History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
— Maya Angelou, “On the Pulse of Morning”
He sat on the lowered ramp of his TIE and waited for the Resistance scouts to find him. He didn’t think it would take them long. He’d landed only two klicks from the base. An outcropping of rock shielded him from the bright sun over Pasaana. There was nothing to see except for the rolling swells of golden sand and fulvous rock.
So, he rested and stared out into the baked expanse. He felt his mother feeling him through the Force. She was angry and relieved and grieving still. He understood that, understood each emotion that blended together like paint on an artist’s palette.
Beyond his mother’s emotional composite, he felt another presence. One which he hadn’t felt since he was a padawan, since he was almost murdered by his uncle, since he burned a temple full of younglings to the ground.
To say he didn’t resent and fear and long for that presence—your presence—would be a lie.
He wondered if you’d kill him once he was brought back to base. Would his mother mourn for him like she did Han Solo?
He had the terrible notion she wouldn’t. But that was understandable, too. He wouldn’t mourn if he were her.
He didn’t mourn his path. He didn’t mourn killing the First Order’s high command, ship by ship. He didn’t mourn disbanding his Knights. He didn’t mourn setting the Finalizer’s self-destruct. Nor the Supremacy‘s—or what was left of it.
He didn’t mourn for that which had to die.
In the distance, a speeder headed his way. It was accompanied by riders on some sort of equines. He had to assume the equines were native to the planet. He doubted the Resistance transported animals around the galaxy like a circus. Regardless, he stayed seated with his hands in full view. He didn’t want to spook any trigger-happy Resistance members.
As the speeder approached, he saw how piecemeal it was. He was surprised it could propel forward. The equines had long hair which blew in the occasional breeze. It was quite the welcoming party, he wryly thought.
There wasn’t much talk as the few people on the speeder debarked, blasters pointed at him. They confirmed his identity and took his lightsaber. When one of them produced a pair of stuncuffs, he simply offered his wrists.
You watched him on the security monitor. Kylo Ren—Ben Solo—sat in a makeshift cell deep in the cave the Aki-Aki had granted the Resistance the use of. No one paid you much mind as you leaned forward to study him. He hadn’t changed, not really. His hair was longer, his clothes darker, his shoulders more muscled. But his face was the same angular, attractive face you recalled.
The same one that had been lit by fire and snarling like an avenging angel. You could almost smell the blood and broiling flesh as the temple burned around you. He had pointed the blue blade of his saber at your chest. You’d thought that would be the end: the end of everything you had known. The Jedi. Any hope. Your life.
However, Ben—your friend, confidant, second self—had met your eyes and faltered. His lightsaber shook between you. There was a charged moment where you feared he would run the saber through your ribs. But he didn’t. He’d backed off and trudged through the wreckage of debris and dead bodies. Leaving you behind.
The one thing you never expected to end that night was your heart.
It had taken years to put the pieces together, even with the help of a therapist Leia had gotten for you. You still didn’t remember much of the time right after the temple. You knew Master Luke had survived, but he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, continue your training. You’d felt his shame and couldn’t understand why. He’d left within a few weeks of Ben’s betrayal.
You’d been stranded, half-trained, with nothing. Your family was dead. Your friends, murdered. Your Ben, gone.
The mobile pod you were in was suddenly too hot, too close, and all wrong. You left your station and scurried around the other people working. You felt everyone’s eyes on you as you opened the outside door.
No one trusted you. You were damaged goods. You were useless.
You wanted to scream as the pod’s doors closed behind you. But that would only confirm how impaired you were. The dry desert air was good and clean. It felt different and cleared your head.
You walked down the open-ended corridor the rows of multiple pods formed. You had to put some distance between yourself and Kylo Ren. You could feel him in the Force—just like he could feel you. There was no hiding.
The orbak stable tempted you. The orbaks were gentle yet brave. Your preferred mount, Hidane, perked up when you entered the stockade. She shuffled to the fence and lowered her head for pets. You smiled at her and stroked her leathery snout, crooning nonsense at her. She gently whinnied back while bumping you with one of her tusks.
Little by little, the tension eased away. You breathed it out as you rewove a few braids in Hidane’s hair. You were almost done when you felt a new presence make itself known: Leia.
You turned to see Leia a few steps into the stable. The orbaks were interested in the new person and sniffed the air to see if she had treats. When they discovered she was treatless, they drew back. Leia hardly noticed; her focus directed at you.
You knew she knew you felt her son. She was obviously here because someone reported how you had abandoned your station. She was checking on you to make sure you weren’t having another one of your breakdowns—something you hadn’t done in years.
“Would you like to leave?” she offered.
Another concession given. Like always. You were sick of hiding away. After the Hosian System had been destroyed, she’d sent you to Lando Calrissian for safe keeping. Lando was caring and generous. He’d told you stories of Han and Leia. You’d asked once about Ben, but Lando’s voice had quaked when he recounted his ‘little starfighter.’ You didn’t push any further.
You tied off the end of Hidane’s braid. “Where would I go?”
“There’s the Alderaan space station. I could send Threepio with you.”
You shook your head. It was time to stop running.
“No, I’ll stay.”
“Do you want to see him?”
You didn’t need clarification. You knew who Leia meant. Part of you still wanted to hide from Kylo Ren, another was… Angry. You were furious with him. While you didn’t owe him anything, you wouldn’t cower in his presence. You weren’t the same person anymore. Maybe you weren’t strong, but you weren’t a coward.
“Has he asked for me?” you inquired.
“Not in so many words.”
“When he does, maybe I’ll see him.”
Leia was silent for a beat before saying, “I think you should comm Dr. Meissat in the meantime.”
“Is that why you suggested the Alderaan space station?”
Raymus Meissat lived on the station and had been there since its construction. Leia had introduced you after the temple. He’d seen you every couple of cycles in the beginning. He’d taught you how to manage your anguish and guilt. He got you to see your survival as a blessing.
You’d asked him early on if you had to live for all the padawans who had died. Meissat replied, “Why don’t you live for yourself?”
It hadn’t been what you wanted. In fact, it had infuriated you. You weren’t worth living for. You had Force-crushed the low table in front of his office sofa. Everyone had left you behind. You had stomped over the ruins of the table and left his office to rampage. You hadn’t made it far before the psy-techs had subdued you.
Meissat had sat with you in the psych-ward. He had been kind and explained the dead were not keeping score. The Force, as he understood it, had spared you because you were needed. You’d asked for what. What could you possibly be needed for?
Meissat said, “I don’t have the answer for that, but I bet you will.”
You’d shook your head as your vision blurred. You knew nothing.
“I suggested the space station,” Leia stated. “Because you deserve some peace.”
Perhaps peace was the problem. You’d been sequestered, wrapped in proverbial cotton wool, for ten years. The time for peace was over. Which was highly ironic seeing as the literal war for the galaxy was finished. The First Order was no more. Kylo Ren had seen to that. He’d also turned himself in, knowing what it meant.
“I’ve had my peace. When he’s ready, I’ll be, too.”
The stuncuffs had finally been taken off yesterday. It made everything easier. For starters, eating. The only meal provided was a stew. He’d had the stew at every meal. He’d scalded his hands with stew at every meal, too.
To say he was sick of stew was an understatement.
His mother sat across the table and ate with him. She was dignified, as always. Her hair was swept back from her face in a style fit for royalty. She looked tired, though. She felt overloaded with the burdens of her station, of fighting for the galaxy for forty years.
Maybe he should resent her preoccupation with the galaxy, but that rationale was as tired as they both were.
She looked up at him, her dark eyes flinty. “Stop that.”
“I’m not doing anything.”
“You’re reading me.”
He fired back, “Well, you’re not talking.”
“What would you like to talk about, then?” she asked as she deliberately rested her spoon in her half-full bowl.
“I don’t know.” He glanced around the grotto. “The First Order?”
“There’s not much left. Only a few rogue agents Resistance scouts and bounty hunters are tracking down.”
He finished his stew, set his spoon down, and blotted his lips with a napkin. “My sentencing?”
“No one knows you’re here.”
“You mean the galaxy.”
“Yes, Ben, the galaxy doesn’t know you’re here. They assume you went down with the First Order.”
“Convenient,” he muttered.
“What are you going to do with me?”
“What do you think I should do with you?”
“I assumed execution.”
She huffed out an incredulous laugh. “You think after everything I want to see you dead?”
The answer was obviously no. If she’d wanted him dead, he’d be dead. He was surprised no one had tried to assassinate him while he slept. Truthfully, he could only think of one other person on base who had personal justification: you. And you had been keeping your distance.
You were a specter only he could see. You haunted him, taunting him with your presence. He tried to reach out, but it was a bridge he couldn’t cross alone.
He ducked his head and, after a moment, asked his mother about you.
She sighed. “She’s surviving. Her doctor says she’s made progress—”
“Psychologist,” she clarified. “He used to be with Alliance Intelligence.” She waved her hand. “Anyway, he says he’s very proud of her. She’s come a long way.”
“A long way from what?”
Leia hesitated and brought her hands together in front of her chest. “You know what.”
His stew soured in his stomach. He looked at the rippling, shallow pool of water deep in the grotto. It was lit by bioluminescent algae of all different colors. The gentle trickle from the stalactites softly echoed within the cavern. It was easier to focus on the natural formations than the reality of what he’d done.
Because he had done it. Snoke had demanded it, but he had done the deed. He had followed orders. And for what? For instruction Snoke had doled out in bits and pieces like a miser. Maybe Luke had been a hypocrite, but he wasn’t the only one.
He had put you through hell, and here he was, prodding at the distance you had been keeping. He was a fool, a weakling. He had been trying to make a connection with you without acknowledging what he’d done. He wanted you back without earning your forgiveness. He wanted it to be like it was, when you two had been thick as thieves. He wanted you to move past it when he himself hadn’t.
“I want to see her,” he said and then tacked on, “Privately.”
He shook his head. “No, it’s her choice.”
This was stupid, you thought. You shouldn’t have agreed.
Leia hadn’t pressured you after offering the opportunity, of course. She’d even given you space to think. However, you didn’t actually need it. Your gut instinct had screamed yes to seeing Kylo Ren. Your Ben. Afterwards, you’d had to rationalize it. You’d told yourself it was like exposure therapy. You couldn’t be scared of Ben your whole life. You weren’t exactly scared of him, in any case.
It was the memory—your memory. It was losing yourself to fear. It felt as though you were standing at the edge of the cliff. All you needed was a push for you to never return. And that scared you more than Ben ever would.
Dr. Meissat wouldn’t approve of the meeting. Or you thought he wouldn’t. You hadn’t brought it up when you’d commed him a couple days ago. It had taken hours to realize you didn’t want him to advise you against it. There was something inside you, maybe some self-destructive tendency, that longed to see Ben face to face.
It was still stupid, though.
Leia had offered her quarters for the meeting. She had her own small pod at the end of the barracks corridor. It had a combined lounge and office, partially walled-off bedroom, and private refresher. It was modest with large viewports looking out onto the Pasaana plains. The interior was pale and clean, reflecting the golden light from outside.
Leia had set the four-seater conference table in the office section with a plain tea set of two cups, a hot teapot with sweetened Chandrilan tea, and a little plate of warra-nut cookies. As you waited alone, you poured yourself some tea. It was all your knotted stomach could handle.
When the main door opened, you sprung to your feet. Even though you were blinded by the corona of light streaming around the lone figure in the doorway, you knew it was Kylo Ren. He stepped in, and the door slid closed behind him. Your knees quivered at being alone with him.
He stared, his dark eyes flickering over you. He had a thin scar going up one cheek, skipping his eye socket, and continuing above his eyebrow. It hadn’t been visible through the security cams. The scar didn’t detract much from his handsome face, though. He still looked like your Ben, but more weary.
“Would—” you croaked and cleared your tight throat. “Would you like some tea?”
He opened his mouth with a little moue of uncertainty, but then he nodded and took a step closer. “Yes, please.”
You slid the empty cup to you and filled it with tea. Your hands were shaking. You could feel Kylo’s eyes on you. Like before his betrayal, it was always easy to tell when he focused on you. However, instead of that focus being fun, it now made it hard to catch your breath.
This had been so stupid, you numbly realized.
Kylo sat in the seat next to yours. As you moved his tea cup across the surface of the table, he reached out to steady your hand. The gentle touch felt like an assault. You pulled your hand away, accidentally tipping the cup to the side. The steaming tea and wobbling cup froze.
Kylo plucked the cup from its precarious position and gathered the sloshed tea into it.
You flopped into your chair as your vision obscured with tears. You couldn’t do this. You couldn’t look at him. The room was suddenly hot. You knew you had to breathe deep and remind yourself of your surroundings. You were safe on Pasaana. Deep breath in. You were in Leia’s quarters. Let all the air out of your lungs. No one was going to harm you.
You heard your name from a voice you shouldn’t be able to hear. He wasn’t supposed to be here. You shook your head. Because you were safe on Pasaana. The destruction of temple was far behind you.
A touch to your cheek startled you so badly, you cried out. You grabbed the hand and smelled smoke and hot stone. It was the middle of the night. The temple was burning. The heat was so intense, your lungs felt baked, your throat burned, your nose was clogged with ash.
There were dead younglings drooped on the stone floor at the main entrance to the children’s residence hall. You could smell their cooking blood and feel how empty their little bodies were. You wanted to take them out of the burning temple for a proper funeral, say good-bye and clean their dirty cheeks one last time. They deserved so much better than this.
It didn’t make any sense. None of this made sense. Who would do this? Why would they do this?
You were jostled forward by your companion bumping into your back. A glance behind revealed Ben in his pajamas. His eyes were round with shock. You took his hand, so much bigger than yours, and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
“We have to get out of here,” you said over the crackling of the approaching inferno.
There was a deafening thunder behind you. The floor under your feet quaked. You threw out an arm to steady yourself. Dust and heat and debris flooded the passageway. It had to be the dome at the top of the building. It was only two floors above where you were. That had been where everyone usually gathered for meditation.
You would’ve cried at its loss, at what it symbolized, but your eyes were too dry for that.
“Come on,” you urged and tugged Ben after you.
You both had to get out of the building. You didn’t know how long it would stand. You didn’t know if the person who had done this was still here.
“Why am I inside with you?” he asked—a strange question.
“I don’t know. Did you come in for a snack?”
Ben didn’t say any more as you picked your way through the ruins of the residence level. You had to get to the stairs across the level. His grip never wavered. He held your hand and helped you around the boulder-sized pieces of stone that had fallen from above. His presence was a comfort—because at least you weren’t alone.
“Wait!” he shouted and pulled you away from the now-open stairwell.
Ben put an arm around your waist and swept you into the closest open doorway. Linens storage. You braced yourself against the shelves. Ben shielded you from sight. You looked at his tense face and instantly understood. There were footsteps coming from where you two had just been. You felt out the person, and it made no sense.
They felt like Ben when he was angry. But it couldn’t be Ben. Ben was right in front of you.
You opened your mouth to ask if he felt what you did, but he put his warm hand over it.
A lightsaber switched on. It was unmistakable. You gasped against his palm. Neither of you had weapons. You pivoted to Ben and wrapped your arms around him. You didn’t want to die. You didn’t want Ben to die. He was the best. He inspired you. He was sweet and goofy. He made you laugh so much. He shared the koyo fruit he picked in the grove beyond the temple grounds and always sat next to you during meditation.
The Jedi of old weren’t supposed to indulge in singular love, but you weren’t like those Jedi. What had started with fascination became a crush which led to this feeling beyond infatuation. It frightened you to name, but you couldn’t deny it.
You hugged him tight to feel him hold you just as fiercely. His hand was in your loose hair, and his other arm was around your waist. His cheek rested on your head. You knew then he felt the same.
The warmth of him—not just his body against yours—suffused your spirit. He made you the sun he looked for every day. If he were a flower, he’d tilt to you to catch even a hint of your brilliance.
It was the worst way to uncover the truth. It was too late.
You wanted to beg the person out in the passageway to spare you both. The footsteps stomped closer. There was a heart-stopping second where they paused. They were so close. You tried to screen your presence, make it so that it felt like you and Ben were dying. The footsteps continued down the passageway. You knew you should find weapons and go after them, stop them from hurting anyone else.
Perhaps figure out why the person out in the passageway felt like Ben.
But you were transfixed by the look in Ben’s eyes. It was difficult to interpret. He looked almost resigned and penitent. He looked away as his chin wobbled.
“I’m sorry,” Ben hoarsely whispered. “I didn’t realize.”
You shook your head. “What do you mean?” Before getting a reply, you stepped out of his embrace. The temple was on fire and the killer was still out there. “Never mind. Let’s just go.”
Ben pulled you back with a hand on your forearm. You were about to protest when he leaned in to kiss you. His lips were soft. His skin smelled clean. There was something so tentative in his touch. You cracked open at his tenderness. You rested a hand on his chest and tilted your head when he did. The simple slip of skin on skin had you pressing closer, wanting more. You felt the frisson of new pleasure down to your toes.
It was all so urgent and loving and real. The realest thing you’d experienced since…
You opened your eyes to not see the temple. You were in Leia’s private quarters. Kylo Ren was kissing you. He’d leaned over the table to close the distance between you and him.
When you quit responding, he pulled back to stare into your eyes. You saw your Ben in there. Something had awakened that wouldn’t go back to sleep. It should’ve been heartening. Instead, it evoked a rage as hot as the fire he’d set almost a decade ago.
“Get out,” you muttered.
“No, wait… I didn’t realize—”
“I don’t care what you realize. Get out.”
He touched your forearm, and you knocked his hand away. You didn’t care. You didn’t. He hadn’t cared for years. He had destroyed everything, and now he wanted mercy. He had shown no mercy for anyone. He was a tyrant, a betrayer: manipulative and deceitful.
Ren reached for you again, pleading for you to listen. You reached out with the Force to wrap an invisible fist around his throat. You felt him fight your hold, but it hardly stopped you from lifting him out of his seat.
“Get out!” you shrieked and threw him across the pod.
The main door opened just as Ren hit the floor in a crumpled heap. You got to your feet and took a step towards him. No one could stop you. Ren gagged and sputtered as his face got redder. He thrust out an arm in your direction as he retaliated. You were knocked back until you tripped into the sofa in the lounge.
You fell and lost your concentration. There were suddenly multiple voices in the pod. It was a fracas of orders and accusations. You sat up to see Leia pointing out the door.
“Take him to Medical,” she commanded two officers who were hauling Ren off the floor.
She turned to you, her dark eyes snapping with frustration and stress. Under that, you could feel she was frightened for you and Ren. She walked into the lounge and sat at the opposite end of the sofa. Both of you were quiet until everyone else filed out of the pod.
The main door shutting broke the dam inside you. Heavy tears rolled down your cheeks, and you ducked your head to wipe them away again and again. Leia stood with a sigh, left the lounge, and returned with a roll of toilet paper.
She handed you the roll as she said, “If this botched meeting is any indication, neither of you are ready.”
You blotted your eyes and nodded in agreement. You thought you’d been ready. It had been years since everything happened. Kylo Ren was no threat to you. It should’ve been easy to talk to him. Rather than talk, you’d attacked him. You’d disappointed everyone. You’d hurt your Ben.
“So, what did he do?” she asked.
You blinked at her in surprise. She gave you a wry look before refreshing the tea cups and walking them over. You thanked her and blew your nose. She sat once more and sipped at her tea as you gathered your thoughts.
“He…” You sighed because there was no way around it. “He kissed me.”
Leia hummed in acceptance as you recounted the whole ordeal. The warm cup in your hands kept you grounded. You now knew who the person in the passageway had been. Ren had protected you from his past self. He had held you, and it had been a revelation. But it was still too late, wasn’t it?
She was silent for a moment. “I know what I’d do in your shoes.” She put her empty cup on the low table in the front of sofa. “But you’re an adult, and I won’t make you do anything.”
You knew what she meant without her having to say it. She wanted to send you to Dr. Meissat. And Meissat would assign you a therapy droid again. Between Meissat and QT-7, you’d never be without support, but you’d never have privacy. However, being alone wasn’t healthy for you. Intrusive thoughts would dominate your thinking. You’d end up non-responsive in your bed, feeling brittle and overwhelmed by the daily rules you’d impose upon yourself to function. You recognized that about you. You also recognized your instincts involving Ren were not to be trusted.
“I’ll do what you think is best,” you stated.
It was dusk when he woke for the nth time. The large infirmary pod was hushed. He was the lone patient. Others had come and gone throughout the day: a cut or sand-burn here, a skinned knee there, a notable sprained ankle two hours ago.
He could leave, refuse more treatment, but that would mean returning to his cell in the cave. The infirmary bed was infinitely more comfortable than the cot and sleep sack. There was a holoscreen to his left that was tuned to an entertainment channel. It wasn’t loud enough to annoy him, and the med-techs had checked in to see if he would enjoy a holofilm. He hadn’t been able to verbally reply because of the bacta collar around his throat, but he’d given them a thumbs-up.
The ‘film was almost distraction enough from his feelings. The first point he couldn’t ignore: he had bungled any chance to reconcile with you. The second: he had unearthed feelings he never thought he would have. He hadn’t realized what he’d felt for you. How oblivious of his younger self. He wondered if Snoke had obfuscated those feelings until he’d forgotten them altogether.
He never knew how terrified you’d been that night. It hadn’t registered. He’d been blinded by his own wrath. You had stood before him, brave and resolute, and refused to run away. You had been unarmed, in only your wrinkled pajamas; your face still rounded in adolescence. But your eyes had been as fierce as any warrior’s.
With sharing that night, and for him both sides of it, he understood what he’d done to you. He had made you endure it, mourn it, and take the shame. He asked himself if it would’ve been kinder to have killed you. He didn’t know the answer—only you did. He had been weak in not carrying the burden of your death. He was weak when it came to you.
And yet, he felt centered in a way he hadn’t in over a decade. Your presence in the Force gave him such comfort. He didn’t know how to give that same feeling back. Because, for the first time in his useless life, he wanted to.
That wasn’t true, he silently corrected. He had felt that way before. He’d felt it as a boy with his parents. He’d wanted to make his uncles proud like he was proud of them. He’d wanted you to love him like he loved you.
His eyes burned with unshed tears. He sniffed and shook himself out it. He didn’t deserve to feel sorry for himself. He’d ruined it all, and he would have to karking deal with it.
Before the 'film was over, a liquid dinner was dispensed. It tasted like artificial sweetberries and quinto grain, but he liked the flavor. It was far better than bluefruit. After he finished, he was ushered to the refresher. The bacta collar was replenished before lights-out.
Sleep wasn’t as elusive as he thought. In truth, he didn’t remember falling asleep. He only knew that he had to be asleep.
Because he was a disembodied presence floating in space. There were no planets or passing ships to observe nor distant galaxies to dream about. It was an infinite star field with infinite possibilities. And all he could think of was you.
As if the Force granted his wish, he felt you solidify near him. Though he couldn’t see you, he felt you. He stretched out with his feelings and got a read on you—something he’d been too cowardly to do while conscious. You silently reached out for him, too.
Amorphous impressions and unspoken emotions passed between you. There was no fear here like there was in consciousness. He saw how you’d suffered. He felt the weight of your guilt and anger. He understood he had given you a grave gift. There was a rare intimacy that came with mutual pain and horror. No one would know that night like you two did.
“What our love felt like—” he began his confession and shook his not-head. “I didn’t know it.”
“I didn’t know either.” But now I know and I can’t forget.
“I can’t be Ben.” For you. For Mom. In spite of Snoke.
You grinned, and though he couldn’t see it, he felt it. “You’ve never not been Ben.”
“I can’t go back.”
“No one’s asked you to. You are here.”
He was a raw, exposed nerve. Every dishonorable thing he’d ever done. Every bloody deed. Every blow he’d ever inflicted upon himself was right in front of you. He was at your mercy. He couldn’t compartmentalize it. He wasn’t Ben Solo. Ben was dead. He couldn’t be Kylo Ren. Kylo wouldn’t have reached out. He didn’t know who he was, though he wanted to exhume himself.
“I don’t want to leave.”
“The choice has been made. I’m going.”
He surged forward, as if he had a body. As if he could somehow get closer to you. “Where?”
“Let me come with you.”
He scrambled for the right thing to keep you near. “I’m sorry. I apologize.” Don’t go. He wanted to touch you—simply hold your hand.
“An apology is not a ticket.”
“How can I— How can we move—heal…” He sighed. “How can we love again?”
Your voice was thick and watery as you asked, “You want to love me?”
“I want to learn to love you. The right way. For once.”
“You say that now, but…” You’ll regret it. Like a sigh in the dark, he heard: Damaged goods.
Even if that were true, he knew he’d had a hand in it. He wanted to make it up to you. He had to atone for what he’d destroyed in Snoke’s name. He didn’t know how to do that if you left.
“How can I learn when you’re leaving?” he demanded. “Do you want to love me?”
“I can’t trust myself with you,” you murmured.
“Let me earn it. I can’t show you if you’re gone. Let me learn.”
He could feel you were about to refuse. He conjured the memory of your shared vision. He let you feel how it felt to hold you, protect you. You were valued by him and worth the sacrifice. He remembered the way you kissed him. Your lips were perfectly you and sweet and beyond anything he deserved. He didn’t yet know how to handle your grace.
This, he silently told you. This is what I want to learn.
Maybe after everything he’d done, he wouldn’t get it, but he had to try. He would give you everything. You could kick his ass every day, deny him your company in the evenings, yell and scream until you were hoarse. He’d take it.
“What if I can’t forgive you, ever?” you asked.
“Then I’ll have to live with that.”
“Will you tell me why you did it?”
He nodded, though you couldn’t see him. “I’ll tell you everything.”
You were quiet for so long, he thought you’d shifted to another plane of consciousness.
“Leia said Snoke was behind it, but it wasn’t her story to tell,” you softly said. “She doesn’t know all the details.”
His mother still didn’t know about Luke Skywalker, either. While he had no love for Luke, she did. He wanted to reveal the truth, justify himself and his actions, but it wouldn’t gain him or his mother anything. He suspected she knew he was holding back.
“She doesn’t,” he agreed.
There was a long pause before you said: “You can join me on one condition.”
His every thought shuddered to silence. “Name it.”
“Talk to my doctor, Dr. Meissat. I’ll share my droid, QT-7, with you—if you want.”
“Maybe we can train together?”
It dawned on him then you’d never completed your training. Luke had disappeared shortly after the temple and hadn’t taken you with him. Rey—wherever she was now—must’ve kept anything she’d learned to herself. Or, most likely, she’d never had any interaction with you. You hadn’t been on D'Qar or Crait. He would’ve felt you if you had been.
“I don’t have much to teach.”
He didn’t have holocrons and Jedi texts to share. He could only pass on what he’d experienced. Though, he had experienced a great many things under Snoke’s tutelage. You had your own experiences as well.
He added, “We can teach each other.”
You softly snorted. “I don’t know anything.”
“That’s not true. You’ll see.”
You brought up the rear of the group. Leia was leading the way to the small transport as she gave her orders to Snap Wexley. You and Ren were to be handed over to Dr. Meissat, who would be waiting in the main hangar of the Alderaan space station.
Ren was wearing stuncuffs. It was mostly for show. He could take them off if he chose. However, it made the officers walking next to him feel better.
They didn’t know what you’d done to Ren the day before. You wondered if they’d want stuncuffs on you if they did. It wasn’t as though you were a danger to anyone. There was a peace between you and Ren. You could see an opportunity now where there hadn’t been before.
Wexley saluted Leia before heading into the transport to begin start-up procedures. In the meantime, the grounds crew fueled and the officers loaded the personal containers. Leia turned to you and Ren, looking like the general she was.
“If I hear either of you have given Dr. Meissat any grief, I’m sending you—” She pointed at Ren. “—to a work camp. And you—” She point at you. “—to Coruscant to work for the senator of my choosing.”
Somehow, you didn’t think she was bluffing.
“Yes, ma'am,” you replied as Ren nodded.
Leia relaxed and came to you to offer a hug. You grinned and hugged her back; the scent of her nlorna flower perfume wafted from her coiled hair. When she pulled away, she cradled your face in her petite hands.
“Take care of yourself. Don’t let my son ruin your progress.”
You nodded. “About Hidane…”
“Jannah’s got her. I’ll keep you posted.”
“Thank you. Tell Jannah thanks.”
You were going to miss Hidane. You wished you could take her with you, but a space station was no place for an orbak. It would be absurd. Hidane would hate it, too.
Leia leaned in close to whisper, “I’m very proud of you. We all are.”
You knew that wasn’t true, but you felt tears flood your eyes all the same. Your chest was too tight to respond. Leia didn’t seem to need it, though. She tucked a lock of stray hair behind your ear.
“Go on,” she rasped with a watery grin and tilt of her head. “I need to speak with my idiot boy.”
You ducked your head and walked up the transport’s open ramp. The interior was dim, and it took a second for your eyes to adjust. From the open cockpit, you listened to Wexley confirm settings with the grounds crew. You sat on a bench under a wide viewport and watched a distant caravan of Aki-Aki inch across the desert.
You could feel Ren’s swirling emotions through the Force. He was eager yet apprehensive, anxious yet hopeful. He wasn’t angry or imbalanced. He felt entirely human. Perhaps your assent to his coming with you wasn’t as harebrained as you feared.
He stepped into the transport, hands still cuffed, and you turned to him. He waited for you, all teary and sloe-eyed. You offered him a diffident half-grin and patted the bench.
Ren took a seat next to you and let out a shaking breath. You placed a hand over his. His skin was warm. You could feel how jittery he was; he could feel your slowly unjumbling emotions. He relaxed, allowing his head to rest against the transparisteel of the viewport.
“Where should I start?” he asked, meaning his betrayal and succumbing to the dark side with Snoke.
“Wherever you want.”