Almost two years had passed since Armitage had joined Jyn and Cassian’s little family. They had seen children come and go, but the flow was slowing progressively, as the galaxy recovered from its wounds. The boy was recovering nicely as well. He had put some weight on, grew steadily and had become much more trusting and open towards adults. Maz Kanata had a lot to do with his new-found confidence, truth be told, as the old lady often brought him to her ‘castle’, telling him stories and legends, even some Jedi lore, teaching him new languages and introducing him to the least disreputable of her guests. Being naturally curious, Armitage had loved the experience and had become a well-liked and regular presence at Maz’s. He spent a good deal of time there when his parents were called off-world as well and though he knew better than to tell them, some of Maz’s clients had taught him a thing or two about eavesdropping or picking locks. One had even promised to show him how to create a makeshift flare and melt bars from a window.
It was autumn on Takodana and Armitage had just turned eight. Jyn was very pleased to see how confident he had grown, and how precocious he was. She had not brought him to the medic for a test yet, but she suspected the boy was high-potential. Cassian would be pleased to hear about their son’s progress and good grades when he came back from the capitol (currently on Brentaal).
But Cassian was probably too pissed off to care much when he entered the house, fuming and cursing the Senate in very colorful ways that were absolutely not meant for underage ears.
“Cassian,” Jyn chimed in. “Go to the kitchen and we’ll discuss this. I’m sure the kids already know a fair share of swear words, but no need to add to their collection.”
“Fine, fine,” he relented and followed her into said kitchen, where a saucepan of soup was simmering gently on the stove.
The smell was appetizing enough that Cassian calmed down a bit, though he still had a lot of anger in store to vent. Jyn sat on a stool and patiently listened to him as he explained how Mon Mothma had been double-crossed by her own political party – and one had to get up very early in order to double-cross the former senator of Chandrila.
“So, basically they went behind her back while she was in the hospital and reduced the Chancellor's powers using a rather flimsy argument from some retired officer from Corellia who wasn't even at Endor, who complained that she was getting too 'authoritarian'?” Jyn summed up. “Well, when you looked back to what happened on Yavin, you can't exactly blame her for that...”
“And regarding the management of the galaxy in general, let me tell you, they truly learned nothing,” Cassian spat. “It's: the Core, the Core, and always the Core. The way they're going, they'll find themselves with another Separatist crisis within the next two decades!”
Jyn let him rant for a while, not noticing a small orange head poking from the kitchen door, then:
“I hanged a punching ball in the basement, if you want,” she announced.
“You’re a blessing.”
“Now, that’s a first,” she commented, raising an eyebrow.
This exchange had not escaped Armitage’s ears, and later in the evening, he asked innocently (he had become very good at looking innocent and sincere) why Cassian would not call Jyn a blessing before. Seeing the embarrassed look on the adults’ faces counted as a victory, though he had waited until the other children and the staff had retired for the night to ask.
“Well,” Jyn began, “when we first met...”
“We can’t say it was love at first sight,” Cassian completed.
“In fact, we would have started a fistfight if his pet assassin droid had not knocked me flat on my back the second I crossed his path.”
Armitage’s eyes widened. That was new !
“You had an assassin droid?! How come?”
“I… found him during a previous mission and since he was too much of an asset to let him go, I… reprogrammed him.”
“With the unfortunate side effect that good ol’ K2 had no filters left between his programs and his vocoder...” Jyn added with a smirk.
“Yeah, yeah… I fu- I messed it, okay?” Cassian finally conceded, looking exasperated, much to his son’s amusement. “Back to the story, we quarreled about every five seconds during our trip to the Alliance base on Yavin. Then, when we left for a mission on Jedha, she stole my blaster… and went through my bag as well. And she argued non-stop with K2 during the whole trip.”
“You’re exaggerating. I also took a nap during that trip.”
By then, the boy was chuckling, something that did not happen so often.
“And then what?”
“It’s not a funny tale, sweetling,” Jyn warned him.
“I guessed as much; it was war. But I really want to know. My… birth mother never told me stories. Yours are great because they’re true.”
Things took another turn on the following year, though this time it was not a happy event. One afternoon Cassian received an emergency call from Wedge, asking for help.
“I'm really sorry to bother you, but there's been an accident during training. Shara is dead.”
It took Cassian a moment to process the news. Shara Bey had fought in so many battles that it seemed ludicrous, unbelievable, that she could have died in a simple training session.
“What... what can we do?” he stammered.
“Getting to that,” Wedge replied in a tired voice. “Can you keep an eye on Poe for some days? Just the time to get Kes back on his feet, else he's going to do something stupid.”
“Yes. Yes, of course. I'll tell Jyn and we'll prepare a room. Sure thing.”
Jyn was just as floored as he felt, but she did not waste time in helping him set one of their unoccupied bedrooms for Poe. Soon Armitage poked his head inside, wondering if his parents had found another ward.
“Not as usual,” Cassian explained. “The boy just lost his mother, and his father is… not well. So he’ll stay for a few weeks at most, until everything is… relatively back to normal at home.”
Armitage nodded gravely.
“How old is he?”
“Two years younger than you, so barely eight,” Jyn replied.
“That should be all right,” he assured. “That will be fun, playing big brother. You think he could come to Maz’s castle with me?”
“Well, why not? Same rules as usual, of course.”
Armitage rolled his eyes as unsubtly as he could, but he nodded anyway. The ‘usual rules’ were: no card games, not accepting anything from strangers, and going straight to Maz in case he was in trouble. One was never too careful when dealing with smugglers and pirates though to be honest, most of them would not even dream of harming a child. There was still, thankfully, some kind of honor code in the profession and Maz screened her clients carefully now that there were children and teenagers nearby.
Little Poe arrived four days later, clutching Wedge’s hand as if his life depended on it. Jyn had not seen him since that day in the medbay and his resemblance to his mother was uncanny. He had her hair, her nose, and she suspected his smile would be similar, if they were lucky enough to see it.
“Hello, Poe,” she greeted him warmly. “I’m Jyn Erso. You may have heard of me and my partner Cassian; we worked with your parents for a while.”
The boy nodded wordlessly, considering her as if he did not know what to make of her. Wedge gently patted his head.
“Come on, little guy. Don’t you want to see the lovely room that’s been set for you?”
Poe gave another hesitant nod and began walking towards the house. Wedge made sure he was far enough before asking:
“The other kids won’t be a problem?”
“I don’t think so. We have fewer of them now, just a dozen, and they know they must behave properly and bullying is not tolerated. Our son has already shown an interest in taking care of Poe, mind you.”
“Your son?” Wedge repeated.
“Ah, right, we didn’t mention him in our last messages. We kind of… adopted one of our little refugees from Arkanis.”
A smile appeared on Wedge’s weathered face.
“Big hearts, both of you, and in the right place as well. It’s just as good if he has another kid helping him around. He lacks interaction with children his age, I must say.”
“Noted. You’ll give Luke a kiss for me, right?”
“Yeah. As soon as he’s back from his last trip. He found some students for that school of his. Five, so far. They seem to enjoy levitating rocks quite a lot, from what I saw.”
“The potential for pranks is unlimited,” Cassian commented as he emerged from the house to shake hands with Wedge.
“Don’t jinx it, will you?” Wedge groused.
He remained for dinner and stayed the night at their insistence, so that Poe would not feel too abandoned. Their wards came to introduce themselves right before dinner and Poe seemed to ligthen up a bit, politely answering questions and inquiring about what they usually did during the day. The poor boy still looked ready to cry when Antilles took his leave on the following morning. That was when Armitage decided to step in and become a ‘mentor’ for Poe. He made him visit the whole house, the vegetables garden, the pond, showed him the track to Maz’s castle…
At first glance one could think the boys shared similar fates: about the same age, a dead mother, being sent away for a while... But that superficial analysis would miss the fact that for Poe, the absence of his mother was balanced by the devotion his father showed him, or the fact that Kes had never raised a hand against his son in a decade.
When they were done with their lessons, the little pond behind the house became their favorite refuge, where they could invent epic stories and talk about exploring the stars. Sometimes, though, they brought up more serious topics. Their missing relatives, for instance
“I miss her,” Poe admitted, tossing another pebble into the pond, much to the irritation of the local frogs. “D'you miss your parents?” he asked.
“Not really,” Armitage replied honestly. “My mother took the Commandant's money for birthing me, and the Commandant hit me every time I did something he thought wrong. He thought that often.”
Poe shuffled closer, his small hand reaching to pat Armitage's head. The red-haired boy startled, then grumpily allowed Poe to go on.
Armitage was sorely disappointed when Poe went back home on Yavin, even though the Holonet provided a way to stay in contact. He was glad, nonetheless, that his new friend could go back home, to a father who would take care of him.
The following months saw many exchanges of mails and pictures. The flow slowed a bit after that, but the boys kept writing each other regularly.
Months turned into years and Armitage’s twelfth birthday had come and gone when his parents announced an unexpected event.
“There will be a celebration of the armistice on Caamas within two weeks,” Jyn told him, not exactly pleased but still interested.
“We’re invited to the ceremony. And this time, young man, you’ll be coming as well,” Cassian announced. “You’re old enough for a trip to the Core.”
Armitage cheered and immediately ran to his room to prepare his travel bag. An official travel to the Core meant he would probably see Poe again. Jyn and Cassian could only chuckle, seeing him in such a hurry.
The trip itself was quite uneventful. Thankfully they would not go to Coruscant, as Jyn did not particularly wish to set foot on it again. She had left the capitol planet when she was about six and even then, had felt somehow the pressure on her parents’ shoulders, the strained smiles as they talked to Krennic, the lies repeated over and over. She could do without a reminder. Krennic was still a recurrent apparition in her nightmares, after all.
The three of them were hosted, like most of the guests, in a rather luxurious residence overlooking a lush garden, supported by a terrace strong enough to allow the presence of trees and several ornamental ponds. The beds were wonderfully comfortable and the room service, just perfect, but it was so far from what Jyn and Cassian were used to that they felt a bit ill-at-ease. Armitage, however, was absolutely delighted and they had to stop him from jumping and bouncing on his mattress, much to his consequent grumbling.
He forgot it on the following day, when his parents took him to the first part of the ceremony in another garden, larger and filled with sculptures he did not recognize. Some, as he could read on the panels describing them, had been picked from Imperial dignitaries’ collections, which did not sit so well with him. But even at twelve, he knew better than to say it aloud. And anyway, he had just spotted Poe, and nothing could top that.
The other boy was glad to see him and did not waste time in telling him everything about the garden and the remembrance service that would be taking place there. And of course, he could not miss the opportunity to introduce his friend to his heroes, namely his father and the Organa-Solos. Armitage felt slightly intimidated by Kes’ large stature and his piercing dark eyes, but the man greeted him kindly, glad to meet his son’s friend and grateful for everything the red-haired boy had done for Poe.
Then there were Leia Organa and Han Solo.
After all the wild tales he had heard from both sides, Armitage did not really know what to expect from the famous heroes of the Alliance. Not the relatively-normal couple he discovered, certainly. He had thought Princess Organa would be taller, for instance, or that her husband would be more at ease in public – the man gave the impression that he wanted to be very far from the ceremony, preferably in his ship with his copilot. Nonetheless, Captain Solo smiled just as charmingly as his wife, winking to Armitage and promising to tell him some amusing anecdotes about Jyn and Cassian.
“No blackmail material, Han,” the Princess gently chided him. “Ben, why don’t you say hello to Poe and Armitage?”
Said Ben Organa-Solo slowly emerged from behind his mother’s skirts. The least you could say was that, so far he had not inherited his parents’ charm and charisma. His face was pale, spattered with tiny moles, his nose too long for his still round face and his ears too big for his head. Armitage bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. It would have been awfully rude to laugh at the boy because of features he had no control over, but the fact that the son of two great heroes of the Civil War looked like a TIE-fighter made human was bloody hilarious.
As if he had heard that thought, Ben stared angrily at the older boy, his face turning an interesting shade of red. Armitage thought it wiser to take his leave, thanking the adults for their kind welcome, and promptly going back to his parents.
“Ben Solo is weird,” he stated as they took their seats for the Chancellor’s speech.
“His uncle told us he’s Force-sensitive,” Cassian pointed out, “so he must be a bit overwhelmed in such a crowd.”
“He can read minds!?” Armitage exclaimed.
“No idea, but it’s possible,” Jyn conceded.
The boy frowned and cast a quick glance to the main tribune where Ben was sitting with his parents and former Chancellor Mon Mothma, whose hair, once almost as noticeable as Armitage’s, had turned completely grey.
The kid looked proud, reveling in the admiration people felt for his parents as if he deserved it as well. Armitage scoffed and decided not to think about him any more.
It was easier said than done, though, since all the guests’ children were often set together, particularly during meals, in order to ‘reinforce ties’ between the numerous systems in the Republic. Armitage rather enjoyed the idea, as he got the opportunity to meet several interesting kids from worlds he had barely heard of. He did not like, however, spending more time in Ben’s vicinity.
The brown-haired boy never missed an opportunity to show off his abilities, apparently certain it earned him respect and admiration. Most children found it interesting at first, then annoying when he repeated the same trick over and over, and finally creepy when he began to read some of their thoughts and repeat them aloud. Over the course of one week of ceremonies, Ben progressively found himself isolated, Poe being one of the very few who stayed around, probably more because his parents were always by the Organa-Solos’ side than anything else.
Ben seemed to equally loathe and covet him, going from one attitude to another in quick succession. But whatever his feelings, he had apparently decided that he was the only one allowed to have them regarding Poe, as possessive of the older boy as he was of his favorite toys, something that only grew stronger after the guests had all left the capitol and Ben was mostly left to his own devices.
When Poe finally realized what was going on, several months later, the usually polite boy told Ben to fuck off in front of both Kes and Han, and refused to have anything more to do with the younger child, while the Organa-Solos had a lengthy discussion with their son. That did not make him love either Poe or Armitage any better. His uncle spoke of taking him as a student in his school, which led, if Poe was to be believed, to a shouting match between Ben and both his parents.
“I hope Pa will let me come to Takodana for the next holidays. Or you can come to Yavin. I really don’t want to go back in the Core if I have to entertain Mister ‘I’m-better-than-you-cause-I-have-the-Force’. Talk to your parents about it, right?”
“Of course. I’d really like to visit your dad’s farm, anyway.”
Armitage received his parents’ authorization easily enough, provided that he called them regularly. He was impatient to get on a new adventure, and one that would be far more pleasant than his first stay in the Core.