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let loose your longing

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The first time, Kylo pushes into Hux's mind with the same intensity and recklessness that Hux thrusts into him. He doesn't know what he's searching for—answers, perhaps, to questions he cannot speak. Hux's thoughts are loud but coherent: get out of here, I hate you, I hope you hate this. I hope it hurts. Like a child lashing out. He is pleased to learn that Hux is full of rage, too, only better at hiding it, letting it simmer just below the surface.

Kylo twists his fingers in the sheets. Growls into Hux’s head, you couldn't hurt me if you tried, if you wanted to. In response, Hux digs his nails in, quickens his pace. Presses a bruise just beneath Kylo's ribcage. The pain that blooms is a blade and a salve; Kylo savors it. Lets it flow through him.

"I expected you to be better at this," Kylo says, all teeth. Hux scoffs, but his thoughts scatter, the specter looming in the shadows easing to the forefront of his mind. Inadequate. Kylo can sense that it is an old fear, one that has never really left Hux. But, then, he has known this since he first met Hux, this young general with a man's responsibility and a boy's face. Kylo pushes deeper as Hux's hipbones rock against him.

Not hard enough.

Fuck you.

Hux is beginning to pant when Kylo is finally able to tease the thought out of Hux's brain, from a tangle of memories of school and training and home. A single word, too familiar to Kylo: father.

Not very original, Kylo taunts, and then his face is against the sheets, held there, and Hux is driving into him again, finally hard enough that it hurts.

"Don't," Hux says. "Don't."

Kylo's back is bending and he is moaning, muffled, and he sends not good enough never good enough why do you even try I'm embarrassed for you like a storm into Hux's head. The rage again, Hux's nails again, breath unsteady and ragged and gasping. Hux doesn't let up. Tries to prove himself.

Do better, Kylo repeats, or is trying to, when he slips out of Hux's mind and back into his own body. Like grasping at air, trying to get back in, as he loses himself, comes on the sheets and his own stomach. He wants to shrink away from Hux and crumple into himself, but it takes a few more moments for Hux to follow him, drawing sharp breaths through gritted teeth. Then Hux is coming too, his grip loosening.

Kylo, finally collapsing, allows himself to wonder what Hux is thinking of. If he were better, stronger, he might be able to claw back in, glimpse Hux's thoughts in the moment. But his energy is gone, and he is spent, and Hux is slumped on the bed next to him, skin flushed red. Kylo hates him for making him so weak. Leaving him this way, so defenseless. He cannot even move his legs.

"Awfully silent, Ren. Poor manners." Hux's voice is still shredded, raw—he had not moaned or keened the way Kylo did, shamefully, but Kylo had heard his every gasp, every breath, every sigh. And, thinking now, it had almost been good, feeling Hux unravel inside him.

Too sentimental. Kylo banishes the thought and is thankful that Hux cannot see his thinking. He collects himself, coaxes his muscles into moving and rolls off the bed, onto his feet. Implores his legs not to sway when he stands. Hux watches, his eyes sharp and trained on Kylo.

"Clean up this mess," Kylo says, at the doorway of the refresher. "If you're not gone when I come out, it won't end well for you."

Kylo resists the urge to choke Hux when Hux rolls his eyes, instead letting the door slide closed. He sets the heat in the shower as high as it will go and lets the room fill with steam.

He breathes, slow, sure. Over the spray, he can hear Hux shuffling about in the bedroom. As the water pours over his shoulders, he summons his little strength—slowly coming back now as his muscles loosen again—and wanders into Hux's mind, more gently this time.

Hux doesn't resist. That makes it easier. He can feel Hux's exhaustion, and his thoughts are more ordered now: Where is my left glove. Must speak to Phasma about restructuring troop training. My wrist is sore. And, strangely, somewhere beneath, an image, constant: Kylo's own back, arched slightly, spine knobbed and skin spotted, and Hux's fingers spread over Kylo's ribcage, at once protective and possessive, the purple of a bruise beneath the tip of his smallest finger.

It is too intimate, to see himself this way, as Hux has seen him. And so he flees from Hux's mind, unable to process the image, the way Hux is thinking of him, and wishes the water were warmer. Kylo closes his eyes and imagines plunging his fist into the wall, or the side of Hux's face, and feels Hux leave the bedroom.

That night, Kylo does not dream of Hux, exactly, if only because he does not really sleep, but he is haunted by the particular bonyness of Hux’s hands, and how his mind had been calm and clear even in the throes of anger. Kylo had wanted to stay inside, to keep searching, finding Hux’s insecurities like weak points in the hull of a ship. That familiar inadequacy hiding deep beneath veneers of cool detachment. The fear of a legacy decided by an absent father.

To dig into a man’s mind is to know him. It is a thing too close to attachment for Kylo. As he eases himself into meditation, fresh sheets on the bed—hospital corners, Kylo thinks, then corrects himself: military corners—he vows not to search deeper into Hux’s brain. The man is weak; anything Kylo needs to know will be presented readily there in the forefront of his thoughts.

Kylo thinks on the Force, and the dark, and Hux’s breath on the back of his neck.

 *

From then, it becomes routine. They do not speak of it, this thing which passes between them more nights than not, now. On the bridge, they keep up appearances of hating one another—though, Kylo supposes, it is not really keeping up appearances; it merely is. During the day, he clears his mind, tries to master this gift given to him. His power is great, this is undeniable, but it requires refinement, practice, patience: gifts which Kylo does not yet possess.

Hux reminds him of this daily, constantly tormenting him, questioning his abilities. “How many of my control panels have you destroyed this week, Ren?” Hux asks one morning, words dripping with disdain. Kylo thinks again of choking him, how simple it would be, and how satisfying, too, to watch Hux struggle for breath, his face go red and gasping.

But, then, there are other, more effective ways to achieve the same image. 

Kylo thinks of an evening he had pinned Hux to the wall, his body pale and bare, limbs splayed, inviting, and brought Hux off with his hand. Hux had begged to come—certainly the only time Kylo has heard the general whimper—and Kylo had refused it for ages, teasing, tormenting. It had been a treat to watch Hux squirm, held there against the wall by invisible bonds. How helplessly Hux had flexed his fingers, bit his bottom lip raw, gasped at Kylo’s every touch. Kylo had made Hux call him Lord Ren, made him say please Lord Ren let me come please, and only then had Kylo slicked his palm with spit and finished Hux. Hux had moaned then, finally, like some Coruscanti whore, and of course this is what Kylo plants in Hux’s mind: that moan, wanton and wasted, echoing.

Hux is preparing his next insult when Kylo drops the sound in Hux’s head. Kylo smirks beneath his mask, and, as expected, Hux’s face goes red, his words scrambled and wrong.

“Your command, General?” Kylo says, pleased with himself.

Hux sputters. “If it weren’t—if not for Snoke’s—misguided affections for you, I would have you executed.”

“For once, we’re in agreement,” Kylo says. Slips in the memory of Hux begging to come, for good measure. Hux’s fists clench; he wheels around and his lips are a thin line. He gapes at Kylo, fishlike, expectant. “Yes?”

“Your—intrusions—accomplish nothing,” Hux snaps. But the heat in his mind suggests otherwise. Beneath the anger, there’s desire, and Kylo tugs at that thought like a loose thread. Feels Hux unspool.

Kylo had thought the feeling was want, but he sees now that it is need: for a quick, hard fuck, for the mental clarity that comes after. Perhaps you ought to take up meditation, Kylo taunts, it results in fewer unsightly bruises.

A twitch of Hux’s upper lip. Jaw clenching. Kylo has stung.

“Leave me to work,” Hux says, sharp. Still, there’s a barely-detectable note of defeat in his voice. “I must prepare for our audience with Snoke.”

“You’re anxious,” Kylo says. It isn't a question.

Can’t focus is the refrain in Hux’s head. An audience with Snoke alone, Snoke roaring about his father, his commitment to the Empire, and rage and inadequacy and a desperation for approval pulsing in him. The memory plays like a holo in Hux’s mind, offered up to Kylo’s hands as if it were a gift. No digging required.

“You are Snoke’s apprentice,” Hux says, swiping through tactical maps on his datapad. “I am—ultimately expendable. I cannot disappoint him.”

“You would do well to remember that,” Kylo says. The red feeling of embarrassment in Hux’s head.

Yes, Lord Ren, I will.

Come to my quarters when you’re ready.

Yes, Lord Ren.

Hux stares down at the screen as Kylo stalks away. Even after leaving his mind, Kylo feels Hux’s need radiating. Kylo returns to his rooms. Removes his mask. Waits.

He senses Hux in the corridor and opens the doors. Hux looks to be sweating, hungry, ready to devour or be devoured. As soon as the doors click closed behind him, Hux tugs at his gloves.

Gloves stay on.

Hux huffs. Meets Kylo’s eyes. A fleeting thought of softness. Kylo has long despised this about himself: his strange, boyish face, unthreatening, betraying his past. Hence the mask. Hence the lack of mirrors in his rooms. It's easier to try to forget the uneven set of his jaw, crooked nose (broken, once, while sparring), dark eyes.

“What do you need?” Kylo says. In Hux’s mind, the response is as clear as if it were a readout on a monitor: you.

“Why do you ask questions to which you already know the answers?” Hux says. Gloved fingers twitch at the neck of the uniform.

I like to watch you squirm.

Hux draws his tongue over his lips. A nervous habit—Kylo has learned this about him. Not by prying into his brain, but through observation. So too is the clench and unclench of his hands into fists, and the rapid flutter of his eyelids.

Tell me what you want. Out loud.

A hundred images, memories, flash through Hux’s mind in an instant: Kylo’s fist around his cock. The sound of Kylo’s moans muffled in the sheets. Pressure on his throat—once, Kylo’s hands; another time, the Force. His own palms wet with Kylo’s come. That recurring image of the slope of Kylo’s back, the bones and the bruise.

Finally, an answer. “Your mouth,” Hux says, and Kylo sees his face in Hux’s thoughts. His lips fucked red, sweat sticking his hair to his forehead. “Lord Ren on his knees.”

Kylo can provide this. It is a small favor, to let Hux believe he is the one in control.

Your belt.

Hux fumbles with the buckle for a moment, his fingers clumsy in the thick gloves. It clatters to the floor by his feet, and he nudges it away with the toe of his boot. Then Hux is yanking at the button of his trousers, unzipping, shoving down the jodhpurs and the briefs beneath them. He’s already hard. Unsurprising. Hux is weak in this manner. Kylo approaches slowly, Hux’s thoughts a shout of please please please on repeat. For a moment, he meets Hux’s eyes, and then he sinks to his knees on the hard floor. Glances up at Hux. Wets his lips. Considers the task at hand.

In Hux’s eyes and his head, there is hunger. Kylo cannot help but want to sate him. It will look better for the both of them if Hux is at the top of his abilities for the audience with Snoke.

“Just your mouth,” Hux says suddenly. “Hands behind your back.”

Kylo grips his wrist in his palm. Hux is staring down at him, expectant. “Acceptable, General?”

“Get on with it.”

He buries himself deep in Hux’s thoughts (insufferable child, Hux is thinking) and trails his tongue up the length of Hux’s cock, unbearably slow. Hux exhales from low in his stomach as Kylo licks again, shorter this time, quicker. Kylo glimpses Hux closing his eyes, pushing back the loose lock of hair which has fallen on his forehead. “More,” Hux demands.

The few times Hux has done this to him, it has been mechanical, efficient. Fast swipes of the tongue in exactly the right places, a drag of his teeth, lips the perfect pressure. Silent and scientific. Enjoyable enough, Kylo supposes—he did come, after all—but lacking something.

For Kylo, though, there is a power in being on his knees. Even with his hands behind his back. When he closes his lips around Hux’s cock, Hux sighs, and Hux is thinking of nothing but the need which burns in him. Kylo, still licking and teasing, sees that Hux had expected—perhaps wanted, even—to be fucked, bent over a desk or the bed or the counter in the bathroom and made to beg. I asked you what you wanted, Kylo breathes into Hux’s mind. You could have had whatever you wanted. Lets the thoughts tickle the inside of Hux’s brain as gently as Kylo’s tongue plays at the tip of Hux’s cock.

I want this, you insolent boy.

Tell me why. A gloved hand landing at the crook of Kylo’s neck now. Why do you want this.

Because—

Out loud.

Hux groans. Insistent fingers pressing at Kylo’s nape. Kylo takes all of Hux into his mouth just as Hux begins to speak.

“You, lowering yourself for me,” Hux says, words punctuated by gasps for breath. “Always enthusiastic. Look at me.”

Kylo looks. That pleases Hux—yes your eyes yes—and Kylo senses him relaxing, his anxieties about the meeting dissipating with each practiced pull of Kylo’s lips. Soon Hux’s hips are slowly bucking and Hux’s palm is buried in Kylo’s hair, pushing Kylo’s head down hard as Hux fucks Kylo’s mouth.

At one time, Kylo might have found this degrading. Playing at submission, letting Hux come on his lips and face. Nothing pretty about it, nothing gratifying, really, except feeling Hux break even as he convinces himself that he’s the one in control. In truth, this is comparable to what Hux does at his desk all day: strategy. Tactics. Diplomacy, almost, if either of them believed in such a thing. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. A few minutes spent on his knees, Hux’s cock in his mouth, for an audience where the Supreme Leader will praise both of them. Call Hux ruthless and strong. Talk about Kylo’s unmatched power. A fair trade, Kylo figures. A transaction.

The leather of Hux’s gloves against Kylo’s scalp makes for a strange, but not unpleasant sensation. Kylo feels Hux catalog the image mentally, black fingers twisted in curls of black hair. A vague feeling of ownership flits through Hux’s mind. Kylo decides to let him believe it for a while.

What pleases Kylo most about this—using his mouth—is that he gets to stay in Hux’s head. He feels nothing other than some distant sense of accomplishment for making Hux whimper. It's not like being fucked, where his attention is split between his own arousal and Hux’s mind. Kylo is ashamed of his weakness—he cannot yet control both the Force and the responses of his own body. He is not strong enough, yet. But with this, Kylo can nestle inside the nooks and crannies of Hux’s thoughts which present themselves in time. Can settle in, watch the holo in Hux’s head unfold before him.

This is how Kylo learns that, when he comes, Hux thinks of supernovas. Fitting, Kylo supposes, for a man obsessed with grand feats of destruction. Hux holds Kylo’s head down, forehead against the tunic of Hux’s uniform, and Kylo does not allow himself to choke, only to swallow diligently and to watch Hux's thoughts burst into nothing. The image Hux conjures is old, one he has kept in his mind for many years: a star, white-hot, exploding in flares of pink and gold and colors Kylo cannot name. Hux must have first seen it in some class back at the Academy.

Adorable, Kylo sneers into Hux’s thoughts. But Hux is too preoccupied to acknowledge Kylo’s taunt, thrusting almost gently into Kylo’s mouth as his body goes slack, his left thumb circling a particular curl at the crown of Kylo’s head. Kylo has never really liked that about himself, either—the curls suggest softness where there should be edges.

“Look at me,” Hux says again, and his voice is barely there. Kylo leans back, the last of Hux’s come settling on his lips as he does. The hand in Kylo’s hair eases down the side of Kylo’s face, fingertips grazing Kylo’s earlobe, coming to a stop beneath his chin. Hux tilts Kylo’s head upward slightly. Takes in Kylo’s face. “Such a mess,” Hux says. Kylo feels him memorizing this, too: Lord Ren’s well-fucked mouth, tousled hair, tongue eager to lick away what little come is left.

Carefully, teasing, Hux passes a thumb over Kylo’s slightly-parted lips. The tip of Kylo’s tongue brushes against the leather, and that alone is intoxicating. Not to mention the scent of the glove, and the strange softness of it pressing against his bruised bottom lip. Hux catches the come at the corners of Kylo’s mouth, like wiping a child’s dirty face.

Kylo cannot help himself. In this, too, he is weak. I want, he begs, too embarrassed to speak it aloud. That he could want something. This.

But Hux indulges him. The smallest nod, and Kylo closes his lips around Hux’s thumb. He savors this, even as Hux is thinking so very greedy and stroking under his chin as if he were a housepet. The salt taste of Hux’s come; the musk of the aged leather. Hux draws his thumb out of Kylo’s mouth slowly and Kylo feels his lower lip tremble. He wants to keep this taste in his mouth forever.

“Swallow,” Hux says. Kylo obeys. Feels the easy pressure of Hux’s fingertips against the workings of his throat.

The chaos of Hux’s head is cleared, everything neatly filed. Kylo remains on his knees as Hux gets his uniform back into place, yanking up trousers and briefs in one swift motion. His fingers are quick now, even in the gloves, fastening the belt back on. “Get up,” Hux says. “Mustn’t be late.”

Kylo scrambles to his feet, clumsy, still licking at his lips and hoping to taste again. Hux shakes his head, almost laughs. “You are pathetic,” he says.

“You wanted this,” Kylo says. “Me.”

And then Hux laughs in earnest, and before Kylo can stop himself—not that he would if he could—he is pressing at Hux’s throat with the Force, hard as he can.

“I wanted,” Hux starts, words coming slow, pained, “to be able to—think for this audience. Nothing more.”

Hux is gasping, his face turning shades of red. Kylo hates him, but, moreover, he hates himself. How stupid. Stupid boy. (Kylo cannot tell if Hux thinks that or if he himself does. He supposes, distantly, that the distinction does not matter.) A stronger man would kill Hux now—would not even have Hux in this position because Hux ought to be afraid of him. But even as Hux is struggling for breath, there’s a smirk at his lips. Kylo releases him. Retreats into his own mind.

He does not know what he meant to accomplish by choking Hux. Shutting him up, mostly. As they walk the corridors to Snoke's throne room, they are silent, and Kylo cannot even bring himself to sneak back into Hux's mind. There's nothing inside but strategies and maps—the inadequacy and the supernovas too, yes, but those are locked away now, and Kylo has promised himself he will only take what is willingly offered. What is left lying about.

The audience goes well. Snoke praises them, particularly Hux’s plans for a planet-turned-superweapon. The thing saps energy from a star until it explodes, firing a concentrated beam capable of unparalleled destruction. Impressive, Kylo admits.

He cannot keep from connecting Hux’s planet—Starkiller, he calls it, a flair for the dramatic—to the supernovas in Hux’s head. How to make such an explosion (a collapse, really) a star must die.

Too poetic. Pathetic. Hux is right.

That night, when Kylo jerks himself off beneath his sheets, he uses his bare, rough hands, and does not think of Hux’s soft gloves under his chin, or the press of Hux’s thumb against his lip, or the repetitive motion of Hux slowly stroking his hair. He holds off as long as he can bear, until it aches in the pit of his stomach, and finally he comes, shaking, spilling Hux Hux Hux out into space like particles of dust and gas and color, his name forming nebulae in the cold dark nothing.

 *

They begin to build the weapon. The planet is frozen, but it’s theirs. The Order’s. Kylo trains and trains, meditating for hours under Snoke’s watchful eye, away from Hux. Hux is occupied with destroying the Resistance. Regardless, they manage to find each other at night, a strange kind of comfort in one another's hateful hands.

Weeks pass. Finally, one clear afternoon, Kylo watches from the bridge as a bright red beam cuts through space. Starkiller. Hux’s masterwork. It’s only a test, using an already-dying star to fire at some uninhabited, forgotten planet, but still. Some part of Kylo thrills at the destruction, this horrible thing which he and Hux have created. Hux, mostly, but Kylo too. One night, when they were both too spent to move, Hux had laid next to Kylo (a distance between them, always) and divulged his plans for the base, unnamed then.

“I don’t know how to power it,” Hux had said. “A weapon of that size—certainly the engineers could work something up, but—”

“A star,” Kylo had suggested. A joke, at first, but then, thinking: “Convert its energy somehow, maybe.” He had been good at physics, once, in another life.

Hux had sat straight up, as if struck, and swung his legs over the edge of the bed, collecting the pieces of his uniform strewn across the floor. “You may have something there, Ren,” he’d said, and then he was buckling his belt again, and then he was gone. Kylo had felt bereft and angry and confused, and so he had sparred with a droid until he destroyed it, circuits sparking and popping inside deep red wounds.

Starkiller. Kylo had figured that out.

Through the viewports, Kylo watches the planet turn itself inside out, disintegrating. They’re hovering in empty space out of Starkiller’s orbit, a safety precaution, and Hux is there on the bridge, too, just out of reach, directing the firing of the weapon. It’s beautiful, seeing him work like this—orchestrating destruction with a master’s touch. Kylo realizes, then, that he wishes Hux would turn to him, nod, acknowledge his presence or contribution. That he wishes Hux would notice him at all. The thought is small and sudden but it beats Kylo senseless, growing and growing.

Hux requests entry to Kylo’s rooms that night. Kylo is in bed, feeling sick, when he senses Hux outside. He ignores the request from the entryway and muddles into Hux’s head. Hux resists, but Kylo is stronger now, all that training paying off. Whatever walls Hux has set up are easily passable.

Kylo is slightly taken aback by the ferocity with which Hux thinks let me in let me in. He does not stop, even when Kylo begins to pick him apart from the inside. Some part of Hux is joyful. Starkiller was successful, so Hux is swollen with pride. Kylo wants to hate him for it. You ought to thank me, he wants to say. They’ll move to the next star soon, prepare their next plan of attack against the Resistance. Kylo sees now how Hux feels—insatiable, drunk, hungry. Stronger than his father.

Hux gives up the information easily. His father, Kylo sees, had been a commandant at some Imperial Academy, until he’d fled and helped to form the First Order. He and Snoke had helped to build this, but then he’d gone soft, settled down, had a child. Named—

Don’t, Hux pleads, trying to keep Kylo out, and Kylo can hear him banging on the doors with his fist, the joy slipping from him. Let me in please Ren. Lord Ren.

Brendol. Like his father. A flash of hatred in Hux’s head.

Sore subject?

Let me in.

What do you want, Brendol?

The pounding at the doors again. Anger and hunger and hate. Kylo punches a button to have them open, and Hux stomps in, greatcoat a flurry around him. “Fuck you,” Hux spits, soon as the doors slide closed again. “I wanted to celebrate.”

It’s then that Kylo realizes Hux has a bottle of Corellian wine in his hand. He sits up. “That’s cheap shit,” he says.

Hux rolls his eyes, keeps a safe distance from the bed. “Have you got something better?”

Kylo is initially suspicious. It’s not like Hux to want to celebrate anything, certainly not with Kylo. But there’s no trace of an ulterior motive in Hux’s head, so Kylo rolls out of bed and stands. “No,” he says, a little ashamed to be caught like this, barefoot, wearing only loose black pants and a soft shirt that remind him of some other time.

“Glasses, then?” Hux says, stepping further in. “Or did you destroy those, too?” He’s removing a corkscrew from an inner pocket of his coat, setting the wine on the desk.

“Don’t treat me like a child,” Kylo says, aware of just how childish he sounds in saying it. He vaguely remembers flinging the glasses against the wall in a fit of rage, weeks ago now, watching them shatter.

Hux pops the cork free. “Don’t act like one.” A pause. “I suppose we’ll be drinking straight from the bottle. May I sit?”

There’s only one chair in Kylo’s quarters, at the desk he never uses. “Um,” Kylo says. Hux is thinking that this is all quite a waste of time, and that perhaps he should just take his wine and go.

Don’t leave.

Fuck. Kylo means to keep it to himself, but this business of minds is tricky, and from the way Hux’s eyebrow arches, he knows Hux has heard it. The corner of Hux’s mouth quirks up. He grabs the open bottle by its neck and approaches Kylo’s bed without hesitation, sitting himself at its end, while Kylo watches, helplessly splaying his fingers across his thighs.

This shouldn’t make him so uneasy. Hux has been here, in his bed, a hundred times, it seems like. They’ve only ever been in Kylo’s quarters. But this—Kylo doesn’t know what to call it—offering is strange. When Hux extends the bottle to him, though, Kylo takes it, sinks down on the bed next to Hux, drinks greedily. The taste is familiar, bitter—something he once skimmed from his father’s liquor cabinet, in those unspoken years before he was Kylo. He screws up his face against the taste, passing the bottle back to Hux.

Hux laughs a little, takes a drink, swallows without hesitation. “How can you drink that?” Kylo says. Wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Practice,” Hux says, laughing again. “Desperation. I prefer brandy, but it’s better than nothing.”

“Not really,” Kylo says. He still takes the wine from Hux when it’s offered, hyper-aware that Hux’s lips have just been around the mouth of the bottle. It stings less this time, warming rather than cutting him. Better. Hux thinks so loudly.

“You’re in my head again,” Hux says, as he’s reaching for the bottle.

Kylo hadn’t even realized it. “Sorry,” he says, maybe the first time he’s ever apologized for anything. “Habit.”

Hux’s thoughts are calm. That stray thread about his father, some buried hurt about being called Brendol still lingering. Kylo doesn’t mean to (the wine makes him clumsy—he’s never developed much of a tolerance for alcohol) but he begins to dig once more, scraping against Hux’s thoughts for some clue as to why he’s doing this, what his motives are here.

A flash of Hux’s father’s face, lined, stern. A woman’s hands, soft, combing his hair back, calling him Bren. Bren. Too close. Kylo retreats. Grabs the bottle out of Hux’s hands, his fingers slipping over Hux’s bare knuckles. He tries not to make anything of it. His head swims.

Hux taps at his temple. “I felt you in here earlier, on the bridge.”

Kylo’s face heats. He blames the wine, knowing it’s a lie as he does. Embarrassed, he takes another swig, coughs a little as he swallows.

“It was beautiful, wasn’t it?” Hux says. “That rock suddenly,”—he makes a kind of exploding gesture with his hands—“boom?” There’s a child’s pride in Hux’s eyes, a desperate need for approval that Kylo knows all too well.

Kylo nods and gives over the bottle again. “It was incredible,” Kylo says. His tongue feels heavy in his mouth, lazy. Hux is taking a long drink. “Snoke will be pleased.”

“Yes,” Hux says. He licks away the wine left on his lips. Its color makes Kylo think of blood, and the times they’ve bruised each other, split one another’s lips with their knuckles. How, once, Hux had looked as if he might lick the blood at Kylo’s mouth away, press his own lips there and taste. Instead, Hux had sneered, watched the blood dry on Kylo’s face. “I suppose he will be.”

“And—and the Resistance will fear us.”

“Us?”

Again, Kylo feels caught. Exposed. “The Order,” he corrects. Clarifies. His own mind is blurry in the haze of the wine, and it occurs to him that he is no longer sure if he is inside Hux’s mind or not.

“Ah,” Hux says. He’s handing over the bottle, nearly empty now. “You can finish it.”

Kylo hesitates, but he takes the bottle, puts it to his lips slowly. Hux had looked effortless, drinking this way, his lips curling around the mouth of the bottle just so, every drink perfect and poised. When Kylo drinks, wine drips down his chin, he knocks the bottle against his teeth. Embarrassing. But he drains the rest of the wine and sets the empty bottle on the floor. “Thanks,” he says. “Um, for the—wine.”

“A token of my grudging appreciation,” Hux says. “Sometimes you do prove yourself useful.”

“You’re welcome, Bren,” Kylo says. He means to hurl the name like a rock, but it comes out sounding vaguely affectionate. Still, Hux winces.

“Just Hux. Or General.” He’s shrugging off his greatcoat, letting it slip to the floor—uncharacteristic of Hux, who, even in their most frantic fucking, has taken the time to fold each piece of his clothing. He’s still wearing his uniform, having spent the day after the weapon test in briefings and meetings.

Kylo flops back onto the mattress, his legs hanging over the foot of the bed. “Brendol,” he says, rolling the syllables over his unresponsive tongue. Then he repeats the name again and again as Hux squirms.

“Stop calling me that,” Hux says.

“No,” Kylo says, then: “Only if you tell me why you want me to stop.”

“Don’t toy with me, Ren.” Hux’s voice is muffled. He doesn’t turn around to speak to Kylo.

“I’m—not exactly capable of toying right now.”

Hux glances back. Apparently amused by what he sees, he starts laughing, and then he reclines next to Kylo, balanced on one elbow. “You look absolutely ridiculous at the moment,” Hux says. “Your face is all red.”

“Well, you look absolutely ridiculous all the time.”

“Very clever.”

“Tell me why I can’t call you Brendol.” Kylo gets hung on the name again. He likes the way it feels in his mouth. “Bren-dol.”

A groan before speaking. “Do you know Lieutenant Aldib? He’s sort of—baggy-looking.” Hux gestures at his own face. “Jowls and such.”

Kylo distantly recalls a slightly flabby lieutenant, with Hux’s same irritating nasal accent. He nods, careful not to move his head more than absolutely necessary, lest nausea rise in his throat.

“He and my father were colleagues at the Academy. Aldib is basically incompetent, but nepotism is, ah, a powerful thing.”

“You would know,” Kylo snorts. Hux immediately smacks him on the side, just over his ribs, which only makes Kylo laugh more.

“After we tested the beam today, Aldib, he came up to me, and he—grabbed my shoulder like this,”—Hux rolls over slightly, places a palm at the crook of Kylo’s neck—“which is a breach of probably seven different protocols, and he said, ‘You truly are your father’s son.’ And I was meant to take it as a compliment!” Hux is breathless, indignant all over again. “My father was self-obsessed and never there—when I was at the Academy, he wouldn’t even acknowledge me! But everything I do is colored by his—his legacy, I suppose.” Hux scoffs. “None of my accomplishments—which, there are many!—are my own. I hate it.”

Hux’s hand is still on Kylo’s shoulder. The room is spinning, and Hux is the only thing that feels steady. He’s very close, so close that Kylo can’t even bring himself to turn his head and look Hux in the face. “I think,” Kylo starts, weighing his words carefully, “you’re stronger than he ever was. He never blew up a planet.”

“Compelling,” Hux says, and then they’re both laughing again, and Hux collapses onto the bed, his arm thrown over Kylo’s chest. Kylo’s breath catches; he feels Hux’s nose against his shoulder. Hux’s voice is muffled in the fabric of Kylo’s shirt. “I could comm for more to drink.”

“Up to you,” Kylo says. It's occurring to him now just how strange this is—Hux in his bed, both of them fully clothed, drunk and giggling. The kind of thing teenagers do. But, then, neither of them were ever really allowed to be teenagers, not in any normal sense of the word. So Kylo tries to relax. He memorizes the sound of Hux’s laugh—he has never heard it before tonight—and the feeling of Hux’s fingers drifting from his shoulder down to his sternum. “Hux,” Kylo says, unclear if he’s reprimanding or questioning or just saying Hux’s name because he likes the feel of it.

Hux lifts his hand away, places it on his own chest, at the hidden buttons of his uniform. “Sorry,” he says. “I thought you would want to—”

“I think if I move too much I’ll be sick.” He immediately regrets saying it, not least because it makes him sound like a child, but also because it means Hux doesn’t return his hand to Kylo’s torso. “But if you need to—take care of—”

“I’m not so depraved that I need to jerk off, Ren, honestly.” Hux hits him again with the back of his hand, knuckles nudging against Kylo’s arm.

Sleep hangs heavy on Kylo’s eyelids. He has never been able to hold his liquor well. He lets his eyes flutter shut, his mind unspooling by the second. “Good,” he murmurs, not sure just what he’s responding to. Kylo heaves a sigh, the weight of the day finally slipping away as he passes into sleep. In his last moments of consciousness, he crawls easily into Hux’s open mind, all Hux’s walls down as he too begins to drift off.

There you are again, Hux thinks, his tone gently mocking, precious boy.

Hux dreams of the woman calling him Bren, preparing his lunch before school and kissing the top of his head. Not his mother, Kylo realizes, but a hired caretaker, a nanny. Hux dreams, too, of leaving, the nanny telling him to be good, and how she’d smoothed down his uniform over his small uneven shoulders before he’d made the long journey to the Academy alone. Kylo, in his sleep, swims through these images, a silent observer. If he dreams at all, he dreams of a faceless young boy crying, kind hands smoothing down his hair, whispering placating words.

In the morning, Kylo’s head pounds, nothing but silence and pain in his own mind. The space next to him is empty, the sheets still warm and wrinkled where Hux’s body had been.

 *

The next few weeks pass as if they, too, are a dream. A nightmare, really: a stormtrooper defects with a prisoner in tow, starts a war that has been brewing for years and years. No amount of meditation is able to uncloud Kylo’s mind: where is the droid where is the girl where is Skywalker where is this all headed.

They fire the weapon. It is beautiful and terrible, and for a few moments, Kylo thinks they have this in their hands. Then it all goes wrong—the oscillator, the walkway, an old familiar face, a wound, the Light, the Light, the Light. The girl takes the lightsaber as if it belongs to her, refuses him as if it is her choice to make, beats him bloody as Starkiller rips itself apart. In the snow, he passes out. Doesn’t expect to wake up.

When he finally comes to, he lets out a wail from deep inside him. He does not know where he is, why his entire body hurts, where his robes and mask and saber are, what happened. So he wails until his throat feels ragged, and then he wails again, and then he is sobbing and he doesn’t know why.

A distant thought, one he hadn’t considered: where is Hux.

He turns his head into the pillow. Pillow. Bed. Sheets. His mind is scrambled, no sense of what is or is not familiar. Has he slept here before? Is this his room? No, no—he can see space in the walls. Viewports. Not his room. Hot tears on his face. Don’t. Stop. Clothes: loose pants. Socks. Hand to his chest—skin. No shirt. Heartbeat too fast, all wrong.

Should have died.

Tries to turn onto his side. Reminded of a wound there, still bleeding but bandaged. The pain grounds him, wakes him up. Bandage. Someone has tended to him. Other wounds: shoulder, arm, face. Presses his fingers against the long open cut across his face. Pain again. Good good good. Bloody fingertips.

Doors opening somewhere far off. Cold air from the outer corridor. He pushes himself up on his elbows. “Who—” he starts, but speaking feels like a laceration.

Boots thumping across the floor. Tall, thin. Uniform. Scent of destruction, ash and snow. Red hair. Hux. He swallows hard, finds that it hurts him (how much has he been screaming?) and regrets it. Hux comes into focus.

Kylo wants to shout at him: where are my clothes what happened to me tell me what happened. But he can’t speak, can’t make any words come out, lest they form another sob in his throat. He fists his hands in the sheets, feels them wet with his own blood, gasps at the realization. Even that hurts him.

Hux is standing at the foot of the bed, his arms crossed over his chest, looking paler than usual. “I didn’t expect to see you awake,” Hux says. His voice wavers. Odd. “Your bandages need to be changed. You’ve bled all over my sheets.”

My sheets. Hux's sheets. Hux's room. Oh. Kylo’s head pounds again. He can’t make sense of this—that he’s in Hux’s room, but also that Hux has a room, that Hux exists as a person outside of General or the Finalizer or the Order. Of course he has been learning this recently, in his ill-advised trips into Hux’s head. But it still comes as a shock to him, especially in this state. He thinks of lying back down again, pressing his face into the pillow and drawing in a deep breath, maybe catching some lingering scent of Hux’s hair or soap.

Hux steps closer. Places a palm at the corner of the bed. His hands are shaking. “I figured you wouldn’t want to be stuck in the medbay.”

“No,” Kylo says. Can barely hear himself. Feels childish, embarrassed. “My room—”

“I don’t have access,” Hux says, the corner of his mouth twitching. “You shouldn't talk.”

Okay, Kylo murmurs into Hux’s head. It takes more effort than it should to press himself into Hux’s thoughts. Hux isn’t resisting, but Kylo is weak. Exhausted. He doesn’t dig further into Hux’s mind, only sees those surface thoughts, which seem to be afraid over and over again.

You look like hell.

Talk to me. Out loud. The implied please hangs heavy in the headspace between them.

Hux's lower lip quivers for a moment, and then he speaks. “Your bandages,” he says again. “I’ll send for a medic, or a droid—”

No. Panicked. Kylo’s fingers are fluttering to the cut across his face again, sticking in the congealing blood. Don’t want anyone to see me like this.

“Lost none of your pride, I see.” Hux shakes his head, unsurprised.

Not pride.

“Stop touching that cut; you’ll infect it.”

Kylo finds himself staring at his fingers, his palms, all dyed red with his own blood. It’s beneath his nails, in every crease of his skin. He feels the urge to scrub them clean, scrub them as hard as he can until the skin there goes raw and bleeding too, until there’s nothing left to bleed from. Wishes he could just bleed out, that he were dead already, so that he wouldn’t feel all this shame at having failed. Having been weak.

“Oh, please—self-pity is a waste of time. Pity all the troops we lost today. You and I survived; we’re lucky.” Hux clears his throat. “I’m going to fetch a medpac. Don’t do anything foolish.” He turns, starts toward the doors.

Even as his own thoughts spiral, Kylo manages to sink his teeth into Hux. You feel responsible.

Hux’s head jerks back toward Kylo. “I’m fetching you a medpac,” he repeats. “Now’s not the time for games, Ben.”

That pushes Kylo over an edge, sends him reeling back into his own head as the doors click closed. Ben Ben Ben Ben Ben not my name not me KYLO REN Ben is dead now Ben has been dead for years. Hears Han Solo shouting BEN from the end of the walkway. Hears Han Solo shouting BEN from the front porch of the house. He—Ben that dead boy—had been playing and had wandered too far out, pretending to be a Jedi, fighting no one in particular. And Han (paranoid weak old DEAD DEAD DEAD man) had been afraid for him, that he might be kidnapped or taken or worse and had shouted for him to come back home. Well Ben got worse Han are you happy he’s dead now I am. Should have paid more attention when he was screaming screaming all the time. Screaming. All those children screaming as Kylo had sliced through them and there was silence in his mind. Not silence just Supreme Leader saying good good. And then saying WEAK FOOLISH STUPID BOY when you spared one why did you spare one not YOU not ME that was BEN BEN IS DEAD. And then leaving her for dead, might as well have been dead, on that junkyard desert planet, making sure she never remembered, that she’d never remember what he did. What Ben did. Ben is dead there is no Ben there is only Kylo Ren. There was never a Ben. Han Solo’s hand, still rough and calloused, on his face, as if he were still a child, and then Han Solo falling forever. He’s DEAD this is what had to happen forget Ben FORGET BEN YOU KILLED HIM KYLO KILLED HIM KYLO HAD TO KILL HIM.

And Kylo’s face is in his own hands, and he’s screaming into his palms even though there’s no sound, and his face is hot and wet and sticky and he is thirteen years old again, begging for the voices to stop. Please please please. Mouth moving against the heels of his hands, whimpering please like the pathetic child he is. When Ben was a boy, Han could hear him crying—constantly Ben cried constantly because he was weak—and would send in Leia, and she would sit next to him on the bed and pull him into her arms—he was small you are not small you are a man and he was a boy—and stroke his hair with her kind fingers. She smelled sweet and clean and warm and her clothes were soft against his face (he wanted softness he was soft) and she rocked him against her body so gently, like floating on the calm surface of the ocean after a storm. She would call him—he struggles to remember—does not want to remember—

Little one. Ben. My little one.

To be small in someone’s arms again. To be little, to belong. To have a mother and a father. Instead there is pain all over, a hurt that still is not enough to silence the call of the Light. And blood, so much, on the snow and the sheets and, more than anywhere, his hands.

This has happened before. When he first started to become Kylo. At night he would remember, and the memories would cripple him. Ben’s memories. Useless to him now. His heart beats wild and reckless, too fast. Curls his palms into fists. Digs his knuckles in against his face. Repeats what he knows is real. Kylo Ren master of the Knights of Ren member of the First Order. Kylo Ren killed Ben Solo and his pathetic pathetic useless father Han Solo. Supreme Leader told him to Supreme Leader is wise and good. Brendol Hux general in the First Order gone to fetch a medpac. Brendol Hux’s bedroom two large viewports one desk one lamp one chair one bed black sheets one pillow. He leans back until he is flat on the bed again. Brings his head down on the pillow gently, turns his face into it. Pillow smells of nothing. Does not admit his disappointment to himself.

His breathing has steadied some, and his hands are lightly curled against his face rather than pressing bony knuckles in. The doors open again. Hux’s boots are loud on the floor. Kylo hears him take in a sharp breath, the thump of the medpac landing at the foot of the bed, a sudden weight next to him. Then Kylo’s hands are being pried from his face, and Hux’s face is flushed red when Kylo opens his eyes. Hux is next to him, on his knees on the bed, hands tight around Kylo’s wrists.

“Have you been crying?” Hux says. Words shot through with vitriol, disgust.

“I—” Kylo starts, but Hux is grabbing at Kylo’s face, his fingertips pressing into the open wound there, the pain searing. Kylo feels himself begin to whimper. Weak weak you are as weak as Ben was.

“Listen,” Hux says. Kylo shakes his head. It hurts, his face hurts, and he is weak and a failure and should have died. Can’t stop the tears from pricking at his eyes again. Feels shame even as he tries to stop it happening. “Listen!” Hux says again, his hold on Kylo’s face tightening. Kylo has never seen him look this way, so hot with rage and frustration and fear flaring behind his eyes. “Get a fucking grip.”

“Hux—”

He squeezes harder. Blood bubbles from the wound, seeps onto Kylo’s face and Hux’s fingers. “We don’t have time for you to have a crisis. I don’t have time for you to have a crisis. You killed Daddy. It had to be done. Move on.”

Kylo flinches, thinking of Han’s body falling again. It had seemed right, at the time. “What if I was wrong? What if all this is—”

“No,” Hux says. “No what ifs. What ifs are useless to me.” He sighs, loosening his grip on Kylo’s face. “And your bandages still need to be changed. Sit up.”

Kylo obeys, body aching as he bends forward. “I’m sorry,” he says, as Hux is lifting away the bandage on his shoulder with quivering fingers.

“Shut up,” Hux says. Harsh. But Kylo can’t bring himself to fight against it. There’s a slight pain when Hux finally removes the bandage. He pops open the medpac, removes unidentifiable vials and packets and syringes, starts unscrewing the top of one of the canisters. “This’ll probably hurt,” he says, dipping his fingertip into the container.

Kylo expects Hux to be rough, to press too hard, but his fingers are gentle as they rub antiseptic cream into the wound on his shoulder. It stings a bit, the kind of burning that suggests healing. Kylo hears himself sigh as Hux eases his thumb over the wound. You’re good at this, Kylo wants to say, but he can’t focus his thoughts enough to get back into Hux’s mind. So he’s quiet, and he lets himself think about Hux’s soft fingers and measured breaths. Reassuring.

Hux rips open one of the packets and the too-sweet scent of bacta seeps into the room. A sudden memory of Leia tending to his skinned knees, the sizzle and pop of antiseptic, her short fingers smoothing a bacta patch over his knee. The bacta was always unexpectedly cold, always made him gasp, and it’s no different when Hux sticks the bandage over Kylo’s shoulder. “Don’t be such a child,” Hux mutters, sticking down the corners of the bandage, but Kylo is already lost again.

He remembers a house, a yard, a long time ago, before the noise in his head was constant, and he really was just a child. Still Han and Leia’s, that specter was always present, but he was something close to normal, and he was loved, and he wasn’t afraid. No friends, really, but people to play with, even though he was strange even then, too quiet and too sad. Always pushed too hard when playing, knocked the other kids down, cried when they fought back. Skinned his knees on rocks and dirt and went home with tears hot on his face. It was okay once Leia fixed him, once she called him little one, Ben, and brushed back his hair.

Kylo covers his face with his hand, palm over the wound. His skin is hot, and his throat is tightening with sobs again. Stupid stupid weak boy. He doesn’t need to be in Hux’s head to know that’s what he’s thinking.

“Lie down,” Hux says. “The one on your side.”

Kylo is happy to face away from Hux, to hide his head in the pillow again. Pain throbs at his side, just above his hip, when Hux begins to pull away the bandage. The wound is deep, deeper than the ones on his face and shoulder. Chewie had been his friend once. Never let him touch the bowcaster—too big for you, Han had said, it’d knock you clean over, kid. Kylo guesses it shouldn’t surprise him; Chewie was Han’s friend before his. Probably the shot should have knocked him off the walkway, too. He wonders now if Chewie was holding back, if even then, after Han, Chewie hadn’t wanted to hurt him, exactly. As a boy, he’d been afraid of Chewie at first—so tall, so loud, so scary. But then Chewie had lifted him onto his shoulders, let him see trees and the tops of cabinets and stars, and Ben had loved him.

Chewbacca may as well be dead. Even if he begged forgiveness—you don’t need forgiveness you’ve gone soft Kylo—Chewie wouldn’t give it to him. Not after what he did to Han. Kylo hears himself crying out when Hux applies the antiseptic to the wound on his side. Hux’s fingers prod this time, and Kylo shouts again. Please not so hard, he thinks, loud as he can, knowing full well Hux can’t hear it and wouldn’t care even if he could.

The pain is overwhelming. It ought to make him feel stronger, but instead he feels weak for being so affected by it. It takes all of Kylo’s restraint not to clap a palm over his side, push Hux’s hands away. “Come on,” Hux says, disdain in his voice, “it doesn’t hurt that much.”

It does it does hurt so much please make it stop hurting. He groans into the pillow, draws his knees up toward his chest. Once he spent a night curled up like this because the noise in his head was too much to bear. Blankets pulled up over his head. Leia had sent Han in, and he hadn’t known what to say (he was a bad father he never cared about you not you he never cared about Ben) so he’d just sat there, listening to Ben cry. Kylo recalls wanting to be held the way Leia would hold him, to be told that everything would be okay.

Hux opens another bacta patch. The scent again, the anticipation of cold gel on warm skin. Kylo’s body tenses; Hux’s hands are steady as he applies the bandage. “For my sake, please try to hold it together, alright?” Hux says, crumpling up the used packaging.

“Okay,” Kylo manages to say. Sob, really. He is sure he can feel Hux’s shame for him, a kind of secondhand embarrassment.

There’s the warm, welcome feeling of Hux dabbing away excess bacta gel with a clean cloth. “If Snoke senses that you’re second-guessing yourself, he’ll—I think it may end poorly for you, Ren.” For once, Hux sounds genuine. Snoke could crush him easily. Han had suggested the same. But Snoke has always called him powerful, always said he’s the most powerful since Vader, and it’s been true. He is powerful. He is strong. This is what he tells himself, anyway, to keep from falling apart. To avoid the threat that is Snoke eventually finding him useless.

Ren. It's too close to that other name, that dead boy he used to be. “Kylo,” he mumbles. A pathetic thing to request, he knows, but—

“I didn’t know I was allowed to call you that.”

Call me whatever you want just not that old name never again Brendol never never. “Yeah,” Kylo says. “It’s, um. Please.”

“Okay,” Hux says. “Let me see your face, Kylo.”

For the first time, the name feels less like an ill-fitting costume and more like something that really belongs to him. He rolls onto his back, slow to turn his face toward Hux again. Hux swallows.

“It’s bad,” Kylo says, not sure if he’s asking a question. When he finally looks up at Hux, Hux is biting his lip, digging through the medpac for something.

“You’re lucky she missed your eye. Couldn’t fix that.” Hux pulls out another canister, some medicinal-smelling cream. “Don’t wrinkle your nose; it irritates the wound.” His eyes, the color of leaves against the clear Takodana sky, scan the wound. “I’m not going to be able to keep this from scarring.”

Kylo shrugs. It’s not as if he cares much for how he looks, anyway.

Hux opens the canister, laughing a little as he does. “Suppose you’ll finally have a reason to wear that ridiculous mask.”

“Lost it,” Kylo says. Tries not to think of fleeing from the walkway, leaving it there, half-wishing it had fallen with Han’s body. Hux begins to press his fingers to the wound. The sting is immediate; Kylo grits his teeth against the pain.

Hux smooths his thumb over the wound. His fingertips rest at Kylo’s hairline, burying themselves just so into the blood-matted hair there. The pressure of Hux’s hand against him is reassuring, and when Hux resets his hand and pulls his fingers through the thick waves of Kylo’s hair, Kylo hears himself sigh.

“You were saying that when we brought you here. Well—you were screaming for it.” Hux turns Kylo’s face gently. “You’ll have to make a new one.”

“Screaming,” Kylo says. “I don’t remember.”

What he remembers: blood on the snow, a widening chasm, begging for death. Hux yanking off his greatcoat, wrapping it around Kylo, eventually getting Kylo up and leaning against him and swearing endlessly as they ran to the Finalizer. Snoke in his head, WEAK FOOLISH BOY, trying to silence the noise, the pain in his side radiating out, the Dark bleeding back in.

Hux studies the wound again, lips pursed. The flash of his tongue slipping over his lips before speaking. “You were going on about Solo. You said—” He stops abruptly. He’s close, Kylo realizes now, his face all lines and angles. Worried. Doesn’t need to read Hux’s mind to see that. Hux turns away for a moment, picking something out of the medpac.

“What,” Kylo says. “What’d I say.”

“You’ll kill me,” Hux says. Still refuses to meet Kylo’s eyes.

“Too tired.”

Hux laughs, a grave and solemn thing. He finds the last packet of bacta gel in the medpac and rips it open. Slicks it straight onto his fingers and rubs it into the open wound on Kylo’s face. He’s gone mostly numb now, doesn’t really feel anything. Hux has very pale lashes, Kylo realizes. This is a stupid and useless observation, but somehow in this state it makes sense to him. Something small and physical and real, that’s the important part. A dusting of freckles across the bridge of Hux’s nose, only barely visible in the dim light. The corners of Hux’s nails are bitten rough and ragged. “You said—Ben killed Han Solo. Not Kylo Ren. And that you’re Ben, and you always will be.”

He shuts his eyes. Stupid boy you have always been stupid that’ll never change. The name ricochets around his head, echoing a hundred times: Leia’s voice, Han’s voice, Luke’s voice. Ben little one Ben kid Ben Ben Ben. Ben had been cherished once and that was why Ben had to die. Ben was too soft and craved softness where he should have craved power. Ben wanted the wrong things. Ben wanted to be loved. How stupid how weak. “They’re both dead,” he says. “Ben and Han.”

“I know, Kylo,” Hux says. His fingers brush against Kylo’s hairline again. Please say it again please. Hux’s mouth twitches. He smooths the last of the gel into the wound, his thumb settling on Kylo’s cheekbone. There’s a strange, soft look in Hux’s eyes, one Kylo can only classify as fondness, which doesn’t seem right, considering. He wants to speak, but doesn’t know what to say. Well. He’d ask to be called Kylo again, and that’s pathetic.

He takes a deep breath, shaky. Wishes he had the strength to escape into Hux’s mind. Surely it’s more silent, more calm. He’s seen the inside of Hux’s head, with all the thoughts filed neatly, like data in folders, or military rankings. Not like the chaos that is his own thoughts, a cacophony of noise and memory and, more often now than before, want.

This is not how it was supposed to be. He was supposed to be stripped of all need for others except Snoke. Only supposed to want to be more powerful, to be closer with the Force, to know it more intimately. And yet in this numb haze, Kylo finds himself wanting Hux’s hands on him again, wanting Hux to say Kylo in his sure strong voice, wanting more things he cannot bring himself to identify.

Hux brushes back Kylo’s hair. Doesn’t quite meet his eyes. “I never expected this,” Hux says.

Me neither, Kylo wants to say. How could he ever have expected this: Hux’s fingers, Hux’s face soft and scared, all these things he wants. Hux’s lips part just so and Kylo feels the irrepressible urge to kiss him—a child’s desire, to kiss and be kissed in this weak state. Like something out of a fairytale. No.

“I thought we were—invincible,” Hux says, grave. “How foolish of me.” His fingers still pull through Kylo’s hair, stroking idly at a single round curl. Kylo ought to push him away, he knows this, but perhaps it is a comfort to Hux. And it feels good, too, to be cared for like this.

That thought is dangerous. Being cared for, needing to be cared for, is what destroyed Ben. What necessitated his destruction.

“We will be invincible. One day,” Kylo says. Each word is hard to form, and by the time he’s choked out the whole sentence, he realizes how stupid it sounds.

“You, maybe, with Snoke's help,” Hux says. “Me—the Order—I’m not so sure.” He shakes his head. Lifts his fingers from Kylo’s hair. Please please please don’t go. There’s a clatter as he starts dropping the used vials and packets back in the medpac. He holds up a syringe filled with cloudy blue fluid. “A dose of painkillers. If you need it.”

“No.” Need the pain I’m not that weak.

“Perhaps I ought to save it for myself,” Hux mutters. Runs his fingers over the syringe. He seems to think better of it and stuffs it, too, in the medpac. Hux closes the container and sets it aside. Places his hands in his lap and heaves a sigh. Kylo notices now that Hux’s fingertips are slick and red with bacta gel and blood and is horrified by it, how he’s stained Hux. Swallows down the urge, the want, to take Hux’s hands in his own and wash them clean. Hux’s voice is ragged with exhaustion when he speaks again. “I’m so tired, Kylo.”

Kylo wants to say me too lay down with me Bren. Let’s rest. Instead he gapes at Hux, his pale sad face and the dark circles under his eyes, how he seems so close to breaking. If he were stronger now, Kylo would soothe Hux’s thoughts from the inside. Access all that softness that Ben desired and put it to good use comforting Hux. Kind words stroking away the worry and the fear like gentle fingertips on a wound.

“Sleep, then,” Kylo says. Again, he’s glad Hux can’t read his thoughts, though he’s sure his desires are transparent anyway.

“The sheets,” Hux says, getting to his feet. He extends a hand to Kylo, pulls him up. Kylo nearly sways, nearly falls, doesn’t know whether to blame it on the loss of blood or the dizziness or Hux’s fingers wrapped around his palm. It takes a moment for Kylo to let go of Hux’s hand. He tries not to wonder how long Hux might’ve held it. Leans against the wall, feels the unforgiving cold of it against his back, watches Hux strip the bed down to the mattress. He balls up the sheets and holds them a distance away from his uniform before depositing them in the hamper in the closet. Kylo listens to Hux rummaging around, hears him shout, “Get back in bed,” and obeys.

His body still aches, and he becomes acutely aware of it when climbing onto the bare mattress. He’s careful not to move too quickly, to rip the bandages from his skin. Hux sets two pillows on the bed before disappearing back into the closet. Kylo rearranges them, one in the empty space next to him and one behind him. (He holds it to his face first, not so close as to bleed on it, and breathes in its scent. Nothing.)

Hux emerges in an undershirt and dark shorts, the kind of things he might have worn at the Academy. Probably did wear at the Academy, considering how young he is—Kylo forgets this sometimes, that they’re both too young for all this, forced to grow up too fast. Children with weapons, Kylo thinks, funny how that never works out. In his hand, Hux is dragging something incongruously brightly-colored, trailing on the floor behind him. He sits down next to Kylo on the bed, legs drawn up to his chest, and Kylo can’t help but focus on the knobs of his knees, the light hair on his pale calves, the boyish splay of his elbows.

“Do you mind if I sleep here?” he asks. Stares at his toes curling against the mattress.

“Your room,” Kylo says. “I should—probably go to mine anyway.” Makes a movement to get up. Feels himself held back by Hux’s free hand. He immediately thinks of clasping Hux’s hand in his own again, not letting go this time. No no no Kylo you can’t. You can’t.

“No,” Hux says, drawing his palm back. “You shouldn’t—you need to rest.”

“Okay.” Kylo leans back a bit, readjusts the pillow. “Are there, uh, blankets, or—”

“You mustn’t tease me about this,” Hux says quickly. Kylo shrugs. Then Hux is yanking the thing in his hand onto the bed—a quilt, done in floral patterns, old and worn and well-loved. Hux spreads it out over them, Kylo seizing the edge of it and running his fingers over the soft fabric. A piece of somewhere else. He reclines fully now, pulls the quilt up over his shoulder and listens to Hux speak. “I stole it from home—fifteen years ago now, I suppose. Maybe more. When I left for the Academy. Kept it stuffed in my trunk there. I don’t know what I was thinking—sentiment, I guess, who knows why, but—”

“You don’t have to explain,” Kylo says. The quilt is against his face, and when he breathes in, he catches the scent of adolescent cologne, boot polish, something far-off and warm. The unfamiliar smell of someone else’s home. How even that is a comfort, now, imagining that there’s a home somewhere, even if it’s not his own. Kylo buries himself further under the quilt, curls up into himself. “Sleep,” he says to Hux, who is still sitting up, his knees tenting the quilt.

“Two days and we’ll have you to Snoke,” Hux says. “Finish your training. And he’ll destroy me, I’m sure.” Hux laughs again. The sound shakes Kylo to his core.

“I won’t let that happen,” Kylo promises. “Whatever the future of the Order, you’re a vital part.”

“How noble,” Hux says. He sinks down into bed, turning the lights down with the screen near the headboard. Kylo’s eyes adjust quickly to the new dark, and he easily finds the silhouette of Hux’s body in the shadows. Hux is turned away from him, his sharp shoulderblades visible through the thin fabric of his undershirt. Kylo thinks of tracing their lines with his fingertips, loosening the tight muscles and Hux finally allowing himself to break.

Of course he will never allow himself such things. Not Hux, not Kylo. Hux eventually murmurs, “Sleep well,” and draws the quilt up around himself. Kylo lets him steal the covers. (He remembers Hux complaining, once, about always being cold. Can’t stand to think of Hux shivering.)

Hux’s snores are as delicate as every other noise he makes in bed. Quiet, breathy, lost. Kylo feels wide awake for hours, despite the exhaustion which grows in him every moment. The numbness in his wounds wears off, too, just as he is dozing off, and pain in his side knifes through him. He wants to wake Hux up and ask for the painkillers, weak so weak, but Hux is sleeping soundly, his shoulders moving just so with each inhale and exhale.

It would be easy to press up against him. The length of Kylo’s body against Hux’s, inch for inch, like a second skin. It might even comfort Hux. And Kylo thinks of burying his face in Hux’s soft disheveled hair, kissing the hidden spot at the nape of his neck, and hearing Hux sigh. It would be so easy.

But—there is already too much to worry about. Snoke and the Resistance and what will become of the Order. Of them. Kylo cannot make any more of this than what it is: they are sharing a bed out of necessity, because it makes sense, because it is what they both need. Not for any other reason. Banish the softness, this need for affection. This desperate want to be wanted.

Not being able to touch Hux is a pain as visceral as the throb in his side, the stabbing in his shoulder, and it flares through the night until Kylo numbs to it again. In his dreams, they are scarred but have survived, and beneath the quilt, their bodies are indistinguishable from one another, so tangled and twisted. Hux calls him Kylo, and he calls Hux Bren, and they don’t hurt anymore.

 

Chapter Text

The Finalizer is quiet for the long trip to Snoke’s fortress at the furthest reaches of the Unknown Regions. What little is left of the crew uses the time to recuperate, regroup, consider the next course of action. The reprieve from battle, constant calculation, is welcome—no speeches, no training exercises, the ship’s course set on autopilot.

Kylo spends the two days in Hux’s bed. He tells himself this is a necessity, that he is recovering from his injuries, but his wounds, save the one on his face, are healed by halfway through the first day, thanks to the bacta gel. At that point, it becomes clear to Kylo why he is actually here: Hux. They use the days to sleep in late—unheard of for Hux—and to discuss, vaguely, how best to dismantle the Resistance, and, of course, to touch one another, as they are constantly drawn to doing.

In this way, they stretch the hours as far as they will go: Hux writhing under slow strokes of Kylo’s palm, begging not to come, but for Kylo not to stop, to draw this out as long  as he can. Searching hands finding soft inner thighs, eliciting quiet gasps and sighs with each crook of a finger. Kylo burying his hands in Hux’s hair, Hux’s hot mouth around him, head bobbing lazily until Kylo’s hips buck. Tongues teasing at nipples, at necks, at fingertips and cocks, never quite enough. Finally, sweat-soaked and sweltering, passing through a field of asteroids, Hux pulling Kylo into his lap, easing Kylo down onto his cock, Kylo resisting the urge (don’t, he tells himself, you can’t) to hide his face in Hux’s shoulder, to wrap his arms around Hux’s neck. Hux’s hands at Kylo’s hips, Kylo’s thighs tight at Hux’s waist, Kylo’s cock rubbing against Hux’s stomach, insistent. Kylo’s fists in the old worn quilt, his head thrown back when he comes, the built-up tension and arousal and want all suddenly too much to bear. Hux’s name (first Bren, an instinct, then, corrected, Hux) repeated like a litany, and then Hux coming too, Kylo gritted between his teeth. The sound of it, said as Hux’s entire body quivers, makes Kylo feel like the name is truly his.

When Kylo regains the feeling in his legs, he stumbles to the refresher, leaving Hux on the bed, still catching his breath. The room is full of Hux’s things—citrusy-smelling shampoo, straight razor and shaving cream, various supplements and vitamins in the neatly-organized shelves. And, of course, a mirror, free of spots and smudges, reflecting his face.

He has not seen himself in a long time. Occasionally, he’s caught sight of himself reflected in Phasma’s armor, or in Mitaka’s carefully-polished belt buckle. But there’s always been the mask, the metal obscuring what he sees now: asymmetrical jaw, crooked nose, round sad eyes (his mother’s), too-soft mouth (his father’s), dark spots flecked like dirt on his cheeks and forehead and neck. And now, the wound, already beginning to scar, a diagonal chasm across his face. He presses his fingers to the thin tip of the wound, remembers how Hux had touched there. The peculiar gentleness of his hands.

This is what Hux sees. The too-big teeth, ears, nose. And this is what Hux wants, sometimes, needs sometimes. Him. This odd boy’s face, cut now, still not quite looking like a man’s.

Kylo runs hot water, scalding, over a washrag. Considers showering, but thinks his heart may give out if he leaves Hux alone in bed any longer than absolutely necessary. Carefully, he cleans the wound and the come drying on his cock and thighs and ass. It’s almost too hot to bear, searing his skin, still sensitive from where he unknotted himself, gasping Hux’s name.

As he washes himself, Kylo drifts into Hux’s thoughts. He hasn’t done this since before Starkiller imploded—he’s felt too weak, too scattered. But Hux makes it easy for him now, no barriers, no attempts to push him out. Despite all the chaos, Hux’s mind is calm. A low-level hum of anxiety, an ache in his shoulder, the nagging of hunger. Mostly there is satisfaction. He’s thinking of Kylo’s hands in his hair, how good that had felt. Didn’t know you liked that so much, Kylo sends, tries to disturb Hux's thoughts as little as possible.

But Hux’s thoughts scramble. He’s embarrassed. Some things are meant to be private, Kylo.

Sorry, Kylo murmurs into Hux’s head.

A silence. The flurry of thoughts clearing, one coming to the forefront. Hux remembering Kylo in his lap, the stretch of his throat, his dark eyelashes against pale cheeks.

Then, quietly: But yes I did like it.

Kylo slips back into his own mind. Hides his smile in the washcloth.

This will have to end soon. Once they arrive at Snoke’s. Snoke has said before that Kylo still requires much training, and Kylo has no sense of how long that will take. Weeks, months—he cannot fathom it. Being without this. Without Hux.

Fuck. It’s not good to think like that, to even begin to entertain the idea that this is anything more than just sex.

He wrings out the washcloth in the sink, takes a deep breath, steps back into the bedroom. Hux is standing, still undressed, at the viewport opposite the bed, arms crossed over his chest, looking out. Kylo thinks of pressing up behind him, wrapping his arms around Hux’s waist and feeling their bodies against one another, all skin on skin. He’s imagined this before, how Hux’s body would feel in his arms, but now, more than ever, the want is tangible.

No, he tells himself. You do that and you’re lost forever.

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, losing himself completely for Hux. But—Hux would have to want him, too, the same way. Impossible.

Kylo sinks onto the bed and wraps the quilt around himself. It doesn't quite cover him all the way, but when he was younger, or when Hux was, it would have wrapped all the way around, like an emperor’s robe. He wonders if Hux ever did this at the Academy, when he was facing examinations, or when he was frightened.

And Kylo realizes, then, that he is frightened. There was a time—right after he first killed Ben—when he trusted Snoke blindly. He had to, to make himself believe that this was the right path. There could be no doubt in his mind about slaughtering all those children, about becoming Kylo Ren. Since then, he has not doubted Snoke’s course for him. It has led him to great power, strength like no one has ever known. But Snoke has always said he is too attached, too hung up on the past, those who cherished Ben. You need only me and the Force, Kylo Ren, Snoke said once, and Kylo has spent ages trying to convince himself of that.

It occurs to him now that he might need Hux, too.

What follows is the realization that Snoke will never allow this, and the further realization that, tomorrow, when he commits to finishing his training, this will have to cease. Permanently.

If Hux were not in the room, he would crumble. Fall apart completely, the way Ben did upon realizing he’d have to abandon his family. But for Hux, he takes deep breaths and tries to remain calm. Kylo holds the quilt against his face and memorizes the image before him.

The viewport: space, vast and full of stars. Pinpoints of light sprinkled like sugar across the open emptiness. Nebulae, far-off; further, other galaxies. Planets made of gas and light spewing color into the darkness.

And Hux: tall, pale, skin and bones. The sway of his back, the ridge of his spine, his shoulderblades and elbows and ruffled hair. His body so thin, every inch sharp and angular, save the hidden soft places (his inner thighs, the spots behind his knees, the thin skin of his wrists, the nape of his neck). The universe of freckles on his shoulders. When Ben was a child, he had laid on his back in the yard and stared straight up, counting stars with his finger until he fell asleep. Now Kylo feels that same child’s urge, to touch each of Hux’s freckles with his fingertip and count them, and perhaps to murmur the number against Hux’s skin, to somehow let him know that each one is as precious and miraculous and beautiful as the stars he stares at now.

Kylo is afraid to speak. The moment stretches on forever, the perfect silence and Hux’s body luminescent against the deep black canvas of space. He saves it, this crystal of what he has, what he knows now he is doomed to lose, and keeps it in the deepest, darkest part of him, where all his anger and fear and hate reside. These feelings, he knows, will never be taken from him. And so he hides Hux there, too—not in his mind, which is fragile, but in the cold, impenetrable stone of his heart. This, he swears, he will never let Snoke touch.

*

In the final, early-morning hours before they arrive at Snoke’s fortress, Kylo feels a most desperate need to kiss Hux. Not once, but a hundred times, a thousand, on his mouth and face and hands and everywhere, anywhere Hux might let him. He does not (cannot, he tells himself) act on this urge, but lets it burn in him as he watches Hux move from the bed to the closet to the refresher. When he hears the shower begin to run, he thinks of easing into Hux’s mind, digging for any sign that Hux wants to kiss him, too, but it feels wrong now. Kissing Hux would only make this harder.

He has not accepted, really, that the end of this is imminent. Last night, they had talked for hours, Hux divulging how, as a child, he had wanted to be emperor, Kylo running his fingers through Hux’s hair as he spoke. At some point, the conversation had ceased, and there was only their hands and their skin and the dark.

Hux had quietly instructed Kylo to lay on his stomach, and slowly, gently, Hux had spread Kylo’s legs, eased himself down, and taken Kylo with his mouth. Kylo remembers moaning into the pillow, not Hux’s name but something more primal, just noise. He had savored the scrape of Hux’s two-day stubble against his skin, and the feel of Hux’s tongue (that same tongue which commanded countless deaths, unparalleled destruction) inside him. It had been indescribable, reduced Kylo to a quivering, begging mess, and somehow made him feel whole and cared for and desired. When Kylo came, Hux had stroked Kylo’s side, over the fresh new scar, and rubbed his face against the small of Kylo’s back, whispered there, there. He’d turned Kylo over, found a warm damp washcloth in the refresher and cleaned the come from Kylo’s stomach, silent and detached. Kylo had offered, please let me take care of you, and Hux had refused.

Kylo wonders, now, what to make of that. It feels like eons ago, despite having only been hours. There’s no time to ruminate on it. Hux emerges from the refresher newly shaved, his hair slicked back and sideburns squared off. After these two days in blissful limbo, it’s strange to see him looking like his old self. Kylo feels a sudden need to dishevel Hux’s hair, to pick him apart again. They’ve been so bare with each other, so fully themselves these past two days, that this feels like a lie.

Hux fetches his uniform and Kylo’s robes from the closet. The robes have been neatly folded, unwashed and still reeking of blood. Kylo unfolds them as Hux dresses, carefully buttoning the tunic of his uniform.

“I don’t want to wear this,” Kylo says. Even before Starkiller, the robes were looking ragged. Now, the cowl is crusted with his blood, the cloak threadbare and burned in places.

Hux shrugs and fastens his belt. “Perhaps Supreme Leader will have something for you to wear.” His tone is suddenly cold, sharp, stinging. Kylo glances up at him and Hux is looking away, toward the floor. “I want some time to myself before we arrive.”

“Um,” Kylo says. “I mean, I still need to shower, so.”

“There’s a shower in your quarters.”

Kylo tears into Hux’s thoughts. Why are you kicking me out what the fuck Brendol. A wave of self-satisfaction at using that name, feeling hate begin to boil in Hux’s mind.

“Get out of my head, Ren. And my room.” He collects Kylo’s pants from the floor, left there a day ago, and shoves them at Kylo. Kylo, dumbstruck, only buries himself further into Hux’s mind as Hux’s thoughts break apart: stupid stupid stupid, Hux is thinking, believing he would make this simple. Hux turns away, looking like a petulant child with his arms crossed over his chest.

“Okay,” Kylo says. “Fucking fine.” He stands, yanks on the pants and pulls on an undershirt from halfway under the bed. Judging by how tightly it fits, it’s Hux’s, but Kylo can’t bring himself to care. “Throw out the stupid robes, I don’t want them anymore.”

“Very mature,” Hux says, cool. He steps back into the closet to retrieve something, seemingly ignoring the way Kylo shouts into his head. You’re not being very fucking mature either kicking me out like this after I spent all day sucking your cock.

Don’t pretend you weren’t begging for it.

And that’s it, that’s what sends Kylo into a rage he hasn’t felt since the debacle with the droid. He wants his hands at Hux’s throat, not the Force, his hands, to be able to feel Hux struggling for breath, to be that close to him again. Even that would be too much of a temptation, though, so instead he flings items off Hux’s desk one by one, sending them crashing against the wall. Reaches out with the Force and lifts the stack of datacards, scatters them across the floor. Hux is shouting something indecipherable over the sound of an empty brandy bottle shattering. Then the used medpac, bounced off the viewport behind the desk, the top popping open and spilling all its contents. Kylo throws Hux’s datapad against the ground, hard, hopes the screen cracks and it’s unusable. For good measure, he flips the desk and chair, too, finally strong, finally feeling like Kylo Ren.

Then: silence. Regret sinking in as quickly as the rage did. Kylo realizes he slipped out of Hux’s mind at some point, and his own thoughts are too loud to bear. Fuck you fuck you fuck you you can’t make me leave don’t you know how hard this is already. He sinks down to the floor, onto his knees, tries to collect some of the mess. Force-pulls the datacards to him, stacks them neatly again, pushes the broken glass into a pile in the corner. The datapad’s display is broken, a single diagonal crack across the screen.

“I can fix this, probably, um,” Kylo mutters, turning the datapad over in his hands. “I’ll take it to get fixed before I leave, I can, just—”

He feels Hux standing over him. Glances over his shoulder and sees Hux, a quiet fury in his eyes, gripping Kylo’s lightsaber. Hux drops it to the floor where Kylo is hunched, the clatter too loud in the disarmingly silent room.

“Get out of here, you—you boorish, overindulged, self-centered child.”

Kylo sets the datapad on the ground, clutches his lightsaber, and obeys.

While walking the long corridor that leads to his room, he fights his way back into Hux’s mind. He figures he can’t make the situation any worse than it already is, and maybe he can apologize, or at least confirm for himself that this is over. Hux tries to push him away, but Kylo wants this, and so he forces himself into Hux’s thoughts. Beneath the drone of get out repeated over and over, the volume steadily increasing, Hux is having a conversation with no one.

Now you’ve done it, Brendol, Hux is shouting at himself, you’ve gone and ruined this. Typical, you’ve always want too much.

That stops Kylo in the middle of the hallway, like he’s been hit in the chest. He could keep going, now, keep digging in Hux’s head for more details. But—some things are meant to be private. Hux had felt exposed, embarrassed, and even if he’s concealing it now, there’s a good possibility he’ll feel that way later. Kylo wants to apologize, but he has a suspicion that Hux hates that, so he simply escapes back into his own thoughts.

The chaos in his head is too much to bear, compared to the organized noise in Hux’s mind. He forces himself to walk again—he still needs to dress and shower, and soon he’ll have to board the command shuttle with Hux for their descent onto the planet. He isn’t looking forward to that. Snoke could kill him Snoke could make me kill him Snoke could order me to do anything and I’d have to do it.

Kylo tries to disengage that line of thinking. No good can come of it. A better thought: Hux calling him Kylo. He focuses on that as he lets himself into his quarters. They’re still a mess from the last time he was here—he can’t remember now when that was—but he adds to it. Throws his lightsaber and clothes onto the unmade bed and immediately proceeds to the shower. He can never get the water hot enough, so instead he turns it down as cold as it will go. It sends chills through him, makes him shiver. That’s better. He just needs some kind of pain to get him through this.

He spends a long time under the freezing spray, until he finally numbs to it. By then, he’s crumpled against the back wall of the shower, his face rested on his arms, hidden. Maybe at one point he had convinced himself that he wanted this, the Dark Side, but now—since Han and Starkiller and the girl and Hux, everything is scrambled. Before, he wanted to be Kylo Ren. Was Kylo Ren, is Kylo Ren, now, he guesses. But it’s so much easier to just be Kylo.

It's a stupid name. Everything about Kylo Ren is Snoke’s construction. The robes, the name, the Dark. Even the lightsaber, constantly on the brink of breaking, was built with Snoke’s voice in his head. But now he’s heard Hux call him Kylo, like the name actually belongs to him, and somehow, when Hux says it, it feels like it fits. He can’t go back from that.

Probably Hux will never call him Kylo again. Even if they both make it out of this alive, it won’t be the same. Kylo’s made sure of it. 

He shuts the water off, towels dry, leaves the wet towel in a corner by the shower. Finds a heavy black sweater in one of the piles of clothes in his room, figures that’ll do. Though Hux’s undershirt is uncomfortably tight, Kylo wears it anyway. It clings to him like a second skin, how he would cling to Hux if he had the chance, now. Kylo pulls on the sweater and his warmest pants and boots and still feels cold.

He’s not even angry anymore. Just numb.

Eventually he gets the comm to board the command shuttle. Kylo moves slow, as if by doing so he can delay the inevitable. At the shuttle, Hux is already waiting, his boots freshly polished.

An ache arises in Kylo’s chest. Hux won’t look at him.

The short trip from the Finalizer to the planet’s surface feels like it lasts a lifetime. Kylo sits opposite Hux, who is folded into himself, his knees pulled up to his chest.

“I’m sorry,” Kylo says, just to say something, just to get it out there.

Hux scoffs. Doesn’t respond.

When they land, they make the long walk to Snoke’s fortress in silence. Kylo feels ill with anxiety and the growing want to drag Hux back onto the shuttle, kiss him hard, and get the fuck out of here. Surely they could go somewhere, hide somewhere and not be found—

No. Hux doesn't want that, or him, now.

As they’re walking, Kylo senses Hux’s fear, even without being in his head. A quick glance to Hux’s hands confirms that he’s shaking. Fuck. There’s got to be something they can do, something he can do—but nothing comes to mind.

The last time he was here training, Snoke worked him over, taunting him with memories of his family. It was a special kind of torture, supposedly to increase his mental fortitude, but mostly it made Kylo want to turn away from Snoke and run home, back into Leia’s arms. The pain of it came in knowing he would not be welcomed back. How could they want you, Snoke said, you murderer, you child-killer, you destroyed them. And Kylo had believed it, and of course that only made him crave affection even more, and he spent long nights on the cold ground weeping, trying to recall the precise tone of Leia’s voice, the exact smell of her clothes (roses and melon and rain), the particular way she stroked his hair.

Kylo knows what Snoke will use to destroy him this time: Hux, silent, not meeting his eyes. Perhaps knowing ahead of time will make it easier to endure. You stupid boy. Always desperate to be wanted. He cannot tell if he’s imagining Snoke’s voice, or Hux’s, or his own.

They reach the ancient doors that guard the fortress. A strong wind is blowing, the scent of ash drifting through the air (a sudden memory of Starkiller—how much simpler this would all be if only he’d died then). He glances to Hux. His hands are clenched into fists to hide the shake, and he’s biting his lip. Trying, Kylo realizes, to put on a brave face, to hide the fear that grips him. He’s afraid he’s going to die.

“I think it’s going to be fine,” Kylo says. Tries to reassure Hux, or maybe himself.

“You talking makes it worse,” Hux says. His voice wavers. Feels like a knife twisting in Kylo’s stomach.

A last-ditch effort. Carefully, gently, he slips into Hux’s mind. The noise is unbearable, so many thoughts that Kylo can hardly focus to say what he wants to. How can Hux remain so stoic with this panic in his head? I said I wouldn’t let anything happen to you I meant it please believe me. Probably too quiet for Hux to pick up on, Kylo figures, but then—Hux is whipping around, Hux is grabbing him by the sweater with gloved fists, Hux is shouting in his face—

“Stay out of my head, Ren!” Nearly a roar, his lip curling, his thoughts still going and going: you’re falling apart, Brendol, what would your father think, what has this boy done to you.

Kylo swallows hard. He’s seen that thought and Hux knows it. It's more difficult to extract himself from Hux’s mind this time, knowing he might never be inside again. Hux’s face is close; Kylo could kiss him now, maybe nothing else would matter, maybe they’d forget all about Snoke and the Order and it could just be them.

Hux releases Kylo’s sweater. Brings his hands to his face and holds them there, covering his eyes. He inhales, holds the breath in, exhales. Lowers his hands. Calm.

The doors creak as they begin to open. Kylo’s heart drops. No sound from Hux’s head. No shake in his hands. Kylo grips the hilt of his lightsaber—a poor substitute for holding onto Hux. He wills his body to move. Realizes that he is probably leading Hux to his doom.

The corridor to Snoke’s chamber, the inner sanctum of this fortress, stinks of mildew and seems to go on forever. Every sound echoes off the high walls, grey stone and torches, like something from a bad holodrama. Ben had been fascinated by this place. Snoke called it a castle; Ben imagined being prince. He’d dreamed of dragons and knights and magic—well, two out of three’s not bad, Kylo thinks, almost laughing. In this cold, dank place, he’d found the Force, really found it, not like with Luke and all that nonsense about the Light. It was here he’d found the Dark, felt its power course through him.

But being prince isn’t the same as being king. Or Supreme Leader. Kylo wishes he'd realized that a little earlier.

Hux’s hands start shaking again when they near Snoke’s chamber. Kylo swallows down the urge to take them in his own hands, hold them tight and steady. As if he isn’t shaking, too, as if he doesn’t feel totally exposed here without the armor that is his robes and mask. Hux can hide within his uniform, the squared shoulders and wide thighs concealing the bag of bones beneath. But Kylo—he feels like a ghost in his own body, like he’s inviting Snoke to crush him. Maybe he is. Maybe he wants that. Nothing makes sense.

He glances to Hux as the final set of doors open. Hux stares straight ahead, focused. Don’t be afraid, Kylo wants to say. Wants Hux to be soothed and strong, the way he looked the day they tested the weapon. Fire in his eyes, fulfillment. Instead of this fear.

In the last instant before they step into Snoke’s throne room, Kylo remembers: the viewport, Hux’s freckles, Hux, the most sublime thing in the galaxy, there for him to take in. A moment of perfect contentment. The realization that he had something left to fight for, something left to lose.

*

Eventually, Kylo loses track of the days. The room Snoke puts him in is windowless, just walls and the dark and the noise inside his head. Can’t remember if he’s eaten—the pain in his stomach is constant now—or the last time he heard his own voice, or anyone’s voice, really, other than Snoke’s.

It’s not torture, exactly. He’s not prisoner, Snoke says he can leave, but—you don’t want to leave, do you, boy, and Kylo has to make this suffering worth something. So he stays.

He supposes he is getting stronger. Some time ago, Snoke had him moving stones, huge stones, with the Force. He’d struggled at first, and Snoke had shouted at him (weak, you’re weak) and so Kylo had summoned all his strength and lifted the stone a foot or two from the ground, held it there. Felt a bodily pain like the stone was on top of him and thought, no I can’t do this anymore, and fell, panting, to the ground.

Snoke had not been pleased. In fact Snoke had been fucking furious, and in retaliation had made Kylo feel like his head was exploding. No apprentice of mine gives up, you worthless boy. Kylo had tried to build up the walls in his mind, but to no avail—Snoke ripped him apart from the inside. Not even your family wants you now. Not after what you did to your father. You murderer. That's all you are to them, a murderer. He’d wanted to protest. Leia would take him back, maybe. Or—no. No. Why would she? No. His face had grown hot, head pounding, feeling like his brain was bleeding. Then there were tears on his face, not sadness but frustration, and Snoke had gone on.

I’m the only one who's ever wanted you. The real you, Kylo Ren. I’m all you have.

Anger, hate, flared in his chest. He thought of Hux, of being pulled into Hux’s lap and being held. Being wanted. And so Kylo had pushed himself to his feet again. Let the anger flow through his veins, cloud his mind until Snoke was nothing more than an echo, and everything went dark behind his eyes.

Energy pulsing in his body. Hot under his skin, making his hair stand on end, making him feel alive, finally, not a ghost. So much he felt his lungs might collapse, his heart might give out.

Then: a shout from deep inside his body, something animal in him breaking out. The kind of shout he’s heard from interrogation rooms, torture chambers. And the feeling—indescribable. A release of light from his palms, sparking and shocking and crackling, arcing through the air into the stone and shattering it to pebbles. The scent of singed skin, an electric buzz in the musty room.

Snoke had gone silent. Kylo could not stop quivering. He felt at once empty and full, totally drained, still angry, the noise of his shout still resounding in his head. For a while, he’d just stood there, surrounded by new rubble, staring at his hands. There were fresh burns on his fingertips, and he’d pressed his thumb to each finger, gently drawing out the pain. I did this, he’d thought as he’d picked a jagged stone from the ground. Hidden it in his pocket.

Since then, he’s struggled to recapture that fury which, however briefly, had empowered him beyond any expectation. Snoke wants him to conjure up the lightning on command, says that his training isn’t complete until he can. But, in truth, he’s losing his will. At times, Kylo cannot tell if he’s conscious or meditating. He feels like he is drifting, sometimes, aimlessly and endlessly. The food, when it’s given, is unsatisfying—mostly tasteless nutrient bars, worse than the standard-issue First Order shit—and Snoke keeps him awake even when he desperately wants to sleep. So he functions, mostly, in a sort-of trance. Not quite communing with the Force, but feeling it now and then, and wishing he were anywhere else, and wondering about Hux.

That initial audience with Snoke, when they’d first arrived here—it hadn’t gone well. Kylo had mostly managed to keep cool, but Hux was a mess, falling apart in front of Snoke like Kylo had never seen before. At first, Hux stood tall, with his hands clasped behind his back, but as soon as Snoke began to berate him, Hux buckled.

“Forgive me, Supreme Leader,” he’d said, “I know I’ve disappointed everyone.”

Not quite true, Kylo had thought.

Hux, continuing: “My poor planning cost us thousands of lives. Good troops, well-trained troops, were lost because of me. I—all I ask is for another opportunity to prove myself deserving of this esteemed position.” He’d looked like he might prostrate himself on the hard ground, then.

Snoke scoffed. “Kylo Ren, find your chambers at the end of the hallway. It is necessary that General Hux and I continue our conversation alone.”

Kylo had heard Hux swallow, seen him begin to clench and unclench his fists behind his back. Kylo had turned, prepared to leave Hux behind, but he hadn't been able to stop himself from stammering. “Supreme Leader, please—General Hux is worthy of your mercy; he’s got—new ideas, brilliant ideas—”

“Shut up, Ren,” Hux muttered, his words barely audible.

Trying to help you, Kylo had answered.

You can’t.

Snoke rose from his throne, towering over the two of them at his full height. His disfigured face was hidden in shadow, only snatches of it visible in dim firelight. Still, Kylo felt a sudden jolt of terror, for himself and for Hux.

“Do not defy me, Kylo Ren,” Snoke said. In person, his voice has a reverberating tone that the hologram cannot capture. Kylo had felt Snoke’s words echo in him, the chambers of his lungs and heart and mind, and had felt compelled to obey. He’d left Hux there, and he’d found his room and shut the door and destroyed the cot in the corner with his saber.

He hasn’t heard about Hux since. Kylo is able to rationalize that maybe he’s still alive because probably he would have heard him screaming if Snoke had killed him. (He’s imagined Hux’s screams more times than he can count. Can visualize running out of his chambers just a moment too late to save Hux, to kill Snoke, to keep Hux alive. When he imagines this, he’s always too late. He does not look at Hux’s body.) Sometimes, he thinks maybe he can feel Hux through the Force, somewhere far away, safe—but even that is stupid, a child’s dream.

But Snoke never brings up Hux, which Kylo figures is a good sign. If Hux were dead—if Snoke had killed him—Snoke almost certainly would have used his death to intimidate Kylo. And also, more importantly, it means Kylo has adequately protected his feelings for Hux from Snoke. When training, Snoke wields Kylo’s weaknesses like weapons: You regret killing Han Solo. You miss having a home. You want to be a child again. All true, all painful to confront, but withstandable. He never hears: You’ve fallen for a man who only wants to fuck you. You’ve fallen for a man incapable of love. In itself, that absence is a reassurance.

So he trains. It’s the thought of finding Hux again, eventually, that keeps him going. Less a thought than a feeling, a vague sensation that he might not be dead. When he’d killed Han, Kylo had felt the life go out of him. Seen it, too, but felt it, an energy fading away, like a star dying. Kylo thinks, probably, that he would feel Hux go, too. He wouldn’t go quietly—it would feel like an earthquake, a sonic boom.

Even the idea of Hux dying ignites a rage in him. Just imagining it makes Kylo feel like he could level a city. Destroy a planet, maybe, with just his grief and his hands. The next time Snoke instructs him to demonstrate the Force lightning, this is what Kylo thinks of: the disturbance in the Force, the fire in his heart, the need to destroy everything in Hux’s name.

It works. Electricity spills from his fingertips, arcing in all different directions, uncontrollable. The surge of power is overwhelming and Kylo cannot stand it for long, but Snoke is pleased that he's able to recreate it at all.

In the following days, they work on guiding the flow of the lightning. It takes a great degree of strength to direct the shock at a single target, rather than letting the bolts fly wildly. This doesn't come so easily. Why waste time with one target, Kylo thinks, I would kill everyone. Everything. Still, it's useless to try to fight with Snoke, so Kylo visualizes seeing Hux’s killer, there a foot in front of him, and unleashing a barrage of lightning into his chest.

“Good,” Snoke says, “very good.”

And then he’s left alone again, in his dark, cold room, for days, or weeks, he can’t tell. Snoke is in his head the whole time, and Kylo can’t push him out. Even if Kylo were to resist, Snoke would only punish him. He lies on his back, hands covering his face, feeling Snoke inside.

Snoke draws out memories, one by one, repeating their most painful moments for Kylo. Your desperation for approval is your greatest weakness, Kylo Ren. All these useless attachments.

Flashes like switching channels on a holoprojector: a very young Ben on Chewbacca’s shoulders. Han Solo ruffling Ben’s hair. Another one of Luke’s students—not quite Ben’s friend, Ben never had friends—sharing contraband sweetcake with Ben. Poe Dameron, before he was the Resistance’s greatest asset, helping Ben up from the ground. Leia calling him little one.

These are memories of a time when you were weak. When you were still Ben Solo.

“Don’t call me that,” Kylo says. His voice echoes in the empty room.

You are not weak. Are you?

“No,” Kylo says. It feels like a lie.

Then inure yourself to being alone. Attachments are liabilities. You need only yourself and me.

Kylo can’t respond. He has no real attachments anymore. Hux doesn’t want him, despite how much Kylo hopes otherwise. Those who follow his orders only do so because they fear him. Fair enough. They should fear him. He is fearsome and powerful and cruel. He needs nothing. No one. (He thinks, perhaps, if he repeats this to himself enough times, he will begin to believe it’s true.)

When you have stripped yourself of your need for others, then your training will be complete. Is that understood, Kylo Ren?

“Yes, Supreme Leader,” he says, voice breaking. Once he feels Snoke slip out of his head, he allows himself a final thought of Hux: Hux’s mouth, hungry, sucking at Kylo’s inner thighs; Hux’s skin, otherworldly pale under the lights; Hux’s quiet mind, a kind of home; Hux’s hands, so steady and sure and strong. Then, because he knows he must, he closes his eyes and lets himself be obliterated.

 *

The Kylo Ren who emerges from Snoke’s fortress is too thin, with visible ribs and hipbones, and is blinded by the dim sunlight that manages to pierce the stormclouds in the sky. Judging by the patchy hair that’s thickening on his chin, he’s been in there a month, maybe two. He feels disgusting, like there’s a layer of moss grown over his body.

But he can’t complain. Snoke let him sleep as long as he wanted, and when he finally woke, he was called to Snoke’s throne room, and Snoke had declared that his training was complete.

“I have taught you all I can, Master Ren,” Snoke had said, suddenly seeming very small. “Do not lose sight of the source of your power.”

“I will not, Supreme Leader,” Kylo had said. “Thank you.”

Snoke had commanded Kylo to find the shuttle outside, to pilot it to the coordinates of the new First Order base. (“You are outside the Order, but you must work within it. Keep up appearances,” Snoke had said.) The shuttle is tiny and ancient, but Kylo supposes it will get him where he needs to go.

He doesn't know when the last time he piloted a ship was. Never. Ben did, once, with Han, but—

Ben is dead Han is dead focus on now. Kylo takes a deep breath and settles in with the controls. Minor weapons, manual steering (likely unnecessary), navigation system. He punches in the coordinates, switches on the repulsors, feels his heart jump as he slips his hands around the steering controls. It starts to come back to him—the ship lifts into the air, shaky at first, then steadying as he initiates the hyperdrive and shifts into warpspeed.

From there, it’s smooth sailing. It’ll take a day or so to get to the new base, about which Snoke refused to give any information. Kylo takes the opportunity to relax, to stand in the tiny shower until the water goes cold. It’s good to get the old clothes off, finally—Hux’s undershirt has begun to feel like a second skin. If it ever smelled or felt like Hux, it certainly doesn’t now.

He isn’t supposed to think about Hux. Or anyone. But especially not Hux.

The last portion of Kylo’s training was spent systematically divesting himself of his former attachments. He feels nothing for Leia, for Han, for Luke, now. Snoke pulled those memories out of him, a kind of exposure therapy. He’d forced Kylo to relive them, over and over, showing how all their affection was false, that they’d never wanted him anyway. For the most part, Kylo has begun to believe it.

But Snoke hadn’t gotten to the memories of Hux. Kylo had kept those hidden, safe, only for himself. His heart has always been stronger than his mind. Still, an attachment is an attachment, and attachments are liabilities. Even if Hux is alive (which he is, Kylo tells himself, he has to be), he made it clear that he doesn't want Kylo. That Kylo isn't enough for him.

He switches off the shower. There’s a razor and shaving cream on the counter by the sink, and Kylo figures he’s beginning to look pretty haggard. He wraps up in a towel and shaves until he looks like himself again. It’s always strange to see himself in the mirror, but especially now, with his skin tight around his bones and that still-unfamiliar scar slashing across his face. He’ll get used to it eventually, he guesses.

In the tiny bedchamber, Kylo finds a clean set of robes folded on the bed. Snoke had mentioned they would be here for him—Force-imbued zeyd-cloth, uncomfortable but durable. No mask, though; Snoke had said your power is enough to make others fear you, no need to hide your face anymore. Kylo doesn’t really believe that, either, given that he looks about the same as he did when he was fifteen, but he’s not exactly in a position to fight with Snoke.

He’ll put on the robes in the morning. For now, he’s happy to be in something like a real bed again, with sheets and a thin blanket and a pillow. The mattress is soft, and he sinks down into it, every ache in his body feeling suddenly soothed.

Despite himself, Kylo ends up thinking of Hux. The last time he was in a bed, Hux was next to him, warm and alive and full of want. He wonders if he’ll ever have that again. Not because he needs it, but because it was nice, and it felt good.

He hasn't felt good in a while.

Sleep sinks in quick. No dreams. Just dark.

When he wakes, he dresses quickly—puts on Hux’s undershirt beneath the new robes, out of habit—and eats a nutrient bar before getting comfortable in the pilot’s seat again. He’ll have to land the ship once he gets to the base, and he’s less than confident in his abilities. He watches the ship crawl across the navigation screen, slowly approaching its target. The closer it gets, the more anxious he feels.

Kylo Ren isn’t supposed to feel anxious. He’s not supposed to be afraid or nervous or worried about anything. And yet.

There’s a very large part of him that wants to seek out Hux’s thoughts. It wouldn’t be too difficult; he’s stronger with the Force now, and finding Hux has always come easy to him. But there’s a larger part of him that is scared to—scared that, upon searching, he would find Hux’s loud mind suddenly silenced. Even briefly considering that makes Kylo feel sick.

He’ll wait. Better to hear the bad news in person, if there’s bad news. And maybe there won’t be. He has a sense, though, that things won’t be the same, no matter whether or not Hux is alive.

A beep from the navigation panel. The planet, visible through the viewports, is largely gray and craggy, dead. Never thought I’d end up somewhere worse than Starkiller, Kylo thinks, as he shifts down out of warpspeed. Then the ship is pushing through the atmosphere, its body shaking as if it might break apart at any second, and Kylo is gripping the steering, white-knuckled. Fires the repulsors, edges the ship around a cliff. Somehow, it feels natural, this controlled chaos of flying. He tries not to think of Han, of sitting in Chewbacca’s lap as a kid and watching Han in his element, the only place he ever seemed to feel at home.

Familiar architecture appears over the horizon. Typical First Order shit. A training ground. An assembly area dotted with stormtroopers. Imposing, aggressively angular buildings. It’s not quite home, but it’ll do. He steers the ship into the landing bay, pulls the cowl of his robes over his head, and steps out.

The cold is different from Starkiller, dry and biting. Even in the heavy robes, the chill claws its way into his bones, buries itself inside him. At once, he feels like a child, lost in this place he’s supposed to know. On top of that, his face is bare, and he knows he must look too young, like he’s wandered here by accident.

He seizes the first officer he sees, a tall woman with severe features, by the arm. He vaguely recognizes her from having been on the bridge of the Finalizer during the Starkiller test. “Who’s in charge here?” he says. Hopes he sounds imposing, tough.

The woman is caught off-guard. She starts stammering. “Lord Ren—”

Master Ren, Lieutenant,” he says, tightening his grip.

“Excuse me—Master Ren. General Hux is in command of this base.”

His hand falls. The relief that washes over him is immeasurable. Hux, alive, like nothing has happened, like no time has passed. “I need to speak to him,” Kylo says. “It’s urgent.”

The woman’s voice wavers on the edge of panic. “He’s scheduled to give a speech imminently, sir. I could show you to the assembly field so that you may speak to him afterward.”

Okay fine fine just get me there let me see him please. Please. “Take me there,” he says, gently as he can.

She relaxes, and Kylo follows the woman, whose name he learns is Vos, across the grounds. She fills him in on the base—just finished construction less than a week ago (absolute murder getting all the materials to this hunk of rock, she says), Phasma’s implementing a new troop training meant to discourage rebellion, this place is only temporary before they figure out the next move in crushing the Resistance.

What about Hux, Kylo wants to ask, is he okay what did Snoke do to him please.

“The new stormtrooper training seems to be working,” Vos says. “Phasma’s quite the disciplinarian. Hux was steamed when she insisted on revising the training plans, but you can’t really blame her. I recall hearing you weren’t pleased with his methods, either.”

Kylo feels himself blanch. “The general knows more about that than me.”

“Of course. You’re not bound to Order regulations.” She smirks. “No doubt that irritates Hux too.”

“Well,” Kylo says, “what doesn't irritate Hux.”

Vos laughs. Then, as she’s guiding him down a walkway to the assembly area: “For a while, word was you weren't going to make it back. Hux said you might break off from the Order completely.”

“I’m sure he was heartbroken about that prospect.” Kylo scoffs.

“He’s a very stoic man,” she says, shrugging. “Except when he's speechifying.”

“The speech today—is it a special occasion, or—I can’t remember.”

“Just the usual motivational talk. Morale has been pretty down since the disaster at Starkiller. Suppose that’s wont to happen when you lose half your troops and staff.” She stops stock-still on the walkway, turns back to Kylo. “Forgive me, Master Ren, I’m being entirely too familiar. I ought to keep my mouth shut.”

He doesn’t know what to say. It doesn’t matter, anyway, because they reach a small platform offset from the main stage. It’s a copy of the assembly area on Starkiller, clearly constructed quickly. Same oversized scarlet banners bearing the First Order insignia, same troops filing in. Vos leads Kylo to a viewing area at the corner of the platform, from which both the stage and the field of troops are visible.

A pang in his chest. Hux will be here soon, no different from ever before, doing what he does best. Kylo aches at the thought of it. It’s been so long since he saw Hux at all, but getting to see him here, in his element, is even more special.

“Does he know I’m here?” The words come out more desperate than Kylo intended. He wishes he had his mask to hide behind; he’s never been good at concealing his feelings.

“Not to my knowledge. We weren’t informed of your impending arrival.”

“You’ll take me to him as soon as this speech is over.”

“Yes, Master Ren.” Vos clasps her hands behind her back and turns toward the stage. “He’ll be starting shortly, I think.”

The waiting is torture. The last of the stormtroopers file in, as do several high-ranking officers, who congregate at the back of the stage. Knowing Hux is here, though, knowing that he’s alive and close and there, that keeps Kylo from losing his mind. Soon he’ll be with Hux in the same room, and Hux will be solid and real and possibly even happy to see him. That’s something. That’s more than he’s had to look forward to in a while.

And then there’s a ripple up one of the long red banners, and Hux, in his stupid greatcoat and stupid hat, is walking to the front of the stage. Kylo hears himself exhale, shaky, at the sight of him. After all the nights spent dreaming of finding him dead, not being able to save him, having him so near is overwhelming.

Hux starts to speak and that’s it. Any hope Kylo had of abandoning his attachment to Hux is gone; any belief that this could be purely physical is lost. Kylo feels suddenly sick with the want—need—to have his hands on Hux again. He’s forgotten the particular softness of Hux’s skin, the unique topography of his bones and freckles, the sight of his eyes hazy with sleep in the mornings. Right now, he would settle for seeing Hux’s hair in the light. Would give anything just to be close to him again.

Kylo loses track of what Hux is saying because he’s focusing on Hux’s mouth. For the first time in weeks, Kylo thinks of kissing Hux. His want for this has not diminished, either. Kylo's mind swirls with the thought of hiding behind the banners and kissing Hux there, taking him off-guard and finally pressing his mouth to Hux’s. All the people still around, all the stormtroopers exiting—but they’d be hidden, and he’d hold onto Hux and not let go. Hux would call him Kylo again (he’s missed that sound so, so much) and maybe he’d call Hux Bren and Hux wouldn’t mind. Even if Hux minded, he’d still do it. Murmur Bren into his neck and cheek and shoulder and—

He's shaken from this reverie by the sudden overwhelming sense that something isn’t right. Hux is going on about the Resistance, how the Order will strike when they’re least expecting it, and distantly, at the edges of his perception, Kylo catches something.

He feels it before he sees it. Somewhere in the middle of the crowd, a stormtrooper releasing the safety on his blaster. Kylo tears his eyes away from Hux and scans the endless rows of troops. Dread sneaks into him like a shadow.

“There's something wrong,” he mutters to Vos. She glances up at him, still engrossed in Hux's speech. “I think something's wrong.” 

 

Chapter Text

Everything seems to happen in a second.

Vos is opening her mouth to speak when there’s the unmistakable sound of blaster fire. Hux doesn't have time to react, but Kylo immediately summons the strength to hold the blaster bolt in mid-air. A gasp rises from the crowd, he can’t find where the bolt’s come from. He’s shouting HUX MOVE MOVE and someone, an admiral, is ushering Hux away behind a column, Hux’s horrified face imprints itself on Kylo’s mind, and there’s more blaster fire. Before he can stop himself, he’s climbed up on the railing of the vaulted platform, balanced carefully, still holding the first bolt in the air. A glance back—Hux is out of the way. He releases the bolt; it crashes against a banner, rips a hole. Holds the next bolt in the air—exertion beginning to take its toll, not yet not yet—and searches out its source. Another traitor. Notes Vos dropped to the ground, she's not bleeding, she’s okay, and he can see Hux behind the column and Hux is watching him, and there's fear and fury in Hux's eyes, the same as during their walk to Snoke’s fortress, an incredulity that this, everything he’s worked for, might suddenly be stolen from him.

There. Kylo finds him, manages to snag on the foolish pride that the trooper is radiating. Kylo lets the second bolt collide with a column at the center of the platform; the center banner falls to the ground. Kylo can feel Hux’s alarm (he always thinks so loud and now his thoughts are screaming) so Kylo uses it. Hux being afraid sets a rage boiling in him like nothing he’s ever felt. How fucking dare they try to hurt you, he’s pushing it into Hux’s mind, it’s a shout but he hopes it’s a comfort, I swore I wouldn’t let anything happen to you. No response from Hux, maybe he doesn’t catch Kylo’s words because his mind is a whirlwind right now. Doesn’t matter. There’s hate in Kylo’s heart and veins and fingertips and it’s all built up, buzzing just beneath his skin until he feels like his whole body is burning.

Another blaster fire. Aimed at Hux—that’s the final push. Electricity explodes from Kylo’s fingertips, surges out in tendrils that center at the stormtrooper’s heart. Kylo’s throat feels raw and he can’t tell if he’s screaming, maybe it doesn’t matter, he can’t stop the last bolt from hitting Hux’s column. He has to ride out the storm summoned from his fingertips. The other troopers have scattered now and Kylo feels the life leaving the shooter’s body, hears him screaming for mercy.

No. No mercy. Never again.

The last blaster bolt crushes through the column Hux is standing behind and nicks Hux’s side. Hux cries out, and Kylo feels Hux’s pain inside his own head as if he himself were shot. Hux is in a panic, clapping his hand over his side and curling into himself. Kylo claws back into his mind. Tries to check if he's okay. It's all noise. Hold on I’ll be there soon, Kylo is shouting, can’t tell if he's yelling it aloud or only into Hux's head. It doesn't matter.

Finally, finally, the lightning pouring from Kylo’s fingers subsides into sparks. The stormtrooper’s body is left quivering on the ground, his armor charred in places, blaster thrown to his side. Kylo can't catch his breath; there’s too many eyes on him, all these troops and officers. Commanders are evacuating the troopers, Captain Phasma and others surrounding the traitor’s burnt body. Vos finally lifts her head, gapes at Kylo. His hands are shaking. Hux is pushing away the admirals surrounding him, his eyes trained on Kylo.

“Vos,” he says, almost barks, the woman still collecting herself, making her way to her feet. The adrenaline thrums hot in his veins as he lowers himself down from the railing. “Tell me how to get to Hux.”

She gestures towards the long walkway that leads from the vaulted platform to the area behind the stage. “They’ll probably escort him to the Finalizer,” she says. “Take him off-planet.”

He’ll have to hurry. He nods. “I’ll have someone come help you, I’ve just—I have to. Go.” And he moves as fast as his legs will take him up the walkway, leaving Vos behind. He half-thinks about her as he’s reaching the back of the stage, when he glances down and sees her still standing with her head in her hands. But it's Hux at the front of his mind, clouding his thoughts. Kylo swears he can still feel Hux’s hurt like an echo in his head. Where is he where are you.

Finally—a crush of people moving away from the stage, officers in Order uniforms, a flash of red hair at their center (he must have lost his hat in the chaos). Kylo pushes through them, still smelling of smoke, and they pull away at the sight of his hands, of him. A murmur rises up: that can't be him, he looks so young, I always thought he would be—

The air drops out of Kylo’s lungs. There’s Hux. His face is flushed, breathing unsteady, but he’s alive. Right now, that’s enough. A confusing mix of relief and fear washes over Hux’s face. Kylo watches him swallow hard.

“General,” Kylo says. Can’t bring himself to call Hux by name—the urge to whisper Bren, Bren into Hux’s shoulder is too strong. Even calling him Hux would reveal too much, would come out like a plea.

Hux tears his eyes away, turns to the admiral flanking him. “I need to speak with Lord Ren aboard the Finalizer immediately.”

“We’ll provide an escort, General,” the admiral says.

“That won’t be necessary. Take care of that—that scum.” Hux waves a hand, dismisses the officers. They seem unwilling to leave Hux, who still holds his side and grimaces now and then, but they listen to him and begin to dissipate.

Kylo thinks, suddenly, of Vos, left shaken on the ground. “Send someone after Lieutenant Vos, too,” he says. Hopes it comes out sounding harsh, commanding. An officer nods to Kylo, and then they’re leaving, and it’s just him there with Hux, alone.

Hux doesn’t say anything at first. Just clutches his wound and looks at Kylo, expectant. Kylo’s chest clenches. His hands are still shaking, and he can’t suppress the want to touch Hux, to let all the feelings he’s nursed in these confusing weeks come spilling out.

What he manages to say is, “You shouldn’t be standing. Or walking, or—anything.”

“Ah,” Hux says. “Well.”

Give me something, Kylo is thinking, let me know you’re okay please please. “How far’s the shuttle?”

“A ways. I’m fine.” Hux’s voice is quiet. He doesn’t quite meet Kylo’s eyes. “Let’s go.”

“I’ll carry you,” Kylo says. “Tell me how to get there. I’ll carry you.”

Hux scoffs. “Absolutely not.”

“You’re hurt.” I can feel it I know you’re afraid. Kylo won’t force himself into Hux’s mind, not now, not when he knows the kind of shock Hux is feeling. Knowing Hux, he’s numbed himself to it. If Kylo learned anything from Snoke, it was that you have to invite the pain in. There’s strength in living with it for a while, in harnessing the anger and the fear. Hux has always been scared of feeling anything at all, since it might show some sort of weakness. Kylo wants to say, look at my hands look what I did for you I can still feel the fucking electricity in me. I’m the most powerful thing you’ve ever seen don’t you know why? “I bet it’s still bleeding.”

“Of course it’s still bleeding, I haven’t been to the medbay—don’t be ridiculous.” Hux is walking away from him already, heading for the command shuttle back in the landing bay. His gait is uncharacteristically slow and stiff, and that makes Kylo anxious. He’s got to be hurting, he’d never admit it, but—

Kylo’s thoughts spiral. He listens to Hux draw in sharp, hitched breaths with each step, clench his fists hard. That’s enough. He explodes.

“I just spent a fucking month—or two, I don’t even know how long it actually was because it felt like a fucking eternity—worrying that you were dead, and, I flew a ship here by myself and I didn’t know what I was going to even find when I got here. Or if you would even be here. Or alive.” It all comes out at once, stammering and shouting. Swears he can hear it echo off the broken columns, off every rock in this monochromatic wasteland. Hux turns and Kylo recognizes the look that crosses Hux’s face—something like realization, like the fear of what’s spoken being true. Kylo swallows down his nerves. “So I would really appreciate it if you would just. Let me carry you.”

Hux sighs, goes still, drops his head down. “By all means, Ren,” he says, sounding defeated.

Kylo approaches slowly, as if Hux were a wounded animal (he supposes, distantly, that that’s exactly what Hux is), and places an arm around Hux’s shoulder. All bones, all angles. He bends a little, Hux bending with him, and eases his other arm into the crook of Hux’s knees. Hux grimaces as he’s lifted, still rigid in Kylo’s arms. “I’ve got you,” Kylo says. “Relax.”

It’s then that Hux gives in and lets himself go limp. He’s smaller than Kylo remembers, and soft and sad-looking, those heavy-lidded eyes all tired and worried. Not the time, Kylo reminds himself, and he starts heading toward the landing bay where he came in. As he’s walking, Hux eventually makes himself smaller, curls against Kylo’s chest and hides his face there in the new robes. This close, Kylo can feel every small movement Hux makes, hear every quiet noise.

At some point, maybe halfway to the landing bay, Hux lifts his hand from his side and makes a fist, holds it at his stomach. Kylo can finally see Hux’s wound, and it’s worse than he expected. The blaster bolt sliced through the thick fabric of Hux’s coat and uniform, bit into his skin, between his ribs and his hips. It’s not too deep, but from this awkward position, Kylo can’t quite see how long the wound is. There’s a lot of blood, crimson on Hux’s pale skin. The sight makes Kylo nauseous.

Hux keeps pressing against Kylo, and Kylo is sure he can feel it now—Hux’s pain, bursting within his body and pouring out of him. He needs Hux to say it hurts, it hurts, and to say I need you to make it stop. Hux has never needed him; he’s only ever been an accessory. Now, though, Kylo aches to be needed, a necessity.

There’s a pilot already waiting for them in the shuttle, once they finally get to the landing bay. “Let’s move! He’s hurt,” Kylo barks. Feels Hux flinch at the tone of his voice. He mutters an apology as the doors are closing.

“You can probably put me down,” Hux says. Kylo hasn’t let go of him, even as Kylo has gotten settled on the bench and the shuttle’s begun to launch from the bay.

Kylo shakes his head. Not letting go of you ever. He repositions his arms, holds Hux tight against his chest, lets Hux’s head loll onto his shoulder. Hux’s mussed hair brushes Kylo’s jaw and he catches himself sighing. For so long, he never expected to get to touch Hux again. Now, Hux’s hair is soft on his face, Hux is here in his arms, hurt but here.

He asks, “Should I take you to the medbay, or—”

Hux manages a laugh, then winces at the pain. “No—fuck, no. My quarters.”

Okay. That’s good. That means—maybe this is going to be okay. “Do you want a medic?”

“What do you think?” Hux turns his face against Kylo’s shoulder again, or maybe he’s rubbing his face there, Kylo can’t tell. He doesn't know what Hux means, what any of this means. Waits for clarification. He gets it, eventually, when Hux curls his fingers in Kylo’s robes, just over Kylo’s chest. “There are medpacs in my room,” Hux murmurs. “What I want is—”

He stops abruptly, as if he can't form the last words. Then—he taps his temple gently, slowly, fingers not moving quite as easily as he’d like.

Slipping into Hux’s mind is like returning home. Familiar nooks and crannies reveal themselves through the haze of pain. What comes to the forefront: I want you to take care of me. A memory of fingers pulling through his hair, of his name said in quiet, caring tones.

Kylo nods, overeager. Say you will, please, Hux is thinking.

“I will,” Kylo says.

Stay in here, Hux pleads, and Kylo does. It’s a little like his training, how he had to learn to silence the voices of his past. They were always too loud in his head, but he was able to pick them apart. Make himself stronger. Now, he quiets the doubts that rise from the shadows of Hux’s mind. Careful, careful—Kylo smooths away the thoughts of weakness, the voice of Hux’s father, of Snoke, the fear that threatens to swallow him. That feels strange.

“I can stop if you want me to.”

No. No.

Kylo goes on, softly rearranging the contents of Hux’s head. He’s reassured by Hux’s fleeting thought that this feels like that old quilt. So he keeps at it for the entirety of the trip to the Finalizer, eventually letting his gloved fingers drift to the revealed skin near Hux’s wound. He touches gently as he can, dried blood flaking off as he does, and Hux makes a low noise that isn’t quite pained.

Snoke would be disgusted. Training was supposed to rid him of gentleness, demolish his need for affection and touch. But this doesn’t feel like breaking any vows. It feels like—like getting what he’s wanted. Just the chance to hold someone, and them needing it, and needing him.

He holds Hux until they’re safely in the launch bay after the turbulent landing, and then Kylo carries him again, the Finalizer’s floorplan returning to him quickly. They’ve cleared the corridors in anticipation of Hux’s arrival, and Kylo is thankful for it, since it means there’s no watchful eyes on them. He moves fast, and Hux clings to him now, a hand gripping Kylo’s shoulder. That’s new. At Hux’s door, Hux slips off one of his gloves, presses his thumb to the keypad. Kylo sees the blood staining Hux’s palm, then, and feels a knot in his stomach.

Hux’s room is as pristine as ever. Too sterile. But relief washes over Kylo at being back here, seeing the familiar bed, its pressed sheets and sharp corners, the colorful quilt. He lowers Hux down so he’s sitting on the edge of the bed, then pauses. Hux is looking up at him, totally still, expectant.

“Your coat,” Kylo says. Leans down, slides his palms across Hux’s shoulders and slips the coat down, and Hux removes his other glove. Kylo takes the clothes and folds them across the chair.

“Medpacs are in the bottom cabinet,” Hux says. Each word sounds hard to speak, breathy and quivering. Kylo finds the medpacs in the refresher, tries not to think about why he started keeping them in here. Wonders if Snoke hurt him, if, beneath his uniform, there are sprawling scars like the ones that crisscross Kylo’s own chest and back. Snoke has a great capacity for cruelty. Kylo steels himself for the worst.

It’s an uncomfortable tableau: Hux, looking broken, clutching his side again, facing away from the viewport. No stars, just the bleak gray surface of the planet beneath them. Once, Kylo had sat where Hux is, the quilt wrapped around his shoulders. Now, that memory serves as a reminder of what he’s lost, what they can never go back to.

Sitting there, bent, Hux looks too small, more fragile than ever. His palm is tinged red with his own blood, and the wound stretches further around Hux’s side than Kylo would like. Kylo can sense Hux’s fear again, not quite the same as earlier: he’s not afraid he’s going to die, he’s afraid that—well. Kylo can’t figure that out without probing into Hux’s thoughts. That would be an invasion.

The medpac feels awkward in his hands. He comes around to Hux’s front. Hux is staring at the floor, with his palm pressed hard against his wound.

“I don’t really know what to do,” Kylo admits.

Hux manages a pained-sounding laugh at that. “You’re helpless,” he says, shaking his head.

“Can you tell me what to do, please? So I can fix you?” Kylo realizes how childish this is to say, even the notion that he can fix Hux with some bandages and bacta. But it’s worth a shot, and he can’t very well say, I’m scared too, I’m less scared when you tell me exactly what to do.

There’s a sudden light in Hux’s eyes when he glances up at Kylo. He recognizes that, too—a fanatic heat, a flash of flame he’s seen so many times, before Hux has ordered him to his knees, or to bend over. Admittedly, it’s dulled now, but it’s good to see any sign of life in Hux at all.

“Take off your gloves,” Hux says. “And your robes. They’ll get in the way.”

Kylo drops the medpac next to Hux on the bed, yanks off the gloves, clumsy. He’s overeager, he’s missed this more than he realized—the simplicity of Hux telling him what to do and the impulse to obey. Unbuckles his belt, lets it fall. Then he’s pulling his robes over his head, too much fabric, feels his hair sticking up all over. He leaves the robe pooled on the floor by Hux’s feet. Last, the overshirt, with its constricting sleeves. Kylo remembers as he’s taking it off that he’s still wearing Hux’s undershirt, he’s been wearing it for too long now, and it smells like sweat and probably blood and the perpetual mildew of Snoke’s fortress. But it’s become a kind of security blanket—a piece of Hux that’s been with him even when Hux wasn’t.

He drops the overshirt onto the growing pile of clothes. Meets Hux’s eyes. Hux exhales, just a breath, his lips parting just enough to make Kylo desperate. The room suddenly feels cold, and Kylo feels like an exposed nerve, the weight of Hux’s gaze enough to make him flinch.

Kylo forces himself to speak. “Okay,” he says. “What next.”

“Take off my tunic and my undershirt.” Hux’s words are precise, measured.

Kylo advances. Positions himself between Hux’s splayed legs. Hux’s face is tilted up toward him; Kylo can’t remember the last time they were so close. He wants to draw a finger over Hux’s cheekbones, press his thumb to Hux’s mouth, kiss him until there’s no air in either of their bodies. The painful truth is—he has never kissed anyone. When the other students at Luke’s school were kissing each other (against the Code, but kids are kids), he was listening to Snoke. After that, there was too much blood on his hands. Never got around to it. Wanted to, yes, he’s wanted to kiss Hux since the moment he closed his lips around Hux’s gloved fingers, and every moment since then it’s lingered in him somewhere, maybe the same place he hides that memory of Hux and the viewport.

You’re fixing him. Stop.

He reaches down, carefully unfastens Hux’s belt with stumbling fingers. Hux is still looking up at him, but he focuses on some nonspecific area of Hux’s shoulder. Swallows down the urge that twists in him. The belt slips to the floor.

Hux’s legs are against Kylo’s now. The contact is pleasant, insistent—no shut up you're projecting Kylo. Sets his shaky hands at the collar of Hux’s tunic and starts at the hidden buttons there. A fingertip stutters, brushes across Hux’s neck. Scrape of the day’s stubble, sharp breath, throat working. He finally manages to get the top button undone. What a trial. His hair is falling in his face, Hux is still watching him too closely, he still wants nothing more than to lean the rest of the way down and press his mouth to Hux’s.

As he’s undoing the buttons—there are too many of them—he thinks of this: a moment sometime in the future when they’re safe, and Hux’s hands are in his hair, and Hux’s lips are soft against his. He thinks of holding Hux, kissing the hollow of his neck and the dip in his collarbone. And Hux kisses him, too, every spot on his chest and face. No Order, no Snoke, just them.

Slowly, Kylo reveals the undershirt beneath Hux’s tunic. His skin is so pale, almost translucent, as if lit from within. When he undoes the last button, Kylo expects Hux to shrug off the uniform, but he remains still. Kylo slides the tunic down Hux’s arms, deposits it on the floor too.

This is such a small, simple thing, undressing Hux. It should feel small. Yet as Kylo gets his fingers around the soft fabric of Hux’s undershirt, he feels an overwhelming ache at having never done this before. What ought to be simple has never been simple for them, in this deceptively clear-cut situation. It was meant to just be sex—stress relief, an escape from the monotony of life in the Order. This yearning for more was never supposed to enter the equation.

He lifts Hux’s undershirt, the pads of his thumbs skimming across Hux’s stomach and chest. Hux raises his arms a little, and his hands are so close that Kylo thinks—hopes—Hux might place them on his shoulders. Maybe pull him down just enough that their noses would touch, or their foreheads, and Hux’s soft mouth would be open and wanting. Kylo feels sick with how much he wants this. Hux.

Of course Hux just keeps his hands still, his palms curling into loose fists as Kylo tugs the undershirt off. How stupid, to think Hux might want him again, or ever wanted him at all. Hux draws his arms back against himself when Kylo removes the shirt. Kylo considers pressing the undershirt to his face, then pulling off the one he’s wearing and replacing it with this. It would be tight again, but it would feel more like Hux.

Stop stop stop Kylo let it go. He reluctantly unclenches his fingers and lets the shirt fall. Then it’s just Hux, all of his pale, pale skin and those freckles across his shoulders, and his sideburns spilling into stubble, and his nose and his eyes and his mouth. Kylo steps back. Knows if he stays this close, he won’t be able to keep himself from touching for much longer. That almost makes it worse, though, because then he’s just looking at Hux, and the want in him grows.

When Hux speaks again, his voice is soft. “There’s a canister of antiseptic in the medpac. Red label. First you’ll clean the wound with that.”

Kylo’s palms are still shaking when he takes the medpac again. Can hardly keep steady enough to pop it open. He quickly finds the canister and returns the medpac to its spot on the bed. “Should I sit next to you, or—”

Hux, suddenly exasperated: “It doesn’t matter, Ren.”

The corner of Kylo’s mouth twitches. “Um. Can you—will you lay down so I can get to it better? Please.” He passes the canister between his hands, waiting for Hux to move. Finally, Hux lowers himself to the bed, turns on his side, draws his legs up against his chest. He looks too young, too small, broken. “Okay,” Kylo says. “I’m gonna sit next to you.”

Hux doesn’t respond, but he doesn’t say no, so Kylo sits down with him, not too close. In this position, the wound is stretched wide, fiery red. Kylo unscrews the canister and dips the tips of his middle and index fingers in. Hesitates before applying it.

“Just rub it in,” Hux snaps.

Kylo, helpless to disobey Hux’s orders, presses his fingers to the wound. Hux winces at the contact, sucks in a breath through his teeth. The only thing Kylo knows to do is what Leia used to do when he would get hurt. He moves his fingers down the length of the wound in slow, soothing circles, not too much pressure, just enough to get the ointment in. Leia would shush him, too, because he was always crying, and that would make him feel calmer. Less scared.

For a long time, it’s silent, and Hux’s breathing eventually steadies again. Kylo splays his fingers across Hux’s waist, over his protruding ribs and hipbone. Wishes he could feel more—the lightning seems to have the unfortunate side-effect of making his fingertips less sensitive, as if they were calloused. There’s a very light dusting of coppery hair that covers Hux’s torso, thickens at his navel. He’s sure it must be soft, but there’s no way to tell.

The wound looks cleaner now, less likely to be infected. Kylo twists the cap back onto the canister. “Bacta’s in packets. You know what bandages look like, I hope.”

“I’m doing you a favor here,” Kylo says, though he’s pleased to hear Hux sounding like his old self again. He digs the packets and the bandages out of the medpac, carefully tears the first packet open. “How’d you learn all this?”

“It’s not exactly complicated,” Hux says, speaking through gritted teeth as Kylo applies the cold gel to the wound.

“That isn’t what I asked.”

It’s odd to be on the other side of this, to be the one rubbing in the last of the bacta. Kylo recalls Hux tending to him, and how for the first time in a long time—the first time since he’d been Kylo—he’d felt cared for. Up until then, it had seemed a foregone conclusion that Hux hated him. But Hux had bandaged his wounds anyway, and that in itself threw a wrench into the whole thing. How many nights has he spent imagining Hux’s hands, phantom touches at each scar? More than the sex, Kylo thinks this is what he’s missed most—just having Hux’s hands on him, being touched by Hux. That, he knows, is childish, too, but it’s been such a comfort to be wanted. When Snoke first took notice of him, he felt a similar rush, though that was always edged with fear. With Hux, there’s a kind of safety. Kylo realizes now how empty he’s felt without Hux to touch or be touched by. Even the uncertainty of what’s between them now doesn’t make him afraid. They’re here, together. That’s something.

Hux sighs at the press of Kylo’s hand to his side. “At the Academy, I had to patch myself up sometimes. It’s just—basic knowledge, really.”

“Thought those places were supposed to be state-of-the-art,” Kylo says. He exposes the adhesive of a bandage and carefully sticks it on the wound.

“It was, you imbecile, but I certainly wasn’t going to admit I was being beaten up all the time.” Kylo’s fingers linger over the bandage, smoothing down its corners more times than necessary, just to keep touching Hux.

“Okay, that’s done,” Kylo says. He returns the used items to the medpac, clips its top back on. “You haven’t called me an imbecile in a while.”

Hux sits up slowly, groaning a little as he does. “You haven’t been here.”

Kylo focuses on the knobs of Hux’s spine, his bent back, the fresh bandage against his skin. “Yeah. Sorry.” He’s thinking, I wanted to be here you have to know that. “Why’d you get beaten up?”

The thunk of Hux’s boots hitting the floor. “Schoolboy nonsense—I was scrawnier than this, back then. And my father did sort of loom large there. The usual things.” He sighs. “Do you think they’ll give me a pass on turning in my reports today, considering I was fucking shot earlier?”

Kylo can’t keep himself from laughing, though it comes out sounding strained and raspy. “I think you’ll be okay,” he says. “I should, um. I should let you rest.”

Hux is scooting himself up against his pillows, back against the headboard. “No, I think you have some explaining to do,” Hux says, arching an eyebrow.

No use resisting. Kylo pulls off his own boots and sets them next to Hux’s, then repositions himself on the bed so he’s next to Hux, a distance between their shoulders. “Okay,” Kylo says. “I’m all yours.”

A rapid-fire exchange. Hux asks, “When did you get here?”

“This morning. Came straight from Snoke’s.”

“And you proceeded directly to the assembly grounds.”

“I—Lieutenant Vos was in the landing bay. I asked her to show me where to go.”

“You knew there would be an assembly at that time?”

“No, I, um. I asked her to take me to you.” Kylo’s face is hot. This feels less like an explanation and more like an interrogation. Hux refuses to look at him, so they’re staring out the viewport at nothing at all.

“I see,” Hux says. “And your intentions were—”

“To talk to you? Because I thought maybe—” He stops himself before saying it. Doesn't know what he wants to say. Maybe Snoke hurt you. Maybe you would want to talk to me. Maybe we could go back to how things were before. “What did Snoke do to you?”

“He was merciful. This is my last chance.” Hux takes a deep breath. “I groveled. And when I did, he said I was embarrassing myself and the Order. I’m to come up with a new course of action before the week’s out.”

“Do you have anything?”

“No.” Hux pauses for a moment. “Before he dismissed me, Supreme Leader said that when you came back, you would be different.”

“Different how.”

And now Hux turns his head just slightly, just enough to look at Kylo. A sudden weight, a burn in Kylo’s chest. “He told me your greatest weakness is your need for affection. And that your attachments were detrimental to the progress of your training and would be systematically eliminated.” Hux swallows hard. “Supreme Leader suggested that you would be cold and detached and have no use for others.”

Kylo’s stomach drops. Fuck Snoke. It had been good foresight to protect that memory of Hux. He's been able to fool Snoke into believing he ridded himself of it. He ridded himself of everything else. “Do I seem weak to you?”

“No,” Hux says. He’s biting his bottom lip, anxiety pouring off of him.

“I’m stronger than you or Snoke or anybody else knows. He calls me Master Ren now. You saw what I’m capable of. Devastation.” Kylo flexes his hands as he speaks. Thinks he can still feel the sizzle of electricity inside him. Wonders if Hux can feel it too, like a pulse in his veins.

“Master Ren,” Hux says, with a bit of a sneer, “that’s adorable.” His shoulder is against Kylo’s now, barely, the bones of him digging into Kylo’s arm.

“I don’t—answer to anyone, or need anyone anymore.” Kylo lets his forearm rest against Hux’s. Another childish impulse—to take Hux’s hand in his own. His hands are larger than Hux’s, fingers longer, and Hux’s hand would feel so small in his.

“So Supreme Leader was correct, then. You have no use for—” Hux’s voice trails off. He’s looking down at their arms against each other, closing his fingers into a fist. Please say it, Kylo is thinking, I need to know I need to hear it. But Hux won’t let himself. He’s silent for a long time, and they’re still, barely touching. Both looking at their hands.

Is this how it’s going to be from now on? Stifled and stuck and static? Kylo can’t bear the thought of that, after everything. “Can I show you something?” he says suddenly, turning toward Hux. “You’ll have to, um, you have to let me in.”

Hux blinks, long eyelashes fluttering. This is stupid he’ll never let you. But Hux nods, says okay, closes his eyes. Kylo’s heart pounds.

Luke had spoken, once, about a technique used by the Jedi during battle. He said it was dangerous, but unbelievably powerful, requiring the users to fully open their minds to one another. It took a special kind of focus, a oneness with the Force and with each other. He spoke, too, of how quickly it could go wrong, destroy the users from the inside. They were children, not strong enough to even begin to try this, but the knowledge of its existence has stuck with Kylo.

Kylo lifts his hands and gently places his fingertips at Hux’s temples, his thumbs just beneath Hux’s eyes. He feels the slope of Hux’s cheekbones and the new softness—he has never felt anything so soft—of Hux’s lashes against his skin. “Put your hands on mine,” Kylo murmurs. (That isn’t a necessity, but he wants it anyway. Makes the prospect of doing this less scary.) He realizes now how close he is to Hux, that he could tilt his head just so and their lips would touch. Hux lays his hands over Kylo’s, cold, fingertips on Kylo’s nails.

A deep breath. He closes his eyes, too. Then, he slips into Hux’s mind, as easy as dreaming.

It’s quieter than Kylo expects, given the circumstances. Still a constant, creeping, nervous feeling, but Hux seems to be soothed somehow. Tell me if I hurt you just squeeze my hand or something. Distantly, he feels Hux’s thumb drifting across the back of his hand. An affirmative warmth, a quiet go on. He does what he can to ease away Hux’s nerves—he visualizes it like smoothing away wrinkles in an unironed shirt, like passing his hand lightly over the surface of still water. Is that okay, he questions, and there’s the warmth again.

He’s not sure exactly how to go about doing this. Hux isn’t Force-sensitive, so a true meld isn’t possible, but there has to be some way. He’s projected images into Hux’s mind before, sounds and memories, so it’s not out of the question for him to project the contents of his own mind, too, maybe. The trick will be remaining focused, and not getting so wrapped up that he falls fully back into his own consciousness.

He conjures up an image, the strongest, clearest one he can think of: the last time they were here, when Hux’s body was shadowed in the light and framed by billions of stars and galaxies and nebulae. Kylo remembers it in perfect detail: the quilt around his shoulders, the yearning in his chest, the fierceness with which he wanted to protect this. He projects this into the calm of Hux’s mind, as fully as he can. Focus on this please until it feels like it’s yours. The clarity of Hux’s mind suddenly sharpens; he analyzes the memory with a militaristic precision.

Is that me?

Yes please just try and feel it. Kylo figures he must be leaving something out. Recalls the ache that consumed him, then, how ill with want he felt. He senses Hux sinking into the memory, wrapping himself in the quilt, hurting and wanting and needing. Hux’s own thoughts fall away until there’s only the memory and his reactions to it.

From there, it’s a matter of construction. Kylo places images like rooms and hallways branching from this one central memory, beckons Hux to go with him. When I saw you like that I wanted to keep you safe you looked so vulnerable. Please don’t say anything I know this is weird but I need you to see. Hux, though he is tentative, unsure, assents.

The bare, freckled shoulders are suddenly clothed, squared off in a First Order uniform. Same slicked-back hair seen from behind, a sliver of pale neck. Hux, a year or two ago, standing before Snoke’s throne. (The edges of this vision are blurry; Kylo is wearing his mask. When he speaks, it is not in the voice he has come to know as his own, but the metallic, distorted one the mask entailed—the voice of a boy, hiding. He does not hide anymore.) General, Snoke says, this is Kylo Ren. I assume you two will cooperate. Kylo feels something immediately stammer inside him when Hux looks at him for the first time. This young man’s face, almost kind in its attempt to appear severe. More questions raised than answered, a curiosity piqued: who is he what is his relation to the Order what can he do for me.

Then, Hux’s face, red with anger and arousal, that first time in Kylo’s room. He’s shouting what the fuck is your problem and Kylo is seizing him with the Force, and even though Hux is choking he’s begging for more. When Hux catches his breath, he shoves Kylo back, and Kylo falls onto the bed, and there’s a sudden hunger flaring in Hux’s eyes. I wonder what you look like under those awful robes, Hux says, I wonder if you’d show me. Kylo summons his bravery and pulls back his hood, presses a button to take off his mask. There, he’s exposed, and he senses that Hux wants to touch him. Hux, still dressed, watches Kylo remove layer upon layer of clothing. Turn over, I don’t want to look at you, Hux says, and Kylo obeys. Gives himself over to Hux’s hands.

I had never let anyone else see me like that you were the first. Aside from this moment, with his entire mind open to Hux, he’s never felt barer than that. I know you hated me I guess maybe you still do but you didn’t hate me enough to not want to touch me. I thought that meant something I don’t know.

Hux’s hands on Kylo’s skin, cold with bacta, so careful and uncharacteristically gentle. Kylo hurts, and he’s too devastated to be angry. After Starkiller, after Han, after it all went wrong—we lost everything but I still had you and that would have been enough for me. The comfort of the recollection is real; Kylo swears he can feel Hux’s hands on him now, and maybe in the bedroom Hux is drawing his thumb over Kylo’s hand again but in his mind, Hux is pulling his fingers through Kylo’s hair. That’s always been it.

A flash and Kylo is curled on the cold floor in Snoke’s fortress, drained and desperate. He is thinking of hands in his hair, of belonging to someone, and he is more alone than he has ever been. Not even Snoke is there in his head, and Hux is a universe away or possibly dead, probably dead. No one to speak to, no point in going on. Just weakness and want.

The memory they fall into next is corrupted. Snoke tried to strip me of all this I couldn’t let it go I guess. What’s clear are the hands in his hair, not Hux’s but Leia’s, when she was younger and he was, too. Little one, she says, Ben, and holds him against her chest. The rest is dark but he’s safe, and she loves him, and he loves her.

Snoke’s voice slipping through: I’m the only one who’s ever wanted you. The real you, Kylo Ren. I’m all you have. Nothing but hate and Hux in his mind and energy in his body. The sensation of electricity pouring through him and over him like water (he hopes Hux can feel this, the indescribable power of it) and then out of him, defiant. That stupid boulder crushed into a million pieces. I was only able to do that because of you it’s always you.

The buzz of lightning in his veins takes them back to today. It’s cold, it’s so cold, and in the sea of a thousand stormtroopers Kylo is focusing on one. Kylo’s whole body tense with panic, Hux’s horrified face, the echo of blaster fire. Everything blurry except Hux. Beautiful, terrifying electricity surging from his fingertips. You have to know that I’d kill as many people as it took to keep you safe I would destroy the entire Order before I let harm come to you ever again.

He can hear Hux gasping, but there’s no sign that he needs to stop. At last, Hux’s back again, the dim light, the stars. His thin legs and tousled hair and crossed arms—vulnerable but fearless. Brave. A vague sense of ownership (this is mine and no one will take it from me) and and an overwhelming, unnameable feeling. Or—nameable, but naming it is terrifying. Even now, Kylo can’t put a word to it for fear that this whole thing will shatter. The dread sneaks in. Not from the memory, from now, from this. He’s shared too much, Hux will be repulsed.

The memory collapses. Kylo, what’s going on, what’s happened? Kylo. Kylo. That throws him back into the bedroom, the real bedroom, here and now. He’s shaking, gasping for breath, and his forehead is against Hux’s. Hux doesn’t move. His hands are still on top of Kylo’s. That’s the only thing that keeps Kylo from slipping away completely.

Kylo’s voice is hoarse when he finally speaks. “I built a room, a fortress, for you in my heart. I couldn’t—deal with the idea of losing you. Snoke, he—he had my mind but he never had my heart. I never let him touch you and I never will.”

It’s too still, too silent. There’s only Hux’s breathing and the distant whir of the ship’s inner workings somewhere far-off. Kylo forces himself to open his eyes—it’s almost too much, with Hux so close, the freckles on the bridge of his nose suddenly clear. Halfway between Hux’s mind and his own, he hears Hux’s thoughts like an echo, Kylo, Kylo, and then Hux’s hands are on his face and Hux’s eyes are closed and Hux’s mouth is against his, kissing him desperately.

Something bursts inside Kylo, sweet and hot. He can’t keep himself from gasping into the kiss, breathing in Hux’s air, sharing this with him. It’s so strange, to want something for so long and finally have it. He has no experience in this, no knowledge of how their mouths are meant to fit together, and so he’s sure it’s messy but it’s so satisfying. Hux’s fingers twist in the curls of Kylo’s hair and pull gently; he’s letting his own hands drift from Hux’s cheeks to his neck to his shoulders. Grips him so tightly he can feel Hux’s bones. Hux deepens the kiss, his tongue a whisper against the roof of Kylo’s mouth. I never need anything but this, Kylo is thinking, just this for the rest of my life. Since he’s been Kylo Ren, he’s felt adrift, drowning, just a boy looking for something to cling to. He realizes now that he’s found it.

There’s want pounding in his chest. His teeth scrape across Hux’s mouth; there’s so much that he wants to taste now: the single pale mole on Hux’s cheek, the crinkles at the corners of his eyes, every freckle on his shoulders and arms and back. He feels Hux laugh a little, softly, at his eagerness, and Hux strokes his hair and runs his nails over Kylo’s scalp, and pulls back just enough to speak. Before Hux can talk, though, Kylo starts stammering. “I’m sorry I’m not very good at this, I’ve just, never, um—”

“Shut up and let me get your shirt off,” Hux says. He kisses at the corner of Kylo’s mouth and gets hold of the shirt, tries to yank it over Kylo’s head. Kylo can’t seem to get his arms in the right place; he doesn’t want to let go of Hux even for a second, half a second.

He ends up murmuring into Hux’s neck, “It’s yours actually, I—sorry I stole it but I just, I needed you with me when I went to Snoke’s and I thought I’d never get to, um, be with. You. Again.” It’s Hux’s fingertips sliding up his back that finally turns him to putty in Hux’s hands. He lets Hux pull the shirt off, throw it onto the floor with the other clothes.

“You’re precious, do you know that?” He’s kissing a line down Kylo’s newly-exposed collarbone, trying to ease Kylo into his lap.

Kylo moves like he’s swimming. This is so much, he hardly knows where to focus. He sets his hands at Hux’s ribs (he likes feeling Hux’s bones; they’re a reminder that this is real) and carefully lifts himself onto Hux’s lap, Hux’s thighs between his legs. From waist-up, they’re skin on skin, and for the first time Kylo is really aware of how small Hux is. His fingertip keeps brushing over Hux’s bandage. There’s desire growing in Kylo, it’s snuck up on him—his cock is already straining against his briefs. He wants whatever Hux will give him. It’s been such a long time. “You called me that once,” Kylo says. “That time we got drunk in my room—I felt you think it, wait, I can—”

As Hux is sucking bruises at the base of Kylo’s throat, Kylo lowers himself back into Hux’s mind. No barriers, no fight, just a soft voice inside Hux’s head saying come in, come back. The memory is fuzzy but salvageable, mostly dark, more a feeling than anything else. Hux opens up easy this time, lets the projection fill his whole mind. There you are again, precious boy—it’s diluted through layers of memory and alcohol and time, but it’s clear enough, and the warmth Kylo felt is as strong as it was that night.

“I thought you were joking,” Kylo says, Hux’s arms slipping around his waist. “But I wanted it to be true, so much.” He lets Hux pull him forward, can’t keep from grinding his hips against Hux. It’s enough to make him bury his face in Hux’s shoulder when he realizes Hux is hard, too, that Hux wants him. Kylo kisses the skin there a hundred times, a thousand, half expecting each freckle to taste new and sweet under his tongue.

Show me more, Hux begs, show me everything. He’s hooking his fingers under the waistband of Kylo’s pants, and Kylo shivers at the touch. Hux breathes, “Lift up a little,” and Kylo does, and Hux pulls the pants down over the curve of Kylo’s ass. Kylo catches himself sighing, tries to work the pants off as much as he can.

I will I will but let me get these off and yours too. Can’t keep his hands still. Hux nods, helps Kylo rearrange himself so he’s able to finally get the pants off, and then his briefs. Hux’s fingers glance over Kylo’s cock, and Kylo has to push him away, just for a moment. Not yet please I want to last. And Hux is laughing, drawing his hands across Kylo’s stomach and chest.

Kylo’s trying to unbutton Hux’s pants when he feels Hux asking, does this work the opposite way? Can I show you things?

Yes just bring it up to the front of your mind and I’ll see it you’ve got to think on it really hard and let it fill you up sort of I don’t know how to explain it. You’ll know if I can see it you can always feel me in there. He slips the button through its hole, unzips, gets pants and briefs with both hands and pulls them down the length of Hux’s legs.

I like the way you feel in here.

I’m gonna suck your cock if that’s okay.

“By all means,” Hux says, breathless, and Kylo can’t keep himself from smiling. He spends a good long time kissing down the center of Hux’s chest, admiring all this familiar skin made new. Brushes his tongue over Hux’s nipple, keeps his hand flat over Hux’s wound. We’ll have matching scars now, Hux is thinking. I love your scars, I love that you look like you’ve been to battle for me.

Kylo rubs his nose against the soft skin of Hux’s stomach. Those golden hairs that trail up his navel brush Kylo’s cheek, and Kylo finally gets his fingers around Hux’s cock. That makes Hux draw in a sharp breath, his mind turn to warm baths and soft sheets and a home where he and Kylo are together. Slowly, Kylo works his hand on Hux’s cock, thumb tracing from the head all the way down to the base. Flicks his tongue over Hux’s slit. That’s good, you’re good, echoes in Hux’s mind.

Can you say that to me out loud please. He doesn’t mean to spill this thought into Hux’s head but he does. There’s nothing he wants more than this—to hear that he’s wanted, desirable, good. Kylo teases at the tip of Hux’s cock, looks up at him. He’s already wrecked, eyes closed and lips bitten red.

A palm landing at the back of Kylo’s head, stroking through the curls of his hair. “You’re so good,” Hux murmurs, voice shot. “That’s so good, Kylo.”

Kylo moans, and pleasure, pride, shoot hot and white through his body. He does what he can to show it to Hux. Projects all that warmth into Hux’s mind as he takes Hux’s cock into his mouth. Hux is repeating Kylo, Kylo out loud and in his head, gently pushing Kylo down on his cock. It’s not aggressive—this is different from any time before. I like it when you use my name can you feel it?

“Kylo,” he says again, and then yes, yes, that’s how it feels for you? Like sunlight on the waves?

And being on a speeder with the wind in my face and like when I saw you today and you were alive. Hux’s back is arching, he’s gasping again, his nails digging into Kylo’s scalp. Do you still think of stars exploding when you come I always thought that was appropriate for you.

You’ll have to wait and see.

I could make you come now if you want I’ll do whatever you want.

“No, fuck—” Hux’s fingers are scrambling underneath Kylo’s chin, lifting up his head a little. “Not yet, I want—”

I haven’t fucked you in such a long time. That’s what I want.

“Good,” Kylo says, and he positions himself on Hux’s thighs again. Hux sits up more now, runs his fingers over Kylo’s cock. “Where’s your—the lube, I’ll get it.”

“In the fucking ‘fresher,” Hux says, annoyed. I didn’t even think about it.

Kylo leans in and kisses Hux again, harder this time, more confident, and disappears into the Force. Throws one arm out in the general direction of the refresher, buries his other hand in Hux’s hair. A moment of searching, and—

There’s a crash from the refresher as he pulls the bottle from the cabinet. It soars into his hand with expert precision, and Kylo can’t keep from feeling a little pride. He pries himself from Hux’s mouth, grins, passes him the bottle.

“That’s handy,” Hux says. Fumbles with the cap, his fingers are quivering.

“We’re gonna make a mess of your quilt,” Kylo says. He lets himself touch Hux’s face, this man he gets to kiss and hold and fuck, and be overwhelmed by it. Of course he’s always found Hux attractive, but there’s something about the way he looks now, at peace and fully connected to Kylo, that makes Kylo want him even more.

Hux is beaming. Kylo’s going red; he hadn’t meant to show that to Hux. That’s sweet, don't be embarrassed, you know I feel the same, surely. “The only reason I care about the quilt at all is because of you,” he says. “Might as well make a mess of it.” He gets the cap open, spills lube all over his fingers and stomach and thighs. Slicks some over Kylo’s cock—Kylo sees that Hux loves how he looks with his head thrown back, throat bare and begging to be kissed or bitten or bruised. Hux burns when Kylo moans, low and loud, he can’t get his hand between Kylo’s legs fast enough. Then his index and middle fingers are inside Kylo, crooking into him.

The motion sends shocks through Kylo’s legs, up into his chest. First time you did this to me I thought I was going to die I’d never felt anything like it. “Fuck,” Kylo says, hooking a leg around Hux’s waist and pulling himself as close to Hux as he can get. “Deeper, come on.” He rocks himself on Hux’s fingers until they’re hitting right where he wants, then Hux speeds up his pace. Kylo has to shut his eyes then. It’s too good, too much, to watch Hux watching him, so hungry for him, and to feel it at the same time.

You have no idea how fucking unbelievable you look when I do this to you.

Show me I want to see what I look like to you. Can you actually fuck me though I’m about to lose my mind. Kylo Force-grabs the lube again, pours some into his hand and strokes it onto Hux’s cock. He teases again, knows what Hux likes, circles his thumb around the tip. Hux crooks his fingers one last time, especially hard so Kylo moans again, and then slips his fingers out.

Hux is building an image in his mind. “Don’t look yet,” he says, so Kylo thinks of something else for a moment, kisses Hux again.

I really like kissing you, he tells Hux, sucking at his bottom lip. I’ve wanted to do it for a long time did you know?

Kylo raises himself up, just a bit, not breaking the kiss, and guides Hux’s cock between his legs, so he’s pressing right against Kylo. The waiting is torture; it would be so much easier to lower himself onto Hux’s cock right now, but Kylo needs to see what Hux is picturing, what he wants and needs and feels.

“Okay, Kylo,” Hux breathes, the words like a kiss.

At once, Kylo sinks down onto Hux, moaning as he does, and back into Hux’s mind. What he sees—feels—steals his breath.

Hux sees the world more sharply than Kylo, in starker shades of black and white, fewer colors. In the vision, Kylo sees himself, bare, lost, happy. His moans echo in his own head, magnified through Hux—my favorite sound. And what he feels is Hux’s pleasure, growing and growing, less a want than a need. At first, Hux tries to push it away (I’m not good at letting myself enjoy things) but it consumes him, and Hux lets himself drown in it. The vision flutters as Hux’s focus drifts to Kylo’s eyelashes against his cheeks, his sharp nose, the scar across his face. You’re a glory to watch.

The vision continues to open as Kylo moves against Hux. He hides his face in the crook of Hux’s neck and kisses there, this soft spot of skin that belongs to him now. Immerses himself in Hux’s mind. They’re still in the bedroom, but now the scar is fresh, still bleeding. He sees Hux’s fingers, his own bloodied face.

You wanted me then even when I looked like that? Hux’s yearning is the same as what he himself has felt—a cry for something he didn’t know was missing. Kylo can’t keep himself from murmuring, “Bren, fuck,” and tasting the salt and sweat at the hollow of Hux’s neck. Sorry I always want to call you that I like the way it sounds. You’re the only person who calls me Kylo maybe I can be the only one who calls you Bren.

Bren echoes in Hux’s mind until they’re in Kylo’s bedroom, and Hux’s vision is blurry. An empty bottle of wine on the floor, Kylo saying, you’re welcome, Bren, a sudden nostalgia for childhood working its way into Hux’s chest. The distant memory of soft hands, kindness, being loved. You can see I don’t mind it, Hux is pressing his fingers hard against the small of Kylo’s back, no one's ever said my name that way before.

Kylo repeats Bren like a plea; he can’t tell whether he's saying it or only thinking it—there's no distinction between the two now. Hux’s breath goes unsteady, and his mind is soft and dark again, swirling into the next memory.

Kylo’s face again, the scar newly healed, his shoulders wrapped in the quilt they’re making a mess of now. The light is familiar—oh this is when I saw you looking at the stars isn’t it. Hux is thinking, I’m going to let this boy ruin me, and something swallows him up whole. Kylo knows this feeling; it bubbles up in him when he thinks of Leia stroking his hair, when he remembers this moment from the other side. It’s how he felt upon seeing Hux safe today. How he feels now, for that matter.

I saw how you were looking at me, Kylo, I never wanted to give it up. He’s holding Kylo tight now, and each time he uses Kylo’s name, Kylo swears he’s going to lose himself. Tries to keep a steady rhythm.

The vision crashes into the next morning. Kylo sees himself destroying Hux’s room, hears Hux telling himself you made him do this, Brendol, this is your own fault. And there’s despair, dark and cold as Snoke’s fortress. It was easier to push you away than have you taken from me. Kylo storms out of the room, and then the vision goes black and Kylo realizes that the strange, muddy noise is Hux trying to keep himself from falling apart. A scent like blood and ash and a familiar feeling, not quite soft.

My old robes?

I kept them, they’re still in my closet. You stole my undershirt so you’re not allowed to be upset with me.

Kylo is laughing into Hux’s skin. He’s close. Hux has one hand around Kylo’s cock and the other flat on his back. With each pull of Hux’s practiced hand, Kylo feels himself closer to tipping over an edge. I’m sorry I can’t hold off much longer can you show me how you’re feeling now I want to feel it too.

The dark is suddenly shot through with blinding light in a thousand colors, a sensation that Kylo cannot begin to verbalize. It’s something like falling from a great height, or plunging into the sea, or electricity bursting from his fingers, but even those pale in comparison to what Hux is feeling.

“Yours too, Kylo, let me see,” Hux pants. His wrist is moving faster; Kylo’s moans are muffled in Hux’s skin.

It takes a moment, but he’s able to project this: safety, comfort, every neuron in his body firing, everything he’s ever lost come back to him, everything he’s wanted finally his.

Then: heat, Hux gasping, his mind flooding with a single image—it’s them standing next to one another on the stage in the assembly area. Hux’s head is raised, proud, and his uniform is dressed in an emperor’s red and gold. He holds Kylo’s right hand in his own, and from his left hand, Kylo is summoning a storm of lightning, surrounding them in a cage of white sparks. If enemies approach, they are struck down, and Hux can feel the electricity too, and they are untouchable.

They’re both gone, then, clinging to one another. Kylo’s voice is ragged, whimpering Bren until it’s only a sound, a breath. “That’s good, Kylo,” Hux is murmuring, his fingers smoothing Kylo’s hair. “That’s good.” Kylo spills himself onto Hux’s stomach, shaking—he thought he felt powerful the first time he flung lightning from his fingertips. This, being with Hux, is so far beyond that.

For a long while, Kylo can’t bring himself to move. It’s enough to just be here, basking in the quiet, enjoying the softness of being held by Hux, belonging to him. Eventually, Hux asks, “Can you get us something to clean up with?” It takes a bit longer to find something this time, but Kylo pulls a clean cloth from the refresher and presses it into Hux’s hand.

He watches Hux wipe the come from his own stomach and, reluctantly, lifts himself from Hux’s lap into the space next to him. Hux cleans himself up, then Kylo too. Deposits the dirty towel on the floor.

“What do people usually do in this, uh, situation,” Kylo says. Hux’s head is on his shoulder now, Hux’s fingers drifting up and down Kylo’s forearm.

“I don’t know about people, but I—I think I’d like you to hold me for a while. It’s been quite a day.”

Kylo rubs his face against Hux’s hair, kisses at the crown of his head, and tugs the quilt up over them, after some finagling of legs. Sinks down into the pillows and pulls Hux with him, wraps an arm around Hux’s shoulder and sets Hux’s head against his chest. It’s a bit awkward, and Hux’s bones dig into the soft spots of Kylo’s side and bicep, but it works. He can feel Hux smiling into his skin; with his free hand, he smooths down Hux’s hair.

Hux’s fingers drift to the scar at Kylo’s side. No one’s ever touched there but him, and so it feels like they’ve returned to where they’re meant to be. “Does that hurt?” Hux says, moving his fingers as if he’s reapplying bacta there, so light Kylo can barely feel it.

“No,” Kylo says. “How’s your, um, injury.”

“Doesn’t hurt either. You did a good job fixing me up.” He takes Kylo’s hand, the one that’s on his shoulder, and kisses it. Each knuckle, each fingertip, every speck of skin. Hux’s lips are soft, and every now and then his teeth brush against Kylo’s flesh. That’s nice, too. “I forget, sometimes, that you’re just a man,” Hux says, apropos of nothing, very quietly.

“Hmm?”

“When you walk around in a mask, dressed like you do, with that sword, and you do what might as well be magic—for a long time I thought you couldn’t be real. But then I felt you, and I wanted you.” He laughs again, traces the lines of Kylo’s palm with a light fingertip. “You did the most unbelievable thing today, like something from a holo, and yet—you’re more real to me now than ever. You’re here.”

“I don’t wear the mask anymore,” Kylo says, because he doesn’t know what to say. How can he answer that? It’s hardly sensible that he should be here with Hux, holding Hux, being able to kiss him and touch his hair and learn every bit of him—the dimples at his hips, the knob of his wrists, how his accent softens when there’s no one else around. But still, he’s here, safe. Home. 

“Good,” Hux says, and he kisses each of Kylo’s fingertips again. The quilt is warm, and the viewports are full of stars.