Kylo would never get over how green Ireland was. Or how at home Hux seemed here, how comfortable. He’d never taken Hux for a ‘nature’ kind of guy, despite his history of hiding in the grass for hours on end just so he could sneakily shoot someone in the face. His cars, his home(s), his habit of eating out every night at the fanciest restaurants Kylo could even fathom all made Kylo think of him as an amenities sort of man. Someone who preferred the finer things in life; creature comforts.
But the way he moved through the tall grass and trees made Kylo think he’d never been more comfortable anywhere else in his life.
It was very disconcerting. He didn’t realize how uncomfortable Hux was in other places until he saw him here.
He understood then.
This was home.
The ground was rocky in places; Kylo was so busy staring at Hux’s back, at the deft way he was moving up the steep, tree covered hill, at the way his jeans were cupping his absolutely perfect-- and the wind ruffling his orange hair, jewel bright against the emerald landscape, that his foot struck a stone and slid away from him. He hit his knees awkwardly, one striking the ground much harder than the other, and grunted.
Hux whirled around and lifted a brow at him. “If you find this too strenuous we can head back. I only did this every week as a child with my mother in tow.”
Kylo scowled. “I just tripped, fuck off-- did you say your mother?” he asked sharply. Hux never talked about his mother.
Hux’s face shuddered instantly. “Yes. My mother. She. She took me here when I was a boy.” His voice was careful, distant. Kylo felt something warm and a little painful clench in his chest.
“Where are we going?” he replied, voice careful. Gentle.
Hux blinked at him, and then turned back toward the hill. Kylo hauled himself to his feet. “It’s just a bit farther,” Hux answered. Then he mumbled, “Assuming it’s still here.” He waited for Kylo to collect the bag he’d had to drop when he fell and then catch up to him before he started walking again. There was a light mist on his forehead; Kylo could smell the sweat on him this close, sweet and dizzying, mixing with his deodorant and cologne and the woodsy, rainy scent in the air. He suddenly wanted very, very badly to reach their destination, to be somewhere less public.
They fell back into silence. Hux was acting strangely and Kylo, uncharacteristically, was afraid to spook him. He was jittery and tense in one instant, nervous smirks and warm eyes the next. Ireland seemed to do that to Hux. The last time they’d been here, Kylo had been too distracted to really notice. They’d had to lay low at Hux’s, wait out the Guard showing up and questioning Hux’s housekeeper. They’d had to hide in a secret room when the place had been searched and while it would have been bearable and almost pleasant being in such close quarters alone with Hux, Phasma had been glaring at them from the corner and ruining any fiery moments they might otherwise have shared.
But that was almost two years ago. They’d left Phasma in Paris six months back and still had another three weeks before they planned to meet back up with her in Berlin. They were alone now and Kylo could see Hux like he hadn’t the first time they’d been here, when they’d had to run so quickly, when they hadn’t gotten to really see anything but the inside of the plane that took them away once they were sure it was safe to move again.
They’d been ‘relaxing’ at Hux’s house for two weeks while Hux moved some of his funds around, saw to his other holdings, and greased the right palms in this part of the world so his land wasn’t seized or surveilled.
Kylo was bored out of his mind and couldn’t think straight. They hadn’t hit a mark in three months; it was making him antsy. Hux had noticed. Hence the hike. And the picnic bag he was making Kylo carry.
“I didn’t realize you grew up around here,” Kylo said to Hux’s back.
Hux shrugged one shoulder. “I didn’t grow up anywhere in particular. But my mother lived about thirty minutes south if that’s what you mean.”
“Where does she live now?” Kylo asked hopefully; he still--after two years-- wasn’t sure if Hux’s family-- any of them at all-- were alive or dead. Hux always changed the subject, or gave him some non-answer that completely missed the point.
“No idea,” Hux answered.
So she wasn’t dead. “What do you mean, ‘No idea?’”
Hux’s voice was tight when he spoke. “We haven’t spoken since I was fifteen.”
Kylo was pressing too hard. He should probably stop, but it was easier to pretend he didn’t know how uncomfortable Hux was when the other man had his back to him. “Why not?”
“I. Em. I told her I intended to join the U.S. Army, that I wanted to be a ranger. I had to. Give up my dual citizenship. Dual citizens can’t hold any kind of security clearance, generally. She wasn’t pleased.”
“Really?” Kylo asked, his surprise evident in his voice. He’d expected something… worse, given Hux’s proclivities.
Hux paused at the crest of a steep, but short hill and turned to watch Kylo take a few huge steps, body bent in half to maintain his balance. Hux crossed his arms.
“Yes, really. Why so curious about my family, all of a sudden?”
“It’s not ‘all of a sudden,’” Kylo protested, mocking Hux’s accent and rolling his eyes. “You’ve met my whole family and I don’t know shit about yours.”
Hux smirked. “Perhaps we should have a reunion. You’re mother can meet mine and they can talk about what huge disappointments we both are.”
Kylo winced. “Hey, fuck you. And you’re fucking perfect anyway, what mother wouldn’t love you?”
“Do you mean before or after our murderous rampage?” Hux deadpanned.
Kylo shrugged. “I mean. Everyone’s got a thing.”
“A thing! I’m an alcoholic, you're a manipulative serial killer with a god complex, it’s fine, it all balances out.”
“You’re an alcoholic and a manipulative serial killer with a god complex, so I think your mother’s got it slightly worse.”
“Your god complex is way worse than mine. And so’s your manipulative. Ness.”
“True. We’ll call it even.”
“Fine by me.”
Hux smirked. Kylo grinned, big and crooked and Hux’s smirk twitched, for an instant, into a smile.
The path veered to the left here; Hux went right, dipping into thick, green woods. He made all this hiking look easy. Kylo, on the other hand, was really too damn big to be trying to weave his way through the trees like this. His clothes kept snagging on thorns and his big feet didn’t quite fit into all the gaps Hux was finding.
They hiked for another hour before Hux found what he was looking for.
It was impossible to guess what it had been, centuries ago. Now, it was just a square of old stones on the ground, with a huge tree growing through the middle and one single corner about seven feet tall still standing. Hux frowned and looked around.
“There used to be part of the second story,” he mused. “And a little more of a foot trail leading in. I guess no one comes here anymore.”
It was quiet. The trees rimming the little area were thick, and close together but the area where the building had stood was mostly ‘clear’-- thick weeds and shrubs instead of trees.
“What was it?” Kylo asked, whispering without meaning to. There was something very calm and peaceful about the crumbling stone. And the way the green trees were leaning in lent the whole area a cave-like solitude.
“She never said,” Hux answered. “Just liked to sit and.”
“Sit and what?” Kylo pressed when Hux didn’t go on.
“Em. Think. Think about Time. She said. And what it can do. How it can turn a sturdy stone building into ruins. And how strong these stones must be to keep standing at all.” Hux’s voice had grown soft. He was staring around the clearing like he wasn’t really seeing it, and Kylo couldn’t help thinking about what a child might do here; about the trees to climb and the stones to turn over and the places a very small body could hide.
When he looked back at Hux, he was wearing an expression Kylo had never seen before. It was. Angry a little. But mostly sad. It made Kylo’s heart hurt. Kylo reached out and squeezed the back of Hux's neck; Hux's shoulders fell a little.
“Is that really why you. Stopped talking?”
“Oh.” Hux paused and very pointedly did not look at Kylo. “You really want to know. What’s it matter?”
“I don’t know. It just does. It’s. It’s you. It matters.”
Hux took a breath and shrugged Kylo's hand away. “It is neither a happy nor a short story, Ben.”
Kylo winced. He hadn’t gone by that name in two years-- Phasma and Hux hadn’t felt the need to go by the fake names on their passports, but Kylo had. It had been easier that way. Easier to remember who he was. Easier to forget who he’d been pretending to be.
But Hux still slipped sometimes. When he wasn’t thinking. When he was upset, or tired, or, once, very, very drunk.
He didn’t notice Kylo’s reaction to the dead man’s name. “Tell me.”
“I suppose it’s not a very original story either,” Hux said voice distant, like he could pretend he wasn’t talking about himself. “How many children resent the parent who cares for them in favor of the one who does not?” Kylo didn’t say anything, too afraid that Hux would stop talking if he did. “My mother was a good woman. Poor. Simple. But. She loved me. It was very cruel of her, to love me like she did for four months every year and then send me off to live with a man who despised me.”
Kylo was staring at his feet. Maybe he shouldn’t have. Maybe this had been a bad idea.
“And of course when one parent lavishes you with praise, it is very easy to resent it when compared to the other’s insults.”
Hux took a breath like he would keep talking, but then the silence stretched and bent around them.
“I’m a bit of a cleche,” Hux admitted finally. “I suppose I thought if I joined the army… you know, when I was a child, five or six, I think, he, I heard him talking to one of his friends, another officer, and he said. He called me, ‘Thin as a slip of paper and. And just as useless.’”
Kylo couldn’t wipe the sympathetic horror from his face. The worst thing Han had ever called Ben was stupid and selfish the night he’d wrapped his car around a tree coming home drunk from prom and had given his date a concussion.
Hux shook his head and then a strange, creeping sort of smile settled onto his lips. It made Ben shiver. “That stuck with me for a long time, you know. He probably didn’t even remember saying it.”
“You showed him,” Kylo said, voice soft in the quiet green space.
Hux shrugged. Eventually he realized he was staring at the space in front of Kylo’s belly button and turned away, moved toward the part of the wall that was the most intact. Kylo set the bag down and watched him run his fingers over the old stones.
He smirked when he lifted his hand and was able to clear the top of the wall with his fingertips. “I’m much taller than I used to be.”
Kylo chuckled, a warm, affectionate sound. “I can’t picture you as a kid.”
Hux shrugged again and dropped to his knees. He was feeling along the stones. “I was small for my age. Was for most of my life, actually.” His voice was strange, some cross between bitter and thoroughly amused. The lingering remnants of a child’s anger shining through the maturity of light self-deprecation.
Hux snorted and his fingers curled around a stone. He paused and looked back at Kylo, hand stilling. “I weighed. Oh. Ninety pounds at fourteen?” His lip curved. “Thin as a slip of paper, indeed.”
Kylo could only blink and nod. At fourteen, he was already tall and gangly, surpassing six feet tall and with the youthful wiry musculature that promises to evolve into true bulk given the proper fitness routine. He’d terrified his wrestling opponents-- all long arms and legs and just slightly slimmer than he should have been, but with the budding strength of the man he would grow into.
He tried to picture Hux, younger and smaller, how truly ridiculous they would have looked standing next to one another. But all he could see was his Hux. His Hux who could break down doors with his bare hands, who wasn’t stronger than Kylo but made it feel like he was every chance he got, who could still hold Kylo down and--
There was a scrape of stone and Kylo pulled himself out of his little fantasy before it got too deep. This probably wasn’t the place for that kind of thinking. Of course… they were alone out here...
Hux was pulling a tin from behind the stone. Kylo picked his way over all the weeds and shrubs. “What’s that?”
Hux wordlessly tore open the lid-- it was rusting through in places, and stuck a little, so it practically crumbled when it came free.
But the cloth inside was dry, if a little dirty with rust flecks and insects. He plucked the cloth from the tin and unwrapped it.
There was a pocket knife inside. It was old fashioned, well made. Carved with initials Kylo couldn’t make out. Hux’s face was unreadable as he stared at it. He flicked it open and used the dirty cloth to polish it a little.
“Whose initials?” Kylo asked finally when Hux didn’t speak for a long time.
Hux lifted his head. “My grandfather gave it to me. My mother’s father, before he died. I was.” Hux shrugged. “Four or five.”
Kylo was afraid to move, or speak at all. This was new. Hux didn’t really have anything personal. Except maybe Millie. But she hardly counted-- she could return his affection. Of course, there was the ring Kylo had gotten him last year. Hux wore it on his left ring finger. Kylo had one too. He’d had them made from the blade Ben had used to kill Anthony Bell; it had broken in a scuffle with a particularly large Russian they had taken out six months after fleeing the states. Hux had told him to throw it away, but Kylo had always been more sentimental than Hux was. Hux hadn’t said anything when Kylo gave him the ring. Had just slipped it on and continued with their anniversary supper like Kylo hadn’t said a word. But Kylo hadn’t seen him take it off once since.
Hux examined the blade very carefully. Then he shifted his grip and Kylo knew what he intended in the instant before he went through with it.
Kylo caught his hand just as the tip of the blade scraped the stone. Hux turned to look at him, face smooth and emotionless, and tried to jerk his hand away. Kylo let him go. If he really wanted to destroy the heirloom, Kylo couldn’t--or wouldn’t-- stop him.
Hux didn’t immediately move to smash the blade again. Instead, he stared at Kylo, and Kylo understood why they had come here. Understood how foolish Hux felt, knowing he’d left this item in this spot, how childish he must think himself. Kylo wondered if he put it here the last time he left his mother. The last time he ever saw her. It had probably been calling to him for years, the only remaining evidence of a weaker man. A man with feelings.
Kylo almost smirked. How angry Hux must have been to have fallen in love.
Hux stared at him and Kylo wet his lips. “You should keep it,” he said softly. “Give it to our son one day.” He squeezed his eyes closed the instant the words left his lips. Hux laughed coldly. “Your. Your son. Your. Fuck.”
“Do you think they’d let us adopt, or would we have to find a surrogate? Maybe Phasma--”
“Fuck you,” Kylo snapped.
“You’re an idiot.”
“Yeah. Whatever. Fuck off. Let’s go.”
“No, tell me about this little domestic fantasy of yours, I’m positively desperate to hear it.”
“Stop it, Hux.”
“Do we do this legally or do we just kidnap a child? Oh, we could find a mark with a newborn. That would be a sweet story to tell at parties. Or on play dates.”
“You’re a fucking dick.”
“I’m just trying to understand your thinking here, Kylo. Whose last name does he have? Hux? Ren? Hux hyphen Ren? Or do we go back to Solo?”
“I swear to God--”
Hux held up his hand, face going slack, and Kylo fell silent. He knew that expression; Hux heard something.
Hux’s whole body changed. He melted into the shadows of the trees, and so did Kylo (after he stashed the bag in the weeds), because now he heard it too: footsteps. They were weighted and labored, as if the person making them was carrying something heavy. There was only one hiker and they were coming this way.
The man who stepped into view ten minutes later clearly hadn’t heard them talking. He looked around with a cursory glance, missing Hux and Kylo hidden in the trees entirely, and dropped a heavy duffle bag. It hit the ground with a dull, sickening thump. Kylo had heard enough bodies hit the ground to recognize that sound anywhere. Hux caught his eye from the shadows and Kylo nodded once and prepared to move.
The man started digging. Kylo could tell by the way the sound was echoing that while they could hear the forest around them, nothing was leaving this clearing. He supposed if the murderer dug deep enough, it wasn’t an awful place to hide a body. Assuming you made sure you were alone first.
Kylo and Hux moved at the same time, so the man was too busy being incredibly startled by Hux stepping out in front of him to notice Kylo slipping in behind. He actually yelped.
“What’s in the bag?” Hux asked, voice far too bright. Kylo understood his eagerness. His own body was singing. It had been so long--
“Who the fuck--”
“You may call me General. Who are you?”
“My name don't matter--”
“You’re right,” Hux said snidely. He pulled his hand from his pocket and flicked open a knife. “It doesn’t.”
The murderer went for his belt-- he had a huge knife there, instead of the gun Kylo would have expected to find in the States. Kylo wrenched his arms behind his back before he could complete the motion and the man screamed-- he hadn’t realized he and Hux weren’t alone.
Hux dove forward with the knife and the motion was much more violent than usual. He stabbed the man in the neck instead of slicing him and he died with little more than a gurgle.
Kylo dropped the body; it thudded to the ground like the duffle had. Hux was already on his knees, avoiding all the blood expertly, and unzipping the duffle.
Kylo guessed she was twelve. He couldn’t guess much more beyond that. She’d been strangled.
“Why would anyone,” he muttered, voice strained.
Hux swallowed and yanked the murderer’s body toward him. He seemed to take particular pleasure in violently carving four stars into each shoulder. The knife wasn’t leaving the clean cuts it usually did. When Hux wiped it clean on the murderer’s shirt, Kylo realized it was the one he had pulled from the tin and not one of the horribly sharp blades he always had with him.
Hux stared at it. Flicked it closed. “Let’s go.”
Kylo grabbed the bag and took his hand. So much for their picnic.
Hux slid the knife into his pocket. Squeezed Kylo’s fingers. And they went.