Ben knew that when he agreed to Luke’s plan to take down Snoke, that it would be difficult. Going undercover, completely undercover, would mean “betraying” his family and abandoning the life that he knew for however long it took to kill the dangerous Force user. No one could know about this, save for Luke and his padawans who would be “dead” in hiding until the mission was complete.
But he had accepted.
His “fall” to Snoke had gone according to plan. The old Force user had been more than happy to know his “manipulations” had worked as planned. Snoke fully believed that the dark whispers he’d fed to Ben in “secret” had been effective. In truth, Ben had simply hidden what he didn’t want the old man to know.
Ben had always been abnormally powerful in the Force, however the mind was the only area that Ben had total mastery yet to be matched. No matter his other strengths, Snoke didn’t see anything in his mind that Ben did not want him to. Which was good, because Snoke always wanted to know far more than his greedy little fingers could have. Ben was lucky he was able to feed the man false information to satisfy.
However, he was powerful and neither Ben nor Luke were certain they could take him out alone. Thus the mission to catch him unaware in his own lair.
At first, Ben had thought the worst of it would be the attack on Luke’s temple, but that had gone off without a hitch. Snoke was more than happy to let Ben take the lead as the newly dubbed “Kylo Ren” and do all the “killing” himself. The Knights, the Jedi Killers, who had come with him, too, were more than happy to sit back and let “Master Kylo” take the lead.
The padawans played dead, and with a little mind magic the Knights of Ren returned to Snoke “successful”, and the galaxy mourned the loss of an entire generation of Jedi.
After that, Ben was sure the heartbreak he could feel from his parents from across the galaxy at his “betrayal” would have been the most difficult to deal with. But that faded as well into the mindset of “This must be done.”
In comparison to those two, Ben’s year of training with Snoke was merely borderline excruciating. It was taxing, painful, and a form of torture in some conditions. Sleep, food, and light deprivation were all common training tactics to hone in on the Dark Side, supposedly. Worst of all, there was barely any time to analyze Snoke for weakness. Ben only found him to be as strong as he projected, and that was disheartening.
He would have to train for real if he ever wanted to be strong enough to truly beat the man. But all the same, he kept up with the Dark regimen he’d been given. Even when it meant taking lives for real with the Knights that followed him like puppies.
Ben’s heart ached, but he knew these few sacrifices would have to mean something once they took down Snoke. He could feel it in the Force: Snoke had worse planned, and these few lost lives would be nothing compared to what that man would take from the universe.
However pleased Snoke was with his new “apprentice”, though, he must have harbored his own suspicions of his “Kylo Ren’s” loyalties. After only a year in the man’s personal presence, he shuffled Ben off to his first long-term post: A co-commandership on a battle cruiser.
Ben remembered the exact moment he realized he’d been wrong about all the things that would be difficult to bear on this mission.
Because nothing was worse than having to deal with General Armitage Hux.
Over time, Ben found little ways he could strike back at the Order without appearing to be a traitor. He let his famous loose and fast temper be his cover as he took out his frustrations on the equipment on the ship with his lightsaber. Sure he had to deal with Hux showing up and whining at him, but it was worth it to get under the man’s skin. He was one of the few people on the ship who was of equal rank, that Ben could push to the limits under the name of “Rivalry.”
Plus, if Ben couldn’t stick his lightsaber through the man’s chest, Hux couldn’t really do anything to him either. In addition to the issue of their equal rank, Snoke would be upset should they harm each other outside of insults. And they certainly didn’t want that, did they?
Besides, destroying equipment was a legitimate stress relief.
Ben slashed his lightsaber down into the nearest console, relishing the sparks and sheer destruction of it all. He hadn’t found a weakness for Snoke. His mother still longed for him across the galaxy. His father was getting into trouble with smugglers across the galaxy where Ben couldn’t reach him, Chewie caught up with him. And Luke was alone. Ben stabbed the saber into the wall and twisted.
A technician behind him bolted for the door.
It’d been over two years since Ben had left, one with Snoke and one on the Finalizer, and Ben hated how little progress he’d made. Luke had warned him it would be a long haul assignment, but he was starting to fear that he wouldn’t be able to kill Snoke in time to prevent him from finishing his Starkiller, the project Ben was absolutely certain had been the cause of the grave premonitions he and Luke had shared before deciding this mission was necessary.
“I know you think everything on this ship costs nothing,” Hux said, stalking into the room. The anger boiled under his skin, hidden behind the glare and cold face he’d put on. But that was nothing new; Hux was always angry. The general stopped next to Ben and narrowed his eyes. “But I would like to remind you, yet again, that is not the case. Lord Ren, you really must stop this behavior when something doesn’t go your way. It’s childish and expensive.”
“It was the control panel or the technician manning it,” Ben said, turning around. His lightsaber stayed on, burning brightly near Hux’s side. The man barely noticed it, which was fairly impressive for someone with the Force sensitivity of a rock. His lack of fear concerning “Kylo Ren” was as admirable as it was irritating. “Aren’t you glad I chose the panel?”
“I’ll be happy when the answer is neither and you learn to count to ten like the rest of us,” Hux said. He turned his nose up at the burning wreckage. His shoulders dropped, and he sounded as tired as he was cross. “This is the third one this week.”
“So it is,” Ben said. As much as he hated working with a man that was the embodiment of everything the First Order stood for (aka Evil), Ben couldn’t totally fault Hux for being so upset on this one, particular occasion. The man kept a tight ship, and even Ben typically tried to space out his sabotages more than this. It was still annoying Hux had noticed his abnormal behavior. Ben huffed through his vocoder, “What about it?”
Hux frowned, drawing his eyebrows together as if he was pained by something. His voice sounded hesitant when he asked, “Is there a reason you’re more upset than usual?”
There were plenty: The First Order had destroyed three Resistance ships in the last week. Ben found out what exactly “Starkiller” was and when it was to be operational, which significantly cut down his time table to kill Snoke. His mother’s heart was still breaking for him strong enough that he could feel it across the galaxy, and they’d run out of the coffee he liked in the cafeteria. That last one was minor, not that it mattered when none of those answers would be justification to Hux.
So Ben lied.
“You’ll forgive me if I don’t believe that,” Hux said, glaring harder. He stood straighter and put his arms behind his back. “Well whatever is bothering you, I do hope you get over it because we can not afford another control panel to be destroyed. I overlook these fits of yours more often than I should, but this is getting to the point where intervention might be necessary.”
Translation: Hux was considering tattling to Snoke.
“I understand,” Ben said. And he did. It wouldn’t be too hard to switch to a different form of sabotage for a while. Perhaps he’d mess with the tie fighters flight computers or something equally annoying. So he nodded to Hux, and feeling playful, got in one last jab as a bit of fun, and to maintain his own evil persona. “Next time I’ll attack the technician.”
“Ren!” Hux shouted after him, but Ben was already down the corridor.
Perhaps instead of breaking panels, Ben would just get Hux upset. The man always lost his temper when he was angry, and Ben would be lying if he didn’t get a thrill out of it.
Time on the Finalizer seemed to pass by faster than Ben’s liking. The First Order was making far too much progress, far too quickly. Ben touched the glass looking out into the galaxy, and dragged his fingers down it. He was running out of time.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Hux asked, joining Ben before the observatory window of the Finalizer, looking down at the frozen planet of Starkiller. He looked to Ren, something wistful in his eyes. “She’ll be done in two more years, right on schedule. I can’t believe things are progressing so well.”
Ben couldn’t either. All he could see was another wasted year on a mission that was looking bleaker and bleaker by the day. He needed to find some way to convince Snoke to let him back into his personal service, but it was tricky. Snoke was still convinced Ben was better suited to manning the Finalizer with Hux.
It took Ben longer than he’d like to admit, but he finally figured out that Hux worked better with competition, and Snoke had noticed it, too.
Competing with “Kylo Ren” for Snoke’s praises and attention had the General working harder and faster than anyone else in his position. The man was, Ben hated to admit, brilliant. The weapon was pure evil, and if Ben had his way would never be fired, but even he could admit that Starkiller was a work of genius. For Hux to have designed and overseen it’s construction this closely, it was no question that the man was just that.
Hux continued standing companionably by Ben’s side, only a few inches between them. He’d get like this from time to time, Ben had noticed. Comfortable in Ren’s presence as if they were friendly coworkers instead of bitter rivals. But then again, Ben was likely the closest thing Hux had to a friend on this ship.
Perhaps he simply had no one else to talk to.
“The Resistance won’t know what hit them when Starkiller is unveiled.” Hux leaned on the railing and smiled. Ben felt a chill at the genuine contentment the other man felt at the thought of wiping out entire planets. Hux squeezed his hands on the railing. “The universe may find true order yet.”
Ben remained quiet, staring down at the frigid planet. He had begged Luke through a mind link for him to warn his mother and the Resistance of Starkiller, but it was one of the most well kept secrets in the Order. If you weren’t directly involved, you didn’t know. If it were to get leaked that the Resistance had discovered it, they would know for certain there was a mole.
And a hunt for a traitor was not something Ben could afford; not when he still had time.
“No snide remarks tonight?” Hux asked, turning his head toward Ben. He watched carefully, something different in his gaze. “Normally you wouldn’t hesitate to get a word in at my expense. I’d have figured my sentimentality was a rather large bullseye.”
“Perhaps I just agree with you,” Ben said, looking back out the window. He stared at the snow-covered planet that was as cold as the man standing next to him. “It is a lovely planet.”
Hux smiled just a bit, and it was warm. Ben wasn’t sure how he felt about that.
The months continued to pass, and somehow even after all this time, new things continued to pop up and surprise Ben on this mission.
“You fool!” Hux shouted at Lieutenant Mitaka, smacking the man’s datapad out of his hand. He snarled, teeth bared and voice hoarse from shouting. “When I put you in charge of something, I expect it to be completed.”
“Yes, yes sir!” Mitaka said, stumbling over his words.
“Then why don’t you tell me why our guests have complained?” Hux asked, still tense. “Did I not inform you of what was to be prepared in their rooms for their arrival in great detail. So how was something as important as providing…”
Ben tuned out the rest of what Hux was shouting as he gaped behind his mask. The door to the bridge slammed shut behind him, and he was happy to be able to stare openly at the furious man and the spectacle he made.
Ben had never seen General Hux this upset in the two and a half years he’d known the man. Angry, irritated, jealous, and aggravated? All the time. But upset to the point a few hairs had fallen out of place on his forehead?
Hux eye twitched as he stood on the bridge, his eyes red at the edges. His greatcoat was nowhere to be seen, and a slight wrinkle stained the side of the man’s uniform. Hux’s eyes were bloodshot, like he’d woken up with a hangover, and there was an unhealthy pallor to his skin. The people on the bridge were steadfastly ignoring his disheveled appearance, and even the ruthless Captain Phasma said nothing.
Too curious for his own good, Ben slipped into the General’s mind to find out just what had the terrifying man looking like he might crack with the slightest push.
Ben yanked himself right back out of Hux’s head when he brushed against the memories playing on repeat. He wished he’d paid more attention the guests they’d welcomed aboard the ship that evening. Perhaps then Ben would have noticed the elderly man with red hair that made Hux feel like a child again.
Logically, Ben knew that Hux was human deep down somewhere in there beneath the sociopathy and the total lack of concern for the rest of the universe. But the flashes of an nearly-unwanted boy that was too small, and failed every expectation of his parent was more sympathetic than the man he grew into deserved. Still though, it was difficult to believe there was someone out there who might be worse than Hux.
Any man who still considered his son less than adequate when he was the youngest General in Imperial History and head of the largest project in their Order had issues.
Ben left Hux’s mind and was glad his mask hid the disgusted look on his face.
Hux probably deserved the harsh words from his father, but Ben definitely couldn’t blame the man for trying to drink it away.
All the same, Ben wasn’t sure that glimpse at Hux’s humanity was something that he wanted.
“If this is how you react to a successful mission, I’m terrified of what you’d do after a failure,” Hux said, strolling into the room with his hands behind his back. He stared at the destroyed wall and the smoking control panels with a bored expression.
Ben clicked off his lightsaber. “This had nothing to do with the mission.”
It did, but he couldn’t tell that to Hux. How was he to explain that Ben was torn apart inside because he’d been forced to rip coordinates out of someone’s head in a painful interrogation? Hux himself had stood there and watched, impressed at the efficiency of it all, hardly caring about the screaming. Ben stepped back from the console and turned to leave. How could he explain that he’d had to kill thirty men today by combination of his own hand and order to a stormtrooper?
How could he tell Hux that he was no closer to defeating Snoke than when he’d arrived and his time was running out.
He couldn’t. So Ben said nothing, but it didn’t stop Hux from asking “Then what is bothering you?” regardless.
“I fail to see how it’s your business.” Ben kept walking. He stopped when he felt the tug on his arm. He turned to look down, and growled at Hux’s fingers digging into the side of his arm. “Let go.”
“It’s my business when you lash out and destroy my equipment. You haven’t broken a panel in months, and now you’ve destroyed an entire room.” Hux squeezed his arm. He leaned closer, speaking softer as if he were somehow trying to spare Ben the embarrassment of being scolded should someone overhear. “Something is wrong, and I’d rather it be dealt with now before it spirals out of control again and you destroy something more important.”
“It is neither your concern nor anything you are capable of helping with,” Ben said, in all honesty for a change. His vocoder did nothing to hide the frustration in his voice. “Let go, General.”
“Is this some of that Force nonsense?” Hux asked, letting go of Ben’s arm. He took a step back, head tilted and eyes focused on Ben like he was a puzzle to be solved. Hux pursed his lips. “Because if it’s this bad, than perhaps you should be consulting the Supreme Leader. He is your Master on the subject, isn’t he?”
“I have already done so,” Ben lied. It wasn’t like Hux would be willing to bother Snoke to ask. He tended to stay out of Force matters, competitions with Ben aside. “It is being dealt with.”
“By destroying equipment?”
“Yes,” Ben said.
“We need to find you a better coping mechanism for your anger management,” Hux said, shaking his head. He pushed back a slick of his own hair and sighed. “Is what I’m hearing.”
Ben rolled his eyes under his mask and counted to ten. The temptation to stab the man was always at its highest when Hux was trying to “help” Ben out.
“Maybe a punching bag would suit you,” Hux said, chuckling to himself like he’d told a joke. He paused and brought his eyes together. His teasing demeanor made way for an attempt at recollection and a change of topic. “Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen you in the gym.”
Ben had to pause; he didn’t even realize this ship had a gym. He supposed the storm troopers had to exercise somewhere, but he couldn’t see Hux sharing the facility. Did that mean there was an officer’s gym somewhere?
He must have been giving off a wave of confusion, because Hux’s mouth quirked to the side in a smile. He bit his lip and laughed. “You didn’t know we had one, did you?”
Ben shifted his weight to the other foot.
“You didn’t!” Hux laughed; outright laughed. “You’ve been co-commander of this ship for nearly four years now and you didn’t know that we had a private officer’s gym. That is rich.”
“I train just fine in my quarters,” Ben said, refusing to let the sheer oddity of Hux in good cheer distract him.
“Yes, you’re quite intimidating with your loner demeanor.” Hux waved his hand in dismissal, real smile still on his face. “But all the same, if I show you where the officer’s gym is, perhaps you’ll work off some of this excess energy there.”
“I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” Ben said. He tapped the side of his mask. “Besides, I don’t particularly enjoy sharing facilities like that with anyone, even if they’re officers.”
Hux scoffed. “Come now, Lord Ren. Do you really think I would have suggested it if it wasn’t possible to schedule it for an individual session, thus locking everyone else out?”
Ben rather wished he had an argument to that, but even more and it might give away he wanted to destroy equipment, instead of it being an unfortunate side effect. He held a hand out and tilted his head. “Lead the way, then.”
“My pleasure,” Hux said. He smirked and lifted an eyebrow in amusement before leaving the room with Ben in tow, far too content his suggestion had been accepted.
Ben hated that he wished he’d known about the gym years ago.
It was well stocked, cleaned by droids before and after each session, and it was indeed completely private from the workout rooms to the showers. Ben could exercise and train without his restricting robes or suffocating mask without fear that anyone would walk in. It also (after confirming that there were no security cameras) gave him a convenient place to meditate properly.
His personal quarters were made to fit the image of Kylo Ren; dark, dreary, and claustrophobic. The officer’s gym was well lit, and the minimal decoration left it as a plain, unassuming white room. The atmosphere it created was far better for getting in touch with the Force and centering himself.
Ben was in the middle of his cool-down meditation after a weight training session when the door to room opened with a swoosh. General Hux helped himself inside with his override access code, and Ben whipped his head to the side.
The man had his face buried in a datapad, but it was only a matter of time before he looked up and saw Ben’s naked face. Schooling his features, Ben pretended his face wasn’t ridiculously expressive. Of all the times to be given away, it would be when he was alone with Hux without a shirt.
So he would make sure it didn’t happen.
“Lord Ren,” Hux said, looking up. He stopped, eyes crawling all over Ren’s frame in an instant, but still uncomfortably thorough. But as quickly as the information was gathered, Hux continued as if it were any other conversation in the hall. “I hate to intrude, but you weren’t answering your comm and your services are needed.”
“Oh?” Ren said, slipping out of his meditation pose. He stood, walking to the side to pull a towel over his shoulders. He could still feel where Hux had focused, clearly appreciative of Ben’s physique. “For what? I wasn’t aware of any missions going on at the moment, and the Supreme Leader has said nothing.”
“We’ve stumbled upon a bit of good luck,” Hux said. He kept his face pointing at the datapad, but his eyes were clearly locked on Ben’s back. Ben did his best not to shiver under the intensity of it. “We found a Resistance scouting ship hiding in our territory. Whatever they had was important enough to destroy before we boarded their ship, so we have reason to believe the intel to be gained would be beneficial to The Order.”
Hux crossed the room when Ben said nothing, and he dropped his datapad. He openly stared now, but at least his eyes were locked on Ben’s face. “Torture seems to be ineffective, so I believe your unique brand of interrogation is required.”
Ben felt a small wave of desire from Hux, and he did not want to know if it was coming from his shirtless state, or from the thought of Ben interrogating someone. Not that it mattered; both options sent a chill up Ben’s spine.
“And this couldn’t have waited until I was finished?” Ben asked, unsure of what else to say. “It’s not like you to be impatient, General.”
“Perhaps,” Hux said. He placed his datapad under his arm and smiled with satisfaction. “But the sooner one has information, the sooner it can be put to use. Don’t you agree?”
“I’ll be at the interrogation room at the end of the hour,” Ben said. He’d need the hour to mentally prepare, anyway. But perhaps if he was lucky, he could give the Order misinformation and delay them or throw them off the track entirely. “Is that all?”
“I’ll meet you there,” Hux said. He nodded, gave Ben one last glance over, and excused himself from the room.
Ben wiped off the lower half of his face and breathed slowly. This was fine. It didn’t matter if Hux knew what he looked like. Ben knew it couldn’t have stayed a secret forever.
He tried not to be flattered that Hux liked what he saw.
Hux had definitely liked what he had seen.
“Are you propositioning me, General?” Ben asked, one part horrified and one part curious.
Hux was the most evil man he’d ever met, even if Ben had developed a twisted sort of respect for his professionalism and dedication to his cause. But all the same, not someone that Ben had ever imagined having relations with. On the other hand, Ben couldn’t recall a time where someone had shown this much interest in him in that respect. Or rather, he couldn’t ever recall someone lusting after him. And definitely not because his suitor was turned on by the fact Ben was capable of intense violence and torture.
“I might be,” Hux said. He glanced over his shoulder to check they were still alone in the hallway before tilting his head to the side. “Though I must admit, now I’m curious why you sound like it’s never happened before. Surely the Knights of Ren don’t follow the same non-attachment rules that Jedi had established?”
“We don’t,” Ben said, collecting himself. He squared his shoulders, and thought of a good excuse. “Most are too intimidated to offer.”
“Seems like their loss,” Hux said, “to use the more popular expression.”
“I am a little surprised you’ve offered,” Ben said, attempting to be diplomatic. “Considering most of our interactions are tolerable at best, and confrontational at worst, you’re the last I’d expect to show that sort of interest.”
“You may not have taken a vow of celibacy, but I am inclined to believe you’ve been rather sheltered to hold such romantic notions about sex,” Hux said. He smirked a little, shifting slightly in his parade rest. “You’re attractive and technically the only person on this ship who wouldn’t fall under an abuse of my authority. I’m not sure I need much more justification than that, do you?”
Hux had a point, though his comment about abusing authority had Ben’s eyebrows raised under his mask. Hux really did love his rulebook cover to cover, didn’t he?
Ben looked the General over. He was hardly an unattractive person, and if Ben had legitimately defected to the First Order, he would have taken the man up on his offer with little hesitation (he would assume). But as it stood, he was undercover, and Hux stood for everything Ben was trying to destroy in the universe.
Even if he had made himself a familiar figure in Ben’s life.
“I’m flattered, General,” Ben said, glad his vocoder helped even out his voice. “However I must decline.”
“I had a feeling you’d say as much, though it never hurts to ask,” Hux said. He stepped out of parade rest, and straightened his great coat. He caught Ben’s gaze through his helmet, somehow knowing where his eyes were. Hux smirked and shrugged his shoulders. “However, the offer remains open, should you change your mind.”
Hux excused himself, but not before he shot Ben with a particularly hungry gaze and a collection of suggestive thoughts.
Ben returned to his room and took a cold shower.
Even with the Force at his disposal, it was only a matter of time before Ben was surprised by an attack.
“Are you alright?” Hux asked, the concern in his voice breaking through his controlled and calm demeanor. He kneeled near Ben’s side, hand half reached out as if he wanted to touch Ben, but was unsure if it was allowed. The panic in his voice was unmistakeable. “Can you hear me? Lord Ren!”
Ben grunted, pushing himself up on his elbows. He tilted his head back and breathed, taking stock of his body. Everything appeared to be in place, but his ears were still ringing.
He thanked his Mother for allowing him to inherit the Force when he saw the ring of damage that surrounded him. Only a flash of precognition joined with a well timed protection bubble saved him from the blast of the explosion.
“Lord Ren, are you injured?” Hux asked again, this time putting his hand on Ben’s shoulder. He squeezed, his knee hitting the ground. “I can’t see anything, but you’ve been unconscious for two minutes and I can’t tell if there’s excess bruising under your robes.”
“I am unharmed,” Ben said, swallowing. He calmed his breathing, and sat up. Hux’s hand stayed on his shoulder, and he could feel the worry in waves. Genuine worry about Ben’s wellbeing, bubbling to the surface in raw waves. It was more unsettling than the explosion moments before. “What happened?”
“Surprise attack,” Hux said, gritting his teeth together. He squeezed Ben’s shoulder, leaning forward. “Mitaka sent a quick report on the comm a few moments ago just before the explosion. A resistance ship fired immediately upon dropping out of lightspeed, and they managed to hit an engine that must have caused a chain reaction to the best of my theories.”
Hux rubbed the side of his face and groaned. “Of all the days to be off the Finalizer.”
Ben nodded and pushed off the ground. Hux followed him up, staying close. Smoldering wreckage surrounded them, and dead bodies were everywhere dressed in white armor. Ben sensed that nearly half of the small cruiser they had been inspected was already destroyed.
A good move on the Resistance’s part, though times like this Ben wished he could be more in the loop of things. It’d be nice to know what ships to avoid when there was going to be an attack. Ben kicked over a piece of wreckage. He wasn’t sure Master Skywalker would appreciate his mole getting killed by his own team.
Let alone what Ben’s mother would have done.
“What a waste,” Hux said, drawing attention back to himself. “I can’t believe they caused this much damage in two hits.”
“What are you doing down here?” Ben asked, turning to the General. The man looked unharmed, though his greatcoat and hat were missing. “There’s no way you were in that explosion.”
“I was on the observation deck above and took shelter at the wall when it exploded.” Hux pointed up. Ben followed the line of sight to see a slightly charred railing high above, but it seemed mostly unscathed. Hux touched the back of his neck, still shaken from the blast all the same. “I remembered seeing you down here when I looked over the edge earlier, so I came to check if you were still here.”
Ben nodded. He closed his eyes and reached out with the Force to see what was going on. The cruiser had been boarded already, and the storm troopers weren’t doing well. Good. The Resistance was due for some successes, however they were getting closer. Ben turned to the General. “We need to move. Resistance soldiers are on their way.”
“Damn them all,” Hux said. He gripped his fist, and snarled. Anger overtook his earlier panic, and Ben hated he felt more comfortable with this familiar emotion. “They will pay for this. How dare they have the audacity to attack us in our own space?”
“I doubt they care much,” Ben said. He started tapping in a direction he thought moved away from the Resistance soldiers. He wouldn’t have to attack them if he never ran into them. The General gave him a good excuse as well to immediately find escape pods. He could “secure the General’s safety” first, and then be free to help the Resistance out in secret, free from the man’s watchful eye hoping “Kylo Ren” would lead a slaughter. “Let’s hurry.”
“I agree,” Hux said. “Lead the way.”
Things went well for about ten minutes as they trailed through the sparking, damaged hallways of the doomed cruiser. Hux kept up with Ben easily, and had his blaster out in case they ran into trouble. It was odd seeing the General in a combat situation, but he supposed that man went through training as much as any of the others. They turned another corner, still in the clear. Ben was fairly certain they could avoid any soldiers in their way, up until he was wrong.
They met a group of six Resistance soldiers at the end of the next hallway. Both groups came to a shocked standstill, the invaders not expecting to see the fearsome Kylo Ren in their path, and Ben not expecting to see them at all. He had been so busy monitoring where the teams that had entered at the first attack site where, that he failed to pick up the ones who had snuck in through another entrance. He cursed his luck that he’d have to fight them with the General watching.
Ben considered the man. It was only the two of them in the hallway, and six opponents. If there had ever been a time, to say, allow a stray shot to hit the General, this would be it. The loss of General Hux would be a horrific blow to the First Order. Enough so that Ben found himself tempted to just let the man die here and let it all be done with. Hux was a well respected, central figure, who’s death would not only be a blow to morale, but to the entire Order’s organization and structure. It would be a huge stride forward in Ben’s mission.
And it would be so easy to adjust a bolt’s direction to the right path if he dodged.
“Is there a reason we’re hesitating, Lord Ren?” Hux asked, looking out of the corner of his eye. His blaster was raised, but he hadn’t begun to fire yet. Ben reached out with the Force to find Hux was deferring to Ben in the field. If Ben hadn’t attacked yet, neither was he. Hux swallowed, keeping a scowl planted on his face in his refusal to show weakness. “I hardly think this group would be a challenge for you.”
But Ben could see it this close; the slightest hint of fear in Hux’s demeanor. The General yearned to inch closer to Ben, whom he saw as a source of protection and oddly enough, comfort.
It was so very human a response.
Ben lit his lightsaber, hating himself as he made a snap decision. “Don’t move.”
There was a special place in his mind that Ben would retreat to when he was required to fight his own people. Luke had taught it to him for situations where he would be unable to escape the eyes of the people he was tricking. Ben would lock away his guilt in this place, to be explored and grieved later when he found time alone. Normally it was required to save face, and he only did it when absolutely necessary.
But this moment was none of those things. Ben chose to save the General’s life over those brave men and women of the Resistance.
He chose not to linger on his reasons why.
Some days, Ben was amazed at the First Order’s ability to multitask. Not only were they still working on their giant weapon, but they were still invading and claiming smaller planets to absorb into their rule.
“It is incredible that no matter how many times I see you in action, it’s impressive every time,” Hux said, hand on his hip as he looked over the battlefield. A mix of admiration and the usual lust dusted his words. “Did you leave any alive to interrogate?”
“They knew nothing,” Ben said, clicking off his lightsaber. He turned his back on the carnage, mentally remember the name of each person he had been forced to kill. Phasma and her men stood a few yards away, having been present for the entire fight. This slaughter of his peers was regretfully happening more and more often as Hux decided to deepen their relationship, accompanying Ben on missions when time allowed. “Your reports were thorough enough.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Hux said.
Ben rolled his shoulder and itched to get off the field. Ever since he had chosen to spare Hux, he’d been uncomfortable around the man. He didn’t want to think too hard about him. Ben didn’t want to know that the General might possibly care for Ben in other ways than lust. He didn’t want to think of that monster as human. And he especially didn’t want to think about the way Hux could get under his skin like no one else.
“If I may speak freely, Lord Ren,” Hux said, maintaining his polite demeanor that only showed its face when there were others within earshot. “But you seem to be rather stressed lately.”
“What gives you that impression?” Ben asked, moving away and to the ramp of their shuttle attempting to brush him off.
Hux followed, naturally.
“You’ve been spending twice the hours in the gym that you used to, and you’ve destroyed six panels this past month. That’s twice your worst month previously,” Hux said. He stayed near Ben’s side and tilted his head. “Considering things have been going well in the Order, I can only surmise that perhaps your training with the Supreme Leader is perhaps the cause?”
“My training with my Master is on hold until after the weapon is fired,” Ben said, licking his lips behind his mask. There was no harm in telling Hux the truth, especially if it worked to distract him from the destroyed consoles. Ben’s suspicions that Snoke was onto him grew every day, especially with the extended distance Snoke was putting between them as the weapon drew near to completion. “And it is none of your concern, in either case.”
“That explains it,” Hux said, his tone becoming more casual the further they went from Phasma’s earshot.
Ben stopped and turned on his heel, his cape flaring behind his shoulder. “Explains what?”
“You’re frustrated at the lack in progress,” Hux said. He smiled in Ben’s direction, cruel and amused—though somehow also fond. Only Hux could manage to blend so many things together into one look. “You want to be learning more and moving forward, but you can’t without permission. Anyone would be stressed in that situation.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I think I do.”
Ben stopped, aware the two of them were alone in the hallway. Both of their breaths seemed too heavy and too loud. The tension was enough to have Ben snap, “Is there a point to this conversation?”
“Only that my earlier offer still stands should you want some way to alleviate that stress,” Hux said. He dared to flick his finger into the back of Ben’s hand before walking away deeper into the shuttle. “Do think about it.”
Ben gripped his hand into a fist.
He was going to break.