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Unlucky for Some

Chapter Text

She watched the old man touch his plate with the side of a loosely curled hand, he turned his dish to a more pleasing angle so the food, a slice of sweet pie, pointed towards him. He struggled to grasp his fork, moving it to the edge of the smooth table till he could pick up the handle.

Knowing that an offer of help would be foully rejected Rey sat patiently pretending not to see the difficulties Armitage’s father had with his meal. She was nervous about the visit. Slowly, very slowly she had built up a relationship with Brendol Hux. It had started through visiting his small world of a shabby sitting room, overcrowded with an impressive collection of weaponry, but his simmering tolerance was still a fragile thing. The man, even affected by age and illness, was still as straight as an iron rod; the General was strong in mind if not in body. His senses were sharp and his patience thin. Rey got the feeling age had not mellowed one of the First Order’s most ruthless leaders. In fact she felt vaguely as if he put up with her, like she was a visiting inconvenience instead of the only visitor he received.

Rey left her own pie uneaten. It was now or never, she told herself. What would Brendol do anyway? Give her his usual death stare? Hit her with his walking stick? Jedi were not afraid of old men, she reminded herself, especially ones who had trouble gripping a fork. She screwed up her courage.

“I was thinking I want to learn more about Armitage mother, His birth mother.” Her voice sounded overly loud.

Brendol gave her the death stare. His eyes narrowed to slits, his mouth frowned, it was as if every muscle in his face was holding back from ordering her to walk off the nearest, highest object.

“Why?” He asked.

“I'm curious, all I know about her could fit into two sentences; Armitage doesn't talk about her.”

The General chewed his pie while staring at Rey. Time stretched out and she was sure he wasn’t going to reply, she had almost decided to leave before the yelling would start.

“He didn't really know her; I had to take him when he was still little. Not too sure if I got a good deal either, he's not a good son. Terrible, weak...”

“His mother though,” she interrupted. “Was she terrible?” The perceived failings of his son rant could go on for hours and once Brendol started it was hard to turn his attention to other subjects.

He twisted uncomfortably, then put a still curled hand to his head, pushed an invisible strand of hair away from his temple. “She was a good cook, no a baker,” he corrected himself. “A chef,” he settled on. “she told me she had been a chef. On yachts - they are like space ships but on water here.”

“I know what a yacht is,” Rey bit her lip; she didn't want to upset him, not when this was the most amount of information she had ever gleaned from either Armitage or Brendol. “His mother was a chef,” she repeated.

“Forget the chef, she was a baker really. Did a lot of bread, all sorts, not rubbish like this,” Brendol prodded his pie with his fork. “Armitage’s grandmother worked here, as a kitchen hand, and maid, but she got sick. So.” The pie skated away from the marauding fork, but lost the battle and was stabbed mercilessly. “Armitage's mother came home from her ‘apparent career’, to look after her mother. Then my father, that is Armitage's grandfather, gave Armitage's mother her mother's job, I suppose because they needed the credits and my father was always…” He stopped. Then lightly said, “that is all.”

Rey frowned. That was all? “But how, General, I mean I don't want to sound crude, but, at some point Armitage got into his mother,” she trailed off under the General’s increasingly angry gaze. If she had been a piece of pie her eye balls would have been speared and slashed to pieces by now.

“My girl, if you haven't worked that out by now I don't know what my son's been doing. Knowing him, he is probably failing even at the most basics of marriage. Not to worry, I can always demonstrate for you?”

She coughed, something was stuck in her throat. The fit of sputtering lasted till she could slide another arm’s length away from her father-in-law.

“Hahaha,” she forced out a terse laugh. “I meant, Sir, you must have felt an attraction? There must be more to the story. I know you were married to Maratelle...”

He rolled his eyes. “People get so focused on that, but I married Maratelle after I ah, ‘knew’ Armitage's mother. Maybe also a little during.”

“During?” Rey asked feeling bewildered. “Do you mean during the actual wedding Brendol?”

Brendol exhaled and the fork was pushed so hard against the plate it squeaked. “If I had a chance I would have continued having an affair with Armitage’s mother after my marriage too, does that shock you?” He didn’t wait for her to answer. “But I had to start teaching work at the Academy, and by the time I came back it was too late. Why are you so interested anyway?” The old man asked suddenly. “It's all long, long ago. No good dredging it all up. Bad enough I have to live here without…”

“Her? Armitage's mother?” Rey finished.

“No, don’t put words into my mouth! I was going to say without any good help. What do you think we were? Some sort of doomed stereotype master and servant love story for the ages? Romantic rubbish.”

Rey picked up her own fork and pointed it at Brendol. If he was going to act like she was interrogating him she might as well have her own weapon. “What was her name? I want to know.”

“So you can search for her and find out my secret, hidden mysteries you believe I foster? I don't want you to know her name, if it hasn’t already been obvious enough. I'm sure you met Armitage and then, because of your inexperience and lack of choice on Jakku, settled for him. Probably regretting it now?”

“Sometimes,” she freely admitted.

“He's an idiot, we agree, but his mother, very infrequently, was adequate in some small areas, not like her son, a continual disappointment.” He stopped and lowered his cutlery, it clanked on the plate. “I'll show you and if I show you, no more questions. I won't answer them.”

Brendol got up, shaking off his daughter-in-law’s halfhearted attempt to help him up, then found an older style comm unit in a drawer, brought it over and started tapping. He scowled at her. “I need a new one. Armitage doesn't think I need technology I suppose.”

“You could order one yourself,” she volunteered.

“Shut up,” was the answer before he passed the unit. She watched the faintly lined, green tinged screen as security footage of a woman brushing her hair started. The woman was sitting on a box in front of an open oven. Rey recognized a pattern on the wall tile.

“This is Armitage’s mother? Here in the kitchen here?”

Brendol nodded.

She watched fascinated at a woman brushed her hair. A cat walked past the girl on the screen and she stretched out a hand to pat along its flank from nose to tail. The woman was wearing a wide apron, with long red hair and a pretty face. The shape of her cheeks reminded her of Tage. She could see him in her colorings. The woman sneezed and the General took the device back. He watched it a few seconds longer, his face unreadable.

“She was always slacking off,” he told her and he slid the device into his pocket. “I should have fired her after the first time I met her. She was incredibly rude, and extremely unprofessional. She claimed she was a chef, but she couldn't even pour wine correctly. The girl wanted me to get my own meal even! She was always trying to get into my room, letting livestock into the kitchen and she'd give food to passing children, or the person who delivered the supplies. That food didn’t belong to her! And she only had one dress. One dress!”

“Maybe she could only afford one dress? Maybe she didn't like wearing dresses?”

He sat still and then slowly looked up at her his eyebrows drawn together, as if he had never had this particular thought before.

“No more questions,” his voice sounded tired, the gruffness still present, but quieter. “She's gone and it wasn't meant to be. She got into trouble,” he added as an afterthought.

Yes, she had got in trouble. Brendol had got her into that particular trouble Rey thought to herself. No matter how the story had played out, whether he cared or not, whether they had been in love, if he had been married to Armitage’s step mother or not, the man had taken advantage of someone who was not in a position to refuse his advances.

Silently Rey tried to sum up everything she heard. Now she knew for certain Tage’s mother had worked in the Hux household, in the kitchen and that they had been together before he got married, and during. A curious concept. Brendol thought she was rude, but he hated everyone, she was probably a decent person, feeding children and patting cats seemed nice. Like normal, nice things. She had worked as a chef on yachts, had loved her mother, Armitage's grandmother, enough to come home to care for her. And then there had been the mention of Brendol’s father, he must have liked her, enough to hire her at least. She had never heard Brendol’s father talked about. What had he been like? Did he stop their affair?

After Rey had been practically pushed out of the General’s sitting room she went to look at a painting of a serenely smiling man who she knew was Armitage's grandfather. It was an odd picture of a Hux. Especially when their natural state was usually one of tightly coiled anger.

Armitage’s grandfather was a slightly tubby man with a beard and grey streaked hair, his hands rested peacefully in his lap. Brendol might have looked like him, if he hadn't spent his life frowning and squinting at screens.

The current Hux family maid, butler and caretaker combined Jeffery shuffled at the end of the hall, he saw Rey in front of the painting and moved up to stand next to her. He himself an old man. Rey was acutely conscious she was the youngest in a household of Imperial relics.

“That is Hux senior, senior. General Brendol’s father,” Jeffrey confirmed, “his name was also Brendol.”

“You knew him?” She asked curiously.

“He hired me. Senator Brendol was a good man, a pleasure to work for on the most part.”

“Were you employed before or after Brendol Junior, got married.”

“Oh,” Jeffrey rubbed the back of his head waking up long unused grey matter. “Before,” he answered. “I was at the wedding. That was a long time ago, even before the invasion,” he leaned forward and added, “don't ask me why I'm still here my dear.”

“What was he like, back then? General Brendol?”

Jeffrey ran a finger along the frame of his long dead master then rubbed off the build-up of grey dust sprinkling it on the floor. “He wasn’t a General back then and he was much the same as he is now, he was never, let's say, liked by many. If everyone, who was anyone, was going left, Brendol would go right. Or just stand still. If I can be honest?” He paused and stepped closer to his newest mistress.

Rey nodded urging him on.

The old man bent forward, happy to share what little family gossip he hoarded. “Brendol doesn't like people, particularly if he can't order them about, I think they annoy him. When he says jump, you better jump.”

“What about Armitage mother? His birth mother. Did she jump?”

“She did,” he admitted after a seconds thought. “But she had her own way with our Brendol Hux. That young lady was a better match for the General than Maratelle. That woman, Maratelle, was the opposite to ‘jump’; she'd complain about the amount of grains in a sugar cube that one, may she forever rest with the maker.”

Rey smiled as Jeffrey rolled his eyes.

“She said to me once, Armitage’s mother that is, not Maratelle, Jeffrey, she said, I like the challenge of donuts. And that was her all over. She also said don't let a Gungan in your kitchen, but things were different back then.” He put a wrinkled hand on her shoulder. “I'm glad we talked Miss Tara. Glad you came back. Some of us heard, well we heard you were some sort of bet, or trick or something strange. But here you are.”

“Here I am.” She agreed, then added silently ‘…for now.’

Jeffrey rubbed his hands together, he was short, a little shorter than Rey and with the air of a confidant he chose his next words carefully, the pair standing shoulder to shoulder in the dim corridor. “It's natural to be interested in the family history, but you should leave it alone. Truth is their story, the whole story, was wrong time, wrong people and,” he opened his hands, “that's all. I know it's hard to imagine the General, an old man who can't stand up for more than ten minutes at a time, and who once caused a droid nurse to commit suicide, could possibly be all doleful eyes and looking like the fallen hero, but Brendol could act the part. He must have been, hmm, forbidden fruit to a kitchen girl with little else to interest her.”

Rey wrinkled her nose.

“Don’t look like that Mrs Hux. Even I was young once. Anyway, your husband's mother saw something, Maker knows what, to spark some sort of relationship. We were all trapped and scared you see? The Empire did that to us. Fighting made the soldiers especially,” he paused and looked at his old master once again, “vulnerable.”

Rey could see memories flit emotions across the old man’s face; he licked his lips and bowed to her before making his way along the corridor once more. A few scuffled steps away he stopped and turned.

“Mrs Hux, if you are interested in history, you should get Brendol to tell you the story about how he started out as an officer, when he had to kill the Jedi General he worked under after 66 was ordered. He once fought with the Grand Army of the Republic you know? He likes talking about that.”

“He killed a Jedi knight?”

“Shot him in the back, I’ve heard it many times from the man himself,” Jeffrey answered cheerfully.

Chapter Text

It’s a truth, universal known; that a lone soldier is like a jammed fire arm. One has all the looks of power, the boots, the jacket and the fancy hat, but one soldier is of little use. This was how low he had been brought. Nothing more than a lowly civilian. At best he was a soon-to-be instructor at Arkanis Academy, and that position was on paper only. He could be easily discharged altogether. Brendol Hux thought the word ‘discharge’ with utter hatred. Officers who were discharged were people who had failed, and he had not fought so hard to be crossed out of history.

In the distance a siren suddenly blared, and the man walking alone in the Hux family estate garden startled at the sound, before furtively looking around. The noise grew closer as it sounded across the town’s early warning systems, but still not so close to be more than a firm, wailing echo. The Hux estate was too far away to be properly part of the incoming attack procedure. Brendol’s frown deepened, he keenly felt the restriction of the distance between himself and fellow soldiers. There was no way he could be useful here. He was stuck in a giant target of a house; too far away from the volunteer guards and the Academy to be of any use. His own personal alarm chirped from his wrist. Lifting the corner of his jacket he touched the stock of the holstered blaster he carried with him everywhere and scanned the wet garden. Of course there was nobody in sight. The black pebbled paths were empty, the home pond’s reedy shore line blank, the curved driveway void of transport, and he knew the house was empty. The few servants who worked in the Hux house would already be congregating in the underground bomb shelter. Sitting down together with their hastily made cups of caff and shared holos, numbing their tiny brains. Useless cowards.

Ships appeared, unfurling like umbrellas shaken free from hyperspace, they dotted the sky as Brendol watched. Three triangular shaped commands appeared, blinking into the atmosphere. He scowled at them with a pinched look of contempt. That was where he should be. Not trapped.

Let the Rebels attack he wished fervently, let the battle come to him. He could stand his ground then. Shoot, and fire, and win, and show them all he was every inch the soldier. Fingers traced the long, smooth outlines of the smooth explosive charge in his pocket. It was a weapon strong enough to slow nearby ground forces. One was enough to blow a hole a meter deep, or take out an armored unit. He waited, fingers poised, but no sounds of shots fired or cannons blazing could be heard. No sound apart from distant alarms, his own wrist unit chirping, and the patter of a thin drizzle of rain hitting the never ending puddles.

False alarm or a drill, he told himself and switched off his alarm. Even with the appearance of the Commands he felt it was all a mistake, the ships had moved on quickly after they breached. Some doped up, planetside sentry probably mistook their signature for incoming Rebel fighters.

Brendol made his way inside the house, he let himself inside the large door that had welcomed generations of the Hux family and shut away the sound of the sirens. Pausing, he brushed at himself still dripping from the rain, and, because there was no other option, hung his coat in the drying cupboard himself. Then Brendol carefully scraped mud off his boots. Still no staff appeared.

In the dining room he found the usual, single dinner setting was set out, but today the plates were empty of food and no attendant stood nearby to pull out his chair. Glancing at the nearby clock it showed sixteen minutes past his allocated dining hour. The servants were of course still holed up in the shelter and they would not move until the all clear signal was transmitted. They were faithful to the rules of slacking off if nothing else.

Any other time Brendol would not enter the kitchen. He hadn't ever. Or, at least, not in memory, but it was dinner time and dinner he would have. The door slid open at the touch of his impatient jab at the control and he entered.

He was mistaken about the empty house, not all the servants had scampered off to the bomb shelter.

A girl he had never seen before was standing at the long, stainless steel kitchen bench brushing a liquid onto uncooked bread loaves with what looked like a fat paintbrush. She startled as he entered, her brush hovering and her mouth open in a small “O” of surprise.

The servant girl was unlike any person he had ever seen before in his life. There was no nice way of describing the creature. No polite words to sweep her deformities aside. She was a spotted, red headed, freak show.

“My dinner?” He asked.

The girl closed her open mouth. “The other staff are all in the bunker,” she replied dropping a small bow. “There is an attack, Sir,” she added, a little sternly, as if annoyed that someone had interrupted her sudden peace.

“Obviously, but you are not with them.”

The girl finished painting the last loaf and put her brush down, wiping her flour covered hands on her apron. “I suppose I could bring your meal out myself,” she told him. “It's mostly done, I put it in the warmer drawer when the alarm started, it’s on a tray at the bottom of the oven.” She pointed towards the oven range. “You could take your plate out yourself. Sir.”

He looked carefully at the girl; he felt she must be new to be so simple. She was not so young though, maybe early thirties, plain, painfully so, with dirty, rough hands and that red hair. The most tragic case of red he had ever seen, and the freckled complexion to match. She was obviously not a front of house staff member. Nobody would allow such a girl to be seen by actual people.

“It is not my position to serve myself food,” he answered coldly.

Brendol returned to the dining room and sat at his setting, he scowled at the many empty chairs around the large, white clothed table.

The girl brought out his plate and placed it in front of him without the niceties of applying his serviette or removing extra silverware. Not the most well served meal he had ever had, but it would have to do.

“Now you must stand to the side, in case I have any more requests,” he ordered.

The girl stepped forward. “But, I have go, Sir. That is why I didn't leave with the others...”

“You will stand,” he said firmly interrupting any further pertness, “there.” He pointed to a worn carpet square where his attendant usually stood. The girl looked as if she may disobey, she stuck her chin up and shuffled to the side, arms folded, looked at where he pointed and over dramatically stepped into place.

Brendol ate carefully. After a while he asked for some wine indicating to where a carat sat on the sideboard. The kitchen girl brought it to the table and leant over to pour, holding the bottle wrong, grasping with two hands, like she was using a mallet to drive a picket into the ground. He placed his palm over his glass she tilted towards, effectively blocking her aim.

Her speckled face scowled. “Sir?” She grit out.

He pointed the correct glassware.

“I think you’ll find the first glass was the correct one… Sir,” she said.

His finger did not waver from the glass he had selected and she filled it with a sniff. He noticed her apron, which she had not bothered to remove, had brushed white flour over the dark wood of his chair back.

“What do you do here?” Brendol asked her.

“Currently I'm the chef’s assistant, and a general hand, but I'm a trained chef and baker. I make all the bread, Sir, and other baked goods.”

“Bread? Can't we just buy it ready-made?”

The girl looked at him as if he had asked her if she thought one plus one was equal to thirteen, her silly face turning even redder than normal. She inhaled and her eyes widened. “You don't like the bread?”
He picked up his roll, Brendol hadn't really thought about it before. The food at home was more edible than the bland Imperial rations he supposed. Buttering the still warm, cream coloured flesh of his roll he tasted it, biting into the softness.

“It is satisfactory,” he conceded still chewing. If the freak wanted more praise than that she was fresh out of luck.

“You would prefer store bought, ready-made bread? Bread made by machines?” Her voice sounded a little strangled.

“I really can't compare. I think this bread is satisfactory. Could it be more flavorsome? Yes, but perhaps you haven't been a baker very long? You are inexperienced?”

The woman raised a hand to her mouth in an over dramatic, and unnecessary, display of horror, left her post and went swiftly back to the kitchen while tearing off her apron, the long white fabric almost hitting him as she passed.

Brendol ate his meal alone.

***
The next evening meal he sat down to he noticed he had two bread rolls on two bread plates. One plate was on each side of his dinner like a set of ears to his soup bowl. He signaled to his attendant. This evening his meal attendant was the regular man; an older staff member who did the work of a maid and house manager - when he was not hiding underground. As if a little dirt bomb shelter would stop even a quarter of the universes current impact weaponry.

Brendol motioned to the twin rolls. “Why two?” He asked.

“I believe one is shop bought, Sir. The smaller is made here. Miss Magdalin, the kitchen helper, said you would like to compare.”

The kitchen helper? He remembered the dirty, red freak and apparent baker from the previous day, the one who had walked out. Brendol had assumed she wouldn't return after her sordid performance. That was why he hadn't bothered to fire her.

Very well, he would humor the woman.

He tasted the shop roll first. It was large, soft, even textured, very much everything a bread roll should be. Brendol placed it back on its plate. He tried the one the girl had made. She had cheated and warmed her home baked roll up. It was a little darker, easy to bite, tasted well enough. But was it superior to the shop bought one? He couldn't honestly rule either way.

“Tell her to make a different type of bread, I cannot judge on this plain example,” he told his attendant. He picked up both plates and rolls as if measuring their weight. “What do you think of the kitchen woman’s skills?”

“Miss Magdalin is very good sir, a great help to cook, not as good as her mother, but the staff does appreciate her hot biscuit.”

“Who is her mother? Does she work locally?”

The attendant coughed as he straightened a perfectly straight bottle on the dining room side board. “Her mother, Mrs. Magdalin, has worked for the Hux family for the past seven years, although while you've been serving, so maybe Sir has not seen her? Mrs. Magdalin is unwell at the moment. That is why young Miss Magdalin is filling in. Your father approved,” he added firmly.

His father approved. Of course he would. He couldn’t resist a good sob story. Her mother was probably having a holiday somewhere warm with her disgusting, otherwise unemployable, daughter place holding for as long as she could get.

He tasted the home made roll again. “I would like to try the biscuit if it is good. Which I doubt.”

“Very well Sir. I will order it.”

Brendol met the kitchen hand in the hall next. He had just opened his bedroom door only to suddenly stare down at scarlet hair. The girl must have been reaching to knock on the opposite side, because they stood close for an instant. Brendol hoped she had been going to knock, that she would not just open the door and barge in. The thought of the freak in his personal space made him feel ill. She was holding a large empty basket on one hip. Silently she stepped back into the hall to let him pass.

“What are you doing?” He asked.

Miss Magdalin spoke slowly, her eyes watching him suspiciously, as if he was in the wrong for stepping out of his own room. “Collecting laundry Sir, to put through the machine.”

“Don't you work in the kitchen?”

“Mostly, but we all have to pitch in.”

He stayed standing in his doorway. He didn't want her in his room. “I don't have any,” he lied hoping she would leave, but she seemed determined to taunt him. The door started to automatically slide closed and he watched it slowly separate them, but she activated the sensor and it opened again. He frowned.

“Have you liked the bread?” She asked conversationally. “The rolls with dinner? The pie? The biscuit?”

Brendol wasn't used to lower ranked people talking to him, especially asking his opinion, especially by small red haired girls and especially, especially outside his bedroom the one place he could reliably be alone.

“Satisfactory,” he answered coldly.

By the look on her face that was not the answer she was looking for. He rested a hand on the doorframe as if she would rush in any second and take his laundry whatever he told her.

“I appreciate feedback sir, you can be honest. I used to work...”

“I don't know who you think I am, but I don't care to chat with staff in corridors,” he interrupted. “If you supply baked goods I will advise you of their merit through the proper channels. Otherwise you should get back to the kitchen.”

She coolly appraised him, opened her mouth as if to retort and then turned and walked towards the kitchen. Basket bobbing on her narrow hip as she moved. He watched her execute an almost military like turn down the adjoining corridor, and waited, ensuring she didn’t return.

Locking his door he rattled it to make sure it was securely fastened. Would she have access to the master code? Could the freak put her dirty hands on his personal effects? He imagined Miss Magdalin fingering his inter-galactic ammunition collection, her floury prints dusting each carefully polished shell. She was sly. Sly and pert. The thought of her freckled face inside his closet, touching his clothes, made him uneasy.

Outside, after he had escaped into the rain, Brendol realised his interaction with the little baker was the closest thing he had had to a two-way conversation since they'd forced him to return home.

***

Brendol couldn't sleep nights. Almost every night he lay awake yet desperately tired, and it grew worse when the rain was loud. Sounding like shots in the distance and the thunder was a hammer to his skull. He felt he had to move, and keep moving, and if he stopped he would sink down, down and be stuck to the floor like being trapped in carbonite, frozen and screaming.

Hands shook.

Things crept in the dark.

The explosive he carried in his pocket during the day was always near, always watching him. It felt like a security blanket. Just one that could blow him to pieces.
To distract himself during these times, and to still his mind, Brendol set out a plan of monitoring the freak.

After weeks of various and increasingly intricate treats, but nothing exceptional, he was now sure Miss Magdalin was purposely holding back the best baked goods in retaliation for him not wanting to talk to her.

Brendol had even stepped out of his current comfort zone and asked the three other staff employed by the Hux household their thoughts on her creations. They had all timidly and unanimously said they enjoyed the kitchen hand’s bread and cakes and other sweets, but he could not taste anything that indicated anything was better than what was acceptable. There was nothing more than flour and water and yeast. He was convinced Miss Magdalin was intentionally excluding him, she was just like his senior officers, she was excluding him because she thought she knew better, and he would prove it.

The solution was quite, quite, very, very, extremely clear.

He had set up a motion activated nano-droid in the kitchen to watch her at all times. It was a simple answer really. Because, originally the choice was between; filming her, or locking her in the storage room next to the garage until she admitted she was in the wrong, whatever it was she was doing (or not doing). Ultimately the filming seemed less likely to cause a mess.

He’d hidden the droid high up on a dusty shelf full of various unused trash on the third delirious, starless night of practically no sleep. The mission had been successful. He could now watch Miss Magdalin any time on a portable screen in his room.

To be clear the camera was for supervising her work standards only. He tapped the viewing screen to focus solely on the now familiar apron covered form. Miss Magdalin was chopping vegetables, her face resting with eye-brows drawn together in concentration while her knife struck a wood block over and over.

Brendol was not attracted to the girl in any way, shape or form. She was a servant, not even the sort that you take with you when you travel. The sort of staff you pretend you need to iron your clothes, but really your just fucking them senseless till the next meeting or whatever one was attending. But Miss Magdalin was not even in the realm of decency, her freakish form even made his chest hurt. He was engaged anyway, to someone completely beneficial and attractive. So you see Brendol was not masturbating like an Ewok at a full moon to a girl on a screen. He was supervising.

In hours he couldn't sleep and couldn't walk, which was a lot on Arkansas even in the so called summer period, he'd check to make sure Miss Magdalin was spending her time well. He had started a small note file on her times worked, breaks spent and conversations she had with staff and visiting contractors. Already her list of crimes was lengthy. She had many days or evenings off, she talked to all staff too freely, she gave bread away to visitors, two dozen rolls a week stolen from the kitchen and given to the local preschool, also she’d fed left over scraps to sick looking cats and birds. Sometimes the cats even sat in front of the stove at night on a rice sack she put down for them. It was extremely unhygienic.

One morning, after Miss Magdalin arrived late to work during a torrid thunderstorm, Brendol had watched horrified as Miss Magdalin had peeled off her boots and sat on a crate in front of the open oven to dry her hair. With a small comb she teased it out into an amber cloud, brushing and brushing like a holy mantra and then she had carefully platted it into two ropes before pinning it in its usual manner. He had saved that recording as evidence of her time wasting, and he watched it regularly to remind himself to be on the look-out for hair in his food. Long, coarse red hair.

No, he was not attracted to the woman.

The freak.

But, if sometimes Brendol watched her and he had no pants on it was because he was in the middle of changing, or not sleeping while reclining in bed. Not sleeping with no pants on because not everyone likes to wear pajamas, and he could not control when the nano-droid’s motion sensor would be activated.

Miss Magdalin started early in the morning, two standard hours before other staff. It was still dark when she would arrive and take out her proved bread. Those first two hours before the rest of the household appeared were Brendol’s most fruitful for recording her many misdemeanors. The hair brushing was just the beginning; she spent her time patting the cats, talking to the Gungan who delivered fish, or dancing around to music and singing. He had no sound, but she was either singing or talking to herself and he knew she often listened to music. Brendol had banned music in the kitchen, but she didn’t seem to think this rule applied to herself and the music obstinately continued. Miss Magdalin also spent some time staring at the sunrise, writing on her comm or other uselessness. After a few weeks of watching he felt he had enough to prove beyond a doubt the girl was ripe for dismissal.

Still he had to admit the baker’s actual bread making was improving.

Every day Miss Magdalin tried serving something different and made notes with a stumpy, well chewed pencil in a little green covered book on the results. This note taking was what had inspired him to start creating his own history of notes on her.

Experimentally she added sweet ingredients to her baking, like fruit or sugars, sometimes she tried different flours, or cheese, or strips of meat. Each change was noted and referred to. Brendol much preferred the sweet bread. He gave honest, but restrained, feedback and grilled his attendant around the baking technique used each day. Sometimes several messages had to be walked between master and baker. Each on opposite sides of a door, with a tired attendant sliding in-between to find out what the lemon taste was, or how Sir enjoyed the glaze.

As the weeks went by his palette improved, the nightly baking became more and more elaborate and Brendol’s voyeurism increased.

One very early morning, after seeing her sneeze over a batch of donuts she was preparing to be served at breakfast, Brendol rolled reached for his notebook, clicked the nib of his pen down and wrote:

Tuesday 3:26 – Purposely sneezed on food. Last straw! Termination of employment immediate!!

He pictured the way she would beg for mercy. Miss Magdalin would untie her apron and the long strings would dangle from each hand. If Sir would let her stay she would do anything. Anything! He would produce the damning evidence of his growing file and read the entries out loud as the girl cried.

“I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do,” he would tell her, all the while not feeling sorry at all.

She would push the apron strings into his hands and refuse to leave. He could imagine her impudent, freakish face denying his claims. Her actions would leave him with no other choice than to have to punish her himself, forcing him to draw his weapon and to order her to remove her clothes.

Then Brendol would take the apron strings, maybe test them; maybe even pull them tight while wrapped around each fist. Making sure Miss Magdalin could clearly see he was not a man to disobey. While she squirmed at his touch he would tightly tie her hands behind her back, no her front - because he liked it when girls touched his hair.

Leaning close he would move her face to the side, freckled skin would come into focus and he would whisper in one pink ear. “you’re in trouble now, my girl.”

Smiling sadistically he thought about how he would make her suffer. He enjoyed the picture his voyeurism had created and found he had gone to bed naked again. This was a coincidence. His medication was making him hotter at night that was all. He did not feel any attraction to Miss Magdalin. This was purely a more of a…

A more of a…

He clicked his pen.

In his imagination Miss Magdalin lay naked and bound on the floor in the dining room. She looked up from the worn carpet path between the kitchen door and the dining table, her hair still pinned into her loop plats, tears streaked on flushed cheeks. Knees akimbo.

“Please Sir, I’ll do anything.”

He drew a pair of breasts in his notebook. On the screen the real Miss Magdalin was dropping test pieces of batter into boiling oil, she held a slotted spatula in one hand. Her head turned and for an instant he felt she had seen the droid. He blacked out the picture of tits he’d doodled and tried not to think the word “doodle” while removing his left hand from his penis.

On the screen Miss Magdalin frowned.

Exhaling slowly he watched as the girl on his screen switched to looking at the kitchen door. The cook entered, taking off her hat and coat.

Brendol switched off the device. He had no interest in the other staff. He lay back into his pillow, if Miss Magdalin left, he wouldn’t have anything to do again. He tapped his forehead with his pen. For now watching was a, kind of, “hobby” like a holovid of mistakes, and Brendol would like to have the satisfaction of assessing the result at the end. Maybe she was a sort of student? He was supposed to be getting used to students. He crossed out the word ‘immediate’ in his sneeze report and replaced it with ‘imminent’.

***

Master and servant nodded silently to each other as they passed, lips pressed into frowns at the sight of one another. Brendol left his laundry in the hall and he spent his spare time shooting at the cats and birds that he found near the house. He liked to later watch the way she flinched on the recordings at the noise of blaster fire. He had been growing sensitive to sudden engines and bangs himself, but Miss Magdalin’s reaction proved it was normal to not like sudden, loud noises. Completely normal.

One evening meal, a few weeks after their first meeting, Brendol found a flower next to his baked nightly offering. It was a water lily bud, partly opened, its sweet petals white and perfect.

“What is this?” He asked his attendant. “And if you tell me it is a flower, I will be angry.”

“Sir, the young lady is experimenting with presentation. Note the pattern on the bread. It is fine dusted sugar in the shape of a water lily also, only the sugared one is in full flower.”

Ridiculous! This would not do. This was deviating from the rules of play. He needed a single warmed roll, or biscuit, or croissant or whatever she had made with her own hands on a white plate. No decoration, no changes, the frivolous form of a flower was like an insult.

“Tell Miss Magdalin I need to see her. Now.”

His attendant bowed and backed towards the kitchen.

The door hissed open and Miss Magdalin came out rubbing wet hands onto a cloth. Her silly freckles and ridiculous hair all the same. Wearing her yellowing uniform shirt and enormous apron, tied so tight it made her bony hips stick out like a backless sack dress. No improvement in that presentation, he thought, but his eyes rested on the apron strings momentarily.

“What is this?” He pointed at the water lily without touching it.

“A decorated flaked white roll with custard center, Sir.”

“Not that! This?” He held up the lily bud between finger and thumb as if a rancid, insect had expired on his plate.

She relaxed, rocking back on her heels and she lowered her voice to a more friendly tone. “A flower Sir.”

The impudence! He made a strangled noise in his throat. The attendant snickered and smothered his laugh by turning to the sideboard and arranging the bottles there. They clinked as if the hand that was moving them was shaking.

“I thought we had an understanding? I would give honest, useful feedback on your bread. I’m not interested in frippery, dull, and frankly, random window dressing,” he took what he hoped sounded like a serious teaching tone. “I'm greatly disappointed Miss Magdalin.”

She stepped forward and plucked the bud out of his hand. “I wasn't aware of any clear understanding. I...” She paused as she searched for the correct wording he felt. “I am, I mean, I have been honored by your reviews recently. It has been a pleasure to experiment. The lily just showed that pleasure, it was so pure looking floating at edge of the home pond this afternoon, it inspired me, so I picked it. I think it looks quite refreshing. Don’t you? I thought you may like lilies?”

She twirled the offending article a smile on her face and the attendant coughed still facing away from his master.

“No more flowers,” he told her sharply. Then in addition added, “and I'll thank you not to steal from the gardens.”

Brendol generously ignored the way her eyes changed from sparkling to annoyance, not wanting to cause a scene, but he kept the information in memory to be added to her file later. Extreme, utter impertinence.

He cut his pastry in half as Miss Magdalin watched mesmerized. The custard oozed onto the plate, but wasn't too wet, it was a gelatinous jam like consistency. He took a bite and she held her breath.

“Not too sweet,” he told her between chews. “The powdered sugar on top is a suitable flavoring, but the pattern a waste. It looked more the shape of a spider. I think overall it tastes a little dry. Not the custard, but the bread itself.”

She balked. “Dry Sir?”

“Here,” Brendol pointed with his knife at a patch of airy looking dough.

Miss Magdalin moved next to him, very close now, and he was aware of her flour covered form standing almost over his lap. He widened his legs and his napkin fell on the floor. The remaining food in his mouth became hard to swallow. Custard stuck, coating his throat.

“May I?” She asked.

He passed her the knife. In order to cut herself a sliver of bread she placed the lily bud behind her ear. The white flower shone stark against the flaming red of her hair.

Forgetting his earlier distaste Brendol suddenly wanted the flower very much. In fact he would kill for it. He stared at the lily bud as she chewed, her eyes lowered to the plate as she prodded the bread experimentally.

“Perfect,” she announced the word proudly. “That Sir, is very fine pastry. Very fine. I can guarantee you will not taste better on Arkansas.”

“That is a matter of opinion.”

Her hand tightened around the knife then she placed it, not too gently, on his bread plate. The noise of metal striking china sounded loud. Involuntarily he recoiled at the suddenness of the clang. He could feel his face grow red with anger. How dare the freak, his father’s charity case question his judgment?

Sliding out of his chair he stood, gathered himself up to resting attention. He was taller, he could look down at red hair and filth. She was not the one in charge, not here; she was not to tell him what was fine and what was not. “You are on very thin ice Miss Magdalin, I am watching you.”

They were close; he could lift his hand and take the flower back. Draw the stem through her rosy strands, feel the hair on his fingertips. Push her down with the full force of his body and hold the explosive between them…

“Sir?” They both startled as the attendant cleared his throat. “Lily should go back to the kitchen,” he added and he nodded at Miss Magdalin.

***

He didn't see her for a long time in person. He always had the surveillance, but it changed. Like she knew, and she was sending him messages. She must have known because it was so clear what she wanted him to do. He studied the way she kneaded her bread, strong arms pushing down and out, down and out, or the way she washed her hands or wiped the benches. Sweeping was Miss Magdalin saying, I want you to watch me again, feeding a cat meant she wanted him to walk outside the kitchen. Talking to other staff she was actually talking to him. The camera was too small to pick up sound, but he imagined she asked if he liked her bread, or that she wished he would do things to her.

He fully realised he was becoming obsessive, but it was a neat, hidden obsession. When he thought of her he felt like he had something to do. Like an uncomfortable road that led to feeling human. Men like women, or other men (or droids) but people feel a decent amount of emotion for other people. Regular people don't have an empty void instead of feelings. He felt distaste for her and it stirred something like the expected, rushing blowback from a rail gun.

Anyway, it wasn’t just him. With each movement she indicated her interest, and each dish served clearly signaled she wanted his presence.

Something simply had to be done. He could not go on watching. Not when she showed so much awareness of him. What she so clearly wanted was impossible of course. Completely impossible, because of her hideous looks mostly. Brendol was vain enough to know he would only ever be satisfied be a pretty girl. He would have to let reject her.

Crush her.

In his notebook he drew flowers before obscuring them with clouds of inky explosions.

Brendol orchestrated one of their rare, natural meetings when she went out to empty the composting pot and he had spent two hours prowling around the back door waiting for her go outside.
Miss Magdalin stopped when she saw him, but was nice enough to hide her surprise. “Sir,” she nodded to him.

He had contrived the perfect excuse to approach her. “Miss Magdalin,” he said. “I shot a duck.” Brendol held the carcass out for her. It dangled lifeless between them, glassy eyed with blood stained along its white feathers.

She stared at the offering. “Thank you sir,” she finally answered, “at least it's not a cat.” She closed her mouth and bit her lip. “I should say, cook will appreciate it. I just have to,” she lifted the pot not reaching for the bird. “It’s very heavy,” she told him.

He stood duck outstretched.

Lily moved the pot to her other side.

“It’s very heavy to carry… oh, never mind.”

Brendol lowered his arm and stepped next to her. They walked together to the compost. The gardener, bending out of sight behind the herbaceous border, watched curiously. They could see him, they weren’t blind. Miss Magdalin held her head high and walked quickly ignoring the stares.

After she hefted the pot over the compost and tapped out the scraps he placed the dead duck inside for her to carry, she thanked him again, somewhat too sarcastically for his liking. On the way back to the house she went a little out of the way and they stopped next the house pond. The white lilies in the muddy water were like stormtroopers gloves abandoned in a swamp. Floating on the calm surface. Instead of just gloves Brendol imagined armored bodies under water just their hands floating to the surface.

“I wanted to show you I haven't taken any more flowers, even though they are beautiful, she looked at him sideways,” her arms hugging the pot with the dead duck in it.

“I should hope not,” he answered seriously. “I would have to fire at you for poaching.” He moved his jacket and revealed his blaster holstered at his hip.

They turned awkwardly back to the view of the pond and the lilies and the wispy rain. It would be almost pretty if he was simple minded enough to be impressed by a landscape. Which he wasn’t. Brendol looked at his boots, they had suck slightly in the bog of the of the pond’s shoreline. For one of the few times in his life he felt on the lower ground of a battle. Without Miss Magdalin’s usual surroundings he missed her unspoken cues.

He knew he should tell her she was to leave the grounds immediately. She could even take the duck, a generous severance. He should make her go and never come back. But the words twisted to another line of thought. He could smell water and flowers and damp earth, the scent of a long lost summer time of youth, and instead of telling Miss Magdalin to go his mouth started uttering a completely different conversation entirely.

“I’ve been thinking about your presentation Miss Magdalin. That is your personal presentation. You will wear a dress tomorrow. I believe female staff should wear skirts. My father will be bringing guests soon and I don't want second rate attire.”

The girl sighed. “Brendol, what am I going to do to you?” Lily coughed. “I mean to say, what am I going to do ‘about’ you?” She corrected, and pushed some fly away strands of hair back behind her ear. She was a mess, as always, at the moment becoming a wet mess in the rain while holding a dead duck. The gesture was a clear signal though. Every time she touched her hair it meant ‘I'll do whatever you say’. Good. She understood. That was that.

Although, he felt uneasily he’d lost a battle.

“And I feel like pancakes,” he added petulantly as one last parting shot.

Brendol walked off and left her standing in the mud by the pond.

Chapter Text

“You didn’t wear a dress,” Brendol said peevishly. “I thought I was clear.”

Miss Magdalin froze in the doorway to the kitchen, her hands frozen in place around where they had started to unbutton her long jacket.

“Brendol, how long have you been standing in the dark?”

He didn’t answer.

She smacked her bag onto the counter a little too roughly. As if finding her employer in the kitchen when she arrived at work at 5am in the morning was some sort of crime. Well, it was his kitchen. In a way.

“Lights on!” She ordered and the room lit up. He squinted at her pale, freckled face in the sudden light.

“I was making some caff,” he lied, then realized he didn’t know how to use the kitchen’s elaborate looking maker. She would see through that excuse in an instant if she expected him to carry out his mission. “Make me one will you?” He added careful to be flippant in the execution. Miss Magdalin would not be the one to give orders. That was his job.

She took a cup out of the cupboard and shoved it in the machine. Then she held up a pointed index finger before pressing a single, oversized green button. The machine hummed as it heated the water.

“You’re dressed,” she told him as she hung up her jacket then unwound a long green scarf. “You get dressed up to make caff before daybreak?”

“You’re not ‘dressed’,” he answered.

A sigh escaped her lips. “I have ‘a’ dress in my bag, but it’s not something to wear while I work. It might get caught in the doors or the oven, and I really don’t want to get it dirty,” she pushed her bag towards him, intending for him to catch it, but it slid along the bench to fall on the floor. He looked at the bag lying at his feet; he didn’t know what was in the bag. It could be anything. She could have put a snake in there.

A curl of black-spotted grey fabric unfurled from the now open bag.

“Put it on,” he spoke to her back and her tightly coiled hair; she was busy pulling bowls and trays out of cupboards and shelves. He watched as she turned on the oven range to pre-heat and added milk to his freshly brewed caff. Brendol sipped it and scowled. He hated caff. It tasted like dirt.

The stupid girl worked and ignored her bag on the ground while pretending Brendol didn’t exist. With no intention of retreat he watched her intently, as if he were watching on his screen, and she moved automatically, determined not to be concerned by the surprise attack in her own base.

A cat slunk in, did a comical double take at the sight of the man who had killed so many of its kin, and then hid behind the dishwasher.

Miss Magdalin moved towards where her apron hung arm outstretched, but Brendol was faster, he stretched out and held her hand as it curled around the straps. With his other hand he took a calm sip of caff and choked it down without showing a single spark of distaste. “Dress,” he repeated and the ss’s hissed icily, in just the right tone he liked to use to intimidate, like she was another prisoner of war, another being to use up for the Imperial Forces.

The freak slid her hand from under his and she turned to face him, unreadable and unresponsive. She took the cup of caff from his hand and placed it carefully on a nearby stool. Brendol realized they were almost alone in the house. Small hands grasped his jacket collar and he felt the pressure of the fabric being twitched down. Her freckled face was close, he could see the curls of her short, wispy hairs against her ears. Closer and closer she tugged him until he had to stoop under the slow pressure.

Her lips parted. “Pick it up for me Sir, my dress,” she ordered and released him so he bobbed under the sudden freedom.

Fine. Fine, fine, fine. He could pick up a dress. Not because she told him to, because it would be worse for her once she put it on.

“Now turn around,” she made a twirling motion with her finger. “And close your eyes too.”

Realising that if she changed clothes where she was standing he would get clear vision on his camera Brendol spun and glanced up at the nano-droid’s location. He smiled, a tight lipped smirk, at where he judged the lens would be and tried to work out if he would be blocking his own view later. If she thought he was going to close his eyes though, she was wrong. What did he look like? Some idiot who closes his eyes while the enemy is behind them?

“How did you like the cake last night?” Miss Magdalin asked. “Not too spicy?”

“Fine.”

There was an awkward silence as he strained to listen to her undressing.

“People who want to fuck other people have to talk. At least a little,” she announced from the safety of his rear.

His skin felt hot. He did not want to ‘fuck’ her. Who would even want to touch her freckled, ugly frame? Not him. Brendol clenched his fists and folded his arms. The next words that would come out of his mouth were going to be ones that announced her fired. Then she would see how ‘fucked’ she was.

“Where did you work previously?” He grit out.

“On a passenger yacht, as a chef. You can turn around now.”

He turned and she spun. The dress’s skirt was full and had a ruffled white slip that peeped as she moved. The top was more fitted, with short sleeves. It was a very slight improvement on her uniform. At least she looked more like a female.

“What do you think?” She asked.

He moved closer. “Spots on spots, not a very flattering choice of pattern.”

The insult slid off her back like water on a duck. Really she had no sense of shame. “Well, we got a fair amount of time to chase the summer on ship. There are islands out there, near the equator, where when the sun comes out and when I say it comes out, it really comes out. Not like here. White sand, blue water and heat. You've never seen anything so perfect in all your life.”

She turned and pulled two trays of already blind baked pastry shells out of a cupboard.

Time to strike.

He moved to rest his hands on her shoulders, thumbs touching the exposed skin on her neck. From behind he could close his eyes and inhale her hair, unseen. He could imagine the warmth of tiny islands; he'd been to tropical planets before and deserts of course, beaches and planets that had more than fifteen minutes of sunlight every two days. The way her voice talked about the memory made him picture the sand and the cloudless skies from pink to glowing blue.

She put the trays down and twisted her hands in her dress, fingers interlocking on each side of the fabric. “My arms and face got the most sun, I'd duck out on my breaks and just soak it up, didn’t think too much about my complexion I’m afraid, my legs were covered more often, they are much less freckly. I can't take a ray of light without getting an extra spot.”

“Prove it.”

“Prove it? You want me to show you my legs?” Miss Magdalin asked sounding confused.

Maybe he had gone too far? “It is entirely optional,” he added lightly.

“So you say.”

Lily raised a timid hand to her waist and undid a thin belt on her dress, letting it hang off her hips. She bent slightly to grasp the hem of her skirt and he felt her buttocks press against his erection. They both straightened, and she turned red cheeked.

“You'll have to look for yourself actually,” she told him. “Kneel, here,” she pointed to her feet.

He moved a little jerkily, he still had the stiff back of a military man. He sunk onto the cold floor, knelt in front of her and pushed up her layered skirts, the crisp, white fabric of her slip bunched between his fists.

Long legs were spotted with the same freckles of her arms only less so and lighter. The girl held her knees tightly together, muscles tensed.

“I see,” he said. “They are indeed not as bad.”

She looked down at his crouched form. Slowly, like he was one of the timid cats, new and skittish, Lily reached out and ran a thumb along the shell of his ear and down to his lobe. It traveled from lobe to cheek, from cheek to jaw and finally to his chin then she removed her touch and returned to her sides her hands resting close to his fists.

“I think,” he said, still between her legs, his breath on her skin, “I need to inspect for further anomalies.” He pushed her dress up higher, but she turned away, the hem of her skirt brushing along his head. Small hands gripped the bench.

“I must put the bread in and finish my tarts for morning tea or we won’t have enough food.”

“Then I will wait,” he answered and moved to the side of the stove. The angry cat hissed at him from the small gap it had wedged itself in and he nudged it with his boot so it yowled and slunk towards the door begging to leave.

“Really Brendol, leave the poor things alone,” Lily told him as she straightened her apron over her neck.

He ignored her and instead studied a smeared, sticky label on a jam tin.

“I see the reason for the dress now,” she said to the tarts. “You didn’t need to pretend to be interested in my previous job.” Jam was spooned liberally, keeping her hands busy. “I know you are engaged Sir. Don't you think your fiancé will be upset that you are personally inspecting my, ah, visual history?” An eyebrow raised suggestively.

“She won't find out.”

“Don't you love her?”

“No. She is just a means to an end, if I marry her I will get a teaching position at Arkanis Academy. Maratelle is of course beautiful and talented and has excellent breeding, excellent connections. Everything an officer, or even an instructor, needs, but love?” He made a noise of derision, an acidic scornful sound spat into the air. “It isn't within my means. I assure you my girl; love does not fit into my life's work.”

Freckled hands draped thin strips of pastry over the cherry jelly of the tarts. “I think you will be poorer for your attitude, but I understand.” Miss Magdalin straightened a stray tart that had wandered out of alignment. “Love is not necessary for my own survival either, I'd rather be free. Is that how you feel?”

He didn’t answer, but she continued anyway. “I’m fine with this,” she faced him and waved a dirty hand towards him. “It’s my choice, but you can’t be a cock about it.”

“A…?”

“Don’t be a cock Brendol. Let’s just have a little fun. Women don’t like this sort of thing to made out to be a trial. Just a hint for when you’re with your terribly well connected future wife.”

“Then you want me to lie?”

She put the last tray of tarts on a shelf in the cooler and closed the door firmly and turned to him, arms folded. “You won't need to lie. I’ve dealt with sailors before, even hot shot, naval academy born and bred.” Lily moved over to him, took the jam tin out of his hands and stood on tip-toe. She pressed her lips close to his ear, so her warm breath fluttered across his side burns, and said in a low voice. “I know how to ride, do you?”

Blinking slowly Brendol felt uncomfortably ill equipped to answer. He hadn't surveyed his previous partners and, looking back, they had all been one offs. Did that mean something in itself? He’d always been focused on his career, and the few times he had felt less than comfortable being alone he was usually neck deep in a campaign surrounded by idiots. Still, he was much older than her, surely that accounted for experience. Unless… Sailors had a certain reputation. The thought of her experience made him feel warm, that he could be ‘having’ something many other people had already used. Miss Magdalin had already used, and filled, and emptied into; she had been made even more wrong.

“You jump ahead too far my girl; I am proposing an inspection only. You may disappoint me.”

She narrowed her eyes and Brendol pretended to not care about being cornered by a servant girl in a kitchen.

She touched his ear again but this time with her lips. He felt the slightest brush of skin on skin. “You will do more than inspect, I insist. Now what did I say about being a cock?” Her lewd innuendo was coupled with a hand placed on his growing erection.

His stomach fluttered. Probably the caff messing up with digestive system.

“How long will you take Sir?” She asked as she ran two fingers up and down his length. The digits separated at the tip to draw down again until they closed at the base. Over and over she fingered the outline of his dick.

He checked his comm and placed his hands behind his back. “There is one hour and twenty minutes till breakfast service.”

Miss Magdalin left a scribbled note for the cook to say she had been sent on an errand and put the gardener’s oats on to soak.

In the relative safety his room the red haired baker girl trailed along his bookshelves looking at the spines of documents nobody ever read. Brendol had no less than eight guns and rifles on display, or in the process of being rebuilt, spotted about the room. She could shoot him with three of the working ones because he always kept them charged. He hoped he wouldn’t have to shoot her.

“I'll thank you not to touch anything,” he ordered as her hand reached towards the stock of his largest work, a particularly impressive shoulder canon painted in snow camouflage.

The freckled hand hovered and teasingly it almost brushed the casing. “Nothing?” Miss Magdalin asked coyly.

“Not without permission.” He snapped his fingers and waved to the floor in front of him. “Stand here.”

She stood where he indicated. Her dress belt still hung undone.

“Take off your dress.”

“I wish you’d make up your mind,” she quipped and undid the side zipper then turned. Brendol realised she wanted him to do the back, he relaxed his fists and slid the second zipper down and she stepped out of her dress to hang it neatly on a chair back.

A brief, internal pep-talk made him tilt his chin up and strengthen his firm resolve. She was no more than a delinquent. This was his room, his house and his rules. Brendol studied Miss Magdalin like another one of his broken blasters. She was wearing a plain white singlet and dark green underwear. She must have been cold without anything to cover her legs even in the warm kitchen.

“Have you no stocking?” He asked without emotion.

“At the moment this is the only dress I own sir, and I wear it very infrequently. It was given to me for a friend’s wedding. I was bridesmaid.”

He circled her twice, stepping around her body as if she was a prize nerf in a sales lot. Skin was paler where she had received less sun. Her chest was freckled, particularly the points where her bones jutted and her shoulders. Miss Magdalin held her arms slightly out for him to see each side. Her wrists were normal, white, the same with the inside of her elbows, but the outside was rough. She could moisturize a little more. Her body looked boyish, small breasts, all straight up and down, but not totally unflattering. A generous soul, would describe her as ‘willowy’.

“Sit,” he told her.

Lily perched silently on the edge of his bed and he returned to kneeling in front of her legs. This time, Brendol used his hands to keep her knees parted and he noticed the pale red curls of pubic hair peeking from the edges of her underwear. Filthy, unkempt, freak, can’t even grasp the basics of feminine hygiene. Brendol leant forward and let her straying pubic hair brush against his forehead while her hands ran through his hair, fingers gently clawing his face closer so his breath heated her skin.

He pulled off her shoes and ran his palms up her legs, feeling for any deformities. She had well-formed calves and her thighs were everything a man could want. Pity they still suffered from a spattering of pale brown freckles.

Would her stomach be the same? His fingers touched on the hem of her singlet and he pushed up. Her stomach was smooth enough, the skin looked soft, her shallow belly button rose and fell as she breathed. Good enough. He pushed further and closed his eyes wanting to make the next reveal more dramatic. He peeked through lashes to look lingeringly at pale breasts, her peaks topped with pert looking pink nipples, standing hard in the cool air.

Lily watched his face, but he would not give her the pleasure of revealing his reaction. Instead he hoisted her singlet over her head and asked her to undo her hair and lie down.

She calmly undid her braids and let her hair fall loose around her shoulders. Then lay back with a soft sigh and he arranged her arms above her head. Brendol pressed her hands firmly into the mattress as if to demonstrate that he wanted no movement. While leaning over her face Brendol saw she opened her lips as if expecting a kiss, her eyes closed in expectation. A disgusting display of softness which was left unrewarded. A soldier doesn’t kiss his weapons. They are just tools for survival.

He took off his jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves as she waited, her eyes opened to stare at the ceiling. Then Brendol returned to kneeling. His hand pulled her underwear, scooping the green fabric down her hips, then down to her knees, ankles then tucked under the bed, out of sight.

Miss Magdalin made a noise at being made so completely at his mercy. A louder sigh. His eyes darted to where she lay, he felt annoyed at the sound. This was his moment, not hers.

He pushed up her legs roughly so her feet rested on the edge of the bed, her pussy displayed lewdly. He noted her inner lips poked out longer than her outer. Strange. Different. Not neat and hidden like girls with their perfectly waxed and proportioned cunts in porn holovids. He pushed her legs wider. She could not be made any more open, his hands stroked her thighs so his thumbs moved to brush the curled hair. It was all so red like her hair, maybe more so. He combed through while holding her wide. Five freckles in her pubic region. Did that mean she'd had sex outside? Under the sun, on some cloudless ocean, with one of her no doubt many lovers? Fucking some dirty sailor. He pressed each spot with a thumb testing to see what she looked like without them, until at one point it slid across her pink hood. He stroked along the large pink lips, both hands, both sides, pushing them back behind the outer lips.

Her body reacted, legs stiffening, and her mouth formed the sighing sound again. She thought he was trying to please her no doubt. Maybe he would have to gag her?

“Sit up,” he told her and she did slowly, her hair looking ruffled, her cheeks pink.

“Undress me,” he told her.

“Then I may touch sir?”

“You may.”

She undid his belt and his pants, he noted she didn't fumble much, she was experienced indeed. She pulled off his shirt and ran her hands over his chest up to his neck.

Continue, he reminded her as she leant her cheek towards his face and she pulled down his pants and underwear in one movement. He felt the cold air on his erect dick, and he put his hand up to cover himself and she smiled at his coyness. Dropping his hand he pulled himself up. She was the one who should be shy, not him.

Turn and kneel on the bed, don't you dare look at me, he ordered and her eyes flickered towards rebellion, but she looked away as he hung his clothes. When he came back to her he noticed she had one arm positioned between her thighs. Even with her back to him he could see what she was doing. She was touching herself, rubbing tight circles around her flushed clit. He stroked his erection. He felt hard, hard, hard. So different to before he came home, because he couldn't be bothered before, all the pills, and the missions, and getting older, the lack of sleep, it had left him too tired to masturbate with any true feeling.

But now.

But now, this was to teach her a lesson.

He opened the drawer next to his bed and to her credit she didn’t turn around. He joined her on the bed and applied the paddle brush he had ordered to her hair. It was every bit as erotic as he had imagined. He pressed his erections against her back sliding it along her skin with one hand as he brushed slowly with the other. He could look down and watch her finger herself, her pale blue eyes closed and a look of peaceful concentration on her face.

He tugged himself against her harder. The swollen head of his dick thrusting between his hand and her pale skin. After her hair was made neat he rested the brush, bristles against skin. She tilted her face up exposing her neck, her spotted cheek. No, he was not going to kiss her, as much as she wanted. A feeling of control almost made him want to finish this way. Masturbating into her back while denying her wishes. Instead of kissing he briefly rested his cheek against hers; abandoning the brush he pushed her fingers away and set about replacing them with his own. She was wet, her hips pushed back against him as he touched. He cupped a breast as he slid a finger inside. She felt warm, ridged and open as he swept in a circle and she murmured his name. Tilting head back again. How many other names had she said? She had admitted she liked sailors.

“Four?” He asked.

“Sir?”

“Six? Twelve? How many men have you slept with?”

Her voice became breathless. “How many would you like?”

“Lots,” he replied. “You like it. You’re a slut.”

“Twelve then,” Lily agreed, then she pushed his hand further inside of her and wriggled. “Two at once sometimes.”

“Two? At once?” His lips started kissing without really meaning to. It was an animalistic response, he told himself. Her fault, her mistake and not his weakness. Instead of the chaste kisses he had spread thinly with past hook ups, he widened his mouth and she responded wanting her lips pressing firm, sucking his skin, her tongue prodding.

“Two,” he repeated and pulled her hips up. “How does that work?”

“Wonderfully,” she gasped.

He entered from behind and felt the tightness yield around his hardness. He watched his dick disappear, plunging lewdly inside her cunt. He fucked slowly, enjoying the mesmerizing display and the feeling of controlled ecstasy, but his partner was less patient. Lily pushed back and took control. It was so succinctly taken; he only had time to submit, even from his position of power. She would not kneel like a timid schoolgirl, quaking at the thought of deep dicking. Instead she pushed back, pressing her ass to meet his thrust and again and again, breathing hard and tossing her hair, trying to move it clear of her eyes. He heard his name and held on to her soft breasts as she guided him. It didn't take long, he was coiled, already half gone, ready to fire. The idea of two men, two cocks. The logistics.
He emptied. Peaking with fast thrusts, shooting his cum inside her wet hole. His mouth quickly pressed against her shoulder. Inhaling her tangled hair, letting its kinked strands choke him. She smelt like soap and yeast and sweetness.

He placed a hand under her stomach and tried to bury himself deeper and hold his twitching dick inside his freakish fuck toy.

She grabbed his hand and moved it to her clit, rubbed it against herself. Kept moving, moving, but he had finished. She would not use him, would not, but she was, she was strong and firm and on the edge. He felt her slick folds fluttering under his hand and muscles constricting around his dick. She repeated his name and then a deep growl she peaked. Hot milking sheath tightened.

After he'd fucked her he became lost. What next? What do normal people do next? Brendol felt used, but a good used, with just the smallest shadow of guilt. For what he didn’t know. He lay down stiffly, unsure if he had made a tactical error or just won a victory.

Lying red and sheened. The ruddiness of orgasm painted across her body Miss Magdalin stretched, digging her toes into his bedspread. “Good?” She asked turning.
“Accept... excellent,” he replied. “Very,” he added feeling generous.

She pulled him towards her and he twisted his face away, but she fought him. Her kisses spread across his face and he reluctantly allowed it. He didn't need it, he didn't think it added anything to the experience but he allowed it. Perhaps somewhere inside it felt satisfying, to feel wanted.

Still, he didn't want the experience to end. Not because he wanted to be with her. She was hideous and no amount of afterglow could blot out her flaws. Miss Magdalin liked sex. She liked to fuck men. He was a man. That was all it was. He could push down any guilt, after all he’d done much worse than mess around with the servants, hadn’t he?

He grasped the brush from the rumpled blanket and combed through her hair. Even as she turned to kiss his shoulders and touch his chest he removed her hands, then straightened her head and slowly pulled the bristles through red hair. Once she had calmed and sat naked and submissive, with his cum leaking all over his blankets, he ordered her to braid it again which Lily did while he watched. A curious smile played over her lips. Next time he would do it. Side to side, out then in, out then in, but now he was ready for her to leave.

“It's nearly breakfast,” he reminded Miss Magdalin as she turned to embrace him. Her empty hands fell to her side.

She stood and put on her singlet as he watched. “My underwear?” She asked looking through clothing.

He looked back without comment.

“Fine, I will catch pneumonia, and you pretend to care I have no stockings.” Then she picked up his black pair briefs off the chair and put them on. Looking at him as if daring him to object. They were large and shaped wrong, and the elastic kept them barely in place. He exhaled a sigh of contempt, but otherwise stayed quiet. She slipped on her dress and he zipped up the back, buckled the thin belt and the baker girl slipped on her shoes looking as if nothing had happened.

“You will wear a dress again tomorrow,” he told her.

“Sir, I can't. I remind you I only have one.”

“My girl, just buy another.”

“You know, I explained dresses are not suitable for kitchens. I can wear it same time next week. Also, I have not got...” She trailed off.

“What?”

“Nothing. I mean, I don’t have time to shop. You know what time I get here.” She looked at herself in the reflection of a polished chrome blaster, tucking away a stray hair. “Anyway, your Maratelle is arriving tomorrow and we are all too busy to scratch ourselves. How many are coming again?”

“Twelve,” he answered. “Senator Hux will also be home, and he is bringing the whole fucking circus with him. Do the seed rolls, the small seeds, but not the black ones, you know the ones I prefer. And you will wear a dress.”

“Seed rolls, for twelve. My lucky number apparently,” she replied flippantly.

“Wouldn't it be thirteen now?”

“Unlucky for some, so they say.” She nodded to him still naked reclining in bed next to a hairbrush. “Apparently I need to get started on breakfast,” Miss Magdalin explained. “And those rolls won’t bake themselves. Thank you for the light entertainment Sir.” She exited with an airily blown kiss before Brendol could protest.

Chapter Text

Brendol’s father, Senator Hux, was an easy man to please. He was perfectly amiable old boy, liked by his staff, well regarded in the local area as well as a trusted advisor within Empress’s regency world offices. However, his only child could count on two hands the amount of times he'd seen him for more than a week at a time in his entire life. The Senator was like a distant, elderly housemate who swept in and disrupted everything only to exit suddenly, leaving Brendol feeling stranded.

His mother had divorced his father early on and disappeared into the upper-class spin of galaxy social life long, long ago. She was now just a hint of a memory, more an uneasy remembrance of an all too shallow loss. Brendol’s mother had been invited for the wedding and week-long party months ago, but had sent a message of almost believable regret that she was too far away to arrive in time. His mother was nothing, less than nothing now, his father though… well, Brendol respected his father. Everybody did. And, if Senator Hux forgot to call or send a message or contact his only son, even when Brendol was stuck in the med bay of an Imperial hospital ship for a supposed attempted suicide, then it was because he was busy in the capital doing whatever it was he did, which was important.

He may have respected his father, and felt nothing towards his mother, but Brendol didn’t have the same feeling of muted emotions towards his future wife Maratelle. When Brendol thought of his bride-to-be he mentally slumped. It was, at times, easy to build a castle in the sky where Maratelle was safely shunted to another location after the wedding and he could live and teach at the Arkanis Academy alone, but, when he occasionally faced up to the truth, he knew the reality would be more complicated.

Maratelle Rax was a tall, Arkanis born, but not raised woman with a golden glow of tanned skin. Her honeyed texture set off her white teeth; her smile was quick, and it gleamed as sincere as a shop assistant who sells on commission. Unfortunately for the socialite, she was on (as she thought) the wrong side of 40 and it rankled with her that she was no longer the pretty cornerstone of the universe’s popular clicks. Instead of playing the part of the often chased and unreachable daughter of a pair of high ranking diplomats; an older, yet no wiser, Maratelle was now ready to be caught, but had found no man or woman left who wanted the prize.

So, it had fallen on her aging parents to source a suitable match. If Maratelle knew her high ranking officer fiancée’s bribe was a position at Arkanis Academy; or if she knew her husband to be was technically not currently an officer at all, was unknown. Brendol was wealthy and looked fine, if a bit stout and eternally gloomy. They wouldn’t need to stay on Arkanis she had assured herself. He would get tired of teaching after she introduced him to other, more interesting people and places. She would be back on Canto Bight before she knew it, and maybe even with a sweet baby to show off. The baby would have the best nanny droid, she would have the money and Brendol would have her; which was more than he deserved in her mind.

If there was any justice at all in the galaxy Maratelle should have married the dashing actor who played Roger Starr in the last blockbuster holo, but instead she got a greying wet blanket and school dinners.

On seeing him for the first time since their awkward engagement dinner almost four months ago Maratelle rushed forward to wrap her tanned arms around her fiancée. “B, so good to see you, I’ve missed you,” She drew back as he stood stiff and unresponsive, eyeing the crowd of beings behind her. The whole wedding party had turned up together to spend a week in the ‘countryside’. They were a crowd of people he didn’t really know, but who no doubt needed to be impressed so his father could build a new market or get another commercial fishing license.

The Senator approached next to shake his son’s hand in a strong grip. Brendol always thought of his father’s handshakes with displeasure. They always involved two hands and an overly lingering clasp. Like his father was instantly signaling he was in charge, yet was showing how much ‘fondness’ he felt for the handshake recipient. Brendol had to fight the urge to wipe his hand on the side of his jacket afterwards.

His father warmly welcomed the party of guests, as well as their accompanying human and droid staff, urging them to make themselves at home.

“You must have been so lonely without anyone here,” Maratelle told him, as he physically as well as mentally tried to melt into a dark corner. He answered curtly in a half-hearted affirmative, but wished himself on the other side of the continent.

The only person in the crowd Brendol clearly recognized was Jeffrey, his father’s newest secretary, who smirked smugly front and center within the well-dressed crowd. The younger man was always rubbing Brendol the wrong way. Jeffrey was all tailored suit vests, bright coloured capes and sending cagey messages on behalf of Senator Hux. Would it be too much to ask to not have his father’s minions at his own wedding?

Maratelle plucked at her fiancé’s arm which brought his attention firmly back to herself.

“Won’t you show me to my room Brendol dear, we can get settled and have a good catch up? I haven’t seen you since,” Maratelle wrinkled her nose, “well, since that restaurant that’s at the end of the universe. You know the one that had that garish show? It was our engagement; I can’t believe it’s been so long, but it’s been such a busy time.” She hooked her hand around his bicep and he noticed her musky perfume felt overwhelming. He felt like a cat in a trap.

A rose gold tinted droid, one with ridiculous red accent lights recessed in its cheeks trotted up and peered blankly at the couple. Brendol realized there was no retreat from his fate. Everything had been so pleasant the day before, spending the early morning with Miss Magdalin and then the rest of the day had been used reviewing her kitchen strip show. Further evidence of the girl’s strange ways. The way she had interpreted his uniform suggestions into the idea that he had actually wanted to have sex with her. That was all they had been after all. Suggestions. He rolled the explosive charge in his pocket between his palm and fingers.

Now, with all these idiots in the house, it was so starkly different. Stifling.

“Which room is mine B dear? Do show me lovely.”

The droid pushed Maratelle’s many hovering bags as he led her upstairs.

To add to his simmering discomfort Miss Magdalin, in her uniform (but not in a dress) and apron, was at the top holding a datapad. If Brendol thought she would be jealous of his painted bird he was being proved wrong, as his lover seemed steadfastly uninterested in the duo. Lily consulted her pad calmly. “Miss Maratelle Rax is with Mrs Rax in the large room facing the rear of the house,” she informed them.

“With Mother?” Maratelle frowned. “I don’t share a room; I get my own room, don’t I B?” She turned to Brendol looking as if she had been told she was to be made to sleep in a tent. “I mean to say this is unacceptable, I simply can’t share. My wedding, and really the week leading to my wedding, should be perfectly perfect, tell her,” she waved silver painted nails at Miss Magdalin, “to put Mother somewhere else.”

Brendol looked at Lily with a slight edge of pleading in his eyes.

“Unfortunately we don’t have enough room as it is for all the guests, we’ve already converted the library and study to bedrooms,” she explained.

“Well, make them move!” Maratelle replied petulantly, her pale eyes narrowed. “James, Merry, can you believe this girl had me down to share with mother?” She addressed a couple behind them, who laughed a little forcibly while waiting for their turn to be pointed to a room.

“You are in the end room to the right,” Lily told James and Merry who moved on without comment, and obviously not wanting to get any more involved. Miss Magdalin looked up at Brendol. “Can I speak to you in private Sir? Perhaps you could suggest a solution?”

“Oh, you can say anything you want to say in front of me,” Maratelle intercepted.

Lily bit her cheek and one of her amber eyebrows raised ever so slightly.

Brendol cleared his throat. “Maratelle, please excuse me; I must correct this girl.”

Miss Magdalin passed the datapad to Maratelle, who held it extended away from her body like it was a dirty sock, and Lilly followed her master into the offending shared room.

“What are you going to…” He was cut off by Lily’s lips on his own as she fiercely pulled his face down by to meet her own. His slightly stubbled cheek pressed against her chin and his chest ached from the sudden capture. Brendol felt her eyelashes flutter she crushed herself so hard against him.

“Let’s fuck on her bed.”

He put his hands behind his back in protest, why was the girl always so strange? Here he wanted a solution, not a display of lust. Besides, he eyed the perfectly smooth, glossy looking bed covering. It would be obvious wouldn’t it? He couldn’t perform like a banther on heat. His frown deepened. “I thought you would be the sensible one in this shitstorm of a circus. You forget yourself my girl.”

“Oh please, dear Maker save me,” Lily sighed and let go of his bent head with a shake. “There really are no spare rooms, unless you want her to share yours? I haven’t had time to change the sheets though.”

The thought of Maratelle in his bedroom was unpalatable. Never mind that in a week’s time it would be the new normal, that after the wedding there would be no other alternatives. He felt angry, trapped. “NO! That is definitely not an option,” he snapped, then, “Not yet,” he added in a quieter voice

Lily tapped her cheek in thought, and her eyes looked sympathetic. They softened when she looked at him, like when she was giving bread to the little neighbor children who gathered at the kitchen door.
Brendol walked around the room; it was located next to his father’s and a perfectly fine room, big enough for four women to share.

“Well, I have another idea, but I don’t think you’ll like it,” Lily finally said. “Then again you might.”

He scowled and signaled for her to continue.

“She’ll have to have your room, there’s no getting out of that if our fine lady insists she can’t share.” Before Brendol could protest more she rushed forward, speaking firmly. “In return for giving up the only suitable sleeping space in the house you, Sir, will have to bunk in the basement room. The one that’s like a little dungeon next to the garage.”

“I will never, ever, ever allow that. My bedroom is the one place I can escape all this,” he motioned around him at the ridiculous luxury. “I need to be alone.”

“Really Sir? You’re going to be the same as ‘her’?” Lily folded her arms, her soft eyes grew flinty.

His voice grew louder. “It’s not going to happen! You don’t seem to get it through your tiny, little brain.”

“What if I told you, I’m also staying in that room for the next two weeks?”

Brendol inhaled. “You’re staying in my room with Maratelle?”

“No Sir, although,” Lily smiled and straightened her apron, “never mind, we can play that game another time. I meant; I am staying in the dungeon so I can be at everyone’s beck and call while the wedd… the party week is on. We could be roomies.”

He straightened his shoulders and stared at the wall behind her. She was such a freak. Why would he want to stay with an employee? He considered the situation as he peered over her shoulder. Miss Magdalin called the room a dungeon. Just what he had thought when he had wanted to ‘discipline’ her; maybe she wanted him to treat her like a prisoner? This way he could finally get the truth and break her of all her sneaky, pert ways.

And fuck her again.

He’d seen the look she had given the couple wanting to be shown their room. If he didn’t do her, someone else would.

“I’m hungry,” he finally conceded.

Lily stepped forward and ran her palms along his arms below where his rolled sleeves sat. It just the slightest touch brushing his dark hairs and leaving his skin wanting. “If you bunk with me, I’ll make you the gateau with the pink berries. The complicated one, with the honey infused cream. I’ll make it right now.”

He thought of the cake fondly. Brendol took the idea that he could fire Miss Magdalin anytime if she was on hand and turned it over in his mind. “When we leave this room look like I really got angry,” he ordered and marched towards the door.

On the landing Brendol stared deadpan at his fiancée as Miss Magdalin demurely slipped our behind him sniffing far too much and hiding her face behind her hands. “You can stay in my room Maratelle, I’ll find elsewhere,” he informed her. “Our attendant will make it ready as soon as she finishes assigning the rest of our guests.”

“Oh B, I knew you could find a solution!”

***
The room that was now called a dungeon had been fitted out with two camp beds. Brendol had liked that. He was used to sleeping on similar narrow platforms when assigned to planetside campaigns and beds on ship were smaller still. It was the only thing about the room he did like so far. That it reminded him he was a soldier.

Although, being a soldier wasn't helping him in this situation, because the lack of a second exit made him anxious – although he would never admit it. There was only long, high windows and heavy cement all around. He hovered in the doorway. His chest was hurting. How come he had to have a heart attack when he needed to stand in a small space? It never happened on ship. There were always giant open areas and platforms without railings overlooking easy to fall into, gaping chasms of circuitry, a much better set up.

From the door way Brendol could see the open area that led to the garage and with the garage door open he could see outside if he stood at just the right angle. There was a clear passage he assured himself, and left the room's door locked into the open position.

He sat on one of the low beds with his knees drawn up, feeling like he was an oversized academy schoolboy being left alone in his dorm the first time. It was his bed, because Lily had made only one bed up and so it must be his. He looked at the pillow, it had a picture of a cartoonish diploplod wearing a tiara on it. Next to the bed was Miss Magdalin’s bag. To relax himself Brendol opened it and pulled out the contents. Her one grey and spots dress was already hanging on a frame in the corner, but in her bag were shirts and singlets, well-worn socks and pants and underwear. He inspected the silky underwear for bugs, holding their soft material close to his face. It would be just like her to bring filthy disease into the house.

They were thankfully clean.

Brendol still felt claustrophobic, he used her hairbrush to push open all of the three long windows. At the last window he accidentally dropped the brush into the bushes outside. She could pick it up later. Anyway, he had his own brush he’d bought for her to use. He went to the box of mostly guns he’d put together for his ‘dungeon mission’ and got it out. This brush was far superior to the one he’d just lost; it had soft bristles and a smooth rubber grip instead of a row of hairbands over a chipped wooden handle. He put it on her empty bed and felt good about the gesture. She was welcome to borrow it - as long as he did the brushing.

With the windows and door open Brendol’s hands steadied enough to take one of his pills and wash it down with some cheap, nasty tasting gin he’d also found in Lily’s bag. The change in his brain seeped through his clenched chest and smoothed the strangling tightness. He was fine he told himself. In fact if he stayed here, maybe he didn’t need his pills – it was coincidence that he had gotten used to the small space after he’d taken them. If he could stay here he could be cured even. Because, he would prove that he didn’t need two exits to every room to feel normal. The explosive in his pocket felt warm in his curled hand as his fingers traced the seam on the detonator.

Jeffrey walked past holding a box and whistling. The whistling stopped after he passed the door frame to the dungeon and he stepped back into view.

“Are you looking for something Sir?” Jeffrey asked him in a falsely light voice.

Brendol hadn’t bothered to repack Miss Magdalin’s bag so was standing in a puddle of women’s clothing while holding a bottle of gin.

“Everything is acceptable,” he replied. “I’m staying here.”

“But this is where Lily, um, Miss Magdalin, is staying,”

“Yes.”

Jeffrey thought about his next words very carefully.

“And, you are staying Sir?”

“Yes.”

“And, I need not tell anyone else?”

“Jeffrey, you aren’t as stupid as you look.”

The servant shuffled the box to his side, his young face flickered annoyance at the insult, but that was all, just a slight irritation. Jeffery didn’t stoop so low as to show emotion, he was far too well trained.

“Well, to let you know, I’m just next door… Sir. Due to the current over stuffing of the house I get to sleep in the garage’s back room, if you can call it a room,” he looked over his shoulder. “So, I’ll be keeping the access doors closed most of the time; so I don’t get cold.”

Brendol tried to look like this didn’t bother him and he didn’t feel a fresh stab of panic thinking about his reducing escape strategies.

Jeffrey smiled thinly. “And if anyone asks Sir, I’m sure I could possibly say you are staying with me.”

When Miss Magdalin found Brendol in their room he had drunk too much of her gin and was lying on his back staring at the rain through the open windows. She had brought him a plate of cake. The promised cake. It looked delicious with bright berries baked between creamy layers. She had even shaken fine sugar over the already decadent dessert.

“I think people are looking for you ‘B’,” she sat down on the floor next to him and placed the plate on his stomach.

He exhaled sharply and stared at the ceiling, eyebrows drawn together, carefully studying the cracks in the plaster.

“If you call me that again I will shoot you.”

Her face appeared in his line of view as she bent over him and kissed his cheek, bestowing feather light touches till his forehead relaxed out of its anger.

“Maratelle is in your room now, and she calls it ‘quite manly’. I changed the sheets, took out all the remaining gun parts, two changes of clothes and this,” she reached into her apron pocket and held up his notebook, it looked important. I did not read it. I also had to give that hideous droid of hers the access code to your door.”

He took the notebook and put it in his own pocket. He had already packed his view screen for the kitchen in his own box. He did feel grudgingly thankful for the clothes, because he hadn’t thought further than a spare jacket. “Where are my project blasters? Why did you touch them?”

“In the laundry and...” She looked around, “all my stuff is on the floor. Why are my underthings touching your BlasTech rifle?”

Sighing loudly Brendol moved his gaze back to watch the clouds through the open window. The cake on his stomach rose and fell uneaten.

“I have a whole hour till I need to go visit my mother for the afternoon. Would you like me to help you make up your bed?” Lilly waved at the unmade bunk.

“No, this is comfortable.”

Miss Magdalin slowly pulled the pillow out from under his head and gripped tightly in two hands before hovering it an inch from his face. He stared at the diplopod’s bug eyes and waited for her to smother him to death. Instead she put it back and started to feed him the cake, every few bites following the mouthful with a kiss. It was an awkward way to eat, lying mostly flat and having to swallow and kiss. She was strange, so odd. He stroked a curl of red hair as it splayed across her chest. Mesmerised by the way the strands slid under his fingers.

The effects of the alcohol swirled, not completely unpleasantly, and Miss Magdalin finished giving him cake and kissed the last crumb away before starting to lick his neck. Her warm, wet mouth teased his skin.

“You taste nice,” she told him. “I wish I could eat you.”

He smirked.

“May I?”

“Yes,” he answered and undid his pants before she could change her mind. Her hands skated under his shirt and down to his underwear.

“Giving you a, ahem," she blushed and let out a small sigh, "a blow job was not what immediately came to mind when I made my request.” Brendol could tell she was weighing up options. He smoothed her hair again and noticed a smudge of blue under one of her ears. Probably from the berries in the cake. Fingers drew a line along the band of his grey officer issued briefs. “If I do you, will you do me?” Lily finally conceded.

He considered. “I just ate.”

Miss Magdalin rolled her eyes and kissed his lips again. How did people get used to such things as kisses? It still felt unnecessary. The act of pressing lips together was time wasting when she could be sucking his dick.

“I may have to shut the door. Jeffrey has walked past twice already,” she said between breathes.

He closed his eyes and thought about how terrible Miss Magdalin was as she pressed the door release. How she had trapped him in this tiny room. It had been her plan all along, because she had been so quick to offer the solution of cohabitation. He felt her tugging at his pants; they glided down his legs, the heavy belt buckle sliding heavily against one of his thighs. Then she peeled off his socks.

The problem was…

Now she was removing his underwear and he had to tilt his hips upwards to accommodate the removal. He felt his erection spring free and lie against his lower stomach, and he rearranged his balls to a more comfortable angle.

Anyway, the problem was that he was far too lenient with the staff. Lily was taking advantage of his good will, his generous mind. If he was back with the Imperial Navy he wouldn’t put up with such. With such. With such.

Her tongue licked his cock slowly from base to tip.

But then, nobody had ever, ever before offered cake and a blow job. Brendol wondered if such a ‘service’ would have garnered any special treatment from himself in the past? Lips circled the tip of his cock head and her tongue dipped across his slit. Hands circled the base. Not his hands, but small, firm hands. Hands that spent every day expertly kneading bread. She drooled over his member and he felt wet spit ooze along the shaft.

Well, he was open to trialing this new twist. Maybe they could… his mind went momentarily blank as she starting blowing him in earnest. His breath caught in a low moan. Still with eyes closed he ran his hands through her hair careful to keep the long red strands off her face.

He could play along.

His communicator beeped with a message and Miss Magdalin paused, lips still wrapped around his dick, her hands stroking.

“Ignore it,” he ordered.

His dick popped out of her mouth. “I am just going to take off my pants, don’t think you can move.”

Brendol heard her shuffling and felt her moving and then relaxed back into a tipsy haze as she positioned herself kneeling back on the floor next to him and continues to suck him off.

He felt her hold his wrist and guide it till his fingertips brushed against her pubic hair. Flaps of sensitive labia skin squirmed against his thumb. Freaking girl parts. They were so odd, he wanted to flinch away. To instead use his hand to press her head down, to spear his dick into her face and make her gag. Occasionally he hit the back of her throat and it felt like a few more deep thrusts would mean she would choke on his cum. He liked the thought of punishing her, of filling her smart mouth. Shooting ropes of sperm till she had to swallow all his seed. Hands in red hair and knuckles clenched white.

She pulled off again and interrupted his train of thought.

“Brendol,” she sighed. “If you won’t finger me, let me fuck you. I’ve been on my feet all day.”

He didn’t know what that had to do with anything. Honestly, she had it easy. She did no work, just standing around showing people rooms and spent all her time making cakes, patting cats and flirting. “Fine,” he answered and started to slide a finger into her.

“Give a girl some passion will you?” She shot before returning to her blowjob duty.

He would have given it all up then, except he was tired himself, too tired to remove his dick from between her lewd, wet lips. The freak didn’t know what tired was. Tired was nights and nights and nights of not sleeping. Tired was spending two weeks trapped in a gun battle firing at maker knows what while the smaller ships get picked off and the bodies of pilots fall through space, because he can’t send anything to get them, useless, stupid… he blinked his eyes open and stared at the window.

“Brendol,” she looked up at him. Their eyes met. He looked at his penis in her hand. “Keep on track, will you Sir?”

He closed his eyes again. “Move will you, it’s too hard to reach,” he complained and he felt a huff of air over his stomach. Lily shuffled closer and angled her ass in his direction. Even it was covered in a spattering of freckles. “I should fire you,” he told her, his fingers slipping inside slowly, then faster. “I should.”

“Yes Sir,” she gasped as he smeared wetness back and forth along her protruding lips. “Fire away.”

He would.

He would.

He felt her slip her tongue down the side of his cock as she nuzzled into his balls. Hands pumped at his shaft and his own hands pushed fingers roughly into her, but being man handled seemed par for the course and Lily's hips pressed back as she leaned into his movements.

He would cum first and that was how it would be Brendol thought spitefully. Let her choke on that. Let her choke. Her hands stilled as she attempted to push back even further into him, her mouth was open and low moans of pleasure came from her.

“Just… there, please Sir”

Fingers brushed deep inside, over soft ridges. He watched himself fingering her cunt through half-closed lashes. Selfish girl. Making him do the work.

As her orgasm clenched around his fingers he felt his own tightening need wanting to shoot. Cock angled and rammed back in her mouth he felt her lips constrict, again he hit the back of her throat as she became compliant in passion. Brendol thrust until the edge seemed very near, then he pulled at her hair till her face popped off, eyelashes stuck blearily over blown out eyes and she smirked up at him. Lips still parted as if in the middle of eating a delicious and illicit treat. He came on her face and jizz strung across her freckles like a pornographic connect the dots.

They stared at each other.

Then he closed his eyes as Miss Magdalin rested a sticky cheek against his leg.

“Blown away Sir.”

He exhaled loudly and released her. Strands of hair tangled between his fingers where he had clenched too hard.

“Don’t you have to visit your mother?”

“Don’t you have to call your fiancé?”

Chapter Text

Although he was long, long past childhood, had commanded whole units of troops, travelled the known and unknown universe, and flown to planet with air so poisonous it could kill a man in less time than it took to know you were dead, Brendol still felt a strange aimlessness when he had to talk to his father.

After his satisfying afternoon visit from Miss Magdalin he had taken his chance with the lesser of two evils and decided to answer the Senator’s summons before Maratelle’s. Brendol had a tension headache from the alcohol and he felt it was better to stew with someone a few decibels quieter than a F7 Drop Ship with a questionable service history.

Sitting in a stiff backed chair before a wide desk filled with projector display equipment Brendol nodded through the dull pain behind his eyes as his father talked about the engagement. He half-listened as the man droned on about the importance of family and how Brendol was so much older than his father was when he had produced a heir. He pointed out how uncertain times had become, especially with the rebels gaining footholds in the region – so why not start straight away? Senator Hux wished sincerely he could have had the chance to have more children, if only his unbalanced, inconsiderate, air headed wife - although he had tried to work things out, nobody could say he hadn’t - hadn’t left him.

‘More children which he could ignore.’ A tiny voice said inside Brendol’s mind.

Grandchildren would make Senator Hux happy. They would secure the family Hux, in fact the next generation would bring them all stability and happiness. For example, if Brendol had a family to distract him he would stop all this rot about post-traumatic stress. Stress from what? If there was such a thing, wouldn’t every soldier in the Empire’s armies have it? Brendol’s father didn’t believe it made up illnesses; all his son needed was something to look forward to and to keep busy. To think of others for a change instead of moping around by himself.

On his father’s desk, along with the projector which could show little renditions of people giving little messages about little official type things; was a plate with a slice of cake on it. It was a slice of his gateau cake. The one Miss Magdalin had made him especially. He kept his eyes on the pastry. If his father didn’t eat it soon the cream would go soft and oily. Didn’t his father know that?

He lifted his gaze from the cake after the senator finished carefully hinting that Maratelle wasn’t getting any younger. “I will be concentrating on my new post,” Brendol replied finally. “And the current war is not a good time for raising, ahem, babies.” He personally didn't want children and also didn’t care about children in the war, but his father was such an old fashioned tradionalist. As an added bonus, no doubt, a baby would make a million photo opportunities for a Senator up for re-election. Well his father could fuck off, the thought of offspring made Brendol want to gag. He had heard partnered officers lament missing their spawn. Children were just another distraction from what could be a top notch careers. He sighed at the cake and rubbed his temples. Just repeat like a normal person who cares about such things he schooled himself. Don’t get upset, the old man is just looking after your best interest.

He can’t live forever.

“I don't want children and I don’t have stress,” Brendol spoke slowly and his father grunted in reply it was a dismissive noise.

Brendol closed his eyelids and watched the inverted lights ball in blackness. “The doctors say it's PTSD,” he said lightly, trying to keep his voice calm, trying not to lose it all, trying not to snap through the thin, thin, paper fucking thin layer of patience he had left, “but that’s just a trumped up excuse they used because I was the patsy who won them battles. Vice Admiral Gredge couldn't stomach the means. They felt they had to discipline someone. Unfortunately, they picked the one someone who knows what really happened.” Brendol’s voice grew louder. He could hear himself get louder like his body was in another room. With effort he took a breath before continuing. “I’m sure, what’s wrong, is really just a type of inner ear anomaly that’s kept me off ship. I told them it’s all the loud noises that irritate it, but I’m getting better. I’ve rested.”

As if to prove he was rested Brendol sat very still and straight. His father, his respected, loving father didn't answer.

The door to the office opened.

Jeffrey stepped forward from the corridor and bobbed.

Brendol noted his father’s secretary had not knocked. How long had Jeffrey been skulking around listening at doors?

“Yes?” Hux senior asked.

The man nodded and smiled. Instead of watching their vapid exchange Brendol turned his gaze back to the uneaten cake.

“The ladies have requested afternoon refreshments in the Green Area.”

All three men rolled their eyes. The green area was an indoor conservatory of sorts. Filled with oversized indoor plants and kept heated. It was comfortable for about five minutes before the damp and heat became distracting and a place Brendol especially disliked spending time in. However, they couldn't decline their guests.

The Senator drummed his fingers against the desk. “What do you think about children Jeffrey? I’m trying to convince Brendol to embrace a family life.”

Jeffrey smiled wryly, his lips practically simpered. “Not my forte, Sir,” he answered. “I hear you, Sir, do great work for the local kindergarten, supplying bread for the children so they all get a good meal.”

Senator Hux was pleased at such subtle brown nosing; he stopped his drumming and waved a hand dismissively. “Oh that, that’s nothing at all, nothing at all. Usually there is nobody to cook for here, and I have to keep the servants busy.”

Brendol wondered if he took the slice of cake now and ground it into his father’s expensive communications projector, what would happen next? If his father wanted him to be unhinged he could do so with a petty vengeance. When he had been in charge of troops he had been more powerful than this old relic would ever be. He had never been made to feel small and odd. Like a sad afterthought. Someone who the staff could freely talk over and discuss his perceived shortcomings.

As if sensing his son’s tension Brendol felt the senator looked at him as he sat, still straight as a knife, but silent and brooding as he blinked at the dark berries on the cake.

“I better not keep Maratelle waiting,” Brendol finally spoke. He nodded before passing Jeffrey, cool, calm, appreciated and valued Jeffrey, to leave.

He would be powerful again if he stuck to the plan.

***

“You're serving,” Brendol hissed at the incredible sight of Miss Magdalin freckled and flustered in the Green Area.

“I am! Someone,” Lily hissed at him, “put it into my head that I should bring a dress to work. And, the Senator’s precious Jeffrey doesn't work in the Green Area because ‘he gets dizzy in the humidity’. Meanwhile there are twelve people to feed a billion tiny meals a day too, and I had to rush back from helping Mother. She is…”

“They put you front of house?” Brendol interrupted. “You are ridiculous! Completely unsuitable.”

Lily sniffed. “You would rather the townie girls? The temp staff? I’m sure there are at least half a dozen wide eyed sixteen year olds running around ruining the kitchen. Cook could send them instead and we’d all have teeny tiny canapés dropped onto the carpets while they all spend their time messaging stormtrooper boyfriends and saying ‘wot then?’ to your father’s ambassador guests.”

“I’m sure I don’t care what your excuse is.”

Miss Magdalin glided onwards, serving the guests. Offering them jam filled tarts, squares of purple flans and little chocolate dabs with mint leaves on them, all delicately balanced on an enormous silver tray.

He heard his fiancé praise Lily’s gorgeous russet hair as the older woman was offered the tray, ‘the colour, so refreshing! How she wished she could be so blessed’. But Maratelle waived Lily away, she wouldn't eat. Maratelle was watching her figure for the upcoming wedding. Carbs were so bloating.

Maratelle turned to a friend as Miss Magdalin still stood near the group. “I’ve given up gluten, it’s terrible for your insides,” she revealed. “You should try it; you slim down ever so much when eating everything absolutely natural.”

Brendol watched as Miss Magdalin gave the back of Maratelle’s head a withering look, like the jeweled up woman was a small child who she felt obliged to coddle, but really wanted to smack. Brendol hid an almost smile behind his palm. The girl was terrible, didn’t she know her place?

His father joined the group with his soon-to-be daughter-in-law and chimed in with some rot about not believing Maratelle needed to lose any weight. Why she was perfect! He couldn’t believe she wanted to change anything about her figure. Then as Miss Magdalin offered the tray to the Senator he greeted Lily warmly. He put his hand on her arm and made sure to make eye contact then generously compliment the food. The display made Brendol want to vomit. How fake, how false. His father hadn’t even eaten the cake. He didn’t appreciate Lily at all. If Senator Hux only knew how much work Brendol had done to get the baked goods up to a passable standard.

And, now the Senator was remembering a time when he had given Miss Magdalin a gift for a long ago school achievement. It was probably one that everyone gets, like for completing exams or finishing her final year. Miss Magdalin told him she remembered it fondly. Her voice sounded genuine, because just like everyone else, she liked Senator Hux. She didn’t shake off his hand or look away, she stood and simpered like the stupid, stupid freak she was. Brendol realized he was folding his arms too tightly, that his nails were digging into his arms.

Still they made a spectacle of themselves. His father asked after Lily’s mother and her shoulders visibly stiffened. In a quiet voice Miss Magdalin admitted, ‘the lady was not well, but was comfortable for now.’

The Senator praised them both. “You are a good daughter,” he told Lily gently. “A good daughter to a great woman, best baker for miles. Both of you. Only don’t tell cook I said so, eh?”

Lily grew pale and thanked him with a dip of a curtsy before moving on. The silver tray like a shield now, held out before her body and in both hands. A force field to block any more unwanted conversation.

How come she, a freakish person who broke the rules so completely, who was common and freckled and coarse, was a good daughter and he, a man who had achieved five times as much, was someone who made up stress related illnesses?

Miss Magdalin finally came again to him and held her tray out. He picked up the last garish, bright red tart.

“You are not a good daughter,” he said.

“You are not a good son. She is very pretty, ‘your’ Maratelle, you should go stand with her.”

“I suppose. Yes, she is pretty,” he shrugged. The room already felt too close. “She is perfectly happy with her friends and the Senator.” He looked at Maratelle as the woman laughed at some joke, the silver claw nails scraping strands of hair off her face. “I don't know if I can live with her. Might board at the Academy with the other instructors.”

“How can you plan to marry a woman you can't even imagine living with?”

“You're the one who will have to cook for her. She’ll be living here on the estate, that’s how it works doesn’t it? You’re the one who is the best baker for miles.”

Lily bowed her head and her lips tightened. Brendol could see her face reflected in the smudged surface of the tray, her features warped and slightly twisted.

The woman in question sailed over to the pair and Miss Magdalin’s chin sunk even lower, swallowing back her next remark, cheeks flaming.

Maratelle was beautiful, blonde, large chested. She smiled too wide though. Wore a lot of make-up and jewelry. He knew she was older than he was, forty he guessed, maybe even more, but she didn’t look it, she looked slick and fresh and perfect. Comparing her with Lily he wondered why he was even questioning his choice to be with Maratelle? It was like comparing a common E11 rifle with a shiny, well maintained 4-13 Hold Out. Absolutely not in the same category of quality.

The few times they had been alone together Maratelle had talked to him a bit like a rapt school girl all breathless and hanging on his each remark. He had liked the attention at first, but now, after everything, would it be terribly grating? He examined her blonde hair. It was adequate.

“Are you alright B? You don't have to stand by yourself.”

Miss Magdalin inhaled as she stood next to him, turning a darker shade of crimson. The girl picked up an empty glass and put it on her tray as if she was simply clearing up in the general area.

“Yes?” he answered wondering if this was a trap.

“Because, I do worry sometimes, about you here all alone. I mean in the house when your father is away. What if there was an attack or something? What would happen to you, without me?”

“What would you do to stop an attack if you were here?” He replied.

Maratelle put her hand on his forearm. “Me? Oh no B, you’d save me.”

He heard a short, muffled burst of laughter behind him and watched as Lily swept off to collect a tray full of dirty glasses at the opposite end of the room, before walking out calmly. He ignored Maratelle and her clawing hands. Her vapid conversation about the wedding. The Green Area was too hot, the people too pressing in the small space. He didn't like how the plants touched. Their fronds interlaced with each other as they poked the skin of passing guests. There was overly green moss growing on the window sill. It looked like a disease mottling up to the glass, slowly rotting the frame.

“After everything, I think it’ll be all beautiful,” Maratelle was saying. “I’m sure you have enjoyed your rest while I booked, and shopped, and slaved! I wish I had time to just relax,” she added as if she had worked a day in her entire life.

“No more stress after your holiday, right boy?” He heard his father say from the other group. Could the man not leave him alone? “You’ll be an asset to that Academy now you’re fighting fit.”

Brendol looked at the tart still sitting in his hand as Maratelle and his father started talking about school boys and their pranks. The sweaty pressure of his fingers meant the tart had created a pool of red in his palm. His hand was shaking and he stiffened it to his side. He didn’t have PTSD. Fuck them all. He stepped past his fiancé and walked quickly out the door. He went directly outside, because he needed space and air, even in the heavy rain. The rain that splattered on the tart, the tart he’d held too tightly and it had smeared between his fingers. He dropped it into a muddy garden bed. Walked to the kitchen door, then wiped his dirty hand against the wet door, smoothing the rain drops and jam into a wide arch, and stood watching water drip from his hair. Let his hands shake. He felt the explosive in his pocket, rolled it across his palm, if felt hard and smooth.

Lily didn't come outside. Nobody did. Where was she? Didn’t he need her? If they were truly, truly meant to be together then she would know he needed her. More proof she was nothing.

He went through to the garage, into the dungeon and checked his footage. She was in the kitchen, just on the other side of the wall from where he had stood. If the wall hadn't been there they could have reached out and touched hands.

She was not working, just standing holding her empty tray while strange people stepped around her. So, she said she was so busy with so many guests, but she wasn't. She wasn't!

He noted the time she stood idle in his notebook. Watched his hand waver as he wrote. His writing so shaky he could hardly read what he had recorded. The water made him feel cold, the cold made him shake.

He called the kitchen and asked for Miss Magdalin to bring him anything.

Pulling her inside at the briefest of knocks, she was holding a plate with another slice the cake she had made him perched in the center.

“Make them go,” he told her while holding her arm, him fingers made her skin white under their grip.

“Brendol I can't...”

“I want it so it’s just me again. Make them go,” he repeated with a shake. He knew he sounded a little manic, a little, just a little anxious. Although, he reminded himself, was never truly anxious. He wasn’t unwell. He wanted her to understand that was all.

Miss Magdalin nodded wordlessly.

Good, she listened. She got things done, Lily didn’t ask him ‘how he was’ or suggest he needed rest. “I didn't eat what you made,” he told her. “The tart, it was made out of jam. Wasn't it?”

“Yes Sir, just jam and pastry, you looked at a tin yourself, just the other day.”

“It wasn't… I apologize for not eating it,” he told her stiffly. “I wanted to try one after I saw you made them, and they looked good, but it made my hand bleed.” Brendol took the plate with cake on it and put it on his bunk. Then shoved the offending hand in his pocket, bending forward, tilting. His chest felt heavy. “Wear your dress again tomorrow my girl, it looks very fine.”

At her release Miss Magdalin changed, her eyes narrowed dangerously. “Don’t you ask me to wear it anymore! YOU! You’re so rude and ungrateful and mean. And, I thought we had an agreement.” She stomped her foot and his shoulders stiffened. “Show me your hand,” she ordered.

“No.”

“Here,” she took out the brush from her bed and in a calmer voice asked. “Please fix my hair, it's all over the place. That green room is entirely inappropriate to hold more than two people and a flame thrower, and I'm used to small spaces.”

He let go of the explosive in his pocket and grasped the brush. Of course the girl’s hair needed brushing, she had been leaning against walls.

Lily pulled her hair bands out, looked at both his hands, juggling the brush between them. She inspected the palms, turned them over and looked the backs, they were square and pale with a smattering of dark hairs. She scratched at the remnants of jam on his palm. As she looked at his hands he looked at hers. Grasped one and held open the fingers, bending them back.

“Your hands are too pink, what's wrong with them?” He asked.

“I have to wash them a lot. As much as I'd enjoy giving you listeria sometimes,” she answered. “They have grown a darker red over time and they were none too silky smooth to begin with. Now brush Sir.”

She sat on his bed smoothing out her dress.

The brushing was like a balm. Brendol had to straighten the kinks out, only he could to it justice. Messy, dirty girl. He watched the bristles black against her red. The way they slid through, the way her hair bounced up at the end of each stroke. The way he had to be slow and careful around her ears, the first plunge at the fine hairline and then a long drag of the brush.

“What would you like with tonight's dinner? Plain or with that sweet bark sugared in. Those are the two I have on hand, no special orders today.”

“The sweet,” he answered. “You know I like that one. I’ve told you before my girl, you should listen to me.” He brushed a little more. “And tomorrow bagels. I know they are hard, but you are getting better.” He paused feeling his chest tighten. The familiar choking. “I suppose we can’t get rid of them. Those people.”

She nodded and his fingers held her jaw straight again. They gripped the side of her face, his thumb resting with the tip just touching her red brow. He curled a finger across her lip.

“I’ve heard the guests are all going to that new night market tomorrow night, then to a show, so we might all get the evening off. The staff that is.”

“I’ll stay here.”

“You don't love her.”

He changed the subject. “Your mother is sick.”

“Yes, sir,” she agreed quietly. “Brendol, you don't have to marry her, or anyone.”

He knew she didn't mean her mother.

“If I do I can work at the Academy. Then once it's established that I am not… injured anymore I can stop contracting and return to active service. They tell me it is a good opportunity to teach. If more soldiers were like me we wouldn't have the trouble they have now. We'd be winning a lot more battles, holding onto positions instead of all these raids. There would be less causalities, less disorder. They had the right ideas with the clones, back then we won battles and were stronger. Train your army from youth then they won't revolt, or disobey orders. I have to work at the Academy to prove I'm right. The Empire thinks I am unfit, but I will prove they are the weak ones.”

He braided her hair. It took a few tries to get the tension what he wanted. He circled the plat around his wrist, a long red rope; it could almost go around twice. He watched the way her hair showed bright against the bluish veins at his wrist. There was an old scar there, a little thing, an accident. Her hair covered his raised white skin.

“Maratelle is fine. A good woman. A good choice.” If he could convince himself that their time would be easier. He’d let the room get to him. The drinking, the headache and his fucking father, the man could make him so wound up.

Lily stood and bowed a little touching her hair. “She is very fine Sir but, someone once told me, ‘illusion never changes into something real’. It’s like - how can I explain it? I can work on all the fancy yachts in the galaxy, but I’m not millionaire. I’m sure you can be something equally as useful as a soldier is. We all change as we grow.”

“Really, because I spent fourteen years as an officer and before that six years at military college. You can hardly compare that to your summer boating holiday.”

She stiffened in his arms. “My holiday? My holiday? Brendol, I worked for over two years on that ship. I was one of their top chefs. My name was put on the menu two weeks before I had to leave. You can be such a self-centered prick.” she took a deep breath. “I don’t want to fight, I just want to… to…”

“What?” He asked and could almost bite his tongue off. Because he didn’t really want to know. He’d suspected she was using him for something. She was just like the others, wanting him to stand up to his neck in blood till it trickled down his throat only to slash out his knees from under him. “You want romance with the master? Is that what you want? Me to run away with you and I’ll save you from your sad, little life?”

Lily pursed her lips, stood and looked down on him. Instead of shame and anger he saw nothing in her face, not a tear, not a frown.

“No Sir, I made myself clear at the start, you’re a distraction, nothing more. A warm body.”

“Like all the others.”

“Like all the others,” she repeated almost serenely. “Don’t think you mean any more because I come when you call. It’s my job.”

“I don’t want to see you again,” he told her seriously. “I will find somewhere else to sleep.”

“Fine,” Lilly answered quietly. She didn’t yell, she didn’t cry. She just kept on talking in the same tone as if he’d asked her to iron him a shirt. “I have tomorrow off with you toffs all gone, so stay here tonight, I’ll go back home after dinner service and be out of your way. Now, I must help cook. Am I excused Sir?”

“Go,” he shouted. Then more quietly, “please.”

He could be just as calm as her.

He could be as calm as a fucking dead Jedi in there fucking fake temples.

Chapter Text

Because he couldn’t sleep. Sleep would not come. Instead he wrote a letter in his note book. A long, long letter full of scratched out words. Then he reminded himself he was too old for long letters that nobody would ever read and neatly tore the pages out and walked outside into the darkness of the wet night.

A good Arkanis boy isn’t afraid of rain. Or wind, or fog, or even thunder and lightning.

Brendol tore up the letter and let the wind blow it into the black water. If he couldn’t sleep he would walk and keep walking, stumbling with his rifle in one hand, over paths riddled with deep puddles and tree roots. Ever onward in circles and spirals. Spinning.

The house guests found Brendol dry, calm and freshly shaved sitting at the breakfast table the next morning. The attendant served the party toast with speckled blue duck eggs. Brendol serenely smiled across at Maratelle who wasn’t eating the toast and blue duck eggs. Maratelle had tiny cubes of fruit for breakfast.

The guests, who had all secretly felt sorry for the socialite who was being forced to marry such a grim and rude Empire obsessed relic, began to warm to the retired soldier who calmly attended his future bride. Yes, ‘he would do’ they thought, after all she was so expensive and he so rich.

Maratelle wanted a tour of the garden and Brendol was happy to show her. He pointed out the lilies on the home pond. How white they were against the green and brown. He showed her the raised garden beds where food was grown and pointed out the gardener hiding behind a hedge and watching them through the green foliage. Brendol even took her down pointlessly winding stony paths to the grotto, a small, fern covered, cave like structure built long ago by an alien species. The species had long since died out hundreds of thousands of years ago, or so most people thought. Other, wrong sorts of beings, thought the aliens might come back and take back their sacred places. The lovers laughed at the thought.

On a wet bridge over a stream filled with long reeds Maratelle let Brendol kiss her. He did so with passion. Because once he settled on a plan there was no retreat. That wasn’t his style. He would keep moving forward and succeed. Kissing was so important to women he reminded himself. So, it had been good to ‘experiment’ with the staff. It had been like studying for a test really. If Maratelle found out about his fuck rehearsals she should, in fact, thank him, because he could show her he knew all about pleasing a partner. He had practiced. For her.

The day unfolded into a haze of Corellian whisky lunch shots and nodding at lame puns or suggestions that the wars would be over soon. Brendol pushed down any flashes of emotion into a part of him that was neatly trapped in a corner of his subconscious. His father beamed with happiness; entirely thinking his pep-talk from the previous day was taking effect and his sullen, awkward, disappointing son was finally grasping the right straws and enjoying himself.

Although, by the end of the day, Brendol found himself holding his pocketed explosive and revolving the safety on and off in a kind of gamble on whether his thumb would glide off the charger at the exact moment the safety revolved off. They were sitting in the lounge, a group of stupid people doing stupid things. Brendol looked at Jeffrey as he played his dangerous game. Maratelle was sitting almost in his lap, her stupid droid was reading the news highlights out loud (the celebrity news highlights). Jeffery was on his comm, talking so quietly nobody could clearly hear a word he spoke, but every now and then he’d look up from the small side table he was leaning against and see Brendol’s eyes boring into his face.

“B dear, do stop jiggling,” Maratelle told him. “I can hardly concentrate on RO.”

The droid halted her robotic retelling of the latest holovid hook-up and her glowing pick eyes looked almost sad that her mistress couldn’t appreciate that the couple had given each other matching neck tattoos.

Brendol halted his suicide mission and narrowed his eyes at Jeffrey, lips pursing into a tense, questioning scowl.

After the news highlights Maratelle dryly kissed his forehead and she took her mother and her friends to their rooms to change for the group’s excursion to the night market and theatre.

Jeffrey stayed. He had put away his comm unit and was talking to the house attendant about vehicles and locating passes and keys. Brendol watched the way Jeffrey brushed a stray hair from his smooth temple and how the younger man stooped slightly, head tilted when in thought. In Brendol’s mind Jeffrey had it all. He could give orders, he had a career, the man had his father’s respect; he had youth and friends and could go wherever he wanted. Everything.

After their smiling discussion the house attendant trotted off to the key safe in the hall.

Brendol still stared at Jeffrey. A cold stare filled with hatred. If Brendol could shoot lasers from his corneas he would have burnt Jeffrey to a crisp half an hour ago.

Jeffrey sighed. “Can I help you Sir?” He finally asked.

“Can you?”

“Probably not,” Jeffrey mumbled under his breath. Jeffrey knew he had immunity. He knew about the master and the servant. “Would you like to drive Miss Maratelle to the market tonight?” He said more loudly.

“I’m not going.”

“I see.”

“Do you?” Brendol asked. “I know you’d rather I went.”

Jeffrey pushed off from the side table with a louder sigh and left to help find keys and organise drivers for the sloshed visitors. Honestly, he felt thankful he didn’t have to deal with the Senator’s son very often. The man was cracked.

***

Brendol ate dinner alone. The bread roll that accompanied the meal was a day old. It was cold and stiff.

Afterwards he went to his room, his own proper room and in a moment of frantic anger pushed all of Maratelle’s fiddly shit off his work desk and onto the floor. It all landed with a satisfying series of clunks.

He heard a splash behind his almost closed bathroom door. Brendol crouched, one hand in his pocket.

***

In his bath tub Miss Magdalin was lying on her stomach, her mouth submerged, the ends of her hair spread darkly in purplish water. Brendol watched from a hidden vantage point looking into the mirror over the sink at her reflection. He watched her eyes close, her feet dip up and back towards her slick, floating backside.

Her face bobbed out of the water and he saw her eyes flicker in surprise then her face grow red. His hiding spot was not as subtle as he would like. Resting on her forearms she wiped the condensation off a chrome fitting. Chin tilted up.

“I’m trying to stay out of your way Sir” She said suddenly. “If you are looking for Maratelle she has gone out for the evening.” She reached for a towel perched over the top of the tub in a tumble of soft white. “Am I being annoying?” Lily added in a low voice.

“Yes,” Brendol answered sullenly from the shadows. “I want to have a bath.” He’d never used the bath for the past twenty years.

The girl let go of the towel, turned and slid into a sitting position, drawing her knees up to neatly take up half the space in the tub. Brendol could see clearly on her upper-arm was a series of purple and blue bruises in the shape of his fingers. His frown deepened, he supposed he must have held her too hard. Well, the freak had deserved it. She should have… his memory faltered, why had he done that? Brendol scratched absently at the doorframe.

“It’s too bright in there,” he complained hovering in the shadow of his desk.

“Light off,” she ordered, so that the only glow now was from the window, and from a low lamp in his bedroom. The bathtub sunk into a grey twilight and there were no more bruises when he couldn’t see them. Brendol crept into the room. One of his yellow pill bottles, the label all scratched up and picked off, stood almost hidden under piles of Maratelle’s make-up and hair things on his large sink.

He should take one he knew.

He didn’t take one that morning.

Or yesterday evening.
He’d taken the last one with her bottle of gin and he wasn’t supposed to drink when he took his pills. The doctors had been firm on that.

That’s why he could see everything so clearly. They all hated him. He’d stopped taking his prescription to show his father he was fine, but he didn’t feel fine. Because he could tell Miss Magdalin was fucking around with Jeffrey. She was probably waiting for him now.

And they didn’t even ask him to watch.

He undid the lid and poured the pills into the bath. The little white tablets all falling at once in front of her knees. It made Lily jump and the water splashed as she startled.

“Brendol,” she snapped, scrambling to fish them out and then lining them up along the lip of the bath like shells on the waterline of a sandy beach to dry out. “Just get in,” she added more gently. “It’s warm.”

He stared at the spot in the bath where the pills had dropped. Felt her loosening his clothes. Undoing his pants and pulling them down, pulling off his shirt. Numbly he stepped out of his shoes and socks she urged him into the water. With her firm fingers around his wrists Lily eyes glanced over his hands, squinting in the low light, and Brendol pretended he didn’t know exactly what she was doing.

“You shouldn’t throw away your pills,” she chided him. “They help. You look so angry sometimes, or sad. Do they help? Maker, I hope they help.”

He nodded, head bowed.

The bathwater was warm. It was nice to be made to sit in a small ball, he mirrored the way she sat, knees brought up the his chest, his hands pulling his legs close. The heat made him sweat. There was something oily in the water, it smelt faintly like some flower. They sat in the semi-dark inhaling steam and watching each other. Did she really not care? Was he just a warm body? Not that it mattered.

Lily cleared her voice. “I used your bath a lot. When you weren’t here. When I first came back to Arkanis to work. Because I needed to keep Mama in credits - you know. I used to pretend your room was my room, all big and soft and expensive feeling. Isn’t that craz.. isn’t that not normal? I think I wanted to reward myself for being such a good girl. For giving up everything.”

He fanned a hand through the water. “You aren’t a good girl,” he said. “You aren’t allowed in my room.”

“Want to talk about it?” She asked quietly.

“No.” His voice sounded strained even to himself. He sounded weak willed, weak and useless.

Hands stroked his feet, pushed upward, separating his knees she slid towards him and hands still felt out skin. Up his chest, along shoulders, fingers stroked his neck to the short hair at the nape of his neck. She kissed his unmoving mouth till he had to respond. The statue that was brooding Brendol Hux drew her clammy skin towards him, tasted her sweet lips. Breath mingled, tongues meeting.

He cupped her buttocks, the oil making his hands slide smoothly over their round surface.

Their movements must have knocked the tablets as a few fell onto the hard floor like shots in the echoing room. He paused, wrapped arms around her waist and squeezed. The kiss broke.

If he pulled them down under the water…

She kissed one of his closed eyes and inhaled sharply as he let go.

“It was bland while I was gone,” she said. “I missed you.”

Brendol raked a hand through her wet hair, his fingers catching in heavy tangles. He remembered the recording of her in front of the oven after the rain. To be satisfied by watching pictures alone seemed so long ago. She was so bad. So bad, always tempting him. “What about your other boyfriends?”

“Oh, they aren’t the same,” she assured him flippantly. “Just filler.” She kissed him again, soft oil slick lips slid to his shoulder. “Take a pill will you love? It’ll just ease my mind, that’s all”

Before he followed her into his room he picked up a still wet pill off the floor and swallowed it.

They half-dressed and Lily fussed over him. She let him dry her hair while she sat in Maratelle’s frilled buttercup coloured dressing gown. Miss Magdalin toyed with the waist tie her fingers rolling the material into a snail shell shape against his leg then uncurling it, over and over the snail formed.

“What if Maratelle comes back right now?” Lily asked.

He shrugged.

“You will get me in trouble Sir.”

Lily stood and tidied the room. She hung up the gown, cleaned the bathroom and wrapped his still damp pills in a cloth and put them in her pocket, then put back the bottle where it had been before. The desk was put in order and Brendol was moved from where he sprawled on his bed so she could straighten the covers.

“Hungry?” Miss Magdalin asked him.

“I don’t know,” he answered non-committedly. “Maratelle said I am getting ‘stout’. She says I should stop eating bread and cake.”

Lily stopped rearranging the pillows on the bed, wrapping her fingers around one of the cushions and choked it. “That woman!” She growled as Brendol watched the violent display with fascination.

“Maratelle wants me to take her to one of those health spas on the Ekka Islands on Corsocrant. The one’s where there are no droids allowed. We’ll eat fruit all day and get tans.”

The cushion was pushed roughly into place and Lily turned to face him. In a monotone she asked. “Is that what you want Sir?”

He pretended to think.

“I am hungry you know. They gave me yesterday’s bread at dinner.”

***

Lily had asked him, in a clear, polite, but firm voice, to go back to their shared room while she went to the kitchen, but Brendol did not take orders from staff. Instead of going all the way back to the hated dungeon Brendol hovered out of sight until Lily had disappeared and doubled back to trail after her, moving silently towards the dining room.

The house was thankfully quiet, the dining table already set up with utensils ready for the next morning’s breakfast service. He straightened a knife next to the chair his father always sat in, turning the blade towards the chair and back again. In the silent house he could hear Jeffrey talking loudly in his stupid, made up accent. What the man thought educated people sounded like, the way he drawled his vowels. Brendol took a few steps closer to the door.

 

“…Aaaand then he ordered a whole platoon or troop or whatever, like a hundred ships to attack and they all got smashed to pieces. Then while all his stormtroopers and officers were freaking the fuck out, he made them all…”

Brendol froze.

“I don’t want to know,” Lily interrupted Jeffrey. “If half of what they say were true, he wouldn’t be free to walk around would he? He wouldn’t be given a job with children at the Academy. I’m telling you it’s all rumors.”

Jeffrey wasn’t so easily shaken off the juicy gossip train. “Well, I heard it off the old man. He’s the one who had to clear it all up. Did the deal with the Empire to get his son out if he got serious medical help. Do you know how hard it is to get out of the armed forces? You have to do something really, really fucking bad to get kicked out.”

“Jeffrey, put this away, I have to go.” (banging) “Stop talking.”

“Make me a caff love, I have to stay up to pick ‘em up at midnight and it’s pissing down out there. They won’t let the droids go in case of an accident. THEY are worth too much.”

The sound of banging increased as if to drown out the sound of Jeffrey’s voice.

How dare the little fuck… Brendol ground his teeth. Anyway… anyway, he knew how to make caff. Put the cup in the machine and press the green button. Brendol stood straighter. His father’s secretary didn’t have a clue about any of it. Although, it stung, it fucking stung like acid, to think people thought he’d sent his troops to such a - situation.

He knew how to make caff. Not Jeffrey.

Miss Magdalin jumped as Brendol opened the kitchen door. Two cats scurried behind the dishwasher as he entered. He ignored them. The cats and the people.

The cups were in the cupboard where he’d watched Lily get one before. He picked the plainest white one and put it into the machine then pressed the green button.

A slow smile dawned across Miss Magdalin’s face as she made a noise that sounded like a ‘huh’ of surprise.

“Could you make Jeffrey one also please Sir?” She asked, then she added in a voice aimed completely at his father’s secretary. “He’s about to go out.”

Brendol picked the ugliest cup he could find for the other man. It was squat and brown and roughly pitted after years of washing. There was also a dead moth in the bottom of it. He removed his cup from the machine and the ugly mug went in its place. The hot caff poured over the moth’s mummified corpse. He looked at Jeffrey who was intensely studying a large bowl.

Lily made a note in her book and a soft beep sounded reminding her to move something from one rack in the oven to another pot. The cook walked in, saw Brendol in the kitchen, took her jacket off a hook and walked out, without comment, into the night.

“You’re Caff,” Brendol put the mug in front of Jeffrey. The moth had stayed sunken in the black depths. “You want sugar?” He asked. “It’s in the green jar I believe.”

The younger man picked up his cup and nodded a quiet, mumbled, “thank you” then made a point to silently mouth something at Lily before slapping the door sensor to also exit into the wet night.

“Did you put rat poison in it?”

“A dead moth.”

Lily laughed a long, loud, boisterous giggle. He hid his own smile behind his cup. She never listened to the lies. That’s what they were. Lies. What would a weak little man, who had never fought for anything in his sick and tiny civilian life know about service and discipline and sacrifice?

A sharp vibration startled him as his wrist alarm sounded, the suddenness of the chirping next to his face made him flinch and loose his grip on the full cup. It smashed loudly to the ground, the shards and caff spreading in what seemed like an incredibly huge circle of black and jagged white for such a small container.

Lily dropped a knife she had been wielding over a tray of chocolate brownies at the sound of the smash and the blade glanced off a finger cutting a knick below her nail bed. Brilliant red blood welled at her fingertip and she inhaled a hiss of surprise.

“Ach, that fucking Rebel warning system!” Another alarm was sounding somewhere in the kitchen and it switched to the warning transmission with a robotic voice telling everyone to keep calm and make their way to their shelters. Lily ordered it off with a snap, then tip-toed through the mess to turn off his.

A drop of her blood spotted on his shirt sleeve before she could wrap her finger in her apron.

“I just have to message Mama,” she apologized and started, talking in a comm she fished out from a shelf, but he couldn’t concentrate on her voice or what she said. It was as if someone had pressed pause and he was rooted like a tree next to a lake of spilt caff.

“A false alarm, that’s all it ever is,” he managed to say. Then he remembered the lights. “Turn of the lights, lights off. The ships will see us.”

The kitchen lights went off leaving glowing cat eyes staring from corners, and in the darkness he could move, he opened the door to the dining room. “lights off,” he told the sensors.

Miss Magdalin walked behind. She put the comm in her pocket. “There’s the master switch in the entry Sir, that’ll be quicker.”

Once the house was safely shrouded in darkness they sat on the front step and watched the night sky. He laid a blaster in his lap and rested his hands on its cool durasteel casing. By his side Miss Magdalin lent her head against his shoulder and he could feel her small warmth and weight. She curled closer in the damp wind and turned her face to bury it in the jacket of his arm, her hair was still wet from the bath earlier. He lifted a finger to her apron covered knee and drew a circle against the fabric.

No ships appeared, and there was no noise other than the far away alarms and rain. He fished her comm out of her pocket and checked the local broadcast. No news, other than the quadrant was urged to take cover. Finger flicking, Brendol checked her recent contacts while her face was still buried. Her mother, then names of people he didn’t know, would never know. He wondered which of the men’s names had been lover number twelve or eleven or ten. Moving across he noticed Jeffrey’s name and frowned. There was a tiny picture of him next to his name looking like he was on holiday somewhere smart and modern. Brendol deleted him from her device and replaced it in her pocket.

“Nothing’s happening,” Brendol told her. Then he added bitterly. “Nothing happens here, it’s like a fake world, all pot plants and popular music with idiots who never did anything worth anything.”

She spoke into his sleeve. “If you’re bored then you’re boring.” She emerged from her resting place, and put a hand over his. “Let’s go to bed she suggested. I let Mama know I’m fine, assured her we were going to the shelter, and that I have to settle all your freaked out freaky friends. Maybe, I have to stroke their brows and feed them brownies.”

He not frowned into the direction of the garden.

“Would you like that Sir?” She asked.

If there was going to be an attack he did have more fire power in their room. He slowly drew another circle on her knee. Although, there was only one door. Only one escape.

“I do have those brownies,” Miss Magdalin added in a whisper. As if he was a five year old and the thought of sweets would bribe him into complacency.

They crept to his room in the dark house and she slipped out to bring him a brown square of sugary sweet brownie on a white plate. Lily left the dungeon door open so they could hear the faint warning sirens from the far away town as they sat on the bed and she used the brush he kept for her to brush her hair as he ate. The bandage she had used for her thumb was spotted with red. Red blood, red hair.

Brendol felt she liked to watch him eat, he felt a warm aura radiated from her, the pleasure she received from his judgment was enough to send her to the edge of professional pride. Addicted to kudos.

“Good?” She asked as the brush slowly twined through her hair.

He answered with a nod, and finished eating the serving. Then took over the hair brushing. She sat between his legs and took off their socks, then turned to pull off his shirt. She kissed the side of his stomach making him sigh. How was he supposed to fix her hair when she would not sit still?

“You smell like chocolate,” she kissed again, this time tilting up to find his lips. “You taste like chocolate too. Delicious.”

“You will never leave me again.”

She leant against his knee as the brush slowly rose and fell. “Oh, Brendol,” Lily murmured softly.

They lay down in the cot beds pushed together and he curled her hair over his neck and cheek.

The sirens stopped and they embraced, relishing the silence. Brendol could almost pretend the freak felt something for him.

Nobody really cared. It was like holding a mirror, because they didn’t care and he didn’t care. His whole life he’d been boxed up and ignored. Usually it didn’t hurt, and he could live with the knowledge he was alone. It had helped him to get where he got, but on the flip side it had also taken him to this no-man’s-land. Long after contemporaries had started families, and held parties with ‘in-jokes’, as they whispered in ship corridors about illegal holiday houses on Endor.

There was no use being reflective. It had never changed anything. The spiral kept spiraling and if he kept busy then the spinning didn’t feel so choking. That was why he had to get back to work and never mind how he got there. Getting married was just another box. Maybe it would be nice to be around someone? Sometimes, on rare occasions, like now, it was slightly pleasant to be with Lily. The way she showed how she thought about him, the way she smiled and he felt very strongly about her hair, her long red hair.

She was talking now, her voice almost a whisper in the darkness. “…I like to listen to music, and my parents always, always turn it down, no matter how old I am. Right down, to nothing. They think just sitting, or resting, even looking out a window, anything that isn’t work is wasting time. Living at home, everything was a battle. It sounds so petty, but it was! I wasn’t allowed to wear dresses, or anything to revealing. I wasn’t to message friends, or read the news, or have a doll. It feels like we are from different planets. And, I try so hard not to hate them, but I think my brother left because he wanted to be free. When he enlisted with the Empire they were so angry and when he died they were so sad. So, I felt guilty because I am all they have and I can’t stand them. Then as soon as I dared leave and started to have fun, Mama got sick,” she shrugged. “And, I’m back again.”

Brendol pretended he was lying in a giant field, that there was protection and camouflage. He imagined he could stand up and move to safety in any direction because he was invisible. Lily continued to talk.

“I do feel I am the underdog, but it’s okay. Someone famous said once, ‘this too shall pass’. I know Mama can’t… well anyway, at least I can work a lot. I’m saving up for a ticket to Chandrilla.”

He scoffed at her weak goal. “That planet is a cesspit, what will you do there?”

“Get a job, bake, pour drinks, clean, do taxes and dance around a pole with tassels on my tits. Maybe find a rich husband, or a rich wife. Or both. I suppose I’m getting a bit too old for the dancing.”

“I will write you a letter of recommendation if your attitude improves.”

He felt her lips curve into a smile against his skin. “Thank you Sir. Imagine me in the big city, we could start over, I mean, my letter of recommendation and me.” She touched his cheek, her thumb passing under his eye socket and then softly brushing against his side burns.

In the field, under the imaginary starry sky there was no loud sounds, it was silent, but for wind in grass, and he had a thousand stormtroopers, but they couldn’t see him, they just knew to protect him, he was a treasure. Maybe he was a box.

“Are you tired yet?” She asked.

“I’m always tired, but can’t sleep.”

“Because of the war in space?”

“The war,” he repeated and turned to stare upwards into the dark. “We fight the rebels and we fight each other, millions and trillions of soldiers. Once, I killed a Jedi Knight,” he revealed. This information never, ever failed to impress listeners. Even extinct as they were people still knew of the Jedi’s battle skills, how they had nearly taken control of the universe and only the courage of the new Empire’s Imperial Forces had saved entire, brain washed worlds from their dark plots. He didn’t tell her that he’d simply read order 66 on his communication panel, raised his blaster and shot the man who had been his General for one year and three months in the back without warning. That story didn’t sound as remarkable.

“I’m sorry you had to do that,” Lilly told him sadly.

This wasn’t the reaction he had expected. “I did it when I was twenty-one, by myself, without a clone in sight. I got the order and I executed it. I did it to win, to survive. The Empire gave me honors for it, defeating our enemy made me a captain, the youngest captain in the entire battlefleet. Not many people can say that.”

She put her hand in his and he squeezed it. Trapped it, entwining their fingers. He remembered his Jedi Knight General. He had felt he had been an old man, very old Brendol had thought at twenty-one. Only now his memory wasn’t so good, maybe he had just felt old and his ideas tiring. His General had always talked about light or Force or other mumbo-jumbo in a slow, calm voice.

Brendol’s mind flicked back to focusing on being an imaginary box in an imaginary field and he was safe and guarded. There was no loud noise, or people watching, or whispering.

“My girl, when we go to Arkanis Academy I will show you the medal they gave me. I can only wear it on a uniform.”

Of course she would come to the Academy; he had made up his mind, because he wanted her to be there. She kissed his shoulder and he soon felt she slept next to him, her small hand still in his. He thought briefly, he should have been the one to say sorry to her. Sorry that she was unhappy, that her parents sounded like they were controlling and her mother was slowly dying. But, he shouldn’t really care about her. Miss Magdalin was just a phase and a freak and what was it called when people had crushes on celebrities? She was an infatuation.

He pulled her close and imagined them both in the box. In the box, in a field. Protected by stormtroopers who obeyed without question.

Brendol slept in a cloud of red hair.

Chapter Text

On his screen Miss Magdalin expertly iced a cake with a sheet of sweet, pale green icing, she patted and smoothed it quickly with sugar dusted fingertips. He knew there were two other similar cakes already sitting, perfectly round like the sides of a Starcruiser’s SF-12 munitions, in the kitchen’s cold unit. Only Lily's pretty cakes wore finely piped, white lace skirts instead of bleak warnings on which direction to load bombs so the user wouldn’t try to blow their gunnery to bits.

Lily had promised Brendol his wedding cake would be the most delicious he had ever tasted. In fact, she had revealed, there would be three choices of flavor combinations, but she wouldn’t say any more. Just that he would have to wait till the meal after the ceremony and that she expected a full review.

“B? B dear, do pay attention.”

Brendol switched off his view screen, slipped the device into his pocket and frowned at Maratelle.

“Put your game away and come stand next to ‘your father’,” she chided and her bridesmaid giggled nervously at the way she spoke, as if Brendol was a little boy instead of the solemn and aging military fanatic they all saw him as. “If you stand there,” Maratelle inched him closer to Jeffrey. “Then I’ll look just right.”

Jeffrey put his hands behind his back and tilted his chin up mimicking Hux senior. He was standing in for Brendol’s father during the wedding rehearsal while the Senator attended some vital (probably universally important) business. His father's secretary, the luridly caped idiot, kept beaming at the wedding party as if he was the one getting married. It was getting on Brendol’s already tensed nerves.

“Don’t worry son, I’ll protect you,” Jeffrey joked and the others tittered stupidly, even the Arkanis Academy Commandant, the highest ranking nearby officer on hand to conduct the ceremony, laughed behind a gloved hand.

Brendol gave Jeffrey a look that would freeze on bonfire on Kashyyyk.

“Come on, we must practice,” Maratelle whined, stamping a foot. “I will stand here, at the front, with Mama and Merry and Cayla with RO behind. Not there Merry, there. There. Where I’m pointing dear! Honestly! Then you do your talking Sir,” she addressed the Commandant as the ladies of the bridal party shuffled back and forth.

“I have the standard Officer’s piece on harmony to read out, if that suits Mr. Hux?” The Commandant asked.

“I believe I requested the pledge to the Empire.”

“Hardly suitable B dear,” Maratelle intercepted. “I saw what you wanted and it was not good at all. Stuffy and stiff and more like a… like a… one of those ads before holos where they say we should all go out and fly about in space for the soldiers - or something. You can read it out for your dinner speech if you need to have it at all.”

He ground his teeth. “I asked for the pledge to be read at the ceremony. It’s important to me.”

“B dear, don’t sulk.”

The crowd stood in an awkward silence as Brendol scowled at Maratelle until the Commandant cleared his throat and straightened his perfectly straight hat. Brendol remembered he was supposed to be on his best behavior in front of his future commander and nodded in what he hoped looked like a generous display of caring for his fiancée. “Of course, you’re right,” he said through the clenched teeth.

“Good, good,” the Commandant clapped his hands together and smiled while Jeffrey rolled his eyes dramatically at the girls in the bridal party.

The Commandant was a fool. Brendol had already judged the man’s ideas to be outmoded, dissected his ideas on raising capable soldiers and decided to disregard the elderly man once he was safely in the employ of the armed forced again. Getting rid of the old grey shirt would be easier than killing a Yazbo with a dropped boot.

“Once I’ve finished reading the piece, it should take no longer than ten to fifteen minutes, we’ll have the usual questions and such, and then you may kiss your bride Mr. Hux. Only,” the Commandant winked, “try not to make us all too jealous, eh?”

“No tongue,” Jeffrey added and the others erupted into titters of shocked laughter at such outstanding wit.

“Then the paperwork will need to be signed,” the Commandant added firmly.

“My contract?” Brendol perked up, a smile flickered across his face.

“Of course Mr. Hux, then you can sign your wedding contract.” The Commandant felt relief that the solemn groom was so keen to be married. The Senator’s only son was obviously nervous. He was well aware of his very qualified, future instructor’s love of the Empire’s Naval fleet, although Maker knew why the way things were going. Maybe Brendol’s love of Imperialistic ideas were some sort of cover to mask his love for his partner? It was ridiculous how macho some men would act, especially officers. Well, Brendol would soon be broken of all his ideals once he was knee deep in the Academy student’s lives and wedded domestic bliss.

Brendol meanwhile internally slouched while displaying a stiff, unmoved exterior. He had thought he would get to sign his employment contract after the ceremony, with some half-plan baking in the back of his mind of excusing himself for the reception. Even with the cake bribe he wanted to escape and was uncomfortably aware of his fish-out-of-water status among the other people in the house.

Now Maratelle was holding his hands in her claws and staring at him. Her pale eyes looked decidedly misty. At such close quarters he noticed her eyebrows looked drawn on in thick, brown crayon.

“Tomorrow will be the most memorable day in our lives,” she said. “My love?”

No reply.

“My love,” Maratelle continued valiantly. “Let’s always be honest with each other. I care for you with all my heart.” She lied so beautifully that the bridesmaids sighed romantically en masse.

“I… also. Maratelle.”

She kissed his cheek in front of his superior to a chorus of more sighs, he felt his ears grow hot. Ridiculous woman! At least he wasn’t wearing his uniform. That was back in the dungeon room, a brand new Arkanis Academy staff uniform with two hats, a new blaster and comm. Again he’d be in standard Imperial combat boots also. The boots meant all this, he looked around at the half decorated room full of people he hated, would be worth it. Brendol broke away, freeing his hands, he wiped lipstick off his face then patted Maratelle on the shoulder in what he hoped didn’t look as condescending manner as it felt.

“Would you do me a favor B dear?” Maratelle asked chirpily. “Would you ask two of your staff to usher? There will be more people here for the actual ceremony and RO can’t do it, as she will be caught up doing my hair. The red head kitchen girl would be nice, and I’ve noticed she has just the right type of plain dress, and maybe the one who’s part Twi’lik? That will look so inclusive.”

“Yes, get the red hair girl,” Jeffrey repeated wryly. “She’ll love to watch you get married Sir.”

Brendol narrowed his eyes at the smirking fool. “Jeffrey, don’t you have someone else’s father to stand in for somewhere? Or, a cliff to jump off of?” He excused himself, firmly shook the Commandant’s hand and stiffly left the room looking to all of Arkanis that he was completely calm, like a bird on the wind.

***

Miss Magdalin stumbled on Brendol in the garden holding a stiff and smoking, dead cat by its tail. It had been one of her least favorites, he knew. He’d seen her chase it away once when it tried to steal food.

She startled at the sight of her master’s son and dropped the compost pot. “Ugh!” She grimaced up at him scrabbling in the mud for the fallen egg shells. “Sometimes, I wonder Brendol. I really wonder.”

“But, it’s the one you don’t like.”

“Throw it away, or something.”

He tossed the stiffening carcass into some nearby bushes where it hit the gardener.

“Want to, to see my blaster?” He asked her brandishing the black plastic and durasteel weapon. He twisted the neon-orange visibility reflectors in the afternoon sunlight.

“I’ve seen it.” Lily didn’t look up; instead she used a stick to scrape up the last of the kitchen scraps.

“Not this one, this one is new, it came with my uniform, my Academy uniform, it has far too many stun settings though. Only one that does any real damage and it’s weak enough also, but excellent range. A perfect artillery for someone new to using a blaster. We carry the same as the students you see?”

He watched her, gun still drawn, as she emptied the compost pot into the barrel and brush mud off her knees. Then Brendol stepped in beside her as she started to walk. Today he had felt so refreshed. Even after the stupid ceremony rehearsal.

It must have been the room last night, he was getting used to sleeping in smaller spaces again. He had slept so well Lily had even brought him a bagel covered in sweet duck pate early that morning, and he had sat in bed for breakfast. A thing he hadn’t done since childhood. She had made sure he took his pill and sat on his lap while he inspected a series of pale freckles up close on her breasts. He had almost worked his way up to confirming that he believed she was almost normal (if he squinted) when she had been called back to the kitchen. Now he just wanted her to notice him, to go back to lap sitting and breasts and meals in bed, but she was already turning her face away.

“Why don’t you get one of the temporary staff to do that?” He scoffed.

“Because, if you are going to accidently shoot someone I want it to be me Sir. Some of those townies in there still have hopes to get away from here.” Lily nudged him with a shoulder. “You will be leaving soon. Also,” she added in a lighter voice, “I suppose it is nice to have the chance to see you outside.”

Brendol swelled and they lingered, walking slowly to the home pond. The girl was so strange. It was like she put herself out of the way just to find him. They walked to a covered bridge and watched the drops fall in the water below. He lifted his blaster and aimed at a duck.

“I think, watching you hold that thing, is the first time I’ve ever seen you really smile,” Lilly said. She put down the pot and leaned on the bridge’s paint chipped railing while studying him. A light drizzle of rain fogged around them.

“What would you know?” He powered the blaster and it whined into readiness.

Lilly turned and watched the ducks as Brendol cycled through the stun settings on his gun. Little pin-points of laser marking showed on the side of their feathered bodies as he mimicked hitting their gently bobbing forms.

“Will you help out tomorrow?” He asked. “Maratelle wants you to usher guests to their seats at the, uh, the ceremony.”

Lily stiffened and turned to look at him, eyes narrowed to lasers only slightly less powerful than his new blaster. “What?” She asked and Brendol knew his mistake. He had known in fact. He wasn’t as immune to emotions as everyone made him out to be. It’s just he had thought if he could ask flippantly enough she may have played along.

“I need you to help out at my-this thing tomorrow,” he patched the request hastily. “You can wear your dress and show to the room, I mean show people to the room, and chairs, or whatever.”

If she would just stop looking at him.

“Did you just shoot me with your blaster?” She asked.

He switched off the power to his weapon.

Lily asked again. “Did you?”

“No!”

“Then why do you STUN me?” She clenched her fist. “I can watch you eat with her, and walk with her and I can make you a cake, a very, very fine cake, and pretend that it is just a regular one. One that you’ll pick and nibble at then tell me how disappointed you were, because it tastes like it came from a bar you went to on Coruscant which the DROIDS made. I can also listen to the others all whisper ‘how lucky Mr Hux is’, oh but, not that Maratelle’s lucky. I don’t hear that.” The fist turned into a finger and prodded him in the chest. “So, I stick up for you and I say, ‘he’s not so bad, he’s fought for the Empire, he is used to living on ship, in space, not here all alone’.”

“I’m sure you don’t have to defend me…”

“But, I do Sir, I do, and I don’t know why!” Her voice cracked, the ‘why’ sounded in a higher octave, it was a choked squeak shooting out viciously, her finger twisting below his heart creating a jabbing point of pain in his chest. “So, no I will not be attending your FUCKING WEDDING CEREMONY in any way or role. You can’t pay me enough.”

For an instant he wondered if stunning Miss Magdalin was an option. He was sure the blaster’s lightest setting would barely be felt. It was probably so instructors wouldn’t shoot pupils – dead (he didn’t think any student had been shot by instructors when he was a child there). A nice medium setting would simply lay the girl out till she could get a hold of herself. He could tell anyone who saw him carry her back that she was drunk.

Instead, he made a decision that he would regret all his life. A moment he would look back on every future meal he ever suffered through. The stunning would have been a kinder option.

He kissed her.

The blaster clattered to the ground as he cupped her face in his hands. The freakish freckled skin of her cheeks felt warm to touch in the blustery coolness of the afternoon, her nose was icy. He kissed with all the pent up passion he had. Of course he would rather it was Lily he was marrying! That they would be the ones to spend the rest of their lives together, that they would sleep in the same bed and eat together and make love and he would present her, with her brilliantly soft, red haired head to the other officers. She would dominate them all, the bands of mousey Imperial wives with their seasonal balls and war orphan fundraisers. He would never be alone, or anxious, or hungry ever again.

All this he put into their kiss.

But, it wasn’t real.

He could feel all hope. He could allow himself to feel it, just briefly, just let the fantasy wash over them both then close the door again. Without Maratelle there would be no return to the Navy. No Imperial anything. And everything he’d sacrificed for would have been for nothing. Giving up on becoming an instructor would somehow make all them all right. All the officers who told him he was mad, who believed, still believed, that he’d murdered those troops.

When they finally broke apart Brendol felt a wetness against his eye socket and with his finger he wiped the trace of water away. She must have been crying. Emotional woman. Or it was the rain, it was always the rain.

Lily picked up the blaster and handed it to him.

He cleared his throat. “I ah,” the gun felt heavy. “I think you have talent. You’re baking… I think,” he holstered the blaster onto his leg frog. “I think,” he repeated slowly trying to reel back in his thoughts.

“Don’t worry number thirteen.” Lily said in a hard voice as she turned back away. “Illusion never turns into something real, I understand Sir. We always had our agreement didn't we? A bit of fun, that's all you are to me.” She started to walk towards the house and he trailed along behind slowly. It was as if a heavy weight was crushing him, he wheezed slightly, the pain felt so sharp he could choke on his own breath. Why was his chest acting up now? He stroked the explosive in his pocket.

“Lily,” Brendol mouthed, but she didn’t turn, how could she know he had spoken? The rain had grown heavier, it fell loudly on the path’s patchy awnings, on the leaves, in the water. Somewhere, far off, a ship’s engine suddenly sounded making him stumble, just a small error, and birds honked not knowing that here were two people who he was going to blow up. He was going to do it this time. It would end and the Empire might give him a military funeral. He was so close to service, surely they’d give him that? “You are beautiful,” he silently told her back. To his surprise Lily turned.

They were at a point on the path where Brendol had to look up at the girl, she was far enough up some few stairs to be above him. “It’s slippery,” she warned and held out a hand. He let go of the explosive and took it. Small and red.

In an overly bright voice Miss Magdalin added. “We are soaked, we’ll have to go change, are you coming Sir?”

He followed.

***

“My girl, you would try even the most placid man’s patience. I’m used to people following my orders without question, so I am far from placid.”

Miss Magdalin cocked her head to one side her freckled nose wrinkled. “Why do always end up so wet around you?”

Brendol leered and placed his hands on her hips. “Don’t make me tear them off.”

“Don’t make me…” Lily couldn’t finish her insolent comeback as he pushed her against the cold wall. She was naked apart from the offending underwear. Of course changing out of their wet clothes had disintegrated into an opportunity for fucking. Lily’s shoulders jarring a little roughly against the cement block wall of their dungeon as Brendol trapped her. Instead of cowering in panic the girl tilted her chin up defiantly. “I’m probably needed in the kitchen.” She added.

“I don’t care. Take off your underwear and then undress me.”

He touched his forehead against hers, bending down to fill his sight with her skin. Even her eyelashes were orange.

Lily pursed her lips and closed her eyes, tilting her lips towards him.

“No,” he told her in a firm, but low voice. It was a voice that had inspired hundreds, maybe thousands, of troops and scared just as many into obedience. “You do as I say!” Spit flecked from his mouth and dropped onto her cheek. Another firm push against the wall made her squirm under the pressure. Good. He was still in his wet clothes and they would both freeze if she didn’t hurry up.

Miss Magdalin bit her lip and then whispered. “You aren’t the boss of me.”

The fabric tore easily enough, with two hands he jerked a messy hole in her underwear, but the tear ran along the gusset, not the band and the cloth still clung maddingly in the way of her complete nudity.

She gasped at the ripping and started kissing his neck, but her hands fumbled at his clothes and he twisted to make it easier for her to hastily undress him. The air felt cold on his damp skin and he pressed her against the wall again trying to keep warm. The hole in her underwear grew larger as he rubbed his fingers through the opening feeling for the protruding pussy lips he knew peeped around her entrance. Lily used her foot to drag a camp bed closer and propped up her leg on it opening herself wider. Dirty girl. Freaky, dirty, he let her kiss his shoulders, felt her little teeth nip at his skin. Brendol fingered her harder watching the way she reacted. The way she moaned and hissed, gasping in air as he hit a particularly sensitive spot. Then he would do it again and again, his hand growing warm between her thighs.

He palmed his cock with his free hand while wiping the tip against her hip. Sticky, thread like strands of pre-cum painted tiny lines of jizz against her pale skin.

Lily wrapped her arms around him and forced him to kiss her, she hungrily lapped at his face while he continued to try and keep both his hands in rhythm.

“Sir,” she whined and with a hard kiss broke free and grabbed his wrist to lead him to the camp bed.

Fucking the freak was short but sweet. He was already on edge, an erection that felt 110 percent hard, even entering her made him want to cum, but Maker he tried to concentrate, tried to linger, to stretch the moment longer. Brendol knew that this was the end of something. Even as he told himself he would not give up his weakness for baker girls, not for all the weddings in the universe, he knew they would both never be in this room again. Not like this.

That he must stay in a room with Maratelle and sit with her and talk and listen to her inane chatter. There would be no more cake or bread or biscuits just for him. There would be no more.

So he lingered watching the way Lily’s red hair fanned out and fell across her pillow, the way it smelt and it twisted in his fingers. She opened her eyes, they were soft and wanting and her cheeks pink. Her breasts bounced as he thrust.

“Please Sir… harder,” she asked breathlessly.

He tried to fulfill her request, pushing so hard the light frame of the bed moved, and his hands pulling her thighs towards him left white lines of pressure on her skin until he could control his body no more, shooting his load inside her fluttering pussy. Feeling his release in a moment of ecstatic relief.

They lay a little while entwined on the camp bed. Small fingers drew lines on his back. They followed the direction of his hairs. It felt strange, ticklish and mesmerizing. Brendol frowned into her chest while his eyelashes brushed Lily’s speckled shoulder. Outside the clouds spun, the rain fell and the sounds of muffled voices spoke. People putting together a fine country wedding.

“Should you take your pill?” Lily asked him after a while.

“I should have it with food,” he murmured.

She kissed him. “Then what would you like? I should get back to the kitchen. I will be in trouble.”

Brendol still held his prisoner in a snug embrace even as she moved to pull away. “I don’t know what I want,” he said.

Chapter Text

Jeffrey leaned into her smaller frame. His hand flicked a curl of hair away from her cheek, pushing it away from her eyes, lingering to brush the back of her neck with a fingertip.

Miss Magdalin looked tired in the darkness. She lounged against the rocks, her pale eyes staring into the night sky, unresponsive to Jeffrey’s attentions. His hand on her face hardly caused a reaction, just a blink at his touch. She had spent the entirety of the wedding in the kitchen with all the squealing townie staff. Meanwhile the cook had gotten drunk and sat on a box in the pantry, occasionally giving mixed up orders to confused stray cats and bags of rice. Miss Magdalin had been the one to direct the service of the untrained staff. She had stretched the onion soup to serve Maratelle’s shrugging guests who ‘forgot’ to RSVP. She had concocted the rich tasting sauces, carved the ducks and refused the Gungan delivery creature’s limp watercress, shutting the kitchen door in its stupid face. It was Miss Magdalin who had delicately balanced her pale green cakes onto their silver platter, and then wreathed them with pure and smooth fresh lilies collected in the gray dawn from the home pond.

When she heard the laughter of the wedding guests Lily laughed too. When the music played she put flowers in her hair, and when she heard the voice of Senator raising his glass to Mr and Mrs Hux Lily too raised a glass, and sipped at her stolen sparkling wine while thanking the maker that this would surely set her free.

And now here she was in the darkness, after midnight, after the party. She was stuck with the pompous ass Jeffrey as a suitor in a rock grotto at the bottom of a wet garden, and he was trying to seduce her in way that may work on twenty-one year old townies, but she was not moved.

Brendol watched as the fumbling idiot tried to entice Lily into kissing him. His father’s secretary had placed his cape on the stone bench and rolled up his sleeves, his usually slick, dark hair looked mussed in the dim light of a flare tucked in a corner of the rocks.

Suddenly Lily pushed the man’s face away. Jeffrey's head stayed tilted to the side, and he laughed sarcastically, the sound hollow in the night.

“You're not still hung up on him are you? He's,” Jeffrey pointed at the side of his head twirled his finger. “We all like to have some, fuuuuun, shall we say, but I told you, that blaster brained, sicko tried to murder a whole lot of soldiers. Would have succeeded too if the smarter bucket-heads didn't revolt. He was held in a psychiatric med ward for months. The old man loved that. Almost had a heart attack.”

Lily didn't reply. Instead she continued to look at the few stars struggling to shine through the clouds, the white flowers in her hair wilting to translucent weeds while her pale skin looked glowingly brilliant Just marked all over, made imperfect by the hundreds of spots of freckles.

“Come on gorgeous,” Jeffrey snaked his hand across Lily’s torso to rest it just under her breast. Brendol wondered if they would fuck out here. Fuck on the stupid cape. He wished the idiot hadn't touched Lily’s hair. Wished they'd get on with it and he could watch. Watch and wait. He studied the wet blades of a clump of long grass while pushing down the unwanted distaste of his feelings.

Anyway, he was married now. He supposed he shouldn’t be out here, but in the flurry of the wedding he’d forgotten to take his pill and he couldn’t sleep. He heard Lily sigh.

“I'm really not interested right now, I thought I was, but I’m not. I’m sorry.”

“Come on, it’s a celebration, sometimes you just gotta live for the moment you little tease.” Jeffery lunged at the girl and pawed at her, dragging her head towards his own. Miss Magdalin made a noise that sounded like a muffled shriek.

“I said no! Jeffrey you fucking get off me!” Her hands pushed at Jeffrey’s chest as her voice changed to a yelp of disgust.

They both were startled at Brendol’s appearance. The sudden approach of a uniformed soldier, stepping into view while lifting a blaster to his shoulder. Good, he had been quiet, he had the advantage, the higher ground. Jeffrey sat with his mouth open like a fish, his hands still grasping at Lily’s, but now his eyes were wide, body frozen stiff and he squealed, actually squealed like a little rabbit caught in a snare.

“I think you should leave Jeffrey,” she told him dryly once she had had time to survey Brendol’s tense frowning form and the barrel of the blaster trained at them.

Brendol released the safety and a whining hum of energy sounded. The gun was one of his larger ones, a long model. It could blow the leg off an AT-ST at medium range. It could also, on the right setting, delicately make a man’s brain explode like balloon full of water.

“She’s right, leave - that is if you want to keep your skull intact. I could bury you under the volcano and tell the Senator you ran off with some slut. I would very much like to wrap your ugly cape around your ugly corpse.”

Shakily Jeffrey went to pull Lily up, but she flinched away from his outstretched hand. “Just leave us,” she advised and turned away. “We will be perfectly fine. I wouldn’t mention this to anyone though. How Sir had to defend my honor against a slimy water worm.”

Jeffrey left without having to be told twice. He stumbled backwards into the darkness, momentarily losing balance on the narrow, wet path, his wild eyes trying to keep the blaster barrel in sight as he scrabbled away. The red cape lay forgotten on the bench.

Brendol switched off the blaster and lent it against his shoulder. He eyed Miss Magdalin’s rumpled dress, hitched up above knees, the undone hair, strands hooked around the rough surface of the rock wall as she lolled in her seat. Her face returned to studying the stars.

“Congratulations on your marriage,” Lily said, and straightened her one dress. The only dress she owned. “Did you like the cake?”

“Very much my girl, it was the highlight of the whole production. Although…”

“Although?”

“The honey had hardened in the third cake, the largest, it was far too heavy. I’ve had better.”

She smiled at that. The little glowing insects sparkled in the night, flitting between them on translucent wings. Some had landed on her hair and the fading flowers, the girl looked like an ancient being here, left over from another time. He stood beside where she sat and together they looked at the night. A large moon broke free from its blanket of clouds and lit up the outline of the volcano in the distance, it loomed behind tall, water heavy, dark trees their drooping branches casting long shadows.

“Thank you for interrupting that ah, situation Sir, but shouldn’t you be…” Miss Magdalin made a lewd gesture. One finger dipped in and out of her circled hand.

"Maratelle’s drunk, fell asleep taking off that awful dress. Whoever thought hoods and corsets go together was an inept, blind idiot.” He stepped closer to her and leaned against the rocky wall of the grotto. “I wanted to watch you more, watch you enjoy yourself, but you didn’t comply. What, you don’t like Jeffrey and his capes? All the other girls laugh at his jokes.”

“Him? Please! I think my Number Thirteen has ruined my expectations... Of place that is. I'm not going to get cold and wet getting my ass out at past midnight when I have to get up in five hours and start slaving all over again. Jeffrey is an idiot too, I don’t know what your father was thinking when he hired such a snake. I didn't want to listen to his gossip. I never do, though he’s always trying it on with anything with a pulse. I even worry he’ll start to molest the ducks sometimes.” She stood and moved next to him. “May I?” She asked looking at his face, leaning close, lips moist and parted.

Brendol considered. She would taste like another man, a thought he didn’t dislike, but then again, he was over it all. The drama, the wanting, the loss, the disappointment and, yes, the rewards too. He touched his new hat, pulled the brim low, as he shook his head and Lily went slowly back to her stony seat. She reclined on her back, her freckled cheek resting on one curled hand. Feet propped up like one of her cats making herself at home. That’s what he appreciated about her. She never fussed, never thought he was joking when he wasn’t. Never pressed too hard, but waited for him to be ready.

And if he was ready in a minute or a week she too was ready.

“Do you think she’d mind? Us? If she ever found out.”

“I don’t care.”

A chirping noise sounded from his wrist. The faint sound of the town’s early warning system also started blaring which made a cloud of birds or bats fly into the air and settle. He tensed, felt his fringe fall forward, the stiff strands splayed over his eyes. He pushed his rifle forward with one hand and the other went to his pocket. It was there, the explosive, safe and secure in his new jacket.

“Next week I start work,” he told her. She lay, relatively unmoved by the Rebel alarm or Brendol’s words, just pale blue eyes looking up at him. “I think I will stay at the Academy during the class days. If there is an attack on the harbor I will be on hand. Maybe, more cadets will need to be brought forward when the Imperial Navy finishes the new weapon. They say it’s as big as a moon, so they will need a lot of officers.” He ran a finger over the explosive, and the touch of the smooth casing soothed him. “I will create an elite class, the best of the best. The Academy will see I’m right, I’ll take them out into the field and offer intense training. One day the Navy will beg for Arkanis trained officers.”

“Excursions to war? Brendol, do you think…” she paused. “What would you do if the Rebellion really did attack the school?”

“We would counter attack of course.”

“Even the children?”

“Even the children,” he replied calmly.

The far-away early warning system continued to sound. An angry buzzing, a reminder he wasn’t safe in a shelter, now started, he clicked his wrist communicator to silent while juggling blaster and explosive. Why shouldn’t the children fight? It’s not like they were toddlers clutching at toy guns. They were old enough to learn about war, many planets had child soldiers younger than the first year Academy students on Arkanis. He had seen them, he had even fought them. They could be vicious little scrubs. Maybe, if a few more cadets saw beings and people blown apart, they would pay attention. Weed out the weak, like the ones who argued with superiors. When he had been young any disobedience had been met with whip or a slap and he had turned out… Brendol let the barrel of his gun brush against his cheek.

Lily spoke to the ceiling of the grotto, one freckled arm curled across her face hiding her eyes. “I suppose I will stay on here for a while. This is a good location, close to home, the hours suit seeing to Mother. After… well, after we find out what will happen with her, I'll go back to working on the yachts.” She added a little bitterly, “Nothing around here worth staying for.”

“You love your Mother?” He was wondering if she'd move to the school, he would recommend her once he was settled, but of course her mother. Still, he felt so sure she would, it would be a perfect solution. Lily there with him and Maratelle and his father and the rest of the doubters and back stabbers would be far, far away.

“I do, but Brendol I hate her too. You're right, what you said in the Green Room, about me being a bad daughter. I hate the waiting, waiting, waiting, and seeing the pain and having to be the one that is there listening. Then hiding up here in the kitchen. Sometimes, I wish, I really wish, she would just get on with it and die. Sometimes, her sickness, it just drags like endless water all around me and here I am paddling upstream.”

He inclined his chin slightly in return and looked at the ferns in the darkness. If word came that his mother was sick or even dead he wouldn’t care. Let them both die, his mother and his father. Brendol felt a twang of guilt for wishing his father dead. His father had his useless hopes for grandchildren and worked hard to create a great future for all Arkanis. He was an old man now anyway. Brendol frowned at the thought of himself growing old, and wished he could die in battle instead of withering away. Without the Navy he would grow useless. He had made the correct choice.

Sighing at his silence Lily stood and they walked together towards the house, Brendol wanted to go ahead, the alarm was still muttering shrilly, it rebounded through his skull, but he stayed with her. He had rescued Lily after all. He pretended that she was an important being, a type of queen or princess, she had been taken hostage, and he had been the one to take her back. This was a mission, just like the old days. The alarms had sounded, and the Rebels were coming.

How he wished they would be silent.

As they came in sight of the house the sound of TIE fighter engines grew. A fleet of ships flew over, low to the canopy of the trees. In the darkness, He counted ten, a complete unit. He stiffened. A complete unit, in the Arkanis backwaters? Why? Why? Why? And, the alarms rang on and he felt the blaster in his arms cold and firm.

Brendol took Lily’s hand halting her, she stopped reluctantly at his touch and tried to move forward again, but he pulled her still.

They couldn't go into the house. The lights were all wrong. There were too many lights on in different windows; it should be dark at this time and during a raid. Something was wrong.

As they waiting in the cover of the garden still the warnings blared, and engines screamed, and lights stayed on where there was no reason to be light.

“They're in the house, the Rebels are here,” he told her quietly. “Look at the lights.” He was sure she wasn't the type to scare easily, the girl was tougher than that, but he wanted her to listen and obey. If they'd captured everyone inside and the idiot guests hadn’t alerted the watchers then the ships had gone past and the ground patrols wouldn't come. “Do as I say,” he ordered. We are going to quietly get in and see what is situation. You must stay silent.”

“I think some lights are on, because all the guests got up and went to the shelter. They aren’t very good at getting about in a strange house,” she stiffened. “Brendol, Maratelle will be frantic looking for you. You should go see her. This is your wedding night.”

His conscious flared and was quickly beaten down.

“What part of silent don’t you understand,” he hissed and pulled at her arm. Lily stumbled and her hand grasped at his jacket. Brendol shook her by the elbow as she attempted to straighten. Maybe it was a little rough, but she needed to understand.

“If they are in the house they have already killed her, my girl, no, no, no we can’t go to the shelter. We can’t just hide like cowards. They will be after the Senator. He voted with Emperor Palpatine during the creation of the Galactic Empire, he’s a target.”

“You’re hurting me Brendol, let go Sir. We’re in the country, the Rebels wouldn’t…”

“SHUT UP!”

Later, when he had far too much time to think, like when the students were all lined up at the firing range and the sound of endless blaster fire had smashed through his senses for the hundredth time, or when he was being evacuated with a small, weak-willed boy to the Unknown Regions. Even when he lay alone staring at the ceiling of his bedroom while yet another nurse cried in frustration. Brendol remembered and felt hitting Lily that night had been perhaps unnecessary.

There had hardly been a sound of his hand impacting on her face.

Or the ships were too loud.

They were circling back now. More proof of a real invasion.

It had shut Lily up though; she hadn’t even fallen, just curled into a crouch, arms folded and red hair hiding her face.

“I will go through the kitchen door,” he said. He paused and gripped his blaster with both hands. A noise sounded nearby, a splash, because they may be surrounded. How many of the scum could hide in the forest? Thousands.

Lily stood and pulled her hair back while pinching the flowers out of their red strands. A split lip, oozing a slow bead of blood, settled into a line of strength, and she shakily put a hand on his arm. He looked at her and Lily returned his gaze, her face like an unspoken question. “Brendol,” she whispered in a bare breath of spoken voice. “Stop.”

“In my pocket…” He started, and then the air it choked him. He gasped, a ragged noise of despair. “In my right pocket is a standard field explosive. Do you know how to detonate one?”

Her eyes widened and she shook her head.

“My girl you can, you press the button down. There is only one button to press. Twist one half one hundred and eighty degrees and you have fifteen seconds to throw it. Take it.”

“Sir, I can’t.”

“Obey!”

She reached into his pocket and drew out the silver explosive. She held it gently between her finger tips as if it was set to go off any second.

“Don’t drop it,” he hissed. “It wouldn’t explode, but we don’t want to lose it.”

She held it in two hands now, fingers like the bars of a cage, still timid.

“You must go through my bedroom door and wait there. Make sure you look through the window first, stealthily you know, don’t make it obvious. If they are in my room arm the starter, open the door and throw. I doubt they’ll be there though, they’d have already seen it’s empty.” He thought of Maratelle passed out on his bedspread with her skirt over her face. “Empty of anyone important,” he amended. “I’ll go through the kitchen and fire at any I see. They won’t be expecting an attack from civilians so we’ll get them either way.”

“But,” she said, and took a step away from him moving out of arms reach, “if they are in your room, and I detonate the explosive it’s too close to the kitchen. Won’t you blow up if you are inside?”

“Absolutely, it’d take out half the house. So, after you throw, run away as fast as you can. Understand my girl? There’s the dip towards the trees, lie down there don’t look back even if it takes longer.”

Her hands wavered. “I think we should stay together,” she told him.

“But, this way you get away from the explosion.”

“Nobody else does, what about your father? And, Maratelle? And, and her mother, and cook, and all those people who are staying?”

“Why do you insist on arguing with me?” He hissed. “The Rebels won’t be in my room, I’m telling you this is just a precaution. Here give it back,” he moved his gun back to resting the barrel across his shoulder and held out a hand, but Miss Magdalin twisted away.

“I am fine,” she told him, “I can do it. I’ll hold onto this.” He reached for the explosive, but she stepped back again. “I can do it,” Lily repeated shakily. “I-I will meet you in your bedroom. Just, when you get inside please don’t fire at anyone unless you’re sure.”

“I am sure.”

“Very sure, Brendol. Be very sure.”

They moved closer and he signaled for Lily to move towards his bedroom. She was still holding the explosive, now tight against her stomach, like a precious, fresh laid egg. She looked back at him as she moved away, her face clearly pale in the glow of the house lights.

When he looked in the kitchen the space was dim, but for so many back lit displays in the room. The space was empty except for the legs of the cook sticking out from the pantry. Brendol slid the door open and crept silently inside. There were two ways out, three if counting the door outside. One way lead to the dining room and the other was a short corridor to the laundry plus access to his own ground floor bedroom. He picked up a large knife and used it to reflect the view around the corridor corner.

Nothing there.

Brendol decided against checking downstairs towards the dungeon room and garage. Instead he moved around taking the long way to the lounge area. He couldn’t hear anything, surely that was a good sign? Sweat slid down the side of his neck. His finger tightened as it locked onto his blaster’s trigger and thumb hovered over the safety.

“What are you doing son?” A voice asked him from the corridor behind him and he spun. His feet fell into an offensive stance. It all felt so familiar, the weight of the blaster and the adrenalin of battle.

Brendol’s finger didn’t stray from the trigger. “The Rebels,” he answered.

His father looked pointedly at the long blaster barrel pointed at his face and then at his son. “You should go to the shelter and look after the guests there. Where’s Maratelle?”

“The Rebels,” Brendol repeated.

Senator Hux grimaced and sidestepped the rifle. He went back to Brendol’s room and opened the door. The kitchen girl Lily was inside, she was sitting by Maratelle who was lying on the bed. Lily startled at the movement of the door and on seeing the Senator she exhaled and closed her eyes.

“What is this?” Senator Hux asked.

“She’s just drunk Sir, she’s fine.”

The Senator visibly relaxed and behind him Brendol slunk into the room.

“See, nothing is wrong Brendol. Just a false alarm,” he turned and patted his son on the back before prying the gun out of his hands. “We have Miss Magdalin here to keep us calm.” Brendol’s father smiled at the girl. “I asked her especially to look after you when you came home, I wanted young Miss Magdalin to make sure you take your pills and have company, and here she is nursing your wife. A good woman.”

“To look after me,” Brendol repeated slowly.

“I think we’ve all had too much to drink,” Lily said.

The Senator cast another calm eye around the room. The warning alarms finally stopped sounding. The silence was deafening. Maratelle snored and turned over, burying her open mouth into a pillow. “What happened to your lip?” Senator Hux asked.

“I cut it - on an oyster shell.”

“You did?" The Senator's eyes moved to back to his son and Brendol stared back unflinching. "Well, don’t let it get infected. See my son gets some rest Miss Magdalin.”

As soon as the door shut Brendol snapped. “You’re just an employee and I was just a job. Take my pills. TAKE MY FUCKING PILLS!”

“Brendol you’re not,” she paused and waved a hand. “And, here I am, just like I said I would be. As an employee, I did everything you asked. Maybe the Rebels were here, and you interrupted their plan, she wrapped her hands in her dress. They are gone. We are safe anyway, you did the right thing. To make sure we were all safe. Let’s not fight, especially now, Maratelle is asleep.”

“I did do the right thing. I know how to put a campaign together and succeed!”

“You did Sir, you were right all along. A great soldier. Are you hungry?”

"I - I do. I am." With effort he tried to brush the feeling of deceit away. He was nothing, just a job.

He numbly followed Lily, leaving Maratelle to continue sleeping alone, blissfully unaware of any drama that may be going on around her. He sat on his camp bed in their dungeon room and Lily knelt next to him one hand on his knee. The windows were open. Brendol’s mind swirled like dark and racing clouds. He felt he should explain, that he should prove something, but what escaped him.

“I can't remember things, can't concentrate. I can't stand other people, I never liked them much, but I used to like being in a large group and knowing my place. I know they all avoided me, they always thought I was nothing but a nerf hearder or a brown nose. But, it didn’t matter, if I stuck to my routine and I didn't have to choose too much, because I have this many shirts, this much space to keep them and they must be folded this way. Do you see?”

“Yes sir.”

“They told me I did a good job. That I saved many troops and resources and civilians. I won them battles and against impossible odds. I even killed my General for them. I hated him for being above me just because he was a Jedi. He got a magic sword and wise fucking ‘may the Force be with you’ secrets, but, but, but…” He tailed off thinking about the feeling of seeing bright red blood on a chair. Would it have all been different if he had known that a Jedi would have blood like a real man?

More than once his Jedi General had told him he had done a good job. More than his father had ever said. Brendol clenched his jaw.

“Now I'm crazy, people keep thinking it and saying it behind my back. More than just Jeffrey, you don’t think I know they do? And you know what? I liked where they put me after they made me leave. It was quiet in that med ship and I had a little black droid that watched me who just beeped and told the doctors how many times my heart beat, or my neurons fired, or how much I pissed. The doctors would tell me I'd be back in action soon and I believed them. But then, then! They said I was to go home and I had no choice. With pills. With fucking pills! They said it like I was lucky.”

“You want to go back to routine. I understand.”

He must have looked at her with the skepticism he felt as she touched his sleeve. “I do understand, Brendol, I do! We all have our rituals. You know I had to stop my job to come back here when mother couldn't work. I wasn't born or ever, ever aspired to be a servant and a nurse.”

“No, no, no my girl you simplify it. I want more than routine. I want more, I know better than they do, and they hold me back. The whole universe holds me back. Otherwise, I could make them see I know what’s best.” He felt as if he had just repeated what she had said, only not as clearly. Maybe he could admit she may have some idea of his pain. Brendol knew she didn't want to be here either.

Lily touched the hairs on his hand with her fingertip experimentally.

“What do you want right now?” She asked.

“To take the explosive you have, I know you still have it,” he added. “But it’s mine, and I’ll activate it, and blow us both up,” his voice lifted to a higher octave when he said ‘blow us both up’. If she thought he was feeling tearful, he wasn’t. He was perfectly calm. He’d thought about solutions to all their problems on and off for a long time. “Hopefully the explosion really would take out the house, and my father, and her, and everyone else. But most of all me and you. My girl I could stop everything, just think on that.”

Her finger paused its slow stroking, then started again.

Their eyes met, her pale blue eyes. The freckles on her face blurred and he felt her other hand on his cheek.

“I hear what you’re saying, and I know you feel helpless right now, but no more Brendol. If you kill us then there won't be any good soldiers and the Rebels win. You'll never prove the people who misjudged you wrong. And they are wrong. You are a great officer, the Empire should care for you, should support you. Promise me you won't do anything to hurt yourself?”

He turned to watch her hand.

“If you must, you must. When you leave...” she put a hand over her mouth to smother a sob. “I'm sorry, I think I’ve got a little used to you, even though,” Lily lowered her voice, “you’re not perfect. You are so broken inside I don’t know what to do, but when you leave it'll go back to watching mother slowly die. If you end us now, I'll be free too I suppose. Brush my hair Brendol?” She asked. “Help me? Please?”

The brush was found. She sat facing him. His fingers plucked the remains of flower stems and pins. Brendol took off his new jacket, almost not caring it fell, but he couldn't help folding it over a bed.

He brushed and she touched him. He didn't mind the feel so much, she was slow, firm. The way she caressed his chest, down his sides, his stomach, along the inside of his thighs.

He brushed and brushed. He kissed her on her lips and tasted the tang of dried blood. Lily’s eyes widened at the demonstration and then closed before she hungrily returned his pressure. The urgent kiss was like the air from the windows. Life giving.

Her mouth retreated regretfully. “Now I’ll bring you something sweet, what would you like Sir? Anything at all.”

“A, a, a pancake my girl. The little ones.”

“Good choice,” she smiled. “Where are your pills? I know you think, ach," she drooped before starting again. "You should take one and lie down.”

She found the small, yellow bottle and watched as he took one.

“No more skipping them, promise me Sir?”

He nodded and lay down. Tomorrow they could fight about it all, maybe he could still fire her? He could throw her out in front of his father, in front of everyone.

Miss Magdalin straightened his hair and loosened his shirt. She put a hand under his chin and gently cupped his face before kissing him on the corner of his mouth.

Left alone Brendol rubbed his eyes and stared out the high windows. How freakish Lily was, he thought, how mad to lure him back here after an alarm. How hungry he felt.

Somewhere in the Arkanis atmosphere, where the repetitive negative charges slammed down and swirled together with the positive air particles, lightning flashed and thunder rolled.

Brendol’s eyes felt heavy, his body, a prison for emotions, grew slowly slack and in the early hours of morning he slept alone.

***

In the morning Brendol’s hands reached for his jacket and automatically went to touch the explosive in his pocket, but it was gone. Lily still had it. He felt the other pocket just in case she had miraculously slipped it back in. His hand drew out a piece of paper. On it was half a recipe for a type of bread, on the flip side it said:

“Illusion never changes into something real.” Then underneath, in a scrawl that was almost unreadable as if it had been an afterthought. “Be kind to Maratelle”.

When he stood Brendol’s foot crushed a plate of tiny pancakes that had been left by his side.

Like a robot he moved. The guests, moving stiffly around the house, were like unwanted pieces of groaning furniture left in his way.

The camera in the kitchen had been removed. By who he didn’t know. Brendol stood staring at the space on the shelf.

“The girl? Oh, Lily. She was unwell,” the cook told him grumpily, looking particularly unwell herself. Lily had sent a message saying she hadn't been able to come in. Said she would be off all week probably. Very inconsiderate with a house full of guests, ten times as many meals to prepare, and would he ask his father for another temp? Someone who could come in early? Why, oh why, was the sun so bright today on a planet where it rained most of the time?

***

Instructor Hux went immediately to take his position at the Academy. The honeymoon was put off in favor of getting straight to work. His brief time with Lily turned into a sort of dream. A symbol of a period Brendol hadn't been himself, and labeled a midlife crisis of sorts. Because school life was everything now and being with Maratelle was tacked forcibly onto the end. His new wife was always visiting on weekends and messing up his routine. Passing his water and asking how he felt. Telling him he slouched and that he complained too much. The other teaching staff were jealous of his life with her, she was pretty and witty and shallow as a puddle with her blonde hair and teasing digs.

Maratelle, bored and mostly isolated, begged him to take her to another planet, but he dismissed the idea. Let her go if she wished.

The Academy food tasted as it always had. It was comforting in a way and torture in another. The gentle Commandant grew watchful of his new instructor. Brendol couldn’t always suppress his violent tendencies. Given the choice between venting his emotions or flying into a rage, he always chose the latter. The students spotted weakness in the staff and knew which way the wind would blow in actual combat. Asking an enemy not to shoot you would not work better than being able to shoot them first.

Older brothers and sisters, parents and friends all grew either stronger with the Empire or deader in the hands of the Rebellion. Hux gave students insights into war that other instructors shied away from, and if the Commandant told him to stop, or said that he was creating a school full of rumors of false future terrors, then Brendol would smile and explain that, ‘this was the real life in the Navy, not exploration, not humanitarian missions, not protection alone. This is war.’

How nice to return to military life. Brendol had a neat Imperial drawer to fold his shirts into and a neat Imperial government to tell him how to think. His pills were taken as regular as clockwork and safely numbed any lingering emotions to nothing at all.

He even slept dreamlessly.

Months and months later when Brendol returned to the Hux estate, because he felt he should, because sometimes the thought of red hair in his fingers would invade his mind. He found there was a new boy in the kitchen. One who looked bored and shut out the cats. Cats who stared angrily through windows and had their kittens under the floor of the garage in retribution.

“Where is Miss Magdalin?” He asked his wife at their first meal together. “The girl who worked in the kitchen, the one who made our wedding cake?”

Mrs Hux sighed. "Brendol, didn’t I let you know? I had to let her go, although she was hardly a girl, almost as old as I am I’m sure of it. I can’t believe I didn’t tell you! She got into terrible trouble. Smashed up a whole dinner set about two months ago, the entire set, even the napkin rings! It was the day we found out you wouldn’t be able to be home for mid-break. You should have been there B, one hundred year old china, and Miss Magdalin broke every piece! It is irreplaceable! She just threw it all on the floor one-by-one, then put her apron over her ridiculous face and screamed. I thought I would die of shock. I did try to be understanding; I sat her down and asked her what was wrong. I truly tried B dear.”

Studying the meal carefully Brendol put his hands on the edge of the table. “Her mother has been ill,” he said without looking at his wife, he straightened a spoon.

Maratelle looked at him and her eyes narrowed to slits of black mascara. If a penny had dropped, it had dropped into her lap. So this was the way the wind had blown. Her red lips smiled tensely. “No matter how sick her mother is, your baker servant has got herself into trouble,” she repeated. “Her behavior was unacceptable. People are starting to talk too. It’s really not fair B, here we are wanting, desperately wanting, to have a baby and she manages to get pregnant by accident.”

Brendol picked up his roll off its white plate. It was a store bought, droid made, plain bread roll, large and white, a perfect shape and fluffy. The crust was an even, unblemished pale brown colour. He tore it neatly in half then placed both halves back on the plate. His hand moved to his empty jacket pocket.

“Don’t worry. You'll never, ever see that freakish woman again. I’ll make sure of that." Maratelle assured him. Her voice dripped with sudden venom. “I hate red heads.”

Chapter Text

The old man made his way to the huge, mostly empty table. Even though he looked feeble enough, with his walking stick and wrinkled features, his eyes were stern, and his frown was firmer. He sat straight backed and scowling without any greeting for the girl sitting alone in the dining room. Instead of saying ‘good morning’ he carefully lined up his place setting with crooked fingers and in his own time asked.

“What are you doing?”

“I made breakfast.” Rey sipped at her tea. “If I’d known you were joining me here I would have offered to make you breakfast too,” she lied.

“You’re sitting in my chair.”

Picking up her napkin Rey slid to another chair and pulled her plate and cup along. The tea dripped over her fingers and she licked the sweet liquid off them. Brendol stood and sat regally in the chair Rey had just vacated. He looked to his side, towards a row of bottles on the sideboard, then back at the table. Wrinkled hands shook as he straightened a crease in the tablecloth, smoothing it out with precision. Then with military precision he moved his plate and cup and knife and spoon to their correct placement.

Jeffrey shuffled out of the kitchen and silently poured water for the General. Armitage’s father waved the man away and the servant sniffed loudly as he slowly left again.

Rey ate carefully and tried not to make a mess. The General always put her one edge. He was worse than his son in all ways. How they could be related she could never work out. Armitage was a little high strung, but the General was like a trip wire.

“What is the bread?” He asked suddenly.

“The bread? Just toast, I put jam on it,” she answered lamely. “Would you like a piece of mine?”

“No,” the General snapped, then he looked at his empty plate and considered his breakfastless state . “Yes,” he amended.

Rey passed him her plate with the last square on it and the old man put it in front of him over his own blank white plate.

“Did you bake this?” He asked.

She shook her head. “I never picked up cooking in the Jakku deserts Sir, nothing seems to go well with sand. It gets stuck in our teeth.”

The General didn’t smile. He picked the square of toast and looked at it critically. Rey remembered Tage’s mother had been a baker. That she had baked in the kitchen behind them, probably food much more spectacular than warmed bread.

“Would she have liked me? Armitage’s mother?” Rey asked wistfully. She still wanted to know. Reluctantly she had accepted this old relic would never be fond of her. He didn’t like anything, he was a terrible, crippled, evil, slimy crank.

Brendol paused with the toast half way to his mouth. Then put it down and exhaled, closing his eyes.

“Tara my girl, my simple, simple girl let me be clear. If you talk to me one more time about Armitage’s mother I will smother you while you sleep. Don’t think that I won’t.”