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his pound of flesh

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Hux cannot move. He can hardly breathe. All he can do is stare, gaze fixed across the eye-watering starkness of Ren’s new quarters, brain lagging as it tries to make sense of what it sees; to discern whether it is something out of a nightmare, or if there is any possibility that it could be real.

He had not been expecting something like this when he finally decided to confront Ren. 

Hux had chalked the nascent Supreme Leader’s odd behavior as an evolution of his typical moodiness. With all the new stress piled upon his shoulders, Ren was bound to react in new, frustrating ways. Caginess. An increased lack of communication. Constant adornment of his helmet, now cobbled back together with cracks of glowing red. And above all, almost total avoidance of Hux, even in the rare face-to-face meetings he still held with the Supreme Council, leaving any orders largely relegated to the comlink. 

The cessation between them had left Hux oddly wanting, missing their old rapport—a longing he loathed, considering the mistreatment Ren had subjected him to on the Supremacy, at Crait, but couldn’t deny any longer—and that’s what had driven him to follow Ren to his quarters, undaunted, insisting not to leave until he got answers.

But now, the answer stands before him; gruesome, incontrovertible, and inspiring only a thousand more questions. 

From the nose up, Ren mostly resembles the man Hux had first met five years ago, give or take new, papery pink wrinkles in the forehead and beneath the eyes, and of course, the scar inflicted upon him by the scavenger on that faithful day of Starkiller’s death. Hux had always hated how quickly that scar had faded in such a trifling, unduly merciful fashion, not leaving Ren marked in the way Hux felt he deserved.

But perhaps it had just taken time for Ren’s sins to catch up with him.

For beneath the nose, something of pure nightmares has taken hold. 

Ren’s face looks as if someone had dug hooks into the flesh of his cheeks, lips, and chin, and violently tore it away, leaving raggedly strips of flesh dangling, though their edges weren’t raw and bloodied like Hux would expect from such a wound. Instead, they were stained a deep, blackish-red, as if an infection had seeped into the skin and left it permanently discolored. But this was not a natural wound, grievous as it looked. Ren’s face had changed, in a way that would seem fantastical to Hux if he wasn’t looking right at it.

 Ren’s lower jaw, utterly stripped of flesh, is not that of a man. It juts out from his face almost like a canid’s, mouth infested with a row of long, ivory fangs tapered to wicked points. From within the mouth protrudes a tongue, nearly three times as long as a human’s, too fat and long to even be held within Ren’s altered maw, and so it lolls, over the smaller lower teeth, slicked with an overflowing drool of glowing red fluid that Hux could not identify but which reminds him of Ren’s saber, strength and instability irreversibly enmeshed. 

“R-Ren…” Hux finally summons words to his dry lips as he takes an unconscious step back. “What…have you done to yourself?”

Ren doesn’t speak—no doubt he can’t, not with his jaws skinned down to the bone and that monstrous tongue filling his mouth, constantly oozing the red slime. But his eyes linger on Hux’s face, their warm amber rings still entreating but now nearly consumed in a sea of deep black sclera. He looks pained, which—Hux can hardly blame him for that. Such a transformation could not have been pleasant. 

“Is this some consequence of the Force?” Hux speaks again, raising his voice louder, more confident now that it seems Ren would not harm him straightaway. “Is this why you have been hiding from me?” he says, growing more accusatory. “Because your powers turned you into a monster?”

Again Ren is quiet, but he begins to walk towards Hux. Recoiling, Hux takes a few more steps back. To his surprise, Ren actually stops, a couple of paces between them. Neither elects to breach the gap, the impasse stretching on. No noise, apart from the steady sound of Hux’s breathing, and the patter of Ren’s bloody fluid staining the brilliant white floor. Hux looks away, unable to meet Ren’s eyes so long as it means looking at the ruin his face has become at the same time. It’s different from battles waged in the clean vacuum of space, or battlefields where the carnage is limited to smoking holes in stormtrooper armor. He’s not used to such an intimate, visceral horror.

You don’t know what really happened on Crait. Hux starts at the sound of Ren’s voice, speaking inside of his head. The intrusion makes him shudder, the implication of Ren’s words filling him with mounting confusion, tangled with dread.

“Crait? I suppose I don’t know all of what happened, because you threw me into a console. If you recall, I lost consciousness.” Hux swallows around a lump forming in his throat. Despite his attempt to sound dismissive, he still feels unnerved by the at-best vague memories he had of that moment. It hadn’t been a high point in his career—trying to reign Ren in, hoping to crush the Resistance for good, had earned him nothing but juvenile anger and sharp, sudden suffering. “Don’t tell me you’re beginning to feel remorse over that.” His gaze raises to focus on the ceiling above the two of them, no less unwilling to look at Ren directly. 

But just as he averts his eyes his vision begins to swim, the unbefitting cleanliness of the Supreme Leader’s new quarters slowly molding into a more familiar sight—the cockpit of Ren’s command shuttle. Hux starts at the new surroundings, whirling about to see—himself, weary and wan as he was in the aftermath of Starkiller’s failure, framed against the viewport, exposing the red-streaked salt flats of Crait below. 

“I…is this some new torture you’ve devised?” Hux speaks but no one in the cockpit hears him, voice echoing soundlessly into nothing. The vision plays out without care for his presence, mirroring the scene from Hux’s bitterest nightmares—Ren disregarding his advice, acting out of anger and emotion, jeopardizing their victory, and then—

Hux doesn’t blink as he watches his past self fly into the console, but the loud crack takes him by surprise. The impact seems harsher, more final than what he remembers happening. No wonder he had lost consciousness. The hairs on the back of his neck prickle in anger, and he clenches his hands into fists. He can’t believe that Ren had left him there for the duration of the battle, lying lifeless like that.

“I know all of this, Ren. I lived it. What is it that I don’t know about?” Hux scoffs, ready to be done with this silly vision, this cruel reminder of how callously Ren had treated him, and resign himself to leaving with no proper answers. But the scene before him carries on, and Hux watches as one of the lieutenants crouches by his unconscious body. He brushes a hand against the general’s mussed hair, clearing it away from his face. Hux sneers—no one of such lower ranking should be allowed to touch him in such a vulnerable. Not thinking, he drifts over, clearing his throat and about ready to tear into the man for his impertinence when something catches his eye.

Blood. Running from the base of his old self’s skull, pooling onto the floor of the cockpit. Far too much blood.

Hux’s heart freezes solid, in his chest, lips parting in horror.

No. It couldn’t be.

“Supreme Leader…” The lieutenant’s voice wavers as the vision begins to dissolve, changing, “you must…the general, he’s…”

The cockpit vanishes into oblivion. Hux floats, stunned, struggling to make sense of it all. It’s impossible. Impossible. Kylo had thrown him, yes, but he’d woken in the medbay, been informed of the Resistance’s escape from Crait, lived through the aftermath and beginnings of Ren’s reign. It must be a cruel joke, born of Ren’s mad, corrupted mind. What other explanation is there?

Turning around in the dark, Hux finds himself in a dimly lit room he doesn’t recognize. He identifies what vaguely looks like First Order technology in the backroom, but his eyes are drawn to the center, where a single cone of light hovers above a broad, dark figure. It seems bowed, oddly prayer like, over a glinting metal slab, its silhouette blocking whatever may lie atop it. 

Dread flares in Hux’s throat. For a moment, he thinks about fleeing, letting whatever secrets he’s about to uncover sink unacknowledged back into the fog of blissful ignorance, but he finds himself moving forward despite it all. Despite knowing, with grim realization, what he’s about to see. He drifts around the figure, mimicking its bowed position as he takes in what lies atop the metal slab.

It’s himself, nude, as colorless as the surface beneath him save for the long-dried blood on his neck and his hair, which looks as if it had been pawed back into a facsimile of its usual style by unsteady hands. Hux can hear his heart in his ears, his stomach tightening into a knot, yet he cannot look away from the vision of his own corpse, at least until a soft noise draws his attention to the hunched figure.

Ren stares down at the table, eyes focused on the corpse’s unmoving face. Hands drawn into fists, the tension in his fingers a futile attempt to control the shaking that trembles the rest of his body. Like he’s clutching onto an invisible lifeline, without which he would destabilize, and disintegrate away. His expression speaks to the instability—buttressed force into his features faltering to despair. Hux has never seen anything like that in Ren’s face, not directed towards him. He has only ever inspired Ren’s rage, his scorn, his envy.

But this is something different. 

Ren breathes in and out, slowly unclenching his fists, letting go of whatever hesitation he was still holding on to. Though this is a vision and Hux isn’t really standing here, he nonetheless shivers once he feels the energy in the room begin to change; tendrils of power summoned seemingly from nothing to Ren’s fingertips his body transforming into a conduit that links forces beyond Hux’s willingness to understand. He backs away from the table, but it’s too late to flee and spare himself from witnessing this ritual, and all at once he’s struck with awe and terror as Ren lifts his hands and thrusts them against the dead Hux’s chest. 

For a long moment, nothing happens, but then the naked flesh beneath Ren’s palms starts to glow, like superheated durasteel. It spreads outwards, creeping tendrils extending all over the corpse until it’s covered in them, the whole thing glowing like a human-shaped vessel of molten red, and for a moment Hux half-expects Ren to absorb it all into himself, transmute Hux’s spent life into power for himself. But the tendrils keep spreading, seeping into Ren’s splayed fingers, winding up his arms to his shoulders, his neck, and finally his face. Ren lets out only a grunt, keeping his hands firmly pressed to the corpse’s chest even as tongues of red plasma lick up to his face. As Hux watches in shock Ren’s skin, like wax under a flame, starts to melt and distort, even the bones beneath warping into a new shape as whatever force he had bargained with finally found the toll it wanted to take. The ugly rage that had taken Hux’s life, now reflected back against his flesh, his very humanity. 

Ren had chosen to wear a mask in a fit of misplaced, adolescent rebellion, in spite of a face most would find agreeable, even handsome. Now, he would have no such choice, with his true face far more monstrous than any mask. 

Thus with one mighty, inhuman scream, the ritual ends, the tongues of red stealing away and vanishing. Ren collapses, hooded cloak falling over his face as, on the table above him, the corpse takes its first breath. 

Hux gasps as the vision abruptly vanishes, colors popping in his eyes as he finds himself returned to the stark white of Ren’s quarters. His legs quaver, feeling like nothing, and he nearly topples over but Ren reaches out, holding him at the sides, keeping him steady.

Hux shakes in his grasp, trying to make sense of what he had just seen. He breathes heavily, glancing down at his chest, where the Ren from the vision had pressed his hands. Had resurrected him from the dead. From the death that Ren had himself inflicted upon him.

And paid a steep price. Hux had no idea that the Force, the power Ren had talked of with such pride and piousness, could be so voracious. So hungry for a repentant man’s humanity. 

“So…at Crait. You killed me?” Hux finally eked out, still not meeting Ren’s eyes. He was not sure he could, after what he’d seen, after discovering what had really happened to him. “And then you…you brought me back. Using your Force. Is that the truth?”

Yes, Ren’s voice affirms inside Hux’s mind. His hands slowly migrate from Hux’s sides around to his front, before lifting, cautiously, up to the general’s downturned face. 

The sensation of bare skin surprises him. Ren must have removed his gloves sometime during the vision. 

Despite himself, Hux relaxes into the cradle of Ren’s hands; the very same that stole his breath from him, only to restore it. These remained achingly human, at least. Though they left him wondering how far the corruption extended, how much of Ren’s body been spared, how much sacrificed to bring his life back to him. 

After a moment, Hux allows Ren to tilt his face upwards, until their eyes finally meet again. Hux unconsciously flinches as he again looks upon Ren’s transformed face—it will take him a long while before he can train that instinct out—but he manages not to look away. Instead, Hux raises his own hands, placing his fingertips against Ren’s exposed jaw. Shockingly, it feels warm, like flesh, though rigid as bone. 

“This is because of me?” he muses more than asks, tracing his fingers lightly down the slope of Ren’s new mandible. Ren nods.

All for you. I couldn’t live with what I had done.

“You couldn’t live with me,” Hux amends for him. “But that’s what I don’t understand. You hate me. You’ve always hated me, from the very moment we met.”

I believed I did. Only when you were gone did I realize I didn’t understand my true feelings.

“True feelings? What are your true feelings, Ren?” Hux presses, his heart thumping as Ren’s fingers stroke his face with unexpected tenderness. So many questions had been answered tonight, and yet one still remained. 

In lieu of a response, Ren leans in, resting their foreheads together. His skeletal mouth continues to drool its endless flood of red fluid, but Hux finds he’s not disgusted by it, not even when it flecks against the flawless gaberwool chest of his uniform.

Nor is he disgusted when his lips meet the corrupted bone of Ren’s fanged mouth, placing a kiss upon the face he should by all right find reprehensible, and yet, in that moment, there’s nobody in the entirety of the galaxy that Hux wants more than Ren, this man—no, this being, who had become powerful enough to right the wrong of death—who had sacrificed everything for a second chance. 

Only time will tell if Ren has earned Hux’s forgiveness, but for now, the kiss will serve as his own answer.