Chapter 1: Prologue: Heroes
Gidnew, a humble factory worker, has heard all about the heroes who defeated Snoke. He never expected to meet them in person.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The rooftop is hot under Gidnew's chest, duracrete baking in the noonday sun. He's been lying there for twenty minutes already, lying there waiting. He's lucky, he knows. Not everyone has time off today, despite a planet wide decree of holiday. His factory has always been better than most about that sort of thing though. It's one of the many reasons Gidnew stays there, despite the pay. The strange willingness of management to follow the law is worth any slight loss. Because it means he has time off for things like this.
For staring down into the wide open courtyard, just off the spaceport's largest landing zone. And waiting for the parade to begin. He'd had the choice of finding a spot on the parade route itself, gazing out as the new arrivals to Gerrenthum swept by in a fanfare of music and pageantry. But instead he's here, lying flat out, eyes glued to the wide space in front of him.
This way, this way he gets a chance to see them first. He'll watch as the Jedi step from the spaceport doors, as the newest hope of his home shows its face for the first time.
There's a clatter, and Gidnew starts, rocking forward almost dangerously, chest half off the roof. And the doors of the spaceport are rolling back, a stream of people appearing and flooding towards the waiting speeders. There's a cluster of what have to be Resistance fighters, in mismatched brown uniforms, a dark skinned man at their head calling them to order. Behind them a swaggering group of men and women in orange flight suits. Gidnew dreamed of being a pilot, once, long ago, before he realize that for him, there was no way to wrench his feet from the muck he was born standing in. But now, seeing the broad grins and straight shoulders, he wonders how he ever imagined he could fit into such a group. They're heroes, daredevils, and he... isn't.
Behind them, though. Behind them is something better. There are three of them. A tall man, dark hair, strange beautiful face. A woman, tight eyes fixed on the man, face full of caution. And there. There he is. Luke Skywalker. Gidnew worshiped him when he was a child. There'd been a drawing of Skywalker in his house, a recruitment poster for the budding New Republic's civil service. And Skywalker had smiled down onto him from it, arm around Leia Organa, promising miracles.
The New Republic hadn't been a miracle though, not truly.
Gidnew pushes the thought away. Now is a time to celebrate. That's in the past after all, gone, as the First Order is gone. Now Gerrenthum stands at the beginning of a new era. And the Jedi are here to usher it in. Gidnew smiles in spite of the chill that ran down his spine in the memory of the New Republic. It's truly an honor for his home. The Jedi have chose this, of all planets, to start from. They have chosen his home as the first real point of their journey.
When the news had first started trickling in, two weeks ago, Gidnew hadn't believed it. The First Order, in shambles? The Resistance starting peace negotiations? The Jedi returning to the Outer Rim in order to bring peace? It was almost unimaginable. But then, as more faxes had picked up the news, as the holonet had begun to confirm accounts, he wondered. There were recordings, ones even he had seen. A planet under fire, the Resistance x-wings darting through clouds of TIE fighters, a huge Star Destroyer blackening the sky. Then a sudden shift, and the TIE's simply stopped.
Something had happened. And the holonet wasn't saying what. But Gidnew isn't stupid, can read between the lines. Somehow, someone had finally swept the feet out from under the First Order, had cut the head off the snake.
And he thinks he knows who that someone is.
It's the man just a few steps behind the three Jedi. His red hair gleams in the bright sunlight. He's got a Resistance uniform, is flanked by two other officers. And his face is a collection of strange planes and angles, hard as diamond.
Gidnew sighs. This is the man who has saved them all. He's sure of it. When the reports first started, they had only mentioned that a Resistance commander had lead an assault that heralded the end of hostilities. It was just yesterday that the planet-wide announcement had mentioned a name.
“In honor of Gerrenthum being chosen as the first major stop on the Jedi tour of the Outer Rim, and also as the first Outer Rim sector capital to send a representative to Coruscant for peace negotiations, there will be a parade. It is the hope of our government that we all will provide a warm welcome to both the Jedi and to Commander Brendol Hux of the Resistance, and his troops.”
Gidnew had memorized the announcement, listened to it over and over yesterday in a flush of excitement. That's a hero he's watching, the bright hope they've all been waiting for. And he's delighted that this Commander Hux looks the part. He's a study in space-pale skin, back straight, eyes bright. And then the woman next to him leans in, blonde and curvy next to Commander Hux's tall narrow frame, and whispers something. And the Commander? Well, Gidnew has to clutch at the rooftop again as he starts, almost falls in surpise. Because the Commander throws back his head and laughs. Gidnew can't hear it before, but it's incredible, that stark face breaking into lines of mirth. And one of the Jedi turns, the tall man, and smiles back at the Commander.
They are heroes, no doubt.
It's late when Gidnew finally starts to head home. He'd gone down into the city afterward, his head still full of the Commander's face as he laughed. And it was all anyone could talk about in the bars, the cantinas. The Resistance, here, finally, and the First Order brought to heel.
Gidnew staggers a little as he makes his way down an alley. He'd found his way to the cantina where most of his buddies from the factory were sharing a few drinks, had laughed at their jokes, at their skeptical faces. They don't want to believe things will get better.
And looking around, even Gidnew feels like it's unlikely. It's dark now, flickering lights only every few hundred spans, pools of bright that hide more than they reveal. And it's probably a good thing. He knows that in daylight, the alley is littered with garbage, hasn't been cleaned in more years than he can remember. It's a messy place, broken like the rest of the capital city.
There are chunks of duracrete littering the ground and Gidnew picks his way around them cautiously, more carefully than usual thanks to the buzz in his veins, the sparkle of drink and joy. And there's a cringing body in a corner, the poorest not celebrating even on this day.
And there's a stench in the air.
So it's easy, here, to think that nothing will change for the better. He hardly remembers when the New Republic first organized Gerrenthum after the fall of the Empire. He'd been too young to worry about things like a change in government, to worry about anything except for the ache in his belly on the days when his family hadn't had more than a few portions to go around seven children. But he knew the promises, knew them as did anyone on Gerrenthum.
An open market.
Partnership in a grand democratic enterprise.
Well, they had gotten freedom, alright. But along with that had been the freedom to murder, to steal, to exploit. It had been the freedom for a few to rule to the many. It had been a chance for the industrial factors to break the backs of their workers, with no stormtroopers keeping an eye on them anymore, no imperial inspectors checking up.
It had been the freedom from Imperial taxes, the freedom to pay a corrupt planetary government instead. It had been the freedom to watch as Gerrenthum changed from a successful Imperial trade hub to a festering sore of corruption and blackmarket dealings.
When the First Order had shown up, they had cheered.
Gidnew remembers that day, walking along this same alley, thinking that finally, finally someone was about to bring peace. What a silly dream that was.
The First Order had tried, at first. They'd broken up the blackmarket. They'd executed the leaders, promised retribution if anyone tried to restart it. But then they'd left. And there had only been a single division of stormtroopers to patrol a whole planet. And slowly things had slipped back to where they were before, with the occasional public executions to flavor the mix.
And working periods had increased, Gidnew working ten, twelve cycles at a time in a futile “war effort,” churning out endless new pieces for First Order ships. And the oligarchs had become even more ruthless, no blackmarket to compete with anymore.
And then this.
So it isn't any surprise to Gidnew that his buddies don't want to believe. He doesn't think he would, if not for that rooftop. But there was something about that laugh, about the Commander and the Jedi who looked back at him, that makes Gidnew hopeful.
And it isn't just the buzz in his veins.
No it's something real, something that says that this time will be different. That the Jedi have returned. That whatever these peace talks bring, it will be better than the First Order, better than the New Republic.
Gidnew trips, curses.
It's what he deserves though, thinking of things that are so far outside his ken. He turns a corner, makes his way gingerly down the dim street. It's even darker here, in this narrow lane between gigantic buildings. And he's almost home, in the poorest corner, in the darkest mess of the city.
He tries not to come home this late most nights. He tries even harder not to be drunk this late most nights. It's not the safest part of the city, this hollow that is his. But tonight, tonight they are all celebrating, and Gidnew decided to chance it.
So far he's seen no one except for the drunk huddled one street away. And he's grateful for it. He doesn't want to spoil the magic of the day with a fight. Doesn't want to ruin the bubbling hope that echoes through his skin even now.
He's halfway down the street, just before the dark opening of an odd alley, too narrow and tight, when he hears it.
They're whispers, but in the stillness of the night, they're clear enough. Two men's voices, one with the rolling “r” of the Outer Rim, the other with an odd cadence, but a Core world accent.
“...don't understand why we're out here.” There's a whine in the the Core-worlder's voice, almost childish. Gidnew wonders at it for just a moment.
“I already told you, Kylo. You'll see. We need this. I need this. Just wait.” The other voice is strong, even. Gidnew shivers. It's icy cold too, and flat.
“I'd be a lot happier waiting, Hux, if you just told me what we were do-” the voice cuts off, muffled somehow. It's the name, more than anything else, that makes Gidnew step forward, around the corner into the alley. It's not a common name, and for a wild moment he wonders if it's the hero himself, Commander Hux somehow absurdly in Gidnew's own little corner of the seediest part of the city.
When he looks to see who's there, who he's discovered, he takes a stumbling step backward in surprise.
His fleeting thought wasn't so absurd after all.
And now he knows why the voice cut off. There, standing before him, in a dank alley in the worst quarter, are the two heroes he saw this morning. And they're wrapped around one another, too close and not close enough.
The Commander, for that's who is standing in front of him, real and breathing, has a hand wrapped in another man's hair, tugging his head backward. And that pretty face is pressed close to the other man. Gidnew can see where the Commander bites at the taller man's lips, can see the look of pure ecstasy on the darker man's face. For a fleeting moment, Gidnew thinks he might look the same if the Commander's lips were pressed to his.
Then, all at once, he realizes who the Commander is holding, so tight to him. It's the tall, young Jedi. Gidnew vaguely remembers hearing his name during the festivities. Ren, Kylo Ren. He's beautiful too, even more beautiful now, pressed against the Commander, than he was in the square earlier. And his hands clutch desperately at the other man's waist, his fingers tight on Commander Hux's belt.
And it's like a spell is broken. The Commander looks up, catches sight of him. And the smile that spreads across his face is nothing like the laugh from the courtyard. Gidnew's bones seems to freeze. He wants to run. He can't breathe. It's a feral smile, a promise of something Gidnew doesn't even want to imagine. And those eyes are huge, bright chips that glitter in the faint light from above.
The blaster bolt that races toward him almost seems a relief.
Hux's fingers relax on Kylo's hair as he watches the body drop to the street. And there's a hum through his bones, through the hand with the blaster. And he can feel Kylo's shock echoing in the back of his mind, sharp and sour. But there's something else there, want and need, and Kylo dropping down, kneeling in the filth of this backwater planet's alley.
“This, Kylo. This is why we're here.” He smirks down at Kylo's shining face, his eyes that are dark pools. “Do you know how long it's been? We have all this, have finally won. And I deserve this.” He reaches down, wrenches back Kylo's head to bare his neck. It's a pretty sigh, Kylo on his knees, a body still warm just feet away. It reminds him of the gym on Finalizer, of how simple things used to be. Of Kylo's face as Hux told him to take out his saber, of the way Kylo had looked at him in that moment.
And he wants.
He wants so much that it echoes at the edges of his walls, at the thin cracks in his mirrored sheet of ice. He wants to know, to feel like himself again. He wants the rush of power. He wants the ease of slipping a knife into Kylo's side, of carving a sign into his back. He needs it.
Because it has all become so much to bear. The game with the Resistance, being the conquering hero with a kind word and a laughing joke for any and all he sees. Smiling at the dignitaries he sees, assuring them that the peace talks will be open to all.
Reminding them that the Resistance will protect them from the First Order.
Reminding the First Order that he will insure the Resistance treats them fairly.
Walking the knife edge.
And only, only relaxing in his quarters, with Kaydel or Brance or Sato, with Phasma sometimes. Only peeling back the grin and the laugh for them. And even then, it's too much. Because who is Brendol Hux to have friends to let go with?
Who is he now?
But this feels right, the flicker-flick of power that pushes through him as he glances toward the crumpled man in the middle of the alley. And at Kylo's watering eyes, staring up as Hux pulls his hair too hard, yanks his head back too sharply.
He needs this.
And if he has to kill a man to remind himself of who he is, so be it. It's the reminder that this power is his, that he needs after all.
And if he's hard in front of Kylo's pretty face, if Kylo's panting for him, that's just an added benefit. Because Kylo needs the reminder as well.
Kylo's been better lately, better at knowing his place. He's waited for Hux's touch, has bend over without a complaint. And Hux has written his pleasure across Kylo's skin, thin lines inscribed in blood. But it hasn't been enough.
They're both different now. And Hux doesn't know what to do about it. He needs something to remind them of the reality behind the curtain. Of who they will get to be again, sometime not so far away now.
This was the best idea he'd come up with.
And with the stench of burned flesh in the air, he knows he was right. He smiles down at Kylo, that smile that Kylo loves.
“Hux...” Kylo's voice is breathy, needy. “Hux... oh!” Hux's fingers have dug into the edge of the scar, into the line burned across Kylo's face over a year ago. And Kylo is squirming a little on his knees, lips pouted and begging.
“Did that turn you on, Kylo?” Hux's voice is soft in the night air, slippery smooth. “Are you hard, thinking about what I've done?” Kylo nods, or at least tries to. Hux still has a hand wrapped tight in his hair, and even the slight movement has to hurt. Hux pulls his hand away from where he's poking sharp fingernails into Kylo's twisted flesh. He's got his trousers open in an instant, pushing them down so Resistance brown pools in the dirt.
“Look, Kylo. Look at me.” Kylo tears his eyes away from where Hux's dick bobs, flushed and hard. “This is who we are. You, on your knees in the filth for me. Us, together. A body, and no one will ever care that we killed him, that I killed him. Because I can.” He pulls Kylo closer, offers his dick. Then Kylo's mouth is around him, and it's wet, hot, good. Better in the dark there than it has been recently, in the bright staterooms they've stayed in on two other worlds.
“Don't you dare forget it, Kylo. Don't.” He can hear his own voice breaking a little, Kylo's tongue sweeter than usual as it slips around his cock. And he pushes forward, thrusts into the heat of Kylo's throat. “Maybe I should fuck you next to him. Lay you down in the dirt along side him so you can look sideways and see what I've done, stare into his dead eyes.” And he doesn't know what he's saying, doesn't know what he's doing.
But he needs it, mind breaking into small shattered shards at the drag of Kylo's lips down his shaft. And he can feel the echo of his need in Kylo, can feel the rough burn of desire. And it flares at his words, flares as he glances at the body. Kylo moans. A perfect sound.
It's so hot.
It feels like his bones are burning apart, a shattering buzz deep inside him. And there's nothing left but Kylo's mouth wrapped tight around his cock, Kylo's fingers clutching desperately at his hips. Kylo's choked noises. Kylo's big eyes, clamped shut with tears leaking out.
And Hux looks down, sees how Kylo is grinding upward against the air, leggings stretched taught across his straining cock. And he's shifting on the hard ground, desperate, needy. And this is who they are.
And then Hux feels an even hotter spike from Kylo, the same warmth that settles into his belly sometimes at night, with Kylo in his arms. And Kylo's fingers dig deeper into his hips, he sucks hard at Hux's dick.
“Touch yourself.” Kylo deserves this, deserves it for the way Hux can feel him needing. Could feel how it flared with the shimmer of the blaster bolt. Deserves it for how he wants at every murmured word. For how he needs Hux, the real Hux, not some romantic construct they've shown the Resistance all these months.
Kylo's hand flies to his leggings, reaches inside, starts tugging insistently. And it isn't enough, not nearly.
“Take yourself out. Show me how much you need me, Kylo. Show me.” Kylo moans around Hux dick, drags the leggings down to snag under his heavy balls.
And there he is, big and flushed for Hux. Before he can stop himself, Hux is groaning too, voice breaking around Kylo's name. It's filthy, Kylo's fingers playing over the head, rubbing and stroking in time to the bobs of his head along Hux's cock.
And Hux needs, wants, aches so much, all the time now. And he has this, still has this in the face of the battle that happened just a few weeks ago. And he can't stop needing the reminder. He can't stop wanting Kylo's skin under his fingertips, blood welling bright along cuts Hux has drawn into him. He aches for the moment when he can show this to the universe, scream reality across the stars to flare bright in the face of Skywalker, Finn, Dameron, the entire damn Resistance.
Kylo is choking on him now, spit running down his chin as Hux fucks forward, uses his mouth. And he's so good for this, so pretty.
“Fuck, Kylo. You're such a lovely little slut for me. Fuck.” He groans, watches Kylo's cock jerk at the words. “One of the Resistance's fucking heroes on his knees in the muck for another, for a murderer. They're fools. And they don't even know it.” He laughs, long and deep, bright in the stillness of the alley. And he can see Kylo clasp a sudden hand tight to the base of his cock, tense where his lips stretch tight around Hux.
“Did you almost come, my slut? Oh you did. Fucking Light and Darkness, Kylo. You fucking almost came for that. Do you want to? Do you want to spill in this dirty alley, spill from sucking me off?” Kylo whimpers, a needy sound, begging, hoping, wanting. “Alright then. Come, if you're so desperate.” And then Kylo's jerking, almost as soon as the words leave Hux's mouth. And there's white at the corners of Hux's mind, painting it like come. And he can feel himself harden even more in Kylo's mouth, can feel the tight constriction wringing him out. It's a rush that he can't stop, the scream of need through his bones.
Kylo lets some of the come leak out of his mouth, can't swallow it all. And so Hux tugs him to his feet, licks his chin clean. And Kylo's eyes are so bright.
Kylo's curled in the single chair in their room on Finalizer, watching Gerrenthum disappear into the black of space. And his nose is full of the smell of smoke, of Hux's cologne, for all that Hux is on the bridge, so far away.
This room is never free from the smell of him.
And Kylo wouldn't want it to be. Couldn't want it to be, for all that it doesn't help. It's distracting, a hum in his bones that doesn't help him put himself back together again.
It's been this way for weeks.
It's been this way since...
Kylo doesn't want to think of it.
And he knows there is something off about both of them, him and Hux, something that is stranger than it should be. Knows that something is warped more now than it was. Knows that whatever was holding the facade in place is a little looser now, a little more tenuous. And he doesn't know what to do about it. They have to fix it, fix it before anyone finds out, before they make a mistake. But he doesn't know how to.
But whatever that was, in the dark alley last night, whatever Hux was thinking in the instant he pulled out the blaster, in the flash of light, that helped. They were themselves, fully, wholly, if only for a moment.
Come play in my dark sandbox @saltandlimes
If you happen to be the first to correctly guess where the title comes from, I'll... write you a fic? EDIT: We have a winner. A fic awaits.
Chapter 2: Protector
Finalizer continues to gather delegates for peace negotiations. Tensions run high, tempers higher.
Ok. We're back to Lines!Verse updates, though perhaps not every week. But more frequently from now on, I promise.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
There are too many people.
The Finalizer feels too crowded, packed too tightly, all manners of people crammed in. Even with the most prominent diplomats two to a room, the crew is even more tightly crammed into their quarters. And it's a stroke of luck that the ship was so understaffed before, that they even have the room to house the delegates they've picked up on their meandering way through the galaxy.
It's not everyone, of course.
That would be far too many people for even the Finalizer to hold. No, the leaders of the rich Core Worlds, of the Mid Rim trade holds, they will all make their own way to that still center of the galaxy. But Finalizer has flitted about the Outer Rim, determined to bring representatives from even the poorest systems to Coruscant, to the meeting that will make or break the galaxy.
And Kylo knows it is important. He's seen Hux's eyes light up, seen how Hux takes a strange personal joy in each tiny outpost from which they gather a representative. Sees how Hux feels like this is right, that this is what he has always wanted.
But it doesn't make the trip any less uncomfortable.
There's the constant press of emotion about him. And, perhaps, it isn't as strong as the pulse of Hux's mind at the back of his thoughts, but it's enough that Kylo is constantly on edge, enough that Kylo takes care not to linger in the corridors, stays to the training rooms on deck eighteen, keeps to the bridge, stays between the bulkheads of his and Hux's quarters. It's easier that way.
But he has to move between their quarters and other locations on ship sometimes. And so he stalks through the corridors with his head down, boots tapping on the floor. And most people do try to avoid him. There are whispers, of course. Questions murmured behind hands, wonders if he is a Jedi, half-hidden whispers that there he is, the man who destroyed the First Order's Supreme Leader.
There are other whispers as well, of course.
The ones that Kylo doesn't know what to do about. That he and Hux left the First Order for love, for one another. And it's so hard, because... well... yes. They left because Snoke was going to kill them. He remembers that. And they left because of the block. But somewhere, somewhere Kylo wonders if Hux left for him, if he left because that way they could be together.
It is too much though, too much right now, and so, as he steps into the officers mess, he pushes it away. Hux will be able to tell there's something wrong if he keeps worrying about it.
The room is busy, small tables filled by a strange mixture of black and brown, former First Order officers alongside Resistance members. And, mostly, they stick in tight knots, each with their own kind. But there's are a few tables with a mixture, a few black-clad officers holding their own. And throughout them all, a scatter of diplomats. When they'd first started to come aboard, Hux had though about setting aside a room for their own use, for their meals. But it had proven too complicated, so here they are, in amongst the officers.
And there, in the center of the room, there's a table with only brown, save a single woman, in the formfitting back under-uniform of a stormtrooper. Phasma, standing out from the four officers she's sitting with. And that's the table Kylo makes his way to, after hurriedly grabbing a tray.
“Kylo! I was wondering if you were even planning on eating today.” It's Brance, voice a little too loud even in the buzzing room. Kylo grins at him, but catches Hux's look of surprise. It seems Brance does as well, because he turns to Hux with a bit of a grin.
“Kylo begged out of our breakfast this morning. Said he had to meditate.” Hux's look of almost-concern vanishes in a huff of breath, something that is close to a laugh, and Kylo sinks down next to him. Hux reaches around, buries a hand in his hair the moment he's seated, petting lightly at it. And Kylo can't help but lean into the hand. And for a moment, just a moment, all he can feel is kneeling in an alleyway, mouth full to bursting with Hux's cock, Hux's hands in his hair.
A corpse on the ground beside them.
But he wrenches his mind away from the memory when he feels his breathing start to speed, feels Hux's hand tug a little at the small hairs at the base of his neck. And so he shovels a bite of something into his mouth – who knows what – and listens to Sato tell about his mission to Polis Massa.
It was incredibly uneventful, to hear Sato tell it.
Sure, a building he was inside did get blown up, but that sort of thing, Sato reminds them, happens from time to time. Phasma laughs.
It's the first time Kylo has ever seen her laugh, really, truly laugh.
And Sato's still talking, still telling them, in horribly matter of fact terms, about the insurgents who had continually tried to waylay the delegate he was retrieving, about the numerous attempts on his life, (four to be exact), and the eventual decimation of the insurgency, when a man dressed in bright red comes up to the table.
He's a delegate from somewhere, back stiff, head held high. And Sato cuts off abruptly as he gets close, as the delegate comes around the table to stand next to Hux.
“How can I help you, Honorable – ” Hux cuts off abruptly. And Kylo finds himself standing, chair knocked flat to the floor in an instant, feels the rage boiling up inside him as he sees what has made Hux stop speaking.
There's spit dripping off Hux's face.
And Kylo dimly catches Hux wiping it away with the back of a black gloved hand, catches his lips twisting upward. But he can hardly see, can hardly think. No, it just pours through him, the absolute fury that this nobody, this politician from planet small enough it can't even field a ship to carry him to Coruscant, has had the audacity to spit on Hux.
The delegate must realize what a mistake he's made, because he's stumbling backward away from Kylo. And vaguely, so vaguely, Kylo wonders what his own face looks like. Cold death, most likely. Because there is ice burning through his veins, freezing him from inside out, choking away anything but the need to break and burn and destroy.
And distantly Kylo can hear Kaydel calling his name, can see Phasma start up from her chair. But it doesn't matter, is little more than the flicker of light at the corner of his eyes, is nothing in the face of what he's going to do to this man. He fumbles at his waist for his saber before realizing that it's in their room, safely out of the way by Hux's request – Hux's command. And it's a disappointment, but only for a moment, because then he realizes what this lets him to do.
And his palms ache, itch, as he thinks about how he's going to take this man apart. How he's going to tear pieces of him away until there is nothing left. How he's going to rip out that tongue, the one that dared to curl enough to spit at Hux. How he's going to open that mouth too wide to close ever again, pour something down it till the delegate chokes, just so he drools, so it runs down his chin.
And then, then there's a hand on his arm. He whips around, already ready with a fist. But the face, so close to his, it's Hux's face. And it's Hux's low voice, Hux's scent, Hux who's standing so close, touching.
“Leave it, Kylo.” And it's that voice that shudders through Kylo when he's thinking of Hux in the dark, at night when they're apart. It's the cruel quirk of Hux's lips, the ache of the Dark embodied in this man. And Hux is still holding Kylo close, still has spit dripping off his cheek, but he glances sideways, jerks his head at Kaydel.
“Get Kylo out of here, will you?” It's only then that Kylo notices that the space around them has cleared, that there is a five meter circle of empty tables and chairs around their little group. And Sato is still sitting, impassive, at their table. Brance looks shocked, but his glare is reserved for the delegate who's cringing somewhere out of Kylo's field of vision.
Phasma is on her feet, has started around the table, but she says nothing. And Kaydel. Well, Kaydel is leaning up against the table looking relaxed. She nods to Hux, comes forward to slip an arm around Kylo. And he lets himself be led away, Kaydel's fingers rubbing calm circles on his back.
Hux can still feel it on his face. And he wants to go to the fresher, scrub himself clean, scrape and pull at his skin until it's red and raw, until he's free of the crawling itch. And he wants to paint himself clean, take that petty diplomat apart, wants to spread him across the floor.
And he wishes he'd let Kylo do it.
He wishes for it, wants to have seen the power surge through Kylo's fingertips, seen the fear on that delegate's face for just a few more moments. But instead he's here, stalking down the corridor to his quarters.
And he's got the slimy feel of false platitudes still coating his mouth.
He's got the thin slime of his apologies still on his lips. Ren has just fought in a war, he'd explained. He's a little touchy, a little on edge. You're entitled to your opinions, though I wished you'd felt comfortable enough to discuss them. Lies, all of them. But necessary all the same. Vital, in fact, to calm the delegate down, to placate the onlookers. To prove to them, again, yet again, that Brendol Hux was on their side. That he was a tame wolf, a loyal member of the Resistance. That Commander Hux was not the same man as the Starkiller General.
That Commander Hux would take his lumps calmly.
And he'd done it, seen the delegate relax. He'd even gotten an apology from the man, an acknowledgment of the spittle still running down Hux's cheek. But his skin doesn't fit now, like a strange uniform that isn't him, that clings to him too tightly and can't be put off now.
The door hisses open.
And Kylo is sitting just inside, head in his hands as he perches on the edge of the couch. But as soon as Hux walks in he looks up, drops to his knees. Bows down to Hux, as he always does, as he always will.
“I'm sorry.” And something twists within Hux's stomach, something like a balloon expanding inside him, filling him up with lightness, with air. Because Kylo's bending to him, ready to take whatever Hux dishes out, to offer himself up time and time again.
Because of the afterimage flaring in his eyes, Kylo starting forward, Kylo desperate to defend him.
And it's what he's been working for all these long months. And that feeling inside him, it's success, complete, totalizing. He's in front of Kylo before he knows it, a single finger working its way underneath Kylo's chin to tip it up, to stare into Kylo's glassy eyes.
Hux doesn't know what to do with this. With this beautiful creature he has in front of him, this absurdity that is finally all his. Should he punish Kylo, break him apart and make him anew, rip him to pieces for his rudeness? He thinks not.
He will never punish Kylo for protecting him.
So instead he cups a hand around Kylo's chin, digs his finger into the bruise high on Kylo's cheek, a left over from some training session. Presses hard. Kylo keens, a sharp whimper that makes Hux smirk, face twisting up, smiling down.
“I understand, Kylo. I understand, my pretty, pretty protector.” His voice drops to a whisper. “What did you want to do to him? What would you have done if we didn't have to play this fucking game all the time? Would you have ripped him apart there? Torn him limb from limb in front of all those people?” And he drops to his knees too, faces Kylo, leans in close. Tightens his fingers on Kylo's chin.
“Or would you have kept him alive, wrung him out over months, weeks?” Kylo groans a little, but says nothing. So Hux reaches out his free hand, pinches at a nipple where he finds it under Kylo's tunic. “I want an answer, Kylo. I want you to paint me a pretty picture. Tell me a story, and the better it is, the more fun you'll have.” Kylo nods, frantic, desperate.
“I...” His voice is weak, choked. And there are tear tracks on his cheeks, strange and sharp. But his voice gets stronger as Hux listens, as they kneel facing one another. “I wanted to destroy him, Hux. But I wouldn't do it quickly. He doesn't deserve that. Slow. I'd go so slow.” Hux nods, pleased, glad at Kylo's choice.
“What would you do to him? How would you make him pay?”
“I'd put a gag on him. A ring gag, so he could never close his mouth. And I'd leave it there, make him choke on his own spit. I'd leave him alone for hours, mouth gaping open, dry. Then I'd shove his face into water, force him close to drowning.” Hux smiles, edges closer, strokes a hand up through Kylo's hair.
“I'd use the Force.” Hux pushes him backward, and Kylo falls onto his back, legs splayed. “I'd make him drool, make him feel it all the time. And when he was nothing more than a slobbering mess, I'd take him out in front of all those people. I'd make him kneel to you, beg to clean your boots with his tongue. And they'd all watch, they'd all see what you deserve. They'd all see what happens when someone crosses you.” Hux can feel his hips jerk a little at that, grind down when Kylo looks up at him, eyes huge.
“Oh... you'd make him worship me?” Kylo nods.
“I'd make them all bow to you. I will make them do it.” And Hux leans down, threads his hand through Kylo's hair, pulls hard as he bites at Kylo's mouth. As he ruts his hips against Kylo's, sprawled on the floor in front of of the couch, in the middle of their sitting room.
And Hux can see it, the delegate bowed over, a slobbering mess. Can see Kylo nudging him forward, pushing him down so his forehead is on the floor in front of Hux's feet. He can feel the echo of vicious joy, fluttering back through him from Kylo. Can feel need building, pounding at the back of his own throat.
“I think you deserve a present. Not for trying to kill that fucking idiot. No. You know better than that, Kylo. But for wanting to.” He slides his tongue across the line of Kylo's jaw, whispers in his ear. “For wanting to kill him, though? For coming back here, bending your knees on the floor to wait for me? For answering my questions? That was good, so good, Kylo.” And Kylo arches up against him, against his hands as they tug and pull, as he bites hard at Kylo's neck, thinks about what it would take to draw blood, to tear with his teeth.
And Kylo's a roiling mass of emotions – fear, anger, desire, - hot and cold and so good, and Hux just wants to stay like this, never to leave this room, never to have to put back on the mask.
“H-Hux. Please. Just... Do you remember what it was like? On Finalizer, before?” And Hux's blood flares, pulses through him, yes. Yes he remembers. And he slams a hand down next to Kylo's head, so close that Kylo flinches a little.
“Do you want that back? Want me to slap you, fuck you like I did then?” Kylo nods, and Hux smiles again. And then he's standing up, so quick that Kylo arches after him, reaching out a hand that Hux kicks away.
“Get off the fucking floor, Kylo. Stand and face me.” And Hux goes to his desk, sits down, props his legs up on the desk, crossed at the ankles. And Kylo struggles to his feet, tunic askew, revealing the bulge of his cock in his leggings.
“Such a slut, aren't you Kylo?” And the feel between them is shifting, darkening, sweetening. “Did you get hard telling me how you'd break someone for me? Did you think of how good it would be if I let you lick my boots instead of him? I bet you did.” Kylo whimpers. “You're mine now, Kylo. We can't go back to those days. You weren't mine then, not really. But you are now. And you've asked for this, this funny old game. So let's play. Come here.”
And Kylo comes, kneels in front of him. Hux knows that this is the moment he should send a hand cracking across Kylo's cheek, burn new scars down his body in an endless line of ownership. But somehow, somehow that isn't what he wants.
The buzz of the com, sharp and blaring, cuts through the tension between them. Hux sighs, wrenches his eyes away from Kylo's, pulls back the hand he's reached out to stroke along Kylo's face. Kaydel knows better than to interrupt him now except for a very a good reason. He taps the comm open.
“Hux. General Organa needs to talk.” Hux sighs again. A very good reason indeed.
“I'll be there in ten minutes.” He pulls Kylo to his feet, wraps a hand around the back of his neck as he thumbs off the com. “We'll finish this later, Kylo. I'm not done. Not done at all.”
The city looks almost unchanged. As she stares out from the balcony, Leia can almost imagine that if she turns around, she'll see them all. Her father, Senator Chuchi, her mother. Calling to her – Leia, time for dinner, time to come inside. But she knows, sure as she knows her own name, that it is nothing more than a fantasy.
Coruscant has changed. It's calmer now, but only a little. Three decades cannot erase thousands of years as the galactic capital. She'd wondered if it would even feel different. It doesn't, not really.
And the ghosts of the past are there.
The New Republic is dead and gone. Only a specter.
The Empire too.
And now, all that remains is to build something anew. And this time, this time Leia will not let hatred and vengeance spoil what she tries to build. This time, she will make sure that all voices are heard, that the galaxy stands united. This time, it will be different.
When the first reports came in that Snoke was dead, she'd already started moving towards this, to this moment. She'd already started thinking of where to hold negotiations, where both the remnants of the New Republic and the First Order would agree to. And she'd been at a loss.
“I just don't know. I wish I could suggest a neutral planet, but there are no neutral planets that have the kind of facilities that peace negotiations of this scale will require.” Narman Chuchi nods, face thoughtful. And Leia is grateful, as she always is, for his help. Grateful that, even after all this time, they are friends. That the children of Senator Riyo Chuchi and Bail Organa are still here.
“Coruscant.” Leia starts. Coruscant? Corruption, rot, hatred, intrigue. That is what Coruscant means. The Empire. The senate she'd stood before, pleaded to, begged, and never swayed. Mas Amedda, Tarkin. The Emperor himself. That is what Coruscant means.
“Hear me out, Leia. The Senate building is large enough. And Coruscant, well, Coruscant means something to people. It will mean something to the First Order, and it matters to us as well. Because before the Empire, before the Jedi were broken, well the Republic stood on Coruscant for thousands of years. And that is was we hope for. The New Republic fell because it could not accept history, could not accept the idea that not ever member of the Imperial military deserved punishment. The Republic fell because it could not accept change... oh don't give me that look. The Sith destroyed the Republic, right enough. But Palpatine could never have done it without the Republic tearing itself apart over the Separatist movement. The Empire fell because it did not understand that people want to be given voices, not oppressed. If you hold talks on Coruscant, you tell people that the remnants of the New Republic will accept history. That the First Order will give all a voice, will talk, will compromise. That something new is being forged on a shared history. This is what Coruscant means. This.”
And Leia sighs. Narman is right, right as he always is.
“Leia?” And it's Narman again, blue skin gleaming in the evening light. For a moment, just for an instant, it is too familiar, deja vu so strong she can taste the memories. Of running through these apartments as a child, Narman chasing after her on stubbly little legs. Of her father's smile.
And then she goes inside.
And thumbs at the coms. Because it's time to check in with Hux.
She smiles at him as the holo flickers on. He's seated at his desk, in what she now recognizes as his office on Finalizer. Strange, how well she knows that chair, in a ship she never expected to com, let alone look forward to seeing in reality. Strange, how warmth floods through her as she nods to Hux.
Odd, really. New.
But welcome, all the same. Because Leia needs everything new she can find here. Needs something to pull her from the past here on Coruscant.
“Is this a bad time?” Hux shakes his head.
“Not at all, General Organa. We're in the middle of second shift.” It's sometimes hard to calculate Finalizer time, shifts extending and warping when they orbit a planet.
“Have you had luck picking up the rest of the delegates?” Hux nods, a grimace fleeting across his face. But then he's back to that slight smile.
“We have. We should be heading to Coruscant within the week.”
“Any complaints about the choice of venue?” And Hux laughs, bitter, frustrated. Leia almost feels ashamed for asking at that. There have been more than enough complaints to her. To imagine Hux is not getting his fair share...
“Only a few. But most people seem to understand the practical aspect. And the First Order delegates are delighted. I trust preparations are going well on your end?” Leia nods.
As they chat about logistics, about the newest delegates Hux has picked up, about the accommodations and security measures that will be put in place as the first delegates begin to arrive, Leia marvels. She wonders what this would have been like without Brendol Hux. If that man, so rigid, strange, suprising, had not fallen in love with her son, defected, joined the Resistance, what would this have been like?
She doesn't want to know.
“I'm worried about him, Kaydel.” Kylo takes a deep breath, curls tighter into the chair in Kaydel's sitting room. She nods, flutters quick fingers, urges him on. “He's working too hard. And the delegates... well you saw what happened earlier.”
“Cut the shit, Kylo.” He starts, stares at her. “That's not what you're worried about.” And he should have known she'd pierce right to the heart of the matter. She always does.
“No. You're right.”
“Well, what is it, then?”
“He's... not taking this role well. He's just so tired all the time, Kaydel. And I don't know how to help, don't know how to fix it.” She shrugs, but moves closer, small hands soft as she rubs one across his back.
“Kylo. You know him better than anyone else. But I also know the plan, know what this is all leading to. And it's going to be a strain. You, he, you're not used to this. But all you can do protect him, let him take out that stress he's got on you. You know how to do that.” Kylo nods.
He may not be good for much right now, but he is good for that.
Chapter 3: Soothsayer
Candid talks are the rule among Finalizer's crew, and they finally arrive on Coruscant.
This is a lot of emotions. I had to go buy ice cream in the middle of writing it.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When Hux opens the door, Kylo is kneeling in front of the viewport, just as he should be. It's almost dark inside, only the faint glow from the stars on Kylo's face and one flickering lamp on the table next to him. Firelight, Hux thinks, suits Kylo. It ripples down his back, caressing the slight sheen of sweat on his skin. Hux wonders, a little absently, how long Kylo has been here. He was supposed to arrive at the end of his work with Finn, organizing security for their arrival on Coruscant.
It could have been hours already.
He stays facing the viewport as the door slides shut behind Hux, but Hux can see the twitch of his shoulders, the slight contraction of those long muscles that show he's heard Hux come in. Hux sets a bag down on the little table as he comes to stand behind Kylo, close enough to touch.
“It's beautiful, isn't it?” Kylo nods, still not turning to face Hux. Hux smiles, runs a hand down the side of his face. And he can feel Kylo's delight humming softly through him, a trickle of pleasure sliding through his mind. He takes a deep breath.
“Are you ready?” And Kylo doesn't know what they're doing here tonight, has no idea what Hux needs, wants, has to do. But that's as it should be, as it always is. Instead, he has what little Hux needed to tell him to make this easier. His murmur of assent comes soft in the still air. Hux thumbs lightly at his lips, caresses over his face as he moves away.
The cushions from the armchair make a makeshift bed on the floor, long enough for what Hux needs, though they'd never hold Kylo's long legs fully outstretched. And there's curiosity pricking him now, needles that feel like Kylo's trying to hold them back. Hux almost laughs. As if they can really hold anything back from one another?
“Come here and lie down on your stomach.” Kylo struggles to his feet, and Hux wonders again absently about how long he's been on his knees. Long enough that he seems unsteady in the few steps that take him to the cushions. Long enough. Then he's collapsing down at Hux's feet, spreading himself out. His knees hang off the end.
“Spread your legs, Kylo. I want to see what you've done for me.” The plug is a dark shadow, even in the dimness of the room, black against Kylo's pale skin. “Hmm. Did you go to your meeting with Finn like that? Stuffed full for me?” It's a pretty notion, Kylo squirming on his chair, every movement screwing the plug deeper.
“I'm gonna take it out now. Gonna put something better in you.” Hux pulls open the bag, slides the contents on the table. “Kylo, look here. I'm going to show you. Look.” The lamplight gleams off of cold metal, curved, shimmering.
“I'm going to give you a choice, Kylo. This is an anal hook. I can slide into that ass you've got all opened up for me. I've got rope here. It'll attach to a collar. You'll either have to crane your neck backward, or pull the hook deeper in you. That's the first option. Or... we don't have to do this. You can get dressed, go back to our quarters.” And Hux has never given an option before, has taken and taken and not paused to think. But this time, this time he has to offer. Because there is more here, even if Kylo doesn't know it yet. And Hux isn't sure he wouldn't rather that Kylo chose the second of the two options. That they forgot about this and go on as before. Because the first... the first means something. And that, he knows Kylo can sense that. Can feel the importance bleeding from Hux's mind.
“The hook.” Kylo's throat must be so dry, voice crackling like leaves. Hux sighs. Of course. Of course.
“The hook then.” Hux takes a deep breath. This, then. He grabs the collar off the table, fished out from a hiding place deep beneath his bed, forgotten, left behind. Kylo's now, maybe, and Hux has a momentary fantasy of Kylo wearing it in front of them all, marked for all of them to see, flaunting Hux's possession. Then he clips it around Kylo's neck, lets a ring rest on the hump of the vertebrae at the top of Kylo's back.
“No one else. You know that, right, Kylo? This, you're mine.” The words echo out before Hux can stop them, pushing their way from his lips. And there's already odd, nervous tension in his fingertips, anticipation coursing through him. He takes out the lube, coats the hook, covers it over in slick swipes. Pays careful attention to the ball at the end. Then he's kneeling at Kylo's side, flicking at the plug in his ass. Kylo groans. And Hux smirks at the rush of desire that wells in him, reverberating from Kylo in little echoing pulses.
The sucking sound the plug makes as it slides out is loud, even against the slow pant of Kylo's breath. Hux twists his fingers inside for a moment, then reluctantly pulls them out too, presses the hook against Kylo's ass. And it slides in so easily, Kylo opened up for him just as he asked. And Hux hadn't expected the rush. That this man, this man who remade the galaxy for him, who brought down Snoke, is laid out with a hook up his ass, splayed open for Hux, silent, begging. His to command, with a twitch of a finger, a curl of a lip. All his.
Kylo whimpers when the hook is fully seated, a moan of protest-desire-want. And Hux pulls the rope off the table, threads it through the loop of metal at the end of the hook. Then he's pulling Kylo's head just a little back, not too far. And the rope goes through the ring at the back of the collar, wraps around, knot, knot. He steps back.
“Keep your hands flat on the cushions, Kylo. Don't move them.” Kylo tries to nod, then gasps as the motion pulls the hook deeper, whines at the feeling. Hux smiles. Just as he wanted. Kylo can hardly move without either straining his neck or driving metal deep inside himself. Just as needed. He goes to sit on the table. Kylo tries to twist to track Hux with his eyes, but the collar tugs, pulls the hook sideways, and he gives up, facedown. Hux takes a deep breath. Now, here, with Kylo tied tight, unable to move without shifting the hook inside himself, now Hux can finally do it. In a moment. In a second, after he looks at the way his initial shines bright on Kylo's shoulder, raised just a little, the way the matching scar on Kylo's ribs is a badge of triumph, greater than any medal, any commendation.
“I... I need to talk to you, Kylo.” This was supposed to be easier this way, Kylo tied before him, contained, held to his power. But it isn't. “I... before. Force. Kylo. I don't know what I'm saying. I don't know why I'm even fucking doing this. But I have to. I need to. I can't go on like this, wondering what I did. And I don't fucking know who I am any more and you're the only thing I have. Fuck.” Hux spits a little, clenches his hands on the steel of the table. On the floor before him, Kylo seems to have decided to suffer just a little, has twisted his face just enough to stare at Hux with those huge eyes.
“Kaydel told me that you probably didn't care.” There's confusion flooding from Kylo. And why is this so hard? Why can't Hux just explain what he means? “I... Let me start over.” Kylo tries to nod again, gives a tiny yelp at the pull of the rope. Hux smiles a little even as he feels his hands shake where they've curled into fists.
“When I... when I hit you? I didn't... I'm sorry, Kylo. Kaydel told me you likely didn't care, but it doesn't matter. It doesn't. Fuck, Kylo. That isn't who I am. I mean. Out of control like that. Fuck. I...” It comes out in a rush, a flood of words toppling over themselves as they try to run out of his lips too fast. Kylo gasps, and this time it isn't from the hook. He takes a breath, opens his mouth to say something.
“Shut the fuck up, Kylo. I need to say this. I... fuck. You know what this is, you have to. I didn't think it would be this hard. And it's like every moment I just want to scream at them all, tell them how stupid they all are, how petty. And I can't, and it's eating me up inside. And I just want it to go away. I don't know. I just...” And Hux can feel the tightness in his throat now, slips off the table to kneel next to Kylo. To pet a long hand over Kylo's twitching back, over the skin underneath the taught rope.
“But I have you, and it just all fell out of me, and I shouldn't have done it, Kylo. I shouldn't. I can fuck you, burn you, break you, but not like that. Not where I just want to be sick afterwards, not when it doesn't help.” He bends forward, presses his face into Kylo's shoulder, can't look, can't watch Kylo's face any longer. Breathes in the smell of Kylo's sweat and the aching feel deep in his mind, the throbbing heartbeat of whatever that feeling means. And there's no ice left in him, shattered and broken into melting pieces that he doesn't know how to gather up.
“I'm sorry, Kylo. I'm so, so sorry.” He fumbles at the knot behind Kylo's neck, needs something, anything. Because he thought this would make it easier, Kylo tied before him. He thought that with Kylo there, he wouldn't need to feel this anymore. But he does, and... His fingers are careful, caressing as they pull the hook out, slide it slowly from Kylo's body.
“You can get up. You can leave. We can just... I don't know, Kylo.” And his eyes feel hot, burning as he kneels next to Kylo. And then Kylo's struggling up, to kneel across from him, naked except for the collar still clasped around his neck. Hux reaches out to undo it, to free Kylo from him.
A hand comes up, pushes his away.
For a moment Hux can't understand what's happened. But then he sees his own fingers threaded through Kylo's. And he finally looks up, catches Kylo's eyes.
They're so soft.
Kylo's face is flushed, hair in disarray. And the throbbing thing is stronger now, a pulse-push through Hux's mind, filling him up.
“Hux...” He breathes, and his voice is low, a quiet hush that Hux has never heard before. “Hux... I know. I... we'll work it out, ok. I. Just... you apologized. I... that's enough for now. That's enough. It's...” He pulls Hux's hand upward, presses his lips to it. And they're a benediction, cleaning, washing anew. And then he's pulling Hux up by the hand, grabbing the cushions with the other, hook and rope abandoned on the floor.
Kylo settles them into the chair, curls himself into Hux like so many times before. And it's warm, and there's the throbbing still, Hux's stomach tight with it. Hux buries his free hand in Kylo's hair, breathes slowly, tries to will away the pricking at the corners of his eyes.
“We'll work it out.”
“What do you think they're thinking?” Sato's voice is calm, absent almost. And Kaydel looks down from where they stand high above the space docks. There's a row of covered speeders, a line in hastily repainted colors, models all thirty years out of date. And ever now and then a shuttle touches down, flitting down from Finalizer to disgorge its pretty passengers onto Coruscant's waiting surface. The shuttles look impossibly new next to the imperial relics that the delegates move toward.
“The delegates?” Sato huffs out a laugh.
“No. They're not wondering about anything I'd care to know. I meant Hux, Kylo. Our fearless leaders, shall we say.” Kaydel shoots him a glance. They may be isolated, on this strange, silent promontory in the center of Coruscant's bustle, but he's an undercover operative. He might do with being a little more careful.
“They're doing their jobs, I'm sure. I wouldn't know about anything else.” Sato huffs out a laugh, turns away from the railing to lean against it, look her in the face.
“Stop worrying, Kaydel. No one is listening here. I guarantee it.” Kaydel winces. Is she really that easy to read?
“Even if I knew, I wouldn't tell you. Not if Hux hadn't.” Sato nods thoughtfully.
“So that's how it goes? Need to know only? I can work with that. Just as long as I know that plans are moving along smoothly, and that I'll like the outcome.” Kaydel smirks at that. If Sato doesn't like the outcome, then he's a bigger fool than she thought. The other part of his question, though...
Plans moving smoothly...
She thinks of the last time she spoke to Hux. He'd paced around the room, hands twitching at his sides, voice rising and falling in agitation. Organa wants me to lead the negotiations. Me. She's told him how good that was for them, just the right thing. Of course. Of course. But... More of these fucking idiots, Kaydel. More of them, and I want to set Kylo in their midst, watch him rip them apart. More of them.
And something needs to be done about that. It can't go on, Hux can't sustain this, they can't bear it. And she won't see this all collapse around them just because Hux can't adapt, learn to hide in plain sight. If she can do it, if Sato can do it, then Hux can. Hux will.
Sato raises an eyebrow.
“Yes, yes. Everything's fine. Trust me. You'll like it. I swear.” And what's her word worth? Well... no matter. Enough for this, at least.
Leia stares down the long canyon leading to the former imperial compound. Stands at the head of the Senate building. Her white gown is heavy, foreign after all these years in coveralls. The silver belt is old, so old, and she can feel the weight of it around her waist, tethering her to this ground. She takes a deep breath. Only a few more minutes now.
Clustered around her are a few members of Resistance high command, a few long time backers. But more of the sentients lining the stairs are New Republic representatives, here to honor the people who saved them from annihilation. Here to bend their heads in false gratitude, mouth acknowledgments out of lips that will turn away with distaste when the holo records move on.
It makes her stomach turn.
And it's so different, this time.
She remembers, more than three decades ago, standing on a stage so much like this one. Remember the way she'd had to take a deep breath as Han and Luke stepped through the portal, marched up that long line of rebels. And it's bittersweet, their young faces in her mind. Because overlaid on every memory, every thought of Han, is that sick wrench of her heart, that tearing jerk as he'd been ripped away from her.
The lance of pain when she'd realized who'd stolen him away.
And she can't think about that, not now. Not when she can see the speeders at the front of the parade coming around the bend, starting up to the final stretch to the Senate building.
Because there is Ben – Kylo – and she can't make a mistake. Not when so much hangs on the First Order delegates and the former New Republic both seeing this. Seeing the Resistance stand strong. Seeing them as a united front, one that will not bend to vindictive demands. Not this time.
The speeders are close enough that she can hear the waves of cheers following them. They resound off the huge walls of Coruscant's monumental buildings, echoing up the street. And there are the guards at the head of the parade, eyes swinging back and forth to scan the crowd. They spread out in a line as they reach the edge of the Senate, and behind them... behind are two speeders open to the air.
Poe, Hux stand in one, sharp in Resistance brown, uniforms specially made just for this. Finn and Kylo in the other. And Kylo stands out in his black tunic, long scar bright on his face.
Leia tries not to think about her son's scars.
And they clamber out of the speeders, Finn and Poe coming together, Hux and Kylo behind them. Too close, almost touching as they always are. But that's not important. Not now.
She smiles at them, tries to find her way into that smile she'd worn all those years ago. Tries to remember the nervous flutter of her stomach. The way her hands had trembled as they settled the metal around Han's neck, already half in love.
When they reach her, Poe and Fin split apart, leave room so that Hux and Kylo can file in. And they look so very young – was she like that, those years ago? No, even younger, a child playing at war. She smiles down, gathers her breath.
“There is no more noble goal than peace. There is no greater calling than to help others. Some of you may be wondering about the people you have seen today. These are your heroes. These are the future. Before you stand four of the people who brought an end to a conflict that has ranged in one way or another for three decades. Maybe for almost sixty years.” She pauses, smiles for the holorecorders that beam her face throughout the city, across the galaxy.
“Poe Dameron, Finn, Kylo Ren, Brendol Hux. You have stood in the face of terrible choices, of immeasurable power, and you have not bowed. Three of you abandoned a system you came to believe evil, abandoned it and saved us all in the process. Two of you – because another hero is among you, Padawan Learner Rey, who is working in the Outer Rim right now – have held your own in front of torture and almost certain death.” And she has to bite back a wince, an almost wry laugh at that. Torture at her son's hands.
“We honor that today. We acknowledge what you have done for us, for the whole galaxy. You have stood in the face of evil, and you have not been defeated. You hold our future in your hands. Keep and guard it as well as you have guarded all your charges until now.” And she lifts the heavy medals up, the first to Poe. He smirks at her, bows his head slightly.
Hux's smile is sharp. He's heard every word she didn't say, and she wants to hug him for it. Kylo next, and he shrinks away from her hands. Will she ever be able to touch him again? And then Finn, who stands a little straighter, stares down at the medal in wonder.
A cheer swells, and Leia steps back up the stairs. Watches as those young heroes turn, as they bow to the crowd, to the planet, to the galaxy.
Chapter 4: Chairman
Negotiations begin on Coruscant. An interim chairman is chosen. Hux and Kylo appreciate their new apartment.
Wow. It has been two months since I updated this. For all you that have stuck around, thank you so much. I can't promise a perfectly regular update schedule, but it will certainly be significantly more frequent.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The com buzzes as Leia steps into her office. It's strange, being here again. In this place, where she stood almost thirty years before and planned a rebellion. Now, with that rebellion over and dead – she winces at the thought – too many dead. Rex, Ahsoka, Sato Sr, Ezra. All gone now, and she's here again, another war behind her, another desperate fight to stop the evil her family is partially responsible for. Here again, in the office of a senator from a dead planet.
The com buzzes again, insistent, pulling Leia from where she's stopped just inside the door. She makes her way over to the desk, settles herself behind it. Taps it open, and Luke's face springs into life, hovering before her desk. He smiles, but his eyes look tired, lines curving around them deeper even than when she saw him last.
“Leia! You're finally on Coruscant?” She nods. It's been days since they last talked, Luke wandering between backwater planets. “How are things there?”
“Basically what you'd expect. Everyone biting at one another's heels, desperate for someone else to slip up. The Core worlders don't want to talk to the Outer Rim, the Outer Rim turns up its nose at the Inner, and the delegates from the Unknown Regions,” she won't call them the First Order, she won't, “keep to themselves and insist on body guards at all times.”
“You can't be surprised at that, though. I wouldn't be shocked if you had more than a few assassinations attempts before this thing is over and done.” Luke's voice is matter of fact, and Leia is forcibly reminded of his own Outer Rim origins, his life on a planet dominated by the Hutts. He shakes his head, though, and continues.
“It'll be fine, Leia. At least they've come, at least they want to take part.” And there's an undercurrent of frustration in his voice, a weary resignation.
“How are things out there?”
“It's... slow going. There are the planets that fall over themselves to get in line when they realize a Jedi has shown up. Those are the easiest, maybe. But I still have no idea if they'll maintain any sort of law and order now that I've left. If they even believe any of us are coming back.”
“We are, though. We'll prove it to them. You'll train new Jedi, you and Rey.” Luke's eyes twitch at that, a minute squint. “How is she, by the way?”
“She's... Leia... She's so old. I've read all the books, you know. Everything salvaged from the archives after the Empire fell. The Jedi didn't take anyone on to learn the Force after a certain point. They said that minds were too set after childhood. And I learned, at least a little. Not enough... obviously. But I learned. She's had such a hard life.”
Leia wants to reach across the endless lightyears between them. Place a hand on Luke's shoulder, rest her head against him. He sounds exhausted, those countless miles separating them a weight more than distance. It's always been so much for him. “Death is lighter than a feather, duty heavier than a mountain,” she quotes to herself.
“She... It's hard, Leia. There's so much hurt bottled up in her. And it's slow. I thought, when she first started learning, that everything would be so easy for her. And the physical stuff, the saber, the more physical Force abilities, they're all just like breathing for her. But meditation, the important things? It's so hard. And I'm... maybe I'm not meant for this. Maybe I was never meant to rebuild the Jedi. Maybe that's what balance means.” Leia leans forward. She's only heard Luke like this a few times before. Long ago. Too long, and Ben – Kylo – was the cause then. That isn't going to happen again, though.
“Luke. You can do this. I know you can. Maybe you weren't meant for it. Maybe there isn't any such thing as Fate.” She laughs at herself a little. “I've always hated that anyway. But we need you to do this. You need to do this, if not for the galaxy, then for yourself, for Rey. Everyone has moments where things are harder than they were before. This is one of those moments.” Luke smiles at her, warm, an embrace of a grin.
“Sometimes I forget how you can do that.”
“That's what you do, Leia. You show people what they can't see, but already know. You're right, of course, about Rey. About everything. It'll be fine. It's just a long walk in the muck. But enough of this. When do you start the actual negotiations?”
“We're going to gather to decide on a chairman tomorrow. I don't anticipate it going particularly well.” Luke nods sympathetically.
“Do you have a candidate in mind?” Leia smiles wryly. She does, of course she does. But Luke isn't going to like it.
“Hux, I think.” Luke draws back, enough that the comm catches the blurring shift of his face.
“Hux! Leia, I know you trust the man. And even I admit, he's proved himself well enough. But... to lead the negotiations?”
“It's not ideal, I know. Hux is military, through and through, and nothing will change that. And he's certainly not universally revered. But I'm never going to find someone who is. And he's a known quantity, Luke. No hidden loyalties.” Luke tilts his head, seems about to say something. Leia waits. But he keeps quiet, just nods slightly.
“And I know, I know that little clique of his throws you off, Luke. But you can't fault the man for having few friends. He's in an odd place. I think it will actually help here. Fewer people who can sway him.” Luke nods again.
“You know better than I do about these things, Leia.” There's a knock at the door, a sharp rap. Leia looks up. A name displayed above announces Chuchi outside.
“I'm so sorry Luke. Narman is here. I have to run. Just... remember that you can do this.”
“You too, Leia. You too.” The comm flickers off as Narman walks into her office.
“So why are you here?”
Phasma starts, chides herself for not hearing Brance come up behind her. She's never seen anything like this though. Here, on a balcony outside the senate complex, looking out over the huge expanse of Coruscant's tangled mass of metal and permacrete. It's horrifying, disordered, a messy riot of color. And against that, what are the footsteps of one officer?
“Brance. I've never seen Coruscant before. Thought I should look around for a while.” Brance grins at her.
“Not gonna see much from up here. But that's not what I meant. Why are you with us?” Phasma sighs. She supposes it has to happen sooner or later. She's actually a little surprised that no one has asked before now. Then again, things have moved too fast for that. But now, calm and waiting on this mess of a capital, now someone was bound to ask. Why had she joined Hux? Why had she, gleaming in the armor from the ship of a dead emperor, joined a rebellion?
But then again, the answer is so simple...
Phasma shifts uncomfortably. She's trying not to show how much she wants her helmet right now, trying not to let anyone know that she's never reported to high command before, unmasked and bared to their inspection. She doesn't think she's doing a very good job though. No, as the General stares down at her, she has the distinct impression that he's more than aware of his discomfort, is taking more pleasure in it than Phasma has found in anything.
“...So you maintain that you did not intentionally waste First Order resources, lieutenant?” And it's not the first time a variation of that question has been asked, not the first time that Phasma has sought for an answer that would satisfy.
“No, Sir. I would never do that,” and she hears her voice crack on the words, “never.” There's nothing else she can say, not truly. She didn't intend for this to happen, didn't mean to spend precious ammunition in a botched attempt to take prisoners. She didn't.
“You know, General, I think there's a more important question we should be asking.” And it's Daala, of all people, and Phasma feels her breath speed up before she can stop it. Admiral Natasi Daala, whose very presence means this is something more than simply a review of misuse of First Order resources. And when she turns to Phasma, her eyes are cold, blanked of any emotion. “Lieutenant. You were tasked with capturing Resistance prisoners. Capturing, not killing. I would have thought that was a task an officer of your record was easily capable of. And that leaves me to wonder, was there some other reason you didn't want them captured? Some more plausible reason?”
For a moment, Phasma doesn't understand what Daala is implying. And then, oh and then, it all comes together.
“Admiral. Admiral, no! I...” She doesn't know what to say. “I would never. I mean. I don't. That was never...” And she's babbling, doesn't know what she can say to fix this, to make it right. She would never do anything to betray the First Order. They have to know that. And just when she starts to think that Daala will say something, will seal her coffin, hammer the final nail, another voice speaks up from the back of the room.
“Admiral, may I?” It's a clipped voice, rolling Outer Rim “r”s and slanting consonants. It's a voice that teases the edges of her memory. Daala nods, and the man steps forward. Phasma catches a glimpse of him out of the corner of here eye, and it all comes together. It's the lieutenant who coordinated their operation from Reliant, the voice is familiar from the echoed communications that trickled through her mind as she tried to fight her way out of that catastrophe.
Lieutenant Hux, she thinks.
Hux had saved her then, argued in her defense. He's always stood up for her. The least Phasma can offer...
“Phasma?” Brance is staring at her, and Phasma realizes that she's lost herself in thought. Hasn't answered the question yet.
“Sorry. Sorry. Hux and I have known each other for a long time. I was just... remembering. He's always stood up for me. You asked why I joined you, though.” Brance nods.
“It seemed improbable, when Hux suggested you might. But then you did. And I just... if you're going to be part of this... thing that Hux is running,” Brance glances sideways, but the wind rushes around them, and even if someone was nearby, they wouldn't hear. “Well, if you're going to be part, I, at least, want to know why.”
“When Hux left,” Phasma clears her throat. There's a lump in it, and she hadn't thought this would hurt. Hadn't expected that, but now that they're here, now it's all coming back. “When he left, it was... Well, he'd always been there for me. Always. We met when I was a lieutenant. And I just. It was...” She shakes her head. Absurdly sentimental.
“Look, Phasma. I get it. You do... ah. You don't have to talk about it any more.” Phasma glances sideways. Brance's face is kind, too soft, and she hates it for a moment.
“No. It's fine. It was just. I've followed Hux almost my whole life. And he's never led me wrong. And so when I got the choice to do so again? Well, it was obvious.” Brance nods now.
“Hasn't led you wrong, eh? Well, I hope he doesn't this time.” He grins, boyish and wry. “We're all fucked if he does.”
Hux sighs. It's the third hour of this. Endless arguments, one delegate rejected after another. At this rate, they won't chose a chairman in the next eon. A New Republic delegate gets put forward, the First Order shoots him down. A First Order candidate urges her pod forward, the Resistance boos her out of the center of the chamber. Endless.
Leia, from her spot in the chancellor's stand, looks about to scream in frustration. She'd been quickly nixed as permanent chairman – too close to the Resistance, the First Order had shouted. Too old, cried the New Republic – but she's still here, running these inane negotiations.
The delegate from Mandalore is talking now, an droning voice, his helmet beside him on the edge of the pod. He's babbling about the need for a neutral chairman, someone who will not try to bend autonomous worlds to their will, to force them to join factions of some sort. Hux groans, rests his head in his hands. He's starting to feel the beginnings of a headache. He needs a smoke.
“Enough.” Leia's voice rings out across the chamber, cutting through the mandalorian's longwinded grandstanding. “I have a candidate to put forward.” A wave of her hand, and the mandalorian's pod goes hurling back to its place along the walls of the senate. And Hux starts as he feels his own pod surge forward.
“I have thought long and hard about who is best suited to mediate between all affected parties. We are here to forge a new united galaxy. We are not here to air petty grievances or argue over the size of our proverbial cocks.” That gets a laugh, but only from a few scattered delegates. More are staring at where Hux hovers, next to Leia, standing straight now in his Resistance browns.
“I don't expect that many of you like Commander Hux, here. I don't need you to. But he knows, intimately, many aspects of our conflict. He has served with both the First Order and the Resistance. He is not a career politician, nor does he have the endless web of ties that many of you – that I – do.” Leia takes a deep breath, seems about to continue, but there's a shout from someone against the walls. A Core worlder, but Hux isn't sure which one, voice illegally magnified and distorted, out of order.
“The New Republic will not stand for having this monster lead...” Hux cuts him off, flicks on his own mic with a nod from Leia.
“There is no New Republic. Not anymore.” The room explodes. A babble of voices, and each trying to out-shout the last. Too much, too many, and Leia sends a blast of noise out from the chancellor's podium. The sound fills the room, drowning out voices in its rumbling crash. They fall silent.
“That, that is what you don't understand. There is no New Republic anymore. There is no Resistance, no First Order. We are all here as equals. As allies. I did not come here to listen to the same arguments again and again. I'm sure that you did not. I did not spend my entire life fighting only to be stymied by bureaucrats who could not give up the past. I know that we can work together. I know we can build a better future, a galaxy where we do not fight among ourselves because there is no need.” Hux takes a deep breath, licks his hips. This, this is what he can do. This. “But to do that, we need to accept that all those old bonds, they're broken now. The universe has this one great chance to remake itself. I want that to happen. I do not want to have to stand and see my friends, both those of the former Resistance and the First Order – and indeed, the New Republic – bicker away this great opportunity. I stand between you all. I have fought you all, I have fought for all of you. I would give my life to make us all one. I will, if need be. But I would rather us find a peaceful path, a path that is calm and that is a path of justice. I would rather us learn that we may be many planets, but that does not mean we cannot live under one law, that we cannot find common ground.”
The great chamber is silent.
As though it has suddenly caught its breath, poised on the edge of something. And Hux holds his too. It all depends on this moment. On this chance. The silence stretches, bending and warping around him like some living thing. Something that invades his bones, living there for a moment in anticipation, wonder.
And then someone begins to clap.
Suddenly the room erupts in applause. A thunder of it, swelling up around him, and Hux feels himself flush a little. Has to bite back a grin of triumph, duck his head so they cannot see the twist in his mouth. So they cannot see the light in his eyes. When he finally looks up, Leia is staring at him. And he realizes she has never really seen him speak before. Has not quite heard this part of him, and it is strange, and new. She smiles, though, and that's enough. Steps aside, and lets Hux climb from his pod to the chancellor's seat. Keys in the codes to install him as interim chairman. As leader of the negotiations to reform the Republic. He places his palm on the reader and lets the console sample his print, his dna.
Lets this become real.
Hux is on the balcony, looking out over the city. It's beautiful, marble and new swept. He blows smoke out over the wide view, looking at the setting sun. Sucks at the cigarette, and it's a little too sweet. Just like everything else on this overripe world.
“Hux?” Kylo's voice drifts out to him, curiosity pulsing at the edges of Hux's mind.
“Out here,” he calls. Kylo wanders out, leans on the railing next to him.
“Hux, did you pick these apartments?” Hux smiles, twist of his lips, and hears Kylo's breath catch as he looks over. Blows smoke into Kylo's face and wants to laugh when Kylo coughs for a moment.
“Why do you ask, Kylo?” He flicks at the butt, ash tumbling over the edge of the building to drift down, hundreds of stories to the ground, and by the time it gets there it will be nothing but the grime that coats Coruscant's heart.
“I just... these were my grandmother's. Did you know that?” Hux shifts closer, feels Kylo's breathing speed as he presses against Kylo's side. Feels the curls of desire that flicker out from Kylo to trace their way around Hux's mind. He laughs, bites lightly at the corner of Kylo's jaw.
“What do you think, Kylo?” He flicks the rest of the cigarette over the edge of the railing. Walks inside and listens to Kylo stomp after him, boots heavy on the polished floor. The door to the bedroom is open, and Hux strips off his heavy uniform jacket and toes off his boots. He's almost naked when Kylo finally walks inside, perched on the edge of the bed in his boxers. Kylo's breath hitches.
“You know, Kylo, I can feel it. I can feel how much you like this. You're such a naughty boy. Is it turning you on?” He glances down to where Kylo's leggings are stretched tight over his hard cock. “Oh it is. What dirty, dirty thoughts... I should do something about them.” He lets the playful tone vanish from his voice, fixes Kylo with steady eyes. “Strip. Now.”
Kylo's hands tremble as he pulls off his tunic. He gets caught in the undershirt, tangled, and Hux snickers. But then Kylo's pulling them the rest of the way off, and Hux's breath hitches. Will it ever go away? This wrenching need, every time he sees the scars painting Kylo's pale skin. The way his stomach trembles, his hands itch to pull and break and scratch new lines onto Kylo's skin. He doesn't think so.
Kylo's naked now, standing in front of him. Face bright, breath coming in little gasps. Hands fisting at his sides, as though he wants to reach out, touch, take. But he knows better than that. He does.
“Come here, Kylo. I have an idea.” Hux settles himself further back on the bed, legs splayed a little. “Over my lap. Show me that nice ass of yours.” Kylo is a heavy weight across his thighs, back arching a little. Hux runs a hand over it, then sends it cracking down in a rippling smack. Kylo groans, hips jerking.
“None of that, Kylo. I haven't given you permission for that yet. I want you to listen for a while. Be still and listen.” He punctuates it with another slap to Kylo's ass, skin warm and soft beneath his palm. “Do you know, I didn't have the bedframe changed. This is the same bed. The mattress is different, of course. But they fucked here. Do you like that?” Kylo groans. And Hux gives his ass a few more sharp hits, one on top of the other. It's pinking up, the shape of his palm bright on the right cheek.
“I want an answer, Kylo. I want to know what you're thinking. Out loud.”
“Yes.” Kylo moans the word out as Hux starts in on the sweet spot where his ass curves into his thighs, palms making sharp cracks against Kylo's skin. “Yes. Hux.” Hux smiles, feels his teeth bite into his bottom lip. He leans back, grabs up the small wooden paddle he laid on the bed hours ago. It makes a satisfying thunk as it lands right in the center of Kylo's ass. Kylo shivers.
“I wonder why. Are you thinking about them fucking? Even you, Kylo. You're not that depraved, are you? Not that messed up, not quite.” Kylo shakes his head, shudders as Hux forces his legs apart a little. He's splayed out over Hux's lap, hard cock between the spread of Hux's legs. Hux lands another slap of the paddle just between his legs, right over his hole and Kylo whines, face pressed to the mattress.
“No, I think you're thinking about how you're gonna fix things. We're going to be so fucking powerful, Kylo. You and I. More than they ever were. You're better than he was. You know it.” Hux sets the paddle aside, slicks his fingers up with the lube lying next to him. He teases one across the crease of Kylo's ass, slides it down to tap against Kylo's rim. “We're going to live in this fucking apartment, and everyone will know how much better we are. Than everyone. They'll fucking worship us, Kylo.”
He fists his free hand in Kylo's hair, yanking his head back. Kylo's face is red, mouth open and panting. Hux tugs hard at his hair as he shoves two fingers inside Kylo to twist and feel at him. Kylo squirms again, but doesn't try to rut his cock against the mattress. He knows better now.
“I think you like this because we're so much more than they ever were. I think you like being better than someone. Being better than them, Anakin and Padme. I think you like how I'm gonna fuck you on this bed, how I'm going to shove my cock in that pretty ass of yours and fuck you till you scream. Bet we're better at fucking than they were too.” Hux has a third finger in Kylo's ass now, stretching him open. And Kylo is shifting on his lap now, desperate.
“Do you want me to fuck you, Kylo? Do you want my dick in you? You're such a needy little slut. Perfect for me. And everyone knows that you want me. Fuck. They're gonna talk about us. The starcrossed lovers. Fuck. Our story's gonna be bigger than your fucking grandparents. Than your mother. Than anybody.” Kylo nods his head frantically, pulling against the hand Hux still has in his hair. And Hux uses it to drag Kylo off him, slam him down on the bed. And then he's slicking up his cock, guiding himself to press into Kylo.
“Put your hands on me, Kylo. I want to feel them. I want to feel you shake when I make you come. Do it.” Kylo's clenching at his hips in an instant, nails biting into Hux's skin. And it's sweet, and Hux snaps his hips all the way forward. Kylo whimpers, head thrown back and neck arched. Hux leans forward, screws himself deeper into Kylo. And then he's biting at Kylo's neck, his shoulder. Teeth sinking deep and he can taste blood where they break the skin. Kylo's fingers rake up his back, frantic. Hux shifts out, slow, so slow.
“Please, Hux. Please.” Kylo arches his hips upward as though chasing Hux's cock. And his ass has to hurt, burning where it touches the bed, but when Hux slides back into him he moans. When Hux grinds him into the mattress, he starts to whimper again. Hux can't keep up the slow shift of his hips much longer. He needs more.
“Fuck, Kylo. Fucking Dark and Light. They're all going to fucking know about us and kiss the fucking ground we walk on. Can you see it?” He's jerking Kylo off now, hand rough and fast around Kylo's heavy cock. And Kylo has his eyes screwed shut, panting, beyond words. “Fucking look at me. See me when I make you come in this fucking room in their apartment. Watch me.” Kylo's eyes blink open and then he's coming, ass clenching around Hux's cock. And Hux groans at the feel of it, too good.
“Yes. There. Kylo. Fuck, you're just perfect. Yes, better than they ever were.” He collapses down onto Kylo's chest, come smearing between them. Kylo's hands are still on his back, and Hux can't help but press a kiss to his flushed mouth. They'll be better than anyone ever was.
Chapter 5: Healer
Hux gathers his friends together and plans for the future.
Hi! I'm BACK! PARODY IS BACK FROM THE DEPTHS OF MY IMAGINATION.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Hux settles himself into one of the low couches that ring the living area of his and Kylo's quarters. If he closes his eyes, he can almost imagine Padme Amidala here, spreading her skirts about herself, leaning forward, fire in her eyes. A catalyst of the new order, even if she never knew it. He's spent a lot of time looking up holos of here since arriving on Coruscant. Watched speeches where she pleads to the Republic for unity, for peace. She was a remarkable politician, after all.
He opens his eyes as Kylo folds himself onto the couch, squirms so close he's almost – but not quite – pressed against Hux's side. Hux gives him an indulgent smile, buries one hand in Kylo's hair and drags him the smallest bit closer. It's damp, wet from the shower Kylo must have taken after training. His fingers slide through it, and Kylo lets out a little whimper of pleasure.
“Is this a meeting or a chance for us all to lose our lunches?” Kaydel's voice is as playful as it gets, almost laughing as she slips into the room without knocking. She does have the code, after all. It's a safety precaution they can't do without. Kylo glares up at her but doesn't move.
“Kaydel, you've never lost your lunch over anything in your life.” Hux scoffs. He gestures her over to one of the couches with his free hand. “Are the rest on their way?” She nods, and even as she opens her mouth to reply, the door buzzes. Hux taps at his datapad to open the door, and Brance and Sato make their way inside. Brance throws himself down on the lounge opposite Hux and Kylo. Sato, ever graceful, folds himself carefully up in an armchair next to where Kaydel perches.
“We're only waiting for Phasma, then we can start.”
“Are you sure...” Sato starts, but before Hux can even think to say anything, Brance cuts him off.
“She can be trusted. I'm certain.” Hux throws him a glance, but says nothing. He's right, after all. As if summoned by Sato's words, Phasma stomps into the room, footsteps heavy even without her armor. Hux clears his throat, cups his hand at the back of Kylo's neck to thumb at the soft hairs at the base of his spine.
“Now that we're all here, we can finally begin.” He glances around, stares at each of them in turn. Sometimes it's a wrench, just saying this much to them. He knows, knows that he needs to trust them for this to work. But it's... difficult. At the back of his mind, confidence, belonging pulses suddenly. He glances over at Kylo, his mouth stretching into a half smirk.
“I'm not going to go over the entire plan today. You all know our objectives here. You all also know that this is the most difficult part of our operation. Our success rests entirely on how well we execute these next few weeks. I'm trusting you to carry out your assigned parts, and if you're having trouble, to come to me or Kylo right away.” Nods pass around the circle and Hux takes another deep breath.
“I've laid out a division of duties that I think fits each of us. If you have a different suggestion , though, I want you to speak up now. We can always change things.” Nods again, and Hux sits forward on the couch before he continues. “Brance, I want you to deal with the New Republic. Or what's left of it. They're scattered, prideful. You've probably got the hardest job, to be honest. I can't imagine they're thinking too kindly of me right now. I need you to play on their fears. Make them think that only someone who is on no side but his own can help them. Make them think that I need them so much that I'll bow to their wishes.”
“Remind them of us.” Kylo's voice is low. “They're romantics. Play on that. Make them care about us. You're funny, likeable. Tell them about how much you like us. Tell them about how we're just like them.” Brance nods, chews on his lip.
“How far do you want me to go? I mean, I can befriend them, make them like you as people. But do you want me to push them to support your policies?” Hux shakes his head.
“No. We need them to remain divided. To each think that he is the only one who wants to support me, support us.” Brance hums slightly, then rolls his shoulders back.
“Ok. I've got a few ideas, but I'll check back in with you in a week or so when I have a better sense of where things are going.” Kaydel clears her throat, and Hux turns to her, one eyebrow quirked.
“Not that I don't appreciate knowing what other people are doing, but why are we all here, Hux? Couldn't we each get instructions separately?” Hux smirks at her. Of course she's the one to ask.
“You could. But I think it's finally time you all had a clearer picture of what everyone else is doing. I don't want you stepping on each other's toes.”
“Operations management.” It's Phasma who speaks up. “We all need to have at least most of the pieces for the entire plan to cohere.” Hux glances over at her. It's good to have her at his side again, good to have that unyielding wall, that unwavering support. Kaydel nods slowly, cocks her head to the side as she stares at Phasma as if seeing her for the first time.
“Speaking of which, here's another piece. Kaydel, I need you to work with the Resistance. They're already behind me, but I need you to keep them in my corner no matter what. I don't care if it takes sowing dissent among the members, if it takes making them angry at the New Republic delegates. I need someone on my side completely.” Kaydel purses her lips, eyes thoughtful.
“I need something more though. I need you to be a symbol to the people. You're pretty, blonde, not threatening. I need you to go about and be seen in uniform. Show them that the Resistance is always around, and that we're going to take care of everyone. Show the delegates, show the city. Make yourself a living sign of the kind of world that will happen once we're completely in power.” Kaydel shifts on her perch, crossing her legs at the knee.
Hux is certain she can do it. After all, what does she do every day? If he pretends just some of the time, if he creates and recreates himself for each different moment, there is almost nothing to her but these ever-shifting mirrors. The hard core inside? He doesn't think that ever shows itself, not outside of a small room, a locked door and only he, Kylo, and Kaydel inside.
There's a quick rush of affection that flickers around his mind, and he knows that Kylo can feel his satisfaction, his happiness that they found someone like Kaydel among the ignorant banthas of the Resistance. He tugs lightly at Kylo's hair in response, spares a moment to smile at him with teeth digging into his bottom lip. Kylo's eyes glitter at him, catch and hold him too tight, and Hux almost gasps from the feel of it.
“Phasma.” He stutters out her name, tears himself away. Now is not the time. “I need you to talk to the guards. The people who came with the delegates. Their staffs. If Kaydel is there to keep the Resistance united behind me, I need you to split the common people apart. Remind them that I'm the only one who knows how to protect them. Make them suspect every delegate who isn't their own, who isn't me. Make them think that they can't trust anyone to care about their planet... anyone but me.”
“Hux... Hux... I... You know I'm not a politician.” Phasma's voice is uncertain, hesitant.
“I know. But this, you can do this, Phasma. You know how to lead people. Think of this as leading a bunch of troopers. Teaching them to trust only in their commander, their group. It's the same thing.” And it's a bit of a risk, letting gruff Phasma take this on. But at the same time, it's perfect. There's nothing more believable than someone who appears without guile. And Phasma, with her blunt manner and unwavering loyalty? Well, she's just what the rough and tumble guards need to see.
“I'll check in with you in a week too. See how it's going. If we need to make changes, we will.”
“I'll check in with you too.” Brance says. “We can coordinate our efforts.” Hux gives him a sharp look, but Brance seems to mean nothing more than what he says. He'll have to keep an eye on them, though. Phasma only shrugs, lips tight and thoughtful.
“I suppose I'm left with the First Order, then.” Sato leans forward in his chair, hands pressed to his knees.
“You know how to do this, Sato. You know how to sew discord. Make them believe I'm the only one who's ever cared. Make them believe that every other general, every captain, every lieutenant, they're all jockying for position, trying to earn petty recognition. I am the only person who believes in order so much that I left when I saw that the Order falling apart. I am the only person who has tried to preserve the Order's goals even in the face of the disaster after Starkiller base. Make them believe it.”
Sato nods, his lip between his teeth.
“They're going to ask about you deserting. They're going to ask about Organa.” Hux feels a flash of anger from Kylo, a flicker so quickly extinguished that he almost wonders if he imagined it. He taps his fingers against the back of Kylo's neck, a quick drumbeat of his heart. Kylo sighs a little.
“I know they are. And you'll tell them exactly what happened. You'll tell them the other officers were too cowardly not to leave, even though Snoke was tearing the Order apart. You'll tell them that those same officers want to stop us from succeeding even now, because they do not understand that the goals of the Order outweigh their own desires.” Hux leans farther forward. “You will tell them the truth.”
Sato's eyes are hooded, but he nods. “The truth? It's not something I'm accustomed to peddling, you know that, Hux.”
“I know,” Hux answers. Sato is not the only one of them who has but a passing acquaintance with the truth, even if his is more intimate a confusion than most. Kaydel clears her throat. She's sprawled back now, legs spread wide, gaze lazy.
“What's Kylo going to do? Stay cooped up in here like the pretty toy that he is?” Kylo growls, but stays curled against Hux. Kaydel smirks. “Oh Kylo, I'm sorry, the pretty, powerful toy.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Hux can see Phasma twist a little on her chair. He can feel the weight of her gaze as she glances between them. She is so new here, still finding the way she fits into their puzzle piece configuration, for all that she and Brance seem to be getting on well. She does not know how much Kaydel has seen, how Kaydel is almost a part of him now, a part of Kylo. She does not understand.
“Pretty and useful. Kylo is a symbol. Organa honored him in front of the entire world. He has been proclaimed one of the new Force wielders, been forgiven his crimes.” Hux lets his fingers dig into the back of Kylo's neck, feels the pulse of contentment from Kylo. “He will stand with me in the Senate. He will stand beside me and remind them of the Force and of the Jedi. With Luke and Rey going back to the Outer Rim to patrol things, he is the only living reminder of their power. And he is mine.”
Kaydel laughs, voice shimmering though the still air of their quarters. Her eyes dart around the room, sharp, cataloguing despite her spread legs and slumped spine. Hux licks his lips. Kylo is warm by his side and Kaydel is across from him, they are surrounded by people that he must trust. If there was ever a time to lay his dejarik pieces on the table, it is now.
“We're so close to being done with this charade. I know you are all getting impatient. I know that these next few months will be hard. We are working for a better future. We are working for better leadership. But that is not enough to sustain you.”
He uncurls his hand from Kylo's hair and pushes himself off the cushions. A single step, and he is in the center of them. He can feel their eyes heavy on him, their gaze as he slowly turns in a circle, surveying this tiny group, this perfect weapon that he has molded and formed of the bonds of friendship and fellowship. It is a different sort of weapon than the energy of the bottled sun, a different sort of power than the flames that vanquished worlds at his command.
But now, now he wonders if this is not better. If this thin needle that he has slipped unknowingly into the arm of the Reformed Republic will not deliver his cure far better than starships and deathly light ever was promised to do.
He takes a deep breath.
“We will build another Empire. And you will help me do it.”
Yikes, I'm so sorry for the long wait for this chapter. I've been unbearably blocked on this fic, but I think I've finally figured how to come back to writing it. This chapter is a lot shorter, but it seemed necessary to find my stride again.
anyway, come hang on tumblr at saltandlimes