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The Descent

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Brendol Hux II doesn’t remember when it first started, but he remembers very clearly the first time he realized not everyone could hear other people’s thoughts.

Back then, Hux was Bren. Or Brennie in the very private moments that he had with his childhood carer, a half-blind and crippled former Colonel he knew as Nell. She moved with a creaking gait and rarely ever without a cane, but she was more than able to chase him down at four-years-old. Bren absolutely adored her. She was whiplash smart with a tongue to match, and she didn’t treat him like a child like every other adult did. He had no contact with other children. He desperately wanted to be an adult.

“Don’t be so hasty,” Nell told him when he expressed this thought to her as she got him dressed for bed. “You’ll be an adult for the rest of your life.”

you can fight and die when you’re grown

He remembers very clearly the distinction between what Nell said aloud and what he heard in her head. It must not have been an unusual thing because he didn’t start. He didn’t demand to know what she meant. He didn’t ask why she was so angry. So sad. He simply was very aware in that moment of the distinction between Nell’s voice and her mind because they were so very different.

Later, although not too much so, Nell was taken away. Not fired but removed from her role as his carer. He was too old for it, which was verbally explained to him, and she was too sentimental, which was the summary of what he gleaned from his parents’ and their friends’ minds. There was no more Brennie and very quickly less and less of Bren. He became Hux, or occasionally young Hux, when there was need for distinction between him and his father.

“He looks just like his father,” people often said.

he’ll follow in his footsteps, they thought.

could be a ruler, they thought.

a copy, they also thought, softer, snider, sibilant.

The first two thoughts originally bolstered him. Gave him purpose and comfort now that Nell was gone. The third, persistent thought: it would have made Hux upset if not for his knowledge that they were wrong.

Brendol Hux I could not read minds. Hux had deduced this not long after he figured out the distinction between people’s spoken words and their thoughts. His father was not aware of the fact his wife (who was not Hux’s mother, he also discovered) did not like him overmuch. His father was also not aware of all the snide thoughts many of the people who visited had, although he deduced much of it in time. Hux lingered in the hallway some nights, listening to his father list off commands to his datapad, succinct where his father’s thoughts were sometimes not.

This eavesdropping, which is what Hux came to term it mentally in the beginning, revealed something else to Hux. Something he, at five and already being primed for the Academy, would rather have not known.

His father saw people as pieces in a grand design and himself as the architect. Hux was just another piece. He was just as vital and just as expendable as everyone else. No more. No less. It made him think of Nell’s thoughts.

you can fight and die when you’re grown

Although Hux didn’t know it then, that did something to him. He wouldn’t come to understand it for almost twenty years. Instead, Hux listened, to voices, thoughts, and, as he grew more astute, feelings, and thought to himself:

this gift: it’s my most precious tool

 

What started as a gift, the only thing that was all his own, turned into something quite different when Hux went off to the Academy.

As he’d grown older, Hux had noticed that he could hear more of people’s thoughts. It was easier to parse their emotions, and he could sometimes listen to their dreams if they were asleep nearby. He was able to hear his father sometimes when he wasn’t even on the same planet. It was easiest, of course, when he could look directly at a person, but Hux had found he could be aware of every intelligent presence, so long as he thought to look. He’d made a game out of it, collecting people’s thoughts and feelings. He used it, too, thinking of it as tactics and strategy. Honing a tool so to say.

At the Academy, though, it was different. He was surrounded for the first time by peers his own age and a great many of them as well. Not as many as a stormtrooper training programme, of course, but still far more people than Hux was used to. There were adults, too, some familiar and many not, although Hux knew of many from his education and his eavesdropping. Some are loyal First Order officers. Some are something else. Types of usefulness on the grand scale of pawns.

It was incredibly difficult to filter the constant bludgeoning of thoughts that were not his own out in the few several months of his Academy career. He knew, for example, that the boys he shared a dorm with (twelve to a room, cots in sections of three) didn’t care for him overly much but by and large cared for each other even less. They were an intensely physical type of competitive. They didn’t care much for Hux, but they saw each other as more imminent threats. They thought occasionally of trying to get at Hux, but it was much more interesting to snipe at each other.

This was because Hux had become withdrawn. Not so much as to be an embarrassment to his name; he knew better than that. He put on a forceful, domineering attitude that he backed up with competent hand-to-hand and weapons proficiency. He excelled in the classroom, although he was notably abysmal in aesthetics and music. He only grew quiet outside of class and training, keeping to himself and his datapad. The quietness was a compensation of sorts for the calliope of noise he was surrounded in. Adults read it as serious, dedicated, and a little unnerving. His peers, who began quickly to weed each other out, thought him strange, incomprehensible, and, once Hux began his own cull of his closest rivals, frightening.

Unnerving. Frightening. Hux was not prone to laughter (not since Nell, who used to laugh so much), but those two sentiments did make a bubble of it form in his breast.

the weak quake before the strong is what his father often thought. It was a way to weed out the ones who were the most expendable. Hux keeps track of those thoughts. Tucks his knowledge away as he does with everything else he learns from eavesdropping. He doesn’t ever let on more than he wants anyone to know. Not because he’s a master manipulator or a genius. He’s not.

Hux is simply a tool with remarkable instinct.

 

When Hux is several weeks past sixteen, something goes wrong.

He can’t put his finger on it, but he knows something isn’t right. He’s developed and perfected ways to filter people’s thoughts and feelings; he’s learned how to shut off his awareness when he needs to sleep. He is still able to do these things. In fact, he’s found it helps him control what he hears and how much. If he concentrates very hard, he’d found that he can either hear very faraway as he once did unconsciously with his father, or that he can pick up things people are thinking and feeling without their own conscious realising they’re dwelling.

The thing goes wrong in the evening. Hux is hungry, hitting another growth spurt, and dinner had not been enough. He lies awake on his cot in a room he shares with only one other boy, Cameron Rigger, a hulking brute who inexplicably is terribly easy to get along with. His stomach isn’t growling, but there’s an annoying feeling of hunger. He feels like he could eat a bantha and still want more.

“Ugh,” Rigger groans, sitting up in bed and startling Hux; he’d been dead asleep just a moment before. “I’m so hungry I could eat a bantha and still want more.”

Hux’s mouth dries up. He stares at Rigger’s form, a lump in the near pitch black of their quarters.

“You hungry, Hux?” Rigger asks; he’s got great hearing and can tell by Hux’s breathing that he’s awake. “Wanna sneak down to the kitchens?”

They’ve done it before. They don’t get caught because Hux can tell where people are by their thoughts. Rigger thinks it’s his hearing and Hux is happy to let him believe that. Hux is in charge of harassing the kitchen droids into letting them pass. He can be very convincing even to a bucket of overworked bolts.

“Yeah,” Hux whispers, forcing his tongue to unstick from the top of his mouth. “Sure.”

If it was just that one incidence, he could have written it off as an uncanny coincidence. But it’s not. It’s small things. People voicing his thoughts as their own, especially when he’s annoyed or particularly excited. The first is alternatively hilarious and unfair as his peers are often disciplined for their so-called slips in tongue. The latter doesn’t happen often. Hux has wondered more recently if there might be something wrong with his own emotions, that he didn’t develop them enough after a lifetime of feeling others. He tries not to dwell on it, although the suspicion nags at him in the middle of the night.

It scares him, this change. It feels wrong and unnatural. It’s like other people are stealing his thoughts, although they have no idea that it’s him. Hux becomes afraid that people will start picking up on his thoughts, the ones that really matter. That he can read their thoughts. That he knows their feelings. That sometimes he wonders if the First Order is really doing the right thing with dealing with that strange creature called Snoke. That his eavesdropping and instincts are all he has.

His sixteenth year is, because of this, terrible. For the first time, Hux struggles to maintain his near dominance of his class ranking. He sleeps badly, which affects his combat and weapons performance. Tactics and strategy are the only subjects that don’t weary him. He thinks about cheating, of looking for answers in other people’s minds, but he knows that is not the answer. If he is to be a truly valuable tool, he needs to gain his skills by his own merit. The universe is wide. He does not want to die in the vacuum of space.

His father, aging and ill (although he doesn’t tell anyone that part), is displeased.

“You’re distracted,” his father says in their once a month dinner together; he’s just thrown Hux’s latest scores in a crumpled ball into his son’s face. “This is embarrassing.”

He isn’t distracted, but there’s no point in telling his father that. Hux, in recent weeks, has begun to suspect he’s crazy. He’s tired all the time, unable to calm himself down enough to get more than fitful pockets of sleep. Rigger has noticed, but he hadn’t said anything. Hux helps him cheat on his engineering exams, and Rigger keeps his secrets.

a friend? he hears Rigger think tentatively at times. Those thoughts have grown stronger over the past year, so much so it only rarely ends as a question. Hux knows he should somehow discourage this, but he can’t bring himself to. Rigger’s presence is the only regular and remotely pleasant thing about his life nowadays aside from the eavesdropping, which is harder and harder to control with the lack of sleep, lack of hope, and increasing anxiety about his descent into lunacy adding up.

The evening of Hux’s seventeenth birthday, which is acknowledged by a message from his father, who is in hospital constantly now with bone cancer, is a nightmare. Hux can hear everyone in the Academy and in the surrounding area. He’s aware of people laughing, screaming, crying, fucking. He’s dizzy and ill and a complete wreak, and he doesn’t know what are his thoughts and feelings and what aren’t.

He’s crying on his cot when Rigger comes back from a late extra-curricular workout. It alarms Rigger, who has never seen Hux cry. In fact, no one has seen Hux cry since Nell was dismissed. He’s supposed to be grown up. He wanted to badly to be an adult. He almost is. But he can’t make himself stop crying anymore than he can make himself stop hearing everyone all the time and losing what thoughts are his own to them, too.

“Hux?” Rigger asks after stepping quickly inside and closing the door. “What’s happened?”

He can’t respond. Hux buries his face in his hands. Tips forward on his folded knees. He doesn’t understand what is happening. He never did. He’s so scared. So tired. So damn aware of everything and crazier for every bit of it. He wonders what life was like before this. If he had a life to begin with.

“Is it –” Rigger starts, his voice closer now but unusually high; distressed. “Your father?”

That would be easiest. Hux doesn’t know how to signal it. Yes, it is his father to a certain extent, but Hux has no real love for his namesake. His father might have thought himself an architect, but everyone is a tool. There are greater hands, which Hux suspects may be Snoke’s, at work. It whispers sometimes in the minds of the oldest teachers and active generals who come by the Academy. Not a doubt but a strangeness. Hux shouldn’t have these thoughts, these feelings, these instincts. He doesn’t understand what is happening anymore.

Rigger stays up with him for the whole night, even after Hux tires himself out with his violent crying. He sits on the bed while Hux hugs into himself, wishing he could just be dead to the world for once. There’s contraband, alcohol and drugs and other things, but Hux doesn’t currently have any on hand. He and Rigger used up the pills and horrible bootleg gin a week and a half ago when they had a day off.

“I wish we’d kept a pill or two,” Rigger says, voicing Hux’s thoughts for him. “Makes me really giddy, but you get really calm.”

It’s a poor decision, but Hux’s life is a joke. He extracts his right hand from it’s grip on his pillow. Reaches out to grasp Rigger’s right wrist. It’s probably too hard to be comfortable. He feels the pain from Rigger, but it’s not the most pressing emotion. Rigger is concerned. Afraid. Not of Hux. For Hux.

my friend

Friend. Rigger is his friend. Hux grasps onto that. He knows such attachments are dangerous. He should use it to his advantage. But Rigger is here because he thinks Hux is his friend. He’s not the brightest tool in the box, but he’s highly capable on the field with good, solid instincts and a rare ability to keep a level head. He’ll make an excellent field commander. He’ll never move up very high unless something drastic changes. Hux knows Rigger knows this. He’s made peace with it.

I admire you. I want to help you

Rigger helps him more than he’ll ever know. Over the next few weeks as Hux’s father slowly dies in hospital on another planet, Hux uses Rigger’s steady, predictable thoughts and emotions to anchor himself. He tries his best not to make Rigger voice Hux’s thoughts or tangle his feelings. It isn’t easy, and it makes Hux feel extraordinarily guilty. He’s using his friend, the only person since Nell who actually elects to be in Hux’s company. Rigger doesn’t seem to mind, but he has no idea of what Hux is doing. He keeps trying to help even thought Hux oscillates through moods like he’s just hit puberty again.

“Help me with the engineering set,” Rigger says while thinking he needs something to concentrate on.

“Come spar with me,” Rigger offers while thinking I need to be careful not to let him hurt himself.

“Hey,” Rigger greets as his emotions glow warm and bright with my friend.

It’s the only way Hux survives his father’s death. He knows it when it happens. He’s always been able to hear his father, no matter how far away they are. They weren’t particularly close, but Bren and then young Hux had been hyperaware of his father. When Brendol Hux I dies, it’s in a lecture of the intellectual thought of Emperor Palpatine’s speeches. It’s like a void opens inside of Hux’s mind and body. He passes out. He is luckily sitting. Rigger tells him later it was almost elegant the way he tipped boneless out of his chair.

He wakes up in the infirmary. Exhaustion amplified by grief. He’d known his father would die. No one thinks it anything more than a coincidence that it happened to all catch up at the same time as the actual time of death. Hux can barely process his own thoughts even as everyone else’s register in his head.

He’s given a week of grievance leave. There’s not much point to it as affairs had long been put into order, so Hux declines more than two days of it. His father wished to have his body jettisoned into space immediately upon his death, so that is what is done. Hux has no time to go do it himself, not if his father’s body is to be preserved as he wanted it. Hux, still in hospital himself at that time, hears the thoughts of the doctor and a nurse considering putting him on suicide watch.

“Nothing so dramatic,” Hux says aloud, but he’s looking at the feed of his father’s body floating off into the truest void and they think he’s addressing that.

They don’t put him on suicide watch. In fact, they’re impressed with him. Exhausted and grieving, but his behaviour is normal as to his file. A little quiet and very pensive but practical, pragmatic, and extraordinarily astute.

better than his father. Brighter, stronger, less arrogant

It’s that last part that sticks with Hux. Less arrogant. His father wasn’t arrogant. His father was self-assured and human. Hux –

Hux is not sure if he’s entirely human. Perhaps he was, once upon a time, for his files and his bloodwork all say he’s human. Normal. But he knows he’s not. No normal human can read thoughts and emotions. No normal human can influence them. There’s tales, he’s heard now that he’s about to graduate from the Academy, of the Force, which Darth Vader and the Emperor Palpatine were apparently strong in. Hux scoffs.

He can’t make lightning. Can’t throw people with his mind or choke them. There’s no sense of a wide encompassing Force.

It’s just him.

Hux is alone, except of Rigger, who he shouldn’t have let in. Soon, though, Hux will be alone again. He’s set to be working command and intelligence. Rigger is going to the front lines. On the ground. Hux is specialised in the void of space and sky.

“Maybe one day I’ll serve under you,” Rigger jokes, the day they graduate, Hux at the top of their class.

Hux allows himself a smile. Rigger beams back.

my friend

He can sense Rigger even from the other side of the universe. It’s an anchor. Faint but strong. It’s all Hux has to call his own aside from his lunacy. His only comfort.

That is how Hux begins his career as a Second Lieutenant of the First Order’s Fleet, alone but for a faint tether to his only friend and completely insane.

 

He moves up quickly in the ranks.

He’s accepted his lunacy. Accepted his loneliness. Accepted Rigger as the only exception, his most precious friend. He pours himself into his duties and in digging through the thoughts and feelings of everyone around him. He attempts to bludgeon what he wants out of them, to twist them to feel what he needs them to feel and say what he needs them to say. It’s a lot of trial and error for the first couple of years, but, slowly, it begins to work.

It’s easiest when he’s annoyed, just as it had been when he first noticed the extension of his eavesdropping. He’s not given to strong emotions, but he never was. Hux begins to find joy in his lunacy. He doesn’t deceive himself as he did as a child that it is a gift, but it is as close as he’ll get.

“Having fun making desk-types shit their pants?” Rigger laughs over a rare video communication while he’s on two weeks’ vacation and Hux has a whole Imperial day off.

“Having fun bashing in rebel scum skulls?” Hux shoots back before they both roar with laughter.

It bolsters Hux. He’s alone on this ship, a clunky, massive waste of fuel called Minotaur. On a whim, perhaps because of a couple of pills and the memory of Rigger’s stories of the field, Hux takes a ground assault assignment under First Lieutenant Gravlax. It is a small expedition, and there is only one major conflict. The screams of death match thoughts and feelings. Rather than frightening Hux as so much of his lunacy does, it’s invigorating in how reassuring it is to have everything match up. Hux kills two men that day. One with his blaster. Another with his bare hands, grappling in the dirt and crushing the soft throat. Everything matches as he feels life give into death beneath his hands. There is no dissonance.

Hux can’t stop smiling.

Is this what happy feels like?

It is in this way that Hux makes official acquaintance with one Second Lieutenant Phasma. She is part of the back up that was sent and arrive just twenty minutes too late to save eighty percent of Hux’s company. Hux is drunk in his happiness, drunk in his lunacy. He beams at her, kneeling comfortably in blood, gore, and death. He has a knife lodged under his ribs, but it’s missed anything vital.

“Well,” Phasma says, staring down at him through her helmet, “this is a sight.”

he’s so beautiful covered in blood is what she really thinks.

It’s not a romantic thought. It’s a warrior recognising another kindred soul. Hux can’t stop beaming. He’s so happy. He thinks of Rigger. How he wishes he could be here to witness this.

He ends up being put on a week of sick leave when he’s released from the hospital. Shock, they call it. He was still beaming when he was brought back to the Minotaur. It’s a fair assumption.

“You’re not in shock,” Rigger says on another rare video communication. “You enjoyed it.”

Hux smiles. Rigger grins impishly. He thinks I know you so well, and Hux can’t deny it. He misses Rigger a lot.

“Then hurry up and rise to the top!” Rigger says, without a care for who will overhear. “You’re a quiet nutter, but you're damn fun, too.”

 

Hux changes.

He forgets about Nell. About little Bren. About whispers and doubts and even some days his father’s architectural delusions. About everything but the goal of rising to the top, the goal to reach as far as he can go.

He opens himself to his lunacy. He finds true, visceral thrill in crawling through people’s minds. People begin to respect him, which he carefully cultivates. They also begin to fear him, which he viciously strokes when needed.

When he makes Captain, that is when he catches Snoke’s attention. He does not meet the Supreme Leader, but he receives an official message of congratulations. It doesn’t feel like congratulations. It feels like a warning.

Hux is still a creature of instincts, and his instincts are strong.

He forces himself to be more careful after that. He doesn’t slow his climb or hide his ambitions, but he withholds his more reckless desires. He’s twenty-one, and its time he learned some self-control. He takes up training regularly with Phasma. Although he now outranks her, she is keen to have sport with him, especially when she discovers he doesn’t flinch from losing. Hux grows to adore how her mind and her words so often match.

“You’re stronger and more talented than me,” he says, blunt and bland and it feels so good to know she won’t take offence but know it to be true.

“Whatever goes on your head I could never hope to follow,” she says before punching him none too softly in the shoulder. “Now get up, Captain, and finish those squats.”

Unlike Rigger, Hux doesn’t have to worry about Phasma ever thinking of him as a friend. She is the perfect example of the stormtrooper training. Terrifically fit and intelligent to match a binding, blinding loyalty to the First Order. Hux wonders at her. His father might have masterminded the programme, but he didn’t achieve this. This is Phasma all on her own.

“You’d love her,” he tells Rigger, who perks up; the video conference calls are a regularly fortnightly thing now.

“I hope so,” Rigger says, eyes glittering with his warm smile. “You’ve never sung praises like this.”

The thing is, Hux has come to understand, that he actually hates most people. He hates their disorder, their lying both conscious and subconscious. He hates how they smell, how they move, how they don’t think about all their contradictions. But it’s not a vicious hate. It’s not even, really, a deep hate. It’s imply a kind of dislike. All life is inherently disorganised and contradicting, waiting to be herded, as his father liked to think, into place. Hux included.

Rigger and Phasma (and Nell, never thought about) are the exceptions. They’re just as contradictory and expendable as everyone else, but it’s different for Hux because he like them. Rigger is his friend. Phasma is a true warrior. They are things that Hux thinks are a shame to waste.

So he forms a plan. He wants to make General and he wants his own ship. He wants to have Rigger on it occasionally, maybe even permanently if he can get a good enough assignment for him. He wants Phasma, too, in charge of all the stormtroopers. The thought is concrete and strong and definitely Hux’s and Hux’s alone. He isn’t allowed strong emotions except when he kills, but he can have this. His tactics and strategies have never been taken from him.

In the rare moments that he allows himself to be truly self-aware, usually only after a couple of his favoured pale pills and drink, Hux wonders if he was always this selfish. This crazy. This ugly a person. But then he remembers he might not actually be a person. He’s never looked up his mother. His father’s wife is listed on his birth certificate. But that was not his mother.

It’s on one of those nights that Phasma happens to call on him. Hux, lying on the floor of his quarters with one more pill to go and a quarter of a bottle of gin in his hand, jolts dizzily into confused awareness as his door panel buzzes. He manages to coordinate himself just enough to get to his feet, shoving the bottle into the shadow of his bunk and the last pill into his pyjama pocket. He misses the panel the first time but manages to hit it the second. Audio only.

“Hello?”

“Captain,” Phasma says. “I’m sorry to disturb you on your day off, but I have an additional shift of free time and wondered if you would like to go to the bar.”

“Oh,” Hux say, most articulately; his head swims with the usual muted noise, little warm orange spots dancing across his vision. “I… apologise. I was planning to sleep.”

“It is of no consequence,” Phasma says smoothly, but Hux can feel her sudden suspicion; Hux is well-known for not sleeping. “I hope you rest well.”

When Hux next encounters Phasma, three days later when their meal times happen to coincide during graveyard shift, she slides in next to him at the otherwise empty officers table and says, uncharacteristically low:

“You were high, weren’t you?”

Hux chokes on his rehydrated rice. She doesn’t make him any yea or nay, but it’s obvious she’s already made her conclusions. He can feel the muted concern. They don’t discuss it until nearly two weeks later when Hux gets his next day off and Phasma shows up almost immediately after he wakes.

“So,” she says as he lets her into his quarters, her eyes sweeping over him. “It’s my day off, too.”

They get high and drink together. Hux calls Rigger, who has an unusual day off as well, and they cavort merrily together via the screen. The Minotaur is not a strict ship as the General Nanarat doesn’t care much about fraternisation so long as everyone looks the other way while she drinks herself into an early grave. Usually, being assigned to a ship like this would be terrible assignment for someone keen on climbing the ranks, but Hux knows he was put here for a reason. Snoke made sure of it. Two of the five colonels on the ship are ripe for retirement, and the general could go any day. Hux is the most competent in command of the Captains despite being the youngest. He’s continued to include himself in ground assault teams, seeking the most gracious high of the kill.

Anything, really, to make the noise in his head less chaotic for a short period of time.

For his lunacy has continued to wear on him. It shows in how he spends his personal time either desperately attempting to figure out ways to block off thoughts and emotions that aren’t his whilst being mired in the constant uncertain of whether he even has his own thoughts and emotions. He sleeps in short bursts, which his body is used to as it can be from a lifetime of it. He has a mental line in his budget for his pills, although he’s even more careful with it now that Phasma knows.

He has to be more careful. He needs to have better control if he wants to keep Rigger and Phasma as his own. It makes him realise that he’s young and irresponsible despite all of his abilities and knowledge. He’s the youngest officer with the brightest future on the ship, and his fellow officers, no matter how indifferent they are to their own fates, don’t ever forget it. They’d love to see him disgraced, the animosity rarely dissonant between their spoken words and mistakenly private thoughts.

Snoke favours him is the rumour, which is actually true, although Hux did nothing to spread it.

That rumour paints a target on his back. Not so much from the Minotaur and its crew but from the rest of the First Order. He’s a young man to watch, Brendol Hux the second coming. All his father’s best qualities but with a stranger, more exciting flavour. Fresh.

I’d like to see him rise is what people think consciously.

I’d like to see him fall they also think, just as conscious and more frequently subconsciously.

Hux realises when General Nanarat’s liver gives out with all the indignity that implies that he’s been adrift. Unfocused. He is a military creature born and bred for the explicit purpose to serve the First Order. It is the purpose, he thinks as he accepts a promotion to Colonel at the age of twenty-three with blessings from Snoke while Colonel Faro accepts promotion to General and command of the Minotaur, for which his father had him with whoever is Hux’s real mother.

“A colonel’s a waste on front line action,” the new General says in her first one-on-one conversation with Hux.

you’re too reckless is what she’s really thinking. That, and you’re far more useful alive than dead

Faro is two and a half decades Hux’s senior. She’s a sinewy figure with slightly too sharp teeth to be fully human although her files, like Hux’s, state she’s fully human. Faro moves with a fluid gait and, despite having no battle experience, made her early reputation in covert operations. Under her command, the Minotaur becomes almost orderly. Where Nanarat hadn’t cared except for where her next drink was coming from, Faro gazes over the Minotaur like a snake jealously guarding its nest.

Her thought processes fascinate Hux. It’s another reason that Hux knows she is not definitely not human. The way she thinks is distinctive from anyone Hux has ever met, moving much like she does in long, seemingly endless streams. Hux, for the first time in his career, looks forward to being on the bridge. He listens to Faro’s thoughts and marvels at the polished sheen her emotions add to them, smoothing out any kinks in her connections. She’s the first person whose thoughts and feelings run in harmony.

“It’s a rotting heap of junk,” she hisses when it’s just Hux and her and the graveyard shift crew on the bridge. “But it’s survived longer than you, Colonel. Longer than any of us.”

“You’re smitten,” Phasma teases when Hux regales her with that conversation.

He is, a little bit. Her mind is somewhere Hux could lose himself in for days. He wants to know if he could think like that, to think and process but also feel and acknowledge at the same time. In the next two years while the Minotaur takes on planetary conquest in the name of the First Order, Hux studies Faro’s mind and attempts to imitate it. To differentiate his own mind from the thousands of others he has in it every day.

It works extraordinarily well until, almost exactly three months from his twenty-fifth birthday, Rigger is killed when his transport is shot by a Resistance pilot in a crazed shoot-out over Ryloth.

It’s far, far worse than when Hux’s father died. Hux has just begun walking from his station on the bridge to the main map display when Rigger dies. He doesn’t remember what happened. Not really. One moment he was on the bridge, nothing out of the ordinary. The next he was in medical, an IV line running out from under his collarbone and an oxygen mask strapped over his face, dazed and confused.

“You fainted,” Phasma says when he wakes again after slipping unknowingly back into unconsciousness.

“Rigger,” he said because there was a gaping, horrendous void, and he was too lost to understand what had happened or that he shouldn’t have any inclination of it.

Phasma, unusually unmasked in a semi-public place, looked devastated. Alarmed, too, far more than he had ever seen her. Hux couldn’t concentrate on any of that. The void seemed to widen. He was falling.

When he next awoke, it was to a medical droid scanning him. It beeped in response to seeing him awake. Hux had a bit more of his wits about him, although that wasn’t saying much. It was enough to hold a conversation with the doctor.

“Acute fatigue brought on by chronic insomnia and poor nutrition,” the doctor said, a stony, disapproving look on his face supplemented by too young to burn out and the Supreme Leader has bad taste.

Hux spends a full month planet side on Coruscant. It’s longer than Hux has been in one place and not on a ship since he left the Academy. He spends a long week in a First Order-controlled hospital. He passes the psychological evaluation only because he can glean thoughts from the doctors and nurses around him on how he should be acting. Contrite that he let himself get into this condition. Cooperative with all their recommendations and instruction. Absolutely no indication that he is little more than briefly sad when he has lost his schoolmate, his anchor, his only friend.

There is no body. The transport blew apart in space. If Rigger’s body is there, it is like Hux’s father: forever preserved in the vacuum in whatever condition it was in. For the first time, Hux truly hates the New Republic and the Resistance. They’ve stolen one of the only things Hux could call his own. And he is empty.

When Hux returns to the Minotaur a month later physically stronger than before but with absolutely no delusions about his true mental state, he isn’t there to climb to the top. He seeks out Phasma during their first shared shift break. They walk to the officer’s gymnasium. She watches him with wary eyes.

“You didn’t tell,” he whispers in her ear as they grapple on a mat.

“How did you know?” she whispers back when she pins him.

He cannot say. They smash into each other over and over until Hux is spent and Phasma has him in a chokehold where he can whisper without anyone seeing his lips move or risk of hearing.

“I’m going to rule the galaxy,” he promises her.

I’m going to make worlds bleed he thinks at her as loudly as he can.

She releases him. He collapses on the mat on his hands and knees. Panting. Rigger and he did this so many times back at the Academy. Phasma looks at him. Long and hard.

“Okay.”

 

When Hux is twenty-six, he meets Snoke for the first time.

It is a hologram transmission. The main conference room on the Minotaur is cleared for this communication that will not be listened into. It is for the Supreme Leader and Hux alone.

Hux knows a little of what to expect. He has seen in his father’s as well as some of the older members of the First Order’s heads the visage of Snoke. Wizened and impossibly warped, terrifying in a very instinctual way. It’s said that he is strong in the Force, and there are the emerging Knights of Ren directly fostered under his watch. Hux does not know how much he can hide from this creature. He is just a tool in what has become Snoke’s architecture.

“Colonel Brendol Hux,” Snoke says when his gnarled form flickers to life in hologram. “I have been watching your career with interest.”

Hux does not know if he can read the thoughts and emotions of this creature. He highly doubts he can try to influence Snoke. He doesn’t attempt to, relying on instinct which tells him hide hide hide hide.

He bows to the hologram. “I am deeply honoured, Supreme Leader.”

“I am intrigued with your progress,” Snoke says, rumbling and sibilant all at once. “You are the most capable of your generation, and I have high hopes for your recent proposal. Starkiller, you called it.”

Hux inclines his head. His heart thunders in his breast, every part of him screaming to get as far away from this creature as possible. But he has nowhere else to go. No plan for anything else but what he was born to do and how to do it. Hux is a lunatic who only finds relief from his insanity by killing. He senses that, whether by the Force or whatever else there is in this incomprehensible universe, Snoke knows this. It makes Hux a primed tool.

It doesn’t matter. So long as he can make the New Republic and the Resistance bleed for Rigger, nothing else matters.

Snoke smiles. Sensing Hux’s thoughts. He must know that Hux can sense things, too. But he says nothing.

“You have my approval to continue developing the plans for Starkiller.”

Hux bows again. “Thank you, Supreme Leader.”

It makes Snoke laugh, a terrible sound. “You will be a glorious general, Colonel Hux.”

It should make Hux feel elated. It would have, just under half a year ago. Instead, after he finishes his shift and is congratulated with false words and angry thoughts peppered with jealous feelings from every except Phasma and Faro, Hux returns to his room. Phasma is still on shift for another six hours. He pulls out one of the packets of pills that he bought on Coruscant.

Hux elects not to be himself for a while.

 

He is promoted upon the approval of the Starkiller Project just shy of his twenty-seventh birthday. He is given a ship, the Finalizer, a Resurgent-class Star Destroyer. It’s fifteen times the power and size of the Minotaur. Hux is allowed to request Phasma with him in order to train an army of new stormtroopers.

It would have been his father’s dream. It could have been Hux’s dream. Instead, it is Snoke’s dream and Hux’s death wish.

It is a death wish. He has to be clear with himself about that, especially as he is once more plunged into a new world with thousands upon thousands of new voices all clamouring in his his head. Hux isn’t going to survive for long. He’ll outrun his usefulness to Snoke eventually, either with Starkiller or with whatever follows. He knows that his insomnia, the eavesdropping and manipulation, and the pills and drink will do him in if Snoke doesn’t. Hux is fine with this. He will rule the galaxy in his own way until he dies.

Finalizer. It’s a perfect kingdom for a lunatic like him.

This is Hux’s state of mind until, one day just shy of Hux’s twenty-eighth birthday, Snoke changes the game and dumps the leader of the Knights of Ren on the ship.

 

Kylo Ren is everything that Hux hates about humanity. The moment Ren’s ship comes into hailing distance of the Finalizer, Hux is aware of Ren’s thoughts and emotions. All bright, turbulent, and overflowing with intensity. Hux hates him, although he isn't sure if it is true hate or his usual, useless dislike. He doesn’t feel much at all anymore. If he ever did.

Ren arrives in an explosion of strange energy and unrest. His accompanying Knights are much the same, although no one matches the absolute chaos that is their leader’s mind. Hux’s instinct is to shut him out even as he greets Ren as befitting of an honoured guest on board the ship. Ren does not return the politeness. He stares at Hux for a long time.

I can feel the Force around him is Ren’s most prominent thought followed very quickly by but it is strange and he is –

Hux cannot listen. He does not know what Snoke thinks. Hux is insane. There is no Force ability that he has ever demonstrated outside his personal hell. He does not care what Kylo Ren, who is an inconvenience to his plans to blow up as many planets as possible before he dies, thinks.

Impressively, for how loud and disruptive Ren is in every other way, he does not approach Hux about his observations in that first meeting for several months. It is partially because they are both busy. Hux must identify a planet to build Starkiller. Ren is searching for a scattered map to Luke Skywalker.

It comes up, as things tend to, at the most inopportune time. Hux and Ren are arguing. Or, more exactly, Ren is raging and Hux is making strikes where it matters. It is childish, but Ren is childish, and Hux is worried endlessly about all the things he has to manage. Starkiller still needs a planet, although the search has been narrowed down to three. The Finalizer. Training more troops for which he needs to consult Phasma. His dwindling supply of pills; he isn’t sure if he can risk ordering another shipment when he isn’t sure where they’ll be in the next few weeks. He refuses to stoop so low as to requisition from medical.

“You could help me,” Ren snarls, up in Hux’s personal space, ever present anger a heavy assault on Hux’s senses.

“I am helping you,” Hux points out for Ren has all the resources of the Finalizer at his disposal.

“You know what I mean,” Ren snaps.

Hux doesn’t even open his mouth. He stares at the mask. The hallway is empty, long cleared by people unwilling to be caught in the crossfire. Hux stares and stares. A void stare back. The anger ripples. Hux thinks of General Faro, sitting on the nest she’s made of the Minotaur. He misses her unique mind.

“I do not,” Hux says, a blatant lie but one that he’s been preparing himself to tell his entire life.

I can die when they have bled. But not until then.

Ren jerks back. Hux hadn’t meant to shove that thought into Ren’s mind, but he is weary. Ren is the Force user or whatever it is they’re called these days. Hux has seen Ren root through people’s minds like a green trainee with a practice club. He doesn’t understand why Ren doesn’t just do that here. He could. It would be so much easier.

Ren is staring at Hux. The chronometer is ticking down. Hux needs to set the coordinates for the next planet to survey. He needs to do a budget review for fuel. He needs to shut out the noise as best he can and try to sleep. Hux opens his mouth to say he is leaving.

“You are untrained,” Ren says.

It’s not a yell or a shout or even a snarl. It’s a statement. An observation. Hux finds his mouth is still open. He shuts it. Resists the urge to clench his fists. His teeth.

“When did you notice?” Ren asks, taking a step forward until he’s crowding Hux again; the tone is different now, though, anger replaced by curiosity. “It’s Force is strong in you, but something is cutting –”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Hux says, and it’s sadly true and terribly tired. “I have duties to return to, Lord Ren. Excuse –”

Ren grabs him. Gloved hand over Hux’s left elbow. Hux freezes. It’s the first time that anyone besides Phasma and droids have touched him since he left the hospital on Coruscant. Every instinct Hux has screams at him to run and hide hide hide hide –

“You’ve cut it off,” Ren says, and the ridiculous voice modulator can’t hide the incredulousness in his tone. “A long time ago. There was a woman –”

Something explodes. The force of it blows both Hux and Ren apart. Ren recovers better, somehow fumbling into a crouching position as he clutches his hand. Hux slides backwards, his elbow nearly dislocated as he smacks into the wall of the hallway. He doesn’t notice the pain. He is –

“Get out of my head!” his voice roars.

He is angry. Hux doesn’t remember the last time he was truly angry. He remembers other people’s anger. He remembers the euphoria of killing. The exhilaration of battle. The tired hatred of everything. Phasma. Rigger. His father. Nell. These were his. And then Ren, Snoke’s favourite dog, comes in when Hux has resigned to Snoke using him up so long as he can keep a little something for himself and starts rifling around to find those things. To take them away.

“Stay out of my head,” Hux says, quieter, more level, but angrier than ever.

“General –”

“I fucking well mean it!” Hux roars and there’s that odd feeling again, like he himself is a live grenade.

He cannot be here anymore. Hux turns, uncaring about protocol, and flies down the hallway. Ren does not follow. Hux does not, as he should, return to the bridge. He goes instead to his quarters. Steps in and locks the door, keying it to only recognise Phasma. He heads instinctively for the pills he keeps in the drawer above his bed but then remembers there’s only enough for two doses. He doesn’t know when he’ll be able to get more. Hux stands in the middle of his quarters, arms wrapped around his torso so tightly his own ribs creak.

He finishes his shift in his office, relaying via message coordinates and instructions. He has to do the budget report twice because his mind won’t focus. As the anger subsides, the noise of the ship comes crashing back in. Phasma is training BR squadron. Beta shift is about to begin, relieving the stressed alpha shift. Ren is prowling around an empty cargo hold. Sanitation is being started up.

Hux, for the first time, begins to seriously consider killing himself.

 

He comes up, once he regains a modicum of control, with exactly three reasons why he should delay killing himself.

First, he can’t do that to Phasma. Her career is irrevocably tied to his, and the Finalizer is her chance to prove that a stormtrooper can not only be competent on the field but also a commander in her own right. He suspects, too, that his death would make her sad. She is lonely in her own way without any peers who match her calibre and training.

Second, he has to get revenge for Rigger. He doesn’t know what pilot shot down the transport, but he will make the New Republic and Resistance rue the day they stole from him. Starkiller is that monstrous tool. It will do damage enough to shake the fabric of the universe as nothing before.

And, third and final, Hux wants to control what is done to his body when he dies. He wants to go out and go out completely, burning up until not even ashes remain. He doesn’t want his body floating forever in space.

This is Hux’s exact mental state when they identify the iceball of a planet that will be Starkiller Base. He looks utterly exuberant based on the thoughts of his bridge crew as he looks from the viewing port at the icy, barely hospitable world. Perhaps he is excited. Now that the anger has gone, Hux feels his own numbness more completely and everyone else’s emotions more acutely.

An ice world for his weapon of revenge. It makes perfect sense.

He goes down personally to inspect the world, although Faro’s warning lingers in the back of his mind. He is not her with her flowing, intertwined thoughts and emotions. No, Hux is a lunatic. An aberration. A hands on approach is what he excels at because he is simply wrong.

Ren returns from a fruitless map search two days after Hux has finished a preliminary survey of the surface and officially submitted the plan to start construction on the base. The bludgeoning force of Ren’s thoughts and feelings makes Hux’s skull feel like it is about to explode. He is in a horrible mood when Ren sweeps onto the bridge, radiating malice and displeasure.

“They escaped,” Hux says.

He realises too late that it should have been a question. Most people wouldn’t notice because it seems obvious, but Ren zones in on him. He stalks across the bridge, heavy boots clanging on the metal. Hux keeps his gaze straight and steady.

“If you –” Ren starts.

“So they did,” Hux says, smooth and level despite the way his head feels like someone is hammering it. “Your intelligence must have been out of date as you were warned –”

Ren clenches his fist. Hux’s throat closes up. Instinct flares. Wide. Intense. All-encompassing.

He is a creature of instinct at his very core.

Hux doesn’t remember what happened. He comes to in medical, an IV inserted under his collarbone and an oxygen mask on his face. He feels more than comprehends himself surging up, sending the attending medical droid into emergency distress.

RIGGER

There is only the void. Hux thankfully doesn’t scream. He chokes instead, his throat sore. The pain as he crashes back on the bed as the doctor and more medical droids rush in grounds him enough that he remembers.

Kylo Ren choked him the bridge. Something happened. Rigger has been dead for three years.

“What,” Hux croaks as the droids readjust the mask and the IV needle and the doctor begins scanning him, “happened?”

The doctor gives him an awkward, uncomfortable look that matches the emotions rolling off him. He looks back at the scanner screen. He doesn’t like what he sees on the screen.

“Lord Ren choked you,” he says, choosing his words too carefully as he looks up from the screen. “And then the two of you were suddenly blown apart. Like something had exploded between you. You have severe bruising to the neck, obviously, and a concussion.”

That sounds about what Hux deduced himself. But there’s something else that’s making the doctor uncomfortable. Hux’s head is buzzing, probably from the concussion, but he can still hear it.

probably not sleeping and eating at odd cycles that’s all it probably is

“Where,” Hux asks, because he doesn’t want that train of thought to have time to develop, “is Lord Red now?”

The doctor blinks. He opens his mouth to say he doesn’t know. Hux is suddenly extremely frustrated.

“Find him,” Hux says, causing the doctor to straighten and startle. “This idiocy cannot continue.”

The doctor nods hastily. He hands the scanner to a droid, turns, and leaves. The droids start beeping, once more focused on prodding Hux to lie still. They start to prep injections of nutrients. He considers asking them for a painkiller. Something much stronger than the doctor would be willing to give him. The doctor who Hux just forced his will onto.

The droids administer a mild sedative because apparently he’s not calming down on his own and it’s not good for his concussion. Due to his familiarity with the effects, it doesn’t help much, which makes the droids beep and whir suspiciously. Hux knows he should calm down, but he can’t. The noise of the ship is louder than ever, and the loudest is drawing nearer, trailed by a dazed and more than a little confused doctor.

“General Hux,” Ren says as a way of an announce as he slams through medical’s doors. “You requested me?”

The doctor looks strange. Addled almost as he stands a couple paces been Ren. Hux wonders fleeting as he sitting up in bed, tearing the oxygen mask off headless of the protests of the droids, if he might have done some damage. He isn’t sure if he’s ever pressed thoughts into a person with quite so much force.

Ren shifts. He looks back at the doctor. Back to Hux. His face, if he has one, would likely be pinched based off of the suddenly wary emotion rolling off of him.

“You might have,” Ren says.

He can hear Hux’s thoughts. The doctor simply wavers in the doorway. Hux stares at him. He doesn’t know what he was thinking earlier. He has a concussion. He doesn’t know what he’s thinking at all, really, not unless he’s planning something militarily or following orders.

The automatic door slides shut. The doctor seems to slump slightly, sliding down it like a puppet with its strings cut. The droids are sufficiently distracted by this, abandoning Hux for the doctor. Ren steps away, moving until he is three paces from Hux’s bed.

“You are untrained,” he reiterates.

“Of course not,” Hux says, and it’s acid; he reaches up to feel gingerly at the IV, trying to decide if he should remove it or not.

“You shouldn’t,” Ren says.

“I told you to stay out of my head.”

“I’m not in your head,” and Ren sounds frustrated, a more familiar timber. “You are loud.”

Hux stares. Loud. Him. Loud. Him, withdrawn and quiet throughout his Academy years until Rigger came along and began dragging him out. Maybe not always in the best ways, but –

“As I said,” Ren says, his hands balling into fists at his side, “loud. Everyone on this ship is so damn loud. It’s like –”

An untuned, untrained symphony, crashing and smashing and wailing at all hours. A constant buzzing at best, an all-out shrieking as a norm. There are no secrets because everything is lain bare. Hux sits on the hospital bed, staring at Kylo Ren, who he knows is staring back through that ghoulish mask. Behind him, the droids are fussing over the doctor, who they’ve lain down on a cot.

“You can hear people’s thoughts,” Ren says, very slowly, like he’s feeling it out himself. “And you can alter their minds to your will to a certain extent. You have much skill with the first part from what I have witnessed. Not so much with the second.”

It’s not normally like that, Hux wants to say, but he can’t seem to unstick his tongue. He wonders what else Ren has seen. If Ren is in his head right now, despite Hux’s warnings to stay out. Ren takes a step forward. Strangely cautious.

“The Force is strong with you if you’ve accomplished this much without a master,” Ren says before he sucks in a long breath that rattles the vocal scrambler. “Have you ever had any guidance?”

Hux has nothing to say. In fact, Hux can feel himself psychologically shutting down. It’s the concussion. It’s the sedative. It’s how Hux has spent his entire life in this lunacy. It’s the fact that he is just supposed to be a tool. Nothing more. Nothing less. This is his punishment, he thinks, for daring to want something for himself. For foolishly believing he could have something that wasn’t someone else’s dream.

“No,” Ren says, and it’s flat and somehow that is more terrifying than anything he has ever said or done since Hux came to know him. “You had no way of knowing. You…”

He trails off. Hux manages to hang onto his sanity for a moment longer before he gives up. Lets go.

The void awaits.

 

He’s released from medical once he no longer shows signs of the concussion and his throat is healed. The droids whir discordantly, but the doctor is extraordinarily pliable to Hux’s bidding. A puppet. Part of Hux wonders at the uses of this. Another part screams into the abyss.

Ren departed at some point between Hux’s brief mental break from reality and regaining his faculties. All in all, Hux feels normal. He feels a little light-headed, but that’s solved by eating a portion of whatever was on the menu today. He should probably rest for another cycle, but he feels fine and the doctor gave no orders. So Hux is on the bridge, oddly calm and at peace despite the ever present noise in his head. His bridge crew stare at him in a mixture of awe and terror.

There’s structural damage to the spot on the bridge where and Ren were standing. He examines it briefly before moving to inspect where he’d apparently crashed into a navigation council. It’s badly dented. It occurs to him that he should be more injured. The thought barely touches him.

The shift ends as uneventfully and peacefully as any. Hux feels alright. Not wonderful. But not as horrible has he has since the Knights of Ren arrived. It’s definitely one of his few better days since Rigger died. He doesn’t feel half as suicidal as he has for the past few weeks. It’s, he hesitantly concludes, good.

It doesn’t last.

 

Hux turns twenty-nine.

It surprises him. He’s busy. The Finalizer was called away from Starkiller Base to assist in an engagement against the Republic three weeks before. The prospect of a good fight set Hux’s blood pounding. It improved Phasma’s mood as she had been growing bored, and Ren even comes along. As much as Hux wants to be in the fray, he heeds Faro’s old advice and stays on the bridge. Death surrounds him. He cannot wipe the smile from his face, especially when his crew, originally nervous, swells with pride in the victory. There were minimal casualties for the Finalizer. Hux authorises the first official ship-wide party when they drop back into orbit around Starkiller.

“Reminds me of the good times on Minotaur,” Phasma says wistfully as she and Hux lounge on a couple of bolt crates in the cargo hold temporarily turned party room.

Hux giggles, flying high with stolen exuberance, adrenaline, pills, and drink. He staggers to his feet and then scrambles up on top of his box. Phasma bangs her still-gauntleted left fist on the wall to get people’s attention.

“A toast!” Hux roars, lifting his drink high. “To the victorious Finalizer and First Order!”

“Huzzah!” the crowd screams back, swelling with drunken fervour. “Huzzah!”

In that moment, he is, as Phasma howls with laughter and picks him up to sit on her shoulders as the crowd cheers even more wildly than before, extraordinarily happy. He doesn’t care if these are not his emotions. They are wonderful.

It’s thrown everything off-schedule. Hux recovers from the massive hangover and spends the fortnight leading up to his birthday dealing with schedule adjustments, Ren taking a squadron of troops without asking, and trying to deal with the ever-present noise without pills as he’s run out and can’t find anywhere along the scheduled supply routes to obtain more discretely. So his birthday just sort of just creeps up, and he only realises it’s his birthday because Phasma sends him a message when he wakes for alpha shift. He messages her back to thank her and an invitation to join him for a drink whenever they next have time. He can hear her walking from the gym, thinking about how to deal with new troopers in sanitation. The message makes her happy.

He takes that happiness. Holds it close. In place of pills, he has to take whatever he can get.

He doesn’t think about it for the rest of alpha and beta shifts. There’s no time to spend on trivial things. Construction of Starkiller Base is at a critical point now as the foundations have been all drilled in, stabilised, and reinforced. It’s time to start actually constructing the millions of delicate structures as quickly as possible in lulls between almost constant storms. Hux indulges in a moment of fantasy, wondering what Rigger would think of this planet-sized engineering project. The thought of his horrified face when presented with the schematics makes something in Hux contract but not unpleasantly. It’s entirely fantasy, of course. If Rigger was still around, Hux would probably never have created Starkiller in the first place.

There’s occasional period where Hux himself is pulled away from Starkiller and the Finalizer to cavort around First Order functions. This is his least favourite part of being a general, even more than his infrequent audiences with Snoke, which are often alongside Ren when he is on Starkiller Base or the Finalizer. The functions and parties, however, are entirely Hux’s domain. Away from the Finalizer and Starkiller Base, he’s plunged back into the ever-familiar sea of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, running rampant and impossible to block out. He gets through these functions with pills and drink and pretending to check into his ship and projects but really just calling Phasma.

It’s at an end of the year gala that Hux, higher than a kite but not yet drunk enough for the situation to be remotely tolerable, encounters Faro. They’re stuffed into their best dress blacks, which immediately identify them from the civilian political creatures of the First Order. Blotches among the colourful crowd.

“Well, well,” she drawls, smiling her sharp-toothed grin. “General Hux. Still in one piece, I see.”

It’s a joke, her amusement winding lazily around overlapped memories of a slightly younger Hux constantly running off with Phasma into combat. Hux smiles, and it doesn’t feel like a grotesque mask on his face.

“It is a pleasure to see you, too, General,” he says as they clink their glasses as amicably as their type can ever be. “How is the old rust bucket faring?”

“The Minotaur fares well,” Faro drawls before lifting her free hand and wriggling her gloved fingers. “Even without all your meddling.”

Hux laughs. The night ends up being fun. Faro can drink like there’s no tomorrow, and Hux sort of just flies along as it wears into early morning. No one is sober, and Hux, using Faro’s remarkable mind as an anchor, learns far more than he ever hoped to about relationships, scandals, and fallacies of the uppermost echelon of the First Order. It doesn’t make him happy or even close to it. It’s disgusting, which is Faro’s sentiment, but Hux knows that the way his gut churns is all his own. Faro doesn’t care about anything so long as she has her ship. Her command. Her nest.

She rules the galaxy in her own way.

Hux is fascinated by this. In a lot of ways, Faro is the creature closest to his own being. She is not insane as he is, but her way of thinking, doing, being is different. She’s not popular, and many of the political class view her with suspicion. She doesn’t care so long as she keeps the Minotaur where she has served for fifteen years, much longer than anyone would think to tolerate any one assignment. It is the thing that she has claimed as her own, and she will fight to the death to keep it as rundown and decrepit as her nest is.

He should have done that with Rigger. With Nell. But Hux was too young. He didn’t understand, too wrapped up in the minutiae of life. He would do it with Phasma, but she would never forgive him for meddling in her life. Unlike Faro, Hux has a bad habit of claiming living, sentient beings as his. Hux is still young, the youngest amongst the military upper class by at least a decade and a half. But the void can only open so many times until he cannot come back.

He is going to die on Starkiller Base. One way or another. He will command it should it succeed, and he will go down with it should it fail. Hux leans back on the transport back to the Finalizer. Closes his eyes as they make the jump into the void of space.

Somewhere Rigger and his father’s bodies float. Dead and silent. He cannot reach them. He never will.

He doubts it will be silent for him even in death.

 

“General.”

The bridge ripples with shock. Ren was unusually quiet in his appearance. Hux is not surprised. He knows where everyone is at all times on the Finalizer and Starkiller Base. He does not bother looking up from the equation he is attempting to help his core engineers balance.

“General.”

Ren is behind him. Hux waves his free hand, crossing out the last two lines of his attempt with the other. It makes the text turn light grey but doesn’t delete it in case it turns out he was correct and he needs to retrieve it.

“Is it urgent,” Hux says because he knows it is not.

“I wish to speak with you,” Ren says, the voice scrambler hiding none of his irritation.

“I am busy,” Hux says because he is.

“It is urgent then.”

Hux looks up. Ren’s mind is quiet, his irritation at Hux all that shows. He’s hiding himself, Hux realises. He knows that Hux is listening, although it isn’t as if Hux can help it.

“Urgent,” Hux says, very low; he hears the way the bridge crew all tense, how the majority of them are mapping the time it will take them to get to the exits. “Very well.”

They walk out into the hall. Down it to the main conference room. The door slides shut behind them, and Hux activates restricted access to the two of them. Ren looms. The irritation has morphed into a low hum of frustration. Not yet anger. Hux curls his fists around the back of one of the chairs. The length of the conference table stands between them.

“What’s this about?”

Ren is silent for a long moment. The frustration coils. An old-fashioned stove.

“You need to be trained.”

Hux nearly breaks his nails in the steel of the chair. “Absolutely not.”

But Ren is already shaking his head. He steps forward until he is blocked by the back of the chair at the opposite side of the table.

“I have meditated long on the situation,” Ren says, sounding very reasonable but feeling anything but. “Snoke made no mention of your connection to the Force.”

“It is not –”

“It is,” Ren says, louder and the familiar anger rising off of him. “It is impossible for even the densest Force sensitive to miss. Your denial –”

Hux laughs. It’s impossible to stop it. He is, after all, insane. Ren draws himself up. As if his height could somehow intimidate Hux. It’s ludicrous.

“I will not have this conversation,” Hux says. “I have work –”

“You think you’re insane,” Ren says.

It’s like he’s been punched in the gut. Hux breaks the nails of his right middle and forefinger on the chair. He’s known for half of his life that he is insane. But to actually hear it out of someone else’s mouth: that is something else all together.

“You may be,” Ren says, and his diction is irregular, like he’s thinking very hard about every word. “But it is not the Force that made you so. You have lived your entire life without any guidance and only the brunt of the Force, which must be… agonising.”

The void. Hux is looking into it. He thinks, suddenly, of his father’s constant thought. The weak quake before the strong. Hux is not quaking. There is not even a tremor in his fingers, which are bleeding as he continues to apply pressure, his nails picking up from the beds. Ren shifts. He is not angry. More uncertain. Ren is often uncertain, but it is very rare that he shows it.

“You need training,” he says, the mask unreadable and his thoughts barred but his emotions laid bare. “I will speak to the Supreme Leader –”

“No,” Hux says, and he does not know his voice; it is so soft yet so loud. “You will not.”

Ren is silent. The air feels charged. A growing storm.

“You will drop this subject,” Hux says.

“No,” Ren says; his anger blooms, colouring his voice. “You are building your own coffin. You do not know –”

Something tears. A billion stars rendered in a single moment.

“Yes,” Hux says, and he is, in that moment, the ruler of the galaxy, the architect of this universe. “And it is what has been ordered. Starkiller will be completed, and I will hold its reins for when it’s use is called for.”

you are so full of the Dark Side that it is blinding

The thought is spoken in a reverent voice. It is undeniably Ren’s, the one that Hux is used to hearing without the voice modulator. Ren is speaking into Hux’s mind. And Hux –

It is stunning. Greater than anything I have seen before. That I could ever accomplish.

I am envious of you

There is nothing to say to that. There is nothing to even think or feel. Hux has torn off all of his nails on the back of the chair. Ren doesn’t move. But his feelings are plain. Discomfort. Envy. Frustration. But above it all:

Respect.

 

“What happened?”

Hux is in medical. His hands are submerged in bacta fluid to aid the regeneration of his nails. He is sitting at the station in his undershirt. An IV line with nutrients and a mild sedative runs from under his collarbone. At least there is no oxygen mask this time. Phasma sits down next to him, helmet off and her eyebrows drawn close together.

“You should be on shift,” Hux says.

“I just got off,” Phasma says, which means that Hux has lost track of time somehow. “And then I hear that there’s been another fight between you and the Lord Knight of Ren.”

It wasn’t a fight, though. It looks it, of course. Hux looks away from Phasma. Into the bacta station. His hands are numb, so his arms feel like he has oddly weightless stubs attached. A green trainee with a practice club.

“Did he do that?” Phasma asks, nodding to Hux’s hands and pointedly not looking at the IV line.

Hux nods. It isn’t a lie. It is Ren’s fault that his hands are like this. Phasma scowls. Crosses her arms over his chest. Her armour makes hollow noises with each motion.

“Was it as effective a torture technique as we’re taught?” she asks, their type of joking.

It would usually make Hux smile. But he is unmoored. Lost. One foot in the void. The other on the ship that is helping him build his grave.

“Captain,” Hux says, and he wonders absurdly if Ren is listening to this, too. “A hypothetical inquiry.”

Her eyebrows press together, but she nods. Hux looks back at his hands in the bacta. Watches his cuticles reknit.

His father wanted to be the architect of the universe.

“What would you do if you found out something you believed all your life is a lie?”

Phasma doesn’t respond immediately. She is shocked. Disquieted. Concerned. Rigger looked at him like that, the day he walked in Hux in uncontrollable tears.

Hux knows then that he’s made his favourite mistake. He will not survive losing her, too.

“What did he do to you?” Phasma asks, hushed and terribly afraid for him.

the last time I saw you like this, Rigger had just died

Hux stares at her. Yes, he thinks.

They sit in silence for a long time. It’s nowhere near silent. Phasma’s mind runs at hyperspeed. She never forgot how Hux reacted. How he knew. How he promised to rule the galaxy with no intention of making that rule last beyond a fleeting moment of power to control life and death. And she followed him here because she wanted to see it. Wanted to have a little bit of that power, too.

Lord Ren knows is Phasma’s conclusion.

Hux smiles as his nails begin to regrow.

 

Ren does not speak to Snoke.

Hux knows he doesn’t need to. Snoke likely knows. Ren knows this, too. Snoke is entirely aware of Hux’s motivations and what he wants out of Starkiller Base. Hux cares nothing for the First Order and far, far less for Snoke, but they are a means to his end. To build the weapon to avenge Rigger and in the same moment make it his coffin.

The only difference now is that Ren and Hux circle each other. They argue more often and more violently when they’re either together on the Finalizer or Starkiller Base. It’s about a plethora of topics, but the core remains the same.

You need guidance. You need a teacher

Hux does not. Hux does not care. He is a lunatic who is able to use the Force to read people’s mind, feel their emotions, and manipulate his will into them. If he siphons enough strong emotions off of others, he can even do some things like he’s seen Ren do with the Force. Shove people. Choke people. Throw them around a room. He knows because he’s done it to Ren when they become their most violent.

a creature so full of the Dark Side there never was room for the Light

“No wonder Snoke chose you,” Ren says one day as they’re both bleeding and heaving on the floor of a ruined mess. “No wonder he’s letting you build this place.”

it’s the only way to control you is what Ren is really thinking. Snoke is feeding off of your death wish

“And he’s feeding off your delusions,” Hux hisses before turning his head to spit a wad of blood and mucus on the floor. “Your petty need to please a dead, disgraced man and your guilty conscience.”

They’ve been set together by Snoke on purpose. While Ren hunts the elusive pieces of his map and Hux builds a weapon that will destroy entire systems, they watch each other. They try to undermine each other’s goals. Ren does not believe in a weapon or a force commanded by a suicidal maniac. Hux does not believe in the Dark Side that Ren embraces to blot out his guilt and uncertainties. Ren vents his anger on Hux’s domain. Hux swallows his pills and uses the shield of numbness to tear at Ren.

you can fight and die when you’re grown

“Who’s that?” Ren chokes as they grapple each other in a broken gymnasium. “Who is that woman you always think about when you’re this damn high?”

Hux smashes Ren’s jaw. They roll. Ren headbutts him in the right eye. They separate, gritting their teeth and crouching to protect their injuries.

“Stay out of my head.”

Stay out of mine!

Phasma visits Hux each time he ends up in medical. Ren goes off to lick his wounds in his quarters or away in space. It’s only in these moments where Hux and Phasma sit in what appears to be silence together that Hux regrets his path. That he’s trapped her on it, too.

“I want to see it,” Phasma says because Hux is projecting his thoughts; his control is poor due to the pain of his cracked ribs. “Starkiller in all its glory.”

you, as I met you, covered in blood

The warrior seeks the ultimate battle. Hux reaches out. Phasma takes his hand.

They are such ugly people, here at the beginning of the end.

 

An end:

Starkiller Base is completed when Hux is thirty.

There’s other things that happen. A lost droid. A traitor. An audience with Ren and Snoke.

Hux does not truly care. The weapon is primed and ready. He says a speech that he doesn’t believe a word of. It is all worth it, though, to see the green lights streak across the sky.

RIGGER

He opens a void in the fabric of the universe.

He rules the galaxy in that moment, the architect his father wanted to be.

There are tears on his face. He can feel it. Billions upon billions of lives meeting death. Burning up in a breath. Never to be again. Never to float in space. They are vaporised and swallowed in the void. The perfect silence of death.

Hux shuts his eyes.

It was all worth it in the end.

 

A beginning:

There is, of course, a story after this.

Hux isn’t dead.

Starkiller Base is collapsing.

Phasma is missing, and he cannot hear her. A void has not opened, though, so she must be alive. Somewhere.

He’s been ordered to retrieve Ren, who he can hear. He is screaming in pain and grief and terror in the bloody snow.

Hux is not in control of his body if he dies here.

So he won’t.

He thinks of Faro, crouched on her nest. He thinks of Phasma, somewhere but not dead. And he looks at Ren, sedated and silent, except in his head.

Hux accepts the pills the doctor hands him. Makes the man forget with a thought. He lifts the pills. Places them on his tongue. Swallows.

The Finalizer flies through hyperspace. Towards Snoke.

Towards death.

Hux’s instincts scream at him to run.

Instead, he sits down in the chair by Kylo Ren’s bedside. He folds his hands on his lap. Tilts his head back against the wall.

The void widens.

Around him, ever present, the galaxy screams.