Pryde was prideful. So self-satisfied with his success in dealing with ‘the spy’ that it never occurred to him that Hux wasn’t, couldn’t be, working alone. Pride is blind, and Pryde was blind if he couldn’t see all those people who had a personal grudge against their puppet Supreme Leader.
Only a few days ago, anyone who’d suggest that Hux would be one day betraying the First Order would have been shot in the face by Hux himself. But the tables have been turned with that single threatening broadcast from the Unknown Regions…and now, Hux felt betrayed by the First Order itself.
He hated the Empire. The Empire was everything old, delusional and dysfunctional, like his father. It was a thing of the past, rightfully so. And now the First Order, full of young and bright, something he built up from scraps to glory, was going to bow and step aside for... what? A Final Order? Some fantasy of an old leech who didn’t know how to die in a timely fashion?
Kylo Ren wasn’t even a Supreme Leader anymore. Ever since he came back from whatever Sith shithole he went to, that broken servant’s mask back on his face, Hux knew the misdirected mystic just got himself a new master. He watched Ren wasting resources on carrying out Palpatine’s orders, watched the Knights of Ren running rampage and leaving mayhem in their wake, watched the stuffy old Imperials rise to bask in Palpatine’s favour… and he hated it. The Final Order was no place for Hux.
Hux was meant to be the Emperor one day, not the man who already had a shot at it and ultimately lost his throne. Palpatine lost his domain because of his underestimation of the Rebellion. Hux wasn’t underestimating the Resistance. He was simply using them to further his own goals.
And his goal right now was to survive while the rest of the First Order would fall to ruin under the combined disaster of Kylo Ren and Palpatine, just like the Galactic Empire did.
After all, Hux was patient. And resourceful. If he couldn’t destroy the Resistance, he could at least make them help him fuck up things for Ren.
Letting his former Stormtrooper shoot him in the leg was more an insult than an injury. He didn’t need the wound to pretend he was loyal. He needed it to leave behind a sufficiently convincing substitute body later.
Walking up onto that bridge and knowing what he had to do - yes, that hurt. A blast to the chest actually hurt like hell. At least it was quick.
“Sir? Easy now, sir.” A face, blurred by the stream of bubbles trickling through the viscous liquid, appeared in Hux’s line of vision. Dark hair. Concerned eyes.
“It’s okay, sir. Breathe. I’m going to lift you from the tank now.”
Bacta felt like slime. Hux curled on himself, wracked with full body shudders, teeth rattling. Lieutenant Mitaka hurried over with a thermal blanket.
“How long was I out?”
“Just a few minutes before I was able to hook you up to life support.” Mitaka wrung his hands, glancing towards the door every few seconds. A nervous habit, but Hux couldn’t blame him. This auxiliary medbay wasn’t normally in use, and as long as Ren’s folly didn’t drag them into another battle, they shouldn’t be discovered here.
“I changed the bridge shift rotation so that our men were there and knew where to take you,” Mitaka continued. “The heart replacement surgery took about two hours. The medidroids are disassembled now. You’ve been in bacta for the past few hours to repair the damage to your lungs, breastbone and skin.”
Hux quieted his breath and felt around his chest. In the place of a gaping hole was a brand new skin, pink and shiny, and underneath it he could feel the steady whirring of a bionic heart.
“What about my body?” Hux looked up with a smirk.
Mitaka actually looked proud, even though a bit pale, at his next words. “Finding someone who would somewhat passably resemble you, sir, was harder than I thought. So in the end I just cut off their head as well. I told the morticians that the Knights of Ren took it. They seem to have an obsession with skulls.”
“At least they were good for something in the end,” Hux chuckled. And coughed. Urgh. He was going to be coughing up blobs of bacta for days. His freshly mended ribs were still tender and overall he felt as if a nerf kicked him in the chest and then slobbered all over him.
“You’re sure you’re feeling okay, sir? It was frightfully risky, if I may say so, sir. How did you know he wouldn’t aim for the head?”
“Clean shot through soft tissue compared to brain splatter from an exploded skull,” Hux explained, trying not to laugh at the shade of green Mitaka turned into. “The old Imperial dogs don’t like any mess on their shiny bridges.”
The rish Hux took was enormous but carefully calculated. Like everything in his plans.
“What about our transport?”
Mitaka’s top lip curled in faint distaste.
“I’ve secured the freighter the Resistance rescue party arrived with. They left in the Corellian freighter we captured on Passana.”
“Yes, I remember that,” Hux winced and rubbed his leg. The wound was barely more than a pinkish spot after his prolonged stay in bacta tank but the phantom sensation still stung.
“I’ve managed to sneak aboard enough food, spare parts and medical supplies to last for several years. The freighter itself is in working order, sir, but barely. Also it’s dreadfully filthy.”
“The more reason to have it jettisoned into space like a garbage along the hyperlane, hm?”
Their plan had been simple. Hide aboard the dead freighter, wait for the Star Destroyer to jump to hyperspace, and then fire it up and take off in whichever other direction and never look back.
“Uh, yes, about that, sir...” Mitaka wrung his hands again. “You see, you’ve been in the tank for a couple of hours-”
“Oh kriff, where did Pryde take us now?” Hux groaned.
“We’re not in free space anymore, sir. We’ve now hovering several hundred meters above a planet surface. With the rest of the new fleet.”
Great. But… Hux was nothing if not flexible. He’d seen the surface reconnaissance data from Ren’s first visit here. The surface was dark and ragged. Plenty of holes to hide in… plenty of time to wait out whatever shit was about to go down above them.
“Let’s get out of here.”
“Here, sir,” Mitaka handed him a green overall paired with an orange vest. A radar technician uniform. The good Lieutenant had really thought of everything.
“And good luck, sir.”
Hux paused. “What? You’re going with me. The Order has nothing to offer to you, Lieutenant. If Ren by some miracle survives his next battle with the scavenger girl, he’s going to throttle you all out of frustration he’s not his own master yet.”
“I know, sir. I’m...” Mitaka blushed. “I know you don’t approve of fraternisation… but… the Petty Officer Thanisson already arranged an escape for us. I mean. Him. And me. Sir. Sorry sir.”
Hux blinked. He’d vaguely remembered Thanisson. Young. Clever. Feisty.
A good match for Mitaka, actually.
“Good luck, Lieutenant. I won’t forget your service.”
“It’s been an honor, sir,” Mitaka beamed. Then he handed him a standard technician datapad.
“Your route to the hangar. I put in the location and times of patrols. Good bye.”
Getting onboard of the freighter was easy. Nobody paid attention to lowly technicians when there was a battle about to begin at any moment.
Logging into the hangar bay computer and placing an order to jettison that piece of useless junk was a matter of seconds.
Flying under the radar towards the planet surface was bound to be trickier. It took Hux several minutes of confusion to find the medallion inserted in the ship’s communication computer and realise that was why the other Star Destroyers were giving him free pass as soon as he got into their sensor range. Well, the Resistance scum was proving more and more useful by the second.
Finally Hux found a suitably hidden spot to land and wait out the battle unfolding above him. It was some kind of a large structure, ridden with static electricity and lacking any kind of sensible illumination. Anyone with a speck of sense wouldn’t be coming here, Hux was sure.
Which was why it came as the nastiest shock of his life when suddenly a large black clad body fell from somewhere above directly in front of Hux’s feet, just as he was taking a careful look around. If he had his original heart, it would surely had stopped with fright.
The body made a sick crunch on impact and didn’t move otherwise.
Hux carefully moved closer. The light was simply dreadful, he could barely see the outline of that massive body. The plain outfit - just a shirt and a pair of leggins - didn’t ring any bells, but that hair…
Hux poked the head with the tip of his boot. It rolled lifelessly to reveal a long nose and deep set eyes completed with slanting mouth and uneved chin.
Ren. Of course it was Ren. Hux couldn’t be free of him even running away, could he?
But… wait. Ren was unconscious, and barely breathing. He was bleeding from his mouth and so terribly pale that he must have had mere seconds to live. Minutes at most.
“Damn you, I wanted to do this,” Hux muttered to himself.
Somebody had beat him to the punch of killing Ren. At least he got to watch him die. That was vaguely satisfying.
A faint bluish light coming from above interrupted Hux’s musings. Somewhere above them it seemed as if lightning storm was raging, unending streak after streak of electricity flaring up and filling the air with ozone, and Hux could hear something like a sick, cruel laugh…
The second nastiest shock of Hux’s life came when the figure in front of him suddenly stirred, and then started to glow.
Frozen to the spot, Hux watched as an almost solid figure of Ren rose from his unmoving body and, ignoring his surroundings entirely, began climbing the walls of the opening he fell through here. He had to blink several times but there it was, plain as a day. Ren somehow doubled himself - projected himself-
Oh yes. Hux remembered. How could he forget Crait? That pile of ammunition wasted on Luke Skywalker who kriffing wasn’t even there?
But Hux also remembered something else Ren had said that day.
The effort had killed him.
The battered body on the ground in front of him stared into the darkness with unseeing eyes. His mind - his soul - was elsewhere. His chest gradually stopped moving.
And then he smiled. Closed his eyes, but the faint echo of his smile remained on his face. Hux had never seen the man so happy. So… at peace.
Fuck it. Hux had never known peace. He’d be damned if Kylo Ren should get that luxury.
After all, this wasn’t the first time he’d been dragging his sorry ass out of trouble.
I can't believe that after almost a whole damn year I suddenly get the urge to write more of a savage survivor Hux and miserable survivor Ren together on the run, but here I am.
He did it. He defied Palpatine.
Rey was the one to kill the Emperor, but he was the one to ruin that old relic’s revenge by bringing her back.
Pity he couldn’t take it one step further and save himself as well… but then, prophecies always came true in the end. It was the will of the Force.
What he didn’t count on, was that becoming one with the Force would HURT SO FUCKING MUCH-
“-if you think you can just fucking slip away you have another thing coming, that’s it, there you are - oh kriffing bloody FUCK!”
A flood of too bright light pierced right through his skull at the same time as another flash of excruciating pain speared through his chest. He squeezed his eyes shut reflexively, the white dots dancing at the back of his retinas, and tried to breathe through the pain.
He was breathing. He was lying prone on something hard, every gasp for breath hurt like a bitch, his chest felt as if struck by lightning, and he wasn’t dead.
He forced his eyes open, blinking through the tears the light brought up - why there was a fucking surgical lighthead blasting right into his face? - and tried to sit up.
Another wave of nauseating pain shot through his body, but even if he could force himself through it, the binds fixing his arms to the operating table wouldn’t let him.
“Stay down, you fool,” hissed a familiar voice. Though he hadn’t heard that particular affliction to it in quite some time…
Kylo found he could turn his head, a little. With the lighthead no longer battering into his face, he could just about make out the blurred outline of a med droid to his right, and a man’s body leaning over him from the left. The colour of the man’s clothes was wrong - dull technician green - but the colour of his hair was unmistakable.
“Impossible,” he croaked the first word that came into his mind.
“What?” Hux asked, bringing his face closer to peer into one of his eyes, then another. “That I had arranged my own execution to save myself from the results of your suicidal leadership?”
Thinking about it - as much as Kylo was able to think in his current state - no, it really wasn’t that unexpected. He should have known when he read Pryde’s report. It was too easy.
“Me,” he managed another word in an attempt to clarify. His own death was no trickery, he had felt the last vestiges of his life force flowing over to Rey, he gave over his all-
“Well, turns out that adrenaline shot to the heart is a stronger argument than the fucking Force,” Hux said snidely.
“You were dead, Ren, square and proper. Took me a while to drag your body into my ship but that damn cave was freezing so I think there shouldn’t be permanent brain damage. Guess if there was, nobody would be able to tell the difference anyway,” he laughed, a high, dry, affected sound that grated at Kylo’s ears. Even his mouth shaped it wrong, as if it had long forgotten how to laugh.
Hells, Kylo hadn’t just redeemed Ben Solo and died to have Hux, of all fucking people, laughing in his face. His anger rose, ready to snap - first the binds holding him down, then Hux’s neck - and he called on the Force.
Dull, claustrophobic silence answered him.
Hux’s laugh rang out again, even more deranged than before.
“I can see what you’re trying to do. By all the bats of Malachor, this is hilarious. You’re actually getting cross-eyed. Go on, try again. I want to see if you’d stick out your tongue.”
The med droid beeped something in modified Binary. Kylo couldn’t understand him but Hux apparently could, because he snorted. Kylo deflated. It must have been the exhaustion. It would come back to him.
“Did you know this ship once belonged to a bounty hunter?” Hux said conversationally, turning away to sort through something on a small metal table nearby. “The Empire paid well for Force sensitives. He’s long dead now but he left all his gadgets behind.”
He turned back, tapping his fingernail against something metallic, wrapped around Kylo’s throat. Kylo had assumed the pressure biting into his skin was another bind to prevent his movement but now he realised it was actually a collar.
“Who’s the rabid cur now,” Hux smiled at him. The grimace pulled the corners of his mouth down instead of up, as if he really didn’t know how to express a single positive emotion.
“Now,” he went back to his business-like tone, “off with these rags, and into the bacta with you.” He held up a pair of scissors.
Kylo flinched. It was ridiculous, really, but he didn’t like anyone seeing him naked. It felt undignified, humiliating. Vulnerable. Of course, if he ever took a lover, he might have got naked for them, with them, but now Hux was dressed from head to toe in an ugly green overall while he hacked away at Kylo’s clothes with his scissors, quickly and mercilessly exposing him to the cold air of the surgery room.
It got even worse when Hux pushed his hand under the small of Kylo’s back and lifted his backside so he could wrap the bacta loin piece around his hips and over his groin. It was necessary, he knew, to prevent his urine and feces contaminating the bacta, but couldn’t the fucking med droid do it? His skin burned with the phantom imprints of Hux’s fingers where they touched him and he felt his face heating up with shame at the manhandling.
“I trust you can take it from here,” Hux announced to the droid, taking a step back and rubbing his palms together. The droid beeped in affirmative, rearranging several of his arms into the patient handling mode. For the first time Kylo realised how much this model resembled a sentry droid, a strong and efficient killing machine.
“If he misbehaves, just break some of his bones he hasn’t broken yet,” Hux added and walked out of the room.
This chapter (and all the subsequent chapters, really) is dedicated to the fantastic Izverg, who’s translating this fic to Russian over on ficbook. Shoutout to all Russian fans of kylux on that site, because you are my motivation to keep writing this story now. I’m reading and loving all your comments over there, too.
Hux walked out of the room and managed to hold it together until he heard the door slide shut behind him. Then he collapsed, slid down the wall and curled his body into a ball. He plastered his back against the cold and dirty panelling of the wall, covered his head and silently screamed into his knees.
It worked. He’d brought Ren back from the dead.
What the hell was he thinking?!
He wasn’t, that was the problem. It was an impulsive, instinctive decision, a simple ‘nobody deserves to kill him but me’ conviction that guided Hux’s actions. Not reason, not his brains he was so proud of and that had got him so far, even cheating death.
Except instead of slicing the bastard’s carotid as soon as Ren woke up, enjoying his revenge, airlocking Ren’s body and putting that chapter of his life well and truly behind him, he…
He patched him up. He reset his bones and put him in bacta, a thing he absolutely couldn’t afford to waste, and made sure Ren would live.
I can kill him anytime. That didn’t seem like a rational reasoning anymore, not after all the effort he’d poured into Ren’s survival. Hux was still sticky with sweat from dragging that fucking heavy deadweight onboard.
Fine. I can sell him .
Even with his Force abilities suppressed, Ren would make a good slave. His body was now battered and broken but that was nothing a few nights in bacta and a bit of rest couldn’t fix. He was strong and fit, and not even the worst looking. Yes, someone might pay a good price for a healthy man with… adequate… proportions.
Hux shuddered with distaste when his memory presented him again with the sight of Ren’s cock. The way it fucking twitched when he lifted his arse to dress him for the bacta tank. He’d enjoyed embarrassing Ren by stripping him naked - he knew how the man loved his many layers - but if he never had to look at Ren’s bare skin again, he’d die happy.
Hux shifted into a more comfortable position, tugging absentmindedly at the front of his overall. These technician uniforms were fucking tight in the crotch area, he’d have to have a stern word with whoever designed them…
...no. That was the General’s job. That was in the past, blown to smithereens just like Hux’s heart and the whole fucking Final Order fleet.
Now he was a nameless survivor with a clean slate. He could go anywhere.
But where did Ren belong, in this shiny new world that he unwittingly helped to create?
The New Republic could either pay a nice bounty or an even nicer ransom, depending on whether they wanted the war criminal Kylo Ren or the last-second Resistance hero Ben Solo. And if they didn’t want him at all - well, the descendants of Jabba Hutt would always pay a good price for the son of Leia Organa and Han Solo.
Calmed down, with his thoughts and body temperature back in order, Hux gathered his bearings and continued to get the ship ready to leave Exegol.
Bacta was a truly amazing invention.
It was also slimy as fuck. As the med droid slowly lowered his body into the tank, Kylo felt the sensation of the viscous liquid welcoming his limbs as if something huge and cloying was swallowing him whole, the warm, slick, oppressive walls of that thing’s esophagus slowly pushing him lower and lower towards its stomach. It was a common panic reaction and he’d have welcomed the shot of sedatives that usually came with bacta tank treatment, but no such mercy was forthcoming in Hux’s and the droid’s sadistic care. He gritted his teeth and tried to meditate.
It wasn’t so easy, without the Force to open up to him, to guide him to the closest human heartbeat and let him tune his own into the lulling rhythm. He might have been floating in the bacta liquid like a babe in his mother’s womb, but even there he had been always aware of the Force.
But there was no dark hand closing around his soul anymore. Snoke was gone. Palpatine had perished.
There also wasn’t any curious, gentle probing of an untrained mind. His mother was dead and one with the Force, and that collar around his neck made sure Kylo couldn’t feel a single speck of it.
Alas, he could feel plenty of other things. The oxygen mask on his face was clamped around his nose, viciously tight. He was pretty sure he had broken his nose in the scuffle with the Knights of Ren and now it hurt like hell. Most of his ribs were shattered by his fall, sending sharp stabs of pain with every breath, having to work his ribcage against the pressure of the liquid. He couldn’t even move his legs but he could damn well feel them, every tiny piece of splintered bone grating at each other and screaming with pain.
The bacta would fuse his bones, repair his nerves and mend his flesh and skin, but that could take hours - days, even. And nobody gave him any fucking painkillers.
He eventually passed out - from the pain, from the ceaseless bubbling of the bacta, or from the sheer boredom, he didn’t know. When he woke up again, he found himself lying on a narrow cot in the surgery room, the slime cleaned off his skin, his body mended and the pain blissfully gone.
Well, mostly gone. The side of his neck was smarting. He thought at first it was the collar chafing at his skin but then he remembered the bacta would have taken care of that. He used the polished metal surface of the operating table to get as best a look as he could, twisting and turning his head as he felt for the source of this latest annoyance. There it was - just behind his ear. A fresh would, just a small clean cut, already healing. Carefully, he felt with his fingers around it. Something was lodged under his skin, something small, hard and rectangular.
He looked around. The droid was nowhere to be seen, the room has been cleared out of all utensils and every piece of equipment not bolted to the floor stored away. The room was as bare as Kylo himself.
Finally Kylo spotted the neatly folded change of clothes in the heads of the berth. He picked it up and shook it out. Ugly green overall made from a grease-resistant fabric that, as Kylo knew, scratched like hell. Something was printed in block Aurebesh over the left breast pocket and Kylo smoothed it out with his palm to read it.
Kylo’s lips curled away from his teeth. He would dress, and then he would find Hux and show him what a mistake it was to let him regain the strength of his muscles.
Hux stared at the star map of routes and systems slowly rotating in the projection above the navigation terminal, chewed on a ration bar, and weighed his options.
It was a good thing that he originally planned to escape with Mitaka. The loyal Lieutenant had backed out of the plan at the last minute, choosing another escape route, but the ship was still equipped and stocked enough to accommodate two. Hux would hate if his rash decision to take Ren on board turned out to be the proverbial sand in the well-oiled gears of his plans.
So far, his plans had gone excellently. The battle was over, the Final Order was defeated, and he was alive. It was a plan prepared to the last detail, down to the type of ammo in the bridge patrol gun that he knew Pryde would grab to shoot him. Every single detail was still seared into Hux’s memory, the risk precisely calculated but still immense, and sometimes his head still reeled with astonishment that he pulled it off.
His long-term plan was now far vaguer. Cover his tracks - get a new ship. Preferably a cleaner one. Settle down in a new identity. Stay one step ahead of anyone who might have recognised him.
He was well aware that those weren’t plans. Those were end goals. He needed a plan to get there.
Hux swallowed the dry morsel of the ration bar and sighed. He missed Mitaka. That quiet man was the perfect sounding board for Hux’s ideas.
“What do you think, Dee-dee,” he muttered absentmindedly. The droid next to him turned its head from where it was busy repairing one of the ship’s many neglected systems and chirped a reply.
“I don’t think we need to concern ourselves with the New Republic for now,” Hux agreed.
The Republic was toothless, scraping by on a few Core and Mid-Rim planets. It would take them years to re-establish any semblance of rule over the Galaxy. The Outer Rim, freed from the First Order, was scattered and directionless, each planet self-absorbed in their own problems. And the Wild Space was anyone’s playfield. Relatively civilized but largely uncharted. Hux tapped a few controls and enlarged a section of the map. A single star system stood out, with a couple of insignificant gas giants and three terrestrial planets on the inner orbits, only one of them scantily inhabited. A crossroads for several trade routes but no point worth any strategic interest. Lysatra. They could start there.
Hux’s thoughts have been interrupted by a new alert, blinking to life on one of the secondary screens. The sight of it brought a smirk to his face. Next to him, the droid beeped inquiringly.
“No, thank you, Dee-dee. Let him think for a moment that his brutish strength could get him somewhere. The crushing disappointment will be then a far more valuable lesson.”
The ship was small - Kylo could tell. It was in the vibrations of the walls, in the buzz of the wiring, even in the temperature of the recycled air. He grew up on a ship barely larger than this - though he tried not to think of that one. No, this one, he remembered as well. The details were fuzzy, as was everything from those few frantic days before his death, but he recalled a report.
Bounty hunter’s ship - a small interstellar transport. One of the two cargo bays was turned into a makeshift medbay by Hux. And before that, it must have served as a makeshift holding cell for the hunter’s bounties. The door didn’t open from the inside and was sturdy enough that Kylo was sporting fresh bruises on his bacta-softened skin by the time he broke through.
The ship was originally manufactured for scouting missions and as such, it contained only the bare minimum space for the pilot and the occasional copilot. Kylo silently walked through the cramped private space, glanced at the rusty ladder leading up to the laser turret, and stopped in front of the cockpit where Hux must have been hiding. He hooked his fingers into the cracks in the unkept durasteel and tensed his arm muscles, ready to tear it open.
It nearly sliced his fingertips off when it suddenly slid into the wall on its own, his muttered curse drowned out by Hux’s pompous voice calling out from the inside: “Do come in, Ren.”
The lack of surprise on Hux’s part was soon explained when Kylo spotted the red dot blinking amidst the blue projection of the ship layout. He lifted his hand to instinctively cover the fresh cut on his neck.
“I thought following the time honoured tradition of putting a tracker on you wouldn’t go amiss,” Hux remarked from the pilot chair. “Don’t even think of tearing it out - unless you can manage to stay conscious long enough with a severed jugular.”
Kylo’s eyes darted towards the droid. Its arms were now arranged into the bodyguard protocol. This clearly wasn’t a run-off-the-mill med droid. Hux must have had him custom made. If he had his powers, he could have crushed this thing’s casing into dust with just a flick of his hand. But with that damned collar around his neck...
“You don’t need to track me on a ship twenty meters long,” he growled.
“I don’t,” Hux agreed, smiling at having his bullshit called out. “But it would make the transfer of the ownership rights to your buyer so much easier.”
Blood rushed into Ren’s ears, bleeding into the edges of his vision. “Buyer?!”
“Why, did you think I saved you out of the goodness of my heart?”
Kylo closed his eyes and breathed to calm himself. They were deep in the Unknown Regions, thousands of parsecs away from any kind of civilisation, or even a trading post. It would be days before they get to the closest slave market. He had time.
“You would have to have a heart in the first place,” he said. It was a feeble jab but still, Hux chortled as if it was the most amusing thing he heard in ages.
Kylo slumped into the unoccupied chair, deliberately non-threatening, and when he spotted the half-eaten ration bar on the console between them, he snatched it. Hux narrowed his eyes at him but Kylo only shrugged, his stomach growling loudly as he bit into it.
“Malnourishment cuts down the price.”
Hux continued to stare at him suspiciously but didn’t protest. Kylo supposed it was mainly because the ration bar’s texture was like cardboard. At least it tasted faintly sweet.
“Glad to see that uniform still fits,” Hux said at last, jerking his chin towards Kylo’s outfit. The taste of the ration bar soured in Kylo’s mouth.
It has been years. Kylo was just transferred to the Finalizer, a novice to the First Order, and he hatched that stupid plan to get a feel for Hux’s subordinates. To learn more about his new co-commander than the boring strategic meetings and reports could tell him. It was a disaster. He was a pilot, not a technician, mind-tricking his supervisor only worked so far, and in the end, all he learned was that everyone over sixty despised or dismissed Hux as a fool and everyone under thirty idolised him to the point of cultish devotion. He wrote that episode off as an exercise in humiliation, binned the overalls, the glasses, and that horrendous wig, and tried to forget about it.
“You never said you knew it was me.”
Looking chastised and embarrassed must have worked. Hux’s aura of magnanimous smugness grew until it was almost palpable. The cockpit was so full of his ego that Kylo could feel it even without the Force.
“You thought I wouldn't notice a deviation to my personnel routine? Of course, I knew.” He half-turned away to tap something into a computer, perhaps to start another round of course simulations. “The Supreme Leader’s pet, the famous Jedi Killer, crawling on his knees through the vents wearing a funny wig - it was priceless! Of course, I was going to use it. I was just waiting for the right moment.”
So was Kylo. Taking advantage of the one second Hux had looked away, he surged forward, grabbed Hux by the throat, and held him between himself and the droid.
“Override code-” he started, intending to dismiss the droid by using his superiority codes, but Hux interrupted him.
“Oh please, Ren. Would I be so stupid to leave that droid hardwired into obedience to anyone with a code?”
Kylo tightened his grip on Hux’s throat. If there wasn’t any code, Hux would have let him finish the command just so he could gloat at his disappointment. But he’d interrupted him so the droid wouldn’t give a negative response and give away that he was still hardwired, just by a different code. That was useful information.
“Tell it to shut off,” he commanded in a low voice, “or I’ll snap your neck.”
Hux snorted. “He’s programmed to kill you whether I’m alive or not.”
That didn’t sound like the Hux Kylo knew. “Where are your priorities, Hux?”
“You haven’t heard? I don't care who wins. I only want you to lose.”
Hux was so infuriatingly calm. His pulse, always fluttering in fear like a rabbit’s whenever Kylo used the Force to remind him of his place, was now…. wait. Kylo shifted his hand.
There was no pulse under his palm.
Kylo snatched his hand away as if it burned. He couldn’t help it - it was an instinctual reaction to touching something undead -
The elbow to his guts caught him completely off his guard, as did the punch in his face and the blade at his throat.
“You touch me ever again, and I’ll carve out your heart and eat it for dinner while you watch ,” Hux hissed in his face.
Kylo swallowed the blood in his mouth and nodded, as much as the blade allowed him. He understood now. In his panic, he’d forgotten that Hux was shot in the chest. The artificial hearts maintained the blood flow using miniature turbines instead of a systolic pump. They didn’t cause any palpable pulse.
And by the wording of Hux’s threat, it sounded like he had some spares.
Kylo sat in one of the nook beds, legs crossed and hands laid down on his knees, and silently eyed the droid who was busy working on another section of the ship’s wiring. One of the red eyes on the droid’s rotating head was staring back at him unblinkingly and it was unsettling.
“I know you have a voice protocol,” Kylo said at last. “Not everyone speaks Binary and Hux wouldn’t make himself a bodyguard that couldn’t run errands for him.”
“According to my files, you do understand Binary,” the droid said in Basic. Kylo was taken aback by how gentle and soothing his programmed voice sounded. Almost as if the vocoder was taken from a nanny droid. Which was nonsense. The First Order didn’t employ nannies.
“Only the astromech vocabulary,” Kylo admitted.
“Is there something you need?”
Again, that was extraordinary. Utilitarian droids were usually content to speak up or act only after they were asked or received a command. This has suggested an emotional care protocol…
Kylo decided it was worth a try.
“Override code Starkiller,” he said.
The reaction was immediate and by-the-book, exactly as he expected: “Negative, try again,” the droid replied.
Hm. What other things Hux liked? “Override code Mitaka.”
“Negative, try again. I should note that I am programmed to incapacitate you after the third incorrect try.”
“Thanks for warning me,” Kylo grinned. He couldn’t help it - this droid’s basic programming was kind . Of all the standard units Hux could’ve chosen…
“And what’s the refractory period?” he asked. It would give him an estimate of when to ask again without risking getting zapped.
“Why, are you flirting with me?” the droid fired back. Kylo blinked at him in surprise for a second and then he threw his head back, laughing. The droid had a personality module. Interesting. Kylo needed to know how much independence Hux had allowed him.
“I used to have a BB-unit,” he said after he got his mirth under control. Some of that sass reminded him of that black sphere of disapproval that used to follow him on missions.
“Yes. When I was flying in the Silencer prototype. Niney used to hate that.”
“I see. Master mentioned working on the TIE Silencer project a couple of years back.”
“Did he?” Kylo was surprised. He didn’t know Hux had anything to do with the Silencer. Hux usually saved his ‘genius’ for far more grandiose and groundbreaking projects.
“Yes. He called it the ‘overbudgeted olive branch’ and after the project was scrapped it was ‘casting pearls before nerfs’. I am not familiar enough with Basic idioms to discern why he used such filenames,” the droid said, his tone implying he knew exactly what Hux had meant.
So did Kylo. Of course Hux would call him a nerf, after all, Kylo’s working name for Hux in his head was a ‘rat’. The mention of an olive branch was more interesting. It must have meant that at some point, Hux must have hoped to win some favour with the Supreme Leader’s apprentice.
Except the project was still in the prototype phase when Kylo ascended to the throne and after that, he had no more time for personal missions. Hux must have begrudged Kylo the effort he invested into it, no doubt.
“Hey,” Kylo said after a moment of silence, “override code spy.”
The droid cocked his head at him. “Negative, try again. Also, I am authorised to make a conscious decision to zap you at any time,” he said dryly.
“But you haven’t yet,” Kylo pointed out.
The droid appeared to ponder something for a moment before he replied:
“My master hates you.”
The droid finished his work on the wiring, snapped the panel back in place and turned both his eyes on Kylo.
“I am programmed to anticipate what my master needs,” he said. “And I do not have any piloting skills.”
The somewhat cryptic pronouncement was soon explained when a frustrated shout, followed by a string of expletives, came from the cockpit. Kylo suddenly realised that they haven’t entered hyperspace yet. And that with the mass of red gas and debris around Exegol, autopilot was out of the question.
Kylo gave it another half an hour of Hux’s random swearing before he deigned to poke his head back into the cockpit.
“Any trouble?” he asked innocently.
Hux shot Kylo a venomous look. “Yes, and they just came in,” he groused.
He was trying to add the real-time sensor data into the navigational computer feed. It didn’t work. Kylo knew that. Navigational computers calculated hyperspace routes from large but fixed datasets describing the gravitational circumstances along the flight direction. Trajectories of stars, planets, comets, asteroid belts - all that needed to be carefully charted, stable, and predictable.
What was surrounding Exegol was anything but that.
“Bloody mess,” Hux muttered. Stardust, gas, remnants of megafauna - all that swirling in a charged, dangerous, turbulent cloud that could tear a ship apart if one wasn’t careful.
Kylo made himself comfortable on the floor, sitting cross-legged and at ease, the very picture of serenity. He could see how it riled Hux up.
“I flew through it twice,” he remarked. “Once on an antique TIE, without an astromech to do the calculations.” He was following Rey’s beacon, just like the Resistance, but he wasn’t going to tell Hux that.
“Are you boasting or actually going to contribute something?”
“Hux.” Kylo gave him a benevolent smile. “You need a pilot.”
“You need to shut up,” Hux replied automatically. He kept on scowling at the computer and poking at random buttons for several more minutes before he gave up.
“Fine. I need a pilot. Well?”
Kylo shrugged. “Then it's rather shit planning that you don't have one, isn’t it?”
Hux’s nostrils flared out. “Ren,” he said warningly.
Kylo stretched his back and settled back down. “What? It’s been my understanding that I’m nothing but a cargo to be sold.”
He could see the muscles in Hux’s jaw working, the tightening around his eyes.
“I can still jettison you out if you don’t want to be useful for once!”
“Do it,” Kylo agreed, “and you’ll still have no way to get out of here. Seriously, Hux, how did you plan on escaping the First Order without a pilot?”
“I didn’t know the Steadfast would end up on this shithole!” Hux exploded, gesticulating wildly towards the barren planet below. “I’m a decent enough pilot in normal space-”
“You know how to turn on autopilot and that’s it,” Kylo interrupted him. “I’ve been on missions with you, remember?”
“Oh trust me, I do remember how many times I had to haul your sorry ass out of trouble, and never a word of thanks for that,” Hux bit back. Kylo rolled his eyes. He wasn’t about to thank Hux for something that was the General’s duty and probably a direct order from Snoke anyway.
“Fine,” Hux relented after another moment, and Kylo could see how he nearly bit through his cheek to get the words out. “I’m asking you, since you’re obviously waiting for me to spell it out. Show us what you’ve got, flyboy, and get us out of here.”
Kylo grinned and shuffled across the floor until he sat in front of the pilot’s seat, his back to Hux. “For that,” he motioned towards the collar on his neck, “this needs to come off first.”
He peered over his shoulder when he got nothing but silence and found Hux staring at him as if he grew a second head.
“Absolutely not,” Hux crossed his arms.
“I need the Force to navigate that cloud,” Kylo explained. “It shows me things before they happen. That way I can avoid collision courses.”
Hux’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t try to tell me that the civilian fleet had one Force user on every ship that got here for the battle.”
There had been a civilian fleet? Damn. Kylo had been dead through so much.
“They probably got the actual navigational data from the Millenium Falcon or the Jedi girl,” he said. It didn’t seem to convince Hux.
“If they could do it without a magical foresight, so can you.” Hux got up and switched his seat for the co-pilot’s. “Use your memory, reflexes, or those piloting skills you so loved to brag about during the Silencer testing. Or was that just the Force again, and without it, you’re a half-blind flounder?”
Kylo eyed the flight controls. The challenge in Hux’s words was laughable, but he could also feel the pull of the real challenge, the danger out there. The need to prove himself - not to Hux, never to Hux - but to the universe itself. To the odds always stacked against him. To the smug voice of Luke Skywalker who whispered at the back of his mind, do or do not, there is no try.
He settled into the pilot’s seat. “You’re putting us at unnecessary risk,” he warned Hux.
“I’d be putting myself at much greater risk if I took that off,” Hux laughed drily. He rubbed at his own neck, an instinctual gesture born out of habit.
He was probably right. There was nothing that could keep Kylo from snapping Hux’s neck with a flick of his fingers once that blasted thing was off. Nothing to stop Kylo from stealing Hux’s one last victory - over his own death - and use his plans and escape for himself. He would be free to go anywhere and there would be no more of Hux in his life.
Kylo stared out of the viewport, his hands clenched around the controls so hard his knuckles were white.
“What if I promised you I would never do that to you again,” he said in a low voice. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Hux’s reaction.
Hux’s lips thinned and he shook his head. Something complicated passed over his face and Kylo ached to have the Force back even for a moment, just to be able to sense what Hux was feeling right then. If there was at least a flicker of doubt, of curiosity, of hope. Anything else than the tired resignation his face settled on in the end.
“Then I would know how you look when you lie.”
Fair enough. Kylo pushed all these useless thoughts out of his mind and focused on getting the ship ready to jump.
Sorry about the long wait. We're in another lockdown, I'm working full time homeoffice, I'm homeschooling three kids, and even trying to come up with a lunch for the next day is a serious mental work right now. People close to me are having hard time, with my grandmother having tested positive and my daughter getting tested in 3 days, and I am exhausted.
When the Bestoon Legacy finally slipped into a stable hyper lane and the hull stopped screaming at every breakneck course change, Kylo slowly uncurled his fingers cramped around the controls and blinked the sweat out of his eyes. Something tickled him on his upper lip and he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. It came away with a smear of red. He stared at it, numb, and then he shrugged and rubbed the rest of it off his face with his sleeve.
“Hux? It’s over,” he called out. Or, he tried to. His voice came out as a hoarse croak, throat scratchy and parched. As if he spent some time screaming. Did he? He couldn’t remember. It was all a blur, a kind of a dreamy daze. He recalled the sound of maniacal laughter. That couldn’t have been him, either.
Kylo looked around. The cockpit looked a bit worse for wear. There was a distinct new dent in the side panelling where Kylo’s head connected with the wall after one of the sharp turns threw him out of the seat. Kylo shrugged at it as well. It wasn’t the first time he trashed a ship with his piloting, and this one was a flying pile of scrap already.
When his surroundings finally stopped lagging a second after his head movements and his vision cleared, Kylo noticed another thing: he was alone in the cockpit.
Of course. Hux had run off sometime in the middle of the flight, probably as far as his cowardly legs could have carried him. Which was, objectively, not far on a ship like theirs. How typical. The man could never withstand the sight of danger.
This also meant that Hux wasn’t there to witness Kylo’s triumph. Pity, that. But Kylo couldn’t bring himself to care. He was tired. The ship would be fine flying itself along the stable hyperlane for a while. He just needed to lie down for a bit.
He stumbled through the ship bowels into the rest area. He half expected to find Hux, curled up and shaking, in one of the bay beds, but the room was empty. Well, almost. Kylo scrunched his nose. The air was sour and revolting with the acrid smell of vomit.
He found Hux’s unconscious body curled around the ‘fresher seat. He was pale but breathing, his chin was streaked with drying vomit and the side of his head sported an impressive bump. He must have hit his head while his stomach was rebelling against the wild ride.
Kylo stared at him in exhaustion. His hands still shook. He wasn’t in any shape to drag such a deadweight into the bed. God, he needed a bed himself. He should just leave that weasel where he was. It wasn’t like Hux was dying. A little beauty sleep on the cold unforgiving tiles of the ‘fresher would serve him well.
Groaning, Kylo dragged himself past the beds to pop his head into the cargo bay. Hux’s companion droid was there, working on repairs as if nothing happened, and at the sight of Kylo, he pointedly unhooked the mooring wires that kept him safely anchored to the walls.
“Your master needs you,” Kylo ground out and then everything in front of his eyes turned black.
A sensation of something cold and wet passing over his face broke through the fog muddling Kylo’s brain and he blinked his eyes open. A snatching motion away from him, just at the edge of his vision, too blurry to catch it - and then Hux’s face came into view, pinched and disapproving as usual.
“You nearly killed us,” he said matter-of-factly.
“No, you did,” Kylo pointed at his collar. He told Hux it was a risk navigating the hyperspace without the Force, and Hux chose to go with it. Any harm that came to him was a direct result of that decision.
Hux rolled his eyes. “I said, ‘nearly.’ It was a compliment.”
Kylo blinked at him. He must have still been concussed. There was no way in Malachor that Hux would compliment him. Not even sarcastically, the man just didn’t do humour.
“You’re welcome,” he managed at last, and then caught himself from smirking at the last second. He could feel the muscles in his left cheek going up in that trademark Solo smirk that usually accompanied those words and that cocky tone, and the realisation doused him like a bucket of freezing water. He would not smirk like his father. He couldn’t.
For a second, he could swear there was curiosity in Hux’s eyes, even though the rest of his face retained its blank expression. He was still observing him closely, leaning half over him, close enough that Kylo could feel his warmth in the chilly cabin. But then the moment passed and Hux stood up, turning to get back to the cockpit. Some part of Kylo felt the loss of warmth like another cold douse.
It was when he realised that the sensation of cold wetness on his face is real. He rubbed at his chin. It was no longer sticky or crusty with blood. At the door, Hux dropped a wet towel onto a pile of rags. Kylo also realised that he wasn't lying in that corridor where he passed out but in one of the bay beds, not exactly soft but still far more comfortable than the hard floor.
“Thank you,” he blurted out. It surprised him a little that it came out aloud but there it was.
Hux stopped half-way through the door. He turned his head - not enough for Kylo to see his face but enough to hear him clearly when he said:
“I’m capable of repaying kindness with kindness, Ren.”
With that, Hux left. Kylo stared at the padded walls of the bed nook and thought his words over.
Repaying kindness with kindness. Of course, it would be a transaction for Hux.
But wasn’t it so for everyone?
No. Rey healed him after she dealt the mortal wound to his guts on the wrecked Death Star and asked nothing in return. She was kind, as a true Jedi should be.
But she also did it for Ben, and Ben was dead. Kylo tried to think of himself as Ben but the name, the identity, didn’t sit right either on his tongue or in his heart. Ben gave his life to Rey and that was it. Kylo was left to… he didn’t exactly know what.
Why did he save Rey’s life? Was that kindness?
With a resigned shake of his head, Kylo came to the conclusion that no. It was stubbornness and selfishness, not kindness. Every single person in his life who had ever shown him kindness had been killed by him or died because of him. His fellow padawan Tai, trying to prevent him from succumbing to the dark. His father, trying to bring him back from Snoke. His uncle, giving his life to protect the Resistance from him. His mother, giving her life to helping Rey defeat him on the Death Star. Everyone. Death followed him like a curse, the result of misguided anger and manipulated fears and pride and weakness. So when he decided that Rey wouldn’t be the one to pay for her compassion for him? Death was still the only way onward. Only this time, his own. And selfishly, he grabbed this one opportunity for atonement and took the easy way out.
Except here he was again, very much alive. Saved by Hux, of all people. Hux, who only survived because he chose to betray Kylo Ren.
Kylo swung his legs down and sat up. His head wasn’t spinning anymore. His stomach was growling again. The small kitchenette was surprisingly well-stocked with rations. Hux must have planned his escape for weeks to be able to sneak so many supplies past his own eagle-eyed subordinates. Kylo helped himself to another protein bar and chewed on it before making his way back to the cockpit.
Hux gave him a look that spoke volumes about eating him out of supplies but kept any loud comments to himself. The nav computer projected their route and Kylo perused the familiar star charts for a while.
“We’re going to Lysatra?”
“Tradepost and junk shipyards,” Hux said curtly. “I need to drop some garbage,” he added, looking around the decrepit cockpit with a sigh, then he shot Kylo a pointed glance and leveled his gaze back out of the viewport.
“Slavery is illegal on Lysatra,” Kylo pointed out.
“Illegal doesn’t mean nonexistent,” Hux dismissed him.
Kylo watched him out of the corner of his eye. There was stiffness written over Hux’s posture, different from his usual military default, the kind of tension that spoke of discomfort. Maybe Hux was just unaccustomed to the boredom of waiting out long hyperspace flights. Or maybe it was something else.
Maybe Hux was so vague about his plans because he didn’t have any. Maybe he, for the first time in his life, was forced to act on the fly and adapt as he went, not knowing what the future would bring, and it scared the shit of him.
“Why did you save me?”
As before, Kylo wasn’t sure why he said that aloud, but with the way Hux whipped his head around to scowl at him, he didn’t regret it. A fight was better than rotten resignation, always.
“To fuck you over,” Hux said after a moment of silence.
Oh. So they were doing honesty now. When Kylo thought about it, they had been ever since he woke up from the dead. It was refreshing.
“You already did. I was dead. Wasn’t that what you wanted?”
Hux rounded on him fully, rage contorting his face. “Fuck you, Ren! You had it all - the power and the victory over the Galaxy - and you threw it all away to… to die? Like some noble self-sacrificing hero for the winning side? I have lost everything just for the chance to survive! And do you know why? Because I wasn’t letting you win! You demoted me, humiliated me, dismissed me, and would have killed me as an afterthought, so if the one thing left to me to defy you was to outlive you I damn well would!”
Kylo spread his arms. “Then kill me! Have your victory! Kill me knowing that you had outlived me. Why don’t you?”
Hux deflated. He spun his chair back and kept his gaze away but Kylo could see the muscles in his jaw working. He wouldn’t say another word but Kylo didn’t need him to say it. He knew.
It wasn’t a question of why. It was a question of how long. For how long, after he killed Kylo, would Hux keep himself outliving him, alone.
It took them another one and a half of the standard day to get into the part of the Wild Space where they had to start keeping an eye on the sensors. Thirty-six hours of boredom and Hux feeling as if he would soon start to crawl up the walls of their cramped space.
The thing was, he couldn’t figure up Kylo Ren, and it was driving him mad.
The man was up to something. He had to be. He was giving Hux a wider berth, for starters. Gone was his habitual disregard for personal space, that inconsiderate shoulder-checking that Hux had to endure so often in the past. Ren no longer barrelled through the room as if he didn’t mind what or who ended up crushed under his boots. Part of it was maybe Ren’s superstitious fear of touching Hux - his reaction upon realising he had no pulse was so satisfying - and another part had to be the loss of his access to the Force. Without his mystical powers, Ren had to feel physically diminished as well.
But not only did Ren leave him alone most of the time. He also seemed content to just sit there most of the time, lost in thoughts. Sometimes, he was obviously zoning out, his face expressionless and almost droid-like immobile. Meditating or actually sleeping with his eyes open, Hux couldn’t tell. But sometimes, when he wasn’t aware that Hux was there and was watching him, his face would reflect deep emotions. Sadness, regret, revulsion - so many of them and so intensive that Hux couldn’t even name them all, and felt overwhelmed and uncomfortable just watching them play out on Ren’s face.
Hux’s mind couldn’t help but keep going back to the way Ren had looked after he got them out of Exegol and passed out. Yes, he was a mess - hair stuck to his forehead with sweat, nosebleed rubbed all over his face as if he chewed someone’s leg off - but once Hux cleaned his face, Ren had looked so… young.
So young and soft. Hux’s mind rebelled against the word. This was the same man who had slaughtered friends and foes alike, who was brutal and cruel and monstrous, this was the Supreme Leader who collected the heads of his enemies and would have had Hux’s head thrown on the High Command meeting table if Hux’s plans went wrong in even the smallest way. This was the same man. And yet…
Hux had to wonder what of the Kylo Ren he knew was the man himself, and what was just the shroud of legacy on his shoulders, the intimidating horde of smelly and uncivilised Knights on his heels, and the threat of invisible violent power that Ren himself seemed to have very little control over.
When they finally emerged on Lysatra’s orbit, Hux felt as if breaking the surface of muddy waters and finally being able to breathe.
Ren sat in the cockpit with him, surveying the planet below with a detached curiosity, and Hux pointed him to the cargo bay.
“I have some civilian clothes. You should be able to find something that fits you.”
Ren cocked his head at him. That mild curiosity in his eyes sharpened into something more calculating. “And if I don’t want to disembark?”
Hux folded his hands, the movement putting on display the thin inconspicuous bracelet he wore on his left wrist. On it was mounted a miniature holoprojector and a couple of buttons whose purpose was less clear. Hux let his fingers brush over them, slowly.
“Then you’ll find out what the chip in your neck can do to you.”
To his somewhat disconcerting surprise, Ren only grinned and took himself off in the direction of the cargo bay without further protest.
That was odd. Ren was obstinate by nature. What if he actually wanted to be sold? To take his chance with any slave owner out there because anyone would be better than… oh, dammit. If Ren wanted to get from under Hux’s thumb, maybe Hux should figure out how to keep him a little longer. Just to show him that nothing ever would go Ren’s way, never again.
Hux pressed the balls of his palms into his eyes until he saw spots. He was overthinking this. He was going mad. Ren needed to go.
The spaceport was open, with no checks on anyone coming or going. The tower merely asked for their specification to assign them a bay and then forwarded them to customs. Hux looked over the forms, checked ‘family matters’ as the reason for their visit, coded the landing beacon signal into the autopilot, and went to check on Ren.
And not a second too soon. He’d found him in front of the ‘fresher mirror and if he still had a heart, it would surely stop at the sight of the outfit Ren chose for himself.
Hux hadn’t even known that tight leather trousers were a part of the assorted wardrobe Mitaka had smuggled onto the ship, let alone how Ren managed to squeeze himself into them. They hugged his thighs and the undercurve of his ass like liquid ink and Hux didn’t dare to imagine how snugly they had to fit in the front. Over that, Ren wore a tunic that was too wide even for him, loose and without any belt. Originally it surely reached down to his knees but Ren had torn off the bottom part so now it barely covered his hip bones. The tunic laced in the front and Ren had left the top deliberately unlaced. Hux had already seen the man stark naked - he had cut his clothes off with scissors, for fuck’s sake - but somehow this half-revealed collarbone was utterly infuriating. The collar around his neck suddenly didn’t look like a security device, but more like a fashion accessory, accentuating the paleness of his skin. And to crown this indignity, Ren’s eyes that met his in the mirror were large, mesmerising, and lined with black.
The makeup kit lay open on the sink, the kohl pencil on top. Mitaka had apparently thought about everything that could aid Hux in his exile. If the poor loyal Lieutenant was here, Hux would have kicked him.
Ren turned around, shaking out his brushed hair to fall forward in luscious waves to hide his ears, and Hux kept his eyes resolutely trained on his face.
“I’m selling a pilot. Not a whore.”
Ren rolled his kohl-framed eyes. “You really don’t know anything about the slavery business, do you? It’s about looks as much as it is about skills.”
It was distaste that was making Hux’s skin feel all tight and hot, he was convinced of it. “How would I know? The First Order didn’t keep slaves.”
“So the Stormtroopers were joining your program willingly, I see.” Ren sauntered past him and arranged himself, half sitting and half lounging back, in one of the alcove beds. He moved with a languid fluidity that Hux could tell was an act - but damn, the man was good at acting.
“You really don’t know anything about warfare, do you?” Hux parried back. “Did you really believe you could conquer the Galaxy with just a flick of your hand, without any fleet or any army?”
“Droids,” Ren shrugged.
“Because that worked so well for the Separatists,” Hux replied sarcastically.
That damnable grin was back. “Clones,” Ren said. A clear bait. Hux refused to rise to it anymore.
“Cloning pods are too expensive,” he said. The budget was always the bottom line with everything. “My program was simply the most effective, admit it.”
“It was your father’s program from what I’ve heard.”
Hux moved his fist without even thinking about it, a purely instinctual reaction - but Ren caught his hand by the wrist before it could connect with his face. His massive hand swallowed Hux’s bony wrist whole and Hux realised how easy would it be for Ren to just snap it like a twig - but Ren was cradling his hand carefully, almost gently.
“Careful, Hux,” his breath puffed over Hux’s knuckles, barely an inch from his lips. “You won’t get much for damaged goods.”
Hux instructed Dee-Dee to pack all their supplies, including the disassembled bacta tank, into two containers and lock them in the storage room. They could afford to pay rent for a day or two while Hux looked for a new ship. At least the port authorities still accepted republican credits, even with Lysatra being so far from the Core that the local dialect of Basic was barely intelligible. Hux suspected that outside of the vaguely government-controlled facilities he wouldn’t have much luck with credits anymore. He would have to barter.
Hux walked through the streets in the direction of the shipyard, the hood of his cloak drawn forward to hide his glaring hair colour. He hated the way it limited his peripheral vision. Ren, stalking a respectful half-step behind him, had no such limitations. His attention kept jumping skittishly from left to right, from trinkets over food stalls to passers-by, trying to take in everything at once. That restless energy was getting on Hux’s nerves.
“Calm down,” he hissed. “You’re like a child in a sweet shop.”
“More like in a haunted mansion,” Ren mumbled through his teeth.
Hux paused to look at him, to really look. Ren’s eyes were wide, yes - but not with curiosity. His entire face was drawn tight with apprehension. If Hux didn’t know better, he would have said that Ren was on the verge of a panic attack.
“It’s broad daylight,” Hux pointed out. Well, that statement was a bit generous, considering the sky was grey and heavy with impending rain, but it was still too bright to see ghosts.
“I can’t see their Force signatures,” Ren gritted out, tugging in vain at his collar. The skin beneath it was rubbed raw. “I’m used to it around you, you have always been shielding your thoughts from me, but here’s so many of them, and I can’t tell if they’re friendly or hostile, I see them but I can’t feel them-”
“Stop it,” Hux snatched Ren’s hand away from his abused neck. “You’re drawing attention to us.” He didn’t think it would do much but it worked like a charm. Ren immediately stilled, lips parted around a work that didn’t get out, and stared at his hand in Hux’s as if transfixed.
“Better,” he exhaled after a moment, visibly relaxing.
Hux exhaled too and furtively looked around. They were drawing attention but no more than any other pair of strangers. “Good. Let’s go.”
Ren still held onto Hux’s hand. He only let go after he noticed the incredulous glance Hux pointed at their joined hands, and he didn’t look happy about it.
“Fucking brilliant,” Hux muttered to himself. “I should have brought a leash.”
“WTK-85A interstellar?” the shipyard (junkyard, Hux’s mind corrected) owner croaked at the 1:100 projection of Bestoon Legacy slowly rotating above Hux’s datapad.
“And in a dreadful shape, too,” the man observed critically. Hux regretted not taking a picture of their ship before Ren put it through the grinder on their way from Exegol.
“Subpro Corp. went out of business years ago. Good luck finding any spare parts. It’s as good as junk,” the man advised him in a fake sympathetic tone.
“You misunderstand,” Hux interrupted him. “I’m not looking to repair it. I want to sell it.”
The man had the audacity to laugh. “That tin can? Haven’t you heard me? It’s a relic. I wouldn’t want it even for parts. It’s not even worth its weight in recycled metal. You should be paying me to scrap it.”
“It’s in perfect working condition and faster than anything you have,” Hux gestured at the assortment of light and medium freighters parked on the muddy field surrounding the shipyard office.
The man shook his head condescendingly. “Lysatra is a trading place. People want enough room for cargo, not speed.”
Hux took a deep breath. “It comes with a pilot.”
The light of a cautious interest crept into the man’s eyes as he swept them over Ren’s form where he lurked a few steps behind Hux, idly looking over the ships on sale. Hux saw the man’s gaze linger on the collar. Even if he probably didn’t recognise its true purpose - Force dampening devices were a thing of the past just like their ship - a heavy collar around a rather provocatively dressed man’s neck was a message clear enough.
“I don’t deal in this kind of trade,” the shipyard owner said in a hushed tone. Interestingly enough he didn’t sound offended… merely regretful. And then he added, aloud: “Aren’t you gentlemen hungry? I know the best place catering to weary travellers.” He pointed across the road to a building with a flashing sign across its front - for a diner, possibly a cantina. “The best of what local cuisine can offer.” And then, quietly again: “Ask for Drizzto. My good friend.”
The food place was nestled in the back of a courtyard lined with stalls and hole-in-the-wall businesses. Hux’s skin itched just imagining himself shouldering through that filthy crowd. He started to understand what Ren meant about too many people . And speaking of Ren...
Hux turned to find him engrossed in conversation with a woman leaning over the counter of her shop filled to the roof with wigs, cosmetics, hair curlers and things that looked more like interrogation instruments than anything. Her skin confused him - dazzling blue with intricate black patterns crawling up her neck and down her arms - before he realised that she was a Pantoran, and the black designs weren’t pigmentation but tattoos. The iron smell of ink hit Hux’s nose as he watched her take Ren’s hand and turn it over, her fingers tracing the back of Ren’s hand and slipping under Ren’s sleeve as they followed the branching pattern of his prominent veins…
And if that wasn’t bad enough, Ren allowed it. Hux prided himself on knowing the weaknesses of his enemies and if he knew one thing about Ren, it was that the man hated physical advances. It was part of why it was so funny to watch Ren’s fumbling around as Matt - sometimes, a petty officer or another technician would come on to him, and Ren’s knee-jerk spooked horse reaction was hilarious every time. But now, Hux could hardly recognise Ren and connect that stiff and hulking man he knew with the charming and sensual creature whispering stars-knew-what into the Pantoran’s ear.
He was over by them before he could think it through.
“We haven’t got all day,” he reminded Ren, not bothering to hide the glare directed at the beauty parlour owner. She responded with a sly grin.
“Drizzto will be with his sabacc buddies,” she drawled, inclining her head in the direction of the cantina. So Kylo must have told her who they were after, and she must have guessed why.
“I look forward to seeing you around,” she winked at Ren and sauntered away from the counter to check on one of her customers sitting in the back of her shop, their hands with fantastically coloured nails outstretched under a heat lamp.
A speck of sense returned to Hux’s world when he noticed Ren rubbing the back of his hand with his sleeve. Together they crossed the courtyard and walked into the cantina, eyes adjusting to the dim ambient light.
At the bar, Hux bought himself a drink and asked for Drizzto. The barman gave them one shrewd look and motioned them into a private booth next to a door. It looked like a storage closet door but the lock was far too sturdy for that. Hux suspected behind that door was the rumoured sabacc room. Hux slid into the booth after Ren and tried to ignore the appreciative glances the patrons were shooting in their direction.
“Did you have to wear this?” he hissed into his drink. The glass was blessedly cool against his palm. The straw was stupidly thin, it took ages to get the proper mouthful of alcohol he needed.
“They were your clothes,” Ren folded his empty hands together. His eyes blinked with amused curiosity. “I assume they weren’t hand-picked by you. Who was it, then? Come on, you can tell me. It’s not like I can punish the conspirators anymore.”
He looked vaguely puzzled when Hux told him. “Mitaka? That mousey face? Guess he had a brave bone in him after all. He must have been carrying a torch for you all those years.”
Hux spluttered in outrage. Mitaka would never even entertain such a thought! He was a loyal officer first and foremost… but… he also left with that Petty Officer Thanisson, who was, if Hux remembered him correctly, a slim man with reddish hair… fuck.
“They all adored you, you know. That’s what I learned posing as… Matt.” Ren smiled wryly. “Among other things. The young ones simply adored you. I assume it was deliberate, a failsafe in your conditioning program. So what makes you believe they wouldn’t have fantasised about you, too? Imagining you… like this?”
But Hux had already forgotten all about the idea of Mitaka lusting over the image of Hux in those indecent trousers...because Ren had said something else, too.
“You knew I conditioned them to be loyal to me. Armitage Hux. Not the General of the First Order. You knew.”
Hux had slipped once, back in that destroyed throne room on the Supremacy, burning in half above Crait. He had boasted and raged on how dared Ren command his armies - Hux’s armies. He thought Ren hadn’t noticed.
“Is that why you just didn’t kill me there - above Crait? Or why you haven’t executed me after Batuu?”
Ren shrugged. “I knew there would have been an uprising if I did. I had to… balance out that clique.”
“So you brought in Pryde and his old Imperial cronies,” Hux concluded, the bitterness rising in him with the same old burning bite. Back then, he thought Ren was just a puppet strung along by Palpatine, not giving a damn about the command of the Order, but now he started to realise that Ren hadn’t been half the fool Hux had held him for.
“And it was fun to watch you hate him almost as much as you hated me,” Ren added and helped himself to a long sip from Hux’s drink. Hux’s first impulse was to yank it away from his mouth but for that, he would have to look at those lips wrapped around that straw… so he let it slide.
“It was all just fun to you, I’m sure,” he said instead. Of course Ren knew that Hux hated him enough to build a second Starkiller just to roast his corpse and he simply didn’t care.
“I didn’t know what lengths you’d go to in order to get back at me,” Ren motioned the glass towards Hux so that the loose straw bumped against his chest, “but I knew you hated me. I never expected anything else. I am a monster, Hux. Hurting people is what monsters do. I hurt you - of course, you hated me.”
Hux sucked in a sharp breath. “If you’re trying to fucking apologise-”
“No,” Ren scoffed immediately. Some of his old pride, almost royal poise flashed through that single word, a solid no-argument simplicity that always reminded Hux of whose son Ren really was.
“But just before I died-” and he turned his eyes to Hux’s, trapping him in their strange depths - “I decided I didn’t want to be that-”
“I hear you came to see Drizzto,” a smooth voice drawled above them.
Ren dropped his gaze back to the tabletop. Hux lifted his to meet the exquisitely made-up eyes of a gorgeous woman in a sleek black-and-silver dress. Her dark-painted lips quirked up in a seductive smile.
“This way, please.”
Hearing what exactly Ren didn’t want to be anymore had to wait. Hux and Ren followed the woman into the back room.
Drizzto turned out to be a Twi’lek, lean and ugly like most of the males of his race. He motioned Hux to take a seat in one of the high-backed chairs surrounding the round table between them and flicked his hand at the woman to bring them more drinks. Hux didn’t like the way the plush upholstery made him sink into it but Drizzto obviously enjoyed it, leaning back and observing them with half-lidded eyes. The chair wasn’t wide enough to accommodate two but to Hux’s increasing discomfort, Ren had apparently decided to amp up his acting and seated himself perching on the armrest of Hux’s chair, leaning against him and resting his chin on Hux’s shoulder like an affectionate cat.
Did slaves really behave like that?
Then the woman returned with their drinks, served them and assumed a mirror position on the armrest of the Twi’lek’s chair, and perhaps they really did.
“A little bird told me you have an interesting deal,” Drizzto began.
“And you are the man to pick it up?” Hux countered. “I don’t want any trouble with the authorities.”
Drizzto waved his hand. “Oh, no problems on that front,” he grinned, showing a row of sharp teeth. “It’s all just helping out my family, you see. The government doesn’t stick its nosey head into family matters.”
Hux almost asked what that meant but then he heard a whisper in his ear. Ren’s lips barely moved, it looked like a nuzzling kiss, and he even brought his hand up to catch Hux’s hood and keep it from slipping, covering his mouth in the process.
“Slavery is illegal on Lysatra but legal on Ryloth,” Ren whispered. “Women have no rights there. He’s taken multiple wives and he’s selling his daughters.”
Hux’s stomach rolled. He suddenly wanted to be out of this place as quickly as possible.
“I need a new ship,” he said bluntly, tired with the nasty pleasantries. He loaded up the picture on his datapad again, letting it rotate above the table. “I’m looking to expand my family business and that old girl is fast but...” he shrugged, putting on a ‘you know how things are’ smile which he hoped real traders would use in this situation.
“And the pilot?”
“To make up the cost.”
“He must be an exceptional pilot because that ship is crap,” Drizzto said, frowning at the picture and knocking away the datapad. Hux caught it and pocketed it, gritting his teeth. Next to him, Ren seemed to be amused again, and without a care in the world. He kept lazily looking around and even winked at the woman one time, as if he wasn’t literally draped over Hux at that very moment.
“He is. Even though he can be a bit lippy.”
“Hm.” The Twi’lek appraised Ren openly, like a slab of meat. “Is he bedroom trained?”
Hux was grateful that his new heart couldn’t make him blush. “He knows his way around,” he said noncommittally. A sudden thought, whether or not this man ‘bedroom trained’ his own daughters before he sold them, made him rather nauseous.
“Is he chipped?”
Hux smirked. “Standard locator plus a little… obedience incentive function.” He closed his right hand around his left wrist, rather unconsciously. “I would transfer the ownership rights once I’m on the ship.”
The woman wrapped around the Twi’lek moved around one of his lekku playfully to whisper something in his ear. She was probably bored. Hux didn’t pay much attention to her. She was just an accessory, a status symbol. The slaver patted her thigh, sliding his hand up in a very unsubtle display of possessiveness, and then he turned back to Hux.
“I happen to have a ship that could suit your needs,” he said. “You can look it up yourself, it’s docked at the spaceport. Bay Senth-seventeen.”
Surprised by this sudden matter-of-factness, Hux pulled up the official spaceport page on the local holonet network. The bay S-17 was really listed as occupied by a ship. A VCX-light freighter, an older model, but nearly twice as big as Bestoon Legacy and surely four times as comfortable.
Drizzto took the datapad from him and tapped something into it. “I just transferred the access codes to you,” he explained. “She’s as good as yours. You can check.”
Wordlessly, Hux fired off a message to Dee-dee to check on the ship. He watched with unseeing eyes as Drizzto finished his drink and sent the woman with a smack to her hip for another. She moved like a shadow, the perfect servant, refilling Drizzto’s glass and setting it back on the table. Hux’s mind was at the spaceport. He could hardly believe his luck.
Five minutes later, Dee-dee messaged back - he had indeed taken control of the ship, changed the codes, took it into a bay closer to theirs, and was currently loading it with their possessions. Unbelievable. Making Ren into a bargaining chip was the best idea Hux ever got.
“His chip controller?” Drizzto nodded towards Ren, who sat very, very still.
Hux sobered up a little from his euphoria. “When I’m on the ship,” he said, still cautious. “If you do me the pleasure of accompanying me?”
Drizzto only smiled wider. “Of course. A drink to a business well made?” He lifted up his glass. Hux suppressed an eye roll and lifted his own. The faster this was over the better.
And then Ren moved, for the first time in their entire conversation, and knocked the glass cleanly out of Hux’s hand. It cracked against the table, spilling its contents everywhere.
“Drug,” Ren said shortly, entirely too loud in the stupefied silence. “She switched the glasses.”
A second of unreal stillness, in which Hux noticed two things. The furious snarl on the face of the previously friendly Twi’lek, and the way the woman slid behind the chair, a small custom blaster in hand.
“Curse you, Netal,” Drizzto shouted, “you had one jo-”
He didn’t get to say anything else. The shot from Hux’s blaster hit him mid-word and mid-reach for a hidden weapon of his own, splattering his brain matter across the back of his chair. His body collapsed forwards and hit the table with a wet smack. Kylo moved back just in time to avoid getting hit by one of the bloodied lekku. He chanced a glance at Hux, noticing the practiced way he held the blaster, the lack of tremor in his hand, the sharp and emotionless eyes of a sniper. Good. Maybe the former General wasn’t as useless in a cantina brawl as he was in dealing with criminals.
“Damn, I wanted to do that,” came the woman’s voice, laced with dry amusement. So it was as Kylo suspected from the start. She was the one who wanted them, for whatever reason. She seduced the local slaver into thinking she was working for him when actually he was just a tool in her hands.
Kylo saw her move, looking for a clear line for a shot while staying covered. Another shot from Hux’s gun blasted harmlessly into the wall. She was fast, like a black viper. Kylo kicked over the table and dragged Hux down behind it just in time. Her shot splintered the cheap duraplast above their heads.
Pressed against Hux from shoulder to knee, Kylo felt the outline of another gun under Hux’s cloak. Strapped to his thigh, possibly another hand-blaster or at least a taser. He nudged Hux and reached for the gun, together they could get that woman into a crossfire-
Sharp pain in his wrist put a stop to that thought. Hux glared at him, the blaster he just used to nearly break Kylo’s hand aimed at him. Kylo growled. Hux shook his head.
Fine. So Hux didn’t trust him enough to let him have a gun. Kylo rolled away into the cover of another chair and mentally calculated his chances. The woman’s blaster was a small one. She originally wanted to drug them - could have shot them comfortably anytime during the negotiations but she didn’t, obviously she wanted them alive. Chances were her blaster wasn’t set to kill. He was confident in his ability to take a stun shot and keep going, if he was fast he could knock her out. She didn’t know he didn’t have a gun, if Hux was at least willing to distract her with fire to cover him-
His thoughts were interrupted by the scream of rapid fire above their heads. Kylo ducked instinctively before he understood what it meant - the woman was firing blindly, making a break for the door. He clenched his fists in frustration - how easy it would have been to freeze her limbs with just a gesture of his hand! At least he hurled a chair into her path but she jumped over it with ease, firing one last shot into the ceiling and slamming the door behind herself. In the sudden silence after the barrage, Kylo could hear the turning of the lock.
The room plunged into darkness. Her last shot damaged the light fixtures and the wreckage of the room was now illuminated only by a steady trickle of electric sparks raining from the ceiling.
“Sorry, gentlemen!” They heard her sarcastic drawl, slightly muffled by the door. “I hope you don’t mind waiting in there for a bit before I come back with my friends.”
Kylo banged his fist against the door. It didn’t even shake. He heard her laughter disappearing through the cantina - probably empty by now, the locals must have hightailed it as soon as they heard the commotion in the sabbac room - and he put his forehead against the cool surface, breathing deep to calm himself.
“I hope you’re happy,” he spat out into the dark when he no longer felt like strangling Hux in the next second.
“Don’t get all butthurt at me,” Hux dismissed him. He was doing a remarkable job of not acknowledging that Kylo had just saved his ass from a very embarrassing end in the hands of a bounty hunter. Kylo’s mind was still boggling at Hux’s lapse in judgment. It was as if the moment the fata morgana of success was dangled before his eyes, he became blind and deaf to everything that was going on. He would have drunk that drugged cocktail just because he thought he had the new ship in the bag.
Of course, Hux was a military man. Probably never dealt with anyone who hasn’t been brainwashed, in one way or another. Might have believed that all people beneath his station could be overlooked. He would have to learn the hard way.
“She knew you,” Kylo mused. “She hasn’t taken her eyes off you the whole time. I saw her smirking when you mentioned ‘family business’.”
Hux came to stand close to him, examining the door.
“The slaver called her Netal,” he said after a while. “One of the spies on the First Order payroll was a certain Bazine Netal, a bounty hunter. I haven’t encountered her name after Takodana. I never dealt with her in person, I just… reviewed the reports. But I was the face of the Order… at least before Crait. I guess she did her research.”
“Great,” Kylo sighed. Now there would be people knowing that General Hux had survived. At least his secret was likely still safe. Kylo Ren had rarely taken his mask off where people could see.
Hux was running his fingers along the edges of the door. “There’s got to be an access to the electronics,” he muttered.
Stars, Hux had so much to learn.
“Electronics? In a place like this? This is a mechanical lock. And it opens from the outside. Have you been paying any attention, any at all, when we came in?”
“When you’re finished rubbing it in, you can open that fucking door,” Hux snapped at him. “Unless you’re just as useless as your fucking lecturing.”
Oh, but Kylo has been waiting for this.
“I could open it,” he said. Let the silence after those words resonate with their meaning. He could hear them turning over in Hux’s mind.
“You mean.. with your mind. If I took that collar off.”
From what could hear from the earlier click of the mechanism locking in, Kylo knew it was quite sturdy. All the easier to get a feel for it through the Force, to guide a tendril of it to wrap itself around the peg and pull...
“Trust me,” he said, dropping his voice low.
A second, in which Kylo was sure neither of them was breathing.
“That’s never going to happen,” Hux said resolutely. His voice sounded angry, tight. As if it wasn't only Kylo he had to convince. Or maybe Kylo was imagining things.
Well, at least Hux considered it. For a second. That was more than Kylo would have got three days ago. He shrugged and started to feel his way along the wall to the other end of the room.
Hux followed him hesitantly, his whole body stiff with tension, his steps stumbling.
“What are you up to?” Hux hissed. He sounded agitated. Frustrated. “You’re too complacent. I deprive you, and you just nod and-”
“Some things can’t be forced,” Kylo said quietly.
There was a pun in there, he realised, but he wasn’t in the mood to laugh. He busied himself instead knocking lightly at the undecorated section of the wall he remembered from earlier. “And as to what I am up to, there should be a hidden back door. This is an illegal sabacc den, it must have an escape for when the police are storming the front of the house.”
As if on cue, one of the panels under his fingers gave way, swinging back and revealing a narrow corridor with a bundle of ventilation pipes running overhead, dimly lit with an echo of daylight coming through the far end.
“After you and your gun,” Kylo waved his hand courteously. Hux growled something unintelligible under his breath and went ahead.
Their escape route turned out to be just a narrow gap between the cantina and the next building leading into a dirty dead-end alley lined with overflowing garbage bins. Hux held a piece of his cloak against his nose as they sneaked past. Around the corner was a mostly empty street, peeling walls lined with small kitchen windows and air conditioning exhaust units. Most of the fronts of the houses faced the main street on the other side - the one with the food stalls, shops, shipyard, and a hell of a commotion fast approaching their way.
So the body of the locally so popular Twi’lek had been already discovered.
They ran. The obvious route to take would be back to the spaceport but the angry mob figured that out too. Police sirens were blaring in a wide circle around it. For once, Hux let Kylo take the lead and followed him without questions as he turned them away from the spaceport, diving deep into the dirty underbelly of the unfamiliar town.
Well, not unfamiliar. All these small trading posts were the same. One main street with the friendly facade, a couple of establishments for the traders to spend their hard-earned money, and then just warehouses and droid-operated repair workshops for miles on end.
Kylo’s ears suddenly picked a singular sound out of the background buzz of transports taking off from the distant spaceport. A scream of engines drawing near. He ducked behind a fence and watched as a freighter careened over the roofs on top speed, circled to slow down, and then descended on an abandoned warehouse landing, its gear crushing the bushes growing in the cracks of the permacrete.
The hatch opened, the stepladder descended onto the ground, and D-D’s upside-down head peeked out from the opening.
“Quick. We have twenty three seconds.”
“Until what?” Hux, the idiot, actually stopped to ask. Kylo just rolled his eyes, grabbed his arm and hauled him bodily towards the ship.
The hatch started to close while they were still stumbling half-way up the steps. D-D wasn’t kidding about their haste. Hux wrenched his arm free as soon as they made it inside and pushed past Kylo to get to the cockpit. Kylo half expected some vitriol about ‘not touching him like that ever again’ but Hux had another question on his mind.
“So, what happens in… seventeen seconds?”
“The spaceport security will break through the computer script I used to lock the bay with our old ship and they will realise nobody is there,” D-D answered. Kylo smiled privately at his smug tone. But there was no time to lose. They had to get spaceborne and jump out of here before the port security could alert the orbital patrols.
He slid into the pilot’s seat and took over the controls. The systems came alive under his hands, familiar like his own heartbeat. Corellian manufacture. He tried not to think of the last time he piloted a similar ship. He concentrated on the acceleration through the atmosphere and the navigation computer. Next to him, Hux still sounded peeved.
“How did you know where to find us?”
“I locked the autopilot on the position of the locator chip.”
Kylo couldn’t help but snort. The navigation computer asked for a destination. It didn’t matter much - they just needed to jump to hyperspace to disappear from the sensors. But the computer needed something to finish the calculations, so Kylo blindly picked a planet from the alphabetical list offered to him and punched it in. Hux was still grilling the droid with questions about their new ship and their supplies and he only seemed to wake up when the stars around them burst into white lines as they jumped.
“Wait!” he rounded on Kylo. “Where are we going?”
Kylo squinted at the navigation computer. “Arkanis.” Funny. That name did ring a bell. Where did he…
“Arkanis?!” Hux sounded scandalised. No. Kylo looked at him more closely. Terrified. Angry fuss on the surface and utter instinctive terror beneath. His nails dug painfully into Kylo’s skin where he closed his hand around Kylo’s shoulder, white-knuckled and trembling. He didn’t seem to be aware he was doing it.
“I can’t go to Arkanis,” he insisted. His eyes flicked from left to right, unfocused, as if he was seeing ghosts. Very hostile ghosts. Kylo felt one of Hux’s nails break the skin and he winced, keeping himself from flinching by sheer force of will. Hux finally noticed and snatched his hand back.
“We can’t go to Arkanis,” he repeated.
“Master...” the droid piped up - and somehow, the nanny impression Kylo was getting from his voice was even more pronounced now. Soothing, caring, reasonable. Hux’s whole body leaned towards that sound, subconsciously seeking comfort.
“It makes sense,” said the droid. “It is the last place they would expect you to go.”
“Damn right!” Hux barked out, a little hysterically. “But now when they know I’m alive? I can’t show up there with this face, with his hair-”
“About that,” Kylo interrupted him. Whatever Hux’s issue with Arkanis was, he figured it would be best to snap him out of the impending mental breakdown by focusing on practical matters. He fished two small plastic packets out of his pocket and held them up. Liquid hair dyes. Blonde and chestnut brown.
“I figured someone was going to recognise one of us sooner or later,” he explained, “so I stole these from the Pantoran tattoo artist.”
Hux stared at him for a moment, puzzled, before he finally schooled his face back into his customary superior indifference and he sneered at the packets.
“You’re getting the blonde one.” And with that, he stomped out of the cockpit to look at their new ship.
Ceasefire offering accepted. Kylo smiled to himself and turned back to the viewport. Next to him, D-D was whirring quietly away with something almost like approval.
“Hey, Dee-dee,” he hazarded after a minute of companionable silence, “override code Arkanis.”
D-D blinked once in disappointment and zapped him. But even as Kylo seized and coughed through the pain, he couldn’t quite get the mad grin off his face.
They had a new ship, fast and well-armed. Hux didn’t leave him on Lysatra. He was still alive.
That night, Kylo Ren dreamed about the Force.
Their new ship was faster but it was no Millenium Falcon. In a sense, Kylo was glad for that. They would need several hours to reach Arkanis and he decided to stretch that time a bit more by dropping out of the hyperspace twice or thrice and choosing a different vector at random for a while, just to mess with anyone who would try to track them. These course changes should make it practically impossible but he did not underestimate Bazine Netal. Anyone who worked for the First Order and not only survived, but thrived after its fall, was bound to be dangerous.
The zig-zagging route also gave him ample time to do other things. One of them was the fixing of his hair.
The package promised a perfumed scent. It might have been past due when he stole it because the smell was simply putrid. Kylo left it on until his nose started rebelling too much, which might not have been enough time. He rinsed it off and stared at himself in the mirror.
With his thick dark hair, the advertised ashen white colour was unobtainable. The bleach turned his hair into a dirty yellowish blonde, not unlike the wig he used to wear as Matt. The long strands, frizzled by the rough chemical treatment, hung limply by his face and did nothing to hide his ears. There was no helping it. He needed a haircut.
Hux definitely had a way of wielding sharp objects near Kylo’s neck. But Kylo decided not to risk it and sought out the droid.
“I can not,” was D-D’s prompt answer to his request. The bastard actually managed to pronounce it as three separate words. It felt like getting reprimanded all those years back, as a padawan.
“Nerfshit,” Kylo deadpanned back. By now, he was pretty sure D-D’s basic programming module was taken from a nanny droid. “What little boy’s nanny doesn’t know how to cut hair?”
“The one who has direct authorisation to tear out all of your hair if deemed necessary,” the droid replied, unphased, and turned to roll away.
“You know what?” Kylo chanced to the droid's back. “Override code asshole.”
Turned out D-D could extend his zapper quite the way back.
“You want me to. Cut. Your hair.”
Hux stared at Ren for several seconds. The bleached hair was horrible, no doubt. The sight was even more unsettling than his own brunette reflection, and that was saying something. But where Hux’s new look suited him and complimented his eyes, Ren’s was just… just…
Hux gave up. He started laughing.
“You look as if someone dumped a plate of overcooked noodles on your head.”
Ren lifted one dark eyebrow. He didn’t even match them. Oh, stars. This was so bad.
“That’s my point. If you want to sell me, it has to look nice.”
Hux knew he should stop laughing but the embarrassed look on Ren’s face was just too good.
“I think,” he admitted between hiccups of laughter, “that we’re past that plan.”
“Are we?” Ren looked genuinely surprised.
Well, when it slipped out like that, it was pointless to deny it. Truth was that Hux had reconsidered all plans to sell Ren the moment the drugged cocktail smashed against the table and he realised that to survive in exile, he was going to need a completely new skill set. But he wasn’t about to confess that, yet. Probably ever.
“Yes,” Hux nodded. “We-” he stopped himself, “I got the ship I needed. For now.”
“So you can do it,” Ren stubbornly turned back to the topic at hand, or more precisely, the pair of scissors in his hand.
“I suppose,” Hux allowed, still chuckling, and pointed to the ‘fresher. “Over there.”
To which Ren obliged by pulling his tunic off over his head as he went. All mirth died abruptly on Hux’s lips.
This was solely for the haircutting purposes, he told himself sternly. He knew well enough from his experience as a Cadet how itchy and irritated one could get when the tiny cuttings got under their shirt. For fuck’s sake, he’d already seen Ren naked as the day he was born, so where did this reaction come from?
It’s different when he’s the one taking it off, he thought. It’s something else when he’s like this, willing . I wonder what he’d let me do. I wonder what I’d let myself do if he said yes…
He stomped out that train of thought when he caught on the slightly puzzled look Ren was giving him over his shoulder, half-naked and waiting. He shook himself mentally and went to grab the buzz cutter from his personal hygiene kit.
Ren dragged a stool over to the ‘fresher and sat down on it, his back to Hux. Crouched like this, his head was at the perfect height for Hux to work on, but also his knees were sticking up, like a gangly schoolboy on a too-small chair. Hux wondered since when he found Ren’s size amusing .
He considered the chemically burned mess in front of him. This situation was bringing up some of the funnier Academy memories. “How would you feel about an undercut?”
“With my ears?” Ren chuckled. “I don’t think so.”
“I see,” Hux mused. “I suppose there was a reason for that ugly mask after all.”
Sitting down like he was, Ren’s head was below the mirror edge so he couldn’t see his own reflection. He probably didn’t realise that Hux could. The sadness and pain in his face were so raw and unrestrained for a moment that Hux had to carefully school his own face to not give away his reaction. Oh. So the mask was probably a touchy subject. File for later.
“Right,” he cleared his throat, breaking the sudden uncomfortable silence, and set to work.
The overlong strands at Ren’s nape had to go entirely. They kept snagging on the Force dampening collar anyway. Hux subtly checked the fit. The skin underneath was irritated but not bruised. The knobs of Ren’s spine stood out stark as he bowed his head forward.
Who knew you could be like this? Quiet, submissive, sweet? I didn’t. You probably didn’t either. Too wrapped up in your precious legacy.
He kept leaving the strands longer as he approached the top of Ren’s head. The result would resemble a bird’s nest more than anything regulation-approved but it would cover the tops of Ren's ears at least. Since when Hux considered giving in to what Ren wanted?
Probably since Ren decided to save Hux’s ass from that sabacc den instead of siding with the bounty hunter and taking his chances with that disgusting slave trader. Repaying kindness with kindness, indeed.
The snip-snipping of the scissors suddenly seemed too loud in the too small room, the silence in between them too tight, like the ticking of a bomb. Hux frantically scrambled for something neutral to say.
“You’re going to end up looking like Matt,” was what he came up with in the end.
Ren looked up, meeting the eyes of Hux’s reflection in the mirror.
“I sometimes thought what would I do if you called him - me - into your personal quarters,” he said quietly.
Hux’s tongue suddenly felt too dry in his mouth. “Why would I?” he managed.
The corners of Ren’s mouth lifted in a little sheepish smile. “I didn’t know if you’d be the type,” he admitted. “To take advantage of your authority. I caught you staring, once. I was almost convinced you had recognised me. But you didn’t call the bluff. I kept thinking, either you didn’t know, or you wanted to… take advantage of it. Call me into your quarters under the pretence of a performance review. Make me...”
“Make you what?” Hux said weakly. He had to remind himself that Ren couldn’t read his mind. Not with the collar.
Ren scrunched his nose and huffed to blow the cut hair out of his face. “I didn’t know. I kept thinking about it. What would it be like. To find out.”
If Hux still had a heart, it would’ve been beating a mile a minute. He’d be lying if he said he never thought about it. Play along with the ‘Matt’ charade, berate him for his disruptive behaviour, give him a taste of discipline… but he never dared to act on it. Of course, it would be despicable conduct for a superior officer. But that wasn’t the real reason if Hux was honest with himself. No, the real, embarrassing reason was Hux’s fear that he’d end up humiliating himself. Bravado would’ve only taken him so far. Eventually, it would have come to light that he’d never done this before and wouldn’t that be a table-turner?
And then Starkiller blew up, and the whole mess above Crait happened, and Hux studiously wiped each and every impure thought about the new Supreme Leader out of his head.
Looking back down at his hands, Hux realised he was almost done. Most of Ren’s hair was on the floor now, some strands sticking to his naked shoulders. Hux’s hand shook a little when he brushed them away. Ren shivered. Their eyes locked in the mirror and Ren was opening his mouth to say something-
That’s when Hux noticed them. Several pink spots on Ren’s upper arms, small circular marks, some fresh, some already fading. Hux knew those marks, he’d supervised enough interrogations to recognise that shape and colour. Electric burns.
“What’s this?” he asked sharply.
The muscles in Ren’s jaw clenched. Disappointment? Anger? But then he closed his eyes, took a deep breath - and where was this emotional management when he used to take out his rage on the Finalizer’s equipment? - and then he stood up, passing a hand through his hair to shake out the rest of the loose hair and then pulling his tunic back on. He rubbed his palm against the mark through the fabric.
“You have a very zap-happy droid,” he said easily.
Ah. Hux felt a twinge of gratitude towards the droid. D-D was always looking out for him.
“There were a lot of stray nerfs wandering around the Academy grounds,” he reminisced, packing away the cutter and the brush. “They could be dangerous, so he always kept them at a distance when we were taking a walk. I guess old habits die hard.”
Ren laughed. “I knew it,” he completely ignored that Hux had just indirectly called him a nerf, “he’s your old nanny droid. Though I wouldn’t recognise him under all those extra appendages and reinforced armour. I used to have one of those for bath times when my...”
He cut himself off, swallowing loudly. Hux could fairly guess what he was about to say, though. For when Senator Leia Organa was too busy.
“I never knew my mother,” he said, keeping his tone clinical. “D-D was my main caretaker and guardian. I trust him with my life.”
Ren nodded, thoughtful. “And he agrees with me that we should go to Arkanis,” he pointed out.
Hux felt the cold creeping up on him despite the air in the ‘fresher, cramped as they were in it, was rather uncomfortably hot.
“You don’t have any vote here,” he retorted, an automatic defence by now.
“I know you don’t trust me,” Ren translated it correctly. “But I f- I think that whatever happened there, it may help us now.”
There was something odd in the way Ren stopped himself just then but Hux was too upset to concentrate on it.
“What makes you think anything happened there?”
“You,” Ren said simply. “And you better tell me before we get there.”
I swear I had this chapter outlined and WIP-titled 'Hux's gay panic' before the LEGO Holiday Special spoiler hit Tumblr. Well, now you at least have a clear visual of what faces Hux is making in this chapter.
Hux nursed a cup of strong tarine tea that D-D prepared for him and tried to ignore the expectant look Ren was giving him. He wasn’t doing a particularly good job of it.
He knew, rationally, that D-D was right. Arkanis, or what was left of its settlements, had been staunchly Republican for the past thirty years. Ever since the last of the Imperials left for the Unknown regions, taking anything of value with them. Ever since Operation Cinder.
The Empire betrayed Arkanis. Nobody would look for an Empire sympathisant there.
Rationally, it was a sound plan. But irrationally...
The cup in his hands was hot but all Hux could feel was cold. Hard, metallic edges of a chair, gripped in sweaty hands. Harsh light blaring into his eyes. The glint of needles. The medicinal taste left behind in his mouth after they took a swab.
“How old were you?” Ren’s voice was too gentle as if coming from a distance.
“Three. Four.” Hux stared into the swirl of tea dregs in his cup. “I don’t remember.”
He wasn’t even sure of the proper order of events. Not sure anymore what really happened and what was a trick his mind played on him, inserting nightmares in the place of memories.
As a little boy, he hardly understood the greater picture of things going on in the Galaxy. He lived on the Academy grounds, in a nice house with a father that didn’t like him. Visitors came and went all the time. His father liked to intimidate them. But one time, just once, Brendol had blanched in deadly fright as soon as he received the incoming call and then spent the whole day looking over his shoulder.
“I didn’t know the Emperor had any interest in the Arkanis Academy,” Ren reacted with surprise when Hux told him whose entourage took over their home that day.
It was public knowledge that the Emperor favourited the Coruscant Academy. The most loyal Core families, the up-and-coming Officers and Moffs who looked to secure their position, would send their sons there. Brendol Hux’s Academy was in the backwoods of the Outer Rim and frowned upon for its highly unconventional and untested training concept.
“He wasn’t interested in the Academy at all,” Hux shook his head.
“So it was true,” Ren said slowly. “There were rumours of a secret Imperial facility on Arkanis. Under the direct overseeing of the Emperor. I remember my… General Organa talking about it in the Senate. That it should be investigated, the children who disappeared there reunited with their families...”
“The whole place was probably in ruins by the time Organa learned about it,” Hux scoffed.
Operation Cinder turned Arkanis into a wasteland. The brutal and merciless strike was a part of Palpatine’s plan to destroy Imperial assets after his death. The Empire wasn’t allowed to survive after it failed to protect its Emperor. Planets should rather burn than surrender to the Rebel Alliance.
“The place was never found,” Ren corrected him. “Eventually the New Republic concluded that it didn’t exist. Hux, do you see what this means? The facility is probably still hidden.”
Ren spoke with excitement which Hux found difficult to share. Yes, there would be shelter, weapons, slightly outdated but still usable technology. It could be their base, or a hiding hole, for the time being. But it was also Hux’s worst nightmare. Endless white corridors, vast underground halls, rooms with rows upon rows of glowing cylinders stacked from floor to ceiling, full of milky liquid with something moving inside… Hux shivered.
“Did your father ever mention where the facility was?”
Hux laughed. It came out strained and wrong. “He didn’t need to. I’ve been there myself.”
Ren, mercifully, shut up.
“They took me from the nursery when Father was at work,” Hux began. “The transport was armoured, I wasn’t tall enough to see where we were going. It felt inland, the air was not so rash with salt as the coast. Then we went underground. They didn’t talk to me at all.”
He wouldn’t be able to describe the abductors if he tried. He was used to seeing the ‘Trooper white helmets, the oversized visors of the Cadets, hundreds of identical white faces. But these masks were black. Individual. Scary.
Years later, already a commander of the Finalizer , he saw the holo of the Knights of Ren for the first time and immediately hated them.
“They did some tests. Standard medical stuff. Took biological samples.” Hux chuckled. “I was what they call a sickly child. I was used to being poked and prodded. I thought that was all.”
He looked briefly out of the viewport. The stars outside were blurred into swirling blue patterns. He always felt the safest on a starship. He always preferred to stand above everything and everyone around.
“Then they threw me into a pit and said nobody was going to help me out.”
Ren frowned. “The pit - did it have walls split into blocks that would randomly fly out and slide back again?”
Hux looked up in surprise. “Yes. I figured I was meant to jump up from block to block as they moved… but they were too unpredictable. I would slip, I would be hit, I would find myself on a block that was sliding back into the wall with no other block around-”
“You couldn’t get out,” Ren said with understanding. Hux immediately felt his hackles rise at the assumption even though it was true.
“Of course I couldn’t!” he forced his tone into dismissiveness. “I was too young, even Father’s cadets usually enrolled when they were at least ten-”
“No,” Ren interrupted him. “You couldn’t have got out. This test was designed so that the only way to get out was to be able to predict which blocks were going to move, and when.”
“There was no pattern,” Hux insisted. Dammit, his voice was cracking. “Believe me, I spent in there long enough to know there was no bloody pattern-”
“No pattern.” Ren was looking at him with something almost like pity. “You would have to be able to see things before they happen.”
Hux stared at him. Suddenly, the horrible pit started making sense.
“You mean, like with the Force.”
“Only with the Force,” Ren nodded. “It’s the same as blocking a blaster bolt with a lightsaber. You’re only able to react so fast because you see it being fired at you before it actually happens. The pit was a test of Force sensitivity. You would only get out if you had it.”
Hux could feel his hands shaking. “I thought I was a failure,” he muttered. “Father would often test me, and I thought I’d failed him again...” Even after thirty years, the helpless despair was just as fresh as back then.
“But why would they think I had it?” he raged. “Brendol was about as sensitive as a brick!!”
“What about your mother?”
“Do you think someone with such power would work as a kitchen woman, let themselves be raped, and died after giving birth?” Hux spat. Ren flinched.
“So,” Ren cleared his throat after a moment of uncomfortable silence, “you don’t actually know the location of that place.”
Hux rolled his eyes. What did he expect from Ren? To express compassion once in his life? That would probably give Hux the creeps. Bluntness and stubbornness it was, and Hux actually preferred him that way.
“No, I actually don’t,” he agreed. Then he inclined his head towards D-D. “But he does.”
The droid returned Ren’s puzzled look with a smug blink of his red eye. “What kind of a nanny doesn’t have a tracker on their charge?”
Arkanis didn’t have any planetary defense system to speak of. It had probably been destroyed during the Cinder scourge and afterwards the survivors didn’t bother. There wasn’t much to defend anyway. No trade to speak of, a handful of farms scraping on the muddy land under too little sunlight, and seabed oil that was too expensive to mine to have a competitive market price.
They decided to land a little way off the coordinates stored in D-D’s memory bank and make the last stretch of the journey on foot. Just in case the facility was still guarded.
Kylo thought back on what little Hux disclosed from his childhood memories. Some of them made more sense to him than to Hux as he could provide the context. The masked spectres that abducted young Armitage were almost certainly the Inquisitors, Darth Vader’s henchmen that hunted the surviving Jedi and scoured the Galaxy in search for Force sensitive children. Their presence in the Arkanis facility was certainly telling.
One small thing Hux mentioned kept circling around Kylo’s mind. Why did they take biological samples? Yes, the affinity for the Force could be determined from blood, but they tested that in the pit. They didn’t need his blood. Except if they were testing something else, too.
If Kylo’s hunch was right, they should definitely check out the secret facility. While they still had time. The First Order had laid down arms, and some of the prisoners decided to cooperate with the New Republic. If any of the remaining old Imperials remembered this place, it wouldn’t stay buried for too long.
The sky above the coastal region where the Academy used to stand was overcast but calm, a steady drizzle soaking the land with barely any wind. A landing under these conditions was something Kylo could do with his right hand behind his back. Which was just as good, because his right arm was currently still numb from when he guessed another wrong override code five minutes ago.
Hux came into the cockpit just in time to catch him trying to shake out his tingling fingers.
“Dee-Dee, I think you need to amp up the power a little. He doesn’t seem to be learning his lesson.”
D-D looked as remorseful as a reinforced metallic cylinder with long foldable arms could look. “I am afraid I cannot, Master. Any stronger would pose a risk of damaging his heart.”
Kylo flexed his fingers to get rid of the residual cramp and grinned. “Don’t tell me Hux doesn’t have any spares.”
“Besides, he almost seems to enjoy it, so I am doubtful of the correctional effect of the shocks,” D-D added mournfully.
Kylo checked the altimeter and ran a scan of the terrain. They flew over a grassy landscape with gently rolling hillocks, like the waves on a big green ocean. He decided to land in one of the little hollows, to keep them hidden from sight.
“Why are you so dead set on taking control over him?” Hux made himself comfortable in the copilot seat and turned to Kylo with a smug, patronising smile. He was obviously convinced Kylo was never going to guess the right override. “Didn’t you want me to trust you?” he drawled mockingly.
Kylo concentrated on breathing in sync with the altitude meter beeping. He couldn’t risk breaking anything right now. Landing was a delicate part of flight even under the best conditions. His hands clenched on the controls, and the ship reacted to his anger with the tiniest wobble.
When he trusted his voice to come out light and unconcerned again, he tapped the side of his neck where the chip was nestled under his skin. “You don’t need to trust me as long as this is in.”
Hux said nothing to that but his self-satisfied glee was gone.
The landing gear sank into the soft soil and Kylo shut off the engines. The roar of repulsors stopped and the only sound around the ship was the pitter-patter of rain against the viewport.
Kylo deactivated the landing systems and met Hux’s glare. “I want you to believe I won’t hurt you again. Not simply because you would hurt me first if I tried.”
And before Hux could open his mouth to rebuke him again, he continued: “And I’m going to keep proving myself until you do.”
Hux’s eyes flashed and his jaw worked but in the end, he said nothing, only shook his head.
The computer beeped up with the results of their surroundings scan for lifeforms but Kylo already knew what it would say. He couldn’t see any visible road, any powerline, any herd of animals or any hut as they approached. There wasn’t a single lifeform bigger than a rabbit for miles around.
“We still better arm up,” Kylo nodded towards the information. Better to be prepared for the unexpected.
“Still no gun for you,” Hux said resolutely and marched out.
I know Operation:Cinder didn't target Arkanis but I went with my own history for this AU.
Hux and Ren lay side by side on a small hillock, one of the hundreds of identical terrain mounds around, hidden in the sparse cover of thorny weeds and yellowing grass. In front of them, the gate to the underground facility was shadowed by the overhang of the slope it was cut into. Wind-swept soil gathered in that artificially created nook and reached nearly half the height of the door, covered in moss that spread upwards along the edges of the panels. As they watched, a small rodent-like animal skittered up to the gate and disappeared into one of the holes burrowed into the base of the soil pile blocking the doorstep.
It was clear that these doors hadn't been used in several decades.
Hux rubbed at his cheek. It kept stinging after he accidentally touched one of the plants around them. Operation Cinder had turned most of Arkanis previously rich pastures into acidic, barren plains. Nerfs couldn’t get enough grazing on the weak grass and the prickly, stinging and poisonous weeds that were able to thrive on such soil. Arkanis used to be a major exporter of nerf products - meat, hide, even some black market aphrodisiacs. Hux still remembered the panic in the eyes of the animals as they ran blindly over the cliff and into the sea when the massive electric storms triggered by the atmospheric disruptors started to turn Arkanis into a dead planet.
“What do you think,” Hux muttered to Ren, more to hear a human voice in the eerie stillness of the landscape than to hear his actual opinion.
Ren hummed, gaze passing over the terrain past the gate, the same repeating pattern of mounds and hollows.
“Good news - nobody’s been through that gate probably ever since the fall of the Empire, so it’s probably abandoned. Bad news - it will take us at least two days to dig through the blockage and free the entrance enough to try and open it. Unless...”
“Unless what?” Hux asked after Ren trailed off and kept staring at the unremarkable plain past the gate. It wasn’t in any way different than the plain they already crossed on their trek here from the ship-
Wait. There was a difference. Hux briefly wondered how he could overlook it in the first place.
The wavy pattern of mounds and hollows that spread all over this landscape as far as their eyes could see resembled a real sea in its natural irregularity. Some hillocks were bigger than others. Some stood wider apart, making the hollows broader. Most of them were elongated in one direction, as if formed by steady winds. Hux supposed the sea had once reached further down inland than it did now, and that these mounds were in fact grass-covered sand dunes.
But the stretch of land directly in front of them was strangely symmetric. The same mounds - but evenly spaced out, like over a grid, and all of them of the same height.
And now when Hux knew what he was looking at, he saw what Ren noticed before. The spots of greener, lusher grass adorning every fifth hillock that stood above the underground facility.
“Ventilation shafts,” Ren pointed towards them. “I guess the grass is longer and greener because the soil is heated from below.”
“But if the ambience systems are still on...”
“When you’re evacuating the planet, do you remember to turn the heating off?”
“Smartass,” Hux muttered. “So you think it’s empty?” That would be a relief...
Ren didn’t seem so hopeful, though. He kept frowning and peering into the little valley directly below them.
“I think it’s been evacuated, yes... ” he started, hesitating. “But I don’t think it’s empty.”
He pointed down again, to a gnarled tree crouched on the slope of one of the artificial hills.
“How many trees have you seen around?”
Hux carefully approached the tree, running his scanner through all modes available. Life forms, electromagnetic fields, seismic profile, anything. Everything came back clear. The facility systems, if they were indeed still up and running, must have had an excellent shielding.
The tree itself was a pitiful thing, bent down by harsh rains and dwarfed by lack of nutrients. And yet, the fact that it grew here meant that someone was taking care of it. Hux recognised the remnants of a wire support structure wrapped around the frail wood, and the pieces of a little fence designed perhaps to keep the rodents away from its roots.
Ren came to a halt in front of it and stared at a spot before his feet. The soil was sunken by an inch or two there, as if it was dug out and then piled back in, in a rough rectangle about two metres long and one metre wide.
“A grave,” Hux said quietly. Ren nodded.
“A human or near-human, judging by the size.”
Hux didn’t feel like digging out the bones to verify.
“So there’s at least one person still inside.”
“Could have left when this one died,” Ren said. “Or died inside without anyone left to bury them. I don’t know much about trees but doesn’t it take like twenty years to grow into this size, at least?”
“This isn’t even a native species,” Hux said, touching the pale leaves. He tried to remember what he saw of the facility even though his mind revolted from the memories. White sterile corridors and creepy scientific labs, yes… but he supposed there must have been some greenery in the complex, a hydroponic garden at least.
A narrow path, overgrown by grass but still clearly visible like an indent in the slope, circled from here up the hill to the ventilation shaft opening. Someone once walked it enough times to wear down the soil but hasn’t been down it recently, possibly for many months. Ren climbed it with impatient steps and started removing the weeds tangled in the shaft cover, hidden innocuous in a little dimple in the ground. The tube was wide enough to fit a grown man easily, even though they would have to use the pipes as a makeshift ladder. Hux pressed his palm against one. Ren had been right, it was warm. Whether or not someone still lived inside, at least the ambience systems were still on.
There wasn’t any point in putting off the inevitable. Hux made sure his blaster was charged and ready to fire, fastened the scanner around his neck, and followed Ren in.
The maintenance door to the shaft opened into a gloomy corridor, dimly lit with a dispersed light coming from above. Some of those artificial hillocks above them must have been hiding skylights. It was so quiet Hux imagined he could hear the whirring of his own heart. A few steps ahead of him, Ren crouched and pointed his flashlight on the floor. Crumbs of dry soil and bits of dead grass were strewn across it, the traces of the last visitor outside.
Ren crept forward and Hux followed. So far, nothing seemed familiar. He tried to run a visualisation of the corridors ahead of them but the scanner couldn’t get even through the nearest wall. This was a place with top security, and no expenses spared.
The corridor opened into a wider crossroads, with one wall filled out by massive doors and another two corridors running in opposite directions. The access panel on the side was inactive. Nothing around here seemed like having power, even though the air smelled fresh and the temperature was at the exact room standard. Ren stopped in front of the doors with one hand pressed against them, as if he hoped that such a massive piece of metal would move aside under his push. Laughable. Hux mentally estimated the measurements of those metal slabs - not even a pair of nerfs would be able to move them one inch apart.
As if he realised the same, Ren took a step back, letting his hand fall. Hux couldn’t be sure under the weak light and with the flashlight turning his face into a mask of black and white, but Ren looked… unnerved. His eyes were wide and his lips pressed into a thin line.
“Have you seen a ghost?” Hux hissed, masking his own fear with annoyance. “Did you hear anything behind that door?”
Ren shook his head.
“So what is it?”
Ren finally seemed to shake himself out of it. He scrunched his nose and huffed out a sharp breath. “Bad smell,” he muttered and turned into the corridor on his left.
Hux surreptitiously inhaled through his nose. He couldn’t smell anything. But then, he was raised on a spaceship, used to recycled air and sensitive to the whims of weather. His nose was half congested ever since they set foot outside of the ship.
The pause cost him a few moments during which Ren moved a good bit down the next corridor, and then his light disappeared around the corner before Hux managed to catch up with him. Trying to ignore the sharp spike of panic, Hux hurried after him, rounding the corner with a sharp word of reprimand on his lips-
A hand grabbed him around the shoulder, another clamped across his mouth, and he was swept off his feet and pulled into a nook in the wall, colliding against a massive chest. Ren. The brief freezing panic instantly dissolved into a sense of relief and just as fast gave way to blind-hot fury. How dare he-!
Ren kept the hand around his mouth but let go of his shoulders. He met his glare with a wink and pinched his own nose. Hux understood the mimicked order. Quiet, stop even breathing. He held his breath and listened.
Sure enough, he could hear it. Just the lightest whizz of a breath, quick and nervous, in the darkness. And something else, too. The faintest mechanical sound, sort of an intermittent buzz. He wasn’t sure what was making that sound but it was too irregular to be a machine.
Ren let go of his mouth and lifted three fingers. Then he folded one, then another one. A countdown. Hux lifted his blaster and readied himself. On the unspoken mark, he jumped out of their hiding place, gun pointed into the corridor now brightly illuminated by Ren’s flashlight.
And then he screamed. Twice.
It took his brain a second to register that the second scream didn’t come out of his mouth, and was slightly different in pitch.
In the middle of the corridor in front of them, holding an outdated blaster in shaking hands, stood a thin young man with stooping shoulders, furiously blinking eyes and a curtain of unkempt red hair falling past his shoulders. His eyes were huge and glowing blue, mechanical implants with apertures whizzing as they tried to adapt to the sudden flood of light. But the rest of his face…
… it was Hux’s own.
“I didn’t know there were others,” was the first thing out of the young man’s mouth, after he lowered his blaster. He held it awkwardly, his fingers shaking, one twitch away from blasting off his own kneecaps. His voice had the same clipped Imperial accent but lacked all Hux’s authority and disdain. The boy’s gaunt face and pale skin suggested malnourishment and he looked some four or five years younger than Hux.
“Your hair’s different,” the boy cocked his head at Hux, eyes clicking through the filters. “Did they change the colour for later batches?”
All the little observations registered in Hux’s mind as if through a fog. His face. His voice. Batches. Batches .
This was why they took the blood and cell samples from him as a boy. His memory helpfully supplied him with the long-buried image of massive cylinders, floor-to-ceiling containers full of a glowing milky liquid, with tubes floating inside-
They were cloning tanks.
The Emperor was using the Arkanis secret facility to create a secret clone army.
Hux’s stomach heaved and he dropped his gun, bent forward and retched. His head spun - the remnants of his breakfast at his feet got blurry - and then everything turned black.
He woke up to the feeling of a hard floor under his back, smooth warm leather under his cheek, and big, soft fingers passing rhythmically through his hair. His groggy mind decided that it was nice.
There were voices, too. Ren’s deep one, but with none of its usual arrogance. It was non-threatening, kind and soothing, as if talking to a child.
“...of course he’s not disgusted by you, silly. See that red spot on his cheek? He tripped and fell onto a stinging nettle. He’s allergic and been dizzy for a while, but I think it’s over now.”
That was a stupid thing to say. For one, Hux wasn’t allergic and dizzy. Who was Ren talking to like that-
“Oh.” There was another voice, and it sounded strangely familiar. “I’m rather clumsy, too.”
Ren chuckled. “The difference between you two is that Hux won’t ever admit it.”
The other voice took on a slightly petulant and reproachful tone, just like a miffed child. “Why do you call him by the prefix? That’s not polite! Didn’t he get an individual code?”
“Hux?” Ren asked. “That’s his name.”
“Hux is a name ?” The boy sounded astonished. “It sounds like a whacking cough! I thought it was a prefix code! H-U-X!”
Prefix code? Oh right. Hux’s mind caught up. He fainted because he met his bloody clone, a man nearly of his age but apparently innocent as a baby, and he was currently… sprawled on the floor? With his head in Ren’s lap?!
He shot up into a sitting position, and his head swam only a little.
“I see the original Hux is back with us,” Ren said sarcastically. Hux wanted to punch him but the boy was more important now. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor and looked up to them both with awe and enthusiasm written all over his face. Hux had so many questions.
“What’s your name?” he demanded, just so start somewhere.
“Will.” The boy’s face blushed slightly and he averted his eyes.
“Try again,” Hux said drily.
‘Will’ bit his lip, eyes dropping to the floor. “Actually, it’s HUX W-11, but Will is… nicer? I like it better.”
“Nice to meet you, Will. I’m Kylo,” Ren said cheerfully and elbowed Hux in the ribs.
Right. If Will lived in the facility all those years, he probably knew how to turn it into a deadly trap. And despite his apparent physical age of about thirty, his speech patterns and emotional reactions belonged more to someone in their early teens. Better not to piss off the child while his finger was still on the Doomsday button.
“Nice to meet you, Will,” Hux repeated and only just managed not to sound hysterical. Especially when Will was now eyeing him with unabashed curiosity, his eye implants constantly whirring and switching between settings.
“So you’re the original DNA type? We’ve all been made after you?”
“About that.” Hux felt his stomach getting queasy again. “How many of ‘you all’ had been made?”
Will’s face fell and he wrapped his arms around himself. “Hundreds? But they’re not...” he sighed. His eyes got even redder around the edges than they already were.
“They didn’t like the results from the A-line but kept them around as workers. Maintenance, sanitation, gardening. And then they suddenly got an order to leave, and left. Ash told me he managed to hide in the garden and when he got out, all workers had been vaporized and the rest of the lines had been cut off the support systems. Ash couldn’t revive them anymore.”
“Ash?” Hux stopped him.
“A-58,” Will nodded. His voice broke. “My brother.”
“He died some time ago, didn’t he,” Ren asked gently.
“The A-line had accelerated growth,” Will explained. “They came out of the pod already adults. But they kept aging too fast, too. I think they tried to fix that in the later lines because I came out as a baby. Ash only lasted twelve years before he died of old age.”
Which meant that this kid was living here on his own ever since he was twelve, for the last nigh-on-twenty years. Hux swallowed. His throat felt raw and salty.
“You buried him outside, by the tree.”
“He loved trees,” Will sniffed. “He said they saved his life in the garden so I planted one on his grave and it took, but I have to go there every few months with a fertilizer and-”
“And how did you survive?” Hux interrupted him.
Will shrugged. “That’s kind of funny. Ash called it a miracle. He was checking all the pods to see if there weren't any still salvageable and mine was somehow the only one still on.”
Hux looked at Ren and he returned his puzzled gaze with a frown of his own. Only one. Out of hundreds. Coincidences did happen, but…
“What happened to the rest of the pods?”
Will threw a quick guilty look over his shoulder as if there was still someone to reprimand him for misbehaving. Hux wondered how many ghosts the child had been living with.
“Ash told me I mustn’t go into the Tomb,” Will whispered, ducking his head. “That’s how we called the labs, with the pods. He had me to take care of, and he had to learn how to, there wasn’t time to get them all out and bury them, and…” he scrunched his nose. “They went bad. He sealed the doors and told me not to go there, ever. I hadn’t, I swear I hadn’t!”
Hux vividly remembered watching Brendol’s body dissolve in the bacta tank after he suffered the fatal venomous beetle bite. The smell lingered, rank and disgusting even over the sweet smell of bacta. A room with hundreds of cloning tanks with the clones decomposing inside must have smelled terrible. Fuck, that was what Ren smelled through those massive doors earlier, wasn’t it? Thank the stars the doors had been sealed. Meeting one living clone of himself was freakish enough, suddenly seeing hundreds of rotten ones…
From the way Ren’s face blanched, he was clearly thinking the same.
They should burn down this place. Hells, Hux wanted to nuke it from the orbit. If he still had his Starkiller, he would have made a target practice out of the whole fucking planet.
“Hey,” Will perked up suddenly, scrambling to his feet, “I’ll show you the control room! It’s the best place here!”
Will scurried through the complex on swift feet, leading them surely through the corridors that he probably knew like the back of his hand. Hux noticed that he wore soft-soled shoes made of fabric, like a technician in a cleanroom. He barely made a noise as he moved, save for the incessant clicking and whirring of his eyes. Hux supposed that the annoying noise was a small price for enhanced vision. Will certainly didn’t seem to mind the lack of lighting…
When Hux tripped for the third time over a step he failed to spot in the near-darkness, he swore aloud.
“Oh, sorry, sorry!” Will exclaimed, waving his hand above his head. The corridor ahead of them lit up with bright lights along the ceiling, apparently triggered by a motion detector. “I don’t need them, so I forgot all about them...”
Hux wondered why Will had mechanical eyes in the first place. Did they replace them during fetal development? Did they want soldiers with enhanced senses? What other experiments were they trying on the other lines? He felt queasy again just thinking about it.
Will finally showed them into a large room lined with terminals and holoprojectors. Most of them had been powered off but some monitored the active parts of the complex. This room was certainly lived in. The walls were covered with stuck-on sheets of flimsi proudly showcasing a series of drawings - with increasing levels of skill, from a toddler’s doodles to a masterfully rendered landscape outside. Hux’s stomach curled into a small ball when he spotted a portrait of an old man, his face full of wrinkles but still clearly his own. A massive blanket fort occupied one corner of the room, the surfaces nearby were covered in stacks of holobooks, wires and gutted circuitry, and the floor was littered with ration wrappers. Will sheepishly attempted to kick the nearest one under a chair.
“What do you do all day?” Ren asked, trying one of the terminals. It came to life after a considerable pause and he pulled up the file directory, skimming through the lines as they scrolled by.
Will rubbed his hands. “The upkeep takes a lot - I have to clean the vents, and check on the generators, and stuff. I promised Ash I’d continue my studies,” he waved a hand towards the stacks of holobooks, “and we had gardening books, so I grow my own veg, and then I’m building a cannon to blast off the front gate, and a simulation program for it because obviously I can’t test it inside. Ash knew he wouldn’t live long so he taught me everything to-”
“Wait, wait, wait!” Hux turned on him, interrupting the rapid avalanche of words. “You want to do what with the front gate?”
“Blow it up!” Will’s entire face lit up with enthusiasm.
“He’s a Hux for sure,” Ren snorted.
“Shut up,” Hux said automatically. “The gate is blocked from inside, too?”
“Is that why you never left?” Ren added.
“Uh, yes,” Will said a little uneasily. He was a very, very bad liar. “Ash didn’t want to leave,” he admitted. “We had books, archives, we knew there was a war. And that people didn’t like clones.” He shuffled his feet and kicked another wrapper, possibly his first attempt at cleaning in twenty years. “But I’d like to leave. I know all the star charts but I never saw a real star. It’s always cloudy up there. But the front gate is locked and I can’t fit the shuttle through the vents, so…” He looked up, suddenly alert.
“You are going to take me with you, aren’t you?”
Was it just Hux’s imagination or did the room’s lights flicker just then? Will’s eyes whirred and clicked, a different filter sliding over the aperture. Did he figure out a way to hook up the facility systems to his implants? Could he kill them both, if he decided to, with just a blink of his eye?
“Of course,” Hux said quickly. Tried to ignore the nausea rolling around his gut. “Of course you’re coming with us. What do you think we are, monsters?”
Will relaxed, though he still seemed a bit wary. “Ash said the people who made us and then tried to kill us were monsters...”
With that, Hux could agree with his whole heart and all his spares on top.
He didn’t like the idea of taking the boy with them. Something about it made his skin crawl. Will was an overgrown child, perhaps a technology savant, to be able to single-handedly keep the facility up and running for so many years, but emotionally just a teen boy. Hux never had a brother, never wished for one. This wasn’t a brother. This was something taken off his body against his will and grown in a pod. This was a forgotten experiment that had no right to exist in the first place. And yet, here he was. Lonely but raised with loving care up to his twelve years, spending his evenings reading in a blanket fort with his older brother while Hux had been spending his evenings in a cold room, humiliated by his father and his friends-
“Hux,” Ren said quietly close to him, touching his elbow and cutting through the spiral of his thoughts before it went down another sinkhole of unpleasant memories. “Look what I found in the archives.”
Kylo had pulled up the research logs. The actual data files were gone but whoever was ordered to delete the logs was working in a hurry. They didn’t reformat the drives. The folder structure was still in place.
“They made only a hundred specimens of each line.”
To build an army, they would need hundreds of thousands. This wasn’t a mass production facility, like those on Kamino at the beginning of the Clone Wars. A hundred samples were just about enough to run a reasonable statistical analysis of the results. This was a place for experiments.
“They must have been trying to create something specific, not just soldiers.”
Hux rolled his eyes at him. “Of course. You look more like the kind of mindless brawn that’s usually needed for cannon fodder, not me.”
Of course they wouldn’t be making supersoldiers out of someone like Armitage Hux. He’d already described himself as the sickly child. Kylo Ren, before his fall, more than once overheard the thoughts of Pryde and his associates in the High Command meeting. He knew what they were thinking of Hux. Thin as a slip of paper and just as useless.
“That’s what I mean,” Kylo continued, ignoring Hux’s jab. “Why you?”
They both glanced at Will. The young man wore lab technician scrubs, soft shapeless material hanging off his thin frame. Kylo would bet that it wasn’t hiding any substantial muscle. Whatever genetic enhancements the engineers were trying to achieve, they apparently didn’t include physical strength.
Or maybe this was just the result of a teenager left in charge of his own diet.
Hux’s chrono pinged. He looked at it and muttered a curse under his breath. Will was at his side immediately, as if drawn by a magnet.
“What’s going on?”
“Check in,” Hux muttered, snatching his datapad away from Will’s curious fingers. “There’s no way to get a signal underground, I need to go back up the vent and let D-D know we’re alright.”
He turned towards Will, finally addressing him directly: “Is there a way to bring down the shielding inside the facility? We might need to split to get a good look around.”
“Get on with the shielding,” Hux snapped, tossed his backpack over his shoulder and left.
Will slumped, the long greasy strands of his hair falling forward. He took one and absentmindedly brought it to his mouth, stopping himself at the last second from starting to chew on it. He sighed.
“He doesn’t like me.”
Kylo cursed internally at that dejected tone.
“He only just found out you existed,” he reminded Will. “He’ll come around.”
“Ash was right,” Will said petulantly. “People hate clones.”
“In my experience, Hux hates everyone. I’ve ever known him to have one friend, and she died in the war.”
Kylo pulled up another database - an inventory list. Now, that was interesting. For a bioengineering facility, they used to store an awful amount of kyber. What for - well, that was another question.
Encouraged by that example of diligence, Will sat down at another terminal and pulled up the internal security systems. A moment later, the holo images disappeared from the projector and Kylo almost asked if he was giving up already when he noticed the blinking light in the corner of Will’s eye. Right. Using his artificial retinas to directly visualise the computer screen had to be faster, Kylo supposed.
“You two aren’t friends?”
Will certainly could multitask. While his hands flew over the computer controls, his blue glowing eyes were turned towards Kylo. He probably used one to work and another to observe, just like that.
“It’s complicated,” was what Kylo settled on. “We’re getting there,” he offered but it didn’t sound convincing even to him.
Will hummed but didn’t comment. He hit the last key with a flourish and something in the walls around them audibly clicked. A strange sensation crawled over Kylo’s skin. Almost like a weight lifted, one that he didn’t know he was carrying. The electromagnetic shielding fields were dropped.
“His heart is wrong,” Will said out of the blue.
So Will noticed the lack of heartbeat. His hearing must have been enhanced too. Kylo snorted in amusement while still digging through the inventory. What would they need kyber for?
“His heart is artificial. He...” he decided for a diplomatic way of saying it, “... was shot in the war, and had to get a replacement.”
“Yeah, and it’s wrong,” Will said with a fed-up tone. “He shouldn’t have fainted like he did, the heart wouldn’t have let his blood pressure drop so low if it worked properly. One of the turbines is skipping.”
He said it as if it was the most obvious fact - a flaw in the machinery hidden from sight deep in Hux’s flesh.
The inventory list forgotten, Kylo turned his full attention on him.
Hux’s comlink started beeping frantically as soon as he got to the top of the shaft and into the range of the signal from their ship. That could only mean bad news. He opened the channel.
“You’re about to get company,” D-D reported without any preamble, confirming Hux’s suspicions.
“How soon?” He cautiously looked out of the shaft. Everything seemed quiet.
“A Kryze Gauntlet type of pursuit craft landed here five minutes ago. A human woman took off on a speeder to scout the area. She has two seeker droids with her.”
Fuck. They would eventually notice Hux and Ren’s footprints in the wet grass. And what had taken them a good half an hour on foot would be no time at all for a speeder.
“Scanned for lifeforms, left alone.”
People always underestimated droids. Hux never counted himself amongst that clueless lot. He wasn’t blowing things out of proportion when he ordered an airstrike on the Niima outpost back when they hunted the droid on Jakku. And still that nifty ball of astromech circuitry managed to escape! Granted, he had help from a scavenger and a traitor, but Hux just knew. He never overlooked a droid.
And he hated, hated , those creepy floating fuckers of seeker droids.
Which would be here any minute now. They could never outrun them on foot, not in this open landscape without any cover. Out here, Netal had an advantage - a highly trained bounty hunter and her two armed droids against the three of them, of which Hux could only trust himself. No, he had to hope she would be curious enough to follow them onto a more even playing field.
“Hold on stand-by, we may need a pickup soon,” he ordered, switching off the comlink. He didn’t need to give D-D explicit instructions about what to do with the Gauntlet. D-D might have been useless as a pilot but he was an excellent mechanic.
The bottom of the shaft was dark and littered with soil and dead weeds dragged here from the outside. Hux just had to hide a little sensor in the dirt and link it to his datapad. Then he could go back to Ren and Will…
… or should he?
They didn’t know Netal was coming for them.
There was his literal genetic copy down here, a man wearing his face, his DNA. The eyes were a detail that would be chalked up to his ‘execution’. Netal was a bounty hunter. They already foiled her attempt at capturing them alive back on Lysatra. This time she would simply shoot first and ask no questions. She would probably get enough credits for delivering her bounty dead, and if the DNA records matched…
Hux would be truly, officially dead.
Who would believe Ren, even if he stayed alive and talked? Nobody. The man switched sides too many times to count. Everyone was too afraid of him. Nobody wanted him to live.
Nobody but Hux.
Hux scowled at the sensor in his hands and planted it at the bottom of the shaft. Then he added a few sticks of explosives and fused them to the sensor. Any attempt to sneak past this place would trigger an instant explosion.
It might not have been enough to rid them of Netal for good but it would certainly take down at least one of her droids. It would also destroy their escape route… but at that point, they shouldn’t be needing it anymore.
I can’t fit the shuttle through the vents, Will had mentioned amidst all his ranting.
This meant that somewhere near the front gate there was a functional transport; and that they probably had mere minutes to figure out how to unlock the gate.
“How can you possibly know that,” Kylo demanded. Will’s bionic eyes, however advanced, were still just passive receptors of electromagnetic radiation. These prosthetics didn’t give people the ability to see through things, it didn’t work like that.
“I see it?” Will replied, his puzzled tone clearly implying that he didn’t know why he shouldn’t.
Kylo started to feel as if he should’ve known the answer long ago if only he started asking the right questions.
“Why do you have bionic eyes?”
Will’s face lit up. Kylo must have stumbled on his favourite topic.
“Ash made them for me!” he said happily. “I couldn’t see colours before, and he gave them to me so I could draw, I really like drawing-”
Now Kylo understood even less. “You had your eyes swapped because you were born colourblind? ”
“No!” Will was now half-way between confused and offended. “I was born blind. At least, my eyes weren’t working. But I never needed them to see- oh!” he suddenly clapped his hands together. “I see! You’re like Ash! He couldn’t see the way I can, either.”
A long-buried memory resurfaced in Kylo’s mind. Little padawans at Luke’s temple, training with the blindfolds.
“You can see living things, and objects, too, but better if they’ve been touched by someone,” he probed.
“Exactly!” Will was hanging off Kylo’s every word now. “It gets foggy sometimes if I am in a room I haven’t been to in some time but that thing with his heart turbines, that was easy-”
“-because it’s moved around by his living blood,” Kylo concluded himself.
So this was Palpatine’s intent behind this place. He was trying to create Force-sensitives out of Force-null clones. Possibly by splicing their genes with the DNA of abducted Force sensitive children, possibly by utilising the kyber in some way, who knew. But the program had to be abruptly abandoned after the Empire’s defeat at Endor, and they never found out that they actually succeeded - in a single case out of hundreds.
Because the Force protected the HUX W-11 cloning pod and kept him alive after all the others had been cut off.
Kylo’s thoughts raced. It was obvious that neither of the clones knew about the true purpose of this facility. All the research files had been deleted. All information on the Jedi was classified during the Empire, the propaganda made them into enemies of the state, and any whispered legends wouldn’t make it past the locked gate. To Ash, Will’s unusual abilities must have been just something that came from the pod. He wouldn’t know how to train him. But the question now was - could Will only feel through the Force, or did he have any measure of control over it as well?
Only one way to find out.
“Will?” He took the flashlight and weighed it in his hand. “Catch!” And he threw it in the direction good four metres off to Will’s right.
Will lifted his hand. The flashlight changed its trajectory mid-flight and slapped into his outstretched palm.
“You’re really bad at throwing,” Will said reproachfully.
A gasp from the door made Kylo turn on the spot. Hux stood there, slightly out of breath, and his face was dark as thunder.
“Did I do something… wrong?” Will broke the silence first, timid and anxious.
“He doesn’t even know what it is,” Kylo said quickly, hoping that Hux would understand that Will posed no harm to him. “I can teach him to control it.”
That was probably the wrong thing to say because Hux instantly recovered from his shock to glower at him. “I bet you’d love that,” he hissed.
He would’ve said more but at that moment, his datapad pinged with a notification. A second later, a distant explosion shook the ground beneath their feet. Will recoiled and dived for a terminal, activating the security holocams system.
One of the screens showed a woman in a dark skin-tight suit and armed to the teeth, stumbling away from the wreck of a ventilation shaft. Kylo immediately recognised her.
“Is she alone?”
Hux was frantically switching through the layout holos of the facility, his face stiff in intense concentration as if he was trying to memorise them. He spared one unhappy glance at the security feed.
“Would’ve preferred the booby trap got her but at least the droids are out of the picture,” he muttered distractedly. Finally, his face cleared, mouth hardening in determination. He must have found what he was looking for.
“There’s a transport at the front gate. Let’s get out of here,” he commanded, heading out of the room without a backward glance. Kylo growled in frustration. This business of being dragged around without any input had to end, and soon. Will, for his part, looked utterly confused.
“Are we in danger?”
They had no more time to lose. Kylo grabbed his hand and pulled him to his feet.
“Yes. She’s hunting us,” he explained curtly. They needed to be moving, or Hux wouldn’t hesitate to leave without them, of that Kylo was sure. Will froze for a moment, eyes unfocused as if struck by a sudden panic, and then he spun back to the terminal and fired off a sequence of commands in a flash, Kylo could barely see his fingers moving. On the screen, a heavy blast door slid down from the ceiling in one of the corridors right before Netal’s nose.
“Alright,” Will breathed out. His hand found Kylo’s again and he gripped it tight, like a child drawing strength from the presence of an adult. “That should hold her for a bit.”
The grainy bluish image of the blast door sparked up with a bright light as the blade of a plasma cutter emerged from the other side.
“For a bit,” Kylo agreed and they broke into a run.
For someone who looked as if a strong gust of wind could knock them over, Will was surprisingly fast. Kylo half expected to have to drag him by the hand but instead he was the one barely catching up. It seemed that after living here all his life, Will would know how to navigate these corridors even if he were truly blind, and that those baggy clothes hid a lean body built for speed.
Finally, the last of the corridors opened into a wide hangar closed off at the far side with a massive gate. A truckspeeder with open cargo space in the back was parked in one corner. If it was used to shuttle the scientist crew to and from here to the Arkanis spaceport, Kylo supposed it made sense why the clones would’ve called it a shuttle. A strange cylindric construction facing the gate dominated the centre of the room. That must have been the ‘cannon’ Will talked about earlier. The side walls were lined with opened crates full of disassembled blasters - Will must have been using their charge capsules to amass enough blasting power for the cannon. But most importantly, there was no sign of Hux.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Kylo muttered to himself. Hux grew up on Star Destroyers, he had an innate ability to navigate the bowels of a ship after just one look at the schematics. He shouldn’t get lost in here, and something was telling Kylo that he didn’t. He had split up on purpose.
Kylo could only hope he would catch up with them in time.
Will fretted around the cannon, frantically untangling some cables to plug them into a power generator. “It’s not ready yet, I haven’t-”
“Don’t,” Kylo cut short his lament. Just one look at the makeshift payload and he knew there was no safe way to fire it. There weren’t enough deflectors to direct the blast, the resulting fireball would swallow everything in the hangar, including them.
“There must be another way to open that gate.”
“There’s not!” Will insisted. “There’s no locking mechanism! It’s just…. a shitton of metal!” He slapped his hand over his mouth after that, ducking his head. Despite the tense situation, Kylo snorted. It seemed that Ash had a strict language policy.
The faint screeching of a metal cutter from the corridors deep behind them suddenly rose in intensity and then abruptly ended in a loud bang. Netal had got through. A second later, the silence erupted with the noise of blaster fire. Distant at first but quickly getting closer. Kylo shoved Will behind the truckspeeder and flattened himself against the wall next to the corridor opening, hoping that a moment of surprise would make up for the lack of a gun-
-Hux rounded the corner and sprinted across the last few metres. Two blaster bolts flew past his head and he ducked and rolled, coming up in a crouch to fire back - but instead of firing into the corridor he just came from, he aimed a single shot to a control panel mounted on the wall just an inch from Kylo’s elbow. The panel disintegrated in a cloud of sparks and a slab of the fire-resistant door slid down, blocking the corridor and shutting off Netal’s furious scream from behind it.
“Took you long enough,” Kylo deadpanned.
“For fuck’s sake, watch where you’re standing!” Hux snapped at him, getting up to his feet and trying to catch his breath. Kylo looked at the blaster, at the destroyed panel, and finally, at his sleeve - the shot had scorched a hole in the fabric but didn’t as much as singe his skin.
“I trust your aim,” he grinned.
The crackle of the plasma cutter activated behind the blast door told them that Netal wasn’t ready to back off yet.
“How long till she gets through?”
“Hopefully long enough.” Hux checked and reloaded his blaster. “What about the gate?”
Trying to ignore the scream of cut metal behind his back, Kylo tried to remember what he knew about the secret Imperial facilities.
This place was built under the direct supervision of the Emperor. One of the Inquisitors was constantly on site, overseeing the program in case they succeeded. The scientists, the techs - they had been just pawns, basically prisoners, likely to be executed after the program was completed. Only the most trusted servants of the Emperor could come and go as they pleased - Lord Vader, and his Inquisitors.
“The gate has no opening mechanism,” he said. “It can only be opened with the Force.”
Hux groaned. “This is Lysatra all over again, isn’t it? Another shot at getting out of that collar, right?”
“Your choice, Hux,” Kylo said calmly, showing his empty open palms in a gesture of submission. Behind them, the plasma cutter was steadily eating away at the door, the gash curving up to form a circle. It wouldn’t take long before it would be complete.
Hux narrowed his eyes, a wicked grin playing along his lips. “Actually I do have a choice,” he said. “He can do it,” he pointed at Will.
“What?” Will squeaked. “I told you-”
Kylo gritted his teeth but forced his voice to be gentle. This was a massive risk but he did want to get out of here, and he didn’t want to lose all the progress he achieved with Hux.
“It’s like when you caught the flashlight,” he explained. “You can move things with your mind, you can do this.”
“What?” Will looked terrified. “It’s like thousand times heavier-”
“It just takes more effort, but it’s the same,” Kylo tried to sound reassuring, very well aware that the buzz and crackle of molten metal at the blast door was the last thing to enable concentration. He would just have to do his best to make Will ignore it.
“ See the gate. Not with your eyes, use your sight. Feel it.” He pulled Will’s trembling frame against his chest and took his hand, lifted it his own alongside it. His fingers mimicked grabbing at the mass of the gate. Will followed him. Kylo could hear the little click when Will switched off his bionic eyes, leaving himself completely entrusted in the warmth of Kylo’s closeness, in the hypnotising guidance of his voice.
“You can feel the edges of it, you can feel the energy flowing around it. You can bend it to your will, imagine what you want to happen and it will-”
A cloud of dust rose from the base of the gate as it slightly shifted in its frame. Will’s eyes clicked and whirred as if he couldn’t believe what his mind was telling him and just had to look. Something thudded deep in the walls surrounding them and then the gate lifted and seamlessly slid into the ceiling. Apparently, overcoming the initial resistance was all the push it needed. A few lumps of earth rolled into the hangar, bleak daylight mixing with the harsh industrial light inside.
Will staggered on his feet and slumped into Kylo’s arms, barely holding upright. He panted and stared at his own hands in astonishment.
“I can do that ?”
He couldn’t yet, not without Kylo’s help, but this was not the time to argue about technicalities. “You’re a natural,” he laughed. “You can do so much more.”
Will quickly recovered. “You can teach me more ?”
Hux cleared his throat. “That was quite enough.” He pushed past them, jostling Kylo’s shoulder as he went, and grabbed Will’s elbow to nudge him towards the truckspeeder. His mouth was set tight and his eyes avoided Kylo’s - but Kylo already knew what he’d find lurking there.
Jealousy. Nasty and insecure jealousy.
Despite never having outright staked his claim on Kylo, Hux was now afraid that he was being replaced.
It was laughable - Will might have had Hux’s face and body but emotionally and mentally he was barely more than a child. A child with an immense amount of raw power. Kylo didn’t feel attracted to him. It was almost like with Rey - Ben was weak and craved the affection she offered but Kylo only ever wanted to teach her, to merge their powers into one. And Ben was dead now.
A bang from the blast door threw him back into the present. Netal had paused her attempt to cut a hole through the door to deliver a sound kick to the loosened metal - it bent slightly inwards but not enough. The cutter flared up once more. Kylo jumped on the truckspeeder just as Hux powered up the repulsorlift and revved up the engine. Will tucked himself into the corner of the cargo space with both his hands gripping the railing so hard his knuckles were white.
The hit of cold drizzle on his face blinded Kylo for a second as they shot out of the gate, the rush of fresh air almost choking him with the speed Hux had set. Over the whizz of air in his ears, he felt more than heard Will gasping next to him - he ducked just in time to feel the heat of a blaster shot flying above his head. Another one cracked against the reinforced cargo railing, then Hux swerved around a hillock and the terrain hid them from the direct line of fire.
“She has a speeder nearby!” Hux shouted over the racket of the old engine. He held his comlink close to his mouth. “D-D, pickup, now!”
The truckspeeder was decades old, a reliable machine for hauling cargo but no match against the top-of-the-line speeder bike parked near the blown-up ventilation shaft, now quickly disappearing from view. But still they had a solid head start, soon they would be in sight of their ship that could provide a cover fire - they didn’t need to break their neck at the speed Hux was maintaining so hard-
Kylo saw the quake in the ground before the deep, rumbling, and increasingly overwhelming noise reached their ears. Next to him, Will stiffened and then scrambled to his knees, looking back. Together they watched the entire area of the artificial mounds above the facility fold on itself and collapse, as if swallowed by a sudden earthquake.
In the split second of unreal stillness, Kylo suddenly understood what Hux was doing during his little solitary detour through the facility.
He was setting up charges to blow up the place.
The ground above the gate exploded in geysers of earth and flames.
The illustration for this chapter was created by the amazing @blackkingsdream on Tumblr and Twitter :)
The truckspeeder engine nearly deafened Hux with its noise but he still heard Will’s desperate cry over it. The already bumpy ride wobbled with a sudden movement when Will nearly threw himself out of the cargo space. Ren caught him around the waist at the last second and pulled him back in.
“Stay down!” Hux shouted over his shoulder. This thing was bloody hard to steer even without a grown man trashing in the back like a hysterical child-
Will scrambled to his feet and attempted to grab the steering wheel, trying to push Hux away. He was crying, senseless, almost blind with his mad urge to turn them around.
“The garden! Ash’s tree! We have to go back-”
A zing of a laser shot whizzed past Hux’s ear and ricocheted off the engine hood. Hux quickly glanced back. It was a fucking seeker droid catching up to them. Of course. Netal had two, the booby trap back in the facility only got one. He turned back to their drive and yanked at the wheel at the last second to prevent them from ramming it into a hillside.
He had no intention of slowing down. If his engineering expertise taught him anything, it was the ability to tell how devastating an explosion would be. They needed to get as far enough as they could before the fire in the facility would get into the sealed room with the rotting clone tanks and three decades' worth of accumulated methane gas.
“Sit the fuck down,” he yelled at Will and shoved him back hard enough that the boy landed on his ass at the bottom of the cargo space, his protests momentarily punched out of him by the impact. The seeker droid made another pass at a fly-by, spewing short bursts of laser fire that didn’t hit anyone probably only thanks to Hux’s unpredictable driving.
A minute, two tops, Hux thought. If they could make it another two minutes away from the facility they would be safely far enough for the ship to pick them up. But he couldn’t drive and fight off the droid at the same time.
“Ren!” he grabbed the man by his shoulder and shoved him in his place at the steering wheel, took out his blaster and attempted to stabilise it as best as he could against the railing to take a shot at the droid. He missed - and only realised why when he felt the speeder losing speed.
“Don’t slow down!” Hux shouted. “We need to get out of the range of the explosion!”
The blaster almost fell out of his grasp when Ren obeyed and the speeder abruptly jumped ahead, and Will yanked him by his elbow, making him miss another shot.
The terrible, sharp crack followed by a deep rolling boom cut the question off his lips. His eyes were mechanical but Hux could still see the betrayal and devastation written in them as he finally understood there was no going back. Hux pushed his head down and took one last shot at the droid before ducking down himself, curling his body over Will’s and cramming them both as deep into the cargo space as they could.
The mass of earth, grass and rocks propelled by the shock wave caught up with them.
Hux teeth rattled as the truckspeeder was tossed left and right, the engine screaming in high gear as it tried to keep them on going forward. The rocks and lumps of earth battered against the sides of the cargo space, dust filling their lungs. Hux faintly heard the crack and the screech of the droid as it was hit by a stray rock and careened to the ground. Just as he thought that they would lose all control over the ride and end up helplessly rolling along with the debris, the mayhem finally started to fade. The air around them cleared and the infernal noise died down. The engine hiccuped and gave out, the truckspeeder coming to a stumbling halt.
Hux lifted his head. In the sudden quiet, the loudest noise was the ringing of his own ears. He shook his head to clear them.
The second noise that made its way into his rattled brain was the sound of sniffing. Will was weeping into his knees and shook off Hux’s hand when he tried to pat his shoulder.
The third thing his brain registered was the absence of any snarky remark from Ren. Fuck.
Hux felt around the speeder, trying to blink the dirt out of his eyes. There. Of course, the idiot managed to knock himself out cold. Ren lay slumped across the steering console, his fingers still gripping the wheel, and a trickle of blood was making its sluggish way down the dirt covering the side of his neck. Hux checked him over - there was a scrape at his temple, his blonde hair darkened by ash, dust, and congealed blood. But other than a huge lump he seemed fine, and most importantly, the Force-dampening collar around his neck was still in one piece.
During that mad ride with earth raining on them from all sides, Hux almost thought how unnatural it was that they haven’t been toppled over and swept by the wave. By all means, the outdated truckspeeder should have been too slow and too clunky to carry them through it safely. But obviously, Ren’s braggings about being a good pilot hadn’t been unfounded, and Hux felt himself relax. He didn’t want to think about what he would do with two volatile Force users on his hands.
He retrieved his comlink. “Everything alright, D-D?”
“Apart from the layer of soil covering the whole ship, yes,” D-D reported. The testiness of his tone carried even over the com. “I’ll be at your location in three minutes.”
Hux shook out the rest of the dirt from his hair and looked around, holding his blaster at the ready. He couldn’t see Bazine Netal anywhere. It was possible she didn’t make it far enough from the facility, or that she lost her direction in the cloud of upturned earth. Her speeder bike was faster but couldn’t provide her much protection.
The howl of their ship’s engines interrupted the short reprieve from his pounding headache. The freighter landed some twenty feet away from them and D-D rolled down the ramp while Hux threw Ren’s arm over his shoulders and dragged his unconscious body towards the ship. Will peeked out from his hiding place, eyeing D-D with distrust.
D-D paused in his tracks and shifted his eyes between Hux and Will before bursting into an alarmed rant in Binary.
“What is it saying?” Will’s voice sounded nervous, laced with fear.
“Basically, ‘oh dear Maker, what have we got into this time,’” D-D replied in Basic.
Hux sighed. “Can someone help me with this-” he jerked his thumb at Ren’s deadweight. A moment later, Ren grunted and shook his head, blinking.
Will was at his side in an instant, attaching himself to his elbow. It looked less like an offer of help and more like an attempt to seek protection.
“Great, for once I don’t have to drag your ass the entire way aboard,” Hux remarked and motioned for D-D to take his place in supporting Ren who still walked a little wobbly.
“If you didn’t throw me into harm’s way to save your own ass every time this would happen a lot less.” Well, apparently Ren’s injury wasn’t serious because his snark was back full force.
Boarding the ship, Will seemed to give D-D a wide berth. Which in turn prompted the droid to kick his nanny protocol into overdrive, fussing over him in his sweetest voice and eventually snatching him away to check his health. Hux internally groaned. D-D just couldn’t help himself - he was programmed to protect and aid Hux, and according to all biometrics, this clone was also a Hux. Was everyone going to abandon him?
Ren made a beeline for the cockpit as soon as the hatch closed behind them. Hux followed him, toying with a small gadget that D-D tossed him with a smug chirp.
“Is that a flux capacitor?”
Hux twirled it between his fingers. “From Netal’s ship. Even if she survived the blast, she’ll have a hard time getting a new one.” The only surviving spaceport on Arkanis was days ride on speeder away, and there was no guarantee the local fisheries would have hyperspace engine parts to spare.
“Good.” Ren smoothly lifted the ship and set a course for the low orbit. Then he stretched, spine cracking. “Stars, I could use a break. What do you say to us hiding on the far side of the second moon and wait to see if someone follows us?”
Hux was inclined to agree. He needed time to process all these new discoveries and to decide what to do next. But the idea of going into the dark mode with his clone onboard…
“You should talk to him,” Ren said when they broke the stratosphere. He sounded unusually sombre. “He doesn’t hate you yet - I doubt he can, honestly - but you’re pushing him too hard. You didn't have to destroy the only home he ever knew.”
Hux gritted his teeth. “I destroyed his prison ,” he pointed out. “He said he wanted to leave!”
Ren looked at him with a strange sadness in his eyes. Almost as if he wasn’t talking about Will at all. “You took away his choice to ever come back if the Galaxy wasn’t kind to him.”
Hux slumped back into the copilot chair. He was on the defensive for so long, and he was so tired.
“How come you are so kind to him?” he wondered aloud. “So much ado about your precious Skywalker bloodline, and here’s him, a living proof that you can get the Force from a pod.”
Infuriatingly enough, Ren didn’t seem phased. “Palpatine had worked on engineering Force-sensitive humans for a long time,” he said. “My grandfather’s mother was Force-null, and he had no father.”
“That’s nerfshit,” Hux snorted. “Everyone has...” he trailed off.
“Exactly,” said Ren.
This seemed like too big a can of worms to open right now. Hux supposed Ren was right. Will didn’t ask to be created, and didn’t ask for them to come and turn his entire world on its head. Sighing again, he heaved himself out of the chair.
“Hux?” Ren’s voice stopped him. Something in it rang a strange note, unsure and determined at once. Ren set the flight controls on auto and rose from his chair, stepping close. In the cramped cockpit, his figure loomed over Hux’s, not threatening, just… impossible to look away.
“You knew about the bounty hunter coming before we did,” Ren breathed into the space between them.
Spellbound, Hux managed a nod.
“You could have left us there,” Ren continued. “You didn’t.” And then he bridged the last few inches between them and pressed his lips against Hux’s.
Have an extra length update for an early Christmas gift, and we'll see each other again after the holidays!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The feeling of Ren’s soft lips against his lasted about two seconds, long enough for Hux’s brain to completely short-circuit.
Ren was kissing him.
It was… too short, too forceful, too awkward. No finesse about it - not that Hux would know it if he saw it, but still. The part of his brain that wasn’t absolutely flabbergasted with shock couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed.
Ren parted their lips but stayed close. His exhale caressed Hux’s skin, his nose gently brushing against Hux’s cheek. With a jolt, Hux realised that he was about to lean in and connect their lips again, because awkwardness aside, the softness and warmth felt good -
-he put his hand against Ren’s chest instead, to maintain a safe distance.
“What was that?” He meant to say it sternly but it left his mouth barely above a whisper.
Ren backed off an inch. His brows scrunched in confusion.
“A thank you?” He sounded tentative as if he was already backpedaling on his decision, and Hux’s blood ran cold. He shoved Ren away, hard.
“What makes you think I want your fucking gratitude?” he spat.
Ren squeezed his eyes shut and passed a hand over his face, shoulders slumping momentarily. When he opened his eyes again, gone was the soft, warm, nervous look. The walls were back up, his expression blank and careful.
“So what do you want from me, then?” he asked. He didn’t sound mad, or confused, not even curious. Just a little tired. As if he shut himself off all feelings altogether, displaying a level of self-control that he never bothered with around Hux when it could actually change something, and it drove Hux up the wall like nothing else.
Or he genuinely didn’t care, and that pissed Hux off on a level he didn’t want to think about too closely. Of course Ren didn’t want him, he just wanted something from him. Well, if Ren thought he could whore his way out of that collar, he had another thing coming.
“You don’t get to turn this on me!” Hux raged. “ You kissed me, so what do you want from me?”
Something like hurt flickered across Ren’s features but again, it was gone before Hux blinked.
“Something you’re still not ready to give me, as it seems,” Ren sighed. “A second chance.”
A second chance? Hux didn’t understand. A chance to fuck up even more of Hux’s life?
“I already gave you one! I revived your dead body back on Exegol, remember?”
Ren shook his head and dropped his gaze. All that entrancing spell from before had dissipated. For all his intimidating figure, he looked small and defeated.
“That wasn’t it,” he muttered. “I never asked you for that. I was ready to die… I deserved to die. I made my peace with it.”
Hux was instantly transported back to that cave on Exegol, watching the peaceful, content smile spreading over Ren’s dying face. His final act of defiance, forfeiting his life but redeeming his soul. It was that moment Hux knew he’d be damned if he let Ren die on his own terms.
“Peace?” he hissed. “No. No, no, no! You don’t deserve to die in peace!”
Ren looked up at that, his gaze suddenly sharp. He cocked his head, thoughtful.
“Peace… you really hate that concept, don’t you?” he mused aloud. “Even for yourself. The whole Galaxy is at peace!” He spread his arms. “But you just don’t know what to do with it, do you?
“You need your enemy. So you picked up my body on Exegol and made me live. That’s the bottom line, Hux. You needed me to live so you wouldn’t have to face the dreadful peace. So don’t try to frame that as a favour to me. It was the exact opposite.”
Hux seriously considered pressing the button on his wristband and showing Ren just in how much trouble he could get for his cockiness. But that would mean admitting that Ren’s words got under his skin in the first place, and he didn’t like that.
“Are you quite finished?” he sneered.
Ren turned away from him, folding himself back into the pilot’s chair. “I’m not your enemy anymore, Hux. And the sooner you accept that, the better for all of us.”
Hux left the cockpit seething. Ren could park that damn ship in their temporary hideout all by his precious self. Hux needed a drink. Or several.
When he was putting together the list of supplies for his exile, wine or brandy wasn’t high on the list of essentials. He’d expected he would be able to buy it along the way. Now he had to get creative with medicinal grade alcohol, water, and some fruit concentrate.
He knocked back a shot, shuddered, and mixed another glass. He nearly made a second one for Will before he remembered that the clone probably never tasted alcohol in his life. That wouldn’t end well. Hux rummaged around the kitchenette until he found a box of powdered blue milk. He rehydrated a tall glass, heated it up, and brought it over to the crew sleeping quarters.
D-D was just leaving and he briefed Hux in hushed Binary on Will’s health status. As expected, the boy suffered from malnutrition, low on basically everything, but at least that was something a balanced diet could fix. A bit soothed by the thought that Will wouldn’t put an unexpected dent in their already dwindling medical supplies, Hux entered the cabin.
Will sat on the lower bunk, knees drawn to his chest, staring forlornly out of the viewport. He had a thick blanket wrapped around his shoulders and several thinner ones were hung from under the top bunk’s mattress, creating a makeshift half-drawn curtain around him. When he noticed Hux standing there, he grabbed the blankets as if to draw them shut - but after a moment he’d let his arms fall, turning back to his silent reverie.
Well, one of them had to start. Hux ducked his head under the blanket curtain and climbed into the bunk. He settled cross-legged at the end of the mattress and held up the glass of milk.
“Are those the vitamins he said I need?”
“I guess?” Hux honestly couldn’t remember if milk was supposed to contain any vitamins. He believed it did since it used to be a dietary requirement for the younger Cadets at the Academy. If any of the vitamins survived the sublimation and rehydration, that was another question.
“So,” he cleared his throat awkwardly when Will took a sip and didn’t immediately make a face. A good sign. “The stars, hm?”
As if a switch was flipped, Will burst into tears. Hux barely managed to catch his glass before the milk could soak the entire bed. Will grabbed a pillow, buried his face in it and wept.
“Ash - Ash would’ve lo-loved them,” he sobbed.
In the dim light inside the little nest, most of the cabin light blocked by the blankets, Hux could see the stars through the viewport without any reflection disturbing the sight. They were on the far side of the second Arkanis moon, a mediocre irregularly shaped rock without any atmosphere. The stars visible were the stars that shone above the first four years of his life. But he couldn’t tell. It was always cloudy on Arkanis.
Hux didn’t know when he last looked at the stars just for the sake of it.
“You look so much like him,” Will continued to mumble into his pillow. “B-but you h-hate me-”
Hux rested his head against the cold transparisteel of the viewport and closed his eyes.
“I don’t,” he said. Surprised a little himself that he meant it. “I know I’m… unkind. It’s just… the Galaxy isn’t kind, you know?” he paraphrased Ren’s words. No. The Galaxy was never kind to him.
“Kylo said you hate everyone.”
That was a little presumptuous from Ren, but certainly not untrue.
Hux sighed. “It’s just a lot. Too much in one day. I’ve had nightmares about that facility for years, and then we found you-”
“I get it.” Will stopped sniffing but sounded somehow even sadder. “I’m not what you imagined.”
“What?” Hux’s eyes flew open. This hit far too close to home. “No! For one, I was - I don’t even know, maybe three, when they took my DNA. I didn’t know any of you existed! And for the other thing...”
This was hard. Will was a clone, he must have had no concept of a mother, or a father. His only human connection was another clone who aged unnaturally fast. Hux hoped he could make him understand.
“My father used to say I was good for nothing,” he pointed at himself. “But he would sometimes mention that I had potential. I thought, if I worked hard, did my best… I’d reach that potential. But now I guess that you were what he meant, all along.”
“Oh.” Will mulled that over for a minute. “Did you become what he wanted?”
Hux snorted. “Several times over. I surpassed him in every way.” It felt good to say it, even to someone who knew nothing of Brendol Hux’s parenting methods.
He gave Will back his glass of milk now that there wasn’t any more danger of it spilling. His outburst forgotten, Will looked curious. He must have been craving to learn something, anything, about his own origins.
“So you’re someone important? Powerful?”
“I used to be.” Thinking about everything he lost still hurt, but telling about it as if he was narrating a bedtime story to a child took some of the sting out of it.
“There was another war, you see,” he explained. Ash and Will’s library likely only covered history up to the day the facility was abandoned, three decades in the past. He probably thought the Empire was still around.
“Oh… and you lost?” Will asked sympathetically. “That’s why the woman was hunting you, right?”
Hux nodded. The exact circumstances would take a whole night to explain, and he was tired. In the end, Will summed it just right. They lost.
Well, technically he won. He did switch sides just before the end.
On the other side of the thin partition separating the crew bunking quarters, Kylo sat with his head tipped back against the wall, thinking about the war he lost.
All his life, he was either failing at or running away from being Ben Solo. And when he finally accepted his fate, it meant his death - the death his mother had predicted since before he was even born. Ben Solo died and finally freed himself from his legacy.
Kylo, the survivor, for the first time ever, was nobody’s hope and nobody’s disappointment. And for the first time ever, he’d found himself wanting something purely for himself.
Having sort of a clean slate meant that he could finally admit to himself that he found Hux attractive. He supposed he always did, but before he’d been always too busy trying to become Vader’s heir - and Hux had been too busy frothing at the mouth about his supposed birthright to the Imperial throne. There was a brief time he considered Hux as an ally - but that ended when Hux tried to pull a blaster on him in the throne room above Crait.
But now… Kylo didn’t read him wrong. Hux wanted him. And he… he wanted Hux, too. It was an unfamiliar feeling. The Jedi teachings enforced chastity, and Snoke’s training wasn’t much better. Kylo was very good at ignoring his own body. He thought for a while that he had been attracted to Rey but now he saw that their connection was purely spiritual. He wanted her next to him on the throne, not in his bed.
But the trouble with Hux was that he never forgave, and only rarely forgot, and there were frankly a lot of Kylo’s old wrongdoings that he needed to put behind them. Kylo knew that while his own life had been restarted, for Hux he was still the same man who cost him his life’s work. So Kylo resolved to be patient. But stars, was that hard .
Other than waiting for Hux to let go of his distrust, Kylo had little to no purpose now. He was simply swimming with the flow and trying to figure out what the Force had in store for him.
He knew the Force was calling to him. It was all-encompassing energy, just because Hux cut him off from it didn’t mean the entirety of it would disappear from his life. It wasn’t a coincidence that they ended up on Arkanis. It wasn’t a pure chance that one clone from the abandoned program had survived. It was the will of the Force.
Somehow during their escape from Exegol, they had unwittingly stumbled upon the potentially most sinister plot ever that Palpatine had set in motion back in the waning days of the Empire. Abductions of Force-sensitive infants, experiments on clones… Kylo knew how obsessed with immortality Palpatine was. The Emperor had met his demise above Endor but with his last breath, he managed to transport his presence into a clone of himself on Exegol.
That clone had been imperfect - just a copy of an already old and withered body. But suppose Palpatine had been searching for a way to create a brand new body, young, able and with innate Force sensitivity, to be his next vessel… could that be the true purpose of the Arkanis facility?
And if yes, why was young Armitage Hux the one they chose as the vessel? It couldn’t be just that he was Force-null, there were billions of such children in the Galaxy, healthy boys without Armitage’s sickly disposition, thin rib cage and frail nerves. What was so interesting about the bastard son of a mediocre Imperial officer?
The Force was guiding them on the path to answers, Kylo was certain of it. Palpatine’s secret facilities seemed to be the key. He knew about some of them, scattered throughout the outer reaches of the former Empire. Observatories, they used to call them.
During the early years of the New Republic, Luke Skywalker embarked on a mission to find and explore as many of them as he could, to retrieve artifacts the Emperor had stashed away during his reign and return them, if possible, to their original owners.
During his hunt for the map to Skywalker, Kylo Ren had visited a couple of them, too.
The largest one of them had been on Jakku. Kylo wondered if Hux had ever been to Jakku prior to trying to wipe one of their outposts from the map with an over-the-top airstrike. Come to think of it, he did have the tendency to blow up places that personally slighted him…
Voices from the next cabin carried through the thin sheet of metal separating them. Kylo shifted along the wall, looking for a spot to hear them better.
“...D-D is scary. I mean, he’s nice, but he looks like he could snap me in half.”
“He’s supposed to look like that.” Kylo could hear Hux’s short laugh. “He wouldn’t be a good guardian if he looked meek and harmless, would he?”
Will sounded unconvinced. “I wouldn’t know. We never had droids. The facility used clones for their jobs, maintenance, sanitation, things like that. I only ever saw droids in books. But can’t say I ever saw that type. Did you build him yourself?”
“No, that wasn’t me.”
Kylo held his breath and pressed his ear closer to the wall.
“He used to be just a run-of-the-mill nanny droid. My mother died in childbirth and my father’s wife didn’t want to have anything to do with me, so I had only D-D. Then my father was ordered to evacuate Arkanis and join the Imperial fleet above Jakku. We had to leave almost everything behind. I hid D-D’s memory banks, core processors and voice chip in my bag. I was hoping I could reconstruct him one day.”
Jakku. So Hux had been there as a child. But this was even more interesting…
“A lot of things happened on Jakku. I was given command of a unit of local children. Orphans, and pretty savage.” Hux’s voice sounded very pleased with himself. Kylo did the mental math - Hux must have been around four year old at the time? Given command of a child soldiers unit? Whose idea was that ? Savage indeed.
“Everyone was scared of them. There was an officer - the Grand Admiral Rae Sloane - who took up a mentorship of me. My father was… a piece of crap. Sloane made sure he didn't beat me anymore. And in turn, I promised her my soldiers would never cut her throat while sleeping. She helped me to rebuild D-D into a proper guardian. Reinforced casing, med nurse equipment in case Brendol ever hurt me again, some additional modules...”
Kylo stopped listening. The rest of it wasn’t important.
All this time, he was trying to guess the override code based on what he knew about Armitage Hux - his past, his preferences.
But he wasn’t the one to build the droid. That was Grand Admiral Sloane. Who perhaps felt pity for the little abused boy, but more than that she was afraid of his cruel streak, unusual in someone that young. She gave him this droid to act as his bodyguard…
And in case Armitage Hux ever turned on her, she had also set the override.
The incredible art for this chapter is drawn by the amazing Steff (@itssteffnow on Tumblr and Twitter)
Going into the dark mode meant no lights, no active communications, and switching off all systems save for the rudimentary life support. Few hours of this, and Kylo was ready to crawl out of his own skin.
Hux holed himself up in the cockpit with a bottle of something questionable and kept monitoring the frequencies. Early on, they caught a string of an encrypted transmission from the planet's surface to one of the remaining holonet satellites in the Arkanis system, so obviously, she tried to reach someone. There was very little interstellar traffic and so far, none of the ships appeared to be coming to Netal’s rescue. Eventually, Hux ordered D-D to keep working on cracking the encryption and went to sleep.
Kylo sniffed the empty bottle Hux left in the cockpit and jerked his face away with a wince. Whatever Hux was drinking was so strong that it burned the inside of Kylo’s nose. How was Hux still walking straight when he left for the cabin was a mystery. Kylo went to check on him, just in case.
Will was finally peacefully asleep in the bunk he appropriated earlier, the blankets from all three bunk beds hanging around his nest. There were still three bunks left in the second cabin, but Hux claimed it as his own and locked the door. Which left Kylo with a choice of a bare bed, or no sleep at all.
It was fortunate that he wasn’t planning on sleeping anyway.
Kylo returned to the cockpit with a little swagger in his step and tapped his knuckles in a little melody on D-D’s casing as the droid churned away at his computational task. Ever the multitasker, D-D turned one unimpressed eye on him.
“Haven’t you been zapped enough times already?”
“Actually, no,” Kylo grinned, feeling bold. “Override code Ganthel.”
It was one of the tidbits he remembered from his history lessons his mother insisted he took. Trivia about high-ranking Imperial officers that disappeared into the Unknown Regions - just in case they ever turned up back. Ganthel was the name of Rae Sloane’s homeworld.
With all the lights around them off, it was a literal shot in the dark. Kylo held his breath, mentally preparing himself for the pain in case he missed.
D-D’s circuitry audibly clicked. His eyes dimmed and returned to their default position on his cylindric head. The lines of decryption software on the computer screen attached to his data plug stopped rolling.
“Yes, Sir?” he said in a mechanical voice. Gone was the gentle inflection, the sassy personality of his voice. The override bypassed all upgrades and add-on modules.
Bullseye on the first try.
D-D was now effectively his. The droid would do anything Kylo would ask of him. He could activate the medical subprogram and have him remove the offending chip in his neck. He could tell it to remove the Force-dampening device around his neck and the droid would do it with just a single snap of his powerful arms.
“I’m going to give you an order,” Kylo said, trying to keep the nervous tremble from his voice. “You’re going to carry it out, wait twenty seconds, and then permanently erase the last two minutes of your memory.”
“Yes, sir. What’s your order, sir?” the droid droned on, unaffected.
Kylo took a deep breath, burrowed himself as deep and comfortably into the pilot’s seat as he could, and extended his hand. It only shook a little.
“Increase the charge by twenty percent and zap me again.”
The beauty of the override protocol mode was that the droid was not required to question a direct order. He just carried it out.
The pain was blinding and it took Kylo everything he had to keep himself from crying out. D-D had been right before when he warned Hux that increasing the strength of his punishments could cause serious health damage. Kylo was strong but damn, he needed every single one of those twenty seconds to stop shaking uncontrollably and finally force his cramped chest muscles to draw in a breath.
D-D’s circuitry whirred and clicked again as the droid went through the rest of Kylo’s sequence, erasing the memory of hearing the override at last. The calculations picked up again and D-D gave one confused beep before returning to the task at hand. Kylo leaned forward and rapped his knuckles on the casing again.
“Haven’t you been zapped enough times already?” D-D admonished him.
Kylo breathed in and out, feeling his every nerve ending spark like a live wire.
“You know, I think I have.”
The breakthrough on the encryption came some six hours later, D-D announcing his success with a brutally loud celebratory honk. Kylo, who in the end managed to doze off in the pilot’s seat with his feet up on the controls, very nearly crashed to the floor.
A moment later, Hux made his way into the cockpit, eyes bleary and lined with dark circles. His entire demeanor radiated ‘caf’ like a distress signal and Kylo decided to just bring him one to spare everyone the misery. Will followed suit closely behind, cramping his tall body awkwardly into the last free corner of the cockpit. It still gave Kylo a kind of mental whiplash, seeing the two of them, with their identical faces and voices when their personalities couldn’t be more different. To add to the confusion, Will’s hair was the exact shade Hux’s used to be, while Hux had dyed his brown. Kylo could see Hux itching to give the clone a proper regulation haircut. He just hoped that Will would put his foot down and keep it long.
Hux accepted the caf without comment and practically inhaled half of the cup on the spot before turning to D-D.
“Alright, put it on.”
The comms projector displayed a very grainy holo of Bazine Netal’s upper half. She was sitting in her cockpit, leaning forward to her comm to get clear reception on the weak transmission line. The sound of her deep, drawling voice filled the cockpit.
Hux groaned. She spoke in Huttese. Kylo smirked. He knew enough of Huttese to get by and contemplated pissing Hux off by offering his language services - but D-D had it covered, it seemed. The droid plugged himself into the comm and after a moment, Bazine’s voice was muffled by a simultaneous voiceover in Basic.
“... gone. Lucky bastards. Anyway, Maize, the things I saw down there before it went tits up - I don’t like them. Everything old, dusty, Imperial, and pretty creepy Project Resurrection vibes. I need you to get your lovely ass off Pillio and come get me asap. And make sure J-Sec doesn’t get a whiff of this. The connection here is cra-”
True to her assessment, the connection chose that exact moment to flunk out. There was no more to the recording.
“Project Resurrection,” Will said first, to everyone’s surprise.
“What do you know about that?” Hux asked sharply.
“Just that it existed,” Will shrugged. “All the data files were gone, but the name was referenced in the folder structure...”
“It doesn’t make sense for it to be there,” Hux argued, as if it was a point of contention and not an irrefutable fact.
Kylo understood his defensiveness, though. Project Resurrection was Brendol Hux’s brainchild from the dying days of the Empire that his son took over, expanded and perfected for the First Order. Under Armitage Hux’s command, it grew into a large-scale operation to abduct children from occupied worlds to turn them into the First Order army. Some side projects included weapons and warship design but the brunt of it was just the gathering and training of the children. It had never anything to do with clones - Hux’s aversion to the very concept would not allow it.
But maybe there were parts of the project that not even Brendol was privy to. Parts under the direct supervision of the Emperor, just like the entire Arkanis facility.
“What’s J-Sec?” Will asked. Hux’s sourness clearly wasn’t enough to deter his curiosity.
“Short for Jinata Security,” Kylo replied promptly, ignoring Hux’s surprised glance. “Law enforcement agency in the Jinata system. I’ve worked with them briefly on my mission to Pillio.”
“I didn’t know you’ve been to the Jinata system,” Hux huffed, his tone clearly implying that he thought Kylo Ren had gone there specifically to spy on Hux’s work. Of course, the Jinata system was one of the bases of the operation, with J-Sec as their loyal collaborators. Up until the moment they rebelled, shortly after the destruction of Hosnia.
“Not everything is about you, Hux,” Kylo grinned at him. “I was following the track of an old Rebel to interrogate him about a possible location of the map to Skywalker. He just happened to be on Pillio.”
As was a rather large Emperor’s Observatory, a vault full of stolen Jedi artifacts, now when he thought of it. He didn’t visit it at the time, the hunt for Skywalker was pressing on his mind, but now he started to doubt his past blindness. Strange how his and Hux’s pasts have become more and more intertwined the more they uncovered. The Force was guiding them to Pillio, he was sure of it.
“Fine,” Hux rubbed his hands. “Now we know where she wants to go, so we go the opposite direction, easy.”
“Hux...” Kylo shook his head. “If the project is still running, what army are they trying to build? Who is behind it all?”
Hux stared at him for a long moment, emotions flickering briefly over his features before being pushed down. “Not my problem anymore,” he said coldly.
Holding Hux’s gaze, Kylo tipped his head in Will’s direction. “What if there are other cloning facilities, still active? Who are they trying to resurrect?”
Hux narrowed his eyes. “Not your problem either,” he accused. “Why are you so invested in it? What’s in it for you?”
Kylo tapped the side of his neck where his chip was hidden. “Ever since you brought me back to life, your business is kind of my business,” he reminded Hux. “And personally, if you want to burn down another piece of Palpatine’s Contingency plan, I’ll gladly light the match for you.”
Hux passed his gaze over all of their faces - Kylo’s earnest and encouraging, Will’s equal parts scared and hopeful that he might get to meet more of his brothers, and finally D-D’s impassively blinking red eye. The droid chirped. For a second, Hux looked torn - and then he nodded.
“Alright. We’ll go to Pillio and find out who Netal’s associates are and what do they know about Project Resurrection. Then we’ll go on from there.”
Ren nodded, relieved. He knew this part of the Outer Rim rather well - the hunt for Skywalker made him cross it several times in all directions. Even at lightspeed, they had a good few hours before they would arrive on Pillio.
Enough time to address another issue at hand.
“Hux… I believe Will has something to tell you. It’s about your heart.”
“What do you mean, one of the fucking turbines is skipping?”
“I didn’t say that...” Will protested the expletive before the meaning sunk in. “Sorry.”
Kylo pretended to be immersed in the hyperspace jump calculations, his back turned on the pair of Huxes arguing in the cockpit.
D-D immediately snapped into med droid mode and started taking Hux’s vitals.
“He’s right,” he said with concern. “Your blood pressure is all over the place. It’s normal one minute and then plunges to dangerously low and then back. That would normally cause nausea, dizziness, migraine. Have you noticed any of these symptoms?”
Kylo punched in the final course and jumped them to hyperspace. Immediately, Hux’s face turned green and he squeezed his eyes shut. Kylo turned in his chair and lifted the empty bottle Hux left in the cockpit earlier.
“Other than a raging hangover?” he asked with a broad grin, not trying to mask the schadenfreude in his voice. Hux deserved every pang of headache for how he handled their last interaction, if you asked Kylo.
D-D tutted at Hux with disappointment.
“Your body temperature is also elevated,” he announced. “I need to take your CRP count…”
Hux immediately snatched both his hands behind his back. Kylo barely held back a snigger. The mighty general, afraid of needles.
“What’s wrong with me?”
D-D whipped up the scanner. “There seems to be a swelling in the tissue connecting your heart to your original veins. It’s causing pressure on the turbine inserted in the aorta and blocking its movement.”
Kylo knew what it meant. He didn’t know how long he’d been in the bacta after Exegol, and days tended to blur on their run, but it must have been weeks since Hux got shot. Whatever immunosuppressants he got at the time of his surgery must have worn off by now, and his body started rejecting the implant.
And once it started, Hux’s condition was going to deteriorate fast. He definitely didn’t help the inflammation by nearly poisoning himself with alcohol last night. Kylo felt a little guilty about that. If he knew that Hux would react to the tiniest show of affection by chugging back the whole bottle, he wouldn’t have kissed him.
D-D apparently arrived at the same conclusion and rolled off to get the immunosuppressants and anti-inflammatory meds. The medication would help to stave off the body’s reaction to the complex piece of fine machinery embedded in his chest but Kylo suspected that would only postpone the problem. The internal wound needed to stop reacting to the constant irritation, the bridge between organic and artificial needed to heal properly. They were on a constant run. They didn’t have time.
Hux looked the other way when D-D sat him in the common area and produced the syringe with a soothing crooning chirp. Right. The memories from the facility must have been still at the forefront of his mind, and Kylo didn’t like to imagine what sort of ‘treatments’ Brendol Hux must have tried to make Armitage into a more worthy son. Unbidden, Kylo sat down next to him and put his palm against Hux’s forehead.
“What are you-”
The syringe went in. Hux blinked with surprise. D-D beeped in satisfaction.
“You're sporting a fever,” Kylo said softly. He kept his hand up, gently cupping Hux’s head, and Hux - likely despite himself - leaned into the touch. Ren’s cold hand must have felt nice against his burning skin, at least.
Will sat down on the other side of him and hesitantly shuffled closer, taking Hux’s hand in a nervous attempt at comfort. His eyes flicked between Hux and Kylo in a moment of confusion, his eye apertures buzzing faintly, before a look of understanding passed over his face and his lips twitched in a fleeting smile.
Kylo hoped that eventually, they would be able to give Will an example of a relationship actually worth following. Growing up around Han and Leia, Kylo got some ideas about how attraction and affection worked, but they were hardly conventional.
At last, he had to interrupt the unexpected armistice by clearing his throat. “I have to get back to the cockpit,” he said, reluctantly letting go of Hux’s face. His hand already missed the contact, now feeling even colder.
Hux watched him go, and for the first time in a long while he had no caustic words in response.
Despite his heart literally fighting his own body’s immune system, Hux felt a strange sort of calm. As if there was a voice, incorporeal and unreal but somehow talking directly across his synapses, telling him ‘everything was going to be alright.’
Wait. Will was holding his hand, staring at him very intently. Was he trying his fledgling Force magic at Hux?
If so, it wasn’t so bad…
Hux mentally kicked himself. Every kriffing Force mind trick was inherently wrong, and especially dangerous when it felt deceptively nice. Better to remember that. He pulled his hand out of Will’s and passed it over his own face.
Strange. It didn’t feel so tight and hot as before.
“I feel much better,” he hazarded. He tried to focus on his own body. The slight shortness of breath that he had experienced for the past couple of days, blaming it on the hectic chain of events, was suddenly gone.
D-D beeped, running another scan. “You are much better,” he confirmed. “The swelling is receding. Did you stock some experimental, fast-acting anti-inflammatory meds? You know you shouldn’t use untested substances,” he admonished.
Hux knew perfectly well that all the meds aboard this ship were standard First Order fare. He glanced at Will, who returned the suspicion with a beaming grin. It was a bit disconcerting, to see this expression on a face that was essentially his own. Hux didn’t even know his facial muscles were able to contort like this.
Could Force users heal someone with just the power of their mind? Probably not. Ren never mentioned it, and he loved to boast about his own prowess in the Force. Hux’s original trouble probably wasn’t as bad as it seemed, that was all.
He waved off the rest of D-D’s concerns and decided to check their course. Just in case. Just to see if the collar on Ren’s neck was still in place.
It was. Hux could see it plain as the day, stark and solid against Ren’s neck which was exposed in all its obscene length, with Ren’s head tipped back against the chair, his feet up on the console, and the whole cabin filled with the quiet rumbling of his snores.
“Are you seriously asleep?!”
The gall of this man! Here Hux was, almost dying, and Ren went to take a nap. Hux didn’t know why he was surprised anymore.
The rumbling ceased. Ren cracked open one eye. “Not anymore,” he said balefully.
Hux folded his arms. “This is how you pilot the ship?”
“After some asshole locked me out of the sleeping quarters for the whole night, yes!” Ren groused. He still looked on the verge of sleep, eyelids heavy, his complaints without their usual heated edge. It was almost cute. Hux rolled his eyes, mostly at himself. Kylo Ren was not cute.
He checked the navigational computer and then waved his hand towards the back of the ship. “We have three hours before we arrive on Pillio. I want you here before we’re due to revert back to sublight.”
He didn’t actually say Ren could go to sleep, so he wasn’t surprised that Ren didn’t actually thank him for this kindness. But he also didn’t imagine the small smile on Ren’s tired face as the man stalked past, straight into the bunk cabin.
Kriff, hopefully Ren wouldn’t crash into the exact bed Hux had picked for himself. He rather liked that mattress.
Hux stayed in the cockpit with D-D joining him, keeping an eye on the autopilot and D-D monitoring his vitals every now and then. That’s why neither of them noticed when Will sneaked into the wrong cabin - not the one with his blanket nest, but the one where Kylo was currently trying to get some sleep.
Well, tried. Because Will had the curious expression of a hound on a scent, and finally he asked a question that Kylo knew was coming, sooner or later.
“Why do you wear that?” Will’s finger was pointed at the collar around Kylo’s neck.
Kylo decided to be honest. “It’s to keep me from assessing the same power that you have. It’s called the Force.”
The Force , Kylo could see Will’s mouth trying out the word silently. Aloud, he asked: “Why?”
Well, Kylo did tell Will already that he wasn’t exactly Hux’s friend. At least not yet. “So Hux would feel safe around me. I used the Force to hurt him, in the past.”
Will’s eyes widened. “Is it… evil, then? Will it make me... hurt people?”
“No,” Kylo said quickly. “Listen, Will. This is your power. It reflects you. If you’re kind, you can use it to heal… if you’re angry, it can lash out and destroy.”
To heal, Will mulled over again, soundlessly. “So...” he nodded resolutely after a moment, “I won’t ever get angry.”
Kylo couldn’t help but laugh. “With Hux around? Good luck.”
Will looked a bit put upon at that, which was even funnier. Well, in a way, since Hux was his image, insulting him was bound to be taken personally. But then Will grinned - a little shyly at first, but soon enough something else crept onto his face: a sort of a cunning, conspiratorial, knowing look. Kylo knew that particular look from Hux’s face - it often indicated that he knew what nobody else did, something he could use to his own advantage. It seemed that certain personality traits were indeed genetic.
“So why don’t you get rid of it?” Will asked, nodding pointedly to the collar again.
Such an innocent, simple question. As if the option was there for Kylo, just like that. Kylo wondered how much Will could see, did see, in his quiet, shy, just-sitting-there way. His bionic eyes almost certainly had a wider spectral range than humans. Did he notice the spot of warmth on the metal wall where Kylo was pressed against it from the other side, yesterday evening? Did he know that Kylo had been listening on?
Or, did he perhaps see a possibility to remove the collar within the inner workings of the mechanism itself, utilizing his Sight? This ability of his was certainly the most finely honed Force skill Kylo ever saw in any Force user, period. He remembered the teachings about Echo sensing - tales about Jedi knights using this special talent to see the Force signatures left on objects to identify their owners. Some of them were even able to sense the feelings and intentions of the person who last touched an object, making them into master trackers.
But for Will, who was born blind, this ability - instinctual to him like breathing - granted him an uncanny insight into mechanical things connected to living beings. Padawans usually needed days of meditation and intense concentration to build their own lightsaber - Kylo suspected that Will would probably be able to do it within an hour, just by looking at another lightsaber and following the steps of its original maker impressed upon it in the Force.
“I can’t get rid of it,” Kylo said at last. It was the truth, after all.
“But you will teach me more about the Force?” Will insisted.
“I will,” Kylo nodded solemnly. “There’s a lot I can explain without the need to demonstrate, so the collar won’t be getting in the way.”
“You already showed me how to move the gate,” Will nodded. “That was weird. It felt a little like I was in your head.”
Kylo smiled at him reassuringly and waited till he left, pretending to fall asleep again. But his insides were growing cold with worry. This had happened once already. Rey was able to enter Kylo’s mind, to push back when he first interrogated her - and just by ‘being in his head’, she apparently picked up the technique of Force mind control which she later used to escape. If Will could do the same…
Kylo had only seen this kind of raw power once before. But with Rey, it was because she was the Light to his Darkness, the other half of a Force dyad.
He didn’t feel the same spiritual connection to Will. This was no Dyad. Will was a force of his own. A single man with so much power...
But he was good and kind, wasn’t he? He grew up loved and cared for, his core was strongly rooted in the Light. But he was also abandoned for many years, and then violently uprooted… Kylo recalled the brief flicker of cunning on Will’s face. He was a Hux. And Hux would always bite when he was afraid.
Hux’s shoulder and side connected with something hard and white-hot pain shot up through his arm, yanking him from unconsciousness. Groaning, he blinked against the sudden flood of light in his eyes and instinctively rolled over. Just in time to avoid being crushed under another limp and heavy body, thrown unceremoniously on the floor after him. Torn bloodied tunic, short messy yellowish blonde hair. Right, Ren. Out like the light, as usual, didn’t even twitch. Third impact, lighter and accompanied with a string of surprisingly obscene profanities in a high-pitched voice… Will. And then a bang. Heavy metal door falling shut. Muffled sound of boots walking away from the other side. Silence.
It was a struggle to sit up with his head throbbing and hands bound tightly behind his back, but eventually, Hux managed it. He looked around at the bare metal walls of the cell they’ve been thrown into and swore under his breath. He knew, he knew that giving in to Ren’s harebrained plan was going to bite him in the ass one day. And it did. In less than twenty-four hours.
Twenty-four hours ago, they jumped out of hyperspace on the orbit of Pillio.
It was a literal backwater planet. Aquatic, uncolonised, and largely overlooked at the edge of the Jinata system, with a scattered jigsaw puzzle of land created by a colossal coral reef. A couple of barely-functioning Imperial era communication satellites in the Jinata system still provided it with holonet access, but only just. A planet only good for fishing and hunting, a regular stop for gill-heads like Nautolans and Mon Calamari, but nothing of importance to be found there.
Well, except for the Emperor’s Observatory, at least according to Ren.
As Hux was sorting out the gear for their visit to the planetside, D-D kept following him like a confused mouse droid.
“You are completely alright.” He sounded baffled.
“And that’s a bad thing?” Hux snarked. “I get the meds worked, then?”
D-D clicked the scanner open a shut several times, like a nervous tick. “They should have abated the symptoms. But you are… hundred-percent healed. No sign of swelling. No increased-”
“Seems I wasn’t as badly off as you thought,” Hux waved him off. He shot a suspicious glance to Will though, who returned it with an innocent blink of his glowing eyes and a little smug smile. Definitely Force magic fuckery, then. At least Will had used it to Hux’s benefit, not like a certain former Supreme Leader…
… who also seemed full of energy again, thanks to a few hours of sleep on a good quality mattress.
Sensors showed no signs of a J-Sec ship, either on the orbit or on the planet's surface. Sadly, it didn’t mean that the planet was empty.
“A small private transport… that could be whoever Netal was sending her message to - and an… X-Wing?” Hux read aloud the sensors. “That would mean the Resistance. Nobody else uses those trash cans anymore.”
“A swarm of those trash cans was enough to bring down the Starkiller,” Ren reminded him.
“I should’ve cut out your tongue before I restarted your heart-”
“Could you two knock it off for two seconds?” For a second, Will looked almost as surprised with his own assertion as both Hux and Ren but he quickly recovered and barrelled on. “I don’t care about your past quarrels, and I doubt the rest of the Galaxy does, too. Could we focus here, please?”
Ren’s lips twitched - and then he threw his head back and laughed, a full belly sound that Hux last heard from him… never, really.
The chuckle that escaped his lips unprompted, like an involuntary sympathetic reaction, definitely never happened.
“He’s right,” Ren acknowledged. “And trash can or not, I don’t think one Resistance pilot should be much of an issue.”
Ironically, Ren had been right. The Resistance pilot was not the issue.
The Emperor’s Observatory was a small bunker, embedded in a rock in a steep hillside.
“Palpatine had many of those,” Ren murmured, handing the tactical binoculars over to Hux. Will didn’t need them, his bionic eyes provided him with better zoom and spectral analysis anyway.
Hux swatted off an irritating bug - this planet was just teeming with life, especially the bloodsucking one. “What did he need them for?”
“Each had a specific purpose.” It seemed as if Ren found it difficult to remember - or he didn’t want to. “This one was basically a vault. The Emperor was obsessed with artifacts - Jedi, Sith, independent native Force cults, everything.”
Hux shifted his weight on his elbows and leaned up to get a better view of the small ship parked not far from the bunker entrance. “That’s… the identification had been scratched off but I’d bet my rank stripes this is a First Order yacht.”
“You don’t have any rank stri-ow!”
Hux spared a brisk nod of gratitude to Will who smacked Ren’s arm before he could finish another dig.
“First Order yacht?” the clone asked, his eyes scanning the small but sleek and elegant ship with interest.
“Higher ranks or valuable specialists used to have one at their disposal,” Hux explained. “Benefits of the job.”
Fine. So there was a plausible link between whatever former First Order official and the former First Order allied spy Bazine Netal. What didn’t fit into the equation was the battered X-Wing parked a couple of hundred meters below, almost lost among the foliage.
And then there was the fact that both starcrafts were empty, and not a soul could be seen around. Hux compulsively checked his comlink. D-D should warn them if anyone was approaching their position. Just a quick look around. Nothing more.
“So… how do we get in?”
Ren smirked. “It’s the Emperor’s vault. Take a guess.”
Hux looked between those solid bunker doors without any visible cracks or seams, Will all but sparkling with anticipation of more exercise of his power, and finally Ren.
“I should’ve left you at the orbit,” he taunted back, “since you’re not going to be of any use here.”
In hindsight, neither Hux and Will proved to be of much use in the following events. But in all honesty, Hux wasn't expecting a freaking AT-ST.
“I don’t see how any of this could have anything to do with Project Resurrection,” Hux said, rifling through the contents of one of the many crates stacked by the walls and scrunching his nose. “It was a human resources operation, we had no interest in… trinkets.”
Ren didn’t reply. He was wandering the room aimlessly, trailing his fingers across the lids of the crates as if checking for dust. There wasn’t any, the inside of the bunker was immaculately sealed. Hux turned when he caught a glint of something metallic in his peripheral vision. Will had opened one crate and was holding up a…
“Of course you’d pick that,” Hux snatched it from his hand. It was surprisingly light to hold up. The whole crate was full of them, stacked in neat layers. Lightsabers, maybe a hundred of them, with a simple, uniform design.
“They’re gutted,” Ren said after weighing one in his palm. “There should be a kyber crystal inside, that’s what generates the plasma discharge. I think Palpatine scraped all the kyber he could find to build the Death Stars.”
“Whose was it?” Will asked, fingers twitching towards the crate again. He suddenly looked a bit sick, definitely paler than before. “I felt...”
“These were basic training lightsabers,” Ren said gravely, putting the undecorated, impersonal metal tube back into the crate and closing the lid. “They would’ve been used by the younglings at the Jedi temple, up until the Emperor seized the control of the Republic. Trust me, you don’t want to feel the thoughts of whoever wielded it last.”
Hux frowned. He didn’t know everything Ren had been up to before joining the First Order and becoming the endless pain in his ass, but he did remember the name Jedi Killer. And suddenly, the Empire killing little Jedi in training was bad? When did Ren grow a remorse bone?
Disgruntled with his unexpected moral dilemma, Hux abandoned his futile attempts to find something when he didn’t even know what he was looking for in the first place. He turned to the entrance, intent on leaving, and opened his mouth to tell the others to stop digging through these useless Imperial relics and-
Three things happened almost at once.
A small clay statue of some stylised humanoid figure falling from Will’s hands, shattering on the floor, as the clone suddenly jerked in alarm, eyes wide open and confused by danger he didn’t know the source of. “Kylo, I feel-”
Ren, taking one look at him and jumping to Hux, grabbing his arm and yanking him back into the bunker before Hux could react-
And a blast from a laser cannon exploding precisely where Hux stood just split-second ago, shaking the entire bunker structure and bringing down a rain of rocks and soil from the hillside above it.
With no other escape from the bunker, they stood no chance. Not against a fucking AT-ST.
Kylo came back to consciousness slowly, his body fighting him every step of the way. The J-Sec thugs were thankfully unimaginative, but sadly pretty thorough. Kylo did his best to put up a fight so they would concentrate on him - he didn’t think Will would be able to withstand much of the beating - but Hux had the unfortunate talent of letting his sarcasm run his mouth at the worst of times, and had likely suffered a couple of punches as well.
When he finally managed to crack open one swollen eye, it was met with the full force of Hux’s glare. Kylo immediately wished to fall unconscious again but he was never so lucky.
In retrospect, the trap set up by J-Sec was astonishingly simple. An AT-ST camouflaging under the cover of dirt and foliage, so close to the parked yacht that from orbit, their signals on the sensors would appear as one. All J-Sec had to do was to wait until all three of them walked into the bunker and offered themselves like tasty morsels on a silver plate.
Their ship then jumped from hyperspace, most likely on a prearranged rendezvous, and now they had been sitting like the proverbial ducks in a holding cell, after a round of ‘introductory’ interrogation, and probably waiting for the arrival of someone higher up the ranks to conduct a second round.
Before Hux could open his mouth for the tirade Kylo could see brewing at his tongue, Will spoke up.
“They’re bringing more prisoners,” he whispered.
Heavy footsteps echoed through the corridor outside their holding cell, and the unmistakable sounds of someone struggling and scuffling their feet against the floor. A beep and click of the lock - whoosh of a door - two heavy thuds and a breathy gasp from behind the wall on their right - and then another bang of the door shut, and silence again.
“Karking shit,” grumbled a voice from the newly occupied cell. A woman’s voice. And then: “Maize, are you alright?”
“Urgh,” answered a second voice, slurred as if waking up after a blow to the head. Kylo could relate. “Been better. Sorry about this mess.”
The other prisoner seemed to be a woman too, and quite a young one. Her accent had a Core quality to it, and the way she enunciated certain phonemes, Kylo suspected she wasn’t Human.
“I told you not to get together with that merc,” the first one huffed.
“We’re not together !” the girl called Maize protested - perhaps too quickly. “Bazine is just flirting. With everyone. She flirted with you, too. And I’m an adult anyway.”
“She’s almost forty, and you’re barely twenty.”
“Could we not discuss my love life now ?” Shuffling and fidgeting could be heard from the next cell until Maize gave up with a loud groan.
“They trussed us up pretty tight,” she grumbled.
“Did you at least send a message?”
Maize sounded deflated when she replied. “The connection was shit… Half of it would get out of here, half of what’s left to her. I figured I would just hop over to Arkanis and pick her up. Avadora is fast… but they caught me in a tractor beam before I could make it to hyperspace. Wonder what they did with the ship,” she finished mournfully.
“Landed it close to the Observatory and used it as a ploy to get me,” the older woman said drily.
There was a moment of guilty silence and then Maize spoke up again, much more timidly.
“But the Resistance will be coming for you, right?”
“Eventually,” said the woman who must have been the X-Wing pilot, then. But the pause before her reply was more than telling.
Kylo was reasonably sure they weren’t on Pillio anymore. The gravity was different. Also not a ship - most of them tended to have the artificial gravity set to a certain standard. This felt a little off. Perhaps a prison facility on an asteroid, or an orbital security station near Vardos, the centre of the Jinata system and J-Sec headquarters.
Patrols passed through the prison block at regular intervals. Will looked like bursting with complaints the first time they came round but one look from Hux silenced him. It was better if their neighbours didn’t know the cell next to them was occupied - they might talk some more.
The guards chattered among themselves too. Kylo’s Aqualish was rudimentary at best but it was similar to Huttese enough to get the gist of it.
“Did you hear? The protectorate tore the chief a new one.”
“Betcha he’s going to take it out on us, fucker.”
“But what were we supposed to do? Let that Resistance bitch get away?”
“The protectorate is on his way to sort it out personally. I think I’ll volunteer for floor scrubbing duty while he’s around...”
This wasn’t good.
So far, the goons who captured them didn’t recognise them. The ordinary soldiers probably didn’t even know what they were guarding on Pillio. But that would change the moment the protectorate would lay his eyes on Hux. Even with the slightly changed appearance, they would know him. Hux was the face of the Project Resurrection.
Jinata Security had no love for the New Republic and originally collaborated with the First Order. Like so many, they got burned by the fire they’d been playing with - the First Order was no longer happy with their services and simply took over, imposing a harsh rule upon their former allies. The previous protectorate was killed at the hands of a First Order officer. To say that they hated the First Order now would be an understatement. Kylo’s ribs still throbbed from the beating they doubled up when they found a First Order-issued datapad in Hux’s pocket.
There was no mention of D-D and the ship. Their prisoners of course took all their possessions, including Hux’s comlink, but the fact that they didn’t ask about either the ship or the droid during their initial, largely one-sided ‘conversation’, gave Kylo a bit of hope.
If he could get out of the prison block, D-D would surely be able to lock on the signal in his tracker chip. But how to get out?
There was no point in asking Will to try the door. The beep Kylo heard earlier when the guards were locking up the prisoners next door told him that the locks were electronic. Just like the locks on their handcuffs. And even if they tore off their thumbs to get out of their binds, they wouldn't be any closer to escape. The Force could manipulate latches and bolts, not individual electrons along the chips and wires.
Every moment now they could be grabbed and marched out, surrounded and outnumbered, to be interrogated in front of the protectorate. And Hux might have been trained to withstand pain and resist mind-altering drugs, but Will wasn’t. Kylo needed to get out now, and alone .
Will looked up suddenly and hissed - just a short tsk under his breath. A second later, Kylo heard it too. Another patrol round.
This might have been Kylo’s last and only chance.
“Hey! Guards!” he yelled at the top of his lungs.
“What are-” Hux started in alarm but that was soon drowned by a surprised cry from the next cell: “Karking hell! There’s someone else in here!”
The steps outside stopped and the door rattled with a loud bang. “ Kish tosh kapik , you pigs? You finally wanna talk?” Kylo recognised the gruff, throaty voice of the Aqualish that had left him with two loose teeth earlier.
Hux managed to kick him from where he sat on the floor. What are you doing, he mouthed.
Kylo could hear the lock panel outside the door buzz to life. He heard the individual blips as the guard entered the code. He had only seconds left. He turned to Hux and prayed that he would understand.
“Do you remember what you said you would know when I said I’d promise you I’d never hurt you again?”
Hux’s eyes widened and flicked down to the collar. He nodded imperceptibly, throat working but no sound coming out.
Kylo closed his eyes and focused his mind on the joint where the collar lock closed around his neck. A tiny clean snap echoed through the cell and the collar fell on the floor at Hux’s feet.
When Kylo opened his eyes again, his face was cold and unreadable. He didn’t spare Hux another glance. The door slid open, and Kylo turned to face the blasters pointed inside.
“Squeal, pig,” the Aqualish ordered.
“Take me to the chief. I want to cooperate. You didn’t find our ship yet, did you? I know where it’s hiding. If you take me to the chief now, the protectorate will be very pleased with your results.”
The bait worked. The Aqualish grabbed him, rammed the blaster under his ribs and marched him out. His comrade locked the door again, punching in the code without care and laughing at Will’s yells of Traitor! from inside.
The noise outside died down. The noise inside Hux’s head did not.
“Some friend you got there,” said the Resistance pilot from behind the adjacent wall.
“Not a friend,” he replied mechanically. His thoughts were buzzing.
“Maybe if you’d been nice to him at least once he wouldn’t want to betray us,” Will accused him.
Nice? And when was ever Ren nice to him ?
Will nudged the broken collar closer with his foot. His eyes whirred as he looked at it, taking it every detail.
“This thing isn’t working,” he scoffed. “The circuitry is completely fused. It looks like he fried it, bit by bit. See those melts?”
Suddenly Hux remembered those circular burn marks on Ren’s arms. You have a very zap-happy droid, Ren had played it off by then… while slowly chipping away at his restraints, one zap at a time. And to think Hux even suggested that D-D increased the charge as ‘punishment’ - which would have played straight into Ren’s hands! Hux felt sick.
How far back could Ren actually use the Force without Hux noticing? His panic in the crowded main street of Lysatra spaceport felt genuine. But later… Hux’s gut feeling had been right, it wasn’t just luck that kept the truckspeeder the right side up when they were caught in the shockwave of the explosion on Arkanis. Fuck, he had probably opened the gate all on his own, too, and just played a mind trick on the inexperienced clone to keep the attention away from himself.
Of bloody course. Will might have been insanely strong in the Force but even Hux knew that raw strength without technique meant nothing and that Jedi apprentices spent months and years learning and honing those techniques. Hux had been blind not to see it…
Which meant that in all likelihood, it had been Ren, and not Will, who healed Hux’s heart so quickly.
“You knew?” he croaked out, jerking his chin towards his chest.
Will shrugged. “Yeah, that was him. I asked him afterwards why he just won’t get rid of the collar. He told me he couldn’t. He was waiting for you to take it off and you couldn’t be bothered to notice that he’d been nothing but helpful to you the whole time!”
So that was why Ren fell asleep in the pilot’s chair. He must have used his own energy to fast-track the healing process. Hux had been so blind.
But it was a nearly impossible thing to wrap one’s head around. Only a month ago, Hux knew for certain that if given the opportunity, Ren would stop his heart, not keep it going.
Ren has had the Force back. Stars knew for how long, and he didn’t use it to break free. He didn’t use it to get back at Hux. He kept wearing the collar, perhaps truly waiting for Hux to take it off himself. And he only chose to drop it now, of all times. It had to mean something.
Will kicked the collar away and thumped his head back against the wall.
“I wonder what he meant by it,” he mused.
“Remember what you’d know when I said I’d promise you to never hurt you again,” Will quoted. “I wonder what that meant.”
Hux remembered that conversation. Back then, Ren had asked him to remove the collar, and Hux had refused. He remembered what he replied back then.
Then I would know how you look when you lie.
Finally, Hux’s head cleared. He knew why Ren dropped the collar.
It meant that everything he told the guards was a lie.
Hux hoped that he was right. Ren wanted a second chance - Hux’s trust. He hoped he wasn’t going to make the biggest mistake of his life by giving it to him, at last.
Now that their neighbours knew they weren’t alone in the prison block, Hux braced himself for the questions he knew were coming.
“So, who are you?” The Resistance pilot obviously did her best to make it sound like friendly chatter but Hux could hear the terseness and suspicion in her voice.
“I’m Will!” Will piped up cheerily. If Hux’s hands weren’t bound behind his back, he would be covering his face in second-hand embarrassment. He should have known the clone had no head for subterfuge.
“And I’m here with my brother, Ash,” Will continued in the same blissful, eager tone, though the look he threw at Hux was full of amusement. He was not completely stupid then. It was actually quite clever to go by his own name since it didn’t mean anything to anyone and he would be less likely to slip up with fewer lies to keep track of.
“And our wayward friend’s name is Matt,” Hux volunteered. For a hilarious second, he considered adding a radar technician just to have a bit of fun at Ren’s expense later but then he finished with a safer, “He’s our pilot. Well, I guess he was our pilot.”
“Why did they lock us up?” Will whined plaintively. “We haven’t done anything!”
“Well, this is their territory, and you’re kind of trespassing,” their neighbour drawled with audible sarcasm. But that playful lilt disappeared from her tone completely when she spoke next.
“I suppose you’ve already heard everything we talked about before so I’m going to cut this short. What were you doing pissing off the J-Sec, and why?”
“Looking for my family,” Will said forlornly. Hux was begrudgingly impressed. The clone was learning in leaps and bounds. When they found him, he couldn’t lie to save his life, and now it rolled off his tongue as easily as breathing. Figured, if he spent some time training with Ren. The former Supreme Leader had already shown that he was more than capable of holding his cards close to his chest.
“I don’t even remember them… I thought, now that the war is over, and we don’t have to be soldiers anymore, I could find them.”
Hux heard the sharp intake of breath and the pitying whisper kidnapped as children from the other side, the younger prisoner quick to sympathise. But the older one wasn’t so easily fooled.
“You just said you’re here with your brother.”
Hux cleared his throat. “We can only guess but we look so much alike that we think there’s a good chance we’d been taken from the same family.”
“I can hear that,” chuckled their neighbour. It was true - despite Hux’s carefully cultivated authoritarian accent devised to break no argument with his subordinates, it was no denying that both voices were created by identical vocal cords.
“And what were three former Stormtroopers doing so close to the Core?”
“We told you!” Will was playing up the indignation so well. “We couldn’t get much out of our files but the earliest logs were pointing to a concentration camp somewhere in a Jinata system, so here we are! What about you? You ask a lot of questions and we don’t even know your name!”
“Sorry.” Her voice came friendlier now, an obvious peace offering. “Name’s Zay. As you heard, I’m with the Resistance. I got a task from general Finn to find details about Project Resurrection - the operation that took you from your family, and made you into soldiers.”
Hux’s face soured at the mention of ‘general Finn’. His bloody left leg twitched as if it remembered the phantom pain from a wound long ago erased by bacta.
“Then you can help us!” Will said excitedly.
“Well, I’d love to-” Zay huffed sarcastically but then her voice was interrupted by another sound.
Blip blip blip, and beep - from the door.
Hux hadn’t heard anyone coming down to the cells. So that stomping, hulking beast of a Ren could move on silent feet when he wanted to.
The door slid open and Ren’s face, streaked with something blue, peeked through. His hands were free and he was holding something. It was green, scaly, and dripping blood on the floor.
“Matt! Me and Ash were getting worried!” Will exclaimed, the joy in his voice genuine this time. Hux mentally congratulated him on his quick thinking.
Ren caught up fast. “Right. Sorry about the delay. Aqualish are terribly stubborn. Luckily there was a Rodian. I convinced him to lend me a hand.”
Ren pressed a digit off the severed hand on the fingerprint-coded lock on Hux’s handcuffs and they snapped open, clattering against the floor.
As soon as Hux’s hands were free, he buried them in Ren’s short hair and smashed their mouths together.
Their second kiss was much, much better than the first, Hux decided. The way Ren melted against him was simply addictive. Hux came up for breath with a taste of copper on his tongue. The cut on Ren’s swollen lip, busted during the earlier interrogation, had reopened and pearled with fresh blood. Ren blinked at him, dazed, and then a grin broke across his face, lighting it up.
“You’re welcome,” he quipped.
“Fuck you, Matt, ” Hux rolled his eyes and shoved him away but couldn’t find it in himself to stay mad.
“Um,” Will cleared his throat.
“Right!” the girl in the next cell yelled. “Glad your plan worked, could you let us out now?”
Ren looked at Hux questioningly. The Resistance complicated things… but these women had a connection to Bazine Netal. If they stayed here, the Resistance would eventually extract them. They would reunite with Netal and put two and two together.
Plus, Zay mentioned the Project Resurrection. If they wanted to get to the bottom of this, she could be useful. Hux nodded.
Ren unlocked Will’s handcuffs, rubbing his shoulders briefly to renew the circulation and then he went to release their neighbours.
The younger one turned out to be a Mirialan, with a geometric tattoo scattered across the bright green skin of her face. After her, a young Human woman stumbled out, the Resistance pilot leather jacket a bit too loose on her, short brown hair framing her sharp cheekbones and wary eyes. Her gaze stopped on Will.
“You don’t look much like a Stormtrooper.”
Will hunched on himself. “You don’t need much muscle as the deputy quartermaster. And I passed my physicals.”
“We need to move,” Ren cut them short. “The protectorate’s transport will be here in ten minutes, and he’s bringing reinforcements.”
“Docking at the bay in two minutes. He got lucky - was in the planet’s radio shadow when the J-Sec ship arrived.”
Hux smirked. “So you haven’t fried the tracker as well?”
Ren briefly touched his neck, smearing Rodian blood across the pink skin where the collar used to sit.
“No, that one’s still on. So I guess you still don’t need to trust me. But I’m glad you do.”
They ran, following Ren through the bowels of the prison facility towards the dock bay. The corridors were suspiciously deserted. The lack of attempts to stop them explained itself when Hux literally stumbled over a body stuffed in the signature red and blue uniform of the Jinata Security, with a large ring of shiny breast and neck armour, and no head. More bodies littered the corridor leading to the bay.
“Did you kill all of them?”
Hux almost regretted that he was locked up in the cell during such a massacre and couldn’t witness it. Feral Kylo Ren tearing through the rows of enemies in battle was always a sight to behold, even back when he despised the man.
Ren shrugged, almost sheepish. “Found an especially susceptible Human among them with a lot of repressed hatred towards his coworkers. I took care of the rest.”
Zay shot them a look from where she crouched down to briefly examine the body, brows drawn together in concern, but then she got up and followed them to the hangar.
Their ship awaited them already, slightly off-centre the landing and with the hatch descended. The Mirialan's face fell when she took in the bay and saw that apart from the freighter, it was completely empty.
“I was hoping they brought the Avadora ,” she complained as Hux shoved her aboard. “We have to go back to Pillio...”
“Nobody’s going back to Pillio,” Zay beat Hux to the refusal. “The place will still be watched.”
Ren had slunk to the cockpit and made quick work of the launching sequence. They needed to get out of here before the reinforcements from Vardos would find a way to keep them.
D-D did a double-take when he spotted the distinct lack of collar around Ren’s neck. Hux returned his inquisitive beep with a reassuring nod. Their new guests collapsed on the bench seat in the common room and resumed their arguing.
“She’ll be fine.”
“She’s stranded! And may I remind you she offered you her help-”
“She’s a merc,” Zay huffed impatiently. “Her service was going to cost us dearly. I doubt that general Dameron would have agreed with the Republic pardoning all her previous liaisons with the First Order, but she had intel on the Project Resurrection, and general Finn insisted.”
“Oh.” The Mirialan - Maize, if Hux remembered Bazine’s message correctly - deflated. “I didn’t know she worked for them.”
Zay rolled her eyes. “Her morals only go as far as you can stretch your credits. You’ve got to stop falling for every beautiful woman who tells you you’re cute.”
“ Tooska chai mani, ” the girls muttered in Huttese. It sounded vaguely like a swear word. His guess turned out right when D-D’s eye glinted in mischief and he provided a translation, in his best protocol droid impression. Hux snorted. The girl certainly knew how to swear, even though he doubted she really wanted her companion’s mother to get fucked by a Tusken Raider.
Maize was now eyeing D-D with unabashed curiosity. “You remind me of my friend’s friend,” she said. “He used a med droid casing too.”
She went on telling them how she and her friend travelled the Galaxy on a stolen First Order yacht before answering the Resistance call for help and joining the Civilian fleet at Exegol. Hux wasn’t listening to their chatter anymore. So the spy Netal found a way to clear her record with the Resistance. She must have been delighted when fate served her the head of the very figurehead of the whole Project Resurrection on a silver platter back then in that cantina on Lysatra. And double so furious when Hux slipped from her grasp, twice.
“... and where’s your friend now?”
“Ajan Kloss,” Maize sighed. “He answered the call of that Jedi who calls herself Skywalker, so I guess he’s training to be a proper Jedi now.” She didn’t sound resentful, just a little bit envious. Also a bit wistful. She must have missed her friend.
Hux saw the tiny twitch of Ren’s shoulders in the pilot’s seat when the scavenger’s new name was mentioned. Even with his back to them, he was listening. Hux’s eyes flitted back to meet the searching gaze of the Resistance pilot. She was far too suspicious for his liking.
“What were you doing on Pillio?” he asked, scrambling for diversion.
“I found a list of locations that seemed to have a connection,” Zay said. Hux had to admire her way of talking - she didn’t actually say anything that would answer his question. She was also quick to deflect by asking more questions herself.
“Will, you said you came from a concentration camp in the Jinata system. Any idea where it was?”
Hux took the word again. Will might have been quick to improvise but he didn’t know actual facts.
“On Vardos, though I can’t be sure. I vaguely remember the cloudy sky and that it rained all the fucking time.”
He wasn’t even lying. Vardos had been the target of the same planet-scale attack as Arkanis was, at the end of the war. The locals spent years rebuilding the cities washed down by the furious storms. The Jinata Security operated from there. Hux had visited personally in the early years of the program, overseeing the zeal and effectiveness of their allies. Except come to think of it, their results did not tally up to the efforts they claimed. That was one of the reasons the First Order eventually ran out of patience and took over the planet.
What if the J-Sec hadn’t been merely a bunch of lazy scumbags? What if they were cheating scumbags, too? What if their efforts had been diverted, what if they had been keeping up a side project that even Hux was unaware of?
“And what other locations are on your list?” Will asked, his chin resting on his folded arms. For someone with implants for eyes, he was doing a remarkable job of looking starry-eyed. “There could be some clues to finding our family!”
“I’m going to have a word with your pilot,” Zay said thoughtfully. “Maybe we can look at one more together before you drop us off on the nearest New Republic outpost.”
With that, she stood up and went into the cockpit.
Hux was the only one to notice her thumb brushing over the small bulge in her pocket as she walked. He suddenly recalled her stopping by the dead J-Sec soldier. The prison guards carried sturdy blaster guns… but anything else could’ve been hidden in their armour.
The door between the cockpit and the passengers seating area slid shut. Well. Nobody could simply pull a gun on Ren and hope to catch him unaware - Hux tried that and failed even though Ren was bloody unconscious. Hux smirked to himself. The Resistance girl was going to learn a lesson.
Kylo gave a purposefully absent nod to her as she slid into the copilot’s seat and kept his eyes fixed on the kaleidoscope of starlight along their hyperspace route. He could sense her intent, her hand itching where it rested inconspicuously over the hidden weapon. He also sensed her doubt. Her mind was bursting with questions, suspicions just one step away from certainty, and her thoughts kept flitting against the cage of her cautious reserve like frantic hummingbirds.
He knew her. He never met her in person but he recognised her face the moment she stumbled out of that cell and their eyes met. He’d seen those eyes before.
The old Rebel he’d tracked down and caught on Pillio. He had thoroughly ransacked the man’s mind in his search for the map to Skywalker before he left him in the hands of the First Order. The captain of his assigned support ship - the Retribution - was some old Imperial who nearly fell over himself with zeal and desire to please when he learned who they were hunting. Kylo suspected he had a personal debt to settle but he didn’t give it much thought. Once he got what he wanted, he didn’t care about the Rebel anymore.
But he remembered the man’s name, and he remembered his surprise at how long he resisted the cruel mental torture. How long did he manage to focus on protecting the one thing he loved the most: his daughter. His name was Del Meeko, and his daughter’s name was Zay.
“Why aren’t you on Ajan Kloss?” Zay broke the silence. “You have the Force. You used it to get us out.”
“I didn’t get any call,” Kylo shrugged. It was true. If Rey called out during the time the Force dampening collar was still mostly functioning, he wouldn’t have sensed it.
“Rey Skywalker is rebuilding the Jedi order,” Zay said. Kylo could feel her watchful gaze on himself, gauging his reaction. The name did hurt - but it surprised him how little. At the end of the day, it was just a name. He had left that obsession at the bottom of the abyss on Exegol where Ben Solo drew his last breath. If Rey wanted to fuck up her own life with that legacy, she was more than welcome.
“You know, we always thought that the First Order didn’t keep any Force users,” Zay tried a different approach. “Trained in mind tricks, compulsion, combat. Nobody except the Knights of Ren.”
“That’s true,” Kylo agreed. Snoke didn’t like any potential competition. Even the Knights were barely-tolerated outsiders, an indulgence during Snoke’s rule and barely more than an object of gossip under the latter Supreme Leader.
“But the Knights are all dead,” Zay pressed further. “We found their bodies on Exegol. Felled by a lightsaber, every single one.”
“Every last one, dead and gone,” Kylo confirmed. “Including their former Master.”
“But we never found his body,” Zay said.
Kylo shook his head. “Ben Solo is dead. Haven’t you heard?”
“Oh, I heard how he died a hero ,” her lips curled away from her teeth. “So tell me, is there any good reason I shouldn’t make his death official?”
She held a small hand blaster to his head. Her hand didn’t shake but he still could sense her hesitation. Her doubt. She knew Kylo Ren didn’t kill her father. But she also knew he might as well have done.
“Is revenge a good reason to kill?”
The barrel slipped against his temple and dug deeper into his skin. “There are plenty of people who’d call this justice.”
Kylo closed his eyes. Just two weeks ago, he would have taunted her to pull the trigger. Seething with anger at his involuntary resurrection, he would have opted for the easy way out. But now… he found that there was still more to life. Behind a door, just a few paces away from him, was Hux. He barely got to kiss him. Something he never even imagined himself wanting… and now he clung to it, greedy and desperate.
But just like with Hux, he couldn’t shake off the feeling that this woman was important. The Force had crossed their paths, and Kylo needed her on their side. That’s why he didn’t fight her. Whether he lived or not was now the will of the Force.
“My life was for nothing,” he finally said. “But I’ve got a second chance. I want to do better.” He took a deep breath. “I want to be better. The choice is yours.”
The pressure against his temple disappeared. Neither of them moved, save for Zay dropping the gun, but the tension in the cockpit broke so suddenly that Kylo’s eyes swam for a moment.
“That’s what he always said,” Zay said bitterly, her voice breaking. “My father. He used to fight for the Empire, loyal but doubting. Then Skywalker saved his life, and this is what he said to him. That we all have the choice to be better.”
Kylo hadn’t known. Somewhere within the Force, Luke was surely laughing at him now.
“How dare you have her eyes,” she muttered. “Hers were always so full of hope… and yours are so sad. It’s not fair.”
He almost asked how well she knew Leia. But the words sent such a pang of ache to his heart that his throat clamped against them, and by the time he could breathe again, the moment was gone.
Zay pocketed her blaster and pressed the heels of her palms against the corners of her eyes. They came away dry, and when she next spoke, her level, decisive tone was back.
“So what are you doing out here with a pair of obviously-not-Stormtroopers?”
An early update this week. Enjoy!
“So what are you doing out here with a pair of obviously-not-Stormtroopers?”
Kylo appraised her for a moment. She looked like she could handle the truth.
“The same as you. We have discovered that the Project Resurrection may have been connected to Palpatine’s Contingency plan. We want to make sure he’s well and truly gone, and that there’s no contingency whatsoever.”
Zay eyed him with distrust. “But what’s in it for you? Or for them? Who are they? Will - if that’s his name - looks like a strand-cast. Except…”
“Except strand-casts are beautiful, fit, and the picture of physical health?” Kylo supplied the end of her thought. It was a common misconception - most strand-casts, or engineered humans, were made for the service and entertainment industry. She rolled her eyes but did have the decency to look a little ashamed.
“Looks weren’t important in his case,” Kylo explained. “He’s not lying when he talks about wanting to find his family. We found him, abandoned as a failed experiment, in Palpatine’s secret cloning lab on Arkanis.”
“Arkanis...” Zay muttered and then suddenly brought his fist down on the armrest of her chair. “So it’s you! Bazine’s out-of-jail ticket!”
Kylo was amused. “She didn’t name us?”
“She only promised us someone very high up in the stormtrooper training program...”
She trailed off, and Kylo could almost see the dots connecting in her head. He knew she got it when her face drained of colour, and then immediately flushed red with anger.
“I knew his face reminded me of someone,” she bit out and ran out of the cockpit.
Hux had just finished wiping the dirt off his face and spraying bacta on his cheek where the heavy glove of the J-Sec guard cut the skin when Zay barrelled into the common area, shaking with fury.
“You’re general Starkiller!”
Hux raised an unimpressed eyebrow. “And the spy for the Resistance, at your service.”
Zay struggled to speak for a moment, mouth opening and closing mutely, before she spat: “You! We thought you had been executed!”
“I was,” Hux pointed at his chest, fingers snapping in the approximation of a trigger pulled. “Hurt like hell.”
“Poe actually felt guilty about it!” Zay yelled.
“Did he now?” Hux smirked. “Well. When you see him, tell him I have a message for him. About his mother.”
Her face hardened as her resolve finally snapped. She drew her arm back for a punch - and found she couldn’t move. Kylo emerged out of the cockpit, half-closed hand raised, holding her wrist in an invisible grip.
“Stop it, both of you. We have a common goal.”
“Oh for kriff’s sake,” Zay swore. She took a deep breath, head hanging low, before glaring back at Kylo. “Fine. I won’t attack.”
Kylo sat her on the bench first - she went a bit like a misaligned droid, graceless and undignified, but he only released her when she was sitting at a safe distance from Hux across the table. Maize looked on, utterly speechless.
“So we are... friends turned enemies turned friends again? Have I missed something?”
Will smiled at her. “I apologise for my brother. He has an unique talent for antagonising people.”
Kylo decided it was time to lay the plan out in the open.
“Palpatine was using a secret branch of the project resurrection to engineer Force-sensitives. We think the project is somehow still running. We want to save as many as we can-” he looked at Will, “-and burn the rest.”
“We went to look at the observatory on Pillio hoping we would find more about the Contingency plan,” Hux continued. “But it was just a vault. We didn’t find anything.”
“But we did,” Kylo insisted. He looked at Maize and Zay. “Because you know where to look next, don’t you?”
After a moment of stewing in silence, Zay begrudgingly nodded. “The Emperor’s observatory on Jakku.”
By an unspoken mutual agreement, it was decided that it’s been a long day, and everyone deserved rest. For the night cycle, their ship flew through normal space, looking to an outside observer just like any other cargo freighter on a long haul.
They ate together. Zay eventually started talking again in more than monosyllabic grunts, mostly with Maize, but also with Will and D-D. After dinner she wrapped a blanket around herself and dozed off on the padded bench in the common area. Maize struck a fast friendship with D-D and the two holed themselves up in the cockpit. She was curious about piloting a ship this size and D-D indulged her by running a flight simulation program for her. Will went to sleep.
Hux wasn’t tired but ended up retiring into his own cabin regardless. He wasn’t really surprised when he found Ren in it. What surprised him were the pieces of the broken Force-dampening collar laid out on the bare mattress in front of his crossed legs. Ren was piecing the wiring together using tweezers and a micro-welding tool, ridiculously delicate in his massive hands.
Ren didn’t look up when Hux walked in, brows furrowed as he concentrated on separating the fused wires. As Hux watched, he replaced the snapped joint and soldered the cracks. Then he put it down and stretched his back.
“I’ll need D-D and his surgical tools to help me with this, the wiring is too fine for me.”
Hux couldn’t imagine why Ren would want to repair the collar after bearing countless electric shocks trying to get out of it. He couldn’t possibly want to wear it just to make Hux feel at ease… right?
“Already missing the peace and quiet?”
Ren chuckled soundlessly, just a breath of a laugh. “I missed so much more.” He powered off the tools, waiting for the hot tips to cool down before he placed them back into a box. “You wouldn’t understand.”
As if Hux didn’t know how it felt to be stripped of power. “Try me.”
Tired dark eyes followed him warily as he sat down on the bunk bed, sweeping the half-repaired collar to the side. Ren had washed the blood and grime off his skin, bacta sprayed the worst of the cuts away. But no matter how well his face healed, his eyes were always the most painful thing about him, like a gaping wound straight into his soul. Hux had seen Ren smirking, laughing, joking - but deep in his eyes, he could never ignore the impression of strange melancholy. Hux sometimes missed the mask.
“It’s not just about power.” Ren must have picked on the surface thoughts in Hux’s head. “It’s like missing a limb and a sense. It’s not just agency. It’s a feeling . Sensation…”
It sounded like a lot of made-up nerfshit to Hux but, what did he know? From how thoroughly unhappy Ren sounded talking about it, maybe Hux was better off being born without it.
He put his hands on the mattress between them, leaning his weight on them, shifting forward to get closer into Ren’s space.
“Can you sense what I feel?”
That tiny lopsided smirk appeared once more. “You want me,” Ren stated, a little cocky. He put his hands next to Hux’s, fingertips brushing. “You’re also afraid.”
Damn him. Definitely able to see past the body language, then.
“You’ve changed,” Hux admitted. “I used to know what to expect from you, even if it was just violence. It was miserable but… predictable. Safe. Now you’ve changed and I… I don’t know you anymore.”
Ren wasn’t looking away, barely blinking. “Then learn me,” he breathed.
Ren’s fingertips still barely touched his, tantalising, but not trying anything else. Offering, reminding him that touch was an option, but nothing more. Just waiting, waiting with the patience of a black hole, confident that eventually Hux would come to him, drawn by an inescapable pull. And he did, didn’t he? It was impossible to stay away from Ren even when he hated him, how could he now when he… didn't?
Hux crawled into Ren’s lap, straddled his thighs, cradled his odd, mesmerising face in both hands, and kissed him.
A part of him was afraid that Ren would just let himself be kissed - Hux liked him like this, patient and tentative, but a complete passivity would be off-putting. Fortunately Ren’s sweetness had its limits after all - Ren kissed back like a man starving, hungry for every bit of taste, every gasp and every cut-off moan. His hands slid under Hux’s shirt and up his back, fingers dancing along the knobs of his spine. There he was - the demanding, eager man he used to be, knowing what he wanted and unafraid to take it.
But it was Hux’s turn now.
“Off,” he demanded, yanking at Ren’s tunic. Ren obliged, pulling it over his head, and Hux drank him in. His short hair, ruffled and messed up by Hux’s fingers running through them, his long neck, dotted with moles, the flush spreading down to the dip between his collarbones. He had seen Ren’s bare torso before, fantasised about it even, but this was different. This Ren was real and willing, taut with anticipation and thrumming like a live wire… and Hux wanted to learn everything. What would make his breath catch, what would make him moan, what would make him beg - everything.
The sounds Ren made when Hux’s teeth closed on the flesh of his shoulder and bit down hard enough to feel the shudder running through him were headier than alcohol. His body was downright criminal - Hux leaned back, ignoring Ren’s whine, and splayed his palms across Ren’s chest, marvelling at the way he couldn’t span the entire width of it. His little finger accidentally brushed a nipple - he watched with fascination as it hardened, Ren’s head tipping back, eyes squeezed shut. He brushed his thumb over the little nub, pinched the other and rolled them between his fingers, and he couldn’t hold back his grin when he saw the muscles in Ren’s abdomen jump and twist, his body torn between flinching away from the sensation and pushing into it.
He didn’t even notice when their hips started moving, a slow but insistent roll that was maybe clumsy but felt natural like breathing. Ren’s hips were rutting up and meeting his, each tease of pressure blindingly delicious and maddeningly not enough, and Hux could feel the throbbing heat of Ren’s cock even through the two layers of clothing between them.
Oh. Hux hadn’t even thought about that yet. But, in for a credit…
He slid off Ren’s lap and knelt on the floor by the bed, Ren’s hands only reluctantly letting him go when he realised what was happening. Ren stared down at him with wide eyes, bottom lip caught between his teeth. Hux grinned again, parted Ren’s knees, shuffled between them and licked his lips. He slid his palms up the inside of Ren’s thighs until his fingers framed his crotch, just shy of touching where Ren clearly needed him most.
“Hux-” and that wasn’t begging but damn well sounded like it, and Hux decided he’d take it.
He flicked open the buttons and tugged the soft fabric down just enough to free Ren’s cock. He’d seen it before, back when he readied Ren for the bacta tank, but this was different. Hard and straining, flushed an almost painful shade of red, and Hux’s cock throbbed in sympathy in the confines of his pants.
He wrapped his fingers around the base, squeezing experimentally. Here he was at least on somewhat familiar territory - it didn’t feel much different from touching himself, just the angle was strange. Ren’s hands were gripping the mattress with a white-knuckled force and Hux hoped they’d stay that way - he didn’t want them anywhere close to his hair. Ren smelled clean from the shower, a little salty with fresh sweat and precome, and it wasn’t as off-putting as Hux thought it’d be. He stuck out his tongue to have a little taste.
The sound Ren made was damn near inhuman. Hux felt giddy. With arousal, yes - he was so hard it hurt - but even more with this power. Ren was completely unravelled already and Hux had done it and it felt so fucking good. He wrapped his lips around the head of Ren’s cock and pressed the flat of his tongue against the underside-
-and for the next thing, Ren was pulling him up by the collar of his shirt and mashing their mouths together, groaning into the mess of a kiss as he closed his hand over his cock and spent himself in just three frantic strokes.
Ren flopped back, chest heaving and whole body shaking, and Hux looked down. Come was dribbling out between Ren’s fingers. A lot of it. It had to be a while. Hux felt kind of grateful Ren had enough presence of mind to not hit him in the face with that.
Just out of curiosity, he scooped a little of that milky opaque liquid with his finger and licked it off. Not that bad.
Above him, Ren groaned again.
“Kriff, Hux, you’ll be the death of me.”
“Been there, almost done that,” Hux quipped cheekily. Now that he caught his breath, the situation in his own pants was screaming for some relief. He climbed up on the bed, straddled Ren’s lap again, thrust his groin in Ren’s face and grinned. “Your turn now.”
Ren didn’t need to be told twice.
Behind the thin metal wall separating the two sleep cabins, Will could hear every word and every careless moan. But he ignored it. His attention was commanded entirely by the strange object he’d found in that abandoned bunker on Pillio.
He didn’t know what it was or why he picked it up. He was only aware that it seemed to call out to him as soon as his hand passed over it. He knew even less why it suddenly felt so wrong to tell anyone about it.
It was just a relic, one of many. No big deal.
The J-Sec thugs didn’t find it when they caught them and turned their pockets inside out. Will just looked at the one about to stick his grabby paw into his pocket and told him, ferociously angry and yet strangely calm, stay the fuck out of my pockets. And the man did, finishing the job of tying him up with a glassy look in his eyes but didn’t touch his pockets anymore. Just like that.
Kylo and Hux were too busy getting their teeth kicked in to notice.
In the semi-darkness of his makeshift blanket fort, the strange pyramid-shaped object with intricate carvings on its sides seemed to glow. It still felt as if calling to him. So he tried to answer.
It floated above his palm. As he watched, the carvings moved. The sharp tips blossomed like a clockwork flower, the glow from within intensifying. He didn’t even need his eyes. The object was even more beautiful when seen with just his Sight.
WHO ARE YOU, CHILD?
The voice sounded inside his head. A multitude of voices, compelling him to answer. “I’m Will.”
WHAT DO YOU SEEK, WILL?
Did he seek anything? Oh yes. He had so many questions. “What do you offer?”
I OFFER KNOWLEDGE. Suddenly, the voice sharpened. It rang dangerous now, but somehow all the more alluring. I OFFER POWER. WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE POWER?
Should he tell others? A voice almost like his own, but not quite, soothed him. Don’t tell the others. They wouldn’t understand .
“Kylo says I already have power,” Will decided. But there was no harm in knowledge. Ash always said that knowledge was important.
“I’d like to know more about what I can do with it.”
Hux woke up to the sensation of something gently running through his hair. The touch was so light he suspected it wasn’t meant to wake him. It disappeared the moment he took a deeper breath and he tilted his head to chase it, cracking his eyes open.
He lay on his side in the bunk he fell asleep in a couple of hours ago, shortly after he released days and possibly years worth of misinterpreted sexual tension down Ren’s throat. The owner of said throat was no longer on the second bunk where Hux evicted him shortly after his afterglow passed. Instead he was sat on the floor by Hux’s head, a slightly guilty look in his eyes, hand caught in the act of caressing Hux’s hair.
Intimacy. Hux sighed internally. He supposed he had it coming. It was impossible to become involved with Kylo Ren and get anything less than the whole package.
At least Hux’s wordless but still obvious nudge got him back to running his fingers through Hux’s hair because that actually felt amazing. Ren’s blunt nails scratched along Hux’s scalp and Hux fought the urge to just close his eyes and fall back asleep. If he was a lothcat, he’d be purring.
His mind, intent on keeping him in that fuzzy cocoon of bliss, brought up the memory of the first time he woke up to Ren’s hands in his hair. Back on Arkanis, when he fainted under the combined weight of shock at meeting his own damn clone and of his bionic heart skipping its metaphorical beats.
“You’re obsessed with my hair,” he said. Not a reproach, just an indulgent observation. His voice was still scratchy with sleep, lacking its usual judgemental undertone.
“I’m still getting used to the brown,” Ren said, perhaps unconsciously matching the softness of his voice to Hux’s. As if there was a bubble around them to keep all the words and feelings inside, in this small private moment of quiet and reprieve, protected from the harsh and jagged world outside.
But the outside world was the real one, unfortunately, and they had to return to it sooner or later.
Ren twirled and wrapped one of the longer strands around his finger. It tugged when he played with them like that but Hux found that it didn’t hurt. Quite the opposite. The bone-heavy laziness blanketing his mind gradually gave way to a slowly but surely rising heat in his groin. It would seem that certain parts of his body woke up faster than his head.
He supposed they could burst that bubble a little later…
Ren’s fingers abandoned his hair in favour of tracing the edge of his cheekbone and then his jaw. The fingertip, roughened by years of handling a spark-spitting weapon, rasped against the slight stubble that grew there overnight.
“This one’s still red.”
“You sound pleased about it.”
Ren kept touching his face, his lips, feather-light, as if he was seeing it for the first time. As if he was listening to his own words from yesterday: learn me .
“The First Order was black, white, and grey.”
“And red,” Hux added, a little sharper than intended. He still remembered the long red banners flying on the Starkiller base the day they first fired it, their colour matching the deadly flare. The greatest accomplishment of his life. The last day before it all fell apart.
Well, if that day was the first day of his downfall, he was still proud of the fanfare.
“Blood-red,” Ren corrected him. “But yours was golden red, fiery red.” He seemed almost ashamed by the admission. “The sight of you was… something to look forward to.”
So you demoted me but kept me around as a break for your eyes, Hux almost said, always ready to fall back on poking his favourite sore spot. But then he realised what Ren was actually saying. Stars, this was his way of talking about feelings.
The budding arousal waned as quickly as it appeared, leaving behind a cold and unsatisfied itch. Hux scrunched his nose and lifted his head, supporting his weight on one elbow and facing Ren so he could see him eye to eye, properly.
“You didn’t...” Hux searched for the word. Admire? Desire? “....want me like this, back then.”
One side of Ren’s mouth curled up. “No, I didn’t,” he agreed. “I overlooked you. Dismissed you.” His hand returned to Hux’s hair, smoothing it away from his forehead. “I enjoyed your colour, I was amused by your schemes, your presence was one of the few constants of my life… but I never took the time to really see you.”
Hux wasn’t sure if he particularly wanted to be seen like that. Ren didn’t do anything by halves. What if he looked long enough, deep enough to realise there wasn’t much to look at after all?
“And now you’re doing it again,” Ren chuckled, his small smile turning wry. “Shielding your mind from me.”
Hux lifted one shoulder in an unapologetic shrug. “Force of habit. Evens out the playing field a bit.”
Ren nodded, brows drawing together in thought. “I wish you could. Sense what I feel.”
“So you didn’t have to put it to words?” Hux asked, amused. He put his free hand against Ren’s chest, fingers splayed. He could feel the quickening heartbeat beneath the thin material of Ren’s undershirt.
“I never had to,” he told Ren. “I think that’s why you wore that mask. You have no filter. For example, right now, you’re scared.”
“Terrified,” Ren corrected him quietly, not disagreeing. “How did you know?”
Hux thought back on the night before. How Ren would wait to be kissed before kissing back. How he would touch him, hungry but still careful, never grabbing, never pushing. How he would caress his back, his side, card his fingers through Hux’s hair, but never once come even close to his neck.
“We’re more on the same page than you think,” he told him. “I don’t want to fuck this up, too.”
He caught Ren’s hand, turned it and planted a soft, lingering kiss in the middle of his palm. It was worth the stunned look in Ren’s eyes. Then he flopped on his belly and felt under the pillow for his datapad. It was still odd to switch it on and not have it immediately flooded by a barrage of notifications but he was getting better at getting over it. Now, all he wanted was to check the chrono.
“We should be over Jakku in about an hour.”
Ren nodded, bracing one hand against the bunk to heave himself up - when suddenly he froze, cocking his head as if he heard something he couldn’t momentarily explain. His eyes unfocused and stared at nothing, and the metallic edge of the bunk creaked where he was holding on to it, his knuckles turning white.
Hux waved a hand in front of his unseeing eyes. “What’s wrong?”
Ren blinked and shook his head, looking momentarily like a dog tossed into a bath. He even sniffed and kept turning his head as if listening for something.
“Something - I don’t know,” he said, finally rising to his full height. Hux ruefully glanced at the cracked and deformed bed frame and then back at Ren. The man had pressed the balls of his hands against his temples and squeezed his eyes shut again, jaw working as if he was chewing over silent words.
“We’re not where we’re supposed to be,” he said at last.
He sounded utterly earnest, and Hux already threw away the blanket and was pulling on his boots. He didn’t trust the Force but that didn’t mean he shouldn’t take its warnings seriously. But still, he couldn’t resist a little dig.
“You’re telling me the Force has grown a nav computer in your head?”
“Yes, right after it grew a sense of humour in yours,” Ren deadpanned back and tossed Hux his belt and jacket. “It’s just a general sense of direction,” he continued, more gently. “Every living being has a presence in the Force, and the more of them, the easier is to sense it. The density of the population in the Galaxy decreases outwards so… you’re always able to sense the direction to the Core.”
They quickly passed through the common area, both their guests waking up at the noise of Ren’s heavy footsteps. Maize blinked blearily at them from her blanket cocoon on the bench opposite of Zay’s and muttered: “Herd of nerfs...”
“What’s up?” Zay said over her, gone from sleep to alertness under a second and one hand snuck into her jacket where Hux could bet she was hiding a blaster.
“Ren thinks we’ve got lost,” Hux informed them gleefully and followed him into the cockpit.
Ren ignored the exchange altogether, already in the pilot’s seat, pulling up the star maps and feeding them the sensor data.
Their past route lit up, projected as a curved line between the pale blue orbs of nearby star systems and Hux frowned at the sharp turn it took…. he did a quick calculation in his head. Four hours ago.
While they were all asleep. Scratch that. While they were all supposed to be asleep.
He checked the sensor data from the time frame of the route change but didn’t find any uncharted dark mass, a lone comet or any other natural source of the disturbance. He was so focused on the flight logs that he barely noticed D-D rolling into the cockpit behind them, and it took him a moment to register what his tinny voice was actually saying.
“It certainly looks like a desert planet,” D-D observed. Hux glanced at him in surprise and then he followed the direction in which the droid’s red eyes were staring - out of the viewport on their right.
It was a desert planet all right. But instead of two moons reflecting the light of a single sun of the Jakku system, this planet was orbited by three moons and beaten by the merciless glare of two suns.
The star chart with their position also wasn’t showing the fairly populated Western Reaches of the Inner Rim… but a rather remote nook at the edge of the Hutt space in the Outer Rim.
Hux turned back to his companions and drew a sharp breath when he saw the look on Ren’s face. The man stared down on the planet, pale and unblinking as if he’d seen a ghost.
Hux moved to check the star system name on the map but Ren beat him to it.
“It’s Tatooine,” he said hoarsely. “We’ve arrived over Tatooine.”
“I didn’t do it. I didn’t touch anything!”
Maize stared back at Hux, indignant and just a little frightened. It was this hint of instinctual guiltiness that told Hux she was telling the truth. He knew liars - he has a lifetime of experience as one - and they were only ever self-righteous and unafraid if they knew they were actually guilty. Truly innocent people would blink nervously, their voice would tremble out of a fear of being accidentally blamed and not believed... which usually came across as an admission of guilt. Hux had seen inexperienced interrogators make this mistake over and over again.
“You were touching plenty when I saw you in there,” he reminded her anyway. Not that he particularly enjoyed grilling the girl, but she was useful - out of the corner of his eye, he was watching the reactions of others.
Zay Versio - tenseness around her jaw, narrowed eyes. Anger at the attack on her friend warring with her ingrained suspicious nature. A born fighter, always aware of her surroundings - she would strike before she would find herself backed into a corner.
Kylo Ren - a little dead-eyed, as he often looked when he was trying to school his face into neutrality and the result made him look a little like a wax mask of himself. He caught Hux’s glance and the corner of his mouth twitched up. Oh right. He could probably sense that Maize wasn’t lying, and he picked up on Hux’s intentions to watch and gauge the others.
Will - an open and uninhibited play of emotions showed so plainly that Hux was momentarily thrown off. It still felt weird to see his own face wearing an expression he wasn’t sure his own facial muscles knew how to make anymore. Pain, compassion, embarrassment, indecision, anxiety…
No, Hux wasn’t expecting that.
“But that was the flight simulation mode!” Maize defended herself, pointing at D-D. “He said I wasn’t actually piloting the ship!”
D-D beeped out a quick affirmative.
“But you learned how to do it,” Hux pressed on. “You could have stayed behind after D-D left to recharge and change the course.”
“But I didn’t!” She turned to Will, her voice taking on a pleading, desperate edge. “D-D shut the cockpit and I went to sleep, you saw me, I wanted to tell you good night but I was more tired than I thought and I was out like the light as soon as I lay down, tell them you saw me!”
“I...” Will hesitated.
“It’s all right,” Hux interrupted him. “I already know it was you.”
Silence fell over the room, the shock so numbing for a moment that they all could hear the steady hum of sublight engines beneath their feet, the rapid whirring of Will’s eye implants, and the tiny click-clicks of D-D’s arms transforming into the sentry droid mode.
“Echuta,” Maize spat under her breath before she slumped against Zay in relief, the Resistance fighter throwing an arm around her shoulders. Will stubbornly looked at his feet, back curled, long hair hanging forward and shoulders drawn up to his ears.
Hux made sure his voice carried as much kindness as he could muster. “Why?”
“I… really can’t explain.” Despite his entire posture radiating discomfort, Will’s voice rang surprisingly clear, and with an unmistakable edge of defiance.
“Not able to or don’t want to?”
“I had this feeling, alright?” Will almost shouted, looking around. His eyes whirred as he kept switching them off and back on, a nervous habit he used to fall on in moments of agitation. As if he couldn’t decide what to use, his natural Sight or the colourful, enhanced vision provided by his implants.
“Kylo told me it was just a feeling that led you to Arkanis, too!” he pointed an accusing finger at Ren. “And yesterday, I suddenly got this feeling, that we were flying wrong , that we should’ve been flying somewhere else, and I went to the cockpit and it was as if something was guiding my hand-”
Another pile of Force nerfshit. Hux pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Ren asked. He stole the words off the tip of Hux’s tongue.
“You seemed pretty busy,” Will retorted.
He sounded a little petty about it. And was that a hint of a blush on Ren’s face? Hux rolled his eyes but he was more concerned about the hint of grudge in Will’s tone. Did Will genuinely think that once Hux and Ren finally worked out their differences, they would… what? Toss him to the roadside, on Jakku?
“One more thing.” Ren had apparently got over his embarrassment. “You’ve put Maize to sleep so she wouldn’t disturb you.”
“ What?! ” the Mirialan exclaimed. “I knew I wasn’t that tired-”
“Where did you learn how to do it?” Ren continued, paying no attention to her.
“Well, from you, obviously,” Will stuck out his chin, arms folded over his chest.
“I don’t remember teaching you that,” Ren said quietly.
His eyes met Hux’s for a second, and Hux didn’t like the worry brewing in that deep, troubled gaze. Could Will learn now by simply pulling tricks out of Ren’s head? That didn’t sound safe. Ren had been through many years of rigorous training and still, his control was volatile at best, Will would be like an unguided missile-
“And why’s that?” Will suddenly exploded. “You’ve promised to be my teacher!”
And the slight, perhaps unconscious emphasis Will put on the word my told Hux everything he needed to know.
Will was jealous like a child, contending for his parent’s attention.
It was difficult to remind oneself constantly that although Will had the body of an adult, mentally he was barely a teen. And that while Ash, the clone who raised him and whom Hux resembled so much, was technically his brother, Will actually saw him as a parent figure.
Hux had heard enough stories of children who would downright sabotage their parent’s relationship if they felt threatened. And with Ren being Will’s only guide to his Force abilities, it had to feel like a double betrayal.
“I’m sorry.” Will suddenly slumped down on the bench, hiding his face in his hands. He sounded miserable. “I don’t know what came over me.”
Hux understood. The Grand Admiral Rae Sloane’s presence in his wretched life was only a short one, but if she had taken a lover back then, barely-five-year-old Hux would have surely poisoned them.
Huxes didn’t share.
He cleared his throat, interrupting the tense silence in the common area, and jumped to his feet. Time for everyone to stop wallowing in their respective miseries and make the best out of whatever mess they’ve found themselves this time.
“Whatever came over you, it brought us to Tatooine,” he said briskly. “And we need refueling anyway. I trust this sandhole has a spaceport?”
Ren nodded. “Mos Eisley is the closest now.”
They left D-D in charge of refueling and spent some of their dwindling stash of credits to hire two battered landspeeders. Hux and Will commanded one for themselves and Kylo, Zay and Maize piled up into the other, racing to catch up with Will who took off the spaceport like a bloodhound on the scent.
Kylo didn’t like it. Whatever Will was after, he didn’t seem to understand it himself. But Hux had taken him aside when the others were busy haggling and told him, quietly but with a tone that broke no argument:
“I need you on my side, not by my side. If he goes off the rails...”
Kylo knew what he meant. From the other vehicle, he would have the chance to react if something went wrong with the first.
But that didn’t mean he necessarily liked the plan. And he liked Tatooine even less.
He would’ve been hard-pressed to explain what exactly was it about this place that was making his skin crawl. He had visited this place before, of course. The first time, he was barely more than a toddler, and Han had taken him to some business negotiations he had going on down here. Leia had been livid when she found out. Little Ben knew nothing about Hutts and uncle Luke was just a bearded guy who showed up for birthdays, but he still remembered that he’d spent the entirety of the trip wailing so hard that he’d thrown up several times, refusing to leave the Millenium Falcon and essentially ruining whatever deal Han was hoping to strike here. He couldn’t explain why he was acting as if the very air of this planet was making him sick, and even if he did have the words, he already knew that his father wouldn’t have understood them anyway.
Years later, he had tagged along with Luke on one of his missions as his most prized pupil. The feeling of unease and foreboding came over him as soon as they entered the orbit, and his stomach rebelled at the mere idea of touching ground. He was lucky that he could blame the lingering effects of his recent bout of Hesken fever, an excuse that Luke readily accepted. He had spent two days on the orbit, waiting for Luke to finish whatever he was doing down there and eating sleeping meds like candy. They made his head stuffy but at least he didn’t have dreams.
He’d had enough horrible daytime visions as it was.
Another couple of years later, with a new name and a new master, the Force had shown him visions of his family’s past and Kylo thought he understood. Darth Vader had hated his place, the memory of it was drenched in so much pain and desolation over his failure to save the life of his mother that it surpassed generations, and his grandfather was always looking out for him.
Or so he thought. The Emperor claiming that he had been the voice of his grandfather inside his head all along had shaken quite a few of Kylo’s worldviews.
Besides, it didn’t make sense for Vader to avoid this planet so completely. The dark lord had, after all, willingly chosen Mustafar, the place of his greatest defeat, as his abode. The Sith drew their strength from pain and suffering. The Emperor was a cruel master, he wouldn’t hesitate to force Vader to relive the agony of losing his mother over and over again.
Did the Emperor know about Luke growing up on Tatooine all along, and was he planning on him taking the place of his father as a Sith apprentice one day?
Or was there something else at play, some other reason to keep Vader away from Tatooine? What would’ve he found if he ever came back?
Too many questions, and too little time to meditate on the answers. Kylo had to focus on driving the landspeeder along the beaten road, barely recognisable anymore due to lack of use. Wind erosion and dust from the desert were slowly erasing all settlements scattered over the Jundland Wastes, and the handful of old farmers still living there didn’t travel to towns anymore.
At least the unshakeable, nauseating feeling of impending doom was something he could control now. It even came useful - when he projected it outwards, it was enough to scare every Tusken Raider lying in ambush along the road and make them turn away from it, not even knowing why.
And if Zay and Maize looked a little green around the gills when they finally slowed down to a stop at the abandoned Lars homestead, he could always blame his breakneck driving.
Hux, on the other hand, didn’t seem to be suffering from anything amiss. Perhaps the years of practice in shielding his mind around Kylo Ren protected him enough. He stood tall and arrogant, surveying the half-buried ruins of the moisture farm with an air of poorly masked distaste.
“So this is where it all started?”
Kylo joined him, taking cautious steps on the rocky terrain. Fine dust carried by wind filled every hole and made the ground appear smoother than it was, a mistake one often realised only after they broke their ankle stumbling into one of the hidden traps.
“Not really. Luke grew up here. But the Skywalkers first lived in Mos Espa, much further north on the other side of the Wastes.”
“And that was your grandfather who allegedly had no father?”
So Hux remembered. Kylo supposed he would - it wasn’t that long ago when he mentioned it. Barely a few days. Except so much happened in those few days, it felt like a lifetime ago. They had travelled from Arkanis to Pillio, got captured by J-Sec, broke free, acquired two more reluctant crewmembers, and now found themselves on Tatooine. And let’s not forget that he kissed Hux, and later Hux kissed him, and… and now Hux wanted him on his side.
“I guess there might be something to his conviction that we’re meant to come here,” Hux said, nodding towards Will. “That story doesn’t sound right. What if it was just a convenient lie that the Emperor fed to Vader to prevent him from searching for the origins of the Skywalker bloodline?”
Above the horizon, the twin suns of Tatooine were slowly setting. The wind picked up, carrying the nightly chill of the desert. Kylo shivered. Somewhere around here, Shmi Skywalker-Lars lay buried, without a headstone and utterly forgotten by the Galaxy, just like when she was still alive.
“It was his mother who insisted on it,” he said. “When the Jedi found them, this was what got them interested. A child prodigy, apparently born of the Force itself...”
“Hm.” Hux appeared unconvinced. “You know, people will say a lot of things to hide the shame of rape.”
Kylo didn’t dispute it. He could sense the bitterness dripping from that seemingly carelessly uttered word, the source of Hux’s own shame, the bastard child of a kitchen servant who couldn’t afford to say no.
But he didn’t think that Shmi would lie to the Jedi knight who freed her son from slavery. If she said she didn’t know how she conceived, she was telling the truth. She didn’t know. She might have not remembered.
Kylo counted the dates in his head. Sheev Palpatine was not even a year over forty when Anakin Skywalker was born. He used to be a handsome and charming man… and already strong in many of the ways of the Force. There didn’t have to be any violence. Just a pleasant night in the slave quarters of Mos Espa… and a wave of a hand to erase every memory of it in the morning.
Together they watched Will roaming over the dunes stretching behind the farm, stumbling and changing direction at random as if he couldn’t decide where he wanted to go. He kept his right hand stretched out in front of him like a blind man walking without a cane - actually, Kylo was certain that his bionic eyes were switched off because he couldn’t see the reflection of the setting suns in them. Will’s erratic movements reminded him of a water-diviner he’d seen once, a man able to sense a wellspring hidden under the ground.
Suddenly Will stumbled to a halt, fell to his knees, and began to dig.
He worked frantically, sand flying everywhere. It was impressive how deep a hole he dug out in the shifting sands by the time the others ran up to him, gathering in a hesitant semicircle around the furiously working clone. Will kept digging with a single-minded determination that would be laughable if it wasn't so frightening - especially when Kylo noticed his broken nails, the blood on his knuckles, and how he ignored both that and all their questions.
Finally Will stopped, sweat-matted hair hanging over his face as he bowed forward, catching his breath. The hollow he dug out was only about half his arm length deep, the sand from the edges already crumbling to fill it back up - but as they watched, the middle of it collapsed before their eyes, sand disappearing beneath as if a sinkhole opened further down, deeper underground. Kylo took an involuntary step back.
Will extended his hand again, fingers grasping at empty air. Something was being pulled from the depths, the sand sinking to fill out its space. For an agonizingly still second, all they could hear was the hissing sound of shifting sand - and then a bundle of a reddish cloth wrapped with leather cord jumped into Will’s hand.
The last rays of the setting suns glinted off the surprisingly clean and polished metallic surface of two lightsabers. The wrapping cloth has protected them well, and they didn’t seem malformed from the pressure of the sand they’ve been buried in.
Hux half-expected Ren to just sweep them into his arms and guard them like a krayt-dragon would guard a fresh kill, with all the fuss he had made about one of them in the past. He still remembered the feverish, barely-conscious raving of the injured man he’d recovered from the crumbling Starkiller, the pained screams and incoherent mutterings about “her” and “my grandfather’s lightsaber.”
But Ren surprised him once again. He did reach out - but he jerked his hand back just as quickly and scrambled away, falling back from kneeling to sitting with his arms wrapped around his knees and eyes squeezed shut.
Hux touched his shoulder. Are you okay? was the first that sprang to his tongue but he pushed it back down. Obviously, Ren wasn’t okay. Instead, he settled on: “What is it?”
Some of the tension seeped out from Ren’s posture, and he leaned into the pressure of Hux’s hand. His face tried to muster a reassuring smile but it was a brittle, fleeting thing, leaving behind an expression full of apprehension.
“Ever felt that it was a really bad idea to do something?”
Hux shrugged. “I knew it was a bad idea to bring you back to life, and I did it anyway,” he joked. He knew Ren probably needed more than a cheap joke but he’d be damned if he knew what. This whole… understanding someone else was hard. He hoped that by offering his usual sarcasm, it would give Ren at least some sense of normalcy to latch on and bring him out of whatever headspace he got into.
It seemed to have worked. Ren snorted and got back to his feet, pulling Hux up with him. His hand was a pleasant source of warmth in the rapidly cooling desert air around them, and Hux didn’t particularly want to let it go.
“But this is more than just a premonition, isn’t it,” he asked quietly. “You’ve been out of your element ever since we came here.”
Ren nodded grimly. “Whatever has called Will here, it’s trying to make sure I stay as far away from it as possible.”
Will had no such reservations. With an awe-struck smile, he reached for the sturdier, shinier of the two lightsabers and wrapped his fingers around it.
The next second he was lying on his back on the ground, pained whine squeezed out of his throat and eyes whirring uncoordinatedly.
Zay was at his side in an instant, helping him to sit up. “What happened?”
“Ugh,” Will coughed, still a little cross-eyed and clutching the lightsaber to his chest.
“I’ve seen that,” Maize exclaimed. “This touching an object and passing out, my friend does that. It’s a Jedi thing.”
“It’s his Sight,” Kylo said, supporting Will from the other side. “He’s sensing the Echo.”
“Echo of what?”
“Everything,” Will groaned. He shook his head, tilting it to one side and then the other as if trying to shake out invisible water out of his ears. “There’s so much... ”
“Echo of the thoughts and emotions of people who had this lightsaber before,” Kylo explained.
“Fuck,” Hux said with feeling. “And with the Skywalker lightsaber, he just got a tour through the last three major Galactic conflicts in under a second.”
He ignored the surprised look Ren gave him and kneeled down in front of Will, carefully examining his eyes. The irises were open wide, adjusted for the oncoming night, and didn’t seem to be damaged by the shock. Will gave him a shaky smile.
“There’s so much,” he repeated. “There’s war, and machines, and everything’s a blur, and everything reeks of fear, and so much rage and betrayal, and it’s burning , and then there’s...” his gaze fell to his right hand and he gave it a puzzled look as if he was surprised that it was still there.
Kylo rubbed his back. “It’s just memories. Does it hurt?”
Will turned to him and gasped as another memory coalesced from the onslaught. He traced a shaky finger across the right side of Ren’s face, over his eye. “She...”
“Kicked his ass,” Hux filled in mercilessly, interrupting the moment. It was getting dark, and cold, and he didn’t like half of the sounds coming from the desert. It’s taken them hours to get here and travelling the Wastes at night was a risk he didn't want to take.
“I was shot and bleeding,” Ren growled, outraged, but getting to his feet nonetheless.
“You were an idiot,” Hux told him. It occurred to him that he never got to say it like this, to Ren’s face - the man was mostly out of it with blood loss and hypothermia by the time Hux got to him, and then he had been whisked away to the Supremacy and came back a mere shell of himself, unstable and dangerous. And then Crait happened, and Hux knew that speaking his mind was out of the question after that. It felt good to finally say it.
For a moment Ren looked like he would say something back - no doubt something biting about the Starkiller Base shields going down when they shouldn’t - but then he clamped his mouth shut and stalked off towards the ruins of the homestead.
Oh. Still a sore spot, then.
“Right,” he cleared his throat. “We should find ourselves a shelter for the night. This place was empty for decades, let’s hope the womp-rats didn’t make a nest in one of the rooms.”
To everyone’s relief, there were no womp-rats taking residence in the abandoned homestead. Just a pack of scurriers that dispersed as soon as Ren stomped, the thudding noise echoing eerily through the empty, rock-hewn home.
Sand had found its way inside over the years, piling up in dunes inside of the doorways. Most doors didn’t shut all the way in, having been forced open during the Imperial raid that killed Skywalker’s foster parents. But the living quarters in the back were still relatively dust-free even though the air inside was stale and chill seeped from the walls. Hux found a long stick and jammed it into one of the ceiling vents. He was rewarded by a bucket-worth of sand down the back of his shirt and a gust of fresh air. Ren found a stack of old blankets, stiff with cold and half-eaten by moths, and hung them up around the doors to keep the heat in. They found an old generator in the utility room and before Hux could ask if it was still functional, Will snapped his fingers in excitement and got to work. Hux belatedly remembered that the clone had spent years keeping an entire Imperial facility up and running. Sure enough, in a few moments, the generator came on, illuminating their temporary abode with bleak, flickering light. It had enough power left to turn on some of the heating spirals. Hux touched the ice-cold radiators and sighed. It would take hours before the room would get even remotely comfortable.
At least they packed enough blankets and basic camping supplies into their landspeeders.
Will didn’t leave the lightsaber he found for more than a second. Even as he ate, shoveling watered down protein porridge into his mouth with one hand, his other hand was resting on the hilt, fingers idly tracing the design. At times, his eyes would unfocus, his expression becoming distant, and his lips would curl up in a slow, satisfied smile.
Hux couldn’t recall when he last saw his clone so… happy. Not since Hux had blown up his old home, that's for sure.
Maize kept pestering Will with questions about the things he saw in the vision that almost knocked him out, and he happily indulged her. Zay sometimes chimed in with historical details for added context and after the third time she mentioned Luke Skywalker, Hux had had enough and decided to step outside a bit, cold be damned.
He found Ren sitting in front of a small campfire at the bottom of the sand dune filling up the former courtyard, huddled in a thermal blanket and staring into the flames. He turned his head when he heard Hux’s approaching steps and his eyes got caught mid-way up, on the unmistakable glint of the second lightsaber clipped to Hux’s belt.
Hux returned the question in Ren’s eyes with a mere lift of his eyebrows. Ren could get over himself on his own. He sat down next to the curled-up man, and after a moment, Ren lifted an arm with the blanket and threw it over the both of them.
“I was tempted to believe he was making it up,” Hux said into the quiet around them. “He could have read up enough on the Clone Wars while he was locked down there. But then he started describing Exegol.”
He could hear Ren swallowing next to him. The fire did little to dispel the freezing cold around them and Hux leaned his head on Ren’s shoulder, burrowing under the blanket and resting the chilly skin of his cheek against the warmth of Ren’s neck.
“Rey killed the Emperor with it,” Ren replied. “With both of them.”
Hux hummed. It was interesting that Ren didn’t include himself in the credit. Somehow he knew that this time he was hearing the truth, not like the rather ridiculously see-through lie Ren tried to feed him after he killed Snoke.
He unclipped the lightsaber from his belt and weighed it in his hand. “Whose was this one?”
Ren studiously did not look at it. “My mother’s.”
“Ah,” Hux nodded, “makes sense.”
“The design,” Hux pointed out the rusty brown metal weaving through the casing. “Reminds me of yours. Inherited sense for aesthetics, I suppose.”
“How the fuck,” Ren asked incredulously, “would you know anything about lightsaber design? I thought you hated them.”
Hux scoffed. “I hated yours specifically. It was crude, unstable, the noise it made was nerve-grating and it looked as if it would explode any second.”
Ren, inexplicably, smirked. “It was meant to look like that.”
“I’m never letting you anywhere close to weapon design,” Hux chuckled, realising a second too late that it sounded suspiciously like plans for the future. Fuck.
“You recognised the Skywalker lightsaber,” Ren said tentatively.
“So that’s why you boggled at me,” Hux laughed again. “Of course I did. It was important to you, of course I made myself familiar with all the information we had on it.”
“I thought you...” Ren began before trailing off, lips pursing together. “I see.”
“Precisely,” Hux nodded. “I studied everything that could prove to be useful against you.” He nudged Ren’s side. “Don’t take it personally. I had a lot of info on a lot of people.”
“You wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway,” Ren nudged him back.
Hux was out of the blanket and pointing the ignited blade into Ren’s face before it occurred to him that it could have been a purposeful bait, Ren’s way to make him show his hand. But judging by the slack-jawed shock on Ren’s upturned face, it wasn’t.
“Wouldn’t I?” Hux smirked. He stepped back, lifting the saber into the third position, on guard. The rest of his body followed suit, feet falling into the proper stand, his free arm held back to balance out the weight of the blade. He went through the basic motions slowly, feeling a rush of pride that his muscles still remembered the drill even though it had been years. He could feel Ren’s eyes burning into him the entire time.
“You forgot that the Jedi were the enemies of the Empire,” Hux said, the blade buzzing through the air as he twirled it experimentally. “What good would it be if we didn’t know how to fight them? Saber fencing was a part of the standard Imperial combat training. Though we usually trained with steel blades, not the real ones.”
He stopped, bringing the blade close to his face. It hummed quietly, a dormant energy when not engaged, not in motion, and it didn’t emit any heat. The surge of adrenaline that propelled him earlier was quickly fading, leaving him shivering in the cold.
“I still don’t like them,” he admitted, powering off the blade and clipping the hilt back to his belt. “I think they’re outdated and have too many weaknesses as a weapon. I implemented the Z-6 batons into the Stormtroopers weaponry, the electroshocks were efficient enough against plasma blades and much more useful in riot control. But here we are… ”
He turned back to Ren who still stared at him without blinking, flushed despite the cold, his pupils blown wide.
He watched Ren’s eyes travel over him, burning with such intensity he could almost feel their path on his body like a touch of heat. They lingered on Hux’s hands that only moments ago handled the lightsaber and Hux watched his throat bob with a swallow, he watched the tip of a tongue darting out to lick over dry lips-
Oh. So that’s how it was.
“I hope they left one bedroom for us,” he muttered, pulled Ren up by his hand, and dragged him inside.
Hux woke up to pleasant warmth surrounding him all around, and a slow beat of Ren’s heart in his ear. He lifted his head and blinked, trying to make sense of their sleeping arrangements.
Last night... they made it to the room. They made it as far as to the bed where Ren pushed him to sit, knelt down between his spread legs and took him into his mouth.
For someone who lost their virginity barely more than a standard cycle ago, Ren was hell-bent on making up for the lost time. And as Hux buried his fingers in the messy blonde hair, pulling at the short strands to make Ren look up at him, as he watched those big, wet eyes full of want and those spit-slick lips wrapped around his cock… he realised he was too making up for a lost time. A lost opportunity. This was what he wanted, not even knowing that he did, years ago when he spied at Ren crawling through the vents in his ridiculous Matt disguise. This was what Hux wanted. And now Ren was giving it to him, and it felt better than any fantasy.
Afterwards, Ren had swallowed and asked for Hux’s hand with his voice so hoarse and ruined that Hux wished he could go again right then and there. Ren had been so worked up that it wouldn’t take long… except, Hux had enjoyed it far too much to just get it over and done with. Ren was so sincere like this, clinging to Hux, trembling at each little twist of Hux’s wrist - and Hux couldn’t resist. He brought Ren to the edge, once, twice, three times, he drank in the sweet begging, he kissed away the salt of tears that escaped the corners of Ren’s eyes, and when he finally let him come, he trapped Ren’s mouth under his free hand to keep down the noise - and damn Ren if his eyes didn’t roll back in his head at that, his orgasm tearing through his whole body so hard that Hux could swear the light fixtures above their heads flickered for a moment.
That was last night. Hux swallowed a groan and forced his mind back on track.
The things was, after said night, Hux was certain that he had fallen asleep squarely and properly on his fair half of the bed, with his back to Ren, only reluctantly allowing him to wrap his arms around him for the warmth’s sake. As loath as Hux was to share a bed, having a human furnace burrowed under his blanket was a welcome asset, especially in the frigid air of the desolate bedroom. So really, it was a matter of convenience, warmth over comfort of having his own space. He honestly didn’t expect to get any rest. He never shared a bed in his life, and he wasn’t looking forward to dealing with someone’s else kicking limbs.
Apparently, at some point during the night his body decided to override his lifetime’s worth of sleeping habits and wrapped itself all over Ren like a hungry octopus. Ren now lay sprawled on his back, snoring lightly, with his wide chest serving as Hux’s pillow. Hux’s arms were wrapped around Ren’s middle and their legs were tangled together under the thermal blanket. It was…nice.
Fuck. Ren was going to ruin him, wasn’t he?
So be it. At least Hux could make sure it would be mutual destruction.
“It doesn’t have to be a downfall, you know.”
Hux startled, quickly looking up to meet Ren’s eyes, wide awake, the glow of the night-lamp on the bedside table reflected in them as an amused twinkle.
“Have you been in my head?” It shouldn’t have been possible. Hux was always shielding, after years of practice it came as naturally as breathing…
Ren lifted his finger to tap at his temple with a playful little grin and then nudged his head back down to rest on his chest, carding his fingers through Hux’s hair.
“You had this face you always had when an operation went sideways and you were counting the losses and thinking how to twist it so you would come out on top in the fallout.”
“You have so much faith in me,” Hux said sarcastically, wriggling his way out of Ren’s embrace. He rolled over and sat up, dragging the blanket with him to cling to the warmth as long as possible. Behind him, the abruptly exposed Ren let out a noise of protest.
Hux checked the chrono. The suns would rise soon. They should start out on their return trip. Travelling the Wastes in the scorching heat of the afternoon wasn’t something Hux was keen on repeating.
Ren pulled on his outer layers and rubbed his face with his sleeve, as much of the morning hygiene as they could get in their conditions. The moisture farm was abandoned for decades and any water left in the pipes had long ago turned to sludge.
“Why are you so sure that this will crash and burn?” he asked.
“Years worth of experimental data on how things tend to turn out when you are involved,” Hux retorted. He checked his comlink. D-D hadn’t reported anything since the last day. Considering their low resources and the need to lay low, it wasn’t unexpected. No news meant good news.
“You have so much faith in me,” Ren snorted, lobbing Hux’s own words back at him.
Hux rolled his eyes and handed him his spare blaster. Ren accepted it with a silent smile. He headed towards the door when Hux grabbed his elbow.
“Listen, it’s not that I want-” Hux paused, choosing his words. This was going to be hard to explain.
“When I decided to abandon the First Order, I had a plan. Not a perfect one I admit but I was in it, and you weren’t. And I know I have only myself to blame for that change. The thing is. You.” Hux swallowed. Damn this desert and the dry air, making it hard to speak.
“Now the plan has changed, which is honestly fine by me, I don’t want that old fucker to come back any more than you do. You have changed, which I’ve only just started to believe. And now I’m - you’re changing me . I’m not… I’m not used to accounting for this variable.”
Hux realised he was gripping Ren’s arm so hard his nails had almost dug through the rough fabric of his tunic. He jerked his hand back, only for Ren to catch it and press his palm against his own face.
“I have faith in you,” he said, kissing Hux’s palm. And this time, he was completely serious.
Hux thought how stumbling over his words was still better than finding himself without any words at all-
-and in the moment of silence, Hux’s ears picked up the electronic crackling of a connecting holo transmission in the next room.
He barged through the door so fast that he nearly overbalanced when he had to stop just as quickly so he wouldn’t appear in the range of the holocam. Zay smirked at him across the old com terminal, half of its guts spilled out on the floor where Will crouched over it, connecting seemingly random wires into a makeshift communication array. Before Hux could open his mouth to tell him off, the channel opened, and a shaky blue image of a Duros male appeared above the terminal.
“I told them not to worry and I was right,” the Duros announced with his arms folded and an air of impatient disapproval around him. Completely contrary to his actual words, Zay’s face lit up with a smile.
“You’re always right, Shriv. I’m okay.”
“You did have the guys in a huff for a moment there,” the man called Shriv grumbled. “We tracked your starfighter to Pillio and found neither hide nor hair of you. What have you been doing there to get the J-Sec all up in arms and buzzing like a nest of wart-hornets?”
“I found a new lead,” Zay said, glancing at Hux, “and I hitched a ride with them. Sorry about the lack of reporting, we kinda had to run from the Jinata system as fast as we could.”
“And who exactly are ‘we’?”
Zay glanced at Hux again, and this time her gaze lingered. Considering. Assessing. After a pause, she seemingly came to a decision.
“A couple of Resistance sympathizers. You can tell general Finn that the mission is on track and that we’re heading to Jakku as I planned.”
Hux sneered at the term he’d been labeled with - Resistance sympathizer! But the irony - he did go down in the history books as one.
“Glad to hear that, Zay. Anything else? Because there’s a perfectly nice bed I could be in right now-”
Zay laughed. “Yeah, there’s one more thing that I believe will make general Dameron pretty happy.”
Hux tensed. Surely she wasn’t going to-
“If you happen to run into that mercenary, Bazine Netal, simply lock her up. We don’t need her services anymore.”
Her associate mock saluted to that, laughing heartily. “Yeah, Poe’s gonna love this. And you, girl, take care. I swear that blasted droid of yours will run me into an early grave if anything happens to you.”
“Just don’t make him into a practice target,” Zay sighed, waved and ended the transmission. And not a second too soon. Maize emerged from the adjacent room, huddled into a blanket, yawning and rubbing at her eyes.
“Someone mentioned Bazine?” She mumbled, sleepiness giving way to curiosity. Clearly she was still invested in that dangerously attractive woman.
“Don’t worry, the Resistance is taking care of her,” Zay assured her with what must have been the white lie of a century. “Rise and shine, sleeping beauty. We’re going to Jakku.”
“The problem is, I don’t exactly know where to start. There’s only so much you can recover from downed ship’s computers. The memory banks had decades to deteriorate and when you find something that looks even remotely still functional, you often find the scavengers got to it first.”
Zay sighed with frustration. They flew over the monotonous, lifeless plains of Jakku at a comfortable cruising altitude, making their way towards a rocky formation on the horizon.
“My parents took part in the battle of Jakku. I know from them that there’d been an Imperial base somewhere in the Carbon Ridge, possibly with a secret research facility. The New Republic wanted the place but the Imps destroyed everything before they left...”
“That’s not the place I remember,” Hux shook his head.
Zay looked up at him with surprise. “You’ve been here before?”
“Sometime after we got evacuated from Arkanis. I was four, maybe five.”
It wasn’t a pleasant memory. At least at first. His father had been oscillating between despair at the Empire’s loss and delusional pride over being one of the hand-picked few to rebuild the Empire in the Unknown Regions. He drank even more than usual. Armitage had nowhere to hide. If it weren’t for Admiral Sloane… but she wasn’t the only one looking out for him. No, there was someone else.
“The place was called Plaintive Hand plateau. A man took us there. His name was Gallius Rax, and he called himself the Emperor’s Counsellor.”
The Counsellor was friendly. He talked at length with little Armitage, marvelling at the world he was going to build one day far away from here. He didn’t mind that Armitage was young and frail. He recognised the boy’s true potential.
“He made me the commander of his unit of child soldiers, a bunch of savage local orphans. Gave them to me and told me that this was my life’s work, and that I would take my father’s place, someday soon.”
“Bloody hells,” Zay exhaled. Hux supposed he could see where she was coming from. To call that a life’s improvement… but she wouldn’t understand. Nobody would understand what it was like, growing up under the thumb of Brendol Hux.
“When we got to the plateau, he told us to board a ship called Imperialis in a landing dome nearby while he finished his remaining business in the Observatory. He never came back. Rae Sloane did, and we left for the Unknown Regions.”
“Hm.” Zay frowned as she digested the information. “So during the last battle between the Empire and the New Republic, a battle that’s basically already lost, a confidant of the late Emperor takes precious time to visit an Observatory, to do - what?”
Hux shrugged. “Rae never said. At least not to me. But she did come back bloody so I think she must have killed him. She was in charge of the fleet afterwards.”
Ren, silent in his pilot’s seat, had pulled up the latest map of Jakku and was steering them towards the plateau. A solitary rock appeared on the horizon and as they flew closer, its jagged shape truly started resembling an outstretched hand.
Flying above the shifting sands of the plateau, they all spotted a distinctive shape. A bunker, half-buried beneath the dunes.
“Don’t get too close,” Hux put a hand over Ren’s just as he was about to drop them down for a better look. “The Observatory had an automated defense mechanism.”
The long-range scan soon showed what the wind-blown sand had hidden: a rosette-shaped array of turbolaser turrets around the bunker pointed skywards in every direction. It wasn’t likely it would still be functional. But it could.
“So how did you get in?”
“The Counsellor had a sentinel droid to pilot our transport. I believe it had the access codes to power down the defenses.”
“Great.” Hux could tell that Zay was quickly losing patience. “And how do we get in, then? Since we don’t have the codes.”
“Oh, I didn’t say?” Hux blinked with faux-innocence. “Forgive me, I guess I never introduced him properly.”
He stepped aside, putting his hand on D-D’s head. “Meet Dee-Dee, my dearest friend, built from parts of my nurse droid, med droid from the Imperialis, and the sentinel droid of Counsellor Rax.”
Enjoy a double-length chapter update...
...and an apology! I haven't actually read Empire's End, so I bullshitted the hell out of the Observatory opening mechanism. Well, it's an AU, right?
Kylo doubted that the decades-old access codes stored in D-D’s repurposed memory banks would be any good, but they checked out. They also revealed the landing site, protected from the sand and dust with a pressurised dome. It had once housed a decent-sized ship, the Emperor’s yacht Imperialis that Hux mentioned, and Kylo had no trouble parking their freighter in the space left. The dome was empty, save for two advanced TIE fighters moored in the corner. Their original gleam was a bit dulled with time but otherwise, the controlled atmosphere in the dome had kept them in excellent condition. They were probably once meant to provide cover on leisure trips through the more unsafe sectors… but then, the last Imperial entourage had left this place in too much of a hurry to bother with cover.
Kylo meticulously packed for the excursion. Who knew what would await them in the abandoned Observatory. First of all, they didn’t even know if it was truly abandoned. It wouldn’t be the first time Kylo encountered mad cultists worshipping the Dark Side of the Force. They tended to gather around the old Imperial ruins like swarms of flies attracted by the smell of rotten meat. Never again would he be caught running headfirst into danger without a proper weapon.
He smiled to himself. Hux was rubbing off on him, he supposed.
He took a couple of thermal detonators, extra blaster capsules, and a couple of items that Hux would raise his eyebrows at if he saw him packing. But Kylo didn’t see it as carrying extra unnecessary weight. Jakku was the place of the Empire’s last stand. Palpatine could have had all sorts of sinister plans with it.
He shouldered the bag and joined the others descending the hatch. D-D rolled out the last, warbling at the prospect of trekking the dunes in a clearly fed-up pitch.
“I’ll get you an oil bath later,” Hux placated him. “And it’s not so far.”
Turned out, a lot could happen even on the shortest of trips.
They were passing by a steep hillside that looked as if someone had shaved off a side of the formation with heavy machinery. They kept close to the jagged rock wall to make most of the short midday shadow, a welcome respite from the desert heat when a couple of loose pebbles cascaded down the ledges and rolled onto the path at their feet.
Kylo’s body jerked back on its own volition, be it instinct or the Force swaying him over, he didn’t know. He cast out his consciousness, immediately picking up two minds on the ridge above them - two more hidden in the valley to their left - and another three, closing upon them from behind - and then the Force laid the vision of a boulder tumbling down the rock over his eyes and he shot up his hand, throwing his power upwards.
Someone gasped. The shadow fell over the group and they looked up. A massive chunk of rock was hovering in the air above their heads. Dust rained from the edges of it as it vibrated under the strain of gravity against the Force.
A shout echoed through the valley - a garbled cry of some unintelligible word. Kylo fired two blaster shots with his free hand to the left and threw the boulder into the path of the three men running up to them from behind.
Kylo’s first shot missed, the second hit one of the ambushers in the neck. The man went down in a flurry of dirty rags and odd, barely holding together scraps of Imperial armour. His comrade didn’t even pause, charging at Kylo with an ancient-looking electrostaff held high. His bloodshot eyes popped from his wrinkly, sun-baked face, and a long, scraggly beard lined his mouth with broken and missing teeth, wide open on a mad scream.
D-D produced a heavy blaster rifle from somewhere on his bulky body and had it aimed and fired faster than any human sniper would’ve been able to. The second attacker fell to the ground, the blast burning a neat hole in the centre of the worn and corroded breastplate of his armour.
Kylo looked back. Zay had Maize pushed between the rock wall and herself, keeping the second group of ambushers covering behind the boulder with a sparse, but deadly precise fire. Already one of them was trying to crawl away with a wound in his leg oozing blood on the hard, beaten ground. Another one was still trying to get forward somehow, brandishing a blaster gun that looked more like antiquity than a weapon, but he had to duck every time he as much as showed his grey matted hair above the boulder. Kylo momentarily wondered where the third one was before he noticed a scrap of a dirty fabric tangled around something that looked like a foot, sticking from under the boulder.
Where was Hux? Did he run again - no. Kylo spotted him further ahead on the path, moving forward with his back to the stone wall and his blaster at the ready. He’d dragged Will with him and was now shoving him into a narrow crack that could provide some measure of safety to the unarmed clone. Will was resisting, clutching his lightsaber as if trying to argue and wildly gesticulating with his free hand, repeatedly pointing upwards.
Oh yes. The men who had dislodged the boulder that was meant to crush them.
The world slowed down around him, the Force surging up once again. A projectile careening towards his head at a lethal speed - Kylo looked up and felt the sting of heated air as the projectile whizzed past his face and above his shoulder, exploding the ground behind him in a cloud of dust.
Great. The bastards above them had a slugthrower.
He darted forward, confident in his ability to evade anything fired at him. The ridge they had been attacked from was not a big one. If he could sneak up on the men from behind, they would be trapped between his fire and the cliff’s edge, their trap turned against them.
Hux caught his glance as he ran past, jerking his chin towards the lightsaber still clipped to his belt with a clear question in his eyes. Kylo shook his head. Lightsabers were no good against slugthrower weapons - the solid projectile couldn’t be deflected, only shattered, and the molten shards continuing along their original path often brought more damage than a clean shot would have.
Hux looked ahead and up, quickly assessing the situation, then jumped away from the relative cover of the wall to get a better angle and started bombarding the cliff edge above them with rapid fire. D-D joined him, the pair working in tandem, one firing while the other’s gun was recharging, keeping up a steady barrage. The remaining attackers were forced to lay low. They would not notice Kylo breaking away from the group.
Kylo raced along the path and then up the slope. Distantly, he heard Hux’s angry shout, and a while later a huffing breath and light feet hitting the ground as Will caught up with him.
“Stay back,” Kylo growled.
“I’m not a ba-”
Kylo yanked him down just in time. The move cost him a precious split-second and a handful of the sharp pellets fired their way nicked the skin on his arm. Kylo hissed, baring his teeth, and Will immediately jerked back, face crumpled in shock and dismay.
Kylo wanted to reassure him that it was nothing, just a scratch, but then the attackers were charging on them, skidding down the slope, yelling and firing both their slugthrowers as they ran. Why didn’t they find cover and take a proper, well-aimed shot instead of sputtering wild pot-shots, was beyond Kylo but the scattergun was still dangerous, the wide cloud of pellets could still find its target even if fired blindly. They ran as if possessed with madness, with complete disregard to their own safety, and Kylo knew there had to be a reason, something claiming this level of dedication, something worth protecting more than their own life. He had to find out what it was.
He lifted his blaster, aiming carefully to knock the slugthrowers out of their hands… when both of them were suddenly knocked back by a blast of invisible force. Limbs akimbo, the beaten plates of their armours cracking like dry leaves and their screams cut off as their breath was punched out of their chests, they had been lifted off the ground and flown backward through the air-
Kylo didn’t even time to react before they tumbled over the cliff edge and disappeared from view.
A second later, he heard the dull crunch of impact from below. The Mirialan screamed.
Kylo whirled around. A step behind him, Will still stood with both his hands outstretched, breathing heavily - and an expression of pure rage and revenge slowly ebbing out of his face.
“They hurt you!” Will snarled. He finally dropped his arms and hunched on himself, turning his gaze with increasing confusion first at his hands, then on the cliff edge, and finally on Kylo.
“They- they wanted to kill us,” he stammered. His voice shook but still carried a note of defiance. “I had to stop them!”
Oh, but he did much more than just stop them. Kylo didn’t miss the sickening snap of bones when the blast Will unleashed hit the attackers, he caught the splatter of blood trickling out of their mouths and noses even before they fell over the edge. Even if there wasn’t the deadly fall, they would’ve been dead anyway, their bodies crushed to a pulp.
Kylo clenched his jaw, biting back the words. This was not the right time and place for reprimands and lessons. Will couldn’t yet control his powers and they could lash out again if triggered by strong emotion. He was growing stronger with each day, the power pushing against feeble boundaries and searching for an outlet like steam under a too thin lid. Kylo knew this feeling.
He also recognised the defiant stubbornness in Will’s voice. It reminded him of his own younger self. There were only so many times a young boy would have been horrified and ashamed of his own outbursts before he would start making them his own . Standing up to the disapproving world with the thought if I’m bad I might as well act it, call me a monster and I’ll show you a monster. The day Leia lost hope for her own son was the day Kylo Ren was born.
“Come. We have to get back to the others,” he said, starting the trek down the slope. After a moment’s hesitation, Will joined him, dragging his feet a little and radiating disappointment.
“Dead-enders,” Zay concluded, inspecting the dead bodies. The only survivor from the group who’d been hiding behind the boulder got struck by a moment of sanity and ran away into the desert when his comrades fell off the cliff.
“That’s how the locals call them. They must have been Imperial troopers once,” she explained. “Left behind after the battle of Jakku. Conditioning to follow orders won over self-preservation, and decades of isolation did the rest.”
“Whatever was here, it was still worth guarding to them,” Ren said grimly.
“We’re almost there,” Hux pointed a little further ahead. Smooth, sun-bleached duracrete walls of the bunker looked like a weathered skull of some giant, buried in a massive sand dune a little further ahead. “There should be an entrance somewhere...”
Maize found it first. Broad door, partly hidden in a side of a dune. The sand that had once covered it got shifted by the wind, the dune slowly making its majestic way over the desert’s face, unbothered by the ant-like efforts of short-lived humans.
A dust-proof cover next to the door revealed a scan plate. Hux groaned. No lock and key was fine, it meant the gate could be opened by a Force user, but a scan plate? Complicated electronic locks had to be in place, and no wizardry could manipulate that. And if they tried to force the door open by conventional means, Hux could bet the Observatory would self-destruct. Not to mention that they didn’t have any heavy machinery needed to even make a dent in those blasted doors.
“I can’t believe it was all for nothing,” he groused, angrily wiping away the sand that stuck to his nape and already was making its itchy way under his collar.
Ren stepped closer. “Why?”
“Because it’s a hand scan plate!” Hux glared at it. “The door will open only for people whose handprints or genetic information is stored inside of this. And it requires two people, as if we even had one! The Emperor is gone. Gallius Rax is gone. I doubt there’s anyone alive in the whole kriffing Galaxy with enough clearance to open-”
His rant was cut short when Ren grabbed his hand and pressed it against the scan plate.
“Why do you thi-”
The left side of the scan plate blinked to life, its frame lighting up in green.
“Will,” Ren said quietly, beckoning the clone closer. As if bespelled, Will pressed his palm against the plate and yelped - half in fright, half in delight - when the entire scan plate lit up with green light.
A deep, rolling series of thuds came from somewhere under their feet and then the door cracked open. A huff of pressurized air escaped, blowing the dust and sand away from the doorstep. The yellowish sunlight of Jakku fell inside, revealing a series of pillars framing a pentagonal hallway made of black glass and burnished metal.
With some shock-resistant part of his brain Hux registered he probably looked like a broken droid but he couldn’t help it. He kept looking between his hand, Will, and the door, utterly lost for words.
“I’ve never been to this place,” he said at last. “I was four-”
“You said, handprints or genetic information,” Ren said. Distantly, Hux noted that he slowly positioned himself so that he could keep an eye on Zay as he spoke, close enough to Hux to protect him if need be. But the observation just didn’t seem to connect in his brain.
Genetic? Why would his DNA give him access into the most guarded Imperial facility, built before he was even born and abandoned when he was a child-
“Oh,” Hux realised. And then scowled. “I didn’t think Brendol was so privy to the Emperor’s plans. On the one occasion they met, the Emperor didn’t seem to care about my father one bit.”
“Not about your father,” Ren agreed. “He cared about your mother.”
Hux throat constricted, salt burning behind his eyelids. Even with the Jakku sun beating down on them and making the air shimmer with heat, he suddenly felt cold shivers running down his spine. His head spun.
“No!” he protested, voice cracking. “She was just a kitchen worker-”
Ren was still holding his hand, and now he squeezed it as if in apology. “She was much more than that. I’ve been suspecting this for a while now. If Palpatine needed clones, why would he pick you.”
Don’t, Hux wanted to shout but no sound left his dry mouth, his tongue heavy and paralysed.
“It’s something I learned when I was hunting Rey,” Ren continued without mercy. “The Emperor was obsessed with immortality. He stole his Master’s way of transporting his own presence into another body, another vessel. He cloned himself, but that body was already old. So he turned to strand-casts, genetically engineered humans. He created a man, his ‘son’, who was supposed to produce a Force-sensitive offspring through natural means. But this man rebelled, escaped, and hid his daughter Rey on Jakku before he was hunted down and killed.”
Ren sighed. “But what the Emperor didn’t tell me… was that before creating a son, he tried his luck with a daughter.”
Hux felt like he had to sit down. He couldn’t feel his legs properly, the ground beneath his feet was shifting. He tried to imagine it - a woman, engineered for a single purpose of giving birth to another human whose own purpose would be nothing but hosting an old Sith’s soul…
“She rebelled as well. Strand-casts are still human, and she wanted to protect the life growing in her at all cost. She ran far into the Outer Rim, found the first red-haired man she could seduce into thinking the child was his and who could offer them life in anonymity. You told me she died at birth… I suspect she was probably engineered to do so. Palpatine wanted a male vessel, she was just a means to an end.”
Hux blinked. His vision was blurry but the desert wind dried out the wetness before it could escape. So many things from his childhood suddenly made sense. The way his father was always distant with him - he must have suspected Armitage wasn’t his blood. The way he kept looking at him, pale and with fright in his eyes, after the Emperor’s entourage visited the Academy...
“The day he arrived on Arkanis-”
“He found you,” Ren nodded. “He ordered his Inquisitors to test you… and when he realised you were Force-null, he decided to use your DNA and influence the cloning process with Kyber to create a Force-sensitive.”
Will gasped. “Me!”
Of course , Hux thought bitterly. Will was the end goal, not him. Armitage was a disappointment. His only worth was his genetic make-up, and after they got the samples they wanted, he was tossed back under the thumb of his father. That’s why Brendol would always ramble about the Empire being Armitage’s birthright when he was drunk… and hate and humiliate him when he sobered up.
Kriff, even Rae Sloane probably only got the order to evacuate him from Arkanis because the secret facility hadn’t yet produced a satisfactory result.
With sudden clarity, Hux knew what he had to do. The Arkanis facility might not have been the only one. The Jinata Security had been definitely covering up something in the Project Resurrection program. This Observatory on Jakku was the largest one of them, the Empire’s last resort. It must have held the information on all other facilities, the whole rest of the Emperor’s kriffing plan.
And Hux would find every single one of them and burn them to the ground.
As said previously, I didn't read Aftermath: Empire's End (bookshops and libraries had been closed here since last year and e-shop deliveries are notoriously slow and inconsistent).
So the layout of the Observatory is based entirely on Wookieepedia info and my own imagination.
Despite lying buried and forgotten for decades under the shifting sands of Jakku, the inside of the Observatory had been pristine - at least at first. Hux would’ve been impressed with such an engineering feat if he wasn’t too impatient getting through the numerous pressure-sealed doors and shielding energy fields.
The computer systems they found in the first room didn’t resemble anything Hux had ever seen. His mood sank - it would take him days to figure out how to extract data stored in their memory banks. Provided the information was even there. When they walked in, the frozen three-dimensional projection filling out the cavernous space was clearly a star chart. Countless hyperspace routes branched out from a single spot like veins of blood in a translucent fog, mapping the Empire’s expansion into the Unknown Regions like a spreading sickness.
At just a glance, Hux spotted Exegol, hidden in the remains of megafauna and debris. He turned away with a sneer.
“So this was how Palpatine found it,” Ren remarked. He looked about as thrilled about the discovery as Hux felt. Exegol was yesterday’s news. Hux expected to find databases, maps of other facilities, something - anything - about the Project Resurrection… but this place looked like the first step in Palpatine’s plan, not the last.
At least they didn’t have to have any regrets for destroying it. When Ren produced a couple of thermal detonators from his backpack, Hux only gave him a smirk with a raised eyebrow but let him place them around the ancient computer bank, setting the fuses on remote and keying them on to an activator. After they left, the Observatory would go up in flames with just a click of a switch.
The Observatory withstood decades of pressure of the sands around and above it perfectly intact, and yet Hux couldn’t shake off a feeling that any moment, the massive pillars holding it up would collapse and bury them inside. Something in the air amidst those sleek, black walls was messing with his head.
The further and deeper they explored, the more dust they found. As if the pressure doors at the front kept the desert at bay but something else happened deeper inside, something that allowed the sand in, and the finest layer of it to settle on every surface. Perhaps a ceiling collapsed. Hux recalled the blood on Rae Sloane’s uniform when she returned to the Imperialis . Perhaps there had been a fight.
Hux’s caution was slipping. It reminded him of an accident he’d witnessed once, a couple of techs trapped in a room with an exposed reaction core. But while the radiation sickness was consuming their bodies, bursting their veins and eating away at their skin, Hux felt as if something was taking away chunks of his attention.
He stepped through another door and found himself in a narrow hallway lined with long shelves full of strange-looking artifacts.
Sentinel droids stood here too, quiet but with their systems on stand-by. D-D warbled as he passed, probably reiterating the access codes, and the lights in their eyes dimmed as they powered off.
“Nobody touches anything,” Ren recommended as if anyone was seriously stupid enough to… Hux turned just in time to catch Will guiltily snatching his hand back from an empty place on a shelf. The black glass was a little discoloured in the place where an object used to stand, a rather small one with a trigonal base judging from the imprint.
“Did you take it?” he asked incredulously.
“No!” Will protested - perhaps much too quickly. Or maybe this place was getting on his nerves just like on everyone else’s. At least he wasn’t lying - a layer of the finest sand dust lay on the empty place, just as thick as everywhere else.
“I wanted to see if I would be able to tell what was missing...” the clone admitted.
“A Sith holocron,” D-D provided the information in a monotonous drone. Even the droid seemed to be affected by the foreboding air of this place, his soothing, gentle affliction of a nanny droid giving way to the impersonal tone of a sentinel droid.
“Several other artifacts are missing, too.” He indicated the obvious empty spots on the walls. “I concur with the previous assessment - do not touch anything in here.”
“Especially not you,” Hux said sharply to Will. The clone’s face dropped and he stared, chastised, into the floor. Hux would’ve almost missed the minute twitch of his upper lip, the brief flare of his nostrils before he relented - that was an expression he knew from his own face, more than well. That was his just you wait face.
Oh, well. Hux knew how to wait. Will could try to get back at him when they have dealt with this place and were all safely back outside.
Ren, as if sensing Will’s stubbornness, seemingly naturally slowed his steps to fall to the rear of the group to better keep an eye on him. Hux breathed a little easier and led them on, eager to get this over and done with. Their steps reverberated through the hallway with a strange echo, as if there was more space than they could see, a huge cavern instead of a relatively narrow passage. Even the air felt subjectively much colder than the thermo readings on Hux’s scanner indicated.
“There’s a lot of dark energy contained in these artifacts,” Ren muttered. It might have been a trick of the light but he looked as if he hadn’t slept for days. He kept compulsively patting the bag he’d slung over one shoulder as if the detonators packed inside were giving him a semblance of security. His eyes were sunken in dark circles and his skin was blotchy, shining with sweat. It reminded Hux of the days after Ren’s defeat on Starkiller base when he would roam the ship dripping blood from unhealed wounds, with greasy hair and a haunted look in his eyes, and Hux shivered at the memory.
“This place gives me creeps, too,” Maize said sympathetically next to him, mistaking his shiver for something she could relate to at the moment. Hux decided not to waste breath on response and hurried on. Fainter, he heard her prattling on:
“I can’t wait to get out of here. How come you don’t look sick?”
Will’s reply was even harder to catch as if he was talking with his head close to hers:
“Honestly? I can’t wait to see everything that’s in here. This place feels like… made for me.”
And Hux should’ve really paid better attention but right at that moment, he walked through another archway and the walls on both sides suddenly disappeared, a dizzying depth gaping in their place, and the hallway turned into a narrow walkway over a dark, bottomless abyss.
D-D paused at the onset of it.
“Our programming didn’t allow us to step beyond this archway,” he announced. It took him two seconds to roll through as if the long-ago deleted block in his protocols was still gluing his wheels to the floor.
Hux could relate. He never did well with heights.
Zay frowned at the readings on her scanner. “It says that… this borehole goes through the schist and mantle, all the way down to the planet’s core.”
“Fierfek,” Maize breathed out an awed curse and promptly leaned out over the edge to peer down, pulling something out of her pocket.
“Don’t-” Zay barked out but Maize had already snapped a lightstick and dropped it down below. Hux really didn’t feel like leaning out too far to watch it fall, but in the end he didn’t have to. The descent of the tiny prick of fluorescent light stopped abruptly only about a hundred meters below, illuminating the fact that the borehole was blocked with tons and tons of sand.
Hux noticed a computer bank in one of the alcoves, much newer than the ancient navigation setup. Definitely Imperial. The screens were dead but once they’ve been on for so long that the last readings were still burned into the photosensitive layer. Borehole vents , he believed it said. The vents must have let the sand in when the borehole was sealed.
“Why would you go through the trouble of boring a hole that deep… only to seal it?”
“It could’ve been a safety mechanism,” Hux guessed. For his part, he had a pretty clear idea why anyone would bore a hole reaching a planet’s core. Back on Imperialis , on their way into the Unknown Regions, little Armitage couldn’t sleep. Late at night, Rae Sloane would often stay up with him, staring at the unfamiliar stars behind the viewports and telling stories.
Engineering, Armitage. Be sure to learn that. Now we have only a few ships, a few barren planets. But anything can be turned into a weapon - even a planet.
“A borehole this deep could destabilise the core,” he said. “All it would need would be a release of a good amount of energy down there - a bomb, perhaps - and the entire planet would crack and explode.”
For Palpatine, destroying the natural habitats of planets in Operation Cinder must have been too slow, too mellow a punishment for losing the war. He must have planned to destroy the entirety of Jakku while the final battle raged above it, annihilating both fleets in one fell swoop.
The walkway seemingly led nowhere, at first glance connecting with a solid wall on the other side. But when they crossed it, another archway appeared before their eyes, up to that moment hidden with a clever trick of perspective and the reflection in the polished glass of its walls.
The room behind it was shrouded in darkness so thick it seemed to have its own heartbeat. Any other person would probably believe the deep thudding sound was just an imagination triggered by their own heartbeat but Hux knew better. He didn’t have one, and he wasn’t imagining things.
It’s taken them a minute to coax their light torches into full power. Their response was slow, and the light still bleak and viscous, melting with the darkness into a blueish gloom. Even electronics didn’t work here. Hux pocketed the useless scanner and tried to make sense of what he was seeing with his own eyes.
A large, jagged structure resembling a sea spider dominated the centre of the room. After a moment, Hux realised it was actually a throne, with massive spikes of polished black marble rising from the sides and the back like fingers of a monstrous, sharp-clawed hand.
“What language is this?” Maize crouched to look closely at the lines of script winding around the dais. “I’ve been through half of the Galaxy collecting ancient things, and I’ve never seen something like this.”
“Palpatine was a Sith lord. Take a guess,” Zay muttered.
“Dee-Dee, can you translate it?”
D-D swung both his eyes around to look at Hux as if he’d grown a second head. “Negative.”
“I uploaded over six million languages and binary codes into you-”
“And not a single one of them would allow me to speak the forbidden language of the Sith. This is hard-wired into the protocol droid module you used. I am sorry,” said D-D in a tone that indicated he wasn’t, in fact, sorry at all.
Before Hux could tell D-D where exactly he could shove his hard-wiring, Ren spoke up in a quiet, strangely choked-up voice.
“I can read some of it.”
He took a step back and rubbed at his temples, his face twisted into a pained grimace. Hux opened his mouth to ask what was taking him so kriffing long when something told him to take a better look, and he stopped himself. Ren’s jaw was tense, muscles working with an audible gnash of grinding teeth, and his lips were cracked and bleeding.
“It’s hurting you to speak it,” Hux realised. Ren huffed and then cleared his throat, spitting out a little blood.
“It’s a cursed language for a reason,” he retorted, with some of his sarcasm thankfully returning. “I’ll try to work around it.”
It was a Sith ritual because of course it was. Hux could tell that and he didn’t need to bleed from his mouth to say it. But the actually important thing was the details of it.
“It’s a resurrection. Reconnecting the spirit and the body.”
“Like… bringing someone back from the dead?” Because Hux had done that, technically, and he didn’t need creepy thrones and a long-dead language…
Ren was already shaking his head. “No, not like that. It was for moving a spirit trapped in a… I can’t work out the meaning of that word… anchor?... into a new body. A vessel.”
Everyone looked at Will. The clone shrunk a little under the sudden attention but soon resumed his curious exploration of the room.
“To perform the ritual, a Sith holocron was to be placed there,” Ren pointed between the pointed marble spikes above the throne. “Palpatine had probably planned to assume his new body even before the fall of the Empire, but his death at Endor came too soon, and he had to flee into his backup body on Exegol.”
“But the holocron is missing,” Hux realised. There was only an empty place in the museum of relics.
“My guess is that it’s on the bottom of the borehole,” Ren nodded.
“And whatever the anchor is, it’s on Exegol, because that’s where the old bastard died,” Hux finished with no small amount of relief and satisfaction.
D-D, the smart droid that he was, had already rolled out back onto the walkway and was planting charges systematically along the length of it.
“Let’s just blow up this place to make sure our job is done,” Hux concluded and turned to leave.
“Not so fast, dear brother.”
The words - in a voice that was his own and yet so alien that it made his hair stand on end - stopped him like a physical wall planted into his path.
Out of the corner of his eye he could see Ren, red-faced with effort, each tendon taut and vibrating with the futile effort, not moving an inch.
Maize and Zay, wide-eyed, pale and terrified, frozen and helpless.
An invisible hand closed around his throat and forced him to turn around, to face the room again.
Will lounged on the throne, fingers of one hand lazily curled up, holding all their invisible leashes. His face was almost unrecognisable and yet Hux choked. He’d seen that face before. The morning after the first successful test of Starkiller, when he’d looked at himself in the mirror and thought, I am become Death.
Will held a small, intricate object on the open palm of his other hand.
“You have underestimated me for too long,” he smiled. His glowing blue gaze shifted over to Kylo, and his nostrils flared.
“I don’t need your teaching anymore. I have come into my own. Ever since I found this on Pillio, I knew I was meant for more than you would show me. You were right to fear me.”
The object - another Sith holocron, Hux realised with horror - lifted from Will’s palm seemingly on its own and floated into its designated space. The throne crackled to life, bursts of lightning emanating from the spikes and trapping the holocron in the web of static electricity. The holocron flared up in blinding red light that forced tears into Hux’s eyes. When he blinked them out and his vision adjusted, he saw the lines of script around the throne glowing and pulsing, like a liquid magma seeping through the cracks in the ground.
A deafening voice, as if thousands speaking at once, blasted through the chamber.
WHO IS THE VESSEL?
Will looked up with a beatific smile. “I am.”
WHERE IS THE ANCHOR?
Right, Hux recalled with a jolt of hope. Palpatine had died far away from here, his spirit was trapped on Exegol, this ritual would fail and they would get out of here-
Will lifted his lightsaber and activated the blade.
The last sliver of hope curled up at the bottom of Hux’s stomach and died. This was the Skywalker lightsaber, the very one the Jedi girl had used to kill Palpatine.
That’s why it called to Will across hundreds of parsecs, loud enough for him to find it buried deep in the Tatooine desert.
That’s why Ren was repelled from even touching it. Palpatine’s spirit was hiding in it all the time, and it didn’t want to be found too soon.
Hux closed his eyes, but even through his eyelids, he could see that the colour of the lightsaber was changing. The blue Kyber crystal inside was slowly bleeding red.
To the surprise of absolutely no one... I am bumping up the chapter count.
But for my excuse, it works better like this. There would be too much happening in one chapter.
And you'll still get the last one this weekend!
“Will.” Whether Hux wanted to say it authoritatively or imploringly, it didn’t matter, all that left his blocked throat was a hoarse whisper. “You don’t have to do this.”
The letters of the cursed language pulsed all around the room, drowning their ears in an illusion of sound that sounded like distant chanting. The lightsaber’s blade was now completely red and its shine bathed Will’s face in a morbid shade of blood. His eyes were the last familiar thing about his face, the rest of it somehow transformed, starker, gaunter, contorted in a mockery of a smile.
“But he had to,” he laughed, delighting in the cruelty. Hux shuddered. Not I had to. He had to. Palpatine was taking over.
“He’s mine. He’s always been mine.”
“Fight it, Will. You’re stronger than you know,” Ren choked out through the hold on his own throat. He managed a step forward before his body was thrown against the wall and held there, like a moth pinned to a board. The bag slipped from his shoulder and landed on the ground with a clatter, a few thermal detonators rolling out like useless marbles.
“To fight his own destiny?” the spirit controlling Will’s body taunted. “For what? He could sense your fear.” His cold gaze slid towards Hux. “And your resentment. He was weak and torn even before he found the holocron, and he let it guide him .”
“Even if you take him you’ll achieve nothing,” Zay got out. Hux begrudgingly admired her tenacity. “The war is over. The Final Order is destroyed. You have no fleet.”
With just a snap of his fingers, she fell to her knees, hard.
“You won but a battle,” he hissed. “This war takes more than one lifetime...”
He brought his hand up and admired it, the smoothness of his unblemished skin, the healthy bones and soft flesh.
“I have a young body now. I will build a new fleet. The New Republic is unarmed and weak. There are many, discontent with the slow and inefficient democracy, many who will welcome the return of the Empire to restore order in the Galaxy. Or did you truly believe that everyone would forget their Emperor and choose treason?”
With that last word, something in Hux’s chest squeezed, and he cried out in panic. Or maybe Ren did. Hux’s vision blacked out for a second and when the darkness dispersed again, he found himself on his knees, folded over and painfully gasping for breath. His chest still felt too empty and too full at once, as if there was a bubble of air lodged beneath his sternum making its agonizing way upwards.
He tried to control himself, to calm down, but his hands were shaking like a leaf and his instincts were screaming at him to crawl away and hide. Will knew all about his bionic heart, and Palpatine had just used that knowledge to stop it for just a few seconds.
Will cocked his head, the russet of his hair looking like dried blood in the red light.
“He’s fond of you,” he said, introspective. “Pathetic. Even now, he’s pleading with me to spare your wretched lives.”
He sneered again, another mockery of a benevolent smile. “I might grant that wish. After all, you have served me well. In your blind pride and childish revenge, you have brought him to me. So run for your lives, fools. Once the ritual is complete, he will be no more, and I shall not show you kindness twice.”
He flicked his hand. The Force hit Hux like a shockwave blast and his limbs flailed as he flew backward through the doorway. The black glass ceiling flashed before his eyes as his body rotated in the air - then the duracrete borehole walls - and then the sand at the bottom of it, rapidly approaching-
-a steel wire wrapped around his middle with a swish, cut off his scream and halted his fall so abruptly that he didn’t know how he wasn’t snapped in half. The sharp pain in his sides meant that a couple of his ribs probably haven’t been so lucky. Breathless and disoriented, he looked up - at least in the direction he thought was up - and was met with the sight of D-D, one of his mooring wires hooked securely around the walkway. He was pulling Hux up with the other, the spinning reel screaming under Hux’s weight.
In his life, Hux was never happier to play the fish on the line.
The loops of the wire trapped one of his arms against his stomach. When D-D pulled him high enough to reach the walkway, Ren’s face appeared over the edge, panting and full of relief. He shifted on his stomach to reach as far as he could, grabbed Hux’s free hand and heaved him up.
D-D loosened the wire and retracted it back into his casing. Hux hissed as blood flowed back into his arm and welled up in welts where the steel cord cut through his clothes. The walkway vibrated with the deep booming sounds coming from the throne chamber, the opening pulsing with blinding light. The walls shook, dust tumbling from the ceiling.
“We better run. If the structure collapses, the walkway will be the first to fold,” D-D advised them - and in case anyone disagreed, he started to unceremoniously push them along.
Together they stumbled the rest of the walkway, Ren practically dragging Hux along and Zay supporting Maize. The Mirialan was swaying with every step, eyes hollow on the verge of unconsciousness.
“Mirialans are naturally perceptive to the Force.” Zay knelt over Maize when she collapsed in the archway to the hall with artifacts and slapped both of her cheeks. The girl barely cracked her eyes open. “That Dark Side ritual, it must be affecting her. We need to get her out.”
“We all need to get out,” Hux said as if it wasn’t obvious. They had no chance against a Force user as strong as the Emperor once he regained the full extent of his power.
“Get her into the ship,” Ren said. “And get as far from Jakku as you can.”
“What-” Hux started in disbelief. Then he felt a yank at his belt. The other lightsaber, Leia Organa’s lightsaber, slapped into Ren’s hand. He held it for a moment, feeling its weight, eyes unfocused as if staring into another realm. A world of emotion played out on his face, pain, resignation and hope at once. Finally, he smiled, softly like someone who just came home after a long day, and he nodded to himself.
The blade came on with a sharp, steady buzz, and in that bright blue light reflected in Ren’s eyes, Hux saw determination.
“No,” he whispered. “No, no, no!!” he shouted, pleaded, begged. Why wouldn’t the fool listen to reason? “Will is gone! Palpatine’s too powerful, you stand no chance!”
“Will is still there,” Ren looked back. “I can’t just let him succumb, I can’t fail him like that. And if he’s really gone… then I will make sure Palpatine won’t leave this place, either.”
If Hux still had a heart, it would be breaking. Now, it was only his voice. “You can’t win this.”
Ren touched his face, a gentle caress of fingertips even as he was stepping away. His eyes crinkled around the corners in a wry, unrepentant grin.
“Haven’t you heard? I don't care who wins. I just don’t want to lose you.”
“You bastard,” Hux whispered, with feeling. I can’t lose you was lodged in his throat and refused to come out. But he knew one thing: he was done running.
“Then I go with you.”
“I’m sorry, Hux.” Ren’s voice wavered, and he put another bit of distance between them. “I really am.”
“You promised,” Hux snarled, suddenly furious. If the bastard was going to use the Force on him, Hux would claw his eyes out-
“Override code Ganthel,” Ren said, and Hux’s blood ran cold. This wasn’t possible. This wasn’t happening.
“Dee-dee, no!” But it was already too late. His trusty droid was nothing more than the basic protocol now, the one that Rae Sloane put into him as a failsafe all those years ago. Nothing more than a deadly efficient sentinel droid.
“Take your charge to the ship and leave Jakku. His survival is your absolute priority,” Ren commanded. He looked at Zay. “You’re a pilot. Get the ship out of here and don’t look back.”
“You can’t-!” Hux screamed but before he could move, a strong robotic arm wrapped around him and lifted him up, carrying him down the hallway like a sack of sand. No matter how hard he kicked and squirmed, D-D didn’t yield an inch. He had his orders and nothing short of complete annihilation would prevent him from carrying them out.
Kylo slumped in exhaustion, Hux’s screams still ringing in his ears. It would seem that their relationship would end exactly the way it started - with Hux shouting bloody murder at him. It was fitting.
Across the expanse of the borehole, the light from the ritual chamber was still pulsing. Kylo understood enough of the ancient script when he read it to know there was still time - but very little of it, now. There was still a chance, but only barely.
He looked at the lightsaber in his hand, the plasma burning strong and steady, the blue glow comforting.
“How dare you have her eyes? Hers were always so full of hope… and yours are so sad.”
“She had hope enough for the whole Galaxy… but not enough for me.”
But not now. He could feel her, by his side. Ben Solo was dead but Kylo Ren was her son, too.
Time to act. He went to the borehole vents control terminal and activated it. The decades-old schematics rolled by on the screen. It was exactly as he expected.
“Tell me you actually have a plan.”
The lightsaber very nearly burnt away Zay’s hair when he spun at her on instinct but to her credit, she didn’t even flinch.
“Maize got better when we got out,” she explained. “She has a knack for piloting, and she learned the controls of your ships the other day. They’ll be fine.”
Kylo huffed and returned to his work. The sequence had to be there somewhere…
“You should’ve gone with them,” he muttered.
“And miss out on making sure you die a hero?” She grinned, a steel-hard, determined fighter who sees Death’s smile and smiles back. “No way. So, what’s your plan?”
“I’m going to get Will,” he said. It didn’t sound doable even to his own ears but he had to try. He owed it to Will, and to himself. “But if I fail...”
There it was. He pulled up the commands, activated them, and confirmed the sequence. The screens flashed a warning and somewhere deep in the rocks beneath them, a set of massive turbines started to move.
“The vents,” Kylo pointed towards the borehole. “I reversed the mechanism that sealed them.” He had to shout now, the noise of the turbines reverberating through the ground. Grains of sand danced on every surface, moved by the soundwaves, even as the mass inside the borehole caved and started to sink.
Now just to make sure Palpatine wouldn’t be able to just step over their dead bodies and seal the shaft again. He looked at the lightsaber and sighed.
“Hux always hated when I did this.” He jammed the blade into the terminal. It screeched with a burst of sparks and the screens went dead. Beneath them, the turbines picked up speed.
“This will destabilise the whole planet!” Zay shouted, her teeth rattling with the vibrations.
Kylo nodded grimly. “Yes. In a few minutes, the planet will explode, destroying everything on it - and in it. Is that a sure enough death for you?”
Zay pressed her lips together. “Kriff. Well then - let’s make it count.”
“So you have chosen to witness my triumph.”
Will was still sat on the throne, resting with his limbs lax and head tilted back against the slab of stone. Waves of energy like reddish light coursed through him, weaving the bond between his body and Palpatine’s spirit. The holocron channelled its power to feed the connection, its bright filigree walls turning dim and burned out as the ritual progressed. Once it was complete, it wouldn’t be anything more than a lump of ashes.
Will’s bionic eyes stared unseeing into the ceiling, the apertures whirring at random. The frantic, unpredictable sound was perhaps the last what was left of the clone.
“The last of the Skywalkers...”
Kylo Ren walked slowly towards the dais before he stopped. There appeared to be an invisible barrier preventing him to come any closer. He lifted his hand, palm facing outward. Flexed his fingers, gripping on thin air. A flicker of flames appeared out of nowhere and dispersed again like the ionised air Zay used to see around the edges of her X-wing cockpit during atmospheric flight.
A force-field, or maybe a literal Force field, the air itself going up in flames from the friction where Kylo Ren pushed his own energy against it.
“... and the daughter of traitorous, rebel scum.”
Zay slunk into the room behind him and kept to the wall. Getting caught in a magical cross-fire was the last thing she wanted. She almost tripped over something lying on the floor in the corner… Ren’s almost empty backpack. He’d dropped it here earlier. A few of the thermal detonators lay strewn across the floor, forgotten.
Her blaster wouldn’t be of much use against a lightsaber-wielding Force-user. She had seen enough archive footage to know that they could deflect any shot. But a detonator… that was a different handful.
“Let him go,” Ren was saying. “You cannot escape this planet.”
Will rose from the seat and stepped down from the dais, prowling towards Ren like a big cat playing with its prey. The barrier between them dropped with just a tilt of his head.
“For the last battle, I have left instructions. My followers were to use the spark of vital life force trapped in Jakku’s core to release all the power from the Sith artifacts I have left behind.”
The thing inhabiting the clone’s body laughed.
“You may destroy the planet but the energy released will make me more powerful than you can possibly imagine. I will escape through space and time… while you will be left behind and perish.”
He still held the Skywalker lightsaber, now red like a dying star and with a new, jarring note to its sound, hissing with an occasional crackle. The Kyber crystal inside was still fighting the change. Will held it loosely, pointed down and to the side - almost as if welcoming an attack, daring Ren to try.
“He was your protégé, wasn’t he. You feel responsible for him.” Bright blue eyes roamed on their own, unfocused. They still held a reminder of innocence, so at odds with the cruel, mocking smile. “Even now, you are hesitant to fight me, for fear of hurting him.”
Zay took another few steps around the room. Will - or whatever was left of him - didn’t seem to pay her any attention. Carefully, she crept closer, keeping in the shadows of the massive marble spikes of the throne. She was almost behind it now, Will’s back turned to her. She caught Ren’s eye and mouthed, keep him talking.
And then she pressed the trigger of the thermal detonator. She caught the frantic shake of Ren’s head but it was already too late - the detonator rolled across the floor to stop at Will’s feet. The countdown cut through the rhythmic booming rumble of the ritual in an ever-accelerating series of beeps-
It levitated off the floor straight into Will’s hand. He regarded it with disdain as the beeping turned into one steady sound and then… it imploded on itself.
Zay could hardly believe her eyes. The detonator went off - for about a millisecond. And then all that hot plasma and blast energy just turned inwards and consumed each other in a single poof of black smoke.
And then Will’s fist, still loosely wrapped around the empty space where the detonator had been just a moment ago, closed. The air was squeezed out of Zay’s throat, stars burst along the edges of her vision, and then the world went black.
Zay didn’t know how much later it was when she came to. Perhaps just a few seconds. The chamber was still pulsing with light. Outside, the noise of the turbines changed, rising higher as the strain on them increased, with a deafening echo from the almost emptied borehole. Beneath her cheek pressed against the cold ground, she felt a tiny, passing tremor. It could be one of the machines faltering. But it could also be the first quake, threatening to rip apart the whole planet. Shakily, she got to her feet.
Will was talking.
“...unless you take his place. He is dead either way.” He drew himself up, arms outstretched, inviting. “If you strike me down, he may at least rest in peace.”
Oh no. Zay understood what Palpatine was offering. The hatred, guilt and pain at killing Will would open Ren’s soul to be possessed by the same evil that had overtaken the clone.
She saw Ren raise his lightsaber, pain and anguish welling up in his eyes… and then his eyes slipped past Will to lock with hers once more, flipped the hold on the lightsaber to point the blade in reverse, and tossed it to her.
She stood too far to be able to stab Will in the back, but it didn’t matter. She was close enough to swing herself up on the marble spikes of the throne and drive the bright blue blade of the lightsaber straight through the holocron.
The explosion knocked her to the ground. The blinding light burned residual white spots into her retina that floated in her vision when she blinked. Besides the spots, the room was filled with darkness. Zay couldn’t hear anything. Her ears were buzzing with static. Something tickled her on the sides of her neck. She rubbed at it and her fingers came away bloody. The blast must have ruptured her eardrums.
Disoriented, she tried to crawl out of the debris of the throne. A sharp pain shot through her arm and she whimpered. She became aware of something heavy - probably a piece of debris from the broken throne - trapping her right arm under its weight. She pushed at it and tried to twist her body - to no avail. She might as well have been poking the very rock of Jakku’s crust.
Her head pounded and everything hurt. Did they succeed? Did they interrupt the ritual in time? If yes, where did the spirit go-
Those burning questions were answered rather abruptly when lightning flashed through the room, arcing in continuous, splitting, relentless bursts. Will was still somehow standing, even though stooping and leaning heavily to one side, and the lightning was spitting from his fingertips and into Ren’s writhing body.
Muffled with the fog of static, she could still hear Palpatine’s laughter.
“Did you think I would let him go? He’s mine. The ritual would have merely extinguished his spirit from this body. Now he is trapped. I still have control over him, he is no match against me!”
Ren’s hands scrambled for purchase across the floor, clawing at the stone with bloodied nails. Zay could only watch as his body convulsed in agony. And yet he wasn’t trying to get away, or fight back - no - it seemed as if he was trying to reach for something.
In the sharp and sickly electric light, Zay saw something move out of the corner of her eye. Ren’s empty backpack, forgotten by the wall. As she watched, she realised it wasn’t completely empty. It shifted again, an outline of something round and solid pushing against the fabric. Another detonator? They were useless, Palpatine already proved he could extinguish them with just a thought-
What finally levitated out of the bag wasn’t a detonator. It looked like two half-ring shapes connected together at one end, gleaming dully like a plated metal. It looked almost like… a single opened handcuff. Only much bigger.
It flew across the room slowly, shakily, as Ren’s body was tortured and his control was slipping. Above him, Palpatine was still laughing.
“You shall wish you stayed dead the first time I killed you, last Skywalker!”
Another burst wracked Ren’s body, his limbs contorting, his spine arching off the floor. And then, in the last effort, he lifted his hand - and snapped his fingers together.
The metallic ring closed around the clone’s neck, the lock clicking shut.
All of the sudden, the lightning stopped, and the room plunged into darkness. In the abrupt silence, Zay heard the thud of Will’s body collapsing against the floor.
And then her white-noise-filled ears picked up the distant boom of rock cracking deep beneath them.
“I really wanted to tell him I wasn’t the last Skywalker,” Ren groaned as he moved away the piece of marble trapping Zay’s arm.
“The fewer speeches the better,” she huffed back at him and then cursed in several languages in quick succession. She got to her feet on her own but her forearm was sticking out at an odd angle. At least she could still run. The walkway could collapse any moment now. Kylo was hobbling behind her.
Then she realised the reason Kylo was slower. It was because he had hauled Will’s unconscious body across his shoulders, and was carrying him out.
“What are you doing?” She very nearly pushed them both off the walkway. “Toss him in! We’re not saving bloody Palpatine!”
Kylo paused to toss something into the depths - the Skywalker lightsaber.
“Palpatine possessed him through the Force,” he explained. “As long as Will is cut off from the Force, Palpatine can’t control him.”
Zay groaned in disbelief but arguing would only ensure the Observatory would collapse on their heads, so she ran ahead.
They stumbled out of that cursed place into the white-hot sun and the shimmering air of Jakku desert. All around them, the sand was vibrating and shifting, the dunes collapsing on themselves. Across the horizon, the sand dust darkened the sky, lifted by rapidly encroaching storms.
“Now tell me you have a plan,” Kylo panted. Will might have been reedy and malnourished but he was still a grown man of nearly the same height as him, and his deadweight was kriffing heavy.
“The advanced TIEs in the landing dome,” Zay shouted. Her arm was out of commission but a seasoned Resistance pilot like her could fly those tin cans with one hand literally tied behind her back. The fighters had two seats, for the pilot and for the gunner. With Will, it would be a tight fit.
They made it into the landing dome and into the TIE with seconds to spare. Kylo prayed to the Force that they would clear the atmosphere before the planet would explode.
He should have known that after today, the Force was utterly done with him.
The wave hit them and tossed the TIE into an uncontrolled spin, banging Kylo’s head against the side of the cockpit. As the lumps of dirt and rocks pummeled the fragile casing of their lifeboat, his last thought was comforting.
Somewhere out there, Hux was going to be alright.
Not very far from there, Hux was very nearly having apoplexy.
D-D finally let him go from his crushing grasp when the ship was far enough from the planet that its destruction wouldn’t harm it.
Which meant that Hux got to see it.
It was somehow worse than watching the death of the Starkiller base.
He’d thought he had lost everything that day. It didn’t seem possible that one day, he would lose even more.
He knew what Ren would say. It’s alright, Hux. You’ll grieve. You’ll regroup. You’ll come back stronger. You always do.
But could he grieve? Was he given even one bloody moment to grieve? No, because that kriffing Mirialan girl was on him like a harpy, insisting over and over:
D-D provided the voice of reason because all Hux wanted was to scream. “The chances of surviving a planetary explosion-”
“They’re alive! I can feel it!”
Great. What did the Resistance pilot say? That Mirialans had a natural affinity to the Force? Hux was so done with that wizardry.
“Hux, I know you can feel it too.” Steaming pile of nerfshit. “Listen to your heart, what does it say?”
Hux stopped fighting against the scream but all that came out was just high-pitched, maniacal laughter.
“My heart-” he hiccuped, “-my heart is a set of turbine pumps controlled by a chip, it doesn’t say shit-”
Something blinked inside his brain. Like a light coming on. A chip.
“A control chip,” he muttered. And then he dived for the flight computer.
This ship had got them out of trouble by locking on Ren’s tracker several times. The frequency was still stored in the flight logs. The custom-made chip also had what Hux once described as ‘a little obedience function’ - it sat on Ren’s jugular vein, impossible to remove, and was connected to his central nervous system.
Hux turned his cabin upside down until he found the control bracelet, and then he nearly smashed the button calling for feedback.
The tiny pinprick of light flared up on the screen. A rundown of vitals started to scroll down. Body temperature. Blood oxygen saturation. Heart rate.
“My heart doesn’t,” he grinned. “But his talks loud and clear.”
Kylo came back, very slowly, to the somewhat blurry sight of a gently lit ceiling and durasteel walls of a ship’s cabin. He knew those lights. He knew the feeling of the soft mattress under his back. They’ve survived.
He turned his head. His vision was still blurred but he would know Hux’s face anywhere. His hair was loose, red starting to show around the roots, and his eyes were stern, lined with black rings of exhaustion.
But his lips were still perfect. Pink, slightly bitten, and pursed in that furious sneer that Kylo knew so well. Hux wouldn’t be Hux without it. Kylo wondered if he would get a kiss now...
“Give me back my kriffing droid!” Hux barked.
Fuck. So much for a kiss. Kylo turned his head a little more and sure enough, there was D-D, contentedly hovering over Hux like the faithful bodyguard he was now.
“Sorry,” Kylo rasped. “Dee-dee, end of override protocol. I would appreciate it if you didn’t zap me.”
The droid’s eyes blinked and he beeped as he ran an internal diagnostics, making sure all his ad-ons were back in place. Then he switched back to the voice module.
“You have spent two weeks in bacta to heal from your injuries, including the nerve damage caused by lightning. I am not going to undo all my hard work,” he said. Beside him, Hux visibly relaxed, the tension leaking out of him at the sound of D-D’s usual voice.
“Your hard work was for nothing,” Hux grumbled. “He’d always been braindead.”
D-D left, presumably to look after his other patients. Hux turned back to Kylo… and swayed a little.
“Hux,” Kylo started, cautiously. “I want you to know I’m sorry-”
“Shut up, Ren,” Hux advised him. He blinked sluggishly. “I haven’t slept in… far too long.”
And with that, he crawled into Kylo’s bed, threw one arm over his torso, hooked one knee across his legs, rested his face against Kylo’s shoulder… and was out like the light.
Alright, Kylo thought fondly. He supposed they could talk later. They had time. In fact, they had all the time in the world.
Kylo got a little fright when he first hobbled out from the cabin, only to run into Will in the common area - with the Force dampening collar gone from his neck.
But the clone only smiled as he pointed to his nape. From under the base of his skull, along his spine and deep between his shoulder blades ran a clean, surgical scar, already healing.
“Hux and D-D found a way to integrate the Force-dampening circuitry into my spine,” he explained. “It was my own idea, by the way. Collar was too dangerous. Someone could remove it and I’d be back to being a monster.”
Kylo didn’t know what to say. A mere sorry didn’t seem to cover it.
The clumsy, slightly childish manner Will used to have was gone now. It seemed that the experience of hosting a centuries old malicious spirit in his mind has finally aged him, his innocent, carefree days definitely in the past. He could be bearing this burden for the rest of his life, all because of Kylo’s blindness to what was going on right under his nose.
“I’m going with Zay to Ajan Kloss,” Will told him. “Perhaps with more Jedi around, we will find a way to purge Palpatine’s presence out of the Force for good.”
And if they wouldn’t… he would have to live out the rest of his days like this. Cut off from the Force, and without his innate Sight. He always used the Force to see without eyes.
“You’re blind now,” Kylo pointed out, unhappy. “Truly.”
Will shrugged. “I still have the eyes Ash made for me. I always liked them better, anyway.”
It took Hux another week before he cooled off enough to start talking to Ren in longer than two-word sentences. And another, before he kissed him.
By the end of the first week, Ren looked ready to die for just one kiss. But by the end of the second, it was clear that one kiss was just the first crack in a dam.
At night, ignoring Ren’s not-so-subtle overtures was becoming increasingly impossible. By the end of the third week, Ren was positively sulking.
But still he wouldn’t crack and push. Perhaps he truly believed he deserved the cold shoulder. Not that he didn’t, he definitely did. But Hux decided to free him from his misery anyway.
“I’m not punishing you, or whatever you’ve concocted in that thick head of yours,” Hux informed him. “If anything, I’m punishing myself. But I have standards.”
He looked around the cabin. After three weeks of constant cohabitation, the smell was only the first item on a long list of issues. And he was done with the idea of quick blow-jobs and dirty hand-jobs. He wanted everything and he didn’t want to compromise.
“Trust me when I say this, that as soon as I get you somewhere with a clean bed and a ‘fresher, I’m going to make you strip, and I’m going to take you apart.”
He said it as a threat but judging from the way Ren’s eyes darkened, he took it as a promise.
Hux decided not to tell him yet that he already researched the unity ceremonies on the planet they were heading to. Galaxy-wide acknowledged or not, he didn’t care. He truly wanted everything.
For now, he would take another kiss.
So that's it folks! I want to thank so much to all the people who stayed through and left me comments on each update, you're the STARS that kept me going. Also to Izverg and the rest of the fandom over on ficbook, you're awesome.
Special thanks to Gen for listening to my daily rants about this fic without ever telling me to go eff myself like I deserved.