14 Standard Hours Post-Landing
I don’t know what to call this planet yet, so I cannot say where we have landed precisely, only that things have gone as well as we could have expected at this stage. I confess I’m writing this in a kind of unrestful stupor, to stave off my anxiety, and yet I am assured (by Ren, who has disappeared to do some chore that I apparently cannot be present for) that everything is fine. We do appear to be at least well-clear of the general population, which is small and isolated but also sophisticated in ways I did not anticipate. Nevertheless, as Ren predicted (knew? whatever), they have no local lore having to do with the Force, for whatever reason (Jedis hoarded information to the point of engineering their own downfall and to the detriment of the entire galaxy, would be my theory) beyond a tradition of cruelly imprisoning and/or perhaps executing anyone who shows ability in this area, perhaps due to some past Force sensitive who used his or her powers to torment the population.
Whatever Force users they may have known here in the past, it seems clear that they had never encountered a united pack of them before, such as we presented ourselves to be. Sufficiently displeased and intimidated by our display, they have banished us to the other side of the planet along with Ren’s Force-wielding damsel in distress, an adolescent who is presently asleep on a bedroll behind me. Ren has left me his lightsaber (the real one) in case I need to brandish it in defense of her (as if I don’t also have a functioning blaster hidden under this bloody itchy robe, but our plan is to not kill anyone here unless absolutely necessary), though there seems to be no one around to threaten us. Even the animal life, if there is any, remains quiet. The wind blows hard and constantly through the empty courtyard outside and the trees that surround us (very tall with long, noisy fronds), but so far I find this comforting in some strange way.
To my great amusement, the locals have banished us to what Ren describes as a former penal colony of sorts. It has an austerity that communicates this but otherwise is quite the inverse of the last one that held me. It’s modest in size, low to the ground, and whatever mechanism that kept the prisoners interned is either long gone or not evident to me: what remains is an open compound with twenty or so smallish buildings made of stone, some freestanding and some stacked like stairs against the far hillside. Initial investigations (by me) indicate that these buildings were once wind-powered (I’d be very surprised if that’s not the case with everything here, considering the abundance of that resource) and that they might be again with some repairs and perhaps modifications (I’m finding so far that there is a sort of aesthetic grace in the designs and structures I’ve seen so far here, but that perhaps form is placed ahead of function in some cases-- admittedly this is a very cursory analysis after less than a full cycle spent here and half of that time spent witnessing Ren’s bizarre negotiations with the locals. I suppose I already knew that he can understand and speak all languages innately through the Force, but still it was odd to hear theirs suddenly pouring fluidly from him).
Perhaps most importantly to me, and also more alarming than I might have expected when fantasizing about the possibility, is that the structures and environment here all resemble those that Ren once wrote to me about when describing a vision of our future together. Everything to do with the future and the seeing of it makes me queasy at this point, and I trust none of it, even here and now, but I can’t deny that at the same time even the consistently purplish tint of this place has lulled me at least into enough of a calm to allow Ren to traipse off across the courtyard to “do something” (I suspect I know what) while I sit here guarding this poor girl who has exhausted herself with a kind of tearless, tinny weeping (?) that frankly unnerved me while it went on.
The girl is called Samsa (that spelling and even the application of my own alphabet is certainly wrong, but Ren says it like ‘Sam-sa’ in a kind of slurred pronunciation, so this is how I shall print it until I’m corrected. I suppose I could converse with her in theory, assuming she shares Ren’s ability to pick up all languages innately, but I’ve made no attempt as of yet). She (like all the others we met when retrieving her) is humanoid in appearance with a kind of iridescent skin that is largely a darker shade of purple than the skies here. She has a kind of hair-like veil of shimmering something or other (part of the nervous system, I’d imagine, since it grows smoothly back from her forehead and is reminiscent of a Twi’lek’s lekku, only not bisected into two parts and much more delicate-looking). She seems afraid of everyone but me and Ren, and while he can obviously calm her by communicating telepathically and also being the one (I suppose she knows?) who heard her calling out through the Force for help, I’ve no idea why she doesn’t shy away from me the way she does the others. My best theory is an embarrassing one: Ren must have particularly vouched for me in some unspoken way. I hope he didn’t utilize mental images. Those can get so easily mixed together with things he doesn’t intend to show, especially when he’s tired.
“What are you writing?”
Hux pushes back abruptly from the notebook he’d been leaning over, more startled than he should be by Ren’s sudden appearance in the doorway behind him. It hadn’t occurred to him how disorienting it would be to work on one of his slightly unhinged compositions about Ren and also to have Ren so near that he might appear without warning. Looking up from the page to lay eyes on him is such an enormous relief that Hux has to stop himself from leaping up and throwing his arms around Ren like an idiot, as if he hasn’t been gone for less than an hour. Hux closes the notebook and shakes his head. Samsa is still asleep, and the wind is still howling across the valley outside. Ren’s hair is rather wrecked, a tangled mess. He’s taken off his robe.
“I’m just keeping myself entertained,” Hux says. “I don’t know why I can’t help with whatever it is you’re doing.”
“It’s done. And it would have spoiled things for you if you’d seen it like it was.”
“Seen what?” Hux asks, though he knows. It’s making his eyes burn, and he’s still trying to doubt that it could be true. He stands from the bench he was seated on and tries to be annoyed by the little smile at the corner of Ren’s lips. Ren is getting awfully accustomed to feeling impressed with himself.
“Come see,” Ren says.
“You’ve got dirt on your cheek,” Hux says. He’s moving closer slowly. Ren fills the narrow doorway, blocking Hux’s view of the structure across the courtyard that Hux saw from the corner of his eye on their way in. He’d tried to tell himself he was imagining things.
“I’ve been cleaning,” Ren says, and then, in Hux’s head, Never thought cleaning house would feel like the most important thing I’d ever used the Force to do.
“I can think of some other important things you’ve done with it,” Hux says, and he turns back to Samsa. Her brow is pinched, her hands folded under her cheek. She has soft-looking webbing between her fingers, wears a tight shift-like garment and has her dirty boots on their best bedroll, which was brought here from the Falcon when the coast was deemed clear. The others are still unloading things and exploring the area, still wearing their fake Jedi robes like armor. Hux’s heart is beating fast. Everything feels so scattered, and he’s hugging the notebook he wrote in against his chest, wanting to cling to his sense that he can organize all this with words and some distance. “She’s still sleeping,” he says, nodding to Samsa. “Shouldn’t we not leave her alone?”
“Emi’s stationed outside,” Ren says. “And she won’t wake up for a while yet.”
“How do you know that? And you’re assigning stations to my-- To people, now?”
“What’s Emi going to do if someone approaches? Am I leaving her your lightsaber? Are we passing it around in shifts and hoping for the best?”
“Hux, come here. It’ll be all right.”
Hux opens his mouth to snap at Ren for having the gall to say that again, and again and again, although maybe Hux used to be the one who was saying it, somehow most often when he was rotting in prison, but he hadn’t actually believed it, and Ren does. Hux closes his mouth without making a sound, so that Emi won’t overhear and fret that the co-commanders are arguing during such a delicate time. He shuts his mind to Ren as well, not wanting his nervous hesitation to be further scrutinized. Ren’s gaze is soft and pleading and he looks a bit sleepy. They’re down one bedroll, with Samsa using this one, and they’ll have to squeeze up close together on the remaining ones. Ren takes up so much fucking space. But it’s much cooler here during the day than it was in the desert, if this is indeed daytime. Pressing together would not be uncomfortable.
Ren holds his hand out.
Hux scoffs. “I don’t need to be led there by the hand,” he says.
“You’re so tired,” Ren says, as if in forgiveness for this attitude. He turns for the door. “Follow me, come rest for a minute.”
Hux looks at Samsa again. She hasn’t moved since stretching out on that bedroll. Emi is indeed outside when he steps out of the shelter of the little stone house, into the full-on assault by the wind. Emi has the hood of her robe pushed down, and she’s blinking against the wind when she nods to Hux.
“Go in,” Hux says to her, almost stumbling against a particularly strong gust. Ren is walking across the courtyard and not looking back, his hair whipped sideways.
“Shouldn’t I stand outside?” Emi asks-- Looking to Ren! Hux tries not to take it personally; one of them was bound to prefer him eventually. Surely having sensed this is the reason Ren put her on this important post.
“At least stand in the doorway,” Hux says. “Out of the wind. Whistle if you see anything, and if you have to make a move, don’t shoot to kill.”
She moves into position and Hux turns back to Ren. Across the courtyard and around the edge of an outcropping of little buildings identical to this one there is a larger, lower structure that appears to be built partially into the hillside. It would have served as some kind of central station for guards, if Hux had to guess. Now it’s quiet and dark, shaded by tall trees that thrash in the wind on the hill overhead.
Ren turns back when he reaches the corner, watching as Hux pulls off the Jedi robe and walks toward him. Hux’s blaster and fake lightsaber are both shoved into the holster on his belt, the real lightsaber dangling from a hastily fashioned belt loop. It’s heavy, nudging against his leg as he walks. When he reaches Ren he takes the real lightsaber from his belt and puts it in Ren's hand.
“This one’s yours,” Hux says, still trying not to look too pointedly at the house. Ren leans down to kiss him on the temple, though they’re in sight of all the others who are milling about. Across the courtyard Phasma is barking at Tuck to be careful with some particular crate of cargo. It probably contains whatever remains of the beer.
“Come on,” Ren says, taking Hux’s hand. This time Hux allows it. “I picked the best one for us.”
The best one. Hux lets himself be drawn forward, toward what he’s grown accustomed to thinking of as an impossible dream. It’s not only the best potential residence here. It’s the one that looks most like what Ren once described in his letter: low to the ground, built into the hill, swept out by Ren while Hux sulked elsewhere. Like the building where Samsa sleeps, there’s no front door, just a doorway that looks in on an unadorned room that is lit by a fireplace where Ren is burning some dry, cracking wood, a small amount that will flame out quick. There’s no furniture and no windows in this main room, but it branches into a small storage area that lets in light through a narrow window. To the left there’s a large room that Hux somehow recognizes as a bedroom, maybe only because of the long window along the ceiling that shows the ground above the hill. He’s had this described to him before and remembers it particularly. Through this window there is a view of some sparse, weedy grass along the ground outside. It bears a constant assault from the wind, which Hux can hear blowing past the open front door. There’s a washroom that seems to indicate plumbing was at least functional at one time, including large stone basin with a fill spout over the edge and a drain at the bottom. The main feature of the room is a low, flat stone that might be the base for a bed, or a bed itself, if Samsa’s people sleep on rocks. She seemed glad for the bedroll either way.
Ren has laid his robe across the bed-like stone. It seems like an invitation or an offering, or maybe more like a symbol, the first thing that ever belonged to both of them and now the first thing placed carefully into what seems like it could really be their home. Hux puts his fake Jedi robe beside it and moves around inspecting things, though there is little to inspect beyond how cleanly Ren has swept the place out. It looks polished, bare but welcoming. The light through the window is like a memory from a dream, and Hux supposes that’s precisely what it is. He sets his notebook on a stone cube beside the bed, unclips his blaster belt and curls it on top. When he turns Ren is smiling, probably reading Hux’s feedback. Hux is making no attempt to guard it now.
“You found our house,” Hux says.
“It was a mess,” Ren says. “I wanted you to see its true potential before you judged it.”
“Ren. I’d live in a trash compactor with you if I had to. But this is-- And you’d already shown me-- I read your letter so many times. It feels--” Hux closes his eyes and shakes his head, trying to wake himself from this dream before he can let his hopes climb any higher. The house is still there when he opens his eyes, and the wind, the purple sky outside. Ren, too.
“Lie down with me for a minute,” Ren says, kneeling onto the bed. “We’ve both gone too long without rest.”
“You really trust Emi to guard the girl you crossed into wild space for?”
“I didn’t just come here for her, and she’s fine. Your plan worked, Hux. Samsa’s people won’t bother us here until they need healing, and when they come around on that we’ll give it to them. Get over here, get off your feet for a minute.”
Hux thinks of mentioning that he’s been off his feet for the past hour, watching over Samsa and writing in his notebook. Ren seems rather determined to get him into the bed. Hux is too tired to fuck, and beyond that they also have no door. He goes to Ren, and only when he stretches out with him atop their robes does he realize why Ren wants this so much, and why his hands are shaking when he pulls Hux close. This was the vision, the first vantage point from which Ren saw their house: on this bed, with Hux in his arms, the soft purple light from the window glowing down over them.
Hux burrows against Ren and closes his eyes. He can smell Ren’s sweat, familiar and comforting and somehow better here, away from the heat of the desert and the sterile dark of the Tower, away from every place where they’ve ever held each other and everything they knew. Hux has a thousand questions and he’s going to ask them all, but first he tucks his arm around Ren’s back and holds the warm, quivering mass of him tighter. He slides his other arm under Ren’s neck and absently tries to pick the tangles from his hair, already sinking toward sleep. Ren kisses his face in nervous pecks, wanting to be told, Is this it? Hux? Do you feel it, too?
“This is the first time we’ve been alone since we left the base,” Hux says. He meets Ren’s eyes and also says, without speaking, Yes, of course I feel it. You did it, we’re here, don’t make me say how scared I am to believe what I already know.
“Don’t be scared,” Ren says, murmuring this against Hux’s lips.
“You’re misinterpreting what I said-- Thought,” Hux corrects, rolling his eyes at himself. “It’s more complicated than that.”
“Yes, I know. It’s perfect, it’s duality. To know something and to be afraid to believe it can be true at the same time.”
“Well, congratulations to me, I guess I really am an honorary Jedi now.”
Ren nips at the end of Hux’s nose. Hux pushes his leg up between Ren’s thighs, wanting to lie like this, half awake and listening to the wind, for as long as the galaxy will let them. Even his weary uncertainty feels good now. It’s something about the light on this planet, or in this room.
“Tell me about this place,” Hux says, nudging Ren with his nose when he seems like he might be trying to actually sleep. Hux isn’t quite ready for that, as tired as he is.
“What about it,” Ren says, blinking heavily.
“What about it, really? Anything! We’re on an unidentified planet in fucking wild space, and I haven’t had a second since we got here to really talk to you, and Samsa must have told you--”
“It’s not unidentified. It’s called Enga. The people here are the Engali. They have some common ancestors with humans and with Twi’leks.”
“I knew it. About the Twi’leks, anyway. What do you call the sort of veils they have around their heads? They’re really beautiful.” Hux shifts in Ren’s grip when he receives a bemused look in response to this remark. “What?”
“Nothing,” Ren says. “Just that there was a time when I thought I’d never hear you say anything but perfectly efficient engineering was beautiful.”
“Well, Ren, there was a time when I would have bitten your hand off rather than let you touch me, but here we are. Either answer my question or admit that you don’t know the terminology yourself.”
“I don’t, in fact.”
“Hence your making fun of me instead of responding.”
“Sorry we didn’t have an immediate telepathic discussion about anatomical terms. I was more interested in trying to comfort her after she’d been banished from her home and taken in by a band of menacing strangers from off planet.”
“Are we menacing? Does she find us to be?”
“Not me,” Ren says. “Or you,” he admits when Hux levels him with a look. “She connected to me when she reached out for help through the Force. It’s very difficult to do if you don’t already know the other Force user you’re seeking, very rare, and very powerful when it works. I was able to reassure her with a mutual exchange of loosely organized thoughts and memories, so she feels connected to you, too, through me.”
“Such is the strength of my connection to you.”
You’re a part of me, Ren says, now without speaking. When she sees the good things in me, the things she can trust, she sees you. He presses his forehead to Hux’s and inhales deeply.
“Just, whatever you do,” Hux says, grabbing Ren’s chin so that he meets his eyes again. “Do not fucking triangulate me again, please.”
Ren smirks. Hux flicks his chin.
“It’s not funny!”
“I know,” Ren says, still smiling. “Sorry.”
“You’ve yet to really explain to me how that happened, precisely.”
“There was nothing precise about it, in the first place.”
“Of course not. What else, tell me about this place. Will we be able to find food? I don’t suppose there’s some friendly, neutral market we could visit?”
“No market here would serve us,” Ren says. “But in time that might change. There are wild woods and jungles all around this colony, food won’t be a problem. Samsa can help us with what’s good to eat and what isn’t.”
“Will she be all right?” Hux asks. “Emotionally, I mean?”
“In time. It’s not easy to have this power. As you know.”
“Well, I had a taste.” He’s afraid to have another, more so than ever now that he’s apparently connected to two powerful Force users again.
“I meant that you know it through me,” Ren says. “Through hearing of my experiences.”
“Oh, yes.” Hux tries to pinpoint his next question. There are so many that they seem to roll overtop each other and bury each other before he can extract a single coherent inquiry. He yawns and lets Ren kiss him, unable to think of any questions that need asking more than his bottom lip needs to be sucked at softly by Ren.
“Are you warm enough?” Ren asks.
“Warm enough for what?”
“Don’t be a smart ass. I want you to be comfortable here.”
“Can’t you tell that I am?”
Ren studies Hux’s face. His senses are perhaps not at their sharpest. Even back at the base, he didn’t really sleep for the past two days, up all night making fake lightsaber hilts.
“I’ll bring our crates from the Falcon,” Ren says, closing his eyes as if he might do this while still lying here. Hux doesn’t doubt that he could, at this point. “When we unpack this will feel more like home.”
“It already feels that way,” Hux says, looking up at the ceiling. Ren has scrubbed it, too. Hux can sense his exhaustion, and also the fact that he has never before cleaned anything substantial beyond his own body and occasionally Hux’s. Spoiled prince, Hux thinks, not sure if Ren will hear this. He kisses the crown of Ren’s head and feels him sagging into sleep. “I mostly want a front door,” Hux says. “That would be a rather homey touch.”
“Gonna get you one,” Ren says, mumbling. “Everything you want.”
Hux hums as if this is a given, and perhaps it is. He rests his cheek against Ren’s forehead. He’ll just shut his eyes for a moment, then he’ll go to the Falcon himself and fetch their things before the others get the impression that everything is up for grabs in this new world.
But perhaps it is: as he drifts off with Ren in his arms, lulled by the sound of the wind into the deepest and most delicate peace he’s yet known, he doesn’t feel particularly possessive of the many things that they kept up in their room on the base. As long as he has his notebook, with all their letters tucked into the back, and a pen to write with when he’s feeling restless, and as long as Ren has his lightsaber and the robe they’re lying on, as long as they have this house-- the rest is optional, decorative, non-essential.
Hux has just approached something like real sleep when he hears Emi’s shrill whistle and sits up, already rolling toward his blaster, almost able to muster some pride in his still-sharp soldier’s instincts even as his panic mounts and he runs for the front door. Ren is close behind, lightsaber in hand.
Hux isn’t sure what he expects when he pauses at the corner that looks in on the courtyard, assessing the situation before taking further action. There is no armed crowd of angry locals, no monstrous beast from the surrounding environs, not even the smell of advancing smoke in the air. Emi has come to the front of the house where Samsa is presumably still sleeping. Her blaster is drawn and aimed, pointed at the hill above the right side of the compound, above what Hux already thinks of as their house. She flicks her chin upward to indicate her target when she spots Hux and Ren.
“Her mother,” Ren says, before Hux can turn to see that a single Engali standing on the hillside, cowering at the sight of Emi’s blaster and making a soft sound similar to what Hux interpreted as weeping when Samsa did it.
“Samsa’s mother?” Hux guesses, and Ren nods.
“Don’t shoot!” Ren says, walking out in the courtyard. “It’s okay! She’s friendly.”
“Is she, though?” Hux mutters to himself as he watches Ren hurrying up the hill toward the frightened Engali, who shrinks away from his approach. Hux walks toward Emi, cautious as he crosses the open center of the courtyard. Ren has characterized the people on this planet as strongly against aggression of any kind, to the point of not allowing personal possession of weapons and resulting in their strict rejection of anyone with powers like Samsa’s that might be used against them. Still, this is someone’s mother, and her daughter was taken from her, first by the locals and then by Ren’s gang. She might be capable of anything.
Ren speaks to her while Hux and Emi watch in silence, both holding blasters at their hips. When Samsa wakes behind them with a gasp they both turn to her, and Hux pushes Emi’s blaster down as she starts to aim it instinctively.
“It’s okay,” Hux says, ushering Emi aside so that they’re not blocking the doorway. “Ren’s right, this isn’t an attack.”
Emi holsters her blaster but still appears anxious. Inside the stone house, Samsa sits on the bedroll and watches Ren on the hill with her mother, eyes wide and hands braced against the ground as if she’s waiting for the right moment to spring up and bolt. When she feels Hux staring at her she flicks her gaze to his and something jolts through him, maybe just a fresh slice of anxiety. Samsa has dark eyes that also have a spark of the iridescence that coats her skin. Hux isn’t ready to hear any voice other than Ren’s in his head.
“You can go,” Hux says, gesturing toward Samsa’s mother and Ren. “If you like.”
Samsa studies Hux’s eyes for a moment before springing up and darting out into the wind, then up the hill. Hux stays at Emi’s side and watches Ren back away when mother and daughter are reunited. Like humans and Twi’leks, they seem to take comfort in physical contact. Samsa and her mother both crumble to the ground with the force of their embrace, and Samsa’s mother huddles around her like a kind of shield, stroking the shimmering veil that hangs around her shoulders. The mother’s is shorter and dimmer, though it glows with what looks like a physical manifestation of relief when Ren backs off and allows her to hold onto Samsa.
“What are they called?” Emi asks, watching this alongside Hux.
“Engali,” Hux says. “According to Ren.”
“How does he know of them?”
“Through the Force.” Hux sighs and looks over at her. “I know that’s an unsatisfying explanation, trust me. I’m tired of accepting it at face value myself. Perhaps you could ask Ren sometime. I think he owes you all that much, for helping him.”
“He helped us, too,” Emi says. She looks back to Ren, who is approaching now. Hux wonders if Samsa and her mother shouldn’t come down off the hill and take better cover, just in case, or at least for the sake of sheltering from the worst of the wind. Ren doesn’t seem concerned.
“Her name is Meral,” Ren says when he comes to stand before Emi and Hux. The others are watching from the windows and doorways of the stone buildings nearby, surely looking to Ren and Hux for instructions on how to proceed. “She requests that she be allowed to stay here. Her partner would not come with her.”
“Partner?” Hux says.
“Husband equivalent. They don’t believe in social contracts of that sort. But he’s Samsa’s father.”
“Are you going to let her stay?” Hux asks, not sure what to make of a society with no social contracts.
“I was going to ask you,” Ren says.
“Me?” Hux glances at Emi, wondering if this is for her benefit and trying not to show too much surprise. “Well-- As long as she’s not out to get us, I see no reason to separate the girl from her mother.”
“She didn’t come here to harm us, only to check on Samsa.”
“Are you sure? Might she be secretly Force sensitive, too, seeing as how it’s passed down in some families? Might she be hiding something?”
“I sensed nothing like that from her, and I trust my read of her, especially considering my connection to Samsa.”
Then why are you asking me, Hux sends. If this is just some kind of theater I’d appreciate a mental cue.
It’s not theater, Hux, you ass. You’re my co-commander. I value your input on all critical decisions.
Even when you’re telling me that you have all the information you need via the Force and that I should trust that implicitly?
Yes, even then.
Sounds like a mere formality, in that case.
I thought you liked formalities.
Hux groans and gives Emi an apologetic look as she stands there watching Ren and Hux stare each other down while conversing in their minds.
“Fine,” Hux says tightly, wondering how many other family members of Samsa’s might wander this way eventually. Perhaps it would be a boon, in the sense of local knowledge and extra hands on deck. “She can stay with Samsa in this house. Obviously we’ll still have a rotation of guards to protect them and the rest of us. Is there a nighttime here?”
“Yes, the skies will darken shortly.”
“Then we’d better get organized. Get our crates from the Falcon, and I’ll round everyone up so we can decide on a schedule. And tell those two to come back down and take shelter.” Hux nods toward Samsa and Meral. Both their veils are glowing now, in a kind of pulsing shimmer. Hux would really like to know the proper name for them. He’ll have to start a second notebook that’s a kind of encyclopedia of terms, though he also likes the idea of incorporating everything he discovers about this place into his less organized notes about the days he passes here.
Your feedback is racing with plans, Ren sends as he turns toward the hillside.
Don’t make fun, Hux sends back.
I’m not. I love it when you’re like this.
I’m always like this.
Hux develops a second or perhaps third wind as the rest of the day and much of the night is devoted to properly organizing their encampment. He first makes a map, assigning each building a number. Next he identifies their chief and most pressing projects and assembles the group to divvy up tasks. Samsa and Meral are present for this, and though Samsa remains shy about attempting to speak Hux’s language she nods in confirmation when he addresses her and mutters with Ren in her own language when she needs clarification. Meral hangs back nervously and says nothing beyond a few words to Ren, who continues to assure Hux that this behavior is out of understandable apprehension and not anything indicative of malicious intent. By the time the group disperses to their chosen quarters around the courtyard, Hux has arranged for a hunting and scouting party to depart in the morning, a schedule for regular rotation of guard duty, and the distribution of food from the supplies they brought with them, which are already worryingly thin.
“We’ll find plenty to eat,” Ren says when everyone has gone and Hux is in the washroom, using water from the Falcon to scrub his face over their old basin. “It will just be a matter of becoming accustomed to the harvest and the hunt here,” Ren says. He’s insistent, as if Hux expressed some doubt. “Between me and Samsa, tracking prey should be simple.”
Even after all those months in the desert, Hux still hasn’t developed much of a taste for game killed by blaster fire, but he prefers it to neatly apportioned meals shoved in through a slot at the bottom of a door and supposes he’ll have plenty of time to learn to appreciate wilder fare. He’s a bit shaky, mostly with exhaustion, when he powers off the halo lamp that Ren had put on and moves toward what he’s come to think of as the bed stone. Ren has spread the things that composed their desert base bed across the stone, minus yet another bedroll that was given to Meral, leaving them with only two.
“We shouldn’t use these lamps unless we absolutely need to,” Hux says, checking the fuel cell on the halo and noting with dismay that it holds less than half a full charge. “I’m going to see about reactivating the wind power on these structures after we have food and a water source secured, but--”
“There’s plenty of light from the stars,” Ren says. “And those moons, look at them.”
Hux rolls his eyes, though Ren is not entirely wrong about this, if also overly optimistic and romantic. He kneels onto the bed and stretches out beside Ren. The window is indeed glowing with a stunning multitude of stars and a string of five tiny moons that Hux struggles not to find a bit eerie as they shine down onto the hillside and the house. They are very bright for moons of this size, and there’s something watchful about them.
“Oh, c’mon,” Ren says. He puts his arm around Hux’s shoulders and pulls the blankets up higher, exposing his own feet. “How can you prefer the moon at the Tower to these? They’re better.”
“I wasn’t thinking of that moon at all, you’re delirious and misreading my thoughts.”
“I didn’t say you were thinking of that one. Just sensed you disliking these.”
“I don’t like or dislike moons, I merely have irrational impressions of them while nearing sleep. You’re the one determined to make something of this, apparently.”
“I love all your irrational fixations, it’s true.” Ren licks Hux’s cheek and turns his back to the window, hugging himself around Hux. “Especially since I’m one of them,” he says, before Hux can.
“It’s entirely rational for me to have aligned with you,” Hux says, suppressing a laugh when he thinks about how vehemently he would have once argued otherwise. He closes his eyes and lets Ren stroke the stubble on his cheek. One of Ren’s many irrational fixations is this enjoyment of Hux’s occasional lapse in shaving. Hux supposes he can’t judge Ren for this; he’s gripping Ren’s cybernetic forearm under the blankets, relishing in the firmness of it and in the way Ren flexes against the pressure from his fingers. “You’re my power source, aren’t you?” Hux says, close to talking in his sleep. “Like a sun that I stole. Though I suppose I also orbit you.”
“You stole me,” Ren agrees. “I haven’t forgotten.”
Hux sleeps and dreams that he leaves the house, pushing out past the battered windmill panel that Ren found in some debris near the house and propped up like a makeshift front door. It’s very heavy, but in the dream it moves easily against the slightest pressure from Hux’s palm. He walks in blistering moonlight up the hill and is more perturbed by the sudden lack of wind than the fact that his mother is standing there waiting for him, looking younger than she should and glowing not like the moon but like the veils around Samsa’s and Meral’s shoulders did when they were together again.
“I’m sorry,” Hux says, stopping just short of Elana, though he can tell by the look on her face that she thought he would hug her. “I can’t reach you here, it’s too far away.”
“That’s nonsense,” she says. “That’s the same thing you thought when we lived across the hall from each other, under Brendol’s roof.”
“It’s not the same,” Hux says. He’s ashamed by how angry he sounds. He’s not angry at her. “Don’t pretend.”
“I assure you, I am done pretending.”
Hux wakes up with those words stuck in his head. Halfway through the dream, he’d known that it wasn’t real. Still he feels shaken, and he clings to Ren under the blankets, watching the window. The moons have set, and the haze of morning is obscuring the stars already. He’s hungry, and there’s much work to be done. He’ll get Ren to heat some water so he can shave. If he dreams about his mother again, maybe he’ll make a note of it. For now he’d rather put it out of his mind, not wanting to start this first real day here on a melancholy note.
It might be hard to forget when he sees Samsa and Meral together again, however. He’d instructed himself not to think of Elana when he saw them embracing on the hill, but of course he had, and his subconscious walloped him that much harder for his attempt to deny that he was jealous. He’s sure Ren thought of his mother, too, seeing that. But there’s nothing to be done about it. Certain things had to be sacrificed, and they’re both lucky not to have lost more in the process of uncoupling from the past. Hux should get up, get ready, but he presses in closer to Ren and feels him stir with sleepy half-awareness. He pushes his cold hand up under Ren’s tunic and laughs just a little at Ren’s whine of protest.
“Why are you torturing me?” Ren mumbles when Hux picks again at the tangled ends of his hair.
“For your own good,” Hux says. “I won’t see you stop being vain about your hair just because we’re living in wild space now. That would be too much change to bear.”
Ren grunts and shifts on top of him. Hux has gotten so used to lube swiftly approaching their bed through the air that he doesn’t even open his eyes when he feels the familiar whoosh of it near his cheek, just laughs against Ren’s wet, half-awake kisses. The lingering sorrow from his dream feels far away by the time Ren is inside him, and so do the forthcoming demands of the day. When they’re this close, nothing else can approach, and being this close within the shelter of what feels like home is so heady that Hux feels like they’ve left not just known space but everything that has the ability to really hurt them behind for good. He wants to say so, and that he’s never known anything like it, and with Ren he doesn’t need to use words. Hux goes on gasping against Ren’s open mouth and feels it against his palms when Ren presses his down over them: Ren has never known anything like this either. Even as young children they both always feared their homes would break apart. This place feels unbreakable, or maybe it’s just the two of them that feel that way now.
Note for further entries: I shall use the notation “0[a].0[b].0[c]” to indicate the amount of standard days (0[a]), months (0[b]) and years (0[c]-- planning for the inclusion of such long-term data feels like tempting fate, but I suppose I’ve gotten into the habit of doing that anyway) that have passed post-landing on Enga (“PLE”)
Terms (to be organized later) learned during hunting/scouting excursion (some provided afterward by Ren):
(All spelling is approximate. Still awaiting opportunity to ask Samsa about native alphabet/written language.)
sislaf -- fruit from the jungle we trekked through today. Very dark & rich meat inside a nut-like shell. Potential for fermentation?
ubi -- some bird-like creatures killed during the hunt (Ren used the Force to snap their necks. Samsa upset by the display, as she was recently accused of being dangerous in this way herself, after only having used her own powers to heal and ask for help, as I understand it. Ren embarrassed for not having foreseen this, I think. Sulked on the way back to the colony). Meat from these animals tasted okay after roasting, somewhat better than the cayo burrowers we were eating so often in the desert. Easier to skin also
glozzom (or glossum?) - Engali word for wind. Very important to culture obviously. Made some attempts at discussing the power mechanisms left behind here with Samsa. This was post-hunt and she was still shaken by seeing Ren kill things with the Force, so not much learned, will resume discussion when things are less delicate.
cobu - Engali word for mother.
rekki - term for the veil-like headcovering that the Engali have. Is indeed connected to central nervous system and also seems directly impacted by emotional state (in appearance as well as what I might refer to as animation/motion). They believe they can communicate with the wind itself through this part of their anatomy. Very interested to know more as Samsa is willing to discuss-- my current impression is that they conceive of the wind as having agency and self-awareness. Is it possible that this could be true, that what we interpret as wind is the presence of a kind of lifeform on this particular planet? Ren says no, that I’m being overly literal as usual. I might like to talk with Meral about this with Samsa as translator, but Meral remains only reluctantly willing to talk to even Ren. She did help us with the evening meal, gave instruction about herbs growing nearby etc. Ren more interested in this than me.
At last I have a moment to make a proper account of how things have progressed after approximately eight cycles spent on Enga. Like life at the desert base, most of our time is spent ensuring the survival of the group-- gathering food, solving problems, exercising caution in interacting with our surroundings as we scour them for anything useful. We found a clean water source (several, actually, but more on the second one in a moment), and though to me the water here tastes odd and metallic, Ren assures me it’s safe to drink, and indeed after eight cycles I have seen no ill effects from it or any other environmental factor here in myself or any of the others. In fact I think we have all begun to adjust to something about the gravity or air clarity or day length here (perhaps all three) and I have witnessed in myself, Ren and several of the others an increase in energy. Perhaps it’s only a mental effect-- We were all beginning to feel stymied by the atmosphere in the desert, whereas the work we do here feels as if it’s in development of a sustainable future as opposed to a squatting statis.
I was apprehensive about more of Samsa’s relatives or friends showing up here, or some particularly disgruntled detractor of hers, but thus far we’ve been left alone. I’m attempting to learn more about the Engali culture and Ren and Samsa have had varying levels of patience for my questions. Samsa still doesn’t like speaking our language (my theory is that she hears Ren butchering the pronunciation of her own and doesn't want to sound similarly foolish) and has twice tried to send thoughts and impressions directly into my mind, which I confess gave me attacks of nerves/bad memories that Ren described as panic. It’s not that I don’t trust the girl-- in some strange way I do, and we have become adept enough at communicating with looks and nods while hunting. I suppose it’s the fucking Force itself that I continue to have some trust issues with, generally. But perhaps that’s a discussion for another time.
My former officers and troopers (“the crew,” as I’ll continue to call them, despite Ren’s determination to find this amusing. I don’t see how it fails to accurately describe them, as long as I don’t say “my crew,” which to my memory I have not) are adapting well, admirably and in a way that comes to no surprise to me. Hitting the ground running when provided with an opportunity to rebuild was an important tenet of our training at all levels in the Order. Now that things have settled somewhat, I’ve resumed my engineering lessons with Tuck and Specs (Mitaka was also present for the last one, I think only because Specs was there; the manner of his note-taking indicated distraction), now with a very applicable purpose. Assigning projects and teaching concepts in a hands-on manner is so exhilarating that I stayed up most of last night making plans about restoring power here, fixing some of the water-related systems and building new structures as needed. While making these plans I drank tea made from the last of those yue leaves and have to confess that it was one of the best nights I’ve spent in all my life. Designing the weapon (SKB) involved a similar feverish energy, but there was so much fear and horror tied up in my determination to succeed in that endeavor. It was different.
Which is not to say that some fear hasn’t followed me here. We have installed a proper door (I modified the windmill panel so that it fits and functions) and I asked Ren about finding some materials I could fashion into simple locks. Ren assures me that’s not necessary. This sort of promise leaves me thinking, with my stomach curling up like a thing in a corner with its hands over his head: Ren has told me things will be fine before.
And does being here now mean that he was right? I can’t shake my need to be told over and over that I’ve reached some sort of ascendant place where x, y, or z miscellaneous horrors can’t happen again, though I know that’s not how it works. I know particularly, having stepped into the Infinite where everything happens all at once and not at all. So I scold myself for wanting to ask Ren if he can really tell me we don’t need to lock our door against all that waits on the other side. And yet I want to ask, and at least once a night there’s some dream that it all goes wrong.
But enough of that. The mood here is good. We all take one meal together in the evening. Ren is attempting to teach Samsa the art of cooking, among all his other lessons (they spend most of the day together chatting about the Force and meditating, while the rest of us do manual labor and make plans to sustain our community; it suits me fine as I prefer to make unilateral decisions in this area and I think Ren similarly likes me leaving him to his Force-related devices, though I would sometimes like to demand my own answers and seem to always be put off in that regard). I think Samsa is confused by this preoccupation Ren has with chopping vegetables etc., which I find amusing.
As for domestic life: I’m making plans toward a more comfortable mattress (experimenting with organic materials as stuffing before I go any further; if they rot, they’re no good to me), am close to getting the pipeline that runs from our house to the quarry that once supplied this entire compound with water functional again (at least on our end; there’s a lot of pipe between here and there, but I imagine the repairs to the feed pipe will be simpler than those involved on the interior end-- it’s funny to think now how much I resented these sorts of engineering lessons during my education. But there again is that Imperial emphasis on needing to know how to rebuild your society from the literal ground up by hand in the event of total disaster), and in the meantime Ren showed me something the night before last that majestically stands in for a traditional bath.
It’s not far from the hill behind our house, down a winding path through a kind of forest of very tall, sturdy reeds and into a rocky, arid area. I’ve noticed that the character of the terrain changes rapidly from one place to the next, in terms of those you might cross through on a single exploratory walk. The jungle where we hunt is dewy (leaves seem to sparkle; it reminds me of the Engali’s rekki and Samsa’s mention of conversing with the wind. I don’t want to presumptuously suggest this to her but I did wonder if they believe other forms of life on the planet communicate with the wind as well. Possibly an insulting question; I try to keep it out of my head in her presence, though I never get the sense that she’s prying at my thoughts. I wish she would give us all a nightly lecture about history and customs here but Ren tells me that’s far too much to ask of her as she continues to come to terms with the Force and her use of it, not to mention her new life here with this band of misfit strangers. She has seemed far calmer since her mother’s arrival, however). Meanwhile, the colony is quite dry and surrounded by a different type of trees entirely.
This rocky area behind the hillside has not been discovered by the others yet, perhaps because the narrow path that leads there is directly behind our residence, and Ren intends to keep it private, which goes against my nature on one level but also I suppose appeals to my old superior officer’s vanity, because I have kept the secret so far. It’s a kind of hot spring, sheltered from the wind by tall rocks on all sides, fed by water that flows from a crack in one of them.
The water in this spring is a touch too hot for me, but I can tolerate it for the sense of peace the place provides at night, under the stars and with Ren there beside me, just far enough from the colony to feel like our own little island of sovereign (and somewhat kingly, I confess) pleasure. I think we must have sat there for hours that first night, not saying or doing much of anything but so preoccupied with melting into the feeling of being able to take a break from all we’ve been working on that the time seemed to rush by.
Just as well that I’m writing about something frivolous-- Someone is knocking on my door. Strange to feel so proud of this door that I made. It’s a simple thing, but also the first thing I “invented” after arriving here. Anyway, Ren was impressed. (He referred to it as an invention, as if I had just then come up with the original concept of a manually operated door.)
Mitaka is the one knocking on the door, and the look on his face immediately agitates Hux’s low-simmering internal panic. Mitaka is trying to look brave, the way he always had when delivering bad news to his superiors.
“Sorry, sir,” Mitaka says. “I mean, Hux-- I mean-- Could I speak to you, please? In private?”
“You may,” Hux says, stepping aside. “Come in. What’s happened?”
“Nothing. I mean, something, but. Maybe we should both sit down.”
Hux suppresses a groan and pours himself a bit of brandy while Mitaka sits at the large table in the center of the house’s main room. Brought from the desert base, it’s just big enough for the entire company of the colony, and Hux would like to improve upon the bench seats that run the length of each side, but in the meantime the seats are sturdy enough to support everyone during meals. Hux hesitates, then decides to pour Mitaka a small portion of brandy as well.
“You look pale,” Hux says when he hands the glass to Mitaka. “Are you ill?”
“No.” Mitaka immediately throws back the entire drink and begins coughing before he’s fully swallowed. “Shit,” he says, choking.
“All right,” Hux says. He takes a measured sip of brandy. “Out with it. What’s wrong?”
“Specs might be pregnant,” Mitaka says, pinching his eyes shut as if to hide from his own confession. “I mean. She is, we think.”
“Nonsense,” Hux says, frowning. “The contraceptive cocktail we gave the troopers lasts-- oh, fuck.” He studies his glass for a terrible moment, then swallows all that’s left in it. “It’s been over a year since she defected, hasn’t it?”
“Yes, sir. Yes, I mean-- Fuck, sorry.” Mitaka coughs into his fist as his face gets red. Hux thinks of getting him some water, but he’s too undone by this news to move. “It was that first night when I was on the base,” Mitaka says. “When we were drinking. That was the first night we met. We’re in love,” he adds hurriedly, as if to defend himself against some accusation Hux was planning to make.
“That night was, what?” Hux says, turning his empty glass on the table. It’s the nice one Ren got for him at the market, during the mission to fetch Mitaka. “One and a half months ago?”
“Approximately fifty-three cycles, sir.”
“How can she be confident?” Hux asks. He’s never had any reason to know much about pregnancy. It’s horrifying to think that he might have to learn something, should this information prove correct.
“The others have--” Mitaka makes a vague gesture. “And she hasn’t.”
“Oh.” Hux flushes and stands to get the bottle of brandy from the counter. “I suppose they’ve all come off the drugs that stopped that happening as well.”
“Dopheld.” Hux pours himself more to drink, standing. He doesn’t offer more to Mitaka, who looks like he wants to die. Frankly: good. “Allowing this to happen, under our present circumstances and for that matter under those we lived in while in the desert, was extremely irresponsible of you.”
“I know, sir, I’m sorry, sir, I wasn’t--”
“Quiet. Let me speak. It was extremely irresponsible of me as well, in hindsight. I should not have provided you all with liquor without considering that this might happen. I wasn’t thinking, just as you two apparently were not, about all that we took for granted as eliminated by medication back in the world we left behind. These concerns were not even remotely in my mind.”
“They weren’t in ours, either, sir, until the next morning.”
“And they should have been. So we’ve all failed in this respect, and now we’re in this situation. Have you come to me to ask for some kind of protocol?”
“Well.” Mitaka blinks rapidly and stares down at his empty glass. “I know back in the program, if this had managed to happen somehow--”
“I’m not going to kick her out of the gang, Mitaka. Or you, for that matter.”
“I know-- I know. I just don’t know what to do. I’m sorry. We’ve been talking about it, and I told her you’d know what to do.”
Hux wants to ask, why the fuck would you think so, but he knows why: because he’s in charge, in some unofficial but persisting way, in Mitaka’s mind. If there is a problem in the lower ranks that cannot be solved discreetly by personnel on that level, it must be taken up the chain of command until things are made right.
“Does she intend to give birth to this baby?” Hux asks, unable to see any alternative in their present situation.
“Yes,” Mitaka says. “And we both feel terrible, asking-- adding another mouth to feed--”
“Is that all you feel about the situation? Terrible?”
“No, well-- I don’t know. I keep throwing up.”
“Well, that’s a waste of resources during a time of food scarcity.”
“I know, I’m sorry--”
“How is her health? She seemed fine during the engineering lesson.” Specs evidenced nothing but the customary soldier’s mask of stoicism. Hux is proud of her, actually, for that bit.
“She’s okay.” Mitaka leans over and puts his elbows on his knees, head in his hands. “I just can’t believe this is happening,” he says.
“Believe it, and sit up straight.” Hux says so sharply enough that Mitaka is already obeying, shooting up with his shoulders pressed back. “This is no time to mope. I fear that a full year in that cushy prison has softened you, Dopheld.”
“And stop apologizing to me. The time for apologies is past. We have no medical staff here and no reason to think the local population would assist if we were in need, but we do have Ren and his apprentice. Are you aware that they can heal people with the Force?”
“I-- Yes, Specs told me Ren healed her sunburn.”
“He did, and you’ll have him at your disposal, and our increasingly self-sufficient operation here as well, so don’t despair. It would be a challenge to raise a child in this environment, but not an impossibility.”
Mitaka looks somewhat heartened. He nods, and accepts a refill when Hux lifts the bottle of brandy.
“Drink it slowly,” Hux says.
When Mitaka has done so, managing not to cough at the strength of it this time, Hux refills his glass with water. They discuss logistics, largely to do with keeping this a secret for now, and Hux tells Mitaka to go and tell Specs that she’s not in trouble, that she’ll have his and Ren’s help, and that she’ll be expected to continue her engineering lessons as planned.
“I’ll need her help with many of the projects I’ve drawn up,” Hux says when he walks Mitaka to the door. “Nothing too strenuous for now, but there is detailed work to be done and she’s got the right sort of mind for it. Which would leave you in the role of caretaker while she works for me, once the baby comes.”
“Okay,” Mitaka says, looking dumbfounded.
“Obviously that’s looking quite far ahead, but I don’t expect to hear any complaints from you about it when it comes to pass. You might, in this way, become the sort of head of social services. You’ve always been good with people. They like you, I tend to find.”
“Yes.” Mitaka is dazed now, perhaps a bit drunk. Hux points him in the direction of his dwelling, across the courtyard, where Specs sits in the shade of their doorway with her drafting notebook, pretending not to be watching Hux’s residence from the corner of her eye. Hux watches Mitaka make his way toward her and goes back into the house when she’s looked up.
“Fuck,” Hux says, as soon as the door is closed. He pulls his hand through his hair and considers another drink. At the counter, he goes instead for the bowl of drinking water and splashes a handful of it onto his face. He cannot imagine a baby here, howling to rival the wind. Fucking Mitaka. And Specs! Where was her training? He was an idiot to not only allow but encourage them to drink. He’s always liked having company in his indulgences, and wanting this has never failed to doom him sooner or later. “Fuck,” he says again, wishing Ren would blow through the door and either tell him that he’s overreacting or that he’s right to view this as an omen of utter chaos.
When Ren does come home it’s nearing dark and mealtime preparations have already begun in the kitchen area that Ren has mocked up in the large fireplace and the side storeroom. Hux has mixed feelings about their house being the communal meeting place for meals. It’s the kind of invasion of personal space that makes him bristle, but at the same time it’s a useful way to gather everyone together under his and Ren’s leadership and collect information on a nightly basis. It’s also seemed to make Samsa more comfortable with the others. She even smiles at Hux when she comes to the house just before the meal is ready. Perhaps this shouldn’t make him wonder if Ren has told her some embarrassing things about him in the course of the day’s lectures about the Force. Sometimes he still can’t believe that he wrote all his embarrassing things down and handed them over to the citizens of the New Republic, but when he thinks of them hungrily reading it all he mostly feels smug, as if it was a last great trick played upon them, even though it’s all true. Then he thinks of his mother and the humor of it all drains away.
Hux follows Ren into the bedroom and watches him wash up. He has plans drawn up for a door to separate their bedroom from the noise of the main room when they have company, but hasn’t found the right materials yet.
“You’re tense,” Ren says, leaning over the wash basin while Hux sits on the bed.
“Can you not tell why?” Hux asks.
“I can’t,” Ren admits.
Hux is pleased, and he thinks of Ren’s irritating obsession with what he calls duality. Hux would call it irony: since he’s gotten in the habit of opening his mind to Ren more reflexively, he’s also had an easier time holding things back from him when he wants to.
“I’ll tell you later,” Hux says when Ren stands to look at him. “How was your day in the jungle?”
“Productive. Samsa healed some bug bites for me. She’s still skittish about using her powers, but less so. I worry that her mother remains afraid of the Force, and that Samsa internalizes her fear.”
Might you be projecting? Hux thinks, maybe sends.
Ren gives Hux a look. “Whatever effect her mother’s inability to understand might be having,” Ren says, sharply, “Her presence is more valuable than not. In time the two influences will balance out.”
“Yours and the girl’s mother’s?”
“Samsa’s past and her future,” Ren says. He walks to Hux and tugs him up from the bed, comes just a breath away from kissing him and smirks when Hux tries to lean into it as he pulls back. “You’ve been drinking?”
“I had a nip earlier, don’t look at me like that. You’ll understand why when I tell you about my day.”
“So tell me.”
“Not now, let’s eat first and get rid of the others.” Hux leans up and licks a teasing kiss across Ren’s mouth before twisting out of his grip. “At the hot spring,” he says, speaking softly. “I most definitely need the hot spring tonight.”
“You can have the hot spring every night,” Ren says, thrusting his hips forward.
Hux rolls his eyes and leaves the room, suppressing a childish thrill at the thought of having something outrageous to tell Ren later, whereas he’s probably expecting to hear about a petty annoyance having to do with plumbing.
The meal seems to drag on longer than usual, and Hux is considering rudely kicking everyone out when they finally begin to straggle off. Mitaka and Specs give him a significant look only just before leaving, pausing at the front door to wave in timid tandem. Hux nods to them and catches himself trying to send his thoughts to them via the Force, which happens rarely but often enough to embarrass him.
Tuck is the hardest to get rid of, as usual. He’s the only trooper who has chosen to live in one of the stone houses by himself, and Hux thinks he must be lonely. Everyone else has paired off: Dapper with Chata, Emi with Mouse, Mitaka and Specs and of course Phasma and Uta, who seem to have entered into some kind of honeymoon period now that they have their own dwelling. They sometimes only show up to dinner to swipe two plates of food and bring them home.
“You can leave that,” Hux says when Tuck is scrubbing dishes in the kitchen basin. “You’ve done enough.” Tuck was here to help with the meal preparations as usual.
“I don’t mind,” Tuck says. “There’s only a few left.”
“Take a hint,” Ren says from the bedroom doorway. He’s shirtless, wielding his bare chest like a threat. Hux glares at him.
“Oh, right.” Tuck wipes his hands dry and turns. He doesn’t look intimidated and isn’t hurrying for the door. “I did have a question for you,” Tuck says, looking at Ren. “I didn’t want to ask at dinner, with Samsa here.”
“What,” Ren says.
“If I got hurt or something, could she heal me? Or can she only heal her own kind?”
“Why should this concern you?” Ren asks, straightening as if these are fighting words. “I can heal any injuries you might have easily. What’s ailing you?”
“Nothing, I just meant in theory.”
“Then your question makes even less sense.”
“He’s just curious, Ren,” Hux says. “You can’t expect them to only wonder about things as you see fit to address them.”
“Specs says it feels like being frozen, but good,” Tuck says.
“Get out,” Ren says.
Tuck looks to Hux, who stifles a laugh and points to the door.
“I’ll see you for your lesson tomorrow,” Hux says when Tuck finally heads in that direction.
“I had an idea about the coupler for the water heater design,” Tuck says, whirling on his heel at the door.
“Tell him tomorrow,” Ren says, close to shouting now. “Out.”
“Right, okay, sorry.”
“How would you like it if I talked to your apprentice that way?” Hux asks when Tuck is gone.
“You love it,” Ren says, adjusting his belt so that his lightsaber shifts on his hip. “Get over here.”
“Make me.” Hux plants his feet and grins.
From Ren: You want--
Yes, Ren, do the thing.
Hux laughs as soon as he feels the first little pulls of it: the sensation seems to originate from his own body, at the small of his back, just above his tailbone. He braces himself on the heels of his boots when he feels it all around him, supportive, needy gravity, tugging at him until he’s zipping across the floor in Ren’s invisible grip, sailing directly into his arms and sagging there when the Force energy dissipates around him. Hux moans and shivers, presses his face to Ren’s throat and feels how his pulse pounds hard for the opportunity to do this, and for the feedback he gets from Hux, thrill and pride and something dirty thrumming underneath it, an old villainous need to be close to such power and to call it forth with one command, to summon it by speaking.
“To the hot spring first?” Ren asks, his mouth on Hux’s ear. “Or the bed?”
“Hot spring,” Hux says, wanting to make him wait. He likes watching Ren grow more and more desperate for it, more like his secret, growling, animal self. Only Hux sees that side of him now. He can see hints of it already as Ren watches him undress at the center of the bedroom, neatening each article of clothing before putting it away. Naked, Hux slips on his fake Jedi robe. Something made from finer material would be preferable, but at least this way he won’t get his better clothes wet on the walk back. “Come now,” Hux says, crooking his finger as he slips past Ren in the doorway, which is narrow enough to require bumping their hips together. “We have much to discuss, co-commander.”
The walk through the tall reeds that rustle against the merciless night wind is exhilarating, and Hux enjoys the sensation of being pursued by Ren, who is still shirtless in his pants and boots. Last time Ren walked back naked and sopping wet, holding his pants over his dick. Hux can smell the hot spring up ahead, and the stars above seem to swirl in the wind as the leafy ends of the reeds move against them, every component of the night tossed about in a dizzying turmoil that makes it seem as if anything is possible. Hux suspects it will be sobering to discuss his news, but for the moment he allows himself to smile stupidly at everything ahead on the path.
The hot spring steams against the night air, which is almost cool enough to make the water not feel overly hot when Hux steps into it. He winces and wrinkles his nose at Ren, who makes a show of not being perturbed by the temperature at all, slipping in smoothly without even pausing to give his balls a delicate introduction. He’s smirking as he watches Hux lower his most sensitive bits in slowly.
“Come here,” Ren says when Hux is all in, sulking a bit for Ren’s smugness and staying out of reach. “Or do we need to discuss business first?”
“Business.” Hux snorts. He feels something from Ren when he does this, a kind of instant feedback that is particularly adoring. This is customary of late, but it also surprises Hux a little every time. He moves into Ren’s outstretched arms, pushed by the motion of the water and weightless within it, and it’s so like being pulled across a room by the Force that he’s not sure that Ren hasn’t also exerted some effort to draw him close. He ends up in Ren’s lap and straddles him, keeping clear of his cock but letting Ren touch him everywhere. Predictably, Ren is chiefly interested in caressing Hux’s ass under the water, where it’s perched over the spread of his thighs.
“What would you call it,” Ren asks, still stroking him, “If not business?”
“How about tragically inconvenient personal drama?”
“Whose drama?” Ren’s face changes, and his hold on Hux’s ass becomes protective, one big hand closing around each cheek. “Yours?”
“Of course not mine, if I was involved with drama of any sort you would be behind it as usual. No, this is-- One of the troopers suspects she’s pregnant.”
“You knew?” Hux rears backward, stunned and then hurt that Ren would keep this from him, or anything from him.
“No,” Ren says, drawing him close again and holding his gaze. “But I sensed that she was hiding something and anxious about it. I knew it had to do with Mitaka, so I assumed she was afraid people had overheard them having sex, or that she was cheating on him, or something. I sensed no urgency to probe further.”
“Well, I’m afraid it’s far more dire than any of that.”
“What’s dire about it?”
“What isn’t? This is no place for an infant, and we have no access to medical care--”
“We don’t need medical care.”
“You really think you can just apply the fix-all patch of Force healing to a pregnancy? Do you know much about obstetrics, Ren?”
“No, but I didn’t know anything about-- Ear surgery, when I healed your ear.”
“That’s the term for ear medicine.”
“Ear medicine? Hux, what the fuck are you even talking about?”
“I’m talking about an infant that’s going to be squalling in the midst of our bare bones survival colony operation in around eight months. Even if you can heal whatever health issues may arise, and all right, you probably could-- There’s more to it than that.”
“Like what? You think it’s a good idea to have a child here?”
“I wouldn’t have intentionally included one but I don’t see what the problem is.”
“I knew you’d be like this,” Hux says, moving off of him. Actually, he knew it would either be this non-reaction or some sort of angry tirade about how Mitaka deserves to be marooned in space. “I’m mostly annoyed at myself for not anticipating it,” Hux says. “At least the others have the good sense to have paired off in ways that can’t result in children.” It occurs to Hux that he should have consulted with Uta about this rather than Ren, and he’s somewhat heartened by the fact that he can do so tomorrow.
“Not all of them are fucking,” Ren says.
“The troopers, the ones who’ve paired off.”
“You know they were taught that masturbation is more satisfying than sex with a partner?” Hux scoffs and lets Ren pull him back into his arms. “It’s amazing to me now, the level of arrogance-- I’m surprised the stormtrooper program lasted as long as it did.”
“It was your father’s arrogance,” Ren says, kneading Hux’s shoulders.
“Yes, I suppose mine was more of the easily dismantled superweapon variety.”
“It wasn’t so easy. How could you have anticipated that a stormtrooper would be behind it? Brendol’s arrogance prevented you from even considering that as a possibility.”
“Am I really sitting here listening to you console me about Starkiller?” Hux laughs in a way that becomes a moan as he rubs his wet hands over his face. “Fuck, well, why not. I don’t know why I thought I’d gotten away from all of that. No matter how well things go here, these are always going to be the people who fled the hell I’d made for them.”
“Only for as long as you’re determined to think of them that way.”
“Mhm, well. Mitaka is scared shitless, of course.”
“I’m sure you consoled him.” Ren rubs Hux’s shoulders more firmly, the strength and surety of his touch making Hux’s cock stiffen under the water.
“I gave him brandy,” Hux says, and he sniffs. “What if I don’t actually know what I’m doing?”
“Oh?” Hux turns to look at Ren. “Don’t you dare tell me you’ve seen me in the future, crowned Emperor of this place.”
Ren laughs and tugs Hux into his lap again. Hux clings and moans, mentally chiding himself for taking such easy comfort in having Ren close, no matter the circumstances. Ren’s skin smells different when it’s wet, and tastes different. Hux licks Ren’s neck until he can feel Ren’s cock pressing against the crack of his ass under the water.
“Doesn’t this place make you feel like everything will be okay?” Ren asks when Hux sits back.
“This planet?” Hux asks. “Or the hot spring?”
“No,” Hux says, but he’s lying and Ren will know it. Ren grunts and licks across Hux’s mouth, evading his lips when he tries to deepen the kiss.
“What are you afraid of?” Ren asks.
Hux stares at him. Apparently it’s a serious question.
“That I can’t take care of all of these people,” he says, putting aside all his other fears for now.
“They’re not asking you to take care of them.”
“Yes, they are. Mitaka came to me looking for a plan for what to do about the child he’s engendered.”
“Only because he thinks you’re good at approaching chaos intelligently. He wanted you to calm him down, mostly. And he probably wanted to be yelled at a little bit, since he knows he screwed up.”
“I didn’t yell.”
“I’m sure you were stern.”
Hux groans and turns in Ren’s arms, sitting with his back to Ren’s chest and looking up at the stars. Ren’s cock twitches against the small of his back. Hux is only semi-hard under the water, and not in a hurry to get to fucking. He does love the feeling of Ren’s hands on his belly and chest under the water, and flexes into it in a way that makes Ren hump against him a little, subtly.
“Sometimes I feel like it’s all happening so fast,” Hux says, letting his head fall back onto Ren’s shoulder.
“What?” Ren asks.
“My whole bloody life, I guess, but then again it’s also just starting, isn’t it?”
Ren answers by kissing him, scooping him up in both arms and cradling him as if he’s weightless. It’s the water holding him up really, but Ren’s grip holds him in place within it, and Hux gives himself over, at least for the moment, to the feeling that this will always be the way of things for the rest of his life: the galaxy hurtling around them and Ren keeping him steady at the center of it, holding Hux in orbit while Hux does the work of holding everything else in place. Including Ren, for all intents and purposes. When the five moons rise they reflect down onto the surface of the hot spring and undulate with the movement of the water, and something about their glow makes the shine of Ren’s hair look almost purple.
A strange thing has happened just now and I have had to drink the last of the brandy to steady my hand enough to try and write it down.
I suppose I should write about it in detail so that all the mitigating factors might be considered when I have a calmer head or when I can show this to Ren (though I’m not in the habit of showing him these writings. After two and a half months here I’ve already almost filled this first notebook and he’s not seen any of it, or asked to, though he often sees me writing. I think he assumes all I write about are plans for infrastructure).
Already my narrative is scattered. My mind feels assaulted in a way that’s much too familiar.
What happened: I was working on the water tank with Specs and Tuck when I had what I can only describe as a vision of the jungle, where Samsa and Ren are presently (I assume; they are usually there and that was his plan for the day. They are making a kind of temple for meditation there. So far as I can see it’s just a circle of stones but what do I know). I saw both of them in the vision, so I wasn’t looking out as if from one or the other’s vantage point (a good sign?) and I felt the humidity of the place and Ren’s sweat (I think?) as if it was rolling down the back of my own leg.
At that point I startled and shouted and wrenched myself out of it (or something tossed me out, who can tell). I was quite shaken and I fear I did a poor job of hiding it from Specs and Tuck, because how to explain such a thing? I cannot explain it to myself and nor has it ever been properly explained to me, I feel.
While I appreciate that Ren is busy with his apprentice and that she has a lot of catching up to do after approximately eighteen years of having this latent power and being told nothing about it, I am afraid that we are all making the same mistake we made previously, which I can’t even put a very fine point on but had something to do with overlooking my involvement in any of this and which resulted in me being possessed by a malevolent bodiless spirit and quite fucking frankly I would like some assurance that it’s not going to happen again-- No, strike that, I don’t want baseless assurances, I want some sort of reasoned logic (so far as that can be applied to this) when Ren tries to tell me that everything’s fine, that nothing will go awry, that his attempt at apprenticeship won’t turn out as Luke’s did and that there is some concrete reason to believe that there isn’t a Dala (or worse) hiding in this girl as one hid within Ben.
Not that I really believe that’s what’s going on but understandably (I think) I am panicking about the possibility.
Possibly the brandy wasn’t the best idea. Meral smokes something that she picks in the arid place not far from the hot spring and it seems to calm her down (she usually smokes before mealtimes, presumably to deal with all of us talking over each other in this language she doesn’t speak) and I’ve been meaning to ask her about it but it’s a somewhat difficult conversation to begin when neither of you speaks the other’s language, and I don’t want to hear it from Ren about smoking and my lungs and so forth.
Hux did not intend to fall asleep in bed with his notebook hugged to his chest, but it seems to have happened and he feels guilty for wasting the day when Ren comes in, kisses his cheek and moves toward the now-functioning stone basin to turn on the water.
“Are you sick?” Ren asks when Hux sits up to watch him undress. Hux has a headache and the events of the day now seem dream-like, but as his consciousness returns they begin to solidify again around his sense of unease.
“Not sick,” Hux says, reaching for the water cup on the stone cube that he considers his bedside table. It’s empty. “Why do you ask?”
“You’re all clammy and you smell-- Medicinal.”
“Do you mean to say I smell like I’ve been drinking?”
Ren doesn’t respond, just raises his eyebrows at Hux and steps out of his pants. The fact that they’re stuck to his calves with sweat makes Hux remember the vivid completeness of his vision. He wasn’t unnerved by the visual aspect so much as the sensation that he was physically present. That doesn’t even happen in his dreams anymore.
“Do you not know why I wasted the day passed out in bed?” Hux asks. “Did you not send me something I was meant to see?”
“I sensed you were upset,” Ren says, squatting beside the basin to check the temperature of the water from the spout.
“And yet you remained in the jungle, meditating?” Hux hates the way his voice sounds. Complaining, petty. But his concerns are not petty at all and he won’t have them brushed away again.
“Look,” Ren says. Hux is also not fond of his tone. “I didn’t mean to send any thoughts to you, but our connection is intense and sometimes I reach out to you unintentionally. I’m sorry, I didn’t think you’d be angry about it.”
“I’m not angry.” Hux slides out of bed and goes over to stop Ren fidgeting with the spout. It needs improvements, but other projects take precedence. “I’m concerned,” he says, with as much measured calm as he can, “Considering that the last time I got roped into something mystical there was no warning beyond my slowly increasing ability to connect with the Force, until suddenly I was triangulated.”
“Rey and Luke were monitoring the situation the whole time, they just didn’t want to concern me until--”
“Yes, well, they’re not here now, are they?”
“Are you saying that I wouldn’t know if something was endangering you?” Ren sits on the edge of the tub, looking more hurt than angry, despite the sharpness in his voice.
“Luke didn’t know about what was endangering you, all those years. These things have a way of concealing themselves, as I understand it.”
“You think another Dala is going to spontaneously appear and latch onto my apprentice and-- What? Involve you just for fun?”
“Stop snapping at me.” Hux puts his hand on Ren’s thigh, pleased at least by the fact that the bathwater is coming out warm again. Ren can heat it with the Force, but Hux wants this to work when he’s not around. Some things must be in his control, after all. “Perhaps you’ve had a long day,” he says, rubbing Ren’s thigh when he seems to have calmed. “So have I. Right now I need you to take a bath with me and answer some questions.”
“Are all your questions going to imply that I’m sitting back and doing nothing while we inevitably plummet into disaster again?”
“That’s not what I said at all. I’m traumatized!” Hux says, before Ren can disagree and make this about his insecurity again. “There, I’ve said it, are you happy? Will you sit down and explain to me why I shouldn’t be afraid that it could all happen again?”
“Hux,” Ren says, so softly that Hux groans and rolls his eyes. He pulls off his tunic and pants, avoiding Ren’s eyes as he climbs into the tub, which is nearly full. He sits with his back to the smooth end, leaving Ren to settle in on the opposite side, with the spout dripping onto his shoulder.
I don’t want you to be traumatized, Ren sends once he’s seated there, probably without intending to, since it’s such an inane statement.
“Well,” Hux says, wishing that this sorrowing look on Ren’s face didn’t affect him so. “Perhaps I’d be less so if you’d talk to me about the Force and not act as if I’m no longer in the powers-having club and therefore wouldn’t understand.”
Ren snorts. Hux splashes him, harder than he intended to, and curses when some water leaves the tub and lands on his crumpled pants. Serves him right, he supposes, for leaving his things on the floor. He normally doesn’t, but it’s been such a strange day, perhaps the first one he’s napped through since leaving Lando’s estate.
“It can’t happen again because Dala is gone,” Ren says, grasping Hux’s left foot under the water. “You believe that much, right?”
“Yes. But if she found you, couldn’t some other malicious power do the same? Or might one find Samsa, if she’s the vulnerable one now?”
“Okay.” Ren takes a deep breath and exhales. Hux can feel him measuring his responses, working intentionally toward not getting irritated again. This realignment of his energy calms Hux, too, traveling into him, or maybe that’s just Ren’s presence, or the way he’s digging his thumb into the arch of Hux’s foot. “You’re right that I haven’t really explained things in the simplest terms. What it comes down to is this: the people who were responsible for realizing that a malevolent Force user was whispering poison into my head for most of my life were my mother and Luke, right?”
“Right,” Hux says slowly, not sure that they really need to go back this far. But he’s not going to complain, if Ren is really going to level with him rather than mumbling something about how he hasn’t seen any danger coming and therefore there is none.
“Neither of them knew something like that could happen,” Ren says. “Luke didn’t know what the Force was until he was nineteen, and my mother learned about her own sensitivity even later. They were both working with incomplete information and largely without mentors. Think about that compared to the current situation. I had two mentors: Luke and Dala. So who better than I to know what to look for if something similar were to happen to Samsa? Which it isn’t.”
Now Hux takes a deep breath and exhales. Ren drums his fingers on the side of the tub, squeezing Hux’s foot with his other hand.
What, he sends, staring. What, Hux.
“I just don’t understand how you can assume there is any discernable framework for what can go wrong at all!” Hux didn’t intend to shout. He sometimes overcompensates when responding verbally to a mental communication from Ren. “Take what happened with us. You didn’t actually intend to give me the ability to use your powers after they’d been stripped from you, did you?”
“Okay, wait. I need to make a rule that if you say ‘not precisely’ again I get to--” His go-to hyperbolic threat for so many years was ‘eject you out an airlock,’ but that doesn’t work here. “Withhold sex indefinitely or something, I don’t know.”
“There are some components of what happened that you’re still not grasping,” Ren says.
“Because you won’t bloody spell them out like a person who is capable of linear thinking!”
“The Force is not--”
“Oh, fuck, I know it’s not linear, it’s nothing and everything, it slips out of your grip as soon as you try to wrap your hand around it--”
“It’s all to do with splintering,” Ren says, raising his voice so that Hux scowls but also quiets. “There were three of me, because of Dala’s interference. Ben as he diminished, Snoke always whispering and melding with my own motivations, and Kylo as he developed. Through my attachment to you, I was able to finally bring them all together, which in turn forced Dala out, because she was the foreign object, not really a part of me. You made me who I am now, do you get it? You even renamed me, when none of those other names fit anymore.”
“I didn’t really--”
“You were the custodian of my future, while Rey was the same for my past. Ben overpowered Snoke when he protected her, and Ben still existed therefore. The same thing happened when I managed to protect you, after I acknowledged Ben in order to do so. That gave power to the real me, the one who had a future. These were very particular circumstances-- Dala engineered the mechanism of her own destruction because that’s how the Force works, if you’re twisting it into something that does your dark bidding it’s going to flip around on you eventually and show you how you made your own loophole and hung yourself with it. This is not a repeating pattern, Hux, it’s not going to keep happening just because you’re afraid that it will, or just because I have an apprentice. Dala was unique, she had been crafting the trap that snared me for thousands of years, that was the pattern and I stepped right into it, and you broke it. Which makes us safe.”
“I guess I can’t accept that I did something so grand by tripping over my dick and landing in your bed,” Hux says. He feels deflated, and still very thirsty. Ren is glowering, suddenly, and the bathwater seems to be getting hotter.
“Then you continue to fundamentally misunderstand everything that’s important,” Ren says.
“My attachment to you saved me! How many times and in how many ways do I have to try to tell you that? As long as you’re here, I can’t be broken.”
“You’re not invincible just because you love me, Ren!”
“It’s not that simple! You ask me to speak to you about this and you refuse to listen, every time!”
“I am listening, and it’s not making sense--”
“Shh!” Ren holds up his hand. “Quiet.”
“Now I’m not allowed to respond?”
“It’s not that.” Ren grunts and gets out of the bath, sloshing more water onto Hux’s rumpled clothes. “There are people outside and they’re whispering about how we’re in here shouting at each other.”
“Oh, fuck, what time is it?”
“Dinnertime, I guess. I’ll let them in.”
Ren puts on his hooded robe and goes to the door in nothing but that, presumably at least holding it shut around himself by the time he gets there. Hux remains in the bath with his hand over his face, wondering why they ever agreed to this nightly dinner hosting arrangement. His ears are ringing and he feels raw, as if that was a real fight. He’s not sure what it was, or if he feels better or worse for having Ren tell him that he’s already fixed everything simply by existing.
Hux doesn’t expect to have an appetite at dinner but he’s starving as soon as he smells food cooking and ends up eating more than he normally does. The group discusses plans for maintenance and improvements as usual and Ren offers little input on practical matters, also as usual. Samsa speaks twice, which makes Hux feel perhaps inordinately proud, maybe because on one occasion she’s speaking to him, though just asking him to pass a plate. She also answers Tuck’s now-nightly questions about Engali terminology, collected throughout the day and read from him off a sheet of paper in his notebook. Hux meets Ren’s eyes across the table several times and senses apology, continued irritation, and an annoying fixation on Hux declaring that he’s traumatized. He never should have phrased it that way. Ren will want to heal his mental anguish with the Force, or something.
After dinner, Hux lies in bed with his notebook, drinking a medicinal powder dissolved in water to combat his mild but persistent headache. Ren has been experimenting with medicines, scouting the jungle for ingredients with Samsa. This one is moderately effective; Hux mostly likes the taste, which reminds him of his favorite treat while in prison, a gelatinous pink thing served in a cup. It was sometimes the only highlight of his day there, and yet the taste of it is not a bad memory, especially when he’s feeling off and needs some perspective about how good he actually has it now. He keeps his eyes on his reading when Ren finally enters, after staying out front talking to Meral for some time.
“Have you got enough light?” Ren asks, nodding to the lantern beside the bed. He’s always itching to turn the halo lamps on, though Hux has told him over and over that they need to be kept for emergencies until the wind power in the colony is functioning again.
“Enough for now,” Hux says. “I had a look at the illumination mechanisms in Tuck’s little house yesterday. He kept insisting they’re better preserved than the ones here, and he’s right, and now I have some ideas about how they might be fixed. He does, too, but he gets ahead of himself--”
“I got something for you,” Ren says, kneeling onto the bed.
Ren opens his left hand to reveal some rolled cigarettes like the ones Meral smokes. Hux snaps his notebook shut and sits up straight.
“The excitement in your feedback would concern me,” Ren says, “But these are not addictive.”
“What are they?” Hux asks. He would be offended by that remark if he wasn’t indeed very excited.
“Proha leaf. It’s a kind of relaxant that the Engali smoke to ease anxiety and chronic pains. I’ve been experimenting with using it myself so that I might offer it to you.”
“And?” Hux’s fingers are itching to reach for one of the roll-ups.
“I find it-- Interesting.” Ren frowns. “Samsa was monitoring me while I used it and we talked about the Force. Our conversation went down some-- New and interesting avenues, and she said she found it helpful, like an additional dimension of understanding was introduced. She was humoring me, but only partially. I thought maybe it could help with-- With this type of discussion that we both find so difficult.”
That you find so difficult, Hux thinks, and then he hopes that Ren didn’t pick up on that. It’s not as if he’s the most patient student when it comes to Ren’s uneven lectures on this subject. He reaches for one of the proha cigarettes and watches Ren unclip his lightsaber from his belt.
“You’re going to light it with that?” Hux asks. He’s grinning, probably radiating very obviously aroused feedback at the very suggestion. Ren lifts one eyebrow and ignites the lightsaber, holding the it level so Hux can bring the tip of the cigarette to its humming blade. He’s nervous, hesitating before touching the two together.
“Maybe this will infuse the experience with some sort of additional Force energy,” Ren says when Hux steels himself and sparks the cigarette against it. “Or maybe not,” he says.
“Are you going to smoke, too?” Hux asks hopefully, bringing the lit cigarette to his mouth. It’s possible that he’s now more in the mood for stoned sex than further discussion of the Force, but perhaps they can enjoy both. Ren nods and lights the other cigarette against his lightsaber.
“These are pretty strong,” Ren says. “A higher dose than what Meral smokes and more than I’ve yet tried myself. Go slow.”
“Right.” Hux drags on the cigarette in a smooth, shallow inhale, expecting to cough, but the dry burn in his lungs doesn’t come. It’s more warm and almost moist, like a drink of water infused with a hint of smoke. “Wow,” Hux says. “Interesting indeed.”
“There’s a long history of the use of this here,” Ren says. “And it’s plentiful, grown as a crop and in the wild.” He powers his lightsaber off and works on removing his belt, letting Hux sink back onto the pillows to watch. “You look dozy already,” Ren says, smirking.
“I do not.”
“Your pupils are all fat.”
“Mhmm.” Hux takes another drag and closes his eyes, listening to the familiar sounds of Ren undressing. “You’d better find us an ashtray.”
When Hux opens his eyes, a saucer from the kitchen is floating into the room. For some reason, this is funny. Ren laughs, too, and the saucer comes to rest gently on Hux’s chest.
Ren stretches out beside him, naked but not visibly aroused. For a while they just lie there exchanging kisses between drags on the proha, laughing at each other softly and ashing onto the saucer. Hux begins to feel as if they don’t need to have a particular agenda at all: not some overdue discussion about his Force-related trauma, not even sex. The pressing need for either one is pleasantly fading away already.
“It’s harder to read your feedback like this,” Ren says. He rolls toward Hux and nuzzles at his cheek, moans at the feeling. “I told Samsa, when I smoked this stuff, when she observed my reactions-- I told her some things about you. About our connection.”
“Oh?” Hux licks at the bridge of Ren’s nose and laughs under his breath. “Nothing that scandalized the poor thing, I hope?”
“She’s not a poor thing. She’s very powerful. She’s been told-- Or not told--” Ren huffs and observes the smoking end of his proha cigarette. “The way that a child’s guardians characterize their potential is very important, unfortunately.”
“No kidding,” Hux says, thinking of his own guardians.
“It can be hard to work past, but she will in time. Already she’s made great strides.”
“What did you tell her about us?” Hux asks, prodding him to get back on topic.
“I was attempting to explain why I wanted to try this drug,” Ren says. “Because I thought you would like it.”
“Well, you know me and drugs.”
“Yes. I explained that you had some lingering anxiety, and where it came from. Where some of it comes from.”
Ren gives Hux a kind of sorrowing glance. Hux pets Ren’s cheek, feeling suddenly certain that his own trauma is harder on Ren than it is on him.
“Hmm,” Hux says. “It’s like a transfer. Like the price of you getting to keep me is that you also have to keep all my painful shit for me. Like I moved it into a house that is you.”
“And you have to keep all these scars I’ve given you,” Ren says, touching Hux’s cheek as if he has an invisible scar bisecting his face, the ghost of Ren’s real one. He drags the pads of his fingers down to Hux’s actual scar, the one on his lip.
“You didn’t give me that,” Hux says.
“But everything bad that’s happened to you is my fault. And now you live in fear that more will come. Of course you do. Hux, Hux, I’m sorry--”
“Don’t get mopey,” Hux says. He nips at the ends of Ren’s fingertips, which at least gets a drowsy smile from him. “If I really thought that living with you had doomed me I wouldn’t be so desperate to stay with you. I’m far too selfish for that and you know it.”
“But you did stay with me when we were doomed.”
“I guess I hoped we could undoom each other eventually. And look! We have.”
They both take another drag and then kiss some more. Hux feels a stirring in his gut, a kind of spectral arousal that seems to tickle against his soul like spirit grass.
“Remember the spirit grass?” he asks, pulling free from Ren’s kiss with abrupt excitement. “What was that stuff?”
“It was us,” Ren says. “I think, some extension of us. I remember thinking I was hurting it by walking on it. So for me it was you, and for you it was me.”
Hux laughs, though that makes a kind of backwards sense, as if Ren is explaining it through a distorting mirror, or in a language that Hux doesn’t speak and yet somehow understands, which is how Ren is in general, really, when he thinks about it. He takes another drag and slings his leg around Ren’s hip, nearly upsetting the ashtray. Possibly Ren righted it with the Force, though he seems too dozy to have even noticed it tipping.
“What else did you tell Samsa about us?” Hux asks, feeling himself drifting a bit too far from the moment as his fingers slide across Ren’s perfect, perfect chest.
“I told her that you were one of two custodians of my powers,” Ren says. “For a time, anyway. She had a hard time with the concept. Perhaps I didn’t explain it very well.”
“Mhm, imagine that.”
“Well, how would you have explained it?”
“Without the proper language, surely, seeing as I was never a padawan.”
“No, but-- You don’t need the proper language. Samsa doesn’t have that language either, beyond what I’ve taught her so far, and I don’t adhere rigidly to the traditional teachings, you know, I’m not a Jedi, and I’ve lived more unique experiences with the Force more than most of them ever did-- And, yeah, look. Hux. You’ve lived one, too! So, therefore, you have the language to describe the experience, because it was your experience.”
Hux catches himself giggling. He holds his hand over his mouth and considers another drag, then decides to wait. Ren is giving him a pitiful look, like he thinks he’s being laughed at.
“Figures this would make you melancholy,” Hux says, with sympathy. “What doesn’t!”
“I’m not-- I’m not though, I’m just-- Do you not want to tell me what it was like for you? Having my powers?”
“I thought I had?”
“From some previous perspective, but not from this one. Not within this moment! Our contexualition of our memories changes constantly. It’s valuable to revisit them.”
“Fuck,” Hux mutters, and then he does take another drag. “Um, well. It didn’t hit me all at once. I just started knowing things. Sensing them, I guess. The ordinariness of it might have been the strangest part. How it sneaked up on me and melded with all my regular senses.”
“And you heard her in your head,” Ren says, suddenly clutching at him hard enough to rock the ashtray again. “Nobody else who is alive today heard her like that, just me and you.”
“And Rey, I presume?”
“Not until she was within the triangulation, and even then Dala didn’t speak to her directly. Hux, it’s like I infected you.”
“No,” Hux says, disliking that characterization. “You needed rescuing and I dove into this shit to save you. Twice. At least twice. That’s what it’s like. Don’t fucking damsel-ify me.”
“I don’t know that word.”
“Well, Ren, I made it up. But the point is that I’ve proven myself rather sturdy on my own merits and you shouldn’t be worried about my trauma or my durability or about me not being able to stand up against whatever hell comes for us next.”
“I thought you were the one who was worried about it?”
“Yes, I think I’ve come all the way round to lecturing myself. My past self? The self of some hours earlier. I’m wiser than him, of course. Listen, if there was some sort of emergency, do you think you could do it again?”
“Do what?” Ren asks, looking up at him. His chin is on Hux’s shoulder.
“Stick your powers in me for safekeeping,” Hux says, not entirely pleased with that phrasing but unable to think of how he might amend it, at present.
“No,” Ren says. “That was a one-time thing.”
“Why? How do you know?”
Ren seems to consider how to explain it, or perhaps he’s realizing that he has no answer at all. He drags on his cigarette and rolls away from Hux, flat onto his back.
“I think it started because you woke Ben back up,” Ren says. “He was in the dark, alone, and you found him. Me, I mean. Some part of me I had locked up to keep it safe, without even, like, letting myself know that I’d done it. And that part of me is free now, and there’s no one else stuck inside me for you to find, it’s just me, singular. So the splintering can’t drag you in and get you involved in its confused way. Because I’m not splintered.”
Hux feels like this makes sense and also like he can’t say why. He leans over to mouth at Ren’s ear. Ren’s skin feels very warm, and Hux feels their connection throughout every part of his body, even the ones that aren’t touching Ren. It’s something they forged together, but when? Hux wants blueprints, a schematic he can spread out and study. That way he would know how to implement repairs, should any ever be required.
“Was it even my choice to fall in love with you?” he asks, hoping Ren won’t be hurt by this theoretical. “Or did some mystical Force power that’s older than time select me for you?”
“Hux,” Ren says, turning to him with a surprisingly mild expression. “That’s not how love works.”
Hux laughs, which makes Ren’s face fall somewhat. “How does it work, Ren.”
“You don’t choose. It happens to you.”
“Fair enough, allow me to rephrase. Was it me, the essential me, my particular mind and comportment made up from all my experiences and physical stuff, that fell in love with you? Did that originate within me, eh? Or from, from-- Some extension of you?”
“Well, obviously it originated in both.”
“Obviously?” Nothing about love feels obvious to Hux. This seems like an epiphany and he thinks of writing it down, then decides he’ll certainly remember it anyway.
“And wherever it came from,” Ren continues, “How is the lived experience of love any different from being selected to serve a role by unseen powers? Didn’t it feel like an unseen power, something happening to you against your will, when you started to feel things for me? When you cried at the thought of losing me? It’s not as if you chose to do all that, is it?”
“Well. But. I didn’t not choose it. I wanted you, it surprised me, yes, but-- There were moments, all throughout, when I could have ignored my feelings.”
“Right, but you couldn’t decide not to feel them! Ignored or not, they were there.”
“Mhm. I suppose I see your point. Though I’ve forgotten what question you were trying to answer.”
“If you were fated to be mine or not, I think.”
Hux snorts and grins at him. He can feel Ren’s feedback, lazy fascination steadily picking up heat as Ren watches him take a drag. Ren is thinking something like: his mouth, that smirk, this arrogant prick thinking he can dare to imagine a universe where he might have twisted out of my grip before deciding that he could not live without me.
“Quit trying to read my mind,” Ren says, but he’s smiling. “You’re failing terribly.”
“I doubt it. What are you really thinking, then?”
“You were thinking about my mouth,” Hux says. “That much I’m sure of.” He moves the ashtray to Ren’s chest and leans over him, swooning in for a kiss and then teasing back out of reach when Ren strains for it.
“I’m always thinking about your mouth,” Ren says, staring at it. “And just--” He runs his hand from Hux’s shoulder to his hip and back up again, slowly. “The way you are.”
“Which is what?” Hux brings the cigarette just to his lips, lets it rest against the bottom one and thrills in what he feels from Ren: lust, worship, everything in him sharpening into a restless need to press himself against Hux and to be inside him, to feel Hux revel in containing him and milking him dry. One glance at Ren’s rising cock confirms that Hux’s assessment of his feedback is accurate.
“Sorry,” Ren says, blinking up at him. “Did you-- Was there a question?”
“Would you like to fuck me?” Hux asks, though that wasn’t the question. Or was it? Near enough to it, maybe.
Ren plucks the cigarette from Hux’s fingers and grinds it into their makeshift ashtray. He puts his own out, sets the saucer aside and rolls onto Hux, who slips down to lie flat beneath him, legs spreading.
“The world we inhabit is physical,” Ren says, hushed and unblinking, as if he’s receiving a prophecy. “Even the Force must course through the physical world as it remains in infinite motion. And therefore the physical comforts we seek not only represent but create meaning. You created me with your body, Hux. You did that.”
“Mhm, no, I believe that was the other General. Organa.”
Ren looks confused, then annoyed. “Do you not understand my meaning?” he asks, with an edge of snotty condescension.
“I’m afraid not. Maybe I’m high, but it sounds like you’re suggesting I gave birth to you.”
“I’d rather not think that I gave birth to you in any capacity, if it’s all the same to you.”
“But you were worried that you might have been made for me.”
“Not worried,” Hux says. He presses up against Ren, arching into the warm, solid shape of him, a half-formed thought about the physical world and meaning and creation surging over his skin and sliding away before solidifying. “Whatever the case,” he says, leaning up onto his elbows and bringing his lips to Ren’s, “There are worse things one might have been made for.”
He’s thinking of Starkiller when they kiss. He’d conceived of it as his life’s work once, his driving purpose: what could possibly compete with something on that scale, a thing that could unmake suns and shatter five planets in one blow that it struck by that same unmaking? Now it seems not like a small thing, never a small thing even here, but like a fate that he tried to put on and wear like an oversized greatcoat, to scare the rest of his life away. Somebody else was meant to wear it, maybe one of the men he had killed for their attempts to destroy him at school. But Hux, being a thief, stole it and put it on and wore the fate of a stranger until he realized that all he had gained in the thieving of it was that other person’s misery.
He begins to think he knows what Ren was getting at when he feels Ren sliding into him, though Ren had it backward: they didn’t make each other. They each unmade everything that the other actually wasn’t, all the bullshit hindrances that they had erected within themselves and which had been foisted upon them. Just as Ren had locked away the particularly trampled parts of himself, so had Hux.
It occurs to Hux that he’s had this epiphany before, at least in part, that last night on the Finalizer, when they talked about Henry. It wasn’t as if Hux was telling Ren about the past so much as it was like Ren was asking him to please remember it, for Ren’s sake, so that Ren could have the Hux he needed, which was not the one who wore the stolen coat. The Hux who woke the rest of Ren up was the pathetic wretch he’d tried to bury, and once he was reanimated the newly empowered wretch did the work Hux was always meant to do, the real work.
“You’re so high,” Ren says, laughing against Hux’s mouth.
“Huh?” Hux has his legs wrapped around the small of Ren’s back, his hands in Ren’s hair. Ren had been moving in him so right, dragging just slow enough against everything good, but now he’s gone still, pushed in deep and holding Hux open, smirking down at him. “I thought you couldn’t read my feedback,” Hux says.
“My body heals quickly-- I never hold any kind of altered state for long, unless I continue to partake.”
“That’s cheating,” Hux says, and this turns into a kind of wordless whine when Ren slides back and then in again, perfect again. “How do you know how to do that,” Hux asks, rubbing his face against Ren’s.
“You know how.”
“Oh, the Force, the fuh--fucking Force, ah--”
“Shh, it’s not only that. Not just any Force user could look into you and see how you like to be fucked.”
Hux tries to laugh but ends up moaning, his head falling back when Ren thrusts into him more sharply.
What’s qualifies you then, Hux thinks, testing Ren’s allegedly regained feedback-sensing ability.
No one else would so prefer experiencing the feedback from your pleasure to indulging in their own, Ren sends.
And why not?
Because yours is holy to me, and my greatest accomplishment, continuously and in perpetuity.
Hux opens his mouth, either to remark with surprise that Ren knows the word perpetuity or to ask why again, why Ren, why should that be true. He lets whatever he might have said fizzle into moaning bliss, his arms winding around Ren’s neck as he tries to hold himself in the physical world while some transformative energy that exists outside of it but also within it soars over and through him. He knows the answer to all those whys anyway, knows it like the firelit confines of his own body when Ren fucks into him harder and swallows up his moans with wet kisses: because no one else has or could love Hux like Ren does, like his body is an altar upon which to worship and his pleasure is Ren’s vindication, the answer to every why why why that’s ever tormented him.
“Fuck,” Ren says, growling this into Hux’s ear as his hips begin to snap against him properly, fucking astonished little shouts out of Hux as he climbs closer and closer to what Ren is reaching through him to find. “I miss your-- Your letters, you should write all this down--”
All what, Hux thinks, and when he comes he feels like he’s been bodily transformed into an unerasable record of everything he feels, as if he’s being created by Ren after all. He opens wide for Ren’s answering kisses, licks into Ren’s mouth in search of the tooth and knows it when he feels it-- He can taste its color, its soft weight. He feels Ren’s answering orgasm pulsing within his own bones and blood and along the length of his spent cock, as if a sweat-thin layer of Ren has dissolved into him, telling him: here, this is also yours, take it, swallow it up, keep it safe for me.
And that’s how it worked, Hux thinks, panting against Ren’s cheek. “Oh, you-- You told me, you finally told me.”
“Thanks for listening,” Ren says.
Hux snorts and punches Ren’s shoulder, licks Ren’s jaw and feels it all draining back out of him: the doubt and fear and anxious energy, his drug-fueled epiphanies going with them. But like his worries they are not gone entirely, just tucked away somewhere, accessible if needed.
He wakes at dawn, half-remembering that they stayed up very late whispering to each other under the blankets, the substance of which was mostly repetitive and half-asleep love declarations, a mumbled breakthrough Hux thought he’d had about the wind-power system, and Ren recounting an argument he’d had with Luke in a dream. Ren is huddled against Hux’s chest and sleeping soundly while Hux watches the wind blowing through the grass along the line of the window. It’s early, and they both have a little time to recover before their daily duties commence.
Hux remembers the substance but not the specifics of what they talked about, which he supposes may be a lesson in and of itself, which is annoying. He doesn’t feel newly tense and worked over the way he always did after too much drinking, and his throat isn’t burning from the smoke he inhaled. He feels lightened, a little sluggish but clean, and in no hurry to lift his head from the pillow or stop stroking his fingers through Ren’s hair. Then he notices his notebook on the end of the bed.
He vaguely recalls trying to write something down last night, at Ren’s urging. He sits up and reaches for the notebook, leaning over Ren, who moans in complaint and gropes for him without opening his eyes. Hux sits in the circle of Ren’s arms and opens the notebook to the pages where he left his pen like a bookmark.
trial-- a coupler from the
collected communications sent from the academy does elana still have them
Old possessions on a moon somewhere there will be some kind of value placed on every word
“What did I want to remind Mitaka about?” Hux asks when Ren begins mouthing at his hip.
“Something about parenthood,” Ren says.
“What the hell do I know about parenthood?”
“Apparently a great deal, when you’re smoking proha.”
Hux groans. “Was I terribly obnoxious?”
“No, you were affectionate and full of wonder. Your mind was really beautiful like that, I wish you could have seen it.”
Hux puts the notebook aside and feels his face heating as he sinks down into Ren’s arms again, trying not to imagine too vividly what Ren looked into him and saw. He remembers something about creating each other, and how frothy and easily explained everything had felt, as if all his questions answered themselves as they were asked. Embarrassing scrawlings in the notebook notwithstanding, he hopes to do that again soon. Perhaps not nightly but weekly.
“The sex was really good,” Hux says, checking to make sure that’s true at least.
Ren smiles a little, his eyes still closed. Hux then recalls something about Ren making an attempt at a poetic speech about Hux’s pleasure and the pursuit of it being his purpose in life, or perhaps that conversation took place entirely in their heads. He leans in to rest his forehead against Ren’s, blinking at him sleepily when he bats his eyes open.
“Thank you,” Hux says, instead of you have made me so happy that I barely recognize myself. “I really-- I really loved the proha, that was very thoughtful of you, well done getting me a nice gift. It was a grand time, and I feel good this morning, ah. Do you?”
“You’re blushing,” Ren says. He’s smiling like he knows why, because certainly he does: Hux wants to again babble needless love confessions like they did last night. Surely it’s the drug still affecting him, still in his system. Not the worst side effect, but perhaps indicating that a downside of proha is inefficiency. There’s no need to tell Ren again and again that he loves him. Ren knows: Hux feels it even now. He can’t use the Force anymore, he’s cast that off, returned it like an unwanted gift, but he can hear Ren saying back, maybe only because Ren wants him to hear it: I know, I know, I know.
As I write this dawn is breaking on the first day that we number fourteen in our colony, not thirteen-- late last night marked the arrival of Willcar Mitaka (apparently named for Dopheld’s beloved sister, though I’m told the child is male). Mother and child are resting comfortably and I suppose Mitaka is fine as well (and as we now have two Mitakas among us I suppose I should stick to referring to him as Dopheld) though he looked very pale when I left him. Ren and Samsa are both attendant; I think it’s more to do with some spiritual start-of-life Force rituals than any continuing medical needs of Specs or Willcar. I came back here to sleep but felt I should write something to mark the occasion before I do.
Now I’m struggling to come up with anything very profound (possibly due to exhaustion; all of us were up the entire night, I believe the labor took seven hours and there was a mood of general anxiety that no one could sleep through. I kept a solemn company with Phasma and Uta while Ren and Samsa monitored the situation and the rest of them endeavored to keep Dopheld calm. Meral was smoking quite a bit (Engali childbirth is far less gruesome, as I understand it) and I was tempted to partake myself but of course needed to keep a clear head for morale purposes etc.)
What I suppose I’ll say for now is this: shortly before I was given command of the Finalizer some high-ranking officers introduced an initiative to surgically and permanently sterilize the stormtroopers as standard protocol. I opposed it because it would have been more expensive and would have involved more potential medical risk than continuing to give all of them a yearly contraception injection. Also under consideration was that if they did somehow reproduce that would temporarily incapacitate the impregnated trooper but would also mean more children for the program. The committee proposing sterilization suggested it would make the stormtroopers ‘sexless’ and therefore more obedient and less individualistic, to which I replied that making them less like passionless clones was the entire purpose of my father’s (then still successful) initiative.
I had all this in mind when peeking in at mother and child after things were tidied up enough for all of us to have a look and congratulate Specs on a job well done. It’s not as if I haven’t already done a lot of thinking about decisions I made having been a matter of life or death for others, to put it mildly in both cases. I suppose this is simply the first one I’ve been confronted with where it was more a matter of life or no life. I am still not especially sentimental about life itself, or life for life’s sake, at least not enough to look at this infant and think that Specs and Dopheld are necessarily better off having him than not-- frankly they have a hell of a chore on their hands now and I don’t envy them at all. But seeing him and considering him as now a part of this community did make me think about shouting down LTG Parks over the sterilization initiative and how I never could have foreseen my rejection of it resulting in one of my lieutenants impregnating a stormtrooper and my whole crew celebrating this (with lumpy homemade corlei wine, unfortunately-- Ren insists he can improve upon the fermentation process we’ve attempted but it’s more of a science than an art and therefore I should probably take over) rather than doling out punishments and whisking the baby off to the pre-stormtrooper nursery.
I don’t know what I’m trying to make of any of this except that, as of sunrise this morning, far away from what has begun to feel like the surreal hell I once presided over, I’m glad that it happened this way. Happy for them, I guess is the more traditional way to state it. Ren has informed me that Willcar is not Force sensitive, and I have to confess that there was some petty thing in me that felt a bit smug, hearing that, as if he is therefore ‘one of us,’ whatever the rest of us are. (Obviously I need to sleep).
Wanted to note briefly that, in just a little under a standard year since our landing here, we’ve had our first Engali visitors seeking healing. This is of course more Ren and Samsa’s area than mine, but as they entered the community I oversee in order to seek out their healing, I took interest and kept a close watch on the proceedings.
My observations: They were both clearly desperate, having been maimed in an accident some years earlier. They were not willing to give names, both were male, one had lost the use of his dominant hand and the other had a damaged rekki that caused all sorts of problems with motor function. Neither of them were willing to let Ren touch them, so he had to simply advise and oversee while Samsa did the actual healing. She was visibly frightened, probably afraid these people would turn on her again at any moment. We all (well, most of us, Specs stayed hidden with the baby and Mouse stood guard over them) circled around in our Jedi robes looking stern, giving them the impression that retribution would be swift, should they try anything. But theirs is not a violent culture in general and they both wept (in the peculiar way that Engali do, which I still find more alarming than human weeping, which I also do not like to be around) with gratitude when they were healed. The one with the damaged hand had waited so long to come for healing that the webbing between his fingers remains limp and though the hand is again functional there is some permanent feeling lost, and Ren thinks that when he returns to share his story of being healed with others (if he dares) this might be a point in favor of encouraging Engali to seek help from us (well, from Samsa) sooner lest they risk losing the chance for a full recovery.
The one who had his rekki healed seemed completely restored meanwhile, or anyway Ren says that he was. Once the healing was complete these two individuals made offerings (some sort of riches-- jewelry? Sparkling artifacts) and Samsa turned them down, I think with an air of regal superiority (post-healing, when she was full of confidence-- she reminds me a lot of Ren in this way, doubting herself and then resplendent to the point of arrogance after success, I wonder if most Force sensitives are this way-- although when I think of Rey, she wasn’t) and we were all very proud of her and had an outdoor dinner service in her honor, as the weather has been fine and the wind not so brutal (I think this is the high season, or would be if this place had tourism, which thank fuck it does not.)
One thing we considered is that if more locals trickle past our borders seeking help, we may eventually reach the point of needing to use false names-- for Ren and I, at least, and probably Uta. I doubt I am being actively searched for in wild space, and the Engali do not possess spacecraft capable of breaking atmo, but if we were able to come here, someone else eventually might, and they might come looking for healing if they hear about it in town.
I suppose Ren might simply refer to himself as Ben in mixed company, though he might not want to. Even Bartram might mark me too accurately; I’ve thought of using Armitage, which was my maternal grandfather’s name. He was a thorny old bastard whom I always found impressive (Bartram was Brendol’s father; he did not like me, nor did he seem to care for Brendol). Ren laughed when I suggested this name (common enough, at least where Elana’s family was from) as my potential alias here, which makes me that much fonder of it.
(Note: I smoked proha before writing this for the purpose of calming myself enough to hold a pen, so it might be disjointed)
Crisis has found us here at last, though it might have been abated. For now. Samsa tells me it has, but I’d really rather hear it from Ren, though he is-- not cognizant a present. (Samsa told me not to characterize it as a coma. I’m attempting to trust her on this. There’s little else I can do at the moment but try to trust her, and smoke, and write this to keep myself sane).
Where to begin. Fuck, that we could have remained truly isolated forever, but of course we couldn’t. Outsiders rarely if ever visit here but some have apparently come and they are-- I don’t know what they are, they reminded me of jawas. As perhaps a hundred Engali have made pilgrimages here for healing since those first two, we expected something like this eventually but were not prepared for it--
These visitors did not understand the purpose of the healing, though we didn’t realize that at first, as at least two of them really did need healing for chronic ailments that were killing them. The rest of them interpreted their successful healing as some kind of eternal life that Ren was bestowing upon them (he would not let them near Samsa, as they rather ambushed the colony and there were more than twenty of them, small and subdued easily enough by the Force at first, but only until the healing of those two had drained Ren terribly and the rest of them surged)--
I barely know now what I was thinking except that they were swarming Ren and I thought they would kill him, he was weakened in a way I’d never seen before because only a few Engali have ever allowed him to heal them and their ailments weren’t as grave as what these creatures apparently had-- At any rate Samsa was screaming and Ren has clearly not prepared her well enough for any sort of battle, or she’s still traumatized by the memory of a mob of her own people turning on her-- she was unprepared and in my hesitation to tell my crew (the few of them that were even present, another mistake, my mistake) to draw their blasters and initiate a firefight, I tore through the tangle of these invaders that were grabbing at Ren and got to his lightsaber, ignited it and swung it at them wildly while dragging him away from them. Perhaps inspired by the sight of me flailing and the creatures retreating somewhat, Samsa then summoned the strength to send a kind of massive wave of Force energy in their direction, tumbling them away like a great wind had swept them clear of us, leaving them scrambling and afraid, running back for town--
I can’t write any more-- if I smoke more proha I’ll lose my ability to react if further danger comes but what I’ve taken is not sufficient to keep my bones or my mind steady enough to do anything but sit at Ren’s bedside grinding my teeth and feeling as if a black hole is opening wider and wider in my chest, did I really think we could just have everything we wanted indefinitely, ha--
Hux puts the pen down and rubs his hands over his face. He listens for any sound from the bedroom and hears nothing, not even muttered discussion or the wringing of a cloth into a basin. The wind is very loud outside, racing across the closed-up house, and his ears are still ringing with what feel like the echoes of Samsa’s panicked shouts, the shrieking voices of the swarming visitors, and the violent hum of the lightsaber as he swung it at them madly. Samsa is in the bedroom with Ren, along with Meral and Tuck, whom Hux can’t bring himself to send away right now. Tuck’s presence is keeping Samsa calm, perhaps. Something is, as she keeps telling Hux that everything is fine, that the interlopers have left the planet and Ren only needs rest, but he’s lying there like a corpse, breathing steadily but so pale.
“His breathing has more harmony than yours does right now,” Samsa says, appearing in the doorway between the bedroom and the main room, where Hux is seated at the table. Her voice is gentle but also scolding, and he doesn’t want to hear it from her or from anyone, except for Ren, he just needs to hear Ren’s fucking voice. “He needs to rest a bit longer,” Samsa says.
She sits beside Hux at the table and places her hand on his wrist. Her skin has a cool, luxuriant texture that feels enough like relief that Hux has to wonder if she’s trying to heal his desperate panic. He pulls his hand away, into his lap.
“This has never happened before,” Hux says, as if she doesn’t know that. “He’s been drained after healing, but not to the point that he couldn’t stand and needed to-- Sleep.” Hux refuses to call it anything else.
“Those beings had some deep sickness,” Samsa says. “I think he might have gone too deep into it, into something beyond the physical healing. As if-- They tried to force him to heal-- Their minds? Their sadness? And then they overwhelmed him. There was, hmm. A misunderstanding on both sides.”
“Well, this misunderstanding has laid him out on his ass, and what are we going to do when an army of those things comes back and tries to kidnap him?”
“They will not. I frightened them away.” Samsa stares at Hux sternly, as if she dares him to doubt this, reminding him so much of Ren that he has to put his hands over his face. “He will tell you the same thing when he wakes up,” Samsa says, patting Hux’s shoulder. “Soon.”
Tuck walks into the room and sits beside Samsa. He at least looks as worried as Hux feels, though he’s probably got more trust in Samsa’s word than Hux is able to scrape together, considering Tuck is in love with her. The first time Hux saw Tuck rub his face against her rekki he opened his mouth to scream at him like a protective hen, but before he could Samsa smiled and rubbed her face against Tuck’s cheek as if his was a pleasantly exotic texture, too. Ren assures Hux that no children can be born of this romance but Hux has his doubts about that. Impossible things seem to occur with relative ease when Force users are involved.
“I guess we have to think about what we’ll do if that happens again,” Tuck says, presumably meaning an invasion of the community by outsiders and not Ren fainting away after being tricked into healing someone’s sadness. “What do you think those guys will say about their experience here?” Tuck asks, speaking to Samsa when Hux leaves his hands over his face, peering out through the spread of his fingers. “Obviously they heard about us somehow.”
“They were asking for healing,” Samsa says. “Asking in badly pronounced Engali and in their native language. Word must have spread in the markets, enough to reach visitors when they come to trade.”
“Terrific,” Hux says, pulling his hands from his face and forcing himself to sit up straight. Plans need to be made, and quickly. “Then it’s already time to pull up roots and move elsewhere.”
“Why would you think this?” Samsa asks, frowning.
“Word will only spread further from here, and we can’t stay here waiting for a bigger contingent of crueller strangers to arrive.”
“They weren’t cruel,” Samsa says. “They were just-- different from us, confused. They are traders, but if they speak of this place they will say that we lured them in with the promise of healing and then tried to attack, that we wanted their souls, that we are, hmm.” She searches for the word, lips quirking, and glances at Tuck as if he’s a dictionary. “Witches,” she says, nodding when she looks back to Hux. “Approximate to what you called Jedi when you arrived here. They are scared of us now, and they will scare others. They will tell others to keep away.”
“Perhaps,” Hux says tightly. “But some people and cultures are foolhardy and curious. Samsa, this is a precedent that we can’t ignore. I don’t care what you or Ren say. We have to expect aggressive factions to seek us out again, eventually.”
“Then I can scare them away also,” she says, eyes hardening again. “Me and Ren together, we can use the wind the way I did. It only listens to me now, but I can teach him that method.”
Hux opens his mouth to ask her what the hell she’s talking about, but it doesn’t seem to matter when he hears Ren coughing in the bedroom, and Meral speaking to him. Hux leaps from the table at the same time that Samsa does. Though she can probably outrun him, she wisely allows Hux to be the first one to sprint through the bedroom door.
“He’s here,” Meral says, gesturing to Hux. Ren must have asked for him; he’s attempting to smile tiredly at the sight of him. Hux falls to the bed and onto Ren, pulling him into his arms even as all the others stand watching.
“I’m okay,” Ren says, lifting his cybernetic arm and tucking it around Hux’s back. “Hux, hey--” You’re shaking, he sends.
“Shut up,” Hux says, though he’d meant to send that back without speaking. He hides his face against Ren’s neck, just long enough to take half a shaky breath before he sits up again and glowers. “I was telling them we’ve got to leave here,” he says. “I won’t see this happen to you again.”
“What? No--” Ren coughs and sits up a bit straighter. “That was my fault, my mistake. I got sucked in-- They were fascinating, like deep wells of pain. I should have turned back sooner, shouldn’t have tried to heal the second one, but he was hurting-- What happened after I passed out?” he asks, looking over Hux’s shoulder at Samsa.
“So you didn’t sense it,” she says, shoulders dropping.
“She got rid of them for you,” Tuck says, practically bouncing on his heels when he peers at Samsa in swooning admiration. Hux hadn’t even realized that he’d seen it. “I heard her scream and I bolted from the reservoir, and by the time I got there she had her hands held out and-- Well, you should tell him,” he says, wilting a little and looking at her.
“I used the wind,” Samsa says. “Before that I was frozen, I couldn’t make myself move, it was such a horrible sight when they all fell upon you, reminded me of--” She glances at her mother. “Of being set upon and dragged to prison myself, just before you came, when I called out to you for help. I might have stayed like that but Hux ran right into the mass of them and tore them off of you, and when he switched on your lightsaber I thought he might behead one of them.”
“You nearly beheaded people?” Ren says, turning back to Hux.
“I didn’t even come close,” Hux says. “Or maybe I did, I don’t know-- I swung it around like a crazed animal, and they backed off a little, then Samsa made her move.”
“I felt the wind change direction,” Samsa says. “It was blowing against my back, and I heard it offer help. I’ve never felt that before, and maybe it was more the Force than the wind, but it felt like both, and when I used it to throw all of them away from you, it felt like it moved through me-- the wind itself! And they went running back to town, all of them.”
“Interesting,” Ren says, as if this is nothing more than a day’s lesson about the Force. “Thank you,” he says, squeezing Hux’s side to extend this to him, too. “You did well. I can sense that they’ve gone from this planet.”
“Yes, they were frightened. I told Hux that they’ll spread word of tricky witches here.”
“Tricky witches.” Ren smirks at Hux, who scowls. None of this is amusing to him at all. “Thanks for looking after me,” Ren says, and then he says something similar in Engali to Meral, who nods. “I’m fine now, I was just drained. Go and meditate on the experience, and we’ll talk again after I’ve rested some more.”
Samsa looks very proud of herself, as if she’s been told that her approach was of course the correct one, while Hux was only being paranoid and short-sighted. She feels Hux looking at her and gives him a sympathetic glance, perhap sensing his thoughts. They rarely have a nonverbal exchange, but Hux often feels sharply attuned to her moods and suspects she has the same sensitivity to his own. It’s all the time spent with Ren, no doubt; they are like the twin gatekeepers of Ren’s bifurcated life, the physical and the spiritual.
“I wish you could have seen it,” Tuck says to Ren, his hand twitching toward Samsa before he remembers himself and leaves it hanging at his side. Ren hasn’t forbidden the relationship but has at least given Tuck the impression that he shouldn’t touch Samsa overmuch in Ren’s presence. Meral has perhaps given him the same impression. “Samsa was incredible,” Tuck says. “All those guys went ass over elbows like tumbleweeds in one blow.”
“I don’t think they had elbows,” Samsa says, beaming at him. “But yes.”
“I’m not surprised,” Ren says. “It was Samsa’s first opportunity to show that kind of strength. Of course she did well under pressure. She’s an excellent student of the Force.”
Samsa glows with pride. Meral sighs and says something under her breath that makes Samsa retort sharply, and they’re muttering together as they leave the room.
“Let us know if you need anything,” Tuck says, backing toward the door.
“Of course,” Hux says, uncharacteristically sharp with him. “Now leave us, we need to-- Process this.”
“Sure thing, sir, see you later.”
Hux turns back to Ren and rolls his eyes. Tuck only calls him sir on occasion now, and Hux has entertained the idea of finally asking him to stop. As soon as he hears the front door close he leans onto Ren again, curling up against his chest as Ren’s arms wind around him.
“You complete bastard,” Hux says, reaching up to cup Ren’s cheek. He still feels clammy. “Don’t ever do that again.”
“I wish I could have seen you with the lightsaber,” Ren says. He runs his fingers through Hux’s hair, rubs his back. “I think I felt it, or some of it. Your fury and your fearless energy. I felt you dragging me back from them, anyway.”
“Don’t try to fucking flatter me. That could have been much worse, Ren, we were lucky, and you know it’s going to happen again--”
“Not like that it won’t. People might come, but now we know-- I’m sorry I scared you. I should have been more cautious, I let my curiosity about healing a new species get the better of me. Samsa didn’t try to heal me, did she?”
“No, she insisted that would be disastrous for the both of you.”
“She’s right. Don’t even let her try it after a healing session like that, or after any kind of healing session that knocks me on my ass.”
“How about you don’t undertake any that will knock you on your ass, period? Ever again?”
“Sometimes I can’t know it will be that-- Involved, until I get in there. It’s like plumbing.”
Hux sits back and scowls at him. He dislikes being characterized as a plumber, though it’s true that he’s done a lot of work of that sort in the past two years, in the process of bringing their colony up to snuff. Ren gives him an apologetic look that annoys him further, but he still allows Ren to pull him in for a kiss.
“You have to be more careful,” Hux says. “We both do. I shouldn’t have just stood there like an idiot and assumed you and Samsa had everything under control.”
“Well. We did, though, with your help.”
“Not really! Ren, you were unconscious for almost two hours.”
“Drained, that’s all, and this was an important lesson in restraint. You’re right, we’ll approach it completely different if strangers show up again. There will be protocols, you’ll develop them. Me and Samsa will follow them, for the safety of everyone. It was reckless to just dive in like that. Hux, I’m sorry.”
“Protocols might not be enough. This is why we were the way we were in the Order, you know, this kind of vulnerability is what leads to that other sort of madness. Without all that fear mongering and ceremony surrounding you, people will try to take whatever they can get, your peaceful little attempts to live quietly be damned. Whatever you manage to have is there for the taking, as far as less peaceful forces are concerned. And there are plenty of those left in the galaxy. Particularly in wild space, I imagine.”
“So you’re going to reform the Order,” Ren says. He’s teasing, stroking his thumbs over Hux’s cheeks and trying not to laugh. “That’s the natural conclusion to the events of the day?”
“I didn’t say that!” Hux pushes Ren’s hands away and stands, paces. “You don’t know what it’s like, you grew up with all this peace-loving shit. I’m still trying to grit my teeth and accept it, and something like this happens-- They could have killed you! And I’m supposed to think it’s funny, and that everything will be fine because we had one close call so lesson learned, case closed?”
“Come here,” Ren says, reaching for him. “Or better yet, get the proha.”
“Fuck the proha. Fuck you, Ren! You think I should be laughing it up with the rest of you, thinking we had a really interesting day, good job everyone? How would you feel if you woke up and found out one of those things had plunged its knife into my chest while I swung that lightsaber around like an idiot?”
“Samsa could have healed you, had that happened--”
“That’s not the fucking point and you know it!”
“You think I wasn’t frightened, too?” Ren asks, tossing the blanket aside. He stands, slowly, pushing off the mattress.
“Don’t get up,” Hux says, hurrying back to him. “Ren, you need-- You shouldn’t--”
“I’m fine.” Ren stands and catches Hux in his attempt to usher him back into the bed, his hands going to Hux’s waist. “See? And I’m shaken, too. It was a swallowing thing, what I found in those traders. It reminded me of following Snoke down into the dark, wanting to see what was at the bottom, as deep as I could go.”
“Great. We’re back in Snoke territory then. Consider me reassured.”
“You don’t have to be reassured.” Ren kisses Hux’s forehead and draws him toward the bed, walking backward. “You’re right, I’m sorry. You’ve every right to be disturbed. It was a disturbing thing. I think I feel calm because of what Samsa managed to do. It feels like confirmation that we can all keep taking care of each other here. But I’ve got the Force behind that feeling, so it’s easy for me to say.”
Hux opens his mouth to snap some kind of retort, but this statement is at least reasonable, if indeed not very reassuring. He moves out of Ren’s grip and flops onto the bed, sinking into the synthofoam mattress that he constructed from materials Meral brought from the market over a period of months. Hux deeply loves this mattress: he’s spent many a blissed-out night upon it, and he sleeps without nightmares now, most of the time. He loves this whole planet, even the way the wind brings dried fronds from the stilt trees crashing against their window before tumbling them away again. He doesn’t want to leave.
“We won’t have to,” Ren says, settling down beside Hux. He puts his chin on Hux’s shoulder, slides his arm across Hux’s back. “Trust me, please.”
“You were dead weight in my arms,” Hux says, his voice half-muffled against the sheets. “When I dragged you away from them. I wanted to cut all their heads off, Samsa was right to fear that. I thought they’d--”
Hux stops talking, swallows heavily and closes his eyes. He considers flinching away in protest when Ren presses soft kisses to his neck, but he doesn’t want to.
“Thank you for not cutting off any heads,” Ren says, with such sincere sweetness that Hux almost manages to laugh. “That would have been truly bad. They didn’t mean me harm, however it looked by the end. I think that was how I overlooked the danger. I sensed their motivation was only to be healed, and so did Samsa. But that doesn’t preclude disaster.”
“Nothing much precludes disaster,” Hux says.
“Mhm. Maybe not. My grandfather was the most powerful Force user alive, in his time. And still he had such a horrible fate. I shouldn’t assume my mastery of the Force can protect me. I should know better than anyone that it can’t. I’ll emphasize this lesson with Samsa, too. I could feel her preening a bit after what she managed to do.”
“Do you think she really communes with the wind?” Hux asks, rolling toward Ren.
“Yes,” Ren says, and the readiness of this response makes Hux shiver with something that’s not dread, exactly. He scoots closer and shuts his eyes against the warm push of Ren’s breath. “I hope she can teach me how she does it,” Ren says, stroking Hux’s cheek. “But I suspect it may be something only an Engali can do with the Force. Regardless, she’s very powerful and she’s our friend.”
What is that supposed to mean, Hux wonders, eyes still closed.
“That we’re safe here,” Ren says. “I think you know we are. I sense that you feel it, too. And you feel like you have to do the work of not believing what you already know, to protect yourself from your fear of being wrong about everything.”
“Are you really preaching at me after all that?” Hux asks, opening his eyes so he can narrow them at Ren.
“It’s not preaching, just making an observation.”
“Well don’t fuck with me right now-- I just observed you looking dead for far longer than I’d ever like to again.”
“I’m not fucking with you, Hux.” Ren sits up on his elbow and leans over Hux’s side, arranging himself like a kind of shelter. Hux has had dreams sometimes that this house is an extension of Ren’s body, and that wood for the fire and magically stocked conservators can appear within it according to Ren’s whims. He sometimes thinks, when he’s only half-awake, that he can hear the ocean outside. But it’s always just the wind, or Ren’s breath, or his own memories.
“Look here, Ren,” Hux says, pressing against him, “After I’m dead you can do whatever you want. Go wild, for all I care. But until I die you have to stay with me. All of you, as you are now. Understand?”
“Beautiful vows,” Ren says. “Did you write them yourself?”
“You’ve made plenty of vows to me already, don’t pretend this is new information. Just-- Say something comforting. And don’t attempt any observations about my psyche in the process.”
“I got us this far,” Ren says. “Didn’t I?”
“With my help.”
“And here you are, still helping me. I’m hungry. Want anything from the kitchen?”
“You’re going to eat in bed?”
“I’m convalescing, it’s allowed. And I’ve seen you eat in bed before.”
“Not in this bed. Anytime I ate in bed was strictly an emergency situation.”
Hux yawns and realizes then how exhausted he is, as if huddling against Ren’s chest caused him to absorb some of Ren’s drained energy, or to offer some of his own in its place. He dozes thinly while Ren gathers food from the pantry, and wakes only partially when Ren returns to eat it: cured meat and peeled fruit, a stale scone from a batch made by Mitaka.
For the remainder of the day they are left alone by the others, who either heard Hux’s earlier shouting and decided to steer clear or have guessed that they both need some time to recover together in quiet. Hux tries not to think of the house on the cliff overly often, but his mind returns there again and again as they shuffle tiredly through what remains of the day: drinking caf at the table, bathing together in a way that results in sex, sleeping afterward and waking to darker skies and stronger winds outside. When Ren rises to make dinner Hux follows him into the kitchen and leans against his back, watching as he measures out the first of a few ingredients from his canisters.
“Do you miss having everyone here for dinner?” Ren asks. They stopped the communal dinners about a year ago; people have begun to settle into their own personal domestic routines, and no one seems to crave the nightly reminder that they’re all functioning as a unit here. It’s a steady way of life now, that feeling.
“Sometimes,” Hux says. He’s got his chin on Ren’s shoulder, his arms wrapped around Ren’s chest. “But I like our little ritual better.”
For the time being this ritual involves sitting by the fire in the kitchen with their plates in their laps. When the weather warms again they’ll eat at the table, and sometimes they’ve brought their evening meal to the clearing near the hot spring, where the high rocks shield them from the wind. But this is Hux’s preferred method of mealtime: efficient and satisfying, every bite he takes fortified by the press of Ren’s shoulder against his and the sense that they wanted this simple freedom so badly once and have won it, are winning it: every day they’re clawing it back and keeping it held tight, even if nothing outside of their own minds has threatened it. Especially then, in Hux’s case.
Ren and Samsa have received Force-sent intelligence indicating that a craft bearing people seeking the Healers will land this afternoon. What more I can say on this subject beyond the usual sense of dread that comes with the arrival of any strangers from off planet, but here I am writing anyway, according to my old nervous habit. We haven’t had a disaster since those traders years ago, and Ren maintains that it’s his and Samsa’s calling to occasionally receive outsiders and heal them, and yet I sit here scribbling and wanting to get drunk or high at midday in order to steady my nerves or just skip over this occasion entirely.
I would not confess that even to Ren, who seems to draw some kind of discernible power from my faith in him, and also because it’s a shameful impulse that makes me think of how I tried in vain to hide from my terrors as a boy. Of course I will actually stand back with my guards and observe the landing, whistle to the snipers if necessary and otherwise oversee the log of visitors, ailments healed and the administering of the oath of secrecy that we make them take before they leave. Obviously it doesn’t work as I’d like it to, which is to say every time, but it (or something else) has kept us from being overrun so far, and it’s to Ren’s liking that word of the healers who reside here still spreads in whispers. I mentioned to him once that it’s very Jedi-like of him to want to pass information through semi-concealed channels based only on the honor of certain individuals who find us, and he would not speak to me for the rest of the day (haha).
I have to confess here also that while I thought I had been making good progress on this front, since we’ve welcomed nine parties in the past two years and none have done any harm beyond draining Ren such that he had to sleep it off after walking home on his own two feet: I have a bad feeling about this particular arrival.
Perhaps it’s something not so simple as “bad” but “agitated”? I’ve been having strange dreams. Not like the nightmares of the past but things about the Infinite and time…. While smoking the other night I told Ren I was sure I was going to die soon. He said he’s sure that I won’t, and I didn’t fight him on the point because I felt maybe I had just misspoken, as one does on proha-- now I would say that it feels like some change must be coming, but as my ability to sense these things is hardly as sharp as Ren’s I can only really conclude that of course things will change eventually and attach my fear of that happening to any such circumstance like the arrival of a new craft full of visitors… but if I had this feeling last time one landed, I did not write about it (though admittedly I haven’t been as diligent about this sort of record keeping as I once was, preoccupied as I am with the data systems I maintain re: the energy grid, supply stations and trade with the locals etc.)
Will be relieved when the day is over, but in the meantime the only thing for it is to go out there with my old regulation posture and my blaster on my hip (concealed in favor of showing the fake lightsaber, naturally) and do my job to keep order in the face of potential chaos. Like old times, on days like this, and that it’s all in service of Ren’s disorganized efforts to turn himself into a human charity, well. I won’t pretend that I don’t feel constantly as if I owe an impossible debt to the galaxy myself but he is not the thing I would choose to give even in the smallest increments, and in fact he is the last thing I would give after my own two arms if it were up to me. It has occurred to me that perhaps that is why he’s precisely what I must grit my teeth, stand back and offer. At least when they’re all healed and gone from here I shall get properly wrecked in celebration and let Ren work me over all night long etc etc. (after he’s rested. He typically sleeps for 2-3 hours after these visits, though not continuously. I wake him approximately every twenty minutes with just enough nudging or kissing etc. to get him to irritably acknowledge that he can regain consciousness if necessary).
Hux rolls his eyes at his own writing and shuts the notebook before pushing it away. For the first time in a long while he thinks of his father and how weak he’s allowed himself to become, what Brendol would say if he could see these writings. It’s not the bits about Ren that most embarrass him but the hand-wringing about his duty and how much he would like to hide in his house and avoid it today. It’s not like him, even recently. Today feels wrong already, but Ren has assured him multiple times that neither he nor Samsa have sensed anything amiss, and Hux has to confess that they’ve had a steely grip on the situation thus far, in terms of predicting how these visits will go, ever since that first misadventure rattled everyone into a state of proper vigilance.
He puts his ratty old imposter of a Jedi’s robe on with a sigh after doing up his gun belt and arranging his real weapon and fake weapon according to protocol. Emi and Mouse have been in their positions with their sniper rifles since the morning, as the Force is not a hovertrain time table and Ren’s predictions of when exactly these transports from elsewhere will arrive are hardly down to the minute. Ren is sitting at the kitchen table when Hux emerges from their bedroom. He’s pretending to casually read an Engali tablet and to not be aware of Hux’s feedback, which is probably more pathetic than it’s been in years. Hux stands staring at him, daring him to say whatever he’s thinking.
“I made you a hat,” Ren says, still looking down at the tablet.
“Sorry?” Hux says.
“I thought you should have something to indicate that you’re in command of the non-healers. It’s on the counter there.”
Hux turns, only then noticing a plain brown thing that seems as if it was intended to resemble his old command cap until at some point during its construction that attempt was abandoned. It’s made from material not unlike the robe he wears, folded at the front with two flaps pinned up on the sides.
“You don’t have to wear it,” Ren says, still avoiding Hux’s eyes. “I mean, I-- I’d rather put a crown of crystals on your head. Something extremely delicate but also strong, made by the most renowned craftsman in the galaxy, something so beautiful and singular that its creator would have to retire after making it because he would never achieve anything as awe-inspiring again even if he lived for another hundred years. But in the meantime we’re here and I made you that hat.”
“Now you’re starting to make me fear that this really is the day I die,” Hux says, staring at the hat and then at Ren, who glowers at him.
“It’s not,” Ren says.
“Would you even tell me--”
“Yes. Unless-- Would you want me to tell you?”
“Only if there’s anything I can do about it. And you know I believe there always will be, barring old age.”
“Fine. Anyway, you’re not dying. I didn’t make you a death hat.”
“It was really more that speech about the crown--” Hux makes himself stop talking. Ren rarely makes a gesture so awkward anymore, and Hux has nearly forgotten how to tread carefully over them. “I like it,” Hux says, halfway to really meaning this as he lifts the hat to inspect it. “Did Meral help you?”
“Mitaka did. It’s not as easy as you’d think, making things like that.”
Hux puts it on, feeling stupid. It fits, anyway.
“How do I look?” he asks, turning to Ren.
“Good,” Ren says. “But your hair still shows. You’ll have to pull the robe up over it.”
“I will,” Hux says, relieved. “But you’ll know it’s under there. Shall we get going? I assume Tuck and Samsa are already up on the hill.”
“Yes, and Phasma and Uta are waiting for us in the courtyard. We can take a second set of guards, if that would make you-- More comfortable.”
“How many do you expect in this landing party?”
“Well, we’ve got the snipers in position, too, and between you and I and Uta and Phasma-- I believe you, all right? That it won’t be some kind of disaster that you and Samsa failed to foresee. I do.”
“Okay.” Ren clearly doesn’t buy this, but he stands and pulls Hux’s hood up over his new hat, carefully arranging it to conceal as much of his face as he can without blocking Hux’s vision. “Ready,” Ren says, softly. There’s something guilty in it, but it might just be a boyish disappointment in how lumpy the hat turned out. Hux leans up to kiss him before walking out of the house. Just in case.
It’s a bright day, at least by Enga’s standards, and the wind has a pleasant coolness that cuts the heat. Phasma and Uta hold the hoods of their robes up as they walk with Ren and Hux up the hill, into the wind. Hux’s stays perfectly in the place, as always. Ren does this with the Force on important occasions. Ren wears both his helmet and his hood, his lightsaber visible at his hip when the wind blows his robe back. He wasn’t wearing the helmet when the traders overwhelmed him, and though that hasn’t happened again, Hux feels better when Ren approaches these appointments in full armor. It keeps people from feeling they can demand too much of him, if nothing else. The air of intimidating mystery also helps people believe the healing will work, after they’ve watched Ren use his cybernetic hand to carefully remove his left glove, exposing that one glimpse of sacred flesh.
Samsa is on the hill with Tuck in her usual getup, which is essentially the opposite of Ren’s dark, heavy attire. She wears a jeweled cape and a delicate, translucent veil that hangs over the lower half of her face. Neither garment has any purpose beyond vanity and ceremony, but Hux has long understood that both of those are important when commanding a sense of authority, benevolent or not. While the rest of them look soldierly, if also mystical, Samsa appears regal and particularly beautiful. The contrast of her style and Ren’s seems to suggest to most visiting groups that Ren offers one sort of healing while Samsa offers another. Samsa is largely appealed to for internal maladies, complex disorders, while Ren heals broken bones and smashed digits most often; injured warriors prefer him. The availability of bacta in this area of wild space is apparently nonexistent.
“I like your hat,” Samsa says to Hux, smiling at him from behind her veil.
“What hat?” Tuck asks.
“Never mind,” Hux says. “Shall we review the protocol before the transport arrives? Uta?”
“Certainly.” She catches the ‘sir’ before it comes out and gives him a smile that’s mostly in her eyes. “Hux approaches first, flanked by me and Phas, and the healers remain behind us until all passengers have disembarked from the visiting craft. Ren and Samsa will be shielding us from any surprise attack that may come, and Emi and Mouse can be whistled to if necessary. Healing takes place at the base of the usual tree with me and Phas watching over things while Hux guards the visiting ship. Dapper and Chata are on the tower back at the base to keep an eye on things from there. Mitaka and Specs will keep guard there on the ground. And Wilk, though I don’t think anyone’s issued him a blaster yet.”
Phasma laughs. Hux cuts her a look that she doesn’t seem to notice or perhaps care about. Even Uta’s tone is too light; Hux will have to speak to her later about letting her guard down. Nine successful visits and promises from two Force users does not constitute reason to assume all will go as planned.
He’s on edge as soon as they spot the transport in the sky overhead, moving slowly toward the planet’s surface. This is the fifth transport that has landed outside of their colony as opposed to the spaceport in the capital city. There was some debate about whether this proximity should be encouraged or forbidden, but in the end they have little say about where visitors put their craft down, and they’re less likely to be hassled by the Engali authorities if they come here.
Until the visiting ship is on the ground, their entire party keeps cover behind an embankment of rocks. Hux rises first, as the ship’s ramp begins to lower, tired of feeling like everyone is snickering at what they perceive as his baseless anxiety about this particular arrival. It’s doubtful that anyone but Ren and Samsa have sensed it, but it still feels good to show them he’s not actually afraid, in the moment of confrontation, by walking just ahead of Phasma and Uta with his hand on the fake lightsaber at his belt. The ship is not as unusual-looking as those that have come before it: this looks almost like some of the old Imperial models Hux knew when he was shuttling between Star Destroyers as a boy. It’s not precisely the same: more boxy, in the Republic style.
That the first person down the ramp is a human stops Hux in his tracks. They’ve had human visitors here before, but only two among the sixty-three visitors they’ve received. Neither spoke standard or seemed to have known any worlds beyond this quadrant of wild space, according to Ren’s talks with them. Considering this, as Ren ignites his lightsaber and the shuttle’s pilot walks forward with his arms raised, Hux feels the seed of his worry about this visit taking root.
“Who dares land here?” Hux shouts, and from his peripheral vision he can see Phasma and Uta reaching for their own fake lightsabers, according to script, as Samsa uses the wind to make the pilot stumble backward a few steps. “And what do you seek?” Hux asks, louder now, to be heard over the wind. Hux’s eyes are nearly covered; the pilot won’t be able to see them. This is all very theatrical and Hux flushes a bit each time, but theater is important, and he flushed when he screamed his speech before the firing of Starkiller. He’d powdered his face extensively beforehand so it wouldn’t show up on the holos.
“We seek the healer who lives in this land,” the pilot says. His use of standard feels heavy on Hux’s ears, and his heart begins to pound under his robe. The top of his head seems to grow very hot, as if his red hair might burn through both the hat and the robe’s hood, exposing him to this man who might have once seen those holos of the heavily-powdered Starkiller.
“I say who has access to healing here,” Hux shouts, wishing this were true, though if he had his way and it was ‘no one outside my tribe, only us’ he knows he would be cutting Ren off from something he seems to need. “Where are your sick?” Hux asks, walking closer. The whole party moves with him in easy synchronicity. They practiced this endlessly after the first disaster, back at the compound.
A woman comes down the ramp behind the pilot, wrapped in a heavy gray coat and blinking against the wind as it whips her thin blond hair backward. She squints first at Ren and then at Hux. It’s Elana, somehow-- the only person who could come here to look at Hux with recognition and not set his gut on fire with terror. She’s so overcome that the pilot has to keep her from toppling over against the wind, but she rights herself quickly, making her face as passive as she can while she holds Hux’s disbelieving gaze.
Your mother! That’s Samsa suddenly in his head. She sounds delighted but not entirely surprised, as if Elana’s identity is the solution to a puzzle she couldn’t quite solve until this moment. Hux scowls without meaning to, feeling as if he’s been left out of some plan, then allows his expression to soften until he’s gaping at Elana. She laughs softly, or perhaps it’s more of a sob. Hux can’t hear the sound of it over the wind. He can only see Elana’s expression as it seems to shift from giddy joy to anguish and back again.
“Come forward.” That’s Ren, because Hux has lost his voice.
Did you know? Hux sends, unable to otherwise move or speak as Elana walks toward them.
No, Ren sends back. I sensed things would change today but only for the better. I didn’t know how to explain that to you in a way that would have made you believe me. I didn’t know to expect this. I can’t imagine how she managed to get here.
Hux can; he knows Elana far better than Ren, however many lunches out those two had while he was imprisoned. Still, looking her in the face here on Enga, it’s hard to accept that she can see him, too, and that it’s not only one of his dreams.
“There are four more on board,” the pilot says, speaking to Ren. “A baron from Gonji commissioned this craft after an accident at one of his mines. They have burns, bad ones. This one won’t tell me what she’s come for,” he adds, glancing at Elana, who hasn’t taken her eyes off Hux, though her sobbing laughter has calmed into a mask of stoicism. “She says you’ll know what she’s looking for.”
“Indeed,” Ren says. Elana spares him a wary glance; Hux supposes she’s never seen him with the mask on before. “Can the others get off the ship or do they require assistance?”
“I can bring them out on their hoverchairs, but I wouldn’t say no to a hand if you can spare one.”
Ren and the pilot continue their discussion. Hux can’t make himself pay attention as Elana walks closer to him, almost close enough to touch. Phasma and Tuck are both confused and tense, their hands remaining on their fake lightsabers. Uta must recognize Elana from the holo broadcasts; she’s smiling under her hood when Hux glances at her. Then he looks at his mother again and can’t stop staring.
“Well, do you?” Elana asks when she’s close enough to whisper under the wind. She’s reached for Hux twice but stopped herself both times; he assumes she’s traveling under a false name, but it would still be unwise to let their guard down in front of the pilot or anyone else. “Do you know what I’m looking for?” Elana asks, her lips trembling.
“Come with me,” Hux says. He glances at Ren, who nods. They don’t even need a nonverbal exchange through the Force to have this particular conversation. Ren has things in hand. Four burn victims, divided between him and Samsa, might not even leave him drained enough to require a nap when he’s done.
Hux walks up the hill beside Elana, directly into the strong wind that seems to encourage them both not to speak yet. It feels almost choking when Hux tries to breathe in it, or perhaps his chest is constricting regardless. His hood blows backward when Ren’s concentration on keeping it in place breaks, and he barely catches the hat before the wind takes it. He walks the remainder of the way with both his hands pressed over it, feeling now as if it’s a shield Ren made for him, something that’s protecting him from falling apart.
When they’re on the other side of the hill, in the courtyard and at least mostly out of the wind, Hux turns to Elana. He’s breathing hard, trying to remember why he so desperately wants to apologize.
“Are we alone here?” she asks, already reaching for his face. Her hands are cold and smaller than he remembers; she’s crying a little but only at the corners of her eyes, which look very bright. “Is it safe?” she asks, voice breaking.
“Mum.” Hux hasn’t called her that since he was small enough to fit in her lap. He puts his hands over hers and laughs when she does. “How?”
“How indeed,” she says, and she pulls him into her arms. He gasps against her shoulder and pulls the collar of her coat over his face, as if someone might see. He’s not crying; he can’t even make himself process what this means, who might have helped her get here, how long she’ll stay. All he can think about is this sensation that he was wrong about having been blown carelessly about by whichever wind could take him all his life: if she’s here now, it was never so dire. He was never as lost as he’d feared.
“You look so well,” Elana says when she pulls back to blink tearfully and beam at him, holding his face again. “So much better than you did in that place.”
“Do I? I can’t remember the last time I saw a mirror. You look well yourself, are you all right? Did you really come for healing?”
“Elan, what do you think? Of course I came for you, only for you.”
“How did you find me?”
Hux hears a footstep across the courtyard and looks up to see Mitaka watching them nervously from the doorway of his house.
“That boy from the hearing?” Elana says.
“Yes, there he is. It’s all right!” Hux calls to Mitaka, waving. “At least I think so,” he says when he looks back to Elana. “Who is that pilot, how did you arrange all of this?”
“Rey Antilles came to me and said she had a way for me to get here undetected. She discovered it through, you know.” Elana holds her hand up and wiggles her fingers. “However they do it, the Force users. The baron the pilot mentioned is Mot Tinnor, a family friend from the old days, from a very high-ranking Imperial family. I think you met him as a boy. Do you remember him?”
“No. All those old Imperials have blurred together in my mind.”
“Yes, I know the feeling. But Rey returned my attention to this one. There was an accident at a mine he owns and these people were buried in rubble-- By the time they were extracted it was too late to use bacta on their burns, and it can only do so much for bad burns like this anyway. Rey told me to go to Mot with this offer to help his employees while also keeping the whole incident under wraps. I was afraid it wouldn’t be safe enough but Rey insists that it is, and Mot wouldn’t turn you in even if he did discover I came here to see you. He’s very corrupt, he cheered your escape.”
“Fuck-- Sorry.” Hux pulls her into another hug, taking a moment to try to absorb all of that.
“You’ve become so affectionate!” she says, squeezing him.
“Probably true, but I hardly know what I’m doing, having you here is surreal. Come inside, let’s get out of the wind. How long was your journey?”
“With those poor people on board it felt like an eternity, but I think it was only a few days. Can he really heal them?”
“Ren and his apprentice can, yes. The girl with the cape and the veil is a healer, too.”
Only when Elana is standing inside the house and the noise of the wind is on the other side of the door does Hux feel like he’s fully awake and not strolling through a dream, whereas once this house had been the most dream-like thing on Enga to him. Elana follows him to the stove and watches his hand tremble as he fills the tea kettle. She’s barely looked at the house, only at him.
“I’ll give you a tour,” Hux says, trying to hold himself together under her scrutiny. It’s been over three years, but he feels as if she’s come here directly from reading his memoir. “Do you-- Are you hungry? I’ll make tea, obviously.”
“Obviously.” She laughs and touches his shoulders, hugs him from behind and rests her cheek on his back. “What is this awful thing you’re wearing?”
“It’s a kind of costume-- We’re supposed to look like a gang of threatening mystics. How did we do?”
“I was nervous when I heard you shouting, I don’t know why. I knew it was you! And as soon as I saw Ren towering behind you with that weapon I knew everything would be fine. He’s a strangely reassuring presence for me, even with his face covered.”
“Ah, yes. For me, too. How long will you be able to stay?”
“Elan!” She turns him around by the shoulders and peers up at him, the sight of her red-rimmed eyes making his blur over again. “I’ll stay for as long as you’ll let me, of course.”
“Well, forever then.”
Hux loses his composure at last and clings to her until the tea kettle begins to make noise, and even afterward. He lets her rock him and whisper things in her mother’s native language, words he can barely recall the meaning of except that they all essentially translate to baby, my baby.
“I’m so sorry,” he says when he can speak, leaving his face buried against her shoulder. He doesn’t reach for the kettle, almost wants its building shriek to hide what he’s about to say. “About that book, about-- I’m sorry. Leaving all that in my wake, and you having to deal with it.”
“What nonsense, stop it.” Her voice is steady, even sharp, but her face is wet against his ear. “I was so proud of you. My genius boy, you can do anything. The money I kept from the sales is what paid my way here. I was so proud of you for getting away, for leaving that book in their hands, your own words that they couldn’t change. I couldn’t tell anyone that I dared to feel proud, but now finally I can tell you. And you wrote about me,” she says, pulling back to rest her forehead against his. Hux keeps his eyes closed, pinched shut. “If only I deserved to be remembered so fondly.”
“Now who’s talking nonsense.” Hux pulls his hat off; he’d forgotten he was wearing it. He uses it to mop at his face and turns to take the screaming tea kettle off the heat. “They’re my fond memories, and they’re accurate.” He goes to the cabinet for tea cups, not wanting to discuss this further just now, with his voice thick and his eyes wet. “I’m embarrassed to admit that I have never served you tea. How do you take it?”
“I don’t suppose you have milk?” She’s smoothing his hair for him, trying to fix the damage done by the hat.
“I’ve got some milk. It’s white here, though.”
“How disturbing! Let’s have it. I want to try everything new and hear all about this place and your settlement. That’s what Rey called it, a settlement. So you’re a pioneer now, too.”
Hux snorts and launches into his explanation of why he’s not a pioneer, exactly. More like a scavenger, perhaps even a parasite, but it’s true that the healers now serve the communities in the north on a regular basis, a steady stream of those who need healing arriving weekly if not daily, and it feels good to talk about infrastructure, his accomplishments in rebuilt plumbing and wind-powered energy systems, in making their own alcohol and food storage devices and all of them being fluent now in Engali. Elana holds his hand on the table and sips from her tea. Hux isn’t sure now why he assumed they would have to mourn for many painful hours about what they missed their chance to cry about together once. His mother is like him: she moves forward, and neither sugarcoats nor wallows in the past.
There’s a knock on the door, and Hux wonders if it’s Ren asking for permission to interrupt. When he calls for the knocker to enter he’s surprised and then glad to see Specs with Wilk on her hip.
“Sorry,” Specs says, lingering in the doorway while Wilk squirms and tries to get down. “Doph wanted me to make sure everything’s still all right.”
“We’re fine in here,” Hux says. It’s certainly obvious that he’s been crying, but there’s nothing to be done about it now. His voice has recovered, at least. “I take it the healing party hasn’t come back yet?”
“No, but Chata tells us everything looks optimal from the tower. Hey!” she whispers to Wilk, who is whining now. “We’re not here for a visit.”
“You can come in,” Hux says. “Meet my mother, she just arrived. Elana, this is Specs, one of the engineering students I was telling you about. And her son, Willcar.”
“That’s not my name,” Wilk protests, jogging over to the table as soon as Specs lets him down. He grabs for Hux’s hat, the one unfamiliar object in a room that he routinely inspects as if he’s got a warrant to search the place. “What is it?” he asks, turning it over in his hands.
“A hat,” Hux says. “Do you even know of hats, having been raised in the wilderness?”
Hux puts it on Wilk’s head in demonstration while Specs shakes Elana’s hand and makes pleasantries with her. Wilk immediately removes the hat and then puts it back on again, crooked now. Elana’s eyes are wide when she looks at the boy and then at Hux.
“There are children here?” she says. “I didn’t know.”
“Just the one,” Hux says. He refrains from saying so far; he has not inquired as to the contraceptive situation in the Mitaka household and has told Ren that he doesn’t want to know. “He’s good for morale,” Hux says, winking at Specs so she’ll think he’s only joking. It is a joke, but also true, whereas Hux had once brought Mitaka to the desert base for that same purpose. It was a wisely prescient move, he’s decided.
“Meral?” Wilk says, looking up at Hux, both little hands on Hux’s knees.
“No, she’s something else entirely,” Hux says. “Morale is like the mood of the company generally. Like if I were to hand out biscuits to everyone to make them happier, that would improve morale.”
“Does he always talk to your baby like he’s an adult?” Elana asks, still gaping.
“He does,” Specs says. “But we’ve no objection. Wilk likes him.”
“Biscuits?” Wilk says hopefully, and Hux stands to get them from the cabinets.
Elana is quiet when Wilk and Specs have gone, leaving Hux’s hat and taking a handful of biscuits for the boy. Hux gives Elana the tour of the house and considers a tour of the courtyard but decides that can wait until Ren returns and all is clear.
“What’s wrong?” he asks when Elana stands at the window in the bedroom and stares up at the trunks of the stilt trees. “You’ve gone all gloomy,” Hux says when she turns, hoping they won’t have to revisit the subject of his memoir.
“I’m anything but,” Elana says. “It’s just-- The sight of you with that baby. I know he’s not yours-- Right?”
“Mother.” Hux rolls his eyes. “No.”
“Of course. But it’s not something I’d prepared myself to see when I got here, not at all. It made my chest flutter, it’s fluttering still. In a good way. It’s amazing, Elan, you know-- You’ve really made something here. You’ve been making things all your life and this is my favorite one of all, already. By far.”
“I had lots of help,” Hux says, glad that he’s already spent his quota of emotional outbursts for the day. He’d never realized how long he’s waited to hear she’s proud of him. Now he feels like he can’t hear it enough. “Would you like to lie down?” he asks. “Ren will be back soon and he’s likely to interrogate you about goings-on back home.”
“I should get my bag from the ship,” Elana says. “I have things for you, presents.”
Hux offers to get it for her, but she insists she’s not ready to leave his side and walks with him back up the hill, clutching at his arm until they’re in sight of the others. Hux has his hood pulled over his hair again, and he’s wearing the hat underneath, for luck. As soon as they see the party assembled at the base of the tree he knows he doesn’t particularly need the luck: there is much crying and rejoicing among the four healed miners, two of whom are bowing to Samsa. Ren is talking with the pilot, still wearing his mask. Hux would wager that he’s already made the man forget Elana was ever onboard his vessel, and he brings her behind the cover of some trees.
“You’ll both want what’s in my bag,” Elana says.
“I’ve no doubt,” Hux says, thinking of the letters she must be carrying, maybe even holos if they dared them. “But Ren can get it for you.”
“How will he know? Does he always know everything?”
“No, he didn’t even know you were coming, but I can sort of-- Speak to him. From a distance. From this distance, easily.”
“I suppose I knew that.” Elana smiles and stares as if she’s waiting for Hux to do a magic trick. He has to glance away from her to concentrate.
Get her bag from the ship, he sends to Ren. And I take it I don’t need to remind you to wipe everyone’s memories of having her onboard?
Hux disconnects; he didn’t expect Ren’s energy to feel so angry, or angry at all after what seems like an easily accomplished healing. Perhaps it was just the implication that he might not have thought to do the memory wiping himself. Hux watches as the miners begin to proceed back toward the ship, without the need of hoverchairs now, still bowing. Samsa waves like a princess to her adoring subjects, Tuck at her side and Phasma and Uta behind them. Ren follows the pilot onto the ship and emerges alone with a large bag slung over his back.
“Did he get the right one?” Hux asks, and Elana nods.
“What will they think about me staying here?” she asks.
“They won’t,” Hux says, and then he has a better idea about why Ren might be in a bad mood. Ren claims the healing power comes from a kind of darkness, because it’s unfair by nature of the fact that he can’t heal everyone, but wiping memories is more deliberately dark, and he’s done nothing like that in years.
Ren comes up the hill first once the ship has blasted off. He’s followed by the others, everyone else’s countenance already visibly relaxed. Ren is tense, but he takes off his helmet when he reaches them and allows Elana to hug him, ducking down to give her a one-armed embrace.
“You told me we would see each other again,” Elana says when she pulls back. “I didn’t imagine it would be on some strange planet in unknown space.”
“It’s not such a strange planet,” Ren says. He glances at Hux. “We should go to the house, there’s much to discuss.”
“Samsa says she’s your mother,” Tuck says, falling in step with Hux when Elana walks ahead with Ren, asking questions.
“That’s right,” Hux says.
“She looks like you,” Samsa says, tapping her nose. “Here.”
“I suppose. How was it with those people? You don’t seem winded.”
“Winded.” Samsa smirks at the expression. “No, I’m fine. I think Ren is, too. He’s--” She quirks her lips and sends the rest to Hux directly. Upset about the misdirection he used on those people to protect your mother. He’s taught me how to do this kind of mind trick, but he wouldn’t let me try it. He feels it’s-- Too natural, still. Reminds him of bad times.
Hux grunts; leave it to Ren to make Elana’s arrival here all about him and his feelings. Ren is amicable enough with her, but his shoulders are slumped. When they part from the others and return to the house Hux feels newly giddy to be able to entertain his mother in a home that he’s proud of, and he pokes through their pantry while Elana unpacks her bag on the kitchen table, setting out gifts. He’s going to suggest they open a good bottle of something when he comes back into the kitchen with nicer biscuits and some white-milk cheese he’d been saving, and only then does he realize that Ren’s glumness is not to do with having erased memories, or at least not entirely. He’s jealous, of course. Hux remembers that feeling well, when he assumed Ren was being welcomed back to his family’s loving arms while Hux remained alone in prison.
Don’t be stupid, Ren sends. I’m happy for you.
You can be both.
“This is for you,” Elana says, placing a packet of letters on the table in front of Ren. “From Rey, from your family.”
“Thank you.” Ren looks at the package, doesn’t touch it. “How often were you in contact with them?”
“Not often, but we kept in touch. Rey says she sees you occasionally, through some kind of connection?”
“We can sometimes find each other in dreams. It’s how she knows where I am. But it’s--” Ren looks down at the letters. “It’s a strained connection, usually.”
Hux didn’t know that, though he’s not exactly surprised. Ren usually wakes from dreams about Rey with a particular kind of melancholy. As far as Hux knows, he’s never met Leia in a dream, or Luke.
“Rey says she’d like to come here,” Elana says. “As soon as she can devise a way to make it a round trip. Here, Elan, these are for you.” Just two letters: she sets them on the table when Hux remains frozen near the pantry, unable to imagine who might have written to him other than perhaps Jek. “I’ve also got some more pedestrian gifts, though I hope you’ll be glad for them.”
Her other gifts are mostly items of clothing: some heavy and some light, all so finely made that Hux thinks she must have blown every last credit she had before leaving. There are a few fancy foodstuffs that Hux had liked as a boy-- New Republic equivalents, anyway. Holorecords, a new data pad that won’t be on any sort of network here but which Hux prizes above all the other goods she’s brought because he might be able to strip it for parts and make something long range by combining it with parts of the old one that Leia gave them. He likes the idea that one offering from each of their mothers might be what it takes to get a signal that could safely reach all the way back to where they came from, though he knows it’s a long shot and would probably need some more specific and harder to find components.
“I’m going to cook,” Ren announces after he’s tried on one of the new tunics Elana brought him; it’s only a bit tight, mostly in the arms. “Will you put our things away?”
He gives Hux a beseeching look; he still hasn’t touched the letters from his family. Of course he won’t read them while Elana looks on, and perhaps he won’t even want Hux around when he does. Hux gathers up their presents, including both bundles of letters. In the bedroom, he listens to the sound of Elana and Ren chatting about Enga and the Engali and lowers slowly to sit on the bed, holding the two letters that are addressed to him. He recognizes Jek’s handwriting on one envelope, and thinks he recognizes the other script, too, but it can’t be--
He opens Jek’s first. He’s relieved to see that it’s brief.
To Any Friends Who Might Be Wondering:
All’s well here-- there was a time when I feared maybe your leaving was a sign that I’d been wrong about you, but all these years later I realize that it’s actually proof that I was right, because you’re on your own now and I’m told by my friend Ms. Antilles that you’ve done only good things with your second chance. PS I made so many credits from doing the What Was It Like to Defend Starkiller tour (I wrote a book, too!) that I can afford to solely worffill k for clients who can’t pay me (your legacy!) However galactic history comes down on it, you were an unforgettable part of what I’ve always felt is my true calling. PPS Autolights aren’t as popular as they once were here but I think of you whenever I catch a whiff of one. Your friend, J.
Hux reads the message several times, mostly to avoid opening the other one. He recognizes the stationery as well as the handwriting, and almost wants to call to his mother in and demand to know where this came from. But he knows the where, just not the when, until he opens the yellowed Imperial envelope.
Your mother demands that I write a letter to you by hand on the occasion of your birth, as is traditional in her culture. May you never be so hopelessly beholden to a person that you undertake foolish customs at their insistence or allow them to saddle your second son with an inappropriate name solely because your firstborn was named after you. (A ridiculous argument, and yet I capitulated).
With this name already weighing against you I shall have to be strict with you, but when you read this as an adult (as is her people’s tradition-- does she assume I’ll be dead and therefore unable to tell you this in person?) I will explain that it was for your own good and surely you will agree with me, having by then claimed many honors and a higher rank perhaps than I’ll ever have. I am a humble man who is happy to reign over my Academy and work diligently in the background for the glory of the Empire, and while I suspect your brother will be a decorated soldier I foresee different things for you. More glorious things, I confess, because your mother is a born schemer who was able to get me to sit down and write a letter to an infant (no small feat) who is presently crying and keeping us both awake, and I believe that the combination of her ruthless wiles and my more pragmatic tendency toward hard work will get you very far. Perhaps the entire reason I married your quite difficult mother (very opaque to me at present) was that together we would make a truly great man. You could be Emperor someday. Do not forget where you came from, wherever you go next.
Your devoted father,
“I snatched that away from him and told him I should tear it up,” Elana says.
Hux turns to see her leaning in the bedroom doorway. Ren is banging around in the kitchen; for all the pride he takes in cooking and his mastery of the Force he has never managed grace in any pursuit outside of their bed.
“But I had real love for him when he wrote it,” Elana says. “Because he’d just given me you.”
She walks to the bed, sits down beside Hux and stares at the letter. It feels sacred, like an artifact that contains some true essence of the two of them as they were when Brendol wrote it. Hux never would have imagined Brendol had the ability to capture a moment in time by any means.
“I never thought I’d show it to you,” Elana says. “Even after I’d kept it all those years. Look at him calling himself humble, ha! And criticizing your name. But when I read your book I thought of this old letter that I’d always kept. Don’t take it the wrong way, but something about the way you write made me think of him. There’s a strange kind of humor in it, yeah? More self-aware in your case, of course.”
“Of course.” Hux can’t pull his gaze from the letter. He feels as if he just slid backward through time and now he’s still crawling toward where he really is. “Thank you, I-- Never would have thought to expect this.”
“I thought you should have something of him. Other than this,” she says, and she touches his hair. “Or, I should say-- I thought you should know you have something of him that’s not just what we both long to cast off, all that Imperial hardness.”
Hux isn’t sure he’s ever wanted to cast his off, but he tucks Brendol’s letter away carefully and turns to let Elana pull him into his arms, so perhaps he has done just that. He prefers to think of it as a thing he’s transformed: before, he was really always battering himself with it, even when he brought it down most heavily against others. Now he uses it mostly as fortification against attacks that come from within: memories, guilt, doubt, fear. Though he also has Ren to shield him from those things.
“Maybe I am a bit like Brendol,” Hux says when he sits back. He touches the print on the front of the envelope from his father; even the angry slant of his handwriting makes it clear that he dislikes the name Elan. “I followed Ren and his strange customs into wild space, after all.”
“Well, maybe Brendol should have followed me further.” Elana’s face changes when Hux looks up at her again, and he feels it in his heart: a tight understanding between them, not unlike the way Ren reaches into him with the Force. “Or I should have--” she says, her voice dropping off into a whisper. “Of course I should have just. Taken you away, before they could hurt you--”
“You couldn’t have known and I didn’t tell you.” Hux is proud of the steadiness of his voice, not because he’s managed to suppress some weak tremble but because there is nothing to suppress. He means what he’s saying and isn’t afraid to speak it. “There are a thousand things I’d take back now, but if I did we wouldn’t be sitting here, and I’m happy here, and happy that you’re here, and maybe it’s mad, certainly it’s selfish, but I like where I am, and who I’m with, and I just want to keep going forward on this path. That’s all I can want now and it feels like more than enough. Every day I’m grateful to have it.”
Elana nods and smooths her hand over his hair again. She presses her lips together. For a moment Hux is sure she’ll break down, but then she puts her shoulders back and smiles.
“This was my dearest wish,” she says. “Even on the night Brendol wrote that letter. You and I living in peace together somewhere.”
“I can’t believe you’re here,” Hux says, though he can now. She feels real to him at last, sitting on this bed that Ren once wrote to him about when there seemed to be no hope they would ever really find it, and his fear is coming back along with the sense of solidifying reality, or maybe it’s more like doubt: that he can keep peace here for her and all the others, that he can keep everyone safe.
“Let’s go sit with Ren,” she says, quietly. “I think he must feel lonely for his own family. That little boy isn’t his, is he?”
“No! Wilk is Mitaka’s-- the man from the hearing, the one you saw earlier.”
“Okay, all right, just checking.”
While Ren finishes the meal, Hux pours some corlei wine for everyone. Hux has developed a taste for it, particularly since he’s the one who is in charge of making it now, and Elana almost manages to convince him that she likes it. During dinner Ren drinks more than he normally does and tells stories about the years they’ve spent on Enga. Elana laughs and encourages him until she’s nearly asleep in her seat. Not quite ready to have her even as far away as one of the nearby stone houses, Hux makes a bed for her near the kitchen hearth when she refuses to take their bed for the night.
“You’ll have much better accommodations soon,” Hux promises.
“I cannot imagine any better than this,” Elana says, reclining back onto the thick mound of pillows he’s set out. “Though I’m sorry to intrude on your love nest for even one night.”
“Please don’t call it that.”
“It’s not a-- It’s a permanent residence. Far more distinguished than any sort of nest.”
“Of course, forgive me.”
Hux feels like he’s been dearly missing Ren all day when he goes into their bedroom and shuts the door behind him, as if they’ve been away from each other for some time while Hux ventured with Elana into the depths of their past. Ren is in bed, slumped onto his side. The letters from his family are nowhere to be seen. Hux dawdled with the dinner dishes and the sleeping arrangements for Elana long enough to give Ren time to read them.
“All right there?” Hux says, pausing on his way into the washroom.
“Something’s wrong with that batch of wine,” Ren mutters, his face half-hidden in his pillow. “It made my head hurt.”
“Surely you know that booze does that more often than not.”
“Not to me, not usually.”
Hux thinks of going to him directly but decides to wash up first. Once he settles into bed and puts his arms around Ren he won’t want to get up again until morning. He forgoes his usual evening bath, during which he not infrequently smokes a little proha, and only washes his face, cleans his teeth. All the lights are out in the bedroom when he returns, and Ren has rolled toward Hux’s side of the bed. Asking to be held. Hux shucks his clothes off and hurries to do so.
“Did you read them?” Hux asks when Ren has been quiet a while. He’s breathing a bit heavily against Hux’s chest while Hux watches the window, the moons.
“Yes, of course.”
“What news from home, then?”
“Nothing I didn’t expect. Finn and Rey travel frequently. Luke and Wedge, too. My mother still works all the time. She said--” Ren hesitates, swallows. “Said that she misses me, but I’m sure she means Ben, not me.”
Hux weighs his response carefully and draws his fingers through Ren’s hair. He thinks of shouting at Ren on the beach near the house on the cliff, when Ren dared to make assumptions about his mother.
“I suspect she’s very curious about your life now,” Hux says.
“Wondering what messes I might be making, things she’d have to clean up.”
“Mhm, no. I don’t think she would have let us go the way she did if she thought there would be further mess-making.”
“She didn’t let us go. I left her no choice.”
“Give her a little credit, Ren. She commands the forces that reclaimed the galaxy from the likes of us. I think she could have stopped us leaving her home planet if she’d wanted to. I’m sure she could have.”
Ren goes quiet again. Hux hooks his leg over Ren’s side and uses it to tug him in closer. He thinks of mentioning the letter from Brendol, then decides fathers and their long-ago expectations aren’t an appropriate topic right now.
“You seemed spry enough after the healing today,” Hux says.
“It was nothing.”
“Not to those people. Did you administer the secrecy oath?”
“Tuck did it. He got some of the words wrong. I guess it doesn’t matter. Most leave thinking that if they break their word to us the healing will be undone. I altered their memories so that they won’t remember Elana. The whole thing will be indistinct to them, like a dream. Even their memories of the pain.”
“Maybe that’s a gift you gave them.”
“No. Remembering pain that you’ve overcome has value.”
Hux supposes that’s true. He feels himself falling asleep and tries to fight it for Ren’s sake, but he’s very tired after the previous few sleepless nights. His fear that something was coming for them is gone-- Or transformed, more like, into what it always should have been. In the morning he’ll give Elana a proper tour of their little community, and maybe even some particularly beautiful parts of the jungle. He hopes she packed at least one pair of practical shoes.
In one of his dreams that night he watches a documentary film made by Finn, about the horrors of the now-dead First Order. Finn walks through the silenced halls of the Finalizer and talks about the stormtrooper program, Kylo Ren, General Hux. He interviews several people on the subject of Hux specifically: Pella, Stepwell, Moa, Uta with her old face, and finally General Organa.
“I once knew an ewok who was very like Hux,” Organa says, nodding to herself. “His name was Gorby.”
In the dream, Hux understands this to be the perfect subtle dig at him, masterfully metaphorical and nuanced to the point that he can’t muster any real offense. He can only admire Organa for delivering it with a straight face, looking right into the camera.
I’ve recently been remiss in my record-keeping duties not just in this notebook but across the board. We have been very busy this past week, entertaining some long-awaited guests: Rey and Finn have stopped here on their pre-wedding honeymoon tour. Ren of course insisted on hosting a ‘wedding’ for them here, and while he claimed it would be kept simple the preparations for it occupied much of our time this week between showing them around the planet etc. I don’t think Rey or Finn cared to do anything beyond a simple ceremony overseen by the local spiritual leader (that would be Ren, in our community) and perhaps some drinks and food afterward but Ren took it all quite seriously and performed the wedding at his rustic “not Jedi” temple in the jungle amidst glittering decor both natural and otherwise, I think so that we can send an impressive holo recording of the whole affair (taken by me, to keep me out of sight) back home to his mother, and for that reason I allowed the frivolity to consume our lives for a time.
I can’t say it was without merit, however-- It’s always good to have something to celebrate other than Wilk’s birthday, which is like our singular national holiday most years. (Not that I consider us a nation. We remain ‘tolerated’ by the Engali on all technical fronts, though we are not infrequently brought generous offerings and gifts from those Samsa and Ren have healed over the years and aren’t turned away from the markets or harassed in the northern cities-- just stared at mercilessly, of course.) I’m not one for parties myself but it was good to see the others enjoying it, especially Ren, who has been very animated this week in the presence of Rey, both because he adores her and because she is like a kind of ambassador to his family; I’m sure he expects her to go home and tell everyone that their risky investment in Ren’s Obscure Future has been a good one. I’ll admit I also quite enjoyed introducing Rey and Finn to our life here and to this planet in general; I suppose one thing Ren and I have in common is the tendency to relish explaining things to others, or perhaps more generously it could be said that we both like teaching/lecturing.
Impressions of Rey and Finn, five years later: She is very self-possessed and grown up but still has her girlish moments and particularly seems to share a sense of humor with Ren that is at times a bit juvenile. I think Samsa was mildly jealous of Rey at first but of course they were great friends by the end of Rey’s first day here; Rey is rather impossible to dislike and could probably rule the galaxy as a ruthless and powerful Empress and still be beloved by all. At any rate those three spent some time communing with the Force or what have you (I largely stay out of it these days; it’s to my great relief that this is possible) and during those sessions I was expected to entertain Finn, whose enormous surprise at learning that Phasma allied herself with the renegade troopers she once sought to retrieve was very amusing to Phasma herself. The ex-troopers all see Finn as a kind of inspirational idol to this day and have been (obnoxiously, in my view) falling all over themselves to treat him as an honored guest. Like Rey, he has a calmer, more mature energy these days but also retains a youthful wonder about all we’ve shown them-- both he and Rey seem to find our surroundings here quite beautiful and the community itself impressively organized-- it’s possible they’re only trying to flatter us, but really, why would they care to. Finn in particular was rather taken with Wilk, who loves meeting new people and doesn’t get the opportunity very often. Ren thinks this means Finn will want children right away and has been lecturing Rey on why she should delay starting a family in favor of continuing her ‘work in the Force,’ to her amusement, I think…
They are leaving soon (I slipped away from a rather heavy farewell party, not unlike the one I ducked out on at Lando’s estate) so I should wrap this up and give them a proper goodbye this time. They promise to return, and there were some mutterings about Luke and Wedge or even perhaps Organa visiting, but I think the journey is a somewhat conspicuous one, from their point of departure, and they’re cautious about drawing more attention here (which I appreciate, though I wish Ren could have this. I’ve told him he can go home and visit without me and he’s considered it but hasn’t made the leap yet). (I confess I would certainly be out of sorts having him that far away, but Samsa would be here to maintain all Force-based security measures and I’m hardly so fragile that I can’t spare Ren for a few weeks).
What I mainly want to note about the mood surrounding this visit is that it feels very different from our time together in that estate after the triangulation, and not just because I no longer assume that these people want to drag me back to prison (though I’m sure Finn at least thinks I’d deserve it, even if he would regret the chain reaction Ren’s anguish would cause for Rey). Dare I say that it feels as if all of us have made something solid for ourselves in the galaxy, whereas before we had nothing but potential, in my case much of it the potential for disaster. Last night I talked with Rey about the Infinite (I didn’t plan to; I had smoked a little). I asked her if she was sorry not to have seen it and she said she assumed it must feel like a kind of burden that Ren and I carry and that she’s always been glad not to have it herself. I understood the assumption but it’s never felt that way to me. I tried to explain why and probably did a poor job-- it’s hard to say, as she’s very generous in conversation, possibly because she can read between what’s said aloud with the Force. Just talking about it all these years later made me feel both nervous and newly secure at the same time-- Duality, Ren would call it.
I should stop delaying and go out there. I dislike farewells. As much as showing Rey and Finn around and providing them meals and explaining things endlessly has disrupted our normal routines, I am sorry to see them go, and I dread Ren’s mood in the aftermath. I shall have to take particular care with him; I’ve agreed to go on a camping trip with him to collect some medicinal plants from the mountains. I loathe camping but he takes great pleasure in subjecting me to it and we do always seem to have especially good sex inside tents, for some reason.
Hux puts his notebook away, no longer able to delay without being rude. He huffs with amusement at the thought of going back in time and telling his General self that he would someday not want to be impolite to some Resistance members, including the traitor FN-2187. That he can hear Finn talking with Phasma through the open door that leads out into the main room is odd enough in itself. They’ve not exactly become friends but do seem to have a particular curiosity about the other’s experiences since they last met.
The wind is too strong today to have the goodbye gathering outdoors, so everyone is packed into the Hux-Ren household. Though most of the others have built additions to theirs, this is still the largest dwelling in the community, cramped as it now is with people and conversation. Hux smiles tightly as he winds through the gathered crowd. Ren is somber already as he speaks to Rey near the pantry; Hux can feel it even from across the room. Wilk is the center of attention as usual, playing some kind of hand-clapping game with Finn, who taught it to him based on something Finn’s niece and nephew apparently play. Feeling tired of all the company, Hux goes to Elana’s side. She’s standing with Uta, muttering quietly while the others laugh at Wilk’s antics.
“I was just telling Malietta how odd it is that I trust these people so much,” Elana says.
“These people?” Hux says.
“Rey and Finn. Particularly Rey, when she came to me with a way to get to you here. I should have suspected she was working for Organa to find you, shouldn’t I have?”
“No,” Hux says. “I thought you met Organa in the city and liked her?”
“Yes, but very briefly, and she was interested in protecting her son, not you.”
“Well, to her great annoyance there’s no doing one without the other.”
Hux glances at Ren, who looks up from his conversation with Rey as if he’s sensed Hux’s eyes on him. Ren’s expression is a bit drawn and tired, but his feedback is warm when Hux feels it pressing outward toward him. There’s a sense of something renewed in it, the way he gets when he sleeps well after a healing session.
“What’s next?” Uta says. “Organa coming here?”
Hux snorts. “Doubtful,” he says, feeling a kind of sympathetic ache for Ren when he admits this. Elana must feel it, too. She’s watching Ren, looking sad.
“He’s always coming to my house to fix things,” Elana says. “I think he wishes he could do that for his own mother. There’s a certain energy to it, a desperate to please sort of thing.”
“Stop making ridiculous assumptions about my co-commander,” Hux says, embarrassed for him.
“Don’t call him that,” Elana says. “He’s your husband, isn’t he?”
“Not really,” Hux says, and he walks away from the whole conversation when he feels his face heating. He’s fine with Elana knowing that last year he acquiesced to a ‘binding ceremony’ at the center of Ren’s jungle temple that involved no witnesses, no decorations and not even any vows, but he doesn’t want everyone knowing about it, not even Uta. She’ll tell Phasma, who will tell everyone. They don’t wear rings, and Hux isn’t sure why he wants to keep the whole thing as confidential as possible. It’s pointless; everyone knows what they are to each other. But even after writing about it in what Rey tells him is still the highest-selling holorecord in history and confessing to it on the most widely broadcast holochannel in history, he wants to hold some part of what he has with Ren out of sight, close to his chest.
“Any messages from you to take back to civilization?” Rey asks when Hux comes to stand beside Ren. “I’ve got Ren’s already,” she says, glancing at him meaningfully.
“Nothing from me,” Hux says. He wonders what Ren wrote for Leia, Luke and Wedge but didn’t dare ask to see any of Ren’s letters to them, though he was tempted to when he remembered Ren’s rambling missives sent to the Tower. Hux had cherished them but had often been left wanting footnotes.
“You don’t have a second volume of your memoirs to bestow upon the galaxy?” Rey asks. She’s joking, smirking at him. Hux’s flush deepens when he thinks of the six notebooks full of writings that are hidden in his bedroom. He has no plans to publish any of them, or the seventh one that he began this year, but has occasionally fantasized about the notebooks being discovered after his death and studied, dissected, analyzed in the same way his memoir was. Rey brought a whole stack of academic holorecords about him as ‘gifts’; he hasn’t had the nerve to open any of them yet.
“I think I’ll remain a mystery for now,” Hux says. “I enjoy the theories about where I am far too much to put forth the official account just yet.”
“The one about us being pirate cannibals who terrorize wayward ships in wild space,” Ren says, nodding. “That’s the best one.”
“You would enjoy the idea that people think you’re out in the galaxy eating your own kind when you’re actually doing good,” Rey says.
“Not that much good,” Ren mutters. “A few beings, a handful of minor miseries undone. It’s a small thing.”
“Small things can do the most good.”
“Did Master Luke teach you that?”
“Shut it,” Rey says. “He misses you.”
“You told me already.” Ren glances at Hux. “I refuse to believe he said so.”
“He doesn’t have to say it! You forget that I’m not above reading someone’s feedback without their permission from time to time. Don’t mistake me for a purist of the Light. That way lies Darkness, padawan.”
“I won’t miss you calling me that,” Ren says, in a way that makes it obvious that of course he will, very much.
“We should get going,” Finn says when Wilk has abandoned their game to return to the snacks on the kitchen counter. Finn glances at Ren and then at Hux. “Thanks for, uh. Having us?” He looks at Rey; he’s been a good sport but has obviously had his fill of this post-Order paradise for unpunished criminals, though he did seem to sincerely enjoy bonding with his fellow ex-troopers, and with Wilk.
“Yes, thank you,” Rey says. “We’ll come again, I mean it. The trip wasn’t nearly as hard to manage as I’d feared. Walk us to our ship?”
Hux would stay behind if Ren didn’t need the company. For Ren’s sake he walks out into the blasting wind that makes Rey laugh as she stumbles into it. They follow Rey and Finn to where they’ve parked their ship, alongside the Falcon. Hux adds working on the Falcon to his mental list of things that may cheer Ren up after Finn and Rey are gone. It’s something they only ever do together, just the two of them, and it’s peaceful. They always fly her somewhere after polishing and upgrading, sometimes in a trip around the entire planet with no land stops, soaring over familiar scenery and trying to spot anything they’ve not noticed before.
“Well,” Rey says, shouting over the wind and holding her hair out of her face. “Thank you for a lovely pre-wedding. The best one we’ve done by far!”
“And you’re our last stop before the real one,” Finn says.
“Will Luke officiate?” Ren asks, sounding jealous.
“Of course not!” Rey says. “Leia will.”
Ren’s gaze drops away from hers at the mention of Leia. Rey steps closer to him and peers up into his face until he lifts his eyes again.
“I’ll show her the holo of our ceremony here,” Rey says. “She’ll love it.”
“Tell her to look for me in dreams,” Ren says, frowning. “You and Luke could perhaps teach her the method. If she has time. Or the desire.”
“She wants very badly to see you any way she can and you know it.” Rey turns to Hux. “We’d send him back in one piece if you ever let him come home for a visit, you know,” she says.
“I’m not the one stopping him,” Hux says, though of course he is. He hasn’t asked Ren not to leave the planet without him, and even in his own notebooks he pretends it would be nothing. But of course it would be-- Something. Not impossible, but the hardest thing he’d have done in years, watching Ren blast away without him. His guilt about this is abated somewhat by the fact that he knows it wouldn’t exactly be easy for Ren either.
Rey puts her bag down and lifts up onto her toes to embrace Ren. They hold onto each other for a long time within the crush of the wind, eyes pinched shut. Hux glances at Finn, who gives him a look as if to ward off any signs of affection from him. As if Hux was planning one.
This is all I ever wanted for you, Rey sends-- to Ren, not to Hux. He pulls free, embarrassed; he didn’t mean to eavesdrop. Rey turns to Hux and grins when she’s sensed that he heard.
“You’re a rare person,” she says to Hux, and she releases Ren, whose hair hangs over his face. “That’s not a compliment,” she cautions when Hux opens his mouth to say some smart-arsed thing in response. “Not necessarily, anyway.”
“I’ll take it, whatever it is,” Hux says. “I’ve been called worse.”
You make everyone you meet a little better than they were, he sends to her, before he can decide not to. I don’t envy you that at all. Seems like so much thankless work.
“Indeed,” she says, but she’s smiling like she doesn’t think so. She tugs Hux against her and gives him a one-armed, somewhat aggressive hug, shaking him while she taps Ren’s chin with her free hand. “Don’t pout,” she says when he tosses his hair back, letting the wind blow it away from his face. “I’m closer than you let yourself know,” she says to Ren, quietly. “Your bedmate can hear me speak to you through the Force, that’s how close we still are.”
“I can’t--” Hux protests, though he just did.
“Don’t call him my bedmate,” Ren says.
“You’d prefer husband? Ha! He told me,” Rey says, winking at Hux. “You know he invented that binding ceremony himself? No telling what the side effects might be. Very irresponsible use of the Force.”
“She’s joking,” Ren says, glowering at Rey.
“Good, there it is!” Rey lets go of Hux and backs away from both of them, holding up her hands like a kind of frame for Ren’s scowl. “That’s the look I want to take with me back to known space, not the pout.”
“Go get married,” Ren says. He crosses his arms over his chest and steps closer to Hux. “You have my blessing now.”
Rey laughs hard, almost toppling over. Finn seems to find it less funny and turns for the ship with a wave and a partial eye roll. Ren is smiling a little when Hux looks up at him, just at the corner of his mouth. They both stand watching as Finn tucks his arm around Rey, kisses her temple and walks aboard with her.
Look at what I put up with for you, he’s thinking, and not with resentment. Hux doesn’t need the Force to sense this, or any sort of connection to Finn beyond the fact that he’s felt that, too. He knows it when he sees it.
They watch the ship take off. Ren is still smiling a bit, in a way that makes Hux wonder if Rey is sending him some additional farewell. If she is, Hux can’t hear it.
“I told Elana about the binding ceremony,” Hux says. He’d made Ren promise to tell no one, ever. “Sorry,” he says when Ren looks at him. “It just came out, after she called you my lover or something.”
“I told Rey for similar reasons.” Ren kisses Hux’s forehead and looks up at the sky. The ship is no longer visible. “There may indeed be a kind of side effect,” Ren says.
“Dare I ask?”
“It’s nothing big. Just that if the undone pieces of our current forms get recycled by the Infinite into lifeforms that someday cross paths, we might feel a twinge. Like if I was a bantha and you were a wildflower, I wouldn’t eat you. Or-- maybe I would eat you in particular, and we would be reunited for a moment in strange bliss. I don’t know, but I would feel something for you. Something in me would know every piece of you I encountered, however small.”
“That is the most absurd thing I have ever heard.”
“I knew you would say so.”
“And why have I got to be the bloody flower in this example? And you get to be a bantha who eats me? This is what our ceremony was actually about? In that case I rescind everything.”
“Impossible, sorry.” Ren pulls Hux fully into his arms: smothering him with aimless affection, the bulk and the heat of him blocking out the wind. Hux burrows against him and tries not to despair at the thought of being undone and remade into anything that would only ever cross paths with whatever small part of Ren had been threaded into the matter of something else. “Don’t worry about it,” Ren says. “Remember in the Infinite, you weren’t afraid of anything.”
“Like hell. I was afraid of losing you, so I ripped you out of there.”
“Yes, but-- Your fear made you strong enough to do that. Attachment is strength. That’s why I did the binding. I mean, we were already bound. But I thought it was nice.”
Hux is wary of rituals and preferred the tender sex they had afterward, at home in bed, but perhaps the ceremony informed that. When Ren first brought up the binding Hux had assumed it was just some perverse, Force-involved sex thing Ren wanted to try, but it had been very innocent and quiet and strange. They sat facing each other on the central stone in Ren’s temple, under the damp and glistening trees, fully clothed and grasping each other’s arms. When this posture reminded Hux too much of the triangulation Ren tugged him forward until they had their legs wrapped around each other, Ren’s providing a kind of support for Hux’s back. Ren carefully rolled up both long sleeves of Hux’s tunic, then his own sleeves, and when the binding was in full effect Hux could feel a soft but strong energy winding around his arms and Ren’s in a twisting, constant motion. It made him shiver, just at first. Then there was a feeling of safety that sunk into the deepest meat of his bones, and a connectedness to Ren that seemed to expand outward into all things. Almost as soon as the feeling came it began to go again, in a slow release of pressure, until the twisting energy had entirely dissipated. It felt like shedding a weight and gaining a coating of armor at the same time. They sat there kissing for a while in the aftermath, and that night Hux dreamed that he had a gold tooth in the same place as Ren’s. He bolted out of bed and went to the shaving mirror Elana had given him to make sure none of his teeth had actually turned gold, then returned to bed and checked that Ren’s gold tooth was still in place. As usual, when Hux found it there where he’d left it, he had the irrational but consuming sensation that all was well.
The binding ceremony was a good memory, but now it really does feel spoiled, if all it meant is that one day, in a distant eon or maybe another galaxy altogether, some miniscule essence of Hux might reside in a weed that a fragment of Ren tramples in the form of a herd animal. Hux presses himself against Ren’s chest until he feels so deeply buried there that the wind can’t touch him at all. He’s not an idiot, he’s not Dala with her self-defeating fear of letting go, by most metrics he’s not even someone who deserves to live another day, but he feels a kind of directionless rage building in his chest at the thought that all he loves is finite, stuck within time, powerfully unchangeable but temporary, too.
“All right, Hux,” Ren says, softly against his ear. “Fine, okay. You can be the bantha. I’ll be the flower.”
“Idiot,” Hux says, surprised at himself when he hears the hitch in his voice. He looks up at Ren and tries to make his face mean. “It’s not funny.”
“I know. But it’s the seriousness of it that does make it funny.”
Hux opens his mouth to protest, because he will never tire of deriding Ren’s love of duality, but he doesn’t stop Ren from kissing him and kissing him again, more, still, and they stand there a long time with their faces and lips and chests pressed together, until the sky darkens and the guests have almost certainly cleared out of their house. And then they walk home, together against the wind.
So here is my tenth entry in this notebook in ten days-- a new record, I think. I made it until evening before writing, at least. Samsa came by today, this time without Tuck, and she sat with me while I worked in the back garden and tried mostly in vain to keep Ren’s vegetables alive. The proha that grows in vines along the back wall of the house thrives anyway, and I’ve just had some now. I’ve never smoked it alone before and it’s probably not a good idea, but Meral does it all the time and I’ve only had a bit. Elana wanted me to come for dinner but I insisted that I’m not feeling well (true enough) and I suppose I’ll just have some crackerbread with cheese and jam after writing this, maybe with some of the good tea.
Why am I writing about my dinner plans-- I was busy all day but without Ren here it seems like so little of note happens.
One thing of note, maybe: I dreamed again about the Infinite last night. I was back there with Ren and he was waiting for me to find his hand-- As usual in these dreams his hand slipped out of my reach again and again or turned into something that wasn’t a hand, or I turned into a gray globe and had no arms or hands with which to grip him. When I woke I sat up and cried into my hands in a way that normally would horrify me even in private, and yet it was nothing like the weeping I did alone at school-- Despite the anticlimax of the dream there was a consuming elation in it, and relief, this great hanging anticipation of having seen the other side of what being alive is like and knowing that it’s waiting serenely for me and everyone and everything, and not being afraid but also being so, so desperate to go on living the way I have been, here in this singular body. The combination of having run my fingertips along the surface of that unfeeling calm and the clawing need to toil outside of it for as long as I can is like being shot out of a cannon and never hitting any target but just flying-- like when we take the Falcon up only for the sake of being in the air, not going anyplace but just going. Even though I’ve known something of the Infinite I’ve not known the end of it, because for it there is no end and what I saw of it was only its untouchable essence, whereas for me what else is there except coming up against my own end within it.
I don’t know what I’m writing anymore-- the past three entries have been largely nonsense. I hate the thought that I grow increasingly abstract in my thoughts without him here and in fact for the first three or four days I actually felt sharper, there was a kind of new freedom in my mundane decisions, such as what to have for meals… then around day five I started trying to find him in my dreams and instead I dream again and again of the Infinite and of not being able to save him this time, and I can’t seem to stop that. Now I feel it haunts me even in the day.
I’ve caused so much death in my lifetime that I’m sure it’s quite right that I’ve become obsessed with my own death-- Or with the Infinite, the undoing, which is a better thing to be obsessed by perhaps. It’s such an odd sensation to have been there and to still know nothing about the most essential question of it which is: What will it feel like when I’m someday accepted into it, as all must be? How will my spent energy ever become a thing that does not know it belonged to Ren when it held the shape of this body? Sometimes I entertain the fantasy that I will be again rejected from it, for at least as many times as all the lives I took, and that every time I will pull Ren back out with me. Would he be glad for billions of lives lived that way, at my cruel insistence? What if some were terrible, but still ours? I think of Snoke/Dala and how everything diminishes with greed, and how even now my whole existence is based upon greed, in the sense that whenever opportunity has reached for me I’ve flung myself toward it. Never did I shrink from it thinking: no, let someone else have that. And I can’t cease to admire myself for this, which is itself shameful...
Now I’m just thinking of Ren-- I went to the hot spring without him last night and I couldn’t get warm enough, whereas once I could barely tolerate its temperature. Maybe I’m just getting old (cold in the bones), or more planet-hardy and therefore easily accustomed to whatever terrain I end up sulking in.
Hux wakes up to the pale lavender light of late morning, his notebook beside him in bed and his head pounding. The notebook is open; he shuts it without looking at what he wrote, as if it might condemn him. His mouth is dry and tastes of proha. He’s still in his clothes and he can’t remember having any dreams, which seems like a bad sign after so many nights of vivid, clinging visions in sleep, none of which brought him to Ren.
In the kitchen he makes a breakfast of what he’d planned and failed to have for dinner, and he stands watching the kettle fill, thinking: so dawns day eleven. He’s already missed two appointments that he should have kept this morning, but no one will come knocking. Yesterday he was in such a sour mood that only Samsa could tolerate him; even Tuck kept clear. Samsa takes absolutely nothing personally, and in that sense she’s the opposite of Ren, whereas in so many other ways they’re similar. Ren must have asked her to look in on Hux daily. Hux resents it, but he can’t bear to turn her away and will allow her in when she comes again today to watch him sweep the patio and putter around the garden on the hill like an old man. She misses Ren, too, he knows.
He eats as much as he can, jaw aching. Even his teeth feel sore, as if he was chewing on something unforgiving in his sleep. He has three cups of tea as he works at the table, making notes toward his design for a better wind-powered stove. The one he’s installed beside the wood-burner is still unreliable, hard to regulate, but he’s determined to get this right, tired of taking down trees. It’s difficult to concentrate on this or on anything, and he hates to admit even to himself that it’s because Ren isn’t here. If he were, he’d be in the jungle with Samsa or out back making noise in the courtyard that he dug into the hill: either elsewhere anyway or distracting Hux with his proximity. So it makes no sense that his absence should prevent Hux from getting any real work done.
Hux puts his head in his hands when he realizes what the problem is: if Ren were here, he could easily heal the pounding ache between Hux’s temples, a combination of present tension and the fallout from a poorly planned evening. Hux could find Samsa and ask her to do it, but he’s never had her heal him before, and something prim and protective in him doesn’t want it to ever be anyone but Ren who gives him that feeling, the chill of relief and then the warmth that follows. He gets up, leaving his work and dirty dishes spread across the kitchen table, and goes into the washroom hoping that cleaning up and putting on fresh clothes will lift this aimless despondence.
While the tub fills he shaves his face and even trims his fringe, as if Ren is coming home today. As if Ren has ever complained about his beard growing in or his hair getting long. He examines his face in the shaving mirror and thinks he looks like he’s aged some years since Ren left the planet, though really he looks younger than he should. Ren does, too, presumably because of his natural regenerative energy, and he claims he doesn’t intentionally heal what might amount to wrinkles on Hux but that it just ‘happens’ when Ren holds him, touches him, kisses him where wrinkles might have otherwise appeared. Hux isn’t sure if he believes this and has said that he can’t feel that sort of unplanned healing happening, at least not like he can feel the more deliberate healing, though when he thinks about it: of course he feels like he’s being restored to himself when Ren touches him, every time.
“So will I be some gruesome thing in old age?” Hux asked Ren one night when they were curled up at the center of the bed together, where they talk about such things.
“Gruesome?” Ren said. “No, of course not. Why would you think that?”
“Because I’ll be rotting on the inside and unnaturally young-looking in appearance?”
Hux had expected a dismissal of his concerns as usual, some whimsical non-answer, but Ren seemed to consider this as a serious question.
“I don’t know how healers and their loved ones age,” he confessed. “It’s something I’d like to speak to Luke about.”
And then they had both gone quiet, thinking about what Ren conferring with Luke would require.
Hux was the one who had finally made plans, and he presented them to Ren as if they were unchangeable. Now he sulks in the bath until the skin on his fingers wrinkles, wondering if Ren will want to take a trip to see his family every few months or so, leaving Hux to headaches and their much too quiet house. Hux wouldn’t grudge him that: he has Elana here, and all the friends he’s got in the galaxy, everything he needs, and he’s never pretended that Ren is similarly accommodated. He even told Ren that he can extend his stay if he likes, if the discussions with Luke and Rey require more than the two weeks Hux scheduled for him, or if he has some particularly fruitful interactions with Leia. Ren was most nervous about that, of course, but also most anxious to see her. He’ll be staying at her country house, if things went according to plan. Hopefully having her only son there will be reason enough for her to suspend her busy schedule; Hux assumes it will be. Ren had his doubts, but he’s always had more doubts about her than are really fair.
Hux uses his foot to turn on the faucet again, adding hot water so he can remain here in relative comfort, soaking in the lethargic loneliness that has now fully caught up with him. He could go to the hot spring, but it was so dismal without Ren to lean against and stroke under the water. He stares up at the square of dull purple light that the washroom window casts on the ceiling and wonders if any of Ren’s family will ever come here to stay. Probably not, and it’s unlikely that any of them but Rey and Finn will even visit, but Hux has thought about what it would be like to sit at his kitchen table with Leia Organa and serve her tea. How she would look at him, what she would say.
Ren has said that Leia dreams about Vader and about what sort of conversations she might have had with him, had there been time. Something about that made Hux feel fond of her, distantly, and these past ten and a half days, in Ren’s absence, he’s thought often of the glass of water she passed to him once. He thinks of that more than her actions during the hearing, as the whole hearing feels beyond surreal to him now, along with his time in the Tower. They seem now like places he went within his own mind, but he knows that they exist still without him: there is surely someone else living in his old cell on the sixty-first floor, and the inn on the mountainside still casts off a faint glow in the distance when the sun goes down, and the pale blue moon still rises and sails across the night sky just as it did when Hux was there.
“Fuck,” Hux mutters, dragging his washcloth across his face. Enough wallowing: he’ll get out of the tub and dry off, will dress and do his tedious chores in Ren’s garden before going to the colony perimeter to check on Tuck’s work with the motion sensor repairs.
Any moment now, he’ll do all that. He leaves the washcloth over his face and sighs against it.
When he finally gets out and dries off he begins to feel better, as if his pointless misery is draining away with the bathwater. By the time he puts on clothes he’s actually starting to feel good, and he catches himself smiling when he leaves the bedroom. He’s got no idea why until a powerful sense of anticipation nearly knocks him over as he walks into the kitchen.
It’s like catching a whiff of some fresh-baked thing on the air, or hearing faint music, like a whispered promise that grips his chest and coats in ribs in warmth. He’s had this feeling before, but not so strongly since perhaps that day in the desert when Ren returned with Mitaka.
When Ren returned. But surely he’s not three days early.
The tightening heat in Hux’s chest seems to turn to ice when he considers a scenario he did not think to worry about ahead of time: if Ren is back ahead of schedule, could it not be only his ghost? Did something go terribly wrong? Is this a visitation Ren is sending to him desperately through the Force, has Hux not been listening carefully enough, and does this explain Ren’s absence from his dreams?
He’s almost ready to follow this line of stupid, panicked reasoning all the way to Samsa’s door and demand to know if she’s sensed the same, but then he hears Ren in the courtyard, shouting hello to Specs, and Wilk’s little voice joining hers in happy surprise. Hux flushes with embarrassment, instantly plunged into disbelief that he allowed himself to crawl so pathetically into his own head, and after not even eleven full days away from Ren. Once he went seven months without cracking, but that was after only three days in Ren’s company, not six years.
He goes to the kitchen counter and tries to appear casual when he hears Ren’s footsteps hurrying toward the house. There’s no reason to bother; Ren will be able to read his feedback from the other side of the door, and he knew even before he left that Hux would be burning for him by the time he returned, but Hux grabs for the crackerbread like he needs to wield it as a weapon against his own excitement, and he’s holding it when Ren throws the door open.
“You’re back early,” Hux says. A piece of the crackerbread snaps off and falls onto the floor; he’s holding it so tightly. Ren is breathing hard and looking agitated but radiating contentment, not just for the sight of Hux but in a way that indicates his trip went very well. And yet he’s back three days before he planned to be. “Did you run here from the Falcon?” Hux asks, trying to laugh a little but mostly only managing to sound like he might choke on his relief.
“I couldn’t wait,” Ren says, maybe answering both questions, though the first was more of an observation. He drops his bag onto the floor and kicks the door shut behind him.
“Couldn’t wait for what?” Hux asks. His face is on fire; he feels strangely like Ren has just discovered him watching holoporn of the two of them fucking, or something like that. “Hey!” he says when Ren steps up onto the bench that runs along the table and then onto the table itself, trampling Hux’s scattered notes and almost stomping on a delicate plate. “What are you doing?” Hux asks, nearing a shout.
Ren answers by leaping off the table, grabbing him with both hands and hoisting him onto the counter. He yanks Hux’s trembling legs apart and settles himself between them, holding Hux’s gaze and flooding him with feedback that he can’t even parse right now.
“Hux,” Ren says, and then they’re kissing, the remainder of the crackerbread crumbling in Hux’s hand before he drops it and grabs Ren’s face.
“Are you mad?” Hux asks. He’s grinning, squirming when Ren’s kisses migrate from his lips down to his neck and back up to his jaw again, his ear. “Walking across the table with your muddy boots on, what was the point of that?”
You loved it, Ren sends, kissing his mouth again. Hux moans into the kiss and doesn’t otherwise deny that he did. Ren’s tongue tastes so familiar that it’s almost disturbing, after ten days without this, like being brought back to life, which Hux supposes he knows something about. Ren is very solid between Hux’s thighs, somehow more alive than anything else in the galaxy. He smells a bit like he needs a shower, and also like grass and dirt, as if he’s been sleeping on the ground in some forest.
“Your hands are cold,” Hux says when Ren pushes them up under his tunic.
“Of course they are. I was in space, all alone. You would deny me the chance to warm my hands on your skin?”
“You sound completely unhinged,” Hux says. He can’t stop beaming, can’t stop kissing Ren’s face. “Was it really just the lack of me that made you come back early? Did everything go all right?”
“Yes. My mother has retired from public service. She’s writing a book about Anakin Skywalker. We talked about him a great deal. I’m a contributor, she said, to the book. Uncredited, though she did offer to make up a fake name for me. I explained the finer points about the dark side of the Force, as it relates to him. And in general.”
“That sounds-- Nice, actually, in some strange way. Was it just the two of you at her house in the country?”
“Most days, but Luke and Wedge were there sometimes, Rey and Finn, too.” Ren closes his eyes against Hux’s cheek and breathes deeply, his hands still sliding across Hux’s back under the tunic. “I love them but they’re not you,” he says. “That’s why I came back so soon. They understood.”
“Yes. They’ve seen how you’ve healed me.”
Hux snorts, though he supposes it’s not untrue. He’s never been called a healer before. He smooths Ren’s hair back; it needs a trim. For a while they just stare at each other and press against each other’s mostly wordless, warm feedback with something that feels but doesn’t quite sound like I know, I know, me too.
“How were things here?” Ren asks, though certainly he knows. Hux can feel his own solitary existence over the past ten days haunting this place like a ghost.
“Same as ever,” Hux says. “Wilk lost a tooth. That’s about the most exciting thing you missed.”
“My mother used to give me money for my baby teeth when they fell out. It was some kind of Alderaanian custom.”
“Mhmm.” Hux withholds a comment about how disgusting the concept is to him. Ren is glowing with something Hux has seen on him before, though differently: it’s the kind of light absorbed from the experience of being accepted, adored, and allowed to linger in the disbelieving space of both. “Well, it was very quiet here,” Hux says, resting his forehead against Ren’s. “In the house, I mean. I never realized how much noise you make just going about your usual business here.”
“Your head hurts,” Ren says, drawing his hands out from under Hux’s tunic.
“Only a little-- I forgot to eat dinner last night.”
Ren makes a disapproving sound and brings his thumbs to Hux’s temples, his fingers sliding into Hux’s hair. The contrast between Ren’s cybernetic fingers and his warm left hand still makes Hux flush, and though he knows it’s not so, he imagines he’s the only one in the galaxy who gets to live between the perfect duality of this kind of touch. Ren concentrates, and Hux feels it like a swallowed gasp when he finds the source of Hux’s pain and winds his power gently around it, convincing it to become something else. Then the cold sensation, Hux shivering between Ren’s hands, and the balm of warmth when Ren eases his grip.
“There,” Ren says, proud of himself. His eyes don’t turn black anymore, as far as Hux has seen, but his pupils shrink a bit when he’s finished, not unlike what happens after the most intense stages of sex. “Better?” Ren asks, rubbing his thumbs over Hux’s temples as if to press down a bandage.
“Yes.” Hux pulls Ren into his arms with renewed desperation, suppressing the urge to beg him not to leave again. He wants Ren to go back to his family from time to time, because his healing energy feels cleaner somehow, and his eyes are so bright. “I looked for you in my dreams,” Hux says, his chin on Ren’s shoulder, legs wrapped around his back. “Couldn’t find you.”
“I was trying to find you, too. I think we’re too close now in reality to need that. The Force doesn’t offer redundant mercies.”
“So-- What?” Hux sits back, his hands sliding up to Ren’s shoulders. “If I don’t find you in my dreams while you’re away, I should be comforted? Because it’s like the Force rolling its eyes at me, saying that I have so much of you already that I can fuck right off for wanting more?”
“Yes, sort of.” Ren grins and leans in to lick at Hux’s bottom lip, at his scar. It’s like the gold tooth is for Hux-- Ren goes right for it when he needs some kind of reassurance. “I’ve missed your statements about the Force,” he says, leaving his lips pressed to Hux’s. “After so many days of Luke’s more formal phrasing.”
“Well your need of me must be really dire, because normally you give me death stares if I dare comment on the Force.”
“I do not.”
“Could you-- Can we go to bed?” Hux asks, closing his eyes against Ren’s cheek. He needs a shave, but that can wait. “I want to have the rest of this conversation in bed.”
“This conversation,” Ren says, giving Hux a look when he sits back: the sex stare, not so different from the death stare. “That’s what you’re calling it?” he says when he tugs Hux’s arse off the counter, supporting his weight fully as he carries Hux toward the bedroom.
“Our brand of fucking has always involved conversation,” Hux says.
Maybe because they both have a fondness for being contrary, they actually say less during this bout of reunion sex than perhaps they ever have while in bed together, though when Hux thinks about it, arching into the feeling of Ren’s deepest seat inside him, it was always more the before and after bits that inspired them to trade remarks. There is a blistering eye of the storm when they only move and moan and hold onto each other, saying nothing, and this was true even the first time Ren was inside him.
“I wish you could come with me next time,” Ren says when they’re lying together afterward, sweaty and tangled up tight, midday going on without them beyond the window that casts deepening purple light into the room.
So there will be a next time: Hux knew as much. He traces Ren’s fattened lips with his fingertip, lifts the top one and touches his gold tooth.
“I dreamed about the Infinite while you were gone,” Hux says. The subject seems related. “I kept trying to find you in it.”
“But you didn’t.”
“How do you know?”
“Because nobody lives in there. Not the way we live here.”
Hux feels himself come just to the edge of resenting that. Dala would have: did. Anakin Skywalker, too, probably. Hux instead lets it bloom in him the way he feels Ren hoping it will, because it means they’re lucky enough to be here now, and he laughs when Ren kisses him tiredly as if to say, yes, yeah, exactly.
Though he slept well the first few nights Ren was gone, able to roam the bed on his own and without the oppressive heat of Ren’s body pressed against him, the past few nights didn’t feel restful at all, and Hux is quickly asleep in Ren’s arms, allowing himself a rare day of doing nothing more than worshiping his own luck upon the altar of this bed. When he wakes up the light is edging toward evening and Ren is awake, propped up on his elbow, watching him with an open, curious expression that reminds Hux of something very particular.
“You’re in my bed,” Hux says, before Ren can, and because he woke so many times over the past ten days thinking that Ren would be here, then remembering why he wasn’t.
“Crossed the galaxy to get here,” Ren says. He touches Hux’s fringe, and somehow Hux knows when his fingers brush the few white hairs there. “Was that what it felt like when you first dropped into my bed? That day?”
“Like crossing a galaxy? No, not at the time. But in hindsight it was the bravest thing I’ve ever done.”
“But you weren’t afraid of me, you never were.”
“Precisely. Moving toward someone I wasn’t afraid of was the opposite of what I was programmed to do. Never mind curling up next to him and drooling onto his mattress while he watched me sleep.”
“I watched you sleep for hours.”
“Were you reading my mind?” Hux asks, wrinkling his nose.
“I think-- I was afraid of you, a bit.”
Hux laughs. Ren seems annoyed by his amusement, but he lets Hux tug him down and kiss him, lets Hux ask him a thousand questions about how things are going back in known space, and he follows Hux into the bath before dinner with the same look he had that first time, as if he’s not sure what sort of magic Hux has worked on him but he wants to find out, or at least to remain in his sway.
That night on the Finalizer, if Hux had even remotely suspected that Ren would have already followed him over a cliff, he might have done something horrible with that power over him. As he washes Ren’s back he tells himself that even if he’d come right up against the edge of something like that he’d have tugged Ren back at the last moment, against his side. He went to Ren the next night, after all, and the night after that, and what have the rest of their lives been but a series of times they’ve done anything, anything, to end up in the same bed however they can, whatever it costs, so that either of them can say you’re in my bed to the other and it will always be true.