Actions

Work Header

The Secret Life of Armitage Hux

Chapter Text

Decimation: That was the only way to describe Starkiller Base. It was not only what it had achieved but also how it had ended. Stormtroopers, First Order base staff and contracted base staff; all wiped out in a matter of moments. Maybe it was fair considering the atrocities Starkiller was responsible for.

 

The air reeked of smoke and burning remains but the dogfight still raged above: The Resistance versus the First Order; it was only a matter of time before one side folded. The trees shook, the ground quaked, pockets of snow erupted into geysers of powder and what little wildlife called the planet home scattered with no hope of escape. The panicked pounding of hooves, paws and pads rang through the woods accompanied by the alarmed calls and screeches as mates and offspring tried to find each other. Packs were separated, mothers were torn from their young; the weapon that resided inside made sure of it.

 

The sky eclipsed for a second time but the same triumph as the first would not happen; quite the opposite and many things that day would never be the same again. When the sky dimmed, it had spelled out an ominous prophecy. It was only just beginning; this war, this battle between light and dark, between good and evil, order and discord.

 

Amidst the hysteria, a towering figure trudged through the snow, bundled in a thick, black greatcoat; he searched for something or rather, someone. Eventually, he found what he sought: a mangled pile of mismatched rags; broken, bleeding and defeated. With difficulty, the healthier of the two gathered up his colleague and hauled him back to a waiting ship just before the ground cracked. When the planet started to crumble, there were scrambles in all directions to flee but most were in vain; unforeseen by the dark and prayed and fought for by the light. There were very few survivors of Starkiller; those who did survive were the very essence of the First Order and the Resistance.

 

While Kylo Ren was being stabilized en route to the Supreme Leader, General Hux gazed vacantly out the dusty window of the small carrier he had commandeered; the only thing he could find to fit the purpose of recovery and an unknown distance of travel. He watched as everything he’d worked for, everything he’d striven tirelessly for since he was a teenager go up in smoke; or dissolved into trillions of pieces, whichever one preferred and it seemed to only be a minor inconvenience to his master whose sole focus appeared to be the Knight. Armitage couldn’t help but be dismayed but found himself striving to obey regardless.

 

 


 

 

The coordinates were unverified; they just came to him. He had spent so long disregarding the “Force” as a fantasy but that particular incident made it somewhat more difficult to brush aside though then was not the time. When they finally did touch down after seemingly hours of autopilot and hyperspace, they found themselves on terrain overly similar to Starkiller; perhaps the Supreme Leader had chosen the planet for the weapon based on his preference in climate. There were no parting words between him and the Knight as the injured one dragged himself away to an inaudible calling and left the General standing in the icy sleet. It was then, unfortunately, that the redhead was set upon.

 

With a savage snarl and a crunch of snow underpaw, a Jakobeast of impeccable camouflage burst from its disguising surroundings and launched itself before he could wrangle his blaster free. The beast, strayed from its pack, hunted alone out of desperation before it complied itself with starvation and isolation but prolonged that fate by a one-in-a-million meal. Hux met the powder-coated ground with a low grunt, all the while grappling for his only line of defence that his fingers didn’t seem to want to enclose upon; his trusty blaster. Stunned and disordered, he turned just in time to see the tusked and horned creature rush him again but this time, with an agonizing and relentless crushing of its jaws into his forearm from above. His scream became swallowed by the snow drenched atmosphere and with no one for miles (Kylo Ren could have been anywhere by then), there was no one to help him anyway.

 

The hot crimson splattered in a horrifyingly beautiful contrast on the colourless landscape and with the smell of blood fresh in the air and well absorbed to the monster’s taste buds, its spurred attack runs would continue until there was nothing left to attack. With that in mind and the creature off on another blood-fuelled rampage before it came to claim him again, he edged away. Blurs of shaggy grey-white fur bobbed in and out of the distance as it prepared to close in again with the intoxicated howls ringing in his ears; he needed to find somewhere, anywhere.

 

The hollow materialized from nowhere as the draining life-force began to hit him hard; some other creature opted to aid him accidentally by abandoning its burrow to a gratitude it would never understand. On his belly and smearing the ground with blood like some morbid snail-trail as he heaved himself, the process was slow but it seemed the Force intervened again when the animal left him to that, undisturbed. Cramped, filthy and as cold as the outside, he forced himself deeper while the sounds of the thundering Jakobeast overhead shook loose debris from the tunnel; it was only a matter of time before the brute followed the scent and clawed him out. Fighting for consciousness between the cold, blood loss and shock, Armitage Hux sluggishly pulled his recently-ripped Garberwool greatcoat closer around his form, almost thankfully for the merciful placement of a random shelter. Digging in his pocket but so uncoordinated, it took longer than it should have to retrieve his com device, a scarcely used one with something of a secret status.

 

“M….Mort?” Armitage’s stomach plummeted at the jumbled static crackling over the piece of almost obsolete equipment. To go outside was to subject himself to attack again but the signal was impeded in his shelter; death was almost a certainty for the General. “Mort?!” Armitage tried again helplessly but didn’t have long to be desperate or dejected when the massive, pulverizing paw of the Jakobeast tore through the safeguard above his head (like a cat scooping into a fishbowl) and shredded through the soft flesh of his face. There was no time for pain or anguish or despair; everything extinguished.

 

 


 

 

 

Was he awake? He couldn’t be sure. He'd never quite felt like he did now; what floating on a cloud must have felt like. Still in darkness, Armitage felt a brush of tenderness ever so gently on his cheek; carefully avoiding any damaged patches though where those were, it was impossible for the male to tell. However, out of sheer self-preservation and after years of reflex training, the source in the shape of a wrist was snatched.

 

“Arm?" That voice.... “Baby, it’s me.” No.... He must have died huddled up in that Godsforsaken hole; he’d convinced himself he would never hear it again lest it be a trick of his own mind, enticing him to succumb to death in his brief fits of consciousness. But....

 

“Less....”

 

“Sweetheart, I need you to stay still.” Though still shrouded in oblivion, she sounded clearer and nearer; involuntarily, his grip tightened on her wrist. “You're on a lotta drugs right now, you’re in really bad shape. The droid’s tryna get you sorted but I’m here, love; I'm not goin’ anywhere.” That beat up old hunk of crap they kept in the cargo hold? He would die for sure.

 

Less....”

 

“Shhhh.... It’s okay.... I gotcha...” Another voice came from the void, one mechanical in nature and unemotional in tone.

 

“Probability of death is 2,851 to 1-“

 

“I swear to fuck, if you give me one more fuckin’ probability, I'll fuckin’ scrap you!!” Were he physically capable or not terrified of something he didn’t know yet, he might have laughed. She had a short fuse; particularly when she was angry, frustrated (her accent tended to intensify also, as did her brother’s) or afraid. He had seen her angry and frustrated before, sometimes with him but never afraid; if Nalesse was afraid, he had every reason to be too. “Mort?! The fuck are you?! Did you find one?!” Somewhere, a com added a third voice on the loudspeaker function, one that even in his drug addled state knew to be uncharacteristically cold and focused.

 

“I’m just touchin’ down now; I got one.”

 

“Thank fuck, get up here.”

 

 


 

 

 

Armitage didn't question the nothingness that still enveloped his vision, that shielded him from his companion; his senses and his reactions numbed. The clasp on her wrist was wiggled free in favour of a comforting hold and a genial squeeze which he returned out of fear.

 

“I'm goin’ nowhere.” The promise was resolute, her breath and hair tickling his face from her close proximity was welcome and the kisses were reassuring. “I love you and I'll be here, no matter what happens.”

 

However, even in his stupor, he wasn’t too drugged to know that action was prompted by the entry of two more sets of footsteps to the room; one more reluctant than the other.

 

“Nice’n’easy, that’s it.” The voice from the com reminded the petrified Twi’lek medic with a loaded blaster to his back. “Don’t do anythin’ stupid now; if he dies, I send you with him for company. Just think about your family, yeah?” They were not above this; kidnap, blackmail and even murder to protect one of their own. The medic received a droned synopsis of Armitage’s condition from the droid, eying him over nervously as he pulled a pair of gloves from his bag; the bag Mort demanded he bring. 

 

“That’s an Imperial uniform.” The Twi’lek observed with dread of the tattered remains of the once proud outfit and the insignia that represented his life’s work; resistance had been predicted, hence the blaster.

 

“No, it isn’t.” Mort replied sedately as the medic turned to argue the point, despite his trepidation.

 

“Yes, it is! I can’t and I won't-!” His resolve must not have been very high since his sentence was cut off and his mouth dried by the mere sound of the blaster’s safety clicking off.

 

“No. It isn’t.” Mort gestured the barrel of the blaster back to his fallen associate while his sister looked on, unfazed by such extreme methods. “Think about your kids, Doc; they’ll want t’see you in one piece tomorrow when they get up. So do what needs to be done and they can do just that.” It seemed by the way the Twi’lek slinked back to the scarlet stained redhead on the bed that those closest to him were more important and now, he would do what it took to protect them; he and Mort were not too different in that respect.

 

“I need a clear space.” He murmured to the fierce looking female at the bedside but refused to even glance in her direction out of timidity; he focused on the wounds, mind calculating his equipment and if he would indeed have enough. “I need to be able to move about freely if I am to-“

 

“I'm his wife.” Armitage couldn’t see if the medic recoiled from the sheer venom laced into those three words but he knew (had it been directed at him) that he would have. “I’m not goin’ anywhere.” The haughtily defiant reply and indignant toss of her head was expected; some show of insolence always was when tempers and emotions were running high. The medic simply shrugged, he had given them fair warning.

 

“Well...” Punctuated with the snapping of the sterile gloves onto his sapphire hands, the medic dived right in with Mort’s warning in mind; if saving an Imperial meant he could see his children in the morning, any unofficial vows of restricting care from the opposite side was forgotten. “I hope you have a strong stomach.”

 


 

 

When Armitage woke again several hours later, the darkness was more controlled with the lights simply off and the room cool for his welfare. He recognized the feel of his own bed; not his officer's cot, but his own marital bed complete with the smaller form of the wife he constantly pined for. A set of preserving arms encircled his torso and kept him close out of paranoia; even though he was significantly bigger than her and always her protector (when he managed to slip away for a night or a few hours, not that she needed protecting) but tonight, she was the guardian.

 

“You a’right?” The change in the tempo of his breathing had given him away though there was no way for him to know if she had been asleep or not; he tilted his head back enough to spy her but something felt.... wrong.

 

“Still dazed.” He answered tiredly, opting to keep his voice as low as hers to avoid disturbing the peace of their bedroom though he suspected he couldn’t speak any louder if he tried. “What happened?”

 

“Well....” He felt her straighten somewhat and pursed his lips at the relieving crack of her back; yes, she was as unladylike and un-Imperial as they came, just the way he liked her. “Put it this way, there’s Jakobeast pelt, tusks and horns goin' on the market tomorrow.” Her wakefulness became apparent by her lighter tone and comfort-seeking wiggle in the bed; Armitage’s head found her chest where his own comfort was completed and normality began to flood back. Not that they were normal. Companionable silence settled once more while his wife alternated between nuzzling and kissing his face, only in the unaffected areas; that is, before she addressed the Bantha in the room. “The last time you were home, I put a tracker in your com; Mort told me not to but…. It’s not that I don’t trust you or didn’t trust you but…. All is as the Force wills it….”

 

“Nalesse….”

 

“I know you think it’s stupid, you’ve told me enough times.” She let that subside, wetting her lips while her husband dozed in between sentences. Her voice hollowed as the bone-chilling scene replayed in her head; action had never evaded Nalesse Du Sade until that moment when all she could do was wail while the others took aim. “I’m glad I did it. When we got there, it was throwin' you 'round like a ragdoll; I genuinely thought I was a fuckin' widow. Your face, your head, your arms, your legs, your torso…. The droid almost malfunctioned when it scanned you-“

 

You mean like it did when Mort broke his toe? It’s getting better.”

 

“Hey, we can’t all afford the Imperial medical droid units. Ye change them like I change knickers, I can’t even name a model.” The argument was pointless but perhaps it was better than admitting there was a bigger problem; it was, however, inevitable. “Look, love….” The sigh was heavy, hesitant and resigned; Nalesse was not usually a procurer of the truth but circumstances dictated. “The medic did what he could but…. He couldn’t save your left eye.” That sense of misplacement resolved itself when those words were uttered. Gingerly, a bandaged hand lifted to the gauze covering the stuffed but otherwise empty socket; the remainder of the drugs forbidding him from differentiating his sensations and disorientating his system.

 

“Did Mort kill him?”

 

“No, he let him go when you stabilized but uhh…. We won’t be comin' back there again for a while.” Suddenly fidgety, Armitage squirmed to sit up and with a dry, excruciating sob, he managed to do so; much to his wife’s fret. Stinging, stabbing, twinging, cramping and every other type of pain simultaneously flooded his nerves, pricking and poking like white hot needles; the full extent of his injuries still unknown but ever an Imperial man, pain was simply physical and could be overcome. “I would’ve helped you sit up if you’d told me.”

 

“I needed to do it myself.” He rebuffed (typical Imperial pride) with echoes of trauma still embedded in his voice and the minute adjustment in his position certainly didn’t help; appreciatively, he sank back into his wife’s waiting arms where the kiss almost made the strain worth it. 

 

“You won’t be doing anythin' for a while, I hope you know that,” She warned and he could feel the arched eyebrow burning into the side of his head. “No sex for a long time, either.”

 

“Hardly fair.” The protest was mild though he suspected as much; he could barely move in the slightest without affliction, never mind fuck her the way she needed.

 

“Yeah, well, you can’t even keep your head up without help, let alone keepin' somethin' else up.”

 

“How crude you are.” He sniffed, then gagged on the inhale at the whiff of anti-septic radiating from himself; his brief moment of humour spoiled by the assault on his nasal cavities. “Lights, thirty percent.” Concerned, Nalesse watched while Armitage winced as the lighting fixture fulfilled its command and encroached on his unaccustomed and sensitive vision. He ignored the burning in his skull and pushed the threats of his aching neck muscles to turn and take her in properly. Looking back at him (albeit tainted with unease) were eyes of the most extraordinary shade of lavender; the first thing he’d noticed when she dumped a decapitated head on his desk some five years previous. Her skin like fresh milk, white and unblemished held an arrangement of the most prepossessing features; all framed by a mass of inky coils that always managed to get in the way but she refused to tie them up.

 

The extremity in her looks; her eye colour, the paleness of her skin and the darkness of her hair were all consistent to one condition: Alexandria’s Genesis. The symptoms continued beneath her clothes; no hair below her neck, no menstruation (though still fertile and they combated that accordingly) and an extended lifespan of approximately one hundred and fifty years. But Nalesse still only graced thirty while her husband neared thirty-five.

 

"I just..... I can't believe we were fightin' and I nearly lost you." It was immaterial, it was trivial and most importantly, it was over but it still niggled at her that if things had happened differently, her husband would have died in the middle of a stupid argument. The regret was obvious in that beguiling face but Armitage was quick to soothe her. 

 

"I did what my duty dictated." Was there really a way to condone Starkiller? "I understand what the route meant to you but I couldn't have you in the firing line as well."

 

"It was my fault." She conceded apologetically with a soft waft of air being churned by her hair; such an admittance was rare. "I was bein' selfish; I was thinkin' only of our routes and what was easier for us, you had a battle to win and it wasn't fair for me to pick a ridiculous fuckin' fight like that."

 

"Darling...."  

 

"No. Look, it's done now. I don't want to revisit it again, particularly with what nearly happened. I just don't know what I'd do if somethin' happened to you...."

 

"You need not think on it anymore." He mumbled with an amicable squeeze to her hand, accepting the roundabout apology without drawing her attention to it and therefore wallow deeper. Fatigue started to wade in again and it was enough to change the subject. 

 

“You’re exhausted.” She remarked with gentility and an almost pitiful grimace after he’d stared longingly for a while. “You’re drugged and you’re still in heaps a'pain; sleep it off and we’ll talk about what to do 'bout your eye tomorrow.” The last kiss of the evening was savoured; an old habit from when he would leave early in the morning and leave her to sleep while he returned to his duties. “You’ll see me in the mornin'.” His smuggler assured him as they settled again, wrapped up in each other’s security; that night would mark the beginning of something he’d coveted for a long time. “I love you, big guy. Rest, you’re not goin' anywhere; you’re all mine now.”

Chapter Text

Everything was different now. The Order was gone, half of his sight was gone but instead, he had the absolute luxury of waking up beside his forbidden partner; something he’d craved to be able to do for so long for more than a night here or an evening there. Nalesse had grown up on Tatooine; scorching during the day but at night, the temperatures would drop mercilessly so the abundance of nesting blankets in their bed (that she occupied mostly by herself) was rooted in her childhood. In his current condition, the blankets were a welcome comfort as was the radiation of heat from the body beside him; a rare blessing that living separately did not afford them but it seemed that chapter in their shared life had thankfully drawn to a close. The tapestry of blankets in a variety of colours and fabrics and collected from all corners of the galaxy applied just the right amount of pressure for his body to feel almost at ease.

 

Armitage let his remaining eye drift and linger on the exquisite creature slumbering in tranquillity at his side, lit only by the peeking of the dawn outside the window. Despite the dimness of the room, it was of little consequence; he knew her too well. How could he forget that divine face that haunted his waking moments and his sedated ones; the same one he focused on when they were together and apart in the intimate holos they’d made for their lonely nights, the ones for their eyes only? He couldn’t and he never would; even in the clutches of the Jakobeast and his consciousness was broken, she was still the last thing.

 

Just then, he started to recall the night he met his exalted Huntress and began the decimation of everything expected of him.

 

 


 

 

Five years previous.

 

 

Tight, rigid soles prowled the floorspace in their usual fashion except instead of his own staff, he addressed a number of those whose practices were not embraced by Republican law; a parlour of dangerous criminals, each one more conniving and ruthless than the last. There would always be a gap between them; a social standing and while they provided a service for which he paid them well, the class differentiation was distinct. Among the scum; the bottom dwellers of the galaxy, he stood out in his pristine finery. Said finery may have simply been his command uniform but it was maintained as if it were his Benduday best; most of the care he did himself since his trust was scarce.

 

Those jet-black, calf-high boots were immaculate, no doubt the subject of nightly polishing; his posture was beyond perfect and his grooming at peak with not a single fiery hair out of place as he paced a worn path in their eyeline. The impatient curl of his lip and seemingly constant flare of his nostrils marred those otherwise (mildly) attractive features; he was forced to brush with those below him, he was better than these people (perhaps people was a stretch?) and he knew it.

 

“Each of you have a holo.” That merciless Imperial drawl rang loud and clear in a room of bounty hunters; each one eager for the brief to draw to a close so they could be on their way to undercut the others in order to succeed. “That holo is the physical description, last known whereabouts and movements of an informant that the First Order wants apprehended as soon as possible.” He halted that regimented march just before the cluster of maybe eight or nine of the galaxy's finest trackers, hunters and killers of various species and cast a look around them. Three of them were human and only one of those was female; had he not been so preoccupied, he might have paid more attention.

 

“Fifty thousand credits as promised will be awarded to the hunter who brings the informant to me; dead or alive.” A ripple of non-verbal approval wove its way through the party; ‘dead or alive’ missions were always a favourite when a quick shot to the head would yield the same rewards as hauling a resisting target back to Finalizer. Another lazy glance swept the competing hunters before he turned his back on them with a neat pivot of his uniform boot to resume his presence on the bridge. “Dismissed.”

 

-----------

 

He had used the services of bounty hunters before; some he recognized in that gathering while other faces were new but depending on the target and their resolve to remain uncaptured, he could not begin to fathom how long it would take before his prize was delivered to him. However, it seemed that to believe that was to underestimate the talents of some of those in the briefing.

 

Less than a day cycle since that nefarious meeting saw the General in his office, head buried in a datapad while the cost of his new lightsaber wielding counterpart was beginning to add up. Impervious to the *whoosh* of his office door, the bumbling pleas of his Lieutenant begging someone not to enter and the swift, purposeful clip of high heels did not disturb him. In fact, so deep in figures was he that the first indication he had of a visitor was the heavy *thud* on the desk that ripped him from the datapad. Out of sheer surprise, his chair was kicked back a few inches as his cold eyes met a gawk that had long since gone blank though he somehow held his composure. When the invisible shock had abated and the morbid inquisitiveness took over, his head tilted to examine the paled face of the bodiless head that had caused the disruption to his desk; there was no mistaking it as the informer.

 

“The rest of 'im’s in the cargo hold if you want him.” That malicious purr of an indiscernible accent snatched his focus from the decapitated head on his desk (the bleeding at the stump of his neck had just about dried up) to the one who had spoken; the human female among the bounty hunters. Or was she? Upon closer inspection, that appeared to be a premature analysis as the first thing to dominate his attention when he looked into that dangerously beautiful face was her eyes. Humans didn’t have lavender eyes, it clearly stated so in the galaxy’s index of creature’s characteristics. How long had he stared before she coolly broke the silence again. “Alexandria’s Genesis.”

 

“Excuse me?” He managed to reply without faltering or hesitating but preserving his curt demeanour by some bare stroke of luck; despite being somewhat caught off guard.

 

Alexandria’s….. Genesis.” She repeated, more slowly this time with the barest edge of condescension as her arms folded tightly over her (substantial) chest, her hip cocked to the side and her tone bordering on mockery. “My eyes, you’re wonderin' why they’re purple; it’s a genetic mutation.” Still, he found it difficult to look away which seemed to spur the raven locked female before him; so much so that he dropped his gaze and re-immersed himself in something, anything on the desk. “D’you want the rest of your boy or not? Whatever the fuck he was eatin', he’s stinkin' up our cargo hold; we’ll dump him if you want but let me know, yeah?” What else could he expect from her breed than that kind impetuous attitude.

 

“His body will be of some interest to the medical staff, I imagine.” He assured, feigning distraction to avoid looking up where he might ogle some more “And you are?”

 

“Nalesse.” Perhaps the attitude had been fleeting; or perhaps she realized his generosity in her payment may be dependent on how they received each other so her tone had changed to something more neutral but pleasant at the same time. “Nalesse Du Sade.”

 

“And your affiliation, Miss Du Sade?” With his datapad plucked from the desk, he rifled along the screen until he found what he was looking for; the payment transfer.

 

“The Brax.” He found the list of respondents on the screen without difficulty; his need for order saw almost everything being alphabetized. “We hacked your transmission from Kanjiklub.”

 

“I was wondering why Tasu Leech and his band of miscreants were absent from such a promising bounty.” He uttered placidly while chancing a glance from behind the datapad but instead felt his stomach drop when she leaned on the desk and her cleavage demanded every ounce of conscious thought but if the General was anything, he was steadfast. “Their invitation was stolen, imagine that.”

 

“Steal from and get stolen from.” The nonchalance was chilling, particularly when the severed head only centimetres from her left hand (had she done the severing?) didn’t seem to bother her in the slightest. “Doesn’t matter now, we’re fifty grand up on the deal.” If he braved another glance, he would have seen that he himself was the subject of great scrutiny in a way he’d never really been before; at least, not to his knowledge. Eyes of lilac breezed over his face, his hair, his uniform and as far down his torso as the desk would allow; hence her imposing position and uninvited proximity.

 

“I will make arrangements for the corpse to be retrieved from your vessel, it should take no more than a few moments but-“

 

“D’you drink?” The random question forced the muscles in his neck to break their careful hold downwards and instead, meet her head on where an intense leer was waiting for him. A flawless ebony eyebrow (that contrasted against heavenly ivory skin) kinked in anticipation of a reaction and for the first time in a long time, he found himself speechless.

 

“…..Socially.” He fought through his temporary dumbness in order to answer the incomparable pirate queen where he caught himself staring again though he couldn’t fathom why she’d want to know that. And maybe ‘socially’ was a slight exaggeration; to drink socially, one must be social which the General decidedly was not.

 

“And what’s socially?” She pressed him, feeling a little pang of thrill when his regard dropped ever so briefly to her chest. “Would that be me or just your Imperial buddies?” What was she doing? Was she playing with him? Was she baiting him? Was she teasing him? It could have been any of those things and more but Armitage Hux didn’t cope well with confusion.

 

“I do not have ‘Imperial buddies’.” He retorted with little else to offer and watched comprehension grace those magnificent features. “And quite frankly, Miss Du Sade, I cannot even begin to decipher why-“

 

“So, you’d have a drink with me then?” That airy chirp and accompanying flutter of butterfly lashes sent him tumbling back to bewildered muteness; the only coping mechanism to such very unfamiliar territory. And what is the most common response to unfamiliar territory? Get out of it. And fast.

 

“I do not mix business and pleasure, Miss Du Sade.” He rebuffed cleanly which saw her lean off the desk, her face falling into something unreadable. “And you are business so I am quite sure you will understand if I decline on that invitation.” Clearly taken aback and possibly incensed by the rejection, it was obvious she was unaccustomed to not getting her own way though her own way made no sense to the General. With a tiny, indignant shake of her head and flick of her hair, the huntress turned on the toe of her boot and stalked towards the exit with her chin inclined towards the ceiling.

 

“We’ll be in touch to confirm the transfer of the credits.” The haughty snip almost made him flinch and with another *whoosh* of the door, Nalesse Du Sade was gone. Tilting back involuntarily in his seat, the General marked the door and for the life of him, could not remember being so unbearably perplexed in such a short space of time as he had been from the moment she entered to just then when she left. He took a moment to let everything tick over in his mind and when it eventually unravelled itself, he crumbled into horror. An incredibly attractive woman was showing interest and he ejected her from his office?!

 

Had he ever scrambled so desperately for anything in his life? Had he ever scrambled for anything before? If he hadn’t, he was making up for lost time now. Trundling from behind the desk and clearing the space between it and the door in practically one leap of spider-like legs, the General’s head swivelled from side to side once he entered the corridor with his ears strained for the clicking of antagonized heels. By some graceful mercy, he barely detected it to his right and followed it though did his best to restore his disciplined posture for the sake of the security cameras; despite his frazzled state.

 

“I misspoke.” He declared firmly in an unintended apology as soon as he came upon the bouncing bundle of Stygian curls that whipped round almost aggressively when he spoke; she seemed smaller in stature without the desk to shield her but no less threatening.

 

“Oh?” That bite contained a challenge, a dare for him to continue as she yielded her strides but his sustained until he came to a halt and left perhaps five feet between them; had she laid down in the mutual gap, it would have exceeded her height. Ashen hands went to her hips as her pelvis cocked; the very sight of those warning signs in a pair of knee high boots was unnerving to the last. The kinked eyebrow pressured him again; patience volatile and temporary while he tried to expand on his sentiment.

 

“I misspoke.” He repeated as his thoughts spun in his head, frenetic and disorganized; the situation became more and more alien as the seconds wore on and the urge to turn and run erupted again. Barely, she waited. “I said I do not mix business and pleasure which is true but that is not to say our business relationship is at an end with the delivery of the informant.” She said nothing and he took that as a good indication; he could commend himself later on his spur of the moment lies. “If it is convenient-“ He beat back the temptation to wet his arid lips. “There is more business to be discussed and if you would like to do so over a drink, my quarters are close by with plenty to choose from.”

 

-----------

 

‘Business’ did not stay ‘business’ for very long. She accepted the glass of Whyren’s Reserve with enthusiasm, remarking upon the rarity of the blend; a woman with a knowledge of whiskey was not as common as a man like him would hope. The spectrum of unseemly looks, thinly veiled suggestions and improper touches steadily grew more frequent as the bottle of Whyren’s emptied but another waited to take its place. Before he knew it, she was seated contentedly in his lap with one arm draped behind his neck (and clutching her glass) while her other hand meandered innocently up and down his thigh while their faces hovered too closely together.

 

“You know….” He began in an intoxicated murmur while her head tipped to the side to stay in his line of vision; this behaviour and to drink so excessively was foreign to him. “I think….” She didn’t need to lean very far when he straightened his posture and pulled her with him, the interactive fascination renewed. “I should like to take you to bed.” Had he been sober, such a personal and vulnerable thought never would have been conveyed but tonight, the General was open to new things; even if it was the fault of the alcohol and this breath-taking creature. The novelty of the evening deepened when he felt the seal of her mouth on his (which he wholeheartedly returned to the best of his drunken ability) and those alluring words that drifted directly to his crotch.

 

“So take me.”

 

--------

 

 

The General’s unchristened bed held the weight of two churning forms; each one in burning anticipation of the other. With feigned chastity and sweet curiosity, she watched as he kneeled over her in preparation to fulfil that promise; eventually, he was ready. One of her bent knees (with her feet and back planted on the bed and her head settled on the pillow) was seized and unceremoniously elbowed to the side to create a gap for him to shuffle into; a very welcome action. Her hand had already done some of the work and somewhere in the flurry of kissing, undressing and rushed foreplay, he found himself wrapped in a thin, clear material (a precaution and one of the many variables of contraception available) that he barely remembered from the last time he had indulged in this particular activity, all those years ago.

 

Throbbing and insistent, he couldn’t deny himself any longer. Somewhere, buried in his subconscious, his body acted upon the seemingly forgotten information without consulting his brain; an understandable and expected reaction from a starved male. His jaw dropped at the first, slightest graze of his tip against the wet, swollen grasp of her labia but he pushed on with the venture and embedded himself as deeply as his sensitivity would allow. Fully seated, the General stalled and dropped his gaze to the dark-haired smuggler beneath him; the shared intensity in their mutual regarding of each other and the smouldering with which she watched him shortened his settling period.

 

In the space of a second or two, the General decided he wanted to see that remarkable face contort and he wanted to be the reason why. His hips whipped back, withdrawing himself until the very last centimetre before forcing his way back in again to an almost agonized moan from below. The satisfaction of it was new and addictive; unlike the first time when it was paid for and obligatory. From that reaction alone, he took his pace; instead of easing into it like his inexperience should have dictated, his obsession took over in the form of hefty, bruising thrusts immediately to her core. When her head rolled on the pillow and those miraculous eyes became half-lidded with ecstasy, a new fantasy was born in the General; reducing the smuggler scum to crumble like his resolve had.

 

“Fuck!” The first sob of wanton goaded him into a debauched frenzy that creaked his bed and caused the (meagre) muscles in his back and shoulders to ripple under the strain of leaning down towards her and impel his thrusts with increased speed and tenacity. One small but capable hip was cradled in a leather-worn hand and the curves between it and the swell of her left breast were caressed fanatically; an unforeseen captivation when the encounter began. His once methodized breathing had been thrown into disarray; then, it merely resembled grappling pants with the occasional groan of indulgence breaking it for variety. The peaks of his cheekbones flushed with effort and the back of his throat began to claw like barbed wire; a consequence of raking in breaths and dispelling them again through an open mouth that was usually sourly pursed and so breathing was left to his nose.

 

“Oh my God….!” Nalesse couldn’t have known how green the General was between the sheets but she knew all the signs of an impending ejaculation and already, they flashed before her in the struggling redhead. There was no way for her to feel the ache in his loins that he fought to repress to lengthen the experience but his sexual immaturity was bound to catch up with him. As if to renew the exploit, he stole a glance downwards to survey how she swallowed him with every driven thrust and hasty withdrawal; miraculously, it gave him new vigour to pound her shape into the mattress a little bit longer.

 

“Ohhhhh yess….” Each brush of his hand that started at her hip and travelled over stretch marks, scars and tattoos (that his whiskey-soaked mind didn’t allow him to process just yet) and ended with a cup of her breast evolved to keep his momentum. The pad of his thumb kneaded the tough, prominent nipple below it with an occasional stab of his fingernail to elicit another glorious whimper; music to his ears. It had been some time (if ever) since his sheets had been so rumpled with the pleasure-maximizing writhing and subtle changes in the position that might heighten the shameless hedonism. 

 

Buying time (and therefore, delectation) is all well and good but all good things must come to an end, after all. Perhaps ‘come’ is a very appropriate word to use in this context. His pulse drummed in a way that would scandalize his medical staff, his lungs laboured to such an extent that would concern them just as much (the cigarras may not help that matter); he was fit as part of his regime but not to this degree. This time, he would have to succumb to climax but until then, his hips rocketed beyond control, pistoling at speed to a lustful song from below him. From his lips, tumbled outlandish sounds of utter rapture that hurtled him to a selfish completion and while it may have escaped his notice, she too had started to strip away her layers of restraint in favour of coming undone and making it memorable for both of them.

 

The bed squealed in protest. It only made up a portion of the prominent racket engulfing the usually stale atmosphere of the General’s sleeping quarters; the baying pair made up the rest with a symphony of moans, keens and laments associated with one particular form of entertainment. The din was indicative enough of two summits colliding, let alone what transpired in the bed and in two separate but intertwined bodies. Finally, at last; the age-old stale-mate came to a somewhat (literal) explosive end with one last roar and ultimate, floundering buck of his hips: it was over.

 

He savoured the internal spasm that massaged his cock and milked him out into the restriction of the condom; after that, to stay upright was too much of an ask and therefore, he withdrew from her and collapsed. The pillows seemed to be the only grounding point where he could try and regulate his breathing and soothe his body from the peculiar embrace of an orgasm. His mind was so euphorically blank that to think of what came next seemed preposterous; it couldn’t be much with a cheap partner and a once-off fling that she’d initiated. In that (inebriated) frame of mind, he started to drift with a stranger in his bed.

 

Well…. How was he to know he’d marry her?

Chapter Text

Pretty eyed, pirate smile, you'll marry a music military man

Ballerina Bounty Hunter, you must have seen her dancing in the sand

And now she's in me, always with me, tiny dancer in my hand

 

 

“Less…”

“I’m here, love. You okay? D’you want a drink or-?”

“I need you to go to sleep, darling.” It seemed sleep was both fitful and fleeting on both sides of the bed; both waking intermittently, one out of pain and the other out of distress.

 

“I can’t.” The heat had woken him; not an overwhelming, stifling heat but a close, concerned snuggle that his pulverized body found itself nearly too sensitive to cope with though he couldn’t bring himself to separate them. The alabaster arm that stretched across his fractured ribs and the sorrowful breaths breezing the swollen bump of his collar bone amongst other elements of paranoid affection all stemmed from one place: a fraught, guilt-stricken wife. Sighing amidst the seemingly constant wrack of pain, Armitage turned his head just enough for the cracked bridge of his nose to line consolingly with hers; despite how his nerves screamed and protested beneath his skin. “Too worried.”

 

“You know it is in my nature to be as efficient as possible in every endeavour I set my mind to.” Barely above a whisper, Nalesse had no trouble hearing; the late hour, wilderness surroundings and orders of silence in their wing made sure of it. With his (now) only eye still closed, the tranquillity of the darkness assured him he would not have long before he fell prey to slumber once again. “If I was going to die, I would have done it by now.”

 

“Oh sure, put that in my head.” She retorted in a fluster that prompted a soft huff of laughter in an aching torso.

 

“You will be exhausted tomorrow.” He tried to reason; reason was almost futile with the stubborn creature he called Darling and he doubted now would be any different; especially with his condition and her need to fawn over him at the best of times. “Rest, love. I promise I’m fine.”

 

“Well, that’s very convenient-“ Here came the iron-willed reply, haughty as the day he met her. “’Cause if I’m gonna be exhausted, bed is a good place to be, isn’t it? And I’m not leavin' this bed, ‘cept for toilet and food, ‘til you’re able to get up.”

 

“Darling, that could take months.”

 

“Good thing we got them waitin' on us hand and foot then, isn’t it?” His wakeful resolve crumbled after that. Whether Nalesse slept or not, he couldn’t say but the differences in then and now continued to mount. Now, he had a devoted (if secret and unapproved) wife, the woman who loved him, despite their obvious differences and priorities; she was his rock, the one who made the long absences worth it every single time. But it had begun very differently. The initial seduction had been brash, coarse and (when he thought back on it) filthy.

 

She had encouraged him to take her like a prostitute with little respect for their business settlement; seemingly interested in just one thing but for the life of him, the General couldn’t fathom why. Then again, she was a different breed; a far lower class, why shouldn’t he use her like a bitch and cast her aside when he was finished? If he even believed that; she had held the reigns from the very beginning. That carnal purpose appeared to be mutual in a pleasure-orientated arrangement as it later came to be; unfamiliar and all as that concept was, to him at least. Nalesse was far more comfortable in it and he’d noticed that from the start but all one had to do was visit somewhere like Mos Eisley to realize that behaviour was commonplace among her people.

 

His subconscious greeted him like an old friend; that comforting encapsulation of nothingness washed over him until a memory, like a scene from a holo-film, began to play behind the darkness of shuttered lids.

 

 


 

 

 

The frenzied *thumps* in the General’s quarters were not amorous in nature; panic-stricken is a much more appropriate adjective. In his fluster the next morning after that mould-breaking encounter, Armitage did not notice the card on his bedside table. However, as he sluggishly began to undress that evening and took in the tousled bedsheets, something else felt out of place. His quarters were always immaculate so for his sheets to be thrown asunder and soiled not only stuck out to him but the mere concept of it also poked him with pride; even if he didn’t remember much of it. With the sheets accounted for, he scrutinized his sleeping area until something else became apparent: a com card. Turning it over in his hand with his com in the other, there was no possibility that it wasn’t hers. Sitting on the edge of the bed with one item per hand, he hesitated until impulse grabbed him and the numbers were punched in.

 

“I was wonderin' if you'd call.” That meltingly seductive tone made his eyes drift shut and more of the night previous returned to him immediately. Like a mixture of honey and cyanide, Nalesse’s voice caressed him through the receiver and somehow (perhaps it was the subtle but tell-tale quake in his words), he felt she knew she had him in a corner.

 

“I didn't realise you were waiting.” He replied, trying to keep himself even and for the most part was successful. “I only saw the card just now, I'm afraid.”

 

“I'm sorry I had to run this mornin'.” Waking up alone had come with a pang of disappointment before the flurry of hysteria but he would only admit that to himself; not that he knew what it was to wake up beside someone. “Last minute job came up and the boys needed me home.” He assumed ‘the boys’ meant her crew so he tried to brush aside that little prick of jealousy.

 

“I would have had little time to give you, even if you had stayed.” With the com in one hand and the other working to loosen his boots to ease them from his aching calves, it wasn’t long before the sigh of relief echoed on her side of the com. “I was late to the bridge as it was.”

 

“And when was the last time you were late to the bridge?”

 

I have never been late to the bridge.” The resolution in that unwavering declaration gave Nalesse another peek at the redhead’s dedication to his position; as if their initial meeting hadn't been enough. He took his role seriously with seemingly every ounce of his being poured into it, save for the night previous and that morning when she decimated that dedication; all it cost her was a few hours and a condom.

 

“But you were today.” She reminded him coyly which provoked an internal squirm in his overly regimented body.

 

“Unfortunately.”

 

“Ah but.... Was it worth it?” Hux stalled at the sly inquiry. To deny it was would be a lie and to admit it would be an assault on a value system that had been essentially bred into him. What did that system mean to him though? He had seen potential matches on Arkanis; each one more pathetic than the last and the very idea of being in a room with one was painful, let alone being married to one. But it was expected of him. He could only fight off the matches for so long, his father was already questioning his intentions (and his sexuality) with that constant line: “The Empire needs children!”

 

Nalesse was not thorough bred, she was not of an Imperial family (he assumed) and she was not a dainty lady by any standards. Nor was she obedient, gentle or servile; he assumed she'd rather die than be those things, any of them. That’s what fascinated him: she was forbidden. But forbidden and all as the smuggler was, he'd had a taste and he suspected that taste was only dipping his toe into an ocean of twisted morals and an unpredictable psyche. She promised an infinitely more intense and memorable experience than any of his matches, even if only for a short time.

 

“It was worth it.” The rigid confession incited a mischievous hum from the receiver, one that made him swallow and dig for strength within himself. Boots removed, pale toes freed and flexed to ensure circulation (however poor); he poised his hand over the fastenings of his tunic as if afraid their clicking would cause him to miss something from the other end.

 

“And what're you doin' now?”

 

“Undressing.” He answered innocently, unclasping the top three latches beneath the seam on his chest and pausing again lest the noise distort her. “I plan on retiring to bed at the earliest opportunity, it has been something of a strange day with an even stranger beginning.”

 

“It’s funny you should say that.” How could his curiosity not be roused by that taunting susurration for his ears only? “I’m just outta the shower; lyin' on my bed, all wet’n’naked….” He froze. “I like your accent, y’know…. Helps when I’m touchin' myself; like now.” Armitage had never indulged in anything worth salivating over…. Until now. The more he listened and languished in the vulgarity, the more the luscious form of the smuggler crept into his brain to the barely noticed sensation of blood rushing south.

 

The conversation stalled as the image materialized in the dark of eyes shut by temptation; he could spy her just as clearly as if she were there before him, drawing mostly on what he remembered from the night previous. Raven locks strewn carelessly across the pillow, creamy skin exposed to the maximum with little left to the imagination, sheets tossed in revelation, those burning eyes whittling him and pallid fingers plunging into a sopping cunt just for him…. It was no wonder he abandoned undoing his tunic to fumble with his trousers instead and seizing a firm grip on the engorged length inside.

 

“I’m so wet...” He didn’t doubt it and the mere image of such debauchery spurred him to squeeze tighter in a deliciously painful attempt to milk himself. The soft bleats from the com from her own self-pleasure entwined with his as his hips bucked and his tip started to weep; masturbation had never really held any appeal until that night and he now put that down to imagination or lack of it.

 

“You're fuckin' yourself, I can hear you.” Her own voice trembled as if on the verge of unravelling though the sly, knowing edge prevailed. His answer was little more than a groan as the dribble of self-made lubrication did its job; facilitating the gliding of his fist over his cock with little resistance. “I’d love to fuck you again.”

 

“Come back!” The reply was instantaneous, almost embarrassingly so but the desperation somehow fuelled the now furious pumping while he fought to get the words out through scrambling breaths; the eroticism of it surprised him and he embraced it.

 

“Can’t.” The flicks of his wrist slowed but didn’t stop out of despondency while it seemed she was already spent by the glaze of satisfaction in her voice. “I had too much trouble leavin' his mornin' so kudos on your security.” A beat of anti-climax until…. “How soon can you get to Seregar?”

 

“Seregar….” He repeated, mulling the possibility while his brilliant mind calculated the answer; manhood still in a vice-like grip. “After a shower, securing my shuttle, making the jump to hyperspace to the outer rim-“

 

“Fuck the shower.” He wasn’t the only one who could display tenacity and that riled him to gradually recover his throttling. “Shower after; how long will it take you?”

 

“An hour, possibly less.”

 

“Fine, meet me at The Crosswinds Saloon in the Storrd Township; a friend owns it, we’ll be undisturbed there.”

 

“Crosswinds Saloon?!” He practically spat, indignant at the very thought; there were whispers of gambling, drugs and prostitution despite the clean front the owner managed to keep for his own dealings. “Surely there is somewhere else we can-“

 

“What?!” The dissection was merciless. “You want somewhere cosy in the middle of the fuckin' Hosnian System?! I’m sorry, and there was me thinkin' you wouldn’t want to be fuckin' seen and recognized!” She was right.

 

“Very well.” Not one to usually concede to defeat or superior logic, the General found it bitter to the taste but would stomach it nonetheless. “Seregar in an hour. I will ensure all my vaccinations are up to date.”

 

---------

 

Reputations are reputations for a reason and while Armitage had never ventured to the Crosswinds Saloon before, he had a rough idea of what to expect from said reputation. That reputation superseded itself even before he set foot on the property when he was watched by the small, beady eyes of the Klatooinian bouncers as he disembarked from his shuttle. Did it sit right with him that an inferior species was better armed than him? Not especially when they eyed him with dislike, their body language hostile and their demands snarled in broken Galactic Basic. They out-manned him, out-gunned him and, whether he liked it or not, dictated the order in this…. earthy establishment; all before he laid eyes on the interior of the Saloon.

 

It was more or less what he expected; a half-hearted projection of splendour that had lost motivation somewhere along the line in the peeling of paint and stains on the carpet. A chandelier hung over the main open space by the bar with glass droplets missing while the bar in question had become dull in its woodwork and the varnish spotted from years of spilled drinks and careless elbows. Regardless of the patchiness and shabbiness, he could see that the place was indeed clean. He decided a drink was in order; given the circumstances and his surroundings, he would need his strength and once settled on a worn high-stool, he could take in the (questionable) selection.

 

“Something I can get for you, sir?” The barman, a Rodian, simpered to the plain-clothed General though Armitage suspected he would have been treated no differently in uniform; this place would serve him as a dictator or a liberator as long as he had credits.

 

“Whyren’s. Double.” He ordered with little empathy for the barman and his sentient status, he was there to serve and Armitage was there to take advantage of that fact; well, maybe his presence revolved more around a certain female. The dusty bottle from a high shelf was retrieved and the glass tumbler filled but the redhead’s restlessness and subtle glances around the vicinity did not go unnoticed.

 

“Are you looking for someone in particular, sir?” The green-scaled barkeep probed wily, easily the most friendly creature he had encountered so far; his speech slow, possibly out of habit due to serving beings from all corners of the galaxy. “Or are you looking for someone but do not care who they are?” He could only assume he was referring to a prostitute. The General cast one more look around before he graced the Rodian with an answer and was sure he could trust it; having felt more threatening gazes on him than the icy blue one warming his face just then, he continued his menial duty unfazed.

 

“I am looking for Nalesse Du Sade.” The barman’s (inhuman) features betrayed him as they morphed into brief but definite recognition; the General’s curiosity (and envy) bubbled. “Do you know her?”

 

“Most round here know her, sir.” He replied knowingly though Armitage couldn’t be sure of the context as the glass was slid across the tired counter. “The clever ones fear her; those who do not, live in blissful ignorance until they are given reason to. And she is just one of four though the most volatile by far.”

 

“Hmm….” Hux mused with an ill-mannered grunt and a swallow of whiskey that was almost too matured, and not in a good way. “She mentioned a crew but I know nothing about them.”

 

“There is a Devaronian-“ An image of a tall, red, horned beast-like creature entered his head; the entry from the galaxy’s index of species, at least. “An Abyssin-“ A green-grey cyclops that could live for hundreds of years if given the chance to heal. “And her brother, Mort.” A human, he assumed. “Mort….” The Rodian began with something akin to fondness. “Is an oaf. Kind, as kind as he can be but an oaf nonetheless.” He nodded to a large sign near the front door, a sign warning patrons against drawing blasters with a consequence of immediate execution on sight; a fair warning. “Up until recently, that sign only had three blaster holes. Mort added the fourth and fifth last week.”

 

“And the result?” By the reasoning of the sign, he should have been shot upon the drawing of his blaster but he had clearly put the scorch marks there somehow. By the way the Rodian spoke, Mort was still among them.

 

“Mort is a danger enough on his own, placid moments aside but put Nalesse into the mix and that sign becomes meaningless; despite the order is has kept for decades.”

 

“You said he was an oaf.”

 

“Are you telling me someone brainless cannot be dangerous?” It was a valid point; the General sometimes had to question Kylo Ren’s intellect but still, he would not cross him. “Especially when he works under Nalesse’s thumb, devious and all as she is.”

 

“Speaking of Nalesse.” The glass was beginning to empty and with no sign of the Huntress, it meant she was either late or already there but he did not wish to pay out for another glass of stale whiskey. “Where might I find her?”

 

“Upstairs.” He answered, rendering the rest of the conversation somewhat pointless but some snippets of information would be filed away in that brilliant mind. “She knew you would ask me.”

 

“And how did she know I would ask you?” Armitage interrogated with a taint of suspicion; to be spoken about and not to was maddening.

 

“She did not.” The Rodian assured. “It is a gravitational thing, if you like. You see, the barman soaks in everyone's problems, fears, celebrations and achievements; we cannot do that unless you tell us. We are just someone to talk to.” He doubled over the rag and set it neatly aside; perhaps another reason for the fading varnish was over-cleaning. “And if we are listening or not, depends on what you say; some information can be valuable.” Even the barman was in on a scam. The Rodian turned away to serve someone else, someone he clearly knew and so Armitage was cast aside to entertain himself. However, the abandonment seemed to be impeccably timed as a random glance towards the balcony was rewarded by a familiar bundle of ebony locks (a few of which he had plucked off his pillow that evening) and a wolfish smirk that observed him from above with the intention of being seen.

 

He followed and by the time he reached the room she had disappeared to, she had already stripped to the bare essentials and was sprawled enticingly on the bed awaiting his arrival. With a far soberer mind than the night previous, he could appreciate the near nakedness and specifically, each carefully sculpted tattoo with awe; each coloured flower, each mysterious design, even the patch of branch leopard spots on her hip. Basking in the admiration, Nalesse allowed him to study her from afar for a few moments more until she grew bored of only his eyes flitting up and down her.

 

“Well?” She broke his visual fixation on the under bust tattoo (though it was easy to mistake that fascination for something else in the immediate area). “You just gonna stand there or are you gonna help me put this fuckin' bed through the wall?” Needing no further persuasion and in a record time he could never remember matching; Armitage Hux disrobed in a flurry of banal and unofficial clothing with little regard for the self-consciousness of the unimpressive specimen his usual uniform hid. The Whyren’s may have been stale, the air trapped in the bottle may have spoiled it and the length of time on the shelf may have soured it but one thing was sure: the alcohol was still present. How did he know that? The fearless and commanding way he roughly forced his lips to hers with no apprehension of rejection.

 

The deserted semi hard-on began to revive itself as he became more adventurous and opted to push himself in doing the instinctive things that his almost-virgin status prevented him from doing on their last meeting; touching her, letting his lips pepper the intervals of ivory skin on her neck…. With her chest support tossed aside, the creamy flesh of her breast and the sweet, rosy nipple became a new source of intrigue; so much so, that he had to taste it. The delectable pressure of suckling was not quite what nature had intended them for (not from a grown adult, at least) but Nalesse whimpered nevertheless and crossed an arm behind his shoulders as if to hold him there.

 

His unclothed length ground insistently against her thinly guarded heat, eager to resume certain illicit activities so she took him in hand; literally. The General’s initial moan bounced off all four walls and back to the ears of a delighted smuggler as her hand proved to be a much better preference to his own. With a wipe of her hand from the back to the front of her slit to collect her own arousal, she used it in conjunction with his to make the pass of her fist over him smoother; it worked as a lubricant and to stimulate him though she suspected that would not have taken much.

 

His newly found adoration for her chest was not hindered (much) by the attention below his waist; the suckling evolved into nips, grazes and lasting siphoning but as the minutes ticked by, the need to move on became prevalent. Condom secured, the General made to move in as he had done the night before but instead (and he still wasn’t sure how), found himself on his back with his favourite female straddling his lap and imposing on his line of sight.

 

“Oh no you don’t.” She chided in a silky purr that sent shivers down his spine, a purr that spelled trouble. “Fair is fair; it’s my turn now.” He didn’t have time to ponder it for it soon became self-explanatory when the increasingly regular sensation of envelopment within another human being induced another moan of pure hedonism. Her hips moved slow; teasing, tantalizing, torturing much to the savour of the military genius beneath her. Their height difference prevailed in the most wonderful way; while she worked her pelvic witchcraft, he was able to sit up, gather her torso closer and re-immerse himself in her chest. Buried in the utmost comfort of her breasts, he could acquaint himself with her scent; another detail he had overlooked of this beguiling creature before but would know anywhere by the time they were finished.

 

The noises and the movement became more free-flowing as exploration continued for the General; first, the new obsession with her tattoos, then her breasts and now, a position where he was more or less powerless when she rode him to her liking. Cunt swallowed cock then ejected it again as the thrusts between the two became mutual; aggressive, loveless and callous but very much appropriate as this kind of arrangement could expect. Her keens were muffled to his ears, any clear words distorted while the wild beating of a wicked heart engrossed him in the odd pillow of a bosom; an indulgence never considered before.

 

“My father warned me about women like you.” Surfacing from the devotion-inducing crevice, the redhead’s pant triggered a puff of laughter from the woman in control.

 

“Oh did he now?” The hiss was malicious and Armitage savoured it; feeling chills for the second time. To drive his thrill, the General opened ecstasy-heavy eyes and found her savagely amused gaze already upon him. “Beware the girl with the tattoos, she might just show you a good time?” Less concerned with mirth, Armitage’s now bruising thrusts met hers in the middle but it irked him that his mind had been automatically drawn to his father and the pleasures he’d forbidden him; she was correct in her mocking statement.

 

“He said a real woman is unmarked- agh! Obedient…. Ladylike…. Well-trained… Oh Gods…..” Pale, dry lips claimed to prove a point, the redhead returned it with no hesitation; quite the opposite.

 

“And to think-“ Nalesse thrummed with deviant undertones while Hux fought to keep his orgasm at bay a little while longer until she began to show signs. “Given the choice, you’d rather be here with me than puttin' a baby in some poor, vanilla Imperial girl that got the seal of approval from daddy. ‘Cause, let’s be honest; that’s all you’re marryin' her for, isn’t it? What she can pop from between her legs and what her father can do for your father?” Again, she was painfully accurate to the white noise of lustful lamentations on both sides.

 

 

Excitement heightened steadily throughout and with it, the pair morphed more and more into one pulsating entity. Thrusts collided, exclamations got louder, skin slapped off skin and a window would soon need to be opened. Sweat dripped, lips fought, springs creaked and no doubt, their encounter was not as private as they believed with their disregard for the noise-level.

 

“And what d’you think daddy would say if he could see you now?” She taunted in a breeze of goading, finally beginning to unravel as evidenced by the shortness in her breath and the hammering of her pulse that matched his.

 

“Difficult to say….” He professed through a laboured wheeze, it would take more than this and the night previous for his body to truly acclimatize to such rigorous activity; an activity that was unfortunately coming to an end. “I cannot decide if he would commend me or…. disown me but either way, it is not his approval I seek….”

 

“You know your own mind, your own body.” She affirmed as if she was about to impart wisdom but she chose to divert into trademark uncouthness instead on the razor’s edge of cumming. “And you choose to fuck filthy bitches he’d detest; the ultimate ‘fuck you’.”

 

It happened in a split second; like someone had taken a lightsaber to whatever was holding both resolves together amid the thrashing of hips, loud whines and sobs of undeniable rapture and satisfied glee. He came first as he had been itching to do, emptying his contents into the well-worked rubber but prolonging it with a few exhausted bucks to carry her on and she shortly followed. The aftermath, in his green opinion, was the real challenge; the coping as they heaved to drench oxygen-droughted lungs once more while unsticking from each other to stare at the ceiling and ignore romantic obligation as casual flings dictated.

 

The blood in his over-heated length started to re-distribute itself among the common stream; as if it had not been responsible for the tribulations of some of his other organs and went about restoring him to a pre-arousal state. Shuffling himself down in the bed, the need for sleep had become overwhelming in an instant and it was imperative he obey his body clock to be on form for command the next morning. Without a “good night” from either side, it seemed Nalesse’s sentiments were similar which only enforced the practicality of the arrangement.

 

--------

 

He woke in unfamiliar surroundings, in a foreign bed and (which piqued his curiosity most of all) with company; he couldn’t see her but the heat of a second person was blatant when one always slept alone. Checking his com, his body clock (despite the strange circumstances) did not fail him; he woke when he always woke, a little before dawn though some of his pre-duty rituals would need to be sacrificed to return on time. Carefully and subtly, he peeled back the covers and began to dress until….

 

“Go to the bar.” Came the soft, sleep-clogged murmur from the tangle of blankets that made him pause his dressing though she was too well tucked away to be seen properly. “Ilgo will still be cleanin' up; there’s a cup of caf and a breakfast muffin waitin' or you.”

 

Why did that unnerve him? Kindness? Thoughtfulness? Consideration? How strange…..

Chapter Text

The dull ache of an un-medicated body woke Armitage a few hours later after what he could only describe as a heavenly depth of undisturbed and dreamless sleep; far more peaceful than any he’d ever had on Finalizer. Despite his injuries, his mind was clear and able to establish that he was indeed in his own bed.

 

“Water and tablets on the bedside table.” The lump in the blankets beside him instructed helpfully to a curious turn of a scarlet head; regardless, he hauled himself up with a pressured groan and his beaten, torn hands found the promised relief.

 

“You know....” He began with the first pill on his tongue and pausing before he washed it down with a swig of colourless, tasteless liquid. “Before I fell asleep, I was under the impression that I would be waking up beside my wife.”

 

“Yeah, well....” Armitage swallowed the water then reached for the second pill; his bed companion had since thrown back the blankets to reveal a shaggy blonde head and a set of periwinkle eyes; matched, of course, with the voice that had threatened the medic. “I'm better.” The redhead regarded his friend – his first real friend and brother in law with absolute fondness in a situation that might have unnerved someone else. The second pill and subsequent swig of water bubbled with a titter of amusement that fed from Mort’s own joviality though the source of the blonde’s high spirits was still unknown.

 

“Thank you.” Arm uttered placidly as the cool sweep of the water caressed his oesophagus and soothed his stomach; a temporary calming prior to the effect of the painkillers. “For everything you did.”

 

“I didn’t do it for you.” The playfulness resonated in Mort’s tone that seemed to prolong Hux’s sudden and inexplicable glee; it seemed being back together again sparked something in the two males of a similar age. “If I didn't come back with a medic and you died, that crazy bitch of yours would've sent me after ya!” Even with the medication taken, Armitage continued to nurse the glass of water but promptly choked and ejected it back into the glass. It was all in jest; Armitage was fully aware that Mort would want his life preserved just as much as Nalesse, to protect their brotherly bond unfound in anyone else.

 

“Besides...” Mort continued while Arm took the opportunity to have a safe drink. “Bal and Dray were lookin' for medics too, I had to get back first; matter of pride, y’know?”

 

“I understand completely.” The General hummed with a smile tugging on the stitched corner of his lip though he ignored the sting. “How are they?”

 

“Much better knowin' you're okay.” The younger answered the older honestly as he reshuffled himself and shifted the blankets to accommodate his stretch; a luxury Armitage didn’t have without agony.

 

“Please tell me-“ Armitage had spied a peek of a somewhat tanned chest in the ripple of the blankets on Nalesse’s side of the bed. “That you have bottoms on.” The cackle that followed was the first opportunity to test a one-eyed eye roll and Armitage noted it would take getting used to.

 

“Pfft, what fun would that be?”

 

“You truly are the degenerate of degenerates.”

 

“You married us.”

 

“I married your sister, not you.”

 

“Yeah, but you married all of us.”

 

“You make it sound like some sort of polyamorous, pansexual, interspecies sex commune.”

 

“You mean it isn’t?” Had he been physically able, Armitage would have clouted his “brother from another mother” (as Mort so often drunkenly and soberly declared) with the pillow propping him up. Before he could follow up on that thought or examine how he could put it into motion without affliction, movement from under the sheets clipped his razor-sharp reaction until the offending item became apparent: a pouch of hand-rolled cigarras, primitive but almost artisan. “Here. Light up.”

 

“The only time I’m allowed to smoke in bed is after sex.” Arm remarked while his brother in law remained unfazed but he accepted a cigarra nonetheless.

 

“Meh, just tell her we had sex.” Mort had already lit his and was in the process of lighting Arm’s. “You'd get away with pretty much anythin' right now.”

 

“Not infidelity. Not with her brother.” Armitage tittered before the first suckle of the cigarra. Immediately, the lulling sensation flooded his system and his head tilted back on the pillow as the cloud sailed through the tiny gap in his usually pursed lips. “Mort....” He murmured in the epitome of tranquillity, sedation seizing every nerve and muscle in his body; including those in his one working eyelid. “Is that what I think it is?”

 

“Somethin' extra.” Came the voice from the void, just as laid back and horizontal as his. “Somethin' for the pain.”

 

“Millaflower?”

 

“You know your shit, you fuckin' druggo.”

 

“I blame you entirely.”

 

“You were constantly off your balls on stress, on the verge of tearin' your fuckin' hair out on numerous occasions; was I just meant to ignore that?”

 

“Fair enough.” Another lungful proved just as blissful as the first; the bond of unmistakeable brotherhood had indeed been initially forged by something of a questionable nature. “It’s strong...”

 

“Hella. Only the best for you; think of it as a welcome home present.”

 

“It’s delicious but I hardly think she will be too impressed.”

 

“You’re thinkin' too much.” Mort reasoned with a long, deep drag. “Like I said, you’ll get away with plenty. And anyway...” Mort contributed to the gathering smog above the bed, that had started to spread further in the room. “She told me to. That’s why she’s gone to Dex’s.” That last word elicited a moan unlike all the others in his suffering; rather, it echoed longing. It made his confidant chuckle. “She said you were recitin' the menu in your sleep but she'll probably get your usual; it is nearly dinnertime, after all.”

 

Is it? I would absolutely kill for a slider.”

 

“Don’t have to. Your missus is gonna do it for you.”

 

“I married well.” Not everyone would have agreed with that; his father in particular who, even up to the destruction of Starkiller, proceeded to shove potential matches down his throat. During those meetings, he would simply nod along blankly while he thought of the bundle of black curls that he longed to nuzzle into and forget about everything else. He knew that a man of his standing and bloodline (on his father’s side, at least) was not supposed to marry for love. He was supposed to marry for connections, wealth and quality offspring but never love. And yet, he found himself as far from where he was supposed to be in terms of marriage and kept company but could never remember being happier than when he was with his adopted family.

 

Armitage took another slow and tantalizing drag of his Millaflower, seeming to sink further and further into the bed while scarcely aware of Mort’s barest movements beside him. Thinking about it, it infuriated him (if that was possible with his current medication) that he was little more than a pawn even in his adult life to an Empire that had yet to be revived; that his entire life (both professional and personal) was dictated by it and enforced by his father. To see the new Empire rise would, of course, fulfil a childhood dream and to be part of it, even more so but it wasn’t too much for him to wish that it wasn’t so strict; especially where marriage and breeding were concerned. After all, where would Nalesse fit into the Imperial model of what a woman should look, sound and act like? The simple answer was she wouldn’t and he loved her for it.

 

“He probably thinks you’re dead.” Mort broke the silence, a silence that was a lot older than either of them realized while bundled away in their own thoughts but the blonde already knew Arm had been too quiet for too long and that meant just one thing. Was it meant to be reassuring? It was certainly intended to be but whether or not it was taken that way was down to the redhead. “Don’t worry ‘bout that auld prick.”

 

“He’s in my head.” Arm confessed through gritted teeth; temper could sometimes be a side-effect of the drug depending on the user’s state of mind. “He’s there in everything I do; every time I dispatch a squadron, every time I sit down to a meal, every time I look at my fucking wife!” He inhaled it again in a gamble that the next hit might be the one to calm him. “I detest him, I loathe him and yet, I can never help but wonder if he would approve of what I’m doing at any given moment.”

 

“Already told you, buddy.” Mort interjected as if his companion wasn’t venomous and could turn on him at any moment. “Tell us where to find him and we’ll gut the cunt, simple as that.” Armitage didn’t answer just yet; it was tempting, he could admit that.

 

“Especially now with Starkiller gone….” Mind in obsessive overdrive again, Mort merely sighed and accepted he was the rant absorber for the evening or, at least, until Nalesse came back. “That massive failure and none of it my fault. The fiasco with the droid and the girl was not my doing; I commanded my Troopers as well as I could given the circumstances, it was Ren who jeopardized the whole operation in the first place.”

 

“He sounds like such a swingin' sack of bollocks.”

 

“He is.” If ever there was a positive of his life’s work being swept from under him, it was no longer having to deal with that oversized, lightsaber-wielding child. “No doubt my father will find the fault to be mine whether he believes me alive or dead. Every success is overlooked and every failure magnified but I still outdo myself in some vain hope of being accepted.” He blew out another plume and watched the way it coiled itself overhead; the fascination of it enough to convince him that he was indeed high. “And not just me…. I want to parade my wife; I want to show everyone how the most beautiful woman in the galaxy agreed to be mine, to flaunt how much she loves me, despite being my polar opposite in every single way.”

 

“She’s fuckin' stunnin' a'right.”

 

“At least once a week, he would send me a match; some poor, snivelling girl whose father can scratch his back. And every time I looked at those matches, I missed Nalesse even more. I wanted the woman I actually loved back with me rather than some pathetic creature that was bred to be servile, without an original thought in her head and taught that children are her only calling in life….”

 

“Easy knowin' when you’re high.” The brother in law trilled with a twinge of amusement and another grateful suck of his home-rolled cigarra. “The verbal diarrhoea is fuckin' endless.”

 

“You brought him up.” Armitage sniffed with a touch of offense though Mort meant nothing by it, merely teasing.

 

“If I didn’t say somethin'; you'd've stayed quiet, bottled it up and let it fester like you always fuckin' do. It’s not healthy, man; you know it worries her. And I bet you feel better for it now.” Mort may not have been the brightest, Arm had learned that at The Crosswinds Saloon some years ago but it seemed the Millaflower did something for his IQ; or maybe, it was a case that his kindness and reasoning just made him appear intelligent at times. A beeping somewhere in the thin fog barely stirred the pair; Mort’s com. Armitage’s had been set to silent by Nalesse so the blonde inched to the side of the bed with the utmost effort, siphoning on the cigarra as he went as if it gave him fuel.

 

“She wants to know if you want doughnuts.”

 

“Tell her if she doesn’t know the answer to that question, I’m divorcing her.” Mort’s smoky exhale had laughter weaving through it as the tell-tale clicks of a typed reply almost lulled the redhead back to sleep but the prospect of food held him firm.

 

“She said: How many boxes?”

 

“Are they still a dozen to a box?”

 

“Yup.”

 

“We’ll clear a box between us alone. Tell her three; Balor and Draven don’t need Millaflower to eat like Hutts.”

 

“She said: All Yowvetch Custard?”

 

“No, Dianoga Cream, Endorian Maple and Christophian Sugar as well.” There was a time, only in the last five years or so, when he knew what a doughnut was but had never had one due to his strict, military diet and the calorie control that ruled each mealtime. It was a night like this, purely accidental, when he first met Mort that he abandoned First Order ration packs for the first time to indulge in food that would have revolted him before; now, he was more than adept at ordering and knew the varieties by heart. It was the beginning of temporary overhauls in his personality when surrounded by those who were supposedly beneath him that would have mortified his father and his true happiness began to show itself. The real challenge, however, was returning to Finalizer and re-adopting the cold, staunch demeanour though it was easier in the bitterness of having to leave his companions behind him.

 

“I’ve really missed you.”

 

“Back at ya, Red; it’s never the same without you.”

 

Back then, the situation had been gloriously out of his control and it was another act of (albeit, reckless) kindness on Mort’s part that gelled them together. It was after that night that he could say…. He had a friend.

Chapter Text

They lapsed into a silence of pure enjoyment while the Millaflower’s effects hit their peak and speech became an unnecessary labour. In those nearly noiseless moments, save for twinned inhaling and exhaling, Armitage’s mind started to wander to the first time he met Mort. However, he wasn't to know Mort was recalling the same thing prompted by their reunion.

 

---------

 

“D'we have a job?” Mort embodied a twenty-eight-year-old male in a physical sense and a physical sense only; which was why when his sister stalked past him with an air of anticipation, he was sitting in his underwear, eating cereal while parked in front of the holovision.

 

“Don’t we always?” The contented purr was indicative that everything had indeed gone to plan. Oblivious to the overly serene mood his sister was in, Mort continued to fish around in the bowl of blue bantha milk (a childish novelty) for the remnant of his second helping while the box waited beside him to give him his third. The crunching didn’t grate her like it once would have, something about this cushy new number a few months old just sat right with her. Aside from his occasional quips, he didn’t overly react to his sister’s breeziness, a side effect of being oblivious to her moods; instead, he simply suckled at the straw in his ruby bliel before returning to his cereal.

 

“Voss de jov?” He inquired the nature of the work with a full mouth of fresh cereal, half removed from the situation to immerse himself in his (children’s) program. Rather than deciphering it, she patiently waited until Mort casually swallowed the debris and turned back though only did so to divert his attention from the ad break. “What’s he want us to do?”

 

“Don’t know yet. He said he’d brief me when I get there.” Mort’s pleasures may have been basic but he wasn’t as dense as the others treated him; granted, eating cereal half naked while watching children’s holovision in the middle of the day didn’t help his case. Nalesse wasn’t the only one to hone the eyebrow arch; the sandy haired male on the floor subjected her to it with a knowing smirk that only resulted in a taunting and dangerous slow of her pacing.

 

“ou mean de-brief you?” The bark of laughter from the female confirmed it but it seemed the verbal game of cat and mouse would be short lived and she could give as could as she could take.

 

“Why, Mort? You jealous?”

 

“You’re wearin' perfume.”

 

“That’s to mask your stench, you dumb twat. Right, I’m gonna take a shower; that’s when you stand under a stream of water with soap and make yourself clean.”

 

“Sounds like fun, I might try it sometime but surely it only makes sense to do that after he's fucked ya? But you know best.” The over the shoulder, one fingered salute from the matriarch garnered a smirk. “We’ll have docked by the time you get ready!” He called after her then huffed to himself. “With how long it takes you to get fuckin' ready anyway.” With a concerned exhale (a sarcastic one at that), Mort tuned back to his cartoons.

 

Submerged in the infantile story-telling some time later, a craving began to niggle at him; one that he started to turn over in his mind, almost too lazy to indulge in but the more he considered it, the more it seemed to be worth actually moving to satisfy it. That is, of course, until he heard footsteps on the ramp.

 

Mort had no intention of making himself decent; to do so would imply he saw a problem with his attire (or lack of it) in the first place which he just didn’t do. No, he shuffled on his rear to the side instead to inch towards his blaster but before he could reach it, the scalding of three pairs of eyes on him proved the venture futile. Twisting to the other side, he found himself faced with a very sour looking man (who appeared to be a similar age to himself) with red hair and a very disapproving demeanour glowering down at him. That in itself wouldn’t have been too much of an issue but this new arrival came flanked with a Stormtrooper on each side. With a click of a cereal coated tongue, Mort clamoured to his feet under the disgusted watch of the redhead. Was that him? The one she'd been ‘working for’ for the last few months?

 

“Somethin’ I can do for ye, lads?” Mort chimed with an accommodating clap, a rub of his hands and a grin to match that wasn’t exactly comforting nor confidence-inspiring in the General; he couldn’t help but scowl at the (barely) younger man who was only clad in yellowing y-fronts, the contrasts of success undeniable. Even the Stormtroopers, with all their training, found it difficult to remain staunch as their orders dictated.

 

“I’m looking for Nalesse Du Sade.” Hux declared, trained on the face of the cereal enthusiast to look anywhere else would provoke him to see his breakfast again. “I believe this is her vessel, is it not?”

 

“Uhh, yeah, just.... gimme.... ” With a ‘bear with me’ lift of his finger and an ‘I got this’ expression; Mort stepped past Hux to peer down the hallway she had disappeared down close to half an hour previous. “LESS!!!” The nearly naked male hollered at the top of his lungs, much to the aural displeasure of the General who visibly flinched. “YOUR EIGHT A’CLOCK GANGBANG’S HERE!!!” Utterly perplexed, Hux didn’t have much time to ponder it before an offensive odour invaded his nostrils and his personal space in general.

 

“She’s actin' weird.” Mort advised, not realizing that the turn of the visitor’s head and the sudden shallowness of his breathing was down to Mort’s poor hygiene. “So, if you’re not into bitin', I’d request a ball-gag.” Having no sense of humour or even the slightest inkling of a practical joke, the General took it at face value. After all, with no siblings himself, how was he to know this was the extreme in how siblings tormented each other?

 

“I.... see.” Hux replied with slow and obvious scepticism, complete with kinked eyebrow while the blonde remained unfazed; such roguishness was not received well by the no-nonsense General who knew no such thing as jest. Not the mention the almost invisible twinge of embarrassment on the broach of such a subject in his soldier’s presence.

 

“She’s in the shower.” Mort rectified the playfulness in favour of something more serious and soul-draining; more of what the General was accustomed to. “You can wait if you want.” With the Stormtroopers dismissed and Mort re-immersed in his cartoons, the redhead opted to wait in silence except for the monologue of a lost pilot on the screen. Until....

 

“Yes?”

 

“Sir, it’s Kylo Ren.” The fluster was typical of his Lieutenant, much to Mort’s sly, eavesdropping interest as his fascination in the pilot's misadventures began to wane; the name alone was enough to instantly induce dread and fret in the General. “Resistance reconnaissance ships evaded him near Ryloth and he has decimated two control rooms with several thousands of credits worth of equipment....” Hux entangled a gloved hand into his hair in utter despondency while his eyes shut and shielded him from the curious ogle of the scantily clad smuggler. “And he is now making his way to a third.” Tipping back his fiery head so the notch at the top of his spine rested against the wall behind him, Armitage could practically feel his blood pressure rising with every word and every self-inflicted image of a flailing lightsaber.

 

“I am on personal time, Lieutenant.” He rebuffed as cleanly and as steadily as he possibly could though his com-hand shook and Mort couldn’t tell if it was fury or nerves. “The Colonel on duty has been briefed but I cannot guarantee how successful his methods will be.” Opening his eyes and checking the time on his com, there was a bite of relief when he found he still had approximately twelve hours before he had to return to the carnage with little recourse.

 

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”

 

“Dismissed.” Eyes shut in dismay again as he ended the com-call and wondered if he would be able to enjoy his personal time now with this hanging over him. The redhead’s pulse simmered with frustration but to sigh at the apprehension of facing a brainless brute who seemed to have no capacity to listen or absorb would have undermined his restraint. However, the faint rustling of something beyond his shuttered lids reminded him that he was not alone nor was he the dominant force there. Surfacing from his despair and opening his eyes just in time, he spied the blonde smuggler trying to (ever so carefully) wrangle a cigarra from a pouch on the table; the mere sight of the tabac-clogged tunnel was enough to make his mouth water and given the circumstances…. “Excuse me…?”

 

Like a tauntaun caught in the headlights, Mort froze upon the realization that he’d been caught, though why he should have been on tenterhooks around this visiting male was a mystery to both of them. Maybe he assumed the regimented General would disapprove of a vice but if that was the case, what the fuck could he want with Nalesse? Turning slowly with the coveted cigarra dangling from his lips, the gaze was not as heated as he remembered from a few moments before.

 

“Uhh…. Yeah?” What did he expect? To be berated? The fear was unnecessary but it was present in both sides which evolved into a stale-mate in which neither spoke nor moved. The General decided to be brave by dropping longing eyes to the pouch and wetting his arid mouth in preparation.

 

“May I?” Colour him stunned. Mort, unnerved by the borderline desperation in those previously stony eyes, stalled in amazement but eventually stuttered into action by extending the pouch to the visibly shaking, pallid hand of the General.

 

“You smoked before?” A breakdown in communication that was yet to be diagnosed; a double meaning that one assumed the other understood, even if it was purely out of concern on one side. However, that concern was disregarded (rather rudely) with scorn.

 

“Please!” The General scoffed offhandedly with the politeness and desperation seemingly forgotten as he thanklessly retrieved the cigarra from the pouch. “I have smoked tabacc with a price tag that you could only dream of!”

 

“Oh well in that case…..” Mort replied with a sly simper as he plucked the lighter from the table to ignite the herb-stuffed end while extending the pouch again for a second time; smug to combat the needless superciliousness and eager to bring the redhead down a peg or two. “Take another one for later; they’re small, shur.”

 

After the first puff, Hux didn’t remember much.

 

----------------

 

 

“I don’t fuckin’ believe this! I go for a fuckin’ shower and you manage to get the head honcho of the First fuckin’ Order off his box on Millaflower!!” Mort denied nothing; rather, the expression pulling at his face was one of gleeful pride with his sedated (and new) companion revelling in tranquillity at his side. Mort was not to know (and neither was Nalesse) that this relaxation was unlike any he had felt in a long time.

 

“He can’t command in this condition!” She declared, closing the distance between her and the useless lump on the couch to examine Hux nose to nose. He scarcely noticed her, until her hand collided with the side of his face to a crack that made Mort flinch and the General blink. “Oi! You in there?!” No answer. “We're 'bout to order food, you want somethin'?!” That stirred a reaction alright.

 

“Food?”

 

“That’s right, big guy. Sustenance; you in?”

 

“Yes, I’m.... quite hungry...”

 

“I bet you are. Millflower hit you like a ton of fuckin’ permacrete, makes you hungry. What you want? There's a menu-“

 

“It’s his first time floatin', he won’t be able to read.” Mort crooned, much to his sister's irritation that was displayed openly in flared nostrils and narrowed eyes when she rounded on him.

 

“You're some dumb fuck, givin’ him that shit and now we have to see to his fuckin’ munchies! The General, the guy with tie-fighters and Stormtroopers, has MUNCHIES AND IT'S YOUR! FUCKIN’! FAULT!!

 

“He asked me for-“

 

“HE DIDN'T KNOW WHAT WAS IN IT, YOU DOPEY CUNT!!”

 

“Look, you're right.” It was easier and a lot kinder on the ears to just surrender. “Just order a bit of everythin’ and I’ll pay for-“

 

“NO!!” The blonde head and the raven one yanked from their argument and immediately jumped into joint action when the General began to try and amble to his feet. With the drug freshly circulating in his system, his balance was compromised and so, he simply resembled a cumbersome willow struggling to stay upright while being whipped in a storm; despite how the brother and sister tried to frantically wrestle him back into his seat. “I… I WILL PAY!!”

 

“Calm down, Red, we’ll sort it, a’right?! Just… Sit down!” The fever was short-lived and Hux did as he was told but while Nalesse tapped the order into a datapad, the redhead fished numbly in his pockets for something; like a scolded school-boy looking for completed homework he critically wanted to find. “Would you eat a doughnut?” The question was not directed at Mort, she already knew Mort’s answer but continued to type until she received no reply. A few seconds of pregnant silence (save for adept fingernails) were tolerated until she could wait no longer. When her eyes lifted from the pad, the scene was…. Unexpected. Mort’s noiseless, heaved cackles were not unusual in his current state but she assumed the General sitting with both hands in his pockets and staring vacantly at his thighs was. “You okay, Big Guy?”

 

“I….” The swift turnaround of the roaring insisting of payment had overhauled itself into a much quieter and (for some reason but anything was possible with Millaflower) meeker disposition. “My hands are too hot.” Mort doubled over while Nalesse waded into something akin to incredulity.

 

“Well…. Take your hands out of your pockets and take off your gloves, yeah?” She could see the slow, experimental flexing of his fingers through the fabric (how he still had a Garberwool coat on with the temperature of the ship so high, she couldn’t fathom) but while her words made sense to her, that concept was not mutual and the flexing continued. “Mort, what the actual fuck; was it just Millaflower in that?”

 

“Just Millaflower.”

 

“No tabac?”

 

“What do I look like? A fuckin' ligh'weight?”

 

“Are we gonna have to teach him how to eat again?”

 

“Maybe?”

 

-------------------

 

 

The General had been in some war zones in his time; dangerous, gruelling and frenzied. His training sessions in the Academy and during his younger days as an officer had been just as much so to mirror potential situations and therefore prepare for the worst. But nothing, nothing compared to the trauma of dinnertime with the smugglers.

 

“Fuck off, that’s mine!” “Me hole, I ordered that!!” “Less! They forgot my- Wait, it’s here….” “These rings fair game?” “Get me a fork, woman!” “Talk to me like that again and your fork is goin’ in your only fuckin’ eye, ya prick!”

 

Cutlery clattered, plates dinned, chairs scraped, bags rustled, voices raised; it was all almost too much for the over-stimulated General, on his way down from his first high. Thankfully, he did recall how to eat but the only thing hindering him was fear when he witnessed a knife suddenly burrowing into a grey-brown hand over a portion of fornax rings that were, apparently, not fair game. By some divine mercy, somewhere in the carnage that should not have constituted a mealtime, a plate laden with a bit of everything to suit whatever his taste appeared in front of him; shortly followed by a knife, fork and a bottle of water.

 

“Want more of anythin’, let me know, yeah? Tea and doughnuts for dessert.” And with that, she went to attend to her own meal. Looking around the table beyond his own plate, had he ever seen so much food in his life? He couldn’t recall if he had and more to the point, he didn’t recognize most of it. Bewildered, his stomach had begun to protest from the mixture of smells and aromas that taunted him so he opted not to delay any longer. His helping consisted of a messy-looking slider, a scoop of fried protatoes smothered with a Jerba cheese sauce, fried Endorian chicken, a Shili cheese dog, Revwien coleslaw and a sampling of Iktotch Toast from Nalesse’s own portion though he wasn’t sure where to begin.

 

“Here, try this too.” The sandy male responsible for his current condition offered (almost like an apology); sandwiched clumsily between his knife and fork was part of a casing of pastry with a spilling contents of more chicken, carrots and peas. The small taster was more enjoyable than expected and eventually followed by another side dish of Kibi strips. “And these.”

 

The Shili cheese dog was too spicy, the Endorian chicken was pleasant, the protatoes were fine but the sauce too strong so he attempted to scrape most of it off, the Ravwien coleslaw was delicious, the Iktotch Toast was tasty but not as a main meal; the definite favourite was the slider and would be a firm favourite from then on. No matter which morsel he sampled, it was all a far cry from the calorie-controlled, indulgence-dampening and flat-out boring contents of an officer’s diet; a diet he had been subjected to for as long as he could remember. Yes, it aided fitness and health. True, it enforced dietary discipline and willpower. Naturally, it brought a sense of uniformity in that no officer ate differently. But…. He knew no better. So while he savoured the soft chicken breast coated in mild spices, he also enjoyed the small, sporadic bursts of grease with the pulverising motions of his teeth.

 

It took him a moment to realize he was being watched while in the depths of revelling in the rebellion of a new diet. One eye from across the table glared, unblinking and chewing with the knife still embedded in his fist; if he even noticed the utensil, it didn’t bother him. Balor, the Abyssin he’d learned about in The Crosswinds Saloon, had heard plenty but seen nothing of this new man.

 

“So.” Voice strong to rise above the racket but also to project his dominance, Balor fixated on Hux until the redhead’s gaze lifted dolefully to the unsolicited challenge. “You’re him, huh?”

 

“Bal, c’mon; he’s high off his balls, leave ‘im alone.” Nalesse’s reasonable interjection fell upon deaf, mangled ears and drew attention from the rest of the diners.

 

“Him?” Hux repeated (no longer inverted) once his mouth was empty with a twinge of haughty offence, damned if he was going to let the woman he was sleeping with fight his battles for him. “I suppose that depends on who ‘him’ is.”

 

“Don’t you fucking get smart with me.” The growl, the threat echoed not only displeasure but danger before the single iris swiped to the only present female sitting on a rickety stool at the far end of the table. “You see her?!”

 

“I’ve seen plenty of her.” Certainly not the best answer he could have given but it seemed the Millaflower had flared his confidence and affected his ability to carefully consider a situation where one wrong move or word could get him killed: like now. As evidenced by the snarl and the split-second screeching of a chair being jerked back, Armitage’s sense of danger was also clearly impaired.

 

“THAT’S MY FUCKING BABY!!” He couldn’t be sure what but a shower of freshly chewed food scattered the table and rendered the rest of Hux’s plate inedible but that was the least of the Abyssin’s cares as he leaned down, both gigantic hands flat on the table and stared down the redhead; little more than a breath between them. “You fucking respect her, d’you hear me? If I find out-“

 

“Enough. Down.” Casually, coolly; Nalesse appeared from nowhere and with a grasp on each shoulder, forced the cyclops (though no one was really sure how) back into his seat where his focus was broken to protest. “You. With me. Now.” Open to command, Hux obeyed and shimmied from his chair to trail after the prowling strut of high-heeled boots into the unknown bowels of the freighter.

 

 

------------

 

 

He was shoved towards a bed though there was no trademark scuffle to get undressed, no warring of lips or exploring touches; the confusion did not go unnoticed.

 

“Even with food, you're in no condition to go back to the bridge; you need rest if you’re gonna be okay to do your thing tomorrow.” She informed him while she pottered around the room, doing things that didn’t register nor did it register that her comfort in this space implied it was her own. “And I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m wrong but I doubt you feel up to doin' anythin'?” She wasn’t wrong but what would it do to him to admit it? Added to that mild embarrassment, his gaze dropped to his lap where the stirring her presence usually provoked failed him, despite his silent willing to prove her wrong. It didn’t work.

 

“You are quite correct.” He confessed meekly, the testosterone of his uncharacteristic confrontation forgotten.

 

“I’ve dealt with enough Millaheads, includin' that fuckin' moron, Mort; I know I’m correct.” So freshly immersed in the fascination of the blankets beneath him; a mass of colour and a blend of delightful fabrics, the female’s subtle smile escaped him. One bare hand caressed the (dyed) dark purple bantha wool beneath him, relishing the welcoming fleeciness as opposed to that of his own lifeless sheets of his officer’s cot. “Back in a sec.”

 

Left to his own devices for a moment, he explored his new-found tactility with the web of materials, each one a new peek at what life outside the suffocating Imperial structure could be. Had he been allowed to remain in the kitchen back on his father’s estate, he probably would have been permitted to have a colourful, unique quilt like one of these but the turn in his life meant uniformity and banality in everything down to his bed. Had time sped up? Was his thought process slowed? Or was she just incredibly adept at whatever it was she was doing?

 

“You nearly forgot your dessert.” She uttered placidly, setting a plate and a mug down on the bedside table; his focal point relocating immediately from the blankets. Were they cakes? That was the closest thing he could align them to, these plump, doughy entities; three perched waiting but each a different variety. All golden brown, the toppings distinguished themselves and hinted their flavour; the first investigative bite granted him a mouthful of what appeared to be custard. Sweet: His first observation as he chewed fervently, much to the amusement of a smuggler who seemed…. at ease. Gooey, creamy, lightly crispy; the General’s lids lowered to the sound of his own decadent moan. The caf was tempting but the risk of tainting his taste buds by this proof of heaven was not one he was willing to take.

 

“May I ask you something?” The question was merely a distraction several moments later to delay making the choice in which doughnut he should sample next. Well, maybe not just a distraction; he had pondered it for quite some time but the Millaflower had heightened his bravery to ask, as evidenced by his avidity in verbally locking horns with an Abyssin.

 

“You just did.”

 

“No, I mean-“

 

“What’s wrong?” Selecting the second doughnut, one with a dusting of powdered sugar that he keenly sank his teeth into, his scrutiny turned to her and the normal but unusual routine unfolding before him. The removal of make-up; the casual wiping of a wet cloth across porcelain skin to render it clean and unstained by cosmetics. Quizzical, he stared with his chewing paused at something of a revelation; yet another unexpected surprise afforded to him by that strange night. “Y’a'right there, Red?”

 

“Yes....” After another stint of mindless ogling, he found his words; effects of the flower, or so he told himself. “I was just curious about something...”

 

“Hit me.”

 

“I was always told it is unacceptable to hit a woman.”

 

“Okay, first off.” The sigh suggested a reminder of patience as she placed the disposable cloth into a receptacle. “If a woman comes at you with a blaster or a knife, you carve the bitch. Boom: equality. If she can give it but can't take it, she shouldn’t be doin' it. And that goes for anyone, doesn’t matter t'fuck what’s between their legs.” His line of vision followed the now bare-faced smuggler as she perched herself on the other side of the bed with a worn-looking hairbrush and her back to him. “Secondly, ‘hit me’ doesn't mean ‘hit me’. It means like.... tell me. What's eatin' ya?”

 

“Our arrangement...”

 

“Is that what it is?”

 

“Do you have a preferable term?”

 

“Nah, just interestin' to hear you talk. You never talk.” It wasn’t an unfair statement but what did he have to say with the nature of said ‘arrangement’? Maybe he was afraid to say anything in the event that he misrepresented himself somehow like he had on their first meeting. Maybe he was afraid he would say something that might change it for the better and deepen him further in unapproved and terrifying territory. Or... Maybe he didn’t know what to say to someone so utterly magnificent of whom he felt so confusingly unworthy. “What’s s’matter?”

 

“I….” The scraping diverted him, scarcely a second off track but it slotted around their conversation as background noise; the torturous scraping of a paddle-brush through a day’s worth of tangled mane and the restrained gasps of pain it evoked. “I suppose I was wondering if it was exclusive.” The scraping and the bites of agony filled the gap in the conversation; perhaps the question was premature. However….

 

“Well….” The strain was clear in her voice, almost panted but she persisted with her brushing and it would take a few moments and a clearer mind for him to realize that it was not the brushing antagonizing her. “The short answer is yeah but…. Fuck…. I guess, it’s been accidental so far…. Ow…. No offence....”

 

“Accidental?” He quizzed, borderline interrogative as he sat up slightly to scrutinize her back while the bristles tore mercilessly through the midnight corkscrews. “I’m afraid you will have to elaborate.”

 

“We’re quite busy, me and the boys; you wouldn’t think it to- DAMMIT- look around but we do work hard.” Bowing to the request for clarity, Nalesse decided to be honest but took a break from the brushing to let the scalding torment subside and half-glance over her shoulder to him. “I just…. Haven’t had the time to go lookin' for someone and when I did have a spare minute, your timin' was always perfect in commin' me so…. Yeah.”

 

“I confess, that is a relief.” The male disclosed, satisfied that he could trust her with such an admission though it was her turn to be puzzled. “I worried about appearing…. desperate…. And clingy.” Needless to say, he had never been concerned with appearing so before which made the feelings of near inadequacy worse when his hand had hovered near his com.

 

“And what 'bout you? Stickin' it every girl on Finalizer?”

 

“Hardly.” Another explosion of flavour swiftly followed the word as the first salty-syrupy sample of the last doughnut was taken and a moment was taken to savour it. “Like you, I found myself occupied by more troubling things than pleasures of the flesh.” Finally bending to the aroma of the caf (with its silky suggestion of vanilla upon tasting to compliment the doughnuts), he found the information flowed more freely from him than it would have before. “Besides, I never found anyone under my command appealing in that respect nor would I have had the conviction  or knowledge to broach it. You were and are different in ways that I still cannot fathom.”

 

“You like ‘em with a bitta fight, huh?” She joked before returning to the torment of her hair brushing but her tone was thoughtful and accommodating. “Well.... And this is just an option, somethin' to chew over-“ He looked up with a mouthful cake and Endorian maple syrup. “-But if you wanted to keep it exclusive, we could make certain allowances that would be... maybe not beneficial but more.... convenient?”

 

“Such as?” Waiting to swallow before he responded, how could he not be intrigued? Convenient? As if the arrangement couldn’t be more suitable, she advocated making it just that; appealing to his sense of regulation and efficiency while she was at it.

 

“Well, we could ditch the condoms for a start.” Hux’s face contorted into something of stupefaction while he tried to decode that sentence. Surely they were necessary? After all, why have the hindrance of them if they weren't?

 

“Ditch them?!” He repeated with the offset of indignation as he set aside the caf with more force than intended; irked that he had been subjected to those tight, sweat-inducing things when there was clearly an alternative. “What do you mean ‘ditch them’?! What in the name of Palpatine does that mean?!” Highly affronted now, he felt the ire beating furiously in his chest as his muse of destruction remained unfazed; volatility and temper revealing itself as another side-effect of the flower. The reaction had been expected but if the aggression continued, he would be quickly curtailed like Balor had been. Well, how else was he supposed to react when said items were a scarcely bearable consequence for men to satiate primal urges but they were (in this context, at least) not a fundamental; a precaution, if anything. “Are they not necessary?!”

 

Tired of the barrage, her growing disdain had had enough and the last word drove it over the edge into ferocity.

 

“Necessary?!” She snapped, rounding on him and disbelieving at the use of the it. It was no secret he was inexperienced when she met him but she assumed an intelligent man like Armitage Hux would know the risks of casual sex and particularly when he seemed to cling to an Imperial code that any proof of an illicit affair should be avoided. The swipe silenced him but he simmered nonetheless. “Are you fuckin’ serious?! Necessary?!” On her feet and skulking the length of the bottom of the bed with her unwavering gaze fixated on the sprawled form of the General. “Whatever 'bout you, I’m fairly sure you’re clean but you don’t know that I am!” The dawning look of comprehension nudged her satisfaction but she continued. “As it happens, I am but you didn’t know that!” He opened his mouth to interject but she shot him through his potential argument again. “Diseases aside; d’you know how much the half-bred kids of high rankin’ officers go for on the black market?” That certainly hadn’t occurred to him, that an accidental pregnancy would be more than just a personal disgrace and a drain on his finances.

 

“I…. I didn’t realize that was an issue….”

 

“Yeah, well it is; I’m from Tatooine, I know all about kidnap and fuckin’ slavery.” Silent again out of mortification as his recovering mind began to weasel out the logic of her insistence on protection; there had been purpose to it after all. But if she suggested a change, there was obviously another way for their arrangement to continue unaffected.

 

“And what about you?” He asked, modest, in a bid to break the tension; Nalesse had taken it as an opportunity to change into her nightwear, starting with her boots while perched in her original position at the end of the bed with her back to him. “How would you protect yourself if we were to remove our current contraception from the equation?”

 

“Don’t worry 'bout me.” She countered smoothly with one heave of her arm to remove one boot and then the other. “I take mine in tea.” So, she had been taking it already?

 

“Tea?” Hux questioned in a baffled murmur, louder than intended.

 

“Tea.” The female confirmed with another glance back. “Herbal tea in the mornin'.”

 

“And you’re confident in it?”

 

“Worked for me so far and I’ve been takin' it for years.” She replied with a benign shrug as her protective (and distractingly tight) leathers were stripped down her legs; he still felt nothing, despite watching the process. “It’s made by the Ho’Dins on Moltok. They’re masters in herbal remedies and the best there is; like I said, I’ve been usin' it for years and nothin'. It's just a back up in case a condom fails but... I think I could rely on it a bit more as long as I know the other person is clean.”

 

“Excellent, that’s settled.” He affirmed with finality and feeling more (smugly pompously) like himself when the situation fell back into his control; a feeling he was more than accustomed to. “At least I can lay my mind to rest; the last thing I need for my reputation is a lowly smuggler fat with my bastard brat.” Another half glance behind and a slight, offended sniff followed the somewhat unfair statement; a nerve had been touched.

 

“Oh well…. Fuck you too.”

 

“Would you like a sugar-coating?” He batted back without a beat; arrogant and just as callous as before without the consideration for the fact that the smuggler did, in fact, have feelings. Conceited, he stared her down and waited for an answer. “I would have thought honesty was appreciated in a cut-throat environment such as this one?”

 

“Look.” Nalesse was on her feet again, purely to give herself some height over him and to desperately appear some bit intimidating but disrobed further as the words tumbled. “You are what you are. I am what I am. This thing we have goin’ on is convenience, I get that but you don’t have to be a cunt about it.” Turning without thinking, she assumed the lull in the cutting conversation came from him having nothing to contribute and so hoped for a change of subject. That was partially true.

 

“Your back….” The lowered, prying tone floated into the intensity; serene and concerned. His moods subject to rapid changes and, as she had stated earlier, she understood. But how could he not gape at the angry, malevolent, ruby streaks conflicting nastily on the sallow expanse of her back? The odious injury was in its infantile stages; redness was the most prevalent feature but the intermediate dotting of small blisters suggested it would worsen in the next few days. Clearly uneasy with the scrutiny, the usually dominant and confident stride had withered into a shamefaced slink but would be on display a while longer while she dug for nightwear in an open drawer. “What happened to it?”

 

“Doesn’t matter.” Dismissed without eye contact, emotion or commitment to an explanation, Nalesse found herself in a smothering corner; something she detested.

 

“Has it been seen by a medic?”

 

“No.”

 

“And why not?” Fishing for answers of a useable nature was like pulling teeth: painful and patience-testing but he persevered after spying the appalling state of her back. The vexation in brushing her hair became apparent as the bristles had scraping the top of the wound and aggravating it

 

“Can’t afford it.” Suitable pyjamas found, retrieved and virtuously applied, her comfort heightened but the graphic image had etched itself into his brain and the craving for answers remained. “I just need some bacta cream and time, that’s all.”

 

“What happened?” He pressed again, more urgently this time and inexplicably distressed by the damage that was not his own. Sitting up in the bed, he watched while she lingered, apprehensive, anywhere but in his vicinity; even her eyes wouldn’t wander that far.

 

“Went home, didn’t wear the right clothes and got sunburnt, that’s it.”

 

“But-“

 

“Genesis. Skin’s fucked; it’s like paper.” Maybe not the most eloquent answer but he had come to expect little else in the company of Nalesse Du Sade and in truth, it was one of the reasons he felt at ease in her presence. “I just…. Burn easy. It doesn’t take much; it hurts and takes longer to heal but I just gotta deal with it.”

 

“I would urge you to see a medic.”

 

“Why are you actin' like you care? You don’t care. And I told you, I can’t afford it.” Nalesse returned, tired and resigned while she finally gave in to the temptation of the bed; her approach prompted him to shuffle over to give her room. “The bacta cream does the job, it just takes a bit longer.” Settled without the post-coital exhaustion or awkward silence for once; it felt different, more intimate in an unexplored way though without bodily contact. Did it spoil it? Knowing she was human? Knowing she could feel both physical and emotional pain? Knowing she could be damaged and perhaps not as robust as he initially thought her?

 

Strangely, no. Was it what he feared? Allowing depth into the ‘relationship’ that would endanger the non-committal essence of it? Not so far. He turned an offer over in his head; a repayment for the kindness and consideration she’d given him after their rendezvous at The Crosswinds Saloon. Maybe not on the same grade of generosity, certainly, but he would make it all the same; even if it did dig them deeper but just then, that didn’t seem so bad.

 

“I can find someone, a skin specialist.” He proposed with soft, mindful words when he turned his head and found her eyes closed. “I will pay for the consultation, whatever treatme-“

 

“No.” Had he expected rejection? Taken aback, the feeling was automatic and engulfing. Uncomprehending, how could she not want to take it? But it seemed that the woman he had spent numerous nights with, doing questionable and (sometimes) degrading things, had something called pride. “That’s not what I’m in this for.” Steadfast with her eyes still closed, the dark haired beauty was resolute. “I don’t give a fuck 'bout your money if we haven't earned it as a team and I don't take charity so thank you-“ Did she utter those last two words very often? “But no.”

 

What else could he do without smothering and badgering her? Dejected and uncharacteristically concerned for someone other than himself with pure intentions, it was alien but nonetheless, Armitage shuffled down in the bed; a far more comfortable one than his own. One last forlorn look at the suffering female beside him instigated another untypical action that he put down to the Millaflower draining from his system.

 

“Goodnight.”

 

 

 

“Night.”

Chapter Text

“You awake, sweetheart?” He was now. With a soft, groan-like inhale, Armitage’s eye fluttered open and wakefulness started to seep in. There she was, like she had been for every morning since he was attacked by the Jakobeast; like he had wanted her to be ever before that and now, she was finally part of his morning routine. His answer was non-verbal: a caressing of his hand against her unscarred cheek. It produced the most beautiful sound; a quiet laugh, gentle out of consideration for his tender state. “That a yes?”

 

“That’s a yes.” The sag in the mattress as she lightly perched herself beside him prompted a healing arm to drape behind her and coil around her waist; an action of companionship she leaned in to and planted a kiss to his temple to return it. “Good morning.”

 

“Afternoon, love.” She corrected dotingly, stroking his hair with the same affection mirrored in her voice. “I would’ve let you sleep longer but this is important.” Along with affection, his slumber-clogged mind picked out something else in her tone: excitement. “They found Finalizer.” Piqued, he sat up with less struggle than he did a few days ago and not as much pain; his flagship had been weaselled out. “The staff and the officers fled, no one knows where they went but they’re not in for a good time if they’re found.” Poor Mitaka, if he was even alive; he’d always been fond of him, even if he didn’t really show it. “They’re raidin' it; we’re gonna go and see what we can get but d’you need anythin' back? Anythin' in your quarters? Your office?”

 

“I have my blaster and my promise ring.” He replied after a few seconds of silent self-consultation. “Those are the only things I need.”

 

“You sure?”

 

“Yes but….” Wetting his morning-dry lips, the stiches were still in place but starting to disintegrate more into nothing as the days went by. “There is something I need you to do.” Curious and obliging, Nalesse leaned in further, to listen and obey. “There are experimental weapons; new, untested technology that would fetch handsomely on the black market. The Order has no use for them now, we might as well profit from their sale.” Since he disappeared and was (he assumed) presumed dead, he could no longer access his personal credits; thousands gone to waste that would have benefited his family greatly. To try would alert his father (who the credits would have gallingly been transferred to automatically in the event of his death) to either the crew or himself; if there was one tie he wanted to sever, it was with his father. Now, those credits would have to be made up some other way and how better than selling weapons he had designed in the first place? Nalesse shifted, prepared for the information. “Down in the very bowels of Finalizer, in a supply store room-“

 

“A store room?!”

 

“Well, who is going to look for something valuable in a store room if they don’t know where to look?”

 

“Fair ‘nough. Where’s this store room?”

 

“Take the elevator to the maintenance level, turn right and it’s the fifth door along on the left-hand side. The key code is your birthd-“

 

“No offence, love; but I’m just gonna blow the fuckin' panel off the wall. I 'preciate the sentiment though and hidin' them as randomly as you could. Will we be able to carry ‘em?”

 

“It shouldn't be a problem if the others are willing to lend a hand.” He accepted the glass of water she held to his mouth, as if she could read his mind and was almost convinced she could by now. “The containers are mobile for that purpose.”

 

“Perfect.” Finding her feet, his wife readied herself. “We’ll be back soon. Don’t miss me too much, yeah?” With another lasting and parting peck, Nalesse departed with the request of a com call if he needed anything. More doughnuts, perhaps? Left alone on an empty ship, the temptation to return to sleep won out over staying awake to watch holovision and he when he did, a very familiar memory lulled him back to tranquillity while his family picked the carcass of his ship clean like vultures.

 

----------------------

 

She'd returned. A few months after his first (but not last) Millaflower experience, the huntress had breached his security and now lay sprawled on his desk in all her whorish glory. Legs spread, chest exposed, hair tousled, mouth agape, eyes shut; an absolute vision to store in the annals of his mind for later. The General could safely say the surface of his desk had never been graced by a mostly naked woman or smeared with fluids of a lubricating nature; until now, of course. Confirmation of exclusivity in their arrangement had seen him up his licentious game by researching beyond his novice knowledge, studying to keep the attention of the majestic pirate queen and, thus far, was successful. Free to use the holonet at night, it was imperative to furthering his skill but Galactic Basic translations of ancient texts from sexual societies gave him that edge that she had found nowhere else. Well, it was no one else but someone of his standing and calibre that would be able to acquire them unquestioned.

 

“Fuck…..!” His new favourite sound; that pained whimper as he spied between her breasts to that beautifully contorted face while he worked fervently to keep it so. He knew she savoured the tug of leather against her walls and so it was unspoken that his gloves would accommodate that preference; his encased hand moving with the speed and precision that made her sing. Obsessed, he watched every falter from between those killer thighs; every twitch, stutter and control-scrambling breath riled him and spurred him in suckling at the sweet enveloped in her folds.

 

“Oh my God....” How could he not feel that flex of pride even though his tongue ached? How could he not revel in the gratification of every darling lament? Particularly when it was his efforts that made her so deliciously vocal? Tireless and charged, he ploughed on until the keening stopped and even then, it took a moment and a call for him to register and cease.

 

“Uhh.... Arm?” He devoured her still with the second clamping arm and elbow holding her open to him. “Aaaaaaaarm....!” Roused and confused, he eventually surfaced. Slicked from the tip of his nose to the point of his chin and everything in between; she would have preferred to take the time to admire him but there were more pressing matters emanating from the security monitors.

 

“Is something wrong?” Nalesse didn't answer immediately; instead, she watched the screens with something akin to urgency and curiosity. Naturally, he straightened and followed her focal point until he saw it, that tornado of black heading directly for his office: Kylo Ren.

 

“We expectin' someone?” Focus darting from one monitor to the other, Armitage’s mouth had suddenly dried. Rooted with only eyes roving in sporadic, dogging movements; he was wasting time. “Lemme guess-“ Rushed from his dreaded stupor just in time to see his smuggler hop from the desk, his body found mobility once more while she took charge. “Under the desk?”

 

“How did you....?”

 

“Pfft, you think this’s the first time I’ve done this? Sit down.” So he did as he was bid and not a moment too soon before the door swept back.

 

--------------

 

“I fail to see what I can do about it, Ren.” How he managed such nonchalance, he'd never know but if it meant he could carry off that he had nothing to hide (and he had plenty to hide), he wouldn't question it. “If they continue to evade you, surely that is your burden and not mine?”

 

“I need authorization for more Ties!” The modulated protest struck the hidden female; the mere sound of it enough to daunt her but held herself firm. “I need larger squads if I am to outmanoeuvre, outnumber and therefore defeat them!”

 

“And you think I’m going to grant such authorization?!” Hux spat with incensed indignation. Armitage’s spine clicked upright in a challenge but not enough to stand and reveal Nalesse which he might have done ordinarily. “On the past two occasions that I granted that request, Ren; two squadrons went out and only half of each returned!! Now, you want me to dispatch a larger squadron so that more precious Ties and more trained pilots won’t come back?!” More than impressed with her General’s ability and willingness to verbally thrash a Force user who could slice him in two at any given moment (as his infamous temper was no doubt capable of); she decided to both reward and calm him.

 

The Knight remained (for now) frustratingly silent while he tried to calculate a way to sway the General; it meant Nalesse needed to be covert in her undertaking with the minimum movement and, accordingly, minimum noise. Folded beneath the desk and bracing her body weight on Armitage’s knees, her hands worked ever so adeptly to clear the fabric path; a task of little effort by now. Naturally, he could do nothing without betraying the whereabouts (or mere presence) of his hidden lover; so when the tantalizingly familiar encasement of the wet heat of her mouth engulfed him, he had little recourse but a clench of his jaw. Ren took it as a dare and not as a supressed consequence of concealed oral sex.

 

“Authorize the squadrons.” Failing to intimidate, it seemed there was no other tact than repetition which the General had little to no patience for; especially when he had to pretend his cock wasn’t in one of its favourite places. He fought the urge to look down, to shorten his breath and to buck his hips as was expected but present company forbade it and so, the most acknowledgement he could give her as her lips glided was knotting an already dropped hand into her hair. “The Supreme Leader-“

 

“I have been very gracious, Ren-“ He began, dangerously smooth as Nalesse worked her magic and it had the intended soothing effect. Staring straight into the mask, he had no idea what lay beneath it but it mattered not; he faced it without fear. “In allowing you to board my flagship, granting you the rank of Commander even though you did nothing to earn it-“ That may have been a bone of contention for the General who had worked painstakingly to be where he was, despite his young age. Leaning forward, he took aim for his blows and somewhat sandwiched the smuggler in the process but she worked on regardless. “Allowing you to take your meals in the privacy of your quarters; quarters that were vacated specially for you....”

 

“And none of it at the behest of the Supreme Leader; my cooperation and amicability with you were his only stipulations.” Hux added cuttingly and sitting back to relieve Nalesse though she had never (to her credit) stalled. Allowing himself the brief concession of his eyes flickering down to his lap, the exhilarating lavender gaze was already waiting. He swallowed a pant as he loosened his hand from her hair and stroked a leather-clad thumb along the cushioning of her cheek; the movement of her head evident under his hand. But he needed to refocus lest Ren mistake it for weakness or reservation and so the redhead boldly faced the “Force” wielder again. “You have been here little over a year and in that time, you have destroyed hundreds of thousands of credits worth of cutting-edge equipment, regularly absconding from duty on some half-baked fantasy and your temper leaves an awful lot to be desired, as my missing Stormtroopers will no doubt attest to.” He let those injuring observations sink in but had no way of knowing if they had been absorbed; perhaps the antagonized squeaking of leather as Ren’s fists coiled was an indication. “So do not threaten me with the Supreme Leader, Ren.”

 

It didn’t feel natural to not be able to express himself, to not be able to writhe under her like he usually did or making a conscious effort to stuff as much of himself as he could back her throat. Now, he was tested and stretched; like he usually was when the Knight was involved. Still, she noiselessly persisted and seemed to know that the lack of response was all part of the thrill; a new type of thrill he had never experienced but he had been right in his initial assessment: she was an experience. Containment became more and more problematic as the redhead found moans being born in his windpipe with the more she exerted herself to pleasure him; like she wanted him to slip up, like there was something erotic about being caught. The placid messaging of his testicles and the occasional grating of her teeth on his shaft made it more and more difficult to keep a straight face; so with his resolve whittling to almost nothing with each swallow, he decided enough was enough.

 

“Now, Ren….” Venomous, Armitage’s posture restored itself to its bolt upright norm to stare the black-clad intruder down and speaking slowly to ensure he was heard and heeded. “I know you have nothing better to do but it just so happens that I am quite busy; it comes with actually taking responsibility for one’s actions.” Would Ren take the hint? It seemed not so to be more frank and forthright (a generous assessment of gritted teeth and flared nostrils) would give him the peace he craved. “Get out!” Like a scolded child and with an overdramatic (Armitage rolled his eyes) swing of whatever mish-mash he wore, Kylo Ren departed in the same fashion that he had arrived: petulant and in the midst of a tantrum. The redhead watched the monitors for the reverse and only when Ren reached the top of the corridor and the furthest point from his office, did the General relax. “You.” Unambiguous and curt, his chair zipped back to uncover the smuggler hiding beneath the desk. “Out here. Now.”

 

Nalesse was back on the desk and in a similar position to before the arrival of their visitor; this time, however, she sat up and her General kept her close.

 

“What were you thinking….” The desperate breath tickled her ear as he immersed himself in the perfume of her neck and the velvety comfort of her hair; lips pressing urgently and leaving the odd mark on random patches of ivory skin. Engrossed in his worship, the mischievous hum almost went unnoticed until she broke free of his pattern and pushed her lips to his; to let him taste himself.

 

“You tellin’ me you didn’t enjoy it?” She taunted slyly; the way she always did that made him swallow, low and vexing. “You tellin’ me it didn’t excite you?” Eyes alight and air impish, she knew the answer; she knew his form by now and how he tried to fight it to maintain his staunch demeanour. “You like to test yourself…. And if that didn't prove discipline, nothin' would.” Then, he snapped; stoked by the purposeful stroke to his ego. Reckless and desirous, Nalesse was seized by the hips and hauled to the edge of the desk where his primed length waited to submerge itself in its absolute favourite place. Uncovered and seemingly unprotected, he bowed to the primal urges and roughly seated himself as deeply between the smuggler’s legs as the position would allow; to a dual groan of mutual appreciation.

 

How could there be gentility when she provoked him so? She knew exactly which buttons to press (before he even did) and which manoeuvres to play to reduce him to a lustful mess, to completely disregard every ounce of control training he’d ever received; to decimate the mild-mannered man of regiment that kept him in high esteem.

 

“That’s it….” The purr intruded on his ear and goaded him on while the abrupt pummels of ecstasy caused his thighs to collide painfully with the desk; repeatedly and unchecked. “Fuck me….” He didn’t need encouragement but the sudden sting of fingernails hooking into the soft flesh of his buttocks to push him deeper and possessively keep him from withdrawing did it automatically. “Fuck me hard.” Chest to chest with arms secured around his waist and lips close but parted; the General luxuriated in the beauty of those half-lidded eyes and a carnality that had only awoken just under a year ago to her command.

 

The desk creaked and scraped a few bare millimetres along the floor from sheer force with every buck forward; had he not been so intent on pulverising her and drowning in the experience of it, the way it threw his office out of its pristine symmetry (if only noticeable to him) would have bothered him. It would when she left but not now. The weight of everything was beginning to grate on him: the arrogance pumped by having her melt beneath his tongue, the power-trip and adrenaline of belittling Kylo Ren with Nalesse’s head in his lap and now, every bruising thrust to her (and his) thighs. The sordid symphony continued and whether or not it could be heard from the corridor outside, neither of them knew and neither of them cared. Again, he probably would when she left but in the heat of the moment, nothing mattered but the smuggler.

 

Heart pounding, lungs tormented, sweat dripping and cock about to explode; his resolve was extinguishing fast.

 

“Cum in me!” The whine made him strive to obey and while he thought he couldn’t push himself any further before, she dragged it from him in those three short words.

 

“I’m coming!” He assured her in a ragged splutter under the strain of effort that lasted another few (he couldn’t count) turbulent thrusts until he fulfilled her wish and coated the inside of her walls with the substance that should have been reserved for his wife; much to the bleat of satisfaction. Closing the distance between their lips while they remained joined in the lower quarters, they shared the scarce breath that seemed to be in short supply with diligence and generosity; siphoning it from one then passing it enthusiastically to the other. Then it petered out into silence and wonderment. Foreheads clung and glued with sweat, noses nuzzled and mouths grazed but the post-coital exhaustion seemed to stop them looking at anything except each other.

 

“I gotta go….” Nalesse quietly stemmed the seemingly endless stream of staring though made no move to break the contact just yet; Armitage did that, even if he did so reluctantly by shuffling back to give her space. Returned to modesty (even though he had never been far from it), he watched the smuggler do the same; dolefully watching her dress.

 

“Is it a job?” He inquired forlornly from the chair he would forever associate with the time he withered Kylo Ren while receiving a stellar blowjob that he couldn’t even react to. With the bare essentials re-applied, the raven-locked female glanced back while she searched for the next layer. “I will pay twice the rate if you stay.”

 

“What, so I’m an escort now?” She joked softly, grounding herself on the other side of the desk to heave her smuggling leathers back up her legs; the tightness of the garment accentuated her curves but served the practical use of free movement and prevented snagging while on the job.

 

“No, of course not.” Miffed, maybe the humour was lost, that area still needed work though he made slow but sure progress; if he was to be accepted by the Brax, he needed to develop a sense of humour. “But…. Perhaps, the others could stand in while you stay?” The suggestion was uncertain; as if his conviction didn’t fully back it and the fear of rejection was ever present which made him slow to speak up. “Surely you don’t need to be present for every job?”

 

“It’s not a job.” Less reassured him with gentility and rewarded the bravery with a brief peck before scouting out the top half of her outfit. “It’s Mort’s birthday; we’re goin' out.”

 

“I.... see.” He continued to observe her while the strange sensation of worry prickled. Despite being wrapped up in getting ready to leave, she was not immune to the taint of concern.

 

“Exclusive is exclusive.” She promised with another sweet peck that he had trouble letting go of. “Or....” She retreated again to monitor his reaction, something genuine about it. “You could come with us?” Armitage stared. Was it tempting? Anything that concerned her was tempting, almost uncomfortably so. “Mort would love if you did.” She offered in the hope of persuasion. “He's very fond of you. We all are.”

 

“All except for Balor.” The General pointed out with something akin to bitterness; his relationship with the Brax had developed individually with all except the Abyssin who remained borderline aggressive. “My company does not sit well with him.”

 

“Well, yeah but what d'you want? You can't expect him to welcome his baby girl's fuck buddy with open arms, can you? He’s just.... bein' a dad.”

 

“It’s not a family dynamic I’m familiar with.” He yielded solemnly, having never had a daughter or a sister or indeed a father whose actions could be described as “just being a dad”. Tempting and all as the offer was and the assurance of inclusivity shared by all (but one); duty, nonetheless, called.

 

“I am afraid that’s out of the question; I have too much work to do.” He conceded, surprising himself with disappointment at the declaration that had always been an enjoyed cornerstone of his life; both personal and private.

 

“So what would I be doin' if I stayed?” A fully dressed Nalesse pressed humorously as the top of her boots slipped over her knees. “Sit in the corner and look pretty?” Armitage hesitated; it was silly and far too early…. But maybe it would be worth showing her what effect she had on his mind, the things she taught him he was capable of. After a moment’s deliberation, the female received no answer but her companion was in the midst of self-debate; a debate of whether he was ready to share this with someone on whom the construction of this brain-child did not depend, the one who had inspired it, in fact. In that logic, his decision was made and Armitage became (to Nalesse, at least) somewhat excitedly flustered and even passionate.

 

“It is only in the early stages…..” The redhead murmured distractedly as he sat forward to the desk drawer; the one always closest to him while he worked. Curious, Nalesse chanced a few clicks forward with a near canine tilt of her head while Armitage rooted. “It has not been approved for funding yet but…. I have it on good authority that it will be…..” He produced a holopad; a small, flat platform that (when he triggered it) projected an image of a grainy, bluey hue. A prototype; a very raw and basic prototype.

 

“Arm, what is that?” Perhaps her reaction underwhelmed him with the way she squinted and confusion marred those glorious features; in truth, what could he expect? It seemed he spent so much time carefully analyzing each detail and constantly adding more that he had forgotten the poor quality of the document. A very good question. How did he broach this without sounding like a lunatic? A super-weapon carved in his mind by her personality, her nature, her temperament and the abundance of things she made him feel; maybe not the most flattering concept but he’d come this far and exposed himself this much.

 

“It’s a super-weapon.” He confessed quietly but taking care to monitor her reactions; currently, she paced the length of the desk and back again but never took her eyes off the projection. Impossible to read, the silence intensified and so, Armitage sought to fill it. “A sequel to the Death Star, if you will.” Lips wetted and eyes slowly slinking between the image and the smuggler. “I call it Starkiller Base.” Curiosity unfulfilled, Nalesse stopped pacing and simply observed the rotating sphere with her arms crossed over her chest.

 

“Okay….?” Armitage swallowed, the reactions continued to be less than what he imagined. “And you're goin' to.... build it? Why?”

 

“I’m building it for you.” Was it unusual for Nalesse Du Sade to be caught off guard? Taken aback, even? Yes, but her General persisted with intensely scrutinizing her while her gaze never wavered from the projection. On opposite sides of the desk, Armitage sat forward while Nalesse tried to process the information. “The time we have spent together has manifested itself.” He told her, strangely subdued but more confident now with the passionate edge resumed. “Every meeting, every com call, every stray thought of you that randomly enters my head….” Nalesse’s probing began to swap between the two and that in itself was vitalizing enough to continue.

 

“I have never met anyone like you. Anyone as treacherous, wild and minacious who can be so devoted and protective of those whom she holds dear.” Eyes locked again, she had lost interest in the projection; there was nothing new to see of it but Armitage laying praise that wasn’t sexual was….. rare. Shifting in his seat under the growing potency of Nalesse’s perusal, there was no going back now and no retracting anything he might say so he defied her as he had defied Ren: brazen and rigid. “For months, I have wracked my brain to represent your poise and your nature in a way that can be paraded, that will not be frowned upon. It is the very essence of power, control and retribution that will help me reclaim the Empire and protect this galaxy from the masquerade of the Republic!” He may have gotten somewhat vehement but with that off his chest and his lips wetted; they marked each other still. “And all because of you.”

 

“How much will it cost to build?” An off the cuff and out of the blue inquiry, given the rant of a devout nature.

 

“Billions.” The determined hiss saw her inch closer; around the desk and closer to the redhead’s side. While she and her crew had never taken sides (credits were credits), it was no secret that the Republican monitoring and regulations made their job significantly more difficult. If the First Order were to take control and she maintained her (rather enjoyable) position with the General, well…. Their smuggling operation could be a lot more open with a blind eye turned and penalties and fines essentially waved. What wasn’t to love? Not that that was the sole incentive, she did happen to like him and his little rant had been flattering to say the least. Perched once more in his fuck-worn lap, the General’s lips were reclaimed and the support for the awful project cemented.

 

 

 “I gotta go.” She uttered again but this time, more dubious in parting them and the secure hold of her waist suggested he felt the same. “I might wake up in a dumpster but I’ll com you tomorrow, okay?”

---------------------

 

Despite her (joking but very possible) assessment from the night previous, Nalesse did not wake up in a dumpster. She virtuously woke in her own bed without company (exclusive was exclusive, after all) but a lot earlier than she would have liked. The disturbance came from her com and just to stop the incessant noise to her intoxicated head, she answered it without bothering to hide her condition or her irritability at this Godsforsaken hour.

 

“Ugh…. Fuckin' hell….. What?!”

 

“Am I speaking to Nalesse Du Sade?”

 

“Speakin'. Who dis?!”

 

“Nalesse, my name is General Leia Organa. I have a job for you.”

 

----------------------

 

It was unusual for his com to buzz in his breast pocket at this time; the middle of the day was usually uneventful save for the Knight and his tantrums. So when he cautiously and subtly inched it from his pocket and saw the pending communicator, Hux was hesitant to answer. However, his beautifully brash mistress must have had a reason; she never contacted him inside of work hours, it was agreed. Excusing himself mildly to his attending colonel and temporarily handing over command, the redhead stalked from the catwalk at a brisk pace lest the call end before it could begin.

 

“Did you wake in a dumpster?” He opened the com once he had secured a safe and private place with the minimum risk of discovery. It wouldn’t do for an unfortunate Stormtrooper to stumble upon his superiour relaxed and almost jittery; she had that effect and he was still to become accustomed to it.

 

“I fuckin' might as well have.” That impertinent reply caused a half grin to tug at his lip; the very reason for his exit from the bridge should he be seen to be anything other than staunch. “I swear, I don’t know what I ate, what I drank but fuck me, I’m stinkin'.”

 

“By that, I can take your night was worthwhile?”

 

“I don’t really remember it but yeah, that’s generally a good indication. Mort doesn’t remember anything either so he still thinks he’s the same age he was yesterday. Dope.” Leaning against the cold, steel wall, Armitage’s chest rippled with an uncharacteristic chuckle; perhaps he did regret not taking advantage of the invitation. “I’m dying. I need food, I need a shower and a fuckin' toothbrush but I’m afraid if I move, I’ll shit myself. For realsies. And, I was alone; just in case you were worried.”

 

“Far from it that I don’t enjoy your hungover ramblings, Nalesse.” The General interjected with plain amusement before she could prattle further; the bridge called. “But I’m afraid I don’t have long.”

 

“Hungover?” She retorted from the other end of the com; the tone alone suggested she was trying to keep the contents of her stomach in her stomach. “Honey, I’m not hungover; I’m still hella drunk but I’ll get to the point.” The groaning protest of her tiny but inebriated form as she sat up made him wish he was there. “I got a com call ‘bout five minutes ago; it fuckin' woke me, from your counterpart, General Organa of the Resistance.” Like an electric shock that jolted his entire form from his leaning against the wall; General Hux resumed work mode and this was no longer a personal call.

 

“What?!”

 

“Yeah. Your girl thinks that bounty hunter loyalty hinges on money. Well, she’s not wrong but I’m guessin' she doesn’t know about our arrangement.” No one did but it was a minute detail that he wouldn’t bother to correct her one; not while he was still trying to process this random reaching out by the Resistance. It seemed the former princess knew the Brax worked for the Order and so assumed information could be bought; not the case where his Nalesse was involved, it went much deeper than that.

 

“What did you tell her?!”

 

“Okay, first of all: Fuckin' chill, a’right? I told her fuck all.” A brief pause instigated patience on both sides. “Second: That’s why I’m commin' you. What d’you want me to tell her?” She continued to surprise him. True, their sexual arrangement was exclusive but exclusivity didn’t dictate loyalty on a professional platform even though the outcome may have damaged it; particularly where money was concerned where she was prepared to place loyalty before profit. “I told her I’d leak some stuff so send me blank official First Order com headin's and Mort will do some forgin'.”

 

“Did you give her a time frame? Anything specific that you would leak?” The General pressed; the more information he had, the better armed he could be and one step ahead of the enemy that always seemed to know his next move. He had a chance now to strike a crushing blow with his smuggler to thank for it.

 

“Nope.” The informal word popped on the other end of the com and he couldn’t decide if it was better or worse for it to be so open-ended. “Told her I had a meetin' with you today, the boys were gonna blow somethin' up as a distraction and I’d nab somethin' in the heat of it. It’s up to you how far you wanna take that. I’m sure if you ask Mort, he’d gladly blow somethin' up for ya.”

 

“Get here as soon as you are able.” Steadfast in his wording, meaning and demeanour; this would play out as closely to the alleged storyline as possible. There was already a damaged control room that needed to be stripped out; a small explosive for the sake of accuracy would not add much to the cost of the revamp. “Bring the crew. If I have a mole, their account will match yours. In the meantime, I will draw up some false documentation of approved and scheduled attacks in the next few days. When they get to the sites, I will have squadrons and snipers waiting in an ambush; and Ren will not be involved this time.”

 

“Awesome. And make it good, we have a payment ridin' on this.” The sound of grateful gulping on the other end softened the edge in her voice, the barbed wire soothed and that was one less concern for the male. “Mort says hi. And there's food and cake left over from yesterday, d’you want it?” An unusual question once but one he was becoming more accustomed to; it was as if she purposely ordered too much. His answer was always the same if with a taint of hesitancy that invariably haunted him when she offered something out of benevolence or compassion.

 

“…….Yes.”

Chapter Text

“Fuckin’ hell, y’sure you’re only thirty-five? Not seventy-five?” Mort teasingly observed the crutches and the heavy groans of the birthday boy from beyond the rim of his mug of caf. Disgruntled, Armitage greeted the remark by shifting onto one foot to free an arm from his support and lift a symbolic finger (his behaviour adapting to match theirs two months after Starkiller); much to Mort’s choking, spluttering glee. “Yeah! Thought so!”

 

“Ignore him, he’s a bollocks.” Nalesse cooed as the redhead fought his way to the table with the dying embers of Mort’s mirth being drowned in his caf. The bustle of an arse he’d loved for years served as a distraction; from the (mild) pain, Mort’s guffaws and the concept of being another year older.

 

“Not quite. Bollocks are useful.” The (ex?) General sniffed to a different cackle when his wife descended with a plate of nuna bacon and eggs (plenty of protein for the healing process) and an adoring stroke of the disguising beard.

 

“Y’hear that, Mort? You’re fuckin’ useless.” The stroke evolved; nearer and nearer they became until they shared a breath and recuperating arms enveloped her waist. “Happy Birthday, handsome.” Nalesse knew him too well; she knew the thumping exhale in his chest was that of pain, but she remained close regardless. “You don’t have to kiss me if it hurts, y’know.”

 

“Every splinter of pain is worth it if I spend it on you.” What woman (or man) wouldn’t be flattered by that? Nalesse was no exception and the fluttering grin told him so.

 

“You romantic bastard, you.”

 

“Oh my God. Get. A. Fuckin’. Room.” Mort’s distaste was obvious when lips met across the table; Less put it down to the jealousy of a loving, lasting and dedicated relationship.

 

“We have a room, Mort.” Nalesse surfaced suddenly to pointedly face him down (irked by the disturbance of affection); so much so, he recoiled and Armitage bit back a smirk. “And believe me, when my man is ready to go again, you’ll hear it. Aaaaaaaaaaaall the way from the southern wing. And he’s gonna need those fuckin' crutches again when I’m finished with ‘im.”

 

“Am I to assume from that that birthday sex is a non-runner?” He inquired while his beloved still withered her brother; the (valid) question gave Mort a reprieve.

 

“Eeeeeeeehhhhhhmmmmmmm……….” The high-pitched indecision and uncertain narrowing of her eyes were answer enough in themselves; all born of concern, not prudishness. “I mean….. You’re still tender; we don’t wanna set back your recovery for the sake of a ride. Kisses are one thing, love; full on fuckin' is another.”

 

“That’s it, I’m out.” Mort rose quickly for fear of hearing any more of a married couple’s escapades. A sensitive topic? Perhaps. “My breakfast was amazin’ but I don’t wanna see it all over the fuckin’ floor. Later, cunts.” The exit was hasty; much to Nalesse’s cruel amusement.

 

“I love grossin' him out.”

 

“You are so terribly wicked.” Lust. It bound them and held them until love appeared to compliment it; to strengthen them and complete them as one entity and not two. She leaned into the longing chastisement and lined her nose with his. “And I love you for it.”

 

“I love you too, you genocidal prick.”

 

 


 

 

 

The maiden firing speech for Starkiller Base was written two years before the firing of the weapon itself. To be prepared and to be ready were in the General's very nature but he only drew inspiration for destruction in the presence of his abominable mistress.

 

The words first gathered on his datapad in an elaborate suite in the Imperial Hotel on Coruscant; one of their favourite places to indulge in each other’s illicit company. Safe in the privacy of their usual suite, the speech grew in length as he sat naked at the writing desk with his forbidden lover eagerly on her knees.

 

“Enough.” She declared firmly and stood to emphasize it after a while. The authority made his spine tingle; or maybe it was the tickle of her hair on his back and chest and the insistent pushing of her cock-warm lips to wherever her angle would allow. “Bed. Now.”

 

---------------

 

It happened mid-fuck. Amidst the laundered hotel sheets and perfume of arousal; the meeting like every other would mark a turning point, one neither of them felt they would be strong enough or brave enough to broach and so ignored it seperately. They did what they always did, what their chemistry and biology dictated without an inkling that everything was about to change. Pinned beneath her with his back clung to the headboard, his hips rolled to meet hers and bury himself as deep as she could take him. Submerged in the frantic, mutual thrustings and the reverent pressings of his lips to the hollow of her throat; it came. Unchecked, unconsulted and unapproved but true.

 

“I love you....” Before Nalesse could react, she was tossed unceremoniously from her straddling position and onto the bed with a thumping bounce; a protesting screech naturally resulted. By the time she scrambled into sitting upright and swiped her hair from obstructing her vision, Armitage was already in a flurry of dressing.

 

“Arm?! The fuck?!”

 

“I apologize!” He choked on the panic while seemingly uncomprehending of why his left boot wouldn’t fit on his right foot; nearly on the verge of confused tears. Completely out of his staunch and cold demeanour, emotions were not something he was in a habit of negotiating with. Since she came into his life, that had slowly changed but that didn’t mean he handled it well. Despite himself, he let it happen and tried to only embrace it behind closed doors to retain as much of regimented persona as possible but even then, she had a way of worming her way into his brain. “I have to leave, I’m sorry!”

 

“Arm-!” The scarlet head bopped around the room with fever; boots unfastened, tunic buttons mismatched and hair sticking up at every angle but there were far more pressing things at hand. More pressing things he needed to escape and she needed to clarify. “Arm, stop! For fucks sake!”

 

“I may or may not com you tomorrow; I’m sorry, this is just-“ Fighting with his uniform slacks didn’t work so well when his boots were already on and restricted how far he could pull them up but horror-struck, it seemed not to matter.

 

“Did you mean it?!” His rush did not abate nor did any efforts to make himself of the minimal standard or propriety for someone of his standing in an establishment such as this one; he was conscious of that even then.

 

“Yes, which is why I must leave-!”

 

“I love you too.” She had no troubling admitting it, why couldn’t he have the same ease?! Or maybe she did so under the same circumstances as he did though she was far more serene. Had he had any conscious thought when he stared at that tousled head of heavenly ebony tresses, that might have been his second one.

 

“You-?” Like a lost, disbelieving puppy; Armitage stared. Gnawing on his bottom lip (painfully so), it could have been a cruel joke but there was nothing in that enchanting face to indicate so. Rather, she looked back, the same as he did; apprehensive and almost terrified of rejection. If he left, he would have cemented it.

 

“Yeah…. For a while now.” Conversation ceased there and the only sound was the charming melody of laughter from the bed while Armitage undressed again in delirium. The drumming of a First Order command uniform hitting the hotel room floor in segments overlapped that glorious sound until the last boot thudded somewhere with disregard. With the bed supporting him once more and the love of his life returned to his grasp, Nalesse’s lips were reclaimed with a taint of desperation but she returned it wholeheartedly like a breath of new life for both of them.

 

“I love you…”

“I love you too….”

 

Helpless and relieved, they gladly surrendered to it. Strangely, they didn’t pick up where they left off until the next morning but before that, they were content to repeat the sentiment while remaining as physically close as possible without being joined and basking in the newness that those three little words could bring. They kissed, they touched, they nuzzled; all the things normal people do when they’re in love.

 

But this wasn’t normal. It violated everything that had been bred and brainwashed into him for as long as he could remember, for as long as his memory stretched back into his childhood. There could be consequences, repercussions, threats…. Did it matter just then? No. Did it occur to him just then? Partially. He knew then that it was wrong but the conception of that thought got no further when he kissed her forehead and fell into slumber with the woman he loved. It would be several days before the elation would wear off; or rather, he would be ripped forcefully from it. Everything would be undermined; his security, his trust, every effort he had made to keep the relationship a secret.

 

His movements were being dogged every step of the way.

 

Chapter Text

“I gotta hand it to you, Arm-“ Balor began in his usual Abyssin growl (the growl that used to terrify the redhead) to accommodate Galactic Basic as his second language as he examined the prototype. Unlike Nalesse and Mort, he tended to slowly over-pronounce his words though his speech had somewhat moulded to theirs. “Not bad, not bad ah-t’all.”

 

“Told ya they were decent!” Nalesse chirped excitedly, having finished her own analysis of the weapons and being exceptionally pleased with them. “How much d’you reckon we could get for ‘em?”

 

“Easily fifteen grand a piece.” Balor assessed, casting a glance back at the crates while his mind delved into a previous profession. “No problem.”

 

“More if we're selling them to someone like Mort.” Armitage directed (playfully) blandly at his brother in law who's face dropped from its concentration as he also inspected the blaster strapped to him.

 

“I’m armed, asshole.” Came the blond’s spat warned, adjusting the cylinder to take aim at the redhead and the armchair he had parked himself on. Hux didn't budge and his demeanour remained dry.

 

“I dare you, Mort; see what she’ll do.” The threat died and Nalesse relaxed again from her defensive rouse; despite the exchange being in obvious jest, their own brand of it.

 

“Children, please.” The cyclops intervened, unamused, unwrapping the blaster from his torso and depositing it carefully in the crate. “Fifteen thousand a piece, at least. They just need a few minor adjustments and they'll be ready to go.”

 

“What minor adjustments?!” Armitage demanded, instantly indignant as his ‘father’ in law took Mort’s blaster, placed it in the crate and replaced the lid. “They are absolutely perfect!”

 

“You took a very complex mechanism and simplified it.” Balor sat back on the crate with huge, tattooed arms crossed over his chest and his air patiently explanatory but fond. “But you simplified it too much; they just need some tinkering, that’s all.” Mildly irritated but by not visibly disheartened, Armitage pursed his lips and cast a side swipe at his wife. “Don't worry ‘bout it though. We'll get ‘em right; you did really fucking well.” Instead of the usual (numbing, and sometimes bruising) clap on the shoulder, the eldest (by far) of the crew simply nodded to the General, a reciprocated action, and left with Draven.

 

“To be fair....” Mort remarked impishly with his threatening conduct forgotten and in fairness to his dearest friend. “You're committed to the cause. Even after Starkiller goes kaput, you’re still try’na kill people; those fuckin’ things’ll do damage.” Armitage didn’t see the motion of the raven head but Mort did and took it as his cue to leave the couple in peace.

 

Armitage blew an almost dejected exhale and combed a set of pallid fingers through the fiery strands that had started to grow into his eye; or would have if his wife didn’t keep them trimmed.

 

“Don’t get discouraged, love.” The attentive whisper came with a kiss from where she'd perched herself on the arm of his chair. One hand gripped her thigh, a longing for support; one she returned with a squeeze and interlocked fingers. Side by side, promise rings of the finest Goroth Prime platinum (no expense spared, despite Nalesse’s protests; until she saw them, of course) sat proudly on the appropriate extremities. Each ring represented loyalty, dedication, love, and was always on the General's person though was only visible outside of command hours; he wore it whether he was alone or not. It was also one of the few possessions that he hadn’t lost to Finalizer as it was safely secured in his breast pocket when everything went wrong.

 

“For a first time designin’ and manufacturin’ somethin’, they're incredible.”

 

“I designed Starkiller.” He huffed, only feeling comfortable with disappointment when they were alone.

 

“You designed it, you didn't build it.” She countered gently with an encouraging grimace. “You oversaw it, you ensured all was goin’ well, you knew what needed to be done but you didn’t put brick to mortar or weld a single sheet of steel; there’s a difference, and it matters. You had no experience in actually gettin’ your hands dirty but you still did a fine ass job of those blasters.” Armitage merely grumbled but she knew the root of the problem and what a fucking problem it was.

 

“It’s okay not to get it right the first time, y’know.” She offered with tender amicability and though she had said it before, she knew it would take more than just hearing it from her. “This obsession with perfection is.... It’s pointless. You don’t need it here; we're not perfect, we’re never gonna be so you might as well get used to it. No wonder you were always so fuckin’ stressed, tryin’ to get everythin’ right….”

 

She was right; of course she was right. But still set in his poisonous, Imperial ways (the most severe ones, the less drastic ones had abated somewhat or fully), it was nearly impossible for him to heed that advice; sound and all as it was. One meeting with his father (if it could be called that) was all it had taken Nalesse to see where her (then) lover’s insecurities and inadequacies had come from; such a callous, brutish and condescending individual had bred the smuggler’s hatred. While Nalesse (who was accustomed to all sorts of people) was passive to personality faults and rarely reacted to them, Brendol Hux had achieved the rare and dangerous feat; the psychological scars on his son was enough to earn that badge of honour.

 

“I love you anyway.” How could someone so notorious for being cold and unfeeling (enough to devise Starkiller, at least) be so fragile? It was all part of the mental damage; never being good enough, it couldn’t not be. “Perfect or not.” Nose lined to his cheek, Armitage appreciatively nuzzled into the marital affection and basked in the contentment of it; so many lonely nights were now a gratefully distant memory.

 

“I can’t wait to be strong enough again to lift you and toss you onto the bed like I used to.”

 

“Easy, tiger!” Mirth rumbled in the substantial chest at her husband’s wanting but restraining inhale as an internal picture was painted. “Don’t get yourself worked up!” When the time would come, lost time would be made up for; and then some. “Tell you what… Belated birthday blowie?”

 


 

 

The confessions of love had occurred only a few days previous and the General was still on a high. Perhaps not noticeable among his staff but the feeling of liberation he carried with him wherever he went was meant for no one else; for himself and his beloved only. Her visits had increased and in those few days, he went without her company for only one evening but had spoken to her on the com while she worked.

 

That night, he would not be without his atrocious companion. Romance (particularly after the events of a few days previous) and genial intimacy are all well and good but if the mood is right and the right nerves are touched, they may just take a back seat to something a little more…. primal.

 

The sting of a handprint on a sallow arsecheek was of no great consequence; she was far too busy relishing the heavy, damaging thrusts that collided with the meat of the back of her thighs. Rear in the air, back at a professionally pornographic slant, knees underpinning, arms folded and cheek resting on the sheets; Nalesse was delirious. While there was nothing quite like being in love, there was only one thing that came close: Getting mercilessly fucked by the one person who loves you in return. With his stance rooted and secure at the side of the bed, such a position was crucial if he was to maintain that savage barrage; the barrage that made his beloved smuggler sing.

 

“Arm….” Up until then, she had moved with him enthusiastically, but that fucking noise reverberated again and prompted her eyes to open. This time, they burned with annoyance. “That bastardin' com of yours is buzzin' again; turn it off!” Eager to return to pleasing her, the quickest way to do that was to obey her. Instead of simply turning off the com like she requested; he leaned back from her, seized the vibrating device (the screen told him some office console was responsible for the com call) and launched it against the bedroom wall where it erupted into hundreds of pieces then crumbled to the floor. With the distraction taken care of, they could continue undisturbed.

 

Riled by the sudden disregard for a piece of First Order equipment and the com call that was no doubt a summons to duty, it was no surprise that his brutal pummels picked up speed and intensity; much to her moaned approval. But when the clawing need for closeness surfaced, Armitage bowed to it without hesitation. The mattress dipped under his knees as they clambered either side of her and his torso warmed her back; she reciprocated by blisteringly placing the weight of her top half on one arm and benevolently curving the other across the back of his neck.

 

“I love you.” Reverent, he immersed himself in the ebony silk draped over her shoulder and sating his need to the absolute maximum. His hips still rolled though significantly gentler than they did before; the effect was not reduced, heightened if anything when her head tipped back to receive him better.

 

“I love you too, big guy.” Plucking himself from the inky curtain, Armitage lined his nose with her cheek where he could kiss her when the fancy took him. Both alien to the concept of affinity for the sake of it and genuine feeling only until recently, they had adapted exceptionally well; like they weren’t doomed to secrecy. “Fuck...”

 

“I think I’m...”

 

“Cum when you're ready, don’t force it; we got all night.”

 

“I never have to force it; have you seen yourself?” The panted compliment was greeted by a soft puff of laughter but hindered by restraint and effort, it subsided quickly. “Definitely close….”

 

“I don’t need the commentary, love; I’ll know when you’ve emptied your balls.” Rewarded for her humour with yet another kiss to her cheek, Armitage’s pleasuring humps started to falter but still, he trundled on with gusto until they could be united in satisfaction.

 

“Agh!”

 

“That’s it, baby….” Peeking to the side to watch herself repeatedly take him and spit him back out again (or the actions that allowed it), it became frenzied and floundering with her lover’s accompanying soundtrack as evidence. “Cum in me.”

 

“Empire….. Empire!”

 

“To watch you work, you wouldn’t think you’re vocal in the sack.”

 

“Can I be blamed?!”

 

“No, love; ‘course not.”

 

“Palpatine! Divine Palpatine!”

 

“Fuckin' hell, Arm….” With that and one more guttural snarl from above, the Imperial chorus of ecstasy came to a close. The weight against her back increased almost two-fold while lungs strained by years of stress-relieving cigarras tried to cope and the internal hugging of her walls tempted him to stay inside with the deposited load. “You a’right?”

 

“Yes…. Just… Need a moment….” With his flushed and sweating face buried in her hair once more, the redhead struggled through his orgasm while hers had long since receded. Nalesse rocked to the side, ejecting her partner from her lower quarters and sending him tumbling onto the bed as he’d done to her only a few days previous. With Armitage on his back and the clear film of perspiration shining on his chest, she pounced and settled close to his side.

 

“Will I clean you off?” The offer born of kind consideration from where she sat at his sprawled side would have overloaded him.

 

“No…. Too sensitive….” With curiosity getting the better of him, he managed to shuffle his crumpled body a few inches to peer over the side of the bed where the com device lay in ruins. “I wonder what that was about….”

 

“Well, maybe you should find out.” Knowing the basic runnings of Finalizer, she knew a com call on personal time would not be a silly or a trivial matter; if he was being sought numerous times in the short space that she’d been there, it had to be important. “While you’re doin’ that, I’mma take a shower.”

 

 

----------------------------------

 

 

The fucking hairbrush. How had she forgotten to take the fucking hairbrush into the bathroom with her; the one that Armitage had made a point of purchasing and leaving in his quarters for her sole use? The bedroom; it had to be in the bedroom. In some miracle inspiration of modesty, Nalesse clad her sopping self in a towel (her hair weighing a proverbial ton but lightening unnoticeably with each drip) to venture to the bedroom. It wasn’t on the desk, nor was it in the drawer. It wasn’t among the tousled sheets or on the shelf above the headboard; even underneath the bed yielded no results. Resigned to searching there but not to asking for help, she made for the door that led to the living area.

 

“Arm? Love….?” Too busy looking on the nearby chair to notice something was wrong, she continued her search for the prickly item. “Did you see my-” Armitage was (mortifyingly) not alone; not one but two uniformed (and ranked) individuals turned to mark her just as she directed her gaze to her lover, enough to freeze her. Caught. The redhead’s face may have been scarlet when they finished their dalliance but now, it matched his hair in utter humiliation.

 

“Uhh….” Whatever the discussion had been, it was no longer priority with the appearance of the smuggler; a complete unravelling of everything he had just been trying to deny. “Don’t mind me!” She chirped, unable to frantically turn on her heel fast enough to escape back to the bedroom and leave Arm to fend for himself. “I was just 'bout to drown myself in the bathtub!” When the dividing door slid shut to mercifully shield her from the smug leer, she sank onto the mattress and listened to the muffled onslaught.

 

“You lied, General.” Smooth, cold and callous, she could place that voice with the greying male officer. “You have assured us on various occasions that there was no woman and yet… We just saw her.” The sound of Armitage attempting to defend himself but being ruthlessly cut off grated at her. “You have rejected several fruitful matches, made numerous excuses for your pathetic marital status for a man of your calibre and for…. That?Did he just call her “That”?!

 

“No, I-“

 

“What the Admiral means, General-“ Interjected the female officer, oozing authority and discipline but strangely understanding. “Is that you’re aware of our current situation in terms of holding Imperial values in high esteem-“ Nalesse didn’t see the side-long glance at her colleague that screamed hypocrite! “Naturally, it concerns us that you choose not to uphold those values and would rather cavort with someone significantly beneath you. You know the values to which we are referring.”

 

“Grand Admiral, with respect; I do not see why-“

 

“The Admiral has a point.” She continued cleanly, as if he hadn’t spoken. “If there was nothing unseemly to hide and nothing to be ashamed of, you would have openly claimed the relationship when you were questioned the first time. But you didn’t.” Questioned? First time? The implications began to stress her as she sat there, cold and wet. Not just the idea of their relationship clearly being monitored and scrutinized and while secrecy had been a given from the start…. Shame? Uncomfortable, deceived and suddenly self-conscious, she slid from the bed and started to dress while listening intermittently and half-heartedly to the conversation on the other side of the door.

 

“You know where we stand on our waning numbers; if it continues there will be no new Empire.” Outside, Brendol didn’t give Armitage a chance to respond, despite how he tried. “The Empire needs children and half-bred smuggler runts will not cut it!” Patience fraying but ever the distinguished leader, he kept his frustration close to his chest for now in favour of tight amicability.

 

“I have always and will continue to guarantee that any offspring I sire will have Imperial code ingrained in their upbringing as I had-“

 

“You need to be married for that, General. For decencies sake.” The sly reminder caused Armitage’s jaw to tense as the circumstances surrounding his own conception and birth swirled in his head; the piety galled him. He and Nalesse had never discussed children; preventing them, yes but never having them. Did he want them? He couldn’t be sure. Did she want them? Again, he couldn’t be sure. That said, the night of his first Millaflower experience had led to him calling any potential spawn of theirs “a bastard brat”; the phrasing had offended and (dare he think it) upset her.

 

“You are in a position of great influence.” The dark-skinned female cut in before Armitage could lunge at his father, knowing his bone of contention and agreeing wholeheartedly but determined to keep an official visit official. “You need to lead by example and that example is an approved marriage to a woman of a certain pedigree to produce legitimate heirs to the new Empire. Why is that so difficult?” For a fraction of a second, Grand Admiral Sloane noticed vulnerability and almost pleading in Hux Jnr’s eyes; a look meant for her and only her. Fears confirmed, she thought.

 

“How can you expect to be taken seriously as an Imperial officer, as someone at the forefront of the new generation when you refuse to adhere to standard procedure? You declare commitment and yet, will not heed this basic protocol.” His father jeered to the internal raising of brighter red hackles.

 

“I am on the brink of establishing a superweapon.” Armitage seethed, closing some of the protective distance between him and his childhood tyrant; it seemed the grudging respect that had been ironed into him had begun to dwindle some time ago. “I am on the verge of taking back the galaxy from the grimy grasp of the Republic in one fell swoop which is more than what you or anyone at the Academy can claim since Tarkin! So do not suggest that I am not dedicated!” The ominous, mocking chuckle didn’t wither him like it once would have; like it did during his childhood and into his teens. Now, it infuriated him and as much as he would have liked to plant his fist firmly in his father’s face, it would have been a show of weakness rather than strength.

 

“I do not have the time or the tolerance for some silly girl who is little more than her father’s bargaining chip!” Prowling from the immediate triangle of intimidation, he couldn’t confess himself surprised that this had happened, but he certainly would have preferred if Nalesse hadn’t been there when it did; so, he had to improvise. “And if I choose to indulge in a prostitute until such time as I am ready to pass on my genes, I will do just that!”

 

Prostitute. The spat word rang in her ears from the other side of the door. Torn between believing it and dismissing it as part of an act, a dressed Nalesse reluctantly hovered at the exit and barely refrained from biting her nails as she listened. Instantaneously, an epiphany of decisiveness hit the “prostitute”. If he wants a prostitute, I’ll give him a fuckin’ prostitute.

 

“Prostitute!” Brendol scoffed, a millisecond before the bedroom door ripped back to reveal the pirate queen in all her hooker glory. “And calling you “Love” is all part of the package, is it?!”

 

“It’s called The Girlfriend Experience, actually!” The sweet chime tore the wind from Brendol’s metaphorical sails; his derision fell abruptly into scandal at being addressed directly by the lowly creature that had just exploded onto the scene. “And he pays well for it!” To emphasize the point, she made a strutted bee-line for her lover who ogled with incomprehension until he was set upon on with lips pressed firmly to his own. It took him a moment to settle into the familiar embrace, conscious of those around him until it struck him that the only way to win was to play along. So, in the spirit of things, he played along.

 

“Transfer the credits when you get a chance, hmm?” Hardly moving her lips from his but just enough to be heard (and not just by Armitage), the sinister purr matched with an intense stare of lavender; her usual flirtation put on display to fool before she carelessly dislodged herself from him. “I gotta go, others to get to.” With her crackled but faithful bantha-leather jacket tossed over her shoulder, Nalesse headed for the wrath of Finalizer’s security, knowing it was better than being there. “I know you’re busy Benduday so if you can’t keep the bookin', let me know; there might be some other poor soul that needs me more than you.” The savvy wink and kink-tossing pivot closed the charade. It was the first time that a pained parting wasn’t sealed with “I love you” and he felt it as soon as the door silenced the clipping of her heels.

 

“Satisfied?!” Armitage snapped at his father when Nalesse had disappeared and the incriminating silence had grown stale. “You heard it from the tauntaun’s mouth! There is no cause for concern! Not that what two consenting adults do behind closed doors should trouble you!” Brendol was not satisfied and would not rest until he was.

 

Perhaps Armitage’s grasp on himself had slipped slightly as he paced the living area carpet, incensed and temporarily oblivious to the company that had made him so. All their care had been for nought, or maybe they had been sloppy somewhere along the way, just enough to be exposed, he couldn’t tell. The previous questioning sessions, a random com call, had been easy; pure denial. Now though….. They had seen her. His worst fear had been exposed and his father’s greatest joy had been confirmed; anything to see him fail. Whether they had believed the prostitute story or not was another question but even if they had, they wouldn’t alleviate their insistence until he was tied to someone he probably wouldn’t even like or respect, let alone love. But love meant nothing to these people.

 

“Well, if there is no such cause for concern, there will be no protest in removing her then, will there?” Self-congratulatory of putting his only child in a corner; Brendol watched, satisfied, as Armitage’s helplessness started to ebb at his comportment. “Now, as I’m sure you recall, General….” The Admiral began, goadingly conversational which snatched Armitage from his enraged brooding and round on his father. “I know you have it marked on a calendar somewhere….” Now, he was trying to openly provoke him. “Maratelle’s birthday is on the horizon.” Incredulous, the younger Hux looked to Sloane for affirmation but received nothing but a roll of her eyes.  “You are expected to be there.”

 

“Why would I-?!” Another look at Sloane and her slow, solemn head shake encouraged him not to take the bait. But how could he not object?! Why would he want to spend time with the vile woman (the very embodiment of a wicked stepmother) that had made his early life a misery?! For reasons that were completely beyond his control?! He would have been foolish to believe that Maratelle wished to see him; it was a mere ploy (and not a very good one) to get him to Arkanis where, no doubt, stamped and approved prospective brides would wait to be chosen.

 

“I know she would simply love to see you.” Is the Whyren’s gone? Was all he could think to himself as a means of menial distraction. Did Nalesse finish it? “You wouldn’t disappoint her on her birthday now, would you?” I’m going to need a glass, a large glass. Slowly, the defeat began to creep it. This was it. He’d gotten away with it this far, he would get no further. They were being watched, he and Nalesse, and it seemed the puppeteers would stop at nothing until they got their way. Removing her…. Depending on their determination, that could mean something far more sinister; something Armitage knew he would never come back from. “Next weekend, General; you’ll spare no effort to be there, will you?” Cruelly complacent of his success and his son’s now obvious subjugation, Brendol’s sickening smirk would be one Armitage would never forget; the threat had been veiled and the realization crushing.

 

“I will be there.” Armitage eventually conceded with broken eyes on the floor but focusing on nothing in particular; much to Brendol’s jubilation.

 

“Wonderful!” Sloane never shifted her gaze from the younger of the two males, not sharing in the elder’s fiendish joy; more troubled by the clear distress. It took her a moment to notice that the Admiral’s strut bloated by victory resumed towards the door to leave Armitage to wallow; ambivalent, she began to follow. “There will be plenty for you to choose from, General!”

 

--------------------------

 

Nalesse waited with her com constantly nearby, almost obsessed. He didn’t com her that evening, or the next morning. Anxious, she made the first move. No answer; not the first time, not the second and not the third so a recorded message seemed to be the best cause of action.

 

“Arm? It’s me.” What to say? Uneasily, her lip was bitten; maybe there was more to the “prostitute” thing than initially perceived, given the lack of contact. Nor did she realize how wounded she was until she did the reaching out. “Just…. Wanted to make sure you’re okay. Com me when you get a chance, yeah?” She paused before she uttered the two words that ended each conversation and was thrown sporadically into each meeting but knew she wouldn’t sleep if she didn’t say them. “Love you.”

 

It was the first but not last of many unreturned messages. Umpteen unanswered calls and agonizing radio silence ensued to torture her for what felt like an age.

Chapter Text

“Arm?”

 

“Mmm?”

 

“You’re crushin’ my hip, love.”

 

“Oh…. My apologies.”

 

It still felt like a dream. He often woke and still expected to be on Finalizer or Starkiller; in that suffocating place he used to call a bedroom. The bed itself reassured him, the blankets welcomed him and of course, the darling creature he had been spooning too intensely in his slumber completed this sliver of freedom.

 

Liberated from the deadening weight of her husband's thigh on her pelvis, the smuggler could re-settle. Turning from her side and onto her back to reset her comfort, Nalesse sank into the heavenly bracing of the mattress and Armitage descended with her. Slotting in beside her with his torso warming the side of her chest, a scarred but healing arm draped across her waist and his nose resumed its usual place; lined with her cheek in a permanent nuzzle.

 

“Y’know, it’s not practical to sleep like this.”

 

“I know, but I've missed you terribly.”

 

“You’ve barely let me go to the jacks on my own since you got back.”

 

“Making up for lost time.”

 

“You saw me two day cycles before Starkiller blew.”

 

“Two day cycles is two too many.”

 

Dead-of-night silence guarded them again, the only meagre intrusion was that of Armitage breathing near her ear; a very soothing sound. They had learned affection together and taught each other; holding hands, random kisses, devoted nudges of a nose to a cheek or simply nestling up close when the need for support imposed on them both. It was alien and unnerving territory to begin with for the smuggler and the Imperial with their respective upbringings (and assumed futures) being devoid of intimacy and amity of any kind. Balor, of course, had done his best but his experience in attachment didn’t span too widely either; that didn’t stop him sloping from the Eisley with the scraggly little urchin that had picked his chains at his (knee) side.

 

“You nervous?” Pried from the jaws of rest once more, Armitage shifted (if it was even possible) closer to the heart that he knew beat only for him. He wasn't nervous per say; wary was probably a more suiting adjective for the suspended General. Having never conducted an arms deal in that sort of environment before, he could only trust in Balor to guide him through it and ensure success.

 

“Not as such.” The sedated murmur reverberated in her ear drum; the epitome of relaxation. With only one eye left and Armitage Hux’s uncanny ability to adapt, it felt like having two again; not that it mattered when it was shuttered to the darkness of their private retreat. “You will be there with me, I have no need to be nervous.”

 

“How many d’you think we'll shift?” She could be forgiven for thinking he'd drifted again with the length she had to wait for an answer. Until....

 

Hard to say.” Conceding to ignorance after mulling it over for a few seconds; he had gotten more accustomed to that as well: abandoning omnipotence. “I suppose it depends on how interested Balor’s old contacts are.”

 

Balor had slid into a vacuum in a somewhat niche and lucrative market in weapons assembly and dealing upon his freedom from slavery; to provide for both himself and the one he owed said freedom to. This little thing….. This tiny, little thing; scrawny and frail…. She was human, he could guess as such or maybe mostly; the eyes had thrown him. He assumed the marks on her skin had come from the cruelty of strangers, abusing her for the fun of it or harming her when they caught her stealing; a medic told him that was only partially the case once he’d gotten the credits together. A rare genetic mutation, a slaver could retire on her sale. Guard her with your life. The words had chilled him and so when he looked at the six year old on the table (the medic had imparted that as well) and swore he would do just that. He decided to call her Nalesse. She didn’t speak for days (he’d almost convinced himself that she couldn’t), took what food he gave her (sometimes he found the holes she squirreled it away in, just in case) but she always stayed close for heat. In that resolve, he bought her her first blanket in a bazaar on Lothal.

 

She grew. She became confident, assertive and wild (though she had always been borderline feral); an outstanding young woman who assimilated into smuggling and bounty hunting as if she had been born into it. It would be a long time before she became that vulnerable again.

 

 


 

 

 

I’d rob and I’d kill to keep him with me

I’d do anything for that boy

I'd give my last dime to hold him tonight

I’d do anything for that boy

 

It was agonizing to listen to those messages. It was pure torment to hear the increasing pain in each one and know that, for her own sake, he could do nothing. The weekend of Maratelle’s birthday crawled closer and Hux found himself running out of precious time but there was no safe course of action to be taken that he could see himself being happy with.

 

“Arm?” How many times had this one tore at him? Each recording had their own profound effect of torture and he subjected himself to them on repeat. “I don’t know what I did….” The quaking whimper from the audio sent two days previous made him clutch his glass to the extent of almost shattering it. “But I’m sorry….” Helplessly cradling half his face with his empty hand; shielding himself from no one and nothing, Armitage swallowed and reminded himself of strength. “Baby, please…. Just com me, okay? I love you.”

 

Had he ever felt so powerless before? He had but not in a very long time and had almost forgotten what that vulnerability felt like; until his father had come and sent his blissful comfort scurrying. Having poured the glass an hour or so ago, the passing minutes had been so numb that to guess how long he’d sat there was impossible; the measure remained the same as it had been when he poured it.  

 

“Mort’s been askin’ what happened…..” The next message began in the midst of a heartbroken sniffle; as if she began recording it mid-weep. What little composure she’d had in the previous messages (he played them chronological of their arrival) had eroded into nothing. “I don’t know what to tell him but he’s so fuckin’ pissed….” The message jumped to make way for an active com call; when he checked it, he was spared the sinking heart that accompanied her calls, the ones he had to suspend. Coming from one of the docking bays, it could have been about anything but, dejected, Armitage cut it off and let the recording resume. “I really don’t want him to hurt you-”

 

The call jumped again so he checked it with the same expectancy; half hoping it was her, half hoping it wasn’t. It wasn’t. The same console commed insistently but once again, Arm shut it off.

 

“He thinks we had a fight….” Settled back into his wallowing from the interruptions, Armitage stared at nothing and allowed the despair to ebb at him. “I had to take your details outta his com so he couldn’t contact you….” He started to sip, mechanically and automatically; as if his body but not his brain knew it had reached the limit where it would need external aid to keep his nerve intact.

 

Why did I let this happen? The self-blame was involuntary and a symptom of his own persecution. Why did I not nip it in the bud at the start? Let her throw her tantrum and storm off? What concern would it have been of mine? Why did I put my own selfish lust before practicality with someone that would tempt me further? I could have stopped this. I could have saved us both.

 

More messages, then they looped back to the start, some jumping mid-play for the same console attempting to contact him; it remained ignored. Glass refilled, fuller this time with the high quality of the whiskey working to anaesthetize the ache that had almost become physical; that is, of course, until the label at the back registered in his stupor.

 

Property of Bornaryn Trading.

 

As if to make things worse, he nursed one of the bottles she’d given him for his most recent birthday; the ones she swore she hadn’t stolen. It was bittersweet to stare at that incriminating label for seemingly endless moments, remembering how she protested that she had been given them in payment for a job well done; before they opened one and celebrated accordingly. Grimacing through the melancholy, he detached himself from the label in favour of another distraction; any distraction and it wasn’t long before that distraction was delivered.

 

Sitting there slumped, tunic half un-buttoned, boots kicked aside, hair askew and a glass of whiskey in hand; he was hardly the Imperial model that he usually paraded on the bridge, or anywhere, in fact. The messages still played on the loudspeaker function of his com but he’d stopped listening, basking too deep to hear anything anymore; which was how he had a visitor without realizing it.

 

“Armitage?” He couldn’t be sure he’d heard it but flinching like an incessant bug plagued his ear, he gingerly turned in the armchair, using his elbow to steer him. His attention fixated on the door where the bloodshot eyes and dishevelled appearance were marked with a concerned folding of her lips.

 

“Oh, so it’s Armitage now, is it?” Turning back, unperturbed, she was the second last person he wanted to see and he had no qualms in treating her as such. “Not General? Not an official visit?” Sloane sighed and trailed from the door, expecting a frosty reception but not a drunk one. Casting dark eyes around, she found the living area to be more lived in than usual; not its usual immaculate state with an empty bottle here and there, socks and underwear strewn asunder and discarded protein packs littered randomly on the floor.

 

“Not official, no.” Taking in the exposed part of the quarters with unease, the older officer braved a few steps towards the man she’d known and cared for since he was a child. While she had intended on being more sympathetic than before, it became difficult to uphold that when she sensed hostility; if she was to be taken seriously and obeyed, at least. Rae skirted to the side of the armchair that cast a foreboding shadow from the fire light (the only light) and peered to assess the full extent of the physical damage. He ignored her; focusing ahead and taking (more regular) intermittent sips of the burning liquid, a relief to feel anything other than sorrow. The examination and the taint of worry did nothing but irk him; if anything, he found himself more determined to scrub her presence from his consciousness.

 

“I wanted to see how you were…..” Amicable, she took an armchair to his right where she could monitor reactions but not before glancing down to ensure its cleanliness first. The crackling of an imported log, the occasional suckling of whiskey about to be refilled and the white noise of Nalesse’s pleas, not any assurance of wellbeing were the only replies. “I know your father was hardly kind on our last visit-”

 

“And when is he due?” Armitage interjected coldly, unable to resist breaking his silence when his father was mentioned but still, he denied her eye contact. He straightened to the melody of a crack from his back and a satisfying flinch from the mother-figure. “He never misses an opportunity to make me suffer, why does he disappoint me now?” Rae Sloane was always measured in how she chose her responses, an old habit of diplomacy that he knew well from childhood and knew she would be using now. He’s upset, he’s drunk; he could be volatile.

 

“He doesn’t know I’m here.” The barking scoff echoed in the glass, much to Rae’s disapproving distaste. It seemed his mannerisms had disappeared with his sobriety and, dare she think it, been influenced by that woman, the prostitute that Rae was not entirely convinced was a prostitute. Unshaken by the indiscipline but holding her patience, the Grand Admiral watched as the glass was drained and refilled with no hospitality of a glass being offered on the horizon; she would have turned it down anyway. Rather than split hairs over Armitage’s sociability, Sloane felt it would benefit get more to get to the crux of the problem and did so by tuning into the messages and letting the male drink in peace.

 

“We've gotta job in your sector tomorrow.... Will I stop by? I’ll bring food and we can talk...” Was that the same woman? The person on the com sounded utterly shattered; not the swaggering bundle of fortitude she had encountered in the flesh less than a week previous. Sloane made a point of not being very well acquainted with pity but listening to that poor girl now.... She couldn't really help herself. There was a desperation, a deep crevice of helplessness that made the voice almost incomparable with what she’d heard before but the only point of recognition came from the indiscernible accent. “I’ll get your usual, and the doughnuts.... Can't forget the doughnuts. Please... Com me back... I... Okay... Bye.” Sloane wouldn't have noticed but Arm did; in the most recent of the forlorn messages, she had stopped saying ‘I love you’.

 

“Have you returned any of those messages?” The question was, perhaps, bold; given the sensitive circumstance, particularly when he held her somewhat responsible for it. Hux merely reached over the side of the armchair and lifted the device gently, as if overly careful of his (in his head) only connection to her; be it through listening to the messages or if he ever thought he could com her again. Fumbling slightly with impaired movement and thick gloves, it took him longer than usual to shut off the device though he still held it and gazed, crestfallen, at it in his sweating hands. Sloane waited, interested to see how long he would stare and therefore try to assess the extent of the damage that had been done; he did not disappoint her. A moment or so later and with an unsteady exhale, the com met the table once more; she could scrutinize him but he would not allow her to scrutinize Nalesse as well.

 

Rae’s pity stretched to Armitage as she surveyed him cradle his left cheek hopelessly, listlessly unable to tear his watering eyes from the fire. She'd seen him cry as a child (or almost, at least) but never as crushingly devastated as this. This wretchedness was not a result of bullying or injury but sheer emotional anguish, something he had been taught was unimportant and should not affect him. Then again, he had been taught several things that it seemed this woman had undone and now, Rae had a mess of a man to contend with. She could safely assume the answer to her question was in the negative, that he hadn’t returned the messages and the seemingly endless barrage of them suggested that the contact had been one sided.

 

There was plenty that Sloane disagreed with Brendol Hux on and the latest treatment of his son joined a very long list; she had made that clear as soon as they left Finalizer. Threats, even veiled ones, were not the way to persuade him which was why she opted to come alone this time.

 

“Armitage….” Leaning forward in her seat in a vain attempt to place herself in his eyeline and break his oblivion; gentility was key. Measuring herself again, Rae hesitated with lips pursed somewhat anxiously; it was time to exaggerate the truth. “I understand what this is doing to you, I know why you feel this way.” How could she have known? Her first and only love had been the Empire, her entire life dedicated to it with little room for anything or anyone else; and Armitage knew that too.

 

“You know absolutely fuck all.” Borderline scandalized but well adept at keeping herself in check, the older officer re-directed her gaze for a split second but when it found the redhead again, the unwavering heat bubbled with pure fury. Momentarily speechless, Armitage took full advantage of the ageing woman’s shocked disposition; he knew the mask she wore and knew how to see behind it, even if it wasn’t apparent to anyone else. “You know nothing of what I’m feeling...” Sitting forward to match her, she refused to shrink back and bow to intimidation; no matter how that dangerous hiss whittled her internally. He’s upset, he’s drunk; he could be volatile.

 

“How dare you presume to know my situation....” The simmering would soon boil over and Armitage was between her and the door; concern had clouded that basic escape strategy. “And how dare you compare yourself to me when we BOTH know the closest thing you’ve ever had to a lover is my father and you detest each other!!” Rae stayed quiet, calculating; it seemed she had underestimated his observation skills throughout the years.

 

“Are you going to give me the same ultimatum he did?!” Armitage challenged savagely, on his feet and prowling with his glass in hand. “Never see her again or she dies?! Well, as you can hear; I haven’t even spoken to her, let alone seen her!”

 

“I don’t deal in threats, Armitage.” Sloane replied levelly, facing down the turmoil-stricken redhead calmly. “You know that just as well as anyone.” Pausing to choose her words carefully, it was important to appear as a friend. “I didn’t agree with your father’s approach on our last visit, quite the opposite; and had I known he would take such a route, I would have come alone and without his knowledge.” Armitage listened but sloppily refilled his glass as he did, the whiskey jumping from the bottle in dollops.

 

“But an official visit dictates as such.” Armitage fired back, decimating her ‘friendly’ approach before another generous gulp was taken; she thinks she can hide behind policy?! “What kind of fool do you take me for?”

 

“Not a fool, no, but-“

 

“Liar!”

 

“Armitage!” Disappointed but still maternal, Rae’s doleful eyes heightened to the man at the other side of the room; the shadow of his former self and a drunken mess. Pregnant silence mediated the two and eased the tension and enflamed it all at once.

 

“A little boy once told me, he was only eight or nine at the time, that he would do anything for the new Empire, for the First Order.” She decided to try imploring him instead, appealing to his rigorous sense of purpose that he had dedicated to their movement. “He wasn’t the strongest or the fastest or biggest but he was clever and he was diligent.” It seemed to be working when Armitage laid his free hand on the arm of the chair and his head dipped to follow it; clearly conflicted. “He knew what would be asked of him, not just in command and duty but outside of that and he wholeheartedly accepted.” The younger Hux put down the glass but Sloane continued to cement the change of heart. “Are you going to throw all that away now? After everything you’ve done? Everything you’ve achieved?”

 

“I don't want to be without her....”

 

“You don’t have to.” She placated, certain that complaint would surface. “Get married, have your family; keep your companion on the side, you wouldn’t be the first to do it. Your own father-“

 

“I’m better than my father!” Armitage snapped suddenly, rounding on his mentor aggressively to silence her immediately. Volatile, indeed. “And she is not a companion! Or a prostitute or a bed warmer! She is my partner! My soul mate! The love of my life, I KNOW that to be true!” Rage seemingly spent, he sank further onto the underpin of his arm against the chair with his emotions scarcely in check. So immersed in keeping himself together, he didn’t notice the vacancy of the armchair to his right and was delayed in noticing the comforting hand on his back.

 

“You have a duty.” She reminded him mildly with the closest thing he had had ever known to maternal care; the light trembling did not escape her heed. “A duty that little boy swore an oath to all those years ago.” She was right. He had made that oath; excited and in full faith of a new era of order as a brainwashed child would be. Rae continued softly, coaxingly; feeling the progress she was making, far more than Brendol had. “Come to Maratelle’s birthday gathering; choose your bride and let this harassment come to an end. Do your duty.”

 

Defeated, Armitage remained bent over; as if to allow the heartache easier passage to wash over him.

 

“I will go to the estate. I will do my duty.”

 

Rae graced his back with a circle of benevolent rubs, a considerate action of condolence for the son she never had. True to her limited familiarity with charity and compassion, the kindness was short-lived before she ceased, relinquished and turned to leave with her goal reached.

 

“What of my own happiness?” Armitage asked out of nowhere, despondent, when Rae looked back; just before she swiped the panel to exit. She didn’t need to study him too acutely to see the absolute grief of a forced hand behind glassy eyes and body language conquered. “Does that mean nothing? Do I forsake it?”

 

“I want you to be happy, Armitage.” Rae replied, patient and genuine from the door. “But we must place the greater good before ourselves and only then, can we be truly happy. Goodnight, General.”

 

How long did he pace the living area, steps light like that of a phantom? He had no choice, he had to do this; and all because of an oath he’d made before he truly knew what it meant or how he would feel when it would come to keeping it. His eyes found his com in the midst of his frustration; she had a right to know. She had a right to an explanation of what he was doing and why but….. what could he expect from her? He doubted she would welcome being “a bit on the side”, so to speak and could he blame her? Of course not.

 

Just as his hand closed around his com, it jolted back, as if bitten by a jolt of electricity. No. Logic started to prevail. She won’t answer if she sees my details. With the declining devotion in the com messages, it made sense.

 

-----------------------------

 

 

A random console in a random control room (not unlike the ones that had tried to reach him to warn him of the official visit and Sloane’s less official one) would do. She would assume the jumble of numbers was from a potential client and not the lover that had scorned her dreadfully; even if it bought him a few seconds before she heard his voice.

 

Every nerve in his body tightened as the dial tones rung in his ear and it seemed unspoken that he didn’t fidget when he was outside his quarters, despite being on rest time. The pending reprimand echoed in the otherwise empty room, the tones seemingly slower and louder than usual as he waited. Until….

 

“What?” Borderline aggressive and short, it seemed she treated all coms with the same disdain as she treated his now. Mouth dry, he knew his reactions would stall but not like this. His entire being, body and mind did not want to cooperate with the situation but something buried deep, something adamant made him wrench himself into the present.

 

“Nalesse…..” Brutal silence. “It’s me.” Changing coms hadn’t bought him as much time as he had hoped but at least, he could predict her next move. “Don’t hang up.”

 

“The fuck d’you want?!” There was no gradient in how pain poured into the smuggler’s voice but the incensement remained the same. With plenty to be said but apparently little resolve to say it, her tolerance was limited. “Right, fuck this-!”

 

“No! Just…. Listen to me….. I have some explaining to do.”

 

“You’re damn fuckin’ straight you do!” Lips wetted and head tilted in a wordless prayer for courage, Armitage couldn’t begin to wonder where to start.

 

“You deserve an explanation for my behaviour but even more so, you deserve it in person.”

 

“YOU’RE AN ASSHOLE, ARM!!! A FUCKIN' ASSHOLE!!”

 

“I know.” He responded flatly, willing to take whatever she threw. “A gargantuan, gaping asshole.” Commotion erupted on the other end of the com; rapid footsteps (high heeled and otherwise), raised voices and the sliding of a heavy door, over and back.

 

“LESS!!” The bestial thumping of steel rung out in the control room, much to Arm’s fluster. “GIMME THE FUCKIN' COM, LESS!!”

 

“SHUT THE FUCK UP, MORT!!” As if her brother wasn’t on a murderous rampage outside her protective bedroom door, Nalesse continued with nonchalance. “Fuck yourself, Arm; I’m not interested.”

 

“Nalesse, please; I just….”

 

“LEMME TALK TO THE CUNT, LESS!!”

 

“I’m done with your ass. First, you call me a fuckin’ prostitute-“

 

“I was trying to-“

 

“THEN, you ignore me for nearly a week straight when I poured my fuckin’ heart out in all those messages? Fly it up your hole, ya prick.”

 

“I’MMA FIND YOU, HUX, YOU PIECE’A SHIT!!” Mort was relentless, if muffled. “I’MMA PUT YOU IN THE FUCKIN’ GROUND!!!”

 

“I have a duty, Nalesse-“

 

“THAT’S MY SISTER, YA WANKSTAIN!!!”

 

“You have a duty, huh? And what duty is that?”

 

“There are things that need to be done, things that I am not especially happy about doing but I would rather discuss it in person-“

 

“I already said I’m done with your ass. So. Fuckin'. Done.”

 

“I need you to understand-“

 

“Yeah, no, I’m good, thanks.”

 

What had he expected? That she would listen carefully and understand? That wasn’t his Nalesse. She was a hurricane incarnate, she would not take this lying down like an Imperial woman probably would have.

 

“There are things I need to do for reasons that do not sit right with me…..” One last attempt to try and beseech her; to hope she might hear the legitimacy of the feelings, the raw pleas. “But I do have to do them and I need you to understand why. Please… Meet with me-”

 

“Nope, I’m hangin’ up now.”

 

“I’ll send you the coordinates, Nalesse, plea-!” The beep of a terminated call cut him off while he stared, dolorous, at the corner of the monitor; the thing that happened to be in his eyeline at the time. She was gone, cut him off as he had done to her. Aimlessly, he stalked the foot space of the control room in a daze; spirited by something that wasn’t his usual, regimented and emotionless self. There has to be something I can do, I have to do something.

 

So he did. He made another com call, one that would be significantly more bloodthirsty than the one he’d just had.

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe you shifted all of them!” The declaration was breathless, joyful and silenced almost immediately by a pair of enthusiastic lips pushed to hers.

 

“All bar one.” Her husband panted in response, his body covering hers amidst the tangle of blankets collected over a lifetime. “I wanted one for myself from….. ahhh.… the first batch….”

 

“First batch….” Nalesse repeated in utter delirium while she took everything he gave her, adjusting her head to allow his face to burrow into her neck in a bid to cope with the flooding of a feeling he hadn’t felt in a long time. “We’re in business, love!”

 

Armitage had healed well, remarkably well. He put it down to being extremely well looked after on his family’s part and absolute determination on his own part; determination not to be a burden. He knew that if he had been brought to an Imperial base with the severity of injuries that he’d presented the crew with, he would have been written off as a lost cause and a failure: replaceable. He was none of those things in the eyes of the misfits that took him as he was and embraced him for all his faults; tweaked him within his own comfort, perhaps.

 

So confident in his healing was Armitage that he had no qualms whatsoever (in the midst of an adrenalized frenzy fuelled by a successful and fruitful arms deal) in taking his wife to bed. All those months of almost celibacy had simmered until they reached boiling point and the crescendo was now; writhing in the covers as one, using the marital bed to its biblical capacity.

 

“Fuckin' hell, I’ve missed you….” So many times, they’d come close but grudgingly thought better of it. Armitage (in his Imperial practicality) excelled at prioritising; though in this instance, it meant his other half had to be the strong one and withhold herself for the sake of his recovery. It was, however, typical that a pending com call would interrupt them. Well…. Maybe not fully interrupt.

 

“This better be important, Mort!” The redhead growled into the com without stopping the pummels of his lower quarters and no regard for sibling sensitivity; not that Mort or Nalesse indulged in that. “I am in the middle of making badly needed love to your sister!” Nalesse crumbled at the boldness, resting her forehead against his shoulder to cackle; an action that prompted a kiss to her temple and no respite in his fucking.

 

“Ohhhhh!! So that’s why you put on a tab for us!”

 

“Nothing escapes you, brother mine. What is it?!”

 

“The tab. What limit d’ya put on it?”

 

“There's no limit, Mort. Drink yourself stupider; we don’t want to see any of you until morning!”

 

“Right you are, General. Sup Less?”

 

“My fuckin’ husband and we're not gonna waste it so piss off!!”

 

With the com abandoned (rather carelessly) to the bedside table, they re-immersed in each other. Noses aligned, lips close if not joined and peaks never far away; a better (physical) reunion could not have been imagined.

 

“I love you, you fuckin’ psycho.”

 

“I love you, you evil bitch.”

 

 


 

 

 

He heard nothing after that, that damning com call. In it, Nalesse’s disinterest was sealed and also, Mort’s hatred; an unexpected and chronic sting. In one fell swoop, he’d lost the love of his life and the first (only) male friend he could confide anything in; his smoking partner. But he had to press on.

 

The second com call had gone suspiciously well. Arm feared an ulterior motive; a reasonable fear. Still, it lead to a great deal of draining research until the meeting subsequent to the second com call, a venture carried out in secret. With that stamp of approval (and he still didn’t know how he obtained it), a purchase was made; a purchase for Maratelle’s birthday weekend.

 

-------------------------------

 

 

The night before his departure was due for Arkanis, Armitage received several files; a menu of the women to expect to meet at the gala, laid out as if they were criminals on a watch list. He browsed through them, half-hearted and pained when none of them were Nalesse Du Sade; they all looked alike, had similar names and wore the same grim expression. Not that they could be blamed, given their fate, of course.

 

Upon viewing those miserable creatures, he resolved to try Nalesse’s com once more but the hopeless venture was, again, in vain. With any last-minute attempts at contact made and ignored; Armitage resigned himself and sent the coordinates of the estate to Nalesse and the time, the coordinates of the place he used to hide as a child before he was dragged away. There was no response. He sat there a little longer, silently begging the com to buzz; even if it was abuse, he would take it, just to hear her. When that avenue closed itself, he decided to try and sleep.

 

----------------------

 

The food tasted like ash, the whiskey like piss and he’d never felt more scrutinized in all his life; that scowling bitch Maratelle wasn’t even the worst part. They were all there, every single one of them though they looked more alike in person than in the files; even if they did try to distinguish themselves with a rainbow of extravagant gowns. Like peacocks in reverse, the colours weren’t meant to attract him as such but the garish displays of wealth in what they wore, what their dowries would give him. And yet, it couldn’t have mattered less. Any of it.

 

They tried to be pleasant, they tried to be flirtatious and they tried to be captivating but the efforts were forced; so why bother? Armitage thought. You don’t want to be here, neither do I. Why subject us both to this? Routinely, he checked the personal chronometer on his wrist; as noticed, no doubt, by his father. He couldn’t wait to leave, it couldn’t have been clearer. When the anticipated time came, he excused himself for a smoke and left quickly enough before the Admiral could catch up.

 

Heart in his mouth, Armitage waited. If he tasted nic-i-tain, he would puke; he was sure of it. Cold, petrified and pulse pounding in his ears, he checked the chronometer again; the time had come and gone, long gone. Had he expected differently? Did he feel foolish for even having the bare hope that she would turn up? Was he disappointed in the extra minute after minute after minute that he waited, just in case she was late? She’s not coming. Devastated, the reality hit and the layer of greatcoat covering his back protected him from the grazing of the tree bark as he lowered himself, dejected, against it.  

 

The footsteps registered somewhere nearby, leaves crunching underfoot and twigs snapping all at once; someone riddled with impatience and fury who didn’t care for the innocent foliage. His father had caught up with him somehow and so Armitage, tired of interference, drew his blaster. Listening intently, he followed the sound, took aim then-

 

“Oh so you tell me to come here and when I do, you’re gonna fuckin’ shoot me? That it?!” Relief! Unparalleled relief!

 

“You came….” The redhead instantly dropped his blaster arm and swallowed; his mouth suddenly as dry as Jakku. She looked…. tired, not her usual spritely self. The way she moved in an intimidating prowl hid something else: she’d been burned again since he saw her last. The ginger movement in her left arm, the one closest to the blaster on her belt, was more rigid and restricted than usual but he knew she would endure the torture if it came to defending herself. Would she kill him? Maybe.

 

“I had nothin’ better to do.” Nalesse retorted callously, hands on her hips; a danger sign Armitage had learned years ago. “So…. What? You kill me or he does it but you wanna make it quick ‘cause you know what he’ll do is worse? Am I close?”

 

“No….”

 

“Fill me in then. You said you wanted to gimme an explanation for being a twat, here I am. And make it quick; I got shit to do.”

 

Where did he start? What did he say? He knew what he needed to tell her but how did he say it? How had he never thought about this? In all the times he’d sat and listened to her pour her heart out, how had he never thought about how he was going to articulate it? Time was running out; the dangerous incline of her head and the kink of her eyebrow told him so.

 

“I have to…. Get married. Nalesse.” It came from nowhere, as if someone else spoke for him and immediately, the enormity of it hit him in the stomach; like the brief flitting of pain in her face that he almost didn’t see. Wetting his lips and desperate to keep the moisture in his mouth rather than his eyes, he forced himself on. “I am under savage pressure and yes, a threat was made against you; a threat I will do anything to prevent-“

 

“So just roll on your back?! Show your belly?! Like a bitch?!” Nalesse spat immediately, teeth bared with no tolerance for the explanation she had travelled for. So much pain….. Armitage noted, though he was better at hiding it than her. The smuggler paced, hiding behind her own inky curtain when she felt she wasn’t strong enough to face him without crumbling and that would not take long.

 

“I don’t want this either, Nalesse.” He tried to implore her quietly, endeavouring to plead with her without actually doing so. “I don’t want to get married, I don’t want to have children; not for the sake of someone else’s satisfaction.” He chanced a hazardous few steps towards her though he was conscious of the viper-like tendencies she’d displayed before; thankfully he hadn’t been on the receiving end then. “They told me….” He began hesitantly without thinking it through. “That if I married, I could keep you on the si….” The look of absolute thunder in that sudden whip-around, made those words shrink into nothing, before he’d even finished.

 

“The actual fuck, Arm?!”

 

“But you don’t deserve that.” He clarified with a digging for strength, anything to ease her. “You deserve to be someone’s sole focus, their everything and more; not an afterthought or a stand in.” That, it seemed, was enough to tip her over the edge; the genuine appeal in trying to make her see his side. Nalesse was often volatile in her emotions but the pairing had never been teetering between fury and utter despair, not until recently, at least.

 

“Fuck this, I’m outta here….”

 

“No! Nalesse! Wait!” Caution thrown to the wind (and there was plenty of it on Arkanis) to follow the serpent, he needed to take the risk of the strike he might get. With longer legs, more adept footwear and a slightly clearer mind, she didn’t get far. He was able to seize her by her upper arms, restrain and turn her until she had no choice but to face him, despite the significant struggle she gave. “Listen to me! I need you to listen to me!”

 

“I get it, Arm!” She hurled back, eyes glassy and lip trembling; emotions spilling to an extreme she was not accustomed to, not even in the last week. “I’m not good enough! I’m beneath you! I know that It was just meant to be fuckin’ around, fuckin’ around with someone so low you can just walk over her! I know I was never meant to be permanent!!

 

“Less!” With the hold on her arms abandoned, Armitage opted to clutch her face; icy hands being warmed by her cheeks in a last-ditch attempt to get through to her and force her to look at him. “Look at me! Listen to me!” What choice did she have? He was bigger than her, stronger than her and willing to use those attributes to make her stay. “I love you….”

 

“Stop…. For fucks sake, stop….”

 

“No, I do.” Time to bite the blaster bolt while still holding her firm. “But I have a duty that I swore I would uphold, even if I didn’t know what it meant at the time or what my emotional state would be; I was told it wouldn’t matter.” Laying himself bare came easier than it did before; it seemed to spew. “I was told that to be truly happy, I would put the greater good before myself; that meant marrying someone I probably wouldn’t like, let alone love. It meant having children that would be little more than insurance policies and name carriers; but it would all be worth it when the new Empire rose and I would have done my share, done my duty.”

 

Grief-stricken expression unchanged, Nalesse had given up on escape and instead, surrendered to wallowing in the inferiority of not being able to be with the person she loved. Armitage swallowed, knowing this to be the reason.

 

“I have spent so many countless hours being torn asunder internally…. Agonizing over what was right; not eating, sleeping and drinking to excess…. And all the while, it always came back to you; you were the cornerstone, the one thing that sent me back to square one every single fucking time.”

 

So….

 

“I’ve decided that I can’t do it.” The beat in between didn’t give her the opportunity to question it, despite how her air changed. “I won’t.” Slowly, Nalesse was released; as if she might flee suddenly if he relinquished her too quickly. Once he was satisfied that confusion had planted her, he began to root in his coat for the purchase specific to this weekend. “I have contributed enough to this galaxy in the tireless striving I do at the helm of the First Order and in Starkiller Base, a weapon we wouldn’t have had I not taken the time to design it.” Charmingly bewildered, the raven locked smuggler still had trouble connecting the dots; even when she followed his eyeline to the approved little box he’d dug from his greatcoat.

 

“In that logic….” He began, turning over the box before shimmying the lid to spy the intention ring he’d researched inexhaustibly; nothing too cumbersome or flashy, what use would she have for that? “I think I should be at liberty to marry who I wish.” Opening it fully though not in an overly traditional proposal, the redhead fixated on her face, waiting for some sort of indication; for a yay or nay.

 

“Arm?”

 

“Yes, darling?”

 

“You’re. A. Fucking. Prick.”

 

“You’ve made that clear.” He agreed reasonably with the box still waiting. “But that doesn’t answer my question.”

 

“Oh really?!” Armitage was a lover of technicality; not like his father who loved it when it suited him. He was now about to have that love weaponized, testily so with arms crossed. “And what question is that?!” Trust her to want to hear it.

 

“Very well.” Seemingly defeated, an (Imperial) engagement was a formal affair and so he didn’t think he’d ever have to utter these words out loud but…. “Nalesse Du Sade, will you-“

 

“Ah-ah!” Dissected again for her own bubbly amusement and to mildly punish him, Armitage pursed his lips while she returned to her old self before his very eyes. “Do it properly. One knee. Let’s go.”

 

“Nalesse, the ground is filthy-“

 

“Hey! D’you want me to be your fuckin’ wife or not?! You gonna jeopardize this ‘cause of a little dirt?! Do I gotta call Mort?!” She won. As always, she won and Armitage’s gala uniform trousers suffered for it.

 

“Nalesse Du Sade, would you do me the incomparable honour of being my wife? Will you love me when I’m not worthy of loving, support me when I’m not worthy of supporting and be at my side always, regardless of health and wealth?”

 

“You changed it up, I like that.”

 

“Focus, love.”

 

“Right, right….. Y’know what?” Stall him, put him on edge and on edge she put him when those magnificent lavender eyes locked with the tidy, semi-practical ur-diamond in the intention ring. All the while, she savoured the squelching of mud under Armitage’s imbalanced knee but breaking into a beam when she’d toyed with him enough. “Okay, g’wan so. I’ll marry ya.”

 

Had it been anyone else, in any other circumstances, they would have felt the wrath of his blaster. However, Armitage was well aware that not only did he deserve it, but he’d gotten off extremely lightly after everything he’d put her through. And she’d said yes! In keeping with the traditional engagement (that is seemed she preferred), the General placed the ring on her finger himself and rewarded his bravery with a lasting peck to his fiancé’s lips.

 

“It’s gorgeous….” She breathed with the closest thing he’d ever heard to awe from Nalesse Du Sade; entranced by the silver band and the little diamond winking in the moonlight. “It’s actually perfect…”

 

“I was going to get you an engagement blanket.” He teased, lighting up a well deserved cigarra from where he resettled against the tree. “But you have enough blankets.”

 

“Ah but blankets are always welcome.”

 

“And Balor agreed that the ring was practically made for you.” Astonished, Nalesse rounded on her husband to be; speechless once again.

 

“Bal….? You spoke to Balor?” The smoke-spitting chortle suggested something coy, something he was exceptionally proud of.

 

“Well, I did need to ask your father’s permission, didn’t I?”

Chapter Text

Present Day – Five months after the Battle of Crait.

 

What tales can a ransacked bedroom on a hollow shell of a once great flagship tell? With the right tools? Plenty.

 

What can a long-abandoned pillow say to incriminate? Too much. All it takes is a touch of a gloved but sensitive hand to unlock it all.

 

His boots were the first to up-scuttle the dust of that carpet nearly a year after the humiliating defeat of Starkiller Base and some months after the death of Snoke. Dark, clinical and functional, the décor would be better suited to a more macabre environment than a bedroom where one is supposed to unwind and relax. Typical of Hux to have quarters as austere as he was; How To Decorate According To Your Personality: A Guide by General Hux. Carefully, dark eyes cast around for the most ordinary thing; anything to give him a clue or even a scent of one.

 

Bed linen stripped from the mattress, clothes tossed from the closet, desk drawers ripped out and emptied…. If the General had left anything of value, it was long gone by now.

 

“You wonder why I keep a rabid cur in such a place of power? A cur’s weakness properly manipulated can be a sharp tool….”

 

His now obliterated master’s words pulsed in his head; it was true, every man had his weakness. All he had to do was find it then use it. But something else shadowed those harrowing words, something else that suggested his predecessor was craftier than Kylo Ren: He knew Hux was useful. He kept him in his position to puppet him to his advantage and satisfaction, whereas Kylo Ren made no attempt to keep him and now the Order suffered for it. If it wasn’t about saving an organization that Ren’s heart didn’t fully belong to, it was about pride; being better than Snoke.

 

He had surpassed rage; a predictable, natural and appropriate reaction to abandonment, gutlessness and treason. However, when the Order was hit with wave after wave of rejected finance meetings, that rage turned to desperation. He was under pressure now. The Supreme Leader was dead, a mantel he had taken on without knowing its full implications and was struggling because of it. Support for the Resistance was mounting, echoes of it from all corners of the galaxy were enough to cause concern. The staff did not respond to him as well as he would have liked; he refused to accept that his temper was to blame. And on top of it all, the previously reliable financiers were hesitant to invest; “We’ll only negotiate with Hux.” Was a line becoming increasingly frustrating.

 

With the General absconded and nowhere to be found, he discovered himself facing some very difficult truths. As much as he detested that rat-faced, snivelling coward, he possessed talents that Ren did not. That rat-faced, snivelling coward had powers of diplomacy and amicability that made him an asset to the Order in terms of securing funding that Kylo Ren could only dream of; funding that made the First Order the powerhouse that it was, something that had only become apparent to the Knight recently. Without that funding…. The Order was nothing. The weapons, the technology, the staff salaries; all a pipedream without the big-wigs on Canto Bight that seemed to love the redheaded General.

 

He’d searched; stretched out with the feelings of disdain but found nothing. Well, nothing of value, as such. Hux lived, Ren found nothing else of interest until he decided to extend that search into a more personal nature. That was how he came to caress a crumpled pillow and examine unextraordinary objects left behind after the sterile habitat was picked clean of (meagre) valuables by scavengers. Mere moments after he stood in the centre of those draining surroundings and closing his eyes to focus; things began to stand out: little things that called for his attention to aid him.

 

The hairbrush half hidden by the bed. The pair of toothbrushes placidly seated in a glass in the refresher, the door of which had been forced ajar. The unopened and expired condom packets strewn randomly from the drawer in a flurry of someone seeking something more. A simple touch of these things told Ren all he needed to know.

 

Find the weakness. Use it.

 

 


 

 

Two years before the Battle of Starkiller Base

 

He'd never seen her in a dress; certainly not one of knee-length cream Dramassian shimmersilk.

 

He’d never seen her hair even partially pinned back; definitely not adorned with tiny white flowers or miniscule ivory Jorallan pearls.

 

He’d never seen her shy, bashful or overly skittish out of nerves; absolutely not as she approached the puffed-proud General in his command uniform on Balor’s arm.

 

Mort waited loyally at the redhead’s side, just as excitable; he had been unable to sit still all day. Draven lurked as a seeming bystander or a spectator near the officiant; a non-affiliate of either party for a specific purpose.

 

“Look at her!” Mort hissed, ecstatic, though Armitage didn’t need to be told. “Just look at her!” From the moment the groom’s eyes met his bride, the grin was immovable and uncontrollable. “She wouldn't let me see the dress and now I know why, holy shit!!”

 

Those butterflies were not unfamiliar; they had always been gentle and ticklish (the closest he’d ever had to a tickle in his stoic childhood) but now, they beat excitedly with the same enthusiasm as Mort. The last three years had been…. bizarre. She had exploded into his life from nowhere, from a very banal circumstance, a normal dictation of his work life. And now…. He couldn’t imagine his life without her; without this wild, brash, vicious polar opposite of what he was supposed to have. His attraction to her, he felt, was a defiance of his own; even more so his utter disregard for “standard protocol” when he chose to marry her.

 

“You look…. Wonder-Magnificent.” Trying not to stumble on his words, Armitage’s cheeks glowed when he failed; much to his fiancé’s coltish amusement.

 

“Yeah...” The soft breath of awe as she drew even with him drove the butterflies wild; he almost didn't feel his father in law’s numbing clap to the back. The delirium was mutual, the look between them cemented it for the other. “Had to change it up; special day, y’know?”

 

“Of course….” Somewhere in that hushed, elated exchange, her smaller hand found its way into his and they turned to face the officiant together; symbolic of how they would face everything else from now on: Together.

 

Mort bounced still, and had Armitage been able to look past his bride, he would have laughed at the contrast of how he had been received before the engagement was revealed.

 

“You’ve a lotta never comin’ back here, cunt!”

“Mort, wait….!”

“The fuck I’ll wait! Get your ass over here!”

“Mort-“  The presentation of a ring worked it’s magic and stopped the thundering sibling in his tracks. “Check it out, motherfucker.” Had Armitage ever seen a quicker turnaround? He didn’t think so. Then Mort resumed his charge with adoration.

“MY BROTHER!!!”

 

After that, he had taken the duty of groomsman upon himself. Up until they entered the clearing side by side, Mort had not left Armitage once; not since he forced his way into the redhead’s (temporary) room that morning with a hot breakfast and the first of many alcoholic beverages. 

 

“Are you ready?”

 

“As I’ll ever be. Let’s do this.”

 

The officiant was near human. A human crossed with perhaps a twi'lek though the human side seemed to have won out more; the hints came in the hue of his skin and the small stumps at the top of his head where his prehensile lekku should have been. With neither of them indulging in religion, they just needed something simple; something official and that officialdom came from the datapad in hand, linked directly to bureaucracy.

 

“I never thought it would go this way.” He began when prompted with a bracing heave of his chest and gaze unable to shift. “I thought I was doomed and I had accepted that until you strutted your way into my office, severed head in hand-“ Cue a strange look from the officiant that no one else seemed to share. “I didn't know then that I needed you but as far as I was concerned, I was not in need of rescue.” Pausing, he allowed himself a swallow. “The more you imposed your life-breathing presence, the more I realized I could not be suffocated by duty any longer.” As if she was the only there, listening to the rare truth intently; he parted with it without hesitation. “Despite the consequences, despite the threats. And I know this will be worth it; to spend every hour that I can, proving that every beat my heart takes and every inhale and exhale of my lungs is for you.”

 

“Romantic bastard.” Mort sighed to no one, as if the words had been meant for him. Until it was Nalesse’s turn and the eloquence was not quite the same.

 

“I don’t 'member my mam much.” Nalesse had collected herself during Armitage’s profession, running through what she wanted to say and how close to the bone she wanted him to see what he made her feel. “Don’t really want to. But I 'member her tellin’ me that no one was gonna want me, just like she didn't.” Balor smothered the incensement; he’d never hated anyone he'd never met but Nalesse’s mother was a blinding exception. “And for a hellofa long time.... twenty four? Maybe twenty five years? I believed her.” Drunk mentions of her mother were rare but now, sober; this was unique and an absolute testament to her commitment.

 

“I acted on that belief.” She continued with a comforting and supporting squeeze of her imminent husband’s hand, eyes locked as if no one else could hear them. “Sealed myself off. No trust. No investment. To protect myself. Then you, you flame-haired fuck-“ The officiant was the only one whose jaw dropped in scandal, the rest tittered; Armitage included. “You did somethin’, still don’t know what…. But I fell, and I fell fuckin’ hard; didn’t know what to do so just kept goin’ till you face-planted me onto the bed in the Imperial Hotel.” Thoroughly confused, the officiant looked around the scarcity of guests whose laughter had picked up again. “So…. I guess, we just keep doin’ what we’re doin’.” Somewhat lost for words, the officiant didn’t step in to break the silence as quickly as he should have.

 

“Well….” Looking warily between the two in front of him, two very strange (and dare he think it, dangerous) individuals; he pressed on. “I suppose…. You may kiss the bride.” So Armitage did and the others knew the signal. The second that file was sent off…..

 

“TIIIIIIIIIIIIMMMMMMBBBBBEEEEEERRRRR!!” Naturally, too immersed in each other; they didn’t see it happen. “You got him? Yeah? Sweet.” The weeping hole in the officiant’s head was fatal, Draven’s blaster had been set to silent since the night previous so he wouldn’t forget; Balor did the catching while Mort narrated it. “No witnesses.” He chimed mischievously to the couple who had just pried themselves apart. “Into a maze of datafiles, sorted without being looked at and approved by default. Congratulations. Now, let’s go get pissed.”

Chapter Text

 

“You.... Absolute.... Bollocks.” Armitage murmured into the heel of his hand; one side of his mouth pushed up by said heel and the other sucking on a cigarra. The opposite hand clasped a set of cards while the single eye focused on them unwrinkled itself from their concentration in fresh defeat. The triumphant cackle from across the table relished the mournful shake of the fiery head as credits were swept away from in front of him with taunting clicks. “I'm starting to think your sister is teaching you tricks, Mort.”

 

“My sister taught you plenty, Arm.” Mort countered, gleefully smug as he relished his brother in law’s bewildered head scratch. “And I'm not talkin’ ‘bout cards neither.” The blonde male rose with a stretch and a wickedly graphic crack of his spine. “And while you're wallowin’ in that, I'mma take a piss.”

 

“Classy as always.” Armitage retorted before a heavy grunt at the responding thump to his arm as Mort passed him on the way to the door. The footsteps subsided, swallowed by the corridor and Hux took that as an opportunity to stump out his cigarra and top up his glass with Ambrostine. After taking the time to indulge in a stretch of his own, Armitage checked his com device; still nothing. There were no unanswered calls or waiting texts; the device was cranked to its full volume to ensure no communication would be missed. “I promise, I'll call if I need anythin’. G’wan, the lads are waitin’ for you.” A declaration to which he hesitantly left her. And yet, nothing.

 

“She gonna kill you for losing those credits?” Balor’s playfully smug inquiry came with a mouthful of peanuts and a tightening of the skin above his eye that Armitage had learned to equate to an arched eyebrow. The redhead dismissed it with a chuckle, knowing there was nothing more than teasing to it.

 

“Less does what she wants with her credits and I do what I want with mine.” And really, wasn’t that a sensible and healthy way for a couple to organise their finances? “Unless we need to save for something that we mutually benefit from, we can do that together but it’s only fair we have our own. We work and are paid as individuals, after all.”

 

“Sounds fair.” Draven cut in reasonably, mirroring the newest member of the crew and refilling his glass but with Jet Juice rather than Ambrostine. “You're in deep when your finances are subject to that kind of agreement.” Armitage took him at his word. Draven had been married for many years with three children and recently returned from a visit with his family. The culture of the Devaronians had held true for many hundreds of years; one where the male leaves his family in order to provide for them and while Draven observed that tradition and respected it, it never took away the sting when it came to leaving them again.

 

“Well, it’s not like we’ve just gotten serious. We’ve been married for some time, we needed to start doing the things that went with that but-“ The three reacted together in perfect unison, as if sharing the one mind in three different bodies. A noise: small and faint but coming from an area in the ship where no one was meant to be, jolted them. Mort had opted to use the refresher closest (naturally) which was in the same direction as Arm and Nalesse’s bedroom; all the crew were accounted for. The synced movement of the two aliens and human consisted of rising, quickly and silently but drawing their blasters in complete stealth in anticipation of an intruder. The noise got louder and closer until it moulded into the rhythmic pattern of footsteps. The occasional glance between the three confirmed that they were not hearing things and they were ready to strike as a unit.

 

Safety off, aim taken and breaths baited; another sound erupted right outside the door that Armitage had convinced himself he would never need to hear again: the dreadful humming of a lightsaber. The three watched in scandalized horror as the first few inches of a scarlet blade melted through the bracing lock of the door and pocketed itself back to its recoiled position. The footsteps continued but a stupefied Hux delayed in registering the dark haired, black clad figure that flawlessly drew itself into their line of vision. Mask abandoned in favour of an ominous crease ironed into his face, there was no mistaking Kylo Ren.

 

No words, no threats, no insults; just a mutual, loaded look surrounded by pregnant silence and vague expectancy. The tension simmered. Draven and Balor side-swiped looks to each other as if their communication was silent but abundantly clear between the two unrelated brothers; this was bad.

 

With a potential and sudden attack imminent triggered by intrusion, Ren ignored the possibility. Smug, he trailed the floorspace of the lounge; taking in the meagre and simple surroundings and also noting the company Hux kept was far from influential or extraordinary. Smugglers. He thought, a smirk tugging as he examined a collage of holo-prints on the wall. Sinister gaze prodding until he found the one of a wedding; taken after several celebratory drinks had been consumed. That was her. Raven hair, lavender eyes(?), pale skin… A unique beauty undeserving of the penance that was Armitage Hux. And since coming aboard, he discovered another weakness; another kink in the armour.

 

“You downgraded.” Of course, the introductory words were designed to provoke though Armitage would not let it show. Instead, he gently restrained Balor’s blaster arm that had risen in temper; an action Ren noticed and greeted with a goading arched eyebrow until he resumed his saunter to belittle every inch of the General’s home. “I knew I’d find you in a hole somewhere but this…. I didn’t expect this.”

 

“Go to the kitchen….” Armitage implored his comrades quietly, looking between them with an anxious flicker of his tongue between his lips; they didn’t move. “Let me deal with him-“

 

“We’re not going anywhere.” Balor retorted boldly with agreement from his Devaronian companion and piqued interest from the Knight.

 

“Please!” Armitage hissed with an accidental note of desperation and a flustered glance in Ren’s direction; the need for neither of them to get hurt paramount. “I’ll call you if I need you but I need to do this!” He knew what Ren was capable of. He’d seen it, he’d felt it; hell, he’d even ordered it upon others. It was imperative to remove them from the line of fire; whether they would strike upon a wrong word but not strike hard enough or Ren used their lives to torture Armitage. Neither would have surprised him. Eventually, mercifully; they grudgingly retreated to the adjoining kitchenette and leaving the former colleagues to each other.

 

“Did you come to kill me, Ren?” A fair question, one that Ren pried his mild curiosity from the holos to face the asker with nonchalance. He had more ammo now than he did before, better than anything he could have hoped for and he would use it to its fullest. “I abandoned the Order.” May as well be brave, Armitage held his nerve when confronting his superiour; still a bone of contention if ever there was one. “I’m a traitor and a coward; that’s why you’re here, isn’t it? To execute me for abandonment? You took your time.”

 

“As much as it would give me great pleasure to separate your head from your shoulders….” The saunter paired with a smooth, dangerous purr of self-satisfaction resumed. “That’s not why I’m here.” Armitage waited, unwilling to part with surprise just yet as Ren’s visit couldn’t possibly impart good tidings.

 

“I need you to come back.” Unknowingly and unwittingly, Ren parroted the same words of Director Orson Krennic but would be met with the same brand of resistance exclusive to Doctor Galen Erso.

 

“I’m not going back, Ren!” Haughty and defiant, he had nothing to lose; if he was struck down, so be it. “I have it better here than I ever did in the Order! I am my own individual! I have a job, brothers in arms; I have-!“

 

“A wife.” Ren finished breezily for him and Armitage felt his stomach drop, the pause serving only as suspense to whittle Hux further. “I visited the shell of Finalizer.” Nerves began to grate, and pulse began to quicken; the Knight felt it, felt he was close to the bone. “It’s incredible what an abandoned bedroom can say with just a little touch.” Ren neared, moving like a solid shadow and closing the protective space between him and the flame-haired General with patience wearing thin. It was a matter of competence and pride; the Order had flourished under Snoke and Hux but now…. Without them, it suffered and Ren would do what it took to limit the damage.

 

“She’s vulnerable.” The scarred male breathed the veiled threat to a swallow from the other. The reactions had become more noticeable, less controlled than before; Ren attributed that to the undisciplined surroundings and lifestyle that Hux now enjoyed. “She’s weak.”

 

“She’s sick!” Armitage spat, finally losing whatever composure he grappled with both hands; now, he let it slide through his fingers when all was lost. Pain…. Helplessness…. Ren observed with relish as the greeny-blue gaze averted to recuperate; it didn’t work. “We don’t know what…. Why….”

 

“Return to Majestic.” Something tweaked in the younger and more impetuous of the two. She’s sick…. Either he had overestimated what the force whispered to him or Hux was oblivious but it mattered not, the Knight had more to play with. Ren’s solution was accessible, simple and generous; all he asked was cooperation and the loyalty Hux had withheld before. It was also milder than his initial plan; a steppingstone of threat should Hux decide to dig in his heels. “She will have the best medical care, monitored constantly and no expense spared; would you deny her that out of stubbornness?”

 

“She'd rather die than let me go back to that smothering existence.” Armitage fought through a dry mouth; she'd said it before, numerous times once she’d gotten the taste for having him home. True, she relinquished him to return to his Supreme Leader’s side when summoned but he always came home to his wife when his command hours ended.

 

“Would you like to test that theory?” Ren teased ominously, testing the next steppingstone, the words alone burrowing under Armitage’s skin to render him defenceless. Ren knew about her before he came aboard; that much concerned the redhead. Armitage had been about to disclose her but the Knight already knew, he’d been prepared to use her and that preparation had extended to helping her before killing her; that much registered with Hux now. “Quite the husband you are.”

 

Armitage realized that not only was Ren right, he had him in a corner. Of course he wouldn’t let anything happen to her, regardless of whether it this illness was serious or not but-

 

“She won’t go to Majestic, you don’t know her.” Hux croaked, as if Ren cared. “She won’t accept an Order medic here, you don’t understand-”

 

“I’m going to make this very easy for you.” Clipped, focused and cold, the darker of the two zoned in on the whimpering mess that used to be his General; that if he had his way, would be his General once more. Imposing his excessive height to exert his dominance, to deliver the bone-chilling ultimatum and Hux could see nothing had changed since he left after the Supreme Leaders death. “Come back. Resume your duties. Or she dies. And if I don’t do it, remember that I can make you do it.”

 

What choice did he have? If he stayed out of little more than stubbornness; if the illness didn’t kill her (no one knew the odds, even the decrepit medical droid), Ren would. If she survived the mystery sickness, she might feel the wrath of a lightsaber. Or worse. So like any good, devoted husband: He agreed. Reluctantly and despairingly, he agreed.

 

Wallowing in the fresh subjugation at the hands of emotional terrorism, Armitage sank back against the wall, closed his remaining eye with his superiour still towering over him. The habitual dragging of a nearby door drew him back to reality, opening his eye and instead of finding the new addition, his attention flitted to Ren. He had turned in a half circle away from Armitage; pallid, scarred face melting into curiosity, familiarity, disbelief….

 

“Checked in on ‘er.” Mort had returned to his chair, impervious to the mammoth shifting of circumstances in the time it took him to take a piss. Ren prowled closer. “She asked me for a cuppa then fell asleep again so might bring one up in the flask later….” With his back to the restored General and the Knight (whose presence he was still to notice), the blonde went about drunkenly shuffling cards and still to take stock that something was amiss. “You pricks back in on this or what?”

 

As if to join, a hand enveloped in black leather curled around the top of the chair and the support of it helped the heavy form of Kylo Ren to lower himself into it. Mort shuffled still, in blissful unawares but Armitage’s heart hammered like that of an Ash-rabbit; particularly when Ren leaned in close to watch Mort’s face, mere inches apart. There was nothing menacing though, nothing alarming; just soft incredulity as he stared. The silence progressed, the only noise was that of cards flicking as they were randomized for another game; nothing else, not one thing. Until-

 

“Mort.”

 

The room stood still and Mort paused with it while Armitage’s breath caught in his throat. As if trying to discern if he’d heard something or not, the inquisitive eyes of chocolate lifted to be met with an oncoming gaze where his brother in law had sat before. Head fuzzy and attention span not quite at its sharpest, Mort leaned back in his chair at a glacial pace to where a petrified Armitage stood. If he’s over there, then who the fuck….

 

“Ben?” Externally unresponsive to the name, Ren only blinked but the awe, confusion and (dare Armitage think it) pain were clear; whether he meant them to be or not. And in that moment, Mort had never sobered so quickly in his life.

 

Sitting forward, eyes narrowed in examination and arms crossed beneath his chest to stare back, there was no way it couldn’t be…. But at the same time, how could it be? Still on a knife’s edge and every movement sending him closer to teetering over it, Armitage watched as Mort loosened his hand and ever so carefully, ever so gently reach out to touch the garish mark splitting Ren’s face. As if to add to the tribulation, Ren allowed him.

 

“The fuck happened to you…?”

 

“Lightsaber.” Ren uttered placidly in reply and resisting the urge to nuzzle into the almost forgotten touch with gazes still inseparable.

 

-------------------

 

To stand and watch her sleep was hard enough, knowing he had to do what he had to do; voicing it would be crippling. All the blankets had been employed, even in the temperate and breathable climate of Rannon in the Outer Rim; her external and internal body temperature not quite matching up. Naturally, worry hounded him but if he cooperated with Ren, perhaps there was hope and help would be assured, whether she liked it or not. Mindful, he padded towards the bed, perched himself at the side and gathered her top half close to his side where he could mop the sweating brow.

 

He checked the washing basin at the side of the bed: empty. Either she woke and made it to the refresher on time or there was nothing in her stomach to bring up for now; not that she was awake long enough to eat. It had been sudden; one day the week previous had seen her refuse (or, as they later found out, was incapable) to get out of bed and from there, she had plummeted.

 

With her face nestled into his thigh, Armitage’s hand encased her jaw to stroke her cheek with his thumb like she loved when she was conscious. Only two hours previous, he and the rest of the crew had agreed that in the morning, they would bring her somewhere cold; how could he have known things would change so drastically? Maybe they would still do so but he wouldn’t be there to settle her.

 

“Less?” Nothing. Removing his hand from her face, he opted to try an affectionate stroke to her hair instead. “Darling, can you hear me?” It worked, just about and the strained husk confirmed it.

 

“Arm….?”

 

“It’s me, love.” He forced the grimace but he doubted she was in tune enough with transitioning between dreams and reality to notice. “Less, I need to tell you something….”

 

“Wasgoinon? You okay?”

 

“I’m fine…. Are you?”

 

“Think so. What’s-?”

 

“I have to go away, Nalesse.” Force it out, the only way to do it; like ripping off a bactapatch. He didn’t allow her the luxury of a reply, the look of exhausted incertitude was enough to tempt him to turn back but the fear held him true. “The Order has come looking for me and the repercussions should I refuse are too great; I won’t risk them.” More aware now, Nalesse sat up and regarded her husband, recognizing shadows of his former self already; even the accent was beginning to peek through.

 

“They put a threat on me again, didn’t they?” Like it was a common occurrence (for them more so than others, at least), the sigh suggested worn fortitude and Armitage didn’t need to answer. “So much for secret wife. Fucks sake, I can’t even be sick in peace.”

 

“He knew about you, he came here with the intent of bringing me to Majestic or murdering you.” Perhaps it was more serious than her addled brain realized. “I’ll be fully under Ren this time…. He won’t tolerate me leaving and returning in the morning, not until he’s sure he can trust me not to disappear again.”

 

“I really don’t want you to go, Arm…”

 

“I know. But he’s giving me little choice and I don’t know how long he’s going to hold out on it for.” Nalesse sank back into the abundance of pillows, the conversation and its implications draining her fast; Arm took the opportunity to kiss her head and hold her close until the sniffles started. “Sweetheart, please…. Please, don’t cry….”

 

“Too late!”

 

“Nalesse….”

 

“You gotta do what you gotta do….” An old motto with the same meaning but with harsher consequences now. “But I wish you didn’t have to.”  She wept still but managed to keep herself from ticking over to hysteria. Yet. “When you gotta go?”

 

“Now, it seems.” He conceded with a comforting arm still around her torso and his lips never far from the tousled bundle of curls; he risked a headbutting with every violent exhale. “I don’t think there’s even any point in packing; my blaster, my promise ring, a few holos from the wall…. All things I can put in my pocket.”

 

“We can just off him, y’know…..”

 

“I’ve seen the things he’s done, he’s not to be trifled with.” Drawing it out did nothing to help either of them and while neither wanted to accept it, it had to be done regardless. More kisses, more comforting words, but in the end, they did nothing but add more anguish.

 

“I love you.” He chanced one last kiss then a stroke of tear-stained cheeks before he detached himself from his beloved; like he’d hoped he would never have to do again. “I’ll contact you as soon as I can but I don’t know when that will be.” He bit back tears of his own as he watched her mop her face with her chest heaving. He would do this, he would do it for her and live up to the vows of over three years previous. Unable to torment himself or her anymore, Armitage headed for the door; leaving only breathless and building sobs behind.

Chapter Text

General Hux was almost unrecognizable when he arrived home that night. Clean shaven, hair neatly clipped and enveloped in a mass of a black uniform; it was no wonder three loaded and aimed blasters found him immediately when he stepped through the door. For a pause, no one spoke and he stood with his hands raised in a silent declaration of peace and submission. It took a moment for the blasters to lower reluctantly and it seemed the only point of recognition was the eyepatch. Before he could utter a syllable, he was seized and pulled into a back-breaking hug by his best friend and brother in law - Mort.

 

"You a’right?!" Armitage returned the rough embrace until Mort pulled back to stare at his partner in crime and love of his sister's life, before swinging into hospitality mode... “Sit down, I’ll get ya a-“

 

"I can't stay." The General explained hurriedly, dejected as Mort's face fell even more. "I got a few hours leave... I need to see her.... Where is she?" In the four months he had been away; he had missed Balor's fatherly disposition, Draven's quick mind and Mort's loyal brotherhood but every night, the empty bed haunted him to miss his beloved Nalesse.

 

"She's uh...." The glance back at his companions was more of a Should I tell him? and the grim lack of a response was absolutely in the negative. "She's in bed." Her commitment to their bed hadn’t changed, even in four months? There must have been something dreadfully wrong with her.

 

"Mort, what-?"

 

"Look, I think you should just.... Talk to her yourself."

 


 

 

How could he not be worried by such vagueness? Four months of absence had not distorted the well-worn pilgrimage to their bedroom; he knew it too well to forget it now. He hesitated openly with a gloved hand poised over the panel, petrified of what he might find. What if she knew the illness was something more? What if she didn't want him anymore and she had already confided in the others? What if four months without contact had prompted her to fall out of love with him? What if-? Stop. He scolded himself. She loves you; she tells you every day, multiple times, she loves you. Just go in.

 

The room was in darkness when he entered and the tell-tale whisper of breathing told him she was indeed asleep. With her back to the door and bundled up on her own side of the bed, he let the door slide shut behind then allowed his feet remember their way in the dark and surprisingly (or not), she didn't stir. Perching on his own side, he inched off his boots with the toe of each foot before sliding up to be her big spoon for the first time in four months. A kiss to her shoulder and an arm draped over her waist in an attempt to be close and ease the dull ache of loneliness that felt older than four months didn't yield the results he expected: Her waist kept going.

 

Stunned and curious, he couldn't seem to move. The only explanation buzzed in his skull but he couldn't seem to acknowledge it. It couldn't be.... No, perhaps she had been eating excessively while she missed him. But.... It wouldn't be so solid....

 

"Nalesse....? Darling....? Are you awake? Are you-SHIT!!!"

 


 

 

Sleep was a vulnerable state for Nalesse Du Sade. It always had been (and for any being, arguably) but in her current state, even more so. Paranoid and over-protective when awake, it should have been foreseen why, when in a peaceful slumber and there's an intrusion from the darkness, why she might not be very receptive. So you can imagine what happens when she was disturbed suddenly in someone's grasp when she’d gone to bed alone. She lashed out. Which is why Armitage got a fist into his good eye. It wasn't intentional! Just....  A reflex.

 

"Oh my God!! Arm, I'm so fuckin’ sorry!! Are you okay?!" He seemed alright but with one hand clamped over his eye and the other masked with the patch, the male found himself temporarily blinded. Sitting up, he relinquished her to nurse himself and the man-beater just scrambled to sit up, horrified, with her hands tented over her mouth. "Arm?! Talk to me! You okay?!"

 

"I'm alright..." He managed to choke out, testing his (only) eye by lifting away his hand to check the sight.

 

 “You’re back?”

 

“Only for a few hours.” Almost embarrassed by the revelation, by the fact that he was on a leash again at such an important time, he opted to change the subject. Just then, his eye dropped to the nearly six month old bump and he told himself the threat of it watering was from the punch. "When were you going to tell me?" Her head dipped in something she was not very well acquainted with – shame. Concerned, the General's followed to place himself in her eyeline.

 

"Nalesse? Sweetheart? Tell me." Was he wondering if it was his? Of course it was. She hadn't been touched since the week before he left and that was by him, the thought of anyone else was unbearable. All she had been doing for the past four months was waiting, pining and puking.

 

"I didn’t know when you left, not for sure but I didn't wanna tell you."

 

"Nalesse, why didn't you want to tell me?"

 

"It doesn't matter...."

 

"I was gone for four months, I think I deserve-"

 

“You said you didn’t want kids.” That didn’t sound right. Perplexed, his gaze averted while his mind tried to calculate ever even thinking such a thing, let alone saying it. Eventually, he gave up; presuming if he had said it that he had said so in drink but that still made no sense.

 

“When did I say that?!”

 

“The night we got engaged!” She fired back, getting unjustifiably angry by the obvious look of bewilderment he couldn’t seem to shift; hormones, he assumed. “You said you didn’t wanna have children!” The onslaught continued on a very confused Armitage; he’d had a few glasses of whiskey that night but he was by no means obliterated enough to say something like that. She went on; getting herself more and more riled while he stayed silent out of sheer puzzlement. When he tuned back in, she was venomous; the barrage having kicked up a notch while he tuned out.

 

“-And you can fuck yourself with a dry cactus if you think for one second that I’m havin’ an abortion to fuckin’ suit you! Or for anyone! That’s my fuckin’ baby, it didn’t harm no one-!”

 

"Nalesse, I would never even dream of suggesting-“ She wasn’t listening.

 

"You can go if you want to but I'm not givin’ it away-! Fuck! See what you did?! You woke it! I hate callin’ it it, it’s not an it but I don’t know….”

 

"Nalesse-"

 

"And now it's too late for one now anywagggh-“ Before the fluctuating hysteria could mount any higher, the only way he could ease her was to cover her mouth until she shut herself up; he was waiting for a while.

 

"Nalesse, darling, love of my life; listen very carefully to what I'm about to say."

 

"Okay...."

 

"I have a confession to make."

 

"Okay….?" Instantly, her hackles raised internally and all sorts of unsavory things started to trample through her head but the worse one stuck out. He was fucking around on Majestic, wasn’t he?!

 

"I've been getting my caf from Biscuit Barron." Cue that look of absolute bewilderment. "I've been getting everyone else's food and caf from Dex's, buying an extra cup then going to Biscuit Barron, getting my own caf, emptying out the extra cup and putting the Biscuit Barron caf into it. It's just better caf, I hate Dex's caf." Not what she expected. At all.

 

"Riiiiiiight. And what does your caf infidelity have to do with the baby?" He didn’t answer immediately. Those pallid lips were licked in apprehension, but his eye had been drawn to the bump now that Nalesse was more civil. In fact, he reached out and touched it; his hand so big, it almost covered the precious thing.

 

"Every time I go in there and I'm waiting to order my caf or waiting for it to be made, I always look at the Jolly Meal menu. Do you know what those are?"

 

"I was fuckin' raised on them."

 

"Right, well, every time I look at the menu.... I always wonder if I'll ever have someone to order from it for. And now I do."

 

"Arm?”

 

"Yes?" He managed redirect his vision, if only for a moment, to the magnificent creature sitting up in the bed beside him.

 

"You realize that is the cutest fuckin' thing you've ever said, right?" His answer was non-verbal. Instead, he edged closer to carefully press his lips to hers and she know him so well by then, knew he was keeping himself in check. It wouldn’t do to get carried away and so his instinct was to protect, to treat her like she could snap in two at any minute; like the others did. Yes, she was pregnant but not made of glass and was overly careful in herself about what she did and how she did it.

 

The guarding crew made excuses for her not to work; like taking her share of a job by saying they needed the extra credits but buying something she needed afterwards. Or foregoing a job altogether by saying they didn’t need it when, clearly, they did. Eventually, they caved and said they'd never forgive themselves if anything happened to her or the baby but…. She craved normality and her smuggling leathers didn’t fit her anymore.

 

“I’ve missed you so much, my love; you have no idea.” His voice dropped to dotingly nuzzle his nose into her cheek, anything to be close and that very closeness seemed to be the only cure for the overwhelming situation and tidal wave of emotions that came with it. Gargantuan and all as an undertaking this would be, he couldn’t remember ever being more overjoyed or more deeply in love with her than he was just then. But yet, duty called and he would have to follow. “Every day and every night has just been grinding, agonizing loneliness and-“

 

“Not gettin' any on Majestic, huh?” He wouldn’t even allow himself to laugh too loud for fear of jolting her or making her uncomfortable but at least he knew it was a joke. He also knew that if he DID fuck around at work that she’d dance on his cock, complete with baby bump. And, naturally, eject him from her life forever. Trust is a very powerful thing, though.  

 

No.” He replied with the warmest echoes of amusement in his tone and a gentle, adoring stroke to the bump. “Frigid bitches if ever I saw them.” His focus fixated on the mound under his hand, fascinated and perhaps there was a tiny twinge of guilt for not telling him as he continued to press kisses to her face.

 

Do you know if it’s a girl or a boy?”

 

“Nope.” She responded truthfully and even if she did know, would she tell him? He might regret asking if it wasn’t what he wanted. “No idea.” Was there a need to be concerned with that question though? He was hardly an Imperial when he left but she had no idea of what he’d been exposed to in the meantime. “What d’you want? Girl or a boy?”

 

“I don't care. I don’t care as long as you’re both alright.”

 

“I thought the Imperials were partial to sons?”

 

“They are, darling. But I’m not an Imperial.”

 

He encouraged her to lie back down and once he was satisfied she was comfortable, he followed suit. He lay on his side, acting like a buffer to the door but remaining as physically close to her as possible, arm stretched across and hand in place to safeguard the beginning of his brood.

 

“Did you feel that?”

 

“Was that what I think it was?”

 

“Mmm…. Nearly shat myself when I felt it the first time. Waited for weeks with my hand on my stomach and it decides to kick off while I’m asleep. Typical.”

 

Armitage lay and just immersed himself in the gentle prodding underneath his hand; every now and then, every minute or so. The more he felt it, the more he began to realize, crestfallen, that this wasn’t right. Mercifully, Nalesse had drifted and left him alone with his thoughts. Lip bitten to stop it quivering, the General slipped downwards in the bed to draw himself even with the bump but never moving his hand from it during the brief journey; to do so would be unforgivable within himself.

 

What does one say to an unborn baby? To a new life they’re half responsible for? Armitage didn’t really know. He didn’t know how to hold one, how to feed one or even the simplest of things that make up the experience of having a newborn. But he did know one thing and he’d proved it before.

 

 “I’ll learn.” He swore to himself and his child with absolute galvanization. “Not only will I learn but I will strive constantly and tirelessly to ensure you have everything. It matters not what I have to do and I will do it without hesitation or respite; I promise you that.” Once he’d started, he couldn’t seem to stop. Closer he inched until his forehead graced the bump and he felt himself about to unravel again; this time, he would not stop it but embrace it. “I’ve already missed so much… And I’m going to miss so much more…. But I’d love if you would forgive me for that, little one.”

 

He wouldn’t allow it to get to a point where his son or daughter wouldn’t know or recognize him but he knew, if this continued, that the visits would be sparse. It took Ren four months of complete subjugation to grant him a few measly hours with his family but he doubted the Knight would be any more generous if he knew the circumstances going forward. If anything, he’d use it against him. He stayed glued to the mound until his chronometer started to beep insistently some time later; nagging that his allotted time was almost up.

 

“I’ll be back soon, as soon as I can.” The croaked vow to the bump was acknowledged by another push of pressure and that in turn, earned a watery smile. “I love you, little one. Don’t move until I get back. And be careful of your mother, she’s somewhat delicate.”

 

He hated himself for prying himself away but at least, he could contribute to their welfare from afar.

 

“Less…” A rousing kiss to the forehead didn’t give the same results as the last time he woke her, thankfully. “Sweetheart, I have to go.”  

 

“When will you be back?” He detested not having an answer, particularly when that beautiful, sleepy gaze expected one.

 

“I don’t know.” Perhaps honesty isn’t always the best policy, not when her barely wakeful eyes began to water and her lips curled into each other.

 

“You just got back….!”

 

“I know….” He tried to ease the crumbling protests by re-invading her space and imposing his comforting heat as much as he could; to try and reassure those devastated eyes of lavender. “But I’ll be back soon. I won’t let it be so long next time…”

 

“Arm, don’t go…. Please don’t go. The baby….”

 

“I don’t want to go, Less, but if I don’t cooperate, he won’t let me come back. Look, listen to me; listen to me, Less.” He ignored the cool trickle of a tear on his hand as he tenderly took his wife’s cheeks to match his stare and concrete what he was about to say. “I will be back to hold your hand. I will be there when he or she takes their first breath. I don’t care what I have to do but I will be here. I need you to trust me with that.”

 

Before Nalesse could work herself into any more of a state, Armitage relinquished her and (almost coldly but for both their sakes) turned and left without another word or glance back; despite how it would tear him asunder later.

 

 


 

 

On his way out, the kitchen was empty save for one blonde staring at the worn table top with a mug warming both his hands. He looked around then up with a jilt of surprise at the clap to his back where a light grimace took over.

 

“Are you alright?”

 

“Yeah….” Mort sat back and stifled a yawn, ignorant of the time. “Just thinkin’. You gotta go, huh?”

 

“Yes, she’s upset so keep an eye on her, will you?” Mort, of course, was always watchful. “I don’t know when I’ll be back.”

 

“We’ll cope.” Them better than Nalesse, Armitage guessed and it seemed Mort was chewing over his next question; uncertain if he should ask it or not. “I know you’re on a schedule but before you go…. How’s Ben?”

Chapter Text

How long had Snoke been dead?

 

Several months but still, he dogged with criticism and scathing abuse as much as when he was alive.

 

Was that a figment of imagination and a pushing to do better within the Order? Perhaps, but it was no less cutting; especially when it was self-procured.

 

And look at you, the deed split your spirit to the bone!

 

It was true, it had.

 

The Knight stared at his hands, numb, as he recalled their striking blow that murdered his father in the hope that everything would change. Nothing had changed, not the way they were supposed to, at least. Instead, he found himself even more conflicted, torn and unsure. Or did he? Was continuing as a puppet some half-hearted grasp at straws he knew he couldn’t pull far?

 

The gloved hand tightened at the treatment he’d received because of it, for fulfilling his master’s instructions. He remembered his thumbs hovering over the missile launcher triggers during the battle that ripped open the Resistance cruiser, the one that saw his mother suspended in space. He remembered resisting, to spare her and the plummeting in his stomach when two Tie Fighters roared from behind to do the dreadful deed for him.

 

It was no wonder he defied the way he did, literally struck out the way he did and split Snoke in two. It was poetic in a way and while it did stitch his soul a little, it was far from healed. Sitting at the edge of the bed, Ren’s forehead sank into trembling hands while he waited for an inkling of what to do or how he should proceed.

 

Hux had returned, more reluctant than before and Ren would find out why but for now, he was more interested in himself. Snoke was gone, the Order was his, Hux was beneath him, his destiny his own to dictate; it was all a Sith could want…. But why didn’t he want it? Why didn’t it excite him? Why did he feel incomplete? Why did he find himself focusing on Hux out of nowhere on the bridge for seemingly no reason? Why did he find himself turning his personal com (a device he never used, a consequence of being lonely and isolated) over in his hand like he did just then?

 

He stared at a stolen set of communication details, snatched from the General’s com while he slept; the only configuration of numbers that graced Ren’s otherwise empty com. Still, he ogled them.

 

There would be no slinking to the Resistance with his tail between his legs. His actions meant it was too late for that, whether he was repentant or not and his pride wouldn’t allow it anyway. He wouldn’t go and be relentlessly scrutinized while he snivelled for forgiveness; not when they’d made mistakes in their lives too. And his mother….

 

He hit the button though he hadn’t been entirely certain he was ready to; the first dialling beep begged his patience.

 

One last chance for redemption.

Beeeeep….

 

One last chance for peace.

 

Beeeeep….

 

One last chance for happiness.

 

Beeeep….

 

One last chance for normality, insouciance and companio-

 

“Lo?”

 

Ren’s mouth dried and his building confidence stalled. One word, no, not even one word and Ren lost all ability to speak.

 

“Helloooohhhhh?”

 

“Mort, it’s me…” Someone or something extracted the words from nowhere; lead them from his brain to his mouth before Mort could hang up and (by the sounds of it) go back to sleep.

 

“Ben…? Hey….”

 

“I’m sorry… Did I wake you?”

 

“Everyone wakes me.” Thankfully, there was a twist of humour to that tone; one that made Ren close his eyes in relief and smile. “My sister walks up’n’down the hallway almost every two hours and she’s not really quiet so…. Y’alright?”

 

“Yeah…” Had he really taken the plunge of comming and not knowing what he wanted to say? Typical. “I just uh… hope you don’t mind, I got the details from Hux’s com. He doesn’t know I took them so…. He was there earlier tonight, wasn’t he?”

 

“Ahhh yeah, that’s grand, don’t worry. Yeah, she was kinda upset after it so she just needed a bitta company. I’m back in bed now.” Ren hesitated. He hadn’t said what he’d wanted to say last time while he waited for Hux. There was too much raw pain to lay out from the last time they’d seen each other to rush it in such a short visit and since then, he hadn’t had the courage to do anything about it. But tonight, the urge to just stop pulling between the light and dark had prompted him to do what he couldn’t before; to find an escape from both.

 

“She told you I died, didn’t she? At the temple?” Mort cleared his throat at the other end of the com then heaved a high so heavy, Ren could hear it.

 

“Yeah, she did.”

 

“And my father?”

 

“Didn’t say anythin’.” Keenly tuned senses sharpened by the Force allowed Ren a brief glance of a smuggler’s bedroom on a ship he’d only been on once before; four months previously, if he was to be precise. A double bed, half empty, lights dimmed and atmosphere relaxed. Mort, sleepy and half naked but accommodating all the same. “Just kinda…. Stayed behind her and stared at nothin’. Didn’t see it then but, thinkin’ about it now, he looked like he knew it wasn’t true. My dad didn’t really give a fuck; that I was upset, that my friend was gone, nah.”

 

“We always said he was a despicable specimen of the human species.”

 

“Mmm…. My sister is fuckin’ proof of that.”

 

“I didn’t know you had a sister until….”

 

“Yeah, neither did I till after you were gone. My mam left his ass over it, she was right too.”

 

“It was partially true.” Ren replied after a few seconds of self-composure and a re-direction of the conversation with bravery and conviction. “I think part of me did die that night. I can’t explain it, I can’t fathom it, I can’t-!”

 

“Ben?” The name, the old name, didn’t seem so bad when wrapped in that rough, indiscernible accent. “You had a drink tonight?”

 

“No….” It had been a long time since he felt the pluck of embarrassment but Ren felt it now when the only person he felt he could talk to assumed him drunk with his ramblings. “Haven’t had one in-“

 

“Okay…. D’you wanna get one?”

 

 


 

 

 

“You’ve been very quiet since you returned.” The observation was low and subtle but the General heard it regardless; uttered with eyes dead ahead and lips barely moving, one would swear a conversation hadn’t been initiated at all. The bridge simply carried on around them while neither leader couldn't have cared less for the goal that the ants worked towards, not anymore.

 

“Did something happen on your leave?” Armitage’s lungs lifted in a soft sigh; it was all he’d thought about since he returned two nights previous. Barely eating, barely sleeping and devoting the absolute minimum of his attention to his post; it wasn’t unfair to observe the General as “zombified”.  

 

“Nalesse is pregnant.” The redhead confessed, almost emotionless but with the slightest edge of pain as he stared into nothing to mimic Ren’s phantom dialogue while the staff milled like ants around them. “My own wife is carrying my child and was petrified to tell me because she, for some reason, thought I didn’t want one.” The darker of the two allowed the white noise of the working base to ebb in place of the exchange for a moment, as if in thought.

 

“You didn’t know she was pregnant?” That short sentence struck the chord that severed Hux from the non-committal nature of their engagement to stare down the Knight, incredulous. “I assumed you knew.”

 

“What do you mean?!” He reminded himself of restraint at the very last second before exploding in the very hub of the First Order’s control centre. Ren’s raised eyebrows did nothing to comfort him when he realized he was the last to know about his own child. “Did you know?!”

 

“Of course I knew.”

 

“How did you know?!” Hux got so caught up in the passion of his demand enough for his voice to raise and several well-trained heads to turn in curiosity; notice (or care) escaped him when his only outraged focus was Ren. In that focus, Ren’s eyes shifted ever so slightly; a silent reminder of “Remember where we are”. Suddenly conscious of his surroundings and his company, the General realized his need for answers was more important than the charade. “Walk with me.”

 


 

 

They ended up in Ren’s chambers; the only place they were assured absolute privacy and only then did Hux halt his impeccable stride and whip to round on his darker companion.

 

“Talk. Everything. Now. I want everything. How the fuck did you know?! Did Mort tell you?! Did-?!”

 

“We have a great deal to discuss.” Ren breezed past him, no-nonsense and determined with a whip of a black cowl; there was no going back now. He was sure that Hux’s listless disposition since he was hauled back to Majestic against his will and, even more so, with his (pregnant) wife’s life under threat that the redhead would be cooperative; even enthusiastic.

 

“What’s going on, Ren?!” Hux barked like he would have when they were on a level playing field under Snoke. Incensed, the possibility of another Force choke or being dragged along the floor for insolence didn’t register. However, it seemed Ren had expected this and letting Hux blow off his steam was all part of the plan, to let the Knight lay out his proposition uninterrupted. With a few red strands thrown from their neat, obsessive placement and cheeks pinkened in utter offense, Ren only had to bide his time.

 

“How did you know Nalesse was pregnant?!” Armitage demanded once again, beginning to prowl without taking a fury-lit eye from his black-clad counterpart; Ren took to a leather armchair, unfazed. “Did Mort tell you?!”

 

“You seem to have forgotten…” The serenity caught Armitage off guard, the two appearing to have swapped personalities; one now collected and calm, the other impetuous and short-fused. “That I am connected to the Force; that I can feel it moving, see it and manipulate it. Light or dark, it doesn’t matter when the Force is constant.” The General stared.

 

“And what the fuck does that mean?!” Incredulous and unappreciative of such a deep and profound answer, the redhead began to crave movement and sated that with a frenzied pacing. “How does that even answer my question?! Ren?! Are you high?! Because if you are, I’m going to have to ask you to share!”

 

“I’m not high.” He responded placidly to a snort of disdain. “Though I’m aware of your affinity for Millaflower.”

 

“What, did the Force tell you that too?!”

 

“No, but you seem to think that I nor anyone else on board has a sense of smell.” Patiently, Ren observed the state that Armitage worked his way into, how anxiety clawed at him and how poorly he coped with the situation; but he’d said nothing yet. “How do you think I found you?”

 

“I’m not in the mood for guessing games, Ren!” Came the almost hysterical warning but the Knight paid it no heed; instead, he opted to put him out of his misery.

 

“It’s complex.” The confession was not a comforting one, much to Armitage’s mounting frustration. “But the Force was key. I already told you about the bedroom on Finalizer and what I learned from it; some of it plain to see, some of it not.” Would he ever get a straight answer? “I lead me to you, to both of you.” Ren finally allowed a fixation to his associate, a proper and definite examination.

 

“When I found you, there were six lifeforms on board and the was Force particularly interested in one of them.”

 

“I don’t understand.” Hux spouted immediately, at a loss with his nerves fraying. Ever the practitioner of logic and rationality, even amongst the crew, to believe a magic field had lead Ren to him defied reason. “Interested in one, that makes no sense-“

 

“The Force….” Ren gently cut across the frantic rambling before it could intensify and breaking the visual contact; opting for something more soothing, though his quarters were bare. “Takes a special interest in unborn babies. Manifests around them; protects them, helps them grow. That kind of ….flow….is specific to them, the Force is doing more for them than an adult or a developed child and so, in not recognizing it, I recognized it instantly…” As if recalling the experience had harrowed him somewhat and the explanation had exhausted him, he fell quiet and looked into the flames in the hearth; something he had once identified closely with.

 

There was silence. One half emitted from a curious and confused party while the other half seemed dazed and incapable of further clarification. In the midst of that delicate quiet, Armitage perched himself on the second armchair, the one closest to Ren and followed his eyeline; bathing still in only the sound of a crackling log.

 

“So….” Voice wavering but corrected with a swallow, no mutual gaze was exchanged but he had to know. “Does… does that mean my child is Force sensitive?” Ren took a little longer to pry himself from recovery and left the answer suspended temporarily in mid-air.

 

“Not necessarily.” With those two grace-saving words and an incidental look to the side, Ren saw the first and most paternal thing he’d seen in a long time; more to the point, from the person he least expected.  A pasty face submerged in and cupped by leather-bound hands while his hunched form radiated relief. “And it’s not like the days of the Jedi Order when Force sensitives were sought out and all but forced to become Jedi.” Ren offered further to deliberately ease him, much to Armitage’s overwhelming appreciation. “It doesn’t happen anymore.”

 

“You said we had a lot to discuss.” Somehow, Hux no longer felt the need to hide when he was vulnerable, in this case with with joy; not when there was a new, strange bridging between the two. Armitage lifted his head from his hands and looked into the softer face of Kylo Ren, the first real look. “You didn’t bring me here to talk about my wife and child.”

 

“I didn’t.” Ren agreed, choosing his words carefully but seemingly not enough. “But I do feel they will be a big motivation for what I’m about to propose to you.” For a moment, he couldn’t fathom why the redhead’s features fell into rage and betrayal; until he retraced his steps. “Not that.” He intercepted calmly before he received a coiled fist into the mouth, diffusing any potential assaults and cursing himself for not being more cautious. “Not that, I never should have made that threat and I’m sorry but that’s not what I meant this time.”

 

Hux relaxed, folding himself back into the armchair but still watching intently for anything to the contrary.

 

“I don’t know how to be this personal but…. I’ll just have to be so be patient with me.” The General didn’t move and Ren found himself as more or less in the same trance as before.

 

“When I killed my father, something was supposed to happen. I was meant to feel…. resolved…. in my service to the dark side but I didn’t. I was split further, severed further from it and attempting to scramble back but the more I tried, the more it slipped away.” Hux scrutinized the Knight, scouring for legitimacy; he found it. The scar dividing his face served as a solid and literal reminder of the diversion within himself; interestingly, the metaphorical scar cordoned only a small portion of his body from the obvious rest.

 

“With Snoke gone, Crait and everything after, I’ve been in limbo.” Ren pursued his seemingly aimless musing under Hux’s now more sympathetic regard. “I’ve breezed along, grasping at straws and trying to keep my head above water, which was why I needed to find you; the only one the investors would negotiate with, the only one who could keep the Order afloat.” Armitage wasn’t surprised; what he’d returned to had hardly been the epitome of stability and competent management. “And I just can’t take it anymore.”

 

The General waited for Ren to say something else but the Knight’s unwavering watch remained trained on the playful flickering and dancing of the miniature blaze in the hearth. Lost; physically, mentally and spiritually in the utter vastness of his position, Ren’s recourse (or lack of it) left him feeling like a forgotten child. His only confidante? The snivelling, rat faced coward he had hunted to the end of the galaxy with the intent of doing terrible things to his wife. The very person he now spoke to as an equal, almost a friend.

 

“What does that have to do with me, Ren?” Hux was wary. “What proposition-?”

 

“We leave.” The abruptness and tenacity of it stupefied the General though the deadness of the tone remained unchanged. “We get out.”

 

“Defect?!” Hux spat, antagonized, with his previous inflammation rising like bile again. “I have pride, Ren! I have worked for this for years! I’m not about to-!”

 

“We’re not defecting.” The younger of the two placated, finally releasing his gaze to grace his friend with it instead. “We’re not running to the Resistance; we’re going to shut it down from the inside and leave. You want to be here as much as I do.” Hux blew out, exasperated, not quite at ease; despite it being the truth.

 

“Ren… How….”

 

“Doesn’t matter how, we’ll figure it out.” Galvanized, he was more certain and solidly held the redhead’s eye to illustrate it. “It’ll take a while, it’s not going to be easy and we’ll have one hell of a façade to keep up but… You want to get back to your wife and I want to get back to Mort.”

 

Again, silence weaved itself but this time, it was in absolute and mutual agreement. They would spend the next few months disassembling the First Order from the inside to retire to the people they loved, for a humbler existence. Not only that, but they would do it together.

 

And all before the baby arrived.

Chapter Text

“Can I talk t'you?”

 

Mort had decided upon a visit to the room that had become known as The Nest; the place where the matriarch spent most of her time, resting or sleeping. Naturally, he found her sitting up in bed, nesting amongst the blankets; hence the name of the room.

 

Curious and accommodating, Nalesse paused her holo-documentary; one outlining the pack structure, courting and breeding habits of beasts native to the planet Entooine: the Quohr. Fascinated by the romantic (if dangerous) creatures, she was so taken by a particular pregnant female that the knock to the door was almost lost.

 

“Yeah, what’s goin’ on?” Mort sidled with his request still jumbled in his head, relying on his feet to lead the way into the room that could only be described as sauna-like, just the way his sister needed it. To heighten the hospitality, the mother-to-be shuffled on her backside and moved blankets out of the way in order to give Mort a place to sit; he didn’t comment on the docility but he valued it all the same. With her brother in her eyeline and comfortable, Nalesse probed deeper. “You okay?”

 

“Uhh…. Yeah, I’m good.” Of course, his gaze dropped to the bump; it was still difficult to swallow that his baby sister would be soon having a baby of her own. “How are ye? Any news?”

 

“Well, I had my first solid bowel movement in ‘bout six weeks yesterday so I’m pretty stoked with that.” If anyone could appreciate a fecal remark, it was Mort; proved by the way his lips stretched and coiled into his cheeks where dimples were born.

 

“Fuckin’ gross, Less…”

“You asked.”

“I meant like….” Mort paused to titter, allowing it to melt around his words while Nalesse looked on with bland humour caressing her features. “The baby, anythin’ new?”


“Shur you were at the last scan, Mort; nothin’s happened since. It’s kickin’ the shit outta me but that’s all.” The blonde surveyed the bump, something he’d been playfully accused of being obsessed with; he laughed it off but he did find himself more voluntarily at his sister’s beck and call recently. He and the General hadn’t discussed it much with the constraint of time on the redhead that night but he had an air of delirium about him in that brief encounter, like the one Nalesse had quite often.

 

“How’d he take it?” Nalesse straightened then sat back into a stretch, chortling as she did so to pique Mort’s patient curiosity.

 

“Well, there was a small breakdown in communication.” Tossing the holo-remote (that was temporarily out of commission) down the bed, her hands seemed to alternate and take turns in menial tasks and holding the bump; the bump was never without a hand. “I- Fuckin’ ow… Chill, kid, will ya?”

 

“Lemme feel, lemme feel!”

 

“G’wan so.” Excitedly, he did so and cursed the next four months (unaware that a human pregnancy only lasted nine, not ten) of waiting before he had someone to watch Moon Peace with. “Basically…” Nalesse resettled against the pillows to ease her back before picking back up on her train of thought, the task in itself reminding her of how weary the whole pregnancy fiasco made her. “I thought he’d said he didn’t want kids and he did the night we got engaged but, and here’s the breakdown in communication, he said he didn’t want kids with someone he didn’t love. He loves me so I’m gonna get stitches in my vag.”

 

“You’ll get…. What?!”

 

“Baby’s gotta come outta somewhere, Mort.”

 

“I know, like, but does it have to be there?” Mort’s blissful incomprehension of basic biology was endearing; innocent, almost. “Sounds a bit… y’know…”

 

“Well, it’s called the birth canal for a reason. It’s a canal for givin’ birth so I’m just gonna go with the flow and see how it goes.” Mort opted not to examine it any further but it seemed his sibling was about to drift into one of her famous bouts of fatigue that had accompanied the pregnancy from the very start.

 

“So uh… No sign if it’s a boy or a girl? No idea of names? I got a kick ass name for a b-“ She was having none of it. Brutally cut off, Mort recoiled for a split second before she launched her barrage.

 

“I already fuckin’ told you, I’m not namin’ my kid after that dude in Moon Peace!”

 

“Fine but whattabout-“

 

“I’m not namin’ my son Pablo or Hidalgo from fuckin’ Moon Peace! Get it outta your head!” Irritability had also become a trademark but predictable when he came to her with something she’d shot down a hundred times before.

 

Less’ eyes closed for a minute, the temptation to drift just for a moment was barely resisted; names were one of the many things she fretted over without Armitage for consultation. What if she chose names he didn’t like? What if he chose names she didn’t like? What if there was an impasse and the child remained nameless for days or weeks? With any luck, he would be home in time (as he’d promised) for them to have that discussion; preferably before the baby was born.

 

“What about Ellya for a girl? You said you liked that.”

 

“That’s the princess whose planet got blown to shit?” He was right, she had said that. “Ellya Du Sade, Ellya Hux…. Yeah, for a girl, maybe. Ellie for short.”

 

“Think it’s a girl? I wanna start buyin’ stuff….”

 

“Mort, you don’t have to buy anythin’; it’s really sweet that you want to but you totally don’t have to.” Her disdain for charity went deeper than just the night she refused skin treatment for the burn on her back from her then lover turned husband. It remained a pride issue. “And I have no idea if it’s a girl or not.”

 

“But that’s what we do!” Borderline incredulous, Mort responded as if it were the most obvious thing in the galaxy. Did Nalesse think this was just her baby? Not a chance! That child wouldn’t be exclusive to his or her parents; that child would be fawned over and doted upon by everyone on board, showered with gifts and adoration and it appeared the uncle to be wanted to start early. “We look after each other, baby included. And-!” Suddenly triumphant and smug, the blonde pulled the trump card while his sister rolled her eyes. “You can’t tell me how to spend my share of a job! So there! I’m gonna spoil the fuck outta that kid and you can’t stop me!!”

 

Worked up and excited, it was easier now to broach that looming subject; the very purpose of his visit. While the inquiries after herself, Hux and the baby were genuine, they were little more than stalling. He took a moment to simmer down while Nalesse waited expectantly; she wasn’t the only pregnant thing in the room, it seemed.

 

“So, y’know I said I wanted to talk t’you….”

 

“Yeeeeesssss?”

 

“Okay, here goes. So this thing, I don’t really know if it’ll change anythin’ or what but-“

 

“I already know you’re hella gay, Mort.” Well, if that wasn’t an unexpected anti-climax… Poor Mort, all he could do was stare, unfathoming, at the blanket-bundled female who looked like she was ready to live on Entooine among the Quohr.

 

“You fuckin’ radiate it, man. You don’t have to tell me.” Dumbfounded, words failed him so his sympathetic and understanding sister continued until he was ready. “We all know. We just assumed you knew we knew and it wasn’t a big deal or whatever.”

 

“Ye knew?”

 

“That’s why dad told you to piss off, isn’t it? That’s why you came lookin’ for us?”

 

“Yeah….” Relief. Inequitable relief. But really, what had he expected? For her to banish him with a harpy-like scream; not only from her room but also from the ship and the crew? Withdrawing to his own mind to calculate while she prattled in the background, he tried to pick apart why he’d gone hat-in-hand, why he thought it might be a problem, why he had been prepared to leave. These people, these beings, were not just a crew that went their separate ways when a job was done; this bunch of absolute scoundrels, all different in innumerable ways, were a family, bound by everything but blood. Perhaps he and Nalesse were the exception in that sense.

 

“Y’a’right, Mort?” Gently, she roused him from his trance that had petered out into nothingness; simply staring at the wall. “Y’with me, pal?”

 

“Yeah…. Yeah, I’m good.”

 

“You sure?”

 

“Mmm…. So… I don’t need to go or anythin’? We cool?”

 

“Go? Go where?”

 

“I dunno… Away.”

 

“Fuck you on ‘bout?!”

 

“I just thought-“

 

“Just thought that ‘cause you’re gay, we won’t want ya here?” He felt that arched eyebrow, heard the thump of the layer of blankets she shed to drill it into him. “Fucks sake, Mort; you know us better than that! We don’t give a womp rat’s ass if you’re into dudes or chicks as long as you’re happy and healthy; you know that!” He did but somewhere in the very depths of his brain, paranoia had gnawed to drive him into the abyss of self-doubt and abundance of fear he’d dragged with him to Nalesse’s room; weights he would be leaving without. “You okay now? Do I gotta tie you t’your bed tonight? You didn’t wanna go, did ya?”

 

“No.” Mort replied, lighter now with a soft grimace but not completely at ease yet. “I didn’t which brings me to the second thing.”

 

“You’re pregnant.” At that, the blonde sputtered, unchecked and uncontrolled. His chest heaved, seeking a lungful of oxygen that she’d winded from him with a simple joke. The blatant stab at humour indicated she wanted to contribute too to make whatever it was easier; something Mort cherished greatly with the spurt of laughter they both shared. It subsided on its own, naturally, and from that, Mort took his cue.

 

“So, I met someone. Well…. I met them a long time ago and thought they were dead and shit got messy and-“

 

“Slow down, Mort, it’s okay.” It wasn’t okay. Not yet. Mind still in disarray, there was still plenty that could go wrong and depending on Nalesse’s reaction, the nucleus of the whole damn crew, he might be leaving after all. “Just… Take a breath and take me through it slow, yeah?” So he did, he took a breath and tried to untangle everything before he took her through it, nice’n’slow.

 

“Right…. “ Feeling the need to readjust himself on the bed, as if it would help organize his thoughts, Mort cleared his throat and wiggled his arse in an attempt to reset his comfort. Nalesse waited and he gave her the curtesy of eye contact though the bump remained a distraction. “So… Remember I told you me and dad used to do supply runs to the Jedi temple, Luke Skywalker’s Jedi temple?”

 

“Yeah….?”

 

“Remember I had a friend there, he died?”

 

“Like a “friend-friend” or…?”

 

“Bit-more-than-a friend-but-we’d-both-get-our-asses-kicked-if-anyone-found-out-kinda friend.” The details and the complications had been greater than remembered, especially when they had met for that drink and all sorts of things came to light. “But he died. I thought he died. His mam told me he died.” Not unnerved per say but certainly confused, Nalesse merely nodded along while she did her best to follow; Mort slowed even more when things became more difficult to swallow. “But uh…. Turns out…. That he wasn’t killed at the temple, he did the killin’.”

 

It was Nalesse’s turn to be dumbfounded.

 

“What the fu-?!”

 

“Okay, I know it sounds bad but lots of stuff happened and-“

 

“So your fuckin’ boyfriend killed a fuck ton of Jedi?!”

 

“Less, you wanted me to tell ya so can ya just…. Calm the fuck down a sec?”

 

Grudgingly, hesitantly and almost traumatized, Nalesse fell silent to make way for an explanation though her features remained aghast. Mort noticed and maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

 

“He came here lookin’ for Arm, to bring him back to the Order after he killed the Supreme Leader to help him run it but….” Getting to the crux of it, Mort’s grounding in his current surroundings seemed to waver in favour of immersing himself in the feelings that accompanied the venture; not just coming out to Nalesse but fulfilling a promise to Ben. Mort nearly seemed distressed in the way his head dipped and his knuckles whitened, desperate for this plea to be fruitful; not just for Ben’s sake but his own as well.

 

“His heart’s not in it: runnin’ the Order. He doesn’t wanna do it anymore, he just wants to leave it.” Eyes of chocolate heightened to meet their lavender counterparts, pain entwining with consolation and compassion. “We met last night and we both decided we wanna give it a go but… We can’t do that with the Order in the way.”

 

“But what ‘bout Arm-?”

 

“He’s gonna talk to Arm, bring him in on it.” Just then, the siblings gelled in their priorities: having their beloveds home where they belonged. Gazes held solid and sure, Mort bit his lip and Nalesse’s nod cemented her agreement. “They’re gonna bring it down and they’re gonna come back to us; which is what I wanted to ask you. Will you let Ben come and live here with us?”

 

Naturally, Nalesse’s instincts had taken a maternal turn in the last few months and in that, her instincts were no longer geared towards her own survival alone but that of her baby as well. Reluctance, giving everything she’d just learned, should have been foreseen. Uncomfortable mentally but mirroring it physically, she started to shift amongst what was left of the blankets and withdrew her gaze from Mort; he sensed the apprehension.

 

“D’you trust him?”

 

“I do. Like you trust Arm.” Galvanized, he appeared to be winning but it was impossible to ignore the double hold she now guarded her belly with. Wary, the mother to be sought assurance; assurance Mort would strive to provide.

 

“Ben… Kylo Ren… He told me his soul was being torn apart, that he didn’t belong to neither the dark or the light and servin’ one over the other was gonna kill him.” The silent response was dubious so Mort continued with conviction. “He said when he came here to get Arm, that he felt almost at peace and it was ‘cause I was here. I believe him.” He added imploringly. “I saw the sincerity and when I kissed him, it just… I dunno. Sounds soppy but it felt right. I do trust him and he’s willin’ to work, he’s got smugglin’ in his blood; I think he’d make a great asset to the team.”

 

“Will it make you happy?”

 

“I’ve always been happy but it’s always felt like somethin’s missin’, y’know? But it would definitely make me happier.”

 

“We give it a trial.” Nalesse replied cooperatively after a moment of self-consultation, trying to be both practical and amicable; particularly where a raw baby was concerned. “If I or any of the others aren’t comfortable, we’re gonna have to find alternative arrangements. Fair?” Of course, Mort would take what he could get; in fact, he was more than pleased with that deduction.

 

“You got it, yes, absolutely, thank you!” Nalesse accepted the hug and reciprocated her own squeeze; even if it was a tad awkward of doing so from the side where the bump blocked them from getting too close. With that conquered, he felt it his duty to pass along another few titbits of information from Ben that would apply to Less as well.

 

“Communication is gonna be minimal, if any a t’all.” Rubbing the back of his neck while the raven locked female sank back into the den of mixed fabrics, knowing it would be tough on both of them. “I gave him a cloaked binary beacon. He’s gonna give it to Arm so they’ll know where to find us when it’s done. After that… We do what we’ve always done and forget about the Order. We’ll have a new addition to focus on and we’ll see how we go with Ben.” Easing himself from the bed and onto his own rickety stance (maybe sitting crosslegged for a long period of time wasn’t such a good idea after all), Mort readied himself to take his leave with his goals achieved.

 

“I’ll leave ya to rest. D’you want anythin’ to eat? Cuppa?” Now that was worth staying awake for and Nalesse straightened herself once more but without disrupting the structure of her cocoon.

 

“Y’know what? We’d love a cuppa. And biscuits, bring biscuits.”

 

Chapter Text

“I never congratulated you.”

 

Ren realized the obvious shortcoming as he took a glass half full held aloft to him; a presumption taken by the General.

 

Hux's quarters had undergone no homely touches out of protest and mourning, the habitat far more austere than on Finalizer where Nalesse would visit frequently; not on Supremacy. Ren didn't question the abundance and selection of alcohol in the redhead's chambers, he certainly wouldn't know it was an unhealthy coping mechanism for being away from his wife; something that dated back to before he married her.

 

The look of curiosity mid-pour prompted clarification, as if Armitage, too, was at a loss.

 

“The baby.”

 

“It still doesn't feel real.” Armitage confessed with simmering elation, almost delirium, as he took his own seat beside the waning Kylo Ren. “It came out of nowhere enough that it could be reasonably dismissed as a dream.”

 

“Mort is ecstatic.” Ren chipped in, even though such a conversation was alien. “There’s so many things he wants to buy and do.... I'd forgotten how sweet he is.”

 

“Mort's one of a kind.” Armitage agreed with a pang of bittersweet pining, parking his own glass to busy his hands with something else. “I don’t think a child could ask for a better uncle. You're extremely lucky to have him, you know.”

 

“No one knows that better than I.” The Knight confessed humbly, mirroring his sentiments in his tone and letting rare expression show in his face. “I’ve missed a lot, so much to make up for.”

 

“You will have plenty of time to think about that when we’ve left.” Armitage retorted as he put the finishing touch to his handmade cigarra then lit the end, relieved when his nerves already started to numb; air relaxed and stare blank. “If we’re not discovered and executed in the meantime, that is.”

 

“Amazing, that thing has you on a downer already.” Ren quipped with playful snarkiness as he watched his second in command take another lungful; until a very relevant question stirred in his head. “Are you going to give it up when the baby arrives?”

 

Armitage didn't answer immediately; rather, he opted to expel his lungful slowly and watch it coil and twist as if it had a mind of its own.

 

“I don’t need it at home.” He murmured sedately by way of explanation. “Here, it is an absolute requirement with the stress you’ve lumped me with.” He gave it a few seconds to let that sink in; the black-clad male merely blinked. “At home, I only smoke it recreationally with Mort; I don’t need it like I do here. I could easily abstain from it when the baby is around indefinitely, if not give it up completely.

 

The conversation tapered off into companionable silence while the redhead suckled intermittently on his cigarra and Ren stared at nothing in particular. This level had never been reached before; this level of personal amicability and Hux beginning to treat Ren (Ben?) like he treated the others and how they treated him: with benevolent camaraderie. Perhaps it was important for him to have a taste of their brand of sociability if he was going to live amongst them as one of them.

 

“Do you know what I think is extraordinary?” Ren didn’t but he gave his undivided attention anyway to the Millaflower-induced rambling. “In every blow the Resistance has struck us with, all the sacrifices it’s made in dedication to undoing the Order; it’s a brother and sister with no motives or side that will bring it down in the purest way possible.” Ren hadn’t thought of that but that didn’t change the truthful weight the statement carried and no doubt, it would churn his mother’s stomach.

 

“Tell me about her, your wife.”

 

The smoke-threaded titter piqued the Knight’s interest; he’d never noticed his General so rich with glee. Was that what real, matured love looked like? Even apart from her, the mere mention of her seemed to light him up. Or maybe it was the Millaflower.

 

“Take Mort.” Armitage began roguishly, sitting forward with his mirth still bubbling. “Half his size and double his character and you have my Nalesse.”

 

“I saw a holo-print of her, she’s somewhat unique.” Hux nodded through his drag until the exhale joined the rest of the gathering cloud before he answered.

 

“Mmm. I believe it’s called Alexandria’s Genesis. Some sort of genetic mutation; jumped right out at me when I met her. It’s the eyes one notices first.”

 

“And how did you meet her?”

 

“I hired her-“

 

“Oh.”

 

“Not that.” Instead of being insulted and protective, Hux simply tapped the end of the cigarra into a container at his side, to remove the excess ash from the tip with his mood still bright. “I hired her as a bounty hunter to track down and silence an informant some years ago; around the same time you came aboard Finalizer, actually.”

 

Ren nodded, appeasing his curiosity with his arms folded and leaning on his thighs; glass placed somewhere, out of sight, out of mind.

 

“She brought me his severed head, asked me if I wanted to get a drink with her and we... ended up seeing each other unofficially after that.”

 

Ren nodded once more, drinking in the information that could be useful. His preferred future rested with this woman; a woman he’d never met who, probably, knew of his intentions when he came to virtually abduct her husband. Hopefully, the case Mort would put to her would override that and she would decide in his favour; otherwise, he would have nowhere to go. Not that the concept of homeless drifting was his fear; his fear was being without Mort whom he couldn’t ask to leave his family for him.

 

“Mort asked me…..” Mid-rummage in his expansive pockets, Ren trailed off until he found what he was looking for and held it out under the General’s intrigue. “To give you this.” Licking his lips almost in anxiety as it was gently taken from him, the glowing baby-blue light assured him it was alright. “I needed to trust your cooperation before I could give it to you.”

 

Understandable, Hux thought as he lifted the device to examine it further. I would have done the same.

 

“Cloaked binary beacon.” The redhead surmised, having seen one before but never used one. “Do you know how it works? When the time comes, will you be able to use it?” Ren hummed his affirmative.

 

“The beacon will do most of the work, all we need to do is follow it.” That was good enough for Armitage.

 

“But…. if Mort has the other one, shouldn’t you keep this?” A selfless question for an established member of a crew to ask a new and unconfirmed one; at least Ben thought so. “He’s your partner, surely that just makes sense?”

 

“I need to be trusted.” Ren replied almost instantly and with absolute certainty as he held his General’s gaze, imperative that he was believed. “Mort trusts me, he’s already told me that, so I need to act like it and do what he asked.” He took a breath in preparation for laying himself bare. “I need you to trust me. I need Nal….”

 

“Nalesse.”

 

“I need Nalesse to trust me, and the Devaronian and the Abyssin-“

 

“Balor and Draven.”

 

“Yes!” Imploration etched into every vulnerable feature, Ren bit his lip but rushed to resume when Armitage opened his mouth to relieve him: this needed to be said. “By doing this, I hope they’ll see that I’m worthy not only of trust, but acceptance. That I can do what’s required for the greater good….!”

 

“And there’s the baby….!” Ren continued, nearly in a frenzy that Armitage had already established he couldn’t stop. “You need to be able to trust someone if they’re going to be around a helpless, defenceless baby-!“

 

“I don’t think you’d ever harm the baby, Ren.” Hux finally intercepted levelly, stubbing out what was left of the cigarra in a bid to calm his new companion. “Even if you wanted to, which I know you wouldn’t. You know it would damage everything you’re trying to build and you know it would destroy Mort; you’d be foolish to even consider it.” Armitage’s scarlet head tilted to place himself in Ben’s eyeline and mentally scolded himself for placing his hand on his back that provoked a noticeable flinch. “But you wouldn’t. I can’t promise that everything is going to be fine but Nalesse is reasonable…. Sometimes.”

 

Ben’s chocolate eyes heightened dolefully to meet their bluer counterpart, searching for any sort of lie or ill-truth from the master strategist but, amazingly, found none. It seemed Ren was so badly encumbered with trust issues that he expected Hux to just rattle anything off to shut him up. Thankfully, he found nothing but legitimacy.

 

“I imagine communication is going to be scarce.” Armitage selected to change the subject and as he did, he found the Knight emerging from his borderline hysteria as if it never happened; business like, even. “We’ll have to be careful in our situation but my wife’s condition dictates that I must have some sort of contact.”

 

“I can’t allow that, we risk too much.” The redhead opened his mouth to protest, outraged, with their progress seemingly obliterated; until it was Kylo Ren’s turn to casually interject. “However, if we suspect a crew is supplying arms, medicine or foodstuffs to the Resistance, we can track said crew and survey it to either confirm or dismiss those suspicions. For an indefinite period of time.”

 

“And action taken upon that crew will be subject to our discretion.” Armitage concluded with dawning understanding, playing along as if someone might be listening. “As will the intensity we survey it with.”

 

“Precisely.”

 

With mutual cognizance established between the two and a knowing glance exchanged, the “brothers-in-law” lifted their complimentary glasses and continued with their fellowship-kindling evening.

 


 

 

Once a week.

Every week.

Faithfully.

One arrived.

 

Since the night General Armitage Hux left again for Majestic as a knowing, willing and loving father, packages had started to arrive.

 

Unmarked, untelling and unextraordinary packages. The first one wasn’t so apparent but the ones that followed were obvious.

 

When the initial package arrived, the crew just stood around staring and clueless and waiting for it to explode. When it didn’t, Nalesse was urged to open it and that was the last time she did so accompanied.

 

The first time she opened one and found the contents, confusion ensued. Then she read the hand-written note and that’s what sparked the waterworks.

 

After that, the others just left her to it, knowing it was delicate.

 

Now when they arrived; Balor, Draven or Mort would drop it up to her room, their room, so she could open it in peace and be alone. I know what you're thinking, what can be so bad that she couldn't open them without assistance? Well, it wasn't dirty pictures of her General, that’s for sure but they were from him.

 

Every box had the same structure: there were always sweets in it. They varied from week to week but she'd investigated some of the confectionary he sent and not only was it ridiculously expensive but hard to get items; like chocolate, actual chocolate. Not to mention her childhood favourite of Rubybliel; where he got it without venturing to Tatooine, she didn’t know.

 

Every week, he sent her pain relief, like heat pads for her back and her feet as oral painkillers were dubious; something he’d learned from grilling of a very perplexed medic. Not that she moved very far anyway. To the kitchen and back, maybe.

 

He sent her nutritious juices and hormone balancing vitamins that suggested his research had been meticulous. The tastes were bitter and the flavours deceiving but if choking them down meant a healthier baby, it was a sacrifice she was willing to make.

 

And of course, it was only a matter of time before a blanket arrived. One she didn’t have, however, was one made of soft, black Gaberwool; her husband’s material of choice for his uniform coats, something that never failed to keep him warm and specially commissioned with her in mind.

 

The thoughtful gestures didn’t stop there. Draven had been alone at the console when it happened the first time, when the confirming ping! of credits received and the familiar alert demanded his attention on the screen. Bewildered, he stared at a (substantial) credit transfer for a job they had supposedly done earlier that day, and something extra for doing it well. When he tried to refute the transfer and alert the sender to a mistake, it was pushed through even more forcefully. It came from a personal account based on Arkanis and Nalesse could verify it was, in fact, Armitage’s account.

 

What she craved most though was to have him home; safe, well and committed to nothing and no one but her and the baby. Even a visit, a few hours in the dead of night, she would grab it with both hands and hold on tight until he had to vanish again. If nothing else but to give him the extra holo-scan she’d had printed just for him. The one with arms, legs, a head and a perfectly shaped body for a perfectly healthy baby; so far, so good. Boy or girl? She didn’t know yet.

Chapter Text

 

Ben hated cantinas.

 

They were dirty, they were smelly and attracted all the wrong kinds people; which, thinking about it, made complete sense. He'd noticed it from a young age, when his father brought him to gamble, cut a deal or go looking for someone without his mother's knowledge; she'd be horrified if she knew. And speaking of his mother....

 

He tried not to look overly petrified when the chair opposite him was pulled out and held as an older and stiffer form lowered into it. When it settled, he felt that familiar glower and did all in his power not to gulp; or, if he had to, he would do so from the drink he didn’t really want. Thankfully, Hux would do most of the talking but it was probably the closest any of them had been to General Leia Organa in a very long time or ever, in Armitage’s case.

 

One stare was far more purposeful and intense than the other, enough to make the dark haired male almost buckle under it. Armitage’s single eye swiped back and forth with the obvious tension impossible to ignore.

 

Ren's parentage had been suspected but when it had been confirmed, all the redhead could do was stare, hapless, while trying to process the outlandish information. This epitome of the First Order and even the Dark side had sprung from the very loins of General Leia Organa, their enemy of extreme proportions. Yet, there they sat.

 

“So....” The only present female began with a bite of haughtiness while looking between the two; waiting for a challenge as if her own son wasn’t among them. Ren and Hux exchanged glances; maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. “You wanted to talk, I’m here to talk. Get on with it.”

 

“Where are the others?” Hux opted to delay the main topic at hand but realized he couldn’t run from it forever. “You didn’t come alone, where are they?”

 

“Scattered. Watching.” Leia said, content to whittle her adversaries in a way only she could. “And it’s nearly dinner-time back at the base so they’re getting tetchy; hurry it up.” Ren ran a pallid hand through his hair for the umpteenth time and Armitage made a mental note to remind him to wash it before he appeared on the bridge the next day. “In case you decide to pull something.”

 

“We’re not trying to pull anything….” The Knight murmured, dropping his head so his chin met his chest with dejection but his mother heard him loud and clear. That was her first indication that something was out of the ordinary; not that a civil meeting initiated by either side was considered ordinary. Leia spied fear, helplessness and vulnerability; that combination in a usually brazen young man put her on edge. So much so that her exterior started to dent, that she could be accused by the others of allowing maternal instincts to cloud her judgement. What did they know though? They weren’t parents, they hadn’t lost like she had and, dare she think it, this was the closest to her old Ben she’d seen in longer than she cared to remember.

 

“You wanna tell me what’s going on here?” The former princess pressed quietly but urgently, leaning towards the son she’d almost written off; the one whose pain killed her even now. “Ben. Why are we here?”

 

“We’re dismantling the First Order.” Well, Ren wasn’t going to say it; he was in no condition to. Voice lowered but firm, Armitage spoke up; despite being ignored in the midst of the mother-son interaction. Just then, slowly, Leia’s gaze moved from the “Supreme Leader” to the General; her previously casual face now awash with alarm and confusion. “Taking it down from the inside. It’s not what we want anymore, not when we have other priorities-“ Naturally, such a simplistic disregarding of past events did not go down well and Armitage was received with incredulous venom.

 

“Of all the lives both sides have laid down, of all the innocent bystanders and you’re throwing in the towel ‘cause you don’t feel like it anymore?!”

 

“Would you rather people on both sides kept dying for no reason at all?” Armitage countered softly and calmly, holding the older woman’s eye as a means to convey his intent. There was a reason Ren had torn the galaxy a new black hole to find him; the master debater and negotiator was invaluable and he proved it once again. “For the sake of keeping up a façade on our part that we don’t want anymore? Because if you do, General, that’s on you. Just so you still have a fight to fight and a reason to get out of bed in the morning.”

 

Leia recalculated her aim, shifting on her elbow to face Hux instead. If this was real, if this was true, it was gargantuan. A victory without a fight, an end to a war that had cost millions, if not billions, of lives. There would be no more running or hiding, no more scraping funds for the basic running of the Resistance or begging and pleading for aid for the losing side. If this was genuine, the entire galaxy would shift to peace.

 

Hux didn’t wither like Ren did, he faced his counterpart with unyielding ferocity and waited.

 

“Say this is true….” Leia began, clawing back her old demeanour with her sole focus on the redhead. “What’re we talkin’ about here?”

 

“You help us, we help you.” Armitage answered in a matching tone, an indication they were on the same wavelength; even leaning forward on his elbow like she did. “The First Order will crumble in a matter of weeks, it’s inevitable. We’ve already hollowed it to its most basic structure and no one has realized it yet. Stage this with us, help us escape it and the Resistance takes credit for everything we’ve done. Put whatever spin you wish on it but help us do it, and you'll never see or hear from us again. “

 

Organa was tempted. The way she folded her lips and let her eyes drift to the side were all tell-tale signs of near persuasion that Hux knew only too well.

 

“You'll be regarded as heroes.” Giving that extra push. “The galaxy will be united once more under a Republic flag, isn't that what you've dedicated your life to?” At the risk of sounding too passionate, Armitage remembered himself and eased off; this needed to her decision, not forceful imposition. “Everything will be done for you. When the moment comes, one micro movement that no one will question will change the fate of the galaxy and it’s all in your hands.”

 

Leia sat back and for the first time, let her guard down. She glanced to her right where she knew Rey was watching and ready to pounce, then to her left where Poe and Finn did the same; blasters locked and loaded. Those three young people alone, as well as the rest of the Resistance, would have the freedom to do something with their own lives. Have a career, travel, start a family; anything but worry about whether or not there was going to be another preventable body count.

 

Hux was isolated once more as Leia leaned towards her son, her only child and sought his shy eyes with hers.

 

“Is that what you want, Ben?” No shame, no accusation; just pure motherly concern. “Never to be seen or heard from again?”

 

Ben was careful. Both he and Hux already knew neither of them would ever be welcome among the rebels; if that had ever been a viable and potential plan to begin with. Would there even be a Resistance after this? Would the scrappy little band of freedom fighters need to exist without a bullying force to oppose it?

 

“I can’t come home.” Whatever home was, Ben Solo wasn’t sure anymore. Dolefully, those chocolate eyes heightened to the ones he'd first ever looked upon, so full of hope, excitement and love; now... he wasn’t sure what they held. “Not after what I've done.”

 

That seemed to be a given, particularly when his mother nodded slowly in understanding agreement and didn’t try to argue otherwise. Under scrutiny, he continued timidly.

 

“Even if I could, I don’t think I’d want to.” Leia didn’t flinch, unsurprised but Ben powered on, despite not really knowing what to say or how to say it. “There is.... another path... that I’ve already missed out on so much of; to an agonizing degree, now that I know of it’s existence.” Finally, he dragged himself out of his wallowing musing to level himself with his mother once more.

 

“Even if there was another option, I'd be taking this one. I’m going to where I can make a fresh start, to people who have never experienced Kylo Ren, where I’ll be accepted despite him. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll find something else.”

 

The General, the elder General, tapped the table slowly in deep and clear consideration with her concentration solely on the stained wood. What if it was too good to be true? More often than not, if something appeared that way, it was just that: too good to be true. But there was something about this strange encounter, something else that she trusted inherently; something omnipotent and omniscient that told her to take this opportunity. If she did, never to be seen or heard from again might not be so definite and concrete; she might not lose her son after all.

 

“How can I trust you?” Leia asked penultimately, eyeing one then the other with something that wasn’t quite suspicion, but she had definitely softened since she first sat down. “How can I believe any of this is true? Why should it be?” There was no proof, not as such; only their word. And, with everything they’d done, why should she take it? It was only when Hux licked his pallid lips and cast an uncertain sideswipe at Ren would Leia have an answer; a very personal answer.

 

Armitage’s alabaster hand had just reached the breast pocket of a non-descript, non-uniform trench coat when an aged and ringed hand shot up and suspended in mid-air. He kept going, knowing the command was not for him but those on either side who watched for a potential weapon being drawn. It was a weapon alright but not one that would harm Leia.

 

“This is my wife.” The redhead disclosed, hushed and subdued as he withdrew the same holoprint Ren had scrutinized the night he’d come to fetch him; the one of their wedding day. Placed on the table and facing towards her, Leia did her utmost not to look shocked and as she stared, Armitage took that opportunity to try and settle any unwanted emotions. “If I have been following it correctly, and I think I have, she’s nearly eight months pregnant.”

 

Leia lost the battle of repressing her facial features with that last revelation. General Armitage Hux was not someone she had ever seen herself pitying but up until the evening previous, she’d never seen herself sitting down to a meeting with him either. Armitage swallowed too, barely managing to keep a better hold on himself than Leia but the production of the holo saw the cracks begin to show.

 

“I have seen her once since she discovered the pregnancy alone at five weeks and that was when she was six months gone; I had no idea until then.” If that swallow and pleading of a single eye didn’t sway her, nothing would and every inch of it sang with legitimacy. “I want to be a free man to return to her; to be there to help her, comfort her and spoil her when our baby is born. You understand that, surely?”

 

Leia did, she went so far as to wish Han had been so focused and determined around her pregnancy but thought better than to voice it.

 

“Alright….” General Organa straightened and returned to business-mode but kept that edge of new-found compassion that she couldn’t seemed to shake. “For now, we cooperate. If everything is as you say it is, you got yourselves a deal. Can you stay in touch?” A quick glance between the two males, as if disbelievingly delighted, cemented their success.

 

“We can meet you here again; same time and place in the next standard week?” It was good enough; from one General to another.

 

They parted with an amicable nod and a pulling of Organa’s lip towards her cheek as she let her gaze linger on her son, like the barest ghost of a smile. Only when she was well and truly gone did Hux soothingly gulp his drink and Ren collapse back into the almost criminally dirty booth; relieved and exhausted from the pressure and its sudden release.

 

“You know….” Ren started, upon a glance at his wrist, the tone catching Armitage’s curious ear. “We have time for a quick stop before we’re due back….”

 


 

 

“Where'd you come from?”

 

Thankfully, her reaction from his previous visit was not repeated. Instead, she received the command-strong arms enveloping her torso and their possessive guard of her bump gratefully. Shuffling back into his grasp as much as her swollen form would allow, the familiar kiss to her shoulder and nuzzle to her hair almost made everything feel alright.

 

“I don’t have long.”

 

“If you’d woken me sooner, I’d've fucked you.”

 

“I have explained this numerous times: not every visit carries an expectation for physicality, that is not why I married you.”

 

“Yeah but I haven't seen you in nearly two months; mount up. Just…. Gimme a sec, it takes a bitta time to turn over…” Naturally, the lone eye rolled in the darkness as he felt her shift under his arm and listened to the symphony of the bed creak. It never creaked like that so a new mattress would be his first port of call after the baby arrived; for hygiene reasons if nothing else.

 

“Nalesse, you're almost eight months pregnant and half asleep.”

 

“....And?”

 

“And I’m not going to ‘mount up’.” For her own comfort and his responsibility of her comfort, he felt it his duty to decline.

 

“The right hand is doin’ it’s job, so?” Nalesse finished turning over just to deliver the personal touch of eye contact during her teasing. And to actually see his face when all she’d looked at was holos in the last two months or so.  Naturally, he took that opportunity to sate his own brand of loneliness with a much-needed kiss.

 

“Stop being petty.” Nestling closer; nose to nose, forehead to forehead and chest to chest, it was impossible for one not to know the other had missed them dreadfully. “How are you? And bump?”

 

“If you wanna talk about petty, your kid waits till I fall asleep to start kickin’ me.” With his previous visit in mind, it was only natural he might hope to have more interaction with his brood; his hand stretched across the bump anyway.

 

“Definitely my child.”

 

“Well, who the fuck else’s is it gonna be?”

 

“Do I detect defence, Nalesse?”

 

“Fuck off, Arm.” How could he not allow himself that little puff of laughter? Especially with the irritated tut that accompanied it? He was so close to having this again permanently, he could almost taste it; but for now, he would need to make do with holding her as close as he possibly could for as long as he could.

 

“You’re absolutely huge.” The bump, he meant the bump.

 

“Fuckin’ cheers. What d’you do to your hair?”

 

“I cut it, I had to.”

 

“You look like a prat. Sound like one too.” True, the accent had resorted back to the default of typical Imperial and its rolling r’s but without her influence to counteract it, there was no controlling it.

 

“Not to worry, that will right itself when I’m home a week or so and Mort will be merciless if it doesn’t. As for the hair, I have every intention of growing it out again when I come back; I find my neck gets cold without it.”

 

Nalesse settled torso to torso with Armitage, enough for the bump to prod his belly but his hold remained. Her head graced just below his chin, enough for it to affectionately rest among the curls until his cheek took a turn to burrow in and snuggle deeper.

 

“I love you.”

 

“Love you too….” Companionable silence enrobed them until…

 

“Is it endin’ soon? When’re you comin’ home?” There was no definitive answer as such yet. Yes, the meeting had been positive but Organa could completely change everything in the next standard week.

 

“We made a deal with the Resistance.” Armitage parted with the information hesitantly; not for lack of trust but a fear of getting her hopes up and the tilt in her head upwards fuelled that fear. “They’re going to help us when the time comes, take credit for what we’ve done and let us slip away from the carnage.”

 

“So…. You’re defectin'?”

 

“No, not defecting, we’re-!” With a sigh and a controlling inhale of patience, he reminded himself not to taint the visit with something stupid. “We’re leaving and coming straight here. Before the baby is born, with any luck.”

 

“Uh-huh….” Not entirely convinced of his definition of defecting, Nalesse opted to move on and change the subject. Sort of. “And what ‘bout your father? He’s behind this little tryst with the Resistance, is he? The cunt.”

 

“My father is off on a fairytail run-around in the Outer Rim and I’m going to keep him there as long as I can.” Keeping him out from under his feet, so to speak. “I’m sure he and Sloane will have plenty to discuss while they’re looking for something that doesn’t exist and turning up no results.”

 

“It must kill him that you’re above him now.”

 

“I’d rather something did actually kill him but who knows? There might be an accident over which I had no control.”

 

“My fuck, that wouldn’t satisfy you and you know it.” She was right. Satisfaction would come with looking his father in the eye before striking the devastating blow himself; more to the point, his wife knew it.

 

“You should rest, love.” He tried to placate but having her body so close to his with knowing how to read her, he wouldn’t have to persuade her much. “The baby uses a lot of energy, I’d imagine.”

 

And it’ll be easier on both of us when I have to leave.

Chapter Text

Six and a Half Months Previous

 

 

Why had food become such an issue? Why had staying awake become such a problem? Why was the thought of sitting propped up in bed with a plate of food in front of her vomit inducing? Only she knew as of a few hours previous. But Balor didn’t know and so, the worry heightened when he sat at her side and having only just placed the plate down.

 

“Less?” He sounded so far away, like he always did before she was about to drift off again. “Less, come on, love; you need to eat something….”

 

“Don’t wanna….”

 

The Abyssin grimaced and removed the plate of food; simply put it off to the side, out of sight, out of mind. It whittled at him; every minute of every hour of every day that she was like this, wasting away to nothing. No explanation, no encouragement, no reassurance; it made it all the worse to watch her deteriorate.

 

“Sweetheart….” Balor’s gentility was uncharacteristic, both in the softness of his voice and the way in which he stroked the waning ebony locks; a plea if ever there was one. His rescuer, his little girl, his daughter without blood or genetics was barely responsive and slept more than she was awake. But the medic, with the technicalities of medic/patient confidentiality, refused to part with the diagnosis to her ‘father’. “What did the medic say?”

 

Naturally, she was reluctant to answer; knowing what she did and how it would change things.

 

“Nothin’.” Drained, the only way to describe that hollowed croak on the edge of dropping off again. “Genesis actin’ up, I’m fine.” The Genesis affected her in different ways; her unchanging weight, her menstruation (or lack of it), her paper-thin skin and of course, the obvious symptom of her unique eyes. But the Genesis had never left her so in such a dire condition; on the verge of death, Balor feared. Naturally, the doubt prevailed.

 

“That’s not it, baby girl.” He uttered as her eyes flickered shut once more and he felt the urge to crumble. “Less…. Come on, talk to me, tell me….”

 

“Promise you won’t be mad?” Immediately, Balor’s huge, hulking form straightened like the familiar sensation of a vibrowhip had struck him in the rear. Progress.

 

“I promise, LessyLoo; you have my word….” Why had he reverted to using her childhood nickname? Maybe because now it required urgent reassurance she hadn’t sought since then from him and he was desperate to provide it. “Why would I be mad?”

 

Nalesse was hesitant, even if the dormant nickname did comfort her and helped her reflect on her own situation a little. Would she concoct little nicknames like that? Would she be so doting and eager to comfort her own like Balor comforted her now? Shifting among the abundance of blankets, the female readied herself for one hell of a confession.

 

“I’m pregnant, Bal. Nearly six weeks.” Balor, to his credit, did his best to pick his jaw up off the floor; metaphorically, of course. Nalesse wasn’t sixteen, she wasn’t single but she was still his baby; his baby who was now having a baby of her own. Perhaps. His little sweetheart was unreadable with exhaustion; her breathing shallow and eyelids shuttered with no expression of the positive or negative. Though he was not Nalesse’s biological father, fatherly concern had always come naturally to Balor. But he had never felt it as strongly as he did when he looked upon her now and for her sake, he remained calm but vigilant for any hint of what she might be feeling. Nothing.

 

“Right… And how do you feel about that?”

 

“I’m still adjustin’…” She admitted slowly, as if she articulated it as it occurred to her. “But I’m really happy. I think it’s somethin’ I’ve wanted for a while.”

 

“That’s that established.” Balor replied with a blossoming of relief in his chest; at least she was happy. Now for something more pressing. “Does Arm know?”

 

The relief was fast deflating when Nalesse’s eyes opened, slowly but surely, and she stared ahead; as if she chose her words carefully to not infuriate Balor.

 

“No, he doesn’t. I kinda had my suspicions before he left but… I didn’t say anythin’.” Before he could interject, Nalesse continued in the same wearisome drone, born of inanition but carrying something barely akin to emotion. “Bal…. the baby is important. I want my baby to be healthy and arrive safely and-“

 

“You’ve got to eat for that, Nalesse.”

 

“I know and I’ll try but…. if Arm doesn’t want to be partta this, we’re not gonna make him.”

 

“Why-?”

 

“Somethin’ he said before. A long time ago but if it comes down to choosin’, the baby comes first; my baby comes first.” He could understand that; there was nothing quite like parental dedication, but he couldn’t ignore the flare of incensement with her choice of words. Clearly, she knew something he didn’t and the implication of it stoked an aggression he hadn’t held towards his son in law in quite some time.

 

“I’ve got your back, little one; like I’ve always done.” That tiny pull of a smile made that paralysing plague of distress almost worth it; to look upon it made it feel like everything might just be alright. “I’ll be the best damn grandad that kid could ask for; whether its father sticks around or not.” Perhaps the next question was delivered through gritted teeth more than Balor would have liked but it seemed Nalesse was too close to sleep again to notice. “Want me to find him?”

 

“No.” Resolute and sure, she was almost her old self again and so, returned the squeeze of Balor’s massive hand (that she’d only just noticed held hers). “And I need to be the one to tell him; he deserves that much. If he wants out, we give him an out; no threats, no blackmail, no violence, no findin’ him. I want this; if he doesn’t, that’s fine but him not wantin’ this is no different to me wantin’ it, it should be respected either way.” Did it hurt her that she might lose her husband if she kept her baby? Of course, but she couldn’t force him and her child had already become her priority. “I’d rather be alone than resented for puttin’ him in a one-sided situation. If he chooses not to be here, it’s his loss, not ours. Now gimme that plate.”                                                          

 


 

 

Present Day - Majestic

 

“I got your message.” Neither of the two traitors adhered to the security protocols in the others chambers anymore, they were in too deep for those formalities. Ren’s curiosity, however, pricked when he entered and found the redhead in a trance; glass in one hand and something else in the other. “Hux?” No response yet though he suspected the faint whiff of Millaflower had something to do with it. Cautiously, he edged around the chair until he was mere inches from his General and poked him in the arm. The result came in a jolt of his body and a bite of indignance from the fright; as if he’d had no previous warning.

 

“Where the fuck did you come from?!”

 

“You commed me, remember?” Ren replied, unable to restrain the sudden amusement at his counterparts alarmed fluster; making himself comfortable on his usual armchair to watch the rest of it. “You said you had something to show me.” Armitage had said that and only now, did he recall it. Panic subsiding, the redhead began to relax as his brother in law (of sorts) helped himself to the usual decanter of the usual whiskey in the usual glass; amazing how quickly things can become a habit, isn’t it? “So? What is it?”

 

The thing in his hand; the flat, square object was blank from behind but from the front, from Armitage’s point of view, was everything. As if disinclined to hand over the mysterious object, the General was slow in his lean forward, the extension of his hand and ready to reprimand should Ren handle the precious paraphernalia too roughly.

 

Ren didn’t. He handled the holo-print like Armitage had; like the priceless thing it represented but as the Knight stared down, he didn’t have the heart to tell him he’d already seen it.

 

“Nalesse gave it to me before I left….” Doleful and soft, his eye never left the little square in Ren’s hand, the ultimate comforter for the final (and most difficult) leg of the journey; as if pleading, without asking, for it to be returned to him. “That’s my baby, Ren.”

 

Mort had barraged Ben with a number of things on his brief visit but the one that induced the most excitement had to be the little image on his beside table; the one that matched this one exactly. Not a trained medic, it was impossible to tell the sex just by looking but all the essential parts were there and that, he assumed, was the most important thing.

 

“Wow….” Scrutinizing the holo, he used it to hide a playful smile; a very untypical thing for Ren but it seemed Mort had had a very (positive) effect already. Right down to the humour. “Looks just like you.” To laugh, for both of them, was not something they associated with the Order, Finalizer, Supremacy or even each other; but there they sat and chortled at the silly joke. “Boy? Girl?”

 

“No idea.” Armitage sighed placidly as he leaned forward again to retrieve the cherished holo, the one that Ren gently held aloft. “But I’ll tell you what I told Nalesse. I don’t care what it is as long as they’re both alright.”

 

“Not a boy?” Ren pressed with a lifted eyebrow and the barest inkling of a toying smirk from behind the rim of his crystal tumbler. “I thought the Imperials were partial to sons?”

 

“She said that too, almost word for word.” The redhead noted contentedly as he tucked the holo away into his breast pocket; right over his heart. “And I’ll tell you now what I told her then: I’m not an Imperial anymore.” The words weren’t most inspiring but Kylo Ren nodded along regardless.

 

“Never really noticed that.” Ren chimed, off topic as he indicated to Armitage’s ungloved left hand with his glass; the General curiously turned it to over investigate but found nothing out of the ordinary.

 

“Noticed what?”

 

“The ring.” Mystery solved but how the Knight had never noticed, he couldn’t be sure. Features melting from their previous perplexity, he took a moment to regard it with fondness before reacquiring his own glass.

 

“I’m a happily married man, why wouldn’t I wear it?”

 

“But…” The questions were imminent, and Armitage braced himself with amusement when it was Ren’s turn to be quizzical. “Do you have it on all the time? Under your gloves?”

 

“No, it gets too hot; it’s usually in my breast pocket until I retire for the evening.”

 

“Okay but…. Why? In case someone sees?”

 

You and Mort are going to do just fine.” The General retorted, coy and impish, as his darker counterpart descended into another bout of almost-laughter; he wasn’t far behind and the next answer would deepen the mirth. “No, when we first got married I was, of course, caught up in elation of being newlywed and so decided I would make an effort to remind myself of that by wearing my ring at all times.” Cue the suspense-crafting sip.

 

“I learned my lesson quite quickly when, after my first command as a married man, I returned to my chambers and stripped my gloves; only to find my finger had swelled up like a balloon and I couldn’t get the ring off.” The (true) story had the desired effect when Ren’s cheeks puffed up and his lips curled together while his chest convulsed in a silent hold of laughter; it was contagious.

 

“I spent an hour-!” Armitage regaled, on the verge of loud, coughing glee; fuelled by Ren’s eruption. “Running my hand under cold water to bring down the swelling! And when, in my panic, I commed my lovely wife to show her what had happened, do you know what she did?!”

 

“No, what did she do?!”

 

“She laughed! Merciless cackling! Funniest thing she’d ever seen!” With that, Ren crumbled and doubled over as Mort had a habit of doing; whether the Knight realized it or not. Armitage was right: They would do just fine together. “That’s not the end of it!” The redhead bellowed over the howling and clearly enjoying this as much as Ren did. “That’s not the fucking end of it! Then, she goes and gets Mort! Now, Mort- You’re going to learn about Mort! My unborn child has more maturity than Mort Bowdane! Mort has a delicious chuckle for himself over the finger I was terrified I would have to go to the medbay with; and then, suddenly, no more about it. It’s never mentioned again, it’s not a running joke; nothing.” Intrigued, Ben sat forward while Armitage lubricated his throat with more whiskey before carrying on.

 

“So I hear nothing, from any of them. Until our first anniversary when I receive a holo-greeting, on the bridge, of my swollen fucking finger. With the caption: Side Effect Of Marriage.” Disdained just by reliving it, his lone eye rolled while Ren attentiveness disintegrated into more raucous appreciation. “Son of a bitch had recorded the transmission, saved it then had it applied to a holo-greeting a year later. Thankfully, whatever way he routed it, he did it through my own com so I could intercept it before it could be broadcast to the whole bridge.”

 

“That is absolute mastery.” Ren choked, on the verge of tears and while this experience had been an overwhelmingly positive one for himself and Armitage; he couldn’t help but miss Mort that little bit more now.

 

“Not to worry.” Armitage placated as he sat back, almost as if he could read his companion. “We’ll be back with them soon. How are you with nappies?”

 

Chapter Text

Kylo Ren was dead.

General Hux was dead.

 

Both had met a fiery, explosive end when their escaping shuttle was shot down; in vengeance of the Hosnian System, the Battle of Starkiller Base, the Battle of Crait and everything in between.

 

Some four hours later when the smoke stopped billowing and the electronics stopped sparking; the sole occupants, the supposedly destroyed, no longer lay limp in the cockpit.

 

The beautifully orchestrated stunt went off without a hitch, from the careful shot to just the right part of the wing to the bracing cushion of the Force. Armitage could safely say it was the most petrifying undertaking of his life as there was no guarantee of survival; but, they had done just that: survived. If Poe’s aim had been even slightly off, if Ren’s concentration had wavered for even a microsecond... Armitage Du Sade would not be coming home. Neither would Ben Solo.

 

Now, two sets of footsteps dinned on a different stannic floor but no accompanying words from the two males, two overhauled identities, that walked side by side. One returned home, the other was making the portable commune his home for the first time though he already felt like he belonged there.

 

The ship basked in silence save for the low hum of cooling engines and the lights on low as if their arrival had been hopeful for some time; these little preparations were a token of welcome home. The ex-General escorted his colleague to the top of the southern corridor where Mort unconsciously waited.

 

“Well, Ben.... I'll see you in the morning.” The no-longer alien sentiment was shared with a subtle nod while they both revelled in the established familiarity.

 

“I guess so. I'll see you tomorrow..... Armitage.”

 

With the newest crew member shown to his (shared) quarters, Armitage could finally retire to his where his expectant partner waited though she would have no idea that tonight would be the night of his return.

 


 

 

The mere thought of parenthood had gotten him through his final months on Supremacy; he excitedly combed through his mind of all the things he wanted his son or daughter to have that he never had and while loving parents were the most important, they were a given.

 

He wanted to spoil them. He wanted the best of everything that his child could ever need or want; food, clothes, toys and whatever else he could think of. If it meant he had to work countless hours in the worst conditions on the most dangerous of jobs, he would do it in a heartbeat to provide as a father should.

 

Elation simmered in every step towards the northern quadrant of the ship, where he’d lived in absolute bliss for a year before being forced away. His barely voluntary absence had been reasonably (if half-heartedly) advocated by his other half in favour of a new life with his old one firmly behind him. What she didn’t know, however, was how a Resistance aided “death” would fit that perfectly. Defeated in the “knowledge” that he was “dead”, any pursuers would concede to the cold trail and leave him to be a husband and (as he later discovered) father in peace.

 

To his overwhelming delight, he arrived at the bedroom door while lost in his delirium. The day before the due date; a day earlier than promised, an extra day to nest with Nalesse and enjoy each other before their carefree lifestyle changed forever.

 

He'd thought about that too: the labour, the birth of his child. In his spare hours of unmonitored holonet connection, he researched tirelessly of what to do and what to expect though he’d come to appreciate every birth was different.

 

Would he be given the opportunity to cut his son or daughter's umbilical cord? Would he have to wear certain attire to even be considered to be allowed into the birthing area? Would Nalesse have to be taken to a medical facility, a more sterile environment? If that was indeed the case, he already had the closest one to the freighters current coordinates mapped out with an approximate time it would take to get there. And the name of the best medic available on the tip of his tongue to boot. His hand was prepped for contraction squeezes, his mind ready for agony-driven insults and his ears braced for screaming; he was as physically and mentally primed for the labour as his fascinated midnight research would allow him to be.

 

When the door swept back, however, the bed was empty though the blankets seemed recently rumpled. Curious, Armitage stepped into the low light of the bedroom where, to a small twinge of disappointment, he noted a cot had already been purchased and assembled but better to be prepared, he thought. Another mechanical whirr of a door from his left sweeping back snagged him; he hadn’t caused that one. To follow the noise and bow to curiosity was natural but said curiosity gave him his best gift yet in the form of a tousled bundle of black curls and frame dominated by a bump at the entrance to the refresher.

 


 

 

Still sore all over, barely able to walk unaided and seemingly permanently exhausted; Nalesse was eager to return to bed to resume her sleep drenched state. However, she had a stop to make before she could do that; not that her husband was aware of it.

 

Not afforded time to scream, cry or even open her arms; he was on her in a second. In as close as the bump would let him, he swallowed her to his chest as if he hadn’t seen her in years (it certainly felt like it) and just held her like he’d been waiting for months. His lips were still cold as he desperately pressed them to random patches of her face and judging by the sniffles, she could accurately assess that he was on the verge of tears.

 

“I'm back.” He barely managed with a whimper caught in his throat that was replaced by another kiss. “It’s done. It’s over. I'm free.” He stole one more kiss them sank to his knees and clutched the bump in both hands before carefully placing his forehead against it. “I'm home, little one. I promised I wouldn't miss you and I haven't....”

 

“Uhh.... Arm?” How could she do this delicately? The way he looked up, so hopeful and excited, plucked at her pity and to take it away from him bordered on cruel but....

 

“I had the baby yesterday, love. There’s nothin’ in there but fluid….” That eye!

 

Gnawing on her bottom lip out of sheer pity of her husband's forlorn display but it had been completely out of her control! She’d tried to “hold it”; she’d tried to cross her legs but that didn’t work when her bladder failed her and she needed to relieve herself but didn’t want her baby born in a toilet! So she assigned Mort to com the nearest medic station and they had someone out to them in less than an hour; a kind Rodian midwife who was well able to cope with screaming and swearing. She mistook Mort for the father but that was the least of their worries.

 

“But....”

 

Dejected, like it still wasn’t making sense, he leaned back on his heels and away from the empty bump. How? He was back in time; early, in fact….

“I went into labour early, it wasn’t-“

 

“Where is....” It finally clicked when his head swivelled and landed on the cot. Bingo. The cot was literally only temporary storage during Nalesse’s frequent trips to the loo; her baby slept with her because (in her own words) “I'm fuckin’ paranoid ‘bout cot death” but it wasn’t just that. As corny as it may have sounded, Nalesse loved that mini heartbeat snuggled next to hers. It was one of the things she loved most about being pregnant, it was so comforting; particularly when her husband wasn’t there.

 

“Tell you what.....” Numbly fixated on the cot, the seemingly menial thing with a massive role that took him by surprise; he barely noticed the kiss to his temple. “Have a quick wash to make a good impression and we'll be ready when you come out, yeah?” Still utterly forlorn, Armitage hesitated before he started to shuffle to his feet with incoherent mumbles of agreement. “Just dry yourself really well and don’t bother with a pyjama top.”

 


 

 

Quick showers had always been a preference (unless Nalesse was present, in which case he tried to draw them out as long as possible) but now, a quick shower had never been such a priority. As soon as the blood, soot and sweat had washed away, he bolted to dry himself. He never questioned the strange request of no pyjama top; not when there was something far more important at the end of it. Towel drying his hair to the very best of his ability, he cast the towel aside then took a deep breath before ambling out to meet something, or rather someone, that would change his life forever.

 


 

 

Emerging from the refresher, Nalesse was the first thing to catch his eye; standing guard by the cot.

 

What was left of his demeanour began to fray and emotions started to swell but still, he proceeded with a noticeable tremor; everything changed now.

 

“Lie down. Sit up. Get comfy.” He did so when she jerked her head towards the bed and leaned against the top of the cot; watching to ensure he did so to her standard. Satisfied, Nalesse leaned down and Armitage’s heart climbed into his throat as she lowered herself; his nerves beginning to deteriorate.

 

“Heeeeyyyy, CrankyBoots.” Hoisting the miniscule body against her shoulder and cradling it gently as she cooed through the protesting whinges; Nalesse looked and sounded more alive than he’d seen her in a long time. “C’mere…. There’s someone who’s dyin’ to meet ya.”

 

Armitage swallowed but it wasn’t enough; instead of the moisture going down his throat, it sprang to his eye and dried his mouth. This couldn’t be real; the little thing he’d fixated on in his wife’s arms. It moved, it made noise and had Nalesse’s undivided attention but it couldn’t be real.

 

“Y’ready?” That tenderness was different in anything he’d ever seen in his beloved smuggler and Armitage forced a breath; a deep one to replenish his lungs and fight back a sob. He managed a single, rapid nod as he tried to ignore his decorum coming undone without his say-so. “A’right.”

 

Nalesse skirted the side of the bed with Armitage’s growing obsession attentively enveloped in a blanket that he was too distracted to recognize. The redhead seemed to blank, as if his mind couldn’t register what happened next and before he knew it, the weight on his chest was settled under Nalesse’s supervision.

 

“Just…. Relax, yeah?” It was automatic, for a guarding hand to cross over the back of this tiny being though Armitage could do nothing but stare and pant. “Well?” Nalesse pressed gently from over his shoulder, having returned to her own side of the bed. “You gonna gawp or are ya gonna say hello to him?”

 

And just like that, just like he made the discovery of this delicate creature, Armitage couldn’t hold back any longer; he crumbled.

 

“Please don’t cry, love… Please don’t cry, please don’t- Ohhhhhkay….”

 

There was no restraining it so why try? Not when such a gargantuan thing had happened without him and the outcome of it perched so peacefully on his chest.

 

“He?” Armitage choked on the word as his windpipe suddenly failed him, his nasal passage clogged out of nowhere and the slight sting as a salt-soaked tear snagged a fresh cut on his cheek. The tremble in his hand was unfortunate but unavoidable as he loosened the blanket for a better look. “He…. That’s a boy… We have a son…?”

 

“We do, yeah. D’ya like him? Not disappointed?” Perish the thought. With his breathing still with a mind of its own, Armitage managed to study to squished up face nuzzled into the folds of the blanket; heat clearly his priority, like his mother. Eyelids shuttered and expression dreamlike, he dozed, blissfully unaware of his father’s emotional turmoil. Even at rest, matchstick-like fingers flexed experimentally and his mouth would move in an incoherent greeting; not to mention the inherited crown of dark hair that had made Nalesse proud.

 

“I couldn’t be disappointed.” Armitage forced, with his mind still not fully cooperating but ogling still. “Not in a million years…” Braver, the ex-General adjusted an arm beneath his son and inched him closer; enough to bring them forehead to forehead and begin forging that connection. “I can’t believe how tiny he is, Nalesse….”

 

“He came outta me, Arm. He had to be some bit compact.” So deep in delirium, Armitage barely caught the humour and when he finally did, the moment had passed to laugh. “Here….” Nalesse leaned in, using her husband’s torso to brace her weight as her hands busied to open the blanket; then spread it across the child’s back and over Arm’s chest. He shifted to resettle himself, the baby did, but soon found his comfort; the comfort Armitage couldn’t believe he was worthy to provide.

 

“Have you named him?” Chancing a kiss to the top of his son’s head, where he rested mostly on his collarbone; Armitage needed him close. Only then did he notice the smell and remember that there was such a thing as a smell of newborn baby.

 

“I did….” Nalesse hesitated from her husband’s side where she oversaw the interaction with a melting heart. “I’ve been callin’ him Shan but if you-“

 

“Shan it is.” Resolute, the new father indulged in another cuddle; mindful of the intensity he put into the squeeze. “It suits him. I knew you would pick a name that suited him.”

 

“You sure?”

 

“Absolutely.” The redhead smothered the need to reshuffle himself, purely out of fear of distressing the baby. Shan. “Rest, darling. I’ll take it from here.”

 

“Well….” Darkness had since swallowed them, bade by the controls on Nalesse’s side of the bed. “He’s bein’ breastfed so g’luck with that.”

Chapter Text

“Wait a minute….” Showered, with blood-sodden clothes in the corner and ready to be dumped, the male stalled in drying himself to regard his partner with outright confusion. “So…. Out of the thousands of credits I sent you, you didn’t touch any of them? Why? That’s why I sent them; so you wouldn’t go without.”

 

“Not my credits to use.” Mort replied with a benign shrug from the bed but Ben’s puzzlement remained; such loyalty alien. “Said I’d mind ‘em till you got back but I wasn’t gonna use ‘em.”

 

“Okay…..” The darker of the two accepted the pyjama bottom he was handed; this bed was a mostly unfamiliar one but rest was too tempting for it to bother him. He started to pull it up his legs and the elastic hugged his waist; Mort gave him the indirect privacy of looking at his own hands. “Well… What are we going to do with them?”

 

“They’re your credits.” Mort reasoned, looking up when Ben sat to test the bed. “So whatever you want.”

 

“Well, I sent them to you because I wanted to.” Ben countered, sinking into Mort’s open arms with relief and closing his eyes at the kiss to his temple; this kiss meant his new life was laid out ahead of him. What to do with the credits though? “What if…” Maybe it was a premature suggestion. After all, he knew nothing about the situation and maybe it wouldn’t be taken kindly but he wanted to give a gift. “What if we get some things for the baby? Then set up an account somewhere and put the rest into it? It’ll be his when he’s older.”


“Could do.” Mort agreed, impressed as he thought about it. Nalesse hated charity but… it wasn’t for Nalesse and maybe she wouldn’t need to know about it. “’ Case he wants to do some fancy learnin’ or somethin’. That what you wanna do with it?”

 

“You know what?” Decided, Ben lowered the lights and snuggled in to the beginning of something wonderful. “Let’s do that.”

 


 

 

Silence.

 

Absolute silence.

 

The most blissful and golden of noiselessness in the warm, dark room; a den of security and unconditional love. Devotion, from the moment he had stepped into the Nest, began to weave and replenish itself; not just for father and child but husband and wife too.

 

Even though the new baby slept atop Armitage’s chest with a large hand guarding his back, the redhead’s attention was not undivided. Cozied to his side and under his protective arm, Nalesse stayed as close to her boys as physically possible and caught up on the much-needed rest. Her husband, however, was not at such ease.

 

With a mixture of terror and awe, Armitage regarded the delicate thing in his grasp with his remaining eye. To say he loved Shan was a frustrating understatement, there were no words for it; to accurately portray just how much he adored this little boy. For him to be in pain was unthinkable, for him to be frightened, absolutely incensing and hungry or cold just weren’t an option; Armitage would do whatever it took to prevent any of those things from happening.

 

Had his own father ever felt like that? He doubted it severely and even more, Armitage could never even imagine treating this little fella like his father had treated him; to even consider it was vomit inducing. Not to mention, Nalesse would kill him where he stood and rightly so.

 

He'd watched her, the same woman who had dumped the head of traitor on his desk, cradle their baby against her shoulder and speak to him oh so softly, cooing and comforting him when he whinged or whimpered; no one would believe it was the same person.

 

Mammy, that’s what she called herself. Mammy’s here, she’d pledge when she cuddled him close to soothe him, Mammy’s gotcha. Mammy’s little man. And really, would mother have suited her? No, that was far too formal for his Nalesse.

 

So deep in his musings of how things had already changed to the extreme, Armitage hadn’t noticed the curious ogle from below; the ogle radiating from crystal blue eyes. Eventually, the stare became coordinating, with blinks almost synced and astonishment mutual. Expectantly, the minute fist balled and the already-crinkled brow furrowed; no doubt a non-verbal interrogation of the new face.

 

“I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced.” He murmured to the new-born, who he still clutched like the most precious thing in the galaxy; perhaps it is more accurate to say as the most precious thing in the galaxy. Armitage registered what he needed to say but his brain and tongue agreed that both the sentiments and the words were bazaar. “I’m…. I’m your father.” Yes, they sounded and tasted funny.

 

“You’re not his father.” Unintentionally mirroring his son’s mini brow-crease, the fiery head turned to the sleepy uttering from beside him; a third party he hadn’t even realized was awake.

 

“What are you-?”

 

“You’re not his father.” Nalesse repeated; the words chilling Armitage’s blood and sending his thoughts scattering. Hauling herself up, her husband relinquished her as if the very touch of her was electrocuting; the new mother didn’t mind. Before an explanation could be demanded, Nalesse chimed in, dreamlike. “Anyone can be a father. It takes someone special to be a daddy. You’re his daddy. Your father was your father and look how that fuckin’ turned out.” With that fair point made and accepted, Armitage relaxed; he would gladly be a daddy.

 

“Don’t scare me like that, will you?” The apology was unconventional, like the rest of her; a weaselling of her still inflated form back under his arm. Naturally, he allowed it. The press of a kiss to her forehead elicited a low purr of utter contentment, even if she did seem exhausted still.

 

“Y'know what’s crazy?” When Armitage looked, he found Nalesse’s lavender gaze trained on her son and in it, a level of devotion deeper than any she'd ever looked at her husband with. Did that upset him? Absolutely not. He felt the same way.

 

“Do tell.” He opted to share in her fascination: The little creature oblivious to everything around him, his doting parents included.

 

“In all the vile, depraved-“ Armitage closed his eye, already regretting asking the question. “Filthy, disgustin’ things we’ve done; that’s the result. And he’s the purest fuckin’ thing I’ve ever seen.” A valid point, even if his stomach did coil with cringe.

 

“Like…. D’ya ‘member when we were foolin’ ‘round with those Imperial uniforms-“

 

“Oh Maker, Nalesse, please don’t….”

 

“Doin’ our bitta roleplay-“

 

“Please, darling; I’m begging you. Don’t-“

 

“And you said you’d put a son in me?” Armitage sighed, realizing his pleas had fallen on deaf, sleep-clogged ears. “I didn’t think you were serious, like.”

 

“Was that….” Something dawned on the redhead; maybe not hugely important in the grand scheme of things but with Shan as the new centre of his universe, it was certainly something worth knowing. “His conception?”

 

“Well….” Nalesse shifted in the bed with an accompanying squeak, preparing to impart the results of her thought process on the matter from the last few months. “T’be fair. We had a lot to make up for when you were feelin’ better and then some so it well could’a been but it’s hard to tell; there was a lotta sex, Arm.” A valid argument.

 

Somewhere towards the end of that explanation, Shan started to fidget; getting angsty, much to his father’s horror when he realised he didn't know what to do. However, as always, the reliable Nalesse stepped in; sitting up (having hauled her bump-laden form) and outstretching her arms. Armitage hesitated until his wife pressed him; he wouldn’t learn if he didn’t try.

 

“Here. Gimme Mind his neck.” Shan went from one chest to another though the latter substantially more comfortable than the former. “He’s hungry.” The dipping of the neckline of her nightdress suggested as much and the sudden appearance of just one creamy breast cemented the suspicion. “He’s always hungry, he’s gonna fit in here just fine.”

 

As he watched, Armitage recalled what she’d said; about their filthy antics producing something pure. Now, he witnessed something in the same vein; his wife’s breasts fulfilling their most natural function without any arousal at all. As if she read his mind, Nalesse spoke without looking up.

 

“You’re sharin’ these now so you need t’be careful of ‘em.” Armitage’s response was tittered (pardon the pun), having missed this kind of humour. “It’ll be a while, mind. Any sort of activity is gonna be off the table for a few months.”

 

“I understand completely!” Armitage yelped, unable deliver that assurance quickly enough; the look of mild amusement went unnoticed as he sat bolt upright to declare his undying support for the hiatus and his wife’s recovery. In his hurry, the ex-General portrayed panic, that she might assume sex to be his priority; despite her mentioning it, not him. “Of course! It’s only natural you will be sore and uncomfortable and not in the mood and-!”

 

“It’s not even that, love.” Nalesse interrupted conversationally while Shan suckled, oblivious to the topic. “It’d be like droppin’ a banana in a sarlacc pit at the moment and I dunno ‘bout you, but I actually wanna be able t’feel it so…. Let’s wait till the stitches do their job, yeah?” Armitage paled at the mention of ‘stitches’ but before he could voice his (borderline frantic) concern, Nalesse continued. “The nicknames’ve started a’ready.” She looked up from Shan again; the adoring smile seamless as it travelled from her son to her husband. “Meals in Heels is what Mort’s callin’ me now.” Did that surprise him? Not in the slightest.

 

“I imagine he’s been very hands on?” Armitage assumed, significantly calmer and taking the opportunity to observe breast feeding for the first time.

 

“Oi. Eye up here.” He obliged but the mirth (in response to hers) was constant as spirits ran high on their reunion. “He has, in fairness. He can’t do enough; he was on’y gone an hour or so when you ‘rived back actually.” That was something though he’d expected nothing else from the close-knit group. “He’s been so sweet. Like, more than usual. And Bal and Dray but Mort’s been unreal. Even the birth-“

 

“Yes, how was the birth?” Armitage knew that fold of her lip, the crinkle of her nose, the punctuation of dimples on either side of her mouth and the narrowing of her eyes; whatever she recalled, it was entertaining.

 

“Well… Like everythin’ else ‘round here, not without its drama. Buckle up and listen to what your fuckin’ son did to me.”

Chapter Text

Eighteen Hours Prior to Return

 

“Mort?”

 

It wasn’t the first time she'd woken him and it probably wouldn’t be the last. But exhaustion dictated a halt in his usual accommodating nature when being woken in the middle of the night was concerned. Turning over to distance himself as much from the disturbance as possible, Mort delved into the opposite pillow. Nalesse, however, was relentless.

 

“Mort?!”

 

“Fucks sake; what, Less...?”

 

“My waters broke.” Either too deep in slumber to grasp the gravity of the situation or just generally ignorant of the terminology, Mort didn’t move.

 

“I’ll fix ‘em t’morrow.”

 

“No, Mort! My waters broke!!”

 

“And I said I’d fix ‘em t’morrow! Go to bed!”

 

“MORT!!!” The sudden bark riled him to jump and while she had been considerate before with her volume, the time for consideration was over; no escape now. When he finally did sit up and open his eyes, Mort was faced with a very pregnant thunder. “GET UP AND GET THE FUCKIN’ MIDWIFE!! THE BABY IS COMIN’!! GET YOUR FINGER OUTTA YOUR ASS AND MOVE!!”

 

With that lightning bolt to the behind, Mort had never moved so fast in his life.

 


 

 

“Holy fuck….!”

“Motherfucker!”

“Fuckin’…. AGHHHHHH!!!”

 

The next time Mort tried to convince her that getting kicked in the balls is more painful than childbirth, she was going kick him in the appropriate part until he managed to eject a child.

 

And they just stood there. Watching. Like it was a fucking spectator sport.

 

"Does it hurt?" If looks could kill, poor Mort would be dead ten times over in the last three seconds. One lavender eye twitched and Balor and Draven swiped each other a look; as if trying to silently decide between them what they were going to do with the blonde’s body.

 

"Mort…." Panting, seething, between utter physical trauma and fury; the only thing stopping Nalesse beating him to death herself was the bump that had been hindering her for the last few months. “I’m about to push another human bein’ out of my fuckin’ vagina. DON’T ASK ME IF IT FUCKIN’ HURTS!!!” Another contraction squeezed her and the urge to punch someone to share her pain was almost too strong but Mort was too far away. “Oh my fuckin’ God. Seriously. Fuck this.”

 

“Too late now, Less.”

 

“SHUT THE FUCK UP, BALOR!! I KNOW IT’S TOO FUCKIN’ LATE!! WHERE THE FUCK IS MY FUCKIN’ HUSBAND??!!” On her feet but too crippled with agony to do anything or go anywhere, Nalesse stood, bent over her bedside table and gripped it for support. The other hand cradled the bump and, despite her own disquiet, tried to comfort the bombarding pushes to her ribcage; Smallie was getting distressed. “I know, sweetheart, I know…. I’m doin’ my best.”

 

Trying to breathe but everything hurting, Nalesse’s brain function didn’t quite extend to why her family loitered in her bedroom while the midwife prepped her equipment. Thankfully, said midwife had the foresight (from years of experience) to break up the gathering.

 

“You.” The Rodian (who had introduced herself as Yara) directed flawlessly at Draven. “Clean towels; off you go. You.” She rounded on Balor. “Hot water, please.” Mort, fearing the same ejection, jumped in before Yara could assign him a duty.

 

“D’you want anythin’, Less?!” Mort offered hurriedly as Balor and Draven trailed out to do their bit. “Somethin’ to eat?! Cuppa?!”

 

“Can I have a cuppa?!” Nalesse bawled at the midwife, doubled over but lifting her head enough to almost plead with the only other present female. Yara looked up from her bag, bewildered. “Cuppa tea?!” She clarified before the Rodian could ask.

 

“Do you think you could stomach one?” Nalesse didn’t answer; her watering eyes had trained on Mort.

 

“CUPPA!!”

 

Cue scarpered exit: Mort.

 


 

 

Balor and Draven had (as attentively as their hulking forms would allow) hoisted Nalesse and eased her cautiously onto the bed. The more comfortable position, however, made no difference to the howling from said bed.

 

“FUUUUUUUUUCK!!”

 

“’Member that time she got stabbed?” Mort reminisced, drained, after four hours, thirty-seven minutes and eleven seconds of screaming; clearly not a patch on how his sister was feeling. “I don’t think she screamed like this….”

 

“I don’t think you can really compare them, Mort.” Balor replied, just as expended, when Nalesse’s roars had become background noise. “She’s being ripped open from the bottom up so I don’t think it’s the same thing.”

 

“Fuck…. Yeah, forgot ‘bout that.” Balor thought better of asking just how Mort could forget something of that magnitude; or at least he would have if his daughter’s chest-wracking sobs didn’t distract him first.

 

“It hurts, Bal…!”

 

“I know, love.” The bed sagged as the concerned father sank a knee onto the mattress beside his little one; his helplessness deepened at the tears welling in their lavender hosts. “But think about why you’re doing it. You’ve been talking about this since you found out….” The cyclops paused before conceding to accuracy. “When you were awake anyway.”

 

Another reverberating snarl terminated that part of the conversation.

 

“It’s nearly time, so if I can just have the father present, please.” There was a look of outraged confusion shared by the non-humans as they were hounded towards the door and Mort was herded towards the bed.

 

“He’s fucking not-!”

 

“Yeah, I fuckin’ am!” Mort shot a look to silence the scandalized Devaronian and closed the rest of the distance by himself. “That’s my wife! That’s my baby, dammit!” Nalesse said nothing; she probably hadn’t even heard him over her own tormented shrieks.

 

“You a'right, Less?” He asked, hushed, when he arrived at her side. Automatically, he took it upon himself to gingerly stroke the sodden strands of ebony from a sweat-soaked brow. Face red, eyes clamped shut and breathing in rhythm with how she'd been taught; Nalesse was a state.

 

“Where is he, Mort?” The powerless whimper cut through him, particularly the contortion of agony in her features when Yara told her to push again. “He said he'd be here, where is he?”

 

“Baby's early, Less.” Mort reasoned, at a loss for another explanation over the pitying sound of yet another sob. “He doesn't know. If he knew, he’d be here.” He took on the duty of a father-to-be and coiled his hand around his sister's clammier one. “But I’m here. He'd want me t’be so you're not on your own.”

 

“Am I gonna die? Feels like I’m gonna die.” She might not have looked her best but Mort knew one thing: Nalesse was not going to die.

 

“Bitch.” Hopefully the humour would be infectious. “How many times’ve you looked death in the face and skipped off without a scratch, huh?” Thank the Maker for that strained pull of a grateful grimace, no matter how brief; if he could take her mind off the crippling pain for even a second, it would be one second less. “You're not ‘bout to get taken out by your own sprog, you can do this.”

 

“Remember your breathing.” Yara interrupted firmly from between Less’ open and bent legs. “Baby is about to crown, one more push.” Nalesse gave it everything with the symphony of struggling growls.

 

“Baby is crowning.” Yara announced a moment or so later with a small smile; one of the parts of the job she loved before looking to Mort. “Would you like to see?” The blonde whitened then greened; the idea of looking into his half-sister's birth canal not appealing in the slightest.

 

“Uhh... Yeah, no, I'm good, thanks.”

 

“Almost... A few more pushes now, you’re doing fine.”

 

“OhmyGod, OhmyGod, OhmyGod...” Yet another holler of absolute torture; then another, and another, and another. Until Yara leaned forward, her face twisted with confusion and concern. Nalesse sensed the foreboding first.

 

“What’s wrong....?” Weak, spent and completely exhausted but edging into panic, the captain forced herself up as much as she could while Mort looked between the two, baffled. Nalesse stared, petrified when Yara hadn’t budged from between her legs. Dread flooded her and the lack of response certainly didn’t help; she descended into terror at the noiselessness of the bedroom. “Why isn't there cryin’, what’s goin' on?!”

 

Yara didn’t answer. Instead, she leaned in and busied herself in the post-birth procedure of cutting the umbilical cord; something she would usually have reserved for the father but urgency dictated. Especially when the new mother got (understandably) more hysterical by the second.

 

“What’s wrong?! Tell me what's wrong?! Is my baby okay?!”

 

Into a nearby towel, the tiny body was bundled and Yara surveyed it with a professional eye. A little boy; much smaller than expected with his little arms curled around his face. He was still but when the midwife looked a little bit closer, she swept him to the waiting basin of warm water; this needed to be rectified.

 

“I’ve been in this business a long time.” She began without turning back to the crumbling mother and the “father" who was in the process of comforting her while trying to keep himself contained as well. With her back to them, there was no way of seeing the relieved disbelief. “But I have never seen this. Heard of it, never seen it.”

 

“Seen what?!” Mort chanced, on the verge of frantic tears from Nalesse's side. His sister had already disintegrated into muffled, distraught wails into the pillow; resigned to the loss of the baby she’d done her utmost to protect and already loved dearly. Lack of information and a breezy midwife combined to borderline incensement for Mort; a usually docile being, but not when his sister’s breathing faltered for weeping. Wanna tell us what’s goin' on insteada bein’ all fuckin' cryptic?!”

 

“Look.” One simple instruction but it was enough to have Mort on his feet. He witnessed the ever-so-gentle lowering of the baby; still purple, wet and covered in patches of blood, into the water. Mort watched, apprehensive, but it turned to pure, baffled relief when the baby started to squirm and whine.

 

“What....?”

 

“Little one slept right through the birth.” She surmised with the closest thing he'd seen her exhibit to amusement in the hours he'd been in her company. “That’s rare. A story to tell in years to come. Did the water wake you, sweetheart?” She cooed as she began to wash away the fluids and Mort scurried back to Nalesse. “I’m sorry but you need to be clean before your mother meets you. You’ve had her very worried, you know.”

 

“Smallie's okay!” The fresh uncle hissed with an abundance of excitement, having reappeared at the bedside; much to Nalesse's worn out incredulity. “Slept though the birth! Right through it!” Then he took off; to tell the others, she assumed.

 

Mort didn’t tell the others. Not yet. He was gone a little over a minute when he came trundling back with something very familiar in hand. And just in time before the baby was wrapped in a non-descript, non-sentimental white blanket.

 

“Nononononononono....” He loosened the blanket in his arms; the one of black gaberwool that had gone missing from the bundle, the one sent by the baby’s real father some months previous. “This one. Gotta be this one.” The dark-haired beauty in the bed followed Mort’s movements as he produced the blanket, the one that had mysteriously absconded from the collection; stupefied.

 

“Where'd you get that...? I thought I lost it...”

 

“Took it while you were sleepin’ las’ week.” He replied, grinning at the look of sheer dishevelled wonderment; a very Mort thing to do. “Got it cleaned; nice'n’professional, like. Just thought it'd be cosier, y'know?”

 

“Girl or boy…?”

 

“Ah now.” The roguish boyishness would annoy her; even more so when she was still glowing with pain and hadn't met her own baby yet. “You said you wanted a su’prise.”

 

“Mort.” Baby wrapped and placed into his ‘father's’ arms, Mort stared for a little while; endeared especially by the thick crown of dark hair. Perhaps the danger in his sister’s toiled voice hadn’t registered yet, not when he couldn’t tear his eyes from his brand-new nephew. “Girl. Or. Fucking. Boy.” Wary of exerting the matriarch after a difficult birth and already aware of her extreme temperament, Yara felt it prudent to minimize the distress. To that end, she eased the child from Mort before he could antagonize her further.

 

“Somebody kicked their way out early to meet you. Then got tired and needed a nap.” Yara soothed both mother and child simultaneously; the result instant when Nalesse was reunited with her baby, externally this time. The minute pressure of the tiny form pressing on her torso set off something else; a level of devotion that (even during her pregnancy) she never thought possible. The subtle, comfort-seeking writhe and the low whinge as the infant settled against his first and fiercest guardian’s chest plucked at her and the waterworks started to give way. But there was still one vital piece of information; one thing she had nearly forgotten about in the midst of the birth, the perceived complications and actually seeing the contents of her bump for the first time. “You have a beautiful baby boy.”

 

The combination of hearing those glorious words and resting her watering, lavender gaze on her son sent her lip trembling and her emotions scattering. He was absolutely perfect. Already drenched in blood (from the waist down, at least), sweat and tears, Nalesse’s eyes refilled but for a completely different reason. The look was mutual: purple on crystal blue and the air of curiosity, positively enchanting; only a few minutes old and already, he set her heart aflutter. The exhale of lungs drained by shrieks, howls and sobs was slow; steadying in a bid to keep some bit of control over herself. She knew, however, that venture was futile.

 

“Don’t scare me like that….!” She wept, holding him as close and as tight as she could without discomforting either of them. “You can’t scare mammy like that, it’s not on!” Smallie had gravitated to relaxation; a relief for Nalesse, as she had fret on if he would accept her or not. He clearly had. He basked in familiarity; from the heartbeat drumming beneath him to the gruff if besotted voice all around him to the body heat radiating to match his own.

 

“And he’s a’right, yeah? There’s…. There’s nothin’ wrong? He was jus’ asleep?” New mothers asked these questions all the time, usually flustered like Nalesse was then so Yara answered as she went about the rest of her “tidy-up”.

 

“He’s positively perfect.” She assured while she dug through her bag for something else; Nalesse was too wrapped up in the little noises her son made to question it. “He’s somewhat smaller than he should be but other than that, he’s wonderfully healthy.” His size didn’t concern the pirate queen but something else did.

 

“Uhh….” The smuggler’s space was invaded once more; the space between her legs specifically and even doting on her son couldn’t distract her from it. “Fuck you doin’?”

 

“You need to be stitched back up.” Oh yes…. The stiches that she’d mentioned to Armitage and Mort, how could she have forgotten? Again, the midwife was patient and Nalesse wasn’t as aggressive as she could have been. “Wouldn’t want you bleeding out now, would we?” Fair enough.

 

“No, good point.”

 

Yara conceded with a nod and went about her work. Mort re-joined her, on a high, as he parked his arse on the very corner of the bed.

 

“Fuckin’ hell, Mort...” Nalesse started with a saturated sigh and tears still flowing. “Can you believe it?” Mort, as he had a habit of doing, got his wires crossed and puzzlement prevailed.

 

“I know it’s another fella to leave the toilet seat up ‘round here but y'don't have to cry ‘bout it, like-”

 

“I'm happy, you dolt.”

 

“Look at that, you’re watchin’ your language a’ready!” Thankfully, the stitching didn’t take long and when the Rodian straightened with the deed done, she addressed another issue. Before Nalesse could formulate a creative way of assaulting her brother without disturbing the baby, incidentally.

 

“He’s going to need sustenance soon.” She began conversationally, cleaning her equipment with a strong-smelling disinfectant in a compact bottle. “Have you-?”

 

“There’s a Biscuit Baron jus’ down the road.” Mort chimed in, thinking he was helping; looking between the two females, but unable to understand why they weren’t more receptive. “I’ll get ‘im a Jolly Meal…. What d’those cost these days?” Yara, assuming Mort was joking, paid no heed, while Nalesse cringed internally.

 

“Have you decided on how you’re going to do that?”

 

“Yeah, I’m gonna breast feed him.” Nalesse replied with blatant certainty, stoic in giving her small-fella unrivalled nutrition “I want him to have the best.”

 

“A good start.” Yara agreed kindly but hovering, bag packed, and waiting to be dismissed. One nod from the head honcho and Mort was on his feet to release the door.

 

“Find the Abyssin.” Nalesse instructed, without lifting her smitten gaze from the glass-like form she'd been entrusted with. “He'll pay you.” It would be the only time she dipped into the money Armitage had sent her without him. Left alone with only blood relatives, Smallie revelled in outright bliss; an object of fascination without even realizing it.

 

“What're ya gonna call ‘im?” Nalesse hummed her ambiguity, though Mort noticed the pull at the very corner of her mouth; a tell-tale sign if ever there was one.

 

“I had Shan in my head.” She confessed softly, enamoured by every micro-movement and dream-deep twitch. “Shan for a boy.”

 

“Tha’s a Tatooine name.” Mort recognized it, having heard it before but couldn’t recall where; perhaps Nalesse herself. “Good name. Strong name.” The blonde ogled a little longer, utterly captivated and enthralled until… “When’s he gonna open his eyes?”

 

The ridiculous question prompted a heightening of perplexed sight; as if she wasn’t quite sure she’d heard him correctly.

 

“What?”

 

“His eyes. When’s he gonna open ‘em?”

 

“When he wakes up?”

 

“But….” No, that couldn’t be right. That’s not what he’d heard. “I thought he was gonna be blind for a while? Two weeks or somethin’?”

 

“That’s cats an' dogs, jackass.”

 

“No, babies too.”

 

“Baby cats an’ dogs, ya gowl.”  

 

Agree to disagree, the silent consensus was there. Normally, they would have argued the point but with the latest addition, they found themselves too infatuated to pursue it.

 

“Arm’s gonna be fuckin’ weak for ‘im.”

 

“Watch your fuckin’ language.”

 

Chapter Text

Present Day.

 

The breakfast gathering the next morning (almost afternoon) was the most generously catered in quite a while. Balor had gone to extra expense and trouble to secure Besnian sausages, nuna bacon, ganza eggs cooked in various forms, bunn and poptree syrup with toast and bantha butter. There were not very many vegetables among the abundance of meat on the breakfast table.

 

The new mother was not present (still in bed with Smallie, one of his already many nicknames) and Armitage was readying to depart with her portion and his packed away. But for now, he enjoyed a quick cup of caf, a cigarra and banter with his brothers.

 

“Meant to say it t’ya.” Mort began conversationally as his knife slid flawlessly through the succulent flesh of his ganza omelette with his new (and old) partner at his side, enjoying the same dish. “We need a new med droid.” 

 

“That’s been true for a long time, Mort.” Armitage retorted, carefully selecting another doughnut to satisfy the tail end of Nalesse’s cravings. Curiosity, however, got the better of the officially dead General; Mort usually advocated that the droid was fine. “What happened to the old one?”

 

“Well….” Mouth barely empty, he explained the change in heart. “The droid scanned Less after Shan was born and tol’ us she was dead.”

 

“But....”

 

“Yeah, no, she was far from it.” He continued, stabbing a breakfast mushroom (an exception to the vegetable rule) and shovelling that in to placate the empty hole in his face. “Which is why she got up in a mix of adrenaline, hormones and jus’ pure fuckin’ temper and bayt the shite outta it with the closest thing to her which happened to be her IV stand.” Casually, a sip of caf was taken to aid the passage of the pulverized breakfast while Armitage choked on a lungful as the image unravelled itself. “Turns out whoever had it b’fore us programmed it to beg for mercy, who’da thunk it?” Yes, he could see that happening alright. “Las’ time I checked, it was still sparkin’ in the hold so.... Might be worth lookin’ into if we’ve got a raw baby on board.” Ben shifted beside him but Mort took no notice.

 

“Very true. Of course.” Armitage agreed with automatically the best for his son (the very idea of him still sent the butterflies scattering) at heart; and Mort seemed to have the same. “We will see to that immediately.”

 

“Speaking of the baby.” Draven, an experienced father of several years and three children, began his inquiry. He’d just received his own omelette from Balor and edged past where Armitage leaned on a vacant chair to sit down. “How was your first night with the little fella?”

 

“Terrifying.” The redhead replied, enamoured; hindsight was wonderful, but he’d learned hugely from it. “Nalesse gave him to me for some bonding exercise-”

 

“Skin on skin?”

 

“Yes! Shirt off!” Familiarity had registered and it wasn’t just a strange request. Not that he was any stranger to strange requests where his wife was concerned.

 

“Yeah, she said she was going to, alright. Works well, extremely well; we did it from the start.” Like Mort, Draven divided his attention between his meal and his colleague but unlike Mort, he had the grace not to speak with his mouth full. “Some people said it was hokum, it’s not.”

 

“I know you're quite close to your children.” The redhead remarked with a note of sympathy. Another visit would no doubt be imminent for Draven; prompted by Shan’s birth to see his own wife and children. The big, bad Devaronian cherished them equally and his wife as much as each of his offspring.

 

“Oh yeah, couldn’t even piss when my youngest daughter was born; she was on me constantly.” The fleeting look of (borderline hurt) confusion required clarification. Why was Shan not inseparable from him like Draven’s daughter had been from her father? “My wife wasn’t very well after her, hence why she’s the youngest.” He explained, in a bid to ease the forlornness. “I had her a lot; born into my arms, so she was. My little fucking angel.” That explained it; the connection was forged from the start.

 

Armitage didn’t see the subtle nudge from the newcomer to his partner without looking up from his breakfast. Mort had assured him: “You’ll be fine. They’ll love you.” But with trust issues abound, Ben was still meek and closed off; even though Balor and Draven had been nothing but accommodating and inclusive since he first met them that morning. Ben couldn’t be sure what they’d been told, about him or his past, but they greeted him regardless when he slinked into the lounge after Mort only a few hours previous.

 

Ben had woken in panic; his brain disorientated for the briefest second when he didn’t recognize his surroundings and agitation ensued. Until Mort appeared, fully dressed, at the refresher door and everything slotted into place with a wave of calm. “You’re way too thin.” He remembered Mort saying, the squeezing hug doubling as a physical examination; to assess what he needed to fix. “C’mon, le’s get you fed.”

 

Ben had never had Besnian sausages; a delicacy in themselves. Besnian sausages aside, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a sausage of any kind. Kylo Ren had survived on the basic, bare minimum; taste was not a factor in his sustenance. As long as his body had enough nutrition to lay waste to everything around him, that was all he needed and protein packs were sufficient for that purpose. That morning though…. He’d seemed lost when he stared, helpless, at the wealth of food inflicting its weight on the ancient, second-hand table in the lounge. The conflicting aromas had all vied for his attention but, knowing nothing about indulgence as such, he hesitated. Mort, of course, rectified that for him when he loaded up a plate and placed in an order for two identical omelettes with the cyclops chef.

 

A familiar face appeared just after the eggy pancake was placed before him; another one-eyed male who arrived to congratulatory declarations and embraces from all around him. He spoke, chuffed and proud, about the baby and it unearthed a conversation Ben and Mort had had the night before; before he conceded to exhaustion in the arms of his new partner, at least. Hence the nudge.

 

“So uh…” Armitage glanced from the selection of iced pastries at his brother in law’s interjection while the kettle boiled; Nalesse liked her tea scalding. “We were talkin’ ‘bout it and Ben wan-“ Ben shook his head, subtly but alarmed when his name was mentioned; enough for only Mort to see out of the corner of his eye. He didn’t want to impose his will on these people. In his mind, still plagued with inadequacy, guilt and fear, they didn’t like him, they simply tolerated him; despite the warm reception and offers of refills of caf and food since he finished his first plate.

 

And if that was the case, why would they even give a second thought to what he wanted? Perhaps, wanted was too demanding. He would certainly have liked to have been invited to see the baby; on their terms, of course. Mort knew this, knew the mental anguish he would have to contend with if he was going to separate Ben Solo and Kylo Ren once and for all and amended his sentence accordingly.

 

We were wonderin’ if, later on if Less is up to it, we could pop down and see the small fella.”

 

“Oh of course.” Armitage replied without reluctance as he made the final choice and placed the last doughnut in the smaller box; Ben exhaled in relief. “You know Nalesse; eager to show him off. And she hasn’t met Ben yet.” Perhaps the relief was premature when a stressed inhale immediately followed the mellower exhale. How had he forgotten that?! The matriarch, the captain, the one his fate rested with?! Mort had grudgingly parted with the information, her proviso, that Ben must be accepted by all before he could stay but he had quickly added that, again, he would be fine and the others would love him.

 

As if his brain had disregarded the welcome and Mort’s so-far accurate assessment of the beings he already knew so well, Ben fretted. She would know him to be dangerous, she would know him to be a threat and she would treat him as such by casting him away. Paranoid? Slightly.

 

“Ben?” Beyond the lids he hadn’t realized he’d shut, Ben heard the gruff accent that folded around his old (and new) name in such an endearing way, calling him. It seemed, in his disquiet, he had missed a vital portion of the conversation. “C’mon and finish your omelette, we’re gonna go see the baby.”

 


 

 

“Wait till you see this.” Mort was hushed as they walked the hallway to the bedroom; they loosely held hands, to acclimatize to commitment. “You’ve never seen devotion like this. If anyone even looks at tha’ child wrong, she’ll fuckin’ kill ‘em.” He nodded to the redhead leading the way, keeping his voice low. “He’s as bad, Less said. Hella protective.”

 

“He hid it well. All of it.” Ben agreed, maintaining pace. “I knew nothing of a family, of a wife; not until he left and I needed to find him. He was passionate about your welfare through his own secrecy, I’m not surprised he’s protective.”

 

Armitage began to slow, preparing to stop without upsetting the breakfast tray as the bedroom loomed.

 

“What's.... What's that smell?” The odour was strange and strong, lingering in the corridor and Ben tried to be discrete with the question that could be deemed offensive but Mort was far more blatant.

 

“Yeah, Arm!” He pressed with accusatory notes and the redhead half-turned, pink-faced. “What’s that smell?!” The blond already knew.

 

Armitage pretended to busy himself with balancing the tray on his knee against the wall but Mort would be relentless, he knew that.

 

“Flowers.” He confessed sheepishly, scanning his hand then reorganizing his grip on the tray when the door pocketed itself to admit them. “Nova lilies, to be precise. I had their delivery scheduled for today, her actual due date, but I selected them from a holo-logue. I chose them on the basis of their colour and vibrancy, I had no idea of their…. potency.”

 

“They’re not in there with her though, are they?”

 

“No.” Armitage’s voice dropped before he crossed the threshold of the warm, dimly lit room; the others followed suit in path and courtesy. “They’re down the hall, in another room. We felt it would not be prudent to have them in the same room as the baby when he’s so delicate.” A fair concern.

 

The room was spacious enough. Balor had sacrificed one of the larger rooms for his teenage daughter’s comfort; particularly when every time she returned from a flea market, she had some new(ish) item of clothing. It served them well many years later to cater to the larger beings who entered to visit said daughter’s brand-new baby. Like Mort and Ben.

 

The darkness was not accidental. Lack of movement (when his eyes began to adjust) and conversation suggested that maybe just then was not an ideal time to impose themselves. Ben looked to Armitage, who pottered around placing the tray and removing his boots, for some sort of indication of what the visit would entail. Mort sat nearby, already trained on the lump in the blankets; as if knowing what to look for and where.

 

A curious, chocolate gaze followed the redhead as he crouched down beside the bed; the side closest to the refresher. He surveyed with intrigue as his former General reached in and tenderly rearranged a few obstructive, ebony corkscrews from a face he hadn’t even noticed among the explosion of textile colours adorning the bed.

 

When she roused, coming around slowly to tentative strokes to her cheek, she looked dazed as she sluggishly entered the waking realm.

 

“You alive, mama bear?” Ben turned at the mischievous chime from beside him. Mort’s head had tilted and his mouth had stretched into a fond twinkle; the birth of the baby and his sister’s vulnerability had unlocked an extension in his nurturing side.

 

“Fuck you doin’ here.” Ben would soon learn that the apparent impatience was a brandmark of their own kind of fraternity; being so heavily involved with each other that sweet gentility and genuine caring just seemed false and insincere.

 

“Came t’see you and the small fella while you stuff your face.” Armitage had shifted back on his heels and spied, doting, something Ben could not see yet and Mort had already seen. “Arm brough’ your brekkie so we’ll mind Smallie while ye’er eatin’.”

 

“Here, allow me.” The redhead rose and almost doubled over to reach into the layers of fabrics; much to the disapproving squall of the little creature he'd just disturbed.

 

“Mammy's here, lil man!” She called with something akin to stress and having woken fully to reassure him; scrambling up to follow Armitage with eyes like a Farlus hawk. “I'll get you in a sec!”

 

“Wanna start cuttin’ those apron strings, Shan. You’re a man now, lad.” Mort remarked, a blunt sort of jest but accepted the helpless form into his arms nonetheless and softened as a consequence when his eyes dropped downwards. “Hey pal. Y'a'right this mornin’? Sleepin' well, yeah? Did daddy wake ya? He’s awful, idn’t he!” Ben felt himself gush internally, listening to the adoring coos Mort bestowed on the newborn; was there anything more attractive than a caring man? He may not have asked himself that question before but now, having witnessed it, he had decided on it without querying it.

 

“Make another comment like that and it’s you I'll fuckin’ cut.” The testy reply came as the matriarch surveyed the tray; still hindered by the somewhat (but not fully) deflated bump. “Those apron strings are fine where they are.” The blond simply snorted and adjusted the coveted infant enough for Ben to finally lay eyes on him; without realizing that he, in turn, was being watched.

 

Ben could only assume that the tuft of dark hair had been gifted from the baby’s mother; it certainly wasn’t from his father, nor was the squished, button nose. The ivory skin could have come from either or both but the newest addition (the former Kylo Ren had technically arrived after Shan) gawped as he tried to recall; when was the last time he’d seen a baby? One as young as this one at only a day old, at least? How was he to know that, in just over a year or so, it would be charmingly commonplace to groggily wake and find two smaller (and colder) feet pressing against his back? Probably woken by the movement of Mort trying to modify the bed invader to comfort with the minimum disturbances.

 

 

“Here, I’ve held him loads.” Ben looked up a little quicker than necessary; the request was unexpected, of course his reaction would include apprehension. Mort noticed. “It’s easy. All you gotta do is this. Don’ worry, I’m right here.”

 

Why had he been so terrified? Once the baby was re-settled (and he was so placid!), there was literally nothing to do only ogle and enjoy the warm weight in his arms; a strangely calming thing. Fascinated, Ben found himself enraptured with this delightful little being who, if Mort was to be believed, could sleep anywhere and anytime; regardless of the goings on around him. It seemed he had drifted off again and trusted his new uncle(?) to safeguard him while he dozed.

 

“He’s tiny.” Ben commented, folding his lips into each other as if it might help him restrain the smile; it didn’t. The Knight, beguiled by the restful flexing of fingers and micro expressions to dreams, did not foresee the interruption.

 

“Never seen me standin’ up so, have ya?” It took a moment; a moment to realize that he was the one being addressed but Nalesse waited, cup poised and attention trained. Until, of course, no one else responded and the air had frozen around Ben. In some delayed reaction and fear starting to stick again, Ben’s eyes heightened in the dread that he had said or done something wrong. His gaze found her, petrified and like a tautaun caught in the headlights.

 

“It’s a joke.” She clarified, tilting her head to portray some sort of assurance; she wasn’t used to this, being taken seriously. “He’s tiny, I’m tiny, he came outta me. Get it?” Purple irises slid to Mort who sighed; trust Nalesse to be too extreme on the first meeting and potentially scare off his boyfriend. Humour was still alien, inclusivity was still alien and ruthless but loving undercutting was also alien; Ben had plenty to acclimatize to. That said, he would learn quickly, and Mort and Armitage had already made a start in educating him.

 

“Oh.”

 

“You’ll get used to it.” Returning to her breakfast, she could only hope he would do just that; he’d have to if he wanted to fit in and therefore, stay. The time had passed for a formal introduction; mutual threats had been made and both already knew the other. Now all they had to do, was become established with each other, maybe even bond. For Mort’s sake, they would certainly try.

Chapter Text

Nineteen Months Later.

 

Armitage Hux (sorry, Du Sade) had endured an extremely stifled childhood; if it could even be called that.

 

He was not allowed to play; suffocated by protocol and duty instead, even from a very young age. The redhead had been controlled, any sort of flair asphyxiated in exchange for submission; to be compliant and unquestioning at all times. He spent his early years (after being ripped from his mother) shadowing his father and learning how an Imperial man should behave, regardless of age. To grow and learn as a child should, was not an option. He knew no better; it was drilled into him that this was what he would become and this was how he would conduct himself until the day he died. Quite simply, he was broken.

 

While Armitage had been smothered, his own son was not quite as downtrodden.

 

“Lads?”

 

The cargo hold was busy; crates being opened, sealed, unpacked and dismantled so the wall mounted transmission was just about heard. When they did catch it, each individual paused their work.

 

“Yes, love?” Armitage answered his wife’s bodiless voice, deactivating the crate cart to donate his full attention; ignoring the dull thud as the hover-packs powered down and the carrier met the ground. “Are you alright?”

 

“Yeah, I’m grand but uhhh…. Has anyone seen a bollock naked toddler, by any chance?” If that didn’t induce a hold-wide eruption of laughter, nothing would. Folding his lips tightly inward, Armitage then cleared his throat before he addressed the speaker.

 

“He escaped again, did he?” Then Mort burst from behind, right into Armitage’s ear that caused a flinch.

 

“HOW’D THAT HAPPEN, LESS??!!”

 

“He was on the bed!” She objected, indignant as the roared guffaws increased. “I turned ‘round to get his nappy and when I turned back, he was gone! Lil fucker is slipperier than a buttered Gungan!”

 

“LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON!!” Draven bellowed and the mirth exploded to an annoyed tut from the transmitter.

 

“Cunts. Seriously, the child is-!"

 

Wait....” Ben twisted to the open hold door, stripping off his work gloves as he padded as lightly as the steel-toe caps would allow; the rest heeded him. One poke of his dark, shaggy head into the corridor before a quick withdrawal yielded the craved answer and a face twisted with amusement. Said amusement came from the gradual ruckus of stampeding and giggling from the hallway; somewhat muffled behind a soother. “Yup. Naked as the day he came out.”

 

“Can someone grab him, please?! He’s just outta the bath and I’d rather he didn’t get a cold!” Ben had retreated, leaving Armitage closest to the door and therefore, the first to swing into action. The toddler’s father shrugged off his work-worn trench coat; mid-swoop, just as Shan barrelled over the threshold, and enveloped him in the material before his exposing rampage could go any further.

 

“Streaker has been apprehended!” Armitage announced to the wall transmitter as the bundle squirmed and howled its protests in his arms; much to the joviality and playful applause of everyone else present. “We’ll be finished soon, Less; I’ll-“

 

“You’ve on’y one more crate t’do, Arm.” Mort chimed in, cutting him off. “Take ‘im up and get ready for tea. I’ll do the last crate f’ya and we'll join ye when we're done.”

 

 


 

 

 

Washed, fed and watered, the toddler’s evening was drawing to a close with nothing left to be done only watch his favourite holoshow. Engrossed and serene, Shan had lost himself in an episode of Moon Peace he’d seen a hundred times before. The fictional holoshow of a war among the stars was a staple of a child his age (and of all ages); this little redhead was no exception. Mort had spread his love for the show and now, Shan obsessed over it as much as his uncle did.

 

However, movement from the corner of his eye registered; it was so routine, but upsetting nonetheless. The mere sight sent him spiralling into a tizzy when he spied his father; boots, coat, eyepatch and blaster secured to his side. He was leaving.

 

“No!” Flustered, the toddler attempted to scramble into standing on the sofa, panting and on the verge of frantic tears while Armitage sighed; he’d forgotten one, imperative instruction. “N…No work! No work, daddy!” Shan’s eyes welled, threatening to spill and his bottom lip quivered in the classic display of overwrought anguish; despite knowing his role model always came back.

 

“I thought I said not to let him see you?” Nalesse emerged from the kitchenette just in time to see Shan crumble with his arms outstretched, mid-beg, to his father. “Y’know how bad he gets.”

 

“No work!! No go!!”

 

“Oi….” Balor, Draven, Mort and Ben waited for the last of their party; it was the captain’s turn to babysit while negotiations were made in an unseemly tavern. Her task would now be made infinitely more difficult because her husband couldn’t do as she requested: Don’t let him see you. It also meant leaving a distraught Shan in his wake but for now, he seated himself on the sofa beside the infant. “C’mere….” With the frail form, easily his greatest creation, heaved into his arms and chest against trembling chest; the child was clutched in some attempt to console him. “I have to go to work.”

 

“No!” A devastated hiccup punctuated the wept protests while Nalesse exhaled in the background. “No....Work!” Armitage’s arms encircled the almost porcelain body as his son sobbed, so despairingly, into his tunic; almost enough to make him change his mind. “Daddy…. P’ease….!”

 

“But how am I going to pay for your nutbutter addiction if I don’t go to work?” The eldest redhead pressed the smaller one quietly, separating them by a mere few inches to look into the watering eyes he had proudly passed on. “Hmm?” His father’s gentle and comforting grimace had the intended effect as the sobs devolved to sniffles and a larger hand wiped Shan’s tiny cheeks.

 

“Yeah…..”

 

“And think about tomorrow. What’s tomorrow?” It was the same every week, the child needed no prompting but his breathing was still in the midst of recovery from gasping.

 

“Jolly meal….”

 

“Jolly meal, that’s right; just you and me.”

 

“’Kay….”

 

“We’ll go to Biscuit Baron; and what’ll you get in your Jolly Meal?” Maybe not overly fond of the food in Biscuit Baron, Armitage frequented the establishment for his son’s sake; for the coveted Jolly Meal and the collectable toy that came in each box. However, it was mostly for the quality time that they spent together; an immeasurable improvement on Armitage’s own father/son relationship.

 

“Chic’n bites…” He already knew that answer; if ever Shan deviated from his beloved chicken bites (just how much of them were actually chicken was a mystery), Armitage would assume him unwell. With his only offspring significantly calmer, the Ex-General stood with his fire-haired brood still in his arms.

 

“I’ll be back after you go to bed.” Scarcely accepting of the reality, Shan looked no less heartbroken than he did before and his eyes remained glassy and tearful to add to the guilt. “If I get a spare minute, I’ll com mammy and see if you’re awake, alright?” The toddler still clung to the front of his tunic, hesitant to let him go; devotion, if ever there was devotion.

 

If not, I’ll make your breakfast; tea and banana and nutbutter on toast?” Another staple. It seemed that was the best deal that could be struck and Shan took it. Hesitantly, he relinquished his grip on his father and was passed into his mother’s arms but he still watched dolefully while Armitage ensured he had everything. With his equipment accounted for, Shan was kissed on the head then his mother; far more purposefully on the lips.

 

“No cantina sluts!” Nalesse warned staunchly as he walked away but the challenge caused him to retrace his steps.

 

“There’s only one cantina slut for me.” He replied, low and longing before another strong kiss was exchanged; Shan simply sighed, immune to his parent’s over affection and never knowing them to be any different. “And I domesticated her a long time ago.” Still as magnificent as the day he met her; over seven years and one child later, sometimes it was still difficult to look away. “I love you.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, love you too. Now go make me some money.” She retorted with a tugging smirk and the responding chuckle from her husband as he tried (and succeeded) to exit a second time. “Pay for your Goddamn child!” Shan’s morose little wave was the last thing he saw before he went to do just that.

 

“C’mon, Fox Cub.” Less opted for the distraction of her exceptionally clever child; both inspirations of the nickname had been inherited from his father. “We’ll rewind Moon Peace before we get you ready for bed.”

 


 

 

“I don’t understand how you can just leave him.” Fretfully incredulous, Ben descended the ramp alongside his former colleague but on a far less formal platform than he did before. “I couldn’t do that…. He’s just so…. sorrowful.”

 

“I can’t provide for him if I just sit and vegetate.” Armitage countered reasonably but missing Shan was already beginning to prickle. “Besides, if he sees what I do for my family, he might do the same for his. Instilling a bit of work ethic and responsibility is probably one of the best lessons I can teach him. A good example can be a gift.”

 

“What I want to know is how ye managed to produce somethin’ so docile!” Mort chipped in from behind. “Did your tyrant cancel out her psycho or wha’?!”

 

“Amen to that.” Balor’s growl chimed into the conversation. “Nalesse was a fucking nightmare as a child.”

 

“To be fair to Nalesse, her upbringing up to the time you found her was far from structured.” Draven, the second eldest father, interjected. “That said, if Shan hadn’t been born on the ship, I’d’ve said you were given the wrong child.”

 

“Well, if that was indeed the case, I would've had to be playing away; I couldn’t deny him if I wanted to.” The arms dealer chortled when he thought of the bluey-green eyes and the flaming red hair; not to mention the facial features he was sure would have mirrored himself when he was a child. Nalesse had forgiven the eye colour; babies eyes were blue at the beginning anyway. But when the copper started to encroach on Shan's ebony waves, that was when she threw up her hands and accepted that her son was not her son at all and only a carbon copy of his father. The only things she’d managed to give him were curls and an accent.

 


 

 

Two humans, an Abyssin and a Devaronian walk into a cantina. There’s no punchline, this was just the ritual; the work-time ritual.

 

The two human males; one dark, the other fair, did not hold hands like on every other excursion. They remained apart but together; each oozing masculinity and danger rather than the fawning they usually gave each other, the fawning that might (stupidly) have them underestimated.

 

Four males, each one armed differently, had broken apart from the other; or rather, he had broken apart from them. The redhead had selected a different entrance where he could survey from afar and be removed enough not to be associated with the group of scoundrels; it was their own standard practice.

 

Armitage had returned to arms design, assembly and dealing since the birth of his exalted son. And after all the training and misery at the Arkanis Academy, why waste the knowledge and expertise he'd painstakingly derived from it? It was lucrative, plentiful and provided a good wage to keep his family comfortable; not to mention, easy. The most trying part were the negotiations and so, instead of getting involved, he listened from a few tables over and trusted his father in law’s wealth of experience; he was yet to see them wrong.

 

“Two more and we can piss off home.” Mort uttered as he leaned back in his chair to indulge in a stretch; of course, the transmitter on his sleeve picked up the complaint and Armitage heard it as clear as if he were sitting beside him. The redhead preferred not to be seen and certainly not recognised; the latter could compromise himself and Ben and tear them away from their ideal family unit. So to keep his distance meant he could vet potential clients without them even realizing who he was and, therefore, his past life would have no bearing on his current life.

 

Armitage had fronted the First Order, delivered a damning speech at the helm of Starkiller; he would be far more familiar to those outside the Order. Ben, however, had worn a mask but discarded the custom-made piece after Starkiller’s fall at his master’s behest. With that master conveniently murdered and the title of Supreme Leader inhabited, Ben had become far more generous with flaunting his brooding countenance. Until he shut himself away out of frustration when the Order started to collapse around him, of course.

 

“Who's next?” Mort leaned to the side to steal a glance at the manifesto; his transmitter-free hand resting on Ben’s thigh, a subtle habit of closeness during work mode.

 

“An Imperial.” The Abyssin replied grimly, knowing his son in law would not be too enamoured with potentially providing arms to an ideology he’d abandoned; he never was. Each Imperial they supplied to (which were few and far between) was a possible exposure, an undoing of the life he'd crafted for himself in the last two years or so. In that logic, he never met with them himself; his family provided the smoke and mirrors for him to watch from behind. In that sense, they differed from no other client. “Didn’t leave a name, just said they were from the Academy.”

 

“Right….” Ben flinched beside his beloved partner as the conversation progressed without his participation; subtly enough not to be noticed by the rest, he quietly excused himself to the refresher though couldn’t be sure why.

 

“So, we have no idea who we’re looking for but they’ll probably be wearing a uniform of some kind.”

 

“Huh.” Said the blond, who had done a (short and unsuccessful) stint in an Imperial academy. “Y’mean like that pompous lookin’ cunt, there?”

 

Alerted by his earpiece, the one now known only as DuSade looked up from his com device; his finger toying with the button that would com his wife. With the strategic placing of his hood, angling it in such a way that his face was hidden and his only eye could observe around it, he would attract no more attention than any other crone or law-evader. Armitage could scrutinize far more blatantly than the others and used his vantage point to its fullest potential; it didn’t take long for the target to become apparent.

 

With a tilt of his head and a confused compacting of his features, he fixated on his companion’s table. He found the newcomer and for a moment, it failed to register; there was familiarity but the possibility seemed so distorted that mistaken identity was far more likely. The more he watched though, the more his mind seemed to to and fro in a tug of war; whether to believe or disbelieve what he was seeing.

 

But the voice confirmed it; that chilling, bile-inducing casual tone that had haunted so many nightmares, zone-outs and plenty of day-to-day interactions in the old life he’d gladly left behind.

 

“Which one of you deplorable miscreants is DuSade?” In a hurry, Armitage lifted his tankard; the token he had purchased to be able to sit there without being disturbed. If the tankard was to his mouth, he could puke into it without attracting attention; an imperative subtlety on a normal job but even more so now. “I require merchandise, I was told to meet him here.”

 

“That’s a new one! I’ve never been called a deplorable miscreant before!” He heard Mort chirp fearlessly in his ear; the urge to hiss at his brother in law to be quiet in order to protect him was crippling. Don’t antagonize him! What he wouldn’t have given to have been a Force user and project the experienced advice into Mort’s head. He’s cruel, he’s ruthless! Instead, all he could do was watch, powerless and rigid, until Balor (thankfully) took over the negotiations.

 

“No one meets with DuSade until they satisfy us first.” The Abyssin held firm; asserting his fierce dominance over the uniformed man sitting directly opposite him. The speciesism trademark of Imperialism came through wordlessly as he bristled under that immoveable, one-eyed glare; silently furious that a creature beneath him could best him with a single look. “You’re from the Academy.”

 

“I am Brendol Hux, Admiral at the Arkanis Academy.” Armitage had visual of the table and second-hand audio, echoing through his earpiece with a second or so delay. The audio was involuntary unless he took the earpiece out; the visual, however, was an entirely different matter. Even in his trepidation, he had to look and spy his childhood tyrant.

 

Yes… It was him alright. Stouter, perhaps, but just as tall, imposing and stony-faced as the last time he’d seen him with his mouth folded into a thin, stern line and paling eyes unforgiving. He’d advanced to Admiral, the uniform bragged it and though the hat perched atop his head impeded a thorough assessment, Armitage noted the distinguishing dark red had dimmed to a greyish-white. It wasn’t the only thing that had turned a greyish-white; Mort’s face had followed suit. Mercifully, he kept his mouth shut and Balor’s brokering began.

 

As Armitage listened, his anxiety peaked. If he was ever going to come close to discovery, it was now; and the others knew it. Seamlessly and without a damning word exchanged between them, they mutely fell into emergency protocol; more standard procedure on the rare occasion that something should go wrong. The conferring became swallowed by a clicking, closer to the transmitter on Mort’s sleeve than the conversation itself; a clicking that to one trained in its communication, could understand it as clear as ordinary Galactic Basic. Like Armitage DuSade, for example.

 

“Carefully. Get up. Go out. Way you came in.” Mort handled the device with nimble hands to convey the urgency; clumsy and oafish normally but necessity saw a change in that demeanour. “Get to ship. Get Less. And Shan to bedroom. Secure until. We get there. Keep com on. Go. Now.” So Armitage did just that without a glance back and left his family at the mercy of his father.

 


 

 

Beeeeeeeep……..

 

Please pick up……

 

Beeeeeeeep….

 

For fucks sake, of all times!

 

Beeeeeeeep…..

 

Answer your com…. Please answer your com….

 

Beeeeee-

 

“Sup sexy.” Too flustered by a horrifying situation, Armitage didn’t have the energy to gift to relief; not when it wasn’t over yet and he was still too far from safety. “Small Fella’s asleep.”

 

“Nalesse, where are you?!”

 

“Just gettin’ sorted for bed, lover, why?” Out of the cantina without incident, he still had to navigate the sand-choked docking lots just to get home. Com in one hand and blaster grasped under his coat with the other, his disorientation and uneasiness became overwhelming. “Arm? What’s wrong?” It went against his better judgement to worry her but given the circumstances and the possibility of this being more than a coincidence, he couldn’t risk leaving her and Shan exposed; even if only for the few moments that it would take him to get there.

 

“I’ll explain when I get back. Lock yourself and Shan in the bedroom and open the door for no one but me. The others will sweep the ship and lock it down when they arrive.”

 

“Arm?! What the fuck is goin’ on?!” It was too open on the lots and while they seemed to be mostly abandoned (save for a few maintenance droids here and there), he refused to gamble being overheard. He knew her, knew that in that obvious anger and frustration, was fear. Fear of the unknown, fear for the safety of her husband, child and family and fear of helplessness. In that resolve, Armitage began to run. Muscles churning, heart hammering and brain fizzing, the desert dust kicked up and scattered under his boots but he fought to focus on one thing.

 

“Love, please! Do as I ask and I’ll fill you in in a moment when I return. I can see the ship, I won’t be long.”

 


 

Mama Bear. One of Nalesse’s most popular (and apt) nicknames that seemed to only kick in when her protectiveness hit a certain level.

 

So as Shan slept, cozy and blissfully unaware, his mother paced and prowled in front of the locked bedroom door; blaster in hand and pretty face contorted into thunder. Mama Bear was up, armed and she was ready for blood.

 

Then the knock sounded; that unique and secret drumming that not even the others knew. She was ready for it; so ready that she rounded on the door on a neat pivot and unlocked the door through three different mechanical mechanisms. No sooner had she done that and her flame-haired spouse tumbled over the threshold, as if overly eager to get in without giving the door a chance to pocket itself fully.

 

“Arm?!” Immersed in re-locking the door, Armitage almost didn’t hear that frenzied hiss; purposely low to prevent waking and panicking the toddler. “What the fuck?!

 

“I may have been compromised….” He should have known by now: Half explanations didn’t work. Not with her. Never had, never would. Rather than expand, he opted to put a forth lock on the door; slender fingers gliding effortlessly over the keypad. However, Armitage was capable of multi-tasking; a fact of which Nalesse was more than aware.

 

“Compromised?! Compromised how?!Who?!” The redhead swept from the main door without a word and into the joining refresher; not to use the facilities and she wouldn’t have granted him privacy anyway if he was. The refresher housed a second door; one that granted access to the main hallway but had already been secured by Nalesse when instructed.

 

“Arm!” No more games. No more running. No more trying not to worry her; it was too late for that and showed in her face when she forcefully put herself in his way and glowered him down. “You tell me what’s goin’ on. You tell me right now.”

 

How could he possibly tell her? Tell her that he’d been found and by the worst possible person? That, if dots had been joined by the Imperials on his identity, the whole crew were in danger? His father wouldn’t stop at punishing him for abandonment; he’d punish the ones who took him, he’d already made that threat against Nalesse some years before. Drained by the rush of the night’s events, Armitage couldn’t bring himself to even string a sentence together. Instead, he sighed, vulnerable and feeble. She waited and waited until she drew her own conclusion.

 

“Is Bovas actin’ the bollocks again?!” He neither confirmed nor denied it; merely swallowed, heaved a breath and shuffled his weight from one foot to another. “Well?! Is he?!” The demand went unanswered in the hope that an impasse would be reached with a lack of an answer. Unfortunately, that’s not how Nalesse worked and she would deal with the threat herself. “Right!” Armitage’s little bundle of psychotic curls went to stalk past him with a loaded blaster and nothing but (rather skimpy) pyjamas until she was intercepted and spun; towards the bed, away from the door.

 

“You can’t go out there.” He’d found his voice, even if it did hurt to use it with a dry throat. “Not until the others have-“

 

“Secured it. Yeah, you said!” The testiness mounted, fuelled by the loathing of ignorance and being kept in the dark; by someone she loved and trusted, to make it worse. “What you didn’t say is who or what they’re securin’ it from!”

 

“Nalesse, I never foresaw this happening.” Now, he was just trying to buy time and placate her at the same time; the folded arms did nothing to ease him, a trademark of danger for as long as he’d known her. “I still don’t believe that-“

 

“Spit it out, Arm!”

 

Armitage repressed a gag as his brain and his vocal chords met in the middle and his tongue just about cooperated to deliver those words he hoped he would never have to utter.

 

“My father’s found me.”

Chapter Text

Nalesse may have been calmer but her maternal instincts remained inflamed.

 

In fact, they had heightened, and her apparent serenity was out of little else than fear as she sat up rigidly in the bed with her sleeping child clutched close to her side. It was Armitage’s turn to pace with a loaded blaster.

 

He could feel the questions radiating from her direction, heating the side of his face; questions even he didn’t have the answers to. He didn’t know how his father had found him but he could take a good stab as to why. If that was even the case.

 

Maybe it was a coincidence? Maybe his father wasn’t looking for him at all and just happened upon a prominent, back-alley dealer that frequented the Mos Eisley spaceport cantina to conduct his business? A well-established, well-equipped, high quality back-alley dealer at that. He couldn't fathom why he would want an external contract with an arms dealer when the First Order (or whoever he represented now) had the finest engineers in its employment. Perhaps the others would clear that up for him when they returned.

 

Armitage froze, mid-muse; the footsteps on the either side of the door interrupting his free-flowing train of thought. A brief glance behind saw Nalesse stiffen as well and lean forward in attention; her guarding grip on Shan had tightened. The father silently signalled for her to remain where she was before advancing on the door, covert and ready to strike. There was more than one being behind the sliding slab of durasteel, much to the redhead’s dismay but the urge to protect his family won out.

 

That is, of course, until-

 

“ARM!!! IT’S US!! OPEN THE DOOR!!”

 

Mort.

 

Huffing with relief, Armitage dropped the blaster and went about undoing the lengthy process of undoing each lock. Just before the last one sprung, however, Armitage stopped.

 

“Before I do-“ He addressed the bodiless voices, as emergency protocol dictated. “How many times does Shan get up to go to the toilet during the night?”

 

“Y’MEAN WHEN HE DOESN’ PISS THE BED??!!”

 

Correct answer. Had Armitage received a response that contained a number, he would have had to detonate the charges planted in the wall panels in the hallway. The door would have withstood them, of course, but Arm would have known that whoever was on the other side was not family.

 

“Fuckin’ hell, no wonder you committed genocide with tha’ cunt breathin’ down your neck!!” Mort rasped in his ear; having skirted around the opening door to drag his brother in law into an unexpected hug.

 

“Your father scared the shit outta Mort.” Draven clarified, crossing the threshold after the shaking, sandy blonde male; he was soon followed by Ben and Balor. “Gotta say, I agree with him. Scary bastard.”

 

“What did he want?” The questioning began immediately and more intensely than any other client; and they'd had big clients before.

 

“He wants a lot of things.” Balor exhaled, recalling. “He rattled off some of the pieces we’ve been circulating; he knows our stuff which sounds like he’s been watching us for some time-" The redhead swallowed. If he'd been watching them, he knew more than Armitage would have liked, was closer than he would have liked. “And those hyper proton blasters you put out recently?”

 

“He wants those?” No surprise there, they were a fine piece that Armitage was extremely proud of. If his father had been following their work and didn’t request at least one of those, the ex-General would have been insulted.

 

“.....Yeah....” Balor, Mort and Draven shared a worryingly consulting look between the three of them; a somewhat disturbed Ben had perched himself on the bed in front of Nalesse (as if shielding her and Shan), despite having not been present for the meeting. “He's very interested in those.”

 

“Well, how many does he want?” If it was that easy, he would give his father whatever he wanted in order to be left alone. Again, the same look of apprehension rippled between the three present at the table and something told him it wouldn’t be that simple.

 

“He wants half a dozen for testing purposes.” Draven disclosed, taking over but it was no easier for him to break the news. A relatively small order, what could be wrong with that? “Then he wants the patent and the prototype.”

 

Armitage stared, agog, at the hulking, ruby red Devaronian. Then switched his one-eyed gaze to Mort then the Abyssin, appealing for one of them step in and call him a liar. No one did. 

 

“Absolutely not!!” Armitage exploded, forgetting himself and remaining oblivious in his rage when Shan jolted awake behind him.

 

“Easy, bubba…” Less soothed, gathering the toddler to her torso and holding him while he adjusted through the disorientation of waking suddenly. Uncle Ben shuffled further onto the bed in a bid to offer some sort of comfort; protection, even and a willingness to put his own trepidation in the backseat in order to do so. “Daddy’s just havin’ a moment, it’s okay.” Armitage’s barrage continued, unaffected.

 

“Who does he think he is?! Making such demands!” He didn’t wait for an answer and no one offered up on either; the redhead started to pace again, chest heaving, eye burning and his blaster-less hand scrubbing through his beard. The rest recognized it as a habit of extreme stress; almost exclusive to their beloved companion. “What makes him think he can just demand the prototypes and patents of someone else’s work?! Is he that high and mighty above the rest of us?!”

 

Armitage’s onslaught became more animated. His frustration and fury combined and drove the frantic, flailing gestures as he hurled his venom; a classic display of pure vehemence.

 

“Was I that arrogant?!” He rounded on the bed, incensed, and challenged his wife; she looked back, bland and unfazed, knowing there was little more than temporary ire causing it. Once he calmed down, his demeanour would change and he would worship the ground she walked on once more. “Was I so egotistical?!”

 

“Yes, love. You were an Imperial pain in the hole. Can someone take that, please?” Nalesse chimed without too much vexation but jabbing a pointed finger at the blaster in her husband’s hand. “Before one of us gets shot? Ta.” Draven fearlessly obliged, and Armitage let him, even in the midst of his tirade.

 

“This will not stand! I utterly refuse! I will not cooperate, no matter his price-!”

 

“It wasn’t a bad price.” Balor, the experienced one, chipped in his two credits. Cue Armitage's insulted glower to turn on him instead; Balor, like his daughter, did not react.

 

“Regardless!” He spat, after a drawn out pause of furious disbelief and being able to fathom nothing else in response to Balor’s seeming defence of the offer. Realizing his need to cool down (he was the last one to see it), Armitage started to saunter but without the reassuring weight of his blaster in his hand. He took a moment of silent pondering, then another, then another; until he caved to the question that burned and sobered him at the same time. “Did he know who I was?”

 

“I didn’t get tha’ impression.” Mort replied truthfully but looked to the others for validation; in case he missed something they hadn’t. The consensus was overwhelming: No one else had gotten the sense that Brendol Hux had any hidden agenda other than trying to secure arms.

 

That didn’t make sense, the coincidence was far too great. Despondent, Armitage loosely collapsed on the bed; sitting up beside Ben, elbows propped up on his thighs to support the sag in his usually proud form. He was the sole focus of concerned scrutiny in the room; even if all his wife could see of him was the back of his listless body.

 

“Right. Bedtime, I guess.” No one questioned Nalesse. Not on anything, let alone this and of that theme, they slowly started to disband. Balor took his nod from his daughter; it would not be bedtime for him, not yet. Not until they were safely hidden on another planet with no trail left behind.

 

“Ben?” The named one twisted and looked over his shoulder; just in time to see his nephew disentangle himself from his mother. Out of habit and adoration, the ebony-tressed male turned fully on the bed and stretched out his hands; sure enough, smaller ones found their way into them for balance as he waded out of the mass of blankets.

 

“Coming with us, cub?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“We got ourselves a bedbug, Mort.” Ben announced, sweeping the toddler up into lightsaber-toned arms and secured him for safety; Shan walking was out of the question, no matter how short the trip. The other uncle didn’t seem to mind but so wrapped up in disquiet for his brother in law, he simply gave his partner a distracted thumbs up.

 

“You sure?” Nalesse pressed from the bed as Ben started to rise; he paused halfway out of courtesy to match her eyes with his.

 

“I’m sure.” He replied purposefully, like he would hear nothing else on the subject. They watched each other for a second, both privy to something none of the others were. “You need to rest, Arm needs to rest. And besides…” Playfully, Shan was jiggled in his arms, prompting a jovial squeal from the child; the affectionate amusement was mutual. “It’ll be fun. I’ve been feeling like having cold feet jammed into my back tonight anyway.”

 


 

 

Armitage excused himself to the refresher, mumbling that a shower would clear his head so Nalesse left him to it. She drifted not long after, succumbing to a quiet bed and the heat leftover from Shan.

 

When she roused again a few hours later in darkness, she found herself alone and without a husband to snuggle into. Thankfully, Armitage was predictable and Nalesse found him exactly where she thought she would – the workshop.

 

Tinkering half-heartedly with a blaster already on the rack, he heard the light, padding steps but only stopped fully when she was upon him; with a tight, supportive squeeze from behind. For a moment, there was nothing but silence but that silence spoke volumes.

 

“Y’know how I know you’re not yourself?”

 

“Do tell me, darling.” He responded with the same softened tone though his was rooted in misery as opposed to her gentility and sympathy. Nalesse relinquished her husband, only for a second, to let him turn around to return the comforting embrace. Arms coiled around the smaller, tidier form, Armitage’s cheek found the top of a dark, curly head and indulged himself in the scent as a solace.

 

“You’re not pesterin’ me for another baby.” He had to crack a weak smile, it was a running joke by now. She’d said it several times: No more babies. He’d missed the first pregnancy and birth but for Nalesse, it wasn’t worth the strain of doing it again just so Arm could experience it. That didn’t stop the redhead trying and her cutting off his attempts by securing her own contraception.

 

“No.” He conceded, turning his head ever slightly to press a tender kiss to her forehead, appreciative of her consideration to seek him; he hadn’t realized he’d needed such intervention. “I’m far too concerned with the safety of the one we already have but as soon as this is all over, pestering will resume, not to worry.”

 

“Mmmm….” He could practically feel the roll of lavender eyes, even if he couldn’t see them. Nalesse pried herself partially from her partner’s grasp, enough for him to at least look upon the beguiling face he’d taken for granted the first time he’d seen it. “Ben’s right, love. You need to rest.” Before he could open his mouth to counter and refuse, he noticed that twist in her mouth; that twist he knew all too well. “And we’ve got an empty bed.”

Chapter Text

One Month Previous

 

“Baby?”

 

Mort knew that forlorn sigh; even if he hadn’t heard it’s like in quite a long time. Mort regarded his partner on the bed; still sprawled in last night’s pyjamas and seemingly no intention of moving that day either. Mort was beginning to see a pattern.

 

“Y’a'right, love?” At least Mort had had the motivation to get up and have a shower but how could he not be concerned? He was starting to regress and for no apparent reason. Randomly (or seemingly), his mood would plummet, and he would become touchy, distant. Sure, he made an effort with Shan but that didn’t even demand conscious thought; Ben adored him, no matter what his mood.  It may have been a mystery to the rest (who quietly asked Mort if everything was okay between them and with Ben in general), but Mort had an inkling.

 

“You love me, don’t you?”

 

“More than life itself, I've told ya a thousand times.” Face scrunched with bewilderment while he towelled his hair, Mort continued to dry himself but kept one eye on his ebony-tressed soul mate. He sounded like the old, tortured, mentally wounded Ben; the one who believed he was destined for hate and inadequacy for the rest of his life. The same one who had shied away from everyone else until a surprise breakthrough came one day when he wished Nalesse a happy birthday.

 

“Do me a favour?”

 

“Anythin', love.”

 

“Suck my dick?”

 

Pleasantly stunned, Mort let the towel drop but he did not need to be asked twice.

 


 

 

“You’ve not been yourself.” The blonde made the murmured observation as he surfaced, pressing an amiable kiss to Ben’s bellybutton on his way up. Finally face to face with his beloved, he planted cock-warm lips to Ben’s and watched those soulful, brown eyes for some sort of clue. “This anythin’ to do with… her?”

 

He knew him. He knew him too well and, on this particular occasion, more than Ben would have liked.

 

“Did you go through my com?”

 

“Don’t need to.” Mort countered truthfully and with quiet bluntness; still maintaining the adoring eye contact. His body kept Ben flat to the bed, not that the darker of the two had any intention of moving or struggling; his partner’s weight was tranquilizing. “I wish you’d let me deal with it, love.”

 

“You’re dealing with nothing.” More resolute now and romantic voice level abandoned, Ben’s eyes hardened but Mort took no notice. He remained doe-eyed and besotted, despite the bubbling frustration from below. “No. You’ll over-react like you always do. You’ll blow it out of proportion and who’ll end up looking stupid? Me. I’ll take care of it.”

 

“Oh aye?” Ben convinced himself there wasn’t an edge of taunt to that but the quirking of a sandy eyebrow suggested otherwise. “When was the last time you heard from her? How many times you commed her?”

 

Ben didn’t answer; his nose and his upper lip twitched in tandem and while it wouldn’t have been an answer to anyone else, Mort read it loud and clear. It wasn’t a subject Ben liked; it was embarrassing, and he’d already chosen his confidant: another female who had a similar experience. Well…. Ben’s experience didn’t quite compare to hers but she listened all the same and advised as best she could.

 

“Love.” Mort reshuffled his form, one of very similar size and shape to Ben’s, but remained guarding and pinning. He even went so far in the newly adopted plea to dip his nose and line it with Ben’s scarred one. How could the ex-Kylo Ren not melt? He could forgive himself for sighing in contentedness and leaning into it, to increase the comforting affection. “For fucks sake. Please. I’m beggin’ ya. I hate seein’ ya like this so jus’…. Lemme do somethin’. Lemme try an’ talk to her.”

 

“No.” Half-hearted, Ben had to fight but the blonde had already won with that declaration; the one that stemmed from his partner wanting to rectify what plagued him. “No, I mean it this time….”

 

“Here’s the way tis.” Mort pressed on, ignoring the floundering protests. “You want her there, that’s fair, I get it. But here’s the thing….” Ben had resigned himself. Enough for his eyes to roll and his head to tilt to spare him Mort’s triumphant bleatings; instead of getting huffy or offended, Mort simply re-aligned his lover’s eyeline with a gentle hand under his chin. “I love ya. I wanna marry ya. And I wanna do it soon. We’ve got everythin’ else nailed down, Shan has his little bowtie ready to go, the only thing we don’t got is your mother. Com calls aren’t workin’. I just wanna try somethin’ that will. Jus’ somethin’ to get her attention.”

 

“You know I don’t trust you not to walk onto a Resistance base with a fake bomb strapped to you.” Ben retorted with irritability and Mort seemed to distance from the conversation, entranced. Maybe….

 

“Hey!” Mort’s head barely moved with the light tap of Ben’s open fingers against his cheek, just enough to wrangle him back to the conversation-turned-berating. “That’s not a suggestion! You are not to do that! You are not to go onto a Resistance base with a fake bomb strapped to you! You hear me! Or anything even remotely like that! Mort! Are you listening?! Are you hearing what I’m telling you not to do?!”

 

“Yes, love.” With distance even in his voice and little to no conviction in his tone, the reaction wasn’t very reassuring. “I hear ya.”

 


 

 

There had been a marked decrease (almost completely) in First Order support and activity when the shuttle carrying Kylo Ren and General Hux had been shot from the sky. Naturally, the orchestrated nature of the stunt remained a closely guarded secret nearly two years later.

 

But recently, a resurgence in the dreaded regime had been noticed. Starting in the dark corners of the cantinas and back alley gambling halls, it was mostly by those who felt the soft touch of the Republic’s political renaissance did little but breed weakness and complacency. The poorer areas were ignored; children going hungry, cold and uneducated while the richer planets shamelessly flourished. So focused on their interests on the bigger, wealthier systems, the Republic seemed to overlook the smaller, more dependent ones where people suffered.

 

That, and the craft of those same cantina-dwellers was often threatened by the over-zealous, incorruptible officers of the Republic. Those wanting to “clean up” the galaxy and root out the scourge of pirates, bounty hunters and smugglers to do so. At least the Imperials had the decency to take a bribe.

 

This attitude reached exiled ears and where an appetite grows, there will always be those who try to feed it; even if it is among the bottom rungs of society. Power is power, after all and one must start somewhere.

 

Thankfully, an opposing force is always waiting in the wings (x-wings?) and to that end, the previously disbanded Resistance rose to counter an old foe. So, a new base was established. And it wasn’t long before that base was found.

 


 

 

The base was in the midst of its daily afternoon ritual, nothing out of the ordinary. X-Wings being painstakingly polished, engines being tested following repairs, pilots roaring their agreement to each other over the din. Simply routine.

 

Until one lunatic arrived amidst the habitual hum-drum of the Resistance regimen with what looked like a bomb strapped to his chest.

 

“A’RIGHT!!!” Tall and broad with a majestic, sandy mane and controlled, matching stubble, Mort was handsome, but he wasn’t very bright. The blonde jokes were merciless; unsurprising, given his chosen company. Naturally, he made sure his prop was on full display; trench coat open and detonator in hand. Armitage had even gone as far as to ensure the button flashed a warning red, the extra detail worked exactly as it was meant to: the heads swivelled accordingly and the reaction was instantaneous.

 

Of course, the desired effect of absolute pandemonium erupted and why wouldn’t it be a desired effect? In Mort’s head, if something went wrong on the base, surely General Organa would be alerted? And if she was alerted, the headstrong leader that Ben had told him about would want to deal with the threat herself, right? That was when Mort would seize his opportunity.

 

He immersed himself in the hysteria, basking in it proudly; the stampeding footsteps, both towards him and away from him, alarms yowling, the screams and the challenging roars. Powering along the permacrete landing strip with the “detonator” in one hand, his own blaster in the other and an inflated swagger, Mort rounded on a group of approaching pilots and howled: “GET ME GENERAL OR-FUCKIN’-GANA!!”

 

Well, for once, Mort’s logic was sound and he had assessed the potential course of events correctly. What he hadn’t bet on, however, was the stun blast to the back.

 


 

 

“Yeah but…. what the hell?”

 

It wasn’t the first time Mort had come around from a stun blast; it was a slow, groggy process but the blonde was probably more familiar with it than most people. Vision blurry and hearing a little distorted, a conversation centred around him but did not include him. Yet.

 

“I dunno but…. the vest is fake.”

 

“Think he knows?”

 

“If he doesn’t, I don’t wanna be the one to tell him.”

 

Eyelids fluttering and head heavy, Mort ploughed through the symptoms and the disorientation; forcing his body to cope and recuperate faster than was probably safe. When his eyes eventually opened (albeit, half), he spied his target and an olive-skinned pilot (that would previously have tickled his fancy) leaning over him, features twisted with confusion.

 

“You!” The blonde growled, sluggishly raising an accusatory finger at the only female present in Mort’s immediate eyeline. “I wanna talk t’you!”

 

Organa and her minion exchanged a side-swiping glance, expressions more or less unchanged and certainly not alarmed.

 

“You…. You… Bitch!”

 

“Okay, pal-!” The orange-clad pilot took more offence than Organa did and proceeded to try and haul Mort’s (much bigger) form out of the chair he’d been unceremoniously tossed into following his blackout; the blonde effortlessly swatted him away.

 

“Hang on, Poe.” The princess-turned-General spared her (reinstated) Commander the embarrassment of being unable to escort the prisoner to a detention cell. Curiosity undented, she stood back and observed the intruder with folded arms and a tilted head. “This’ll be interesting.”

 

“General-!”

 

“The vest is fake, I’ve got his blaster, I wanna hear what he has to say.” Organa measured her steps but never took her eyes off Mort as she advanced in the limited space of the makeshift interview room. “He went to an awful lot of trouble, I think it’s only fair. Don’t you?” The one called Poe simply tossed his arms in silent frustration but protested no further.

 

Mort (almost fully recovered) and Organa marked each other while Poe drifted on the side-lines, only half-interested now.

 

“You gonna tell me who you are?”

 

Mort didn’t answer immediately. Instead, his eyes flickered to the other male; the one who sauntered aimlessly since his superior opted to side with the prisoner. She got the message.

 

“You can go, Poe.” Poe pivoted, a micro-second from objecting and voicing his outrage but Organa got there first. Perhaps there was something deeper that Mort didn’t see, a long-established and mutual trust; she knew what she was doing and Poe trusted that. “I’ve got this covered.” Resigned, the glaring orange jumpsuit left with a shake of his dark, curly head.

 

The silence ticked by and the joint marking continued between the two; the two that had more in common than one of them realized.

 

“You really don’ ‘member who I am, huh?” Mort eventually remarked, his usual cheeky self now fully recovered from the stun blast.

 

“I’ve come across enough thugs in my time, I can’t remember all of them.” General Organa had decided to talk to him rather than interrogate. That said, she’d ruled out any First Order intervention when they discovered the bomb vest was fake; the First Order wouldn’t be complacent with simply scaring them. No, this was something else entirely and Leia was keen to find out what. “Should I know who you are?”

 

Mort couldn’t resist the smirk; the reaction would be of particular interest.

 

“If you returned Ben’s com calls, you’d fuckin’ know who I am.” He decided to leave out the brief encounter all those years ago; why should she relive telling a boy she didn’t know that her son was dead?

 

All it took was that one name, one name, and the colour drained from Organa’s face. In her own chair, she reshuffled but not once did she break her focus on the coy looking blonde seated opposite her. Ben? Her Ben? It couldn’t be anyone else, surely? She’d seen him once, maybe twice, since he and Hux had begged for Resistance help in escaping and those occasions had not been of a personal nature.

 

Yes, she had to admit there were com calls from an unknown sequence that she’d seen and forgotten to return later. Or that had come through just as she settled down to sleep and exhaustion dictated she ignore them. Or that she was just too damn busy to answer. All in the last month or so, as it happened. Whatever the case, it must have been dire if this man had turned up on the base with a fake bomb just to get her attention. With that in her now-frenzied mind, Leia repeated her earlier sentiment but with less confidence than before.

 

“Who are you?” The thoughtful clicking of a tongue greeted the inquiry but Organa was steadfast with that ageing stare; every micromovement catalogued.

 

“My name is Mortimer Bowdane.” He took his time with the explanation, relishing it and watching the General as she watched him. “No one calls me Mortimer, Mort’s fine.” The very slight flare of a nostril hinted impatience; he’d piqued her attention and she would not be kept waiting. “I’m here….” He straightened and looked her hard in the face; it was Leia’s turn to note the stony seriousness and fizzing passion.  “‘Cause it fuckin’ kills me t’see my fuckin’ partner’s heart crushed e’ry time he tries t’reach you an’ he can’t.”

 

Leia, understandably, had no response. Not yet, at least but Mort was patient and let the information sink in. Ben had never revealed if his mother knew of his inclination but judging by her silence and stupor, it was news; pleased or displeased, Mort couldn’t work out. Not only had he dangled a sensitive revelation regarding her son’s preference, but he’d included himself, answering the question in more than one way of who he was.

 

“He jus’ wants you t’be there when we ge’ married.” Like ripping off a bactapatch, Mort decided to give Leia a gentler make-or-break; softening both his tone and his air with a note of plea he hadn’t noticed himself. If she couldn’t deal with her only child preferring the same sex (and Mort had experienced that hardship too), he would leave and convince Ben he was better off without her, that their wedding didn’t need that kind of poison. “Tha’s why he’s been tryin’ to com ya recently; I asked him ‘bout a month ago an’ he’s been tryin’ to contact ya since.”

 

Mort decided to test his legs while the General made up her mind; she was yet to say something. Satisfied that his legs were working to the same standard they had been before the stun shot, the blonde stiffened and stretched then resumed the saunter of the absent pilot while his captor came to terms with the life-changing information. The smuggler patted his pocket: nothing. Then the other: nothing. Then another and another and dread climbed with each one until finally he found what had evaded him: his box of cigarras. He put it down to being patted down while he was unconscious, the cigarras being found, being deemed as non-threatening then shoved into a random pocket.

 

He didn’t ask for permission to light it but he did offer the box (as was his usual, good-natured habit) but Organa gave a distracted, dismissive wave of her hand and Mort pressed no further.

 

“He’s been askin’ me t’give up, y’know.” The titbit was useless but a conversation starter as he exhaled his first lungful. “An’ I did when my sister was preggo and I was gonna stay off ‘em bu’-“ Another inhale. “Soon as the small fella was born, Draven arrives with a box of fuckin’ Dilnlexan cigars and tha’ went out the fuckin’ viewport. Know wha’ I’m sayin’?” Mort was the only one to find amusement in the anecdote, evidenced by the smoke-clogged titter and the lack of response from the other side of the room.

 

“Ben wen’ through a phase of smokin’ when we drank bu’… Nah, not anymore. Shan got a chest infection an’ he stopped like tha’.” A swift click of the fingers not only illustrated Ben’s commitment to his decision, but it woke Organa to reality.

 

Before that, Leia’s processing was slow. She simply nodded along, letting the news absorb. Ben had always been somewhat…. removed… from her life. During his formative years, her senatorial position had taken up a great deal of her time and poor Ben had to be content with a rushed holo-call from whatever planet she happened to be on. Then, under Luke’s advice, she made the greatest mistake of her life by sending him away. That was when she lost him and barely seen him since; other than conflict and resolution, that is.

 

When he left to become a monster, she had pined and pined some more. Missing him became a constant, mourning him as if he’d died and never to be held and loved again. There had been a brief glimmer of hope that night in the cantina when he and a one-eyed Hux had pleaded with her but that had come to nothing; Ben wasn’t entirely to blame for that.

 

Now…. It was almost too good to be true. All that time spent yearning to have him back, regardless of what he’d done, might not have been completely in vain.

 

“I didn’t know. I didn’t know that was him trying to reach me.”

 

“In your position, you gotta be careful.” Mort, to his credit, regarded her with benevolence and understanding; if he was sympathetic, she might not be so hesitant and come around. He’d learned plenty about placating a woman: he lived with Nalesse Du Sade. “Never know who’s out t’get ya. An unregistered set’a com details is a red flag, innit?” It appeared to be working.

 

“I should have known who you are.”

 

“You know now.”

 

Mort made the connection with the eyes overly similar to the ones he woke next to each morning; they surveyed him now with sadness and regret. Memories stirred within Organa’s clamoured brain as she took in this hulking, blonde form; the one that pledged himself to her son and was, obviously, willing to go to great lengths to see him happy.

 

“You’re the one.” She recalled, bunned head tilted and tone strengthened to borderline recognition as the pieces started to slot together. Mort took another puff and waited, unfazed. “The “other path” he talked about. In the cantina. When he and Hux came looking for a way out.”

 

“Sounds like me a’right.” Mort chirped his confirmation, exhaling through his teeth, mid-grin. Instinctively, reading the mood, he offered the box again and to his overwhelming delight, Leia took one.

 

“How?”

 

“Well…..” Always light a lady’s cigarra, one of the very few useful things his father had taught him; now it helped him to win around his potential mother in law. “He, and by he, I mean Kylo Ren-“ Leia’s eyes (for the sharpest second) glazed but she recovered quickly. “Came lookin’ for Hux t’help him run the Order and I was jus’…. there. Like it was mean’ to happen, y’know. We sorta kindled after tha’. Or rekindled, should I say.”

 

“Hux?” Leia had mastered cigarra-conversation; Mort could only assume it had been a very useful tool among the politicians who had more money than sense and so, indulged themselves in everything they could.

 

“Foxy cunt? One eye?”

 

“Yes but….” The cough of laughter was unintentional but the description was entertaining. “Why was he with you?”

 

“Oh! He’s married to my sister. He ditched Ben an’ Snoke and fucked off back to us after the shit tha’ wen’ down on Crait. He was livin’ with us full-time when Ben came lookin’ for ‘him, see? Ran into him in the kitchen of all places; pissed off me head, so I was. Sobered pretty fuckin’ quick, though.” Leia chuckled again, finding a soft spot for the grizzled but clownish smuggler already.

 

“Your sister….” Recognition barrelled to the forefront once more and the General recalled a holo-still from the cantina; an unusual sort of beauty, one that was seemingly mismatched with the redhead. That said, the devotion was there all the same; she’d seen it in the way he all but begged to be reunited with her. “She has purple eyes? Is that right?”

 

“Mmm….” Mid-suckle, Mort hummed his affirmative. “Yeah, tha’s her. Genetic mutation, or some shit, I dunno. Bu’ I tell ya wha’….” The blonde held up the back of his free-hand, scarred and dirty, and wrapped his middle and index finger around each other; Organa didn’t understand the gesture just yet. “Herself and Ben? Like tha’. Adore each other.”

 

It was endearing to watch the pull of a smile on those formidable lips, even if she did try to hide it behind the pull of a cigarra.

 

“So…?” Mort chimed, leaning ever so subtly to the side to place himself in the ex-princess’ eyeline; hopeful that his efforts had been fruitful, in the same roguish way he’d won Ben round. “D’you need a plus one?”