It all starts innocently enough.
That the Supreme Leader Snoke favors deprivation training is not something Hux knows from personal experience. He came to the First Order fresh from Academy - uniform finely pressed, pristine down to the creases in his slacks, hair slicked back tidily. Bastard child that he was, his position had never been stable enough that his father would afford him the luxury of presenting anything less, and he is glad for it. Glad that he never required Snoke to shape him; by the time he was taken into the Supreme Leader’s command, Hux had already been forged and sharpened, everything on him made a fine point.
No, all Hux knows of his Supreme Leader’s unusual training methods he has learned through observation of his co-commander: Snoke’s pet project, the blade the Supreme Leader has taken it upon himself to craft. For as little as Hux cares for their time together, it is ample, by necessity. He takes an interest in Kylo Ren the way he takes an interest in all things relevant to his daily routine, and thus, to the daily workings of Order. The boy’s comings and goings, his moods (what little Hux can make of them), his habits - Hux catalogues them all and files them somewhere with other bits of knowledge that are not currently useful but may someday be.
So this is how he determines, at first, the sparsity of Ren’s diet. The knight trains daily, for hours on end - sometimes in audience with the Supreme Leader, sometimes locked away in the training rooms, forbidding Hux’s Stormtroopers entry for their own drills. (Hux has railed to the Supreme Leader about this, how unreasonable it is that one man need commandeer a space that would benefit the improvement of hundreds of others, but he is unbending when it comes to his apprentice’s training regimen.)
Any other man would be starved from the way Ren trains, which calls into question how rarely Hux has seen him eat. The Finalizer has a large mess hall, though Hux rarely eats there himself. Most often he has the kitchen droids deliver his meals to his rooms, but sometimes he sits amongst the other officers - it is good, he thinks, for his men to see him engaging with those in lower command every now and again. It creates a sense of comradery, and he has encouraged Ren to do the same, only for his suggestions to be met with a silence others might find ominous. (Hux finds it petty and childish and does not hesitate to tell Ren so.)
Perhaps he might believe Ren took his meals in his rooms, as Hux himself often did, if the kitchen droids had not avowed him of that notion. He’d remarked to his Captain once that the Lord Ren must be an incredibly picky eater if he’d refused the offerings in the mess that day, as they were some of Hux’s favorites, only for one of chattier droids to comment that the knight refused meals more often than not.
This wasn’t worrying for Hux; it was more a curiosity, really. The man had to eat, certainly - for Kylo Ren was still a man, a man who yet looked half a child at that. Hux had seen as much during the whole debacle on Starkiller, and even before, whenever he caught the knight off-guard, his face unshielded and always turned to the side, as if having a face at all was something to be greatly ashamed of. And while depriving oneself to the point of putting others in your unit at risk was pure selfishness, as bad as over-indulgence, it could not be put past someone of Ren’s apparent immaturity.
Which is how Hux finds himself waiting outside the doors of the training rooms, the mechanics of them overridden with Ren’s blasted Force mumbo-jumbo - which means Hux’s access codes do nothing - tapping with more force than strictly necessary on his datapad and waiting for Ren to finish destroying whatever it was he’d decided to take his rage out on that day. The day he’d wait on Kylo Ren would be the day banthas flew, he’d once told himself, but this isn’t the first time this spoiled child has trodden on the standards Hux has set for himself, and it likely won’t be the last, until the Supreme Leader is finally moved to take him into hand.
By the time the doors finally they open with a mechanical whoosh, Hux has almost considered letting himself slide down the wall to rest his datapad against his knees, but he snaps to attention at Ren’s exit. “Ren.” He keeps his tone neutral, commanding, letting nothing slip. Ren does not need to know that he has been waiting here for more than two standard hours, that his legs have long gone numb and his feet tingly.
The knight stalks by as if he has not heard him. The mask is covering his face and his posture is even more terrible than usual - hunched into himself like some scolded creature, still licking at the sting from a rebuke. Disgraceful. He would not have been allowed to compose himself in such a manner for even one day cycle at Academy, and the fact that Snoke allows it here, within the ranks of the First Order, rankles him. "Ren." He speaks again, more forcefully, but does not move to follow him. He will not chase Kylo Ren down like some misbehaved child - he draws the line at giving Ren that sort of satisfaction.
Ren reacts to his voice this time, stumbling over himself when he turns on Hux. The movement is uncoordinated enough that Hux considers it possible that Ren truly had not heard him the first time he called. He would warrant a guess that it’s supposed to look predatory, the way Ren advances on him, but there’s nothing threatening about watching Ren’s feet get tangled in his robes. (Just another reason his get-up is ridiculous - inefficient and illogical, impressive only at a distance, just like Ren himself.)
“General.” Even under the voice modulator, Kylo Ren sounds equal parts peevish and exhausted, and Hux finds himself a little taken aback at the spike of concern in his gut. “I trust there’s a reason you’re loitering about waiting for my training to end. There has be something more worthy of your attention on this ship.”
At that, Hux feels his cheeks burn, as if he’s been caught doing something he shouldn’t, and it takes all he has not to focus his gaze on the wall rather than on that monstrosity of a mask. “And I trust there’s a reason you’ve kept my troops from their shared training area for the better part of a day,” he bites back, Ren tilting his head to the side as he speaks, like it’s never occurred to him that he might be impacting the training schedules of anyone else on Hux’s ship with his self-involved antics.
“...I’ve been training all day?” he says, after a moment of confused silence. His head is still tilted to the side, like a damned puppy, and there’s no doubt he’s speaking softly - mostly to himself - his voice small and unsure, though the modulator does something to amplify it.
"Yes, Ren,” Hux sighs “‘It’s well past dinner.” He rolls his eyes, but it feels a little like he’s kicking the puppy now. Ren’s never been a good enough actor to fake this sort of uncertainty, and that’s enough to make the concern he’s been so studiously packing away assert itself again. “Don’t tell me that Force users don’t adhere to standard time now.”
Ren doesn’t respond, slouching further into himself, like he’s just now realizing he’s been pushing his body to its limits for the better part of ten standard hours. For all Hux knows, maybe he is - the knight really does not appear entirely present. “Oh, don’t make a show of it,” Hux chides, rocking back on his heels, his hands clasped behind his back because he doesn’t know what else to do with them. It would not do to show how unsettled this makes him. “Dinner has already been delivered to your rooms; that’s what I came down here to tell you. A droid should have brought it by approximately 30 minutes ago.” Hux sniffs lightly. “Though it might be a little cold by now.”
There’s a soft intake of breath from under the mask, garbled through the modulator, and Hux watches as Ren’s hands flex at his sides before settling into tightly closed fists. “Since when do the kitchen droids deliver meals?” he asks, and there’s something tremulous in the words.
“Since I asked them to.” Hux regrets the words even as he says them. What are you thinking? His mind berates him. Who cares if Kylo Ren lost ten hours of time today? He's always been unstable - this is nothing new. Mind your own damn business. The boy won't actually let himself starve. Likely, this is all a ploy for attention, nothing more, and Hux is playing right into it. Unfortunately, his internal chiding does nothing to rein in Hux’s tongue - it’s almost as if he’s outside himself when he says, “You need to eat, Lord Ren, and you don’t seem particularly interested in taking care of that for yourself.”
Thusfar, Ren has been leaning into Hux’s space, the way he always does, crowding himself into places where there’s not room for him, unconcerned with his height and the breadth of his shoulders - a method of intimidation or a product of his lack of socialization, Hux isn’t sure. But now he takes a hurried step back, foot catching in those ridiculous robes again. His breathing is heavy under the static, and Hux feels the circulated air around them grow heavier, as it tends to do whenever something unsettles the knight, the very elements reacting to Ren’s distress. The fine hairs at the back of Hux’s neck prickle in response, standing on end like he’s come into too close of contact with a star close to implosion.
“You forget yourself, General," Ren grinds out, pretending neither of them can hear the tremor in his voice, and he looks so shaken that, in a rare moment of something anyone else would call compassion, Hux allows him the illusion, chooses not to comment on how close he sounds to losing control entirely. Ren’s hold on it is always tenuous at best, and, Hux is learning, there’s something about authority that threatens it further. Curious.
“I haven’t forgetten anything,” Hux says, his voice as calm as the still water he half-remembers from his earliest years, still an unwanted boy on his home planet, in response to Ren’s theatrics. Never has he felt the gulf between the two of them more acutely - what different creatures they are - the air surrounding them electric with the threat of shattering. “I remain the General of this ship - its care is in my charge. No one aboard is going to starve themselves as long as I hold my post, and until the Supreme Leader takes pity on me and reassigns one or the both of us, that includes you.”
At that, Ren jerks back as if Hux has struck him. (To do so wouldn’t go amiss, Hux considers, but he’d break his hand against the damned mask. And even if he wouldn’t, he’s never been one prone to violent outbursts. That is Ren, he thinks, not him, ignoring the way his fingers itch inside the leather of his gloves as he breathes out through his nose.)
If Ren is reading his thoughts now, he does not show it. “You hold no authority over me,” he warns. “There are things you do not understand.” Hux suspects that Ren thinks the words menacing, and perhaps they are, a little. At least until he turns his head to the side and mutters lowly, again to himself, “How could I expect you to?” Like he expects Hux not to hear - like Hux isn’t standing directly in front of him still, close enough to touch, or to strike. And suddenly Ren is petulant again, sullen - a child begging for validation, bitter that Hux refuses to give it.
Well, let him be bitter then. Hux has lived his entire life with no validation other than his own, and he has lived well. It’s high time Ren learns to do the same - the Supreme Leader has done him no favors with his coddling. Hux fixes him with a dry look, does not deem his whinging worthy of a response. If Ren is indeed looking for attention in response to his childishness, he won’t find it here. “There is food in your rooms, Ren,” Hux says, keeping his voice as carefully disaffected as if he hadn’t heard Ren’s objections at all. “Eat it.”
For a moment, it seems Ren is going to argue, tell Hux to go to hell. He could, after all. Ren does not answer to Hux any more than Hux answers to him. But in the end, he just shakes his head once, sharply, almost a tic - perhaps he has offered some suitable comeback inside his head, Hux considers - and turns on his heel, stalking away like he’d intended to do in the first place. Typical Ren, who would throw himself into a fight he was sure to lose and that would leave his face split in two before he’d face a conversation he didn’t wish to have.
As Hux watches him go, he notes that the ragged scarfs around Ren’s neck have slipped, either during his day-long training session or in his haste to get away from Hux, leaving a thin crescent of freckled skin visible along the side of his neck and into his jawline. The flesh there is sallow and soft-looking, Ren’s training having done nothing to harden at least some of his edges, and there is no part of Hux that longs to drag his fingers along the delicate fold of skin there, under his chin. To feel the flutter of his pulse beneath the pad of his thumb.
The charge in the air does not dissipate until long after he loses track of the uneven sound of Ren’s footsteps.
The next morning, Hux inspects the tray retrieved from Kylo Ren’s rooms to find it largely untouched, save for the poor imitation of some mashed orangish root vegetable from a planet where subsistence farming remains prevalent. It was undoubtedly the most unappetizing offering of the meal - there had been a roast in brown gravy that Hux had particularly enjoyed, and his Captain had gushed, as much as she ever did, about the fresh blueberries in the dessert - but it is only that compartment of the tray that has been scraped clean.
Without knowing why, Hux commits the look of the vegetable to memory.
And so it continues for the next several of their standard weeks. Each evening, Hux has the kitchen droids deliver a meal to Kylo Ren’s rooms along with his own. Each morning, the tray is collected with nearly all of its offerings intact. It doesn’t take long for Hux to create a picture of Ren’s eating habits - the knight appears to favor bland, soft-textured foods. Rices and unspiced pastas, some breads made of simple, chewy grains. Vegetables that have been steamed until they have gone so spongy they don’t taste much like vegetables at all anymore.
His favorite, by far, however, appears to be that blasted orange root vegetable. It’s a staple on the ship - always on hand, as well as palatable and nutritious, if not overly appetizing - and it is the only thing Ren will always eat down to the last bite. Hux imagines him, sitting on his bed, legs crossed, cleaning the the last of it from his his tray with his finger, like a child. The image is a disconcerting one in the rush of warmth it sends to Hux’s chest, and Hux decides then and there that he will never let himself imagine it again.
As time goes by, Hux finds himself becoming more frustrated with the droids’ reports. While it may be true that Ren has not defied his orders outright - he is eating from the trays, after all - he is certainly deaf to the spirit of Hux’s instructions, if he thinks a few bites of mush will keep him functioning at the level his post requires. There is only one way around it, then, Hux decides, one morning when a few missing spoonfuls of a ground grainmeal concoction are the only evidence Ren has received the tray at all. He cannot continue like this - Hux won’t allow it - and if ensuring Kylo Ren ingests something approaching an acceptable caloric intake requires that Hux see to the job himself, then that’s something he’ll have to do.
That night, rather than having the tray brought to Ren’s rooms, he offers to deliver it himself - they are on the way to his, he assures the kitchen droids, who chatter nervously at the proposal when he gives them a tight-lipped smile. (Hux cannot blame them - his relationship with Ren has been nigh on explosive up until now.) He takes care to select offerings he has noted that Ren ate well in the past - there’s no reason to make this any harder than it has to be - and even knocks on Ren’s door, rather than using his access code to override the locks. He’ll give Ren the benefit of the doubt.
“Ren,” he calls into the intercom, his knuckles rapping lightly against the durasteel of the doors. There’s a shuffling from behind them but no answer. “Ren,” he tries again, keeping his voice cordial, as if this a social call, and not the first time he’s ever visited these quarters of his own accord.
More shuffling, like fabric moving against itself, and then the words, “Go away, Hux. You’re not invited in.” He’s not wearing the voice modulator - of course he isn't, you idiot, he's in his private quarters, who is there to hear him - and the soft, deep cadence of his voice makes Hux’s breath stick in his throat. He sounds so disconcertingly young, especially when he’s doing a good imitation of Hux’s fellow cadets when it came time for bunk inspection at Academy. That’s easy to forget, he hears Ren without the distortion of the vocoder so rarely.
When first they’d met, aboard the Finalizer, Hux had imagined what Ren’s voice sounded like when it wasn’t garbled by the mask, had to tried to picture what could be so terrible that he wouldn't allow anyone to hear it. But now Hux understands - Ren’s vocal inflections give everything away. He’s not comfortable with Hux being here, feels cornered in his own rooms, threatened and embarrassed, and if Hux doesn’t act quickly, he’s going to lock his doors down with the Force and then Hux will never set foot inside. Without giving himself time to think of the repercussions, he punches the manual override code into the panel, and the doors slide open to reveal almost complete darkness within.
He gives his eyes a moment to adjust before stepping inside; even so, Hux can barely see a few steps in front of him as he searches for Ren’s outline in the darkness. “You may not have invited me in, but as far as I know, this is still my ship, and as such, your invitation is not required,” he says, the roll of his eyes evident in his voice. It’s colder inside Ren’s quarters than without, and Hux shivers, letting the static in the air settle over him, his thoughts becoming muted, sluggish in a way that should probably unsettle him, but doesn’t. (And perhaps the fact that he is not unsettled should unsettle him too.)
“These are still my rooms.” The words come from somewhere to Hux’s right, and Hux turns toward them, blind and frustrated. “If you’d like access to my private affairs, take it up with the Supreme Leader.” There’s the edge of a whine to Ren’s voice, and again the scritching of fabric.
“I already have access,” Hux sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose in response to Ren’s unnecessary dramatics. “How would I be standing here if I didn’t?” Somewhere in the dark, Ren huffs an answering sigh because there’s nothing he can say to that, Hux notes with some amusement - but his victory is short-lived. When he ventures a step in the direction of the sound, his foot catches on something he can’t see, nearly sending him sprawling across Ren’s floor. It is only a delicate juggling act that saves the tray of food from painting the walls. “Blast it, Ren! These theatrics are beyond the pale, even for you! Lights, twenty percent!”
The lights respond to Hux’s voice as well as they would to Ren’s, immediately bathing the room in dim amber. He doesn’t see Ren right away - instead, his gaze is drawn to the room itself. This is the first time he has ever seen Ren’s private quarters, and he must admit to some curiosity as to what lay inside. Often he has imagined how well-adorned they must be, how much more opulent than Hux’s own. How could he not? Hux is a man who appreciates finery, who knows how to recognize it, who does not hesitate to accept it when he feels it is earned. And earned it he has - there is nothing he owns that he has not taken for himself. So he feels no shame over the plush quilts he keeps on his bed, nor the decanter of fine Corellian brandy he keeps on his nightstand. Will gladly admit to his appreciation of fine art when it is to his taste, his walls tastefully adorned in pieces he has chosen for himself.
...Kylo Ren’s rooms have none of these things. The durasteel walls are bare, the only furniture Hux can see a desk upon which sits a carefully arranged collection of broken and misshapen crystals interspersed with what appear to be a few sticks. Nothing of value, though he notes that the arrangement must hold meaning for Ren, as these are the only personal artifacts in sight. He’d expected the knight’s quarters to look something like the aftermath of a hailstorm, but instead they are simply… empty. Devoid of almost anything that would indicate Ren lives there at all. Without reason, Hux shivers again.
Ren’s outer robes lie in a ball on the floor - this must have been what caused him to stumble earlier, Hux gathers - while Ren himself is huddled on his side on a bed not even half the size of Hux’s own. It would make a laughable sight, if it wasn’t so piteous. Ren hardly fits on the thing at all, his knees drawn up to accommodate his height, and he curls himself around them, wrapped in a rough-hewn blanket. His mask lies on a flattened pillow next to him on, as if he hadn’t thought to remove it until he’d bundled himself into the bed, and he is still clutching his ragged scarves to his chest, his fingers twisted in them so tightly that it hurts Hux to look at it.
Ren is breathing harshly, and from the way his back rises and falls in staccato rhythm, it is clear he is struggling to get himself under control. Perhaps this is the first time another person has entered his quarters at all, Hux reflects, as Ren pulls in a great gulp of air that sounds almost like a sob; that might explain this frankly worrying conduct. “I asked you not to come in,” Ren finally gasps out, and though Hux can’t see the knight’s face, he knows his eyes are clenched tightly shut. Ren’s long fingers spasm, knotting themselves more tightly in the material of the scarves. “I asked.”
There are many things Hux wishes to say, but all of them dry up at the desperation in Ren’s voice. At the sudden knowledge of the extent of his deprivation. He is standing amongst the sum of Ren’s life, Hux realizes, something he doesn’t recognize fluttering wildly in his chest. He swallows it down and allows himself to consider what this means. This is Ren's life. A barren room with a bed too small, a collection of sticks and kriffing rocks perhaps the only things he owns that have not been issued by the First Order. Maker, there’s nowhere comfortable for a man to even sit.
The boy has no friends - that is no secret - and perhaps Hux doesn’t either, but he at least has his Captain, who he considers his closest confidant, and he is sure she would say the same of him. He has his officers in the lower ranks who he knows respect him, if nothing else. He has his art and his brandy and even the soft sleepshirts whose purchase the Supreme Leader never questions when he writes them into his personal expense reports. He has all these things, and he not does begrudge himself a one of them. But what does Ren have?
The thought makes him step closer to where Ren lays, makes him set the tray down (on the floor, not on the desk, careful not to disturb that strange little assortment of artifacts, for reasons he dare not explore too deeply). “You’re right - you did ask,” he agrees. “But as you hold no authority over me, I opted not to listen.” He watches the muscles of Ren’s back go tight at his words and swallows hard in preparation for what he’s about to say. “For that, I apologize.” The words taste strange and stale on his tongue. He does not remember the last time he apologized - maybe he hasn’t at all since the babbling, pathetic apologies he made to his father as a child - but he forces himself to continue. “I should not have done that. You have my word, I’ll heed your requests in the future, should they be reasonable.”
At those words, Ren raises his head to look over his shoulder at Hux, flicking damp hair out of his eyes as he does so - he must have collapsed in bed fresh from the ‘fresher, Hux realizes. The knight’s eyes are red-rimmed and disbelieving, and he squints at Hux as if he expects him to burst out laughing at any moment. It is clear Ren trusts his words not one bit, and Hux cannot blame him. He’s not sure he trusts them himself.
Hux clears his throat awkwardly. “May I sit?” There is a square of space just big enough to fit him next to Ren’s shoulder, should Ren not mind the proximity. He inclines his head toward the pallet and waits. Refuses to fidget. Patience, Hux.
Ren bites his lip at the request, looking for all the world like this is perhaps the greatest decision he has ever faced, and suddenly Hux’s heart is climbing its way up into his throat. Ren’s hair is wild from being pressed against the pillow, half-dried and curling around his prominent ears, the scar that starts between his eyebrows and maps its way down across his chin finally healed, but still angry-looking. There’s something feral about him here - moreso now than with the mask, Hux thinks. Something that makes Hux question whether Ren is more frightened or frightening, the boy’s desperation palpable in his wet, dark eyes.
He’s looking everywhere except at Hux, focusing first on the scarves twisted in his fingers, then the floor, then on his bare durasteel walls. How he hates that Hux is seeing him like this, Hux thinks, swallowing hard around the solid ball of weight his heart makes, and it is not difficult to understand why. Ren’s nose is too big for his face, his features oddly proportioned - a puzzle poorly put together, with pieces that never quite fit. That had been the first thing Hux noticed about him when first he had seen Ren without the mask, back even before Starkiller.
Ren had turned away from him then, kept his face in shadow, trying to obscure the worst of it - but it had been too late, the damage done. Hux had seen, knew the truth of Kylo Ren’s face. How homely and strange it was. How unattractive.
(How decorated by freckles and beauty marks.)
Ren nods once, jerkily. Hux can’t be sure whether the movement is an invitation or merely a spasm, but he takes what he can get from the knight and settles himself on the edge of Ren’s bed, crossing his legs when Ren doesn’t immediately protest. “Why are you here?” Ren asks after a moment, still gnawing on his lip in a way that makes Hux’s stomach twist strangely. His gaze finally settles on Hux, defiant and self-conscious all at once, daring him to stare.
Hux isn’t sure what to say to that. Why is he here, sitting on Ren’s bed, his hip pressed against the boy’s shoulder? “I’ve talked to the kitchen droids,” he says, once the silence has stretched for a beat too long. “You barely touch the meals I’ve had delivered.” When Ren doesn’t answer, he continues. “I’m being reasonable, Ren. I’ve promised to heed your requests - or at least to take them into consideration - and I’m not a man to make promises lightly.” His father had at least taught him that much, though that’s nothing he’d ever tell Ren. “But choosing not to eat is not an option on this ship. I said as much when last we spoke about this. I may not be your commander, but I won’t allow it.” He looks at Ren levely so there can be no doubt as to the seriousness of his statement. It’s not a threat - it’s not - but he needs Ren to understand this isn’t a game he’s playing. “I’ll go to Snoke.”
In response, Ren snorts, chokes back a laugh as if to spite him. “You’ll go to Snoke? To the Supreme Leader?” The thought must be singularly funny, because then Ren is laughing - a dull, hollow sound rattling somewhere deep in his chest. It’s the first time Hux has heard him laugh, and he likes the sound not one bit - does not allow himself to wonder what his laughter might have sounded like in another life, his overlarge lips stretched wide in a smile that shows off the crooked teeth he’s never had corrected.
“I will,” he promises, nodding slightly.
Ren’s eyes flash dangerously at that. “You think you understand everything, don’t you, Hux?” the Force-user says, something between a whisper and a snarl, like he can’t decide which vocal inflection to use. He struggles with this sometimes, Hux has learned, when he’s pushed beyond the limits of his comfort. “Snoke, the Force, this war, me."
(You're not so hard to understand, Hux thinks, but he knows enough that he restrains himself from saying so.)
With a shake of his head, Ren sits up, the rough-hewn blanket pooling in his lap at the movement. He’s wearing only a thin undershirt, black like all of things, that clings to his still-damp skin, and Hux does his best not to notice that the moles dotting Ren’s face do not stop there, but extend down his arms and beyond, to places Hux cannot see. Allows himself only a moment to linger on the beauty mark that sits on the knight’s exposed collarbone. It is his favorite of them, Hux’s traitorous mind offers, before Ren pulls his knees up to his chest and wraps his arms around them, hiding it entirely, as if he’s plucked Hux’s thoughts straight from his head. (For all Hux knows, maybe he has - his mind is so fuzzy here, in Ren’s space.)
Ren leans forward, the wide expanse of his back curved, hunched in on itself in a manner reminiscent of his usual dreadful posture, to rest his head on his knees before he speaks again. “I eat what my training allows me.” Ren says this as if it is some great admission, forcing it out from between his teeth, the words running into one another.
He says the words so quickly that it takes a moment for their weight to register, for Hux to remember what they were discussing before his thoughts wandered to Ren’s pock-marked skin. “What your training allows you…” He repeats the words to himself, trying to make sense of what Ren has just told him. He can’t mean… no, the knight must have it wrong. Either that or Hux has misunderstood him. There is no way the Supreme Leader would sanction this… this sort of self-flagellation. What good could possibly come of something like that? It is too senseless to contemplate. Too illogical. Too cruel.
"You can’t mean that Snoke approves of you restricting your diet to a few bites of ground grainmeal per day?” Hux shakes his head as he speaks. “No, you must be misinterpreting his instructions - you know as well as I that sometimes the Supreme Leader’s orders are initially unclear. That you must be willing to ask for direction.” But even as he says the words, he knows them to be untrue. The Supreme Leader is no stranger to cruelty; he has never asked anything of Hux that he could not provide, but this is only because Hux knows that cruelty has its place, does not cringe away when it is required. For the good of the cause, there are times personal comfort must be set aside. Some things are more important than conscience, after all.
(And, kriff, put like that, Hux’s argument holds no weight at all.)
“Allows it?” The way Ren looks at him says that he too knows Hux is only trying to placate himself, and then he’s laughing again, a watery quality to it this time that explains the redness about his eyes. “Hux, he requires it.” As soon as the words are out, Ren hugs his knees more tightly to himself, presses his forehead into them so that his nest of half-dried hair covers his face, as if he cannot bear to look at Hux following his admission.
Hux is well-versed in social convention, if not in the art of comforting someone - he knows he should say something here, should perhaps even lay a hand on the knight’s shoulder in a show of solidarity, but he is paralyzed by the reality of Ren’s situation. There is a trembling to Ren’s shoulders and his breath is coming in great, shuddering gasps as his arms clench and unclench about his knees - and Hux finds that he cannot think beyond the realization that it is him who Ren chose to share this with. He is the only man on board the Finalizer, almost certainly the only man in the galaxy, to know this about Kylo Ren. (But who else would he tell? Hux thinks. You are his only option, and a poor one, at that.)
When Ren makes a sound like he may be choking on something, the inane thought comes into Hux’s head that this is, perhaps, the first time he has seen someone cry since his earliest days at Academy, when so many of his classmates had sobbed for the loss of their homes and parents. He had not been able to offer comfort then, the idea that he would mourn the absence of his father so unthinkable to him that it had felt akin to watching a holoshow in a language he could not understand.
This, though? This blatant disregard for the toll one’s instruction can take, if not applied with care? This is something familiar. And, for Ren, he finds, with less surprise than he would have before tonight, he can at least try. “Well, it’s a good thing the tray I’ve brought you tonight contains only foods I’ve known you to eat in the past, then. All approved by the Supreme Leader, I assume,” Hux says, not unkindly, choosing not to comment on how thoroughly he has just witnessed Ren break down, knowing it would not be appreciated. “Come now, you’ve trained hard. Everything will look better once you’ve eaten even a little something.”
He hopes it doesn’t seem as if he’s coddling Ren - for as much as the man acts like a child, Hux isn’t out to make him feel like one, at least not right now. When the knight doesn’t respond save for the pitiful sound of him swallowing back further tears, Hux taps his cheek through his curtain of hair. Ren flinches at the intrusion, but the hitching of his breath stops. “I’ll leave, if that’s what you need me to do in order to get yourself together. But from what you’ve just told me, there’s no reason I shouldn’t see this tray emptied by morning.” It’s an order, but one given with with more delicacy that Hux is used to practicing.
After what seems like an eternity of silence, Ren raises his head again - he’s no longer crying, but his eyes are brimming in a way that make it seem likely he’ll start up again at one wrong word. They are, Hux thinks, the deepest and truest brown he has ever seen, reminiscent of dirt and earth and growing things, and the tears only do to emphasize that. “I’m tired,” the knight says, his voice sounding wretched and wrecked - he has to clear his throat before continuing. “I meant to sleep before you came.” It’s not an accusation, only an observation, and the way he says it makes Hux think that, miraculously, he may have done the right thing in coming here tonight.
There’s a part of Hux that wants to press the issue - wants to know why, if Ren can do whatever the Supreme Leader asks of him with so little complaint, no matter the cost to himself, he’s so reluctant to follow instructions that might actually have his good in mind. But then he thinks on his promise to respect Ren’s wishes. He had meant what he said, and this is of small enough consequence. He licks his lips. “Then sleep for bit and eat after, when you’re not going to fall asleep in your mashed vegetables. I’ll leave the tray - you’ll have no way to warm it, but I doubt the bland fare you’ve chosen will taste much worse with a few hours of age on it.”
The corner of Ren’s lopsided mouth pulls up into the beginnings of a smile, giving Hux just the barest peek at one of his uneven teeth. “No, I doubt it.” It’s enough to make Hux want to put that look and more on Ren’s face everyday for the rest of his life, to never see him do anything but smile with all his mismatched teeth again. (This fixation with Ren’s teeth is a new development, but he supposes that’s only because he’d seen them so rarely before.)
When Ren stretches his back out, shifting so that he groans as it pops loudly, and scoots away from the wall to lie down again, Hux’s hands go to arrange his blanket of their own accord - it really is of the roughest material Hux has ever felt, and he can’t help but think of the plush, down-stuffed quilts that cover his own bed. Can’t help but wonder what Ren would think of them, if he would be ashamed of what he has in comparison, the way Hux had been when he was only a bastard child whose status unfairly dictated what he was allowed. If accepting gifts is against Snoke’s rules as well.
The knight lies down in the same position Hux found him in - curled in on himself, facing the wall with his back to Hux - his undershirt slipping as he does so to expose the slope of his shoulder, and Hux feels his breath quicken at the sight. Immediately, an anger he doesn’t entirely understand is coiling tight in his belly - Ren’s shoulder is marred by a large bruise, so dark as to be almost black at its center, with vibrant purple wrapping around to the front and blossoming outward until it disappears into the fabric of his shirt.
“Stars, Ren. Have you been to medical?” he asks, his voice rising, making no effort to hide his concern. The injury looks incredibly painful - enough so that he questions how Ren could even hope to sleep, until he realizes that Ren is lying this way because it is likely the only way he can without it hurting. “This needs to be seen to.” Bacta might not help with bruising, but Hux knows there are salves that can at least ease their ache, if not eliminate them entirely.
“Nnnggh,” is the only answer Ren gives to that, already burrowing down into the blankets, apparently unbothered by the coarseness of the fabric, his scarves pulled to his chest again as though someone might take them from him in the night. He looks half a child like this, Hux thinks, so much that he wants to say that he says none of it, instead, letting his hand hover over the darkest spot of the bruise, feeling the heat rising off of it. When he reaches out to touch, barely allowing his fingertips to skim the surface of Ren’s skin, the bruise is so hot it almost burns, and he can feel the pulse and throb of blood just underneath the surface. He does not question why as he leaves his fingers to linger there and finally, presses down, just a hint of pressure - but Ren must feel even the slightest touch on such an angry contusion, because his breath stutters in response.
For a moment, Hux freezes, certain that he has hurt him, has been caught doing something terrible, even for him, but when he leans over Ren to search the knight’s face, it is to find his eyes open, searching as well. It may be that he is imagining it, but he thinks there is something pleading in that gaze, something that inspires him to press down again, harder this time - not with his fingers, but with his entire palm splayed flat against Ren’s shoulder, the boy’s breath going shuddery and strange under his ministrations. Encouraged, Hux allows himself to lean into touch, to really put his weight behind it, as slight as that might be, and when he feels damaged flesh and torn muscle move under his hand, Ren’s eyelids flutter quickly, and then shut, in something close to bliss, a surprised little oh escaping the fullness of his lips.
His eyes stay closed after that, Ren twitching a little now and again in a way that signals he is finally resting, the taut energy that had hold of his body beginning to let go, and the heady feeling it gives Hux to know he is the one who did this rushes through him with such intensity that he thinks he may finally understand addiction - for he could not remove his hand if he tried.
(It does not take long for Ren to fall asleep with the full weight of Hux’s touch bearing down on his bruises, but Hux does not go to dinner that night any more than Ren had - instead, he sits in his own quarters and thinks of orange mashed root vegetables and burlap-rough blankets and the angry, livid heat of bruises under his fingertips. Of what Kylo Ren has had taken from him, and traitorously, what Hux can give him back.)
Hux spends the next several days in pursuit of one item in particular: a bar of chocolate. A small one will do, but it must be chocolate and nothing else, because this is Hux’s favorite, and he suspects Ren will enjoy it near as much as he does. If it truly has been as long as Hux thinks it has since Ren has eaten anything beyond the tasteless gruel Snoke allows him, Hux is going to ensure the indulgence is worth it. (Since he intends to trounce on the Supreme Leader’s rules, he tells himself, he might as well do it right. A man who’s in for a credit might as well risk the whole damn lot, as they say.)
Sweets are not easy to come by on the Finalizer. Hux knows this because he has such a sweet tooth himself (a facet of his character of which only his Captain and the kitchen droids who prepare his meals are aware). It is a well-kept secret that he takes milk and at least three spoonfuls of sugar in his caf - the luxury a benefit of his station, which allows him more of the stuff than is typically rationed. But there are some requests that are a stretch, even for the highest officer aboard the ship, and it takes some creative wheedling before his quest yields results.
The bar of chocolate the kitchen droids finally produce for him is nothing particularly impressive - it’s not even really made for eating on its own. Baking chocolate, it is called, and when Hux removes the foil wrapping from the outside, it is dusted in a strange white coating that suggests it has been left sitting at the back of the Finalizer’s pantry for perhaps as long as the ship has been in the air. Hux sniffs at the treat warily, but in the end, thanks the droid who brought it to him with a mollifying smile. This is what he has to work with, and it’s not as if Ren is going to know the difference anyway, the boy has been so deprived.
Once he has the chocolate in hand, he requests that the droid ask Kylo Ren to join him in his quarters that evening after his tray has been delivered, and then retires to eat dinner for himself, breaking the chocolate into small, easy-to-handle squares before arranging them on a plate that he leaves to the side for now. He tries not to think about whether Ren will accept his invitation as he picks carefully at his meal, choosing bites of this and that while staring idly out the viewport above his bed. He has extended the offer, and there is not much more he can do than that. It will not do to dwell on it.
Hux takes his time finishing his meal, neatly folding the napkin has used to wipe his mouth before setting it aside. He is already engrossed in an expense report on his datapad, his feet resting on the clear glass of the caf table across from his sofa, before the intercom crackles to life. “The uhh…” More crackling, and then the sound of someone clearing their throat. “The droid who delivered my dinner said you wanted to see me.” Ren doesn’t bother with the usual social niceties of announcing himself, which doesn’t surprise Hux in the slightest. Even through the voice modulator - Ren is wearing the mask, then - Hux can sense hesitance, doubt that Hux has truly requested his presence.
“I did,” Hux answers, simply, feeling very pleased that he has made it this far. He touches a finger to the datapad, and the doors slide open. “I do.”
When Hux looks up from his datapad, Ren is standing in the entrance to his rooms as if frozen in place. He makes no move to enter, Hux’s words having no effect. His hands are at the scarves about his neck, tugging at them self-consciously, the only sound in the room the creak of his gloves as he does so. After a moment, Hux can take the display no longer, it is so unbearably awkward. “You’re invited in, you know,” he says, taking his feet down from the caf table and planting them firmly on the floor as he leans forward to place the datapad on the arm of the sofa. “I asked you here because I wanted to speak with you privately, and doing so would be infinitely easier were you actually in the room."
The admonishment works, because Ren steps just far enough into Hux’s quarters for the doors to whoosh shut behind him at another touch to the datapad. As soon as they have closed, the knight goes still again, standing in the center of the room as if he is afraid to touch anything. Perhaps, Hux realizes, a hot flush creeping up the back of his neck, he is. Suddenly, unwelcomely, he finds himself hyper-aware of the opulence of his belongings. The sofa feels so exquisitely soft beneath him, he sinks into it with ease. The decanter of brandy sits on the stand beside his bed, aerating even now, should he wish for a nightcap. The caf table, even, is one of a kind, something he saw at a market planetside somewhere and had to have.
It is no wonder that Ren has no idea what to do with himself when surrounded by these things, he realizes. How would he? How long has it been since Ren has been in such close proximity to anything so fine? “Will you take that thing off?” Hux asks to cover his own discomfort, nodding to where Ren’s face is hidden underneath the helmet. “It’s far too easy to forget I’m talking to a human under there.” He’s never liked the mask, but now he finds that he may hate it a little, the way it obscures all of the things he is quickly coming to like best about Ren.
Ren hesitates for only a moment before his fingers go up to find the catches on the underside of the helmet; there’s the sound of air escaping, and then the knight has the helmet under one arm as he shakes the tangles out his hair. “Better?” he asks, sullen, and Hux has to swallow at the way his voice dips in the middle of the word. Sometimes, he thinks, it seems Ren has spoken through the modulator for so long that he no longer remembers how he sounds without it, his voice breaking in odd places like an adolescent's.
To Hux, it seems that Kylo Ren is truly waiting for an answer, waiting for Hux to take the measure of his appearance and, perhaps, to find him wanting, to tell him to put the helmet back on - so he makes a show out of his appraisal. Takes time to note how Ren’s hair is soaked with sweat. (He hadn’t touched the tray that was delivered to him after returning to his rooms from training, Hux is willing to bet. From the looks of things, he came directly here as soon he’d received word of Hux’s request.) Half of it is tied up in a small knot at the back of his head, fully exposing his ears for the first time Hux has seen, but a few strands have fallen loose to cling against the side of his temple. His cheeks are tinged pink with exertion, and he’s still breathing hard, that wide, uneven mouth open just a bit as he gulps down air.
Hux can’t help but smile at the sight, and he means it when says, “Much.”
Ren ducks his head at that, the dusting of pink at his cheeks growing brighter. Interesting - Hux had never thought Ren would be one to blush, but the effect is pleasant on him. “Sit down,” he instructs, when it becomes clear Ren has nothing to say in response. “I’ve got something I want to show you.”
“Something you want to show me?” Reluctantly, Ren perches at the very end of the sofa, so close to the edge that Hux thinks he may fall off. He passes his helmet nervously from hand to hand, looking into the thing’s strange, mechanical face like it holds the answers to life’s great questions.
“Yes,” Hux assures him, squashing down the part of him that would take that helmet and smash it through the viewport if it meant never having to look at it again. He wonders what Ren sees when he looks at the thing, if he likes it better than his true face. If he wishes it were obscuring him from Hux’s gaze even now. “I meant to have it for you days ago, but finding it has been quite the feat. I think you’ll appreciate the wait, however, once you see what it is.”
“What are you talking about?” Ren asks suspiciously, his eyes still fixed on the helmet as he rolls it now, this way and that, between his hands. He’s brought his legs up onto the sofa and has them folded beneath him, in an imitation of a pose Hux recognizes as one used in meditation.
“Maker, Ren, I’m not going to bite ” he sighs - and he is careful not to let himself think on the way his palm had felt splayed against Ren’s bruises, of the way other things might feel as well. “I told you that you would appreciate it, did I not?” Ren has not met his eyes once throughout the entirety of this conversation, and that is unacceptable. As quickly as the notion comes to him, Hux’s hands go to the helmet Ren is holding and pluck it easily from between his fingers. There is a part of him that is surprised Ren allows it, but a greater part that never doubted he would. "Ren."
The knight’s eyes first move to his hands, tracking the movement of his helmet, as if he too is shocked he has allowed Hux to take it, then finally move to Hux’s face. “I’m sorry,” he blurts, the apology as out of place coming from him as it had been from Hux. Ren is licking his lips again, though there’s no way his mouth is drier than Hux’s own, and the worst part, Hux thinks, as a sharp pang of want shoots through him, is that Ren doesn’t even realize he’s doing it, let alone what it does to Hux. It’s something of a nervous habit, he’s gathered - more the pity for Hux, who doubts there’s anything he’d rather look at in the galaxy. “For last night, I mean.”
Ren’s rushing to explain himself, his hands suddenly empty, wringing helplessly in his lap. “I shouldn’t have told you any of that. The Supreme Leader said no one’s to know, that my training is private. I should never have put you in that position, I should never have complained, I don’t have the right to - ” Ren cuts himself off there, with a choked noise, bringing a fist up to press against his mouth, as if this will keep more words from spilling out. He bites down a little on his knuckles, the leather of his glove squeaking between his teeth, as he looks at Hux with eyes that beg him to understand.
Looking at him there, folded up to fit on his sofa, Hux does. He understands that the Supreme Leader cannot allow his knight to speak of his training outside the confines of his audience chamber, lest someone hear. Lest someone realize exactly what this training entails. It makes Hux vaguely sick to think on it - on how long Ren has kept this secret, how long he’s had no one to listen. No one to tell him it isn’t right.
Hux doubts Ren would accept it if he told him it isn’t, so he doesn’t try. There are some secrets that, if kept long enough, change a person. Some beliefs that can be altered only with proof. (And here he thinks how there had been no one to question his father’s authority - no one except Hux himself, at least. But there had always lived inside him the niggling feeling that something wasn’t right, that he was meant for more than his father’s scorn. The man might not have recognized it, but that’s where he had gone wrong, because Hux had always been a smart boy.) If it will do nothing to tell Ren that there is another way, Hux decides, he will have to show him.
He turns to the knight and pulls his legs up onto the sofa to tuck them underneath himself, a mirror of Ren’s position - it pulls uncomfortably, stretches muscles he didn’t remember he had, though the position looks entirely natural on Ren, and Hux feels a brief flare of envy at the way Ren’s body contorts itself to fit his every whim. “Consider it forgotten.” The flush on Ren’s cheeks has overtaken the whole of his face, darkening his scar, and he turns as well, so the two of them sit facing each other. (This is the closest he has ever been to Ren’s face, Hux reflects. Their noses would brush were he to lean forward even the slightest bit, his breath quickening at the thought.)
The side of Ren’s fist is still pressed to his mouth, and Hux reaches out, places his hand gently on top of Ren’s larger one, pressing down with just enough force to indicate he wants him to lower it. “Don’t,” he instructs. “Let me look at you.” With his hair tied up like this, Hux can see that Ren’s ears are burning red - this must be why Ren wears his hair long, but Hux finds that he rather likes it. Likes imagining what else he might say to make his ears go red like that.
Ren lets Hux guide his hand back down to his lap with no resistance, the leather of his glove shiny and wet where he has been chewing on it, as he does his best to meet Hux’s gaze bravely. All of his bravado is for naught, however; he holds steady for only a moment before his eyes fall to his lap, where Hux’s hand is still resting over his, trapping it there. “Ah-ah,” Hux scolds. “I have something to show you, and I’d like to see you enjoy it.”
Ren screws up his face at that, his confusion evident in the pained set of his features, and then he bites his lip in that way Hux is coming to so appreciate. “You got me a… present?” he asks, suspiciously, but Hux notes that he dutifully raises his eyes to look back up at him through dark lashes, even as his chin remains tilted down. He’s following Hux’s instructions, if not to the letter, than at least in spirit. Close enough.
Hux hums in approval. “Something like it.” He’s been pressing his luck all night, and his success has made him cocky - Kylo Ren here on his sofa, the knight’s helmet in his possession. He might as well see how far that luck can take him. “Close your eyes.”
There is a moment where Hux is certain Ren is going to refuse. The knight is looking at him like he’s grown three heads - Hux wouldn’t put it past him to bolt from the sofa. Kriff, he wouldn’t even blame him. He’s asked too much, assumed a trust that doesn’t exist. That has always been Hux’s downfall: reaching too far, his expectations too great for a boy born to his station. He’s lost his share of battles that way. But then something incredible happens - there’s a shift in the air of the room, a weight he didn’t know had settled on him lifting away, and it’s like everything in the endless expanses of the galaxy opens up around him as Kylo Ren lets his eyes fall closed.
“Good boy.” The words have left Hux’s mouth before he has time to consider how Ren might react, and there’s no taking them back, not after the rightness of them has settled on Hux’s tongue. He thinks he’d like to say them again, and again after that. He thinks he’d like to be the one to remind Ren how good he is all of the time. Ren must agree, because he swallows hard at the praise, his full lips trembling a little at the edges as his eyes move restlessly under closed lids, and Hux pats his hand once to soothe him. “Shhhh,” he says, then reaches for one of the squares of chocolate he’s prepared.
It is not until the chocolate has touched his lips that Ren panics, his eyes flying open even as his tongue darts out to lick longingly at the sweetness left there. He wants this, there is no denying it - wants it so badly he’s terrified of what having it will do to him. “Hux, what are you doing?” he demands, looking as if Hux has betrayed him in the worst way possible. “That’s - I can’t have that! The Supreme Leader will know, He always knows, even if I don’t tell him.” There’s a desperation in his voice that affirms he’d like nothing more than to take every bite and stuff it into his mouth here and now, and he pushes at Hux’s hands in a way that says he’d rather be clinging to them. “I knew you didn’t understand. I told you.”
His words are accusatory as he points a finger at Hux. “Please, eat it for yourself. I know hard it was for you to get. But you have to take it away."
Ren doesn’t seem to realize that his tongue is still worrying at the spot the chocolate has touched, searching out any trace of sugar. Now that he’s tasted it, he’s not going to forget, Hux thinks, and that was exactly the point. “Ren,” he says, taking a delicate bite off the edge of the chocolate bar, “it’s just a few bites of chocolate. Hardly anything of consequence. And you’ve done so well for so long.” (It’s true - Hux doubts Ren has eaten anything not explicitly sanctioned by Snoke at least since they lost everything in Starkiller.) “The Supreme Leader can’t hold this against you - and even if he was going to, well, you’ve already tasted it, haven’t you? The damage has been done.” A low blow, certainly, but Hux has never been above hitting low to get what he wants.
The chocolate really is the worst he’s ever tasted - chalky and flavorless enough that Hux doubts even baking it into something would make it palatable - but he makes a show of enjoying it anyway. Takes another careful bite between his front teeth and lets it dissolve on his tongue, refusing to make a face at the taste as he lets out an insincere little sound of appreciation. “Mmmmm…”
There are warring looks of want and horror on Ren’s face, as the realization that he has already broken the constraints of his training takes hold. “No,” he says, shaking his head so frantically that the knot at the back of his hair begins to come loose, spilling more dark hair across the sweat on his forehead so that it sticks against his scar. His face has gone pale under the smattering of moles. “No, I don’t want it.” And it’s the most blatant lie Hux has ever heard. “The Supreme Leader is wise, so gracious. He knows what’s best for me. He gives me what I need, keeps me from what I don’t. He’ll be so disappointed, Hux - he asks so little, and I’m so weak.”
Ren’s voice is dangerously close to breaking as the chocolate turns into a lump of paste in Hux’s throat. The words sound like something Ren is reciting by rote, some sort of mantra he tells himself daily, as if they were taught to him by Snoke himself. “You aren’t weak,” Hux finds himself saying, surprised at his own conviction. “Was he the one who told you that?” He finds the thought makes him long to bash Snoke’s skull in.
“No,” Ren gasps in response, looking at Hux like he is the first person to ever question that sentiment. “I knew it.”
Ren is many things - he is overlarge and and overbearing and absolutely heedless of acceptable standards of behavior. He is a thrice-damned liability to Hux’s ship, perhaps the biggest inconvenience in his well-ordered life. But he is not weak; this is something Hux knows. A weak man could never have survived on what Snoke has allowed him for this long, and he thinks the Supreme Leader knows this too, just as Hux’s father always knew there was something worth fearing in his son. “Well then, you were wrong. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.” He shrugs, says the words with finality, as if this is the end of it. Because as far as Hux is concerned, it is.
“Forget the Supreme Leader. It’s a few bites of chocolate. What harm could it do?” This time, he holds the square of chocolate out to Ren, giving him the choice to take it or leave it. Ren’s eyes flicker from Hux’s face to the chocolate in his hand and then back to his face again, and he tilts his head to the side as he considers the implications of what he is about to do. It is more than a square of chocolate to Ren, who is visibly weighing the benefits against the risks of accepting it, and Hux gestures toward the knight encouragingly, settling in for a battle of wills that he knows he has won before it has truly begun.
Even still, Ren sits silent and brooding for so long that Hux’s legs have started to ache from this strange position when he finally mutters, “Damn you, Hux,” one large hand picking at a loose string on the glove of the other before bringing it up toward his face. Hux is certain he’s going to stuff it against his mouth again until he sees a flash of those uneven teeth, and then Ren is putting the leather of his glove between them, is using them to pull the thing off like some sort of animal, exposing the bare skin underneath. He tosses the glove aside to land on the floor next to Hux’s sofa, and if Hux wasn’t so busy tracking the translucent blue of veins running up the inside of Ren’s forearm, he would scold him for the mess.
Ren’s breathing comes in short bursts as he takes the chocolate from Hux, his fingers closing around it tightly, as unwilling now to let it go as he had been to accept it in the first place. He stares at the chocolate in his hand in awe - he’s curling his fingers around it with such force that it’s already melting, staining his fingers, even in the coolness of the Finalizer's recycled air - and the open wonder on his face makes Hux feel like perhaps he’s never really appreciated anything in his entire damn life. “It tastes better if you actually eat it,” Hux prompts him, though having already tried the stuff, he knows that isn’t exactly true.
Ren gives him another one of those half-smiles in response, self-deprecating and unsure of what it does to his face, just a twist of one side of his mouth and a flash of teeth, the kind Hux is beginning to suspect is the only kind he knows how to give. That is, until he stuffs the thing in his mouth whole, completely disregarding the way Hux had nibbled at his own square. (Ren has never done things by halves, Hux knows, and once he’s decided on this, it’s easier done swiftly.) Hux can’t hold back a grimace - the baking chocolate is going to turn into a paste and choke the boy, he’s sure of it.
But, somehow, it doesn’t. For a moment, the only sound is Ren’s noisy chewing - Hux has never seen him eat before, but his lack of propriety here is as distinctly Ren as anything he ever does - and then his face goes slack, his eyes fluttering closed, lashes coming to rest against his cheek as he swallows in unguarded appreciation. If Ren recognizes the poor quality of the chocolate, he’s not letting it show. There’s a noise from deep in the back of his throat, something like a whine, and the look on his open face is something Hux cannot describe. It’s like everything in the galaxy has slotted into place and, looking back, Hux will remember this as the first time he had seen Ren glow.
Hux has ever been a man to put stock only in the empirical, in only what can be understood, but in this moment, he swears, Ren’s skin takes on an ethereal sheen, the cast of pleasure illuminating him so that he becomes something otherworldly, the kind of being Hux has been warned against looking at directly. It should terrify him, he thinks, images of that strange arrangement of crystals and sticks in Ren’s room playing at his mind, but Ren’s adam’s apple is jumping in the delicate skin of his throat and he’s smacking his lips like a child and there’s a smudge of chocolate on the corner of his mouth that he’s trying so desperately to reach that Hux feels only a surge protectiveness, a sense of mine that leaves him lightheaded.
“More,” Ren whispers, “please,” and Hux is helpless to it, his heart pounding so hard in his ears he can hardly believe that Ren doesn’t hear it - and maybe he does, maybe the Force allows him that too, he thinks hysterically, as he presses the chocolate into Ren’s palm. Maybe this is what he has been missing about the Force all along, and if that is the case, well then, Hux is a big enough man to admit when he has been wrong. This time, he doesn’t let go as Ren brings the square to his mouth. Instead, he helps Ren to guide it there, then cradles Ren’s jaw in his hand, letting his fingers graze the fullness of his bottom lip when he takes a bite, smaller now that he knows he’s allowed, that it’s not going to be taken away, at least for tonight.
Hux can feel the stuttering warmth of Ren’s breath on the sensitive skin of his hand with each swallow, the way the bones of his jaw move with each bite, and there is no stopping himself from tracing a finger along the jagged edge of one of Ren’s lower front teeth when he opens his mouth to chew. The tooth has been broken at some point; Hux can see how Ren’s jaw must have clacked together with the force of a blow, likely delivered to the back of his head, so Ren could not see it coming, and he thinks, madly, that he would very much like to find the person who did this to him, if Ren hasn’t killed them already.
“Nnnngh, Hux, what are you doing?” The knight asks, his voice thick with the chocolate still coating his mouth. There is a look of confusion mingled with the pleasure on his face now, as if he can’t imagine what reason Hux might have for touching him like he is, and that look proves to be Hux’s undoing. How can he not know? Does Ren not have any idea what he is? What he’s done to Hux? The thought that Ren is oblivious to the way he looks right now - like everything in the galaxy lives inside him, darkness and light and all the things that have come and gone before, all spilling out at the seams - is enough to make Hux forget everything except what he wants, and before he can register what he is doing, he has brought his other hand up to cup Ren’s cheek, pressing their lips together, his thumb still pressed against Ren’s lower lip.
He feels Ren start under his hand, a jump that rocks his whole body, every muscle in his jaw tensing, and it seems for just a moment that he is going to pull away - something that Hux cannot allow to happen, so he tightens his hold on Ren’s jaw a bit, digging his fingers in, deepens the kiss just enough that there can be no mistaking what his intention is. He wants this. Wants Ren. Wants good things for him. Wants to give good things to him. Let me in, he wills, praying the Force works this way. That Ren will somehow read these thoughts and understand. Let me in.
And then, whether he’s heard him or not, Ren is responding to Hux’s touch, is falling into the kiss, opening his mouth and letting Hux explore . There is no doubt that Ren has never done this before - every move he makes is a poor imitation of what Hux has done before it, executed clumsily and with more teeth. But somehow, impossibly, that makes it all the sweeter. Ren’s inexperience is to his credit. To know that he is the first one - the only one - to touch him this way, that’s all it takes for Hux to move his hands to the back of Ren’s head and bury them in that dark, dark hair. His fingers snag in the knot that’s tied there, and he works it free. He is not careful, relishing the way it tugs, resistance against his fingers, as Ren shivers and shudders at the feeling.
Once Ren’s hair is free of it, Hux tosses the band aside to land next to the glove Ren had ripped off with his teeth, grasps Ren’s head between his hands and holds it still, his fingers splayed over sharp cheekbones, deepening the kiss until he is as far inside Ren’s mouth as he can go. The chocolate tastes better on Ren’s tongue, its flavor mingling in their mouths, sticky and sweet, and Ren is gasping against his lips, lapping at what has been smeared there in their haste. Hux allows it, slowing the kiss to give Ren better access, until the rough surface of Ren’s broken front tooth grazes hard enough to twinge. When Hux corrects him with another tug on his tangled hair, rough enough that it he knows it will hurt, he can feel the whine reverberating in Ren’s throat, and he pulls back to look at the knight’s face.
Ren moves with him, drawn forward by instinct, his eyes still closed as he searches out Hux’s lips with his own, unwilling to see the kiss end. “Hux,” he whispers, his voice as rough as if it were delivered through a vocoder left too long to rust, only opening his eyes once he realizes Hux’s lips aren’t coming back, at least for now. There is chocolate at the corner of his mouth, still, and his lips are swollen and glistening. Hux thinks he has never looked better.
“You like chocolate, darling?” he asks, the name rolling easily off his tongue. Hux has never been one for terms of endearment - the boys he’d shared quick fucks with in Academy probably wouldn’t have appreciated them anyway, and he would hardly have used them during the few encounters he’s allowed himself during brief stays of planetary leave - but he finds he quite likes them on Ren, likes the way Ren flushes again at the endearment and dips his head, almost bashfully, as if he hasn’t spent the last several minutes devouring Hux’s mouth for all he was worth.
“I… I didn’t remember,” Ren stutters in something like awe, bringing his ungloved hand up to lick at the chocolate that has melted on his fingers. He manners are truly deplorable, and Hux chuffs out a laugh at the way he cleans each one in turn, leaving not a speck of the treat behind, as if this will be the last chocolate he will ever taste.
“I’m sure you didn’t,” he says. “That chocolate is atrocious, Ren - some of the worst I’ve ever tasted. I don’t even think it was fit for eating plain like that.” Ren’s mouth twists in embarrassment - likely he’s imagining what Hux must think of him, how deprived and uncivilized and he is - and so Hux reaches out to dab carefully at the corner of Ren’s mouth with his thumb, taking the sting out of his teasing as he cleans away the last of the mess. After a brief moment of consideration, he licks the chocolate off his own thumb too. It’s disgraceful, but Ren is the only one here to see him, and there’s something of a thrill in knowing what once painted Ren’s mouth is now in his. “If I’d known it would be so easy to impress you, I would have bought your affection with subpar offerings long ago.”
“It wasn’t subpar,” Ren cuts him off with startling conviction. “It was... “ He trails off, searching for the right word. “Delicious, I think. Incredible” He’s back to worrying at his lip now that Hux isn’t doing it for him, and Hux knows he isn’t speaking only of the chocolate, hears what he doesn’t say: it was the nicest thing anyone has done for me since before I can remember. Maybe that’s a trick of the Force too, but he thinks what should be more worrying is that he is beginning to read Kylo Ren as well as his favorite holobooks. Instead, he finds the thought strangely intoxicating, as desperate for more of Ren as the knight had been after his first bite of the chocolate.
“Well, in that case,” Hux says, “I’m certain I can convince the kitchen droids to sneak us another bar. At least until I can procure something better planetside.” Ren’s face lights up at that - at the suggestion that this could happen in the future, that Hux hasn’t brought him here tonight just to introduce him to something wonderful that he can never have again - and Hux feels the corners of his own mouth tugging up in response.
This is a real smile, the kind he’d doubted Kylo Ren was even capable of. It crinkles the corners of his eyes and opens his mouth wide to expose every one of those uneven teeth, Hux’s eyes catching on the jagged one that had grazed his lip during their kiss - and again he is struck by how young R en looks, smiling like Hux has just given him the galaxy over some kriffing chocolate. Maker, the leader of the Knights of Ren has dimples, and isn’t that a sight to behold? “I’d like that,” Ren says, and here he swallows hard, the smile growing just this side of tremulous, like he’s expecting the rug to be pulled out from under him just as soon as he’s accepted this isn’t all going to be snatched away. “Very much.”
Hux recognizes that Ren is trying hard to find his footing here, to conduct himself in the way he thinks someone in this situation should conduct themselves, even if he’s never been here himself. The words are so stilted and strained and so very painfully true that Hux takes pity on him, weaves his hand into Ren’s hair again and pulls it back from his face in place of the band Hux had discarded earlier. “Then we’ll do it again,” he promises, and with that, he presses a kiss to Ren’s temple, to that hidden place he pulled his hair back to expose. Ren shudders under the kiss - perhaps more under this one than under the hungry thing they had shared earlier - and shakes his head once, but he doesn’t move away when Hux leaves his lips pressed there for long minutes afterward, his hand carding through Ren’s hair, alternately tugging hard enough to remind Ren of his presence and smoothing to remove the sting of it.
When, after some time, Ren burrows his nose into the space above Hux’s ear and mutters, “I usually return to my quarters earliest on the days I am not in direct audience with the Supreme Leader,” Hux cannot help but laugh against Ren’s skin, a feeling of triumph blooming in his chest. It is an invitation, though a poorly worded one, and it is then that he knows: the knight believes him.
The next morning, Kylo Ren has disappeared - Hux does not see him for five standard days after that. He tries not to let the knight’s absence affect him; he is a busy man, after all, with many duties to attend to, and many things that demand his attention. He can hardly afford the distraction, and Hux puts his mind to those matters that have been neglected since he began this experiment with Ren. Everything is more pressing since Starkiller, the stakes higher with so much lost, and this is enough to occupy his mind at first. He meets with his Captain and hears her reports on projects of new construction, shares a cup of caf because it has been too long, and deftly avoids her questions of what has him so distracted. Checks up on the maintenance of his starship fleet, makes certain that every ship left to them is in prime condition, each bolt in place. Completes an expense report he has left to gather dust for too long.
At one point, he receives a holocall from Snoke while in his quarters and reports all of this dutifully, giving no indication of the worry that is starting to churn in his gut, keeps himself from looking behind the hologram for any sign of Ren. Perhaps Snoke has sent the knight on a mission, he tells himself - though it would be the first time the Supreme Leader has done so without alerting Hux to the whereabouts of his apprentice. It is unlikely, but not outside the realm of possibility, and Hux bites his tongue when Snoke asks if he has any concerns they have not yet addressed. Yes, he wants to demand, where the hell is Ren and why are you acting as if you don't expect me to notice he's gone missing? But instead Hux bows his head as is expected of him and straightens his officer’s hat when it goes askew on his head, meets Snoke’s eyes through the projector and does not flinch.
By the third day, nothing works to distract him from the constant sense of wrongness , so much so that he feels sick at lack of Ren on his ship. Hux had never noticed before the night he’d confronted him outside the training rooms, but there’s something palpable that surrounds Ren, something thrumming below all observable sound, even if it isn’t exactly a sound itself. Hux would have called himself insane for even thinking it before, but now he cannot ignore the way the Finalizer has gone silent, the distant hum of machinery keeping them in flight a poor compensation for Ren’s power.
In a moment of desperation, he calls out for Ren in his mind. Ren he thinks, willing his thoughts outward, like he imagines one might do were he to wish them to be read. Ren, tell me where the devil you are. Hux knows he’s about as Force sensitive as a rock - Ren told him so, once, though perhaps he’d said it only to insult him. But whatever Ren had said, doing so had worked when Hux had wanted to kiss him - at least he thinks it did - and that’s enough for him to try it. Don't be stubborn. I promised you more chocolate, remember? And I can't very well deliver on that promise if you're going to run off and disappear like a child.
Only silence greets his thoughts, and alone, Hux drops into the chair at his desk, resting his head in his hands. What good is the Force anyway if it can’t at least let him know Ren is safe? He rips the hat from his head, lets it roll under the desk - finds that he frankly doesn’t care if treating one’s uniform in such a manner is strictly against regulation - running his fingers through his hair in violent frustration. There’s a suspicious heat behind his eyes, one he has to grind his palms into his face to snuff out. The Force has never done anything for Ren, he’s sure of that now, and it’s not likely to do anything for him either.
Perhaps it doesn’t exist at all. Perhaps he’s losing his mind as surely as Ren is.
He falls asleep that night at his desk, head pillowed on his arms as he looks out the viewport for answers that he’s not likely to ever get. As helpless as he feels, he doesn’t cry - he’s not sure he remembers how to let himself - and the Force, if it can hear him, if it exists, is silent.
It is two days later, Hux conducting a uniform inspection on his Captain’s trooper squadron while they stand at parade rest in front of him, that an insistent gnawing takes hold at the back of his brain. It’s not a feeling Hux is familiar with - it doesn’t hurt exactly, but there’s a pressure so distinct he forgets where he is momentarily. When he shakes his head to try to clear it, the air around him shifts so suddenly that he almost loses his footing, everything going a white so incandescently bright he has to close his eyes against it, blindly reaching out to steady himself on the shoulder of FN-2437’s armor. No one else around him seems to be reacting; his Captain’s attention is fixed on him, her head tilted at an angle that Hux recognizes as concern, while FN-2437 remains as still as if Hux’s behavior were standard protocol.
He doesn’t understand - the Finalizer is coming alive around him, the thrum that has been missing a steady pulse now, whirring to life, every particle in the air charged so his skin has erupted in goosebumps. “I - I - my apologies,” he stutters, brushing off FN-2487’s armor with a shaking hand and taking a hurried step back, nearly tripping over himself in his haste. He smoothes his fingers through his hair, expecting it to be standing on end, the way it does when exposed to static, but everything appears to be in place. How can no one else feel this?
And then Hux is bringing up his hand to cover a mouth, a hysterical laugh threatening to escape. The thrice-damned Force. Of course. What he is feeling… this is the Force, and the thought is so ridiculous that it threatens to drown him.
He’s feeling Ren presence, with more strength than if they were standing shoulder to shoulder, and there’s no mistaking that the knight has been returned to him. It’s unthinkable, impossible that he knows this - except it isn’t. If he concentrates, really works at it, he can shut out his surroundings until his focus is reduced to the pinprick of Ren’s presence, everything else fading into the background. Wiith his thoughts so directed, Ren’s Force signature becomes so bright it’s almost a beacon, and Hux can feel something more: something is wrong. Something has happened to Ren, and Hux knows with a certainty he can’t explain that he needs him.
He does his best to compose himself as he makes his excuses, asks his Captain to complete the inspection - she must think he’s gone mad, the pressure after Starkiller having finally gotten to him, but she’s nothing if not dutiful, and she agrees with a slight incline of her head. He’ll explain things to her later, he promises himself, tempted to go straight to Ren’s quarters, but instead he finds himself in the mess, willing his hands not to shake as the kitchen droids load a tray for him to take with him.
When he focuses on Ren’s presence, what he feels first is a terrible, unforgiving hunger - the kind that makes his own stomach turn in on itself and clench in protest. (This comes as no surprise to him - even with Hux having Ren’s dinners hand-delivered nightly, the knight can barely manage an acceptable caloric intake.) Beyond the feeling of hunger is something like pain, but it isn’t physical, which doesn’t make sense - but then, he thinks as he makes his way down to Ren’s quarters, none of this makes sense.
“Ren, I’m coming in,” he announces through the intercom as soon as he arrives, not giving Ren the opportunity to refuse him. He’s worried enough that he doesn’t care one bit about Ren’s propriety; he can offer his apologies for the intrusion later if the boy deems them necessary. Hux is balancing the tray against his hip, preparing to enter the access code to Ren’s quarters, when he finds there is no need; the doors have slid themselves open before his fingers can touch the screen, and, unsettled, Hux lets himself in. For the second time, he finds the room swathed in darkness. “Kriff, Ren - again?” he swears, careful this time not to knock his knees against anything Ren might have left lying on the floor. “Lights, thirty percent.”
Once again, Ren is lying in bed when the lights come up, his position mirroring the one from the first night Hux spent here, only this time he is facing Hux. The knight is still fully clothed, though his mask is lying next to the bed, tipped over onto its side, and Hux imagines him leaving it to fall from his fingers without looking where it might land. His hair is soaked and sticking to his face, already having created a wet halo on the pillow, and a drop of water makes its way down the edge of Ren’s nose. Ren does not seem to notice.
“Hux, you came he whispers, his voice slightly slurred, and he looks at Hux with something akin to wonder on his face. There’s a dreamy quality to his voice, as if he can’t believe what he’s seeing, and he looks at Hux like he thinks him half a dream as he opens and closes his eyes, trying to track Hux’s movements and failing when Hux moves to place the tray on the desk opposite Ren’s bed.
His pupils are blown wide, black nearly eclipsing the brown, Hux notes, wondering if Ren is entirely cognisant, or if there’s still some part of him that has been left back where Snoke had him hidden away. “Of course I came, you idiot,” he admonishes, though he does nothing to disguise the open concern on his features as he takes stock of Ren’s condition, sitting on the bed next to him and wrinkling his nose at the water that immediately begins to seep into the leg of his pants. “Nobody could have ignored that. What the hell was it?”
“I was calling for you,” Ren babbles, “but I didn’t think you could hear.” He’s wrapped protectively around his stomach, clutching at it. “You came." he repeats the words like if he says them enough times, he’ll be able to parse some sense out of them.
“Oh, I could hear.” Gently, Hux moves Ren’s hands from his stomach, replacing them with his own and running them over Ren’s robes, checking for injury. The robes are as soaked as Ren’s hair, sodden and heavy, the moisture long gone cold in the chill of Ren’s rooms, and Hux shivers as he pushes them aside, trying to find Ren’s skin beneath all the layers. “Stars, Ren. What the devil happened to you?”
Ren looks ashamed then, pressing his face into his pillow to avoid looking at Hux as he tries to bat his hands away from his stomach. “Wanted to use the ‘fresher,” he mumbles, his voice muffled. “Got under the spray before I remembered I was still wearing my robes.” He’s talking in half-sentences, barely making sense, and Hux feels the concern in his chest clench tighter as he tries to follow Ren’s fractured line of reasoning. “Didn’t realize. They’re ruined now, probably. Too tired to take them off. Doesn’t matter. Everything’s ruined.”
Hux wasn’t talking only about Ren’s soaked robes, but he can see Ren is in no fit state for conversation. “Don’t be so dramatic,” he chides. “They’re not ruined, simply a little damp. That’s fixed easily enough - though not by lying around and letting them soak your bedding too.” He lays a hand against Ren’s cheek, registering the chill there, and turns the boy’s face until he’s looking at him again. “Come now, you’ll feel better once you’re warm and dry. Let’s get you up and out of these things.” Hux slips into the role easily. He is one of the best strategists this galaxy has ever seen - Hux knows this about himself. He’s used to giving orders; it is only giving them so gently that requires some getting used to.
(If things were different, Hux allows himself to contemplate, he might order Kylo Ren to remove his robes with no trace of gentleness, unwavering command in his voice as he watched the knight put on a show for Hux’s pleasure. He might… but no. Not tonight. Not, perhaps, for a long time. Not until Ren is able to understand what that might mean for the two of them. And yet... the possibility bears considering.)
For now, Ren is pliant beneath his hands, if a little clumsy, trying to help where he can. Despite having dressed himself, Hux is sure, the knight doesn’t seem to understand how his clothing works, and Ren’s robes are nothing if not complicated. He unwraps layer upon layer, shooing away Ren’s hands when they get in the way. The fabric is among the roughest he’s ever felt, worse even than Ren’s blanket. The cowl that’s wrapped around Ren’s neck, especially, can only be compared to burlap, so scratchy it irritates the delicate skin of his palms, and when Hux finally lets the pile of fabric drop off the side of the bed with a wet plop , he’s struck by how damned heavy it is. He can scarcely imagine what it would be like to wear all of that, day in and day out, the weight of it never quite enough to smother, but nearly. But of course, this was never about comfort.
There’s nothing soft or forgiving about Ren’s get-up - the act of wearing it at all, Hux thinks, is some sort of punishment Ren never did anything to deserve. Just like the blanket. Just like the barren rooms. Just like the miserable offerings he’s brought Ren to eat tonight. The thought makes his blood thrill in his veins with hot rage, and Hux kicks the sodden pile of Ren’s robes aside with the toe of his boot. He’d never see Ren wear the things again, if it was up to him. Would keep him in cloaks as soft and as plush as the quilts on Hux’s own bed, would line them with the finest fur, hunted from the farthest reaches - things that would keep him warm, in dark greys that would complement the pallor of his skin. How beautiful he would look, how well-cared for, were he Hux’s to keep.
(But that is only a fantasy, and Ren looks like something maltreated and abused as Hux bares his skin.)
“There, that’s better, isn’t it, sweetheart?” he asks, once Ren’s stripped down to only his undershirt, which mercifully has been spared the worst of soaking by the layers Hux has just discarded. This endearment comes just as easily to him as the one he’d offered after watching Ren devour a bar of chocolate like a child hiding hiding from his parents, and Hux knows he is in danger of it becoming a habit.
He can see that Ren’s is shivering almost convulsively, now that he’s sitting up and no longer swathed under layers of heavy fabric. He wraps his arms around himself trying to contain it, and his teeth are chattering so hard it’s difficult to understand him when he answers. “Y-yes, not s-so bad now,” he agrees, then clenches his teeth harder when a particularly violent shudder races through him. Hux knows that’s bantha fodder - Ren looks perhaps more miserable now that he’s without his robes to shield him - but there is apparently no limit to the suffering Ren will take on the chin without so much as a word of complaint.
Brave boy. The thought comes unbidden to him, a flare of pride sparking in his chest as he shakes out the rough-spun blanket from the foot of Ren’s bed and wraps it around his shoulders. When Ren doesn’t react, he brings the knight’s hands up to hold it closed around his collarbones, like a cloak, giving them an encouraging little squeeze before letting go. “No, that's better,” he corrects, giving Ren a knowing smile. “I’m right, aren’t I?” Ren nods, and he adjusts his fingers so he’s holding onto the blanket so tightly his knuckles go white. “Hold it closed, just like that, at least until you dry off a little.”
They sit like that for a while, allowing Ren to gather himself, and Hux has to wonder when he became one to coddle. Perhaps when he discovered the Supreme Leader wasn’t. Perhaps when he realized everything he had always envied Kylo Ren - born under the name Ben Solo, prince by birth, with the entire galaxy at his fingertips and the weight of blood behind his name - was an illusion. He can’t say, knows only that his thoughts toward Ren are imbued with a violent tenderness that rocks him to the core. Time passes slowly, as it does in Ren’s quarters, giving Hux plentiful time to think on on on this, until he catches Ren looking longingly at the tray he has placed on the desk, and he remembers the terrible hunger that had cut through him when first he recognized Ren’s presence.
With a swell of guilt that he has let Ren go so long without food when the boy is clearly starving, Hux moves to retrieve the tray, but Ren’s voice stops him. “He said I could eat again when I felt I’d repented enough,” the knight whispers. There’s no need to specify who he is; the name hangs unspoken between them. “He left it up to me.” Ren is picking at a thread in the rough-spun blanket, unraveling it between his long fingers, and Hux leaves the tray where it lies as the words slam into him, stopping him cold, their implication ice in his bones over the hot fury he had felt earlier.
“Ren,” he asks slowly, when he trusts himself to speak, his voice is very dark. “What have you eaten since I saw you last?”
This seems to spark some sort of realization in Ren, like he has forgotten he was starving up until now, and he curls in on himself, again clutching at his stomach, which makes a horrible sound, like it’s going to work on itself in the absence of any more acceptable nourishment. “He said I could eat again when I felt I’d repented enough,” he repeats through clenched teeth, sweat beading underneath the water on his face. “I have no way of knowing when that is.”
Fresh horror dawns in Hux’s mind - what in all seven hells? Ren has done this to himself? His own stomach flips unpleasantly as he tries to find any other meaning behind what Ren has said. But for as wildly as his mind rebels at the notion, it makes a sickening kind of sense. Snoke has created a creature that he need not deprive - Kylo Ren readily does that for him. He has no need to devise ways to punish his apprentice, can instead allow Ren to come up with them on his own. He has trained Ren so well that the knight will willingly commit such atrocities against himself, should the Supreme Leader ask it of him.
And suddenly Hux is back on the collapsing planet that had been Starkiller Base - the site of his ultimate failure, his greatest humiliation - and Kylo Ren is reaching into a gaping bowcaster wound on his side, is digging inside of it, his fingers coming away tacky with blood that steams in the night air. The boy is howling with the pain it causes, under the sounds of cracking ice and distant explosions, and still he will not stop - is screaming nonsense and scrabbling at Hux’s hands when he tries to stop him from injuring himself further.
Hux hates to admit it, but he had been afraid then, not of plunging into the cracks splitting the planet’s surface - for that may have been preferable to living with the magnitude of his failure - but of the boy lying half-dead in front of him. He’d never feared Kylo Ren before - not his posturing, nor the mystical forces he was purported to command - but there, knee-deep in snow, watching as the boy had readily spilled his own blood, Hux had trembled. Kylo Ren, who had always teetered on some invisible edge, had finally been driven to madness, and Hux had wondered if Snoke already knew there was nothing left of him worth saving at all. If he had sent Hux here as some kind of punishment for the part he had played in all of this as well.
Ren had been right when he told Hux he didn’t understand; it has taken him until now to see that this, too, had been a part of Ren’s training. His master had seen him laid out in the bleakness of utter defeat, had seen him injured to near death and freezing, and had instructed him to hurt. And Ren had obliged. “Was this… was this because of the chocolate?" Hux asks, because even knowing that, it can’t be. Truly it can’t. He’d told Ren nothing bad would come of it, so certain a few bites of chocolate couldn’t be so forbidden. It was Hux who had put the chocolate into Ren’s hand and instructed him to eat, never once considering that he would starve for it later.
But now here they are, and Ren hasn’t eaten in five standard days, and that has been of his own volition, even as his body threatens to turn against itself - and Ren is nodding. “I knew it wasn’t allowed to me. I knew it was forbidden,” he says, as if this is all perfectly logical, as if starving for the better part of a standard week is an acceptable punishment for a bar of kriffing chocolate. Guilt is a vice around his heart, and the pressure behind Hux’s eyes is back, relentless and unwelcome. He’s unsure if he’s ever felt this impotent, even during the long, lonely years of his childhood, and he swallows hard against it as his throat tightens dangerously, his hands balling into fists against his thighs.
Hux had always thought that he could never hate someone the way he had hated his father - the way he still hates him, dead as he is - but now he knows he was wrong. He hates Snoke with a passion he previously thought impossible, imagines how the hilt of his saber, the one awarded to him on the day of his graduation from Academy, would feel sliding between his ribs. If it would feel the way it had slicing through his father.
This must all show on his face, because Ren rushes to explain himself. “I should never have done it,” he says, stumbling over his words, pleading with Hux to understand - and oh, but he already does. “I’ve undone months of training with my weakness. The Supreme Leader should never have accepted me back into his graces after I lost to the Scavenger, and I repaid him by ignoring his will.” He’s speaking quickly, his breathing becoming erratic, even as clutches at his stomach again. “It was my fault. I knew, I knew. But I just wanted it so badly, Hux. I hadn’t had something sweet in so long and I thought, maybe, if it was just a little… but I was wrong. Of course I was wrong. A little is too much. Anything is too much. I -”
“Kriffing hell , Ren - it was a bar of chocolate!" Hux cuts him off with a shout - he’s unable to listen to another word of this. He’ll hit Ren if he has to, just to get him to shut up. “It wasn’t even good chocolate.” He’s not sure why that matters, but it does. Distantly, he recognizes he’s still yelling, that there’s nothing he can do to stop it now that he’s started. “Do you hear yourself? You’re going to starve, Ren. He’s going to starve you and you’re going to let him. Hell, you’ll even help it along! Is that what you want?” It is not until he has finished, breathing hard, that Hux realizes his eyes are burning. When he brings a hand up to swipe at them, it comes away wet, and he swipes at them again, roughly, brushing away frustrated tears he didn’t think he remembered how to cry.
Ren has no answer for this; he is silent, face frozen in shock at Hux’s outburst, and Hux refuses to consider that perhaps this is what Ren wants. That perhaps he’s just waiting for Snoke to kill him, or to give him permission to do the job himself - to end whatever this is, finally. After a moment during which Ren says nothing and yet more tears gather traitorously at the corners of Hux’s eyes, he forces himself to speak again. “How did he even know?" Hux can hear the desperation in his own voice, the thickness that comes with crying, and he hates himself for it. Hates himself and Snoke and his father and even Ren, for letting this happen to him.
Ren, at least, can answer this question. “It’s all -” and here he stops to tap at the side of his head, “in here.” The gesture is oddly childish, and Hux has to choke back a bark of hysterical laughter. Of course. Of course he should have known. If Hux, who has no connection to the Force and scant little belief in it, is so affected by Ren’s presence, there is no doubt that the Supreme Leader feels the knight more strongly still. Feels more than his presence, more than his distress or calm. That he had known the very moment Ren put the chocolate into his mouth, had maybe even tasted the sweetness himself, had felt his joy and his wonder and his power as if it were his own.
That Snoke had sensed the way Ren clutched at Hux there on his sofa, his strange mix of hesitancy and gratitude at the kiss. Knew of his inexperience and of the way he’d allowed Hux to tug on his hair to guide him. Knew that he liked it and that he hadn’t known that about himself until that moment.
There was never any hiding any of it, never had been, and Ren had known that, even as he allowed Hux to lick the chocolate from between his teeth. (And perhaps Snoke had felt that too - perhaps the bastard knows, even now, what Hux’s tongue had felt like scraping against the roof of Kylo Ren’s mouth.)
His stomach churns in disgust - those things were private, meant only for Ren, and that the Supreme Leader has taken those from him too makes him want to retch. But he does not allow this to show, instead pinching the bridge of his nose, steadying himself until the threat of more tears has passed. “Well,” he says, straightening his posture until his spine resembles a durasteel rod, just the way he was taught in Academy, the familiarity of the stance allowing him at least the illusion of control. “I’d say you’ve repented more than enough, wouldn’t you?” He looks meaningfully at the way Ren’s hands dig into his stomach, trying to relieve the pain that Hux is sure is constant there now.
The look on Ren’s face is dubious - but Hux had once told him he would not allow anyone to starve on his watch, and he is not about to start now. Once he has collected the tray from the desk and perched himself back on the edge of Ren’s bed, he sets it aside to pry Ren’s hands away from his stomach again, replacing them with his own, a warm weight that he leaves there as he waits for the boy’s stomach to settle. He can feel how tightly the muscles are clenched, fighting to digest something that isn’t there, and he moves his palms just so, massaging slightly, willing them to relax enough to let Ren eat at all. There’s no way he’ll be able to take more than a few bites as he is, and he is desperately need of nutrients. (He hasn’t told Ren this yet, but he’ll drag him to medical if he has to, will see him fed intravenously if he refuses to feed himself.)
“Shhhh,” he soothes when Ren’s stomach makes another terrible noise and the knight’s hands spasm like there is nothing he would like more than to push Hux out of the way and curl in on himself. But Hux just shushes him and applies slightly more pressure to the offending area, waits for the hunger pains to subside before continuing. “I’ve brought you that strange root vegetable you seem to favor so much, and I know that Snoke approves at least of that.” He hates to appeal to what Snoke approves of - the man can hang, for all that Hux cares - but it seems the quickest way to get Ren to acquiesce.
This appears to pique the boy’s interest, because his eyes fix on the sad, orangish pile of mush. “...Carrots?” His voice is alight with what Hux is learning to recognize as hope, and he’s licking his lips greedily, as if he’s looking at some great delicacy.
Maker help me. “I don’t know what they’re called, Ren,” Hux sighs. “I just know that you eat them, and it’s highly important that you do so right now. Do you think you can do that for me without causing more of a fuss?” He doesn’t mean to snap at Ren, but plagued by worry as he is, even Hux’s patience has its limits.
Ren debates that for long enough that Hux is already envisioning how exactly he will wrestle the knight down to medical without destroying half his ship when he is interrupted by a tremulous intake of breath. Hux’s hands move with it, still resting on Ren’s stomach, and Ren looks from the tray, to Hux, and then back to the tray again before finally he finally admits “...I think I need to eat.”
Hux’s relief is so great that it is all he can do not to let his eyes go wet again with it. Thank the stars. “You needed to eat five days ago,” he corrects, clearing his throat when his voice threatens to break. The time for emotion has passed, and he lays matters out so that even Ren will have to understand the seriousness of the situation he finds himself in. “Now that need has become critical. I’m glad you agreed; I would have carried you to medical myself if you’d resisted much longer.” Hux takes the blanket from around Ren’s shoulders, frowning at how it irritates his skin, and settles it over the boy’s lap, to protect the bed should he spill. “You would have left me no choice. Stars, Ren - look how much pain you’re in!”
Ren frowns right back at him, crossing his arms over his chest. “You wouldn't. You told me you’d respect my wishes. I remember.”
Hux regards him for a moment, the petulant turn of his mouth, and finds, surprisingly, that he prefers Ren this way - someone who will bite back, not because of what his master has told him, but because he has his own ideas of what he wants. It helps Hux to find his footing, reminds him that in spite of whatever obedient, subservient creature Snoke is trying to turn him into, some part of Ren remains that the man cannot touch. Hope, what you're feeling is hope, he thinks, beginning to treasure the glimpses of this willful, quick-minded boy, the one Snoke has so long hidden away. There’s so much Hux could do with him, the Ren who had eaten chocolate from his hand simply because he’d wanted it.
He’s in there, even now, and Hux wants to know him better.
“I told you I’d consider them, were they reasonable.” Hux shrugs, then arranges the tray so it is sitting in his lap. “You weren’t being reasonable.” When Ren shoots him another sullen look from under the fall of his hair, Hux clucks his tongue in response, biting his lip to keep himself from smiling. “Come now, you’ve already agreed. The only way it’s going to stop hurting is if you eat something - and you are going to eat something. We’re just wasting precious time talking about it now.” With that, Hux digs the spoon into what Ren has referred to as carrots and holds it out to him, waiting for Ren to accept it.
There is wanton longing on Ren’s face as he contemplates the spoon, his stomach still protesting noisily in the quiet of the room, and there can be no doubt of how much he wants this, though he remains still. “Don’t be difficult, Ren” Hux sighs, when Ren reaches for the spoon, then pulls back as if slapped by some invisible hand. “You want to feel better, don’t you?” This is the simplest thing in the world, Hux thinks, except maybe it isn’t, if he still believes he has not yet made up for his misstep with the chocolate. If he still thinks himself deserving of the way his body is attempting to devour itself.
It is then that Hux finally grasps what Ren needs, and he places the spoon back on the tray before reaching out toward him. Placing a hand on Ren’s knee, he squeezes gently, makes sure the boy is looking at him so that he can be sure to understand when he says the words Ren cannot say for himself. “You’ve suffered enough, darling. It’s okay.”
These are the words Ren was looking for - permission explicitly given, the decision made for him, taken out of his hands - and they spur Ren on, his eyes wide and wet. A look of blissful relief lets his wide mouth go slack when he realizes that he has been allowed this, and he dutifully picks the spoon up from the tray. It is shaking so hard in his grasp as he digs it into the carrots that Hux thanks the stars he thought to put that terrible excuse for a blanket over his legs, as most of what is in the spoon never makes it to Ren’s mouth. “Oh, kriffing - ” With a growl, Ren angrily digs the spoon into the carrots again, and Hux can see how he hates that his body is refusing to cooperate now that he’s finally decided to listen to its demands.
“Shhhhh, you’re tired.” Hux stills Ren with a hand before he can pick up the spoon again and create more of a mess. Malnourished is more accurate, but he’s not going to argue that with the boy right now. “Let me, pet.” With great care, he wraps his hand around Ren’s larger one, holding it steady in his own, and even now, weakened and desperate as he is, Hux can feel the power that thrums steadily just below the surface of Ren’s skin.
Snoke is an old fool, he thinks, as he helps Ren to guide the spoon to his mouth, keeping Ren’s grip steady enough that not a drop spills and making little encouraging sounds when he manages a bite. The Supreme Leader has not begun to comprehend the power he could command, were he to give Ren what he needs, rather than depriving him as he does. Under Snoke’s thrall, Ren is an animal beaten and chained for so long it has become feral, knowing nothing beyond the basest of its needs.
But the night Ren had eaten the chocolate from his hand, Hux had seen the way he glowed with some kind of strange and terrible light, gathered from the far corners of the galaxy, the likes of which he’d never seen before and perhaps had never been meant to see. There’d been nothing human about him in that moment, this boy who had never been kissed before Hux took his tongue into his mouth becoming something ancient and otherworldly and immeasurably powerful. And certainly, he thinks, if he - skeptic that he is - has seen this, Snoke has too. Snoke knows exactly what kind of power lives inside Ren, and he is afraid.
(He should be.)
Ren has taken only a few bites when a panicked look comes over face and he slaps a hand over his mouth, ducking his head. “Hux - I - I can’t. I don’t feel well, I - I’m sorry, I - ” He speaks into his hand, a flush of embarrassment burning on his cheeks and up to the tips of ears that stick out from his hair.
Hux unwraps his hand from Rens, takes the spoon from limp fingers and lets it clatter to the tray. When he lays a hand on Ren’s neck, the skin there is cool and clammy and prickled with goosebumps, and he knows Ren is fighting to keep down what he has just eaten. Only a few spoonfuls of this unfamiliar vegetable Ren has referred to as a carrot is enough to cause his stomach to rebel, and it is all Hux can do to keep his voice level as he soothes the boy. “No, it’s not your fault,” he says, keeping up a steady stream of encouraging words. “You’re doing so well, love. I’m so proud of you.”
There is an old adage that a dog will not bite the hand that feeds, but if a man were given the option to not be a dog at all… well, that’s another song entirely. Ren starves under Snoke’s hand, and not just for food. There are other kinds of sustenance, Hux knows, like the words he offers Ren now, words that speak of value and worth, of genuine care. Words that only Hux has ever been able to offer to himself, but Snoke has taken even that ability from Ren. “Just give it a moment. Your stomach will settle, then a few more bites, hmmm?” He can tell Ren is still struggling - he’s swallowing convulsively, gone paler as he keeps his hand clamped tight over his mouth - but as soon as he meets Hux’s eyes, there’s no question that he’s going to do what Hux has asked of him.
“I - I’ll try,” Ren agrees, his voice wavering, and he clamps his mouth shut immediately after, swallowing hard again, his eyes watering.
“Good. Brave boy.” This time he says the words out loud, lets Ren hear the truth in them. Ren straightens under the praise, uncurling from around himself and uncovering his mouth to look at Hux with fiercely trembling lips. With a rush of tenderness at the boy’s resiliency and strength, at what Ren is willing to do for him, Hux uses his thumb to wipe the sheen of sweat from his upper lip, then leans forward to press a kiss to the corner of his mouth, the taste of Ren’s lips stale and, under that, earthy - which, he realizes, must be the carrots. They’re not half-bad, if they’re not the only thing you eat, and he kisses there again before pulling back and beginning another slow massage of Ren’s stomach. “Let me know when you’re ready.”
There are some things he cannot do with Ren yet, not as he is, but Hux has seen glimpses - glimpses like this one - of the man Ren could be, under the guidance of hand that is not so cruel as Snoke’s. He can be that for Ren, he thinks, as Ren manages to finish off the rest of the carrots as well a few bites of crushed fruit that Hux has had sprinkled with cinnamon. (Ren doesn’t know, but what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him, at least not in his case.) He can give the boy back himself - if he ever had a self to begin with. And then, once he has done that, he can exert the control Ren so desperately needs, can take the burden of choices Ren does not know how to make for himself, can just let him be as he is, no expectations other than to let Hux create him anew, again and again.
...and, he decides, sneering at the pile of sodden robes in the corner as Ren starts to drift asleep still sitting up, he is going to start by having Ren made a proper cloak.
It takes two standard weeks for the cloak to be completed - far too long for Hux’s tastes, but he knows quality does not come quick, nor does it come cheap. He had selected a tailor that met his exacting standards - one who from whom Hux had commissioned items for his own wardrobe in the past - had requested a day of planetary leave to pick the thing up, and upon arrival, had chastised the man for not matching the exact shade of grey he’d specified. (He’d chosen the shade to complement the fairness of Ren’s skin, after all. Had spent more time than he cared to admit imagining how it would emphasize the beauty marks that dotted Ren’s face.)
Looking back on it, he may not have been entirely fair to the tailor. The cloak was a thing of beauty - huge enough that it would sweep the floor, just barely, when Ren walked. (Hux had used his own measurements as a guide, adding to his height and the breadth of his shoulders to account for their differences.) The fabric was a crushed velvet, so soft that, as he let it run through his fingers, Hux had felt his breath catch. It would no doubt be the softest thing Ren had worn since he found himself under Snoke’s tutelage. Hux took pride in this, that he could give Ren something so fine when Ren had, for so long, been given nothing at all.
It would keep him warm too, Hux had made sure of that, the collar lined with the fur of a great white wolf native to the tailor’s home planet - one that, when the man had described it, had reminded him immediately of Ren, large and beautiful and skittish, and apparently on this planet, gravely endangered. There in the tailor’s hut, Hux had dug his fingers into that plush fur and pictured Ren pulling it tight around himself when he was on a mission that took him to the colder regions of the galaxy, sheltering himself from the wind and ice, snow melting in his hair. Even when he could not be present, Hux had sworn to himself, this would be his way of sparing Ren from what he could - a symbol that Hux had taken him under his protection.
A man would be a fool not to appreciate the cloak, Hux knows this, and yet, as he sits on the sofa in his quarters, smoothing down the fur lining over and over, he feels the pull of nervousness tug at his stomach. The last gift he had given Ren had been disastrous - had ended in Ren being unspeakably hurt and Hux living one of the worst days of his life as he tried to coax the boy into eating enough that he was not in imminent fear of collapse. It had been a mistake Hux could not afford to make again - one Ren could not afford him making again.
He must act with caution, must play his hand well, if this is to end in anything other than catastrophe. What he is going to ask of Ren amounts, at once, to treason and, in Hux’s estimation, the height of justice - not that Hux is overly concerned with what is just. He’d never been concerned with either fairness or revenge before; even his father’s death had been purposeful. Hux would never have risen to his rank with Brendol still at the helm of the First Order - and he supposes, even now, neither is it revenge that motivates him. As long as Snoke lives, Ren will find no safe port. Snoke hides in his head, twists his thoughts - even were he to take Ren now, spirit him away and run from the First Order the way he has never run from anything else, the knight would never be free.
Snoke will plague Ren as long he lives, Hux is sure of this, and there is only way to spare him. Sighing, Hux folds the cloak with care, then rubs his damp palms briskly on the legs of his pants. In a desperate bid to calm his nerves, he drains his tumbler of Corellian brandy in one swallow. He has never been one to drink for false courage, but then, he has never been one to commit treason earlier. His stomach flips again at the thought, and his hand itches to pour himself another, but he holds back.
Ren will need him sober for this; he has no way of knowing how the boy will react, if he will cry or rage, if he will break things the way he tends to do when emotion overtakes him. Hux is not sure if his rooms can withstand one of Ren’s tantrums - so much of what he has collected is rare and breakable, some of it one-of-a-kind, not another to be found in the entire galaxy. Not that this will matter much if he ends up having to knock Ren unconscious and drag him from here bodily. If he must defect with Ren in tow, he will leave all of this behind, all of his belongings lost to him. The thought makes him desperate enough that he attempts to send feelings of calm in the direction of Ren’s mind; if the Force has come through for them once, then it can do so for them again, dammit.
Hux has spent years collecting all of his finery - and here he is, risking it all for this boy. Everything he has known for all the years of his life is falling away, the order he craves shaken to its core, the foundation upon which he stands cracked and breaking. He stands to lose everything here - and gaming man that he is, Hux would place his bets that he will. Suddenly he is too warm, heat creeping up along his neck, and he tugs roughly at the collar of his uniform with two fingers to loosen it.
This is the reality with which Hux is faced, and it’s enough that he refills his tumbler and holds it to his lips, letting the ice clink against his teeth. Who is he outside the confines of the First Order? His father had given him the name Armitage, but it had never felt right. Never felt his to live in. (Maybe because the man had never said it with anything other than a sneer, but it is too late at this point to untie the way his father’s upper lip had curled whenever he looked at him from the name itself.) And then there had been Academy. Academy where on his uniform had been stamped the name Hux, despite how little his father had wished to claim him. Academy where he had been molded and formed into something useful and strong and unyielding. It was under the guiding hand of the First Order that he had become Hux at all; the Order had made him, had borne him. It was, if he had ever known one at all, his home.
Strip that away, and Hux feels bare, exposed - he wishes he hadn’t torn open his collar. His breathing comes in barely controlled gasps, his hands shaking around the tumbler. And yet… and yet… even now, when the doors of Hux’s quarters slide open and Ren slips inside, shaking his hair free of the helmet before they have even properly shut behind him, he finds he has never been more sure of anything in his life than he is of this one thing. He is sure of Ren, of his need to shield the knight from the Supreme Leader’s manipulations, from the ways in which he would use him until there was nothing left to use, then toss him aside, irreparably broken.
“Hux,” Ren says, his voice as unsure as it ever is - somehow, his name is always a question when it leaves Ren’s lips, as if he still expects Hux to turn him away. Hux’s eyes lock on that open face, on the sheen of sweat, dappling his cheeks and the bridge of his nose, that always covers it when he removes the helmet - it must be bloody hot, training in that thing - and there comes a sense of rightness over his heart that he cannot explain. His breathing settles; his hands still. He could collapse with how calm he feels, as every muscle in his body relaxes all at once.
Hux gives Ren a quizzical look, searches those brown eyes, as he sinks back into the sofa. “What did you just do?” he asks, suspicious, and Ren shrugs in response, gives a smile just this side of self-deprecating. He dips his head so that sweaty strands obscure his face, as if he is embarrassed of something.
Hux sighs - he’s not an idiot, and for as much as Ren’s presence has come to affect him, it usually doesn’t work this well. “You know I’m not comfortable with you rifling through my head. I’m still getting used to this whole Force thing,” he scolds - though that isn’t the real reason behind his dismay. The more he gets to know of Ren’s many and varied gifts, the more pride he feels. That Ren can calm him with a thought, it’s quite remarkable. “And I’ve told you three times today alone to stop exerting yourself.” Now the real reason. “You’re still recovering. You require rest - both your body and your mind.”
Hux cannot blame himself for his concern. Ren has barely recovered from his ordeal, though he looks better now than he has in days as he regards Hux with his lips drawn into a pout. There a slight tremor in his hands still, and he suffers at interval from horrible headaches that Hux is learning to recognize even when he is wearing the mask, by the way his sentences get shorter and more clipped, even more stilted than they are normally. He knows Ren struggles with social conventions on the best of days, and when he hurts more than usual, even his most basic knowledge of social cues falls away.
The headaches make him suspect there was more to Snoke’s punishment than the self-inflicted starvation - something having to do with the way the man can pry Ren’s mind open like a shellfish from the beaches of Hux’s youth. But Ren hasn’t said anything of it, and Hux doesn’t pry, instead taking him by the arm and leading him surreptitiously from the room when he begins stumbling over his words - sometimes, even, saying them out of order entirely. Before, he would not have believed that Ren was even aware of his own social shortcomings, but now he knows better, will spare him the humiliation of faltering in public.
It cannot be good for him to attempt to calm Hux’s mind now - for as well as it has worked - and Ren knows this too. “I could feel how upset you were,” he mutters, speaking his justification into the curtain of his hair, and Hux can hear how ashamed he is, how disappointed. He feels chastised, that much is clear, and it makes him wonder how often Ren has been scolded for using the gifts he was born with. If he even recognizes anymore that they are gifts at all. I was only trying to help. Hux reads his thoughts as easily as if the Force has intervened, though it hasn’t - or, at least, he doesn’t think it has.
“Thank you,” Hux says, his voice sincere. I know you were. And then he is uncrossing his legs and getting up from the sofa to walk over to Ren. Hux takes the mask from his hands, placing it on the counter nearest the doors, and grabs onto the cowl of Ren’s robes, so he can pull the knight down to kiss him softly on the mouth. “I do feel much better. You did wonderfully,” he promises. “I just don’t want you to strain yourself. I’d hate for your head to hurt you as much as it did last night.”
He’s not sure if Ren would. Though he hasn’t said anything more about wanting to punish himself, he’s been reluctant to accept the painkillers Hux offers, even when Hux has to leave the lights in Ren’s quarters at zero percent in order to keep him from whimpering. But now all resistance is gone as Ren melts against him, and Hux can feel the way his full lips turn up at the praise, smiling into the kiss. When he pulls back, he sees that Ren is again stooped in an imitation of that terrible posture he uses as a fighting stance, staring at him intently. He looks very much like he would like to touch Hux’s face, but his hands drop to his sides instead, clenching and unclenching, just once.
“What upset you so much?” he blurts, after a moment, with not a shred of tact. He tilts his head to the side, even though he’s not wearing the helmet, and both his voice and his expression do a good enough job of expressing his confusion and concern.
Hux feels his mouth dry up at the question. Damn Ren. What is he to say? Don't mind me, I was merely experiencing the crippling fear of abandoning everything I know in exchange for the exhilaration of high treason? There’s a good chance Ren could be hearing all of this, but he thinks he’d feel Ren, were he in his mind now, and the boy is still looking at him with his head cocked, that same look of concern written plain across his features. “I’ve had something made for you.” It’s not an answer to Ren’s question, but it’s all he can say right now. He wants this out in the open, wants to know what Ren will say, how disastrous this will be, for better or worse. “A gift. That’s why I requested your company tonight - I wanted to give it to you.”
“I’ve come here every night recently,” Ren responds, correcting him, as if he’s pointing out something Hux doesn’t already know, and Hux shakes his head. Leave it to Ren to miss the point in favor of focusing on something completely superfluous.
“Yes, I know that," Hux says, exasperated. “You’re misunderstanding me.” The boy’s cluelessness is enough to make Hux want to give him a good, hard shake - either that or press another kiss to his lips, he can’t decide which.
Instead, he settles for sighing deeply and giving Ren a little shove, Hux’s palms flat against his chest. When Ren stumbles away from him, a hurt look on his face, Hux has to restrain himself from reaching out to comfort him. “A gift, Ren. I’ve gotten you a gift; surely you’ve received one before. Now just be quiet and let me show it to you,” he says, then moves to pick up the cloak that is folded over the arm of the sofa. It’s heavier than he thought it would be, more substantial, he reflects, as he allows it to drape over his arm and onto the floor, pooling there in a puddle of velvety fabric. He remains still while Ren’s eyes travel over it, trying to make sense of what he is seeing.
“What is it?” Ren breathes, when he’s apparently gotten his fill of looking, though Hux knows even Ren must recognize a cloak when he sees one. His fingers are twitching like he would like nothing more than to touch the wolf’s fur at the collar, but he doesn’t move from the spot, his knees locked in place.
“Go on,” Hux says, encouragingly. “You can touch it. It’s a cloak, and it’s yours. I had it made for you.” He extends the cloak toward Ren, holding his breath as he thinks, fiercely, it's yours and no one else's. “You should try it on, so we can be sure it fits you correctly. I didn’t have your exact measurements, but it should be simple enough to alter should you require it.” When Hux realizes he’s begun babbling to fill the silence, he shuts his mouth with a snap.
Slowly, Ren reaches out to trail a finger along the edge of the collar, feather-light, so that the fur just brushes his fingertip. Hux can see the shudder that overtakes Ren at the sensation, but it lasts only a second before the knight stiffens, suddenly raising his hands between them as if he’s going to deflect a blow. “N-no, I can’t!” Ren’s voice is high-pitched and strangled and for a moment, both hands fist in the scratchy fabric of his scarves, holding tight and rubbing it between his fingers, as if the roughness there will help him to forget the plush, warm fur of the cloak. Will help him, instead, to remember what he is allowed. What he deserves.
“It’s - it’s - I can’t accept this, Hux.” He shakes his head and takes a backward step toward the doors, one hand still clutching at the scarves while the other picks up his helmet and shoves it under his arm. “The Supreme Leader says I can’t have -”
“Can’t have what, Ren?” Hux demands, his voice rising, and he tosses the cloak aside to land on the sofa, his fingers going to loosen his collar more. Only Ren can do this to him. Only Ren, who is perhaps the only person he has ever wanted to help but who fights him at every turn, damn him. “Can’t have gifts? Clothing made of fabric fine enough that it won’t abrade your skin? People who care about you? Or is it anything good at all? Is that it?” He’s breathing hard, and he turns away, cursing. “Kriffing hell.” This isn’t going at all how he intended; he hadn’t meant to yell, hadn’t meant to berate Ren for his obedience to Snoke. But nothing with Ren ever goes like he intends; he supposes he should be used to it by now, even as his heart hammers against his ribcage.
Ren is pacing back and forth, like Hux’s room is a cage and he’d tear his own leg off if it meant fitting through the bars. What he doesn’t understand - what Hux needs for him to understand - is that he’s lived his entire life in a cage, and Hux would give him the key. “Fuck Snoke,” he spits, before he can think better of it, the name a curse on his lips. “Fuck what he says you can and can’t have. Who is he to tell you can’t accept a kriffing present?” He grabs onto Ren’s shoulders and holds tight, pulls him down to his level, refusing to budge when Ren attempts to wrench free. If Ren wanted to, he could throw him across the room, and they both know it - but he doesn’t, just whines low in his throat when Hux’s fingers dig in tighter.
“Don’t talk like that, Hux!” Ren’s voice borders on hysterical, and his hands come up to press against the sides of his head. The movement dislodges the helmet held under his arm, sending it crashing to the floor, as his fingers twist mercilessly in his hair in an attempt to block out Hux’s words. He can feel the prickle of Ren’s rage rippling on the surface of his skin, but under that, fear, cold and slippery, something insidious, and Hux lets go of Ren’s shoulders, trusting him not to bolt as he brings his hands up to gently untangle the strands of Ren’s hair from between his fingers.
“Why shouldn’t I, Ren?” he prompts, lowering his voice, though it remains insistent, as he pulls Ren’s hands away from his head to hold his wrists fast in his own. “Is he going to hurt you if you let me say it? Is he going to have you starve yourself again if you don’t stop me?” He looks directly into Ren’s eyes, will not let him look away. Tell me. Stuffs down a twinge of guilt at the way Ren flinches under his harsh appraisal.
It does not take long for Ren to realize there is no escape short of fleeing the room, which they are both learning he will not do as long as Hux shackles his wrists, the hold he has on Ren stronger than if his hands were cuffs made of durasteel. “Yes, alright - yes!” the boy gasps when he breaks, and Hux feels something give way - first in his chest and then in what he is learning to recognize as the Force itself. That charge in the air that he only ever really feels around Ren crackles like water freezing over too quickly, and finally, finally, Hux feels like he’s getting somewhere. “Please, Hux, just stop,” Ren pleads, the words breaking apart as he says them, and he chokes on a ragged sob, closing his eyes tightly against the tears that well up there. “Stop trying to help me - I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to resist it.”
“Then don’t,” Hux offers, softly, as if it is really that simple. As if he isn’t fully aware of the consequences of what he is suggesting, when they both know he is - perhaps moreso even than Ren. In an attempt to soothe him, he strokes his thumbs along the inside of Ren’s wrists, still not loosening his hold, but this seems only to make Ren cry harder, tears spilling out from behind his closed eyes. His nose is wet around the edges, starting to run because he can’t do anything about it, caught in Hux’s hold as he is.
He sniffles pitifully against it, and Hux gives him this moment to try to regain some dignity, thumbs ghosting over Ren’s pulse points again. “That,” Ren says, his voice nasally and thick, “that is what you need to stop doing!” He shakes his wrists for emphasis, though Hux notes he doesn’t pull away. “Han Solo, you know, he tried to do the same thing,” he says conversationally, suddenly and strangely disaffected by what he is saying when only a moment before he had been choking on tears. “Before I - before I killed him. He - he told me the Supreme Leader would throw Ben Solo away, when he couldn’t use him anymore.” It worries Hux to hear Ren talk this way, as if Ben Solo were another person entirely, as if he’s recounting a tale he once heard happened to someone else, rather than events from his own recent past - but Ren seems intent on speaking, and so he does not interrupt.
“And then I thrust my lightsaber through his heart,” he says, gesturing with a hand that Hux still has caught in his hold, “because the Supreme Leader told me he would say that. He warned me. And - and I killed him. I killed Han Solo and I thought it was supposed to stop. He told me it would stop, but it never stops, and I killed him like he said - " It is then that Ren seems to come back to himself, to realize what he is saying, and he cuts himself off with a shake of the head, chewing on his lip so mercilessly that Hux is surprised he doesn’t draw blood. “It hurts, Hux. It hurts all the time. I know it’s part of my training, I know I should be stronger, but I don’t want it to hurt anymore. Please. Please just let me do what I have to do; let me follow the Supreme Leader’s orders. It’ll get better, he’s said it will. Just a little more time, he promises, this time -”
“And you believe him,” Hux says levely, before Ren go any farther. A lifetime full of promises, and this is what Snoke has delivered: a broken boy, willing to carry out his darkest orders, no matter the cost to himself, while Snoke sits mouldering behind some hologram. It’s a perfect arrangement, really, one with no downside for Snoke. “What has Snoke ever done for you?,” he demands, and there’s a flicker of uncertainty in Ren’s dark eyes. “Name one damn thing and I’ll drop this right now, I swear it. We’ll never speak of it again.” He lets go of Ren’s wrists, stepping back, then spreads his hands wide, palms up, and waits. “One thing he has done for you and not the other way around. Just one thing.”
Ren stands rubbing at his wrists where Hux has held them with enough force that Hux worries he will rub them raw, his mouth working soundlessly. “The Supreme Leader has always been there,” he says, once the words come to him. He sounds disbelieving, as if he cannot comprehend why Hux would question Snoke’s concern for his well-being. “He’s the only one - the only one who’s never left. When no one else wanted me, when no one else had use for me, he did. He wanted me, and he’s always been there. Always."
“Yes, he’s always been there,” Hux agrees, placating, inclining his head to show that he understands. “Since you were a child, yes? Since before you can remember?” Ren nods at this, his eyes red and glassy. “He’s always been there with you, hasn’t he? Even when the others thought you were alone - you weren’t, were you?” Ren’s still nodding along, agreeing, and Hux takes this as his cue to go in for the kill. “And you’ve said it yourself - you’ve always hurt.” Ren’s head snaps up at this. “Do you think that is a coincidence, Ren? The Supreme Leader has felt your pain for three decades - if he truly wanted you to feel better, don’t you think he would have figured out a way to help you do that by now?”
He’s laid all of this out as logically as he can, but it’s lost on Ren, who just rubs and rubs and rubs at his wrists. “He is helping me!” When finally he speaks, he lashes out, his anger easier than admitting there is truth in Hux’s words. “It would be worse without him.” It’s a desperate claim, one Hux knows that Ren makes only because he has no better argument left to him. “His training has made it bearable.”
Hux looks Ren up and down, taking stock of what he sees - of his ragged robes and his unkempt hair and the wet shine of his scar, where his tears have gathered in the pucker of his ruined skin. “And this is bearable, is it?” he asks, not unkindly, and Ren flushes red, turning so that Hux can see only that sharp profile. “You tear yourself apart and starve yourself in equal measure. This isn’t training, Ren - it’s sadism! Tell me, what would be worse than this? What could hurt worse? Because from where I’m standing, you’re the most miserable creature I’ve ever laid eyes upon, and it’s Snoke who keeps you that way. He wants you like this, don’t you understand?”
He rounds on Ren. It’s true; if anything, the boy is more fractured now than when he’d first been brought aboard the Finalizer, early in Hux’s career, before he’d ever thought he’d see the rank of General. Then, Ren had been untrained child, rife with powers he didn’t understand, running from the family who’d sought to control him and trying his best to act like that wasn’t what he was doing. But Hux had seen through that act easily enough, had seen the innocence and the fear and the hunger before he’d ever seen Ren’s face. “You think this is the best option because he’s told you so, but it isn't. Snoke is a liar and a fraud, and he’s been lying to you for so damn long that you wouldn’t recognize the truth if it crash-landed in this room right now.”
This is the final blow Ren can accept - Hux knew the words were bold, unforgiving, even as said them - and the knight advances on him with heavy steps, hunched in himself so that he barely looks human. “You’re trying to tempt me!” He’s screaming so loudly that there’s no doubt the entire ship can hear him, Ren’s thoughts so wild and unguarded that, if Snoke had not known of Hux’s machinations before, Hux is certain he’s aware of them now. “You’re trying to tempt me, to make me weak - just like Han Solo!” Hux is not so far gone that he has forgotten what became of Han Solo, and for the second time in his life, he feels a flicker of genuine fear in Ren’s presence. He concedes one small step backward, barely a shuffle of his feet, so that he is still within Ren’s reach, but prepared to move quickly should he need to.
When he sees that Hux has backed away, Ren freezes, horror flooding his features, and he looks down at his hands, turning them over and studying them intently. “You’re going to sway me, and then you’re going to leave," he whispers to his palms, horrified realization in his voice. It’s as if he’s afraid saying it too loudly will make it true. " You’ll leave like everyone else. You won’t want me anymore and it’s going to hurt so much and I’m going to be alone because I’ll have betrayed him and you - you’re going to leave.” Ren’s shoulders are heaving when he finishes, and his eyes flicker between Hux and the door, waiting for that inevitable moment when Hux’s fear becomes too much and he is left alone. Again.
Everyone in Kylo Ren’s life has sought to control him, and when they couldn’t, they ran from him - Hux sees that now, sees that this is something he cannot abide. “I wouldn’t, I swear it,” he breathes, the words so much more than a platitude. As soon as he says it, he knows it’s true; there’s nothing in this galaxy that could make him leave Kylo Ren, damned as he is. “I wouldn’t leave you, not for anything. That’s a lie Snoke has told you. That no one wants you, that you’re not worth wanting.” Ren is stunned into silence, and this spurs Hux on. He speaks quickly, knowing that this reprieve may be the only chance he has to get through to Ren. “He wants you to believe that - he needs you to be believe it - but it isn’t true.”
“The Supreme Leader wouldn’t -” Ren mumbles, but Hux can see the uncertainty on his face, can see that he’s only repeating what he’s been told to say, a script that no longer rings as true as it once did. He lacks even the conviction to finish the words, trailing off, and in the open space left by Ren’s hesitation, Hux hurries to retrieve the cloak from where it lays sprawled on the sofa.
“Let me show you, Ren. Let me show you what it could be like,” he says, gaining traction now as he spreads the cloak as wide as his arms will allow, though that hardly does justice to its massive size. This time, when he holds it out to Ren, the knight’s fingers twist themselves into the fur lining, the way they often do in the tatter of his scarves, and pull it close. He buries his nose in it, inhales, and Hux watches, mesmerized, at the twitch in Ren’s face when the feeling threatens to make him sneeze. “This is the only the first of the things I would give to you,” he promises, Ren fighting off the tickle in his nose. “Anything you wanted, you’d have only to say the word, and it would be yours. A thousand cloaks like this one. The best chocolate from the farthest reaches of the galaxy. Kriff, Ren, entire planets, if that’s what you wanted. Fuck baking chocolate and mashed carrots.”
Ren’s face is still buried in the fur of the cloak when Hux nods to indicate his helmet, left lying on the floor. “I’d never see you in this twisted pile of metal again. You were meant to wear a crown, not a mask. You’re a prince, you were born a prince - but he’s taken that from you too, hasn’t he?” Hux’s own words give him a feeling of heady power, his conviction growing with every passing moment. The cold stagnancy of his earlier fear seems a million lightyears away as he looks on the prince of Alderaan, standing here in his rooms, against all odds. Hux may have been born Brendol’s bastard - his mistake, unloved and unwanted - but with Ren at his side, he may as well be royalty.
Ren is shaking his head frantically, but the way he is stroking the fur against his cheek undermines his denial, and Hux presses on. “I’d take you under my protection,” he swears. “None would touch you again without my leave. You would be my consort, my prince, my partner in all things. I could help you, Ren, the way Snoke never has.” Fix you. He almost says the words, but he doesn’t, because Ren doesn’t need fixing. He just needs the touch of someone who won’t take advantage of him, who won’t look at him as a tool to be used and used until it must be thrown away. (Hux doesn’t want to mortar the cracks in Ren’s soul; he just wants to protect him from those who would exploit them.)
“And - and perhaps it would still hurt, damned if I know, but I wouldn’t leave that hurt to fester the way Snoke does. I’d take on the blasted Force myself, if I had to.” In a moment of self-righteous bravado, Hux kicks the helmet away from where it has fallen near Ren’s foot, watches it crash against the wall with a metallic clang. “You’re not his creature; you never were,” he declares, with enough confidence that he hopes Ren will believe it too, thinking of a boy who knew enough of what he wanted to take baking chocolate from his fingers. “You’re so much more than that - it’s Snoke who won’t let you see it. Let me show you.” And with that, Hux takes the cloak from Ren, shakes it out so that it ripples through the air, before bringing it round to rest on Ren’s shoulders. “Let me show you who you really are.”
Hux was right - Ren was made to wear this cloak. It fits as well as if he had taken Ren’s measurements himself, and, instinctively, Ren’s hands come up to draw it tighter around himself. The white of the wolf’s fur contrasts as sweetly with the black of Ren’s hair as Hux had imagined, calls attention to the pink of his lips, to the flush of his skin underneath the freckles and moles - and there it is again, the way Ren comes alive in certain moments, a glow from within, something Hux cannot quantify or understand, not any more than he can deny it.
"Maker," Hux breathes at the sight, and he grabs hold of the cloak to pull Ren forward and down, crushing their lips together. He’d expected Ren to resist, but he doesn’t - is pliant and boneless under his fingers, letting Hux turn his head this way and that as he maps the terrain of his mouth, offering up only a wretched moan in response.
When he pulls back, Ren is looking at him with such terrified disbelief that Hux feels compelled to tear down the galaxy for him, brick by brick, whether it proves necessary or not. “He’ll never touch you again, I swear it,” he says - it’s a vow he’s not sure how to keep, but for once, he decides, he’ll worry about that when the time comes - and Hux brings their mouths together again, with so much force that he tastes blood. That jagged tooth along the bottom of Ren’s mouth has cut his lip, he realizes dimly, but the sting of it barely registers under the unnatural warmth that emanates from Ren’s skin. He splays his hands along the sides of Ren’s neck, lets it soak into his fingers until he imagines the glow must be spilling from him too. “You’re not his anymore, do you understand that? You’re mine."
Those words are Ren’s undoing. His face twists like Hux has hurt him, and it is as if the strings that were holding him upright have been cut as he drops to his knees under Hux’s hands, the cloak billowing out behind and settling around him on the floor. He is crying again, or maybe he never stopped, and for a moment, there is just the hitch of Ren’s breath as he struggles to get himself under control, Hux afraid to touch him. He should say something, Hux thinks. Perhaps he has pushed Ren too hard, has assumed too much… but then, over the sound of Ren’s crying, something metal and heavy hits the ground, hard, and Hux looks down, curious, to where Ren’s head is bent. It is Ren’s lightsaber - the knight has pulled it from his belt, and it rolls to lay at Hux’s feet, coming to a stop when it touches his boot.
The magnitude of the gesture is not lost on Hux, his heart coming to lodge somewhere in his throat. This is Ren’s weapon, the one he has built for himself, and although Hux is hardly an expert on the customs of Force users, he knows it is likely the only thing Ren owns that he takes pride in. “I’m yours,” Ren sobs brokenly, the truth of it wrenched from some secret place inside of him as he raises his head to meet Hux’s eyes. His face is upturned, undisguised devotion playing on those prominent features, in much the same way Hux has seen him present himself to Snoke’s hologram in the past. He knows now how undeserving of that devotion the man has always been.
“Mine,” he promises, and with gentleness he had not known he possessed before Ren, Hux brushes away his tears with his thumbs.
Almost immediately, a tingle begins in Hux’s hands, where they wipe the tears from Ren’s face, making its way up his thin wrists and along his forearms until it all converges in his chest, a fire that somehow doesn’t burn, consuming him from the inside out, and suddenly he realizes, what he feels - this is Ren. This is the Ren Snoke has never commanded, has never touched at all. Has been stupid and short-sighted enough to suppress. It’s intoxicating. Even in his misery and fear, Ren had possessed power within him the likes of which Snoke had never known - but there is so much untapped in this boy, so much twisted and bent, manipulated until it fit Snoke’s purposes, that it leaves Hux breathless and awestruck in its wake.
Ren will flourish under his hand, he promises himself that. The boy will know not only what it is to have enough - Hux will show him true abundance. And when he passes a hand through Ren’s hair, they both know: he truly is Hux’s now, every part of him, to do with as he will. As much as he was ever Snoke’s, he belongs moreso to Hux, Hux who he would allow to rebuild him or bring him to ruin. The responsibility is a great one, the kind his father had told him he would never live up to. But his father is dead now, and soon Snoke will be too - and then it will be the two of them, in a galaxy of their own making.
Hux likes the sound of it, and from the way Ren illuminates the room, somehow both light and darkness spilling out from him all at once, existing there together in a way Hux would have once thought made impossible by the laws of physics, he does too. I'll keep you. He projects the thought as loudly as he can, feeling what he can now accept as the Force rippling between them as he looks directly into Ren’s eyes, which widen further at the proclamation. They really are the color of the earth, he thinks, the color of that which gives life to all things.
Really, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that they have given new life to him too.
Hux takes control of the Order within the year, all of it coming together with entirely more ease than he imagined. Once he has his Captain on his side, everything falls into place so quickly it’s almost alarming. (Really, he thinks, he should never have doubted her devotion to him at all. It was Hux who trained her in the first place, and her loyalty runs near as deep as Ren’s.) He hadn’t been prepared to stage a coup in a matter of weeks, but Phasma’s never been one for dawdling, and before he knows it, he’s addressing a room full of lesser officers, Ren standing just behind him and to his left, as he lays out the myriad reasons for throwing off Snoke’s rule.
They open the gates of the Stormtrooper program, tell their soldiers they are welcome to leave, to return to families they have never known. Or they can remain here under Hux’s rule, his sworn guard and army, in the lives to which they are accustomed - but now with the freedom to come and go as they so choose. Only a handful of them choose to leave; the rest remain loyal, though not to the Order.
Most of them have never seen Snoke. To them, he is a shadow, not even a figurehead; some doubt the man even exists at all. Hux is the commander they know, Phasma his right hand, and in the end, the choice for them to turn against Snoke is an obvious one. They become a unit held together by loyalty, by duty, r ather than by the unshakeable bonds of slavery, and with the whole of his army against him, imbued with new purpose and lead by Hux himself, Snoke crumbles. It turns out he was always disgustingly human behind that distorted hologram, nothing without Hux. Without Ren, who delivers the killing blow, sobbing as he pierces that frail chest for the final time with his lightsaber.
Hux builds his palace on the ashes of Snoke’s citadel - a reminder to all those who would oppose him of exactly how he deals with his enemies. It is, perhaps, more ostentatious that entirely necessary - his Captain, now his General, scolds him for this - but he is the emperor now. Who is there to tell him what he can and cannot have? And so he reminds his Captain of this, with a smirk he has to work more and more to keep off his face, he is so damned pleased with himself and with what he has accomplished. Hux has no reservations as he adorns the sprawling rooms of his palace in gold, does not gives it a second thought as he instructs his architects to make it shine so brightly that it can be seen from clicks out, whether it be night or day. When Ren first lays eyes on it, while it is still under construction, the boy looks like he may faint, and Hux just laughs, placing a hand on the small of his back and steadying him.
A year cycle and a half have passed before Hux hosts his official coronation, despite him having held the title in truth, if not in name, for months before. He had refused to hold the ceremony before Ren was well enough to attend. Killing Snoke had near destroyed the boy, had left the inside of his skull empty and aching where the bastard’s voice had taken up residency for all the years of his life. There were times, in the days following Snoke’s demise, that it was all Hux could do to hold him while Ren tore viciously at his own hair, whimpered for the quietness in his head. The Force had become his friend quickly then - there had been no other choice than for him to seek entry into Ren’s thoughts, to take up residency there and let Ren hear him thinking. Inane things, trivial things - anything that Ren could listen to to keep his mind from tearing into itself.
(Hux shudders to think of what would have become of Ren had he not been there to soften the blow of Snoke’s loss. Had Snoke been destroyed while Ren was still tethered to him. It is not a thought he allows himself to dwell on for long because he had been there, and now Ren is healing, slowly but surely.)
Hux had been more than happy to oblige Ren for all those long months. Had kept his patience as he reminded Ren of the importance of listening to his body when it came to his own needs. The boy had not listened to them in so long - had listened, instead, to what the Supreme Leader told him he needed - that it had taken time for him to understand that, in the absence of Snoke’s direct orders, they were all he had to rely on. And while Hux delights in giving Ren orders, as well as in anticipating Ren’s needs and meeting them before the boy ever has to ask, it is important that he at least recognizes what those needs are.
Someday soon, Hux hopes, they will begin work on the things Ren wants, but that he is beginning to understand what he needs is, for now, enough, and Hux can’t help but feel pleased at how far the boy has come as he looks at Ren from across the dais on which they stand. The boy opposite him is as beautiful as the first time Hux had seen him, perhaps moreso - almost ethereal in the low light as he tries to smile for Hux, though he can feel the urge to run pressing in on his thoughts. Either Ren is not trying to shield it or it is so strong that he cannot, and Hux smiles softly at him, a show of support that only Ren will see. Easy, darling. Just a few more minutes now.
Immediately, Ren relaxes, dipping his head as an embarrassed tinge touches his cheeks, and his lips quirk up in response, a true smile this time, if a nervous one. He’s still getting used to Hux’s thoughts, how different they are from Snoke’s - demanding only what Ren can give and never more, offering reassurance and praise where Snoke had only ever reprimanded.
Hux has chosen his General to bestow upon him his crown, and she stands between he and Ren, taller even than them both, gleaming in golden armor, though she has kept the red bolt of fabric over her shoulder. (He’d originally requested that she wear something more befitting a coronation ceremony, but Phasma had listened to him as much as she ever did, and Hux must admit, with her short-cropped blonde hair and icy blue eyes, she cuts a striking figure. He is proud of her, proud of them all.) The crown in her hands is, too, wrought in gold, making it weighty and substantial - and Hux thinks that is fitting. The head that wears the crown should never lie too easy, lest he become bloated and self-important and unfeeling for his people, the way Snoke had been.
He will do better, Hux swears to himself. Will be better. As Phasma requests that he bow his head, the gold of the crown reflects the embellishments of the room itself, the deep red jewels set in each of its seven spires playing sweetly on the throne Hux has had erected, so bright that it almost blinds him for a moment. He is still blinking away spots as his General stops in front of him, hesitating there before placing the crown upon his head. “I present Emperor Armitage Hux,” she intones, and a shiver races up Hux’s spine as she turns to face the crowd that has gathered there, lifting his crown so all may see it. “First of his name, overseer of the First Order, rightful ruler of the Empire, and true heir to the galaxy.”
Armitage. The use of his name has him swallowing hard, but for perhaps the first time, Hux finds that he does not hate the sound of it. There’s something regal about the way his General forms the syllables, a trick of her tongue that makes it sound nothing like it had coming from his father’s lips - a curse, or worse. Here and now, this is a name he might be even be able to claim as his own. Still, that does not stop him from fixing her with a look that says get on with it, this is too much. Because while Hux appreciates fanfare, he knows when his General is mocking him.
Phasma shoots him an innocent look, her blonde fringe falling into her eyes, and Hux feels the bright burst of Ren’s humor in his chest, tucked tight against his own, something that never fails to make him appreciate that the Force had somehow found him in the first place. Then his General is stepping forward to place the crown on his head, settling it upon his hair, and Hux breathes deeply as he takes a moment to adjust to the weight there, to really feel it. It feels right, he decides, before straightening to meet her eyes - it is already as if it belongs there. (And maybe, somehow, it always has.) “Emperor Armitage Hux - long may he reign!” The words boom from Phasma’s chest to reverberate around the room, and Hux is taken aback by how loud it all is - that is, until the crowd takes up the cry, echoing the sentiment.
“Emperor Armitage Hux - long may he reign!” The room almost shakes with the force of the chant, each man and woman adding their voice, and distantly, Hux hears the sound of someone banging the butt of a blaster against the floor in time with the words. That’s entirely unsafe, he thinks, hoping the idiot has remembered to turn the safety on, but still, the power of the sentiment is overwhelming, so he chooses to ignore it, even as Phasma narrows her eyes at the man.
It still feels as if he is walking through a dream when the chant dies down and Phasma steps down off the dias, leaving he and Ren alone in front of their soldiers and court. We did it, he thinks, still a little stunned that they are here and they are alive, and Ren gives him a nod, looking very much like he is ready to take the General’s lead and retire to their reception. (Or, if Ren has his way, to their quarters to recover from this ordeal.) But Hux’s thoughts stop Ren short. Not yet, dearest.
When the boy’s eyes meet Hux’s, they are narrowed, questioning. He can see Ren’s confusion plainly. Hux has been crowned, the necessary rights completed. Surely his part is over - what more is there? But Hux meets his question with a knowing look, as if to say you'll see, as he raises his hands to indicate that he wants silence, and immediately the noise in the room drops to a murmur. Off to the side of the dais, on a rectangular silken pillow, sits the matched pair to Hux’s crown. It is a far daintier thing - still wrought in gold, but with delicate, intricately carved latticework, reminiscent of the twisting vines that creep up the trees of forested planets. Here and there, it is adorned with tiny golden leaves, and the spires have been crafted to resemble branches near barren, just awakening with new life.
Hux has, of course, chosen the design himself, and until now, Ren has known nothing of its existence. It is not until Hux has retrieved it from the pillow and is moving toward the knight, balancing it carefully on two fingertips - the crown so light that, unlike Hux’s, it might as well weight nothing at all - that Ren sucks in a breath, as if he is just now realizing that he is meant to wear it. He remains rooted in place, though Hux knows he only does so because Ren is too well-trained to humiliate him in front of his subjects. No, Hux. I'm not -
He can feel the wheels of Ren’s mind turning more frantically, but Hux will hear none of it. Yes, you are, he thinks, coming to stand nose to nose with the knight, so he must incline his head just slightly to look him in the eye. Ren is dressed in the cloak Hux gave to him on the day he pledged himself to Hux’s cause. It’s silly; he’s given Ren a hundred cloaks since then. Ren’s bureau is full from end with end with cloaks in every color, most of them more finely crafted and far more splendid than this one. But as they dressed that morning, Ren had refused to even consider wearing another.
This one is still his favorite, after all this time, and he wears it more than any of his others, so much so that it smells of Ren at all times, not that Hux minds. It suits him as well now as it ever did - Hux has always liked him in grey, and he traces his fingers down the scar on Ren’s cheek with great affection before he bids him to kneel.
Lightning sings in Hux’s blood when Ren sinks to his knees willingly, obediently, at only the lightest pressure against his shoulder, and Hux has to wonder if there will ever come a time when that does not give him a little thrill. If so, it hasn’t happened yet.
While it sets Hux’s heart pounding anew, the position seems to calm Ren - he may still be in a room too full of people for his liking, their attention turned on him so that he cannot escape it, but when he is like this, he is Hux’s. He does not belong to himself, couldn’t change any of it even if he wanted to, so it doesn’t matter quite so much. Ren would be like this always, Hux knows, if he had his way - knelt at his feet, head in his lap, when Hux will allow it. (In his lap entirely, on the days Hux is feeling generous.) It is where he belongs, the steady thrum of Ren’s heart keeping time as if it were his own as he settles the crown upon his knight’s head, so light he wonders if the boy feels it at all. Tonight, sweetest, he assures him, arranging Ren’s hair around the delicate golden branches.
Tonight he will remove the crown from Ren’s head and will allow Ren to the do the same for him. Tonight all of it - their titles, the Empire, the impending peace talks with General Organa (which Hux has only agreed to for Ren’s sake, because deny it as he may, this war between them tears at him) - will be set aside, and he will divest Ren of his robes and cloak. Will lay him down, naked and vulnerable and wanting, and wring him dry, take everything he has to give and then take just enough more that finally, finally, Ren’s thoughts will stop chasing themselves. Will continue his work of matching every scar Snoke has left on him with a mark of Ren’s own choosing.
Tonight, he will claim Ren as his, again and again, until Ren can have no reason left to doubt it. And he will claim him here, too, in front of every man and woman in their empire, so his place will be known in every corner of the galaxy and beyond. “My prince consort,” Hux says, his words addressing his people though his gaze is locked solely on Ren. “My enforcer and defender, the Prince of Alderaan, who I have chosen to rule at my side.” He grasps Ren’s hand in his own and pulls him to his feet so they stand before their subjects, shoulder to shoulder, as one. It is only fitting, he thinks, as he settles his knight with a touch along his spine - Ren is the other half of his soul. “He speaks with my voice and yields the full weight of my authority. Your duty to Kylo Ren is second only to your duty to me. May the Force be with him.”
When Ren raises his crowned head, gold glinting off his brow, Hux quivers at the buzz of power that flows through him, unchecked and unparalleled. Ren is radiant, alive with the glow of a hundred-thousand stars that have all been born and died in the eons before his birth, and although he does not move, the lights flicker as the tables themselves rattle and shake, cups rising above them with a low hum, Ren filling every corner of the room. Hux looks out onto the sea of his people, whose eyes are widened in fear and awe, and as the sweat on Ren’s palm burns hot between them, he swears, everything feels new.