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One Day, It Will All Be Worth It

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It is not often that General Hux is summoned to a TIE fighter wing onboard the Finalizer, but considering the catastrophe that was Starkiller Base, he should have expected the ping to one day sound on his comm. The destruction of Starkiller Base not only resulted in the loss of a very expensive and personable weapon, but it also caused so many casualties that Hux has not yet made it through the deceased officer list, much less the one for deceased Stormtrooper squadrons.

 

The loss of Stormtroopers is definitely not a good thing, but it cannot compare to the loss of specialized officers. Mechanics. Engineers. Even the TIE fighter pilots, considering that they are not technically Stormtroopers and fall more so into the officer rank.

 

The signs of this loss are visible almost everywhere on the Finalizer. Stormtrooper activity and patrol is down, though Captain Phasma continues to direct her troops in the same manner as before Starkiller imploded. Officers are few and far between.

 

Hux especially sees this where he is standing on the main bridge of his ship. Only a week ago, there were dozens of officers milling about or managing their stations. Now, only ten officers—plus Hux—were on the bridge, even during Alpha Shift. Most of them slump at their station, eyes glazed over as they gaze at their stations’ screens in hope that perhaps they would be able to limp back to the main fleet deep in the Outer Rim. It is so quiet that the mechanical hum of the ship’s hyperdrive engines could be heard, but Hux knows it is only a matter of time before those have problems. The so-called “blast radius” from the imploding Starkiller knocked into the ship quite ferociously, and engineering had previously reported problems to Hux the day before.

 

Now, they summon Hux once more. Hux’s comm pings again, as if the sound is a reminder that his ship and his crew are on a path to be truly fucked. Again.

 

Hux pulls out his comm from a pocket in his tunic and opens the message from engineering. Although his engineers are nothing if not professional, Hux can detect a hint of desperation radiating from the message. He knows that the chief engineer would not summon him for help unless it was an absolute necessity. Judging by her message, this problem is one.

General,
Due to complications with TIE fighter repairs, the Finalizer and her defenses are not operating at max capacity, especially considering that the implosion blast disrupted some key anti-spacecraft guns mounted on her hull. As such, knowing of your training in engineering and experience with TIE’s, I would request your mechanical support in Hangar 8 in restoring the TIE’s to flying and fighting capability.

LCDR Rhodona

Hangar 8 is closer to the bridge than the other hangars, but it will still be a long while before Hux would arrive. Judging by the lieutenant commander’s language, Hux would probably be there for quite a while, if the damn birds can’t even fly much less fight. Therefore, Hux resolves to leave immediately, in hopes that he could return to the bridge at the end of Beta or beginning of Gamma shift.

 

Hux turns away from his station and begins walking down the elevated beam that was lifted above the other officer stations. As he passes a young, skittish looking officer, he says, “Mitaka, you have the bridge.”

 

Mitaka jumps slightly in his seat, as if Hux had screamed the order directly into his ear rather than spoke it in passing, but he replies dutifully, “Yes, sir.”

 

With the transfer of command complete, Hux quickens his pace out the bridge and into one of the major connecting hallways. As his pace increases, his stride shrinks so that the steps his booted feet make on the durasteel flooring clack in rhythmic beats that remind Hux of marches he would attend at present and had participated in as cadet. Almost subconsciously, Hux begins silently counting his steps as his drill instructor would have done aloud.

 

One. Two. Three. Four.

 

Hux passes an asteroid monitoring room that was completely uninhabited. Those who had survived Starkiller were repurposed into other departments. Considering the damage the Finalizer had already sustained, a couple of asteroids couldn’t make the ship any more broken.

 

One. Two. Three. Four. Hux continues his solitary march.

 

Later, as he is winding a corner, Hux passes a systems monitoring room that is completely slashed up, as if molten durasteel had been thrown upon the computer systems and left to cool after their destruction. Slash marks dig into the walls as if a massive clawed beast had suddenly taken up residence on Hux’s ship without him knowing.

 

Hux knows exactly what sort of beast caused this destruction, but he finds himself unwilling to think about a problem that is unfixable to him right now. Kylo Ren, unlike the TIE’s, cannot be fixed by replacing mechanical parts. The best Hux can do for Ren now is to let him recover from Starkiller in the medical wing. Hux is only glad that Hangar 8 is nowhere near the ship’s main medical wing. He can only focus on one problem at a time.

 

Hux continues his silent march towards Hangar 8, and as he walks down the hallway, he notices that his crew has reappeared. Many of them are the engineers and mechanics who called for his aide and thus are so frazzled that they barely remember to salute Hux as he passes. Those who do often have uniforms that are so dirty or poorly done up that Hux would write them up for a violation. One such mechanic is unaware that in the process of saluting her general, she leaves a crisp line of oil imprinted on her face like a scar.

 

After he enters Hangar 8, Hux spots Rhodona, his chief engineer, standing on a crate and gesturing semi-wildly at the TIE behind her. Her audience is a group of her subordinate engineers who take her instructions and direct them to their own teams of mechanics. Hux finds that this system of delegation works well, but with Rhodona so worked up over the number of mechanical issues on ship, Hux knows that she will not allow herself to remain idle for long.

 

Rhodona finally notices why her department is splitting down the middle and sees Hux making his way towards her congregation. “General!” she shouts and jumps off her crate to push past the crowd before her in order to reach Hux. She reaches him almost breathless and immediately launches into the problems her department faces.

 

“General, first of all, thank you for responding to my message. You’re of course aware of the extent of the damage, and considering I lost a lot of highly-trained personnel, I thought it prudent to recruit other experienced officers from different departments.” Hux cannot tell if Rhodona took a single breath in that entire speech, but before he can cut in, Rhodona directs him towards a corner of the hangar with suspiciously intact looking TIE’s. She continues with, “So the ones we’re going to be looking at were actually never on Starkiller, so they didn’t participate in any dogfights and don’t have any flak damage. My engineers believed them to be fine, but when we tried to start them up, their engines wouldn’t catch.”

 

Hux always forgets that Rhodona’s accent is so different from the standard Imperial that he, as a cadet, learned was the tongue of the glorious Empire. Hux, along with his class, thus changed their speech accordingly so that the Empire would continue in their generation, regardless of their exile in the Outer Rim. Rhodona, it seems, simply has never cared that the lilting and rolling accent of hers is considered inferior to the clipped Imperial.

 

On way to the far corner of the hangar, Hux cuts in to the conversation. “It sounds as though the problem is in the engines themselves. Both the TIE’s and the Finalizer herself share a version of the ion engine, and considering that you previously reported problems with her engines, it would be sound to suggest that the TIE’s are experiencing a similar issue.”

 

Rhodona is nodding along to Hux’s assessment. Finally, they reach the far corner of Hangar 8 where Rhodona was leading Hux. Before them are the intact TIE’s that are experiencing the mysterious problems with their engines. Of all the ships aboard the Finalizer, Hux expected the battle-worn ships to be the most problematic; yet it is the intact ones, which had remained aboard his ship, which are broken.

 

Hux asks Rhodona the obvious questions. “Are the solar panels working properly?”

 

“We ran diagnostics on them, but the sim tells us that the panels are working fine. Electrical measurement was at 98% effectiveness.”

 

“What of the ion engines?”

 

“The same situation. Diagnostics say the engines should work. We even compared the results to one of the battle-shredded TIE’s, and they both had equivalent effectiveness. Both should work.”

 

“And I am correct to assume that we do not have the capabilities to replace the ion engines?”

 

Rhodona gives Hux a look that she slightly reins in in respect of Hux’s rank. Even still, Hux asks the question knowing Rhodona will respond in the negative. Actually taking out an ion engine from its outer casing is not doable in this hangar and requires the TIE to be brought to port. Currently, the Finalizer is nowhere near a port or base. The closest base is scattering throughout the galaxy at the moment.

 

Rhodona though huffs a laugh and crosses her arms at Hux’s last question. “You know, sir, considering the laws of engineering, I can guarantee that what you just said is exactly how we fix the problem. It’s typical that it’s the one solution not available to us right now.”

 

Hux quirks his lips slightly at his chief engineer’s declaration. She may be slightly insubordinate at times, but Hux knows that it stems from her knowledge that Hux was trained the same way she was and thus can understand the complicated mechanics that involve First Order spacecraft. Many others in high command, include much of the Admiralty, cannot say the same. For Hux, this is a point of pride, if it comes from an elitist source.

 

The two engineers gaze up at the TIE fighter they had walked to. Bracketed by two thirteen-foot, hexagonal-shaped solar panels, the cockpit was small and almost insignificant as it was dwarfed by its shield-like appendages. It is too often that pilots actually do use their solar panels as shields, as in vac-fights, a pilot can recover from a damaged panel if their engines remain uncompromised. It is quite a different story in atmo-fights, where the inherent instability of the TIE means that it has little dynamic stability even when whole.

 

This particular TIE is of a newer model, so that the pilot can hoist themselves up and into the cockpit, thus saving time in case of a surprise attack. The older models had significantly larger solar panels and thus would require a ground crew to literally heft a pilot up and through the cockpit hatch if there was not a proper docking facility for the spacecraft.

 

Still, even with that improvement, particularly small pilots have to use something akin to a stepping box to reach the cockpit hatch. They are the ones who complain to engineering for an even shorter TIE. Engineering then directs the aggrieved pilot to an even larger stepping box.

 

Hux considers everything that could have damaged the TIE’s from their construction to Jakku to Starkiller to now. The only significant event he can think of is, of course, the implosion of Starkiller Base. The only question is: what could the implosion of a planet do to a stationary TIE fighter?

 

The solution comes to Hux suddenly, a solution so obvious that he wants to pinch his nose and sigh deeply to himself. Yet he speaks to Rhodona nonchalantly, if only to cover up for the fact that he has only just thought of it. “Have you considered the engines on a sub-atomic level? Starkiller Base’s core was technically composed of an absorbed star. Therefore, we can treat its implosion like we would a shock wave from a supernova.”

 

Rhodona, apparently, does not feel the need to cover up her embarrassment at now making the connection. She loudly groans and stares up at the high ceiling of the hangar, as if asking some higher power why she must bear this.

 

Hux finds that he agrees with her, if only in principle.

 

“Damn shock wave could have blasted off the electrons in the ion engines.”

 

Hux interjects with another proposed cause. “Perhaps the destabilization of Starkiller’s geomagnetic field is also a cause.”

 

Rhodona finally looks down from the ceiling to meet Hux’s gaze. Her eyes seem very tired, yet spark with a drive that can only occur when an engineering solution can finally be discussed.

 

“General Hux, sir, I thank you for your input, but the blasting off of electrons and the complete destabilization of electrons require very different solutions. And I can’t even think of a way, with the resources we have, to test which one it is!”

 

Hux looks away from her and back at the TIE. He thinks he won’t need a stepping box to access the cockpit sitting above him. “I can think of one. But I’ll need a high-powered magnet and a way to access the engine’s outer casing. Do you have the tools to do so?”

 

Rhodona nods once at him, understanding now what Hux plans to do. “Yes, sir, we do.” She then turns and leaves to go get it, forgetting that she could technically delegate the fetch task to a subordinate.

 

Having confirmed that he will get his magnet, Hux takes off his belt and tunic. In his experience, Hux knows that it’s impossible to open up a TIE’s belly and not become absolutely filthy. This precaution leaves him in his black tank top officers wear underneath their uniforms.

 

Hux folds his tunic and sets it down beside his belt, along with his personal comm, on a tool-covered table to his left. He grabs the tools that are used to open up the panel surrounding an ion engine and puts the small tools in his jodhpurs’ pockets and the larger ones in his waistband. That taken care of, he walks over to the TIE so that he is standing below its tiny cockpit. The circular hatch to get into the spaceship is directly above him. Hux reaches up to grab at the two handles on the hatch and twists to the right. The hatch, as it should, repressurizes to the artificial atmo of the Finalizer with a drawn-out hiss as the air molecules travel from the comparatively high pressure of the TIE to the external, slightly lower pressure. A gust of air blows out to hit Hux in the face, and he squints.

 

When the air transfer is complete, Hux pulls down on the handles to slightly open the hatch. He then lets go, so that the artificial gravity can do the rest of the work and pull the hatch door down perpendicular to the hangar floor.

 

A ladder is built into the hatch and the rungs constructed so that they continue into the interior of the cockpit. Hux can easily reach the first rung and so decides to grab the second one and then hoist himself up with his upper body. His feet would then land on the first rung. Still, the position will look particularly awkward, as his ass will be the only thing visible to outside onlookers, and so Hux gazes around the hangar to make sure his crewmen are occupied.

 

Everyone is busy, and Hux grabs the second rung with two hands. He bends his knees and jumps, making a slight grunt at the use of his often unexercised upper body. He crunches his torso with much more ease and then shoves his legs on the first rung. Hux exhales once in that hunched position before climbing up the cockpit hatch. He reaches into the TIE and grabs a handhold installed for a pilot to heave themselves into the interior. Hux pulls his legs in and sits against the main structural support beam in the middle of the fighter.

 

Since no one is watching him, Hux sinks against the pillar, pulls his legs into a crossed position and says to himself, “We should invest in squatter TIE’s.” He exhales loudly through his nose and tips his head back to rest against the beam. The dark silence of the TIE’s interior is usually vaguely unsettling, but as Hux has not slept more than three hours a night the past week, he thinks it soothing. To Hux, it reminds him of a world within another world, one that is created only for the pilot within this TIE’s belly. He can barely hear the hum of the Finalizer’s hyperdrive engines. Hux’s eyes close.

 

Only to snap open as some engineer drops the galaxy’s largest piece of machinery right on the floor of the hangar. Hux can already hear the poor engineer’s superior yelling at them. The sound takes Hux away from his drift into some attempt at rest. He reaches down to his pants and takes the flashlight out of his waistband, turns it on and sticks it in his mouth. Hux needs both hands to access the engine, and it would be a bit cramped if another person tried to wedge themselves in.

 

Hux bends his knees and folds them so that his feet are facing the left and his knees the right, in the direction of the right ion engine. Hux then rolls off the beam and onto his right side, catching himself on his hand so that he is propped up. He begins to shuffle his way towards the right ion engine. The light beam from his flashlight creates a perfect circle on the curved wall of the cockpit. Hux notices that as he moves, it oscillates with his motion.

 

This particular model of a TIE fighter can only hold one crewman, a pilot, due to its designation as a scout craft. The seat is screwed onto an oval shaped platform, so that there is room for supplies or other items to sit on the crescent-shaped depression that Hux is currently sitting on. Hux recognizes the need for the cockpit seat platform to extend to the walls of the TIE. Yet he cannot help but curse whoever designed this TIE model because unlike in larger TIE’s, the engine access panel is not exposed. Instead, Hux realizes he’ll have to remove a round panel from the seat platform, wedge himself under it and then remove the engine panel.

 

Hux reaches up with his left hand and takes the flashlight out of his mouth to say, in a mutter to himself, “At least it’s not like the engine is important.” That being said, he puts the flashlight back in his mouth, reaches for a screwdriver and looks down at the panel. Hux would prefer using powered tools, but it’s so cramped in the cockpit that he wouldn’t be able to hold the drill at the correct angle. Hux sighs around the flashlight in his mouth and takes it out to say, again to himself, “There’s a reason they use droids for this.”

 

Hux puts the flashlight down on the floor and uses his arms to push himself into a laying down position, legs still bent to prevent himself from hitting the wall of the fighter or from falling out of the cockpit hatch hole. He angles the flashlight to hit the exposed screw heads, thanking the bureaucracy that they at least had the incentive to make screw heads uniform among the First Order. Then, Hux grabs the screwdriver from his waistband and begins the long process of manually unscrewing the sixteen screws from the panel.

 

Hux is three-quarters of the way done with unscrewing the panel, screws already in his pockets, when he hears from outside the TIE an unknown voice saying rather loudly, “General Hux, sir! You requested a high-powered magnet!”

 

Hux stops his unscrewing and turns his head around to yell, “Give me ten!”

 

The crewman knows exactly what Hux means by this, as he is not requesting ten magnets. Inferior officers are often expected to wait if their superior is in the middle of a project. Usually, it’s used only in the case of rather delicate and volatile work that cannot be stepped away from. Hux knows this work is not technically volatile—at least not yet—but the angle he is laying at is perfect for unscrewing. If he were to leave at this moment, Hux knows that it would take longer than ten minutes to find the angle again. The officer can wait for ten minutes; if Hux required longer, then he would simply come back after the time elapsed.

 

Hux finishes the last screws in approximately eight minutes. He slips the screws into his pocket, the screwdriver into his waistband and begins the same trek back to the cockpit hatch. He takes the nails out of his pockets and puts them to the side, so that they do not fall out when he retrieves the magnet.

 

Hux then flips around so that his legs can wrap around the central pillar. Then, in only a display of absolute necessity, he drops his torso down into the hatch hole, so that his previously slicked down hair encounters gravity and hangs away from his head. His legs, wrapped around the central support beam, are the only thing preventing him from plopping down to the hangar floor like a sack of rocks.

 

The crewman cannot see Hux at the angle he is standing at, as the hatch door is blocking all of Hux’s exposed torso. Thus, upside-down, Hux must declare, “Ten has elapsed!”

 

The crewman, holding the magnet cradled against his body in his left arm, peeks around the cockpit hatch door only to startle as he comes face-to-face with his General. The man recovers quickly though and steps around the door to salute with his right hand and say, “Sir, here is the high-powered magnet you requested.” He doesn’t drop the salute at the end of his statement, which makes Hux think that Rhodona dragged some random officer into the engineering department.

 

Hux, realizing now that the blood rushing to his face is doing more harm than good, says, “At ease. Give it to me then.” The officer drops his salute and reaches to grab the magnet from the cradle of his left arm. Then, he presents it to Hux with both hands, as if it is some offering to him and not simply a magnet. Hux grabs it with his right hand to sling it under his left arm, cradling it as the officer had done. “Thank you. Dismissed,” he says and crunches his body up and back into the TIE cockpit, grabbing a floor rung to aid in pulling himself in.

 

Hux does not notice that the officer dragged into the engineering department is still standing below the open cockpit, looking up at where Hux disappeared with an expression one would find upon noticing that the laws of nature decided to reverse for the day. The man blinks once and breaks out of his stupor enough to walk back towards the exit, where hopefully the laws of nature will correct themselves into something he recognizes.

 

Back in the cockpit, Hux removes the platform panel he unscrewed and shoves it onto the pilot seat. It’s not the best place for the panel to go, but Hux doesn’t have many options and he can’t just fling it outside. It would require another person to get it again, and Hux seems to have lost his chief engineer and dismissed the one who came to replace her.

 

Since the panel is rounded, it’s able to sit in the seat much as a person would. Hux knows it’ll be difficult to maneuver it back into place, but it is not an urgent issue and Hux ignores that particular problem.

 

With the crawlspace now exposed, Hux can shine a light into the darkness. To his advantage, he won’t have to slide his torso all the way into the crawlspace. At most, it looks like he only has to stick his head and shoulders underneath the pilot seat.

 

It is at a moment like this that Hux is thankful for his lithe physique. He doubts anyone broader could fit in the space and still be able to move their arms to unscrew the engine panel. Hux grabs the flashlight and slides it into the crawlspace, angling it so that it will be out of his way and yet still shine on the four screws of the engine panel. Then, Hux squishes himself on the floor of the TIE and slides on his belly into the crawlspace. Many would think it claustrophobic and suffocating, but Hux has been in far smaller spaces.

 

Hux quickly unscrews the panel free, as although he is comfortable in small spaces, he does not enjoy overheating within them, and slides the screws into his pocket, as he knows they are the same as the screws of the pilot-seat panel. He grabs the panel in his left hand and slides back out of the crawlspace on his belly, since he does not have room to flip over onto his back and pull himself out that way. Considering the engine panel is smaller than the pilot-seat panel, Hux can set it against the wall, and it will remain out of the way.

 

With both panels now removed, Hux can finally access the right ion engine. He slides himself back into the crawlspace and reaches out to grab the engine from a convenient handle facing him. It slides out easily, for the casing was designed to be easily removed. TIE fighters are damaged all the time, and sometimes it is easier to take a very expensive ion engine out of a damaged one and replace it in a new fighter. The difficult part, as Hux and Rhodona were discussing, is actually replacing an engine itself, as it requires tools that can affect the engine on a sub-atomic level.

 

Hux always forgets how small and lightweight a TIE’s ion engine is. He blames it on the fact that although a TIE engine is the first spacecraft an engineer learns about at the Academy, it is surely not the last. Hux admits that he is more captivated by the massive and powerful three ion-hyperdrive engines that power his ship. That same technology is within this cylinder that is barely the length of Hux’s forearm.

 

Hux shimmies out of the crawlspace, dragging the ion engine in front of him. After fully exiting the crawlspace, he grabs the flashlight still stuck underneath the floor of the elevated platform and sticks it into his mouth again. He picks up the engine with both hands, cradles it against his chest and uses his feet to push himself back to rest against the central pillar. Sitting next to him is the high-powered magnet he requested, the magnet turned off so that Hux’s metal-laden pockets and pants wouldn’t fly towards it. Hux removes the items from his pockets and sets them to his left, setting the screwdriver and nails separate from the more random tools that he grabbed.

 

With the metal gone from his body, Hux takes the engine in his hands and angles it above his head so that the flashlight in his mouth hits the surface dead on. Although Hux knows that a new TIE design wouldn’t imply a different ion engine design, he is wary not to check, as he didn’t enjoy realizing that he would have to unscrew not only one, but two panels.

 

The light catches on the engine’s serial number. The only thing Hux needs to know is whether or not it begins with ‘8’. This engine’s number does begin with 8, so Hux knows that it’s the same as a non-specialized TIE. It will only have an outer casing.

 

Hux bends his knees and spreads his legs so that the engine is cradled between his thighs. He takes the flashlight in his left hand and reaches over to grab the magnet in his right. He shines it onto the engine casing. Before he switches it on, he mentally implores the galaxy not to fuck him over. Resting the magnet against the non-magnetic casing, he switches it on and tries to pull the magnet away from the engine casing.

 

Hux finds he cannot.

 

Upon this realization, Hux utters a phrase which has come easily to every engineer in the galaxy at many a point in their lives.

 

“Bloody. Fucking. Shit.”

 

Before Hux can report his disturbing findings even further, he hears a voice carry into the body of the TIE. The voice is out of breath, asking repeatedly, “Does anyone know where General Hux is? Has anyone seen him?”

 

Hux exhales sharply through his nose and clanks his head against the central support beam. It seems as though the ship is falling apart around him. He sets the engine aside, knowing that the resources they have onboard can’t open up the engine. Even if Hux were to leave, no one would be able to open up the engine and inadvertently kill the entire ship.

 

Hux stands up, hunched over in the cockpit of the TIE fighter. He puts his right leg, then left, down the hatch hole to stand on the first rung of the ladder. With his hands he reaches down to grab the last ladder rung connected to the cockpit hatch. Hux drops his legs so that he is briefly hanging from the ladder rung, then drops himself fully so that he lands on the hangar floor below. The drop is by far not his most graceful, but Hux doesn’t crumple onto his ass and thus considers it a successful exit. Still, the hanging cockpit hatch is blocking most of his body. Hux steps around it, so that he is facing a room of increasingly panicked people. It seems as though more time than Hux had thought had passed, and the other engineers, engrossed in their work, did not remember where Hux had disappeared to.

 

The woman seeking Hux finally spots him in the far corner of Hangar 8, and her pace becomes even more frantic. Hux is already running through disaster scenarios in his head. Surely he would have known if the hyperdrive engines cut out? Perhaps Mitaka accidently turned them off from the bridge.

 

As the woman gets closer, Hux becomes even more concerned and even slightly exasperated once he notices the details of her uniform. That particular design is specific for First Order medics, and if a medic is asking for General Hux, there can only be one probable reason.

 

Of all the issues with his ship, Hux finds that this particular problem is one that he cannot handle at the moment. It is one thing to go into the belly of a spacecraft and another to deal with his disaster-ridden mess of a lover.

 

Only Kylo Ren would deign to wake up right when Hux was dealing with problems on the quantum level. Only Kylo Ren would be so unaccommodating that he would force this medic to leave her post to find Hux and then force him to leave his post.

 

Hux could always say no. He has no obligation to come when Ren calls and a pretty good reason for not coming at all. He could stay at his post and ignore Ren’s summons. But he never does.

 

He never had.

 

So, as he has done so many times in his 34 years, Hux goes in the direction of Kylo Ren.

 

On his way out, Hux snags his comm from off the table. When he glances down at it, he sees multiple messages from the medical wing, with the most recent one being particularly pleading. Hux mutters a curse to himself and walks faster. The medical officer intercepts him on his way out, with the engineers swerving to get out of their general’s way.

 

The medic updates Hux on this new situation, saying, “Sir, he’s woken up, but is increasingly volatile. We know that in the past you’ve subdued him.”

 

Hux only has one question for her. “Did he summon me by name?”

 

The nurse shakes her head and says, “No, sir. It’s just that in the past—”

 

“Thank you. That’s all I need to know.” With that question answered, Hux knows that Ren is summoning him for personal reasons. He finds that he cannot tell if he is pleased or annoyed with that fact. “Go find someone to replace that ion engine in the scout TIE. The hatch on it is still open.”

 

The medic stops and sputters at him, “Sir, I’m a medic!” Yet Hux does not respond to that statement, already focused on getting to Kylo Ren. He quickens his pace, looping around the charred mess of a TIE’s solar panels directly in front of him to continue onward towards the exit.

 

Hux prides himself on knowing his ship’s layout and spent much of his time before his promotion to general studying the ship he knew he would inherit. Still, he is amazed that he manages to make it to medical bay so quickly, considering that it is located almost directly on the opposite side of the ship from Hangar 8.

 

The entrance to the medical bay is a double-door set, so that a body on a stretcher can be carried through it. The double-doors also open automatically, so Hux can’t mentally prepare himself to once again enter another chaotic situation. Hux can already hear equipment crashing from a back room. With a sigh drawn from exasperation, Hux walks toward the madness.

 

After a particularly loud crash, a medic jumps out of the room and almost into Hux. Hux steps back to let the poor man recover and then inquires, “You requested my help?”

 

The medic blinks once, as if surprised that Hux actually came to help him and launches into his explanation. Hux doesn’t exactly understand the medical babble, but he saw firsthand what happened to Ren on Starkiller.

 

Hux interrupts the man before he talks himself into passing out. “I am going to go in there and sort out this problem. Don’t come in, even if things get loud. Especially if things get loud.”

 

The medic blanches at Hux’s tone, as Hux spoke as if he was walking into his own court martial. But he nods his head and steps aside to let Hux in.

 

Hux, now having to face a new problem, knows the solution he has to take to fix it. Yet he finds himself mentally resisting, even as he reaches down to push open the door.

 

Hux steps into the room to the sound of silence, machinery hovering in the air, the sound of someone else’s breathing and the pungent scent of antiseptic. He drops the door behind him, and after it closes, Hux looks up at Kylo Ren, propped up against the bed’s headboard and under a blanket. He notices that Ren’s eyes are rather dilated and sighs softly to himself.

 

“Did they tranq you?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Of course they did.”

 

Kylo Ren is no stranger to medical bay, but it is rare that he takes the offered pain medication. Something about “the pain making the Force stronger”. Or some bullshit like that.

 

Ren would not have taken the pain medication after his failures at Starkiller. He would have wanted to call upon the pain of his injury to fuel his rage. The rage would make him strong, he always said. Hux always replied that it made his ship’s walls a whole lot weaker.

 

Hux knew Ren was in danger. He just couldn’t afford to think beyond rescuing him when the entire base was collapsing. He couldn’t afford to think about it right now with the entire ship collapsing.

 

Hux moves out of the doorway and goes to sit at the foot of Kylo Ren’s bed. There are no chairs for him to sit, and Hux is thankful for that excuse as his back protests at him for contorting around a TIE fighter cockpit. Kylo Ren remains silent and stares at Hux, as if in a trance. All of the machinery Ren was lifting is settled gently back onto the floor. The scar bisecting his face keeps drawing Hux’s attention. He has to force himself to look Ren in the eye.

 

Ren finally opens his mouth to speak, “I could hear it all the way across the ship. Your mind was screaming at you to stop. To rest. Why didn’t you listen to it?”

 

Hux tries to rub his face and notices that his comm is still gripped in his hand. He sets it face down beside him on the bed. With his hand now free, he rubs at his brow, noticing that he is experiencing a rather severe tension headache. “You know I can’t just rest whenever I want, Ren. They’re tasks to be done, problems to be solved. As general of this ship, it is my responsibility to ensure that those problems are taken care of.”

 

Ren smirks at him, as if pleased that he knows something that Hux does not. “That’s the reason people delegate, Hux. Surely you have people to fix broken TIE fighters?”

 

Hux finds he has little patience for any of Ren’s antics right now. He looks over to him and scowls. “I used to. They’re all dead.”

 

Ren blinks and looks down, properly chastised. Hux feels a little guilty at the forlorn expression on Ren’s expressive face and sighs to himself. In an uncharacteristic move, he takes Ren’s right hand in his, sliding himself closer on the bed so that he is sitting by Ren’s thighs. He brings the large, calloused hand to his chest and holds it there against him, feeling its pressure.

 

Ren had not moved. He is still looking down at the bed, eyes beginning to moisten. Hux knows that Ren gets overemotional and has mood-swings when drugged up. He needs to be more careful, more nurturing. Hux can be careful. Nurturing is harder.

 

“I’m sorry, Ren. I don’t blame you for it.”

 

“What’s wrong with the TIE fighters?”

 

Hux furrows his brows at Ren’s non sequitur, but relaxes once he realizes what Ren is trying to do. If either of them ever need to relax, Ren will ask Hux about an engineering problem, be it theoretical or actual. Hux finds that he can solve problems best by talking it out, and Ren is calmed by Hux’s methodical explanations, even if he may not understand the more complicated mechanics.

 

Sometimes Ren asks questions, so that he can understand what Hux already does. Sometimes he just listens. Either way, both decompress and can then move on feeling slightly less burdened by their responsibilities.

 

Thus spurned on, Hux launches into his explanation about what he thinks went wrong with the TIE fighters that remained onboard the Finalizer. He speaks down to Ren’s hand, still cradled against his chest. Ren curls his fingers into his palm. Hux moves his other hand so that both are covering Ren’s. He presses it harder against his chest.

 

When Hux is about to launch into an explanation on how ion engines work, Ren interrupts him. “Can you sit in my lap?”

 

Hux looks up from where he was playing with Ren’s hand. He stops the action to say, “I’m right next to you, Ren. I don’t think I need to sit in your lap.”

 

Ren gives Hux a look, unrestrained in its conveyance that Hux is being stubborn. “Hux, I don’t need the Force to know that your back is aching. Come lay down on me.”

 

Hux’s back is aching, but he had been ignoring it just fine. Sighing loudly so that Ren would hear, Hux maneuvers himself semi-gracefully into Ren’s lap and shoves the blanket slightly off of Ren’s legs so that he would sit comfortably. He accidently jostles Ren’s bowcaster wound and apologizes softly when Ren flinches. Hux tilts his head back onto Ren’s uninjured shoulder, exhaling sharply. Ren’s arms rise up to hug him around his middle. It is at this point that Hux realizes his tension headache is gone.

 

Hux will never admit it out loud, but he is much more comfortable in Ren’s lap.

 

Ren leans his head down to shove his nose into Hux’s disheveled hair. He inhales strongly and then laughs to himself. “You smell like a durasteel plant. Or campfire smoke.”

 

“Ren, I was just wedged in a TIE fighter. I am just thankful that its fluids didn’t get all over me.”

 

Ren laughs harder at that, saying, “Its fluids!” Ren’s laughter becomes so pronounced that Hux’s back is hit by Ren’s stomach with every laugh. Hux scowls at Ren’s amusement and pointedly doesn’t huff out his own version of a laugh.

 

Ren’s laughter calms down to small hiccups. Hux would call them cute, but they’re really not. “So, ha, when you were in the fighter, what kinds of metals were you working with?”

 

Hux already knows where Ren is going with this, but indulges him anyway. He begins petting Ren’s thigh. “There was durasteel, of course. That is the major one, as you know. Titanium. Some nickel and gold. Aluminum.” Hux pauses to let Ren laugh at the way he pronounces aluminum. And Ren does indeed laugh. “There are some trace elements as well that aren’t metals.”

 

Ren’s arms squeeze around his torso. He plants his cheek on the top of Hux’s head to ask, in a voice entirely to tease, “But was there any copper?”

 

Hux makes a show to think about his response, knowing that there is most definitely copper in a TIE fighter. It is required for its electrical components to work properly. Without copper, the ship wouldn’t even be able to start or turn on its interior lights. But Hux plays dumb and only says, “No, Ren, I don’t think there was any copper.”

 

Ren takes his cheek off of Hux’s head to lean down towards his left ear and whisper in a soft voice, “You’re wrong. It was in there.”

 

Ren’s voice makes Hux shiver slightly and press back against his lover’s chest. Hux tilts his head into the Ren’s warm breath against his ear. His toes curl slightly in his boots.

 

Hux whispers back, almost coyly, “Will you tell me where?”

 

Ren breaks the moment by snorting loudly right in Hux’s ear. He raises his legs to squeeze Hux with all his appendages. “It’s you, coppertop!” he exclaims in a semi-loud voice. Hux hopes that any medics around are busy dealing with the casualties from Starkiller so they didn’t have to hear Ren’s exuberant shouting.

 

Hux huffs at that particular nickname. Ren is not very creative with nicknames and seized on the fact, like so many others had, that Hux has red hair.

 

“You know I hate that nickname, Ren.”

 

Ren shakes his head in Hux’s shoulder. His legs release their death grip on Hux. Ren’s voice is muffled when he says, “You say that, but you don’t mean it.” He lifts his head up and raises his hand to turn Hux’s head towards his own. Hux’s body follows so that he is facing Ren with his legs tucked underneath him and to the side, like he was when he was in the TIE fighter. Ren presses his forehead to Hux’s and leans in to breathe against Hux’s lips, “I can tell.”

 

Hux’s eyes droop down. His own hand resumes stroking Ren’s thigh like he was earlier. His lips quirk slightly, and he softly breathes back, “And how can you tell, Ren?” Hux meets Ren’s eyes directly, staring into dilated pupils.

 

Ren strokes his thumb across Hux’s temple. His eyes dart to the side, as if checking that they are properly alone so that he can share this information, this secret, to Hux. He whispers, even softer than he had before, “I can use the Force.”

 

Hux startles both Ren and himself with his own laughter. His eyes crinkle as he continues laughing in small huffs from his nose, his lips curled into small, crooked smile. He brings his arms around Ren’s neck and presses himself close. Ren, bewildered by Hux’s laughter, only smiles and hugs his arms around Hux’s waist.

 

When Hux is sufficiently calm, he relaxes his hold on Ren and clears his throat. “You should probably get some sleep, Ren. Those tranqs seem potent.”

 

Ren nods his head at Hux’s statement. Already his eyes are drooping. Still, he looks at Hux with startling clarity to say, “Hux, it wasn’t your fault.”

 

“I know.”

 

With that taken care of, Ren nods to himself and drops his head to look at the off-white color of his blanket. Hux maneuvers himself out of Ren’s grasp to stand. On the bed, Ren adjusts himself so that he is lying down on his right side facing Hux. The blanket is resting on his broad, scarred shoulders. His dark hair is lank on the pillow. His scar is so vivid on his face. It barely missed his eye.

 

Ren looks up at him and asks, “Will you stay until I fall asleep?”

 

Hux should not pity him, but he does. “I’ll stay.”

 

Ren’s eyes close and his breathing settles into something restful. Hux stands above him, clothed in his undershirt, pants and boots, with his hair unsettled into something far outside of regulation. His ship is falling apart around him, and he does not look forward to solving the quantum mystery that is that TIE’s ion engine. Still, at this moment in medical bay, Hux feels some measure of peace that has been escaping him the past week.

 

Ren’s breathing evens out, and Hux turns to leave. He snags his comm from the bed and is relieved to confirm that he has no new messages, even though he would have heard the ping if he did. Before he can walk out the door, though, Ren begins shifting in his bed. In a voice that can barely carry across the room, Hux hears Ren mutter, “Ate…ate…ate…” As quickly as Ren begins, he stops. His breathing evens out once more, and he descends into sleep.

 

Ren may have been muttering utter nonsense, but it does remind Hux that he hasn’t eaten anything this cycle. Hux resolves that if no other emergencies are reported to him, he will go to the officer’s mess and eat something. Mitaka can hold the bridge for a little while longer.