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Scars like Stars

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There had been rumors of Stormtroopers thinking of abandoning their posts. They wanted to leave, flee from the First Order. But why? Why would they leave?

Having been tasked by Snoke to find the source of the treasonous rumblings, Kylo Ren came up with the idea of going undercover as Matt the Radar Technician. If he could gain their trust, he could discover who was considering treason and the reasoning behind it. It was foolproof, really.

“Sir,” Captain Phasma started, leaning into Ren’s quarters.

“What?” Kylo asked, fidgeting with the blonde wig.

“May I just say…that costume isn’t going to fool anyone.”

“Why?”

Phasma adjusted her hold on her blaster, apprehensive. “You look absolutely ridiculous. No one will believe this disguise if they’ve seen your face before.”

Kylo rolled his shoulders, trying very hard to not lash out at the silver-coated Captain. “I can count on one hand the number of people who have seen me without my mask. I will be fine.”

Phasma just nodded and watched as the now-bespectacled man trudged down the hallway and disappeared from sight.

**

EC-2191 adjusted her hold on her RT-97C heavy blaster rifle with a sigh. The shift was almost over. She just needed to make it through another fifteen minutes, one more lap around her assigned area, and then she could go to her small but private barrack and wash her hair. Ever since she had been promoted to sergeant and given her own quarters, she took extra time washing her hair. It was a weird little obsession, she knew that.

EC rounded another corner and almost ran right into a tall, blond man with large glasses.

“Sorry,” she muttered, her voice slightly altered by the helmet.

The blond man just glared down at her then his focus turned to the large electrical circuit in the wall. A panel had been removed to reveal the sparking wires and diodes. He scratched the back of his head then kneeled next to the open panel. As soon as he put his hand into the panel, he retracted it and EC could’ve sworn she saw smoke.

But that wasn’t her job. She continued down the hall, once again counting down the minutes until her shower. Perhaps it was a little depressing to just be looking forward to her shower day after day, but what else was she supposed to look forward to? The monotony on Starkiller Base was nearly, well, killer. She was a damn Stormsniper—an elite soldier with over two decades of advanced training under her belt and she was bored. While Captain Phasma saw potential in her—hence the promotion after a particularly bloody battle—General Hux, on the other hand, seemed to find every opportunity to keep her on base. It wasn’t that she enjoyed killing people—she didn’t and actually made a point to shoot right over people’s shoulders or, if needed, get them in the stomach. They would bleed, probably lose consciousness but would likely pull through if treated quickly enough. (Every once in a while, EC would actually feel threatened by the gangs who claimed no leadership from the First Order, New Republic, or Resistance, and she would actually kill someone. But those were usually few and far between.) No, she just wanted something other than walking in circles for a “patrol” day in and day out.

“EC-2191,” a voice rang out over the intercom, “report to Command Center.”

Well, there went her scheduled shower. EC briskly walked to the Command Center, knowing she only had a few minutes before she would be considered late. When she arrived, she was greeted with the sight of Hux talking to Captain Phasma as other officers mulled about, doing their duties. A steady beeping from one of the machines instantly started to grate on EC’s nerves.

“General? Captain? You requested me?”

“Ah, there you are, EC-2191,” Hux gave a curt nod. “Prompt as always.” He dismissed Phasma with a wave of his hand then silently instructed EC to follow him. Hux’s personal office off the side of the Command Center was a familiar sight. She’d been called here several times to report on her squadron’s progress before she’d been transferred to Base Patrol. It was a cold, sleek room, much like the rest of the Base. Hux settled himself behind his black desk and flipped through a few files on his tablet before turning it to show EC. “Explain this.”

EC looked closer at the tablet to see one of her own Stormtroopers, HL-4581, leaning against a wall, sleeping.

“Did you know of this?”

“Of course not, sir. I would have reprimanded him myself if I had witnessed it. I don’t condone laziness in any form.”

Hux smirked again and EC felt her stomach knot. She had never liked his smirks. “I know. You are a valuable asset to the First Order. That’s why I had you transferred to Base Patrol.” He pocketed the tablet and tabled his leather-covered fingers in front of him. “You may take off your helmet, EC.”

She hesitated for a moment before setting her weapon down in the chair in front of her and reaching up to remove her helmet. “Thank you, sir.” EC resisted touching her hair to see if it was frizzy. She placed the bulky white object next to her blaster on the chair.

Hux’s eyes did a slow, almost meandering look from her face to the tips of her boots. “Do you enjoy working here, EC-2191?”

“It’s the only life I’ve ever known, sir.”

“That’s not an answer, EC.”

“I am grateful for the opportunities the First Order has given me. I doubt that I would be this well-taken care of anywhere else.” It was another evasive answer but she hoped it was all she could think of saying without lying.

Hux hummed and leaned forward a bit, seemingly pleased with the answer for the moment. “Have you heard any of the others speaking out against the First Order?”

“Not in my squadron, sir.”

“But in others?”

“I don’t know. I don’t have much contact with other troops.”

Hux was quiet for a moment before he stood again and walked so he stood in front of EC. He was a bit taller than her and he looked down the bridge of his thin nose into her eyes. She dared not move. Weakness wasn’t tolerated, especially from Hux. She couldn’t squirm, not even when his long fingers started to pluck at the gaps in her armor. “Would you tell me, Sergeant, if you heard anything?”

“Of course, sir.” Right now, she’d say anything to get away from him. Anything.

He was quiet for a moment and his thumbs pressed into the juncture of her elbows, simultaneously holding her still and allowing himself to get closer. “You know I’m fond of you, EC.”

“Thank you, sir.” EC wasn’t entirely sure if ‘fond’ was the right word. She had always felt Hux’s eyes on her, even back when she was a teenager and freshly selected to go into the Stormsniper program out of the pool of other candidates. He’d always been there, watching.

“It would be a shame if I had to kill you for disobedience.” He looked down at her, blue eyes still cold and calculating. “You know I’d find out, right?”

“I know nothing escapes you, sir.”

Hux smirked and he softly moved an errant strand of her hair away from her eye. Again, she couldn’t move. This wasn’t the first time he had touched her. And she knew it wouldn’t be the last.

“You are correct.” He finally stepped back, his hands sliding away from her skin slowly. “You will report directly to me if you hear anything, understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

Hux nodded once then walked back around his desk and settled back into his chair. “Dismissed.”

It took every ounce of strength EC had to not bolt from the office. She pushed her head back into the helmet and grabbed her rifle before quickly walking out.

**

The shower had been extra-long tonight. She needed to scrub until she no longer felt the impression of Hux’s fingers on her skin. As soon as she walked into her quarters, she had torn the armor from her body, not caring that she nearly broke the green Pauldron which denoted her status as a sergeant. She just needed to feel clean.

Her skin was nearly scrubbed raw by the time she stepped out of the shower. After drying herself off, EC pulled on the standard-issue “leisure time” black trousers and matching tunic. She slipped her feet into the soft black shoes and shuffled out into the hallway again, in search of food. It was the one few blessings of being stationed on Starkiller Base. Her shift allowed her to get to the mess hall before most others for dinner.

The mess hall was largely empty when she arrived and the usual droid and cook pair was behind the glass, ready to serve.

“Hey, Sarge,” chirped the cook. The droid followed suit, waving one of its mechanical arms.

“Hey. What did you guys cook for us today?”

The cook quickly rambled off the options and EC chose the one that looked the most edible before settling into her usual spot in the corner. It allowed her watch over the entire mess hall and be left alone, for the most part. Call it self-preservation but she had enough contact with other people for the day.

Groups of other Troopers and officers eventually filtered in, some in their armor or uniforms and others in their leisure clothes. They joked and talked and EC just watched, periodically nodding to those who acknowledged her presence. But her small peace was interrupted by a familiar face suddenly standing in front of her. It was the technician she had run into earlier.

“Can I sit with you?” He asked, through nearly gritted teeth.

EC moved her head just slightly to see some of the other troopers and officers looking at her, as if waiting for an answer. “Um, sure.” He plopped down into the chair opposite her and just stared at her. EC tried not to grimace before smiling. “Are you new here?”

“Yes. Just started a week ago.”

“What’s your name?”

“Matt. I’m a radar technician.”

EC nodded. She had memories of a radar technician going “missing” about a week ago. The First Order was efficient in finding replacements.

“What’s your name?”

“EC-2191.”

Matt’s brown eyes narrowed. “I’ve heard of you.”

EC arched an eyebrow before taking another bite of food. “You’ve heard what?”

“Just of your promotion after the Geonosis debacle.”

EC smiled lightly. Her squadron, under the direction of their former sergeant, had been surrounded by a Geonosian gang after they had escorted a First Order ambassador to meet with the Geonosian Archduke. The gang opposed the First Order’s presence on the planet and assumed that by taking out the ambassador, they would get them to leave. The sergeant, largely incompetent, managed to get them backed up against a cliffside, with no chance of escape. The ambassador had been shot and was bleeding out. EC had made the decision to sacrifice the sergeant to get them out of there. She shoved the other trooper out in front after activating his Baradium-core code key thermal detonator. The explosion took out enough of the gang’s forces that the small group of Troopers and the ambassador were able to escape to their starship. Out of the twenty-five who went out on the mission, four came back. EC was promoted the next day. “Oh. I didn’t know people were still talking about that.”

Matt nodded. “Yeah. Some people call you a hero.”

EC sighed. “No. I was just doing my job. It was better to sacrifice one than to have everyone die.” She paused. “I thought you just started here a week ago. How’d you hear about that?”

Matt was quiet for a moment. “They’re still talking about it. I heard even Kylo Ren was impressed.”

“Kylo Ren?” Of course EC had heard of the feared Force-user. She’d be an idiot if she hadn’t heard of him. She’d never actually seen him except for at obligatory gatherings to listen to Hux’s speeches but that was it. He was the mysterious solid-black figure, pulling strings behind the scenes and destroying expensive equipment in fits of rage. “I’m sure he has better things to do than to listen to idle gossip. Especially about someone as lowly as me.”

“No, I heard…the others talking about it. Ren was deeply impressed by your commitment to the First Order. And I’ve been told Kylo Ren is a great judge of character.”

EC felt her palms go slick. She’d never done well with someone complimenting her. “Good. I’m glad he was pleased.”

“What do you think of him, of Kylo Ren?”

EC’s eyebrows furrowed at the question. Was this man a one-man Kylo Ren praise machine? “I don’t know him, personally. But I know he’s respected, at least in my squadron.” She sighed, avoiding eye contact. “Considering the fact that I’ve never personally had contact with him and I know to be scared of him should say something.”

Matt tilted his head to the side and EC was instantly reminded of a puppy for some reason. “You’re scared of him?”

“Anyone with that amount of power should be feared.” She paused. “But I think I’d rather be stuck in a trash compactor with Kylo Ren than in a resort with General Hux.” As the last syllable left her lips she knew she was going to get in trouble. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

“I won’t tell,” Matt said, shoveling a few bites into his mouth. He seemed happier, almost peppy as he looked at her. “I promise.”

**

For a few days after her lunch with Matt, EC was on high alert. She was sure she was going to be called into Hux’s office and then disposed of—just like everyone else who had spoken out of turn. Sleep wasn’t really an option and even her poor hair was suffering.

EC avoided Matt in the halls, afraid he would try to blackmail her about what she had said. Honestly, yes, she knew she could kill him and be done with it but she really didn’t feel like killing anyone. And the paperwork after a “work incident” really was a hassle.

Once again, EC found herself patrolling the corridor she was assigned to as the rest of her squadron went about their own patrolling duties. And there was Matt—again—fixing another electrical panel—again. EC turned and decided possibly getting yelled at for taking a slow patrol was worth it. She’d do her entire patrol backwards if she had to.

“Hey! Hey, EC!” Matt called.

EC sucked down a groan and turned back around, subconsciously tightening her grip on her rifle. “Yes?”

He stood up and pushed his glasses up his tall nose with his thumb. “Could you come here for a second?”

She sighed and walked closer to him, careful to keep a bit of distance. “What do you need?”

“I’m almost done with this calcinator. Want to go to the mess hall afterward?”

EC nearly balked at the idea but Matt stood there, nearly impossibly still with his big brown eyes just staring at her. “Sure. I have to finish my patrol then shower…but after that…”

Matt just nodded then about faced and went back to work, dismissing her.

EC looked at him, head and shoulders into the electrical panel (which she was sure was the incorrect way of approaching a calcinator), for a moment. Honestly, what was going on in that blond head of his? She shook her head, helmet wobbling a bit, before she continued on her patrol.

EC found herself rushing through her shower and only towel drying her hair before changing and walking to the mess hall. She wasn’t entirely sure if she should have been surprised to see Matt already sitting at the table they sat at last time, his food in front of him, untouched. EC got her own portion and cautiously sat down in her usual spot. “I’m going to assume you needed something.”

Matt didn’t move. He seemed to have the innate ability to look completely still. It was unnerving. “What makes you say that?”

“I’m not someone people ask to share meals with.”

“I find you fascinating.”

EC’s grip on her fork started to bend it. “Why?” She had never liked being fascinating or something to be ogled. Thoughts of Hux briefly crossed her mind.

“Your squadron fears you but respects you. They want to impress you, it’s almost like they have this desperate need to please you. I want to know the secret behind the power you wield,” Matt said as if was plain as day.

EC sighed, stabbing her food with her now-bent fork. “I don’t think you’ll get very many chances—because you’re a radar tech and all—but if you just kill your superior officer you’ll be feared in no time.” It was a terrible joke.

“Do you regret it?”

EC narrowed her eyes at him. “You have an awfully curious mind, Matt.”

He shrugged but it seemed forced, as if he weren’t used to the gesture. “I like talking to people. I like finding out what makes people, uh, tick.”

“Then why’d you become a radar technician? Why not, like, a therapist or something? People would pay to spill their leadership skills or whatever you’re looking for to you and then you’d profit.”

Matt was quiet again. “I like being unnoticed. People are who they truly are when they think they’re alone.”

A rueful smile pushed up EC’s lips. “Well, that makes two of us.” She pushed a bit of food into her mouth. “I like being unnoticed.”

“But…I heard even General Hux frequently asks after you. He likes to get your opinion on-”

“Please stop talking about him,” EC said, her voice strained. “Please.”

“Why? Did he do something to you-”

EC stood up, glaring down at Matt. “Goodnight, Matt.”

**

Ben looked at her. She was finally where she was supposed to be: high above everyone else.

Chapter Text

The crown rested easily over her brow, like it had always been there. And it should have been.

EC-2191 sighed and rolled over on her small bed in her personal quarters. It was her only day off this week and she had nearly spent all of it in bed, thinking about how defensive she had become with Matt. The poor guy didn’t know she hated Hux. He really was just asking questions. She threw the blankets off of her and pressed her bare feet onto the cold, metal floor. Pulling on her leisure time clothing and letting her hair loose, she walked out into the hall in search of him. It was nearly lunchtime now—he was probably working on another panel, probably on the west wing. There’d been a small blip on her personal datapad informing everyone of another radar component down which would affect lifts and lighting until fixed.

EC turned the corner, walked down a hall, turned another corner, and then ran right into a broad chest. She teetered for a moment, her eyes slightly blurred from the rough contact. “I’m so sorry, I…” The rest of the words died on her tongue as she looked up to see the iconic black mask of Kylo Ren looking down at her. “Commander Ren, I’m so sorry. I wasn’t looking where I was going.” She ducked her head to her chest, something she had been reprimanded about time and time again while she was still in training. It conveyed fear and childishness, according to her trainer. EC had received more than a handful of minutes in “The Box” to “straighten her out” because of this. Usually, she did very well in hiding her fear, like she did with Hux, but when confronted with someone like Kylo Ren there was no preparation.

“EC-2191.” His mechanical voice was low and terrifying.

EC glanced up at him for a moment but then quickly looked back down at her shoes. How did he know it was her? She was out of uniform. And, despite Matt telling her that he knew of her “accomplishments,” she really doubted Ren knew what everyone looked like under their helmets. She had heard the rumors about his abilities, knew them to be true but didn’t exactly feel like testing them out at this moment. “Yes, sir?” she responded quietly.

“Why aren’t you on patrol duty?”

“I-it’s my day off, sir. FH-7362 has my patrol today.” She attempted to stand straight, as if that would help her point but quickly withered under his shielded stare. “I can take up the patrol now, if you want me to.”

“That won’t be necessary.” He continued to look down at her and she felt the oddest sensation, it was as if someone was poking at her brain with a finger. It poked and poked and poked until her eyes watered. Memories of Matt flashed before her eyes before being replaced by the Geonosis debacle and then finally settling on a memory she had never wanted to relive but couldn’t escape.

She was barely eight. She had just finished her daily shooting practice when she was called in front of the lieutenant. He was a strict man with a crooked nose and mean, cold green eyes.

“You missed the target twice.”

EC’s shoulders slumped and she tucked her chin. “I’m sorry, sir. I’ll do better next time-”

“The Box.”

“Sir-”

“For an hour.”

Before she could protest any further, she was shoved into a small container. No light could permeate the seal. There was no noise until the generator kicked on. And then the pain started.

EC was finally ripped back to the present and she nearly crumpled at Kylo Ren’s feet. “What just happened?”

“What was the name of that Lieutenant?”

“What?” She could still hear the generator humming in her ears. Her body twitched in memory, as if still trying to get away from the pain.

Ren took a step toward her and she instinctively took one back. “The name of the lieutenant. The one who first trained you. Give it to me, now.”

“I-it was Averys.”

“Thank you.” He then turned and walked away without looking back.

EC reached up and felt the tears on her cheek with shaking fingers.

**

EC was thankful to be back on patrol the next day. With her face safely tucked behind the helmet, no one would see the red of her eyes or the puffy cheeks. She hadn’t cried in over a decade and apparently had forgotten how it felt. She would like to forget again.

She rounded another corner and almost smiled at the sight of Matt. Today, it looked like he was fiddling with one of the control panels. While she was of higher rank, EC wasn’t entirely allowed to touch equipment like that. It was deemed above her pay grade.

“Matt,” she called out.

He turned and looked at her before pushing up his glasses. He almost looked nervous and retracted his hand from the control panel. “EC-2191. Hi.”

“I wanted to apologize for the way I acted at dinner the other day. The General and I…we have different leadership techniques. We don’t often see eye to eye. I didn’t mean to take my anger out on you.”

Matt’s dark eyebrows furrowed for a moment. “Uh, all right. Thanks.” He tilted his head. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine. Would you like to meet for dinner tonight?”

“Yeah, that sounds good.”

EC smiled beneath her helmet. “Great. I’ll see you then.”

The rest of the day passed without incident and she managed to shower and slide into the mess hall before Matt.

“Hey Sarge, what’ll it be tonight?”

Again, EC chose the most palatable-looking option and moved to sit down but was stopped by one of the few other Stormtroopers in the hall at this hour. GE-1298 had been in her earliest training squadron before being transferred to sanitation.

“Hey, did you hear? Our old lieutenant—well, I guess he’s a major now—he got shoved in the Box.”

EC nearly dropped her tray. “What?”

“Yeah, some of the guys watched Kylo Ren himself shove him in there. I don’t know what he did but stars, he seemed pissed. He left ol’ Averys in there for three hours.” GE chuckled. “It’s been a long time, coming, huh?”

EC could only numbly nod as she made her way to her usual table. She sat down and felt a smile start to push at her lips and she tried to fight it only to have a huge smile break across her face until her cheeks hurt. Three hours in The Box.

Glorious.

She would have left Averys in there until he stopped breathing, but she would never tell anyone that. Perhaps it was the sheer, unadulterated happiness coursing through her veins that caused EC to get up and hug Matt when he arrived but she didn’t seem to care when he stiffened against her, not quite returning the gesture before he went to get his food.

“You seem to be in a good mood,” he said as he sat down.

“I am, isn’t that awful?” She laughed and took another bite of food.

“What happened?”

EC groaned. “You’re going to think I’m a horrendous person if I tell you.”

“I really doubt that,” he said in a bland tone but EC could’ve sworn she saw a bit of a sparkle in his eye. Maybe he had a sense of humor after all.

“All I’m going to say is that an old, awful man got what he deserved yesterday.”

Matt put a forkful of something green into his mouth. “Yeah?”

“And I’m going completely crazy, I know, but I think Kylo Ren is my new hero. I accidentally ran into him in the hall yesterday, like literally slammed my face into his chest, and I think I was so freaking scared that I relived this awful, awful memory from my childhood. And then, the next thing I know, I find out that Kylo Ren literally shoved my old lieutenant into a place I still have nightmares about.” She shook her head, a large smile still splitting her face. She knew she was babbling, something she did when she was happy. “I know he probably just did something wrong and Commander Ren wouldn’t look twice at someone like me but I’m going to believe he did it for me.” She sighed, still elated. “He has such a presence, you know? Commanding, strong. Don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely terrified of the man, but he is absolutely…magnificent.” She laughed at herself. “Sorry, I just talked your ear off. How was your day?”

Matt was frozen, with another forkful of food near his lips. “You think that about Kylo Ren?”

EC nodded, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “Definitely. I mean, like I said earlier, I’ve never really had any interaction with him before yesterday in the hall. I’ve always thought he was scary, who wouldn’t be in all that black with all that power? But now I’d like to think that he stands up for who works for him. I can’t do that; I’d just get killed right alongside anyone who slips up in my battalion. But, Ren, he uses his power to protect. And that makes him a great leader. Well, at least in this imaginary world I now have floating around in my head.” She laughed and nudged him. “But seriously, how was your day?”

Their odd little friendship progressed from there. They’d try to meet as often as they could for dinner in the mess hall and she managed to actually have less-awkward conversations with him. He was growing on her like a strange fungus. It was strange to think that’s she might have actually found a friend in him and his odd mannerisms and curious questions about how the troopers acted away from the watchful eyes of the officers. For a few days, he seemed particularly interested in how a few troopers had joked about defecting and running off to the Uncharted Territories. Only two Troopers—EC thought they were from the artillery division—actually seemed to want leave. Matt had scurried away from her with an excuse of: “something short-circuited, I think!” after she said that but came back a few days later, nearly bouncing on the balls of his feet. She didn’t question it.

Come to think of it, she didn’t question a lot of what he did or said. EC had ingrained the no-questions-asked aspect of her training into her personality, it seemed. At least, she didn’t ask them aloud. She often pondered just what the hell was going on in Matt’s surely-chaotic brain but had found him amusing and abnormally charming instead of just strange.

Or maybe she was just that desperate for a friend.

Either way, she treasured the shared meals she had with him and how easy it had become to talk to him about anything—the banality of her patrols on base to her disdain for Hux to her hopes to travel off base and ‘really see the galaxy.’

Matt shared less but still divulged a few secrets of his own. Like his penchant for sweets and how his family had been aloof but he desperately clung to the happy memories he had—he didn’t actually say that last part but EC could definitely read between the lines.

And his schedule seemed to be all over the place, sometimes she wouldn’t see him for days or weeks and then he’d reappear as if he hadn’t just dropped off the face of the planet.

It was during when one of these strange absences that EC found herself readying herself for bed, absentmindedly wondering where her strange blond friend had wandered off to—and she’d checked the reports to see if another Radar technician had gone missing (or been shoved out an airlock) and nothing had popped. She assumed he was fine.

A knock at her door gave her pause and she glanced at the time and saw it nearly the start of a new day cycle. Tentatively, EC went to the door and let it open.

Matt stood on the other side, glasses askew, and a small box in his hands. “Hey.”

She blinked a few times, not entirely believing that he was there before stepping aside and letting him in. “You’re up late.”

“Just got back.” He held up the box. “Brought you something.” He opened it to reveal a spongey, moist cake, glistening with sugar paste, and cooked to a golden brown. The scent alone made EC’s mouth fill with saliva. “It’s Fringi Spice Cake. From Coruscant. Thought we could share it.”

EC nodded a bit too excitedly and sat down on her small bed and let Matt sit beside her, placing the box between them. His long fingers dove in and twisted off a piece of the cake and EC followed suit. The cake nearly melted in her mouth. She couldn’t ever remember having something so delicious.

Matt nudged the box closer to her as she licked the sugary syrup off her thumb. “Have more.”

“You sure?”

“It isn’t good when it isn’t fresh,” he said, shoving another bite between his slick, plush lips.

EC happily ate more, silently wondering when Matt had had cake last, it wasn't like it was readily available on Starkiller. She asked where he’d found a cake like this on base between bites of just the sugar paste, rolling it around on her tongue like a candy.

“An officer owed me a favor.”

“Must’ve been some favor.” She moaned as a burst of a hidden berry hit her tongue as she took another bite. Her stomach protested, already full after several slices, but she wanted to have each bite she was offered, not knowing when an opportunity like this would present itself.

Conversation mostly veered toward her work while Matt was, as he said, “preoccupied on a starship” and EC happily reported that the base was running mostly smoothly except for when Hux’s assistant, a beleaguered man with beady green eyes, accidentally sent the general’s personal itinerary to all of the higher-ranking troopers and officers, instead of to just Hux’s personal pilot. Now almost everyone on the base knew that Armitage Hux, youngest General for the First Order, had time allotted to fixing his hair in the morning, afternoon, and evening before dinner.

A smirk pushed at Matt’s mouth and he tried to hide it behind sticky fingers. “Have you heard anyone say anything about Kylo Ren?”

EC laughed, almost surprised it took him this long to ask about the Commander. “I heard he had a successful mission on Ossus on the Outer Rim.”

“I heard he discovered something in the ruins of an ancient Jedi temple.”

EC huffed, fighting a smile. “Of course you did. You always have insider information.” During their meal-time chats, Matt had told EC of the Force and how Kylo Ren had command of it.

It all sounded very strange to EC, but she remembered her strange run-in with Ren a few months ago and conceded to believe the odd workings of the universe that Matt swore were true. She just hoped she never had to witness any more of his abilities firsthand. Once was enough, thank you very much. EC looked at Matt as he continued to talk about Kylo Ren finding some sort of tome under a rock or something. She had to fight another smile. Matt had somehow managed to track cake across his cheek. Honey and crumbs littered his skin like a messy, sticky constellation. EC fought a smile and reached out to brush it away when Matt’s hand shot out and grabbed hers. Pain shot up her arm as her fingers crushed together in his grip.

And just as quickly as it started, it stopped. Matt’s eyes grew wide behind his glasses and he released her hand. “Sorry,” he muttered.

“ ‘s fine,” EC said. “I get it. I once shot at another trooper who came around the corner too fast. Reflexes are hard to fight.” She smiled and flexed her fingers a bit.

“But I didn’t want to hurt you.”

“Just don’t make it a habit,” she joked. Slowly, she reached out again and wiped the crumbs away from his cheek. “Messy eater.”

Matt leaned into her hand for a moment as if chasing the heat of her palm. His eyes fluttered at the contact and he didn’t seem to notice how she had stopped swiping the pads of her fingers against his cheek, simply held him.

“Are you okay?” She whispered.

Matt shot straight and nearly toppled the rest of the cake off her bed. “Sorry.”

“What for?” EC asked, twisting off another chunk of cake.

“I…I just…” His adam’s apple bobbed, searching for words.

She popped the piece of cake into her mouth and winked. “Again, I get it.”

**

Kylo reached up and pressed the leather-covered pads of his fingers to his cheek, trying to mimic how it felt to have EC’s hand against his skin. He felt so strange when she had simply touched him without provocation or hope for any sort of reciprocation. How long had it been since someone had simply touched him like that?

He dropped his hand and shove his helmet over his face. He could see her again soon. As he fastened his cloak around his shoulders, he remembered.

“I get it.”

She understood how he had felt.

But how childish was that small, insignificant need?

Kylo balled his hands into fists as he stormed through the halls of Starkiller. He knew his façade was cracking. He already had the information he needed from her—the possibly defecting Troopers had been dealt with weeks ago—but why could he not let her go? She was just a trooper.

But he knew that wasn’t true.

He’d come to crave her easy companionship and soothing presence, even if it came at the price of an itchy blond wig and terrible glasses.

Hux had questioned where Kylo was running off to a few nights ago. “You’ve been disappearing quite a lot, Ren.” His thin lips were pulled into a sneer. “Finally find some poor Schutta to drain you?”

Hux was flung into a wall before Kylo left the room.

No one could know about EC. Not how he craved her time. Not how she smiled so sweetly at him. Not how he managed to find a true center when she was just in his general vicinity. He felt stronger because of her. A strange sense of power seemed to flow through him when he focused on her, remembering how she would smell like Tellanadan moonflowers after her showers, and how she would laugh at his terrible jokes.

No one could know about how the pull to the Light grew stronger every time he spoke to her. Conflicting emotions warred within him; the want to stay near her, protect her and the need to continue on with his grandfather’s mission.

Perhaps he had diluted himself into thinking he could have both.

It had been a few nights since he had brought the cake to her small room and they ate until their stomachs hurt. He had accepted her invitation to come over because she needed to catch up on reports—she bribed a droid to bring dinner to her room and wouldn’t have the time to get to the mess hall if she wanted to finish before the reports were due.

So, he found himself once again donning the wig and glasses and reflective vest after finishing his report to the Supreme Leader about his successful mission. The ancient tome he had unearthed was tucked away in his chambers, waiting for him. But, Kylo found himself sitting on her small bed again, his own datapad on his crossed legs and plates of half-eat food on her rumpled blankets between them.

His mind continued to wander back to how it had felt to feel her touch, the feel of her skin against his and how soft it was and how the ache in his chest didn’t hurt when she had looked at him.

He slowly reached out and let his fingers slide over the back of her hand before curling them around her palm. Sweat slicked his skin as he watched EC finally notice the contact. Her eyebrows furrowed as she looked at their joined hands but she didn’t pull away. She glanced up at him and he only shrugged instead of giving a response. How could voice how he felt? The need to be touched—and how he knew she needed it, too.

His poor heart lodged itself in his throat as she adjusted his hold so she could tangle their fingers together. She gave him a squeeze and then went back to looking over the reports on her datapad, a small smile on her lips.

Kylo took it as acceptance and also turned back to his own datapad, reading the newest transmissions from the Knights’ exploits in the Outer Rim.

But, his brain seemed to short-circuit, like an overheated droid, as EC’s thumb started to slide back and forth across the back of his hand, uncaring of the raised scar across his skin—one of many. He looked at her, seeing her frowning at something on her screen.

It had been completely subconscious on her part, the gentle touch. And that, for some reason, made it all the more precious.

"Didn't I tell you? I could never forget your face."

Chapter Text

EC wondered when her life had gone completely off the rails.

What happened to the trooper who spent her time counting down the minutes until her next shower and bothering absolutely no one and never breaking any rules? If she was a betting woman, she would have pinned it on the sudden appearance of Matt in her life and how he became an infrequent but strangely permanent fixture in her life. She became the person stealing touches in shadowed corners and buggering off her shift if Matt showed up from stars-knows-where with another treat he definitely shouldn’t be able to afford on his miniscule salary. He always gave her the bigger ‘half’ and his sticky fingers always tangled with hers and gave her a squeeze or two before he’d flounce away to work on another calcinator or something. Honestly, EC stopped asking when he tried to explain it and she got even more confused.

She was breaking rules left and right and couldn’t find it in herself to care.

But maybe she should have. She had been called into her superior’s office and told that she and her squadron were to be General Hux and Kylo Ren’s escort to Corellia to meet with a delegation ‘willing to hear the needs of the First Order.’ The meeting probably wouldn’t last long. Meetings such as these usually only stretched to a few minutes. Any small show of strength from the First Order often put any feelings of refusal down the figurative trash compactor. She had wanted to tell Matt that she was going to be gone for a few standard day cycles but couldn’t find him before she was called to clear out the hangar. There were to be no others present when General Hux, a handful of other high-ranking officers, Commander Ren, and his band of knights arrived to board the Upsilon-class command shuttle usually used for Kylo Ren’s personal use. Wherever it went in the galaxy, Ren’s reputation preceded him and fear sifted through the watching population like a stampede of raging Toorgas.

EC did another round around the hangar and nodded as her group of Troopers saluted her as she told them to fall into formation on either side of the ship’s loading dock. She was nearly done. Nearly done! Then, all she would have to do is keep her mouth shut for an extra few days and then she might have a few stories to relay back to Matt about Kylo when she saw him again.

And, just her luck, that plan went to shit.

Just as the large door to the hangar opened and a few officers filed in, she spotted a familiar shock of blond hair.

“Matt,” EC hissed, trying to grab his attention and no one else’s. “Matt!”

He turned and tilted his head to the side, questioning. His glasses slipped down his nose.

“You can’t be here,” she said. A TIE Fighter quickly gave them cover as she shoved him into its shadows. “Commander Ren will be here any minute. The entire hangar has to be cleared. I know you’re a fan of his but you’re going to be in so much trouble if he sees you here. Like, tossed-out-the-airlock trouble. I’ll report back with anything he does, but please, leave.” It was then that she truly noticed his appearance. “I think you’ve taken your admiration for Kylo Ren too far, Matt. How did you steal his clothes?”

“I didn’t!”

“And did you dye your hair?”

Matt nearly snarled. “I didn’t! I am Kylo Ren!”

“Matt-”

Kylo!” He hissed, grabbing the glasses from his face and throwing them across the hanger. They ricocheted off a TIE Fighter and a lens shattered, flinging glass across the gleaming, metal floor. “I am Kylo!”

EC could not believe him. Maybe he was drunk. “Matt-”

“Ren!” Hux’s voice made her freeze. “We’ve been waiting.” The redhead marched to her side and glared at Matt. And Matt didn’t waver. “We can’t continue to wait on you.”

“I was discussing security measures with EC-2191,” he replied, sounding bored.

Hux seemed to notice her at that moment and his ice-blue stare focused on her for a moment before snapping back to the other man. “EC-2191 is an exemplary trooper. I don’t need you questioning her.”

It felt like her stomach had shriveled into a dusty husk and lodged itself in her throat. If anyone would know what Kylo Ren looked like without the helmet, it would be Hux, given how closely they both worked under Supreme Leader Snoke. And his outright display of disdain only bolstered that fact.

Matt was Kylo Ren—Commander, Force User, a man known to fits of destructive rage and insatiable bloodlust.

And she had just scolded him like a child.

Kriff!

She was so dead.

“She is an exception, general. It seems she’s the only trooper I’ve met who actually lives up to your inflated sense of training you tout to Supreme Leader.” It was said with such nonchalance that EC almost didn’t think he was being genuine.

Hux’s mouth opened and closed several times, as if trying to understand whether he should be insulted or not. “Just get on the ship, Ren.” He turned to EC. “Good work.”

“Thank you, General,” she said, quickly. “Commander,” she added, before scurrying away toward the awaiting starship.

The sight of the Knights of Ren did little to calm her thundering heart.

**

Matt…or Kylo, that was definitely going to take some getting used to, was on edge the entire time they were on Corellia. He was the man the galaxy feared. Not the gentle, awkward Matt with the reflector vest and straw-colored hair. He was the creature in a mask.

EC did her duty and made sure her troopers did the same. She kept her head down and her blaster ready. The most ‘excitement’ that her battalion saw was a small skirmish after their starship landed and a handful of locals tried to rob them, obviously unaware of who they were dealing with. The meeting Hux and Ren had with the leaders of Corellia went much smoother. Even Hux seemed strangely suspicious of how easily the government allowed the First Order to start building a base on the southernmost point of the planet. It, apparently, was an advantageous locale to ‘keep an eye’ on a neighboring system that the First Order suspected was a Resistance hideout. It was all very boring to EC, if she was being honest. But, she was thankful for the distraction. Her heart always seemed to clench whenever she was in the same room as Commander Ren. Was Matt some sort of masquerade he took up just to pass the time? To see if the troopers were actually loyal? Did he lose a bet? (Actually, it was probably impossible for him to lose anything so she discounted that theory.)

And of all the time they’d spent together? Was any of it real?

And why had he dragged her old training officer into the Box? Was it really because he’d done something to Ren to displease Ren that much or was actually because Averys had treated her poorly while still a child? Questions upon questions were whirling through her mind like a raging rancor as she stared up at the blank ceiling of the small room she’d been given for their stay.

The battalion and group of officers were set to ship out tomorrow. The building crew would come back to the planet after plans were finalized and begin construction but her job was largely done. Usually, she would feel some sort of relief at a time like this, but none came. Probably because she knew as soon as they were back on Starkiller, she would be forced to fully deal with the fact that Kylo Ren had duped her into thinking he was her friend. Her only friend.

She wiped a hand over her face and tried to not look at the time on the small display screen over her door. Knowing how little sleep she was going to get was never a balm for frazzled nerves. The door suddenly slid open and a dark figure loomed, cloaked in shadow.

EC scrambled to her feet and held her hands up, ready for a fight.

“Really?” A familiar voice drawled. “You’re going to punch me?”

The lights suddenly flickered on in her small room and she fought a frown as she recognized the unmasked Kylo Ren. “Good evening, Commander.”

Kylo wordlessly stepped into her room and let the door shut behind him as she took several steps backward, leaving him his space. Neither of them seemed to care about the darkness of the room, only diluted by the glowing numbers of the time.

“I can leave, if you would prefer.”

EC pushed out a long breath through her nose. “Why are you here? I’m assuming ‘Matt’ was just a way to get information about the troopers. I’ve told you all I know.”

“I came here because…” His plush mouth twisted to the side as if the word on his tongue was sour. “Because I like being around you. I assumed you felt the same.”

EC wanted to scream. What was going on? “I don’t understand.”

“We are friends, aren’t we?” He muttered the question but he didn’t break eye contact.

“I was friends with Matt.”

“I am Matt.”

“You lied to me.”

“I did. I won’t deny that.”

EC would have scoffed if she hadn’t been concerned with the repercussions. But, she did find herself not as frightened as she might have been only a few months ago. Knowing that the same man who shared his sweets and liked to hold her hand with a soft, goofy smile was also the man behind the mask had quelled some of the preternatural fear he seemed to invoke. “Did…” she sighed. “Did you mean any of it? When we would just sit and talk. Was any of that real?”

“All of it.”

“Except the hair. And the glasses.”

A soft noise came from him. It almost sounded like a laugh. “That’s fair.”

Silence stretched between them for a beat. And then two.

“I want to stay near you.”

EC tried to make sense of what had actually come from his mouth. “What does that mean?”

“I want to keep seeing you. At lunch-”

“Fraternizing with superior officers is a punishable offence.”

I am the superior officer,” he grumbled. “But, fine. We can still…hide, right? Still hide out in your room?”

Something in EC’s chest clenched at the thinly veiled desperation in his tone. It was so strange, hearing it come from him but not, knowing that she’d heard it more than a handful of times when he was wearing a blond wig and large glasses. She wanted him to be her friend, to keep smiling at her when her day was long and she just needed some companionship. Friendship. Anything. “Do you still want that? Really? I’m just…”

“I do. I do want that.”

EC couldn’t fight her smile as she nodded dumbly in the dark. “Yeah, okay. We can do that.”

He let out a long breath and she could scarcely make out him nodding, too. “Good.”

Her heart was in her throat, happily thrumming as she turned back to get into bed. She still had him. Still had her friend. An invisible weight had shifted off her shoulders as she settled back down beneath her blankets. But, he was turning toward the door.

Leaving.

“Would you stay?” EC asked, hating how small her voice sounded. “Just for the night?” It wouldn’t be the first time he’d fallen asleep beside her. And she oddly hoped it wouldn’t be the last.

The tall, dark-cloaked man wavered in the doorway, unsure. EC shut her eyes and rolled over, not wanting to see him leave if that was what he chose. He wasn’t Matt anymore. Kylo Ren had responsibilities and they were literally on a potentially-adversarial planet. She wouldn’t hold it against him. (Or, at least, she would try not to.)

But the bed dipped.

And her heart soared. EC turned and rolled into his side as he slid in beside her. Slowly, carefully, she pressed her cheek to his chest and felt the rhythm of his beating heart. And, for the first time since landing on Corellia, she slept soundly.

**

“If you didn’t have to be Kylo Ren, Commander of the First Order, who would you want to be? Where would you want to be?” She asked, still in soft tones. It had been almost a year since Corellia. Kylo had kept his promise and slid into the shadows of her room or unfinished hallways of Starkiller to steal moments with each other. He would still bring her sweets and foodstuffs from his assignments around the galaxy and he would still somehow smear them across his cheeks. Tonight, he had come back from a mission to the Outer Rim and slipped into her room just as the first dredges of sleep had tried to take her. What had started as a conversation about what he’d seen had somehow morphed into a philosophical discussion that can only be brought about by lack of sleep.

“I think…” he paused. “I think I’d be Ben.”

EC hummed. “Ben. I like it.” She did. It suited this man much better—not the masked man with the red lightsaber who evoked fear in all who knew him—no, this man with the sleepy eyes and soft, deep, voice who liked to let his fingers tangle in her sheets. That man could be Ben. “And where would you go?”

“Anywhere,” he answered, his deep voice dropping even lower as sleep pulled at his eyes.

“That’s cheating,” EC playfully chided, digging a finger between his ribs and earning a twitch in return.

“Where would you go? Maybe I’ll go there, too.”

“Naboo.” The answer was quick—she had always known. “I’ve only seen holos of it but everything just looks…perfect. I’d like to see it, just once.”

“I could take you there. We could be on the ship tomorrow and in Theed by mid-cycle.”

The thought put an ache in her chest. “We’d be in so much trouble.” She chuckled. “Well, I’d be in trouble. You’d probably be fine.” She waved the thought of Naboo from her mind—or at least, the forefront of it. “Tell me, where would Ben go?”

He paused and took a few deep breaths, dark eyes searching hers in the dim light. “New Alderaan.”

“I heard it’s beautiful. They made an effort to replicate all they could of the original Alderaan, right?” She had tried to syphon knowledge about the systems outside the First Order’s reach and claimed it was for research. But, all she had wanted to do was know. To learn. Pretend she was anywhere else.

“They did.” He sighed and rolled to his back. EC followed him and placed her head on his chest and curled an arm over his stomach, feeling it rise and fall with each breath. His fingers trailed down her back and then up again, nails skimming the seams of her shirt. “The new Queen oversaw the reconstruction of their university when the planet was first settled.”

“Their Queen? I thought they had a parliament.”

“They do—but the royal family still rules. It has less control than the Emperor or Supreme Leader has. But they take an active role in their planet’s politics, unlike other figureheads, like the Hynestians.”

“You know an awful lot about royal families.”

“I know a lot of things about a lot of things,” he murmured in reply.

She could tell he was smirking. “You’re lucky I have no other friends.” A light slap on his stomach was his only punishment, hardly anything to actually hurt him. Truthfully, it was just another excuse to touch and be touched. When she was being a ‘bit of a brat,’ as Kylo usually said between poorly stifled laughs, he would grasp her chin and squeeze her cheeks together in an exaggerated pucker. She would always laugh and easily pull away. He never held her too tight or for too long.

But he held her.

And she held him.

Their terrible, beautiful little secret.

“What time does your squadron leave tomorrow?” He asked after a few beats of silence.

“Just after lunch. Quick in and out. We’ll be back before the standard week cycle is over.” She glanced at the clock and found she needed to be awake in only a handful of hours to report to Phasma. “You have to go.”

“Kicking me out?” He rolled over and on top of her, pressing his big body atop hers and squishing her into the mattress. “I am your superior officer.”

“You are a superior Hutt-spawn.” She smacked again at his arm and he rolled off her and sat at the edge of her small bed. “I’ll see you when I get back.”

“Promise?” He asked, knowing their simple little ritual for when either of them left Starkiller for any amount of time.

“I promise,” she whispered back as she sat up. Her nose ran the length of his sharp jawline as he sighed and she settled against his neck, ignoring the strange fluttering in her stomach as he tightened his hold around her middle. “Just a few days.”

Kylo turned so his nose could bury into her hair for a moment, smiling at the soft, feminine scent of her before he stood and left.

They never said goodbye. It always seemed like they never needed to.

**

Darkness was their safe place.

They couldn’t sit next to each other for meals anymore. Couldn’t find each other in the halls and talk about their days. It would be the end of her. Kylo was untouchable, she knew this. She would be the perfect scapegoat for anything and everything. Her prominence as a sergeant would hardly hold any sway if their relationship, no matter how platonic, became public knowledge.

So, they once again found themselves huddled in the dark of his private quarters, a rarity in itself. Usually her small room was their safe haven, but after she came back from her small-time mission with a blaster wound to her leg, he had all but summoned her to his quarters after a medical droid cleared her for duty.

That is where she found herself now, exhausted and in pain but happy as she curled around him. Even if they didn’t say anything, she lived for these little, stolen moments. For a moment, she wondered when Kylo had become so vital to her unimportant existence. And she wondered if she took as much space in his life as he had in hers. EC traced the pink lines across his stomach, chuckling as his abs contracted and a strange noise escaped him. “Ticklish?”

“No,” he said, petulant.

EC hummed and fought a smile, filing away that knowledge for a different day. Her blunt nails continued to lightly scratch across the scars in the dying light. “They’re like stars.”

“What?”

“They look like constellations.” Her finger tapped against a puckered patch of skin and then dragged toward a freckle and then another scare and two more pronounced freckles. “I used to study constellations whenever I had downtime before being promoted to sergeant. The stories behind them, mythology, all of it was so soothing. I needed an escape and what better place to run to than the stars?”

Kylo was quiet has his fingers trailed against her arm. His heartbeat was steady under her ear.

“This constellation,” her finger once again traced the unintelligible shape across his stomach, “this one was supposed to be a gift to a princess from the god who loved her. A jealous man wanted the princess for his own and tried to hide her from her beloved. Spirited her away to a desolate tower.”

“What happened?” He asked, low and scratchy as he fought the pulls of sleep. “Did her god save her?”

“No. The man tried to force himself on her and she, instead, leapt from the tower’s window. Her god, heartbroken, rearranged the stars to this shape. It’s supposed to be her favorite flower.”

“It’s a sad story.”

“Not really. She was free at the end and loved by someone so much he changed the cosmos.” EC yawned. “Bittersweet. Not sad.”

“What kind of flower was it?”

“A Tarisian Rose. A pretty, pink flower. Not many exist anymore, I’ve been told.” Her eyes slid shut, words starting to slur with sleep. “A shame, really, to lose something so lovely.”

When she woke the next morning, she was somehow back in her own room. An incessant, flashing light on her datapad told her she had a message. The screen indicated two messages: one from Phasma stating her leave of absence for the day had been granted and the other from Kylo. It was an unlisted contact. But she knew exactly who it was. It wasn’t Kylo’s personal contact; that was too easily trackable, recognizable with its data signature. This was another, secretly set up with only EC receiving messages.

‘Called out to the Supremacy. Be back soon. Promise.’

How silly it was to realize that the simple sign-off had given her so much happiness, such a jolt of joy. Wiping the smile off her face was near-impossible as she passed a handful of hours busying herself with form-filling and correspondences that weren’t due for another few cycles.

She locked her datapad after finishing and swept a hand over her face. How long had it been since she’d slept that soundly? It was even better than Corellia. Better than the night she was basically banished to the medcenter for a handful of days after getting shot after a mission went sideways on Li-Toran.

She decided to actually try to look presentable for the day, in case Phasma or one of her troopers called on her, and finally stepped out of bed and stretched, feeling her joints crack. A flash of color at the corner of the room caught her eye.

EC smiled, smiled so large her face started to hurt. A dozen Tarisian roses were sitting on her tiny shelf, shoved into a glass surely stolen from the cafeteria. Her fingers touched one of the glistening petals as her throat constricted with joyful tears. Never had she felt something so soft. She marveled at them for what felt like ages. Someone of her station was saluted and somewhat respected but still not permitted personal effects within their small room. Flowers were a rarity within the halls of Starkiller for high ranking officers.

For a Stormtrooper? It was unheard of.

And here she was with a dozen rare, exorbitantly expensive roses sitting on her shelf.

EC laughed, nearly giggled.

How strange it was, to be this happy.

She eventually pulled herself away from the flowers and their soft, earthy, floral scent. The rest of the forms were filled out so she could, possibly, have a few minutes of free time within the next few weeks. Everything within this aspect of her job was redundant and repetitive. She had learned long ago that trying to complain through these forms about her underlings or an overstepping, unrelated superior trooper or officer, only drew ire onto herself. No matter what her week’s rotations or missions consisted of, her forms were identical. For the most part, it kept her off the metaphorical radar of officers like General Hux. And that was all that mattered, really.

Her datapad beeped again with a new message.

She had lost track of time and it had already passed the allotted time for dinner. How had so much time slipped by without her knowing? “Kriff,” she muttered, before opening the message.

‘Back.’

‘Be there soon.’

EC cleaned up the basically nonexistent message she’d made and changed into a cleaner set of her leisure time trousers and tunic. Her door slid open just as she tugged the top over her head. Kylo stepped in and noticed the flowers still on the shelf. “Like them?”

“I love them,” she said, fighting another large smile. “I’m not going to ask how you managed to get ahold of them so quickly—and so many!—but I am just…so happy. I love them.” She chuckled and shook her head and reached out to gently touch his face in a quiet greeting and he leaned into the touch. Exhaustion ringed his eyes and she tsked. “You need to sleep.”

“So do you.”

She hummed. “Thank you for the impromptu day off. I’m sure I’ll pay for it tomorrow.” EC ushered him over to her small bed and made him sit. Well, she nudged at him until he sat. She was sure he only allowed it. Overpowering him was simply impossible.

There was, however, a rigidity to his posture that usually melted away when they were alone, behind closed doors. She didn’t press him about Supreme Leader Snoke needed from him.

“How do you remember that?” She asked, indicating the roses. “You were basically asleep.”

“I remember important things,” he said, pulling her down onto the bed with him.

“A flower from a myth I haphazardly retold is hardly important and you know it.”

“It’s important to me.”

He said it with such conviction that EC felt bad for discounting it, for even bringing it up. “Well, um, thank you…again. I won’t forget them, or you.”

Kylo smirked and that same, strange fluttering sensation took over her stomach again. “Oh? I’m important enough to remember?”

EC wrung her hands, fighting embarrassment. “That isn’t—that was—you know what I mean!”

He chuckled as she shoved at his arm. “Sure. I believe you.”

“I meant that I won’t forget that you did that for me. But, honestly, I think they could send me to reconditioning and wipe my brain and I’d still remember you. You make quite an impression.” EC sighed as she saw his shoulders stiffen. “Sorry. Bad joke.” An almost uncomfortable silence stretched between them but neither moved to separate themselves from the other. “But, I think you might be the only person in the galaxy who cares.” On that note, she changed the subject, not needing to dwell on that fact for longer than necessary. “Want to watch a holo?”

The holo was some mindless comedy that allowed them to sit in an easy silence for a few hours, the past tension mostly gone. He still hadn’t completely relaxed but EC tried to ignore it, knowing he’d speak about it when he wanted, if he wanted.

“It’s nice to have a friend,” she murmured as the credits rolled, tucking herself farther into his side a silence. And it was true. Her life had been lonely despite being surrounded by hundreds of others on a daily basis. Being able to just have someone to watch a holo with was a treasure in itself. She tried to keep her eyes open against the sting of exhaustion and listened to the deep beats of his heart. Slow and steady, so unlike the person he was to the masses of the First Order.

“It is.”

The beat stuttered but EC didn’t address it. The holo stopped and plunged the room into darkness.

Long fingers trailed up and down the bare skin of her arm as her eyelids grew heavier. She couldn’t remember the last time she felt this at ease, this safe or comfortable. Absurd, considering the reputation of the man whose arms she found peace in. It didn’t matter. Not now. And she was sure she’d happily covet this quiet embrace the rest of her life. She just hoped he would find some peace soon, too.

“Stop fighting it,” Kylo rumbled. “I know you’re tired.”

“But I want to just-”

“Sleep.” There was no authority in his tone, simply a soft voice disturbing the dark room. “I’ll wake you before I leave.”

“Leave?” She asked.

“Supreme Leader has tasked me with finding something. My first round of scouting will take a few weeks.”

“Oh.” The peace she’d felt had evaporated and she found her hold tightening on him, as if that would keep him close, keep him near.

“I’ll return as soon as I can.”

She burrowed herself closer to his side. “Promise?” She asked, slurring the syllables as she finally let her eyelids shut.

“I promise.”

**

Dread filled him as his reflection stared back at him on the black screen. There had never been an instance when she had not responded within a cycle’s time. Her work was regimented—he knew her schedule better than his own. Asking after her would only raise suspicion.

Something insidious wrapped its fingers around his heart and squeezed.

The pilot nearly jumped when Kylo bit out the question, “how much longer?”

“J-just a few minutes, s-sir. I’ve already asked for access-”

“Hurry,” he barked and the pilot nodded furiously and turned back to the controls, calling command and requesting an immediate clearance for landing and managing to say “commander Ren” five times within fifteen seconds.

Everything had been fine, normal, for his first handful of days as he scoured the galaxy for the remnants of the Empire, needing the archival maps the Emperor had horded before his downfall. The need to find Skywalker was grating on Snoke. And, thus, weighing on Kylo’s shoulders. His past was suddenly surrounding him.

His escape used to be EC and her gentle smile and soft hands, always willing to give him comfort.

Even when he believed he didn’t deserve it.

And she was…missing.

As soon as the starship landed, he was striding out, parting the sea of troopers and officers like water. He found Mitaka just outside the hangar, scurrying away like a womp rat. He dragged him into the nearest empty electrical outpost as he yipped with fright.

“EC-2191. I need their location. Now.”

Mitaka fumbled with his datapad and tried to bring up her location. The blatant ‘security clearance’ error code was no solace. Kylo ripped the device from Mitaka’s hands and entered his own login. His heart clenched in his throat when he saw her location. Something snapped and broke and spit out a spray of sparks as he clenched his fist. He didn’t pay it any mind. He shoved the datapad back into Mitaka’s chest with such force the screen cracked.

He didn’t care. None of it mattered. He knew where she was.

Kylo didn’t need to say anything to have the three posted Stormtroopers clear the way, down a long hallway on the other side of the base. The door slid open. The slow, unsteady drip-drip-drip of something hitting the shining floor caught his attention first, swiftly followed by the sight of EC’s broken body still strapped to the interrogation bench. He dropped his helmet with a clatter. One of her eyes was swollen shut. A large, bleeding wound on her side had drenched her torn top. Her one opened eye look at him, hazy and unfocused. The guard in her mouth wouldn’t come out without Hux’s personal code. He could, theoretically, rip it out. But it would only cause her more harm.

His fingers trembled as he outstretched his hand toward her. “I’m sorry.”

A slow blink was his only answer.

He pressed forward. She gave no initial resistance to the assault on her mind and flashes of memories nearly toppled him—bright and vibrant as he delved further.

“Promise?” “I promise.”

“If you didn’t have to be Kylo Ren, Commander of the First Order, who would you want to be?” “Ben.”

He continued to press, ignoring how his chest ached. Time wasn’t kind in situations like these. He knew it hurt. And she’d been hurt enough.

She had been sleeping. Her personal datapad was tucked under her pillow with Kylo’s last message still on the screen. Light suddenly poured into her room and a cold hand grabbed her angle, dragging her out of bed. She was slammed against the floor of her room as a blaster was pointed at her face. Hux emerged from the darkness like a wraith.

“I’m so disappointed, Sergeant.”

It was only then that Kylo felt her press back against his onslaught. She didn’t want him to see.

But he did.

It came in flashes. “EC-2191, you are hereby charged with treason.”

The hum of a vibroshiv.

The scent of burnt flesh and fresh blood.

“You could’ve had me,” a sneer came in her ear. “But you chose him. You did this.”

Pain. More pain. So much.

And then darkness. Sweet, beautiful darkness.

Kylo pulled back, as gently as he could and looked down at her. “I’ll fix this. I will.” His voice shook.

EC could only stare up at him as a tear escaped her eye.

“I promise. I’ll fix this.”

**

Hux’s angular face didn’t betray any sort of emotion as Kylo stepped in, looming over his desk. He almost looked bored. “What do you need now, Ren?” The red head asked.

“You know what you did.” It hadn’t taken long for Kylo to find the General. He was gallivanting around the base, his usual, vulgar pride coloring his actions.

Hux gestured for Mitaka to leave without looking at the younger officer who nearly sprinted out without a look back. It was only then that a victorious sneer slid across his face. “Tell me. What exactly did I do?”

“She was the perfect trooper-”

“Incorrect.” The general stood and straightened his jacket. “Her relationship-”

“Held no consequence to you or me. EC-2191 told no one. She was not asking for promotions or—”

“Is that sentiment I hear, Ren? How desperate are you for something beside your antiquated religion that you cling to so desperately that you corrupt one of my finest troopers. I saw every single one of your dalliances. Every single time you pulled her into her room or into yours. You have destroyed her. Not me.” With each passing syllable, Hux’s face grew a shade redder. “She was mine. Always will be mine. I have groomed her for greatness from the beginning. She would be the perfect figurehead for the First Order. But I doubt you actually know anything about her, where she’s from or who her family is. Supreme Leader Snoke knew of my intentions with EC-2191.”

Kylo felt his power start to vibrate in his veins. If Snoke knew about EC-

“You are lucky I didn’t reveal your liaisons to Supreme Leader Snoke. Could you imagine if I had? You are not allowed attachments, aren’t you?” Hux took a steadying breath and stood straight, schooling his features into a cool indifference. “I protected EC-2191. When she wakes, you are not to interfere with the rest of her reconditioning therapy.”

Something shattered on Hux’s shelf. Neither man flinched. “Reconditioning?” Kylo bit out.

“In her current state, she cannot be trusted to not let you take advantage of her again. Stay away from her.”

“Are you ordering me, General?”

“I am. EC is mine, Ren. Think of what Snoke would do if he knew we were squabbling over a Stormtrooper.”

Kylo’s silence was answer enough.

“That’s what I thought. It isn’t a pretty picture.”

**

EC didn’t fight as she was lead into the room or as she was strapped down to the table. Needles sliding into the soft skin of her inner arm only made her blink and she even lifted her head so the technician could slip the band around her head, securing the diodes to each temple and another above her brow.

“No fight left, eh?” One of the troopers sneered. He had been derogatory the entire time he had ‘escorted’ her from the interrogation cell. The other was silent.

It didn’t warrant a response.

The technician asked the two Stormtroopers to steps outside and they complied. No one actually wanted to see the procedure carried out. And no one blamed them. Technicians in this positions usually only lasted a few cycles.

“Does it hurt?” EC asked, surprising herself with how strong she sounded.

“I don’t know.” It was an honest response and gave her no comfort.

EC closed her eyes and tried to think of Kylo as the machine started to hum.

**

Kylo looked through EC’s file and felt a strange ache in his chest. It hadn’t been hard to find. He was a commander, given access to everything he could imagine. He wondered why he had never sought this information sooner. Perhaps, because it didn’t matter. He didn’t care about where she came from.

But he needed a plan. And he might have found one hidden in her file.

She was the only daughter of the Duke and Duchess Teramo of the Planet Serenno—one of the planet’s ruling families. She was a princess just as he was a prince. But her parents had been calculating and deceptive as his had at least pretended to make an effort. When the First Order called on Serenno to back their government just as they had with the Empire against the Rebellion, the Great Houses of Serenno agreed—but Kylo surmised that the sudden appearance of several First Order starships might have swayed them more than any word spoken. As a “show of good faith,” the First Order required that the Great Houses give the First Order a child for the trooper program.

A female was born several lunar cycles later to the Teramo family who was then “given” the titles of Duke and Duchess of Serenno, the liege lords over all the other houses and the entire planetary system.

His datapad beeped. It was a message from the technician, an officer who more than owed Kylo a favor.

It was finished.

Almost in a daze, Kylo found himself standing in front of the locked medical room without a memory of actually walking to this area of the base. His code unlocked the door with a soft beep. There was a single officer inside, looking over notes on his datapad. He was a weasel-looking man Kylo had only seen in passing once or twice. He was hoping to just have to deal with the technician. Fewer hoops to jump through. A small cot was pushed into the corner and EC’s unmoving form was literally chained to it with large, metal cuffs.

“Commander Ren,” the officer nearly sputtered, shooting to his feet. “H-how can I help you?”

“Status report on the trooper. Now.”

The officer nodded and tapped the screen of his datapad, swiping a few times before standing a little straighter. “Her vitals are normal. But, as I’m sure you know, sometimes the troopers’ minds are too fragile to recover from the reconditioning.” The officer paused and looked at Kylo as if wanting to know if he was satisfied with that answer. He wasn’t. “Um. Procedure dictates that the trooper has two standard weeks to wake and pass our basic test for mental function before being cleared to return to their posts.”

“And if they don’t?”

“Sir?”

“If they don’t wake? Or pass the exams?”

“They’re disposed of.” A nervous smile touched the officer’s thin lips. “I’ve heard a few Stormtroopers say they’d fake unconsciousness after reconditioning to get a vacation. Perhaps that is what EC-”

Kylo waved his hand and almost smirked at the sound of the officer’s skull smacking against the wall before he crumpled into a heap in the corner. Kylo then strode over to EC and let his fingers brush against her cheek. She almost looked peaceful, like she was just sleeping—like she was dreaming, snuggled against his chest. He released her bonds and scooped her up into his arms, setting off toward the hangar. It was now or never for his hasty plan. At the late hour, the hangar was predictably empty save for a single pilot—and officer Kylo knew to have a weak mind.

A perfect patsy.

“Lieutenant Voss,” Kylo’s modulated voice echoed in the large space.

The officer ducked his head and walked to him, saluting with a barely shaking hand and trying not to look at the unmoving woman in his arms. “Commander.”

Kylo quickly eased his way into the man’s head. “You will take this woman to Serenno and land at Carannia Spaceport. Take only droids with you and tell no one of your mission. Leave immediately.”

Voss blinked with glazed eyes and turned to ready his ship. Kylo followed. He gently set her down in the back of the ship, securing her with a buckle and tucking a pilfered blanket over her form. He wished he had more time. Just a bit more time. He could take off his mask and really see her, without the red haze of his mask. It would be the last time he would see her. He hated the sentimentality of it all but couldn’t escape it. The need, the ache he felt for her was strange and wonderful and horrendous all at the same time.

“Goodbye, princess,” he murmured. His fingers tangled in her hair for the last time before he stepped away.

Voss was still moving on muscle memory as the starship was cleared for takeoff. The officer on the other end must have been half asleep to clear him but Kylo paid it no mind. He watched the ship leave, craning his neck so he could watch it until it disappeared in the inky black sky.

Tracking down the surveillance recordings and the officer in the communications hub who cleared Voss for takeoff had been easy. The recordings were destroyed and the officer was easily made to report the take off as Voss’ own request, done without superior officer knowledge or clearance. It was easy.

But the easiest part of his strange, selfish question was signing in to Voss’ personal communication’s datapad and sending a message.

Kylo sighed as he snapped the datapad in half and then left Voss’ small room.

EC would be taken care of. Safe. Alive. And that was all that mattered.

A week passed. He had returned to his mission of scouting the galaxy for the archival maps of the Empire but had managed to come back to Starkiller after only a few days. He was standing in the command center, waiting for his pan to finally finish.

Kylo watched a familiar starship approach on radar. “Shoot them down.”

“S-sir?”

“Voss committed treason. Shoot them down.”

The officer nodded once and relayed the order. An explosion of color on the radar screen soon followed as the starship was destroyed with little fanfare.

Kylo watched as the heat signatures die out, letting himself savor the memory of the woman’s touch, her smile, and easy laughter, and the way his heart ached and burned with every beat. But, as the radar screen once again became grey and lifeless, Kylo pushed the memory and thoughts of what-could-have-beens from his mind.

For the last time.

He turned and left the room without another word.

**

Across the galaxy, a woman opened her eyes.

“Welcome home, Y/N.”

Her god, heartbroken, rearranged the stars.

Chapter Text

Y/N barely remembered her first few cycles “back home.” It had been a blur of medical droids, bright smiles, and seemingly endless questions. Her brother—Lord Vash, heir to the highest seat of power in their small system—had been glued to her side, murmuring encouragements, other nobles’ names, and rushed words of instruction when faced with some sort of ceremony or meeting. For the most part, her reappearance on the system was kept very quiet but murmurs of who she was eventually circulated.

Either way, Vash had been kind with his dark eyes and excited words. And he promised she would be reintroduced as the princess she was born to be—soon, he said. And she longed for that, in a strange way. Longing to be part of something greater than her own self.

But, he couldn’t fill the strange voids in her mind, or that gap she felt in her chest. Decades of her life were gone—like someone had ripped them from her skull in hurried handfuls. Vash explained that she had once been a trooper of the First Order and suffered an injury. “You were sent back to us as a symbol of goodwill,” Vash said, but his tone betrayed his own confusion and doubt. “I’m just happy to have you home.” And that wasn’t a lie; a small solace for Y/N.

The people of Serenno were distrustful to their core of those they deemed ‘outsiders.’ Her sudden reappearance only made them whisper with conspiracy theories. Vash quickly squashed these as best he could and continued to make small strides in ingratiating Y/N back into polite society. (He even explained the importance of the color of their capes. Their family, the House of Teramo, were known for their beautiful emerald green. The Malvern family, a sky blue. Vemec was orange. Eleven houses in total. There used to be 12 but the House of Dooku had been wiped from the system before the end of the Empire. “Your cape is your honor, your armor. Wear it with pride.”)

Their mother, a gaunt and severe looking woman named Sonsha, had only sneered at her once since she’d woken. It had been Vash had brought her into their mother’s personal chambers after Y/N had woken up. “I guess you survived.” After that, it was as if Y/N didn’t exist. There were no announcements. No celebrations. No acknowledgement that her daughter had returned to the fold. The dry, hacking cough was the only way Y/N knew Sonsha was even in the palace.

Vash had told Y/N that it was for the best. Being under their mother’s thumb had never been pleasant. “But I do have big plans for you,” he said to her one night over dinner. They’d taken it in her large, lavishly decorated chambers. She preferred it that way. Being alone seemed to bring her more comfort than being surrounded.

“They’re never going to like me.”

“Nonsense. They adore me and I adore you. They’ll come around.”

Despite herself, Y/N smiled. “And why do you adore me?”

Vash tugged at the end of one of the numerous braids she’d woven her hair into this morning. The demure young lady assigned to be her handmaiden had said it was the fashion of the cycle. Willa, she said her name was. A pretty name, Y/N thought. Y/N just let her do as she pleased, weaving most of her hair into half a dozen plaits and then fashioning them into a type of crown atop her head with tight ringlets filling out the rest. “I adore you because you’re my sister. My entire life I begged and pleaded for a sibling. And then you were born. Best day of my life. Father let me hold you, you know. Just once. You were so small and just looked up at me with those eyes of yours and I knew I’d do anything to protect you.” He sighed and downed the rest of his wine. “I, obviously, hadn’t been privy to their deal with the First Order. When I found out, I tried to steal a ship and find you. I was ten.” He shook his head. “Foolhardy little boy.”

Y/N felt something in her chest tighten. “That…thank you for telling me. Knowing someone was looking for me, that’s good to hear.”

“Do you remember anything about it? Your time as a trooper?” He’d asked her at least once a week, told by the doctor who’d first seen her after she woke up that her memories might come back in pieces or not at all. Every week, for nearly a standard year, he would ask.

He had been familiar with the First Order reconditioning process and knew how inhumane it was, how it left basic function intact but left gaping holes in their minds. Usually the First Order would then finish the process by pushing the trooper through ‘therapy’ sessions to make sure they were able to still do their assigned jobs, reintroducing them to the hierarchy, and how everything operated. Muscle memory usually kept a Stormtrooper from being ‘disposed of.’ Perhaps that is why Y/N found a strange sort of comfort when she wandered down to the armory and found an array of blasters and weaponry. The royal guards were wary of her presence at first but seemed to warm to her presence after she completely outdid them at shooting range on a cloudy afternoon. If she was being optimistic, the handful of guards who kept her secret were almost friends. But she didn’t understand why it left like second nature to have a blaster in her hand.

“No,” she answered.

“Nothing?”

She sighed and twirled a forkful of pasta, mopping up the white sauce around her plate. “There are flashes. Colors. Nothing duracrete.”

"I’m sure it’ll come back to you.”

“I’m not sure if I want it to. What would I be remembering? Battles? Death? I am not sure anything taken from me was worth keeping.”

Vash gave her a soft smile and gently grabbed her hand. “Whatever happens, I will be beside you through everything.”

Y/N could only smile again, and the siblings resumed their dinner, speaking about the upcoming annual festivities celebrating the emancipation of Serenno from the Sith Empire during the Great Galactic War, thousands of years ago. It was largely mindless chatter but Y/N appreciated it, knowing Vash was aware of her struggles and wanted to keep everything as ‘normal’ as possible. And the festivities were supposed to also act as her official ‘homecoming.’

She had been mostly truthful. It was largely flashes of color. Black, silver, red, pink. Soft, dark honey brown. What could she say? Her dreams were filled with a man and his kind, dark-honey eyes and a creature in a mask? A glowing, red laser sword in his hand? What would Dr. Sila say when all she could ‘remember’ were these two men? How would she start to explain her strange dreams? Her almost-nightly visitors? Even the creature in the mask gave her strange comfort, with his terrifying gait and modulated voice and billowing black cape and red sword. Why would that give her peace and still her mind? So, she kept quiet.

Vash’s ever-present datapad beeped just as they finished dessert. He read the message and frowned. “Dr. Sila wants to talk to me.” He glanced at her. “Would you like to come?”

“I’m sure if she sent the message to you, she wants to speak to you,” she said with a chuckle. Y/N tried not to be offended. She knew that Dr. Sila frequently had ‘secret’ meetings with Vash about her nonexistent progress. Dr. Sila would run bi-weekly tests on her and then discuss them with Vash—Sonsha couldn’t be bothered.

Vash looked sheepish and nodded. He wished her goodnight and said a droid would be in to collect the dishes before he slipped out into the darkened halls of the palace. And she watched him go, heard his footsteps get lighter and lighter, before she darted into the hallway, knowing exactly where she’d find them. Y/N felt juvenile as she pressed an ear to the door of Vash’s office, needing to know what was being said. Curiosity had never led to any terrible consequences, right? Regardless, she had a right to know, didn’t she? This would be the first time she’d snooped like this, the need to know had become too strong. She was an adult. A princess, basically. She was entitled to know things, do things. Vash had basically forbidden her from leaving the planet’s surface without an escort so she would gaze up at the stars whenever she could and pretend to know who she was before all of this. It was a small comfort, to be sure. But knowing what her doctor said might gain a little more insight.

“My lord, your sister is progressing remarkably. I am sure you’ve noticed,” Dr. Sila said, her dulcet tones a familiar sound.

“I have.” Vash’s voice was full of pride. “She’s strong.”

“She is. However, I fear that any resurgence or her previous memories could be detrimental to her health.”

Y/N was now completely pressed against the door, as close as possible.

“What do you mean?”

“I know you’ve read the holobooks I’ve given you about the science behind the First Order’s techniques of so-called reconditioning. Her old life was pushed to the recesses of her mind when she wasn’t ordered through the follow-up ‘therapies’ the procedures usually require; re-acclimating her to her role within their ranks. Any reemergence of those memories could, potentially, cause a catastrophic breakdown of her psyche. Lady Y/N is a case unlike anything we’ve seen in the galaxy. How long she’s gone with her repressed former life is, in and of itself, a miracle.”

“Should I be concerned? Is there anything I can do to protect her? I don’t want to lose her again.”

Despite the seriousness of the conversation, Y/N let herself smile at how determined Vash sounded.

“Alert me immediately of any signs she may have of regaining her memories. No matter how trivial it may seem.”

“Of course.”

Y/N quickly shuffled back and then sprinted down the hall as she heard Vash and Dr. Sila’s footsteps starting to near her poor excuse of a hiding spot. She slid back into the darkened confines of her room and slid the door shut, ignoring the startled beep of the droids still clearing away the dinner mess. Silk pajamas quickly replaced her emerald green dress and matching cape and she washed her face as hastily as good hygiene would allow before slipping under the blankets of her bed and pretending to be asleep. As if on cue, the door to her room slid opened a small amount, just enough to let a bit of light bleed through from the hall, interrupted by a small shadow. She quickly shut her eyes.

“I know you’re not asleep,” Vash whispered, amused.

“I am having a beautiful dream. Filled with prancing fathiers and candy,” she replied, keeping her eyes closed and fighting a smile.

Vash stepped in and she gave up and turned on the lamp on the bedside table. “You are not stealthy in the slightest.”

“I’m not insulted.”

“We have a meeting with the florists tomorrow. I expect you to be there.” He stepped to the side of her bed and looked down at her with a small smile. “I need your opinion. You know I’m rubbish at this. And mother is no better.”

“So, we’re going to ignore the conversation I overheard?” she asked with a laugh.

“For now.” He leaned down and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Try not to wear heels next time you’re running away from someone. I think that’ll help.”

Y/N chuckled and pushed him away. “Go to bed. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Vash wished her good dreams, “with fathiers and candy,” before letting himself out of the room.

Y/N’s dreams, however, were not filled with candy or fathiers or any other sort of fanciful, sweet imagery. Again, they were filled with snow and a blazing red sword. Disembodied voices had stung at her ears this time—a first. “Did her god save her?” “But I didn’t want to hurt you.

She woke as light started to filter in through her curtains and her handmaiden set a cup of steaming tea on her bedside table. “Would you prefer-”

“Whatever’s easiest for you, Willa. I’m not fussy.”

Willa laughed softly. “I know, my lady. I’ll be back in a moment.”

Y/N eventually pulled herself up and washed her face and drank her tea, letting Willa fix her hair as she munched on toast smeared with Oi-oi berry jam. It was a simple breakfast, but one of her favorites and Willa was always happy to run and grab it for her in the mornings. Willa went with a simple hairstyle this morning, twisting half of it up and fastening it with a pin that had a small Krayt Dragon Pearl fastened to the end of it.

"Is there anything else I can get for you, my lady?”

“That should do it, Willa. Go tell Anddam hello for me.” Y/N snickered at the vibrant blush on Willa’s cheeks at the sound of the guard’s name. Willa had waxed poetic about his green eyes a few weeks ago and Y/N found it endlessly entertaining to see her blush.

“Have a good day, my lady. I am-”

“Just a call away, I know. Now go. He’s on his usual patrol today.”

Willa smiled, and continued to blush, before bowing and scurrying away. Y/N finished her toast and pulled a black, long-sleeved dress from her extravagant closet. It was supremely tailored and hit below her knees. The fashion on Serenno was very much streamlined, clean, somewhat harsh lines that gave Y/N a bit of comfort for some strange reason. It was regimented. Sleek. She pulled the now-familiar emerald green cape from its hangar and tried to fasten it at her shoulders with two glittering silver pins. She was unsuccessful. No matter what she did, the jewel-tone fabric looked wrong. She continued to fiddle with it even as Vash waltzed into her room.

He laughed as he saw her familiar confusion and stepped behind her, starting to fix the folds of the cape with practiced ease. “Ready for today?”

“I guess. Just florists, right?” She asked, a bit of nerves coloring her tone. She had sat in on a few meetings for the festivities meetings but was largely silent and only there to see the inner workings of some of the strange, less-important duties of the ruling house of Serenno.

“I promise, just the florists today. There will be more meetings tomorrow. Fireworks, outreach to the less fortunate, food, all of it needs to be planned. I’d like you to be there, but you don’t have to come if you’re not up for it.”

Y/N murmured that she’d be there, knowing she had to step out of the comfort zone of the shooting range eventually.

“You know, the guards are quite fond of you. I think they like you because you’re quiet. Well, quieter than me.” He finished fixing the folds and stepped back to inspect his work, but still frowned. It still wasn’t right.

“Maybe I’ve always been quiet.”

“The man who brought you home, I suppose he was an officer, he was quite odd. Barely even spoke to me—just handed you off after I approached him at the port. Didn’t even answer me when I asked him about the message he sent to me before your arrival.”

“Message?” Y/N asked.

Vash pursed his lips, looking like he regretted speaking. He continued, regardless. “Yes, just a few hours before your arrival, a message came through on my datapad. It should’ve arrived days prior but I suspect the encryption on it slowed its arrival for whatever reason. We had very little time to prepare for you. Just as well, you were unconscious. No need for a parade.” Vash chuckled. “I am just so happy to have you home.”

Y/N smiled and let her brother adjust the placement of her cape over her shoulder. “I’ll get it right eventually.”

“I have no doubt.” He refastened the pin on her left should so the emerald green fabric fell behind her shoulders correctly.

Y/N glanced at him in the mirror, twisting her fingers together in front of her as she tried to quell her nerves. “May I see this message?”

Vash frowned but one look at his sister had him crumbling. “Of course,” he said, resigned. He pulled his sleek datapad from his jacket and handed it to her. “You know my passcode. Now, I must try to appease my league of advisors. I’ll be back soon if I don’t have to resort to murder. The florists will be here soon. Feel free to start without me.”

“Murder might be less headache for you.”

Vash poked at her smirking cheek. “You’re a terrible influence. It’s supposed to be the other way around.” He sighed and straightened. “Let me know if you remember anything, if the message means something different to you.”

Y/N nodded but shook her head at herself as he disappeared down the hall—doing this could be terrible. Everything she had here could be ruined, wiped away if what Dr. Sila said was true. ‘A catastrophic breakdown of her psyche.’ That’s what he’d said. But she needed to know. But, still, it was silly to even think that a few words on a screen might lead to any sort of breakthrough in her spotty (at best) memory.

But she could hope, regardless. She entered the code and scrolled through the messages, spotting the one with an unfamiliar and unlisted sending code.

Lord Vash-
Your sister has been an asset to the First Order. Through no fault of her own, she was sent through reconditioning. It was in her best interest that she be returned to you, to her family. Her life depends on it. She will arrive at midcycle within three days. Keep her safe. Promise.

Something cold wedged itself between her eyes. She winced and shut off the datapad.“Promise?”

She sniffled as she felt something slide from her nose. Almost absentmindedly, she touched her lips and felt the slick ooze of blood coat her fingers.

**

How long had it been since he’d slept? Truly slept? Not just fallen unconscious onto the nearest soft surface. Weeks? Months?

How long had it been since she-

Kylo scrubbed a hand over his face, stopping the thought. It was fruitless to think about. His plan worked; she was safe. That was all that mattered. Of course, Hux had learned of EC’s arrival back on Serenno. Kylo knew he would and planned for that as well: he made his seem as if the doctor had gone above his station and paygrade and ordered her unconventional ‘decommissioning.’ Hux swiftly effected the doctor from the nearest airlock. It was a small victory, to be sure, for Kylo to hear Hux’s loud thoughts lamenting the “loss of a perfect specimen” and how he couldn’t just steal her back from Serenno if he didn’t want the system to revolt. (In passing, as Hux continued to rant and rave internally, Kylo learned that EC’s true name was Y/N. Lady Y/N. It suited her.) And Snoke was none the wiser about Kylo’s attachment, however brief it might have been, and almost complimented his apprentice about his newfound rage on the battlefield.

The darkness was once again guiding him. Making him stronger. More powerful. But it all felt so fleeting.

When had he lost his hold on the darkness?

Kylo sat, meditating in front of his grandfather’s ashes and helmet. He needed to solidify his hold on his anger, the consuming rage and darkness to truly be Vader’s heir. He needed to have this—this one thing. To see he was meant for greatness despite everything the galaxy had put in his way.

“Help me, Grandfather,” he pleaded. “Show me your power, your path.” He needed guidance. Selfishly, he wished to be reassured—this was the right path, this was his destiny.

Wasn’t it?

But, as every time before, there was nothing.

Silence.

No ripple in the Force. No disembodied voice. No vision.

Nothing.

“Tell me, where would Ben go?”

How did she slip to the forefront of his mind? Again. Either way, Kylo let himself dive into that simple, beautiful memory—just for a minute. Just a moment. It would be the last time.

How many time had he told himself that lie? ‘This is the last time.’

The last time he’d think of her. The last time he’d allow himself to conjure her face in his mind or let his thoughts wander toward her.

Surely thousands.

And the more he tried to press her from his mind, the stronger the strange hold became. He thought it nothing short of a miracle Snoke had never managed to slip into his mind as he daydreamed about her like a child.

“Promise?” “Promise.”

But he could never pinpoint when he had realized his thoughts and feeling had evolved beyond simply companionship and into even more dangerous territory. While his upbringing and training did very little foster understanding of emotions, he knew what had consumed him like a giant black hole—a swirling maelstrom. (Perhaps that was a bit dramatic.)

Love.

When had it become love?

When she first brushed crumbs away from his face with a gentle touch? Or was it when she had whispered to him the dark, unafraid and reaching for him?

A cynical voice chime it only happened after she was gone—and it wasn’t love at all. Only a selfish child’s desire for a toy he destroyed.

Either way, it didn’t matter.

She was gone. Safe.

Time and time again, he’d tell himself that was all that mattered.

**

Y/N knew it wasn’t good when she was called into her mother’s private quarters. The Festivities had come and went and Y/N had taken her official place as Lady Y/N of House Teramo. The population of Serenno had seemed to warm to her, at least marginally, and Y/N counted it a win. Sonsha had been present for the festivities but her face didn’t change from the apathetic stare the entire time. Vash tried to give her a half-hearted excuse, citing Sonsha’s long-term illness for her inability to emote or enjoy anything. Y/N didn’t care enough to argue. Or care about her mother’s obvious ailment.

Willa stood like a sentry at the door of Sonsha’s room, obviously nervous, and shooting glances at the weathered woman at the other end of the room as if preparing to get yelled at. Y/N vaguely remembered being introduced to her, her mother’s handmaiden. Committing her name to memory hadn’t been a priority even if she was some sort of head of the royal household staff.

The breakfast Y/N shared with her mother was tense despite the shallow conversation about the weather. (“It is supposed to snow soon.” “Yes, I suppose it is.”) Y/N hadn’t wanted Sonsha’s approval since her first snide comment so, this entire charade of mother-daughter time smacked of something terrible. As the dishes were cleared away, Sonsha stared at her daughter for an uncomfortably long period of time. It stretched and stretched and stretched. If Y/N were a lesser woman, she would have squirmed. But she didn’t. She wasn’t even sure if she blinked. There would be no sign of surrender.

Sonsha suddenly rose from her seat with another hacking cough, unbothered to cover her mouth. “Come with me.” She waved off Willa and the other handmaiden, wordlessly telling them to get out, and lead Y/N over to the sleek doors of her closet. She opened them and stepped inside, Y/N following closely behind. The closet seemed endless. Twisting and turning like a cloth-filled labyrinth until Sonsha stopped and shoved aside a handful of sleek green gowns to reveal a door. She punched in a code and the door slid open, groaning with disuse. Sonsha stepped in first and Y/N followed slowly behind. A light flickered on overhead. The room was largely filled with dusty storage containers. Nothing of importance at first glance.

But then Y/N saw it.

The armor was a dark grey with shining red marking—chipped and nearly dulled with time. It was…

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Sonsha asked, tone clipped. “This had been my life’s mission; burn the Empire to the ground for all it did to my family, my planet. I could’ve bathed in the blood of everyone I cut down, everyone who profited from our misfortune.” She paused. “And you know what it bought me?” She turned to face her daughter, eyes hard, looking more alive than she had ever seen. “Nothing. I found that both Empire and Rebellion benefitted from Mandalore’s subjugation. There are no good people in war. And I was tired of continuing to fight a needless battle against everyone. I put my armor away and vowed to never use it again. The very next day I met Cregan—the one decent person I’d ever met. I promised, swore to the stars that I would protect him from the darkness that touched my planet, my people. Serenno had managed to stay largely independent under the Empire—pretending to be loyal and docile while undermining Palpatine when needed. They’d learned from the ravages of the Clone Wars.” She pulled in a snarl of a breath. “And then the First Order came with their Destroyers and wanted an ‘alliance.’ All it would cost was a baby.” She gestured to the armor in the dim light of the closet. “It was my secret shame. I wanted peace for my new home, no matter the cost. You were the easiest way for Serenno to remain untouched by another war.” Sonsha closed the closet with a snap and turned to face Y/N, eyes cold. “I never wanted a second child anyway and my husband had greater ambitions than Lord of his house.”

Y/N swallowed the hard, angry lump in her throat, keeping her features neutral with a control she didn’t know she possessed.

“You were never meant to come back. I read what the First Order does to those under their program. How did you survive? You were such a small thing,” she spat. “I don’t know if you’ve somehow outsmarted the First Order or if you truly are too broken to be of use and they sent you back out of some misplaced sense of pity.” She was practically snarling now, spitting each syllable like acid on her tongue. “You do not belong here. I knew the moment I discovered I was pregnant with you—there is something wrong, innately, within you. All the rage and anger I’d left behind had festered and created you. All you are, all you could ever be, is a reminder of the follies of my past. You are a stain. I took one look at you and knew I could never love you, that you would only bring destruction.”

Y/N let the silence stretch between them for a moment and then two. “Are you finished? I’d hate for you to not speak your mind.”

“You insolent brat! I am still Lady of Serenno! I will-”

Do nothing. You will do nothing because you can do nothing. Vash is Count of Serenno in all but title. He would be the one to swing the ax, as it were. But you and I both know he wouldn’t. For all your scheming and posturing, Vash is still kindhearted. He told me of all the times he wished for a sibling and how you ripped me away from him. Here I stand; his wish fulfilled. I cannot tell you if my survival was fate or luck, but I can tell you I am never leaving. You will see my face every day until this illness takes you. I will remind you every day of the horrors you thought you buried. I am your sins with a face. You made me.”

“Y-you- demagolka!” The old mando’a insult was still smooth on Sonsha’s tongue.

Y/N hadn’t even realized she could understand it. “Have a good day, Lady Sonsha.” She didn’t bow as she turned and left.

Morning turned to night and Y/N found herself curled in silk in her bedroom, unaware of how time had passed so quickly. Vash had come to see her, trying to understand why Sonsha was throwing a fit. Y/N could only shrug.

“She ordered me to have you thrown out, you know.”

“I’m not surprised.”

Vash sighed and sat next to her. “She threatened you. Told me, explicitly, that you wouldn’t live to see another cycle.”

“I don’t think she’ll live to see another cycle.” It wasn’t malicious. Only a fact.

“She’s dangerous, Y/N. I don’t want her to hurt you.” Vash reached out and touched her hand, curling his fingers, so soft and smooth compared to hers, around her own.

“She won’t.”

“You don’t know that.” Vash shook his head and stared at his younger sister before kissing the side of her head. “I’ll take care of it. Lock your door tonight.”

Y/N murmured her acceptance and wished him sweet dreams, finding it odd that the threat on her life didn’t give her much pause. Perhaps she was used to it. Maybe the trooper in her had long ago stopped being afraid of death. After Vash left, she sat on her balcony and stared at the bright stars in the dark sky, only barely illuminating the gardens below. The strange sense of insidious hopelessness settled in her bones as wind ripped over her exposed skin.

She was tired.

Tired of being coddled. Tired of being treated like an unexploded bomb. Tired of not knowing why she felt sudden urges or being unable to place the faces she kept seeing in her dreams. Y/N pulled in a deep, trembling breath and straightened her shoulders as she made a resolution to herself.

She would stop letting things happen to her. She was going to be in charge of her own life. It was her own and her only. No one else’s. Just hers. And she would stop letting anyone else tell her what to do or who to be.

A single step toward freedom, independence.

And no one could take it from her.

**

The mission had been boring and arduous. Snoke had tasked Kylo and the Knights of Ren with tracking down the map to Skywalker. Rumors had led to interrogations and interrogations to maps. Imperial archives were their strongest bet for tracking down the last known Jedi and, of course, the bits and pieces they needed were scattered across the galaxy, hidden in long-forgotten and abandoned holdouts for the Empire or stolen and traded for credits from one person to another to another. The last trip had taken Kylo to Coruscant. The city-planet was a shell of its former glory. It still hummed and buzzed with life but it was as if the dimmer switch had been left on too long, sucking the light and color from everything. They had yet to recover from the sudden collapse of the Empire and how the New Senate had relocated to the Hosnian System. The pieces they were looking for were stashed away in the remnants of The Works and Kylo barely had to do anything except monitor the Stormtroopers loading whatever they could find into the starship before they made their way back to Starkiller. Even the interrogation that led them there had been boring and easily over with. It wasn’t a challenge. The only time he faltered was when he smelled the familiar aroma of Fringi Spice Cake and his traitorous mind once again a memory of her next to him, smiling as they devoured the sweet. “Messy Eater.”

The small group arrived back at Starkiller without issue and the storage containers were pushed into a vacant room for another officer to go through, hoping for something better than just a piece of a map. Plans for new weapons were discovered on Mustafar. Palpatine’s strategies to explore the Unknown Regions were on Kamino. Kylo should have been pleased with the findings. To see the future of the First Order so readily available.

But he couldn’t feel much of anything. Until…

He watched the last Stormtrooper scurry out of the room and then looked at the containers. Something was urging him to stay, wait. Just for a moment. The room grew quiet. Outside noise dimmed to nothing and the motion-activated lights shuttered. He didn’t move. He took a breath. And then two.

A groaning, buzzing noise flew at his ear. It almost sounded like the old training sabers he’d used as a boy. Kylo turned at the sound, his heart strangely climbing into his throat. He should be better than this. There was nothing, he was sure of it. He’d faced down battalions of enemies without care or fright. What had changed? The room was empty, dark. The shadows didn’t move with creeping assailants. The neon glare of the controls flickered without measured beat.

“Who’s there?” Kylo stepped further into the room. “Show yourself.”

Nothing.

But he couldn’t shake the feeling of someone, something creeping along the corners of the room. Their air felt different, almost vibrating. Tighter and tighter an invisible rope seemed to stretch. Close to snapping any second.

But there was only silence.

Kylo let his eyes sweep the room one more time before he tried to shake off the strange sensation, the whisper he heard at his ear. He turned and started toward the door.

“Stop! Stop now, come back…I love you!”

Kylo turned again at the sound of the unfamiliar, pleading voice.

Nothing. Again. There was nothing.

He pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes and rubbed, trying to will his racing mind to quiet.

“You’re with him! You brought him here to kill me!”

Kylo felt the air push out of him as if sucker punched. That voice… “Grandfather?” He called out. “I’m here! I-”

The room flooded with light, snapping the rope. It was done. Gone. Mitaka stepped in, warily looking at Kylo, already nervously sweating. “Commander-”

Kylo whipped around to stare at the officer, chest heaving. He could feel the Force crackling in his veins—and all of the energy in the room had been syphoned into his body. “Move all of this into my quarters.”

“S-sir?”

He pulled his helmet over his face and shoved past Mitaka and into the hall. “Get it done. Now.”

A light overhead grew brighter and brighter, screeching with new power before shattering and sending glittering, sharp pieces of glass across the hall.

Hours later, Kylo sat alone in his room, nearly shaking with anger. He had touched every single thing hidden and tucked away in the storage containers. His fingers curled each slip of fabric, pressed every piece of jewelry to his palm, every bauble was held. His room looked like it had exploded when he was finished.

And he had nothing.

No more visions came. No voices called out to him.

Nothing.

He silently watched a droid pack away the discarded items. Its beeps and quiet, mechanical humming provided a soundtrack to his internal war. He’d found the map—or as much of it as the archives could provide in their fractured state—and was so close to truly becoming who he felt he was always supposed to be. He could strike down his former monitor and wipe the galaxy clean of the stain of the Jedi.

But all he wanted to was to hear something, see something. To feel connected to something greater than himself.

He used to find that sense of belonging within Snoke’s mentorship, within his grandfather’s acts, projected via holo onto the blank walls of his rooms. Now, all he could feel was an ache for something else.

His traitorous mind let a thought of a beautiful smile slip by—like a gentle breeze and a balm to his quickly fraying nerves. For a moment, just a moment, Kylo let himself think of her.

Y/N.

And her easy laughter. Her soft, forgiving touch. The spark in her eyes when faced with a challenge.

In the daylight, he usually kept her at bay, busying himself with missions and training, trying to once again find a home in the darkness of the Force. But night always brought her back—no matter how hard he’d tried to lock those thoughts and memories away, to burn them to embers. In the dark of the night, she burned bright like a bonfire.

His grandfather had refused to keep his counsel. But his princess…she wouldn’t leave.

**

Willa had to rouse Y/N from her slumber. Shaking her awake with hurried whispers of, “My lady! Your mother!” and “you must go, my lady! Your brother needs you!” So, bleary-eyed and barely covered by the robe Willa threw in her direction as she was shuffled out of her room, Y/N was brought into her mother’s room by some nondescript butler and saw Sonsha. She looked close to death—well, closer than usual. Her cheeks sunken. Eyes rolling into her skull at uneven intervals as gibberish spilled from her lips. For a moment, just a moment, Sonsha looked at Y/N and her chapped lips sneered.

“Let us handle this, my lady,” a doctor said.

Vash, appearing from a darkened corner of room, took Y/N’s arm and led her out into the hall. “Just give us a few moments,” he whispered to her before slipping back into their mother’s room and shutting the door behind him. So, Y/N waited outside in the hallway for hours. Medical droids and doctors and Vash and council members in and out of the room in a blur of colors—green white grey black. She didn’t move. It wasn’t until Vash knelt and pressed a kiss to her forehead that Y/N noticed the sun had set. How long had she been sitting?

“She’s gone,” Vash murmured against her skin.

Y/N hummed and wrapped her arms around her brother as they both stood, tucking her chin against his shoulder. “That was very clever.”

Vash simply rubbed his sister’s back. Y/N knowing didn’t seem to surprise him. “It needed to be done.”

Y/N tightened her grip on Vash and let her eyes close. Whispers slipped by the pair of siblings as everyone filed out of Sonsha’s room. “So sad.” “Poor dears, they loved her.” “She just came home. Such a tragedy.”

No one needed to know about the secret smiles the siblings were hiding in the shadows.

“You know I love you, right?” Vash asked.

“And I love you too,” she whispered back. “And the system is yours, my lord.”

Vash chuckled.

**

“Lady Sonsha is dying. Her son is about to ascend to the system’s throne. His alliances are weak despite your attempt to win his favor, General,” Snoke sneered. “Playing to his emotions was a waste of a good Stormtrooper. And you cost yourself your small prize.”

Kylo didn’t move, trying to maintain a neutral expression before the projection. Hux had tried to spin EC-2191’s ‘disappearance’ as a political maneuver? How inept could he actually be? This seemed almost too stupid, even for Hux.

“I want the system.” Snoke sat back in his chair, almost straightening his crooked back. “I do not care how you do it. If one system thinks they can revolt, thinks they can just push us out, the rest will try. You have to be sure they are still under our thumb. We are the rightful power in the galaxy. You would do well to make sure they know it.” The project shut off before Hux or Kylo could respond. The pair looked at each other and then turned to leave the room.

Something rotten turned in Kylo stomach as he pulled his helmet over his face again, letting the red haze saturate his vision. “This is your mess, General. I assume you have a poorly-formed plan to remedy it.”

Hux’s face turned into a grimace. “You were the one who seduced-”

“Do not blame me for your inability to take what you want.” The words were acid on his tongue but he needed to make Hux believe that Y/N wasn’t a weakness. She needed to be removed as pawn in their eternal game of dejarik. He started to walk away but stopped and looked back, needing to see the face of the man who took her from his arms. “She never wanted you anyway.”

**

If Vash’s coronation had to be summed up in a few words, Y/N would use: ostentatious, grand, and…green. It was as if the entire system had been coated in the color. It didn’t actually dawn on her that Vash was now the first and final voice of power in the system until she was asked to partake in the actual coronation. She was the one to place the simple, Vonium crown over his brow. The crowd behind them erupted into applause. “Arise, Vash of House Teramo, Count of Serreno!” She exclaimed, fighting a smile. This was as lively as she had ever seen the planet, the people. It was impossible to not feel happy or excited.

Vash stood from the sleek, black throne and waved as the cheers grew louder. They were crying out his name, throwing white roses and sprigs of beautifully green saldi onto the ground beneath his feet. Y/N knelt and bowed her head until he reached out a hand and helped her rise.

She smiled at him and nudged him along to the podium, ready for his speech.

She watched with a practiced smile on her face, having heard him rehearse it dozens of times beforehand. He would be a good ruler, she knew it. An easy fact. Her place as his sister should have made her feel like she really, truly had a place here. But there was something prodding the back of her mind, telling her she wouldn’t. She couldn’t. And the dark honey eyes continued to call to her in her dreams.

But, the festivities were still ongoing and Y/N couldn’t try to figure out her existential crisis without offending someone so, she continued on at Vash’s side, celebrating his new place of power.

Dignitaries and other royals from across the galaxy had descended onto Serenno for the coronation. There were so many new people around, crammed into the palace, that Y/N could barely keep names straight or catch her breath. Crowds were never kind. She always felt like someone or something was lurking, waiting for…something. She couldn’t place the need for control, or to know exactly what every person was doing as they joined the thrumming streets, people from all walks of life partaking in the festivities. But she felt the need to keep close to Vash and constantly look around, behind, as he greeted his new subject. He seemed a natural at it. Endearing himself to everyone within an arm’s radius was as easy as breathing while her fingers itched to hold a blaster, if, for nothing else, other than to feel secure. She wasn’t sure if her smile looked pained by the time she and Vash were escorted back to the palace but Vash was glowing as he helped her try to remove all of the confetti and flower petals from her hair. They were unsuccessful.

“Just dinner now. Maybe a little dancing and then you can stop looking for the nearest exit.”

Y/N winced. “I can’t help it-”

Vash shook his head with a smile. “I know you can’t. It wasn’t an insult, I just want you to be comfortable here, too. These are your people. Your home.” He looped his arm through hers and started toward the formal dining room where there was already the din of overlapping conversation. “Thank you for everything today. I couldn’t have done it without you.”

“Yes, you could have. But, thank you for letting me be a part of it.” They slowed to a stop in front of the closed doors and she nodded at the footman who opened them with a flourish.

“The Count of Serenno and Lady Y/N Teramo!” He announced.

The conversations and arguments all but halted as everyone in the room turned at looked at them. The room was full with royalty, senators, generals—the highest echelons of society in the galaxy. All rose from their seats in a sign of respect and a few even bowed their head as Vash led Y/N to her seat and then sat at the head of the table. He proposed a toast, thanking everyone for coming and to a “bright future for Serenno.”

Y/N knew Serenno was a contentious ally to have if one knew their past—but a necessary ally all the same because of its position along two major trade routes. While the New Senate and Resistance knew of Serenno’s halfhearted support of the First Order (news of Sonsha and Cregan’s decision to give over their daughter for power wasn’t a fact anyone knew beside Vash and a few older members of the Great Houses), it did not stop them from sending delegations or representatives to “talk.” It seemed those two powers were ramping up their courting of Vash if the guests were any indication.

The tension in the room was palpable and it was almost humorous to see them fall over each other and themselves for a moment of Vash’s attention. Y/N tried to keep her face neutral when asked a question. It almost worked. The woman sitting across from her was also fairly quiet, only congratulating Vash once before focusing on her dinner. Y/N thought that with hair like that—really, a quite loud but still pretty shade of lavender—that the woman would have had more to say. And with the way almost every other guest was eyeing her, they expected more from her as well. Y/N felt the woman’s gaze on her throughout the meal and the few hours Vash had set aside for dancing—Y/N didn’t participate for more than a single dance with Vash. The woman didn’t approach her as Y/N though she might, but kept a respectable distance and even took a few turns about the room with some prince or something from the Mid-Rim. Y/N unabashedly kept her eyes on the other woman as she sipped her win, a large goblet of Blossom Wine which had been a gift from the King of Naboo. With each passing moment (and with each new sip), Y/N grew surer that she knew the other woman. Not from a passing introduction before the festivities—but truly knew her. She tried to brush it off as Vash bid everyone goodnight and the royal, tired revelers were all led to their separate rooms for the rest of the night.

“Did you enjoy yourself today?” Y/N asked Will as the younger girl started to undo the intricate hairstyle she’d so carefully done this morning.

“I did, my lady. I do believe your brother will be one of the finest leaders Serenno has seen.”

Y/N preened as if the compliment was for her. “I know he will be.” She eventually finished readying for bed and dismissed Willa, telling her to take the day to herself tomorrow to rest. She curled under her sheets and blankets and managed to fall asleep quickly.

But, something was pressing at her mind, keeping her from truly resting. She turned and curled and fluffed her pillow until she heard a very soft sound.

A soft-soled shoe against the floor.

Her eyes opened and she sat up in bed, her fingers curling around the small blaster she kept beneath her pillow. A figure was standing in the shadows, just at the foot of her bed. A large hood was blocking any distinguishable features. “I’ll give you three seconds to leave or explain yourself.”

The hood was removed and a beautiful, kindly face was bathed in moonlight. Greying brown hair was twisted and looped around the base of her neck and a familiar pendant was hanging over her chest.

“General Organa,” she said, fighting a smile. “Why am I not surprised?” Of course Y/N knew who the fearsome woman was—it was impossible not to.

“Your guards are easily distracted, Lady Y/N.”

“They've had a long day. Don't hold it against them. And, please, just Y/N, unless you’d prefer your title, too, Queen Leia.” Her grip loosened on her blaster.

Leia’s nose wrinkled. “I will only claim that title when this war is over.”

Y/N hummed. The woman’s reputation obviously preceded her. “I assume you need something. Desperately.”

Leia stepped closer. “May I sit?”

“You may,” Y/N said, curling her legs beneath her and letting Leia sit on the side of her bed.

“I know you are aware of the fight currently waging over the galaxy. While your brother has made it seem to the public that you would have nothing to do with it, I have my sources telling me that you have devoured everything set before you when learning about the First Order. You counsel your brother on all matters. You, if I am correct and I know I am, simply must learn everything you can. You know, I made sure to have the university rebuilt first, as soon as we resettled New Alderaan—before the Parliament building, the palace—all of that could wait.” Leia frowned as she looked at Y/N and touched her lip. “You’re bleeding.”

Y/N reached up and wiped under her nose, feeling the warmth coat her fingers. “Sorry,” she muttered, ignoring the small pain zipping through her head. They were getting easier to deal with. She barely noticed them now. But she had noticed the similar dark honey color in the Queen’s eyes. That pain was longer-lasting. But her eyes didn’t bring her the same comfort that her drams had. But they were familiar.

Leia’s frown persisted. “Does that happen often?”

“It comes and goes.” She waved the vague statement away. “I know you didn’t come all the way here to try to sway me with tales of your good deeds. Why are you here, general? Vash’s room is across the castle.”

Leia finally smirked. “Smart. I knew you would be.” She straightened her shoulders. “Your past as a Stormtrooper is valuable, whether your remember all of it or not. My son…has also been taken by the First Order. Snoke. I need your help.”

“Have you spoken to Vash yet?”

Leia nodded. “He said it was your decision. You have the past within the First Order.”

“And you would need me for your plan to work,” Y/N said, easily reading between the lines.

“I do.”

“At least you’re honest. Tell me, the woman I saw today, was she one of yours?” Y/N asked, recalling the look the lavender-haired woman kept sending her direction.

“That would be Amilyn Holdo.”

It dawned on Y/N. Of course she would know Holdo and her purple hair. In one of their ‘tutoring sessions,’ Vash had shown Y/N a holo of General Organa and Admiral Holdo. Vash, apparently strangely smitten with Holdo and “her glorious purple hair” had made sure Y/N knew of her. “The Admiral. Interesting choice for you to send in your place. She commands the room wherever she goes. The hair doesn’t help, either.”

Leia chuckled. “But she is a fine judge of character. I wouldn’t be here if she didn’t believe in you.” She reached out and touched Y/N’s hand. “Now, do you believe in me?”

**

The map was nearly complete. Snoke was as close to ‘pleased’ as he could be but Kylo knew he was still rankled that the last bit of the map was missing. It led out to the Unknown Regions. The First Order could spend millennia out there and still never find Skywalker without an exact location.

But the time was coming.

There was no going back after this.

As Starkiller shifted to night patrols and shifts, Kylo snuck away to the hangar and into his Silencer. He never needed clearance to shoot off into the inky black night. A privilege he was abusing surely.

But all he did was shoot off toward the stars, trying to clear his mind.

Light streaked by the small viewports of the ship and he found himself muttering the old mantras.

“Through Strength I gain Power.
Through Power I gain Victory.
Through Victory my chains are Broken.
The Force shall free me.”

He sucked in a deep breath and let his eyes close.

“I needed an escape and what better place to run to than the stars?” The voice whispered in his ear. His heart clenched.

**

Y/N had taken to venturing into the dark underbelly of the ancient palace to pass the time. General Organa’s visit had left quite a bit to be sorted through. They had talked well into the morning hours, forming battle plans and a tentative alliance.

Her dreams were now filled with the man…the creature in the dark with his red sword. Even as she stared up at him, knowing he could cut her down, she felt no fear. And the dreams were always too short to give her any sort of real comfort or rest.

She turned another dark corner and walked down another dark hall. She had actually found this mass of tunnels by accident after trying to chase a stray loth-cat that had somehow managed to get into the palace kitchens in the middle of night when Y/N had gone searching for a tea to help her sleep. The dark, stone passageways brought a strange comfort to her when she wasn’t able to get into the shooting range because of a training exercise or some other obligation. It was quiet down there. Only the sound of her footsteps and the occasional howl of wind. She turned another corner and then stopped, noticing a door she hadn’t seen before. It was sealed and without a handle. The only reason she had noticed it was by chance. Her fingers moved across it, over the cold metal, looking for a way to open it. A stone near the left side depressed under her touch and the door opened, slowly and with a groan. Y/N stepped inside and squinted against the light that flickered overhead. What she saw was not what had she expected. She knew of the Dookus’ penchant for traps and cruel tricks, and had stumbled upon a few of them during her first few adventures through the tunnels. This was something entirely different. The room was a vault, secure from the inside, and larger than the entire first floor of the palace, if she had to guess. And it was entirely full with battle droids. B-1’s, B-2’s, T-Series tacticals, super tacticals. Hundreds upon hundreds of them. The droids were dusty with spots of rust lining some of the joints. In the dim light, they looked like ancient sentries, immovable protectors forgotten to time. A few were covered with dusty tarps, giving them an exaggerated ghostly appearance. She pulled a tarp away and marveled at the uncovered Droideka; nearly pristine. Her hand smoothed over the cold metal of the face plate as she glanced around the vault and saw dozens more, scattered amongst the smaller B-1 droids.

“This could work,” Y/N mused to herself, thoughts turning, turning, turning in her mind. Strategy seemed to come easily—easier than polite conversation with other nobles, anyway. Maybe this could be her way in, her way to contribute. One way or another.

With a smile nearly splitting her face, Y/N ran from the room and carefully sealed it again before rushing to find Vash.

**

“You are weak.”

Kylo didn’t flinch. His gaze didn’t leave the floor in front of him as he knelt in front of the projection of Snoke.

“I can feel it in you. You are wavering. Have I not given you everything you needed to be Vader’s heir? You are nothing more than a floundering padawan. Weak. Foolish.” Snoke let out a wet sigh and stretched out a twisted, bony finger toward his ward. “There is no light in you. You, Master of the Knights of Ren, have all the power in the galaxy and you choose to ignore it. You have to embrace it. Shed your boyhood stupidity and become the power I know you can be.”

**

“We cannot possibly defend ourselves if we truly ally with the Resistance. My sources say they are nearing completion on that base—Starkiller. They say it will have the capacity to destroy entire systems. Not just a planet!” One councilman said, near hysterics. Vash had called his council of advisors to tell them of his plan to remove Serenno from under the First Order’s thumb. It went as well as could be expected.

“Our people fight in the shadows. Not in battlefields. We haven’t had a formal army in several millennia. There aren’t enough mercenaries in the galaxy for us to hire to even attempt to hold back the First Order,” another argued.

Y/N looked to her brother who held the same cool indifference over his features that she’d seen on her mother. He held up a hand to quiet the overlapping voices. “Lords, Ladies, I understand your apprehensions.”

“Do you?” Sneered Lord Vemec. The burnt orange color of his cape was revolting and only highlighted the red blotches on his flapping cheeks. Vash had told her Vemec was the most heavy-handed of Sonsha’s advisors. Supposedly, his area of ‘expertise’ was “protecting Serenno’s interests in the galaxy.” Sonsha called him her personal warmonger. Y/N vaguely wondered if her abandonment to the First Order had been his idea or if Sonsha truly saw her sins incarnate while looking at her only daughter. “You are a child. You don’t remember the Empire-”

“True, I was born after the fall of the Empire. But, I am not a child, Lord Vemec. I am older than your wife.”

Vemec choked on his next breath, sputtering out half-formed words as the other advisors watched with a poorly hidden sense of amusement. “My lord-”

“My sister has discovered a way for us to remain safe and independent.” Vash gave her a small smile, muted from his usual display of teeth. “In order for it to work, I will need everyone’s cooperation and absolute secrecy.”

“You have it, my lord,” came a murmur of replies from the crowd.

Vash took a breath and then explained the plan. They would create suspicion about Serenno’s true loyalties and draw the eye of the First Order to them, knowing the First Order needed them loyal to keep access to the Hydian Way and Spurs of Celadon hyperspace trade routes. Vash knew of Starkiller Base’s true power and argued that allying with the Resistance was the only way to make sure that Serenno would never be subjected to its destructive capabilities.

True to form, Lord Vemec refused his role in Vash’s plan. “Preposterous!” He shouted over the din of the other advisors. Vash had simply asked him to do his job, to send out whispers that a Resistance base was stationed near Serenno along the Hydian Way, creating plausible doubt that Serenno could be fostering ties with Organa and her ilk. “You have no idea what destruction you are courting!”

Y/N straightened her shoulders and refused to blink first. Let the old man know she was just as much part of her brother’s council as he was—probably more so. “I am aware, Lord Vemec, that my mother and father deferred to you when it came to matters such as these. But I must ask you: do you see either of them present?”

Vemec’s thin lips pulled tight over his teeth. “No, my lady. But, I must-”

“Good. I was worried your age had started to affect your eyesight along with your manners.”

Vash lightly tapped his fingers against her hand, a silence plea to retract her claws.

She didn’t. “My brother, Count of Serenno, the man you are duty-bound to obey and protect, gave you an order. Not unreasonable. Not impossible for a man of your standing or considerable assets. Some might even call it simple. But you refuse. Am I correct?”

Vemec was now so red in the face Y/N was wondering if he was still breathing. “No, my lady-”

“No, I am not correct? Or no-”

“I will do what my Liege Lorde has asked of me.” The words were bit out as he stared at Y/N. He looked like he wanted to rip her throat out.

She could only smile. “Fantastic. I’m glad we could still rely on the ancient and noble house of Vemec.”

Vash’s hand was now firmly grasping hers in the shadow of the table. “Yes, thank you, Lord Vemec.”

Vemec stood and gave the smallest of bows toward Vash who reciprocated. “I will begin immediately, my lord.”

Y/N smiled over the edge of her wine glass as the old man turned and left, muted orange cape swishing behind him.

And soon, the plan quickly came to fruition. Vash was sent a message from General Hux himself. (“He looks like a weasel, don’t he?” Y/N laughed as she pulled up his holo-card.) They were requesting his presence on Starkiller. Begrudgingly, Vash followed the next part of the plan. (General, unfortunately, I am unable to attend at the time you requested. My sister, Lady Y/N, will go in my stead.)

“Are you sure you want to go through with this?” Vash asked as he, again, adjusted her cape. Almost a full year home and she still never mastered it.

“This is the only way,” Y/N said as she turned and took his hands and giving them a squeeze. “I’ll be safe. Remember what I said General Organa said?”

Vash sighed and nodded.

(“I have been fortunate to have a mole inside the First Order. Armitage Hux, the general, remembers you from your time as a Stormtrooper. Apparently, there had been some sort of one-side infatuation before you were decommissioned. And it hasn’t gone away if my information is correct. You are a hole in his armor. Exploit it.”)

“I’ll be fine,” Y/N whispered as she heard the tell-tale sound of an approaching star ship. “Go. I’ll be back soon.”

Vash dragged his feet the entire way like a child and Y/N had to fight a smile before she turned and walked out to the starship emblazoned with the emblem of the Serenno ruling family. She tried to count her breaths instead of checking the droids she knew they’d hidden away in secret hatches. There was a small group of First Order officers on the ship with her, making her feel more like a prisoner than a guest. But, she supposed, that was what she was. The pilot was also a First Order officer and she was asked, none too kindly, to stay away from the cockpit so she couldn’t see the base’s coordinates. It didn’t matter. The tracking device hidden in her skirts should be enough. Something red caught her eye. Streaks of red soared across the stars and her stomach rolled as she watched the Hosnian System be obliterated. But she didn't have time to panic, to rage. She swallowed back her cry, and curled her fists into the green fabric of her cape that she'd wrapped around herself to keep warm. She tried to keep her face passive as she pulled her eyes away from the viewport. They landed without much fanfare and Y/N felt a strange sort of familiarity as the hatch lowered and she saw the sifting, white snow and the conifer trees barely holding back the immense duracreet and metal structure of the command station. She sniffed, trying to make sure her nose wasn’t bleeding—it would make a terrible first (or would it be second?) impression. A small delegation was waiting in the snow for her. The shock of red hair immediately let her know Hux was among them.

The General seemed smug at her presence, near giddy. The sneer on his face made her stomach roll and head hurt for a moment, like something was pressing outward, trying to escape.

“Lady Y/N, on behalf of the First Order, welcome to Starkiller Base.”

**

He had been to Jakku. To Takodana. To the Supremacy. And now back to Starkiller. His entire being was exhausted. The girl had seen the map but had overpowered him when he had tried to pry it from her mind. Snoke had berated him again and Hux had lorded it over him. But there was something else…something entirely too confident—even for the cocky general—about Hux today. He was hiding something. Kylo stalked through the halls of Starkiller, ready to drag the scavenger girl in front of Snoke and—

Kylo stiffened.

It couldn’t be…

But he could feel it, that familiar warm buzz at the base of his skull, flaring out to his thumping heart.

Retrieve the girl first and then—

A shock of green froze his train of thought and lodged his tongue in his throat. Kylo nearly sprinted down the shining hall and turned the corner only to see a slip of green fabric trail across the floor before disappearing.

“Commander?” An officer asked, nerves coloring his tone. “Are you-”

“Leave it,” Kylo said, shaking off the buzz as best he could. He pivoted and his boots squeaked against the floor as he set out toward the interrogation cells.

**

The base did very little to excite Y/N or to uncover any sort of buried memories. Hux had given her a short tour of the command station and then asked her to stay at his side for another ‘demonstration’ of the base’s power.

Something terrible rolled her stomach at his words and she knew she’d have to think quickly.

Y/N caught sight of a surveillance feed flicker on and off and then a rushed group slink by hurriedly—dragging what looked like a chrome-plated trooper. The last message she had received on her inconspicuous datapad from the Resistance had told her that there was a small group of Resistance fighters about to also be planet-side. Putting two and two together was easy.

“General,” she said, sickly sweet, turning toward the redhead before his eyes could glance at the surveillance screens. “I apologize, but would one of your fine officers be kind enough to show me the nearest refresher?”

Hux nodded and barked out a name. A sweaty man quickly slid into a salute at his side. “Show Lady Y/N to the nearest refresher.”

“Yes, General.” The man looked at Y/N and bowed his head slightly. “Please, my lady, follow me.”

“Before you go,” Hux said, his voice catching in his throat. “I would like you to attend dinner with me tonight. To discuss Serenno’s future within the First Order.”

Y/N pressed a smile to her lips and tried to look demure. “Of course, General. Anything you ask of me, you can have. But please, don’t start the show without me,” she said with a wink before turning and following the officer out. Her brief glimpse of Hux’s blotchy, red cheeks almost made her snicker. The gleaming hallways of Starkiller pressed another ache between her temples and she found herself not needing to keep her eyes on the officer to know where to go. But, nonetheless, when the officer slowed to a stop, she made a bit of a show of seeming lost. “It is a large base, is it not?” She asked.

“Yes, my lady.”

“The patrol rotations must take a dreadfully long time.”

“Um…” The officer pulled out a handkerchief and blotted his slick forehead. “The First Order is able to man this base without issue. We…we are entirely secure, I assure you. The General would never allow any harm to come to you.”

Y/N hummed and pressed a smile to her lips. “I have no doubt.”

The officer continued to wipe down his face as he opened the door with a six digit key-code. “I will wait here for you-”

Without warning, Y/N shoved him into the refresher and locked the door shut behind them.

“My lady?!”

She grabbed his blaster and clocked him in the head with it. His eyes rolled into the back of his head as he slumped to the floor without another sound. “Are all of you this pathetic?” Her question made her laugh in the small refresher before she left and closed the door, trying to hide the blaster in the folds of her skirt. She eventually gave up and threw it into a shaft, hoping it was a trash compactor. Time was of the essence. The First Order had tracked a Resistance reconnaissance scout back to Ileenium System. It was only a matter of time before Hux actually gave her a ‘show.’

She had taken note of the hall location on the surveillance feed and found it quickly, trying not to dwell on the fact that she just seemed to know her way around the base. She turned the corner, following where she had hope the group had gone to, but quickly stopped as a weapon was pointed directly between her eyes. The group, two men and a wookie, were glaring at her ready to fire. Y/N pushed the blaster out of her face. Y/N recognized the younger of the two, remembering a holo displayed in the command center, deeming him a traitor. Interesting.

The former Stormtrooper gaped at her, mouth open. “You’re-you’re her—EC-2191! I thought you died! Everyone thinks-”

Something sharp wedged itself between her eyes and she actually recoiled as if struck. “My name is Y/N of Serenno. And we’re wasting time,” she bit out, ignoring the invisible pain.

The older man looked at her and then the Wookie who let out a rumble. “Fine, let’s go. But if you try something, you’re dead.”

“Fantastic. Lead the way.” She gestured forward, down the empty hall.

But, it soon became very clear that following their lead was courting chaos. They were reunited with a girl called Rey who seemed important but Y/N didn’t think it prudent enough to ask. They needed to leave. Now. Learning their names, Finn, Han, and Chewie, was a task within itself and Y/N almost abandoned the plan to let them know that there was a backup plot in motion. But, she followed them, out into the snow and toward the oscillator as Resistance X-wings flew overhead, trying to find a way to destroy the oscillator. Apparently, Finn was carrying a bag of explosives. Whatever. She grabbed a few and helped plant them along the lower levels with Chewie.

Spotting Finn and Rey at a higher level, Y/N abandoned her heeled boots and tied a handful of the explosives into her dress, climbing a ladder to get to them. She handed a few of the bombs to Rey and Finn and told them to place them along the higher walls, knowing it would bring down the roof and create a hole large enough for an X-Wing to get through and finish the job. Y/N placed her last bomb at the mouth of the door and pulled a small device from her pocket and pressed the button, just as Rey motioned for her to be quiet. The scavenger and Finn quietly scooted along the metal flooring, trying to stay hidden but still wanting to know what was going on. Y/N followed suit.

The pain in her head grew and grew as she saw the masked man—the creature in her dreams—step out onto the bridge. She knew him. She did. Finn grabbed her arm and tried to pull her away from the edge, to stop her from standing so she could see. She couldn’t be moved.

“Ben!” Y/N looked out into the dark to see Han walking out onto the thin bridge and the tall, black-clad figure stopped and slowly turned. She couldn’t hear the entirety of the conversation but she could hear the echo of the timber of his voice. Something in her chest clenched as if something had seized her heart in a metal grip.

He reached up and slowly removed his helmet. It clattered to the bridge and it echoed and echoed and echoed with a metal clang.

She knew that face. Why did she know that face?

“They could wipe my mind and I’d still know your eyes, Ren. I promise you that.”

The stabbing pain returned as she looked at him. It grew and grew as something warm trickled down her face and the taste of salt and metal coated her lips. The blaster slipped from her grip as her knees knocked together. The noise echoed through the tense air. Y/N grasped at the railing in an attempt to stay upright, but her knees hit the hard floor as she looked out into the dark.

The man—the man all in black—he was staring at her. She could see it even as her vision started to dot with darkness.

“You came back.”

She could barely hear his words over the rush and pounding of blood through her ears.

The wookie let out a roar.

And the explosions started.

The world went sideways as her eyes rolled back.

Chapter Text

Dr. Sila said her mind “overloaded” and she fainted to protect herself. She was sure there was a more technical way of explaining it, but YN was thankful for the summarized version. Everything ached. Surely some of it was due to the jostling ride back to Serenno on the Millenium Falcon. More than one person had told her of the fight they endured just to get away from the planet’s collapse. She heard of the fight Rey and Finn and some other man had against the Knights of Ren and how Finn was nearly killed. She’d heard about the Force, the Jedi, and how it all played into the bigger fight for the galaxy. It made her head spin. She just wished she could remember any of it. The last thing she could recall was piling into a snow speeder with Finn and Rey and barreling toward the oscillator with snow smacking at her face.

And then nothing. She had been unconscious for almost a month.

Vash, of course, was hovering and made sure Willa was at his sister’s side when he couldn’t be after she woke. It was annoying. She sent Willa away as soon as Vash was out of earshot but, Vash knew she would do this and had a mouse droid follow her around, programmed to alert Vash immediately if Y/N needed.

“Ridiculous,” Y/N muttered as she stared down at the droid.

It beeped in response.

Y/N shook her head and walked out of her room and followed the familiar path down to the droids. Anddam was there, watching one of them be worked on, reattaching an arm and rewiring the fingers. He was supposed to be on guard duty. And, as a surprise to no one, Willa was also present, close to Anddam, but trying to learn how to solder thin, cosmetic plates back together. The small group of actual droid technicians seemed happy to show the pair their work, almost as if they’d been down here before. (They had.)

One of the technicians noticed Y/N’s presence first and stood straight. “My lady! I didn’t expect you until this afternoon.”

Y/N smiled and waved off the surprised looks of the small group and let her eyes move to the sparking B-1 unit beside her. “Still misfiring?”

The technician sighed and nodded. It had taken the technicians almost endless hours to attempt to repair the droids that had come back from Starkiller and readying the other droids for use. The droids had done their job on Starkiller after she had activated them (another thing she did not recall ever doing) and had them spring from their hiding spots on her starship, weapons at the ready. Out of the twenty droids she had hidden on her ship, only 6 made it back. When Leia had told her that the Resistance needed to destroy Starkiller, Y/N had covertly sent the command to the droids to shoot down anything and everything with a First Order emblem on it trying to leave. She just wished that she remembered anything.

What was left of the First Order fled to the Unknown Regions. Leia had tried to track them but was largely unsuccessful, only able to narrow down their possible destination to a large grouping of systems just beyond the Queluhan Nebula. But Y/N knew it was only a matter of time before they resurfaced and wanted vengeance. She had requested that the rest of the droids—all 3,382 of them—be ready for use as soon as possible.

The technicians discussed the progress of the droids with Y/N as Willa and Anddam snuck away. (Y/N made a mental note to tell Anddam that he probably should actually take his guard duties a little more seriously until the First Order was no longer a threat.) They were progressing nicely but a few of them were damaged by time and disuse and would take longer to repair. Secrecy surrounded the project at Y/N’s order and she admitted that it did take more time to do anything when they weren’t permitted to tell anyone what these supplies or those parts were for and with only a precious few technicians contracted to work on them, time was not particularly kind. But Y/N had hope and the technicians were hopeful.

The door to the vault opened and everyone swiveled to see Vash stroll in. He glanced around at the droids and nodded, seemingly pleased. But, of course, he quickly zeroed in on Y/N. “Would you excuse us for a moment?”

The technicians bowed and left, probably walking to their rooms Y/N had set up in the Palace’s underbelly with the finest furnishings so they could be comfortable while they worked.

“What is it now, Vash?” Y/N asked as the door closed.

“I was speaking with Lord Demici-”

“Put that sentence back in your mouth.”

“And his son is very interested in possibly showing you his family’s estate near the Belsallian Sea.” Vash had the good taste to at least look embarrassed.

“No. Just like I told Lord Borgin. No.” She shivered at the thought of either man coming close to her at all, let alone having to spend an extended period of time with them.

“Why not?”

“I just don’t think it is an appropriate time for me to even think about marriages or political advantages that won’t help defeat the First Order.”

Vash sighed.

“Don’t sigh at me. You’re the one who should be worried about who you marry, Count of Serenno,” she said, drawing out the title with over-enunciated vowels. “We don’t want another Dooku on our hands.”

“No, we don’t. I’ll give you that. But I just want you to be happy.”

“Marriage isn’t a prerequisite for happiness.”

“But, if you had to-”

“Vash!”

“If you had to, who would your perfect spouse be?”

Y/N rolled her eyes as she tightened a screw on the chest plate of the nearest B-1. Her mind wandered against her better judgement. “They’d have to be understanding. Have to be able to make me laugh. They…have to be strong but gentle.”

Vash didn’t try to hide his chuckle. “Gentle?”

“Yes!” Y/N argued, ignoring the sting of embarrassment. “Gentle. And tall.”

“Understanding, be able to make you laugh, gentle, and tall. Anything else?” Vash asked with a smile still pulling at his lips.

“Dark hair. Honey-colored eyes,” she answered, the words tumbling out of her mouth without a thought. Y/N kept her back turned to her brother as she silently berated herself for letting it slip—her secret dreams of a nameless man. “That’s it. A completely fictitious person. Good luck finding them,” she added with a forced laugh. In a moment of panic, Y/N basically hid her face behind a droideka’s arm as if she knew what she was looking at.

“I’ll keep an eye out.”

“I’m sure you will,” she muttered into the metal. “Now, go back to your council meeting. I’m sure they’re much more interesting.”

**

Leia watched her brother and son speak. Voices rose and fell. Fingers were pointed. And the tears eventually came and quietly, slowly, Ben pressed his forehead to his uncle’s—a gesture long thought forgotten. Luke’s hand cupped the back of Ben’s head as his shoulders shook.

Leia sucked in a deep breath and blinked back a fresh wave of tears. There would be time for that later.

Han quietly walked to stand beside her and watched the scene. “You were right,” he murmured.

“There’s a lot to do.” It was a loaded statement. There was still work to be done about the First Order. To repair the relationship with her son. Han seemed all too easy to forgive and forget their fights from decades ago and she tried not to focus on the love that would shine in his eyes, reminding her of their adventures when they were younger.

Han gently wiped the tears from Leia’s face with a small smirk. “You’re right about that, too.” He sighed and put an arm around her. “But he’s back.”

“He is,” she said, leaning into him and let the comfort of a familiar embrace calm her soul for a few moments.

“That girl, the princess. Any word on her?”

“She woke up. Doesn’t remember anything.”

Han’s thumb rubbed against her shoulder. “He’s asked about her twice a day—at least.”

Ben had fretted over the princess’ prone form the entire time they traveled in hyperspace, desperate to get her back to Serenno. Rey and Chewie looked at him like he’d grown two extra heads as Ben held the other woman in his arms, uncaring of his own wounds. The battle to get off the planet had been tumultuous. She didn’t like to think about it. Poor Finn was still going through recovery from his own wounds.

Leia frowned. “I think they knew each other.” She quickly explained in hushed tones all she knew about Y/N and her past; the First Order, the reconditioning, everything. “She is fragile, Han. If she reacted like that just seeing him…”

“You know he will want to see her again. You should have seen him with her. He didn’t care about himself, wouldn’t let me try to clean him up until she was safe on Serenno. Even before he went to train with Luke, I’ve never seen him so desperately care for something, someone.” Tightening his grip on his estranged wife, he murmured, “I won’t keep her from him. I won’t break his heart again.”

**

The dreams had started again with a vengeance. There had been a handful of weeks when she had dreams filled with the usual candy and fathiers before the creature in the mask and the tall man reemerged and bungled her mind and heart again. At least her nose had stopped bleeding at uneven intervals. And the droids were finally ready for use, giving her a peace of mind.

There was a tenuous peace in the galaxy right now but Vash seemed even more on edge now than before the demise of Starkiller. He took every slight against Serenno seriously as if it were a personal insult. Serenno’s reputation as a hotbed of opposition to authority did them no favors in the eyes of other systems aligned with the Resistance. News of Serenno’s hand in helping taking down Starkiller had only divided them further.

It all came to a head when Vash received an encrypted message from one of the higher-ups. They were requesting “Serenno’s presence on-base to discuss their allegiance and place within the ranks of the Resistance.”

“Even the Resistance wants to make sure we are truly on their side.” Vash had been ranting for nearly ten minutes after calling Y/N to his personal study.

“I’ll go. We’ve got the droid numbers. Let me help finish this—once and for all. For a chance to Serenno to be seen as a force for good.” Y/N took her brother’s hands and squeezed, stopping the argument that she knew was on the tip of his tongue. “You and I both know I’ve been itching for a fight and I’d rather do something productive with this rage than let it fester.”

“It should be me.”

“But it isn’t.” She smiled and knew she won. “But I’ll let you watch my back from the stars.” She pressed a kiss to his forehead as he slid into his chair like a puddle of melted wax. “I’ll tell you as soon as we have a plan.”

Overseeing the loading of the droids onto a handful of inconspicuous freighters had taken a few hours and Vash had to tell the curious public that the freighters landing near the palace was just for a training exercise. Battle Droids were still widely distrusted on Serenno, the wounds of Dooku and Trade Federation’s misuse were slowly healing. But soon, she was on her own, smaller starship and plugging in the coordinates to the ‘temporary base’ the Resistance had set up on Hoth.

Her small starship landed on the snow-filled planet without much issue. Her pilot droid was the only other companion in her small solar sailer starship. The freights were ordered to remain a few parsecs out, undocked and at the ready for any sort of battle.

Y/N had been the smallest bit surprised to see General Organa ready to greet her as she landed. A few other officers were circled around her, hopeful expressions in varying degrees broken up with a blatant display of curious trepidation. “Lady Y/N, welcome to Hoth,” Leia said, nearly shouting over the scream of the wind.

“Thank you! Do you mind if I keep my ship docked?”

“Of course. Come, let’s get you inside.”

Y/N followed the small group into the bunker and breathed a sigh when the temperature was a few degrees warmer. The base was bustling, a surprise since this was said to be a temporary base, and a welcome reprieve from the banality and hushed tones of the Palace on Serenno. She was shown to her quarters by a peppy Lieutenant Connix and then asked to join the General and the rest of the high-ranking officers at the command center within the hour. Y/N took the order with a smile, knowing that this wasn’t going to be like the ‘meeting’ she’d had with Hux who peacocked the entire time when—she was sure—he was supposed to be interrogating her.

She just hoped they believed her.

**

Ben could feel her as soon as her small starship entered Hoth’s atmosphere. His body went rigid and he turned, as if he would see her standing there, waiting for him in the doorway. What he received instead, was a sharp hit to his head with Rey’s stupid staff and Luke’s answering chuckle. “You’re supposed to pay attention to your trainee, Solo.”
Ben waved his hand and smirked when she hit the mat. “You’re supposed to be prepared, trainee.”

It had been like this since they arrived on Hoth. It was strange, to be sure, to seem so at ease within the ranks of his one-time enemies. People he had sworn to wipe from the face of the galaxy. They had been kind. Most believed the lie his mother had said, that he was a spy within the First Order. Those who knew the truth didn’t detract from the ruse. Rey was forgiving. Luke too. They all bickered like a messy family and Ben resisted whenever Luke tried to instill any sort of Jedi mindset and found great pleasure whenever Rey came to him to ask about the shadows she felt in her own power.

He wouldn’t lead her astray, he knew that. But there was nothing wrong, in his mind, for showing her how to control her anger and use it to her advantage. Her power was immense and he was woe to admit there was a strange kinship with Rey, the girl who had bested him without any training. They fought the Knights of Ren together as Starkiller collapsed. In a moment of panic, she had summoned Luke’s old lightsaber to her and had instantly become so at ease with the weapon in her hand as she fought off the Knights. He assumed it was because Finn (and not FN-2187, which would take some getting used to) had been struck down by one of the Knights, slicing open his back with a single, terrible stroke of a vibro-cleaver. He and Rey managed to kill two and drive the other four back just as the Millenium Falcon, piloted by a frantic Han and Chewie, arrived to take them off the doomed planet.

And in the recesses of the familiar freighter, was the unmoving form of his princess. As they raced toward Serenno, Chewie explained that Y/N had collapsed just as they set off the bombs. She wouldn’t wake up. Ben hadn’t even realized he was bleeding until Han tried to get him to sit down to clean his wounds. One of the knights had nearly bisected his face. And all he had cared about was her. He didn’t care about the zig-zagging scar that drew stares from almost everyone.

It had felt like he was going to lose her all over again. He had looked at her beautiful face in that occilator, lit up by the dying light of the sun, and then at his father, more desperate than he had ever seen him. And his choice was made. He left. And now he was here. He’d been here for months. Ben knew Leia was keeping him far from any sort of battle plans or political machinations she had brewing. It was almost insulting. But he wouldn’t trust her completely either, if their roles were reversed.

But Y/N’s arrival had set his teeth on edge. It has been almost two lunar cycles since she’d arrived and it seemed like she was just out of his reach. She was turning a corner just as he entered a room. She was leaving the snowy planet to check on her waiting battalions of droids just as he managed to come back to Hoth after retrieving supplies with his father and Chewie. On and on it went. It hadn’t taken him long to deduce that his mother had a hand in keeping them separated.

For a while, he let it be. Let her heal, see that the Resistance did truly need her help. But it didn’t mean he didn’t lurk like a creep around corners and listen to her speak, to her laugh.

But that quickly stopped when he heard her celebrating the discovery of a large First Order base in the Unknown Regions. The mole, who even Ben hadn’t realized had been planted within the First Order, finally had the capability to send a single message to the Resistance, relaying their location with a riddle in rushed code. But it also revealed that Snoke and the remaining Knights weren’t there.

“If we take out the base, a majority of their remaining forces. Even if we can’t find Snoke, it would take him years to rebuild his strength in numbers,” Y/N argued in the command center.

“We are still not at our full strength either. The destruction of the New Senate-”

“They do not know where we are nor are they aware that we know where their base is. The time to strike is now.” She sounded so sure, so confident. Ben let himself smile as he pressed his forehead to the cold wall, just outside the room. Luke called his away before he could hear the rest of the argument but it didn’t take long for word to reach him that Y/N, his beautiful, stubborn, bloodthirsty princess, had managed to convince the commanding officers that she would lead the charge on the base with her entire arsenal of droids.

Ben, nearly in a blind rage, had stomped through the icy base until he found his mother and then ranted and raved that she needed to pull Y/N out of the attack. If she were too stubborn to listen to Leia, he would talk some sense into her.

“You cannot see her, Ben,” Leia said softly, diffusing his rage. “Her brother told me of how their doctor said that waking those memories could irreversibly hurt her. She’s too fragile-”

“But you’d let her lead a charge?” He snarled. “Let me see her. I just need to-”

“What would you do if waking those memories in her actually hurt her? You said you saw her after Starkiller. Called her catatonic. Would you risk her life?”
Ben bit his lip and felt blood bubble to the surface, skin peeling easily beneath his teeth. He felt his shoulders slump. His resolve cracking. “I just…”

“I know, son.”

**

For a few weeks, Y/N had been aware that someone had been watching her. Not in the sense that they were trying to suss out whether to trust her or not (most seemed to have warmed to her, thank you very much) but rather, it was as if they were just keeping an eye out for her. Simply watching. She sensed no animosity when she knew she was being watched. Just something soft. Almost comforting. Of course, she quickly brushed that off, knowing it was strange to feel something like that.

Either way, she had enjoyed her time on Hoth. She liked the camaraderie of the fighters and the constant action of a military base. Y/N knew it was her old life making itself known in a small way and didn’t fight it. One of her favorite people was General Leia. She was a terrifying woman, no doubt, but Y/N still found a strange sense of friendship with the older woman. However, there was still something niggling at the back of Y/N’s mine. “Your son, he’s here too, correct? I would love to speak with him, if possible. Compare battles scars,” she added with a self-deprecating laugh. She needed to speak to someone who knew what it was like on the other side. Her dreams had only intensified since landing on Hoth and she needed answers, needed something. And she had hoped Leia’s son might provide some insight.

Leia’s smile was forced. “Unfortunately, Ben is quite busy with training Rey with Luke. I’m sure you understand.”

Y/N nodded. Rey, so full of life and so desperate for companionship, had tried to explain what she’d learned from “Master Luke and that brat Ben” about the Force, the light, the dark. Lightsabers had really been what had captured Y/N’s interest, now knowing that was what she had been seeing in her dreams. A red lightsaber. But most of it seemed much too philosophical for Y/N’s tastes but she let Rey practice on her when needed. Mostly mind tricks. Rey said her mind was hard to “get in and even harder to control.” Y/N just took it as a compliment and tried not to appear too giddy when Rey let her swing her blue saber around like a giggling child. Luke, on the other hand, always seemed so sad when she encountered him. He would look at her and the emotion would roll off him in waves. Y/N tried to ignore it. Especially when battle plans were finally being drawn. She would get her chance to truly fight against her one-time captors. The oppressors of the galaxy.

Leia was nearly silent as she moved to stand next to Y/N and they both looked over the holo of the map. A small, basically untraceable reconnaissance ship had been sent to the coordinates discerned from the mole’s riddle and they now had a rough outline of the First Order’s base. “I’m sending my finest to fight beside you.”

Y/N opened her mouth.

“You won’t win this argument. Don’t try.” She turned and waved forward a group hiding in the dim light. The General listed names and accomplishments and Y/N had made an effort to commit them to memory but absolutely forgot everything as soon as her eyes landed on a familiar face.

“Chewie!”

The Wookie growled and wrapped her in a furry hug.

“I feel safer already.”

**

As the date for the strike against the base grew nearer, Ben became surer that they needed a two-sided attack. Ben could still feel the tether to his…to Kylo’s knights. They were angry. Betrayed. Hungry for power and revenge.

“What is it?” Luke asked. Ben had been meditating for hours, searching for an answer, searching for a way to end this conflict before it spiraled out of control again.

“I might be able to see where they are. If I concentrate, open myself up to them,” he sighed. “I could finish this.”

Luke frowned. “It could be a great risk.”

“And a great reward.”

Luke’s frown grew deeper, a familiar emotion. “Your mother is going to murder me.”

Ben smiled. “I’ll protect you.” He smiled but then straightened himself. “I’ll let you know when I find anything. I should be able to see where they’ve buried themselves.”

And it took him ages. Nearly and entire day and night to truly see what his former underlings were seeing. And it disturbed him. The ancient Sith stronghold on the Deep Core planet of Prakith. Ben knew of the Sith history there and it chilled his soul. He also saw the small battalion of troopers the Knights and Snoke had taken with them when fleeing from Starkiller. As soon as he could, he presented his findings to the commanding officers congregated in the command center. (He tried not to think too much about how Y/N wasn’t present.)

“Why would Snoke not take more troopers with him? He’s leaving himself unguarded-”

“It’s a trap,” Ben muttered.

“And you want to walk right into it?” Leia asked, nearly incredulous.

“The trap is set for me. I should be the one to spring it. Knowing it’s a trap gives me an advantage.”

Leia’s eyes narrowed as she stared at her son. “You sound like your father.”

Ben didn’t refute that fact.

“I’ll go with him,” Rey said, pushing her way through the crowd to the console.

“Me too,” Luke agreed. “It’s time to finish this.”

It was almost like he was in a haze as Ben saw the battle plans drawn. Troops were divided up into groups; some still going to the Unknown Regions to lead a second attack on the opposite side of the base from Y/N’s front, and others were to be sent to the Deep Core with Ben, Luke, and Rey. They knew there would be a fight. A battle for the ages, even if they caught Snoke and his forces off guard. They all just hoped they would emerge victorious.

The time to ship out grew closer and closer. Ben, Rey, and Luke trained as much as they could as Finn and Poe were readying the pilots and ground forces. The entire base was abuzz with movement. Between training sessions, a strange thought suddenly pulled at Ben. Pulled and wouldn’t let go. Ben knew he was being creepy but he couldn’t stop himself. He needed to see her—just look at her—before he tried to kill his past.

She looked so calm as she pored over the battle plans with Chewie and a handful of droids. He could hear her, couldn’t hear the soft voice that had given him comfort when he was alone and drowning. Her lips tilted up in a smile as a droid pointed something out and he felt a small weight lift from his charred heart. It had been so long since he’d seen her smile.

Ben closed his eyes, trying to press that simple scene into his mind, etching it into permanence. He took a breath and turned away.

He missed her looking up—right where he had been hiding.

As he walked away, Ben made a promise to himself.

When he made it through this, he’d talk to her. He’d let himself hear her voice, her laughter. He’d touch her hand if she was okay with it—just to feel her warmth.

And maybe…just maybe, he’d help her remember. (He would.)

**

As promised, Y/N told Vash of the plan (with Leia’s blessing) and had him at the helm of one of the freighters transporting her droids into the Unknown Regions. His councilors had been against it, stating that he didn’t have an heir and could leave Serenno without a leader if something went sideways. Y/N knew he’d be safe among the stars.

“I have a good luck charm for you,” Vash said as he greeted her when her small ship docked inside the freighter. Chewie led the other Resistance fighters down a different corridor toward the waiting droids. “Well, I don’t know if ‘charm’ is the right word.”

Y/N rolled her eyes good naturedly and followed her brother toward the cockpit. She nearly cackled when she saw the familiar armor draped over the co-pilots seat like a deflated cushion. “You found it!”

“You and Mother are terrible at hiding things,” he joked but quickly turned serious. “I want you safe. And if anyone in our family deserves this, it’s you.” He kissed her forehead. “Get ready.”

Y/N nodded and gathered the metal pieces together like a sacred puzzle. She had been so scared to touch it, even after Sonsha had died. But she had always thought about it. Wondered what it would have been like to wear it.

And now it seemed like she was going to get the chance.

The armor was still in working order despite Sonsha’s abandonment and poor storage. Perhaps it was strange for her to realize how easily she slipped into the intricate armor. Buckles and clasps and fasteners were no issue for deft fingers largely working on muscle memory from a memory she couldn’t actually place. The helmet was snug but secure as she finally slid it over her head and felt an odd sense of deja-vu.

She looked at herself in the small mirror in the captain’s refresher and found it hard to breathe for a moment. She looked absolutely terrifying and beautiful all at once. She knew the lore behind the armor. It had been one of her favorite holobooks she’d buried herself in when ignoring Vash’s council meetings. There were rules, traditions she was supposed to follow when she donned the arm, the helmet. Once it went on, it wasn’t to be removed. Sonsha had lived by that rule until she grew tired of the galaxy’s hypocrisy. And, in her own way, Y/N knew she had done the same. She had been unwittingly hidden behind a mask. And here she was, donning another. But this time it was her choice.

Vash was surprised by her appearance but quickly shook it off and then presented her with another gift. It was her cape. He quietly attached it to her shoulders and then kissed the cold beskar of her helmet’s brow. “Destroy them. I’ll have your back.”

Y/N only nodded and squeezed his hands, trying to find out why she was so at ease in the ancient armor and only marginally worried about dying. But it didn’t matter. It was time to go. The call had come in. The first wave of Resistance fighters had breached the planet’s atmosphere and bombed the northern part of the base before deploying ground troops. It was Y/N’s turn.

Vash easily piloted the freighter through the planet’s glitching defenses and hollered another ‘good luck!’ at her as she led her droids and the other fighters out into the field. Y/N could hear the muffled staccato of the droids’ marching behind her, crunching the dried, dead grass. The stopped and the air grew tense. Wind screamed by and grabbed at her cap like an angry, green specter. It was chaos as they approached the remnants of the base. People were scrambling across the rubble and the hobbled starships were groaning and smoking as they tried, unsuccessfully, to leave the ground. An alarm was blaring. Stunted and off-kilter. She could hear the din of the other Resistance fighters engaging with other Stormtroopers on the other side of the base.

Chewie stepped to her side with his bowcaster in hand. His rumble was welcoming.

“Can’t stop now,” she replied and readied her blast. She activated her comm unit and prepared the droids and other Resistance fighters. “On my command.”

Dirtied officers spotted her and Chewie atop the hill and scrambled to defend themselves.

“Begin!”

As the droids marched over the hill, descending on the base like a terrible, metal wave, Y/N and Chewie let loose a barrage of their own. With each pull of the trigger, Y/N felt a strange sense of vengeance and relief. Blaster bolts were flying past her head in both direction and her heart started to pound and angry beat in her chest as she saw the First Order forces were able to form battle lines. She took a step and then another, pressing forward alongside her droids. It seemed as natural, as familiar as breathing.

Her steps came faster, faster, faster, nearing the first line of First Order troops. She would finish this.

**

Ben knew he would never forget the horrors he had seen on Prakith. The things he had witnessed, the acts he committed—even if some would forgive them as they were in the heat of battle—had branded his soul. It didn’t help that he’d lost the lower part of his right arm. He now had a permanent reminder to stare at every day, even if he had it covered with the finest materials, hiding the mechanical limb from any watchful eye. He would know it was there.

Rey had lost something, too. She had gained knowledge of her parentage but it had cost quite a great deal. She had been quiet all the way back, clutching the remains of her lightsaber. It had shattered and splintered as they fought in tandem against their greatest enemy.

An enemy who was stronger than they realized.

But he was gone.

One burden replaced with another.

Luke had sequestered himself away in the small temple Leia had built on New Alderaan. (How she’d managed to hide it among the now-bustling metropolis of the capital was a feat only she could accomplish.) He’d been meditating for days and days and days. The battle on Prakith had changed him, too. Only Rey had gone to see him, the only person brazen enough to disrupt the meditation of the last Jedi Master. But, Ben supposed, he couldn’t blame her for clinging to any sort of guiding force. Hopefully, she wouldn’t judge him for what he was planning to do.

**

Serenno was awash with color when she returned. Of course, news of the true destruction of the First Order had spread throughout the galaxy like wildfire and was cause for raucous celebration. She helped Vash organize a firework display and then a parade for the system to enjoy. It was a simple time. And she knew she should be more at peace, the knowledge of the First Order’s demise should give her a new sense of purpose to truly invest herself in Serenno and its people.

But, for some reason, she couldn’t. It didn’t feel…right. Keeping it from Vash was the hardest part. Seeing her brother disappointed would haunt her forever. She knew it. So, she threw herself into the dull goings-on of Serenno’s royal family duties; palace staff and maintenance, colors for place settings for visiting foreign dignitaries, trying to vet potential suitors for Vash. Vash had wanted to hold a gala for any and all of the Resistance’s allies on Serenno and the planning for that event had taken a little bit of time, too. It was all very time-consuming and all very…boring. She even found herself wanting to sit in on Vash’s council meetings so she could actually try her hand at politics. Maybe she’d be good at it. The only time she’d tried was harassing the Lords and Ladies to go along with the plan to undermine the First Order.

A tiny bit of excitement came only a few weeks after coming back from Hoth. A large shipment of “flora—foreign,” as the shipping message indicated, had arrived and Y/N leapt at the chance to do something out of the norm. She had not been expecting twelve cases of soft pink roses. Each case was as big as a standard landspeeder and filled to the brim with soil and dozens and dozens of the beautiful blooms.

“Do you know who they’re from?” Y/N asked as she watched the workman continue to unload the delivery.

“No clue, my lady.” The man said, wiping his brow with the back of his hand. “The payment came from some big bank in the Mid-Rim.” He set the last bundle of roses on the marble, spilling brown-black soil across the grey. He stood straight and patted his pockets before pulling a small slip of durasheet from his breast pocket. “This was part of the delivery though. Maybe it’ll make sense to you, m’lady.”

She accepted it with a smile and tipped him for his trouble—surely it was exhausting hauling that around the galaxy—and then settled on one of the cases of the roses to read the note. The small slip of durasheet had carefully, beautifully swirled letters. She’d never seen handwriting so beautiful.

Lady Y/N-
Please, enjoy the roses. They have a wonderful legend behind them. One day, I know I’ll be able to discuss it with you.
Promise.

Y/N touched her cheek, confused at the onslaught of tears. As the door opened, she hurriedly wiped the tears away and turned to see Vash strolling in. The end of the war had unburdened him greatly. He smiled more easily and was quick to laugh when he had once been prone to brooding silences. Y/N had been glad to see it. Her older brother deserved happiness.

The flowers, of course, caught his attention and he stopped to smell a bloom. “I never thought they’d smell like that.”

“You’ve never had Tarisian Roses here before?” She asked as he stepped to her side.

“Mother detested flowers. Only greenery, shrubbery were allowed. A dull color palette, to be sure.” His dark eyes swept about the room, moving from flower to flower to flower. “You must have the entirety of the season’s bloom.”

Y/N pulled her bottom lip between her teeth. “You think so?”

“I know these flowers are rare. Rarer still is a show of such admiration—or is it adoration?” Vash snickered and dug a finger between his sister’s ribs to pull a laugh out of her. “A strange scent though.”

“I find it pleasant. Unlike that perfume Lady Malvern insists on bathing in every morning.”

Vash laughed, agreeing, but was quickly halted as his holo beeped three times in quick succession. The groan he let out was answer enough for her unspoken question as he glanced at the screen. “I must placate my councilors about this gala. They’re much too worried about the food and color scheme for my tastes.” He kissed her cheek and swept out of the room, his green cape billowing behind him.

A droid wheeled itself in and started to haul the large planters of roses away without a beep or glance in her direction. Vash must’ve given orders after hearing of the large delivery.

“Where are you taking them?” She asked.

“The Count has requested they be planted beneath your window, my lady,” the droid answered.

Fighting a smile was fruitless and she thanked the droid and watched him wheel away as she carefully folded the note and slipped it into her pocket.

A few weeks slipped by and Y/N was relieved to see the day of the gala drawing closer. It would be nice to finally have it over with. Her anxiety was unwarranted, she knew, but she wanted everything to be perfect. Thankfully, one of the first set of guests to arrive were the Organa-Solo family. Y/N had demanded to be part of the welcoming party at the space port and had nearly hurt her face from smiling so hard as soon as she spied the sleek, shining starship emblazoned with the simple blue and silver color palate of the royal family of New Alderaan. The hatch opened and two familiar faces immediately stepped into view.

“Queen Leia,” Y/N dipped her head in greeting. “Lord Solo-”

Han quickly waved it away. “Don’t call me that.”

Leia’s elbow found purchase in his ribs as she smiled. “Refuses to be called King Consort and then refuses to answer to a title he chose, please forgive him.”

Y/N smiled. “If we are not surrounded by our peers, I’ll be happy to call you Han, if you’d prefer?”

Han nodded as Leia shook her head. “Don’t encourage him.”

There was a twinkle in Han’s eye as he looked at her. “We’ve brought our son.” He stepped back and waved at someone still lurking in the shadows of the starship. “C’mon, Ben!”

A tall figure slowly descended and Y/N felt her heart leap into her throat and try to block her airway. He looked so much like the man from her dreams. Sweat slicked her palms and she hurried to collect herself in front of the unfairly handsome man. She once again dipped her head. “Prince Ben, welcome to Serenno.”

**

The night of the gala, an evening filled with dinner, dancing, and general amiability had finally arrived and Ben found himself nearly nauseous. He had managed to hold it together for the past few days simply because his mother was still trying to limit his interactions with Y/N. Han, on the other hand, was all for Ben just showing up on her balcony and kissing her. “You’ve gotta be direct, son.” That didn’t help.

Catching glimpses of her throughout the week had been both wonderful and torturous for him. He could smell her floral perfume and had tried not to smile too large in return when she’s smiled at him in passing. Terrible and beautiful all at once. But the night of the ball had finally arrived and his father had mercilessly teased him for how he neurotically tried to make his appearance perfect. He had decided, against his mother’s persistence, to wear all black. He still found comfort in the color and he knew Y/N knew him, Kylo, as someone who wore black. Really, it made sense in his mind. But, eventually, Han told him that he’d run out of time to “preen and primp” and they needed to go. So, like a scolded Loth-cat, Ben followed his parents into the ballroom already filled with dancing couples and mountains of food lined up on tables along the walls. Music was filtering through the air and the decorations were glittering. But all he could see was Y/N.

Ben looked at her. She was finally where she was supposed to be: high above everyone else.

She was seated on the second highest throne and looking out over the festivities. The standard cape of the Great House of Serenno was draped over her shoulders. A matching emerald green dress hugged her curves with soft, gauzy fabrics and her hair was braided and pinned under the silver circlet which rested on her brow. She hadn’t changed at all.

But there was no smile on her face. Her painted lips were pressed into a tight line as she looked over the dancing couples. Her eyes swept from one side of the ballroom to the next before repeating.

“Prince Ben!”

Ben turned a little late, still getting used to his new title. It was her older brother, Vash. His cape fluttered behind him as he walked to Ben’s side. Ben titled his head the smallest bit in a bow which Vash reciprocated. “Good evening, Your Grace.”

“It is, isn’t it?” His chest puffed a bit as he looked around the crowded ballroom. “Are you enjoying yourself? I’m so pleased you could attend.”

“It is quite an event.”

The young Count’s chest puffed up even more. “I wanted nothing but the best. Serenno has done much to help the Resistance rid the galaxy of the scourge of the First Order. I hoped my sister would partake in the festivities.” Vash’s dark eyes flickered to his sister on her silver throne. “She’s a fearsome thing to behold, don’t you think?”

Ben just smirked. Her brother had no idea.

“All of the other lords and their heirs seem a bit scared of her, because of her past. And I think they’re a bit jealous.” Vash lowered his voice. “But my little Y/N, she’s strong. Well, she must have been to be able to come back from that with her mind still functioning.” Vash laughed despite the lack of a joke. But soon he quieted. “To tell you the truth, she does scare me every once in a while. If she doesn’t think anyone is watching, she is angry. I found her down at our private guards’ residence, practicing side-by-side with them as they worked on their marksmanship. And she bested each and every one of them. When she was delivered back to us, I was given no answers as to what she had done in service to the First Order. And, because of that memory wipe, she doesn’t remember either.”

“Does she not remember anything?” Ben asked, attempting to keep his voice calm, almost blasé.

Vash shrugged. “I think she dreams of her past life. Sometimes, I hear her scream in the middle of the night. She says they’re just nightmares but I think they’re memories. Terrible, terrible memories.”

The pair of men was quiet for a moment. Ben looked up at Y/N to see her posture and frown unchanged. Maybe she was starting to remember. Maybe his plan could work.

“I’m so sorry to have said all of that uncomfortable business and then ask you a favor.” Vash ruefully smiled. “I see you have yet to dance with anyone and I was hoping you’d manage to get Y/N to at least take one turn about the floor. I think it would let the others know she is capable of basic human interaction. And maybe they’d stop whispering about her in the streets.” He grumbled.

Ben resisted a smile. Vash, despite only truly knowing Y/N for a year, had become fiercely protective of his younger sister. “I’d be delighted to try.”

A smile split Vash’s face and he thanked Ben before being swept back onto the dance floor by a young Countess from House Demici.

Ben straightened his shoulders and walked toward the small elevated platform holding Vash and Y/N’s thrones.

Y/N’s e/c eyes locked onto him quickly and she didn’t blink as he walked closer and closer. She had retained all her instincts from her sniper training, it seemed. He wasn’t surprised.

"Lady Y/N,” Ben said, bowing slightly. “I am Prince Ben of Alderaan. I’d be honored if you would join me in a dance.” He extended a hand to her.

Y/N just stared at his fingers as if they were a bland piece of food. “Did my brother put you up to this?"

"He asked but I wanted to dance with you regardless.”

She quirked an eyebrow. “At least you’re truthful.” But she took his outstretched hand and then stared at their joined hands as if she had been shocked. She shook her head but didn’t say anything.

Ben led them toward a less-populated area of the floor and pulled her close. One of his large hands held her waist as the other held her small hand in his. The dance was simple and, thankfully, they both knew the steps. He had to tell himself not to stare too hard or too fondly.

Y/N, on the other hand, seemed to be innately aware of the stares they were attracting. “What a pair we make. The scarred prince and the unstable heir.”

“Absolutely terrifying.”

Finally. Finally. Finally, she smiled at him. She even laughed a little bit and even allowed him to pull her a smidgen closer after he twirled her under his arm. The spoke about impersonal things, the ridiculous “quiet” politics of an event like this, the movement of Resistance troops now that the big conflict was over, how drunk a few other guests had already become.

But he wanted to ask her more. To ask her if she remembered. To ask her what she’d seen when she’d attacked the base. He’d seen the footage recovered from the surviving droids but he wanted to hear it from her, wanted to make sure she was okay.

But his mother’s words continued to ring in his head. What would he do if he woke those memories and it hurt her? Could he forgive himself? Ben was thankful that his appearance hadn’t affected her like it had back on Starkiller but he had wanted some sort of reaction from her. The only reaction he’d earned from her was a slight pause and a hard stare when he’d first touched her hand.

But that was it. But was that all he’d ever have?

**

The song, technically, the third song ended and Prince Ben stepped away from her, holding one of her hands just for a moment longer before pressing a kiss to her scarred knuckles. “Thank you for the dance, Lady Y/N. Please excuse me.”

Y/N was at war with herself as she watched Prince Ben walk away. The longer the dance lasted, the more uncomfortable he seemed to be around her. Was she insulted? Hurt? And why did she feel like she had betrayed the man from her dreams by letting herself almost enjoy the company of the handsome prince?

They were so similar but not without their differences. While in the man in her dreams had dark, inky hair, Prince Ben’s was dark chestnut. Ben seemed to smile a little easier than her nightly visitor. The scar was an obvious difference but didn’t detract from the fellow royal’s blatant good looks—neither did the prosthetic arm. And she had been only slightly rude to him at the beginning, assuming he was only there because he seemed to fit the description of the perfect spouse she'd given Vash weeks earlier. But he had proven himself to be a gentleman. A prince in every sense.

She snatched a glass of bubbly liquor from a passing droid’s tray and quickly down the entirety of it in one go. It didn’t help. Not that she was expecting it to, but there had been a tiny bit of hope.

“I’ve been told that you’re supposed to savor that particular brand of bubbles,” Han said as he slid to her side. He also drained his glass. “But where’s the fun in that, right, kid?”

Y/N chuckled, not a bit embarrassed and thankful for the reprieve from her inner monologue. “Never took you for an alcohol connoisseur, Lord Solo. Did your beloved queen find someone else to lead around the floor?” She asked, making a show to look around for the petite queen.

“Actually, yes.”

Y/N’s jaw dropped as she saw Vash and Leia twirling about the ballroom with all the grace and elegance only two seasoned royals could have. A sight to behold. To his credit, Vash seemed to have no qualms with Leia’s almost-obvious leading of the dance. Lady Malvern’s daughter was stewing none-too-quietly within the watching crowd. “How wonderful.”

Han laughed. “She’s been waiting for her chance to pounce since dinner ended. Your brother’s dancing is apparently quite the commodity among certain circles.” He winked. “I, on the other hand, am an embarrassment.”

“Not to Leia. I think her opinion is the only one that matters.” Thinking quickly, Y/N grabbed their empty glasses and handed them off before extending a hand. “One embarrassment to another, want to dance?”

**

Somehow the gala and week of festivities had turned into a not-so-secret meeting of the new founding members of the New (Again) Republic. Ben was, of course, part of the discussions because Leia had demanded it. He knew he’d one day lead New Alderaan as its king and the brief foray into politics he’d had under the First Order was not the best education. He wanted to do better. To be better. To learn. So, he went along with it and tried to just listen to the discussions happening and see how everything operated in an almost-functional government. He had attempted not to dwell on how he basically ran away from Y/N after their dance. But he knew that if he had tried to keep her at his side the entire night, he would have blurted out everything and made a fool of himself. Even if he could feel her confusion and hurt with each step he took away from her.

But he had watched his father sweep Y/N around the floor, off-beat and without a care in the galaxy. They were both laughing loudly and didn’t care a single bit about the spectacle they were making of themselves. She looked so happy. That was what he wanted for her.

However, it didn’t mean he would stop trying to win her heart. He was reminded of his strangely convoluted plan when his datapad beeped lightly, letting him know that his secret order had been delivered to his rooms in the palace.

But, he did try to focus on the meeting (even if he was innately aware of the lack of Y/N’s presence). The second incarnation of the New Republic was still finding its footing. Having its predecessor basically obliterated would do that. But there was still hope—hope to make it better than the last, stronger so another Empire relic like the First Order couldn’t rise again. The true demise of Snoke and the rest of his forces gave people a bit of peace and they seemed at least a little optimistic about the future of the galaxy.

The meeting finished and he hurriedly but politely excused himself and went to his room and grinned as he saw the simple white box sitting on his bed. He greedily gathered it into his arms and then snuck back out into the hall, taking care to avoid anyone and everyone who would stop him. And then he lurked, like a creep (again), in the garden he had discovered planted beneath Y/N’s balcony. He tried not to let himself smile too broadly when he saw the entire garden was just the roses he had sent. Maybe there was hope.

So, he waited and waited on the cold stone bench and maybe kept looking up at her balcony like some lovelorn character in a book, willing her to appear.

And she did.

Behind him.

Silently.

Ben was almost embarrassed to realize she’d caught him staring up her balcony but he was too happy just to finally see her again. He stood and smiled, or tried to smile. “Lady Y/N, I apologize for intruding on your space.”

Her answering smile was soft and she waved away his apology. “Think nothing of it. I shouldn’t keep these beautiful roses to myself anyway.” Y/N settled herself on the bench he had once occupied and pat the seat beside her, inviting him to sit again. “I assume you were in that meeting this morning. I don’t blame you for needing some fresh air. There’s a saying about politicians and hot air, isn’t there?” She laughed lightly and then leaned forward to smell a bloom.

Ben watched her sigh and ruffle the delicate petals of the flower and swallowed heavily before awkwardly clearing his throat. His grip tightened on the box in his hands. “I have a treat. If…you would like some.” He opened the box and revealed the Fringi Spice Cake.

Y/N looked at it and her smile grew. “I don’t think I’ve ever had that. Are you sure you don’t mind sharing?”

“I insist.”

Y/N happily agreed and they tore into the crumbling cake. Their conversation was a little lighter this time and Ben felt his heart leap as he made her laugh. He thought it had been because of his joke. But he felt his face heat all the way to his ears as she gently reached out to brush away a few crumbs on his face. “Messy eater.”

This was it. He could feel it. It seemed like second-nature for her to have touched him like that: familiar, soft. But then he saw the trickle of blood start to trickle out of her nose and over her lips, still slick with the cake’s syrupy drizzle. The panic and pain he felt washed over him like a terrible wave and nearly bowled him over. She staggered to her feet on shaking legs and Ben hurriedly stood as well. The remnants of the cake slid off his lap and onto the soft ground.

“My lady?”

Y/N wiped at her face with her wrist, smearing blood across her skin. “Excuse me. I’m sorry.” And then she dashed away, leaving him among the roses.

**

Y/N fidgeted with her cape despite finally getting it to look correct without any help. That only took a year and a half. She looked herself over again the mirror and knew it wasn’t going to change so she rolled her shoulders and lifted her chin, trying to look the part of a Lady of Serenno. It didn’t feel right, but it was worth trying. With a sigh, she set out toward the meeting room. There was yet another meeting with the dignitaries from foreign systems trying to rebuild the New Republic. Vash had finally given in to Y/N’s incessant requests to attend the meeting and she had been overjoyed but then quickly sagged with doubt as she remembered that Prince Ben would also be attending. Their secret meeting yesterday had been so soft and sweet and she had felt so at ease with him until that stupid, strange urge overcame her and she had whispered those two stupid words, “Messy eater.” The pain had been immense. She had stumbled away like a wounded womp rat and sequestered herself in her room for the rest of the day, embarrassed. What had triggered that? Dwelling on it wasn’t an option. She had to prioritize. And wallowing in confusion and embarrassment wasn’t allowed to be a priority. Neither would be trying to steal glances of Prince Ben—who she definitely did not dream about last night.

She heard them before she saw them. Voices were overlapping in what seemed like a few different, mostly amicable conversations. She pushed open the door before the poor, aghast butler could and stepped in. Vash noticed her immediately and pulled her into his conversation with Mon Mothma, out of retirement to once again help steer the galaxy into a brighter future, and much more charismatic than Y/N thought she would be in person. The conversation mostly revolved around Serenno’s contributions to the New Senate’s facilities on Denon in the Inner Rim. Y/N smiled and nodded at the correct time and offered a few anecdotes or suggestions when prompted but largely felt unneeded. She wanted to be involved in helping the galaxy rebuild but didn’t know where her place could be.

Thankfully, she spotted Han and Leia across the room and excused herself. The couple was bickering about an investiture back on New Alderaan and they booth seemed to welcome her presence.

“Good,” Han started, looking at her, “you’ll be on my side. Please, tell my lovely wife that your place in the royal family, your title, helped you re-acclimate.”

“Well-”

“Han!” Leia seethed. “You cannot just tell her to say something. Anyway, she could be on my side. If your title give you any sense of anxiety or anger or a feeling of ‘outsider,’ I-” A shadow loomed and the words died. “Hello, Ben.”

Y/N tried to covertly wipe her sweaty palms on her dress as she turned and dipped her head in a small bow. “Good morning, Prince Ben.”

“Good morning, my lady.”

Something in her chest fluttered at the sound of his low, sleep-rough voice. And terrible, lascivious thoughts ran through her mind for just a moment. Well. That had never really happened before. And she didn’t allow it to continue, focusing on the subtle brocade pattern on his tunic instead.

They must have been staring at each other for quite some time because Han started laughing only to be stopped by another elbow to the stomach via his wife who was smiling broadly at both of them. Almost manically. “Well, since you’re both here, we have a proposition for you.”

“Oh?” Y/N was thankful for the interruption but not how Leia’s smile didn’t fade.

“We’ve been speaking with Mon Mothma and we thought you two would be the best fit for our new program.”

“Mom,” Ben whispered, hedging her to stop.

“We need two, bright, new faces to help convince a few other systems to have a bit of faith in working with the New Republic again.” She reached out and patted Ben’s hand. “And who better than two people who have fought so bravely against the First Order? Hm?” Leia’s arched eyebrow seemed to dare them to challenge her logic.

Neither of them did and Han looked like he was trying to hide a smile behind his hand.

“Perfect. I’ll have the details sent to your personal datapads.”

“You kids have fun.” Han clapped his son on the shoulder and winked at Y/N before letting his wife lead him away.

Y/N awkwardly cleared her throat and turned toward Ben with a growing smile. “Well, I suppose she always gets what she wants.”

Ben sighed but gave her a small smile. “You have no idea.”

Y/N stuck out her hand and beamed as he took it. “I look forward to working with you.”

**

The festivities and political machinations had finished up on Serenno and Y/N found herself trying to get ready for her new role for the New Senate. Her title wasn’t official but she was still excited. Leia had decided that their first trip would be to the Naboo System. Naboo had suffered greatly from the Empire and then again with the First Order. To say they were wary to once again join the New Senate could be an understatement. But Y/N was excited to go for reasons she couldn’t explain. There was just something inside her bursting with joy. As she was packing away dresses she hoped would blend with the beautiful scenery and culture of Naboo, Willa came into her chambers, unsuccessfully hiding something behind her back.

“Another gift?” Y/N asked, waffling between excitement and dread.

Willa smiled and nodded as she handed over the small package. She hovered, obviously wanting for Y/N to open it so she could sate her own curiosity. “Just like the roses: no one knows who sent it.”

“Or they won’t tell,” Y/N hedged as she looked at the package. It was beautifully wrapped in white cloth and secured with an emerald green ribbon tied in an ornate bow. About the same size of one of her small pillows that littered her bed, she turned the package over and under trying to guess its contents. Eventually she conceded she would actually have to open it and carefully undid the ribbon. It was quickly snatched up by Willa who put it away in Y/N’s suitcase, stating, “it will look nice in your hair, my lady!”

Y/N just shook her head and undid the rest of the wrapping and nearly gaped at the gift in her hands. It was a book—a real, true book. A beautiful, black cover embossed with silver ivy and flowers and the title, in swirling letters: Mythology of the Stars.

Y/N’s fingers shook as she gently opened the book and the binding creaked. The pages felt so strange—so unlike the durasheet she was used to handling. She’d held a true book before. The palace’s library had hundreds of them from millennia and millennia ago, documenting the deeds of the ruling families. But this was special and she knew it. It was hers and hers along and incomparably rare. Her eyes swept over the fine script of the table of contents, listing all the myths and legends hidden on its pages. A simple title caught her eyes, nearly at the bottom of the list.

“The Rose,” Y/N murmured, not knowing why she’d be drawn to it before quickly (and carefully) turning to the noted page. She devoured the short story and the gorgeous, gilded illustrations.

“Her god, heartbroken, rearranged the stars so the galaxy would see the beauty of his beloved’s favorite bloom and never forget his lost love.”

“My lady? My lady!”

Y/N’s head snapped up, just now realizing Willa had been calling for her for several minutes. She had lost time in the simple, beautiful story. “Sorry.” She shook her head.

Willa clucked her tongue and gently pulled the book away from her and carefully folded it between the heavy fabrics of her gowns. “Your ship is waiting for you, my lady.”

**

“Do not pack a reflector vest.”

Ben sighed but didn’t turn to look at his mother as she stood, basically lurking in his doorway. He’d only just started living in the palace on New Alderaan and was already ready to start his next adventure with Y/N. It had been a plan to somehow devise a situation which would make it appropriate for him to wear glasses and a reflector vest. Apparently that was not happening now. His mother, of course, had pried basically everything from him about his relationship with Y/N. “You have all the charm of your father, son.” He wasn’t sure if that was an insult or not. But it had convinced her to at least let him try to win Y/N back, memories and all, and why she’d devised the plan to have them travel the galaxy together.

Leia sighed and walked into his room and crooked a finger at her son. He grumbled but leaned down so she could press a kiss to his cheek. “You don’t need anything else but yourself. Just give it a little more time, sweetheart.”

“I’ll try.”

And that was how he found himself in the royal palace in Theed, trying so hard to not stare too much at Y/N and actually pay attention to what the newest king of Naboo was saying about the system’s apprehensions about rejoining the New Senate. But she just looked so lovely. He could tell that she had tried to blend into the planet’s style. Her dresses were gossamer and soft and all in array of emerald tones instead of structured and black and rigid. Y/N was able to command a room with a simple look that she would try to soften with a smile. She would take diligent notes and always seemed to say the correct thing to make the men and women of the Naboo government chuckle or agree. She was a force to be reckoned with, even without a blaster in her hand.

But, Ben knew that already.

A handful of weeks had passed and the talks had gone swimmingly. Naboo had agreed to rejoin the New Senate with a few concessions from the overarching government which were reasonable. Leia and Mon Monthma had agreed to them when Ben had holo-called them a few meetings ago. Now, it just seemed like Ben and Y/N were continuing to keep the King entertained for a few days before their transport arrived to take them to the next assigned planet.

“Prince Ben, I understand that your grandmother was the great Padme Amidala. She was very fond of the lake country, from what I can remember. I hope you don’t find it presumptuous but I took the liberty of contacting the Naberries and told them of your arrival. They have readied their estate Varykino for you and Lady Y/N to enjoy when we’ve concluded our business here.” The King smiled over his wine glass.

Perfect. Absolutely perfect. “That is a great kindness.” He turned to Y/N to see her looking at him expectantly. “Would you mind joining me in the Lake Country?”

She nodded readily. “I’ve never been to Naboo before this meeting. I’d be happy to see more of this beautiful planet.”

The King beamed and then continued with his own stories about his childhood in the Lake Country. But all Ben could think about was Y/N and her smiling face. He’d made her happy.

**

The Lake Country of Naboo was breathtaking and the Naberrie estate of Varykino was a palace in its own way. The Naberries, a group of beautiful, dark-haired diplomats and artists who welcomed Ben like an old friend. Sola Naberrie, Padme’s sister, had cried when she saw him and said that he had her sister’s eyes. “She’d adore you, Ben. I just know it.”

Y/N felt privileged to see the soft look on Ben’s face as he spoke with his extended family but she also felt like she was intruding. So, as they all reminisced and got to know one another, she slipped away after thanking them for their hospitality. The beautiful estate held all sorts of treasures for her to look at but the view out onto the lake from the stone landing was her favorite. She was sure she’d never seen anything so beautiful. The setting sun was reflected on the gently lapping water’s surface and bathing it in a red hue. The stone bannister was sturdy enough for her to swing her legs around and let them dandle just above the water.

The politics of the past few days had been exhausting but rewarding. Finally, it felt like she had found her place. Helping the New Senate grow stronger. By doing that, she could protect the helpless, like she had been. Never again would a child be taken from their family to be used as nameless soldiers. She would make sure of it.

She bent down and removed her shoes before letting her toes just skim the lake. The sensation tickled and Y/N let herself laugh but stopped as she heard the familiar hard footsteps of Ben approaching. She turned to see him jumping slightly, trying to remove his heavy boots before discarding them. “Mind if I join you?”

“It would be rude to tell you that any place here is off-limits to you, Prince Ben.” She sat a little straighter and patted the bannister next to her thigh.

He quickly sat next to her with another soft smile—and she loved to see each one. “My mother said she’d called her Aunt Sola a few weeks ago. Set this up. The King had nothing to do with it,” he added with a laugh.

Y/N chuckled and shook her head. “Do they speak often? I know she didn’t grow up with the Naberries.”

Ben nodded. “Aunt Sola reached out after my mother’s true parentage was revealed to the galaxy. This was the first time I’ve met them.”

“I don’t mean to intrude-”

“You’re not!” Ben exclaimed. “They were just finishing up. They’ve been here for a week. The place is ours until our ship comes.”

“Oh. Just us, then?” She asked, fighting against the hammering of her heart.

“Just us.”

Y/N whipped her head back to the lake and nodded. “I like that.”

The pair was quiet for a few moments, content to just watch the sun continue to sink and change the color of the sky and water. But she nearly jumped out of her skin as she felt his large hand softly touch her own, their pinkies just barely grazing. Y/N looked down at their hands and then at Ben who was pointedly looking ahead but he couldn’t disguise another one of his full-face blushes. Again, emotions warred within her. Sadness for the nameless man of her dreams and hope for something with Ben. It hadn’t taken a genius to understand that she was quite fond of the dark-haired prince and his gentle eyes. But that didn’t mean she didn’t feel strange about the entire thing. Y/N only knew that she had to look forward. And maybe Ben was there, too.

“Aunt Sola said they usually have dinner served just after twilight. Would you mind joining me?”

“I’d be happy to.”

“Promise?” He asked, the single word was soft and only then did he look at her.

“I promise.” A sudden jolt of pain had her wincing, pulling away from him to press her hand against her forehead.

“Are you all right?” He asked, tone near frantic.

“It’s fine. Just a headache.” Y/N tried to blink a few times, lessening the pain caused by light to no avail and soon tasted to metallic tang of blood on her lips. “Kriff,” she muttered.

Y/N startled when she felt the foreign touch and nearly pulled away. She looked up to see Prince Ben smiling tightly at her, a scrap of surely-expensive fabric clutched between his long fingers. It looked like he had ripped part of his jacket. Red already bloomed against the brocade. “Sorry,” he murmured.

“It’s okay,” she whispered in return, her voice soft.

When she didn’t move, the prince stepped closer and once again started to gently wipe the blood away from her skin in careful, unhurried movements. He was gentle as he cleaned her face and held her chin between his fingers and palm, taking care to not pinch or hold too tight.

And Y/N found herself melting a bit, pressing a little more into his hold as he towered over her even as he slumped to look closely at her blood-streaked face. She knew she could have and should have cleaned herself up. Excused herself from his presence as soon as the first trickle had tickled her lips. But she didn’t. A strange (and probably stupid, if Y/N was being honest) sense of long, of familiarity had wrapped around her as soon as he had looked at her with those soft, dark-honey eyes. She had craved physical contact—Dr. Sila called her “touch starved” and deemed it a relic of her time as a Stormtrooper. Vash gave her hugs and kissed her forehead and she felt safe. But it wasn’t quite enough. But this? These gentle touches from Ben were sating something else that burned and hungered beneath her skin.

“Finished,” Ben said. “No evidence left behind,” he added with a small smile she only just caught as her eyes opened.

Y/N’s hands curled around the wrist of his hand that had held her, keeping him from pulling back, keeping his touch close. “Thank you,” she murmured as she looked up at him in the dying light of the day. She wanted to look at him, even if it hurt.

Ben pulled in a stuttering breath and pressed a closed lipped smile to his face. “You’re most welcome, my lady.”

“Just Y/N when we’re alone.” The words came without thought. Embarrassment immediately turned her stomach as she dropped her hold and stepped back, away from his warmth. “If that is agreeable.”

“It is!” He nearly shouted before repeating it, softer, like a secret. “It is.”

Y/N managed to smile before gently releasing her grip on him. “I’m just going to rest for a moment. I’ll be back for dinner.”

He called out a soft goodbye to her retreating form and she was thankful he couldn’t see the embarrassingly large smile she had growing despite the stabbing pain in her head. She found her rooms without too much issue and nestled herself down among the soft pillows and silk blankets, hoping that the pain would be gone by the time dinner was served.

Y/N must have fallen asleep, for at least a moment or two, because when her eyes opened, the room was completely dark except for the light of the moon through gossamer curtains. It was certainly different from the neon numbers of the clock in her barracks. Oh well, surely she could be a few minutes late to dinner and she let sleep start to pull at her again.

Y/N’s eyes snapped open.

She remembered.

Everything.