Armitage had been right about the rain on Arkanis.
Ben and the others had been staying on planet for a week now to regroup and plan as they waited for Poe to arrive and join their party, and the rain was already starting to get to him. Ben's hair was constantly damp in the moist air, and he'd forgotten what it was like to be completely dry with the wet air seeping through the walls of the cheap hotel they'd holed up in.
The only one who barely seemed to notice, however, was Armitage. Despite having only lived on Arkanis when he was a child, he had adapted to the weather with the same ease and comfort as any of the other locals. Ben had noticed Hux even enjoyed it on some level, smiling softly as he looked out the windows in the evening when the rain poured harder.
Unfortunately, he was the only one who didn't mind the rain.
“Isn’t there ever sunlight here?” Rey asked, hauling their supply pack on her back. Her steps bounced as she dodged the deeper puddles collecting on the roadways. "How does anyone live here without losing their minds from all this rain?"
"I'm sure they'd ask how you survived on a planet that didn't have any for as long as you did," Ben answered back. He mentally went through his shopping list, making sure they had picked up everything they needed. When Poe arrived, he'd have to make sure they had food for nine people for an extended trip, which wasn't a small amount. Ben wasn't sure the Silver Wing had the storage space for it. "Though I agree, this place could use a little sun. It's dreary."
"You think Finn's been okay back there alone?" Rey asked. "He is a little outnumbered by that group."
"Finn can handle himself," Ben said. He saw the hotel come into view and picked up his pace. The rain had started to come down a bit harder, and he wanted to beat the downpour. "He's also the only one with a gun."
"Point," Rey said, grinning. She pushed open the hotel door and waved at the woman behind the desk. She huffed at them and went back to reading. Rey tapped up the stairs toward their room. "I can't wait for Poe to get here. Then we can get this show on the road again."
"Or at least divide the group so we can breathe during the trip there," Ben said. Poe was supposedly bringing a larger shuttle that was big enough to haul his x-wing around, as well as house Rey and Finn. The Silver Wing hadn't had enough places to sleep, so they were forced to get a hotel while they waited. Ben still wasn't sure where all four of Hux's group were going to sleep later though, considering there were only two rooms on his shuttle. "There was no way we'd survive a trip trying to squeeze all nine of us in my ship."
"Only because none of you are willing to sleep on the floor," Rey said.
"You're included in that," Ben said. "You didn't want to either."
"I slept on the floor of a hollowed out ship for most of my life," Rey said, grinning over her shoulder. "I've earned a bed."
"I'll give you that," Ben said. He opened the door to the hotel room, and was glad to note everyone was in one piece. "We're back."
"Have any trouble?" Finn asked, taking the bag from Rey.
"Nope, just rainy weather to dampen our spirits," Rey said, smiling at her own pun. She jumped onto the couch, bouncing the cushion. "We got a confirmation message from Poe, though. He'll be here in about two hours."
"Joy," Armitage said, leaning back in the armchair. He had a datapad in his hand and a holomap open on the side table. "Won't that be a delight?"
"Who's Poe again?" Thanisson asked, digging into the supply bag. "I don't think you guys ever said."
"Poe Dameron, the best pilot in the Resistance," Armitage said, sticking his nose up and doing his best to mimic Poe. "He can fly anything."
"And Hux glassed him in the head with a liquor bottle the last time they saw each other, which turned into a fist fight," Finn added, leaning over the back of the couch next to Rey. "So it's probably going to be a tense reunion."
"He had it coming," Armitage said, looking back at his datapad.
"Oh," Thanisson said. He sat on a kitchen stool and shrugged. "But at least now I know he's a pilot, so that helps getting a good picture of him."
"Oh?" asked Rey.
"I used to work in the hanger bay control tower on the Finalizer, so I interacted with fighter pilots all day," Thanisson said. "It takes a certain type of person to fly those things, and I'm guessing it's not much different on the Resistance side."
"It's not," Ben and Finn said at the same time. They looked at each other and laughed. Ben knocked Finn in the shoulder with his knuckles and said, "Pilots are pilots."
Armitage rolled his eyes and put his feet up on the coffee table. "Did you get everything we needed?"
"Yeah," Ben said. He looked around the room and counted in his head. He walked over to Armitage and sat on the arm of his chair. "Where'd the other three go?"
"Unamo is feeding Millicent and her kin back on the ship," Armitage said, still staring at his datapad. "Mandetat and Mitaka are playing a card game in the bedroom, I believe."
"Cards. Sure, that's exactly what they're doing." Thanisson snickered and Armitage threw a pen at him. "Ow!"
Armitage closed his datapad and looked over at the room. "I'll go get them. You start making dinner. I want to eat before Poe gets here."
Ben nodded and cross his arms. Armitage disappeared into the back room without a second glance and he sighed. They'd talked a little bit about what had happened on the Finalizer and the First Order's fall, but there was still something heavy between them that Ben didn't like.
Dopheld groaned, shifting on the bed. The blankets scrunched under his knee as he changed positions. "How are you so good at this?"
"I've had a lot of practice," Mandetat said, licking the edge of his lip. He smirked, flexing his fingers on the mattress. "What can I say?"
"But every game?" Dopheld said, throwing his cards on the bed. He dropped his elbows on his crossed legs and frowned at the smug man sprawled on his side on the other end of the bunk. "We've played six rounds and you've won every single time."
"Technicians are either drowning in work or starving for it, which means we've got a lot of downtime," Mandetat said, collecting all the cards between them. He stacked them back up and shuffled the deck. "Which means a lot of card games get played."
"Yes, but I know how to play cards," Dopheld said, hating he was pouting. "It's not like I'm completely inexperienced. I should have been at least close to winning one of those hands."
"Maybe i'm just that much better," Mandetat said.
Dopheld watched his face for any hint of deception and--there it was. A slight glimpse of teasing in his eyes. Dopheld leaned forward and grabbed the bottom edge of Mandetat's shirt. He pulled it up, and found the cards tucked into his waistband near the back of his hip.
Holding one of the cards up, Dopheld huffed, "Or you're cheating."
"Or I'm cheating," Mandetat said, snatching his card back with a laugh. He pulled out the other ones from his waistband, shuffling them into the deck. "You learn how to do that playing with a bunch of Technicians, too."
"How about we try that again without the cheating?" Dopheld grabbed the deck and shuffled it himself. "And see how that goes."
"If you want to do it the boring way," Mandetat said.
"Looks like you two have managed to keep yourselves entertained," Hux said, coming into the room. Dopheld sat up a bit straighter, and Mandetat leaned back on his elbows, deflating. Hux closed the door with the back of his heel and pointed over his shoulder. "Ren and the others are back with food. We're going to try and get dinner before Poe arrives."
"Sounds good, sir," Dopheld said, collecting the cards. He wrapped them up and handed them back to Mandetat. "Is there anything we can help with?"
"Be seen," Hux said. He rolled his eyes and pointed at the door. "Ren gets antsy when he doesn't have track of where we all are at all times, and I'm too tired to deal with it right now."
"Yes, sir," Dopheld said. He scooted to the end of the bed, trying to hold in his frown. Lord Ren's lack of trust wasn't unwarranted, but it was starting to wear on everyone's nerves. He couldn't wait for this side-mission to be over with, so they could work on settling into a more normal routine. "We can do that."
"Oh, and Mitaka," Hux said. He rubbed his fingers together and leaned from one foot to the other. "You really don't need to keep calling me 'sir' any more. As I've told you before, 'Hux' is fine."
"Right," Mitaka said, something tightening in his chest. He rubbed the back of his neck and said, "Habits, you know?"
"I do," Hux said. He smiled a bit and put his hand up like he was going to whisper. "At least you can break them with some practice. I'm fairly certain Unamo won't stop calling you and I 'Sir' until she's dead."
Dopheld chuckled under his breath at the shared joke, and even Mandetat shared a smile. Hux nodded one last time before straightening his face back into a scowl and going back into the shared area of the hotel suite.
"You okay?" Mandetat leaned across the bed and nudged Dopheld with his shoulder. "You looked a little heartbroken there when he told you to stop being formal."
"I'm fine," Dopheld said, leaning back into Mandetat. "It just sort of drove home that the First Order is really over. I'm not sure I know how to function without the systematic rank and file."
"We'll figure it out," Mandetat said. He patted Dopheld on the back, and got up. "Come on, let's go enjoy some real food."
"Yes," Dopheld said. He stood up and straightened his hair out. "Ration bars is the one thing I will not miss about the First Order."
"You said it," Mandetat said, throwing his arm around Dopheld' shoulder and ruffling his hair.
To say Hux was not looking forward to Poe arriving was an understatement. That man meant trouble, but at least this time Hux didn't have to deal with him alone.
"Did you really glass this man in the head?" Mitaka asked, standing next to him as they waited at the spaceport for the man's shuttle.
"Yes," Hux answered.
"I take it he's going to be a rather unpleasant person than," Mitaka said, putting his arms behind his back. He tugged on the back of his loose clothes, as uncomfortable in the civilian garb as Hux had been the first time he'd worn it. "You're usually rather tolerant."
Hux pressed his lips together and shook his head. "He's very good at pressing buttons, I'll give him that."
"He promised to play nice," Ren said, walking by as he paced. He seemed restless, and Hux wondered what was eating at him this time. So far everything had been fairly civil in the hotel room, and the Resistance hadn't chased them all down after that last battle, so he wasn't sure what Ren had to be upset about. The man turned on his heel and pointed, "So I hope you guys will, too."
"I don't plan on talking to him at all," Hux said, crossing his arms. If all this was about worrying that Hux would start another fight, he was a bit insulted. "If that counts."
"Close enough," Ren said.
The small group made up of Ren, Hux, and Mitaka waited together on the landing platform. The rest of their group was making room at the Inn for Poe, and packing up everyone's things for the split when they finally returned to their respective ships. If they kept to the plan, this would be their last night in the hotel and they'd be leaving in the morning. Hux checked the time and sighed.
Poe was ten minutes late.
"Isn't he supposed to be the best pilot in the galaxy?" Hux asked. "What could be keeping him?"
"I'm sure it was something mundane," Ren said. He sniffed and ran his hand through his hair. The rain misted around them, making his damp hair looked slicked back. It was rather nice looking if you asked Hux, but he knew it was bothering Ren. "Like being held up at traffic control."
"If he's late because he's flirting with the control tower, I do hope you tell him off for wasting our time," Hux said.
"Is he that sort of person?" Mitaka asked.
"Yes, but he knows when to behave," Ren said. He looked back over the sky and leaned his head back. He took a step forward and held a hand up to block the rain from his eyes. "I think I see a ship."
"Is it his shuttle?" Hux asked.
Ren dropped his hand down. "No."
Hux looked up at the incoming ship and cursed loud enough to startle Mitaka into a jump. "Absolutely not! What is he doing here?"
Ren at least had the decency to sound angry. "I don't know."
"What?" Mitaka asked. "What's going on?"
Neither bothered to answer the poor man, but Hux and Ren stewing in their own brand of anger as the approaching vehicle got closer. The Corellian cargo ship landed a few moments later, the ramp dropping before the landing gear had fully dropped.
Han Solo marched right out onto the platform, making a straight line for Hux. He was fast for an old man, and had his fist raised and slamming into the crook between Hux's nose and eye before Hux could even think to dodge.
"General!" Mitaka shouted as Hux slammed into the ground head first.
"That's for nearly killing my wife!" Solo yelled. He kicked Hux in the ribs with the heel of his boot before stepping back. "And that's for kidnapping my son."
"Dad, stop it!" Ren said, grabbing Solo's arm and pulling him back. "What are you doing here?"
"It's good to see you too, Ben. How have you been, harboring the most evil man in the galaxy?" Solo asked.
"We talked about this over the comm!"
They kept arguing, but Hux couldn't focus on their conversation, too busy feeling his ribcage to see if anything was broken. He pushed away Mitaka, who had dropped by his side and began to fuss over the injuries with a panicked glance over his shoulder every so often at the two Solos yelling in the background. His nose had also started bleeding, but it didn't seem broken. If this wasn't the start of a marvelous trip, he didn't know what was.
"Man, I wish I had gotten that on film," a familiar, and too amused voice, said over Hux's head. "Don't you think that would have been a perfect scrapbook moment, Chewbacca?"
The Wookie roared in response and Hux covered his head with his hands. He wondered if Mitaka would think less of him if he locked himself into his room on the command shuttle and didn't come out for the rest of his life.
I love Han Solo. Love him. I love that Ben is a Solo boy. *rips shirt with ‘Kylo Ren’s canon name is Ben Solo’ on it* So you better believe Ben’s dad's coming along on this trip! (Leia would have come, too, but she's running a government. That keeps her a bit busy. Also Leia would have straight up killed Hux after the disaster in the last part. I believe that, and my subconscious knows to keep them separated.)
In other news, I’m sort of amused Poe is the only one Hux calls by name, and it’s not even “Dameron” - he just gets to be “Poe.” The power of hatred does wonders. He doesn’t care enough about Rey or Finn to learn their names, but Poe - that’s the guy he hit with a bottle. I didn’t even intend for that. It just happened. XD
Dopheld had known Han Solo and Poe Dameron for five minutes and he already hated both of them.
Mandetat, Unamo, and Thanisson shared his opinion the instant they saw the General’s bruised face and the dried blood under his nose when they’d stumbled back into the hotel suite. Dopheld had helped Hux clean up, but there wasn’t much to be done for the bruise aside from applying a slick of bacta. It painted the man’s face with a pink sheen over the purpling color, making him look sick and too warm. It was rather unbecoming on a man who had already suffered enough.
“Why are you here? No one told me you were coming,” Lord Ren (Ben? Dopheld wasn’t sure what was going on with that man’s name) said, crossing his arms. He pointed at Hux from over one elbow. “And you didn’t have to hit him.”
“You would have skipped town if you knew, and I absolutely did have to hit him,” Solo said. He threw his hands in the air to make his point, forcing his Wookie friend to take a step back lest he be hit. “I should have done worse! Do you know what he did to your mother?”
“I know what he didn’t do and that’s good enough right now,” Lord Ren said.
Solo scoffed and dropped his arms. He walked over, and held up a pointed finger. “I hate to break this to you, Ben, but if barely restraining himself enough to not kill your mother is ‘good enough’ than maybe you should rethink your company.
“Especially since it seems to have multiplied,” Solo continued, waving his hand at Dopheld and the others. “Your collection of bad guys is growing.”
“That is temporary and not the point right now,” Lord Ren said back. Dopheld gripped his fists, wishing he had more of a right to speak up right now, but the conversation was dominated by father and son. He glanced across the room, noting Lord Ren’s friends were also keeping quiet. Lord Ren gripped his fist in the air and shook his head with a cruel smirk. “And you act like mom was any different. She absolutely would have killed him if she won.”
“She should have,” Solo said. Dopheld almost took a step forward, but a hand clamped down on his shoulder. He turned to see Mandetat shake his head in warning and Dopheld let out a breath and stepped back. Solo sneered at Hux, “Would have been one less problem in the galaxy.”
“As fun as this conversation is,” the General said, speaking up before Lord Ren could answer. He sat up in his chair and glared at Solo. “Are you here to help take down Snoke, or just to yell at Ben? Because time is a factor, as I have no idea if the man has moved or not since I found out where he was.”
“Yes, I’m here to join the party,” Solo said, leaning against a counter. “I don’t trust you and someone’s got to keep an eye on Ben.”
“We are here, too,” Rey said, holding her hand up. “We can handle it.”
“But back up never hurts,” Solo said.
Dopheld felt insulted on behalf of everyone as they continued to talk about Hux and his crew as if they weren’t there, and were all horrific monsters from the shadows that had to be skirted about. Sure, they tended to do things a bit rougher in the First Order (and you did have to watch your back when it came to status and rank positions), but it wasn’t like they had any reason to do it now.
“Is anyone else coming?” Lord Ren asked.
“No,” Poe said, jumping into the conversation. “The General agreed that a more covert mission would work better, though there are Resistance troops on stand by if they’re needed.”
“Good to know,” Lord Ren said. He pulled his hair back and sat on the couch next to Finn. “Then not much changes. Tomorrow morning we go over the plan one more time, and then get going.”
“Sounds good,” Rey said. She hopped up and stretched. “In that case, I’m going to bed.”
At that, the unspoken dismissal occurred and everyone started heading back to their respective rooms in the hotel. Dopheld followed Mandetat and the others into his own room, glancing back in time to see Lord Ren stop by General Hux’s side.
“Don’t worry about the General,” Unamo said once the door was shut. “He can handle himself.”
“I know,” Dopheld responded. He crossed his arms and looked at the closed door. “But I don’t trust those people.”
“Which is why we’ll keep our eyes open,” Mandetat added. He smacked Dopheld on the back and nodded toward their shared bunk. “Let’s get some sleep.”
Dopheld nodded and changed into his pajamas, already planning how he’d keep an eye on their new companions.
“I can’t believe him,” Ben said, closing the door behind him and Armitage in their room. He dropped onto the bed and covered his eyes.
The mattress bounced as Armitage sat next to him, leaning back. Ben could smell the bacta on his face. “Can you blame him? I did try to kill his wife. I imagine you’d be even more of a brute if someone nearly killed me that way if how you handled Rodinon and the others is a sign.”
“I can absolutely blame him,” Ben said. He dropped his hands and turned on his side. Armitage kicked off his boots, reaching down to fidget when one got stuck. Ben touched his back, rubbing there. “Mom shot you, which is more than enough for getting even.”
“She did more than shoot me,” Armitage grunted. He stacked his boots and scooted back onto the bed to pull his socks off. “It was a brawl, but considering he only saw the one half of the aftermath, it’s not that odd a man with that short of a temper lost it.”
“I’m a little surprised you’re defending him,” Ben said.
“I’m not.” Armitage shoved his socks in the top of his boots and looked over his shoulder. “I’m trying to get the topic ended so it doesn’t turn into a bigger thing later with you two fighting. I want this trip done and over with, regardless of how much I would love to see you deck your father.”
“That’s a good point,” Ben said. He threw an arm around Hux’s hip and tugged him closer. “Keeping the peace is probably important this next week.”
Armitage was quiet as he tugged off his shirt and folded it to place aside. Ben should get changed himself, but he was too comfortable where he was. He didn’t want to move.
“Are we really just going to show up at his door and hope for the best?” Armitage asked, voice quiet. He didn’t move to hug Ben back, but he let himself be dragged closer. “I know I had agreed, but the more I think on it, the more I feel we may be acting rash. I want this over with, but not at the cost of failure.”
“Whatever we do, we need more specifics before we can attack,” Ben said. He set his head in Armitage’s lap and squeezed when the man petted his hair. “We’ll get to Snoke’s hideout, see what the situation is, and if it looks like a surprise attack is best, we’ll go in. If not, we’ll hold back for a bit and hope he doesn’t move.”
“This seems very poorly thought out.”
Ben chuckled. “Our big, long-term and detailed plans all failed, so why not use a short and to the point one?”
“I understand the logic, it’s why I agreed at first but,” Armitage paused. He sounded so unsure. “Are we enough to fight six Knights of Ren?”
“We will be if we can catch them off guard,” Ben said, thinking of the group. They were formidable to be sure, but they were non-Force sensitive, and they did have weaknesses. “It will be okay.”
“Snoke has to know that I know where he is, especially after Datoo failed,” Armitage said. He dug his fingers into Ben’s hair and tightened his grip. “Maybe this is a mistake, and I was the one being too rash by just telling you where he is. I should have realized you and the others would be so gung-ho about dropping in on him.”
“I’m glad you told me,” Ben said. He turned on his back, looking up at Armitage. He wasn’t used to Armitage questioning himself this way. If there was anything Armitage had always had in spades, it was confidence in his plans and goals. Losing the First Order might have taken something else from him, too. Ben reached up and touched Armitage’s face, fingers glancing against the edge of the bacta. “But if you’re having second thoughts, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to go over it all again. You like having everything planned out and to be prepared, and it wouldn’t hurt us to be sure of what we were doing.”
“Yes,” Armitage said. He held Ben’s hand on his face and looked elsewhere. “I’d like that.”
“Then let’s get some sleep, so we can let everyone know we’re regrouping in the morning,” Ben said.
Armitage nodded and kissed Ben’s hand before he let it go. He scooted back, letting Ben’s head hit the mattress before he tucked himself under the covers. Ben sat up on his elbow for a second before joining him. They slept back to back, and Ben had a bad feeling growing in his gut.
One day, Hux would figure out why he was always the bad guy.
“I thought we had a plan?” Solo asked, leaning over the counter. “That was what you guys said! We had a plan, and we were moving out, and I’d, well Poe would, get the details on the way. But now we’re redoing it because Red over there is having second thoughts?”
“General Hux is a gifted strategist and a genius,” Unamo said, angry enough on Hux’s behalf to speak out of turn. “If he’s having doubts, we should listen.”
“It was his plan!” Solo yelled. “Shouldn’t it have been finalized when you guys said it was ready?”
“Han’s got a point,” Rey said, crossing her arms. She looked at Hux and his team and frowned. “Hux was pretty confident about it when we first made the plans, and he was all for it yesterday.”
Solo pointed to Rey. “What she said.”
“I don’t know if you noticed or not, but it’s been a rather stressful couple of weeks, with our entire lives being uprooted,” Mandetat said, standing next to Unamo. “It’s not that unheard of that now he’s had time to clear his head, that he might want to rethink decisions he made in a fragile state of mind.”
“Fragile state of mind?” Solo asked. “He doesn’t get that sort of an excuse.”
The Wookie growled in (what Hux assumed) was agreement, and Poe stood next to Solo in a sign of solidarity. The three of them were voting to continue the plan as it had been. Rey appeared to also be in agreement, which left the ex-trooper and Ren to decide (because Hux’s men would do whatever he said, reliably enough).
“I agree with Hux,” Ren said, standing straight. “We should take a day or two to go over our plan top to bottom, just to make sure we didn’t miss anything. This is our last shot, and it can’t afford to fail.”
“It is not our last shot,” Rey said. “As long as Snoke is still around, we have to keep fighting.”
“Okay, it’s our best shot and we should go in with a good plan,” Ren said. He turned to the trooper, “Finn, what do you think?”
“I think either is good,” the trooper said. He shifted his jacket and leaned his head back. “Jumping in like we planned would be unexpected and a great surprise if we can get there fast enough, but it might also be good to cover our bases while we have the chance.”
“Good point, so I guess that means we’ll compromise,” Ren said. He held up his hand and counted off fingers as he made each point. “Hux, myself, and a couple others will find a discrete shuttle and go to Snoke’s location, using the Ysalamiri to cover us. If it looks like we have an opening, we’ll take it and call the rest of you for back up. If not, we’ll retreat and we’ll revise the plan. Okay?”
“Who’s going with you, and who’s staying?” Solo asked.
“I want Rey to be in the second team, so we don’t have all our Force users in one basket,” Ren said. He looked around the room and huffed. “As for the rest? We can figure it out later after we find a shuttle and see how much space there is.”
“Sounds good to me,” the trooper said.
“Same,” Poe said, and the Wookie nodded behind him.
“Hux?” Ren asked, turning.
“I’m fine with that,” Hux said. He was still unsure of it all, and a thought nagged at the back of his head that this would all be a disaster. He didn’t know why anyone was trusting Hux with decisions after his record with them this past year. But he had. Hux had to be confident. He nodded, the muscles in his neck tense. “I’m wary of changing our plans on the spot like this, but it is a better idea than the entire group of us storming the front door.”
“Alright then,” Ren said. He glanced at Hux’s men and asked. “Any complaints?”
Mitaka shook his head no, speaking for the group and Ren turned away. Hux glanced at his men, noting they were all tense, and likely figuring out who would be the best to accompany the first team. Regretfully, as Officers, they didn’t have much in the way of combat training, which meant their usefulness on this trip was limited. Hux felt their frustration.
“Do you want to come with me to find a shuttle?” Ren asked, eyes soft. He looked tired and drained, and Hux was the one to do that to him by changing their plans so short notice.
Hux shook his head. “No, take your pilot friend. He’ll have a better eye for it.”
“Are you sure?” Ren asked.
“I think I’m going to go over our information and look up the surrounding planets,” Hux said. He got up and patted Ren on the arm. “I’ll see you tonight.”
“Okay,” Ren said. He turned and walked to Poe, and Hux ignored the ache in his chest as he retreated to the back room with a datapad.
I had a fun thought about Hux’s confidence issues after reading some comments:
Hux: Every decision I’ve made the past year has been wrong, save for one.
Ben: *bashful* Yeah?
Hux: Starkiller base. Best decision of my life.
Ben: *jealous and muttering under breath* Glad I killed it.
Hux x Starkiller base, OTP. And that’s the end of my fun thought. On with the fic!
Note: Took some liberties with Mustafar & it’s fate after the series. It’s fair. I eliminated Jakku and made up a whole bunch of new stuff of how Ysalamiri work, so why not just keep the creative liberties train going?
The shuttle Ben and Poe had obtained was perfect for going undercover, being old and rickety, but with a good engine under the hood that it could really move if they needed it to. However, the interior had a lot to be desired, and there was only room for four on board.
Which meant Ben needed to choose two people to come with him and Armitage.
Poe had volunteered to pilot the Silver Wing, so he was out (and probably for the best considering how well he and Armitage got along these days), and Rey had volunteered to fly the Millennium Falcon with Chewbacca, assuming Ben’s father didn’t do it. Aside from that, Ben’s other options for two more team members were pretty open.
Ben stepped back into the hotel room and looked around the gathered group. Hux and his friends (if you could call them that) were on one side, while everyone else kept to the other corner of the room. The divide between the two groups was pretty blatant, even down to the clothing choices with the First Order folks dressed mostly in blacks and dark greys, but Ben hadn’t expected any less. He sucked in a breath and dropped right into the topic.
“We’ve got room for two on the shuttle,” Ben said, holding up two fingers. “Excluding Rey, Poe, and Chewbacca, did you guys decide who’d be coming with Hux and I?”
“I’m going with you, Ben,” his dad said, crossing his arms. He glared at Armitage openly, and Ben wanted to ban him from coming. Han looked at him with a challenging glance, and Ben decided the fight wasn’t worth it. Armitage didn’t want them to fight, and it was one trip. His father sealed the deal with a final, “And that’s not up for discussion.”
“Is that okay with you?” Ben asked Armitage, just in case the other man might have changed his mind about arguing.
“As long as he stays on his side of the shuttle, I’m fine,” Armitage said, taking this whole thing a bit too well.
“Then that means we have room for one more,” Ben said, moving on before he lingered on it. Han was coming, which meant the next person who came would be vital to keeping the peace. Ben would prefer Finn, but he had a feeling in the name of fairness it’d be one of the First Order folks. However, he wasn’t sure out of that group if any of them would be useful. “Any volunteers?”
“Who would you prefer, Sir?” Unamo asked, looking to Armitage in the arm chair.
Armitage looked over his men for a moment and pressed his lips together. Ben waited patiently, but hoped the man picked Mandetat. The Technician hated Ben, but he was also the most skilled when it came to repairs and grunt work. He’d probably have the most to contribute if they needed someone in a pinch.
“Mitaka,” Armitage said, before turning away. “Mitaka will accompany us.”
“I’d be happy to, Si-Hux,” Mitaka said.
“Then if that’s settled,” Ben said, wondering if the Force was having a good laugh at him. “Let’s get packed up and get out of here. Mustafar isn’t going anywhere, but Snoke might.”
“Hey, watch yourself up there,” Mandetat said, hitting Dopheld on the shoulder. He looked over at Ben (if he had to stop calling General Hux ‘sir’, he should probably drop the other man’s title as well…) and Solo. Mandetat leaned in, knocking his arm into Dopheld’s with a friendly nudge. “We’ll be right behind you.”
“I’ll be fine,” Dopheld said. He turned and gripped his fists, glaring at Solo. That man was not going to make anything easy. “I’m more worried about Hux.”
Mandetat licked his lips. He squeezed Dopheld’s shoulder and handed over a small comm. “Call if you need anything.”
“I will,” Dopheld answered.
He waved as Mandetat headed over to the Falcon. They’d drawn straws to split up the group between the other two ships, and he’d gotten the cargo ship. Mandetat wasn’t happy about it, but he said he could keep himself busy fixing things in the meantime while they waited to make their move (not that they told Solo this, of course).
“Are you ready?” Hux asked, coming up on Dopheld’s side. He looked worn, and there were bags under his eyes, but he seemed to be holding himself together. “We’re about to leave.”
“Yes,” Dopheld answered. He tapped over to Hux, slipping his comm into his pocket. He followed Hux into the old shuttle, trying hard not to look too downtrodden at the interior. The flaking metal on the side walls and the exposed panels didn’t look reliable. It was such a high contrast to the sleek, polished interior of the Destroyers, and even the command shuttle they’d been on. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”
“I am sorry though that I put you on the spot,” Hux said, inspecting one of the passenger chairs in the back. There was a small set of doors to the left that looked like the crew quarters. “But I think Mandetat would have taken a swing at Ren at some point, and well, I’m not sure I could have been able to stand Thanisson or Unamo for that long. They’re good soldiers, but they’re both a bit hard to take in large quantities.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Dopheld said. He opened the door and checked the room, finding it was indeed a bunk. There were two beds, and the second door revealed two more. Which meant Dopheld would be bunking with Solo. Wonderful. As if the trip couldn’t get any better. Grateful for the comm in his pocket so he could talk with someone else later, Dopheld nodded and closed the door. “I wanted to come.”
“Good,” Hux said. He patted Dopheld on the shoulder and sucked in a breath. “I’m glad.”
“Well this is going to be a fun trip,” Solo said, tapping up the ramp and interrupting the moment. He dropped a bag on the floor and looked around the area. “Ten feet of living space for four people. That’s going to do wonders for all of us getting along, isn’t it?”
“You wanted to come on this shuttle,” Lord Ren (Ben. Ben!) said, hanging out of the cockpit. “You’re going to co-pilot, right?”
“Assuming you don’t let me pilot,” he said, grinning back. Solo grabbed his bag and hauled it up to the front and shrugged. “But I’ll let you fly.”
“The other team ready to go?” Ben asked.
“Yup,” Solo said. He leaned on the doorway and put his hand on his hip, not so subtly revealing he was armed as he moved his jacket. “I can’t believe that Snoke guy holed up on Mustafar. Isn’t that where Vader used to hang out?”
“Yes,” Ben said. “It’s where he lost his fight to Obi-Wan, and where he later built his castle during the Empire’s control.”
“It’s the lava planet, right?” Dopheld asked. They’d learned about it at the Academy, considering it’s importance in both the Clone Wars and later during the Empire. A lot had happened there, and he knew most people avoided it because it used to be Darth Vader’s home. “Isn’t that sort of an obvious hiding place, though?”
“So obvious no one would look there,” Ben said. He shook his head and laughed. “It’s about the same as Obi-Wan Kenobi hiding from Darth Vader on his home planet of Tatooine, if you think about it.”
“Who’s even in control of Mustafar right now?” Hux asked, leaning back. “It wasn’t in the First Order’s catalogue, and I doubt the New Republic wanted it.”
“No one wanted it,” Ben said. “It went back to the locals when all major parties abandoned it.”
“How do you know that?” Dopheld asked.
“Because I’m Anakin Skywalker’s grandson and have extensively studied his life and everything that had to do with him in my Jedi training,” Ben snapped. He tugged on a pair of gloves and flicked his hair out of his face. “Any more questions?”
“No,” Dopheld said.
“Don’t snap at him, Ben,” Hux said, glaring. Dopheld took a step back as Hux stood in front of him; defending him. Hux’s shoulders were square and he said clearly, “It was a fair question.”
Dopheld shoved down the warm feeling in his chest of General Hux defending him (not the time or the place) and took a step back. A staring match ensued between Hux and Ben, and even Solo caught onto the tension when he stood up straight in the doorway. There was an unspoken agreement made, and the two faced away from each other.
“Did you get Millicent and the others?” Hux asked, changing the topic. “They’re hiding our presence from Snoke, yes?”
“Mandetat helped me load them earlier. They’re in the back with extra rations,” Dopheld said, speaking up. “They seemed fine.”
“More than fine,” Ben muttered. “I can tell they’re working, so we don’t have anything to worry about. Let’s just get going so we can kill Snoke and get rid of them. I’ll radio the others that we’re taking off.”
Hux took a step forward with his hand out and mouth open to say something, but stopped. He watched the other two disappear into the cockpit before he dropped his arm and snapped his mouth shut. Hux turned back and took a seat on the bench. He buckled himself in and picked up the datapad, brows narrowed together, and chest breathing heavier than usual.
Dopheld took a seat next to him, closing his eyes as the ship rumbled and took off.
“What’d you say?” Ren asked, staring at Hux like he’d stabbed the man in the gut.
“I’m going to bunk with Mitaka,” Hux said, standing near the first doorway to the first of the two quarters. Ren continued staring like Hux had said he had a second Starkiller base on hand (oh, how did he wish that were true). Mitaka clutched his bag next to Hux, biting his lip. Hux waved his hand at Solo. “You didn’t think I was going to subject him to sharing a room with your father did you? That man hates us.”
“He hates you,” Ren said. He walked closer and touched Hux’s arm. “Mitaka will be fine.”
“As will you,” Hux said. He pushed Ren’s arm off and huffed. “It’s a week, and I’m right next door. You’re being clingy, Ren. Just share the room with your father, because it’s not like he wants to share a room with either of us, either.”
Solo shrugged and patted his son on the shoulder. “He’s not wrong. I didn’t want to sleep in the same room as a First Order lackey any more than I’m sure he wanted to share with me.”
“But,” Ren said.
“It’s settled, Ben,” Hux said. He huffed and quickly kissed Ren on the cheek to maybe appease him. He wasn’t doing this to hurt the man, but Hux had to look at the bigger picture. He’d already dragged Mitaka and the others down with him, he shouldn’t make it worse for them than it had to be. Hux tugged on the end of Ren’s tunic. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Okay, fine,” Ren said, relaxing his shoulders. He pushed Hux’s hair behind his ear, and nodded. “I’m going to double check the autopilot.”
Hux turned and pushed lightly on Mitaka’s shoulder. “Come on, let’s turn in.”
Solo went back to the cockpit with his son, a worried look on his face and Hux shut himself and Mitaka into the closet-sized room. He put a hand over his chest and forced his heartbeat to calm down. His chest hurt enough as it is.
To distract himself, Hux looked at the other man quietly standing beside him and asked, “Do you want top or bottom?”
“Either is fine,” Mitaka answered. Hux couldn’t help but wonder if he meant that, or if he was just trying to do whatever Hux told him to do. Mitaka put his bag on the ground. “I don’t really have a preference, so I’ll take the one you don’t.”
He was definitely waiting for Hux to tell him what to do.
“I spoke over you again with the room situation, didn’t I?” Hux asked, sitting on the bottom bunk. He covered his face and sighed. “I didn’t even ask if you wanted to share, or if you cared about sleeping in the same room with Solo or not.”
Mitaka sat next to Hux and fidgeted with his hands. He stared at them for a while before taking a deep breath. “May I speak freely?”
“Of course,” Hux said.
“I’m really glad I’m bunking with you,” Mitaka said, smiling a bit. He nudged Hux with his elbow and shrugged. “I rather don’t like Ben’s father at all, but I am sorry the decision has seemed to cause a rift between you and Ben.”
“That rift was already there,” Hux said. He’d created it himself the second he’d jabbed that sedative into Ren’s neck and returned to the Finalizer. “If it wasn’t this, it would have been something else.”
“If you ever need to talk about it,” Mitaka said. He reached over and patted Hux on the shoulder. “You only need to ask.”
Hux wouldn’t; he’d been too much of a burden already. But he did appreciate that Mitaka felt comfortable enough around him to offer. He reached up and patted Mitaka’s hand back, squeezing it in gratitude. “Thank you, and likewise.”
Mitaka jumped, his comm beeping loudly in his chest pocket. He turned and tugged it out of his pocket, clicking it on. “Hello?”
“Just checking in,” Mandetat said. “Our shuttle took off a few hours ago to start following you. How are things?”
“They’re good. The Gen, I mean, Hux and I were about to turn in, but I have some time to talk I think,” Mitaka turned to look at Hux, and Hux nodded in return with a smile. “Yes, I’m sure a few minutes wouldn’t hurt.”
Hux patted Mitaka on the back, leaving him to his conversation as he grabbed his pack and hauled it up to the top bunk. Using his bag as a pillow, Hux collapsed onto the rickety thing and closed his eyes, concentrating on the hum of the ship and the soothing sound of Mitaka and Mandetat talking.
He tried not to be jealous of the comfort they took in each other after he’d been the one to shove Ren away.
Mandetat has a sixth sense for when Mitaka and Hux are having a moment. He’s good like that.
Also, man do I wish the Knights of Ren had names. Like so badly do I wish this. But they don’t. So I’m not calling them by anything. Ben’s just going to call them “His knights he didn’t bother to learn the names of.”
Mustafar loomed in the distance. They were still in space, but the thought of the lava planet alone had Ben feeling the heat. There was so much history here, and Ben was scared to face it on some level. Skywalker had redeemed himself, but this was where he became and lived as Darth Vader.
Even with the Ysalamir blocking the Force, enough of it lingered here to seep through and give Ben the chills. This was a Dark place, and for once he was thankful for the little lizards keeping the worst of it at bay.
No wonder Snoke had holed up here.
Ben stared out the window and leaned back in his seat. The plan was to set down in the capital city, Fralideja, and listen around for rumors of where the Knights or Snoke may be hiding. Mustafar was a fitting place for Snoke to hide, but even Ben didn’t think the man was holed up in Darth Vader’s old castle.
“This place gives me the creeps,” Han said, checking their coordinates on the screen. “You really think that Snoke guy is here?”
“It’s possible he’ll have moved, but the chances are just as great that he’s still there, confident he can fend us off,” Ben said. started their descent and stared out the window. “But I’m sure at the very least, he’s left us a trap after Hux found out where he was from Datoo.”
“Speaking,” Han said. He dropped his shoulders in his chair and looked like he had an itch to scratch. He sighed and rubbed his face. “I hate even asking because I want to kick drop him into one of those lava pits, but is there something going on between you and the evil guy back there? You two seemed tenser than usual last night.”
“Do you actually care, or are you using this as a reason to say we should break up?” Ben asked, watching the burning atmosphere around them as the shuttle fell. The heat knocked on the old paneling of the shuttle and he put his hand on the dash. “Because that’s an important distinction.”
“Can I compromise and say I’m worried about at least half of the equation?” His father said. “You’ve been off yourself, and I’m concerned about you running in to fight Jedi killers and a Force User when you’re distracted with lover boy. So if that means listening to you talk about your problems with him, I can at least attempt to pretend I don’t despise him.”
Ben pushed his hair back and glanced behind him to make sure the door between the cockpit and the back cabin was shut. The last thing he needed was Armitage hear Ben talking about him to his dad.
“I’m worried about Armitage, but you probably figured that much out,” Ben said. He gripped the front dash as it rattled, holding together, but just barely in the atmosphere. “Even when he felt guilty about locking me up, or what he was doing, he never tried to avoid me.
“The First Order falling has really gotten to him. Before, I think he always had it in the back of his mind that he had a home to go back to, but now it’s really gone,” Ben said. He sunk in his cushion, voice low. “He wanted to go down with his ship, Dad. He yelled at me to leave him there and die, and I’m not sure, but I think he wishes that had happened.”
“I won’t say the first thing that comes to mind,” Han said, dropping his hand on the armrest. “But I can see why that’s making you upset.”
“I don’t know what I should do about it,” Ben said.
“Give him time to adjust,” Han said. He rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. “He lost his entire home and everything he had, right?”
“Yes,” Ben said, sinking into his seat.
“I hate comparing those two again, but I do see a lot of traits that guy shares with your mother,” Han said. He reached over and put his arm on Ben’s arm, squeezing. “Leia lost everything too once, and it still hurts, but finding a new home did wonders for her.
“She met me, for starters,” Han said with one of his classic, smug grins that said he was half-joking, half-speaking truth. “And her brother, and then you came along, and well, she found a home with us and the Resistance. It didn’t happen over night, but it did happen.”
“What if the new home Armitage wants isn’t one with me?” Ben asked.
“Then that’s his loss,” Han said. He slapped Ben on the side of shoulder and sat up straight as their shuttle burst through the atmosphere, dropping into the cloudy land below. Lava flowed around them, bubbling and thick. Han looked over the landscape and whistled. “And if that is the case, you might want to recommend he settle down here. Can’t imagine a better place for that guy to suffer for putting you and your mother through hell in the name of his twisted version of affection.”
Sensing his father had reached the limits of his understanding toward Armitage, Ben pulled up the coordinates for the floating city in the distance. The gravity supports loomed ominously over the lava ocean, lighting his way.
“But seriously, Ben,” Han said. He pointed out the window and shook his head. “Your troubles with Hux can wait until after Snoke is taken down. You need your head in the game for this.”
“Yes,” Ben said. He flicked on the landing gear and approached the drop. He closed his eyes, focused on Snoke, and exhaled. He opened them again, staring down the lava fields and the approaching city. “I know.”
“An enclosed, floating city,” Mitaka mumbled, following Hux as they went into the market. “It’s rather impressive, isn’t it?”
“‘I’m more relieved that they’re somehow managing to cool it,” Hux said, holding his bag against his thigh to keep it from bouncing as he walked. Millicent napped behind the thick fabric, stuffed from her meal before they left the shuttle. “They must be powering the cooling systems with all the thermal energy around here.”
“That’s sort of amusing,” Mitaka said. “They’re powering the cool air with hot air.”
“Can we focus on the task at hand?” Solo said, pushing to the lead. “We need to do more listening, and less looking like lost tourists.”
Hux counted to ten in his head while Mitaka scowled. Ren had been absolutely confident he could mask his presence from Snoke, so he was about thirty meters away, using the Force to look for Snoke and the other Knights on the planet, which left the rest of them sticking close and hiding in Millicent’s invisible shield.
Needless to say, ten meters was suddenly a very small distance.
“There isn’t much to listen to out here when the streets are mostly clear,” Hux argued back. He waved his hand at the scarce marketplace. “If what I read is right, most of the inhabitants of this planet live underground, and as you can imagine, the people who stayed above ground are few and far between. We were going to be pegged as outsiders the second we landed.”
“So it’s smarter to play up the tourist role,” Mitaka said, smirking a bit. He lifted his datapad and took a picture of a statue to their left, logging it on his datapad. “Don’t you think so, Mr. Smuggler?”
“You know, my son’s only sleeping with one of you two, and I’m pretty sure he’s not going to care if the one he’s not sharing a bed with goes missing,” Solo shot back.
“And it’d be just as easy to lie about you falling in a lava bed because you were old and tripped,” Hux said. “So do stop with the threats while we’re on a mission.”
“Then start listening,” Solo said. He stopped and pointed at a decrepit looking sign hanging off a wall with chipped paint. “There’s a bar. Best bet for information is right there.”
“We’re not going to a bar,” Hux said.
“I agree,” Mitaka said. He shook his head and took another picture. “The information’s bound to be dubious and second hand at best.”
“No wonder the First Order lost,” Solo said. “You guys have no idea how to gather information. But that’s okay, just sit back and watch this old smuggler show you how it’s done.”
Solo headed for the bar and Hux cursed as he tapped behind him to follow. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, they all needed to stay inside Millicent’s barrier, which meant following him close, even if the senile old man wanted to spend his time in a filthy bar. Mitaka chased after him, looking just as nervous as they stepped inside the questionable establishment, tucked in the corner of one of the darker alleys of the city.
“Nothing good is going to come from here,” Mitaka whispered, his fingers twitching like he wanted to grab Hux’s sleeve after seeing a rather large alien walk by with large, bug eyes. “We should grab Solo and leave.”
Solo had already made himself comfortable at the bar, grinning and flirting with the Twi’lek serving booze.
“I have a feeling that will be more difficult than it seems,” Hux said. He groaned and walked into the bar, praying that if a bar fight started he had a good excuse for why he didn’t intervene when someone else shot Solo.
Snoke had been here.
Ben relaxed, dropping the mask that hid his presence in the Force. He couldn’t hold it up all the time, and if Snoke knew Ben had found his trap, well, that was just fine. Snoke’s dark Force clung to the lava mountains in the distance, like a glowing trail. He hadn’t been here in a few days, likely having started plans to leave when word got out the Resistance launched its final assault on the Finalizer.
He stood up from his place on the roof of the city, wiping the sweat off his brow from the heat of the lava. The air was thick with ash, and he adjusted the small mask over his mouth and nose and he turned back to the door on the rooftop.
Snoke wasn’t here now, but Ben had found two of his old Knights on the planet’s surface; a gift from Snoke waiting in his old lair.
Neither of them were pushovers, but they were also nothing Ben couldn’t handle. They were straight forward, heavy hitters. One relied on his brute strength and hand to hand combat, while the other was adept with a pole staff. Ben’s lightsaber would make quick work of them, unless they’d gotten some new trick up their sleeves, though Ben doubted it.
They seemed like more of a distraction than anything else; expendable.
“I’ll have to interrogate one of them,” Ben said, stepping back inside the city. He stepped down the catwalk, looking below at the town. “Assuming Snoke even told them where he was going.”
Being able to project your thoughts and tell people where to meet up made it easy to hide your escape.
Checking the time, Ben noted he had about ten more minutes before he had to meet up with Armitage and the others at their designated meeting spot. There was a restaurant in the middle of town where they could get something to eat, that was busy enough to hide a conversation or two.
He dropped down to the ground level of the city, just in time to watch a chair fly through the glass window of a bar.
When Dopheld was in the Academy, he’d watched his roommate stab an upperclassman with a pocket knife because the man had scored higher on a test in his favorite field.
It had happened in the dead of night, in the middle of their shared room. The poor fool had been invited over under the guise of a quick lay, and then been stabbed in the back. His roommate had asked Dopheld to help him hide the body in exchange for the answers on the upcoming exam. Dopheld had said yes, of course, and was happy to report he’d passed that exam with flying colors. Better yet, because he wasn’t an idiot, he managed to dodge when his roommate tried to stab him for getting the higher score with the same old trick. They still hadn’t found his body, the poor sod.
Compared to the absolute disaster he was witnessing now, every awful thing he’d done and seen in the Academy now seemed downright civil.
He ducked as a glass flew over his head, smashing into the wall behind him. Dopheld stayed pressed into the side of the bar, taking cover. He’d lost track of Solo sometime back when the first punch was thrown, but he had found Hux barricaded behind a side-turned table, cursing under his breath as he kicked someone in the face with his boot.
“This is such a mess,” Dopheld said to himself, ducking back to avoid a body as they were thrown. He scooted, slowly making his way back toward Hux. “A bad idea. This was a bad idea and we are never listening to Solo again.”
Dopheld stopped at the edge of the bar, judging the distance between himself and Hux. It was a good ten feet, but with all of the people screaming back and forth, it seemed like a much greater distance.
“Just go for it,” Dopheld said. He jumped out, leaping over a fallen man’s back, and skidding to a stop behind the table with General Hux. He scrambled up, breathing heavily and grabbing his arm. “Are you alright?”
“Do I look alright, Mitaka?” Hux snarled, grabbing a bottle and smacking it across a human male’s face. The man howled in pain, stumbling back. “Did you see where Solo went? I hope he’s dead. I really want him to be dead for this.”
“I have no idea,” Dopheld said, groaning. Someone knocked into the overturned table, and both Hux and Dopheld pressed their shoulders into it to keep it from pushing them into the wall. “But I really hope he’s dead, too.”
Blaster fire sounded on the other side of the room, and both Dopheld and Hux winced. This fight had gone from sour to worse.
“Well, someone certainly died,” Hux muttered to himself as he heard a voice cry out. “Let’s hope it was Solo.”
“Agreed,” Dopheld said.
The chaos continued in the bar until a loud hum sounded and the entire room froze. Hux and Dopheld dared to look around the table, and got a good idea of what got everyone’s attention.
Ben Solo stood in the doorway of the bar, his lightsaber out and tunic waving slightly in the breeze from the fan over the door. The amount of authority he carried, even now that he’d shed his Kylo Ren title, left no room for disobedience or false moves. Dopheld swallowed as he gripped the side of the table, blinking away memories of a red lightsaber cutting through people like they were paper. The people of the bar had never seen it, but someone they knew by instinct that this man was dangerous.
With the same air and ferocity as Lord Ren commanded, Ben took two steps inside the bar, spinning the weapon and glaring at everyone in turn. “What is going on in here?”
“Ben!” Solo shouted, standing up from a corner. His jacket had been ripped on the side, and he stumbled forward with a black eye. “Just in time. We were just about to go meet you.”
“Where’s Hux and Mitaka?” Ben asked. The rest of the people in the room took a few steps away from Dopheld and Hux as they stood. Ben blew his hair out of his face and waved them over. He looked over the rest of the room, spinning his lightsaber again. “We’re leaving. Does anyone have a problem with that?”
Quite a few heads shook back and forth, too terrified to even dare to disagree with the Jedi. Ben swung his saber again, cutting a table in half with a quick jerk, just to drive the point home. “Good.”
Dopheld and Hux tapped over to Ben, stepping around the singed wood, and Solo followed with a confident walk like he hadn’t instigated a bar fight by insulting the most foul tempered man in the bar. Dopheld hated him. He hated that smuggler so much it probably rivaled Hux’s distaste for the man.
“Do I even want to know?” Ben asked as soon as they got outside.
“I’m upset your father lived,” Hux said, walking past Ben and heading straight for the meeting point. “That’s all you need to know.”
“Your father is a menace,” Dopheld tacked on.
Ben turned to pick a fight with his father, and Dopheld was more than happy to pick up his face and catch up with Hux. Dinner sounded like a good plan.
Hope you enjoyed that last chapter. I had fun with it. I’m also counting Han’s conversation as the title drop.
Thanks for reading!
Hux cut into his food, slipping a few pieces into his bag for Millicent every so often. She didn’t like it as much as her syrups and honey, but the little Ysalamir ate greedily like always. Hux glared at Solo nursing his black eye with a piece of ice for good measure, before turning to Ren. “So there’s two Knights here?”
“Yes,” Ren said. He drummed his fingers on the table, pressing his lips together. “I think it’s a bait, but nothing I can’t handle.”
“You’re not going alone, are you?” Solo asked.
“Yes,” Ren said. He grabbed a roll from the middle of the table, ripping it in half. He handed part of it to Hux and ate the other half. “I’d appreciate if you guys were watching from blaster distance, but for the most part I don’t foresee having any trouble.”
“You don’t think they’ve been training or anything since you’ve been gone?” Solo asked. He threw an arm over the back of his chair, slumping down into a slouch. “I mean, they have to have known they were going to fight you eventually if this is a trap.”
“The ones I’m worried about are still with Snoke,” Ren said. “Let me put it that way.”
“What are you going to do with them?” Mitaka asked, scraping the bottom of his plate with his fork. “Do you think they have any information we can use?”
“Doubtful, but I’ll see what they do know,” Ren said. He waved his fingers in the air and leaned back in the chair. “We might get some clues to piece together where he actually went, and get a real drop in on him.”
“You’d think people trained by the Supreme Leader would know how to fight a Force Interrogation,” Mitaka said, almost absently as he munched on a salad. He chuckled a bit and shrugged. “It’ll be like the old days on the Finalizer with a lot of screaming, won’t it?”
Hux remembered those days.
Lord Ren was something else in those interrogation rooms. It was the first time Hux really felt something for Lord Ren more than resentment or anger toward the man. At the time, it was mostly a stirring of the loins, so to speak, but it had been the start of Hux’s affections all the same. At the time, the power Lord Ren had while he made people bend to his will with deep words and the Force; it brought them to their knees and made Hux want to drop to his in an entirely different way.
And then Lord Ren dissolved away into Ben Solo, who admitted guilt and self-hatred over it all.
Hux pushed away his unfinished plate, staring at the table. The thought of interrogation settled like a rock in his stomach, and it was not a feeling he appreciated. He tugged his pack closer, and pet Millicent through the fabric.
“Hopefully it won’t come to that,” Ren said, only confirming what Hux knew. Ren didn’t want to interrogate those men. He folded his arms on the table and rolled his shoulders out. “I doubt they fight it. I’m already half convinced they know they’re expendable.”
“Then is there a point to even going after them?” Hux asked, squeezing his bag. “If that’s true, then they won’t know anything at all, right? It’d just be a waste of time.”
“But two less Knights of Ren to deal with later,” Mitaka added, attempting to be helpful but doing the opposite since the poor fool couldn’t read Hux’s mind. He wanted to spare Ren from doing something he didn’t want to, not encourage it. Mitaka reached for a bread roll. “So we should probably take care of that while we know where they are, shouldn’t we?”
“I agree,” Solo said. He picked a piece of fry off Hux’s unfinished plate and ate it. “If you don’t get them now, they’ll just regroup later and be a bigger problem.”
“It’s true,” Ren said. He patted his hand on the table and got up. “Might as well get this out of the way.”
“Yes, of course,” Hux said, clutching Millicent closer. He tugged on the edge of Ren’s tunic, forcing a smile. “We’ll drop Millicent off in the shuttle and follow you.”
“Don’t worry, it won’t take long,” Ren said. He kissed Hux on the cheek and pushed in his chair. “I’ll meet you at the edge of the city. I want some time to reconfirm where they are.”
Hux touched his cheek where Ren had kissed him.
Dopheld watched the fight through the scope on their blaster. Solo had chosen to watch with just his eyes, and surprisingly, Hux wasn’t watching at all. He had his hand-held blaster at the ready and listened to the battle below, but remained focused on the scenery. Dopheld had never found lava all that interesting, but Hux was so fixated he must have found something lovely about it.
Leaving the General be, Dopheld went back to watching Lord Ren, which is the only way he could describe the man engaged in combat with two Knights of Ren. Their weapons were capable of blocking hits from the lightsaber, but their attacks were still like child’s play to Lord Ren’s swordsmanship.
The Knights of Ren had visited the Finalizer perhaps twice in the five years that Lord Ren was onboard the ship. Dopheld remembered the chill they brought with them when they stalked the hallways. Lord Ren already struck fear in everyone’s hearts, and seeing him multiplied with new and scarier masks had multiplied it tenfold.
Though now, they looked rather pathetic with their master’s blade turned on them.
Lord Ren tripped the one with the pole staff on his back with the back of his heel. He swung the lightsaber right after, slicing through his robe. The man rolled back, leaping across a small sliver of lava as it flowed between the rocks. Their stage was more dangerous than any of the combatants, with the spouts of fire and everything else in the way.
It was easy to see why Darth Vader would call this horrid, deadly landscape his home.
“There had to be a better place for this fight,” Solo mumbled, loosening his collar to cool himself off. “Like inside the city and not in the middle of a rock field next to a lava bed.”
“I’m sure there’s some advantage,” Dopheld said, looking through the scope again. Lord Ren kicked the one without a weapon hard in the chest, forcing him to stumble back. He hit the lava and roared in pain as he rolled out, his robes on fire. “Or not.”
“At least it looks close to over,” Hux said. He had turned his head just enough to see the people fighting down below. “That one is on fire and ah, there it is: Ren’s disarmed the other one.”
“Ben,” Solo said. “You keep slipping, Hux.”
“I know what I said,” Hux replied.
Dopheld lowered his blaster to look at Hux. The man seemed lost in his own mind, shoulders dropped and arms crossed. The fight below dropped away as he stared at his General. He normally would have loved this fight. Watching Lord Ren in battle always got him so excited. But now, he almost looked sick.
“Hux?” Dopheld asked.
“It’s over,” Hux said, standing. He brushed past Dopheld, ignoring his call. “Let’s go meet him.”
Dopheld jerked his head back down to the fight, and wondered how long he’d been staring at Hux. Ben had already knocked out both of the two men, hauling the one weapon between the two of them onto his back. Hux started down the path toward Ben, and Dopheld moved to follow with Solo close behind.
He made a note to talk with Hux later, and figure out what had him so distracted.
Ben tugged the restraints tight on both knights as he tied them down to the chairs in the hotel room they’d rented. It had taken a few mind tricks to keep people from realizing they had more people in the room than they booked, but they had secured the room.
Stripped of their masks and weapons, Ben stared them down. Armitage had his arms crossed, leaning on the back wall of the bedroom. Mitaka and his father were watching the door from the small living room just outside. Secure, the Knights glared at Ben, unable to escape. He turned back to Armitage, watching with a steady gaze. With just the two of them doing the interrogation, Ben almost had a flashback to the old days, though Armitage was missing his lust-filled gaze.
Ben felt a sliver of shame that he missed it locked on his back.
“Did Snoke give you a message for me?” Ben asked. The two men glared at him, one through his new set of burns. “I can’t think of another reason why he’d leave you two here to die.”
Neither man spoke.
“You know we can do this the hard way,” Ben said. He held his hand up, holding the fingers near the heavy fighter’s face. “Though it’s the easy way for me.”
“Once a Knight of Ren, always a Knight of Ren,” the pole fighter said. He smiled, stretching the corners of his mouth. “That’s your message. Enjoy your little Jedi vacation while you can, because you’ll be back to work as the Master soon enough.”
“You’re already one step in the door,” the heavy-hitter said, leaning forward to press his face against Ren’s fingers. “You were always the best at interrogation.”
“If this is a trick to get under my skin, I’m sure there other tacts that could be more effective,” Ben said, narrowing his eyes. “Now why don’t we see what Snoke really told you.”
The fighter’s mind opened with no attempt to block Ben, an open book. He found darkness, and more truth to their words than he wanted. The depths of the man’s mind kept going, emptying into a space much father away and leading to a mind that was much more powerful, and much farther away. It was like falling into a pool of water and drowning.
“Ben?” Armitage asked. Ben jerked, pulling out of the man’s head with a heavy breath. Armitage took his arm and squeezed. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” Ben said. He looked at the two men, both straight faced but smug in their restraints. He patted Armitage’s arm and breathed heavily through his nose to steady himself. He concentrated on Armitage’s heartbeat and his hand on his arm. Ben shook his hair out. “They don’t know anything.”
“So it was a waste,” Armitage said, glancing at the other two.
“Yes,” Ben said, holding in the shuttering breath waiting to drop. He could still feel the chill of Snoke’s message he had left behind. “That’s exactly what it was.”
The Knight did not lie. As far as Snoke was concerned, Kylo Ren’s moment of betrayal was a phase, and his disobedience would “be forgiven.” He had made it quite clear that Ben coming back home to Snoke was inevitable.
Ben wished he was angry. He wanted to be furious that Snoke would assume such a thing about him. That he would still dare to think he had that sort of control over Ben. That he would dare think any second of Kylo Ren had been sincere.
But there was something about that message; something that snaked into Ben’s chest in a way he hadn’t expected. Something convincing. Had Ben underestimated Snoke all this time?
“Ben,” Armitage said. He touched Ben’s face drawing it down by the cheek. “Do we need them?”
“No,” Ben said. “They don’t have anything.”
“Good,” Armitage said. He tugged his blaster out of his holster and shot both of them in the head.
The Knight’s heads jerked back from the quick blasts, both dead before they cloud utter a cry. The smoking burns from their heads, danced in the air above them.
Armitage dropped his blaster back into the holster, and touched the side of Ben’s hand. He whispered, “I don’t know what they did to you, but I feel like killing them wasn’t enough to make up for it.”
He left the room without another word, refusing to look back at Ben. The door shut, leaving Ben alone with two dead Knights.
Fun times are here. Also, if anyone doubted that Hux would kill for Ben, now you don’t need to. Sadly, he’s also still in self-doubt land, which is hard to keep a handle on, writing wise. *pats him* He’s a bit of a mess.
Thank you for reading!
Dopheld clicked on the comm, standing alone in the hallway of the hotel. He shifted in his tunic, hating how the fabric hung so loosely. He missed his uniform and the comfort it brought, but at least he always had access to something familiar. “Mandetat?”
“Mitaka?” The Technician’s voice responded. There was a hiss of static, but his voice was clear enough. “Something up?”
“I just wanted to fill you in on what was going on. Solo said he was going to tell the other ship tonight so they could get headed to the new meeting location, but I wasn’t sure if his friends would tell you everything,” Dopheld said. The light flickered above his head, and he frowned. The entire building groaned with the lava beds outside, the gravity supports burning brightly. “If that’s okay.”
“Sure,” Mandetat said. There was a rattle, and Mitaka was sure he could hear tools. “Give me a second to head to the back the sleeping quarters.”
“Do you want the others in on this?” Mandetat asked, a few moments later. “I can get them.”
“It’s fine if it’s just you for now,” Dopheld said, not wanting to disturb the others. Besides, it’d been a while since he’d gotten to talk with Mandetat alone, and he had missed their chats. “You can tell them later.”
“What’s the situation?”
“We did not find Snoke on Mustafar, but we did locate two of the Knights of Ren,” Dopheld said, falling into report mode. “They were captured and interrogated, however they knew nothing of worth. General Hux executed them for ‘wasting Ben’s time’ as he put it. We don’t have any other leads at the moment, though Ben seems to think the Force is hinting toward Endor, and that perhaps Snoke is picking locations important to Darth Vader as a way to hurt Ben. The plan is to meet with your Team on Endor in a week.”
“Sounds like there’s something else,” Mandetat said, in that knowing way. “Your report slipped a bit around the part where General Hux executed them.”
Dopheld smiled a bit. “Guess my voice did shake there.”
“Ben has been very distressed since the interrogation, as has Hux,” Dopheld said, breathing out. “Something was said during that meeting with the Knights that they’re not sharing with us.”
“Is there anything you can do about it right now?” Mandetat asked.
“No, but I’m still worried,” Dopheld said. He squeezed his comm, licking his lips. “Hux hasn’t been himself, and I’m worried he might do something rash before this is all over.”
“Then it’s a good thing you’re there to watch out for him,” Mandetat said. “Can’t imagine anyone more reliable.”
“Let’s hope I can keep that up,” Dopheld said. “How are things going on your end?”
“Mostly quiet,” Mandetat said. “I fixed half of this rust bucket though, so I can at least say the ship efficiency has improved, and what I didn’t fix, that Jedi girl did. She’s quite handy with mechanics, and almost as bored as I am.”
“Part of me wishes you’d broken something considering how awful the ship’s owner is,” Dopheld said. He pushed off the wall, pacing back and forth in the tiny space. “He got us in a bar fight. A bar fight! With drunken glasses thrown everywhere and brawling. It was a disaster. I hid behind an overturned table!”
“If it makes you feel better, Solo strikes me as the type who’ll be upset I fixed his ship,” Mandetat said. “If I trash it, he gets the satisfaction of putting it back together and knowing he was right not to trust us with it, but if I fix it all, well, someone else’s hands were all over his baby.”
Dopheld snickered into the comm. “Don’t leave a single screw loose.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Mandetat said. He laughed over the other end and hummed. “See you in a week.”
Dopheld found himself looking forward to it.
Ben and his father dumped the bodies in a lava bed out back. He’d secured their weapons back on the shuttle, and left them only their robes and those blasted masks they wore. Ben waited for the bodies to submerge completely before he left them (just in case). It was as good as cremation, and easier than trying to bury them somewhere.
“Are you doing okay?” Han asked, as they headed up the hill back toward the city. “You seem rattled.”
“Snoke’s taunting me,” Ben said. He kept his voice low, not so much from fear of being overheard, but because saying it out loud made it all the more real. The old man’s voice continued to echo in his mind, saying Ben would be welcomed back. The desperate tactic to have Ben return to his guise of Kylo Ren had been laughable at first, but Snoke had said it with such confidence that Ben felt it was owed a bit more seriousness. “He seems to think I’ll go back to being Kylo Ren just because he asks.”
“Seems like a weak gamble,” Han said. “Considering you’ll never do it. He must be desperate if that’s what he’s using to try and get you.”
“Too desperate,” Ben said. He slipped on a loose rock and threw his hand out to steady himself. Ben frowned at the heated rocks and kicked them into a small bubbling pool next to them. “It makes me wonder if it’s a distraction, and there’s something bigger going on.”
“So it’s a good thing that we’re here,” Han said. He patted Ben’s shoulder as he stepped over a small sliver of red that slipped between the rocks. He sweated heavily, and Ben was glad the city doors were close by. His father was getting a bit old to be doing this sort of thing. Han grinned over his shoulder, pretending the heat didn’t bother him. “That guy won’t know what hit him.”
“Assuming we can find him,” Ben said. He opened the door to the main part of the city and held it for his father. “The Force seems to hint Endor, but I’m not sure if it’s related, or if that’s just where I need to go.”
“I’ve never understood that whole premonition and future sight stuff myself,” Han said. He shook off his jacket from dust and ruffled his hair to clear the ashes. “But I guess we don’t have much else to rely on right now, either, even if it is Endor of all places.”
“It is where Anakin Skywalker was put to his final rest,” Ben said. “If Snoke chose Mustafar because of it’s connection to Darth Vader, it would make sense.”
“At least we know Snoke has no real sense of planning,” Han said.
Ben asked, “Why is that?”
“Because you save Mustafar for the finale, not the first stop,” Han said, elbowing Ben in the side. “You’re never going to top lava fields for a final epic battle.”
“Dad,” Ben said.
“What? It’s true!”
“Let’s just go to bed,” Ben said. “We’re leaving first thing in the morning.”
“Might as well turn in early,” Han said. “It’s my last night with a room to myself for the next week.”
The one benefit of Mustafar being fairly deserted is that the hotel had more than enough vacancies to secure three rooms. Ben was looking forward to some alone time with Hux after that disaster of an interrogation.
Hux nursed a glass of scotch, sitting on the edge of the bed.
Ren lounged behind him on top of the duvet, a hand on his back rubbing back and forth. He hadn’t said much since he’d come into the bedroom after disposing of the bodies, but Hux didn’t expect him to. It’d been a long day for all of them, and though he didn’t know the details of what had transpired with the Knights, he knew something had happened Ben wasn’t telling him. Hux put his empty glass down and stretched his legs out on the bed.
“You look like you have a lot on your mind,” Hux said, tucking into Ren’s side.
Strong arms wrapped around him without hesitation. Ren kissed the top of his head. “More than I’d like, but it’ll pass.”
That sounded like a dismissal of the topic if Hux had ever heard one. He supposed it made sense that Ren didn’t want to talk about it with Hux; he hadn’t exactly proven trustworthy. But the look in Ren’s eyes was familiar; it was that same frustration he’d had back on the Finalizer. Not quite the same as when he’d broken his knuckles on a wall, but from a week or so earlier when Hux had first started noticing something was bugging the Knight.
Ren was in need of a distraction, and Hux supposed he was still good for that at least.
Hux touched the side of Ren’s face, and he leaned his cheek into the offered hand. He reached up and put his hand over Hux’s, tugging the man closer by the waist.
“I missed this,” Ren said. He pressed their foreheads together, bumping their noses together. “How’d you put it before? Ruined for sleeping alone?”
“Did I say that?” Hux asked. He stole a kiss, digging his fingers into the back of Ren’s hair. “I don’t remember that.”
“You were high on painkillers at the time,” Ren said, slipping a hand up Hux’s back. His thumb rubbed up and down Hux’s spine, steady and with care. “It was the first time you actually came to spend the entire night since we returned to that ship.”
“I wanted to, you know,” Hux said. And he had. Every night he debated going to sleep in that cell with Ren. But he couldn’t. He was too terrified of how badly it would hurt if Ren turned him away and said he didn’t want Hux there. So he kept his distance, up until painkillers gave him the strength to throw caution to the wind and take what he wanted. Hux kissed Ren’s cheek. “I wanted to stay with you every night, but it felt too much like crossing a line. We weren’t exactly equals during all of that.”
“I’m still amused you don’t like abusing authority in personal situations, considering you threw your rank around to get what you want the rest of the time,” Ren said, believing Hux’s little white lie.
Hux snorted, and tugged on Ren’s hair. “That was using my authority, not abusing it. There’s a difference.”
“Sure,” Ren said, smiling lazily against Hux’s lips. His hand slipped down Hux’s back, fingers lingering just under the bones of his hip. “But that’s not an issue right now, is it?”
“No,” Hux said, tugging Ren forward by the shoulder so the man rolled onto of Hux. He was wonderfully heavy as always, and Hux kissed him hard. He caught his breath, just long enough to drag his thumb along Ren’s cheek. “Unless you want to stop?”
“What do you think?” Ren asked.
He pushed up Hux’s sleep shirt and kissed the middle of his chest. Hux raised his arms, allowing the man to take off his shirt. He tossed it to the floor, dipping back down to lick at Hux’s lips again until he opened his mouth. Their tongues met, and Ren’s hands were hot on Hux’s back. A moment later, Ren tore his own off shirt off quickly enough that Hux barely noticed he had backed away before they were pressed together again, with Ren’s mouth hot on his own.
That answered that.
Hux raised his hips to meet Ren’s, more than happy to dig his hands into the man’s hair again and keep the kiss going. Ren was greedy, slipping off their pants without breaking contact. The hotel sheets were scratchy against his skin, but Hux found he didn’t care so much with Ren plastered against him.
“Missed this,” Ren said. He kissed Hux’s jaw, peppering his lips all the way down to his neck. “Missed you.”
Hux dropped his cheek against the top of Ren’s head, squeezing the man closer. Somewhere around when Ren reached down between their hips, it occurred to Hux that maybe he was the one who wanted the distraction.
Those boys really need to start talking. But at least they got a night alone. :D
Sorry the chapter’s so late. Things have been…stressful. Heh. The joys of being an adult, I suppose.
Ben woke naked, a warm body tucked against his side, and for a few seconds he almost forgot where he was. But the old sheets and the sweat on his forehead were quick reminders of the dingy, Fralideja hotel room.
Armitage slept soundly (Ben couldn’t remember a time where he’d been the first to wake up between the two of them), with his arm on Ben’s hip, and drool on his shoulder. Ben cupped the back of Armitage’s hair and kissed his forehead, before sitting up and resting him on the mattress. The sheets stuck to his hip and he shoved them away before reaching for his datapad.
He checked the time, and scratched the back of his head. He and Armitage had both overslept by about ten minutes, and no one had come to wake them up. He didn’t know if he should be happy they respected his alone time with Hux, or annoyed that they were behind schedule.
Ben leaned back and shook Armitage’s shoulder. “Wake up.”
The man grunted, but his eyes cracked open. Armitage sat up, hair ruffled and stared at his knees on the sheet, not quite yet awake. He leaned on Ben’s back. “I feel hungover.”
“Oversleeping will do that,” Ben said. He he held the datapad time around for Armitage to see. “It’s about an hour past when you’re normally up.”
“Huh,” Armitage said. He blinked a few times, slow and half-lidded. Ben was tempted to kiss him again, but there was just enough “I overslept and I hate myself” grumpiness on his face to keep Ben’s hands to himself. Armitage groaned into his knees. “I’m going to feel off all day, aren’t I?”
“Then it’s a good thing all you have to prepare for ahead is a shuttle ride,” Ben said. He tugged Armitage over into a one-armed hug, compromising with his earlier urge. “Which means nothing but relaxing ahead of time.”
Armitage shook his head and climbed out of bed. He gathered his clothes, disappearing into the refresher.
Ben got dressed and headed out into the hallway. He knocked on the door of the room next to theirs and opened it up when his father said “Come in!”
“You guys oversleep too?” Ben asked. He helped himself to the kitchenette and a cup of coffee to wake up. They’d gotten three rooms, but only his father had the main suite to himself. “I’m surprised you didn’t come wake me up.”
“Endor isn’t that far away,” Han said. “Even if we leave tomorrow, we’ll still get there around the same time as everyone else, and even if they beat us there it isn’t a huge deal.”
Ben sipped his coffee. “True.”
“You look well rested,” Han said, flicking the side of Ben’s cheek.
“And you don’t want to hear about it,” Ben said, smiling over the top of his coffee. “Last time I checked.”
Han cracked his spine and dropped his empty coffee mug in the sink. He tilted his head to the side, and Ben could watch the mental image appear in his mind with the expression on his face as it twisted. “I was referring to getting to sleep on an actual mattress. I did not need that image in my head.”
“The mattress was nice, too,” Ben said. “Better than those bunks on the shuttle.”
“Your buddies awake yet?” Han asked, not so subtly changing the topic.
“Hux is getting ready, but I haven’t checked on Mitaka yet,” Ben said. He checked the time and downed the rest of his coffee. “I’ll go get him. Make sure you’re packed so we can get out of here.”
“Sounds good to me,” Han said. He grinned over his shoulder, licking his lip. “Watching that boy of yours meet an Ewok is going to be worth the entire trip.”
Ben snickered under his breath.
Dopheld gathered his belongings into a bag. They were due to land on Endor’s moon in a couple of hours, and the current shuttle was going to be abandoned on planet (thank the maker). As such, it was important to get everything worth saving off the ship.
He hadn’t exactly gone shopping on Mustafar, but he had picked up a thing or two he thought Mandetat might like, such as some food items they could share.
Once he was sure everything was accounted for, Dopheld grabbed his bag and left the small quarters. He set his thing next to General Hux’s already pristinely packed bag and joined him on the bench seat. The man read a datapad he had picked up on Mustafar, which contained a few fictional novels. Dopheld supposed that was one way to pass the time.
“Have you been to Endor before?” he asked, when Hux set the pad down on his lap.
“No, but it’s supposedly got a lot of trees and small furry animals,” Hux said. He put the datapad in the side pocket of his bag and leaned back, crossing one leg over the other. “Haven recently been to Kashyyyk, I can’t imagine it’s too different. There will be pretty trees, and very annoying locals.”
“Sounds like a lovely vacation.”
“I’m sure it will be for someone,” Hux said. He looked to the door separating the back room from the cockpit and leaned on the back wall. “I hope they find something. I don’t want this chase to go on forever.”
“Do you think anything will come from it?” Dopheld asked.
Hux rubbed the bottom of his cheek, fingers grazing against a light dusting of five o’clock shadow. “I don’t know.”
Dopheld leaned closer, sinking low. “Do you know what you plan to do once everything is over and the Supreme Leader is dead?”
“No,” Hux said. He swallowed thickly, crossing his arms. “I have a feeling though, I won’t have much choice in the matter. My fate is in Ren’s hands.”
“I’m sure myself and the others would be glad to help you if you want to do something else,” Dopheld said. “It doesn’t have to be that way.”
“It rather does,” Hux said. He dropped his arms and turned his head to face Dopheld. “Have you and the others thought about what you’d like to do? You certainly don’t have to trail around after me forever.”
“I don’t know, that doesn’t sound too bad,” Dopheld said. “I think being a personal assistant to whatever future endeavor you find yourself indulging in might be sort of a nice step up from Lieutenant.”
“Major,” Hux corrected, smiling a bit. “And the others?”
“Unamo was born to be a secretary,” Dopheld said, picturing her at a phone board, warding off sales calls with her stern, non-nonsense voice. “And everyone needs a technician around, and you know Mandetat supports you.”
Dopheld scrunched his nose, attempting to put Thanisson into the picture. “Unamo’s assistant.”
Hux laughed, snickering into his hand. “So, no change?”
Dopheld shared a small smile with Hux, just in time for the door to open, and Han leaning his head into the back cabin to let them know they were ten minutes from landing.
“And I thought the Wookies were bad,” Hux said under his breath. Ren rolled his eyes, knocking his elbow into Hux’s side “by accident” as he tried to navigate around the small group of Ewoks that had mobbed their landing party. “This is ridiculous.”
“They’re just excited,” Ren said. “My dad hasn’t visited in a while.”
“Does anyone here know what they’re saying?” Hux asked.
Ren winced and shrugged. “No, not really. But we’ve been here enough to get the gist of hand gestures and what those mean.”
Hux held in any future insults as he, Mitaka, Ren and his father were herded through a tree village and up a rope ladder into the network of tree houses above them. The other ship had landed a few hours before they did, and he found Mandetat, Unamo and Thanisson waiting for them on one half of the room. The ex-trooper, Jedi girl, Wookie, and Poe were, naturally, sitting across from them on the other side.
It looked like the lines were still quite well drawn.
Hux joined his companions, while Ben got a hug from his Wookie uncle, and asked Poe how his ship was doing.
“Good to see you again, sir,” Unamo said. “Did you have a satisfactory trip?”
“Wasn’t as bad as it could have been,” Hux said. “Did you have any troubles?”
“Aside from dying of boredom?” Thanisson said. He was hit for his troubles, but from Mandetat this time instead of Unamo. “What? It’s true! We had nothing to do while waiting to hear back!”
“That’s not true,” Dopheld said, shrugging. “I heard that Mandetat kept himself quite busy fixing everything on the ship.”
“I did,” Mandetat said. He grinned at Dopheld, clicking his tongue. “Not a screw left loose.”
Hux lifted an eyebrow at the blatant flirting, half wondering when those two had decided that was a thing. He then decided he didn’t care, being rather guilty of it himself with Ren on more than one occasion. Unamo stared at them with a disapproving frown, but didn’t say anything. Se looked a second away from rolling her eyes, making Hux believe she’d been subjected to this flirting over the comms.
“I can’t wait to see that man’s face when he finds his ship in spit-spot shape,” Mandetat said. He crossed his feet at his ankle, shifting in his civilian clothing. “Because if I missed anything, that girl over there got it. Rey’s quite the mechanic, and between the two of us, we replaced half the parts on that beast with new ones.”
“Well anything that makes Han Solo miserable is quite welcome,” Hux said.
“Yeah, I thought you’d appreciate that.”
“What’s going to make my dad miserable?” Ren asked, stepping over. He threw an arm around Hux’s shoulder, leaning on him. “Couldn’t help but overhear.”
“I’m sure you’ll hear about it later, but if it gives you peace of mind, it’s harmless fun on their part,” Hux said. He turned into Ren’s side, his shoulder meeting the man’s solid chest. “Did you get all caught up?”
“Yes,” Ben said. He looked over at the group and squeezed Hux’s shoulder. “I just settled things with the rest, and it looks like we’ll be sleeping in the ships tonight. The Ewoks don’t really like how many uninvited guests my father and I brought, so it seems like the best compromise. There’s room on the Falcon and the Wing for everybody somewhere, so if you want to stay where you’ve been, that’s fine.”
“That sounds good,” Mitaka said.
“Great,” Ren said. “Then I suggest we all turn in for the night, and then tomorrow I’m going to meditate to find any sign of Snoke on the planet.”
Hux appreciated Ren was making an effort to let his men in on the plans. He leaned further into Ren’s side as appreciation, and got another half-hug for his efforts.
“Grab your stuff and stay close as we head out of the village,” Ren said. “Ewoks are more dangerous than they look, and I’d rather we not get on anyone’s bad side this week.”
Hux’s team all nodded in response and gathered their things. Ren kept his arm around Hux’s shoulder as they left the building and Ren waved at the Ewoks as they descended back down the ladder as a rag-tag group led by Ren and Hux, followed by his First Order officers, and then the rest of Ren’s party.
“There’s something here,” Ren said, as they walked through the foliage toward the ship landing places. “I don’t know what yet, but I can feel it just from being here.”
“Something here in a good way we can plan for, or something here in which we should prepare for trouble?” Hux asked.
“Both,” Ren said.
A ten minute walk later, and after making sure Poe left everything in tact on his ship, Ben was greeted by his father yelling from the Falcon parked next door when he stepped outside to make sure everyone was properly settled: “What the kriff did those nerf herders do to my ship!?”
“We fixed it,” Rey said, leaning into Ben’s side to mock-whisper. She rolled her eyes back. Mandetat snickered next to her and they shared a smile. Han stomped down the ramp of his ship, pointing and ranting at every single patched and repaired piece. Rey shrugged. “Don’t know what he’s so upset about.”
“You were right,” Ben said, grabbing Armitage’s head to tug him over and plant a kiss in his hair. He couldn’t stop touching the man, and he was sure it had everything to do with being forced apart for the past five months in one way or another. Ben ruffled Hux’s hair, laughing as he moved to fix it. “I definitely heard about it, and it was harmless fun.”
“Wish I had been right about more things,” Armitage said, flattening the last of his hair back down into his ordered hairstyle. “That would be nice.”
“Maybe this is a good sign for the future,” Ben said.
“Let’s wait and see what the Force tells you before we start getting ahead of ourselves,” Armitage said with a tight smile. He kissed Ben on the cheek before heading back up the ramp of the Silver Wing. “I’m turning in.”
Ben watched him go, listening to his father rant in the background.
And more Knights appear~ Gotta’ get through them before meeting the big boss. I also added the “Minor Character Death” tag because I remembered I killed off two Knights already and forgot to tag it. Oops.
Speaking of appearances, a certain someone finally gets a speaking role outside of his one flashback scene in Creating Distractions. Mwa ha ha ha.
Last but not least, on a fun note, it’s always fun to see how many of the other fics in this series gain hits/kudos after these updates. It’s my “Let’s see who went back to read the series from the start” meter.
Ben exhaled, leaning back against a thick trunk. It was just after dawn, and he’d left a dozing Armitage with a note, the confidence that Rey (who had already been up) could handle things, and left to meditate in the woods. The Force wanted him to come to Endor, so he should probably listen to it.
And what better place to do so than in nature itself?
He reached out, feeling a slight tug toward one end of the Force, and he sent his mind headed in that direction. His feet followed after, and Ben was not surprised when the Force led him to where an old funeral pyre used to be. There were no remains leftover from the pyre his uncle had built, the area long grown over once again with wildlife, but the Force was strong here in a way that left no mistake to it being the right place.
Settling down at a nearby tree, Ben crossed his legs and closed his eyes.
Ben felt out, reaching across the planet for any sign that any of the remaining four members of the Knights of Ren or Snoke had been on the forest moon. A slight trace touched the edge of his senses, and Ben focused there. A Knight had been—
“I see you’re as stubborn as always, apprentice.”
“I am no apprentice of yours,” Ben shot back, shoving down the shudder that threatened to break free when the wave of darkness washed over him along with Snoke’s raspy voice. “Though I am surprised to hear from you. I could have sworn you were hiding away.”
“I was not hiding, boy. I simply had nothing to say,” Snoke replied, his voice echoing in Ben’s head. It felt like slick oil running down his back; an oppressive Force he wanted to cut off, but Ben was not sure when he’d get another chance like this. Snoke hid his location, but he did not hide the amusement in his voice. “But now that you’ve ignored the message of my Knights, I suppose I have no choice but to repeat it in person.”
“I did not ignore the message, I denied it,” Ben said. “When we meet again, the only thing that will happen is your death.”
“Spoken truly like someone who appreciates the dark.”
Ben flinched, but kept his voice steady. He had already come to terms with the fact he was a rather lousy Jedi. “Whether that is true or not hardly matters when my answer remains the same.”
“Your self-denial is troubling,” Snoke continued. Ben could almost see him shift in his chair, robes swishing. “Such a lack of confidence is unbecoming from the Master of the Knights of Ren.”
“Kylo Ren was a lie,” Ben said, hissing. His hands shook and his breath rose as the darkness continued to hover around him. It felt as though Snoke was whispering into his ear, though Ben knew he was far way. Had he always been capable of this sort of projection? “It was nothing more than an act, that must have been quite convincing if it’s fooled you into thinking it was real.”
“The only fool is you, to have actually believed I didn’t know what your game was the second you came to me as an apprentice,” Snoke said. “Your arrogance clouded your own mind. Did you truly believe you could shield your thoughts from me? I read your mind like a book and you never even knew I was there.”
Ben opened his eyes, sucking in a breath. The world swayed, unfocused and a sea of dead leaves fallen from the trees blurring together. “That’s a lie.”
“The day I sent you to the Finalizer, you believed I was suspicious of your true nature,” Snoke crooned. “But in truth, I knew exactly what you were. I was amused by your little plan, and I was genuinely tempted to see just how far you would take the act. How many lives would you take before your Jedi conscious told you too much was too much blood spilt? How many minds would you rip apart under the First Order? What levels would you sink to just to find an opening to kill me?”
“Too far,” Ben whispered to himself.
“Indeed,” Snoke answered. “Your ability to shove down your guilt was, and still is, impressive. Enough so, that I do see the potential for how easily your so called act could become truth. You really are suited to being Kylo Ren, and you are more than welcome to come back.”
“I refuse,” Ben snarled. The leaves around him lifted, swirling in the breeze as Ben started to fight back against Snoke, shoving him away with the Force. “I will never be that man again.”
“You will, and you will come home to me,” Snoke said, confident. His voice slipped down Ben’s back like ice, still holding tightly to Ben’s mind with ease. “Or you will die, along with everyone else you care about. It’s that simple.”
“I will stop you,” Ben said.
“Perhaps first, you should stop your former disciples,” Snoke said, almost with a laugh. Ben’s blood chilled, his heart skipping a beat. “I’m sure by now they’ve killed at least one person in your party, but if you hurry, maybe the Force will be with you and they’ll all get to live long enough to see your return as Kylo Ren.”
Snoke’s presence vanished, leaving traces of warm sand and hot sun on the edge of Ben’s mind. As the veil of darkness slithered away from Ben, so did the mask Snoke had placed over the two Knights of Ren who were now dead center in the middle of the shuttles.
Ben had never run so fast.
“I am getting to old for this,” Solo said, shooting around the corner of Hux’s head. He had the lucky break of being next to the man when they had to duck for cover behind a tree. “That guy has a buzzsaw on a stick. A buzzsaw! Wasn’t Ben supposed to be looking for them? Not the other way around? I thought they weren’t Force sensitive!”
“Who knows how that magic works,” Hux said, leaning around the other corner and firing. His shoulder knocked into Solo’s and he counted to ten in his head. This tree was too small. “So shut up and keep firing.”
Across the field, Mitaka and the others were blocked from the shuttle ramps as well, having taken cover behind a large boulder. The Knights had placed themselves in between the shuttles and their passengers to prevent anyone from using onboard weapons. The rest of their shield came in the form of hired mercenaries who were more than happy to try and kill everyone. Luckily the soldier had his blaster on him and was able to fire back. Mitaka and Mandetat were armed, but their shots weren’t as accurate.
Unamo and Thanisson were huddled around a comm, attempting to get in touch with the Jedi girl and the Wookie who’d gone into town to trade with the Ewoks.
“What about that Jedi girl? Shouldn’t she sense something’s wrong?” Hux asked.
“For all we know, she’s fighting the other two somewhere,” Solo said. He fired over his shoulder again, hitting a mercenary in the leg. “There’s four left, right?”
“Regretfully,” Hux said.
Blaster fire smacked against the bark near his head and Hux ducked back, smacking into Solo. He stayed there, waiting for it to stop before returning fire. They’d taken out six of the fifteen mercenaries firing at them like sitting ducks, but thankfully between himself, Solo, and the soldier, they had enough skill to keep them near the shuttles.
About two more mercenaries dropped before the battle changed.
“Oh,” Hux said, lowering his blaster.
He saw the body separate into two halves, cleaved down the middle with a roaring blue saber before he saw the man who wielded it. Hair and eyes wild, Ren turned on his heel and threw his hand out throwing three of the other mercenaries into the mid-point of a tree with the Force. They fell and hit the ground with a crunch, bones broken from the twenty foot fall.
Hux leaned against the tree, eyes wide as he watched. He heard Solo cursing beside him, a muffled voice in the distance somewhere. Background noise. Hux had seen this before. This was nothing like how Ren had fought the bounty hunters attempting to steal the Ysalamiri. That had been almost fun, half trying and full of teasing. On Mustafar, Ren had been quiet concentration.
This was wild and fierce and Hux had seen it a thousand times when he’d made a nuisance of himself and tagged along on missions.
A saber stabbed straight through the ribs of one of the Jedi Killers. The man dropped his buzzsaw, falling to his knees as Ren swiped his saber to the side and twisting it up through the neck of the second man. Both Knights dropped at his feet, the fight over in less than a blink under Ren’s wrath. The man breathed heavily, hair falling in his face as he looked around for any bodies still moving.
This was Kylo Ren, and Hux felt frightened.
Dopheld clung to the side of the rock, leaning into Mandetat’s side. He could feel the man’s pounding heartbeat, and he was sure it matched his own. Dopheld reached up and touched his neck. He whispered, “I had forgotten what it was like to watch him in action.”
“I’d never seen it in person like this,” Mandetat said back, his voice something in awe. He sunk back until he was pressed against Mitaka’s side. “Is it always that intense?”
“It used to be,” Mitaka whispered.
“The fight is over,” Thanisson said, hissing over his shoulder. “Should we get up?”
“I’ll get up when the General does,” Mandetat said, lowering his weapon.
“Probably good advice,” Finn said, leaning up enough to look over the rocks. He clutched at his weapon, and his own breath was hard. The man kept his hand near the trigger, and his grip squeezed on the gun. Dopheld did not blame him for the caution. Finn shook his head, licking the side of his lip. “Ben doesn’t look right.”
Finn had a point. Dopheld looked closer, and Ben certainly looked rattled by something. The Jedi kicked aside part of a smoldering body and sneered. His saber still burned brightly at his side. His eyes searched the field and Dopheld held his breath when the man’s gaze met his. It moved on just as fast until it found the tree where Hux and Solo had hidden.
“Ben!” Solo said, coming out from behind the tree. He tapped over quickly, but stopped a good two or three feet from his son. He must have felt it, too. “Did you find anything out there?”
“Where are Rey and Chewie?” Ben asked, voice hoarse. “I don’t see them.”
“They’re in town,” Solo said. He shoved his blaster into his holster and ran a hand through his hair. “We think that’s why those two attacked now.”
“She should have been here when I wasn’t,” he said, growling. “What was she thinking?”
“That we can handle ourselves,” Solo said.
“But what if you couldn’t?” Ben yelled.
“I told her to go to town,” Solo said right back, voice rising. “Everything is fine. We were handling things okay before you showed up. You finished it faster, but we would have been fine, Ben.”
“You don’t know that!”
“What took you so long?” Hux asked. Ben turned his head to the side, his angry expression falling from his face. His shoulders relaxed, and Dopheld let out the breath he’d been holding when the lightsaber clicked off. Hux stared at the dead bodies. “They’ve been attacking for at least an hour now. Just how far away were you?”
Dopheld inched out from behind the rock, tapping closer. He wanted to hear this better, and had no intention of making anyone repeat themselves later. Mandetat followed along with Finn. Thanisson and Unamo looked at each other before tapping back to the main shuttle to check those out.
“Snoke was hiding their presence from me,” Ben said. He licked his lip and brushed his hand through his hair. “We had a small mental conversation while I was meditating, and when he stopped I could sense them. I came running as fast as I could, I swear.”
“You talked with Snoke?” Solo asked. “What’d he say?”
“Nothing new,” Ben said. He clicked his lightsaber on his belt. “But I know he’s on Tatooine, now. Get some sleep. We’re leaving tomorrow, and we are going to end this.”
“I’ll go get Rey,” Solo said. He stared at Ben hard before he turned away.
Dopheld got a good glimpse of the man’s worried face before he passed him and the others. He had a bad feeling about all of this.
Mandetat squeezed Dopheld’s hand before he nodded his head toward the Falcon, silently hinting it might be good for Dopheld to leave Hux and Ben alone tonight on their ship.
Dopheld was more than happy to do so. He did everything he could to shove down his worry as he walked past the wild looking Jedi and up the ramp into the safety of the ship.
Ben buried his face into Armitage’s neck, the two of them warm under the covers and sinking an inch deep into their overpriced, plush mattress. He drew Armitage closer, closing his eyes. It was so easy to stop thinking when he was here.
“I guess this part reminds me of the old days, too,” Armitage said, voice almost fond. He wrapped his arms around Ben and kissed his head through sweat soaked hair. Armitage whispered, “I haven’t seen you like that on the field in a while. I used to wonder what you looked like under the mask when you tore into people, and I guess now I know.”
It figured Armitage would want to talk about the earlier battle as pillow talk (and wasn’t that just like the old days, too?).
“Snoke got under my skin more than I want to admit,” Ben said after a painfully long moment. Snoke’s words still clung to the back of his mind, and Ben squeezed his eyes shut. How much did that man see? Was there a way to truly keep him out if Ben couldn’t tell he was there? Ben rubbed a circle on Armitage’s hip. “I always knew he was incredibly strong, but I had no idea he could hide things in the Force from me, or that he knew I was lying the entire time. He played me.”
“You’ll get him back, Ben.” Armitage rubbed the back of Ben’s neck. He squeezed Ben hard, voice hard and full of confidence that Ben wished he still had. Armitage whispered. “Just make sure you stay yourself while you do it.”
Ben leaned up and kissed Armitage firmly on the lips before pressing their foreheads together. “I will.”
“Good,” Armitage said, rubbing Ben’s cheek. He kissed Ben’s head again and settled against the pillow, tucking himself back into Ben’s arms. “Now get some sleep.”
“Alright,” Ben said. He tugged the covers up and closer, letting his eyes fall shut once again. Millicent hissed at them from her cage in the corner of the room, and for once, Ben was grateful she was there. He refused to let Snoke see this. “I love you, Armitage.”
The man squeezed him back, nuzzling closer. It was good enough of an answer, and Ben smiled, feeling much better after losing himself earlier this afternoon.
Everything would end in the next couple of days on Tatooine. So they might as well get their sleep while they could.
You may 100% blame Archistratego for this chapter.
Fun to write, totally, but also totes Archistratego’s fault for sparking the idea.
The world blurred.
Thinking back, if Ben had any solace to be found, it was that the end came quick and pain free.
The sniper shot hit straight through the middle of Armitage’s forehead, knocking his head back in a jerk. Armitage died not even two feet down the ramp of their home after their landing on Tatooine. His body crumpled, glassy eyes staring straight ahead while Ben could do nothing more than stare over his shoulder at the still body.
Ben remembered screaming.
He remembered blood.
He crushed the sniper rifle in half under his boot, it’s owner had been separated into four pieces scattered across the rock face where the man had been hiding. Ben’s breaths came heavy, hair in his face, the loose strands clinging to his lashes. He had blood on his face from where he’d smashed the Knight’s nose in with the hilt of his saber until the bones of his cheek crumbled and skin split. Ben cut the man in half as an afterthought with nowhere else to release the anger under his ribs, tugging at him like a vice.
His father remained quiet, slowly herding the others away, almost protective over Armitage’s friends as Ben proved to be unstable.
He chuckled under his breath; unstable. That was a word for it.
The world stayed a blur, a mix of grey and muted colors with Armitage gone. Ben had placed him in the guest room with a sheet over his face. He wouldn’t bury him here; not in the sand. Not on this planet of death.
But he couldn’t take care of Armitage just yet; Snoke was waiting.
Hiding behind his last Knight and a prayer to the Force, Snoke had little defense against getting exactly what he wanted. While Ben no longer carried the old name, the ruthless facade he’d taken when hiding among the First Order became truth as he killed the last Knight of Ren, and shoved his lightsaber blade through Snoke’s eye socket.
Ben was fairly certain he killed everyone else in the building as well, but his memories were fuzzy by that point. He hadn’t felt a thing when he killed Snoke. Ben had gone through with the motion, but everything around him from sight to touch to smell had dulled to nothing.
His father kept talking to him, kept screaming. Rey was talking to Luke somewhere. Chewbacca was quiet. Ben wasn’t sure what his mother thought of all this; he half didn’t want to. He had no idea where Mitaka and the others were. He didn’t care about that either.
Not much mattered right now; everything emptied out of him.
The lightsaber hummed at his side, still on. The soft blue light was a warm glow, and it soothed. Someone was telling him to go home, but Ben didn’t want to. Home had a dead body waiting for him.
So he went somewhere else.
There was so much blood.
It was unclear how it started, as the world continued its haze, but there were so many dead bodies. Ben stared at the corpses at his feet, bisected and trisected and quartered into pieces with burnt and smoking edges.
Yelling. Ben remembered. It had started with yelling. Someone calling Armitage a name, or saying he had it coming and the lightsaber had been through the man’s throat before he had finished his breath. The rest came as one would expect. Angry people acting in their defense.
They didn’t stand a chance.
Ben killed as easily as other men breathed. He’d always been good at it. Ever since he was little and knocking down the other students in Luke’s school. Taking down his opponents, and manipulating the Force to take life always came so easy. No wonder he scared his parents and Luke at times. No wonder Snoke had taken him in.
No wonder Ben had fit so well in the First Order; Armitage had even admired it (and he’d been horribly hard to please).
He sobbed; he missed Armitage so much and without him it was like he couldn’t stop. Everyone made him so angry he couldn’t see straight. Why didn’t they feel this way? Everyone else should; they should know this loss.
Ben kept killing. He killed and he killed and he became a nightmare in glowing blue. He’d screamed his voice hoarse and it had left him long ago. The world came in and out of focus, but the blood red of burns and sizzling meat never left. They were his comforts. Ben held to these.
It barely mattered who he killed any more. Luke and Rey tried to stop him at one point; Ben struck them down; he blocked the memories. He moved on. Ben’s father and mother stayed away, neither could bare to look at him. That was fine.
He didn’t want to see them either.
A lightsaber ignited. He raised it above his head. His parents cowered; it was such an odd expression to see on their faces. He had once believed nothing could make them twist that way. Ben kicked his father in the gut. They just couldn’t stay away any longer. They were in his way! Ben’s father was yelling and all he wanted was for it to be quiet. His hand shook. He had to do this. What was one more splash of blood?
His chest ached.
It always ached; constant pain plagued his every waking moment, only subsiding into the background when the dull numbness of killing took over. This was all he had.
All he’d ever had.
Death and more death and—
Ben’s head snapped to the side with the force of the backhand against his cheek. His eyes opened and he stared hard into Armitage’s wide eyes and heaving breaths. The man’s fist was still in the air from where he’d flung it back against Ben’s stinging jaw.
Ren had been screaming for about five minutes and Hux had no idea what to do about it. Clearly the command shuttle had wonderful sound blocking because no one was coming to the Jedi’s rescue, and Ren wasn’t reacting to Hux’s calls.
Getting aid would probably be the best course of action, but Hux was almost scared to leave Ren. The man twisted on his side in the mattress, long fingers clutching to the sheets in a death grip as he groaned and screamed.
“Oh, screw this,” Hux said. He had said the man’s name and shook his shoulder multiple times now and none of that worked. So there was only one thing left he could do: He backhanded Ren across the jaw, yelling “Wake up!”
Ren’s eyes popped open and he sucked in a breath like a drowning man. His eyes locked with Hux’s.
Before he could so much as sigh in relief, Ren tackled Hux into a bone crushing hug. Smothered by Ren’s chest, Hux struggled to breathe as arms locked around him and refused to budge. He could feel Ren’s heart pounding through his chest, smacking hard against Hux’s own with a frantic pace.
“You’re alive,” Ren whispered, voice hoarse and scratchy. He repeated it over and over until he changed it up with a few “You’re not dead.”
“Are you alright?” Hux asked, wriggling in Ren’s grip enough so that he could breathe. He patted the man’s arm and scooted back, only to be drawn back in. “That must have been some nightmare.”
“Felt more real than that,” Ren whispered back. He rambled, shoving his face into Hux’s neck and clinging. “It was like a vision. You died on Tatooine. One of the last Knights is a sniper and I had forgotten. It was all so fast and it kept. There was so much blood, Armitage.”
Ren’s breath hitched and Hux reached around to rub the man’s back. He held him and squeezed. “Maybe we should take a short break before we go to Tatooine. You’re stressed and it’s getting to you.”
“The Future isn’t written in stone, but I’m not sure delaying a trip will stop a vision.” Ren shook his head and clung, digging his fingers into Hux’s back. “We had no time to do anything. We landed and you.”
“Ben,” Hux said. He grabbed the man’s hair and tugged his head back so he could turn it toward the glass case. Hux pointed, fingers still deep in Ren’s wet hair. “Millicent is sitting right there. You can’t have a Force vision when you’re blocked from the Force. You had a nightmare from stress. That’s all it was, alright? Your sniper Knight isn’t that good.”
“She sort of is,” Ren mumbled. He leaned his head into Hux’s hand, body relaxing as he stared at Millicent. “But you have a point about the Ysalamir preventing a proper Force vision.”
“And you don’t like her,” Hux said, kissing Ren’s head.
“I still don’t like her,” Ren said. He slumped against Hux, body slick with cooling sweat. “But I can be grateful.”
“Come on,” Hux said. He tugged on his large Jedi and straightened his hair. “Neither of us are going back to sleep after that, and you need a shower.”
“Shower sounds nice,” Ren said. He leaned up and kissed Hux, long and deep. He tugged Hux up, arms around his hips; almost desperate. Ren breathed out. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”
Hux swallowed, his chest tight. He kissed Ren back and tugged him forward and off the bed by the hand. “You’re not getting out of a shower.”
Ren cracked a smile, laughing and Hux felt the tension leave his shoulders.
“I’m sorry I scared you,” Ben said, sitting across from Armitage at their small kitchen table. Free of all their house guests, the Silver Wing felt much better with just him and Armitage at home again. “I haven’t had a nightmare like that since I was little.”
“I can believe that,” Armitage said. He sipped a small cup of coffee and relaxed. His wet hair clung to his forehead, both of them agreeing that indulging in the water shower was well earned. “It’s a first for all the night’s we’ve shared together.”
Ben pushed his hair back. It was a few hours before everyone else was due to wake up. The ship was quiet, and he closed his eyes, feeling the presence of his friends and loved ones in the ship next door (and he supposed old co-workers, in the First Order officers’ cases). He couldn’t feel the slimy grip of Snoke anywhere, and he tried to convince himself it was because the man had no claim to Ben’s mind, and not just because he was that good at hiding.
Snoke had left too much of a mark already.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Armitage asked, finger tapping on the edge of his cup. He rubbed under his nose and shrugged his shoulders, attempting to appear nonchalant despite the dark bags under his eyes. “I can’t say I can offer any decent advice, but I could listen.”
Ben closed his eyes and saw Armitage’s lifeless body, and the gaping hole in his head. He opened them and said, “No.”
“Okay, well if you do,” Armitage said, shifting in his seat. He tapped his fingers on the table again and pushed his cup away. A memory of the first time they shared this table together popped to the front of his mind. They’d come so far since then. Armitage reached over and patted the back of Ben’s hand. “I’ll be here.”
Ben grabbed Armitage’s hand and laced their fingers together. He squeezed tight. “You are.”
Armitage was right here and alive and Ben was going to keep it that way.
No matter what it took.
You all have fun with that last chapter? I bet you did. :P I also updated the series summary to something that’s a bit more fitting to the fic. Originally, the main conflict of this part was going to be Hux & Crew vs Ben & Friends, but they got along better than I was expecting. Then of course Snoke stepped in and decided he had his own game & the nightmare happened, and well, the fic had some change in plans (for the better, I think).
It also means this part is going to be longer than I originally planned, so bear with me a bit as I edit my outline a bit (funny enough, that also means this chapter ended up pretty short…). In the meantime, enjoy & thanks for reading!
Dopheld never thought he’d be happy to be back in a meeting.
“The last two Knights are a Sniper and a weapon’s expert,” Ben said, getting to the heart of the matter after giving a quick summary of why they were here. Dopheld typed notes as Ben talked, the group gathered in the center main room of the Falcon for their briefing. Hux sat behind Ben, his arms crossed and face drawn. Dopheld kept typing as Ben threw a small map on the table. “While I’m fairly certain they’re on Tatooine, along with possibly Snoke himself, I also have a good feeling that this is a trap. Rethinking our strategy might be a good option, especially now that we have the time.”
“So running in guns blazing isn’t the show any more?” Dameron said, tapping his finger against his arm. He held his hand up and shrugged. “I mean, it worked pretty well the last two times.”
“The last two times we got lucky,” Ben said.
“He’s got a point,” Finn said, leaning on the far wall next to Rey. “A sniper is going to be hidden, and will have an advantage. Teamed with someone throwing explosives at us, they’re going to be formidable. We really are lucky they weren’t on the first planet, or hiding in the trees at Endor.”
“Like I said,” Ben continued. “I think in our haste to get this done and over with, we may have been too hasty with our strategy, and with Snoke’s latest messages, I feel it’s best if we consult with Luke before we proceed.”
“So we’re going home?” Rey asked.
Dopheld looked up from his notes, tensing. Mandetat shifted next to him, knocking their knees together.
“For a short visit,” Ben said. He tapped the end of his table with his finger. “I want to switch us all to a bigger ship, so that we can stick together as a group.”
“I still think my ship can do the job just fine,” Solo said, snorting. He’d been quiet, which was unlike him, during all of the meeting, but Dopheld didn’t want to question a good thing. “So I’m throwing that out there again.”
“It’s a little cramped in here, dad, good ship or not, and we might have more people coming with us to Tatooine if Luke gets in contact with Lowbacca,” Ben said. “Which is why we need something bigger, and the best place to get one will be the Resistance base.”
“We can’t go there!” Thanisson stepped off the wall from his place in between Unamo and the Wookie. “They’ll arrest us or worse!”
“I have to agree, and I have concerns about the General being anywhere near Resistance space considering his last confrontation with your leader,” Unamo said. “Are you planning to drop us off somewhere else while you make the switch?”
Hux himself said nothing about the matter, and Dopheld remembered sickening words that said “Ben was in charge of his fate.”
“I have discussed the issue with my mother, and she has agreed to look the other way, provided none of you leave the ship save for the actual transfer between shuttles, where I’ll be using the Force to keep you all from being noticed.” Ben took a seat next to Hux on the couch and propped his arms on the table. “It is a one time exception.”
“That’s what she said the last time about Hux,” Dameron said, snorting. “And look at him with all these second chances.”
“Regardless,” Ben said, continuing on through gritted teeth that were obvious even across the room. “There can be no mistakes this time around, so get some sleep and be ready for anything.”
They discussed the details for another twenty or thirty minutes or so, working out who would fly with who (or rather, if anyone wanted to switch while they had the chance), and came to the conclusion that they would leave the next morning, after saying goodbye to the Ewoks. After the meeting broke, and Dopheld checked over his notes as everyone filtered off to their respective areas of the ship.
“What do you think about all this?” Mandetat asked, when he and Dopheld were alone.
“I don’t know,” Dopheld said. “I have a bad feeling about all of this that I can’t seem to shake.”
“Tell me about it,” Mandetat said. He leaned on Dopheld’s shoulder and closed his eyes. “Wake me up when we have to leave.”
Dopheld flushed, his shoulder warm.
Hux dropped onto the shared mattress, grunting as he sunk an inch (like the nicer tunic, he still wasn’t quite used to having a comfortable mattress). Ren dragged his shirt over his head, dumping it in the corner as he changed for bed. He rubbed his thumb against the bottom of his ribs before sitting on the bunk to get his shoes off. Hux reached a hand up to touch his side, but stopped about an inch from contact.
Instead, he rolled on his side, pulling his hands in closer to his chest.
“I’m surprised you didn’t say anything during the briefing,” Ren said. He shook his hair out and tugged on the edge of Hux’s tunic. “Are you okay with how we’re proceeding?”
“I’m not sure what you want me to say.” Hux made no move, but he didn’t push Ren away either when the man sunk into his side to hold him. “Consolidating to one ship is a good idea, and as much as I loathe to admit it, the Resistance is the only place we’ll be able to afford one. The rest of your plan is still in progress, as you still need to confer with Skywalker.”
“No suggestions?” Ren asked, voice almost teasing. He rubbed his fingers on the back of Hux’s neck and hummed. “You’re not holding your tongue to keep the peace or anything, are you?”
“No,” Hux said.
“Are you really okay with being on the Resistance base? I know what my mother said, but sometimes her temper can get the best of her,” Ren said. He rubbed Hux’s back, working in slow circles. “Maybe we should drop you and the others off somewhere and come to pick you up later.”
“You’re overthinking it,” Hux mumbled into Ren’s collar. “Land on the planet your mother has hidden herself on, get your ship, talk to your master, and then we can leave. No one will even have to know we were there.”
“I wonder if I should tell Luke about the nightmare,” Ren said. He kept rubbing Hux’s back, a steady rhythm. “I know Millicent blocks the Force, but it still felt important. Like the Force was trying to tell me something.”
“It’s times like these I think the Force is a nuisance,” Hux said. He leaned up and touched Ren’s cheek. “You’re human. Humans have nightmares. Not everything is a Force vision.”
“Been studying up on the Force in your free time?” Ben asked, leaning into Hux’s hand. “I’m impressed.”
“Don’t be cute,” Hux said. He bit the bottom of Ren’s lip. “Snoke filled your head with lies, and you’re hyper focused on it. Anyone would be having nightmares, Force or not. I don’t need to know about the fabric of the universe to tell you that.”
“All the same,” Ren said. He watched Hux closely, eyes dark around the edges. “Not everything he had said was a lie.”
“That man said you’d go home to the Knights of Ren, so I sure hope everything he said was a lie. If you wouldn’t go back to being Kylo Ren for me,” Hux said, ashamed at the downward curve of his lips as he pouted, “You sure as hell better not for Snoke.”
“I won’t,” Ren said.
He pressed his thumb against Hux’s lip, smoothing away the pout. He brushed Hux’s hair behind his ear and opened his mouth before closing it again. He stared, biting the edge of his lip.
Hux grabbed Ren’s hand, pulling it down. “Just ask what you want to.”
“Do you still think of me as ‘Ren’ in your head?”
“What?” Hux asked, proud he stopped the flinch before it could happen (though he was sure Ren felt the tremble between their linked hands). “Why would you ask that?”
“After you were shot and high on sedatives, you kept calling me ‘Ren’ because you said you couldn’t think straight enough to make the switch when you spoke aloud,” the other man said. He squeezed Hux’s hand. “I wondered if that were still true.”
“Does it matter?” Hux asked, a tiny string of guilt wrapping around his heart. “As long as I say the right one?”
“Do you still think of me as Kylo Ren? Or is it just the name that’s stuck from habit?” Ren asked. There was no judgement in his voice, just an honest question.
“I don’t think I know,” Hux whispered.
“I’m sorry,” Ren said. He hugged Hux closer and buried his face in Hux’s hair. “It was a bad question.”
“No, it was fair,” Hux said. “I’m sorry I don’t have a better answer.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It does a little.”
“We’re a mess,” Ren said. He pulled the blanket up over the two of them and kissed Hux’s head. His heartbeat remained steady, and Hux focused on it. “All because of a stupid nightmare.”
“Then perhaps we shouldn’t focus on it,” Hux said. “And go to sleep so you can be well rested when you visit those awful Ewoks in the morning with your father.”
“Alright,” Ren said, snorting. He kissed Hux again on the temple and laid his head down. “Goodnight, Armitage.”
And here’s the next chapter. I don’t have much to say for once, outside of mentioning that Hux spends most of his time glaring at me constantly because it’s taking so long to work his sex scenes naturally into the plot (I can’t help it; so many of these scenes call for cut aways…).
But whatever, Hux doesn’t always get what he wants (as this fic series has proven), so in the meantime, thank you for reading!
“I’m impressed you’re actually going to risk leaving them alone on the ship,” Han said, meeting Ben as he walked down the ramp. They had arrived at the Resistance base with little trouble, and he could already see Poe, Finn, and Rey greeting the rest of his flight team on the other side of the hanger. “Isn’t that risky?”
Ben steadied himself, feeling the rush of his friends and family around him again so close in the Force. His mother was waiting for him with Luke on the other side of the compound, as per their agreement. “I trust them not to do anything.”
“I wasn’t referring to your stowaways,” Han said, putting his hands in his back pocket. Uncle Chewie huffed in agreement. “I meant your mother. I don’t know how much she told you, but she’s still pretty furious at Hux.”
“I got that impression,” Ben said. “Which is why they’re not going to see each other.”
“You are playing a dangerous game thinking you can control what your mother does and doesn’t do.”
“Dad,” Ben said, sighing. “This is a bad enough situation already, could you stop reminding me about how it can all go wrong?”
“I would, but then I wouldn’t be me,” Han said. “That’s what I’ve always been best at. Warning people about bad things, watching them do it anyway, and then getting to say ‘I told you so’ when I swoop in to save them.”
“Didn’t mom and Uncle Luke have to save you from Jabba the Hutt?”
“And I saved them right back,” Han said.
“Don’t try and out sass your father,” Chewie said. “You’ll lose every time.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Ben said.
The rest of the walk against the base was mostly uneventful, with a few people waving here or there as they recognized Ben and his companions. Thankfully, though, the General’s husband and his friend weren’t too odd of a sight around here, so they weren’t swarmed. Ben wasn’t sure he could stay focused long enough on conversation if people started with small talk. Soon though, the main area of the base loomed in the distance, and Ben smiled as he saw his mother waiting with Luke.
“Next time you get rescued, I hope you’ll remember to allow yourself to be rescued instead of running off into space,” his mother started, giving him “the look” as his father had dubbed it. “You think you can manage that?”
“Probably not,” Ben said. He hugged his mother instead of arguing it more, leaning over to tug her up. “But I’m very glad to see you.”
“I have half a mind to chain you down,” Leia said, pulling back and looking Ben over. She held both of his arms, looking over him with worried eyes. “Every time I get you back, you run right out the door again.”
“Sorry,” Ben said. He smiled at his mother and sighed. “But I’ve got my own family to take care of now, and I can’t do that here, even if I’d like to.”
“Family, huh?” Leia said. She glanced at Han, and they shared a mental conversation, before turning into the base. “Come on, let’s get you a ship and hear about where you’re going.”
“Thank you,” Ben said. His father walked ahead to join his mother, holding her hand for a few long seconds before he let go again. Luke hung back until he was side by side with Ben. “Uncle.”
“Did your family happen to tell you what shape your mother was in when we picked her up?” Luke asked, face straight.
“Yes,” Ben said. He gripped his fist tightly as they walked into the heart of the base. “And I’d imagine it was about on par with the shape she returned Hux in, considering he was shot in the arm and beaten fairly badly.”
“Your mother is quite the fighter,” Luke said.
“Which is why I wasn’t worried when I found out he didn’t kill her.”
“But he sure tried.”
“He failed,” Ben said. “That’s all there is to it.”
“Did you get in contact with Lowbacca?” Ben asked, changing the subject.
Taking the hint, Luke conceded and started speaking louder, so that Ben’s mother and father could join the conversation and start their meeting earlier. The sooner he got the ship and information, the sooner they could all leave.
“Please sit down,” Unamo said, glaring at her younger charge. She did not look up from her datapad, attempting to read as their team waited. “You’re making everyone nervous.”
Hux couldn’t help but agree.
“I can’t help it,” Thanisson said, pacing back and forth in the small space. “Right out that window is the Resistance base! Any second they could come running in here to lock us all up and throw away the keys. We were officers! We were all volunteers, which is an entirely different matter than the conditioned troopers!”
“If they were going to arrest us they would have done it already,” Mandetat said, looking up from the panel he’d removed from the wall. Wires hung at his feet where he’d been tinkering out of boredom. “Sit down and shut up.”
“It could still be a trap,” Thanisson said.
“Please sit down,” Hux said, reaching up to rub between his eyes. They’d been waiting in the main kitchen of Ren’s command shuttle for two hours now, and the stress was getting to all of them. “Whatever their intentions, panicking won’t help. Be patient.”
“Hux is right,” Mitaka said. He looked up from his notes and frowned. “We’ll stick together, whatever happens. That’s all that should matter right now.”
“We’re not even going to plan in case they do?” Thanisson asked. “No back up plans? No nothing?”
“What could we possibly do?” Hux asked. “There is a literal army outside that door, and at least three Jedi on the base. It is a lost battle, and for right now, we should be grateful at least one of them is working so hard to keep us hidden.”
“Keeping you hidden,” Thanisson spit back. “You’re the one sharing his bed, and the only one he actually cares about. Your master Jedi could throw the rest of us to the wolves and you’ve already given up even attempting to fight back!”
Hux flinched; he looked away, but said all the same, “I trust Ben to do the right thing, and he will not give you up to the Resistance, even if it’s just for my sake.”
Thanisson bit his thumb and looked as if he wanted to say something, mouth twitching. But he seemed to think better of it, and walked out of the room, shutting himself in one of the staff quarters.
“I’ll go calm him down,” Unamo said, playing the big sister role once again. She clicked off her datapad and set it on the table before getting up. She paused as she stopped in front of Hux and touched his shoulder. “I’m sure he didn’t mean that, sir.”
“It’s fine,” Hux said. “He didn’t say anything that isn’t true.”
“True or not, the disrespect was uncalled for,” Unamo said. She squeezed Hux’s shoulder and held her head high. “You’re still our leader, and he should have held his tongue.”
“Go see to him,” Hux said.
“Sir,” Unamo said.
Mandetat stared over his shoulder for a few more seconds before turning back to the open panel, shifting to sit on his side as he tugged and filled the cabin with noise again. The clink of metal covered up the awkward silence.
“I think I’ll wait in my quarters,” Hux said, standing.
No one made to stop him, and he left Mitaka and Mandetat alone in the galley. It was not until he was safe alone in his room that Hux relaxed his shoulders. He picked up Millicent and held her tight as he glanced out the small window at the busy hanger outside. Men and women of all sorts wandered about their business in the hectic area.
It was so different from his uniform and clean hangers back on his old ship, and he found no comfort in people watching. He closed the window blind and fell on his side.
He rather hoped Ren hurried up and came back, this waiting was awful (Hux pointedly did not think about how he’d done so much worse to Ren, trapping the man in a single room for so many months).
“I’m going to give that Jedi a piece of my mind the second he walks up that ramp,” Dopheld said, standing behind Mandetat. He stared at the door to the General’s quarters and huffed. “If it was going to take this long, he should have told us.”
It had been four hours since Ben Solo and the others had left the First Order officers alone in the Silver Wing, and there had been absolutely no word from any of them concerning what was going on. Dopheld knew the others hated being in the dark, and the tension was getting worse by the second.
Unamo had left the other quarters only once to grab a quick snack and shook her head concerning Thanisson. The man had worked himself up and was stewing (sulking) in the corner of the room. She was concerned he might do something rash if left alone, so she monitored him.
Dopheld wondered if it was wise to take the young Petty Officer with them on their next mission if he was this unstable already.
“It is getting harder and harder to figure out what the General sees in that guy,” Mandetat said. “Personally, I never really liked him even when he was on our side. He was never invested in the cause, and he made it quite clear he didn’t like the rest of us. I don’t see how that’s changed, even if he is making exceptions for the General.”
“I know what you mean,” Dopheld said. “I feel like his only saving grace is he’s sincere about his affection for Hux.”
“Or he’s a good actor.”
“No,” Dopheld said, sighing. “I’ve seen them together and it’s real enough. It’s hard to fake that doe-eyed expression he gets when he thinks no one’s watching them.”
“If you say so,” Mandetat said.
Dopheld pulled a chair out and sat next to Mandetat. He nudged the man with his knee and smiled. “Are you trying to make him angry by fixing up his ship?”
“It worked on his father,” Mandetat said, sticking his tongue out. “So why not?”
“Sometimes I wonder how you never became an officer,” Dopheld said. He studied Mandetat’s long fingers as the man dug into the side of the ship. A slip of grease clung to his wrist, and Dopheld almost reached down to wipe it away. “You certainly have the brains and the gumption needed to be one.”
“I didn’t have the heart to stay in the Academy,” Mandetat said. “I dropped out and joined the trade school the first semester my roommate got stabbed in the back over a test score.”
“That would do it,” Dopheld said. He wrung his hands together, biting the edge of his lip. The thought that stern, always-serious Mandetat didn’t have the stomach for the back end of the Order was almost adorable. Dopheld nudged him again with his knee. “All the same, you’re very impressive and I’m glad to have gotten to know you better, even if the circumstances in which that happened weren’t the best.”
“Same,” Mandetat said. He spun a wrench around in his hand, gaze locked on the side of Dopheld’s face. He crooked his mouth into a smile and stood up. He dropped the tool into the case on the floor, and pinned Dopheld to the chair with his hands on either side of his head. “And if you keep flattering me like that, and I might have to do something to say thank you properly.”
Dopheld glanced at the two closed doors on the other end of the room, before giving Mandetat his full attention. “Like what?”
“I’m not sure,” he said, putting his knee up between Dopheld’s legs on the chair base. “Do you have a suggestion?”
“I might be able to think of something,” Dopheld said, reaching up to tug down Mandetat’s collar.
“I did not need to see that,” Han said, loudly enough that Mitaka and Mandetat broke apart from their rather intense kiss in the chair. Ben frowned at his father, and the man pointed at the flushed Mitaka and the glaring Mandetat. “I told you we shouldn’t have left them unsupervised this long.”
“You’re back,” Mitaka said, standing up from the chair (though he had to push Mandetat out of his lap to do it). He smoothed his tunic down and straightened his hair, while Mandetat rolled his eyes and took a seat. He crossed his arms and glared, and Ben made a note to lock his door tonight. Mitaka cleared his throat. “Is everything arranged?”
“Yes,” Ben said. He looked around the cabin and asked. He couldn’t sense Armitage or the other two, and assumed they must be close to Millicent. “The other three are in their quarters?”
“Yes,” Mitaka said, his embarrassed face switching to an angry glare in a blink. “It’s been over five hours, so they retired to their rooms to wait.”
“What took so long?” Mandetat asked, shifting in his seat. “You couldn’t have sent a message to let us know an ETA?”
“We were a little busy working out the details,” Han said. Ben’s father crossed his arms and smirked (amused at breaking up the couple, Ben was sure). “Get your buddies and your packed backs, we’re all moving ship.”
“I’ll get Hux,” Ben said. He left his father and the others to fetch Thanisson and Unamo, and knocked once on his bedroom door before slipping inside. He found a lump on the bed under the blankets, and saw the swish of a tail under the sheet. “Armitage?”
Ben pulled back the sheet, finding Armitage asleep with his arms wrapped loosely around Millicent nuzzled into his chest. Ben picked up the lizard, and set her down in the glass cage before he slipped into the place where she used to be. He tugged Armitage over and kissed the back of his eyelid.
“Armitage,” he whispered, lightly rubbing the man’s arm. The man’s eyes blinked open, hazy and clouded before he blinked away the sleep and focused on Ben. “It’s time to go.”
“You’re a bit bigger than Millicent,” Hux said. “Did you think I wouldn’t notice the switch?”
“I hoped you’d think this was an improvement,” Ben said. He kissed Armitage and pulled them both up to a sitting position. He fixed Armitage’s hair before throwing his legs back over the side. “As much as I’d like to continue this, we really do need to switch ships. Our window is closing.”
“I take it everything went well?” Armitage asked, grabbing his bag. He put it on his back before heading to pick up Millicent’s glass tank. Ben had hoped they could leave the things here, but he had to admit she might come in handy later against Snoke. “Is there anyone else joining us?”
“I secured a ship and worked things out,” Ben said. He grabbed his own pre-packed bag and threw it over his shoulder. “Mother promised to keep the Silver Wing and the Falcon safe here for us while we’re gone. As for extra company, both Luke and Lowbacca have decided to come.”
“I suppose four Jedi is better than two,” Armitage said. He slipped on his boots and grabbed his coat. “And the ship?”
“I want that to be a surprise,” Ben said. He winked and opened their bedroom door. “You’re going to love her.”
And back on the road! Poor Leia. She never gets Ben for long. I’d say I’ll fix that in the final part of the series, but the way things are looking, the last part of this series will probably be more about Hux’s family than Ben’s. Speaking of Hux, he finally got his way this chapter (but not the way he was thinking). So, uh, enjoy that.
Also for fun, I looked up the ages of the actors who played the First Order officers hanging out in this fic to give me a better idea of how old they are. Kylo Ren & Hux have (more or less) canon ages (approx. 29 & 35 respectively), but these guys don’t. Based on their actors’ ages, I have decided: Unamo is 45, Thanisson is 28, and Mandetat & Mitaka are the same age at 35.
It’s fun knowing I’m older than Ren & Thanisson. Mwa ha ha ha. Also I feel for Unamo; all these men are kids compared to her (though she’s not that old, herself).
“That is a yacht,” Hux said, his jaw dropping. Yachts were excessively expensive, over indulgent monstrosities. Only posh senators with a habit for wasteful spending even bothered with them. He pointed at it with a hiss. “What insanity decided that was a good idea for a transport ship?”
And what was possibly going through Ren’s head to think Hux would like it?
“It’s completely impractical and nothing but a giant waste of credits,” Hux said, continuing his rant.
“No one will see it coming,” Skywalker said, walking by with a bag. He knocked into Hux’s shoulder rather roughly before he headed up the ramp of the highly decorated side of the ship. Skywalker didn’t bother to turn his head around as he kept talking. “I mean, it’s working on you right now.”
“Excuse me?” Hux asked.
Ren put a hand on Hux’s shoulder and patted it. “The yacht used to belong to a well renowned senator. The defense system on this thing could rival the Finalizer.”
“So we have defense and luxury,” Poe said, walking by with his own bags. He had the soldier and the Jedi girl with him and they all seemed eager to get on the vessel. “You got to keep your life, so you might as well learn to live a little.”
“You could always pretend it was like that time we stayed in the hotel and you wanted to spoil yourself?” Ren tried. He put an arm around Hux’s shoulder and squeezed them together. “You seemed pretty eager to check out the finer things during all of that.”
“I only wanted to stay in the hotel to distract you from Mitaka and my plan to knock you out,” Hux said.
“Well then now you can enjoy it for real,” Ren said. He ushered the rest of the Hux’s team and his friends onboard the ship with his hand as they stayed at the base of the ramp. He lowered his voice, leaning in toward Hux. “I know you think it looks extravagant, and it still is inside, but it’s a great decoy. No one will suspect a luxury ship for a war vessel.”
“But it’ll stand out in an entirely different way,” Hux said. “We’re going to Tatooine. It’s not exactly a hot spot for the wealthy.”
“Rich people are eccentric, and they won’t be able to predict it’s us.” Ren paused before sighing. “It was the best ship they had for the job.”
“I don’t like this,” Hux said. He looked up at the impressive ship and crossed his arms.
“It’s very nice inside,” Ren said. “I think you’ll change your mind once you get in there.”
“I doubt it,” Hux said.
“Everyone gets their own room and the ship’s original chef droid is still functioning,” Ren said. He grabbed Hux’s bags from his hand, throwing it over his own shoulder to carry. “At least you’ll be comfortable while you’re figuring out how to make this plan work.”
“And what makes you think I’ll be contributing further to the plan?” Hux asked. “Don’t you and your Uncle have it all covered?”
“Because you’re you,” Ren said. He kissed Hux on the cheek and pushed him by the back. “Come on. We need to take off from the base before my mother gets antsy.”
“Yes, the sooner we leave this planet the better,” Hux said. “Even if our ship out of here is too opulent.”
“You won’t be saying that when you see our room,” Ren said. He stepped up the stairs and stretched his hands over his shoulders. “Just you wait and see.”
Hux doubted it.
Ben had called it.
As much as Armitage had argued about the yacht, there was no hiding the slight widening of his eyes when he stepped into the suite they’d be staying in for the remainder of the trip. Ben had wanted to share the master suite with him, but Luke had claimed it by calling first dibs (much to Ben’s father’s ire). But, Ben had managed to get the second largest, claiming with two to a room it only made sense.
With everyone else guaranteed their own room, complete with refresher, no one really argued that Ben and Armitage got the suite with a sitting room and refresher with the water filled bathtub.
“Nice, isn’t it?” Ben said, setting his bag down. They had settled everyone from ex-First Order Officer to the two wookies in their rooms and Ben was more than ready to retire for the night as their ship flew on autopilot toward Tatooine. “It’s like traveling in a rich hotel.”
“And here I thought we were going to Tatooine to pick a fight,” Armitage said, scowling as he stared at the plush blankets on the bed. His finger twitched and Ben could tell the man wanted to touch it. “You should have told me we were vacationing instead. That sort of change of plans is rather need to know.”
Ben took Armitage’s face between both his hands and touched their foreheads together. “I swear to you, we’re taking the fight on Snoke seriously. And Luke’s right, if this ship is throwing you off this much, it’ll probably do the same to Snoke and the others. They won’t expect it and it’ll work as a good cover.”
“Doesn’t he have the Force?” Armitage muttered. “Can’t he see anything coming the way you do?”
“Luke is confident that the constant presence of your Ysalamiri have warped the Force around us enough that it shouldn’t be a clear picture for him,” Ben said. Luke had been meditating on the subject near non stop while Ben was captive with Armitage, and was confident that while Snoke knew Ben was coming for him, he didn’t have the details. “Snoke’s been leaving traps for us on these planets to make sure we go where he wants us to. He’ll be waiting for us, but he won’t see it coming in this ship.”
“You sound so sure,” Armitage said.
“I trust Luke,” Ben said. He kissed Armitage on the nose and backed up to see his face better. “And we’re going to work out the plan in more detail in the next few days. This time it’s really going to end.”
“Good,” Armitage said. He tugged on the edge of Ben’s tunic and licked his lip. “You should be prepared.”
“We will be,” Ben said. He had to be. There was too much at stake from his parents, to Armitage, to the universe if Snoke ever had the chance to rebuild. “I can promise you that.”
“Do you have anything else you need to do tonight?” Armitage asked. He reached up and threaded his fingers through Ben’s hair. They held the side of Ben’s head, drawing it back down. “Or are you free for the rest of the night?”
“I have no where to be, and no where I’d rather be right now,” Ben said. He closed the distance kissing Armitage on the mouth. “And I’m very glad we have this space all to ourselves.”
“I’m starting to think you might have ulterior motives for getting a ship with a large bed and thick sheets,” Armitage whispered. “It’s even more extravagant than that mattress you splurged on for the shuttle.”
“As long as you’re there, I’ll be happy to sleep on a pallet on the floor if I have to,” Ben said, walking the two of them toward the back room. He held Armitage’s waist, and the man clutched at Ben’s arms as they followed the carpet to the bed. “But you can’t blame me for taking advantage of something nicer while we’ve got it, can you?”
“I can’t tell if being romantic suits you or not,” Armitage said. He yanked hard when his knees hit the mattress, dragging Ben down on top of him when his back hit the mattress. “You were always so adorable when you grunted and rolled your eyes, telling me to shut up and get on the bed already.”
“I also didn’t like you very much during those days,” Ben said, huffing. Armitage crawled backwards and dragged Ben with him by the front of his tunic. Ben settled in between the man’s legs, dropping on top of him with a thud that had Armitage’s thighs knocking against Ben’s waist. “It’s hard to come up with sweet nothings when you’re pretending very hard you’re not sleeping with the enemy.”
“Is that so?” Armitage asked. He kissed the side of Ben’s lip and hummed. “Did you think of someone else then when we were sleeping together to make it easier, then?”
“No,” Ben said. He took off Armitage’s belt while the man helped himself to tugging Ben’s tunic up. He grunted when the fabric was yanked over his head and thrown on the other half of the (almost too) large bed. Ben took Armitage’s hand and kissed the back of his knuckles. “I never quite succeeded.”
“I should be flattered,” Armitage said. He fluffed the side of Ben’s curls with his fingers. “Even when you hated me, at least I was good in bed.”
Armitage cut off Ben’s reply with a kiss, dipping his tongue into Ben’s mouth. He held Ben’s head down by the back of his neck, rolling his hips up. They parted long enough to breathe and the man cut Ben off again with another kiss, not giving him a chance to catch his own thoughts, distracted by a wet tongue and too much pressure building in his lower gut. Armitage dug his fingers into Ben’s hair, his breath picking up into something weighty and wanting.
Ben slipped his hands under Armitage’s tunic and held onto his skin. The man wouldn’t stop the kiss long enough to get his clothes off, but he was more than happy to continue grinding his hips into Ben’s.
“I love how heavy you are,” Armitage said into Ben’s mouth. He moaned into the next kiss as he shifted his hold to drag Ben further on top of him by the back of his shoulders. “Feels good.”
Another kiss followed and wandering hands on both of their parts managed to remove the rest of the offending clothes that prevented much needed contact.
The mattress dipped under them, twice as thick as the one back home in their ship. Ben listened to Armitage’s heavy breath in his ear as he kissed Armitage’s neck. Ben trailed the kisses down the center of Armitage’s chest, missing the warmth as the amount of contact between them lessened, but he loved the way the man curled forward when Ben kissed just under his belly.
Encouraged by the hand grabbing the back of his hair, Ben took Armitage past his lips and swallowed. Armitage nudged his hips forward, urging Ben to take him further. He was more than happy to oblige, licking the full length down his tongue. Armitage bit the back of his palm with a groan, chest heaving.
Ben contented himself with listening to Armitage’s hurried, quick breaths as he worked, holding the back of the man’s thighs to keep his moving hips from getting too far away. His own need pressed into the top blanket and Ben thrust forward for the friction while his hands stayed busy.
Armitage must have caught the movement, because he sat up and nudged Ben away just long enough to turn the other way, so that his face was near Ben’s thigh. He moved his leg up, bending it at the knee so he wouldn’t knock Ben in the head when he moved. Hux continued to shift their positions into something more comfortable, and shoved Ben on his side so he could grab hold of Ben’s groin. Already back to licking, Ben moaned around Armitage’s length when the man moved his fingers, digging his thumb into the base.
It was pleasantly difficult to think after that while Hux left a hickey on Ben’s thigh while he continued to work Ben with his hand. Despite the urge to bury his face into a pillow and moan, Ben managed to to keep his mouth busy with Armitage’s length. He could feel each of Armitage’s grunts against his leg when he hit a good spot, and the man returned in kind with a new squeeze at a different spot.
It didn’t take long for either to finish.
Ben turned on his back, shifting Armitage carefully as he continued to use Ben’s thigh as a pillow. Sleep tugging on him, Ben fought it and decided that the other man’s face was too far away. He kissed Armitage’s leg before he sat up and turned around in the bed so that he could face Armitage’s face.
“The pillows are on the other end,” Armitage said, almost absently as he rested his head on top of the thick comforter. He reached up and wiped a drop of white off his cheek from Ben’s finish. He scooted over and kissed the white still clinging to Ben’s own cheek, licking it off. He dropped his hand down, touching another splatter of it on Ben’s stomach. “We made a mess.”
“Good thing there’s a tub in the refresher,” Ben said, lazily rubbing Hux’s shoulder.
“Perfect for round two,” Armitage said. He kissed Ben and slipped away, walking naked into the refresher.
Ben followed, finding himself more awake than usual.
Dopheld couldn’t sleep.
He stared outside the window into dark space, sitting in the chair next to the desk. He held a glass of water to keep his hands busy, and leaned against the wall.
“You really should get some sleep,” Mandetat muttered from the bed. He rolled over onto his stomach, pulling over the pillow. “It’s late.”
“I can’t help it,” Dopheld said. He put his glass on the table and wandered back to the bed. He slipped under the covers on the other side, hitting his head on the pillow. “This room is too nice, and I’m worried about Hux. I didn’t like the way that older Jedi looked at him when we were coming on board the ship.”
“He’s Ren’s uncle and Organa’s brother, right?” Mandetat said. He scratched the back of his head, mussing his hair. “I can’t imagine he’s too happy with Hux, no.”
“This trip keeps getting more and more complicated,” Dopheld said. He pressed his palms into his eyes and sunk into the mattress. “I almost miss the days where my biggest worry was the risk of Lord Ren strangling me.”
“I’m more worried about what we’re all going to do once this is over,” Mandetat said. “I can’t see Hux being happy living on a shuttle for the rest of his life. It’d be the same thing as a prison cell.”
“Lord Ren will never let us stay either,” Dopheld said, biting his thumb. “He’s only tolerating us now for the man power.”
“Exactly,” Mandetat said.
“I feel so outnumbered,” Dopheld said. He groaned, turning over onto his stomach. “They have four Jedi now, in addition to two trained soldiers, a smuggler, and a Wookie. Between you, me, Unamo and Thanisson we barely have anything that can compete.”
“Which does give us one advantage,” Mandetat said, voice low. He scooted over and pressed his shoulder against Dopheld’s. His overheated skin felt good against Dopheld’s own; it was almost distracting. Mandetat’s intense gaze kept Dopheld’s attention on the matter at hand, however. “They don’t think we’re a threat, which means we’ve got an advantage. We just have to outsmart them.”
“Even when some of them can read minds and predict the future?” Dopheld asked.
“That’s what the General’s pets are for, aren’t they?” Mandetat asked, his mouth crooking into a side-smile.
“Oh yes,” Dopheld said, matching the smile. “Yes they are.”
“And who takes care of those little darlings?” Mandetat asked, nodding his head toward the glass case sat in the side of the room. The four lizards slept, fat and happy after eating three jars of syrup.
Dopheld tugged Mandetat into a hard kiss and grinned into his mouth when he stopped. “Squeamishness aside, you really would have made a wonderful officer.”
“Nah,” Mandetat said. “I’ll leave that to you and the General. I like playing in the background. No one notices you.”
“I’m glad I did,” Dopheld said.
“Then get some sleep,” Mandetat said, tugging the blanket up. “Because we aren’t going to have much time once those Knights are dead.”
Dopheld nodded and rolled back onto his side. Mandetat settled beside him, and he closed his eyes. It felt much better to have a plan of action, even if the details weren’t quite worked out just yet.
He refused to let Hux rot alone.
Hux petted the back of Ren’s hair as he slept, his head pillowed on Hux’s shoulder and arms wrapped around him. They were buried under three layers of blankets, even with the top most one bundled and thrown in the corner to be washed later.
Ren shifted, his knee slipping between Hux’s legs.
He kissed the man’s head, sticking his nose into Ren’s hair. He smelled like the lavender shampoo from the refresher’s cabinet, and it clung to his hair in a nice way. Hux supposed the rich surroundings they were traveling in had a few perks, even if it still felt wasteful.
But that was the only good thing right now.
Hux wanted to disappear into the mattress, never coming back up again. He clung to Ren’s warm chest, sighing into it. There was so much going on in his head, from wondering what the future would bring, to still believing Ren had made a mistake to take him away from the Finalizer, to even wondering if Ren’s uncle would kill Hux before this mission was out as revenge for his sister.
But out of all of those things, it was Thanisson’s words that echoed in his head, stuck there like an unwanted guest. He had said that Ren cared about Hux because they were sharing a bed, but that couldn’t have been the only reason. Just because their relationship began because of lust, didn’t mean that was where it had stayed.
Their naked skin continued to touch; a reminder of what they had just done moments before. Hux’s skin felt too warm and he shifted in Ren’s hold.
He shook his head and squeezed Ren harder. Ren could sleep with anyone he wanted if that was all he desired. He didn’t have to go out of his way to keep Hux around (people didn’t defend war criminals with the threat of throwing away everything just for a good lay, they just didn’t).
“Why am I even thinking about this?” Hux asked himself under his breath. They were in the middle of a mission to kill the last few Knights or Ren and Snoke. There were more important things at stake than whether or not Ren only wanted Hux for sex. “Get your act together.”
Ren continued to sleep, dead to the world as usual. He didn’t usually have the stamina for twice in a row, so the bath sex had worn the poor man out. Hux almost smiled, twisted a few strands of black hair around his fingers. That was one thing that wound never change about him: Ren was adorable when he was asleep.
Hux kissed Ren’s shoulder as he settled back down, shifting on the thick, mattress.
Tomorrow, he would have to sit in a room with all of those Jedi and discuss Ren going up against Snoke. He’d have to somehow ignore the glares sent his way, and soon, he’d have to figure out what would happen when this all ended. Where he would go, and whether or not Ren’s family would even let him run away again.
He clutched to Ren’s back, his heartbeat picking up again. With a bit of tugging, he got Ren to shift in his sleep, rolling over onto Hux. Between Ren and the blankets, Hux felt smothered and his chest was tight.
Maybe if he buried his face far enough into Ren’s neck, he’d suffocate and wouldn’t have to think any more.
Hux is very angry with me. But what else is new? We’re almost done with the downtime, and we will be on Tatooine next chapter.
Additional comment: Luke Skywalker is hard to write for since we haven’t actually seen him in the film yet. I barely have a grasp on young him, so older him is difficult. But he needed to be here, so he’s here. *shakes fist at the old hermit* (Hermit! That’s the root word that “Armitage” links back to. Fun times.)
Ben took a seat at the table next to Lowbacca, and smiled at Rey and Luke. He rolled his shoulder back as he set down his datapad and things at the table, more than ready to get this meeting over with. His father and Chewbacca stood behind Luke at his end of the table, and he saw Unamo with a datapad in the corner a few feet behind Ben’s chair.
Armitage and the rest were else where in the ship, making sure that everything remained on course while Poe flew, and to keep watch for anything that might interfere. Ben thought it was odd Armitage didn’t want to sit in on the meeting, but he couldn’t blame him completely. Ben shot a glance at Luke and leaned back in his seat. He supposed that’s why Unamo was here.
“I take it we’re all as excited to go to Tatooine as Luke and I?” Han said, breaking the silence as they sat down. “Because I for one, am loving the idea of dropping in Mos Eisley in a ship this fancy. I’m sure whatever Hutt’s in charge these days is going to be thrilled.”
“I’m sure whatever Hutt is in charge is already aware Snoke and his Knights are on his planet and won’t want anything to do with a team of Jedi,” Luke countered. He waved his hand back and forth in dismissal, leaning on one elbow on the tabletop. “I wouldn’t worry about them.”
“Still easy for you to say,” Han said.
Luke smiled and turned back to the center of the table. “We’ll have more than enough on our plate to worry about with Snoke, I imagine. Ben and I have conferred, and we’re both certain that this last visit is a trap.”
“You mean we did so well on the last two planets because he wanted us to let our guards down?” Rey asked, crossing her hands on the table. “Is that right, Master?”
“Correct,” Luke said.
“Do you have proof of it?” Lowbacca asked. He tapped his claw on the table and looked around. “I’m not doubting you, but it’d be nice to know how you’ve come to that conclusion.”
“While Ben was captive on the Finalizer,” Luke said. Unamo’s finger twitched as she typed, but she kept her face even. Luke glanced at her before he kept talking. “I spent my time meditating on where Hux’s location might be, as well as Snoke. Thanks to the Ysalamiri’s constant contact, it was almost hard to sense anything about Ben in the Force at all, even in visions. If I was having trouble, we know Snoke must have also been having difficulty.
“When you combine that with how easy it was to find the first two Knights of Ren, along with the fact they had a specific message to deliver to Ben, it stands to reason that Snoke wanted us to find those Knights. When you make it that easy twice in a row, the third time has to be a trap.”
“Snoke’s throwing the Knights away to get under my skin,” Ben said. He was feeling better after talking with Armitage about the nightmares and the messages, but there was still this lingering feeling of doubt that he couldn’t shake. The thought of becoming Kylo Ren again for Snoke, for real, was an awful image to shake even as it disgusted. “He’s hoping by the final confrontation, I’ll be tired of whatever he’s throwing at us and ready to join up. He’s wrong, of course, but that seems to be the plan.”
“Makes sense,” Lowbacca said. He turned back to Luke, and nodded. “What are we going to do about it on Tatooine?”
“We walk up and say hello,” Luke said, smiling.
Hux sipped from the cup of coffee provided by the culinary droid, and hated how amazing it tasted. He tapped the cup down on the fine porcelain saucer that matched the cup and frowned at it. It even smelled good from the table, the soft steam lifting in the air with a pleasant aroma.
Ren would never let him live it down if he admitted this ship was genuinely pleasant and Hux wasn’t hating it.
“I wonder how much longer they’re going to take,” the soldier mumbled, sitting on the other side of the table. He drummed his fingers on the surface, clearly agitated that he’d been left out of the meeting room. He crossed one leg over the other, and then switched them a few moments later. “It’s already been an hour.”
Hux picked up his datapad and typed a few lines, and set it back down when he received his replied. “Unamo said they’re almost finished. She believes another thirty to forty minutes at most.”
“Oh,” the soldier said, jerking up like he’d forgotten they were sharing a table. He looked at Hux with a wary glance, before settling back in his seat with lowered shoulders. He tapped the table again and muttered, “Thanks.”
“I’m surprised you’re not up bugging your pilot buddy, Finn,” Mandetat said from across the room. He shuffled a deck of cards, flipping them back and forth in his hands. Mitaka sat next to him, tapping his foot against Mandetat’s ankle, and Hux wondered when that happened. It wasn’t much of his business, but still. Mandetat flipped a card around. “Or did they tell you to babysit?”
“It was highly suggested that I stay with you,” the soldier said, sinking into his chair.
“Ah, the good old ‘I’m asking, not ordering, but it’s really an order so go do it’ tactic,” Mandetat said. He dropped the stack of cards in a single group on the table next to him and laughed. “You only get that sort of thing in the Republic, I’ve noticed. If the First Order was anything, at least it was straight forward.”
“One good thing doesn’t discount the rest of it,” the man said, sitting back in his seat. “And I’m not in the mood to argue about it right now.”
“Fair enough,” Mandetat said.
“Speaking of watching you guys, though,” the soldier said. He looked around the room, sitting up in his chair. “Where’s Thanisson?”
“Hiding in his room,” Mitaka said. He pulled over a tea sandwich from the offered plate the droid brought from the other room. He looked at Finn and shrugged. “He lost his temper the other day and yelled at Hux. He’s still embarrassed about it, though I’m sure he’ll come out around dinner when he’s hungry enough.”
“I don’t know why he’s hiding,” Hux said. “It’s not like I was angry with him even when he did it.”
“You’re intimidating even when you don’t want to be,” the soldier said.
“You say that like you’re still intimidated by me,” Hux said. Not that he could possibly imagine why. The soldier had seen Hux at his absolute worse alongside his Jedi friend and Ren. How could anyone be scared of that? Hux sipped his tea. “That’s hard to believe.”
“I’m not now,” the soldier said. He stood up and walked across the room to grab a couple sandwiches from the tray. The soldier studied Hux for a moment before taking a bite. “But I can remember what it used to be like, and that’s more than enough to get the picture of what that other guy is feeling.”
“All the same,” Hux said. He looked at his datapad, and pulled it down to see Unamo’s last message, saying they were wrapping up the meeting. “I wasn’t angry, and he has nothing to apologize for.”
Awkward silence followed, and Hux tapped his datapad against his knee. The soldier sat down at Mitaka’s table, and finished his food. Mitaka started on a second sandwich himself, handing one over to Mandetat. Hux’s own stomach growled, but he didn’t feel like getting up to join the others.
Instead, he sipped his tea and waited for the final verdict of their plan.
“In conclusion,” Unamo said, bringing down her datapad, “we will be attacking Snoke and his Knights head on when we find his location.”
Dopheld leaned forward, pushing his face into his hands with a sigh.
“All that effort and planning and the plan is exactly the same as before?” Hux asked, saying aloud what everyone else was already thinking.
“With a few deviations concerning us splitting into teams to attack the three individually,” Unamo said. “Yes.”
Having been the one to take all of the notes, Unamo had taken it upon herself to brief the rest of the group on what the Jedi had planned. Dopheld felt like he was back on the Finalizer in a meeting, but her monotone voice seemed to put the the rest of the party on edge. All of them fidgeted the entire time that she read the report, occasionally sending her confused looks. Dopheld wondered if the Resistance had briefing meetings if this seemed that out of place.
“Believe it or not, we did go through quite a few possibilities,” Skywalker said, tapping his metal finger on the table. “And despite earlier doubts, going in head-on is typically the best way to counter a trap.”
“Splitting up to attack on multiple fronts should also help,” Ben said. He shifted in his seat next to Hux, arms crossed and expression serious. “Snoke no longer has the Order behind him, and so it’s likely he’s short on manpower. We’ll be the ones with the advantage number wise. If we can take out the Knights quickly, it’ll be four Jedi on one Force user. Even as strong as he is, he’ll be on the defensive.”
“Add in the Ysalamir to take away his Force abilities, and we’ll have an even greater advantage,” Luke said.
“Are you sure he won’t be able to fight with a Lightsaber the way you guys do?” Mandetat asked. “Those lizards are going to knock your Force abilities out too, right? You’ve got a back up to fight, so why shouldn’t he?”
“There is a risk of that, yes,” Luke said, “but again, he’ll also be going up against four of us. The mission before was to covertly find an opening and kill him as quietly as possible, as we believed that was the best way to limit casualties, but now we’re just flat out brute-forcing it.”
“We’ll also have Finn and Poe willing to spot us on the front lines in Poe’s X-Wing, in addition to Hux and his team providing support,” Ben said. Dopheld took this moment to look at his datapad, where Unamo had given them all a copy of their ‘orders’ for the mission. Mitaka would be with Hux, watching over the terrain. Unamo had volunteered to coordinate comms, to no one’s surprise, and Thanisson and Mandetat would be providing technical support. Ben sat up straight, and tapped the table with his finger. “We’re running in headfirst, but we’re not going unprepared.”
“Never hurts to keep things simple,” Rey said. “Not if you ask me.”
Dopheld agreed on some level, but after the fuss Ben had made over their plans, he had expected something more complicated after conferring with a Jedi master and his other Jedi friends. But what did Dopheld know?
(He knew if Hux had been thinking clearly, he’d have a much better plan, but the man remained quiet sitting next to Ben with no input aside from stating the obvious and Dopheld struggled to keep in his own frustration at the tactician’s silence, that’s what Dopheld knew.)
“I believe Ms. Unamo distributed your roles to your datapads,” Ben said. He put his hand under the table, resting it on Hux’s thigh. Dopheld squeezed his datapad tighter, holding his breath. Ben continued, “Read over your parts tonight, and tomorrow morning if you have any concerns, we’ll work them out.”
“Understood,” Unamo said, answering for everyone.
“Good, then you’re dismissed. Get some food and rest,” Ben said. He stood from the table, and the rest of the Jedi and their friends followed. He turned to Hux and patted him on the shoulder. “Do you want to get dinner?”
“Yes,” Hux said. “I’d like that.”
Dopheld watched them leave together, an ugly feeling growing in his chest.
“Come on,” Mandetat said, patting the back of Dopheld’s chair. He threw a thumb over his shoulder toward the door. “Let’s head back to the room. We’ve got to take care of the pets.”
“Right,” Dopheld said; they had plans of their own to solidify.
“I’m going to take a walk,” Hux said, getting up from his chair. He sat his work down on the desk, not willing to look over Unamo’s notes one more time tonight. Ren lounged on the bed, arm over his eyes, half-napping and half-meditating. Hux tugged on the side of Ren’s hair and huffed. “You don’t have to stay up waiting. I’ll probably slip in after you go to sleep.”
“Want company?” Ren asked, pulling his arm down. “I’m not that tired.”
Hux pulled Ren’s arm back up and dropped it back over his face. “If I wanted company, I would have asked.”
“Fine,” Ren said. He smiled from under his arm and waved his fingers. “Don’t stay out too late.”
“Yes, father,” Hux said, unable to help himself (and Ren dropping his arm down and scowling was worth it).
He left the room before Ren could comment on the poor nickname, and dipped out into the hallway. Hux fixed his tunic as he stood outside the door and started down the hallway toward the other bedrooms. If he remembered correctly, Mitaka had the four Ysalamiri in his room, and Hux was long overdue for a visit with little Millicent.
Hux had wanted to keep her in their suite like they had before, but Ren had vetoed it so he could keep his senses sharp.
His boot steps echoed in the empty hallway, tapping heavily on the tile. The floors shined, as polished as his Finalizer, and it brought a sense of longing to Hux’s chest. He missed his ship, and the Order still, even now.
Hux put the thought at the back of his mind as he reached the room Mitaka had claimed. He raised his hand to knock on the door when a hand clamped down on his shoulder.
“I was hoping to catch you up,” Skywalker said. His smile was tight and his grip tightened; not too hard, but enough to dip Hux’s shoulder down. “Do you mind if we have a chat?”
“Of course,” Hux said, his insides already sinking. He turned away from Mitaka’s door, mentally sending his best to Millicent before he turned to the older man. “Though if this is some variation of warning about my relationship with Ben, I’ve been through it twice already from his parents, complete with a Force mind trick.”
“Both of which you ignored and kidnapped Ben anyway,” Skywalker said, smile wry. He nodded his head back. “Let’s take a walk.”
Hux allowed himself to be led down the hallways where the lines kept the area shining bright. It felt like a direct contrast to the sensation of walking to his doom in a dark alley that he felt next to Skywalker. They kept walking until they reached a door at the end of the hallway, and Skywalker opened it.
The two of them stepped onto a large viewing balcony, with the beauty of space all around them, stars shining brightly in every direction.
Skywalker entered the space, stopping near the balcony edge to take a seat in a deck chair. Hux joined him, but chose to remain standing near the railing. He leaned on it, staring out into space. He closed his eyes and breathed, remember a time oh, so long ago when he stood here with someone he admired as much as he hated looking over a planet that no longer exists.
Those were good memories, despite it all.
“Broken men are funny things,” Skywalker said, starting. He laced his hands over his chest, the hood of his cloak bunching behind his head. “There’s really only three ways for them to go: they self destruct and disappear, they pick themselves up and get better, or they pick themselves up and become worse than they were before out of some form of twisted spite.
“So the question,” Skywalker said, pausing as he stared at the side of Hux’s face. “Is which way are you headed in the future? Because I’ve heard what you were like at your worst, and I’m not sure the universe deserves to see that turn into something more horrifying.
“But I have also heard that you made a good decision in there somewhere, sparing my sister,” Luke said. “Which means there’s a slight chance you’ll pick yourself up into something better, but right now your future in the Force is blurred. Seeing as you could go either way, it’s only fair to find out what your thoughts are on the matter and which way you see yourself headed: repentance, revenge, or are you just going to fade away?”
“You should ask Ben,” Hux said, tightening his hold on the railing. “For all intents and purposes, he’s making all the decisions concerning my fate from here on out.”
“You only say that now because you’re still broken,” Skywalker said. “But you are going to start putting the pieces back together, and I don’t see you being happy with that later. Ben won’t be either, and you’ll be making your own choices. Which again brings us back around to the main point: What are you going to do when this is all over?”
“Why don’t you use a mind trick and tell me?” Hux asked. He stared at the stars, stretching out so far and so endless. They were cold and welcoming; but not what he wanted. Hux didn’t know what he wanted. “Then we both might know.”
“Think about it,” Skywalker said. He got up from his chair and fixed his cloak. He idled near Hux’s side, though Hux did not turn to him. The man put a hand on Hux’s shoulder and held it there. “Because that’s when I’ll decide whether or not Ben’s in over his head, and if he requires an intervention.”
The man walked away, well meaning but an irritant nonetheless.
Hux tilted his head back to look at the stars above his head. The door behind him swished open and shut, leaving him alone on the balcony.
He wasn’t sure how long he stayed out there, watching the stars and thinking about what was to come. Normal people would go home after a large adventure like this. But no matter what Ren said, or how he considered it theirs, that Silver Wing of his was not Hux’s home. It was a shuttle that they lived on for now, but it wasn’t where Hux wanted to spend the rest of his life.
If he even had a say in the matter.
Hux squeezed the railing, dropping his head again so that he stared at the tip of his boot. He should go back to bed with Ren, and get ready for their attack plan in the morning. The future wasn’t there yet, so Hux could put off his decisions for a few days more, no matter what old Jedi fools threatened.
The door behind him swished open and Hux snorted. He crossed his arms on the railing and shook his head. “Hello, Ben. You got tired of waiting, I take it?”
“The second part, yes,” Thanisson said, just as Hux felt the needle slam into the side of his neck. The hiss of the syringe discharging sounded like a blaster shot in his ear. Thanisson yanked the needle back out, hard enough it drew blood. “But I’m not Ben.”
Hux spun, throwing his elbow back to smack his attacker, but Thanisson stepped out of the way with ease when Hux’s legs dropped out from under him. He hit the deck of the balcony hard, his limbs turning to mush in seconds as the paralytic took hold. Hux struggled to sit up, shifting on his shoulder while Thanisson stood over him, eyes half lidded.
“Supreme Leader Snoke was right,” Thanisson said, spinning a second needle. “You really are off your game.”
A kick to the face knocked Hux out.
Look, it was Thanisson or Mandetat, and I just couldn’t do that to Mitaka (Unamo was also an option, but I didn’t like the only girl on the team other than Rey being the traitor…).
I know it doesn’t matter too much by this point, but I fixed a TON of typos in the first chapter. The keys on my keyboard sticks and I type quick, so I tend to mistype a lot and not noticed. Heh. On with the chapter! It’s a bit short, but this one only left room for two scenes. It declared it.
In future chapters, the Ysalamiri won’t be the only things I’m taking slight creative liberties with; the Force might also be under siege as I decide just what it can and can’t do. This is your head’s up.
Ben shot up in bed, hitting the floor hard enough he tripped and smacked into the carpet. He pushed himself off the ground and righted himself as quickly as possible. Ben’s senses burned, yelling at him to keep moving. He grabbed his lightsaber from its place beside the door without stopping and ran.
The Force slammed him with such a feeling of wrongness and bright blinking visions of Armitage that he couldn’t afford to waste a second.
Armitage was loud and present in the Force, nothing hiding him from Ben. That alone kept Ben from total panic. He could see him; he could find him. Though, Ben could tell that Armitage was unconscious, and on the move. He made a sharp turn at the next corner and sprinted toward the hanger bay of the ship.
He couldn’t tell who was with Armitage, but the second Ben caught up with them, they were going to pay.
Ben made it to the small open bay at the base of the ship in time to see the large doors at the end open. One of the small shuttles that had been docked with the ship had already taken off and was headed toward the door.
He threw his hand out with the Force, grabbing hold of it. The thrust of the ship’s engines fought the hold, but Ben dug in his heels and pulled his arm up. He focused, fighting the shuttle; Ben yelled, every nerve in his body on fire as the pain laced through him. His hand and arm trembled, struggling to grasp the fighting object. It’d been too long since Ben had to keep hold of something this large, and he felt it in the burn.
But Armitage was on that shuttle.
With one burst of control and all of his strength, Ben threw the entire shuttle into the side wall of the yacht, sending a loud shudder through the entire hanger. The ship’s engines’ screamed as he threw out another hand, crunching them with the Force until they sputtered out in a spray of sparks and smoke.
Once the small shuttle stilled, Ben let go of the Force and ran for the ship. He lit his lightsaber and cut straight into the side of the shuttle. He kicked in the ripped of piece, running inside.
Ben kept his lightsaber lit, and breathed heavily, still tired from the exertion it took to catch the shuttle. He kicked open the door to the cockpit all the same, and stopped when he found it empty.
“What the?” Ben asked. He clicked the onboard computer and pulled up the coordinates. Ben hissed and slammed his fist into the controls. “Autopilot.”
Just past the glass, a ship screamed by, shooting out of the open hanger and into deep space. Seconds later, it hit a lightspeed jump and disappeared into space.
Ben couldn’t feel Armitage on the ship any longer.
“Ben!” Han screamed, running toward Ben at full sprint with Chewbacca. Ben stumbled out of the crashed shuttle, his lightsaber still burning at his side. His father and the rest of the people in their group gathered at his side in the hanger, all in various states of dress. Han breathed heavily, catching his breath as he touched Ben’s shoulder. “We heard a crash? What happened?”
“Someone took Armitage,” Ben said, staring out the open hanger. “They got by me.”
Han looked back and forth between the broken shuttle and back to Ben. “What happened?”
“I don’t know,” Ben said. His heartbeat continued rising in his chest. While they were standing here Armitage was getting further and further away. He could barely feel the man. “I woke up and he was in the hanger, and now he’s gone.”
“Hux was on the deck an hour ago,” Luke said. He turned around and looked over the group. “Who’s missing?”
“Anyone seen Thanisson?” Mandetat asked. “He’s not still sulking in his room is he?”
“No,” Unamo said. She turned her head toward the floor. “I went to check on him and he wasn’t there. I hadn’t been able to find him when we heard the crash.”
“You don’t think he did something, do you?” Mitaka asked.
“I can’t imagine why he would,” Unamo said. She shook her head. “It’s not like him.”
Every fell into chatter, discussing where Thanisson was and whether or not he must have been involved, or if he was still somewhere else. They talked about if someone had snuck into the ship and taken him. It was even suggested that Armitage might have left on his own. They kept talking, and talking, and wasting time. And none of it mattered.
None of it mattered at all.
Ben had lost Armitage.
He screamed, slashing his lightsaber into the metal of the downed shuttle. White filled his vision and he kept throwing the lightsaber down, over and over again until his limbs ached and his vision fogged over.
Ben wasn’t sure how long the rage blinded him, but eventually exhaustion won out. He heaved in and out, his lightsaber hanging limp by his side as he caught his breath. A spark flashed in the corner of his eye, and he felt the heat from the melting metal.
“Haven’t seen that in a while,” Mandetat whispered.
Ben’s vision cleared and he whipped his head to the side. Mitaka and Mandetat had backed away, near plastering themselves against the one remaining ship in the small hanger. Ben looked the other way and saw the stern look on his father’s face, mirrored by Chewbacca, and the condemning one on Luke’s. Unamo and Finn stared him down, both calm and furious. Ben’s chest tightened, and his blood froze seeing the fear on Poe and Rey.
He turned to the side wall, eyes growing wide at the shower of sparks that came from the destroyed wall, mutilated by lightsaber burns.
Ben turned his lightsaber off and backed away from the wreck.
“Are you okay?” Han asked, coming closer. His father put his hand on Ben’s arm and squeezed. “Ben?”
“I’m going to kill him,” Ben said, turning his head toward open space. He squeezed his Lightsaber hilt and gritted his teeth. Snoke is the only one who would have taken Armitage, and he would pay for this. “Nothing is going to stop me.”
He yanked his arm out of his father’s hold and pushed past everyone staring quietly. They were wasting time, and Ben was finished. He grabbed Poe’s arm and tugged him along. “We’re going to Tatooine right now.”
“Ben,” Poe said. He stumbled after Ben and looked behind him. “Shouldn’t we talk about what just happened.”
“You’re helping me fly this ship,” Ben said. “That’s the only thing we need to talk about.”
“If you say so,” Poe said.
Ben’s heartbeat echoed in his ears as he marched to the top of the ship and to the control room. He practically threw Poe into the copilot’s seat and took the main controls himself.
He hoped Armitage wouldn’t be too angry with him for making him wait on a rescue.
Ben hoped Armitage was still there to be angry.
Hux woke to sweat drenching his brow, uncomfortably warm and limbs heavy. He slumped forward, his face toward the ground. His knees pulsed, complaining and angry at digging into the gritty stone floor under him that cut through his leggings. Strong arms held up Hux’s own, one set on each side. He hung between two bodies, both breathing heavily.
He turned his head up, staring straight into a black mask with silver highlights. His elbow was locked with the Knight’s, and when he turned his head he saw a mirror image on the other side. One Knight had a sniper rifle attached to his back, while the other was covered in various guns and explosives.
Hux must be on Tatooine; that would explain the heat.
“Good of you to wake up in such short time,” a voice said, raspy and deep. Hux dropped his head back on an aching neck, and blinked at the figure in the chair before him: Snoke. The humanoid, tilted his head to the side, stretching the scarring on his face. “But you always were one for punctuality, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise.”
“Snoke,” Hux said, breathing in. He shook his head and tried to focus through the haze. He’d been drugged on the yacht. Hux looked around the room. “Where’s Thanisson?”
“Always so concerned for others these days,” Snoke said. The man lounged in his chair, solid and odd without the holoprojector. He was tall and lanky, easily having a foot or two over Ben’s height, but very much flesh and blood. He lifted a bony hand and waved it to the side. “He’s right there. I imagine he wouldn’t want to miss this after all this hard work.”
Hux shifted in the Knight’s hold, his own legs still numb from the drug. A few feet to his left, just behind the sniper he saw Thanisson. The young man glared, scowling heavily at Hux with bags under his eyes.
Thanisson had drugged him; he’d been working for Snoke.
“How long were you planning this, Thanisson?” Hux asked, ignoring the larger threat for now. Snoke sat back amused, content to watch and did not interrupt the conversation. Let him be entertained; Hux wanted to know why Thanisson had done this. What had gone wrong? Hux flexed his fingers to test his muscles. “How long have you been working with Snoke?”
“How long?” Thanisson spit. He turned his nose up, shooting Hux an ugly look from the corner of his eye. He dropped his arms by his side, fists clenched. Thanisson hissed, “Since you told us about the attack from the Resistance. The Supreme Leader told me that you would betray us and run away with Lord Ren to leave the rest of us to rot, and he was right! You betrayed us!
“But I listened to Mitaka and followed you, hoping that it wasn’t really true and you had another plan. That you’d have some way to turn it all around and get back at the Resistance, but you didn’t. You gave up! You let us all fall!
“You’re the traitor here, not me!” Thanisson yelled.
His voice echoed in the large chamber, bouncing off the dark sand walls. Hux flinched under his glare and caught himself. He steeled his own and leaned up, tugging against the Knight’s that held him.
Hux shook his head, “I betrayed the Order, yes, but I have never intended to leave the rest of you to suffer. I have done everything to protect you!”
“No,” Thanisson said. “You’ve sulked like a beaten dog in your room.”
“Enough,” Snoke said, lifting his hand. “Let us get back to the business at hand.”
“You kidnapped me and I’m guessing have made,” Hux sucked in a breath and stopped himself before he could give Snoke the satisfaction of hearing that name once again (only Hux could call his Jedi that other name now, never Snoke), “Ben even angrier with you than he was before.”
“There isn’t much of a difference between calmly wanting to kill someone, and viciously wanting to kill someone,” Snoke said. “Aside from possibly the length of time the murderer wants to draw it out, but in this case, it will take all the young Jedi has to kill me, so it makes no difference either way.”
“If you know that,” Hux asked, “what was the point of bringing me here alive? Why not just kill me?”
“I want to make him angry,” Snoke said, “not break him. The Jedi is rather useless to me as a mindless brute, or a defeated wreck.”
“He’s useless to you regardless,” Hux said. He tugged lightly on his arm, but the Knight holding him only tightened his grip. The Knight jerked Hux forward, sliding his knees on the ground. Hux stilled, and glared at Snoke. “Ben’s never going to work for you again. His loyalties lie elsewhere.”
“To you,” Snoke said. He tapped his finger on the edge of his chair’s arm. “If you come to me, he’s bound to follow.”
“I was loyal to you only when you supported the First Order,” Hux said, chest heavy. Thanisson standing to his side remained downcast and angry in the distance. His betrayal was Snoke’s doing. Everything that had happened was Snoke’s fault. Hux yelled, “You abandoned them, and I owe you nothing! I’ll die before I declare any loyalty to you again.”
“You will bow to me,” Snoke said.
He held a hand up and Hux felt the familiar tug in his head. He had felt it before when Leia had rooted around in his mind. Hux snarled and jerked forward. “Get out of my head!”
“No,” Snoke said. Hux squeezed his eyes shut, concentrating hard on forcing the man out. Ren had said once that non-Force sensitives could fight it if they had a strong enough will. Hux had been short on that lately, but now more than ever he had to get a grip. He couldn’t afford to lose to Snoke. Not when Ren was still counting on him. Snoke laughed. “So you do still call him ‘Ren’, don’t you? This might be easier than I thought.”
Hux opened his eyes glaring up. His eyes watered, and he dropped his head further, gripping his hand into fists. He growled, “You will not win. I will not let you mind trick me!”
“Not immediately,” Snoke said. He kept his hand raised, and Hux felt the pounding in the back of his head, like something had reached inside and squeezed. “It will take some time to rewrite everything in there, but you will fall and you will worship me again.”
“Ben will get here,” Hux said, whining as the pulse in the back of his head echoed. It called to him over, and over. The further the tried to escape it, the louder it yelled. Hux shouted, trying to use his own voice to drown it out. “He’s on his way now! I can fight you off that long!”
“Do not worry,” Snoke said. He crooked his face into a twisted smile. “My Knights will keep dear Kylo Ren at bay while you and I work together. I will have plenty of time to get you where you need to be.”
“These two?” Hux asked, gritting his teeth together as the pain shot down his spine across all of his nerves. He twisted in their grips, falling forward. Hux laughed into his chest. “They won’t even be a challenge.”
The Knight to his left snickered, the bombs on his belt clacking with the motion. The mocking laugh felt like a knife blade shoved under Hux’s ribs. He shuddered as another wave of Snoke’s voice filtered in the back of his head, asking for him to give in. Hux shook his head and focused on the amused Knights.
The Knight looked over his shoulder, his gaze pointed. Hux followed it and looked beyond him. From the darkness, a series of shadows walked forward, all of them armed and all of them wearing metal masks of various shapes, sizes and forms.
Hux counted nearly twenty men and women, all dressed in black robes, and more kept coming.
“You know,” Snoke said, leaning his chin on his hand. “I never have figured out why people keep assuming I only had seven Knights, just because they were the only ones I sent out on missions.”
Snoke threw a hand up again; Hux screamed.
We’re down to the wire people! Three to four more chapters and this (part) will be done! I can’t wait. It feels so good finishing this thing. It’s easily my longest fanfic (if you put the entire series together) and I’m so happy it’s going to be finished (I’m so bad at not finishing anything that isn’t a one-shot).
Speaking of, sorry it took so long to get this chapter up. After doing nearly daily updates, it feels weird to slow down to one a week. Hopefully it speeds up again, if just so I can get to the domestic fluff that will be the finale. Heh. Thank you for holding in there and reading either way!
Dopheld stepped off the ship into the hot sun of Tatooine. He stuck close to Mandetat and Unamo, wary of the tension in the air. They had been betrayed, and now it was more important than ever for the three ex-First Order officers to stick by each other.
With no sign of Thanisson on the yacht, it was easy to figure out he had had a hand in the general’s abduction.
To say that trust had been lost to the First Order leftovers was an understatement.
Thankfully, that distrust had come in the form of wary looks and a cold shoulder over anything aggressive. Everyone had too much on their mind dealing with the inevitable confrontation with Snoke, and the retrieval of their General. Finn, unsurprisingly as he had been there once himself when he first defected, had started to play mediator. The man always made sure he walked between Dopheld’s group and the rest of Lord Ren’s friends like a living buffer.
If the Jedi weren’t bad enough of a potential threat if push came to shove, there was still the two Wookie trailing behind the group (one of which was also a Jedi, Dopheld reminded himself). If this group decided that their trust was misplaced and it’d be easier to get rid of the officers to be safe, Dopheld and the others could do little to stop them.
And on top of all that, they could no longer count on Lord Ren stepping in on their behalf for Hux’s sake in a worst case scenario.
Dopheld dared a glance at the man leading their trope, his new, long black hooded cloak trailing behind him as he strode forward through the sand. His eyes were narrowed and his shoulders were squared; his gait easily recognizable as the same intimidating stride as Kylo Ren used to stalk the corridors of the Finalizer. It was so familiar, in fact, that Dopheld was now sure this was just how the man walked when he was upset (He must have been upset all the time back in the First Order. It made so much sense in hindsight.).
It was hard not to use the man’s old name in this situation. Nothing about him at the moment suited the soft “Ben” that would sometimes fall from Hux’s lips.
“Where are we headed again?” Mandetat asked, voice low and interrupting Dopheld’s thoughts. “Don’t think I caught it.”
“Catina in Mos Eisley,” Solo said, his gaze glued to his son’s back. The man’s hands twitched every so often, and he kept sharing glances with Chewbacca and Skywalker when he thought Lord Ren wasn’t paying attention. Solo licked the side of his lip, putting his hand over his gun. “That dive is the best source of information we’ve got.”
“Do you believe they’ll have any information of use?” Dopheld asked, curious despite himself. If it was anything like the bar they visited on Mustafar, he rather doubted it. But all the same, even the Jedi seemed to agree, so there must be some merit. Dopheld tapped a few steps up so he could speak softer. “Snoke doesn’t strike me as the type to communicate with those sorts.”
“It’s not so much a direct connection to him we’re looking for,” Solo said. “But indirect ones. Signs of people in dark clothes, or areas that are usually vacant suddenly getting busy. That sort of thing.”
“Alright,” Dopheld said. “We can listen in for that.”
“This would be so much easier if that monster was unable to cloak people,” Rey said, fists clenched. She looked over her shoulder at Skywalker. “Are you sure neither you or Ben can sense where they are?”
“If we could, we’d have found him by now,” Lord Ren snapped over his shoulder.
Rey flinched in response, and Skywalker breathed in slowly before speaking softly. “Don’t yell at Rey.”
Lord Ren grunted in response, glaring at an alien as it passed by so the figure skittered out of the way. At the next street, Lord Ren ducked into a doorway and Dopheld heard the distinct sound of chaotic noise silencing.
Dopheld swallowed, having a gut feeling that the next few hours weren’t going to go well for anyone.
As it turned out, Ben did not need to look hard for the signs of the Knights of Ren: There was one waiting for him at the Catina bar.
The Knight had five blasters tucked into various belts and holsters, and crossed belts over his chest covered in explosives. He lounged on the bar top, swirling a mixed drink around in its glass, despite being unable to drink it with his mask.
“You certainly made good time,” the Knight said, holding his drink up in a mock toast. “That general of yours must have been one heck of a lay for all this trouble.”
“Tell me where he is and you die in a second,” Ben said. He yanked his lightsaber off his belt, lighting it. The last few lingering Catina patrons who hadn’t sprinting out the second Ben walked in, took the time to scamper off now. Less people to get in his way. Ben snarled, “Don’t tell me, and you’re going to be begging me to kill you.”
“It is so nice to hear you sounding like yourself again,” the Knight said. He dropped the glass, letting it hit the ground hard enough to shatter. The liquor splashed against the side of his boot, and he slides away from the bar front. “But, enough reminiscing. You’re here for business, aren’t you Master?”
“Last chance,” Ben said, swinging his lightsaber in a circle at his side. His blood pumped cold; he swung the saber around a second time. “Where’s Hux?”
“Hux?” The Knight laughed. He pulled a bomb off his belt, tossing it up and down twice. “I thought it was ‘Armitage’ now?”
Ben saw white.
Mandetat yanked Dopheld back by the arm and out of the cantina. They’d barely taken two steps in when Lord Ren went into a rage and ran at the Knight waiting in the center. Dopheld dropped into Mandetat’s chest and held his hands up when the patrons of the bar came running out in mass, frightened by the fight.
Rey grabbed her saber and almost went in, but she was stopped by Lowbacca who shook his head. “What are you doing?”
“Hold Rey,” Skywalker said. “There’s just one in there right now, and with Ben’s state of mind, we’d just be getting in his way.”
The girl huffed but stepped back. The sounds of the lightsaber swooshing filled the air, and everyone flinched when the first blast of explosives sounded. Smoke poured out of the cantina’s windows.
They could all hear Lord Ren’s angry cries, and wicked laughter in response.
Dopheld turned to Skywalker, waving at the doorway where the crashing and explosives continued, almost to a comedic effect (if Dopheld wasn’t so terrified). “Was that normal behavior before he became Kylo Ren?”
“Ben has always had a temper, but I’ve never seen him this bad,” Skywalker said. He turned to Dopheld and frowned. “Was this normal for how he acted as Kylo Ren?”
“Yes and no?” Dopheld asked, turning back to the doorway. He leaned into Mandetat’s side, the man’s hand still on his arm and bit the edge of his lip. “Lord Ren was famous for his temper, and the immediate destruction of equipment that followed. He wasn’t like this on the battlefield, though. He was dangerous and terrifying, but never so out of control.”
“This can’t all be because Hux is missing, right?” Solo said, rubbing the underside of his nose with his thumb. “He wasn’t even this mad when his mother did a mind trick on the guy.”
Dopheld crossed his arms. He was worried about the General too, but breaking down like this wouldn’t help the man at all. Lord Ren was too blind with anger to get any useful information out of all of this. He was doing more harm than good, surely. Couldn’t he see that?
“Shouldn’t we go in and help him?” Rey asked, pointing into the Catina. “I know it’s just one man and Ben’s being more reckless than usual, but the sooner we take him down, the faster we can question him for information and find out where Snoke is.”
“I agree,” Finn asked, shifting his hold on his rifle. Dameron to his left kept watching inside the doorway, brows scrunched together. If Dopheld remembered right, Dameron was Lord Ren’s childhood friend. He supposed this behavior was new and disturbing for him as well. Finn tapped the side of his gun. “We should end this.”
“Do you want to go in there and get between them?” Skywalker asked, holding his hand out. “Be my guest.”
Rey, Finn, Dameron, and even Solo, all wisely stayed put when faced with the sound of a lightsaber scorching everything in its path.
“So what are we going to do to find Snoke?” Finn asked, looking away from the door. “I doubt what Ben’s doing is going to get anything we can use.”
“I’ll second that,” Skywalker said. He crossed his arms, hiding his hands in his robes and tilted his head to the side in thought. “We could wait for Snoke to invite us into his trap. A little counter productive, but our plan isn’t quite going the way we intended as it is.”
“That and traps tend to not be as effective when you know it’s a trap,” Solo said, with his Wookie companion growling in agreement with a heavy nod. “What he said.”
“Unless he knows we know it’s a trap and has a second one,” Finn said. He shrugged, looking over the sandy roads and scowling. “This is the guy that pulled the wool over a group as big as the First Order.”
Dopheld couldn’t help his own glare, but bit his tongue. Even though Lord Ren scared him the most, he couldn’t underestimate everyone else.
The Jedi Wookie started to say something, waving his hand up, the fur swinging. Chewbacca grunted in agreement before Solo and Skywalker started in on the conversation. Dopheld was happy to note that Rey, Finn and Poe seemed to be as out of the loop on the conversation as he was.
About four minutes into their impromptu planning, Unamo spoke up: “Isn’t it too quiet?”
Everyone turned toward the Catina, narrowing their eyes at the quiet that lay beyond the dimmed doorway.
“After all that fuss, I expected you to last a bit longer,” Snoke said, leaning back. He held his hand up, tipping back the chin of the man staring at nothing. Caught in a daze, mouth open slightly, Hux barely kept himself upright in the near trance state as he stood next to Snoke’s throne. “But I suppose breaking a broken thing isn’t too hard in the long run.”
“Sir,” his Knight said, walking into the room. His sniper rifle clicked against his back from the holster. He knelt at the foot of the throne. “The Master has arrived on Tatooine and has made contact with the messenger.”
“I take it the messenger is dead?” Snoke said, leaning back. He tapped his finger against Hux’s cheek. “And your young Master is on his way?”
“Soon, though he is delayed,” the Knight continued. “Upon seeing the aftermath of the battle, his companions are attempting to intervene and smother his anger.”
“I suppose that means we should move a bit faster before he comes to his senses, then,” Snoke said. He dropped Hux’s chin and put his hand on the side of his arm rest. “We can’t have all that blinding anger we’ve worked so hard to build dissipate, now can we?”
“No, sir,” the Knight said, shaking his head.
“Why don’t you take a few of your fellow Knights and pay them a visit?” Snoke said. He leaned back in his seat and waved a hand in dismissal. “Keep them busy so that our headstrong Master Knight can slip away in the confusion. We do know how badly he wants to rescue his precious general now, don’t we?”
“As you command,” the Knight said. He arose and stalked out of the room, his long coat flapping behind him.
Snoke turned back to his waiting guest, still breathing lightly and glossy eyed. He raised a hand toward the man, and lowered it in the air. The Force commanded his new puppet and the man dropped to his knees. Snoke patted the man’s head, straightening his hair.
“I should get you ready,” Snoke said, tugging lightly on a red strand. “Your knight will be here soon, and I’d hate to disappoint him with an unprepared welcome.”
Hux leaned forward when Snoke flattened his palm on the man’s head, digging his fingers into his hair.
“Let’s get to work on retrieving our lost Knight,” Snoke said, closing his eyes and sinking into Hux’s head with the Force. “It’s about time he came home.”
The general pitched forward into a deep sleep, and Snoke caught him before he could fall. He allowed the man’s head to rest on Snoke’s thigh as he stroked the man’s hair. Hux could sleep for now, when he awoke, Snoke was sure that dear Kylo Ren would meet his most formidable opponent to come.
He’d have no choice but to surrender.
Yeah, sorry about the continued cliffhangers. It’s just how the story wants to go. *tiny shrug*
Also apparently young Armitage got some scenes in that new Aftermath: Empire’s End novel & I’m not sure if I want to try and integrate that or not into this series (the next part will deal with Hux & his family, so you know…). I might continue to take creative liberties with this AU. Though it is nice to know people use his first name pretty freely, even if in this fic I kinda nixed that. I like his name. I don’t know why other people seem to dislike “Armitage.”
Last note, I feel bad for Unamo. She’s been crushing on Mitaka this whole series, but she just didn’t get in there in time. In another AU maybe…
Ben yanked his arm away from his father. “I just told you I know where Snoke’s temple is! Why are we still wasting time here?”
“You need to calm down,” Luke said. He held his hand up, face glaring hard as he stared Ben down. Didn’t Luke know what was at risk? He knew where Armitage was being held, and who knew what Snoke was doing to him? Even if it was a trap, Ben needed to leave now and Luke wanted to lecture when Armitage could be undergoing torture. Luke held a hand up. “You’re out of control with your anger.”
“My anger is justified,” Ben said. He gripped his hand into a fist and breathed in heavily through his nose. “And when Snoke is dead, it’ll go away. We need to hurry.”
“You will calm down, or we’ll confront Snoke without you,” Luke said. He waved his arm at the smoking Catina, where a few scavenging locals were picking up the loose pieces. “You’ll be nothing but a liability if you continue to let this anger cloud your judgement and control your actions.”
“You think you can actually stop me from going?” Ben asked, taking a step forward.
Luke narrowed his eyes. “I think if you’re making threats of that nature, I’m more than justified in benching you for the rest of this assignment.”
“Okay, let’s all calm down,” Han said, holding his hand up and taking a step between Ben and his uncle. “No one’s leaving anyone by themselves.”
“He’s a liability if he goes into this fight this angry,” Luke said, pointing at Ben. “This is exactly what Snoke wants. That’s why he took Hux. It’s why he’s taunting you. The man knows anger is your weakness and he’s exploiting it. You have to fight this Ben and get control of yourself.”
Ben sucked in air through his teeth, and narrowed his eyes. “Snoke is six miles south of here under the sand in an old Hutt fortress. That’s where I’m going, and we are done talking.”
“Ben,” Luke said again.
“We should have this conversation when there isn’t a large group of people in black robes headed our way,” Poe said, taking his gun out of his holster. His eyes were locked on a spot further down the sand-covered street. “Don’t you think?”
“Weren’t there only supposed to be seven of them?” Finn asked, holding up his rifle. He blew out, ruffling loose sand that clung to his skin. His eyes were narrowed and he looked as frustrated as they all felt. “We killed six right? Where did all of these guys come from?”
“That’s a lot of Knights,” Han said, turning. His own gun pulled out and Lowbacca’s lightsaber fired up at the same time Chewbacca checked his bowcaster ammo. Han looked toward Ben. “The uh, guy in there say anything about that?”
Ben turned his lightsaber back on and spun it as he watched the approaching hoard, all dressed in black robes and heavy metal masks. “No.”
“Of course not,” Han said.
“They don’t have the Force, right?” Rey said. She had her own lightsaber lit and was in a readied pose. “We can do this. It’s only twenty or so.”
“What she said,” Lowbacca growled. “We’ve been through worse.”
“The conversation is not over, Ben,” Luke said, pointing hard as he tugged out his own saber. “But for now, I suggest we handle what’s right in front of us.”
“Didn’t expect Snoke to send the trap to us,” Ben’s father muttered under his breath.
“Let’s take care of this quick then and let him know what a failure this message was!” Rey said. She ran forward, meeting the blade of the first knight and knocking it out of his hand. “Fall!”
The rush of Knights met them, and Ben kicked one in the gut. The man stumbled back and yelled, coming up again. Ben cut him in half and looked over the fighters. They were good, but they were no where near the level of the six he had been familiar with. Perhaps these were recruits that had shown up after Ben’s betrayal. Between Uncle Luke, Rey, and Lowbacca, the attacking group was more annoying than a real threat.
He twisted to the side, slicing a second man in half and threw his hand out to use the Force and blow a man through the Catina window.
Ben glanced at Armitage’s friends and they had all taken cover. Mitaka and Mandetat were firing their blasters, while Unamo scanned the area, letting them know where people were. They had a handle on the situation.
If anything, this was just another delay between Ben getting to Armitage. Ben narrowed his eyes.
Just a delay.
“Where is he going?” Dopheld asked, looking back as Ben knocked another knight over and turned on his back heel. The man yanked his hood up over his head and made a sprint for the side of the battle. He ducked down an alleyway and made a sprint for it a few seconds later. Dopheld repeated himself in disbelief: “Where is Ben going?”
Mandetat snorted and kept firing his blaster. “Take a guess.”
“I assume we’re going to follow him?” Unamo asked, voice as monotone as ever despite the light of fire behind her eyes. Dopheld was impressed she had read his mind. Unamo paused for only a second as the three of them stayed put behind their cover. “Or am I wrong?”
“We’re following. It’s not like the rest of the group will notice we slipped away,” Mandetat said. He fired another few shots without looking into the heat of the battle. “They’re rather busy.”
“If the scary Jedi can disappear without no one noticing, I agree,” Dopheld said. “We shouldn’t face any opposition in choosing to follow him instead of staying here.”
“Then shall we?” Unamo said. She stood a fraction higher, sharp eyes scanning over the screaming fight next to them. “We’ll have an opening to the same alley in about two seconds.”
“Go,” Dopheld said.
On Unamo’s hand drop, the trio made a dash for the alleyway Ben disappeared into, and Dopheld ducked his head to avoid stray blaster fire. The sounds of the fight disappeared into a cluster of sounds as their feet smashed against the sand and ran through the city.
About five minutes of running later, they managed to make it to a space port just in time to watch Ben punch a man out and steal his speeder.
Dopheld turned to Mandetat and shoved a comm in his hand. “Follow Ben and keep in touch. We’ll meet you where he stops in a little bit.”
“Where are you going?” Mandetat asked.
“To get some insurance,” Dopheld said. He shoved Mandetat on the shoulder. “Go! Steal another speeder before he gets too far. I’ve got this!”
“Yeah,” Mandetat said. He grabbed the back of Dopheld’s head and tugged him forward into a kiss before nodding. “You do. See you there.”
The man ran off, smacking another poor soul away from his speeder with the back of his blaster. He sped off and Dopheld sucked in a breath to steady himself. This was it. It was all coming down to this moment, wasn’t it?
“We should hurry,” Unamo said, tugging on Dopheld’s sleeve. “There’s not a second to waste with the General’s life on the line.”
“I agree,” Dopheld said. He gripped his fist tightly and sprinted back toward the other end of the large space port.
They would not lose Hux, and he refused to let the man’s rescue be left up to a loose canon Jedi!
Everything about location the dead Knight’s instructions had led Ben to screamed “Trap” from the distracting Knights of Ren allowing Ben to break off from the group, to the open door leading into the underground facility.
The Force screamed at him, full of nauseating bad feelings, but he shoved it down. He didn’t need a higher life force to tell him that nothing good waited for Ben at the bottom of that stairway.
Nothing about this would be easy, but Ben found himself not caring.
Standing here, Armitage’s presence was revealed and Ben could feel him again. Only a few floors below the surface, he was waiting. It was a remarkable source of strength, and Ben held to it.
Trap or not, Ben was getting Armitage back.
He strode forward with a confident step and calm breathing. His anger had boiled over into something as still as his lightsaber blade, and just as hot. Empty corridors met Ben, but it didn’t bother him. A trap was a trap, and it all pointed to a showdown between Ben and Snoke.
He could handle that.
Perhaps when he started this mission, this would have been intimidating. He’d been in Snoke’s audience before. Ben had felt the oppressive, dark air that smothered his breath and body in the same overwhelming aura. He had had the man in his head. Ben knew the difference in their strength once, but now, now Ben saw through the guise.
Snoke was an old man who used the same Force that Ben did. Whatever strength Snoke had, Ben could also access if he had the right focus.
With his current level of anger, Ben was sure that there was no depths of darkness the Force would keep from him. Perhaps not the best state of mind for a Jedi, but Ben had already admitted to being bad at that, hadn’t he?
(Was this the same thing, though? Ben’s head pounded; hurting but more focused than it had ever been. He shoved down the nausea again; Armitage waited, he waited).
Ben held his lightsaber up to light his way down the dark hallway, loose sand dancing on the stone tiles under his feet. The door behind him slammed shut, and Ben continued his walk without turning to check. There was no one else in the building but the three of them.
It took power to take down Snoke, and power was what he had. Ben could feel it coursing through him with every livid heartbeat pounding in his chest.
At the end of the main corridor, a large set of thick, metal double doors waited. Ben breathed in and exhaled as he stopped before the final barrier between him and Armitage. Calm in his anger, he cut a hole through the door with his lightsaber, kicking it in with his boot.
The metal clanged hard against the floor and Ben stepped through, relishing the heat from the melted metal as he passed.
“It was unlocked, you brute,” Armitage said, arms crossed and smile warm. Ben stared at the man, unguarded and free, and lowered his lightsaber an inch. Armitage shook his head, pushing back his loose hair. “What took you so long?”
I love that it looks like Han & Ben were close in Empire’s End. I love that Ben was close to his dad (the way Han wanted). It makes that bridge scene in The Force Awakens like 10x more impactful. *le sigh*
Sorry about the late post! It’s like we’re getting to the end and that’s when everything pops up on me. Heh. (Aka: Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns came out and it owns me.)
“Armitage?” Ren asked, eyes glancing around the room. His lightsaber burned bright, casting a blue glow over him. Hux scrunched his nose at the saber, but brightened as he watched Ben’s face drop it’s fierce growl and turn down into something relieved upon seeing Hux (he must have missed him, too, of course he did). Ren looked behind Hux, glancing around the room. “Where’s Snoke?”
“He’s waiting for you, but that’s not important right now,” Hux said. He strode forward and threw his arms around Ren’s waist, dropping his head on the man’s shoulder. He breathed in, his nose twitching from the sand clinging to the other man’s clothes from the outside. Ren stiffened under his hold, but relaxed into it after a second. Hux squeezed harder, digging his fingers into Ren’s back. “I missed you.”
“Are you okay?” Ren asked. He rubbed Hux’s back with his free hand, holding his lightsaber further out with the other so it wouldn’t singe. “Did Snoke hurt you?”
“No, don’t be silly,” Hux said, patting the man’s waist. He nuzzled Ren’s neck and rocked them together. He was so warm, and so lovely. Hux wanted to stay here forever. “You’re late. What kept you?”
“I had to fight a Knight to find out where you were,” Ren said, though he sounded dazed. Hux kissed the side of his neck. Ren’s warmth was almost sweltering; perhaps he was getting a fever? It wouldn’t do for the man to be ill, not when he had so much to do. Ren stopped his hand on Hux’s back when the man kissed his neck again. “What are you doing?”
“I told you,” Hux said. Ren was always so shy about this; playing hard to get even from the beginning. But Ren always caved; he always did. He loved it when Hux held him (he knew this to be true). Hux’s cheeks split into a grin as he reached up, putting his hands on either side of Ren’s face. He rubbed his thumb back and forth on the soft skin. “I missed you.”
Hux missed his Ren so very, very much.
And best of all, they still had a little time before they were expected to greet the master. That was more than plenty of time for Hux to show Ren just how much he missed the man.
Snoke closed his eyes, leaning back in his chair; he concentrated on Skywalker and his ilk of students.
His Knights were about as a match for the good Jedi as Snoke had expected they would be, but their sacrifice was not in vain. It did not matter how many of those weaklings Skywalker and his students killed when you could always get more (or make more). Training the weak to be strong was not an art lost on Snoke.
At least strong enough to fulfill their job.
Which they had done in this case, so Snoke felt nothing as each one was struck down by a burning saber. The distraction had worked, and Snoke’s rather rebellious and wayward pupil had made an appearance exactly where he needed to be in Snoke’s den.
Potential like that always deserved top priority.
Even if the man had lied when he said it, he had declared loyalty all the same (and Snoke would hold him to it).
Speaking of, Snoke opened his eyes and let them fall on the great door at the end of his chambers. He supposed he should be prepared to greet his guest. His second distraction wouldn’t take long, and the young man would be here soon.
“Thanisson,” Snoke said.
The man snapped to attention from his standing place on the floor a few feet away from the throne. Pale, he blurted, “Yes, sir!”
“Make yourself useful and keep an eye on the monitors for any intruders,” Snoke said. He tapped his fingers on the edge of his chair rest. While he was certain he could keep track of where Skywalker was at all times, Kylo Ren would require most of Snoke’s attention when he arrived. It was already a challenge keeping a hold on the man’s anger at all times as it was. The man was strong, and Snoke would not underestimate him. “I don’t want any unexpected surprises when our guests arrive.”
“Yes, sir,” Thanisson said. He saluted and tapped away toward the side door of the chamber, opening it and disappearing into the control room.
After his departure, Snoke spared one last look to make sure Skywalker was still busy with his Knights before he closed his eyes again.
He had a much better ex-Jedi to watch at the moment.
Armitage kissed Ben, hard on the mouth and yanking him down by the back of the neck to deepen it. He licked Ben’s lower lip, nipping until Ben opened his mouth. Hux took advantage, letting his tongue pass between Ben’s teeth and his grip tightened on the back of Ben’s head, holding him in place.
He almost dropped his lightsaber.
Ben’s eyes nearly fell closed as he sank into the kiss, but he caught himself with a start and jerked back. Armitage tried to follow, but Ben shoved him back an inch, his hand splayed out on Armitage’s chest. “What are you doing?”
“Kissing you?” Armitage asked. He rubbed his finger along the back of Ben’s neck in a small circle. “I missed you, and we’ve got some time. Why not use it?”
“Time? But what about—” Armitage cut Ben off with another kiss. He chuckled and dropped his arms down to tug Ben forward by the waist. He slipped his fingers into the belt, and Ben had to grab his hand to stop him. “Armitage!”
“What?” He asked. His free hand continued on its path toward the inner layers of Ben’s tunic. Armitage snorted, still smiling and leaning in close enough that Ben could smell him. “You act like we’re in a rush. Relax. Honestly, we’ve got time to do more than a quickie and still have time to clean up afterwards with a shower, so turn that lightsaber off and come back down here and kiss me.”
“We’re in the middle of Snoke’s fortress,” Ben said, taking hold of both of Armitage’s wrists in one hand to get them out of his clothes, and to stop the distraction. He left his lightsaber on, eyes still darting between Armitage’s pout and the seemingly empty room. “This is not the place or time for this.”
“I just told you we had time,” Armitage said, sighing heavily in that way he used to do when a report was late or Mitaka had bad news. He tugged lightly on his arms, but didn’t put up much of a fight to get his hands out of Ben’s grip. Instead he took another step forward, cuddling up. He pushed up on his tip-toes and whispered in Ben’s ear. “And as for being shy, there’s no one here but you and I. It’s not like someone’s going to walk in on us. Wouldn’t it be fun to just lose ourselves right here in the hallway?”
“We need to leave,” Ben said. He took a step back, dropping Hux’s hands. He walked around Hux and strode further into the empty room. His senses were screaming at him, but the Force seemed muddled somehow in here. Like he was walking through thick water. Ben shook his head. “Where’s Snoke?”
“Busy,” Armitage said. The man crossed his arms and frowned. “He’s not expecting us until later, so I don’t know why you’re in such a hurry. Now come back here and see me.”
“Expecting us?” Ben asked.
“Yes,” Armitage said. “That’s why you’re here, right? You were on a mission, you’ve come home. You can give your report later, so there’s no reason you can’t spend time with me right now.”
Ben stared very hard at Armitage, his heart beating more heavily in his chest. He had a very bad feeling about all of this. Ben spoke slowly, squeezing the hilt of his lightsaber. “Armitage.”
“What’s my name?”
“Lord Ren,” Armitage said. “What else would it be?”
Like two more chapters to go. I’m sorry they’ve become so slow in coming, but they are coming. I swear. o_o
Let’s do this. I know Hux is ready to get this nightmare over with. Ha ha ha ha. He’s not in a great place right now. And if you’re worried about everyone who isn’t Ben, Hux, Snoke or Thanisson…don’t be. They’re doing their thing off page. *puts on cool glasses*
“What did he do to you?” Ben asked, breath leaving him. Armitage narrowed his eyes, confused and angry. It was as if he had no idea what was going on, or remembered what had happened before. Ben squeezed his lightsaber, voice tight. “Where were you last week?”
“On that wretchedly expensive yacht,” Armitage said, slowly shaking his head. “You should know that, considering we christened the bed. I happen to think that was rather memorable, so why do you look so confused—oh! Oh, of course.”
Armitage cut himself off with a chuckle. He clicked his tongue and laughed, light and far too relaxed for the situation they were in. He fell into a parade rest, looking smug like he was still on the bridge of his ship. “I could have sworn the Supreme Leader would have told you using a Force message, but I guess he didn’t. You don’t have to keep acting any more, Ren. I know everything now.”
“And what is it that you know?” Ben asked, the grip on his lightsaber growing tighter and tighter. He could almost hear the metal of the casing whine. “What exactly did he tell you?”
“Don’t be angry,” Armitage said, holding up his hands. He tapped over and put his hand on Ben’s chest, fingers flexing as they dug in. “I know you wanted to explain everything yourself, but I put up such a fuss after Thanisson picked me up that he felt it be best to fill me in, instead of dealing with me trying to escape and ruining everything.
“So I know the plan now, and you can stop acting,” Armitage said, mouth stretching into a wicked smile. He licked his lower lip. “And I can not tell you how relieved I was to find out it’s all been an act so you could kill Skywalker. Honestly, I was so happy that I’ll forgive you for keeping me in the dark and actually believing you betrayed the First Order.
“Not that I can blame you after our Supreme Leader explained,” Armitage said. He hugged Ben again, tight across the chest and burying his head into Ben’s neck. “My anger helped your cover, and it kept Skywalker from reading my mind and figuring it all out. Very clever, Lord Ren.”
“He told you all that,” Ben said, statement calmer than the boiling anger under his skin. A voice in the back of his head chanted sweet words of murder as he pictured slicing Snoke’s head off. “Did he?”
Armitage hummed in response, followed by a deep exhale and he leaned into Ben. “It was a nice touch having your Knights drop hints that you’d be coming home. It’ll make it all that much the better when you rid the universe of those Jedi.”
Ben kissed the top of Armitage’s head, to calm himself, but he couldn’t stop the growl in his voice. “And where is Snoke now?”
“Busy, but we’re meeting him in an hour,” Armitage said. He paused and looked up. “Why?”
“Where is he?” Ben asked again.
Armitage looked at his hand, still gripping tightly to his lit-and-ready-to-go lightsaber and pursed his lips. “Why are you so tense? You’d think you’d finally be relaxed coming home after all that time.”
Ben needed to kill Snoke and then attempt to undo whatever thing he’d done to get his grimy fingers into Hux’s head. “Where is Snoke?”
“You’re scaring me,” Armitage said, taking a step back. His eyes widened and he turned his head to the side, licking his lip, though this time the gesture was more nervous than enticing. “Why are you so angry?”
“Where is Snoke!” Ben yelled, unable to help himself. Every second he let Armitage stay like this under Snoke’s control was a second some of the damage might be permanent. They’d come to far, and gone through too much for Armitage to lose everything now. Ben gritted his teeth together. “Please tell me.”
“Oh,” Armitage said. He swallowed heavily and took a few extra steps back, his boots heavy on the floor. He put a hand to his mouth and shook his head back and forth slowly. “He said this could happen. I didn’t want to believe him. Oh, Ren. You want to kill the Supreme Leader.”
Ben said, nothing. He swung his lightsaber around once in a circle.
It was as good enough as saying yes.
Armitage drew his blaster and pointed it at Ben’s face, eyes and face turning hard. “I highly suggest you reconsider.”
Snoke felt the last of his Knights fade into the Force just around the time his dear, puppet general figured out the bad news.
No one liked a liar, and thanks to the Force and Snoke’s continued hold, the only dishonest soul that young Hux would see will be his dear, beloved “Lord Ren.” Snoke smiled to himself, holding up his hand. He sent a quick feeling of reassurance to the back of Hux’s mind, to make sure the young man stayed confident in his accusations and jumped conclusions.
When that was done, Snoke turned to the more important young man in the room. He had to make sure his efforts to rewrite the general’s brain did not go to waste. After all, it wasn’t the redhead that he wanted from this endeavor.
Snoke concentrated, holding his hand up high above his head, fingers clawed down. He focused on the young Jedi’s anger, simmering under his veins like a pot of water threatening to boil over. Snoke gave it the slightest push in the Force, as he had been doing for the past couple of weeks. Nothing enough to get himself noticed, but enough to put the man on edge.
The Force would give young Ren strength in his anger, but until he truly learned to hone it, he’d be sloppy and careless.
(As it always happens when one doesn’t pay attention and give true loyalties to their teachers.)
There was little resistance, and Snoke dared to sink in farther. So focused on his little general, Lord Ren let Snoke inside to the back of his head as a source of heat and anger.
If he got lucky, maybe the young Jedi would lose himself enough to just agree to what his little general was asking, though that was wishing too much.
Snoke instead banked on young Ren sabotaging himself when he came bursting through those doors looking for a fight.
“My lord,” Thanisson said, stepping into the room, head bowed down. “Skywalker and his group have just passed the first checkpoint into the desert. They’re on their way.”
“Let them come,” Snoke said. He dropped his arm back to the rest on his throne and grinned at the young officer. “This won’t take long at all.”
“I can not believe you’d let yourself be weakened by family after everything you’ve been through and given up,” Hux said. His hand shook on the blaster but he kept it on Ren’s face. The Supreme Leader had said this might happen. That at some point in time Lord Ren might believe his own act. The man was driven by emotions, and while it was a boon to his connection to the Dark Side of the Force, it also opened him up to make stupid decisions. “Tell me this is a joke and that you’re sticking to the plan. You’ve come home and we’re going to strike down Skywalker and his students when they walk through that door.”
“Snoke lied to you, Armitage,” Ren said, glaring harshly. “He messed with your head using the Force. That’s the only reason you’re saying this right now.”
“Please,” Hux said. He loved Ren dearly, he did, but the man could be so frustrating at times. “The Supreme Leader hardly has to brainwash me to wish for the death of the Jedi that wanted to ruin all your potential with their support of the New Republic.”
Ren’s hair fell in his face as he breathed out, dark bags under his eyes. The poor man looked horrible, and he’d only spent a few months undercover with his parents and “family.” How could he let himself get so taken in?
“Snoke lied to you,” Ren repeated. “I always planned to kill Snoke from the beginning. I was never loyal to the First Order, and the only reason you don’t know that right now is because Snoke messed with your head. That’s the truth, and I promise you I’m going to kill him for hurting you.”
“Maybe I do have this wrong.” Hux kept his gun trained on Ren’s face. There had to be more to this going on. The Supreme Leader had been very understanding about this entire ordeal. He even had—Hux paused. Why did Ren want to kill Snoke again? The first time he had tried to overthrow the man had been on Starkiller. Hux tightened his grip on the gun. What had it been? Oh, oh yes. Dark Force users and their nasty habit of overthrowing their masters. Hux narrowed his eyes. “If you’re going to make a play for power, you could at least be honest about it.”
“If your plan is to kill the Supreme Leader and take his place, then just say so,” Hux said. “You don’t have to go on and on about him lying about the plan, or trying to trick me into thinking you actually defected.”
“I’m going to kill him,” Ren repeated. He turned on his heel and stalked down the corridor, his lightsaber lighting his path. “I’m going to murder him.”
“Ren!” Hux yelled, lowering his blaster. He shoved the thing back in his holster (why had he even pulled it out?) and started after the man. “Where are you going?”
“To kill Snoke,” Ren repeated. The man threw his hand forward and swept it to the side, slamming a doorway open. Hux stumbled a second at the show of power before catching up again. Ren growled, almost like an animal. “He’s hiding himself in the Force, but I know he’s in here somewhere.”
Hux’s pulse pounded in his ears. It was hard to think with the constant ache, and Ren wasn’t making it easier. He held the side of his head as he chased after the storming Force user as he threw open doors as he passed, checking each one for a sign of life. Not that he’d find anyone. The only other person in the building aside from the Supreme Leader was Thanisson, and he was in the control room at the very end of the great hall.
“Ren,” Hux said. He grabbed the back of Ren’s cloak and tugged. “You need to get control of yourself and listen to reason. This rebellion will only get you killed. Is that what you want?”
“The only person who’s going to die is Snoke,” Ren said, stepping away from Hux’s grip easily. He slammed another door open and Hux winced at the sound. The man had yet to touch anything with his hand, instead throwing around the Force like it was a toy at his whim. The room felt heavy, and even without sensitivity, Hux felt a chill and darkness creeping up his skin. Ren threw a chair out of the way with a flick of his fingers. “Everything will be okay as soon as he’s dead.”
Ren continued stomping forward, growing closer and closer to the main champers where their Supreme Leader meditated. Hux dug his fingers through his hair and ignored the continued pulse. He needed another angle. Whether the man had fallen into the trap of his own cover story, or wanted power, or whatever he was doing, he needed to stop. If Ren kept going this way he would die.
Hux could not let Ren die.
Hux loved him.
“Please reconsider,” Hux said. He grabbed Ren’s arm, holding it between his own. Everything inside of Hux screamed at his show of weakness, but this was too important. In any other circumstance, Hux was above begging, but this was Lord Ren. This was the savior of the First Order; their Knight. He was Hux’s savior. “We’ve finally found a place to call home, and you are going to destroy it. Is that what you want?”
“This isn’t home,” Ren said. Something softened in his gaze. He paused, and turned toward Hux. The man lifted his free hand and placed it on the side of Hux’s cheek, and he leaned in close. Pressing their foreheads together, he breathed out. Hux’s skin tingled from the man’s feverish heat. Ren whispered so sweetly, even as he told Hux lies. “But once this is done, I will take you home. It’ll be just you and me and we’re going to be free of that monster. Alright?”
“Ren,” Hux said as the man stepped away again. His skin felt chilled from the lack of contact and he desperately wanted it back. Hux pressed the base of his palm into the side of his head to reclaim a sliver of it, but far too quickly, they’d reached the end of the hallway and there was only one door left. Challenging the Supreme Leader was choosing death. Hux pleaded, his voice thick. “Ren, please. See reason and don’t do this.”
The Knight threw his hand up, and the wave of the Force flickered his cape and Hux’s hair in the same motion that it threw open the main chamber doors.
Snoke waited for them, sitting in his chair in the center of the room. He lifted a hand, gesturing the two of them inside. “Welcome home, young Master of the Knights.”
Hux could do nothing to stop Ren from dashing forward with a yell.