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We were walking in a circle hand in hand

And your feet were sinking deeper in the sand than mine

The silence in the room is heavy. Not far away, just behind the outpost doors, a storm is howling and thundering above the fighting troops. Soldiers are screaming and dying, blasters slash through the pouring rain, but every sound that clashes on the walls get suffocated by layers of steel. They say it helps officers concentrate on the battle, so they’ve reduced the opponents to bright dots on a holographic map. Red for friends, blue for enemies. Some find it easier when they can distance themselves from the massacre; they can grasp the bigger picture, direct their men mathematically.

Colonel Armitage Hux is no stranger to the battlefield. He has fought in the mud as well, he has killed, but now he’s the commander of this outpost and he finds himself more comfortable when controlling his men from above, like a chess game. Hux is a skilled player. He stares at the board, thoughtfully; the siege has been going on for days, but he’s not worried. The enemy might have the advantage in numbers, but the Order has the higher ground, better weapons, provisions to last for months. Eventually, they will prevail.

The door opens and a tall trooper, soaked in rain, marches inside.

«Colonel» she says «They are assaulting the gates again, sir. They are using grenades to push us back.»

The other officers stare at him like a bunch of vultures; most of them are older than him and don’t seem like the idea of a Colonel still in his twenties. They have been waiting for him to make a mistake since the day he arrived. Hux loves to watch their poorly hidden disappointment as he collects a victory after the other.

He studies the hologram: «Tell the men to shield; let them come closer» Hux orders «I think it’s time we make use of those thermal detonators.»

«But sir!» a major protests «Those mines are dangerous, at this distance they might damage the gates.»

Hux glares: «Our defenses are made to sustain worse threats than this. And even if the risk was higher, the loss our enemies would receive justifies it.»

A low murmur spreads across the table, until someone clears his throat. Everyone’s attention shifts to the youngest person among them, the freshly graduated second lieutenant Mitaka. The lad is skinny and shy in an almost embarrassing way; no one would say he left the Academy with top marks and a mention of honor, but that is why the Colonel offered him a job at his side. The boy has potential. His insecurities only make it easier for Hux to shape him into a loyal subject.

«Colonel» Mitaka mutters «If we can make the enemy clamp at the entrance and then drop the detonators, the casualties will be countless. And the bodies would - ehm - soften the impact on our defenses.»

An officer with grey mustache laughed: «Well, if the new recruit says it-»

«Major Twil» Hux hushes him «Unlike you Lieutenant Mikata is using his head instead of pointlessly complaining. But I guess your generation was too busy hiding from the Rebels to learn strategy.»

The man’s face turns red with anger; luckily, he has the decency not to reply. Hux never liked Twil. The other officers at least pretend to accept his leadership, but the major still makes no secret of his hatred towards the Colonel. Once this battle is over, Armitage promises himself, he’s going to deal with him once and for all.  

«Colonel» a female voice calls him from the control panels «There’s something you need to see.»

The uncertainty in the private’s tone makes him frown.

Hux turns to the officers: «Oversee the preparations» and takes his leave.

He approaches the radar, where Jeene Unamo is waiting for him; the woman is staring at the screen, a puzzled look on her face.

«What is it?» he asks.

She points at a dot, slowly approaching them: «It’s one of our ships, sir. It entered the atmosphere and it’s asking for clearance to land on platform 8.»

«That’s impossible» Hux replies «We are not waiting for cargos. Are you sure it’s not the enemy?»

«I double-checked the codes, sir. They match. But that is not a cargo: the ship’s identification number corresponds to private shuttle Red Queen

His mouth is suddenly dry; he knows that ship very well. Hux can’t believe it’s here.

«Do I give them clearance?»

«Yes» he says, after a pause «I’m going to platform 8 to greet our “guest”.»

His blood heating with anger, Hux turns on his heels and realizes the soaked-wet stormtrooper is still there.

«Are you hurt?» he inquires.

The private is tall, taller than most of her comrades. On her white armor is engraved her name: “PH-8098”.

«No, sir. I was told to stand for your orders» the trooper replies.

«You can escort me, then.»

They stride down the bare corridors, the Colonel first and PH-8098 a couple of steps behind; the cold neon lights make the trooper’s armor shine in blue. Hux wants the person arriving on the Red Queen to see him like this: a prepared commander, followed by the very best among his soldiers. A commander who doesn’t need anyone’s help in the leading of his outpost.

The closer they get to the landing platforms, the louder the sound of the battle outside thunders. When they take the elevator and begin their climb, everything hushes again, but Hux knows it’s just a brief pause; on platform 8 they will be able to hear it all, the blasters, the cannons, the rain falling from the sky like a flood. This is the last chance he has to collect his thoughts and prepare for the confrontation. This is the unnerving calm before the storm.

«How long have you served here?» he asks PH-8098.

«It will be six months next cycle, sir.»

«I know you» he tells her «Your captain speaks well of you.»

«I do my duty» she simply replies.

Hux nods in approval: «Tonight your duty will be to stand by my side. Don’t leave for whatever reason, not even if it’s a higher officer who asks you.»

«Sir, I don’t understand. Higher than you?»

His jaw tightens: «Yes, higher than me.»

The doors slide open with a hiss, quickly suffocated by the furious roar of the storm. Hux steps out just as the Red Queen is making its last landing maneuvers. The elegant shuttle enters the indoor platform, rain dripping from its black seagull-like wings; it touches the ground and the hatch opens in front of the nervous Colonel. Someone climbs out. A portly man, wrapped in the black uniform of the First Order; age is turning his ginger beard silver, yet the confidence in his eyes is that of a young man. Armitage knows well. Admiral Hux is sturdy as granite and just as inflexible when it comes to educating children, especially his own.

«Welcome Admiral» the Colonel greets him, in rigid formality «You’ll have to excuse us, but we were not expecting your visit.»

«I didn’t announce it» he replies, sharply; Brendol looks smugly at PH-8098 «You can go now, private.»

Hux stiffens: «She’s my personal guard» he lies «She stays.»

«I have to speak with you alone, Colonel» the other insists «The Supreme Leader has sent me here to end this conflict. Tonight.»

That’s exactly what Hux feared. He breathes, trying to keep his cool and not let the anger control him. 

«With all due respect» Armitage says «We don’t need any back up; the rebellion is perfectly under control.»

«I’m sure it is Colonel, but the Supreme Leader-»

«Apparently is not properly informed of the situation!»

As soon as these words escape his lips, Hux knows he has made a terrible mistake. The Admiral’s eyes light up with rage. Brendol shoots a poisonous glance at PH-8098 and barks her to get lost; the trooper hesitates, but this time she obeys. Armitage doesn’t dare to protest as she marches away, leaving him alone to face his father’s fury. Brendol fixes his fiery gaze upon him, waiting for him to beg forgiveness.

«I don’t need your help» Armitage says instead «When will you stop treating me as a child?»

«The moment you stop behaving like one!» the other roars.

The Colonel lowers his eyes, unable to sustain his father’s glare any longer. All he can do is bite his tongue. With an exasperated snort, the Admiral seizes his arm and drags him a few steps away from the ship.

«Now listen to me» he snarls, letting go of his son «This has nothing to do with you or your leadership, am I clear? This is a direct order from Snoke and, bloody hell, you will stand down and obey or I promise you I'll personally make sure your career ends on the spot!»

«I’m sorry, sir» Hux apologises, swallowing his pride; it’s a bitter pill «It won’t happen again.»

Brendol gives him a look of disappointment that hurts like a slap: «Even after all I taught you, you are still so weak-willed.»

«I-»

«You think they don't respect you because you’re too young, and they do. You see every intrusion as a threat to your leadership, and it is. Why is that, boy?»

A painful knot twists Hux’s stomach: «Because I let it be.»

«See? You know it» the Admiral leans forward to grasp his son’s shoulder «You have the right potential, Armitage. Fix yourself

That’s what Brendol has been repeating him since he can remember, but no matter how much he tries; maybe some things are just unfixable.

«I will, sir» he replies, quite uselessly. His father has never been one for promises; he prefers actions and that is what Hux needs to give him. If only he had the chance.

But for the moment, a promise seems enough: «Now tell me about the situation, Colonel. How’s the battle going?»

«The native tribes have joined together» he explains, relieved to change subject «They attacked us with all their warriors, thousand of them, but they can’t penetrate our defenses.»

“See? I don’t need your help” he thinks, but he knows better than speak it out loud.

«So they are all gathering out of our gates?»

«Yes sir.»

«Good» Brendol nods, satisfied «Order your troops to pull back and open the doors.»

Hux can’t believe his own ears: «I beg your pardon?»

«You heard me. You see» he says, with a conspiring grin «Snoke has recently made a new… Investment. And he wants to see if it was worth it.»

Armitage swallows. He has a bad feeling about this.

«What kind of investment?»

A sudden, dull noise echoes from the belly of the ship before Brendol can answer. Hux’s gaze shifts quickly to the hatch. Hinges screeching, a door opening where he can’t see it. A shiver runs down his spine. At first it’s unclear, but then he recognizes the sound, like drums of war beating steadily: heavy footsteps on the metal floor, getting closer and closer. A shadow climbs down the shuttle; another follows, tall and dark. It takes three of them for Hux to realize they are not ghosts, but warriors covered top to bottom in black suits of armor. Not an inch of their skin can be seen and menacing helmets hide their faces. They march in single file, carrying each one a different weapon: a mace, a long rifle, a spear…

Hux counts the heads: four, five, six figures descend from the Red Queen. Only the seventh one looks unarmed. He stares at the last of them like hypnotized; a black hood covers his helmet. There’s something special about him, Armitage thinks; he’s more than the others. As the dark warrior walks by, he turns and stares back at the Colonel; his glare seems to cut right through Hux’s flesh, digging deep down to the core of him and ransacking it. The officer feels naked beneath that inhuman look. The air is suddenly cold as ice, but he can’t bring himself to look away from this man who scares him yet intrigues him at the same time. The other doesn’t break contact either. Just when Hux is sure he can’t bear it any longer without losing his mind, the shadow turns away and goes after his fellow nightmares, towards the elevator.

«Who are they?» the Colonel asks, as soon as they are too distant to hear him.

«They call themselves the Knights of Ren» Brendol explains, with a certain reverence «They are Force-sensitives, like Snoke.»

The Colonel knows about the Force; his father, at least, has always believed in it, but Armitage is skeptical and blames the aura of mystery that surrounded Emperor Palpatine for the Admiral’s faith. To him, the Force is a legend, a religion at most, but that Knight has just made it way more real.

«Open the gates, Colonel» Brendol says «You are about to witness the power of the Dark Side.»

Hux hesitates, but eventually he grabs the comlink from his belt and switches it on.

«Lieutenant Mitaka» he orders «Call the retreat and be ready to open the gates.»

The officer’s voice sounds incredulous: «O… Open the gates, sir?»

«As soon as the Knights of Ren reach the ground floor.»

«Colonel, excuse me, but who are the Knights of Ren?»

«You’ll recognize them, Lieutenant» and Hux interrupts the communication.

He glances at the Admiral, who looks satisfied and amused.

«Is there a place where we can watch the battle?» Brendol asks, eager.

«My office.»

As the Colonel leads the way out of the platform, he notices PH-8098 has been waiting for him, standing discreetly by the door. The stormtrooper doesn’t ask, she simply tails after him and the Admiral. Hux likes her, he decides; even after a direct order from his father, she has still found a way not to completely leave Armitage’s side. She is loyal. Maybe even too loyal, but now he has every intention of keeping her close.

They enter in Hux’s office, at the top floor of the outpost, just as Mitaka informs them that the gates are opening. The rain pounds against the large window; from up there they can see the entire battlefield, an expanse of mud and rocks, flooded by the unresting storm. The officer squints his eyes, trying to discern what’s happening among the enemy lines; the natives crawl in front of his outposts like black ants.

«Watch carefully, Colonel» Brendol tells him. The Admiral’s eyes are shining in expectation.

Hux doesn’t understand; what should he be looking at? Then, out of the blue, something changes: it’s like a wave, shaking the enemy soldiers; many of them fall on the ground as if they were swept away by an invisible hand. Behind the glass he can’t hear them, but Armitage knows they are screaming. Crimson rays of light appear in the night and they start moving forward, slowly at first, then faster, cutting through the black mass of bodies and armors. Whatever they leave behind doesn’t move anymore.

The Colonel watches breathless as an army of thousands is wiped out by seven.

«I haven’t seen something like that since Lord Vader and our Emperor were alive» Brendol mutters, his gaze glued to the blazing red lasers.

Hux doesn’t reply; he’s still trying to figure out whether he finds this disturbing or fascinating. When the lasers stop and the ground is covered in corpses till his eyes can reach, he hasn’t decided yet, but a sting of jealousy aches in his chest; they were his enemies to kill and now - his jaw tightens - the Knights of Ren have stripped him of his glory.

You had sold me the mansion in your head

I would cut your hair and you would dye it red as fire

As a crackling fire

«To a great battle» Brendol Hux says, raising his glass «And to the First Order.»

Their cups cling and Armitage takes a long sip. It’s a red from the Pairya System, rich and with a distinctive iron aftertaste that makes some call it “blood wine”; one of the finest, most expensive kinds in the whole Galaxy, but in the Colonel’s mouth it tastes of stolen victory. While he drinks, he can still see the black mask of that Knight and feel his stare on him, unclothing him, diving down under his skin. He holds back a shiver.

Brendol seems to guess his thoughts: «Impressive, weren’t they?»

«To say the least» he agrees «Where did the Supreme Leader find them?»

The Admiral shrugs, evasive: «Does it matter? The Knights of Ren will be powerful allies in our war against the Republic.»

The Colonel nods, absently: «They will.»

«Yes» Brendol pauses and a rare, sincere smile appears on his face «And so will you.»

«I certainly hope so» Hux smirks.

«It’s more than hope» the other says, conspiratorial «Apparently someone told the Army Council about Starkiller project.»

Armitage’s heart skips a beat. He stares at his father with his jaw dropped.

«The Council saw the blueprints?» Hux doesn’t even try to conceal his eagerness.

Brendol doesn’t answer straight away, taking time to sip a bit more wine: «I’m here for two reasons» he tells him, eventually «The first one was the Knights. The second is to relieve you from the command of this outpost… Because you are coming back to the Capital with me, where Snoke will rank you general and you’ll begin the construction of Starkiller Base.»

It takes him a while to process it. He’s going to be a general. He is twenty-nine next week and he’s going to be ranked general. He will be the youngest officer to ever sit in the Council.

«I’ll need more wine» Hux mutters, his head spinning in excitement.

It seems too good to be true. As he pours more red into his cup, he can’t help thinking about all that awaits him; they will give him his own cruiser, for sure. He’ll have an apartment in Snoke’s palace and hopefully they’ll let him choose his crew. Lieutenant Mitaka must come, of course; he can be his personal assistant. He would like to keep private Unamo as well, maybe give her a promotion. He will insist to have PH-8098. That stormtrooper is promising.

The smile on his face can barely express his happiness right now; his dream is finally coming true.

«If it works, your creature will make us unstoppable» Brendol says, shaking him out of his fantasies.

«It will» the Colonel promises, raising his glass for another toast «Trust me father, it will.»

They both drink.

«Armitage.»

«Yes?»

The Admiral’s stare is penetrating: «I push you because I know you can grow even stronger than you are now. One day, you will have this whole Galaxy at you feet.»

These words strike a chord in him, but before Hux can say anything the door opens with a hiss. Brendol’s gaze shifts quickly to the newcomer and he exhibits his best smile.

«Ha, my Lord!» he greets, cheerfully «We were just celebrating your victory, why don’t you join us?»

Hux turns to the entrance and the glass almost slips from his hand.

It’s him, the seventh warrior; his black robes are still soaked in rain and - Armitage suspects - blood. He approaches them silently, like a predator approaches his next victim.

«Lord Ren» the Admiral says, apparently not affected at all by the fighter’s unsettling appearance «May I introduce you Colonel Armitage Hux, appointed commander of this outpost? Colonel, this is Kylo Ren, master of the Knights.»

«It’s a pleasure, sir» Hux replies, with a tense smile, but all he gets in return is an icy, penetrating stare.

The officer feels his mouth going dry.

A voice from Brendol’s comlink breaks the eerie silence: «Admiral, the Supreme Leader is waiting for you on the line.»

«Oh well» he says, setting aside his glass «You’ll have to excuse me, gentlemen, but I need to make my report. I’ll be right back.»

And before Hux can stop him, his father has already strided away and closed the door behind him. The Colonel is left alone with Ren, just the last thing he could hope for. The first few seconds, neither of them talk. Kylo stares at him, Armitage tries to look him back in the eyes - or where eyes are supposed to be. Is the Knight even a human being? Maybe he’s not, why else would he wear that mask? Despite the feeling of danger, Hux finds himself intrigued; he suddenly craves to know what does Kylo Ren look like underneath the helmet.

Full of morbid curiosity, Hux forces himself to speak: «Would you care for a glass of wine, my lord?»

Ren tilts his head, as if he were listening to a distant voice, to a whisper that stirs his curiosity. The atmosphere between them seems to vibrate.

«You’re afraid» the Knight says, in the end.

It’s the first time Hux hears his voice and it makes his hair stand on end. It’s rough, low and not by far human.

«Excuse me?» he mutters.

«You are afraid» Kylo repeats «That you will always be his bastard son.»

A shiver of fear and anger runs down his back. How does he know? The Knight steps closer to him, reducing the distance between them to only few centimeters.

«Deep down, you’ve always known he has recognized you because his wife couldn’t have any children. But he has a new one now. What will happen, if she gets pregnant? You can’t help thinking about it… You already decided how to get rid of her.»

The Colonel grip on his glass it’s so tight he feels the precious crystal cracking underneath his fingers.

«I see your bloodlust» Kylo continues, hissing like a snake «And I see your anger. You’d cut down anyone who stands between you and your goals, even your own father; that’s why, no matter how many you’ll have under your command, you are alone.»

«Get out of my head» Hux snarls, full of rage.

Ren hesitates, surprised to see the Colonel fight back.

“I know what you’re doing” instead of speaking out loud, Armitage shouts in his mind “Do you think you can scare me with your tricks? I’m not afraid of you!”

Even if he can’t see his reaction, Hux knows the Knight has heard him. Suddenly he feels Ren’s anger resonating around him and dyeing the air black.

In those few seconds Armitage is certain he’s going to die.

The entrance spreads open again: «Snoke is much satisfied!» Admiral Hux tells them, stepping back in the room. Suddenly he realized his son and Ren are staring at each other, barely noticing him.

«Is everything alright?» Brendol asks, wary.

Kylo doesn’t even look at him: «Yes. It’s alright, Admiral.»

You had smiled when you told me you were brave

That your life was in other hands to save not mine

PH-8098 has been the first to join him. The same day they ranked him general, Hux has sent for her. He promoted her and gave her a name.

«Phasma» he told her «You’ll be captain Phasma from now on. Do you like it?»

«I’ll be whatever my general needs me to be» she answered.

Phasma has been his shadow since the day he step foot on the Finalizer for the first time. His own cruiser is a elegant, beautiful ship nearly twice as big as an imperial Star Destroyer. The first time he saw it, he was left breathless. Not even in his wildest dreams Hux has imagined such magnificence. The Finalizer shoots through the hyperspace like a silver arrow as they explore the Unknown Regions, searching for a suitable planet. When they enter the orbit of the lonely, frozen world, Hux has no doubts: that’s where his machine will be born. That’s where he’ll make history.

The freshly ranked General begins the construction of Starkiller Base just a few months after his encounter with the Knights of Ren. He tries not to think much about what happened between him and Kylo; work helps, but sometimes his mind drifts away and he remembers that evil stare on his skin. But Ren - he reminds himself - is far away and there’s little chance Hux is going to see his spooky mug soon.

At least this is what he has hoped for, until the day the Red Queen landed in the Finalizer hangar; Hux rushes to the black shuttle, expecting his father to stride out of it, but when the hatch opens it’s a black mask who greets the officer. Armitage freezes recognising Kylo Ren.

«Welcome, my Lord» Hux greets him, trying to conceal his emotions and then realizing it’s useless; if the Knight wants to peek inside his head, he has no means to stop him «How was your journey?»

Kylo halts right in front of him, scrutinizing the General from behind the mask.

«Are you General Hux?» Ren asks, without replying.

He frowns: “He doesn’t remember me.”

Armitage is surprised to find himself disappointed about this.

«I am» he says, plainly.

«I need to speak with you alone.»

The officer tenses up: «Certainly.»

As they walk side by side towards his quarters, Hux wonders what the hell is Ren doing here and why they always end up in a room together, when that’s the last thing Armitage wishes for. He can only hope this is a quick matter.

«They tell me you speak the Old Tongue» Ren says, as soon as the door cuts them off the rest of the cruiser.

Armitage hesitates, puzzled: «I did study the Sith language, yes.»

It was his father’s idea, so Hux had to learn it perfectly, but he has never understood the benefit of it.

«You will teach me» the Knight doesn’t ask, he orders «There is a map, scattered in the archives of the Empire, hidden behind a Sith code. The Supreme Leader wants it to find Luke Skywalker.»

Hux snorts mentally; this doesn’t look quick at all.

«Do you think a task from our Leader is not worth your time, General?» Kylo snarls.

His blood heats with anger: «No, my Lord.»

Damn Ren and his powers.

«For how long will you be our guest, Lord Ren?» he asks, glaring.

He knows what Hux is thinking. Good, then the General will not try to hide his despise for him; this is his Base and the Knight is not welcome here.

«As long as it takes to find Skywalker» Kylo replies, blunt «We’ll work on the map every day, until it’s completed.»

The officer’s jaw tightens; it could be a few days, weeks or months… It could be years.  

Ren growls: «Is there a problem?»

«No, my Lord» Hux replies with gritted teeth «None at all.»

In this moment he decides: he’s not going to let Kylo ruin his work. He’ll teach him anything he wants but, no matter how much he’ll try to harass him, Starkiller will be his top priority, now more than ever.

I saw the mansion you had made me love ignite

And as you were fading it was growing bright with fire

With a crackling fire

Hux can’t sleep. He lays in bed, smoking a cigarette and waiting for his eyes to shut, as the hours slowly go by. Yet, he’s still wide awake. Although he tries to avoid it, he’s thinking about Kylo Ren; the Knight has been with them long enough to move from the Finalizer to the planet with the other officers. Hux counts the days, hoping at each rising sun to see him leave. Luckily, they meet only for Kylo’s lessons; Ren spends most of his time locked in his quarters, alone. The few troopers who tried to disturb him never made it back to report.

The General checks the alarm clock on his nightstand: 3 am. A time of darkness and cold on Starkiller Base. Only a few guards will be awake.

He sits up straight and adjusts the loose suspenders of his uniform. Hux puts on the rest of his clothes, determined to spend what’s left before dawn roaming in the half-built corridors; he likes it, the way his Base is shaping. It’s just the way he imagined it. Satisfied, Hux lights a new smoke. The ginger lets himself get lost in the labyrinth of aisles, as he listens to his machine breathing and pulsing all around him.

Suddenly he halts; the cigarette slips from his mouth. He knows something is wrong. It’s like a mute yet bloodcurdling scream, echoing in his head, asking for help. Hux turns around. This floor is reserved to the officers’ apartments; everything seems fine, but he knows it’s not. He knows...

The door he has just passed: something bad is happening behind the closed hatch. His hand is almost on the handle, but he stops. What the heck is he doing? When has he become so irrational to rush into a room based on a gut feeling? Yet, the cry hits him again, stronger than before. Without further hesitation, Hux spreads the door open.

The room is barely illuminated. Armitage needs to adjust his eyes to the darkness, before he can see the body laying on the floor.

«Fuck!» Hux swears, closing the entrance and rushing to him.

It’s a man, young, wearing only his underclothes. Sweat makes his dark hair stick to the skin, which has a ghastly blue shade. A white foam escapes from his lips. Hux’s stomach twists with nausea when he recognises the overdose. Frantically, he presses two fingers on the boy’s neck, trying to find his pulse. The heart is still beating, he realizes with relief; it’s faint and irregular, but it’s there.

There is little time to think. Armitage looks under the bed, where he knows every room on Starkiller has a first-aid kit. He rummages through the medicines, looking for a syringe and a vial of adrenaline. He must be absolutely precise - Hux thinks as he fills the syringe - and go straight to the heart. With a pen he has in his pocket, the general marks the exact spot on the boy’s chest.

Hux breaths deeply; he raises the syringe high, as if he were to stab him. His hand slightly trembles.

The General counts down: “One… Two… THREE!”

The syringe sinks deep in the boy’s hear and almost simultaneously his eyes spread open; with a breath that’s half a scream, he jerks up, rolling over Hux before collapsing once again against a chair. Panting and sweating, the boy looks down at the syringe jabbed in his chest, a baffled expression on his face.

«If you’re alright» Hux mutters, trying to sound calm «Say something.»

The other choughs: «S-something.»

He sighs with relief: «Good...»

And punches the boy he’s just saved, as hard as he can.

«What the bloody hell were you thinking, officer?!» Hux roars, towering over him.

He must be a young sergeant, that’s for sure; a fucking rookie with no sense of duty whatsoever.

«Do you have any idea of what could have happened, weren’t I here?»

Freshly arrived, also: Hux doesn’t remember seeing him anywhere in the Base.

«With your behaviour, you disgrace your uniform-»

That’s queer, though. Armitage never forgets a face when he sees one.

«You disgrace the Supreme Leader himself!»

And there haven’t been new recruits for a while, now.

«I’ll personally make sure you are punished for this, officer.»

Who the heck is this guy?

«Your career ends now, you-»

But Hux is left speechless, when the boy tears the syringe off his heart and glares at him with eyes so fiery they seem to dig underneath his skin. Hux backs away, frightened. That stare is not strange to him; he has felt it before, unclothing him. But it can’t be.

Something catches his attention, in the corner of his eye. He turns, trying to better discern the shape in the darkness, and finds exactly what he dreads: the hollow orbit of Ren’s maks, looking right through him.

«Oh my God» Hux whispers, staring back to the sweating man on the floor.

No way. He looks him up and down, still incredulous.

«You?» Armitage asks, leaning down to observe him «You are Kylo Ren?»

Despite the rage, there’s an enormous fragility in the boy’s black eyes: «I am.»

The General can’t believe his own ears. That’s it? That’s the ghost he used to be afraid of? A boy?    

A suspicion arises: «How old are you?»

«None of your business.»

«How fucking old are you?»

«… Twenty-five.»

«Holy stars» Hux mutters «You’re a kid

The other glares: «Look who’s talking.»

«I am thirty, you brat!» he snarls.

This is surreal. And kinda disappointing; Hux always thought there ought to be a monster behind the helmet, menacing, horribly scarred, maybe not even human. This big-eyed, defenseless thing can’t be the same man he watched taking down an entire army.

«It can’t be you» Hux mutters, almost to himself.

Kylo growls: «I’ll show you what I-»

But the moment he tries to stand up, Ren trembles and crumples on the floor, coughing. Armitage rolls his eyes; he can’t believe how fucking pathetic this is. With an annoyed snort, he helps the Knight to reach the bed and lay down. Kylo is pale as a ghost and shaking with fever.

«I have a question for you» the General says, leaning over him.

«Go on» the other pants.

«Why?»

Ren frowns.

«Why the drugs?»

«Oh» he mutters «You wouldn’t understand.»

«You were calling for help, didn’t you?» Armitage replies, harsh «If I hadn’t heard you, you’d be dead. I saved your fucking life, so I deserve and demand an answer.»

Kylo glares at him, silent.

Hux shrugs: «Very well» and stands to leave, but Ren grabs the sleeve of his uniform.

«I thought it could increase my power» he confesses.

Armitage just stares and waits for him to continue.

Kylo snorts: «The Dark Side gets stronger with pain.»

«And you cleverly though it would be a good idea to kill yourself» he remarks, sharply «We need to call a doctor.»

«No» Kylo coughs «I don’t need one.»

Frankly, Armitage thinks the he needs far more than one.

«I’m alright» the Knight keeps muttering, trembling and panting «No doctors, I’m alright. I’m doing just fine...»

Kylo’s eyes close and his hands lets go of Hux’s sleeve. He falls in an exhausted sleep. For a few moments, Armitage stares at him, trying to convince himself to get out the room and look for help, but unable to make the first step. Something just prevents him from leave Ren alone.

Finally, he grabs a chair and sits down, drawing a cigarette from his pocket. He lights it. Hux waits patiently until, by dawn, Kylo’s breathe becomes regular enough.

The General leaves silently as the first light starts leaking from the closed blinds.

And when you tried to stand

You had to take my hand

You said: “I think your plan will be splitting from mine”

For days, Ren is nowhere to be seen. Hux almost came to think he eventually died in that room until one afternoon, as the General prepares to take a stroll into the woods of the frozen planet, he spots Kylo marching outside the outpost and heading straight towards him.

Armitage stares nervously at the black mask approaching him and his escort.

«General Hux» the Knight greets him, coldly «Care if I join you?»

«Not at all, my Lord» he says, with a forced smile.

He doesn’t like this sudden interest. They are about to leave, when Ren stops the two stormtroopers following them.

«I’m with the General» he says with a tone that doesn’t allow replies «We don’t need you.»

The privates look puzzled at Hux; although this makes him uneasy, he knows better than defy Ren’s orders. He’s forced to dismiss them.

Kylo follows him on the faint path among the trees; soon they are alone. Around them spreads an army of black branches, covered in their white shrouds; whatever happens now - Hux can’t help thinking - only these mute sentinels will witness to it.

Suddenly, Ren breaks the silence: «You were wrong.»

«About what?» the General asks, confused.

«You thought I didn’t remember you, but I do» Kylo confesses «I remember the rain and the battle. I remember you, Hux.»

He is taken aback: «Then why did you pretend you didn’t?»

«There were others who knew the Old Tongue, but I choose you» Ren goes on, ignoring his question.

«Flattering» Hux comments, with more sarcasm than he probably should have allowed himself.

And Kylo seems to notice: «You’re not afraid of me, are you?»

Armitage hesitates, not really sure of how to answer. Is this why Ren wanted to be alone with him? Is he going to kill him for standing up against him? Adrenaline runs down his veins, as his hand discretely moves closer to the blaster grip. Maybe it’s useless, but still he won’t die without a fight.

«No» Hux mutters, trying to mask the faint tremble in his voice.

Kylo halts.

“That’s it” he thinks, stopping as well “He’s going to kill me now.”

But the Knight just stares at him for moments that seem eternal. Suddenly, Ren takes off his helmet; Hux meets once again those pitch black eyes and their fragility. He is hypnotized, unable to look away.

What happens next he has never thought possible; the Knight voids the distance between them, coming so close the tips of their noses almost touch, and he says two words. Just two.

«Thank you.»

Before Hux can decide if he’s dreaming or not, Kylo has already walked past him. Armitage’s glance follows him on the trail that leads further into the forest. Thank you. What the hell does he mean? And yet, the officer can feel a strange grip in his chest, a warmth unlike anything he has ever felt.

And a voice whispering in his ear: «Go after him.»

Without even realizing it, Hux obeys.

«Are you going to do it again?» he asks the Knight, when he catches up «The drugs?»

«What do you care?» the other replies, defensive.

«As I told you before, this is my Base and I don’t want you to die on it» the officer grumbles «Too much paperwork to fill in.»

Ren smirks: «No. I won’t do it again.»

«You better» Hux mutters, secretly relieved.

They spend the rest of their stroll in silence. This won’t be the last one they take together.

We made a pile of all your remaining clothes

Where you’re heading now you won’t be needing those it’s fine

«I never asked you why are you building this» Kylo says one day, years later.

Hux sniggers: «Aren’t you able to read my thoughts?»

The other shrugs: «I try not to listen, even if you’re very loud sometimes.»

«I appreciate.»

They are walking deeper inside the woods, where everything is silent. As usual, Hux didn’t bring an escort; he just wants to be alone with his creation pulsing to life underneath the snow. And with Kylo.

«But I’m curious, General» he insists «I want to know what drives you.»

«What drives me is…» he hesitates. He never talked about this with anyone, not even his own father.

«I guess what drives me is that I want to change this world» Hux confesses, eventually «For hundreds of year the Republic has been feeding off the Galaxy, like a flea. It’s corrupt and stagnant. Those senators and politicians say they want the best for their people, but all they care about his keeping their chairs and their privileges. The whole regime is a disgusting, rotten lie and someone needs to bring an end to this. Someone needs to bring order back to this Galaxy. This is the only way to wipe them out all together, so we can start anew. We deserve peace, but to conquer it we must go through one last war.»

Ren nods, thoughtfully: «A war to end all wars.»

«Yes» Hux is astounded; no one has ever understood so precisely in such a short time.

He gazes at the Knight, trying to decipher him. Ren is not wearing his helmet, something he allows himself when they are completely alone. Hux feels privileged: he’s the only one on the whole Base who knows the man behind the mask. Probably in the entire Order.

«Well, it’s your turn» the General says «What drives you Ren? Why are you here?»

Kylo tenses up and halts. He stares right in Armitage’s eyes, suddenly suspicious.

«Why do you want to know?» he mutters, wary.

With a faint smile, the officer shrugs: «I’m curious, just like you.»

This seems to ease him a bit.

The more he gets to know him, the more Kylo reminds him of a wild animal; he’s cagey, constantly defensive. Hux wants his trust, but that’s going to happen only if he earns it with patience. A wrong move, a hurried gesture and Kylo will get scared and bite him back.

«The things you’re about to hear must remain a secret» Ren says, nervous «The Supreme Leader doesn’t want me to talk about my past.»

«I’m not a spy.»

«I know, that’s why I’m going to tell you» he pauses «You know who Senator Organa is, right?»

«I do» Hux sneers «Rumor has it she’s the daughter of Darth Vader. Just imagine the irony if it’s true!»

«It is.»

The General’s smirk instantly freezes.

«And Senator Organa is my mother.»

“Oh. Oh.

«Before I was Kylo Ren, my name was Ben Solo» he continues «I trained with my uncle, Luke Skywalker, to become a Jedi.»

«So, you are… I mean» Hux mutters «Vader was-?»

«My grandfather?» Kylo nods «Truth is, I’m here to carry on his legacy. He wanted peace as well and to bring balance to the Force, but he couldn’t make it during his lifetime. That’s what I want. I want to finish what he has started.»

That’s a lot to take in, Armitage ponders, pretending to be very interested in the snow around his boots. He has always known Kylo was more, someway, but being the heir of Darth Vader… It’s almost like being a member of the imperial family.

«No one else knows?» the General asks.

Kylo shrugs: «Not in the First Order.»

A hell of a secret to bear.

«Don’t you talk about this with anyone?» he can’t help wondering «A friend? Someone you confide in?»

For the first time, he sees Kylo smiling: «I’m confiding in you. I guess that makes you my only friend.»

Something hits the officer, all of a sudden; his stomach twists, he feels a grip on his heart and a lump blocking his throat, yet none of this is painful. He’d dare to say it’s good and almost sweet.

Armitage smiles back: «I guess it makes you mine.»

We soaked the pile till it dripped with gasoline

And I lit a match as if I’d never seen a fire

It was a big roaring fire

Hux eyebrow rises, skeptical: «I beg your pardon?»

«You heard me very well» Ren snarls, his eyes blazing with fury «I need the Finalizer to recover the missing piece of the map.»

«And where would that be?»

«Jakku.»

«No. No way» the general cuts him «The Finalizer is not going anywhere without me. Especially not to that junkyard.»

«Then come along.»

«That is absolutely impossible: Starkiller it’s about to run its final tests and I have to oversee them.»

Kylo’s fists slam on the General’s desk: «This is more important than your machine!»

The glare Hux gives him could melt ice: «My machine will bring victory to the First Order, once is completed. Tell me, Ren, what will your map do for us? Help us find some old man who has been hiding like a coward for years? How is that useful in defeating the Republic?»

«You miss the bigger picture, as always» Ren replies «The Jedi are the real threat.»

«Last time I counted there was only one of them. And not very active.»

«As long as even one is alive, there will never be balance in the Force.»

«Oh, so I am the one missing the bigger picture?» Hux snaps «For what I can see, you are chasing ghosts! The Force won’t bring peace to this Galaxy, the end of the Republic will.»

But Kylo doesn’t give up: «I thought we were on the same page.»

«Well, you thought wrong!» he roars, standing up to face him.

It takes a fraction of second to Hux for understand what he has done; it’s the change in Kylo’s eyes, a flick of pain and betrayal that quickly turns to coldness. His walls are up once again and Hux has lost him. It hurts to watch the Knight putting his helmet on, but Armitage’s expression remains hard; he’s not going to apologise. Kylo counts nothing compared to Starkiller.

«I can force you» Ren says, beneath the mask «You know the Supreme Leader will grant me this.»

Five years, Hux thinks. Five years of bonding turned to ashes. He tries to shake the pain away.

«Are you sure this is in the Order’s best interest?» he insinuates «I think you’re pursuing your own personal vendetta. Am I wrong?»

Kylo’s rage burns the air: «How dare you judge me? You know nothing of me, General, nothing!»

«Same goes for you, my Lord» Armitage lashes back.

Ren leaves the office like the faceless shadow Hux met all those years ago, on a rainy battlefield. A painful numbness falls on him. If Snoke gives the order he won’t refuse, even if he doesn’t agree, but what can he do with Kylo? Nothing, he tries to convince himself; Ren has made his decision and that’s it. Hux is not going to jeopardize his lifetime project for the sake of their so-called friendship.

But then, why does he feel so bad about it?

And your heartbeat failed

As it stopped leaving its trails

«Careful Ren that your personal interests don’t interfere with orders from Leader Snoke.»

Meaning “for God’s sake don’t fuck shit up”. But of course he did. He always does.

Hux rushes down the corridors of his collapsing Base, feeling the anger mounting inside his chest. His creation, years and years of work are crumbling under his feet and all because of Ren. If it were up to the General, he would happily leave him on the bloody planet, but orders are orders and at least he can make sure the Knight is aboard the Red Queen.

In front of him, the hangar doors spread open and he storms out in the snow, on the landing platform where every ship is heating its engine, ready to take off as soon as the command is given. The General spots Mitaka overseeing the preparations.

«Lieutenant, how do we look?»

«Almost ready, sir» the young officer replies, trembling from the cold «We tried to save all we could.»

«Good, there is not much time. I’ll be on the Red Queen with Ren, is he on board yet?»

Mitaka hesitates: «Sir, Kylo Ren is missing.»

Blood turns to ice in the General’s veins.

«What do you mean “missing”?» he asks with a tremble in his voice.

«I’m sorry, sir, I thought you’d know-»

«Where is he?»

«In- In the forest» the other stumbles «He was pursuing the fugitives, but we lost contact with him.»

The General turns to the trees, a painful grip in his chest. Missing. He stares at the icy darkness beneath the branches, hoping - praying - to see the crimson glow of Kylo’s saber cutting the night. Hux hears Mitaka calling him, but the Lieutenant’s voice is distant and lost in the wind; all he can think about is Ren out there, alone and fighting, and a terrible premonition takes hold of him.

He tries to maintain calm: Kylo is a skilled warrior, the best Hux has ever seen, he can’t be in danger. He just can’t. But then the officer remembers that night, four years before, the night when he saw Ren’s face for the first time; he remembers the silent cry for help that guided him to the Knight, and suddenly Hux is sure that, beneath the howling wind and the roaring engines, he’s hearing it again.

«Lieutenant, lead a squadron into the forest. I want Ren here before the planet collapses» he orders, without hesitation.

«But sir,» Mitaka replies «He could be anywhere, we’ll never find him in time.»

«You will bring him to me no matter what, am I clear?» Hux roars, so loud to startle the young officer.

«Y-yes sir» he stammers, pale as a ghost «Right away sir.»

Hux waits by the ship until the white armors have vanished among the trees. He doesn’t want to go with them; he can’t bear the thought of finding Kylo dead in the snow.  

But the last thing you exhaled while you were alive was:

“I am alright, I am alright

I'm doing just fine”