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follow me (and i will bring you home)

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“Please,” Kylo breathes.

(You’re not alone, he says, and he pulls off his black leather glove and reaches out.)

(Luke’s face, old and weary. No more Jedi, no more Sith.)

She takes his hand.



The Praetorians are dead. Snoke is dead.

The majority of the Resistance is dead.

Rey wonders if Leia is on one of the few transports that made it; if Finn is still alive, out there, floating down to the planet’s surface. What would they think of her, if they learned what she’s done?

But no, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that there is conflict still in Kylo’s soul (Ben Solo is still in there, somewhere), and she is the only one who has a chance to turn him. To save him.

(your twin in the Light, Snoke had said.)

She has to do this. She’s seen this future--just one of the many possible futures, she knows, but this one, it’s the (riskiest, most dangerous, most likely to fail) only chance she has, the last chance. (She could’ve gone for the lightsaber instead, fought, fled, met up with Chewie again, gone to help the Resistance, but Kylo--Ben--would be entirely Dark, with no hope of saving him, no hope of bringing him back to the Light. And there’s still Light in him, somewhere, there’s still humanity, she saw it, when they spoke, and even now, he saved her life, that has to mean something.)

(She has to tell Leia that she’s here, still working for the Resistance, even if it’s in a far less obvious way.)

Footsteps echo from the corridor leading to the… throne room, or whatever it’s called, she’s not sure. Boots. But it’s not the regular clacking tread of stormtroopers, and there’s only a single set, so… whoever it is, they aren’t coming to restrain her again. At least, so she hopes.

Kylo looks over at her, frowning a little, and then he looks back to the entrance, just as General Hux steps through, black uniform as polished as ever. Hux stops short at the sight of Snoke’s body, looking between Rey and Kylo nervously, opening his mouth to speak--

“Pursue the Resistance,” Kylo says first, an order. “Get down to that planet and trap them. Do not let them get offworld. I will be there shortly with more instructions.”

“That’s my army you’re ordering around,” Hux responds, sharp and angry and a little bit afraid (but not afraid enough). “The Supreme Leader is dead--”

Kylo twitches his fingers.

Hux flies halfway across the room, coming to a stop just a few feet from Rey; his hands go to his throat almost immediately, like he can’t breathe. (She considers intervening, for just a moment, but Hux is First Order and is responsible for so many deaths, so much destruction, he’s a monster, and she decides she doesn’t care if he chokes to death or not.)

Kylo turns, slowly, leveling Hux with a cold, dark, dangerous stare. “The Supreme Leader is dead,” he echoes, and his voice and eyes speak the threat sinuously twined around the words.

The general falls to his knees, chokes out, “Long live the Supreme Leader.”

As soon as the words leave his mouth, Kylo releases Hux, dismissing him in silence. The general barely even takes a moment to recover, just staggers back to his feet and strides out of the throne room with as much dignity as possible. It’s only when he’s completely gone that Rey speaks.

“You can’t go after the Resistance,” she says, noting the way his head snaps around to look at her, to meet her eyes. “My friends are down there, you have to let them go.”

He considers her for a moment. “I will do my best to spare your friends,” he says, finally. And then, switching gears: “Come with me, we can talk somewhere more comfortable.”

And that’s more than she’d really expected to get out of him, honestly (even though she’d hoped that maybe he’d give up on the First Order), so she nods agreement and follows him out of the room, carefully avoiding the bodies of the Praetorians littering the floor, lightsaber clutched in her palm.

Kylo takes her out of the room and into the corridor, leading her back towards the turbolift they’d ascended in. His steps are even, measured, and fit her stride exactly; a part of Rey wonders at how matched they are (twins, Snoke had said, Force twins, but what does that mean, exactly?). She pushes it aside, though. It doesn’t matter right now.

Her arms hurts.

She tries to push that away, too, because this is not the time to be distracted by injuries, but it’s hard, now that the adrenaline is starting to fade. She makes a face, glancing down at the cut, more annoyed than anything else.

“How’s your arm?” Kylo asks, noticing her look. “I can have the med-droid work on it, or there are some bacta patches and painkillers in my--”

“Bacta and painkillers are fine,” she interrupts. “It’s nothing much, it just stings.”

He nods, thoughtful, and then comes to a stop in front of the turbolift; he presses the button and the doors slide open. “After you,” he says, gesturing with one arm.

Rey steps into the turbolift, turning to watch as he follows her in and touches another button. The doors hiss shut and the turbolift descends a few floors before stopping and opening again on a corridor that’s entirely deserted.

(you’re important to me, he says, and somehow she knows he means it…)

“Master Skywalker didn’t want me to come,” she says abruptly, leaving the turbolift behind. “But he wouldn’t leave his island. Not even for his sister.”

Kylo doesn’t speak, just nods, as though he’d expected that. The silence stretches out again, until he stops by a door and keys in a code to the keypad, unlocking the door. It’s only once he’s through the threshold, turning to look over his shoulder (like he’s making sure she’s actually following him, still), that he speaks again. “Why did you come?” he asks, and there’s something strange in his eyes.

(Unsaid: why did you stay?)

She hesitates. How can she explain the complicated thought process that led to her stealing the Jedi texts and flying away, then jettisoning an escape pod into Snoke’s star destroyer? “It’s… complicated,” she finally answers, and that’s just the first question. She doesn’t even know how to answer the second, unsaid one.

“We have plenty of time,” he says with a carefully casual shrug, closing the door behind her and stepping away.

Rey doesn’t answer right away, instead taking a moment to look around the room. It’s spacious, of course, all sleek, clean lines; there’s a messy bed shoved up against one wall, a couple chairs against another, a low table between them, and a door leading to a ‘fresher (or so she assumes) on another wall. Other than that, there’s not much in the room, just a dresser and an extra pair of black leather boots (the left one in one corner, the right one near the door to the ‘fresher, both just laying like they were thrown against the wall in a fit of anger and forgotten). It’s… definitely not exactly what she’d expected.

“You can sit down,” Kylo adds, crossing the room and kneeling by the bed, reaching under it and pulling out a medkit in a red box, which he brings over and sets on the low table between the chairs.

She does sit down, then, if only because she’s tired from the fighting (and from Snoke throwing her around), and watches him closely. Her lightsaber stays in her hand. He sits down too, in the other chair, rummages through the medkit and pulls out a bacta patch and some alcohol wipes. She starts to reach for the supplies, but he pulls back, shaking his head.

“Let me,” he offers, and she searches his eyes for a moment, seeing nothing but honest sincerity, before she relents and extends her arm.

“I sensed the conflict in you,” she says, watching as he pulls off his gloves and rips open the package of alcohol wipes, pulling one out and unfolding it.

“And you hoped to turn me,” he finishes, nodding. One hand reaches out, gently encircles her arm at the elbow, holding it still, while the other cleans the cut off with the wipe. He stays silent for a minute, focusing, and then his gaze flicks up from her arm to meet hers. “No.”

She swallows. “I…” and she shouldn’t be saying this, has no right to say this, “He’s afraid of me, he wouldn’t teach me, and…” Her voice trails off, unsure of how to finish the sentence. And what?

Kylo’s grip on her elbow tightens just a bit, a flash of anger passing over his face before he turns away, busying himself with the bacta patch, letting go of her arm to get the pouch open. He doesn’t look back at her, even when he puts the bacta patch over the cut on her arm with surprising gentleness, and when he speaks his voice is distorted by something she can only describe as rage.

“He has no right to refuse you,” he breathes out, barely above a whisper, and his jaw is clenched. And then he takes a forced deep breath, a bit of the tension leaving his muscles. “You need a teacher.” This time, his voice is a bit closer to normal.

“Obviously,” she says back, with some asperity. “But there’s no one else who can.”

He goes still, in the middle of putting the medkit back together, and very very slowly he turns to look over at her again.

“I can.”

[=|=]

He still can’t quite believe she’s here.

He’d thought for sure that she would turn her back on him, after Snoke’s death, after fighting the Praetorians; after all, it’s not exactly a secret that her goal is to turn him, to bring him back to the Light, and he hadn’t responded when she’d tried to get him to stop the attack on the Resistance transports. But he’d had to offer, to reach out to her, even if the chance was almost nonexistent that she’d actually take his hand (just because he’s seen the future where she joins him, where she is the one to turn, doesn’t mean much--after all, the choice is still before the both of them). He’d had to.

(you’re not alone, he’d told her, and she’d stared at him with those dark eyes and murmured, neither are you.)

He’s not a fool. He knows the dangers of this path. After all, his position as Supreme Leader isn’t exactly secure, with Hux already openly defying him, and the Force is clear in this one thing: one of them will turn.

Force twins, though… he hadn’t expected that. It just makes this choice even more dangerous--she is his equal in strength, in power--and yet…

It’s risky, keeping her so near. He knows, without a doubt, that Rey is the only one who could turn him. But so too is he the only one who can turn her, and he has had more training, more time under a Master--thus, he will be better able to resist.

(Or so he hopes.)

He nearly breaks something at the news that Skywalker refused to teach her, because of fear; he wants nothing more, in that moment, to pull out his lightsaber and cut the stupid table in front of him to very small pieces. It’s only the knowledge of how she would view that move that keeps his anger contained, that lets him master it (well, to an extent, anyway--enough to at least speak semi normally).

“You need a teacher,” he says, focusing intently on putting the medkit back together, closing the lid, not sure he wants to see the look on her face.

“Obviously,” she answers, almost sharply. “But there’s no one else who can.”

And he has an idea.

Very slowly, he turns to look at her again, weighing the words before he speaks them, before he makes this offer (and this could change everything, this could be his chance). “I can.”

Kylo keeps his eyes on her, trying to gauge her reaction--surprise, uncertainty, and yes, there’s some curiosity too, some eagerness. She wants to.

“I’m not going to turn,” she says, after a moment, and he nearly laughs, holds it back with strength of will.

“One of us will,” and then, unable to hold it back, he grins. “With the two of us side-by-side, nothing can stand in our way.”

There’s a pause.

“What are you going to do with the Resistance?” she asks after a bit.

He shrugs. “The Resistance is decimated, weaponless, trapped with no way to escape. They have no hope. I will leave a star destroyer or two here, with enough of a force to easily hold the rebels back. A siege, of sorts. Eventually the Resistance will have to give in.”

“And my friends?”

“I said I would do my best to spare them, didn’t I?” He frowns at her. “If I ordered an attack, I would have no way of controlling if your friends die or not.”

She nods, understanding, or so he thinks. “What are you--we--going to do?”

“Limp this destroyer back to the nearest planet and I’ll see from there.” He shrugs again, just a lift of one shoulder. “Train.” He hesitates, debating about the wisdom of his next words.

(neither are you, and she extends one hand, cautious, but with a fire in her eyes, and he can’t help but believe her.)

“I need to go arrange a few things,” he starts, watching her carefully. “But after, I’d like to talk, some, to… get to know you.” He stops, there, unable to get the words out the rest of the way.

She nods, though, even if her hand still doesn’t let go of her lightsaber. “I would be up for that,” she says, and he can’t entirely conceal the rush of relief her words bring.

“Good,” he says, standing, taking the medkit back to its place under his bed. “Wait here, I’ll be back soon.”

He looks over at her, once, to make sure she’s going to listen (he thinks she is, but really, who knows what she’s going to do), and then he heads to the door, and, beyond that, the bridge.

He has orders to give.

[=|=]

Cross-legged on the flat stone at the pinnacle of the island, Luke Skywalker stretches out into the Force, opening himself up fully. After so many years, it feels a bit like coming home (even though home is forever denied him, and would be even if Han wasn’t--dead). He relaxes, closing his eyes, and sends his mind out to drift on the currents, seeking a specific signature in the Force.

Rey.

He should’ve stopped that foolhardy plan of hers, to confront Ben--Kylo (his nephew) and try to turn him. Kylo is beyond her, beyond anyone--if even Han couldn’t do it, then how could Rey?

Guilt, the old familiar friend, settles even more heavily about his shoulders; he’s long since stopped fighting it, instead choosing to accept the weight of everything he has done. And then--

Flashes of a battle filter to him, through the Force, Rey and Kylo together and Snoke… dead? He doesn’t even have time to ponder this before another realization hits him:

Rey is still with Kylo.

Luke Skywalker sucks in a sharp breath, thinking of his X-wing, still hidden beneath the waters; he thinks of Leia, of seeing her again, of the fact that if he does die here, she will be the last of the Skywalkers.

Something has shifted, in the Force, the futures he had seen earlier dissolved like morning mist. His illusions won’t be enough, not now.

The Force isn’t ready to take him, just yet.

With a heavy sigh, Luke opens his eyes, unfolding his old bones, and turns back towards the long stairs and his X-wing.

At least R2 will be happy.

Chapter Text

Rey is half-asleep in the chair in Kylo’s room when the door hisses open again, drawing her attention. She opens her eyes, hand tensing on her lightsaber even as she knows it’s unlikely to be a threat (is Kylo a threat? she still isn’t certain), and glances over at the door. Sure enough, it’s Kylo, looking both tired and annoyed.

“The destroyer is moving,” he informs her, dropping his black cloak on the floor and leaving it there before collapsing into the other chair. He stays there for a moment before leaning forward and pulling off his boots, slowly, and then leaning his head back and staring up at the ceiling.

“Where are we going?” she asks, looking at him, frowning a little bit at his exhausted demeanor.

He shrugs, just a slight lift of his shoulders. “Away from Crait.”

There’s a pause.

“I know I said we would talk,” he finally starts, “but there’s a long hyperspace flight, and the fight earlier was… tiring.”

Rey nods, even though he’s not looking at her; she’s been feeling the same way. “I don’t think I’ve used the Force that much in such a short period of time… ever. It’s more exhausting than I expected.”

He lifts his head, looks over at her, something like worry in his dark eyes. “Your body isn’t used to channeling the Force so constantly,” he explains. “You need to rest.”

She frowns, raises an eyebrow. “Where, exactly?”

Kylo stares at her. “We’re on board the Supremacy,” he says, sarcasm dripping from every word. “I’m sure there’s an available room. In fact, I happen to know that the room just down the corridor is unused.” He waits a beat before continuing: “The keycode is zero-four-eight-one, by the way.”

Rey rolls her eyes, but accepts the code and stands, crossing the room in a few neat strides. She pauses before the door, hesitant. Unsure.

(you’re nothing. but not to me, and the gentle touch of his hand on her injured arm)

“Ben,” she starts, looking over her shoulder; his eyes snap up to hers, nervously curious, and she lets the barest trace of a smile slip onto her face. “Thank you. For everything.”

And then she turns and leaves the room.

 

 

The room is almost a carbon copy of Kylo’s.

She doesn’t take the time to appreciate it, just strips off her boots and her top layer of clothes. She ought to make use of the personal ‘fresher and take a shower, but… that can wait until after she’s slept some, can’t it?

She’s not quite sure where all this exhaustion came from, but it weighs heavy on her shoulders, and she can’t shake it off. And maybe it is just from the strain of using the Force so much in such a short period of time (and so soon after Snoke’s torture), but Rey can’t quite believe that. It just doesn’t quite fit.

Still, whatever it is, she’s too tired to wonder much about it now. And it really doesn’t matter, not in the grand scheme of things; so she shoves it out of her mind, reaching out and pulling the blankets back and sliding into the bed.

There’s so much to think about that she isn’t sure she’ll be able to shut her mind off enough to sleep, but the moment her head hits the pillow, sleep overcomes her.

[=|=]

Ben--no, Kylo-- sits on the edge of his bed and stares at the door as though he can bring Rey back by his gaze alone. Not that he really wants to--she needs the sleep, he can feel that as strongly as he feels his own exhaustion--but because when she’s in the room, everything becomes so much… easier. Less fractured. Which, he thinks, should scare him, but for some reason it doesn’t.

(It’s like the constant pull of Light and Dark eases, when she’s around, letting him think clearly, something he hadn’t realized he needs until he’d met her.)

He wonders if she’s noticed the connection, yet.

It’s different, the… bond, for lack of a better term. Different from how it’d been before, with a good piece of the galaxy between them, those conversations Snoke had said he’d facilitated (all to lure Rey to him). Now, he can feel her emotions, in a corner of his mind, and the longer he’s around her the stronger it gets. In fact, he’s got no doubts that half (or more) of the reason she’s as tired as she is is because he’s so tired.

Kylo flops onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. He curbs the impulse to go check on Rey (she’s not just going to up and leave, after everything) and closes his eyes. (He could speak to her, mind to mind, if he wanted to. It would be easy-- but no. She needs her sleep.)

Hux is not happy. It will only be a matter of time before the general organizes some kind of mutiny, an uprising to remove Kylo from power; he wouldn’t be worried at all, if only he could be sure that Rey will stand beside him when that time comes. They haven’t spoken much of the Resistance, yet, but he knows she hates the First Order (she should hate him too, he’s every bit the monster she accused him of being), and she isn’t going to agree with him being Supreme Leader. They’ll have to have a conversation about that whole thing, in a bit; he needs to know what her plan is, if she’s going to stay (when she’s going to leave).

And he’s going to have to figure out what to do with Skywalker, too, and she’ll not really appreciate that, either.

This is going to be difficult.


“If it isn’t my erstwhile apprentice,” the dreaded voice hisses out, dark and dangerous. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

He swallows. He’s learned the hard way that silence is (almost) always better than saying the wrong thing--and sometimes, just speaking at all is the wrong thing. And what is there to say? His Master put his faith in him, and yet again he’s failed. This time, even worse than the previous failings… meaning the punishment is going to be worse, too.

There’s nothing to say.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to try and explain anyway, to list out the complicated reasons he’d failed, but he keeps his mouth sealed shut. There’s nothing to say.

His Master shifts, but he doesn’t dare look up, instead keeping his focus solidly on the mirrored black floor beneath his knees. “You failed me.”

“Yes,” he breathes, barely whispering the word.

“You failed me because you still cannot let go of the past. You still cling to Ben Solo. Perhaps you regret your choice, wish to return to Skywalker…?”

“No!” He shouts it, nearly, and jerks his gaze up to his Master. “Please, Master, show me the darkness again.  Help me bury the Light.”

“You deserve punishment for your failure.” His Master’s voice goes softer, more deadly. “I could cast you out, leave you on a planet somewhere without a ship. You would be free of me. That’s what you want, isn’t it?” A pause, heavy with meaning. “Maybe you think you could return to your parents, if I let you go. Do you really think either of them will accept you, after everything you’ve done?”

He chokes (and this is all on his own, has nothing to do with the Force) and drops his eyes again, feeling the truth deep in his bones. He has no one, now. He has failed them all--his mother, his father, his uncle… “Please, Master,” he whispers, begging, although he’s not entirely sure what for (please don’t abandon me, please don’t leave me).

“You are lucky I am so merciful,” his Master says. “Where would you go if I did decide to cast you out? You are nothing. Ben Solo is nothing. It is only because of me that you have meaning. You should be grateful to your Master.”

The sound of boots, accompanied by the hiss-crack of one of the Praetorian Guards’ lightsaber whips activating, echoes in his ears. He takes a deep breath, steadying himself, preparing himself. He deserves this. He has failed. (He is such a monster that his family wants nothing to do with him anymore, that his uncle wants him dead.) (He deserves death, worse than death.)

The whip cracks down across his back, a line of pure fire, agony exploding across his skin, again and again and again, and he holds the screams inside until his throat burns from the effort, and still the whip comes (it hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts)--

And he takes the pain, the self-loathing, all of it, holds it close, lets it burn through him until all trace of Ben Solo is gone, and still he clutches at it, letting it fuel the Dark, spreading through his mind and his blood--

[if you’re going to wake me up with a nightmare, the least you could do is give me the code to your room.]

Kylo jerks awake with a stifled scream, a sharp intake of breath, skin on fire from remembered pain. [one-seven-three-nine,] he thinks, pushing the words through the bond between him and Rey, not really considering the consequences, still trying to breathe.

He’s still sprawled out on the bed (he must’ve fallen asleep, earlier) in his clothes, on top of the blankets, one arm hanging off the edge of the bed. He sits up, slowly, forcing deep, even breaths, attempting to calm his racing heartbeat, reaching for some semblance of calm. There’s an odd pressure behind his eyes; he presses one hand to his temples, covering his eyes (he can still taste blood).

The door opens.

He stiffens, but doesn’t look up, not sure he wants to see the look on Rey’s face. “I didn’t mean to wake you,” is all he says, in a low voice, finally dropping his hand from his face.

There’s a moment of silence.

“How are we still connected?” Rey asks quietly, coming towards him. “Snoke said--”

“I don’t know,” he interrupts. He’s too sharp, too heavy, and he winces a little, waits for her to turn and leave.

But she doesn’t.

She stops, a meter or so from the bed, studying him (he can feel her gaze). “That wasn’t a nightmare, it was a memory,” she says, quiet still, something almost soft in her voice.

It’s not a question, not really, but he answers it anyway, with a jerky nod. He doesn’t trust his voice.

“He’s wrong. Snoke.”

Kylo snaps his head up, staring at her. “What?”

“Your mother, Leia…” She hesitates, biting her lip. “She still loves you.”

A wry smirk twists his lips, ever so slightly. “No. She loves Ben.”

“She still loves you,” Rey repeats, nodding as though he’s proved her point.

“Ben is gone,” he says, and he does not hesitate on the last word, he doesn’t. Ben is gone.

(then why does his stomach flutter every time Rey calls him by his birth name?)

“Nothing is ever completely gone.”

“You sound like Skywalker,” he mutters before he can think better of it.

Her lips curve upwards, just a little bit, a half-smile, but she doesn’t say anything, just watches him for another long moment. And then she crosses the last of the space between them, gingerly sitting down on the foot of the bed, like she’s afraid he’ll send her away. (She should know by now that he’ll never send her away, not willingly.) Instead, he scoots backwards just a bit, and crosses his legs, making room for her to sit cross-legged and face him.

“You didn’t deserve that… punishment,” Rey says, after a moment, still studying his face. She spits the last word out like it’s poison.

He can’t help but look away.

“Ben…”

And, like she’s a magnet and he’s durasteel, his gaze is drawn back to her, once again (and he can’t keep his eyes from flicking to her lips, for the briefest of seconds), and he can’t help but feel like he may have underestimated her… ability to convince him of something.

He might be in trouble here.

“It’s the past,” he finally says, watching her face. “It doesn’t matter.”

Rey leans forward just a little bit, her voice dropping, and breathes, “Then why does it still hurt?”

[=|=]

It’s been years since he’s touched the controls of any ship.

The skill is still there, though it’s rusty, a bit slow (he’s not quite ready for any space battles); it feels natural (like the hilt of a lightsaber in his hand) and soothing and he can’t really remember anymore why he gave this all up.

(That’s a lie--of course he remembers. But more and more, he’s starting to wonder why he walked away from everything.)

He doesn’t need a beacon to find the Resistance; he just taps into his bond with Leia and follows the Force. It leads him to Crait, the old Rebel outpost--a barren planet, somehow beautiful in its simplicity… and surrounded by star destroyers.

As though things weren’t already complicated enough.

It takes some fancy flying, of the kind his fingers barely remember how to do, but Luke manages to sneak past the destroyers and neatly land the X-wing near the back entrance he vaguely remembers from his brief exploration of the old base. It’s been blocked by a rockfall, but that’s not really too difficult to handle; he moves the rocks to the side and strides into the tunnels, following the Force.

She’s sitting on a stool, staring at her hands, when he walks in.

The entire room goes still, conversations falling silent, eyes turning to him (he sees recognition and awe in some, and he can’t quite meet those gazes), but his step doesn’t falter. He comes to a standstill in front of her, putting his hood down at last, and then he reaches for another stool and pulls it underneath him so he can sit down.

“Luke,” she says, staring.

He opens his mouth to speak--

“I know what you’re going to say,” she adds, cutting him off before he can get a word out. With a ghostly smile, she gestures at her head. “I changed my hair.”

“It’s nice,” he says, smiling despite himself, and then: “Leia. I’m sorry.”

“I know you are,” Leia answers, so calm and honest.

He reaches out, takes her hand, dropping the dice into her palm and squeezing before pulling back. “Snoke is dead… Rey is still with Kylo.” He hesitates. “She thinks she can turn him.”

“Can she?”

His silence is all the answer she needs. “It’s possible,” he finally admits, and then he lowers his voice, leans forward. “Leia, they have a Force bond.”

She pales, a bit, face muscles tightening, her fist closing around the dice.

He swallows and continues. “As for whether or not she can turn him… I think she’s the only one who has a chance.”

Leia takes a deep breath, and something shifts in her face. “Are you staying, Luke?”

He nods.

“Then let Rey do what she must.”

He nods somberly and adds, in an undertone, “I just hope we don’t lose her.”

Chapter Text

“We’re on opposite sides of a galactic war,” Rey says quietly, staring down at her hands. “How is this going to work, Ben?”

“I don’t know.” Honest, blunt, straight to the point. “But we’ll figure it out. We can do this, Rey.”

She looks up at him, meets his eyes, and Kylo can tell she’s not entirely convinced, but that’s okay. He doesn’t need her to be one-hundred percent convinced, as long as she’s willing to give him a chance. That’s all he needs, a chance to make things work, a chance to make it all right.

“Hux is going to turn on me,” he says abruptly, watching her face closely. There’s surprise, but not as much as he was expecting, and she’s listening, and that gives him the courage to go on. “He hates me. And I need him--I am… not good at strategy.” He stops there, waiting to see her reaction.

She stays silent for a long moment, considering, and then she sighs. “I’m not going to stop him from leading a mutiny,” she starts, and his stomach drops, but she’s not done talking. “But I’m not going to let anyone kill you.”

He blinks, surprised. “If it comes to a fight…”

She nods. “I’ll fight with you, Ben. I told you I’ll help you, remember?”

He does remember. Can’t forget, in fact. Every one of their interactions is stored up inside his mind, a catalogue of her, of Rey, of everything she’s ever said to him (everything he said back). The few moments they were alone, in the turbolift, stick out more prominently than the rest (he’d thought about kissing her, then).

Of course he remembers.

“You want me to turn,” he finally says. “That’s what you want to help me with.”

Rey rolls her eyes. “You can’t turn if you’re dead.” And then she softens, quiets. “I want to help you, to keep you alive, and yes, to turn you, because I care for you. For Ben Solo.”

“I am not Ben Solo!” Kylo snarls the words, driven to anger (and why can’t he just be quiet, and accept this, because how long has he been wanting to hear those words).

(It’s not just anger, but fear hastily turned into anger. He’s too vulnerable.)

“You are,” she breathes, leaning forward. “When you’re around me. Ben Solo is still there, underneath everything. Snoke taught you to fear and hate him, and you did, you do, but you could never completely bury him.”

He shakes his head firmly. (His hands are shaking.) How dare she act like she knows him, like… like she can see his heart. “Ben Solo is dead.” He spits the words out, hard and furious (he is not afraid, he is not afraid), hands clenching into fists. “You know nothing.”

“If Ben Solo is dead, where does all that self-hatred come from?” She doesn’t give him a chance to answer (not that he knows what to say). “You hate yourself, and use that self-hatred to make you stronger--”

“Shut up!” He practically shouts the words, gesturing with two fingers at the same time, using the Force to shove Rey off the bed (she’s right she’s right she’s right); in almost the same motion he jumps up to stand by the side of the bed.

Rey staggers, but she catches herself, somehow landing on her feet. She’s not even fazed. “Snoke is dead because of Ben Solo,” she says. “I fought the Praetorian guards with Ben Solo. I am here because of Ben Solo.” She sucks in a breath, takes a step closer. “I didn’t leave  the island against Master Skywalker’s advice for Kylo Ren. I didn’t see Kylo’s future--I saw Ben’s.”

She probably would’ve kept going, but he doesn’t give her the chance. “Ben Solo is dead!” He hurls the words into her beautiful, stupid face. And she still doesn’t get it, she doesn’t understand , she doesn’t see it, doesn’t see the monster in him, and his lightsaber is in his hand without a conscious thought (she’s wrong, he’ll prove it) and the unstable, fiery red blade hisses to life. He lifts it, stalking towards her, opening his mouth (to say what, he doesn’t know, another denial, or maybe an insult)--

“I am not afraid of you, Ben.” Rey holds her ground, staring up at him, and her voice is so quiet, so soft, but determined and firm and--

What is he doing?

He jerks back, as though stung, and deactivates his lightsaber; and then he spins and hurls the thing across the room. His anger fades away as quickly as it had come, and he stands, frozen, unable to turn back to look at her, hiding from their bond. He doesn’t want to know what she’s feeling. Barely above a whisper: “You should be.”

She steps closer; he can see, just barely, in his peripheral vision, as she lifts one hand and ghosts it across his cheek, following the line of the scar she gave him, in the forest. A shiver crawls down his spine and he holds absolutely still. Why is she doing this? He’s just almost attacked her, she should be running, she should be afraid.

“I’m not in the habit of running from things that I know aren’t going to hurt me,” she says, like she’s picked up on his thoughts (and maybe she has, it’s not like either of them know anything about the bond between them).

He turns, facing her again (she doesn’t move her hand. he’s not sure why that’s of such importance, but he can’t stop noticing it), meeting her clear hazel gaze, trying to impress as much seriousness on her as possible. “Rey. You don’t know.”

“Of course I do.” Rey smiles, just barely, the corners of her lips turning upwards (and why is he looking at her lips again?). “I can feel it.”

[=|=]

It takes Rey a minute to realize what the dream is--that it’s not, in fact, her dream. If she concentrates, she can feel Kylo’s mind, pressed up against hers (so Snoke was lying, then, about the bond being his creation?); so she listens to the play of his emotions, his thoughts, and suddenly things begin to fall into place.

She stays passively silent for as long as she can, but when the Praetorian guard begins to whip Kylo’s back, she can’t stay silent any longer. So she projects, firmly, into his mind: [if you’re going to wake me up with a nightmare, the least you could do is give me the code to your room.]

She’s on her feet and in the corridor, heading for his room, by the time he responds; she enters the keycode and slips inside, moving over towards the bed.

And before she knows it, she’s sitting cross-legged in front of him on the foot of his bed, the nightmare pushed aside, talking about the Resistance. “We’re on opposite sides of a galactic war,” she says, resting her hands in her lap and staring down at them as though they hold all the answers. “How is this going to work, Ben?”

“I don’t know,” he answers, and she tries not to be surprised by the honesty. “But we’ll figure it out. We can do this, Rey.”

He sounds so sure, so desperate to be sure, that she doesn’t fight, but she looks back up at him and she knows he knows she doesn’t entirely believe him. “Hux is going to turn on me,” he continues, abrupt and rough-edged. She’s not surprised, not entirely; she’d almost expected it, really. “He hates me. And I need him--I am… not good at strategy.”

That, she’s almost certain, is a lie. Or, at least, he’s not good at the First Order’s kind of strategy. Which is very different from not being good at strategy at all. He’s waiting for a response, though, so she considers the implications of the statement for a moment before sighing. “I’m not going to stop him from leading a mutiny,” she starts, and watches his face fall. “But I’m not going to let anyone kill you.”

There’s so much relief on his face at that statement. (And surprise, too.) “If it comes to a fight…”

“I’ll fight with you, Ben,” she says, nodding, holding his eyes. “I said I’ll help you, remember?”

A surge of complicated emotions crosses his face at that, like he can’t decide what to feel. “You want me to turn,” he says, like that’s the only reason she’s here. “That’s what you want to help me with.”

Rey rolls her eyes and sighs. “You can’t turn if you’re dead,” she says, and then she turns serious. “I want to help you, to keep you alive, and, yes, to turn you, because I care for you. For Ben Solo.”

“I am not Ben Solo!” A surge of emotion (anger, mainly, but there’s fear there, too, and vulnerability) crosses the bond, and she has to fight to keep hold of her own emotions in the rush.

She pushes forward, eager to find the source of the emotion, the anger. Leaning forward, closer towards him, she drops her voice a bit. “You are, when you’re around me,” she contradicts him. “Ben Solo is still there, underneath everything. Snoke taught you to fear and hate him, and you did, you do, but you could never completely bury him.” It’s suddenly imperative that he believes her, although she doesn’t quite know why; but the same recklessness that encouraged her to reach out her hand to him (you’re not alone. neither are you.) has taken possession of her now, driving her to push him, to almost provoke him.

“Ben Solo is dead,” and he’s trying so hard to be angry and stern and forceful but she can still feel the fear hiding beneath (you can’t lie to a Force bond). “You know nothing.”

And maybe she’d agree with him, except…

(you have that look in your eye, from the forest. you called me a monster.

you are a monster.

yes, I am.)

So much hatred, all directed at himself. “If Ben Solo is dead, where does all that self-loathing come from?” she asks, intent. “You hate yourself, and you use that self-hatred to make you stronger--”

(How does she know all of this?)

Kylo--no, Ben-- snarls, cutting her off. “Shut up!” At the same time he gestures with two fingers, flinging her backwards off the bed with the Force. Quick reflexes and her own instinctive command of the Force keep her upright, although she stumbles a bit, off balance; by the time she recovers, he’s on his feet, staring at her, something shattered and warped in his dark eyes. (It fascinates her.)

“Snoke is dead because of Ben Solo,” she says, pressing against his conjured anger (anger is easier than fear, after all). “I fought the Praetorian guards with Ben Solo. I am here because of Ben Solo.” She takes a deep breath and steps forward, willing him to understand. “I didn’t leave the island against Master Skywalker’s advice for Kylo Ren. I didn’t see Kylo’s future--I saw Ben’s.”

“Ben Solo is dead.”

The words prove it are on her lips, but he renders them unnecessary, jerking out his lightsaber hilt, the violently red blade hissing to life in his bare hand. He stalks towards her, utter rage in his eyes, and the rational part of Rey’s mind points out that she really should be afraid of him (the rational part of her mind hasn’t been in control for a long time).

(But you can’t lie to a Force bond. And no matter what he thinks, he isn’t going to hurt her. He can’t.)

So she looks up at him, quite calmly, and says, “I am not afraid of you, Ben.”

He retreats abruptly, a combination of horror and pain flashing across his face, and then he powers off his lightsaber and turns and hurls it at the wall (the black casing bounces off and lands on the floor, rolling away from the wall a little, completely unharmed). He stays turned, standing in profile to her, cold and frozen, a statue (and the self-loathing is back in full force, the anger gone, vanished), and breathes out, “You should be.”

She takes a step closer, drawn towards him, and without thinking she lifts one hand and lightly traces the scar her lightsaber had given him in the forest (he goes even stiller, if that’s possible, at the touch, but he doesn’t push her away, doesn’t reject her). His emotions spike; she catches a line of clear thought, something like she should be afraid, and it’s almost enough to make her smile. Doesn’t he understand her, yet?

“I’m not in the habit of running from things that I know aren’t going to hurt me.”

He turns back to face her, at that (but he doesn’t pull away, and so she doesn’t move her hand), and he’s so serious, so grave, as he stares down into her eyes. “Rey,” he murmurs, in that gentle, soft-as-sin voice. “You don’t know.”

She smiles at that, just barely. “Of course I do,” she says, quietly amused. “I can feel it.”

He stares down at her (shocked, she thinks), lips just slightly parted, and she realizes, suddenly, that she really wants to kiss him. (Has, actually, since before Snoke.)

Well, why not?

“Hello, Ben,” she whispers, drawing even closer to him. “It’s nice to meet you.”

And then she rises up on her tiptoes and kisses him.

[=|=]

She’s kissing him.

Rey is kissing him.

Kylo (although he should probably just accept it and get used to being Ben again) is more than a little stunned by this unexpected turn of events, but he’s hardly one to throw away an opportunity, so he eagerly reciprocates the kiss, slipping one hand into her hair and winding the other arm around her waist, holding her close to him. Only when it feels like his lungs are about to explode does he pull back (but not all the way), looking down at her.

“I’ve wanted to do that since the turbolift,” she admits, flushing, but keeping her eyes on his.

Ben chuckles, feeling a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. “So have I,” he tells her, relishing the smile that stretches across her face (she’s smiling at him, because of him) . And then he sighs, takes a step back, reluctantly untangling his hand from her hair. “I need to go down to the bridge and check on some things. Hurry and get dressed and you can come with me.”

“Sure, just give me a moment,” Rey agrees, and darts from the room.

It’s only once she’s left (and he’s halfway through getting dressed) that he realizes he’s started thinking of himself as Ben.

Chapter Text

The turbolift ride down to the bridge is surprisingly calm and quiet, for all that there’s a tangible tension hanging thick and heavy in the air between them. Ben--no, Kylo, he reminds himself, he has to be Kylo outside of his room (it’s surprisingly hard to be anything but Ben around Rey)--doesn’t look over at Rey, but he’s almost hyperaware of her presence beside him. Their bond ebbs and flows, a constant undercurrent of emotion humming in the back of his mind; if he reaches at all, he can sort out each individual feeling, identify it, maybe even pick up stray thoughts attached. As tempting as that sounds, however, right now is not the time for experimentation.

Right now, he needs to assert his control over the First Order, and also figure out exactly where the Supremacy is heading.

Rey keeps pace with him easily as he strides down the corridor, despite not knowing where they’re going. It inspires a strange feeling in him, one he’s pretty sure he’s never felt before, one he can’t assign a name to but that’s there nonetheless.

He turns a corner, passing into the bridge, Rey just beside and behind him, and goes still. There’s a holographic projection of General Hux standing up at the front, in the middle of making some kind of speech.

“... has allowed the Resistance to survive, ordering a prolonged siege despite the fact that our numbers and weapons are much greater. And, worse, he has aided the Resistance agent he was supposed to kill, going as far as killing Supreme Leader Snoke with her. Clearly, he is a traitor, and unfit to lead. As the highest remaining authority figure in the First Order, I must take up the office of Supreme Leader. My orders are simple: kill the traitorous Kylo Ren and the Resistance agent, Rey. Anyone who aids them will be considered to be in accord with them and will thus face the same swift punishment.”

And then the holo flickers and vanishes.

There’s a long, drawn-out moment of silence, and then everyone starts shouting at once, scrambling for the comms, no doubt to bring an army of stormtroopers down on their heads; Kylo (Ben) exchanges a look with Rey, considers trying to mindtrick the entire bridge into not following the new orders (immediately he discards that idea, though, the bridge is too noisy), and then turns on his heel and takes off.

To her credit, Rey is right behind him; he reaches for their bond and pushes a quick image of the throne room and [snoke’s personal ship] at her, and then he focuses on getting to the turbolift.

Hux is clever, Kylo has to give him credit; revealing his part in Snoke’s death (even if it’s just a guess) and branding him a Resistance sympathizer practically ensures he’ll not be able to take control back and that he’ll be hunted across the galaxy, assuming he manages to escape the Supremacy. Hux hadn’t wasted any time, either, in making the announcement.

… Putting distance between Hux and him was probably not the wisest choice he’s ever made, come to think of it.

He skids around a corner, the turbolift in sight--

And then a squadron of stormtroopers marches into his path, blasters at the ready.

He doesn’t slow down, just jerks out his lightsaber, the blade lighting up in his palm, and crashes into the stormtroopers. Blasterfire turns the corridor an eerie shade of crimson, and he doesn’t know where Rey is, can’t look back to check, has to stay entirely focused on dodging and deflecting blaster bolts and killing stormtroopers. She can take care of herself, she’s more than capable (he’s still worried about her anyway).

And then, just as he makes it to the turbolift, presses the button to open the doors, there’s a shout from behind him. “Ben!”

He spins around just in time to see Rey fling her hand out, using the Force to shove away the blaster bolt coming straight at his chest. The movement leaves her exposed, though, and as he watches in horror (too slow to do anything to stop it, too far away to kill her assailant), a stormtrooper fires and catches her on her right side at close range. She staggers, mouth opening--the stormtroopers close in--

“No!” He throws out his hand and concentrates, grabbing at the Force and pulling Rey to him, lightsaber and all. He catches her in his left arm and backs into the open turbolift, hitting the right keys and closing the door, zooming away from the stormtroopers.

“Ben,” Rey says, quietly.

“I’m sorry,” he blurts out, deactivating his lightsaber and returning the hilt to his belt before focusing on her face. “I should’ve moved faster--”

“It’s not your fault,” she interrupts, wincing as he brushes against the burn on her side (he can feel the pain flare up in his right side, in response, and he sucks in a sharp breath). “Are you okay?”

He stares in shock. “You’re asking me?” he finally manages to get out. “I’m not the one who just got shot.”

“Yes would work, too.” The small smile she gives him is pained, but there’s mischief in it, too, for which he’s silently grateful.

“I didn’t expect Hux to move this fast.” He shakes his head. “I offered you the galaxy, not life as a fugitive…”

“Ben,” she says, looking up at him, “I didn’t stay for the galaxy.”

He blinks.

“You can’t go by Kylo Ren, or the First Order will find us right away,” she continues after a moment, as though nothing has happened.

He nods, trying to focus on the logistics. “I know. Fortunately, I’m already used to you calling me Ben.”

The turbolift door hisses open into the throne room, still bare of all its crimson decoration, and Ben steps out, Rey following behind him. She slips out of his arm (he lets her go, albeit reluctantly) but keeps a hold of his hand as he leads her across the room.

Snoke’s personal ship, for use in an emergency, is docked at the back of the throne room. The stormtroopers shouldn’t guess that as their destination before it’s too late; however, they’ll have to abandon the ship somewhere--it’s too easily traced. And that brings up the question: where are they even going?

He shakes his head (hopefully Rey will have a better idea) and ducks around behind the throne, approaching the small craft, designed for two passengers (the pilot and Snoke himself, obviously). “Answering to Ben Solo doesn’t mean I’m going to turn,” he says abruptly, shooting her a glance as he palms open the door to the ship. “Neither does running from the First Order.”

“I know,” she says simply. “But it is a start.”

There has to be some way of getting the First Order back from Hux. He can’t just give up everything he’s worked for, these last few years (everything he’s suffered for), like it never mattered at all (did it?). (Is it more important than Rey?)

He sighs, climbing inside the ship. “There should be a medkit under the seat,” he says shortly, focused on the problem at hand: getting away from the First Order. “Treat that wound--it could cause a problem in the future if you don’t.”

“You think we’re going to run into more trouble?”

“Possibly.” He slips into the cockpit, flipping switches and bringing the instrument panel to glowing life. He buckles into the pilot’s seat, running pre-flight checks with the smooth fluidity of long familiarity, and then brings the ship’s engines roaring to life. “Don’t you?” he asks idly, only half his attention on the conversation (really, if he wanted, he could probe their bond for the information, but it’s still not the time for experimentation, as much as he would rather it otherwise).

There’s a pause, accompanied by the sound of Rey rummaging around in the ship’s medkit. “You’re the expert,” she says finally.

Ben probes at the bond a moment, taking his attention off the ship’s controls; she’s not exactly upset at him, but she’s… dissatisfied? He’s not entirely sure what to make of the emotions.

“I can feel that,” she says, and he freezes for a second, almost guiltily, and he starts to pull away before he feels the shiver of amusement cross their bond.

The ship is ready to go. The piloting provides a welcome distraction from the complexities of emotions (they really are frustrating things, feelings), and he gladly focuses on it, slowly guiding the ship out into space and inputting the coordinates of a star system he thinks is nearby (the shuttle isn’t meant for overly long-distance hyperspace travel) and not too closely affiliated with the First Order (and he hadn’t ever really expected to be hiding from the First Order, that’s for sure) before flipping the lever and accelerating into hyperspace. He engages the autopilot, programming it to alert him when it’s almost time to drop back into normal space, and then unstraps himself and turns to the back of the ship.

“Where are we going?” Rey asks, looking up at his entrance.

“Krydn, in the Foiston system,” he answers, eyeing her critically, frowning at the medkit spread across the cushioned bench. “Not controlled by the First Order. I think.”

“That’s reassuring.” She makes a face, looking back down at the medkit’s contents. “I’m still trying to figure out what to do with all this.”

Ben frowns. “Your vest is ruined.”

She shrugs. “Not completely.” And then, grimacing, “I don’t have anything to change into.”

He sighs, considering. “We don’t blend in. A burned vest doesn’t change that.”

Then he reaches over and grabs the medkit, sorting through it with easy efficiency. “Hold still. Let me see it.”

Rey looks at him, for a long moment, and then she wordlessly shrugs off the vest, leaving her only in her undershirt, through which the blaster burn is clearly visible. It’s a nasty wound, but not impossible to treat. It looks painful though (and doesn’t just look painful; he can feel the pain radiating from his own side, a ghostly mirage, if he concentrates at all), and he’s cautious with the medical supplies, trying to avoid causing her extra pain. Finally, though, he’s done everything he can, and he takes a bandage and wraps the burn carefully (and he most definitely does not let his fingers linger any longer on her bare skin than necessary, not at all).

“Thank you,” she says quietly, slipping her vest back on.

He just nods.

[=|=]

“General Organa! Leia!”

Leia looks up as Poe approaches, a furrow in her brow. She and her brother stand together a little ways off from the rest of the Resistance forces (a familiar sight, these days), talking together in low voices. “What is it?” she asks.

“They’re moving,” he gasps out, skidding to a stop in front of her. “The First Order.”

“They’ve got a battering ram cannon,” Finn calls from across the room, his voice heavy with significance. “It’s Death Star technology. Can crack that door open like an eggshell.”

There’s a long moment of silence.

“If we just had a ship,” Poe says, “we could get away before they noticed.”

And suddenly, Leia goes still. “Oh,” she says, and looks down at the beacon on her wrist, flashing. And then she looks over at her brother. “How did you get in here?”

Luke grins.



The Millennium Falcon is an old piece of junk, Poe decides upon first impression, as the ship lands next to Luke Skywalker’s X-wing. But she’s a very welcome piece of junk, a sentiment shared by the rest of the Resistance. He starts towards the lowered ramp, only to be called away by a voice saying his name.

“Poe.” It’s Leia, holding the beacon and standing a little apart from the others.

He hurries over to her, BB-8 rolling at his heels. “Yes, General?”

“Take this,” she says, offering him the beacon. “I need you to take the X-wing. Find Rey and bring her back to us.” A pause, and then she smiles. “May the Force be with you, Commander.”

“And with you,” he says, taking the beacon and securing it around his wrist. He locks eyes with her for a long moment, and then with a deep breath he walks past her. “C’mon, BB-8!”

The droid burbles and beeps as it rolls over to the X-wing and hoists itself up with one of its retractable arms. Happy beeps, and it makes Poe smile as he climbs up the side of the older fighter and into the cockpit. The majority of the Resistance (such a small number) has already boarded the Falcon, and only Luke, Leia, and the Wookiee are left standing outside, watching. He lifts one hand, salutes the three, and then presses the button to lower the glass of the cockpit.

The X-wing is older, yes, but still in immaculate condition; it comes to life with ease underneath his hands. Poe takes a deep breath, eyeing the destroyers in the sky over Crait, and then he closes his hands around the controls and takes off.

“BB-8, see if you can find Rey,” he shouts at the droid, and then he gets free from the small mineral planet’s atmosphere and punches it. The stars streak into the distance as the X-wing makes the jump to hyperspace, easily.

On his wrist, the beacon glows a soft, steady blue.

Chapter Text

“He has betrayed us,” the black-cloaked man murmurs, his voice only slightly distorted by the voice modulator in his black and silver helmet.

The statement is met with nods of agreement, from the other five members of the circle. “There can only be one punishment for such a severe offense,” another, a woman, says.

“Are we certain the offense has been committed?” The figure who asks this question immediately falls back, quieting, as five silver and black helmets swivel around to stare at them.

“We are certain,” the original speaker says, and then looks around the entire circle. “Are we in agreement?” A pause. “Very well. Judgement has been given. Justice must be upheld.”

Just minutes later, a sleek black ship streaks into the stars and disappears.

[=|=]

Krydn is a small planet on the edge of its star system, largely overlooked by the majority of the galaxy. The small, cool world is mostly covered in coniferous forests, scattered with small logging settlements and a few larger cities. It’s a neutral planet, technically, but in actuality too small and poor to be of much note to either side. The First Order has a token presence there (consisting mainly of a few squadrons of stormtroopers in the main cities), but rarely actually does anything, so if they can abandon (or better yet: destroy) Snoke’s ship somewhere in one of the cities and lay low for a few days, it should accomplish the dual purposes of throwing the First Order off their trail (the Resistance is small, and trapped, and low on defenses; there are plenty of resources to send after the two of them) and giving them a chance to plan the next move.

And maybe talk about a few things. There are still a lot of important questions left unspoken.

Ben brings the small black shuttle down in a clearing in the forest, not far from the city. It’s the middle of the night on this side of the world, which helps immensely for hiding, but not so much for hiking through a dark, unfamiliar forest. He shudders, just imagining the trek, and then sighs. It’s not like there’s much choice…

“We’re a bit conspicuous,” Rey says as he leaves the cockpit after powering the ship down. “Are you sure this is the best idea?”

“It’s a terrible idea,” he says, giving her a look (surely she’s realized that by now?). “And it’s the only idea. We stand out anyway.” He gestures to the lightsaber hanging on her hip.

Rey nods resignation and presses the switch to open the door. It hisses open, and immediately a cold gust of wind blows into the ship, damp with rain.

Ben groans. Of course, rain, just what he needs to make this day even worse.

But then Rey steps out, into the weather, childlike wonder written across her features, the pain of her blaster burn fading into the background as she lifts her hands and laughs, and he abruptly revises his opinion. Rain, he thinks, might just be one of the greatest things in the universe.

(Anything that makes Rey laugh has to be one of the wonders of the galaxy.)

He wraps his cloak around his shoulders and steps out into the darkness of the forest. With how utterly unprepared they are, the two of them are almost more likely to die out here than they are to die at the hands of the First Order, he realizes, looking around at his surroundings. In fact, who knows what kinds of wild animals are lurking in the underbrush, just waiting to leap on two unwary humans idiotic to stumble around at night, has he mentioned it’s dark out yet--

There’s a hiss and a hum, and suddenly the nearby tree trunks glow with reflected blue light. He spins, staring at Rey in shock--what is she thinking-- only to see an almost-smirk on her lips. “Light sabers,” she says, just barely emphasizing the first syllable, and it clicks; he starts to smile at the quick thinking, only to abruptly frown instead.

Why didn’t he think of that?

He pulls out his own lightsaber and lights the blade. The crimson isn’t as effective as the blue, but it’s definitely better than nothing, and it frees his mind to think about contingency plans. “If someone gets suspicious, we’ll kill them,” he offers after a moment.

It makes perfect sense to him, but Rey presses her lips together and frowns in obvious disapproval. “I don’t want to kill anyone,” she murmurs after a moment.

Fair enough, although a little strange. “I’ll kill them,” he says, revising the previous statement. It’s not the most perfect solution, and could draw more attention than either of them would really like, but…

“Ben,” she starts, exasperated, “you can’t just go around killing people.”

He looks over at her, frowns. “Why not?” It should be interesting to hear what she has to say…

“You just… can’t.” She lets out a sigh. “It’s wrong, Ben.”

“The Resistance kills people,” he points out. “Stormtroopers are people--mostly. TIE fighter pilots are people.” He pauses. “The Praetorian guards were people.” He thinks. He never actually saw what was under the red plastoid armor, after all.

She sighs, again. “That’s different, though.” She walks on in silence, for a few minutes, obviously searching for something to say; after long enough without her continuing, he decides to take advantage of the quiet.

“Is it?”

“Yes!” Her hazel eyes flash as she jerks her head up to stare at him, reflecting the blue and red light of their lightsabers. “If the Resistance stopped shooting down TIE fighters, would the First Order stop shooting down X-wings?”

“Of course not,” he says, frowning a little.

She smiles triumphantly. “That’s the difference.”

Ben blinks. “No,” he corrects her, shaking his head. “That’s an unrealistic attempt at finding a difference.” She stops walking, turning and facing him, confusion replacing the triumph, and he follows her example, stopping and turning to look down at her. “Was killing Snoke wrong?”

“No!” she spits out, disgusted. “Snoke was a filthy, evil--”

“Spare me the adjectives,” he interrupts. “Killing is okay as long as the person being killed is evil or wrong.” He arches an eyebrow. “Skywalker is evil and wrong, but if I killed him, you would consider me evil.”

“Luke isn’t evil,” she snaps, gritting her teeth. “Snoke was.”

“It depends on your perspective.” He shrugs, smirks a little. “Morality is a vague, arbitrary concept with zero constants.” He pauses, then adds, “Almost as useless as the Jedi Code.”

And then he turns and keeps walking.

“I don’t follow the Jedi Code, Ben,” she calls after him, her voice quiet but pitched to carry.

And that is unexpected enough to stop him in his tracks. He stops walking, debating over what to say, and turns around, slowly. “What do you follow?”

It’s her turn to shrug. “Myself,” she says, and then, with a rueful half-smile, “Morality.”



The ability to mindtrick someone, Ben reflects, is extremely useful.

Of course, he’s pretty sure that Rey, with her old-school (and frankly ridiculous) opinions on morality, doesn’t exactly approve of mindtricking, but really, what alternative do they have? He can’t access the credits he has without alerting the First Order, and she’s a scavenger from Jakku. (Not to mention that the First Order probably flagged any account she might have.) The only way they’re going to survive on this planet, not to mention find another ship and get off Krydn, is by threats, stealing, and using the Force. And he has zero intention of staying here any longer than necessary.

They’ve already spent three days hiding out in the basement of an abandoned building, surviving on stolen food and bundling up in (also stolen) blankets at night while attempting to sleep. It’s been fairly quiet and peaceful.

And it’s driving him mad.

The problem is, there’s nothing to do; they can’t really walk around without attracting attention, after all. Even if they left their lightsabers behind (which is unthinkable--he refuses to risk his lightsaber getting stolen just to try and blend in) , their clothing obviously marks them as offworlders. Offworlders aren’t a common enough occurrence, even in the cities, to protect them; both he and Rey agreed early on that they needed to stay out of sight as much as possible.

But if he doesn’t get out and do something, he’s going to go insane.

That settles it. Ben gets to his feet, grabbing his cloak and tossing it on over his shoulders, and turns to Rey. “Come on.”

“What are you doing?” she asks, following his example and pulling on the light blue hooded poncho he’d found for her.

“Going for a walk.” He extends a hand. “Let’s go.”

“I thought we were hiding,” she says, but she takes his hand and follows him out of the old building. If he prods at the bond, he can tell she’s just as bored and frustrated as he is at the forced inactivity, even though it’s the smartest decision.

This, on the other hand, isn’t an incredibly smart course of action, but what’s really going to happen? Their lightsabers are both hidden, and they aren’t all that suspicious-looking…

Okay, it’s a bad idea.

But even if it comes down to a fight, two Force-users with lightsabers have the obvious advantage, and nothing permanently harmful can come of it. He’s sure. Besides, they need to get offworld soon. Rey’s blaster wound isn’t healing well in this environment, and he’s not about to sacrifice her health for the sake of secrecy.

They wander down the street for a while (not touching, but close together), mostly silent, except when Rey notices something particularly interesting. It’s… nice, actually.

And then, as they pass by the mouth of a dark, dirty alleyway, he realizes that they’re surrounded by a circle of people dressed in layered rags, and they all are focused on him and Rey with a predatory gleam in their eyes.

He touches Rey’s elbow with one hand, casually, and lets a hint of [warning] slip through the bond, feeling her tense in preparation for a fight. It makes sense, really, it does; they’re offworlders with good-quality clothes, and this is a poor planet, of course they’d be the targets of an attempted mugging. He should’ve thought about that before deciding to go for a walk.

The circle suddenly stops walking, the men in front of them effectively blocking their path forward. “Excuse me,” Rey tries, but the men don’t move.

“Give us your credits,” the man in the middle (the ringleader?) says in lieu of a response, with a threatening glare.

“You don’t want to do that,” Ben says, answering the threat with a warning of his own (not using the Force, not yet, it’s hard to mindtrick this many people at once), his hand drifting down towards his belt.

“Just give us the credits, and nothing will happen,” the man says, gritting his teeth. Again, he directs the statement at Rey, maybe thinking her to be the more easily frightened of the two (he has no idea how wrong he is).

“No,” Rey says, frowning. “We don’t even have any--”

In a simultaneous motion too fluid to be unpracticed, every single member of the circle pulls out a concealed blaster and aims. “I said, hand over the kriffing money,” the leader snaps, almost desperately, but his blaster doesn’t waver.

[now,] Ben thinks, with enough emphasis to be sure the word crosses the bond.

At the same instant, they both pull out their lightsabers and spin to stand back-to-back. The blades activate almost perfectly in sync, humming loudly.

One of the younger men in the circle swears and fires his blaster; acting purely on instinct, Rey snaps her lightsaber up and deflects the blaster bolt right back where it came from, destroying the blaster. The would-be muggers scatter, leaving them alone, but Ben’s excitement is short-lived.

On a building across the street, a security camera is pointed directly at the two of them.

[=|=]

Poe Dameron is prepping the X-wing to take off again when BB-8 lets out a series of urgent, excited beeps. The pilot freezes, the words registering, and whips his head around to stare at the droid.

“You found her? Where?”

The planet isn’t one he’s ever heard of, but he recognizes the coordinates--not terribly far from his current location. A few hours in hyperspace, which isn’t bad at all.

Wasting no time, Poe starts up the X-wing and takes off, entering the coordinates into the autopilot and making the jump into hyperspace.

“I’m coming for you, Rey,” he says, and clenches his hands around the X-wing’s controls.

On his wrist, the beacon is a steady, comforting blue.

[=|=]

“The traitor has been located,” the black-clad woman says to the man in the pilot’s seat. Her cloak and helmet have been removed, although they are not far away, within easy reach in the main bay of the shuttle. She holds out a datapad for the pilot’s perusal. “He was foolish enough to allow himself to be seen on camera. This is the location we have traced the camera to.”

“Excellent,” the man piloting the ship says. There is a trace of a smile on his bare face. “Ready the others. We will arrive in just a few hours.”

Beside him, the woman smiles--but it is not a warm expression. It is, rather, cold and sharp-edged, cruel and cutting, ruthless and eager. “Excellent,” she agrees, her razor-sharp smile widening. “Justice will be swift.”

Chapter Text

“We need to go,” Ben says, pacing around the edge of the basement he and Rey have been hiding out in.

“But we don’t have a ship,” Rey tries, watching him pace, frowning and unsure.

He shakes his head. “So we steal one. Rey,” and she closes her mouth before she can interrupt him, “I have a bad feeling about this.” He stops moving, turns to meet her eyes, hoping to impress all his honesty on her--and then he remembers the bond and opens it a little, just enough to let his unease and uncertainty filter through.

“Okay,” she says, slowly, nodding. “Okay, we’ll go.”

Her words relieve him of an anxiety he almost didn’t even know he was feeling, like a weight’s been lifted from his shoulders; he lets out a long breath and closes his eyes, for a moment, before straightening again. He starts for the street again, his cloak wrapped tightly around him.

“What’s wrong?” Rey asks, coming up beside him.

He shakes his head again. “I don’t know.” He stops, trying to form words, an image, something, but there’s nothing, just the constant sense that something is coming. “I can’t tell.”

He falls silent, then, ignoring any more attempts to draw him into conversation, stretching his legs to walk as quickly as possible (in a corner of his mind, he can feel that the strain of keeping up with him is aggravating Rey’s injury, but the unease won’t let him slow down), only slowing when they reach the shipyard at the edge of the city. If they’re lucky, there’ll be something salvageable in the shipyard that won’t cause much (if any) of a stir if it’s stolen; if they aren’t lucky, well… he’ll deal with that if it happens.

There’s a shuttle flying low over the forest just outside the city. Black, all sharp, clean lines--

No!

He has to be wrong. There’s no way that shuttle is what he thinks it is. He’s just seeing it wrong, that’s all.

“Ben?”

He lets out a shaky breath, swallowing hard, eyes following the shuttle as it descends into the forest. He’s not wrong. No matter how much he might wish he was.

“We’re in trouble,” he breathes, staring at the empty spot in the sky where the shuttle had just been a moment before.

“Why?” She hesitates. “What is that ship?”

“It belongs to the Knights of Ren,” he starts, turning away from the sky to look down at her again. He sucks in a deep breath (she deserves to know) and looks away, off to one side. “There were seven of us: me, and the six of Skywalker’s students I brought with me. Snoke taught us. As the strongest, I was made their leader.”

“Why are they here?”

Ben sighs. “I betrayed them in acting against Snoke.” He stops, makes eye contact again, lowers his voice. “Rey. If you leave--”

She cuts him off. “No.”

“They won’t attack you,” he tries.

“I don’t care. You can’t fight them by yourself.”

“No,” he agrees.

“I’m not letting you get killed.” And that, apparently, is the end of the conversation, because she reaches for her lightsaber and slides the silver casing into her hand.

“You’re hurt--”

“I’ll survive,” she says calmly. “You need me.”

And then there’s no more time to talk, because he senses their presences in the Force, moving steadily closer, just before six black-cloaked figures emerge from the treeline, moving towards him with steady purpose.

[they’re better than the praetorian guards,] Ben tells Rey through their bond. [be careful.]

She doesn’t answer, but he knows the message got through. The Knights continue to advance, and he pulls out his lightsaber, although he doesn’t light the blade yet. Instead, he just waits, and continues to wait, until the six figures are only a few meters away.

“I know why you’re here,” he says, simple and direct, to the point, and then he activates his lightsaber.

In sync, without speaking, the six Knights light their own red blades, still walking forward, like they expect this to be easy, to be simple (and it would be, if it were just him they faced). The red lightsabers shift, angling to strike--

And Rey’s blue saber hisses to life.

“What is this treachery?” the Knight in the point position hisses, freezing, just a hesitation in stride, but that’s all that’s needed.

[now!]

Ben lunges forward, lightsaber upraised, the hilt held tightly in both palms, and in a single fluid movement he plants one foot, pivots, and drives his lightsaber through the smallest Knight’s chest. Before the motion is even completed, the element of surprise wears off (quickly, just as he knew it would, they’re trained to recover fast), and the remaining five lunge into battle.

He can feel Rey at his back, her end of the bond open all the way, and he acts on instinct and lets the bond fully unfold between the two of them. Her mind hums, pressed entirely against his, thoughts and information passing freely between them (she has three Knights converging on her all at once, two coming at her from above and the other going low).

Ben drops one hand from his lightsaber and pushes blindly behind him, ducking under a strike from one of the Knights in front of him and blocking a thrust from the other, and then he brings his hand back up and flings the two backwards. He plants a foot, spins, stabs one of the three harrying Rey (and she’s got good instincts, and knows how to fight with a staff, but she’s woefully untrained and injured, no match for three at once) (and she brings her lightsaber around, cuts the Knight’s head off--ensuring he’s dead--and keeps the momentum going--) and ducks under her bright blue blade as it passes through the space his head had just occupied--and catches two red blades coming at him from behind that he never would’ve seen in time.

He pulls his lightsaber out of the dead Knight’s body with one hand, Force-pushing the other two away again, and spins (Rey’s locked in a stalemate with the two she’s fighting, and the combined force of their blades is pushing her saber ever-closer to her face), taking advantage of the deadlock to slice the Knight nearest to him in half (the same Knight who’d spoken, and killing him is surprisingly satisfying), ending his stroke with another Force-push that sends the other Knight flying backwards into a tree.

He backs up, bringing his saber close to his body, breathing hard from the exertion, and turns his back to Rey again, leaving the single Knight to her (and she’d deny it if he asked, but the blaster burn on her side is paining her, he can feel it, making every move that extra bit harder and more exhausting).

The two Knights in front of him move at the same time, one aiming high, at his shoulders, and the other scything at his knees, too far apart to block at the same time; he snarls and lunges forward instead of going on the defensive, ducking under the high strike and launching an attack of his own at the other’s torso. His attack forces the Knight to abort the strike to defend herself, but a sudden line of fire running up the inside of his left leg tells him he hasn’t escaped unscathed (Rey exchanges a swift set of blows ending in her slicing off an arm).

He shoves the pain away (it doesn’t matter, he can deal with it later) and grits his teeth. Taking advantage of the momentum gained from the female Knight’s block, he spins around and very nearly succeeds in cutting both Knights in half at once, which had been the point of the spin, what was supposed to happen.

What actually happens, however, is this: Ben spins around and, at a crucial point in the turn, places all his weight on his injured leg, straining it nearly to the breaking point. At the same moment, a perfectly-timed Force-push with an incredible amount of power behind it slams into his weight-bearing leg, hitting the back of his knee. His knee buckles, unable to withstand the stress, and it sends him sprawling, his lightsaber flying from his hand at the impact with the ground.

Quite suddenly, he’s laying on the ground, weaponless, defenseless, the wind knocked from his lungs, the coppery tang of blood thick in his mouth (he must’ve bitten his tongue when he fell). Muscle memory and instincts honed to perfection take over, and he rolls onto his back, reaching out and (shakily) Force-pulling his lightsaber to him. There’s no time to do anything else, even to try and get onto his knees; before his hands are secure on the hilt of his lightsaber, two crimson blades come flashing down, humming through the air, and he manages to block the blows--but his awkward position combined with his exhaustion means he doesn’t have anywhere near the strength to hold out for long, and his mind is too muddled to focus enough to use the Force with any power.

His arms are trembling.

Still gasping, trying to regain his breath, Ben summons a desperate willpower and shouts, “Rey!”

(Rey drives her lightsaber through her Knight’s face and spins at the panic in his voice; at the sight of him flat on his back, struggling to hold off two lightsabers dangerously close to his face, she takes off, but she’s too far away--)

One of the Knights, or maybe both, shoves, and the extra force is too much: his arms give out, and he barely manages to deactivate his lightsaber before it cuts his face in half. The two crimson blades come down, tips aimed directly at his heart, and he closes his eyes, braces himself--

A blaster fires twice, in quick succession.

Ben’s eyes fly open again, just in time to see the two Knights fall to the ground, one on either side of him, burning holes in their backs.

Rey is there the next second, eyes wide and wild. The first thing she does is shut off the two lightsabers, saving them both from accidental death; the second thing she does is slap him across the face. He closes his eyes, accepting the stinging pain (he deserves it, after all), and then he sighs and opens them again.

“That was stupid,” Rey snaps. “Not to mention reckless.”

Her voice crackles with anger, but the bond pulses in sheer, raw terror, and Ben sucks in a sharp breath. “I know,” is all he says, though. Because what can he say? It was a stupid move. Wincing a little, he pushes himself to a sitting position, frowning and looking around. “Where did the blasterfire come from?”

“I’m trying to decide if I should’ve let those weirdos murder you or not,” a male voice calls out, and Ben’s attention snaps around to a familiar-looking man stepping out of the trees, a droid-- the droid that had caused all the problems with the map--rolling along behind him and beeping to itself. “Hey, Rey! Don’t get stabby with me, General Leia sent me,” he hastens to add, holstering his blaster and throwing his hands up. “I’m Poe Dameron.”

Rey relaxes, dropping her lightsaber again. “Why are you here?” she asks, cautious but not hostile.

“Leia sent me to find you.” He holds up his wrist, showing off a glowing blue beacon. “We have to move fast, though. Do you have a ship?”

“There’s one we can take in the forest,” she answers. “These guys won’t be needing it anymore.”

Ben blinks, looking over at Rey. “Isn’t stealing against your morality?” he asks, arching an eyebrow.

“Not when it’s from the First Order,” she says back, rolling her eyes. “Can you stand?”

He waves her off and climbs to his feet, slowly, testing his injured leg gingerly. It hurts, obviously, but he’s been hurt worse. “I’ll survive,” he says, mimicking her words from earlier.

“Why is he coming?” Poe asks. “Last I heard, he was about the same as General Hugs in the hierarchy.”

“General Hugs?” Ben rolls his eyes, trying to ignore the taste of the blood in his mouth.

“Let’s go, Ben,” Rey says rather urgently, tugging on his arm (he concentrates for a moment and feels sharp pain and damp fabric, and then the bond abruptly closes off with a jolt).

“Oh, it’s Ben, now, is it?”

Ben ignores the pilot, focusing on Rey instead. “You’re bleeding.” He reaches out and catches at her cloak, pushing it aside, but she neatly evades him. “Rey,” he huffs out, frustrated. “Let me see.”

“It’s fine.”

“You’re in pain,” he counters.

She presses her lips together. “I’ll look at it on the ship,” she snaps, tugging on his arm again.

“Fine,” he growls, and steps towards Poe, grimacing as his leg shakes underneath him.

“You know,” Poe remarks casually, to no one in particular, “I still don’t know why I didn’t let those guys murder him.”

Chapter Text

It’s only after the sleek black shuttle is in hyperspace that Ben’s exhausted, fuzzy mind realizes where they’re going. The Resistance. A weak, defenseless, mostly destroyed political movement organized by his mother --not the absolute last person in the galaxy he wants to see, but close. His mother, who should’ve been killed when he and his escort attacked the Resistance cruiser. His mother, who was so afraid of the Darkness in him (so unable to trust that he could hold it back, overcome it) that she sent him to his uncle.

(His mother, who took the time to read every hand-written letter he’d sent her, back when he’d so loved calligraphy, and who sometimes sent hand-written letters back.)

He’s sitting on the floor of the shuttle, boot off and pant leg rolled up past his knee, his hands moving on autopilot through the routine of cleaning and applying bacta to the lightsaber wound (it’s going to scar, of course; lightsaber wounds always do); when the realization hits, his hands still.

“Ben?” Rey asks, softly, a vague sort of [worry] poking him through the bond. She’s sitting on the floor not far from him, applying bacta to the burn on her side.

“You’re going to the Resistance,” he says slowly, lifting his head and looking over at her. “We are. I never…” and he stops, shaking his head. The words won’t come.

(He’s not surprised, that she’s going back to the Resistance, that she’s leaving him, but it feels like a betrayal. No matter that he’s been expecting it.)

“You know so much about the First Order,” she says. “We could use your help.”

“I don’t want to help the Resistance. Besides,” he adds, almost bitterly, “I’ll be locked up the instant this ship lands.” A thought dawns on him, then, an awful one. “Has this been your plan the entire time?”

Rey shakes her head emphatically, eyes going wide. “No! Ben, I swear…” Her voice trails off, and she swallows. (The bond hums with the faintest whisper of untruth.) “I won’t let them lock you up. When Leia hears you’ve defected--”

“I didn’t defect,” he interrupts, scathing. “I was forcibly removed from my position.”

“A position you don’t even really want,” she says, leaning forward a little, a light in her eyes.

“You’re wrong,” he snaps. “Of course I wanted it.”

“You can’t lie to a Force bond, Ben.” She sighs, shakes her head a little. “I can feel your emotions. You took Snoke’s power because you wanted the ability to be in control of yourself, to be free--not because you particularly care about the First Order.”

(She’s right on that last one, but missing a crucial piece of information: he doesn’t care about the First Order because he has her.)

“The Resistance is doomed,” he says in a dangerously low voice. “I don’t care if the First Order survives, but I don’t hate it. I have no desire to try to cause its downfall. I will have no freedom in a broken political movement I care nothing about, led by my own mother.”

He realizes his mistake almost immediately, but it’s too late--the words are already spoken. “So that’s the real problem,” she says quietly, and there’s a hitch in her voice when she asks, “Do you hate her?”

Quiet, soft, emotional Rey is the hardest Rey to deal with. And he has no desire to discuss his mother, especially not with Rey, because she somehow seems to be very good at drawing answers out of him. So he deliberately ignores the question, focuses on something else. Reaches for anger, channels the familiar burning rage. “You can’t lie to a Force bond,” he mimics, sharp and cutting, almost mocking, and leans forward. “Why did you try?”

Confusion flashes across her face, the bond echoing it. “What are you talking about?”

“When you told me this wasn’t your plan all along. When you said you wouldn’t let them lock me up.” He lets the anger sear through him, propel him through the next few words. “I could feel it. You weren’t telling the truth.”

She pales, shakes her head, eyes widening. “No--that’s not--”

He talks over top of her. “How long have you been lying?”

Sudden fire suffuses her hazel eyes, and she stiffens, pressing her lips together in a fine line. “I never lied to you,” she snaps, every word harsh and short and clipped. “Obviously I want to help the Resistance, but not if it hurts you in the process!”

By the end of the sentence, she’s practically shouting; Ben probes the bond, curious, and finds a wellspring of hurt hiding just beneath the surface of her anger--and, even more shockingly, he sees that she’s telling the truth. He hesitates, starts to say something, his anger already fading away (she seems to have that effect on him)--

“You know,” Poe’s voice echoes, the pilot emerging from the cockpit, “I, personally, am in favor of showing him a taste of his own medicine.”

The reason the pilot seems so familiar suddenly snaps into Ben’s head.

(Where is it?

The Resistance will not be intimidated by you.

Where… is… it?)

“I didn’t know the best pilot in the Resistance has a taste for torture,” he drawls, feigning casualness. “Does your precious General Organa know?” He pauses, then adds: “I would think she’d care… but I could be wrong.”

Poe’s eyes flash. “Leia is like a second mother to me,” he spits out, fierce and furious. “Don’t you ever insult her--I care about her, unlike you, you filthy--”

How dare he.

“Do not presume to know my heart,” Ben snarls out, rage and hatred and pure incandescent fury stabbing through him, a fiery inferno of uncontrollable emotion seeking the nearest target. The Force hums and flickers around him, a wave of seething energy just waiting to be used, and red lightning crackles at his fingertips, aching to be released (for the first time, the rebel pilot looks afraid, and something inside him whispers yes, yes)--

[ben! no!]

The frantic horror in Rey’s silent shout jerks Ben back to himself; he sucks in a sharp breath, closing his fist, and breathes (remembering meditation techniques Skywalker had taught him years ago) until the anger subsides enough that he’s confident he can control it. He sends [gratitude] and [apology] wafting across the bond, staring down at the floor beneath him, unwilling to look up.

“Poe,” she starts, voice surprisingly cool, “cockpit. Now. I’ll be in in a minute.” She pauses. “And no eavesdropping.”

There’s a long silence, and then footsteps withdrawing, into the cockpit; he doesn’t look up, though, just breathes, every muscle tight and tense, knowing instinctively that the moment he relaxes he’ll start shaking.

“Ben,” she breathes, slipping closer; he senses her proximity through the Force, humming with a fire so alike to his own (and yet so, so different, burning bright where he is sheer darkness, so deep it could swallow her whole). Her hand comes up, gently touching his cheek, and he freezes at the contact, not daring to move.

(He’s vulnerable, too vulnerable, and yet… he can’t help but find comfort in the touch. Forbidden comfort, of course, but comfort all the same, and in the moment, he’s too weak, too unstable, to pull away.)

“I don’t hate her,” he murmurs, soundlessly, barely daring to breathe, afraid of--what, he doesn’t know. “I don’t.”

“I believe you,” she says, tucking a curl of dark hair behind his ear.

“I’m sorry.”

“I know,” and she moves closer yet and drops her hand. Before he has time to really feel the pang of that loss, she’s wrapping her arms around him, holding him close, laying her head on his shoulder. “I’ll talk to him.”

“He’s right,” Ben whispers, turning his head (moving at last) and sliding his own arm around her, pulling her into his side. “I deserve it.” He presses the taste of his own medicine bit into her mind, looking down at her.

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “Kylo Ren did, maybe--but not Ben Solo.”

“I’m still Kylo Ren,” he says, closing his eyes against a wash of emotion he doesn’t want to deal with yet. “I don’t know how to be anything else. Snoke, he…” His voice trails off.

“You’re learning, though.” Rey pushes calm reassurance through the bond, a confidence that he will know how, eventually.

“Rey…” Ben swallows, opens his eyes, looks down. (One of them will turn--or so he’d thought, that’s what it’d seemed like, but where is the balance in that?) “I know you believe I will turn, but I can’t. There’s too much darkness in me.”

She hesitates. “But there’s light, too. I can feel it.”

“As I can feel the darkness in you.” He takes a deep breath. “Too much for you to ever be a true Jedi.”

“Ben…”

“Go talk to Dameron,” he interrupts, slowly dropping his arm. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“What are you going to do?” she asks, and he knows she’s not talking about right here, right now.

He doesn’t answer, not at first. “The Resistance is doomed,” he breathes, softly, and swallows. “We could leave, find a little planet that’s never heard our names, and just… live--I did promise to train you.” A breath. “No Resistance, no First Order, just… us.”

He’s surprised at the wistfulness in his voice.

“Just us,” Rey repeats, tilting her head to look up at him (and is that a bit of longing he hears?). She smiles, but it’s sad. “That would be… nice. But I can’t walk away. Not now.”

He nods, not surprised, not really. (Of course she’s not ready to give up her whole life for him. She may never be.) She isn’t mad, he can feel; she’ll be disappointed if he walks away, but not angry, because she understands. He opens his mouth to say it, to make his escape--and shocks himself instead by saying, “Okay.”

His kriffing traitorous mouth.

“Okay?” she asks, and she isn’t certain what he means, but there’s hope lighting up her eyes as she sits up, turning to face him.

“Okay,” he agrees, and somehow he hears a phrase tumbling past his lips he never remembers allowing himself to say. “I trust you.”

“You’ll stay with the Resistance?” She’s shocked, incredulous, and yet excited.

She still doesn’t understand. “No,” he says, patient, calm. “I’ll stay with you.”

And then he leans forward and kisses her.

[=|=]

Rey stalks into the cockpit, eyes flashing furiously; Poe barely has time to turn towards her before she rounds on him. “Poe Dameron,” she starts out, inwardly relishing the way he shrinks back just a tiny bit. “You are an ass.”

“It’s my life goal,” he says, almost cheerily, despite the obvious nervousness in his eyes.

She sucks in a sharp breath. “Listen, just… Ben is trying, and you aren’t helping, so. If I have to separate you two I will, so please, can you just… behave?”

Poe sighs. “That man tore through my mind,” he says in a low voice, the cheer disappearing as fast as it had come. “How can you defend him?”

“Because,” she says, leaning against the back of the copilot’s seat, “Snoke did the same thing to him, only worse. Poe, he wants to try. You have to give him a chance.” She swallows. “I’ll vouch for him.”

He hesitates a long time before finally rubbing a hand over his face. “Fine. Fine, I’ll try. But if he sets one foot out of line, I’m stunning his ass and locking him up, are we clear?”

She nods. “Crystal.”

And then she turns and walks away.

[=|=]

Leia stares at the starmap, tracing her finger over the holographic lines of hyperspace lanes. There are few enough planets with old Rebellion bases that are still in decent repair; the First Order has eliminated several of those options already, but one still remains. A base the First Order would never expect the Resistance to return to.

After all, why would they try to hide in a base that the old Galactic Empire had discovered years ago?

But hiding in plain sight, Leia has discovered, is often the best strategy.

“Set a course for Yavin 4,” she directs Luke and Chewie. “And punch it.”

Chewie warbles loudly, and a grinning Luke tosses her a sarcastic salute (once upon a time that drove her insane, but now she’s only too glad to have her brother here--sarcasm and all).

Outside the viewport, the stars streak into lines.

Chapter Text

Some time into the flight through hyperspace, Ben’s exhaustion finally overcomes his distrust towards Poe, and he curls up in the bunk of the room that had been his, back when he had gone with his Knights, on missions for Snoke. It’s tiny, with barely enough space to move around, but it’s private, as opposed to the larger room with its three doorless walls lined with bunks. The room is already cramped, but he doesn’t protest when, a moment later, Rey slips softly through the door, closing it behind her.

He’s laying on the bunk, his back to the door, when he feels her enter; his exhaustion is such that he’d barely managed to tug off his boots and gloves before collapsing. He doesn’t speak, or even open his eyes, just lays there, still and quiet, taking slow, even breaths.

There’s a whisper of sound: Rey, removing her own boots, and the wraps around her arms (he can feel the way the fabric scuffs against her skin as she unwinds it). She crosses the rest of the room in a step or two, pausing in front of the bunk, the bond humming with a sudden flash of [uncertainty], almost like she’s afraid he won’t welcome her (she keeps the nightmares away, why would he refuse?); he finally opens his eyes with a sigh, rolling over and lifting the blankets, a clear invitation.

(She could’ve stayed in the other room, but she chose to find him again, to be with him… what does that say about them, about her?)

“How’s your leg?” she murmurs softly, climbing into the bunk and half-laying down, facing him, still a bit unsure.

(The bunk is small, far smaller than the basement room they’d curled up in on Krydn, huddling close but underneath separate piles of blankets. It’s designed for a single person, after all, with only one pillow, and there’s not a whole lot of extra space even when he’s alone, but to his surprise he finds he doesn’t mind the closeness.)

“Can’t you feel it?” he responds in an almost-inaudible whisper, shifting the pillow under his head to make space for her. [lay down, it’s alright,] he adds, silently.

She hesitates for a moment before slowly lowering herself down the rest of the way, watching him the entire time, as one would watch a wounded animal--ready for it to attack at any instant (he’s too tired to even consider attacking anything, and especially not her). “Yeah,” she says after a moment, a brief flash of pain crossing her face. “It hurts.”

“Not as bad as it did.” Ben studies her face, now only a few inches from his. Without really thinking about it, he slides one arm over her, holding her (most certainly not thinking about how much more secure he feels, with her in his arms, how she completes him, their ragged edges melding together and forming something whole).

Rey sucks in a breath, her eyes widening a bit, like maybe she’d caught the tail end of that not-thought after all, and he struggles to close his end of the bond down a bit, to protect the sanctity of his mind. The walls fall when he sleeps--maybe that’s why she’s here, to save him from his dreams, or to save her from his dreams, that would make more sense. Why else would she come?

“That’s… good,” she says, eyes flicking away from him for a minute before snapping back, like she’s inexorably drawn to look at him. There’s the faintest tinge of pink to her cheeks, growing ever-more noticeable the longer he watches her. “Are… is this okay with you?” she breathes, suddenly, eyes going wide again as she considers that she might’ve just barged in.

Ben feels the thought pass through her mind and can’t help the laugh that slips out on an indrawn breath. [i wouldn’t have let you in if i wasn’t okay with it,] he tells her silently, not bothering to speak aloud. He could gladly lay there and watch her all day (or day-cycle, that is, given that he’s on a ship and not a planet), but his exhaustion pulls at him, and he lets his eyes fall closed with a sigh.

[sleep well, ben,] she sends.

He winds his arm just a bit tighter around her, smiling just a little when she tucks her head underneath his chin, and then he breathes out and lets sleep take him.

[=|=]

The Falcon is only a few hours from Yavin 4 when the comm lights up with Leia’s personal code. She looks up, using the back of the pilot’s seat to lift herself to her feet, and with a slight frown (and a bit of trepidation) she takes the comm.

“This is General Organa,” she says.

“Leia,” crackles over the comms. It’s Poe, voice heavy with relief. “Leia, I found Rey, but she’s got Kylo Ren with her.”

Hope, sharp as durasteel, stabs through her, and for a moment all she can do is breathe.

“She’s bringing him back--they had a big argument about it, but she said he’s trying.”

Leia swallows--she can tell Poe isn’t very sure about this whole thing, and she really doesn’t blame him (he’s clever, the boy who became her son) (but he could never replace the boy who is her son), she’d be unsure too-- is unsure, really. But the hope that’s grabbed her won’t let go, and she can’t quite seem to think logically. “My son is coming home?” she finally manages, unable to remove the tremulous shake of hope from her voice. And then she takes a deep breath, focuses, concentrates beyond the incredible awe, narrows her mind to a sharp blade. “Is he coming willingly?”

“As far as I can tell,” is the response. “Rey seems to trust him, but I’ve got my doubts.” He pauses. “Although…” he starts, contemplative, “I got to Krydn in time to watch the two of them take down an entire gang of black-wearing, red-lightsaber-wielding dudes that fit our intel of the Knights of Ren, so…”

“The Knights of Ren?” Leia stills, shock snapping through her. “All of them?”

“I think so.”

She can picture him shrugging, sprawled across a pilot’s chair, all boneless elegance. “Is this line secure?” she asks, instinctively dropping her voice, even though there’s no reason to--the only others in the cockpit are Luke and Chewie (the empty seat where Han should be aches, if she thinks about it, thinks about the ghost in the room with them, so she doesn’t, forces it to the back of her mind where she’ll cry about it later).

“Yes,” is the short answer back.

“We’re en route to the old Rebellion base at Yavin 4,” she murmurs into the comm. “What’s your ETA?”

There’s a pause, and then he responds with, “Around eight hours--this ship moves.”

Leia nods to herself, face set. “Alert me when you drop out of hyperspace--I want to be there to meet you. May the Force be with you.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Poe says, and then the line goes dead.

Leia lets the comm unit fall, dropping back down into her seat with a heavy sigh, letting her head fall into her hands. “I don’t know what to do now,” she admits, weary to the very bone. “Luke…”

“I don’t know, Leia,” Luke says in answer to the unspoken question. “I’ll have to speak to him, but I can’t see this working out the way Rey hopes--the way we all hope.”

“Luke,” she whispers, “if there is even a chance that my Ben is coming home, I… I have to take it.”

“I know,” he says, quietly, turning to look over at her. “Leia, I know.”

She opens her eyes, lifts her head, swallowing, meeting those eyes, the same blue as Tatooine’s sunburned skies. There’s such openness in them, now, a look reminiscent of the old days, when they were young and fighting the first war they’d ever seen (the war they’d thought would be their last), when good and evil, dark and light, were all so much simpler, the lines firm and unblurred. If someone had walked up to her after Endor and told her that in thirty-odd years, she would be the general of a new generation of rebels, her husband would be dead, her brother retreated into isolation after the destruction of his Jedi Temple, and her son the major protagonist of a reborn Empire, she would’ve laughed in sheerly naive disbelief. Oh, how things have changed, since then.

Of course, if someone had come up to her just after Han’s death and said that her brother would leave his self-imposed exile to aid her and her son would learn how to talk to (powerfully Force-sensitive) girls, she would never have believed them either.

“If you’re there with me when he arrives, he might run away,” she finally says, letting out a heavy sigh.

Luke smiles, twisted and bitter and not really a smile at all. “He will run away if he sees me,” the Jedi Master corrects, plucking at a thread in his brown cloak. “You don’t need me there. Rey is more than skilled enough to contain Kylo if he snaps.”

Leia rolls her eyes. “I don’t need Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, no,” she starts, dry as dust. “Maybe I need my brother, though.”

“If you need me, just call,” he says, and taps his temple with one finger. “You know how. I’ll respond.”

The Force bond between them hums to life in a heartbeat; she smiles at the reminder, sending him a rush of affection through the invisible connection. [i love you,] she tells him.

He grins, a real one this time. [i love you too, sister.]

[=|=]

Ben snaps awake to the sound of Poe Dameron’s voice. “Rise and shine, Ren, sweetheart!” the pilot says cheerfully from the corridor. “We’re--”

The door slams open, and Poe cuts himself off mid-word; Ben pulls his face out from Rey’s hair and opens his eyes, reluctantly, to see the Resistance pilot looking like a cat who got the cream. In his arms, Rey turns around to face the door, yawning herself awake with a vague sleepy sound.

“Just wait until Skywalker hears about this.” Poe grins.

“I swear, Poe Dameron,” Rey says in a sleep-fuzzed but fierce voice, “one word out of you, and I’ll tell Finn.”

The grin disappears in an instant, the pilot’s face going rather impressively pale. “Er, never mind,” he stammers out, “I’ll just… be in the cockpit… We’re coming out of hyperspace shortly.”

And then, blushing face and wide eyes and all, he flees, leaving the door wide open.

Ben frowns, shoving the door shut with the Force. “What was that all about?” he asks, yawning and rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“Poe has a huge crush on Finn,” Rey explains, a smug tone to her voice. “I figured it out in about… ten minutes--it’s really obvious. Finn doesn’t know yet, though.”

That could be useful, some time in the future, he decides. “Interesting.”

“No nightmares,” she says, slipping out of his arms and getting out of bed, stretching her muscles (a grimace crossing her face as the motion tugs at the burn on her side).

(He tries not to mourn the absence of her, and only mostly succeeds.)

“No nightmares,” he agrees, slowly shifting and sitting up, sliding his legs over the edge of the bed, carefully transferring his weight onto them. His injured leg twinges painfully, but the bacta has worked wonders, greatly reducing the inflammation--his leg is actually usable now. He leans down, jamming his feet back into his boots and bending over to tie the laces, watching out of the corner of his eye and his mind as Rey does the same, and then he tosses his cloak back over his shoulders and offers her his hand.

(He leaves his gloves on the floor.)

Poe is in the cockpit when they return to the main room, headset on, chattering away across the comms, his hands flickering over the controls. “We’re coming down for landing,” the pilot calls over his shoulder, not looking away from the viewscreen; Ben has to fight not to force his way into the cockpit to find out exactly where they are.

“You should leave the cloak behind,” Rey murmurs.

He turns around to stare down at her. “Why?”

She opens her mouth, snaps it shut again, and then, frustrated, sends a picture flashing across the bond: him, dark and foreboding and threatening, the cloak a second shadow behind him--someone the Resistance will find it very hard to trust, especially given everything they know of him.

“I like the threatening look,” he mutters, but she does have a point, and so with a sigh he shrugs the cloak off his shoulders again, letting it fall to the ground.

Rey smiles. “Thanks.”

And then the shuttle shudders slightly around them as it enters atmosphere, and he barely has time to think (what is he doing, honestly, how could he possibly think this will go well) before the landing gear snaps out and the shuttle comes to a smooth landing.

“Welcome to Yavin 4,” Poe says, but Ben isn’t paying attention, because outside the ship…

“Why is my mother outside?” he spits out, sharp and cold and hard.

Poe shrugs. “She wants to see you, I guess.” Something undefinable flashes across his face. (It almost looks like jealousy.) “Make sure you aren’t going to torture someone.”

“Poe,” Rey says, a warning.

Ben tightens his fingers, the Force rushing through him--it would only take once--he’s never allowed anyone to just speak to him like that, and the pilot deserves it, the bastard--

“Ben,” Rey says, stressing his name (and his eyes snap to her instantly, he can’t help it), and [ben, please.]

Please.

She didn’t say please to Poe.

Ben takes a deep breath and forces his fingers to unclench. When he speaks, it’s through gritted teeth. “I don’t want to see her.”

“Ben--” Rey starts, but he cuts her off, savage and efficient.

[no. you have already asked enough of me. i am not ready to speak to her, and i don’t know that i can keep myself from killing skywalker. please, rey.]

There’s a long pause, and then she nods, sighing. “I’ll talk to her and see what I can do. But you can’t just hide from her forever.”

“I know,” he says, and sighs, a wry grimace twisting his lips. “But I can try.”

She doesn’t have an answer to that.

Chapter Text

Beside the lonely, windswept figure of Leia Organa, the landing pad is empty--this is the first thing Rey notices when she steps out of the ship.

The second thing she notices is the heat.

Where Jakku had been a world of desert extremes--harsh, burning heat during the day and frozen, windblown cold at night--Yavin 4 is the opposite: sticky, oppressive heat smothering her like a wet blanket. The light breeze does nothing to lessen the brutal warmth, barely even stirring her hair; only seconds after setting foot on the moon, and already she can feel the wraps on her arms are sweat-stuck to her skin.

Brilliant.

Poe leaves the ship next to her, but Leia’s eyes never leave Rey, like the general is waiting for something, or searching for something, Rey isn’t sure. Leia doesn’t speak, though, until the two get closer; when she finally does open her mouth, her words are directed at Rey and Rey alone.

“Where is he?”

Hope is a powerful emotion, not easily concealed; though the general does her utmost to keep her voice expressionless, the fire of hope still burns in her dark eyes, trembles just under the surface of her words. (The Force is full of it: the sudden desperate longing of a mother, long denied, on the edge of seeing her only child again, tempered with the jagged-edged sorrow of disbelief and broken dreams and the ever-present bitter guilt that comes from the knowledge that you, as a parent, were the cause of your child’s downfall--it tastes like ashes, like the last dregs of a pot of caf, like failure.)

“He…” Rey swallows, wonders how to even begin to say it without shattering the tremulous balance Leia has, and then gives up trying. “He doesn’t want to see you.”

Leia’s face goes pale. She closes her eyes, breathing slowly, steadily (combat breathing, in-two-three-hold-two-three-out-two-three-hold-two-three repeat), and when her eyes flick open again it’s like she’s aged a decade in the space of seconds. “I understand,” she says, heavy and slow and quiet, an ancient sorrow in her dark eyes.

“Just… give him time,” Rey pleads, unsure what exactly she’s begging for, but begging all the same. “It’s too much at once, he’s not ready…” She trails off, looking for words that aren’t there, wanting to tell a story that’s not hers to tell.

“I understand,” Leia says again, and from somewhere in the depths of that incredible strength and will, she manages a smile. “I will leave you, then,” and she turns to make her way back to the base.

“Wait!” Rey sucks in a breath, taking half a step forward, one hand slightly outstretched. The general turns half around again, pausing, waiting. “I need to debrief you--where can I find you? After?”

“In the command center,” Leia says. “Poe will show you. Give them rooms, too, Poe.”

“Yes, General,” Poe says.

This time, when the general walks away, Rey doesn’t stop her. [you can come out now,] she tells Ben, instead, and a half-second later his tall form comes walking down the shuttle’s ramp.

Nearly to the massive ziggurat hosting the base, Leia pauses in mid-step, glancing back over her shoulder; before Ben can notice her, though, she’s walking on again, and then she disappears from Rey’s view.

Poe takes a deep breath (Rey has to wonder if he’s as affected by the conversation as she is), straightening his shoulders. “Rooms,” he says, pasting a smile on his face. “Right. Follow me.”

She starts off after the quickly retreating pilot, not needing to look to know that Ben’s just behind her; he sends a puzzled [???] through the bond at her and stretches out his legs to catch up (the motion sending a burning pain through his muscles that he can’t completely shield her from).

[poe’s finding rooms for us to stay in,] Rey explains silently. [then he’s going to show me to the command center so i can debrief with general organa.]

A general feeling of acceptance filters back through to her, and then the bond returns to its passive state, a light buzzing of emotions and thoughts and a general awareness in the back of her mind, within easy reach if she just concentrates on it. Only the stronger thoughts and emotions break through to register, and for the most part Ben is good enough at shielding to hide most things.

Black and kriffing jungle moons do not mix, however, floats through clear as crystal, and Rey can’t be bothered to suppress her laughter (or her amused [maybe you should change your color scheme,] response).

Poe glances back over his shoulder, eyebrows raised pointedly. “Care to share the joke with the rest of the class?”

She waves him off, rolling her eyes, still chuckling. “It’s nothing.”

[i like the threatening look, remember?] Ben retorts, but there’s a half-smile playing with the corners of his lips, and his eyes are the lightest she has ever seen them.

(Something changed, in him, when Snoke died. She’d seen it, in the throne room, during the fight with the Praetorians--a potential chance for her to turn him, she’d thought at the time, a first step taken down his path to the Light--and so she’d taken his hand, even knowing that it was more Kylo Ren than Ben Solo on the other end of that proposition. And she hadn’t really paid any attention to the slightest lightness, the added sarcasm, the lightening of his eyes--at least, not beyond what that could mean in terms of his affiliation.

She should’ve paid more attention.

It’s obvious, now, what’s changed--Snoke is gone, no longer the insidious voice whispering cruel darkness at the edges of Ben’s mind. He’s free, maybe for the first time in his life, to think and feel exactly what he wants, without malevolence twisting every thought and emotion around.

And that brings her to the terrifying thought: what would have happened to him if she’d rejected his outstretched hand?

She’s not sure she wants to know.)

Rey blinks, pulling herself out of her suddenly dark thoughts to see that Poe’s stopped in front of a door with a keypad lock. “It’s a four-digit code,” the pilot explains. “Enter the code you want to use, press the asterisk, enter the code again, and touch the green button to set it. Rey, your room will be right next to his, but if you’ll just come with me now, we can get this debrief out of the way.”

She hesitates, looks back at Ben ([go on,] he tells her, already focusing on the locking mechanism), and then nods. “Yeah, okay. Lead the way.”

[=|=]

The small, black-clad figure kneels before the stern, ginger-haired Supreme Leader, in the hastily-converted throne room (what had once been Kylo Ren’s living quarters) on board the Finalizer. Kneeling leaves a bitter taste in her mouth--she’d never kneeled to anyone but Master Snoke, before this--but she knows that Hux will feel more secure, will be more easily tamed, if he thinks she is utterly under his control.

Right now, the newly-crowned Supreme Leader paces back and forth, his long black greatcoat swirling in his wake (it’s nowhere near as intimidating as Ren’s cloak, but it’d bruise his ego to hear that), his black boots tapping the floor with every step. “All of them?” he finally queries, stopping and turning back to the girl kneeling silently on the mirrored black floor.

“All of them,” she confirms, watching the former general’s reflection--even distorted by the floor, she can still make out the snarl that twists across his face. (Not that he’s angry that the Knights are dead, no--they had caused him far too many headaches in the past for that. His anger stems from the fact that once again, Ren and the scavenger have escaped.)

“Does he know that you are not all dead?”

She presses her lips together, barely holding back an annoyed, impatient sigh (she does, however, give in to the impulse to roll her eyes, since her face is concealed by the deep hood). “No, Supreme Leader,” she says, again, in as neutral a voice as she can. “My existence was a closely-kept secret only known to Master Snoke himself. I can assure you that neither Ren nor the scavenger were ever aware of my presence on Krydn. With all due respect,” and oh, how much it grates to say those words, “Supreme Leader, I am known as the Shadow for a very good reason. It is my job to be unseen.”

Hux considers this for a long time before finally letting out a heavy sigh. “If you are so skilled, Isolt,” he starts, stressing the use of her given name, “then tell me this: why did you stay out of the fight, despite explicit standing orders to kill both Ren and the scavenger?”

“I judged the information to be more valuable to you than my likely death,” Isolt says, rolling her eyes again. “The opportunity wasn’t there, or I would be bringing you their heads. Now, I have discovered a Resistance cell that needs destroying. Never fear, Supreme Leader,” she adds, lifting her head for the first time and looking directly up at Hux. “I have a plan for Ren and the girl.”

There’s a muscle twitching in Hux’s jaw. “I don’t like secrets,” he forces out through gritted teeth.

“Master Snoke deemed weapons to be more strategically useful when they have minds of their own,” she says, rising to her feet in a single fluid motion, abandoning all pretense. “I am a very dangerous weapon, Supreme Leader--be careful which way you point me.”

Unsaid: I will not hesitate to turn on you.

Anger flashes in his eyes, but he doesn’t snap, even though the frustrated emotion is clear in his voice. “Very well,” he finally manages. “I expect regular updates on my personal comm channel, Shadow.”

Isolt, the Shadow, sixteen years old and deadly as the lightsaber on her belt, smiles, and it is not a warm thing. “It has been a pleasure doing business with you, Armitage Hux,” she says, wielding his given name the same way he’d used hers, just moments ago.

Before he has a chance to respond, she turns on her heel and vanishes through the door.

[=|=]

“I went to the Supremacy to try and turn Ben,” Rey starts, drumming her fingers idly on the desk in front of her. Luke and Leia sit on the other side, both watching her closely, and Poe’s standing off to the side, waiting to give his own account. “Snoke ripped Ach-to’s location out of my mind--I tried to stop him, but I couldn’t--and ordered Ben to…” She pauses, hunting for the exact words. “To complete his training and strike down his true enemy, I think? Something like that. Ben killed Snoke instead, and then we fought Snoke’s guards together. He… he asked me to join him, to rule the galaxy with him, and I accepted.” She swallows, looking down at the desk, rushing on. “I thought that if I stayed, maybe I could still turn him, or I could… help the Resistance, somehow.”

“You made a smart decision,” Leia says gently, and Rey lets out the breath she hadn’t even realized she was holding. “What happened after that?”

“He ordered Hux to stay with what was left of the fleet and lay siege on Crait--he promised he would try and spare my friends,” she adds, looking up again. “And he was going to try and limp the Supremacy to a planet where it could be repaired. But Hux guessed Ben’s part in Snoke’s death, or something, and marked Ben as a Resistance-sympathizer and a traitor. He sent a hologram to the entire First Order as soon as Ben was far enough away, proclaiming himself as the new Supreme Leader. The ship turned on us--that’s how I got the burn on my side, I got shot--and we made it out by stealing Snoke’s personal shuttle. We flew to Krydn. The plan was to abandon the shuttle and hide out for a few days, and then find a way to get a new ship.”

She stops to take a deep breath and gather herself, making sure that both Luke and Leia are still following her. “We stayed for three days, hiding in an abandoned building in one of the cities,” she continues. “On the third day, we got caught by some muggers--nothing happened, but I guess our lightsabers were captured on a security camera.”

“They were,” Poe interrupts in confirmation. “That’s how BB-8 found you.”

“That’s how the Knights found us, too,” Rey says, noting how both Skywalker twins tense, straightening and exchanging sharp glances at those words. “Later that day, we went out in search of something we could steal. The Knights of Ren found us there. Ben said that they were after him, because he betrayed them by killing Snoke, and that if I would hide they wouldn’t come after me. I refused, though. He would’ve been killed. We fought them together, and Ben was injured in the fight--he almost died, but Poe showed up at the last second and saved his life. We stole their shuttle and came here. And that’s all.”

There’s a long silence. “You killed the Knights of Ren,” Leia finally murmurs, something wearily incredulous in her voice. “All of them?”

Rey nods. “I think so. Ben said it was all of them.”

“And what about the Force bond?” Luke asks suddenly.

“It’s only gotten stronger,” she admits.

The Jedi Master nods. “I expected as much,” he says, his gaze already turning inward in a mask of deep concentration.

Leia purses her lips, thinking for a few more minutes before putting some kind of a smile on her face. “Go get something from the mess, take a shower, get that blaster burn treated,” the general says decidedly. “We are in a bit of a grace period right now, with all the inner turmoil the First Order is dealing with--we should take advantage of it. Rest, heal, and help Ben acclimatize.”

Rey nods, recognizing the dismissal in the words, even though it’s prettily disguised. “Thank you, General Organa,” she says, scooting back from the desk and standing.

“Please, call me Leia,” the older woman says.

Rey manages a smile and a nod, and then she turns and leaves the command center as quickly as possible. It’s obvious, really: they trust her, they don’t trust Ben, and since she’s the only person Ben is likely to trust on the base, it’s her job to babysit. It shouldn’t bother her--it makes perfect sense--and yet…

She shakes her head, shoving the thoughts from her mind. It doesn’t matter. She’ll feel better after a (hopefully) hot meal and a shower.

(At least, she hopes she will.)

With a sigh, she makes her way through the base towards the mess, following the route Poe had pointed out to her on the way to the command center; it only takes a couple minutes to find the large room.

Finn is sitting on the end of the long table nearest the entrance, an unfamiliar dark-haired woman sitting across from him.

His head lifts at her approach, as though he can sense her arrival, and for a second they just stand, frozen, gazes locked--and then the former stormtrooper is on his feet and running across the mess hall, sweeping her into his arms. She wraps her arms around him tightly, resting her head on his shoulder and closing her eyes, feeling all the tension drain out of her in an instant.

And then Finn’s hands are on her shoulders, pushing her back to grin at her. “Rey!” he exclaims. “Where have you been? I was worried sick!”

“It’s a long story,” she says, and then she laughs. “I missed you too, Finn. Who are you sitting with?”

He pulls her into another hug. “I can’t wait to hear it. That’s Rose Tico--she’s amazing, you have to meet her--”

His voice dies at the same time a sudden sharp flash of [shock] and [hurt] stabs across the bond.

Rey jerks back as though stung, turning to look over her shoulder. Ben’s standing in the corridor, stripped down to just a black t-shirt over his long black trousers and boots; he’s staring at her, an awful expression on his pale face. The instant their eyes meet, he turns on his heel and practically runs down the corridor, away from her. [ben,] she tries, desperate, but it’s like slamming into a durasteel wall--the bond is firmly sealed.

“Is--is that Kylo Ren?” Finn chokes out, finally finding his voice.

“Yes, but--he’s on our side now. Kinda on our side.” She doesn’t look away from the now-empty corridor. “I have to go, sorry,” she adds, breathless. “You can introduce me to Rose later.”

“Rey, wait,” Finn tries, but she’s already running, retracing her steps to the corridor with their rooms.

The door to Ben’s room is closed and locked. She knocks, calls, “Ben?” softly through the crack between the door and the frame, but there’s no answer. She sighs, enters her own room, paying little attention to what it looks like (tries the bond again, but it’s still locked down hard), finds the attached ‘fresher and takes a long, hot shower.

The bond stays closed.



Rey jerks awake in the middle of the night, startled out of sleep by shared nightmares that leave her shaking and terrified; she reaches out for Ben, instinctively, seeking comfort, only for a door to slam in her face.

She doesn’t sleep for the rest of the night.

(Neither does he.)

 

(He slams his fist into the wall separating their rooms hard enough to dent said wall and rip the skin on his knuckles to shreds. He hopes she can hear the thud.)

 

(She spends the next day in an abandoned part of the base, destroying old empty crates and boxes of junk with her lightsaber and pretending they’re enemies. She spars with shadows until she’s drenched in sweat and her injured side screams in pain, and then she breaks down and sobs, curled up in a corner between two mostly-whole crates, until finally she falls asleep.)

 

(He considers stealing the stolen shuttle and flying it back to the Finalizer, seeing how much of the First fucking Order he can kill before they down him. Maybe he’ll get lucky and have the chance to kill Hux.)

 

He doesn’t leave his room for three days. During that time, the bond stays closed, completely and entirely, not a single thought or feeling slipping through. Just radio silence.

On the morning of the fourth day, Rey decides she’s tired of it.

Chapter Text

“I hope you’re decent, Ben, because I’m coming in,” Rey calls through the door.

There’s no response.

The lack of a sarcastic answer--of any answer at all, really--is more worrying than the possibility of walking in on him, so she swallows and enters in the four-digit code he’d given her for his quarters on the Supremacy.

The door clicks unlocked.

Rey doesn’t hesitate--she grabs the handle and opens the door, ducking inside and closing it behind her. Ben’s sprawled on the bed, on his stomach, head propped up on his left hand and his right arm hanging off the edge of the bed. He doesn’t look up when she enters the room.

“Ben,” she starts (he jerks, ever-so-slightly, like it takes a physical effort to keep himself from looking at her), “you’re acting like a sulky child. Also a jerk.”

“Sounds about right,” he agrees without looking up, swinging his hand around. There’s old, dried blood on his knuckles, and a dent in the wall.

“I’m allowed to hug my best friend--my first friend,” she snaps, sharper than she wanted but unable to mellow her tone. “And I would have told you Finn’s just a friend if you would’ve let me.”

“He was scared,” Ben says, softly.

Rey freezes. “What?”

“FN-2187. Finn. He saw me, and he was scared. And he should be.” He pauses, finally looks up. “I don’t belong here. I’ve done too much. The Resistance will never accept me.”

“Ben…”

The bond snaps open with a sudden roar of feelings, and she barely has a chance to prepare herself before she’s drowning.

(He’s jealous of Finn, of course he is--hugging his Rey--but the jealousy can’t compare to the sickening realization that the man fears him. They are all afraid of him--they can’t trust him, they never will, they shouldn’t, and if she continues to associate with him, if there’s still a bond between them, they won’t trust her either, and they can’t--that can’t happen. She has friends, she has Finn and Poe, she doesn’t need him.

But that doesn’t mean he has to like this.)

There’s a long pause.

“Also,” Ben says, sitting up, a sudden burst of anger flashing across the newly-reopened bond, “you’re mine.” The last word is almost a snarl.

Rey blinks, mind still whirling. “Ben--I--he’s either gay or he’s got a girlfriend or both, seriously--and you don’t get to make that choice for me. I choose to be around you, and if the Resistance thinks I’m untrustworthy because of that… I don’t care!” And then she frowns. “You’re the one I kissed, you know.”

“I’m offended on principle,” he quips, but there’s a shift in his face, almost imperceptible (the anger’s drained away just as fast as it came). “Rey…”

[i’m not leaving you, ben. not ever. trust me, please?]

[i… i’ll try.]

She sits down next to him on the bed, reaching out cautiously and placing one hand on his arm. “Please don’t shut me out again,” she breathes, staring up at him.

“I won’t,” he murmurs, reaching out and pulling her into his arms (she goes willingly, falling into him with a soft huff of air, closing her eyes). “I missed you.”

“I missed you too,” she says into his chest, her voice muffled; he buries his head in her hair and holds her close and for a long time neither of them move.

[=|=]

“Alright, come on,” Rey says after a while, sitting up and shifting away. “We have somewhere to be.”

Ben frowns but lets her go, reluctantly. “Where?”

“You’ll see,” she says, grabbing his hand and tugging him off the bed. “Come on!”

He pokes at the bond, curious, but she’s hiding it very well, whatever it is; and so, with a frustrated sigh, he follows her to the door and out into the corridor. “You’re very cheerful,” he observes suspiciously, frowning (but it’s impossible to stay frowning with so much sheer [happiness] running through his mind).

“I didn’t know being cheerful is against the law,” she retorts, practically dragging him down the corridor.

He lets a bit of [pain] flash through as one step stretches his injured leg too far, and she immediately stills. [i’m sorry, i didn’t think, are you alright?]

[i just can’t walk that fast,] he responds, setting the pace a bit slower, smiling a little bit. [what are you so cheerful about?]

[you’ll see,] she returns, grinning, smug this time. She leads him down corridors and around corners until she’s standing in front of a door. “In here.”

Ben frowns, suddenly paying attention to the Force--there are two very familiar Force signatures inside that room. “Oh, no, we are not doing this,” he starts.

Rey doesn’t give him a choice. She opens the door and drags him in, closing and locking the door behind him before he has a chance to fight. “Master Skywalker, Leia, we’re here,” she says aloud. Silently: [ben, please?]

She looks up at him, soft and pleading, and how can he refuse? “I’d really rather not,” he tries, half heartedly, but he lets out a sigh and sends [fine,] at her.

“Ben?”

It’s his mother’s voice, shaky and horribly emotional, and he does not want to do this, but what choice does he have? So he lets Rey lead him around the bank of computers and in front of a pair of chairs inhabited by the two people he least wants to see: his mother and his uncle. (One of them sent him away, the other one tried to murder him, and he wants nothing to do with either of them.)

It’s all he can do to keep himself from grabbing for his lightsaber the instant he lays eyes on Luke; he grits his teeth and forces himself to relax and to observe. He hasn’t seen either of them in years; both have aged far too much, are weary and tired and yet there’s still, somehow, a fire burning inside his mother. Luke, on the other hand… Luke is old and exhausted and yet the same old serenity, the same old strength still lies within his bones, even if he’s been hollowed out by the years.

There’s a long silence.

And then: “Ben, I’m sorry.” Luke.

“I’m sure you are,” Ben snaps back, reflexive, sharp and harsh on instinct. “Sorry for what, exactly? That I woke up too soon?”

“I failed you, Ben,” Luke says quietly (and why won’t he fight back?). “When you needed me the most, I gave in to the pull of the Dark Side. By the time I came to my senses, it was too late.”

“Sorry doesn’t make it all go away,” Ben hisses, vicious and cutting (he’s angry and it hurts and they abandoned him). “You let Snoke take over my mind!” And then he spins, stares down at his mother. “And you! You were supposed to love me, but the moment I showed signs of darkness you sent me away!” His voice turns mocking. “Afraid I would ruin your perfect princess image?” (Rey goes absolutely still at that.)

Quite abruptly, Leia stands, stepping around the desk and coming straight up to him. (She only comes up to his shoulders, he is not intimidated by her, he will not back up--)

Smack!

“Ben Anakin Solo,” Leia says, “you may be an adult, but I am still your mother, and I will not tolerate that tone.”

He lifts one hand to touch his cheek, almost wonderingly--it’s tender and sore (there’ll probably be a mark)--shock taking the place of the anger. The whole room is silent, tense, hanging on an indrawn breath, waiting to see how he’ll react--

He laughs.

It’s a harsh, grating sound, almost hysterical, jagged-edged and sharp as shattered glass, laced with bitterness and self-loathing, and he catches a chair with one foot and brings it underneath him. He falls into the chair, covering his face with his hands, as the laughter turns into tears, into the desperate gulping sobs of a lost, lonely boy. Rey moves to him, puts a hand on his shoulder, channeling warm reassurance and comfort through the bond; he grasps the feelings gratefully, strengthening himself, finally managing to slow the crying to nothing.

He lifts his head after a bit to see that neither Luke nor Leia have moved. “I had the shot,” he says, abrupt, his voice somehow surprisingly steady. “At the bridge, I had the shot, but I couldn’t take it.” He shakes his head. “I couldn’t do it. My escort didn’t hesitate… I let them get shot down.” Raw honesty creeps into his voice. “I didn’t want to kill you.”

Something softens in Leia’s eyes, but he’s not quite done. “After I killed Han--my father--” (and his voice cracks, no matter that his father practically vanished as soon as he found out he had a Force-sensitive son) “Snoke still wasn’t satisfied--I’d given him everything, everything I had, and it wasn’t enough.” He swallows, looks over at Luke again. “I can’t forgive you,” he says, simple, direct, to the point. “Not yet. Maybe not ever. But I’ll work with you, because Rey wants me to.”

Luke nods once. “I understand,” he murmurs, and the edge of guilty self-hatred in his voice and eyes is strangely familiar.

Ben takes a deep breath. “Mom,” he starts, and the word feels both wrong and comforting at the same time, “why wouldn’t you let me come home?”

Leia closes her eyes, swallowing hard, and when she opens them again there’s a tear running down her cheek. “I was scared, and I didn’t know what to do,” she whispers. “I was never trained, I thought your uncle would have a better chance… we were all scared, Ben, and the choices we made reflected that, and you paid the ultimate price. I understand you can’t forgive me.” She takes another breath. “I can’t forgive myself.”

There are more tears on her cheeks. She looks so fragile, so frail, old and weary and careworn, like her bones have been eroded by the years and the grief, leaving her a shell of the woman she once was, caving in on herself, shoulders bowed under the weight of worlds.

She’s so small.

(All her fire is gone, extinguished with Han Solo, and it’s his fault.)

(Somewhere, in the very depths of his mind, there’s a little boy in light-colored clothes, curled up on a low bed and crying for his mama.)

[go to her, ben,] Rey prods, softly, pulling her hand from his shoulder.

[but what if she--]

[she doesn’t, trust me.]

Ben stands on shaky legs, unable to tear his eyes from the woman in front of him. She shouldn’t be crying--she should never cry.

(The first time he sees her cry, Ben is five years old and he has just watched the Millennium Falcon fly away. His dad had ruffled his hair and grinned, but there was a shadow in his eyes. See you around, kid, he’d said, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, which is a long list of things like buy something you could steal and other things his mom doesn’t approve of.

Where are you going, dad? Ben had asked, not understanding, and in answer he’d been given a scrap of paper.

If you ever need me, you just send me a comm, you hear?

Before Ben could answer, his dad was gone, and the Falcon was flying away.

Late that night, unable to sleep because of the Voice whispering awful things in his ears, Ben creeps out of his room and sneaks down the hallway, quiet as a mouse to avoid Threepio, and stops in front of his parents’ bedroom. The door is cracked open, a little bit of warm yellow lamplight spilling out into the dark hallway, and through the little crack he can see his mom on the big bed, clutching a white shirt to her face and sobbing into it like her heart is shattering. He stands there, indecisive, unable to stop watching, and then she looks up and wipes her face and calls out, is that you, Ben?

He slips inside the room and closes the door; his mom pats the space next to her on the bed and he crawls up beside her, wriggling under the blankets and nestling into her side. Can’t sleep? she asks, and he nods, laying down.

‘S the Voice again, he murmurs drowsily, eyes falling shut, and so he misses the horror, fear, and pain that crosses her face at those words. I miss dad.

So do I, she admits, turning out the light and laying down next to him, curling around him. I love you, Ben.

Love you, mama…)

(He wonders if she’s thinking of that night, too.)

One hand lifts, not entirely of his own volition, to touch Leia’s cheek, wiping away the teardrops there; her eyes flick up to his, something astonished in their depths, and then he reaches out and pulls her into his chest, laying his head on top of hers and closing his eyes. “I’m sorry about dad,” he breathes into the grey braided hair (Alderaan mourning braid, he recognizes it, knows how to do it, even).

“Oh, Ben,” Leia chokes out, her words muffled by his black t-shirt. “I already forgave you.”

[=|=]

They say that the first thing you see about the Shadow will be the last.

For the most part, that’s probably true; people tend to laser-focus on the nearly invisible lightsaber blade, once they noticed it. Most of the galaxy, after all, knows what a lightsaber looks like, and maybe even the sound. A nearly translucent lightsaber with an illusory afterimage that makes absolutely no sound is, however, unheard of.

(It’d been difficult to get a hold of a ghostfire crystal for her lightsaber, but worth it.)

The blade glows dimly in her hand, now, as Isolt steps over the body of the last rebel in her path. There’s only one more person in the room--a woman, sending out a last desperate message, a distress signal, more than likely. It doesn’t matter--the cell will go dark shortly, and the distress signal will die before it ever reaches its destination.

“Who are you?” the woman asks, bravely standing tall. Her voice shakes, just a little, but it’s truly impressive, really.

It’s a pity she’s chosen the wrong side.

Someone so brave deserves to know who is about to kill her, Isolt supposes. “I am the Shadow,” she says, soft and cruel and cold. And then she reaches out with one elegant, black-gloved hand and tightens her fingers. “Goodbye.”



As the figure steps out of the cave, her black-gloved hands reach back and lift the cloak’s deep hood up once again, concealing her dark blonde hair and brown eyes. She looks around her, once, twice, to confirm her isolation, and then she fades away into the shadows beneath the trees.

Moments later, a small, unmarked ship leaves the atmosphere and streaks into hyperspace.

(And, on Yavin 4, General Leia Organa’s personal comm channel receives an incoming audio-text transmission.)

Chapter Text

“Spar with me.”

Rey jumps a little, looking up from whatever it is she’s doing to the old X-wing (whatever it is, it’s got her so immersed she’d ignored the bond, forcing him to come and find her). “Really?”

Ben shrugs a little. “I promised I’d train you, and you’re going to need better lightsaber combat techniques.” He hesitates before adding, “I think we could take over one of the landing pads.”

Rey pulls her arms out of the X-wing’s wiring and grins, jumping down off the top of the fighter. “I would love to,” she says, grabbing her arm wraps from where she’d discarded them and quickly winding the fabric back around her forearms.

“You have good instincts,” he starts, leading her out of the hangar and towards the outside. “Fighting with a quarterstaff is just similar enough that you can use the same forms, but they aren’t the most useful. There are multiple forms of lightsaber combat, but I’m not going to teach them to you.” He pauses, stepping into the sunlight, and shakes his head. “That’s not exactly right--I’ll teach you certain maneuvers from each, but you should develop your own fighting style. Are you planning on crafting your own lightsaber?”

She frowns, coming to a stop in the middle of one of the deserted landing pads. “I hadn’t thought about it,” she admits. “I don’t have a crystal--”

Ben grins, pulling out his lightsaber hilt with a flourish. “Lucky for you, I happen to know where Snoke’s secret cache of crystals is hidden.” With a flick of a switch, his fiery red blade roars to life, and he spins it around, idly. “Are you ready?”

She nods, pulling out the silver Skywalker casing and activating the blue blade. “As I’ll ever be.”

He takes a deep breath and focuses, settling into stance. “Begin.”

 

(With only a couple dozen people on base, it takes very little time for the whispers to spread: Kylo Ren and Rey are fighting on one of the landing pads! It takes only a little longer for the majority of the rebels present to break away from their tasks and make their way to the landing pads to see the fight with their own eyes.

The two duelists, however, are too absorbed to notice.)

 

The two lightsaber blades, the red and the blue, writhe and twist around each other, humming and crackling through the air. Ben leaps forward, slashing with his saber; Rey backpedals, tries too late to block--

“Stop.”

She does, letting out a frustrated sigh and lowering her lightsaber. “What was that for?”

Ben arrests his strike mid-motion, taking a step back, using the brief respite to wipe the sweat from his forehead. “You weren’t going to block in time.”

“How do you know?”

He gives her a withering stare. [i can tell,] and then he shakes his head. “You’re thinking too much,” he explains. “You have good instincts, use them. Let go, let the Force guide you, like you did in the throne room.”

She takes a deep breath, gritting her teeth, and straightens up again, wiping her palms on her pants and sinking back into a stance. “Trust the Force, right,” she mutters, breathing in again.

Ben lifts his saber, taking a deep breath of his own, and then he lunges.

He pushes harder, faster, this time; leads with a basic (but brutal) cross-body slash. Instead of jumping back, Rey whips her lightsaber up and blocks the strike, staggering slightly with the unexpected power. He bears down, forcing her to pull back, and takes a step back, spinning his lightsaber in his hand.

She strikes first, this time, crossing the distance between them with a low cut at his knees. Tugging on the Force, he leaps the scything blade and cuts at her head almost before his feet are even back on the ground; she recovers quickly (faster than normal) and ducks before stabbing at his stomach. Ben blocks, this time, using his red blade to knock hers aside before it can make contact. Her momentum carries her forward, closer to him, her side unguarded, and he makes use of Force-enhanced speed and balance to spin and cut at her unprotected side--

Only to be abruptly foiled as Rey plants one foot, stopping her momentum in its tracks, and spins back at him. She stops his lightsaber and lunges, launching a series of attacks that put him on the defensive, nearly managing to slip under his guard before he pulls on his superior command of the Force and years of training and launches a counterattack that puts her on the defensive.

There’s something almost intoxicating about this, about sparring with Rey, and the fact that he can trust her to pull a killing blow back before it lands. It’s not quite as good as fighting side-by-side with her, doesn’t have that same rush of adrenaline, but it’s close. Close enough to bring something like a smile to his face as he manages to disarm her. She pulls the lightsaber right back to her hand, of course, but in a real fight the damage would’ve already been done, and she knows that.

“Good,” he says, lowering his lightsaber and thumbing the blade off. “That was better.” He rubs one hand across his forehead, wiping off the sweat threatening to drip into his eyes and pushing his hair back, and returns his lightsaber casing to his belt.

That, of course, is when he becomes aware of the thirty-odd pairs of eyes on him.

The exhilaration of the spar drains away in an instant, leaving him tense and uncomfortable; he turns, slowly, to face the gathered rebels, noting the flickering uncertainty and, in some cases, fear in their eyes.

Except for one.

“Impressive,” Poe Dameron drawls, stepping out from the back of the group. “You almost look like you know what you’re doing.”

Ben grits his teeth. “The uneducated eye often has trouble understanding the intricacies of lightsaber combat,” he says back, as smoothly as he can. “Don’t you all have things to be doing?” he adds, voice edged in something like warning, frowning at the spectators.

Who would’ve guessed that a simple spar would attract so much attention? In the First Order, no one would’ve dared stop and stare at him, whether he was training or in the process of destroying a bank of computers in a fit of rage.

… of course, the Resistance seems to be the precise opposite of the First Order in most ways, so he supposes he shouldn’t be too surprised, but still. It’s annoying.

Rey comes up beside him. [how long have they been watching?] she asks silently.

He shrugs. [no idea, but i wish they would go away.]

“Show’s over,” Poe calls out, and as though the words are some kind of cue, the crowd breaks up and wanders away, leaving only three people behind: Finn, Poe, and Rose. “Hey, Rey, we need to talk to you. Without ex-Supreme Dumbass.”

Ben jerks at the name, a sudden surge of anger running through him. What right does some idiotic, overly reckless Resistance pilot have to judge him? “What did you call me?” he asks, voice dangerously low, stepping forward.

Rey reaches out, catches his arm. “Ben,” she says, emphatically. [he’s trying to get a rise out of you, he wants you to react.]

[i know that. i’m not an idiot,] he snaps back, harsher than he intends, and sighs, looking back at her. [go on, i’ll find something to do.]

She hesitates. [are you sure?]

[just go.]

Finally, she nods and walks away.

Ben watches her go and tries not to feel abandoned.

[=|=]

Finn, Poe, and Rose pull Rey into a nearby empty room and shut the door behind her.

“What is this for?” she asks, looking between the three faces. “Is something wrong?”

“We’re worried about you,” Finn says, stepping forward. “You’ve been acting different since you came back.”

“We’re concerned you’re being manipulated by Kylo Ren,” Poe states, simple and direct, straight to the point.

“That man killed my sister,” Rose says, all fiery eyes and lifted chin. “How can you be out there just-- fighting with him? He shouldn’t even be here!”

Rey shakes her head, bewildered. “It’s not like that,” she tries. “Ben isn’t--look,” she says, dragging a hand across her face. “He was brainwashed.”

There’s a pause. “I watched him kill an entire village,” Finn says, slowly. “He doesn’t have an excuse for that.”

“He tortured me,” Poe adds, narrowing his eyes. “Not all that long ago, either.”

“I know!” Rey snaps, glaring. “He invaded my mind! But he’s changing, he’s trying to be better.” She sucks in a deep breath. “I only know a little bit of the story,” she starts, looking between the three rebels. “But as far as I can tell, Ben has had Snoke twisting his mind and controlling his emotions since he was a child.” She swallows. “He’s not the same as he was.”

“Rey, he killed his own father.” Finn shakes his head, sighing. “You can’t trust him.”

And this is it, she realizes: it’s now or never, because if she can’t convince these three that Ben is trustworthy, that she is still trustworthy, it’s only a matter of time before the entire Resistance turns on them. And there’s only one way she can think to do it.

Ben isn’t going to be happy about it, she’s sure, but what other choice does she have?

(You could mind trick them, a voice whispers, and she stills. It would be easy, so easy… but these are her friends, her only friends.

And yet… Are they really your friends if they can’t--won’t--trust you?

That stops her in her tracks.

But what will happen if they find out? If Leia finds out?

The voice doesn’t have an answer to that question.)

“I can,” she says, quietly, looking down and swallowing, running her fingers across the warm silver of her lightsaber casing. “When I was on Ach-to,” and she looks up, silently pleading them to listen, to understand, “something happened. The Force, it… connected us. Snoke said he created it, but that was just a lie, because he’s dead and the bond still exists. Ben and I, our minds are linked. I can feel his thoughts, his emotions.”

Poe frowns, shaking his head. “How do you know Ren isn’t manipulating what you feel?”

“He can’t,” she says immediately.

Finn shakes his head stubbornly. “I don’t trust him.”

“Neither do I,” Poe agrees. “I’m sorry, Rey, but with this… bond you’re talking about, I can’t trust you either.”

Rey swallows, dropping her eyes. She gave up her biggest secret with almost no persuasion, and for what? All she’s accomplished is turning even her friends against her.

It’s sickening.

(And she can’t help but start to wonder at her almost blind faith in the goodness in Ben. What if they’re right? Leia--but Leia doesn’t trust Ben, she trusts Rey’s ability to contain Ben in the event that he turns against the Resistance.)

“I’m sorry,” Finn says, and the apologetic sincerity in his eyes is so genuine she has to try and give him a small smile.

“It’s alright,” she says, quietly, looking down again. (It’s not.) “I understand.” (She doesn’t.)

“Wait.”

Rey jerks her head up at Rose’s voice, eyes going wide.

“Are you sure Ren can’t take advantage of your link?” the woman asks.

Rey nods. “I’m positive.” (And if that’s just a little bit of a white lie, well, no one needs to know that.)

Rose nods, turns to Finn and Poe. “We should give him a chance,” she says. “That’s what the Resistance does-- we give people a second chance. Like we did with Finn.”

“Please,” Rey adds, almost begging. “Just give him a chance--give me a chance. I’ll prove it to you.”

“Fine,” Poe says, grudgingly. “You have two standard weeks to prove that Ren isn’t a danger to the Resistance, and that you can still be trusted. If you can’t prove it, we’ll have to treat you as prisoners. Are we clear?”

She swallows and nods. “Yes,” she whispers, and then she turns and leaves the room.

[=|=]

“I am the Shadow. Goodbye.”

Leia frowns as the audio file accompanying the distress signal goes silent, seconds ticking by before there’s a muted thunk, like the sound a body makes when it hits the ground. No blasterfire, no sound of a fistfight, just… nothing.

It doesn’t make sense.

“Maybe the recorder just didn’t pick up the sound,” Lieutenant Kaydel Ko Connix offers, although the expression on her face shows she doesn’t really believe her own solution.

Leia shakes her head. “It picked up the sound of her body hitting the floor,” she says. “Any struggle would have been recorded.”

“So she died without putting up a fight?” Kaydel frowns. “That doesn’t make sense, General. And how did she die?”

“I don’t know,” Leia says, frustrated. “But that’s the second Resistance cell we’ve lost in the last four days.”

She drops her head into her hands and closes her eyes. Her entire life, it seems, has been dedicated to fighting an evil with overwhelming power; she’s never doubted before, even when the odds seemed insurmountable.

So why can’t she seem to see the hope now?

Chapter Text

“No. Absolutely not.” Ben shakes his head. “I have interacted with Dameron enough already.”

“Please, Ben,” Rey says. “They’re my friends.”

“They’re not my friends,” he says petulantly, making a face.

“Not yet, they aren’t.” She sighs. “Come on, is it really such a big deal? The Resistance is never going to like you if you won’t talk to them.”

“That’s sort of the point,” he mutters, and then he lets out a breath. “If Dameron insults me, can I Force-choke him?”

He’s trying for dry humor, but instead of the half-laugh and eye roll he’s expecting, she jerks, poorly concealed [alarm] flashing across the bond. “No! No, you can’t.”

He frowns, studying her face. “What’s wrong?” he asks, prodding at the bond only to be met with a wall. “What is it you’re not telling me?”

“Nothing,” she says, too quickly, looking anywhere but at him.

He rolls his eyes. “Rey, you are an abysmal liar. Tell me what’s going on.”

“It’s not important,” she says stubbornly, still refusing to make eye contact.

“Does it involve me?” he asks, softly.

Her silence is the only answer he needs.

After about thirty seconds, when the answer is still not forthcoming, Ben sighs and reaches for her mind. She jerks again, something like betrayal humming through the bond before she shuts it down; she struggles for a moment, but he’s far more experienced and it only takes him a minute to get into her mind and find the memory he wants. He’s as gentle as he can be, even though the memory of Dameron explicitly threatening his Rey makes him want to kill someone (preferably sooner rather than later). “Rey--”

She jerks away from him, both physically and mentally, anger and hurt splashed across her face in equal measures. “What the hell, Ben?” she shouts, staring at him with some kind of shocked horror in her wide hazel eyes.

“I have a right to know,” he snaps back. “That bastard. I should’ve killed him when I had the chance.”

“There’s a reason I was keeping that from you,” Rey snarls furiously.

“I have no desire to prove myself to the Resistance,” he says forcefully. “Nor do I feel like trailing along after you like--like a pet. Following obediently behind my trainer, performing tricks on cue. ‘Smile, Ben! Make friends, Ben!’” His voice turns mocking at the last few words.

Her eyes widen. “Ben--” she starts, but he cuts her off.

“Come on, Rey. We’re leaving,” and he stalks towards the door of his room.

He is done with this. After all, he hadn’t wanted to come to the Resistance in the first place; he’d only agreed to come because it’s where Rey wants to be. But he will not stand for this treatment.

“Ben!” Rey says, sharp and demanding. “Don’t you dare walk away from me. You just invaded my mind! Without permission, I might add. That’s not okay!”

He spins back to face her. “I have a right to know about things that concern me.”

“Maybe you do, but I have the right to my privacy,” she snaps, and then sighs heavily. “This is the kind of thing that keeps the others from trusting you.”

“I don’t care if they trust me,” he says venomously. (Maybe, if he says it enough times, it’ll be true.)

“But I do!” She stares at him for a long moment. “Ben, I don’t want to have to choose between you and my friends.”

“They might force you to,” he says, frowning, and she nods.

“They might, but that doesn’t mean you have to.”

Ben swallows, looking away. For all that she’s startlingly good at decoding the complex emotions he feels, he thinks, she can’t seem to see the problem here. She should. Unless she’s too angry at his invasion of her mind (okay, he admits maybe that wasn’t the best idea, but he deserved to know) to pay attention… which, he has to admit, is possible. “Rey,” he starts, and then sighs and looks up again, stepping closer to her. “I’m… sorry.”

She stares at him in pure shock, not bothering to hide it. “What?”

He takes a deep breath, hesitates, swallows. “I’m sorry. For entering your mind without permission.”

“Oh,” she says, blinking. “I. It’s okay, Ben.”

“You should go see your friends,” he continues, brushing past her acceptance. (Because it’s not okay, it really isn’t, but he isn’t going to argue that right now. She’s right, though, when she says this is the kind of thing that keeps the others from trusting you. Because they can see the monster in him, when he acts this way. He is a monster. Even she can see it, has accused him of it twice, and yet… and yet here she is. It defies all logic.) (But then again, since when have emotions been logical?) “Enjoy spending time with them.”

“Please come with me,” Rey says quietly.

He shakes his head. “They won’t like me,” and he offers her an attempt at a smile, though from her expression he gathers it looks more like a grimace. “They will more than likely dislike you if I am with you.”

“That’s not true.” She shakes her head in denial. And then he must’ve not been shielding very well, must’ve let something slip, because something like understanding flashes across her face, chased by sharp pain. “Ben,” she breathes, “you’re not a monster.”

He shakes his head again, a sad smile of some kind crossing his face briefly. “Yes,” he says. “I am.”

Something softens in her eyes, and she closes the gap between them, reaching one hand up to touch his cheek; he closes his eyes and turns his face just a little, leaning into the touch. “Rey…”

“You are a monster, then,” she whispers, and he stills, eyes flicking open. She’s… smiling? “But not to me.”

He stares at her, blinking, as she echoes his words. “Rey--”

“Join me,” she says, a bit louder, and winks at him. “Please.”

He shakes his head, but he’s smiling, because of course. She would turn his own words against him like this. “I don’t want to ruin anything,” he tries, feebly, lifting one hand to cover her hand on his cheek. “The last time I saw FN--Finn--I slashed his back open with my lightsaber.”

Rey shakes her head. “You won’t ruin anything. Ben, I want to show Finn that you’re better, that you’re changing.” Her thumb shifts, stroking the line of his scar.

“I’m not changing that much,” he says dryly, rolling his eyes, a soft breath leaving him all at once as he finds himself relaxing into her touch. He slips his free hand around her waist, tugging her against him. “You’re beautiful.”

“Stop changing the subject,” she says, but she’s flushing at the compliment.

It makes her freckles stand out. (They’re strangely fascinating, these tiny dots of color, scattered across her face; he wants to map them out, each and every one of them.)

“I can’t help it,” he murmurs, dropping his hand from hers to thread it through her hair. “You’re distracting.”

She laughs, then, her eyes turning to warm amber, shot through with green. “I am, am I?”

“Yes,” he admits. “I can’t think of anything when you’re around.”

She’s blushing again, and he can sense she doesn’t know how to respond. So he leans in and kisses her.

For a few blissful moments, there is nothing but the two of them, nothing but the way their lips move against each other’s; and then Rey sighs softly and pulls back. Looking him dead in the eye, she says, softly, “Poe Dameron.”

He grimaces. “You certainly know how to ruin a mood,” he grumbles, and sighs.

“I still want you to come meet my friends,” she says, a smile flickering on the corners of her mouth and echoing across the bond. “Come on, please?”

He makes a face. “Fine,” he huffs out, finally. “I will do my best to play nice,” he adds, even though the last two words leave a sour taste in his mouth. “If they don’t like me, that’s not my fault.”

She laughs again, and he thinks it’s the most beautiful sound he’s ever heard.



“This is Rose, and you already... know… Finn and Poe,” Rey says, trying to smile. (He wonders if the others can see on her face the nervousness he can feel rolling off her in waves.) “Rose, this is Ben.”

Ben regards this Rose curiously, wondering what it is exactly that Rey sees in her, and then dismisses that with an internal shrug, because it really doesn’t matter. It’s not his place to wonder. “Rose,” he says, curtly, nodding at her. “Finn. Dameron.”

“Ren,” Poe says back in a similarly cool tone. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m playing nice,” Ben says in a low voice. There’s an unspoken why? in the pilot’s eyes, and he answers it with a sigh. “Because Rey asked me to.”

There’s a long silence, and then Poe nods, once, ever so slightly. It’s nothing more than a dip of his chin, but it’s visible all the same, and Ben sits down at the table the other four are already seated around.

“What happened while I was on Ahch-to?” Rey asks, after darting a nervous glance over at Ben.

Poe grins, suddenly eager. “I blew up a dreadnought!” The excitement fades away, then. “… and then got demoted…” The smile comes back in an instant. “But Leia promoted me again, so it’s all good.”

“Rose and I went to Canto Bight,” Finn says. “After this idiot flyboy,” and he says that with a fond smile, “got himself yelled at by Vice Admiral Holdo, the two of us figured out how the First Order tracked us through hyperspace.”

“The First Order tracked you through hyperspace?” Rey stares, her eyes going wide. “But that’s impossible!”

Ben shakes his head. “Hyperspace tracking,” he interjects. “New technology installed on the Supremacy. The technology itself is based off of theoretical research done in the days of the Empire.”

Finn blinks. “What he said,” he says, a strange expression on his face. “Anyway, so we contacted Maz, and she said the only way to sneak onto the Supremacy and turn off the tracker was to find this Master Codebreaker in the casino in Canto Bight. Rose and I went after him, but we got in trouble for leaving our shuttle on the beach.”

Rey rolls her eyes, a fond smile on her lips. “Of course you did,” she says, and then, “I would love to see a beach.”

“There were fathiers,” Rose interjects, grinning. “I’ve never seen such beautiful creatures before.”

“That’s how we escaped,” Finn says, picking up on the narrative again. “This codebreaker guy broke himself out, and we snuck into the stables. There were these slave kids, stablehands, who--”

Rey cuts him off. “What?” she exclaims, eyes going wide. “Slave kids?”

“The head groom was a pretty angry guy,” Rose says, looking away. “He kept threatening the children with his whip.”

“No,” Rey breathes. “That’s awful!” An idea flickers through her mind, too fast for Ben to catch, and she grins suddenly. “We can rescue them!”

“What?” Finn shouts, standing up, causing several others to look their way. “We barely made it out last time, and now they know our faces!” He glances around, sits down quickly, lowering his voice and leaning forward. “Look, Rey, I want to rescue them just as much as you do, but it’d be a suicide mission.”

She shakes her head. “No, you don’t understand. We have to save them. They deserve to have a family. If not their real families, then at least the closest thing we can give them.” She turns pleading eyes to Rose. “Rose, please?”

Rose hesitates. “I… I don’t know,” she says finally. “I don’t know if it’s possible.”

“Anything is possible,” Poe says. And then he shrugs. “I’m in for whatever. I’m bored.”

Finn frowns. “It’s still a suicide mission. You can’t change the fact that we completely destroyed that town when we let the fathiers loose! We’d be arrested on sight.” He shakes his head. “You’re a hell of a pilot, Poe, but that won’t help us here.”

“Besides,” Rose adds, in a tone that sounds rather like she’s trying to convince herself of what she’s saying, “the Resistance doesn’t have the resources for a mission like this right now.”

Rey’s face falls.

“I’ll go.”

Every single face jerks around to stare at Ben, varying expressions of shock and confusion on each one. He resists the urge to look away, instead meeting each pair of eyes steadily, slowly, one person at a time.

A burst of hope crosses Rey’s face. “You will?” she breathes.

He shrugs one shoulder, watching her closely. “If it’s important to you, it’s important to me,” he answers, and he can’t quite bring himself to care that the others are all staring.

“Just like that?” Finn says, slowly, voice rising in pitch. “You’re Kylo Ren, why would you want to save some random slave kids?”

“I’m wondering that, myself,” Poe agrees.

Ben grits his teeth, swallows. It’s one thing to be vulnerable and raw around Rey, but around her friends? “It’s none of your business,” he snaps, almost reflexively, and then he takes a deep breath, clenches his jaw, reaches for some kind of detachment. “I wish,” and he stops, stares down at the table, lets out a sigh. When he continues speaking, he’s almost mumbling. “I wish someone would have cared enough to save me when I was a lost kid.”

“Ben,” Rey whispers softly, projecting [compassion] and [comfort] across the bond. [i’m here now,] she says silently, [and i’m not leaving you.]

He looks up, shoots her a strained but grateful smile that fades almost immediately. Her hazel eyes are shining with what he thinks are barely-suppressed tears; she reaches out and takes his hand, squeezing tightly.

There’s a long silence.

He supposes he could take some measure of satisfaction from the fact that none of the three rebels in front of him seem to know how to react to his statement, but for some reason the idea just leaves him hollow. So he just focuses intently on the worn table in front of him and waits.

(He is not wondering if his father ever sat at this table, if Han Solo was familiar with this base, with this room. If his parents ever sat here and argued or--)

(No, he is not going to think about that.)

“If he’s going to go, I guess we’d better go too,” Poe says, finally. “To make sure Rey’s safe.”

Ben tenses. “I can take care of her fine on my own,” he says sharply.

“I can take care of myself!” Rey glares, indignant. “I’m from Jakku, remember?”

Poe smirks. “It’s kinda hard to forget.”

“Shut up,” she says with an exasperated sigh. “Finn, Rose, what do you think?”

“I’m in,” Finn finally says. “For the record, I still think this is a bad idea.”

Rose hesitates. “We should ask General Organa,” she suggests. “But I do want to go. Those poor kids…”

“At least one of you remembers the chain of command,” a dry voice says.

Ben jerks his head up to see his mother leaning against the wall not far away, a wry smile on her face.

“General!” Poe plasters a nervous grin on his face. “Er, just who we were hoping to see!”

“If I tell you no,” Leia says, looking at Rey, “are you going to go anyway?”

“Of course not,” Finn says.

“Yes,” Rey says, sheepish.

Leia hesitates. “I need Poe here for another mission.” A pause. “Take Chewie with you and see if you can’t find some fuel tanks on your way back. Or another ship. We could use either of those.” She smiles, soft and wistful. “Come back safe.”

“We will,” Rey promises.

“Poe, I need you in the command center,” the general says, and then she looks over at Ben and says, “May the Force be with you.”

He swallows.

Before he can answer, she’s gone.

Chapter Text

Chewie is… not exactly pleased about taking the Falcon to Cantonica, but Ben overhears the Wookiee make a comment about the heat on Yavin, so he figures Chewie isn’t too terribly upset by the mission.

And, anyway, no one would dare refuse Leia, and, well… Chewie may trust Rey, but no one is taking the Falcon away for a long time.

The Falcon. It’s been a long time since Ben has set foot in his father’s ship--since, in fact, the day his parents took him to Luke to begin his training. He hadn’t really expected to ever fly in it again (not to mention fly it again), so it’s with more than a small amount of trepidation that he climbs up the ramp and steps inside.

Just inside the ramp, he has to stop.

(He’s six years old and eager, because dad’s home, dad’s home! And while maybe Han never stays for very long, Ben misses him, and he knows his mama misses him too. This visit is a special one, because dad promised to teach Ben how to fly the Falcon as long as he’s very good and doesn’t say a single word about it to mom, because she wouldn’t like it.

Dad, he shouts, running into the ship, dad, I’m here--)

Something slams into Ben’s legs, jerking him out of the memory with a snap and forcing him to catch himself on the wall; he blinks his eyes back into focus just in time to catch the white-and-orange BB droid Dameron’s so fond of roll around the corner at a ridiculously fast pace. “Hey, watch it,” he growls, pushing off the wall and making his way towards the cockpit.

Chewie is in the cockpit when he walks in.

To anyone not familiar with Wookiees, Chewie’s face would seem pretty expressionless; to Ben, however, who grew up around his father’s smuggling partner, the Wookiee has a combination of rage, grief, guilt, and wariness spread across his face.

“Why did you do it?”

Ben lets out a sigh. It’s the obvious question (and if they’re going to be in close quarters for some time, the conversation needs to be had), but that doesn’t make it any less difficult. He drops into the pilot’s chair, idly flipping switches and tapping buttons to start the pre-flight check, and considers how to answer. “Because Snoke told me to,” he finally says, “and because I was angry, and afraid.”

“Afraid of what?” Chewie asks.

And that is such a loaded question, he doesn’t even know where to start. He considers for another long moment, listening to BB-8 beep cheerfully about the mission, to the others (her friends) loading up, and sighs again. “Snoke,” he says--the simple answer, and yet not an answer at all (there’s a questioning touch on the bond, Rey feeling his emotions and checking in, seeing what he’s doing and gently backing out of his head again). “The consequences of failure were harsh. And I was angry that he’d chosen then to finally try and help--he spent my childhood running away, and he didn’t do a thing when Skywalker--my uncle--tried to murder me--”

“What?” Chewie roars, cutting Ben off.

He smirks a little, unable to dampen the perverse satisfaction he feels. “He neglected to mention that to you, I see.” The satisfaction fades away almost immediately, though, replaced by something else: shock, and not a small bit of horror. Sucking in a sharp breath (desperate, suddenly, to know the truth), he turns to look at Chewie again. “Did she know? My mother, did she know why I destroyed the temple?”

The Wookiee shakes his head. “Luke only told us that you turned on him and that it was his fault.”

Ben shakes his head, staring down at his hands, sick. He’d run, gone to the Dark and to Snoke, had done so many things in the name of Darkness, and his friends--he’d led his friends, his fellow padawans, into darkness with him (and then killed them all, but he can’t think about that now), and for what?

He could have gone home.

[ben?] Rey is definitely worried now, but he doesn’t answer her--not yet, not now. He can’t .

“I could have gone home,” he breathes, saying the words aloud just to hear how they sound, and he shakes his head again.

“We wanted you to,” Chewie says, and then he grunts and stands. “I will not apologize for shooting you. I needed to understand why you did it, so I can decide if I can forgive you.”

“I deserved the shot,” Ben says. “Don’t apologize.”

The Wookiee walks out of the cockpit without another word, except to say, “What are you doing out here?” as he leaves.

“What did he say?” Finn’s voice asks in what’s probably supposed to be a whisper (it’s not), and Ben’s stomach drops.

“He asked what you are doing out there,” he calls, raising his voice a little. “A question which I am going to echo. What are you doing out there?”

There’s a pause, and then Finn walks into the cockpit. “We were coming to ask if you knew where Rey is, but… we didn’t want to interrupt.”

“So you decided to listen in,” Ben finishes, and he sighs. “Of course.”

“We’re sorry,” Rose says sheepishly. “Uh, do you know where Rey is?”

At least they aren’t asking questions he doesn’t want to answer. Ben presses the question across the bond, getting a quick [coming!] in response, and then he starts the ignition sequence. “She’s coming,” he says. “Keep that damn droid out of my cockpit.”

The last sentence is almost an afterthought, but he’s seen and heard enough of what BB-8 is capable of without witnessing it firsthand, in his cockpit. Frankly, he’s not even sure why the droid is coming; probably Dameron trying to keep an eye on him or something.

Or maybe it’s for the steal a ship part, since none of them are very good at slicing.

Whatever the reason is, he’d rather take R2 or even 3PO. At least he knows how to turn 3PO’s vocal system off. And how to dismantle him.

[the ramp is up,] Rey says. [do you need a co-pilot?]

[yes,] he tells her, flicking the last of the switches and toggling the engine into full, roaring life.

A moment later, she slips inside the cockpit and gets into the co-pilot’s seat, holding a rough sack. “Sorry I’m late,” she says. “Leia caught me and said we should at least try to blend in.”

“Clothes?” Because wouldn’t that just be so like his mother, to send him off on a potentially dangerous mission without a goodbye, but with an extra change of clothes. (He’s surprised to realize the thought isn’t entirely bitter.)

“Yeah,” Rey says. “One of her old dresses for me--she thinks it should fit--and some of Han’s old clothes for you.”

He makes a face.

“Don’t pout,” she says, grabbing a headset and sliding it on. “You can go back to your brooding Sith Lord attire when we get back from Canto Bight.”

He jerks his head around to stare at her, only to see a teasing sparkle in her eyes. “Brooding Sith Lord?” he grumbles, and then focuses. “Are we ready to take off?”

Rey’s eyes shift back to the controls, and she nods. “Why isn’t Chewie flying?”

Ben shrugs, adjusting the throttle and easing the Falcon off the ground. “No idea.”

The ship responds to the slightest input; she’s not as fine-tuned and maneuverable as his TIE silencer, of course, but the Millennium Falcon is still one of the best ships in the galaxy, even though she’s been around for decades.

“Do you have a plan?” she asks next, adjusting a few dials and inputting the coordinates for Cantonica.

“Yes,” he says, and rolls his eyes. “I’ll tell you at the same time as I tell them.”

As soon as the Falcon is clear of Yavin, he hits the lever to send the ship into hyperspace and sets the autopilot, before standing and offering Rey a hand. “Come on.”

She takes his hand, lets him pull her to her feet, and follows him out into the main bay, where Chewie and Rose are playing a game of dejarik, Finn cheering them on.

BB-8, of course, is nowhere to be found.

(He’s not sure whether to be afraid or relieved.)

(Probably afraid.)

Ben leans against the wall and watches for a moment, and then he sighs. “When we land,” he starts, and he has to conceal a smirk when Finn and Rose both jump and jerk around to stare at him (how did they not hear him enter?), “Finn, Rose, you and the droid are in charge of stealing a new ship.” He pauses, tilts his head to one side. “Can you handle that?”

“Ben!,” Rey reprimands sharply.

He sighs. “Rey and I will find the children,” he continues, “and we’ll meet back on Yavin.”

“I’m staying with the Falcon,” Chewie says firmly, looking up from his game.

“Of course you are,” Rey says, offering the Wookiee a smile.

“Do we get a choice in this?” Rose asks, a little frown on her face. “I’m not sure we can trust you not to kill the kids, Ren.”

It takes him a moment to process the words.

He flinches, just a little, when the impact hits (not much, but enough); there’s no point in it, really, but he can’t help reaching for a casual air. “That’s what Rey is for.”

Nobody has a response for that.

Nobody, that is, except Chewie, who smacks the table rather imperatively and growls, “It’s your move.”



The bag of clothes sits on the empty co-pilot’s chair.

Ben’s fairly certain it’s taunting him.

Rey has already pulled out the dress Leia had packed for her and gone to change; he really should just get on with it and do the same, but…

With a sigh, he pulls the bag to his hand and leaves the cockpit for the small side room. (The wall on the other side of the bunk has Ben was here scratched into the metal. He deliberately doesn’t look.)

Inside the bag is a pair of black dress pants (Han had dress pants?) and a crisp white dress shirt; he tugs off his black clothes with a sigh of regret and dresses as quickly as he can (his leg twinges, still sore, but he ignores it). He grabs his belt off his old pair of pants, tucking the white shirt in, and fastens the belt on again, hooking his lightsaber to it. Smoothing his hair back (a little self-consciously), he straightens his spine, shoves his shoulders back, and leaves the room.

“That lightsaber isn’t obvious at all,” Chewie comments dryly, passing Ben on his way back to the cockpit.

“I’m not leaving the Falcon without it,” he says back, running his fingers over the metal (it always warms to his touch far faster than it should, turns icy-cold for anyone else--he wonders, vaguely, how it felt to Rey when she called it to her in the throne room).

Chewie just hmm’ s and keeps walking, and Ben shakes his head and ducks into the cockpit--only to stop dead.

Rey’s there, in a simple, dark blue dress he remembers his mother wearing once (it looks, somehow, much more natural on Rey than it ever did on Leia); the material shimmers faintly when she moves, the lines of the dress clinging to her body in ways that make his mouth go dry. She’s rubbing her bare arms, obviously discomfited; when he walks in, she turns to him and makes a helpless gesture.

“I’m not sure I’ve got this on right,” she says, flushing a bit. “I’ve never--worn a dress before.”

“You look perfect,” he says, almost automatically, the words spilling from his mouth before he can reconsider the wisdom of them. There’s something, though… he studies her more closely, and then nods. “Hold still.”

She blinks, taken aback, but does as he says. Ben walks around her, reaches up and tugs the tie out of her hair, and then he begins to braid it; careful, cautious, in case she tries to jerk away, but steadily, and he braids her dark hair into one of the complex Alderaanian braids his mother had taught him as a child. “There,” he says, tying off the end and stepping back, smiling at his handiwork. It’s been years since he braided anyone’s hair, but his fingers still remember how, even if they’re rougher now, more bloodstained.

Rey flushes, reaching up one hand to lightly touch the braids, something like wonder in her eyes. “I don’t know where to put my lightsaber,” she says after a moment, looking down at the dress.

Chewie’s words echo in his mind. “You could leave it here.”

She stares up at him like he’s just suggested she cut her own arm off, with the same sort of vague horror.

He snorts. “Or not. Here, I’ll carry it for you.”

“And if we get separated?” she asks, frowning.

He shrugs. “We shouldn’t--”

“That just makes it even more likely to happen,” she says, interrupting, and sighs. “I’ll just carry it.”

“Because that’s not obvious at all,” he mutters, sighing and turning away, sitting down in the pilot’s seat. The computer beeps an alert at him; he hits a few switches, prepares for the transition to realspace. “We’re coming up on Cantonica now.”

“If we’re sneaking in,” Rey starts, moving to the co-pilot’s seat and flipping switches, “why are we bothering to blend in?”

He gives her a look. “In case we get caught.” (Which should be obvious, but apparently it’s not.)

“You’re openly carrying your lightsaber,” she points out (rather unnecessarily, he thinks).

He sighs, throwing his hands up in exasperation. “Do what you like, then!”

[ben,] she says, [what’s wrong?]

[nothing,] he sends back, questioning, shooting her a look with a frown (although he doesn’t have to, he could live inside her skin if he wanted to, just by concentrating).

[you’re on edge.]

Is he?

[yes,] she says, her mental voice edged with amusement. [you are.]

He looks over at her, drinking her in; her eyes are soft, almost gold, lit by the blue of hyperspace, the stars streaking by. The dress really does accent her in all the right ways, he thinks.

(He really wants to kiss her.)

But then the computer beeps again, jerking his attention back to the ship (where it should’ve been all along), and he is forced to concentrate on safely landing the Falcon on the top of the cliff overlooking the beach, without being noticed, and the moment passes, dissolving like smoke.

It’s okay.

He can wait.

Chapter Text

Rey leaves the Falcon first, Ben trailing behind, her lightsaber tucked inside a small bag clutched in her hand (thoughtfully provided by Leia). Finn and Rose, accompanied by BB-8, are on their way to the city; Chewie waits in the Falcon’s cockpit, ready to take off at a moment’s notice. The ramp closes up again as soon as the two of them get far enough away, dimming the amount of light let off;, and only a few meters into the forest, the Falcon is nearly invisible.

“Are you sure they can handle this?” Ben asks.

Rey nods. “They broke into the Supremacy, they’ll be fine,” she reassures him with a confidence she doesn’t quite feel (they failed, after all, but it’s just stealing a ship, how hard can it be?).

He makes a noncommittal sound, a bit of disbelief slipping across the bond, and forges ahead through the forest without pushing the issue. “Let’s hurry. I don’t want to be here any longer than necessary.”

She agrees with that sentiment, at least; the chance that no one saw the Falcon come in for landing is pretty slim, and it’s only a matter of time before someone comes along and tries to impound it, or something. The faster they can find the children and get offworld, the better.

She wonders, in a part of her mind very carefully blocked off from Ben, if this mission will affect Poe’s ultimatum (will anything change his mind?). Trustworthy is a fairly nebulous statement, one she’s not entirely sure of Poe’s definition of. And it’s not something she’s totally sure Ben wants to be. After all, he did flat-out say he’s only here for her.

Rey sighs, tries not to dwell on the thoughts, and extends her stride, hurrying to catch up to Ben. She has a mission to accomplish.

Worrying can wait until later.

[=|=]

Something is coming.

Temiri wakes, abruptly, only a little while after going to sleep, his heart pounding in his chest; for a moment, he expects to see Master Tomder towering above him, electrified whip glowing blue, but there is no hulking shadow in the edges of the room, and he allows himself to relax.

Not all the way, though, because there is a reason he is awake, and he has learned to trust his instincts and the singing power in his veins. Whether it’s his instincts or the Force that’s awakened him tonight, he can’t tell--maybe it’s both.

Something is coming.

The awareness beats through him like a second heartbeat, rushing along just beneath his skin, and Temiri scrambles to his feet and reaches for his hat, tucking it on his head. Fueled by an urgency he cannot name, he searches the dark room for the toys, tucking them one by one into his belt and pockets.

“Wat’cha doin’, Temi?” Arashell asks sleepily, eyes blinking open and lazily tracking his movement across the room.

“Something is coming,” he says, fingers finally closing around the rough Jidai doll. “We need to be in the stables. Where’s Oni?”

“‘M here,” Oniho says, getting to his feet and shoving his own hat on. “Why?”

Temiri shrugs, standing in the middle of the room and shifting from foot to foot (must go now). “Dunno. Something is coming.”

“You said that already,” Arashell says, but she gets up anyway, huffing a bit as she pulls her short red hair into its tails. “‘M awake now, might as well go see.”

The Force tugs at him, practically dragging him from the room; he slips soundlessly through the doorway and into the hall, creeping past Master Tomder’s door as quietly as he can.

The lights are off in the stables, the fathiers drowsing in their narrow stalls. The gate to the track is shut, leaving the large room in almost total darkness. Anyone else would be blinded, but the three children know the stables incredibly well, and none of them need to see to know where they’re going. Temiri leads them into the small side room where the gate controls are, sneaking past the equipment to the door that gives access to the track when the gate is closed.

“Where’re we going?” Oni whispers.

Temiri holds out a hand, the hand not carrying the precious Jidai doll, and makes a sharp jerking motion, and then he cracks the door open just a little and peers out onto the track.

He hears them first.

“If we weren’t obvious before, we certainly are now,” a woman’s voice says, in Basic, and it takes him a moment to make the shift to the other language.

“How else were we going to get into the stables in the middle of the night?” a man asks, and finally Temiri can pick out their forms coming closer to him: a slim woman in a beautiful dark blue dress that is at least as high quality, if not even higher, than most of the rich women he sees, and beside her a tall man in dark pants and good boots and a sharp white shirt. There’s something hanging by the man’s side he can’t quite recognize, and he dismisses it, focusing in on the clothes.

The clothes scream riches.

And, for the first time, Temiri begins to think his instincts (and the Force) may have been wrong.

“The stables are closed,” he says softly, in Basic, opening the door a bit wider. “You can’t be here.”

To his surprise, the woman smiles. “We aren’t here to visit the stables,” she says in a polished, rich-sounding accent. “We’re here for you. A week or so ago, you helped two of my friends escape the police.”

“The Resistance lady?” Arashell asks, eyes going big, voice high-pitched and eager.

The woman nods. “I’m Rey, and this is Ben. Come with us, and you will be free.” She smiles again, almost wistful. “We have a ship in the woods.”

Arashell and Oniho are excited, eager; the Resistance is a name from the stories they tell each other in their spare time, and anywhere away from Master Tomder is better than here. But Temiri is… unsure (are they really Resistance, can they be trusted?), and so he hesitates, looking back and forth between the woman, Rey, and the dark man (Ben, she said).

And yet… perhaps this is the something in his message, the reason for his urgency?

Before he can make a decision, Master Tomder’s roaring voice echoes from inside the stables (all three of them flinch, and spin around, and back out onto the track, wary, Ara and Oni falling in behind him like always) and the lights flick on. The head groom storms through the small room, whip out and crackling blue, grumbling loudly about no good, disgraceful, lazy urchins sneaking out at night-- and then he stops dead.

“Fathier thieves!” he snarls, jumping to the immediate conclusion, one of his arms reaching for the comm tucked in his vest, another one shaking out the whip, raising it up over his head (Temiri braces himself, prepares for the awful shocking pain of the lash, stares up in silent defiance)--

The night is split by a loud, violent humming.

And, suddenly, the man, Ben, is there, and moving, and a fiery red lightsaber (a lightsaber!) stabs through Master Tomder’s chest, and he falls, and Ben kicks the head groom’s body away and turns back towards them.

Temiri stares in awe and whispers, “Jidai.”

[=|=]

Rey tries to feel sorry for the head groom, she really does, but the look in his eyes and the way he’d come storming out, whip raised (and the way the children had flinched at his voice), makes it rather difficult.

She’s really not all that upset at his death.

What she’s upset about is the fact that someone is bound to notice the red lightsaber lighting up part of the racetrack. Stealth is going to be impossible.

They’re going to have to run.

And then the light-skinned boy, the one who’s been doing the talking, says, “Jedi,” in awe (even with the accent, she can still understand the word).

Ben jerks, powering down his lightsaber and tucking the hilt away. “No,” he says, and only Rey can detect the pain in his voice (she can feel it, too). “She’s the Jedi. Not me.”

“You killed Master Tomder?” the other boy asks in broken Basic, his accent even thicker than that of the other two. Ben nods shortly, shifting his weight from foot to foot and looking into the rest of the city.

The girl grins hugely. “You’re scary,” she proclaims (and he flinches just a little at that, too), and then she walks around the one boy and gives Ben a hug. “I like you.”

“Never seen ‘nybody scarier than Master Tomder before,” the darker-skinned boy agrees, smiling.

“Him?” Ben says dismissively. “He wasn’t scary at all.”

“Not to you,” the first boy says, very quietly. “My name’s Temiri. This is Arashell and Oniho. Why do you want us?” The last question is directed towards Rey, and he turns to face her, expectantly.

She crouches down to be at eye level with him. “My parents sold me for drinking money,” she says softly, meeting Temiri’s eyes. “I know what it’s like.”

“Rey,” Ben says, catching her attention, and then: [the police are coming.]

[just a minute,] she sends back. “Trust me?”

Temiri hesitates, stares at her for a very long moment, and then he nods.

“We need to stay low and out of sight,” she says. “Our ship is in the forest--can you help us get there?”

“We aren’t s’posed to leave the stables,” Oniho says, wide-eyed.

Ben crouches down to the little boy’s level. “Which means you know all the secret exits, right?”

Arashell nods excitedly. “Well, not all of them,” she adds after a moment of thought. “But we can show you how to get to the trees.”

“The police are coming,” Temiri says abruptly, reaching out and tugging at Rey’s hand. “We have to go now.”

“Then let’s go,” Rey says, and looks to the little redhead.

“This way,” Arashell says, and she leads them back towards the stables.

(In the distance, the police speeders are already moving.)

[=|=]

How hard could it possibly be to sneak in and out of a place like Canto Bight, he had thought. Get in, get out, and no one should even notice--after all, it’s not like three slave children are all that important to the rich masses. Why would anyone care?

All that went right out the window the second he lit his lightsaber.

Ben sighs, keeping a careful eye on the two red ponytails in front of him. The girl--Arashell, he remembers--leads them all confidently down the narrow, dark alley; a shortcut, she’d called it, and he’d agreed, if only because the alley is less visible. They’re finally almost to the end.

Finally.

There’s one more well-lit area on the edge of the city before the forest begins; he tightens his grip on his lightsaber, just in case. He’s fairly sure they’ve avoided the pursuit, but--

Arashell bounces out of the alley without even slowing down, and Ben lets out a curse and lunges after her… straight into a group of uniformed police officers (and he doubts these blasters are set to stun). The girl yelps; he ignores her, forgets her, activates his lightsaber blade with a jerk and lunges for the line of officers. Blasterfire immediately sears through the air, crackling loud and obvious, and he lets his instincts take over.

Duck, dodge, block a shot back into the blaster it came from, and the cops’ armor isn’t anywhere near enough to deflect a lightsaber blade, he cuts through two of them at once--

[ben, behind you!] The shout comes almost too late, and he spins to see Rey pulling her lightsaber out of one’s gut, struggling to make it in time--there’s a cop just there, in front of him, blaster held like a club, about to smash into his face.

And then the blaster is ripped out of the man’s hands (he doesn’t let himself question, dispatches the cop with easy efficiency), tumbles through the air, and lands in the outstretched hand of Temiri, the little boy.

Ben freezes, for a moment, the utter shock overwhelming his instincts. The kid is Force-sensitive? But there’s no time to think about that, now, no time to wonder how he could’ve missed sensing that, and Rey has already recovered (and that is a whole other kind of distraction, the way she moves in that dress, and now is not the time); he jerks out of the surprise and pivots on one foot and charges back into the fight.

It doesn’t last much longer after that.

Even a group of cops is no match for him and Rey together, and he makes it out without even a scratch (Rey has a graze on her arm from where she didn’t move quite fast enough, but minor). It’s only a little bit of breathing room, though--more cops will come. They have to hurry.

“Come on,” he says, and without waiting for the kids he jogs into the forest.

(He really misses his black outfit, now; the white dress shirt stands out too much in the shadows beneath the trees.)

[slow down,] Rey tells him silently. [the kids can’t keep up.]

He huffs out a breath and drops to a walk, shortening his strides to better match the three children.

“If you’re not a Jedi, what are you?” It’s the Force-blind one, Oniho, or something like that, who’s asking.

He hesitates before answering. He doubts any of the three know what a Sith is, and it’s not like he’s a Sith anyway; and yet he’s obviously not a Jedi. “I’m a Force-user,” he finally decides on, something neutral and not very definitive.

“Why’re you not Jedi?” Arashell asks, high-pitched and eager.

And how is he supposed to answer that? Really, they’re children, he’s not about to tell them tales of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker gone bad, of attempted murder; they’re too young and they don’t need to hear about the Dark. But what can he say, if not the truth?

“There was a bad man,” Rey says, “and he got inside Ben’s head and made him feel alone, and he promised Ben that he wouldn’t be alone if Ben did things for him. But the bad man lied and used Ben to do terrible things.”

Arashelll gasps. “What happened to the bad man?”

He can’t see her face, but he can feel the proud smile stretching across it. “Ben and I fought and killed him, just like he killed Master Tomder.”

“So Ben’s good again?” It’s Oniho this time.

“Something like that,” Ben says quietly.

Unsaid: if only it was that simple.