Hux woke to yelling.
The cool surface under him chilled his skin through his uniform; it was too hard and too cold and did nothing for the splitting headache threatening to open his skull and spill his brains everywhere. The screaming and shouts that muffled in his ear were no better, multiplying the ache.
He rolled over off his arm (currently being used as a pillow) to sit up.
“Do you know what Snoke did to Armitage because of you?” Ren yelled, his arm struggling to reach out. The man’s uncle held the angry brute trembling in place with the Force, as he cried out across the room at Thanisson. The poor man at the center of Ren’s rage shook, sprawled on his backside with blood dripping from his nose and over his mouth. Ren took a step forward, fighting the invisible hold. “I’ll kill you!”
“Don’t touch him!” Unamo yelled back, standing half in front of the younger man on the ground. Hux nearly did a double take, having never heard that woman’s voice raised once in her entire career. Unamo held her hand out as a brace in front of her. “I won’t let you do this.”
“Get out of the way,” Ren said.
“Ben, calm down,” his uncle said amongst the rest of the group shouting and tense as their powder keg confrontation looked to be coming to its explosive conclusion with a dead Thanisson at the center of it.
“Yes, calm down,” Hux said, having a pretty good idea what this was about. Everyone turned at the sound of his voice, staring openly. A few looked away, and others looked intensely relieved. Hux’s head hurt far too much for this. He massaged his temples and breathed out slowly as he tried to think through the pounding headache. “Leave Thanisson alone.”
“But sir,” Mitaka said, glaring harder at Thanisson than Ren was. His arms were straight at his side, and he looked rather uninterested in aiding Unamo. “He betrayed you. He sold you out, and because of that Snoke was able to mess with your head. It’s unforgivable.”
“And I betrayed Ben a little more than a month ago in an act that was arguably worse than what Thanisson did,” Hux said, shoulders dropping. He glanced around the throne room where everyone had gathered, and spotted the dead body of Snoke still slumped over the chair like a limp puppet. Hux stretched out one leg, leaning on his other knee. “If Unamo wants Thanisson, let her keep him. What does any of it matter now?”
“That is not,” Mitaka stopped himself and licked his lips, “It’s not the same, sir.”
Ren stayed silent himself, staring at Hux with wide eyes. His Uncle dropped his arms and Ren relaxed. For once, the man listened to what he was told; Hux found himself pleased with that.
“It’s exactly the same,” Hux said. He looked at Ren and covered the lower half of his mouth. “Now if you don’t mind, my head hurts, this floor is cold, and I want to go home.”
“Are you alright, sir?” Mandetat asked, taking a step out from behind Mitaka. “You were unconscious for about ten minutes.”
“My head hurts and the last thing I remember is Mitaka shooting Snoke in the head,” Hux said. “What happened?”
“You passed out when Snoke’s connection severed,” Ren said, his soft voice soothing.
Hux thought hard and found himself with a jumble of memories, like someone had divided two separate sets of the same events and then took away the divider to let them all crash into each other. He wasn’t sure which was real and which wasn’t and Hux had no desire to figure it out now (if ever).
“And all of you thought the best course of action would be to yell at Thanisson instead of leaving this empty shell of a base before someone came back and noticed Snoke was dead?” Hux asked, glancing at the large group gathered in the empty room. His voice echoed, making his headache even worse—something he hadn’t thought possible.
“To be fair, we’ve got like four Jedi here and a bunch of guns,” Poe said, shrugging. His companions, the Soldier and that Jedi girl were at his side, and their Jedi Wookie was just beyond with his arms crossed. “We weren’t really worried about it after killing like thirty Knights of Ren.”
“What he said,” Solo remarked, standing close to his Wookie companion. The man looked like he’d aged another twenty years since Hux last saw him, with bags under his eyes and shoulders slouched. “We weren’t exactly in a rush after everything was said and done with.”
“Still, sitting in a room arguing over whether or not to kill Thanisson while Snoke’s corpse rots ten feet away seems rather vulgar,” Hux said. He pushed himself to his feet, holding his hand up to stop Ren when he headed over to help. “I can stand on my own, Ren.”
Hux bit the edge of his lip; he’d said the wrong name. Ren’s face dropped a inch, his eyes worried, though not cold. They remained warm and centered on Hux, like he would break any second. Hux would be more careful in the future. “Thank you, though, Ben.”
“Okay,” Ren said, swallowing. “Any time.”
Hux looked away from the man and looked at the previous center of attention clutching the back of Unamo’s sleeve with his head down. Thanisson held his sleeve over his bloody nose, looking fairly ashamed. Unamo’s expression was still wary and cold as ice. Hux had a feeling her own brand of tough love would be enough for that problem and any consequences required for Thanisson’s actions.
Considering Snoke was dead and that Thanisson was taken care of, Hux was finished with all of this.
“I’m going back to the ship, and never thinking about any of this wretched experience again,” Hux announced. He went to Mitaka, grabbed Millicent and then headed straight toward the main door of the hanger. Keeping an ear on the pounding footsteps of Ren’s boots following him, Hux left the building hoping never to look back.
“That could have gone better,” Dopheld muttered to himself as Lord Ren chased after Hux. The rest of their motley group hung around in the empty hanger, looking as haggard as they all felt. “This all feels rather anticlimactic after everything that happened to get us here.”
“That’s often how life works,” the eldest Jedi said. He brushed his metal hand through his beard and looked around. “But it is over, and now we have time to collect ourselves and recover.”
“You mean for Ben to get a hold of his new found anger problem?” Solo said. “Or figure out what to do with all these First Order punks?”
“I’m going where Hux is,” Dopheld said, holding his back up straighter. “So you don’t have to do anything with us.”
With that, Dopheld secured his blaster on his hip and headed for the door where Hux and Lord Ren had departed. There was nothing left in this room for him either. His future had just walked out.
“Same for me,” Mandetat said. Dopheld stopped walking to turn and allow his companion to catch up. Mandetat turned over his shoulder halfway there and looked at Unamo and Thanisson. “Coming?”
Unamo looked at Thanisson and back to Dopheld, eyes almost pleading. The emotion in them turned Dopheld’s stomach and a sliver of shame settled there. It was unsettling and unnatural, but it affected him all the same.
“If Hux has no problem with Thanisson, than I’ll keep my thoughts to myself,” Dopheld said. “So are you coming or not?”
“Coming,” Unamo said.
She grabbed Thanisson’s hand and tugged him along. He shied away from the others in the room as they passed, head down and the shaking in his shoulders and body was clear as day from across the room. Not that Dopheld blamed him for still being scared with Lord Ren outside the door and Dopheld himself more than willing to shoot him.
But at least Dopheld knew not to do it with Unamo in the room (or until he knew for sure whether or not Hux would be upset about it).
“I guess that answers that,” Solo said. Dopheld continued to the doorway with the others following and tuned him out as he continued. “So what are we going to…”
The hot, dry air of Tatooine greeted the small group as they left the old bunker. Dopheld saw Hux and Ren across the way, their foreheads pressed together. Ren held the General by the hips, and they looked so lost in each other Dopheld nearly drowned in his own lingering jealousy.
But it was beautiful against the sunlight.
“We should get in the Silver Wing,” Mandetat said, tapping Dopheld on the shoulder. He nodded his head at the small line of ships that the others had taken to fly out to the middle of the desert. They shined under the sun on the sand. “That’s the ship Hux will be getting on.”
“Right,” Dopheld said. He grabbed Mandetat’s hand and squeezed it. “Let’s get onboard and take an account of everything we have supply wise before we head out again. I’m sure they’ll figure out where we’re going next soon enough.”
“Not like we have anywhere else to go,” Mandetat said. He tromped through the sand, leading Unamo and Thanisson back to to the Silver Wing to hide up in their guest room, most likely.
Dopheld lingered a few moments longer to watch Ren and Hux, before he too turned away to let them have a few more moments to themselves before everyone else intruded.
Ben felt empty and torn.
Snoke was dead, but not by his hand. His mission was over, but he didn’t complete it and somehow Ben felt like maybe this whole thing had been a waste. Stealing a ysalamir and shooting Snoke in the head seemed like such a superior plan after the utter failure that was his time undercover.
“Did you and your friends finish discussing what you were going to do from now on?” Armitage asked, sitting on the edge of their bunk in the Silver Wing. He half sunk into the plush mattress, his face tired and drawn.
Ben joined him, hugging the man and dropping them both on their sides on the mattress. He breathed in, squeezing them closer together until they were flush and warm. The familiar position never failed to lift Ben’s spirits.
This was safe; this was comfort.
His undercover endeavor may have been a waste of time, perhaps, but at the end of it all, Ben would have made the same choice over and over given the chance to keep this.
Armitage was worth everything.
“Is that a yes or a no?” Armitage asked, wriggling around in the hold. He dropped his head on Ben’s shoulder in a familiar pose and his warm breath tickled Ben’s neck. “Because after all this moving around, I’d rather like to just stop for a while.”
“They wanted me to come back to the Resistance base, but I declined,” Ben said. Armitage nodded and tapped his side. Ben’s head rattled with all of the arguments from his Uncles and Father, no to mention everything Poe, Rey, Finn, and Lowbacca had to say about it all. Ben was more than happy to leave it all for later, though Armitage might want to know about one important upcoming event: “I do owe my mother a good, long visit in a few months, though.”
“I think I’ll leave you to that on your own.”
“I had a feeling you’d say that.”
Armitage reached up and tugged Ben’s face down so they could look each other in the eyes. “And in the meantime?”
“We’re going our separate ways in the morning.” Ben put his hand over Armitage’s. He laced their fingers together. “And then you and I aren’t going to do anything but relax for a week and collect ourselves before we make any big decisions.”
“I can live with that,” Armitage said. He sighed and pressed his face into the pillow. “My mind is such a jumble as it is, it certainly wouldn’t hurt.”
“I’m so sorry I couldn’t protect you,” Ben whispered. He touched the side of Armitage’s temple. He could still feel the last remains of the darkness of the Force where it lingered. A last goodbye from Snoke. “So, so sorry.”
“It was hardly your fault,” Armitage said. He watched Ben carefully from the side, eyes focused and sharp. “He was stronger than any of us gave him credit for, so we should just be happy that the person who killed him was an underling whose name he didn’t even know. How’s that for the history books?”
Ben chuckled, licking the side of his lip. “That is a good way to think about it.”
“Good, then it’s final. No more debating or worrying about it.” Armitage kissed Ben on the side of the face and hugged him close. “So let’s go to sleep so we can wake up and send off all your little tagalongs on their way in the morning.”
“And yours?” Ben asked, despite knowing the answer.
“Coming with us.”
Ben grunted in reply, and settled into the mattress. His clothes dug into this skin, belt shifting awkwardly as they shared the bed. Armitage made no effort to move or change clothes, happy right where he was. Ben brushed his hair down and closed his eyes.
Come the morning, they’d find a home of their own and figure out what to do with their lives now that Snoke and the First Order no longer loomed over them.
And that was something to look forward to.