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Under the Ruins of a Walled City

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Hux makes a perfunctory attempt at getting to sleep on the night after his first day at court, not expecting to have much success. He only slept for a few hours the night before, and eventually his exhaustion rolls him into a brief, rattled kind of nap. He wakes half-remembering a dream about finding Ren in his usual habitat of nearly impenetrable darkness, child-sized again and filthy for some reason. Hux sits up and blinks at the giant window, the blue moon.

In the dream, Hux had cleaned Ren’s dirty face with his tongue. He had also begun making vague plans to enlist Ren in the First Order’s army, perhaps as some sort of specially appointed, Force-using assassin. Hux leans back onto his pillow and rubs his hands over his face, listening for any hint of Ren that might be lingering in his head after that dream. There’s nothing, and he lies awake wondering if Ren will be able to reach him in their waking hours again, once Hux is at the courthouse and the broadcast is live. Having Ren suddenly in his head during the hearing was extremely unsettling and incredibly comforting: Ren’s usual twofold effect on him.

Hux gives up on sleep and goes to his desk, feeling light-headed and dozy but also like he must do something rather than wallow in bed feeling sorry for himself and having useless thoughts about Ren. He shuffles through his information about the five destroyed planets, dreading the forthcoming ‘impact statements’ of the Committee members who have elected to give them. He lingers on the pages about Raklan, wondering why Ander Fillamon hasn’t volunteered to give a statement. Perhaps Fillamon made up his mind about Hux before the start of the hearing and sees no reason to prolong it. That would be in keeping with the culture Fillamon was apparently raised in. The Order cherishes efficiency, after all.

Hux picks up his ridiculous safety pen and flips past the twenty-eight pages of his attempt at a memoir. He’s not sure what he intends to write when he puts the pen to paper.

Tomorrow the New Republic shall vote on whether or not to execute me.

He stares at this sentence, disliking it. It doesn’t fit in this section of his memoir, which is still concerned with his early childhood memories, and it’s not a letter to Ren, who already has this information. Furthermore, the sentence itself feels clumsily constructed and bland. He snarls down at it when he realizes it’s a kind of diary entry, tears out the page and flips back to work on his memoir, picking up with a passage about his half-brother, who has been heavy in Hux’s thoughts for the first time since his childhood, after that meeting with Elana under the glow of holo fish.

My earliest memories of my brother are from our family’s time spent living on a space station in the Wim system. Prior to that, my mother must have been more successful at keeping him away from me, but once we were installed on this space station, in a cramped apartment, the three of us often alone together while my father put the finishing touches on his plans to relocate his Academy to a new planet, there was really no way to consistently avoid Brendol Jr., who did not respond well to the change from living on starships to something more resembling solid ground. I was five years old and he was eleven. The space station was a mostly lawless place where a family like ours could hide from the Republic’s authorities. Accordingly, it was also a place where we had to work to avoid scoundrels and criminals of all types. We children were certainly not permitted to leave the apartment unaccompanied, and even my mother was encouraged to stay inside until my father could join her on her errands. Brendol Jr. was not clever, but he was rather determined, and he was often in the midst of some scheme to sneak out and explore the space station on his own. He would not infrequently threaten to bring me with him in a duffel bag and sell me to slavers.

This struck me as a thing that was in legitimate danger of happening to me, and yet I wasn’t exactly afraid. I think I trusted that my mother would find and retrieve me even if Brendol Jr. did manage to hand me over to such characters, and in this sense I began to feel sorry for my older brother for the first time in my life, as he had no mother. My mother reminded me relatively often that she’d had nothing to do with the creation of Brendol Jr. in the way she had done with me. As I didn’t understand the mechanics of this at the time, I thought of my half-brother as someone whom our father had created on his own, prior to finding a worthy woman to make a child with-- that second child being therefore superior. It struck me as the most pitiable state of existence I could then imagine, to have no one so solidly and constantly on your side as my mother was on mine. Brendol Jr. and I both understood that we held value for our father, but I don’t think either of us ever had a moment of feeling irreplaceable to him. To my mother, I was irreplaceable, and I was so certain of this that I almost wanted to dare Brendol Jr. to sell me to slavers, just to be able to gloat when she came for me and undid his deed with ease.

Hux is still writing when the sun begins to rise, disliking most of what he’s working on but unwilling to stop. It’s overly sentimental, this section: too complimentary toward his mother, for one thing, as if Hux has reverted to his five-year-old view of her in the writing of it. He’ll edit it later, or perhaps not, because allowing himself to be overly sentimental here may make Elana’s later abandonment of him that much more profound in the narrative.

He looks up at the window when he can no longer deny that it is morning and that Jek is surely on his way here. Hux will be allowed to change into civilian clothes in a conference room again, and then they will travel to the city together in an armored transport, surrounded by guards and accompanied by other armored transports that are identical in appearance. There is a great deal of security being expended to keep Hux from being assassinated on this way to or from the hearing. The warden personally informed Hux of this yesterday, either in sincere complaint at being inconvenienced or to put the idea of Hux being hunted by renegade revenge-seekers more firmly in Hux’s head at the start of his hearing. As if Hux could forget that this prison is the only remotely safe place in the galaxy for him anymore.

He manages only a few bites from his breakfast tray before the guards come to collect him. These are not the guards Hux prefers. Yonke and Omelia shuttle him to and fro mostly in the evenings, and though he still has the feeling Omelia hates him, she at least doesn’t express it so obviously as these two morning shift guards, both human men, who make his binders especially tight today. Hux doesn’t give them the satisfaction of complaining, and doesn’t plan on bothering to ask their names now or in the future. They communicate plainly enough, without needing to speak, that they would spit on Hux before revealing any personal information about themselves.

It’s a relief to be delivered to Jek, less so to find that Elana is with him. The conference room that the guards close them into is at least void of any whimsical holo projections, and Hux tries to take comfort in this when he lets his mother throw her arms around him. He contemplates the clothing that’s laid out on the table for him: the same tunic and pants from yesterday, the black shoes resting on the seat of a nearby chair. He’ll have to change in front of his mother, apparently.

“I hated not being able to speak to you yesterday,” Elana says when she pulls back to look at Hux, her gaze darting around his face a bit frantically. She was in the audience at the courthouse the day before, waving from the back whenever Hux half-turned to check that she was still there. She’s put on makeup and a conservative but stylish black dress with a little matching jacket. Two thin sections of her hair are braided and pinned back in a way that makes her look younger than her years. Hux appreciates the effort.

“We don’t have a lot of time here before we have to leave,” Jek says, nodding to the clothes on the table.

Hux sighs and pulls off his shirt, replacing it with the tunic.

“You look thin,” his mother says. “What are they feeding you?”

“Prison food,” Hux says, rolling his eyes. He’s got his back to her as he does up the tunic’s buttons and watches Jek shift through some screens on his data pad. “What do we need to go over?” Hux asks when Jek glances up at him, then back down when Hux kicks off his slippers and shoves down his pants.

“I don’t want to prompt you too much just now,” Jek says. “I need your answers to feel organic. The only thing I’d be careful about is what you say about Kylo Ren. I think Faza is really into this theory that he’s the one who choked you, and you can’t easily explain that he wasn’t without getting into the whole-- Possession thing.”

“Possession?” Elana says.

Hux winces. For a moment he’d forgotten she was there.

“Um,” Jek says, glancing at her and then back at Hux. “To be honest, I don’t entirely understand it myself.”

“What do I care if they think Ren choked me?” Hux asks. He buttons his slacks and sits to put on the shoes. “They can’t prove it.”

“No, but if they seem to have caught you in a lie it will really hurt your credibility, and the Committee may see you as a calculating phony rather than someone who has a true story that needs telling.”

“Kylo Ren?” Elana says. “That’s the name of your lover, correct?”

“My-- Don’t use that word!” Hux glowers at her, his face getting hot. He whirls on Jek. “You told her?”

“He told me nothing,” Elana says. “I listened yesterday to the testimony. That man’s name came up so much. I thought, he must be the one who writes to Elan. Hiding together-- I know something about that.”

“Well, I hope everyone else in the fucking galaxy hasn’t caught on,” Hux says, snapping this at Jek as if it’s his fault. “Because I’m really pretty fucked if so.”

“Not necessarily,” Jek says.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“You shouldn’t be so crass when you’re speaking to this Committee,” Elana says, tapping Hux on the shoulder. “Or so angry. Haven’t you told him this?” she asks, addressing Jek.

A guard raps on the door and Hux curses again, under his breath this time. He leans down to finishing tying his shoes, his face still hot and his heart already racing. His mother knows he got a letter from a man; that’s the only reason she was able to put one and two together about Ren. Other people don’t have that information.

“It’s a good thing he didn’t write to me again,” Hux says when he stands, hoping this sounds at least halfway convincing. “Carrying a letter from him into court would be inviting disaster.”

Jek makes a face and glances at the door. They usually get less than a minute to compose themselves after the initial warning knock from the guards.

“He did actually write another one,” Jek says, whispering this. “It’s back at my office. I just couldn’t bring it today, I’m sorry, there’s too much risk with the focus they’ve brought to him--”

“There’s nothing to be sorry about,” Hux says, his heart doing a kind of stuttering dance between rage and disappointment, with a helping of regret for how sharply he just spoke. Jek means well. He would have brought the letter if he could have done so in good conscience. “It wouldn’t have been wise to bring-- Such a thing,” Hux says, nodding to himself. “Not today. Thank you for using your better judgment. There’s no time left to be sentimental.”

“Don’t say that,” Elana says. “Don’t say anything about time, not yet.”

“You’re both going to do great today,” Jek says, walking to them as the guards throw the door open. Jek puts one hand on Hux’s shoulder, the other on Elana’s. “Don’t worry,” he says, whispering. “I have a plan.”

“I should hope so?” Hux says, boggling at him. Jek winks and ushers him toward the waiting guards.

They pass the journey into the city in the same grim silence as the day before. Hux watches the scenery pass by outside and lets his mother cling to his arm, though her trembling is increasing his own anxiety. He has some confidence that they won’t execute him immediately, during the live broadcast, should the vote go that way. Still, he can’t stop imagining that this might be his last time in a transport, and these might be the last mountains he ever sees, then the last desert, the last sleepy suburb lined with rainbow fig trees. As the transport draws closer to the city, he’s already hoping to hear Ren in his head, wondering if they’ll need to say goodbye today and wishing like hell, despite his own better judgment, that Jek had been foolish enough to bring him that letter from Ren. It could be the last one they’ll ever exchange.

The transport enters an underground garage on the outskirts of the city and makes the rest of the journey to the courthouse through a long, dark tunnel reserved for a passenger such as Hux: so infamous that their mere presence in a standard street transport, armored or not, would be disruptive to civilian life. At the start of the hearing yesterday, before he was ushered into the soundproofed interior courtroom, Hux could hear the enormous crowd gathered outside the courthouse, though he couldn’t make out what they were chanting. He supposes he probably doesn’t want to know.

Knowing what he’ll face makes getting out of the transport a bit easier today, though he’s still a stranger to giving testimony to the room he’s being brought back to. At a certain point in the journey toward that room, Hux and Jek are required to part from Elana, and she leans up to kiss Hux’s cheek. Her eyes are red-rimmed but dry.

“I used to think you could save me from anything,” Hux says, suddenly not caring that they have an audience of impatient courtroom guards. It feels like it could be his last chance to speak with her like this. “I thought-- Even if my brother sold me to slavers, I assumed you’d be there swiftly to bring me home.”

“It never came to that because I protected you so well,” Elana says, holding Hux’s gaze in a way that makes him realize this is where he learned it from, this ability to appear calm in the face of anything, anything. She nods once and keeps her eyes on Hux’s as Jek nudges him toward the bailiff who is calling to them from an elevator. “I did forget how to protect you when someone told me I couldn’t do it anymore,” Elana says. “But now I’ve remembered. Elan-- I won’t lose you again. Don’t worry.”

Hux listens for Ren’s voice in his head on the elevator ride up to the courtroom. Maybe he even calls for Ren, or tries to. There’s nothing in response, probably because the broadcast hasn’t started. Hux thinks it’s somewhat ridiculous that a live holo broadcast could aid the fucking Force, though he supposes it also makes a kind of sense that Ren is able to zero in on him from afar when he can see exactly what Hux is doing at the moment.

“So I’m going to call your mom to the stand first,” Jek explains, maybe just to have something to say, because Hux already knows this. “Then you. Faza will question you after I do. I’m not sure if she’ll want to ask your mother anything.”

Hux hopes not. He feels a surge of protectiveness at the thought of his mother enduring Faza’s questions.

“What’s become of Pella?” Hux asks, remembering how he felt protective of her, too, yesterday.

“The Resistance is dealing with her,” Jek says. “Classified so far, but when she was led from the courtroom she got a few quotes in with the press when they ran up to shove microphones in her face. She told them she was given a mission to fulfill her destiny by sacrificing her life for the Order, and the experience of living among the Resistance changed her so much that she’s willing to sacrifice herself not for that ideology but for one man, because every life matters, and she believes you would come to understand that, too, if given the chance, and something about how you’d made her feel like her life mattered, even back under First Order command-- Oh, she said it better than that, but trust me, it was a good thing.” Jek winks again.

“Why are you doing that?” Hux asks, hoping that it’s not because Jek is nervous.

“Doing what?” Jek asks, and the elevator doors open.

Hux is lead into the courtroom by the guards, Jek following. Leia is already seated in the raised seat between the other six Committee members, and Hux is again placed in front of the two who radiate unbridled hatred when they look at him, despite the one with the trunk being seemingly incapable of actual facial expressions. Hux can feel it anyway. Beside this trunked creature is Botta, who just seems distracted, and on the other side of Leia sits Ander Fillamon.

Same as the day before, Hux gets a bad feeling from Fillamon. It’s not hatred; it’s not that simple. Hux looks away quickly when Fillamon’s cold blue eyes meet his, and he shifts his gaze to the Qusoa representative, who is sniffling already but not full-on blubbering like she was during much of yesterday’s proceedings. Qusoa was the peace-loving planet that abhorred war and celebrated forgiveness, and Jek continues to insist that they can count on a vote for life from her. Beside her is the Thulmar, whose presence continues to unnerve Hux in a way directly opposed to Fillamon’s intense scrutiny. The Thulmar frequently doesn’t seem to be paying attention. According to Hux’s notes on the destroyed planets, Thulmars believe in fate in some particularly ironclad way, as if all of time has already played out and they’re only living according to a script. They have visions that guide their decisions, and rituals involving drugs are typically what result in these so-called visions.

“Is the Thulmar high?” Hux asks, whispering this to Jek when they’re seated together and waiting for Leia to call the room to order. Jek glances up from his data pad and studies the Thulmar for a few seconds.

“Hard to tell,” Jek says. “Don’t worry about the Thulmar, though.”

“Don’t worry about one of the six people who is voting on whether to kill me or not, got it.”

“Look,” Jek says, giving Hux a somewhat apologetic glance that worries him. “My research indicates that the Thulmar, the Utrian and the Eurc-Wentonian came here to see you dead. That’s just the reality that we’re working with. Justice Botta and the Qusoa rep won’t want to sentence you to death, meanwhile. That leaves the human from Raklan. That’s why I’m planning to appeal to human sympathy in particular. We need him to cast the tying vote, and then we’ll be counting on Leia to show mercy.”

“Planning to appeal to human sympathy,” Hux says, staring at Jek when he looks away. “By putting my mother on the stand, you mean?”

“Sure,” Jek says, nodding down at his notes. “Among other things.”

“What--”

“Okay,” Leia says, loudly enough to draw the attention of everyone in the room. “I don’t see the need for any opening remarks from me on this second day of the hearing, so if counsel for the New Republic and Mr. Hux are ready to begin, I’d like to get started with our first witness for the day.”

“I’m ready, General,” Jek says.

“Counsel for the New Republic is prepared to begin,” Faza says. Hux doesn’t like how calm she appears, after being at least apparently unsettled by the proceedings the day before.

“Great,” Leia says. “Mr. Porkins, I believe your first witness is Elana Hux?”

“That’s correct,” Jek says.

Hux’s mother approaches from the same door that Finn and the others entered through the day before. She’s poised and expressionless, which may not be the best approach, but her cool demeanor makes Hux feel proud of their shared culture, maligned as it is here and despite the fact that it crumpled them both into its palm when it could. At least they never broke character in public, whatever happened to them. Hux realizes as he watches his mother take her seat that he’s afraid to see her break down in front of these people. He doesn’t want that, even if Jek believes, perhaps not mistakenly, that such a thing could save Hux.

“Please state your name for the court,” Jek says.

“Elana Levchen Hux.”

“And your relationship to Mr. Hux?”

“I’m Elan’s mother.”

There’s some muttering from the audience, though Hux’s mother’s involvement in the hearing has been reported in the press for a week now, according to Jek. Perhaps this commentary involves her appearance, or some disbelief that Hux does have a mother after all, and that her concern for his welfare wasn’t purely a rumor.

“Please tell the court where you reside,” Jek says.

“On Nestor, in the Syob system.”

“And that’s a New Republic planet, correct?”

“It is.”

“When did you defect from the First Order to the New Republic.”

“Three years ago.” Elana answers every question as if she’s throwing a little dagger: precisely and without hesitation.

“And why did you defect to the New Republic?” Jek asks.

“Because the First Order had taken everything I loved from me.”

There’s a murmur from the audience. Hux stays very still. He considers calling out to Ren again, but perhaps now is not the time to send his mind elsewhere.

“And when you say everything you loved,” Jek says, “Can you explain what that means?”

“Yes. The man I loved, who was a stormtrooper, killed when he was twenty years old, and then my son, Elan, who was taken from me, for all intents and purposes, when he was deemed old enough to begin training to be an officer.”

“And how old was Elan when the Order’s social structure dictated that he be placed into this sort of training?”

“Six years old.”

“The same age that the stormtroopers are placed into formal training?”

“That’s correct.”

“Speaking of stormtroopers,” Jek says, clearly enjoying the murmur of curious commentary from the audience. “You said that the man you loved was a stormtrooper who lost his life in battle?”

“That’s right.” Her expression hardens. “BN-4529. I knew him as Flick.”

“And how did you come to know a stormtrooper personally?”

“My household was attacked by a certain faction of the Empire when I was a teenager. My father was kidnapped, and I was held hostage while this faction interrogated him in light of accusations that he sympathized with a competing interest. One stormtrooper protected me when some officers who held me hostage threatened to hurt me. For four days I was in his company, while we hid together. I fell in love with him. I was never allowed to be with him, of course, outside of that situation, and he died in service to the Empire soon afterward. But I never forgot him. And I never forgave the Empire or its successor for taking this man from me and disposing of him as if he was nothing. As if he was just another one of their suits of armor to be deployed and destroyed.”

Hux has to withhold a snort, wondering if she practiced that rhyme. He’s proud of her, and on the edge of his seat, despite the fact that he already knows this story. The audience in the courtroom has quieted. Leia seems fascinated, too, and she’s leaning slightly toward Elana from her seat above the panel and the witness stand. Ander Fillamon is staring at Hux again.

If looks could fucking kill, Hux thinks, shifting his gaze away from Fillamon. He feels Ren hearing this, a sort of joy at their renewed connection ballooning in Ren and becoming so huge that it reaches Hux, too.

He thinks he knows you, Ren says, in Hux’s head.

Who? Hux asks, half-listening to Jek as he begins to ask Elana about Brendol Sr.

The blond man on the panel, Ren says.

Well, Hux says to Ren, struggling not to glance at Fillamon again. Fillamon is still staring; Hux can feel it, or maybe he’s feeling Ren’s notice of it. I don’t know him. I’d never seen or heard of him before this circus.

It’s not that he thinks you’ve met before, Ren says. He thinks he knows you in some other way. It’s not clear to me, from this distance.

I’m glad you’re here, Hux says. Or-- That you’re with me, whatever.

Me too. Hux--

But be quiet for a minute, Hux says, because he needs to pay attention.

Okay. Sorry.

Though it’s a massively stupid sentiment at this point in time, Hux feels guilty for hurting Ren’s feelings. He resists the urge to roll his eyes at himself, not wanting the cameras to catch it, and refocuses on his mother’s testimony.

“So despite the fact that you didn’t have romantic feelings for Brendol Hux, Sr.,” Jek says, “You held no particular resentments toward him?”

“Not at that point,” Elana says. “He’d given me my happiness back, had given me my baby, and he allowed me and Elan to be each other’s world in those frightening transitional years, when the Empire fell and the First Order began to cobble itself together from the scraps. I was allowed to stay out of all that, and so was Elan. We were happy, despite everything. He was a happy child, especially in my company. Easy to love.”

“And when would you say that your relationship with him changed?” Jek asks.

“When he went off to day school,” Elana says. She looks at Hux. He feels something pulling in his chest when his eyes meet hers, a kind of tightening. It might just be Ren struggling not to blurt something or other. “He liked school, and he was a good student,” Elana says. “He liked having his little uniform perfectly neat. I did that for him-- This was before we could afford any household help beyond the most basic service droids. I would wash and iron Elan’s uniforms and would always have them ready for him in the mornings. At one point, maybe a year into his schooling, doing so began to make me sad. It felt like my only remaining connection to him.”

“And why was that?” Jek asks.

“His father. Brendol didn’t believe that a boy should be spending much time with his mother after a certain age. He thought I would weaken his budding little officer with whimsical things like walks through the woods or conversations about anything beyond Imperial history and the forthcoming glory of the Order.” She sniffs. “I didn’t salivate over power the way that Brendol did. He knew this about me. He didn’t want Elan catching that attitude from me. So he pulled Elan in one direction and pushed me in another.”

“And you allowed this to happen?” Jek asks. His tone seems to indicate that he anticipates this would be one of Faza’s antagonizing questions. She’s making notes at her table.

Elana nods. “Brendol had gotten rid of his first wife so easily,” she says. “He was typically not cruel to me, but beneath our every interaction there was the implication that the same could be done to me. It was an understanding, maybe, more like. If I fought him on something like spending more time with Elan, or rounding out Elan’s view of the world a bit, Brendol would have cast me to the wind same as he did his first wife. He would have maintained complete control over Elan, just as he had over Brendol Jr. I was afraid Elan would end up like his older brother had, if I wasn’t at least haunting the edges of his life like a ghost. I tried to sneak any time with Elan that I could. I tried to speak to him on matters that his father wouldn’t approve of. But.” She shakes her head, her lips pressing together when she looks at Hux again. “You know how children respond when you tell them that the most horrible thing is to be different from the other children. They take that very deeply to heart, at that age. And Elan saw the proof of it in everything about the people we lived among. No, he wanted to be just what was asked of him. He was a good boy, at heart, and we told him that was how to continue to be good. I shrunk away and told myself that it was for the best, in the long run, for him to become powerful the way that his father had, by protecting himself from the things that had hurt me-- Attachments, sentiments, dreams of things that weren’t possible for any of us.”

She pauses there and exhales. Hux can feel his heart pounding. The room is very quiet. He feels something like a sigh from Ren, in counterpoint to his racing heartbeat.

“And do you regret allowing your son to embrace the life his father wanted for him?” Jek asks.

“What kind of question is that?” Elana says, suddenly sharp-eyed. “Sorry,” she says when she’s heard herself, and she glances at Leia. The look that passes between them feels like a wound that opens slowly in Hux’s chest, and he has to swallow a gasp when he feels Ren seeing it, too, and feeling it like a spreading ache. “I only mean that the answer should be obvious,” Elana says, speaking to Leia. “Of course I regret letting some outside forces who thought they knew better than me take my son away from me and turn him into someone who did this terrible thing. Of course I do.”

Elana returns her gaze to Jek. Leia turns away, too, staring at nothing in particular, her lips slightly parted.

Does she know? Ren asks. He sounds angry.

Does who know what? Hux asks.

Your mother. Does she know about me?

Not the bit about you being seduced away from your mother by an evil wizard, no.

But she knows other things? Now Ren just sounds surprised.

Hush, Hux says. His mother is getting emotional on the stand, but a layperson might not be able to tell.

“You’ll have to forgive me if this sounds like another question to which the answer is obvious,” Jek says, “But could you tell us why you regret losing that special relationship with Hux?”

“Because I thought I was protecting him when I let them pull him from me,” she says. “I thought that the Order could give him something real, something which I couldn’t. I knew I was wrong, in my heart, but when I felt helpless I tried to lie to myself, to believe that Elan would find some kind of joy in what Brendol and Brendol’s school and the Order could give him. But no, I-- I was supposed to protect him from all of that. I know that now. I knew that then. I was a coward, thinking I couldn’t get away from them and also take him with me. I’d been raised by a man like Brendol-- My father told me there was nothing but tragedy and ruin for a woman on her own in the wilderness that existed outside of the Order’s protection. I was still a girl in my heart, still so naive, too frightened to try to do anything on my own. By the time I worked up the nerve to even stay away on a kind of extended vacation, Elan had started at the Academy.”

“The Academy,” Jek says. The word strikes Hux like a stray bullet, and he can feel Ren jerk protectively in response, as if Hux can be retroactively shielded from it. “That was Brendol Sr.’s school, correct?”

“Yes,” Elana says. “Brendol sent me some businesslike transmission to tell me Elan had done well in his first year, and I sent Elan a holo call when he was home for the end of year break.”

“And how did that call go?” Jek asks.

Hux listens for the answer. He can’t remember. That break, with nothing for him to do but think and spend time alone, had been torture.

“He was so different,” Elana says. “Maybe just because I had gone, and because I was vague about my plan to come home. Elan seemed to hate me, and I knew he was right to. But I thought there was no going back. That’s how it feels when the Order controls your life. They set you on a path and they tell you, ‘the alternative is nothing. Death, disgrace, torment in the hands of our enemies.’ I had made my decision. I had lost my son to Brendol’s army. That’s what I thought that day. Elan’s eyes were so cold on that holo call. I thought that meant he was gone. That he didn’t belong to me anymore.”

Are they showing my face? Hux asks, sending this desperately to Ren. He can feel how red his cheeks are, and the corners of his eyes are stinging.

They’re showing your mother, Ren says. It sounds like a lie, or an avoidance of the question. He didn’t say ‘no.’

“And what do you think that coldness on the holo call meant now?” Jek asks. “Upon reflection?”

“He was angry because he needed me.” Everything Elana has been holding back rushes to the surface, but just for a moment. She swallows it as best she can and adjusts her near-perfect posture. “And he wanted me to see that. And to do something about it. But I felt that I couldn’t. I failed him, in that way. Thinking I had nothing to give when I had everything he needed. He was hiding behind that anger when we spoke on that holo call, and on all the ones I attempted afterward. Elan used that anger as a shield. It protected him, when I had failed to.”

“I’m going to stop the questions here, General,” Jek says when Elana lifts her shaking hand to her face.

“Fine,” Leia says, and she passes a handkerchief to Elana, who whispers an inaudible thanks. Where did the General get a handkerchief from? It’s just one of those things mothers seem to have, Hux supposes. Some mothers, anyway.

Distract me with something, Hux thinks, begging this of Ren. Please, hurry.

I got your letter, Ren says.

Good. Hux has to look away when his mother meets his eyes, the handkerchief pressed to her trembling lips. More, just. Make me think of anything but this.

I dreamed about you, Ren says. You licked my cheek.

I did, yes. I know.

Hux is chewing on the end of his tongue, praying that the cameras aren’t on his face as Faza approaches the stand to question his mother. His plan to have Ren take his mind off of what is happening hasn’t worked, because if Ren had that dream, too, it means something that Hux is not prepared to think about right now. Meanwhile, Elana has mostly regained her composure. She’s dabbing at her eyes with the handkerchief. After she has, she settles her gaze on Faza.

I want to come to the court, Ren says, with an angry, childish determination that almost makes Hux laugh very inappropriately. I want to come there now and get you.

Well, Hux replies. Don’t.

I won’t. Can’t, I know. I have to deal with Snoke first.

Oh, fuck, Ren, can we not discuss Snoke right now?

Sorry. Right.

“Mrs. Hux,” Faza says, drawing Hux’s attention back to his present surroundings. “Or is it Ms. Levchen?”

“I still go by Hux,” Elana says. “It’s-- My connection to Elan, I think, that made me keep it.”

“That’s very sweet,” Faza says, unconvincingly. “I just have a few questions.”

Elana waits, blinking away the last of her near-breakdown. Hux has calmed, too, though he fears his face is still blazing.

“You work as a floral assistant on Nestor,” Faza says. “Is that correct?”

“Yes,” Elana says.

“And do you make an hourly wage in that position?” Faza asks.

“I--” Elana frowns at the question. “Yes,” she says. “It’s an hourly wage.”

“And if you don’t mind, can you tell us what that wage is?”

“Excuse me, General,” Jek says, standing. “May I ask if this is going to be made relevant somehow?”

“I assure you, General,” Faza says. “I have a point to make with these questions.”

“Fine,” Leia says. She looks a bit wary but mostly curious. “I’ll allow it. Please sit, Mr. Porkins.”

Hux leans over to whisper in Jek’s ear when he’s seated again. “Surely she’s not trying to imply--”

“Shh,” Jek says. “It’s okay.”

“It’s twelve credits per hour,” Elana says. She looks somewhat vicious now, like she’s ready for a fight. Faza seems pleased.

“Great,” Faza says. “Now, can you give me an estimate of what the value of the estate where you lived with Brendol Hux on Victoria would have been, had you been allowed to sell it and keep those credits?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” Elana says. “I was never a property owner. My father and my husband didn’t share financial details with me.”

“I see. But this was a somewhat sprawling estate, correct? And your father and your husband both made substantial salaries in the boom times for the Empire and again, later, when the First Order was in power?”

“I’m sorry to object again,” Jek says, half-standing this time. “But may I ask how many questions Ms. Faza plans to ask before we come to the relevant part?”

“Please get to the point,” Leia says to Faza, who nods.

“Had you ever traveled to this planet before your appearance for this hearing?” Faza asks.

“No,” Elana says.

“Do you often travel for pleasure, on your floral assistant salary?”

“No.” Elana scoffs and glances at Leia, who is looking away from her and frowning slightly at Faza.

My mother doesn’t like this, Ren says, as if to console Hux with this information. She thinks it’s tasteless.

I don’t think it’s being done for your mother’s benefit, Hux sends, his fists trembling under the table now.

“And prior to your defection to the New Republic,” Faza says, “Is it true that you traveled very frequently, to many luxurious resorts and large cities in dozens of systems?”

“I was running away from my life,” Elana says. “That was how I accomplished this, yes.”

“I see. You took comfort in that. It was enjoyable?”

“It was lonely,” Elana says.

“But you continued to do this for approximately sixteen years, nonetheless?”

“I didn’t have anything else to do,” Elana says. “I wasn’t allowed to do anything else.”

“Okay. So it was probably a big adjustment, after you’d defected, to lose the ability to travel for fun once in a while?”

“General,” Jek says, standing. “If this is going where I think it’s going, it’s extremely offensive, entirely speculative and totally out of order, in my view.”

“If I may get to my point before you rule on Mr. Porkins’ objection?” Faza says.

Leia purses her lips and glances from Faza to Porkins, then back again. “You can have one more question related to this line of reasoning,” she says.

“Mrs. Hux,” Faza says, refocusing on Elana, who is still confused, frowning and worrying that handkerchief between her hands. “Did counsel for your son pay for your journey here, and your hotel stay, your meals, and that lovely new dress you’re wearing?”

“Okay,” Leia says when Elana’s mouth falls open, the audience whispering in what sounds like a combination of surprise and delight. “Let’s not.”

“If you won’t allow the question then I have nothing further for the witness,” Faza says. Despite Leia’s reaction, she looks pleased.

And why shouldn’t she? Leia doesn’t get a vote without a tie. Certain Committee members look as if they find this line of reasoning very relevant indeed. Surely it’s easy enough to believe that a heartless war criminal would have an opportunistic mother who only showed up in court because she’s a pauper who wanted a free vacation and some new clothes. Hux is shaking with rage. He glances at Ander Fillamon, suddenly unafraid to meet his cold stare. Fillamon seems unimpressed.

Hux.

That’s Ren, but Jek is tugging on Hux’s arm and in more immediate need of attention. Jek shows Hux a note that he typed onto his data pad.

Faza is trying to rile you up prior to your testimony. Don’t let her do it.

Hux nods, though he’s not sure he can comply with that request. His heart is slamming, and he keeps half-consciously rejecting Ren’s attempts to reach him, which is unfortunate, because he wants Ren more than anything right now. He wants Ren to storm in here and immobilize everyone but Hux, Elana and Jek, possibly also Leia. Hux wants to run the fuck out of here with Ren and set everything on fire in their wake, but he can’t run to Ren right now, not even in his head. He needs to concentrate.

“You may step down,” Leia says to Elana, gently, when Elana just sits there trembling with the same silent rage that Hux is experiencing, if not more of it. Elana jerks her head in Leia’s direction and softens her expression, nods.

“They said I could sit in the audience?” she says.

“That would be fine,” Leia says.

Elana gets up, steadies herself and marches past Faza’s table, not deigning to look her way. She reaches out to Hux as she passes, and he grabs for her hand, holding it until she’s walked out of reach, beckoned forward by a guard. The crowd murmurs, stirs.

“Ready?” Jek asks, and for once Hux doesn’t mind the softness of his tone. He nods.

“Will Mr. Hux be taking the stand now?” Leia asks.

“Yes, General,” Jek says, and the murmur of the audience rises to a dull roar. Leia has to ask for order as Hux approaches the witness stand, smoothing his hands down over the front of his tunic.

I’m here, Ren says as Hux sits. If you want me.

I always want you, Hux sends back, without pausing to think about it. He’s facing the room now, the audience a mass of angry attention, a collection of more different species than Hux has ever seen in one place. Just don’t interrupt me while I’m doing this, Hux adds, afraid Ren will interpret his unintentionally candid admission as an invitation to start a running commentary.

It doesn’t matter what they decide, Ren says, or maybe just thinks. Hux’s head is spinning, and for one horrific moment he’s afraid he’ll black out, watching as the hovering recorder droids adjust their lenses to pull in closer on his face. I’m going to fix everything, Ren promises.

No, Hux says, and he meets Jek’s eyes as he feels the threat of losing consciousness fading away. Let me fix some things myself.

“Please state your name for the record,” Jek says.

A formality, and a laughably redundant question. Approximately everyone in the galaxy is watching. Every one of them knows Hux’s name. He sits up a bit straighter, clinging to the sense of related pride that he wants to keep, even if he has to keep it in a very small box that’s also lined with shame.

“Elan Bartram Hux,” he says, trying to be proud of this, too. To his surprise, he finds that he is. It’s his mother’s name, his grandfather’s, and his father’s. He got something from each of them, and he’s survived to this point because of it.

“And do you understand why you’re here today, Mr. Hux?”

They’ve practiced this question. Hux hates the answer. He nods.

“I gave up my life to the Order when I was six years old,” he says. “And now I’ve placed my life in the hands of the New Republic. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have done this, and lucky to have a chance to try to account and atone for what I did while serving the Order. I would not have been given this chance by my former associates.”

“When you say you gave up your life to the Order,” Jek says. “What do you mean by that?”

“The Order asks everyone in their service to think first of the mission,” Hux says. “That mission is ostensibly to bring peace to the galaxy through rigid management of every planet, every system. But we all know that’s a lie. And I don’t just mean the people here in this room today. Everyone who grows up in the grip of the First Order knows that they had better hang on to however much power they can get, or to whomever holds the most power over them, because that is the only thing that is truly of value.”

Hux hates this answer, too, and is eager for the follow-up question.

“That’s certainly the impression that we all get here in the New Republic,” Jek says. “But as much as that’s the Order’s design for all of those who wear their uniforms or their armor, there are some cracks in that design, are there not?”

“People are still people,” Hux says, shrugging one shoulder. “Secretly, for the most part.”

“Can you explain what you mean by that?”

“We keep our personal lives very close. We hide everything that might call attention to us as an individual. The things we want for ourselves that don’t fit with the Order’s goals, the relationships that develop, that sort of thing.”

“I see,” Jek says, nodding, as if he hasn’t heard this before. Hux would roll his eyes at this performance if he could, though he appreciates it. “And what would you say that you hid about yourself from your fellow officers in the Order?”

Hux stares at Jek, stunned. They didn’t practice this question. Jek gives him an encouraging look. As if he’s just thrown a ball in Hux’s direction and trusts him to catch it.

“I resented the Supreme Leader,” Hux says. There’s muttering from the crowd. “Snoke, he was called. He found out about my resentment, eventually. And I was sent up the river without a hearing.”

“And why did you resent your Supreme Leader?”

Hux knows what Jek wants him to say, and why they didn’t practice this part. Jek wants Hux to admit that he came to hate Snoke for the way he’d treated his apprentice. He wants Hux to talk about Ren, even after warning him to be careful about doing so.

“Snoke was not transparent with me,” Hux says. “About his goals for the Order or about his mystical religion.”

Jek’s face falls, but he recovers quickly, nodding.

“And it was Snoke who handed down the order to use the weapon which destroyed the Hosnian system,” Jek says. “Correct?”

“Yes.”

“And after you carried out his command, when Starkiller base was destroyed, Snoke had you ousted, is that right?”

“That’s right.”

“And how did he accomplish this ousting? Did he tell you were demoted, or outright dismissed?”

“No. He had eight of his officers kidnap and torture me for seventeen days.”

“And why do you think he did that?”

Hux isn’t sure how to answer this, though it is one of the questions they rehearsed. There’s a glimmer of reckless desire, deep in his gut, to say something about Ren. He dismisses it and goes with the canned answer.

“Snoke meant to make an example of me,” Hux says. “It’s how he came to power in the Order. Because that’s the sort of Supreme Leader they respect-- The biggest and most powerful person who dares to command them, and who promises they’ll perish in agony if they disobey.”

“And do you think Snoke intended to have your torturers kill you, eventually?” Jek asks. “When he felt you had suffered enough?”

“Yes,” Hux says, though he doesn’t think so. Snoke would have kept him alive and suffering by any means necessary in order to get Ren desperate enough to show up and sweep him away. Hux still isn’t sure why, so there’s no point in being candid about this suspicion.

“And what prevented that from happening?” Jek asks.

“Kylo Ren,” Hux says.

“Kylo Ren rescued you,” Jek says.

“Yes.”

“How did he do so?”

“He killed everyone who had detained me, and he took me away. To a safehouse. I don’t know where it was located. He never even told me the name of the planet we were on. I was very weak and-- This part is all a blur, to me.”

If only that were true. Hux can feel Ren’s surging desire to sweep him away again, the way he did on that moon. It’s so suddenly strong that Hux wants to turn and look over his shoulder to make sure Ren isn’t actually standing there.

“And why do you think Kylo Ren did this for you?” Jek asks. “We’ve heard testimony that the two of you didn’t get along.”

“Ren had come to hate Snoke as much as I did,” Hux says. “Snoke had been tormenting Ren since childhood, seeking his power.”

There’s a kind of pinprick at the back of Hux’s mind, brief but very sharp.

Is that you? Hux asks, speaking to Ren, momentarily terrified.

Careful, Ren says. Snoke is back to watching everything I do. And you-- Just. Careful.

“Okay,” Jek says. “We won’t get into the Force and so forth, but what I’m getting at is that perhaps Kylo Ren respected and valued you the way that some of your former officers and troopers seemed to, based on testimony we heard yesterday?”

“Objection,” Faza says, shooting out of her chair. “That’s a very biased interpretation of the testimony we heard.”

“I’ll rephrase,” Jek says, holding up his hands. “Mr. Hux, do you think Kylo Ren wanted to help you only because Snoke was your shared enemy?”

“That was one reason,” Hux says, narrowing his eyes just enough to tell Jek not to do this: please, don’t do this.

Jek can’t use the Force, can’t hear this begging, so he goes on.

“And the other reason?” Jek asks.

“Ren-- Months ago, almost a year now, Kylo Ren was in trouble,” Hux says. “On Starkiller, when the base was destructing around us. He was injured and-- Ah. Demoralized. I went to retrieve him and I essentially saved his life. So when I was in danger, he saved me.”

“Would you say that helping someone who had helped you in the past is a value taught by the Order?” Jek asks.

“No,” Hux says. “But that doesn’t meant that no individuals within the Order feel that they should conduct themselves this way.”

“Right. And would you say that Snoke had instructed Kylo Ren to help people who had helped him in the past?”

“No. Snoke tried to brainwash Ren into thinking of nothing but serving him.”

“So you and Kylo Ren had that in common, in a sense. That you would be defying the standard expectations if you went out of your way to help someone you felt personally indebted to?”

“I suppose so, yes.”

“And when both of you realized that the other was also willing to defy that expectation, you ran away together?”

Hux stares at Jek, hoping that his seething rage at being asked this is not obvious to anyone but Jek and perhaps Elana. Ren is quiet, and Hux gets the sense that he’s worried about Snoke, as if Snoke is suddenly going to pop into Hux’s mind. Hux would welcome that, at present. He feels angry enough to overpower Snoke and end him for good, and he might also end a few others in this courtroom while in possession of Snoke’s powers.

“I wouldn’t say we ran away together,” Hux says, unable to stop his lip from lifting as he repeats that phrasing. “We relied upon each other for a time.”

“Okay,” Jek says. “So would you agree that there were three major events that lead to your surrender to the New Republic: your disenchantment with Snoke following the use of the weapon, your captivity and torture, and your time spent with Kylo Ren while on the run?”

“Yes,” Hux says, deciding that it’s not important to mention that he’d never been particularly enchanted by Snoke prior to the firing of the weapon. He understands why Jek is drawing that distinction, of course.

“Now, we’ve all been briefed by the Resistance about the whereabouts of Kylo Ren being classified,” Jek says. Hux can hear Leia shift in her chair. “But if you could see Kylo Ren right now, what would you tell him?”

Hux stares at Jek in disbelief. If Jek thinks that Hux is going to wax poetic about Ren during a live broadcast, he doesn’t know Hux very well at all. Even being relatively candid in writing meant for Ren’s eyes alone had been difficult.

“I’d thank him,” Hux says flatly, surprised not to hear Ren offering any suggestions about what he’d like to hear. “He saved my life,” Hux adds when Jek says nothing, standing there as if he’s waiting for more.

“But he also brought you here,” Jek says. “Might you have preferred some other arrangement that didn’t involve being imprisoned and fighting for your life before this Committee?”

Finally, a question they have practiced. Hux fears he’s still glowering slightly at Jek, even so.

“I considered my options,” Hux says. “Going back to the Order was right out. I didn’t want to, first and foremost, and I’ll be the first to admit that Snoke would have finished me off even if I had wanted to. Another option was going it on my own, but Snoke would have found me eventually, and my previous torture would have seemed like a paid holiday compared to what he’d do to me if he did. So the third option was to fall on the mercy of the New Republic, offering them whatever secrets they could use in their fight against the Order in exchange for safe harbor. I knew it was a long shot that they would offer me anything beyond a relatively quick death. I’m not surprised to be facing a hearing like this. I’ve seen the video of myself that was intercepted and broadcast here. It’s strange to be on the other side of it. It’s strange to be on the other side, generally. But I wouldn’t say it feels wrong. When I learned that my mother had defected, I was surprised at first, but now I think, of course she did. I can’t say we didn’t fit in with First Order society. We did, and there were parts of it that were quite tailored to my-- True self, or whatever you want to call it. I’m competitive, and self-interested, and I don’t long to share the details of my personal life with anyone who isn’t a part of it already. Where I broke with the Order was where everyone eventually does, my mother included.”

“And what was that breaking point?” Jek asks.

Hux worries this sounds too rehearsed. Jek probably has that concern as well. Hence his failed effort to get Hux to break from the script.

“When I was no longer deemed useful to the relentless drive toward someone else’s fight for power,” Hux says. “That’s when the Order was finished with me, and when I was necessarily finished with the Order. I’m lucky to have survived that break. Without Kylo Ren, I wouldn’t have. But I did, and now here I am, on the other side of things, seeing what I did as if backward through a mirror. I have to confess, to me it’s still completely surreal. I know there are plenty here today and throughout the galaxy who believe the only way to make me truly comprehend my role in the destruction of the Hosnian system is to make me face my own death. Maybe they’re right. I’m only beginning to attempt to form an actual picture of the life I led under the Order, and it feels as if it were a dream I’ve now awakened from. It was not entirely a nightmare. There are parts of that dream that I miss. But once you’re awake, you can’t shut your eyes and return to the dream that you were having. At least, I can’t.”

“So now I have a hypothetical scenario I’d like to ask you about,” Jek says. Hux is relieved that they’ve reached this final question, until he remembers that Faza will spring up and begin questioning him after this. “Let’s say you had confidence that, if you wished, you would be welcomed back to the First Order, no questions asked, and that you would be allowed to resume your duties as General. Let’s say you could even have confidence that you would live out the rest of your days in that role, as successfully as possible, and that no one would usurp your position again. Would you return to the Finalizer, the Order, to all of it?”

“No,” Hux says. He means it, but he’s not sure if this is evident. He’s not sure how to convey how true it is, despite all their rehearsing.

“And why not?” Jek asks. His expression pleads Hux to give the real answer.

Hux wouldn’t go back to the Order, even with all of those guarantees, because Ren isn’t there.

Perhaps if Hux could project his thoughts telepathically into the minds of everyone here, they would all be very touched by this information. But he can’t, and saying it out loud, against the weight of everything he’s cost the people who will soon cast their votes to determine his fate, is too ridiculous to bear. Jek is wrong. Demonstrating that he longs to be with Ren won’t save him.

“Because,” Hux says, “I’ve seen the real world now. And I don’t want to live in a dream. Not when I can reach out from that dream and destroy what’s real, without even understanding what I’ve done. Because I couldn’t understand it from within the dream. I confess that I can barely comprehend the scale of it even now. All I can promise is that I’m awake now, and that I don’t want to return to living my life in a murderous sleepwalk any more than I want to die.”

“Thank you,” Jek says. He holds Hux’s gaze for a moment, looking as if he wants to keep prodding Hux to confess something in particular, but also like he’s given up hope that it could happen. “Those are all the questions I have at this time,” Jek says to Leia, who nods.

“Ms. Faza,” she says. “You may approach.”

Faza walks to the podium that Jek has now vacated, holding Hux’s gaze as she moves in her fluid Twi’lek way, as if she operates on a slightly different wavelength of gravity. Hux wonders if she’s using the fabled Twi’lek powers of seduction on him now, because she looks particularly fearsome not only in countenance but also as someone who wields a beauty that can be converted into the sort of ruthless power Hux can’t help but admire. But Hux has never been seduced by grace or even by this sort of collected confidence. He’s only ever been seduced by a brazen, clumsy, cacophonous cannonball of a person, and he’s lost to all others who cannot recreate what Ren somehow does to him.

He wants to call out to Ren in his mind, but now is not the time. This is the real fight for Hux’s life; everything that has come before was only the warm-up.

“Mr. Hux,” Faza says. “If you’re willing, I’d like you to please tell this Committee, with as much detail as possible, about your experience of the day when the weapon on Starkiller base was fired.”

“As much detail as possible,” Hux says. “Meaning what, that you want to hear whether or not I brushed my teeth that morning?”

He shouldn’t have said that. There’s a hushed kind of rumble of disapproving surprise from the audience, and at least one Committee member grunts angrily.

Hux is almost amused at the thought that he could be crashing and burning already, in response to her first fucking question.

“Yes, actually,” Faza says. “I’d love to know all of the details, such as that. Everything you remember.”

Jek seems to consider objecting, but then he sits back, peering at Faza before shifting his gaze back to Hux. Jek shrugs one shoulder as if to prompt Hux to go along with this, for now.

“That day,” Hux says, letting his gaze drop away from Faza’s. “Well. It was really sort of three days blurred together. I hadn’t slept much at all, since Mr. Finn stole a TIE fighter and escaped with the Dameron man whom Ren had captured. In fact, I don’t think I had a moment to brush my teeth. I suppose that didn’t matter as much as it might have, because I can’t remember eating anything between the escape of those two and the approximate morning after Starkiller imploded, when I believe I finally sat down in the officer’s wardroom to consume some bland soup. I’m sorry, I’m not sure I’m answering this question the way you want me to?”

“I’ll rephrase it,” Faza says. “Take me through the process of deciding to fire the weapon, which lead to your speech and to the actual firing which you ordered, and I’d also like to hear about what you did directly afterward.”

Hux drank brandy with his fellow officers after watching the Hosnian system flame out. The men who joined him were some of the same officers who would later torture him on that moon. But he’s not going to mention that celebratory round of brandy, or anything else that will make him look particularly callous. Faza surely knows that, so Hux isn’t sure what she’s getting at with this question, which makes it a very dangerous one.

“Well, the process of giving the order to fire the weapon began, in some ways, years before,” Hux says. “But I take it that you don’t want to hear about the bureaucracy involved?”

“Mr. Hux,” Faza says, her tone not quite sharpening but perhaps brightening, as the threatening glint off a knife might brighten. “Much of the testimony today has had to do with you personally, as an individual. So I want to hear, if you’ll please indulge me, what it felt like to you, personally, to fire this weapon on this particular day. That is, if you can recall any related feelings.”

“I understand,” Hux says, admiring her for her strategy even as he loathes her for putting him in this position. He’d almost rather talk about his feelings for Ren. He didn’t feel much that day beyond pride and accomplishment. He’d been very tired, very irritated by Ren, somewhat anxious but mostly pleased with his efforts and validated by what the weapon did. That weapon had been his life’s work, up to that point. And it had fired, had operated as he designed it to, had seemed to clear the way for his secure legacy in the Order and in the galaxy. Faza has probably guessed all of this, or at least most of it. She knows, too, that Hux can’t be honest about it now. He has to pretend he felt some kind of regret on that day. She doesn’t believe he can convincingly pretend, which is why she’s invited him to try.

“Take me through it,” Faza says. “Help me to gain an understanding of your personal mindset. What did it feel like to hear your Supreme Leader give you permission to fire this weapon?”

She asks this as if she knows that firing it was actually Hux’s suggestion, and that he’d only sought Snoke’s approval. Hux stares at Faza, waiting to hear Ren telling him in a panic that this woman is Force sensitive, and that she’s reading Hux’s mind.

No, Ren says, so suddenly that Hux flinches in his seat, visibly enough that some members of the audience whisper acknowledgments of this to each other. She’s not a Force user, Ren says. She just thinks she knows you. The same way that the guy to your left thinks he knows you.

To his left: Ander Fillamon. Hux’s vision had tunneled on Faza so completely that he’d failed to notice how close he is to Ander now, close enough for Ander’s stare to feel like heat against Hux’s already hot left cheek. Hux suppresses his desire to scratch at the dry skin there. Faza’s question is not one that Jek anticipated, and therefore Hux has no canned answer for her. He has to think. There are two strategies available: honesty or invention. He feels too vulnerable for one and too exhausted for the other.

“Mr. Hux?” Faza says, leaning forward, as if he’s perhaps suddenly hard of hearing. “Do you need me to repeat the question? Or are you refusing to answer?”

“Repeat it,” Hux says. He blinks, feeling as if the lights from the cameras that are all focused on him have suddenly gotten brighter. “Please.”

“How did it feel to fire that weapon?” Faza asks, letting her voice rise with every word, as if she planned everything about how this would go: her angry repetition of the question now seems like something Hux has glibly provoked. The crowd murmurs; someone on the Committee shifts heavily in their seat.

“It felt cooperative,” Hux says, knowing even as he hears himself speak that he picked the wrong answer. He’s shucking responsibility; Jek specifically told him not to do this. The noise from the audience grows louder-- Angrier, or maybe Hux is only imagining that. “I mean to say-- It was something we were all doing together. I felt-- Giving that speech-- That I had conveyed my sincere appreciation for every person standing before me. And I did always think of them as people. The stormtroopers. That was important-- That was what my father did for the Order that innovated everything. He made them people, not clones.”

Hux is just rambling now. Panicking. He wants Jek to object to his own answer. He feels feverish, wants Ren to burst into the room and--

“Setting aside the fact that you apparently still don’t see clone troopers as individual people,” Faza says, “Despite your counsel’s eloquent words about those who served on the Death Star, I’d like to refocus on the events of the day, as I’m not sure I understand your statements about your feelings. Walk me through it: You stood on that stage, you watched the weapon destroy the Hosnian system. Then what?”

Hux suddenly can’t remember. The brandy, which he won’t mention, but what else? Everything happened so fast. It all began to crumble beneath his feet so quickly, and then there was bloody Ren, needing rescuing--

“There were meetings,” Hux says, wondering why Leia hasn’t told the audience to be quiet. Their murmuring has built to a roar, though possibly Hux is just overly sensitive to it. “I’m sorry, it was-- A bit of an out-of-body experience, I think.”

“Are you trying to tell me you were literally sleepwalking when you gave the order to destroy five planets?” Faza asks, her eyebrows shooting up.

“No,” Hux says. He wants to beg Leia to tell the crowd to shut up, please, shut them up. He can’t think. “No, of course not, but-- I feel as if the first thing I remember clearly was taking a shuttle to get Ren, when the planet was cracking apart. I suppose it was the adrenaline.”

“Okay,” Faza shrugs, nods. “We can start from there. I’m simply curious about the emotional aftermath of this act of destruction, for you, personally, so we’ll pick up wherever your conscious memories do, Mr. Hux. You fetched Kylo Ren from the deteriorating planet. And then?”

And then-- Ren had choked him, when Hux stood over his sick bed. Does she know that? How could she? Why isn’t Ren speaking to him now?

“I looked after Ren,” Hux says, wanting this confession to bring Ren’s voice back to his mind.

“And was nursing a sick crew member typical of the duties of a General?” Faza asks.

“What-- No, of course not. He wasn’t a crew member, anyway, at least-- He wasn’t enlisted, he didn’t hold rank--”

“But Kylo Ren was badly injured. So badly injured that you felt you needed to personally oversee his care?”

“I-- Well. He was in shock, I was told.”

“I see. And you oversaw his recovery from that shock alongside a medical team?”

“No. It was just me--”

“So you personally overtook, shall we say, responsibility for Kylo Ren at this time, when he was vulnerable enough to have needed rescue, badly injured in the aftermath, and suffering from shock?”

“He wasn’t all that vulnerable,” Hux says, his voice rising. He grits his teeth when he realizes he was going to offer Ren’s attempts to choke him as proof of this. That would probably not go over well.

“Mr. Hux,” Faza says. “When you were brought to prison, you submitted to a medical examination upon arrival, is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“And is Exhibit 23 an accurate record of your examination at that time?”

“You mean the one about my throat having bruises?” Hux says, dryly. At least he can see where she’s going with this now.

“That’s right,” Faza says. “I can project it again, if you need your memory refreshed.”

“No, thank you. I remember it fine. It was an accurate report, to my recollection.”

“So you did have bruising around your throat when you were arrested?”

“Yes.”

“And you have submitted to this Committee in sworn statements that it was Snoke who gave you these injuries, when he discovered you with Kylo Ren and attacked you?”

“That’s what happened.” Hux doesn’t know how to continue. He can’t explain how Ren was possessed by Snoke. Even Ren doesn’t know how it works, exactly.

“Can you tell me why, then, you’ve also claimed that you’ve only ever had an audience with Snoke via holo projector?”

The courtroom crowd murmurs with approval. If Leia would allow it, they’d probably be cheering at top volume for Faza, and waving banners with her name painted on them, and perhaps doll-like effigies of Hux with ropes around their necks.

“Snoke and Ren are connected through the Force,” Hux says. “In some nefarious way that’s done great harm to Ren. Snoke can overpower Ren. He-- Snoke used Ren to hurt me. He did it against Ren’s will--”

“So you submit to this Committee that you did not in fact stow Kylo Ren away when he was so weakened that he needed you to rescue him personally, and that he did not eventually overpower and choke you when he was again strong enough to resist you?”

“Objection,” Jek says. “That’s-- Barely a question.”

“Forgive me, General,” Faza says. “It’s just that something about this story does not entirely add up.”

Hux can feel the weight of Leia’s concern for Ren as she considers her response. He flicks his eyes through the agitated crowd and finds his own mother sitting toward the back. The makeup on her right eye is smudged.

“You may continue with your questions,” Leia says to Faza. “Just be careful that they’re actual questions and not your personal theories. You still have a closing statement. Save the narrative for that.”

“I only have one more question, General,” Faza says. She slides her gaze to Hux. He feels it like a blaster she’s just charged up and aimed at his head. He stares back at her and straightens his shoulders, waits for her to fire. “If not in a violent struggle,” Faza says. “How and why did you and Kylo Ren part ways?”

“I don’t know,” Hux says, too tired to invent a story. “I was in shock after Snoke’s attack. I have few memories prior to my surrender. Ren was gone then.”

Faza seems to a consider a follow-up, then snaps her data pad shut. Surely she’s better off working on her closing statement. She’s already thoroughly decimated Hux. He can hear himself sounding like he barely knows what he’s talking about, and like he can’t keep his own story straight.

“Permission to redirect?” Jek asks, rising from his seat as Faza returns to hers.

“Granted,” Leia says.

“May I also have a few moments to compose my questions?” Jek asks.

Leia seems to want to deny this. Perhaps she realizes, as Hux does when he feels his shoulders slumping down tiredly, that Jek is really giving Hux a moment to regain his composure. Hux isn’t shaking or breathing quickly, and even his face has cooled from red to pink. He’s just beaten: he feels it, and knows he can’t hear Ren now because he’s too lost inside his own mind to connect to another’s.

“Okay,” Leia says. “But just one minute, Mr. Porkins. We still have impact statements and closing statements to hear today.”

“Yes-- Thank you, General.”

Jek begins typing furiously on his data pad. The crowd whispers, then murmurs, and within twenty seconds they’re properly chattering. Ander Fillamon stares. Hux resists the urge to glare at him in answer.

Ren, Hux thinks, and he feels this call for help fall flat. Hux’s mind is a mess of static; his mouth feels dry. Instead of Ren, someone closer seems to hear him. Leia picks up her glass of water and holds it out for him. Hux looks at it, then at her. The crowd quiets and falls silent.

“Go on,” Leia says. “You’ve been talking a lot. It helps.”

Hux takes the water. It’s about half full, and on the other side of the glass there’s a mauve lipstick print. He feels the eyes of everyone in the room upon him as he drinks from Leia’s glass, then the eyes of everyone in the galaxy. He can hear the lenses shifting on the recorder droids, probably zooming in on his face. He can feel Ren again when he swallows the last of the water, in a kind of soaring, wordless embrace from afar.

“Thank you,” Hux says when he passes the empty glass back. Leia takes it, her expression neutral, as if she’s the only one here who is completely unimpressed by what she just did. She lifts the pitcher behind her podium, pours more water for herself, and looks up at Jek.

“Are you ready, Mr. Porkins?” Leia asks.

Jek looks mildly dumbfounded. Everyone in the room does, Hux realizes, scanning their faces, except for Elana. She’s smiling as if she just heard Leia read a not guilty verdict.

“Oh-- Yes!” Jek says, and he hops up. “I’m ready. I’ll keep this brief.”

“Good,” Leia says. “Go ahead.”

“Hux,” Jek says, pronouncing that name with a kind of warmth that takes Hux off guard again, bolstering him the way the water that tasted like a magic potion did. “I just have one real question for you, but I need to ask a few preliminary ones before we get there.”

“Okay,” Hux says. He’s wary of this information, but he also feels suddenly invincible, as if Leia just saved his life by infusing that water with some kind of Force-assisted quality that will make everyone in the galaxy forgive Hux at once.

“You said earlier that you don’t like sharing personal information,” Jek says. “Isn’t that your testimony?”

“Yes,” Hux says. The temptation to panic arises. He suppresses it.

“And Faza is left confused by what is admittedly a somewhat confusing story,” Jek says. “It involves the Force, which is mysterious to most of us, and it involves Kylo Ren, who can’t be here today to corroborate what you’ve said. Would you agree that there is one important hole in your story that would illuminate it, Force notwithstanding, for Ms. Faza and for the Committee?”

“I don’t understand the question,” Hux says, though he does. His hands twitch over his knees. He feels like Ander Fillamon is breathing down the back of his neck with that stare.

“Then I’ll just ask directly,” Jek says. “Are you in love with Kylo Ren?”

The crowd that was silenced by Leia’s gesture with the water comes back to life with whispers and gasps, and even Faza looks startled. Jek seems content with himself, despite the look that Hux is giving him now. The crowd quiets again, waiting to hear Hux answer. Recorder droids float closer and adjust their lenses.

At the edge of it all, Hux can feel Ren waiting, too. Ren is watching this on the broadcast and feeling it through his connection to Hux. Hux could lie: he would. If Ren weren’t watching, Hux would lie his way straight to the grave on this matter.

“I feel I’ve lived now in three worlds,” Hux says, pushing the words out before he can reconsider them. “I’ve lived in this one, your world, which is very new to me and hard to understand in some ways. And perhaps I’ll perish here before I fully understand it. I’ve also lived in the world of the Order, which I once thought I understood perfectly, and where I thought I could achieve some sort of satisfaction through power, only to learn that there was nothing but toil and betrayal for me there. The third world I’ve lived in, too briefly, was Ren’s. He could-- See into me, truly, with the Force. He could cup his hand around my ear and heal everything within it after it had been kicked into a useless clump by the First Order officers who tortured me. For me, Kylo Ren was a living, breathing bubble of security and chaos that somehow coexisted. I wanted to remain in that third world, with him, for the rest of my life. So, yes. In answer to your question. Yes, to this day. Yes.”

Hux’s stomach pinches up. He feels as if he’s waiting for a blow to come. There’s only a kind of stunned quiet, even in his head.

“And why didn’t you mention this in your testimony prior to this moment?” Jek asks.

“Because I didn’t think it mattered,” Hux says. “I’m still not sure it does. To the Committee, I mean.”

“Ms. Faza has implied that there were holes in the story about your time with Kylo Ren because you were intending to hide the fact that Ren spent time with you against his will. But in fact he rescued you, and hid with you, and healed the injuries you sustained in captivity because he loves you, too, isn’t that correct?”

Hux wants to protest that this was only supposed to be one question. He feels newly crushed, though the murmur of the crowd in the courthouse sounds different when it starts up again. Less vicious, unless he’s only imagining that.

“Yes, I think so,” Hux says. He looks at one of the cameras, then away, at nothing in particular. “I mean. I know he does, he-- No one has ever cared for me like that, with nothing to gain from it, and in fact with much to lose. I didn’t even believe such a thing existed, before him. I thought it was a fantasy. But he’s real. Wherever he is.”

“Thank you for your honesty,” Jek says. “I know this isn’t easy for you to talk about. General,” he says, turning his gaze to Leia. “I’ve got no further questions.”

“Great,” Leia says. She drinks from that water glass, and it feels like she’s sealing a spell. Hux can feel Ren welling up in him like a breath he can’t push out, wanting to say something but too overcome to make their connection clear enough. “Faza?” Leia says. “Are you also finished with Mr. Hux?”

“Um.” Faza seems to consider it. Her associate whispers something in her ear. She frowns, shakes her head. “No-- Yes, General. I’m ready to hear the impact statements from the Committee.”

The impact statements. Hux had almost forgotten them. He rises from the witness stand when dismissed, his ears seeming to fill with water as he walks back to the table where Jek waits. Not until he takes his seat does he realize it’s Ren filling his ears, wanting to form words but too overwhelmed by what he just saw on the broadcast and felt in Hux’s feedback to quite accomplish it.

I threw a lamp, Ren says when Hux is sitting beside Jek, allowing Jek to pat his shoulder.

I’m sorry? Hux blinks at the Utrian as he stands to read his impact statement. The Utrian is massive, taller than Ren and almost spilling out of the court-appropriate attire he’s stuffed his body into. I think I misheard you, Hux sends when he hears nothing more from Ren. I heard the word ‘lamp.’

Luke is here, Ren says. On this planet. At my mother’s residence. She thinks it’s best if he doesn’t come to the apartment until after the hearing, because of me. Because of my reaction to the verdict. I threw a lamp, just listening to Faza question you. It wasn’t entirely intentional. I used the Force to do it.

Okay? Hux stares at the Utrian, trying to pay attention as he talks about the loss of his homeworld. This Utrian is obviously not an accomplished orator, and Ren is making no sense. Hux feels like putting his head down on the table, but he maintains a look of grave attentiveness as he keeps his eyes locked on the Utrian.

“You mentioned waking from a dream?” the Utrian says, his dark eyes growing wet as he glowers at Hux. “I’ve fallen into a nightmare that I will never wake from, where I have no home, where my family and my people are gone, and where there is nothing but emptiness ahead, as blank as a waking death.”

It’s not the words of the Utrian’s speech that are falling flat so much as his awkward delivery. Hux waits to hear more from Ren, wanting the distraction. He can feel Ren starting and stopping, considering whether he should approach some particular subject. Hux can guess what it is.

What you said. About me.

No, Hux says. Don’t make me relive it.

Okay. But I heard you. I saw--

I understand how holo broadcasts work and I assumed that you had. Please, just--

Wedge and Finn think the Committee will vote for a life sentence, Ren says, rescuing Hux from having to wallow in his confession. Finn thought so after your mother’s testimony. Wedge wasn’t sure until after yours.

And what does your cousin who can see the future think? Hux asks, though he’s afraid to find out.

Rey senses that you have a long life ahead of you.

And what do you sense? Hux hasn’t asked this yet, somehow. Or maybe it’s more that Ren hasn’t told him.

I’ve had no visions of the future I want, Ren says. But I’ve seen you smoking on a roof.

Fantastic. Hux tries to refocus on the Utrian, who is talking about various landmarks on Utr that are now space dust. It’s a disorganized narrative. Hux would pretend to be moved if he knew how to, but the best he can do is feigning rapt attention.

And what is the future you want? Hux asks when he feels Ren brooding, wanting to say something powerful and afraid Hux will laugh at his attempt. It would not be good for either of them if Hux laughed just now.

The bubble, Ren says. It feels like that for me, too. The only place where I can breathe. I want it back.

You’re breathing now, Hux says, annoyed at having his own flowery eleventh hour language thrown back at him in this context. The Utrian finishes and the Eurc-Wentonian stands. A translator is beckoned forward.

You know what I mean, Ren says.

I rarely do, Ren.

Though it’s true, Hux is only saying so now to give him a hard time. Ren deserves a hard time, after being allowed to watch Hux blather out a love confession in front of the entire galaxy. It already feels like something that happened in an alternate dimension or at least a dream. Hux imagines it will be replayed endlessly on the news broadcasts, for weeks, perhaps in contrast to his speech about the weapon. He’s struck by a vivid mental image of the two recordings playing simultaneously on a split screen, and he barely resists the urge to pinch his eyes shut in horror at the thought.

The Eurc-Wentonian’s language is a harsh sort of blurting, and the translator’s attempt to tastefully talk over this is unintentionally comical, though perhaps only Hux sees it that way. Everyone else on the Committee, with the exception of persistently stoic Fillamon, looks as moved as possible when the translator mentions the long struggle of Eurc-Wenta to achieve peace in the post-Imperial age and how things there were finally getting better. There’s a mention of this creature’s children learning to swim. Hux feels stretched too thin over all of this, and he wonders if he’ll be able to sleep before they execute him, if it comes to that.

“Thank you,” Leia says when the Eurc-Wentonian has concluded. She actually appears somewhat distressed by this second impact statement, perhaps because of the mention of children.

She was thinking about teaching me how to swim, Ren supplements. Hux sighs, as quietly and shallowly as possible, not wanting to appear impatient to get this over with. The Thulmar is rising to give the final impact statement.

“Mr. Hux,” the Thulmar says, speaking in surprisingly unaccented Basic. “My name is Al’tia. I come from Oberi, where the Thulmar people had lived for thousands of years in as much peace as we could ever find in a galaxy plagued with malignant cultures like the one that gave birth to you.”

Al’tia stares at Hux as if this is expected to wound him. Hux imagines the Order giving birth to him itself, rather than his mother. It doesn’t seem right, like his old idea that Brendol Sr. had pulled Brendol Jr. entirely from himself somehow, resulting in Brendol Jr.’s half-formed awfulness.

This Thulmar is going to vote for the death penalty, Ren says. He sounds worried. Hux really doesn’t need to hear evidence of mounting concern from Ren right now.

Tell me what our life would be like, Hux says. If we were in that bubble again. Pretend Snoke is already gone.

Hux--

Tell me, Ren, I can’t listen to this nonsense. I’ll start making incriminating faces or something.

Okay. All right. We’d get far away from here, first of all.

What about your family?

What about them? Ren asks. The question seems sincere. I don’t belong to them anymore.

Continue, Hux prompts, enjoying the implication that now Ren belongs completely to Hux, even if it’s probably not as true as Ren thinks.

I’d heal you, Ren says. I can still do it. Snoke didn’t take it from me. I’d heal your cheek, and whatever else needs healing.

Yes, Hux says, resisting the impulse to touch the rough skin on his cheek.

“There is a parable in Thulmar culture,” Al’tia says. “It begins with a group of children throwing stones into a pond.”

Ren, Hux says. Talk to me. I don’t want to hear this fucking parable.

You’re cruel, Ren says, enjoying it. Hux can almost hear his smile, crooked and mean and only for Hux.

I’ll watch the recording someday, Hux says, not actually planning to. What next, after you’d healed me?

There’s a half-formed thought about fucking that Ren tries to protect Hux from. Hux would smirk if he could do so without looking like an unrepentant killer. His eyes shift to Ander Fillamon, who is still watching him intently.

What would you want next? Ren asks, the ‘if not fucking’ implied.

Oh, I’d want that, don’t worry.

That?

I’d want you to fuck me and fall asleep on top of me.

I could do that.

I know you could, Ren. What would these people do if they knew what was going through my head right now?

Hux is less amused with himself when he remembers Leia. She appears to be carefully listening to the conclusion of the Thulmar’s parable, which involves a rain storm somehow, but it’s possible Leia’s thoughts have spiderwebbed out in Hux’s direction and that her pity for him has lessened somewhat upon learning that he’s flirting with her son rather than paying attention to the heartfelt statements of his victims.

I’m a dead man, Hux thinks, though he’s afraid Ren will throw another lamp when he hears this. Aren’t I?

No. Don’t say that.

But I don’t belong here, Ren, and I never will.

I know that. I’ll come for you.

“Thank you,” Leia says as Al’tia sits. Leia’s eyes flick to Hux. He can’t read her expression but feels struck, worried. “And the Committee members from Qusoa and Raklan still don’t want to give impact statements, correct?”

The Qusoa woman shakes her head, her face soaked with tears.

“No, thank you,” Ander Fillamon says. It’s the first time Hux has heard him speak. They share an accent.

“Then I’ll now offer the parties a recess prior to the closing statements,” Leia says. “Unless they would prefer to deliver those statements now.”

“Do you want a recess?” Jek asks, whispering this to Hux. Jek is wiping at the corner of his eye with his sleeve. He’s sniffling, sincerely moved by some allegory that Hux didn’t even listen to. Hux feels a kind of pitching guilt, like a forward momentum, throwing him down the bottomless well where he belongs.

“No, I-- Not unless you need one,” Hux says. If he had a handkerchief, he would give it to Jek.

Jek shakes his head. He takes a deep breath. When Faza informs Leia that she’s ready for the closing statements, Jek agrees.

“Okay,” Leia says. “Mr. Porkins, you’ll go first.”

Hux doesn’t like that Faza will get the last word, though he did anticipate it. He wants to do something stupid like squeeze Jek’s shoulder or turn to peer at his mother, but he stays still, listening for Ren as Jek rises from his seat.

I will come for you, Ren says again, sounding a bit like a stuttering holo projection.

Not just yet, Hux responds, watching Jek approach the podium. This part, I want to hear.

I know that, Ren says. He’s irritated by this knowledge. Jealous, Hux realizes, and he has to swallow a laugh, passing it off a cough.

“On behalf of Hux and myself,” Jek says, “I’d like to thank the Committee for sharing their personal anguish with us. Hux mentioned in his testimony that the concept of what that weapon did is still surreal to him, and I believe these moving impact statements are a start at helping him and all of us who have not suffered such an immeasurable loss to begin to understand what that feels like.”

He pauses there. Hux isn’t sure this is the right tack, but he trusts that Jek is about to flip it on its ear.

“Seeking to understand what another person has been through and why they feel the way they do is such an important facet of the empathy that our society is based upon,” Jek says. “I’ve appreciated the chance to let Hux speak for himself before this Committee on that front, and to hear from witnesses who knew him on the other side. One important thing I wanted to emphasize during this hearing is the fact that Hux is an individual person who continues to struggle with navigating all the galaxy has handed him, the same as any of us. I wanted you all to get to know him as I have. I’m a pragmatic person, especially in court, so I knew that would be important in order to gain an understanding of who Hux is, and to activate that basic empathy that all of us possess.”

Hux withholds a wince at the implied instruction that the Committee should ‘activate’ their purported empathy. It’s the kind of thing Hux would have resented, were he in their shoes. Of course, if he were in their shoes, he wouldn’t have bothered with a hearing at all.

“I confess to being a pragmatist in court, but I’m also an idealist at heart,” Jek says. “One of the ideals that I’ll go to my grave cherishing, and probably the most important one I hold, is the same one my father died defending during the Battle of Yavin, and that’s the belief that the Republic stands for a different future for the galaxy than the violent disregard for life that the Empire and then the First Order have propagated. That future is something we’re all still fighting for, and my role in that battle is to remind everyone here today that the New Republic stands for peace, for hope, and for mercy. I place my faith in the Committee today to uphold the ideals of our society, rather than holding up a mirror to what the First Order has done and deciding that the violent rage in that reflection is all that matters. I hope we’ll all turn that mirror around on ourselves today, that we’ll see the peaceful future we’re all working toward reflected there and act accordingly. I know it’s been a long and emotionally draining day already, so I’m going to leave it at that and thank the Committee again for their careful attention to the testimony and General Organa for giving her time to overseeing things fairly and compassionately. Thank you.”

Whereas Hux thought Jek’s opening statement was too long and too sentimental, this one feels too short, but he gives Jek an appreciative look as he resumes his seat. The Committee members have likely all made up their minds, anyway. Hux glances at Fillamon, expecting his stare, but Fillamon is watching Faza as she walks to the podium. Something about this makes Hux’s heart sink, as if some important if uncomfortable connection between him and that cold-looking man has now been broken.

“As I said in my opening statement,” Faza begins, “I’m not here to try to sway the Committee in one direction or another on what the punishment for Mr. Hux’s unprecedented criminal act should be. If they believe that showing mercy is the right thing to do, then I fully support their decision.”

She pauses, and Hux has a brief, insane hope that maybe she’ll leave it at that. She doesn’t, of course.

“We’ve heard lots of testimony about who Mr. Hux was during his time with the First Order,” Faza says. “We’ve heard about who he was for his mother, for his crew, and for Kylo Ren. That offers the kind of glimpse at a lifetime that Mr. Porkins correctly identifies as igniting an empathetic spark in those of us who truly value life. But I’d like us not to forget all of the empathetic sparks of life in this galaxy that were extinguished by Mr. Hux. I’d like to suggest, hypothetically, that there was a man on one of those planets who had lost his mother at a young age. A man who felt enslaved by his work in order to keep his head above water. Maybe he’d been living this way for thirty-odd years. Maybe it had made him hard, and perhaps he made poor decisions in response to the difficulties of his life. Maybe if we ran into this man at the market and he sneered at us and snatched the piece of fruit we’d been reaching for, we would wish him a bad day in our heads and think he must be a miserable person to know. And maybe if someone told us that when that man turned the corner after leaving the market he would crash into the person who would become the love of his life, and that this love would bring him a happiness he’d never known before, and that he would be kinder and better and healed by this happenstance-- Maybe then we would smile and think ‘good for him’ and wish him well, despite the fact that he’d sneered at us. Well, maybe this man existed. Among billions of people on five planets, it seems likely enough. Maybe he lived on Raklan, or Qusoa, on Utr or Oberi, maybe he lived on Eurc-Wenta. Maybe he reached for the love who’d changed everything as Mr. Hux’s weapon appeared as a red pinprick high in the sky. I wonder if he would feel empathy for the person who fired that weapon as his world burned to nothing. I wonder if it would matter to him that this person had known similar pain and joy. I think he would feel cheated. I feel cheated, on behalf of five planets’ worth of life that was wiped out by Mr. Hux’s weapon.”

Faza pauses there. This is much milder than what Hux expected. When Faza turns to glance at Hux, he braces himself for the finale. She’ll have the last word, and this is it.

“I don’t want to sound overly dramatic,” Faza says. Hux scoffs, mostly under his breath, and hopes that no one noticed. “But I personally don’t find the revelation that Mr. Hux shared some sort of love story with Kylo Ren very comforting. Most of us in the New Republic know very little about Kylo Ren and his powers, except for rumors and whispers and pieced-together, passed down stories about the Force. Lieutenant Mitaka told us that Kylo Ren is very powerful, and I believe him. For that reason, I dearly hope that the Resistance’s classified information about Kylo Ren involves his current location. If it does not, then I worry about how long we could keep Mr. Hux in prison, were a life sentence to be handed down. And, more than that, I worry about what Mr. Hux, a brilliant engineer who has already destroyed five planets, and Kylo Ren, a powerful Force-user who has already ‘rescued’ Mr. Hux from captivity once before, might get up to upon being reunited, were we to show Mr. Hux mercy and ultimately pay an even greater price for that, somewhere down the road.”

The room is silent when Faza allows that suggestion to settle over it. Hux somehow didn’t anticipate that reasoning. Jek certainly didn’t.

“Thank you, General,” Faza says. “For giving me the opportunity to argue for protecting the New Republic from people like Mr. Hux. I hope that the Committee will choose wisely about how best to do so, going forward.”

In Hux’s head, Ren says nothing. Possibly he’s rampaging, breaking more lamps. Hux hopes he’s not on his way here to prove Faza right. He’s not even sure he should hope this. Perhaps it’s their last chance. Jek types something into his data pad and shows it to Hux.

Don’t panic. She’s overreaching.

Hux nods, mostly so that Jek won’t feel bad for having seemingly damned him with the things about Ren that he thought would save him.

“All right,” Leia says. There’s something deadly in her gaze that lifts Hux’s spirits a bit, in the way that certain looks of Ren’s have, at certain times. “I think we’re almost ready to conclude and go to the vote. However,” she says, sharply enough that the murmur from the crowd that began quickly ceases. “Since Ms. Faza has called into question the ability of the Resistance to contain the threat of Kylo Ren and the ability of our New Republic to house a prisoner like Mr. Hux, I would like to say, without revealing any classified information, that Kylo Ren is not a threat to the Republic at this time, and I will personally vow, in front of the entire galaxy, and directly in response to Ms. Faza’s remarks, that Kylo Ren will not be storming the Tower prison in some sort of romantic gesture to free Mr. Hux. I’d add that I think the suggestion is absurd, for reasons that Ms. Faza perhaps doesn’t understand, as her security clearance allows her only to speculate wildly about the situation, which she has for some reason chosen to do, and that it is offensive to the entire structure of the New Republic and its security forces, as well as the Resistance members who risk their lives every day to defeat the First Order, to suggest that we do not have control of the situation.”

“General--” Faza says, standing. She freezes, half out of her chair, when Leia lifts a hand.

“You have not been invited to respond,” Leia says. “Thank you, Ms. Faza. And Mr. Porkins, and to all who have cooperated with this hearing over the past two days. I’m going to invite the Committee members to retire to the deliberation room if necessary.”

Leia looks right, then left. No one moves. The Qusoa woman cries softly. Botta looks vaguely alarmed by Leia’s little speech. The Utrian and Eurc-Wentonian look ready to kill Hux with their bare hands. The Thulmar appears half-asleep. Ander Fillamon is staring at Hux again.

“No one needs to deliberate?” Leia asks, a measure of disappointment in her tone. None of the Committee members budges. “Okay,” Leia says, slowly. She glances at Faza, at Jek and then at Hux. “It will probably surprise the audience here, as it surprised me when I was told, but all of the Committee members have asked to cast their votes openly, in person and out loud. Unless that has changed, I would like to proceed.”

“This is crazy,” Jek says, muttering under his breath. “But don’t panic,” he says, when Hux whirls to look at him. Hux can see the panic in Jek’s eyes before he tries to smile in an attempt to hide it. Even the smile doesn’t quite pan out.

“I cast my vote for the death sentence!” the Utrian roars, without being invited to speak. Much of the audience cheers, though not all of them. Hux wishes his mother hadn’t asked to sit among the crowd. He turns to check that she’s safe while Leia calls the room to order again. Elana appears strangely calm. She’s watching Leia, unblinking.

“Excuse me,” Leia says, sharply. “We will be doing this in an orderly fashion.” She sighs and rubs at her left temple. “Since the representative from Utr sounds confident about his vote, I won’t ask him to recast it, but everyone else here will wait until they are called upon to vote. Is that understood?”

There is nodding, and more noise from the crowd. When Leia turns back to the audience and stares, the muttering stops.

Hux. That’s Ren, their connection suddenly weak and reedy. What she said--

Ren, I cannot even harness my own thoughts at the moment. Please refrain from dumping yours into my head until this is over.

Ren doesn’t like that word: over. He falls silent anyway. The translator announces that the representative from Eurc-Wenta also votes for the death penalty. The outburst of angry cheers from the crowd is more restrained this time.

“I vote for a life sentence,” Botta says when Leia calls up on him. Hux had somehow forgotten to expect that, and he entirely did not expect the small measure of applause that comes from the crowd. There were more hands clapping than Elana possesses.

“Al’tia,” Leia says, turning to the other side of the panel. “Your vote?”

“The stones do not emerge from the pond,” Al’tia says. Hux has no idea what that means; perhaps he should have paid more attention. “Therefore, I vote for death.”

Hux looks down at his hands. He’s spread them on the table; when did that happen? When the Qusoa woman is called upon, Jek takes Hux’s left hand and gives his fingers a squeeze. Hux wants to apologize for being a lost cause. Jek will blame himself.

“No loss could strip the grace of mercy from my bones,” the Qusoa woman says. Hux supposes he should have learned her name. “I vote for a life sentence.”

So it comes to Ander Fillamon, just as Jek said it would. Jek squeezes Hux’s fingers more tightly. Hux meets Fillamon’s eyes. He knows you. Ren said that. But Hux can’t make sense of it even now.

Fillamon looks as if he’s still thinking. His brow creases slightly. For a moment it seems as if he’ll cry, but Hux must be imagining things. In the next second Fillamon’s expression is as cold and immovable as it has been for the past two days.

“Life sentence,” Fillamon says, with a kind of offended disinterest, as if he’s annoyed by a waiter who has asked how he’d like his bantha filet cooked.

“Then the vote ends in a tie,” Leia says, and the building noise from the crowd rushing toward an excited crescendo that hits the back of Hux’s head like a wave. If Ren is celebrating, Hux can’t feel it. Jek is barely containing his urge to jump out of his seat and cheer, his fingers too tight around Hux’s hand now.

Hux feels as if the entire galaxy is trembling around him. It’s a sensation that makes him long to disappear. He imagines Ren’s robe closing around him and taking him elsewhere: to a drizzly beach or a sunlit wood, or back to Ren’s bed in some apartment in this city. Hux would hide there with Ren forever, if that were allowed.

“So it comes to my vote,” Leia says. “I’ll end the suspense immediately by declaring that mine is the deciding vote for life imprisonment.”

The room explodes in a combination of protests and disbelief, with some measure of celebration thrown in here and there, most notably Jek’s when he grabs Hux and hugs him. Hux can’t seem to speak or move, and the noise in the room seems to be coming from above a body of water that Hux has been submerged into. He’s staring at Leia. She lets her gaze pass lightly over his before she quiets the room and continues.

“I realize this is not going to be a popular decision across the board,” Leia says, “And I appreciate the three votes from my fellow Committee members who share my perhaps unpopular but binding opinion that, in contrast to the First Order’s approach to leadership, the New Republic shall show mercy, even to a man who has done this unimaginable thing which has affected so many of us. I also personally believe that a life sentence is a more fitting punishment for reasons of retribution as well as mercy. As part of this sentencing, I propose to the Committee that anyone who has been personally affected by what Mr. Hux did shall be able to register at the Tower to visit with him in a controlled environment, and that he be required to sit and listen to them describe how he has changed their lives by what he’s done.”

Hux wants to ask Jek if she can do that. Jek would probably approve, however.

“This opportunity shall be open to anyone who wishes to visit the General for the entirety of his sentence,” Leia says. “He would be required to have an audience with perhaps four or five of his victims per day, on perhaps two or three designated days of each week, for as long as there are victims who wish to communicate their grief to him. That, to me, is far more excruciating and fitting as a punishment than simply ending his life. If I did not believe that Mr. Hux is capable of empathy and regret, I wouldn’t bother with this addendum to his sentencing, but as I believe that he is, I think it shall be a harsh punishment indeed. I hope that, if he doesn’t already grieve for each of those individual lives lost in his unprecedented attack on life in our galaxy, this exercise will eventually if not immediately force him to at least begin to comprehend what he’s done. He has many, many years of incarceration ahead during which he can work on wrapping his mind around it, after all. Thank you.”

Leia stands, and Hux turns to look at his mother. She’s hurrying toward him, but before she can reach him a guard stops her. The crowd is exuberant with opinions, some of them rather colorful slurs shouted directly at Hux. When Hux turns back to look at Leia, supposing he should at least offer her a silent stare of thanks, he finds the Committee already dispersing: the Thulmar comforts the weeping Qusoian woman, and the Utrian and Eurc-Wentonian seem to comfort each other as they leave their seats, the Utrian snarling at Hux as he goes. Fillamon has disappeared. Botta collects data pads left behind by the Committee members. Leia gives instructions to the bailiff, who comes forward to tell the guards to allow Elana past the barrier and into Hux’s arms as he hurries from his chair to shield her from the noise and violent energy of the crowd. This time he holds onto her, tightly, and hides his face against the side of her head.

“Thank you,” Hux says, not sure if she’ll hear this over the racket from the crowd. She gives him a squeeze and pulls back to look at him. He wants to fix her ruined eye makeup, but if he brushes his thumb over it he’ll probably just make it worse.

“You don’t have to thank me,” Elana says, breathless. “Not ever.”

“Let’s go someplace quieter,” Jek says, gathering them away from the crowd, which is beginning to seem like a kind of angry animal with hundreds of limbs that might charge past the guards at any moment. When they turn to follow the bailiff away, Faza is standing in their path.

“Well done,” she says.

She’s speaking to Jek, and her smile seems strangely genuine, if not warm. She glances at Hux, who tucks his arm around his mother and wills himself not to say anything. He’s too tired to make it appropriately cutting, anyway.

“I hope you’re right about Mr. Hux,” Faza says to Jek. “And I hope for all our sakes that the General is right about Kylo Ren.”

“I trust the General knows what she’s talking about,” Jek says.

Faza smiles again before returning to her colleagues. Hux doesn’t know what the hell she looks so happy about, but maybe this is all just a game to her. He can’t hear Ren again until the bailiff has hurried them into a hallway behind the courtroom, the heavy door shutting out the noise of the crowd. It feels like moving from one dream world into another, none of this quite real for Hux yet.

You did it, Ren says. He sounds somber, or maybe just overcome.

I had help, Hux says. His relief is a shallow thing, surrounded by unscalable walls. Some subconscious part of his brain had tricked itself into thinking that he would be free to go if not put to death, or that Ren would actually come here to retrieve him. Ren remains far away, however, and Leia’s personal vow to contain him will probably work well enough to keep him there.

They’re going to cut to the announcers--

Ren’s voice breaks off there, and Hux feels as if he just lost his shirt, like he’s suddenly exposed to the elements and lacking the only armor he had left. He waits, sure that Ren will find his way back, but there’s nothing in his mind now but his own weatherbeaten thoughts and his persistent ache for Ren, though that’s not really in his mind so much as everywhere, running the length of his body and then back again.

“What’s wrong?” Elana asks when she notices Hux’s expression.

“I’m just-- I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it,” Hux says. It’s true enough. He has the impulse to hug Jek, but resists it. “You did it,” Hux says to him. “You saved my life.”

“I had a lot of help from you two,” Jek says. “And the other witnesses-- What Pella said about you speaks highly of you.” Jek gives Hux’s shoulder a squeeze. “And your response was perfect when I asked about Ren. I knew you could do it.”

“Yes!” Elana says. “But I knew they would vote to let you live before that. When the General gave you her water glass. I want to thank her-- Is she here? I think she saved you, really. With her vote, of course, but also with that water, when she passed you her glass. The room got so quiet. That must have moved the human who sat next to her, yes? That symbol of mercy?”

“I’m not sure he was moved by anything,” Hux says. He has the suspicion that he hasn’t seen the last of Fillamon, and it’s not a wonderful feeling.

“We’re ready to transport the prisoner,” a guard says, stepping forward. Hux noticed this guard yesterday: tall with greyish scales, mouth like a gash. He seems to be in charge of the whole operation.

“Can’t he had a moment to celebrate the fact that he gets to live?” Jek asks.

“This is a very time-sensitive operation,” the guard says. “The transport caravan is ready to roll out.”

Hux notices the guards who traveled with them from the Tower lingering nearby, one of them holding a set of binders. None of the guards looks particularly happy about the news that Hux will be returning to prison rather than heading for the gallows.

“I’ll come to visit you,” Elana says, throwing her arms around Hux again. “Soon, I promise.”

“Don’t you have to get back to Nestor?” Hux asks, ready to be disappointed. He pulls free, peers down at her. “To your flowers?”

“He’s going to help me get a job here,” Elana says, nodding to Jek. “So I can-- Be near to you-- They’ll let me visit him, of course, yes?” She asks this of Jek as if she’s begging for his permission.

“I think so,” Jek says. He squeezes Hux’s shoulder and steps away with Elana when the Tower guard moves forward to put the binders on Hux’s wrists.

“Aren’t you coming with me?” Hux asks Jek, his heart suddenly pounding. He thinks of the letter from Ren in Jek’s office. What if some angry citizens burn the place down during the night? What if the letter goes up in the flames?

“I’ll be back to see you soon,” Jek says. He looks like he might cry, and for the first time since they met Hux doesn’t resent Jek’s sudden onslaught of emotions. Hux feels like he’s just been told that the Committee’s decision was reversed, that he’s going to die after all, and that he needs to say his goodbyes as efficiently as possible. “You’ll be okay,” Jek says as Hux is lead away.

This empty statement reminds Hux of Ren. I’ll come for you, I promise, it will be okay.

No, Hux thinks as he’s lead down a dimly lit hallway, shoved forward when he tries to turn and get a last look at Jek and his mother. No one is coming for him. Not even Ren, after Leia made that grave promise to keep Ren from freeing Hux and then saved Hux’s life to seal the deal. How could even Ren bring himself to ruin her after she did everything she could to protect the one thing in the galaxy her maniac son still cares about? Hux is alone now, and there’s nothing but a lifetime of sitting in that cell ahead of him.

On the journey south, he doesn’t look out at the transport’s windows at the landscape that rolls by, though this is probably the actual last time he’ll see it. He thinks of his first trip to the Tower, when he sat across from Finn and taunted him about his parents. That was only twelve days ago. Hux feels like the idiot who sat sneering at Finn probably deserved a death sentence. He’s not sure what he feels he deserves now. He’ll sleep, anyway, at last. Hopefully through the night. Hopefully he’ll dream of Ren.

It’s nighttime in the south by the time they reach the Tower, and the sight of it at night is alarming and strangely beautiful, its windows dotted with lights here and there but mostly dark and shining like a faceless guardian of the mountains that surround it. Hux feels as if he’s being swallowed up by a living thing as the transport passes into the garage at the bottom of the Tower, disappearing into deeper darkness.

He isn’t surprised to see the warden waiting in the station where the transport docks. The whole process of being re-consumed by the Tower is a bitter repetition of his original arrival here, only this time he’ll never leave again.

“Well, General,” Stepwell says when the guards march Hux toward him. “Looks like you fooled them all.”

Hux makes no response. He waits, half expecting a punch to his gut.

“So now you’re a permanent resident,” Stepwell says. “I guess it’ll be on whoever becomes warden after me to zip you into a body bag someday, unless you delight the galaxy by croaking before you reach old age. Until then, I’m told I need to arrange for people to come here and rail at you on a regular basis for what you did, which I’m fine with, and you’ll also be pleased to hear that I’m legally required to give you an hour of exercise every day now that you’re a lifelong resident-- Unless you lose your privileges, of course. But I don’t see how you’d manage to do that, since you won’t be mixing with the general population at any point while I’m warden.”

“I appreciate that,” Hux says, though it’s probably unwise to say anything. “I’m aware that plenty of my fellow prisoners want me dead.”

“Sure, sure,” Stepwell says. “It’ll get awfully lonely though, eh? With only the people who hate you coming to visit?”

Hux decides now is not the time to mention that Jek and his mother will also be applying to visit him here. He dreads a comment about Ren, and feels his face getting hot. Stepwell smirks.

“Prisoners aren’t eligible to receive conjugal visits until they’ve served one year on consistently rated good behavior,” Stepwell says. “Just in case you were wondering about that. Though seeing as your knight in shining armor is on classified lockdown somewhere himself, I guess that won’t be a concern.”

Hux is burning to respond, but too tired to come up with anything that wouldn’t make him sound pathetic or defensive. The warden laughs and waves Hux toward the door that leads into the Tower, and the guards march him there.

The familiarity of what follows is not a comfort. Hux is brought to the showers on the sixty-first floor. He strips, cleans himself, touches the place on his stomach where Ren’s letter once pressed against him undetected. His shoes and civilian clothes are taken away, and he’s provided with a fresh prison uniform. The slippers he’s given seem to be the same ones from before. He’s brought to his cell, where the binders on his wrists are removed. The guards leave; the door shuts. A dinner tray waits on the floor.

Hux sits on the floor near the tray and surveys its contents in the dark, startled by how weak he’s become. He should be elated, gloating with private victory and plotting what comes next, but being so suddenly alone has left him feeling defeated. He tries to imagine what his mother is doing right now: having dinner alone in her hotel room, watching the broadcasts that will endlessly analyze the events of the hearing? Jek is probably in bed with his wife, if not still having a celebratory dinner with his family. Surely they won’t watch the broadcasts, as least not in the presence of the children. Hux doesn’t even know how old Jek’s daughters are; he feels now like he should have asked, but what would be the point? What does any of it matter?

Ren might already be writing him another letter, meanwhile. Hux turns to glance at his notebook, on the desk with the materials about the dead planets that he doesn’t need anymore. He picks up a piece of toasted bread from his dinner tray and walks over to the desk, spreading the data sheets Jek made for him across the surface. Raklan’s sheet still tells him nothing about Ander Fillamon and why he voted to spare Hux. Utr’s sheet features images of child-sized beings like the one who screamed his vote for the death sentence. These children are in the midst of celebrating some kind of festival, laughing and wearing ribbons that wind around their chubby arms, their faces painted. Qusoa’s sheet promises that the air on the planet was some of the cleanest in the galaxy, as if purified by its residents’ faith in this galaxy being a good and merciful place where peace will eventually come to all.

What does it matter. It’s all gone now.

Hux sits at the desk, the bread he swallowed sitting in his stomach like a rock. He closes his eyes and tries to reach out to Ren, having no idea how such a thing is accomplished. Ren has always just come to him, in the past. He won’t come now. Hux knows that when he opens his eyes. He can feel it like a limb that’s been lobbed off: he’s lost Ren’s touch, his voice, that closeness that he’d told himself that no one else would ever know. Living without it will strip Hux down to nothing eventually. He turns and considers the dinner tray on the floor, then opts to smoke a cigarette instead. It’s possible this transgression will be caught on some invisible security camera, but there’s nothing left for Hux to lose, so he might as well.

Standing at the window, he smokes and tracks the flight path of a dark creature that flies from one mountain peak to another. It’s some type of large bird, or maybe an enormous bat that lives in a mountain cave. There is a moment when Hux’s heart lifts and he thinks it could be Ren. He laughs at himself and feels his heart beating faster even after he’s sure that it’s not. It’s not really funny, probably a sign of oncoming madness, but Hux is amused by the mental image of Ren in flight, that robe fanning out behind him as he soars from mountain to mountain, trying to find a way to Hux already. Not even able to stay away for one night.

Hux puts his cigarette out and eats a few more bites from his dinner tray. He hides the cigarette butt in a tub of creamy sauce intended to be consumed with the evening’s mystery meat, then pushes the tray against the wall near the door. Falling into the bed feels good, but once he’s there he experiences a full-body, bone-deep soreness, probably from sitting so tensely in that chair in the courtroom for two days. He pulls his knees up to his chest and wonders if he wishes they had killed him. The idea of facing all these days and years here alone seems worse, suddenly, though still not entirely. He’s still holding onto something. It’s not quite the hope that Ren will come for him after all, but it’s something. It’s just his pillow, maybe, wrapped up into his arms as he drifts toward sleep.

For the sake of getting some needed rest, he imagines his pillow is Ren. He pictures Ren having flown here in the night just to pass magically through the cell’s window and into Hux’s bed. Hux would make fun of Ren for his dramatic entrance, his windblown hair, and then he would pull Ren close and hide inside that robe of his until morning, listening to Ren’s heartbeat and being periodically awakened by the feeling of Ren’s fingers in his hair. Hux would wake without Ren at dawn, no one the wiser, and would live for nightfall, when Ren would return. If Hux just could have this one magic thing, it would be enough to truly keep him alive here. I’m your letter. Ren said that once, in a dream. Hux wants to find Ren pressed to his skin, inside a blue envelope, tumbling wholly formed from the words on a page.

He would settle for dreaming of Ren tonight, or at least Ben, but he dreams instead of a planet that will soon be destroyed. It’s a kind of amalgamation of the five in the Hosnian system, and there’s a festival going on: children run past him with ribbons, adults drink and laugh and line the streets. There are fireworks, streamers. Hux runs from person to person, trying to tell everyone he sees that there’s a blast coming from Starkiller, that they have to evacuate, but his voice won’t work and he’s dismissed as a lunatic. He notes at one point that he’s barefoot, wearing a filthy and torn prison uniform, and he can hardly blame the locals for ignoring his wordless cries of panic. When the red light appears in the sky, the crowd cheers. They think it’s just more fireworks, part of the celebration. Hux sinks to his knees and watches it come.

 

 

**