Ren barges in at 0225.
Rather, Ren bangs his massive paw on the door and waits just long enough to make it technically not barging in before the access panel beeps. He storms past the office space without a stray glance in. The refresher door slams closed a moment later.
Well. That answers how it went.
Hux sighs, slumping in his chair. Figures that Ren would choose now to leave his lair. He couldn’t have shown himself when Hux could use his intimidating presence yesterday, of course not. Couldn’t have defended the Order he’s supposed to be leading against that boar Kratkitki at the holo-conference earlier. No, Hux had to face all that, alone—like he always does.
He ought to cite reports to write and turn Ren away—better yet, let him stay. Would serve Ren well to toss and turn alone while Hux sits in the next room, nearby but unreachable. No help at all.
Double-checking that the documents are synched, he disconnects his datapad and switches off the monitor, leaving the empty cups lying on his desk. It’s going to be a seven-minute shower, if Ren’s eerie silence is any indication; tidying up can wait.
He’s wrong, for once. It’s full ten minutes before Ren steps out of the refresher in a cloud of humidity and honey soap—long enough for Hux to change and leave a clean set out for Ren, for hygiene’s sake. Ren might be fine with wearing the same clothes for a standard week straight; but he’s not coming anywhere near Hux’s bed in them.
At least Ren stopped taking offence at the gesture.
Ren undresses swiftly, not a care for modesty—his or Hux’s. Keeping his eyes on the clothes he’s folding and putting away, “Your quarters come with a ‘fresher attached as well, surely,” Hux says. A nice one, too, what with having been Snoke’s star pupil back in the day. Ren has no reason to keep coming to Hux’s quarters for a shower. “Unless you destroyed yours.”
The bundle of black fabric floating past halts above the hamper.
Hux’s stomach sinks.
A muscle in his cheek twitching, “Ren,” he sighs, the word sour in his mouth. He was jesting, for stars’ sake. They are—he thought they were beyond meaningless destruction by now, that it had become one of those things: things from their shared past that they could gingerly jest about now, to be openly laughed at one day. Isn’t that why they’re doing this? What’s the point of this if it’s not helping Ren keep his head?
Hands clenching and unclenching at his sides, “I didn’t destroy my refresher,” Ren says, his voice only slightly raspy with disuse instead of the regular post-tantrum hoarseness.
Then again, if Ren had had a tantrum and gone through his quarters, someone would have heard and reported it to Hux, too. His datapad has been mercifully—mercilessly—quiet the entire delta shift.
A twinge of guilt passes through his chest.
“All right,” he says, because sorry doesn’t belong between the two of them. If they started to apologise for every hurtful word and assumption they have ever thrown at each other’s face, they would be here all month.
Not that the word is likely to exist in Ren’s vocabulary.
“I didn’t!” Ren snaps, the corners of his lips turning down at the perceived insult, body growing stiffer in indignation—on the verge of that tantrum, now. The hovering bundle starts quivering violently.
Stars, it is far too late into the delta shift to deal with Ren’s moods.
Resisting the urge to dig the heels of his palms into his eyes until white sparks in his vision—satisfying as it would have been—Hux forces the lines of his body to relax instead, an invitation for Ren to mirror him. The simplest way to defuse Ren is to give him a lead to follow.
Meeting his gaze, “I believe you, Ren,” he says, mild but clear, honest—at least, honest-sounding enough to give Ren’s building agitation a pause. He doesn’t give Ren time to size up his sincerity before heading to the refresher himself, unlatching Ren’s dirty bundle from empty air along the way.
He doesn’t linger long, still not comfortable going about his full routine while not alone in his quarters. A hot shower to wash away the cycle’s—hells, week’s—troubles would be blissful; but the cubicle is still wet from Ren’s turn and anyway, the idea of undressing again and standing under the spray doesn’t hold much appeal at this hour, even if he already won’t be able to fall asleep soon with the amount of caf in his system.
Besides, the Supreme Leader is waiting.
He half-expects to find Ren still standing there and fidgeting when he walks in; but Ren has already settled in the middle of the bed, a dark lump against the white bedding, the plush duvet pushed to his waist. Ren has done him the courtesy of letting him choose his side, although it matters little when he pulls Hux close as soon as Hux slides under the covers. Hux puts up only the token fight before getting comfortable between Ren’s arms, kicking the rest of the duvet out of the way. Ren runs hot enough to make any extra coverage unbearable within minutes.
They lie in… not peace, but an acceptable approximation of it. His head is buzzing with everything he’ll need to take care of after his first cup of caf later in the cycle; Ren distracts him by nosing at his neck, his ear, his hair before it can latch onto anything specific. For his own sake. When they are—when Ren is being this way, affectionate and indulgent, Hux is foolishly, dangerously willing to dismiss that Ren is the reason his task list is so long. That he wouldn’t even be in Hux’s bed right now had Ren not failed again.
He is too tired to muster up the disappointment.
“Tell me something,” Ren whispers.
Ren shifts behind him. “No, I mean—talk to me. Tell me about your week.”
He snorts. “You don’t want to hear about my week.” Nor does Hux want to talk about his week, giant waste of time that it has been. Following-up on holo-mails that go nowhere, trying to prioritise the plethora of critical issues they must allocate for in their budget, status reports that show nothing but how the High Command is sitting with their thumbs up their arses while the First Order’s funds dwindle and glory slips further out of their reach. If he were the Supreme Leader—
—but of course, he isn’t the Supreme Leader. Is that not the root of their predicament? Nothing he can offer to potential allies and benefactors will ever be enough to sway them to their cause while the Supreme Leader of the First Order hides away and seeks guidance from ghosts.
A breeze brushes against his mind; mild, warm wind over chilled skin, caked scent of suns over damp ground, raw dough and—
His jaw locks with a click, a lungful of recycled air and faux-honey shattering the deception easily enough. That storm is developing across his forehead again, the spot above his brow pulsing in time with his heart hammering in his throat. “Ren.”
“I’m not in your head,” Ren amends. “I just sensed your… grievances.”
“You are the biggest,” Hux grits out, shifting away—Ren’s arm snaked across his entire middle holds him in place. When did that happen? “Ren. Let go of me.”
“Talk to me,” Ren repeats, chapped lips catching on Hux’s hair. “I can’t ease your mind if you don’t.”
It will take more than half-remembered pillow talk to ease Hux’s mind. It will take more than talking, if they are to solve anything. However, Ren has got a point. Division of work is a key principle in a functional organisation so long as all parties are aware of the big picture—which Ren might not be, having operated outside of the Order for the longest time. Perhaps it’s time for an alternate approach.
When Hux isn’t hurting to sink his teeth at Ren’s bared throat and Ren can be reasonably expected not to fling himself into that temper tantrum they’ve narrowly missed at the slightest provocation.
“Tomorrow,” he promises. Tomorrow, they talk.
Hux shouldn’t need more space.
His quarters aboard the Steadfast are bigger than makes sense for any one person—feels even more so after having spent his youth bunking in cramped rooms, privacy a joke they shared on the way to communal showers. The sheer space allocated to his person is a mark of his well-earned position within the Order, a reward for his accomplishments to date and an incentive to keep up the good work; but Hux had walked into the quarters for the first time, felt small and insignificant and proceeded to aggressively furnish them, starting with a new blue couch and an emperor-size bed.
An emperor-size bed and he’s still got an arm and half a leg hanging off. Kriffing bed-stealers.
His mouth full of cotton—his brain worse so—he nudges the giant pinning him into the mattress in the ribs until Ren rolls over with a grunt, still dead to the world. Hux’s entire half is soaked where the human furnace has been sweating all over him, sticking to his dead arm and the sheets underneath. Ugh. He’s going to need a long water shower if he wants to get anywhere near clean.
At least he woke up with enough time to get one.
Brushing damp hair off his face—ugh—he drags himself out of the bed, dismissing the alarm before it goes off. He should wake Ren as well, send him to his own quarters before the ship wakes up proper. They’ve been immensely lucky so far; no one seems to have noticed how much of their free time Ren has been spending in Hux’s quarters—and Hux would much prefer to keep it that way. His image is tarnished enough without tacking Supreme Leader Ren’s Babysitter at the end of his title.
Ren must need the rest, though. How sitting on the floor and doing nothing can be so taxing is beyond Hux; but he can’t ignore the exhaustion Ren radiates after a week-long meditation session. Rousing him with not even three hours of sleep under their belt would be cruel. Not to mention, counter-productive.
Ah, well. Ren can have until Hux is finished with his morning routine.
When Hux walks back into the bedroom, dressed and ready to face the cycle, Ren is still snoring into Hux’s pillows, Millicent stretched out between his legs. Hux lets him sleep. His work is much easier without Ren looming like an oversized shadow anyway.
Officers’ kitchen has got shite tea and the blandest ration bars available. More importantly, it’s always empty. Rummaging through the conservator, he grabs a bar to nibble on and skims through his comms on the way to the bridge. Nothing that requires his attention. Nothing even addressed to him specifically; just the usual crop of reports and chatter.
Chatter that should be kept off the official channels; but he will allow his crew this much. After the Starkiller and everything that followed, the morale could benefit from some silliness and cat vids.
Lieutenant Mitaka is approaching with caf before Hux is even halfway to the command centre. Good man. They go over the more important status reports, updates, the cycle’s agenda as Hux’s brain slowly comes back online, his light-headedness slowly abating. He’s still going to need a stim soon if he’s to not keel over somewhere within the next shift; but that’s a problem for later.
The problem for now is— “1200?”
“Yes, sir. The Supreme Leader was, um, insistent about scheduling a meeting with you before the first shift change. 1200 was your only available time slot.” Mitaka glances up from the datapad that must be cutting into his palms, swallowing. “Should I not have, sir?” he asks, more quietly.
“No, no, it’s all right, Lieutenant,” Hux reassures him, waving a hand. “It was the right call.” Ren would have simply crashed or otherwise sabotaged one of Hux’s early meetings otherwise, whatever inane reason he might need Hux’s time for always presiding over. A(nother) missed meal is better than humiliation.
A bigger downside: He will have to postpone the stim. Ren can always tell when he’s used one and Hux has got neither the time nor the patience for that well-worn argument.
To be fair, he resents having to resort to chemical matters to perform his duties as well; but the First Order needs him at his best—more so these days. The fallout of Snoke’s ungraceful death has been both swift and lingering; several months later, there is still so much clean-up left to do: negotiations to settle, repairs and recruitment to supervise, the issue of funding to resolve. Although Ren is shaping up to be a more skilled Supreme Leader than his clumsy ascension had had Hux believe, with an intuitive, hands-on style of ruling and an almost childish eagerness to learn, he lacks the foresight and know-how needed to get them back on their feet. The more… delicate matters of governance falls, ultimately, on Hux.
On top of overseeing the training of what’s left of their troops, the daily minutiae of running a battleship and attending to the whims of their esteemed Supreme Leader.
If he needs a little help on occasion, so be it.
He survives the alpha shift. Barely.
His head is swimming by the time the third holo-meeting ends, the far wall still cast in blue from the projector. Utter failure, every single one of them. Not that he expected much better. Snoke’s supposed allies took no time to seize opportunity and re-negotiate the terms of their agreements—and with 40% of their military power remaining, the First Order cannot force the matter in many cases. Finding an acceptable middle ground is, often, their only option.
Oh, how far they’ve fallen.
Stomach churning, he considers his half-full mug; he’s had enough caf that finishing it will make the nausea worse for no real benefit. Food—real food—would be welcome by now. There’s still the meeting with Ren before that, however, then the beta shift’s tasks, then another meeting with the Kratt envoy that he’d rather break his left arm than attend…
Well. Best to get started.
Conference Room E is the closest one to his office, which is still a distance to walk. The time on the panel tips from 1158 to 1159 as he presses his palm on it, which is all right since Ren—
—is arranging canisters of food on the table.
Ren has frozen in place with a whole air cake between his hands, a massive, empty tray resting on top of a mouse droid. Some of the arrangement is familiar from all the planet-hopping of his childhood—there are only so many ways to make protato wedges anyway—but most aren’t immediately recognisable.
How does Ren even know that many of these exist?
Brows pulled deep, “You’re early,” Ren grumbles, because of course it’s Hux’s fault that Ren can’t read a kriffing chrono.
“I’m on time,” Hux points out—which is to say, he’s late. Most of one end of the long table is covered with food; he slides into the nearest chair—somewhat literally—and pushes aside a wide bowl of green, sticky leaves to make space for his datapad. “Are we expecting the rest of the High Command?” He was under the impression that it was a private briefing—would much prefer it that way, too—but not even Ren’s notorious appetite can justify such wastefulness for only the two of them.
Especially considering Hux won’t even risk most of it.
“No,” Ren mutters, the corners of his mouth pulled tight—which is just perfect. Hux is missing a break and a meal he could at least stomach in order to suffer another of Ren’s random bouts of foul mood.
Pushing away his own irritation, he picks up his stylus, switching on the hologrammatic interface. He’s not having Ren read over his shoulder the whole time. “In that case, shall we, Supreme Leader?”
Updating Ren on their progress after his week-long meditation escapades is, while tedious, often worthwhile—so long as there is progress. Strictly speaking, the briefing consists of Hux parroting what Lieutenant Mitaka had told him earlier with some visuals thrown in for good measure; but Ren showing interest in the First Order business is rare enough that he won’t shove some reports in Ren’s hands and hope for the best—nor will he endanger one of his best Lieutenants by putting him in Ren’s way.
He does reconsider the cost-effectiveness of this one when Ren spends the entirety of the presentation stuffing his face, however.
“If you were in want of a tablemate with an open schedule,” Hux says steadily, trying his level best not to spit out the words. Ren halts with his spoon halfway to his mouth. “I believe Captain Peavey would have been a better pick, Ren. You needn’t have dressed your best for him, either.”
Ren locks his jaw with a huff. “Some sycophants are visiting in a month. We need to impress them for credits or we’re done for. It’s been the same song-and-dance for months, Hux.” His eyes flicking down to his—still half-full—plate, Ren drops his spoon back into his pudding. Pink, disgusting droplets splash over the front of his robes. “Why do you want me to show up this time anyway? You know I’ll do more harm than good.”
Stars help him.
Taking a deep breath, Hux puts his fork down, leaning forward with his elbows resting against the edge of the table. “These people invest in us, Ren. Ideally, they would all support us over our shared goal; but that’s not how it works. Many of our benefactors would turn and throw credits at the Resistance as soon as we proved unprofitable—as a matter of fact, some have.”
Ren flinches, his nostrils flaring. Good. It’s high time Ren realised what is at stake here.
“The losses we’ve suffered recently were very public; our allies need to see us standing strong more than ever. We must appear dependable—a united front. Your lack of presence at my side sends entirely the wrong message, Supreme Leader.”
Ren’s frown deepens. “Why would they care if I’m at your side or not? You are General Armitage Hux—you’re the Starkiller.”
As if his well-earned titles ever mattered to a room of egos more fragile than Ren’s own. “As far as they are concerned,” he says, gesturing vaguely out of the viewport. “I am the lunatic who didn’t bat an eye when ordered to obliterate a few billion sentients. Anyone outside the First Order considered me Snoke’s toy soldier, Ren—it’s no coincidence that they stopped fearing me once I lost my puppeteer.”
“Starkiller was your project. You never needed Snoke.”
“No,” Hux agrees. “But they don’t know that.”
Ren sniffs, nose twitching—Hux still hasn’t figured out if it’s a gesture of nerves or discomfort. Might be both. Might be neither. “You’re not eating.”
“You’re changing the subject,” Hux returns, although he picks up his fork again, looking around for something safe. With the yellowish-greenish meat that he had thought to be a fruit still sitting heavy in his stomach, he’s not willing to leave it to chance—nor Ren—again.
His saviour comes in the form of some sort of unnecessarily colourful salad. How weird can sliced vegetables be?
“The meeting with the diplomats from Artem is in a month’s time,” Hux reminds him, piling the salad high on his plate. “I would appreciate it if you could find the time in your busy schedule to attend, Supreme Leader.”
A muscle in Ren’s jaw ticks, his mouth pulled tight in the corners. Hux stabs at his food and waits him out. Pushing Ren has its uses at the right times—now is not one of those.
Looking down himself, Ren sniffs again at last, running a hand through his hair. “These are my best clothes, though.”
If Hux never saw Bonadan again it would be too early.
It’s no fault of the planet, in all fairness. There was a time—before he realised the First Order was his life now—when Hux thought he might enjoy living here; within sharp high-rises reaching towards the moons, among people with a purpose. Even now, as Yseut and Ren discuss what Hux surmises to be fabrics, he imagines himself in one of the production facilities further into the district, designing all that makes those cloths happen—going home with charcoal and oil on his fingers, lint in his hair.
Childish musings, those. Nothing more.
For someone who insisted on wearing those monk’s robes and shawl to his coronation, Ren has an unexpectedly extensive list of ideas for his new robes. Hux has got only a passing familiarity with this process, mainly from sitting in that same spot often enough in his childhood; but it’s never taken more than twenty minutes for his father—thirty if Brendol needed to have new measurements taken. Ren and Yseut have been pouring over sketches for twice that time already, Yseut’s fifteen needle-like fingers moving too close to Ren’s body as they maybe-talk, maybe-argue in Yseut’s shrill language.
Hux had no idea Ren spoke anything other than Basic. That would have come handy on so many occasions.
Not having expected to linger, Hux has got no work with him that can be done without a holo-net connection—and he would sooner destroy his datapad than connect it to a network he hasn’t reviewed the security protocols of. Trusting Ren to sense any danger before it falls on them—what good is a Force-user otherwise—he allows himself to doze on the plush chair, saving his strength for the trip back.
He wakes up to a gentle shake, Ren’s hand on his shoulder. After reviewing the schedule for the next fitting and shelling out an unreasonable amount upfront for Yseut’s express and discreet service, they leave the shop, Ren half-dragging him back to their shuttle as Hux’s sleep-addled brain struggles without the aid of caf.
Thankfully all Xi-classes come with a kitchenette.
“What are you going to wear to the meeting?” Ren asks from the nook, audible even over the atrocious whirring of the caf machine.
Ren frowns at him over his shoulder—ineffectively, folded into himself as he is. Hux would offer to save him the struggle and do it himself, except that he really doesn’t want to. “You’re making me play dress-up.”
“You’re the Supreme Leader,” Hux points out, beginning to resent how often he has to remind Ren of this simple fact. “You need to look a certain part. Similarly, I’m expected to be in uniform.”
“But does it have to be that uniform?”
Hux glances down at himself instinctively, although he’s still in his civvies for the trip. “What is wrong with my uniform?”
“Nothing,” Ren responds quickly, turning to fill two hard flimsiplast cups. Hux glowers at him as Ren walks backwards into the more spacious sitting area without crashing into anything, safely turning again.
Blatantly ignoring him, Ren sets down the cups before squeezing himself into the small gap between the seat and the table. Seven—hells, two years ago Hux would have enjoyed seeing him suffer, watching it dawn on him that he won’t ever fit into this life he’s been trying to steal from Hux.
He makes a mental note to rework the internal layouts of their remaining shuttles.
Finally meeting his eyes while reaching for the sweetener packs, Ren groans. Hux suppresses a smirk. “It’s just—it’s so bland. Even your Lieutenants have more detail to their uniforms, Hux. You are second to the Supreme Leader; you need to be set apart from the others.”
Forcing down the bloom of warmth in his chest, “I have my greatcoat,” he responds, pulling his cup closer with his fingertips. He doesn’t have Ren’s calluses on his palms to keep from burning. “It is the standard uniform for all generals of the First Order, Ren. I don’t have anything else to wear.” Outside of his dress reds, which will take his death to wear—by First Order decree.
Ren opens his mouth, then wisely shuts it again, thinking better of it. All the better. As much as he agrees, they simply don’t have the funds for something so trivial as an Order-wide uniform overhaul.
Well, perhaps if he can secure the alliance with Chancellor Aadran…
The weeks blur into each other.
Snoke wasn’t fond of outsiders—a sentiment Hux shares—which calls forth the need to put every relevant protocol in place from scratch. He delegates it to Petty Officers Unamo and Shay, putting Lieutenant Garan in charge of the duo. Petty Officer Thannisson is tasked with making sure every minute detail for the diplomats’ comfort is well taken care of. Captain Phasma is more than skilled enough to oversee the planning for the grand tour on top of her usual duties; but Hux still chooses to pair her with Captain Opan to spare her sanity.
Everything else falls on Lieutenant Mitaka.
Within the first week of this new division of work, the word micromanaging comes up within his earshot several times. By the third, his crew scatter like rats as soon as he walks up the command centre. He can’t blame them for it—he’s aware he ought to ease off on them, give them some breathing room. Even Phasma says so—rich as it is, coming from her.
He can’t, however. With the fate of the First Order hinging on this meeting, he can’t rest—nor can anyone else.
Empty as his stomach is, the stim takes effect before he’s finished reviewing the progress of the preparations for the upcoming visit. He leaves his office with a boost in his step and full conviction that the crash will be glorious. If he’s lucky enough, he might even be able to sleep for once.
One side effect he dislikes: His hands have started shaking at random intervals. Nothing particularly noticeable if one isn’t looking closely, but it forces him into a semi-permanent parade rest stance and the habit of dictating all his written communications—which proves to be a horribly ineffective method. That alone is enough to make him wish this meeting were past them already.
Lieutenant Mitaka jumps off his skin.
Ren is placed at the door to Section II like a beast guarding it, his cape billowing in nothing as he glares a steady hole into Hux’s skull under the tangle of his untamed hair, lips pulled back in a snarl.
Oh, blazing hells.
“A word, please,” Ren barks, making for Hux’s office without waiting for a response.
Heart at his feet, Hux dismisses the poor Lieutenant with a wave, rushing after Ren before Ren takes it out on his office. Foolish—how foolish of him to expect Ren to stay in his rooms and study his texts as instructed. That would have been too much like good luck to happen to Hux.
He gets three steps into the office before Ren is on him, face tight with fury. Hux waits him out at parade rest, unflinching—refusing to fold at the face of Ren’s anger.
“Field stims?” Ren hisses, his nostrils flaring like he can smell them on Hux—which, he very well might. “Really, Hux? Field stims?”
“The Order needs me, Supreme Leader,” Hux responds, keeping his tone mild.
“The Order needs you alive, Hux!” Ren snaps, launching forward with an accusing finger—Hux takes an instinctive step back and breathes. Breathes, willing the arrhythmical hammering of his heart steady. Just a side effect of the stims. He’s not afraid of Ren. Wary, yes, as one would be of a feral animal, but never afraid.
Ren halts, mouth working soundlessly around his next word before he swallows it. How fortunate, as Hux had no interest in hearing it.
Ren runs a gloved hand through his hair, licking his lips. “You are the highest-ranking officer in this ship. What happens if you’re indisposed?”
Well, Ren wasn’t thinking about that while throwing Hux about on a whim, was he? “With all due respect,” he starts, meaning nothing of the sort, “I’ve performed my duties adequately even when I was… in less than ideal health. And in the case that I am indisposed, my immediate subordinates are—”
“Worried about you.”
Irritation cuts through him. Someone tattled, then. It wasn’t enough that Ren endeared Hux’s ‘troopers to himself; he’s turning his officers, too. How much of his bridge is in Ren’s palm already? “I’m sure that’s quite unnecessary.”
“You look crazed, Hux. Did you know that? You’re all red—” Ren gestures at his own face. “—and you’re talking like you’re spitting fire. How many stims have you taken?”
Slowing his speech, “Only as many as necessary,” Hux responds carefully. Ren pins him with a look, lips pressed into a line. “Ren, the Chancellor’s visit is only six cycles away. There’s still so much work left to do. You can’t expect me to lie back and rest now of all times.”
“I can order you to rest,” Ren threatens. “I am the Supreme Leader; I can relieve you of your duties if I want.”
So now Ren remembers his station.
Do it, is on the tip of his tongue. The impulsive, destructive side that he normally knows to silence wants to bait Ren into honouring his empty threats for once. Let Ren prove to every soul under his command that the First Order doesn’t matter to him as much as his fragile ego. Let the Order crash and burn without Hux.
Ren just might allow it, is the thing. That Ren doesn’t view the Order as anything beyond a tool in his possession is an open secret; Hux doesn’t put it past Ren to deem it not worth the effort and let it all fall apart.
The First Order is all Hux has got. He won’t let Ren take that away from him.
Taking a deep breath, “On the subject of duties,” he redirects. “Have you finished studying your notes?”
Ren makes a face. “Don’t you mean my homework? That you’ve tasked me with. Like a karking school-boy.”
“I mean your cultural reference reports of Artem,” Hux says—pauses to take another breath, his lungs suddenly too small in his chest. “That I’ve painstakingly compiled for you on top of an already overloaded task list. Ren. How do you expect to hold a conversation with the Chancellor and her deputy without knowing what to converse about?”
“I’m going to talk at the meeting?”
Stars. He tugs at his collar, staining his glove with sweat. The meeting will be a disaster. Weeks that went into this project, persuading the Deputy, all their preparations—for nothing. The Chancellor will laugh in their faces and the First Order will crumble under their feet. “I cannot believe you, Ren!”
“What?” Ren whines. “You said you expected me to be there. I thought I would sit there and you would run the show.”
“Run the show!” Hux laughs, because otherwise he’s going to scream. Ren eyes him like he’s done exactly that anyway. “Yes, Supreme Leader, that’s a brilliant idea. I should run the show while you sit there—the same way I’m running the entire First Order!”
Ren’s face crumples in outrage, an ugly red rising on his cheeks. Hux doesn’t wait for him to spew more of his nonsense before punching the door release and walking back into the bridge, where he will do some good, at least.
Curse Ren. This is his ship—his Order. He’s not going to let Ren ruin his life’s work.
There is a white garment bag on his bed.
Millicent lies sprawled across it, too busy grooming to acknowledge his arrival. Hux picks her up and lays her half-propped against a pillow, where she immediately begins to lick her belly.
The intertwined Y&K on the bag makes the origin clear—as well as the mix-up.
Picking up his datapad, he calls in a droid to have the bag sent to his rightful owner, not eager to see Ren’s face again after the spectacle earlier. While at it, he sends Yseut a short—but painstakingly slow—holo-mail to thank for the timely delivery and to say to add 5% on the amount they had agreed upon on the final invoice. Reliable service isn’t easy to come by.
The bag keeps drawing his eye as he changes out of his uniform. Ren has been silent to the point of cryptic on the details of his new robes, giving him only a smile and a wink the one time Hux deigned to ask. Part of Hux wants to wait to see it on Ren for the first time, which is ostensibly Ren’s wish as well; but Hux is nothing if not naturally curious. If he doesn’t catch a glimpse now, it will eat at him until the meeting.
Just a glimpse.
Still half-naked, he steps over the boxes that bear the same insignia, unzipping the bag. White fabric shines out of the gap, a flash of gold on the narrow shoulders, more on the general’s bands on the sleeve—
Oh hells no. Ren kriffing did not.
Except that Ren kriffing did. The uniform is all white, from the long cape to the trousers, with golden details on the jacket collar’s trim. A golden chain is draped over the same side as his bands, also trimmed in gold.
It’s also strange. He’s not used to seeing himself in so much white—or anything with such a close cut. All his formal clothes are designed to hide his true form under a clever design, to add bulk where there is only skin and bone no soldier worth their salt would respect. This uniform, however, manages to accentuate his frame into something elegant, something sharp and lethal and regal, like a—
Like an emperor.
The thought cuts deep, hot fury already starting to bleed out of where the hurt is sharpest—the worst part of his inheritance, after the man he has inherited it from. Leave it to Ren to put him in his place even with a decorated piece of cloth. Leave it to him to—
His stomach rolling at every brush of heavy fabric against his skin, he pulls and tugs at the clothes until they fall at his feet in a pile, his new boots and gloves coming last. Did Ren even know what he was doing, giving Hux a ruler’s uniform? Did Ren mean to taunt him with yet another thing he can’t have?
Rubbing at his stinging eyes with the back of a trembling hand, he shakes his head. It matters little. It changes nothing. He has got the First Order to concern with; he can’t afford to—he won’t pay more mind to what Ren does or doesn’t more than he must.
Whatever Ren intended to say with this gift, he can say it to Hux’s face.
The cycle of the Chancellor and the Deputy’s arrival, another package finds its way into his quarters—a silky, luxurious bag in golden tones, so light it could be empty. Tempted as he is to airlock it, he settles for stashing it away, where it won’t bother him.
He’s got an alliance to forge.
The second shift change finds him and his officers at Hangar Six, a hundred of his SH Corps lined up in four rows in their shining white armours, two on each side. Captain Phasma is by his right side as they wait for the diplomats’ arrival, Lieutenant Mitaka on his left.
Ren stands half a step behind him.
Now that he’s seen him dressed, Hux understands the secrecy. Ren cuts a striking figure in his robes, his cape flowing out of a metal patch over his shoulder that resembles his old mask, his lightsaber latched onto his belt on the other side. Where his old outfit seemed designed to cover as much of his body as possible, the new one showcases it, outlining Ren’s strength under the supple fabric.
Ren looks dressed for battle.
Hux would be honoured to fight beside him.
After three hours of wait, Hux dismisses his officers.
After five, the ‘troopers are also allowed to go.
The diplomats arrive at the six-hour mark.
His plans for the cycle officially snubbed, he leads Chancellor Aadran and Deputy Jochen to the wardroom, complaining alongside them about spaceport traffic and unnecessary expectations of official documentation for simple travel purposes. Mentally, he makes a note to take care of all the necessary documentation in the future. Their lack of planning skills doesn’t bode well for this cooperation.
The meal is a simple affair, bone broth followed by hash and Bivoli tempari, paired with a small bottle of their finest red. Hux likes none of them to any degree; but they are customisable—which is to say, he is served the blandest possible versions of their selection while Ren and their guests enjoy their rich, impeccable food, none the wiser.
He’s going to promote Thannisson as soon as he gets his hands on his datapad.
Deputy Jochen tests every new food that arrives before passing it to Chancellor Aadran, with nothing more than a brief pause in their small talk. Hux has got the passing worry that Ren will take offence at the practice—or worse, expect the same from Hux—but Ren watches it play out with only a twitch to his brow.
Truthfully, Hux regrets asking Ren to attend already. It was a sound move, politically speaking; but Hux should have accounted for the possibility of Ren not even trying. Ren’s initial foul mood only worsened with the wait and the diplomats’ gentle efforts to pull him into the conversation; he’s sitting like a spectre they all are pretending doesn’t exist, tainting the air in the room.
They will need to have another talk. Hux isn’t looking forward to it.
Ren finishes his meal first, buried in it as he is. The attending officer brings another bottle of wine when Ren finishes their first. A terrible idea, providing the volatile Force-user with more alcohol; but Hux can find no way to refuse him without appearing rude.
In a moment of inspiration, he casually reaches for Ren’s wine and drains what little remains. The weight in the room lifts in Ren’s shock, which is oddly thrilling—for only a moment, before Ren steals a bite of Hux’s tempari in blatant retaliation.
Blood freezes in Hux’s veins.
He doesn’t turn to check Ren’s reaction, nodding along to the Chancellor’s tale about their booming vintrium industry he’s not listening to anymore. Any moment now, Ren is going to throw the poor officer or the serving droid into a wall for preparing Hux’s food inadequately and it will be over, the ruse blown, accusations of a poisoning attempt raised—
Ren pours more wine into his own cup without a word, making no move to take it back from Hux.
A flash of amusement passes through the Chancellor’s otherwise resolute expression, there and gone again.
Hux does not like it.
Ren doesn’t join them in the alpha shift.
After their meal, they meet Phasma in the simulation room. He’s eager to let her take over, truth be told. Politicking runs in the Hux bloodline; but there’s only so much of it he can handle in one sitting, even without Ren to contend with.
Phasma runs them through the Stormtrooper training program flawlessly, expanding upon some details and suppressing others. It’s a performance, one he watches with pride he doesn’t hide. Not that he’d expected any less. Phasma is half the reason the First Order is still standing—and when the time comes, she will be the first, if not only, name in his recommendation list for the rank of general.
Assuming Ren ever makes him Grand Marshal.
“Is this another of your designs, General?” the Chancellor asks his left shoulder with polite curiosity—right side of polite, wrong side of curious. Alarm bells ring at the back of his mind. He hadn’t hoped to woo the Chancellor just yet; but they should have intrigued her enough for a more in-depth question than that. That’s information one can find without trouble through the right channels.
What are they missing?
Hux affects a polite smile of his own, appropriately modest. “That honour belongs to my late father.” May his pitiful soul see no peace. “I merely improved upon it.”
“That’s not true,” comes from their right.
That son of a—
Indignation aflame in the pit of his stomach, “Supreme Leader,” he greets Ren, his smile as sharp as the lines of his uniform. Next to him, the diplomats gesture their respect.
Ren gives him only a passing look, gesturing back to their guests more precisely than Hux had managed, his cape flowing elegantly on his side. If he came out of his den only to undermine him, Hux will ruin him, curse the consequences.
“As I was saying, our General Hux hasn’t improved our Stormtrooper training program,” Ren says, something that might be generously called a smile playing on his lips. “He’s perfected it.”
Hux’s hands twitch with the urge to strangle the insolent child; he keeps them tightly clenched at the small of his back. “Your commendation is well-appreciated, Supreme Leader,” he says, his tone unwavering. If Ren wants to get a rise out of him—in front of their esteemed guests, no less—he will have to try much harder. “We were just on our way to the simulation rooms.”
Ren grins at that. “Please let me accompany you there,” he tells the Chancellor, as if he would know no better pleasure. “They’re one of my favourite parts of the General’s program.”
Since kriffing when? Ren hasn’t once said a good word about the holo-vid games that Hux’s toy soldiers play—and suddenly it’s his favourite?
He keeps a close eye on Ren as they move from the simulation rooms to the Research and Development department, on alert to prevent any sabotage attempt or blunder. None comes, not even when Hux introduces them to the team that made the Starkiller happen—what’s left of it anyway. Techie is understandably wary of Ren around his prototypes and equipment; but Ren does nothing further to harm the proceedings, aside from a few asinine comments that can be easily overlooked.
When Hux asks the Chancellor if they would like to take this to a conference room, she smiles.
Hux doesn’t understand.
Everything, everything, has gone according to the plan. The demonstrations were functional; the Deputy asked all the right questions; his personnel acted even better than they did in rehearsals. Not even Ren’s presence caused any disruption in the proceedings. As far as Hux is concerned, they should have walked out of that conference room with a signed contract.
What are they missing?
“Your strategy was wrong.”
Hux closes his eyes at the exasperation rising in his chest, taking a deep breath to push it back. Getting angry and picking a fight is a waste of energy. He needs to channel it into solving the matter at hand. “Was it.”
Ren sinks onto the floor next to Millicent, folding his long legs under himself. She lets him pull her onto his lap, pawing and kneading at his flesh as she looks for a comfortable spot. “You might want to sit down for this.”
Hux keeps standing, his eyes on Ren.
Ren sighs deeply. “Reforming the hyperbaride synthesis plants, recycling vintrium—you’ve been trying to sell Aadran a future for Artem. She doesn’t care about Artem.”
Hux blinks at him, waiting for more. Was this his big revelation? “Well, obviously. She’s profiting off the hyperbaride industry; she won’t seek to reform it. She just needs to appear to reform it until she gets re-elected.” Which is where Hux’s design comes in. It was never about fixing Chancellor Aadran’s mess.
“She doesn’t care about getting re-elected, either.”
“What does she care about, then?” he asks, keeping his tone mild so as not to disturb Millicent. “What is her motivation? Since you’re the expert.”
Hux sits on the couch.
“She’s run the planet to the ground,” Ren explains, scratching between Millicent’s ears expertly. His sleeve is already smeared in ginger fur. “Not even magically fixing the pollution problem would let her keep her seat anymore—and that’s fine by her. She’s turned enough profit that she and Jochen could live comfortably for the rest of their lives unless someone exposes them. Her only concern is finding subtle ways to ruin things further before her rival takes the seat and has to deal with the mess.”
That’s a lot of things, to be perfectly frank—but most importantly, it’s realistic for someone with Chancellor Aadran’s background.
Perhaps her planning skills lie on the long-term.
Hux rubs at the spot above his brow, the beginnings of a headache starting to make itself known. “So she’s letting her planet, her legacy, crash and burn—just to see her rival suffer?”
“You’ve considered becoming a Resistance spy for the same reason.”
Hux’s stomach clenches.
The first instinct is to lie. He is good at it—not enough to fool a mind-reader, but enough to plant doubt in Ren’s mind, to buy himself some time if needed. He could spin a tale honest enough that, by the time Ren works his way through it, he could be halfway to the next spaceport.
As it happens, he doesn’t want to. The idea of leaving everything he’s worked for behind to escape with his life, especially over thoughts he entertained in his weaker moments, have lost its appeal around the same time Ren stopped burning through their resources in pursuit of the Resistance.
Besides, he likely doesn’t need to, either. Ren must not have taken him seriously if he had waited this long to bring it up.
Straightening his spine, “I haven’t followed through with it,” he says—needs Ren to believe him, he finds, for more reasons than his continuing welfare. How disgusting.
“You haven’t,” Ren agrees. Hux’s stomach unclenches, just a little. “But you would have, had I harmed your precious Order in any way.”
Hux doesn’t deny that, either. There would be no point to it.
“Jochen, on the other hand,” Ren continues, as if they weren’t just talking about high treason. “I don’t mean to say he’s naïve; but he doesn’t have his mother’s head for politicking—or her cunning. He didn’t support Aadran’s decisions about the hyperbaride plants; but he believed that Aadran had Artem’s best interests at heart—just like he believes Aadran is genuinely seeking a way to save Artem now.”
It's not that he doubts Ren’s skills after all this time, but— “You’ve taken all this information from their minds?”
Ren shrugs a shoulder. “To be fair, she’s basically handed it over in a silver platter. She’s been thinking about nothing else through your demonstrations.”
“And you’re certain that the deputy isn’t in on the scheme?”
“Doesn’t have the faintest clue.”
Hux nods, an idea starting to form at the back of his head like static, stray details coalescing into something that requires his datapad and stylus to give shape.
“I have a plan,” Ren says just as Hux is pushing up from the couch, his desk calling for him. “Do you trust me?”
“Not on your life.”
The corner of Ren’s lips twitches up. “I can work with that.”
They don’t rest.
Ren spends the delta shift on the floor of Hux’s office space in his quarters, barefoot and cross-legged, narrating every detail he has stolen from the diplomats’ heads earlier while Hux furiously takes notes. The lights are at sixty percent. There’s tea. There’s food Ren has droids bring that Hux doesn’t remember consuming. There’s caf. There’s an argument. The lights are at forty percent. There’s blue ink on their palms. There’s caf. There’s Ren’s hands on Hux’s shoulders when the ache becomes too much. The lights are at twenty percent.
When the alpha shift starts, they are ready.
While Ren is in the refresher, Hux puts on the white uniform.
It’s pure whim, a lapse of judgment—the likes of which he should have known better than to indulge. It’s unlike him to give into temptation. His regular uniform was perfectly adequate for the upcoming meeting; he didn’t need to dress in a dramatic white cape or matching, luxurious gloves to get his point across.
They ought to help, however.
Tamping down the unease in his gut, he tugs at the thick fabric, trying to pinch and smooth it into some semblance of proper. The uniform feels off, too tight in some places and loose in others—although he can’t have lost that much weight since the last time he put it on. Certainly not his entire kriffing middle. He considers his belt, thumbing the wide buckle—but no, that would only ruin the lines even further.
The sounds from the refresher shift into loud puttering—the tail end of Ren’s sonic. Too late to change out of this mockery. Running a palm down his front, he shifts into parade rest and lifts his chin at his reflection, steeling himself for ridicule. After this last delta shift, he was willing to entertain the thought that Ren might not have intended insult with the gesture; but one never knows.
“If you laugh,” he warns as the refresher door opens, just outside the range of the mirror. “I’m going to set your entire wardrobe on fire.”
Ren doesn’t respond. He doesn’t even breathe, as far as Hux is concerned, the corner of black cape that he can see hanging unnaturally still.
The weight in his gut growing heavier, Hux bites back the urge to speak up again, his gaze fixed on his own freckles—brought out by all the gold at the edges of white. Had someone not been hogging the refresher, he could have covered them up nicely. No time for that, either, now.
Ren clears his throat. “You’re missing a piece.”
Releasing a breath, “What piece?” Hux asks, turning to face him. Ren’s uniform fits him perfectly—of course it does, after so many fittings. As always, Hux is the one made to look lacking.
He really should have known better.
Ren vaguely gestures at his own head, his eyes roaming around the room as if he expects it to spring out of some corner. “It had a headpiece. A—a golden laurel wreath.” Hux’s heart stops. “It’s, uh—”
“I know what a laurel wreath is, Ren,” Hux manages to grit out through a tight throat. He just knows where it is, too.
How fortunate that he hadn’t airlocked it after all.
The bag is light as shimmersilk in his hands, two shades darker than the gold of his bands—the circlet nearly outlined in it, now that he is looking. He hesitates to undo the drawstrings that keep the two pieces together.
A golden headpiece, stars.
“Let me?” Ren asks into his ear.
Hux can only nod.
For such a simple item, the circlet takes significant effort to put—and keep—on. Hux’s measurements on the personnel database includes his head circumference for his hat, which wasn’t quite right for this purpose. After twenty minutes and three occasions of Ren threatening to chuck it down the disposal chute, they manage to balance it without ruining Hux’s carefully-styled hair.
The corners of his eyes creased with a smile that doesn’t show on his lips, “There,” Ren says softly. “Now it’s perfect.”
Ren’s plan, as it were, goes like this:
During their shared meal, at the first organic lull in conversation, “If you’ll excuse my curiosity,” Ren says to Chancellor Aadran, utterly unapologetically. “I have a special interest in ships, as a bit of a hobby; but I couldn’t tell the make of your shuttle. Is it Sekotan in origin?”
The Deputy beams. “No,” he says, oozing pride and delight at the admission. Beside him, the Chancellor watches the interaction with mild disgust. “It’s—uh, it’s a private design. A prototype. Of mine.”
Ren hums, a small smile crossing into his features. “I thought so. I fly a prototype myself, too—a TIE Silencer. Would you be interested in seeing it?”
The diplomats exchange a look.
A minute later, Hux and Chancellor Aadran are alone in the room.
The Chancellor watches the door slide closed before turning to Hux. “I hope you have a good reason to lure my deputy away,” she says placidly, her hard eyes promising hell to pay if Hux doesn’t. She reminds him of Maratelle in that regard; a quiet strength thrumming just under her skin, saved for when she would need it as she lets others take care of what is below her notice.
“I assure you that it’s for your own benefit, Chancellor,” Hux responds in the same tone, keeping his posture open but firm. “Pardon our boldness; the Supreme Leader and I believed it prudent to keep… sensitive ears from hearing the information I’m about to share with you.”
The Chancellor tilts her head.
Hux leans forward—not enough to matter across the wide table, but it gets the point across. Lowering his voice, “My designs for your hyperbaride synthesis plants,” he says. “They don’t work as intended.”
The Chancellor blinks twice, before narrowing her eyes. “I don’t follow.”
Ren had kriffing better be right about this. “I have been working on those blueprints for a very long time, Chancellor. Since before Starkiller, in fact. One of our former suppliers—let us not name any names—they would charge an arm and leg for our turbolasers. Upon discussion, they agreed to a lower price if our engineers would help find a way to improve their production process.”
Leaning back in his chair, he assumes a less rigid position in order to invite the Chancellor to mirror him. She doesn’t. “I won’t bore you with the technicalities,” he adds, waving a hand. “But we’ve discovered that, under real-life conditions, recycling vintrium according to our designs causes the release of a subtle, toxic gas. The resulting extract is safe to dispose into water, yes—at the cost of future air pollution.”
“Future,” she repeats, that same glint of amusement playing in her eyes. They are on the same page—finally. “How long?”
“For the most noticeable effects to appear, we had predicted eight standard years after the beginning of mass-production—but that was for a small factory on a country with lots of greenery. For an industrial planet like Artem…” Hux curls his lips in feigned thoughtfulness, letting her come to her own conclusions.
He’s disappointed with himself, for not having recognised the fire behind her eyes for what it is sooner. In Chancellor Aadran is a kindred soul—a restrained force waiting for the right time to be unleashed.
Under different circumstances, they could make exceptional allies.
“Don’t contract with us for this project,” Hux continues. “Buy my designs—I’ll make you a fair offer—and hire the Kratt for the implementation. Kratkitki hates my guts, but he’s been trying to wheedle me into a deal for months. He will agree to anything to get his hands on one of my blueprints—including side deals.” Hux allows himself a small, conspiratorial smile. “Your successor won’t know what he’s inherited until it’s too late.”
The Chancellor’s signature is big and looping, the words almost unreadable underneath all. The Deputy signs his name in neat, clear lettering.
Ren looks at the stack of papers, says Hux can sign for him and pours himself another glass of wine.
After seeing the diplomats off, they retreat into their rooms.
He allows Ren to accompany him to his quarters, less than steady on his feet. Wine has never done much for him, no matter the type; but sleep-deprivation is taking its toll, his body unused to braving this long a stretch of exhaustion without some form of stimulants.
No such chance, under Ren’s watchful eye.
Ren remains half a step behind him through the long walk, quiet and imposing. Where the gesture had felt—for lack of a better word—trusting at the hangar, as if Hux was a line to Ren others would have to cross first, now it feels like Ren is Hux’s very own guard.
Once at the door, he hesitates.
He’s not ready to end the cycle just yet. The last time he had cause for celebration was the completion of the Starkiller, eons ago by now—and that was two glasses of brandy with Phasma. If he were to invite Ren in for a drink, perhaps some light conversation…
No. No, that would be too transparent. Obvious. This… situation that’s been developing between them—it’s too vulnerable yet to put intent behind.
Stripping his glove, he presses his thumb on the access panel, the panel blinking green with a beep. As the doors hiss open, he turns to Ren to—
Ren strides in without waiting for him.
Inside, Ren is sprawled across the small couch where Millicent normally prefers, tugging his boots off—not without help from the Force, by how easily he manages it. A bottle of red—that certainly wasn’t there when they left the quarters—is sitting on the side table, next to Ren’s gloves.
Amused, Hux adds his own sole glove among the clutter, picking up the small bottle. Alderaanian, if the golden label is to be believed. “You stole wine from the wardroom, Ren? Really?”
Ren shrugs without looking up from his boots, his cape brushing the carpet. “Is it stealing if I’m the Supreme Leader?”
“It is as long as you don’t personally pitch in to the budget. We put in requisition requests for a reason.”
“We’re celebrating a major accomplishment,” Ren points out. “Isn’t that a good use of First Order resources?”
Hux rolls his eyes, although Ren isn’t exactly wrong. Unwrapping the capsule of the bottle, he thumbs the cork. “I don’t suppose I’ve got anything to open this with.”
Straightening up, Ren throws his boots aside—which land sideways, one half on top of the other. Irritation bites at Hux, quickly dispelling. “Give it here,” Ren says, reaching out with a wiggle of fingers.
Hux hands over the bottle, watching as Ren cups a hand over the cork, his eyes closed. For a long moment, nothing happens beyond the gentle sloshing of the liquid inside—then the cork starts sliding out.
Ren’s powers do come in handy at times.
Once it’s mostly out, Ren grabs the cork and pulls it off the rest of the way, holding it up with a triumph grin. He flings it on the table before Hux can reach for it, gulping straight from the bottle.
Hux snorts, stopping the roll of the cork before it can touch the white glove. “I’m sure I could find glasses for that.”
Ren makes a noncommittal hum, throwing his arm over the back of the couch. “Do you care?”
Not really. For once, Hux is far too content to care about the mess.
“Scoot,” he tells Ren, who is taking up far too much space on the already small couch. It doesn’t get much better once Ren moves away, either.
Hux smooths his cape down under himself before squeezing between Ren and the armrest, leaning over the latter—regrets it as soon as he does. He should have changed first. The material is suitably, satisfyingly thick, but not stiff or durable like his greatcoat; the creases are going to set in if he doesn’t put the uniform away soon.
At the very least, he should get out of his boots. The new pair is, while comfortable enough by boot standards, new. The idea of soaking his blisters was half the reason he made it to his quarters at all.
Now that he has sat, however…
“I could help you with those,” Ren says. “Your boots.”
Irritation stabs at him again, his stomach tightening. How many times does he have to tell Ren not to—
“I’m not in your head,” Ren adds quickly, all pout and puppy eyes—as if those have ever had any effect on Hux. “I’m not, I swear. You… sometimes you project things when you’re too tired.”
“How convenient,” Hux says, lifting a brow.
Ren, curse him, laughs. “Believe me, it’s far from convenient.” He shifts, leaning—looming—close enough for Hux to smell the wine in his breath. “You’ll get dizzy if you bend over. Let me help you with your boots.”
The refusal is at the tip of his tongue, his pride rising—but Ren, curse him, isn’t wrong. He’d rather suffer the indignity of Ren’s help than risk getting sick in front of him.
He inclines his head. “Thank you.”
Ren smiles, warm and broad—something he’s done more often in the last few days than... possibly ever. Hux has got little clue what the cause for the change might be, even less of an idea how to replicate it—but he wants to. Oh, how he wants to.
Handing over the bottle, Ren slides down the couch, going down on one knee in front of Hux. His hands are almost gentle as he lifts Hux’s legs over his knee, one by one, tugging the boots off and putting them aside neatly. It’s a bit of a kick, having all of Ren’s bulk at his feet. He may have enjoyed the mental image once or twice, in his weaker times, after their joint meetings with Snoke—the thoughts of what it might be like to have Ren’s eagerness to serve for himself, once Hux would take Snoke out of the picture.
He never got to find out.
Putting down Hux’s other leg, Ren glances at him—his smile widens, pulling up on one side. “Is this what you imagine when you’re alone? Me, kneeling at the feet of my Supreme Leader?”
A jolt passing through his chest, Hux flinches, all traces of warmth from wine or their accomplishment evaporating. So much for standing together, then.
His fingers clenched tight around the bottle, “That’s low, Ren,” he grits out. “Even for you.”
Ren’s face falls, his jaw dropping. “I—I didn’t mean—Hux,” he breathes, blinking at Hux as if Hux is ruining this. “It wasn’t a—a taunt, or whatever you think. You and I both know that you deserve the title.”
“What, then? Finally decided to surrender the throne to me, have you?”
Hux looks down at their celebratory wine in his grip—half-empty, for all Hux hasn’t even sipped from it. He didn’t think it could be so easy, either; but he can't be blamed for trying.
“But I want to share it with you.”
His heart skipping a beat, Hux jerks his head up. “Excuse me?” he snaps, although the better question would be how drunk are you?
Ren stands, unfolding himself from his crouch with enviable grace. Unease curls in Hux’s gut, tension coiling in his thighs and shoulders with the need to stand with Ren, to not let Ren tower over him in such close quarters, to not give him this opening, this opportunity—
He remains seated.
“I want you to join me,” Ren says, nodding like there’s something profound to those words alone. “Share the throne with me. We can rule together and bring a new order to the galaxy as Supreme Leaders of the First Order.”
A shiver runs down Hux’s spine. “That isn’t a title for two, Ren.”
“Then we’ll call it something else,” Ren says simply, dismissively. “I don’t care what my title is as long as you share it with me.”
As if anything is ever that simple.
Reaching forward, Ren bends to wrap a loose hand around Hux’s gloved wrist. Rounding the couch behind him, his other arm snakes down Hux’s other side, intertwining their bare fingers over Hux’s chest. Wrapping himself around Hux the same way he does in bed.
“Say yes,” Ren whispers in his ear, hot breath ghosting over his skin—Ren’s lips close, so close. “Let’s celebrate two things now. I know how you like to be efficient.”
Hux snorts despite himself. “Oh, Ren, sweet-talk me more.”
—and then his words catch up to him.
The kneeling. The touching. The white uniform. The golden headpiece. The wine.
“You bastard,” Hux laughs, trying to twist around to glare at Ren proper. Ren’s arms tighten around him. “You are trying to seduce me into it!”
Nuzzling the side of Hux’s head, Ren hums. “Is it working?”
“No.” Not well enough. A kiss and a promise won’t wash away the reality of their circumstances.
Mood freshly soured, Hux gingerly pulls out of the embrace, shifting just far enough to face Ren. Ren lets him go but for his gloved hand—Hux’s pulse all too telling under Ren’s thumb.
Meeting Ren’s eyes, “You need to understand one thing,” he says. Ren nods too many times. “I haven’t waited this long to settle for a broken throne, Ren. I won’t accept a title just because it’s on offer. If I am to consider your offer, I will have certain demands from you.”
“Anything,” Ren breathes.
“I haven’t even—”
“Anything,” Ren repeats firmly, his eyes big and warm and painfully vulnerable. “Say the word and I’ll make it happen.”
Stars, this man will be the death of him.
Then again, he’s always known that.
Taking a deep breath, “You will learn to rule, Kylo Ren,” he declares. “You will fight for my Order—you will bleed for it. You will bring glory to it. You will become the leader it deserves. And then you will ask me again.”
Something shines deep in Ren’s eyes, lips curling into the briefest of smiles. “Will you say yes?”
“That’s for you to find out.”