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Ren has been carefully spreading the rumor that he can no longer use the Force for over three years, but it still burns something deep within him to submit to mag cuffs when he’s arrested by Hux’s officers. He flexes against them as if enraged, insulted, in part because he is. But he has more important things to do here than reveal his true strength to a couple of smug soldiers whose pride at having captured the once-fearsome Kylo Ren radiates from them like a stench. As if he didn’t deliver himself to them like a gift.

Hux will see through that part, if he’s even willing to have an audience with Ren. He’ll see through it regardless, and won’t give an inch. Ren isn’t expecting half as much from Hux right away or anytime soon. If there’s something to be gained from this excursion, there will be a war of attrition between them before Ren can even glimpse whatever there is left to gain from what they once had together. Ren has prepared himself for torture, physical and otherwise. He’s trained to endure all manner of pain while appearing to suffer from it. It’s a matter of holding the realest part of himself away, in secret, while the rest of him performs for his audience. He’s adept at this, having more or less lived that way for the past three years, since he destroyed Snoke and left Hux behind in his attempt to reclaim what else Snoke had taken from him.

The cell he’s thrown into is just as he anticipated: windowless durasteel, cold and lacking even a cot. It’s dark inside, and the only thing he can sense, beyond the departing guards on the other side of the bolted durasteel door, is a hole in the floor for those prisoners, like himself, whose biology requires them relieve themselves. Kind of the evil emperor to provide this luxury for his prisoners. Ren wishes he could smirk at Hux and say so. The comment would not be well received and there will be nothing like that between them for a long time, or maybe ever again, but the impulse is still there at the corner of Ren’s lips, a ghost from his youth floating through him.

He sits and meditates. The room is perfect for this purpose, and he feels a sense of calm spreading through him unlike any he’s known for some time. He’s achieved his goal, has arrived at last with everything in place after years of preparation. He belongs here, in a sense. Or perhaps entirely.

But he’s not reverting to what he was when he killed his father, not even for Hux. This is just a stopover. A rescue mission that is as likely to fail as it is to succeed. Still, the institutional coldness of the place suits another old impulse within him that he can’t fully stamp out. He can appreciate being denied his freedom, too, though involuntary confinement is only a disguise he’s wearing. There is relief in being pushed onto a path with only one way ahead: stay in the dark, wait to endure whatever comes.

Possibly it’s also the presence of Hux within the uppermost floors of his fortress that has calmed and welcomed him, despite the fact that Hux himself will be incensed to learn that he’s here and will be anything but welcoming if he actually deigns to appear in the underground prison complex. He might pretend to his guards to be glad of Ren’s capture, for the purpose of extracting information from the now-helpless prisoner. He’ll actually hate that it’s happened, because it will force him to confront his own response. Ren’s assumption is that Hux will at least be curious enough to come face to face with him once, but it’s been three years. He can’t claim he knows Hux anymore.

That feels impossible, however he tries to lower his expectations. He opens his eyes in the dark and takes a breath. Whatever Hux decides to do, he’ll leave Ren waiting for a long time.

Ren can wait. It’s part of his discipline, and he’s become a true master of denying himself what he wants in all these years away from Hux. He’ll explain, if Hux is ever willing to listen, that the denial was necessary, like starving a bad case of Bluxian stomach flu. There was rottenness within him that only sacrifice could destroy.

He can imagine Hux’s reaction to this information. It’s somewhere between a hateful laugh and a fist in Ren’s face.

 

**

He’s passed from meditation into something closer to sleep when he senses the approach of a lifeform in the hallway outside his cell’s door. He had some concern while concocting this plan that Hux might have found a Force sensitive person to confront him, someone who will know he’s been lying about the loss of his powers. This is part of why he’s waited so long to enact his scheme. He had to be sure, through a long and thorough search of the Force, that there was no threat of being exposed. Exposure would have lead to a battle, and he’s retired from those.

The door opens and an officer permits entry to a droid. It’s a stout obelisk with smooth compartments that conceal torture devices.

“Kylo Ren,” it says, its voice a deep monotone that reminds Ren of his own speech through his old vocoder. The officer stands at attention behind the droid, silent and stone-faced, the command cap that that he wears shading his eyes. “State your purpose here,” the droid says.

“I was captured in Order territory,” Ren says. “During a smuggling run.”

“False,” the droid says, with a strange conviction. “State your actual purpose for trespassing on Order territory.”

“Smuggling. I was planning to meet a contact about ship scraps that the Resistance wants.”

The droid says nothing. Ren senses infuriation, rage, but the officer behind the droid is not generating either emotion. He’s nervous about something, young and eager to prove himself.

A panel on the front right side of the droid slides open. Ren braces himself for the physical pain of torture. He assumes this is standard protocol, approved by Hux with feigned disinterest.

“I will proceed with the interrogation,” the droid says.

Ren isn’t sure if it’s speaking to him or the officer. Maybe both. Overhead, bright lights snap on and pour down over him and the droid. The officer steps back into the hall. The door seals shut, leaving Ren alone with the droid as it advances, a rotating sawblade on a durasteel arm emerging from its lower right front-panel.

“You know why I’m here,” Ren says, because by now he’s figured out that Hux is controlling this droid personally, remotely.

The droid whirs softly but with menace, implements of torture clicking within its many compartments as if it’s having a full-body consideration, running unseen fingers over beloved instruments of cruelty. It has no face, just a shiny black band across its uppermost segment, which houses its vocalizer and memory storage and most likely the holo recorder that Hux is using to get a look at Ren without having to really face him yet.

“Where will you cut me?” Ren asks, nodding to the saw. “I’ll remove my clothing to give you better access.”
  
The rage that Ren sensed intensifies magnificently. It lodges itself in Ren’s chest like a bonfire, and he warms himself by it. He does still know Hux. He knew Hux’s anger would feel like this.

“Why are you here,” the droid asks. It’s voice is modulated, dull, intentionally scaled back in tone. “Who has sent you.”

“No one. I work only for myself now.”

“Lies.” The droid rolls forward. Its saw tilts and spins.

“Do you want my arm?” Ren asks, rolling up his sleeve. “Or my back? Should I bend over for your blade?”

Droids programmed for torture are not known for their hesitation. Ren stares into the thing’s glossy black panel and tries to picture Hux’s face. According to recent propaganda he’s hardly aged. But that might be flattering.

They once tortured prisoners together. Ren with the Force, Hux with instructions issued as he stood against the wall. Hux would watch and take notes while Ren or one of his officers did the work. He’s never been a hands-on torturer. He never even pulled the levers on the machines himself. He issued orders from a distance.

“Why can you not use the Force to escape,” the droid asks. Its saw has gone still.

“Cut one of my ears off and maybe I’ll tell you.”

I dare you, Ren thinks, staring at the droid, at Hux. Hurt me. Do it.

Hux has killed billions. Ren helped him do it. He brought Snoke to Hux and vice versa. He placed that red kyber crystal around Hux’s neck and let it seep through his skin, into all the crevices where Snoke wanted it to go.

“You will not be moved by physical torture,” the droid says. “According to our reports.”

“Not easily,” Ren says.

“You are trained to withstand it.”

“Yes.”

“Other methods of torture will be employed.”

The droid retracts its saw-arm, folding it up into the compartment it emerged from.  The cell door opens, and the waiting officer peers inside.

“He shall be starved,” the droid says, rolling out into the hall. “It is most efficient in the case of this prisoner.”

“Yes, s--” The officer barely catches his sir, or maybe Ren only sensed it was coming through the Force.

Ren stares at the floor as they leave, pretending to be chastened. The door shuts, and the overhead lights snap off, leaving him in darkness again.

 

**

No food or water enters the cell for days. Ren meditates, at first with great success and often upon his memories of Hux when they were young together.

He tries to move through the memories chronologically, because doing so will hold him near enough to the reality where he waits in a cell for Hux to come back to him. No one knows that he’s here. He could be starved and die and might only be found when Rey or his mother gasps and stumbles as they suddenly sense that he’s passed from the living Force and through the veil.

But he’s not thinking seriously of death, not even when the dizziness of thirst sets in: he’s thinking of Hux, running again and again along the well-worn memories of him that have kept him alive in other periods of darkness and for much longer than a few thirsty days.

First there was the factory, where Ren stood dripping at Snoke’s side, jumpy with the nearness of so many people and machines after long periods of quiet in his training, both with Luke and with Snoke. He was not fit to be in society of any kind; that much he had always understood. The noise of other people through the Force had been excruciating since before he learned how to speak and seemed to only get worse as he grew older and more able to put words to every feeling that reached him.

There was a calmness that overtook him when he encountered Hux, then a skinny and smug-looking teenager at his bloated father’s side. It was a calm associated with focus, which Ren could rarely gasp outside of meditation and isolation. He was intensely drawn to the Force signature and physical form of the red-haired boy with eyes that looked colorless from where Ren stood. Even Snoke’s commanding voice seemed to fade to a drone as Ren studied Hux and noted the flavors of devotion and neediness in his particular strain of energy.

Moving through the factory behind Hux and his father, Ren couldn’t shake the sense of interest even when he began to think that he should. But Snoke confirmed that it was as the Force had designed.

If this boy is something you want, your desire must be attended to. Those as powerful as you do not want lightly.

And we can use him.

Ren knew even then that Snoke was considering him by the same metric of usefulness. He once took it as a sign of his own value that someone with no pretense of tenderness would at least tell him he was worthy according to a cold but measurable evaluation.

He remembers Hux in the rain at his father’s funeral, and the pull inside his own chest as he watched Hux from afar. It felt too much like the pull to the light, but he ignored that recognition because Snoke had approved this course of action.

Snoke, who would never lead him astray.

Hux with his wet hair, his angry grief, suspicious eyes. Ren knew by the day of Brendol’s funeral that Hux’s eyes were actually very green. The light just rarely hit them in the precise way it had to in order to reveal this.

Ren scowled at Hux for his laughter about the necklace. It was true that Snoke hadn’t issued any instructions about how Hux should keep the crystal about his person. Ren had thought he was being innovative, not sentimental. But he already wanted to kiss Hux there in the gazebo where Hux accepted his gift and hung it around his neck like a vow. And when they rode back to Hux’s house, the way Hux held onto him: Ren felt imbued with new power. He had an erection so profound it was painful, making it hard to steer the speeder and keep the rain off of Hux at the same time. When he delivered Hux safely it felt like a prophecy.

But even when he was dressed in a presumptuous breechcloth he’d doubted that it could actually happen: that Hux could have him in a way that Snoke did not, in a way that no one else ever would. Ren was ready to give himself but wasn’t expecting to be accepted. For all the gifts he had, he’d himself never felt like a gift anyone would be glad to receive.

Remembering what happened that night he approached Hux in a breechcloth like an idiot is too arresting to sustain meditation. It snaps him back into himself, always: Hux’s noises and the cold tiles under their feet when they crossed to the wash basin, the way Hux let him cling, even the morning when he’d watched Hux sleeping for as long as he could, pretending not to sense Snoke’s increasingly irritated summons through the Force.

He skips over it quickly so he can remain in his trance, huddled around the light and heat from his memories. If he breaks out of meditation now he might start to panic. He’s light-headed when not meditating. He needs water.

No one approaches his cell. Hux must be monitoring him: on the wall with the door there’s a concealed holo recorder, the cell’s only feature beyond the air vent and the hole in the floor, which Ren hasn’t required. He’s dry as a bone, empty, existing in a vacuum. He tries to embrace this, tries to meditate again.

Memories are easier to access, but the good ones feel far away. The ugly, difficult ones have always been more easy to drag up and live through, and they snap and bite at his mind as he opens himself to them. The pain is good. It keeps him from passing out.

He remembers defeat. Snow and blood in his ear. Hux running toward him like an answer to what he was feeling, the one thing Ren still had or ever truly had, and then the blade straight through his chest when Hux said, pointedly, that Snoke had ordered Ren’s rescue. So that Ren would know Hux hadn’t come because he wanted to.

That was after all those years of watching Hux doubt him more and more. Hux wanted proof that Snoke hadn’t ordered Ren to love him. Ren didn’t know how to prove to anyone why he loved them, or that he loved them at all. Hux’s defensiveness only brought out his own. They snarled at each other under every word by the end, even during sex.

And then the bridge. Ren feels his ribs quake with a held-in sob when he goes back there now, in his mind. It was when everything fell away: Han, Ren’s certainty about his own power, and finally Hux, when Ren turned from him and left to kill Snoke. He had to do it alone, and what came next, too.

He remembers that last time in bed with Hux, those small hours. After Han, after Starkiller, after Hux had realized Ren had lied when he said he had to give up his sanctioned lover at thirty, when Ren confessed that he’d lied because Hux had broken his heart. He didn’t say so out loud, only through the Force. He’d thought: if Hux cares, if he regrets it, he’ll hear this confession. If he doesn’t, he won’t.

Now here they are in the same situation. Hux is again trying to starve a confession from him. Turning away, staying hidden. Just as it was. Ren would smile, but his lips are shaking too hard to really be of use.

He opens his eyes, disoriented by the dark. He’s not able to sit up as straight as he’d like to. If he lets himself tip over and rest against the floor, he won’t wake up again.

Or maybe he would, the way he woke up in a bacta tank after Starkiller: with Hux standing over him while machines brought him back to life, Hux unable to hide the fear and horror in his eyes when Ren first blinks awake.

It’s an optimistic thought. So much has changed. The galaxy. Ren himself. Hux, certainly.

It was a risk to come here. Ren knows that. He’s taken so few in recent years. All that time he was waiting for this one risk, saving up his luck.

Fix me, like you always do.

At first, dimming toward unconsciousness, Ren thinks he feels tears on his face: lots of them, soaking his cheeks. But this liquid is cold and clean, metallic. It’s water, spraying onto him from the wall.

He opens his mouth before his eyes, and laps at the rush of water like a desperate animal. There’s a moment of madness when he feels he’ll fail to effectively swallow, like it’s too late, and he wonders how many cycles he spent alone in the dark, drying up and hollowing out, winding his memories of Hux around himself again and again.

The cold water on Ren’s face and running down into his shirt revives him just as much as what of it he’s able to swallow. It takes a moment to drag his mind back toward reasoning, and when he does he’s sure that Hux engineered this seeming leak. Nothing would malfunction in any of Hux’s environs unless it was part of some design, not even on a microscopic scale, and it’s no coincidence that the aberration has happened in Kylo Ren’s cell as opposed to one unoccupied or housing a less intimate ex-acquaintance.  

Ren presses his face to the wall, closes his eyes and lets the water stream over him. Eventually its reduced to a thin trickle in a way that seems like a threat. This gift can be rescinded. Ren huffs, his breath spraying through the water. Hux knows why he’s here. He’s having this fight with himself more than with Ren.

The droid appears when the water leak has diminished to only an occasional drip into the cell. It comes from the vent overhead, and Ren expects it to gush strongly again when he needs it. Hux is too curious to actually kill him.

This time there is no officer accompanying the droid. Ren sits in the middle of the cell, damp and waiting for Hux’s next question.

“Why are you here,” the droid asks, again.

“You know,” Ren says. Again.

“False. One accurate answer will be rewarded with sustenance.”

He means food. Ren is still lightheaded, too tired to play this game very well. He pushes his wet hair back off his face and takes a breath. This isn’t the hardest thing he’s endured, and he already feels like he’s not alone anymore. All these days in the cell, Hux has at least been watching.  

“Fine,” Ren says. “If you need me to confess.”

“State your reason for trespassing onto Order territory.”

“I came here to reclaim something I lost.”

The droid’s lack of immediate response tells Ren that Hux is lightheaded, too, from something more profound than thirst or hunger. He can feel Hux’s stunned pain transforming into anger.

“What is this thing you seek,” the droid asks.

“Not a thing,” Ren says. “A person.”

“Which person.”

“The Emperor.”

“You were sent here to assassinate our Emperor.”

“That’s not what I said. No one sent me.”

“You seek to assassinate our Emperor for your own purposes.”

Ren groans. He can’t think. This is tedious. Hux will let it play out for years rather than give up the tiniest hint that he’s getting something from it beyond irritation. Ren has to say something that will sway him, but he’s too weak with hunger to fight off his own frustration.

“Hux,” he says, without really considering the consequences. “I told you--”

The droid’s lowermost compartment opens. Ren braces himself to have acid flung in his face, or a knife. Instead, three nutrient bars come tumbling out onto the water-slick floor.

The droid leaves abruptly enough to tilt precariously as it rolls from the cell into the hallway.

The cell door slams shut behind it.

“I told you,” Ren says to the empty room, groping for the bars. Maybe Hux will review this footage later. Ren’s heart is slamming, fingers shaking as he struggles to get the slippery packaging on one of the bars open. “Told you, I-- I told you. It might take years.”

Nutrient bars are tasteless under the best of circumstances. Ren chews and swallows and weeps silently for the flavor, hot tears streaking over his cheeks and dripping onto his tunic. The taste of the dry, dense bar is the paltry remnant of what they had. It’s Hux’s inability to dismiss him entirely, nothing like forgiveness but still seasoned with the faintest hint of hope.

 

**

After that, water drips from the ceiling and drains into the hole in the floor on a regular basis. Ren rations the bars, keeping them tucked into the hood on his robe. The droid is back when he’s finished just one and a half of them.

Again, it comes alone. The door shuts behind it. Ren wonders when Hux last walked beneath the sun or moon on this planet or any other. He’s infamous, according to rumor, for never leaving the uppermost, obsessively well-guarded floors of his fortress. Ships orbit them, waiting to fire on anything that dares come near.

Ren wonders how often Hux uses this or other droids to communicate with people.

“What now?” Ren says when the droid faces him, silent except for the minute clicking within its compartments. Ren wonders if someone who can’t use the Force would even hear this. He thinks of Hux, how uniquely difficult he was to read. Only Ren could sense certain subtle stirrings within him.

“Why can you no longer use the Force,” the droid asks. “Explain.”

“You wouldn’t understand.” Ren almost wants to smirk. “You’re a machine.”

“I will relay the information to my superiors for processing. Answer, or your remaining food will be confiscated.”

This exchange is delicate. As well as Ren once knew Hux, through the Force and otherwise, Hux knew him, too. So in some ways he still does. If he figures out that Ren is lying about losing his ability to use the Force, this already fragile opportunity will be lost.

“I killed Snoke.” Ren puts anger into his inflection. He glowers at the droid as if the subject is painful. What happened afterward still is, but not in the way he’s claiming. “Snoke had tied my ability to use the Force to his own life. It was his failsafe, should I turn on him. But when he told me this, I thought he was bluffing. I killed him anyway. And now. It’s gone. He took it from me when he died.”

“How did you kill Supreme Leader Snoke,” the droid asks, offering no indication of Hux’s acceptance or rejection that story.

“By sacrificing my own powers. I didn’t understand what I was doing at the time. It only felt like a very strong attack, giving it everything I had. But I was doing that literally, too. Everything I had.”

Ren lowers his eyes to the floor. His sorrow in this instance is sincere. He gave up Hux, after all. But having the Force ripped from him at the same time would have destroyed him. Hux might know that.

“You joined the Resistance after the traitorous murder of the Supreme Leader,” the droid says.

“Yes.” Ren wouldn’t put it so simply, but for the purposes of talking to Hux through a droid, that explanation will do. “My mother needed the help. I owed her a debt.”

“And yet you failed. The Resistance is weak and has largely disbanded.”

“Yes.”

This is the truth, but in a way that flatters Hux’s partial victory. The Resistance disbanded in part due to lack of a need of it. The New Republic rules over a portion of the galaxy, just as Hux does. It was a long battle for an imperfect treaty, and finally the wealthiest donors split their favors between the two factions. There’s tension, a cold war that’s only whispered about, but neither side has openly attacked the other for almost a year now.

“Now you are here to gather intelligence,” the droid says. “But you will never leave this place alive, Kylo Ren.”

“Not alone I won’t.”

“You mean to take the Emperor hostage as a means of escape.”

“I lack the power to do so, as I told you.”

“That is your testimony. It cannot be proven.”

“Can’t it? Isn’t that what you’re trying to do, by starving me to the point of incoherence?”

“You have been provided with nutrients.”

“And why is that. When I did nothing to earn them.”

The droid doesn’t respond. Hux is normally quick on his feet when challenged. Ren supposes these are extraordinary circumstances. He wonders when Hux last had a full night’s sleep. That was always hard for him, and with Ren here he must be pacing his well-secured floors at night.

“The only information you’ll get from me is that which you already have,” Ren says. “You know how I killed Snoke. You know why I’m here now. It’s you we’re both waiting on.”

Ren stares the thing down, increasingly angry that he can’t see Hux anywhere in his glossy black panel.

“Explain,” the droid says.  

“We’re both waiting to see what you’ll do,” Ren says.

“I have recommended your execution for lack of cooperation. The recommendation is under review.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet.”

The droid leaves without saying more and without depositing the additional nutrient bars that Ren sensed in its lower compartment, brought for him and now denied.

 

**

Ren feels sustained even on the occasional nibble from one of his remaining nutrient bars. They’re the particularly sturdy kind that were popular during the worst of the most recent war, designed to provide maximum energy.

Hux might still be eating them daily for efficiency purposes. There was a mess of propaganda around the time that the Order declared its nominal victory over the New Republic, at least within its own territory. Some of it included Emperor Hux feteing and feasting. Hux had done a poor job of not looking miserable during the festivities. He looked fearsome, at least, and tired in a way that seemed threatening, as if he was daring his party guests to try his patience any further than the long years of war had. Someone had made him dance with several regal young ladies, probably the daughters or granddaughters of interested donors. Ren hasn’t allowed himself to seriously wonder if there’s an heir stashed away somewhere. There has been no Imperial wedding.

It’s insane to worry about these things at all, insane to even be in Hux’s lair, but once the fighting stopped there wasn’t anything else for him to do beyond not fit in with what remained of his family and conditional allies. He’s glad to have left that behind, but the Force is gathered tightly within him in a kind of ball of energy that’s growing painful. He wants to act. He wants Hux to show his face. He wants, desperately, to lie in a bed the way they did that first time and just say everything, all of it, while whole cycles wheel past outside.

Meanwhile, Hux wants him to believe that imminent execution is being seriously considered.

Ren welcomes Hux’s rage. He craves it, even. He wants to feel it searing and close, burning his skin.

Soon enough, failing in meditation and nursing an anxious anticipation that seems unwilling to leave the innermost chambers of his bones, all he can think about is the many things he wants and how Hux is the only one who can give them.

When the droid returns, Ren is glad to see even its blank face. He almost smiles, thinking of Hux controlling it, sweating under his stiff clothing as he leans close to the monitor that shows him how Ren responds to his proxy self.

“The leadership here has grown weary of your lack of cooperation,” the droid says. “You will inform me of your purpose here or perish.”

Even in its modulated tone, the droid sounds unconvinced. Worried.

“You know my purpose here,” Ren says.

“False.”

“I miss you. I came for you, like I said I would. I’m sorry it’s taken so long--”

“False. To whom are you speaking.”

Ren stands. His legs are shaky, and when he towers unsteadily over the droid it moves back slightly, as if it’s afraid he might topple down onto it.

“I’m appealing to your Emperor,” Ren says. “He knew me, once. I made him a promise a long time ago.”

“You broke your promise to him.”

Ren expects the droid to depart in a hurry as it has before, as if it’s embarrassed itself by speaking with Hux’s angry conviction, but it doesn’t move. It waits to see what Ren will say next. Ren lowers to his knees and bows his head. His hair is dirty. His clothes stink. He puts his hands on the floor and spreads his fingers.

“Hux,” he says, closing his eyes. “Please. He took so much from us already. Don’t let him have this, too, when we could have it for ourselves.”

“You are a liar and a traitor,” the droid says, speaking now as if reading from a prepared speech. “The New Republic seeks to weaken the Empire of Order by sending you here to entrap and destroy our Emperor. A predictable ploy. One he’s been expecting for some time.”

Ren sighs. He lifts his head and sits back, remaining on his knees.

“Then why hasn’t he killed me?” He stares into the droid’s recorder, wishing they could stop asking each other questions. It’s only the pain of knowing the answers already that continues this game. “I am helpless to stop him if he wants me dead.”

“You have inside information on the New Republic’s leadership. You know their secrets. You are one of them, existing within their inner circle. To discard you before extracting this information would be wasteful.”

“You’d be surprised how much I don’t know about them. They still don’t trust me. I was little more than a tool to them.”

“A tool to bring the First Order down.”

“They thought so. But, as you know, the Order did not fall. It rose, if anything.” This is flattery; it rose in title more than galactic stature. “A compromise was reached. Can you not understand why I needed to facilitate one?”

The droid doesn’t answer, either because Hux has slipped back into character or because he does know and is too infuriated by the concept to vocalize any type of response.

In the silence that follows, Ren feels closer to Hux than he has since he arrived. Hux is at least a hundred floors overhead in this fortress, but his spiking pain and answering anger seems to bring him near, as if he’s leaking down into Ren’s cell like the cold water he drinks from.

“You are an enemy here,” the droid finally says. “Nothing you say will alter that designation.”

“What information do you seek about the New Republic?” Ren asks, trying a new tack and hoping more than anything that the droid, and Hux’s guarded words from its modulator, will stay a little longer. “Surely you have your own spies in their midst. People more reliable than me, your enemy.”

“You have particular familial ties to the leadership there.”

“That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to tell you,” Ren says. “Though I’d use the past tense now. That’s done.”

“You have made that claim before.”

“I was a child then, and foolish, and Snoke--”

“You have consistently demonstrated your ability to betray anyone you swear allegiance to. If you claim to have left your family behind again, that is a meaningless pledge. Your actions demonstrate your true nature.”

“And you know about the true nature of humans, as a droid.”

“It is more simple perhaps than you think.”

“Then go!” Ren says, roaring this at the droid. Without realizing it, his own anger has been gaining ground within him. He killed Snoke for Hux. He’s been in misery all these years, too. Hux has a throne and an empire to run. Ren has been isolated, drifting. “Just get out,” Ren says. “If you think I’m here to hurt you.”

“You cannot hurt me,” the droid says.

Ren knows how badly Hux wants to believe that.

“Just know that I’ll miss you,” Ren says when the cell door opens for the droid’s departure. As has become customary, there is no one outside waiting to escort it. “I cherish our talks.”

Something is half-vocalized through the droid’s modulator as it turns away, a blurt of scoffing static that might have been a curse.

Ren cherishes this, too, grinning like a lunatic when the droid is gone. Any small slip of humanity is as good as a love confession, from where he’s sitting.

 

**

Ren can’t be sure, but he thinks less than a cycle has passed when he wakes from a slumped half-sleep to the sharp, alarming sensation that someone is approaching his cell. It’s not the droid this time: he’s bleary and not fully awake, but he’s sure it’s a person.

It’s Hux. He comes into the cell wearing a guard’s uniform, plain and black, a patrol cap pulled down over his hair. He’s pointing a blaster at Ren, sneering.

“Get up,” he says, jaw tight. “Now, or I’ll shoot off an arm.”

Ren doesn’t move. He can’t. Hux is framed by the low light from the hallway, and it gives him a ghost-like air. The clothes that resemble his old, simple First Order uniforms over the years have the same effect. He’s pale, rigid, and his energy is manic, ripping from aggression to terror in a way that makes Ren dizzy. He hasn’t used the Force to get a read on another person in approximately ten cycles.

“I said up!” Hux steps forward and sticks the blaster right in Ren’s face. “You’re finished here, let’s go.”

“Hux,” Ren says, scrambling to his feet. He doesn’t expect to be embraced, but he’s unsettled by his own surprise when Hux doesn’t lower the blaster. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

Ren thinks of what was said the last time the droid was here: you cannot hurt me. It will never be true for either of them, whatever armor they come to possess, and Ren can feel Hux’s hurt like fog that hovers around him. It stings, and Ren’s eyes burn.

“Get into the hallway,” Hux says, stepping backward, blaster still raised. His arm doesn’t shake. He's always been a good shot, and bragged about this when they were young. Ren is better, of course. Hux used to say that having the Force means Ren automatically cheats at everything he does.

“Where are we going?” Ren asks, still not moving.

“Shut up. No questions. Walk ahead of me.”

Ren does as Hux commanded, so thrilled that he’s afraid Hux will feel his glee coming off of him in waves. It’s an enormous relief to even be walking again, and to hear Hux’s clipped footsteps behind him as they move.

“Turn left,” Hux says when they come to the end of the cell block’s hallway.

“You’re breaking me out,” Ren says, though he knows it would be wiser to shut up.

“I’m getting rid of you. I can’t sleep. I never wanted you here.”

Ren doesn’t particularly want to be here either, beyond the fact that it’s the place where Hux resides and never leaves. He waits, with every corner they turn, to encounter some team of guards who will take him away. Gradually, as they pass empty station after station, he realizes that Hux has ordered them all away. The guard uniform he’s wearing is his disguise. He’s escorting Ren out of the prison complex himself.

It makes sense, as Hux will want nobody to know he’s done this. Ren’s heart slams as they approach an underground shuttle bay.

“You designed this entire fortress yourself,” Ren says, fondly, remembering this from the propaganda.

“Speak again and I’ll gag you,” Hux says.

Ren wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to that, but he doesn’t say so. His mental facilities are somewhat spotty from hunger, but the growing sense of elation within him is real, not some delusion. Hux came for him. Hux is herding him aboard a tunneling shuttle in an underground passage that may or may not be secret.

The shuttle moves smoothly along an underground track. It’s dark inside the shuttle, only the lights from the panel that Hux stands over illuminating their faces, throwing odd shadows. Ren can smell Hux, and it’s like inhaling pure elation: his clean sweat, the slick he uses on his hair. It's the same kind Hux used when he was young, when Ren first caught of a whiff of it while Hux held onto him on the speeder that bore them away from Brendol’s funeral.

“What will you tell your officers?” Ren asks. “Will you tell the whole galaxy I died in your custody?”

“Don’t you dare question me or my plans.” Hux glances over at Ren, nose wrinkling. The sneer makes him look young, but his eyes are so heavy and so much older. It’s obvious even here in the near-dark, not because of any visible wrinkling so much as the particular shade of lonely rage that lives there now. “You’re a menace,” Hux says, turning back to the front viewport. “I wish you’d let me go headfirst down those stairs when we were boys. I’d rather have brain damage from a bad fall than this other kind you’ve managed to give me.”

Ren swoons into Hux’s space, flushed with joy at the fact that Hux is already talking about their past, at the sound of his real voice at all.

Hux elbows him hard and points the blaster at him again.

“Stay back! I’d rather not kill you myself, as you know. You’ve thrown that in my face by coming here, well done. Someone else can do it. There are bounties out for you all over the galaxy.”

“You’re going to deliver me to a bounty hunter?”

“I’m going to strand you on a garbage planet in the Outer Rim and leave you to whatever fate befalls you. You’ll be on your own then, if it’s even true that you can’t just use the Force to summon Mummy and your friends in the New Republic to spirit you back to your homeland.”

“You don’t believe I’ve lost my powers?” Ren is almost heartened by this. Hux knows him. He has some innate understanding, to do with their long-ago intimacy, that this has not changed: Ren is powerful, standing beside him.

“I’d heard it, over the years.” Hux cuts Ren a look. There’s no pity in it, only suspicion. “Seems unlikely that you’d have been much help to your mother’s cause without the Force.”

“And I wasn’t. As you know, Emperor.”

“Don’t try to tell me you were sabotaging them from within for my sake. That’s laughable.”

“I wasn’t.”

Hux huffs as if now he’s not sure he believes Ren on this point either.

The shuttle passes from the dark underground tunnels and moves upward as if it’s transformed into a lift, arriving finally in a small spacecraft hanger where lights blink on as they slide across the gleaming floor. There’s a cleaning droid in the corner, powered off, and nobody mans the launch station. Only one craft sits facing the closed hangar door. Ren is unfamiliar with this type of transport, but the design reminds him of a miniaturized version of the hulking junkers that jawas drive across Tatooine.

“Get in,” Hux says, prodding Ren toward it with the blaster.

“You’ll be piloting this yourself?”

“Shut up. You know I can fly. I designed this myself, for emergencies. No one knows of it and it’s completely undetectable.”

“Your failsafe in case of a mutiny,” Ren says, climbing aboard. He loves this ugly craft already, for being Hux’s secret.

“Something like that. Never thought I’d need to use it to get rid of you. Why have you done this to me? Were you really not satisfied with the amount of damage you’d caused already?”

“Hux--”

“Quiet, that wasn’t an invitation to answer. Sit somewhere and stay out of my way. This launch is somewhat delicate.”

Yes, Ren thinks, folding himself onto a bench seat. Things are delicate, though not so difficult to navigate as he’d feared. Hux is reeling and sleep-deprived, driven to irrational action by the impossible burden of deciding what to do with Ren. This is an opportunity that Ren won’t waste.

 

**

As their transport makes its way stealthily into unoccupied space, Ren silently makes a plan. The first part of his plan is this itself: remaining silent, letting Hux stew and pace and wonder if he’s made the biggest mistake of his life. He can sense ample anger from Hux’s energy, also doubt, self-loathing for having even gotten this far from his Empire with Ren, and bitter distrust. He still thinks Ren might turn on him at any moment, revealing Force powers that will enable Ren to capture him.

There’s a caveat buried in this suspicion, one that took Ren some time to sift from the whirling angst of Hux’s mind. Hux doesn’t think Ren wants to capture him in order to hurt him. Hux thinks Ren might be doing this to try to convert him or rehabilitate him, to show him the light of the New Republic’s ways. Hux will die first, or so he tells himself.  

Ren longs to tell him that he has no such plan in that respect either, but now is not the time. He locates the transport’s supply cabinet and roots through it until he finds food. Freeze-dried meat sticks and Imperial cheese logs taste like a gourmet feast after so many days of only nibbling at nutrient bars.

“Help yourself,” Hux says, turning back to him with a sneer.

“Are you hungry?” Ren holds up one of the meat sticks as if it’s his to offer. Hux always appreciated boldness when they were younger. He liked the breechcloth, once, and being pinned to a wall.

Hux turns back to the viewport without answering, hands clasped behind his back. Ren thinks of telling him he looks good in his uniform, youthful and sort of sweet, but that would probably be unwise. He eats as quietly as he can and gulps down three rehydrated juice packets when he’s done. He’s using the Force to search the nearby planets for anything largely uninhabited but survivable. They’d likely need a food source. Hux won’t be easily swayed even after they’re stranded together.

Ren’s senses sharpened to razor-like accuracy over the long days in his cell, deep in meditation and singular in purpose. He feels the surrounding contents of widespread space answering him easily in his quest to locate the right planet. Landscapes and atmospheres open themselves to his attempt to catalogue their potential for an emergency landing. He’s already sensed that Hux has no particular destination in mind, that he’s still really trying to decide what to do.

So he’ll be glad, at least somewhat, when Ren uses the Force to wreck this little transport on a deserted planet near the edge of wild space.

“What’s that?” Ren asks as soon as he’s managed to remotely cripple the rear thruster with the Force, not needing to move from his spot on the bench to do so.

Altering complex mechanics is not easy for the average Force user. He’s always had a special talent for it, and anything to do with organically merging with machines.

Hux studies the blinking warning light on his console, frowning. He turns to give Ren an accusing stare.

“You tell me,” Hux says, spitting the words out through clenched teeth. “As I said, I designed this ship myself, it wouldn’t malfunction unless--”

“When’s the last time you took it out?”

“Took it out? Never! It’s a fucking secret escape pod--”

“Right, so. How long’s it been sitting there? You can get all kinds of engine problems if you don’t exercise your ship.”

“That’s not true!”

But Hux isn’t as sure about this as he wants to seem. He glares at Ren with suspicion, his pulse hammering harder when another thruster goes dark. He’s a masterful engineer but his speciality is weapons and weaponized architecture. He only dabbles in ship design. He knows that Ren is more adept at flying, spacecraft modification, and certainly maintenance.

Plus, he wants to believe he has no choice when he curses and pulls up a nav chart to find the nearest planet they can land on.

It’s an unnamed planet, mostly brittle and unfriendly, but it has water and a particular kind of underground fruit which tugged at Ren’s interest as they approached, also a host of harmless critters that will be easy enough to blast and roast. Ren entertains the idea of living on this planet forever as Hux curses and pilots his transport through its atmosphere.

“Why would the comm system be going offline?” Hux asks, barking this at the console more than at Ren.

Ren answers anyway: “The new-gen engines pull non-essential systems offline automatically when there’s major system malfunction.”

Hux turns to snarl at Ren. “You’re awfully calm!”

“I’m weak with malnutrition, everything’s a little muted for me right now. Who were you going to comm anyway? You trust someone back there enough to tell them you dressed up like a guard and sneaked the prisoner away?”

“Fuck you! Shut up!”

Which means, to Ren’s delight: no, of course not. Hux doesn’t trust anyone anymore.

This blank slate is a better start than having to untangle Hux from someone else, at least.

The landing is gentled by Ren’s covert control of the ship, but he allows the hull to drag across the rocky plain just enough to give him reason to stumble forward and crash into Hux, who promptly shoves him away.

They emerge from the entry hatch more or less together, both blinking against the light of this area’s late afternoon, its sun obscured by a haze. Hux has holstered his blaster and retrieved a diagnostic droid from the transport’s emergency kit.

Ren surveys the surrounding area while Hux fiddles fruitlessly with the damaged thrusters. He’s capable enough to handle this kind of repair, but Ren was careful to disable them in a way that the tools in Hux’s kit won’t be able to reverse. Only Ren can reverse this, and only in the same way he caused it.

“Yeah,” Ren says, squatting behind Hux when the light has begun to dim overhead and he’s sensed Hux wants to put his head in his hands and wail for what a fool he’s been. “Tube constriction. That’s not uncommon in a craft that’s been in airtight storage without use for more than three hundred cycles or so. Those really delicate interior tubes collect dust, get overheated when you’re in deep space long enough, the land-borne material adheres to the lining and starts to melt inward--”

“Get away from me,” Hux says, and then he does put his head in his hands.

Ren obliges, standing and judging the distance to the nearest water source. There’s a thin stream in the nearby hills, sparkling and clean. Except for the occasional use as a hideout for small-time criminals, this place is untouched. They have reserve water onboard, and enough food for a few cycles. Ren decides not to go foraging yet. It will be nicer to have Hux join him, if Ren can manage to convince him, and that's not possible right now.

Hux is in no mood to be resourceful or optimistic about surviving this. He’s on his knees behind his transport, which really is a pretty ingenious design, well-cloaked and sturdy. Ren feels guilty for damaging it; he’ll fix it as soon as he can. He needs to repair things between him and Hux first.

“Getting dark,” Ren says when Hux has been quiet for a while, his energy tilting between a barely repressed physical attack upon Ren’s person and the despairing awareness that he would lose that fight, even with Ren half-starved and lacking his Force powers.

“What have I done,” Hux says, hunched over and speaking to himself, eyes closed. “What have you done to me,” he amends, turning to show Ren his teeth.

“I came for you like I said I would. Once it was safe.”

“Safe?” Hux spits onto the dusty ground as if he’s never heard a more vile term. “For whom?”

“You, me. The galaxy.”

“Fuck the galaxy. Fuck you, Ren.”

“Yeah, you said that already. Come back onboard, we should assess our supplies and--”

“No!” Hux springs onto his feet and jabs his finger in Ren’s direction. “You are not my co-commander here. You’re still my prisoner, and I don’t require your assessment of the supplies or anything else.”

“Okay.”

Hux takes the blaster from his belt and points it at Ren. “Get in the ship.”

“You don’t have to wave that thing in my face. I’ll do whatever you say.”

“Right. I’ve heard that from you before. Go, walk ahead of me. And do not approach the console under any circumstances.”

Ren enters and walks toward the back of the ship while Hux seals up the door behind them. The wind is picking up as the sun goes down, blowing a cloud of loose grit over the long, empty plain. Ren finds the barrenness of this place peaceful. It reminds him a bit of how Hux kept his quarters when they were young. The interior of the ship is simple in design but every wall is cluttered with compartments that are stuffed with the small amount of supplies that such a compact craft allows room for. There’s no bunk, just the pilot seat and a narrow bench along the back wall.

Hux pulls up the nav chart and gets the comm system back online with a swiftness that calms his roiling energy somewhat. Ren sits on the bench in back and watches him work, feeling comfortable for the first time in years. Hux’s proximity has always centered him. Even when enacting the final stages of his plan, he was afraid he wouldn’t feel as much relief in Hux’s presence as he once did, at least not right away. He should have known there was nothing to fear. The pull to get back here, to return to him, was strong enough to tell him why. He feels like the air in this shuttle and on this planet are particularly breathable, but it’s just Hux, the way he occupies these spaces, the way he takes off the guard’s cap at last and wipes sweat from his temples with the flat of his palm.

Ren wishes he could send all his ballooning, enduring adoration through the air to Hux the way that Hux is sending signals through the Force without meaning to: distress, exhaustion, tattered hope that Ren won’t be able to destroy him again.

“Nav system indicates only minor life forms in range,” Hux says, speaking to himself. “Crawling things that live under rocks. Planet is unnamed, and there are few in range. I could hail a ship for help and we could kill the crew, but that’s. That sounds like a fucking mess. I need to think.”

Hux turns and gives Ren a look that seems to accuse him of preventing this thinking that needs to happen. Ren raises his eyebrows and gives Hux the mildest look he can manage.  

“Celebrating your victory back there?” Hux snaps. “You’ve ruined me, almost certainly. I had a perfect record as Emperor. I made no personal blunders. You are the only personal blunder of my entire lifetime, as I’m sure you know. I only wanted to get rid of you. I should have just had you killed. Knowing you were dead would have been easier than thinking of you with them.”

He means Ren’s family, the Resistance, now the New Republic generally. Ren wants to explain that he wasn’t with them, not the way Hux feared, not in spirit but merely in a proximity that was awkward at best. But Hux isn’t ready to hear that, let alone believe it.

Hux drops into the pilot seat. He lets his head fall back and unbuttons the collar on the guard’s uniform. He’s not wearing gloves, and his hands look very pale against the black cloth.

“Do you still have your blaster keyed to your fingerprint?” Ren asks.

“Of course. Were you hoping to take it and turn it on me?”

“No. Why would I want to shoot you?”

“Oh, I don’t know, for the same reason you betrayed and abandoned me?”

Hux snaps his gaze away from Ren’s and turns the entire pilot seat back toward the viewport. He’s embarrassed by that outburst, and also wondering why he should even bother feeling shame in Ren’s presence. There’s a whiff of him remembering all the humiliating things Ren has seen him do over the years: pulling his ass cheeks apart for Ren’s cock, kneeling and opening his mouth for same, wearing that bloody necklace all those years.

“I can feel you in my head,” Hux says.

“No. You’re imagining that.”

Ren resolves to stop snooping. He shouldn’t be doing it anyway. It’s just that Hux is right there, and his thoughts are so hard not to overhear when they’re all about Ren and how much it hurts to be near him.

“I’ve lost my mind, anyway,” Hux mutters. “Have at it, it’s clearly beyond my own control.”

“Because you didn’t want to kill me?”

“No, I wanted to kill you. Have for many years. It was just that I couldn’t do it. You’re my only weakness, which is why they sent you. Because you informed them of such. I’ll put this blaster against my temple before I let them take me back to your headquarters in mag cuffs.”

“Nobody’s coming for you. No one knows where I am.”

This part is true. He didn’t even leave a note. They’ll be relieved, probably, to be rid of his lurking, uncomfortable presence. He got as close to making amends as possible. It was a long, gruelling process, and amends still looked very far away from where he was standing when he decided it was time to go to Hux at last.

“What was it like,” Hux says. His voice is thick, tired. “Killing Snoke?”

“Painful. It almost killed me.”

“Were you ashamed that you lost your powers?”

Unasked, hanging in the air between them: Is that why you stayed away from me?

“No,” Ren says. “Not ashamed. I was in denial, for a time. Then depressed.”

“When were you ever not depressed.”

“When I was with you.”

“Ha. Right. I depressed you most of all, by the end. Didn’t I?”

Well: yes. “But that was Snoke’s fault.”

“But when he was gone, you stayed away.”

“I had things I needed to put right. And you wouldn’t have wanted me, in the aftermath. In the short or the long term. I had to remake myself.”

“Never mind.” Hux waves his hand through the air. He’s still turned away from Ren in the pilot seat, only the top of his head visible. It’s getting dark outside. Ren is hungry again, and he knows that Hux is, too. “That’s all in the past. I feel like we’re in the afterlife already. Figures I’d be cursed to share it with you.”

“You believe in an afterlife?” Ren perks up at the thought, his back straightening. The lore of the Jedi and other Force users tell conflicting tales about what it means to die.

“No.” Hux sounds offended by the question. He spins the pilot seat around and frowns at Ren. “That was a joke.”

“What was supposed to be funny about it?”

“Not a joke, then, a-- I don’t know, my head is pounding. Throw me something from the larder.”

Ren smirks at Hux calling the cabinet full of packaged foods a larder. He selects a sleeve of spiced wafers and two meat sticks. His approach toward Hux is cautious, offerings held in his outstretched hand.

“Those massive paws of yours,” Hux says, staring at Ren’s hand as if transfixed. He doesn’t reach for the food. “It always seemed sort of right that you could lift whole ships into the air just by raising a hand toward them.”

“You must be delirious from hunger,” Ren says. “If you’re complimenting me.” It occurs to him that hearing this from Hux would actually hurt a great deal if he had really lost his ability to use the Force. Perhaps that was Hux’s intention.

“It wasn’t a compliment,” Hux says. “You’re the monster who ruined me.”

“Just take your fucking snacks,” Ren says, and he throws them into Hux’s lap.

He’s surprised by the intensity of his own wounded anger when he paces away from Hux and returns to the food supply. Hux is surprised, too, based on his startled energy.

“I won’t be reconditioned,” Hux says. He’s defensive, but it’s also a kind of apology by way of explanation. “I mean it, Ren. You’re not rescuing me from myself. You’re just fucking everything up.”

“Your life in that fortress is so full. So rewarding and complete.”

“Yes! I have everything I wanted there! Just as I designed it!”

“Alone at the top of a tower that you’ve confined yourself to until death.”

“It’s a tower that controls my territory and maintains an entire society that functions serenely under my command! Just let your people try to take it down. You think I’m the essential piece that will start everything crumbling? Ha! Kill me if you must, but I’ve put a contingency in place for everything, even my own death. The Order will endure.”

“Eat your jerky and stop lecturing me about your martial law utopia. Nobody’s coming after that weapon-stockpile excuse for a city. Least of all me. I thought you’d want to see me. That’s the only reason I came.”

“You lied, then.” Hux is tearing at the wrapping on the wafers. Ren can feel the shake in his hands reverberating within the air inside the ship. He can’t disconnect from Hux even when he tries. “You told me you were in my territory to buy some black market item.”

“I said that to a droid.”

“You knew it was me.” Hux is chewing, talking with his mouth full. That’s new. Ren wonders when he last shared a meal with someone.

“Sometimes we lie because we have to,” Ren says. “Such as to ourselves.”

“Now who’s lecturing? Enough, I forbid you to speak.”

“As you wish, my liege.”

Ren meant that sarcastically, but he remains silent as he light disappears outside and the planet’s trio of small moons moves across the sky. The temperature drops dramatically as night falls, and if Ren maintains his story about not being able to fix the ship, Hux won’t want to power it up even for the sake of not freezing during the night. They’ll need to conserve its charge until one of them decides how exactly they want to leave this place.

When Ren gets up to search the cabinets for blankets he hears Hux snoring softly. He’s fallen asleep in the pilot seat, one of the unopened meat sticks still clutched in his fist as if he’s mistaken it for his blaster and expects to need to leap up and use it on Ren at any moment.

Ren puts the transport’s single self-heating blanket over Hux and goes to the back of the transport to curl up under his robe. Of course Hux only stocked the ship with one blanket. He planned to be alone not just for any desperate journey from his fortress but for the rest of his life.

 

**

Ren’s dreams have been alarmingly vivid for years. Back in New Republic territory, he felt like he truly lived in them and was asleep on his feet as he went about his daily routines and skirted around whatever social interaction he could avoid.

In the cell at the bottom of Hux’s fortress he didn’t dream at all. He lived inside his memories while he waited for Hux to descend to his level, keeping close to them as if warming his hands by a fire. Shivering on the floor of the transport now, he dreams that he has huge, monstrous hands that smash everything they touch. It feels like a memory, and in every way that matters, it is.

“You idiot,” Hux says in one of these dreams. “What are you doing?”

Destroying things, Ren would say, if he could make his mouth work. What have I ever done.

He feels Hux pressing up against him and realizes he’s awake, though he can’t be, because Hux is curling around him from behind, dragging the self-heating blanket over him. It’s big enough to just cover them both, if they lie very close together.

“Hux,” Ren says, and his voice breaks because of how badly he wants this to really be happening, also because his teeth are chattering and his ribs feel like they’ve been iced over.

“No,” Hux says, his warm breath right up against the back of Ren’s neck, and then the cold point of his nose.

“No?”

“Don’t say my name, or-- Just, don’t. I need your body heat.” Hux is clinging, wriggling a little, radiating satiation for the feeling of Ren’s ass snug against his thighs. “You let me fall asleep sitting up. My neck will never recover.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, you’re not. You’re not capable of contrition.”

Hux is so wrong. Ren killed Snoke because of contrition. He left Hux and the Order behind for the same reason.

Ren sighs instead of trying to explain this. The blanket is starting to warm him. Hux is, too.

“You smell awful,” Hux mutters, dry lips moving against Ren’s skin.

Ren shivers. “I know. There was no shower in your prison cell.”

“And there’s none here either.”

“I’ll clean up in the morning,” Ren promises.

Meanwhile, Hux is rubbing his face against the back of Ren’s neck and breathing deeply, like maybe Ren’s stale sweat isn’t the worst awful smell he’s known. Ren keeps shivering, though he’s not cold anymore. He could burrow into a hole in the ground and live there happily for the rest of his days as long as Hux was holding onto him from behind like this.

For a moment Ren actually thinks he’ll be able to fall asleep again, but of course he can’t. Hux is awake, too, grunting every time his fidgeting tweaks the ache in his neck. Ren wants to rub it for him. Maybe tomorrow he’ll offer.

“You’re the only person I’ve ever shared a bed with,” Ren says. And never often enough.

“This isn’t a bed,” Hux says.

“It could be.”

“What does that even mean? No, don’t tell me. Everything you say makes me want to throttle you. Just like old times.”

“You could throttle me.”

Hux snorts. Ren wants to read him with the Force, but if he does it now, while Hux is holding him like this, there will be no mistaking the intrusion. Hux would feel it and know.

Ren thinks he knows what Hux is feeling anyway, because it’s in the way he squeezes Ren’s chest and makes huffing noises under his breath as he tries to sleep and fails. It’s feels so good, this physical connection, so good that it’s all Ren can think, over and over, until he can’t unwind his thoughts from the ones Hux sends into him with his touch, those noises, and the heat of his breath on Ren’s skin.

When the night ends, dawn coasting gently through the viewport, Ren rolls over and wraps his arms around Hux, tugging him against his chest. Hux pretends to be asleep, presses his face to Ren’s throat, and then really is asleep. Ren follows him and they spend most of the day like that, until they’re sweating under their clothes and they have to admit to themselves that they don’t need the blanket or the proximity anymore.  

Hux sits up first, Ren’s arms sliding away from him. Hux’s hair is a mess, and Ren wants to neaten it under his damp palm almost as much as he wants to lie on his back and continue watching Hux unfasten the clasps down the front of the guard’s uniform. Beneath it he’s wearing a black tank that clings to him. He’s coated in sweat, same as Ren.

“What now,” Hux says.

He’s not looking at Ren, doesn’t seem to be asking him or really even asking a question at all, so Ren doesn’t respond. He touches the small of Hux’s back and leaves his hand there until Hux moves away.

 

**

They go exploring. Hux seems suspicious when Ren leads them almost directly to the stream, but he says nothing and gets to work testing the water for drinkability. With the sun out it’s very warm. Ren peels his tunic off, then his undershirt. They both reek of old sweat.

“What are you doing?” Hux snaps, looking up from his test kit.

“Bathing. And cleaning my clothes.”

“So. What, you’re just going to be nude until they dry?”

Ren shrugs and turns his back on Hux while he opens his pants. “You’ve seen it all before.”

This renders Hux speechless. He angles himself so that he can’t see Ren from even the corner of his eye. Ren can still sense Hux’s resentful attention as he peels off his pants, taking his boots off along with them.

It feels good to be nude under natural sunlight, especially with Hux stewing about it nearby. Ren brought a tube of foaming disinfectant from the ship’s med kit. He uses it to clean himself as efficiently as he can, squatting alongside the stream and then submerging himself as much as possible to rinse the suds away. Hux is upstream, pretending to ignore him.

“What’s the kit say?” Ren asks, though he already knows. “Water okay to drink?”

“Yes. You might have waited to see what the readout was before rubbing it all over your skin.”

“I had a good feeling about it.”

“Oh, you still have those?” Hux turns toward Ren without actually looking at him. “That’s convenient.”

“Do you want to clean up?” Ren tosses the disinfectant in Hux’s direction. “You got pretty sweaty under that blanket.”

“Don’t remark on my hygiene.”

“It’s okay.” Ren feels himself grinning. He doesn’t correct this, since Hux won’t let himself look anyway. “I like the smell of your sweat. Brings back good memories.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself. Meanwhile, my Empire is in disarray while we wait here to find out whatever you’re going to do to me next.”

Ren feels Hux’s flush more than he sees it, when Hux considers the potential innuendo in what he just said.

“I thought you had contingencies for your absence,” Ren says.

“I do, but in those cases it would be obvious that I disappeared for some reason or another, such as death! No one knows what’s become of me, in this case. I left without warning. Without leaving any kind of notice.”

“So did I.”

“It’s not the same situation.” Hux looks at Ren then, for the purpose of glaring at him. His gaze sinks to Ren’s chest, then lower. “You really think all you’ve got to do is wave that thing in my face and I’ll be yours again?”

“You’re flushed.”

“I’m getting sunburned. Do you not know how easily that happens to me? And you can’t taunt me by insinuating that I’m aroused by your cock. Obviously it’s on record that I am.”

“What record is that, exactly?”

Ren lets Hux see him grinning. Hux scowls and turns away.

Despite the fact that Hux is actually getting sunburned, they spend most of the remainder of the day outside. Ren lets the sun dry him while he washes his clothes, and he relents to wearing Hux’s guard uniform shirt tied around his waist like a loincloth while everything dries on the banks of the stream. This exposes Hux’s very pale arms and shoulders to sunburn, too. Ren wants to kiss Hux’s soft biceps, and his boyish shoulders that are reddening badly in the sun. He offers the shirt back ten times, but Hux says he’d rather burn to a crisp than have Ren’s cock swinging around freely while they harvest underground fruit, piling it into a bucket they brought from the ship.

They clean the fruit in the stream and peel it, exposing its soft pink innards. Ren wishes it was a little sweeter. Hux likes it, predictably. It’s just bitter and sour enough for his appreciation.

“How did you know to dig for these?” Hux asks, again speaking with food in his mouth.

“We lived on a planet like this when I was a kid. With underground stone fruit.”

“Ah, of course. An outer rim backwater with no trees and a desert tundra. Sounds likely.”

“You think I’m lying?”

Hux looks up, frowning. His lips are shining with fruit juice, plump from sunburn.

“You really think I’m too stupid to tell?” he says. “I don’t know why you want me thinking you can’t use the Force, but my best guess is that it’s so I’ll let my guard down and be taken by surprise when whomever you’ve summoned here with it shows up to arrest me.”

“Why would I want you arrested? I left them, Hux. My place is with you.”

Hux scoffs and throws a piece of fruit skin into the stream. “Then why didn’t you come to me earlier, or as an ally instead of a prisoner? Your story doesn’t even halfway add up.”

“I never told you about Snoke.” Ren knew it would come to this. He’s not looking forward to it, because it still doesn’t feel like a good enough explanation for anything he did.

“I was plenty familiar with Snoke and how he controlled you,” Hux says. “I don’t see what it has to do with decisions you made after you’d slaughtered him, however.”

“I didn’t tell you the whole story. How he found me. How he was always with me. Since infancy, always.”

“Infancy?” Hux scowls. His expression softens when he looks up and notices Ren’s. “What-- In your mind?”

“Yes. I didn’t know it was him. But there was a whisper. I was always being watched.”

Hux considers this without speaking. He’s washing the fruit juice off his hands in the stream, taking overlong to do it.

“That’s vile,” Hux says. “Of Snoke. He was-- Well. I don’t have to tell you. He ruined both our lives.”

“But he’s dead, and here we are.”

“Yes, stranded in a backwater.”

So Hux is back to believing they’re stranded here, that Ren can’t use the Force. Or maybe he still can’t decide. Ren keeps clear of Hux’s thoughts and even his energy, feeling gloomy. He didn’t even begin to really explain how Snoke infested him. How the murder of his father shook him so that when he turned toward the core of himself to determine why he had done it and why it had broken him there was no core to be found, just Snoke.

“I would have been a poor companion,” Ren says, muttering. “And then I thought you might not want me.”

“Why would you think that.”

“You act as if you don’t remember anything. You hated me, in the end. If I wasn’t hurting you by keeping loyal to Snoke then I was enraging you by trying to-- Do anything, I don’t know. I don’t know. The point is I’m here. I had to clean out every corner of myself and start over. I was making myself right, for you.”

“That’s utter shit!”

Hux leaps to his feet, furious. He’s red-faced from the sun, which makes him look doubly uhinged. “For me?” he shouts. “For them! I already wanted you, as you were!”

“No, you didn’t. Not with Snoke holding my leash. You detested me for that.”

“Yes, and you killed Snoke! A perfect time to return to me without that burden that made us both miserable, one would think!”

“You don’t understand.” Ren looks down at the pile of peeled fruit skins at his feet. His clothes are probably dry now, or dry enough. “I can’t make you understand. I feared this. It’s why I took so long.”

“Why didn’t you just ask to meet with me?” Hux sounds close to giving up, too, on making any sense of what they’ve done to each other or coming up with what to do now.

“When? I had to help my mother. I’d killed her-- My father. I killed him, Hux. Because Snoke asked me to.”

“I still fail to see why that meant we had to separate for three years--”

“Because I destroyed everyone who’d ever cared about me!”

Now Ren gets to his feet angrily, Hux’s shirt barely holding on to his waist in its makeshift loincloth fashion. Ren doesn’t care if it falls away. He’s exposed everything else, but Hux can’t see it. He won’t let himself see any of it, or Ren has failed to make it look the way it should. Or both.

“I didn’t want you to be next,” Ren said.  

“But Snoke was gone--”

“And there was nothing of me left when he was. Nothing except the person who had done all that destroying, and I didn’t know him. He was a mask.”

“So that negates everything we had,” Hux says. He nods and looks away, toward the sun that’s spent all day burning him. It’s sinking now, its light mellowing. “Right, then. Why are you here now?”

Ren opens his mouth, but all that comes out is a kind of pitiful croak. He’s drained, having spent all the useless words he had on an explanation that only made Hux more determined to distrust and dismiss him. He’s never been good at explaining himself, and it infuriates him when people can’t just understand. Especially when it’s Hux who can’t. Hux is supposed to know the core of him. He’d seemed to, even when Ren couldn’t see it himself.

“I had to do it this way,” Ren says. “I had to force you to deal with me, as your prisoner. I wanted to be at your mercy. Maybe I wanted you to kill me.”

“Ridiculous.” Hux picks up the bucket of dug-up fruit. “Come on. It’s going to be dark by the time we get back to the ship.”

Ren unties the shirt from his waist and hands it to Hux without looking at him. He puts his pants on first, then his tunic. The sleeves are still wet at the ends. Hux is staring at him when he’s finished doing up his boots.

“I worried Snoke was hurting you,” Hux says. “From the start, that day at the factory. Mind you, I was not a boy who worried about other people. Least of all strangers in robes who claimed to be sorcerers. But you were-- I thought you were like me.”

“Like you?”

“I don’t know anymore. Alone, or something. In this way that nobody else was. Or so I thought, I was young and stupid.”

“Yes.” Ren knew this would be hard. He’d thought that he wanted Hux to hurt him. Now he just wants to get under that blanket with him again.

Hux turns for the ship without saying anything else. Ren follows. The sunset is glorious by the time they arrive, its orange-pink glare reflecting off the drab hull of the ship. Ren doesn’t turn back to observe it.

Inside, they busy themselves with chores on separate sides of the ship, but it’s a small vessel that can be crossed in three strides, and soon they’re alone together again. Hux sits in the pilot seat and watches the sun go down. Ren senses that he’s deep in contemplation, troubled by some regret and berating himself for entertaining the idea of trusting anything Ren says.

Ren leaves him to it. He stretches out on his back on the floor, the blanket folded up under his head. Soon the temperature will plummet and they’ll need it again. Hux swivels the pilot seat in his direction and curses under his breath.

“What have you done with the med kit?” he asks. When he stands his movements are tentative, and by the light of the newly risen moons Ren can see his pained expression, the tightness of his jaw when every move makes him grimace.

“Here.” Ren knows what he needs from the kit and gropes for it clumsily, having stashed it under the bench in back after returning the disinfecting foam. He’d thought, stupidly, that it should be in reach of their sleeping place on the floor in case they needed its single tube of lubricant during the darkest hours of night. Now it seems impossible that they’ll ever need it again. Hux is so far away, even as he crosses the ship to take the burn ointment from Ren’s hand.

Hux still hasn’t put the guard’s shirt back on. It’s flung over the back of the pilot seat with an uncharacteristic lack of care. Ren wants to ask if Hux is worried about his Empire, the leadership he left behind, his imperiled legacy. He doesn’t dare, just stands watching Hux wince as he rubs ointment onto his arms.

“I could do that for you,” Ren says.

“Why would you? I can reach every place I’m burned myself.”

“Not the back of your neck and shoulders."

"Ren, I assure you, I can."

"Blindly. Also there’s your face.”

“I can obviously reach my own face.”

“It’ll be clumsy though, because you can’t see.” The light from the moons isn’t enough to show Hux his reflection in any available surface.

“As if I care that my face looks clumsy under present circumstances.”

“But you’d be wasting resources. There isn’t much burn ointment, and who knows how long we’ll be here.”

“Yes, indeed, who knows fucking anything anymore.”

“Just let me do it.”

Ren stands and stalks toward him, trying to look commanding in the way that he once did. Hux groans and surrenders the ointment. He turns around to face the front viewport and tugs his undershirt off. Ren wasn’t expecting the removal of the shirt. He wasn’t expecting Hux to relent so easily at all, and he’s motionless with shock for a moment.

“Get on with it,” Hux snaps. “I’m throbbing all over. I mean-- My skin, the burns-- Fuck, you know what I mean!”

“Yeah.” Ren stops himself from leaning in and kissing the back of Hux’s head. His hair must smell like the sun. Ren will stay here in purgatory with him forever, misunderstood and sneered at, as long as they come together under that blanket every night. “Sorry you got burned. It’s my fault.”

“I’m the one who made you fashion my shirt into a breechcloth. You don’t get to claim every one of my mistakes as your own.”

Ren can’t help it, his heart having grown ten sizes from hearing Hux say the word breechcloth. He leans in and kisses the back of Hux’s head, swiftly. Too fast to really smell his hair.

“Did you just kiss me,” Hux asks, shoulders stiffening.

“Sorry. Yes.”

Hux makes no further comment about it and issues no instructions. His shoulders remain tense under Ren’s hands. Ren doesn’t dare read his thoughts while smoothing ointment down over his arms, but Hux’s energy reaches out to him anyway. It’s like a pulled-tight string, trembling at both ends.

Instead of asking Hux to turn, Ren walks around to face him. Hux’s face glows with moonlight, his cheeks slightly puffy from the sunburn. His nose is red, eyes dodgy when Ren meets his gaze.

“You didn’t do the back of my neck,” Hux says.

“I’m going to. I’ll do your face first. Looks like it hurts.”

Hux doesn’t confirm or deny this. His eyes flutter shut while Ren’s fingers move over his forehead and down along the line of his nose. Ren has always liked Hux’s nose. When he was younger he envied it. Now he likes the contrast of his own awkward, over-sized features. He likes how small Hux’s shoulders look under his hands.

“Why didn’t you burn?” Hux asks when he opens his eyes again. “Been walking under many suns, in New Republic lands?”

“Unfortunately.”

Ren ducks Hux’s gaze and moves around to put ointment on his neck. He saved this part for last because he has a nefarious plan.

He’s obsessed with every inch of Hux, but the back of his neck has a particular wistful appeal. When they were co-commanders and even before that, Ren often stood just behind Hux and observed him from that vantage point. A flush across the back of Hux’s neck could mean many things back then: embarrassment, anger, arousal. Ren puts more ointment on his already slick fingertips and spreads it very gently downward from the line of Hux’s hair and to the first bump of his spine, then a little lower. Hux hisses when Ren rubs his fingers upward again, now more firmly.

“Still sore?” Ren asks. “From sleeping upright?”

“Yes. And from squatting over a fruit harvest and a stream all day like a farmhand.”

Ren spreads his thumb and forefinger and rubs them up along the sides of Hux’s neck. He’s careful at first, only adding more pressure when he senses Hux’s uncoiling tension, a low-burning pleasure rushing in to replace it.

“I liked farming with you,” Ren says. “It’s just what I hoped we would be doing.”

“How did you expect to convince me to do anything with you when you were locked up in a prison cell? You could have just sent me a message. Arranged a meeting.”

“Right. You wouldn’t have been suspicious at all.”

Hux huffs. “I’m suspicious anyway.”

Ren doesn’t attempt another explanation of his reasons for staying away, for showing up the way he did, for any of it. He speaks instead with his hands, kneading Hux’s shoulders with ointment-slick fingers before dragging his thumbs up along the column of Hux’s neck.

Hux moans.

“Good?” Ren says, soaring.

“I haven’t been--” Hux mutters.

He doesn’t need to say the rest. He hasn’t been touched, at all, in a long time.

“Me either,” Ren says, though he really means he hasn’t touched anyone like this, like he can do something with his hands that isn’t destructive. As if his hands aren’t just a monster’s instruments of chaos.

“It’s just--” Hux stops there. Ren holds his breath, waiting for more. It’s just, it’s only, if only, if you had just, where were you. “You taught me no one can be trusted. If I couldn’t learn something from that and act accordingly, what good was any of it?”

“I told you I was going to kill Snoke.” Ren said it only with his eyes when they were in bed together that last time, but he knew Hux understood him. “And I left you that recording. And now I’ve done what I promised to.”

He’s still rubbing Hux’s shoulders, digging his thumbs in deeply. Hux was beginning to relax but now he’s tensed up like someone has pulled the two string ends of him tight again.

“I can’t believe you when you say you stayed away because you thought I might not want you back,” Hux says. “You shouldn’t have been so brazen in your lies. I wanted to believe the rest. I tried to. But that, no. You knew what I wanted.”

Ren turns Hux toward him slowly, as if they’re standing on top of a narrow column and Hux might lose his footing. As soon as their eyes meet he can see that Hux wants to look away, but Hux is stubborn and determined to pretend he’s got it all figured out, clinging as hard as he can to the idea that nobody loves him, not even his personal monster.

“I watched all your propaganda,” Ren says. “The speeches, the coronation. The celebratory ball.”

Hux groans. “That wasn’t my idea. The dancing, that ridiculous party. The idea was that we had taken possession of Snoke’s wealth, because, well. We had.” Hux’s nose twitches. He can’t deny that Ren was the one who engineered that windfall. “We wanted to offer a kind of visual representation of how we were going to redistribute Snoke’s riches to the people. I was meant to seem like a young leader who truly cared, as opposed to that decrepit old despot.”

“It worked.” Ren is still holding Hux’s shoulders. He strokes his thumbs over them, hoping the ointment is sinking in, helping. It’s buzzing on his own skin. “You were beautiful in those holos.”

Hux recoils as if offended. “I was supposed to look strong.”

“You danced with those beautiful women.”

“Just the one. Or maybe there were two. It was all a humiliating blur from my perspective, pushed on me by image-makers. Awkward nonsense. They made me take lessons.”

“Hard to imagine you taking orders from anyone, with Snoke gone.”

“Yes, well, I couldn’t take credit for killing him, could I? They needed a face. Apparently people like my hair. I would have preferred-- I don’t know. I’ve always been better at scheming than posturing. I had everyone who gave me orders executed, eventually.”

“For making you dance with dignified ladies?”

“No, for trying to overthrow me by way of violent murder. My propaganda didn’t mention the assassination attempts by multiple factions of senior advisors. Would have been bad for the brand.”

Ren’s grip on Hux’s shoulders tightens. He wasn’t there. Hux might have been killed.

“I took care of myself,” Hux says, frowning when Ren moves closer.

“I was jealous,” Ren says. “Watching you dance with other people.”

“Well, I hated it.”

“Did you imagine me seeing it? Did you hope I would?”

“No!”

Hux scowls at his own emphatic denial. This means he did hope Ren would see him and boil with envy. Ren remembers it well: watching the holo alone, replaying it until he felt himself grinding his teeth. It was the first time he’d felt anything but boiling self-hatred since waking up on the other side of Han’s murder without the dark epiphany he’d been promised.

“I thought of going to you then,” Ren says. “Crashing your party.”

“I’m sure it was long over by the time you got your hands on the recording. We didn’t broadcast it live even in our own territory.”

“I meant your party in general. Your reign.” He’s said too much. Saying he might have shown up implies he could have if he wanted to, because he can still use the Force. Hux seems too lost in his own thoughts to have noticed the slip, however. “Do you remember the steps?” Ren asks, to change the subject.

Hux looks up, refocusing on Ren. “What?”

“The steps, the formal dance you did that day. Do you remember it?”

“I have an unparallelled memory for tactical directions.”

“So show me.”

“Fuck off.” Hux shoves Ren away and steps back. “You don’t need to humiliate me quite that thoroughly before you drop the other shoe.”

“No shoes are getting dropped. C’mon, I want to see if you can still do it. I’m an excellent dancer.”

“You are not.”

“How do you know? C’mere and find out.”

Hux studies Ren as if he’s doing a Force read, with such intense scrutiny that Ren can feel it under his skin and along the edges of his skull.

“Give me my shirt,” Hux says.

“You need the proper attire?” Ren grabs Hux’s undershirt from the back of the pilot seat. “Here you are, Emperor. Your ceremonial finery.”

Ren bows as he presents the shirt. Hux curses him, but he’s smiling a little as he pulls it on. Ren just catches it before Hux schools his face into unimpressed stoicism.

“Go on,” Hux says, arms at his sides. “Show me how good you are at this.”

“Try to keep up,” Ren says.

He swoops in fast and pulls Hux close, just short of settling Hux’s hips against his own. Hux swallows and turns his sunburned face up toward Ren’s, unblinking. He allows Ren to take his hand, and doesn’t protest when Ren’s other hand settles on his waist. In the holos, Hux did the leading, of course. Hux puts his free hand obligingly on Ren’s shoulder and lifts his eyebrows, inviting Ren to impress him.

“I had to take lessons, too,” Ren says, like a warning. “When I was a boy.”

“Of course. You were a member of someone’s idea of high society, I suppose.”

The transport doesn’t give them much room to glide through the steps, but Ren does the best he can, holding Hux’s gaze. He has to hold in laughter when Hux’s expression remains grim as they move together, as if this dance is some kind of staring contest or carefully choreographed fight. Hux probably looked just like this to the women he danced with at his coronation ball, or worse.

“Fine,” Hux says, still letting Ren twirl him through the steps. “You can do it. Now release me.”

“We’re not done yet.”

“Ren, this is beyond absurd--”

“Shh, just, c’mere. There’s an advanced move, I bet you don’t know it.”

Ren gathers Hux closer, against his chest. Their hips press together. Hux frowns but doesn’t pull away. His hand tightens on Ren’s shoulder, his other hand still clasped in Ren’s and wedged between them now. It’s improper posture for the steps, this closeness and the tucked-in position of their joined hands. Ren’s other hand slides to Hux’s lower back.

“See?” Ren says, softly. “Pretty good, right?”

“This isn’t dancing,” Hux says, though Ren is swaying his hips back and forth, moving Hux’s along with them. He’s moving slowly and without much rhythm, but Hux seems hypnotized, like he could be rocked to sleep this way.

“Sure it is.” Ren brings his face close to Hux’s. He can feel the heat of Hux’s skin, especially warm from the sunburn and fragrant from the ointment.

Hux opens his mouth, no doubt to make some defensive remark. Then he seems to get lost, his gaze traveling down to Ren’s lips. There’s a sadness in his eyes when he looks up again, so sudden and unhidden that it almost takes Ren’s legs out from under him. Ren stops swaying, and for a moment they’re just standing there, holding each other. Then Hux pushes Ren away so violently that they both stumble backward. Hux lands on his ass in the pilot seat.

“Stop it,” Hux says. He grabs both arms of the seat and tries to manage a snarl. Mostly he looks like he might cry. “Don’t torture me. Put me out of my misery, if you ever felt anything for me.”

“I’m not here to kill you!”

Shouting that while stomping toward Hux with a look of fury may not have been the ideal delivery. Hux doesn’t look scared, anyway. He’s glaring up at Ren from the seat, hands still clawed around its arms.

“I know that,” he says. “You would have done it already if that was your endgame. But I told you, I’ll take death over being dragged into the light with you, or whatever you think you’ll convince me to do.”

“I’m not in the fucking light.” Ren drops to his knees and grabs the pilot seat, holding it just around Hux’s thighs. “I never can be, because of what I’ve done. Just like you. I just want to stand with you in the shadow of who we were.”

“I’m still the same person I always was! You’re the one who’s changed, don’t put that on me.”

“You’ve always been an untouched, paranoid lunatic who lives alone at the top of a tower that’s armed to blow a thousand Star Destroyers that aren’t coming out for you out of atmo?”

“Yes, frankly, and yet I’m here! Unguarded and at the mercy of another sort of lunatic!”

“Why do you think that is, Hux.”

“Because you--!” Hux snaps himself off in mid-sentence when he hears his voice crack, not with anything resembling tears but with the strain of unhinged rage. He’s red-faced in a way that looks painful behind his shiny sunburn. He huffs and slumps back against the pilot seat, glowering at Ren. “Look at you, kneeling between my legs,” he says, seething. “Playing the part of my supplicant, ha. As if I can be so easily convinced.”

“What would convince you.”

It’s a real question, but maybe not a conversation Hux is ready to have. Ren puts his hands on Hux’s knees and parts them, just slightly.

Hux’s mouth drops open. He crosses his arms over his chest and presses his lips together.

“You think it’s as easy as sucking my cock?” he says, eyebrows lifting-- With interest, Ren thinks.

“I never suspected for a moment that you would make any of this easy for me.”

Hux sniffs and uncrosses his arms. He grabs the arms of the pilot seat again and spreads his legs a bit wider.

“Good,” he says. “You knew I’d want you to suffer.”

“Yes. Knew you’d grind me under your boot.”

“Then why come at all.”

“Because I love you,” Ren says, and he reaches for the clasp on Hux’s pants. “Are you going to let me do this?” he asks, before Hux can react to the other part.

Hux’s eyes have widened in a way that makes him seem suddenly younger. Ren thinks of him in his lieutenant's uniform the day they met, the slight tremble in his limbs after Ren caught him and held him with the Force to stop him from falling down the stairs. He kisses the inside of Hux’s thigh. Hux inches his legs apart more widely.

“Do whatever you want,” Hux says. He swallows, flexes his shoulders and presses his legs in around Ren’s sides as if to hold him in place. “You always do.”

Ren might argue that he’s done very little of what he actually wants in his life, between serving Snoke and then a sentence of uneasy penitence among the Resistance. He withholds the remark and pulls the clasp on Hux’s pants open. Hux is already getting hard, his cock straining against his black briefs as it fills. He’s breathing harder, too, watching Ren’s hands.

The temptation to expose Hux’s pale thighs is too great. Ren grips the waistband of Hux’s pants and underwear and pulls everything down at once. Hux makes no protest except a half-swallowed gasp, his hips lifting cooperatively and his cock springing up into Ren’s face.

“Oh,” he says when Ren gives him the tiniest lick. Then he seems determined to be quiet. He presses his lips together and breathes loudly through his nose while Ren licks him again and again, too soft and slow. It’s still enough to get Hux dripping, pre-come beading over his slit. Ren licks that up, too. Hux makes a noise under his breath and shifts his hips toward Ren’s mouth with as much restraint as he can manage. He closes his eyes like he can’t bear to watch himself fall apart.

When Ren finally takes Hux into his mouth he thinks Hux will come right away: Ren still can’t access the Force with any sort of accuracy when he’s aroused, and he’s harder than he’s been in years as his head bobs on Hux’s cock, but there’s a kind of sun-hot energy surge that feels climactic and Ren is afraid it will be over for Hux too soon. He pinches Hux’s thigh. Hux shouts. Ren swirls his tongue to make up for the twinge of pain.

Hux grabs Ren’s hair in retaliation, holding his head down and fucking his mouth in angry little twitches. Ren moans, getting what he wanted. His chin gets messy and Hux’s noises grow less repressed, more like growls. Ren catalogued everything he missed about Hux daily but somehow forgot to include the taste of his cock and the way it fits perfectly into Ren’s mouth.

“Fuck,” Hux says, hissing when Ren grazes him with a tooth. They’re both getting sloppy. “Ah, just-- Pinch me, pinch me again.”

He’s trying not to come yet, maybe thinking this is the last time he’ll ever empty into Ren’s mouth or have Ren’s mouth on him at all. Ren does as he asked, pinching him harder this time. Hux yelps and comes, instantly.

He still has his hands in Ren’s hair as Ren’s mouth slides off of his dick. Ren rests his chin on Hux’s knee. Hux is trembling like he did that first day, on the stairs. Ren reaches down to palm his own cock through his pants, trying to remember the last time he even jerked off. He could never get into the habit, after denying himself for so long.

“You’ve left a mark,” Hux says, trying to play it cool though he’s clearly wrecked, heavy-lidded and panting. He rubs his finger over the pink spot on the inside of his thigh where Ren pinched him, his legs hanging still wide open around Ren’s sides.

“Good,” Ren says.

This makes Hux grin. He looks drunk. “Fuck me,” he says, in a way that’s very similar, Ren thinks, to the way Ren said I love you before opening Hux’s pants.

Ren considers asking if Hux still thinks he’s going to be hauled off to a New Republic reconditioning program, as if he would ever offer his ass to someone he doesn’t secretly trust, the only person he ever has. He decides not to push his luck and stands to get the lube instead.

When he turns back toward the pilot seat, Hux is standing, facing away from him and presenting his ass while he holds the back of the seat with both hands. He’s kicked his pants and underwear away, and something about his bare feet on the floor of the transport makes Ren want to weep and drop to his knees. He wants to kiss Hux’s pale, skinny calves and hold them against his face.

But Hux doesn’t want that: he wants what he asked for. Ren walks to him, stepping out of his own pants on the way.
 
“Don’t bother with that,” Hux says, but he presses his ass back as one of Ren’s slick fingers traces familiar territory, moving down through his crack and lower. Ren’s other hand is on Hux’s waist, loose but sure, like Hux is a ship he’s piloted a thousand times. As if they even had that many opportunities to have each other. “Ren.” Hux grunts and drops his forehead against the pilot seat when Ren works one finger him. “I mean it, you-- Can just, ah. Push in, your cock, I’m not a virgin--”

With crushed flowers rubbed into his hair, Hux doesn’t say.

“Shhh.” Ren strokes Hux’s side with his thumb. Like adjusting flight speed, coaxing a ship through jagged terrain, careful not to scratch an inch of the hull. “Don’t push yourself so hard, General. You’re too tight. Need to be worked open.”

“Don’t call me jahh-- General.”

“Armitage.”

“Fuck you!”

“You could. Want to trade places?” Ren is somewhat concerned by just how tight Hux is, actually. He hasn’t had his finger in an ass since the last time they were together. Possibly he just forgot that Hux was always this closed up, delicate-feeling--

“Just shut, shut up!” Hux says, as if he can hear Ren’s reeling thoughts. “Ahh--”

Hux rolls his hips back, trying to get Ren deeper. His hands are clawed around the back of the pilot seat, and his face is buried against it. He whimpers when Ren remembers just how he likes his prostate teased.

“Do it,” Hux commands, also begging. “Ren, I can’t. I don’t have time to waste.”

“Yes, you do.”

“I can’t stay here, I can’t-- This, where we are-- This isn’t even a place.”

“And yet you’re drawing breath here.”

Ren removes his finger, swiftly enough to make Hux gasp.

When he replaces it with his cock, much less swiftly, they both groan. It starts out small, at the bottom of Ren’s chest, and climbs up through him until Hux is making the sound, too, something like guttural slow-motion weeping.

Neither of them actually cries, and mostly Ren just pounds into Hux hard enough to finish too fast, dizzy from the whiplash of relief. He wraps himself around Hux’s back when he’s finished, so tight. Hux grabs Ren’s forearm and holds it against his chest with what feels like approval. He comes again when Ren pumps his cock, almost right away, splattering the pilot seat. Something about the sight of Hux’s come on black leather does bring Ren near tears, and he buries his face against Hux’s throat to stop his lips from shaking.

Hux effectively crawls off Ren’s cock, pulling himself from it and more fully onto the pilot seat. He sits and curls in on himself there, still breathing heavily, eyes closed. He’s clinging to the back of the seat in a way that actually makes Ren feel jealous while he stands and waits to be told what to do, his legs like jelly just from one long overdue orgasm.

“Don’t say another word until morning,” Hux says. It almost seems like he’s speaking to the pilot seat, his lips moving lovingly against it. “Please, let’s just. Leave it, while I recover.”

Ren opens his mouth to agree, then decides to take this order very literally. He’s hurt by the way Hux is starting to shiver but still not coming to him, still holding onto the pilot seat like it’s more reliable than Ren has ever been.

Maybe he’s right to, but the undoing of Ren’s reliability started long before Hux even met him, let alone wanted him around. Ren uses his tunic to clean off his dick and then holds it out for Hux, just out of reach. Hux opens one eye to peek at him.

“Come here,” Ren says, taking a step backward, and then, “Fuck!” when he realizes he’s broken his vow of silence already. Of course.

Hux smiles drowsily and extends one leg to the floor. Ren’s come is leaking from him, onto the cushion of the pilot seat. So now they’ve both anointed it, or ruined it. Hard to say.

They crawl under the blanket together. Hux turns his back to Ren, but it doesn’t feel like a rejection. His back fits well against Ren’s chest, and his sighs sound encouraging when Ren licks his neck.

“Aren’t you tasting that burn ointment?” Hux mutters. He’s boneless in Ren’s grip, nearing sleep.

“I thought we weren’t speaking.”

“That was only directed at you.”

“Asshole. You asked me a question.”

Hux hums as if there’s something sad about that statement, like he’s asked many questions that haven’t been answered-- Always after telling Ren to shut up, Ren might note. As if to dare any response is to fail the inquiry instantly.

Anyway: they sleep, curled together, while the full chill of the night gathers over them.  

Ren dreams of killing Hux. It’s a familiar nightmare. Sometimes it has the flavor of his having forgotten that he killed Hux. In those dreams he shows up at Hux’s fortress with great expectations, chest bursting with hope, only to remember that he crushed Hux between his hands so many years ago.

He wakes up with a painful flinch, his neck aching after another night of sleeping on a hard floor. Hux has rolled over to face him during the night. His breath is humid against Ren’s chest, and when he adjusts in Ren’s arms there’s a scratch from the fuzz that’s grown in on his cheeks. As before, they’re both sweating under the efficiency of the self-heated blanket, though less unpleasantly now that they’re naked beneath it.

Hux moans when Ren scoots down to nose at his cheek. Ren doesn't need to use the Force to know that Hux wants to keep sleeping, to wait a little longer before facing whatever's next, but Ren is impatient for him to wake up. He needs to hear Hux say, no, I’m not dead. Crushed, yes. By you, yes. But I’m here, also, where you are.

 

**