Armitage Hux yawns and stretches out in his small bed, waking to the same thing as every other morning; the rising sun shining through his curtains and the heavy silence of his own loneliness.
Turning onto his back, Hux reaches for the little piece of rope beside his bed and gives it a tug, opening the curtains of the window that sits above him in the roof of his cylindrical tower, already seeing that the grey clouds of the early morn have begun to move away, giving him a pleasant view of the blue sky and birds flying by.
Oh, he thinks, kicking off his bedsheets and rubbing his eyes, what it would mean to him to be free.
This tower has been Hux’s home for the last few years, each day no different than the last, the next no more exciting than the previous. Repetitiveness, a drill every morning to get his mundane duties done before he allows himself to relax. Hux does, however, like sticking to his routine; it gives his day and evening structure, reminding him of a simpler time at the cadet’s barracks. At least, too, the routine gives him something to think about, other than his father’s blazing disappointment in him.
Hux is an omega living in a kingdom of alphas and betas. Presenting at 17 years old, and expecting his knot to pop but rather finding that he didn’t have one, Hux had believed that he may have been treated like royalty, being so rare, but instead, he’s locked away like a beast. Or rather, like the jewel to go around a beast’s neck. He’s a prize, awaiting the day that his father will come to him with the news of his betrothal, news that Brendol has finally found a rich alpha to take his omega son off his hands for good.
Hux sighs as he rises from his bed and goes into the little bathroom, washing his face in the basin before looking at his reflection in the dully-shining piece of hanging metal on the wall that acts as a mirror. With his father visiting today, Hux knows his appearance has to be as smart as if he were back in the kingdom’s young soldier regiment; his red hair cut short, his face clean-shaven and his chambers tidy and presentable.
After dressing in a pair of dark brown trousers and a soft, long-sleeved white shirt, Hux takes care down the winding, rickety staircase down from the antechamber of his bedroom and into the open, main—and only other—room of his tower. With his bare feet padding softly against the wooden floor, he walks to the small kitchen area and begins preparing his own breakfast, chopping what little fruit and bread he had left, silently being thankful that Brendol will be bringing supplies to him today. He’d politely asked for some pastries upon his father’s next visit, to which he’d received a huff in reply, but Hux smiles and still holds out a little hope that he’ll be treated to some sweet treats for his lack of attempts to escape within the past month.
There’s a small table with one stool in the main chamber of Hux’s tower where he sits and eats, looking out through the large windows that lead out onto his balcony as he finishes the last piece of fruit in his meal, wiping the juice from his lips with his napkin, taking a final sip of his favourite berry-flavoured tea before he begins cleaning. Sweeping, dusting, organising; it’s all for Brendol’s visit, supposedly, but Hux admits to himself that the tidiness of his tower is the only thing that he has control over, and he likes it.
But even as he sweeps, Hux finds his mind wandering, eyes looking to the book-covered walls that surround him. Shelf upon shelf stacks up as tall as the ceiling, holding the dozens of books that Hux has indulged in to pass the time, some even having to be piled either side of his balcony doors because of lack of space—though, he reminds himself to move them to his bedroom before Brendol appears. All shelves are alphabetised for ease of use, and Hux slowly walks around the edge of the room, looking up and down his collection, wondering which one he should start today. Books give him the illusion of freedom, he finds; immersing himself in the written word and accompanying artwork is the only sort escape Hux gets, but he tells his father that it’s for academic purposes, the only way of making sure that Brendol brings him more books to add to his collection.
Though, it’s been a while since Brendol has gifted his son a new book, so as Hux browses, he knows that he’s them all before, but he picks one about the history of sorcery, for some reason, admiring its black, matt cover and the silver lettering on the spine. It’s been a while since he’s indulged in some reading about magic users and their powers so Hux nods to himself, pleased with his choice, before grabbing his worn and shabby dark red cloak and descending the spiralled steps from his rooms at the top of his tower and down to the grassy plain below.
Just as he’d expected, the morning chill has disappeared from the air and the sun sits high in the cloudless sky, shining down on the small clearing where Hux’s tower sits in the unfindable centre of the maze that the kingdom calls the enchanted forest. Tall trees with thick, dark trunks cover the perimeter of the round clearing whilst a narrow tributary of the kingdom’s river forks around the tower, giving Hux at least a form of a water supply. He gives his little vegetable patch a look over too, checking the progress of his potatoes and carrots, giving his cherry tomatoes a little squeeze before watering them a little. The grass is soft and warm beneath Hux’s bare feet, and he chooses a spot in the shade of his tower’s shadow to lay his cloak down and settle himself on it before opening his book.
And despite being out in the open air, Hux has never felt more suffocated.
He glances up from his book when the trees rustle yet he sees nothing, only the invisible circle around his glade that keeps him here, that traps him here. It’s an enchantment of some sort, a line of unseen fire around him that burns him if he attempts to escape, a truth he’s learned twice, and the rash-like burns on his skin had been difficult to hide, covering his legs and arms as he’d tried to step past the trees but finding himself unable to go any further because of the searing pain on his skin.
Hux itches his arm as he recalls his failed escape attempts, still staring at the trees in front of him, imagining the life he could have had.
A trap to keep the omega in, a repellent to keep alphas away. And as long as Hux remains here upon his father’s forceful decree, he’s nothing more than an omega waiting to be mated.
The wind blows, and Hux lifts his chin and closes his eyes, feeling its coolness on his skin and it waft his hair out of its place. There’s a warmth on his cheeks that appears almost suddenly as the leaves rustle with the wind. Could it be his heat? No. Impossible. Hux has only ever had one previous heat; when he first presented as an omega in his late teens and his father locked him in their basement, ashamed that his son, with so much potential to be great, was trembling with the need to be mated.
And after that, Brendol had acquired a potion from a sorcerer—likely the same on that’d crafted the fiery barrier—that prevents Hux from falling into heat until the day that his alpha suitor comes for him, a day that Hux hopes never comes.
The sky darkens. Hux shakes his head and pushes out any thoughts that aren’t about his book, feeling his chest beginning to tighten as he’s angered by the fate that has been decided for him but he delves back into the pages of his tome, taking in each word about the workings of a world he’s only ever experienced though the seal that keeps him here.
Magic, sorcery, enchantments. Hux turns his nose up. An evil world, surely. No good can come from magic users and their desire to meddle with the lives of normal folk. Hux drags his fingers across the parchment paper, looking at the pictures drawn of ancient amulets and spell circles. If this nonsense didn’t exist, then he wouldn’t be trapped here by the invisible line of fire, created by a dark sorcerer.
Then again, Hux thinks, looking at the sky, a literal cage with metal bars and a lock may have been the alternative. And as clouds begin to push their way into the sky and the wind picks up, Hux closes his book and pulls his cloak around himself, knowing that the afternoon is dying, and Brendol is coming.
He quickly goes back up to his tower to put his book away neatly before hanging his cloak up and setting some water to boil to make sure his father has tea waiting for him when he arrives. It should, Hux hopes, help settle Brendol’s seemingly permanent bad mood. The long walk through the enchanted forest would put anyone’s frustrations up but with ex-military man and stern alpha Brendol Hux whose frustrations are always running on the edge of explosion, the forest walk means he’s already on the verge of an angry outburst by the time he reaches his son’s tower.
Today, Hux finds, is no different.
“Armitage,” Brendol greets coldly, removing his grey, hooded cloak and tossing it in Hux’s direction to hang, setting a large basket down beside the cream sofa.
“Father,” Hux replies. He wants to roll his eyes at his father’s use of his first, hated name but instead, gives him a forced smile and begins preparing Brendol’s tea.
The silence between them would be unnerving and awkward to an outsider but Hux is unaffected by it; too many times has be tried to fill it with conversation that’s been shot down by a calloused stare or venomous words. So, now, Hux prefers the silence.
“If these rooms were your barracks, I’d be inclined to say you’ve done well at keeping them clean,” Brendol says, taking the cup of tea from Hux without thanks. “But they’re not.”
Hux ignores him, having learnt a long time ago not to rise to Brendol’s taunts. He perches on a nearby stool, sipping at his own tea, eyes drifting towards the basket that his father has brought, wondering what food is inside.
“Aren’t you going to ask about my progress in finding you a mate?” Brendol says.
Hux glances up from the basket to Brendol, wanting to ask about the food he’s brought rather than know anything about his search for an alpha.
“Of course,” Hux lies, adding a confident nod too. “I was just about to offer my interest.”
“I was almost successful,” Brendol announces. “The royal guards were recently graced with a new arrival. A captain, an alpha, an exceptionally strong woman that would’ve been perfect to take you. Alas, her attentions were taken by a soft, little beta and my search is fruitless yet again.”
Hux can’t help but breathe a heavy sigh of relief. Imagining himself on the arm of an alpha captain makes him shiver. He wants to remain unmated, and certainly not become mated to an individual of position in the kingdom’s army, a position he could’ve likely achieved if he weren’t an omega.
“That is…unfortunate,” Hux says, feigning disappointment.
“It is,” Brendol mutters. “But it further proves my logic of keeping you here, Armitage. Even that alpha succumbed to her needs and mated with that beta before I could offer her a chance to mate with you. A victim of her own nature. It shows how some alphas can be weak like omegas when it comes to their biology.”
Hux can’t hold his tongue, “You tar everyone with the same brush, Father. She could have been in love with that beta—”
“Love!” Brendol erupts into hearty laughter. “You sound like a naïve pup, Armitage. Love does not exist in our world. You mate for prosperity, to provide heirs to your bloodline. To think of it in any other way is folly.”
Hux takes a long sip of his tea, wishing he had some form of alcohol in it to numb his senses and increase his tolerance for Brendol’s ideals but, dear, it remains merely tea.
Their conversation for the afternoon remains focussed on Hux’s lack of suitor and how Brendol’s impatience grows at that very fact. Hux merely sits and listens, knowing that fighting back or defending himself, or his biology, is a waste of time. He nods along with Brendol’s words, not even having the will to daydream about his future, knowing that he can never meet anyone or fall in love, so what’s the point in even dreaming?
The evening draws to a slow close, the light fading away until Hux has to excuse himself for a moment to begin lighting candles around his rooms in the hopes that it’ll make Brendol realise how much he’s overstayed his welcome.
“I’ll take my leave, Armitage,” Brendol finally says as Hux clears their cups from the small table. “Here. Supplies. You need to ration yourself more, boy. I can’t keep bringing you items when it’s merely your greed that’s getting the better of you.”
Hux swallows hard, resisting the urge to lift his shirt and show his father his flat stomach and partially-protruding ribs, and then poke Brendol in his fat stomach or his fleshy jowls. If anyone in the entire kingdom was to be named the most gluttonous, Brendol Hux would annihilate the rest of the competition.
Hux takes the basket from his father with a half-sincere thanks, wanting to remove its cloth to see what he’s been brought, but he puts off the action until he’s alone.
“Have a safe trip, Father,” Hux says, silently wishing the opposite.
“I shall return in one week like always, Armitage, hopefully with news of someone who will take you off my hands.”
“Oh, we can only hope,” Hux replies.
If Brendol catches his sarcasm, the alpha does not comment.
Hux fetches Brendol’s cloak for him, supposing that it’s the next best thing to actually pushing him out of the door. The clothing is soft in Hux’s fingers, new and expensive, and it only makes Hux despise his father more.
The two utter no more words to each other as Brendol descends the staircase and Hux stays at his balcony, watching his despicable father walk away from him, wishing that the enchantment would malfunction just for a moment and scold the old alpha to death. But he steps over the invisible line without incident; the only alpha allowed in or out of Hux’s prison.
Hux stays on the balcony for a while after his father has gone, looking out to see the radiant orange sky and the sun setting over the tall trees of the enchanted forest, and imagines a world where no alphas, no omegas, no one and nothing to determine your fate for you.
When his stomach begins to rumble with hunger, Hux sighs and goes back inside, remember the food basket that his father brought to him. He picks it up and sets it on the table, pulling off the cloth with eager fingers, rooting inside of it to find the usual fruits, vegetables breads and cheeses, but Hux huffs and puts the cloth back over it.
Hux wakes the next morning with the lingering aggravation of his father’s visiting on his mind though everything else remains the same. He chooses not to linger too long in bed this morning, feeling eager to make his breakfast with the fresh produce in the basket, knowing that as the days go on, things will become less tasty and less edible.
Still in just his brown sleep-pants and no shirt, Hux makes his way around his rooms, opening curtains and neatening things up that he may have missed last night whilst in his foul mood.
But as he opens the curtains to reveal the large windows that lead out onto his balcony, Hux freezes on the spot. Something is wrong. Something is there.
There are flowers, real and vibrant red roses, sat on the stone of his balcony, tied together in a perfect bunch with a piece of red string. Hux is utterly baffled.
He peers over the side, looking down into his little meadow carefully, just in case they’re a distraction in an attempt to either capture him or kill him—likely the former, he decides—but he sees nothing. The grass remains undisturbed, the little river is still flowing and there’s still the familiar and strange pull of the invisible circle around his tower that forbids him from leaving.
Just for peace of mind, Hux also looks up, afraid an assassin may be on his roof but, again, he sees nothing.
With hesitation, Hux kneels down, ignoring the slight chill of the early morning wind on his bare torso, and brushes his fingers against the red petals. It’s been years since he’s seen roses, since he’s seen something with some vibrant and new colour that he can’t help but smile when he picks them up. Even the red string is soft as he touches it, pulling it between his fingers, remembering it as the same string that he used to tie the spines of his over-read books back together.
He’s careful with his flowers, cutting them down to fit perfectly inside an old pot that he finds in the back of one of the little cupboards in his kitchen, setting them upon his table, a perfect centrepiece that he knows will make him smile every time he looks at them.
And only when he’s sat down at the table, staring at the flowers, does Hux’s mind really begin to tick.
Who put the roses there?