The wooden training blade connected with his shoulder with a solid slap, when it shouldn't have come anywhere near him. With a frustrated bark of pain and red irritation, Ren's hand snapped up and grabbed the cane sword and jerked it out of his partner's hand with such force that the other man stumbled forward and actually collided with him. Hurriedly, Private Mason pushed himself away with hands splayed across Ren's bare torso, and the man's cheeks flamed with mortification, but Ren disregarded him as he slung the sword across the room. It clattered against the wall and hit the floor.
“Get out,” Ren hissed, and Mason needed no further encouragement.
Only when Mason's back was disappearing through the doorway did Ren allow his own training sword to slip from cramped fingers. He'd been holding it too tightly, wound as he was from days of workouts and floundering attempts at meditation. He was all stripped nerves and clenched teeth; Snoke had not summoned him in weeks – not since he'd lain Ren's latest assignment at his feet. He felt lost without the Supreme Leader's guidance and the praise he garnished.
“You're going to be useless to him like this,” a voice said from the doorway.
Ren flashed a glare in Hux's direction, his upper lip curling to hurl some ill dismissal, but the set of the general's face belied insult. His brows were drawn together in concern, and he was tugging his gloves off one finger at a time as he walked toward the knight, boots silent against the mats of the sparring chamber.
Hux's nose wrinkled as he came to stand nearly flush with Ren, though his eyes sparkled with mischief when he said: “You reek, Lord Ren.”
Instead of acting repulsed, however, Hux tucked his gloves in his belt and brought both hands to Ren's chest, tracing the sweat-sheened outline of his bare torso. He was brazen enough to flick thumbnails over both nipples before curling fingers beneath Ren's waistband and jerking him closer – not close enough to mar that perfect, starched uniform, but close enough tilt his chin up and claim his bottom lip.
Ren's breath hitched at that, though the frustration was still close to the surface, and the room was stifling. Hux's eyes were lidded, and they were in a public area, and his mouth tasted so good when Ren opened it with his tongue. Under other circumstances, his mind would easily have been wrenched from his stress and discomfiture to more pleasant and primal preoccupations, but he was stretched too thin from lack of sleep and fraught with an odd gloom, a fear of failure.
One thing Ren had learned from his undefined dalliances with the general was that behind his steel and inexpressive exterior, Hux was quite perceptive. After only a taste of Ren's distracted attention, he pulled away, and the knight found himself looking into a pair of round eyes, concern glinting in the pale ocean green. It surprised him, and not much did. Ren was even more startled when the general untucked one hand from his waistband and brought it to his cheek, slipping fingers back through his damp hair.
“I have just the thing for you,” Hux announced. His voice held a strange note, almost tender.
He dropped his hand and stepped back, and Ren almost swayed toward the energy he exuded. He was projecting things Ren was not used to from him: a desire to comfort, consideration. He opened his mouth to ask what thing it was that Hux was offering, but those green eyes flicked to him and a smirk played on soft lips.
Hux jerked his head toward Ren's discarded garments and helm. “Collect yourself. Meet me in my quarters.”
With that, he turned and walked casually from the training room.
Ren considered casting out to net these curious intentions, but decided, at the last moment, that surprise was more interesting. It was often that way with Hux. It allowed things to brim and to bubble at the surface of his being that were latent and forgotten: a sense of mystery and anticipation.
He only donned his undershirt at first, and tucked his helm under his arm as he gathered the rest of his clothing. It occurred to him, however, that despite the fact that his undefined relationship with the general was well known, Ren strolling half clothed into his quarters was something Hux would consider improper.
When fully dressed, Ren followed him, his mind wandering back to the mission Snoke had planned for him. It would take him to the Unknown Regions, and his success was “imperative.” That was all the Supreme Leader would say about it, and by the time he found himself at Hux's door, the knight was grinding his teeth.
Forcing a deep breath, he let himself in, immediately unlatching the stifling helmet as the door hissed shut behind him.
He set it on the table that boasted Hux's myriad elements of never-ending work: two data pads, a display screen of the construction on the planet below, a cup of tea half full that Ren knew was enhanced with extra stimulants. The lights were low except for the washroom, which spilled an artificial bluish luminescence across the extravagantly carpeted floors. He could easily hear the equally unique sound of running water, and recognized it as another of Hux's indulgent luxuries. While the general had the quick use of a refresher as did all crew members, he also had a fine mimicry of a porcelain, clawfoot bathtub.
Ren didn't need to search Hux's thoughts to gather the general's intentions. Immixed with the halogen lights was the warm golden glow of flickering candles, and he felt his cheeks burn hot with the gesture. It was wholly unlike Hux, and he simply stood, frozen, in the center of the bedroom, robbed of his usual confidence by the mere suggestion of … romance.
Hux's shadow wavered on the plasteel floor, and bare feet stepped back onto a lush red bathmat. Ren caught his breath to see him stripped naked in the lighting that flattered his pale skin and fine bones. He gazed at Ren, and one corner of his mouth twitched in what might have been a smile, but was obscured with a familiar, critical expression.
“Clothes. Off.” Hux waved a lackadaisical hand, as though summoning the Force to persuade Ren to do his bidding.
Ren hesitated for a moment, but then his fingers were crooking beneath the hem of his shirt and he was peeling it away from sweat-soaked flesh. He found himself suddenly self-conscious as the layers were pulled off, even though Hux had seen him naked countless times. There was something about the way the general was watching him. It was different – not the impatient, hungry rapture of lust, but a calm, soft gaze. It seemed to catch the way Ren winced as he bent to unzip his boots, and rove over the scars he'd never seemed to notice before.
Or perhaps that was all in his head.
He was shivering slightly in the cool air when he was finally naked; Hux kept his quarters chill, and piled blankets on his bed. Ren imagined it was a secret indulgence like the bathtub, not to be questioned. Walking toward the washroom, he had a hard time meeting Hux's eyes, though when he finally filled the doorway, Hux's hand darted out and caught him at the waist and pulled him forward.
“What is wrong with you?” he asked, though the question held no accusation. It almost sounded fond.
Ren did not have an answer, so he made a noncommittal noise and dipped forward to kiss him. Hux allowed it for a moment, then wormed a hand between them and applied gentle pressure to Ren's chest.
“Careful, Ren,” he smirked, eyes flicking down and back up in a remarkable impression of coyness.
It managed to make Ren flush and want to grab a towel to hide his lower half.
Hux held his eyes for a moment longer, lifting one ginger eyebrow just slightly; in his own way, Hux was as deft at reading others as Ren. He said nothing about Ren's sudden onslaught of curious modesty however, and turned to the still running bath. Bending, he plucked a small blue bottle from a tray clipped to the side of the tub, opened it, and tilted it over to run beneath the stream.
Ren's eyes widened instantly as the tub began to fill with foaming bubbles, their sheen bluish iridescent and glistening. He almost laughed with a mixture of delight and sheer amusement; the venerable General Hux, and an honest to galaxy bubble bath?
He bit his bottom lip to keep it in, lest uninvited irreverence somehow dispel this mirage. Hux paid him no attention for a moment, watching the chemistry unfold across the surface of the water, until he was apparently satisfied with the resultant level and shut off the tap. Glancing at Ren, he gestured.
He realized that he'd not said a word since entering the room, his mind having been so full of curious questions and feelings tumbling over one another. As the toes of one foot tested the bathwater, he realized that this entire charade thus far had inspired him to do something he'd been unable to for more than a week: stop thinking about Snoke and his kriffing mission.
The water felt so glorious on his taut muscles as he folded himself into the tub that even that realization did nothing to invite those thoughts back to the surface. His eyes drifted half closed, though caught the water rise and shift as Hux stepped in and settled behind him.
Ren's stomach fluttered when he felt fingers on his shoulders, and found himself being pulled back. Long, wiry legs shifted and wrapped in their deft way around his hips, feet tucking between his thighs. With no complaint from him, he was thus maneuvered into Hux's embrace, his heart thudding so hard beneath the heated skin of his chest that he was sure Hux could hear it. One hand moved to curl around a narrow wrist where it rested near his collarbone, then he thought better of it, and laid it cautiously against Hux's knee.
There was a light, airy sound that was Hux laughing softly.
“Relax, Ren. That is the point.”
Wet fingers combed through his hair, plastering it back. Ren cleared his throat, then borrowed meditation techniques to will his body to obey Hux's command. Slowly, he felt himself abandon his stiff posture, relaxing and melding with the slighter body behind him, until his head finally dropped to Hux's shoulder with a sigh that was relief and ecstasy both. The water was blissfully hot, pouring steam into the cool room, and the bubbles tickled his knees and forearms.
“Where did you find this?” he asked, dipping some of the foam up with a hand. Hux's cheek rested against the side of Ren's head, and with a puff, he blew the bubbles out of Ren's hand.
“I have my connections.”
That drew genuine laughter, and Ren couldn't help but picture his serious general on some backwater planet conducting a clandestine mission. He felt the muscles of Hux's face shift, felt a smile curl there.
“I never thought I'd say this, but you push yourself too hard,” Hux murmured. “Sometimes.”
Ren tried to twist to see Hux's face, but the angle was awkward.
“I don't have a choice,” he replied against the flesh of his neck.
“Mmmm,” was the reply, managing to sound dismissive and dubious at once.
Before Ren could pry him to elaborate, Hux's fingers moved to the knight's shoulders, beginning to knead taut muscles with a deftness that surprised Ren, though it shouldn't have. Hux made no secret of his study of anatomy across the spectrum; it made him a more efficient killer. He was rendered speechless by the careful and deliberate massage, the bubbles lending an oily patina to his skin that made Hux's touch glide.
Ren lost track of time, his mind finally, utterly blank, swallowed wholly by warmth and pleasure as Hux worked out knots in his shoulders, his arms, his neck. Then he carefully washed Ren's overlong hair, the soft graze of nails against his scalp electrifying. At last, his hands stilled, resting with crossed wrists across Ren's chest, Hux's chin on his shoulder. Candlelight played over them both, a music of soft light. Slowly, the bubbles transformed into a multi-hued shimmer across the water, and he was arrested from sleep only by soft words in his ear.
Lips brushed his cheek, and Ren could sense that Hux's own muscles were now stiff from how he'd curled around the knight and held his larger form all this time. It was as though he'd taken Ren's burden away, to rest within himself. Hinging on that, Hux moved, patting Ren's shoulder softly to indicate he should get out now, and he did so reluctantly.
Moments later, they were both toweling off in the chill air of Hux's bedroom, and Ren found himself feeling a mixture of impossibly relaxed, and deflated. Deflated, because he happened to glance at the clock on the bedside table, reading shipboard time and reflecting that it was fifteen minutes until Hux's rigidly obeyed bedtime. Ren knew the number well, because it presaged Hux ordering him out. He'd never invited him to sleep in his quarters.
With a silent sigh, Ren glanced longingly at that freckled back and those shapely legs as Hux dried his hair. He caught himself mid motion before slinging his own towel to the floor, and instead hung it up inside the bathroom door. When he looked back at Hux, the general was peering at him from beneath damp tousled locks with a ghost of a smile.
Taking the step between them, Ren caught his chin and tilted his face up to kiss him.
“Thank you,” he whispered, forcing himself not to try to persuade Hux to abandon his ritualistic habits and help Ren overcome other forms of tension.
Hux's gaze danced over his face, and then he kissed him again. “You're welcome.”
Ren held his gaze for a moment longer, then forced a slight smile of genuine gratitude, turning to the pile he'd left of his clothes on a chair. Before he could reach them, however, slender fingers wound over his wrist and stopped him.
“No,” Hux said. “Stay.”