Hux has finally come around to the idea that he might be more willing to indulge Ren when he comes visiting. Might do something other than work before climbing into bed. A strategy game seems like the perfect thing for both of them to do in order to relax without letting their minds grow dull. He's surprised Ren a few times in the past few weeks, and surprises him again when Hux is waiting for him with the cards already spread out at his desk, a second seat pulled up opposite him.
"We played for money a lot, at the Academy," Hux explained. "It was very popular, and a good way for students who were smarter than they were strong to make some allies." He does not say students like himself, because he doesn't have to. "Kids would bet on who would win, and then the winnings were split between the betters and the winners."
Hux explains the rules to Ren, and lets them play a few practice rounds. He's trusting Ren won't cheat, but his progression seems natural--a little shaky, but improving with every round. Ren's bright and calculating enough that within an hour, they're each winning about half the time.
"Schoolyard betters would have a hard time with us, wouldn't they?" Hux asks.
"If we play a little longer, they'd regret not choosing me."
"Maybe I'm rusty. I haven't played since I was a child."
"Oh, excuses now, I see."
There's no venom to Ren's remark; he seems absolutely delighted to be playing a game. After a few more rounds, each of them unable to shake the other's score, Ren wants to know if the game can be made more interesting.
"Interesting?" Hux's stomach twists in a way he does not entirely dislike. He's having difficulty hiding his anticipation. "I suppose you could make it a drinking game."
"Sure, like that. Or a truth-or-dare sort of thing. That was popular when I was a kid."
Hux's argument that they aren't kids dies when he thinks about how he's just shown Ren his favorite childhood game. Instead he says, neutrally, "Really." It doesn't go up at the end like a question should. It is just a placeholder to let Ren know to continue.
"We played a little differently. It's a good way to test your skills if you have the Force. There's no way to lie if you get truth, so it ups the stakes for the dares."
"I was under the impression you didn't get along with your peers." An understatement, but Hux doesn't want to press this question too hard.
"So was I, about you. But you know too that you need allies until you can fend for yourself out in the wild. And I think you'd approve of me getting information to use against my fellows."
"I do. But..." Hux pauses. "You'll know if I'm lying, but how I will know?"
"So encourage me to choose dare instead. Or lose, and then you won't have to worry about it."
Hux snorts. He loses the next round.
"Truth," Hux decides.
"Why did you want to play a game today instead of working?"
"I thought you might ask that. I thought it might be a nice send-off."
"Oh, that." Ren smiles. "You say it like it's so final. It won't even be fourteen days."
"Missions are known to be perilous. And unless that stone I gave you has completely rewired the way your brain works, you'll return from it to spend a few days in the medbay because you took things too far and barely escaped intact."
"Does the thought bother you, General?"
Hux takes a long sip of wine. "You only get one question when I pick truth."
"Then I'll beat you again. And you better pick truth."
But Hux wins this time, if only from sheer determination to not answer that question just yet. "Dare," Ren says immediately.
"Kiss me," Hux says, clipped and commanding as ever.
This is the first time they've kissed with the lights on, with them actually really looking at each other, interacting awake and not under the guise of needing sleepy comfort, something that Hux considers a major step towards, well, he doesn't know. But a major step. He knows it's ridiculous. This is as tame as it gets, and yet...
"Your heart's pounding," Ren says into Hux's ear when he pulls away.
"Yes," Hux agrees, because he doesn't know how else to respond.
"That was what you wanted, right?"
"Yes," Hux says again. "You can--do that again."
"Ah, ah, ah," Ren scolds, his eyes sparkling. "If I don't get to ask you two questions, you sure as shit don't get to dare me twice. Win again."
"You'd better pick dare."
Just to spite him, Ren loses and then picks truth instead.
"What do you think about when you kiss me?" Hux asks.
Ren takes longer than Hux expects thinking about his answer. "I don't know if I'm consciously thinking anything, in the moment," he finally confesses. "I just feel good about it. Before and after, though. I hope that I won't scare you off. And the look on your face--I can see it in the dark, sometimes, and I saw it just now--you look so tender."
It is not an adjective that has ever been applied to him. Hux turns this word over in his head.
"You are tender, you know," Ren goes on. "You worry for me so much."
"I've already explained to you that things would be very difficult if anything happened to you."
He does not specify for whom. Ren can guess.
"Should we play another round?" Ren suggests.
Ren wins. Hux picks truth without thinking.
"Will you miss me?"
"It's not even fourteen days."
"This is a yes or no question, General."
They don't play any more rounds after that, though Ren crows happily over the fact he's just barely won more often than Hux has. They get into Hux's gigantic bed, which has become a sanctuary, a place in which the rules do not exist. How odd, that it should have that power.
"You're nervous," Ren says. He looks deeper into Hux's heart, the tension like that surrounding a man holding open the jaws of an enormous beast to look down its throat. The jaws could snap shut any second. "Not just about me leaving. More. Tell me."
"I didn't choose truth," Hux tries to joke, but it doesn't work.
"Tell me anyway."
There's no use pussy-footing around it. "I'm nervous you want to fuck me," he admits.
Ren's face is still, betraying nothing. "Would it be a bad thing if I did?"
"No," Hux says, and Ren's shoulders relax a little bit. "It wouldn't at all. But I..."
He has not admitted fear to anybody in so long that he's not sure if he still can. He's not afraid of not liking it, or pain, or anything like that. He's afraid that if he gives that much of himself to Ren immediately before Ren has to leave, he'll go mad with the waiting. He pushes that thought out to the best of his ability, throwing it blindly out into the air hoping Ren can see it, and then says what he knows he can say. "I'd like some time to think about it. I'd like to discuss it again when you return. And I'd like to keep--to keep doing as we've been doing--"
"Of course," Ren says, and Hux can hear him mean it.
"I don't mean to offend," Hux says stiffly.
"I don't want you to get the idea that--you're not wanted."
"I think you forget that I already know your intentions." Ren pulls him close, for another kiss, lets silent assurances seep through Hux's mind. "It's all right."
"Don't you dare fuck up on this mission," Hux says fiercely, and Ren laughs.
"You've already ensured my protection, General." Ren touches the red charm lightly, and Hux closes Ren's hand around it. This is enough, just for right now, just to know Ren isn't upset, Ren is being patient for once, this is enough, this is enough.