Chapter 1: Glass
It was that night—morning really—that Armitage let his diffuse and fluid feelings crystallise into something approaching intent. He’d been serving drinks, woken from sleep by his father’s bellow and ordered to bring the best brandy on the fancy tray for the Admiral. Still drowsy, he’d stumbled and watched in slow-motion terror as father’s best glasses fell to the durasteel floor.
Of course cleaning it up wasn’t enough. It was never going to be enough. It wasn’t what father wanted. In the fevered clarity of hindsight, back in bed once the tears had ebbed, Armitage imagined what he could have done.
He could have stood up straight, saluted perhaps (father seemed to like that although he usually sneered and said it was sloppy) and gone to fetch a mop. But then father might have been angry that he’d disobeyed the admiral.
He could have run out, packed his things and been in the shuttle hangar ten minutes later. He could have hidden in a shuttle being prepped for launch to... to anywhere. But they were not near any planets as far as Armitage was aware and father would find him. Besides, a small, sharp part of Armitage’s mind objected: why should you run away? You did nothing wrong.
For a while he drifts into a fitful doze that feels like it lasts only a few seconds before his dreams jerk him awake. He remembers her, the woman who disliked him yet still helped him out. He remembers a promise to keep father away from him, a promise backed up with fists. Armitage blinks back fresh tears and he wonders where she went.
The memory of father’s fear of Rae Sloane makes Armitage smile. He feels safer, somehow, knowing this man and those like him can be brought down.
He decides needs to be stronger and the feeling of certainty this brings is comforting. He’ll shut off his need for... for... something from father, for anything from his father. He won’t react to father’s slights and snarls. He won’t ever beg again, or plead for forgiveness he’ll never get, because he doesn’t need it. He never does anything wrong. He will be so strong that his father will—
Never be proud of him.
He should have picked up the biggest shard of precious crystal—the jagged triangle still attached to the heavy base of one of the tumblers—and stabbed the admiral. He’d’ve got him at least once before father caught him and...
In the neck. He should have stabbed that huttfucker in the huttfucking neck and ended him in a spray of bright red blood, arcing up in pretty, shiny spurts from the severed artery as he flailed around in surprise. Armitage imagined that his pyjamas would have been soaked in it and he would have laughed in the admiral’s dying face. He would have watched father scream and slip in the blood spattered on the floor, then—
Stabbed him too. Maybe in the gut, or the thigh. Somewhere that meant he’d take a minute or two to die and Armitage could tell him exactly why the huttfucking son-of-a-mynock was a dead man.
Of course he knew it couldn’t have happened like that, Armitage told himself as he finally drifted off into proper sleep. He’d’ve been caught.
And what was the point of revenge if you were not around to gloat?
Chapter 2: Fire!
It was so simple, really, when he stopped to think on it. It’s a wonder he didn’t think of it sooner.
Armitage watched the stormtroopers’ display of their prowess at hand to hand combat with quiet satisfaction, and their skill at target practise with their blasters was improving.
Thanks to him.
No thanks to his father—the pompous old heap of stinking banthashit refused to see Armitage’s potential. Refused to put Armitage in charge of the stormtrooper conditioning program. Armitage gritted his teeth against the pang of hurt that he felt despite all his promises to himself that he would expect nothing and therefore feel no disappointment.
Eighteen years old today and not a word.
The stormtroopers should have been his without question, but it was Cardinal he had to go to to get his way. It was Cardinal, so proud of his fancy armour, who allowed Armitage to present his changes, and then implemented them without that son-of-a-dianoga knowing.
(Armitage smiled at the thought that that made him the grandson of a dianoga).
“Did your father request it?” Cardinal had asked two months ago when Armitage had first gone to him with new orders.
“Of course,” Armitage had replied with practised neutrality, since father didn’t know the first thing about it. “See to it that these additions to the stormtrooper conditioning procedure are implemented by tonight’s rest cycle.”
Cardinal had taken the data chip, nodded and marched away. Armitage would have preferred the man to have waited to be formally dismissed then salute, but Cardinal was Brendol’s chosen favourite. If he pushed the crimson buffoon too far, Armitage sensed, his calm, confident facade might crumble into fury and Cardinal would go straight to father to double check the new orders.
Next he had organised for his father and Admiral Brooks to inspect the Stormtroopers. He had altered his father’s schedules already with the unwitting assistance of his father’s administrative lieutenant, a timid man called Jarda, so all he had to do was wait.
Now, watching the results of two months of overnight drip feeding of additional First Order principles and ideals, two months of extra blaster training and two months of slight tweaks to their nutrient intake, Armitage’s troopers (for he now considered this squadron to be his own) were ready to be deployed.
He could barely keep the grin from his face. Armitage Hux was good at waiting, but anticipation almost got the better of him.
“Well?” Cardinal asked, actually smiling at Armitage.
“Yes,” Armitage replied, a little offhandedly. “Very good. Exactly as I knew it would be. You can confirm that the changes made were exactly to the specification I gave?”
“Of course!” Cardinal almost frowned then he seemed to notice the shiny code cylinders on Armitage’s uniform. “Sir,” he added, ungraciously. Although technically their ranks were equivalent, Armitage knew (and he knew that Cardinal knew) that a Hux outranked whoever the marching tomafruit had once been.
“Well then,” Armitage said with a hint of a smirk. “I am sure my father will be very pleased when he inspects this squadron tomorrow. Dismissed.”
It tickled Armitage that Cardinal didn’t bother to try to stifle his automatic salute.
That night, Armitage went to bed too wound up for sleep. His mind raced, going over and over scenes of tomorrow’s triumph.
He would escort his father and Admiral Brooks to the parade area where his squadron would be put through their new manoeuvres. His father and Brooks would be there in their full uniform, all black and steel grey, while he himself would be in his new teal tunic. They would watch a few formations, a few minutes of hand to hand combat, then target practice with blaster rifles. At just the right moment, when the pair of huttfuckers were conferring and probably looking bored, Armitage would yell out the innocuous code word he’d had programmed deep into the Stormtroopers’ psyche and his squadron would all turn and fire on anyone wearing a black uniform.
His arselicking father and that happabore-cunt of an admiral would not know what hit them until it as too late. Armitage imagined the pain on their screwed-up faces as bolt after searing bolt slammed into their writhing bodies. He’d conducted experiments himself to find exactly what power setting would be needed to make sure the (individually) non-fatal blasts would hurt but not induce coma. Oh, he thought as he drifted off to sleep, they would die eventually. It would take a dozen or so body hits before the cumulative effect was enough that internal organs would start to shut down from the searing heat and blood would sizzle in their cauterised veins, but with twenty stormtroopers all firing at once, and unexpectedly firing on their commanding officer, he was confident that Cardinal would not be able to intervene in time.
Armitage would stand there, in utter shock, safe in his teal tunic, with the stench of burning meat and boiling blood in his nostrils. And he would not laugh until he was safely back in his rooms.
He’d be sorry about Jarda, though. A man that weak could be moulded into something useful.
Chapter 3: Alliance (Part 1)
For some reason, this morning’s set of orders from General Brendol Hux made Major Armitage Hux grit his teeth and think back over the event he considered his greatest failure to date. In planning for his personal squadron of stormtroopers to blast his father and that huttfucking cthon-ballsucker Brooks out of existence, he had omitted one important fact. His father would slither out of any prior arrangement that involved celebrating Armitage’s achievements. He had sent one of his cronies instead, a colonel called Falkis. It was a shame, Armitage supposed, but having one prejudiced ex-imperial neutralised in a firestorm had to be counted as consolation.
Of course Cardinal had been horrified. The entire squadron had to be reconditioned, and between them Armitage and Cardinal had to spend long hours refining the conditioning programme so that stormtroopers would be incapable of firing directly upon a commanding officer. Armitage decided at that point that, when the time was right, Cardinal would have to be neutralised too. It would not do to have someone with unquestioning loyalty to Brendol in such a position of strength.
Back to this morning. Leader Snoke was sending his new protégé and Armitage was to see to it that the man was given suitable accommodations before bringing him to General Hux and Admiral Brooks. He railed at the order. A lieutenant could do it. A petty officer, even. Still, Armitage thought with a sigh and a shrug, perhaps there was something to gain by being welcoming. This was Snoke’s man therefore he could, if persuaded, carry a good word to the Supreme Leader about an ambitious major unfairly passed over for promotion because of his imbecilic general. He made sure his uniform was perfect and that his hair was swept back, then went to the hangar to await Snoke’s shuttle. Perhaps, Armitage did not dare hope, Snoke himself would accompany his new pet and Armitage could plant the seeds of his promotion directly.
The upsilon that eventually landed was disappointingly standard and a single human disembarked wearing shapeless robes and walking down the ramp with a loping gait that suggested self-consciousness and no military training at all.
“Well then,” Armitage said with only a slight sneer, for you never know who might, once insulted, turn around and slip a monomolecular blade between your ribs. “Who do we have here? Let me look at you.”
The young man glanced at Armitage. He was filthy, with what looked like ash smudged into his skin and stained clothes that had definitely seen better days. But he stood tall even though he looked down.
“Leader Snoke has entrusted me with getting you settled in,” Armitage said. “Your name is Ben So—”
“Kylo Ren.” His voice was deeper than Armitage was expecting and he shuddered as a cold, heavy dread settled in his cheat. The man repeated slowly, fixing Armitage with a steady glare. “My name is Kylo Ren.”
“Whatever you say,” Armitage said, forcing a smile to hide his discomfort, “Kylo Ren. Follow me.”
Armitage marched out and assumed he’d be obeyed.
He was. Armitage paused at a door on the command officers’ habitation deck. “This is yours,” he said, then pointed further down the corridor before opening the door. “My suite is over there.”
Kylo Ren followed him into the rooms. This suite was spacious enough for one barbarian newcomer, Armitage thought, although it lacked style. He decided to suggest a sonic and a clean uniform then let this Kylo Ren stew in solitude. But the second the door closed, Armitage found himself flung back against the wall and pinned there by something more than an impressively strong forearm. He couldn’t move a muscle.
“How...” Armitage said, breath wheezing out. “Let... Me... Go.”
“I will,” Ren said with a dangerous-looking smile. “When I am done. With you. You already made your. Mind up about how you might. Use me. Well.” Ren’s brown eyes loomed large in Armitage’s vision. “I am. Sick and. Tired of. Other people’s expectations and. Opinions of me.”
Armitage screwed up his eyes and turned his head away as Ren’s hand came up to his face, but Ren only knocked his cap off his head and stroked his hair.
“I won’t hurt you,” Ren said, stilted speech dissolving into something more natural. “If you relax. Let me see what made you this way.”
Although his eyes were tight shut, Armitage’s vision went white and pain crackled through his skull.
He came to lying on the bed. Kylo Ren had pulled the only chair over and was sitting watching him intently, just out of physical reach.
“You plan will fail,” Ren announced. “And you know it.”
“What,” Armitage swallowed then rubbed his face and neck with both hands. “What are you raving about?”
“Your plan to lure your father and... someone else you hate. Into an airlock. I couldn’t see who it was. All I got from you was an intense sensation of hatred of something large and grey.”
“Admiral Brooks,” Armitage said. “What did you do! Tell me what you did. To me.”
“No.” Ren shook his head. “You couldn’t hope to understand. It’s not mind reading, but it’s close enough. What did your father and this other man do to earn such intense, dark, hatred?”
Armitage sat up slowly, swung his legs over the edge and pushed himself up with only a slight wobble in his joints. He felt for his knife under the cover of rubbing life back into his forearms. It was gone.
“Why should I tell you? We just met. I have no reason to trust you after what you just did.”
“That’s fair,” Ren said. “You think you should be in command. You feel aggrieved. You think you are being held back.”
“Yes!” Armitage almost yelled the word. “And now you’re here! Snoke’s personal project!”
“I know how that feels,” Ren replied softly. “To be held back, overlooked. I’m not your adversary. We could help each other.”
Armitage stared at Ren for a few seconds then sat back down on the bed.
“How?” he asked. “More to the point, why? What could you possibly want from me?”
Kylo Ren smiled and shrugged. “Don’t know yet. A favour banked for later, perhaps.”
“And what do you think I want from you?”
“Your father dead. Brooks dead. You in command of the First Order.”
Armitage sighed. “So you can read minds.” He looked at Ren, who shook his head slightly. “Never mind,” Armitage said. “Very well. We can help each other on one condition.”
“And that is?” Ren said with a hint of a smile.
Armitage leaned forward and his lips twisted into a snarl. “Never, ever do that to me again.”
Armitage left Ren to clean himself up and went back to his normal duty shift. He was in a strange state of mind, unsettled and yet hopeful, distrustful of the newcomer’s motives (of course) but filled with the new possibilities offered by having a partner in crime. At the end of his shift, after the habitual humiliation of having to report to his father, he retired to his own suite only to find Kyo Ren pacing the main room and playing with his favourite (stolen) monomolecular dagger. Ren held it up.
“This is yours. Catch!”
Armitage hit the floor. The dagger sailed over him and clattered off the wall.
“You banthashagging idiot!” Armitage yelled. “That could have hit me!”
“But it didn’t,” Ren said. “I would have prevented it.”
“By not throwing it at me in the first place?” Armitage got up, retrieved his dagger and slotted it into the sheath under his sleeve.
“No.” Ren picked up Armitage’s personal datapad from the arm of the sofa. “Like this.”
He thew the datapad and held it in midair by some unseen thread.
“It’s called the Force. You have heard of it. Snoke is strong in the force. He is teaching me.”
“Good for you.” Armitage snatched his datapad out of the air and put it on his desk. “Why are you here?”
“To discuss your plans. For your father and Brooks. I want to hear them.”
“Why? So that you can report back to Leader Snoke that you discovered a traitor on board?”
Armitage was not prepared for Kylo Ren’s mirth. His laugh was intoxicating, so infectious that Armitage wondered if the same force that betrayed his innermost thoughts also brought some of Ren’s emotions to his own mind.
“You can’t feel it fully yet,” Ren said, calming his laughter to a wide grin. “But you and I are connected now. For better or for worse, I will know if you plan to betray me, and you will know if I plan to betray you.” He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. Armitage felt calmer too, and frowned at the thought that Ren was the cause. “Don’t fight it, Armitage. It’s an advantage.” Ren held Armitage’s gaze. “You know it is. I am the closest person you know to Supreme Leader Snoke himself. You could bypass the general and the admiral. You don’t need Snoke’s lapdogs. You need me.”
Armitage considered Ren’s presence and found the man reasonable, his offered alliance logical and his words persuasive.
“Well then,” he said. “Have you eaten? I usually order dinner now and you are welcome to join me. I hate plotting on an empty stomach.”
Chapter 4: Alliance (Part 2)
Kylo Ren smiled in a way that made Armitage’s hair prickle and he resisted the urge to scurry away and hide like he used to when Brendol came yelling for him. Instead, he forced his face into a neutral smile and calmly ordered two standard meals to be brought to his rooms. Ren lounged on the sofa and Armitage studied him openly. He wore standard issue uniform trousers and undershirt with his own black, buckled leather boots and some kind of cowl. Although Ren exuded danger, he looked ridiculous.
“You need to requisition some clothing that fits you,” Armitage observed, looking away.
“I tried to wear the tunic you sent over. It tore when I fastened it.” Ren adjusted his cowl and Armitage got more than a glimpse of his well developed upper arms and the straining fabric of his undershirt.
“In that case, since you are closely associated with Leader Snoke and must look powerful, may I suggest that you allow me to arrange for a tailor?”
Ren frowned. “I am powerful. What does it matter what I wear?”
Armitage sighed. “Please,” he said. “Trust me on this. Appearances matter. You ought to stay out of sight until you look the part of Snoke’s apprentice rather than some vagrant that showed up at the back door.”
“Fine,” Ren said eventually. “I will humour you.”
“And you should get a haircut.”
“Absolutely not. I am not one of your little soldiers.”
Armitage watched as Ren rubbed his hands through his thick, wavy hair and decided not to press that particular point. He found himself musing that Ren was, objectively, rather handsome with his strong features and dark eyes and easy smile and...
“Are you laughing at me?” Armitage snapped.
Ren grinned wider. “You like the way I look.”
As Armitage scowled and reddened for want of suitable words, the door entry chimed and a petty officer came in carrying a tray. They set it down, saluted and left.
“Good,” Armitage said with relief. “Dinner’s here.”
“That’s it?” Ren said, looking in disbelief at the two protein shakes on the tray.
“One of these portions contains all the nutrients needed for a serving officer’s main meal,” Armitage replied, picking one up and taking a sip. “If your requirements differ, please submit a supplementary rations request.” Armitage watched Ren screw up his face before swallowing and suppressed a laugh. “Perhaps you would like me to help you?”
“I would like you to order me some food,” Ren replied, wiping his mouth. “I am not eating this slurry.”
“Eat it or go hungry for now,” Armitage said. “I will set you up an account and take you to one of the officers’ cantinas later. Some of them serve more traditional meals.”
Ren abandoned his shake and sat back, watching Armitage sip his slowly.
“So. Tell me how you planned to entice those oafs into an airlock together,” Ren said.
“I have not worked out all the details yet,” Armitage replied. “Once they are there arranging an accident is simple. But they do very little that involves leaving their desks or their dinner tables. Getting either of them into a convenient position for a fire protocol malfunction to seal off their area and vent them into space via the nearest airlock is nigh on impossible.”
“Then the plan will fail,” Ren observed, adding, to Armitage’s annoyance, “as it already has?”
“Well then,” Armitage said sharply. “What would you suggest?”
Ren grinned. “Get me some real food then perhaps I will have some inspiration.”
Armitage glared at Ren for a few seconds then lifted his datapad. He ordered food for Ren from the limited menu of the closest cantina, then scoffed and ordered for himself too.
The food arrived quickly, carried by a junior officer who looked like she should still be in cadet uniform. Ren ate as if he had been starved, and when he started eyeing up Armitage’s bowl, Armitage pushed it across the table and Ren finished the half-eaten nerf casserole then sat back.
“Needs more flavour,” Ren said, “but it will suffice.”
“Oh? I am so sorry First Order cuisine doesn’t live up to degenerate republican standards,” Armitage said, dripping sarcasm.
Ren laughed and leaned forwards. “You take every comment personally, don’t you? You see every little criticism of the First Order as a slight against yourself.”
Armitage huffed and looked away.
“You do!” Ren sat back, a smile on his face. “What if I insulted the stormtroopers? They’re an unimaginative lot, I bet clones would—”
“My stormtroopers are the best! Conditioned from birth!” Armitage snapped.
Ren sniggered. “See?”
Armitage gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. “Now that you have eaten my entire allowance of cantina meals for the week and insulted my work,” he said, “it is time for you to hold to your end of the bargain. Tell me how to make my plan work.”
“That’s easy,” Ren said. “It will never work. You need to abandon it and come up with a different plan.”
It was only Ren’s easy grin that stopped Armitage from physically throwing something and screaming at him. He closed his eyes and shook his head, the image of his father and Brooks, eyes wide and mouths gaping, the moisture from their rapidly expelled breath crystallising into sparkling clouds in front of their faces, eyelids frozen open so that they might see him happily waving good riddance to their chilling bodies as their blood boiled in their veins and their uniform trousers were soiled and froze as the pressure difference forced every body cavity to empty. He’d done his research. Brendol and Brooks would have about two minutes of panic and terror before the cold, vacuum of space let them slip out of consciousness. Armitage smiled as he wondered, for at least the hundredth time, if either of them would try to swim back, arms windmilling and feet kicking until their skin froze and their muscles refused to respond. He wondered if the bones of their skulls would allow each man to hear his own space-silent scream.
“Ah, yes.” Ren sighed. “You gather the dark side of the Force around you and you can’t even feel it,” he said. “All that fear. All that hatred. And you can’t use it. What a waste.”
“What. Do. You. Suggest,” Armitage said, grinding out the words.
“Wait,” Ren replied. “Be patient. If you kill them today, who takes their place tomorrow? You?”
Armitage seethed internally at Ren because he knew Ren spoke the truth. Eventually, Armitage admitted, “There are five other ex-imperial admirals and generals in my way. I must remove them and secure my promotion to as high a rank as possible, perhaps even general myself, before I could guarantee to take my rightful position as leader of the First Order.” Armitage saw Ren’s eyebrow rise. “Military only, of course, under the Supreme Leader’s direction, naturally.”
“Naturally,” Ren echoed. “What we must do, then,” he said, “is ensure that while I gain strength and skill as I train with Snoke, you weasel your way into a position where, once you strike down those who stand in your way, you are the only choice to replace them.”
Chapter 5: Blast
It was a shame, thought Armitage as he smiled at the memory of the day’s events, that Ren wasn’t here to share his triumph. Colonel Reska had gone down silently at a single thrust-and-twist from Armitage’s own monomolecular blade, surprise on her face and blood seeping down her lovely new uniform. A lieutenant on security watch, a man called Opan, had witnessed some of what happened and guessed the rest. He had immediately volunteered to assist with disposal and demonstrated how he could seamlessly excise all security evidence that Major Hux had been in the company of the officer who had expressed doubt about his latest application for promotion.
It would earn Opan a promotion of his own to captain and a place on Armitage’s personal team as soon as Armitage’s own new rank of colonel was confirmed. He’d already chosen two more loyal officers: a lieutenant (fresh from the academy) who proved useful in monitoring the whereabouts of General Hux and Admiral Brooks so that Armitage could choose his moments to undermine them subtly, and a petty officer who diverted to Hux’s comm any choice morsels she encountered about senior officers from her communications monitoring station. A couple of relics of the Empire had already lost their positions and their heads—Armitage could still hear the sizzle of the executioner trooper’s plasma axe, the screams of the first abuser to be made an example of, and the pitiful begging of the second—when their fraternising with lower ranks was shown up as the kind of tawdry exploitation that Armitage would never tolerate when he gained full command. On that particular day, Armitage had not only removed two senior officers, his willingness to offer protection to the cadets and lieutenants who gave evidence earned him considerable respect, bordering on devotion, within the lower ranks. He only regretted that he had not been able to collect the skulls of the old bastards for display.
But Kylo Ren was absent. Armitage had become so accustomed to Ren showing up at dinner time to eat and talk and attempt to coach Armitage in the force (a futile exercise, Armitage maintained) that his absence felt like a missing internal organ. He had left suddenly, simply not showing up one evening, and when Armitage checked through the comings and goings from the Absolution he learned that Ren’s shuttle had been prepped in a hurry and ordered to depart on a security code Armitage suspected originated with Leader Snoke himself. He sighed and tapped his datapad to order one standard meal. If he was completely honest with himself, Armitage thought as he regarded the bland protein shake brought by a service droid, he also missed the way Ren had managed to secure unlimited cantina credits and was willing to share. He wondered, with a surge of warmth that caught him off guard, when he might see Ren again.
An hour later Armitage got an answer of sorts when his door opened and his father thundered in. Brendol’s face was red and twisted. “What are you up to, you snivelling little cur?”
“Fa— General,” Armitage said, leaping to his feet, straightening his tunic and snapping out a salute. “I don’t—”
“LIAR!” Brendol took a step closer, fist raised. “I received a summons to the Supremacy. From Supreme Leader Snoke himself!”
Armitage tried to hide his shock and anger. “You did?” he said, then checked his tone for sarcasm. “Congratulations, General!”
“I DID!” Brendol was so close now that Armitage was repelled by the flecks flying from his lips and teeth. “GENERAL HUX,” he said, pointing at his own chest.
“I don’t see—”
“Only when I arrived,” Brendol said, voice lower yet still just as threatening, “Leader Snoke refused to grant me admission into his throne room. Do you know what happened next? Hmm? DO YOU?”
Armitage would have taken a step back but his coffee table was already biting into his calves. “No,” he said. “Why don’t you—”
“HE SENT THAT EX-REPUBLICAN DEGENERATE OUT TO TELL ME I WAS THE WRONG HUX!”
Armitage stood perfectly still and watched his father’s face carefully for any minute twitch that might mean a blow was coming, until he understood what the man was telling him. Then he bit his lip hard and tried to keep his giggle from bubbling up out of his throat.
“General,” he said once he thought he had half a chance of feigning surprise and keeping his voice under control. “Sir, does this mean that Kylo Ren, Leader Snoke’s apprentice, was expecting... me to attend the Supreme Leader?”
“THAT IS PREPOSTEROUS!” yelled Brendol. “GET ON A SHUTTLE NOW AND DO NOT DARE MAKE A FOOL OF MY NAME!”
With that, Brendol turned and marched out.
“Well no need,” Armitage said to the empty room. “You’re doing a good enough job by yourself.”
Armitage checked his uniform, his hair and his teeth then went to his designated shuttle for the short trip to the Supremacy. Kylo Ren was waiting for him in the hangar when he landed.
“I am to take you directly to Snoke,” he said.
“It’s good to see you again too,” Armitage replied. “Nice bucket, by the way.”
“I made it myself,” Ren replied. “If I couldn’t tell you were making a joke because you feel intimidated by my new hemet then I might be offended.”
Armitage had no reply. He marched in step with Ren without further comment.
“Your father is monitoring all your comms,” Ren said after a minute. “He knew Snoke wanted you but he came anyway. Claimed you refused the summons.”
“He did WHAT?” Armitage stopped and whirled to face Ren.
“It’s okay,” Ren said, leaning in. “Snoke’s clever. Your father is not. He knows the General’s days are numbered.”
“Here.” Ren halted at a turbolift and opened it with a pass of his hand while Armitage muttered showoff. As soon as the doors closed and the lift began its smooth glide upwards, Ren unfastened his helmet with a hiss and removed it, shaking out his hair. Armitage watched, resisting the urge to comb his fingers through Ren’s thick waves. A thought occurred to Armitage and it made his stomach knot.
“Can he read minds?”
“Better than I can,” Ren replied, “but not really. He can skim your emotions and take a few educated guesses. Builds on it. If he feels you react. Like a sideshow clairvoyant.” Ren smiled. “He’s powerful though. Give him the deference he expects. Don’t show fear. Even if you are quaking in your boots.”
Armitage felt the lift decelerate and the doors opened. Ren marched out first, signalling Armitage to follow. Ren kelt on one knee, so Armitage did the same, head down, but he swivelled his eyes up to look at Snoke. He saw an old man on a throne, tall but wasted by age or disease, or both. Nothing to be feared. Snoke’s watery blue eyes focused on Armitage for the barest instant before Armitage felt himself thrown to the floor and held there.
“You should fear me,” Snoke said. “Do not make the mistake of judging me by your standards again. Be grateful that your usefulness to me outstrips that of your buffoon of a father.”
Armitage lay prostrate and immobilised while Snoke issued his orders then instructed Ren to get the rat out of my presence. As soon as he was able to move, Armitage scrambled to his feet, saluted and followed Ren out of the throne room. Back in the lift, standing shoulder to shoulder with Ren, Armitage puffed out a deep breath and said, “I think that went rather well, don’t you?”
Ren’s shoulders shuddered then he burst into laughter.
Helmet back on, Ren accompanied Armitage back to the Absolution. To Armitage’s irritation, Brendol and Brooks were waiting for him at the bottom of the shuttle ramp.
“Well?” Brendol snapped. “I demand a report immediately.”
Armitage saluted, aware of Ren’s heavy presence just behind him. “I have orders from Supreme Leader Snoke himself,” he said loudly enough to be overheard. “Those orders do not concern you.”
Brendol’s face twisted into an angry snarl and Brooks scoffed. “I hardly think Leader Snoke would share strategy with you before consulting his general and admiral,” Brooks said. “You must be mistaken.”
“I ORDER you to report on what transpired during your... your TRIP to the Supremacy.” Brendol appeared to have only a tenuous grip on his temper. “You were there as my proxy. Nothing more.”
“Leader Snoke was quite clear in his orders,” Armitage said. “I am not at liberty to divulge anything that was discussed in our briefing. I am to report either through Kylo Ren or directly to the Supreme Leader from now on.”
Behind him, Ren seemed to loom larger.
“Why you little—” Brendol stepped forward, right arm raised past his left shoulder, and Armitage anticipated a backhander across his face. In the instant he sensed a blow was intended, his hand went for his blaster but he only got it loosened from its holster when his arm numbed and stuck to his side. Brendol’s hand remained raised and, red-faced, he grunted with futile effort. Ren pulled Armitage aside. Brendol swiped empty air and stumbled. Feeling returned to Armitage’s arm, but instead of pulling his blaster and putting smoking plasma-burned holes in the chests of his father and Brooks, delighting in the stink of seared flesh and melted fabric, he let his weapon click back into place on his hip.
“Well then,” he said through gritted teeth, forcing a salute. “I will resume my regular duty shift in the morning, sir.”
Armitage sidestepped his senior officers and marched away. Ren walked beside him and the regular hangar personnel scurried out of their way. Armitage said nothing until he was back in his rooms with Ren.
“Can you believe their presumption!” Armitage blurted out, whirling on Ren who was removing his helmet. “I was summoned to Supreme Leader Snoke and they expected me still to answer to them! I should have shot them where they stood then had their charred corpses strung upside down from the—”
The rest of Armitage’s rant was silenced by Ren’s lips on his, Ren’s hands shoving him backwards against the closed door, and Ren’s body pressing against him. Ren sprang back after a couple of seconds. Armitage stared at him.
“You.” Armitage said. “You...” he repeated. “Why?”
“You’re not,” Ren said. “Angry.”
“No,” Armitage said. “Surprised.”
“I mean that I didn’t let you kill them tonight.”
“Oh.” Armitage sighed. “Disappointed. Not angry. I suppose you did me a favour. I would have had to dispose of all the witnesses and that would be a waste of good personnel.”
“And you don’t mind that I kissed you,” Ren said.
Armitage laughed softly. He took two steps to bring himself close enough to Ren, finally, finally let himself slip his fingers through those thick strands of hair, and kissed him.
“I don’t mind at all,” he said. “And neither do you.”
Chapter 6: Hard Landing (part 1)
See end for reason for bad BDSM etiquette tag.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
One kiss had led to another and another, and that had eventually led to an invitation to stay, although very little happened other than a brief exploration of each other’s naked bodies due to a combination of Ren’s confessed exhaustion and Armitage’s unconfessed reluctance to demonstrate his inexperience. In the morning they lay nude in Armitage’s bed, carefully not touching, each aware that the other was awake and pretending, until Ren got up to use the ‘fresher.
“I still wonder what would have happened if I had just shot them both,” Armitage said when Ren slipped back between the sheets, rolling onto his side to face Ren. Ren’s hand came up to smooth Armitage’s copper hair back from his face and he laughed.
“You would have been executed for treason,” Ren replied. “Snoke would probably have made me do it out of irritation that I failed to stop you. It would have been a waste.”
“Damn,” Armitage sighed. “I suppose I still have some work to do,” he said a little sadly. “Make myself the only possible successor. There are still a few relics like Brendol and Brooks who would get in the way. If I moved now, I’d risk fragmenting the First Order.”
“Hmm, there can’t be many who’d oppose you,” Ren replied. “Not with me at your side. I will ask Snoke if he has a timescale in mind. If you want.”
“No.” Armitage smiled and Ren smiled back, both still a little dopey-eyed from sleep. “It makes me look desperate if I have to ask. I can be patient. The right moment will come and I will find a way.” Armitage sat up in bed, yawned and stretched. “Kriff! Some of those old imperial officers can’t tell the difference between experience and stagnation. I’m glad I kept my biggest plans secret.”
“Your biggest plans?” Ren said, sitting up too and kneeling in front of Armitage to face him. “Secret? Even from me?”
Armitage grinned. “Wait and see. Just you wait and see what I’m building.”
Ren pushed Armitage’s shoulders so that he fell over backwards, back onto his pillows. Ren bodily pinned him down. “I demand to know,” he said. “You can’t keep secrets from me. You know that, don’t you?”
Armitage giggled and fought back, trying to flip Ren onto his back. “Perhaps I will tell you. If I have a suitable incentive.”
Ren grabbed Armitage’s wrists and pushed them above his head, leaned down and kissed him, and Armitage forgot what he was struggling about.
“You’ll tell me,” Ren said, pulling back a little.
“Oh will I?” Armitage replied. “What makes you think— Hey! How did you...”
Ren laughed as Armitage tried to free his hands from the magna binders that secured his wrists around the rail that prevented the pillows from slipping down the back of Armitage’s bed. As a further demonstration, Ren closed his eyes, held out his hand and his lightsaber flew into it. Armitage watched, wide eyed, as Ren ignited it. With a crackle and a hiss, the red blade lit up the room.
“What do you plan on doing with that?” he asked, a wariness in his voice that he couldn’t hide.
“I could use it make you talk,” Ren said. “I’d start with the parts you wouldn’t miss much.” Ren waited just long enough for Armitage to start to squirm then he deactivated the blade and dropped the hilt, letting it clunk on the floor. “But I think you’d be the type to tell me whatever you thought I wanted to hear.” Ren straddled Armitage’s hips. “And I want to hear the truth. Whether you think I will approve or not. Or I could just—”
“No!” Armitage glared and Ren stilled his hand halfway to Armitage’s head. “I told you. Never do that to me again.”
Ren shrugged. “You leave me only one option, then.”
Ren grinned and shuffled down the bed. He placed one hand on each of Armitage’s slender thighs and massaged slowly upwards until his hands splayed across Armitage’s hipbones.
“I think you’ll respond better to rewards than to threats,” Ren said, leaning forwards and planting a kiss on the soft skin of Armitage’s belly. “So. Tell me. What are you up to?”
“Something big,” Armitage said. “Immense.”
“I’ll give you something big,” Ren said with a hint of a laugh.
Armitage sniggered. “Something that needs a lot of kyber. Maybe I’ll use your lightsaber.”
“Kyber!” Ren sat upright. “What in the galaxy does a force-blind creature like you want with kyber?”
“Not telling you,” Armitage said, wriggling a little.
“Hmm,” Ren gave him an appraising look. “I can be persuasive.”
Ren leaned forwards, kissed Armitage on the lips, then nuzzled into the side of his neck, kissing and licking the skin under Armitage’s ear until Armitage was breathless with laughter.
“Stop! Stop,” Armitage said. “All right. Kyber is the best substance I know of for storing energy.”
“So you are building a device that stores a lot of energy.” Ren gave a satisfied little nod. “How much energy?”
“More than you can imagine,” Armitage said with a smile. “I need enough kyber to pack the core of a large moon or a small planet.”
“Karking sith!” Ren said, eyes wide and jaw dropping. “What in the name of the dark emperor himself do you want with all of that?”
“I don’t think I should tell you,” Armitage said. “I have spent months... years! Tracking down kyber deposits and mining them without the imperials getting wind of it. I won’t have anyone else take credit for my work.”
“Your secret will be safe with me,” Ren said. He lay on top of Armitage, pinning him with his weight, and lavished attention on the pink nubs of Armitage’s nipples until Armitage was groaning and writhing helplessly under him, legs parted, cock hard against Ren’s chest. Ren wriggled further down Armitage’s body. “You can tell me everything,” he said, mouthing at Armitage’s balls. “Don’t you want to share your secret with someone you can trust?”
Armitage closed his eyes and swore quietly. Ren sucked at the base of Armitage’s cock and kissed his way up to the tip then lifted his head and waited.
“Oh, fuck you, Kylo Ren!” Armitage said. “All right. The kyber absorbs the energy from a small star and redirects it through hyperspace to whatever I chose as a target. It is a truly stunning feat of engineering.”
“So?” Ren said, sucking the head of Armitage’s cock then blowing across it gently while Armitage tried to thrust up.
“So? So!” Armitage raised his head to glare at Ren. “As soon as I find out where the enemy is based I could blast them out of existence!”
Armitage let out a deep groan of disappointment when Ren sat up.
“That’s obscene!” Ren said, aghast. “It’s—”
“Kriff, Ren, it never actually needs to be used in anger. One calculated demonstration on a recalcitrant system nobody cares much about and others will scramble to fall into line.”
Armitage sighed. Ren frowned at him for a few more seconds.
“You really believe that,” he said. “Like Alderaan. Like the Death Star.”
“Yes, I suppose,” Armitage replied softly. “I want to avoid wasting lives in pointless battles with planets who ought to welcome the order and stability we can enforce.”
“Whether they want it or not,” Ren added.
“Some systems are not fit to govern themselves,” Armitage said. “You must see that.”
Ren lay down on his side next to Armitage, cupped Armitage’s face with one hand and kissed him. “I do see that,” he said. “And I... I agree. We— You should take the idea to Snoke.”
Armitage laughed softly. “It’s much more than an idea, Kylo. I have full plans.”
“I bet you do,” Ren replied with a grin. “Now what would it take to persuade you to show me those?”
It took Ren ten more minutes of teasing with his lips and tongue, and a slick finger buried in Armitage’s tight hole, before Armitage promised to tell Ren whatever he wanted on condition he just not stop. Armitage came, babbling about how his weapon would surpass the Death Star, and how Kylo Ren would surpass Darth Vader. The instant Ren released Armitage from the magna binders, Armitage pushed him over and took as much of his cock in his mouth as would fit. Ren waited about a minute and a half before pulling Armitage off and handing him the lube.
“I want you to ride me,” Ren said. Armitage froze and Ren felt his uncertainty. “You’ve never done that?” Armitage looked away and shook his head. “Sith! Am I your first?”
“Shut up,” Armitage snapped, “or I will use you as target practice for my proof of concept model.”
Ren laughed. “I’m honoured. Surprised, but... Look, you don’t have to if it’s too much.”
Armitage clasped a lubed hand around Ren’s cock and shrugged. “Well then. It’s no longer a secret that I like things on a large scale.”
Later, cradled in Ren’s arms, dozing in the stolen minutes before he absolutely had to get up, get dressed and report for duty, Armitage sighed and yawned.
“Shuttle accident,” he announced.
“What?” Ren asked, barely awake.
“He’s got this stupid antique yacht from Naboo that he uses instead of a modern upsilon. All smooth curves and fancy mirror finish. Steers like a hungry happabore that’s scented the feed trough.”
Armitage scoffed. “Of course! He claims it belonged to Palpatine himself, so it’s an ancient relic every bit as obsolete as he is. Wouldn’t take much for it to have a critical failure near enough to some primitive rock to get caught in its gravitational field and pulled inevitably to a hard landing.”
“Mm,” Ren said, smiling. “A tragic accident.”
Armitage grinned against Ren’s shoulder. “Imagine those last few moments before the impact when atmospheric friction started breaking it up and he’d know he was going to die and there’d be nothing he could do to prevent it. I wonder if he’d panic? Scream, puke and soil himself, I’d bet.”
“Probably,” Ren said with a soft laugh that puffed and tickled across Armitage’s ear. “And there’d be no suspicion on you.”
“A technician, perhaps, to take the blame. Maybe someone whose superior officer was one of Brendol’s cronies. Then I could have them executed for incompetence too.”
“Hah!” Ren sighed deeply. “Don’t you have duties to attend to?” he said. “I have to go back to the Supremacy.”
Armitage turned, frowning. “Well, that is disappointing,” he said. “I rather hoped we could spend this evening together.”
“We still might,” Ren said with a smile. “On the Supremacy. I have a feeling that Snoke will want to hear about your plans.”
Ren restrains Armitage’s wrists without asking permission or negotiating first. Armitage is into it although he does not explicitly say so, just goes with it, and there is no discussion of safe words or what might happen if Armitage wasn’t happy about it. It doesn’t occur to Ren that he can’t just do as he pleases.
Chapter 7: Hard Landing (2)
Two days later, Armitage stood before Supreme Leader Snoke trying his hardest to glare sideways at Kylo Ren whilst simultaneously appearing deferential to the most powerful being in the known galaxy. Snoke either failed to notice or failed to care. He leaned forward, causing Armitage to summon the mental strength not to step back from that misshapen head with its decaying mouth.
“Colonel, you will tell me more about this greed for kyber my loyal apprentice has informed me about.”
A flash of anger lit up Armitage’s mind and he sensed Ren’s amusement. “Has your loyal apprentice not told you everything I shared with him?” Armitage said, words dripping acid. “Very well. It is fortunate that I have brought full schematics for my planned weapon.”
Armitage smirked when Snoke’s attention returned to Ren. “I thought it best,” Ren said defensively, “that you hear Hux’s plan firsthand.”
“I see,” Snoke said, his gaze chilling Armitage to the core. “Show me.”
Two hours later, Armitage paced his brand new chambers aboard the Supremacy.
“Three years!” he crowed at Ren. “Leader Snoke ordered me to increase my efforts and have my weapon ready for a test fire in three years with a big enough budget to make it a realistic goal! And he wants me to update him personally on its progress!”
Ren smiled because Armitage’s excitement was so infectious, but said nothing.
“And he promised me promotion to general once it’s ready. I’d be... I’d be the youngest general in the First Order!”
“Colonel Hux,” Ren said with a laugh, “remember that you still have to build it. Have you identified a suitable planet to use? Sourced more kyber?”
Armitage grinned and nodded. “I think so. I showed Snoke the three best locations but he didn’t care for the details.” Delight froze on his face for a second then slipped into wonder. He lowered his voice. “Do you think it will be enough? To ensure my position?”
“I mean,” Armitage said, looking around as if he might somehow see the surveillance equipment that was surely present, “is it time to... to deal with my... obstacle?”
“No,” Ren said flatly. “Snoke ordered you to work exclusively on this. You can’t take on more without risking his disappointment.” Ren shuddered and a chill ghosted Armitage’s spine. “You still need the general. Trust me. You do not want to disappoint Snoke because you are unable to commit fully to this one project.”
“A fair point,” Armitage conceded. He sighed. “I am very disappointed that you ran to Snoke with my plans without first securing my agreement.”
“It was for the good of the First Order,” Ren said, “and to get you into Snoke’s favour. It worked. Do you want to celebrate?”
“What are you taking about?” Armitage said, then saw the leer on Ren’s face. “Oh! I see! You want to... to?”
“I want to,” Ren confirmed, hands reaching for Armitage, pulling him close and kissing him. “You think I don’t?”
Armitage pushed back a little, but not so hard that Ren let go. “After you ran to Snoke, I assumed you merely wanted information out of me and sex was, I am ashamed to admit, a very effective way of getting me to tell you my secrets.” He looked away. “I felt... well. Never mind that now.”
“You were hurt,” Ren said. “I felt it too.”
Armitage scoffed. “Would it have killed you to explain to me what you were doing?”
Ren huffed out a laugh and released Armitage. “No, but I don’t answer to you. So I am not required to ask permission. Or keep you informed of everything I do.”
Armitage gritted his teeth and clenched his fists so tightly that his forearm muscles ached. “I am asking you for the simple courtesy of keeping me up to date on matters that concern me. Fucking me then fucking off to tattle to your master is very bad manners.”
“So,” Ren said, cocking one eyebrow, “you don’t want me to hold you down and fuck you tonight?”
“No!” Armitage blurted, face warming.
Ren laughed and yanked Armitage closer again. “Liar,” he said, softly. “You do.” kiss “You just won’t.” kiss “Let yourself.” kiss “Admit it.”
Armitage allowed himself a few glorious seconds submerged in Kylo Ren’s attentions, then pushed away for real. “This is all very pleasant,” he said. ”But I have new duties to attend to and, as you pointed out, I do not want to disappoint the Supreme Leader. Perhaps we can schedule something. I need to return to the Absolution to—”
“Tomorrow,” Ren said. “Whatever it is. Do it tomorrow. Order someone else to do it. You answer to Snoke now.”
Armitage made a show of checking the time and Ren smiled as he felt Armitage’s decision solidify.
“Well then,” Armitage said, reaching for his comm-link. “I suppose there is nothing pressing that Captain Opan and my team can’t handle.”
Ren held Armitage tightly, grinding against his backside. “Here’s something pressing,” he said with a soft laugh. “I’d like you to handle this.”
“Karking sith, Ren, do grow up.” Armitage tried to sound irritated but couldn’t help snorting out a laugh. He wriggled back against Ren and thumbed his comm-link. “Opan, I will remain on the Supremacy overnight. Please inform General Hux that I must attend extended discussions with Kylo Ren.”
Armitage listened to the reply and smiled. He turned to face Ren.
“As it happens, my father has taken his stupid shiny yacht and his personal stormtroopers on a jaunt to recruit from a couple of impoverished systems. He will be gone for a few days.”
“Imagine what might happen.” Ren’s voice ghosted across Armitage’s ear and made his skin prick up. “If there was a fault. With his old yacht. Power failure.”
“Oh, yes indeed. It could be lost, drifting in space with no comms.” Armitage smiled and leaned into Ren, speaking quietly. “Isolated. All systems inoperative.”
“Helpless,” Ren added.
“Reliant only on dwindling food and water supplies, the air becoming foul as the scrubbers and recirculators stop working.” Armitage closed his eyes, voice barely a whisper. “Grav generators offline so he’s at the mercy of every momentum change. Crashing around, thrown back and forth as the engines stutter when he tries to re-start them.”
“Bruised and bleeding.” Ren ran his hands over Armitage’s back, settling on his ass and grinding their hips together.
“In unbearable pain from broken bones, unable to propel himself to the little medibay.” Armitage laughed at the mental image of Brendol, blood welling up in globules that broke off and wobbled away as he thrashed uselessly, limbs twisted and bent at unlikely angles, slamming into the back of the luxury cabin as the engines tried to give one last spurt of acceleration.
Ren picked up on his amusement. “He’d be rattling like a gravball in an uncalibrated court,” he said.
“The cabin would get unbearably hot as the heat pumps failed to shield the inside from the engines,” Armitage added. “Then slowly, so slowly, cool down as heat radiated away into space. He’d cook and then freeze if he didn’t suffocate first.”
“Perhaps you’d find him like that,” Ren said. “In a decade or two. You could tow it into orbit around Arkanis. Put it on display for gawkers to see his demise first hand.”
“Or keep it as a private exhibit. Take imperialist fools to visit his desiccated corpse to remind them of his failures.”
Ren sensed Armitage’s change in mood and kissed him more gently. Armitage melted into the contact. For a minute or so they fumbled at each other’s fastenings to get hands under tunics and inside trousers, only managing to remove and discard their belts and gloves. Armitage gave up first, grabbed Ren by the arm and pulled him towards the bedroom.
“I’m afraid these rooms are rather bare,” Armitage said. “I did not imagine there would be any need for—” He stopped in the doorway and laughed at the sight of a bottle of lube and two sets of magna binders on the pillow. “I see you planned ahead. What if I’d turned you down?”
“You forget,” Ren said quietly, “just how close we are. I feel your emotions change and your pulse quicken. Even when I’m here and you’re on the Absolution. And you could feel mine too. If you tried harder.” Ren gestured and one set of binders sailed into his hand. “I know what you want.”
“Then stop talking, Armitage said, turning to face Ren. “And give it to me.”
Without breaking eye contact, Ren walked forward and Armitage walked back until his heels hit the bed and he sat heavily on the red and black officers’ standard issue bedspread. Ren pushed him down and rolled him over against token resistance and bound his wrists to the rail at the head of the bed as before. He picked up the second set of binders and secured Armitage’s ankles to the rail at the end of the bed.
“I’m not sure you have thought this through,” Armitage said, his giggle muffled against the pillows. “I’m still fully dressed and now I can’t do anything about it.”
Armitage struggled to turn his head enough to see Ren’s grin. Ren pulled the pillows away and Armitage let his cheek rest on the cool fabric underneath. He yelped when he felt his whole body rise from the bed, lifted by some invisible force from the hips, and settle with the pillows underneath.
“Aren’t you at least going to—”
Ren’s hands massaged his ass through the fabric of his uniform trousers then gripped tight to the waist and pulled. The fabric gave way with a loud rip down the back seam. Armitage’s underwear met a similar fate.
“Hush. You complain too much,” Ren said. “Imagine if you had to waddle to stores to requisition a new pair. You’d have to hold these together with your hands to stop anyone from seeing your bare ass and fucked hole.”
“Fuck,” Armitage said, heat rising up his face at the tingle in his groin caused by cool, recirculated air on bare skin and the thought of being so exposed, so obviously Ren’s plaything.
“You like it,” Ren observed. “You’re getting hard again at the thought. Everyone knowing I had you. There’d be come-stains in the front. You wouldn’t be able to hide everything.”
Armitage repeated, ”Oh, kriff,” only quieter and with his head relaxed again, eyes closed, face on the bed.
Armitage heard the soft shuff of Ren unfastening his robe and pushing down his leggings, then felt the dip and creak of the bed as Ren straddled his legs. He felt Ren pull at his trousers until the inner thigh seams gave way too, and then Ren’s hot, wet mouth sucking at his skin.
“Imagine,” Ren said, lifting his head to squeeze out words one by one. “He. Does. Not. Come. Back.”
Armitage whimpered at the dual torture of Ren’s tongue teasing at his hole, making him desperate for more, and Ren’s words forcing him to think of his father and cooling his desire.
“You. Would. Be. His. Successor.”
Armitage imagined standing triumphantly before all his father’s imperial cronies, acting as judge and executioner, putting a neat blaster-hole in each pasty, grey face. He imagined himself in a sharp-cut General’s uniform, standing triumphantly before his completed weapon, ordering it to fire and bathing in the red glow from the kyber-stored energy. And he imagined himself standing triumphantly before Kylo Ren on Snoke’s throne and Ren bending him over it and fucking him into oblivion.
“Aah, yes,” Ren said, shifting his weight. Armitage felt the head of Ren’s cock slip across his hole then Ren’s weight shifted to the side as he held his cock and pushed in slowly. Armitage groaned as Ren’s weight settled on him, pressing him solidly into the bed, and Ren’s lips graced over his ear. “You see. What. I want. Too,” he said, voice uneven, grunting with the effort of thrusting hard. “Told you. You could. When I’m. Supreme. Leader. And. You’re. Grand. Marshal. I’ll. Fuck. You. On. That. Throne. Make. You. Come. All. Over. It. I’ll...”
Ren’s words slowed and lost coherence until all that came from him was a series of nonsense syllables and soft moans. Rock hard but confined by the front of his clothing and pressing onto the pillow under him, Armitage felt his own pleasure build and ebb and build and ebb again until he thought he might scream in frustration. Ren thrust even harder, even faster, making the bed frame squeak and Armitage almost laughed at the thought that Ren might have found the structure’s resonant frequency. Abruptly Ren slowed down and gave a few slower, deep thrusts, then lay still on top of Armitage with his cock still buried in his hole. Armitage wriggled.
“Sorry, babe,” Ren said lazily. He slipped his hand under Armitage’s hips and massaged his cock through the front of his ruined clothing. Ren’s weight lifted and Armitage felt Ren’s softening cock slip from his entrance.
“Up,” Ren commanded, and Armitage’s hips rose seemingly of their own accord. The torn fabric hung down, freeing Armitage’s cock at last. Ren pulled the pillows away and threw them off the bed. “Need you to support yourself,” Ren said. Armitage had just enough movement to be able to hold his hips clear of the bed. He moaned then laughed when Ren’s finger slid inside him and moaned again when Ren’s other hand clasped his cock, stroking and fingering him, slowly at first then speeding up until Armitage cried out and came, spattering the crumpled bedcover and the bottom of his uniform tunic, and smearing Ren’s hand.
Ren let go and Armitage sagged back down onto the bed.
“Comfortable?” Ren asked.
“I need a sonic and a new uniform,” Armitage said. “But I feel strangely calm about this whole situation.”
“I meant your restraints,” Ren said, laughing and slapping Armitage on the ass.
“Oh! I see,” Armitage replied, grinning. “No pins and needles or numbness. Comfortable enough.”
“Good.” Ren eased Armitage onto his back and kissed him, then relieved Armitage of his dagger. He used it to slice through the fabric of Armitage’s tunic, vest and what remained of his trousers, then pulled the shreds of fabric away. Armitage was left wearing nothing but his boots and the sheath for his blade. Ren neatly clipped the dagger back into place and kissed Armitage again, then stood up and undressed himself before lying on his side, stroking his fingertips up and down Armitage’s chest and stomach, licking and blowing over his erect nipples and admiring the way Armitage’s golden body hair, so sparse and fine that it was barely visible, pricked up in response.
“Since your general is away, you could stay here and I could fuck you whenever I wanted,” Ren said. “You could comm your orders to your team and have them report back while I play with you.”
“Well,” Armitage said with a smile that Ren leaned over and kissed. “That does sound tempting. Let me up to use the fresher and order a uniform and underthings to be brought to me. Next time maybe we can imagine that I’m the Supreme Leader and you are my loyal enforcer, servicing my desires. Are you staying the night so that we can do that or do you have to run off to report to Snoke that I’m a potential mutineer first?”
Ren laughed and unlocked the binders at Armitage’s wrists. Armitage sat up to free his ankles, eased off his boots and stretched. “What if Brendol’s yacht crashed,” he said, “and he survived the hard landing but found himself on a planet with... with radioactive contamination and wild, mutant predators?”
Ren grinned. “We can dream.”
Chapter 8: Hard Landing (Part 3)
“You’re not going to believe this,” Armitage said to the ghostly blue image of Kylo Ren, transmitted across their personal, secure channel. “My father’s ship has been reported missing.”
Ren leaned forward, face looming larger, frowning. “And you had nothing to do with it?”
“No!” Armitage frowned back. “You convinced me it wasn’t time. Surely you know I am not deceiving you?”
“I know,” Ren replied with a grin, then the shadow of a frown returned. “I have to go on a mission for Snoke tomorrow. Commandeer a shuttle. Come to me tonight.”
Armitage sighed deeply. “I wish I could, but we’re too far from the Supremacy. Five hours away, I calculated.”
Ren’s lips tightened. “Don’t do anything rash,” he said. “Promise me. It’s still not time.”
“Well,” Armitage said with a shrug. “Let’s call it a dry run, eh?”
“You forget that I already have considerable power as a colonel and my following amongst the ranks below me is growing quietly and steadily. It is time we made some noise.”
“Suit yourself,” Ren said sharply. “You know my advice is to take no action. Don’t make me come back to find your records erased and your dried out corpsicle floating alongside the Absolution.”
An upwelling of emotion flooded Armitage and he felt heat prickle behind his eyes.
“I won’t. You won’t,” he said gently, reaching out as if he could caress Ren’s cheek through the comm system. He smiled. “I’ve lived this long under his command and I have no intention of endangering my reputation for stubbornly not dying.”
Ren seemed happier with those words from Armitage and they exchanged pleasantries for another minute before saying goodbye and be careful.
Still, Armitage thought as he leaned back in the wake of regret at being unable to say goodbye in person, it would be a missed opportunity if he did nothing at all.
He would do nothing obvious.
Armitage expected that it would be several days before he heard again from Ren. He spent his spare time carefully researching the personal habits of those who stood between him and his next promotion and planning ways to neutralise them. Captain Opan proved to be a more than willing and competent accomplice when he succeeded in procuring a small amount of a psychotropic substance from the stock discovered on a pirate vessel and (reportedly) destroyed. His only errors, Armitage informed the trembling captain in a tense meeting after one of Armitage’s rivals was observed on the security feed to have climbed into an escape pod and launched himself into empty space whilst screaming about rathtars on the loose, were in not waiting for Armitage’s explicit direction and in not saving more of that particular toxin for future use. As Armitage removed his blade from where it left a small, red vee in the skin of Opan’s neck, Opan visibly blushed, sighed, recovered, saluted and promised to do better. Armitage didn’t need to be a mind reader to know that the man was aroused, and he wondered if Ren would sense it if he indulged in physical pleasure with Opan. After a brief internal deliberation, he merely smiled, returned the salute and dismissed his loyal captain.
It was a matter of mere hours before Armitage managed to have the unfortunate officer declared dead and his responsibilities flagged for transferral. Of course Armitage offered himself for the additional duties, but two other colonels and one general objected on the grounds that Armitage had insufficient experience for such a large increase in responsibility. After a protracted debate amongst the command officers of the Absolution, it was decided that Armitage would gain command of one of the dead officer’s computation centres and its associated staff, while the other two would be assigned to newly promoted officers. Hiding his irritation, Armitage quietly passed their names to Unamo, his loyal petty officer in communications. Nothing would be sent or received by the new officers without her approval and they were bound to make shameful mistakes worthy of demotion before long. Armitage would be ready to merge their responsibilities with his own in due course.
Ren finally commed after almost two weeks. Armitage accepted the short, formally official update with a professional smile while on his bridge command shift, and spent the next several hours anticipating a longer, private holo-call in the comfort of his own chambers later. For once, the formal hand over of command to Colonel Datoo could not come fast enough.
Back in his rooms, Armitage signalled Ren that he was available. His private com-link beeped almost immediately and Ren’s face swam into view. He set the device on his table and sat on his sofa.
“Where are you?” Armitage asked.
“Alone in my shuttle,” Ren replied. “In orbit around a planet you will find interesting. From a manufacturing point of view.”
“Oh?” Armitage leaned closer, mirroring Ren’s smile. “Why?”
“I am sending you the details. Encrypted. Could be your first mission. Progress toward your... final goal.”
“Really!” Armitage sat back a little. He watched as information flooded the screen of his datapad. “You’re right. I’ll commandeer transport for myself and two thousand stormtroopers. Well done, Ren!”
Ren huffed at the praise. “Don’t get above your station,” he snapped. “Anything other than kyber that you may find embedded in the mines or hidden in underground chambers belongs to me.”
“I see,” Armitage said. “You need me to organise physical labour for you while you sit back and wait for whatever it is you are looking for to just... turn up.”
“So we understand each other,” Ren said with a grin. “You can command the mission from the Absolution, can’t you?”
Armitage frowned. “Technically we are holding position until we officially hear back from the search for General Hux’s yacht.”
“Parnassos!” Armitage crowed. “Those who discovered his wrecked ship had an unfortunate accident with an unshielded power conduit in docking bay six. Only four people know: me, my communications officer, my lieutenant in Ops and you. Oh, five if you count Brendol himself, since he and a few stormtroopers are unaccounted for. Look it up if you have database access. It’s perfect.”
“Armitage, we agreed—”
“Pshht,” Armitage hissed. “I had nothing to do with it. He was shot down by the planet’s own automated defences. The population left clinging to the planet’s blasted crust have reverted to pre-tech status and...”
Armitage stopped ranting because he saw Ren’s eyes scanning text and his lips spreading in a grin.
“Radioactive hot spots, extensive toxic contamination, one hemisphere completely wasted,” Ren read from his console. “I see what you mean.”
“Imagine he survived the hard landing and crawled from the wreckage into that hellscape,” Armitage said with a laugh. “What do you think would kill him fastest?”
“Hmm,” Ren stroked his own cheek and Armitage fancied he felt the soft growth of Ren’s sparse beard for himself. “Exposure to planetary average levels of radiation would take weeks or months.”
“I know. Unless he landed in a hot spot he probably wouldn’t realise for a couple of weeks that he had radiation sickness.” Hux smirked. “What about the toxicity of the soil and atmosphere?”
“Depends where he crashed,” Ren said. “A couple of days in the worst areas. Maybe a week.”
“And what if he stayed in the yacht? Running out of food and water? A month, maybe two?”
Ren nodded. “There will be wildlife. When the technology goes, wilderness returns where it can.”
“Imagine he thinks he has survived, steps off the yacht and into the nest of some kind of mutated sarlacc. He could spend his final hours slowly digesting in stomach acid. Or he could stray into the territory of some predator that stalks him by night and strikes at dawn, or perhaps some kind of carnivorous insect colony might claim him from the feet up, tiny bite by tiny bite.”
Ren sighed and frowned at Armitage. “You realise you have to see that he is retrieved, don’t you?”
“Damn it, Ren,” Armitage sighed and frowned back. “Yes. I have made some gains here but my position is not yet strong enough to replace him.”
“Send a minimal rescue mission to Parnassos and bring the Absolution to me. Snoke will approve it. It will give you greater status amongst the other officers.”
“Don’t presume to give me orders, Ren,” Armitage said.
Ren shrugged. “But you will do what I... advise.”
Armitage pulled his lips into a tight line and clenched his fists. He’d hoped this conversation would lead to more personal matters but that hope was fading rapidly.
“Perhaps,” he said through gritted teeth.
“Good,” Ren said. “Now. Tell me why you chose not to take advantage of your weaselly little captain’s weaselly little crush.”
Armitage was floored. “You... you know about that?”
“Of course!” Ren laughed. “We’re linked, Armitage. I was. Flattered. That you considered my feelings. On the matter of fidelity.”
“Fidelity,” Armitage repeated coldly, “seems overrated right now.”
Ren loomed closer again, face serious. “I miss you too,” he said quietly. “Maybe we can do something to... feel better.”
“Well then,” Armitage said, picking up Ren’s meaning and cheering up. “I suppose we can try.”
“Close your eyes. Focus on my voice.”
Armitage closed his eyes. Ren’s voice dropped a little lower in pitch and slowed down.
“You will remove your clothing.”
“I will... Hey!” Armitage opened his eyes and glared at Ren’s holo.
“Trust me,” Ren said, smiling. “I want to reward you for your patience.”
Armitage felt a warm glow when he thought of Ren and smiled back. There was no reason not to trust him, was there? They were linked. He meant well. Ren wanted him to relax and he wanted to please Ren so he would allow Ren to talk him through this in that pleasurable voice he sometimes used.
“I suppose,” Armitage said. Ren’s laugh was entrancing.
“You want to unfasten your clothing and touch yourself,” Ren’s voice murmured. Armitage knew it came from the speaker of his private com-link yet it seemed to sound deep inside his skull. He obeyed the voice because it was the only logical, reasonable thing to do.
“You want to kneel and bare yourself,” Ren’s voice gently commanded. Armitage knelt and pushed his clothing out of the way. “You look so good like that,” Ren said, “I could watch you all night,” and Armitage blushed at the praise. “Now,” Ren said. “Find the lube you keep under the sofa cushions.”
Contentedly enclosed in the bubble of time and space formed by Ren’s voice, Armitage followed all of Ren’s instructions. As his climax passed, Ren’s influence ebbed and Armitage opened his eyes to see Ren’s image with his head lolling sideways and his mouth open.
“Ren?” Armitage said quietly.
“Mmh,” Ren said, raising his head and smiling. “Was that good? I thought that was good.”
“I doubt you really have to ask,” Hux said. “Could you feel... me? What I felt?”
Ren smiled and shook his head. “Barely,” he said.
Hux pursed his lips. “So this... connection. Would it be stronger if we were closer? Physically?”
“Yes,” Ren grinned. “Imagine being restrained by me. I could use the force to hold you still when we fuck. I could make you feel what I feel when I come in your tight little hole.”
“Fuck,” Armitage whispered. “I want that.”
Ren smiled and leaned in again. “Then come to me. Bring the Absolution.”
Chapter 9: Seeing things
“Imagine,” Armitage said to the see-through image of Kylo Ren, “if I dropped the smallest portion of Opan’s hallucinogen into Brendol’s drink every time he made me serve him and his bastard cronies. And he started hallucinating. A little at first—just some waking dreams or unexplained voices—building up to full-blown psychosis over a few weeks. I could have him relieved of command and confined to a secure unit. Maybe I’d keep him drugged, or maybe I’d let it wear off and he could rant and rage and have it all dismissed as the mad ramblings of a mad old bastard.”
“So he’s back,” Kylo said, flatly.
“He’s in medbay,” Armitage said with a sigh. Kylo shrugged, holo image fuzzing at the edges a little.
“Still alive. Good. You need him. You didn’t, did you?”
Armitage gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. “No. And thank you,” he said, “for that reminder of my status.”
Kylo scoffed. “You need to make the most of his protection. He holds you back, but he keeps the rancors at bay too.”
The truth of Kylo’s statement hurt Armitage more than his own failure to advance his position much in his father’s absence. Despite his best machinations he’d only gained control of one data processing centre and a few thousand more stormtroopers. His dreams of Brendol returning to find himself surpassed and replaced by his clever son were as insubstantial as cobwebs in the breeze, and they had been blown to shreds along with his ego.
“Well then,” Armitage said sharply. “At least Phasma, the woman he brought back, is potentially an ally. He wants her to replace Cardinal and he can’t see that she detests him. We have had a few very interesting chats.”
“I want to meet her,” Kylo said. “Arrange it.”
“Oh? Are you giving me orders now?” Armitage bristled. “You can attend the next strategy briefing in that case. She’ll be there at Brendol’s shoulder. You can sit with me and all of the other senior ranks and listen to the general’s bluster. I will see to it that you are invited.”
“I am always invited,” Kylo said with a grin. “I simply choose not to waste my time attending. But this time. I will be there.”
Armitage found it impossible to remain angry at Kylo’s slights, especially when Kylo was feeding him with silent promises through the connection they shared. “Remind me why I tolerate you,” he said, without fire.
“Because you like what I do to you,” Kylo said. “If I attended the meeting, I could stay. After.”
“I will see to it that your rooms here are ready for you.” Armitage looked away.
Kylo pulled a sad face. “You don’t want me to stay in yours?”
“It has been so long since I have seen you in person that I have begun to doubt that you want to continue this... this... whatever this is.”
“Then I will convince you,” Kylo said, and Armitage felt his mood lift. He smiled at Kylo.
“You had better be here soon. The meeting is tomorrow morning.”
“Wait,” Kylo said and abruptly ended the holo call.
Armitage stifled the urge to throw his com-link and datapad across the room. Instead he got up from his sofa and put both items safely on the desk before balling his fists and punching the cushion he had just been sitting on.
“And I thought I was the one with anger issues,” came a distorted voice from the doorway.
“Kylo!” Armitage stared at Kylo’s mask.
“You said I should be here soon. Is this soon enough?”
Kylo took off his helmet and laughed, and Armitage desperately fought the return smile that threatened to ruin his perfectly justified bad humour. “You,” he said, advancing on Kylo, “are a complete arse. How long?”
“How long what?”
“Don’t play innocent with me. I know you better than that. How long have you been back on the Absolution?”
Kylo let Armitage get close then swept him into a hug and a bruising kiss. “About an hour. I thought you might prefer that I showered before I came to see you.”
Armitage wrapped his arms around Kyo’s neck, pulled him close and kissed him again slowly, slipping his tongue across Kylo’s lips. “You were wrong,” he said softly.
Armitage clasped Kylo’s hand and led him through the main room to the bedroom. Kylo followed without protest and allowed Armitage to undress him, letting himself be pulled, prodded and turned as Armitage wished to get at fastenings and free him from his layers of fabric. When he stood nude in Armitage’s bedroom, Kylo pulled Armitage a step closer with a gesture.
“You appear to be overdressed,” Kylo said. “You should do something about that.” Armitage unfastened his belt and let it thump to the floor. The rest of his uniform followed quickly. He took Kylo’s hands and walked backwards to the bed, then Kylo scooped him up and dumped him on top, bouncing and giggling.
“I want to hold you down and ride you,” Kylo said, clambering on top of Armitage.
“No,” Armitage said, with a tiny shake of his head.
“No?” Kylo cocked an eyebrow. “You have a better idea?”
“I thought you could read my mind,” Armitage said.
“You told me not to.”
“So now you follow my orders?”
“Hah!” Kylo sat up, straddling Armitage, and ran his hands up and down Armitage’s chest. “Do you want me to try to read your mind? I doubt you’d find the experience... arousing. Easier if you just. Tell me.”
Armitage caught a pink lip between white teeth and worried at it.
“Oh I see,” Kylo said. “It’s like that.”
Armitage frowned and petulance crept into his tone. “Like what?”
“You think you shouldn’t want. Me. Like this. You think it’s wrong.”
Armitage tutted and turned his face away. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Maybe it is. Wrong,” Kylo said slowly, voice dropping in pitch. “Maybe. You’re filthy.” He leaned down, lips close to Armitage’s ear. “To want me to do those things to you.”
Armitage took a shuddering breath and Kylo laughed softly.
“You want me to use you,” he said. “You want me to do all the work while you. Lie here. Helpless.”
Armitage let out a soft moan as he felt his hands raised above his head, wrists firmly gripped in Kylo’s hands.
“Close your eyes. You can’t move your hands. You don’t know why but you just can’t.”
“I can’t,” Armitage echoed.
Kylo’s hands returned to Armitage’s chest for a moment but he still felt their grip on his wrists, even when Kylo’s weight shifted and he heard the drawer of the cabinet beside the bed being pulled open. Warm hands lifted his ankles.
“Your ankles are restrained. Can you feel it?”
Armitage could have sworn he felt something soft gripping around each ankle. He nodded.
He sucked in a breath as a cold, slick finger breached his entrance, thrust a few times, and more cold lube trickled and tickled over his cleft, then he moaned a complaint when the finger was removed. Kylo laughed.
“So impatient,” he said. “I should make you wait. But it has been too long for me too.”
Armitage bit his lip to try to stay silent as he felt Kylo’s cock push inside him.
“That’s what you wanted,” Kylo said. “Isn’t it?”
“Say it,” Kylo demanded. “Or I will stop.”
“Yes, damn it!” Armitage said.
“Tell me what you want,” Kylo said, “or I won’t give it to you.”
“I want—” Armitage said, groaning when Kylo gave a shallow thrust. “This. You. Your... cock in me.”
“There,” Kylo said, leaning down and planting a kiss on Armitage’s cheek. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
Armitage snorted. “You’re already giving me something hard.”
Kylo grinned against Armitage’s lips. “And you like it.”
“I like it,” Armitage confirmed, mumbled through a kiss.
Kylo said, “You can move your ankles enough to put your legs around my waist.”
Armitage found that he wanted to and he could. He gripped tightly to Kylo as Kylo’s thrusts became harder and faster.
“Touch—” Armitage gasped, and Kylo’s warm hand wrapped his cock. Armitage came after a few more thrusts and Kylo sped up until he came too, then collapsed onto Armitage.
“You can move your wrists and ankles now,” Kylo said.
“I know you bantha-brained walking cock.” Armitage laughed. “I always could.”
“Uh-huh?” Kylo said. “You think you’re impervious to mind control?”
“Of course,” Armitage said.
“You want to kiss me,” Kylo said, grinning.
“Well that doesn’t need mind control.” Armitage stroked Kylo’s hair back from his face and kissed him.
“On my hole,” Kylo added, sniggering. Armitage wrestled Kylo face down on the bed, parted his cheeks, touched the tip of his tongue onto Kylo’s pucker then ran to the ‘fresher with Kylo’s laughter behind him.
When Armitage returned, Kylo was lounging in bed. He slipped between the covers.
“Are you staying?”
“You want me to?”
Armitage watched Kylo’s face for a few seconds. “Yes. I hate to admit it, but I missed you.”
“You could have had what’s his name... Opan. Or that nervous looking lieutenant. I think he’d let you have him and stay to cuddle after.”
“I don’t want them,” Armitage said.
“Then I don’t have to kill them,” Kylo replied, smiling.
Armitage sighed. “Sometimes I can’t tell when your twisted sense of humour is having a go,” he said. “Just in case, I forbid you from killing anyone on my personal staff.”
“I’m the only one allowed on your personal staff,” Kylo said, leering. Armitage rolled his eyes.
“Oh do grow up.”
Ten minutes later, the bedroom lights dimming automatically for sleep, Kylo murmured, “Tell me about this woman.”
“What’s she like?”
Armitage wrinkled his nose. “Barbaric. She had a child with her. Poor thing was terrified. I told her she’d be well fed and she’d have her own bunk and new clothes and she’d grow up to be a strong, brave soldier.”
Armitage laughed. “The child, you fool! But Phasma liked that I made an effort to comfort the little one. We have spent some time together. She was excessively defensive at first. Hostile, even. But when she found out I’m not like Brendol she thawed out a bit. More so when I told her I wasn’t interested in instigating sexual activities with her.”
“Interesting,” Kylo said quietly. “I wonder what hold Brendol has over her?”
“Oh it’s not that,” Armitage said. “She told me she rescued him and ket him alive on Parnassos and in return he promised her all sorts of things. Then as soon as they were safely back aboard a First Order ship, he made her watch as he obliterated the surface of her planet.”
Kylo was silent and still.
“Are you asleep?” Armitage opened his eyes to see Kylo staring glassily at the ceiling.
“That was brutal,” Kylo said. “A demonstration of power beyond what she could have imagined.”
“Effective, though. Phasma is as loyal to Brendol as can be expected.”
“Which means?” Kylo turned his head to meet Armitage’s gaze.
“We really have had some very constructive discussions over the past few days,” Armitage said. “We agreed to help each other. And as soon as Brendol is obsolete, we will deal with him. And,” Armitage smiled. “She wants to do the honours.”
Chapter 10: Straight to the point
“You ought to have let me punch that huttfucker’s lights out!”
Red faced and trembling, Armitage stood in the middle of a softly lit, gently clicking and whirring control room with Kylo pinning his arms to his sides.
From just inside the door, out of reach, Phasma took a breath and blew it out in a huff. “No,” she said. “He has already joked in my presence about having me kill you. You can’t do anything until tomorrow when he is away from this ship.”
Armitage wriggled to be free of Kylo’s grip but he was held fast, and calming images eased into his mind. “Stop doing that!” Armitage snapped. “I have every right to be furious!”
“Of course you have,” Kylo said aloud. And then, just for Armitage to hear, “beating Brendol to a bloody pulp in front of the command council and being executed for it would undermine your position far more than his toothless taunts.”
“Sir,” Phasma’s voice cut through the fading remains of his fury. “It will be time to strike. Soon. I crave his death as much as you do.”
Armitage glared at Phasma. “I want Cardinal muzzled. And Brooks and the other imperials like that whey-faced huttfucker Umbine dealt with too. They were far too amused by my father’s insults for me to allow them to go unpunished. Opan?”
The last occupant of the room, silent so far, stepped forward and saluted. “Sir!”
“I have a job for you.” Opan nodded and flicked his gaze from Colonel Hux to Master Ren and back again. “Oh great galaxy, not you too,” Armitage said, anger bursting back into his voice. “Are you looking to Ren for approval to carry out my orders? Should I transfer you from my staff to Ren’s next mission team?”
“No sir!” Opan could not have stood straighter. He focused his attention purely on Armitage.
Armitage felt Kylo Ren’s amusement at the veiled threat to Opan and his influence receded a little from his mind. The tight grip around his body relaxed until it felt more comforting than restrictive.
“Well then. See to it that Cardinal is out of action for a few days at least as soon as Brendol is off the Absolution. I will deal with Admiral Brooks and Colonel Umbine personally and in my own time for their delight at my expense.”
Opan nodded, saluted and marched out. Phasma remained, watching Armitage come down from his frustrated tantrum.
“At the risk of making you angry again,” she said. “Why does being called weak willed, thin as a slip of paper and just as useless raise your hackles so much?”
Kylo’s arms tightened around Armitage again but Armitage sagged, limp until he released his grip.
“It’s a long story,” Armitage said to Phasma. “And not worth the re-telling.”
“Did you notice Admiral Irvo three seats to the left of Brendol?” Phasma said. Kylo looked at her, eyebrows raised.
“Why?” Hux said. “Do I need to add her to my list of imperials to be dealt with?”
“No. I could see that she agreed with you about making changes to the stormtrooper conditioning procedure although she did not speak up in your defence.” Phasma glanced at Ren. “Did you not feel that?”
Kylo nodded. “There were a few others who dared not voice their concerns. About Brendol. Yet. You are making progress, Armitage. Be patient. You can go after your opponents. In due course.”
Armitage shook out his arms and stretched his shoulders and neck. “Very well,” he said. “I will be patient.”
Kylo loomed closer. “Mean it.”
“Of course I mean it,” Armitage spat. “I will not endanger my position for mere personal satisfaction.”
Kylo nodded at Phasma who slipped out of the room and closed the door behind her.
“I need to get the stormtrooper conditioning program away from Brendol as soon as possible,” Armitage said. “Since he’s going to be out of the way for a few days on another recruitment mission I think I can safely make covert enquiries to gauge the level of support for my approach. Admiral Irvo, was it? I think she knew Rae Sloane. I should make an appointment to speak with her. See if she will persuade others on my behalf. Perhaps there is something I can offer her in return.”
“Flattery is your friend, Armitage,” Kylo said. “You have a knack for negotiation. For talking people into doing what you want.” Armitage smiled. “And,” Kylo added with a grin and a kiss that defused Armitage’s anger better than any reasoned argument ever could, “you’re looking very handsome today, and we are all alone in an automated control room.”
Armitage laughed. “Is that why you grabbed me and bundled me in here? To get me alone? And I thought you just wanted to prevent me from punching someone.”
“Be a shame not to take advantage of the situation,” Kylo said. “I won’t see you tonight. Snoke wants me back on the Supremacy and he can tell when you’ve distracted me.”
“Well then,” Armitage said, hands finding Kylo’s belt. “I do so hate to distract you.”
Back in his rooms later, General Hux confirmed as away on an Upsilon with a few stormtroopers and a troop transport to bring back recruits, Armitage requested appointments with the high-ranking officers Kylo said were sympathetic. Then he sipped a rare glass of wine and relaxed in the false warmth it brought, when his com-link beeped with the strident tone reserved for urgent messages from senior officers. He frowned at it. They had agreed on comms silence, the three of them, in case careless messages were seen by the wrong eyes. He thumbed his com-link and almost dropped his glass at the message.
I require to speak with you in observation gallery esk immediately on the orders of General Hux.
It was from Umbine. Perhaps he could insult the colonel by delegating Mitaka to see what this was about. Or send a couple of his own stormtroopers who, conditioned into trusting him absolutely, would not find anything suspicious in his orders to detain the colonel. Armitage brought up a schematic and located the gallery. It was one level above hangar five and used to monitor exercises and simulations launched from that hangar, and secure enough for meetings with guests who arrived there but were not permitted access to the rest of the ship. The hangar log that popped up automatically informed Armitage that one of the shuttles in hangar five was scheduled to transport Colonel Umbine to the Supremacy in the morning on the orders of General Hux. Anger flared in his gut at the sudden thought that Umbine had been sent by Brendol to see Snoke and claim credit for Armitage’s ideas. He grimaced, snarled aloud, checked his weapons and sent an order to Unamo to be ready to set the security cameras for that entire section on idle at his command.
Unamo’s reply came within a minute.
Security feed for gallery esk is already suspended. Reinstate?
So it was a trap, then. Armitage wondered for a moment whether to consult with Kylo Ren and Phasma, but the very idea that his instinct now was to ask for permission to act turned his stomach. He was weak, or at risk of becoming weak, or perceived as weak which were all more or less the same thing. Armitage clenched and unclenched his fists. Well then, he told himself. You ought not to break the agreed comm-silence with Phasma and Ren. And you ought not to let this matter lie unattended. Let’s see what the fool wants.
First, he replied to Unamo.
No. Stand by. Security protocol aurek-three. Umbine.
Gallery esk was a short distance from Armitage’s rooms. He replied to Umbine to expect him in thirty minutes, knowing it would take him at most fifteen. Sure enough, when he arrived Umbine appeared startled.
“Colonel Umbine,” Armitage said sharply as he marched in. “I assume this is important? I am not accustomed to responding to summons like this.”
“Armitage,” Umbine said, walking forward, making Armitage suppress his temper at the uninvited use of his first name, something his father’s cronies did publicly to undermine him. “I will get straight to the point. This meeting is your final warning from your fa—”
Armitage laughed and lunged. “Straight to the point! You certainly did get straight to the point.”
Umbine’s mouth gaped, his eyes stared wide open and his hands flapped uselessly at his belly as he doubled over. Armitage pulled his blade free and sunk it in again, hard, under the ribs but angled up. Blood bubbled hot and frothy from Umbine’s open mouth and gurgled from the wounds Armitage had opened in his chest and stomach, staining his grey uniform shiny black. Armitage shifted the knife deeper then pulled free. Umbine was dead before he hit the floor. Armitage took a minute to peel off his blood-soaked gloves and drop them then checked his uniform, washed his blade and re-sheathed it. There were a few small, dark spots on his sleeve but nothing that would stand out in the dimly lit corridors of the Absolution. As he left the room, he locked it and sent two comms.
Clean up gallery esk immediately, send Mitaka to report in person when complete. Acknowledge.
Purge comms -30. Reinstate suspended security feed +60. Acknowledge.
For the next forty minutes, Armitage paced his rooms with his tunic off and his head buzzing from the excitement of the execution he had just carried out. He calmed a little when his com-link beeped and there was one new message, from Kylo, preceded by over thirty minutes of no activity. The thought of communicating with Ren made his stomach flutter. He tapped the message.
I can feel your elevated emotions. What happened?
Armitage giggled and covered his mouth. As he was about to reply, his door chimed and Mitaka’s code registered. He balled his fists tightly to calm himself by focusing on the pain then opened the door. Mitaka stared.
“Well?” Armitage demanded.
“Sir,” Mitaka said, saluting. “Captain Opan requested that I bring you a message.”
“Oh, you better come in then.” Armitage stepped aside and then realised he was half undressed. “What is the message?”
“He said to tell the colonel in person that his orders have been carried out with complete success.”
“Thank you, lieutenant.” Armitage suppressed a smile at being simply the colonel to his team while Mitaka’s eyes struggled up to meet his cool gaze. “Dismissed.”
Kylo Ren arrived a few minutes later.
“What did you do?” he said in lieu of hello sweetheart and how is your evening?
Armitage gave a supercilious little smile. “I dealt with a problem. Personally.”
Kylo’s eyes narrowed and he barged into Armitage’s space. “Tell me. I felt your thoughts from four decks away.”
“You tell me, then!” Armitage crowed. “I won’t be called weak. I won’t stand for it.”
Kylo closed his eyes. “It was... it was intoxicating. I felt your... your intensity in the darkness. Your—”
“I saw to it that—”
“Show me!” Kylo clasped his hands around Armitage’s head. Armitage fought, pushing and kicking, until Kylo leapt back out of range. “Not like that! I promised. I won’t take except what you choose to give. Show me. Share it with me.”
Kylo sat on the sofa and patted his lap. Armitage raised his eyebrows.
“Really? You want me to sit on your lap and let you see my darkest thoughts?”
“Yes,” Kylo said. “Please.”
Armitage looked at Kylo’s expectant face, sighed and walked over. He knelt on the sofa, straddling Kylo’s lap and said, “Very well. What do I need to do?”
“Just relax,” Kylo said, placing his hands on the sides of Armitage’s head again. “Recall what you did. Concentrate on all the details. Miss nothing out.”
Armitage closed his eyes, rested his hands on Kylo’s shoulders and smiled. If anything, his memory of the murder was even more lurid than the reality. At the part where he felt Umbine’s hot blood soak into his glove as he pulled the blade out only to sink it in again, even more deadly, Armitage leaned forward, forehead resting on Kylo’s, and presented an image so bloody that there could be no doubt of his delight in the act. Kylo gasped and tilted his head and, barely realising what he was doing, Armitage claimed his lips in a passionate kiss.
Kylo withdrew from Armitage’s head and Armitage wished he knew how to hold on to Kylo’s presence. “You’re impressed,” he said. “I could tell.”
“I’m appalled,” Kylo replied without feeling. “I thought you were all talk. Got others to do your dirty work.”
“Liar,” Armitage kissed Kylo again. “I sensed your excitement as you felt my blade sink into his flesh and pierce his lung.”
“You could have ruined everything,” Kylo said, deflecting a kiss with a turn of his head. “You will make your father suspicious if you kill everyone who insults you.”
“Oh pfassk, Ren. He’s suspicious of me anyway. Why else would I have been summoned to a secret meeting, if it wasn’t so that Umbine could quietly dispose of me?”
“And when he fails to report back to Brendol?”
“I am not a fool, Kylo. This was a plan, primed and perfectly executed, not a juvenile knee-jerk reaction. My team is prepared for such circumstances. Security footage will show that he was never in that area of the ship. He will be found to have commandeered a small transport and launched from hangar ten after logging a falsified flight plan. He’s a filthy, cowardly deserter.”
Kylo held Armitage’s face and looked into his eyes for a few seconds. “You’ve done this before,” he said.
“I know how to deal with my enemies,” Armitage said slowly. “This was an opportunity exploited, not a hasty, unthought act. There are gains to be made from Umbine’s demise.”
Kylo appeared unconvinced. Armitage sighed. “Look, Umbine oversees a significant portion of the stormtrooper program for Brendol. I will cover for his dereliction of duty, and as soon as his desertion is known I will absorb his duties officially. Cardinal will be marginalised when I deploy Phasma to take over the senior trooper training and by the time Brendol realises what has happened he will be powerless to do anything about it. Especially,” Armitage said with a grin, “when I will be returning from the Supremacy with Snoke’s approval because Starkiller is making such excellent progress that he may want to reward me by listening to my ideas for trooper training too.”
“And how are you going to get Snoke’s approval?” Kylo asked, wary.
Armitage laughed. “Well now, that’s where you come in. Assuming I don’t distract you too much tonight, that is.”