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Alter and Comply

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"You may choose..." Leia grimaces, then exhales slowly, pasting on her best neutral moue. "Who and how."

Kylo is quiet a beat, then tips his head. "Armitage Hux and... my own saber."

"He's dead, Ben."

"Kylo, and he isn't," Kylo says, leaning back in the bench and folding his fingers together with a cracking wrench of his knuckles. "Go find him."

Leia is silent and still for a few seconds, then takes a deep breath while she shakes her head. "You can't use this allowance to commute your sentence."

"I'm not the one who's been doing that," Kylo says, pausing to briefly press his tongue to the backs of teeth. "I didn't ask to be part of building a useless library."

Leia narrows her eyes, then looks down, bringing out a data pad. She glances backward some, then nods when a blip breaks the room; she starts the footage with little more fanfare.

Kylo stares at the wall, slightly shocked at her nerve and wishing he could close his ears. "That's not proof."

"Compelling enough for the Galaxy," Leia says, once the holo goes blessedly silent.

"You know how I know," Kylo says, blinking slow and tucking his arm in and over his lap; it's no use these days to hide his discomfort. "The limiter isn't so effective."

Leia sits quietly for a few moments more, then pushes up from the table. "We can put out feelers. But only for so long."

Kylo feels his jaw tic.

"We... I must do this," Leia says, surely for herself by the confident façade. "Catharsis for the Republic. I don't want to."

Kylo blinks slowly and doesn't look up.

"The next temple is to be the last," Leia continues, tapping the table almost silently, then pushing away a step. "For you. Rey has learned enough to be able to continue this on her own. Thank you for that."

"I didn't teach her," Kylo says, looking up now with a snarl. "She doesn't learn, she steals."

Leia exhales slowly, then takes another step away, turning her back. "We are still scheduling. I will see what we can do about Armitage Hux until you've gotten back."

Kylo shakes his head. "Who will do it, if not him?"

Leia pauses at the door release. "I will."

Kylo scoffs under his breath, watching Leia disappear through the door before dropping his eyes back to the table. It's been over three standard years now, so it's unlikely she'll find Hux - he's kept his head down, surely now beyond the Outer Reaches building some remnant up.

But he's not dead. Kylo would know if he was truly gone. The footage, Hux being shot by some coward, is no more compelling than the similar holo insisting that Kylo was cut in half... But Rey only took a shoulder, not his life. Lies upon lies.

It had been painful adapting to his nondominant arm, but the ennui proved agonizing. It might have been easier with the Force - he could have lived in those around him, but with the limiter he could only feel them, know he wasn't alone in compound, even if he is in the room. He knows that the size of it is six paces diagonal, four if using his full stride, and has walls of textured plaster that dull every noise both in and out. He does his best to move, to make his own noise and to keep his stamina and sanity up, trying not to sink in his head.

He expected, at first, to be made a spectacle of, executed swiftly by the re-rebuilt Republic...

But his name and history had earned him a special sort of torture.

The torture of being made useful.

Rey had Luke's books; Luke's books had locations; the locations were in dead languages Luke had never seemed interested to teach, let alone to Rey in her meager days with him.

But Snoke had interest in teaching them, and Kylo had learned them well or regretted it; a curse twice over.

Kylo had been in disbelief when first dragged from his cell, shoved in unfamiliar clothes to lead around like a neutered beast to translate texts. He had never been a scholar, little interest in theories, but the past few years have proven punishment for killing so many.

He stares at the ceiling from the cot, counting the slats of the tiles, seven by seven, and wonders where they will send him for his last. He assumes wryly it will be a trapped one, allowing his mother to easier be rid of him by sending him in, now ever unbalanced, to his end.

It's twelve meals before Leia returns, in an assumed evening, her expression ever-neutral when she enters the cell. She's done well keeping to her politician's face for the past few years, but sometimes it breaks when he finds a new weakness - little victories, hard-won.

She takes her usual seat at the single table at the front, folding her hands while she waits for Kylo to finish sitting up. She presses her lips into a near-smile when Kylo slumps in the other seat. If he doesn't, she just sits – for hours.

"The shuttle will leave in an hour."

Kylo tilts his head.

"The temple is occupied," Leia says, pausing to take a breath. "So we're going to exercise discretion."

A mask, she means, speaking as if it might somehow set him off. He suspects she dislikes it herself, projecting the upset, but he's not about to ask.

"The occupants and community are unaware of what it is, so it seems," Leia continues, a subtle note of disbelief to her tone. "Similar to Takodana."

Kylo forces a smirk, mostly to provoke. "Which I destroyed."

Leia narrows her eyes back, but doesn't offer even a frown. "And we sent you to after. Yes."

Kylo drops the expression after another tense beat. "What's in this one?"

Leia gestures with a turn of her hand. "We're not sure, but it was mentioned on a map found at another location – a Palawa temple."

"So nothing," Kylo says, feeling a discomfiting urge to laugh - this is pointless. "Why send me?"

"You know exactly why," Leia says, her voice raising almost to a scold. "If only we had noticed your skill for translation when you were a child, this conversation could be far different."

Kylo offers her a sneer. "We? You. Someone noticed, or I wouldn't be here."

Leia rears back, visibly muting her temper behind her cheeks. She exhales slowly, then drops her head in a droid-like nod. "So they did. But it will be me who you will use them for one last time."

Kylo wishes she'd just yell at him; it's probably why she doesn't do it.

A knock at the door breaks the silence, followed by Dameron sticking his oversized head in. "Ma'am, ready when you are."

"Thank you, Poe," Leia says, a small smile cracking her expression as she turns to look back.

Kylo grits his teeth, ignoring the usual tremble low in his gut.

He doesn't think too hard about why it's always particularly tempting to act out when Dameron plays escort. He even elbowed him in the face once, discovered Dameron was perfect height for it, and the pain of the stun had been worth it to hear whimpers from the Resistance's best pilot. He only managed it that once, though - now, Dameron stays on his bad side with one hand over his blaster. He must think he looks tough, when in reality he just looks scared.

"You need help with anything in there?" Dameron asks, nodding toward the refresher.

Kylo slips past into the refresher with an eye roll, slamming the door shut with his palm. He pulls off his shirt, throwing it to the ground, then shoves at his trousers while trying to avoid himself in the mirror. It's full, unlike the small one in his cell for his face; he loathes seeing the emptiness at his side.

He awkwardly tugs on the sweater, pilling and a little scratchy. It's got more weight than his usual shirts, comforting almost, but that's forgotten when he has to fight with the pair of buttons at the fly of his trousers with clumsy fingers. He thinks they do it on purpose.

Dameron always does the same thing when Kylo comes out of the shuttle bay refresher: he hums, then his eyes sweep up and down, and he nods as if it means something. He does something new today - he claps slow.


"You look almost normal," Dameron says, turning on a heel.

Rey is already in the pilot seat of the Falcon, visible in the cockpit from the window - she has actual paper in her hands, curled over it, and Kylo realizes that it must be the map. He doesn't know why they didn't simply scan it; they're going to lose it and probably blame him.

"Finn couldn't come," Dameron says, pointing needlessly toward the boarding ramp. "A diplomat thing with other reformed troopers. They're doing good things in their settlements, you know, for the Republic."

"You're welcome," Kylo says, keeping his voice flat.

Dameron is silent for a beat, then makes a frustrated noise, diverting for the cockpit.

Kylo smirks and goes for the game table. He hated it a long time, wanted to destroy it, see it spark and explode, but now…  He just plays. He beats every new score, knowing how much it will anger whoever sees his name. He presses at the power, watching it flicker to life, only to hear a a rise of voices comes from the cockpit, but it's too broken and muffled to know if it's about him or the map, though it could surely be in the vein of both. He expects the map to be brought to him in hyperspace, as Rey awkwardly not-asks for an opinion.

The warning light for the hyperdrive soon appears, and he shifts in his seat to brace just when the Falcon starts to move. It's easy to pretend he's somewhere else if he closes his eyes at this moment, imagining he's going on a mission that he chose for himself.

It never lasts long. The Falcon is a rougher ride than the Upsilon, or even the most basic of Order shuttles, and is accompanied by noises that would never be present - computers blipping alerts, the grumbling dejarik table, and, most of all, bursts of laughter from his enemies.

Kylo exhales hard and reopens his eyes, reaching out to make a move and watch the little holo roar with manufactured pain when it's crushed by his piece. He lets his shoulder fall, grimacing, and imagines for the hundredth time what it might be like to play against Hux. More frustrating, is always what he settles on. He used to imagine teaching Hux the game, but time went by, so he thought Hux might've already played and learned it. He imagines now that they might argue best moves and how Hux might cheat, always with those underhanded methods.

He won't get a chance to know what it might be like now; he can't even pretend.

It's certain that Hux will never know Kylo ever played dejarik, or that he hates buttons, or that he's learned so many dialects his mind is a jumble of synonyms for everything in the galaxy. He slumps back in the booth, letting his hand fall flat on the table and ignoring the game's angry blip.

He also likes to pretend, on these trips, Hux would even care. It's not like the temple trips are covert - they travel on the Falcon and half the time he doesn't wear a mask. Hux doesn't have Force, but he's always had networks. The Core may believe Kylo is dead, authorities and broadcasters alike constantly bragging over holos, but Hux has never been one to swallow a lie.

Kylo thinks that might be half why he requested Hux: he's let the Republic use Kylo, so now Kylo will use him. He’ll squeeze every bit of time he can from a fruitless search. He tries to get angry, can feel it grasp into his mind, but melancholy wins over, as it usually does with Hux. If Leia does find him, Kylo thinks he might find the energy; he hopes he will, at least, to briefly pretend that he's still himself before the deed is done.

He looks up at a soft stumble of footsteps, exhaling hard at the sight of Rey slipping into the other side of the booth. He flicks the table off, rolling his eyes and forcing his thoughts to clear before they might be mentioned as being across his face.

Rey is still and silent a few seconds, then sets the map on the table, though it remains folded.

Kylo stares at it, then glances to her, before making a point to focus across the room. He's clearly going to be asked something personal; he only hopes it's not about family.

"How do you do it?"

Kylo frowns and turns his head on the seat, narrowing his eyes; she hasn't asked him about abilities in a long while.

"Sense him," Rey says, pressing her lips together for a beat. "I know that Leia can - could. Across the Galaxy. But I haven't managed it."

"You use the tracker as a crutch," Kylo says, glancing at the device ever around her wrist. "Trackers are for them."

Rey is quiet a few seconds, then her expression twists just as she offers a tut. "So that's how they found you in the snow. Him."

Kylo feels his stomach drop and looks back across the room. "Trackers were standard equipment."

Rey makes a grating noise of disbelief. "I didn't expect you to really answer," she admits, after a few more seconds of silence. "Since you're only trying to stay alive by being difficult."

Kylo loathes how he easily he can hear his mother's voice through Rey.

"Could you be feeling a ghost?" Rey asks, far too thoughtful, too confident.

Kylo tightens his jaw. He's thought about that, admittedly, but Hux doesn't have the Force presence. If he were a ghost, he'd be the boring sort - an echo, not a signature rapping weak at the edge of the limiter. "Ask me that when you know the difference."

Rey sits thoughtful, perhaps, only to scoff. "Won't have the chance."

It would be so easy to kick out under the table, crush a toe or two. It would be a surprise and Kylo doesn't think her legs are quite long enough to return it, though she doesn't need that when she gets to keep a saber. "What's on the map?" He asks instead, pressing his tongue against his teeth.

Rey is silent a beat, then clears her throat, "The notations say it's a cache. We - I don't know if it's still there, but the location was found."

Kylo narrows his eyes, then only barely manages not to roll them; he suspects now this is some sort of skills assessment for Rey. Usually, they send out a scout.

"It used to be a sacred ziggurat, like that one on Ossus," Rey continues, unfolding the map and settling it over the dejarik table. It’s a displaying a mess of symbols and notations, done by different hands, and the general impression of systems. "But... it's an inn. Now."

"An inn," Kylo repeats, hearing his voice drop like it had with his mother. "So no Force presence. No cache."

Rey rolls her lips into a tight line, glaring before looking back down. "Even without a cache, it's important. They must have left something."

Kylo makes a point to shove at the map. "I forgot you people live on hope."

"Shut up," Rey snaps, reaching out to careful refold the old paper.

Kylo presses his knuckles against the edge of the table, forcing them to pop. "How long?"

"Seven hours," Rey says, standing from the table with a heavy sigh; she lingers at the edge, shifting her feet.  "Poe made a protein cacao bars."

"I asked to be beheaded," Kylo mutters, looking down and turning the table back on. "Not poisoned."

Kylo spends half the trip hunched over the table, ignoring the murmurs of unwelcome company, and the rest in the sleeping quarters. It's somehow still easier to sleep in hyperspace than his cell, even among enemies on a hard, too small cot in a cold corner. He doesn’t know if it’s the gravity, or the noise, or even just the fact he’s not in his cell, only that it’s the only place he can settle into sleep in mere minutes.

He wakes rested to a city that is a spread of civilization carved into a coniferous forest, buildings of all sorts breaking the skyline. He takes a beat to glance through the viewport, then sighs and rolls out, reaching for the horned helmet he's been using the past three years. It's singular without being too noticeable, despite his height, and apparently leftover from a sect of pirates that were part of the first Rebellion. The history meant little to him - he chose it from the closet because the HUD was accurate and the weight was familiar.

"You good?" Dameron asks, making a point, as he always does, to be over a meter back so he doesn't have to look up. "You ready to be kind and generous to the lovely townspeople, or I will - "

"Blow the limiter," Kylo interrupts, speaking over Dameron and enjoying the twitch at the growl of the helmet. "I dare you to."

Dameron is quiet a beat, but ultimately responds only with a narrow stare. "I'll take that as a yes."

Kylo stretches his shoulder, irked but unsurprised at the lacking response. He takes a breath, another dig at the tip of his tongue, but something big ticks the edge of his mind. He glances to Rey, but she's still on the booth tying her bag together - she didn't feel it. He doesn't know how, as in the past when he felt anything like that through the limiter, it was potent enough to stagger.

"What?" Rey asks, looking up while she pulls the bag over his shoulder.

Kylo swallows, then looks away. He should have looked harder at the map - it may have had a warning in plain language that Rey didn't have any ability to read. A cache, she said, which is vague enough to mean anything that might latch onto a nearby Force user for no more reason than the ability to do it.

He peers down the streets once stepping off the landing pad, focusing on the ziggurat at the far end of the city and waiting for the feeling to get stronger, but it stays the same - present, but inert. It mixes with the presence he feels of all things, throwing him off with its noise and masking itself as familiar.

Kylo clears his throat just before Dameron takes the first step up the temple stone. "Tread light."

Dameron proceeds to teeter, visibly suffering a crisis on whether to listen to the warning or spite Kylo.

Rey glances back, her brow furrowing with suspicion. "Why?"

Kylo looks up the patterned steps with a slow inhale. "Something inside is... I can feel it. Perhaps trying to tempt me."

"What?" Dameron asks flatly, finally settling a step back from that first stair.

"I can't feel a thing," Rey says, lifting her chin and closing her eyes for a moment, then shaking her head. "Are you certain?"

Kylo glances to her through the corner of his eye, glaring, "Why would I lie?"

"To unsettle us," Rey says, sneering some in response. "Which you attempt often."

Kylo grudgingly allows that with a tilt of his head. He's not doing that now, though it's their folly if they disbelieve him.

"/Move along/," a voice hisses, belonging to a miffed trandoshan with a pack over one shoulder and a sleeping child tucked in the other. "Steps for moving not dawdling."

"Sorry!" Dameron says, flashing a bright smile that’s always pulled out for some desperate attempt to charm. "Just taking in the view - bet it looks even better from the top."

Kylo rolls his eyes and warily starts to move, expecting the feeling to get worse, but it... stays the same. It might be from something bigger - it could be why the cult built the ziggurat, and why the city built itself around it, everyone trying to grasp something underneath.

...But Rey could probably sense that; for all she could be ignorant, this is too strong.

He glances narrowly at the people around while climbing the steps, from evident travelers to hurried locals, hiding his peering behind the helmet while realizing it might be a Force user.

"Do you know what it is?"

"No," Kylo grits through his teeth, taking a last look backward before following through the entrance. The limiter is loathsome; if he had his power, he could find the source and be rid of it in minutes, not dumbly hoping it might jump out in front of him.

The inside of the inn is lit only barely, slats in the stone assisted weakly by lights hanging from exposed wire. He glances down the centermost one, trailing it across over dingy tables and - He flinches away with a start to focus on the floor, taking a shaky breath.

For a few moments, a thumping panic drowns out the foreign presence. It's not truly that uncommon of a color and the style is very wrong, tresses long and wavy down their back, but it's the first he's seen of that shade in years. He fears a little that he might actually throw up.

He manages to swallow it back with ugly memories of the last time he'd been sick in a helmet; it was worse than losing his arm.

"Kylo?" Rey whispers, urgent and far too close for usual comfort. "Is it getting worse?"

Kylo is still a beat before nodding some, taking the excuse.

Dameron exhales a heavy sigh. "I hate this stuff."

Kylo rolls his eyes, keeping his head turned away from other end of the room. He hunches when the presence does shift suddenly, but it doesn't get worsen, exactly, only changes to make something roll in his gut with discomfort. He looks over to the bar in a bid to distract, then blinks and squints slightly at a shadow, realizing it's traced in symbols. He can't quite make out most of them, and a few are broken, but... It's definitely of Palawa. He can make out an old mantra about sleep.

"Above the bar" he mutters, reluctant to give a victory, but inclined to take advantage of the distraction.

Rey scowls briefly before looking, disgruntled, only to straighten slightly in the next moment. "I knew it!"

Kylo tries to read a few more of the lines, but most are covered by tags of some sort from the bar or order boards. He swallows hard, hoping it's not related to Xendor. He used to like the story, saw the triumphs before the failures, but now it only stings; he hadn't made half the impact.

"Do you think he'd let us behind the bar?" Rey asks, impatiently tugging at the strap of her bag and looking over to Dameron. "To look."

Dameron glances over incredulously, "Maybe if you mind-trick him."

"She's asking you to charm him," Kylo interjects flatly, tempted to mention that he’s surprised Dameron hasn’t already skipped over there to try.

"No, I'm..." Rey trails off, then gestures some with an open hand. "A bit. You're quite good."

"What?! Why not make - " Dameron pauses, evident amusement quickly slipping across his face with a pointed glance at Kylo. "Okay, yeah. I can't even say that out loud."

Kylo rolls his eyes, ignoring the taunting smirk.

"Although," Rey hums, then looks back to Kylo, her expression shifting into something worryingly reflective. "The feeling you're having... You said it was tempting you?"

"Not like that. It's..." Kylo rolls his lips together, wishing he could respond to it to better clarify, but it just teases at the edges of his neutered power. "Tempting in that it feels familiar."

Rey glances again over to the wall. "We've seen Palawa – "

Kylo shakes his head once. "No. Different."

"If you say so," Rey exhales a skeptical sigh.

"So," Dameron rocks on his feet, then takes a step back, spreading his hands in a wide gesture that nearly hits a passing patron. "I guess I'll go talk to scowly and stony?"

Rey clears her throat once Dameron is just out of hearing. "You should sit."

Kylo furrows his brow, narrowing his eyes another beat at the inscription before looking down to her. "Have you been hiding more than the map to look at?"

"I can feel that you're especially unwell," Rey says lowly, her eyes hard and expression stern, hand tight on the bag at her shoulder. "Even through that thing."

Kylo finds himself recoiling at the accusation, exhaling a snarl behind the mask while he turns his head to glare at an open slat of stone.

Especially unwell.

"Rey!" Dameron calls, his voice cutting through the rumble of the crowd. "He uh, wants you to explain it!"

Rey grumbles under her breath, shifting at the corner of Kylo's perception. "Just. Say something if it gets worse."

Kylo doesn't respond, moving a step and ignoring the next frustrated noise. He slumps into a lumpy seat, staring at a slip of sun over the back of his hand.

He glances backward once it's been minutes, watching Rey nod and Dameron gesticulate. He narrows his eyes when Rey moves around Dameron, disappearing behind a stone wall that is entirely on the other side of the bar. The bartender must actually know something, or thinks so.

The Force shifts again, prompting Kylo to grimace and reach up to press angrily at the limiter just under the helm. He's built up a thick scar around the edge of it from his own nails, years of digging at the edges, yet still some part of him thinks he might get it off.

"Your hair still sticks out the back, you know."

Kylo feels his breath choke, everything painfully colliding into a shuddering halt. He claws again briefly at the limiter once he can move again, never having felt more like ripping it from his spine. He turns slowly, seeing that long hair first, across Hux's shoulders, then looking warily up to take in his face. It's half covered by the hair, surely hiding what Kylo won't think about, and his features are changed some by thick lines of dark green below his eyelid and lips.

He's so different.

Kylo's chest tightens until it seems like it might crack. The almost-feeling makes too much sense now - Hux has changed so much without Kylo knowing him that he's... not quite the same man. It's a kindness Kylo has been able to sense his life force at all.

Hux frowns a few seconds later - that's familiar - and glances somewhere behind Kylo. "How closely do they watch you?"

"Not very," Kylo manages, still trying very hard to convince himself Hux is real; he can’t possibly be – not here, in this nowhere city inside a Palawa temple out of all the Galaxy.

"Down the stairs, then," Hux says, peering sideways with that single narrowed eye. "Near the refreshers."

Kylo feels something stretch painful inside of him as Hux moves away, and looks to where Dameron is smiling at the bartender before he hastily rises from the table, following at Hux's heels. He wants desperately to reach out, to touch, but instead trails his hand down uneven brick in the dark stairwell, keeping his balance and using the roughness to ground himself.

The lower level is a dark mess of a lounge, mostly empty with low, cushioned seating and shadows leering deep into the room from dimly lit walls. He exhales hard and slumps on the closest bench when he gets close, feeling like he might do worse than collapse if he goes further.

Hux thankfully notices, but doesn't quite stop, instead rounding the low bench with an audible pair of quick breaths. He goes twice around before settling, standing in front of Kylo; he gestures, irked, then opens his mouth, only to simply exhale hard and shake his head.

"/Why are you here/?" Kylo asks, in a rough attempt at the diluted language of a planet of cold rain and Imperial children.

Hux looks startled, then narrows his eyes. "/I heard rumor that an esteemed Senator was looking for a dead man, so I hacked her best lackey/."

Kylo keeps staring. "Oh."

Hux rolls his lips, the dark line tracing the lower stretching, "/Could you take off the helmet/?"

Kylo lies with a shake of his head. His eyes are already burning, threatening to cloud his vision; he can't have Hux see that he's so weak. Still.

Hux is silent for a long beat, then suddenly he crouches, looking at Kylo from eye-level. He shakes his own head with a lengthy exhale through his nose.

Kylo is suddenly aware of his bad side, so exposed, and lifts his arm to curl over his stomach in some futile attempt to mask the emptiness. He doesn't quite manage it, though it’s not for a reason he could have expected.

The hands grasping his own are a shock, squeezing painfully tight. He stares at Hux's narrow fingers, then looks up into that one eye and unsteadily lifts all three hands to sweep at long hair.

A pitch-black cyber eye stares back, surrounded by scars.

"/I like it/," Kylo whispers.

Hux glances over him with both eyes now, movement showing the finer details of the prosthetic. "/I can't say the same for your arm/."

"/Prisoner/," Kylo reminds, the word bitter and familiar on his tongue. "/Not worth the expense when I survive without/."

Hux rolls his lips together again, but it's different – more anxious, which is odd to see so plain. "/But you are working with them - is that why you told them I was alive... to help your situation/?"

"/No/," Kylo says, a little stung and swallowing hard, though it is true, in some ways, but never like this – he never actually expected Hux to be found… Or to find him. "/I was asked to choose an executioner/."

Hux stares openly, expression twisting by measures until suddenly he takes a sharp breath, blinking rapidly and glancing down, prompting hair to fall back over his face. "/You were what/?"

"/Tradition/," Kylo says, "/I couldn't think of anyone else who might deserve the honor/."

Hux makes an odd noise, tight and pitching, "/You cannot be serious/?"

Kylo offers a weak huff.

"/You ass/," Hux says, "/I-I won't. I refuse/."

Kylo looks down at their hands again, a hollow digging behind his sternum. He only –

Dameron's moving, and the little beat of his presence is moving too quick above; he's noticed.

Kylo refocuses on Hux's wan face, blinking rapidly when he has trouble seeing it through misty, stinging eyes. He'll have to wait a long while to clean his face. "/Then you.. you need to go before anyone sees. I can tell them to stop looking - I was the only reason they were/."

"This is the cruelest thing you've ever done to me," Hux whispers in Standard, still holding tight onto Kylo's hand.

"I said I would - "

"Not that," Hux interrupts, suddenly pressing his brow to the tops of Kylo's fingers, pressure firm with a shake of his head. "You bastard."

Kylo drops his head when Hux releases his hand, feeling the inside of the mask heat and grow damp with trapped tears while he listens to Hux's footsteps fade. He stays that way, unsure if moments or minutes have passed when he suddenly feels Dameron at his side.

"Almost thought you ran off," Dameron says, pausing, then awkwardly clearing his throat. "Kylo?"

Kylo swallows hard; he... wants to, everything in him urging to chase after Hux, but the limiter is more than that. "I needed the quiet."

Dameron shifts on his feet. "And why?"

"I... He's faded. H-Hux," Kylo mutters, even while he still shelters that now-shifted spark deep within him, painful with renewed longing. "Mother won't find him."

Dameron hums low, almost like pity.

"Did Rey find the rest?" Kylo asks dully, remembering the text.

"She got in the back, yeah," Poe says, then exhales hard, his gesture just visible at the corner of Kylo’s eye. "Why did you want him to do it, anyway?"

"...To see him again," Kylo realizes, staring down at his hand, pretending he can still feel warmth. He knows now for certain Hux is fine – that the holo was a lie. The truth before now would be that he hadn't wanted anything to come of it at all, except maybe a few more arguments about his rights to proper execution.

But now he's gotten far more than that - rather than simply knowing Hux is alive, he knows that he's okay.

"Uh, oh," Dameron intones belatedly, audibly sucking at his lip. "That's... that sucks. Man."

Kylo heaves himself up from the bench, ignoring his shaking hand and deciding also to ignore the empty placating. "I guess Mother will get to kill me."

"Hah," Dameron mutters, awkward and shifting backward on his feet.

Kylo looks to the edges of the lounge, realizing he's unsure where the stairs are along the dark walls. "Rey?"

Dameron's eyes briefly narrow before he shakes his head. "Right this way, Supreme Leader."

Kylo glares at Dameron's back; sparing him is probably one of his deepest regrets.

Dameron leads him to where Rey sits behind a hidden door at a different wall, tapping at her data pad. She looks up when Dameron clears his throat, smiling briefly before scowling at Kylo.

"Where'd you go?"

Kylo grimaces some – she'll sense outright lies. "...The Force I felt had little to do with a cache."

Rey blinks up at him, then visibly deflates, "Oh."

"His..." Dameron pauses, looking sideways, "Did he work for you?"

"Not really," Kylo says, surprised by a twitch at his lips. He doesn't think anyone's ever asked him about Hux, not in a way that might be funny; most people just wanted to talk about his megalomania.

Dameron narrows his eyes sharply, seemingly less amused by the joke.

"What are you talking about?" Rey interjects sharply, papers shuffling while she shifts to her feet. "Poe?"

"What we talked about on the ship," Kylo says, realizing suddenly a delicate way to speak around the lie, his eyes briefly caught on her wrist before he looks to her face. "You don't only feel their life."

It almost seems like Rey might not understand, but thankfully her expression soon slips into evident distress. "Oh, that's..." She looks down at her data pad. "I'm... sorry. That makes sense, the way you felt earlier."

Kylo sneers under the helm, forcing himself to shrug. He glances up the wall, across the words that line the ceiling. The inscriptions are little affirmations for the Followers, and more smoke than substance, so only mildly useful to the Jedi Library. "It may have been an inn even when it was built."

Rey is quiet a beat. "Maybe."

"It should be easy for you to translate," Kylo says, taking a step back and sliding down against the opposite wall. He drops his head, looking between his knees, and realizes his hand is still shaking; he folds it into a first.

"You're supposed to help," Rey demands, her voice raising as if that might be remotely convincing, followed by a long pause, before she offers a frustrated noise.

Kylo exhales slow, ignoring her continued muttering while closing his eyes while doing his best to block everything out. He can still feel Hux close, and tries to sink into it, bringing every changed feature to mind and pasting it over every imagined thought over the years. It hurts a little, because now it's all more real somehow – playing dajerik with that face, touching it, pressing his thumb into the line to feel it move with every word Hux speaks. He wonders if Hux might change the colors, or designs, or if it may mean something important, so stays the same.

Kylo hadn't thought to ask; he’d just sat there dumb.

"There's more in the next hall," Rey announces, her voice breaking the relative quiet, startling even Dameron by the way he nearly falls into the wall. "I'm moving to it. By myself."

Kylo suffers a brief spike of anger through his melancholy. "Whatever."

"Should we get rooms?" Dameron muses, once Rey's disappeared behind stone, toddling back and forth on his heels. "I should probably get rooms."

Kylo watches Dameron turn down the hall, then slumps, biting his lip; he's really that damned harmless. He 'disappeared' only minutes ago and –

And it doesn't matter.

It's no wonder Hux just left him to his fate. He saw Hux hale and whole, while Hux saw... nothing, probably; a man considered as little more dangerous than a dictionary by his captors, despite everything he'd done.

He wants to be angry, to feel the swell of fury under his ribs that Hux gets to simply leave and –

And live.

But he's had that imagined conversation dozens of times before, and it never goes well. He doesn't feel like having one right now, either, fighting with Hux's new face.

Kylo blinks at a worrying shake of the inn, looking up to watch a thin stream of dust fall from the ceiling. He grunts, cracking his neck and shoving off the wall; he glances over the scrawls again, trying to see if any mention earthquakes, but –

"What was that?"

He looks over, taking a step forward only to watch a solid slat of stone slam between him and Rey in the other hall, almost like a... A door? He reaches out, to touch, only for the Force to surge almost painful.

"Stop dawdling!" A painfully familiar voice calls, "Move."

Kylo looks over his shoulder, then grunts and stumbles off-balance when Hux is suddenly right there to grab at his wrist with a tug. He feels his mouth drop open, but words die at the tip of his tongue while he's pulled through halls he's never seen before and down out into a street.

"I stunned that pilot," Hux hisses, slowing some once they're among a milling crowd. "But I don't know how long it will take for her to give chase."

Kylo resists an urge to look backward. "How did you close the door?"

"I set off an explosive,” Hux says, peeking sideways and sparing a raised brow. “The door was a surprise, but one in our favor.”

Kylo frowns slightly, a small part of him rearing forward to be aghast at the potential damage to the temple. It was clearly altogether, or he hopes, so maybe that was just an old defense mechanism. He's never encountered one before, but he's also never... attacked a Palawa temple. He’d never thought to, which suddenly feels like an oversight – how many other exciting things had he missed because he’d stopped smacking at walls?

"This way," Hux says, urgently pulling Kylo through a narrow alley.

The other end opens to a landing pad of various ships, most of them old shuttles, and he scoffs in disbelief at the one Hux pauses at with a datakey.

Hux glares back, stepping up into the Lambda. "I painted it."

Kylo glances around the modified Lambda while he trails Hux into the cockpit. It’s clear that Hux lives in it, between the mix of sleeping quarters folded up and the workbench in the corner near a tiny kitchenette. He’s still tidy as ever, though something is… odd about it, and Kylo looks away from the wires organized by shade and size, slipping in behind Hux in the cockpit and watching him initiate the engines, already tapping take off preparations before he's even begun to sit.

"Any suggestions?"

Kylo shakes his head. He can feel Rey moving, wavering but getting closer; he just wants off the same planet. "Far away."

Hux tuts slightly, finally settling into the pilot seat. "Sit before you fall."

Kylo slumps as the shuttle rises, glancing out the viewport and seeing the city quickly shrink. He swallows hard, something giddy bubbling up in his throat while he feels Rey and Dameron fading... He's still here. His head is intact on his shoulders.

He lurches slightly when Hux urgently accelerates through the atmosphere, shuttle shaking at the ungentle hand and something almost ugly about it. "Still can't fly?"

"Would you like me to take you back?" Hux snaps, glancing sideways to glare. "I will."

Kylo smirks back, then rolls his lips together, remembering Hux can't see it. He looks down to watch Hux's hands at the controls, admittedly moving across them more sure than he was in the past. He could always fly, though, he just hated that he wasn't good at it. Not like Kylo.

"Entering hyperspace," Hux warns, just as he presses at the lever.

Kylo abruptly feels Rey and Dameron nearly disappear, and... and suddenly something heavy drops in his gut. He's free. He's never going back to that cell – he's got... He doesn't know what to do. His whole life was leading up to –

"…Ren?" Hux says, his voice echoing oddly, then his hands are a shock on Kylo's side and his arm. "Ren!? You need to stop!"

Kylo isn't sure that he can, vision shaky and the tips of his fingers tingling in evident panic. He hears his attempt to breath normally turn to a wheeze.

"No, no, no," Hux mutters, and suddenly he's pulling at the helmet, wrenching it off at a painful angle. "Breathe."

Kylo manages another wheeze before he hunches over, digging his hand hard in his hair and down his scalp. He hates his body - his mind; why can't it just work?

His vision starts to clear after he remembers to count, to think about anything else, though he can feel tears starting to fall behind the panic, and his chest allows a real breath just as a chill of mortification flashes up and down his skin. He bites at his lip, "S-sorry."

"That's alright," Hux mutters, his hand briefly settling on Kylo's shoulder. "Though I am a bit annoyed you lied about the helmet."

Kylo manages a weak scoff.

Hux's palm shifts on his shoulder, almost uncertain, then tugs at the fabric of his sweater. "Come."

Kylo swallows hard and stands, wiping at his face with a coarse sleeve and finding an odd relief when it drags harsh across his skin. He looks up a beat later, seeing Hux still watching, and feels his chest ache sharp before he reaches out to grab him, pulling him in close. He digs his nose in the warm crux of Hux's shoulder, inhaling against skin and hair to find something old beneath the new.

"Oh," Hux exhales shaky, his hand curling at Kylo's nape, first gently before suddenly squeezing tight. "I - I'm who should apologize. I never... I thought she gutted you. I thought you were gone."

Kylo shakes his head, feeling something hysterical crawl up his throat. "I thought you must have known."

"No," Hux says, pulling back seemingly just to glare, his other palm lifting to cradle Kylo's jaw. "How could you think that?"

Kylo swallows hard, biting at the inside of his lip. "You were really mad... at the end. After what I did."

Hux shakes his head, grip tightening almost to the point of pain on Kylo's neck. "I could never be that angry. How am I to better you if you're in not with me?"

Kylo shrugs weakly, dropping his eyes to Hux's shoulder.

"You are now, though," Hux says, shifting his grip until both his hands are warm around Kylo's face, thumb tracing the scar. "You're right here."

"The limiter explodes," Kylo mumbles, hating himself for it.

Hux blinks rapidly before his expression drops and his eyes drag down Kylo in bemused sweep.

"On the back of my head," Kylo says, reluctantly leaning away and reaching to touch at the abhorrent thing. "It keeps me from the Force, and... tracks me. And explodes on command."

"Hell," Hux swears, proceeding to shove at Kylo's shoulder for a better look, fingers ungentle when sweeping away the hair that covers it. He prods, then exhales an unintelligible mutter before clearing his throat. "Why didn't you mention this to begin with!?"

Kylo exhales shaky, pretending it’s a laugh. “I just did. But it’s not like it matters - it’s in my spine. It’s not like you can do anything.”

“Don’t insult me,” Hux says, taking Kylo’s wrist again to more forcefully lead out of the cockpit. “Who do you think made my eye?”

Kylo opens his mouth, then closes it - he's unsurprised that Hux would perform surgery on himself, but he could have done without knowing it. His mind flashes with images of Hux bloodied and angry, prodding at himself all alone, and he grits his teeth hard; he can’t think about that, not right now – he can’t have that be one of his last thoughts. 

Hux lets go to start pulling at drawers embedded in a wall, taking out all manner of tools, small and sharp. He turns, then frowns. "Sit."

Kylo rolls his lips together, a new sort of nervousness at the base of his throat. He moves slowly, walking over to kneel down at the foot of Hux's evident work stool, reaching back to sweep his hair to the side.

"I didn't - " Hux pauses a beat, then takes sighs heavy before slipping behind him to sit at the stool. "Fine."

Kylo peeks sideways at Hux’s knees, winding his hand into a fist to keep from reaching out. He listens instead, then screws his eyes shut at the first touch, hearing a scuffle of metal while Hux messes with the tools.

"It should be simple enough," Hux says, his fingers soft at the base of Kylo’s scalp, feather-light touch; he's probably noticed at the scars.  "I've done quite a bit of study - how nerves connect with brains, sending data along. We're remarkably similar to droids."

Kylo doesn't think that's very true - he's seen the inside of plenty both. "If you say so."

"Don't get uppity," Hux snaps, tugging at Kylo's hair with temper. "My eye isn't the only thing I've done."

Kylo peeks open his eyes to peer at the ground. "You make prosthetics?"

"Sometimes," Hux says, his fingers now markedly curled at the edges of the limiter, pressing firm as if looking for a seam that Kylo had somehow missed. "Other things, as well."

"I always..." Kylo winces at a creak that surely comes from the limiter for how it pulls at his skin. "Imagined you leading a remnant group."

Hux hums lowly, surely bitter. "Perhaps if I hadn't been shot in the face by one of my own."

Kylo feels his eyes go wide – the droid cam doesn't show who did it.

"Peavey," Hux continues, voice lowering even further. "The opportunistic rat."

Kylo attempts to look backward only to have his head aggressively straightened by a calloused palm. "Have you killed him?"

"I did, actually," Hux says, followed by a curious little victory hum, then another yank at the back of Kylo's head. "The horror on his face would have amused you."

Kylo peeks down when a small metal panel clangs to the ground at his side. "I would have beheaded him first."

"Stolen my victory? I'm hardly surprised," Hux says, audibly distracted; a hand falls light at Kylo's shoulder, squeezing just slightly, "I'm about to pull something - expect pain."

Kylo feels a tic at his jaw and nods with a drop of his head. He winces at small squeeze at a place he couldn't quite describe, hearing a mutter from Hux, then it starts. He wouldn't describe it as pain, not really, though he does hear himself scream. It's more than pain - it's an experience, striking sharp down to the soles of his feet.

The next thing he knows he's on his back, and he can... He can feel.

Hux's panic sinks into him then, every beat of it ugly, mixing with fear and emerging sorrow. He realizes next he's pressed to a rapidly expanding chest, wheezing, and opens his eyes to red hair.


"Ren!" Hux exclaims, with far more emotion in his face than Kylo has ever seen, followed by hands grasping at Kylo's face and a lean in close as if to peer inside him. "Are you... alright?"

"I think so?" Kylo says, lifting his hand to touch at the limiter - or, what's left of it.

He can feel the Force around him, unfiltered, and he experimentally slips himself into the old comfort of Hux's tidy thoughts.

/Alive? Alive. Fine? No. Broken. Darling, please./ "Can you move everything?"

Or not so tidy, anymore, but... still comforting.

Kylo makes a point to curl up, tucking himself into Hux with his arm around him. He's sore, but he'll repair - he's felt worse after lightning hit him, and this is a far, far better pain. "Yes, but that doesn't even matter - I can feel the Force, Hux. I thought I would have to die before I got that back."

"Except," Hux says, his voice tight, colored with lingering upset. "You did."

Kylo frowns and realizes he can see someone from the corner of his eye, and looks to his side, blinking slow at the sight of a torn-apart med kit.

Hux squeezes hard at Kylo's waist. "It stopped everything. I - I didn't... I shouldn't have acted so hasty."

Kylo bites his lip, but it does little to mute the awful thing crawling up his throat. He turns to look up at the patched ceiling, hearing his ill-timed amusement emerge in a burst.

Hux immediately groans, making as if to wriggle away. "You know I hate that mad laugh, stop it."

"It's just," Kylo chokes himself with a deep breath and turns, doing his best to burrow into a narrow shoulder. "You killed me."

"I did not," Hux snaps, offended, squeezing harder at Kylo’s side in a scold.

"It's okay," Kylo says, peering at Hux, looking real like he never imagined. "I asked for it."

Hux narrows his eyes back for a beat before looking away, his mouth twisting into a scowl to give to the ceiling. He’s far less entertained by the joke than Kylo, somehow finding something in it to be hurt about, rather than wry.

“Hey,” Kylo mutters, frowning back and shifting up on his hand, gritting back a wince when the movement grates on his body. He shoves up best he can, pressing his face in close to Hux’s and forcing him to look back at him.

Hux is still glaring, outright aggravated. “Why me?”

“Who else?” Kylo says, leaning in closer only for a dread to rear forward that Hux might disappear out from under him, giving him pause. He senses though Hux’s offense worsen, a bitter tang at the back of his mind, and forces himself to move until their lips press together.

Hux is worryingly still for a pair of beats before he responds, hand tightening around Ren’s shoulder and his mouth opening with a moan. His hurt fades slow, but soon it’s gone, replaced by eager thrill that bursts sparks at the edge of Kylo’s open mind.

Kylo curls around Hux best he can, longing for his other arm so he might grasp better like he once had privilege. He has no frame of reference on how he might adapt to this one-armed, but uses his legs, tucking a knee around Hux’s thigh and drawing him on top with a full-body tug that is painful but essential.

Hux’s hands are warm around Kylo’s face when abruptly pulls away with a laugh, an actual laugh, brilliant if weak. “Still such an ass.”