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Six years had passed since those wonderful holidays on Yavin IV. Armitage had enjoyed every minute of it, even if he was not exactly used to the local warm and moist climate. He had spent a whole month with Poe and Kes, learning more than he had expected about farming in general and growing fruits in particular, and tinkering with the family’s speeders, the most interesting thing he had found – not that he would have told Kes he did not care much about fruits and trees; he was not suicidal. For once, he had been completely carefree and even allowed himself to do some things he would have considered useless and silly before his arrival on Takodana.

The boys had seen each other again on the following year, but after that had been forced to remain apart, relying solely on Holonet message, as Poe was sent to school in another system and Armitage alternated between correspondence lessons and stays on Dentaal for his studies.

Though he would soon turn nineteen and had all the required grades to attend it, university seemed so far away... He was not particularly fond of leaving Takodana for such a long time, but he knew he would get better opportunities in the Core. Nothing changed in that regard. His parents did not want to see him go for so long either, but had resigned themselves. At least this time, Armitage was not taken away by a hostile force, but was going by his own free will. It did not prevent them from discreetly shedding some tears when their son finally left for the Core with two bags of clothes, a handful of holobooks and a promise to call them at least once a week.

* *

The first month was a nightmare. Armitage was not used to being surrounded by so many people at the same time. Maz’s castle felt tiny compared to the buildings where he was attending his lessons. And he could not find silence anywhere; there was always a low rumble of noise everywhere he went, footsteps in the distance or conversations in the corridors. He also understood quickly that he would not make many friends there. Those who took their studies seriously were often far too busy to have time for extracurricular activities, and those who ‘took it easy’ gave the young man a sudden wish to discover whether the ‘perfect murder’ could be performed in real life or not.

His new pet peeve, however, was a particular cast of young, wealthy people who held very uninformed opinions about the Civil War and what should have been done to restore the galaxy to its former (legendary) splendor.

Eleventh-hour freedom fighters and Holonet warriors were the worst, he found out, the most zealous in demanding sanctions and exclusions from the comfort of their houses when they had never done anything to solve the original problem when the time had been right. He quickly learned to use his parents’ names rather than Hux, as his biological father was a known figure from the last months of the war, and not particularly popular.

After the first trimester, Armitage could assure his parents that he was properly acclimatized to his new life in the city. He dwelled in a small room within the walls of the university, with just a bed, a table, a chair and some shelves, and the tiniest refresher he had ever used. He could not add much in terms of personal belongings or little gadgets that would make him feel more at home, but he had managed to find a place for a potted plant from the forest around the house on Takodana and a little bird in carved wood, a gift from one of Maz’s clients. His holobooks and clothes took most of the available space and he could hardly invite someone in, even when he was partnered with another student for a project. Usually they would work in the library or, when the weather allowed it, in the lovely and very quiet gardens that surrounded the buildings. Armitage’s favorite place was a huge, gnarled tree growing near a pond where the biology students frequently released their superfluous frogs – as long as you avoided the pond during mating season, it was a perfectly peaceful and relaxing location.

Something Armitage had not considered was the opportunity to gather rumors and little bits of knowledge. As a joke, his father had asked him to send home three pieces of news each week that he had not known previously, but Armitage had taken it very seriously. One of the first things he learned via online gossip was that Ben Organa-Solo did not live in the Core anymore. The boy had been shipped off to his uncle, and the various comments on the news wondered what could have prompted his parents to do so. Armitage dropped the matter quickly enough. The boy had been nothing but a nuisance the very few times he had seen him and he had better things to do than to think about his whereabouts. Getting top grades, for instance. Both his parents had been forced to cut their own education short, but they would certainly not allow him to slack. His grandfather had been a most successful engineer, after all (even if his top project was a giant battle station that could go into hyperspace and blow up whole planets, let’s not talk about it, thank you very much). Sometimes Armitage thought he would have liked to meet Galen Erso, do his homework with him, hear his voice… The man was nothing more than a distant memory, a longing in Jyn’s voice and a deep regret in Cassian’s eyes. There were some parts of the story that, even now, they would rather keep to themselves.

* *

Armitage had been studying for almost a year when the first troubles began to arise. He had been registered under his foster parents’ names and some fellow students had gotten curious about him, having heard about Jyn and Cassian’s missions (or some vague, abridged version of them) from their own parents. They began to question soon where Armitage came from and how he had been adopted – since his features made his lack of biological connections with his parents rather obvious. He said as little as he could, but could not avoid mentioning Arkanis. Immediately unpleasant questioning began to flow: who were his real parents, and what was he doing there in the Core, and what were his plans for the future? As if someone adopted at five years old could have had a whole plot schemed so much in advance… Most of it stopped almost as fast as it had begun, but one student, the son of some senator, would not relent and even had the gal to write a message to Princess Organa herself. The reply, however, was not the one he had expected.

The lady came to visit in person, requesting to discuss the matter with the superintendent and his two students. Armitage’s accuser was already glowing with pride and as soon as he got the opportunity, he launched into a tirade about the children of Imperial officers and civil servants lurking in the shadows of the Republic.

Organa cut the speech with a sharp “I disagree.”

She turned towards the boy with a sickly sweet smile.

“First, none of them were born when Alderaan was destroyed, so you can't hold them accountable for it and second, bullying them will never make up for your parents twiddling their thumbs during the whole war.”

Armitage would have clapped, had they not been in public. But from that moment on, Leia Organa had his undisputed loyalty.

* *

For months after this episode – which for some reason had leaked in the university in spite of the superintendent’s promise to keep silent – Armitage was left mostly alone by his peers. He never forgot to write his parents but did not try to widen his small circles of friends and relations. His work was everything.

That did not mean the rest of the world had forgotten him, however. He was extremely surprised when Master Skywalker called him, with many apologies for borrowing his com number from his parents. Armitage did not mind, though. He had met the man once or twice as a child and had kept fond memories of him, his epic stories and his kind, warm voice.

Luke was once again on a quest, it seemed. He had caught some rumors regarding the Imperial facilities on Jakku and something about Project Harvester, which led him to contact Armitage for more details about it, hopefully.

The young man was sorry to disappoint him.

“I know my father took all his notes on that project when he left Arkanis. The recovery team the Alliance sent there found nothing about it. So we can assume that he was planning to start again, provided he found someone wealthy enough to fund him.”

“Did you hear anything about Admiral Rae Sloane?” Luke asked.

Armitage shook his head.

“Not since I was... well, about five. She came once to Arkanis and I remember she didn't get along so well with my father. I can't picture her helping him, at least not with that kind of 'research'.”

The older man nodded.

“But had he found another patron, he would have carried on and developed his experiments?”

“Very likely, yes.”

“I see... Thank you for your time.”

“You’re welcome. Good luck with your school, Master Luke.”

“Oh, please, don’t call me that! I get it more than enough from my students, and it makes me feel nine hundred years old!” the Jedi mock-complained, before wishing all sorts of good things to Armitage for the remainder of his time in university.

* *

If wishes were money, Armitage would probably be one of the richest men in the galaxy right now, and never have to worry about his future. Unfortunately, less than a year away from his mastery in sciences and technology, he was left with close to nothing. The superintendent who had supported him during his first year had resigned and been replaced by a more politically inclined person, one who did not take very kindly to ‘Imperial spawn’ mixing with good republican children. Armitage had hoped the first incident and Organa’s interference would have calmed the ‘patriots’ operating among the students but for once in his life he had proven far too optimistic.

And so there he was, on a shuttle back home with his books and clothes, and not much more. He felt so ashamed of his failure to properly integrate in society that he was briefly tempted to take another transport and never go back to Takodana. His parents had done their best for him and he could not even repay their efforts and kindness… Then again, if he vanished without warning, they would turn the galaxy upside down to find him. Better face them first, and then disappear.

He landed near Maz’s lair, as usual, and walked towards the house. It was only Cassian and Jyn now. All their wards had left for another home along the years.

When he arrived, Armitage noticed that his mother’s speeder was not at its usual place. Jyn was probably gone to the nearest station to trade some of her vegetables against power cells or other supplies.

“Hello, Papa,” he called as he entered. “I’m home.”

His father emerged from his workshop, smiling. The smile vanished when he noticed Armitage’s grim expression.

“What happened?” Cassian asked, worried by the way his son's shoulders slouched and the fact he would not meet his eyes.

“Some overzealous prick slipped my birth father's name to the teachers during class and launched a procedure to have me expelled from the university for causing ‘unrest’ when I denied having contact with him. Complete success. I've been kicked out and my appeal was not even registered. Apparently, human beings are not even allowed to lodge a formal complain. Not to mention Imperial officers’ children.”

He was not so surprised, though. His foster father still got bullshit for hailing from a Separatist world, after all, even more than forty years after the facts. As if the Core-worlders had not done their own share of betrayals…

“I’m sorry,” he went on. “You did everything for me… and I botched it.”

“Oh, niño, don’t blame yourself. I saw your grades. Your work was more than fine.”

“What am I going to do, now?” Armitage groaned. “What kind of job can I get without a mastery? Not one that will bring me very far, anyway.”

Cassian interrupted his rant by a hug, something that did not, even after all this time, happen so often. Armitage was tall enough now that his father’s head rested on his shoulder. A curious sight indeed.

“First, take some rest,” Cassian advised. “You can stay here for a while, and we’ll devise something with your mother. You’re not useless, son. Never believe that.”

Armitage slumped in his father’s embrace, allowing Cassian to plant a quick, soft kiss on his forehead. The younger man smiled.

“Perhaps it’s time I followed the family tradition more closely. Spying cannot be as dangerous now as it was in your time.”

Cassian considered him with something akin to resignation.

“I have a very bad feeling about this.”