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Under the Ruins of a Walled City

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Only when Hux wakes up thirsty on his second morning in the Tower does he realize he’s not been provided with a cup for drinking water. He eyes the crusted, empty milk carton on last night’s dinner tray, which remains on his desk, and decides he would rather gulp water from his cupped palms like an animal. When he gets out of bed he’s assaulted straight away by an unwanted memory of Ren bringing him a glass of water in that house on the cliff. It was one of the first things Ren did after all the healing. The water there had been sort of foul-tasting in a subtle way that Hux had noticed later. Upon taking his first gulps of it he’d been too distracted his by massive, terrifying relief and by the usual undercurrent of petty annoyance with Ren to note any imperfections in what he was drinking.

At the sink, bent over and bleary after another bad night of half-sleep, Hux slurps cold water from his palms and hopes that drinking from this tap won’t give him some sort of parasite. He dreamed about Ren. It’s fading already, but it was something about Ren killing a group of menacing, faceless men in another act of unasked-for protection. Ren then announced he would kill Snoke and save Hux, in that order. Or something like that. It’s not an unusual scenario, dream-wise, but something about it is bothering Hux as he switches from gulping water out of his palms to splashing it on his face. He looks into the mirror after he’s used the towel to dry off, trying to focus on his reflection rather than the memory of that dream. Ren’s appearance had transformed everything: attackers gone, the walls that had caged Hux disappeared and gave way to the fantasy of a fragrant forest of towering pines that Hux’s subconscious continues to cling to. It’s a dangerous fairy tale to entertain even in a dream, this idea that Ren stepping onto the scene could mean anything but further disaster, let alone some actual salvation.

Hux hears the little compartment on the bottom of his cell door opening, and he hurries to grab the dinner tray, wanting to be rid of it. There are only a few seconds available to pass the previous meal’s tray to the droid outside before it pushes the next one in, and Hux doesn’t want dirty things stacking up here, inside his only remaining sanctuary. He manages to get the old tray out before the next one is pushed inside, and he hurries his fingers away from the compartment when it slams shut again.

Rather than eating breakfast on the floor like a wibbling child, which is already a horrible memory that he refuses to dwell on, he takes his tray to the desk and opens his milk before sitting, gulping from it and wishing that they would swap it out for juice at some point, or even filtered water. He supposes he’ll never have sparkling water again, or sparkling wine, or brandy, though he did get his hands on those cigarettes with relative ease. They’re hidden under his mattress. He’ll sneak them into his next meeting with Jek, which he supposes will be his only opportunity to smoke while he’s here, unless he survives to see some kind of recreational time.

He doubts he’ll even make it through the entire pack of cigarettes before his own flame is extinguished. His sentencing hearing begins in nine days, and no one is going to save him from the foregone conclusion of that galactic melodrama-- not Jek Porkins III, and certainly not Ren. Hux supposes he could make it his goal to smoke several cigarettes during his next meeting with Jek, to ensure the pack won’t outlive him. That’s the only sort of realistic objective he’s got left to set for himself.

He neatens his hair as best he can and tells himself not to allow his tendency to prepare for the worst to twist into a kind of self-pitying defeatism. He’s only begun to understand the way this place and this entire culture works, and there may yet be some loopholes he could exploit. Believing that he could survive when he felt like he was already more dead than alive was always a useful strategy in the past, even when that belief felt like a deluded lie. Part of the reason he’s still standing on two feet is his willingness to cling to such seeming delusions when they’re all he has left, such as now.

The guards come to collect him for his ‘interview’ with the Resistance leadership shortly after he’s stuffed down his breakfast, and as they fasten binders on his wrists he reminds himself to keep sharp and to meticulously note any and all vulnerabilities that this system possesses. He was allowed a short, solitary and closely monitored sanistream shower the night before, but he’s already wishing for another, or at least for a comb, as he’s marched toward a panel of his lifelong enemies. It doesn’t help what’s left of his pride that he’s wearing only slippers and an ensemble that would not even pass for a decent set of pajamas in his world, but he has at least been provided with a supply of ugly white briefs now, so he’s not flopping around like a savage inside his loose pants. These underthings arrived via the slot in his door yesterday, and they now constitute a large portion of his worldly possessions, along with that soap, toothbrush and towel.

The elevator takes them to the fourth floor. Hux can hear shuttlecraft moving about on the floors below and expects to find garages on this floor, too, hopeful for a moment that he’ll be taken elsewhere for this questioning, but when the elevator doors open they look out on a dimly lit hallway of heavily armored doors that seem too narrow to house shuttle bays. The warden waits at the end of the hall, before the largest set of doors. He’s dressed a bit less casually today, at least wearing a jacket that strains to contain his gut, a single button pulling at both sides.

“Here’s the guest of honor,” Stepwell says as the guards lead Hux forward, though there is nobody else in the hallway. Stepwell grins, which seems to be his habit: a self-conscious affectation or a mark of arrogance, possibly both. Hux files that away and keeps his own expression impassive. “How are you enjoying your accommodations, General?” Stepwell asks, reaching for his belt. He unclips a device which appears to be a kind of master key and uses it to release the binders from Hux’s wrists.

“I’m being uncuffed for this?” Hux says, ignoring Stepwell’s overly obvious attempt at irony. Stepwell doesn’t seem like an intelligent person: he’s an ex-soldier in the way that some of Hux’s former officers were, someone who has actually seen battle and holds onto that with a kind of brutish pride.

“I figure there’s no harm in it,” Stepwell says, twirling the unlocked binders around one finger. “You’re not stupid enough to lunge at General Organa while her guards stand against the wall with their blasters, are you?”

“She’s-- General Organa is present for this?” Hux glances at the armored doors. He wasn’t nervous before, more curious, but now his heart is beating fast. Organa is rumored to have the same powers that Ren used to read Hux’s mind, for one thing.

“Of course she’s here,” Stepwell says. “She’s a very hands-on general. No stranger to getting her hands dirty for the cause. Unlike yourself, I presume.”

Hux makes no response, his eyes on the door. He wonders if Ren has cried on his mother’s shoulder yet. Knowing Ren, he’s still hiding from her, but it might not matter, though it hardly seemed as if they were exchanging long-distance thoughts while Ren hid with Hux in that house that had once been Organa’s vacation home. Of course, Hux can never really know what goes on in these people’s heads. Even when Ren seemed to share his memories with Hux, in bed that night, it all might have been some muddled trick--

He pushes those thoughts away when Stepwell opens the heavy doors.

The guards take Hux’s uncuffed arms and walk him into the room as if he’s still wearing the binders. They push him into a chair on one side of a long table. Three Resistance officials await on the other side, three armed guards in what passes for Resistance uniforms standing against the wall behind them. The room is windowless and lit only by two lamps that glow from each end of the table, casting everyone’s face in shadow. Organa is not sitting in the middle, surprisingly. She’s off to the left, and though Hux has of course seen images and holo footage of her, she seems much smaller than he imagined. He remembers that pilot on Skywalker’s island saying the same thing about him, more or less, and he forces himself not to stare at Organa. Instead he looks directly across the table, at the man who sits in the middle. He appears to be roughly Organa’s age, with graying hair and a beard that is not as neatly trimmed as it might be. Off to the right there is some type of fish-like creature with red skin and enormous eyes. Hux vaguely recognizes the species, and even this particular specimen who has risen high in the ranks of the Resistance, but he can’t call either name to mind at the moment. Organa’s presence, lurking at the left corner of Hux’s vision, screams for the inappropriately fascinated attention he doesn’t want to show, and the effort required to ignore her stare blocks out much of the rest of Hux’s thought process.

“Here’s your prisoner,” Stepwell says, again being overly obvious. “You can have him for as long as you need him.”

“This shouldn’t take more than five hours,” the man in the middle says. “Thank you, warden. You may go.”

Hux appreciates this man’s dismissive tone. Presumably he doesn’t outrank Organa, but perhaps her rank elevates her above the chore of asking questions of the enemy. She’s certainly listening, a data pad waiting to record her notes. The man in the middle activates a recording device on his own pad.

“This is Lieutenant Commander Timmons of the Resistance, beginning the questioning of Elan Bartram Hux, prisoner of the New Republic and recently defected General of the First Order.” Timmons takes a sip from a glass of water after spewing all that out, and Hux notes that he appears nervous, maybe because these other two are his superiors and he’s been asked to do their talking for them as much as possible. There is a pitcher of water within reach of Organa, beside another glass. Hux wonders if he could request some water for himself. “Also present is Commander Ackbar,” Timmons says, still reading from what appears to be a script on his data pad. “And General Organa.”

Hux allows his eyes to flick to Organa’s then. She’s watching him, unblinking, both elbows resting on the table as she leans slightly forward. Studying him. Something about her overly casual posture reminds Hux of Ren. He looks back to Timmons when he realizes he’s staring.

“Mr. Hux,” Timmons says, glancing up from his script to give Hux a poor imitation of a steely stare. “Let’s begin by hearing the details of your defection from the First Order, starting with the last day you held the title of General aboard the Finalizer.”

Mr. Hux. That has a very unpleasant ring to it. Hux resists the urge to look at Organa again and makes a show of clearing his throat.

“May I have some water?” Hux asks, speaking to Timmons, who blinks in apparent confusion and turns to Organa.

“I’m afraid they only brought us three glasses,” Organa says, not offering hers, which is presently empty. She pushes the pitcher of water toward Hux, holding his gaze. “You can drink from that if you’re desperate.”

It’s an unexpected but admirably effective opening move, and Hux regrets his attempt to upset their script by asking for water. He stares at the pitcher, imagining how cold and fresh the water served to these officials must be, certainly filtered. He feels suddenly as if he’s been wandering in a desert for days, his tongue drying up against the roof of his mouth, but that word Organa used keeps him from drinking clumsily from that pitcher like a man beneath his station: like someone who is desperate. No, he’s not that. Yet.

“Never mind,” Hux says. He wants to look at Organa again but can’t bring himself to do it, and he returns his gaze to Timmons instead. “On my last day aboard the Finalizer I was given misleading, false information that allowed the officers who had been secretly briefed by our Supreme Leader to incapacitate me and smuggle me off-ship aboard a shuttle that brought me to a small moon. I have yet to determine the coordinates of this moon, as I was not informed of its location upon rescue.” Again, at the sound of the word rescue, he wants to look at Organa. Her stare seems to sear his cheek; he can’t hear her in his head but can’t stop wondering if she’s seen his mind already. He pushes images of Ren away as firmly as he can, though that is the part in this story where he has arrived: Ren carrying him away from that moon base. Healing him on that shuttle. Reaching for the cuts on Hux’s face first, sentimental idiot.

“Continue,” Organa says, and Hux’s eyes flick to hers, then back to Timmons.

“I was held on this moon base for approximately seventeen days,” Hux says, the walls of this windowless room seeming to press in around him as he speaks. “I was tortured by officers who I assumed were traitors. Later I would learn that they were working for our Supreme Leader, who had effectively unseated me by orchestrating this capture.” Yesterday and even earlier this morning, Hux had considered trying to tell them another tale, but he can’t risk the chance that Ren has spilled too many details about the truth already, and no other flight from the First Order would seem plausible for him, anyway. It’s not as if they would believe he had a sudden moral change of heart because he’d discovered the power of love or some nonsense like that.

“I was rescued from this torture and imprisonment by a man who calls himself Kylo Ren,” Hux says, deciding he might as well drop this bomb sooner rather than later, if it will even be news to any of them. He glances at Organa. She’s motionless, but she does blink once. “Ren was our Supreme Leader’s apprentice in what those two call the Force. Presumably the Supreme Leader had turned on Ren in some fashion, too. I don’t know the details about that, or why Ren saved me. He never told me.”

This is true, though only technically. Every night when Ren allowed Hux to take shelter in his arms was an answer to that question, but never mind.

“We hid from Snoke for as long as we could,” Hux says, staring at Timmons’ knuckles. “When Snoke found us and attacked me, Ren fought him off, but in the aftermath we could only conclude that our hideout was no longer safe. Ren had dormant but powerful loyalties to the New Republic, as I suspect at least one of you here is aware, and he asked if I would surrender to the New Republic in exchange for protection from Snoke. Having been betrayed and abandoned by the system I knew I could no longer trust, I agreed. Under Ren’s observation, I surrendered willingly to the custody of the Resistance. And now here we are.”

Hux awaits their commentary. Timmons keeps glancing at Organa as if he’s hoping she’ll take charge. Hux suspects Timmons was appointed to this task because he’s typically a smooth talker, and that Organa didn’t want to formally lead the investigation because of her son’s involvement. Hux also suspects there are few people in this galaxy who could speak about Kylo Ren impassively in the presence of Ren’s mother, no matter how talented they typically are at public speaking. Timmons hardly seems up to the task, in practice.

“You call him your Supreme Leader,” Ackbar says, enunciating this with surprising clarity. “We have heard him referred to as Snoke.”

“That’s correct,” Hux says. He feels a kind of unpleasant tightening in the skin at the back of his neck, hearing that name aloud here. “Supreme Leader Snoke. I know very little about where he came from and what his ultimate goals are, I’m afraid. He kept himself quite remote from me, aside from handing down orders via a holo channel. You’d do better to question Kylo Ren about him.”

“We’re here to find out what you know about Snoke,” Organa says, the new sharpness in her voice drawing Hux’s attention like a flame that has suddenly sparked to life in the dim room. She seems to have something of Ren’s temper, though she’s buried it as best she can among this company. “We need to know how Snoke introduced himself to the First Order and came to power among them,” she says, still sharp. “Surely you can at least tell us that?”

So she’s got some of Ren’s fondness for smug condescension, too. Of course. Hux glances at the pitcher of water again, then at Organa’s still-empty glass.

“I was not in a leadership position when Snoke first ingratiated himself,” Hux says. “And information of that sort is not necessarily volunteered even after one advances in the Order. My father gave me the impression that Snoke was some unseated dignitary who wanted to reclaim the power that he’d lost when the Empire fell, which was the case with most of the warlords and governors and other various sorts who came to us looking for a new centralized power in the absence of the Emperor.”

“When did you first encounter Snoke?” Organa asks. Timmons sits back a bit. He seems relieved, and embarrassed.

“I was not granted so much as a holo channel audience with Snoke until I was promoted to General,” Hux says, truthfully.

“And it was Snoke who promoted you?” Organa asks, making a note on her data pad. Hux nods when she looks up. “Answer verbally, please,” she says, her voice sharpening again.

“Yes,” Hux says, also sharp. “Snoke promoted me.”

They stare at each other. Hux wonders if Organa has used her Force powers to discern, as Hux has with his mere mortal reasoning, that Snoke only promoted Hux because he was the ideal bait to suit Ren’s predilections. Had Ren preferred women, perhaps a lovely young officer of that sort would have been chosen instead. Hux isn’t going to mention the other theoretical reason for his promotion, one that he once held onto proudly. He’s not sure if the people in this room know that he designed the weapon that he’s on trial for firing. He pushes that information from his head, now intentionally refocusing on thoughts of Ren. A preoccupation with Ren might distract Organa from other things in Hux’s mind, things which are more important to conceal. He allows himself to wonder where Ren is now, and if Ren has even spoken to his mother yet. He remembers Ren standing next to him, before Snoke’s giant holo projection, unmasked and radiating that endless need for praise that had made Hux sick with secondhand embarrassment. Did Ren need Organa’s praise too much, once? When he was so small that he could only cry in frustration when she didn’t or couldn’t give him what he needed?

Organa presses her lips into a straight line and types something into her data pad. Her eyes are colder when she looks up at Hux again. He wonders if she heard his thoughts. He hopes so, almost.

“And you made no attempt to contact the crew of the Finalizer or any other First Order personnel after you were rescued from your captivity?” Organa asks.

“Of course not. I didn’t know whom I could trust.”

“But you trusted Kylo Ren,” Organa says.

Hux attempts to read her expression or at least figure out where she’s going with this. He clears his throat and looks at the pitcher of water when he finds he has no idea.

“Well, Ren saved me,” Hux says. He feels pathetic for admitting it, though this information is redundant.

“Our intelligence suggests that your second in command aboard the Finalizer was Commander Malietta Uta,” Organa says, not missing a beat, if that question about Ren was even a departure from her notes. “Is that correct?”

“Yes,” Hux says, still too unsettled by what came before to lie. He wishes he had when he sees Organa typing more notes. He still believes what Ren said about Uta, though he once pretended not to. She was loyal, not part of that plot to draw Ren’s attention and see how far he would stray from Snoke’s control when Hux was brought low enough to cry out for Ren without even knowing he had. Snoke only used expendable officers for that mission, probably because he knew Ren would show up to slaughter them when Hux’s cries for help grew loud enough. Snoke will underestimate Uta, but she may do the same where Snoke is concerned. She can be arrogant. It occurs to Hux now that Uta would probably say the same about him.

“And as far as you know, is Uta commanding the Finalizer at this time?” Organa asks.

“I assume so,” Hux says. “But, as I said, I’ve not been in contact with the Order for some time.”

The rest of their questions are more like what Hux expected: the chain of command aboard the Finalizer and in the Order generally, the Order’s plans to strike again, which Hux honestly doesn’t know about, and many questions about weapons systems in production that Hux can’t answer, as he was singularly focused on the design that ostensibly got him promoted. The questioning about that weapon in particular is surprisingly light, and Hux imagines it will be far more pointed during his sentencing hearing, though it’s also possible that they haven’t discovered that he’s the weapon’s inventor. As they still haven’t captured the Finalizer or any major First Order base, they may simply be lacking that information. The Order still clings to a sense of needed mobility, and the base where Hux first came up with the idea for the weapon has already been dismantled and relocated. It’s lucky, he realizes, staring at that pitcher of water again, that he didn’t take credit for the conception of the weapon in the speech he’d made prior to firing it. It had never occurred to him that he might; individual accomplishment is downplayed even among the highest ranks, according to the Order’s most sacred doctrines. Hux had intentionally included a line in his speech about the Order as a whole having built the weapon, metaphorically and in some senses literally, down to every stormtrooper who stood staring up at him.

In the end, he’s relieved to feel that he’s given the Resistance little useful information while also answering their questions as fully as he’s able to. From the top down, the Order’s organization is intentionally segregated in terms of who works on which project, and this structure incorporates as little overlap in departmental knowledge as possible, precisely to prevent much from being divulged if an officer should find himself in a situation such as this. Hux isn’t sure if they buy this, but it’s the truth. Organa asks far less about the stormtrooper program than Hux anticipated, and he’s almost insulted by that disregard. Mostly they ask him over and over, in at least ten different ways, if the Order is building a second superweapon like the one that successfully blew up five planets. Hux can only tell them again and again that he doesn’t know of any plans to rebuild. He was once very surprised they even built the first one, and that so much trust and expense was placed in his somewhat radical design. This part, he keeps to himself.

After several hours have passed, Hux feels himself growing somewhat comfortable with this process, aside from the fact that he’s still thirsty. He adjusts his posture and reminds himself to stay alert. Though this trio seems oddly and even comically harmless, it would be dangerous to expect anything but bitter animosity from them, despite the fact that Organa apparently shares Ren’s ability to disarm Hux when he’s not paying attention. He has to continuously warn himself against feeling at ease. Like Ren, Organa will surely turn on him as soon as it suits her.

“I think we’re done for today,” Organa says after an indeterminable amount of time has passed, Hux’s throat beginning to ache for how much he wants to gulp messily from that pitcher of water. “Unless you two have follow-up questions?” she says, addressing Timmons and Ackbar.

“I haven’t got any,” Timmons says. Hux can hear Timmons’ stomach growling. He wonders where these three will go for their late lunch. Certainly not the prison cafeteria.

“I think you covered everything I had prepared, General,” Ackbar says.

“Good.” Organa flips the cover of her data pad shut, and the other two follow suit, the guards leaning up off the wall. “Then I’ll dismiss everyone but Mr. Hux,” Organa says, tenting her fingers, elbows on the table again. She stares at Hux when he flicks his eyes to hers. “I have one or two more questions for him, but I need to ask them without an audience.”

“Even-- You even want the guards to leave?” Timmons says, half-standing.

“Yes,” Organa says, still holding Hux’s gaze. “I’ll be fine. Please, leave us. It will only take a moment.”

Everyone seems reluctant, as if this wasn’t in Organa’s stated plan, but they all leave the room at her command. The door closes heavily when they’re gone. Hux is staring at the empty chair where Timmons sat. Organa shifts into it when Hux doesn’t turn to look at her. He draws his eyes up to meet hers, otherwise keeping perfectly still.

Hux wasn’t afraid of this questioning before, not really, not even when he learned Organa would be present. He was nervous, maybe, but not afraid. This feels different. She’s studying him, and it’s not like the way Ren studied him, not even when Ren crept into Hux’s mind without warning and stealthily looked around. This is less invasive but more uncomfortable. Organa is staring at Hux not as if he’s a fascinating specimen to be probed but like he’s a fellow person sitting in a room with her, and like she expects him to answer for himself on those terms.

“I know that Ben left Snoke to save you,” she says.

Hux has to look away at the sound of those names-- Ben, Snoke --but he can’t keep his eyes off of Organa for long without revealing that he’s increasingly anxious about being left alone with her, as if she’s the one who might lunge at him. She doesn’t look much like Ren, except that she carries herself like she has always comfortably known that she is royalty. Ren revels in it: grand entrances and loud pronouncements, uninvited opinions. Organa holds the seat of her power with dignity and restraint. Hux wonders if she was different when she was younger.

“My question originates from something I sensed only after having been here in this room with you today,” Organa says. “I hope you’ll answer me honestly, but, since you’re somewhat familiar with the Force and those who can use it, I trust you understand that I’ll be able to sense the truth either way.”

“Then why even ask?”

“Oh,” she says, shrugging, “I’m not as good at this as Ben. Or Luke. I still need to hear something out loud, most of the time, in order to determine if it’s true or not.”

Hux isn’t sure if he believes this. She’s playing some kind of game with him here. He glances at her data pad. It doesn’t appear to be recording.

“Fine,” Hux says. “Ask me anything. What have I got to lose by being honest?”

She lifts her eyebrows slightly and gives him a long stare that reminds him of Ren, though Ren probably would have made some smart ass remark as well.

“You told us you were misled while still in command of the Finalizer,” she says. “That these seeming traitors tricked you in order to get you alone. My sense is that they told you Ben was in trouble. That you left the First Order for the same reason that Ben left Snoke. Less intentionally, perhaps, but his initial rejection of Snoke was so confused that it could hardly be called intentional, from what I can sense.”

“Have you seen Ren?” Hux asks, too loudly. Desperately. “Since he’s been back?”

Her mouth quirks, but it’s not a smile. More of a suppressed frown.

“Not yet,” she says. “Are you going to answer my question?”

“Yes, they told me Ren was in trouble,” Hux says, still too loud. “But Snoke-- They told me it was Snoke who’d asked me to retrieve him, and this had been true before. I simply, I-- Was only following orders.”

He feels her sensing the truth, and maybe not even needing to use the Force to do so. Possibly she can’t actually use the Force at all. Her mention of it might have been a trick: an attempt to get Hux to admit that he went after Ren rashly and with a personal agenda, which was only Ren can’t die, because I need him.

“One more question,” Organa says. She looks down, spreading her hands on the table as if she’s just on the verge of bracing herself to stand. “What was the nature of the attack you speak of, when you two were hiding together, when Snoke found you? Snoke hurt you? Ben stopped him?”

Hux weighs his options and can’t imagine how lying about this part would help him. He’s beginning to suspect that Organa’s presence here has more to do with Ren than any military secrets she hoped to learn from Hux. Organa knows Hux has been discarded by the Order, and that he’s been too long out of the loop to offer anything that will save the last of her crippled fleet from the Order’s next strike. She might already be well aware that Hux was only ever Ren’s bait.

“Snoke possessed him,” Hux says, hating the defeat he can hear in his voice. “Snoke can do that sometimes, but not always. I have no idea what the criteria is, of course. I doubt even Ren knows. But Ren fought Snoke off. Snoke was trying to kill me-- He used Ren’s hands to strangle me. I don’t remember what happened next, and I don’t know how Ren got rid of Snoke, if he even truly has. I sort of woke up on Skywalker’s island. I suppose he’s your brother?”

Organa draws her hands into her lap and sits up straighter. She studies Hux’s eyes. He can’t hear her voice in his mind, and can’t understand why he almost wishes he could.

“You call him Ren,” she says. She’s speaking softly now, all her sharpness suddenly gone. “That name doesn’t mean the same thing to you that it does to Snoke.”

“I suppose not,” Hux says. He realizes he’s gripping the seat of his chair tightly, with both hands. His fingers are aching with tension, but he doesn’t dare move now.

Organa seems to want to speak again. She stops herself and reaches for her data pad, tucking it into one of the large pockets on her vest when she stands. Hux watches as she takes the pitcher of water and pours some into her empty glass, filling it almost to the top. Without looking at him, she slides the glass toward Hux and then walks away, around the left side of the table and to the door behind him, knocking once.

The door opens, and as Organa slips through it Hux grabs for the glass that she passed to him. He drinks from it in desperate gulps, swallowing almost half of it before the guards grab his arms, one of them removing the glass from his hand. Hux wants to protest, to elbow them away and grab for that water again, because it tasted like some kind of magic potion that Organa offered him, something that could save him, but he didn’t get all of it down, and he’s afraid, as he’s pulled away from the water that remains in the glass, that everything he was able to swallow doesn’t count.

He realizes as he’s marched out into the hallway that he’s gone a bit temporarily mad, his head swimming with the fact that he just spoke to Ren’s mother, and that she heard the name Hux has for her son and understood at least some of what Hux feels when he speaks it, thinks it, and when he holds it in his chest, still lodged somewhere between his ribs like a broken but once-powerful talisman that he can’t bring himself to throw away.

At the end of the hallway, the elevator doors are already closing around the departing Resistance leadership. Organa meets Hux’s eyes just before the doors close completely, and he wants to call out to her, but what would he say? Thank you?

He says nothing, of course, and soon is on his way back up to his cell in another elevator. He’s still thirsty and also very hungry, and he’s glad to find a lunch tray waiting for him on the floor of his room. When the guards are gone and the door is shut he takes this tray to the desk, hands shaking, and sits staring at it for a while, his stomach pinched up with something that feels like regret. As if he should have said more. As if he should have begged Organa for something outright, or gushed like an idiot about what had gone on in that house on the cliff: Ren tried to fix everything, he tried to save me, I think he may have come close, it’s not really his fault that I’m again beyond repair, I’m sorry. What good would it have done to tell Organa any of that, thoughts that are only half-formed even in Hux’s head? He takes a bite from the dry sandwich on his tray, thinking of that water left behind in the conference room and wondering if it will just be poured out by some dishwashing droid. Of course it will. Who but him would care about drinking it?

When he’s eaten everything on his tray he moves toward the bed, each step like another sharp thorn in his foot as he approaches the emptiness of the rest of his day. He’s not sure when the next meeting with his lawyer will occur. It’s the only thing he has to look forward to, with Organa’s questioning behind him: more meetings about the Committee that will soon assemble to execute him.

He slumps into the bed like an invalid and rolls onto his side, though he knows it causes poor digestion to lie down directly after eating. This was always the case when he was a boy, anyhow, and during his Academy days, when he had occasionally crawled into bed directly after dinner. With Ren, at that house on the cliff, it hadn’t seemed to matter. Maybe Ren had healed him in some subtle way that aided digestion when they curled up together in the middle of that bed, often immediately after dumping their dinner dishes into the sink. There had been nothing else to do there either, not really, but that sense of aimlessness was so different from what Hux feels now. In that house, with Ren, it had been almost freeing to understand that their only real objective was to stay warm and dry together while the world outside threw lightning bolts in their direction. Here the lack of direction is just part and parcel of Hux’s solitary march toward death or a lifetime of sitting pointlessly in this cell, neither option looking any better than the other from where he lies, his knees drawing up toward his chest.

He closes his eyes and tries not to dwell on the memory of Organa’s face, but he’s already mapping the features she and Ren have in common. All he can come up with is that they have the same sort of eyes: piercing but also warm, with a gaze that seemed to hold Hux in place completely but not cruelly, without crushing in around him like a kind of unseen fist the way that Hux’s father’s stare once had. Brendol Sr. had only thought he was seeing all the way into his son. Ren truly did see something hidden in Hux, and Hux shouldn’t hope that Ren’s mother did, too. That’s the last thing he should want, in his position.

His mind drifts. He’s not tired, and what comes isn’t quite sleep. It’s more of a muffled thought process that allows him to consider things more freely than he might if he were pacing his cell rather than wallowing in bed. He wonders where Ren is right now, what he’s doing, if he’s hiding in a shadowy corner of his family’s estate or prowling the streets of the city, his face hidden under the hood of his robe. Would they even let him out? Could they even stop him, if that’s what he wanted?

Hux wonders if his own mother has received her subpoena from the New Republic yet. He wonders if she’ll flee again rather than turning up to defend her monstrous son. He can’t imagine her passionately arguing that he should live. Can’t imagine her weeping on the witness stand, even in pretense. Even if they paid her. He has warm memories, but they must be some kind of confusion of childhood. By the time he left for school his mother was as cold as his father, though her eyes didn’t cut into Hux the way Brendol Sr.’s did. His mother’s gaze had stopped resting on him altogether by then.

The hour must be later than he realized, because soon the sky is coloring with the sunset. Hux sits up in bed and blinks at the sight with disinterest, wishing he could have some sort of timekeeping device beyond the sun. Its light through this giant window continues to seem like an insult. He wonders if it ever rains here, and supposes it’s more likely to snow. Last time he was held in captivity he had no frame of reference for how many hours or days had passed, but he’d had the constant companions of physical pain, searing humiliation and futile rage to keep his mind occupied. He doesn’t long to have any of those back, but he keeps waiting for someone to show up and tell him what the hell to do all day, if that more familiar suffering is actually off the table.

When the compartment on his door opens he races to get his lunch tray out in time, so ridiculously pleased to have a challenge that he realizes he left the tray on his desk intentionally, to increase the difficulty of accomplishing this task. He’s not hungry, but he’s still grateful to receive his dinner, just for the novelty of seeing what he’s been given tonight: a slice of some type of layered casserole, some long beans that appear overcooked, an oily-looking slaw and a cup of berry-flavored pudding with an odd texture. The pudding tastes entirely artificial and Hux doesn’t even like real berries much, but he eats this first, standing at the window and wrinkling his nose at the stuff’s consistency, which is somewhere between a traditional pudding and something much firmer. He eats it all anyway, then licks the spoon.

He’s finished with his dinner by the time the guards come to collect him for his evening sanistream. Knowing the routine now, and having somewhat less fear that these now-familiar, silent guards are leading him to a room where he’ll be beaten in what the warden will later claim was an accidental slip-up, Hux notes his surroundings more carefully than he did the night before. They pass twelve anonymous cell doors on their way to the entrance to this floor’s showers, which occupy the center ring of this slice of the Tower. The cell doors they pass in the hallway each have a data panel mounted on the wall to the left, but even the most basic information about the prisoners within can likely only be accessed by guards, as the panels offer no visible display for Hux’s prying eyes. Inside the shower area there are twelve sanistream stations in a round, open room. The guards stand near the room’s locked door as Hux approaches one shower station, now uncuffed. He turns on the sanistream and makes some rudimentary calculations, theorizing that each floor of the Tower has approximately thirty cells, based on the size of his own, the spacing of the doors in the hallway and his best guess at the circumference of the portion of the circle that they walked to arrive here. He supposes some prisoners must have cellmates, and he wonders if he’s on a floor that houses only solitary inmates. The showers were certainly designed for a large group, at any rate.

The guards are distracted by personal chatter tonight. One of them, a humanoid with purplish skin whose species Hux is not familiar with, seems to enjoy talking more than the others, and his partner humors him. Hux tunes out their conversation when he finds it only involves the recent matches lost by some professional sports team. He uses their distraction as an excuse to linger under the warmth of the sanistream for longer than he perhaps needs to, already resigned to the idea that the guards can see his naked ass. When his mind wanders, he tries to imagine what it would be like to share that pie slice room with another prisoner. All the rooms are likely the same size, which would account for the extra space Hux has in his. He supposes an isolated prisoner is relatively rare. Presumably the average room would have two beds, one bolted to each wall. The prisoners would be expected to share the sink, toilet, and desk. Hux tries to picture the sort of fellow who might be thrown in with him, were he not too much of a celebrity criminal to allow for company.

The only candidate who comes to mind is Ren, and the thought of Ren in a drab gray prison uniform is amusing, but also strangely awful. And would they make Ren cut his hair?

Hux closes his eyes, hating that he’s doing this but unable to resist: what would Ren be like, as a fellow prisoner, as Hux’s cellmate? Perhaps Ren would be someone Hux didn’t know prior to their individual arrests. Yes, and Ren would be hiding his Force powers. Plotting some grand escape while pretending to be a standard thug. But why would Ren ever allow himself to be imprisoned? Never mind, it’s just a stupid fantasy. It doesn’t need to make sense. Ren would be surlier than ever in captivity, and he would drive Hux mad in such close quarters, without even a back porch or a garage to escape to when Ren tested Hux’s patience or brooded too loudly.

But there would be times when Hux would be glad not to be alone in that room. He would have someone to talk to, when he did feel like talking. And no one has ever entertained him quite like Ren, despite all the nonsense that regularly comes out of Ren’s mouth. What was it he’d said, that last night on the ship? Through these lips passed the doom of the Republic, or something like that. Ha.

And at night, when the sun sets on that pie-shaped cell. If someone else was there with Hux. If that someone was Ren.

But no, that’s done. That sort of thinking, like his preoccupation with Ren while they were still aboard the Finalizer, after that first encounter, led to Hux’s ruin. It led directly to his imprisonment here. He has no time left for idle thoughts, and never should have indulged them in the first place. He switches the sanistream to dry-off mode, keeps his eyes open even when the warm air dries them out, and pushes the idea of Ren occupying any small space with him ever again as far away as he can get it. It hurts, anyway. Even thinking about it.

His cell is dark when he’s returned there, but his eyes adjust quickly in the moonlight that glows through his window. Hux prefers this lighting to the relentless glare of the days here. This planet has four moons, but only two of them are visible at this hour. One is very bright, a bit garish, almost approaching the arrogance of the sun, and the other is more distant, softer and bluer. Hux has a sentimental fondness for that one already. It’s the only face around here that he’s ever glad to see.

He should do crunches or push-ups or some type of exercise on the floor of his cell, but maybe he’ll save that sort of activity for the off-chance that he’ll be here longer than eight more days. Anyway, he’s just had his shower, and he hates to sweat if he can’t at least rinse off directly afterward. He gets into bed after putting on a clean pair of briefs, having left yesterday’s on the floor near the sanistream, per the guards’ instructions. Some droid will come and sweep them away. An underwear-sweeping droid: funny. The Republic has a droid for bloody everything. Hux’s father had told him that once, angrily, while doing some menial task himself. Brendol Sr. had hated doing things with his own hands, but in those early days after the fall of the Empire it had often been necessary.

Hux supposes some other droid, or maybe the same one, will bring him his freshly laundered underthings at the start of every week here. He’ll need to have them replenished before the start of his trial. Lying in bed and staring up at the glow of moonlight on the ceiling, he wonders if he’ll be allowed to dress like a gentleman for his hearing, or if they’ll make him shuffle before the entire galaxy in slippers, with hair that is badly in need of a trim, and wearing the plain, wan uniform of a prisoner. He scratches at his right cheek, imagining he can feel the spot of dry skin there growing more irritated, assaulted by the insidious presence of dexitoma in his system.

When he sleeps, he dreams first of his mother. She’s walking ahead of him through the halls of their old estate, disappearing into shadows like a ghost every time Hux begins to close in on her. She cut her long hair when he was ten years old, but in the dream it still falls well below her waist, undone from the thick braid she always wore and hanging behind her like an extravagant cape as she evades him. Through the windows that Hux passes in the house’s grand hallways, he can see many moons glowing just outside, as if their home has become a starship, and on these moons a war is being fought by at least three competing fleets of bizarrely built ships. The ships are almost spindly, but they give the impression of being especially fierce because of their delicate design, not in spite of it. Hux is afraid to stop in his pursuit of his mother to look more closely at these uncanny ships, afraid they will fire on the house.

His mother escapes him before the dream shifts around him, the windows disappearing and the walls transforming into thick durasteel. Hux knows this part well. People are coming for him: attackers who will pop his regulation perfect buttons off his uniform when they rip it away. He’ll have to chase the buttons down in the corners of this windowless room when his assailants are done with him, and he can’t always find them all. It’s such a particularly crushing torture to be docked for a uniform violation that isn’t even his fault. He looks down and shouts in alarm when he sees that he’s already naked, and he puts his hands over himself when he hears them coming: they’re already laughing, grabbing for the back of his too-long hair.

But instead of fingers in his hair he feels something fall around him: a blanket. No, a cloak. Or really more of a robe, black and hooded. It’s Ren’s.

As Hux turns, the thick walls of that hateful room are already sliding away, disappearing. Ren stands in shadow behind him, hanging back, as if Hux is frightened prey. Hux was someone else’s prey, nearly, but Ren has disposed of those others. Not even their corpses remain.

Sunlight breaks through the tree canopy that spreads very high overhead, but it’s gentle and far away, not like the too-close sun that taunts Hux through the window of his cell. His cell: he’s grown up, long past those days when he might have been punished for a missing button. He feels himself getting taller and stronger under Ren’s watch. He slides his arms into the sleeves of Ren’s robe and pulls it more fully around himself.

“Who have you killed for me this time?” Hux asks, lifting his chin and trying to sound kingly, as if Ren is his violent servant. “I didn’t even get a look at them.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Ren says. His voice is low; he sounds sad, though they’re standing in a fully realized forest now, alone together within a kind of supernatural beauty that stretches as far as Hux can see. “They’re gone,” Ren says.

Stating the obvious was never Ren’s habit. He seems perturbed by something, cagey, and he’s keeping his distance. Maybe he simply wants his robe back, but Hux means to keep it this time.

“I met your mother today,” Hux says, calling this out as a kind of insult, wanting Ren to be angry at him or intrigued by him, anything but sad. Hux has wasted enough of his lifetime on that pathetic, useless emotion.

“I don’t want to talk about my mother,” Ren says, keeping back. Still sad.

“Of course you don’t. Coward.” Hux doesn’t want to talk about his own mother either, but Ren probably won’t ask. What does Ren know about what’s going on in Hux’s world now, about what’s coming? Nothing. Ren only knows Hux’s nightmares, his past, all the bad things that have already come and gone. The bad things yet to come are Hux’s alone.

“Did you get my letter?” Ren asks, finally stepping closer.

“No,” Hux says. “What letter? When?”

“I wrote to you.” Ren takes another step toward Hux, cautious. A thin ribbon of light that has sneaked through the pine needles above touches Ren’s face, falling just along the line of his scar.

“You?” Hux says, laughing. “You, writing a letter? What would you even say? Dear Hux, sorry I had my family arrest you and throw you in prison, and sorry again that they’ll probably execute you before we--”

Hux stops himself there. Before we even see each other again. What does he care if he sees Ren before he dies or not? He doesn’t.

“I can’t say it here,” Ren explains, or doesn’t-- typical. He’s moving closer, slowly, just a few feet away from Hux now. “You have to read it in the letter.”

“I hate your stupid rules,” Hux says, bitterly earnest.

This makes Ren smile, but it fades quickly.

“Tell me you’re okay,” Ren says, so softly that Hux is embarrassed for him.

“I will not. I’m certainly not okay, idiot. I’m in prison, facing death. Do you even understand what you’ve done to me, you eternal child? For those of us who live in the real world, there are consequences for our actions. You’ve seen to it that I’ll face the people in the galaxy who most want to see me suffer for mine.”

“You seem better today,” Ren says. He still looks glum, but also suddenly hopeful.

“Better than what?” Hux asks, laughing.

Ren smiles, and something about the way his eyes light up makes Hux stumble backward. It’s as if-- Ren is too real, suddenly. It’s as if those are Ren’s eyes and they are truly seeing Hux, even as he stands inside some impossible dream. That piercing but warm gaze that steadies Hux within the glow of an imaginary forest feels like something real and powerful, not just the Ren-like mask of a figment in a dream. It’s as if Ren is really standing there, as if he might actually cross the space between them and--

Hux wakes up in a dark room, grabbing for the top button on his uniform with one hand and reaching across the bed with the other. Ren isn’t there: the wall is there. Hux has already become accustomed to this. He’s not wearing his uniform from the Academy, or any other real uniform, just prison scrubs. He has no buttons left to lose, and there are no pines towering overhead when his vision refocuses on the blank stretch of the ceiling. There is no bed bolted against the opposite wall when he turns to look at where one would be, if he had a cellmate. Ren is not there, nor here with Hux in his own bed. Ren is nowhere, as far as Hux is concerned. He’s far enough away to be gone for good.

Remembering this is supposed to be a comfort, but Hux can’t get back to sleep. He’s jumpy, and he can’t stop touching his neck, checking for the stiff uniform collar he expected to feel there when he woke, then for the bruises that remain. He presses his fingertips into them, carefully but deeply enough to feel the lingering pain. That was real: being hurt by Ren’s hands, being used by Snoke to hurt Ren, ending up here when they were both done with him. The dream was just a dream, like all of them. Hux wishes he could go to the Tower’s medical floor for a syringe full of something that would prevent him from dreaming, like the one that prevents the hair on his face from growing back in. He scratches at the dry spot on his cheek and then rolls over with a groan, pressing that spot to the sheets so he won’t be able to irritate it further with his itching.

In the morning he manages to sleep until the light at the window has grown very bright, and he wakes only when he hears the door’s compartment opening, his breakfast tray sliding inside. He’s too late to push his dinner tray out, but he brings it from the desk to the floor near the compartment, mostly so he won’t have to look at it while he eats his breakfast. There’s a kind of porridge today, and it’s a bit too similar to gruel to sit comfortably on Hux’s stomach. He gives up after a few bites and eats the sections of fruit that have also been provided, a greasy little pressed-meat patty, and the same rubbery insta-eggs that arrive on the breakfast tray every morning. As he’s washing this down with his milk, his cell door opens and the guards step in. Hux recognizes these two: the usual morning guards, holding the usual binders for his wrists.

“Time for you to meet with your lawyer,” the shorter guard announces.

Hux feels unprepared for company, as if these two even count as such, and he suppresses the urge to neaten his hair on the way to the door. When he offers his wrists for the binders he’s sorry to realize that he missed his chance to hide the pack of cigarettes in his waistband before being marched to this meeting.

As far as Hux can tell, the conference room where he meets with Jek is the same one where they were introduced. Jek has taken the same chair at the head of the table, and he has the same inexplicably cheery look for Hux when he appears.

“Do you think this room is monitored by the warden?” Hux asks in lieu of a greeting, taking a seat to Jek’s right when the guards are on the other side of the room’s door, stationed just outside. “Or by the New Republic, or the Resistance?”

“Highly doubt it,” Jek says. “That would be extremely illegal, and even if they were doing it, nothing they learned that way would be admissible during the sentencing process. So you can speak freely,” he adds, as if Hux didn’t already know what he meant to imply. Hux sniffs at this infantile analysis. No one can ever speak freely without risking something. A lawyer should understand that.

“I forgot my cigarettes,” Hux says, noticing that Jek again has a steaming cup of caf.

“Ah,” Jek says. He reaches into his coat. “I thought maybe they’d have confiscated them from you, so I brought you a fresh pack of auto-lights.”

Jek grins and holds out the pack of cigarettes as if this is a different sort of handshake. Hux accepts this gift uncertainly, not sure why he’s perturbed by this development.

“I have something else for you, too,” Jek says, lowering his voice and glancing at the windowed door. He pulls a folded piece of paper from his jacket. “A man calling himself Finn brought that to my office in the city,” he says. “He claims it’s for you, from Ben Solo.”

“Did you read it?” Hux asks, already angry as he grabs for the paper.

“No,” Jek says. “I was asked not to.”

Hux grunts as if he doubts this information, though he thinks Jek is probably incapable of lying. Just holding this slip of paper that is allegedly from Ren makes Hux’s face grow hot, and he stuffs it hurriedly into his shirt. He feels it slipping down over his bare chest, onto his belly. It makes him shiver like a secret touch, and he again has trouble lighting his cigarette. Jek begins busily opening screens on his data pad, maybe just for the sake of allowing Hux to collect himself.

“Anyway,” Hux says, after he’s taken his first drag. “He doesn’t call himself Ben Solo anymore. They really ought to not keep applying that name to him if they don’t want him to have a tantrum that takes down half their city.”

“I do have some questions for you about Ben,” Jek says, and he glances up to see Hux snarling at him. “Well, what should I call him, if not that?”

“Ren,” Hux says, muttering it, his face burning hotter.

“Hmm, okay. Ren. But maybe we should start out with something lighter. How did the questioning by the Resistance go yesterday?”

Hux smirks at the idea that being questioned by a conquering enemy’s military leaders is a lighter subject than that of Ren. He has to admit that Jek isn’t wrong to assume this.

“It was really rather breezy,” Hux says. “Maybe worryingly so. They didn’t ask me who invented the weapon I fired. Should I take that to mean that they already know, and that they’re saving those questions for my sentencing?”

“Well, we can’t assume they don’t know,” Jek says. “I think it’s sort of the popular assumption that you were giving that speech because you were behind the weapon in some way. But in the meantime I would advise you to admit nothing, because they may not have concrete proof. Don’t even attempt to claim you don’t know anything about its invention, if you can avoid it. If they find some evidence during the course of their investigation and it comes out during the hearing, they could prove that you lied about the weapon’s origin, if you’ve claimed that someone else invented it or that you don’t know anything about how it was conceived.”

“But in general we probably don’t want to highlight that I not only gave the order but personally designed the thing that killed billions, correct?”

“Right,” Jek says. “It’s-- It’s relevant to their case against you, but it’s not part of the story that we want to tell. I am surprised it didn’t come up during your questioning. You’re right that it might not be a great sign.” Jek winces, which is itself not a great sign. “Anyhow, this brings me to some questions I have for you about how you want to handle your testimony before the Committee. I met with the lead prosecutor yesterday, and she wants to interview you with a court reporter and enter that interview into the record. That would mean the Committee would all see the interview and consider it as part of their decision.”

“I know what a fucking deposition is,” Hux says. He notices an ashtray on the table and drags it toward him, taps ashes into it. Jek sips from his caf, and sets his cup down a bit further from Hux after he has. “Must I agree to being deposed?” Hux asks.

“We could enter an objection to their notice of deposition,” Jek says. “But I don’t think that would look good at all. I think we’re better off getting your story on record, in your own words-- and I would advise agreeing to the holo-recorded deposition they’re asking for.”

“You think a holo projection of me explaining myself in my own words would be helpful to the case? Really?”

“Well, yeah. Look at the alternative: you refuse to be deposed-- and the Committee would almost certainly deny your objection --and that makes it look like you’ve got something to hide, something more than what you’ve already admitted to, and also like you don’t respect the Committee enough to even face them and offer your personal explanation. It would seem like you were giving up, too, almost. And if we just submit the text of your transcript to the Committee, as opposed to a recording-- Forgive me, but I think you’re probably better in person than on paper.”

Hux stares at Jek, the cigarette halfway raised toward his parted lips.

“What the hell gives you that impression?” Hux asks, almost laughing.

“You’re an intelligent guy!” Jek says. “But that doesn’t come across in your life choices so much as in your demeanor. And people respond to the kind of confidence you have more than you might expect. It’s not always seen as arrogance, though you do need to be careful not to come off as smug or overly defensive. But everybody’s warmer in person than they are in quotes, right? Remember, the little things matter big time here. Like body language, and tone of voice-- I’m not saying you’re going to pretend to be somebody you’re not, but they’re more likely to see you as a person if they get a sense of what you’re like when you speak frankly, and when they see what your mannerisms are, and so forth. Even letting people notice the color of your eyes could matter.”

“Really.” Hux drags on the cigarette, trying not to think of Ren. “And which eye color do death sentence Committees generally prefer?”

“No, no, that’s not what I mean. One color over the other doesn’t matter, but even being made aware that you have an eye color could matter. Noticing it, I mean, while watching you speak in a holo, as opposed to reading your testimony from a data screen. That way they’re more likely to see it as part of your individual personhood.”

“As part of my-- Do you hear yourself? You sound insane. They won’t care. Green eyes? So what? What the fuck’s the difference?”

Hux is getting agitated, and Jek is watching him with a kind of cautious sympathy that makes Hux want to pitch another cigarette into Jek’s caf. He drags on the one he’s smoking instead, glancing at the door of the room and then back at Jek’s stupid pity.

“Fine,” Hux says, shrugging. “They can question me, record me, broadcast it on the evening news. It’s all their game anyway, right? They make the rules about how I’m allowed to play it.”

“Let’s not think of it as a game,” Jek says. “I’ve been reviewing the information about the Committee members, and I really think you have a chance at a life sentence. Here, let me show you.” He turns his data pad around and flicks the holo projector on, an image of human man with small eyes and large spectacles appearing over the screen. “This is Chief Justice Botta,” Jek says. “He’s never voted for a death sentence before, even during the trials of war criminals.”

“Well, he’s never ruled on anyone who’s been accused of murdering billions of people in the process of blowing up five planets, has he?”

“No, but it would still look bad for him, politically, if he sentenced someone to death.”

Hux raises his eyebrows. This is the first actual encouraging bit of information about his sentencing that he’s heard.

“Would that also be true of Organa?” Hux asks. “If she were to make the deciding vote?”

“We’ll get to Organa later,” Jek says. “Let’s talk about the five planets you destroyed, what their cultures were like, and who represents each of them on this Committee. It will help us if you’re as familiar as possible with what you destroyed.”

Hux always liked his history courses at the Academy, but he can’t muster much enthusiasm for learning about the dead planets and all the New Republic culture that went with them. He did have a morbid fascination with Alderaan as a boy, but there is simply too much information about each of these planets to absorb properly, and three of them are entirely interchangeable in Hux’s mind, despite Jek’s attempts to educate him on their differences. One of them, Qusoa, apparently had a peace-loving, forgiveness-based religion that its representative on the Committee practices. Jek counts that as a potential life sentence vote along with Chief Justice Botta’s. There are three Committee members from the ex-planets who will be harder to sway toward mercy, according to Jek, and then there is the representative from Raklan. This one draws Hux’s attention in a way that the others haven’t. The image projected above Jek’s data pad is of a trim blond man who appears to be roughly Hux’s age. His stony expression is somehow familiar, though Hux doesn’t recognize his name.

“Now this is interesting,” Jek says. “Raklan’s representative is Ander Fillamon, and his vote could be good for us, but it’s hard to say at this point. He’s a diplomat who represents the baro cloth traders on Raklan-- or he was, anyway, back when there was a baro cloth trade. He was off-planet on a business trip when you fired the weapon. Fillamon’s wife and children were at home on Raklan, and they were all killed.”

“Then how could his vote be good for us?” Hux asks, ashing his cigarette. He supposes he’ll have to hear all manner of sob stories before this is done. Your first mistake was having a wife and children, he thinks, staring at Fillamon’s stoic holo image. Such attachments didn’t even do Hux’s father any good, despite Brendol Sr.’s attempts to protect himself from truly caring about his eldest son’s sanity or his second wife’s complete disinterest in him.

“Ander grew up in First Order territory,” Jek explains, calling up a data sheet that gives details about this. Hux frowns and turns the projection so that he can read what this sheet says about Fillamon’s time in the Order. He was born in the Unknown Regions and enrolled in one of the Order’s junior Academies. Hux recognizes the name of Fillamon’s school, though it wasn’t even on the same planet as his own. While serving as a lieutenant aboard the Steadfast, Fillamon deserted his ship and defected to the New Republic, where he was granted political amnesty.

“Where did he live on Raklan?” Hux asks, thinking of Henry, who had been a proper New Republic governor in Quroa when Hux blew up Quroa and Henry along with the rest of Raklan. Henry had defected, too, though later in his life than Fillamon. Hux had read about in a department memorandum, years ago.

“Let’s see,” Jek says, scanning the file. “He lived in the north, in a city called Eudaim. Am I pronouncing that right? Probably not. Why do you ask?”

“No reason.”

Hux wonders how far Eudaim was from Quroa. Possibly this man and Henry had known each other. Two ex-First Order officers on the same planet. Hux supposes there were probably plenty more. He certainly wasn’t informed about every officer who defected. This is the first he’s heard of Ander Fillamon.

“Like all the others, Ander applied to be a part of this Committee,” Jek says, “He may see you as a sympathetic figure, because he was able to escape the Order’s clutches while you were only sucked in deeper, or he may be angry because he knows that everyone in the Order has the chance to defect before they do something destructive on this scale.”

“Do they?” Hux cuts his eyes to Jek, who wilts. “You’re confident about that?”

“It’s something that will come up,” Jek says, lifting his hand in what seems like a kind of half-apology. “This Ander guy left, and so have others. Your story is that you didn’t leave so much as your leader threw you out. So we need to think about how you’re going to respond to accusations that you could have left sooner.”

“It’s impossible to shape this story into something sympathetic,” Hux says. “Are you really not seeing that?”

“No, I’m not seeing it,” Jek says, somewhat sharply. Hux snorts and looks away. “Tell me about Ben,” Jek says. “Ren, I mean,” he says when Hux glares at him.

“I did tell you about him,” Hux says. “He’s a Force-user. He’s Organa’s son. Snoke’s ex-apprentice. He saved me and-- Then I suppose he saved me again, and then he had me arrested.”

“Right,” Jek says, lifting one fat finger in the air, as if to hold Hux’s words in place. “But before the arrest-- Before your surrender, to put it more accurately. Ren saved you twice. Why?”

“Search me! Why don’t you fucking subpoena him and record a holo that you can show to the Committee? Surely that lunatic’s testimony will solve all our problems.”

Hux is turning red again, feeling the note from Ren that rests inside his shirt and against his skin like a thing that possesses a certain amount of body heat of its own, raising his temperature. He drags on the cigarette, exhales smoke from his nose and curses under his breath. Jek is staring at him, undeterred.

“This is one note I had,” Jek says, pushing the holo of Ander Fillamon away and bringing up some text on his screen. “I thought of it when I was going through these Committee members’ stories and finding that most of them were business people like Fillamon who were off-planet during the attack. Most of them lost families, including spouses. You’ve never married, according to my records.”

Hux laughs darkly and drags on his cigarette again, staring at an imperfection on the surface of the conference room table. It’s a chip in the cheap varnish. He wonders what manner of criminal put it there, and during what sort of struggle.

“I’m married,” Jek says. “Me and my wife have two daughters.”

Hux turns to him with an incredulous scowl. “Congratulations,” he says. “So what?”

“So, uh. I don’t wear my ring, because I don’t really like to advertise my family life to the galaxy. I make a lot of enemies in my line of work, you know what I mean?”

“I suppose I know something about making enemies, yes. I don’t know anything about marriage or children, however, so I don’t know what you’re getting at.”

“I think you do know what I’m getting at. Who was this Ren person to you? Other than Organa’s son and Snoke’s former apprentice? This is the kind of thing that could save your life, Hux. Your personal story, offered up for these people who you took so much from. You have to make them understand that you’ve lived a life, too. That you’ve had things you cared about, beyond hurting these Committee members and annihilating their way of life.”

Things I’ve cared about, eh?”

Hux snorts and stares at the chip in the table’s varnish again. He needs to ash his cigarette but doesn’t want to move. Ren’s letter seems to burn against his skin now. What the hell has Ren even written? Didn’t Hux just dream about Ren saying something about a letter? Hux is sweating, just a bit, and he hopes the ink on the paper won’t run, though he can’t imagine that Ren actually has anything interesting to say. Hux had better not find the word ‘sorry’ anywhere on that paper.

“You can tell me things,” Jek says, in a soft tone that makes Hux want to tell Jek to go to hell and nothing more. “It would only ever be between us, if you choose not to share it with the Committee. But it would help me shape your story if you, like, told me your story. The details, I mean. The crime you committed is so big that the only thing that could save you might be what seems like the smallest detail to you.”

“What do you want to hear?” Hux asks, his voice rising with every word. “That Organa’s son helped me because he’d been fucking me prior to my capture, and because he wanted to fuck me again sometime, so I had better not be dead when that time came? Well, there you have it. I guess I’m saved by the power of having been considered a good lay. That will surely humanize me. What more could they need to know about the real me.”

Hux scoffs and drags on the cigarette, wishing he wasn’t still flushed across his face and wanting to itch at the dry spot on his cheek, which feels like it’s on fire now.

“Hmm,” Jek says.

“That’s your input? ‘Hmm’? Brilliant, thanks.”

“It’s tricky,” Jek says, typing notes now. What notes, Hux wonders? Today, my suspicions were confirmed: General Hux was indeed fucked by the psychopath formerly known as Ben Solo. “I think we want Organa to remain as Committee Head,” Jek says, still typing. “If it comes to a tie, her political history indicates that she would probably vote against the death penalty. But if it gets out that you were involved with her son in this way, she could be accused of favoritism, and the whole process might have to restart. Do you think she’s aware of the-- Relationship?”

“I can’t talk about this anymore,” Hux says, closing his eyes. “I’d rather hang than waste another word on this fucking nonsense. But. Yes. Organa knows.”

“Did she speak to you about it yesterday?” Jek asks.

“What the fuck are you typing?” Hux asks when Jek’s chubby fingers continue to fly over his data pad’s holoboard.

“Just notes,” Jek says, shrugging. “So? Did Organa mention your connection to her son when you spoke?”

“A bit.” Hux isn’t sure how to explain what went on between him and Organa when they were alone in that room together. She gave me water wouldn’t convey the full weight of it, even to a sentimental ass like Jek.

“Well, listen,” Jek says, his fingers finally going still. “If they come after her for a conflict of interest, we have a pretty good argument that the whole damn Committee has a tremendous conflict of interest, in terms of the majority of them having been directly victimized by you. There’s been some debate in the less sensational media about whether this method of sentencing is just. It’s certainly unorthodox. At some point it almost makes sense to have somebody on your side sitting up there, considering the five votes that are coming from people whose planets you blew up.”

“The whole thing’s just a circus,” Hux says. “Isn’t it?”

“It’s certainly turning into a media circus already,” Jek says. “I just hope they don’t find out where I live.”

“They’re-- Reporting on you? Personally?”

“Oh, sure. You should see some of the pictures of me they’ve dragged up. Not exactly flattering stuff. I used to be pretty goofy looking, during my law school days.”

“Really.”

“But it’s-- It’s fine. I’m proud to stand up to these people who are calling for torture and murder in the name of revenge.”

“Torture.” Hux puts out his cigarette and pulls another from the pack. Now he’s got twice as many to smoke before the Committee issues their sentence. “What were they suggesting, torture-wise?”

“Who knows,” Jek says, waving his hand over his data pad. “I try not to pay attention to the loudest ones in the press. But I will keep an eye on it, and I’ll let you know if there are any relevant developments. Evidence leaks or things like that.”

“What are they saying about me so far?” Hux lights this next cigarette easily, pleased with the steadiness that has returned to his hands. He’s amused by the idea of frothing sensationalist newscasters outlining all the ways he might be tortured. Perhaps some are advocating that he should be killed live on air, for all the New Republic to see. The price of the advertising rights would be historic.

“They’re saying all sorts of things,” Jek says. “I read this morning that you were raised by a nanny droid.”

Hux laughs, sincerely entertained by this. “If only,” he says. “Speaking of the droid-like creatures who did raise me-- Has my mother answered your call to testify?”

“My assistant received your mother’s secure-sign transmission on the acknowledgment form,” Jek says, nodding. “She’ll be here in three days to prepare for the hearing.”

“Your assistant?” Hux says, stuttering this around the end of his cigarette, vision blurring.

“No, I meant-- Your mother.”

“She’ll. In three days, you said?”

“Uh-huh. Hux, listen, um. Are you-- And I should have asked this last time, really. It’s my job, as your advocate. Please don’t answer this hastily, okay? Just think about it.”

“Think about what?” Hux asks, already sure that he’s going to hate the sound of whatever comes next.

“Under New Republic law, your jailors are legally required to provide you with counseling during your time here,” Jek says. “If you ask for it.”

“And they have,” Hux says, confused. He gestures to Jek with his cigarette. “You’re my legal counsel, are you not?”

“No, I meant, uh. Emotional support. Professional counselors of that sort.”

“Oh.” Hux laughs and leans over to ash his cigarette, relieved. “No, thank you. You were speaking to me earlier of various cultures? Mine doesn’t do that sort of thing. Please respect the First Order’s rich cultural history and don’t ask me again.”

He’s laughing at his own joke, a bit, when he drags on the cigarette again. Jek looks disappointed, as if Hux has refused some gesture of affection. Hux is ready to be done here for the day, though he knows it’s idiotic to want to rush back to his cell and read Ren’s letter, which will likely take all of two minutes. Hux can’t imagine Ren even holding a pen. Perhaps this note is only a crude drawing intended to represent Ren’s current emotional state. Hux laughs around his cigarette again, smoke leaking from his nose when he does.

“You’re a strange guy,” Jek says when Hux glances at him.

“That’s probably a charitable way of putting it,” Hux says.

“No, but it’s good. I mean, that you have a personality. I’ve got to admit, I was afraid you might just be, you know, a gray uniform with a face. Which is I guess how we in the New Republic tend to see First Order officers, in the abstract. I have some notes about that for my opening statement to the Committee, actually. Anyhow-- we’ll meet again before the prosecutor’s interview, okay? I think you’re going to do well.”

“I don’t know where you get your delusions,” Hux says. “But I almost feel like I should thank you for your faith in my ability to talk my way out of any of this. Unless of course it’s the wrong move and your advice will be my doom.”

“Nah,” Jek says. “You’re good at speeches, right? Just think of this as another important speech. You need to persuade the toughest audience you’ve had yet. That’s all.”

“That’s all,” Hux says, muttering. “Right.”

“I’m going to leave you with this,” Jek says, handing Hux a portfolio from his briefcase. “They won’t let me give you a data pad, even off-network, but I got them to agree to leave that with you. It’s got all the most important information that we went over in it, about the planets that were destroyed. And there’s a blank notepad, too, see?”

“What’s this?” Hux asks, pulling what looks like a child’s toy from the center of the portfolio.

“That’s actually a pen. The only kind they’d let me give you. Apparently it can’t be used as a weapon. I thought you might want it for writing notes about the case. Or maybe you’d like to write a note for me to bring to Ren Solo?”

Hux laughs harder than he has all afternoon, maybe all year. Jek looks concerned.

“Don’t call him Ren Solo,” Hux says, still laughing. “That’s somehow even worse. He’s just-- You know what, forget it. Don’t call him anything. We’ve no need to speak of him, and I won’t be writing to him. Are we done here?” Hux puts out his cigarette and stands. Jek nods.

“Think about what I said,” Jek says as he’s gathering his things. Hux is too tired to ask Jek to specify if he’s talking about the opportunity for counseling, his willingness to ferry notes to Ren, or something else entirely. “And study up on those planets,” he adds. “It will make a big impression if you seem to show an interest in them.”

Hux thinks it’s absurd that he should be expected to study the cultures of planets that don’t exist anymore, but he understands what Jek is saying from a strategic perspective. It’s actually quite smart, though he doubts it will ultimately matter very much. Before he leaves the conference room he tucks the new pack of cigarettes into his pants and secures the note from Ren inside the waistband of his underwear. He tries not to think about why the ride up to his cell in the elevator seems to take longer than usual.

When they arrive at Hux’s cell, his lunch is on the floor. One of the guards combs through the portfolio Jek provided before removing Hux’s binders and placing the portfolio in his hands. It’s just a folder with data sheet printouts inside, plus the notepad, which is actually quite thick with blank paper, as if Hux is going to write an entire manifesto in the next seven days. The pen is ridiculous, but it works well enough when Hux sits at the desk and tests it out, marking the first page of the notepad with a few aimless lines.

He leaves the portfolio on the desk, ignores the lunch tray on the floor and gets into bed, pulling the blanket over himself. In this fashion, his heart slamming, he hides the new pack of cigarettes under his mattress alongside the last one. Then, still under the blanket, he pulls out Ren’s note.

By turning toward the end of the bed that faces the window and tenting the blanket over his head just so, he allows in enough light to read by while still remaining concealed. He’s sweltering hot under the blanket, his heart racing, hands shaking, feeling as if Ren is going to leap off this paper and attack him, or kiss him, or both, as before.

Ren’s penmanship is predictably dismal, but not to the point of being illegible. There is no salutation, perhaps to prevent this message from being incriminating somehow. The letter just begins in the middle of Ren’s thought process. Hux should have expected that.

You asked me a question in that house that I never answered. About how old I was when Snoke came and what it was like. I want to tell you here in this letter because I think it might help me. I tried to give you something in that house but Snoke came and took it away before it got to you all the way. I think if I give this to you now in a letter it will be something that he can’t take from us. I believe it will work for three reasons. (1) Luke’s old books have some kind of power just because of the words on the pages. I can feel it when I’m near them. Like something was trapped in the words long ago and it’s still there. I think I probably have this power too through the Force. I think if I write in letters to you about the things I know about Snoke it might all become solid in some way that will help me see the way forward. (I would also consider your suggestions if you wanted to write back). (2) I can’t tell certain things to Rey. She doesn’t hear them right. Not the way you do. You see the truth about me and you still want to help me. You are the only one who ever has. (I hope this is still true). (3) I feel more powerful when I tell you things. I realized this almost too late. I should have told you more at that house. I was afraid it would make things worse if I said them out loud. But you were right that you can help me. (I know it might seem too late to work together but I don’t think it’s too late).

I’m almost halfway down the page already so I will just start this first letter out with a few things about Snoke from the past. I don’t want to write too much all at once because I’m afraid it will be like when I tried to heal you all at once. I feel like you need to read this in parts. So here is the first part.

My first memory of hearing Snoke in my head was almost like a lullaby-type song. He didn’t sound like his real self. He can disguise his voice, or maybe I just hear him however I think he should sound at the time, because his voice got angrier and more frightening after I started to doubt his guidance. That would also happen when I was a kid. Eventually. But at first it was like this secret friend in my head. I didn’t have such an easy time making real friends. In fact I hated most of the other kids I knew. Not even for any solid reasons, they just seemed so stupid and annoying and they were never as impressed by my powers as I felt they should have been. But Snoke thought I was the best Force user in history, or so he said. The older I got the more he would tell me I was the greatest power in the galaxy and that my grandfather being Vader was proof that I had been chosen to fulfill a special destiny. I was lonely and unhappy and I wanted to believe it. (I never really did believe it. But I wanted to. I think that’s important). Also the voice encouraged me to reject the other kids and my parents more and more. It fed my anger until anger was the only thing I trusted. But it couldn’t make me angry enough to hurt Rey. And in that house (I’m skipping ahead obviously, but I’m almost out of room) Snoke couldn’t control me fully enough to hurt you. Not the way he really wanted to (which was to kill you), I mean. He can’t have that part of me that saved Rey or that part of me that saved you. That’s the thing I tried to give to you, that last day in the house. I guess I still have it. I got it back from Snoke, I think, when I threw him out of me. I’m going to give it to you again someday. For good this time. If you still even want it.

Last thing I’ll say: let me know if anyone hurts you there because they will answer for it and I think you know how. I will send another letter soon. Maybe you could write one to me, if they will let you. Until next time, I remain yours. --R

Hux reads it again, nervous laughter trapped in his chest. It won’t quite come out, so it sits there uncomfortably at the very center of him, like a stone. He reads the letter two more times before he decides he can’t stand the heat beneath the blanket anymore. Before uncovering himself, he hides the letter beneath the mattress, away from the cigarettes, as if it needs to be kept safe from them, too.

When the letter is tucked away, Hux walks over to the sink. He splashes water on his face and avoids his eyes in the mirror. He turns and stares at the lunch tray on the floor, suddenly not sure how to proceed with literally anything, including food. He’s hungry, but he can’t imagine eating. He paces, his arms crossed over his chest. There’s so much to think about. His fucking mother on her way here-- The idea of looking her in the face and letting her see what’s become of him. And those dead ex-planets; he’s expected to read about them and memorize the rituals of cultural festivals that were obliterated in mid-jubilation. Yes, it’s all very important and overwhelming. He turns to look at his bed. He wants to read that stupid letter again. Wants to read it until he’s memorized every word, until he can call them up at any time and rub them against his face like a balm that will soothe the burn that lingers there, though the letter is what brought this heat to his cheeks the first place.

He restrains himself and eventually regains his appetite. Sitting at his desk, he reads over the information Jek provided about the dead planets while he eats a sausage roll and some starchy mash. It’s good to have something to read, even if it is boring data about Raklan’s extinct economy. It’s a suitable distraction for his continuing desire to reread that letter.

His mind drifts, occasionally, and the words on Jek’s printouts glaze into a blur. Hux’s drifting mind mostly returns to the bit in that letter about Ren trying to give him something and Snoke snatching away as it passed between them. It’s nonsense, of course. And yet. Hux had felt it, maybe. That afternoon, in that house, in the bed, under that rainfall, and under the strangely perfect shelter of Ren’s body, before Snoke showed up. Perhaps something had nearly reached Hux just then. Something that was taken away before he could really have it.

When the sun begins to set, Hux gives up on his studying and turns to watch that bastard star finally sinking over the mountains. Another day gone, every moment here moving him closer to the judgment of that Committee. He wonders if Ren’s letter-writing campaign to defeat Snoke could actually be a viable strategy of some sort, or if it’s just another inane fantasy, like that moment when Hux talked madly of running away while they sat on the speeder. He tries not to remember what it felt like to kiss Ren that day, but his eyes snap closed when the sun sinks low enough to blaze directly into them, and with his eyes shut he can’t fight away from the memories. Kissing Ren had been like disappearing and being remade at the same time, and the disappearing had felt just as good as the remaking. That was the miracle of it, or the curse: Hux wanted to give everything up to Ren just as much as he’d wanted to take everything Ren had. He had liked feeling parts of himself dissolve into Ren, because they seemed to come back so easily, and better for having left him and returned, if also weaker.

He’s memorized one part of Ren’s letter already, word for word: Until next time, I remain yours. It’s not even the yours that sticks in Hux’s chest, snagging on the talisman he can’t get rid of that sounds and feels like Ren’s name. It’s the fucking Until next time. Hux puts his hand over his mouth, eyes still closed, and laughs into his palm. Ren thinks they’ll have a next time. Of course he does. Incomparable fool that he is, Ren wants this hell they’ve made for each other to continue.

Hux opens his eyes and blinks in the irritating, rapidly fading sunlight. He removes his hand from his mouth when he’s tempted to press his lips out against it in a kind of kiss that would be felt by no one, not even the person who once found him in a windowless room in a bunker on an anonymous moon. Not even a person who felt Hux needing him from an entire system away could now feel some phantom kiss sent from a prison cell. Hux sits up straight and puts his hands in his lap. He will absolutely not press kisses to his own fucking hand and hope that Ren might feel them. He hasn’t completely lost his mind. Not yet, anyway.

 

**