Hux comes to in the med-bay and for a few, glorious moments; he doesn't remember what has transpired. When he does, he groans.
"Sir?" comes a voice, gruff with concern, from his left. He turns to find Phasma watching him, pale-faced and grim. She doesn't know, Hux recalls dimly. She is not aware of their plan, she thinks Eilis has been kidnapped for real.
And he must make her believe he does to.
He licks his lips, "Report," he barks, voice rough with disuse.
Phasma takes a deep, steadying breath, watching him carefully, "They have taken her, sir." She speaks with the kind of heavy finality that suggests she is fully expecting him to order her execution on the spot. She takes another breath before continuing, "Ren and a platoon of TIE-fighters are in pursuit but the outlook looks bleak."
Hux closes his eyes, lets the words sink in, trying not to imagine Eilis being shot out of the sky by some idiot with poor aim. Ren will not let that happen, he reminds himself. Ren will not let that happen.
When he opens his eyes again he gives a good show of looking furious, "And why are you not out there with them? Why is my best Captain here babysitting me when she should be out there finding my - "
"General," she cuts him off, teeth gritted. "I was ordered to stay behind by Lord Ren," she spits every word, as though they have each individually offended her. "If I had my way..." she mutters.
Hux sits up and then, moves to get out of the bed.
"Sir, no," Phasma pushes him back down with ease.
"Let me go," Hux snaps. "I have to - "
"Your leg is broken," Phasma says. "Badly. It will take a few hours to heal. You are to remain here until then."
"Is that an order?"
Phasma meets his gaze, "It is, General."
Hux glowers at her, he would not give up so easily if this were real so he pushes against her, continues to struggle, "Let. Me. Go," he repeats. "Before I have you court-martialed!"
Phasma is looking at him with such pity, such sorrow that he wants to blurt out their whole scheme. Phasma cares for Eilis just as much as he and Ren do but he can't. "Sir," she says, very slowly and very carefully. "You have been very seriously injured, they have more than a day's head start and I know that this is trying for you but you have never been the kind of man to let your emotions cloud your judgement. You are needed here, General."
Hux allows himself to go limp, allows himself to be pressed back on to the bed by her. "Bring me whomever is responsible for letting this happen," he spits.
Phasma nods, grim-faced and stands to go, "I am so sorry, Hux." She says, quietly before she goes.
The medbay is quiet when she leaves and Hux lies against the soft sheets and closes his eyes. He will have to compile a report for Supreme Leader Snoke, he realises. He will have to explain that once again the Resistance has bested him. Once again the Resistance has snuck in and sabotaged his operations. Snoke has not expressed an interest in Eilis yet but Hux knows he will be enraged by her disappearance.
Even if Snoke buys it, even if he believes that this is all just bad luck and sloppy guards and radar-monitors, Hux is at risk. This is his second grand failure in a year, there is a chance Snoke will simply snap his neck and be done with it.
Snoke is livid, though he hides it well.
Hux stands before him alone, half expecting to be struck down before he can finish saying his piece. He explains carefully their fabricated sequence of events, gives Snoke the names of the those who failed to pick up on the attack (he has had them imprisoned, in another life he would have had them shot but Eilis has changed him in ways he does not completely understand.)
Snoke believes him, or at least, he pretends to believe him. There is part of Hux of that cannot believe Snoke is ignorant to their scheming; it is incomprehensible that their Supreme Leader is not all knowing.
When Snoke dismisses him, Hux's knees are weak from standing for so long but he is alive. He goes back to his quarters and stands for a long time over Eilis' empty bed.
He might never see her again, he realises. He might not make it through this war.
He's trying not to picture her, alone in some Rebel base, alone and confused and frightened.
He wishes he had never taken her in.
He wishes he had allowed her to go straight to the trooper program.
Ren does not return for almost two weeks and when he does he looks about as rough as Hux feels. He marches onto the bridge one day, a trail of staggering Knights at his heels and comes to a halt before Hux, "I have failed," he says, slowly, carefully. "They got away."
Hux flicks the holo he is holding off. "Everybody out," he says quietly. He does not need to repeat himself, the room empties almost immediately. Hux keeps up the act anyway, you never can be too sure who's listening. "This is your fault," he spits.
Ren lets out a hollow laugh, "My fault? Who's idea was it to keep a child on a warship?"
"You do not get to speak to me in that manner," Hux growls. "Your failure is unacceptable."
Ren snorts, "My failure? Was it not your men who allowed the resistance to slip past them onto your ship?"
He rages at Ren and there is part of him that is being genuine, part of him that blames Ren for this. After all, if it had not been for Ren Hux would never have taken Eilis in, would never have grown attached. He should have known better.
Eventually, he ceases and Ren storms off the bridge to destroy a side room. Snoke has made it clear that Eilis is not their priority anymore; he has other forces working on that, something that introduces a growing feeling of dread to Hux's mind. He remembers in Ren's little snatches of memory, Snoke's voice in his head, whispering over and over and over and he wonders if Snoke is doing that to Eilis.
Hux and the Finalizer has been regulated to patrols and raids and the occasional combat. He has lost Snoke's favour, no longer the man behind Starkiller base, the man who destroyed the Hosnian system, now he's just the man who failed.
His father must be mortified.
Ren is waiting for him in his quarters when he returns that night and he wastes no time in crashing his lips to Hux's. Hux allows himself to be swallowed up in the feelings, bites at Ren's lips and digs his nails in. Draws blood. "I hate you," he growls, pushing Ren down onto the bed.
"Yes," Ren breathes.
Later, he lies sprawled across Ren's chest, boneless, sated, tired beyond belief. Ren's hands hold him steady and still.
"Is she safe?" he asks, against Ren's throat.
"If I wasn't, I wouldn't have come back," Ren says.
Hux is quiet for a moment and then, "So what happens now?"
Ren tilts his head up, "What would you like to happen?" he asks, sounding genuinely curious for once.
"I would like," Hux mutters. "To see Eilis again. That is why we did this, yes? So that she would be safe?"
Kylo cocks his head, "Will she ever be safe with us?" his tone is softer than Hux has ever heard it. Hux swats at him and sits up. Ren sighs, "The Resistance would like to know if we will help them bring Snoke down."
The heaviness of those words hang between them, the weight of them and for a moment, Hux cannot believe Ren is suggesting such a thing. Snoke's word is law, Snoke's word is what is was raised by, what he has always lived by. It has never occurred to him that taking him down may be a solution.
Hux's mouth is dry, "What did you say to them?"
Ren's expression is obscured by the dim light, "I didn't give them a firm answer."
"So you're considering it?"
Ren shifts, turns away from Hux. "She won't be safe - really safe - until he's gone. None of us will be."
"I didn't know you were so sentimental," Hux mutters. "Or that you feared Snoke so much."
"It would be stupid not to fear him," Ren counters and Hux knows that now, or maybe he's always known it and simply never acknowledged it.
He runs a hand through his hair, "Are we seriously considering this?"
Ren reaches out, rests a hand on Hux's thigh, "You don't have to agree to this." His tone is annoyingly soft, like Hux is delicate. Hux bristles.
"Do they have a plan?" he asks, in barely more than a whisper.
He misses Eilis in the quiet moments. The nights he spends working at his desk, the early mornings before breakfasts. He finds himself waking in the night, expecting to hear her crying out, whining and whimpering. There are times when he stands on the bridge and looks up expecting to see Phasma walking her around the corner.
Now he uses those quiet moments to consider his current course of action. He is working with the Resistance. He is a traitor. He is throwing away his entire life, his career, his beliefs for a child he has known for a handful of months. A child that will most likely be raised by rebels, will grow to hate him when she is older because of that.
He is throwing his life away, the only chance the galaxy has at peace and prosperity under the First Order for some orphan.
And even he succeeds, even if they succeed, he will still likely never see her again.
Yet he is still intent on following through.
(In his weaker moments Ren's voice echoes through his thoughts, telling him Eilis is more powerful with the Force than anyone he has ever met and Hux wonders. Was Eilis sent to him for this express purpose? If so by whom? He has studied General Organa's tactics in detail and he knows she is ruthless. Not as ruthless as Snoke but ruthless.
"Stop," Ren says, trailing a hand down Hux's spine. "Stop thinking like that."
"Stop listening to my thoughts," Hux mutters back.
"Stop thinking so loudly," Ren counters. "If I can hear you, Snoke can."
"Don't," Hux snaps, but he is too tired to push Ren away from him.
"Are you certain you can do this?" Ren asks softly.
Hux rolls away from him.
Afterwards, everything takes on a sort of dreamlike quality.
He stands over Snoke's body, blaster raised. Ren is writhing on the floor.
Hux still can't quite believe it.
There is blood but Hux is not sure whom it belongs to. There are alarms wailing. Across the room, the girl from Jakku, the girl who took Eilis is yelling something. He has to concentrate very hard to understand what she is saying, "We have to go! The base is going to explode!"
Hux takes a few steps forwards.
There are others in the room now, others rushing forwards, some grab Ren, hauling him up and hefting him bodily out and Hux wants to tell them to stop but his mouth won't obey.
Then the girl is in front of him, gripping him tightly by the wrist and dragging him along with her as they run.
("We should have just run," Ren tells him in the medbay, later. "We should have taken her and run."
"He would have found us," Hux says. They have had this argument before, this conversation, over and over again incessantly.
"I can't believe you killed him," Ren mumbles. "I can't believe he's gone."
Neither can I, Hux thinks.)
They are separated when they reach the Resistance's base of operations and in the cell that the girl from Jakku leads him to, he begins to feel more like himself again.
It has taken them almost a year to get to this point.
Their deal was simple: he and Ren were to provide the Resistance the location of Snoke's base, find them a way in, help them take Snoke down if necessary. Once they did that he and Ren would be free to leave with Eilis. He is still not certain at which point he began thinking in terms of he and Ren but he supposes there is always safety in numbers.
He feels oddly free now that Snoke is gone, oddly light. It is strange to think of this shadow that has loomed across his entire existence suddenly being gone. Snoke has always hung over his head, has always hung over the heads of the entire First Order, whether they realised it or not as an implicit threat.
Perhaps in another life his life would have followed this path without the help of Eilis and the Resistance. Perhaps he would have ended Snoke anyway, taken up the mantle of Supreme Leader with Ren and Phasma at his side. It would have been glorious, he could have brought peace and order to the galaxy, ruled it as he always felt he was meant to.
But those are merely dreams now.
He has made his deal.
He will leave with Eilis and Ren and, if he can sway them, Phasma too. And he will sway them.
He looks up as the door opens and the girl from Jakku walks in. Hux is not surprised, General Organa is probably with her wayward son but he still feels insulted that he apparently does not merit an audience from her.
The girl - Rey, he reminds himself - still has a gash on her cheek from the final fight, still has her lightsaber at her belt. She sits down in front of him slowly.
"I must say," Hux drawls. "This is certainly not the way we treat war heroes in the Order."
Rey does not humour him, "Killing Snoke doesn't make you a war hero."
"I ended the war," Hux points out. "On your terms, for your side and at considerable risk to my own personal safety."
"You always destroyed the Hosnian system and countless lives before and after that," the girl growls.
Hux does not feel guilty for that. For any of his prior actions. At the time, he felt he was doing the right thing. At the time, it was the right thing. His deal includes being pardoned for his crimes, pardoned by way of being publically declared dead which he feels is a far trade off.
"And how many died on Starkiller?" he asks her. "How many stormtroopers like your friend?"
Rey closes her eyes briefly, when she opens them they are carefully blank. "Look, if it were up to me you and Ren would pay for your crimes. You would stand trial and you'd both be executed and you certainly wouldn't be allowed to take Eilis anywhere."
"Good thing it's not up to you, then," Hux says, then adds, "How is she?"
"Fine." Rey snaps.
There's a long silence then and Hux only barely resists the urge to goad Rey in to more arguments. As it stands though, he would rather just get out of here. "Well," he sniffs, eventually. "If that's all..."
Rey sets her jaw, looks away from him, "Do you know where she's from?" she asks. "Eilis, I mean."
Hux does not. Ren cannot or will not tell him and honestly, Hux has stopped wondering. Of course, he does not want to appear ignorant in front of Rey so he remains silent.
Rey continues anyway, "I'm assuming you don't so I'm going to tell you." She takes a deep breath and looks up, holding his gaze steadily. "There's a small mining planet near the outer rims," she begins.
There are, of course, lots of small mining planets out there but Hux does not bother pointing this out.
"Nothing special," Rey continues. "Mines ores and metals. Quiet little place, small population, inhospitable, you know the kind, I'm sure. Anyway, about a year ago there was a raid by the First Order on one of the larger settlements."
Oh, Hux thinks.
"Not sure what they were looking for or whether they were punishing someone for something or maybe if they just got bored. Either way, they razed the town to the ground. Left no survivors except one."
Hux wants to look away but he doesn't.
"Eilis' parents always told her to hide if there was trouble. That someone would come and find her if it was safe again so she ran and hid somewhere that turned out to be a stormtrooper shuttle. Took her up to the ship that ordered her parents slaughter and her homes destruction but I guess you know it from there."
"Does she remember all of that?" Hux asks, quietly.
Rey shakes her head, "Not knowingly."
Her nightmares, Hux thinks and he does not know how to feel. He was simply doing his duty. He does not regret it but there is something -
"Why did you tell me that?" he snaps.
"Because you needed to know," Rey says. "Because I don't understand how you think you're somehow absolved of all your crimes just because of her."
"And you don't think I can take care of her?"
Rey shakes her head again, "You have taken care of her," she says. "You have done a lot of good for her sake."
He has destroyed his entire way of life, remade his belief system for her. The psychology classes he took in his youth at the academy tell him that these are normal, rational thoughts and feelings for parents, that parents will do almost anything for their children (of course, all his teachers were careful to point out that this was a weakness to be exploited and that above all, the good of the Order should come first.) Somehow though, Hux cannot imagine his father doing anything like this for him.
"So let me see her," Hux says.
Rey doesn't move.
"We had a deal," Hux reminds her.
Finally, Rey stands, "Come on then," she says.
Eilis is on her knees, crouched over something Hux can't see in the grass. An old, grey-haired, bearded man is beside her, talking to her softly.
"There she is," Rey says glumly.
There's a moment before Hux calls out, before Eilis has noticed them that he realises Eilis might not want to come back with him. She attached herself to him quickly before, choosing him as her Papa within a few short minutes, who's to say she won't do it again? And if she doesn't want to come with him is he supposed to take her anyway?
Could he bring himself to?
He is so caught up in his musing that he almost doesn't notice that the grey-haired man is staring at him. The man gets up slowly, leaving Eilis to whatever it is Eilis is doing and approaches him cautiously, "You must be General Hux," the man says.
"And you are?"
"Luke Skywalker," the man says. He looks Hux up and down. "Eilis is a special little girl," he says.
"Don't try and talk me in to leaving her," Hux says, pre-emptively.
Luke spreads his hands, "I already know there's no point in arguing. You want to take her and she'll want to go."
Hux frowns, "She will?"
Luke quirks an eyebrow at that, "You doubted it?"
Hux is slowly realising how very much he doubted it.
"She hasn't stopped speaking about her Papa since she got here," Luke says. He smiles fondly, "At first she wouldn't let us near her, she kept telling us that her Papa would come for her and kill us all. Didn't matter what we told her."
Hux is smiling without really knowing why. He is going to respond, going to say something but Eilis is turning and Eilis is standing up and Eilis is looking at him.
Hux tries to picture her as he first saw her in that moment: ratty hair, dirt and sand and engine grease all over her, torn clothes, smaller, scrawnier. He tries to imagine her fleeing stormtroopers, her parent's voices ringing in her ears, clambering into a shuttle because it was dark and quiet. Scrambling out on the Finalizer, she must have been terrified.
If he hadn't ordered that raid what then? She would have grown up with a mother and father, the Order and the Resistance would likely still be at war. Snoke would have found her eventually.
He runs a hand through his hair. It's rumpled, beginning to get long. Before Eilis he would never have allowed to get in to such a state.
Eilis' little face cracks wide in a grin and she is running towards him. He bends to catch her and holds her tight as he can without hurting her, "Papa," she's saying. "Papa, Papa, Papa." And Hux finds himself mumbling things back, things like, I've got you, and I'm sorry and I'll never leave you again.
And as he holds his little surrogate daughter, surrounded by Resistance soldiers, he realises that he is not a good man. He is not a good man and he has never - will never - be one. He has done good things and he has done bad things and lately, everything he has done has been for the little person in his arms.
He lets her go, eventually and reluctantly, she clambers down and takes his hand. "Come on," he says to her. "Let's go and find Ren."
"Daddy?" she asks him.
It takes Hux a few moments to catch on. "Certainly not," he tells her.