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Acceptable Losses

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It would never cease to amaze General Hux how Kylo Ren could get under his skin. The man wasn’t even doing anything offensive. For the time being, his mind amended.
It was in the way he stood, the way he held himself. Ren moved through the world as if he expected everyone and everything to automatically make way for him. Hux hated that it did. It made his skin crawl. Ren was a deviant, which made him just about the worst thing behind being a rebel. Not to mention the issue of his parentage. Oh, the Knight tried to hide it, but such things were easily rooted out by quick eyes and quicker fingers. His mother was a General of the filthy resistance; his late father had been a symbol of uncontrollable self-indulgence. Ren was practically bred to be a thorn in Hux’s side.

At the moment the General was annoyed by how sweat was making Kylo’s cropped undershirt stick to his upper body. And at how the bottom mesh of the covering was just sheer enough to reveal the contraction of the muscles in Kylo’s abdomen. Specifically he was annoyed by how unannoyed the rest of him was by the sight. He wished for a moment that he could see Ren’s face and ground the thought into the dust of his mind.

Ren and his Knights were training. Perched above on a catwalk, Hux watched the activity from behind a reinforced, specially treated plane of glass—the same kind used for the viewing panels on the bridge. After the loss of Starkiller and Ren’s defeat at the hands of an untrained wild girl everyone had been on edge. Supreme Leader had mentioned completing Ren’s training. Hux wondered if the man was passing that training on to his group.

If he was, it was turning out to be a slow process. Hux watched as Kylo flung out an arm and seemed to select a Knight at random, plucking her from the ground and tossing her bodily across the room. With a painful twist the Knight managed to resist just enough to position her body so that her feet hit the wall first. Kylo released the force hold on her suddenly and she fell on her face onto the ground. The Knight let out a yelp of pain but remained still. The other Knights watched impassively, one or two of them moving a step or so to assist their comrade.

After a silent beat one of the Knights lifted a blaster and fired three shots in quick succession at their master. Without so much as a twitch Kylo caught the blasts, held them in the air and then returned the fire from whence it came. The Knights scattered; one was too slow and caught a shot on his lower leg. He took the wound silently, face disguised by his helmet.

Hux followed Kylo’s movements as the force user straightened himself and surveyed his group. They’d been training for hours, Hux knew. He’d only been present for the past three minutes but could see the exhaustion in the lines of their bodies. One of the Knights at the back was struggling to hold their weapon aloft. The female that Kylo had thrown was on her knees, blood dripping from under her mask onto the floor of the training arena. She rose shakily to her feet and took a defensive stance.

Then Kylo nodded wordlessly and the release of tension in the room was palpable. One Knight went to help the woman who’d been tossed; another had knelt down to check the wounded leg of their compatriot. Against his own will Hux’s eyes followed Kylo as he glided from the room, leaving his Knights milling about. As he reached the exit the helmet turned and Hux was suddenly aware that Kylo knew of his presence. The General crossed his arms behind his back and returned the supposed stare. This was his ship; he had nothing to hide. He could go where he pleased. Then Kylo deactivated his light sabre. Hux hadn’t even noticed that it had been humming until the sound ceased.
Ren left and Hux released a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding.

Hux strode from the catwalk and down the metal grated stairs into the hallway. It was an hour until the standard sleep cycle was meant to start and sporadic groups of troopers were moving in fours and sixes around him. Some moved for the canteen, others headed to take up posts for night duty. The one or two troop leaders he saw saluted respectfully as they moved into his space. Hux ignored them. He needed a drink after that.

Steadying himself around Ren was becoming more and more difficult. At the start it had been laughably simple. He hadn’t given a passing thought to what Kylo meant to him beyond a hurdle to overcome. Finding the other man broken in the snow had only served to further diminish Hux’s view of the force-user. What he once found freakish he then found freakish and useless. But in their collective shame and degradation something unspoken had passed through Hux’s consciousness about Kylo. It had been easy once to hate the other man. And then suddenly he hadn’t been so sure of it.

It was like growing up knowing water was wet only to find, somewhere into your thirties, that water was dry and cottony.

The officer’s lounge was all but deserted. It was a long, narrower room with low lighting and floor to ceiling windows. It was that perfect time between being too early for heavy drinking and too late for light conversation. Hux did not meet the eyes of the others in the room and headed straight for a chair in the corner. Most of them would be leaving soon if they knew what was good for them. Word had traveled fast among the officers. Most of the rank and file had no real clue. Hux didn’t bother to think on whether or not Kylo had said anything to his Knights. He felt that Kylo’s discretion was none of his business. He sat on the low chair, elbows on his knees and stared at the table.

In the fifteen minutes it took for Kylo to arrive the lounge had emptied and Hux had found himself in possession of a bottle filled with dark amber liquid. Two glasses sat on the table, one filled, the other empty. Without speaking Kylo sat in the opposite chair. He crossed his legs. And took up the empty glass, peering at it through the visor of his helmet.
They sat in silence, Hux occasionally taking a sip of the strong drink and Kylo staring impassively out the window, fingers tracing the rim of his own glass. Kylo didn’t like to drink, but Hux didn’t like to drink alone more. In that respect, at least, Kylo was surprisingly obliging. The Knight held onto the receptacle for the look of the thing; for something to do with his hands. By the time Hux had drained his glass Kylo had taken up at least staring in his direction. He replaced his own empty glass on the table after Hux did.

“Does it help, General?”

Hux narrowed his eyes in distaste at the question. Then, “No,” he admitted. If he didn’t focus it often made it worse. Hux did not drink often, born half from his knowledge that he was wont to over drink given the opportunity. The other half was founded solidly in the fact that strong drink had a tendency to re-awaken long dead paranoid delusions. One did not rise through the ranks as he did without earning dangerous rivals. The black helmet nodded once and then shifted his position in the chair so that he mirrored Hux, leaning over with the weight of his upper body supported by his elbows on his knees. The shifting of the fabric echoed in the empty space. It brought the two men’s heads closer together so that to an outsider if may have appeared as if they were leaning together to whisper something.

They were not.

Hux watched his reflection in the visor for a moment. It was still somewhat odd to think of Kylo’s eyes behind it, watching him back. He wondered briefly if the Knight’s eyes had ever dragged over his body the way Hux’s eyes did to him.

“May I pour you a drink?” Hux said steadily. He could see the way Kylo’s breathing changed; a sigh. Then he slipped his thumbs under the edges of the helmet and pulled. Hux forced back the tremor in his chest when Kylo revealed his face. It didn’t seem right that he looked so young—so fragile. Twisting across his cheek and over was the scar. Hux had kissed it once and remembered the way Kylo had flinched both away and into the touch. The Knight turned his wide, dark eyes to the other man, placing the mask upon the table between them.

“Yes,” Kylo replied after a moment, the bass of his voice always catching Hux slightly off guard. He knew the helmet modulated Kylo’s voice but he always expected something more. Or less. Or. He focused on pouring the drink, less than he would have given himself. Kylo watched him passively, eyes following his fingers as they replaced the cap and then slid the glass over. Their gloved fingers brushed as Kylo took up the drink. A quick meeting of the eyes. A quickened something in Hux’s chest. They were close enough to. Kylo ghosted his forehead against Hux’s and then leaned back and away.

Hux allowed himself a small chuckle when Kylo sipped it and winced.

In another world Hux would have continued to drink and Kylo would have tried to match him and the sleep cycle would have ended with them in a pile of drunken uncoordinated limbs. As it stood Hux did not pour himself another drink—Kylo drank his own slowly. If he were another man Hux would have risen and luxuriated in the sting of the liquor on Kylo’s tongue flooding his own mouth. He would have nipped at those lips to see if he could mix just the tiniest bit of blood and saliva and brandy. Instead he turned his attention out the window.

By the time he looked back Kylo was leaning to place his drink, he’d consumed less than half of it, back onto the table. Hux’s fingers twitched but he resisted the urge to take up the glass. He knew Kylo wouldn’t it finish it—it was waste of. No. It didn’t matter.

“Did it help, Ren?” Hux asked lowly. He knew he was being petty and found he didn’t care.

“No,” Kylo replied just as tastelessly. Their eyes met for a long moment and Hux was the one to fold and glance away. He never liked what he saw in Kylo’s eyes, even when they held things he wanted to see. Tonight the brown eyes were blank. A dangerous thing. Hux’s mind could paint whatever it desired onto a blank canvas. And it desired a great deal that it shouldn’t have.

Kylo was pushing the table slightly out of the way so that he could rise to his feet. Hux couldn’t stop himself from watching the movement as Kylo moved to stand before the window. He cut a sharp silhouette against the blackness of space. As Hux’s eyes dragged themselves over the tall man’s form he found that the object of his attention was not entirely steady on his feet. Hux told himself it was the drink and turned his gaze away.

The failures of months ago still weighed thick and heavy on both of them. Hux’s ego had taken a blow, but his resolve was firm. Order would be returned to the galaxy and he and his troopers would be the agents of its realization. Ren’s wounds however. Kylo had always been stuttering on the brink of something, but after the events of Starkiller something within the force user had shattered. It had been clear in the time since then that Kylo was cutting himself on the edges of it.

“General,” try as he may Hux couldn’t read the tone of voice for a clue.

“Ren,” he responded carefully. Kylo brought his arms around his back and held his own forearms fast. Hux heard more than saw him take in a deep steadying breath.

“Did you love your father?”

Hux nearly straightened himself out of his chair. What? They’d never discussed their familial lives before.

“I,” he faltered, unsure of how to respond. He knew that during the destruction of the base Kylo had slain Han Solo. Beyond that, Hux had felt very little motivation to dig deeper into the subject; it involved neither himself nor the First Order. And it had never seemed wise to broach the topic with the other man. “I admired him,” he managed. “He was a good man,” Then, without his consent, his voice shifted to a whisper. “He made me the man I am today,” it sounded disastrously like he was trying to convince himself. There was a beat of silence and in it he saw Kylo’s shoulders tense. His face in the reflection of the window was unreadable.

Kylo made a noise in his throat and pivoted from the window. Without further warning he stalked over to the table and snatched up his drink, dumping the entirety of its contents into his mouth and then he made a perfect arc with his arm and released. The glass shattered violently against the wall. He swallowed and then gasped raggedly against the burn in his throat. And then he roared. Calling it a yell would’ve been a severe disservice to the rich, primordial soul of the sound. Hux did his best impression of what he imagined his future statues would look like.

Ren was volatile at the best of times, but this was shaping up to be an entirely different animal. Hux really didn’t want to get into a discussion about father-son relationships with a man who’d committed patricide. He imagined that Kylo’s opinion would end up being rather skewed.

The other man was quiet, still seething, his chest heaving and face twisted. Then a bark left his throat, a laugh only in name. It sent a jolt of fear from Hux’s stomach into his throat.

“I feel the same way about mine,” a solar flare of rage tickled at the exposed skin of Hux’s face. Before he could rise from his seat Kylo had rounded on him. His features were twitching; he avoided Hux’s eyes. “Good evening General,” he said softly and Hux chose to ignore the tremor in the Knight’s voice. “Thank you for the drink,” on that oddly polite note, Kylo replaced his helmet and stalked from the lounge, taking the bottle with him. If he felt Hux’s eyes on his back as he left, he didn’t react to them.

Right. Great date night. Hux stared at the wall. They’d have to do it again sometime.

A theory dawned on Hux halfway to his quarters why Kylo would be thinking of his father. Damn it. Half his mind told him to ignore it. The other half won out; Hux blamed his damnable caring nature. His feet were already turning towards where Kylo bedded down, if indeed the man ever slept.

It was stupid and sentimental. Hux’s heart, divided from his mind, throbbed in sympathy. Although he would never admit to it, Hux still sent a short missive to his mother on the anniversary of his father’s birth. He never brought up the topic of it but there was a part of him that still felt it was necessary. For her part, his mother kindly never brought up that her son only seemed to be interested in ‘checking in’ on his father’s birthday. Now, the anniversary of Han Solo’s death—that would be an understandable reason for Kylo to get himself in a twist. But his birthday? Perhaps Hux was wrong about the date? Maybe there was some other significance to it. It was fairly likely that the answer was somewhere in Hux’s brain, lazing around and getting drunk and not coming when it was called for and.

The door to Kylo’s quarters was open. A yawning darkness met Hux’s gaze.

It was not the fear of fangs or claws that started to bloom at the base of Hux’s skull. This was something much deeper, much more primal. The fear of shadows where there shouldn’t have been any. The fear of what lurked in them. Unknown. Hux despised the unknown. He steadied himself. Icy adrenaline pumped under his skin. Monsters in the dark, his thoughts whispered. Waiting for you.

He isn’t here, Hux assured himself, just turn around and leave. Oh stars, what if he’s behind me? Hux tried to reason with himself that such a thing wouldn’t make sense but his heart was having none of it. It pounded against his ribcage screaming run. Hux stood his ground.

“Ren?” at least his voice sounded even. It was keeping up appearances, but it had to be done. He would linger for a few moments longer and then he would be free to (casually) speed walk from the area. No one would be able to fault him for not trying.

“General Hux,” Kylo’s voice echoed from the blackness. Which was absurd, there wasn’t enough space for there to have been an ech—“Come in,” something was wrong with the voice. Very wrong. Hux’s feet wanted to defy the order. Hux’s legs did as well. In fact, in a quick survey, every part of Hux wanted to run. Well, except for the part of the brain which handled curiosity, but it had gotten this whole mess with Ren started in the first place, so its opinion no longer counted.

He took a cautious step forward and the nature of the dark changed. The door had slid shut behind him with a hiss; it took Hux’s eyes a few moments to adjust. And for his heart to climb out of his throat. Had Kylo been waiting with his door open? That didn’t seem. Well. None of this seemed right.

Kylo was sprawled back on the edge of his bed, feet still flat on the floor, one arm dangling over the edge clutching a now empty bottle. That didn’t bode well. Perhaps if he was subtle about it he could back out of the room before Kylo noticed.

“I’d offeryou a drink,” the bottle made a bright clink as it hit the ground and toppled over. It rolled, unhindered, under Kylo’s bed. “But, aha,” Kylo’s chest was convulsing in rhythmic little shots. He was either laughing or crying. As abruptly as it started the motion stopped. “Have a…aseat,” he spoke slowly and, if he really had finished the entire bottle, it was most likely to hide the slurring. He wasn’t succeeding.

Hux glanced warily around the room. It was barren for the most part. There was a bed and a table and a trunk. This was a room to be slept in. There were no additions, like chairs, for mere creature comforts. After a moment of hesitation Hux crossed to Kylo’s bed and lowered himself onto it. He sat, back ramrod straight, and stared at the wall ahead of him. Insofar as he could tell, Kylo’s gaze was firmly on the ceiling as if through sheer force of will he could see beyond it to the stars. Perhaps he could. Hux’s knowledge of the force had never moved much beyond ‘deviant and powerful and wrong’.

“Why…didyoucome here?” Kylo asked the ceiling. His words came out too many at a time, as if they were stepping on each other’s toes to get out of his mouth. Hux considered his reply and found he didn’t like the answer. He’d been concerned that Ren would do something rash, which wasn’t something he was about to admit to. In all fairness Kylo had been being rash; tipping back a nearly half full bottle of brandy was going to have consequences even for the “hero” of the first order. Especially for the hero of the first order. In the brief time Hux had been…ahem…personal with Kylo he’d known the Knight to be a one lum type of drinker. Kylo was waiting for Hux to reply. At some point the Knight had brought his arms to cross over his chest and? Ah. He was trying to pull his cowl over his head and failing.

Hux wasn’t ready to start helping the other man undress quite yet. Dealing with a sober Ren was trying enough, he didn’t want to start fielding sexual advances from a smashed one.

“No reason,” Hux managed to mutter. Kylo was still struggling as either his limbs were not functioning properly or the cloth his cowl was made out of was more sinister than Hux gave it credit for. As he gave his answer Kylo managed to jerk himself free, sighing, arms falling heavily to either side. One of them ended up smacking Hux in the side, all drunken dead weight and heat. Or lack thereof. The hand that had landed on him was freezing. Without a thought to accompany the movement Hux took the hand into his own, feeling the icy fingertips begin to slowly warm. He realized what he’d done a moment too late as Kylo was already wriggling his fingers into the body heat.

“I’s never what…what he wanted ina inason,” Kylo said suddenly and the adrenaline was back in Hux’s bloodstream. Get out now. Leave. There is no way this ends well. The grip on his hand tightened fiercely, all but grinding his knuckles together. He winced and tried to remain calm. Ren was still staring blankly above him. “He found it…he found the force just as…justas repulvise…rep…hated it as muchas you do,” an impressive feat, Hux thought. If it were true. “He was…always ‘fraid ‘f me…justalittle…even b’fore I,” he trailed away into a painful hush.

Kylo’s mind on the best of days existed in an odd, cloudy state. It made his narrative of the events of his past less than credible. Hux didn’t doubt that Kylo felt like his father was disappointed in who he’d been born as; he doubted the father had actually felt that way. The grip on his hand lessened. “The ceiling’s…it’s spinnin’,” Kylo continued, as if it were a thing to talk about. He’s going to be sick soon, Hux’s mind offered unhelpfully. Kylo made a noise of distress in the back of his throat.

“Close your eyes,” Hux advised. “It’ll help with the dizziness,” it was a good thing Kylo was already flat on the bed—he wouldn’t have to worry about negotiating the larger body off of the floor. He glanced over to see that his words were heeded.

“I killed ‘im,” Ren whispered out a moan, eyes slipping shut. Well shit. What could he say to that? Yes, yes you did? Good going on noticing that? Acceptance is the first step? Before he had time to construct a response Kylo had apparently circled back around to the physical aspect of his angst. “’m sick,” Hux’s hand flew away from Kylo’s.

“Roll onto your side, then,” he barked, a little more forcefully than he intended. There was a tremor of fury so strong that Hux could almost hear it vibrating in the still air.

“No…not…not like that,” Kylo hissed. Hux felt a pressure start bringing his shoulder blades together and arms in and forcing his breath out and. It was like being squeezed by a great, awful fist. It was gone before it could do any damage beyond terrifying him. Kylo flew upright, bending at the waist. He was trembling, staring down at his palms. “Sick…sicksicksick since the day I’s born,” the slurring was especially apparent on the ‘s’ of sick. His face was twisted in agony.

Never should have come. Hux pushed the thought away. While it was technically correct, it wasn’t helping. Should have let him have his damn crisis in privacy, the thought said louder, offended at being called unhelpful.

Slowly Hux reached out and placed a hand on Kylo’s back. Ren flinched but didn’t move away. And that was when Hux realized his mistake. Today was not Han Solo’s birthday. It was Kylo Ren’s. This was just getting worse and worse by the second, wasn’t it? Kylo Ren, upper half bent over the edge of his bed, began dry heaving and Hux couldn’t tell if he was going to be sick or start sobbing.

For the first time in his life Hux prayed for vomit.

“Sick n’weak,” Kylo was muttering. “’m sorry,” tremors ran through the muscles in his back and into Hux’s hand. Shit. Hesitantly, like patting a dog that might turn and bite at any moment, Hux rubbed between Kylo’s shoulder blades. “—was a goodman,” Kylo said, as if arguing with himself. Hux sighed heavily.

“You’re just drunk, Ren,” he didn’t even sound convincing to himself. “This,” whatever the hell this is, Hux’s mind interjected. “This will pass,” Kylo made a small noise and rocked slightly. The muscle spasms—Hux would not acknowledge them for what they were—began to lessen until they were barely noticeable.

“ahjushwillyastayhere?” a muttered, dead tongued noise left the Knight.

“What?” Hux paused and hoped he’d heard wrong. Kylo leaned even further over the side of the bed, burying his face in his hands.

“Will youstay here?” Kylo sounded weak as he spoke very, very carefully. Hux felt at a loss, hand still resting on Kylo’s back, still half tempted to run from the room.

“I.” he said and ignored the shouting from his mind. “Yes,” he’d just stay for an hour, make sure Ren didn’t pass out and drown in a pool of his own sick, do his best to avoid discussing any topic Kylo seemed to come up with. He could do this. Kylo was leaning back to the safety of the bed again.

Kylo passed out after twenty minutes. He’d drunkenly slurred a few more self-pitying phrases before rolling over onto his stomach and burying his face into a pillow. Then he’d had a one-sided conversation with a burnt out mask he’d placed with clear reverence on a pedestal. Every once and while, in between outbursts, Kylo’s hand would find Hux’s and he’d squeeze. Tight and desperate and frantic. Hux was fairly certain he’d have bruises on his hand in the morning.

He waited to see if the slumber would last. One minute, two. Five. Ten. Kylo’s breathing began to even out. As gingerly as was humanly possible Hux managed to steal back his hand.