Hux listened to the story she was telling. No, it wasn't a story, it was a memory. A memory they have created together. He didn't understand why he couldn't remember it. But he knew that it was the truth, somehow he could feel it, like the memory was still somewhere hidden at the back of his head. He was aware that the conditioning they carried out on the stormtroopers in training could cause things similiar to this. In most cases that was a desired effect. Altering memories so that they could be adapted to fit the goals and ideals of the First Order.
But he was Academy schooled and trained, those weren't methods they used on their students... Or at least they weren't supposed to. Hux felt slightly dizzy with this realisation. How many of his memories had been altered to fit his father's agenda? Was this even possible?
"I don't remember..." His voice was quiet as he spoke. He wanted to remember, but there was something inside his head that was blocking him from accessing this memory. It sounded so warm. The way Lolin spoke about it, the gentle smile on her lips, he could see that she cherished it. A peaceful moment they've spent together. It felt so distant. He knew he wasn't that Hux anymore. He had allowed himself to become soft when he was Lolin's boyfriend. His love for her had made him more human than the droid-like boy he had been before. But now...
Now, he was the highest ranking General of the First Order, ruthless and heartless, with only one goal - to have the whole galaxy under his command. But here, in Lolin's presence something within him started crumbling, evolving. It felt foreign and filled him with anxiety. He didn't like changes, his life was a life consisting of routine, that's the only way he could work efficiently and didn't end up in chaos. He was thrown off balance because of the current developments.
He swallowed, looking down at the locket, he closed it again and saw the broken necklace that it was attached to. He had the sudden thought of wanting to somehow repair it for her. They had weapon smiths on the base, he was sure they would be able to make the locket functional again. But why? He had no interest in doing her a favor. For his plans to work it might be crucial to gain her trust though... And maybe a gesture such as this one could help. Hux swiftly put the locket into the pocket of his uniform trousers. "I'll give it to you later." Having it with him he could also examine it more precisely. Maybe that would trigger his memory.
Hux had started to slowly calm down, pulling up the cold, emotionless exterior that had started to slip. But the calm was quickly swept away by a storm. Lolin's sorrow and tears... He stood still, not moving an inch as he watched everything unfold. There was a shaking that started in his fingers, but he knew that it would spread like wildfire. He watched the sobs wreck through her body. His own breathing hitched in his throat. His heart clenching in his chest. And he knew that he needed to get out immediately. This was too much, it was all too much. He felt overwhelmed with his emotions and then hers that she was sharing so freely with him now.
His face turned stony as he looked at her. His hands tingled with the need to hold her and that scared him. He couldn't be that person anymore. Vulnerable people got hurt. "You're weak," he said, but the truth was that he was weak, so weak. Too weak to distance himself, but also too weak to give in. He knew his words were cruel, they were meant to hurt, to bite, he wanted to hurt her for making him feel like this, like he had a kriffing heart.
He quickly turned, not allowing his green eyes to stray to her broken figure another time. No more. He couldn't take it. He ran. He knew that he was breaking, too. He could feel it in his limbs. Somehow he managed to close the bathroom door behind himself, granting her her wish, but only because he needed to get away so badly. He didn't know how he found his way to his bedroom and how he sat down on the edge of his bed. But he was here now, gasping for air as he felt his chest tightening. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't breathe!
Hux didn't recall the last time he had a panic attack. Possibly when he was a teenager, all these emotions he constantly pushed away, all the anger, caused a lot of tension, which then turned to panic attacks. His fingers felt numb where they were pressed against his face, his elbows digging into his thighs, as he was sitting leant forward on the bed. He was burning all over, his skin feeling uncomfortable. What was he doing? He felt so lost. His mind kept showing him Lolin's tear-stained face, the sobs shaking her thin frame. She had looked so much smaller, helpless, and utterly devastated. He had caused this. His pride switched to loathing.
There were tears prickling at his eyes, threatening to fall, he rubbed at them. His heart was pounding like crazy against his chest, his breathing was coming out in pants. He didn't want to feel so much, he longed for his usual numb logic and pragmaticism. Emotionality caused a mess that he didn't want to deal with. Everything he had so carefully built was slipping through his fingers and a part of him didn't want to prevent it.
Taking deep breaths, he slowly started feeling his chest expanding and he knew that the panic attack was fading. It left behind a tremble throughout his body and a chilly exhaustion. His red hair was dishevelled from where his fingers had tugged on it, his face pale. He knew he looked like a mess, the collected General wasn't here for the moment, pushed away by the sight and sound of Lolin's breakdown and his own weaknesses that he tried so hard to control but seemingly couldn't.
Why was he so angry? Ever since Lolin's return into his life he felt like his sanity was slowly slipping from his hands. He had always been in complete control over himself and his emotions, but now... What was happening to him? He felt beside himself and it scared him. He wanted to lash out, to hurt, in order to convince himself that his feelings for Lolin were nothing but contempt and hatred. But that wouldn't be like himself either. He had to stay calm, he was becoming unhinged. Hux tried to take deep breaths to calm his raging heart. It was the fear that made him act so rashly. The fear that the flower inside the locket seemed so familiar, yet he had no memory of it. Was he truly losing his mind? Was he going insane?
When he looked at Lolin he saw the terror in her eyes, she was afraid of him, trembling. She merely wore a towel wrapped around her slender frame. Hux didn't allow his gaze to linger on any piece of revealed porcelain skin. His mind was too narrowed on the locket still dangling from his fingers and the shame that seemed to flicker somewhere at the back of his head. Consciously, he felt pleased when he saw the fear he could instill in Lolin. He had done this. He had broken her. The power he had over her was a huge rush. Unconsciously, there was a part deeply buried inside of him that felt ashamed for causing her pain. It was the part that still loved her, that needed her to love him back.
He frowned in disbelief at her words. "If it's nothing then why were you carrying it with you? It clearly must mean something," he continued. He didn't like being lied to at all and he knew that she was lying. He opened the locket to look once again at the yellow flower that was hidden securely inside of it. "The flower... I... It feels like I should remember. But I can't. Why can't I remember? Is this... is this some kind of trick?" One of Hux's default settings: paranoia. Because in his paranoid mind there was a threat waiting behind every corner he was about to walk past. He was a person burdened with anxiety, always on guard, his body hurt from the constant tension he forced himself to hold onto.
The bathroom was still warm from the shower, steam hovering in the air, like a more transparent fog. It made Hux's skin feel damp and his uniform stick to his body. He was exhausted, so kriffing exhausted... But he was used to extreme circumstances, so where another person might've collapsed, he was still standing tall. He knew that even if he would crawl into his bed now, he wouldn't be able to sleep. Above the utter exhaustion his body was buzzing, his mind spinning. His mind could never calm down. It's why he usually got only two or three hours of sleep during the night. Mostly the sleep he got was when he passed out at his desk, because when he laid down merely to sleep, he couldn't do it.
With Lolin sleeping in his quarters now, he wasn't sure how he would be able to sleep at all. He knew that being this sleep-deprived wasn't good for his mental state. Panic grew faster when the grasp on control was weaker. And the fact that he eerily felt like his head had been toyed with, like memories that should've been there were suddenly gone, definitely made panic rise within him. Not having control over himself made him feel terribly, pathetically vulnerable. He hated that feeling. He needed to be in control or he would disappear. His past showed him that if he wasn't in control he would be defeated and destroyed, possessed by those who proved to be stronger than him.
Earlier he had been thinking about Lolin being broken... But he was broken, too. The scaffold he had built to keep himself upright was rather fragile.
Instead of heeding her words, Hux stepped closer to the young woman, who was standing, shivering in his bathroom. His pale green eyes were intently focused on her face as his fingers grabbed onto her chin, keeping her in place, her face turned towards him. "Are you afraid of me? I told you I won't harm you. I have other plans for you." His lips twitched, as he let go off her chin and instead let the back of his hand stroke over her cheek. He wished for a moment that he had taken off his gloves for this, to feel the warmth and softness of her skin against his fingertips.
Suddenly there was a deep longing spreading through his chest, leaving a hole there that stayed even when he stepped away and pulled his hand back against his side. "Lolin..." he whispered, before swallowing, his Adam's apple bobbing. "Did I give you that flower in the locket?" His voice was soft, gentle, as he looked at her, still standing close, the heat emanating from her body made his own pulsate.
Hux frowned at her words. He didn't understand... She had been home for two more years? But his father... he had told him that Lolin and her family have left. That she had abandoned Arkanis, abandoned him for the Resistance. Hux remembered how not even a few days after their heated argument he planned to go and visit Lolin, to talk about everything in a calm manner and maybe come to a conclusion that would allow them to be together still. But his father had stood in his way before he could leave the house and told him that she was gone, that her family were dirty traitors and that they will eventually see their mistakes, when the First Order destroyed them. And Hux had felt his heart break once again, because somehow there had been a flicker of hope still... But in that moment all the hope had vanished into thin air. It had blown out like a candle graced with a gust of cold wind.
Now here Lolin was, telling him that when he left Arkanis a few months later, she was still on their home planet? Back then Hux's heart had hardened and he felt even more ready to join the First Order than he has ever before. He didn't even feel angry anymore. All that anger had been pushed and morphed into his dedication for the First Order. His ultimate goal being the throne of the Emperor. And Lolin... Lolin had slowly faded to the back of his mind.
"But my father... he..." Hux didn't finish the sentence. He didn't want to expose any vulnerabilities. No weaknesses could be shown. His fingernails dug into the palms of his hands that were resting against his lower back. It grounded him a bit, though the pain was sadly muted due to his gloves. Maybe even now Lolin was playing with him? He couldn't know. The Resistance were sly cheats, playing with dirty tricks to make up for their lack in numbers and weaponry. He couldn't forget that, as much as he wished that it wasn't true, Lolin was one of them. Soon he would change that, but for now he had to keep being wary of her every move and word. He couldn't allow himself to let his guard down and to trust her.
Something ached inside him though when he heard her talking about Bobby, her brother, the way her voice sounded so sad and broken. He swallowed thickly. He wouldn't allow her to make him feel any remorse. It wasn't even him, who had killed the boy. He believed in what he had told her before. Bobby had been given a better life by joining the stormtrooper program, by becoming a member of the First Order. The First Order stood for safety and stability, whereas the Resistance meant chaos and destruction. He stored the knowledge of Lolin killing Bobby for later use against her, he knew it would be a low blow, but sometimes people had to be reminded that they weren't as pure and holy as they thought themselves to be. He also knew he could hurt her with those words, it was good to have ammunition like that stored away. The Resistance weren't saints, as much as Lolin painted them as such, saying how they helped her. He scoffed to himself. So what? They were still scum in his eyes that caused too much damage than necessary.
Hux felt slightly lost for breath when Lolin sat up on the bed and turned around. Now that he could see her face he also saw how red her eyes looked, puffy and glistening after obviously shedding tears. Her cheeks looked wet with them as well. She looked terrible, wrecked and bloody, her skin not pale anymore, it was ashen. He wasn't sure what he should feel about having succeeded in reducing her to this. Should he feel pride? He couldn't... He felt strangely nauseous. But he felt satisfied when she followed his orders. This was good, he was making progress. Maybe he was slowly breaking her already, so that he could mold her into the Lolin that she was supposed to always be. His Lolin.
A smirk curled at the corners of his lips as he watched her. He could clearly see that she was still struggling from the aftermaths of the drug. He clenched his hands into fists in order to not reach out and steady her. Why would he want to do that? She was his prisoner, a prisoner of the First Order, which meant that she didn't deserve any special treatment. He wouldn't show her any compassion.
"Good," he said, following her, but stopping in the hall of his quarters. "I'm glad you're finally listening, it will only be of advantage for you if you keep doing that." Hux watched the door close behind her, he heard the lock click into place, but he could override that easily, she couldn't hide from him. Not in his quarters, not on his base.
Once she was busying herself with showering, he picked up the comlink and contacted the stormtroopers that would've been in charge of confiscating her things when she was taken in as a prisoner. "Stormtrooper," he addressed the small, blue hologram of a trooper that appeared from his watch. "Bring me the belongings of the Resistance prisoner." His voice was steady and commanding, not leaving room for any questioning, not that his troopers would ever question his orders or actions. They were loyal to him and to the First Order.
"Of course, sir. I will bring them right away."
Hux turned off the connection after giving a nod. Not having anything better to do while waiting he paced up and down the room, thinking and scheming his next moves, though he found himself slightly distracted by the sound of the shower running in the bathroom. His green gaze fixed on the door for a short moment, before looking away with a faint blush. How juvenile... He had to stay focused on his task. Yes, they had once been a couple, but those times were long gone. Love was a waste of time. There was no room for such pointless emotions in his life anymore. His life was perfectly organized and efficient, it all made sense to him. Love didn't make sense, a mystery that he didn't want to unravel.
The door to his quarters buzzed indicating that the stormtrooper had arrived with Lolin's things. He startled slightly at the sound, as it pulled him out off his deep thoughts. He walked to the door and allowed it to slide open, revealing a trooper as he had expected. "General," the trooper saluted him with his free hand, Hux nodded in acknowledgment. "Here are the prisoner's belongings." He held out a box and Hux reached out to take it from him. "Thank you, stormtrooper. You're dismissed." With a bow of his head, the white and black clad soldier turned around and walked down the corridor. Hux closed the door again.
The box felt rather light in his hands. He expected that there wouldn't be much. He did hope to find something that could be of value to the First Order. With the box in his hands, he sat down on his bed to rummage through the contents. He felt curious. This had to be Lolin's most important possessions if she carried them with her like this. If he were lucky, he would find the map to Skywalker hidden in here. The first thing he saw were her clothes. They looked to be acceptably clean. He pulled them out, he would give them to her once she was done with the shower. The rest of what was in the box looked like they were trinkets, maybe only of sentimental value to Lolin.
Carefully Hux pulled out what looked like a locket. It looked old and well-worn. He frowned as he eyed it, turning it this way and that. When he opened it (struggling a bit at first), he saw that inside was a pressed flower, it was dry but the yellow colour it wore was still rather vibrant. Hux felt hot all of a sudden, as if someone had poured a bucket of hot water over him. He didn't understand that reaction... The flower looked familiar to him, it felt like there was something he should be remembering, but where the memory should be, was only empty space. Why couldn't he remember? So many of his memories from his childhood and teenage years were one big blur, as if his memories had been disguised, unable for him to access.
Something stirred inside him and he got up abruptly, in his hands the locket that was now closed, he heard her words while walking to the bathroom already. His steps were certain and his hands steady as he typed in the code that opened the door that Lolin had locked before. She was mid-sentence when the door flew open. He threw her clothes at her and held up the locket.
"What is this? Why do you have it?" He asked, his eyes accusing and wild as if the locket was to fault for his sudden memory loss. Now he had indeed barged in like a maniac, but he certainly didn't feel like one. There was a strange sort of bitter sweet sorrow he felt when holding the locket between his fingers, it was dangling from his hand, his gaze focused on Lolin. Only absently he noticed that she seemed to look better after the shower, more human, more dignified. He hoped she appreciated his generosity.
For a brief moment Hux regretted placing her onto his bed so gently. As if doing it more harshly would've changed the strange tug he felt in his chest at the loss of her solid, warm body pressed against his own. He could still feel it lingering, his fingers tingling from where they had held onto her. He felt the urge to throw something against the wall and watch it break into millions of beautiful, shattered pieces. But he wouldn't. Hux kept his frustrations inside, partly freed by seeing his enemies struggle. He never let his anger out on subordinates. In the end the person he forced to feel the anger bubbling inside his body like lava was himself. To everyone else he was the perfectly collected General Hux and that's how he wanted it to stay. However now with Lolin being here... His usually sturdy demeanor started to crumble. He felt wrongfooted but he couldn't stop. He couldn't stop walking into the fire that was surely awaiting him.
All the way to his quarters his mind had been solely focused on Lolin. Such closeness brought back memories of the affections they had shared. Of her in his arms more intimately than merely as a means of transport. However, these memories seemed so far away as if they hadn't even happened to him, maybe another him from a different lifetime. Hux couldn't allow himself to lose control over this situation though. He didn't need her, not like this. Or at least that's what he was telling himself. He had learned early to lock away his needs, to forget about them and trample them into non existence. He didn't need love. Love was useless. Nothing good ever came out from it. He tried to keep telling himself that, but something was still making it impossible for him to let go of Lolin. He should've killed her and this fire wouldn't have been ignited in the first place. Now it seemed too late.
Hux felt a bitter taste gather at the back of his throat, making it hard to swallow. He involuntarily remembered all the heartbreak his only love had brought him. How foolish and naive he had been to believe that such a fantasy like love could last. Hux was good at pushing things away, so he had only rarely thought about Lolin in the time after their paths had been so brutally ripped apart. Or maybe he was lying to himself once again. Well, the truth was he had tried to not think of her, but his subconscious didn't always listen. She had been in his dreams and occasionally he couldn't help but to look at the photograph of her he had hidden in his safe. A gesture he partook in only his darkest moments of self-doubt. It was pathetic and he never thought of that afterwards. But now all he could think about was Lolin and he felt terribly embarrassed and conflicted. It was distracting and unacceptable. He had more important matters to work on. There was a war that had to be won.
What had he done? This hadn't been part of any of his carefully constructed plans. And there were quite a few back-up plans. Hux was always prepared after all. But for this he hadn't been prepared at all. He needed control, but it felt like it kept slipping from his grasp.
He had heard the desperate sadness in her voice after he had ordered the troopers to get Bobby's body. Usually they disposed of them without much thought, there were many casualties within the stormtrooper ranks after all. However, the memories of a bright eyed, smiling boy, made him hesitate. Should he do it differently this time? Allow Lolin to have a proper goodbye? He frowned at those thoughts. Weak. He was growing weak. Things had to proceed the way they always had. Lolin would have to deal with that. If she hadn't tried to run away from him, Bobby would still be alive after all. Something about that thought process didn't sit well with him. But he didn't dwell on it. Emotions were, like always, quickly disregarded.
Hux swallowed as he watched her turn on her side, her back now turned to him. He clenched his hand into a fist, not liking her negligence of his presence. On the other hand it was probably for the better. He wasn't sure he could look at the sickly paleness of her skin, her face looking sunken with dark circles under her eyes. He thought that he didn't look any better. He had barely any sleep and the stress of the last days was making him jittery and on edge. Lolin wasn't supposed to look this broken. But everything would change and be better once she saw sense and joined them instead of playing around with those good for nothing rebels.
A frown appeared on his features, his hands coming to clasp together at his back in his usual stance. It meant safety, control, even if she didn't see him, he would never allow his posture to show any sort of discomfort. The room around them was cool and dark, devoid of any personal items. The only things he could call personal were hidden from unwanted prying eyes.
Hux felt almost cornered when hearing Lolin's words. Wasn't this exactly what he was so conflicted about as well? He didn't truly have an answer. He wanted her to have no special value to him. Had he been fooling himself? Could he treat her like everyone else? This wasn't going how he had imagined it. Why wouldn't she just act like he wanted her to? Why wouldn't she listen to him?
"You still aren't anything special to me." Was this a lie? Even if it was, he needed it. "Once you realize how superior the First Order is, you'll join us. Don't you see? This is where you're supposed to be. Even if you don't see that this is your destiny now, I'll make you see where your rightful spot in the galaxy is." Hux felt strange talking to her back, it was irritating that he couldn't see her face to discern her reaction to his words, it unsettled him.
"Did you run off to the Resistance right away?" What he meant was, right after you left me. He never understood why she did it. Deep inside he thought that it was because of him. It had to be, right? She hadn't wanted to share her life with him the way he had imagined back then. She told him it were the views on how the galaxy should function that pulled them apart. Just like her, he seemed to be too stubborn, too, in order to turn his back on what he thought was his purpose in life. He merely hoped that she would share that with him.
Hux's gaze roamed over her form on the bed. He noticed she was still wearing the snow covered clothes... Well, of course she was. As he had said beforehand he didn't want her to die, the First Order needed her alive so that she could fight for them. "Can you get up and take a shower? I think the effects of the stun bullet should be wearing off by now. I will call for someone to retrieve the clothes and whatever else they confiscated from you earlier," he said, his voice pleasantly steady and low. He didn't want her to feel uncomfortable here, she was supposed to stay after all. Hux thought about how he should talk to Phasma later so that they could start the conditioning process with Lolin.
The air was strangely still and calm on Illum. It felt as if even the planet was holding its breath. Were it any other moment Hux would've snorted in disbelief at such an idea. The planet didn't know anything about the turmoil going on inside of him, it was merely a projection of his own feelings. Illum had always been rather devoid of wind, there was an eerie stillness to it, the cold was harsh, but Hux enjoyed the sensation against his cheeks. It was sharp, keeping him alert. He had always preferred cool weather. He hated sweating, it was messy and disgusting, heat made him sluggish and his brain foggy. He was glad they had found a planet like Illum to settle down on. Over the years Starkiller Base had become the closest thing he had to a home. This was his home, he was meant to be here. It was more of a home than Arkanis had ever been. All the cruel memories tied to the rainy planet cast an overall feeling of dread upon his past.
Now, he and Phasma were making their way through the thick snow ahead of the squad of stormtroopers. Their steps were heavy, but determined, there was no time for slowing down. Hux's heart was hammering against his chest, his green eyes looking around, focused, waiting to spot a glimpse of their fugitive. He was like a man possessed. Yes, she was dangerous, if she somehow by a miracle managed to escape, she could possibly relay to the Resistance the location of their base and Maker knows what else she would tell them, maybe exploit her knowledge about who General Hux was, who he used to be. She had knowledge that she could use to her advantage. No First Order prisoner would ever be allowed to run free. But Hux was aware of the fact that his motives were equally steered by personal matters. Hux's pride wouldn't allow Lolin to leave. And... for some reason the thought of her being gone did something to the insides of his chest that he couldn't bear to feel for any longer. He needed her, he tried not to, but he did, even if he wasn't sure what exactly he needed her for.
Hux remembered the last time he had lost her, all those years ago when life seemed simpler and he was less burdened with regrets and sorrows and responsibilities. It had been the night of their graduation party. The start of their adult lives. Hux had plans for what he wanted to do after the Academy. These plans might've not fully been of his own making, but he wanted to follow them nonetheless. Hux knew where his place was, being part of the First Order had always been his destiny. It's what he had trained for all these years. His hopes were high for the First Order's success and for eventually leading it to glory.
All his life he had been trimmed to believe in the wrongness of everything other than what the Empire had stood for. His father had been obsessed with the Empire and its mission, he was convinced that this time they would win. The Republic needed to be taken down, it was a disease that would eventually destroy the galaxy. Only the First Order could bring everything to its correct and rightful course.
Hux remembered that night. He remembered dancing with Lolin and looking into her eyes. Blue like the sky and twinkling up at him; like always he was losing himself in their depths. They made him dream, made him wish for things that he knew he couldn't and shouldn't want. Freedom, maybe... Leaving this predetermined life behind and going some place where it would be just the two of them. But he couldn't. There was something within him that kept him from taking that route. His focus was narrow despite Lolin managing to broaden it and bring light into his life... But Brendol always drew joy from destroying every bit of light for him.
"Love? You think someone could love you? Don't be ridiculous. She doesn't love you, you foolish, pathetic boy. How could she love someone weak and stupid like you? What do you even know about love? Keep your focus on the First Order and on not embarrassing me." His father's words rang in his head. He didn't understand how they could hurt him each time... Shouldn't he have toughened up already?
Hux remembered his mind being made up. He would join the First Order, but with Lolin at his side. Because this had to be her goal, too, right? It was an honor after all, what everyone has been working toward during their years of schooling. He knew he was only proving how weak he was (he had grown overly, embarrassingly dependent), but he didn't want to be without Lolin. She was special, a part of him, she filled him with warmth and light and made him feel whole. He would've laughed if he hadn't experienced it himself. That night he had planned to ask her to join him, to share this with him, a life together conquering the galaxy. But Hux had noticed how the usual spark in her eyes wasn't really there all evening. Her petite, warm hand was wrapped in his bigger one, his other hand resting on her waist as they danced, slowly, the room narrowed to only the two of them existing within it. He didn't understand why she didn't smile.
Afterwards he knew. When he was looking at her back when she walked away from him. He knew. Hux wouldn't allow himself to cry, but his eyes burned and his heart burned. He told himself it was out of fury and rage, but deep down he knew better. He kept his hold on that rage, a tight fist wrapped around it, keeping it in place. He wanted to scream, but he didn't know how. They fought. She left him. "Is this what you call love?" "You're so selfish. Why won't you understand my side?" "You're wrong, you're wrong and you will see." "No, it's you that will see."
All these years had passed since then and now she was leaving him again. This time he wouldn't let it end like that. He was stronger and his emotions wouldn't get in the way of his goals. The blaster felt heavy in his hands, weighing down his resolve. It was cold and there was still no trace of Lolin. But since they hadn't seen any ship fly skywards yet, it was clear that she still had to be on Illum.
They stopped dead in their tracks as the scream echoed through the wintry forest. There was such anguish and anger in that scream, Hux shuddered. It was a name that he hadn't heard in so long. The last time spoken from her lips as well.
"It's her," he said into the air in front of him, not turning to look at Phasma or the stormtroopers, but he could feel their eyes on him. He smirked. No matter what Lolin was planning, they had the numbers on their side and she had just willingly given away her location. They basically already had her.
The sky was getting darker as they resumed their steps, this time confident in where their direction would lead them.
There she was. Stepping out off the darkness, her hair bright and her face pale, she looked like she belonged here amidst the snow that reflected the lightness of her hair. But Hux could see blood in it and on her face, a stark contrast, equaled by the dark grey of the clothes she wore. He realized that they were First Order garments, they had to be his, stolen from his room. She looked wild, but calm at the same time and suddenly Hux wished that he would've come here without the whole entourage at his back, only him and her. He could feel the tension around them, the stormtroopers had raised their weapons, Hux's blaster was pointed in Lolin's direction as well.
"Come with us now and you won't be harmed," he spoke, his voice even and certain, commanding, though on the inside he could feel the trembling start once again at the sight of her. His eyes were hard, he had been trained to repress any emotions from showing on his face. He had overheard some people jokingly call him a droid and though he technically knew that he wasn't, he might as well be one. It was easier that way.
Hux didn't stumble nor make a sound as the broken helmet of a stormtrooper landed at his feet. He frowned, his gaze first focusing on the helmet and then moving back up to Lolin.
Her voice as she spoke was so different from the wildness of her appearance, soft and quiet and it caught Hux off guard, it gradually changed to anguish, and his heart was pounding so hard, he was afraid it would tear his chest apart. Her words took a while to register. His memories of the past were blurry at best, he wasn't sure why, he thought that even the good ones might've dulled with his attempt of destroying all the pain that lay in his years of growing up. But now... he could remember broken pieces of Bobby. A boy, younger than them, a happy smile on his face whenever Hux saw him. The same bright sea blue eyes as his sister's.
Hux didn't know what to feel. He could see her pain and something in his chest ached with it, with her loss. His thoughts were a whirlwind as he stood there, unmoving, rooted, watching her come apart in her despair. Had he ever been able to feel this much? When killing his father he had felt nothing more but a cold sense of relief. Finally he had been free, or so he thought.
The stormtrooper program was something brought to life by his father. In the previous great war clones were used as stormtroopers, a great army of clones. But the expenses proved to be too much and the First Order didn't want to be dependent on another planet like the Empire had been dependent on Kamino for supplying them with clones. The cons outweighed the pros. Hux was the one who worked on the conditioning and training methods of the newly recruited stormtroopers. He wasn't involved in retrieving them, but the training was his creation and he was proud of its accomplishments and what he perceived as success.
At this moment Hux was at a loss of how to react. There was an odd, misplaced feeling of regret and he realized that witnessing her pain challenged the rightfulness of his convictions. She was making him lose his footing. The cracks in his demeanor were deepening. He couldn't let it show, no hesitation was allowed, especially not under the scrutinizing gazes of his crew. So he hardened his eyes once more.
"It's an honor to serve under the First Order. The program gives them a better life. They aren't broken, they're saved," he said instead. He swallowed, turning his blaster into stun mode and shooting at her, his green eyes connecting with hers in that moment, trying to keep the shields up behind them. The stun bullet was laced with sedative, it wasn't strong enough to make her lose consciousness, but would impair her movement.
Hux took a deep breath, fastening the blaster to his hip again and making his way to Lolin, his black boots disappearing in the whiteness of the snow. He stood over her like a looming shadow as she crumpled to the forest ground. His face was expressionless as he picked her up and lifted her into his arms.
"Hux?" He heard Phasma's questioning voice, there was something uncertain to it, though he couldn't back that feeling up by seeing her face as it was covered by her ever present helmet. The bond between him and Phasma was strong, she had helped him with staging Brendol's murder. Hux nodded his head. "Get the body. I have this under control. Let the base know that the prisoner has been successfully captured again." His voice was clear and didn't leave room for any queries.
"Of course, general." He heard her relaying the orders and informing the base on their success through her comm-link, her voice grew faint though as he walked away and towards the building of Starkiller Base.
Hux didn't know what came over him as he looked down at Lolin and whispered. "I didn't know... I'm sorry." He didn't even sound like the person he had been for the last few years. But this was it, this was all she would get, as he closed himself off again. He briskly walked them back to his quarters, ignoring anyone, who spared them a glance. Lolin was a light weight in his arms, her body pressed against his chest. Somehow it was difficult to let go of her once he laid her down on his bed. Back to square one.
Hux found the sleek, dark and clean-cut design of Starkiller Base's interior to be rather pleasing to the eyes. It calmed and settled him with its purist minimalism. He preferred things to be simple without any unnecessary frippery. The conference room housed a single big, round table and a window that spread across one of the dark grey walls looking out into the eternal winter scenery of Illum. It was sparse. The lights were not too bright, which helped slightly with Hux's persistent headache. It was still there though, pounding against the back of his eyes causing his vision to be a bit unfocused. He squeezed his eyes shut before opening them to watch the other officers taking their seats around the table. Hux decided to stand at the head of it, he felt like that stance would help him resonate more authority and power across the room.
Despite the headache and the exhaustion heavy in his bones Hux enjoyed being in this position. Though it proved to be difficult to keep his thoughts from straying away to Lolin, wondering if she was already in his quarters. Most likely. He felt uneasy about not being the one to escort her there, he knew he had let his control slip doing so, believing that she would be a good girl and stay put. Have her tears and fragility wrongly swayed him? Was he showing softness, weakness? He mentally shook himself free of those thoughts. There was no use. He had sent stormtroopers with her who were very capable due to the successful training methods he had perfected. There was no need for worrying. He had to set his head straight.
Hux cleared his throat, his sharp, jade coloured eyes roamed over the faces of the present people, one of the faces disguised by a black mask. The general suppressed the urge to roll his eyes at the ridiculous man. He wasn't sure if he wanted to intimidate with that silly helmet of his, but it certainly never worked on Hux. He always thought it to be a laughable accessory. There wasn't anything that could intimidate him anymore. He had gotten rid of his worst nightmares already.
"I called this meeting to discuss all the recent developments," he started, pacing. He could feel all eyes on him and it filled him both with pride and apprehension. He always had to fight for respect. The people who thought that being his father's son would've blindly granted him respect were wrong. While alive his father had continuously made sure that everyone knew how useless he was and how much he despised his weak, stupid son. His current position was due to nothing else but his hard work and determination... and a few well placed murders.
"After the skirmish on Jakku we successfully managed to capture a number of Resistance members in hopes of gaining information about the map to Skywalker that had fallen into their dirty hands. However, interrogations didn't appear to supply us with any useful intel. Regretfully further investigations were interrupted by a seemingly spontaneous attack on the Finalizer carried out by the Resistance. It was quickly clear that said attack was meant to conclude in freeing their imprisoned friends," he uttered the last word with disdain colouring his tone of voice. "However there was only minimal damage taken on our side. And..." Hux considered his options of telling them about Lolin. Of course he wouldn't mention the true nature of their bond, no one could know that he had acquainted with her in the past, it would be humiliating. He was the General after all, ice cold and unapproachable. But letting them know that he had actively taken a Resistance member as a prisoner would surely come to his advantage.
"I managed to capture one of them and take her with us to Starkiller Base. I'm sure she will prove to be of big help for us, no doubt. This is but only one success. Sadly we still are no further in knowing where the map is." He hated not knowing and hated the position of failure it put him in.
"That's incorrect, general."
Hux glared at the masked creature. What was he talking about? He knew he wouldn't like where this was going. It was rare that Kylo Ren spoke up during these meetings, so he was sure it would be something to undermine Hux's authority.
"Where your interrogation techniques have obviously failed, mine proved to be successful." There it was. Hux was certain a smirk was playing on Ren's lips as he looked directly at him. His hands that were still behind his back, squeezed painfully into fists. "The map is hidden in a droid. A BB unit." Kriffing asshole. He couldn't deny that this information was significantly bringing them closer to their goal.
"Good," Hux muttered, trying to somehow regain his confidence and not show how much it affected him. "That means it should still be somewhere on Jakku. We'll send a squadron of stormtroopers to the planet to retrieve the droid and get the map."
This statement was supposed to conclude the meeting, but it was interrupted by the blaring of the alarm. Hux flinched with a frown on his pale features.
'ATTENTION ALL UNITS AVAILABLE! REPORT TO BASE ONE! ESCAPED RESISTANCE PRISONER! ARMED AND DANGEROUS, I REPEAT, ARMED AND DANGEROUS!'
For a moment Hux felt close to fainting.
"Lolin," he whispered to himself, shocked and suddenly trembling internally again. He wasn't sure where the trembling came from. Was it anger, fear, panic? Maybe everything at once? It felt like too much, that's for sure. His heart was pounding frantically against his chest and he found himself being short of breath.
"Your precious prisoner, Hux?"
And embarrassment. He was feeling embarrassment, too. Hux wasn't sure who had said it, but he focused his glare on everyone. "Lieutenant Mitaka?" He gazed at the mousy man, who looked back at him with his whole attention. "Yes, sir?" At least he had Mitaka. Trust him to always be eager to follow his orders. "Make sure that the squadron of stormtroopers is sent to Jakku in search of the droid."
"I'm going to accompany them," Ren's distorted voice spoke again and Hux couldn't stand to hear it anymore.
"Fine," he bit back, before starting to make his way out off the room. "Meeting dismissed," he called without turning around again. He strode down the corridor and towards the control room. His thoughts were in a disarray. Why did she run? Hux couldn't comprehend it. Hadn't he told her that death wouldn't be awaiting her here? She would've been safe and taken care of. Yes, she was a prisoner, but if everything went according to Hux's plans, soon she would've been an equal. Somewhere Hux knew why she decided to escape. Freedom. She left because she wanted to be free. Hux scoffed.
Freedom was merely an illusion. No one was ever truly free. She was looking for something that didn't exist. Even if she, by some miracle, managed to escape Starkiller, Illum, him, she would always be chained down by thoughts, emotions, memories, norms, biases and laws. There was no getting away from imprisonment even if it didn't include actual prison bars. Hux didn't consider this a bad thing, people weren't designed for complete freedom. They would go crazy with it. They only had to accept that this was better for them. Lolin would succumb to the acceptance of these facts soon enough as well and after that she would be able to live her life with a peaceful mind. She would thank him for it eventually. Hux was utterly certain of that.
First they had to find her and bring her back though.
Arriving in the control room with a stern expression on his face, he walked to one of the officers operating the consoles and holo transmitters. "Report, officer. Any sightings of the fugitive?" He asked, his voice calling for full submission to his orders. The man's voice was shaky when he spoke and Hux felt satisfaction at that discovery. "The last she had been sighted was in corridor C5. She... she was shooting more stormtroopers." Kriffing hell. This was bad. Hux tried not to think about the lengths she would go to in order to flee from him. Because that was exactly what was happening here, wasn't it? She was trying to get away from him. And it hurt. Why did it hurt? He swallowed.
"She can't get far. And even if she manages to escape the building what can she do? Illum is one big forest covered with snow. Keep looking, close the exit doors so that she can't go out if she hadn't managed to do so already. Position a group of stormtroopers in the hangars in case she decides to steal one of our ships."
"Yes, of course, general. Right away," the officer saluted awkwardly. Without uttering another word, Hux left the room in order to make his way to his quarters. He didn't know what he hoped to find there. She certainly wouldn't have left any clues. Maybe he just wanted to see the killed stormtroopers. Maybe that would make everything currently going on more real. And then he saw them. The corridor hasn't been cleared yet due to all the chaos. He gulped. This Lolin... it wasn't the same one he had known all those years ago. He needed to see that, to accept that. She had changed the way that he had changed, too. Hardened and lost her innocence. She had always been fierce and strong, but the Lolin he had known wouldn't have killed anyone. Hux realized he had been tricked. She must've known that he had still thought her to be the bright, gentle girl from the past, lost in the clouds and her dreams.
Irritation the moment he entered his quarters and saw the absolute mayhem it housed. She had done this on purpose, hasn't she? He hated disorder. His rooms had always been immaculately kept, he made sure of that personally. His face was red from all the anger, he was outwardly shaking now. He took off one of his black gloves, forming his now bare hand into a fist, he punched it against the wall. He hissed at the pain, but that was the seeked out result. The throbbing in his now bruised hand helped him focus on the here and now. Hux took a deep breath, putting the glove back on. "Get a grip, Hux," he told himself, pulling out a warmer coat from his wardrobe, noticing that she had been looking through his clothes, too, probably taking something with her.
It doesn't matter, he thought as he shrugged on the coat and freed his blaster from where it had been hanging at his hip. Hux would personally make sure that Lolin returned to the base, to him. He wouldn't allow her to leave. How dare she even think she could? He tried to suppress the terror he experienced at the thought of losing her. He tightened his hold on the blaster and strode through the maze of corridors, his goal was the main exit. If they hadn't managed to find her anywhere inside the base, she should be out by now. He shivered as the cold, windy air hit him.
"Captain Phasma," he called out towards the armoured woman, the only person he could maybe call a friend. She was standing with a group of stormtroopers.
"General. You will be joining us?" Her voice sounded harder from behind the helmet she was wearing.
"Yes. Lead the way," he answered with a grim smile, before they started walking, scouting the snow-clad area around the base in search of Lolin, who, so it would seem, was the only person still able to fill him with fear.
His anger slowly diminished. He was still trembling slightly, but years of training made it easy not to show his puzzlement at seeing her particularly beg him for something. There had been countless people in his life begging and pleading him for mercy and a kinder fate, he never gave in. Them begging made it even sweeter when he finally saw them dying, either at his hand or by another's following his orders. Hux's heart was cold, he had no patience for people standing in his way. He wasn't afraid anymore, there was nothing left to be afraid of, he took what he wanted without regrets. Or that's what he told himself... Especially in this moment his philosophies seemed to clash with the emotions that were trying to kick his steel walls in. He saw the pleading tears glimmering in her eyes, illuminated even more by the stark lightening of his quarters. Here everything seemed to be in the open, but Hux... he felt sick somehow when he thought of trusting her as if the notion of that filled him with discomfort.
Hux allowed his calculating eyes to take her in as she spoke her desperate words (because that's what they were, right? Words spoken out off desperation. He saw that, because he knew she would've never spoken them under any other circumstances). He wasn't sure what he expected to see. There wouldn't be any open deceit viewable in the depths of her ocean blue eyes. She was too good at this, or at least she was now... Or maybe that was Hux's paranoia talking? He remembered her always being so open with her emotions, open and honest, very unlike him. His emotions were guarded behind a fortress. Though in the past she alone had access to that fortress. Now there was nothing left. Had she changed, too? Or was she still carrying her emotions on her sleeve?
No matter. Hux wasn't keeping her here in order to be cruel to her. Yes, discipline will be needed to erase whatever damage the Resistance had caused to the teachings of the Academy, but ultimately keeping her here was his top priority. Indeed that was the sole reason for why he agreed to her demands and not the way seeing her face so pale and still bruised, seeing the tears falling from her eyes and rolling down her cheeks, seeing how fragile she looked standing here in front of him, made something tug at his heart causing it to ache for a bare moment. Maybe he felt sorry for her, pity is something he could allow himself, it put him at an advantage.
"Fine," he pointed his finger at her, "Don't make me regret being so lenient with you, Lolin. I allow you to move freely in my living quarters both here on the Finalizer and once we're back on Starkiller Base. But you aren't allowed to leave, at least not for now. For your own safety as you so pointed out yourself," he allowed a tiny smirk to move the corners of his lips.
"Now," he said, at the same time he turned around so that he was facing the kitchen cupboards. He opened one and pulled out a ration bar. He handed it to her. "Eat, I hardly would have poisoned that, it's what I eat after all." As if to demonstrate he took one for himself, too, and closed the cupboard's door quietly. "You can rest, we should be on Starkiller Base come morning." Without another word he walked passed her and to his office.
Inside the rather sparsely furnished room, Hux sat down heavily on the chair at his desk. Even though the anger he felt earlier had vanished, the pounding headache was still there full force. He set down the ration bar and closed his eyes to rub his fingers over them, in hopes of elevating some of the pain. "Lights to thirty percent," he called into the emptiness, which caused the lights to darken so that it wouldn't irritate his headache even more. For a moment of self-pity he wished he could just sleep, maybe then everything that had happened would turn out to be a nightmare. But he knew he wouldn't be so blessed, because sleep wouldn't come to him tonight. The pain meds he had available here would be of no help. His body had turned immune to them.
Instead he started looking through the blueprints spread out over his desk. They showed a new project that he was working on. It was still in its research phase, Hux was satisfied with the progress it was making so far. He smiled to himself. With this and the superweapon at their disposal the Resistance stood no chance. They were but few and their arsenal power was weak. The First Order wouldn't be struggling long to defeat them. And Lolin would help them make that victory. Once they got settled in at Starkiller he would start the reconditioning program for her. Something about that prospect didn't sit well with him, but it had to be done.
A couple of hours had passed when Hux received a message on his holowatch, informing him that they had landed on Starkiller Base. The General had been standing at the window to the left of his desk, watching the eternally snow-covered forest outside as they flew over it. Now, he was dressing himself back into a clean uniform, he styled his hair and already felt more like himself. It gave him strength and confidence.
He made his way to his bedroom, wondering for a brief moment if Lolin had managed to sleep at all or if she had been awake the whole night the way he had. He knew there were dark circles under his eyes (a stark contrast to what he thought was a far too pallid skin tone) to atone for his sleepless night. He didn't know when the last time was that he had truly slept, the hour he had dozed yesterday in his armchair didn't count, he mused.
"Lolin, get up. We're here." He had retrieved a pair of handcuffs along the way and threw them onto the bed, he saw Millicent startle awake from the movement, she looked at him with a displeased expression. "Put them on." Hux knew he could've done it himself, but somehow... he still couldn't shake the look of fear that had been in her eyes when he had touched her yesterday. "And come with me."
As always, they landed the Finalizer inside the hangar, which saved them from having to be outside the constant winter cold of Illum. Still, Hux felt himself shiver. He did prefer the cold to the heat of Tatooine or Jakku, but most days he missed the rainy weather of Arkanis dearly.
"Stormtroopers," he called out to two of them. They looked at him, listening to his orders. "Escort her to my quarters." It was clear that he meant Lolin. She was still dressed in dirty Resistance wear. He would have to get her new clothes, too. But for now... "I have to hold a meeting about what happened on the Finalizer."
"Yes sir," they saluted him, both taking hold of Lolin's arms at either side of her.
"I'll be back later. Don't get any ridiculous ideas," he narrowed his eyes at the girl, hoping that she wouldn't try anything reckless. Hux knew that he should be going with her, but he couldn't allow himself to forget his other, more important duties for the First Order solely because he had to watch her.
"Stand guard at my doors, don't let her escape."
"Yes, sir," they said again in unison before starting to walk away, Millicent calmly walking behind them. Hux sighed. There was so much to do and definitely not enough time. He activated his holowatch to send an alert about the meeting. He had to push back all the thoughts of a certain prisoner in his living quarters for the time being. The future of the galaxy was at stake here.
His greatcoat billowing behind him, the General strode with determined steps to the meeting room.
Hux's head felt so full. There was a slow, dull pounding at his temples and he knew that it meant a headache was approaching. It was no wonder when looking at the way his day was unfolding to be a total nightmare. But that wasn't anything uncommon for him. Every day was stressful and busy. They were at war after all and Hux always has been someone, who put his all into a mission. One might say that he was passionate about his causes and ideologies. Two hundred percent instead of one hundred; he never looked after himself and oftentimes he would work far past his limits, which had a few repercussions on his health. Constant migraines, tiredness, dizziness and body aches. The latter of which he had been struggling with since his youth.
Once he entered his bathroom, he let the door slide shut behind him and leaned against it, throwing his head back with a thump. A long sigh escaped through his lips, his hand lifting to rub at his dry eyes. He felt so exhausted... This wasn't good, he couldn't allow himself to feel like that, he had to be strong. He was a general of the First Order, there were expectations to meet and even overtake. But in this moment he didn't feel like the general he had been throughout the recent years. His body felt shaky where he stood, though when he looked down at his hands they looked surprisingly steady. He felt himself panicking slightly at that revelation. Nothing seemed real. He took a deep breath, pulling off his gloves to sufficiently dig his nails into his arm. He scratched and pinched at the pale skin, trying to ground himself with the pain and to stop the panic attack he knew was building up.
Hux didn't understand what was going on with him. Lolin's sudden appearance has created small cracks in his world view and beliefs. It seemed like he couldn't glue those cracks together, what was happening was that they were growing bigger instead. No, he couldn't let that happen. The First Order was his life, the only thing that made sense, the only thing that felt safe and familiar. It was just some weird, useless feelings of nostalgia for his first love. He'd get rid of it, bury it with all the other useless emotions and thoughts. With a firm nod, Hux straightened up and started shedding the uniform he was wearing. He neatly folded it, deciding to wash it later. He mused that after this tough day he deserved a real shower and not a mere sonic one. He didn't regret that choice.
The warm water felt divine against his aching body, he could stay here for hours, soaking it in and hopefully dissolving at some point. Wouldn't it be nice to just cease to exist? Taking the soap Hux rubbed his face clean off the blood splattered across it, he also cleaned the rest of his pale, lean body. For a few minutes he just stood under the spray, his eyes closed, head bent down, willing his body to relax, which wasn't easy. He was so tense and stiff, constantly wired with anxiety and ready to act.
He was still slightly trembling on the inside when he exited the shower, but he felt warmer and his body thankfully ached less, small blessings, he would take them. He dried himself, also towel drying his wet hair. His face contorted into a grimace of displeasure as he eyed himself in the mirror. This might not have been a good idea. His hair was wet and in disarray, he couldn't show himself like this to Lolin. He looked so... casual. He shook his head, no matter. These were his chambers and he wouldn't let himself be influenced by another's presence. He could still be frightening even with damp, unruly hair and his more casual clothes of a dark grey sweater and trousers.
After the bathroom door fell closed behind him once more, Hux took another deep breath and walked with a straight back and determined steps back into the bedroom. However once he entered the room, Lolin wasn't there. She wasn't in the bed he had ordered her to stay in. And there was anger and panic and fear as he looked around the empty room, the bed covers pulled back to leave no doubt about the missing presence. Has she escaped? But how? He had seen how much pain she had been in when she only walked the few steps when his touch had triggered her fear. She could barely stand. But Maker knows that adrenaline and hope can be a remarkable boost of energy. Hux didn't know what to feel. He told himself that he felt rage first and foremost (and not the despair), because rage was all right when it was burning inside of him, rage at her disobeying him. The sheer audacity! Did she doubt that the First Order would be the best place for her to be? How could she doubt their superiority? His mind replayed her previous words of disbelief over her not being here to die. Maybe she had been afraid and that's why she left? But his words had been true... He didn't want her dead. He wanted her to be at his side when he ruled the galaxy.
For a moment he craved the release of rage that Kylo was so keen to engage in. He wanted to throw things, to destroy, he wanted to scream, but instead he stood there, in the middle of his room, his body openly trembling now, his hands balled into fists. Without his gloves on his nails were digging into the skin of his palm, leaving crescent shaped imprints behind.
Then... a sound dragged itself to his ears. Was that water running? Hux blinked, before frowning in confusion. He didn't dare hope, but with brisk steps he walked to the kitchen part of his chambers and was greeted with the sight of Lolin bent over the sink and drinking water from it in big, thirsty gulps. He felt intense relief, his body relaxing so much that he thought he might fall to his knees. He didn't question why the relief of knowing that she hadn't escaped, hadn't left him all alone again, was so strong... He didn't want to dwell into the revealing reasons. Instead he replaced it with the rage he felt before.
"What are you doing? I f\ucking told you to stay in the bed," he didn't swear often, but he wasn't as stuck up in that area as some of his subordinates thought him to be. His voice was controlled, the trembling he still felt thankfully didn't resonate through it. He wanted to reach out for her and drag her back to his bed, but he was reminded of the look of terror the last time he had touched her, and he didn't want to be like this, he didn't want to be like his father. "I thought you left," he added, his voice more quiet, he didn't know why he said it out loud. "You can't leave." His head was now actively pounding with crushing pain. Maker, he needed a cup of caf. It was late in the night most likely, but Hux didn't plan on sleeping anyway.