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Hux's comm chimes four times before he answers. It's nearly 0200; he's been trying to finish this quarterly operations budget for hours while sipping idly at a finger of brandy. The work is simple enough, of course—rote, even—but Hux finds concentration hard to come by these days without Ren dozing in his bed.

"Yes?" He downs the rest of the brandy in one swallow.

"Sir," Mitaka begins. He sounds reedy, nervous, even through the static of the comm. "I thought you might like to know, well—"

"Out with it, Lieutenant," Hux says.

"Well, that Lord Ren has returned." Mitaka clears his throat noisily. "His shuttle landed in hangar H5 eight minutes ago."

Hux nearly drops his glass.

Ren had not supplied an expected return date when he'd left three months ago, only divulged that he'd been instructed to finish his training and would chart a course back to the Finalizer upon its completion.

He has not communicated with the Order—or Hux—since his departure. Not so anomalous, perhaps, considering the secrecy of Ren's training, but—the Finalizer has been oddly silent lately.

Hux feels the chill of space more keenly now than ever; it seeps into the marrow of his bones, deep and unending, even when he cranks the temperature in his quarters above the optimal setting. Once he'd thought the cold was a friend of any soldier worth his salt, as a test of strength and mental fortitude—men who are cold do not grow idle or complacent. But now Hux knows it means he is bereft. He is wanting.

"Will that be... all, sir?" Mitaka says.

"Yes," Hux replies, tapping his fingers on his desk.

He hears indistinct voices chattering in the background of the call, then Mitaka says, "Ah, we have new intel, sir. Lord Ren is now en route to the medbay via sector Y."

"I am not in need of a running commentary on Lord Ren's activity aboard the Finalizer, Lieutenant, but thank you for the update," Hux says, and mutes his comm before Mitaka can reply.

*

Hux contemplates returning to his quarters for a brief shower or shave—neither of which he's done in the past forty-eight hours—as he makes the long walk to the medbay, but he's eager to debrief Ren and inquire about his training. Eager to do other things, too, which Hux has missed as much as air or water. But that can wait. They've seen each other in far worse states.

Mitaka hadn't specified which section Ren has taken up residence in—a man who parades around like the entire ship is his domain does not merely visit the medbay—but Hux figures he'll know by the screams and smell of burning machinery when he arrives.

It really has been too long.

He keys in his access code, straightening his collar as he waits for the medbay doors to slide open.

A loud crash draws Hux's eyes past the row of bacta tanks, toward the rear of the wing for recuperating patients. Unsurprisingly, Ren is grappling with a droid attempting to inject him with a syringe full of blue liquid. He's knocked several—very expensive, Hux notes—sensors to the floor in his rage.

"I do not require medical attention," Ren shouts. "Just the—get off me—just the bandage."

"Causing trouble, Ren?" Hux says. I missed you, he thinks, irrepressibly, too quietly for Ren to hear. The thought immediately repulses him.

Ren is splayed out on the bed: back curved, head down, one leg hanging over the edge, the long line of his nose manifest as he thrashes in the grip of a droid. Hux wants to run his thumb over the bridge of that nose, feel it warm and solid under his touch. When he takes a step towards the bed, Ren turns toward him, twisting in his filthy, tattered robes. A flicker of agony slips over Ren's face.

Hux frowns, then looks Ren up and down.

There's an empty space where Ren's right arm used to extend past the elbow.

Hux blinks once, twice, to make sure that sleep deprivation hasn't completely atrophied his vision, but Ren's forearm and hand are still invisible. He strides over to the bed and tugs sharply at Ren's shoulder; Ren levers himself up against the headboard in small, aborted movements, gritting his teeth when Hux squeezes hard.

"I don't understand," Hux says. "Is this some sort of magic trick?" He circles his hand around Ren's arm, right where it meets the joints of Ren's shoulder, and slides it down the arm slowly, slowly, until it crumples suddenly around air. It's unsettling, this unexpected collapse into nothing, where Ren's skin and bone used to live. Hux snatches away his hand before Ren notices it's shaking.

Ren shrugs. "No."

Hux clamps his hands into tight fists, nails biting into his palms. He hasn't felt this kind of implosion inside himself since Starkiller: this righteous fury, this animal impulse to reduce all the chaos in the galaxy to ashes. "Who did this to you?" he says, ashamed by how his voice trembles. "I'll have them killed. I'll have their planet incinerated."

"Me," Ren says, staring at the ceiling. "I did."

"Excuse me?" Hux says. He's known Ren was a colossal imbecile since the moment they met, of course, but surely Ren wouldn't stoop to something so stupid

"Supreme Leader asked me to. So I did it."

Backing away from the bed, Hux shakes his head. "No, that's—that makes no sense. Leader Snoke wouldn't cripple his greatest weapon on a whim, not when—"

"It's not a whim," Ren interrupts, thumping his fist against the bed. "I failed to find Skywalker or capture the girl. My saber—my arm failed." He swallows, looks away. "Supreme Leader said he would forgive my failure if I removed its source. He said it would grow back stronger than ever. That I would regain my power. That I would not fail again if I gave him this."

This is not the first time Hux has reproached himself for taking up with someone as foolish as Kylo Ren. Now, he adds "Supreme Leader Snoke" to the list of fools, who apparently propagates the myth of human regenerative capability. "Well, tactical maneuvers were never Snoke's strong suit," he mutters. "I suppose that's why he still keeps me around."

The ache in his palms is sharp, corrosive. He waits, briefly, for relief—Ren's customary practice of unfurling his clenched hands with the Force, one of the few supernatural stunts Hux allows between them—but it doesn't subside. Hux ignores the nausea that swelled up in his gut when he'd first gotten a look at Ren's arm and tries to approach this thing rationally. Nothing good will come of doing otherwise.

It's inconceivable, that Snoke would demand this of Ren—Ren, whose devotion to Snoke is unparalleled, who has obeyed every one of his capricious commands, whose power is so immense that it should no longer be curtailed by the wiles of an old wizard.

Hux concedes the treason in his thoughts willingly. He's known for a long time that Snoke is merely using the Order as an apparatus for his Force nonsense; there is no logic or precision in Snoke's stratagems, only mythical incantations and a harebrained quest in pursuit of the elusive Skywalker. Snoke is wasting time, credits, resources.

And now he is wasting Ren—that, Hux cannot abide any longer.

"I was going to have a droid bandage it up. Then I'll be fine," Ren insists. He looks up at Hux, his eyes wide and dark. If Hux didn't know better he'd take Ren for some kind of innocent.

Hux uncurls his hands, finally, and rubs at his eyes. He has enough on his plate to deal with—the fallout of Starkiller, namely, which continues to accrue trillions of credits' worth of debt—to contend with Ren like this. "Come to my quarters and sleep a few cycles. Then you can come back and get that thing looked at. I don't want you terrorizing the medical staff, alright?"

Ren sighs in his childish, petulant way. "I don't need to sleep." But he shrugs off the hand Hux lays on his back—"Don't need your help, either, I'm not a fucking child"—and retrieves the bandages strewn on the floor, then staggers toward the medbay exit.

Hux watches him go.

Ren has always lacked stability, from his erratic emotions to the way he walks like he's always on the verge of tipping over. It's why they're drawn to each other, Hux suspects, for as much as he despises the spectacle of Kylo Ren, there's something thrilling about it, something heady and intoxicating about shaping all that power to his will. He knows Ren craves the structure and discipline that he offers in return. The incongruity of them—Ren dramatic and unstable, Hux sensible and controlled—becomes alchemy, somehow, when they're together.

But Ren's silhouette isn't how he remembers it. There's no symmetry to Ren's arms or hands, now; the right side of his body looks faulty. Incomplete.

It's the wrong kind of imbalance.

Ren stops before he reaches the doors and turns back to Hux. "Well?" he demands. "Are you coming?"

*

Once they're safely back in his quarters, Hux allows himself to inspect Ren's arm. He's avoided looking too closely since he arrived in the medbay, afraid it might plunge him into another sea of inextinguishable rage.

It's a clean cut, cauterized neatly by the saber, right under Ren's elbow. His robes are frayed at the fringes of the wound, nearly unraveling.

"How does it look?" Ren mumbles. "I mean—does it look bad?" He flinches under Hux's touch.

"Well, I doubt you'll be able to use the hand anytime soon," Hux says.

Ren scowls and wrenches the remains of his arm back from Hux's grip. "Very funny."

"Thousands of troopers have suffered amputated limbs and survived, Ren," Hux says. "You're in good company." Thinking in numbers, in statistics—this is how Hux can understand what's happened. He can't think about the long white expanse of Ren's forearm, or the heavy bones of his wrist, or the rough pads of his fingertips. The way Ren's two hands together encircle Hux's entire waist, just so.

"But—"

"But nothing," Hux cuts in. He pulls back the sheets from his bed. "Lie down. You must be very tired. Are you in pain?"

"I'm fine, I told you," Ren says, flatly, as he slumps face-down onto the bed. "Stop coddling me."

Hux's brow furrows. Tenderness has always been the key to unlocking Kylo Ren; one word of kindness, a soft touch or a stray warm thought, and ordinarily Ren would be putty in his hands. When Hux had confessed his dreams of conquest one night in bed, he'd stroked Ren's arm and kissed his forehead, and after he was done Ren had taken Hux's face in his huge hands and sworn, solemnly, that he would follow Hux to the periphery of the galaxy and beyond.

Such a sentimental creature.

Privately, in the realms of his mind that Ren won't inspect too closely, Hux chalks it up to the pitiable family drama of his youth Ren has occasionally mentioned: an absent father, a distant mother, a disappointed uncle. Of course the idiot is desperate for affection.

"Ren," Hux says, trying to school his voice into gentleness. "Tell me how this happened. Exactly." He sits down next to Ren's prone figure and removes Ren's boots one at a time, lining them up against the bed.

"I can show you," Ren murmurs. He turns over and reaches for Hux's hand, links their fingers together. "Let me in."

Hux nods. He doesn't permit Ren this liberty often—stomping into Hux's mind like he has every right to be there, every right to riffle through Hux's innermost thoughts—but he wants to know, and getting precise information out of Ren in conversation is like pulling teeth.

Ren closes his eyes and exhales slowly. Do you feel me in here?

Yes, Hux thinks. Let’s get on with this. I have work to do.

Then, suddenly, he sees it—sees Ren bowing before Snoke, screaming when thin tendrils of blue light burst forth from Snoke's fingertips and illuminate the chamber, begging for mercy as he writhes on the floor, panting. Sees Snoke accusing Ren of weakness and duplicity, sees the specter of Vader that Snoke conjures—"your grandfather only began to acquire true power when he lost his hand, Kylo"—and the promise that Ren will rise again, reborn, unencumbered by a rotten appendage. Hux sees, finally, Ren reaching for his saber, the crackling red light, the easy arc when he turns his face away and brings the blade down, falling to his knees. Snoke saying, "Arise, Lord Ren, and see to it that you do not fail me again," Ren bending low and whispering, "Yes, master," through his teeth, clutching the stump of his arm.

Hux grimaces. Enough, he thinks. Enough. Lunacy of that nature would never have happened if he'd been there. He would've stopped it. Prevented such a waste of resources.

Ren falls back against the pillows with a sigh, eyes still closed, and Hux is alone in his head once more. He shoves the feeling of loss—of wanting—back down into the dark, and rises from the bed.

"Would you like some water, Ren?" Hux asks as he walks into the kitchen to fix himself another drink. At this rate, he'll need five more before the end of beta shift alone.

Ren says nothing from the bedroom—fine, Hux thinks, let him desiccate into oblivion for all I care—and fills a glass to bring out anyway. When he returns and sets it on the table next to the bed, he looks over at Ren and—

Ren is crying silently.

Hux rolls his eyes. This is quickly becoming intolerable. "What is it?" he says. "I thought you didn't care. You told me you were fine."

Ren wrings the sheets between his fists. "It's my fucking arm, okay?" he grits out between sobs. "It's my arm. My hand. It's a part of me—was—and I don't have it anymore."

"I can see that, Ren," Hux says, calm. "Your arm is gone, but you'll get fitted for a new one immediately. You'll hardly be able to tell the difference once it's done. The technology is quite advanced."

Ren glares fiercely at him, as if Hux had been the one to cut off the damn thing. "I'm not letting your people touch me. I'll build it myself. And it's not the same."

Hux groans—trust Ren to take the single most illogical course of action—then he takes a long swig of his drink. "Our engineers are more than capable, but very well. Whatever parts are aboard the Finalizer remain at your disposal."

"The troopers you mentioned," Ren starts, slowly. "It's the same for them? The replacements—they work the same?" He looks very silly with red eyes and gleaming wet tracks on his cheeks.

Why do I feel anything for this man? Hux thinks. What gods have I offended?

"Do stop fretting and move over," he says, batting at Ren's legs until there's enough room for him to sit at the edge of the bed. "I don't know how many more times I can tell you it's going to be alright."

Ren's mouth is turned down in that particular moue of his—red and shiny, bottom lip quivering—that tends to signal an oncoming tantrum. He leans against Hux's pillows and heaves a loud sigh. "Okay."

"Drink some water," Hux says, tipping the glass up to Ren's mouth, anxious to keep him occupied, "and I'll bind that thing up for you."

He's never tended to a wound before, not besides his own. At the academy he'd been on the ground with boys who were shot or stabbed during training drills—even shot and stabbed a few himself—but never offered his assistance, never relinquished his place to give them a hand. Even after hours, in the refuge of their dormitories, he would've scoffed at any boy who'd asked him to help with bandages.

Now he's playing nursemaid for the most powerful man in the galaxy.

But it doesn't feel like yielding, not when he brushes the curls of Ren's hair away from his forehead, as lightly as he can bear, and Ren makes a smothered noise of contentment.

Hux lays his hand on Ren's shoulder, feeling the bones shift under his grip. Then he leans down and presses his lips just above the tip of the stump, where the ragged flesh of the wound meets the soft skin of Ren's forearm. He feels Ren shudder heavily all around him.

"How can you—" he hears Ren say, strangled.

Hux doesn't move. "It's alright," he murmurs. He expects careful fingers in his hair, then—a practice that Ren is overly fond of when Hux's mouth is on him—but instead Ren shoves him away and leaps out of bed.

"Ren," Hux says. "What do you think you're doing? That needs to be bandaged." The tiny thing in his chest that drinks in Ren's soft noises and Ren's big dark eyes is splintering.

Ren shakes his head and mutters something indiscernible as he stuffs his feet into his boots. "I'm leaving," he announces, wiping his eyes.

Hux rises from the bed and crosses his arms over his chest. "Yes, I'd noticed. Go on, then."

Ren looks torn, briefly, like he wants to say or do something—probably stupid—and then he's gone, striding out through the doors of Hux's quarters, robes billowing behind him in a hazy black mass.

Fucking Ren, Hux thinks, cursing his name. Has no idea what he wants.

Hux looks at his desk, where hours of unfinished paperwork await, and down at the spiraling bandages under his boots. Then he looks at the imprint in his bed of Ren's body, where he'd lain only moments ago, sniveling and rumpling the sheets like an overgrown infant.

When Hux closes his eyes and trails his hand over the creases in the cloth, he can almost believe that Ren is coming back.

*

He doesn't see Ren for eighteen standard days after that.

It's not surprising that Ren wishes to avoid him after such an embarrassing display, but it rankles Hux all the same. If Ren is displeased, he ought to make his grievances known like a reasonable adult, not skulk around the Finalizer like some morose phantom.

Ren doesn't attend administrative meetings or loiter on the bridge to offer his useless observations. Hux doesn't see him in the training rooms or the mess hall, and it goes without saying, naturally, that he does not come to Hux's quarters at night.

But on the nineteenth day, when Hux is preparing to brief his staff on next quarter's budget, Ren strides into the meeting room and takes his place at the back, standing. The space occupied by his right arm, obscured under his robes, has been restored.

Hux does not interrupt himself to acknowledge Ren's presence, but he thinks, purposefully, How good of you to join us.

The static in his head grows more and more deafening as the minutes elapse. Hux fields questions, proposes cuts, advises department heads, but Ren says nothing—not aloud or through their mental link.

"Lord Ren," he calls out as the rest of the officers file into the corridor, two hours later. "A word, if you please."

"My presence is required elsewhere," Ren says in that inscrutable mechanized tone, not even bothering to look at him, and sweeps out of the room.

So you’re ignoring me? Hux thinks, jamming the stylus back into his datapad with quite a bit more force than necessary. Very mature.

He stands there like a fool, waiting for an answer—surely Ren will rise to the bait—but none comes.

It's a curious feeling, wanting Ren in his head. Doubtless a sign of impending madness.

*

Ren turns up at the next meeting, too.

Hux doesn't bother thinking at him, just sets down his datapad as soon as he adjourns the meeting and swiftly corners Ren at the back of the room.

Once he's certain they're alone, he clutches at Ren's arm.

It's solid, primarily, the same weight and width as any organic humanoid limb. But Ren's arm—his real arm—was warm, soft even through the thick muscle. This doesn't emit warmth or spring back when Hux presses his fingers against it, more like a log of dead wood than a true facsimile.

Would Ren's hand be an even poorer imitation? For days Hux has imagined tearing off Ren's glove, uncovering the five-fingered metal thing inside and crushing it to his face, his lips, any part of him. Naturally he'd miss the texture of Ren's real hand, but this ersatz replacement would do, if only to satiate his need to find Ren still functional, still breathing, still alive. Now, though, even through the heavy fabric of Ren's robes, Hux is dismayed by what he senses underneath. Suspects, perhaps, that the sight of Ren's cybernetic parts might startle him beyond repair, as if he were a wide-eyed child and not a military officer who commands troopers more machine than man.

Still, because he has always prided himself on his tenacity, Hux says, "Let me see your arm."

Ren shakes his head. "No."

Hux takes a step closer, crowds Ren back even further into the corner. "Then take that damned helmet off, at least."

"No," Ren says again, unmoving.

Hux cannot conceive of a galaxy in which he does not loathe the Force and all its chicanery, but now, shamefully, he yearns to call upon its power and topple the mask from Ren's head with a flick of his finger.

But he did not rise to the rank of general on his military acumen alone—he has other tools at his disposal. He has become accustomed, for example, to the vicissitudes of sentient behavior, from the impotent power plays between senile aristocrats to the last-ditch machinations of a boy caught fraternizing in a dormitory storage room. He reads people—some other species, too—and predicts, accurately, their course of action.

When they'd first met, nearly five years ago, he'd taken a single look at Ren and mapped out the whole messy network of Ren's behavioral patterns in his mind, like the schematic of a ship easily readable despite the complexity of its parts. That predictability hadn’t ceased once they’d begun their assignations, either—though Hux had initially worried it might aggravate the savagery of Ren’s nature—which is precisely why Ren's present intransigence is so vexing.

"Very well," Hux says, throwing up his hands. Such a feeble gesture is beneath him, but it's satisfying to bare himself to Ren like this, to show how tiresome Ren's games have become. "You know where to find me should your mind change."

Hux turns and leaves the room. Doesn't look back, though the urge to study the black void of Ren's mask pulls at him, like a moon orbiting the sun.

*

After two weeks of needling, Hux convinces Ren to join him for a nightcap. He surmises Ren has only accepted to put an end to the harassment.

"Drink?" he asks, hunting for a spare glass. "I know you don't indulge, but if you'd like to remove that bucket, I'd be delighted to open a vintage I've been saving for quite some time."

Ren shakes his head.

Hux shrugs. "Suit yourself." He takes a seat at his desk and gestures for Ren to sit in the chair opposite, but Ren remains standing, looking uncomfortable even through the opaque shield of his mask.

"Supreme Leader was right," Ren says. "His trial is making me stronger, just like he said it would. I know I must resist indulging in the things that make me weak."

"I see," Hux says, aiming for casual disinterest. "Which I assume includes our little arrangement?"

Get the hell out of here, he thinks, livid, when he feels Ren at the edges of his mind, probing, weighing Hux's thoughts against what he's just been told. You flatter yourself. Don’t presume to think that I care one way or another.

Ren sends nothing back to Hux's mind. "You should know. And this, too." He jerks his thumb at the mask. "This is my true face. The face of Kylo Ren. I don't wear the face of Ben Solo anymore."

"Oh, don't be ridiculous, Ren," Hux says, scoffing. "You can't wear that thing forever. Even the troopers remove their helmets when they're off-duty."

"This is my face," Ren repeats. "It's who I am. It cannot be removed."

"So you don't take it off to shower?" Hux says, stifling a laugh. Baiting Ren is far too easy, like dangling a piece of meat in front of a starving vornskr.

Ren growls and takes a step forward. His right hand flies—instinctively, perhaps—to his belt.

"Better not," Hux says. "We know what happens when you come too close to me." Neither of us can resist that, he thinks.

It isn't that his restraint disappears altogether around Ren—it's that Ren erodes Hux's hard-earned store of discipline by degrees, grinding it down a little more with each passing tryst. There's a give and take to the control that Hux wrests from their association, relinquishing some of his own only to regain it through the mastery of Kylo Ren.

Rising from the chair, Hux walks a slow circle around Ren, fascinated by the way Ren's shoulders tense and his fists clench. "How's your feat of engineering going?" he asks. Ren doesn't reply. "The arm?"

"Made it myself," Ren mutters. He manages to sound querulous even through the vocoder. "I couldn't get the synthetic skin to take, but—it works. Serves its purpose."

"I'd like to see it," Hux says, still pacing. "Perhaps I could suggest some modifications."

"I told you, no," Ren says.

Why not? Hux thinks. Let me see it.

"Stop that," Ren says. "Don't talk to me like that. I never should've—fuck."

"Never should've fucked me, is that it?"

"Yes," Ren says. "You're small. You don't have power or understand it. You would never do what I did."

"I would never do what you did, Ren, because it was unthinkably stupid!" Hux shouts, voice rising horrifyingly in pitch. "Are you really so dimwitted that you don't see what's going on here? Snoke is merely assuring your loyalty. He isn't going to make you any stronger. Do you know why? Because then he would risk you deposing him. You're just a tool to him, Ren, nothing more."

Fuck, Hux thinks, falling back into the chair. Fuck. He's lost control.

"Isn't that what I am to you also?" Ren says. "I've seen your thoughts. I know."

Hux smiles, showing his teeth. He hopes it looks deadly. "Well, good," he says. "I'm glad we've cleared that up."

Then he thinks, Read my thoughts again, I’ll have you ejected from the nearest airlock.

"Funny," Ren says. "Just a moment ago you were practically begging me to come back in there. Your thoughts are so loud, General. It's always easy for me to tell."

Hux is furious at how quickly his face flushes. "You disgust me," he snaps. "Get out." He was a fool to invite Ren back here, to suppose that Ren was anything other than a spoiled, presumptuous child.

Ren turns on his heel and retreats, leaving nothing but the stench of Hux's shame in his wake.

*

Twelve days later, Hux squints at his datapad, reading over the lines again and again until they dissolve into incoherent shapes. Surely Mitaka's reports haven't been so incomprehensible in the past.

Or perhaps, Hux amends as he refills his glass for the second time, they've been more comprehensible at times when he's less drunk.

Mitaka is a good officer, solid and stalwart if a little high-strung. Hux would never appoint Mitaka as his successor or anything of the sort—the man has insufficient backbone—but he feels at ease leaving the bridge in Mitaka's hands when more pressing matters arise.

What does Ren always say when they discuss Mitaka? Some old axiom his grandfather was known to spout, about a lack of faith—

No, Hux thinks firmly. Ren is not germane to this rumination. Don't think about him.

Yet the past several days have been no different. Ren is seared into his brain like some kind of indelible brand, staining his thoughts and clouding his judgment. He thinks of Ren working, eating, showering, reading. He even dreams of Ren most nights.

He tosses his datapad on the desk, pulls his greatcoat over his shoulders, and resolves to settle this before any further insanity befalls him.

*

Hux punches in his personal override code to Ren's quarters—generated shortly after they'd met, when Hux began to fathom the depths of Ren's volatility and the scrutiny he clearly required—and strides in when the door irises open.

"Ren," he calls, pausing in the antechamber.

Ren is sitting cross-legged on the floor, meditating, wearing only his leggings and a shirt without sleeves. The room is dim—Ren always keeps his lights under fifty percent—but his viewports are large; starlight bathes the room, glimmering on the planes of metal.

Ren's eyes fly open by the time Hux is halfway across the room, reaching blindly toward the mechanical frame fused with Ren's flesh.

"Hux, what the—" Ren snarls, snatching his robe from the nearest chair and throwing it over his shoulder. "What are you doing here?" He turns halfway and looks at Hux uncertainly, through his long lashes, like he's caught between wanting to hide and wanting to be seen.

Hux rolls his eyes and slumps into the chair. "For fuck's sake." He gestures vaguely at Ren's hand. "I've just seen it. No need to cover up."

Ren narrows his eyes. "Are you drunk?"

"Maybe." Hux shrugs. Reconsiders. "Yes. Absolutely."

"I should kick you out," Ren says, scoffing.

"You could," Hux says. "Or you could give me what I want."

"Why do you want to look? It's—ugly."

Hux heaves himself up from the chair with not insignificant effort. The room is still whirling behind his eyes; he closes them for an instant to come back to himself. "I don't think it's ugly," he says. "I don't think any machinery is ugly—except your hideous winged shuttle, maybe. It serves a purpose and executes that purpose admirably. It's—" Hux tries to retrieve the word that will best describe his sentiments and least offend Ren. "Interesting."

"In...teresting," Ren repeats, turning it over in his mouth.

"Yes, interesting. It makes you—I don't know—different. Singular." Hux turns his gaze to the viewport, to the pinpricks of stars and swirling nebulae beyond. One day he'll hold them all in his hand. "Isn't that what everyone wants? To be extraordinary?"

Ren shrugs. "I guess."

Hux recalls that absent father and distant mother, Ren's blind devotion to Snoke and proprietary interest in Hux himself and—oh. Ren doesn't want to be at the vanguard or alone at the top, omnipotent. He wants to belong.

You already belong to me, Hux thinks, unbidden. The thought frightens him more than it should.

He approaches Ren carefully and lays a hand on his shoulder, digs his fingers into the coarse weave of Ren's robes. "Let me see how extraordinary you've become."

Ren grimaces, then lets his cloak drop to the floor and turns so he catches the light streaming in from the viewport.

It's nothing he hasn't seen before on countless troopers—the same fragmentary shell and spindly fingers, the same prismatic braid of wires—but Hux is overcome, still, by the surge of agitation in his chest. Interesting, he reminds himself. Perhaps Ren really is stronger with this thing than he was before.

He trails his fingers over the bionic tendons in Ren's forearm, recoils a little at first from the sudden cold. Ren is staring at him intently, like an animal frozen with fright, so Hux digs his thumb into the gold casing around Ren's wrist. "Can you feel this?"

"No. Guess my wiring isn't so good." Ren huffs out a laugh. "The entire thing is numb."

Hux pushes the flat of his palm against Ren's cybernetic fingers. "And this?"

Ren shakes his head.

"You didn't implement an electrostatic system for fingertip sensitivity," Hux says, half talking to himself. "Easily rectified, however." He could have Ren's arm running smoothly with a few hours of work under his belt. It'd be almost like the real thing.

"What, by you?"

Hux rolls his eyes. "I studied engineering at the academy, Ren. I fucking designed Starkiller. I know a thing or two about this, alright?"

To think he might have the power to render Ren wholly functional again—it's nothing short of exhilarating. Ren holds the power, ordinarily, while Hux shapes and commands it. But a secret part of him wants Ren back as he was, too. When his two hands were hot around Hux's waist. When he didn't hide himself.

"I can make you feel this again," Hux says. "Me." He fits his hand around Ren's metal wrist and raises it to his face, then splays Ren's metal fingers across his cheek. "I can feel you so well. Only fair, eh?"

"But it's cold," Ren says, quiet. "Not the same as—how I used to feel." He drags his fingertips down to Hux's mouth, rests them lightly on his lips.

"Yes," Hux says, savoring the sensation of cool fingers on his mouth. "I don't mind. Your body temperature is well above humanoid average, anyway. This will compensate nicely."

"I can't," Ren says, withdrawing his hand. His eyes are pinned to the ground. "Sorry."

Hux isn't so deep into his cups that he can't see a practical resolution. He's gained significant ground here tonight—Ren showed him the arm willingly—and their next encounter will prove even more successful.

He nods, affecting nonchalance. Ren is too distracted to notice the pretense. "I see. Well, goodnight."

When he reaches the doors of Ren's quarters, he thinks he hears Ren speak his name. But when he looks back into the darkness, Ren is gone.

*

Standing before the door to Ren's quarters, Hux fiddles with the part in his hands. The wiring is loose and he'll have to reroute a few circuits, but he'd confiscated it from a requisition order for ship repairs—claiming he wanted to repair a malfunctioning datapad—and this is the closest thing he'll get to a proper circuit without arousing suspicion.

He shoves it into his greatcoat pocket and resists the urge to enter his override code. It takes six distinct buzzes before Ren appears on the threshold in his sleepwear and mask, looking patently ridiculous.

"I have something for you," Hux says, clasping his hands behind his back.

Ren doesn't move.

"A gift, if you will. Consider it a token of my affection." Hux makes a show of peering into the dim hallway behind Ren. "If I could come in, perhaps—"

"I can read your mind," Ren says. "To know if you're planning to ambush me again."

Hux tilts his head, smirks. "Goodness, I had no idea."

Read away, he thinks. My intentions are honorable.

Ren hesitates for a moment, then disappears back into his quarters. Construing this as an open invitation, Hux keys the door shut behind him and follows Ren into the antechamber.

"Why are you wearing that thing?" Hux says, taking in the unpleasant austerity of Ren's quarters. He remembers why they don't meet here often. "We're alone."

Ren makes a scoffing noise, warped by static. "You know why. And don't try to distract me. What is it that you came here to give me?"

Hux reaches into his pocket and pulls out the circuit. "For your hand," he says. "A system to produce fingertip sensitivity. I know how to install it."

Ren flinches, as if Hux has just brandished a weapon in his vicinity. "Hux—"

"Oh, do stop playing games!" Hux snaps, tossing the circuit into an empty crate on the floor. "This is tiresome." He glances at Ren's arm, bare below the short sleeves of his shirt.

"I'm not playing a game." Ren swallows heavily. "You can't touch it again. That was a mistake. It made me—" He stops.

"Why not?" Hux has some measure of an idea, though; he'd observed Ren's too-pale face in the starlight, the nervous tremors of his fingers that spelled shame. Ren, who moves and speaks with the most unrestrained aplomb, had wanted to conceal himself.

"I thought you'd be embarrassed to—to see it. Embarrassed of me. Because I was weak." Ren balls his hands into fists, the sinews of his arms flexing like wires pulled taut. "I mean, I am weak. Supreme Leader showed me that. But now, too. Since I'm still, uh. Upset about it and I shouldn't be." His breathing comes in fast bursts through the vocoder.

"Is this why you insist on wearing that bucket constantly, too?"

Ren nods.

"I see," Hux says. The depth of Ren's regard—that Ren would sever ties simply because he fears Hux might find him unworthy—kindles something hot within him.

After a moment, he shakes his head. "You are many things, Ren, but weak is not among them."

"You don't have to comfort me—" Ren starts. He pauses, inhales audibly, as if he's trying to regulate his breathing. "Enough people have told me I've fucked things up to make me realize it, alright?"

Hux thinks of the billions of stars in the galaxy, the bright strings of gas and dust, how in time they might all collapse under his thumb. Then he thinks of Ren, casting that singularity aside, wanting to be subsumed.

To be extraordinary?

I guess, he'd said.

Hux places his hands on either side of the mask and angles Ren's head down toward his own forehead slowly, slowly, until they converge. "You did well," he says, soft as the petals of a Rigelian iris. "I'm proud of you, darling."

He means to taunt a little, perhaps, but the words feel right—first in his mouth, then when they spill out into the air. He thinks, then, of his mother, saying, Brendol, darling.

Ren makes a terrible shuddering noise. "I'm not—" His chest is heaving.

"Not what? You followed your orders like a good soldier. You obeyed your master."

"But you didn't—" Ren is gulping for air behind the mask.

"Take off the fucking helmet before you drown yourself," Hux says, sighing. "Please."

Please, he thinks. It’s alright.

Okay, he hears.

Ren reaches behind his head, unlatches the mask with a hiss and tosses it away, where it makes a thunderous crash colliding with the floor.

Hux looks up.

Ren's sniffling. His face is wet and pink and blotchy. "Sorry," he says. "Sorry, fuck, I'm sorry." He wipes his eyes with the back of his hand. "You were trying to be nice to me, I know, sorry—"

Nice? Hux grimaces. That's not a label he wears comfortably. He's not being nice, he's simply—

He can't conjure a word for this feeling, the impulse to shelter Ren as if he were a kept pet. It confounds him. Ren confounds him. He wants to slap Ren with one hand and stroke his damnably red mouth with the other.

"You didn't want me to do it," Ren says. "You thought it was wrong. Awful. I could tell when you saw me in the medbay. I shouldn't have."

"Only because I saw that something of mine was harmed," Hux says, finally understanding. This is what they are, how they work. "You do know you're mine, don't you?"

Ren's breath stutters to a stop.

"Well?" Hux says. Elation hurtles through him. "Don't you?"

Ren nods vigorously. "Yes, Hux, I know, I know, I'm yours."

Hux takes Ren's face in his hands. "Swear it to me."

"Please, I swear—"

Drawing his thumb over Ren's lips, Hux says, "Would you give me whatever I asked?" The cloud of Ren's breath ghosts over Hux's skin, and he thrills at the prospect of having Ren all to himself.

"Anything."

"I want you," Hux says, biting at Ren's nose, lips, throat, anywhere he can reach. He'd thought to demand Ren's unconditional loyalty first, or his allegiance against Snoke, but when it slips out Hux finds he isn't surprised.

"Now?" Ren mutters into his mouth.

"I haven't gotten laid in five months," Hux gasps as Ren unclasps his collar with shaking fingers. "Yes, now. Don't be absurd."

"How do you want me?" Ren asks.

Hux stops, considers. Stares at the skeletal apparatus clutching at his jacket.

"I want you like this," he says, winding his fingers, damp with sweat, through Ren's cool metal ones.

Ren flushes.

Hux presses their joined hands to his face. "And like this."

"Stop," Ren chokes out.

"Like this, too." Hux slips one of Ren's fingers into his mouth.

Ren crooks them in and out, deeper. "Hux," he breathes. "Hux. Hux."

"I want all of you," Hux says, laid bare by the admission, like he's pinned up and spread open for the taking. Like he's poised on the edge of an impossibly high precipice. "Everything."

Ren pulls his fingers away so fast Hux nearly chases after them, and kisses him, hard. "Me, too," he gasps. "Everything. Everything."

"Yes," Hux says, breathless. He's never felt so indestructible. He could command a thousand armies and conquer a thousand planets from the sanctity of these chambers. He lets all of his weight fall against Ren, boneless, knowing Ren will bear it with ease. Ren's arms bracket his back. "This is—"

"No more talking," Ren grunts, sliding his hands under Hux's thighs and lifting him. "You should fuck me now."

Hux's arms wind around Ren's neck; his legs wrap around Ren's waist. "Gladly," he says, in between kisses, as Ren maneuvers them over to the bed.

He's missed this more than he cares to say. Craved Ren's strength—his stupidly large arms and the muscle of his chest—so badly he'd taken himself in hand and replayed their movements in his head, faithfully, almost every night while Ren was gone.

Flattering, Ren sends.

Don’t let it get to your head, Hux thinks. And stop reading mine, for that matter.

Ren scrapes his teeth against Hux's jaw. Thought you liked it.

I do, Hux thinks, shivering at the pricks of Ren across his skin. I do, I do, damn you.

He clings to Ren's waist when Ren lays him down, sending them both toppling over on the bed. Ren is draped over him—breath hot against Hux's neck, hair silken against Hux's face. He wears Ren like a quilt over his body, thick and soft and heavy. Inviolable.

Hux lies there for a moment, letting himself be sublimated into Ren, then he's pulling at Ren's shirt and leggings, frantic, while Ren tackles his uniform jacket and trousers.

"Rip anything and I'll schedule you for maintenance droid supervision," Hux says, rasping, when Ren sends a button skittering to the floor. He sucks a kiss into Ren's throat.

Ren laughs and bites, gentle, at Hux's ear. "Yes, sir." He finishes the remaining buttons on Hux's trousers, dragging them down Hux's hips so leisurely that Hux has to swat at his head to accelerate the pace.

When their clothes are deposited on the floor, Hux spits into his hand and encircles Ren's cock with his fingers—faintly at first, to tease, then firmly when Ren starts to whine. He strokes it several times, twisting his grip at the head the way he knows Ren likes, and slides his hand back down to the base of Ren's cock. Then he stops and leans forward, rubbing his cheek against Ren's.

"Touch me," he whispers into Ren's ear. "I want to feel your hand on me." He's dreamt of it often since Ren returned, the promise of that sleek metal on him.

A flush blooms on Ren's neck, spreading down across his chest. "Are you—"

Hux takes hold of Ren's hand and sets it on his cock. "Touch me," he repeats.

At the first hint of Ren's fingers around him, Hux goes tense all over. It's unlike anything he's ever felt: the metal is heavy where Ren's fingertips were light, cold and dry where Ren's palm was damp with sweat. "Good," he murmurs when Ren flicks his thumb over the head of his cock. Feels Ren in his head, calibrating the physics—angle, force, pressure—of touching him. "That's good. Go on."

Emboldened, Ren sets a tentative rhythm up and down, keeping his fingers light around Hux, the casings gleaming in the starlight. He peers at Hux's face intently, unblinking.

Hux throws his head back once Ren's begun to move, keeping his eyes fixed on the ceiling. He knows if he looks at Ren's hand on him—the metal gliding over flesh, smooth and shiny—it'll be over in an instant. Then Ren makes a low sound, tinged with desire, and Hux looks down at the knit of their bodies before he can stop himself, feels the tide threatening to sweep him away. He squeezes his eyes shut. Prays for control.

"More?"

Hux's eyes snap open. "Stop." He reaches out, tugs at Ren's hair. "On my lap."

"Fuck, yes," Ren breathes.

Hux arranges himself against the headboard and leans back, legs splayed out across the bed; Ren follows, kneeling just above him. He tugs at Ren until they're slotted together, Ren settled on the cradle of Hux's hips. Like they were meant to fit this way.

Ren mouths messily at Hux's neck, sinking his teeth in when Hux takes hold of his hair. Heat pools in between Hux's legs, uncontrollable.

"Do you have the—" he starts, too busy raking his nails down Ren's chest to look through the assorted refuse in the room.

Ren flicks his wrist, smirking, and a bottle flies out from the refresher into his waiting hand.

"Handy." Hux tries to look unimpressed. Fails, probably. He knows his face is too colored with desire to be anything but legible at present.

Ren pops the cap open; Hux holds his hand out. Once Ren drizzles some into his palm, Hux rubs the oil between his fingers—tacky and viscous—and coats them fully. Then he curves his arm around Ren, below the small of his back, and presses a finger into him.

Ren gasps. He's loud, as usual.

"Been that long?" Hux says, curling his finger. "You weren't this tight the first time I fucked you."

When Ren opens his mouth to reply, Hux slips another finger in without preamble and crooks them both upwards, sharply, eliciting another choked noise from Ren.

"You told me you'd never been fucked before. Do you remember that?" he grates out. Ren is unbearably hot around him. "Your face was so red I thought you were going to cry. Like a child. You said you hated me."

Ren rocks back on Hux's hand. The muscles in his side twitch intermittently; Hux longs to press his mouth against them.

Instead, he adds a third finger. "Do you still hate me?" he says, idly stretching Ren around his fingers.

He doesn't, Hux thinks. Surely not. He touches Hux too carefully now, like he's afraid Hux will break under his clumsy hand. He's tender, even, some nights in bed when Hux is worn out and weary and permits it.

Hux has felt that impulse himself, too, at times. Tamped it down like everything else. He's never considered what he feels for Kylo Ren.

"No," Ren gasps.

"No?" Hux echoes. He shoves three fingers in and out, brushing over a place that makes Ren claw at his chest. He knows Ren will come if he adds another, so he sweeps his thumb over the rim instead, circling around and around until Ren jerks and cries out.

Ren shakes his head once he's regained his breath. "No, I—"

Hux withdraws his fingers. Shivers.

Ren emits a low moan at the absence and runs a hand through his hair. "Now," he begs, writhing against Hux. "Now, please."

Hux's eyes sting a little when he finally pushes in. He's forgotten how it feels to fuck Kylo Ren, how his blood sings and his spine crackles, electrified. He's forgotten how Ren looks when he's being fucked, too: his slack, parted mouth, the sweat beading on his forehead. It's the most irresistible thing Hux has ever seen.

Ren has gone boneless above him, mouth hanging open. Hux wraps his fingers around Ren's waist, nails digging into Ren's skin, and tries to thrust up into him, aching for that tight heat around his cock. He's hindered by Ren's weight bearing down on him, constraining all motion. "Fucking move," he hisses.

Ren takes a long, shaky breath, and grips Hux's shoulder so tightly he knows it'll leave a bruise. He sinks down slowly, inch by inch, until Hux is enveloped fully, and rolls his hips once, twice. Hux covers his mouth to stifle a moan.

They fall into a rhythm together, then, Hux's hands guiding the pace of Ren's hips, Ren grinding down on him again and again. Hux lets the pleasure swallow him whole, broadcasts it as hard as he can. Wants Ren to know how good he feels, how well he's doing.

You're so good, he thinks. I've never had better. Ren bites down on his lip so fast his teeth draw blood.

He goes limp a second later, when Hux shoves in particularly hard, and his cybernetic arm falls across Hux's chest. Hux's gaze alights on it. He removes his fingers from Ren's waist momentarily—delighted by the crescent-shaped imprints they've left on Ren's skin—takes hold of Ren's hand once more, and moves it to his face.

"Keep this here," Hux says, resuming the cadence of his hips. "Want it here when I come, understand?"

Ren, panting, nods. Metal fingers brush his cheek, tighten at his jaw. Hux imagines them crushing the bones there effortlessly.

"Look at you," Hux says, consumed. "Look at what you can do—this power—" He breaks off, redoubling his pace, driving up into Ren.

"Need to come," Ren wails. "Please, please, please. Let me come, Hux."

Sweat drips down Hux's back. He's so close his vision is going white at the periphery; he focuses on Ren above him, flushed florid, cock leaking onto his belly. When he touches his thumb to the tip of Ren's cock, Ren goes rigid and heaves out a sob. Then, shaking, he spills onto Hux's chest.

Ren squeezes hard around Hux's cock in the wake of his orgasm, crumpling against him, and Hux gasps. Everything narrows down to Ren's body devouring him, Ren's hand stroking his face, and he holds onto the sensation of those metal joints on his skin when he finally comes, spasming, shutting his eyes against the ripples of pleasure.

When Hux blinks and looks up, regaining his senses, Ren is staring at him. His hand doesn't leave Hux's face. They remain like that for a time, gazes locked, Ren's fingers playing over the bridge of Hux's nose.

Then, without warning, Ren climbs off him and sits back on his knees, combing through the sweaty, tangled mass of his hair. Hux slides down the headboard and lies flat on his back, still catching his breath. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Ren curl up on the far side of the bed.

"Ren," he says, patting the space next to him, in between their bodies. "Over here."

The pale swathe of Ren's back moves amidst the black sheets, slowly, until Ren's lying on his side and their eyes meet.

"On your back," Hux says.

When Ren's settled against the bed, staring hazily at him, Hux inches closer until the tips of their noses brush. Then he lowers himself against Ren's side, dropping his head onto the broad stretch of Ren's chest.

"Your arm."

"My—what?" Ren murmurs.

"Put it around me, you dolt," Hux says, closing his eyes, sighing when he feels the chill of Ren's arm against his back. "Good. Now keep it there."

"You'll be cold," Ren says. It reverberates through Ren's chest, resounds through Hux's head.

Barely suppressing a yawn, Hux shifts atop Ren's chest until he's sprawled out comfortably.  "You're a damned furnace," he says. "I'll be fine."

A moment later, he thinks, You can come back in here if you’d like. He remembers Ren saying, once, how he liked the structure of Hux's mind, how neat and tidy it was. How his own mind could always find a place there to rest.

Ren doesn't send anything back, but Hux's mind is suddenly suffused with an unmistakable warmth. It's been months since he's felt anything other than a brief touch there, and the resurgence is like—coming home. Belonging.

I’ll stay for a while, Ren thinks, hesitant, brushing his metal hand across Hux's hip.

Hux stretches languidly, eyelashes fluttering against Ren's chest. Then he drifts away, the sharp edges of his mind unraveling to black, anchored by the cool, steady weight of Ren on his skin.