highlighting her family's impressive cheekbones. "Just Grandfather's posthumous advice again. You would break me eventually, I'm sure. I'd just really rather you didn't."
Ren nodded thoughtfully.
"Is there anything else you need to know, Lord Ren?" She asked.
"Just the coordinates to that fascinating planet." He turned to leave.
"I'll have the coordinates and access protocol loaded onto your shuttle." She said "Or else you'll be shot down before you reach the atmosphere."
He didn't reply. Tarkin rolled her eyes at his back and set off in the direction of the command deck.
Ren wouldn't get the opportunity to look at Tarkin's information for several weeks.
The Resistance had located the final piece of the map that would lead to Skywalker. It was imperative that Kylo retrieved it first. He threw himself and his Knights into the work.
Hux ran endless models of the Starkiller firing process as it completion approached. They each tried not to let their thoughts linger on the other. Their success was rather limited.
Sorry for the delay, technical difficulties.
This has taken on a life of its own and consumed another fic I was intending to write. Wrangling it might prove difficult.
If Hux had hated him before, he must truly detest Ren now. A captured spy freed- taken by a defecting stormtrooper. The droid carrying the map to Skywalker- lost to the same stormtrooper with the help of a Force sensitive scavenger.
All things that Kylo Ren should have been powerful enough to stop.
All things that First Order's troops should have been capable of preventing.
To call the atmosphere on the Finalizer bridge 'tense' would be an understatement. The ship's masters are at each others throats. Phasma is amazed that the entire vessel hasn't spontaneously combusted with the heat of their combined rage. She's grateful when they settle into a stationary orbit around the Starkiller Base, perhaps putting an entire ice planet between the two men will calm things a little.
The Supreme Leader is unimpressed with them both and Brendol is scrabbling for a survival plan. Snoke accepts the General's proposal to finally use the super weapon beneath their feet and Ren has to grit his teeth as a wave of profane joy flows over him from the redhead at his side. Repeated failure rewarded with the fulfilment of one of the man's life long dreams. Once the General leaves Kylo is handed his own mission- the capture of the droid, which just so happens to be in the hands of his... of Ben Solo's father.
“Even you, master of the Knights of Ren, have never faced such a test,” Snoke intones. Ren has yet to face it but they have spoken of it often. Ever since the hunt for his uncle began it's finally stages, since Brendol's illness. A test. The destruction of one who was once held dear. The severing of the ties of emotion and weakness. Snoke has implied, time and again that, should no other option present itself soon, Hux would have to pay the price for Kylo's weakness.
The first time he said this- so calm, almost casual- Ren had felt like the room had been opened to the vacuum of space. Ren just had stared into his Master's eyes. They were shining with repressed laughter. He knew. He'd already predicted exactly what would happen if Kylo Ren sought out the General's secrets. This was always supposed to happen- he'd only ever been allowed to enter into a 'relationship' with Hux in order to lose it.
Snoke's gaunt face had twisted into a sneering smile. "A man without any knowledge of adult connections is merely a overgrown child. The hatred you have for your parents and their allies is but a little thing. The Dark Side of the Force requires more... depth... of feeling. Rage is that much sweeter when it has firm roots. Mere familial obligation isn't enough. There must be an element of personal responsibility."
Ren had focused his thoughts on the rage he felt every time Hux swept by him without an acknowledgement. Snoke would certainly be reaching out to his mind. It wouldn't do to wear his despair or lingering affection too openly.
The projected giant had leaned back in his throne, long fingers twitching, "you will soon be ready to progress to the next level of your training," he said, "a sacrifice will be necessary."
Now, Han Solo has the key to Skywalker. He stands in their path, whilst Hux prepares to bring them glory. He would be a better candidate at this time. If Ren can make it happen. If he can find it in himself to end the life of his father.
Kylo drew every ounce of his strength about him like armour. “By the grace of your training, I will not be seduced.”
He pretends not to see the amusement in the giant's eyes as he is dismissed with a murmured, “We shall see. We shall see.”
Hux is waiting for Kylo, half hidden by dim shadows. The corridors around the audience chambers are rarely used, they are alone. The redhead is breathing hard, practically vibrating where he stands. Even at a distance, in the poor light, Ren can see that the man's eyes are unnaturally bright and the deep flush of his face extends below his sharp collar. With every step Kylo takes towards the smaller man he can hear the creak of leather as the General flexes his fingers inside his gloves.
Less than two minutes ago Hux had been given permission to unleash his treasured war machine, so why was he loitering in corridors? Apparently waiting for a man he had unable to hold a civil conversation with for weeks?
Ren stops his approach barely a foot from the General's face, bending slightly at the waist to loom into Brendol's personal space, crowding him against the wall.
Hux flexes his jaw, his teeth audibly grinding in that quiet space, and lifts his eyes to meet the mask before him.
It's as if Kylo Ren has stepped from an air conditioned transport into the atmosphere of a jungle planet. His lungs feel like they're filling with steam, despite the filters in his helmet. With every breathe the heat saturates every nerve and tendon of his being. Hux is trembling with such intense arousal that the emotion is reverberating through the space, amplifying until Kylo can almost feel the man's heartbeat throbbing through his own chest.
Ren hardly needs to use a mind trick to get into Brendol's head. A lifetime of fantasies, almost a decade of actual work, is finally about to be completed. He will stand with the power of life and death over millions... BILLIONS of souls- weak, pathetic beings that cling to their democracy to their own disadvantage and the degradation of the Galaxy as a whole- in his hand. And he will finally be able make a real difference, and the First Order will at last take it's rightful place in a peaceful, efficient, obedient universe.
It's obscene. The speed with which this man- usually so restrained, even in their nights together- has whipped himself into such a fervent, overwhelming desire- at just the thought of whole sale destruction and carnage. It is almost the opposite of what Ren feels when he accesses the Dark Side. The ice cold seep of rage into his very bones. And yet it is so very familiar, like writing seen in a mirror- incomprehensible until you consider it in just the right way.
There is a door behind Hux' shaking form, likely a storage room given the unfrequented nature of this part of station. Secluded. Private. Brendol has bitten through the inner edge of his lower lip in an effort to maintain what shreds of control he still possesses. Ren thinks it would be only fair to let the man burn off some of this energy, lest he disgrace himself in his ardour and reach completion in the middle of his oft-rehearsed inaugural address.
With his right hand, Kylo reaches out towards the door, allowing the Force to persuade the lock to open. His left hand his places over Brendol's hammering heart and propels him back into the room.
Almost an hour later and Ren is finally surfacing from that all encompassing heat, his face pressed into the lines of cooling sweat between Brendol's shoulder blades. He feels drained and almost dizzy, as if he had experienced another intense feverish illness, rather three rounds of possibly the best sex he has ever experienced. The Jedi hold that it is a perversion to use the Force in carnal matters and had established laws of chastity to prevent any of their number from falling to this temptation. Kylo did not agree with such prudishness and welcomed the fact that the Dark Side had no such prohibitions. Rather, he was grateful for the removal of such inconveniences as refractory periods and the other practical concerns involved in making love to another man. In fact he owed his entire existence to the Force, and his grandfather's distain for Jedi rules.
Kylo smiled against the General's back and moved to bite him. Hux elbowed him in the face, turning to push him away. The hard set expression is back on Brendol's face. He won't meet Ren's eyes.
They dress in silence. Kylo always takes longer, thanks to all the layers of his armour. As he reaches down to retrieve his belt he glances up to see Hux completing his outfit by easing sticky fingers into his soft black gloves. Ren forgets what he's supposed to be doing.
Hux meets his gaze at last and sneers slightly at Kylo's slightly slack jawed expression. He steps in close as Ren sits back onto a crate, allowing the smaller man to have the height advantage for once. In an echo of Kylo's earlier gesture Hux places his fingertips against Ren's chest, over his heart; leaning down until their foreheads almost touch. Slowly Kylo raises his hands to the other man's hips, wanting to hold him there but not daring to increase the power of his grip.
“This. Never. Happened.” Brendol hissed. “Do you understand me, Ren?”
Kylo doesn't answer. His eyes are out of focus and he looks stricken. He doesn't seem to be breathing. He'd forgotten. He'd forgotten everything Tarkin had told him.
“REN!” Hux barks, grabbing his chin and forcing the Knight into eye contact. Kylo's hands are fluttering around his waist, unable to settle or properly let go. Brendol's lips twist in disgust. He twists free and delivers a stinging slap to Ren's high cheekbones.
“This. NEVER. Happened.”
Hux is gone, and Kylo Ren's life is coming apart at the seams.
“Forgive me.” For making the same mistakes you did. “I feel it again.” In him, in the man that hates me for breaking his trust. “The pull to the light.” The pull of life. “Supreme Leader senses it.” But not all of it, I pray. “Show me again, the power of the darkness, and I will let nothing stand in our way.” Show me how to stop this as you could not. “Show me, Grandfather, and I will finish what you started.”
Kylo Ren's mind is in turmoil as he stands on the Finalizer's bridge, listening to Brendol flawlessly reciting his beloved speech. He's heard it so often his lips move in time with the words coming from the frozen planet.
Something is happening on Takodana. He can feel a thready disturbance within the Force coalescing into a substantial presence. The scavenger is there. She is the awakening.
The thick red streams of molten death streak across the void as Hux' machine is successfully brought to life. Ren plants his feet more securely on the deck and clenches his fists in anticipation of what is to come. The destruction of the Hosnian system sends shockwaves through the Force. If he ever has the chance to see Hux again he wants to be able to share this sensation with him. 47 billion lives, vanished in an instant.
He gives the order to move the Finalizer into orbit over Takodana. Brendol's job is done, now he has his own mission to complete.
The sky is so dark, stretched above the skeletal trees. The branches seem to be reaching towards the stars. Begging those cold indifferent points of light to save them from the fire spewing up from the broken heart of Brendol's great machine.
He has failed. He has passed the test that the Dark Side had required- Han Solo is dead, his body burnt up in the core of this dying planet- but he will not live to complete his training. He fought so hard for this, and he has found no comfort in any of it. There was no fundamental shift in the Force when he put his blade through Solo's chest. Only relief that it was not Brendol standing there. That was not what he had hoped for in his moment of triumph.
And now here he was, bleeding out in the snow and waxing poetic about the stars as he waited for death. Shot by a Wookie bow caster. Stabbed by his grandfather's own lightsaber in the hands of the scavenger girl. So powerful. A perfect candidate for an apprentice. He had burned every molecule of rage and pain in his attempt to best her, to impress her, but she was unswayed by what he could offer. And now the planet is tearing itself apart. A great gaping fiery chasm separates him from her and the closest access point to the stricken base. Even if he were able to stand, even if he weren't near delirious with blood-loss, there is no way he could make it to a shuttle in time. He can only wait and hope that Brendol manages to escape. What a waste it would be to go through all this and still have Hux die.
“REN?! KYLO REN!?!”
No, what are you doing you fool?
He can't speak, he doesn't have the strength, but he manages to Force pull his lightsaber into his bloodless hand and activate the blade.
A search light cuts through the trees to focus on the red blade as a transport ship sinks closer to the ground. Hux stands at the hatch and watches, stony faced, as stormtroopers swarm past to begin the task of dragging Kylo Ren on board.
His awareness fades out of focus and for the longest time he drifts. Sometimes he hears medical personnel, or feels their instruments cutting into his flesh. Once he hears a man weeping, but more often the man is swearing, hissing stream of invective directly into Ren's ear. Kylo doesn't respond, but he does reach out and grip the man's belt, pulling him closer. Hux' shirt has come untucked and his stomach is warm where it touches his cold hand. He slips back into unconsciousness feeling the play of the Light against the back of his fingers.
TRIGGER WARNING - I don't want to give away the ending of this chapter now (though I know at least one of you has guessed) but I also don't want to risk upsetting anyone. So I've added a tag, if you want to check it before reading any further.
The Finalizer is only six hours away from Snoke's isolated planet when Ren finally regains consciousness properly. Hux had ordered the medical staff to keep him under heavy sedation. It was an action that had probably significantly improved the speed of his physical healing, but robbed him of any decent amount of time to prepare for what is coming. Flight is not an option now, not with his destination so close and so few hours to convince Brendol of the reality of their situation. Involving medical to provide proof would be far too hazardous given the Tarkin family monitoring of anything related to Fiorina. The Lieutenant General had mentioned summary executions in the past and he couldn't risk drawing attention by asking whether that still applied.
He'd have to go to Snoke, complete his training as best he could, in the shortest time possible, and hope that he'd return in time to make arrangements. Whatever they would be. It was an appalling plan. Ren felt disgusted with himself that he couldn't come up with anything better. That wouldn't rely so heavily on him rushing his training. Assuming he survived it at all.
Kylo sighed and ran his hands over his face, hissing at the still sore saber burn. He was a blunt instrument. Not a strategist. He had never been trained to think for himself like this, only to follow orders. The only people clever enough to help him were the master he was trying to avoid angering, and the lover he couldn't risk placing in danger. Not that Hux thought of them that way any more, one brief storeroom interlude not withstanding. Brendol was probably going to kill him when he found out. Snoke would probably order Kylo to kill the General if he ever found out. There was no one to help him.
Staring blankly around the medbay the glint of light on surgical tools reminded him of one person who might be able to help. Captain Phasma was from Fiorina. She seemed to actually like the General and tolerate Ren. Perhaps she could help. She wasn't necessarily high ranking enough to be able to do anything drastic but perhaps she could be recruited to keep an eye on Hux until Ren returned. Assuming she'd survived the fall of Starkiller Base. He reached out with the Force. It wasn't easy to find one stormtrooper captain on a ship containing fifty thousand souls, but he found her in the end. Perhaps killing Solo had strengthened him a little. He'd ask one of the medical staff to summon her before they arrived at their destination.
For now he had preparations to make; he couldn't do much but had to do his best to ensure that he'd survive Snoke. Forbidden to leave the medical bay he had to send a droid to fetch certain items from his rooms – a carved wooden chest he'd made during his early days of Force training, three of his most pedestrian sets of clothes and that stupid “generally speaking” shirt that had somehow ended up amongst his things when Hux threw him out of their quarters. He would have preferred to use something else, but it was the only thing he owned that had once belonged to the General, and he doubted Brendol would be willing to give him anything else at the moment.
Whilst he waited for his things he asked one of nurses to send for General Hux and made arrangements for Phasma. He knew the man would take his time in arriving, but he sincerely hoped that he wouldn't out right refuse to see him.
Once the droid returned, Ren arranged the items so that the shirt was wrapped in the first set of his own clothing, ensuring no part of it would be visible to a casual observer. He placed it in the bottom of the chest, covered it with the rest of his clothing and placed his lightsaber on top. He wouldn't be needing it- every stage of training involved the construction of a new saber. He'd probably need to synthesize a new crystal too, a very time consuming task. Another barrier to his prompt return.
Just as everything was settled in its rightful place Hux appeared in the doorway. He looked exhausted and sour. Ren wasn't surprised. He hadn't been conscious to experience the planet's final collapse but he had to assume many of the First Order troops would be too loyal to evacuate. No doubt the manning and morale situation on board the Finalizer would dire at the moment. Brendol was likely worrying about Snoke's response to the loss of the Starkiller weapon as well.
“What do you want, Ren?” Hux asked flatly, not moving into the room.
Kylo raised a hand to drag the man into the room, then thought better of it. Using the Force like that would only antagonise the General and he needed his cooperation.
Ren flexed his jaw, he would do this. “Please, General.” He said, the unaccustomed words almost painful to get out. “Come into the room. I need to speak with you.”
Hux looks like he's been slapped. Kylo Ren, saying please. To him. Kylo Ren, who'd brought down his machine and all his plans. Kylo Ren, who had ruined his life. Kylo Ren, who would rather suffer and go without than actually ask for something. Had said please.
Clearly the saber burn to the man's face had scrambled his brain. Or something really serious was going on. Brendol relented and entered the room, trying to keep his shoulders from going up around his ears when Ren used the Force to lock the doors behind him.
“Do not concern yourself, General,” Ren said. He was not reassuring, “I simply wish to ensure that we are not disturbed.”
“I told you, Ren,” Hux sneered uncomfortably, “that never happened, and it certainly not going to happen here.”
“Interesting. That that is the first place your mind goes, General.” Ren says, trying make his voice convey amused disinterested. He's pretty certain that he fails. He wants to cross his legs but that would only draw attention to his reaction. “I have a favour to ask of you, General. It is not that. I promise. It will likely seem strange and... pointless to you. But take my assurance, it will aid my training. When I am no longer an apprentice I will have the power to... properly assist you and the First Order in your aims.”
“Well, that's nice. Isn't it, Ren?” Hux rounded on him. “considering what your recent actions have cost us. The men we lost. The weapon YOU allowed to be destroyed, whilst you were too busy being distracted by your father.”
Kylo bristled. Of course Hux knew who he was... had been when Snoke had found to him. They'd never spoken of it but there had been the occasional pointed comments about 'princesses' and 'smugglers'. Well, he wasn't going to speak of it now, he needed all his concentration.
“There were two objectives at play that day.” Ren said flatly, “I regret that yours was not achieved. There will be other machines, General.”
“And there was only one Han Solo.”
Hux stared at the Knight for a few moment's before sighing. “What do you want, Ren? I have reports to write.” He gestured towards the door with his pad.
“You can still write your precious reports.” Kylo smirked as he held out the wooden chest. “Take this. Sit down.” He gestured towards a chair he'd positioned towards the middle of the room. “Hold the box open until I raise my hand. Then close it and leave. Say nothing. Take the box with you. I will retrieve it later, if I survive my training.”
“If?” Brendol raised an eyebrow. He sounded concerned, though the distain soon reentered his voice. “You sounded pretty confident of success a moment ago. Now it's a case of 'if'? Starkiller was lost for the sake of an 'if'?”
“Take heart, General,” Ren said dryly, trying to keep the real emotion out of his voice, “this may well be the last time you ever see me.”
Hux did not look pleased at this thought. He reached into the chest, almost touching the saber, looking a little stricken. Perhaps the man still cared, somewhere deep in his psyche.
“Good luck, Ren,” Brendol said softly before he sat and turned his eyes towards the work on his pad.
With a slight groan at the pressure on his healing side Kylo hopped up onto the examination bed and assumed his meditation pose. Rather than closing his eyes or turning towards the stars, he fixed his attention on Brendol and the box balanced lightly on his knee. He had no idea if this would work. He had never seen the technique actually described anywhere, but merely hinted at- often in tales of Dark Side users who had reached for redemption and failed to achieve it. Ren was not interested in redemption, only survival, perhaps that would be enough.
He turned the Force inwards, seeking out his own memories of Hux- their blazing rows and their nights together; quiet meals; sniping at one another on the bridge; sparring sessions; Brendol's dreams; his face when he'd stormed out of their quarters for the last time; the sound of tears as Ren lay sedated. He gathered them all at the front of his mind, stripping the emotion and meaning from them. The memories he set back within his own mind were faded and blurred, some barely recognisable. Vague recollections of an unimportant acquaintance. The true memories he propelled outwards, into the material of the chest and it's contents; wrapping all of it and the man across from him in the strongest film of the Force that he could create. It felt like creating a blaster bolt rather than stopping one. Hux shifted slightly, suddenly uncomfortable, although he did not look up from the pad in his hand.
Ren gritted his teeth and reached inwards again, towards his heart and the seat of his power. He snatched up the memory of that tiny spark of Light and pushed it out entirely, settling it in the centre of the chest. He felt cold. Every partially healed injury was screaming at him.
He raised his hand.
Brendol glanced up, snapped the box shut and turned toward the door without a word. That man was always one for following orders to the letter. Kylo flicked his other fingers, releasing the lock, and sat shaking until the door had closed at the General's back.
He pitched forward off the bed, unconscious before he connected with the floor.
Phasma's boot was nudging his cheek. The medical staff had left him on the floor for at least two hours. Ren lifted his head, finding that his hair was stuck to the floor with dried blood. Possibly three hours. He wasn't quite sure how long the meditation had taken.
“We really have to stop meeting like this, Ren.” Phasma sounded like she was smirking inside her helmet, “I never wanted to know what you looked like when you sleep.”
She half helped, half dragged him up from the floor. “Your shuttle is loaded and ready to depart when you're ready.”
Kylo nodded and started pulling the outer layers of his robes over the First Order training uniform the medical staff had given him. No one would see him on his way to the docking bay, and his clothes would be burned once he arrived on the planet anyway.
“Well?” The Captain asked. “You asked me here for a reason.”
“I...” He couldn't remember. It had seemed really important before his mediation session but now he couldn't remember his reasons. Had he left something somewhere? Or given something away? Yes, that was it. “Bren... The General has some things of mine. One is particularly precious.”
“I'll keep an eye on him, Ren.”
Kylo felt reassured, though he wasn't entirely sure why. His mind wouldn't allow him to think about it and his thoughts soon moved on his imminent departure.
“The corridors have been cleared between her and docking bay twelve,” Phasma said, moving towards the door, clearly expecting him to follow. “I know you prefer not to be seen.”
“Thank you, Phasma.”
The chrome trooper merely nodded and led him off the ship in silence.
There followed the hardest five months of Kylo Ren's life. The training he received this time was far beyond any of his previous studies. At the earlier stages he had trained along side other Knights or received instruction from those ahead of him, but now the other candidates had fallen behind or died in the service of Snoke. He was alone on that half dead world, but for the enigmatic presence of the Supreme Leader. It was rare that he was summoned into the giant's own presence, instead being tutored via a direct link to his mind. It often felt like talking to himself, since Snoke's mental voice had been familiar to him since the age of three. Sometimes he questioned his sanity and whether Snoke existed at all. But that was the point of the exercise, to compel him to use the Force to understand reality. As well as his mental torment he was pushed far beyond his physical limits, splitting his own wounds on more than one occasion in the first month alone.
Once he had demonstrated his self-taught method for controlling blaster bolts, the Supreme Leader changed the course of his training, revealing the secrets behind the ability to discharge raw Force in the form of lightning. He declared that the time needed to master this process would not be compatible with the meditations needed to synthesize a new crystal, so Ren was permitted to take one of the genuine kyber crystals held in Snoke's collection. Naturally formed crystals had their weaknesses over the synthesized, but at least the amber coloured stone he chose was much more stable than the cracked one in his previous saber. It also gained him a month off his projected training time when he proved to be a quick study with the lightning. Snoke advised him to limit the use of the technique, siting it as the cause of Emperor Palpatine's deformity. Kylo didn't see much point in caution given the condition of his face, but practicing only as much as necessary saved time.
The final step was for Ren to reenter a system of tunnels below the citadel and survive long enough to leave them m again. The citadel was built on a the ruins of an ancient alien complex with strong ties to the Dark Side. He had first walked the initial mile of those caverns at the age of fifteen, his robes still stained with the blood from Skywalker's temple. He had walked it many times since, progressing deep into the tunnels with each attempts. Now he would need to reach the final chamber and retrieve one of the objects there. This would both prove the completion of the task to Snoke and provide the basis for his new identity beyond the Knights of Ren.
It took five days to reach his goal, passing obstacles intended to challenge his mind and his saber skills, as well as the bodies of other failed initiates. Some of them were still recognisable as former subordinate Knights, other had clearly been there for decades.
The final chamber was supposed to confront you with your greatest fear, much the same as the cave Skywalker had spoken of entering during his time on Degobah. In order to prove himself worthy he would have to face it dispassionately and neutralise it. As soon as he entered the chamber he sensed that something was not quite right. An shadowy entity was scrabbling at his mind, but it was unable to gain any purchase. Half formed visions flooded his mind- of red headed men in dark uniforms and small, pale, squirming creatures - only to disintegrate once more. He centred himself within the Force and waited. Eventually the hazy figure of his mother... no, of General Organa, launched itself at him from the shadows. The absurdity of his mother ever doing such a thing removed any power the vision might have been meant to hold- he snapped it's neck with a single gesture. Nothing else happened. And went on happening. After half an hour or so, he stepped over the counterfeit corpse and studied the objects around the room. They were all strange, many of them not from human cultures. Eventually he selected a small hollow crystal ball that appeared to contain the skeleton and hide of some small creature. It was the only object that felt different within the Force, so he assumed it was the one meant for him, even if the challenge itself had been a disappointment.
Snoke did not seem surprised when Kylo returned from the caverns. He had been pleased with the death of Han Solo and the damage he believed it would do to the Resistance. It had properly convinced him of the strength of his pupil. There had been concerns regarding the possible influence from General Hux, but on examining his mind in person he was satisfied that Ren had kept the involvement to mere physical desires. A prop that would need to be removed eventually, but not a vital one.
The Supreme Leader was satisfied- Kylo Ren had completed his training and would move beyond his role as Master of the Knights of Ren. He would take on the role of Darth Atok. The use of the Sith honorific was surprising given Snoke's lack of enthusiasm for the old ways of the Dark Side, but Kylo Ren was the first to reach a level comparable with Lord Vader and what better way to solidify his mental links with the grandfather who had inspired his rise to greatness.
It was time for Atok to return to the First Order, and together they would bring the Galaxy to heel. The formal training was complete, but true mastery of the Dark Side would have to come through experience. Darth Vader had served his master for decades before they died together. Ren could be waiting just as long for a similar opportunity. He was surprised to find that he could be patient, as long as he was back out in the wider Galaxy.
The hangar his shuttle had been assigned to was suspiciously empty for the return of someone of his rank. Generally speaking there would be at least a handful of nosy off-duty officers loitering about the place. The only person he could see from the cockpit was dressed in chrome armour.
“Lord Atok,” Phasma called from the edge of the docking bay, “Welcome back aboard the Finalizer, Sir.”
Well, that was precisely as strange to be called by that name as he'd expected. He'd lived far too long as Kylo Ren.
“Thank you, Captain,” he said, as he descended the ramp. “Where is General Hux?”
“Probably on the bridge, my Lord.” She shrugged, looking around. “I was hoping to speak with you in private.”
“There is a concern.”
“A 'concern'?” He tipped his head, the slight rise of his eyebrows clearly indicating that she should continue.
“We can't really speak out here. Is your shuttle secure?”
He waved a hand in the direction of the shuttle. It wasn't a necessary gesture for him to be able to visualise the information, but it was useful to keep observers aware of precisely what he could do. All the new things he had learned.
She lead the way back into the shuttle and immediately threw herself into the co-pilots seat. Whilst he secured the doors she pulled off her helmet and scrubbed her hands over her face. She looked like hell.
“When you left, you tried to ask me to do something,” she started, watching his boots as he made his way to the pilot's seat. “I promised to keep an eye on the General but once you left I realised I had no way of contacting you. You never said precisely what you needed from me, so there wasn't anything I could do.”
“Do about what?” he asked. He did remember the conversation, but not the reasons for having it. Yes, he had left some unimportant belongings with the General, but they weren't interesting enough to cause this kind of reaction in the Captain.
“He's ill, Sir. General Hux.” She said in a shaking voice, when she looked up her eyes were wet. Interesting. “I have my suspicions but I can't get him alone to speak to him for more than a minute at a time. Apparently he's started putting his affairs in order. He's so thin, for the most part; no one remembers the last time he ate; he hasn't been to physical training in over a month; and I can't remember the last time I saw him stand. No one in medical has assessed him and I doubt anyone but Snoke has the authority to make him go.”
“And you want me to do something about this?” He asked, still unsure as to the point of the conversation.
“I was under the impression that Brendol meant something to you,” she spat, “once.”
She was fast losing patience with the cold creature standing there staring at her. Phasma had expected the training to change him but not this much. It was unsettling.
“Don't.” The Kylo Ren she'd known would have been looking angry by now, this one seemed to be carved in stone. “General Hux is nothing more to me than a clever asset to the First Order."
"I con't believe you." She said, exasperated. "Look. I think his problem might be... well... Do you remember asking me about my fathers and Fiorina?"
"After you had that blazing row with Hux," she prompted, "when you were living in this shuttle because you had nowhere else to sleep."
The man in front of her just looked puzzled.
"No. I have no recollection of that." He said eventually. Something wasn't right. Phasma worried that he'd suffered some kind of brain injury to have seemingly forgotten the significance of a two year relationship. Or else the former Knight had been an excellent actor. She wasn't getting anywhere with this. Perhaps seeing the General would trigger something.
“I'll take you to him.”
“Congratulations on completing your training, Lord Atok,” Hux said, from his seat at the desk in his private office. He didn't turn around. “Is this to be a brief visit, or will you be taking command of the Finalizer?”
“The Finalizer is yours, General Hux.” Kylo replied, frowning. “Once you begin construction on the new solar weapon, it will still be under your command.”
“Perhaps.” Hux reached into a drawer to his left and lifted out the wooden chest. “I believe the return of this chest was the last task you required of me.”
“The box and it's contents,” he said with a smirk.
“Nothing has been touched,” the General snapped, giving the chest a shove across the surface of the desk.
Phasma had followed Atok into the office. Neither man had objected so she's taken a position by the door. The air of indifference filling the room was almost painful to experience, though she could tell it was mostly feigned on Hux' part. It was horrible to see what was once a strange but functional relationship reduced to this. She watched as Brendol slid the box towards the taller man.
The robed figure stood staring at the box for so long that Hux actually half turned to look up at him. The General's face and hands were approaching skeletal but the rest of his body was draped in that ridiculous greatcoat. It was one thing to walk about with it slung over his shoulders during outdoor inspections but he'd taken to wearing it constantly. He was looking more and more like a child huddled for warmth in his father's clothes. It was undignified.
Hux had shifted his gaze to the other man's hands now and Phasma could see that they were shaking. As the two First Order officers watched, the black clad figure drifted both hands through the air over the box, his frown deepening, as if he were trying to sense something. Abruptly he snatched the lid of the box open, promptly collapsing to his knees, gasping.
Phasma stepped forward as Hux stood to peer over his desk at the fallen man. He was clutching at his hair, pulling at thick clumps of it, as if he were trying to remove a source of pain. After a long moment of silence he let go and bent forward over his own knees, pressing his forehead against the cold metal of the desk.
"Pfassk, that hurt!" He swore in a voice much more like his own. He moved to stand, reconsidered and grabbed the waste basket by the General's desk instead. Hux sneered as the former Knight vomited.
"Really, Ren?" He said with distaste."Did you leave food in there or something equally disgusting?"
"I left part of my mind. In there." Kylo panted, gesturing towards the box.
"Well, that certainly sounds disgusting," the General replied, handing the kneeling man a paper towel from a box on the desk. "Why in Vader's name would you do that?"
The corner of Kylo's mouth lifted at hearing Brendol use one of his own favourite oaths. He reached out into the room with the Force, there were no listening devices here, the General was allowed some semblance of privacy.
"Phasma, lock the doors." Kylo said as he dragged himself back to his feet. Hux finally moved out from behind the desk, moving as if to stop her.
"I meant no offence Lord Atok..."
Hux was frightened of him. He genuinely imagined that Kylo would be insulted and kill him. What had Snoke been telling him over the five months of his absence?
"No, Bren. It's fine." He reached for the General's arm but the smaller man side stepped away from him. "We just need to speak to you."
Phasma moved to stand at Hux' side, so he was essentially hemmed in by the two taller figures. The fact that she had removed her helmet and gloves wasn't as reassuring as she might have hoped. He particularly didn't like the look she was sharing with Re... No, Atok. He still couldn't think of him in connection with that name, it was alien.
"You can still call me Kylo Ren, if you prefer." Kylo said softly. "It might be beneficial to limit outside knowledge of my ascension for now."
"Stay out of my head, Ren!" Hux snapped. "I don't know what you want, but we have no remaining orders in common so why can't you just leave me to die peace?!"
Kylo blinked as Phasma hissed through her teeth.
"You think you're dying?" Ren asked.
"You have eyes don't you?" Hux was almost shouting now. "Look at me! Do you think a healthy person looks looks this?"
He pulled the greatcoat from his shoulders and threw it over his desk chair. "I have stomach cancer. The same thing that killed my father! They said it was stress that triggered it in him in the end and ever since we lost Starkiller I've suffered the same symptoms he did. The vomiting, the pain, the lost of appetite, the exhaustion, the bloody undignified fainting." Hux was shaking as he gestured downward. "The tumour is visible now so I doubt I have more than a few weeks left."
Ren couldn't take his eyes away from the General's torso. Brendol's uniform hung from his wasted frame- clinging to his sharp collarbones, tent like around stick thin legs. But his waist was bulging, swollen and unnatural against the surrounding emaciation. Precisely like the dream vision of his dying father, just before he was consumed by the monstrous thing that became Starkiller Base.
"Has anyone confirmed that it is cancer, Sir?" Phasma asked.
"No. There's no need." Brendol murmured, shaking his head, "I saw enough of this to recognise it. I intend to die on the ship, on duty, with honour. Medical would have me discharged or ship me off to some desk job to rot away, forgotten, as my father did in his last months. I will not allow that. There will be no further discussion of this matter. I want you to leave."
Hux tried to shove between them, intending to unlock the door and order them out. Both Kylo and Phasma reached out to stop him at the same moment, their hands landing either side of his torso, pressing into his stomach.
All three of them felt it when something kicked back against the pressure.
Please don't send me any more hate about this story. I am finishing it because I need to get it out of my head. Please just read the tags and if you don't like any of them, then please just hit the back button.
[Hux tried to shove between them, intending to unlock the door and order them out. Both Kylo and Phasma reached out to stop him at the same moment, their hands landing either side of his torso, pressing into his stomach.
All three of them felt it when something kicked back against the pressure.]
Kylo shifted his grip to the General's elbow as the smaller man swayed where he stood. Phasma dragged the desk forward slightly so Hux could lean against the edge. It might have been better to put him in a chair, especially given his stunned expression; but Kylo was intensely aware that he and Phasma already had the height advantage, placing the General into an even weaker physical position would not help them in the task to come.
Brendol was breathing heavily now, scrubbing at his face like he was trying to wake himself up whilst Phasma stood awkwardly beside him, a hand hovering like she wanted to pat his shoulder.
"What the pfassk is going on, Ren?" It was practically a wail. Kylo really hoped the office was properly soundproofed.
"I think you know." Kylo stated flatly. If he could stay calm perhaps it would extend to the General. He still hadn't looked up.
"I'm sure it hasn't escaped your notice, given what we used to do, but I happen to be male." He spat from behind his hands. "This is impossible."
"Nothing is impossible, Brendol." Ren replied. "My grandfather was born of the Force alone. I understand that, given where you're from, this is a common occurrence."
"The Force?!" Hux was hissing now, glaring hard at Ren. "You did this to me."
Kylo opened his mouth to reply then though better of it. When he tried to formulate a proper answer Hux jumped on the pause as an admission of guilt.
"You sick, evil bastard!"
"Look. I'm... I'm not going to deny all responsibility. It is mine." Kylo stuttered quickly, hands raised in his defence. "But I didn't do this on purpose. This isn't a Force thing. At least not entirely. I'm not sure exactly how it works. This is about you and where you're from."
"Where I'm from? I'm from Coruscant! Like most of the humans on this vessel! I was born there before the Empire fell and we had to flee." He said, confused.
"Your mother though. Your mother is from Fiorina," Kylo started to pace just to give himself a reason to move away, he couldn't keep looking at Brendol's shaking hands. "Do you remember what you dreamed? When you had Dantari flu? Your mother said you were a Fiorina child when you were dreaming about building Starkiller, and..." He trailed off, not sure if he should continue in front of Phasma.
"You saw into my dreams? That's what you were doing?"Hux shouted, his grey face suddenly deep red. "You infected me with some damn virus then stole the dreams right out of my head?! Why?!"
"It wasn't intentional." Kylo said quietly. "You were so loud, I'd have heard you right across the ship! I was locked in those rooms with you, General. That close I had no choice. Your mind drew me in. Trapped me in there with you. I did not invade your mind by choice."
"But you did dig through my personal belongings whilst I was unconscious."
Kylo looked at the floor, shame faced. "Yes."
"Explain yourself." At least Hux had stopped shouting now, though the cold fury in his voice wasn't much better.
"I was concerned." Kylo started, pausing when the General scoffed. He moved to stand back in front of the smaller man. "I was, Bren, no matter what you think about me now, I did care then. I felt... compelled... to know which details were real. I had to know what Fiorina was."
"I have no idea what Fiorina is, Ren." Hux said, "I barely even recall that conversation. I wasn't supposed to be listening. Mother never mentioned it again. When my father died, then Jarita a few years after, I remembered my mother's warning. I thought it meant I'd killed them somehow. Poisoned them. If Bre... If the baby had been a girl perhaps it wouldn't have killed my wife."
"Your mother never told you?" Hux jumped slightly, he'd forgotten Phasma was in the room. "That's not how we do things. She should have told you."
"She was from the first wave, Phasma," Ren supplied, "one of the ones Vader took, before Tarkin took over. She might have been too young to know the full details."
"Will someone please tell me what is going on?" Hux asked again, frustrated, "Vader? Tarkin? Which Tarkin? My Leiutenant General?"
Kylo recounted the story as Lt. General Tarkin had related it to him.
"So something weird happened on some weird planet, Darth Vader stole some kids, and now the stormtrooper ranks are full of them? That's supremely unhelpful Ren." Hux said, unimpressed. "What actually happened?"
"We don't know," Phasma interjected. "The miners weren't exactly highly educated when they arrived and most of them have just accepted it as their reality, unquestioned. We know something went wrong with the terraforming process. Whether it was the minerals in the soil or kyber crystals interfering with the Force, or both- we don't know. The first few waves of inhabitants mostly died off as expected but not all of them. Things progressed much faster than they should. Whatever effected the man changed the live stock as well. The planet hasn't even had a century with a viable atmosphere, and yet there's native wildlife. Living there I thought nothing of it. It was just a very nice, very boring place. It wasn't until I got off world that I realised how messed up it was."
"And you have two fathers?" Hux asked. His face kept twitching like he wanted to know more but didn't actually want to hear the information he was receiving.
"Yes. I'm the eldest of nine."
"Well, it was nine the last time I spoke to them." Phasma looked slightly wistful, an expression Hux had never actually seen her wear before. "Zev, the one who didn't carry me, he had to stop after four, he was too delicately built and it made him ill. But Moxin loves kids, it wouldn't surprise me if he'd had more once my sisters followed me out into the black."
"Is it still mostly females that leave?" Ren asked, intrigued and forgetting that they were looking for information relevant to Brendol right now.
"Yeah," Phasma shrugged, "I mean they love you but they don't really understand you. The 501st took the first generation of girls and that just made us in the second that bit more 'other'. Some stay- it's not as if there aren't heterosexual couples and some poly groups living happily there- but there are just so few of us. I left because I wanted to know what it was like to have a girlfriend I hadn't known since childhood. It wasn't so much a dating pool as a puddle. Plus I really wanted to blow stuff up without having to go down a mine to do it."
Hux had his hands over his face once more. He was clearly running out of patience. "That's all very interesting, Captain, but can you tell me anything at all about what's going on..." He said making half a gesture towards his midriff. He looked sick again. "Ren said that Tarkin had mentioned executions."
"Yes," Phasma said softly, looking a little heartsick herself, "that's still standard practice. That's one of the reasons I haven't suggested that you go to medical...."
"You knew?" Hux had run out of energy to be angry, "you knew and you didn't say anything?"
"I suspected. Ren tried to tell me but he couldn't," she waved a hand towards the wooden chest, "I assumed that if that were the case then you'd know to keep quiet. It's been a few years since I've had to execute any of my troops and I'd rather not be called on to do the same to you. And Tarkin would require me to do it. I'm the highest ranking of our kind on this ship. That we know of, at least."
"Moving on..." Kylo prompted, not wanting to think about Hux being killed for his mistake.
"We don't know what the origins of the process are." Phasma started wandering around the room, gesturing as if she was trying to keep the story straight in her head. "A lot of the plants and the native wildlife use the same process. Some have distinct genders but most don't. Where there are females they're less likely to be able to do it, though some have been known to. As far as I know, we human females can't but obviously I haven't had much contact with Fiorina over the years and I strictly enforce the dose amongst our own ranks. Maybe we can and we've just been lucky.
"Anyway. It usually only happens during times of high stress or emotion. For example, you have a cave in at the mine, two weeks later practically the whole settlement is pregnant. Most of the issues we had in the fleet have been down to non-Fiorina troopers relieving tension before a battle and contaminating the others. One of my first disciplinary actions after I was promoted to Captain was to execute eight stormtroopers who'd fallen pregnant because the ninth hadn't washed his hands after jacking it in the showers. It was absurd. That's why I take the dose so seriously. We shouldn't be having such loss of life over basic hygiene."
"Wait, 'hadn't washed his hands'? Are you telling me these men hadn't even had sex?!" Hux looked panicked.
"That's correct, Sir. The plant life back home just takes the pollen of any other plant and if it's close enough to its own it'll make something new." The Captain replied. "It's the same with the animals and humans. There have been incidents with a couple of alien species as well. There was a Chiss lap dancer on Tattooine that cost more than few lives. But most other species aren't compatible enough with our own."
"So, what, you just have to come into contact with another man's sperm? That's it?!" Hux was staring wide eyed into the middle distance, absolutely horrified. How many times had be avoid this before now? Why had his luck chosen now to run out?
"And be in an agitated mental state," Phasma added. "That's why the run up to a battle is the danger point in the stormtrooper ranks. Hygiene and clothes that provide full coverage are really important in Fiorinian society, the last thing anyone needs when they're upset or hurt is someone else unthinkingly contaminating them. Getting someone pregnant without their permission is the highest offence, people have been whipped for it." Phasma shot Ren a disapproving look.
"Even if it was an accident?" Hux asked.
"An accident that can't be undone, sir." Phasma said quietly, turning her back on the two men. "The first batch of stormtroopers, back in Palpatine's day, were executed because the Emperor was angry, but later incidents proved you can't actually terminate beyond the first three days anyway. These things get hooked up to major arteries because they lack a uterine support system. Trying to remove them leads to catastrophic blood loss. Non-viable pregnancies usually end with the parent dying from sepsis. We couldn't have chunks of the stormtrooper ranks having kids and developing emotional bonds outside the service. That would be too messy. And termination would lead to death anyway, so it's simpler to just execute them."
"So there's nothing to be done but to kill me, then," Hux said quietly.
"No!" Ren barked. "No one else knows, we can find a way for both of you to survive this."
"I don't want to," Brendol said in a small voice, speaking to the floor tiles rather than to Ren. "I don't want to survive. I made my peace with death. I'd rather die than have this... this thing. I don't want this."
Kylo was shaking now. He'd killed his father to save this man. Torn his own mind in two to save this child. He was prepared to defy his master and everything he believed in to keep them alive. It was all meaningless.
"I don't want to spend another.. What?Three and a half months in this hell." Hux continued. "Please, one of you, just kill me."
"Three months?" Phasma asked, frowning. "How far along do you think you are?"
"23 weeks, 4 days," Kylo said, automatically. Hux frowned, comparing it to his mental maths, then nodded.
"Oh well, in that case is be amazed if you made it another six!" Phasma tried to look encouraging. "We grow fast and big, I don't know of many men who lasted the whole nine months. It got easier the more they had, because they stretched mo..." She stopped when she saw that Hux had turned green. "But yeah, expulsion at 27-31 weeks is pretty average. I was 28 myself."
"Isn't that really premature though?" Kylo asked, remembering his mother's complaints about the fact that he himself had arrived almost three weeks late.
"Like I said, we grow fast."
"I know I'm going to regret this, but," Hux swallowed, clearly nauseous, "but what do you mean by 'expulsion'?"
"Well the little, what are they called... 'zygotes'? The earliest stage anyway. They travel through the bloodstream and end up somewhere in your abdominal cavity. Usually. That's another potential complication, but clearly you don't need to worry about that." Phasma stopped, clearly rambling and frowned as she tried to remember her place. "Anyway, they form a kind of protective layer around themselves that hooks up to the linea alba. When the body can't support the baby anymore it splits."
"What the hell is a linea alba?!" Brendol hissed through gritted teeth. He was really fighting not to vomit now.
"The line between your abs," kylo supplied, helpfully pointing to the line running down his own abdomen.
"And that... No." Hux groaned. Phasma handed the General the waste paper basket as he gave into the urge to be sick.
"It's actually not that bad." Phasma continued, determined to give him all the information whether he wanted it or not. "There's no major nerves there or anything, that's why surgeons usually go in that way for abdominal procedures. And you don't have all those hours of contractions and screaming and mess that humans usually have, it's a lot closer to the way most non-human species reproduce. 'Normal' humans are really poorly designed when it comes to reproduction. You'll just get three or four days of aching abs, then POP, a few minutes of pain, bind yourself up tight and everything fuses back together whilst your body reabsorbs the support system."
Hux had been looking up, slightly hopeful at this information, but had found himself vomiting again at Phasma's poor choice of sound effect. Kylo could understand why the man didn't want to think about himself literally going 'pop', especially given that nightmare about his father's cancer becoming Starkiller Base. It hadn't actually occurred to Ren to consider how all this worked. He'd assumed the process would require surgical intervention since he'd never noticed any additional orifices on Hux' body. He hadn't really thought any of this through. He'd just felt that tiny spark of life that was so clearly of his own making, and immediately focused on keeping it alive.
"Please kill me." Hux groaned into the basket.
"I won't, even if you beg," kylo snapped, "and I doubt she will unless it's a direct order from someone who isn't you." Phasma nodded, it was a fair appraisal of her position, "so stop asking. Six weeks is doable. I can find a way to hide you for six weeks easily enough."
"And then what?" Hux snapped, angry at Ren for forcing him to live in the face of this horror. "It's not as if I can just come back to the Finalizer with your pfassking bastard child, Ren! Either Tarkin would take it as a remnant of the Fiorina debacle or it'd get shoved into the stormtrooper program and I'll still be executed."
"We could hide it somewhere else."
"Where?!" Hux shouted, slamming the basket onto the desk. "If we gave it to my mother or sisters that'd arouse all kinds of suspicions. It'd take one genetic test and we'd all be exposed. All our orphanages are fronts for the stormtrooper program. Where else is there?"
"There's Fiorina itself," Ren suggested. "At least there they'll be understanding when the child grows up."
"You can't actually get to Fiorina without Tarkin's access codes though," Phasma added, "that's why I've never been home. It's hard enough getting leave to send transmissions."
"I have the access codes," Kylo said with a shrug.
"Well then it might actually work," The Captain nodded. "What's your plan then? To get the General off the Finalizer long enough to have the kid?"
"When Han Solo died, I had a number of visions," Ren said. "Force visions are unique to the individual. They can't be interpreted by other Sensitives. Snoke can't properly see what I have been shown. That will help us.
"Darth Atok has foreseen the site of the next Starkiller. It is vital he take General Hux on the journey to locate the planet, in order to fulfil the details of the vision. The planet is likely to have hostile life forms so it'll be necessary to take a cruiser with a compliment of our finest stormtroopers. And their Captain." Kylo nodded to Phasma.
"Do I get a say in this plan?" Hux asked, angry that Ren was taking charge of his life like this.
"Since your only input so far has been to request death, no, you don't." Ren snapped. He turned back to the Captain.
"General Hux will have a relapse of Dantari flu and will have to stay confined to quarters, except to visit each candidate planet." He continued. "We'll make it look like we're deciding between four possible worlds by returning to some more than once. One will be Fiorina, one will be the actual site and the other two I can choose once I've plotted our course."
"You've genuinely seen the sight of the next Starkiller?" Hux asked.
"Yes." Ren said. "You have to finish your life's work Brendol, it's important. The Force has told me so."
Hux groaned. "I hate this plan. I hate you. I hate every aspect of my life. But it does sound like it could work. If it gives me the chance to be useful again then I guess we should try."
It wasn't a ringing endorsement but it was enough to make Kylo smile faintly. Maybe the last few months hadn't been a wasted effort. Perhaps that little light had a chance after all.
Preparations for their journey took nearly a week to complete.
Darth Atok- Ren's public persona- was unhappy with the cruiser offered to him by Chief Warrant Officer Narini. He insisted the vessel be full serviced and tested before he would accept it for his mission. The service revealed four technical faults for the weapon systems and two more in the life support units. When he was informed of this discovery, Hux ordered full maintenance checks on every vessel on board the Finalizer and the replacement of Narini as CWO. He would not leave his command in anything other than perfect working order.
With Ren's approval, Captain Phasma assembled a squadron of stormtroopers consisting solely of voluntary recruits from Fiorina. She had concluded that conscripts who had joined of their own free will would have greater loyalty to the Order. Also, by giving them the opportunity to visit their families they might be inspired towards greater loyalty for General Hux as an individual. Of course they wouldn't be informed of the General's condition, but if they worked it out they would at least have a better understanding of the dangers involved. They might even be sympathetic. If they found themselves homesick, and chose to defect by staying on Fiorina, well, the planet was closed. There was no risk of them joining the Resistance or any other troublesome organisation.
Meanwhile Hux worked tirelessly to put his ship in order and ensure that Lt. General Tarkin was in the proper position to take command. Although he was consistently working himself to exhaustion, sleep was often eluding him.
The first evening after Kylo returned he'd reached out with the Force to check on Hux. He'd found the General sitting on the floor of his fresher, in his pajamas, clutching his razor. The man's mind seemed to be blank. All Ren could sense from him was a roiling static. There wasn't any particular drive towards self injury but then there wasn't any motivation to anything at all. Kylo tried to nudge Brendol's mind towards the bed and sleep. It didn't work. Twelve hours passed without a change in the General's posture or mental landscape, until the sound of his alarm finally moved him to begin his day.
Ren released his attention when the redhead began to strip to wash. He didn't feel comfortable seeing his former lover naked without his express permission. Instead he focused a small part of his mind on the General's heartbeat. If anything happened to threaten his health Kylo would sense it without feeling like a voyeur. Brendol's behaviour didn't improve a great deal over the rest of the week, but he didn't deteriorate. Ren couldn't ask for much more than that. He tried not think about the echo of a smaller faster heartbeat that wound around his focus.
"Lord Atok?" Hux called. Ren was on the bridge of the cruiser, having just gone into hyperspace, leaving the Finalizer behind. "Do you have a moment to discuss the mission?"
Turning slowly, Kylo saw that Hux was standing half concealed by the door, the rest of him enveloped by his greatcoat. Despite Phasma's careful curation of the crew neither man felt entirely comfortable with Brendol receiving too much attention from the stormtroopers.
"Of course, General."
Hux lead him past the conference room and back to the command quarters. He stopped outside the door to Ren's quarters rather than his own. "We need to talk."
Kylo pressed his thumb to the lock and waved the General through in front of him. Hux hissed when the first thing he encountered was the mask of Darth Vader. He'd personally ensured that the grisly momento was kept safe for Ren during the Knights training but he'd rather not be this close to it.
"Vader was your grandfather, wasn't he? Hux asked, staring at the twisted face plate. Kylo nodded, stripping off the outer layer of his robes. "Is it really true that he was created by Force?"
"As far as I can tell." Ren said. "The Jedi certainly believed it. Tests showed that he was genetically too close to his mother to also have a father. Oddly enough no further research was done. The Jedi just accepted it as fact." His contempt for the extinct religion was clear in his voice.
"So which one of the your parents is related to him?" Hux asked, placing his own greatcoat across the back of a chair before sinking carefully into the seat. "Wasn't your mother a princess?"
"She was adopted by the rulers of Alderaan. Her twin brother was sent to Tattooine." Ren shrugged. "It's a long, stupid story."
"I'm surprised Vader allowed it."
"He didn't know." Ren said, taking the seat across from the General. "He stood next to his daughter as Wilhuff Tarkin destroyed her adoptive planet. Yet he had no idea who she really was. His son he discovered sooner. Skywalker was an active presence in the Force. Moth.. General Organa was still latent in her powers. He only found out about her shortly before his death. It gives me some hope that we'll be successful in our own concealment."
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about," Brendol said, pulling himself up into a rigid formal posture. His jaw flexed as if he wanted to clench his teeth. He looked like a picture of dignity, despite his too loose uniform and swollen middle. "I want to set some ground rules for our time on this vessel."
"Ground rules?" Ren asked, smirking slightly. "Is that necessary?"
"Fine, go on then," Kylo huffed.
"I do not want to talk to you about this," Brendol began, gesturing at his middle. "Ever. Unless we are engaged in some task directly related to it, I do not want you to raise the subject with me. You can do whatever creepy Force based monitoring you like, you can spy on me through the surveillance equipment, I don't care. Just don't speak to me about it."
"Hux..." Kylo tried to interjected.
"When... when the time comes I want to be sedated. I don't want to see it, touch it or interact with it in anyway."
"I don't particularly want to know whether it lives or not. I don't want to know what it looks like or be involved in naming it. I just want to leave..."
The General trailed off and stared at Ren, looking mildly offended.
"Do you not think that's an over reaction?" Kylo asked, slightly horrified by the vehemence in the man's voice. "An unhealthy attitude?"
"Really, Ren?" Brendol spat, "do you ever think anything through? I am not like you. I am merely human." He glanced down. "I am barely even human. You can waltz through my mind and take anything you want, at any time. Meanwhileyou can take chunks of your mind and leave them in my office for months. I am exposed." Hux threw his arms wide.
"I am at the mercy of any Force Sensitive in the universe. Any connection, any attachment will be fair game! If I spent any time, thinking about this..." His hands hovered near his middle, "that's just another source of danger. To me and to.. it. If you want it to survive that it needs to be untraceable."
Hux compulsively ran his hands through his hair. Anything to keep them away from his stomach, even if it meant spoiling the neatly gelled hairstyle.
"I don't want this. Frankly I've never considered the topic beyond my mother's occasional threat to set me up in a political marriage. I certainly would never in a thousand years have considered what would happen if I had a child with you, because the entire concept was ludicrous. But we... We had something once, Ren. It wasn't love, but it was a welcome distraction." He shrugged. "The longer this goes on, the more this thing moves, the harder it's going to be not to connect to it in some way. I can't sleep, my mind goes to unwelcome places. I cannot remove my memories like you can, so please, just help me avoid making any new unnecessary ones that will put us all in danger."
Kylo stared at him, wondering whether his heart had genuinely been dragged from his chest to bleed out on the table, or if he just wished it had been.
He'd come to his realisation too late. Found his true affection for this brilliant, terrible man on the same night he'd destroyed it all. Now everything lay in ruins.
"Very well," he ground out through a throat that felt like it was caving in on him. "I accept your rules, though I must reserve the right to initiate conversations in the event that I sense anything urgent occurring with you or the baby."
"Don't use that word."
"Noted." Ren grimaced. "I need to outline our route and the plan as it currently stands. Then I promise not to raise the matter again until it becomes necessary."
Kylo brought a pad to the table and demonstrated the route they would follow. The cruiser would pass each of the four planets in an initial data sweep terminating at Fiorina. Phasma had been in contact with her fathers and they were expecting visitors. She had mentioned wanting to speak to the elders of the community, which would imply a need for medical help, but she hadn't said anything specific. Tarkin might be monitoring transmissions for keywords.
The Lieutenant General might be upset if she found out Ren was considering the cash cow planet as a potential site for the next Starkiller, but she wouldn't question the will of the Force. Wilhuff Tarkin had been many things but he acknowledged the old religion, few who worked closely with Vader denied it for long.
Phasma and Kylo would arrange for someone to examine Hux, to establish some kind of time scale and confirm that they were both healthy.
"I don't want that," Hux said quickly.
"I don't care," Ren countered. "I need to parcel out all the tests and force rituals that will provide our cover for being out here. I can't do that without a more accurate time scale. I also need some kind of basic understand of what's going on inside you," Hux groaned at that, looking away, "so I can monitor you. I can try to fill your mind with something else, so you won't have to see, but this has to happen. Besides we have to make arrangements for the actual..." Kylo trailed off in the face of the other man's grimace. He was slightly concerned that Brendol was going to crack his own teeth if he clenched his jaw any tighter.
"Yes ok, Ren, you made your point." Hux spat. He unwound suddenly and sighed again. "I know you're trying to help, in your way. Just tell me when you want me to start faking illness and retreat to my quarters. If you can give me something useful to do whilst I'm shut up in there that might keep me sane a little longer."
"I'll send you the files for the various planets as we complete our initial scans. Run your models. Invent new models. Make it look like you're equally interested in all four candidates."
"Okay," Brendol nodded. "Don't tell me which is the real location for now then. Working it out for myself can be a minor distraction."
He stood, struggling to balance for a moment. Ren reached out instinctively to steady him, but withdrew his hand when Brendol curled his lip at him.
Hux left in silence.
"Moxin!" At her shout the tall, hatchet-face man at the edge of the crowd grinned and jogged towards the shuttle.
"Phasma? Is that you?!" He cried, "my god that's a shiny uniform! I can see why you left now, your father would love an outfit like that." He hugged her as she tried to remove her helmet, laughing.
"I'm not sure they make command uniforms that small!" She snorted. "Is he here?"
"He'll catch up in a minute, he's getting the little ones settled," Moxin looked up at Kylo Ren where he lurked at the top of the ramp. "Who's you're friend?"
"This is my superior officer, Lord Atok. Lord Atok, this is Moxin, father who bore me." She turned slightly to introduce them, feeling ridiculous as Ren stared at her with that usually blank expression.
"Lord? Like Vader?!" Moxin asked, peering into the shuttle as if he expected the entire 501st to be hiding inside. The only other person he saw sat in the co-pilots seat, wrapped in a huge coat.
"Similar but different," Phasma reassured, "don't concern yourself, we're not here to take anything. We'll need to speak to you and a few of the elders, then we'd like to explore the planet for a few days. I've brought a squadron of Fiorinian recruits with me, I was hoping they could spend some time with their families, if that's ok?"
"What's that? You've brought some of our military babies back? How wonderful!!" A man with corkscrew curls crashed into Phasma's side, trying to pick her up and spin her around, despite an eight inch height disadvantage. She shrieked and hugged him, dragging him up into the air like a doll. "Hello father!!"
The two superior officers rolled their eyes at the same time.
"Where can we talk to you?" She asked as she returned the smaller man to the floor. "It needs to be somewhere secure."
Moxin made an incredulous face, as if anywhere on their planet would class as insecure. Zev punched him in the arm.
"You might be too old to remember the off world ways, but you can't blame her for being careful." He said, turning between his partner and their daughter. "The house is plenty secure, we've still got lots of pasturage on all sides, no one can sneak up on us."
At Ren's signal Hux made his way to the ramp, where he was flanked by the two taller people. He'd been used to having security details accompany him on planetary visits but those soldiers had never shown as much concern for his own person as these two did.
The walk to Phasma's childhood home wasn't a long one. It should have been easy and rather pleasant. It would have been, if Hux hadn't been radiating the kind of terrified anticipation that usually accompanied a condemned man's walk to the noose.
Ren kept a hand on his saber, though the only people who seemed interested in their passing were the crowds of children playing in the street. Most of them were staring at Phasma's bright armour. They're probably never seen anything like it on this world of mostly recycled resources.
The Captain smiled but maintained her stride whilst Hux didn't seem to see them. Ren experienced some uncomfortable flashbacks to a certain long ago temple. He had so many justifications for his actions over the years but that one he still struggled to reason out. It was far easier to avoid children than it was to linger on such thoughts.
Of course this was the kind of planet where no one locked their doors, though once they were inside Moxin dropped a bar across the inside. The creak of protest from its hinge suggested it was rarely used.
Reaching out with the Force, Kylo sensed four sleeping children in another room towards the roof of the building, watched over by another older child who should have been studying but was drawing star ships instead. Otherwise the house was empty, and free of listening devices. He stretched his awareness out to the fields outside the house- also empty- and settled that portion of his mind to monitoring their security. The rest he turned back to focusing on the General.
Hux was shaking slightly, trying not to look at all the pictures of children and toys scattered about the space. Phasma's had mentioned her parents fondness for children but, having come from a strict military household devoid of sentimentality, Brendol found the whole display to be excessive. They certainly seemed to have had far more than nine children, given the number of different faces captured in the photographs around the walls. He spotted Phasma's formal portrait from her promotion to Captain. Four or five other female stormtroopers were displayed on the same area of the wall.
He was looking at these pictures- trying to remember if he'd ever met any of them, trying to focus his mind on more comfortable military matters- when Zev stepped up to his elbow.
"So, I take it you're the reason for our darling daughter's first visit home in a decade then?" He asked, looking pointed at the man's midriff. "This your first?"
"Father, really!" Phasma hissed. "Sorry, Sir, tact isn't big part of our culture."
"I never would have guessed, Captain," Hux replied, with a small nervous smile.
"I suppose we might as well get straight onto why we're here," Phasma said gesturing for everyone to sit at the benches surrounding the massive table. Ren elected to stand behind the General, not trusting the man's balance given his level of stress. As each day passed Kylo found it harder to resist the urge to offer a comforting touch, for all that he'd rarely received such gestures himself.
"I'm sure you still remember the Empire's reaction when they first found out about the children here," she started once her fathers were settled.
Moxin nodded, "I lost a lot of friends then. We were all reduced by the loss of the daughters."
"It's still forbidden for an enlisted soldier to breed. The punishment is execution," Phasma said quietly, pausing when Zev hissed through his teeth. "Fiorina remains a secret to the rest of the Galaxy, and it's masters wish it to stay that way, given the value of its resources. Unfortunately, this man's mother was one of the daughters who was taken in that first encounter. She did not tell him what he was, and now we need your help to keep him and his child alive."
"What was your mother's name, boy?" Moxin asked.
Brendol had been staring intently across the room at the stormtrooper portraits, trying not to hear Phasma's words. He blinked at the question.
"Rosheen," he said, "my mother's name is Rosheen."
"Red hair like yours, sort of curly?"
"I knew your grandfathers. Fine men." Moxin said. "One was killed by the 501st. The other passed a few years ago- mining accident. Neither of them had another child, I think her loss broke their hearts a little."
"So she's still alive, then?"
"Is she happy?" Zev asked, "That's all we ever wanted for the stolen, that they have the chance to live and be happy."
"I..." Brendol had never considered the question. He doubted it, given the stress of living in exile with a man like his father and now as a widow. "I really couldn't say, Sir."
"Forgive me, Sir, but how old are you?" Ren asked Moxin, trying to be polite. They needed to move away from the uncomfortable topic of Hux' family history. The man was going to have far too much of his privacy invaded today already.
"About a hundred."
"You'll be 105 this year," Phasma supplied, "I checked the penal system records before we left, I know you could never remember your birthday. I couldn't work out the exact date, it was too complicated for me with the planetary calendar differences."
"105?! And you still have small children in the house?" Hux looked slightly horrified. If he'd had to guess Brendol would have placed the man at a weather worn fifty, though he supposed that would have stopped him being Phasma's... mother? He couldn't remember the term she'd used.
Zev was blushing slightly, running a hand across his stomach. "Yep, 105 and still making more."
"You're pregnant?" Phasma asked with a grin. "I thought it was too difficult for you?"
"It's been a few years but I couldn't let Moxin keep on having all the fun."
Hux was staring at the pictures again. Behind him Kylo could hear the General's mind chanting 'shutupshutupshutup'. The Force user gave in and placed his hands on the seated man's shoulders. Rather than pulling away Hux relaxed back against him slightly.
"So you'll have access to the scanners then?" Phasma asked. "Do you think you could take a look at.. ummm... him? Without us needing to involve the other elders?"
Zev shrugged, "I can try. I've looked after Moxin through eleven pregnancies, but he's just the one man, things could be different with your colleague. Then we'd have to ask for help."
"But you will try?" Ren asked. Both Zev and Moxin nodded.
Phasma was outside, chasing after the brothers and sister she hadn't known existed.
Inside Hux was laid on a narrow bed in a dormitory-like room, trying not to remember his Academy days and all the times he'd narrowly missed his current fate.
"You'll just need to lift your shirt, boy... look, I know you don't want to risk using your real name, but it'll be easier if I can call you something." Zev said.
"Closer to your real name would be better. Later on we'll need to get your attention though the pain and most people forget an alias at a time like that," Moxin added.
"Ben," Hux said, thinking of the way Kylo affectionately shortened his name to Bren. It was only when the Force user's head whipped around that he remember the man's birth name. The General held his breath.
Ren saw the fear in those turquoise eyes. He wasn't actually angry, just surprised that he still responded to that name after fifteen years. "It's fine. Use that if you like."
Hux closed his eyes. He wanted to be unconscious. He wanted to be far from here. He wanted to be dead, burnt up with his machine, scattered across space. Kylo put a hand on his forehead. Everything went white and quiet.
"What have you done?" Zev asked, horrified,as the redheaded man went limp.
"He was distressed." Kylo said stony faced. "He asked that I do this if he was unable to cope."
"Vader could do things like that," Moxin said accusingly.
The Fiorinian pair shared a look.
"He will wake up once the procedure is complete." Ren tried to assure themselves.
"I'm hardly going to touch him, it's not as if it's a painful process." Zev muttered, confused.
"There is no scenario that ends with Ben retaining guardianship of this child," Kylo said, sadness colouring his usual flat tone. "He would rather never see it."
There was a creak from one of the other beds as Moxin sat down heavily, he looked as if he'd been struck. "I'd thought he'd take it and run, or ask to stay here. We could find a way to hide him in the general population."
Kylo shook his head, trying not to imagine a future where Hux gradually went stir crazy on this tiny backward world.
"To carry it all these months and never want to see it, though. I just don't understand." Moxin continued, rubbing at the bridge of his sharp nose.
"He didn't want this. Until last week he thought he was dying of cancer. He won't risk getting attached."
"Dying?" Zev asked. The smaller man kept shoving at his hair, clearly as disturbed as his partner. What a life these men must live that they'd never had to consider that someone might value something more than family. That situations existed where you were forced to choose between family and survival.
"That explains the emaciation then," he continued, "I assume the man just stopped eating when he got sick." Ren nodded. "Moxin can you give me a second opinion on this?"
The taller man bent over his partners shoulder to look at the scanner screen. He rubbed small circles at the base of Zev's spine, clearly trying to help him relax.
"Well, you're not wrong." He said after a minute of looking at the data. "It is small but everything is where it should be, I don't think it's any kind of complication, just the result of a poor diet."
Moxin turned to Kylo, pointing at the figure in the bed. "He needs to eat, even if you have to tie him to a chair and use a funnel. Even if he's still vomiting. Something in his stomach for five minutes is still better than nothing."
Behind him Hux twitched as Zev touched his stomach. Kylo focused on pushing the man's mind back under.
"I'm gonna say three weeks," Zev said after a few minutes of prodding. "Firsts are usually early and without any weight gain from food his body is going to struggle to keep holding the baby, despite its size."
"Isn't that very early though?" Ren asked, concerned, he looked at the scanner but couldn't interpret it. "Will it survive?"
They shared another look. Moxin spoke first. "Probably. I can't see any reason why not, but she'll need extra care given her size."
"She?" Ren regretted the question immediately. Hux was right, they should not be forming attachments. He might be able to remove his memories but it had been hard enough to excise the thought of a tiny speck of potential. Part of his brain was screaming that he had a daughter, only feet away from him. How much would it hurt to remove all of this?
"Yes," Zev said, adjusting the scanner, "do you want to see?"
No. No, he did not.
In that moment Kylo understood exactly why Brendol was coping so badly. Why Darth Vader had ultimately fallen back into Anakin Skywalker. He had to agree with Hux, it would have been far better to die with Starkiller Base.
He stared at the screen whilst the same parts of his brain tried not to see anything. It was surprising how hard it was not to focus on minuscule cartilaginous fingers, or the thumb being sucked on. Ren wanted to smash the scanner.
"Can you show me what will happen? We can't stay here for three weeks, it'll attracted too much attention. I should know what to do if we can't get back here in time." Kylo asked, wishing he hadn't taken the responsibility for this level of care.
They stayed on Fiorina for four days, rotating the stormtroopers on the cruiser down in batches, ensuring that each soldier had equal time with their family. Hux sat quietly in the window bay of the house, running the basic Starkiller models, adapting them for each planet in turn. If he occasionally stopped to watch the children playing outside no one mentioned it.
Three families came forward as potential adoption candidates. They all had children of similar colouring to Brendol and Kylo so there was less risk of the new baby standing out to casual observation. None of them planned to have another child in the immediate future, an eventuality that had prevented Zev and Moxin from volunteering themselves. Kylo couldn't choose between them. He needed to meditate on the decision but daren't risk attracting Snoke's attention. He hadn't meditated in quite some time, the other entity would pay attention to his thoughts.
Remembering the kyber crystals Vader had first come to this planet to find, Ren took the shuttle to locate the caves himself.
The vast network of underground caverns was easy enough to find, they positively shone in his mind with the strength of their Force alignment. Unfortunately the majority of the crystals would not respond to him, or were so vehemently aligned with the Light that he couldn't approach them. He had to climb deep into the system to find a chamber that radiated the kind of energy he could comfortably use.
The walls were studded with the bones of gargantuan animals, ancient but not fossilised. This planet had possessed an atmosphere a few thousand years ago, it hasn't been brought to life, it had been revived. When the kyber crystals in this chamber had formed they'd partially fed on the lingering rage these creatures had felt in the face of their own extinction.
The strength of the Dark Side here in this space was intoxicating and Kylo Ren drew it around himself like a cloak.
The Force spoke to him then, showing him visions both terrible and marvellous. Untold hours later he resurfaced from his meditation, thrumming with power. He knew precisely what should be done.
Ren left with almost all the crystals from that chamber wrapped in the bundle he'd made of his outer robes. He left only the smallest crystals in place, that they might grow and provide another crop later. He was assaulted on all sides as he passed back through the tunnels filled with Light, until he reach a junction where a stalactite was forming. At his hip his lightsaber shifted on its hook, in his mind a female voice whispered indistinct words. There was a small turquoise crystal in a pool at the base of the stalactite. It held great power but no allegiance. Kylo snatched it up and continued towards the surface.
"What are you doing?" Hux asked the curly haired man leaning across the dining table. He appeared to be clipping random chunks out of several items of clothing. It seemed wasteful.
"Oh, Ben, sorry I forgot you were there," Zev said, startled. "You're too damn quiet! I'm just making a welcoming blanket."
Brendol raised a question eyebrow. It looked like a pile of scraps.
"Well, I'm starting one anyway. Hang on." The short man trotted out of the room, returning a moment later with a red and yellow square of cloth about three feet square. "This was Kessima's welcoming blanket. We make them so the baby always has a remembrance of the one that bore them, in case something happens to us during their arrival. If the worst happens, it can be used as a shroud so that they can go into the ground surrounded by love." Zev paused, running a hand over his still mostly flat stomach. "There was a lot of that in the early days, before the atmosphere stabilised. I'm glad I wasn't here to see it."
Well, Hux certainly regretted asking that question now.
"You should make one," Zev urged. "I know you don't want to keep it, but it should have some way to remember you. Our origins can be as important as our destinations- without our history we have no roots to grow from."
"I'll consider it," Brendol muttered, building a model to calculate how many planets he could obliterate if he dragged the heart out of a supernova.
Hux was singing. Kylo could hear him through the wall between their chambers. He must be in the fresher. Ren had seen his music collection hundreds of times during the days when they shared their quarters but he'd never actually heard any of it. He'd grown up without much access to that kind of thing, beyond the bawdy songs the pilots had sung whilst in their cups. Later, both Skywalker and Snoke had discouraged such things as a distraction.
It was a sad song about mourning dying soldiers but sung in a way that suggested pride in the memory of their sacrifice. Brendol had a surprisingly good singing voice. It was impossible to tell whether he was singing because his mood had improved or worsened.
The man had relaxed a great deal in the three weeks since they left Fiorina. He was willing to sit for hours in Kylo's quarters, which benefited from a comfortable sofa, silently working on his reports whilst Ren completed his own tasks. Occasionally he'd fall asleep against the larger man's shoulder and need to be carried back to his own rooms. It wasn't the casual companionship they'd had before Dantooine, but it was reassuring.
When the song coming from the next room changed to a remembrance of the rout of Coruscant, Kylo reached out with the Force, properly concerned now.
Hux' mind was roiling. He was running through any song he knew in an effort to drown something out.
You shouldn't be alone.
Ren hadn't intended to send the thought to the General. But he was glad he had when, rather than arguing, the man snatched up a pad and headed for Kylo's quarters.
The Force user was slouched on the sofa in the anti chamber of his rooms, lazily manipulating the new collection of kyber crystals that were scattered across every available surface. He expected Hux to object to the fact that he was dressed only in his silk shorts but the redheaded man said nothing. Brendol looked tiny, wrapped in his duvet to hide his stomach. At least the bare legs sticking out of the bottom had more meat on them than they had three weeks previously.
He dropped heavily onto the sofa against Ren's right side, jostling him and the yellow crystal currently rotating slowly in the air.
"Is that a kyber crystal?" He asked, tipping his head to study it. "Very useful for weaponry those, I'd love to get my hands on some."
"You don't want to get your hands on these. Not if you want to keep them." Kylo said, with a deep low chuckle. "They'll burn the flesh right off your bones."
"You know what I mean."
"I do," Ren nodded, "the Emperor would have been livid if he'd know what your people are doing with these."
"Yes. They're sacred." Kylo lowered the stone to the table, selecting a red one instead.
"Mm hmm," Hux sounded unconvinced. "Ren, did your mother ever mention you communicating with her, before you were born?"
The red stone dropped to the table at that non sequitur. "What?"
"Did you, I don't know, have a link with her?" Hux was staring at his hands, or at his lap, it was hard to tell.
"I don't know about before I was born but she complained about me refusing to cry out loud," Kylo said, clearly uncomfortable. "Apparently I would just drop my dissatisfaction directly into her mind, like one of your interdepartmental memos of displeasure. Why?"
"Either I've finally gone mad or it's inside my head." Brendol said still looking down. "Can you run interference for me? I can't cope with this anymore."
"I don't know," Kyko said, resting his hand on the back of the other man's head, taking advantage of the chance to run his fingers though the short hairs at the base of his skull, "I can try."
There was something there, reedy and weak. Not thoughts, thoughts needed words but odd sensations- movement, pleasure, distaste- and snippets of sound, rumbling and muffled. Just want you'd hear with ears filled with fluid. Gently he wrapped the strange communications in the Force and shifted them to the back of his own mind. Hux sighed heavily, relieved.
"Whilst we're on this subject," Ren said, unaware that his fingers were still flexing in Brendol's hair, "I have a concern I need to raise."
"It can't stay on Fiorina."
"No, it can't," Hux nodded slightly, "I've reached the same conclusion."
"They're all too naive and innocent on that planet, and they're basically at the mercy of the Tarkins. It'd be essentially defenceless." Brendol explained. "Half their children end up stormtroopers, the odds are we'd be discovered by genetic testing sixteen years from now anyway."
"I'm more concerned about the fact that it's clearly Force Sensitive and probably quite powerful." Ren countered. "There's no chance HE won't feel it eventually. And given the strength of the Force on that planet that'd be a lot sooner than sixteen years. It needs to go where there's a chance it can be defended."
"They couldn't defend you." Hux pointed out.
"They didn't know they had to." Ren replied. They both fell silent, Brendol slowly unwinding under the pressure from Kylo's fingers against his scalp.
Kylo woke to find himself still on the sofa, Hux' head pillowed on his knees, the hand that had been in Brendol's hair resting on his stomach instead. His palm was receiving an enthusiastic kicking. The General shifted slightly and Kylo pulled his hand away as if burned. Too late.
Brendol rolled onto his back, half asleep and looked up at Ren with unfocused eyes. The larger man sat rigid, fervently hoping that Hux wouldn't notice his body's dream based betrayal. Though there wasn't much hope of that- it was almost touching the redhead's cheek.
Turquoise eyes shifted to the side. Ren flushed. A slow sleepy grin spread across the General's face. Kylo groaned as Brendol rolled towards him, nuzzling against the taut silk of his shorts.
He should stop Hux, half asleep as he was. But Kylo had grown up around men with no filters and had heard enough about the strange whims and sudden mood changes of late pregnancy. Perhaps this was the same. He could see that Brendol was clearly interested where the duvet had fallen away. And besides he'd rather not risk objecting and ending up with something bitten off.
Kylo awoke again- this time from the first deep, blissful, post-orgasmic sleep he'd had in almost a year- to a dull ache in his stomach.
No not in his stomach.
In a small voice Hux said, "I think we need to go back to Fiorina."
The Resistance General woke but didn't move. She'd been dreaming about Han and Ben again, of them coming home to her, whole and happy. Had the dream woken her? Or was it something else?
Her eyes snapped open. Han? No, he hadn't been Force Sensitive, he wouldn't be able to manifest for her now. She reached out with the Force, an act she had barely practiced since Ben had gone away with Luke and she no longer needed to check on him in the night. She felt fear, sadness, conflict. Just as she always had when Ben woke in the night.
She was out of bed and half way to the door before she knew what she was doing. Ben?! That could not have been Ben in her mind calling for her. He'd been gone from home for twenty years. Nothing had been heard of him since Han died, why would he be here? How had he even found this base?
I can hear you. All the time. Like a comm left open in another room.
A sullen silence was the only response.
I won't call you by that other name. Not by his name for you. Leia shook her head, as if her son were in the room with her to see it.
And am I to have no choice in who I am?
You have a choice, son. You'll always had a choice and it's never too late to change that choice.
There is a long pause, their delicate connection touched by longing and... hunger? That didn't feel right. That felt like a very different Ben, three decades gone. when he's shrieked in her mind rather than out loud. Pouring all his discomfort, hunger and need for contact through their minds instead of using his voice. Han always commented what a sweet easy child he was, whilst Leia's mind was rubbed raw at the edges from constant contact.
The silence dragged.
Be.... Are you there?
Help me, mother.
A vision of a clearing, ten minutes walk from here. Then nothing.
She was still in the middle of the room where she'd stopped short. What to do? He had sounded so lost and sad. But then she had felt something like that when Han had died. Those who had seen it happen had said that Kylo Ren spoke to his father before he killed him. Though no one knew exactly what was said, Chewie had characterised the conversation more as melancholy than angry. If she went to him, and he clearly intended for her to go alone, she could be dead in minutes and no one would know. If she took a companion Kylo would flee or the other person would try to engage him. She couldn't trust Kylo Ren. But she wanted to trust Ben Solo- to trust that he was still in there somewhere.
Realising her feet were growing cold on the floor she made up her mind. Slipping on her shoes, she called quietly to BB-8, who had taken up residence in her rooms whilst Finn and Poe were off base.
"I am going out," she said pulling her jacket on, "if I don't return in 90 minutes, send someone looking for me."
The little orange droid beeped anxiously. "I'll be fine," she tried to sound reassuring as she patted it's casing, "but this is important, ok?"
The walk was a familiar one and easy going despite the darkness. The sky was just starting to turn the deep blue of the pre-dawn when she entered the clearing.
It was the reflective flash of his belt buckle that she noticed first. She'd been instinctively looking for him at the height he'd been when they'd last hugged, all those years ago, not for this huge wall of a man. Broad chested and far too tall it was easier to see him as Anakin Skywalker's grandchild than to recognise him as her own.
He made a subtle gesture, and the Force flowed passed her, checking she was alone. Instantly satisfied that she was, he pushed the hood back.
Leia Organa looked into her son's eyes for the first time in almost twenty years.
They had spoken via holo messages whilst he was at temple, before the incident, but that was nothing compared to staring into his rich brown eyes. He was just a boy really, for all that he was past 30. Still growing into his dramatic features and finding peace with them. The scar running across his nose and under his right eye was painful to see, a reminder of all that he'd done in the run up to receiving it. Leia found herself wanting to move closer, to reach up and try to sooth the pain away. But Rey said that was what Han had done. Even after the saber has passed through him, with his dying breathe he had still tried to reach their son. She did not move closer. She wished she had maintained the saber Luke had made for her after the battle of Endor.
Kylo shifted nervously and turned his face towards the ground, unable to bare his mother's intense gaze any further.
"Why are you here?" She asked. "Is the base about to be attacked by your Knights? Or are you defecting?"
"No." He said, in a voice so deep and flat it startled her. "You are safe, no one who wishes you harm knows that we're here."
'We' she noted.
"So you're defecting?"
"I... I can't." He still wouldn't look at her, focusing his eyes on the crates at his feet. "There is too much yet to be done."
The tall man folded up then, crouching to reach into one of the crates. Leia took a reflexive step backwards, unsure whether he was reaching for a weapon.
She felt the wave of pitiful hunger projected through the Force at the same moment as her mind processed the small noises coming from the open crate. What had Ben done?! The man, her son, was trying to make soothing noises but he clearly had no idea how to go about it. Leia stepped up to stand at his side and looked down. The box was filled with a white gauze blanket, an impossibly small baby kicking angry in the middle of it. The child was barely larger than the hand Ben was using to stroke it's cheek. It was nude except for an inexpertly applied diaper, a grey wool blanket kicked down by its feet. The cord hadn't dropped off yet. This child couldn't be more than three days old.
Leia felt the clearing swim around her and she instinctively gripped Ben's shoulder to stop herself from falling. Rather than shake her off the man actually reach up and squeezed her fingers with his free hand. She forgot to breathe for a time, revelling in that one small comfort.
The baby shifted, sucking on Ben's fingertip. It was quiet but the hunger it projected only worsened, it would get frustrated soon.
"Ben," Leia began, not entirely sure she wanted to know the answer, "where did you get this baby?"
"This is your granddaughter." Kylo said, rushing the words together into a single sound, squeezing her hand once more before he released it and reached into the other crate. Leia's mind had stopped working. She blinked a few times as the revelation sank in. Turning her eyes back to her crouching son she realised he was trying to open a bottle one handed. She took it from him, opening it as he carefully lifted the child from the box. The odd wool blanket was actually part of a First Order uniform, she realised as Ben carefully wrapped the child. The soft silk lining (from a outer coat perhaps) was arranged closest to her skin, the wool and brocade patterns outermost.
"Where is her mother?" She asked, watching him offer the girl the open bottle. "Why have you brought her here?"
"She's dead." A lie. Leia felt it in her soul. She reached out again and asked the Force to show her the truth, as she had seen Luke do so many times. A face appeared in her mind: redheaded, cold and full of rage. General Hux? It wasn't possible and yet it was true. She turned slightly. There was a silhouette standing in the distance against a tree, watching them. The slowly increasing light from the sky painted his hair a dull gold.
Suddenly her mind filled with static. Ben was staring at her, frowning. "Don't. Don't think about those things." He said, pushing against her mind. She lashed out at him in turn, trying to wrestle away from the mental pressure. "I have risked and sacrificed so much to keep this child alive. Please. Snoke will hear you. He will take her just as he took me and we will lose everything."
"Han!" She whispered, feeling sick at the realisation.
"I am sorry, mother," he said flatly, "I had no choice."
"Why are you here?" Leia asked, her heart crumbling as she watched her son feeding the child that her husband had unknowingly died to protect.
"She needs to be kept safe. Snoke cannot know about her or about her... other father. Theres no where else I can take her."
"You want to leave her here?" Leia asked, incredulous. "How would I explain a newborn to the base staff?!?"
"There's a ship back there," Kylo nodded in the direction of the distant watcher. "There are two bodies onboard. It will be on fire. You sensed it through the Force. They were old friends. From another military base. You couldn't save them. You saved her. They had no other family. So you kept her without a second thought."
"Bodies?!" Leia cried.
"Taken from a morgue," Kylo tried to reassure her, "I didn't kill anyone for this." He stepped closer, holding out the now sleeping form in his arms. "Come now, don't you want to hold your granddaughter?"
Leia hesitated for a moment before accepting the tiny bundle. Miniature fingers curled in their sleep to grasp at her braid. There was a Corellian style expanding bracelet around the child's wrist, just like the one Han had made Ben, except the crystal was turquoise rather than clear.
"Luke will know I'm lying though. I can't keep anything from my twin, you know that. He'll ask questions."
"No he won't," Leia looked up as Kylo Ren took her face in his hands.
Leia blinked. Why has she stopped in this clearing? Behind her, she could still see the burning ship throwing up clouds of smoke across the pink and orange sunrise. There was a pounding of feet as the base staff ran towards the source of the fire. Stepping back off the path to avoid the rushing bodies, she resettled the sleeping baby in its blanket. Such a shame the parents had not had the chance to tell her its name before they died.
The stormtrooper had actually rested his hand on Hux' shoulder as he offered him the mug.
Four days into his recovery and the General had finally felt able to venture into the bridge of the cruiser. The binding, wrapped from chest to hips under his uniform, forced him into a ramrod straight posture that soon exhausted him. He'd been shaking for almost thirty minutes with the effort of merely sitting at the command console when the trooper had approached him.
Hux considered demanding the man's number to discipline him for the inappropriate touch, but somehow despite the armour his body language conveyed genuine concern for his superior officer.
He wondered if the trooper knew. He glanced around at the crew- they were all Fiorinians, perhaps they all knew. Would anyone believe the relapse of Dantari flu story? Sipping his caf, Hux stared out of the forward viewports and tried not to wish for death. He wasn't especially successful.
"Have you chosen the site for our new Starkiller Base, General?" Atok asked, apparently materialising behind the General's chair. If he'd hated the way Kylo Ren loitered around the bridge of the Finalizer; he truly loathed the way Atok seemed to be invisible until he entered your personal space.
One of the four folders of neatly organised data was passed back into the Force user's hand. All the staff on the bridge were watching them. Hux had almost forgotten that they'd falsely told them Fiorina was a candidate.
"Site A. Then we are in agreement," Atok said, flicking through the pages. "According to this information you came to that conclusion a week ago. Why did you continue to look at sites B and C?"
"Not all of the data for site A had finished compiling until now. I wanted to be certain. And I believe that there may be a secondary use for the next Starkiller Base," Hux explained. "Whilst site D is completely unsuitable for anything automated due to its chemical composition, the other sites are rich in materials that the First Order urgently require. Although we were unable to gain full data from the Hosnian system, I do believe it will be possible to destroy a planet in such a way that it's resources become easily accessible. Not simply a cloud of indeterminate rock but specific minerals ready to be harvested."
"The benefit of this?"
"Innumerable." Hux said, in a slightly lecturing tone. "Not only would we be able to develop the fleet, and complete much needed civic works on our own home planets, we would also be able to trade with neighbouring systems. In which case we would finally have the choice to be free from outside patronage and stand as our own self sufficient society. Of course we appreciate all that the Supreme Leader has done for us, but even his resources must be finite. Eventually we must stand on our own feet."
"And Starkiller could do this?" Atok asked, "with only two target planets?"
"Those would be proof of concept," Hux rolled his eyes slightly, "send out survey droids and I'm certain I can build an algorithm to find additional suitable locations. Starkiller must absorb the entire target star in order to function effectively and avoid any collateral damage from a destabilised partial sun. As such, it will often need to release far more energy than necessary when fired. One need not use an entire star to destroy only two or three locations. In those cases it would be more economical to direct the excess energy toward more productive endeavours."
"So rather than turning a sword into a ploughshare, you wish the turn Starkiller into a scythe to harvest lives and resources a like?" Atok smiled coldly. "How very efficient, General, you're an asset to your Order. You can instruct the initial construction crews upon your return to the Finalizer."
Atok swept off the bridge. Hux hated him.
As he unwound the bandages Kylo did his best not to touch Brendol's skin. Hux couldn't do this for himself, the amount of twisting needed to keep the pressure consistent would risk reopening the wound, for want of a better word. Ren tried not to think about the process he'd witnessed or how the Fiorinians could stand to go through it multiple times.
The back of the chair creaked as Hux tightened his grip, tried to stay upright. He'd sat through the length of a twelve hour watch, even though he hadn't been needed on the bridge. There was no further work for him until they caught up with the Finalizer, no more models to build or theories to test; the regimented lines of commands were already waiting, ready to be issued to start the production of his latest masterpiece. He had to get back into the routine of daily duties, he had to get out of his quarters before he went mad.
The last of the bandages slipped away, leaving Hux cold and fighting to keep his posture rigid without the support. He closed his eyes when Kylo's breath ghosted across his skin. Ren was crouching to examine him. Even just the passage of his gaze felt obscene, abhorrent, humiliating.
"I need to touch you, sorry," Kylo said from somewhere near his naval.
Don't. Please don't. "Okay."
Fingers prodded lightly at his abdomen whilst Brendol held his breath, fighting not to vomit or lash out at the Force user. He's only trying to help. He did this to you. You did this to yourself. The universe did this to you both.
Something worried brushed against his mind.
"Get out of my head."
"Hux. This isn't your fault."
There was a pause. Brendol heard Ren stand and cross the room. "There's almost no bleeding now. If you want to take a shower now, I can replace the bandages and they should be ok to stay in place for a few days."
Hux finally opened his eyes again, raising his eyebrows at the suggestion. "And not wash?"
"Sponge baths, wash your hair in the sink." Kylo shrugged. "If you'd ever taken a proper frontline role the idea wouldn't bother you. I've gone months without a shower before."
"I know, I've been in close proximity to your robes." Hux laughed. "Actually, I think anyone who's ever been in an elevator with you knows."
"Wonderful, thanks for that." Normally Kylo would have been a little offended but it was too much of a relief to hear Hux laugh after so long. Casual insults had always been an important part of their personal language with each other. It was reassuring.
The levity didn't last. Kylo felt Hux' mood plummet when the man closed the fresher door and was confronted with his own reflection in the mirror.
Whilst he'd managed to gain some weight over the last few weeks he was still too thin and his muscle tone was shot to hell. The hollows of his cheeks, long a favourite feature, had sunk too far, lending him a Tarkin-esque air. Ribs, clavicle, sternum and hipbones were all clearly visible. And in between...
He didn't want to look- had managed to resist the urge to punish himself by looking for almost five days. But he was weak, his eyes slipped downwards and, try as he might, they would not look away.
His abdomen was a mess. Fine pink lines covered the flesh above his pelvis where the skin had torn beneath the surface, unable to stretch quickly enough. He had marks like this on his lower back, from that first shocking growth spurt at age twelve- but they were silvery with age and held little emotional significance. These ones itched, a constant nagging reminder of what had been behind them just last week. But that sensation was nothing compared to the burn of the livid line running from his pubis almost to his diaphragm.
His abs ached and twitched constantly. It was like doing a thousand crunches and then being stabbed in the gut. Which was almost exactly what had happened in fact. The bruising was tremendous, still deep purple in most places, finally beginning to fail to yellow at edges. The opening itself was mostly knitted together now- bar one or two small areas that still wept- and yet his muscles were still too far apart. They could take weeks to draw back together, Moxin had said, if they ever did, and he would have to be careful not to develop a hernia in the meantime. This would always be a vulnerability, physically and emotionally, like Ren's bowcaster wound. Pain delivered by a being who had once loved you, as punishment for your own foolish mistakes. Hux hated that they had that in common, now.
As he climbed into the fresher, glad of the cold water on his throbbing skin, he considered his own weakness. Phasma had insisted that this was easier than what 'normal' humans went through. Was he really so fragile that he couldn't cope with a lesser form of the pain that millions went through daily. General Brendol Carolus Hux II, who had ended tens of billions of lives in a single moment, unable to deal with the creation of just one.
"General! Welcome back aboard the Finalizer, Sir!" Lieutenant General Tarkin saluted crisply before bowing to the creature behind him. "Lord Atok. I hope your mission was successful, Sir?"
"Construction on our new weapon will begin immediately. The First Order is ready to take its rightful place in the Galaxy." The black robed figure swept away.
Whilst Hux and Tarkin completed the formal transfer of control of the flagship; Kylo Ren would begin the first steps in transferring control of the universe.
"Go away," Hux shouted at the door chime. It was either Phasma or Ren/Atok and he didn't want to speak to either of them. He just wanted to get settled back into his own quarters and have a drink. There'd been no alcohol on the cruiser, Kylo hadn't allowed it. Brendol just wanted one night where his brain was too inebriated to think.
The door opened anyway.
"Is that really the best use for the Force?" He asked as Ren strode uninvited into his rooms, loaded down with bags.
"Shut up a minute."
"You are not moving back in here, Ren! There is no wa..."
Kylo threw down his bags and stood in the centre of the main room, fingers splayed at his sides, frowning. Just as Hux was considering breaking the silence, Ren reached up a hand, Force lifting a ceiling tile away. An electrical device floated down onto Hux's desk. Eight more followed from other rooms. Part of his terminal broke free and joined the pile.
Together the two men peered at them, Ren lifting each one in turn to hover in front of their eyes. Seven were standard issue First Order monitoring devices, leftovers from when Hux had moved out of his old quarters after the row with Ren. They were inactive. Kylo crushed them. The other two and the terminal component were of unfamiliar construction. They stank of Tarkin.
Hux left the room, returning a moment later with his tool kit. He rarely had the time for small scale engineering these days, but having something practical in his hands helped him to think sometimes. He hooked all three devices up to a spare battery, overloading them.
"That will have made a terrible noise."
"Perhaps she'll think you've finally killed me," Hux said, without humour.
"They were installed whilst we were off ship," Kylo said, poking the smoking remains. "Will she have heard anything incriminating in the last three hours?"
"What? Like me sobbing into my pillow, wailing about how unfair my life is, that kind of thing?"
The blank stare Ren gave him almost made Hux feel guilty. Almost.
"No, I've only been in here for half an hour. I've been on the bridge." Hux said. "All she'll have heard is me saying you can't move back in. I suppose she could use that against us. Or tell Snoke."
"Supreme Leader has no particular concerns about us continuing our relationship."
"What do you mean 'continuing'?" Hux hissed. "You are not moving bac... Wait. Are you saying he knew?!"
"Yes." Ren said, not meeting the other man's eyes. "Thanks to that box he believes I've been using you for sex. He probably thinks that's why I took you with me on the search for the Starkiller site. After all you could have done the data analysis from here."
The look Hux gave him could have melted durasteel. He didn't notice.
"As for Tarkin," Kylo continued. "What can she do? According to Phasma the entire crew knows about us sleeping together so it's not a useful piece of information."
Hux snatched up the nearest data pad and flung it at the wall. Kylo watched in silence as the General stamped the broken pieces into the floor tiles.
Ren shrugged and started wandering through the General's quarters, opening doors.
"Are you even listening to me? You are not moving in here." Hux said, following him into the bedroom. "I don't want you in my rooms ever again. Stop touching things and get out!"
"You were perfectly happy to spend time in my quarters on the cruiser."
"That was different and you know it. They were your quarters for a start.” Hux said, starting a list. “I never slept there... fine, I never intentionally slept there. I never went further than the antechamber. The cruiser was not the flagship of the whole damn fleet. There were less than fifty crew aboard, not fifty thousand.”
“No one ever came near our old quarters. The Stormtroopers still avoid that corridor. They'll avoid this one too.” Kylo countered. “Besides, I don't intend to sleep in your room, or in your bed. I respect your decision to end our previous arrangement.” The 'I don't necessarily agree with it' remained unspoken. “But I have valid reasons for this. I need you to listen to them.”
“I highly doubt that.”
“Bren, I need...”
“Don't ever call me that again.”
Kylo sighed. “General. I need to start by telling you something, that I'm then going to need to suppress from your conscious mind. The echo will be there, but you won't remember me saying it. Think of it like your lessons at the Academy- you don't necessarily remember when you were told a particular equation but you know it must have happened.”
“If you can take things out of my head,” Hux hissed. “Why not just remove the last eight months of living hell and let me get on with my life?!”
“Because it would kill you. Or at least severely damage you.” Ren said, pulling at his hair. “What I did... It didn't really involve removing a great deal, just changing the perception. I removed less than a day of knowledge completely and it hurt like hell. You have no Force ability. What has happened has changed you. It can't simply be removed without your brain reacting to it. I will not risk it.”
“You didn't used to talk this much,” Hux said, turning away to hide his disappointment and embarrassment at actually thinking he could get what he wanted. “A simple 'no' used to be enough.”
“I didn't care then.”
“Shut up, Ren.”
“Hux. STOP IT!” Kylo shouted, driving his fist into the top of the desk. “I have given so much to get us here. Alive. All of us. And there is still SO MUCH left to do and to give. And I don't know if we will all make it, but the Force has shown me what must be done, and I WILL DO IT. If I have to do this without you it will likely fail, but I will still try.” He paused to scrub his hands over his face. “I know you are hurting. I can do nothing about the physical trauma, or the effect of the hormones but I can say this – I WILL FIX THIS. I need you to know this and believe it. I WILL FIX THIS. I need you not to give up. I WILL FIX THIS. Do you hear me, Hux?”
Sitting on the bed the General covered his face, whispering, “yes.”
“Do you hear me?”
“YES DAMN IT!”
“Good.” Kylo made a small gesture and Hux blinked. He felt better than he had in days, but he wasn't sure why.
Ren was opening doors again. “I thought so, these quarters are twice the size of your old ones.”
“I didn't need large quarters, what would I do with them.” Hux said. “This suite was designed assuming the commanding officer would want to bring their family along, before we decided that the Resurgent class would be personnel only.”
“You don't use this room?” The door was next to the bed, Ren had assumed it was a closet but it was a good size, completely empty room.
“That was intended to be a nursery.”
“Ah.” Ren swallowed. “Look, I need a secure space to work in. The crew is loyal to you, not to me. They fear me, but not one of them would hesitate to try to spy on me if they're ordered to do so. Only Tarkin has tried with you. She won't try again, I can feel it. Physically, these quarters are far enough inside the ship to be protected. Even if we breech atmosphere they still shouldn't be compromised. Anything I leave here be would still be retrievable.”
“What are you talking about?”
“WHAT? What the pfassk, Ren?” Hux jumped up, shoving at Kylo's chest. “Are we not already at enough risk for you?!”
“You've always wanted to be emperor.”
The General blinked. “What?”
“Give me Starkiller.” Kylo said, stepping closer until they were almost chest to chest. “Build your magnificent machine for me, Hux, and together I swear we'll burn Snoke from the history books and take this galaxy for our own.”
Hux studied him for a long moment before smiling. It was not a nice smile. “Remove everything you just said from my mind, or we will die the instant Snoke next sets eyes on me. Then tell me what you need.”
There was no sound except Ren's measured breathing and the subtle tap of Hux's fingers against the screen of his data pad.
Although he understood the significance this time, Brendol still felt foolish- sitting there holding a box of Kylo's old clothes whilst the man stared at him. The process was taking far longer this time. Ren had said he was trying something different. They were approaching the three hour mark now. Hux could no longer feel his own buttocks he'd been sitting still for so long.
How many hours should he wait before summoning medical assistance? He'd never actually paid attention to Kylo's meditation. Perhaps the man had suffered some kind of seizure or had fallen asleep with his eyes open.
Weeks of pressure had made Brendol's bladder rather sensitive. If the man didn't move soon he'd have to get up whether it interrupted the process or not.
As if he were reading the General's mind, Ren raised his hand. Hux slammed the lid shut and took the box into the fresher with him. Kylo had only specified that he leave the room, he hadn't mentioned a destination. Of course, if Atok followed him in here he might question why Hux had chosen to take a piss in his fresher rather than one of the common heads in this area of the ship. Although, if Snoke believed they were still having an affair then Atok probably believed the same. Hux prayed that Atok would never try to instigate anything, that was an advance he was unlikely to survive refusing.
From the other side of the door Hux could hear booted feet stomping out of Atok's quarters. Good. He washed his hands, then called up the surveillance system on his data pad. Atok had gone aft. Fine, Brendol would head forward for now.
After four hours of tracking the wandering Force user, as he menaced crew and generally behaved as if he owned the place, Hux finally intercepted him near the TIE launch bays. It was the quietest part of the ship that the man had visited so far. It wasn't the least trafficked area possible, but the General was too tired to keep trailing him indefinitely.
This had better work. Hux really did not want to think about what would happen if it didn't and he just ended up showing the Force user a box full of laundry.
He turned the corner just as Atok approached the junction and snapped open the box as soon as the creature looked up. Kylo Ren staggered slightly, clutching the wall. Hux kept walking as instructed.
Leaving the box in his quarters he went to the bridge, ostensibly to collect a copy of the logs from Dex. Files in hand, he sauntered down the centre aisle, nodding to his command staff as he passed and stood at the main viewport, watching the stars and waiting.
It was ten minutes before Kylo Ren entered the bridge. He joined Hux at the viewport and turned towards the stars. It was Darth Atok who turned back to face him. Not the act that Ren had put on for the crew of the cruiser, Hux could feel in his bones that this was another being entirely.
"My Lord," he said bowing slightly.
"General," said the creature, turning away once more. This time he only sagged slightly as Kylo wrested back control of his body.
The box was no longer necessary. Ren had internalised it and all that he was would now go directly into it, filtered so that Darth Atok was unaware of his presence. Hux couldn't pretend to understand it. He would just have to believe. Somehow it was easier to believe in Kylo Ren now.
The change in the Finalizer personnel was so subtle that Brendol didn't notice it at first. Of course every member of the crew knew who he was- there wasn't a person alive in the fleet or in the First Order systems that wouldn't recognise General Starkiller on sight- but they'd never felt the need to acknowledge him before. Standard protocol was for lower ranking crew to step aside when he passed by. It said nothing about the slight nods he received from an increasing number of stormtroopers.
He didn't see the warm if sad smiles certain members of the bridge crew gave him when he arrived at the start of a watch, or the protective step forward some of them would take when he had a particularly blistering row with Darth Atok.
When he chose to eat in one of the common dining halls rather than the officer mess, he didn't notice that groups of stormtroopers chose to sit closer to him, rather than leaving a respectful distance as they had in the past.
In fact, the first thing he noticed was an act of insubordination that showed far more respect for him as a superior officer than any of the subtle changes. Lieutenant Commander Seida has served Hux well in the engineering division for the last three years. When he called the young woman into his office to inform her that she had been promoted to the position of Commander aboard the star destroyer Revenge, he'd expected thanks, not silence.
"Permission to speak, Sir?"
"Granted." Hux had said, displeased.
"Please, Sir," she said, her voice quick and low, slightly terrified, "I'd rather stay at my current post."
"Sir, working on board the Finalizer has been a dream come true, Sir."
"That's gratifying to hear, but you are are being given a better role on a newer ship!" Hux snapped, refusing a promotion was a ridiculous idea. "What would family say, if they heard you'd refused a promotion and a payrise?"
The young officer lifted her chin proudly. "My family is on Fiorina, Sir."
Hux met her gaze, keeping steady even as stomach lurched. He said nothing.
"Please, Sir," she glanced over her shoulder, "I would rather serve you, Sir, than move else where in the fleet. We all would, Sir."
"I am commander of this fleet as well as this vessel, Lieutenant Commander." He said, a little coldly. "You are serving me, where ever I choose to send you."
"Well, yes, Sir. But..." She clamped her mouth shut when Hux raised an eyebrow at this display of disobedience.
"You will take take the assignment you have been given," Hux said slowly, staring blankly past the woman's neatly arranged dreadlocks. "It may well be that you will be better placed to serve me there."
The woman's rich brown eyes had lit up at the hint and she saluted crisply before taking her leave.
Of course, Hux had no particular plan in mind for the Revenge. But there was no sense in turning down an offer of unwavering loyalty, or wasting a fine officer by leaving her in a role she had outgrown. He made a mental note to call in the favour one day.
It was only later, as he walked through the halls of his beloved flagship, that the words "we all would" echoed in his mind when a trio of passing troopers nodded to him.
There was a mug of fresh hot caf waiting for him on the command console when he arrived on the bridge. Dex nodded almost companionably at him. The General called up their personnel file on his pad. The officer's planet of original was listed as a minor moon in the primary First Order system. Their mother's was shown as unknown. She was only six months younger than Hux's own mother.
Exactly how many first or second generation Fiorinians were on board his ship?
There had been a groan. Had he made the noise, or had the sound come from Hux in the main bedroom? Another wave of pain ran through Ren's jaw making him clutch at face and moan. Yes, he'd probably woken himself up with the noise.
Why did his jaw hurt so much? He hadn't been involved in a combat for over a week and he would surely remember if he'd hit himself in the face training again. He checked his memories, Atok had done nothing to trigger such a pain.
From the next room there was a clatter and a muffled curse, followed by the sound of drawers being opened.
Ren hit the door release and stepped through into the next room. Digging through the drawers of his desk, the General jumped slightly when the door slide closed behind him.
"Did I wake you?" He muttered thickly, half asleep. "Sorry. Looking for painkillers. Horrible toothache."
Kylo frowned, moving closer to peer at the redhead. "Toothache? Your jaws hurt?"
"Yes," Hux sighed. "That's generally what toothache means."
"No, I mean, is it your teeth, or your jaws?" Kylo asked. When Hux shrugged, the taller man reached out, running his fingers over copper coloured stubble. "Does it hurt here and here?"
The General moved his tongue over his teeth, pushing at Ren's fingers as he considered the indicated area. Kylo snatched his hand back.
"You can you sense my toothache?" Hux asked, mildly horrified that the Force could be used for such domestic purposes.
He crossed his arms across his bare stomach when Ren sat down heavily at the end of his bed. He didn't like the idea of the man looking too closely at his scars, despite the eight months of healing.
"I would be able to sense your toothache, if you had one. Probably even be able to tell you the cause. But you don't." Kylo said flatly, suddenly sounding exhausted.
"What are you talking about? Of course I have toothache."Brendol said, baffled. "I told you, my teeth hurt."
"My jaws hurt too. In exactly the same places. It's not our pain, Hux."
With a soft noise the General folded up, sinking into his chair with his hands over his face. "Is there anything we can do?"
"Not from here," Kylo said quietly, twisting his wrists as if he were trying to stop himself manipulating the Force. "I'm not even sure the painkillers would work if we took them, they can't block signals that aren't coming from our own nerves."
Hux moaned and sank further forward, his head between his knees. He twitched slightly when Kylo placed one of his massive hands on his arm. There was a series of dark bruises in the flesh there, showing where the General's dose implant had been replaced.
"I might be able to run interference again, until you can sleep." Ren offered.
Hux looked up, hopeful and then guilty. "That won't help you though."
"I can meditate," he shrugged. "Come and lay down."
Once Brendol was settled beneath the covers- a little tense at the prospect of sharing a bed, however chastely- Kylo arranged himself against his back but above the covers. One hand settled into the soft red hair at the base of Hux's neck, the other Ren kept across his chest to provide another physical barrier between the two of them.
When he drew the pain out of Brendol's mind the General relaxed with a sigh. He was almost asleep when he turned back to look at Kylo.
"Will Atok be able to feel any of this pain?"
"No, he has not link there." Kylo murmured. "Go to sleep."
As Hux drifted off into a pain free sleep, Ren consider whether he should have told the other man that, with the ability to project so far at such a young age, she was powerful enough that Atok would be able to sense her easily if he was just close enough. Kylo didn't dare reach out to see where his mother had taken her.
The first three nights Ren returned to the bed roll in the next room after an hour. By the time the pain finally broke Hux had gotten used to waking up to find Kylo still asleep at his side, thought he didn't stop him when he went back to sleeping in his own space.
But he also didn't stop Ren climbing straight onto the bed when the ache started in his jaws again. The duvet stayed between them.
"I don't understand why she won't stop crying," he shouted a little desperately through to the pilot who was opening drawers in the kitchen. "There, there darling, don't cry, Uncle Finn's got you. Shush shush shush, it's okay Alia, it's okay darling."
"You'd be crying too, if you didn't know enough words to understand why your face hurt or to ask for help with it," Poe said, smiling slightly as he returned holding something flat and round. "Here we go sweetie, open up."
Chubby fingers grabbed the frozen teether and the little girl bit down with relish.
"Oh, that's what those are!" Finn said. "I did wonder why General Organa said she might need them."
"You'll soon learn if you end up babysitting all the time. I do keep telling her there are better jobs for you though!"
"Don't worry Poe, I don't mind." Finn said turning back to the redheaded baby in his arms.
Poe grinning as his boyfriend began a game of gently stretching out the girls long curls. She returned the favour by pulling at his tight curls in turn. Alia hadn't entirely grasped the idea of letting go get. Finn squeaked.
She was cute when she wasn't crying. When she did, she put the entire base on edge.
"Lord Atok." Snoke materialised before the kneeling figure.
"What is thy bidding, my Master?"
"The scavenger ventures abroad, at last." Snoke said with the wave of one giant holographic hand. "Find her. Bring her to me. Or else neutralise her."
"As you wish."
"Remember what I said."
"Yes, yes, I won't open that door. I won't allow anyone else to open that door." Hux sighed. "I'm not a moron."
"Look after yourself, General." He wants to embrace him. Kylo would give anything to kiss him. But that's not who they are now. Still this is the first open ended mission he's been assigned since he completed his training. He isn't comfortable leaving without even an estimated return date.
Hux makes a noncommittal noise in his throat, reaching out to adjust the position of Kylo's cloak. "You too, my Lord."
They stare at each for a beat, then Kylo turns away and Lord Atok strides out of his quarters.
He can feel the fear radiating off the crew as he approaches the dock bay. His Knights are waiting, splendid and terrible, a line of personified horror. He eyes their numbers, several new forms fill spaces where trusted colleagues once stood. More failures swallowed up by the Supreme Leader's trials. Glory is not meant for all. So far it is meant only for him.
This time he will find the Scavenger. This time he won't let her survive.
The soft leather bag had been under the bed. It wasn't something he recognised so of course he'd opened it. He'd never had a need to look under the bed until he'd dropped the stick of solder, therefore the bag might have been there since before he moved into these rooms.
There was a single object inside - a roughly globular crystal, transparent and hollow, about twice the size of Brendol's hand. Given Ren's warning about his kyber crystals Hux used the bag to move it around without touching it.
Rattling slightly inside the sphere were dozens of tiny bones, a vaguely humanoid skull around the length of his thumb and pieces of what appeared to be leather. Although many of the various bones were semi recognisable, few of them seemed to be a healthy shape. Instead they twisted and bulged where they should have been straight and smooth. No two bones quite seemed to form a pair.
It was grotesque.
It felt familiar and yet it also felt wrong. It had to belong to Ren. Hux returned it to its pouch and left it on his desk, on top of the Starkiller files.
A week later he put it into Kylo's wooden box, which he moved into the far corner of the antechamber. Then he covered it with a spare blanket.
It felt like it was watching him somehow.
After two years on that island- surrounded by endless seas, breathing so much moisture- Rey had expected this desert planet to feel alien and unfamiliar. But Tattooine felt like home, more than any other planet had. Perhaps it was the influence of blood- Anakin had been made here, Luke had been raised here- she could never quite bring herself to think of them as father and grandfather. Maybe it was the climate of Jakku without the oppressive presence of titanic starships scattered across the landscape. It could be the presence of friends after so much isolation.
Rey was supposed to be concentrating on her mission but the chatter from Finn and Poe gradually relaxed her. Tattooine was controlled by the Republic. There hadn't been a single First Order attack near this system. It was a simple mission to collect some information on the Stormtrooper program from an old friend of Luke's uncle. It should have been easy.
She should have heard the quiet in the streets as they entered the spice district, passing down alleyways darkened by a crisscrossing mass of overhead washing lines, awnings and drying plants. She should have noticed the residents hurrying past them in fear, too terrified to actually break into a run. She should have felt their presence -HIS presence- through the Force before he even landed on the planet.
Instead it was Finn who first saw the splash of crimson curving sickeningly high across the wall of the alleyway. He'd barely pointed it out when her senses snapped back into place and Rey felt it. The vast, yawning emptiness of true Dark Side alignment. Not the roiling, swirling mess of Kylo Ren's mind- so clear to her despite her lack of training- but a cold, pitiless void.
Closing her eyes she reached out through the surrounding buildings and alleyways. There were presences there, hardly registering as real consciousness. They were like a personification of the pain addled fog she'd seen in the minds of seabirds dashed against the cliffs of Skywalker's island. They were everywhere. They were drawing closer.
"Run." She hissed, pushing the men back the way they'd come. Someone was still alive in the house at the end of the alley. Their informant perhaps. Could she return to Skywalker and tell him she'd abandoned the man to darkness, without ever even seeing the source of that terrifying emptiness?
Lightsaber in hand she edged down the alley close to the wall. Finn hadn't moved. She could feel him watching her as Poe tried to pull him away. Terrified but unwilling to leave her to the unknown.
The heat of the double suns should have been radiating from the whitewashed walls here where the washing lines and awnings finally ran out. Instead Rey felt frozen.
The mistlike entities were crowding in now. She turned a portion of her focus backwards, pushing at the couple with the Force, trying to persuade them to leave her.
It was a mistake to access the Force.
The wooden door ahead of here erupted outwards as the body of her informant was thrown through it. She recognised what was left of his face from the memories Master Skywalker had shared. He was very dead now.
Finally she heard retreating feet behind her. A little of the hope that sound gave her died as several mist creatures split off from their pack to follow them. It was all she could do to keep her focus on the doorway before her, shockingly dark compared to the sun bleached alley. She squinted, trying to see the figure just beyond the threshold. It was huge- broad shouldered and long limbed- but only the liquid reflections in its eyes could be distinguished from the silhouette.
With a crackling thrum a lightsaber ignited within the house. Rey had only a moment to register the ruined face of Kylo Ren - hellishly underlit by the flickering orange blade - before he stormed towards her. Even as she activated her own blade, instinctively raising it to block the first crushing blow, her mind struggled to reconcile the blank well of hate surging towards her with the rudderless, desperate rage she'd felt the last time she'd fought this man.
His fighting style hadn't changed too much, though his time he was unhindered by bow caster wound or emotional turmoil. Luke had focused much of her lightsaber training on counteracting this particular style, but it was difficult to do more than defend in the enclosed alleyway. Ren's far superior reach should have been a disadvantage in this scenario but he was using the Force to keep her towards the centre of the alleyway, preventing her from using the walls to deflect his blade. Rey could feel the influence around her but it was impossible to focus on breaking it under the barrage of blows.
There was a shout from above. A mass of sailcloth collapsed into the alleyway, tearing down the awnings and clothelines in its path, before driving Kylo Ren into the wall. Rey leapt, using the Force to give her the initial height before scrabbling the last few feet to the roof top.
Poe had cut loose the fabric whilst Finn was trying to hold off the pair of black clad nightmare creatures that had followed them. Fling out her arm, Rey Force pushed the two figures towards the edge of the roof, before grabbing the ex-stormtrooper's hand and dragging him towards the hanger that held the Millennium Falcon.
Poe fell in along side them as they leapt a gap between the houses, narrowly avoiding the other entities reaching for the rooftops. The insubstantial minds she'd felt were the Knights of Ren. She felt nine of them in the pursuit now, most of them keeping pace on the other side of the alleyway, so far unwilling to attempt the jump.
The emptiness was also close behind them, but not on the same plane. Kylo must be following them at ground level after freeing himself from the fallen jumble of fabric. She tried to glance into the alleyway as they ran but couldn't see him whilst maintaining her balance.
The hanger had no entrances on ground level at this side. He'd have to go round. If they could just keep ahead of the Knights and survive the three storey fall from rooftop to ground they'd soon be inside the Falcon and safe.
Twice more she lashed out with the Force, indiscriminately pushing back the pursuing figures, trying to unbalance them as they passed over gaps or obstacles in the rooftops. There were only five now and the Falcon was in sight.
"When I say jump, jump. I'm going to use the Force to soften your landing, just concentrate on hitting the ground running." Rey shouted.
She could see Chewbacca keeping the ships engines running. He hadn't seen them yet. The edge of the roof was just in front of them.
As she fell through the air she felt it, that sudden cold emptiness. Finn must have felt or seen something- he jerked her backwards, lashing out with his feet at the figure that crashed through the second storey window.
The movement saved her life. The crackling orange blade that would otherwise have gutted her, sliced through her wrist instead.
There wasn't time to register her hand falling away as they landed, rolling, and scrabbling towards the waiting ship. Finn's kick had connected with Ren's head. The monster staggered, dazed, as the trio made it up the ramp, the remaining Knights landing around him. They were too slow to stop the vessel taking off, though one managed to snatch Rey's lightsaber from the air as she shakily tried to retrieve it with the Force.
Kylo turned and headed for the main hanger doors as the Millennium Falcon gained altitude.
Clutching the remains of her wrist to her chest, Rey stood in the cockpit watching over Chewie's shoulder as Mos Eisley spaceport retreating beneath them. The Falcon lurched.
"He's trying to drag us back," she gasped. "How can he hold an entire ship?!"
Finn wordlessly manoeuvred Rey into the jump seat before he headed towards the ventral gunnery bay.
She tried to reach out with the Force, to break this creature's hold on their ship as Poe and Chewie struggled with the controls. She could see him now. he'd scaled a water tower, clutching the railing with one hand as the other directed the Force around them.
The ship began to sink, tipping wildly as the engines fought against the unseen influence. She'd never felt power like this, it was smothering, like freezing to death under a blanket of snow.
Abruptly the sensation of pressure ceased. Behind her, she heard Finn whoop in triumph. As the ship righted itself she saw the water tower slowly collapsing in a cloud of steam and sparks. Kylo Ren had vanished.
Glancing around the shuttle, Hux realised he recognised every one of the helmet-less stormtroopers. Not all of them had been on the mission to find the new Starkiller location- some of them sat near him in the dining hall or passed by him on their daily jogs. Ren had only been half right. When he was onboard the corridor outside their quarters was deserted; when Kylo was away, however, there was always someone there- a patrol or a maintenance worker or an off duty squadron of runners.
Hux had mentioned the special nature of this diplomatic visit to Phasma when he'd requested a personal guard. The planet was close to a hotly contested portion of the border. It would not do to get assassinated before the new superweapon was complete.
Although the bulk of the negotiations would be on behalf of the First Order, his time among the miners on Fiorina and the modelling process for Starkiller II had inspired Hux. He had inherited the vast majority of his father's remaining fortune after his death and, apart from the maintenance he sent to his mother, the money had sat untouched in a number of disreputable banks. Now he intended to put it to work. If any business should benefit from the second Starkiller base, it should be his. Whilst he technically commanded the First Order military on behalf of Snoke, if he wished to be a trusted ruler he needed to cultivate a social standing as well. What better way to do that than as a captain of industry? Well. A General of industry at least. His sisters had agreed to manage the day-to-day dealings of whatever he chose to pursue. One of them had almost married a Tarkin, in her younger days, they all three knew how to cultivate power and influence.
Striding through the halls of this worlds government building, flanked by his stormtroopers, Hux felt more confident than he had since Starkiller I had collapsed. Thanks to a passel of mining experts- smuggled off Fiorina by Zev under the guise of Stormtrooper trainees- Starkiller II was running ahead of schedule. There had been no major incursions from the Resistance in three months. Snoke still had no interest in speaking to him personally. And now, he was about to bring himself another step closer to his dream.
The trade negotiations progressed quickly and ended well. Production on the First Order's new fleet of refineries and ore processors would begin immediately. The casting and finishing plants needed to turn Starkiller's bounty into profit would be refitted and upgraded to handle the massive workload. Hux had even managed to bring the entire program in under his projected budget.
As the delegates filed out three individuals lingered behind. Hux had been expecting just two. He dropped his stylus onto his pad, just so, and the waiting stormtroopers snapped to attention, emotionless helmets focusing on the waiting men.
The one Brendol didn't recognise stepped forward, stopping dead when a trooper stepped between them.
"Begging your pardon, General Hux," the man said a little sheepishly, "I know I wasn't invited to this meeting, but when we heard you were interested in buying into industrial endeavours my wife said I should approach you. You see, my wife was in the same academy class as your mother, Sir," he said with heavy significance, "and she said I'd be a fool not to work with you."
It was one thing for his ship to be filled with Fiorinians, it was another thing entirely to have a civilian approach him in public on the matter. Hux wonders what it is that they intended to do.
Ultimately all three business proposals would prove advantageous. For the first time in three decades the Hux family fortune was put to work. Whatever they were planning, Brendol intended to use it to his own benefit.
She sat on the sofa watching Finn and Poe cook dinner, only half listening to General Organa and Master Skywalker bickering. It felt strange to see a hand, to flex and twist it, whilst her mind told her there that there was no actual hand there. The cybernetic prosthesis looked realistic enough, covered by her gloves. It wasn't the jarring, exposed metal of Luke's hand. But it still wasn't hers. It wasn't a true part of her.
Master Skywalker had said that acceptance would take time and she'd needed to let herself mourn the loss. Rey thought she'd rather have gotten used to the handless arm first, and accepted the replacement later, but they were at war. There wasn't time for that.
Dragging her blanket in one hand and an articulated wooden krayt dragon in the other, Alia toddled over to the dejected padawan. With difficulty she scaled the sofa and plopped down on the cushion next to Rey.
"Ow." She said solemnly, tapping Rey's prosthetic hand.
"Kiss better!" The redhead unexpectedly flung her chubby arms around the arm in question, dramatically kissing the join with a loud mwah noise.
"Better!" The toddler declared, patting her arm again before slithering down off the cushions and heading towards the kitchen area.
Ren finally felt able to focus on the conversation in front of her. Leia and Luke were arguing about Ben Solo again and whether there was any hope of saving him given this recent development.
"The man I fought today wasn't Ben Solo," she interjected. "I'm not sure he was even Kylo Ren anymore. He felt different. Wrong. More wrong than last time. A lot more."
"Was anything else different about him?"
Rey shrugged. "Not really. He had a new lightsaber but I didn't notice anything else."
"Did the saber have an orange blade?"
There have been rumours about a new Dark Force entity," Luke said, not looking at Leia. "Mass slaughters. Not many survivors have been found and none have lasted for long after their rescue, but they all mentioned an orange lightsaber and the Knights of Ren. Some have given the name 'Darth Atok'. If Ben has completed his training, it's possible he's been given a new name."
"There was no Light in him," Rey said, "nothing at all. I know you said that your father had traces, that you could feel something when he thought about you, before he turned on the Emperor. But this was like being in a deep cave. He felt so Dark that it seemed to suck the heat out of the air around. I'm not sure you can save something like that."
As Luke nodded, Leia stormed out of the room in silence.
When Mitaka announced the return of Ren's ship Hux had thanked him, paused to check the scanner details, calmly handed control of the Finalizer to Dex and sedately walked out of the bridge. It was too soon for Kylo to be coming back, he'd said the mission might last months. Something must have gone wrong.
A nearby stormtrooper nodded to him slightly as they held the turbo lift door.
"Thank you," Hux murmured, hardly moving his lips. "Clear the route to hanger seven, will you?"
The Stormtrooper nodded and stepped away, allowing the doors to close. When the doors reopened on the relevant level the halls in every direction were deserted. Brendol was never sure how they achieved these things, but the Fiorinians had a talent for following his orders.
Abandoning dignity Hux pelted down the corridor towards the hanger, slowing just before the doors to the control room. As he entered at a more decorous pace he saw the Knights' battered ship hovering fifteen feet above the deck below, unwilling to take the time to land.
The main hatch opened just enough for something large, and mostly black, to crash into the deck.
Over the comms a distorted voice barked, "fix it!"
Without pausing for permission the ship began to depart, breaching the shields just as its hatch snapped shut again.
Hux wanted to run to the crumpled heap on the decking but knew he shouldn't risk the indignity- Atok was his adversary, he couldn't be seen to show too much concern. Fortunately, a frightened stormtrooper edged closer to the body and signalled that it was still breathing while Brendol was still navigating the metal stairs down to the main deck. Medical crews were already being summoned as he stepped up to Darth Atok's side.
The man was on his front. The clothing across the backs of his limbs and torso were torn away, first by shrapnel and later by hasty scissors. The exposed skin was a mass of small cuts and huge angry blisters. Some kind of steam explosion? It was hard to see any wounds to his front without moving him. Although the boot print bruise on his cheek was at least a day older, the broken nose did appear to be recent, possibly even from the fall to the decking.
Hux crouched and touched Kylo's cheek. His skin was cold and clammy to the touch. There was a wet sound to his breathing- had the fall punctured a lung?
Most worryingly, the man was deeply unconscious. Hux had no idea whether he'd revive as Atok or Kylo. Ren had never mentioned what to do in this eventuality. The other Knight had demanded that Atok be fixed, so all Hux could do was get the man to medical and hope.
"No offence to you, Rey," Poe started, "but I'm not all that confident about your ability to be out here. You've been training for over two years to fight Ben Solo. Whatever that thing is, it isn't any kind of Ben I remember."
"He tortured you." Rey said, sounding annoyed. She was in the back of the X wing so he couldn't be entirely sure. "I doubt Kylo Ren was much like Ben Solo then either."
"Oh you'd be surprised. Ben made bad jokes when he was uncomfortable, and he was always uncomfortable. He stopped looking people in the eye when he was six. I think he was getting into people's heads by accident. Anyway, you saw his mind reading technique, he still doesn't like doing it. He made a lot of awkward comments when he interrogated me." Poe sighed, "if that thing on Tattooine had made a wisecrack I'd believe it was Ben. He always was his father's son."
"He killed his father."
"I know that." Poe snapped, frustrated. "I'm just saying I'm concerned that you've trained in a way that will put you in danger."
"We're nearly at Luke's island," Poe said, changing the subject, "how about you tell me what we're looking for so we can get in and out in half the time?"
"No." Rey said sharply. "You need to stay in the X Wing. We've got company."
There was no sign of a ship but four Knights of Ren, or other entities that shaped the Force like mist, were waiting deep in the temple Luke had carved from the cave systems inside the island. No matter how far she reached across the water or up towards space, Rey could not sense the horror of their Master.
She had to go and face them. After the loss of her weapon on Tattooine she and Master Skywalker only had two sabers between them- she had to retrieve the stock of kyber crystals hidden in the temple. She felt reasonably confident that she could face a limited number of Knights. But she could only hope that Kylo/Ben/Atok, or whatever he called himself now, would not arrive later and block the exits. Rey had to admit she didn't think she could win if she got trapped between the two.
The euphoria of complete bacta suspension had long been forbidden to the Knights of Ren. Like alcohol it was considered to be an inhibitor of their abilities. As such the doctors elected to lay Kylo in a shallow pool of the viscous liquid, with bolsters under the few unburned areas- this allowed the most serious burns on his back and limbs to be covered. However the remaining injuries would have to heal with less direct intervention. No one wanted to risk inciting the rage of the Supreme Leader.
Hux stayed with the man until he was settled, the broken nose and three broken fingers set. Detailed examination had revealed that, although Ren's lungs weren't compromised in themselves, his throat and mouth had suffered burns that risked obstructing his airways. The General found it surprisingly distressing to watch as his former lover was hooked up to machinery to aid his breathing. On some level Hux had become used to being the broken one.
Leaving instruction to contact him immediately should Atok wake, Brendol returned to the bridge and the rest of his watch. He'd have to do all his worrying there.
The bedroom was too quiet. This hadn't been a problem when Kylo was off ship, but Brendol's subconscious knew that the other man was in the medical centre. He was intensely aware that Ren should have been in the next room- snoring lightly, or working quietly on whatever secret projects he was building, or somehow managing to meditate at a hundred decibels. Hux had never found an explanation for that, but where ever he was in his quarters, he always knew when the other was meditating. A calm mind should not create so much agitation in someone else.
After an hour of similarly inane thoughts, the General gave up on sleep. Slipping his greatcoat on over his pajamas, he padded down the halls in his training shoes, trying not to go to the medical centre and finding his way there regardless.
There were two nurses watching over Kylo. Both nodded slightly as they whispered a greeting. The medical staff now too, it was madness. In hushed tones they explained that it had been necessary to move Lord Atok into a private space to keep the other patients from becoming too distressed. There was a second empty bed in that room, if the General wished to stay. Hux narrowed his eyes at this impertinence but the staff just regarded him with mild expressions until he gave in.
Brendol hated to admit it, even to himself, but there was something reassuring about being in the same room as Kylo whilst he slept. With sigh he slipped off his shoes and curled up on the spare bed, under his greatcoat, only intending to watch the large man sleep, just for half an hour or so, until he felt better....
The last of these Knights of Ren finally fell at her feet, clutching its throat as it choked on its own blood. They'd destroyed the temple. Not particularly looking for anything, just for the sake of destruction.
She gathered together whatever she could find that was undamaged and unsullied by gore. The crystals were untouched, possibly due to their particular Force alignment, she wasn't sure.
Blaster fire rattled through the upper levels of the cave as she dragged her motley collection up from the temple. Clearly the Knights ship had returned whilst she was too busy and too deep underground to hear it.
Running now she could only hope that Poe was ok.
It had been a surprisingly restful night's sleep. He hadn't intended to stay here but he'd drifted off almost immediately. Sitting up slightly against the pillows, he checked his comm- it was half an hour before he usual alarm, plenty of time to get back to his quarters.
Someone was sitting at the end of his bed. Brendol dropped the comm, which shattered on the tiles, but no one came in to investigate the noise.
There should not have been any child under ten years old on the flagship. They'd phased out the stormtrooper nurseries on the Resurgent class ships once the war had begun in ernest. To much risk during an evacuation.
It had been a long time since he'd helped to raise his sisters but, based on those hazy memories, he'd estimate that this child was around two years old, possibly less.
The room was dark, illuminated only by the light seeping in around the edge of the door. It took Hux a moment to realise that the child was transparent, and pale blue. He relaxed, clearly this was just one of those weird dreams where you think you've woken up but in reality you're still asleep.
The child waved a chubby hand, "'Lo!"
Hux raised a hand briefly in reply. They continued to stare at each other in silence.
Long, curling hair and thick, bright eyelashes- it could be hard to tell with children that age but this was probably a girl. The nondescript pale pyjamas didn't help much.
Carefully and deliberately, the child stood and toddled unevenly up the mattress, dragging a length of fabric behind her. Eventually she plopped down again to sit by his ribs.
"Ow!" She said pointing at the man in the next bed.
"Yes, he's hurt," Hux said, feeling slightly foolish.
The girl made an exaggerated sad face.
"He'll recover," why did he feel the need to reassure a dream?
She chewed thoughtfully on the corner of the blanket for a moment, clearly deep in thought. Concentration had always been serious business when his sisters were that age.
Clearly an idea came to her when she pulled the blanket away. She pointed at Hux, then at Kylo. "Kiss better!"
Hux made a moue of distaste. That could be Atok over there. Even in a dream he wasn't sure he wished to take that risk.
From the floor his alarm sounded, reverberating oddly in the broken case. He glanced around the room. It was empty. Good.
Hux hated dreams, he'd always done his best to avoid them.
"What did you do?"
"Ren did it to the falcon!" Rey laughed, exhilarated, as the X wing broke atmosphere. "I didn't see any reason why I couldn't do it to them, too! And I was right!"
She whooped again, needing to let off some of the adrenaline. BB-8 beeped in approval.
"You threw a transport into the side of a mountain! Then tried to drown it!!"
"It's not really a mountain."
"It's the tallest thing on that whole damn planet, and you threw that ship into like it was an overripe barabel fruit!" Poe exclaimed. He was having trouble keeping his jaw closed. "It was amazing!"
Rey just laughed again.
"Ok, BB-8 take us back to... Wait." Poe said, his cheerful mood draining away. "Rey, check the scanners, are you seeing what I'm seeing?"
The Knights ship- hull twisted and buckled, one engine sparking unhealthily- was following them. It shouldn't have been possible. Given its condition the vessel should have decompressed, or broken up before it even made it out of the atmosphere.
"How are they doing that?!" Rey moaned. She reached out with the Force and panicked. "Go to lightspeed, go anywhere, just get away!!"
Their master was not onboard, there was no cold dragging void within that ship. What was there, was rage. White hot, blazing hatred. The five beings inside were functioning as one single minded entity, driven by their anger- at the deaths of their comrades, at Rey's continued existence, at the mere presence of life in their universe. They were holding the ship together through the sheer power of their will. Their atmosphere was boiling away into space, their bodies were being battered by radiation from their damaged power cells, and yet still they came. Whatever they intended to do, it was more important than their own survival.
As Poe and his droid tried to get the X wing to lightspeed and away, Rey lashed out with the Force. She was exhausted from performing the same trick only moments ago on the planet's surface. It should have been easier here - against a damaged ship, without the resistance of the atmosphere - but now she found the Dark Side of the Force twisting her own efforts back against her. Before it had been Rey versus the laws of physics, now it was Light against Dark.
Something unseen buffeted the X wing. Poe swore as he struggled against the grip dragging against the engines.
The Knights had split their attention. Rey focused not on their ship as a whole but as a series of electrical systems. She shorted very converter on the vessel at the same moment they fired their weapons. All but one shot missed. The single blow that connected with the underside of the X wing but registered as only a mild jolt.
Behind them the crippled ship dropped back towards the planet, driven by the Force as the surviving Knights frantically attempted to make a landing before the ship could disintegrate.
BB-8 signalled that the X wing was undamaged and, finally, they escaped, the remains of Skywalker's second violated temple wrapped in burlap at Rey's feet.
He'd had the same dream for five nights now. Well, almost the same dream. Once he'd pseudo-awoken to find the odd glowing child curled up dozing on his chest. Once she'd been standing ankle deep in bacta watching Ren sleep. She never said much- just watched with huge, dark eyes- perhaps she didn't have many words yet. It bothered him that his subconscious would give an imaginary child a realistic vocabulary. It wasn't real, it didn't matter if the vision spoke with the eloquence of a playwright. It made him uncomfortable that his mind would focus on a faithful rendering.
He loathed dreams and would give almost anything to avoid them. But staying in his own rooms meant no sleep of any kind. He could not afford to risk all his years of hard work by arriving on the bridge sleep deprive and incoherent. So he every night he'd gone to medical, stared at the slowly healing body of Kylo Ren and hoped he would be left undisturbed until his alarm woke him. He had not been lucky.
There were unread messages mounting in the comms system, urgent and encoded, addressed to Darth Atok. Hux could not access them, only Ren could do that. If he were conscious. When six messages came through in almost as many minutes Brendol accepted that something needed to be done- before the unknown sender went to Snoke instead.
He stood, hesitating, at the man's side. The tubing had been removed from Kylo's throat now. Beneath the ragged strips of flesh from the blisters the burns seemed to be healing well. Ren would have new scars, but his mobility would not be hindered.
They'd left Kylo's hair loose when they'd placed him into the bacta. As the liquid had moved slowly with the heating system it had gently tangled the long drifting strands into a horrid knotted mass. Hux wasn't sure what was more irritating, the fact that it had been allowed to happen or the fact that he found he couldn't ignore it.
He felt pathetic, standing here, staring at the man who had unthinkingly aided in ruining his life, whose mind might not even be in that body any more. As he reached into his pocket and withdrew his comb he tried not to think about his weakness. He tried not to acknowledge the foolish, deplorable affection he felt as he slowly untangled the matted hair. Most importantly he tried to forget the child from his dream and her nightly insistence that he "kiss better" as a solution to Ren's "ow!". He failed spectacularly in that aim when he paused to admire his handiwork, only to find himself placing a kiss at Ren's hairline, whilst his hand stroked through the smooth drifting cloud of hair.
He would have shaken himself and pulled away but Kylo sighed. It was the first sound the man had made in the six days since he'd been dumped, half dead, onto the decking. It was a sound so clearly and utterly Kylo Ren that Brendol couldn't resist pressing a relieved kiss to the lips that made that noise.
A bacta soaked hand touched his cheek and the moment was lost. Hux drew himself up and stepped back. As Kylo's face crumpled slightly he turned away, speaking more to the doors than the man in the pool.
"Your Knights dumped you here, almost a week ago." Hux said, endeavouring to sound business like. "They told us nothing. Now someone is urgently trying to contact Atok."
"Who?" Ren's voice was thick with disuse.
"No idea. Encoded. I'll send the nurses in. Sort yourself out Ren, Atok is needed on the bridge." Hux swept from the room. Frowning, Kylo glanced towards the other bed. It had clearly been slept in. Faintly, more a sensation that a real sound, he heard giggling.
"What have you done?" He groaned. If the question was directly to anyone but himself, they didn't answer.
Hidden by the angles of the X wing's hull, camouflaged amongst the blaster burns, the arachnid shaped droid lurked. Gathering data. Calculating trajectory. Waiting.
Hux was standing at the main bridge viewport, consulting with his quartermasters regarding ration supplies, when Atok appeared on the bridge. A ripple of fear passed through the crew- they had started to become used to his absence. As Mitaka gave up the seat at his console to the Lord, Hux noticed a number of the staff neglecting their duties to openly stare at him. The General coughed meaningfully, catching several eyes with a pointed glare. This shift's bridge crew was relatively light on Fiorinians, the few he was certain of were also watching Atok, but more subtly. They glanced in his direction but continued unfazed.
With a sigh Hux turned to look out over the bulk of the Finalizer's prow whilst the quartermasters bickered beside him. There was a squadron of TIEs running practice manoeuvres around the ship, like those little birds that flock around slow moving herbivores. It was a relaxing sight.
Slowly he became aware that the hairs at the back of his neck were rising. The constant low murmur of an active bridge ebbed and faltered. The air tasted like ozone and copper.
There was a sensation of rising pressure. His ears hurt. Through the corner of his eye he saw more than one officer raising a hand to their own ears.
Hux reached out and gripped the bulkhead in front of him.
The shockwave rolled across the bridge at the same moment as Atok put his fist through the console.
Monitors exploded, spraying sparks across their controllers; a number of officers staggered or collapsed completely; the main doors buckled towards the corridor; the transparisteel panes in the viewports crazed. Dimly, though the spreading cracks, Hux saw two of the passing TIE fighters crumple as if crushed by a giant fist and spin off to crash into separate forward portions of the ship. They had been inside the range of the shield generators, nothing stopped them as they crashed into the plating. Fire and debris scattered from the impact points.
Hux turned to look up the bridge. Lt. General Tarkin had fallen into one of the crew pist. Mitaka was stretched out on the deck behind Atok, blood seeping from his ears. Dex however was crouching behind their console with their hands clapped over both ears.
"Evacuate immediately!" Hux roared, determined to be heard over the spitting electrical cables and the ringing in his ears." Commodore Dex! Take control from the secondary command centre! Prepare to the seal the bridge."
A pair of gunnery officers had already managed to force the main doors open just as Dex ran from the bridge. Whilst the rest of his staff scrambled to drag their injured or unconscious colleagues from the room, Hux held his place at the fore, trying to keep all portions of the viewports in his vision at once. If one or two panels burst they might still have time to save everyone, more than that and they'd all die. He definitely paid no attention to the hulking black glad figure still tearing the console apart with its bare hands.
In reality it was probably only a matter of minutes before the sound of running feet died away but it felt like hours. When Brendol noticed a shift in the crack pattern of one viewport he began to edge backwards. He would not leave his bridge until his crew were safe, but he'd rather have the shortest possible distance between him and escape.
A junior officer stepped up to his side. "Sir, the starboard side of the bridge is secure but we can't retrieved Lieutenant Mitaka." She murmured, keeping her eyes on the transparisteel. "Is there anything you can do?"
Hux glanced back, Mitaka was essentially under Atok's feet. The man was a sickly grey and it wasn't even clear if he was breathing. But he was a good officer. He didn't deserve to be left behind.
"ATOK!" He shouted, gesturing to the hesitant staff to move in as he gained the monster's attention. "Stop this! The bridge is compromised! We must evacuate!"
The creature took two steps closer, the sunken chaos of a control pit separated them. For a moment Hux thought he might actual jump across it. "Six of my men are dead, General!"
Hux looked around the ruins of his bridge in bewildered disgust. "SIX of your men?!" He spat, "SIX?!"
Behind Atok the last of the crew finally dragged their fallen comrade out of sight.
"Look what you've done!" Hux roared, apoplectic with rage. Beyond the splinted viewports another plume of debris rose from the main body of the ship. Clearly the impact of the ruined TIEs had caused more damage than Hux had initially expected. "You've crippled the bridge, killed at least two pilots, wounded half the comman..."
"Silence!" Atok cut him off. "That is immaterial, we will go immediately to..."
"You fool! We're going nowhere!" Hux barked over him, too angry to think, forgetting the urgent need to evacuate. "Parts of the ship are on fire. The bridge will soon be open to space. Thanks to you, there is no 'immediately', it'll take days just to secure the main structure enough to risk hyperspace. Your men wo..."
Hux stopped mid-word as his throat closed.
He'd seen Ren do this before to his subordinates- though it had only happened once in the General's actual presence. Brendol had screamed at the Force user for thirty minutes and barred him from their rooms for several days. Such corporal punishment had no place on his flagship, it undermined his leadership and ruined morale. Of course it had continued to happen out of sight, but only so much could be done about the problem that was Kylo Ren.
This was not Kylo Ren.
As his feet left the deck, Hux felt the bruises blooming under the invisible grip of the Force. Soft tissue rupturing and the cartilage in his larynx beginning to crack. This was not a threat, or a warning. This was the promise of death.
He closed his eyes, focusing on the thump of his pulse where it was unable to pass the invisible ligature, and the floating sensation of a brain being starved of oxygen. Fighting could serve no purpose against this thing.
Death was here for him and what did he have to show for thirty seven years of effort- a war unfinished, an empty bed, an empire unrestored, a love undeclared, a child unclaimed. What a waste. But in this moment, with nothing left to fear or ask for, he only wanted to see Kylo Ren, one last time.
As he slowly forced open his eyes his vision was filled with streaking glittering lights, like starlight stretching in that instant before hyperspace. They were beautiful, blue and white, flying past him towards the front of the bridge. The face before him, filled with cold dead hate, was not really Ren. Vaguely, Hux felt disappointed.
There was a small noise and the sensation of falling, whilst also staying perfectly still. Brendol found he no longer cared, he was too tired to think any more. Besides, the face before him had transformed, it was back in the possession of Kylo Ren. It was beautiful- tragic and helpless and terrified. It was the personification of what was left between them.
Hux barely registered the transfer of the pressure from his throat to the rest of his body. He was sure it didn't matter any more.
No. Atok no.
No, no, no.
Don't do this. Snoke wants him alive. He's necessary to the Sumpreme Leader's plans. He's necessary to our plans. Stop. Stop. STOP. I can't live without him. No. Bren, please, fight back. Do something. Someone.
He should not have left the medical centre, half healed as he was- his tattered tender skin rubbing painfully against his clothes, his stomach roiling with hunger and discomfort.
Kylo should not have allowed himself to be subsumed by Atok, not so soon after regaining consciousness. Time ought to have been taken to check his mental defences, to test the strength of the walls he'd placed between the two personalities.
But he'd woken to the feeling of Brendol's mouth against his hair and on his lips. He'd been distracted. For a moment he'd forgotten the last four years of horror and strife. His mind had believed, however briefly, that Starkiller was still incomplete; that Dantooine had never happened; that he was in bed, in the rooms he'd once shared with his mundane, human General. Then Bren had fled, Alia had laughed and the delusion had shattered.
He'd felt uncomfortable, knowing that she's projected herself into a relatively public room with no way of knowing which version of him would regain consciousness. Not that she could understand any of the dangers yet, she was still too small.
The projection had started around the same time that the child had first learned to crawl. It was terrifying, how a barely developing mind had worked out how to use a technique previously believed to be available only to deceased Jedi.
Ren had woken in the early hours to a sense of peace so profound his mind had registered it as a threat, and a tiny translucent child asleep against his chest. He'd lain there in the dark, trembling with fear and the effort of remaining still, for hours, unable to resist the impulse to memorise every detail of her. His heart had ached as he recognised features that had originally belonged to Bren, or his own parents. Despite her projection being blue and white he'd known with confidence that her hair would still be the colour of flames- just like the soft unruly mop she'd been born with. When impossibly pale eyelashes had finally flickered open to reveal eyes so dark they had to be his, only for the entire projection to dissolve, Ren had been left with a sense of soul crushing loss. He'd been forced to take three days off the Finalizer simply to find a location where he could destroy his surroundings without alerting suspicion. Atok had never committed property damage on the same scale as Kylo Ren. Until now.
Giving up control to Atok was like the pilot of an AT-AT turning on autopilot and then convincing the machine that it was sentient. For the last few years he'd had little difficulty sitting passively inside Atok's head and only taking control when necessary. But something had slipped- either due to the incident on Tattooine or the healing process that came after.
Kylo had felt the being's resentment at the number of messages he'd received, followed by the rising anger as he read of the slaughter and failure at the temple.
Disaster had struck when the message had come through about the tracking beacon. Normally Atok didn't sense anything from Ren's side of the barrier, but somehow this time the Knight's fear and panic had created a feedback loop, leading to both entities losing control.
Kylo had suffered unintentional Force explosions before, especially during his teenage years, but they had been in temple or at Snoke's citadel- where they could be contained. Not on the bridge of a Star Destroyer. A small part of his mind was thankful that it was Brendol's flagship, intentionally designed by the General to survive something like this. But his conscious mind was busy fighting for control over their body.
Atok was too strong. Enraged and currently wielding the Force with terrifying ferocity- Kylo couldn't gain any traction against him. Had the being actually heard the content of his thoughts or just the emotions? The Knights of Ren were awaiting rescue, their ship too damaged to leave the planet. Once Atok got to them they would follow the beacon and in all likelihood everyone in the Resistance base would be killed. Did Atok know about Alia now? Would she be a specific target, a threat to use against Hux? For that matter did Atok know about Kylo?
The other creature wasn't directing any energy towards Kylo at all. He couldn't gain any purchase because he couldn't access the Force, not because Atok was resisting him.
Kylo was helpless until Atok ran himself down. He could only hope that the other had enough sense of self preservation to get off the bridge before the viewports collapsed.
"ATOK!" No, Brendol don't.
Why would Hux get involved? Kylo hated him then, risking his life and everything Ren had sacrifice, for what? There was a noise behind Atok.
A man was down, the crew were trying to drag him to safety. Hux was doing what he did best. Leading. He was risking himself to make sure that every man in his charge had a chance to survive. Ren felt nauseous and guilty.
The Force swirled at Atok's command and as he felt his intention Kylo redoubled his efforts to take back control. It was no more effective than before- he was frozen out of his own body, compelled to watch as Brendol's airway closed.
He'd done it many times, often to the officer that Hux had just sacrificed himself for, but never like this. Force choking had always been a threat in his personal arsenal, an impressive show of strength to set himself apart from the First Order officers. This was not a threat. Atok intended to kill.
Although he couldn't access the Force himself he could still feel every minute effect from Atok's actions. The rupturing of soft tissue, the crackling of cartilage under pressure. Bruises bloomed across the too pale skin of the General's throat as his feet left the deck and the will to fight left his eyes.
Kylo felt the pressure of that grip as if it were winding it way around his own soul. It strangled the few embers of hope he'd been able to nurture since the time in the crystal caves of Fiorina. Hux had been on the edge since Starkiller collapsed, accepting the reasons that Kylo had offered him to keep on living, but whilst he had continued to survive the drive had not really been there anymore. And now it had gone entirely as the General closed his eyes.
If he'd had control of his vocal chords Ren would have screamed aloud. He'd admitted his love for this man to himself years ago, on the very night he'd ruined everything in fact. Nothing they had gone through since then had weakened that, not really. There had been moments when the emotion had been amplified to the point that Kylo had almost expected it to burn away the Dark in him.
Despite Hux's terror and self-preservational indifference to the wider situation, Kylo held their time on the cruiser- together but apart, joined in the single cause of preserving the new life they'd made- as some of the most precious moments in his lifetime of suffering. He'd never told Hux how he'd felt, had respected his boundaries in ending their relationship and refusing to discuss the child. He'd never get the chance now to tell Brendol how proud he'd felt of him when that perfect tiny bundle was first placed into his arms. To have brought this broken man through the horror of the birth and separation; to have led him back towards the strength and power that was rightfully his; only to watching Hux die at his own co-opted hands. It was too much. Kylo desperately wanted to look away, but he saw what Atok saw. This wasn't like Bren's dreams, he couldn't force a loss of focus here.
Desperate, he tried to concentrate on reaching outwards, on touching any other Force Sensitive mind he could, anything that could disrupt Atok's hold.
Slowly, Bren opened his bloodshot eyes. Glittering sparks of blue and white Force energy began to coalesce in the air, surging past them towards the viewports.
It was enough. Kylo felt something small squeeze his fingers as he regained control of his body. He saw Hux' eyes acknowledge the change at the same moment as the viewports gave way and the atmosphere flooded out.
Ren had always admired the design of Vader's armour, and bringing his heels together he activated the magnetic assist feature in his boots. Adjusting his Force hold on the General, Kylo released his airway and tried to support him steadily as they moved towards the doors. The vacuum draw from the shattered viewports was dragging unsecured furniture towards them. Around them the structure of the ship creaked, protesting the change in pressure. Beyond the ruined main doors of the bridge he could see the last few stormtroopers, the airlock doors half closed, waiting for their General. Fiorinians no doubt.
He couldn't be gentle with so little time available them. Hux' body was compelled swiftly through the gap, into the grip of the waiting stormtroopers as Ren lept through after him. The Force dragged the airlock closed.
Behind him the ship shook as the upper portion of the bridge collapsed, giving in to the burden of decompression.
Beside the coat-covered corpse that had been Lieutenant Mitaka, the troopers gently lowered the General onto the deck.
Barely recognisable, his face was blue from lack of oxygen and stained purple with ruptured blood vessels. Only the barest edges of his eyes were visible, bloodshot and the same colour as the blood trickling thickly from his mouth.
Someone was sobbing, behind a mask.
Phasma pushed her way through the crowd.
"Good." She said as she dropped to her knees with a clang, dragging a small tool kit from a belt pocket. "Is he dead? If I can restore his airway now will it save him or is his brain too starved of oxygen."
Kylo reached out and gripped the General's leg. More than one trooper levelled their weapon at him. He didn't care.
"Yes. If you're fast."
Phasma drove the neat little tube into the hollow of Brendol's throat. His colour changed abruptly as he gasped. Kylo, exhausted - mentally, physically and emotionally- lost consciousness.
Hux woke to pain- a sensation so intense that every breath and every heartbeat burned through his chest. Air was not passing through his mouth. Something had been driven through the base of his throat. The brilliant gleam of Phasma's armour shone above him as she stood guard at the head of his bed, half camoflaged by the machinery that hissed around them. The great black ragged heap that was Kylo Ren was draped asleep across the next bed, a hand clinging to the edge of Brendol's medical gown. The glowing child leant against the Force user's side, tears like liquid fire were running down her face.
"'Lo, daddy." She whispered. "Please don't die."
Hux reached a hand out to his daughter, resting his arm across the back of Ren's. The sensation across his palm wasn't touch as such, but the warm of the gentle gesture went with him as he sank back into sleep.
R.I.P. Lieutenant Dopheld Mitaka
In case it's not clear, [text is square brackets] indicates typed responses.
"Sir. You need to be sedated and moved to a bacta tank." This new voice was frustrated, fighting to maintain the proper respectful tone. "No Sir, that is not an option... Because it's a close equivalent to waterboarding. Whether you can breath mechanically or not your body will panic and you will still need to be sedated... No, Sir. No.... Look... Phasma can you talk some sense into him?"
"The General knows his own mind, Doctor." Phasma's metallic voice intoned. "If he believes he can do this then it should be attempted. I certainly agree with his assessment that he should not be sedated. That would not be in the best interests of the fleet."
"Best interests of the fleet?" The voice was gobsmacked now and verging on insubordinate. "I do not see how two weeks without the General is somehow worse than killing him with a heart attack!!"
Kylo sat up at this, dislodging the mound of blankets he'd been sleeping under as the Doctor shrieked. He caught Brendol's coat before it hit the floor, dragging it close around his shoulders. It was slightly too small. The rest he left where it fell.
Blinking he found the Doctor, an older woman with a tight bun of steel grey curls, staring at him in fear whilst Hux and Phasma glared. Well he assumed Phasma was glaring behind the helmet. Hux definitely was.
The General looked horrible. Ren had seen him ill, torn open, starving and half dead- he'd never looked this bad before. Both eyes were ringed with swollen bruises, the whites stained red with ruptured blood vessels. His face was ashen until it came to his jaw line. There the bruises were creeping upwards from the worst of the damage to his neck, much of which was painted in shades of black and purple. The area around his Adam's apple seemed wrong, distorted and pulsing slightly. Below that a thick unsightly tube stuck out, just above the man's sternum. Kylo suspected Hux couldn't talk at all and had been using his pad to communicate with the others.
"Status report." Kylo said, in a voice thick with sleep. When there was no response Kylo groaned, already regretting what he'd have to say next.
"With the General incapacitated, I am in control of this ship. Now, status report?"
Hux' hand flew across his pad. [Like Hell you are! I am not incapacitated! This is MY ship!] read the screen when he held it up.
"You can't run the bridge through text messages, Bren, you know that."
[DON'T YOU EVER CALL ME THAT AGAIN]
Kylo sighed, scrubbing his hands over his face. "Can someone, PLEASE, tell me what is going on? What's the problem with the General?"
"Beyond your spirited attempt to murder him, you mean?" The Doctor spat. "You've ruptured his trachea in multiple locations, collapsed a lung and caused several subcutaneous emphysema- air pockets outside the respiratory system. He needs to go into a bacta tank immediately, otherwise a two week recovery will be drawn out over a matter of months. There might not be a full recovery if infection is allowed to take hold."
"Meaning?" Kylo did not like the sound of that.
"He might lose the ability to speak entirely." The Doctor sighed. "Assuming he doesn't die."
Beside her Hux slapped his pad against the bedsheets in frustration.
"What does the General want to do? You mentioned triggering a heart attack?" Ren asked warily. He didn't quite believe the Hux would do something actively harmful, but he had just watched him entirely lose the will to live not twelve hours earlier.
"Since the most severe injuries are internal they could theoretically be treated by filling the airways above the tracheostomy with bacta fluid. But it would feel like drowning. Constantly. Psychologically speaking it would be akin to torture. I see no reason to condone this course of action when the tanks are far safer."
"Your reason is that the patient is General Hux, commander of the fleet and second only to the Supreme Leader." Ren said flatly with a twist of the hand that only Hux seemed to notice. "Go prepare for the procedure. I will inform you when it can begin. Until then this room is off limits to all personnel, including yourself. Get out."
The woman left, her movements slightly uncoordinated. The General glared at Ren- mind tricks might be efficient but they were also disrespectful. Hux could have ordered the Doctor at anytime, and likely received a resignation for his trouble. But he would still have preferred to be under the care of a medical professional with their free will still intact.
"Captain Phasma, what's the status of the ship?" Ren asked, turning the chrome figure and rolling his eyes when she looked to Hux for permission. Brendol waved a hand impatiently.
"The bridge is destroyed beyond the ability of our onboard engineers to repair it." She began. "There are stress fractures across five decks both above and below it. The structure has collapsed in on itself under the effects of vacuum and whatever else you did. One member of the bridge staff is dead. Twelve more are injured, three critically- including Lieutenant General Tarkin. Of the TIE fighters that crashed, one caused a fire that cut off a trooper dormitory, we have a suspected 98 fatalities there. The other took out a communications array and a munitions store. We need to get to a dock yard to replace the bridge section, which may take up three months, but engineering estimates that it will take at least two weeks to secure the structure enough to risk hyperspace. If we attempt it without that work the resulting damage could delay us for a further two months. We can move under basic propulsion and Dex has the secondary command centre in hand. We are not defenceless. But we are rather useless."
From the bed Hux tapped the guard rail to gain their attention then held up his pad. [Why did you do this?]
"It wasn't me, it was Atok."
[Atok is you.]
"No, Br... Hux. He really isn't." Kylo sighed. "We share memories. Usually I'm in control unless I actively hand the reins to him. In that situation I normally maintain my access to the Force- my consciousness can still tap into it and I can retake control from him. Yesterday it didn't work. On Tattooine, he lost the scavenger. Again. Almost got himself killed. Again." Here Ren gestured to his scarred face. "The messages that arrived during my treatment were from my Knights. They'd traced the scavenger to Luke Skywalker's former hiding place. She slaughtered almost half of them. The rest are stranded there, severely injured with a badly damaged ship."
[Atok mentioned the deaths of his men. That was the cause of all this?]
Shifting slightly, Ren seemed to sink further into the coat, becoming smaller against the laws of physics. "No." He admitted. "That was my fault. One of the messages said that before they crashed they'd managed to place a tracking device on the X wing the scavenger was in. It was being flown by the same pilot that aided that stormtrooper's defection. Poe Dameron. I knew him once. He's close to General Organa."
Hux slammed his head back into his pillows, pushing the heels of his hands into his eye sockets. It must have hurt a great deal. Kylo wished he could stop him. But trying to make Brendol do anything after yesterday would be a very bad idea.
[So they know where they are?]
"Not yet, fortunately." Kylo sighed, shifting to lean his shoulder against the closest wall. "The damage to my Knights ship means that they can't access the tracker. Atok won't be able to trace it until their ship is recovered. I... I panicked. I shouldn't have gone to the bridge so soon. I'm... I'm sorry."
Phasma shifted at that surprising statement, reminding Kylo of her presence. How someone in armour than garish could be so easily forgotten was a mystery.
"I wanted Atok to cripple the Finalizer. I did. It was all I could think off to stall him. But then I lost control. I could not take it back from him. Even when he hurt you. I tried. I swear I tried. If she hadn't heard me screaming.... I... Hux, he won't be content with only taking a shuttle when he gets his revenge." Kylo explained, shaking slightly now, still exhausted from the outpouring of the Force the day before. "He'll want the flagship. Orbital bombardment. Total annihilation. Dameron will eventually go back to the Resistance command, whether the scavenger goes with them or not, and Atok won't be content until they're all destroyed."
[Are we sure she's still with the high command?] Hux didn't look hopefully as he asked this but needed to be sure.
Rubbing his forearms under the coat, Kylo shrugged, "Alia talks about 'Uncle Poe' sometimes."
[Alia?] It was hard to tell through all the bruising but Hux' eyes seemed the brighten at that. He turned the pad back and changed the question to [You see her?]
" It's... to do with the Force."
[She was here last night. And when you were ill. Didn't say much.]
"No one entered these rooms after you were brought here from surgery, Sir. I stood guard. You must have been dreaming." They'd forgotten Phasma again. "Lord Ren, why are you concerned about the Resistance getting their comeuppance? I have seen no orders that would suggest that we needed to keep those people alive."
A long look passed between Brendol and Kylo. Eventually Hux nodded.
"Our... child... is not on Fiorina." Ren said carefully. "I asked Moxin and Zev to maintain that story for us whilst we made alternative arrangements."
"With the Resistance?" It was surprising how much disgust could still be expressed though a vocoder.
"They don't know anything about it, they think it's parents died when their ship crashed."
Phasma held hand up. "I don't want to hear anything more." She muttered. "I'm not force gifted like you. There's too much risk. I'll just go and tell the command centre to take us to lightspeed."
[You said that would delay is a further two months.]
Somehow Phasma managed to convey a wink without removing her helmet.
The door closed behind her. Gradually an uncomfortable silence stole through the room, filling the air between them. Hux wasn't really looking at Kylo, mostly tapping at the screen of his data pad. Ren was staring intently at the wires snaking along the underside of the General's bed.
Several times he opened his mouth to speak, only to shut it again, unsure if any words he could say would ever solve anything between them.
Just as he was gathering the strength to leave the room and summon the Doctor to be begin Hux' torturous treatment, the other man's pad span through the air and landed neatly in his lap. Ren glanced down at it, then looked to its owner. Brendol had shut his eyes and turned his head away. Swallowing hard, Kylo lifted the pad, expecting a screen filled with recriminations. What he found instead made him sit with his hand over his mouth for several long minutes.
[I forgive you. I understand now. I know that you didn't do this. I looked into Atok's eyes and you weren't there until the viewports gave way. You broadcast everything you felt then, though I couldn't process it at the time.]
[I made a choice to try to save Mitaka. That was my choice in the face of what Atok had already done. It was the wrong choice, but I'm not sure you would have survived had Atok's hold had not been broken. He had no control. I'm glad you survived.]
[I told you on the cruiser that what we had wasn't love, it was a welcome distraction. I was wrong. You hurt me. Badly. You shook the foundations of my identity. But. You also gave me a daughter. A beautiful daughter. Whose name is Alia. Who called me daddy. Who saved both our lives. Everything you've done since Starkiller has been to protect us. You have shown me patience when all I've given you is my own self-loathing, rage and despair.]
[Can you forgive me?]
"Bren, I nearly pfassking killed you!!"
Hux shrugged, and held his arm out, shifting to make space on the narrow medical bed. Kylo tossed the pad on to Brendol's knee and climbed up into the space, curling against and over the General's side like a pet that refuses to believe that it's grown too large to sleep on in owner's lap. As Hux sank his finger's into a conscious Ren's hair for the first time in years, they both sighed.
After a few minutes, Kylo summoned his pile of blankets from the floor and settled it over them both.
"We'll get her back."
[And end him.]
"Yes." Kylo yawned. "I should get that Doctor in here soon, get you healed."
[I prefer the healing I'm getting right now. Go to sleep. Leave it for now.] Smiling slightly Hux set an alarm on his pad to wake them in three hours. He might be feeling sentimental, but he wasn't a complete fool.
The mess hall was a sea of white helmets, far more stormtroopers than were usually gathered in one place within the Finalizer. They'd met in these kinds of numbers in the training yards of Starkiller Base, to listen to one of the General's speeches or to take part in formation drills and mock riots, but here in this enclose space it felt different. It should have been claustrophobic, instead it felt like home. Here and there amongst the press of stark white armoured bodies were pockets of black, grey, and teal uniforms. Small groups of TIE pilots and command officers, watching each other with wary interest.
Phasma stood on the only table that had not been sunk into the floor to provide more floor space. Beside her the dark robed figure was staring out across the room, his head drifting slowly from one side to the other. After several minutes he bent to murmur against the side of Phasma's helmet.
“Remove helmets!” She shouted, reaching up to lift her own free. “Hats too!” She added as she shook her hair to settle it more neatly out of her eyes.
Kylo repeated his previous scan of the room, this time in the face of several thousand disapproving glares. They hated him- for what he'd done to the bridge, their colleagues and their General. Many of them would like to see him dead. He could feel their animosity in waves. But there was no hint of treachery, betrayal or fear for themselves. They were all loyal to Brendol Hux. The hall was clear of listening devices. In fact, many the standard systems installed by the First Order across the entire ship were mysteriously offline following the failed attempt at lightspeed. With one last glance around the space, he inclined his head to Phasma and jumped down from the table. The weight of their collective stare would follow him long after the door had locked behind him.
Counting down from one hundred, Phasma surveyed her troops. Her people really, though not every individual here was a Fiorinian.
The original crew from the Starkiller II mission had made great progress in the years since they accompanied Hux to their home. From their first encounter, Phasma had known that Brendol was capable of inspiring great loyalty. Most often it was through the care he put into his day to day duties. Few other officers made a habit of eating the same rations as the troopers, or took the time to speak to the midlevel crew during walkthroughs. She'd served under many commanding officers and she'd rarely encountered any that were as soft spoken with their troops as the General. It was hard to believe from his fervent public addresses- but she'd never seen Hux raise his voice, or belittle a subordinate in the name of discipline. It created an atmosphere of mutual trust. The man truly believed in the righteousness of the First Order's cause, the need to bring peace and regulation to the Galaxy in order to save it's citizens.
That first crew had watched a broken man leave their home world tragically empty handed and yet still actively working to further their society. Hux had likely not even realised the impact that his plans for Starkiller II had had on the troopers around him. They were from a mining planet. Their entire civilization had been based on the assumption that they were expendable pawns to be worked to death in the name of profit. That the nature of their planet had spared them from the worst of this, did not negate the evil of the original intent.
They could appreciate the efficiency of Hux' plan to harvest minerals more effectively. They respected his dedication in working through a pain few of them could imagine. Although they heeded Phasma's insistence that their knowledge never been spoken of in front of the General, word of it trickled through the Fiorinian contingent on board. As speculation about the child- and its likely father- abounded, other tales of Hux' virtues flourished. Phasma's reminiscences of her days in the Hammers became an origin story. Every gesture was analysed and added to the gospel of Hux. They had drawn others into their faction, first from their own planet and then expanding outwards through the crew.
Support for the General as an individual had grown daily. These people, from their isolated backwater planet, had no interest in being led by a mysterious Force user who held himself at a distance from his subjects. They wanted a man of intelligence, with an understanding of suffering and a will to end it. If they'd had a formal religion, then the moment Brendol Hux chose to stand in the path of Darth Atok for the sake of one crew member would have lead to his beatification.
Reaching one hundred as they had agreed, Phasma was now confident that Kylo Ren was a sufficient distance away that he would not overhear them. Resting her helmet against her hip, she settled into parade rest.
“As you all know,” she began in a clear loud voice, “the Finalizer was disabled four days ago. We are now underway to a suitable space dock for repairs but it will be five months before the ship will be ready for active duty. There will be temporary reassignments during this time.” A chrome gauntlet was raised to silence the complaints at this. “It is vital that we use this to our advantage. If you are familiar with any crew on another vessel, or assigned to any planet-side project, verbally inform me immediately. Nothing should be commited to text.
“We have been gradually gaining ground through the natural flow of promotion, but this is an unprecedented opportunity to further our cause. We can now take our message en masse to the rest of the Order. Change is coming at last!"
There was a shifting in the ranks, almost every head turning to look at someone else. Slowly seven hand rose into the air. Phasma pointed to the closest. The tall man glanced around at his fellow signallers and nodded. As they edged their way through the crowd he addressed their Captain.
"Sir, we have concerns. We do not wish to give the General unprotected, specially given continuing presence of that creature aboard this ship. We know nothing about him beyond what he's done. You know what we suspect- I do not expect you to confirm it - but how can we trust him not to further harm the General? How can you trust Darth Atok? We do not even have proof of life! No one outside of medical has seen General Hux since he was taken from the bridge, and they will not speak to us, for all they're here right now!"
Phasma sighed, "I spent two days guarding him myself, is my word not enough, Lieutenant Torja?"
"Forgive me, Sir, but you trust Darth Atok." Torja said, sheepish but defiant. "We need to see Hux with our own eyes. We need to hear the order from him. We have discussed it, all of us. We knew there would be a redeployment. But some of us have engineering experience, we can be of use here. Once he has recovered the General will want to travel, he needs a personal guard!"
"You will not hear the order from the General himself, because the General cannot speak." Phasma paused as the room erupted into groans and cries of horror. She eyed them seriously but did not move to silence them. "His recovery in that area may take some time. But he did foresee this and has agreed to allow some of you into the medical centre. You can communicate your concerns directly to him.
"There is no intention of removing you all from his presence. You are correct, there is a need for loyal security personnel. But whilst the rest of the crew can be sent anywhere, your deployment must be carefully considered. This is not a punishment, or a banishment. This is an opportunity to do a great deal of good. Please, do not waste it.
"I assume you seven are the ones considered trustworthy enough to act as emissaries for the whole?" She asked, when they nodded, she stepped down from the table. "Follow me then. The rest of you, dismissed." As she reseated her helmet Phasma noted that most of the nominated representatives were from the original crew. When had they become more trusted than her?
The holochamber was in darkness when he answered the summons. After pausing a moment Darth Atok took a knee and awaited the connection. An hour passed. He did not move. After four hours he was trembling slightly from the effort of holding the pose, the textured grating of the deck agony against his knee cap, even through his robes.
“Lord Atok, your knights have failed.” A voice said suddenly from the darkness. Snoke had be connected the entire time.
“Forgive me, my Master. They will not fail a third time.”
“They likely will not get the chance!” The Supreme Leader spat, still invisible. Atok suspected the being had disabled visuals to hide his distress. He certainly sounded like he was twitching with rage. “There should not have been a second time! They are a disappointment, this latest batch of Knights. To leave an injured superior in such a manner. To attempt an assault on such a valuable asset with no guidance. You are to leave them where they fell.”
“Remain with the Finalizer during its repairs. This is your punishment for disabling the flagship. Stagnation. The General's new weapon is our priority now. I will not have our plans delayed further by your need for revenge. Your Knights caused their own deaths. You may go and see if any have survived when the Finaliser is at full strength once more. Until then you are leashed.”
“Yes, my Master.”
The silence dragged. Atok knew better than to assume a dismissal. As he waited he meditated on the fragility of the First Order and the weakness of having so vulnerable a creature as General Hux at its head. So easily damaged. So delicate. Snoke valued him for his mind. A shame that the mind could not be separated from its worthless vessel. Once the weapon was complete Atok would remove the feeble link from their chain of command. The galaxy should be ruled by those found worthy by the Force.
The Galaxy should be ruled by Atok. The meditation shifted to the details of his eventual empire.
Eight hours later, Snoke dismissed him with a curt “Go”. As the door slid shut behind him Kylo staggered against the wall, thighs twitching with cramp from holding that awkward position for so long. Beneath his robes he knew his knee would be a patchwork of bruises.
He had gotten what he wanted – an estimated five months to work on his projects undisturbed and uninterrupted. He might need Bren to complete one or two tasks for him but being confined to a mostly empty star destroyer would not hinder him in the slightest.
Drawing himself up Kylo marched towards their quarters, suppressing his discomfort. So much to be done, so much to prepare.
He'd need to find a way to remove Atok too. But it couldn't be until the very last moment. He had to hope that he would be more successful in his control this time around.
Nodding briefly to the pair of guards stationed outside the door to the General's sickroom, Phasma peered around for the Doctor.
"Doc Cope's in a meeting, Captain," one of the stormtroopers volunteered. "The General is expecting you, though." He tapped a pattern on the door, cocking his head for the corresponding thump before opening the door.
"Wait here," Phasma said gesturing to the nominated committee, "I'll be back for you in a moment."
The room was dim, the atmosphere cool and quiet. Hux was flat on his back, face shiny with sweat, or possibly tears. He had a large terminal screen positioned in a rig above his head. He seemed to be typing several documents at once. Turning his eyes towards the door, the General held up one finger in acknowledgement whilst the other hand saved and closed his files. Pushing the screen to one side he scrabbled amongst the sheets gathered at his hips.
Realising that Brendol couldn't see his objective due to the need to keep his head perfectly still, Phasma moved forward and retrieved the pad for him. With a thumbs up, he gratefully accepted it.
[Please grab that bowl. Then help me sit up.]
The area around the neighbouring bed was littered with Ren's belongs, like someone had dropped the contents of his foot locker from a great height. Half hidden amongst the detritus was a large shallow bowl and several towels. She placed the bowl on the edge of Brendol's bed, then took of her helmet and gauntlets waiting for further instruction. Hux shifted the bowl to his lap and directed her through pointing to drag him upright. Cold bacta fluid poured from his mouth and nose, his eyes streaming as he fought not to vomit at the sensation. The breath sounds from his neck whistled slightly as his chest heaved at the effort. Phasma handed him one of the towels, her other hand unconsciously rubbing circles across his back.
Five minutes later the General sat in his bed looking the very picture of dignity- fresh clothing, face washed, hair gelled and a curtain closed to hide Kylo's trashed half of the room. There was visible relief on the faces of the Fiorinian delegation as they filed in to stand awkwardly at the foot of the bed. Five stormtroopers that Hux recognised from the cruiser, one of their top TIE pilots and a member of the Naval Branch bridge crew. Now that they were here it seemed that they were lost for words.
Hux glanced at Phasma, raising an eyebrow. She shrugged. He went back the studying the new recruits.
[Captain Phasma told me you wished to speak to me urgently. What do you want?]
"So, it's true you can't speak Sir?" Asked one of the stormtroopers a little quietly.
In answer Hux shifted the open collar of his shirt slightly, to better reveal the tube jutting from his throat.
The muscular woman in the teal Naval uniform spoke up then, her hands clenched into fists at her sides. "Sir, the crew are terrified for you!" She said, shaking off Phasma's warning grip on her arm. "We saw what that monster did to the bridge, what he did to... to Dopheld and to you! And now some of the droids are saying he's sleeping in here! Sir, please, don't let him abuse you, Sir, even if he is the bab..."
She stuttered to a stop when Hux brought a fist down on the guardrail of his bed.
[I will not tolerate this questioning on the subject of my interactions with Darth Atok. The loss of Lt. Mitaka is a lamentable tragedy. I wish things had gone differently. But there is far more to the situation than it will ever be your place to know. If you do not trust me then you are free to leave this room and transfer to the Rectifier with the rest of the non-essential bridge staff. Or you can trust me, and remain here to serve with Commodore Dex.]
The woman blushed and stared at her feet. Yes, he'd thought he had recognised her, this one was here because she had an interest in Dex, an easy enough motivation for Hux to manipulate.
[Of course, a later transfer to Starkiller II's Command Centre would place you under the Army's chain of command and remove any fraternisation issues, Lt. Cmdr. ???]
"Jerjerrod, Sir." She said, eyes wide as as saucers and mouth hanging open. "Wilhuff Tarkin was my great grandfather, Sir."
Of course she was a Tarkin. Ren had said that some of the Tarkin's were also Fiorinians, perhaps she was doubly motivated.
[Do you trust me to control my own life?]
"Yes, Sir, I'm sorry, Sir, we were just all so worried, Sir."
Pushing her backwards, Lieutenant Torja turned to address the General in the hope of recovering from this embarrassing incident.
"General Hux, Sir," he began, swallowing hard, "we have been chosen to represent the groups loyal to you on board the Finaliser. As Jerjerrod said, there has been concerns amongst the ranks. Thank you for allowing us an audience, we will be able to reassure everyone as to your... survival." The man's fingers moved towards his own throat as he contemplated the damage inflicted on Hux by Darth Atok. Brendol curled his lip slightly, disliking the pity inherent in the gesture. "The entire crew joins me in hoping you have a fast and complete recovery. We have something for you. You might call it a gift."
The TIE pilot reached into one of the many small pockets covering his uniform, handing a small data chip to Torja who placed it on the raised table that the foot of the bed.
"Majnos and I both have the benefit of being second generation." Torja continued, gesturing towards the pilot. "Our mothers were amongst the oldest of the girls taken from Fiorina and the best placed to remember the identities of the others. Many have risen to positions of power, or married into them. When the Empire fell not all of them followed the First Order into exile.
"Our people have been speaking to a number of them. Their planets and systems were in disarray long before the attack on the Hosnian system. Now they are in urgent need of aid. We believe that, once you've regained your voice, it will be a matter of a few short meetings to bring 15 to 20 new systems under First Order control. The consensus is that if we can restore those planets, more will follow suit. I hope we have not overstepped our boundaries, Sir."
Typing quickly across his pad Hux did his best not to grin. It was so much easier when others did his work for him.
[Thank you both for your efforts. I look forward to studying these files. Your loyalty to the First Order is appreciated.
I trust you will discuss your placements for the next five months with Captain Phasma?]
There was a chorus of agreements and he waved them from the room.
As Phasma paused in the doorway he held up the pad again.
[Whoever is gathering this information, have them focus on commercial enterprises next.
[And Captain, keep an eye on Jerjerrod.]
Something smelled like burning flesh and ozone. It was Kylo's own arm. Clearly the wiring in the crystal array had slipped again. He'd been working on this for three days straight. He should rest and come back to it before he did himself a serious injury.
Wandering through into the bedroom he stretched and reached out his senses towards the medical centre. Based on his elevated heart rate and slightly manic thought processes Hux was undergoing the bacta treatment again.
How many more sessions until you're done?
The reply he received was frustrated. There were three six hour sessions to go but due to the strain on his heart there would have to be twelve hour gaps between them. Hux just wanted the tube out of his throat and the ability to sleep in his own bed.
I could sit with you and keep you calm. If you could do those three sessions back-to-back, you'd be back here in these rooms this time tomorrow.
The response was a plea. Kylo set off at speed. The corridors were unsettlingly empty. Most of the crew had been reassigned now, taken away by transport before the Finalizer had even reached its repair dock.
The lights were off in the medical centre and the General's room when Kylo arrived. The few medical staff left to monitor him would be sleeping in the on call room. They would be alone more or less.
Ren tried to remind himself that Hux was still gravely injured, trying to calm the various parts of himself that were simply too excited at the prospect of being close to the General once more. Rationally speaking, forgiveness and a few hours of cuddling were really not good reasons to assume that their relationship could restart where they'd left off.
Bren's face was lit by the screen above his head, planetary information scrolling slowly before eyes fighting to stay open. He smiled when he heard Kylo step into the room but didn't look at him. When the door locked behind him the smile turned into a grin. Hux shifted his eyes to watching as Kylo stripped down to his leather trousers and slightly scorched undershirt. But when he moved to climb into the bed, he was stopped by a hand against his chest. Confused he looked at Hux- that grin was feral now. He brushed against General's mind.
Kylo reeled slightly as he encountered a number of very lurid and detailed memories of their relationship before Dantooine. Biting his lip in a failed attempt to stay calm, Ren reached over to touch the General's bicep. There was four day old bruising around his implant site. Even though he had been seriously injured, Hux had clearly asked the medical staff to update his dose. Ren was down to his boxers and under the covers with Hux before the General had finished shut down the terminal and swinging it out of his way.
I'm supposed to be helping you relax Bren, not get you over excited.
When the response was a montage of the two of them dozing in a cloud of postcoital bliss wrapped in one another's arms, Ren had to concede that his General had a point. And how could he deny him anything, seriously injured as he was?
Kylo began to kiss his way down the trail of ginger chest hair. Above him Hux closed his eyes and welcomed true peace back into his soul.
After weeks of rain the sun was out at last, bright and hot on the asphalt. Since displays were not needed for this meeting the Resistance command had elected to hold it outdoors, perched on storage boxes or relaxing on jackets that it was finally warm enough to remove. Several children ran through the group every few minutes, eager to stay close to their parents but too disinterested in the adult discussions to sit still.
Although she tried to join in with the games, Alia- General Organa's orphaned ward- had found that the others were just too fast for her little legs to keep up. She was nearly three, a 'big girl' by her own insistence, but still too small to play with most of the other children. There had been a drop in the birth rate amongst the Resistance immediately following the destruction of Starkiller base. Those with children already with them were permitted to remain if they wished, but contraceptive doses or reassignments were encouraged to prevent the addition of infants to what could easily become military targets.
As such Alia was the youngest person on the base and was often cared for by whoever was available. Surprisingly, even at the age of two she'd needed little supervision. Where most children might become lonely or clingy due to a lack of similarly aged friends, Alia instead developed an active imagination. It was not uncommon to see her toddling around the room playing tag with imaginary friends, or hosting tea parties with invisible guests.
The little girl had been more subdued for the last few weeks, keeping an odd sleep schedule that didn't correspond to the base's 21 hour days. When the girl had been heard talking about pain, one of the technicians had brought her the General Organa concerned that the child might be ill. Tests had proven inconclusive but Leia had chosen to keep Alia close by for now, just in case.
"Recent encoded transmissions from the First Order confirm the intelligence we received from our agents last week- the Finalizer has been crippled by some kind of catastrophic incident." Finn said to the gathered Resistance officers, Luke and Rey observing from the sidelines. "General Hux has been severely injured. Whoever took command tried to go to lightspeed too soon. The flagship will be out of commission for five months at least."
"Then this is the perfect time to strike!" A young major cried enthusiastically. "If Hux is too badly injured to be moved, then he'll..."
"...be surrounded by fifty five thousand highly trained and agitated stormtroopers, bored out of their minds and itching for a fight." Finn snapped, cutting him off. "We don't know exactly what happened, but we do know there's been no major troop movements. The ship is badly damaged but there's still a full compliment of TIE fighters and support ships on board. If we just wait for the Finalizer to make it to a repair dock they'll have redeployed the troops by then. The ship will just be full of civilian engineers so we can go in with a smaller force."
"I thought the Concordance forbid the use of civil contractors in military matters?" Rey asked.
"It does," Poe said, slightly disgusted. "No one cares. There wasn't ever anything the Senate could do to stop them, and now..." He shrugged.
"Huh. How do we know Starkiller will stay on the Finalizer?" Rey continued, turning her lightsaber around in her hands. Luke had his eyes shut, it was hard to tell if he was even awake. "I mean, what happened? If he's that badly injured why don't they move him to a planet side facility?"
"They don't have any." Finn said. "Not really. Everything's on the Star Destroyers. He might take another ship as flagship once he's recovered but for now he'd stay with the crew he knows and trusts. But what happened to him? We haven't heard."
"Can't breathe." Said Alia from her place at Leia's feet. She was marching a silver coloured doll up and down the runway markings on the asphalt. She hadn't looked up when she spoke.
"What was that, sweetheart?" Leia asked, leaning down closer to the child's level. "Are you feeling ok? What do you mean you can't breathe?"
"Not me, silly Genma!" She replied with a shake of her hair. "His neck is all squishy." She demonstrated by squeezing the neck of her doll in her fist.
"Oh, you mean your doll." Leia said dismissively, turning back to Finn and his description of the few First Order shipyards and repair docks he'd seen during his time as a stormtrooper.
Luke's eyes had snapped open at Alia's first statement, watching the child suspiciously. Reaching out with the Force he discovered two things- that the girl had been talking about General Hux, somehow knowing his medical status when no word had come from any of their sources within the Order itself; and that he would not be able to sense anything further from her. He'd worked with Force Sensitive children before Kylo Ren had ruined his dreams of restoring the Jedi. Many who came into their powers early learned instinctively to deflect other Force users in much the same way as other children learn to lie. Alia had sensed him looking at her mind and had closed it off like a steel trap.
Perhaps it was time for him to get to know his sister's pet waif.
Kriff! How could he have lost something so important? Without it the focusing array would be worthless to the Starkiller project. When had he last seen it? Months ago probably. Well, it wasn't in here.
"Hux?" He called, slipping out of the room he no longer had to sleep in and, closing the door behind him, heading through what was finally their shared bedroom again. "Hux?"
"Ye?" The sound was small and followed by a lot of coughing. Hux was on the sofa. He looked quite relaxed, pad in hand, wearing his old Academy shirt and what were almost certainly Ren's own workout trousers. If it weren't for the hollow of his throat showing shiny with half healed new skin over his collar, Brendol might have looked quite well.
"Wha?" He managed when the coughing abated, frowning at being unable to complete a whole word even a full week after the bacta treatments had finished. With a sigh he held up his pad.
[What is it Kylo?]
"Have you seen a bag? With a round object in it?" Kylo asked, rifling through the items on the desk.
[The creepy thing full of little bones?]
Ren swallowed. Of course Brendol had looked inside the bag, these were his rooms. He should have been more careful. He hadn't meant for Hux to ever see that. Hopefully he wouldn't realise what it actually was- it was too bizarre a connection to make, for an ordered mind like the General's at least. It had been nearly a year before Kylo himself had become attuned enough to recognise it.
"Yes. Where is it?"
A languid hand waved towards a pile of blankets stuffed between the end of the sofa and the wall. Raising an eyebrow, Kylo crouched to dig through the mess, finding his carved wooden box hidden at the bottom. He could feel the crystal and its grisly contents within. Ren stood, intending to take the whole thing back into his room, rather than removing the object in Hux' presence.
"Wha is it?" Hux asked quietly. Kylo turned around again. The pad was being held up.
[I found it under the bed. When you were on a mission. It felt like it was watching me. I couldn't sleep with it in my room. What horrors are you bringing in here?]
"You don't want to know."
[Oh well, that definitely convinced me. WHAT IS IT?]
[You can go back to sleeping on the floor.]
"You're going to regret asking me about this." Ren said with a sigh, shoving the redhead's legs off the sofa so he could flop down beside him, the box held against his chest. "I want you to remember that I told you that."
Hux glared at him, fingers tracing a 'get on with it' motion in the air.
"Snoke's been manipulating me my entire life." Kylo began. "He was in my head as a child, like all the people around me but intentionally so. He made me think things. Violent things. Isolating things. I was so use to his voice that I believed they were my own thoughts. He didn't control me. I hated the people around me in my own right. They were so noisy. Besides- they hated me. Especially the ones who knew about my grandfather, who didn't understand him like I did. Trying to explain didn't help.
"Anyway. My point is that Snoke manipulated me for a very long time. The Republic had barely formed when I was born, the First Order was still just a refugee train heading out of the core systems. And Snoke was already there. Snoke's always been there."
Gently opening the box Kylo lifted the bag out, placing it on his knees as he lowered the box to the floor. Hux watched with a frown as Ren's long fingers eased the crystal sphere out of its container. Nestled in one massive hand it looked much smaller than Hux remembered. As he continued Kylo kept running his fingers over its surface, like he was trying to sooth something alive. The sensation of being watched returned, though it didn't seem malignant, merely curious.
"When I went to complete my training, I was not myself." He said. "I was a proto-form of Atok. The last stage involved a trail of endurance, one that Sith and Jedi alike undertook for thousands of years. But twisted to Snoke's own methods. I realise now that I should have been forced to confront and slaughter a representation of you. To stop Alia from ever being born. The two of you were all that mattered to me when I left. I caught snatches of it, but as I said, I wasn't myself. The trial failed to form properly. Instead I was presented with my mother, the next logical step after Han Solo. I killed her easily."
Hux was shaking slightly. The withdrawn passionless tone in Kylo's voice made him feel cold. He did regret asking Kylo about this. The depths of this man's devotion, in light of everything Hux had done over the last few years, made his heart ache.
"The trial had been attempted by many. I suspect I may be the only one to survive since Snoke. I can't know for sure. To prove that I had fulfilled the task, and not just waited in the caves, I had to return with an object. One would call to me, out of the many hidden there, all powerful, each different in its own way. This was the only one that felt any different to me." Kylo had folded both hands around the crystal now, hiding it from view. "I'm not sure if it would have been the object I took if the trial had functioned properly, though perhaps it would have been. It pleased Snoke. It proved to him that I didn't care for you. That our interactions weren't a concern."
"How?" Hux asked, confused and exhausted by Kylo's long rambling speech. Ren rarely spoke in full sentences, let alone monologues. The deep drone of his voice was soothing but horrifying, as if Hux could feel all the emotions hidden underneath rather than hearing them. Perhaps he could. Kylo could be projecting what he didn't want to vocalise.
"How did it c... Convince him?" Hux asked again, coughing as he stumbled over the plosive sound.
"Snoke's been manipulating you too." Kylo said slowly. "I don't know how long it's been direct manipulation, rather than just his influence on the Order. But this is definitely proof of some direct manipulation. He knew about your fears. All the subconscious stuff that came from the conversation you overheard between your parents about you. From your father's death and your anxiety when you found out your wife was carrying a son. You were already his servant, building his glorious machine, but Snoke wanted to isolate you. Keep your loyalties undivided."
Kylo held out his hand, carefully lifting the covering fingers from the crystal to reveal the jumble of tiny bones within.
"Hux." He started, then swallowed before he continued carefully. "This is what Snoke did to you. This is Brendol. Snoke took him from you to break your desire for outside contact. He took him and kept him, a symbol of the power he has over you. When I took possession of this reliquary Snoke took it as a sign of my contempt for you. It isn't. I think this was the only thing in the room that called to me because it was the only link to you and what we could be together. That dream, that nightmare, where he becomes Starkiller. It's complicated but that's not far from the truth. What I'm working on in there... It'll give him the chance to be the... change... in the universe that he would have been if Snoke hadn't interfered. You were always destined for greatness, Hux. But Snoke twisted your fate. We can repair it. But only so far.
"I'm sorry. I didn't want to tell you this. You deserve to know but... I'm sorry, ok? Hux?"
Brendol's face had turned grey when Kylo had first started to talk about Snoke's manipulations. He wondered how much of his life had ever been his own choices. Palpatine, Tarkin, his father, Snoke, Kylo, his own treacherous biology. All of that, going back decades, long before he was ever born, all conspiring to put him here. When Kylo had named the bones inside the crystals- the bones and skin- Hux had felt as if ice water was flooding his abdomen. A soul-deep chilling horror. At what had been done to that child, utterly innocent, and his poor wife tied to him for nought but politics. That Snoke had kept it, placed the remains deep in that cold empty citadel as a prize for a Knight to win to prove the loss of their humanity...
Without a word Hux stood and strode out of the room. The fresher door closed a moment later, failing to mask the sound of vomiting. Kylo could feel the klaxon of the General's mind in his head, ordering him out of their quarters. After ensuring that the reliquary was safely stowed back in his room, he headed for the training rooms. Perhaps Captain Phasma would let him work off some of the turmoil gripping his stomach.
Luke had learned nothing.
Alia had been rescued from the wreckage of a ship that had crashed outside a Resistance base that had now been abandoned. The memories he could access of the crash site seemed wrong, the ship too intact behind the flames for a proper impact into a coniferous forest. It looked like someone had landed it, then picked it up with the Force and dropped it.
The bodies of her 'parents' had been mostly destroyed by the fire, unrecognisable in any memory that included the wreckage. Oddly enough, Leia's memory did not include the ship. The fire, yes. And the child. But not the rescue. His sister has said that the gap was due to the horror of finding her friends dead and the trauma of saving the baby. She could not explain why her mind contained names for these 'old friends' but only the vaguest of mental images.
The girls name had been chosen by a vote amongst the base staff and no attempt had been made to trace the families of either of the deceased. Leia said this was because she knew emphatically that there were no living relatives for her friends, but could give no further details.
Luke had thought back to their own childhoods. Owen and Beru had known his father, making a point of telling him the good stories of Anakin Skywalker, keeping the truth of Darth Vader from him, if they're ever known it. Meanwhile Bail and Breha Organa had raised Leia as their own. Was this a third way- raising the child to know she was an orphan but without any details of her history?
It seemed unlikely that she could truly be related to the bodies in the wreckage. It was too strange. Such a powerful Force user as this, with some kind of link to General Hux. Luke would have suspected a familial link there but he couldn't imagine Hux having a child or giving it up to the Resistance, certainly not so powerful a resource as a Force Sensitive child. It would have been handed to Snoke for training, to become the next Kylo Ren. Unless he didn't know about it. Perhaps the mother had stolen it away, hidden the pregnancy and dumped the child in a place where it would never be sought.
There had been a great deal of bizarre behaviour after the death of Palpatine, including clones. Perhaps someone wanted a head start on recreating Hux' empire. Thinking of Palpatine, Luke recalled the fact that that particular monster had possessed red hair in his youth. Perhaps Hux was one of the failed clones and someone had managed to create a Force Sensitive being using his genetic material.
Or perhaps this was all just the wild speculation of an old man who had spent too long isolated from society. Maybe the child was just an innocent orphan. If she'd instinctively reached out to other Force Sensitives it would be natural for her to latch onto the most powerful active Force User in the galaxy.
If that were the case, Luke could only hope that Kylo Ren's influence wouldn't ruin yet more lives.
Of course the best way to ensure that was to remove Kylo Ren entirely.
Hux was off ship with his loathsome retinue of disloyal abominations. Atok would have rather they be removed, but there were so many of them. They were hard to read with the Force, like Hux, but he could feel them- watching him, hating him, questioning him. The ship at least was blessedly empty of them now, all gone to protect their weak little leader whilst he tried to persuade other planets to join their cause instead of using the strength of his armies to crush them to his will. The Republic's fleet was gone. Starkiller II neared completion, storming ahead of schedule under the supervision of more of Hux' freaks. There should be no place for negotiations and compromise when the First Order held the upper hand.
Striding though the empty corridors of the Finalizer, activating the motion sensitive lighting in waves with his approach, Atok stewed in his rage. He was chained to this barren hulk until he had atoned for his failure, likely losing valuable resources as his Knights succumbed to their injuries, the Resistance moving further from his gri, and Hux doing nothing to aid him.
He hadn't spoken to the fragile creature since the incident on the bridge. Had rarely spoken to him in the last three years. Whatever relationship they'd indulged in prior to his ascension was categorically dead. He had no need for such distractions. Days of continuous meditation slaked his body's desire for carnal fulfilment. Atok had no use for Hux anymore. The only one who saw any purpose in him was Snoke. It was just out of deference for his Master's wishes that the man still lived. Above all things Atok must obey his Master. Mustn't he?
There was a subtle noise, a vibration that ran up Atok's legs through the soles of his boots. If the Finalizer's eleven massive ion engines had not been dormant Atok would not have heard it so clearly. Someone without his heightened senses might not have heard it at all. If they had, they would no doubt have ascribed it to the construction work going on around the bridge, or around the damaged upper decks of the forward section. They would not have realised, with fourteen decks between them, that the impact had been against the underside of the ship. Certainly they would not have recognised the cause.
Only someone who had been forced to spent months of their childhood onboard that garbage scrow would recognise the specific resonance of the Millennium Falcon as it settled against the hull of the Star Destroyer.
Grounding himself Atok reached out with the Force towards the old Corellian freighter. Five individuals were within, four humans at the airlock and the expected Wookie in the cockpit. Luke Skywalker and the scavenger Rey shone brightly, contaminated with the weakness of the Light. Behind them the pilot and the traitor who'd hindered his Knights on Tattooine. The traitor's mind was the loudest, anxiously sorting through half remembered patrol patterns for the exact location of General Hux' personal quarters. A shame Hux no longer used them. A shame Hux was not currently on board. An assassination would have lifted Atok's mood and removed any need for him to disobey his Master so soon. But it was not to be.
Heading for a console, Atok began the process of deactivating the lighting sensors and backup control panels on the four routes the little party were most likely to take. He had been forbidden to leave the ship in the pursuit of revenge, but Snoke had left him no instructions in the event that his enemies came to him.
The chase would be much more satisfying in the dark. Let them cower in terror as death came for them from the shadows. Skywalker could die last. Let him watch the others fall as he had watched in the Temple all those years ago. Let him die reminded that his entire existence had been one long inescapably failure.
The last of the lights went out. Unhooking his saber from his belt, Atok moved silently through the pitch black corridors, a personification of inexorable hatred.
Fourteen decks below, Luke Skywalker lifted the hood of his brown cloak over his greying hair. For reasons he did not yet understand, he heard the last living words of Obi Wan Kenobi echoing through his mind.
I'm so sorry this update took so long!
"How are we going to find out who's actually on this ship?" Rey asked, as the four of them hurried through the corridors of the Finalizer's lowest levels. "There won't just be a list of the crew compliment that anyone can access right? Surely the First Order isn't foolish enough to have that kind of information on display?"
"No, you're right," Finn said, pausing at a junction before leading them up a flight of stairs. "Actual crew lists were never accessible to my clearance level- there was no need for stormtroopers to know that kind of thing. But part of my sanitation duties was cleaning the larger ships in the hangers. TIEs and other single/duel combat vessels were left to the engineers, anything bigger and we had to scrubbed them down on a weekly basis. We had to know which ships were in so we could calculate the schedule. That list was behind a password used by over a thousand stormtroopers, they won't have changed it."
"How does that help?" Rey asked.
"I bet Hux has their own private ship, right?" Poe said. "So if that ship is gone then so are they?"
"Yeah, exactly," Finn replied, patting his boyfriend companionably on the shoulder, "exactly. I'm just trying to find a sanitation console to check the list."
"You can't just check from any console?" Luke sounded baffled. "We should have brought R2, he could have..."
"No." Finn shook his head. "Hux was heavily involved in the design of the Resurgent-class. He made them as 'Rebel Proof' as he could. Pretty much anything that was used to an enemies advantage was changed, even if it made life marginally harder for some of the crew. There's no unnecessary overlap between systems. You can't just grab any terminal and access the entire ship."
With a quiet sound of satisfaction he found what he was looking for in an alcove and settled in to access the information he needed.
"Can't you two just sense who's onboard?" Poe asked the two Force users, as much to break the awkward silence as out of genuine curiosity.
"Nearly three kilometres of ship? Potentially thousands of souls?" Luke asked quietly. He shrugged as beside him Rey's eyes drifted closed, her brow furrowed slightly in concentration. "Sometimes it's possible. If someone is very familiar to you, or especially strong in the Force. But just an ordinary person like Hux? Probably not."
"This ship is practically empty." Rey said slowly. "Beyond the engineering staff tending the reactor and the repair crews, there's almost no one..."
"Hux' shuttle isn't there." Finn called over his shoulder. "There's almost no smaller vessels at all, even the TIEs are mostly gone. They're not expecting this ship to move for a while."
"So do we abandon the mission or try plan B?" Poe asked.
Rey shrugged distracted by something she couldn't quite put a finger on. "Assassination by booby trap does seem underhand for a Jedi, but given this man destroyed an entire system without warning..."
"Yes," Luke said, quietly. "This evil needs to be cut out of the universe by any means necessary. Where are the General's quarters, Finn?"
Just when he heard the question Finn swore slightly under his breath as the control panel turned blank beneath his fingers. Of course the ship was undergoing repairs, it made sense that some systems would go offline now and then. The timing was a coincidence, that was all. He couldn't shake that growing sense of paranoia though.
FN-2187 had been raised on Star Destroyers like this one his entire life, or at least as much of his life as he could remember. Both Rey and Luke had tried to help him retrieve memories from his very early childhood, before the Order stole him away but he could recall nothing beyond a smile, a woman's perfume and a man's laugh. But the memories of the training he'd undergone here on the Finalizer were crystal clear and he knew for a fact that he'd never known the brutal ship to be this quiet and still. It was unnerving, like a battlefield immediately after a defeat. He kept expecting to see patrols of stormtroopers march by or officers sauntering between assignments. There weren't even any cleaning droids and there'd always been those scuttling everywhere, even in the unused storage areas that troopers preferred for private assignations.
Sighing he turned to another terminal, set into the wall across the junction and began pulling up the same maps as before. Naturally the General's private quarters would not be listed in any directory that could be accessed without a password but traditionally stormtrooper patrols would avoid that entire corridor so it was just a case of finding somewhere near the bridge that looked familiar. The screen turned blank. Finn swore again, louder this time, attracting the attention of all his companions, Rey's concerned frown deepening.
The lights were motion sensitive and the other three had been keeping this section of corridor lit by pacing slowly back and forth. As they paused to look at him every single light, main and auxiliary, for the full length of the long straight arterial corridor snapped on, giving a momentary glimpse of the impossible scale of the the star destroyer. Then, just as abruptly, the lights were extinguished.
"It's ok, the emergency lighting will come on in a second," Finn muttered, as much to reassure himself as the rest of the group. Nothing happened. Finn waved his arms, hoping the trigger the motion sensors. Still nothing happened.
There was the distinctive swish and hum of a lightsaber igniting, revealing Luke's location in a burst of green light. Blue joined it as Rey followed suit.
"Perhaps they needed to power down for safety reasons?" Rey suggested, sounding unconvinced. "For the repair work?"
"Noooo..." Finn said slowly, looking around. "The majority of the damage was to the bridge and the forward upper levels, about as far from here as we can get. There's no reason for the reactor to stop supplying this section."
There was an noise, somewhere far distant along the corridor, of heavy boots slowly pacing from one wall to the other. Peering into the darkness they could see no sign of movement.
Luke reached a hand out in that direction as Poe and Finn activated the levitating light globes they'd kept on their belts for a power outage like this, which given the ships position in repair dock had seemed likely to happen eventually.
Rey reached out and gripped the sleeve of Luke's outstretched arm with her prosthetic hand. "Finn, you said there weren't many ships in the hold? What about Kylo Ren's shuttle? The black Upsilon class?"
"Yeah that was in the hanger, but he could be with Hux, right?" Finn asked nervously.
"Master, do you feel it? The void?" Rey was whispering to Luke now, maintaining her grip as the older man lowered his arm.
Impossibly far away, perhaps as much as half a kilometre, close to the engines, an orange light flickered on. It took a moment for the faint echo of a lightsaber igniting to reach their ears. The four turned and fled back towards the staircase.
Luke and Rey each deactivated their own sabers, trying to rely on the Force to guide them over unfamiliar ground. As they climbed the stairs Poe sent one lighting globe on ahead of them and deactivated the other, shoving it into a pocket. As the illumination decreased the two Force users caught the arms of their disadvantaged companions, keeping them steady as they climbed.
"Where are we going?" Poe hissed. "Shouldn't we be heading back to the Falcon?"
"We've more chance of losing that thing in the main body of a ship this size than we have if we retraced our steps right now." Rey explained quietly. "Chewie has standing orders to move the Falcon towards the bridge tower if we're not back within the hour. I say we try to complete our mission and get out that way."
Behind them came the clang and hiss of blast doors closing.
"And he has access to things like that."
"Send the light on ahead and we'll turn off at the next landing," Luke said calmly. "Finn, do you have an idea of where we're going?"
"Hux kept his quarters near the bridge, so we need to go and slightly forward from here."
They dived out of the stairwell and headed down another pitch black corridor, Finn and Poe stumbling with the unexpected course change in the dark.
"We should choose a nonsense route." Poe suggested.
"Ren will be expecting us to run away from him in a straight line, like last time." He explained, grunting as his shoulder bounced off a bulkhead. "We should go in random directions, make it look like we're aiming for somewhere else. The reactor maybe?"
"What, and take out the entire ship?" Finn sounded horrified. "That'd be suicide."
"No it could be done with a slow cascade overload." Luke replied, shoving his companions to the left as they approached another junction. "If we deactivated the circuits in the right order..."
"It could take hours and still be impossible to stop." Rey finished.
"So now we're on plan C?" Poe asked.
"No, we stick to the plan to remove Hux, we just set up the cascade so it looks like we were interrupted, and that will hopefully distract security from the other parts of the ship."
The foursome turned again and mounted a short staircase that was topped with a subtly glowing light.
A pair of double doors stood at the top. Peering through the transparisteel windows set high in each door they could see that they'd reached the lower curve of the reactor hall. A massive spherical space, the hall extended up through many levels and protruded slightly out into space on the underside of the ship. The reactor itself blocked any view directly across the massive hall but it was possible to see about forty percent of the curve in any given direction.
Carefully they eased their way along the wall, intensely aware that their predominantly brown clothing wouldn't necessarily camouflage them against the high gloss black of the instrument panels.
"We'd need to get to one of those consoles up there," Rey said pointing towards a bank of blinking lights seven or eight levels above them. "If we... Oh no."
The thump of heavy boots echoed around the previously quiet chamber, causing the small number of engineers to look up. Since the shape of the hall created complex echoes, the workers were looking in every direction. Including towards the four intruders . Luke met the eyes of the first person looking at them, gesturing carefully with one hand and dismissing their attention. As he turned toward the second a voice echoed up from several levels below.
"There are Resistance fighters onboard!" The voice shouted, familiar after all these years despite the deepening of adulthood and the emotionless veneer of whatever influence Ben was under now. "Where are they?"
The second engineer had watched his companions unnatural reaction to the man in the brown robe. Now be weighed his options between his fear of the man below, and his loyalty to the First Order's cause.
"LORD ATOK!" He shouted, making his decision. "They're her..."
Luke made a different gesture and the man collapsed, unconscious. Rey frowned, then snapped back to the present.
"We should split up." She hissed. "Master, if you escort Finn then the two of you can set up the trap for Hux. Poe and I can fake the cascade."
Luke nodded. "Head upwards from here when you're ready and try to follow my presence in the Force. Finn, we need to run some interference."
At the older man's direction Finn ran left around the perimeter of the reactor whilst Skywalker moved right, hoping to confuse the dark Force user with three moving targets rather than one. It didn't work. Atok barely ever glanced away from Rey, merely moving sideways across the floor as he calculated the shortest route.
Finn stopped before he moved too far around the curve and lost sight of the others. He caught Poe's eye as the pilot climbed, gesturing to his blaster. Sure Kylo Ren could stop one blaster bolt with a wave of his hand, but several from multiple directions?
They fired together, their aim sure and their hands steady. Atok was moving before their triggers were completely depressed, hands whipping outwards in opposite directions faster than seemed quite possible. Being closer Poe found that his blaster crumpled in his hand, as if crushed by an invisible vice. He was able to throw it away from himself before the power pack overloaded. Finn was not so lucky. The energy bolt from his blaster paused at the precise moment it exited the barrel, causing the entire blaster to detonate when his grip shifted minutely.
Rey screamed as Finn fell back, disappearing from view behind a console. The noise drew Atok back in her direction and Poe's meagre luck ran out.
Luke had spoken to her about the last hours of Darth Vader and the otherworldly lightning storm that Emperor Palpatine had unleashed during their final encounter. It had been almost impossible to imagine at first, having lived on such an arid planet as Jakku. She'd seen small localised storms inside the hulks of the ruined Star Destroyers, the massive metal structures creating odd microclimates given the right wind conditions. But having been shocked by sparks during her first encounter, she'd elected to wait and watch from a safe distance in the hope of collecting water once the phenomenon passed. Until she'd come to Skywalker's island, lightning had been a brief far off glow of electrical discharge, like a shorting circuit. But there in that humid atmosphere she'd witnessed great hulking monstrous storms that arced across the entire sky for days at a time. They'd be frightening at first but she'd come to accept them as a fact of nature, powerful but innocent in their undirected random nature.
What arced from the hands of the being known as Darth Atok was far more terrifying than even the biggest ocean storm. It was pure, controlled malevolence, the sort of Force power that should never actually be used because it tore at the fabric of reality. The burst lasted only a moment, the monsters concentration interrupted by a gantry flung at its head by Master Skywalker, but that moment lasted far too long. The electric discharge caught Poe Dameron square in the chest, his body seizing for a second that seemed to last forever before he was released, collapsing to the floor amid the stench of burning hair.
Finn didn't see what happened whilst he was on the deck, stunned by the blasters explosion. His cheek and temple were bleeding freely, occasionally obscuring his vision as he frantically checked his hands. Whilst they were both badly burned, a living example of why stormtroopers were forbidden to remove their gauntlets on active duty, they were blessedly whole. Finn had witnessed comrades lose fingers, or even entire hands, in similar accidents and he was thankful his luck had held.
Climbing to his feet he found that he could no longer see Poe or Rey across the reactor hall but he did catch a glimpse of Luke's cloak as the Jedi headed in the direction they'd originally agreed. Far below, Atok was using the Force to lower a broken gantry to the main deck, a crowd of concerned technicians crowding in to observe the damage without actually approaching the terrifying man. Not waiting to see what he did next, Finn set off at a run in the direction Skywalker had taken, determined to stick to the plan as they had agreed it.
Later he would be unable to describe the route he took through the Finalizer's halls, passing from light to darkness, climbing apparently endless staircases and creeping along exposed balconies. Where he could he followed the sound of Skywalkers footsteps or the intermittent green glow of his lightsaber blade. But often as not, he had to trust his intuition as he blundered down darkened corridors.
Levels fell away beneath his boots as he climbed through the ship. Gradually, creeping in at the edge of his consciousness came an intense feeling of existential dread. It dragged at his will to continue on, whispering words of terror about the fate of his companions, telling him to give up, give in, lay down on the deck and expire. Pausing for a moment he realised he was actually hearing a voice, vague murmurings on the very edge of hearing reaching directly into his brain despite the quiet tones.
Suddenly the almost silence of the hallway was broken by the clang of heavy boots up ahead, passing between him and the last place he'd heard Skywalker's own footsteps. Rushing forwards once more he found himself staring down a wide hallway towards a viewport showing vistas of the repair yard and the planet below.
Silhouetted against the starscape stood Luke Skywalker, hood thrown back and lightsaber raised as Darth Atok advanced, his own saber held out but unlit.
"You're calling yourself Atok now, are you Ben?" Luke asked as the huge figure that had once been his nephew approached in silence.
Atok swung his saber hilt in a circle, igniting the blade on the upswing. His free hand shot out, freezing Finn in position where he crouched by the doorway.
"If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine," Luke said, raising his chin and meeting the monster's gaze as he allowed his saber to drop extinguished to the floor.
Chuckling darkly, without a scrap of humanity in the noise, Atok continued his advance.
"Can't even think of your own last words?" He said, voice deeper and far more emotionless than the teenager Luke had once taught and fought to control. "You're pathetic. Do you know what is required to become one with the Force? True understanding. You've never even come close to that and now you never will."
The orange blade shot forward, not in a bisecting arc that would divide his former masters body in two but a single stabbing thrust that penetrated just to the right of the midline, narrowly avoiding the heart.
Finn would have screamed if he could, compelled to watch from his Force imprisonment. Twenty decks below Rey paused her sobbing fight against the restraining engineers to let out an wail of grief. On a far distant planet the other Skywalker twin crumpled to the ground whilst across the base a three year old began shrieking inconsolably.
As Atok pressed forward, the hilt of his lightsaber coming to rest against Skywalker's rib cage, Luke met his gaze and saw the instant that Kylo Ren came back into possession of his own body. A steadying grip surrounded him, his nephew reaching out with the Force to hold him in place as his legs tried to give out with the shock of his wound.
As he stared into intense, apologetic hazel eyes Luke was suddenly struck with a vision of turquoise eyes of precisely the same shape, framed by thick golden lashes.
"Alia," he wheezed, blood from his right lung bubbling up to stain his lips, "she's yours."
Better that you don't try to speak aloud, uncle. Kylo murmured into his mind. Yes, she's mine, ours, Hux and I. We had to keep her safe.
He pushed years of accumulated knowledge into Skywalker's head then, uncaring of the damage he might cause, confident that the man could not survive his injuries but determined to bring him the enlightenment necessary to transcend. All his years of training, the history of Fiorina, the Force visions he'd experienced there, the work on the second Starkiller Base, and Brendol's progress with galactic negotiations. He showed his former master the future as he knew it needed to be.
You can't really believe that this is the best solution Ben? Luke asked, even his mental voice failing now. Giving the Galaxy into the hands of one madman over another, just because you had a child with him?
You always told me to trust in the Force, uncle, to search my feelings and recognise the truth that the Force was offering to me. Sn... HE blocked that, for so many years and you didn't notice. But now I am connected to the Force in ways you've never experienced. Please, drop your prejudices and BELIEVE IN THE FORCE.
Luke's face settled then, relaxing far further than Kylo could find reassuring. He reach out carefully towards the other man's mind and found him still conscious but gradually giving up on the effort needed to control the majority of his body. Skywalker wasn't long for this life and all Ren could do was hope that he'd last just long enough.
Slowly blue eyes eased open, just enough for their gazes to meet.
"I'm sorry." Luke managed softly. We let you down, you were a child and we...
But if you hadn't, where would we be now? I would have no great love, no beautiful child, and quite possibly the Galaxy would have no hope. We will put things right, however it might seem to the Republic.
"Still, I'm sorry."
"Thank you, uncle." Kylo said softly, placing a hand on Skywalker's shoulder to brace himself as he slowly withdrew the saber lodged in his chest. "Until we speak again."
Finn watched horror struck and unable to move as the monster known as Atok drove his lightsaber through Luke Skywalker's chest, sinking the blade forward to the very hilt.
What followed made little sense- somehow Skywalker managed to stay on his feet despite the horrific blow and the disconcerting smell of burning flesh where the crackling blade was still embedded. He seemed to speak to Atok before engaging in what appeared to be a silent battle of wills.
Finn was too far distant to hear the words spoken by the broken man through to blood seeping from his mouth. He tried urgently to decipher what was spoken by the movement of Luke's lips, knowing that the last conversation of such a legendary man would be important. He failed.
Too soon the larger man was drawing the blade back out of Skywalker's chest, the odd movements making it clear that he was remaining on his feet only through some outside influence.
As the crackling orange blade whipped back Finn desperately willed his eyes to close, seeing the likely trajectory of the strike and dreading being forced to watch the decapitation of the last of the Jedi.
The blade fell and where Luke Skywalker had stood an empty brown cloak drifted to the ground.
Finn was so surprised he didn't notice Atok approach until a hand passed across his vision and unconsciousness took him.
The Force twitched and spasmed around him like a wounded animal, thrashing to escape the pain of the void Atok had opened when he drove his saber through the oldest living Jedi. Kylo stood silent, maintaining the traitorous stormtrooper's unconsciousness with a thin sliver of his strength, not daring to access more of the Force in the wake of such upheaval.
Gradually the ripples settled, a warm spiritual glow pervading the air as the essence of Luke Skywalker recoelesed into the ghost form that he'd so often mentioned at the temple. Of course, Kylo couldn't see him. No matter the content of their last conversation, it was highly unlikely that Luke would choose to commune with the one who killed him. No doubt the man had preferred being alive.
When the Force was as still and calm as it could be in the wake of violence, Kylo reached out his senses beyond the confines of the small corridor junction.
Rey had escaped the engineers. By the panic around the reactor at least one of them was dead, the rest unable to keep up with her through the darkened corridors. Her concentration was fixed on Finn.
Beyond the hull the familiar vibration of the Falcon's engines told him that Chewbacca was heading towards the repair work around bridge. It was probably the easiest place to gain entry to the ship without bypassing advanced security. Sensible.
Striding over Finn's body Kylo headed in the opposite direction. He had no intention of encountering his godfather again.
He reached the reactor room via a circuitous route, stepping into the vast space at the same moment that a stony-faced Rey helped Finn onto the Millennium Falcon so many decks above him. They had not deviated from their path, nor lingered in the half built bridge. Their mission had been a failure. Kylo nudged the crumpled form of Poe Dameron with one boot.
"Lord Atok, I am so sorry," the chief engineer stammered, cringing as Kylo turned to stare at him. "We're not stormtroopers, we're not trained in security procedures. Someone deactivated the lights and camera through half the ship, we couldn't track her. Please my Lord, we didn't mean to allow the girl to escape, but she killed four of my men..."
"The girl is dead, as are her accomplices," Kylo said in a close approximation of Atok's tone. This man had never really conversed with the creature, he wouldn't know the difference. "I will dispose of this," he kicked at Dameron's side, "myself. I see no reason to trust your competence with the matter, Commander Mavej. Clean up this mess. Then you will submit your report directly to me. I will transfer the necessary information to General Hux myself."
The journey back to the Resistance was conducted in silence, too many tears yet to be shed for the men who could not return with them.
The comm connected to the mildly disarming view of Brendol's sleep rumpled t-shirt and boxers, and the pale soft flesh of his stomach.
I miss you. Kylo's mind sighed, knowing the distance was far too great for him to be heard and the connection too public for him to speak it aloud. At last Hux retrieved his mug of caf from the machine beside his terminal and sank bleary-eyed into his seat. He hadn't shaved yet, a hint of ginger scruff adding to his exhausted appearance. Clearly Kylo had woken him too early.
"What is it?" The man mumbled around the rim of his mug.
"You need to return at once."
Hux snorted, raising a disbelieving eyebrow as he chugged back the hot liquid.
"Luke Skywalker is dead."
Kylo was slightly disappointed when the General failed to react to what should have been shocking news, merely rolling his eyes as he finished the mug. As he stood to order a second he asked in a disinterested tone, "And you know this, how? The Force told you?"
"He came aboard the Finalizer with the intention of killing you. Ato... I put a saber through his chest. Then I cut off his head."
"What?" Hux asked, dropping back into the chair, almost spilling his caf in the process.
In the darkness of her private quarters General Organa lay curled on her bed. The loss of Han at their own son's hand had been terrible, but she's felt it through Ben's distress as much as she'd directly sensed the loss of the glimmer she'd fallen in love with all those years ago. Han had no real presence in the Force, his death was like an ember winking out. But the death of her twin had been something else. Not merely a loss of life but also the severing of a bond she had felt but not noticed her entire life. Even in exile she'd somehow known that he was safe and well. Now he was gone.
The physical blow of it had brought her close to unconsciousness. It had only been the heartrending shrieking of her ward that had kept her from giving into the comforting emptiness.
She'd suspected the child of Force sensitivity before, though Alia rarely displayed any noticeable trait more than once. Luke had been suspicious too, before he'd left. Leia wished now that she'd questioned him on it. Not assumed that there would always be time to talk later.
Held tight against her chest the little girl twitched in her sleep, gasped, and then rolled over to bury her head against Leia's shoulder.
Ben had done the exact same thing, once upon a time. It hadn't lasted. Snoke had taken all the trust out of him. Her son probably hadn't looked for comfort in another living soul in twenty five years. Silently she vowed not to make the same mistake twice.
Together in the Force and in their grief, a grandmother unknowingly fell asleep with her only grandchild in her arms.
It was amazing how quickly Hux could navigate space when he put his mind to it. Kylo had learned such tricks on his fa... Han Solo's knee, witnessing first hand as the Millennium Falcon fled from trouble that he'd been forbidden to mention to Leia. It took careful planning and nerves of steel to pull off any short cut like that. Unless you were the General, in which case it required thirty seconds of staring at the floor. He rarely bothered though, content to allow his navigators to make the decisions.
Hux strode down the ramp of his cruiser like an avenging angel, his greatcoat trailing behind him almost like wings.
"I have a twenty two hour window to return or the negotiations will fail," he said in place of a greeting, long legs carrying him past Kylo, assuming the Force user would have the wits to follow him.
Exiting the hangar Hux turned left only for Ren to catch his elbow and turn him towards the turbolifts.
"Where are we going? The mortuary is that way." He hissed as the other man jabbed the call button. "You said Skywalker was dead."
"There's no body." Kylo answered, stepping into the lift and entering a code for a secured level.
"What?! why the pfassk am I here th..." The doors slid closed and the rant was cut short when Ren dragged him forward by the lapels to silence him with a kiss. Hux shoved him back, eyes turned towards the ceiling cameras.
"They're disabled," Kylo murmured, pulling him forward again.
A slim hand pressed against his chest. "Ren, if you brought me all the way here just to..."
"No, there's a reason. I just... couldn't resist." He bent slightly to press their foreheads together. "Things are going to change and I don't know when I'll next get the chance. Skywalker is dead. He transubstantiated back into the Force. That's why there's no body. But he wasn't alone. I let the traitor and the scavenger leave. Some of your engineers were killed. As far as the records will show one of them survived despite terrible injuries. I can't go in there. he won't speak to me. Atok won't forgive this infiltration. He'll try to use it as reason for Snoke to let him off his leash. I don't know if he'll succeed."
"You let them leave? They came here to kill me, and you let them leave?" Irritated, Hux tried to shove Kylo back but failed to move his massive frame. "Are you saying you've taken one of them prisoner, hidden him under the name of an engineer, and you somehow imagine that this individual won't immediately escape?"
"I doubt he can stand. I... Well, Atok... Electrocuted him. His friends think he's dead. They won't come back for him." Kylo shrugged awkwardly. "Only Skywalker had to die. The prisoner is a favourite of Alia's- she's mentioned him by name in the past. I hoped that he might give us the information we'll need to protect the remains of the Resistance when the time comes."
Hux nodded, leaning his head back to accept the apologetic kisses Kylo was pressing along his cheekbones. "How long until your work is complete?"
"A month, maybe less. There's so much fine tuning, so much meditation." Kylo sighed, dropping his head until it rested in the crook of Bren's neck. "If I can't be there to install it... and I doubt that I can... I can't guarantee that it'll function right. So I have to work that much harder. To give them all the chance."
"The Force showed you this future, is it really so finely balanced?"
"I don't know, the disaster on the bridge should have brought everything crashing down, and yet it stands to our advantage. Your people have greater respect for you, Atok has been leashed, I have the gift of time to devote to my work, you can negotiate without drawing undue attention. And now Skywalker is where he should be. But I daren't push our luck, we must be carefully Bren, for all our sakes."
Nodding, Hux pushed Ren upright and carefully brushed his fingertips through his hair as the lift approached their level. "If he insists on taking the Finalizer, as you predicted, then we have time."
The doors opened. Without a backward glance Hux strode out, heading towards a medical technician as they closed once more, hiding Ren from view.
"What is it, Atok?" The tone was dismissive, uninterested. Once again the transmission was audio only.
"My Master," he said, almost purring with satisfaction after so much time inactive. "Skywalker is dead. I ended his life myself."
Atok hissed through his teeth. "Master?"
"You were ordered to inactivity. How do you expect me to respond to disobedience? Hmmmm?"
The nurse, a Fiorinian who had cared for Hux during his recovery, keyed open the door and ushered him inside. He slipped a panic alarm into the General's hand with a respectful nod before he left. The door locked with a thunk too quiet for anyone but Hux to hear. It still unnerved him.
The man in the bed was not a member of the crew, but also not a stranger. Hux had seen him once before, so many years ago now, when they'd been in orbit around Jakku. Poe Dameron seemed much the same as he had after torture. Crimson sclera, sweat soaked hair, and smears of dried blood around his ears- he looked like hell. What Hux could see of his chest beneath the monitors was covered in Lichtenberg figures, the treelike electric discharge pattern showing the path the Force had taken through the man's body.
There was a ruined engineers uniform poking out of a waste basket. Hux assumed Ren had dressed his prisoner in it before bringing him here. Certainly the nurse had known something was wrong. He would have to trust in the Fiorinian's loyalty to the cause that he would not speak on the subject.
A leather jacket had been hung on a corner of the bed frame, the back decorated with a wide diagonal patch. Brendol prayed that Ren had searched the pockets before leaving it within the prisoners reach.
"General Hux himself?" The man in the bed said quietly, "I must be a VIP."
"Commander Dameron. Welcome back." Hux said flatly, dropping into the chair by the bed. The smart mouth. Wonderful. At least it wasn't the Force user, or the rebellious stormtrooper. This one might talk to him. Might. "I understand that you came here with the intention of killing me."
"I might yet." Poe said, staring at the ceiling rather than at the General. His fingers were winding into the sheets with some repressed emotion, though whether it was fear or rage was unclear.
"Perhaps," Hux replied, "but for now Luke Skywalker is deceased and your other companions left you for dead. I would leave the ambitious plans until you can actually stand if I were you."
"They'll come back. One day." He said confidently, chin held high.
"You assume you'll live that long? Or that they will?"
Poe set his jaw and looked away. "Not an assumption. Hope. There's nothing wrong with hope." He looked back at Hux, something like triumphant rage on his usually mild face. "Hope let my pilots rip the heart out of your monstrous machine. Don't you forget that. We tore apart your life's work, the only thing of any value you ever made. Remember that."
The General leaned forward in his chair, sharp elbows resting on his knees. "I've made far better things than that since you were last a guest on this ship. Bitterness does not become you, Comm..."
"Why are you interrogating me?" Poe asked wearily.
"Does this look like an interrogation to you?"
"What do you want?"
"You encountered the Knights of Ren sometime ago. At Skywalker's temple."
"We met them twice and we escaped twice. Not so effective are they? Your little attack dogs?"
Hux raised an eyebrow. "During the first encounter your companion lost an arm. On the most recent occasion they managed to secure a mobile tracking droid to your ship. It will have been gathering data on Resistance operations ever since."
"Why are you telling me this?" Poe asked, swallowing nervously. "Just trying to frighten me whilst I'm trapped here unable to help? Surely you can do better than that, if the Knights of Ren knew where our base was they'd have attacked by now."
"Atok, the one you knew as Kylo Ren, or Ben Solo," Hux waved a hand as if to describe his perpetual irritation at his lover's complicated past, "wishes to destroy your movement in the grandest gesture possible." He did not mention the Force user's present incarceration. "Until this ship is operational your people still have a chance."
"Are you offering to help us?" Poe asked, incredulous. "Why?!"
"The First Order wishes to take a new approach towards guaranteeing the peace and stability that the Galaxy so urgently needs." Hux began, his voice taking on the lecturing tone he had used so often during the recent negotiations. "No further destruction. No more war. An end to suffering and starvation. We can work together to heal the scars of the last civil war, to save all those planets left unaided by the corruption of the Senate. The Republic is too vast and sprawling, too easily lead down the wrong path when fairness is defined by what can be bought by the highest bidder. We want to..."
"What colour are your eyes, General?" Poe asked, interrupting him again. The battered man had struggled to sit up against the weight of his injuries as Hux spoke and now sat squinting intently at his face.
"What?" Hux replied, frowning in confusion at the non sequitur.
"I think you were right, a minute ago, when said you'd made something better than that evil weapon." Poe said, smiling strangely like he'd discovered a great secret. "You have. Far better. What colour are your eyes?"
"Blue." Hux snapped, never really having thought about such things. It wasn't as if he'd ever spent any time studying his own eyes. Of everyone he'd ever known Kylo's eyes were probably the only ones could probably describe in detail. He couldn't even remember the precise colour of his parents eyes. Alia's he yet to see in real life. Her Force projection coloured everything the same shade of blue. "Why the stars does it matter?"
"No, they're not blue," Poe tipped his head, considering, then jabbed one decisive finger towards the General. "They're turquoise."
"I just worked it out." Poe laughed, shaking his head and sinking back into his pillows. He stared at the ceiling, frowning slightly as he continued, "I've been looking at those exact eyes for three years. Finn and I noticed when they turned from baby grey to turquoise. Does General Organa know that she's been looking after your kid?" Struck by a sudden thought he turned to look at Hux again. "What happened to the mother?"
Curling his upper lip Brendol blinked slowly, determined not to look away in the face of the pilot's uncomfortable questions. He felt like he'd fallen into a snow bank, his whole body abruptly turning cold. This man- his enemy, the one who hD brought Starkiller crashing down around his ears- knew his daughter's eyes better than he ever could. He'd held her, fed her, cared for her. If he'd seen her eyes change then he must have spent a great deal of time with her. What else had he witnessed ? Had her first steps be towards his waiting arms? Had her first word been 'Poe'? Hux suddenly wished he could wring the man's neck for all those things he could never experience.
"The First Order wishes..."
"You didn't answer my question."
Hux stared at him, his expression as cold and dead as his soul felt in that moment. "There's nothing to answer, Commander. I'm here to talk to you about the survival of your organisation, not the fate of one girl."
"I never mentioned a girl."
Pfassk. Hux knew he'd flushed at his ridiculous mistake- he could feel the heat spreading up his neck and across his cheekbones. The man in the bed was grinning, blood from his dry cracked lips staining his teeth.
"You might as well tell me now, General," Poe laughed, struggling to sit up once more, tugging the jacket towards him from bed frame. "You tell me about her mother and you can keep this holo of her." Hux stared at the tiny projector held out in the other man's calloused tan palm.
"Why would you imagine I'd want that?"
"You're reshaping the course of the First Order for a reason, General, and I think that reason's name is Alia," he said as he pressed the button at the side of the projector. A child appeared, waving and clutching a chrome coloured doll. She was wearing a blanket as a cape over a plain green tunic and trousers. Hux recognised the brocade from the sleeve of his old greatcoat. "If I ever get back to the Resistance I'll tell her all about her mother, whatever happened to her. If you let me go maybe I'll tell her that her father isn't 100% evil."
"You'll tell her nothing," Hux said, snatching up the offered device and holding it close to his face. He didn't bother to mention that Alia already knew both her parents. "Nothing happened to her 'mother'."
"Then why is Alia with the Resistance in the first place? Where is her mother, if she's not dead? Alia was so small, we weren't even sure she'd make it. Why abandon a baby like that? We'd have taken in a defector if the First Order had stopped her from keeping the ba..."
"What?" Poe tilted his head, then his eyebrows raised. "Oh."
"Oh indeed," Hux said, shutting off the holo, too distracted by brilliant red curls and eyes that were in fact turquoise. She had freckles. Another detail the Force projection hid. "I carried Alia, there is no mother."
"Ben's the other parent then? That's why Leia found her?"
Hux hummed his confirmation, unwilling to get further into the subject.
"An attack will come." He said instead. "Depending on your recovery it may be possible to arrange an early escape, so you can warn them. Either way there is information I need to keep your people safe, for Alia's sake. The survival of the rest is just a bonus, aren't you lucky?"
"If Atok is Ben..."
"They're not the same person. Ben is long since dead, but Kylo and Atok are different beings. Even if I could explain it I haven't the time. Will you help me, or will you leave your allies to die?"
As Alia twisted her arm over her head the early morning sunlight glinted and glittered in the crystal facets of her Corellian bracelet. She was laid in the dewy grass that edged the base's main landing strip, waiting for the Millennium Falcon to return. It would be a while yet, but she found she couldn't stay around the sadness of Genma Leia any longer. It made her heart hurt.
Of course it had made her sad when papa stabbed Uncle Luke like that, but why couldn't Leia see what had come afterwards? Everyone acted as if he was gone forever. But now he was everywhere.
Concentrating on her Kyber crystal, the reflected turquoise light glowing in her similarly coloured eyes, she tried to focus on her fathers instead.
Atok stormed down the corridor, simmering with rage. He'd done the thing his Master had most wanted in all the universe and yet he was still dismissed like a naughty child. Without breaking stride he pulled his saber from his belt and, igniting it, dragged it along the wall. The stench of melting plast panels and the ozone of sparking circuitry filled the corridor. He cut a line all the way from the holo chamber to his quarters, punching the control panel for his door with unnecessary brutality. Sparks and debris skittered across the polished deck before the door slid closed.
A few minutes later, Kylo sauntered back out of Atok's rooms, using a skirt panel of his robes to remove ash and grime from his fingers. He'd left the Dark Force user in an intense meditation on the legacy of Darth Sidious, Darth Vader, and the nature of power. It wasn't all that unusual for him to stare at his grandfather's helmet for days at a time. It gave Kylo plenty of time to himself before he needed to return and give control back. If he waited long enough he could switch directly to the illusion of a two day long sleep. Good. Let the creature sulk.
He'd tried to explain the process behind Atok to Hux once but the redhead hadn't really understood the concept of overwriting his own memories with repeated mundanities. It was like a security camera watching an rarely used corridor. If the only thing that ever happened was the hourly stormtrooper patrol, how many times could you use the same hour of footage before anyone noticed the exact repetition? So far Atok suspected nothing. Sometimes Kylo wondered if he was as stupid as his counterpart. Brendol had refused to answer the question on the one occasion he'd dared to ask. That was probably a yes then. Everyone was stupid in Hux' experience though, so Kylo didn't take it to heart.
Letting himself into the General's quarters, he made his way into the workshop he'd created and carefully settled into a comfortable position for his own meditation. Stretching diagonally across the space, braced by the corners of the room, stood a massive, complex metal wheel studded with almost every Kyber crystal he'd retrieved from Fiorina.
Constructed largely of the extremely rare lightsaber resistant metals cortosis, neuranium, and ultrachrome, the whole thing was probably worth more than the entire First Order fleet. Though of course Kylo hadn't paid for any of it, furtively gathering the materials over the last few years in between missions instead.
Closing his eyes, he reached out with the Force to see the true shape of the thing he was constructing. The beauty of it made him sigh. He hoped that when the device was complete and fully operational he would be able share this vision with Hux. As an engineer and mathematician he knew Bren would appreciate the wonderful repeating fractal forms on a far deeper level than he ever could. Truthfully he'd like nothing so much as the chance to show it to him now. The General's analytical mind was far better suited to this task than his own. Hux would probably be able to look at the network of shimmering lines and see the root causes for the imperfect power flow immediately. He wouldn't have to use intuition and luck, shifting the crystals one by one in the mere hope of correcting the problem. A shame then that the energies of the completed wheel were unsuitable for non Force users over long exposure. The entire thing would have to be disassembled and installed in situ with the aid of droids just to protect the workers. Kylo really did need to get the whole thing calibrated before Hux returned to using these rooms for himself.
"That one is downside up." A small voice said in his ear. Leaning over his shoulder Alia pointed to a crystal to the left of the array with one blue lit hand.
"Aren't you a clever little one," Kylo said fondly, pulling the projection down to sit on his knee. He pointed to a crystal just to the right of the one she'd indicated. "This one?"
"This one?" He moved his hand too far up. Kylo tried to keep his face straight.
"This?" Too far down.
"Silly papa, it's THIS ONE!" She cried, shoving the relevant crystal with the Force. It rotated. The array pulsed in response, it's energy harmonising further.
"Well done!" Hux laughed from the doorway, blind to the power she'd manipulated but still impressed that she had moved an object so far removed from herself. Alia beamed at him.
"Daddy!" The hug felt like a gentle breeze brushing against his clothes. It was better than nothing.
"Bren, you can't be in here! It isn't safe," Kylo whispered against the General's ear as he manoeuvred him towards the door, trying to balance urgency with a desire not to frighten their daughter. His hair was wet, he must have been in the refresher when Kylo came in. "How long have you been in these rooms?"
"Half an hour or so? I still have time before I need to leave. I wanted to see you," he said. With a sigh Hux pressed his face closer to Kylo's, almost nuzzling his cheek as he drifted his finger tips through the long dark hair. "Why?"
There was a tug at the front of his uniform. He looked down. Alia had one small fist gripping each of their coat tails.
"Papa, Daddy, I need to go, Genma Leia is calling me." she said quietly once she had both their attentions. "I'm sorry. I love you." She held her arms out, standing on tiptoe to reach higher.
Brendol crouched down tentatively to accept another ghostly hug. She'd vanished before he managed to say the words in reply.
"Hux, we need to get you out of here immediately, I've no idea what the energies in here might be doing to you with the array complete." Ren dragged him towards the door.
"I've been sleeping in here whilst you were working on that thing for the last three years! Surely it would have.."
"It was only assembled when I was confident you were on the bridge. Besides it wasn't so close to its finished form until you were stuck in medical." Kylo explained, as he keyed open a second set of rooms further down the corridor. Most of the rooms on this corridor were unassigned- no one ever wanted to take the quarters close to theirs. It was probably a minor abuse of the Force, by Bren didn't really care since it afforded him a little more privacy. "Once it's done and standing at the heart of Starkiller II no one will be able to approach it, not even me."
"Kylo, the heart of Starkiller will experience such high temperatures that anyone trying would be vaporised first." He frowned. "How the stars do you expect that thing to survive?!"
The door to the empty rooms closed behind him and he suddenly found himself pinned to it by an eager Knight. He groaned when Ren nipped at his jawline.
"I could get into all the boring science and Force theory, but you said you wanted to see me." Kylo purred, emphasising his point with a roll of his hips.
"Suddenly I find this subject infinitely more interesting," Hux said with a grin and a passionate kiss.
"Marry me." Kylo said suddenly against his lips.
The lights were only at five percent, the rooms having been left in power saving mode for far too long. Bren couldn't see Ren's face properly, just the glitter of his eyes as they searched his own.
"What was that?" It wasn't his finest moment he'd admit later but he truly wasn't sure he'd heard him correctly. Kylo already had everything he could ever have wanted from him, why in all the universe would he ask for something so impossible?
"Marry me, Brendol. Please. I know we can't do it the official First Order way, but we can do something surely? If... If I die in this endeavour, if one of us doesn't make it, I want to be able to go knowing that I was yours and you were mine in every possible way." He spoke with an intensity of feeling Bren hadn't heard since he'd persuaded him to keep living. He heart ached. He'd been so tied up in the work of negotiations that he'd forgotten the danger inherent in their endgame.
"I already am yours." Hux sighed with a sad smile. "I don't know what else I can do to convince you, but tell me what you need and I'll do it for you."
Kylo grinning and pressed him against the door once more. That was a need the General could eagerly approve.
Their mission had been a secret one. No crowds awaited their return this time. No one but General Organa and the toddler in her arms watched their slow, sad progress down the ramp of the Millennium Falcon this time.
"Leia..." Rey began.
"I know about Luke." She said quietly. "I assume you didn't achieve your objective?"
"No." Finn said sharply, his expression was one of determined professionalism for all that his eyes were still red and puffy from crying. His hands were heavily and inexpertly bandaged. "Hux wasn't onboard. Atok was. He... He killed Poe before he killed Luke. I couldn't help Luke, Atok forced me to watch. I didn't know about Poe until Rey found me. We..."
Alia was frowning, looking from one adult to the next, utterly confused. Poe wasn't dead. But daddy had spoken to him, so perhaps it was a secret. But what did Rey and Finn want with her fathers? Didn't they know that the two of them were going to make it all better?
"We had to leave his body." Rey finished as Finn stared sadly at the floor.
"Finn, I'm so sorry." Leia stepped forward to grip the young man's shoulder. She at least had some idea of what he was going through. "If there's anything I can do..."
"Just..." He paused, blinking rapidly. After a moment he lifted his chin defiantly. "Just let me keep trying. I'm sorry General but whatever he is now your son is beyond saving. Let me end them both so no one else has to suffer."
Leia nodded sadly. Part of her still wanted to believe in Ben, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to see a way for him to return to her. Her thoughts were interrupted as the child she'd been holding against her hip abruptly wriggled free and ran off into the caves that made up the X-wing hanger.
The next day they found her asleep in the bottom of Poe's storage locker with BB8, curled up in her blanket. She never explained why she'd run off at Finn's words. It all became clear soon enough anyway.
General Hux had returned to the negotiations with renewed purpose and an enthusiasm that charmed even the most stalwart doubters of his proposals. There were few amongst his target planets that had any real opposition to the First Orders' offers. Since the lost of the Senate in the destruction of the Hosnian system the neglect of the outer worlds had only worsened. A promise of significant aid and immunity from future troop drafts had been enough to sway most of the delegates. The rest had only doubted the General's ability to deliver on his promises, but they soon forgot their concerns as they were swept up in his passionate oration.
In the course of twelve hours he had added twenty additional systems to the cause, almost doubling his successes of the last few month. The First Order's borders had tripled in size without a single weapon being fired. There was no point approaching the core worlds officially- though the Fiorinian network had been hard at work recruiting within their own numbers- they were just too closely involved with the Resistance. Eventually the whole Galaxy would know what they were planning, but in the meantime there was still a need for discretion.
However a small scale celebration amongst the representatives of his new allies was unlikely to reach the wider galactic community. Buoyed up by his successes, and the afterglow of his brief time with the man who was now his fiancé, Hux found himself indulging at the party far more than usual, much to Phasma's irritation.
Ren had ordered her to keep a team of bodyguards with the General at all times. But, as a result of drink, or unaccustomed foods, Hux had locked his guards out of his guest suite at the host embassy, insisting with slurred words that they were unnecessary. They reported this to Phasma, and the added concern that they could hear a second voice in conversation with the General behind the locked door. Her irritation was increased when she visited his suite herself only to hear the familiar tones of Kylo Ren. Clearly they were using either comms or the Force to engage in some risqué long distance communication. Either way she really didn't want to hear it and chose not to raise the issue with Hux later.
Brendol himself believed he'd merely had a very pleasant lucid dream that for some reason featured a Kylo who was oddly indistinct. Or perhaps the Knight had perfected a better form of Force projection, a form that allowed for touch as well. However it was achieved some of the details weren't quite right. At times his lover's skin was too cold or unusually warm. His shoulders were just a touch too wide, or his frame was too slim and sometimes his skin bore a texture as if it had been tattooed. More than once he lacked the scar he'd received the day that Starkiller fell. Either way his company was just what Hux needed and he welcomed it willingly. He'd been apart from Kylo for so long- first due to their estrangement and later thanks to Atok's interference- that the physical encounter on the Finalizer, closely followed by... whatever this was... was a rare and cherished treat. Perhaps if things had been otherwise he might have questioned the situation a little more.
But by the next morning he barely remembered the dream- or vision, or projection- at all. Without the stickiness on his skin to remind him that he'd enjoyed it rather enthusiastically he might have forgotten it entirely. As it was he wouldn't think of it again until much later.
There was so much to be done. More systems needed to be recruited and preparations needed to be made for Atok's inevitable attack on the Resistance. If he felt unwell in the next few weeks, well that was just a natural result of the stress of the situation. Right?
The Finalizer's glittering black bulk loomed into view as the cruiser dropped out of lightspeed. With intentionally emotionless eyes Hux watched it expand to fill the viewports as they began their approach pattern. He'd always admired his beautiful flagship, and recognised the terrifying effect a ship that size might have on his enemies, but until now he'd never fear it himself. As the vast dark hull blotted out the stars he found himself fighting against his body's urge to tremble. Atok was waiting on board. The ship was days from completion. The crew, their makeup altered by Phasma under Kylo Ren's instruction, were streaming back from their reassignments. The Finalizer was coming back to life at last, ready to deal death to the Galaxy.
Seated in the command chair at the rear of the cruiser's bridge Hux realised he was unconsciously running his thumb over the new scar on his abdomen, the incomplete square of the Aurebesh letter Krill. Only a few kilometres away now, the body shared by Atok and Kylo Ren wore a similar mark, the three parallel lines of Herf, on its lower back. The placement for them both had been chosen to coincide with their own older scars to provide camouflage, but coincidentally the marks would align if Hux embraced the larger man from behind. Somehow this made Brendol feel a little closer to his Knight, despite the distance and his necessary submission to the other personality.
It had been a month since they'd last seen one another, when the General had been summoned to meet Poe Dameron and all the final elements of their plan had been put in motion. The last communion he'd had with Kylo on that occasion had been an emotionally fraught affair. Ren had proposed marriage and then, after almost an hour of desperate love making, had declared that they would seal their union right then and there. Apparently he'd spoken to Moxin about his people's marriage customs, all those years ago when Alia was delivered on Fiorina. He'd kept that information in his head even though they'd been separated for so long, just in case the chance arose once more.
Hux wasn't sure he approved. He valued order and official processes. This was neither. It did make for the perfect secret marriage though, since there were no witnesses, documents or records, nothing but their initials burned into one another's flesh. He'd agreed because the Knight had seemed so worried at the prospect of dying alone, but in his heart he considered the marks to be just the promise of a future true marriage, when he might claim his Ren before all the universe. Preferably with a token involving less pain. If Hux had confidence in anything any more it was that Kylo Ren would survive what was coming. Because if he didn't then the universe would surely end and nothing would matter anyway.
His ship was approaching the magnetic fields of the docking bays now. He could distantly make out the slim figure of Lieutenant Thanisson at the windows of the control tower. Hux wished he could pace around the bridge and burn off a little of his nervous energy before he set foot on the main deck once more, but the cruiser was just too small and he'd been unusually dizzy of late. He put it down to the unprecedented amount of time he'd spend planetside over the last few months. He'd be sure to regain his space legs once he was back onboard the far larger ship. He'd have to- there was so much to be done.
Atok was waiting at the bottom of the ramp, hands clasped behind his back in an arrogant parody of Hux' own preferred parade rest. It was rare for the Force user to interact with him at all, viewing Brendol as little more than a used up means to physical relief. That he wished to see him now make Hux uneasy. Atok sneered as the General marched towards him, flanked by the highly trained Fiorinian bodyguards that Phasma had hand selected for the role. Not all of them were stormtroopers- some were officers, bridge crew and techs. Individuals who could find valid excuses to stick close to Hux when a Stormtrooper could not. They would be with him almost every second of the day now, occupying the quarters that had customarily been left empty around The General's own. Bren doubted they could form much of a shield between him and Atok but hopefully they would at least provide him with the chance to escape if such an action became necessary. That so many were willing to throw down their lives for him didn't surprise him in the slightest. Somehow to the Fiorinians this has become the natural order of things and Hux found no reason to argue.
"General." Atok purred, bowing his head slightly.
"Lord Atok, thank you for standing guard over my ship these last few months," Hux said, his chin rising as he baited the infuriating creature with the reminder of his imprisonment.
Atok's eyes narrowed, teeth flashing as he snarled. "The Finalizer will be underway in three days. You will not interfere with my trajectories, or I will not hesitate to finish what I started."
To punctuate his point the Force twined around Bren's neck, squeezing just enough to remind him of the agony on the bridge. Behind him Hux felt rather than saw the snap to alertness as his bodyguards noticed the change in his posture. He waved a hand slightly at his side.
With a level of self control borne from days of drowning himself in Bacta Hux spoke calmly around the constriction.
"I have no specific orders from Supreme Leader Snoke at this time Lord Atok- you may take the ship wherever you wish."
After a second or two Atok released his grip with a grunt that might have been "good" and, turning on his heel, stormed out of the hanger, robes swirling behind him. Rolling his neck to free it from the lingering sensations of that hellish pressure Hux found his heart rate settling, a calming warmth spreading up from just below his diaphragm. The brief touch of fear he'd allowed himself to feel on the cruiser dissipated. Atok would fall. He knew that in his soul.
Turning back to the crew of the cruiser where they lingered at the top of the ramp, Hux spoke louder than strictly necessary. From the corner of his eye he saw Thanisson leaning slightly to eavesdrop on the hanger's internal sound system. "We have two engineers here that need to be transferred to Starkiller II. Deliver them to their destination and then return immediately. Lieutenant Remy, you have their details, go and collect them."
The woman nodded slightly and trotted down the ramp in the direction of the turbolifts. Hux watched her progress for a moment, then lead his own retinue away.
"Commander Dameron," a voice whispered as hands shook him awake, "Sir, it's time to the leave. Please. Put on this engineer uniform and follow me."
Blinking slightly at the unexpected light Poe nodded and allowed himself to be helped out of bed.
He wasn't fully healed, far from it, but now he was facing the prospect of making a daring escape from the Finalizer for the second time in his life he suddenly felt full of energy. If only the beautiful woman helping him into his clothes was his wonderful panicky defector instead. Then everything would be perfect.
Finn was wearing Poe's clothes again. All the pilots could tell but no one wanted to comment on it. Everyone dealt with grief differently and doing so didn't harm anyone, so why bring it up? Spirits were deflated enough as it was, there was no need to make anything worse.
The Resistance were at an impasse and the war council had been arguing for hours. With the loss of both Skywalker and their best pilot the confidence they'd been gaining had dropped away. They didn't have the resources to run another assault on the Finalizer or any of the First Order's primary bases. Over the last few months their monetary support from the crumbling Republic had dropped off sharply as systems disengaged themselves from the organisation. They certainly hadn't the fire power to take on the slowly forming second Starkiller Base, not until it harvested a sun and gave them enough energy to exploit. Finn himself had argued that Hux wouldn't allow the same weaknesses to be built back into the new weapon, and without Poe Dameron to lead them the flight crews were unconvinced that they could identify new targets quickly enough.
What could they do? Without Poe, without Luke, without funding? Leia and Rey still grieved for the lost Jedi and in the absence of any obvious target the rest of the command staff were at a loss as to their next course of action. The First Order had been oddly quiet since the incident that crippled their flagship, dedicating their energies to consolidating their existing holdings, their expansion halted. Without a new provocation the pacifist tendencies of the Republic were rearing their heads in the Resistance once more, unwilling to incite further bloodshed.
In his heart Finn wanted nothing more than to stage some kind of attack on the Finalizer before it was brought fully back online, but he couldn't rally anyone else to his cause. No one wanted to face whatever terrifying thing Ben Solo had become. The former stormtrooper would just have to hope he'd find some other opportunity to come face-to-face with the enemy leaders. The debate raged on, going no where.
Outside, sitting on a rock with her chrome coloured doll on her knees, Alia watched the skies.
Their first stop was a planet almost entirely shrouded in water. The few islands that dotted the surface were so small and widely separated that most could not be distinguished with the naked eye from Hux' position at the viewports. Atok had insisted on going to the surface alone but in a large ship well equipped with droids, no doubt on a mission to save whatever was left of his Knights. When the ship passed the bridge on its way towards the surface, the crew actually sagged with relief. It was all Hux could do not to order the Finalizer into lightspeed now that the oppressive presence had departed.
That body might house his fiancé as well as the monster, but after four days in the latter's presence Hux was hard pressed to remember the fact. He paced the perimeter of the bridge, studying faces and building a mental map of the precise locations of his supporters in this particular shift. The situation could turn on a pinhead depending on the results of Atok's rescue mission. He needed to be prepared for all eventualities.
Sadly the reprieve was short lived - Dex reported the ship's return less than an hour after it had entered the planet's atmosphere. Every eye on the bridge turned towards Hux as the officer spoke. It was an ill omen.
Nodding to the Commodore he turned towards the blast doors. "Hold us in orbit until either myself or Lord Atok return to the bridge."
The doors had barely slid closed when twelve Stormtroopers fell into step behind him. Phasma had certainly trained them well.
The atmosphere in the docking bay was so thick with fear that Hux felt like he was stepping into an industrial conservator, it chilled him to the bone. Usually the hangars were a constant hive of activity- even without active missions there was always training or maintenance going on. But now the highly polished deck was almost entirely devoid of personnel, a few hesitant crews working close to the walls and trying not to stare at the recently returned ship.
"It arrived five minutes ago, Sir," the Major in charge of traffic control whispered. "The ramp lowered and then, well, nothing but what you see now." The two men turned to stare at the billowing clouds of thick grey smoke punctuated with glowing embers that poured through the open hatchway.
"And when the landing crew approached?" Hux asked, unable to turn his eyes away from the sight. The silence dragged. Cutting his eyes to the side he found the Major staring at him with a horrified look. "You did send a crew?"
As the man shook his head and backed away the General gave into the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Re-education. Now."
"Thank you, Sir," the man gasped as he almost ran from the docking bay, his boots echoing against the deck.
Glancing up into the control tower Hux saw that the space was, like the rest of the hangar, surprisingly devoid of activity. With a sigh he strode towards the ship, signally the stormtroopers to stop at the bottom of the ramp. Despite the eerie silence in the hangar it wasn't until he reached the top of the ramp that he heard the sounds of destruction echoing from deeper inside.
All around him consoles and bulkheads were spitting sparks or oozing molten metal along the lightsaber inflicted lines that scored every conceivable surface. There were even saber marks on the ceilings for Force sake.
He found Atok in the otherwise unoccupied medbay, systematically slicing apart a series of medical droids.
"My Knights have been slaughtered." The other man hissed without turning his eyes away from his task.
"Slaughtered? I thought their ship crashed after they failed to capture the padawan and her pilot?" Hux asked from the doorway, eager to stay out of range of the wildly spinning lightsaber.
"They were made to kneel at the cliff edge and their heads struck from their bodies." Atok turned to him with a face rigid with rage. "With a lightsaber."
"The scavenger returned?" Hux suggested, raising a eyebrow as he wondered why his rival would tell him any of this. "Or the Jedi killed them before you ended his life?"
"They were both technologically gifted." Atok said as he held out the saber free hand. A surveillance droid communicator sat in the centre of his palm. "They would have known better than to leave this behind."
Hux schooled his expression into flat disinterest. So the Resistance location was only a download of data away from discovery and Atok's vengeance. Unless he could be distracted by this new information.
"It matters not." Atok cut him off as he shouldered his way past the slimmer man, knocking Hux back towards a damaged bulkhead. Bren hissed as his hand was burnt by a smouldering line of cables. "I will deal with them after I deal with the Resistance. I tire of your inactivity General. It is time we engaged in real warfare again."
Distraction was not an option then, he thought as he trailed after Darth Atok. At least the saber was no longer lit and the maintenance crews might have the chance to put out the fires before the ruined ship brought the entire star destroyer down in the flames. That was something. At the back of his mind Hux suspected that he would come to appreciate the small victories in the days to come.
He cradled his hand against his stomach as he walked. He soon forgot about the burn in the excitement of the battle. So he never even noticed that it had healed completely by the next day.
Soft snores echoed through the pilots' dormitories as a hundred beings of various species tried to sleep. Outside a ship with an unfamiliar engine landed gently on the asphalt. Feet ran to meet it. The base settled back into silence.
With a sigh Finn turned over to face the wall, pulling the blankets up around his ears.
Unable to face the emptiness of the quarters he'd shared with Poe, Finn had moved back in to the dorms the day after they returned from the failed attack on the Finalizer. He'd lived almost his entire life in group quarters, always surrounded by the steady sounds of thousands of other souls. True silence was unsettling, it left him too alone with his thoughts. At least here if he couldn't sleep he could close his eyes and imagine himself back on board the Finalizer, pretend that the last four years were just a wonderful dream and Poe was still alive out there somewhere.
A door opened and Alia's familiar giggle broke the fantasy. The children's quarters had always been kept separate from the adult stormtrooper dorms. There was too much risk of developing attachments between the generations. Any attachments at all had been forbidden and some days he wondered if maybe Phasma had been right. He wouldn't feel like this if he hadn't opened his heart.
Finn kept his eyes closed as he heard the gentle tread of feet across the floor. The child had her own room attached General Organa's quarters but she'd gained a habit of crawling into bed with him and Poe if she woke from a nightmare on the many evening they'd babysat for her. He probably shouldn't have allowed it, but she'd been so small and alone amongst strangers, just like him before Poe had helped him to escape.
Someone was leaning across him, he could feel their breath against his ear. Part of him didn't want to encourage this, would far rather the girl return to her own quarters and leave him alone to stew in his own grief. The rest of him remembered what it was like to be a lonely child, dreaming of any kind of comfort.
Fingertips touched his shoulder. Finn gave in and rolled over to offer Alia a space under his blanket.
Instead he looked straight into the face of Poe Dameron.
The engineers were pushing the Finalizer's engines to the furthest possible extent of their capabilities. Hux had rarely used his ship like this, beyond that first few months of trial and error as he familiarised himself with all her foibles. Even in an emergency situation he preferred to know that there was still an additional margin left for something more- more speed, more protection, more firepower. Once they reached the limit their backs would be against the wall.
And this was not an emergency situation. This was a mission he would have happily approached at a crawling pace, or not at all. Vengeance was not a sound reason to risk the lives of fifty five thousand crew by trying to exceed the ships safety limits. Especially not when it threatened the life of the being most dear to him in all the Galaxy. But that was information likely to make Atok all the more eager to arrive and lay waste to the Resistance base, had he known it.
While the blur of hyperspace whipped by the viewports Hux took to pacing his habitual circuits of the bridge, peering into the crew pits on the pretext of checking the efficiency of the newly formed teams and keeping his mind carefully blank of the instructions that had been given to many of them long before they set foot on the Finalizer. In contrast Atok stood impossibly still at the forward viewports, staring unblinking as if he could already see his prey beyond hyperspace. It was unnerving. Unconsciously Hux began to run his nails across his palms where his hands crossed behind his back, the leather of his gloves the only thing keeping them from leaving bloody trails in their wake.
He'd seen the latest footage from the Resistance base, Atok had allowed him to loiter at his shoulder as he viewed it. There was little information of value in it over the last twenty eight hours. he surveillance droid has been cheerfully chasing a BB-unit astromech droid the entire time and showed only brief snatches of the base itself or its personnel. Hux had frowned slightly when he'd realised that Darth Atok had not recognised the orange and white droid as the one that had carried the map to Skywalker out of his reach. He wondered if the Force user simply didn't care or if the lapse was a symptom of some problem with the personality divide. Kylo Ren certainly remembered the troublesome little thing, he'd had a training dummy made in its likeness. Then again it was probably better that Atok hadn't recognised it, or he might have realised that the droid was creating a distraction.
Abruptly the Finalizer dropped out of hyperspace, proximity alarms surging into life while her shields flared immediately with multiple small impacts as they found themselves in a cloud of mechanical detritus. It looked like the remnants of a space battle. Smouldering hunks of damaged spacecraft whirled through the void around them, few large enough to pose a real threat but still a concern to the sound operation of their Star Destroyer. The gunnery crews bustled into action, clearing a path through the wreckage before either commander had spoken an order.
Hux nodded to their commanding officers, approving their swift thinking as he strode the length of the bridge to settle at Atok's side by the viewports. The other man had not moved at this new threat.
The General had always prided himself on his excellent distance vision. He didn't need the aid of the Force to see that there was no evidence of any living or formerly-living beings in amongst the wreckage. The occasional droid drifted by, whole or partial, but there were no corpses, no blood stains or viscera splashed across the torn open hulls. This was just a delaying tactic- the equivalent of using caltrops against ground forces.
"They knew our course."
The sound was so unexpected Brendol almost levitated in surprise, sinking his nails deeper into his hands instead as he fought to keep his face emotionless and his mind blank. He kept his eyes on the scene outside, mentally calculating the trajectories of the detritus to keep the upper levels of his mind occupied.
"It was the shortest and most obvious route from Skywalker's hideaway to their location, my Lord," he said with disinterest and a trace of judgement at the obvious choices of the supposedly adept Force user. "They must have been expecting you to make this particular journey at some point after you disposed of the Jedi."
Atok turned his head slightly, fixing Hux with a glare that should have had him cowering. The General didn't move his eyes to acknowledge him.
"They're fleeing," Atok spat, one hand waving contemptuously at the planet finally coming into view beyond the debris."Like insects from a hive at the first sign of danger. Cowards. Too scared to face their righteous punishment for their crimes."
Internally Hux rolled his eyes at the others melodramatic proclamations. Externally his eyes flickered across the ships streaming away from the planet. They must have scuttled half their fleet to slow down the First Order's progress and what was left didn't seem to be in much better condition. He knew the Fiorinians hidden throughout the Republic had been systematically dismantling the Resistance' support structure but for them to be in this condition... No, that made no sense. There had to be better ships somewhere.
Hux shifted slightly, turning his head to scan the expanse between the debris field and their target. The planet had three moons, their dark sides turned towards the Finalizer, almost invisible and unregarded when there were so many tempting moving targets.
Twisting his lips as the thrill of real battle surged through him for the first time since Starkiller, Hux spun on his heel, barking orders to shift their targeting priorities and bring online every weapon they had at their disposal. Atok turned, staring, as the General ordered his TIEs into combat, instructing them to use the hazardous debris to their advantage.
"What are you doing?" He growled. "We aren't close enough to..."
"General Hux, Sir, multiple enemy vessels approaching from the moon on our starboard flank!" Dex shouted, cutting off Darth Atok's complaints before they'd properly begun.
Acknowledging with a nod, Hux turned to the task of leading his crew, fighting back a smile at the sensation of a small hand slipping into his own. The edge of his vision sparkled slightly as Alia whispered information into his ear.
How would one win a battle and defeat a foe whilst causing the least amount of harm? Wasn't that at the very heart of the art of war? And wasn't he the youngest General the Order had ever seen for good reason?
Disregarding the protests of his co-commander Hux set to his vocation with relish.
In the darkness before the throne they waited. Weapons in hand, destiny calling, vengeance would be theirs. They had not forgotten that day in the temple. Ben Solo would pay.
The base was in uproar.
Hurrying through the corridors General Organa fought off a rising sense of déjà vu. Three and a half decades had past since Hoth and yet her traitorous mind flickered constantly back to that stark white labyrinthine base. Each time she entered a room or turned a corner she couldn't help but expect to see one of them- Han tall and strong, his face twisted with mischief or regret; Luke a picture of wide eyed innocent confidence, too pure to know what he faced and that lack of fear keeping him alive. Her ghosts walked ahead of her, unseen, whispering about the paths that had already been trod before, the decisions dooming the Galaxy to an endless cycle of repetition.
The Resistance worn down once again. Another terrified haphazard flight for their lives. The past echoed around her, but they were only echoes- empty and unhelpful. Despite Finn's tale of transubstantiation, Luke hadn't spoken to her yet. She half hated him for leaving her alone to fight this war after he had already spent so many years in exile. The burden of leading was too much for her, had been too much for a long time. Her life had been a tale of war and loneliness and loss. For every victory there had been a defeat. At times like this she wondered what had ever really been achieved. Was the Galaxy any better off than when she first entered politics?
Her melancholy train of thought derailed as she finally entered the main hangar and caught sight of Poe at a bank of terminals, shouting instructions into a headset while Alia sat on his knee to watch the displays.
Leia had to admit that when she'd been woken in the early hours to be informed that Commander Dameron had returned, apparently from the dead, with urgent news she'd felt a little annoyed at him for going directly to the pilot dormitories rather than reporting to her. Of course she could understand the desire to check on loved ones but as General is had irritated her to have to go looking for him. That annoyance had evaporated as quickly as it had developed when she'd actually seen the pilot's physical condition.
Even though he'd been glowing with happiness to be back in Finn's arms, he still looked too ill to be standing. Dangerously thin, with bloodshot eyes and skin turned a papery grey, he swayed constantly, his limbs shaking with even the most basic movement. Rey had said that he'd been killed by an electrical bolt to the chest. However he'd survived, the fact that he'd escaped the First Order in that state was nothing less than a miracle.
There hadn't been an opportunity to question any of it. As soon as he'd explained about the approaching Star Destroyer there had been time for nothing but evacuation plans and troop movements.
Poe had suggested the highly unorthodox move of crewing as many of the functional ships with droids as possible and arranged the blockade based on the Finalizer's last known trajectory. He'd tried to take an x wing himself but Finn and Rey had dragged him away from it, BB-8 viciously battering his shins as he was pushed into a command chair. His supposed death had half crippled the already resource starved Resistance, to lose him in battle again would shatter what little morale they could muster in the face of incoming doom.
It had quickly been decided that Alia could sit with him by simple virtue of it keeping the excitable toddler out from under other people's feet. If anyone noticed her repeating Poe's commands to herself no one commented on it. Dameron himself seemed to find the whole thing amusing somehow.
Perhaps that should have been a clue that something wasn't quite right. Not that anyone would remember the detail later.
Any information was better than nothing.
That was the mantra Hux repeated to himself as he stalked around the bridge directing his forces. Alia was doing her best, but they had face up to the inescapable fact that although she was certainly wise beyond her years, and Brendol was supremely proud of everything she'd done, she was only three years old. It was difficult for her to convey the necessary information about the Resistance vessels deployment patterns- being unable to count beyond fourteen and knowing only some of her colours. She also recognising less than a quarter of the Aurebesh alphabet, never mind the myriad of incomprehensible languages used by the lesser species in that ragtag base. Where she could Alia simply repeated the orders Dameron was issuing, trying to mimic the phrasing precisely, but unfamiliar multi-syllable words tripped her up more often than not, leaving Hux to struggle with garbled, slang riddled gibberish.
The Resistance, like the Rebellion before it, used call signs that were known within their groups but not necessarily obvious to an outside. Meaning that well over half the orders he was able to interpret could only be fully understood once the vessels in question were already manoeuvring. But Hux was clever. He'd scored highly in all his simulations for a reason. The upper levels of his brain became nothing more that an constantly updating map of the battle, assigning identities based on the various ships responses to the messages Alia conveyed.
It should not have been possible for one man to keep track of so many moving objects while simultaneously distinguishing between those that were crewed by living creatures and those crewed by droids. He had an 87.3% success rate so far, sparing far more of the Resistance pilots than they were doing for him. He should have felt bad, felt some kind of loss at the deaths of his TIE pilots, even if it was only intellectual, but instead he found himself feeling relief. Every one of those crew was loyal to Atok or Supreme Leader Snoke, either standing against the Fiorinians or merely unapproached, their deaths could only strengthen his position.
The voice in his head spoke quietly then, daddy, we have to go. We're going on a pulple ship Genma Leia says. Daddy, I love you both. And papa. I'll see you soon. Buh-bye. The brief sensation of lips against his cheek and then the connection broke, just a vague sense of excitement and fear to suggest that Alia was still nearby. Hux scanned the orbit zone of the planet for any kind of purple hued ship, determined to keep his daughter safe whatever the cost.
"This is taking too long!" Atok spat, his gaze still fixed on the viewports.
"A battle takes as long as it takes, my Lord," Hux said evenly, continuing to direct his gunnery captains though gestures whilst he turned to his hated co-commander. "Would you have us lose valuable resources and risk greater damage for the sake of your impatience?"
"The scavenger is down there, that is all that matters."
"My Lord, the scavenger is irrelevant to Leader Snoke's plans, to any plans we might have for galactic domination. Her master is gone, her training incomplete, what possible threat does she pose?" He asked the question coldly, forcing down the long list of ways in which the powerful Jedi could spoil Atok's existence more than she already had.
"General Hux, Sir!" Dex called from their position at the radar displays. "A number of mid-sized vessels have begun to drop out of lightspeed into the planets orbit, and many transports are breaking atmosphere, the evacuation has begun."
"Ready my shuttle, Commodore, if this ship cannot reach the planet in good time then I shall go myself!" Atok roared, storming up the central aisle of the bridge. Around him the naval staff eyed one another nervously.
"Sir..." Began one of the Fiorinian officers, apparently the loser in this game of military chicken. "Lord Atok, your shu..."
Hux broke in, unwilling to lose another of his loyal men as he had lost Lieutenant Mitaka. "You have no shuttle my Lord, not one that is fit to move, or have you forgotten taking your saber to every available surface in a fit of childish rage?"
The bridge fell silent, every being holding its breath, and well over half that number reaching surreptitiously for their weapons. Hux alone moved, ordering one of his gunnery crew to annihilate a trio of x wings who had taken it upon themselves to attempt a suicide run against the still heavily shielded bridge. As they exploded into glowing clouds of shrapnel to sparkle uselessly against the shields, Atok came to a stop behind Hux.
"What did you say?"
Smartly, heels clicking together in a perfect military turn, Hux spun to face the Force user, finding the other's prominent nose mere inches from his own. "You heard me, my Lord," he sneered, leaning around his bulk to address the naval officers. "Are there any serviceable ships available in the hold for Darth Atok's use?"
"N... No General, they were all deployed, as per your orders," came the nervous and poorly worded reply.
"Order one to return, that Lord Atok might enjoy his little excursion." Hux said with a sneer.
Atok's response to the news that Hux had trapped him there was instant, predictable, and brutal. One hand shot out in the direction of Hux' delicate windpipe, intent to finish what he had started all those months ago- fingers closing in midair, directing the Force to crush the General's throat. In the crew pits and at the consoles the Fiorinians and their supporters raised their weapons. Brendol stared flatly into the eyes of his assailant as the creatures' pupils twitched, confused.
Nothing happened. With a snarl, Atok stepped forward into Hux' personal space, intent on throttling him with his own hands if the Force would not bend to his will. Unblinking Hux felt the heat radiating through the leather gloves resting millimetres from his flesh. The hand circling his throat did not close. A second joined it and yet, nothing.
This was not what they had discussed, what they'd agreed, if Kylo intervened now the entire plan would fail and all would be lost. Searching the beloved hazel eyes before him Hux found no sign of his lover watching him through them, only the cold hatred of his alter ego. Whatever the cause of this immunity, it didn't come from Kylo Ren. But did that make it more or less of a concern?
Maintaining eye contact with the weak, pathetic, worthless, inexplicably invulnerable and utterly mundane being beneath his hands Atok addressed the Commodore and the rest of the bridge. "Summon all transports. The General is leaving. As are the rest of you that have blindly pledged your loyalty to him."
With a movement of disgusted dismissal the Force user twisted away from the unmoving redhead and turned towards the crew pits, gesturing towards the officers still clutching their primed blasters. "I feel it in your hearts, your treason, your betrayal." Again his fist closed and this time nearly fifty beings scrabbled for their throats. Only Dex was able to emulate their general's cold disregard in the face of imminent death.
Abruptly they were released. Atok stalking back towards the viewports, shoulders rising up towards his ears. From the corner of his eye Hux saw a large Resistance cruiser manoeuvring to break orbit. The ships livery was purple and grey. Alia's ship, the scavenger must be onboard too.
"Fire on that ship!" Atok ordered.
From the crew pits came nothing but the terrified stare of officers who were still recovering from the grip of the Force about their necks. No one moved, every eye on Hux. Distantly the engines of the Resistance ship flared.
The light of the engines stretched, the vague sense of Alia in his mind stretched with it. And were gone.
Hux made a gesture with one hand. The bridge emptied, crew members scrambling over the sides of the pit to reach the blast doors first.
"They are all that are loyal to you on this ship, them and a hundred stormtroopers. What do you expect to achieve with so little, General?" Atok hissed, both hands twitching at his sides as he spoke. It was like an approaching thunderstorm passing over his skin, the hairs rising along his arms as the Force failed to find purchase on his body.
"It's surprising what one can achieve with slightest of resources or the smallest of incentives." Hux said hautily, one thumbnail unconsciously grazing over the scar on his abdomen before he settled into parade rest. "Or have you forgotten how you gained the scar across you face, my Lord?"
"Get out. Perhaps your ships will make it to lightspeed before the Dorn shift make it to their stations. If not? No one will bother to retrieve your worthless carcass."
"To be buried in the aether and become one with the cosmos, like Grand Moff Tarkin or Commander Jerjerrod before me. Simply another opportunity to fulfil a childhood dream." Hux said, a small smile making him suddenly appear far younger. "Perhaps you should consider the same."
"You know nothing of my dreams. Get. Out."
With military precision and not a small amount of regret Hux left the bridge of the Finalizer for the last time.
Phasma waited just beyond the blast doors, a squadron at her heel.
"Evacuation." He snapped, leading them briskly away from the bridge. "We'll take the stairs to the hanger, Captain."
"Sir, it would be fas..." The sentence was never completed, the idea cut off by the sound of the nearest turbolift plummeting unchecked, the echo of its impact thirty decks below no more than a whisper.
"We take the stairs."
"General Organa, Ma'am, what is our heading?" The pilot asked, awkwardly turning his head to peer through the throng. "Where did the other ships go?"
The ship was beyond safe capacity, refugees crammed into every available space. Even the normally spacious bridge packed shoulder to shoulder with every age, rank and species in the Resistance.
Alia stared about her in apparent enjoyment of the scene as Poe handed her over to Finn while he dug through his pockets. Finally a scrap of paper was handed forward to the pilot and the details entered into astronavigation systems.
"Ma'am? There's no record of a planet there, though the navigational parameters for the rest of the system suggests that there should be one."
"Then the First Order will be hard pressed to find us. Set a course." Leia said confidently before turning back to Poe and quietly asking, "where precisely are we going?"
"Somewhere we'll be safe," he answered.
"Fiorina," Alia sighed dreamily as she began to doze off against Finn's neck.
The command centre of Starkiller II bustled with activity, the new improved weapon finally online. Awaiting the order that would finally crush the Resistance.
Irritated by the ragged collection of engineers loitering around the edge of the space, Lieutenant General Tarkin paced around her new domain, silently cursing Hux for bringing in outside contractors. It was even more galling that these people had been necessary, had finished construction of the machine years ahead of schedule. Now they seemed to believe they had the right to be present at the weapons inauguration and that would never do. She stopped in front of the viewports, imagining recreating Hux' own glorious speech for herself on the steps of the amphitheatre before her.
"Lieutenant General?" The head engineer asked, centimetres from her ear. She hadn't even heard the man move.
"Yes? Monin isn't it?" She replied, not deigning to turned her head to look at him. "What is it?"
"Moxin, Sir." The older man said, stepping closer. He was an affront to the precision of the First Order, his clothes unkempt and his middle running to fat. "You're a Tarkin aren't?"
"Then you know about Fiorina." As she gasped and moved to turn around he caught the back of her neck and forced her to keep her eyes forward. "Do you know where the original seed population came from?"
"Prisons." She answered hoarsely. "Death row."
"And yet somehow you imagined we'd never take a chance at revenge if the opportunity arose. It's been a very long time since I last did this, but muscle memory never forgets." The movement was small, efficient, and graceful. The knife was sharp against her side and passed through her flesh so easily it almost didn't hurt. "This is for the ones you stole and the ones you lead away. No more. Fiorina is a sovereign planet, we no longer submit to your abuses."
With one last twist of his blade Moxin let the body dropped to the floor. Behind them came a gurgling sound as the other engineers and loyal members of the crew cut the throats of their enemies.
Stepping up to the viewport, one hand on his bump, the other causally wiping his blade clean against his trousers, Moxin admired the sunrise over the frozen tundra and dreamed of going home.
It wasn't a real med bay. The size of the cruiser didn't warrant much more than a cupboard and a selection of compact equipment that could be expanded outward in the event of an emergency.
Hux had managed to hide himself within it anyway, his narrow frame- now stripped of the bulk of his greatcoat and padded tunic- fitted neatly onto the counter top he'd chosen as his perch. He hadn't looked up as Phasma drew open the door, keeping his gaze fixed on the small medical supply box he turned in his hands as he muttered a despondent "Captain."
Carefully she removed her helmet, dropping into a more relaxed stance as she tucked the chrome masterpiece under one arm. Brendol could feel her judgemental gaze sweeping over him as she delivered her status report. He didn't bother to meet her eye.
"ETA to Fiorina currently estimated at forty six hours, possibly less if we make more risky navigational choices... We were able to retrieve 68.6% of our personnel from the Finalizer, any remaining survivors have their orders... The rest of the fleet is in position..." She trailed off, irritated by his lack of response. Peering closer at the box she raised one blonde eyebrow in surprise. "You urinate on it, if that's what you're concerned about General, it's hardly quantum physics."
"I can read, thank you Phasma."
"Forgive the impertinence, Sir, but I would have expected you to be on the dose, given previous events."
Silently Hux returned the kit to its cubbyhole and jumped down from his perch. With one hand he pushed up the sleeve of his undershirt to press against the flesh of his arm, revealing the outline of his implant.
"Sir, if you even suspect then you need to take that test. The interactions between the hormones and any developing life..."
"I know," Brendol said wearily as he gestured to a small pile of sticks that had been hidden by his previous position. Each was tipped dark blue. He offered her a sterile wrapped single use scalpel. When she took it he returned to holding his sleeve. "Cut it out."
"Would this not be better in the hands of a medical professional?"
"You have the same field training as I do Captain, you're more than capable. The fewer people that know of this development the better."
Phasma eyed him the scalpel moving indecisively towards his arm. "Everyone on this ship is Fiorinian, Sir, there would be no judg..."
"Until I am certain Atok is destroyed this information goes no further than the two of us. Do you really think he would have allowed me to leave had he been aware of this? It could ruin everything we've worked towards. Tell no one. Is that understood?"
"My Lord Atok, sir? There's no record of a planet at these coordinates, though the navigational parameters for the rest of the sys..."
"Plot a course."
"But my Lord..."
It was a little like watching a live broadcast of some terrible disaster. Kylo wanted to help. He wanted to reach out and slap Atok's proverbial hands away from the controls. But he couldn't. They were so close to everything they'd been working towards. If he disrupted the process now they might lose their chance.
The discovery on the water planet had been a surprise. Kylo had genuinely expected at least one or two of his Knights to have survived. Certainly the none humans should have been able to resist some of the radiation, in addition to their tougher physical structure protecting them during the crash itself. He estimated that four had actually survived the destruction of their ship by several weeks, based on the conditions in Luke Skywalker's former sanctuary.
Then, for reasons unknown, they'd lined up along a cliff edge on their knees and allowed their heads to be struck from their bodies. There had been no battle. They had no fresh wounds that could have occurred immediately before their death- just the cauterised stumps between their shoulders.
He hadn't understood it. Atok had. He'd begun to spiral inwards, a disorientatingly familiar mental sensation that Kylo struggled to place. Atok had torn the place apart in rage, dragging what was left of his former comrades into the ancient temple and bringing the whole structure down to serve as a tomb. Outwardly he had seemed calm when he returned to the Finalizer, apparently intent on his pursuit of the Scavenger. From an inner perspective however he was barely thinking about it.
Atok moved on autopilot and a deeply ingrained duty, a symptom of Kylo's control over his behaviours. He had given Atok the impression of days of intense meditation, but without any of the actual form and substance of the practice. The creature believed he was taking time to consider matters deeply when in actuality he gained only echoes of basic surface concepts. Now he actually had time to think while he allowed Hux to command the ship and every thought drove him closer to an inescapable truth.
Betrayal. Snoke had betrayed him.
It was blasphemous to even entertain the thought but as his mind spun ever inward it became clearer that there was no other option. Who else would his Knights have submitted to without a quarrel? Kylo finally recognising the other personality's mental turmoil. It was the same feeling he had experience at the revelation of his grandfather's identity and the dishonesty at the heart of his uncle's training. It was the crushing betrayal of realising ones reality is based on lies, accompanied by the drive to strike out and destroy everything attached to the deception.
Atok had stumbled through his actions with Bren in a perfunctory manner, not really interested though he hid it well. Kylo's heart was in his mouth as Hux directed his crew, playing his part with precision as he tried to fight both sides of battle at once. He knew that Alia was helping him but cut off from the Force as he was, he couldn't communicate with either of them. He'd thought he would have no way of knowing if she escaped.
It was when Hux pushed too far, deliberately goading Atok, that it became clear that her ship was leaving or soon to leave. If Kylo interfered now it risked Atok regaining his equilibrium enough to focus on the departing ships and thus the death of their daughter. If he didn't interfere it meant watching his fiancé die at the hands of a creature he had constructed. There was no way Atok would leave the job unfinished this time. Kylo's soul writhed in pain as he weighed his choices, once again torn apart by a decision he didn't want to make. Atok reached out.
In a moment of horrible synchronicity both his and Atok's minds turned back to the same memory. It was one that Kylo had suppressed for so long, one that had become harder and harder to justify once he had a child of his own. Atok in his detachment had seen it as a necessary step towards true loyalty to his Master and his proper alignment in the Force. Now for him it would serve as a source of inspiration whilst Kylo fought to avoid reliving it.
The rain. The mud. The silent Knights at his back, all long dead now- acolytes who'd failed where he'd succeeded in Snoke's citadel. The dead and the dying scattered about his feet. The gravely wounded still feebly trying to crawl away. The sick exultation of his fifteen year old self as he stood amongst the remains of his former classmates. The righteousness he felt when merely leaving hadn't been enough and he'd needed to take everything of value from those who'd deceived him.
Atok reached out.
Nothing happened. Kylo had made no choice, taken no action and yet Brendol was unharmed. Could not be harmed. Even as Atok tried to choke the life from him with his bare hands nothing happened. There wasn't time to consider the matter when Atok, frustrated and disorientated, turned the focus of his rage toward the crew. Something caught his attention and panicking he turned towards the departing ships. Too late. The Scavenger escaped and all the fight went out of him.
That last burst of violence and the failure of his powers seemed to rob him of some elemental drive as the spiral finally reached its inner most point. Atok's mindscape resembled nothing more than a black hole, every thought and motivation sucked down towards the same conclusion. Nothing mattered any more.
The Scavenger would die eventually as all things die. It made no difference if it were by his hand or no.
The upstart General hissing and spitting like an angry cat was of no consequence. He and his degenerate cronies would be lost to the sands of time. It didn't matter if they completed their plans, they were frail and finite and so easily forgotten. Besides Snoke cared nothing for the General, hadn't communicated directly with him in years. Killing him would gain Atok nothing and might aid Snoke if Hux were removed as an rival.
So he dismissed them. He turned the ship towards the only thing that mattered. Revenge for the lie he'd been fed every moment of his existence. An end the creature who perpetuated it.
Kylo watched, quietly pleased that Atok was heading in the direction he needed him to go. He'd seen this sequence of events in the visions the Force had given him in that crystal chamber. He'd seen Atok look down on the Rebel bas and it's fleeing ships, then turn aside. He had not expected it to be quite like this. He had certainly not expected Atok to take the Finalizer whilst Bren left in a refugee convoy. He'd expected Atok to leave alone and let Hux keep his ship.
So utterly broken was the other personality that Atok didn't even bother to fire on the cruisers carrying the Fiorinian crew, though he did lash out one last time by destroying his own ship's turbo lifts and all onboard them. Clearly Hux' policy of not using them in a crisis was a wise one.
As they left it became clear that the ship had no record of Snoke's location- despite taking Kylo there directly only a few years ago. Hux would not have deleted such important data. Had Snoke ordered it to keep the General or the First Order away? Kylo settled to worrying. What precisely was going on? Kylo had taken his Master's disinterest in recent Order activities as a tacit approval of their actions. He hadn't considered that Snoke might actually have given up on them. When had he last spoken with the alien face to face? He didn't remember.
Once they reached Snoke's citadel what exactly could Atok do to get his revenge? He hadn't seen beyond this point in his visions, not for his own fate at least. Trapped as he was in the back of his own mind there was nothing he could do but watch Atok and theorise. The journey would take at least a week. Perhaps he'd know more by then. He hoped he'd know more.
"Commander Dameron?" A tall blond man called as he ran towards the ship and the crowds of weary travellers spilling down the ramp. "Commander Dameron?"
"That's me!" Poe replied, hoisting Alia on his shoulders as he and Finn fought their way through the throng.
"Ah! Hello! Lovely to meet you at last!" The man beamed at them as he held out one gloved hand. He made a point of shaking each hand in turn, including Alia's, nodding enthusiastically as Rey and Leia introduced themselves. "I'm Krisn, I'm here on behalf of my father, Zev. Unfortunately, he's engaged in vital work at the main mining operation. We have little in terms of fast long range transportation but he hopes to be able to assist you directly in the next few days. In the mean time I can show you around the current facilities and begin making arrangements for any changes or improvements you might require."
General Organa, who had nodded gracious through this spiel, gestured back towards the small gathering of ships. "We left with little time to organise provisions or personal effects. Food, hygiene, and shelter need to be our first priority. Not all of our vessels can safely enter the atmosphere so we'll need to run convoys to get everyone planet side."
"That's fine, we have a rough estimate of your numbers from Commander Dameron. I'll have the essentials brought in shortly. We've arranged for you to use the upper levels of a decommissioned mine for housing and storage of your smaller machines. It's all been made safe." Krisn said, guiding them towards a series of cave mouths in a nearby hillside. "I understand that the Rebels prefer to keep themselves hidden."
"The Resistance," Leia corrected, "not the Rebels."
"Forgive me, we don't have much contact with the rest of the Galaxy." He said, bowing apologetically before his expression turned to concern. "You might need to warn your pilots, General, there's rather more debris in orbit than there was when we last spoke to the Commander. It might pose a problem with anything trying to maintain a long term stationary orbit. You might need to move your ship out towards one of our moons instead."
"Debris? From what?" Rey asked, suddenly interested as the man began to radiate nervousness.
"Oh, just a few satellite failures." Krisn waved a hand dismissively. "No cause for concern. Let me show you the living areas..."
Hux strode down the ramp, his posture rigid as he stepped onto Fiorinian soil for the first time in three years. Under Phasma's advisement he wore his hat with the rear brim pulled low to cover his hair. There was no Galactic comms or holonet here, so the locals would not recognise him from broadcasts. But apparently he was known by his rare hair colour amongst his Fiorinian supporters and he'd rather not be recognised right away.
Fortunately their landing hadn't generated a crowd of curious onlookers this time. The slow progress of their plans over the last few years had acclimatised the locals to more outside arrivals. The streets around him bustled with normal everyday life and commerce. He suspected there would be much more interest once the crews were brought planet side and long separated families were reunited.
The man waiting at the edge of the makeshift landing pad had not aged or changed much apart from a slimmer waistline. Bobbing his curly head in excitement Zev waved him forward with a grin.
"Welcome back, welcome back!" He said, giving Hux a most unwanted hug before he stepped back and peered around the General. "It is so good to see you looking so well! Now, where is my darling daughter?"
Behind him Phasma laughed, pausing in her instructions to the crew to wave at him.
"Phasma, dear?" He called. "Do tell your other ships to be careful as they come down here! There's going to be a lot of unmapped debris in orbit."
Glancing up at the sky above him as if he could see through the clouds to the planet's orbit zone, Hux frowned. "Would this debris be the reason we weren't asked for access codes to enter the atmosphere?"
Zev beamed at him. "Oh yes. Fiorina is declaring its independence."
"What?!" He must have misheard. Why would they do that now of all times.
"Well we thought it might seem a bit suspicious for a Rebel pilot to have Tarkin family access codes." Zev explained in a calm matter-of-fact tone that set the General's teeth on edge. "So Moxin had one of the defensive squadrons from the Starkiller project come here and destroy the satellites."
Hux stared at him, mildly horrified. His vision was starting to sparkle at the edges and he felt more than a little faint. They couldn't do this. Not now.
"What? Surely that will have triggered some kind of message to Lieutenant General Tarkin?! You'll have the entire family down on us and Snoke's with them! As long as he's still alive we can't make a move. This was most unwi..."
Zev slapped him companionably on the back, apparently unconcerned.
"Oh a message did go to that Tarkin. But we don't need to worry, it didn't go to anyone else."
Pinching the bridge of his nose Hux concentrated on not screaming.
"We don't know where her loyalties lay," he ground out, intensely frustrated.
"Oh they're probably laying in the same hole that Moxin put her corpse in," Zev said, hugging his daughter when Phasma finally appeared at Brendol's side.
He set off down the street towards the house, then stopped when he realised no one was following him. "She's dead! There's nothing to worry about, I promise."
Hux hurried to catch up with him. "What do you mean she's..."
Hux turned sharply, surprised to be addressed by his first name where no one should recognise him by sight.
And indeed, no one was looking at him. Rather the focus of attention was a small child- barely even a toddler- chasing a ball, his eyes down and intent on his target. With the obliviousness of the very young he was heading out into the roadway- directly into the path of a burden beast towing an overloaded cart. Even if the animal avoided trampling the boy, the wheels would certainly crush him.
Hux moved without a thought, snatching the child up about the waist before Zev or Phasma had even finished turning their heads. The ball burst under the beast's foot. A moment later and that might have been the boy's skull.
In his arms the child began to sob, more from fright and the loss of his toy than pain. Carefully Hux adjusted his hold now that the immediate danger had passed, letting the boy settle comfortably against his side, his diaper wrapped rump resting in the crook of his arm. Sniffling in a most pathetic manner the boy looked up at his rescuer. Suddenly his mood brightened.
"Sunshine!" The boy said with a gap toothed grin, reaching up to tug on one of the General's ginger sideburns. He'd lost his hat in his dive to rescue the boy and now the little one seemed fascinated by his red hair. Delicately the child patted Bren's hair, as if he were concerned it might be warm, disheveling the ungelled locks even further, then patted his own cornrows for contrast. "Sunshine man!"
Caught off-guard by this reaction, Hux laughed, gaining himself a startled glance from the Captain. Phasma hadn't heard proper laughter from Hux in years, certainly not this full bodied delight.
A heavy set man stumbled to a halt in front of their group, clutching his chest as he gasped, apparently unused to running. "Th-thank you! If you'd not stopped him, he'd have been crushed flat! Brendol, what have I told you about running off like that?"
Hux blinked. "Is your name Brendol?" He asked the child, in as close an approximation to a kindly tone as he could managed. He hadn't had much cause to speak to any child but Alia in the last few decades, and his interactions with his daughter had been limited to say the least.
"Yes!" The little boy grinned.
"Named for our saviour, he is!" The man said proudly, turning to the others. "Just like yours, eh Zev? There's a lot of Brendol's these days. A few girls named Hux too. It's a nice sound and well, once he's Emperor of the Galaxy and set everything to rights it'll be something for the kids to be proud of. Anyway we need to be going, thanks again for saving my boy, mister!"
With that the man reclaimed his child and disappeared into the crowd, Hux too surprised to comment before he was already gone.
Finn sat quietly on a tree stump watching the fireflies.
Somehow this world felt peaceful. It felt like waking up in Poe Dameron's arms but manifested on a global scale. In short, it felt like home.
Atok sat in General Hux' office, surrounded by data pads, reference books and flimsi sheets covered in his sprawling laboured handwriting. He didn't write by hand much, hadn't really had a need to do so after he started his Jedi training. Now he wrote, stylus clutched in one overlarge fist, like a child cutting patterns into their sandbox.
There were few things Kylo Ren would thank Han Solo for, beyond the man's convenient death that saved the lives of his true family. One of those few things was the man's instinctive and encyclopaedic knowledge of the mechanics of space flight. He'd gotten the Falcon under the Starkiller shields with a technique that should have torn the freighter apart, he'd cut two parsecs off the Kessel Run, and he'd strolled through asteroid fields like they were meadows filled with wildflowers.
Piloting had been the only interest Ben Solo had shared with his father and now Kylo was extremely grateful. Atok had a plan and thanks to the teachings of Han Solo it would almost certainly work.
If he could only get the equations precisely right. As Atok struggled on, Kylo wished Brendol were there, he could have used his analytical mind about now.
In a field behind Phasma's family home Hux was elbow deep in the engine of malfunctioning a combine harvester. Dressed in just his sleeveless undershirt and jodhpurs he was enjoying the chance to work with his hands and in the open air for once. It had been a long time since he'd last had a practical project and the methodical process eased his mind.
They'd been on Fiorina for nearly two now. The strain of waiting was starting to get to him.
It had been easy enough at first to concentrate on the logistics of getting his men planet side and arranging the few transports that were unrated for atmosphere into a position where the Resistance wouldn't detect them. But once those tasks were done there was little left for him to do.
The house was less uncomfortable than it had been during their earlier visits. With his mind free from the overriding terror of an impending birth he was better able to enjoy the company of his host and Phasma's many siblings. Even if it was a little disorientating to hear her brother addressed by his own name. Zev had said that Moxin had chosen the name because he'd been touched by the General's strength in the face of adversity. That was when Hux had decided to fix the combine. There were somethings a person shouldn't hear about themselves.
Once he'd fixed the engine cover back in place Hux stretched his limbs, pausing to get comfortable before he tested the durability of the repair. Unconsciously one hand drifted across his abdomen, pressing lightly just below his naval.
"I swear we won't name you for anyone we know." He murmured quietly, feeling slightly stupid for talking to something that was barely even a few millimetres across yet.
"You've got another one in there, haven't you?" Zev asked from directly behind Hux, causing him to jump. "Are you going to raise it this time?"
"If we live that long." Hux said flatly.
"Ever the optimist I see." He said, turning back towards the house. "We've had a message. Come along, it's time."
The troop transport that landed outside the new Resistance base was at least sixty years old, it's engines loud and unhappy as it limped its way to onto the runway.
Krisn paused in explaining to the Resistance leaders why droids needed to the stay out of the lower levels of the mine workings to wave to his father.
"Ah! Here he is at last, as promised," he beamed, "everyone, may I introduce my father, Zev."
The newcomer bowed slightly, a group of tall, muscular miners arranged about him almost like bodyguards. Rey narrowed her eyes. Exactly like bodyguards. She nudged Finn and Poe, nodding in the man's direction. Subtly their stances changed, fingers moving towards their weapons. Three of the miners turned to face them.
"I'm sorry it's taken me so long to formally welcome you to Fiorina," Zev began.
"I know you." General Organa said, stepping close to peer at the man. "I remember you from somewhere."
"Your Majesty, I'm flattered that you would know me after all these years," he said with a smile that did not reach the rest of his face. "We were never formally introduced, after all, it was just a trial. I believe you were just seven at the time."
"Nazeven Krin," she breathed, eye wide as she pressed a hand to chest in horror. "You killed all those people, you were given a life sentence."
Zev shrugged. Behind him another engine sound began to echo over the base, the volume steadily increasing as the vessel approached. No one looked up, they were far too fascinated by the drama unfolding before them.
"Queen Breha found me guilty, that much is true," he said with a sneer, "and she sentenced me to life. Then I was sold to the Imperial mining operation, along with tens of thousands of other men."
Beside the ancient troop transport a sleek black Upsilon command shuttle delicately folded its wings as it landed. Still no one noticed.
"Did Commander Dameron neglect to tell you that this was a forced labour penal colony? Or at least it was until just recently."
The ramp of the shuttle lowered. From the corner of his eye Finn caught sight of the familiar white silhouettes as forty stormtroopers in shining armour spilled from the vessel, a tall black clad figure at the centre of their formation.
Finn stepped away from the group as he stared at the familiar figure, greatcoat flowing from his shoulders while his hair shine like fire in the sunlight.
For a man who'd hesitated to kill as a stormtrooper, Finn didn't waste a moment now. In one smooth gesture his blaster was unholstered and fired.
"No!!!" Poe caught his arm too late, dragging the barrel down and away as the energy bolt tore through the air.
Hux stared at the approaching light with sour faced dignity. Of course he'd die now, moments before he achieved the only goal he really cared about any more.
A tortured thrum rent the air as the bolt froze, shimmering as it hung suspended in midair.
"Daddy!!" A blur of orange, pink, and grey ran towards him from his right and Hux forgot the world around him.
He'd never seen her in colour. Kylo had kept his mind under during the birth and hidden her from view when they'd surrendered her to Organa. Since then he'd only ever seen her force aspect painted in shades of blue.
He fell to his knees.
As he folded his arms around his daughters tiny frame for the first time in her existence, he found himself overwhelmed by the jewel tone brightness of her. Tears shone in her turquoise eyes when he pulled her close to bury his nose in her brilliant copper red hair.
"Oh, my precious one."
He had her in his arms at last, after three long years of pain- his daughter, his baby, his Alia.
Kylo watched the scanners as the Finalizer fell away behind them. He hadn't been able to take one last look at Bren's beloved flagship- Atok had been too focused to waste his time on a glance back at his former prison. He'd have liked to share a final memory of the ship with its former master. Assuming he survived Atok's plan.
The martial elements of the Force are meant for use in close combat- fighting one on one with refined weapons from a more dignified age. Never in all his training had Kylo encountered it's active use in a space battle, not with either Luke or Snoke. Of course his uncle had used it to improve his targeting abilities and manoeuvrability but that still used the vessel as the weapon. The Force had merely aided the endeavour.
It had been Hux who'd first suggested the possibility of using his powers directly against opposing ships. Early in their original arrangement there had been a few embarrassing incidents where Kylo had caused significant damage to Brendol's quarters during carnal activities. Mostly those involving Hux demonstrating something Kylo had never tried before. Lights had been blown, wall panels had buckled. Hux had, in surveying the devastation, theorised that it might be possible to use the same effects against other ships, to buckle their hulls and cause catastrophic decompression.
It was possible, but it wasn't necessarily practical. Kylo had tried. Even for the destruction of single occupancy fighters the energy required was stupendous. What he'd caused in the General's quarters was the result of lost control and heightened emotions, it wasn't something he was capable of summoning or directing at will on a massive scale.
But, after Alia was born and their plan to free themselves had begun to progress, he'd still tried for at least an hour every day. Influence was better than attempting total annihilation, forcing a ship off course and into another's path could create the same outcome for less energy. Atok had practiced too, though he didn't know why, eager only to perfect his mastery of the Dark Side of the Force. He'd made a fair attempt to snatch the Millenium Falcon from the air as it fled following the loss of Rey's arm but he'd ultimately been unsuccessful. The result had been much the same for the injured Knights who'd witnessed and emulated the Skywalker cousins own attempts.
But Kylo was not just a blunt instrument. His father had been an excellent pilot and while he'd never be as successful an engineer as Hux he knew enough about starships to take a different approach than merely tearing them out of the sky. What he could do, what he'd always excelled in, was moving small objects, even at great distances.
Now he could effortlessly move an object the size of a pin head a few millimetres at very the bow of the Finalizer whilst standing by the largest ion engines. He'd never tried it from a location beyond the ship, but now it proved to be just as simple.
And that was all it took. The movement of many, many tiny pieces of circuitry scattered throughout the flagship's massive bulk whilst his command shuttle took him toward his own doom in Snoke's citadel below. Every navigational circuit and propulsion control, every communications array, every single electronic system that made the Finalizer a space-worthy fortress was irrevocably damaged.
Drifting dead in space Hux' beloved ship fell into a precisely calculated decaying orbit, it's occupants frantic to regain a control that would allude them. If they knew what was best for them they would evacuate before the escape modules and transports were similarly dragged towards the planet below or torn up in the turbulence of atmospheric reentry. If they didn't, well, they wouldn't have long to regret the mistake.
Atok had spent days planning this, the most advantageous moment to consign the ship to freefall and path it would take as its orbit shrank. A ship whose length could be measure in kilometres would not necessarily need to hit its target exactly to bring about its destruction, but Snoke's true strength had never been tested. Accuracy could not be undervalued.
It had been so long since Atok had left this place, newly named and apparently victorious. It had not changed. It was the same as it had been for a thousand years, ten thousand perhaps.
He left his ship where he always did, his feet following twenty years of routines as his mind stumbled and whirled. Snoke had killed his Knights, had left him caged for weeks on end over one minor misstep, had barely spoken to him, and hindered his pursuit of the scavenger at every turn. Now here he was, ready to commit treason. Perhaps there was some explanation, some reason that lay beyond his own limited understanding. Perhaps his Master had not betrayed him.
He was not convinced.
He kept to his plan.
During his imprisonment he had found a collection of small kyber crystals hidden in his quarters. They were too small individually for use in any kind of effective handheld weaponry and not not sufficiently attuned to one another to work together. But they all shared his own Force alignment and whilst he could no longer remember the specific mission that had brought them into his possession they were ideally suited to his current task.
He knew this building like he knew the workings of his own body. He knew it's structures and its weaknesses. As he climbed through the citadel towards his Master's sanctum he let the crystals- each now wrapped in a filigree of wire and lenses- fall from his grip in descending order of size. The last he dropped as he entered the final corridor. Atok heard it bounce away into the darkness, the noise impossibly loud in that grey, lifeless place.
With a wave of his hand he Force pushed the towering double doors of the throne room inwards, the stone grating torturous against the tile as if they had not been moved for years. The throne itself was cast in darkness, the giant figure in his seat indistinguishable in the shadows.
Seven creatures stood haphazardly along the dais at Snoke's feet, their forms slumping and inhuman in a way that was somehow more disturbing than if they were merely alien.
Where had seven new acolytes come from? It had taken him years to become worthy of being a Knight. He had known all the other candidates intimately. He had trained with them, shared quarters with them, he had even killed some of them. As for the rest- the majority now lay unmourned in the labyrinth beneath the citadel, unable to complete the challenge their Master had set whilst he himself had buried the remainder. There had been no other acolytes when he completed his training, there had been only his Knights and himself. How had Snoke managed to train so many in so short a time.
A lightsaber ignited. It was a sickly flickering thing the purple yellow shade of old bruises. Another ignited. And another. Not one of them had the steady brilliant light of a healthy saber. Only one or two even approached the stability of his last cross-barred weapon. It was a poor showing.
By the shifting glow of their blades Atok could see their unmasked emotionless faces. It took him a long moment to recognise them. He knew them. He had trained with them; shared quarters with them; he had run each and every one of them through with his newly forged lightsaber clutched in his trembling teenaged hand.
Luke's other apprentices.
He had believed he had killed all fifty of them. Even the ones who'd still been trying to crawl away as he left had suffered wounds severe enough to be fatal. He thought he'd seen to that.
Cautiously they approached, their steps uneven and disturbingly disjointed.
Tilting his head Atok studied their faces, his own amber lightaber unignited in his hand. They did not look much different than when he had last seen them.
Perhaps he had killed them after all.
"Atok. My greatest achievement is now my biggest disappointment. You have failed and failed and failed. The balance Darth Vader brought to the Galaxy has faded in the three years since you were made. Even the end of your late uncle has done nothing to curb the rising of the light in entities I cannot trace. But no matter. You are here now."
The words arrived directly in his mind. There was no great booming echo filling the chamber as Atok had come to expect from his few face to face encounters with his Master.
Without a conscious thought Atok ignited his own saber for the illumination it might offer. The seven creatures shifted warily as the warm orange light flooded the room.
Snoke sat in his throne, the only visible skin his humongous hands where they rested slack across the armrests. They looked wrong, the flesh sunken somehow as if it were slowly melting from the bones beneath. The chest moved minutely beneath the heavy colourless robes.
Raising his saber above his head Atok stared in horror as the remains of his Master were revealed.
The eyes were gone. The skin that had once hugged tight to wasted cheeks sliding loose and rotten towards his throat. The scalp around the deep canyon wound on his skull had given up its bonds and hung in tatters about his ears.
And yet for all that his body was dying his Master still lived.
"You came as I knew you would when you finally felt my slights too keenly. Filled with rage and spite and vengeance. My Atok. My instrument. My vessel. Kneel my son with your pure dark heart that I might take your place and seek out the corruption of the Light where you have failed."
Atok knelt, his knees folding without a conscious thought. His saber deactivated and fell from his fingers to roll away into the darkness. He heard it shatter against the stones as it fell into some hidden void.
He could feel his Master's caress across his mind, slowly dissolving his consciousness, wiping him clean. A blank slate to be overwritten with a thousand years of knowledge and hatred. This was the personification of the Dark Side of the Force and he would be consumed by it.
Surrendering his will, Atok closed his eyes and opened his consciousness to Snoke.
Before the throne the kneeling figure swayed, lips twitching.
Abruptly hazel eyes snapped open, unseeing for a moment.
Like a drowning mariner fighting for survival Kylo Ren surfaced, forcing the usurper back towards the decaying form on the throne.
There wasn't time to think. Atok had expected to fight his only Master and flee before the Finaliser breached the atmosphere. Kylo had expected much the same, but had influenced his alter ego's actions with the addition of the trail of crystals to hinder any possible pursuit. How much could he do to fight eight seemingly undead adversaries with his lightsaber lost to him?
Kylo turned and ran.
Snoke roared in his mind, the connection weak and intermittent. Behind him he heard the acolytes begin to shamble after him.
As he cleared the doors to the throne room he threw one hand out in the approximate direction of the last of his discarded crystals. Lightning crackled from his fingertips, searing across his retinas after so long in the darkness.
The kyber crystal shrieked and whined as it overloaded, obliterating the corridor behind him. It would likely only slow his pursuers for now, but by the time he'd reached the exit he'd have brought half the citadel down behind him. That should give him time.
The last of the escape pods left the Finalizer too late, it's space rated hull to fragile to withstand the friction of the atmosphere. Inside the mass of orbiting fighters and transports that had successfully escaped the crew watched numbly as the pod was swept up in the Star Destroyer's slipstream. After a moment or two of rolling it was buffeted against the larger hull and broke up in a brief burst of flame.
Gravity dragged the Finalizer inexorably towards its final demise.
His escape was taking longer than it should. Neither Kylo nor Atok had expected to come this way. One of the crystals had misfired, causing a disused turret to collapse outwards rather than inward. It had destroyed his command shuttle and Kylo had been forced to take a path into the mountains behind the citadel in the vague hope of finding sufficient shelter against the impact of the descending Star Destroyer.
A shower of rocks and gravel fell from a point to the left of him, a point that should not have been affected by his own climb.
Kylo whipped his head around, expecting to see a pursuit, expecting the twisted wrong faces of the half-dead Knights. Instead he saw a boy. Or perhaps a young man, it was hard to tell.
Long deep auburn hair fluttered in the cold wind above black robes that were more reminiscent of the Jedi than the Knights or the Sith. He was standing casually with his heels on a lip of rock barely two inches deep, watching Kylo with eyes that glittered like those of nighttime predators. They were three hundred feet up a sheer mountain side, and this boy was just standing there as if he were in a cantina waiting for a beer.
Kylo wondered if he was hallucinating and paused in his climb to rest his face against cool rock and consider the vision. It wasn't a Force projection- it had colour, it had to be a vision.
The boy was taller than him, broader across the shoulders. The movement of his hair obscured his face a little but he had Kylo's own sharp jawline, his strong nose, his ears but somehow they were all more orderly, more evenly arranged. The full lips, the brows, the cheekbones, even the eyes but for their hazel colour- those were all familiar in a different sense. They were purely Hux.
His heart felt like it might have stopped. There was another child.
Was this a promise of the future or a seed he had already planted?
It came as no surprise to Kylo when the boy finally spoke it was with his own deep tones.
"Hello, papa," the boy said, barely moving his lips to do so, as if he hid some secret there.
The boy was far above him now, climbing with supernatural ease up the steep cliff on a slightly different path to the one Kylo had chosen. He disappeared before he reached the summit, flickering out of existence like the failing of a faulty holo projection.
Glancing back at the fiery, unnatural glow beginning to show through the planet's perpetual heavy clouds he made a decision. The Force had shown him this vision for a reason. Either a last comfort before death or as a guide. As unlikely as it was that the boy's route could promise protection from what was coming he'd be a fool not take what was offered. If he didn't follow soon the options would be reduced to only the first by the simple fact of physics.
Far below him a wall of the citadel blew outward. Snoke had chosen to further compromise the stability of the structure to pursue him. Time to go.
Kylo followed the path the boy had taken, his hands and feet endeavouring to emulate his movements as precisely as possible, praying he could trust that the vision-revealed path wouldn't crumble under his substantial weight. It didn't occur to him until he approached the section where the boy had vanished that he'd first noticed him due to a small fall of rocks. Force visions could not move physical objects. What exactly had he seen?
The question left his mind as he cleared the summit at a pace that sent him sprawling in the dirt. There was a drop here, almost immediately beyond the point where he had emerged. Had he take the other route he would never have seen it or the graveyard of ships it concealed. Hundreds of abandoned transports and shuttles, even one or two freighters, slowly rotting in the desolate planet's stagnant atmosphere. All the ships that had brought Snoke's failed candidates, left to fall into ruin whilst their late owners decayed in the catacombs below.
At the forefront of the junk heap sat a Corellian YT-1300 light freighter, it's entire casing hanging open to reveal missing power cells. Perhaps that would have been a hinderance to anyone else hoping to escape Snoke's clutches. But a flash of auburn drew Kylo's eyes to the remains of the X Wing laying nearby and Han Solo's son knew precisely what to do.
I have no excuse for the delay on this...
The upper levels of the atmosphere over the citadel were boiling now, the shape of the Finalizer's disintegrating bow outlined in flame above the clouds.
In the ships graveyard Kylo hammered at the old Corellian freighter. The old power cells had rotted, their thick toxic corrosion locking them in place. Kylo could chip them out and replace them but it was slow going and seemed likely to take far longer than he had left.
“Beeeeeeeennnn….” It was barely even a voice, but it was enough of a warning for him to dive out of the way as a lightsaber blade thrummed past his skull.
Kylo hissed as he turned, hand out thrown to Force push his attacker back. He barely managed it, his stomach roiling at the sight.
The thing was horrible. That it had managed to remain animated enough to follow him seemed almost impossible.
It had, in life, been one of the smallest of Luke’s padawans, a girl who had only just begun to enter puberty when Kylo had attacked the temple.
The being had clearly followed him through a space little larger than its skull and had shattered the rest of its body to do so. As it circled him it became clear that all the limbs on its right side hung loose over a stoved in ribcage and misshapen pelvis. In the fiery light of the Finalizer's fall he could almost swear he could see its internal organs glistening through the remains of its robes.
Kylo hadn't the time to waste fighting this thing. He still needed to change the power cells… he glanced back at the freighter to see all the newer cells nestled in their right places. What?
The creature lunged at him again, moving more like a broken marionette than anything under its own control. Kylo moved back towards the ramp, trying to identify the best target given its already ruined state. Something with Atok’s voice murmured deep in the recesses of his mind and he lashed out without thinking.
The noise as the creature’s arm separated would have been nauseating if he'd had time to think about it, but all he could do was manipulate the falling lightsaber in an arc to sever the pathetic thing’s head from its body.
Stumbling backwards up the ramp now he saw that it was following him, the tottering body continuing without its head. One last all out push tore its legs away and he turned to dash up into the main body of the ship, hitting the door closure switch as he ran toward the cockpit.
There was no chance now that he could complete the preflight sequence necessary to take off, but he had to try.
Swinging through the doorway he saw that every light was green. It was already done.
Throwing himself into the pilot’s seat Kylo punched it just as the Finalizer came into view through the clouds.
It was moving quickly. He knew it was, but the sheer scale of the ship made it seem almost to drift through the atmosphere.
A hand closed viciously around his wrist, yanking him half out of his chair.
The torso of the thing he’d been fighting had somehow managed to drag itself on board. Despite having only one working limb it used the limited space in the cockpit to its advantage, trapping his much larger bulk between the command seats and wrapping ruined fingers around his windpipe with a relentless grip.
His aim had been true, Hux thought a little giddily as he circled the hovering light. His stormtroopers moved with him, maintaining their defensive formation. Then again, FN2187 had scored highly in all aspects of his training. Every aspect except loyalty , he added wryly.
He didn't feel right, his mind was behaving inappropriately for the current situation. Some of it must be the endorphins from finally having his child back in his own care, but the rest he had to put down to this new pregnancy. Part of his mind cursed himself and his ludicrous biology for doing this to him a second time, but the portion currently swimming in hormones wanted to revel in a second chance to do things right this time. The sensible core of his mind, the cold analytical centre that was eternally and unchangingly General Brendol Hux shouted the rest down and insisted on order.
Kylo had sensed their first child from the hour of its conception- would Organa, as its grandmother, be able to do the same? Kylo had said she was unable to read minds but this was something different, an energy signature of some kind. And what of the scavenger? Hux wondered if being here in person was a mistake, if was he putting them both in danger.
Again a sentimental portion of his mind chimed in, reminding him that Kylo knew nothing of the new addition to the family he was fighting to protect. Not yet. His blood ran cold. Would he ever know?
Sensing his distress Alia snuggled closer, her head pressed tight to his chest. His heart rate eased a little.
There was a sudden crash as her control over the blaster bolt failed and it continued its original course to harmlessly fell a distant tree. Hux was half sure he heard her giggle.
Across the clearing two of Zev’s entourage had secured FN2187 with kind but firm hands. The man was glaring at Commander Dameron as if he’d suffered a personal betrayal. Dameron himself looked conflicted. Maybe that's precisely what had happened.
Beside them both Organa looked to be close to a heart attack. Whatever Zev had said to her clearly hadn't gone well and she seemed to be struggling to keep up with events. “Alia?! What are you doing, child?”
“It's okay Genma Leia, my daddy is here!” His daughter piped up. “Everything's going to be okay!”
The colour drained from Leia's face as Alia shifted position in Hux’ arms to press a kiss to his cheek. Inexplicably Brendol found himself blushing. Displays of familial affection had not been a common experience in his life.
“Commander Dameron,” he began, choosing to ignore his daughter’s grandmother for now, “thank you for securing Alia's evacuation.”
“Remember I did it for her, not for you.” Dameron said with a glance towards the rest of his party. “No child deserves to suffer because of their parents. The Finalizer isn't in orbit, I assume your plan has gone awry?”
Hux shrugged, an elegant gesture despite the girl still clinging to his neck. “A minor adjustment, one ship is a small price to pay for lasting peace in the galaxy.”
That comment caused an uproar amongst Organa’s supporters.
Eying the group Hux saw the figure of the scavenger circling around the rest, trying for stealth amongst a crowd. She held her unignited lightsaber with her kybernetic prosthetic while the other hand shifted in patterns that reminded Hux of Kylo. He wondered what she was trying to do.
Whatever her intent had been, it was interrupted by two more transports landing in a flurry of thrown up dirt and debris, their poorly maintained engines failing to properly respond to their pilots’ commands. They really did need to do something to improve the technology on this backwards little world before a ship outright crashed and caused a disaster.
The closest transport opened its hatch first. A second squad of Stormtroopers scurried out to take up defensive positions around the space, with small groups breaking off to head into the mines.
“FN2187!” Phasma’s voice boomed across the clearing as she marched down the ramp. She'd stopped wearing her helmet since her arrival on Fiorina, possibly due to her family's position within the hierarchy, but the rest of her armour glittered and shone. She looked totally out of place on this ramshackled homespun world. “I’m glad to see you survived!”
“He literally just tried to kill me,” Hux muttered, mostly to himself.
“What the frell do you care Phasma?” The man shouted back, clearly livid. “After everything you did to me, everything the First Order did to all of us…” His words were cut off by an elbow blow from one of his captures.
“Do that again and I will shoot you personally,” Phasma reprimanded the guard, then turned back to the crowds pouring from the second transport behind her as if the former Stormtrooper hadn’t spoken.
Hux recognised most of the new arrivals as the planet’s elders and the ruling parties for their various guilds, but the trio Phasma seemed be focusing on were recognisable for different reasons.
“Sunshine man!” The toddler shouted, wriggling down out of one of his fathers’ arms and tottering across the space on a beeline for Hux’ party.
He was intercepted amongst the forest of Stormtrooper legs by Alia with a cry of “what a cute baby!” and a hug that made the little boy squeak.
The larger of the two men smiled apologetically at Hux and moved to retrieve his son but pulled up short at a touch from Phasma.
“Sansen, Arvii, I apologise for not raising this earlier,” Phasma began as the boy’s parents turned to face her, “but I have some news for you regarding your eldest son.”
“What? I thought all the surviving ‘troopers were accounted for?” Sansen, the man Hux had already met, asked with a puzzled but hopeful expression.
“My last official contact with FN2187 was during the fall of the first Starkiller Base, when he had me placed in a garbage disposal system.” Phasma drawled wryly as she pointed towards the prisoner. “Since he had defected to the Resistance at the time I was unable to confirm his status until their arrival here.”
“Jon? Oh my stars and ores, is it really you?” Arvii sighed through the fingers clamped over his mouth. “Oh my boy, you won't remember us, will you?”
Samsen wrapped a supportive arm around his partner's waist. “It has to be him, he still has your eyes.”
FN2187 gaped at the pair, seemingly unable to understand.
“As touching as all this is…” Zev began, turning slowly to observe the captive Resistance groups exiting the mines accompanied by the stormtroopers and a large contingent of miners who had come up through the connecting tunnels, “we are here for a reason. General Hux?”
Hux stepped forward, ensuring the toddler was returned to his rather emotional parents while he lifted Alia back into his own arms. It might not be professional, but the stars would burn out before he let her out of his sight ever again.
Throughout the makeshift Resistance camp every readout screen flickered and dimmed. Beyond the open hatches of the various shuttles Hux could see their displays following suit. One by one they began to transmit the same holo message. More or less every screen with the ability to pick up transmissions anywhere in the Galaxy would be doing the same. It was an impressive piece of coding if Hux did say so himself.
Since each screen had a different capability the image rendered in clarity ranging from pixelated to high definition, in a range of colours. The effect was disorientating.
The central command module just inside the entrance to the main cave provided the clearest image. General Organa took several steps back to bring it into her eye line without taking her focus away from Hux. He didn't blame her.
“Galactic citizens!” Moxin stood proudly in the centre of the second Starkiller Command Centre, the camera arranged so the tail end of the sun energy stream entering the array was clearly visible beyond the polarised viewports. “My name is Moxin Krin, I stand here as a representative of Emperor Hux of the First Order and the free planet of Fiorina.”
A cheer went up from every side at the mention of the planet’s name, easily drowning out the gasp from the Resistance at the sight of the superweapon, and the unexpected change to Hux’ title. For his own part Brendol turned his eyes to Zev with a questioning twitch of his brow, but the man only grinned.
“I am here to demonstrate the power of the First Order and the benefits of joining our cause.” Moxin continued. “I have received word that the former First Order flagship The Finalizer has just entered atmosphere over LV426, the site of Supreme Leader Snoke’s citadel…”
He turned and signalled to one of the technicians seated at a console behind him.
“Just in case a direct impact from a fully fuelled three kilometre starship was not enough… Emperor Hux, all the targets have been programmed, would you do the honours, Sir?”
“Fire.” Hux said solemnly, choosing not to address the matter of his rank.
Watching the sky behind Moxin turn golden orange at his command was just as emotionally compromising as standing on the surface of the first Starkiller had been all those years ago, though his heart didn't lurch until his daughter spoke up and reminded him of the array that had caused the change in colour.
“Bye-bye, Brendol,” Alia said cheerfully, waving at the sky as it too turned orange, a web of light spreading dimly above the clouds, “have fun!”
She turned to her father with a bright smile. “I’m so glad he finally gets to play! He must have been so lonely in that crystal! And I won't be lonely because you're making me a new brother to play with!”
Hux stared at her with his jaw slightly open. “You can sense that, can you?”
Alia nodded excitedly. “JakJak’s going to be the best brother ever!” She said, nudging the flat plane of Hux’ stomach with her foot.
Outside of their little bubble of calm, the clearing reverberated with terrified screams and exultant cheers as warm brilliant light poured from the Starkiller’s aperture. The camera feed snapped off. As readouts returned to normal service, the Resistance personnel ignored the surrounding Fiorinians as they scrabbled to locate the target planets. Those who couldn't find a spare system to operate speculated amongst themselves as to the location of the victims.
Suddenly Alia made a choking noise against Hux’ neck as across the space General Organa and the scavenger both fell to their knees. Panicked, Hux tried to lift her head from his chest but found her rigid and trembling as if electrified.
“He's gone.” She murmured as she shook in his arms.
“Snoke?” Hux asked, keeping his voice just as low despite his fear.
“Can… Can you sense your father at all?” He almost didn't want to know the answer.
“I can't feel anything daddy, Snoke was so big, all I can see is his darkness burning away.” Her shaking was threatening to turn into a full scale fit and Hux had no idea how to proceed for the best. Around them loose objects began to shake as well, rising slowly off the ground while the hair and clothes of those closest seemed to whip and flutter as if in an invisible wind.
Despite her own distress Leia managed to stagger upright, the scavenger dashing unsteadily to her side to offer her own support.
"Give that child to me." Organa hissed, shaking with rage.
Hux didn't respond as he rubbed the girl’s back, trying to make soothing noises.
“You clearly don't know how to go about comforting a ch…” she froze mid comment, her eyes unfocused as she seemed to remember something. “Ben…Ben didn't know what he was doing eith… she's yours, isn't she? You had us raise your child for you for three years…”
“She's Kylo’s too.” Hux said flatly, “as much as I regret it personally, she is your granddaughter.”
Leia had grabbed Rey's arm, reeling slightly as she finally remembered her son presenting her tiny granddaughter. Not a ward. Not an orphan. Family.
"General Organa!" One of the technicians called from amongst a knot of arguing staff. "We think we've traced the target planets, but this information makes no sense."
"They were all within their own borders, ma'am," another technician interrupt, "close to the edge but still their systems. And they're still there!"
"What do you mean- 'they're still there'?" Leia asked frustrated at this distraction, too many threads vying for her attention at once. "It's hardly a show of strength if they failed to destroy their targets. Either the status of the planets are wrong or you're looking at the wrong locations."
"Something definitely hit those planets, ma'am."
"Brendol doesn't want to destroy. He just wants to grow." Alia said, with that odd intonation Force users utilised when a statement wasn't quite a mind trick, but could easily become one of it wasn't heeded. She'd stopped shaking and was staring at Leia with a sad expression.
The screens around them flickered and Moxin’s stern face returned. The only sign that he was pleased with the station’s performance was slight upward curl to his lips.
“The being formerly known as ‘Supreme Leader’ Snoke,” he began, his voice dripping with sarcasm at the title, “has been neutralised.”
He waved a hand and the transmission split to show a starmap in the lower portion of the screen. Twenty four planets were highlighted in gold, the majority sitting at the very edge of First Order space with five located closer the the Galactic rim. The view shifted to show a live feed of one small barren planet closest to Starkiller and Fiorina itself. It's atmosphere shimmered gold as patches of brilliant emerald green appeared across its surface.
“My liege?” Moxin prompted.
Hux opened his mouth to speak, blinking in disorientation as the other man’s face in the transmission was replaced with his own. Licking his lips he recovered himself.
“What did the Jedi or the Sith ever give the Galaxy? Between them, Sidious and Plagueis brought centuries of conflict, whilst the Jedi sat impotent in their ivory tower until they hid and died like cowards." He turned slightly to address the Fiorinians around him. "Thousands of years ago, the being that would become Darth Plagueis, later Snoke, stripped your planet- this world of Fiorina- of life to maintain his own. When Darth Sidious unwittingly resurrected it, he unleashed a power and a people on the universe that he did not expect, but that the Force had been seeking for centuries. Anakin Skywalker, the one known to all as Darth Vader, was created by the Force to bring this day to fruition."
"Had Anakin Skywalker not cared more about life than about his religion we would not be standing here." He continued, holding Leia’s gaze specifically. "There would have been no Luke Skywalker or Leia Organa; no Empire; no Jedi Purge; no children taken from Fiorina and scattered across the galaxy. No New Republic. There would have been no Kylo Ren. There would be no Starkiller."
"Good!" Came the same voice from the crowd.
"This new Starkiller is powered not simply by the suns it consumes but by the kyber crystals that formed the heart of Fiorina." He carried on regardless, raising his voice slightly. "The Force has been out of balance since Plagueis crushed the life out of this world. It wishes only to grow, to provide for those who live under its influence. Twenty four new worlds, rich with life, to feed any who are starving. More will follow. You have already seen our ability to harvest mineral resources in the most efficient way possible. Any system requiring aid in reconstruction after the ravages of war can apply to us and we will share what we have. Any being without a home may find one on these new planets. Poverty, hunger, destitution, misery, these things will be consigned to history."
"Whilst you rule over us all as slaves!"
"You are welcome to go out beyond the Rim and starve if you so wish." Hux spat haughtily. The stormtroopers shifted again, ensuring he was enclosed within their ranks.
One of the display screens flickered and changed to display someone Hux hadn't seen in nearly a decade. “My name is Rosheen Hux and I represent the people of Fiorina on Coruscant. I have spoken to the planetary council and offered the terms of peace under First Order rule. Coruscant has accepted these terms. Long live Emperor Hux.”
His mother nodded solemnly toward her son and the granddaughter he'd never told her about. After a moment the camera angle changed to show the council chamber.
Another screen flickered. “My name is Ariana Tarkin, I represent the people of Fiorina on Jakku and the interests of the Tarkin family. We accept the terms of First Order rule…”
Another. “I am Major Seida, I represent the people of Fiorina within the First Order’s own core system, we of course accept General Brendol Hux as Emperor from this day forward.”
More and more screens changed to reveal other council chambers and other individuals eager to accept the terms of surrender. Amongst the universally Fiorinian figures Hux recognised several members of his original accompaniment to Fiorina before Alia’s birth, as well as all three of his own sisters.
It had never even occurred to him that the women of his family supported his cause. In fact he hadn't even thought of the four of them since he's dismissed them as potential carers for Alia before she'd been placed with General Organa. Guilt filled his chest at the oversight.
In an attempt to cover it he turned to her with a raised eyebrow. “Well General, will the Resistance join the rest of the Galaxy? Or will you insis…”
“No.” Organa said flatly. “I am not so poor a politician that I will concede without any details of precisely what I am agreeing to.”
Hux set his jaw. “You still wish to negotiate after the rest of Galaxy has submitted?”
“I wish to discuss this with your representatives and with the people under my command, a courtesy you have apparently extended to everyone else but us.” She replied, glancing around the clearing. “Preferably without the interference of your troops.”
Hux turned to face the screens again, smiling slightly as he addressed the various assemblies. “I accept your treaties and welcome you to the First Order without reservation. Over the next few days please forward any requests for aid you may have and we will do what we can for you. Since General Organa controls an organisation without its own sovereign planet I will acquiesce to her request and inform you of the fate of the Resistance in due course.”
With that slightly threatening statement he waved his hand and ended the transmission. “Well, General Organa, you have my full attention.”
The assault lasted only a matter of seconds before a shocking blast of Force energy seemed to freeze Kylo’s blood in his veins. Snoke, whose presence had hovered at the edge of his perception for most, if not all, of his life was gone.
An instant later the shockwave of the Finalizer's impact buffeted the ship, rolling the ramshackled freighter as it broke through the atmosphere.
Throughout this turmoil the now lifeless partial corpse remained latched onto Kylo’s throat, half choking him while he fought to cling to the pilot seat. If he fell into the roof of the cockpit there was a good chance, given his bulk and the ship's age, that he'd render it unspaceworthy. Escaping that hell planet only to die in orbit around it- it wasn’t a risk he was willing to take.
Finally the freighter’s autopilot righted them and he was able to tear the monstrosity from his airway. Peering through the forward viewport, he briefly wondered how to dispose of it before his mind slowly registered the tumbling shapes of the Finalizer’s escape vessels. Clearly they had been affected by the massive ejection of debris from the flagship’s impact as well. Looking more carefully they seemed to be almost on fire, oddly lit with a glittering golden light.
He shouldn't have turned. He should have instantly remembered that in the absence of a message from himself, the weapon would be fired at the moment the Finalizer breached atmosphere. And when his mind made the connection to Starkiller and the array he should have simply dived for the floor in the hope that the bulk of the ship would protect him from the passing energy.
But the universe is filled with unheeded ‘shoulds’ and Kylo could only stare as a beam of energy tore past the unpolarised viewport with an intensity that left spots across his vision.
He tried to blink. Nothing happened.
Then the pain hit him, a scalding conflagration in every inch of exposed skin.
Distantly, through a turbid soundscape of crackling skin he heard a voice murmur, “Oh, papa, no, you didn’t even try to save yourself…”
It never happened. When he looked back, years and decades after the fact, the only sensible, reasonably stance was that it had never happened.
He was in a bed with Hux. His General sounded drunk, but happily so. The room was quiet but for their whispers, an air recycler hummed somewhere in the distance, the sheets were soft against his back but not as soft as Bren’s hands on his skin. Despite the pleasant atmosphere his face and neck still burned, he could not see, he could not move his hands. And yet there was no where in the Galaxy that he would rather be.
Abruptly the space shifted, became a jarring, disorienting kaleidoscope of hundreds, if not thousands of other rooms. Everything changed rapidly from the colour and quality of the bedding to very function of the room itself. Each and every detail changed- one instant he was in a gymnasium, then a theatre, an office, a glass lined room overlooking the sea, a palace, a prison cell, a dilapidated mansion, a forest, a moorland, the very depths of the ocean.
As the scenery changed so Hux changed with it, aging and slimming and becoming more muscular by turns. For an instant here and there he became something other than human, but always, always recognisable as Hux.
But Kylo... Kylo changed far more wildly than Hux ever did. He felt his body twist and stretch in ways that human bodies, even just corporeal bodies, were never meant to move. There were moments when he caught glimpses of appendages he had never possessed and senses he could never hope to comprehend.
Just when the baffling, inexplicable process threatened to overwhelm him it settled again. He was back in the room with Hux, who was dozing contentedly across his chest. He felt no pain. The air recycler continued to hum. His vision was gone again, though the Force showed him the shape of the space. He could feel a stickiness to their flesh that had not been there before.
The Force also showed him something else.
A little flickering not-quite-right spark of life buried deep in Brendol’s abdomen.
Carefully he reached out with the Force. Was this the boy that had led him to the freighter? If so, how? It was an infinitely tiny speck, barely more than a handful of cells, but it already felt very different to his experience of Alia at this stage.
It didn’t have the Force.
The Force moves through every being in the Galaxy and yet the child in his General’s belly had nothing at all.
Kylo woke alone on the floor of the freighter, half draped over the rapidly decomposing torso of Snoke’s puppet.
He took a moment to ground himself, feeling across his body for any signs of further injury and carefully touching his face and hands to assess the severity of burns he seemingly no longer had. The skin felt tender and new, but it was no longer a locus of agony.
He had to move. Snoke was ended. Brendol would be poised to take his rightful place in the galaxy. Their family needed him.
Han Solo had once joked to him as a child that he could fly the Millenium Falcon blindfold if Lando had just been willing to place the bet.
As he hauled himself back into the pilot’s chair Kylo had to hope that was an inheritable skill.
For while his skin had healed, his eyes were utterly lost.
“If you're still here, could you tell me whether there's a medkit onboard?” Kylo asked the air, hoping that the being who'd changed the power cells and initiated the takeoff sequence was still able to help him. Silence. “No?” Perhaps not. “I guess I'll find it myself then.”
He’d managed to activate the voice assist for the cockpit instruments which had been a great help. It was a feature that had never actually worked onboard Han’s freighter, possibly due to the incomprehensibility of Chewie’s dialect. Kylo found it more than a little odd to hear a Corellian accent again so long after the death of his father at his own hands, but despite the small twinge of guilt in his heart it was reassuring to have some assistance in the darkness. Especially since his mysterious benefactor seemed to have finally deserted him at such an unopportune moment.
The voice assist had revealed damage to the dilapidated ship that vocal commands alone could not possible work around. Sadly there was no way, even with the Force to guide him, that he could begin repairs without landing somewhere with atmosphere. Which was impossible, since the most pressing fault lay with the astronavigation systems.
It wasn't possible to land a ship he couldn't see on a planet he also couldn't see. Everything in the galaxy had a weight and shape in the Force but even the most verdant planet was just a hazy sphere to him right now. Without any astronavigation systems to help him he couldn't land safely.
Kylo was not Bren. He couldn't run those kinds of calculations in his head without at least some of the readouts. When he had been very young Han had shown Kylo how to work out minor adjustments and how to navigate with the sort of failures to Falcon usually suffered. But that involved some kind of data in a format he could access. The readouts were visual and changing far too quickly for the voice assist to keep up. He needed external help.
Stumbling through the corridors of the ship - hoping to find the remains of a medkit or even some scraps of relatively clean fabric - Kylo tried to mediate on his situation in the hope of calming his mind.
He hadn't entirely expected to survive the ending of Snoke. The attack had been necessary. There would have been no surviving for anyone with that threat hanging over all their heads and Kylo would have been, if not happy, then at least willing to lay his life down for the sake of Hux and Alia. He'd have preferred not to, and he was glad he hadn't ultimately died, but there hadn't been any plan beyond the confrontation with Snoke. There had been too many variables for anything other than a vague hope that he could return directly to his own shuttle and escape the way he came. When he'd been forced up into the mountains he'd moved with nothing but a determination to stay alive long enough to find anything at all.
The vision or apparition he'd seen on the cliffs, the one that had looked like a combination of Hux and himself had not been expected- if he could be said to have expected anything at all- but it had saved his life several times over. Was it another child made manifest somehow? He'd heard of Force ghosts of course but the man had not possessed the ghostly features Kylo had been taught to expect of dead Force users…
The array. The kyber crystal addition he'd built into Starkiller whose light he'd foolishly looked at as it passed metres from the cockpit and nearly killed him as a result. The raw energy that had melted his eyes in his sockets. That little sphere containing nothing but misshapen bones and dried flesh that sat at the centre. Was the being he'd seen on the mountainside a manifestation of Hux’ oldest son, the one who'd never really been born? If it was then why did it look like Kylo?
Somehow Kylo had been with Hux. After Starkiller’s beam had taken his eyes he'd been with him, hundreds of him. He'd seen them despite his blindness, he'd seen the myriad rooms and the shifting forms of his beloved. They'd laid together and he'd felt the Forceless life forming beneath his skin. Was that a vision of the future or had he been thrust into the past? How had he been healed?
Hux hadn't carried his first child- his wife had done that and died with the infant. It would not have looked like Kylo.
Had he sensed anything in the Force when he encountered the auburn haired man on the cliff? No. He'd heard him and seen him, but when the power cells were changed and the landing sequence was initialised he'd felt nothing but the all pervading miasma of Snoke’s malice.
He was getting nowhere with this. Who was there to provide him with answers his own brain could not supply? He couldn't even find a Force-damned medkit on a ship identical to his childhood home. How would he find any kind of truth in the labyrinth of his own head?
Stop. Left. At knee height. Fourth hatch out from the bulkhead.
Kylo obeyed the instructions with precise movements born from years of training. It wasn't until the medkit was open on the deck and a roll of gauze was in his hands that he even realised whose voice he was obeying.
Leia felt heartsick in the midst of domesticity.
Hux’ guards had moved them into one of the side caves of the mine complex with a care for his person that made her skin crawl. The idea of this mass murderer as a beloved Emperor for the people she'd foolishly trusted on this backward planet was almost too much for her mind to accept, even without the other issues at hand. Such as Poe Dameron’s betrayal, Finn’s newly discovered heredity, and Alia’s parentage. All of which she was confronted with now, their close quarters not allowing her the opportunity to process each element in turn.
Rey had taken a seat by her side, kybernetic fingers interlaced with Leia’s living hand in a gesture of silent solidarity. On the far side of her Finn sat huddled with the men who seemed to be his parents. Their toddler sat on the floor, playing with Alia’s krayt dragon while the girl herself stood between Poe and the newly named Emperor Hux.
Poe wasn't looking at Leia. He hadn't met her eyes once since Finn had been restrained. She wondered what his reasons were. She doubted they justified such a betrayal.
“Is there anyone else in a command role that you would like to represent your people's interests?” Hux asked in a conciliatory tone that didn't entirely match his expression. It took a squeeze from Rey’s hand to tell Leia he was addressing her- his eyes hadn't moved away from his daughter.
His daughter. That rankled. Intellectually she knew she should be glad that her lonely little ward actually had a living parent to care for her, two if her own son was still alive. But she remembered the bodies in the burning shuttle, the fraudulent memories of friends lost and the unknown dead mourned under false names. How could she live with all that.
“General Organa? Do you need some tea?” It was the massive woman in glittering stormtrooper armour.
Leia frowned, not really understanding the question.
“I'll get it.” Rey said after a moment, patting gently at Leia’s back as she stood. “I think the shock is beginning to take its toll.”
Shoulders hunched, Poe watched the young Jedi with guilty eyes. The woman who’d spoken before, Phasma wasn't it, watched Rey with another look entirely.
“Don't be sad Unca Poe,” Alia said in a loud clear voice that drew the eyes of every adult in the room. Shifting uncomfortably Poe tried to make himself even smaller.
“You helped everyone!” She continued brightly. “And now everyone is safe, Finn can have your baby and you can get married and live happily ever after for ever and ever.”
“What?” Finn murmured while Arvii almost shrieked, “you're pregnant?!”
Just as the former stormtrooper began to shake his head Phasma stepped forward and crouched by his side, whispering urgently.
“You… you can sense that can you, little one?” Poe asked with a shaky smile.
“The Force tells me so. Your baby is going to be a bit littler than JakJak but they’ll be best friends!”
Hux stroked her hair soothingly. “I really don't think they will darling.”
“JakJak?” Poe asked, following the line of Hux’ arm down to the other hand resting almost habitually against his belly. “Ah. I hope you’ll raise this one yourself Hux, not that Alia wasn't a delight….”
The Emperor snorted. “I think you'll be busy with babysitting duties of your own.”
“It's called parenting when it's your own child. Not that you'd know.”
“I look forward to finding out.” Hux countered blandly. “Now, given that General Organa seems to be incapacitated…”
That snapped Leia from her trance. “What do you want Hux?!” She spat.
“From you?” Hux asked, one eyebrow raised. His hand drifted from Alia’s hair to squeeze her shoulder. “I have all I need that you can give me, General, though I would rather like the remains of your little band of scofflaws to disband to the four winds.” He paused at the shouting from the other end of the cave. “Commander Dameron, may I recommend that you go sit with your… ahem. I can tell you from experience, he's probably rather distressed right now.”
Poe glanced at Leia, his expression still filled with shame. What could she say to him? The Galaxy had gone mad. “Go.”
“Alia? Can you watch young Brendol over there please?” Hux said quietly. She nodded solemnly and settled into floor with the toddler some distance away. Watching her go he leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “What do you want General Organa? What do you really want for your people?”
“You, executed for war crimes.”
Hux rolled his eyes.
“Master.” Kylo murmured toward the decking, his head bowed with muscle memory and fatigue.
Hardly, you did kill me after all .
...landed a fatal blow, but you ended my life Ben, you know that.
Forgive an old, dead man. Luke’s ghost said. He didn’t sound old any more. Kylo could hear the grin. Death had certainly changed the Jedi’s attitude.
The ruined muscles of Kylo’s sockets tried to roll eyes he no longer possessed. Hissing in discomfort he pushed the heels of his hands against the ache.
Let's get those covered so you can comm someone with access to proper navigational systems.
“How do you know what I intended to do?”
I am one with the Force.
“And not at all smug with it.” Kylo sighed, sitting back to braid his hair away from his face. “Did you send my rescuer, whoever he was?”
Your son? No. There is an entanglement of the Force around your fiancé’s new machine. Whatever that boy is, he's outside my understanding.
So there was a second child, however strange. Kylo’s heart clenched at his uncle’s words, but the figure he’d seen had seemed healthy enough.
“Why are you here, Luke?”
Can an uncle not help his nephew?
“Based on the last three decades… No, not especially.” Somehow the man being dead made him easier to talk to, or perhaps the shock of not being dead himself was beginning to addle Kylo’s mind.
You're your mother's son.
Kylo shuddered. What a horrible thought.
Tell me, what do you want? You and Hux? Now that Snoke is defeated?
Carefully Kylo tore open the gauze with his teeth and pressed the free end of the strip against the back of his head. That was a question that would need some thought.
“The senate was corrupt! Regardless of your opinion of democracy I know you had the same problems with them as we did. If you hadn't then the first Starkiller would never have been built! They’d've listened to you and stopped us, or tried to at least. The war would have been an open one far sooner than it was if you'd had your way.”
Hux wasn't shouting. He didn't even seem to be angry. Leia hadn't expected that based on his appearance during the leaked broadcasts from Starkiller’s first inauguration. They're been debating for half an hour but he was still calm and collected.
He was relaxing back in his chair, the collar of his tunic open to reveal livid scarring at the base of his throat. Every so often his thumb grazed over the mark like a talisman. His other hand still hadn't moved from his lap. Poe had suggested that there would be another child, though Leia didn't care to consider the mechanics of it. Perhaps it was all just a distraction from the matter at hand.
“Democracy is better than nothing.”
“What you had was nothing, it was worse than nothing for the planet's outside the core.”
“All those billions who died!”
“Billions were dying anyway, that's my point.” Hux said with a glance towards his daughter. The younger child had fallen asleep on her knee and she looked set to join him. “I know you lost your planet at a young age General but is it really so bad a death? A moment of brightness in the sky and then everything is vapourised in an instant. The senate gave the lesser worlds a slow death of starvation and poverty lasting decades. How many billions did they kill?”
“Not with their own hands!”
“Does that somehow make it better? I gave the order but I did activate the firing sequence. Does that exonerate me? They ordered the delays, the budget cuts, the redirection of aid- is it not the same?”Hux shrugged.
Leia hated him more than she could possibly say.
“We are opening the resources of 24 new planets to the Galaxy.” Hux continued when she failed to answer.
“Ah, you think yourself a philanthropist? Do you imagine th…” She trailed off, distracted by a hand on her shoulder.
Uncle Finn’s baby brother Brendol was adorable and so much fun to play with, but he got tired so quickly. It was because he was little, Alia decided. Littler droids had smaller battery packs and needed recharging more often. Living things were probably the same.
She was just considering a nap herself when a blue glittering light behind Genma Leia caught her attention- Uncle Luke! He looked so much younger than she'd ever known him, but she’d know his face anywhere.
The transparent blue figure winked at her and raised a finger to his lips, looking toward her father. She wasn't supposed to say anything to him? But daddy had always been able to see her when she visited, so why wouldn't he see him?
They control the Galaxy Leia , Luke said, there are people from this planet at the highest level of government in every system. It's a coup that's been years in the making. Our own father unknowingly sowed the seeds of this rebellion long before Hux was even born.
Leia frowned like she was going to argue.
This is their rebellion. While we fought for ours this planet had be quietly enslaved and left without any help but what they could make for themselves. They'd be justified in keeping the planets and taking all the rest of us as slaves, and yet they intend to give it all away.
Ask Hux for a new advisory senate and no doubt he'll grant it provided the Fiorinians form the guiding structure. As a former senator perhaps you should take a place amongst their ranks too? Put down the sword and take up the lectern once more?
The corners of Leia’s lips twitched up at that.
Ask Hux for permission to train new Force sensitives, not as Sith or Jedi but as grey. Rey will benefit from such an agreement but he'll say yes for his daughter’s sake, and the sake of the children your son wants to have with him in years to come…
“So we give in to his rule for the rest of his lifetime?” Leia had tried to say this quietly but by the way her daddy’s hand tightened over JakJak’s place in his belly he had heard every word.
Ask him for a decade. He'll argue for two. But he doesn't want a lifetime, not any more. In two decades the new senate will be ready to rule as a true democracy, and if not Alia will be ready to take her fathers place. Either way, your own guidence will keep it all on track. Leia, the Force has shown me this path...
"The Force..." She sighed.
It's with you dear sister, it always was...
Alia frowned at that, but said nothing. Empress Alia did sound nice.
Across the room Leia turned to face Alia’s father. She was smiling for the first time since Luke had died. Somehow the universe felt at peace.
Alia decided she would take that nap after all.
“Starkiller 2! This is the Corellian freighter uh... The Emperor’s Seed requesting assistance!”
The laughter from the speakers was raucous and instant, Moxin’s deep cultured tones producing feedback from the freighter’s damaged audio equipment but thankfully not overwhelming it.
Kylo could tell the console screen was working, had sensed the surge of electricity through it as a brighter square, but he could not interpret the output. He had to assume he was looking at Moxin. Whether the camera was working to show his own face he couldn't tell. The voice assist had said it was functional.
“And to think I was concerned about telling the difference between you Lord Ren and the dread Lord Atok! Did the Emperor give you permission to u… oh! Lord Ren…” The Fiorinian’s amused voice turned suddenly hushed and grieving. “...your eyes…”
“No, Hux doesn't know I’m using this call sign, let it be a surprise.” Kylo said with his best attempt at a smile. The bandages pulled awkwardly at his skin as his cheeks moved and he struggled not to react. No one should think he was distressed about this. “Do not tell him about my eyes either, please Moxin, I just need your help getting home and I’ll tell him myself.”
“Yes my Lord. I’ll have a squadron of TIEs to your location in a few hours.”
“Thank you. The remnants of the Finalizer crew will also need assistance. Eventually.”
Waiting at the edge of the hanger, Moxin shifted one foot just far enough back to keep the blast doors from closing. It was against regulations, but he'd lived a hundred years and more by knowing that the route to survival wasn't always found in blind adherence to the rules.
Perhaps that was not the best turn of phrase, given the circumstances.
Still, he'd seen humans with empty eye sockets in his time before Fiorina, had made one or two himself in those days, so he'd recognised the shape behind those bandages instantly. Whatever had happened to Lord Ren had been catastrophic and the Force user had refused to dock with any of the orbiting star destroyers. That might be politically wise, but when a newly-blind man was attempting to land a battered antique ship keeping a clear escape route would be far wiser.
In the end Moxin didn't need it. The freighter threw a hail of sparks from the decking as the ancient landing gear refused to open but despite that failure the ship halted more or less where crew had asked. Perhaps the Force was truly on Lord Ren’s side.
There was no one at the hatch when it fell open without the customary plumes of gas. It would probably never close again under its own power- a ship resurrected for one final journey. The charnel house stench of the air seeping from within more than added to that impression.
If he hadn't seen the figure in the cockpit he might have feared it was a ghost ship like the ridiculous tales Zev always spun for their children. Remembering the one in his belly he took a step back from the fumes.
Moxin had already raised a hand to summon troopers to search the ship when Kylo’s bulk blotted out the dim lights from within. He had his cowl draped over his head such that only his jaw was visible, but he walked as if he could see clearly.
A phantom touch drifted across Moxin’s shoulders as Kylo descended, the pressure increasing until the men stood only a few feet apart. Using the Force as some kind of proximity sensor. Very clever.
“I need a medical droid.” The words were a whispering rumble from barely parted lips, a plea for secrecy that couldn’t possibly last.
“You need a medic.” Moxin corrected flatly. He grinned when Kylo began to growl an objection. “A medic can be sworn not to tell, a droid will give up its secrets to the Emperor in a few keystrokes. You can’t keep this from him forever…”
“I need to know the severity first.”
“And any good medic can tell you that without referring to a hundred databases and scattering your confidences to the four winds…” Moxin said as he caught the man’s arm in a friendly if familiar gesture and began to lead the way.
Kylo allowed himself to be led. “Why do you hate droids so much?”
“How do you think I found myself on Fiorina in the first place? Never trust to a computer that which you can keep in your own mind.”
Phasma vaulted the low gate leading into her fathers’ land. It had been a habit from the age of seven- a chance to flex her limbs while keeping the animals and younger children safely contained. She’d come so far since then but the muscle memory remained as fresh as it had ever been.
She dodged the horde of screaming children with a grin. Thirty years and not much had changed.
It was nice to see Alia charging back and forth through the long grass with Phasma’s siblings and the neighbour's children. Whatever Hux and the pilot Poe said about her being oddly mature, it was better to see her like this. Play was far more thrilling than the end of any war or the brokering of any peace. Whatever the child had been through, she deserved a childhood.
Phasma faltered, her mind skipping to the stormtrooper nurseries. Those children needed to be freed too. Now Fiorina was free, it's remaining children had to be returned. She'd speak to Hux.
Alia crossed her path again, long red hair streamed behind her like a flag. Hmm. Orange and gold. The transformative light of the new Starkiller had been golden. The Empire should be visibly separate to the First Order- another freedom from Snoke. What better than a symbol of what the Emperor had fought for? She added that to the list of suggestions for Hux. It was likely to be a long list.
She found the man himself at the dining table.
Hux was stripped down to jodhpurs and undershirt, his thin frame folded over an expanse of blueprints. There was a bowl of fruit at his elbow and juice stains on his lips to prove he'd actually been eating for once. At least he was taking care of himself this time around.
It took her several seconds and a change of angle to decipher the blueprints. “A Star Destroyer, Sir?”
Hux looked up with a quizzical brow. “Of course, Captain.”
“But why? Sir, you're Emperor now, surely you have architects who can do this work for you?” She asked as she frowned down at the chalk smeared documents. Her fingers hovered millimetres from the surface, tracing over the improvements he'd made to the bridge and shield towers.
“So because I am Emperor I should have inferior ships?”
“No, I didn’t mean…” Phasma trailed off, having finally looked up long enough to see the mocking smile on his face. “This is busy work, isn't it?”
“I find I cannot sleep and things like this have always calmed me,” Hux said allowing the smile to turn softer. “Though I will make my recommendations to the engineers at Kuat-Entralla when we order the Finalizer’s replacement.”
“It's replacement? You think it's truly been destroyed then, not simply disabled or…”
“We had word from Moxin an hour ago- ships are on route to recover the escape pods. It would appear, from early reports, that the Finalizer entered the atmosphere of one of Kylo’s target planets shortly before Starkiller was fired.” Hux said it flatly, but the stylus trembled in his fingers.
“And Lord Ren?”
Her question was met with a shrug. The stylus snapped.
“She can't sense anything other than the shock waves of Snoke.” He explained. “The others are the same, though I’m not sure I'd entirely trust General Organa’s word on that…”
Outside there was a shriek of surprise that grew into a clamour of fear.
They both turned and headed for the door at the same moment, but neither reached it before it was slammed against the wall. Children streamed into the building, babbling loudly about a ship landing in the field just beyond the house.
While Phasma tried to get some sense from the oldest members of the group, Hux pushed through into the garden.
Alia had not come in with the others.
She was standing in the middle of waist high grass, waving so the turquoise kyber crystal on her wrist glittered and flashed in the sun. Above her an old Lambda class shuttle was turning in the air, its three wings folding with far more elegance than Kylo’s personal Upsilon shuttle ever had.
Kylo was on that ship. Hux could feel it like he could feel the sunlight on his shoulders- warm and natural and perfect.
As the ship settled into the grass Alia turned and reached out to him. It seemed that she knew better than to approach a landing pad or a strange ship too closely- the benefits of being raised by a pilot, Hux supposed. He wished he had been the one to teach her that.
He’d expected to pick her up. That they’d approach Kylo as one family, together. But the instant that tall broad figure- dressed not in his robes but a standard issue First Order uniform- appeared at the head of the ramp, she was off and running. It was awkward, the grass was too high and her legs were too short, but she ran with the uncaring confidence of all children, and she reached her father before he’d made it even half way down the ramp.
It was beneath his dignity as General, no, as Emperor, to run, but when those thick arms wrapped around their daughter with a broken sob Bren threw dignity to the wind and sprinted across the distance separating them. This divide had stood for too long. Too many years as a broken family, too many years of stolen moments and self denial. No more. Not one single second more. He would not permit it. Not ever again.
Kylo caught him by the waist as they crashed together, Alia held close between them, Bren’s face against their necks and his belly pressed close to Kylo’s own. All four of them together for the first time, and never to be parted.
“You are pregnant…” Kylo sighed softly against his hair.
“How did you know?”
“It’s a very long story, but our son saved my life. Without him I wouldn’t be here at all.”
The phrasing made Hux frown but it was Alia who looked up first.
“Papa, where are your eyes?”
Sitting by the window while the children played around the shuttle outside, Kylo submitted to Hux’ examination with better composure than he truly felt. He could sense Alia pretending the play just beyond the glass. The nervous nudge of her Force presence against his mind compelling him to stay calm as much as the feeling of Hux’ breath against his face.
“There must be kybernetic solutions to this,” Hux murmured half to himself. He sounded calm in that tightly wound way he always spoke before a battle, fear patched over with bravado and a bone deep obstinacy that simply didn't permit defeat to be an option. While he spoke his cool fingers prodded gently around the fused open lids, but blessedly didn’t stray inward.
“There’s no optic nerve anymore.” Kylo explained. He’d rehearsed this speech a dozen times in the shuttle as much to deliver it to his Emperor as to absorb the news himself. “The sockets are just skin, they’re not even the kind of flesh they should be. The medics healed it with bacta and now it just feels, strange I suppose, but there’s no chance of them changing this Bren. There’s nothing to attach a functional prosthetic to. Cosmetic ones yes, eventually we can try, though,” he waved at the scars across the right side of his face, “it hardly seems necessary. But there’s no way to restore my vision.”
Hux sank down into the window seat. The heartbroken moan that accompanied the movement tore into Kylo’s chest.
“There had to be a price, Bren. For everything we’ve done. Everything I’ve done.”
He shrugged. “Balance.”
“You’ll never see our son.” Hux said in a whisper. “I didn’t see Alia until she was talking, but you’ll never see him at all.”
“I’ve seen him. He’ll be strong, and clever, and the best of both of us.” Kylo reached out to grab Bren’s hands with startling accuracy. “You forget who I am. What I am. The Force is so much more than mystic handwaving. The Force is in everything, moves through and around and with everything. I need practice, so much practice, but I can use it. Blindfolded training was one of the earliest lessons, I could navigate a lightless room with confidence by the time I was ten. And I think there’s something else I can do, if you’ll let me try?”
Hux nodded, remembered himself, and said, “of course.”
Kylo slipped into his mind as easily as if it were his own. “Look left for me, my Emperor.”
Hux did so without question
“I see Alia sitting in the grass, twining golden leaves together.” Kylo murmured softly. “Her clothes are grey. There is purple flower blossom in her hair. Your love surrounds her like a mist. And now you're looking at me. How strange to see myself without a mirrors reversal…”
“You can use my eyes?” Hux marvelled.
“Not when I’m moving, or at least not yet, but I know your mind well enough by now that I won’t harm you with the constant intrusion.” Kylo tightened his grip on Bren’s hands for a moment. “You see? We’ll find a way to beat this, I promise.”
“The two of you should marry.”
Hux looked up at Zev’s unexpected suggestion. He and Kylo had been dozing together in the window seat, enjoying a few hours of silence while the planet’s dignitaries gathered to bid them farewell. Fiorina would be the home of the new Empire, but in these early days there was so much still to be done off world. Until a palace could be built and planetary security was reestablished Starkiller would make a far more sensible base of operations.
These few hours had been a much needed interlude of domestic bliss. To just be still together with Alia curled up across their laps quietly whispering secrets to JakJak despite their assurances that the baby didn’t have ears yet- there was nothing Hux could have wanted more. He wished it wasn't being interrupted.
“We’re engaged,” He explained, “but I fear marrying too soon will not read well with the general population given Kylo, and Atok’s reputation.”
“But you're with child.” Moxin cut in.
Hux hadn’t even registered that the man was on the planet, let alone in the house. He’d have to avoid lapses like that in future.
“And we already have a three year old.” He countered. “May I remind you that Padme Naberrie served as a well respected senator for months whilst pregnant by an unknown indiv…”
“My grandfather.” Kylo said in a sleepy rumble as Hux stared with open mouthed horror. “The revelation of that almost ended my mother's career.”
“No doubt because he killed her and spent two decades as Palpatine’s enforcer…”
“Do you not want to marry him?” Moxin interrupted again.
“It's not a matter of wanting it's a matter of costs and logistics, a public wedding would be a massive undertaking…”
“Bantha sh… mess.” Zev corrected himself with a glance toward Alia. She was watching the conversation intently. “You're Fiorinian, have a traditional Fiorinian wedding. I doubt there’s anything you could do that would make the people of this planet happier.”
“And what does that involve? Mining paraphernalia or flower crowns?” Hux couldn’t help the sneer and didn’t really notice Alia slipping off his knee to run outside.
“Find an elder or a trusted friend, exchange vows, let word of mouth pass it on. Simple.” Moxin said. “What was ours Zev?”
“I believe you said ‘oi, I've knocked this one up and I intend to do right by him’ and I said ‘and I intend to let him’.” Zev laughed. The volume doubled at the horrified look on the Emperor’s face. “You can be more formal than that if you want.”
The leaders of this strange planet had chosen to gather at what was left of the Resistance camp in what felt like a last unsubtle insult to the organisation she had led for so long.
It was gone now of course, scattering slowly out across space as crews and families returned home at long last.
Leia would have been lying if she’d said she wasn't surprised by the number of her supporters who took the offers of the new Empire at face value- but this was an unrest that had been fermenting since before she was born. They were tired, and they were homesick, and they had lives to lead for the first time in decades.
She was at least grateful that when each of them left they promised her that they would be ready at a moment’s notice if she called. Whatever else happened she knew that to be true.
Hux was wearing a crown of golden leaves when he finally appeared. It should have looked ridiculous with his military uniform and heavy greatcoat, but somehow he made it seem dignified. It probably helped that Alia was striding ahead of him wearing a solemn expression and a crown of her own. As was the man beside him.
Ben. She almost hadn’t recognised him, so plainly dressed, his hair neatly contained and his expression so odd. It was only when the group stepped closer that she noticed his eyes and felt her heart break all over again. Ben had always had his father’s eyes. Now Kylo Ren had nothing at all.
“Phasma.” Hux called, ignoring everyone else around him as he focused on the tall blonde woman engaged in deep conversation with Rey.
She slid smoothly to attention before her expression softened into a grin at the sight of the decoration in his hair. “Yes, my liege.”
“As a Fiorinian and a friend of two decades I want you to witness-” he turned slightly and raised his voice. “Kylo, I am nothing without you. Marry me.”
Despite the cold and rigid formality of his tone the gathered locals gasped as if Hux had done something shockingly romantic.
“I am yours, for as long as the universe permits.”
“If the universe tries to take you from me, I will show it the error of its ways.” Hux countered. He looked as if he were trying not to grin.
“I’d expect nothing less."
Silence reigned for a moment before a wave of cheering poured from the crowd to echo back from the mines and caves around them. It reverberated strangely, an odd crystal harmonic running beneath the human sounds.
Leia had never studied the construction of lightsabers or the other physical manifestations of the Force that Luke had had found so fascinating, but she could still feel the approval of something old and powerful in the ground beneath her feet. Whether this was something she could agree with herself she wasn't sure, but it seemed as if the universe would not need her opinion in on the matter.
Why had she imagined that a lack of eyes would mean her couldn't see her? Her son who'd always known as a child precisely where she was and what she was thinking in agonising detail; her boy whose powers she hadn't been able to begin to comprehend and whose life was now far beyond her knowing- of course he would find a way.
“B…” No, she couldn't. Not the name she'd given him, or the name Snoke had seduce him with. She couldn't. “Son.”
“Thank you. For Alia. Thank you for keeping her safe.” He trailed off, an unspoken apology in his posture. For a moment she thought he might try to hug her but as the silence dragged on he slowly turned away.
Han had left with so much unspoken, but at least they had held each other one last time before he went. She couldn't let her son go without even that. Of course she couldn't stay here. She knew that. She'd go wherever the new senate established itself. Which might mean not seeing Alia for years at a time, or this new baby that Hux might never let her see at all- but she couldn't let her boy just walk away from her.
Leia stepped forward without a word.
Despite his height, despite his strength and all his battle scars, Kylo Hux, who had been Kylo Ren, and Darth Atok, and Ben Solo, folded down around his mother like the scared and broken boy he was at heart.
If they cried no one made any mention of it.
The palace was new and bright and clean. It wasn't finished yet. There were so many rooms she couldn't go into yet, but the family quarters were perfect, with its long corridors that echoed when she ran down them and the soft warm sitting room, and daddy’s forbidden office, and papa’s even more forbidden training room where Alia absolutely didn't practice moving things with the Force.
But the best room, the one she loved more than anywhere else, even her own room, was the nursery. It was next to her parents bedroom, with a connecting door and the same wide bright windows that lit up the cot and the stuffed animals waiting for their new friend like the guards who waited in the throne room.
She could hear her papa snoring in the next room as she sought for her prize. It was on the highest shelf, a soft bundle of black and grey and red, so similar to her own. She'd gifted part of her dress to it when she'd sat at her daddy’s feet and watched his uncertain fingers work through its creation. From here that part showed as a delicate ruffle along one edge. She knew JakJak would love it.
Carefully Alia waved a hand and pulled the bundle free. It hovered for a moment before she lost control. The welcoming blanket enveloped her with a heavy flumph.
In the next room the Emperor murmured in his sleep. The sheets had long since been kicked to the floor, her fathers’ legs tangled together and the swell of JakJak pressed between them beneath gently clutching hands. They looked so peaceful.
“Alia?” The Emperor murmured as she clambered over the pillows to slide between their chests. “What are you doing?”
“I brought JakJak his blanket.” She explained. “He's going to be cold when he isn't inside you any more.”
“Shhh…” Kylo rumbled. “Go to sleep, JakJak won't need that tonight.”
Alia could have told her papa how wrong he was, but she was sleepy, and he'd find out on his own soon enough.
When JakJak curled against Kylo’s chest and closed his fingers around Brendol’s thumb, it didn't matter that he had no presence in the Force or that he had far more teeth than a baby should usually have at birth, all that mattered was the soft warm weight of him and Bren’s tired but happy smile.
Whatever he was, he was theirs. They would love him, they would never lie to him and they would never, ever send him away. Kylo had once promised his grandfather that he would finish what he started, and in this he would finally right some of the wrongs that had plagued Anakin Skywalker, his descendents and the Galaxy as a whole. Too many generations had been separated from their families. Too many lost and lonely children left to fend for themselves.
This time they'd stay together.
And so our story ends. If you read this far, thank you. I never thought when I started this '2 chapter at the most' fic 14 months ago, as the first fiction I'd ever written for fun that'd I'd still be here 90 fics and half a million words later. Thank you.