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the ghosts won’t matter ‘cause we’ll hide in sin

Chapter Text

It wasn’t as if a person could ever really learn to expect Kylo Ren. His habit of appearing unannounced and uninvited was as legendary as how quickly he could ruin a piece of fundamentally important equipment. But when he swept into Hux’s office this time, without so much as a knock, Hux found himself utterly unprepared. The last he’d been aware, Ren was still in an induced coma in the medwing.

“I am leaving,” he announced with his usual lack of finesse. Hux only blinked, stylus paused mid-word upon the screen of his datapad.

“Oh.”

The scowl deepened. “I need my shuttle ready by the end of the shift.”

“I see.” With deliberate care, Hux saved his work, set the datapad down; the stylus he kept in his hand, as familiar and welcome as the weight of a blaster. “I take it we are not accompanying you to Leader Snoke?”

“No. You are not.”

“I see,” he said, again. And then, simply for propriety’s sake, “Travel well, Lord Ren.”

Ren had never been much of a conversationalist, but even this awkward silence was unusual for him. And the staring didn’t help; had Hux been a lesser man, he might have squirmed beneath such abnormal unblinking scrutiny.

But he had the presence of self to observe in return, noting how very odd Ren appeared without his mask. Of course he’d always been a mismatched gestalt of a creature, but the pinkened scar of the scavenger’s victory now bisected his face into two uneven halves. It made him look more peculiar than even his previous get up. Perhaps Ren had decided he did not need the helmet now his naked face looked sufficiently deranged to match the mind beneath it.

Given the rest of his body was covered by his usual robes, there were no other visible signs of his injury. Hux almost regretted it, though he’d seen the man utterly humiliated already. He just wasn’t above an encore performance. Pushing such matters away as needlessly indulgent, Hux now permitted himself a frown instead, leaning back in his chair. If Ren wasn’t just going to get out, he might as well try and make use of the fool standing in his office.

“How long have you been awake?”

“A few day cycles,” but from the crease in his brow Hux had the distinct feeling he wasn’t actually trying to be infuriatingly vague; he appeared to genuinely have no idea.

“And Snoke spoke with you?”

“Yes.” For some reason, his face twisted, as if in remembrance of intense pain. It disappeared as soon as it had come. “Not through the projection chamber.”

Hux allowed himself to take faint comfort in that. He himself had not spoken directly with Snoke since retrieving Ren from the surface. That was to be expected, given the circumstances, though it made the situation no less bitter a pill to swallow: the Finalizer and her crew left to a dead course, waiting for the instigator of their failures to heal to usefulness.

And now, he was leaving them.

His hand wrapped tighter about the stylus, closed hard enough that he heard it crack beneath the pressure. “I won’t say it’s been a pleasure, Ren. I rather think we’re beyond all that.” The smile he chose felt tight upon his face, too wide for the half-set features of a mask he hadn’t expected to wear today. “But I do hope your training will help the First Order rise against those who would cast the systems into chaos and ruin.”

A wild light, almost feral, entered his eyes; the stylus skittered across the desk, fell to the floor as Hux reared back. Ren had stalked forward, bent now over the desk, hands slammed down and face so close to his own he could taste hot breath upon his lips.

“I want you.”

“I – what?”

“You know what.” Drawing back as quickly as he had appeared, Ren now began to pace, long cloak flaring around his calves. Hux only watched, grotesquely fascinated, as he might have observed some unfortunate worker pitching into a rotor they ought to have been repairing. With a roll of eyes, he leaned over, retrieved the stylus, and tossed it in the trash.

“I have work to do, Ren,” he said as he straightened, waving one hand towards the door. “And I cannot be disturbed from my own demise just because some idiot child decided he needed one last bloody fuck before his master called his hound back to the kennel!”

And now Ren stopped, breath coming hard, pupils dilated so wide that all the colour of his irises seemed quite swallowed up. Hux took in the flushed skin, hands clenched in fists, and slumped back in his chair. With index finger and thumb pinching hard at the bridge of his nose, he swallowed back on a series of particularly colourful curses. Neither action did anything for the headache above and around it.

“Kark it,” he muttered, and winced at a sharp stab of pain. Need poured off Ren in waves of sensation that were nearly palpable, even to one such as Hux, a person so far from the Force he found its existence almost academic. Had thought it academic, until the Master of the Knights of Ren had been dropped into his lap.

Many times, Hux found it to be a mistake to simply speak with Kylo Ren. Which really made it all the more ridiculous that this had happened at all. Perhaps once might have been excusable. Twice, unreasonable. Thrice, pushing insane.

He’d lost count by now. And if it happened again, it would just be yet another mistake inn a very long series of them.

“Take the afternoon off.” Ren’s voice vibrated, held a hint of static even though he hadn’t worn the damn helmet since they’d left Starkiller. “Say you need to speak with me, before I leave.”

The breath he drew was shaking, a tangle of furious temptation. “Did you miss the part where I said I have work to do?”

“This might be the last time you ever see me.”

Hux couldn’t read the tone Ren had spoken those words in. He told himself he didn’t want to as he leaned down to open a desk drawer. “Well, that’s a risk I am willing to take.”

For such a large man, Ren moved with remarkable silence when he wished it. Hux found him pressed against his back, reaching around with wordless intent. He jerked back, found a wall of muscle and dark clothing. “What are you doing?”

“Summoning Lieutenant Mitaka.”

“What – how dare you!”

And even after pressing the comms button Ren still bunched up against the desk, lips warm on his ear. “I need you.”

This time when Hux elbowed him in the gut, Ren backed off; he had the distinct impression he hadn’t actually made Ren go anywhere. Still he stood with chin tilted high, rounding on Ren with eyes blazing and feet planted in a martial stance. “The entire ship needs me in one way or another, Ren. I am necessary to the First Order. You don’t get to take priority—”

The kiss took him by surprise: hungry, demanding, selfish and grasping. It was everything Ren wanted and Hux was too stunned not to let him take it, at least at first. And then he braced two hands on his chest, shoved him back. Again, he knew Ren went only because he wanted to. Bunching his hands to fists, he prepared to punch him anyway.

“How dare you, you idiot child—”

Ren raised one eyebrow, very high. “General. We have company.”

His head whipped around so fast it was just lucky he didn’t tear something in the process. “Mitaka.”

The man in the doorway, very pale and clearly unhappy despite his parade stance, nearly wilted. “General.”

While Hux himself certainly couldn’t run about dipping grubby little fingers in people’s minds at will, he could assume from the man’s expression he hadn’t seen the kiss, only its aftermath. And it seemed to be just another argument between the two highest ranking officers on the ship. It made him sigh, to think that such idiocy had become this: just another day, on the Finalizer.

The very last day, thank the Empire.

As Mitaka squirmed, spine very straight and jaw painfully tense, Hux pointedly did not look at the other man at his side. “Kylo Ren is leaving us.”

Relief caused the lieutenant’s shoulders to sag, though only for a moment; the man pulled himself back to full military attention with an admirable swiftness. Although Hux certainly hadn’t considered reprimanding him. As far as he was concerned, all drinks would be on the house tonight.

And Mitaka swallowed, eventually managed a very even, very short, “Oh.”

Hux wore his own smile on the inside. And he didn’t care that Ren could see it. “Make certain his command shuttle is ready to leave by the beginning of the evening changeover.” And then, quite before he could remind himself of how very a terrible idea it would be, “I myself have matters to discuss with Lord Ren before he disembarks, and therefore, outside of unforeseen emergency, will be unavailable for the rest of my own shift.”

He dipped his dark head, took the unspoken leave. “Very good, sir.”

Only when the door had slid closed and the locking mechanism hissed into place did Hux risk turning. “Congratulations, Ren. You’ve now convinced Mitaka that by the start of the next shift, the Finalizer is going to be a floating graveyard of a billion separate pieces.”

The only answer he received was utter silence. And Hux rolled his eyes, knowing it wouldn’t be the last time. Not yet. Reaching over to power down the datapad, he pursed his lips, and tried not to think too hard about the amount of work he would be catching up on come the evening.

Come his departure. When he is gone. At least that will be the end of endless evenings of requisitions and arguments with accounting.

Glancing back, Hux found Ren had not so much as moved a muscle. The hulking mass of him, preternaturally still, sent an odd shiver down his spine; he’d not known such primal fear since early childhood. That had been before life at the academy had taught Hux that there was far more to fear from reality itself. “Well? We’re not doing it here. Because I can’t have the cleaners dealing with it, and I’m certainly not doing it myself.” He couldn’t help the edged smirk, the vague mental image of Ren in gloves and apron and little else. “Unless you are offering to do it?”

Ren’s lips twitched, just a little. “Your quarters.”

“Good. I don’t need your dead grandfather staring at me. I already am perfectly aware of how terrible an idea this is.”

The pause that followed wasn’t something Hux cared to evaluate. “I have already packed away my belongings,” Ren said, voice oddly strained. With a roll of his shoulders, Hux reached for his greatcoat.

“Fine. Your quarters. Unless you’ve already thrown the sheets in the laundry chute. Although, do you even know where your laundry chute actually is?”

They ended up in Hux’s quarters. Much as he preferred to keep his professional and private lives sharply delineated, the fact that Ren was about to be surgically removed from said professional side meant it was easier to tolerate such intrusion on the personal one. And it was easier, besides; he knew where everything was. And he had no compunction about the idea of tossing Ren out on his mole-riddled backside if he decided to get clingy afterwards.

Yet it was hard to regret the decision when he had the man spread out before him like a private meal; no matter the idiocy that lurked within his broken mind, Ren had a remarkable body that Hux coveted with shameless intensity. He’d stripped him bare with his own hands, not caring where the clothes fell, or the state such urgency left them in. Ren would be gone soon enough, ridiculous costume and all, and Hux would not have to look at the sloppy way he wore and maintained it ever again.

For a person who dressed in such a way that no inch of skin was revealed, Kylo Ren appeared to rather enjoy being utterly naked. He was also worse than a felinx when it came to demanding touch; Hux could be within several metres of him, and he would arch his back, a whine in his throat, insistent upon immediate attention. Generally Hux ignored it for as long as it was amusing and just let the idiot suffer.

Today, Hux lay open palms on his chest, brow furrowed. Dressed almost entirely in his uniform – only boots, gloves, greatcoat, and cap missing – Hux leaned forward, tilting a great deal of his own weight on him. Ren opened a lazy eye, half-smile quirked in the same direction.

“Trying to suffocate me again, General?”

“Must keep the excitement alive, somehow.”

That eye fell closed. “If you have to choke me, I prefer the throat.” The grin grew in crooked curves, almost cruel. “Like you do.”

Hux considered punching him in it, settled for a muttered, “Bastard,” instead.

And Ren rolled his broad shoulders, a satiated beast after a successful hunt and kill. “Probably,” he offered, and frowned. “How about you? Are you really the only son of the great and departed Commandant Brendol Hux, or just some servant’s get on your lady mother?”

The vicious twist of one nipple earned Hux a shouted complaint. But given Ren didn’t push Hux off – and in fact pushed into the hand still upon his chest – they both knew him for the liar he was. With teeth digging into his smile Hux circled the growing bruise with his index finger, contemplated biting it to bleeding, and then just returned to his earlier studies.

Hands passed over Ren’s shoulders: wide, broad, muscled but not heavily so. His body followed much the same pattern, narrowing down to slim hips and strong thighs. Hux himself had never been particularly interested in physical activity, rarely doing more than what was prescribed first by his schooling and then what was expected of an officer, but he had once yearned for a body like this. Like his father’s approval, it had consistently proven out of reach.

But in this, he could almost pretend it was his. Certainly it was now completely under his command. Illusory as it might be, in this moment it proved as real as anything else in his disintegrating life.

Hux had not seen Ren naked since the day before Starkiller had been fired. Even then, that had not been anything more than a half-clothed and sweaty fumble in one of the minor offices near the command bridge. Ren had made some snide remark about his speech and the fact the oscillator would probably burn out before it was done. Hux had issued a private reprimand wherein Ren himself said as little as possible, his mouth quite engaged in…other tasks.

Ren had changed since then, of course. They both had, and in ways more than just the physical. Hux still had his command, but there was no telling how long for. And the removal of Ren from the Finalizer, even explained away by Ren’s need for further training, only cemented his fall from grace. Such permacrete boots might carry him right to very bowels of the unseen galaxy. There was no way of telling. He could only go on as before and hope his past glories could cast enough light over the tarnish of even such catastrophic failure.

But this was not the same at all. Tracing his hands over Ren’s side, Hux could not avoid the knotted scar tissue where the Wookiee’s bowcaster bolt had taken him in the side. Apparently the shot had missed all vital organs and major circulatory vessels, but it must have been painful. Certainly it would have killed outright a lesser being. Something like jealousy had Hux bunching three fingers, pushing hard at its centre. It garnered him a groan, but he noted Ren didn’t pull away. So he did it again, and frowned.

“Surely it doesn’t still hurt?”

When he glanced up, he found only large, dark eyes. “That’s not the point.”

“Of course it isn’t. More Jedi nonsense, I suppose?”

The scowl he wore, shadowed by the thunderous expression of his face, was quite at odds with the twitching flush of his cock lower down. “I’m not a Jedi.”

“But you were trained by one.” Ren only scowled deeper and Hux sighed, withdrew his hands. “Look, Ren. You didn’t come here to discuss spiritual beliefs, and neither did I.”

“You brought it up!”

“No, you did, but let’s not play that charming little game.” Closing his right hand now about Ren’s chin, he pressed down just hard enough to hurt, made sure Ren could look nowhere else but to him. “We have better things to do.”

“Yes, we do,” Ren snapped back, words only slightly muffled by Hux’s grip. “But you seem determined to just sit there and stare at me.”

When Hux sat back on his heels, he did it just a little too hard, and grinned to see Ren’s eyes widen on a hissing indrawn breath. The tight muscle of his own ass now pressed hard against Ren’s cock. The precome leaking from its head would no doubt be staining the seat of his trousers. Hux didn’t care. He’d be burning the entire uniform – and the sheets, besides – the moment Ren left his quarters.

“You made me take the afternoon off. I assumed that meant this wasn’t going to be a fumbled quick fuck.” Tilting his head, and his hips, Hux added thoughtfully, “Unless you genuinely wanted to talk to me about something work-related. In which case, let me get the lubricant—”

Both wrists were closed abruptly in Ren’s too-large hands. The grip proved loose, but with the promise of genuine restraint. His eyes had become the dark void of arousal gone too far.

“Hux.”

“What?”

Ren dragged him down, sharp and sudden. The kiss itself ended up softer than it had any right to be. And it lingered, too; Hux could still taste him on his lips when Ren drew back, leaving them close enough that they still shared breath. The dark eyes, made darker still by pupils blown wide, smiled where his lips did not.

“You talk too much.”

Hux rolled his eyes, jerked at his hands; Ren let him go without further word. The way his chest moved in shallow rise and fall, eyes watchful, said enough on their own as Hux divested himself of his clothes. Still, when he had folded the uniform he glanced back to see Ren had located the aforementioned lube, and already had two fingers inside himself.

“Stop that!” Getting up on the bed, he flicked an impatient finger at one spread thigh. “You know I like to do it myself.”

Ren crooked his wrist, groaned. “Yes, and you take too long,” he said, petulant and whining. “I need you to fuck me.”

At times like this, Hux wondered why he didn’t just stick to his own hand and an erotica novella on his datapad. “We’re back to this quick and dirty fuck that didn’t require me to take an afternoon off thing again.”

Ren frowned. “Is once really enough for you, General? I remember your stamina being better than that.”

“Shut up, Ren.”

Having now pushed the offending hand away, Hux was upon him with all the fierce force of breaking storm; Ren could have been parched desert, given the easy welcome he offered. Still Hux pushed his knees up and wide with a roughness that was quite unnecessary, but hardly unexpected. Part of him scowled to see Ren had already opened himself up quite nicely; he suspected with some sourness that Ren had been at it long before he’d even come to proposition him. Ignoring the pleasant mental image of Ren writhing around somewhere with fingers up his ass thinking of Hux, he frowned deeper, and held his place.

Hux,” Ren whined, and Hux dug nails into soft skin.

“I told you to shut up.”

“Why can’t you just stick your dick in me and think about it later?”

“Because I don’t want to think about it later.” But enough had finally become enough, and Hux surrendered to the basest urge he knew. Last times, and all that, he told himself, though it hardly made it better. This was something he’d shamefully enjoyed, rarely indulged. There had always been too much potential for fleeting partners to speak of it later. But then he couldn’t imagine Ren, indiscreet and socially inept as he was, ever wanting to tell any other living being that General Hux had a penchant for licking his asshole.

The musky heat of it was bitter, welcome; the movement of muscle beneath his tongue had him grinning, nose pressing against the silken skin of his perineum. Above him, Ren whimpered, held himself admirably still. He’d learned to be sensible enough to keep fingers out of his hair, ever since Ren had pulled too hard one morning and nearly lost a finger to Hux’s furious teeth. Trembling hands found anchor on his shoulders instead, fingertips dug hard enough to break blood vessels beneath his skin.

Ren would have cut off his own head with that ridiculous lightsaber before asking anything of the General up on the bridge. And yet here, buck-naked in every sense, pleas slipped from between spit-damp lips with a chanting regularity. With a wicked grin of his own, Hux moved to his knees and settled the long legs over his shoulders, one hand about the root of his cock.

He slid inside too easily; it made him frown, because Hux always preferred something approaching resistance in this. But then, for all everything else between them was so difficult, this part had always been surprisingly easy. Curling hands around the corded muscle of Ren’s thighs, Hux jerked his hips forward, sheathed himself to the hilt.

In answer Ren’s arms thrust outward, cruciform, muscles bunched as he clutched frantic at the sheets. The tangle of languages falling from his lips was near-indecipherable; even knowing only broad strokes of his background, it still surprised Hux to know Ren was a polyglot. But his own words were long gone, and he could only thrust harder. And then he laughed as Ren started having trouble with even the basics, vowels and syllables alike devolving into howls and moans and hissing broken breaths.

Pulling him up, changing the angle of his hips, Hux curved forward and pressed harder yet; he knew intimately the place that would send Ren over the edge. He rarely needed to work his cock, though Hux suspected Ren technically did not come by prostate stimulation alone. Even when he promised to stay out of Hux’s head – and Hux knew well that such promises were as worthless as the honour they were sworn upon – Hux could feel him there. Strangely, though it irritated him to fury later, it never bothered him at all in the moments when his own orgasm drew close.

He still felt faint surprise at it now. While never highly sexed to begin with, Hux had not thought the stress and sleeplessness following Starkiller’s fall would give him much libido. But the cruel familiarity of it was an easy crutch; he found it all too easy to lose himself in someone else. Release undid him in sudden seconds, mouth rounded on a silent cry, back arched and face turned upwards. And when he fell forward, boneless and undone, Ren’s legs closed around him, and then his ridiculous arms. In that powerful circle he trembled, eyes bunched to slits, breath harsh and hard. He hadn’t cried when Starkiller had itself turned supernova. He didn’t even remember how tears tasted; he’d forgotten how they worked, when he’d been a child.

It became something very much like crying now. Shaking, unable to stop, Hux cursed himself for a fool and yet only curled closer to the other man. Ren’s hand tangled in his hair, the other on his shoulder; there he lay, wordless as he first came himself, and fell silent.

Hux ached all over when he rose, turning blindly for the refresher. Ren did not follow. Nor did he disturb the too-long shower, given the water rationing even for the commander of the ship. Having successfully repressed the strange outburst, Hux returned to find Ren had not left. For once, the man chose sensibility, and said nothing of reddened eyes. Instead he only blinked, and indicated the bed in which he still lay.

“Again?” he asked, and Hux snorted.

“Well, as it turns out, I do actually have the afternoon off. How very convenient.”

The burgeoning argument ended in a tangle of limbs and sheets, the two of them on the bed kissing each other into something like submission. Or so they told themselves. Hux had never been fond of the pastime, and Ren had been frankly atrocious at it in the beginning; that had been the result of inexperience, and sheer bolshiness, both. Hux had taught him better just on sheer principle. And yet both enjoyed necking rather more than they were willing to admit, except by the sheer amount of time they could waste doing it.

Oddly, Ren drew back first. His eyes were very bright, high colour burning in his cheeks – except the scar. The skin was livid there, always. Hux kept his eyes fixed on his instead, even as Ren said the worst possible thing.

“Let me do it to you.”

“After what happened the first time?” That had also been the last time, and for many eminently sensible reasons – mostly that Ren’s bumbling inexperience had left Hux limping around the Finalizer for two days, and had made certain bodily functions far more interesting than they had any right to be.

Ren was not to be deterred. “Hux.” A callused hand dipped low, predictably curling around his cock. Mindful of the sensitive area, Hux slapped it away; it returned a moment later, hard and warm. “It’s different, now.”

Everything is different now. Hux sighed. The afternoon had been ruined long ago anyway. “Fine.”

His eyes lit up like a star-mad kid who’d just been permitted his first speeder. “Really?”

Already he regretted everything about this entire thing. Scowling, Hux pushed himself into a seated position, hair falling into his eyes, stinging them with sweat. Slicking it back with impatient grace, he raked his gaze over Ren’s body, still laid out before him. “I’ll ride you,” he announced, one hand raised to preclude any complaint. “I don’t trust you not to be a clumsy overeager idiot, especially if you’re not going to be here for me to make you suffer for hurting me.”

Oddly, Ren looked as if he’d been slapped. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

“Forgive me if past experience – and the state of my ship – says otherwise.”

His head turned, voice very low. “This is different.”

“So you keep telling me,” he muttered, and as he reached for the sticky tube of lubricant he felt his asshole pucker in regretful anticipation. “Why am I such an idiot?”

“You’re not an idiot, Hux.”

The strange sincerity of that just made it worse. “Again, recent experience would suggest otherwise,” he said with what he personally thought was an admirable dignity, and then ruined it by slapping a hand down on the ruined tangle of the coverlet. “Where did that lubricant go?”

When he glanced back, Ren held it out, cradled in one palm. “Can I?”

“I don’t know, can you?”

Hux’s irritation, underlain with genuine fear, actually brought forth a brilliant, almost shy smile. “May I?”

He closed his eyes. “This is a mistake.”

And knew it to be true, several minutes later, when he lay on his back. His own hands gripped around his thighs, feet up somewhere near his head. Checking an internal sigh, he knew he had only himself to blame. He’d clearly said he wanted to be on top. And yet here he was, opened up like a whore with legs spread wide, Ren’s dick fully in and that face twisted in almost moronic ecstasy.

But Ren had been careful. Hux even suspected he’d used the Force – surely in a practice not endorsed by the long-invalidated Jedi charter – to search Hux’s mind and ensure he didn’t in any way harm him. He knew he should still complain. But that same power was allowing Ren to hit his prostate on every stroke and even he wasn’t idiot enough to stop him doing that.

Midway through a particularly enthusiastic thrust, Ren shoved forward, caught Hux’s lips in something that started out more as a bite, before relaxing into a kiss. Hux tasted blood, but even that was not as unexpected as the act itself; much as they might do it as an alternative activity, it was rare enough during actual sex. Hux preferred to breathe. And to see what he was doing.

In this he couldn’t see a damn thing. Ren enveloped him whole, his broad form spreading like shadow made flesh. All was scent and taste and sensation; callused fingers moved knowing about his dick, coaxing his release. Even as he came hard, Ren did not retreat. His dick keep pushing hard against his prostate, and Hux curled in on himself, mind gone white-out blank and his body one screaming beautiful ache as he came again. He had never before had two orgasms in such quick sequence. He hadn’t even known it was possible.

Perhaps that explained why he appeared to have passed out. When he next became aware of his surroundings, it was to find fresh covers over him, skin slightly damp where he’d been wiped down. Bleary of mind and eye, he tried to prop himself up, found his arms barely supported even his meagre weight. Slumping down, he settled for scowling at Ren; he had just re-entered the room from the refresher, hair damp and towel around his waist. It took Hux far too long to realise he was holding out a glass. Ren had to put it under his nose, sloshing its contents, before he saw it at all.

“Here.”

Hux squinted, his throat made suddenly dry by the appearance of a cool beverage. “What?”

“Something to drink,” Ren said, quite unnecessarily, but then Ren often said things that were perfectly unnecessary. With a hand that still trembled, Hux accepted the glass, peered dubiously at its contents: a colourless liquid. No scent, low viscosity. Probably only cold water. The taste proved as much, when he ventured a sip.

And then he looked up, unspeakably irritated by the rapt way Ren watched him from where he’d settled on the side of the bed. “You’ve never done that before.”

“I…well.” He turned his head, a faint flush climbing up from his collarbone. Hux rolled his eyes, took a deeper swallow, almost lost a good chunk of it down his bare front.

“Getting sentimental in your old age, I see.” Shifting again, trying to regain a more seated position, he promptly winced at the warning twinge from lower down. “Kriff, I shouldn’t have let you do that.”

Ren appeared to be staring at his bare hands, opened in his lap. “But you did.”

“Yes, and you can go celebrate it somewhere else and never mention it to me again.” And now he stared into the glass, as if its contents could tell him anything about the futures that awaited them both. “Chances are Snoke will make sure we’re kept far apart anyway.”

“Why do you say that?”

That made him snort; for someone who supposedly held great insight due to his wizardly powers, Ren could be strikingly naïve. “We’re not exactly the First Order’s model of military success, Ren.” Twisting the half-empty glass in his hands, he added bitterly, “You’ll go back to your training, I’ll likely be booted back to colonel or – gods forbid, major – and never be permitted true executive rank again.” A short drink, and then: “Even if you end up taking down the Resistance entire, we’ll never see each other again.”

Ren stared at him. Hux met those damnable dark eyes for only a moment before Ren looked away, jaw very taut. “Finish your water.”

Following orders from Kylo Ren was not something Hux would ever do, but he was thirsty. He drank it off, set the glass aside on his nightstand, and stretched his arms above his head. The chrono gave at least another hour before his shift officially ended. “Ready to go again, then?”

“I’m ready to go, yes.” Ren didn’t move, though at some point his hands had closed to fists. “Give it a few moments, and you will be too.”

Hux yawned, sudden and wide. “I think I need a nap, actually.”

“Good.”

The growing sense of satiation suddenly exploded into bitter suspicion. “Ren,” he began, then tripped over the thought and frowned, hands pushed very hard into the bed either side of him. The ship seemed to be swaying, very gently.

And Ren only shook his head, and still refused to move. “General.”

With a lurching lunge, Hux threw himself to the other side of the bed; it only grew worse when he tried to stand. The world spun like a coloured kaleidoscope shaking itself all to pieces, violent and all bright colour and no sound. “Ren, you bastard—”

And yet he caught him as he fell, easy as a child reaching for a feather. “I’m sorry.”

“Like hell!”

“Well.” Ren sighed. “Maybe not.”

There might have been more, after that. But whatever Ren had put in the drink meant Hux never formed any memories regarding that time.

He still felt perfectly justified in hating him for every moment of it.

 

*****

 

He’d been tied to the bed – and for all the wrong reasons. Not that he and Ren had ever indulged in bedsport of this particular nature. Hux jerked up his wrists, found the knots clever and well-formed; the bed itself, a poky little thing designed for short naps only, proved bolted to the frame of the shuttle itself.

Beside him, dressed in his usual black, Ren stirred. The moment their eyes met, Hux smiled, and showed all his teeth while doing so.

“Untie me. Now.” And he blinked, just once. “I need to kill you.”

Raising an eyebrow, Ren did not move. Hux jerked his wrists again, smile dissolving into a fierce grimace.

“I mean it.”

And Ren rolled his tongue around his closed mouth, thick brows furrowed; when he spoke, it was with that same slow thoughtlessness that made Hux wonder sometimes if he were fully human. “I know you think I’m an idiot,” he said, eventually, “but even I’m not that much of an idiot.”

He tried to kick out with one foot, found his ankles bound too. “I hate you.”

“I know.”

After that, they both fell quiet. Despite the fact he fumed with an enthusiasm he hadn’t felt quite this strongly since the first time he’d been informed of Ren’s destructive tendencies, his head still swam with the hangover of whatever tranquiliser Ren had hit him with. It took him far longer than necessary before he finally thought to ask the most obvious of all questions.

“Where are we?”

“Not there yet.”

Hux closed his eyes. Most of the mental images that passed before them involved Ren in various states of screaming misery. Only after a long moment did he consider more about his actual position; though he spent little time in this class of shuttle, he recognised it as an Upsilon, even from as little information as its berth configuration. The shuttles hadn’t been designed for longhaul travel, either, but then Ren probably hadn’t bothered to read the manual.

Opening his eyes, he turned their full glare on his companion. “I need to piss.”

He blinked, very rapidly, and then his expression returned to its usual dull configuration. “I’m not untying you.”

Hux had opened his mouth to complain about cruel and unusual forms of incarceration when Ren presented him with a bottle. After that he had no words at all, just stared at him with incredulous disgust. He didn’t stop throughout the entire humiliating procedure, even when he flushed so red he didn’t know how it didn’t end in third degree burns.

Ren, for his part, appeared strangely unmoved by the whole debacle. Some weird Jedi thing, most likely. Not to mention the bastard was likely as not reading his thoughts, especially when he added with genuine uncertainty, “I don’t know why you’re so embarrassed about me doing this. I’ve had that thing up my ass.”

Hux felt moments away from actual spontaneous human combustion. “Would you just shut up.”

The lingering effects of the sedative reared their ugly head shortly afterwards. Hux was almost grateful to drift off again. When he woke later, it was to find himself very thirsty instead. Ren attempted to give him water from a glass, pressed to his lips. Predictably most of it ended all over his collar and chest. As Ren dabbed haplessly at the result, Hux realised for the first time he was dressed, though not in his uniform.

After his failure, Hux watched Ren toss the towel in the corner, and scowled at the mess. “Would you just untie me?” As Ren’s shoulders hunched, he gave a humourless chuckle. “And I know your first reaction to this sort of thing would be to destroy the nearest console, but I have a little more self-preservation than that.”

Ren glanced over from the other side of the room, lips damp. “You’re going to punch me.”

“You’d deserve it.”

With a sigh, and the flick of one hand, the ropes worked free and slithered away in a fashion disturbingly serpentine. Hux told himself he wasn’t impressed. He spent a good few moments rubbing his wrists, testing his weight on uncertain legs. Then he rose, crossed the floor, stopped before Ren. The man raised one eyebrow. Hux smiled, reared back, and backhanded him across the face.

The force of it spun Ren right around, his great hulking form hunching forward, one hand pressed to a burning cheek. Adrenaline buzzed through Hux’s veins as he waited for immediate – and bloody – retribution, his hands now curled to fists; and yet when Ren straightened, turned back, his eyes were wide and wounded and little else.

“That wasn’t a punch!”

Now Hux shook out his aching hand, and regretted the action not a whit. “I changed my mind.” Narrowing his eyes, he returned his gaze to the console, found it locked to only onboard status updates; no navigation or destination details were apparent. “Where are we?”

The overly generous lips has twisted into something like a scowl, but Hux felt nothing to indicate it was aimed at him as Ren crossed the small space between them, leaning over the console to frown deeper at the readouts. “It’ll be a day or so more.” And even as Hux drew sharply out of Ren’s personal space, added with a sudden harshness, “Don’t even try to mess with the navcom, it’s keyed to me.”

His own anger flared quick and bright. “That sounds like a challenge.”

“Hux.” Despite the livid red of his slapped cheek, the mark of a chastised child, Ren’s expression managed to be something very close to monstrous. “Don’t.”

Staring contests were the games of children. Hux still tried to win this one. And when he lost, it was very hard not to pick up something in the vicinity and heave it at Ren’s head. “Karking hell, I need a smoke,” he muttered, making his way towards the small galley.

“I made sure to get you plenty of cigarras.” Hux paused, felt the first curl of a genuine smile when Ren added, “But I thought it was against regulation to smoke on a command shuttle in flight.”

Hux made sure to blow his first lungful of smoke directly in Ren’s stupid face.

Later, seated in one of the viewports, Hux made his way through three cigarras before he stopped. Stubbing out the last in the now-empty cup of caf, he returned to the galley to tidy both away, extractor fans set high. It might be his favoured vice, but he didn’t care for the smell of it later.

Making his way to the front revealed Ren in the primary pilot’s seat. Much as was his wont, he didn’t appear to be doing much at all, besides watching the stellar smudge that made up the view beyond the transparisteel. Hux dropped into the second seat beside him, noting with distinct displeasure that all its screens were black and very very dead.

“Snoke doesn’t know.”

Ren’s eyes did not shift from hyperspace. “No.”

It wasn’t as though he’d expected Ren to be particularly forthcoming. But even that dead-eyed singular excuse for an answer constituted a new low for his lack of communication skills. Long fingers drummed on the dead console casing, the snare roll used to announce the arrival of a condemned man upon his gallows, and then Hux shook his head. “So, you’re a traitor now?”

“Something like that.”

The twist in his stomach had all the sharp pain of a knife slid between major organs. “Are we going to the Resistance, then? To your mother?” Only years of bitter self-discipline kept Hux in his seat, stopped him from clambering into Ren’s lap and pushing those stupid big dark eyes into his skull with only his thumbs. “And you better tell me the truth, Ren. Because if you’re planning on using me as a bargaining tool, as an apologetic sacrificial peace offering, you owe me at least one good shot at this console first. With that damned lightsaber, even.”

Ren had not moved. If not for the fact he talked yet, he could have been a corpse. “I’m not taking you to the Resistance.” There might have been the faintest hint of regret, somewhere in there. It reminded Hux of the weeping bloodied mess he’d found in the snow on Starkiller, the land around them a hellscape of snow and molten lava. The dichotomy of it had almost been as striking as that of the man himself: cold enough to cut down his own father, hot enough to scream about it even as his own death closed long fingers about his convulsing throat.

Ren’s voice remained very flat, as inflectionless as his vocoder had been. “We’re not going anywhere near them.”

While Hux already knew the attempt to be futile he still searched Ren’s expression. It did nothing for the mental and emotional distance between them. And while he had never wanted anything to do with the Force, in this moment he could have made some damned good use of a little mind reading.

“Why?”

The sudden question engendered no answer. The fact that Hux hadn’t expected one didn’t mean it pissed him off any less.

Ren.” And he smiled; it was the expression he tended to reserve for informing crew members of inadequate performance and impending prolonged reconditioning. “If you were alone here, you could sulk all you like and I wouldn’t give a damn. But you dragged me into whatever this is and I deserve a bloody answer. Right now.”

For the first time since the conversation had begun, Ren looked at him. The smile froze on Hux’s face; he had seen many a dead body in his time, but never one that moved. And Ren shook his head, looked away. “I need you.”

He cleared a throat that felt full of broken glass, swallowed, felt the shards roiling in his stomach. “For what?”

The shrug held a nearly helpless quality that made Hux want to slap him. Again. “I don’t know.” And he looked back to him, both hands having shot up in a surprisingly defensive manoeuvre, given Ren could have frozen him in place with a mere thought. “Don’t hit me.”

Hux still debated fiercely on whether or not he should take advantage of Ren’s apparent loss of preservation instinct; he settled for fisting his hands in the man’s collar and hefting them nose to nose. “I said I deserve answers—”

“And I don’t have them.” Ren drew back with swift force, Hux’s fingers aching from the sudden snap of their removal. But Ren had turned away, had risen to his feet, now beginning to pace the limited space available in the small cockpit. “Not yet,” he muttered, and he almost seemed he spoke to only himself when he added in fierce whisper, “I won’t let any harm come to you.”

Hux snorted, swivelled the co-pilot’s seat around to glare at him properly. “You drugged me. And kidnapped me. And tied me to a bed.”

The wince was accompanied by both his hands rising, clutching at the hair of his temples as if he had a mind to pull it out. Then they fell limp, and Ren himself came to a complete halt. His expression had turned very ugly when he looked up again. “I thought you were all about the bigger picture. Didn’t you kill billions of people and say it was for the greater good?”

Rolling his eyes to the ceiling, Hux let the bait sink in bloodied waters. “Semantics aren’t your forte, Ren.”

Something very close to a chuckle escaped the other man; Hux frowned even as Ren’s expression returned to that odd hunted look. “I know that,” he said, and now actual petulance had entered his tone. “You need to trust me.”

Pursing his lips, Hux wished that he’d been better at knife throwing as a cadet. Or that he had a knife to hand at all. “I need a drink,” he said, and turned to glare at the nearest section of cabinetry. “You better have alcohol on this shuttle.”

“It’s not a good idea, not with that sedative still in your system.”

Turning around, he wore a smile as sweet as any society debutante about to do battle for the most connected single man on the dancefloor. “Get me a drink, Ren,” Hux said, “or I will perform a castration. On you. With no anaesthesia.”

Ren had no taste in alcohol, as it turned out, but as Hux wasn’t drinking for pleasure it didn’t actually matter. The agreeable buzz he got from the quarter bottle he downed was endgame enough. It wasn’t as if he intended to drink himself to oblivion, either. But it proved enough to hasten him to sleep, despite the hard knot of dread low in his stomach.

Even with the confined space of the commandeered shuttle, Hux managed to almost entirely ignore Ren’s presence for the rest of the alleged trip. The man still pissed him off by merely existing. Hux had been the commander of a Resurgent-class destroyer, so how Ren could believe he wouldn’t notice the vagrancies of their course, he didn’t know. He also didn’t care. But the truth of the matter was that Hux couldn’t trace anything without equipment, and fooling with the onboard computers had proved impossible when he’d discovered they’d all been set to Shyriiwook. That Shyriiwook even had a written form had come as something of a bitter surprise.

Hux had joined Ren in the cockpit for their eventual landing, for what little good it did him. A small anonymous planetoid unfolded beneath their descent, with nothing in the surrounding system that looked at all familiar. His foul mood only deepened as he stepped down the ramp, shielding his eyes against the light of the binary suns, the hissing exhaust fading as the ship powered down to silence.

There he waited, very still. A faint wind picked up, rippled through the high canopy; sudden birdsong erupted, the buzz of insects a low hum beneath. The scent of the tall trees, rich and sticky, scratched the back of his throat. Hux curled up his nose. He was going to hate this place.

Apparently having finished shutting down the ship – Hux was frankly surprised he’d bother, given the man never finished anything else he started – Ren strode out behind him. The shame of earlier appeared to have quite evaporated, allowing him to storm past Hux with his usual lack of grace and interest in anyone save himself. Hux could have stuck a foot out. But even he had some standards when it came to open brawling.

Ren’s direction became quickly obvious; a low building squatted before them, the prefabricated thing too anonymous to be First Order. But given the lack of any distinct weathering or regrowth of forest, it was clearly very new. Hux frowned, noting the generator attached to the rear, and solar panels glittering upon the flat roof. It would be off the grid – not that Hux could see anything to indicate there was a grid at all. No road led away from the tiny compound, the clearing clumsily made. From the scorch marks on the trees, at least some of it had been done by a lightsaber.

“Welcome home,” he muttered, and stepped onto the ground. It crunched warmly beneath his bootheels, the rich soil scattered with dry needles fallen from the trees above. He had nothing of his own to take from the ship, and no particular direction to go, and so followed Ren’s path. He didn’t ask if Ren needed anything unloaded. It wasn’t as if he had any particular desire to be helpful.

The door had been propped open, revealing Ren inside. A black blob in the dim light, he crouched beside a crate, rifling through the contents. Hux walked past, to one of the doors along the far wall. The first opened on a refresher. The next, a bedroom. The last, another bedroom. It was bigger than the previous. He chose that one, went inside, and closed the door.

Hux didn’t remember falling asleep. In fact he didn’t even remember removing his boots, but when he opened his eyes he found the light changed and his feet bare. A glance out the window told him that one of the suns had vanished, the other sinking fast. He returned his attention to the simple room, found it as utilitarian as anything in the First Order. But it was not something Ren could have acquired from their supplies. Hux had never quite seen its like.

No sign of Ren remained in the main living space, save for a pot bubbling upon the low heat of the small stove. Lifting the lid, Hux found it surprisingly palatable, by smell; he took a taste, and decided he hadn’t been wrong. Only after eating two bowls, and regretfully denying himself a third, did he venture outside again.

Ren had taken up a place in the clearing, cross-legged before a fire built up before him. Though he no longer wore the robes that had marked him as a madman – or a Knight of Ren, if Hux was feeling generous – he still wore black, melting into the shadows. Hux wouldn’t have expected anything less.

“Did you sleep well?”

Hux took a place to Ren’s right, stared into the flames. It hadn’t exactly been cold in the cabin, but the rich heat of a fire was a novelty he wouldn’t soon ignore. “I’m tired of sleeping,” he said, very short. And then: “Are you going to tell me where we are, now?”

Ren did not blink. His eyes burned orange in the firelight, unmoving, too bright. “No.”

“Or what I’m doing here?”

His gloved hands had been lying motionless in his lap; Hux watched now as they tightened to fists. “I told you already.” And when Ren looked at him, his eyes extinguished to black, they seemed little more than holes in his pale face. “I need you.”

Hux had stopped believing in monsters in early childhood. He’d forgotten that meant that didn’t mean they didn’t really exist. “For what?” he croaked, and then allowed his own anger to surface once more. “And if you say sex I’m going to rip off first your cock and then your head and then I’ll stuff said cock in what’s left of your neck. Just so we’re clear on that.”

Ren’s eyes, overlarge though they already were, had widened quite considerably. “You’re very bloodthirsty at times, General.”

“I have a headache.” A log shifted in the fire, sent up a shower of sparks; Hux watched them rise, each dying out the higher it tried to reach. “And I suspect I’m no longer a general.”

“No.” The bastard almost sounded apologetic. “Probably not.”

The fire murmured again; Ren offered it fresh sacrifice in the shape of two more logs, his movements deft and careful. Hux found that strange – but then, he had seen the man fight. How he could transform his clumsy childish rage into a sleek hurricane of pure destruction, Hux would never know. He didn’t even want to. “Does this mean I have to call you Kylo?” he asked, sudden. “Because you’re hardly Master of the Knights of Ren, here.”

Ren startled, as if he had not realised. Then, he shrugged; his face was almost entirely cast in shadow, and utterly unreadable. “Probably.”

“Tough. I’m still calling you Ren.”

Pushing against his knees, Hux rose, scowled at the collection of sap-sticky needles attached to his trousers. It wasn’t as if he liked the borrowed clothing, but he was still wearing it. Having brushed as much as possible away, turning back to the cabin, he stopped only when Ren’s voice floated uncertain between them.

“I would have given you the choice.” And he could have sounded amused, if not for the alien sorrow beneath it, when he added, “But you’d have made the wrong one.”

He didn’t realise he’d fisted his hands, until he felt the nails digging hard into his palms. “I believe that’s my right.”

“We don’t always get to exercise our rights. This is a war.”

Trust Ren to sound reasonable only when it didn’t make the slightest sense at all. Hux closed his eyes. How he wanted to smack him again. Harder, this time. Maybe enough to break his stupid neck. But instead he felt the heat of the fire upon his retreating back, and imagined Ren at its centre. Screaming.

“Please don’t do that.”

Hux didn’t turn back. “Why not? It’s my head. If you don’t like it, get out.”

“It’s very loud.”

It was the work of a moment to think it harder. Ren hissed, as if Hux had slipped a hot iron beneath his nails. Only then did Hux walk away. Behind him, Ren drew a trembling breath, and he almost felt guilty.

Then he looked at the sky above, now completely turned to a curtain of unfamiliar stars, and didn’t give a damn at all.

 

*****

 

Five day cycles into whatever nonsense this was, and Hux had some idea of what going mad felt like. He had spent the first two trying to rewire the navcom, only to return on the third day and find the console a smoking ruin. His enraged screaming had startled an entire nesting colony of strange native birds into apparent relocation. Ren himself hadn’t dared reappear for the remainder of that cycle’s daylight hours.

After that, he’d had little left to him but exploration. The terrain proved unfamiliar in every known aspect, but his schooling at the academy had involved many a life-threatening outdoor exercise. He’d lost several classmates that way. They hadn’t been mourned. If they couldn’t look after even themselves in hostile territory, they certainly couldn’t be trusted with the command of an entire unit under similar – and realtime – circumstances.

With no real task or goal in mind, Hux chose to circle outwards, mapping the territory on his datapad as he did so. The nearby river emptied into a nearby lake, he found; large and apparently glacier-fed, it stretched as far back as a cluster of blue-grey mountains. They teased him with their height, distant peaks cutting a jagged outline against the grey sky above. They were far closer to the stars than he was – not that he often saw the stars, anymore. The cloud cover rarely lifted, though it did not seem to rain overmuch. Hux could not be displeased about that. Rain was one of his least favourite meteorological phenomena.

But despite the persistent inversion layer, the plant life grew strong and true. Hux assumed it to be a temperate climate, judging by their apparent growth patterns. The planet appeared to support few animals, aside from some distressingly large butterflies that he’d learned to avoid. Certainly Ren had not thought to warn him about any large or dangerous fauna. Hux still kept a charged blaster ready to hand at all times. At the very least, sniping vicious butterflies was something to do with his time.

On the sixth day he returned to the base camp far earlier than usual; the two suns were only just nearing their approximate meridian. Ren clearly had not expected him, standing rigid and silent. And also, shirtless; the dark hair shone damp in the dull light as he dried himself near the blackened hollow where he liked to light his fires. That still made no sense to him. There was heat and light in the cabin. Hux figured it was just more Jedi drama and tended to ignore it the way he did everything else.

But he found it hard now to ignore the expanse of exposed skin before him. How easy it was, to remember it pressed to his own, to recall the heat of him inside and out. Pursing his lips, Hux determined to walk past with head held high, and fixed his gaze upon the opened door.

“Have you been crying?”

His hand froze on the frame. “Excuse me?”

“Hux.”

And he had come close, too close, standing beside him on the threshold of the cabin that might have once doubled as a cargo container. “Go away, Ren.”

One hand closed too hard over his upper arm, turning him around; the wideness of those damn eyes might have been comical, if not for the fact the man was still touching him. “You have been!”

“I have not.” Hux shook him off, briefly contemplated going inside and slamming a door between them. But then he’d never liked to be backed into a corner. He’d moved halfway across the clearing before he turned around, lips twisted in an ugly snarl. “We’re basically living outdoors like savages,” he said, and Ren, trailing behind him as he hitched as the precariously wrapped towel, looked nothing if not bewildered.

“What has that got to do with it? Do you really hate being off-ship so much you’ll cry about it?”

Only his frank irritation kept Hux from tracing his eyes over the revealed sharp lines of those hips, and the thought of what lay at their angled apex. “I’m allergic to everything, you idiot.”

“I – what?”

For a moment Hux genuinely believed Ren didn’t actually know what he meant at all. And then he sighed, remembered that all Ren likely knew about Hux was his military particulars, and the fact he had intensely poor choice in sexual partners. “Allergies. I have them.” Even thinking of them made his nose itch; he used the excuse of searching out a tissue to avoid meeting the idiot’s incredulous gaze. “It’s obviously not an issue when I am on-ship. Which, at this present moment, I am not.

“But…” He paused long enough to allow Hux to discretely blow his nose and tidy the evidence away, which was about the most polite thing he’d ever managed in Hux’s presence. And then, as if to prove he was still an idiot, he said, “I never saw you like this on Starkiller.”

“That planetoid was an ice-riddled hellscape. Pollen wasn’t generally an issue.” Now he opened the flap of the satchel slung about his shoulders, searching out a canteen. The waters of the lake had proven rather refreshing, and entirely non-toxic. Hux took a long draught, put it away, and found Ren hadn’t moved so much as an inch. “Would you stop staring at me?”

“It’s just…strange.”

“Actually, it’s uncomfortable more than anything else,” he snapped, and considered the conversation closed. Ren, of course, could never stop worrying at a wound; he trailed after Hux for the two feet he managed before he turned back in utter disgust.

“Can I get you something for it?” he asked before Hux could demand he leave him alone, and the pure peculiarity of the question actually made him pause. It didn’t help that Ren appeared to actually mean it.

“No.”

Ren had never been good at accepting that as a non-negotiable answer. “Surely there’s something you can take,” he insisted, one hand pushing back through his hair. He needed to cut it, and badly. Hux was already fantasising about first putting a blade to said hair and then the neck beneath it when Ren added, “To ease the symptoms, if not suppress them entirely.”

“Yes, but it’s wasteful.”

He did always rather enjoy boggling the other man. “How?”

“Because it’s hardly going to kill me.” Of course that moment was exactly when his cough decided to return; much as he swallowed back on it, he dissolved into a short hacking fit. When he glanced up, the expression on Ren’s face suggested he had grown another head.

“That doesn’t sound right.”

“It’s part of it, you idiot. Sometimes it just makes my chest tight.” Regret had become far too familiar a sensation as of that; he snapped back with as much dignity as a hoarsened voice would allow, “Don’t look at me like that. I had worse as a child, believe me.”

“You had lung spasms as a child?” His dark eyes, always too expressive for the madman’s own good, narrowed to perfect slits. The revelation there had Hux thinking murderous thoughts even before he voiced it aloud. “You shouldn’t be smoking.”

Hux smiled. “You touch my tabac, and I’ll rip your balls off. With my teeth.” And, much as he’d prefer now not to remember how particularly sensitive Ren was in that area, “I promise not even you will enjoy that.”

He was ready to call it a victory and return to his bunk when the other man suddenly went very lax, his head hanging low like a child chastised. “Hux.”

Experience told Hux to walk away. Curiosity kept him there. Knowledge always had been his weakness. “This conversation is over, Ren,” he said, even as he himself made no attempt to remove himself from it. And then Ren stood before him, hands on his shoulders, nose to nose, mouth twisted and eyes wild.

Yet his voice was low, very flat. “I didn’t bring you here just to let you die.”

Pulling himself away so quick, he nearly fell, Hux spat back, “I’m not going to die!”

They’d had many an argument in the past, and so many of them had ended like this: two combatants, breathing hard, standing in impasse but feet from one another. And yet, Ren had never looked like this: miserable. Uncertain. Afraid.

“I know that,” he said, finally one hand tightening the damn towel again. And Hux swallowed, adjusting the satchel on his shoulder, and still didn’t move.

“Good.” He shifted his weight from foot to foot, licked dry lips. “Then just let me be. Unless you return me to my ship, in which case, lead on.”

Ren appeared to curl in upon himself before Hux’s widening eyes. There might have been surprise, then, if not for the sudden coiled sense of disaster crawling up through his stomach and throat.

“Ren.”

The other man closed his eyes. “What?”

When he spoke again, his voice sounded alien, distant, something not entirely his own. Or perhaps something condemned to a past that was no longer able to be retrieved. “I want to go back to my ship.”

“You can’t.”

“Yes, I can.”

And Ren turned away, as if something had physically shoved at him. With hand over his mouth, words muffled, he should have been unintelligible – but then, that damned vocoder had taught Hux long ago how to listen to his voice.

Even as he wished now he couldn’t hear it at all.

“The Finalizer is gone.”

On the fourth day, he’d gone climbing across a natural causeway that spanned one of the river’s smaller tributaries. A careless step, and he’d gone into the dammed waters. For the first moment, he’d been unable to breathe, unable to move; the ice-cold water had stabbed into every nerve ending, freezing him in indecision and paralysis. The same sensation now had him choking on the words before he finally forced them out.

“I – what?”

Ren straightened now to his full height, but the expression on his face – a child’s terrified realisation of how no adult could fix the wrongs they had done – reminded him of snow, of ash, of supernova explosion and bitter gall in his mouth. “The Finalizer is gone,” Ren said, very flat, though his eyes were a chaotic ruin. “The drives went supercritical.”

Of course he asked, automatic even when it didn’t matter. “Which drives?”

And he only frowned, almost confused. “…all of them?”

This was not the first time he’d been brought news of this type. The fact that it came barely a standard week after said first did little to ease the shock of it, but then he looked down at the other man’s hands, large and empty, and remembered the saber. He hadn’t seen it since Starkiller. It had been for the best, he’d thought; the thing was unstable. Untrustworthy. It had only ever been destined to blow up in the hands of the fool who tried to wield it.

“Ren.” He had never felt so cold. “What did you do.”

And he sighed, face turned away. “What I had to.”

“You destroyed my ship?”

And then Ren’s hands were on him, fists bunched in his shirt, spittle hot against skin as he shouted directly into his face. “It wasn’t your ship!” And he was laughing, eyes bright and damp and half-crazed, shaking him hard enough to clack teeth together. “That’s the point! It wasn’t yours, it was never yours, and even if you’d gone down with it they’d have wiped your name from the annals as a failed commander who deserved no more honour than the fool who helped him ruin everything he ever worked for!”

Just as suddenly as he’d erupted, Ren subsided. For his part Hux did not move at all. He only staring. And he said nothing, even as Ren’s hands withdrew, face long and pale and frightened in a way that seemed somehow both utterly alien to Kylo Ren, and yet entirely suited to the strange little creature that had created him in the first place.

“Hux—”

“Don’t.” He raised one hand, wiped it across his face. “Don’t you ever talk to me again.”

Out amongst the trees, he could hear the river bubbling over the tumble of rocks that made its ever-shifting bed. His nose ran too, no matter how many times he swiped at it with a handkerchief. Every time he blinked his eyes stung with fierce complaint; it didn’t help as he glanced up, wincing against the sun now cutting through the tall lines. How typical. The weather would clear now, when all he wanted was rain and misery to underpin these unnecessary dramatics.

Eventually even he could no longer bully his legs into taking him any further. He sat down hard, not caring about the rock digging into uncomfortable places. It didn’t matter. The Finalizer: gone. Her crew, likely gone down with it. Hux had felt a large chunk of his life slip out of his hands with Starkiller, but he’d still had the Finalizer. The ship had still been his. And now he’d lost it days ago, and not even known enough to mourn her.

Hux did not cry. He didn’t remember how.

But he sat very still, and very quiet, and did not move again for a very long time.