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The Bond That Ties Us

Chapter Text

 

                 

 

Rey had thought that with the death of Snoke, her connection to Ben—no, his name is Kylo—would be broken. But after their escape, at that moment when the Falcon was rising into the air, she'd felt it.

 

The string between them, snapping into place.

 

She was strong enough now to build walls within herself, to protect herself from his mind. He wanted to kill her. The first thing he'd done when he'd regained consciousness was fire an attack on the Resistance, never mind that she was with them. That had really told her all she needed to know, and it had broken her heart.

 

She seemed to be doing a very good job of hiding it, though, because no one had really noticed. Then again, maybe everyone was too focused on their own grief. This was fine. Rey preferred that not everyone knew she was a complete and total wreck.

 

In the adrenaline of the events with Snoke, with Ben—damn it, no, Ren—and with the ensuing battle on Crait, she hadn't had time to ponder his offer, the offer she'd spurned. She'd been fired up, angry, scared—never sad. Even with Luke's passing, she hadn't been very emotional, namely because she had felt his peace.

 

But in the middle of the night… when there was only the darkness and herself… her anger would falter, and tears would touch her eyes.

 

Snoke may have created the Force bond, may have guided the connection, but that didn't take away from the result. The fact of the matter was, Rey had felt Ben's heart—no, Kylono, Ren—… ah, sod it. She had felt his heart, and it wasn't something she could forget, even though she had tried. Blocking him was easy enough to do, but that just protected her from him. It didn't ease the pain that came from memories… their memories.

 

Creatures hooted, screeched, and howled in the jungle. Rey sat atop a boulder she had claimed for herself, legs crossed as she gazed off into the green. It was the first day in two weeks that it hadn't rained.

 

She lifted a strip of jerky and nibbled on it while she thought. With just a small pulse of the Force, she could get a sense of lifeforms in the area. If she wanted a more definitive signature, she'd have to concentrate. Unfortunately, keeping Ben out meant staying off the grid. She hadn't yet figured out how to take her imprint from the equation. She wasn't even sure if it was possible.

 

She referred to it as an "imprint," but it was a term she'd coined to try and figure out their connection. So far as she could tell, using the Force in large quantities pinged her onto the Force radar… meaning, because they were bound, Ben would be able to reach her. Before, it hadn't been as much of a concern. They couldn't control when it happened, and the link was weak. With it growing stronger and stronger, Rey wasn't taking any chances unless she had to.

 

"Hey, Rey."

 

Rey looked up at Finn's voice just in time for him to plop down beside her. He pulled up a knee to his chest and hooked an arm around it.

 

"You're like a ghost. Ever since we arrived on this backwater planet, you've been MIA."

 

"That's not true," she protested. "I've been around."

 

"When?"

 

"At meals!"

 

"Yeah, that stopped a week ago."

 

Rey narrowed her eyes.

 

Finn grinned. "Seriously, though, why the lone wolf act?"

 

Rey didn't answer immediately, staring off into the jungle. They were on the outskirts and technically safe from the dangers within. Rey was more prepared and better armed than the others, however, so she didn't mind sitting so close.

 

They had arrived on Solaris after Crait, and they hadn't budged since. They planned to rebuild the Resistance, but it was on hold. Solaris was another old Rebellion base, this one smaller, and it was far away from the "Supreme Leader."

 

Rey wrinkled her nose.

 

Most of the weapons didn't work from both disuse and the wet environment of the planet. So much rain made for muggy weather, enough to toy with the weapon settings and create warping. A mudslide had taken out half the compound at some point in the past. That left systems down on the electronics, but their team was currently working on it. Most of the wiring was damaged beyond repair, and they couldn't exactly get replacement parts. The Falcon wasn't an option because of fuel, so they were only going to use it when it was absolutely necessary.

 

On the plus side, the food reserves were plentiful and still edible, if mostly tasteless.

 

Finn was watching her expectantly.

 

"Restless, I guess," she said with a small, slightly strained smile. She hadn't been getting much sleep, but she didn't want to snap at her friend. It wasn't his fault she was a little grumpy.

 

Finn was quiet for all of thirty seconds. "What's on your mind? You can always talk to me, you know."

                                   

Her smile more real this time, she put her arm around his shoulders. "I know. So… how are you and Rose?" She went back to her piece of jerky, popping the last bit into her mouth.

 

Finn actually blushed. "O-Oh, y-you k-know…"

 

Rey's lips split into a grin. "No," she ribbed. "You know, I really don't think I do."

 

"Hey—!"

 

Rey

 

Her head snapped up and around, and her hand clapped over Finn's mouth. He must have sensed that something was seriously wrong, because he didn't put up a struggle and went still.

 

"Who are you trying to protect?"

 

Ice went down Rey's spine and caused all the hairs on her body to lift. This was impossible. Her shields were up!

 

But… she couldn't see him. Could he see her…?

 

"I know you're there. I can feel you."

 

Her fingers dug into Finn's cheek, and he winced in pain. He gave her a wildly confused look.

 

"I've gotten this far, Rey—don't you realize you can't hide from me forever?"

 

Everything inside of her wanted to buck up—wanted to yell at him, to unleash her anger, the anger she couldn't let go of. The anger that survived past the grief.

 

"Answer me!"

 

Finn began struggling, probably because he couldn't see what she could. Rey used the Force to immobilize him, and in that moment, Ben appeared.

 

A slow smile was creeping across his mouth, and he was making no effort to hide the fury in his dark eyes.

 

Rey let Finn go and rose to her feet. She could see Ben clear as day in front of her, but as usual, not his surroundings. She made a gesture for Finn to stay quiet, and she was glad he obeyed without question despite his wide, alarmed eyes.

 

"I have nothing to say to you," she spat. It reminded her of the first time they had used the Force Bond, both equally cautious and angry at the other. The only difference was that he wanted to kill her—wait… he had before, too. Well, still. It was much sincerer this time.

 

"Even if I called a truce?"

 

It took all the willpower she possessed to keep a blank expression, the wheels in her mind spinning rapidly. He couldn't possibly mean that. He'd sent his gods-damned army after her. Well… after the Resistance and her, but who was keeping track of that? The intent was the same. He wanted her dead.

 

At her side, Finn spoke in a low voice, the type of tone one might use when talking to someone a little gone in the head. "Rey… who are you talking to?"

 

Rey barely heard him. "You don't want a truce." 

 

She was forcing herself not to really look at him, the way she wanted to, the way she had before. Thick, wavy black hair, pale skin, eyes filled with all sorts of sorrow and anger and…

 

She decided to fixate on his chin. It was the only safe place.

 

"If I didn't, would I be here?"

 

"Yes," she said. Her anger was sparking, catching flame, spreading through her like liquid fire. He brought out the worst and the best in her. "You want me dead. You made that quite clear."

 

Finn looked from her to the air in front of her and back again. He did this a few times before his voice changed to something resembling enlightenment. "Is this some kind of Force thing right now? Are you communicating with Kylo Ren?" His eyes widened again as he heard his own words. "Rey! Don't! You—"

 

"I was angry."

 

"Clearly. You chased me down to Crait."

 

"I chased the Resistance down. I told you before… all of this needs to go away, to be left in the past. The only way forward is to destroy the things holding us back."

 

"I was with the Resistance, as you very well saw!" she half-snarled, ignoring the rest of his statement. If she focused on it, she'd remember looking at the hand held out to her, the hand she'd rejected.

 

"I was angry," he said again. "You hurt me."

 

Rey couldn't even begin to formulate an answer to that.

 

But then one took shape.

 

"You're a child," she said. "Whenever something doesn't go your way, you throw a complete tantrum and wail at the world like we're the ones torturing you! It's like you never grasped the concept of self-control!"

 

His eyes darkened, his temper flaring just as predicted. He opened his mouth, surely to launch some sort of heated response. But then, to Rey's surprise, he pressed his lips together, curling his fingers into fists at his sides. What was he trying to do, prove her wrong? It'd take a lot more than that.

 

"You're not the only one who has suffered, Ben. You had caring, loving parents—much more than I ever got. One of them is still alive, too! You could—"

 

"YOU KNOW NOTHING!"

 

Rey leaned back despite herself, his shout ringing in her ears.

 

And then he was gone.

 

Vanished back into whatever dark hole he'd crawled out of.

 

She turned to find Finn staring at her.

 

"What?"

 

His mouth gaped open. "What the heck just happened? Why are you talking to him? I thought you guys—"

 

"I'm not talking to him. He just got through my defenses." She frowned to herself, staring into the jungle again.

 

"Rey?"

 

"Yes?"

 

"Remember how you used your Force magic to keep me still?" He waited until she was looking at him. "Not cool, man."

 

She nodded. "You're right, I'm sorry. I just… panicked. It won't happen again, I promise."

 

He nodded in turn, and then frowned. "So you and Kylo Ren…?"

 

"Like I said—he got through my defenses. Let's go inside, it's getting dark."

 

Finn went on ahead, and she hesitated for a moment, turning to the place where Ben had stood.

 

A truce?

 

Was it a trap… or did he mean it?

Chapter Text

Rey was dreaming.

 

It wasn't uncommon. Ever since she'd been a child, she'd been plagued with dreams, mostly nightmares, about her parents and the way they'd abandoned her. She could admit that now. It hurt, but she could. Sometimes interesting things would surface, although she barely recalled them when she woke.

 

Tonight was different.

 

Much different.

 

Ben was gazing down at her, his hair framing his face, his broad shoulders bare. She swallowed, her heart locked in her throat. The instinct to protect herself, to attack him, was gone in this place. There was only her—her and the person tethered to the line connecting them.

 

Her mouth opened, and his fingertip landed against it. He tilted his head, moving his hand to cup her jaw, his thumb roving over her chin, up along the seam of her lips. It settled on her cheek, stroking softly. His hand was warm, soft with few calluses, probably from the gloves he wore all the time.

 

She closed her eyes, her pulse a staccato at her throat. "Ben—"

 

His lips grazed over hers, and she forgot how to breathe.

 

She'd never been kissed. Jakku hadn't exactly been a breeding ground for gentlemen, and she'd been so unhappy with her existence that she hadn't wanted anything like that, anyway. Just her parents—just a sign in her life that things would get better.

 

"I love you." As the words left her, she opened her eyes again, slowly. She had expected him to be surprised, in this safe place where she could speak freely. Instead, something she couldn't describe filled his eyes as he kissed her again, much more firmly than the last.

 

On the third kiss, she kissed him back, a hand traveling into his hair of its own volition. Her fingers tangled in silky black strands. His teeth caught her lower lip, her jaw, her ear. She shivered, a small sound leaving her throat, a heat she was unfamiliar with warming her from the inside out.

 

It was then that she put a hand on his chest, pushing gently.

 

"Too much?" His eyes roved over her face, taking in every thought that crossed it.

 

She shook her head, her throat too tight for her to speak clearly.

 

The smallest of smiles, as if he was finally surprised, touched the corner of his mouth. It was so rare to see that she raised her hand to rest her fingertips against it. He caught her hand in his own, lowering it between them as he tilted his head and kissed her again.

 

His lips were full, as warm as his hand, and incredibly soft. When his tongue grazed her own lips, she parted them hesitantly, not entirely sure what to expect. Fire leapt into her belly as he brushed their tongues together, and for a time, she was lost.

 

She broke away, needing to breathe, and his relentless mouth moved over her chin, to her throat. Her breath left her again as he suckled a patch of skin into his mouth, and he drew a moan from her when he set his teeth against it. Her hands came up to clutch his shoulders as his mouth moved lower, lower…

 

"REY!"

 

A loud banging persisted against her door, and she jerked awake, oddly flushed. She touched her hand to her neck as she sat up in bed.

 

R'iia's shorts!

 

"Rey! Come on! It's important! We're gathering!"

 

"O-Okay!" she called back, her voice not quite ready to be used yet. Finn went quiet, so she assumed he'd left already.

 

She took a moment to bury her face in her hands and fight the urge to scream. How was this possible?! He'd gone after her, after the ones she loved, and had almost succeeded in killing all of them! And here she was, having a—a… dream… about him, waking up flustered and—

 

She crossed her arms over her breasts, mostly because they felt… tender, and it just wasn't fair. She'd done the best she could to keep him out of her mind.

 

Perhaps that was why he'd appeared in her dreams? Because she thought about him so often? And… and one couldn't control what they dreamed about, and sometimes they didn't mean anything at all. She was getting worked up over nothing. It was fine. A stray dream, nothing more.

 

Mollified, she pushed her covers back and slipped off her bed. It didn't take long to throw on her boots and grab her weapons.

 

It wasn't until she was setting her hair to straights and glancing into the mirror on the steel wall that she saw it.

 

There, on her throat.

 

A bruise.

 


 

 

"You okay?" Finn asked as Rey came into the meeting room. This was where most of the systems communications were. It was also where the mudslide had broken through, so half the room looked out onto the cliff that rested high above the jungle.

 

"Fine," she said shortly, not really looking at him. She rubbed her arms to get the goosebumps to go away. Mutinous, they refused to budge. "Just—a bad dream. I'll be fine."

 

"Want some breakfast?"


She shook her head. She couldn't eat right now. Not with her stomach tied up in knots and her fingers trembling.

 

How had that happened?

 

How was that even possible?

 

She'd touched his hand on Ahch-To, when they were using the Force bond. She'd felt the warmth of his fingertips, and his hand… it had seemed so solid. But part of her had thought that maybe it was just in her imagination, because that was how real the connection seemed. Was she wrong? She had to be. The mark on her neck said enough.

 

It hadn't been a dream, then. It had been real.

 

She waited for the bile to rise in her throat, but all she could think about was his mouth on hers.

 

"I love you."

 

Oh…

 

Oh, gods…

 

Her eyes closed, and she placed her hands against her stomach. Now she wanted to throw up.

 

He'd gotten too close, much too close. She had been so vulnerable. He could have done anything to her he wanted.

 

Rey paused, her thoughts graying into static.

 

He could have done anything he wanted.

 

He'd kissed her.

 

Why?

 

Was it a game? Was it real?

 

Somehow, she was going to have to find a way to keep him out. Not sleeping wasn't an option—at least, not a good one. She'd get too tired eventually, and she needed to be alert, now more than ever.

 

"Rey…? Hello…?" A hand waved in front of her face.

 

She lifted her head. Finn dropped his hand.

 

"We've got a new mission."

 

"Mission?" She looked to the others in the room, namely General Organa and Poe.

 

Leia's face was pinched with worry. "There's another base on this planet."

 

"That's great!" Rey's face lit up. "Is it like this one? Do you think it's in better condition? Enough for us to get off this planet?"

 

The princess raised a hand. "Slow down," she said with a chuckle. "I know you're excited, but there's… some danger involved."

 

"Danger?" Rey's face went blank. Then understanding dawned. "The jungle. Right."

 

This was it. This was the moment she had been waiting for—something to do, some way to be useful.

 

"Well, I can go. I can handle myself in there." With the Force, Rey had gained confidence in dealing with intense situations. Not enough to cloud her judgement, but to be effective.

 

"We're going, too," Poe said, nodding his head in Finn's direction. "I've got to get out of here, I'm going crazy."

 

"All right. Anyone else?" Rey questioned.

 

The others in the room wouldn't quite look at her. They were the remaining survivors of the Resistance, most of them engineers, and of course they couldn't risk Leia.

 

Rey nodded, growing more determined. "Excellent. When do we leave?"

 

Poe stepped forward, putting a hand on her shoulder. "Now."

Chapter Text

 

The jungle was hot and unforgiving.

 

Having been raised on a desert planet, Rey was very fond of seeing green environments, or even vast amounts of water. For the last two weeks while she roosted on her boulder, staring at the jungle far below, it had been enticing, calling to her to come and inspect its many natural wonders. She'd almost done it a time or two, and now she was glad she hadn't.

 

Poe had warned her going in. "There's a number of dangers out there, Rey, and we have to be focused at all times. There are creatures out there bigger than us, meaner than us, and they're not afraid to have us for an afternoon snack."

 

Finn had whirled at this. "Whoa, wait, what do you mean, an afternoon snack?" Then he took a step back and cleared his throat. "I mean… cool. Yeah. We got this. No problem."

 

BB-8 whistled and beeped.

 

The former stormtrooper glared at him. "Oh, really? That's what you come back with?"

 

More whistles.

 

"Fine! Fine," Finn said, crossing his arms and spreading his feet apart.

 

­­­­­

"He said that you don't seem very sure," Poe elucidated.

 

"I know what he said!" Finn harrumphed.

 

A long whistle and a beep.

 

Poe shook his head with a chuckle. "All right, all right… back to the matter at hand. Finn, you're going to take the lead, I'll head up the back, and Rey stays between us."

 

Protestations arose at once.

 

"So you get the back and I get the scary front?!"

 

"I am not staying in the middle!"

 

The X-wing pilot crossed his arms and waited.

 

"Why can't Rey go first?!"

 

"Yeah! I've got a—"

 

"She can do that… that… that magic Force stuff! You know…" Finn imitated a lightsaber slashing through the air with sound effects. "And take out our enemies in a second!"

 

"That's not how the Force works, Finn!"

 

"You know, I'm getting sick and tired of people telling me that—"

 

"Enough!" Poe half-shouted. He turned to Rey. "Rey, do you think you can handle taking point?"

 

She nodded. 

 

He pivoted to Finn. "Finn, can you stay in the middle?"

 

Finn sniffed and touched the blaster at his hip. "I got this."

 

"All right. Move out."

 


 

 

It was two hours later that Rey was soaked in sweat and wishing she had never agreed to do this. The heat was smothering, trapped as it was under the tall trees. The humidity caused things to grow frightfully large, so that they were walking beneath flowers rather than above them. Critters darted to and fro, nonthreatening, at least for now, and the ground underfoot was spongy with moss.

 

Finn smacked his arm as an insect buzzed. "These things are the size of Krayt dragon pearls!"

 

BB-8 chirped as he strolled beside the group, his head swiveling everywhere.

 

Rey couldn't answer her companion. She was too busy searching their surroundings with the Force, with as low input as possible. She may not be able to really use it, but at least she could tell if they were in imminent danger or not.

 

"How far away is this thing, do you think?" Finn asked behind her.

 

"Quite a ways," Poe replied. "We won't get there 'til the end of the day, if we're being optimistic."

 

"Fantastic," Finn whispered. "Fanchoobiestastic."

 

"Choobies… what?" Rey asked over her shoulder, tuning in at the unfamiliar turn of phrase.

 

"Means balls," Poe supplied helpfully.

 

"Oh."

 

Well, then.

 

"I think our friend is a little worried about being here after dark."

 

"I am not a little worried!" Finn fired back. "I am… a lot worried!"

 

BB-8 chose this moment to let out a stream of whistles that emphasized a strong choice of words.

 

"Yeah, well, you're a droid. No one's going to eat you."

 

BB-8 drew back in offense. His whistles got louder.

 

"BB-8 doesn't like to think of himself as a droid," Poe laughed.

 

"STOP!" Rey threw an arm out behind her, crouching. The group immediately fell silent. She looked around, but that wasn't enough, so she closed her eyes and connected to the energy that was the Force.

 

Something was coming… fast…

 

The ground trembled.  

 

"MOVE!" Rey yelled, and she lunged out of the way just in time. A scaled creature that towered over them burst into their clearing. It was on its hind legs, and it had tiny arms tucked against itself, but its head was gigantic, and the blackened teeth in its mouth suggested it wouldn't have a problem tearing them apart. The crown of vicious horns atop its head added to that conclusion.

 

BB-8 took off, and the others followed suit, barely keeping him in sight. The droid was the one who knew where they were going. If they got lost now…

 

The thing roared so loudly, Rey felt it down to her bone marrow. The ground shook harder as it pounded after them.

 

There was no choice. They were going to have to split up.

 

Rey gestured to Finn, who took off to the left, and Poe followed suit, dodging to the right. That left Rey, which she preferred, as she was the only one with a weapon that could down this thing. The problem was, she couldn't get a good look at it with all this running.

 

The other problem was that she was going to have to use the Force to escape this thing or deal with it or both. She didn't want to leave herself open to Ben, but her hands were tied. She couldn't let everyone die.

 

Pulling the Force through her, she leapt up, arching backward, over the creature's snarling mouth, and landed behind it, a hand and a knee to the ground. She looked up at it as it reared around, but by then she had her lightsaber in hand and was barreling forward. She twirled it before taking off one of its arms.

 

The thing roared louder than ever in its pain, and that only made it more intent on killing her. Letting the Force guide her movements, as she had done a handful of times before, she made a few dodges, barely escaping the teeth bearing down on her. She backflipped again when it swung its massive tail in her direction.

 

Everything faded away.

 

Everything except this creature and herself.

 

Adrenaline pumping through her, the pounding of her heart, the ache in her lungs from lack of air…

 

It paced forward, and she let it get close—close enough to shove her lightsaber up through the bottom of its head and out the top.

 

She panted heavily as it fell to the ground, wobbling a little from the force of its landing. Her saber was still lit, so she powdered it down with a hiss of plasma.

 

"A Jedi would have found a way to save its life."

 

Her shoulders drew straight, and what breath she'd gained back left her lungs. She looked across the carcass of the creature at Ben, who stood on its other side.

 

"It was going to kill us," she argued. She didn't have time for these mind games. She had to find her friends. There were other dangers still lurking in this jungle.

 

She climbed over the thing, because there really wasn't a way around it. It was blocking the path entirely, and on either side were trees. It meant that she was going to have to walk through Ben.

 

She received an unpleasant surprise when she bounced off him.

 

Before she could fall and trip over the creature, his fingers snatched her wrist.

 

"It doesn't matter," he said. She tugged for her wrist back, but he only gripped it tighter, tight enough to be painful, her bones grinding together. "Jedi have always been strict in their rules. It's their creed. Save what life you can."

 

"I don't care. Let go of me!"

 

"You should care. You're a Jedi, aren't you?"

 

She didn't answer, grunting as she attempted to get free of him. He held onto her effortlessly, but she didn't try to go for her lightsaber. Like this, she could sense it wouldn't have made a difference. She didn't know how, but she knew.

 

Finally, she gave up, panting a little, and then glared up at him. "And you're a Sith. What do you care that I killed that thing?"

 

He caught her other wrist and then whirled her around in a sudden motion, jerking her against him. Still holding her wrists, he lowered them, wrapping his arms around her as he rested his chin on her shoulder. "Why won't you give in, Rey?"

 

His voice washed over her ear, and she shivered.

 

"Think of how good we could be together…"

 

"If you're trying to seduce me, it's not going to work!"

 

"Isn't it?"

 

Shouts rang out, ones of relief, and Rey staggered a little as she was suddenly released. She turned around, finding Ben gone and her friends in his place. They were panting, as well, except for BB-8, who rolled up to her and made a few questioning beeps.

 

"I'm all right, BB-8," she reassured him.

 

Finn stepped forward to look at the body of the creature. "Whoa… what did I say earlier?" He made his mock lightsaber motions.

 

Poe put a hand on her shoulder, as was his habit. "You sure you're all right?"

 

"I'm fine. Not a scratch on me." When he didn't look convinced, she changed the subject. "I'm glad we found each other again. How off course are we?"

 

BB-8 chittered.

 

"Not too badly," Poe mused. "All right, team, let's get going." He paused. "And thank you, Rey. You saved our lives."

 

"Don't mention it," she said with a smile.

 

But as she stepped back into the position of point, she couldn't shake that feeling.

 

The feeling of Ben's arms wrapped so snugly around her.

 

The feeling of his lips grazing her ear as he spoke.

 

And his question, so soft, just a murmur.

 

"Why won't you give in, Rey?"

 

She tried to remind herself of all the reasons she had to hate Ben. It was quite the list.

 

"Think of how good we could be together…"

 

She shook her head hard. They couldn't be good together. Ben had the patience and the emotional capacity of a toddler. When things didn't go his way, he reacted in extreme measures. It would be the same this time, too. Once he realized she really, truly, was not going to give into him, she was going to have to fight to save her life.

 

And that prospect was enough to chill any ardor he'd stirred.

 

Still…

 

"Isn't it?"

 

The two words lingered in her mind, playing over and over.

 

If he thought she was easy, he was dead wrong.

 

But how had he done it? How had he been able to touch her like that? Was it all in her head? Was it happening inside of their minds, through the Force bond? Had it really grown that strong?

 

He shouldn't have been able to see what she was doing. She had a feeling he hadn't. He must have been able to rifle through her thoughts. It gave him the advantage, and she didn't like it at all.

 

There was only one thing to do…

 

It was time to turn the tables.

 


 

 

Not using the Force the rest of the trip was not an option anymore. They had only been two hours in when that thing had attacked them. Whatever her issues with Ben, she had to protect her companions first. It was as simple as that.

 

That didn't mean she had to like it.

 

But it did mean her shields against Ben were lowered, so it wasn't much of a surprise when he appeared again around the midpoint of the day.

 

"Decided to let me in?"

 

She gave him a look. You and I both know that's not true.

 

She wasn't expecting his answering smirk. "As much as you think I'm doing this on purpose, I'm not. It's connecting us like before—before you blocked me out."

 

So it's just getting stronger, then?

 

"Yes. I can read your thoughts easier now. They're like a book… so open, so transparent."

 

Stop, or I'll read your thoughts, too.

 

"You can try." The way he worded it suggested that he was more than prepared to keep her out this time.

 

Annoyed, she decided to ignore him. Replying to him, letting him ruffle her feathers, was only going to give him what he wanted.

 

BB-8 beeped somewhere behind her, and she heard Poe's low laugh. It was the type of sound that made her look over to him.

 

Ben's face darkened. "You are mine."

 

She almost came to a halt at that, but she wanted to keep up appearances, so she kept walking. It wouldn't do to let them know that she was talking to Ben. She didn't want to deal with their looks of concern. She was barely tolerating what was happening on her own.

 

I don't belong to anyone, let alone you.

 

Now she had to stop. He was in front of her, and she nearly crashed into him.

 

"Do you really believe that?" His eyes bore into her, demanding the truth. "Answer me!"

 

She shook her hair back. Move, please.

 

Ben's expression grew murderous. He took an imposing step forward, but she held her ground, chin jerked up in defiance. His hand closed firmly over her throat. She let him because he wasn't yet choking her. If he thought he was going to bully her, he was mistaken yet again.

 

"Admit it!" he hissed.

 

Show some restraint, and maybe I will.

 

His fingers tightened, and she found herself on her tiptoes as he lifted her. His face was close to hers, and his jealousy was ugly. His lips were pressed together, his eyes promising a world of hell.

 

"You love me."

 

Do I?

 

"You told me you did," he growled.

 

I lied to you. I wanted to hurt you again.

 

Rey found herself flying through the air and landing on her back hard enough to wind her. She stared up at the canopy of the jungle, distantly aware of Poe and Finn running to her side, kneeling over her.

 

"Rey! Are you all right?! Here, slowly, slowly—" Poe cautioned, putting an arm under her shoulders and lifting.

 

Finn touched her throat. His eyes widened. "Fingermarks. What happened?"

 

Not answering either of them, Rey looked down the path, to where she'd been standing with Ben. He was, of course, gone. It was just as well. She was sick of looking at him, too.

 


 

 

"So you're really not going to tell us what happened?" Finn asked.

 

Rey was quiet, concentrating on the task at hand, which involved swinging her lightsaber through the overgrowth they'd encountered.

 

"Rey…"

 

"Look—" She closed her eyes, opened them. "It's not something I can talk about. It's something I have to deal with on my own. There's no one who can help me."

 

"There has to be someone," Finn argued.

 

"There isn't."

 

"So you're really telling me that you can't think of a single thing we could help with?"

 

Rey paused in the slaughtering of flora and turned to him. "I have a connection with Kylo Ren through the Force. It was put there by Snoke. I thought when he died, our connection would have died with it, but it didn't. It's still here, and it won't leave me alone. Kylo taunts me every opportunity he has, and all I can do is try to keep him out… which I was doing fairly well until today, when I had to use the Force."

 

"How is that connected?" Poe asked.

 

"It means that the only way I can mostly keep him out is by not using the Force."

 

"There's no way to break the connection?" Finn's brows furrowed together.

 

"If there is, I've yet to hear about it. Luke's gone, so I don't have his help anymore. He was the only other Jedi I knew. Now it's down to Kylo and myself…" She hesitated and then sighed. "The connection isn't something we can control, either. It's completely random. Suddenly, both of us will be able to see the other and talk. One of us can shut it off from there, but it's hard. It's usually easier to let it go away on its own."

 

All three humans were silent.

 

"That's, uh… that's…" Finn was at a loss for words.

 

"Difficult," Poe supplied.

 

"Yes." She bit her lip for a moment. "He won't hurt me."

 

Finn started to point to the marks on her throat, so she interrupted him. "Let me rephrase: he won't kill me. He wants something from me."

 

Poe slowly crossed his arms. "And what does he want?"

 

"It doesn't matter." Rey shook her head, igniting her lightsaber. "Come on. We've wasted enough time already."

 


 

 

BB-8 rolled up to her side and made a low chirp of dismay.

 

Stretching before them, against the horizon, were wetlands. Black, still water rippled in places where creatures were breathing, and a red moss hung in tangles from tree branches. Hooting was more prominent than it had been, adding a spooky feel, while birds half the size of BB-8 cawed and watched them from beady eyes.

 

"Anything could be in there," Poe said, coming to stand beside her. Finn was looking all around and above them. "Quicksand—though that's not too bad, you'd only go in up to your waist. But the mud would be worse."

 

"Predators, too," Rey remarked.

 

"Exactly. And we can't see the bottom, so…" He sighed and rubbed a hand over the back of his head. "I would ask you to use the Force again, but after what you said about Kylo Ren—"

 

"It's all right, Poe. Our safety is more important." She took a step toward the edge of the swamp, held out a hand, and closed her eyes.

 

Skeletons at the bottom of the swamp—birds, nesting in the knobbed roots of the trees—fish, doing the same—large reptiles, waiting patiently—great cats, prowling…

 

Life entangled so deeply there that it shone, the moist ground holding water, preventing flooding, purifying water—

 

Darkness sinking in, wrapping around her, steering her away, away to death, to the harshness of life, and she—

 

Rey's eyes snapped open. She let loose a steadying breath and lowered her arm.

 

Finn and Poe were watching her somewhat apprehensively.

 

"It's safe," she said. "There are predators, but they won't bother us." She cleared her throat and then smiled down at BB-8. "The real question is, how are we going to get him across the swamp?"

 

BB-8 rolled forward and disappeared into the depths of the murky water. Moments later, two lights emerged, flashing. She supposed they were guiding the way.

 

"All right, then," she said.

 

"Droids can survive in space. That usually means they're waterproof, too," Poe said, a bit amused.

 

Rey nodded. "This is probably going to be disgusting."

 

"Probably?" Finn replied. "No, it will be."

 

"I'll take lead," Rey said. Wrinkling her nose, she slowly waded into the water. It came up to her thighs, was cold, and smelled. On the other hand, it could have been much worse.

 

"Just be careful where you step," Poe called after her. "There's roots, and then the mud—"

 

"Got it, thanks." Each step, she sent her foot out to determine if there was anything in the way. It was a slow process, but she really didn't want to trip or get a foot stuck.

 

Finn complained most of the way. Rey didn't mind, because his remarks were comical. She couldn't help laughing a few times, much to his annoyance. He was being such a baby.

 

Poe fared better, although he had a harder time. Since he was bringing up the rear, he had to focus on the path behind them, as well as navigating the swamp before him.

 

As for BB-8, he was chirping cheerfully in the distance.

 

After nearly an hour, they made it to the other side. BB-8's white and bright orange paint was muddy, and everyone's boots were filled with muck. Rey was just glad to be standing on solid land again. The only downside was that she had to keep walking in this attire, in the muggy heat of the jungle.

 

"It's going to be night soon," Poe said, casting a wary eye to the canopy. "BB-8, how much longer until we reach the base?"

 

Whistling.

 

"About another hour. We might as well keep going. Better than being stuck out here all night."

 

The droid rolled off without waiting for them to follow.

 

"All right, let's move out!"

 


 

 

By the time they reached the base, they'd been in the dark for half an hour. It was distressing, to say the least.

 

"Well, at least we avoided the night predators."

 

Finn turned to Poe. "How do you know this stuff?"

 

The pilot looked confused. "I wasn't born in space."

 

Finn opened his mouth to reply, and then shrugged agreeably. "Yeah, all right."

 

"Where's the entrance?" Rey queried to their droid. She followed him as he rolled around the building. There weren't too many obstacles, just a fallen tree or two. It was hard to see with the trees blocking the moonlight, however.

 

After a short walk, they came to the front of the base. Everything looked intact, so far as they could tell. BB-8 went straight to the door and stuck an arm into a socket. After a moment, the door gave a great rumble and then began to grate away, exposing the inside.

 

Poe dug in his pocket and pulled free a small flashlight. He shined it into the building, and they waited with bated breath.

 

Nothing stirred.

 

"Good," Poe murmured. "Let's check it out." Keeping the flashlight at eye level, he went inside. Rey and Finn glanced at one another before following.

 

After another hour, they had gotten the scope of the place and had lights running, thanks to a backup generator that had survived. There was food and running water, but more importantly, the communications systems were in much better condition than their counterparts at the other base.

 

"This is great!" Rey couldn't believe their luck. They could finally get off this planet.

 

"Not so fast," Poe cautioned, rubbing a thumbnail up against his ear, his other hand on his hip. "We have no idea if these can actually transmit anything, and they're probably encrypted. We'll need General Organa to take a look at it." He gestured. "The good thing is, BB-8 found a tunnel that leads back to the other base."

 

"A tunnel?" Rey sat down on a chair that had seen better days. Dust puffed out from under her.

 

"Do you think it's dangerous?" Finn crossed his arms.

 

Poe hesitated. Then he shook his head. "I think it's possible. Anything could be down there."

 

"Well, it's the only feasible way we could get the others over here," Rey asserted. "If we clear out the tunnel on the way over, we can lead them back here and get off this planet. Though I'd have to fly the Falcon this way, so I suppose I could just take them on it, too…"

 

"Either way, the tunnel would be better on us than risking the jungle again."

 

Finn nodded. "I think it's time to eat. I'm starving." The only thing they'd had on the way here was water.

 

"I'm just going to shower and head to bed." Rey pushed herself to her feet. "Wake me in the morning?"

 

Poe hummed, but most of his attention was focused on the systems as BB-8 took a look at them.

 

With Finn off to get food, and Poe occupied, Rey slipped into the compound to find a shower.

 

There was a communal bathroom about halfway into the building. Rey pried the door open and took a careful glance around before hitting the lights. They flickered, acquiescing a moment later. It was dusty in here, too, and a little rusty in places. When she turned on a knob, she jumped out of the way as it gushed out brown water. She didn't have to wait long before it ran clear.

 

Pleased, she stripped down and got under the water. It was cold, but that was all right. After the trek through the jungle, dealing with the reptilian creature, braving a swamp, and fending off Ben's advances, hot water was a luxury she could afford to miss out on.

 

She scrubbed down. She didn't have any soap, so she had to make do. Feeling the water sluice through her hair was the nicest thing, the cold making her groan slightly in relief as she pushed it off her face and tilted her head back.

 

That was when she felt it.

 

The line, snapping taut.

 

She whirled around, shrieking and covering her chest with her arms, her back slamming into the wall. She sputtered as water ran into her eyes and stepped out of the flow.

 

"Get out!"

 

Ben at least had the grace to look at the ceiling. "It's just now happened. You know it takes a few minutes before we can disconnect."

 

This was true, though she didn't have to like it.

 

"It's never been this bad before," she spat out.

 

"It's growing stronger," he said. "Just like we discussed before."

 

"Just—just turn around!"

 

He did so slowly. She edged to the side and started throwing her clothes back on. She'd take them back off when he left. She wasn't going to stand here naked with him in the room.

 

"You're in a base again, but not like the other… and you were wandering through… a jungle, it seemed. Where are you?"

 

"I'm not going to tell you that." She was shivering a little.

 

"I'll find you eventually."

 

"Just go!"

 

Ben turned around. "Is that what you really want?"

 

"Do you need to ask that?"

 

He tilted his head, his eyes boring through her in that soul-searching way he had. "Does it surprise you that I do?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Why?"

 

"Because why would I want you here?" She covered her chest again, even though she was clothed now. He had a way of making her feel way too vulnerable.

 

He took a step forward. She took one back.

 

"You don't miss it?"

 

"Miss what?" she snapped.

 

"Getting to know one another."

 

"I know you," she replied. "I know you, and now I don't want to know you." She said it mostly to provoke him, so that he'd get angry enough and leave, like usual.

 

A faint smile hovered on his mouth again.

 

A second later, and he was gone.

 

She wasn't sure why, but that terrified her more than anything.

Chapter Text

Some of them want to use you,

Some of them want to get used by you,

Some of them want to abuse you,

Some of them want to be abused

-Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), (cover) Emily Browning

 

turmoil

 

darkness

 

uncertainty

 

lost

 

alone

 

abandoned

 

misunderstood  

 

"STOP!"

 

Rey opened her eyes. She was sitting cross-legged on her bed, and facing her was Ben, who was absolutely seething. His eyes were wide, his nostrils flared, his lips thinned where they pressed together. He was shirtless, and it was taking Rey more willpower than she would have liked to ignore it.

 

"Why?" she asked.

 

"You know why!"

 

"Do I?" She couldn't help herself: she smiled.

 

"Stay out of my head!"

 

The smile dropped. "Sure! So long as you stay out of mine!"

 

A stalemate occurred in which they glared at one another. It went on for several minutes, their gazes locked in an intense battle of wills. The anger in the room was almost palpable. Both were too stubborn to back down.

 

Something strange began to happen. Rey's heartrate picked up, and her stomach knotted with a flutter. Her breath grew unsteady as her skin seemed to tighten all over. Heat spread through her, leaving her entire body to tingle.

 

Ben's pupils dilated. His tongue touched his lips briefly. His fingers flexed and then curled into balls, as though he was holding himself back. His lashes lowered, making Rey's heart skip a pace. She was suddenly incredibly aware of the fact that he was shirtless, and that she couldn't ignore it any longer.

 

He rose onto his knees, slowly but steadily, treating her as if she were a skittish animal. She watched as he leaned forward, and she didn't stop him as he placed an arm on either side of her, forcing her to lower back onto the bed.

 

"Ben—"

 

"You want me."

 

She flushed and turned her head, gazing out into the dark room. She wanted to answer him, had rebuttals lined up on her tongue. They refused to leave her mouth, stranding her in a sea of sensations she didn't entirely understand. She was somewhat helpless beneath him, and he seemed to know it.

 

A dark chuckle echoed through the room, soft against her ear. Her hands came up to his chest—braced. To push him away…? To pull him closer…? How was his skin so warm? She had always thought of him as cold, unreachable, and that that would somehow transmute into his body.

 

He closed his eyes. One of his hands lifted to cover hers. He held it to his chest for a moment before his lips grazed her palm, the inside of her wrist…

 

A smile of wonder spread over his mouth. "Your pulse is racing."

 

It was the sight of that smile that left her unable to pull away, although she did flush harder with embarrassment.

 

A large, slender hand descended, landing on the center of her breastbone. He spread his fingers out, his expression growing intent. She tried to stay as still as possible, not knowing what he was about. After a moment, that same smile returned.

 

"Your heart is, too."

 

She swallowed.

 

He looked at her. "You're hiding your thoughts from me."

 

Again Rey turned her face away, but he caught it and gently nudged it back.

 

"Why?" he asked.

 

"Why do you hide yours from me?" she countered.

 

He went silent. Then he let her go and sat back, clearly pensive.

 

She didn't move, mostly because she wasn't sure if she could. Her heart was refusing to slow down even the tinniest bit, and her limbs continued to tingle all over.

 

"What if I asked you not to?"

 

Rey's gaze shot up to his. Stunned, she contemplated the question. He was asking for something, not demanding? She didn't get the feeling that it was some sort of trap, either.

 

But was it…?

 

"What if I asked you not to?"

 

Silence reigned once more.

 

"How do you expect me to trust you, when you can't trust me?" Rey propped herself up on her elbows to see him better.

 

"It's not that I don't trust you," he replied. "I just don't trust you not to meddle with my thoughts."

 

"Have you considered that may go both ways?"

 

"Why would I meddle with your thoughts?"

 

"Why would I meddle with yours?"

 

"To try to change me. To try to redeem me." He leaned forward, just a little. "There's nothing to redeem. There's nothing to change. The sooner you accept that, the better."

 

She shook her head with a small, exhausted laugh. "I've been trying to avoid you. Why would I care about your redemption? You've made yourself the 'Supreme Leader'—" and here she didn't bother to hide her distaste "—and you're bent on ruling the galaxy. I want nothing to do with you."

 

"That's not true." Ben's voice took on that lick of anger that signaled he was about to lose his temper. "We both know it's not."

 

"Ben, why does it matter if I'm at your side or not?!" she burst out and sat up entirely.

 

"Because you belong there. Because you are mine."

 

"I don't belong to anyone! No one owns me! Not anymore." She looked down with a shake of her head. "And until you can understand that—" She cut off with a sharp gasp.

 

Darkness, wrapping around her, soft, like a lover, caressing thoughts and feelings she'd been barely aware of.

 

The joy of letting go, of relishing in victory. The freedom of doing what she wanted, with nothing to stop her.

 

The high of controlling her own destiny—of never letting anyone hold her back. No guilt. No sadness.

 

lust—desire—heat—want—need—

 

It was as if another person was possessing her body as she jumped into his lap, tangled her fingers in his hair, and brought her lips crashing down on his.

 

A low growl rumbled in his throat that made her throb all over. His hands slid down her back and over her hips, jerking her closer, directly against him. She rose up on her knees, and his head tilted back so the kiss would remain unbroken, his hands now sliding around to cup the backs of her thighs.

 

This time it was she who inquisitively darted her tongue against his mouth. He parted his lips without hesitation, enticing her by touching his tongue to hers. Flames erupted beneath her flesh, goading her on, enough to sink her teeth into his lips. She didn't do it gently, asserting an edge of pain.

 

He growled louder, rising and tumbling her beneath him. Her thighs were hooked over his hips, and she wound her arms around his shoulders and pulled his mouth back to hers. He braced himself on the mattress with one hand as the other wandered over her ribs, rising higher, higher…

 

She gripped his wrist and pushed it down her body, only thinking about how good she felt, and how she was aching, and how he could help her. His hand cupped over her, his thumb rubbing her clit through her undergarments.

 

A moan exploded from her. She trembled, finding his neck and biting into it. His fingers hooked under fabric and pushed it aside so that a fingertip could dip inside of her.

 

"Ben—"

 

"REY! ARE YOU AWAKE?!"

 

Her eyes fluttered open.

 

Awareness slowly made itself known.

 

She was flat on her back, and the moth-eaten blankets were tangled around her legs. What was new, and a bit distressing, was her hand between her thighs, and her fingers… Blushing deeply, she pulled them free and sat up before lifting them for inspection. She'd never touched herself there—she'd never wanted to. But Ben came along, and she…

 

"Rey?!"

 

What had happened…? He'd been in her dream… She'd decided to delve into his mind, to remind him what that felt like. Ben had been furious… they'd discussed it, like reasonable adults, shockingly. And then… he'd… what? What had he done? Her memory of it was blurry. Something about…

 

She gasped. About darkness!

 

Had he manipulated her by showing the darkness inside of him? And what did it say, that she got swept into it without hesitation? It called to mind that day on Ahch-To, her first lesson with Luke, and the angry, exasperated words he had for her.

 

"…you went straight to the dark…!"

 

The darkness didn't scare her.

 

"Rey…?!" Bang, bang.

 

But Ben did.

 

"REY!"

 

"R'iia's shorts, I'm awake!" she yelled to the door.

 

"Come on, then, we're having a meeting! Poe wants to discuss getting back to the other base."

 

"I'll be right there!" she called, her voice still raspy with sleep. She listened to Finn's footsteps fade before she fell onto her back, arms spread around her, and sighed.

 

If he could show her his darkness, and let it pull her in… Then didn't it go to say that she could flip the tables? Do the same thing to him?

 

She lay there for a long while, searching her feelings. She supposed the real question was: did she want to? And even if she did… could he be saved?

 

She remembered speaking with Leia two weeks past, as the general grieved over the death of her brother. Her family was falling apart all around her, yet Luke's words remained with her.

 

"No one's ever really gone."

 

Rey put her forearm against her forehead, her heart heavy. Ben was determined to start over, to get rid of everyone and everything. How in seven hells was she supposed to be able to save him, especially when he didn't want to be saved?

 

"Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. That's the only way to become who you are meant to be."

 

The words whispered at the back of her mind.

 

"You're nothing… but not to me."

 

When Rey sat up, the movements were laced with anger. Just as she had the day before, she tugged on her boots and grabbed her lightsaber. She had no choice with her hair but to pull it back into a knot after combing her fingers through it.

 

"You're not alone."

 

Rey yelled and slammed her fist into a mirror that had seen better days. The crunch of the glass was satisfying, even if it stung like ripper-raptor fangs. She hated this. She hated remembering. It was easier not to, to pretend that nothing had ever passed between them, that she didn't know what it felt like to be close to his heart.

 

She didn't know what to do.

 

She closed her eyes as they stung with tears and tried to gather her breath. She had no one now. No one who could understand. Luke had sacrificed himself to save them all, and the person she'd turned to before was gone, swallowed up by his own venomous cesspool of emotions. Maybe he had never been there at all. Maybe it had all just been an elaborate ruse on Snoke's part.

 

Warm brown eyes, a hand extending to her, a hand of kinship.

 

Rey gritted her teeth. She hated him so much…!

 

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale…

 

Her eyes opened slowly.

 

But she didn't hate him enough.

 

She looked into the ruined mirror and then down at her bloody knuckles. She winced as she picked a few pieces of glass out. Served her right, losing her temper like that.

 

Tick marks on the wall, counting down every day, every day that she was stuck on Jakku, that she waited for her parents to come and rescue her…

 

"No, no! You're still—holding on! Let go! You want to know the truth about your parents? You've always known. You've just hidden it away. You know the truth. Say it. Say it."

 

Rey wiped her hands over her cheeks and sniffled.

 

"They were filthy junk traders who sold you off for drinking money. They're dead, in a pauper's grave, in a Jakku desert. You have no place in this story. You come from nothing. You're nothing."

 

She had thought she was over this. Why was it surfacing now? Because she'd fought so hard to put it from her mind, to focus on the path ahead of her?

 

"But not to me."

 

No!

 

This wasn't fair. She'd written him off. She'd known it was too late for him. And now she was deciding otherwise? But it just made sense. He was controlling the First Order. Someone was going to have to bring him down, and the only person who could do that was her. She was the only one strong enough to face off with him and survive.

 

That was the thing. The thought of killing him… it broke her.

 

Her back to the wall, she slid down it, her face screwed up to keep the tears back. She put her arms around her knees and buried her face in them.

 

"…but not to me…"

Chapter Text

 

"All right, so here's the plan. I've got the systems up and running. You and Finn are gonna take BB-8 back to the base through the tunnel. BB-8 will signal to me, and we'll be able to go from there." Poe looked from one to the other. "Everybody on the same page?"

 

Finn raised his hand from his seat at the meeting table.

 

Poe's eyebrows arched in question.

 

"So we are going to chance the creepy tunnel?"

 

"Unless you have any better ideas?" Poe replied.

 

Rey knew she was supposed to be paying attention to the meeting. It was really important and involved possibly endangering their lives again. Poe and Finn (and even BB-8) were counting on her.

 

She chewed her lip, staring off into space. Her mind was racing, and nothing she did could slow it down. What she had dubbed "The Kylo Ren Problem" was encompassing all her thoughts with a determination that was more than a little frightening. It was a shame Ben couldn't be here for this. Knowing she was fixated on him would put him in a good mood for days, so long as he didn't understand the context.

 

"Rey?"

 

She was still so indecisive…

 

"Rey?"

 

There were so many options on the path to Ben's redemption, and several that were closed already because they hadn't worked the first time.

 

"Rey!"

 

She blinked—looked to the side. Poe was kneeling next to her chair. He had his hand on her shoulder and concern was in his eyes. Brown eyes, lighter than Ben's, and filled with more empathy than their enemy could ever express. She stared into them for a moment and felt her pulse scramble.

 

"Are you okay?" he asked, not breaking eye contact.

 

Rey nodded mutely.

 

Poe's brows furrowed as he frowned. He placed one arm on his knee and the other up on the table. "You don't seem like yourself."

 

darkness, sliding down her spine

 

She looked up. Ben stood across from her, on the other side of the table. She could feel the anger rolling off him in waves, but for some reason, he wasn't saying or doing anything. On closer inspection, he really wasn't even looking at her, but through her.

 

Rey rose from her chair, walking around Poe and to the other side of the table. Ben's gaze didn't follow her. What was going on?

 

"Why are you being quiet?" she asked as she circled around him. "Is this some kind of game?"

 

"Is she talking to Kylo Ren?" Finn whispered loudly. Poe gestured for him to quiet as he stared intently in Rey's direction.

 

She heard—… voices… words… They sounded warped, as if they were coming in through a bad connection. She concentrated, head tilting to the side, her eyes narrowing. If she focused just enough…

 

-"…Leaving us unnecessarily open to attack!"-

 

"Who is going to attack us?" Ben replied. He pivoted, and Rey went with him, fascinated. "The Resistance is all but destroyed. They don't have the manpower to even attempt—"

 

-"Do not be so naïve! Until they are crushed entirely, they will be free to—"

 

Ben's hand raised in the air, and he curled his fingers, like he was squeezing something. There was a gurgle and a whimper.

 

"Who is that, Ben?" Rey asked in as strong a voice as she could muster.

 

He didn't answer her, his fingers still Force choking whoever he was pissed at. Rey pushed her thoughts into his and met the equivalent of a brick wall. It seemed he had learned something from last night. But that wasn't enough to keep her out.

 

She focused on what she wanted, which was breaking through his guard. It was even more difficult than the first time they had met. It was like a wall of darkness swirling around him. After a moment, she realized he was using that—darkness—to keep her away. He considered her a Jedi, someone too afraid to tread where darkness dwelled.

 

He had never been more wrong.

 

She took that darkness inside of her. It was cold, so cold, and it embraced her like Ben's arms. Her immediate instinct was to burn it away with light. She suppressed it and kept going, her fingers mentally outstretched. She was so close she could taste it.

 

"No one understands you… Your parents threw you away because you frighten them…"

 

Whose voice was that? Snoke's?

 

"Skywalker will never be able to handle your power… You are stronger than him… He will fear you…"

 

Ben's face twitched, and his eyes focused on hers. Fury burned strong within their depths.

 

"I can show you greatness…"

 

The darkness around her seized, tightened. She was trapped, submersed in this tiny realm, and there was no choice but to keep going forward.

 

"I can let you use your full powers…"

 

Stay out! screamed through her, so sharp it was as if she had actually been cut. The words echoed over and over again.

 

And then she could see through his eyes, deeper than she had ever meant to go.

 

A red-haired man, collapsed on a shiny black floor that looked to be the bridge of a spaceship. Rey didn't recognize him, had no idea who he was. His cheeks were splotched with patches of red, probably from being choked. He stared up at Ben with a mixture of hate and fear.

 

"Yes, Supreme Leader…"

 

Hux, Ben's thoughts whispered.

 

Rey digested that right before she was unceremoniously thrown from his mind. The force of it was enough to knock her physically off her feet. She stared up at him from her new home on the ground.

 

"Rey!" Poe was at her side, dropping to his knees and offering her a hand to hoist her up. She ignored him, focused on Ben's livid face. Her breath was coming fast, adrenaline pumping through her. He still said nothing, and she knew it was because he was in front of his army. He couldn't afford to look like even more of a psychotic, murdering bastard than he already was.

 

You are mine, shot through her mind. If Commander Dameron so much as puts a finger on you, I will—

 

I am not yours! she steamed.

 

Usually, he was the one to pop out. This time, she did.

 

"What happened?" Poe asked. Finn was already kneeling on her other side.

 

"I saw Hux." Rey pushed herself to her feet without assistance. "That was when he kicked me out."

 

"Rey…" Finn gestured to beneath her nose.

 

She touched it, and her fingers came away sticky with blood.

 

"What did you do, exactly?" Poe rose, and Finn scrambled to follow suit. BB-8 gave a low whistle.

 

She scrubbed at her nose furiously. "I got into his head. I saw through his eyes."

 

This statement was met with silence.

 

"I don't think I'll be able to do it again," she went on before they could get any ideas.

 

"What were they discussing?" Poe queried.

 

"I'm not sure. Hux was worried about being open to attack, and B—Kylo Ren said that the Resistance isn't a concern right now."

 

"Boy, does he have another thing coming."

 

"That's the gist of what Hux said."

 

"Rey, I know I asked a short while ago, but are you sure you're all right?" Poe crossed his arms and leaned back against the table.

 

"Of course. Why?"

 

Finn and Poe exchanged another look.

 

"Guys."

 

They looked away.

 

"Guys—what?"

 

Finn coughed something under his breath.

 

Annoyance flared. "Really?"

 

BB-8 rolled forward and let loose a series of chirps.

 

Rey touched her injured hand, which had been wrapped in some gauze from a med kit. "I told you, it was an accident."

 

More chirping and a couple of beeps.

 

She pointed to the side. "I didn't put those marks on my neck, Kylo did!"

 

Beep beep bewoop.

 

Rey touched her nose. "That was from trying to read his thoughts."

 

Vweeee, voooom.

 

"Of course, I'm being careful!"

 

BB-8's head fell back in skepticism.

 

"All right, if we're all done here?" she said hotly. "I believe we were discussing a tunnel."

 

Poe eyed her for a moment, and then nodded. "There could be anything down there. This base hasn't been used in years—obviously—and it's possible any number of dangers found their way into the bunker."

 

Rey's eyebrows lifted. "A bunker?"

 

"Yeah. Meant to withstand an orbital surface bombing. It's pretty deep in the ground."

 

Finn twitched nervously. "So, uh… any kinda idea what's down there, or…?"

 

"None at all."

 

"Oh, great… great," he muttered.

 

"The weapons here checked out, so I can give you a blaster. Will that make you feel any better, Finn?" There was just a hint of amusement to Poe's tone. When Rey smothered a laugh, he gave her a wink.

 

Finn sulked. "Maybe a little…"

 

"We'll be okay," Rey reassured him. "But we should really get going."

 

"You ready, BB-8?" Poe asked.

 

Excited beeps.

 

"All right, then. We'll get the blasters, and then we'll go to the hatch."

 


 

 

It was a hatch outside that was overgrown with vines and flowers—or it had been. The vegetation was piled off to the side, and the rusty hatch was open.

 

"You did all this already?" Rey questioned.

 

Poe grinned. "I don't really sleep all that much, and I didn't want any delays on your trip. The quicker we can get the General and the others here, the better."

 

"Right." Rey tried not to feel nervous herself as she looked at the top of a rusty ladder, which descended into pure darkness and was extremely sketchy.  

 

Finn didn't bother hiding his emotions. "This is gonna suck."

 

"Suck choobies?" Rey asked, trying to make light of the situation. She hated seeing her friend so worried.

 

Poe chuckled. "You guys should get going, then."

 

"I'll go first," Rey volunteered, mostly because Finn looked a bit green. 

 

"I don't like small, dark spaces." He couldn't seem to tear his eyes away from the yawning hole. "I really don't."

 

"Buck up, kid." Poe patted his back. "You've got a Jedi and the best droid in the business."

 

"T-That's true," Finn whispered. He didn't budge an inch.

 

Poe pulled Rey off to the side, out of immediate earshot. He reached into his jacket and produced something small and white. "See this?"

 

She nodded.

 

He jerked his head in Finn's direction. "If he gets woozy or feels faint, or even if he passes out, wave this under his nose. It'll bring him back around."

 

She took it, and they both watched Finn.

 

Poe put his hands on his hips. "He feels claustrophobic at a tunnel, which makes no sense because he's surrounded by space frequently and has no fear of how close he is to dying at any moment, should something go wrong."

 

"Sometimes some things don't make any sense, no matter how hard we try." She shrugged. "At least, that's what I've learned."

 

He eyed her contemplatively, and she tried not to feel self-conscious. "What?"

 

"I knew from the moment I saw you that you were strong."

 

She snorted. "It was the floating rocks. They have that effect."

 

He laughed and drew his fingers through his curls. "When you killed that thing in the jungle, you weren't using floating rocks—which, by the way, is still really impressive—you were fighting for your survival."

 

"Anyone would." She was confused. He was just as strong as she! He didn't have the Force, but he was an ace pilot and knew his way around a blaster.

 

"What I'm saying, Rey…" He sighed. "No matter how tough things get… know you're not alone. Know that you have friends, friends who are gonna be here for you no matter what." He put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed… slowly. "Okay?"

 

She was saved from having to answer when Finn called out to them. "Hey, are we doing this or what?"

 

"We were waiting on you!" Rey laughed. She hesitated for a moment and then looked up into Poe's eyes. They were as open as they always were. He had nothing to hide. "Thank you." She leaned up impulsively and kissed his cheek. Then she went to the hatch opening, stepped onto the ladder, swallowed apprehensively, and began the descent.

 


 

 

"So…" Finn said from above her, the light from the flashlights strapped to his chest bouncing around. "You and Poe, huh?"

 

Rey nearly missed a step, and a shower of rust shifted free. "It's not like that," she said firmly.

 

"Uh huh."

 

She wanted to reply with a heated defense, but she knew that would only work against her. She wasn't interested in love right now. It only created all sorts of problems, problems she didn't have time to deal with or sort through. But she couldn't explain this to Finn—he wouldn't understand.

 

"Kylo Ren, too." He sounded bitter, and this drew her up short. She kept moving so he didn't accidentally step on her head.

 

"I hate Kylo Ren."

 

"Uh huh."

 

Rey rolled her eyes, glad he couldn't see it.

 

She decided to change the topic. She had no idea why he was acting like this. "I think we're about halfway down." At least, she hoped so. This ladder was not exactly steady. It wobbled strongly with every step. "This is so slow going."

 

Vrrrrrppppp

 

They both paused at the robotic noise and looked around. BB-8 chirped at them as he slid down a tether he had latched to the hatch opening.

 

"We are not slowpokes!" Rey protested.

 

"Yeah, look at you, you've got it easy!" Finn chimed in.

 

Beeping.

 

Rey rolled her eyes for the second time in two minutes. Sometimes BB-8 was so impossible. Cute, but not afraid to gloat.

 

Their steps continued to thunk through the narrow tunnel. Finn dislodged more rust, and Rey shrieked as a bit of it met her eyes.

 

He froze on the step above her. "Rey! Are you okay?"

 

"Fine," she sputtered. "Give me a minute."

 

That was when they heard the snoring.

 

Rey looked up as Finn looked down, and it was clear they were both frightened.

 

Even BB-8 went quiet. He continued to descend, however.

 

"What is that?" Finn mouthed in the glare from Rey's flashlights.

 

"No idea!" she mouthed back wildly.

 

Another snore rocked through the tunnel. They kept going down, as they didn't have much of a choice. By the time they reached the bottom, they were plastered against the ladder from the force of the snoring. Rey's heart was pounding. Whatever this was, they could not wake it.

 

Her feet thumped to the bottom of the tunnel as lightly as she could manage. She stepped aside and gestured for Finn to follow suit. Both held their breath as BB-8 finished with his tether and his heavy bulk hit the ground. It wasn't too bad, and they listened, their ears straining.

 

More snoring.

 

What could possibly be so big…? They cautiously moved forward, dimming their flashlights to the lowest setting. BB-8 was unusually quiet and trailed after them rather than pushing ahead.

 

They encountered the creature twenty feet in.

 

With every exhale on a snore, they staggered back a bit from the force of it. It was easy to see why: calling it enormous would be an understatement. Its paw that was outstretched was easily four feet wide. The creature was blocking some branch off the tunnel, curled up on its side.

 

With the little light, Rey determined it was… feline. Its coat was a deep gold, and it was covered in acid green stripes. Two horns curled up under its ears, wicked looking and longer than Rey's arm. Its mouth was partly open, showing equally long fangs.

 

The rest of the tunnel continued unoccupied, with stairs that were going lower and lower, presumably to the bunker portion. Rey didn't know what the feline was blocking, but she didn't care. Nothing they needed was down that way.

 

Why did they have to build this place so big? she thought.

 

She pointed to Finn and then down the tunnel. He nodded to show he understood. Together they tiptoed around the creature, Finn's hand ready to draw his blaster, Rey's hovering over her lightsaber. It stirred, and both froze, but it didn't seem to be waking. They relaxed just a smidgen and crept forward.

 

Its paw twitched.

 

Just a little more…! she thought desperately.

 

It shuddered.

 

So close…!

 

An eye opened, green with a slit pupil.

 

They froze again, as if that would make any bit of difference. And of course, it didn't. The thing pushed itself onto its paws, suddenly very alert.

 

Some protective mode must have possessed Finn because he pushed her behind him and lifted his blaster.

 

"Don't be ridiculous!" Rey hissed.

 

The thing rose—and rose—and rose—

 

"Uh, Rey…"

 

Not knowing what else to do, she brought forth her lightsaber. For a moment, it blazed a brilliant, familiar blue.

 

And then it flickered and died.

 

"Rey… Rey, please tell me your lightsaber didn't just die…"

 

She frantically hit the switch, but the laser wasn't working.

 

"Rey, PLEASE TELL ME YOUR LIGHTSABER DIDN'T JUST DIE!"

 

"It didn't die," she said.

 

And then she ran.

 

Finn followed suit, and BB-8 whizzed after them.

 

Oh, gods, oh, gods, oh, gods, what the hell had happened to her lightsaber?! She had known the crystal looked cracked when she'd done a shoddy repair, but it had been working fine so far… and now, when she really needed it, it was crapping out on her.

 

It just figured! Because when was the last time something went the way she expected it to?!

 

"Uh, Rey—"

 

"Unless you're going to tell me that it changed its mind and decided that we wouldn't make an amazing after-nap meal, I'm going to need you to let me concentrate!"

 

The sound of their footsteps slamming against pavement.

 

"Uh, Rey—"

 

"WHAT?!" she screamed, half-delirious with fear.

 

"WE'VE GOT COMPANY!" he bellowed back.

 

She couldn't look behind her. She couldn't. She just couldn't. "What do you mean?!"

 

"It's got babies! And by babies, I mean, like, five!"

 

R'iia's shorts…!

 

Of course, of course, her link to Ben snapped into existence right at that very moment.

 

"Rey…" he began cautiously.

 

"I REALLY CAN'T TALK RIGHT NOW!" she cried hysterically.

 

"REY, THEY'RE RIGHT BEHIND US!" Finn shouted.

 

"NOT HELPING, FINN!"

 

Rey had never run so hard, or so fast, in her life. The only reason she was even able to continue like this was pure adrenaline. Her life was on the line, more surely than it had ever been, at least in the sense of an immediate threat. And if they didn't find a way to evade these things…

 

"What's happening?" Ben asked sharply, from far away. He clearly wasn't running after her.

 

"REY!" Finn shrieked.

 

Rey attempted to ignite her lightsaber. It made a go at lighting up but ultimately gave up.

 

Excellent.

 

Excellent!

 

Wait… There! An opening in the wall.

 

She seized Finn by the arm and threw him inside with her. Their momentum tripped them up for a moment. They regained traction shortly after and shot off in this new direction. Rey could hear the feline behind her, hissing viciously, too big to shove itself into the smaller tunnel. That didn't prevent her kittens from continuing the chase.

 

Finn was already wheezing behind her. She understood—she had a knot under her ribs that was quickly growing more and more painful. They wouldn't be able to keep up like this much longer.

 

"Choobies!" she shouted.

 

"Rey!" Ben demanded.

 

"There—up there!" Finn cried. "A ladder—can we make it?!"

 

"We're going to try!" she replied.

 

As promised, a ladder awaited them at the end of a large room that spaced off into smaller rooms. This must have been part of the bunker. The ladder looked like it led to a small ledge and then through another door. If they could just make it there, they could get their bearings, and…

 

"CHOOBIES!"

 

"What?!"

 

"BB-8!"

 

There was a great twittering, and then BB-8 barreled past them, faster than they'd ever seen. It looked like he was throwing up a tether, looping it over the top of the ladder, and quickly pulling himself up. Hope surged in Rey's chest. If BB-8 could make it, then surely, they could?

 

Rey hit the ladder first. She flung herself up it, moving as fast as humanly possible. She threw herself over the ledge and rolled through the doorway. Finn followed a moment later, grabbing the inside of the new tunnel and placing a hand over his ribs. He slumped, panting.

 

"Are we safe…?" Rey whispered over the racing of her heartbeat.

 

Finn winced as he straightened, but he looked over the edge. Rey could hear yowls and spitting. Finn withdrew and came to sit next to her.

 

"I think so… but we better move, they look determined."

 

BB-8 beeped agreeably.

 

"I'm just glad we're alive," she moaned around the bubble of pain in her chest. She got up and stumbled forward. She ached all over, mostly from lack of oxygen, but she couldn't rest. Not yet. Not until they were really safe.

 

"REY!" Ben grabbed her by the arms and shook her. "What is happening? What is wrong? Tell me!"

 

She shoved him off her. "I can't do this right now! Okay? Not right now!"

 

Finn groaned as he got to his feet. "Tell Kylo to buzz off."

 

Ben looked murderous. "You're in danger. Let me help you."

 

Rey limped to the exit of the tunnel. She peered around the corner, finding another ladder. "Okay. We climb up that one, and then BB-8 can figure out how to get us out of here."

 

"Rey," Ben pleaded, and that was what made her finally turn around.

 

She'd never seen him look so worried.

 

"I promise I will tell you later," she said before she could think better about it. "There's nothing you can do right now."

 

"There must be something," he insisted.

 

"You can go," she said, and now that the adrenaline was wearing off, exhausted tears touched her eyes. "Please."

 

She expected a blowout, but he vanished. That, or she had shut off the link. She didn't know which. She was too tired to care.

 

Once they were over the new ladder and in another tunnel, they consulted BB-8. He chirped and went to work.

 

"This is odd." Rey plopped down and rested her arms on her knees. "Why would a Rebel bunker base be so… labyrinth-like?"

 

"They coulda built over it," Finn mused.

 

"I guess we can ask Poe if we see him again."

 

"When," Finn corrected.

 

"When," Rey smiled.

 

BB-8 whistled.

 

"There's an exit nearby?" Rey asked in surprise. "That's… lucky."

 

More whistles, and a few beeps.

 

"Right." She sighed and scratched a thumbnail over her eyebrow. "Of course, it is."

 

It was an exit, just not the one they wanted.

 

"How far away is that?" she inquired.

 

Whooo, beepitbeepbeep.

 

"Two miles off course. That's not too bad…"

 

"So long as we don't encounter anything else," Finn replied.

 

"It's all right. We've got blasters for the smaller things." She stood again and held out a hand to him. He grabbed her forearm and pushed himself to his feet. "Better get going, if we're going to make it before dark."

 

"Now you sound like Poe."

 

"Maybe," she agreed. "But the man's right. We don't want to get caught in the jungle once the sun goes down… without my lightsaber."

 

It was an ominous turn of events, and not one she appreciated.

 

"Well, let's be off."

 

Finn nodded, and they followed BB-8 through the maze.

 


 

 

How they managed to make it back to the General without encountering anything else, Rey had no idea. She was, however, eternally grateful… as well as covered in dust and rust. That trip through the rest of the bunker had been long and the detour in the jungle longer.

 

Leia hugged her when she arrived. "Rey," she said warmly. Then she took one look at Finn and walked over to him, cupping his cheeks. "I'm glad you two got back safely. Where's Commander Dameron?"

 

"Decided to promote him again?" Finn joked.

 

She shrugged and waved a hand. "I didn't ever really demote him. His ego just gets the better of him at times."

 

"He's at the other base," Rey said. "That's why we're here. The systems work there!"

 

There were murmurs of disbelief and then whoops of joy.

 

The general touched her chest and closed her eyes in relief. After a moment to compose herself, she turned to their small fleet.

 

"We'll communicate with Commander Dameron, and then we'll plot our next course of action. In the meantime, I want everyone to pack up their things and get ready to leave." She turned to BB-8. "Are you ready?"

 

A few chirps.

 

"I'm just—I'll be back," Rey muttered, dismissing herself and heading to her room. She looked around at everything, caught her scent from how long she'd been staying here. The covers were made, meaning someone had come in here after she'd left.

 

She straightened and looked to her right. Ben stood there, expression stormy, brooding. Concern had his jaw taut, had pulled his mouth into a deepening frown. She came close to him, stopping just before she would be touching him with her body.

 

"You were in danger," he said.

 

"I was," she agreed.

 

"I could have helped you."

 

"That's not your place."

 

"It is my place."

 

"It's not!" she snapped. "I—I can't do this again. You're doing it—you're… you're showing concern, you're insisting we're a team. But I know where that path leads, and I won't do it again."

 

"You can't stop me from caring about you." He lifted his hand to her cheek.

 

She slapped it away. "You're right. I can't. But I also know that I can't handle… you. You're unpredictable. You're cruel one moment, kind the next. I'm not your toy, Ben. I have feelings of my own."

 

He watched her silently.

 

"You do understand that, don't you?"

 

"That you're human? Yes." He searched her eyes. "So am I. Let me in."

 

"No," she said, and she didn't like how tight her throat was growing, or the heat behind her eyes. "I can't."

 

"You can," he insisted. He cupped her face and tilted it up to see him. "Look at me. Look into my eyes."

 

She closed her own. It took a moment before she could speak without her voice cracking. "Stop, Ben."

 

"Rey—"

 

"I'm no one, remember?" When she opened her eyes again, they were dry, and her voice was steady and firm. "I don't belong in this story."

 

"You don't," he insisted. "You belong here, with me."

 

"You're not here, Ben! You're across the galaxy!"

 

"You could be here. You could be here now." It was like the time in Snoke's chamber all over again. There was a fervent, desperate spark to his eyes, a certainty in his voice. So she wasn't surprised when he held out his hand to her. "Rey. Do this."

 

"No, Ben."

 

His desperation threaded to frustration, riding the line of anger. "No—no. You don't understand. You're doing it again. Why do you keep doing this? Be with me. Be with me." He raised his hand higher.

 

She took a step back, and then another. She knew her gaze was as sad as it had been two weeks ago.

 

"Rey—don't."

 

"Can we be together without destroying the past, Ben?"

 

"The past is what is holding us back!"

 

"The past is what is grounding me in the future," she whispered.

 

"Why do you think that?" Somehow, he hadn't completely lost his temper yet. His eyes were determined, as if he thought he was close to convincing her, and she had only to see. "Tell me. Why do you think that?"

 

"If we let go of our past, we forget what's shaped us to be who we are now. My parents may have been paupers buried in a Jakku desert who didn't give a damn about me, it's true. But I am the person I am today because of the pain I went through. There's a difference between forgetting the past and letting go of the past."

 

He stared at her.

 

"In your eyes, your parents abandoned you. Luke tried to kill you in your sleep. Snoke was the only one who you could turn to. But Snoke brought us together. Don't you see?"

 

He didn't answer her.

 

"Without our pasts, we never would have met. We never would have understood each other." She stepped back to him, close enough to take his hand, but she didn't. "We never would have connected. We wouldn't be standing where we are today."

 

His eyes lowered. And she hoped, for just a moment—

 

Then his face hardened. "You're mistaken. We are where we are today because we made this future for ourselves. And we can continue to do so, but to do that, for this to work, we must destroy everything that ever held us back. We'll be free, then."

 

His hand cupped over the back of her neck, and he pulled her into a kiss, one that was rough with the frustration he was feeling. She put her hands on his chest and pushed.

 

"Free for what?" she cried, exasperated.

 

"Free to be together. To fix everything—to bring order back to the galaxy."

 

He was crazy.

 

He was stark, raving mad.

 

She had thought it in Snoke's chambers, and she thought it now.

 

But she knew what she had to do.

 

She knew what people were unknowingly depending on her to do.

 

He held his hand out to her for a third time…

 

"I'll—I'll try," she whispered.

 

And she took his hand in her own.

Chapter Text

Oh, it'll take a little time,

Might take a little crime,

To come undone now,

We'll try to stay blind,

To the hope and fear outside,

Hey, child, stay wilder than the wind

And blow me into cry

-Come Undone, (cover) Carina Round, Aidan Hawken

 

"We have enough fuel to get to Naboo." Poe tapped a screen. "It's close by. We're both on the edge of the Outer Rim. We can make one hyper jump…" He tsked. "It's gonna be tight."

 

"Would it be better to try and contact someone out there?" Rey asked.

 

General Organa shook her head. "As of right now, no. We're too few, and if the First Order finds us, it's all over."

 

Rey's stomach contracted with anxiety. The First Order. Kylo Ren. Ben. The man she'd taken the hand of several days ago. Their enemy.

 

"Naboo's a member of the Intergalatic Senate," Finn pointed out. "It's New Republic, but there could be bounty hunters there."

 

"There could be bounty hunters anywhere," Poe asserted. "That's the world we live in."

 

Rey walked up to the screen, her arms wrapped tightly around herself. It was projected onto the middle of the room, above the meeting table. A star grid swirled, systems and their planets sweeping by. One planet was flashing, indicating that it was Naboo, or so she deduced. It was definitely the closest.

 

…Rey…

 

The touch of Ben's thoughts caressed over hers. Quickly, panicked, she threw up her shields. Had he seen? Had he read her mind and figured out where they were headed?

 

She turned around and nearly slammed into Ben. He really needed to quit doing that.

 

"Your mother is here!" she ground out under her breath. It was the only thing she could think of to make him back off.

 

His eyes moved—landed directly on his mother. Rey swung around to see Leia, before pivoting back to Ben. Could he really see her?

 

Force bond, whispered through her mind. Mother and son.

 

Ben curled his lip and vanished.

 

Rey staggered against the table and braced herself. It was difficult to remain upright. The burden she had taken on was heavy and fraught with easy paths to disaster. She distantly heard Leia dismiss everyone to prepare to leave Solaris.

 

A gentle hand touched her shoulder. "Commander Dameron filled me in a little about what's going on. You're talking to Ben…?"

 

Rey didn't want to do this.

 

I have to. Ben is leaving me with little choice.

 

"Once we get to Naboo, I have to leave."

 

The general was quiet a moment. She gestured for Rey to sit down and then followed suit. "Why?"

 

"To protect you." Rey couldn't bring herself to lift her head. "To protect everyone. There's something I must do… and it will be dangerous for my friends."

 

"Are you going with Ben…?" Leia whispered, in that heartbreaking voice a mother had when she knew she had lost her child.

 

It was hard to speak around the hot lump in her throat. "I can't say."

 

"So you are."

 

Rey pressed her lips together, unable to confirm or deny.

 

The princess reached over and grasped tightly onto her hand. "You think he's still in there? My son?" Pain filled her eyes. Ben was the only family she had left.

 

Her throat so tight she could barely get words out, Rey nodded. "He's… capable of love. That's been true from the beginning, and it hasn't changed."

 

"But the darkness is swallowing it."

 

Rey started to nod—shook her head. She kept her eyes focused on the blinking, promising light of Naboo.

 

Leia's brows lightly furrowed in confusion. "Rey?"

 

"It has, but it hasn't. He wants me by his side. And I… I've got to do what's best for everyone."

 

"He frightens you."

 

Rey turned to the general. "His light is still there, and I plan on bringing it back. But to do that, I have to make it seem like I'm switching sides."

 

Alarm pinched Leia's features. "The dark side."

 

"Maybe. If that's what it takes."

 

"And if you don't come back?"

 

"I will."

 

"What if you don't?"

 

"I will," Rey said more firmly, gripping onto the hands of Ben's mother. "I will bring him back, no matter what."

 

Leia lowered her eyes. "You must be terrified."

 

Allowing herself a nod, Rey squeezed Leia's hands. "I am."

 

General Organa looked up again. Her eyes were blazing fiercely. "You're strong. You're strong with the Force, and you're the only one who can reach Ben. I believe in you."

 

Rey smiled sadly. "Don't believe in me. Believe in Ben."

 


 

 

Keeping her end of the bond locked down was so much more difficult now that her connection with Ben was growing. Rey did her best, although she couldn't pretend she didn't have a migraine. The sensation of needles digging into and behind her eye was plaguing her. There was a high possibility it was Ben trying to smash her walls down.

 

Sheer force of will kept them up. Until she was safely away from the Resistance and her friends, she couldn't afford to let him in. She had no doubt that he would strike all of them down with impunity.

 

A porg waddled over the control board of the Falcon. Chewie fussed at it, but it didn't seem overly concerned. Rey was just glad they had been able to feed the porgs on Solaris and had mostly kept them from exploring the jungle.

 

Poe leaned over her shoulder. "Hit that button—"

 

"It's fine, Poe!" she snapped. This was the other source of her frustration: an antsy Commander Dameron. Having not been in an X-wing for two weeks and a handful of days, he was eager to get in the pilot seat again. The only problem was that neither of the pilots of the Falcon wanted to give up their seat.

 

"If you're coming out of hyperdrive—"

 

Chewie grabbed him by the shoulder and shoved, sending the man tumbling. After that, it was blessedly quiet for a time—but, like clockwork, after ten minutes, Poe was back.

 

"You'll have to angle—"

 

Rey shoved up out of the pilot's seat. She couldn't take his nagging anymore. "Just sit down, Poe!"

 

Entirely unabashed, Poe hastened to take the vacated seat and started toggling the controls. Chewie called after her to come back and to not leave him with Dameron. She gave him a wave.

 

"He's a better pilot than me."

 

Chewie's response said he begged to differ. Since that was obviously untrue, it gave Rey the impression that the wookie didn't care for Poe too much. Rey didn't think that meant a great deal—Chewie didn't care for most anyone.

 

The wookie rose from the co-pilot's seat and left the cockpit with a last annoyed look and rumble thrown at Poe. Rey stared after him and then sank into the co-pilot's seat. She didn't feel comfortable leaving the Falcon to anyone but herself or Chewbacca.

 

Poe barely fluttered an eyelash in her direction. Once he had the controls to his preferred specifications, he leaned back in his seat. "We'll be there soon."

 

"Have you ever been to Naboo?" She collected the porg and pulled the fluffy creature onto her lap. She cupped her hands around its middle, and it settled in contentedly.

 

"A few times." Poe sighed as he got more comfortable. "You know, I saw a list of all the dangerous creatures in a database on Solaris. You, me, and Finn are lucky to be alive."

 

BB-8 twittered.

 

He chuckled at his droid. "Nothing could take you out, buddy."

 

"I felt them when we were in the jungle," Rey said. "But I didn't want anyone to panic, and they were staying away."

 

"Except for that thing in the tunnels."

 

"Or the thing in the jungle."

 

They caught one another's eye and smothered a laugh before it got too loud. It wasn't even funny, really—not to anyone except for them. They were the ones who had had to deal with that hell out there.

 

A thought crossed Rey's mind, that she hadn't ever really… laughed like this with someone before.

 

"I looked up both," Poe was saying. "The reptilian thing was called… I forget, something with a 't'." He waved a hand. "The giant cat was a waulerin. Apparently, they can get up to fifteen feet high."

 

"Fifteen feet high? It was terrifying enough! I'm still not entirely sure how Finn and I escaped. I thought for sure we were going to die."

 

"But you didn't."

 

They watched the glitter of stars and the planet slowing coming into view. Even from this far off, it was a bright, incredible blue. Rey leaned forward in her seat to see it better.

 

Poe caught hold of her hand. She froze, heartrate jumping from nothing to wanting to implode in less than a second. She swallowed and frantically tried to think of some sort of response. This was Poe—Poe Dameron. Handsome Poe, comical Poe, strong and daring Poe.

 

Maybe it was just a platonic gesture?

 

"Rey, look at me."

 

Maybe not.

 

She wetted her lips and then did what he wanted, turning a bit in her seat. The commander's eyes were intent upon her own. She had only ever seen one other person look at her that way, and if he caught Poe doing so, he would undoubtedly murder him.

 

Poe squeezed onto her fingers. She couldn't bring herself to pull away, not yet.

 

"When we get to Naboo… Can we talk?"

 

Rey didn't move.

 

"Okay…" Poe cleared his throat and brought his other hand forward, both now cupping the one he already held in his grip. "I haven't… really done this in a while. Not with—I mean…" He shook his head with a weak laugh at himself and didn't meet her eyes. She didn't think she had ever seen him this way.

 

"Poe—"

 

Suddenly he was looking fiercely at her again. "I like you."

 

She didn't answer him. She didn't know how.

 

"I wanted to make my intentions clear."

 

Yes, he certainly had.

 

"I… why? I'm… I'm no one, I'm nothing."

 

He narrowed his eyes. "Who told you that?"

 

She looked away.

 

"Kylo Ren?" He tilted forward, trying to get her to glance at him again. "Rey, that's the furthest thing from the truth. You know that, don't you?"

 

She didn't.

 

He sighed again, this one a little louder and expelled with greater force. "I can't believe I'm about to do this," he muttered. A second later, he was out of the pilot seat and crouching in front of her, still holding onto her hand. His free hand reached up and cupped her face, turning it toward him. "It's important to me that you know that's not true."

 

"How do you know?" she challenged with no real heat. "You've only known me for three weeks."

 

"And that's long enough," he said. "No one is no one. Everyone is someone."

 

She shook her head. "What does it matter if you like me? You're Poe Dameron. Look at you. You've probably never had any trouble getting a girl. So why me?"

 

He chucked her on her chin. The look in his eyes was so tender, she wanted to cry. "Leia told me what you're planning on doing. Don't do it, Rey. We can find another way."

 

Rey leaned out of his grip.

 

Of course.

 

So this was what that was.

 

Poe must have understood what it meant when her expression closed. "Rey, that's not—"

 

"Poe, I like you," she said firmly. "You're my friend, and I value that more than anything. I don't want that to be ruined. I can't…" She trailed off weakly. "I can't do this right now. Or—or ever."

 

"Or ever?" he echoed.

 

"I can't leave the path I'm on. It's too important. And I won't drag you into it. It wouldn't be fair."

 

He raised a hand. "Hold on. Slow down."

 

"I can't slow down!"

 

"Yes, you can, Rey, you—"

 

She pushed herself out of her chair, and the porg went flying back to the control panel. "I need to go check on Chewie. He has a lot of pride, and he's picky about who pilots this ship."

 

Poe rose with her. "What are you running from?"

 

"Nothing."

 

He gripped her elbow and spun her about. She had about two seconds to digest that he was standing much too close when his mouth came down on hers.

 

That, she thought. I'm running from that.

 

Rey pulled away.

 

"What are you doing?" Poe cried after her in exasperation.

 

"I can't think when people keep—keep… kissing me!" she yelled on her way out of the cockpit.

 

R'iia's shorts, this had never happened to her before, and she was entirely sure she didn't like it.

 


 

 

Naboo was the most beautiful planet she had ever been on. Even coming into the atmosphere after gaining clearance, she stared in an enraptured fashion out the window. Powerful waterfalls gushing over cliffs, rolling hills of wildflowers, water glimmering in the sunlight from lakes and oceans.

 

Now they were in the city of Theed, in the Royal House of Naboo, where Rey got to experience the luster of a palace. They wouldn't be in to see the Queen until tomorrow, but Leia was royalty herself, and they were staying in a guest wing.

 

The windows in the rooms rose from the floor all the way to the high ceilings. When one looked outside, they could see a view of the waterfalls Rey had admired from above. She was left alone in a room big enough to house an entire family, but there was only one bed, large and covered in an elaborate cover and fluffy pillows, a four-poster with a canopy.

 

She longed more than anything to throw herself on top of it. On the other hand, there was an outfit that had been laid out for her, and the equally luxurious bathroom was calling her name. She could finally wear boots that didn't carry remnants of goo from a swamp.

 

The prospect was amazing.

 

Rey left the window and walked to the bed to examine the outfit. Confusion crossed her as she held it up.

 

It didn't have trousers…

 

Was this a dress?

 

Good gods, the amount of skirts under this thing! It was cut so low on the top, with some not quite gaudy jewelry bits…

 

How in seven hells did one battle in one of these?

 

That's the point, Rey. They're meant for ladies.

 

And she was the furthest thing from a lady.

 

Well, she didn't have anything else to wear, and her current outfit had to be cleaned at some point, so she took it with her into the bathroom.

 

An hour later, she remained in the cooling bath water, head tilted back against the edge of the tub. She was so tired… the water had been so hot, sinking into her bones, working away the tension…

 

…Rey…

 

She shot up in the tub, sealing away her thoughts. Her heart pounded. That had been close. She half-expected Ben to appear, anyway, but her shields must have been holding.

 

Shaken, she climbed out of the tub and used a very soft towel to dry off with. She dressed on auto, pulling the garment on over her head and letting it settle before she twitched the fabric so that it would lie right. Once everything felt in place, she looked up to the mirror to see the result and gasped just a little.

 

The gown was a pale lavender, the neckline dropping low but beaded in pearls, pulled tight at her waist. From there it flared out in a spray of tulle. Her back was completely bare, and she didn't altogether like the sensation of cool air against it.

 

She went back to her room and the vanity near the window. Delicate combs and brushes topped its surface, along with ribbons, headbands, and pins. She sat and looked at her hair, which she had left dry, before pulling it out of the bun piled atop her head. She wasn't sure what to do. She knew how to knot her hair into a few pieces along the back of her head, and she could pull it back off her face like she'd mostly been wearing for weeks, but…

 

A very old memory surfaced, so faded she could barely recall it. Her mother, running her fingers through Rey's hair, pulling it into a braid.

 

Rey's trembling fingers touched a comb.

 


 

 

Dinner was an affair she would probably never forget.

 

The table was very long, stretching across the formal dining room, seating a few dozen guests. Golden cutlery, dishes, and goblets lined the table and seat settings. Candles rested here and there, and with the low light, they gave a peaceful ambiance.

 

Rey stayed back a little as people filed into the room, all dressed even more richly than she was. They were conversing amongst themselves, and she got the sense they worked together. She wasn't sure where she was wanted…

 

General Organa caught her eye and gestured.

 

Feeling less intimidated, Rey crossed the room, skirts swishing around her legs, the slippers on her feet light and airy. She didn't like how confining gowns were, but for tonight, it wasn't so terrible.

 

Leia touched her hair briefly. "You braided it. It's lovely."

 

"Thanks," Rey said a little nervously. "You look very nice, too." She hadn't ever seen the princess in a dress before.

 

"I think we can both agree trousers are better," Leia chuckled.

 

"Definitely more practical," Rey returned.

 

The general pointed down the table to Poe, who was with Rose, Finn, and the rest of the group, BB-8 absent. "Do you see Commander Dameron? He has no idea what to do with a tie."

 

Heart speeding a little, Rey followed the direction of her finger. Sure enough, Poe was tugging at the tie at his neck and the stiff collar. Rose elbowed him and presumably told him to stop fidgeting.

 

"Maybe it's not nice of me to say, but seeing them out of their element is really entertaining."

 

Now Rey laughed. Inwardly, her confusion was mounting. Why was she here, with the princess, and the others were at the end of the table? Included, but separate.

 

"You look beautiful."

 

That low, deep voice brought Rey's head around. Ben was across the table.

 

Thanks, she thought at him. How had he managed to get in past her defenses?

 

"You're avoiding me."

 

I'm not.

 

"You are."

 

I'm getting my affairs in order.

 

"You're protecting them."

 

I can't do this now.

 

"You took my hand. You said you'd try."

 

And I will.

 

"This isn't trying. This is running away. This is hiding from me."

 

"The Queen is about to enter," Leia said. "They change monarchy based on elections."

 

"Elections?"

 

"Yes. They're chosen from the Naboo Senate. They're usually young."

 

"Why?"

 

"The Naboo feel that a young leader gives the air of innocent wisdom."

 

Rey used all her energy to pull the Force through her. Ben was forced away, and her migraine was back in full swing. She gripped onto the back of her seat and swallowed a groan of pain.

 

She really hoped he hadn't heard Leia, because if he had, he now knew where they were.

 

"Rey?" The general's voice was filled with concern.

 

"I'm fine," she muttered.

 

Before Leia could question her further, everyone's attention was drawn to the door. A hush fell over the room, and people bowed. Rey did so, as well, albeit a little late.

 

The Queen was almost ethereal in her beauty, and now Rey understood what the princess had meant about an air of innocent wisdom. She appeared to float across the floor to them. Her face was covered in white paint, and a streak of red sat on the middle of her lower lip, with two red dots on her cheeks. Her headdress looked heavy, silver to match her silver gown, and was threaded through with black.

 

Once she had reached the table, the first sign of emotion touched her face as she smiled at Leia. Then she looked up and down the table before nodding and allowing her seat to be pulled out. She sat, and everyone took their cue to sit with her.

 

"It's been too long, Princess Leia," the Queen said demurely.

 

"I agree. We've been very busy with the Resistance."

 

Their voices faded into murmurs.

 

All Rey could think about was how much her head hurt, and how much she was praying that Ben didn't know where she was, not yet. She wasn't ready.

 

But would she ever be?

 


 

 

Rey collapsed onto her bed and groaned as she sunk into the featherdown mattress. She kicked off her slippers, pulled a pillow to her, and buried her face in it.

 

That had essentially been the longest night of her life.

 

Course after course of food. Towering dishes of desserts. Some sort of fizzy, alcoholic drink that everyone kept toasting with. Toasting to what, Rey didn't know. Her migraine was worsening with every passing moment. She was far more certain now that Ben was trying to push the connection to happen.

 

Her lashes drooped heavily. So much of that beverage had been pushed on her…

 

Poe had watched her, once, briefly, from his end of the table. She had watched in return, but he was the first to look away. She knew she'd hurt him…

 

Why had Leia had her at her side…?

 

She was so tired…

 

So tired… a little drunk…

 

Too tired to think…

 

A warm arm curled around her waist. She mumbled sleepily as kisses were pressed into her hair. Knees tucked up under hers, and a bicep slid under her cheek to cradle it.

 

"Can I hold you like this?"

 

She nodded, her eyes closing.

 

"Rey…?"

 

She hummed.

 

"Did you lie to me?"

 

She shook her head.

 

"I won't wait forever."

 

"Forever for what…?" she murmured drowsily.

 

"You took my hand. You're mine."

 

"I know…"

 

"Do you?"

 

"Yes…"

 

"Rey?"

 

"Mmm…?"

 

Ben's lips grazed her ear. "Take this…"

 

safety, security, possession

 

The feelings sank through her, slowly but surely, as though tied to small stones.

 

safety… security… possession…

 

Something passed through her heart. It made it quicken.

 

possession…

 

She felt her cheeks flush, her skin tightening with heat.

 

safety…

 

Rey was on her back. She wasn't sure how she got there. Ben was above her, his hair falling around his face, his eyes bright, almost feverish. She licked her lips, her mouth growing dry. Her thighs were spread, her skirts rucked up around her hips.

 

security…

 

He kissed the inside of her thigh, his eyes closing.

 

possession…

 

Her fingers threaded through his hair without question. He drew his lips down tender flesh, over the crease of her hip, and mouthed her through her panties. She groaned in want and tightened her grip on him, hips arching up for more.

 

possession, possession, possession

 

"Are you mine?"

 

"Yesss…" she sighed.

 

possession…

 

She could feel it seesawing through her, over and over, slow and soft, until it wound up her thoughts, until it had sunk as far as it could go, deep inside of her. Before she knew it, she was trapped—and she didn't care.

 

She was hungry, insatiable.

 

She needed him.

 

He yanked her panties down to her knees. He held her gaze for a moment as he lowered his mouth to the center of her. His tongue licked a hot line between her folds, up to her clit, where he gave an experimental suckle. She bucked, biting into her wrist to stifle a cry.

 

Ben grabbed it and ripped it from her mouth. "No. I want to hear you."

 

Rey gazed down at him helplessly, hopefully.

 

His tongue dipped inside of her. She moaned wantonly, settling her thighs around his head. He gripped them as his mouth explored her. His tongue was everywhere at once, but when it flicked around her clit and she arched off the bed, he attacked it ruthlessly, relentlessly. He didn't stop until heat flooded her, and her first orgasm was wrung from her, so powerful that was she was still seeing stars.

 

Ben kissed his way back up her body. He settled between her legs and nuzzled his mouth against hers. She could taste herself, but she found she didn't mind.

 

"You're going to tell me where you are," he murmured.

 

"I'm going to tell you where I am," she echoed.

 

"You're going to forget this and wake up thinking you didn't dream."

 

"I'm going to…"

 

Everything went black.

Chapter Text

 

Knock, knock.

 

Knock, knock, knock.

 

Rey's eyes cracked open.

 

Oh, blast, bad idea, bad idea, bad idea.

 

She pulled a pillow over her head. Her head, which was pounding much worse than it had been last night. The needles sensation had transformed admirably into a tactical axe, and it was relentless in its pursuit to take out her eye.

 

"Choobies," she groaned.  

 

Her bedroom door opened, and a sweet, respectful voice called out. "Miss? I've brought you some clothes."

 

Clothes?

 

"Pants?"

 

"I… what?"

 

"Pants," Rey repeated with emphasis.

 

"No, ma'am… it's… it's a dress, ma'am."

 

Blast.

 

"Okay." No matter how many times she cleared her throat, her voice stayed raspy. She sounded like some sort of kraken. It was terribly unflattering.

 

"I'll just put them right here," the maid said politely. "Princess Organa asked you to join her for breakfast. Will you be going?"

 

Rey nudged her pillow off her face. "Breakfast?"

 

"Yes, ma'am."

 

Food! It sounded both amazing, and… not amazing at the same time. How was it possible to be sick to your stomach and still hungry?

 

She lifted her aching head hopefully. "I'll be there," she said, her voice cracking in several places.

 

"Yes, ma'am."

 


 

 

Urgh… Another dress.

 

Rey wrinkled her nose. She was going to have to specifically ask for something more practical, wasn't she?

 

This one was a very pale red, not quite pink. After a refreshing bath, she changed into it and went to the mirror. The neckline was higher than the other, a band of gold closing around her neck. Fabric billowed out to her ankles. Her back was bare again, down to the base of her spine. Golden sandals completed the ensemble, strappy ones that climbed up her legs.

 

Rey chewed on her lip. She smoothed her hands down her front. While the cloth was light, it still managed to cling to her and accentuate curves she didn't know she had.

 

She didn't feel like herself when she saw her reflection.

 

She turned to see herself from her profile, blushing when she glimpsed the barest hint of the side of her breast. Was this really what ladies liked to wear…?

 

Rey pulled her freshly washed and dried hair off her face. She wove a braid sideways along the top of her head. It took several tries—she hadn't done these braided styles in years. Her hair was too short to do a full crown, so she tied the rest of it into a nice bun.

 

A sigh left her as she examined the result. This was so frustrating. She'd never been someone who worried about what she looked like. Scavenging in a desert had that effect.

 

"You look beautiful."

 

Rey flushed and headed to breakfast, Ben's words heavy in her heart.

 


 

 

She was halfway to the dining room when she ran into Poe.

 

She slowed to a stop as he pushed away from the wall he was lounging against and offered her his arm. His usual roguish attire was dimmed somewhat. She wasn't the only one who had had a wardrobe change.

 

A dark gray shirt with a black coat over it, supple leather. It didn't button or zip, the lapels open and long. Form-fitting black pants tucked into equally black boots with buckles. The only source of color was beneath his lapel and collar, a shade of white.

 

When she didn't take his arm, he tilted his head. "I came to escort you to breakfast."

 

"I know how to get there."

 

"To the royal pavilion?"

 

That… she did not.

 

"I won't bite, Rey."

 

He was right—she was being silly. She took his elbow and off they went.

 

Maybe talking would make it less awkward. "You clean up well."

 

Poe grinned. "Better than that tie I was forced to wear last night."

 

"Where do you think they get these clothes?"

 

The commander shrugged. "No idea." Several steps later, he segued, "You look beautiful, by the way. And you did last night, too."

 

A blush ran across her cheeks and the bridge of her nose. She wasn't sure how to handle the compliments she'd been receiving. "Poe…"

 

He took her hand and tugged her down a lesser-used corridor. "I need to talk to you."

 

She wasn't sure—no, she was certain this wasn't a great idea. "I don't think we should."

 

He moved in, and she found the wall at her back, cool against her skin. She had no choice but to tilt her head up. He placed a hand to the side of her head, lowering his own head to her. This close she could see a freckle in his eye, and a darker band of brown around the pupil. It wasn't something she had wanted to know, but now wouldn't be able to forget.

 

"Poe," she whispered. "I can't do this. Please don't… please don't do this." How many times had she said that this month? It was depressing. The men in her life kept pushing and pushing, and eventually she was going to break, was going to crumble to pieces.

 

His thumb ran over her chin. "Give me one good reason why not." A smile quirked the corner of his mouth, like he was certain she wouldn't be able to think of anything.

 

"I can't… get involved, Poe. It's not that I don't want to—"

 

That smile grew a lot more confident, maybe even somewhat cocky. "You don't want to not get involved?" He waggled an eyebrow to make her laugh, and it worked, a giggle slipping free from her.

 

It faded as he kissed her.

 

possession

 

Her hands found his chest and shoved.

 

The pilot stumbled back, his eyes wide in surprise and hurt. As he was recovering, Rey stared down at her hands. They had just betrayed her somehow. There'd been an odd moment of… of wrongness, like she was doing something she wasn't supposed to. That was absurd. Poe kissing her didn't bring her to the point of near violence.

 

"If you don't want to kiss me, you can say so. I'm a big boy. I can take it."

 

"Poe, no, it's not that—"

 

"Then what is it?"

 

Her mouth worked, no sound coming free. How in seven hells was she supposed to explain what had happened when she didn't understand herself? Anything she could think of just sounded… crazy.

 

"I don't know!" she blurted.

 

"How do you not—?"  He placed a hand on his hip and closed his eyes. It was several moments before he spoke again. "You're right." He looked at her, and he was a different person, closed off, a world away. "We shouldn't do this."

 

He walked off, leaving her standing there, surprised and hurt herself.

 


 

 

It bothered her. It bothered her that Poe was upset with her, far more than she could have ever imagined. It was mostly because he was her friend, and she'd never had friends until Finn, and she cherished each of them as if they were her family… because they were her family.

 

She was not proud of herself for her behavior. Poe had done nothing to deserve it. Yes, she hadn't particularly wanted to be kissed… but it wasn't because she didn't like him or didn't feel anything. It was because things were growing too confusing.

 

The pavilion overlooked one of the wildflower fields. Rey sat in a chair near the balcony and watched the wind slide through the flowers with abandon, tugging them every which way. The first time she had ever seen flowers, she hadn't known what they were. Now that she did, she appreciated them at every opportunity. Jakku was a wasteland she no longer wanted to return to.

 

There was nothing for her there.

 

She looked at the waterfalls, and she wanted to throw herself into them, to be dragged to the bottom of the lake, to… something. She didn't know. Escape? It was all she had prayed for her entire life—escaping, once she was reunited with her parents. She had thought that once she left Jakku, she would never feel that desperate again, that she would have the entire galaxy to explore. Now she knew how wrong she was.

 

She'd wanted to be proud of her actions. She'd wanted to find her place. She'd wanted someone to show her the way. Luke had tried. Now he was gone.

 

Behind her, her friends sat at a table with Leia and the queen, while members of the palace staff catered to the company and made sure things ran smoothly. One of them offered Rey a glass with orange liquid in it, and she declined. She'd wanted so badly to eat, but now she couldn't stomach the thought of it, and it wasn't just the hangover.

 

Was she a terrible person? Was she leading Poe on? If she was, she had no intention to.

 

Her thoughts trailed away as something unfurled inside of her. It was warm and promising, and it wanted her attention. Her eyes flitted to the field. Something was out there… something close, yet far.

 

Rey rose from her seat.

 

"Rey, I'm sorry." The apology from Poe was abrupt, and it took her a moment to focus on him. It was hard. That feeling… It needed her. "I'm acting like an ass."

 

"What?" She looked at him, for a moment distracted from the call. "No! No, you aren't. I behaved horribly. I'm really sorry. Really, I am." She took his hands. "You're my friend, and I value that so much. More than you can know."

 

He squeezed her hands and released them. "I'm…" Poe leaned a hip against the balcony and let his own gaze wander to the flowers. "I'm not used to, ah… being turned down."

 

"Really, Poe, it's all right."

 

possession

 

"I'll back off," he promised.

 

She wanted to tell him not to—knew how foolish that would be.

 

safety

 

It was like being drunk again. Foreign feelings roamed through her as if they owned her, and she thought that maybe they did.

 

security

 

"I've… I've got to go." She staggered away, past the princess, past her friends, past the queen, past the staff. She heard a few questioning shouts behind her but kept going. There was something out there in the wildflowers. It was pulling her, calling her. If she didn't inspect it, she would go mad.

 

Rey picked up the skirts of her dress and all but ran off the pavilion.

 

The call was leading her away, away from the palace. She knew to be wary, but she couldn't stop herself. It had hooked itself behind her navel and was tugging her along. She made her way back outside, moving instinctively. There was a long bridge connecting to the fields, and she strode over it without once looking back.

 


 

 

Weeds, grass, and wildflowers rustled against her legs.

 

She turned. She'd been walking for so long. The palace was in the distance, the pavilion facing a different direction. The sun was hot on her back, and perspiration coated her skin in places. She swallowed, her mouth dry. Her feet ached, trapped in sandals as they were. Not exactly proper shoes for a journey.

 

The waterfalls roared at her back. Flowers tickled her palm, and she idly ran her hand through them. The tug was gone, and she wasn't entirely sure what to do next. Why was she here? If she went back, would it be for nothing?

 

Rey closed her eyes and concentrated.

 

The sunlight touching flowers, creating growth, giving way to death and growth again—the water, pure and powerful, pulling its weight—the wind, soft against her skin—fuzzy creatures playing in the grass, hiding, hiding…

 

It was so peaceful here.

 

She was about to sit down to enjoy her surroundings when she heard him:

 

"You followed my orders perfectly."

 

She spun, and she had only a moment to look up into Ben's face and know that this was real, that he wasn't just there through the bond.

 

"I told you I can take whatever I want."

 

His hand waved, and like that time on Takodana, she fell into a deep sleep. The last thing she remembered was the feeling of his arms catching her and holding her close.

 


 

 

Rey woke up with her fist swinging and had the satisfaction of feeling it collide with flesh.

 

She pushed herself upright and found Ben tenderly touching his cheek. Blood was a mark on the corner of his mouth. To his credit, he hadn't made a sound when she punched him.

 

"What in hells did you do?!" Rey yelled. "Where are we?!"

 

He stepped toward the bed—she started crawling backward, kicking off the sheets around her legs. She stumbled over the other side of the bed, and from there she backed up until she was against a wall. She was shaking—she was terrified. The last time he had physically been in the same room with her had been in Snoke's chambers.

 

They hadn't parted well.

 

"How did you find me?" She couldn't stop the tremor in her voice.

 

"You told me." His hand dropped from his face.

 

"That's a lie!" she spat.

 

"Is it?"

 

She flinched when he waved his hand again… but she didn't fall asleep. No, instead she…

 

The events from the night before, the events he'd stolen from her, came rushing back. There were so many sensations and thoughts and feelings at the same time that Rey was immobilized. Having memories rammed back into her, forcing her to process them at the speed of the delivery was, for a moment, threatening to drive her insane.

 

Everything clicked properly into place.

 

"I'm going to kill you," she whispered. Her hand instinctively went for her lightsaber, which was no longer there. All she had was this pretty dress. Fine. She would find another way. Like with her bare hands.

 

She lunged at him across the bed, and they fell in a tangle to the floor.

 

He caught one fist, then the other. She pushed, straining, but he was too strong. She plucked at the Force, only to be met with a Force shield on his end. No matter how hard she shoved at it, it wouldn't relent. The nearest object was a lamp, and she went to smash it over his head. He blocked it with his arm and waved his other hand. She flew up and back, slamming into the wall above the bed.

 

Rey pushed with the Force, honing it in one direction. A vase behind him crashed into the back of his head. He grunted, stumbling, and she slid down from the wall. She ran at him, and he caught her at her midriff and threw her over his shoulder, arm tight over her legs. She got a foot free and kicked his stomach as hard as she could. He dropped her, and as she fell, she threw out her hand.

 

His lightsaber pulled itself from his belt and flew across the room. Crimson sparks hit the air as she tried to ignite it on the way. Before it got there, she found herself pinned to the ground, her fists on either side of her head as she glared up at him. She struggled as hard as she could against his grip. Without weapons and only a basic understanding of channeling the Force, she was a spider caught in his web.

 

Ben rose to one knee, a hand on his stomach. He winced as he straightened into an upright position. "Stop."

 

"I will never forgive you!" she snarled. "Never!"

 

How could she? He was a monster! She'd always known it, but now it was worse. He'd violated her.

 

His face changed from mildly annoyed to raging anger, the sort that made people run from him whenever he was in a snit. "You lied to me!" he bellowed.

 

"I didn't lie to you! I was getting my affairs in order, just like I said! You couldn't be patient!"

 

"You told me you would try! You took my hand, and you told me you would try! Then you vanished—for three days!" The very walls trembled from his wrath, not powerful enough to be alarming just yet but concerning all the same. "You are intent on keeping me out. That's a betrayal. I won't allow it."

 

"I'm not keeping you out, I'm protecting my friends!" How hard was this for him to understand?!

 

"It's all the same in the end, scavenger," he said coldly, a stark contrast to the might of his temper.

 

Scavenger? They were back to that?

 

"DON'T MAKE ME HATE YOU!"

 

He yelled and strode forward, igniting his lightsaber in a flare of scarlet. "DON'T MAKE ME THE ENEMY!" He was holding onto his weapon hard enough that she could hear the metal of its pommel creak.

 

"YOU ARE THE ENEMY!"

 

Ben gestured. His lightsaber hummed as he held her off the ground, her toes not quite able to touch it. He was shaking all over. She jutted her chin out in defiance. Without a lightsaber, she didn't want to provoke him any further. She'd have to wait until his guards were down to steal his.

 

Breathing heavily, he closed his eyes and disarmed the lightsaber. When he spoke, his voice was a near croak from how forcefully he'd yelled. "Don't do this."

 

"You brought it on yourself!" Tears touched her eyes. "You manipulated me when I was vulnerable!"

 

All the rage he'd been trying to rein in was unleashed. "YOU LIED TO ME!" The entire room shook harder, and what sounded like baubles crashed to the floor, ruined. The lamp she'd grabbed was thrown at a wall. Glass rained down.

 

Both glared at each other, a battle of wills with no one to back down.

 

"Don't believe in me. Believe in Ben."

 

Like a splash of cold water, Rey remembered her purpose.

 

Save Ben.

 

"Are you sorry?" She couldn't keep her voice steady. She was still in fight mode.

 

His eyes flashed in disbelief. "I will not—" He halted. Did he understand the olive branch she was offering? She watched the anger drain out of him. "…I'm sorry." He looked at her expectantly.

 

Rey gave a stiff nod. "So am I." Apologizing to him was a low blow and one that was difficult to swallow. She hadn't done anything wrong.

 

She was lowered gently to the floor. His hand rose as if he wanted to touch her—dropped.

 

Rey looked around for the first time, pretending she hadn't noticed. Was this a cottage?

 

"Where are we?"

 

His answer completely threw her.

 

"My home."  

Chapter Text

 

Rey touched her fingertips to glass. She was standing at an octagon-shaped window and watching the lives of a cozy little village down the hill below. Fishermen were making nets, women moved through a small market and exchanged goods. There weren't any bounty hunters, or pirates, or even scoundrels. It was a place straight out of a fairy tale.

 

This was so surreal. Didn't Ben live on one of those First Order battleships, since Starkiller Base had been destroyed? It was difficult to imagine him carrying out a tidy life in a seaside village, no matter how pretty and peaceful it was.

 

She rested her forehead against the windowpane. White birds called out to one another, circling down at the docks. What looked like a temple sat on another hill, taller than this one, on the horizon. Men with bald heads and blue robes were bowing to one another at the bottom of an impressive flight of stairs. She wondered what religion they followed.

 

Rey had never understood religion, nor believed in it, until the day Ben had interrogated her. She'd felt it rise from within, awakening. It had turned the tables—it had protected her. The Force was in everything and everyone, whether they knew it or not.

 

She turned away from the window and examined the room she was in. It appeared to be a living room. The wall to her left was covered by bookshelves, stuffed full of actual texts. She came closer, expecting something along the lines of "Patricide: The Need to Know Guide," or, "How to Slaughter Jedi: The Pocket Companion." Or maybe even, "Need to Figure Out the Right Type of Brooding? Look No Further!" and "How to Tame Your Inner Man-Child."

 

Where did one even start when exploring the shelves? Her gaze fell naturally to the middle and landed on a title etched in silver. Sea Flora and Fauna of Naboo.

 

Is this where his home was? They hadn't left the planet?

 

She ran her finger over the spine of the book and pulled it free. The pages were well-worn and coming loose in places. They were covered with diagrams and sketches of exactly what their title promised. The thing that most stood out to her was the fact that plants and flowers that matched their depicted counterparts were pressed between the pages.

 

She touched her fingertip to a dried flower that might have been a bright orange at some point. A brittle petal broke off and floated away.

 

Rey slapped the book shut and thrust it back into its spot. She inspected her hand as a fine tremor rocked through it. She clenched her fingers together to make it stop.

 

She couldn't… understand this. Everything in this room spoke of a softer Ben, and that image did not meet the one in her head. Still, it couldn't be a ploy… All evidence pointed to him having had this place for some time.

 

A glimmer caught her eye. She knelt and lifted a broken figurine of some creature she didn't recognize. The two pieces tumbled onto her palm.

 

Rey jerked as the world rapidly dissolved around her. She had only seen this happen once before, with Luke's lightsaber on Takodana, and she now knew what that meant. She waited for the memories to assail her as her pulse quickened in both anticipation and dread.

 

A room came into shape, bleeding out across the floor and the walls. There was a plush carpet, a low sitting table, and paperwork was strewn across it. Voices echoed, and there were the glimpses of other flickering memories she couldn't make out.

 

"I just don't know what to do," Leia confessed. She was not seen, only heard. "The boy… he was thrown so hard… He hit that tree, and his spine…"

 

A small child, around the age of six, sitting by a door, rolling a figurine over and over between his fingers. 

 

Bulabird.

 

He had a mop of wavy black hair, and Rey's heart seized in recognition. Ben! These were Ben's memories!

 

"Should we send him to Luke?"

 

"He was just protecting himself! He… He's our child, Han. He's just… strong."

 

"Leia, we might not have any other choice!"

 

I can hear you, echoed so strongly around her that it was like a yell. It wasn't young, but older, as if Ben had reflected on it. It bounced off every surface, and she could feel the pain in it, the hopelessness. I can hear you!

 

Chewie's familiar rumble sounded. She twisted in that direction, the child Ben dissipating in smoke, the room following. The Falcon formed beneath her feet. The wookie was holding onto his bowcaster and demonstrating how to use it to a slightly older Ben Solo.

 

The boy took the weapon with tentative hands and pulled it to his face so he could sight his target. He looked up at Chewie for approval. The wookie ran a hand over Ben's head, tousling his hair. A soft, lonely smile touched the boy's mouth, and he hugged Chewbacca tightly.

 

"You're my only friend."

 

The Falcon was gone. A grassy knoll stretched out beneath a blanket of stars.

 

Chewie held Ben on his shoulders, and the boy was pointing out other planets and the systems that contained them.

 

A table holding a cake ripped through the image, and Ben sat in a chair, his chin resting atop his folded arms.

 

"They're not coming, are they?"

 

Chewbacca gave a soft roar.

 

The cake rose and flew across the room to splatter against a wall. Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting slid down in goops, the mangled words of "…irth… en… 16…" legible for just a moment before it formed a pile on the floor.

 

Chewie roared again as the room spun away into another, blending into a Ben in his late teens. He was breathing hard, in one of his rages, and every object in the room that wasn't tied down was rising. A younger Leia and Han looked on in a sort of horror they couldn't completely hide.

 

"YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND! YOU NEVER UNDERSTAND!"

 

The broken figurine pieces dropped out of her hands, and Ben's living room came back into focus. She staggered, falling, hitting the ground hard. The memories she relived always felt like they were hers. It was difficult to separate them from her own reality.

 

I can hear you, whispered through her thoughts.

 

You're my only friend.

 

"What are you doing?"

 

"I…" Rey's throat worked as she swallowed. The shroud of that experience was lingering over her. Words came to her, made her rise from her prone position. "You… You broke a lot of things. Before."

 

Should she tell him about what had really happened? Was it normal for Force-users to get memories off objects? She had no one to ask. But how would he handle the fact that it was his memories she had seen? He was an incredibly private person, holding onto any vestiges of pain.

 

Her thoughts drifted as she got a good look at what he was wearing.

 

A black shirt clung to his chest. Over this was a dark gray, soft looking sort of vest that didn't have any closures. It came over his shoulders, the fabric going down to midthigh. It bunched up under itself on either side, forming lapels. It had a hood on it, and the hem was lined with pockets. His trousers were a matching dark gray, and his boots were black, lacing up all the way to the top of his calves.

 

Even his hair was different, pulled back with a tie.

 

Heat flooded her cheeks. She couldn't tear her eyes away. If he noticed, he made no comment on it. He came closer and took the figurine pieces from her.

 

"Don't. Don't snoop."

 

That hit her ear wrong, and Rey narrowed her eyes. "Don't snoop because you don't want me to find anything, or don't snoop because—?"

 

"Just don't snoop!" He pocketed the pieces.

 

She was definitely not going to tell him about the memories.

 

"I'm trapped in this cottage. Do you honestly expect me not to look around?"

 

"Fine," he half-growled. "Look, but don't touch."

 

"So—you don't want me to touch you?" she asked just to irritate him. She hadn't forgiven him yet, and needling him was second nature. They had spent a great deal of time hating one another. The situation hadn't improved too much since then.

 

Yet…

 

Being in front of him, in person, in the same room, seeing everything he saw—she'd almost forgotten what it was like. He was here. He was real. Being mad at him didn't take that away.

 

She was digesting that as Ben put his hands on either side of her face and tilted her head up so he could kiss her.

 

Oh—

 

That was—

 

"Different," he murmured.

 

Eyes slightly wide, vocal chords tied up to uselessness, she nodded.

 

He rubbed his thumbs over her cheekbones. "But better."

 

Another dip of her head.

 

Ben lowered his forehead to hers. Her lashes fluttered shut as he drew near. She needed to do something… but what? What could she really do? She'd taken his hand—she'd promised him she'd try, even if she had no intention of ruling the galaxy. Reacting poorly wasn't very strategic.

 

"I've never had this," he whispered.

 

Rey's heart started banging around in her chest like a skittermouse.

 

"Don't be afraid…" If she hadn't been standing this close to him, she never would have heard the words.

 

Her hand lifted—hesitated—dropped.

 

She could do it… if she wanted. Touch him. Really touch him.

 

Ben's large hand covered hers and brought it to his chest. His heart beat firm and steady against her palm, the exact opposite of hers.

 

"I have one," he said. "A heart."

 

"Ben—"

 

"It's difficult to believe, I know."

 

She didn't know what to say. She wanted to—wanted to say something. She just…

 

She was still so angry at him.

 

"I know why you're here, Rey."

 

Wait—

 

"You think you can still save me."

 

How—?

 

"But I don't want to be saved."

 

As she went to draw away, his arms closed around her like bands of steel.

 

"I've thought about it, though," he continued. He pressed her head to his chest as she struggled. How was he so ridiculously strong? "And I've decided that I'll let you try."

 

Confusion rocked through her all over again. Her struggles ceased. She could hear herself breathing from the way her ear was pressed against him.

 

Ben swayed in a slight rocking motion, a hand stroking her hair. He took out the tie that was in it and tangled his fingers through it. Tingles shot down her spine, the prickles against her scalp stealing her breath. She hadn't known it was so sensitive.

 

"What's the catch?" she breathed.

 

"You have to try the darkness."

 


 

 

The wind coming off the sea whipped her hair all around her face and her dress against her legs. She stood over a tall cliff face and watched the waves crash into the rocks far below. A length of a spine disappeared beneath the white foam, some sea creature that was likely dangerous.

 

She'd run out here to get air, and Ben hadn't followed her. She was glad. She could barely look at him, let alone think in the same room as him.

 

Especially when that room was electric…

 

The wind dried her tears. She hated that she was crying. She didn't want to show him such a weakness. She didn't want to give him anything else about herself, little pieces he was chipping away at.

 

"You have to try the darkness."

 

Rey supposed she should have seen this coming. She'd told his mother on Solaris that she would have to skirt the dark side. She just hadn't been prepared for something of this magnitude. She was so far out of her depth. So very, very far. There was a difference between pretending to be on the dark side and actually being on it.

 

You could kill him, logic reminded her.

 

Rey thought about the beat of his heart beneath her hand.

 

She thought about Leia, nearly defeated in her hope of Ben ever returning.

 

If she couldn't murder him, then she had very little choice. And… she could do this without tipping too far into the darkness. She knew she had enough light in her to keep her on the right path. She was just psyching herself out. She'd been unprepared. That was all.

 

Calmer inside, Rey walked away from the cliff. This was still so strange. It was in this place that Ben seemed more… human. It was almost wrong—and at the same time, intriguing.

 

"Are we still on Naboo?" she asked as she walked through the front door of the cottage. She knew they were, but it never hurt to make certain.

 

Ben was leaning against the far wall, his arms folded across his chest, his gaze on the window. He looked remarkably… patient.

 

It was unnerving enough to put her off her game entirely. A raging Kylo Ren was terrifying, but a calm one was deadly.

 

His dark eyes were completely unreadable. Why? Was he trying to hide himself from her? Too late. She was here. They were bonded through the Force. There wasn't anywhere to run! She knew. She'd tried.

 

"Yes," he answered. He eyed her for a moment longer. "Are you going to do what I asked?"

 

Straight to the point. At least some things were still the same.

 

"I want a reassurance."

 

Ben lifted an eyebrow. "Such as?"

 

"That there be a limit."

 

"If I grant you one, then I expect the same in return."

 

She couldn't even argue that. Both believed very much in the side they were on. Neither would concede a point in the other's favor.

 

Rey exhaled slowly. "All right."

 

Ben's face maintained its impassivity. "I'm listening."

 

"What, exactly, are you asking of me? What's the… extent? I refuse to harm anyone."

 

"Yes, you do seem incapable in that regard." 

 

Her hackles rose. Was he goading her? She had to bite back her anger. As if not wanting to harm people was evil!

 

"That's fine," he continued in his low, deep voice. "I expected as much." He used his shoulder to push off the wall. As he stepped across the room, it was almost like a prowl. It had to be the new clothes. They weren't nearly as constraining. "What I want is for you to… feel."

 

"Feel," she reiterated.

 

"Feel the darkness." He circled around her in a measured pace. "I want you to take my darkness as if it were your own."

 

Rey spun to keep him in her line of sight. She'd already had a taste of what he was talking about.

 

safety

 

security

 

possession

 

"And you'll do the same in return? You'll take my light?"

 

"I will. If you still want to give it when the time comes."

 

Ominous words. Rey knew she should turn back now. It wasn't too late. She could still—

 

"I will," she said hotly.

 

He touched the small of her back. Bare fingers stroked a path up her equally bare back. "We'll see."

 

Rey fought not to shiver. "How long?"

 

He hummed and gently pulled her hair off her shoulder. His lips brushed her neck, and she was given a lesson; reality was so much different than dreaming. The dreams had felt real… they just hadn't felt this real.

 

She tried not to let her lashes flutter like they wanted to. "How long, Ben?" she pressed.

 

"Two weeks."

 

Two weeks?!

 

No, she scolded herself. Think about it in reverse. Two weeks was a long time to deal with the darkness. But two weeks spent in the light? She could do so much good with that!

 

Hope sparked.

 

"Starting when?"

 

His lips brushed along the shell of her ear. His arms slid around her waist and pulled her back against him.

 

"Now," he whispered.

Chapter Text

 

We could fight a war for peace

(Ooh woo, I'm a rebel just for kicks, now)

Give in to that easy living

Goodbye to my hopes and dreams

Stop flipping for my enemies

We could wait until the walls come down

(Ooh woo, I'm a rebel just for kicks now)

-Feel It Still, Portugal. The Man

 

 

Sand.

 

…Rey…

 

Sand everywhere.

 

…Rey…

 

All she could see, swirling around her in a storm.

 

…Rey…

 

All she could feel, grains pelting and stinging against her exposed skin.

 

…Rey…

 

All she could taste, unable to keep it from entering her mouth.

                

…Rey…

 

"STOP IT, I CAN'T THINK!" she shouted, but it was drowned out by the howling and screeching of the wind.

 

Where was she? Jakku?

 

The only home she had ever known?

 

She had no sense of direction. She was up to her shins in sand, and her boots were making it chafe against the skin of her ankles.

 

Wait—boots?

 

Rey glanced down. Her dress from Naboo was gone. In its place was the outfit she had been wearing when she'd first escaped Jakku with Finn, before she ran into the legendary Han Solo. Before… before he died…

 

Indecipherable whispering hissed behind her. She twisted, stumbling in the sand as it shifted beneath her feet.

 

Nothing was there.

 

"Rey, you're too overcome by anger!"

 

There—to her right!

 

She fell back in surprise. "Luke? How—how is this possible?!"

 

"It's not," he replied. She could barely make him out through the haze of sand. His Jedi robes were being whipped around him, and his face was as grim as it had ever been. "I'm just a manifestation."

 

"Of what?" she cried in disbelief.

 

"Of you." The voice that came from behind her was a child's.

 

Already knowing what she would find, Rey turned in that direction and looked down. Her younger self peered up at her, squinting at her through the storm. It was the self she had tried so hard to leave behind—the self that still clung to the frail hope that her parents were alive, that they would return for her.

 

"What do you mean, 'of me'?" Rey didn't like this. Luke had been unnerving enough, but this…

 

…Rey…

 

"Ignore him."

 

Rey closed her eyes. Warmth brimmed beneath her eyelids, and she didn't want to face the new voice. She wasn't sure if she could.

 

"Rey, think of all the good you've done," the slow, gravelly voice said. "Think of all the light you've brought to the Force."

 

This wasn't fair.

 

This just wasn't fair.

 

"When is life ever fair?"

 

"Please," she half-whimpered. "Please… I—I can't…"

 

"Look at me, Rey. Face your fears. Face your regrets."

 

She ran forward, and she didn't look back.

 

…Rey…

 

They're dead! she reminded herself. They're nothing more than phantoms!

 

Luke had sacrificed himself to buy the Resistance time to escape his nephew, to escape the First Order. Her childhood had died a long time ago. And Han…

 

"You're still so full of rage!" Luke's voice echoed.

 

"You have to let it go!" the child cried. "Let go!"

 

"Stop!" she sobbed. She was quickly tiring. Walking though sand was an ordeal, never mind running.

 

"We've all made mistakes, kid," Han added. "It's what we learn from them that counts."

 

Rey covered her ears with her hands. She couldn't get away from them, no matter how hard she tried. She couldn't see where she was going—she was just running round and round, with no destination, with no idea how to leave this place.

 

"You trusted him once," the little girl pushed. "He betrayed that trust. He murdered his father. He killed thousands more!"

 

"The darkness isn't a solution," Luke pressed. "Once it takes hold of you, it won't let go!"

 

"You said he could still be saved! You said none of us were ever really gone!"

 

"There are other ways, Rey."

 

"Like what?!"

 

"That's a path you have to discover for yourself."

 

"I don't have time for this!" she yelled at all of them. "I'm doing this the only way I know how!"

 

"It's a mistake—"

 

But she didn't want to hear the rest, and she pushed deeper into the storm.

 


 

 

Rey wasn't entirely certain how long she'd spent in this storm. The only thing she really was certain of was the fact that she couldn't keep going for much longer. She was too drained.

 

How had she gotten here?

 

Memories flared, kindled.

 

Oh… Ben had asked her to open her mind to him. She had, with some hesitance. He'd informed her he was going to show her some of his darkness… and now this. This—madness. Where had she gone? Where had he taken her?

 

A manifestation, they'd said. Of herself.

 

Was she… inside of herself…?

 

The earth shifted beneath her feet with a rumble. She cried out as she was knocked down, and she held on while the ground pushed upward and forward. It was almost like… it was almost like a wave, like the ones she'd been eyeing earlier in the village. This one was made of sand, though, and it was barreling forward at a speed that was distressing.

 

"Stop!" she cried out, as if that would make a difference.

 

When had it ever made a difference?

 

The sand beneath her bucked

 

She screamed as she fell twenty feet, braced herself, and slammed into the sand below hard enough to make her teeth snap together. Her body rolled against her will, over and over, and then suddenly the air was still.

 

Rey opened her arms a crack and peered out.

 

The ground had ceased its vibrating.

 

She rose, aching, and saw it there—a sphere of light, floating at mid-height. Its glow made Rey's heartrate relax, and she reached out. Her fingertips connected with it, and then it was as if time froze. Granules of sand hovered around her in a dome, poised perfectly in place as the storm continued to rage without.

 

Rey looked back to the sphere and held it between her palms. Its light was a warm, steady pulse, and all the apprehension, the fear she was feeling, melted away. It was almost heady in its relief. Her burdens were gone.

 

…Rey…

 

A call of her name, this one different from the others, coming from her left. It was a mirror—a mirror like the one on Ahch-To. The mirror that had showed her how alone she was after its trickery. Why was this one here?

 

She caught sight of her reflection.

 

Rey saw herself… only it wasn't. Sensuality dripped off the caricature, though she was identical in every other way. She was wearing the same clothes, the same hairstyle, but her posture… It was confident, almost smug. In her palm she held a sphere, as well, except this one was pure darkness. It looked like shadows swirling rapidly around one another.

 

"You can only have one," her doppelganger said. "You have to choose."

 

"No," Rey replied. "That's not true. I can have both."

 

"No Force-user can have both."

 

"Why not?"

 

"The pull to one or the other is too great."

 

Rey held up her light. "I have this. And I can have yours, too."

 

"I am you," the other Rey smirked. "Why haven't you figured that out yet?"

 

"I won't play these games," Rey replied. "I know you're the darkness inside of me. You want to confuse me and to control me. I won't let you."

 

She placed her palm against the glass, and her reflection mirrored her move. Light and dark, facing one another, neither willing to give in. It was Kylo and herself all over again.

 

"I can have both," Rey said again. "And I will."

 

The mirror rippled. She pushed her hand through, and fingers snagged around her wrist. As she was yanked forward, she had a flash of fear and doubt. What if she was wrong? What if this was a mistake, and she'd fallen into the darkness' trap?

 

Rey cleared the mirror, but there was nothing on the other side, only darkness and falling into nothingness. It gripped at her, shadows that were so cold, so lonely, pulling at her clothes, her hair, her skin. Some ventured toward the orb of light, and Rey held it closer. She wouldn't let it go, not for anything. This was a part of herself; it was essential to who she was.

 

The shadows covered her, cocooning her, and spiraled her away into the void of darkness.

 


 

  

An ember crackled as a log crashed, and ashes danced.

 

It was the first thing Rey was aware of as she opened her eyes. It was from the fireplace she'd been lying in front of. Shadows danced over the ceiling, reminding her of the ones she'd just persevered through. A slight shift of her gaze led hers to Ben's, who was sitting next to her.

 

She couldn't read his face at all, and his thoughts were well guarded.

 

Silence prevailed for possibly a full five minutes. Rey didn't mind. The relaxation that had taken hold of her when she'd grabbed her light had yet to fade. It would go eventually, so she would enjoy it while she could.

 

More embers popped.

 

Ben set his jaw.

 

Rey waited.

 

"That is impossible."

 

"Mmm… I don't think so, no." Rey sat up and shrugged her shoulders. They were a little cramped from having been in a prone position for so long.

 

"You can't have both. You will eventually give in to one or the other."

 

"But I want both, and I have both. I can teach you how, if you want?"

 

He got to his feet and stormed out of the living room. Rey looked after him and then curled her arms around her legs, staring into the fire.

 


 

 

Half an hour later, Rey grabbed a pillow from the bed and smacked Ben's face with it.

 

The glare he gave her was the type that probably made his soldiers flee for cover.

 

She smacked him again. "It's late. Where am I sleeping? This is the only room with actual furniture."

 

He shifted over to make room.

 

Rey snorted.

 

Ben set his jaw again and lifted an eyebrow in question.

 

"You're sulking. I don't want to get into bed with you."

 

The next moment, he had his hand around her arm in that bruising grip and was yanking her onto the mattress. She stumbled into place beside him. She really wanted to get back up and just go sleep on the floor in the next room, but she was also bone-deep exhausted. Ben had that effect on her.

 

"Are you going to put the fire out?"

 

Her companion waved a hand.

 

"Show off," she muttered.

 

"I can teach you," he said.

 

"With the darkness? Because that angle has worked so well for you."

 

He propped himself up on an elbow and rolled onto his side to glare at her better. "You're in a good mood."

 

She shrugged. "Could be better." She studied her nails, trying to ignore the intentness of that glare. It reminded her of the interrogation chamber. She'd accused him of being a creature in a mask that stalked her, and he'd removed said mask to come stand beside her and stare holes into the side of her head.

 

It was awkward then, and it was awkward now.

 

"Do you feel defeated?" she ventured.

 

Something in the next room shattered.

 

Rey nodded agreeably. Right, then.

 

"Well, I'm going to bed," she informed him, starting to get beneath the blankets. If he was in a pissy mood, it was hardly her fault. She'd upheld her end of the bargain. She'd let him give her his darkness. She couldn't help the final product.

 

"You shouldn't have been able to do that," he muttered when she'd gotten comfortable and her back was facing him.

 

She sighed and opened her eyes. "But I did, Ben."

 

"The meditative state you were in… I've never seen anything like it."

 

"I said I could show you," Rey reminded him.

 

"Can you still feel this?"

 

darkness curling through her, promising her future glories, of what it meant to truly have power with the Force

 

"Yes."

 

"This?"

 

the sweet, tantalizing secret to every need she'd never known she had, every want needing fulfillment, the rush of blood in her veins, the heat pooling through her, low in her belly, the—

 

"That, too," she said breathlessly.

 

her heart pounding faster, her stomach clenching with sweet—

 

"Or you could just kiss me," she said.

 

There was a hesitation behind her.

 

"I have," he ventured at last. "It was never returned, if you recall."

 

"Maybe now is different."

 

He made a noise of dissent.

 

"You're focusing on the light, Ben," she said. "But I've got darkness, too." She rolled over onto her back and searched for his face in the little moonlight pouring through the window. "I always have."

 

"I wanted to break you with it. I wanted to watch your hopes for me fall while you were taken in."

 

"Don't you want me willingly?"

 

His eyes met hers.

 

"I know you do."

 

"You—"

 

She grabbed for his hand and placed it against her heart. "It's not a trap. You can read my thoughts."

 

"That means nothing, as you know," he said, and she knew he was referring to Snoke.

 

"So you won't do this until you're certain I've got your darkness inside of me? Are you really so afraid of me?"

 

He scoffed. "I'm not afraid."

 

"Then do it," she pressed. "Kiss me."

 

"I don't take orders from you."

 

Rey sighed and tossed him onto his back as she twisted into a position over him. "Then take my darkness," she said.

 

She pressed her forehead to his and focused on everything inside of her, rubbing her darkness and her light up against his mental defenses.

 

"There's light, too," he hissed.

 

"Some," she agreed. "But what are you worried about? I thought you would never return to the light unless I can convince you."

 

"It's not your turn yet!"

 

"Then DO IT!" she half-yelled. "Stop sulking and do it! Don't—"

 

The hint of darkness he'd given her minutes earlier was nothing compared to the deluge he introduced her to now. It had none of the subtleties he'd been seducing her with for weeks. His anger had snapped, his pride had reared up, and now he was going to take her down with him.

 

Rey wasn't worried. She knew how to find her light. And if she could find her light, then that meant she could find Ben's, too.

 

If she remembered. Everything was growing fuzzy, like nothing really mattered anymore, just the heat always threatening to build between them. She felt where she could withdraw—where her light would protect her. But this was all right. It was passion he was giving her, raw, unrestrained passion.

 

Ben wrapped his hand over the back of her neck and pushed up with his body. He kissed her, and she groaned very, very quietly.

 

"You're going to do as I say," he murmured.

 

"No, I'm not," she said.

 

Surprise contracted his features. It was in perhaps that moment that he realized he wasn't powerful enough to overcome her when her shields were down—which meant he was equally unprepared for when she forced her mixture of light and dark inside of him, drowning him as he had done her.

 

She cupped his face as his eyes grow unfocused.

 

"Ben," she whispered.

 

His lashes fluttered.

 

"You're going to do as I say."

 

"I'm going to do as you say."

 

She paused, wetting her lips. The surge of power that went through her was heady. She tamped it down. This was the only chance she would ever have to do this, so she had to get it right on the first try, or all was lost. It was a delicate, sticky web, and it had to be a subtle change. Anything else wouldn't work; he was too strong.

 

Already, he was fighting against the mind control.

 

"You're going to believe in me."

 

"I'm… going… to believe… in you," he panted. Perspiration beaded his brow.

 

"You're going to give in to your feelings for me."

 

"I'm… going…" His eyes closed as he struggled. "…to give in… to my feelings for you…"

 

"You're going to forget this."

 

"I'm… going… to—forget… this…!"

 

His face went slack.

 

She allowed herself to breathe.

 

It was only a little, and on the surface, it didn't seem like it would amount to much. But it would. Ben trusted no one, and he certainly wouldn't ever confess his actual feelings for her. He felt that would bring him too low, give her too much control.

 

Something like this would stick, deep in the recesses of his mind.

 

Ben's lashes fluttered again, awareness returning to his eyes. He looked around groggily. "Did I fall asleep? What are you…?" He sat up suddenly, dislodging her off his lap, and his back smacked into the wall. Suspicion hung around him like a cloud of death. "What did you do?"

 

"Nothing," she said innocently. "I was worried." She gave him a sad look that was only half-manufactured. "I'm vulnerable around you. Why can't you be the same around me?"

 

His eyes darted around, looking for enemies hiding in the shadows.

 

"…I haven't… trusted anyone in a long time." He looked at her. "I fell asleep?" he asked again.

 

"Yeah. You were going to show me your darkness… remember?"

 

He pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut. "…No," he confessed, and her heart fluttered. It was working! "The last thing I remember is our agreement." He pinched harder. "I have a headache."

 

"Maybe you're getting sick?"

 

"I don't—get—sick," he snapped.

 

"Let's just go back to sleep, then."

 

He seized her wrist. "What did you do?"

 

Rey met his eyes calmly and let him claim her wrist. "If you can't learn to trust me, this is never going to work."

 

"Work?"

 

"You and me," she elaborated. "Working together?"

 

Ben released her. "…What happened, then?"

 

"We made the agreement, but you said you had a headache and needed to lie down for a while. I promised I wouldn't go anywhere."

 

"And I believed you?"

 

She pretended to be annoyed. "I'm still here, aren't I?"

 

He slid down from the wall, still holding the bridge of his nose. "Fine…"

 

His headache wasn't a great sign. It meant his will was already trying to override the orders she'd given him.

 

Which meant she had to nestle them deeper.

 

Rey pulled the blankets up and over the both of them and curled up on his chest, snugging an arm over his waist. He tensed—slowly relaxed, a hand coming up to cup her forearm.

 

"We can try again tomorrow," she said.

 

"If you don't want me to be suspicious of you, it is not working."

 

Rey rested her chin on his chest to see him. "We made an agreement. I never go back on my word." She waited a heartbeat. "Are you going to be this paranoid the entire time?"

 

Ben grumped and closed his eyes again. His hand covered the side of her head and pushed it back over his chest. He didn't say anything else.

 

She lay awake a long time after that, planning her next move. Ben had always been the one to pull the strings, to manipulate. Now she had the upper hand.

 

He had said he didn't want to be saved. Now he wouldn't have a choice.

 

Rey smiled.

 

Tomorrow was a brand new day.

Chapter Text

 

And I'll use you as a makeshift gauge,

Of how much to give and how much to take,

I'll use you as a warning sign,

That if you talk enough sense, then you'll lose your mind

-I Found, Amber Run

 

Rey and Ben sat on the bed with their backs against the wall. Neither one of them said anything as they watched dust motes swirling cheerfully in a beam of sunlight. It was possibly the quietest they had ever been in one another's presence.

 

Rey knew that on her end, she'd never before awoken to a man in her bed. Well, technically it was his bed, though that didn't matter for this example. She'd been so warm tucked against his chest, their legs tangled together as she listened to him breathe. He didn't snore, so that was nice. No, he just… he'd looked so peaceful, with no cares in the world.

 

Ben pulled a leg to his chest and wrapped his arm around his knee. "We should get food. I haven't been here in a fairly long time, so there isn't anything in the cottage. There's a market down the hill. We can go there."

 

She twiddled her thumbs for a moment. Ben tensed beside her, ever impatient, anticipating gods knew what. "How do you have this home?" It was a question that had been weighing on her mind.

 

He thunked his head back against the wall and sighed. Loudly. "Do we need to discuss this now?"

 

He was such a child!

 

"We've got all the time in the world, don't we?" she retorted with a bite of heat.

 

"I am the Supreme Leader—"

 

"Of the First Order, yes." Sarcasm hung heavy on every word that she managed to get out through clenched teeth. "I am perfectly aware."

 

Honestly.

 

"Then you should know I'm unable to stay here for much longer."

 

Rey frowned. "Was that your plan? Seduce me with darkness, and then whisk me away to the First Order?"

 

His silence was extremely telling and more than a little aggravating.

 

She shifted so that she was facing him. "You really don't know me at all, do you?"

 

Ben turned his head without lifting it from the wall. Iciness exuded from his next words. "You told me you would try."

 

If he made that statement one more time, she wasn't sure she'd be able to resist walloping him over the head with the nearest heavy object. Was that all the man thought about, this perceived slight? If she had a credit for every time he…

 

"Yes," she huffed. "But not on some battleship, surrounded by people who would sooner murder me than—"

 

He leaned in until their faces were scant inches apart. Her breath caught at the close proximity, and he didn't waste a moment in sliding a hand over her ribs.

 

"No one will ever lay a finger on you," he said so fiercely that her heart skipped a bit.

 

Blast. Then he had to go and say that.

 

She kissed him, curling her fingers in that clingy shirt. He tensed once more, just for a moment, and she wondered if he would push her away. But then his lips softened against hers, and his hand came to rest at the small of her back. His mouth parted beneath hers, and she took great pleasure in learning it again.

 

A soft moan escaped her. His arms snaked around her waist and pulled her even closer, and she slipped her arms over his shoulders. His body was hard and taut from training, and it was a line of heat against her own.

 

This wasn't a dream where he could slip in and catch her unawares. This was real… very real.

 

"You learn fast," Ben murmured. His hands ran up the length of her back, all the more sensual because it was still exposed to the elements. "Rey… Become my apprentice. Let me teach you what I know."

 

"The last time you made that offer, I put that scar on your face." She touched it now, tracing a fingertip over the length of it.

 

"You're powerful." His eyes were a shade darker, turned almost black. "It's why I want you by my side."

 

Rey soothed a small curl off his cheek. "Not because you love me?"

 

Now he couldn't look at her. "I don't know what love is anymore."

 

"That's not true."

 

He fell onto his back, his hands closing over her hips and staying there. "How would you know?"

 

"Because I know you."

 

It was his turn to scoff. "You only know what I allow you to see."

 

Rey inclined her head to the side. "But that's exactly what you allowed me to see."

 

"I did not—"

 

"You did. Why else would you be so determined?"

 

"Because you—"

 

"Is it so terrible to love me? There's nothing in the darkness that's against it." Why was he being so stubborn about this? Was he so desperate to have the upper hand that he would sacrifice everything, even his own emotions?

 

"No, but it is a weakness." He spat the word like he'd tasted something foul. 

 

"Or a strength. You've seen what we can do without love. Imagine what we could do with it."

 

Ben gave a dismissive roll of his eyes. She could tell it wasn't heartfelt. He knew she was making sense. He just didn't want to admit it.

 

"Loving me isn't about saving you. There are dark sides to love, too. Passion… possession… obsession…"

 

He sat up at this, anger leaping straight across his face. "I do not obsess."

 

It took work to remain impassive. She borrowed a page from his book on the topic, keeping her face as still as possible. When Ben wasn't in a snit, his calm façade was unnerving. She only hoped she could return the favor.

 

"I never said you did," she replied.

 

"It was implied," he snapped.

 

"Was it?"

 

A heartbeat passed.

 

All the anger fell away from Ben's expression, and Rey knew to be on her guard. That was never a good sign. Rey always got the impression of a pole-snake waiting for her to make a mistake so that he could strike at her like she was a skitter-mouse. Small and vulnerable, never a threat.

 

"And if I were to 'admit' I love you?"

 

"Then we would be together." Despite the sensors in her body demanding caution, she had no problem conceding this. Not after last night. Not now that she knew without a doubt that she could save him.

 

"Just like that?"

 

"Just like that."

 

He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. She'd never really seen him be so tender before, and she wasn't sure what to make of it. "Why are you so confident? What are you planning?"

 

"Nothing," she whispered.

 

"You're a poor liar, scavenger. But I'll bite." His hand slid over her ear to cup the back of her head. He pulled her forward into a kiss that never seemed to end, each one blending into another. "Admit that you love me, and I'll play your game."

 

Rey's mouth ran dry. She had to swallow several times before she could speak. All she could think about was the dream they'd shared, where she had said it the first time, oblivious to the fact that it was real.

 

"I love you," she half-whispered.

 

Something flickered behind his eyes. Shock? "You mean it."

 

Rey dropped her gaze. It felt like her very insides were trembling, but at least her nerves weren't showing outwardly. "Yes."

 

Ben's lips caught hers with near bruising force. "I won't let you take it back."

 

"I'm not asking you to—" She trailed off with a sharp gasp as his lips met her exposed throat. Darkness tumbled into her. It wasn't cold, but hot, burning her up as it seesawed through her. She barely recognized the noise that escaped her throat. It belonged to that reflection she'd seen in the mirror.

 

But it wasn't really darkness, was it? It was everything he was feeling, channeling into her. It contrasted with the soft, slow kisses he was treating her neck with.

 

"I love you," he murmured.

 

Rey shivered. She hadn't known having the words returned would matter to her so much. She'd never spoken them to anyone—she'd never heard them said to her. It was a thrill in and of itself, leaving her lightheaded and grinning a little stupidly.

 

"And what was your plan from there?" His teeth worried her skin.

 

"Um," she breathed. "To let you use the dark side on me."

 

His head lifted. "You know I'll be able to discover what I want if I do."

 

"I know."

 

Rey wasn't concerned. If he probed too deep, her inner light would be too much for him with how he was now. And by the time he could handle it, it wouldn't matter anymore.

 

His instincts were telling him not to trust her. She could see it in his eyes. She could also see the seed she'd planted the night before, working furiously at making him doubt himself.

 

"We will," he said at length. "But… I want it to be—" He struggled with the right words and settled on, "Special."

 

She nodded. "Okay… "

 

He kissed her and then rose to his knees, his arms secured around her as he stepped off the bed. He didn't even fumble. It was making her feel incredibly light.

 

"We'll go to the village," he said.

 

"For food?"

 

"And clothes."

 

She blinked at him.

 

"I assume you don't want to remain in that dress?"

 

"Oh!" She laughed, and the sound startled her. It really wasn't something she did often. "I don't."

 

Ben nodded and set her on her feet. "Do you want to wash up?"

 

A bath sounded phenomenal. "Will you come with me?"

 

He gave her a sharp glance.

 

Despite herself, red seeped into her cheeks. "Unless you don't want to?"

 

"I do." He hummed in thought. "We'll… come back to the bath." He reached out and grabbed his vest from the chair he'd tossed it over. His clothing was wrinkled from sleeping in it, not that he seemed to mind.

 

Rey unwove the braid out of her hair as he sat on the edge of the bed to pull on his boots. She tugged it all back into a simple ponytail and glanced over her dress. It was also a little wrinkled, but not in any ground-breaking way. The sandals, she tied on quickly.

 

"These people have no idea you're Kylo Ren?"

 

He grunted.

 

"Or Ben Solo?"

 

He tightened his laces.

 

Okay…

 

"So what do they know you as?"

 

Ben ran his fingers through his hair as he stood up. "You ask a lot of questions."

 

"And I've got loads more."

 

"…I'll answer some of them during the bath." He looked like he wanted to say more, and his eyes lingered over her. Was he thinking ahead to the bath…? "Let's go."

 

He took off for the door. She caught up with him and grabbed at his hand. She wasn't sure what he'd do, and she didn't care. For just that moment, she wanted to be close to him.

 

He was still looking straight ahead when he laced their fingers together and guided them outside.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 In life, in love, this time I can't afford to lose,

For one, for all, I'll do what I have to do,

You can't understand, it's all part of the plan

-Love and War, Fleurie

 

 

The sea breeze carried the scent of salt with it. It was really enjoyable, and Rey couldn't keep from smiling. Not a single person in the village was sparing them a second glance. Ben was right—no one here had any idea who he was.

 

Questions burned at the back of her throat. She held onto them, remembering his promise.

 

…Rey…

 

The voice was different from the others that had called her name. A tendril of the Force touched her mind, and she knew instinctively who was trying to reach her.

 

General Organa!

 

As Ben perused loaves of bread at a vendor, Rey gazed upward. It was cloudy today, so the sunlight didn't burn at her eyes.

 

Rey!

 

Rey felt the general's relief.

 

If you can hear me, you must not be too far.

 

Rey cast a nervous glance in Ben's direction. He was preoccupied bargaining with a stall owner. He wasn't going to use the Force to his advantage, she could see already.

 

I'm not sure how long this will hold. I'm not good at this—not like my brother was. Are you in danger?

 

No, Rey answered her. I'm fine.

 

Are you with my son?

 

Yes, Rey replied. But please, General Organa… don't look for me. Not yet.

 

The line was so quiet that Rey began to wonder if it had been interrupted or ceased altogether.

 

I won't if you keep me informed.

 

Deal, Rey said, relieved. I have to go. I'm sorry I made you worry. I didn't know I could reach you like this.

 

The touch withdrew, and Rey felt strangely bereft. It was a connection to the other world—the world she'd come from, before she'd gotten swept up in saving Ben.

 

"What did my mother want?"

 

Rey jolted. ­­­­­She'd completely forgotten where she was and who she was with.

 

"Don't do that!" she scolded.

 

Ben narrowed his eyes. "I didn't do anything. My mother's grasp on the Force is unstable and incomplete. She was projecting enough for anyone to hear."

 

"Then you don't need to ask," Rey replied testily.

 

Anger colored Ben's cheeks and made his eyes brighten. He took a step closer to her—paused and visibly got a handle on his temper.

 

"I was showing you respect by not listening. If you want me to trust you, it must go both ways."

 

"She was making sure I'm all right!" Rey didn't entirely believe that he hadn't been listening.

 

Ben didn't say anything. He held up a bracelet that was composed of a dark brown leather strip. It was twisted and strung with turquoise glass beads. It was simple and beautiful both.

 

"When did you get that?"

 

"While you were making nice with my mother." He took her hand and hooked the strip around her wrist. It was a nicely snug fit. "Do you like it?

 

Temptation to make a smart retort rose on her tongue, ever ready when it came to Ben Solo. But she looked at his uncertain face and her new gift, and she realized he'd likely never given one before. Just has she had never received one.

 

"Yeah…" Rey spun the bracelet over her wrist a few times to quell her nerves. "Thank you."

 

He nodded. "What would you like to eat?"

 

She looked up from the shiny beads. "I've lived off rations my entire life. I'm not picky."

 

Just like it had with Han, pity crossed his face, making him look exactly like his father. He covered it up the same way, too, hastily turning back to the task at hand. Rey hated it. She was proud, and garnering another's sympathy made her feel weak.

 

"What do you like?" she asked so she could stop feeling this way.

 

"You learn not to have too many favorites when you're onboard a military vessel."

 

"Food doesn't hold up so well in space, I take it?"

 

"No." He sighed and glanced around. The market was beginning to get busy, people crowding in around them. She looked with him and spotted a jewelry stall not far off. "Well… do you want to decide together?"

 

"We—we can…"

 

This was awkward for both of them. Playing nice was not their forte, but they had to learn somehow.

 

They spent the next hour scoping out food, and a vast majority of it was interrupted with Rey's intermittent giggles and laughter. Some of the seafood they tried was unbearable, and Rey lived to see the look of pained disgust on Ben's face. Every time she dissolved into more laughter, he would shove a piece of the same sample into her mouth so they could commiserate together.

 

"Did you just snort?"

 

Rey could only gasp out a "no" through her giggles.

 

"I think you did."

 

She'd never seen this side of him before. She enjoyed the careful way he selected their groceries, like everything in life was a mission, and he had to consider all angles before he came to a decision.

 

"Hard bread?" he asked.

 

"I think you have to soak it in something. Soup?"

 

"Soup seems complicated."

 

"And really warm."

 

"You're right. What about this?"

 

"It's got seeds."

 

Ben took a look at her disgusted expression and burst into a laugh of his own. It was coarse from disuse, but Rey still found the sound lovely. "No seeds, then."

 

"This one!" Rey pointed to one that was reasonably seasoned.

 

They tarried on this way, acquiring a basket and then carrying their purchased goods around. Ben lifted a round green fruit and then tossed it in her direction. She caught it with both hands.

 

"What is it?"

 

"A snack to tide you over."

 

"I'm not—"

 

"Your stomach woke me with how loudly it was growling this morning."

 

Rey flushed. She was used to going hungry. "It did not!"

 

"Don't worry. It was adorable." While she was still processing that, that he even knew that word, he turned away and continued walking. Because his hair was pulled back again, she could see that the tips of his ears were red.

 

Part of her wanted to tease him. It would be so easy. But something told her that now wasn't the time. She grabbed his hand once more, casually holding onto it. She took a bite out of her snack and started munching. It was crispy and a little sour, yet delicious.

 

Rey snuck a glance into their basket. Bread, meat, cheese, some sort of grainy sauce in a glass bottle, and an assortment of fruits indigenous to Naboo. It was enough to make her stomach rumble loudly.

 

Ben opened his mouth.

 

"Don't," Rey warned, embarrassed.

 

He squeezed her fingers. "Come on. I promised you clothes."

 


 

 

Rey looked in the mirror at what she was wearing.

 

A long-sleeved, beige top with a scoop neck and a black zipper that started at her left hip and zipped all the way up to her right shoulder. A matching pair of trousers that tucked into a pair of supple leather boots covered in buckles. Efficient, yet elegant.

 

She tapped the tip of one boot against the ground. They fit all right, they just needed to be worn in. She tugged on the bottom of her shirt. Where the zipper began, it was longer on that side in a slant. The problem was how clingy it was. Would it restrict her movements?

 

Feeling silly in the tiny dressing room, she stretched around a few good times, pretending she still had her lightsaber and then her quarterstaff.

 

Hmmm…

 

"What are you doing in there?"

 

"Nothing!" she called hastily.

 

She bent and gathered her dress and sandals and pushed open the door. Ben waited nearby, his feet slightly spread apart, the basket of their goods dangling at his side.

 

"How do you feel?"

 

"Better."

 

He glanced to the counter where an older lady sat. "She wants the dress. Wouldn't take my credits."

 

"Fine with me," Rey sighed. She had no attachment to the thing.

 

Ben caught her wrist before she could get very far. A sinking sensation claimed her. Not now… Not when they'd been doing so well.

 

"Ben…" she whispered.

 

"We have an agreement. Do it."

 

She closed her eyes, her heart heavy. She didn't want to do this. It felt like a betrayal. Had he been planning this all along?

 

But he was right. She had to honor her end of the agreement.

 

She shoved the dress against his chest with a dirty look and went to the frail old lady.

 

"I'd really like that dress, dear," she said. "I haven't seen fabric that fine in ages. It must be from the palace. There's so many things I could do with it, I don't even know where to begin."

 

Rey took a deep breath. She'd never done this to an innocent before. No, only to people who were a threat to her life in some form or fashion.

 

"You're going to give me the clothes for free," Rey murmured with the slightest twitch of her fingers.

 


 

Rey stormed out onto the street, so furious she could barely see. Everything was covered in a deep haze of red.

 

An arm snagged suddenly around her waist, and the next moment, Ben's chest pressed into her back. She struggled immediately. The last thing she wanted was his touch.

 

His mouth dropped to her ear, as if he were oblivious to her wriggling, kicking body.

 

"If you ever use mind tricks on me again…"

 

She stilled, her heart gripped by icy fingers.

 

He kissed the side of her neck where skin was exposed. "I'll kill you."

 

"You did it to me!"

 

"And you tried to kill me, didn't you?" He let go of her.

 

It stung a lot. She had tried, and he'd easily overpowered her. If she'd had any sort of weapon besides her hands… Force to Force, they were still mostly matched. She remembered how they'd initially destroyed her lightsaber, the latest real casualty in a battle of wills.

 

"Let's return. You promised me a bath."

 

Rey stared after him. She could still feel his lips sliding over her skin.

 

He'd threatened to kill her. She waited for that to sink in, to feel shock, more betrayal, anger, maybe fear…

 

The problem was that she understood it. The moment he'd returned her memories, she'd launched herself at him.

 

Concern flickered through her. His memories had returned on their own… when? How long had he been holding onto them? Why had he chosen only now to react, to show his displeasure?

 

Up ahead, Ben turned around. His gaze very distinctly read, "Are you coming or what?"

 

Rey felt hunted. The instinct to turn around and get herself out of this situation…

 

"I love you, too."

 

Did he?

 

Yes, she reminded herself. She couldn't let fear control her—couldn't afford it. If he was stronger than her, then it meant she had to keep pushing. She couldn't gain or maintain the upper hand by fleeing at the first sign of danger.

 

She caught up with him and took the basket. "Do you want to eat first?"

 


 

 

Rey rested her forehead against the bathroom door and exhaled very slowly. There was a splash of water from within, and her stomach clenched with a fresh bundle of nerves.

 

Ben was in there waiting for her. Presumably naked.

 

Naked.

 

Choobies.

 

You can do this Rey. It was your idea, she reminded herself.

 

She opened the door and walked in, the tiles of the floor cool against her bare feet. She very carefully didn't look at Ben as she crossed to the tub and climbed into the steaming water inside of it. She fought the urge to cover her chest. He'd already seen everything, after all.

 

"This was your idea—"

 

"Yeah, I know!" she snipped.

 

A chuckle left her companion. He rested his arms against the sides of the tub. Sunlight filtered in through the window beside them. It overlooked the sea, not that they could see it over the cliff. At least, not without standing up.

 

"Why are you laughing?"

 

"Because sometimes you're all words. You don't follow through."

 

"This is following through," she pointed out to save herself some inkling of dignity. Yes, she was naked. And all right, she was noticeably ready to bolt at the first sign of unwelcome movement. But she was following through.

 

Ben touched one of her ankles. She jerked it away.

 

"You're absolutely ridiculous," he chortled. It was nice that he was laughing more, but not when it was at her expense.

 

"You're ridiculous!" she huffed, sending a wave of water his way.

 

He slowly and deliberately wiped the water off his face. "Very mature."

 

She snorted and tucked herself up against her side of the tub. It was easiest to do by hugging her legs to her chest. It allowed her some semblance of modesty. "You're one to talk about maturity." She would have elaborated but felt it safest not to.

 

Annoyance made his eyes narrow, just like she'd wanted. Victory was shallow but not hollow.

 

"Was this what you wanted from this? Bickering?"

 

Rey dropped her chin to her knees. "So why here? Naboo, I mean."

 

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, which was down again and wet from the splash. She wanted to touch it, too, and had to resist the urge.

 

But… why? Why resist?

 

Water tumbled around as she slid forward. His eyebrows rose, but he made room for her. She half-floated above his hips, her knees touching the bottom of the tub on either side of them.

 

His large hands ran up the length of her back and over her shoulder blades. She tried not to think about how exposed and vulnerable she was.

 

"Well?" she asked.

 

His fingertips skated over the outline of her spine. "My grandmother was born here," he murmured.

 

"Your grandmother?"

 

"Yes. She was made queen for a time, under the name of Amidala."

 

"Under the name?" Rey wasn't sure if she had heard him right.

 

"The name she assumed as queen. Her real name was Padmé." Ben reached for a sponge on the windowsill and doused it with water. She watched as he lathered soap onto it and dragged it down her back.

 

Rey swallowed. Concentrating had just become ten times more difficult. Was that his endgame? If so, it was working.

 

"That's all I really know." His voice grew bitter. "My mother didn't share much of her parentage with me. I did not even know the truth about my grandfather until she'd already sent me to Skywalker."

 

"Were you born here?"

 

"No."

 

The sponge was thoroughly soaping up her back. Rey got the impression that he would rather focus on that than look at her while they discussed this. Rey didn't mind. It made it easier to forget the fact that she was naked, that he was naked, that they were sitting together, both very much naked…

 

"Where were you born, then?"

 

"Chandrila."

 

"I've never heard of it."

 

Ben glanced at her with another raised eyebrow as he carefully moved the sponge to her front. "Have you heard of many planets?"

 

"I'm only… I'm only making conversation."

 

He rubbed the sponge over her belly button. "You're not very good at it."

 

"You're not either," she retorted hotly.

 

He paused, wetting his lips as he thought. He guided the sponge up to her ribs, working the lather into her skin. "I… I haven't had to use a filter on what I say in a long time. I'm sorry."

 

An apology freely given?

 

"It's all right… I'm not very socially adept myself. I spent most of my life alone."

 

"Scavenging?"

 

The clouds scudding past were much easier to look at. "I made my home in an old Imperial walker. No one bothered me there; it was far off in the desert, away from the Niima Outpost. But…" Rey pressed her teeth into her lower lip. "I had these tick marks on a wall. One for every day I'd been there since my parents abandoned me."

 

She laughed softly. "I learned to deal with the loneliness. I couldn't trust anyone—I had to keep to myself. After so many years, it wasn't as unbearable."

 

Ben's fingers touched her cheek and gingerly turned her head around.

 

Rey knocked his hand away. "Don't. I didn't tell you for pity."

 

"It's not pity," he replied a little gruffly. "It's… relief."

 

"Relief?"

 

"You're not alone."

 

"You told me that once… And then you…" She trailed off. It wasn't worth explaining. He didn't think he'd done anything wrong.

 

He kissed her, the sponge falling out of his fingers as he put his arms around her and tugged her against him. She dug her hands into his shoulders, her brows pulling tight together. Resisting him didn't last long. A moment later, and she was kissing him back, her lips parting easily beneath his.

 

It was so much better now that she knew what she was doing.

 

"I'm going to give you my darkness." His teeth bit at her mouth. "Now."

 

Trepidation made her pause. "All—all right—"

 

It hit her hard, no finesse to it this time. She gasped at the sheer heat filtering through her, clinging onto every particle of her being. She didn't fight it and heard herself moan, knew she was fisting her hands in his hair.


"Do you understand? How much I want you?"

 

She did. She could feel his need as if it were her own. It was different this time, not completely overwhelming, not now that she held both darkness and light inside of her. It was pleasant, and it stoked her own wants.

 

"Then do something about it," she whispered.

 

"I won't stop." It was both a promise and a threat.

 

She swallowed. It was so hard to think properly. But she knew what she wanted, who she wanted.

 

"Don't," she breathed.

Chapter Text

Warning

 

 

 

No, it's too much, burn my sun

Up in flames we go, you fire breather

Ash and dust on my door

-Fire Breather, Laurel

 

It took a great deal of bravery to reach down and wrap her fingers around Ben's cock. Rey had never kissed anyone before he came along, never mind actually touching someone… there. But as she felt the heat of him, so warm and so, so soft, her hesitation melted away.

 

A quiet groan left him. The sound of it made her feel alive, powerful. She squeezed him experimentally, and he broke from the kiss to clench his eyes shut and grip onto the sides of the tub. She got the impression that it had been a long time for him to be touched in this manner. That was good. At least they were in this together.

 

Another wave of his darkness crashed into her. It made her tremble from the force of it. She willingly pulled it inside herself, breathing through it, tossing her head back as her throat worked in a long swallow.

 

It was difficult to describe, even to herself. The rush of power threatened to drag her into an undertow. Both of their emotions were heightened, only fueling the tide. It was heady and disarming, and she knew she should protect herself.

 

She just couldn't. It felt too good.

 

Ben's mouth closed over her nipple. A jerk tore through her, and she had to move her hand so she didn't accidentally hurt him. He grabbed it before it could retreat entirely and guided it back to his cock. She couldn't stay still, the pressure on her nipple intense and almost uncomfortable, but not quite.

 

possession

 

The pulse of that particular feeling was more than familiar. She didn't want it—but why…? She gave a mental shake of her head. Because she didn't want to be claimed. She'd told him so, time and time again.

 

possession

 

Resisting him was quickly becoming a losing battle. Ben pressed kisses to her throat and put his hand back over hers. He moved it slowly, taking the time to show her how to properly handle him. He was wide and long, and as her fingers tunneled around him, she wondered if he could possibly fit inside of her.

 

possession

 

"Ben—"

 

"You promised."

 

She had. She'd promised she would take it, take his darkness.

 

It rolled over her once more. She shuddered and licked her lips. She had to do this, had to give in and let go. He knew it, she knew it. All that had to be done was for—

 

possession

 

A dam burst inside of her.

 

Rey went rigid, unable to do more than process everything coiling through her. It drowned out her hesitations, her fears, her worries. His claim on her stamped itself on her thoughts, her heart, her soul.

 

And the power… surging inside of her, eager to be used…

 

She could do anything, anything at all. The only person who could stand against her was beneath her, and he had no desire to. He was the one who wanted to come together, to use… this.

 

Her body became hyperaware. She could feel the heat from the water, each droplet on her skin, how hard her nipples were, how plump and aching it was between her legs. Her pulse, the pounding of her heart. The smoothness of his skin.

 

She stood, water pouring off her, and gripped the back of his head. She secured a leg over his shoulder and rocked the core of herself against his mouth. His tongue dipped between the folds of her cunt, and he let out something like a territorial growl. He yanked her even closer, nearly knocking her off her feet.

 

Rey hadn't known how much she was denying herself by denying him. She couldn't think beyond the shadows entangling her, or the suction of his mouth on her clit. He experimented at his leisure, trying to figure out what sent her through the roof.

 

He pressed his tongue up inside the hood of her cunt and a moan exploded from her. He kept at it, his mouth burrowing even closer to it. She started writhing, her fingers pulling at his hair. She didn't know if she wanted this assault or if she wanted to push him away. It was too much. Or at least she thought so, until he attacked her clit again with gusto.

 

It pushed her straight over the edge, and she—

 

Wait—what was that? There was liquid coming out of her. She pushed his head away and was surprised when he adamantly refused to budge. His mouth closed back over her, and he continued to work her clit.

 

But—?

 

Two fingers shoved inside of her with no preparation. Her legs were shaking, barely able to hold her up. Oh, gods. He needed to stop! She was about to do that—that thing again. She clenched his hair in warning, yet just as before, he stayed close, his free hand gripping the back of her thigh.

 

Her folds were so slick, and she could feel that wetness between her legs. Orgasm burst forth, and like before, it carried liquid heat. He didn't falter, burying his mouth more firmly against her as his fingers pushed up to the knuckles in her cunt.

 

She—she couldn't—it was just too much—

 

He slid a third finger in, stretching her even wider, and when she whimpered, a forth. She was beyond tight. It should have been painful, but she was so caught up in his darkness that it didn't matter.

 

Another fierce suckle at her clit and she fell apart. This time she didn't care when she came in his mouth, she just rode his face harder. He didn't cease and desist until she could barely hold herself upright, her thighs trembling.

 

Ben kissed her core and pulled his fingers free. Her lashes fluttered, and she looked down at him, so relaxed and wanton that she almost couldn't stand it. She groaned when she saw her wetness on his face and neck.

 

"I didn't mean to—"

 

"You taste amazing."

 

"So it wasn't—?"

 

"No."

 

"Are you sure you—?"

 

He licked his lips clean. "Yes." The intensity in his gaze told her not to ask again. "Do you like it? Do you feel my darkness?"

 

Rey nodded, unable to speak.

 

"Do you feel how powerful it is?"

 

She dipped her head in answer.

 

"Do you want more?"

 

More? There was more? How was that possible? This was already so magnificent.

 

He chuckled darkly at her expression.

 

The promise of more of that raw, potent power was too much to resist. She'd felt it coursing through her own veins as if it were her life's blood. But it wasn't the power itself—it was Ben, tethered to the end of it.

 

"I have you," he whispered. "Fall."

 

She wanted to resist—and maybe later, she would.

 

"Fall."

 

His darkness descended. It wasn't a slam this time. No, it was much more sensual than that. It wound through her until the rest of her insecurities melted away, leaving only her desires, his desires. When he rose and cupped her face, every hair on her body stood on end, his touch was so charged.

 

Ben's arousal pressed urgently against her stomach.

 

"How do you feel?" he murmured.

 

"Free," she sighed, closing her eyes.

 

"Do you love me?" His fingertips danced over the length of her shoulders.

 

"Yes."

 

"Do you want me?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Will you show me just how much?"

 

She dropped to her knees in answer, the water sluicing over the lower half of her body. His hand tangled in her hair as he pulled her mouth close to his erection.

 

A hunger came over her without warning, a hunger to taste him as he had tasted her. She took him eagerly into her mouth, going forward until he bumped the back of her throat. She choked a little, her fingers digging into the outline of his hipbones.

 

"Don't stop there," he said, pushing deeper. Her throat convulsed in the process, and she couldn't breathe. A hint of panic ignited.

 

"Rey—focus on me."

 

She rolled her eyes up to see him. Her throat burned around him, but she had the sensation of being full.

 

"Use the Force—relax your throat."

 

She could do that, she could.

 

Rey closed her eyes and fell into a meditative stance she'd learned from Luke. Slowly the tension unknotted from her body, and the muscles in her throat eased. It allowed him to sink all the way in until he'd fully seated himself.

 

"Gods," he groaned. "Do you know how rare this is? No, of course you don't. Stay still—I don't want to hurt you."

 

His hips rolled in a tentative rock. The tip of his cock pushed into her throat again. Heat rippled through her, and pride, pride that she could take all of him. She didn't have a lot of experience, but she could gather enough that what he'd said was true.

 

It went on like this for several moments. He was as careful as he could be, and she lightly suckled on him as the underside of him slid over her tongue. She didn't mind it—liked it even. But…

 

On his next thrust, she met him, gripping onto his hips and ramming her face forward. This drew a strangled gasp from him, and he jerked harder on the next grind. She didn't know why this was so erotic to her. She'd always thought such a thing might be demeaning. She was glad to know she was wrong.

 

A wave of darkness choked her. Her heart trumpeted up another notch, and it was giving her ideas. As she let him take her mouth in an almost brutal line of thrusting, she focused on the Force. For once, it didn't take much concentration. She pulled it through him like a string and plucked it. It reverberated through the both of them, a frisson of energy under their skin.

 

Ben's eyes flew open.

 

He withdrew abruptly from her mouth, panting slightly. His eyes landed on her reddened, bruised lips, and he groaned with clear want.

 

"Why are you stopping?" she rasped, her throat a little rough from the abuse it had taken.

 

"Because I don't want to finish yet." He picked her up into his arms and stepped out of the bath. The air was cold in places on her skin.

 

"Where are we going?"

 

She had her answer a moment later when he tossed her onto the bed. She looked up at him with primal eyes, her body supple and compliant. She was dizzy from his darkness, and she honestly wasn't sure if she ever wanted it to leave.

 

She recalled the reflection of darkness within herself. She understood it now, the allure, the appeal, the addictiveness. The darkness took all of the feelings that weighed on her and tucked them away.

 

Ben growled. His hands ran down her body, and she arched into them with a needy sigh.

 

"Don't you see how we could be great together?"

 

She reached up, grabbing his hips and yanking him down on top of her. She bit her lip as the velvet heat of him rubbed between the folds of her cunt. There was no need to resist the urge to rock up, so she didn't. Ben's breath hissed from between his teeth.

 

"Don't you see the things we could do?"

 

Her hands rubbed appreciatively down his chest. She'd been wanting to do that since the first time she'd ever seen him shirtless. It was even better than she'd imagined.

 

Ben flipped her onto her stomach. His hands grabbed her hips and yanked her up. In the next moment, he had a hand on the small of her back to steady himself, and then he was slamming into her.

 

Rey screamed. From pleasure or pain or both, she didn't know. Her cunt stretched to accommodate him as he knocked against her cervix. His fingers gripped her with bruising force, and she could hear his ragged breathing behind her. Any pretense of being gentle had died when they'd started sharing his darkness.

 

The flash of pain didn't last long. He didn't wait for her to recover and started ramming into her cunt the same way he'd taken her mouth. She pushed up into him, her fingers grabbing fistfuls of the blanket. The wet slap of their bodies resounded through the room, and it only served to stoke her arousal higher.

 

"Tell me," Ben panted.

 

"Make me," she groaned.

 

He hooked his arm around her waist and yanked her back against him. A hand wrapped around her neck and squeezed. It wasn't enough to cut off her air supply, but it added a thrilling element of danger. He wasn't subjecting her to anything she didn't want. This closely linked, he could feel anything she was feeling.

 

His teeth bit into her shoulder. She knew there would be a bruise there later.

 

"Tell me," he repeated.

 

"Make me," she insisted. A bead of perspiration slid to the small of her back.

 

His hand planted itself between her shoulder blades and pushed her down onto her stomach. The force behind his pounding rocked the bed, made it shake. She licked her lips, arching into every single thrust. She was steadily losing the ability to think clearly.

 

"I want you to want this willingly," he ground out.

 

"Then—give—me—more—"

 

His cock suddenly withdrew, and she cried out at the loss. She didn't have to wait long. A moment later, she was on her back and he was sliding back inside of her. She sighed in relief, and he dropped his forehead to hers. One of his hands found hers, and he laced their fingers.

 

"Are you ready?"

 

"Yes."

 

It was a seamless transition. One moment she was floating through the splendor of their arousal. The next, she was—

 

Rey put her arms around his neck and groaned as she kissed him. She wanted to feel like this forever, be with him like this forever. No more words were exchanged as he began driving into her over and over again. Both could feel the other's heartbeat, hear the other's thoughts.

 

And when Ben's darkness touched upon her light, he didn't flinch.

 

"Take it," she urged him.

 

"I don't—"

 

"I'm taking yours." This deep, the agreement they made didn't matter any longer. "All of it. I still—feel like myself."

 

"It will be different," he protested.

 

"It doesn't have to be." She cupped his face with her hands. "If it makes both of us better… isn't that—?"

 

"You're trying to trick me."

 

She pressed the heels of her palms against her eyes. One step forward, ten back. The only way this would ever work would be with trust. But neither of them trusted the other, not even this deep.

 

Ben took her hands away from her face. "You think this will make us stronger?"

 

"I think it's the only way for both of us to get what we want."

 

"We—"

 

Rey shook her head. "We have to stop trying to change each other. We should evolve together."

 

"And if I do this… you'll be at my side?" His breath quickened.

 

"I will."

 

Ben returned to hammering into her. She gave a cry, her nails raking down his chest and leaving red welts. She could feel her light inside of him. She threaded more through to help, keeping an even pace.

 

But then he grabbed the rest of it and dove in. Concern flared within her. He'd been on the dark side for years—this could seriously hurt him.

 

Except it didn't. Was it because it had found the light that still resided inside of him?

 

She watched his face as he continued to thrust. It looked like he was having an inward battle, right up to the point that his eyes snapped open and tears streaked his cheeks.

 

Ben leaned into her. She held him to her as his tears made a wet patch on her neck. She could appreciate him, and he could appreciate her. What was more important was the sensation of their connection. The tie had always come and gone at its leisure—now it was firm, strong, stretched between them like a missing puzzle piece.

 

Rey knew it was because they had finally unlocked their true potential.

 

"I'm going to come," he gasped into her neck.

 

"Do it," she encouraged. She continued stroking his back. The heat had abated to something less urgent, but still potent. No one could ever feel the way they did in that moment.

 

Ben spilled inside of her, his seed hot in her core. Like this, neither of them could think about being safe. All that mattered was being together, comforting the other.

 

"I love you," she murmured.

 

He kissed his favorite spot on her neck. "I love you, too."

 

And she knew that no matter what happened, no matter the hardships, they would be okay.

Chapter Text

 

 Cut me open, and tell me what's inside,

Diagnose me, 'cause I can't keep wondering why

And, no, it's not a phase, 'cause it happens all the time,

Start over, check again, now tell me what you find

-Avalanche, Bring Me the Horizon

 

 

It was the booming that woke her.

 

Rey sat straight up in bed, her heart racing. When she looked to the window, she could see it—the rain sliding down it, the utter deluge outside. A wicked streak of light flashed over the blackness of the sky, and that boom followed in its wake. Was this what she had heard mentioned but never seen? Thunder? Lightning?

 

Even on Solaris, it hadn't… stormed like this.

 

Thinking she should lie back down so she didn't disturb Ben, she pulled her covers up and settled into the bed and her pillows.

 

"Rey…?"

 

Her name, uttered in the weakest of whispers. A fresh wave of fear gripped her as she rolled over to look at the man beside her. Panic rocketed through her, amped up the fear. He was so… so pasty, almost, with beads of sweat clinging to his face. She had never seen him like this. Was he ill?

 

"Ben…?" She started to reach for him—stopped. He was a proud person. What if he didn't want…?

 

"W… What have I done…?" His brown eyes were so, so wide, and she didn't know what he was talking about at first. Then he licked his lips and added in a cracked voice, "My father…"

 

Oh, gods.

 

Rey gripped his shoulder. "Are you okay?"

 

He squeezed his eyes shut. A long moment passed. He shook his head.

 

Through their connection, she could feel it with a casual reach. All the horrible deeds he had performed were catching up with him. Was it the light—her light? Had it done this to him? She'd wanted him to come back to the light side of the Force, she just hadn't known it…

 

The next crack of thunder was so loud it shook the entire cottage. There was a crashing noise—the waves against the cliff face? It was a subtle roar in the background.

 

"There's an unbalance in the Force," he whispered hoarsely.

 

"It's just a storm."

 

"This is a temperate planet. A storm like this is exceedingly rare. I find it hard to believe it merely coincided with our joining." A cough wracked him after this, as if it had taken too much effort to speak in complete sentences.

 

Rey tried not to feel afraid. It wouldn't do either of them any good. "…So what do we do?"

 


 

 

Ben's TIE silencer was not meant for more than one pilot. How in seven hells had he gotten her across Naboo in this thing while she'd been in a Force slumber?

 

Rain plastered her hair to her face, and her clothes were uncomfortably wet and weighing her down. The walk here had been long and arduous, made worse from the mud they'd had to trek through. He'd decided to hide his ship in a field nearby the village, with a camouflage over it to hide it from the world at large.

 

She watched as Ben climbed into his ship, and she knew then the only way she was getting in there to the palace was by sitting on his lap. Such a mental image might have brought her joy today, but they had more pressing circumstances at hand.

 

Then he gestured behind him. Curious, she pushed up into the ship and spotted what couldn't be seen from outside—a smaller chair behind the pilot's.

 

"Oh, you want me to sit there?"

 

He looked at her dubiously.

 

"I'm only—you don't look like you can fly, Ben."

 

"These controls…" He paused to wipe his arm over his forehead. "They were made to my specifications. I’m not sure you could handle them."

 

"You're sick—"

 

"Rey, get in."

 

"I just don't know how—"

 

"Rey, get in!"

 

"Fine, but if we crash, it's your fault," she grumbled.

 


 

 

Rey stuck her head inside the Millennium Falcon. "Chewie?" she called. Hearing his answer, she followed where it had come from. He was in the cockpit, fiddling with some wires. She'd known she'd find him here, instead of in the palace with all of the stuffy Naboo. He didn't like big deal affairs.

 

When he saw her, he dropped what he was holding and came to her to put his hand on her shoulder. He roared quietly. She smiled and put her hand over his. Then his eyes caught sight of the tall, hooded figure behind her.

 

She had a second to process the rage that filled Chewie's eyes, and then the wookie was pushing her aside and going straight for her companion.

 

Chewbacca wrapped a hand around Ben's throat and lifted him, pressing him into a wall. He roared so loudly it made Rey's ears ring, and she clutched at his arm, trying to tug him off. To his credit, Ben stayed where he was without a struggle or a sign of the Force. He wasn't choking. Yet.

 

"Chewie, don't! He knows what he's done! He—"

 

The wookie growled a retort.

 

"I'm not blinded! Look at him! Look at him!"

 

Her friend swung his attention back around to Ben, who was trembling, not from fear, but from the things he kept playing over in his mind. He was barely there, trusting Rey to take over speaking, travel plans, and anything else that would require his thoughts. It was as if his body was expelling the darkness like a toxin, and all he could do was hold on until the fever passed.

 

The wookie released Ben with a questioning noise. Ben slumped against the wall, then slid down it until he hit the floor. 

 

"We have to leave."

 

BOOM!

 

Rey jumped; she couldn't help herself. She didn't think she liked thunder very much. "We've upset the balance of the Force. We have to get far away from here. Someplace where—" She paused as Chewbacca spoke across her. "The Wilds? Where is—?"

 

"Are you insane?" Ben hissed. "The Uncharted Territories?"

 

Chewie roared and looked ready to grab his would-be nephew by the throat again.

 

"Yes, Starkiller Base was there. And the path we had to take, to map out, to even survive—"

 

"The Resistance reached Starkiller Base," Rey protested. "Surely it wasn't that difficult?"

 

"Barely, if you recall."

 

"If by barely, you mean we destroyed it."

 

Ben's lip curled. "They would have had to follow an exact map to get there. The Wilds are called uncharted for a reason. It is a labyrinth. It is filled with black holes, with—" He cut himself off with a frustrated noise. He turned to the wookie. "Why there?"

 

Before he could answer, what sounded like an explosion rocked through the hangar and the Falcon. Rey lost her footing and gripped onto a seat before she could injure herself. Chewbacca remained standing, although barely.

 

"Wait, what?" Rey asked once Chewie had answered Ben. "You think there's someplace out there that would be able to absorb the counterbalance?"

 

The wookie rumbled that it was a theory.

 

"Risk our lives and—?" Ben began.

 

"Or risk the lives of everyone else!" Rey cried. "It sounds like the entire planet is about to break apart. I don't want to be responsible for destroying the galaxy because we don't know what we're doing and there's no one here to help us." She gripped onto Chewie's arm. "What's your idea?"

 

Ben and Rey listened in silence.

 

Wind pushed rain into the hangar, howling ferociously and making the pilot ships teeter and groan. Rey could see it all through the windshield of the cockpit, and it was unnerving, to say the least.

 

"Follow the Force," Ben replied blankly.

 

Chewie snapped a retort at Ben about how Ilum was there, the planet where lightsaber crystals came from. Rey derived from this that it couldn't be too difficult to navigate out there, and that Chewbacca thought Ben was being overly dramatic.

 

"How do you even know about that?" Ben asked skeptically.

 

"Because he was around when the Jedi Order was still there," Rey surmised. Chewie nodded at her. She waited for the wookie to speak some more. "You think there's wild Force out there?" Another nod from him, and Rey got back to her feet. "You're probably right. I think we're strong enough that we could follow it. The only problem is getting there…"

 

Her friend roared heartily.

 

She blinked in surprise. "You want to come?" And when he looked offended, "I just meant because Ben is here!" The wookie cast his partner's son a dirty look with a growl. "You don't trust me alone with him?"

 

Ben knocked his head back against the wall. "I don't care. Go make your goodbyes—quickly."

 


 

 

Rey ran as fast as she could into the wing where her friends were housed. The ground trembled beneath her feet but held steady. The chandeliers in the corridors blinked in and out, the electricity compromised from the storm. It was crazy imagining that Ben and herself had caused this because they'd intertwined their hold on the Force so completely.

 

A maid informed her that the Resistance members were about to be seated for breakfast. Thanking her with a curt nod, Rey headed there next, this time for the dining room. She highly doubted anyone would be on the pavilion in this weather.

 

She burst into the room, and members of the queen's court looked blearily in her direction. The smell of eggs and bread filled her nose, enticing her to eat. She shook it off and went to the end of the table where her friends were, who were already rising to their feet.

 

"Rey!" they exclaimed, and crowded around her.

 

"Guys!"

 

Poe reached her first, his hands on her shoulders. "Rey." The relief on his face was stark, and she wanted to reassure him—had planned to. The choice was taken away from her as her fingers curled and Poe's feet left the ground, his hands groping at his neck. Confusion and betrayal shone clearly in his eyes.

 

BB-8 whistled in alarm.

 

"Ben," she said, uncaring of how mad she probably seemed. "Let go of him."

 

Rose gasped and went to—what, stop her? Finn grabbed her before she could, yanking her behind him. The dining room was entirely silent except for the choked noises the ace pilot was making.

 

"Ben," Rey said again. "Let. Him. Go."

 

You are mine!

 

"Ben!"

 

Her fingers opened, and Poe fell to the floor, stumbling and landing on his ass.

 

Her friends were watching her in horror. She sighed. That was about right. She was going to have to draw a line with Ben about where controlling the other's body was. Being this closely joined together, thoughts and all, made it possible. That didn't mean it should be used, or worse, abused.

 

"Rey?"

 

She whirled to find Leia walking toward her, her hands outstretched. Rey left her friends and went to the general, clasping onto them. R2-D2 followed with C-3PO clanking along, and the former droid's lights lit up.

 

"I wanted to tell you that we're leaving," Rey said. "Chewbacca's coming with us."

 

Before Leia could answer, the ground beneath their feet shook so tremendously that screams could be heard echoing throughout the palace. A piece of the ceiling fell and landed square on the dining table, smashing crystal and cutlery and sending those seated scrambling out of their chairs.

 

"Because of this." Rey hugged the older woman. In her ear, she whispered, "He loves you."

 

So many expressions crossed Leia's face, and Rey didn't have time to ponder them. She released her and turned once more to her friends. Finn rushed to hug her, and she let him, gripping tightly. His scent washed over her, mostly comprised of that leather jacket.

 

"I don't know what's going on," he said. "And I want to go with you."

 

"You can't, Finn—"

 

"I can!"

 

"Rose—"

 

"Rey, you need me there!" He pulled back to grip onto Rey's hands and stare intently into her eyes. The sight of those brown pupils had always been comforting to her. Finn was a warm soul, and she sorely wanted him to go. She'd missed him so much already. "Whatever you're doing, you can't do this alone!"

 

"I have Ben—"

 

He snorted.

 

"And Chewie—"

 

"REY!"

 

There was no time. There was no time, and Ben, he wouldn't like it—

 

I don't care, he said tiredly. We need to go. Now.

 

"You're sure?"

 

R2-D2 gave a sudden whistle. He bumped forward into the backs of Rey's legs. As she looked down at him, he let out a series of beeps.

 

"You want to come, too?"

 

"He says you will need help navigating," C-3PO translated. "I will stay here with the Princess in her time of need."

 

R2-D2 chirped shrilly and banged into C-3PO's metal legs.

 

"A coward? How rude!"

 

"Is it all right if he comes?" Rey asked Leia.

 

She smiled sadly. "He was always Luke's droid. If he wants to go with you, you should take him. He probably knows more about the Force than any droid should."

 

The ground rumbled, though not as strongly as it just had, and Finn grabbed her hand.

 

"What have I told you about taking my hand?" Rey fussed as he dragged her out of the room, their droid in tow.

 

Typically, Finn ignored her. "Where are we going?" he asked in the silence of the nearest corridor. "Lead the way!"

 


 

 

Getting the Falcon up and going was going to be difficult with the wind slicing through the air as it was. Rey buckled herself into the pilot's seat with Chewie at her side, and Ben and Finn fell into the seats behind them. R2-D2 was nowhere to be found, so Rey assumed he was securing himself somewhere. He probably didn't have ropes like BB-8 did.

 

"Everyone hold on!" she warned.

 

One treacherous path later, Rey broke the clouds covering the planet and raced toward the stratosphere. From there, it was a hop and a skip to shoot into space. She hadn't the faintest idea of where she was going.

 

"Jakku?" she repeated back to Chewie.

 

"It sits on the edge of the Wilds," Ben supplied, his voice cracking in places.

 

Finn looked back and forth between Ben and Rey. "What's wrong with this guy?"

 

"I'll tell you later," Rey promised. "All right, Chewie, did you get us enough fuel?"

 

He nodded.

 

"Do you have an idea of where we should go once we get there?"

 

He shook his head.

 

"Right, then," she muttered. "I can do this…"

 

She shoved all thrusters forward, and the stars turned to streamers of white.

 

Chapter Text

 

Run away, run away, I'll attack,

Run away, run away, go chase yourself,

Run away, run away, now I'll attack,

I'll attack, I'll a, whoa!

-Attack, Thirty Seconds To Mars

 

 

"I know we're worried about black holes… but has anyone considered Jakku might be one?"

 

Rey looked at Finn. He was staring straight ahead at the encroaching planet.

 

"We're not actually going down there," Rey reassured him. It would be a hot day in the seventh circle of hell before she willingly stepped foot onto Jakku again. Unless they needed her to, of course. "It's just our starting point. "

 

The two friends were alone in the cockpit. Ben was resting in the crew quarters, and Chewbacca and R2 were fiddling with something in the main hold. Maybe. Rey wasn't entirely sure. They could just as easily have been in the forward hold.

 

"And from there, we're going to the Wilds?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Like where Starkiller Base was?"

 

"The other side."

 

"Okay… and has anyone ever… I don't know… been to this part of the Uncharted Territory?"

 

"In general, or…?"

 

"I mean us." Finn, notably a little tense, gestured between them. His eyes stayed locked on the desert planet ahead. "Has any one of us gone into that part?"

 

"Um…" Rey wasn't sure how to break this to him. He looked on the verge of freaking out. "No…?"

 

"So… let me get this straight." Finn rubbed his hands together and then placed them under his chin. "We're all going into the Uncharted Territory…"

 

"Yes."

 

"And none of us have ever been there?"

 

"No."

 

Finn kept silent a whole ten seconds before whirling to her. "Are you crazy?!"

 

"No."

 

"I mean, whose idea was this?"

 

"Chewie's."

 

He drew back." …Really?"

 

"Yes."

 

"So… So… we're supposed to just go in there and…?"

 

"Ben is going to pilot."

 

"You mean the 'Supreme Leader' who is so pasty right now that he could be a stormtrooper?!"

 

"He's the best we've got," Rey said defensively.

 

"Poe is the best we've got! Let's go back and get him!"

 

"Shhh!" Ben was asleep, so he couldn't hear anything that was happening, but she didn't want to risk it. Poe was dangerous territory.

 

"Oh, sure! Shhh the one making sense!"  

 

"Ben is a better pilot than Poe." She didn't see the point in calling him Kylo Ren to her friends anymore.

 

"A better pilot than Poe!?" Finn's voice rose to almost squeaky disbelief. "You're kidding, right? This is some kind of game? Mess with Finn, watch his head explode?!"

 

Rey put her hands on his shoulders—patted them—and then left the cockpit.

 

"Rey!" He followed her into the corridor. He caught her elbow and shepherded her into the nearest wall. She let him guide her out of amusement more than frustration. "What's going on? You haven't told me anything."

 

"You haven't let me," she reminded him.

 

Finn grew quiet for a moment.

 

"Yeah, all right, that's true." He folded his arms. "So tell me now."

 

Rey put the heel of her palm to her forehead. "I don't even know where to start." When his mouth opened: "And don't say at the beginning, it's not that easy!"

 

"You wanna tell me over a game of dejarik?"

 

Rey's eyebrows rose. "You figured that thing out?"

 

"Hell no. But it sure looks like fun."

 

Finn was smiling at her so much that she couldn't help but smile back, her annoyance evaporating. She was really glad he'd come along. Finn was the closest thing to a best friend that she had.  

 

"All right. You're on!"

 


 

 

"My head…" Finn groaned as he rubbed it. "I have so many thoughts…"

 

"I figured you might." Abandoning her pieces, Rey got up. "I need to check on Ben. We can't hang around Jakku forever." They were sitting targets for pirates. Besides, the Falcon was associated with Han Solo's enemies, and not everyone knew he was dead yet.

 

Ignoring the pang in her heart, Rey went to the crew quarters. Ben was curled up on one of the three beds, facing the wall. Even from the threshold, she could tell he was trembling. It appeared that whatever was afflicting him was getting worse.

 

She stepped close to his bed. Finn, who had followed her, hung back. He actually looked concerned.

 

Rey sat on the edge of the bed and put a hand on her… partner's…? shoulder. She still had no idea what to refer to him as. "Lover" made her blush, and it didn't really encompass their gimmick.

 

"Ben…?" she murmured.

 

His hand rose and gripped onto hers, but his eyes stayed closed.

 

"Are you sick?"

 

"It's the darkness…" His voice was raspy.

 

"The darkness?"

 

"De…" He shuddered. "Detoxing…"

 

"Will you be—?"

 

I'm connected to you. It seemed speaking out loud was too hard on him. I'll be fine.

 

"Okay," she whispered. She got up to go.

 

Rey…?

 

She turned back to him. Ben?

 

Don't…

 

Seconds ticked past.

 

Don't…

 

What was he trying to say?

 

Don't go…

 

Rey sat back down. She smoothed his damp hair off his clammy forehead. She'd never really been in a position to comfort someone before. She hoped she was going about it the right way.

 

"I'll… go find Chewbacca," Finn said in an unsettled sort of way. "Tell me if you need me."

 

Rey nodded without looking up. When Finn's shadow vanished from the doorway, she bent and kissed Ben's forehead. Being tender like this… with Ben… He'd been her enemy for so long that this still felt incredibly new.

 

"Are you… are you sure you're going to be okay…?" Rey couldn't help but feel a little afraid—afraid and responsible. This hadn't happened until he'd taken in her light. What if he only got worse…?

 

"He's being purged of the darkness."

 

Rey fell off the bed. "Luke?! How—?!"

 

It was Luke… but it wasn't. She realized she could see right through him, and that he had a faint blue aura around him. Mother of choobies, how in seven hells was this possible?

 

Force ghost, Ben supplied.

 

Luke came close until he stood over Ben. "He's reliving every terrible deed he committed. This is not something most Sith survive."

 

"WHAT?!" she exploded, scrambling to her feet. "He could die?!"

 

Oh—Oh, no—

 

"He won't. He's far too stubborn."

 

"Go… away… Skywalker…" Ben gritted through chattering teeth.

 

"Not—not that I mind, but why are you here?" Rey couldn't resist the urge to poke her hand through the 'ghost.'

 

"Hey! Quit that!" Luke snapped indignantly.

 

"Why? Do you feel it?" This was so strange.

 

"No," he sulked, folding his arms. "But it's hard to be imposing when someone is sticking their hand through you." At another shudder ripping through Ben, he sobered. "It won't be easy for him. A lot is weighing on his mind."

 

"Did you… come here… to gloat, old man?"

 

"Partially."

 

"Luke!" Rey scolded.

 

"What? He had an army fire nearly half their ammo at me! But…" Luke sighed. "I came here to help in the any way that I could."

 

"Don't—need your—help!" Ben pushed into an upright position, or at least he tried to. Rey wouldn't let him, insisting he lie back down. He panted angrily up at his uncle. "Go away!"

 

Luke made a show of studying his otherworldly nails. "You shouldn't strain yourself, Ben. You're going to need all of your strength."

 

His nephew collapsed on the bed. He breathed raggedly up at the ceiling, and his fingers clenched into the blanket beneath him. His chest and underarms were damp on his shirt from how badly he was sweating. A half-yell locked behind his teeth, and his eyes flashed amber for just a moment.

 

Rey hated seeing him like this. She felt so helpless, not knowing what to do.

 

"Get—out!" Ben roared. He was sitting again, and this time Rey got out of the way. Rage was palpable on him, and being near him was likely very dangerous. Luke may be impervious to harm now, but she wasn't.

 

"Or what?"

 

Rey could not believe Luke was provoking him so badly. She was tempted to tell him to leave, but it was so good seeing him again, seeing him as he had been in life…

 

Ben outstretched an arm, lifting his hand. His fingers curled. He panted, wetting his lips. He had to know it wouldn't have any effect on the ghost. He stared hatefully into his uncle's eyes.

 

And then Rey saw it—she knew Luke had, too—

 

The fight left him.

 

Ben's hand dropped—his head dropped—his shoulders dropped. His gangly arms came to rest on his legs. He coughed a few rough times.

 

"I'm… sorry…"

 

Rey knew how much that apology must have cost him. When he'd apologized to her a few days ago, he'd barely been able to get the words out then, and she'd been only half his enemy. He despised Luke from the depths of his being.

 

"For what?" Luke pressed.

 

"For… for everything…"

 

"I'm not a spokesperson for the people you murdered." He waited a beat. "Or your father."

 

Ben's shoulders trembled. He covered his face with a hand. Rey thought maybe he was crying. She wanted to turn away, to give him at least some sense of privacy, but she was transfixed.

 

"Nothing I say… will ever be good enough." The tears had stopped, and he sounded drained. "I killed innocents, I tortured them, I—"

 

"The Sith you are so obsessed in emulating, have I ever told you about his final moments?"

 

Ben looked up in confusion. "What?"

 

"My father died saving me from Emperor Palpatine. He died restoring balance to the Force." Luke's lips pressed together, and his eyes were wide and a little forbidding. He turned to Rey. "He'll be all right. Take care of him in a way I never could. Okay?"

 

"Luke—"

 

But he was gone.

 


 

 

Ben and Rey rested on their sides, facing one another. Ben's eyes were closed and Rey held his hand between their bodies. He didn't look much better, still sweating and shaking.

 

"Let me help you," she whispered.

 

He shook his head. "No."

 

"Give me some of the burden."

 

"This—is… something… I have to do on my own…"

 

Rey bit her lip. "Okay." She kissed his forehead. "I need to go help them. Let me know if you need me?"

 

I'll always need you.

 

"Well, now you're just making it impossible for me to leave." It was a choked tease. "Do you want me to stay longer?"

 

He shook his head again.

 

"Okay," she murmured.

 

She sat up. He grabbed her arm, and she looked down at him. His eyes remained closed, but his face was pinched with some inner struggle.

 

"My… My father…"

 

Rey couldn't help it. She tensed.

 

Brown eyes pulled tight with pain opened and stared into her own. "I'm sorry I took him from you."

 

Tears burned at he backs of her eyes. She couldn't tell him it was okay. It wasn't. Han had been the only father figure she'd ever known. It wasn't saying very much, but it was still something. Something was better than nothing.

 

"I'm sorry that I took him from everyone…"

 

He'd said she didn't have to stay, but she fell back onto her side and gripped his hand anew.

 

"All the things—that I've done…" His throat worked. "They keep replaying… in my head…"

 

"Please let me help you, Ben," she begged.

 

"You can't. No one can."

 

She touched her thoughts to his. She half-expected him to withdraw. He didn't, the feel of his mind questioning.

 

Instantly, she was swamped. It was guilt, all of it. It coated the roof of her mouth, dug at her eyes, yanked her down, down, down… She carried his darkness inside of her, but this was separate from that. This was what had been left behind when the light cleaved through him.

 

It was so overwhelming, she thought Ben was right. She couldn't help him. And it made her doubt Luke—if this was enough to potentially kill him…

 

A memory flickered, one of Ben's. One they both shared, from different perspectives. Han, talking to his son on the bridge—

 

Not that one! she cried desperately.

 

It echoed all around her, keeping close, the pain that oozed from it coating her.

 

"Ben, stop it!" she yelled. "You can blame yourself… but not completely! Don't forget all of Snoke's evil, the evil that pushed you here!"

 

I can't use him as an excuse!

 

"It's not an excuse!" she cried. "He wanted you even before you were sent to Luke! He was seducing you from the time you were a child! Ben, there's only so much that you can blame on yourself!"

 

They were my actions.

 

Rey felt like there were puzzle pieces scattered all around her, and she had no idea how to pick them up. Where would she even start?

 

"And don't say at the beginning, it's not that easy!"

 

The beginning…

 

Where had all this begun?

 

He was a child, she thought.

 

The sea of black melted away. A familiar scene unfolded before her. Ben, a small child, playing with a figurine shaped like a bird. He sat on the floor, outside his parents' bedroom, listening to every single word spoken about him.

 

Back in reality, Ben stilled beside her.

 

How did you know how to…?

 

I saw some of your memories, she replied.

 

When?

 

At the cottage. Before you told me not to touch anything. Rey pointed to the scene. They're talking about… how you broke someone's spine defending yourself. What happened?

 

Here, in his mind, Ben was much more articulate, not confined by his currently weak body. My mother and father were always gone. Around that time, I played with the children of other politicians.

 

Shame rose through her. It took her a moment to realize it wasn't her own.

 

I… was bullied. I was quiet, and the other kids didn't understand me. They thought I didn't belong. One day, they decided to attack me, I never knew why. My body responded on its own. That was the first time I'd ever used the Force.

 

And the strength of it put you on Snoke's radar, she mused. In your other memories, you were so lonely… your parents were always gone?

 

The political circus. Nothing important with that. And I wasn't alone.

 

I said lonely, not alone. But… you mean Chewie, don't you?

 

"You're my only friend." It resounded all around them.

 

A mixture of annoyance and amusement rose.

 

Did you see all of my memories?

 

Only some. It was the first time I'd ever really understood you. I realized you were just as lonely as me.

 

He was quiet.

 

You knew my loneliness from the mirror on Ahch-To. You told me I wasn't alone, and I told you the same. But I hadn't seen your loneliness.

 

Seen me vulnerable, you mean.

 

Not vulnerable. She thought about it. Okay, you're right. But like I said, I understood some part of you.

 

Rey ran a mental hand through the guilt. Ben?

 

Yes?

 

No matter what you've done… these memories you keep reliving… remember that I fell in love with you in spite of them, and that—and that I'm not going anywhere. You know I'm not.

 

The pressure of his guilt weighing her down eased just a little.

 

I've forgiven you. I want to be with you. I love you. So please… please hold onto that…

 

You didn't tell me you loved me until you thought you could save me. It wasn't argumentative, just a statement of fact on his end.

 

Ben, come here. Follow me.

 

The guilt was left at the threshold of her mind, of her side of the link. He seemed to breathe easier.

 

Here…

 

Another memory shaped itself. She was strapped to an interrogative chair, and a masked figure was across from her.

 

"That happens when you're being hunted by a creature in a mask."

 

Ben removed his helmet. In the silence that ensued, Rey had to look away. Her heart was pounding, but only partially from fear.

 

The real Ben snorted. That wasn't love.

 

No, but it was attraction.

 

You didn't know anything about me. It was purely physical.

 

That's not true. Don't you remember…?

 

"Don't be afraid. I feel it, too."

 

I had an idea of you. You showed up with the First Order and hunted me in the forest. But I felt connected to you, anyway. And even then, I should have been ashamed of myself for it… I wasn't. I was ashamed that I wasn't.

 

You love a monster, Rey.

 

I know. That's exactly what I'm saying. I love a monster… but I love the part of him that's not a monster, too. I saw the best in you… despite what you've done, despite everything that plagues you now.

 

Reality melted back into place. Rey cupped Ben's pale cheek in her hand. "I took half your darkness." Hearing her voice aloud after that sounded odd. "Do you want it back? Will that make this easier?"

 

"No," he whispered. He was looking at her like he'd never seen her before. He licked cracked lips. "We should start our search. I'll pilot."

 

"Are you—are you sure?"

 

Ben kissed her. It was deep and heated, and it involved his tongue prying her mouth open as his fingers tangled in her hair. When they broke apart, Rey's breathing was heavier than she would have liked. Ben smoothed a thumb over her lips.

 

"Yes. You're holding your darkness alongside of mine, and you're still… you. I need to face my problems. I want to be as strong as you. Let's go."

 

It was really the highest compliment he could have ever paid her, coming from him.

 

"I want to be as strong as you."

 

She smiled to herself, her steps light as she trailed after him.

Chapter Text

 

I'm slipping into the deep end,

I'm in over my head,

I can't catch my breath,

I'm slipping into the deep end,

Feel the current within,

I can't help but given in

-Deep End, Ruelle

 

 

"This is the worst sonic shower I've ever been in," Ben stated. "I guess my father never saw fit to update it."

 

Rey hummed thoughtfully. They'd been in the refresher for nearly half an hour, with her companion having to fight the shower every step of the way. It didn't perform as well as one employed by, say, the First Order.

 

Ben was trying to prepare himself for dealing with the rest of the group, it seemed. He'd said he wanted to be as strong as her, but he had to look the part. Ben took great pride in his appearance, in how he projected himself.

 

"He lost the Falcon at one point. It sat in the junkyard in the Niima Outpost for years. Maybe it was because of that?"

 

Ben scoffed. She knew he was on the verge of saying something nasty, but to his credit, he refrained.

 

He stuck his head out of the shower. "Will you hand me that shirt?"

 

A teasing smirk came to Rey's mouth, unfamiliar but… fun. She liked wearing it. "If you step out of there first so I can see you."

 

Heat narrowed Ben's eyes. "Are you flirting with me, scavenger girl?"

 

She hesitated—softened her smirk into a shy smile. "Maybe a little. Is it working?"

 

He came out of the sonic shower, shutting it behind him, and grabbed her up around the waist and yanked her close to him. She let out a breath of surprise before curling her hands over the back of his neck. She was still smiling when he kissed her.

 

"REY?!"

 

Ben cursed. Rey hung her head and counted to ten. She let out a breath and then raised her voice loud enough for Finn to hear her outside of the refresher.

 

"Yes?"

 

"How many times is he going to cockblock us?" Ben murmured.

 

She elbowed him to keep quiet around a giggle. His arm pulled her back to him, and she felt him smother a smile into her hair.

 

"Um—oh—you're both—oh. Uh—I'll come back."

 

"No, what is it?" she called.

 

"It's cool, just come find me when you're outta there!"

 

Rey rolled her eyes and looked up at Ben. "Where were we?"

 

"Getting my shirt. If he interrupts us one more time, I can't promise I won't try to choke him."

 

"Please don't. Force choking all of my friends isn't a good habit to keep."

 

He nipped the tip of her nose as he reached around her for the shirt. "Make them less infuriating, then."

 

"I'll go see what he wants." Rey gave Ben a last kiss and departed for Finn's location.

 

After calling his name a few times, she found him in the main hold, arms crossed, frowning down at the dejarik table. Chewie and R2 were nowhere in sight. She wondered what they'd been up to.

 

"Hey," she said a little breathlessly. "What's up?"

 

"Is this ship going to explode at any moment?" He was as serious as she'd ever seen him.

 

"I—" She frowned, not following. "What?"

 

He gestured with one hand rolling at the wrist as he spoke. "We left Naboo because it was a crazy nightmare, and you were afraid you guys were gonna make it go boom." His hands formed what must have been an explosion. "Right?"

 

"Right," she said slowly.

 

"So—we're headed to the Wilds to find a safe place to be. Is it okay that we're sitting here in the Falcon? Isn't this a ticking time bomb?"

 

"Well… from what I was able to gather from Ben before we left, our unbalance just effects nature for the most part. Not objects. And space is a vacuum."

 

Finn released a clearly relieved breath. "Whoo. Okay. I can work with that." He nodded. "But, um, when are we gonna set off?"

 

"As soon as Ben gets dressed."

 

Her friend pulled a face. "I did not want to picture that man naked."

 

Rey gave a startled laugh. "You did it to yourself. Are you holding something back from me?"

 

"That's not even funny!" Finn scowled at her. "Not that—that's… a bad thing. But it's Kylo Ren."

 

"Ben," she corrected him. "He's not going by Kylo Ren anymore. He's not a Knight of Ren."

 

"What the hell is that, anyway?"

 

She shrugged. "We haven't gotten around to talking about it yet."

 

"Doesn't that seem like something you'd—?"

 

"So where's Chewie?"

 

"Don't think I don't know you're changing the subject. But he's in the cockpit with R2-D2. The droid's trying to map out a path for us to follow."

 

"Great. Ben can start piloting immediately, then."

 

Finn frowned. "You really think it's okay for him to pilot?"

 

"Well, we know Han was really good at it. And… while I was on Ahch-To, Luke told me once that he was a great pilot, too. He helped take down the first Death Star." Her brows pulled together. "He was a little drunk… I wonder if it was that weird milk he kept drinking… but I don't think he was making it up. So… it's definitely in his blood. Besides, you were in the First Order. You didn't hear about his piloting?"

 

"It's possible," he conceded. "There's a lot I don't remember." He gestured to his temple. "Some of it's really fuzzy. Gotta be the brainwashing. Little details like that don't really make it through."

 

Rey nodded thoughtfully. "Well, I think we'll be all right, Finn, so don't worry about it too much."

 

"How can I not worry? There's a lot of dangerous crap out there."

 

"Right. So you should look at it like this: Ben's piloting is the least of your problems." Rey grinned.

 

"That's not funny, either."

 

"I thought it was." But she sobered and stepped closer to him. "Finn… You know how much you mean to me, right?"

 

The man grew flustered. "I—I mean… yeah, sure, I guess."

 

"Well, it's a lot. You were my first friend. And… And I need you to do something for me."

 

Finn's expression softened. "Anything, Rey," he murmured.

 

"Try to be friends with Ben?"

 

"Try to what?" From Finn's expression, Rey gathered this was not what he'd expected her to say.

 

"He's going to be in my life forever. And so are you. I—I really need both of you to get along."

 

Finn narrowed his eyes. "I'm not going to be the problem. You do know that, don't you? He's not exactly the guy you want—"

 

"Finn."

 

He sighed, a long one, and looked up at the ceiling. It was several moments before he spoke. "You really think he's interested in being one of us? The good guys?"

 

Rey hesitated. It was something she hadn't discussed with Ben, and she couldn't in good faith say he was. "I… think he's interested in not being a bad guy or a good guy." There, that seemed reasonable and safe.

 

"So… what… you're telling me he's… gray?"

 

"Yes. And I think I am, too." How could she not be, at this point?

 

"What does that mean?" Finn asked in exasperation, like she was speaking something other than galatic basic standard.

 

"I told you before. With our bond—I mean—we've… sort of shared ourselves." Before she could go into more detail, Ben appeared around the corner, his wavy hair shining under the lights. She smiled at him. "Are you ready?"

 

Ben glanced between the two of them and then focused his attention on Rey. "Yeah." His eyes lingered over the main hold in places. He was wearing a tight cream shirt with a V-neck that looked like it might have once been Han's, and the black trousers he'd had on Naboo.

 

What is it?

 

I haven't seen this thing in years.

 

Are you going to be okay?

 

Mmmhmm. Ben took one last gander at Finn before nodding at the entrance to the corridor that would spit them out in the cockpit. "Where's the droid?"

 

"Uh—Finn said he was in the cockpit with Chewie." Rey hastened to fall into step with Ben, who was already striding ahead. He did look better, not quite as clammy or pasty. She could tell there was a slight tremor to his hands, and his thoughts were still a chaotic sea, but he was able to be on the move. That was most important. That, and the fact that she could tell he knew he could lean on her if needed.

 

"Yeah," Finn chimed in, taking Rey's request to heart. He kept pace behind them. "He's mapping out a path."

 

"I'm still not sure how he'd do that," Ben murmured. "No one has any concise maps of the Wilds. That's why it's so dangerous."

 

"It doesn't hurt to try," Rey argued. "He's a remarkable droid. He'll probably come up with something, even if it's not much."

 

Ben arched a brow but didn't say anything and hastened his gait. Rey and Finn swapped a glance, with Rey mouthing, "I don't know," and shrugging, and Finn rolling his eyes up to the ceiling.

 

This was new territory for her, too. Most of the conversations she'd ever had with Ben hadn't been… like this. Fluid, casual, in the moment. She was so used to him wanting to kill her or own her that she was on shaky, unexplored ground. They'd find a way, though. They already were.

 

Finn would have to, as well.

 

They entered the cockpit, and Ben paused for the first time. He exchanged a look with Chewbacca that went on for an awkward length of time and made Rey wonder if there was going to be trouble. But then something remarkable happened: Ben lowered his head, the wookie gave a quiet growl, and they embraced.

 

­­"Wow, I never would have seen that coming," Finn whispered.

 

"Chewie was his only friend growing up," Rey murmured.

 

The wookie let Ben go and put a hand on his head. Ben was not nearly as small as he had once been, but the smile he gave, while rough around the edges, was real.

 

Ben took the pilot's seat and Chewie fell back into the co-pilot's. R2-D2 whistled a few times and projected a hologram of a map. Rey and Finn fell into their respective seats behind them, buckling up, both so nervous they kept darting glances at one another. They'd all talked about going into the Wilds… and now it was really going to happen.

 

"The droid's right," Ben said, pointing to a spot on the map. "There's a supermassive blackhole here. There's another this way…" His fingertip strolled over air and tapped two different spots. "And one over here. They're far enough away from each other that the galaxy won't implode, but they'll be tricky to navigate around…"

 

"We can't avoid them altogether?" Finn voiced.

 

Ben didn't look at him, absorbed in the hologram. "We could plow straight through, but that would take us through a set of solar storms. The other route involves gravity wells, caused by objects no one's really been able to identify…" He sighed. "The First Order was able to obtain the imperial's maps from the Jakku Observatory that routed a path—it was the one that led us to Starkiller. But we don't have a way of accessing that."

 

Rey shifted in her seat. She knew that Ben was not up to the task of going back to the First Order. Not right now. "Do you remember anything from it at all?"

 

"There were hyperspace jumps you could make." He shook his head. "But that all amounted to going to Starkiller."

 

"Chewie mentioned the… the Ilum System?"

 

He caught her eye for a moment. "Where the Jedi lightsaber crystals are?"

 

"Yes. The Order used to go there… didn't they?"

 

"That path would be lost, as well. The Jedi Temple in Coruscant was destroyed when Vader joined the emperor, but the archives were obliterated before he could get his hands on them. At least, that's what I've been told."

 

Finn was unable to keep quiet a second longer. "So there's nothing we could get to help us?"

 

"No, FN-2187, there is not."

 

"Really?" Finn burst out. "Really?"

 

Before total anarchy could occur, Rey put her hand on Finn's arm and turned to Ben. "Don't call him that. His name is Finn. He's in our group whether you like it or not."

 

Ben curled his lip but returned to the hologram without further comment on Finn's name. "No matter which route we take, we're going to encounter a host of problems." He tapped the hologram grid once more. Lights began flashing. "We have an idea of where the systems are. I could take us to the Ilum System… if that's where we want to go."

 

"It's a start," Rey began, but Ben held up his hand suddenly. He leaned closer to the hologram, his eyes intent.

 

"7G?" he asked.

 

R2 beeped confirmation.

 

"That's the same sector Starkiller Base was in."

 

R2 whistled heartily.

 

Ben faced the group. "This may not be as difficult as we thought."

 

Chewie roared, saying that he'd told Ben he was being dramatic from the get-go.

 

Ben ignored the wookie. He was too enraptured with the map. He spun it around, examining it from all angles. "I can get us to where Starkiller was."

 

"And the rest is still up in the air?" Rey asked.

 

"Yes. But half the journey is covered now." Ben took the controls. "Relax, FN, I won't be tossing you into a black hole just yet."

 

Finn opened his mouth to launch an angry retort, but it was lost when he gripped his seat arms as they shot into hyperspace. Rey sighed inwardly.

 

This was going to be a long trip.

Chapter Text

 

You've pulled me into your dream.

 

Rey hummed and ran her hands down Ben's bare chest. Her fingertips lingered over the line of his pectorals, the ridges of his abdomen, the dip of his belly button. Everything was warm and fuzzy. There were no worries here. She could worship his body at her leisure.

 

I'm flattered.

 

She ghosted her palms over the sharp wings of his shoulder blades. The muscles of his back rippled beneath her touch. She had never been with anyone before Ben, had never seen a man like this. She'd done her best to keep out of Niima Outpost unless she was working. While she'd witnessed things she'd never been able to erase from her mind, she hadn't encountered a naked individual.

 

It was almost amusing, in a morbid way, when she thought about it. A man being stabbed to death over a simple luggabeast dispute, a couple having a quick romp against a building, countless drunkards and their inane patterns… but in this, she'd remained mostly innocent.

 

Rey, you're making it incredibly difficult to concentrate.

 

She wanted him so badly, she fairly ached with it.

 

Rey…

 

Their first time together had been absolutely, undisputedly phenomenal. She hadn't had much of a chance to luxuriate in the afterglow. They'd been exhausted from the vigorous, rough… lovemaking, for want of a better word, and they'd fallen asleep soon after. Shortly after that, the planet had started loudly protesting their presence, letting them know they'd overstayed their welcome.

 

Come to think of it, she really didn't have much time in her life anymore to just… think, to process. She was always on the run. Once BB-8 had shown up, the time for ruminating had been over. If she hadn't gone to help him… how different would her life be? She already knew the answer to that. She'd still be there, waiting for her parents to return for her.

 

"…they're dead, in a pauper's grave, in a Jakku desert…"

 

I didn't tell you those things to hurt you.

 

Her fingertips feathered over the lines of his collarbone, the hollow at the base of his throat.

 

I wanted you to let go of your past, so we could be together.

 

She knew that. It had been the starting point of their separation. He wanted to rule the galaxy with her, and she…

 

Rey…

 

Her thumb traced his full lower lip, tugged on it. His mouth descended on hers, and she groaned quietly, her thighs slipping over his hips and her arms winding around those broad shoulders. He had such a long, beautiful torso, and such silky, thick hair for her hands to tangle in. His hands were so large that when they rested against her ribcage, his fingertips nearly touched together at her back.

 

Would she have given into him earlier, if she'd known how good it would feel, to be like this…? He'd haunted her dreams, seducing her slowly, and she hadn't really fought him on it. Oh, she'd told herself she had, of course. Denial was something she'd cultivated since the time she was a child. She was particularly good at it.

 

Frustratingly so.

 

It was surreal, the way their lives had changed in the last forty-eight hours alone. They'd both been convinced they could save or turn the other. Now they were joined as one, slipping between the lines of good and evil, right and wrong, Jedi and Sith, landing in a muddled gray. She wondered if she should be concerned, because she wasn't.

 

It was hard to be concerned over things like that when she had his darkness inside of her.

 

When she had her own darkness inside of her.

 

Ben's lips brushed beneath her ear. His teeth followed a scant second later, hooking over her earlobe. A strangled sigh left her, her body arching into his. She didn't think she could ever let this go. She'd told Finn that Ben would be in her life forever, but thinking on it now, she really meant it. They were tangled too closely together for anything else.

 

Rey—wake up.

 

The world was trembling.

 

He kissed the corner of her eye, the tip of her nose.

 

Rey—wake up now.

 

The world slanted sideways.

 

REY!

 

She gasped as she woke, flailing because she was being tossed out of her bed. The lights to the Falcon were flickering madly, and she could hear R2's shrill beeps in the distance mingling with Chewie's yells. She only had a moment to process that before the Falcon turned on its side and she went sliding down the crew quarters and into the corridor.

 

Rey slammed into the wall of the circuitry bay. She grabbed it, trying to locate something to hold onto. The Falcon righted itself again, and she took advantage of that moment to sprint as fast as she could to the cockpit. She made it there in time to strap herself down in the seat behind Ben and hold on for dear life.

 

"What's going on?!" she cried. Finn was absent. Where was he?

 

"We're being attacked," Ben replied. Despite how calm he sounded, she knew he was full of worry on the inside. She could feel it as if it were her own.

 

"By what?"

 

"A group of gunships."

 

"Pirates?"

 

"Most likely."

 

Intuition dawned. "Finn's handling the shooting."

 

"Yes." He yanked heavily at the controls, and Rey squeezed her eyes shut as they went flying onto their side again. It wasn't the motion that frightened her, but the asteroids they were barreling through. It was very different when she wasn't the one at the controls. Piloting was a rush of adrenaline, and you had to make spot second decisions and didn't process dangers the same way.

 

Ben cursed.

 

Chewie gestured to the upper righthand corner of the windshield.

 

"Yeah, yeah, I see them," Ben grunted, sounding spectacularly like his father in that moment. She doubted he even realized it.

 

"Where the hell are we?" Rey demanded.

 

"Outside of the Ilum System. The path here was clear, and then—"

 

A boom shook the Falcon.

 

"FN—" Ben began into the speaker near his mouth.

 

"MY NAME IS FINN!" she heard through the earpiece.

 

"There's a ship coming in from the right side—"

 

"Got it!"

 

The Falcon was propelled forward from the force of the blast behind it. It slammed Rey against her restraints, and she knew there'd be bruises on her chest later.

 

Asteroids stretched out far into the horizon. Green lasers were shooting through the space all around them. Rey wasn't sure if they would survive this, with how tightly packed the asteroids were and how close the gunships were on their tail.

 

R2-D2 whirred, lighting up.

 

"We're in their territory?" Rey repeated. "Well, how far does that stretch?"

 

Two beeps and a whistle.

 

She closed her eyes again, trying to breathe. "Great, that's just great."

 

They needed to get out of this star system immediately. The only problem was that there wasn't a place to hyperjump, not with this labyrinth surrounding them.

 

Another boom, and Finn's crow of delight and victory.

 

In the next moment, Ben began a series of maneuvers that made Rey swear she saw her life flash before her eyes. She couldn't believe what she was seeing, what he was doing. It was beyond mad, beyond reckless, and he was taking them along for the ride. They were a hairsbreadth away from smashing into an asteroid at any given moment. She didn't think even Poe would try this.

 

Don't mention that name!

 

Rey swallowed a sharp retort to save for later. Honestly, jealousy right now?

 

Ben shot up, using another explosion for the momentum he needed. Rey was flat on her back, holding onto her armrests so hard she could feel each bend in the metal. They tore through space, up and up, somehow moving seamlessly over and between each asteroid. Rey thought he had a command of the Force through piloting she may not ever achieve.

 

Then the Falcon straightened—skimmed the top of an asteroid—and took a steep dive back into the field. It was the opposite from before, Rey's harness keeping her safe while she took a horizontal position in her chair. From this angle, she couldn't see what was happening, and she thought that may have been for the best.

 

A gunship sounded like it crashed into an asteroid close to them, followed by a pair. The propulsion sent them flying harder, and Rey worried they would careen. They somehow didn't.

 

These asteroids weren't big enough to really hide behind. Large enough to cause massive, irreversible damage if they hit them, but only barely bigger than the Falcon. They'd be spotted in an instant, because they weren't even fast enough to outrun their adversaries.

 

"FN, I'm about to give you space to take out the leader!" Ben said.

 

"We're going to have a talk when this is over, about how to say my name. I can't—there's three in front of it, they're dodging—"

 

"Hang on."

 

Ben wrenched the Falcon to a sharp, spiraling left, weaving over and under asteroids. Exactly three explosions rocked through the ship. It seemed they'd crashed, as if Ben had shaken them off like sand fleas.

 

"Now!"

 

"You're making it hard to aim! Give me a second!"

 

"WE DON'T HAVE TIME, FN!" Ben bellowed.

 

"CALL ME FN ONE MORE TIME!"

 

"Please stop fighting," Rey whispered under her breath. It was not helping the intensity of what was happening.

 

"WHOO! GOT HIM!" Finn yelled gleefully.

 

Rey knew a heartbeat of relief.

 

"Oh—oh, no," Finn said. "Um… guys… I don't know how to say this, but… about… twenty more of their buddies just showed up… Guess they didn't like our hello…"

 

Rey felt a swell of anger come from within Ben, threatening to drag her down with it. She managed to refrain, holding onto herself only barely. The last thing they needed was for both of them to be furious. Someone had to have a level head.

 

"We're going to have to land somewhere," Ben said. "There's enough of an opening ahead that I can get out eventually and make a short hyperjump to a planet."

 

"What opening?" Rey cried disbelievingly. There was nothing but asteroids, asteroids, asteroids.

 

Ben didn't answer her. "Hold on," he said.

 

That was the only warning he gave before they shot straight into the stream of asteroids.

 

It was the longest half hour of her life. The asteroid field was clearly a belt, and stretched on far longer than they could hope to traverse without hyperspeed. It was both a blessing and a curse when the asteroids grew smaller and spread further apart. On the one hand, it was easier to navigate. On the other, they were a bigger target.

 

Chewie roared about finding an exit.

 

"I know!" Ben snapped.  

 

Everyone was extremely tense. Finn was still firing off with the quad laser, Ben was pouring all of his concentration into getting them to safety, Chewie was doing his best to assist… And where was Rey? Sitting in her chair, helpless. There wasn't a damned thing she could do.

 

Chewbacca pointed.

 

"There!" Ben echoed. "Punch it, Chewie!"

 

It was only when they were safely in hyperspace that Chewbacca and Rey looked at Ben. He seemed to know what they were thinking; the tips of his ears were red. He steadfastly kept his gaze on the controls.

 

"Well, we managed that jump," Rey said to deflect the awkwardness for him. "But where are we now?"

 

"We're near the—"

 

The Falcon shuddered, its lights flickering. They experienced an uncomfortable dip through space before it righted itself.

 

"What was that?" Rey whispered. All the hairs on her body were standing on end.

 

"That…" Ben trailed off for a moment, staring out the windshield. His head turned one way, then the other.

 

It happened again, and Rey's stomach tightened as she gripped her seat. The Falcon dipped lower this time. R2-D2 made a noise that wasn't up to its usual pitch, and his lights dimmed.

 

"We're caught in a solar storm," Ben said. "I'll push us into another hyperjump—"  

 

This time when the lights went off, it took nearly thirty seconds to come on again.

 

Chewie roared that jumping wasn't an option anymore.

 

"What's that planet?" Rey pointed to the one they'd arrived above.

 

R2 chirped weakly.

 

"He has no idea," Ben murmured, eyes still alert. He pulled a few handles, and they slid sideways, aiming toward the planet. That was about when they felt it—invisible fingers closing around the ship, pulling it. "And there's the gravity well."

 

"Put us—put us at minimum capacity," Rey stuttered. She was admittedly afraid of how terribly wrong this could go. "We'll let gravity pull us into the atmosphere, and then we can use the thrusters to kick us further inside. The storm shouldn't be as bad once we're protected with the atmosphere, right?"

 

"Generally speaking, yes." Ben licked his lips. "But we have no idea of the makeup of this planet. If its atmosphere is too thin…"

 

"Look at the plant life," she pointed out. 

 

That seemed enough for Ben. He dimmed the output of power and kept his hands on directional controls.

 

"What are we doing?" Finn's voice came over the headset.

 

"We are going to land on the planet, FN."

 

"Thank you, Kylo Ren, Supreme Leader of Kiss My Ass."

 

Ben's lips quirked. Rey gathered Finn had won a point of respect in his favor. He looked to her over his chair. "Where did you learn so much about solar storms and atmospheres?"

 

"When we were on Solaris, we were deprived of entertainment. Poe taught Finn and I some basic knowledge of space travel."

 

His eyes darkened. If he ever touches you again, I'll kill him.

 

Don't be ridiculous, Ben, she retorted. You have nothing to worry about. I only want you.

 

That wasn't the case a week ago, was it?

 

You have complete access to my thoughts and feelings. My memories. Did I ever kiss him back?

 

That doesn't matter. The way he feels about you won't change. Not without… encouragement.

 

Rey closed her eyes and leaned back in her seat. Humoring him by getting upset was only going to make it worse.

 

"Wake me when we get closer."

 


 

 

It was the heavy shaking and yelling that brought her awake this time.

 

She stared around blearily, trying to process what she was seeing. The Falcon's lights flashing on and off, the spin of bright blue… beneath her? Treetops coming closer, Ben and Chewie shouting, Finn giving something close to a shriek in his own seat.

 

"What's going on?!" she cried.

 

"Your plan only halfway worked!" Finn replied. "The solar storm messed with the power too much; after we got out of the atmosphere, it started tanking!"

 

Trees started to snap against the underside of the Falcon. It bounced them around everywhere as Ben tried to control the fall. It looked like even the Force wasn't helping with this.

 

Rey, hold on!

 

Tall buildings…? Destroyed, or… just abandoned…? Teeming with life…?

 

The Falcon glanced off another tree and spiraled. In the ensuing shaking, Rey's head smacked hard on the back of her seat. The last thing she saw before she blacked out was a metropolis sprawling as far as the eye could see, covered in greenery.

Chapter Text

"Poe?"

 

Rey blinked drowsily. There was sleep crud in her eyes, and she wiped at it and sat up. She was in her chair in the Millennium Falcon, but she was alone. Darkness pressed in on the cockpit, its lights powered off and the sky outside studded with stars.

 

The ace pilot chucked her on the chin.

 

She knew that this couldn't be real, that he couldn't really be here. That would be impossible. It wasn't like he was a Jedi, he couldn't just become a Force ghost, or however in hell that worked. Yet he felt as solid as she did when she put her hand on his cheek.

 

"How are you here…?" she whispered.

 

He smiled and rose from his crouched position beside her chair. She fumbled with the clasps on her restraints and let him pull her to her feet. Where was everyone else…? What had happened after their crash landing on this planet…?

 

"Poe?" she said again.

 

His slender fingers clasped around her wrist and tugged her to follow behind him. She did so unquestioningly, too confused about what was happening. The sounds of a forest reached them as they climbed out of the Falcon. A low hooting emanated from the trees, almost a purr, something she'd never heard before.

 

Pine needles crunched underneath her feet, and the snap of a twig made her jump a little. They were both standing beneath the boughs of these tall, tall trees. They were so thick around that it would take ten people holding hands in a circle to close the ring. They were silent sentinels, at once comforting and foreboding.

 

"Rey! Rey, come on! Rey!"

 

Poe guided her into the depths of an abandoned city. Buildings taller than these trees crumbled in place, windows long gone, stone worn smooth in many places. A lot of them were collapsed into one another, as if their foundations had given out. The most intriguing part was the wildlife that had taken the place of people. It wound over and around this empty empire of stone, branches bursting from every available crevice, grass as tall as her waist waving in a cool breeze.

 

It was… enchanting, in a horrifying sort of way.

 

"Rey, I need you to—"

 

What had happened here? Where had these people gone? Had they died from… from some sort of plague or epidemic? Had they simply abandoned the planet? How long had this place of rest remained undisturbed?

 

"—need you to—"

 

She jumped onto a tower that had become a mound of rubble, forced onto its side. She wobbled in places, trying to keep up with Poe, who wasn't waiting for her. They went under a pair of buildings that had formed an archway. Metal plaques were posted here and there. She couldn't read any of them, their inscriptions whittled away by the weather into vague smears.

 

The deeper into the city they went, the more crowded together the remnants of the city became. She should have been exhausted from such extensive walking, but she felt fine. In fact, it was as if most of this had passed as a blur. It wasn't something she thought about. She was too focused on Poe.

 

"Rey, seriously! Rey! REY!"

 

She hesitated, looking up. What was…?

 

Poe's hand closed around her wrist again, warm and inviting. He was right. They couldn't wait. What he had to show her was urgent, and the sense of that urgency built upon itself the deeper they went.

 

The city stretched on forever, a blanket of stone and nature. How long was he going to make her walk?

 

"Rey, come on, come on! It's not working, she can't hear me!"

 

The buzzing in her head was so incessant. She rubbed at her eyes, and when she opened them again, she had to stop in her tracks. She was stunned speechless. There were almost no words for what she was looking at.

 

They were in the center of the city. People… hundreds… hundreds of people… gathered on top of one another, climbing over one another, and they were all petrified. Rey crept closer, unable to tear her eyes away. What in seven hells…?

 

Men, women, even children. Unlike the rest of the city, their faces were perfectly etched with expressions that ranged from furious to desperate to bloodthirsty to maniacal. They were a pile of bodies that stretched incredibly high. One person was at the top of them all, her hand stretched out and raised, like she was so close to grabbing what she wanted.

 

What they all wanted.

 

"Rey! Come on, man! Rey! I can't wake either of them!"

 

"Poe," she whispered. "What…?"

 

She turned to finally question him, to no avail. He wasn't anywhere in sight. Her eyes scanned frantically over her surroundings. Where had he gone? Why had he left her here? How in seven hells was she going to get back?

 

"Rey! Please!"

 

The sound of a lightsaber being ignited sizzled behind her. She froze in place, acute fear taking hold of her. She was weaponless, and she wasn't sure if she could pull on the Force quickly enough to defend herself.

 

"Rey!"

 

Not daring to breathe, she whirled slowly on the spot. Her eyes grew wide as they landed on Ben. He was dressed head to toe in black, and his red lightsaber rested near his side.

 

Rey scrambled back.

 

"Rey!"

 

Ben advanced, his features contorted with rage.

 

"WAKE UP! JUST WAKE UP!"

 

"You thought you could save me," he whispered murderously. "You thought you could fool me with our bond."

 

"No!" she choked out. "No, that's not true! Ben!"

 

"DON'T CALL ME THAT!" he raged. "My name is Kylo Ren!"

 

What was…? Why was…?

 

"This again?!" she yelled. "Why can't you trust me? When will you ever learn to trust me?! When will—" She cut off sharply and slowly looked down to her abdomen.

 

Ben pulled free his lightsaber.

 

Rey collapsed to her knees, holding onto her stomach. Black crowded around the corners of her vision as she looked up at him in betrayal.

 

"Ben…"

 

"REY, WAKE UP, WAKE UP RIGHT NOW!"

 

The impending darkness dissipated, leaving her staring up at Finn. He was cradling her in his arms, and he was close to tears. She registered it for one moment, and then she was on her feet, summoning the Force, calling Ben's lightsaber to her.

 

Her adversary was on his feet, and he staggered a little, breathing hard, his eyes full of venom. He reached for his lightsaber at the same time. They were on the First Order flagship all over again, in Snoke's chambers, using all of their strength in their fight for the weapon.

 

"Guys!" Finn shouted. "Stop it!"

 

Rey had never concentrated on anything so hard in her life. It was imperative that she get the lightsaber. She had to kill Ben. He was going to murder all of them, and she would not go down without a fight. She was finally going to have to neutralize him once and for all.

 

And then Finn was in front of her, and she lost her hold on the lightsaber. She shoved him out of the way and leapt for Ben with her bare hands. She'd done it before, she could do it again. Distract him with the fight, gain the upper hand, score the lightsaber, and finish the deed.

 

He was on his back—she was straddling his chest—she had her hands around his neck—he was grabbing her wrists and pulling them free—

 

His eyes met hers, and all of the burning bloodthirst drained out of her. She stumbled off him, up and away, crashing into Finn. For a second, he looked as though he was going to continue the fight. But then he blinked hard and shook his head.

 

When their eyes met again, her lower lip trembling, his brown irises a bottomless pit of remorse, she couldn't stop herself from launching at him again. He let her tackle him and caught her in his arms, fisting his hands in her hair as he dragged her mouth to his.

 

"Um… okay, then…" Finn said somewhere behind them. "Just go and collapse for no reason, scare me to death, try to tear each other apart, and then this… right, sure."

 

"What was that?" she breathed into Ben's kiss.

 

"I don't know," he murmured. "Are you all right? Did I hurt you?"

 

She shook her head.

 

"Guys!" Finn crouched beside them. "Chewie and I are a little stressed out here. Wanna clue us in to what's going on?"

 

Chewie roared agreement.

 

Rey reluctantly slipped off Ben and looked around. They were in the crew quarters on the Falcon. The backup lights were on, so the environ was very dim. R2-D2 whistled near the door, and Chewie had claimed the bed across from them. The third and remaining bed to her right was rumpled from where she'd been sleeping.

 

"I… what happened?" Rey asked.

 

"Well, the two of you were trying to kill each other—" He caught her expression. "Oh, you mean before then? Okay, yeah. You were knocked out, but we brought you around. We were discussing what to do next when both of you collapsed."

 

Ben and Rey exchanged a glance.

 

Did you see the same thing I did?

 

What did you see?

 

Figuring it would be faster to show him than explain, she closed her eyes and transferred images of the 'dream' to him. He accepted them and was quiet for a heartbeat.

 

Commander Dameron makes a return. Why am I not surprised? But before she could get irate, That's what I saw.

 

Who guided you, then?

 

Ben turned his face away. My father.

 

Rey gripped onto his hand and squeezed. So what do we do?

 

Whatever it was, it made a point to immediately target the two Force users. He shook his head. It's powerful, that much is obvious. He ran his fingers through his hair. But what does it want?

 

For us to kill each other? Rey guessed. It was the only thing that stood out to her. It had somehow made them attack one another. Did I stab you in yours?

 

Yes.

 

Not exactly creative, she tried to joke.

 

He spared her an amused quirk of his lips. So far we know that it can manipulate our thoughts. If FN is be trusted—

 

And he is, why wouldn't he be?

 

—we collapsed suddenly. He wasn't able to wake either of us.

 

Yeah. And our… guides took us into a city. Do you think it's real?

 

Yes. But he didn't look happy about it. I'm still not really sure what we saw…

 

What do you want to do? she asked. Should we go investigate ourselves? She didn't really like that idea, but what else could they do? Sitting around, waiting for whatever it was to greet them again wasn't a viable option. Besides, she didn't like the idea of being a sitting duck.

 

I don't think we have much of a choice, he agreed. He turned back to her and tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear. We're going to have to stand united. If we don't, it'll likely attack us again.

 

Using mind tricks?

 

Yes.

 

Finn threw up his hands. "So what is this? Some kind of psychic communication?"

 

Ben ignored him. "It's night, so we can't head out now. But we should first thing in the morning."

 

"Head out where?" Finn questioned.

 

Rey stood and linked arms with him. "Show me the damage to the Falcon, and I'll explain everything."

 

 

Chapter Text

 

"So you guys think it's… a thing? Like… sentient?"

 

"Yes," Rey replied. And at Finn's newly panic-stricken face, she laughed and said, "Don't worry, Finn, it's all right."

 

"How can you say that? How can you laugh? Aren't you, you know, scared?"

 

Rey lowered her eyes. "Of course, I am. I've been afraid every second since I left Jakku. But you can't give into that fear. You can never give in, because the second you do, you won't be able to pick yourself back up again." She thought for a moment. "At least, that's how I feel. I wouldn't really know, would I?"

 

Her friend pulled her into a hug, and she didn't resist it. Finn never pitied her, only sympathized. She put her arms around him and rested her chin on his shoulder.

 

"Rey…" he whispered. "Rey, I love you."

 

She wasn't sure she'd heard him right, it had been so quiet. But his arms tightened around her, and she knew. Her heart was pounding, not for the reason he wanted. She couldn't believe he—why? Why do this, why now?

 

Why make it to where she had to hurt him?

 

Tears rose on her lashes. "You're my best friend, Finn. Please don't do this."

 

"Do what?"

 

She blinked.

 

Finn was across the room, his head tilted with confusion. "Hey, why are you crying?"

 

"I'm—I'm not." She scrubbed hastily at her eyes with her wrist and sniffled. What in hells was that? Was it like before, some sort of illusion? But why hadn't she collapsed?

 

Her hands were trembling again. They were doing that a lot lately.

 

"I, um… I've got to go." Rey staggered blindly out of the main hold. She had to get back to Ben. She had to tell him what had happened. Well, the gist of it.

 

She'd gone two steps into the corridor when it happened again, this time enough for her to know it was an illusion. It was made quite obvious to her, what with the fact that the Falcon had disappeared, and she was in one of those meadows on Naboo. She was flat on her back, the roar of the waterfalls behind her.

 

"I told you I can take whatever I want."

 

Rey pushed herself up onto her elbows. She was alone.

 

"I wanted to break you with it. I wanted to watch your hopes for me fall while you were taken in."

 

"And if I do this… you'll be at my side?"

 

She stood, and she was in Solaris. The sounds of the jungle reached her.

 

"Rey, I’m sorry. I'm acting like an ass."

 

Arms snaked around her waist. A scent tickled her nose that told her it wasn't Ben, even before she registered the touch. She swallowed, her pulse a staccato in her throat as Poe kissed it. Reality and illusion were weaving together. What was real, what was fake…?

 

"Do you forgive me?" he asked.

 

"I—for what?"

 

"I can't stop kissing you… I know how you hate it…"

 

"I don't hate it," she heard herself say. "It's just—it's complicated." And wasn't everything these days?

 

"Don't go. Don't try to save that murdering bastard… stay here with us. We need you." Poe kissed his way to her ear. "I need you."

 

"That's not…" She couldn't breathe. His kisses were stealing the very air from her lungs. His teeth grazed her earlobe, and she groaned. "You don't need me. You're Poe Dameron. You need no one, especially not a girl."

 

"Now where did you hear that from, mm?" Poe spun her around, putting her arms over his shoulders and then sliding his hands over her waist. The clouds above were growing gloomier, threatening rain.

 

He lowered his forehead to rest it against hers. His eyes closed. "Once we leave for Naboo, stay by my side."

 

"I—I can't."

 

"Why?"

 

"I…" She didn't know. Why shouldn't she stay by his side?

 

"So do it." His lips brushed over her eyebrow.

 

This was wrong.

 

This was really, really wrong.

 

It wasn't that it was Poe's arms she was in, or that she was on Solaris. She'd been in the jungle for two weeks. They were going to take off for Naboo soon. She knew she'd made a promise to Leia, but… but what was it?

 

Everything was growing so foggy.

 

"Stay with me?" he murmured.

 

She shoved her hands against his chest, breathing hard. As he staggered, the world began sliding away again. She knew she had only a moment.

 

"STOP PLAYING WITH ME!" she screamed.

 

What could it possibly want? Why was it tormenting her? Did it enjoy seeing her react to things?

 

But I'm curious, a voice whispered. Your thoughts, your heart, what makes you tick… So much more interesting than the sad, vengeful boy… it's so strange… there are two of you, yet you're one and the same.

 

Rey wasn't given the opportunity to mull those words over. She was back in the corridor on the Falcon, and she was surrounded by her companions. She shook her head, falling to her knees, her hands landing on cold steel. She felt sick.

 

It was taking everything she had not to linger on the illusion of Poe. It didn't mean anything, she hadn't done anything, yet if Ben saw it, he would lose his mind. Illusion or no, he wanted the commander's throat. She imagined he wouldn't react well to the illusion of Finn, either.

 

"Please say this thing is toying with you, too," she choked to Ben.

 

It is, but not the same as you. His thoughts were distinctly murder-y.

 

What do you mean? She was almost afraid of his answer.

 

While it confuses you with illusions, it forces me to watch them.

 

Oh, lovely. So he had seen everything. The best course of action would be to not bring anymore attention to it.

 

Did you hear… what it said? At the end?

 

That it finds your naivety interesting and my vengefulness, as it put it, dull?

 

Well, I wouldn't have said it like that. And anyway, the most important thing is that it spoke to me. It really is sentient. It's more than just an it.

 

"Are you two doing that whole talking silently thing again? Because it's getting old," Finn said. He folded his arms.

 

"And are you forcing your presence on us once more, so we know you're here?" Ben curled his lip. "It's not as funny as you think it is, I assure you."

 

"That's enough, you two," Rey said tiredly. She got to her feet with Ben's help. "If this is going to work, you're going to have to start getting along."

 

"I didn't invite him here," Ben growled. He was clearly still upset about the illusions and was taking it out on Finn.

 

"No, but you said he could come," Rey replied. It was effort not to let her temper get the better of her. "Knock the chip off your shoulder and be kinder to him. He's my best friend."

 

Finn puffed up beside her, poking his chest out like he was proud. Wisely, he kept his mouth shut.

 

"Can you guys just… give me a minute alone with Ben?" Without waiting for their response, she grabbed his elbow and dragged him to the crew quarters. She heard Chewbacca rumble behind her, with a beep from R2.

 

The second she'd wedged the door shut, she put her hands on her hips. "All right. Out with it."

 

He picked a free space of wall to lounge against, one foot on it, his arms crossing. "Out with what?"

 

"With this hostility you're harboring."

 

You don't want to know my thoughts, Rey.

 

I can view them at any time, and I know you didn't forget that so easily.

 

You can view them so long as I let you. Don't be so naïve.

 

You've called me naïve twice in the last five minutes. Has it occurred to you that maybe you're pitching a fit again and being completely unreasonable?

 

His eyes darkened. You're treading on dangerous ground.

 

I half live in your head! Get over yourself! Has it occurred to you that maybe that's what this thing wants, for us to fight? My thoughts, my heart, what makes me tick. And it knew that we're tied together. Rey sighed and threw herself onto a bed. It called you sad and vengeful… and to borrow your own words, dull. It's saying you're one-dimensional.

 

He glared.

 

You know, that there's not much to you outside of being an angry man-child?

 

The rage that swelled from him overwhelmed his own thoughts and slipped into her own, more potent than ever before. Her first instinct was to keep being snide, to be angry back. But she knew it wouldn't do any good, and besides, it'd probably just provide 'it' with more entertainment.

 

Remember what you said about being a united front? We can't do that when you're ready to burn down the galaxy every time someone breathes the wrong way.

 

Keep trivializing my response to your boy toys, Rey, but turn it around and see how it looks.

 

They're not my—! She stopped. Breathed. Fair enough. I would be angry, too. Actually, now that she thought about it, she'd probably want to claw someone's eyes out. She had never considered herself a jealous person. But the idea of someone else's arms around Ben, of his lips on another's mouth…

 

Still. But I would trust you if you told me that it was nothing, that you loved me and no one else. That doesn't mean I wouldn't feel upset, she reasoned when his thoughts grew frightening again. But I wouldn't be angry at you, and I wouldn't try to push everyone in the world away.

 

Don't forget where this began. It was my idea to raze the galaxy, to free us of our restraints.

 

She rolled her eyes, fed up with it all. Is that what you still want?

 

What do you think? You said you could read my thoughts. Tell me, then. What do I want?

 

I'm not playing this game with you. Rey kicked off her boots. I'm going to bed.

 

Is it your plan to avoid me every time we argue by feigning exhaustion?

 

Rey knew he was goading her. That didn't make it any easier to ignore him. Does it make you feel better, to act like a spoiled brat?

 

She'd thought he would blow up at her. It was simpler to handle him that way. He'd storm off in a fury and leave her blessedly alone. That wasn't the Ben who appeared, however. No, it was the one who'd embraced her in the village on Naboo and whispered in her ear that he'd kill her.

 

"Rey! I know you can hear me!"

 

He pushed away from the wall and stalked toward her. Her heart became a lump in her throat as her eyes followed him, captivated. What was he going to tell her now? Would he threaten her again?

 

"REY!"

 

His finger curled under her chin and lifted it sharply. She let him, unable to breathe again.

 

So that's in, then?

 

Ben's brown eyes were closed to her.

 

We'll never be able to get along, will we? You'll never trust me, and you'll never change.

 

Is that what you want from me? Change?

 

Only compassion. Only understanding.

 

"SCAVANGER GIRL!"

 

Rey flinched and placed her hand to her head. It was hurting, throbbing. Almost as if…

 

"Yes—wake up! This is not real!"

 

She gasped and pulled away from Ben, slapping at his hand. The world spun back into focus, and she was curled up on the ground in the cockpit. Her arms were over her head, and she was rocking back and forth. Tears streaked her cheeks.

 

Rey—Rey, gods, come here—

 

Rey jerked away from Ben's arms as they reached for her. "No, stay back!"

 

You little fool. He sat beside her and pulled her against his chest. His hand rubbed her arm as he rested his chin on her head. She didn't have the strength to try and get away a second time. She was so confused. It's me.

 

What was real…? What was real…? What was real…? What was real…?

 

whatwasrealwhatwasrealwhatwasrealwhatwasreal

 

whatwasrealwhatwasrealwhatwasreal

 

w h a t w a s r e a l

 

Ben kissed her hair. I'm real.

 

How do I know that?

 

Because I can do this. He lifted his hand. With the combined power of their connection, R2-D2, who was nearby, rose into the air with no effort at all. It's been feeding me illusions, too. But it can't make us use the Force.

 

But how—how do I know the illusion isn't just telling me that?

 

Because it makes too much sense. The illusion is so real to us because it's targeting our thoughts and our feelings. It can manipulate us into experiencing what it designs. But the Force… to be able to recreate something of that magnitude, it's not possible.

 

But…

 

If it could use the Force through us, wouldn't it have done it already? Instead it relies on parlor tricks to turn us against one another.

 

He had a point there.

 

Rey swallowed the lump in her throat. What did you see?

 

Things… things I'm not proud of.

 

She didn't pry. She didn't exactly want to share what she'd seen, either. So that's how we know if it's an illusion or not…? We use the Force…?

 

It's the only solution I have until I know more about it.

 

What if it's using the Force to create the illusions? I mean, what else could do that?

 

It still stands, if you think about it.

 

She supposed that was true. I know you said we should wait until morning, but… it's obviously not going to leave us alone.

 

I have an idea. It will only work if we remain stationary. We'll be able to rest tonight and then go out when it's light.

 

What's the idea?

 

You might not like it, he warned.

 

It has to be better than the alternative. Not being able to tell what was real… it was going to slowly drive her insane. It took a lot out of her. One never appreciated their sense of being grounded in reality until it was gone.

 

Until now, we've only… briefly joined our thoughts, our consciousness.

 

Yes…

 

If we do it again, for tonight, it would be difficult to craft illusions from both of us.

 

Ben, that's not something I mind. Swallowing, she summoned the strength to rise free from his embrace. Now that she dared to look around, she saw Finn at the threshold of the cockpit and Chewie behind him. What must they think of her? Of Ben?

 

She supposed their thoughts of Ben couldn't be much worse.

 

Yes, but we've never done it that long before.

 

We haven't got much of a choice. She glanced over as Finn tentatively crouched in front of them. His eyes darted nervously to Ben before settling on her.

 

"Rey…? Are you all right?"

 

"Rey, I love you."

 

Her throat tightened. It had been an illusion, she reminded herself. It wasn't real.

 

Ben looked at her sharply.

 

"I'm fine, Finn." It couldn't be true. Finn loved Rose. She'd seen it so many times while they were on Solaris.

 

But he'd left her like it was nothing while they were on Naboo…

 

No! she told herself firmly. This was what that thing wanted. To create conflict among her friends. She wouldn't let it mess with her mind any longer!

 

Since she knew Finn would want to be included, and understandably so, she pasted on a smile. "Mind telling me the last thing I was doing before I collapsed?"

 

"We were walking to the main hold. It was right after you said you were going to explain everything."

 

"I'm sorry, Finn." She held out her hand, and he helped her up. How was it that she constantly wound up on the floor at some point? "There's… something out there. We don't know what it is. But it's… it's making us see things that aren't there. Really powerful things."

 

"That's weird. Why isn't it messing with Chewie and me?"

 

"We think it's interested in our connection. Maybe. It's just a guess." She bit her lip. "It's like we said before, tomorrow we're going out first thing to try and find it. Finn…"

 

"Yeah?"

 

"You can't come." As expected, he started protesting immediately. "Finn, it's really powerful, whatever it is! I can't lose you!"

 

"I may not have the Force, but I'm strong, too, Rey!"

 

"I know that!" Rey pleaded. "But if you get caught in an illusion, you can't use the Force to try and break it."

 

"And what's that going to matter? It can still do the same thing if I'm here!"

 

"But you're in the Falcon! We don't know what's out there! What if you were in an illusion, and something hurt you? Something I wouldn't be able to stop if I was fighting off my own illusion?" She knew she was hurting him by telling him she had to leave him behind. It wasn't a feeling she enjoyed. "Staying here doesn't mean you're weak, Finn. It just means this isn't your strength. Besides, you can help Chewie repair the Falcon."

 

Finn set his jaw. Without another word, he left the cockpit.

 

Rey sighed and closed her eyes, her hands on her hips and her head down. He's probably going to follow us tomorrow, anyway.

 

Most likely.

 

"Chewie, we're going to bed," she announced to the wookie. "If… if something happens to you or Finn, please wake me."

 

He roared his consent.

 

Once she was alone in the crew quarters with Ben, she curled up on the center bed with him. It was the only one with a total view of the entryway. He spooned up against her back, his arm around her waist, and he buried his face in her hair. It reminded her of the time after the party on Naboo.

 

Are you ready?

 

Rey nodded. His thoughts slipped over hers, and she closed her eyes and opened herself to him.

 

It was singularly the best thing she had ever experienced, and it continued to be every time they did this. There was a sense of rightness, of coming home. She wondered if it was because their respective light and darkness were inside one another. It took away any insecurities that had formed while she was dealing with the Illusion Ben.

 

Ben?

 

Rey?

 

I love you.

 

He kissed behind her ear. I know.

Chapter Text

 

 

Rey was so warm. It was the nice sort of warmth, the kind that was soft, welcoming. The kind that made you reluctant to get up, to move in any way. And underneath it all, she could hear Ben's heart beating.

 

She snuggled closer to him, tangling their legs together more firmly. Her face was buried in his chest, and she moved it to nuzzle into his neck. He made a small noise, his arm tightening around her. His lips brushed a bleary kiss to her hair.

 

I don't want to wake up.

 

Ben hummed.

 

But we have to.

 

He made a noise of dissent.

 

She kissed his full lower lip. Ben, we have to get up.

 

Fear took hold of her, fear and doubt. What if this wasn't real? What if…?

 

Telling herself to calm down, she focused on their pillow, only enough to make it wiggle. She breathed relief.

 

Stop messing with the pillow.

 

Come on!

 

He made a much grumpier noise.

 

Changing tactics, she slid her hand up under his shirt, her fingers touching heated skin. He was like a furnace. She loved it.

 

His abdomen sank under her fingertips. Her thumb brushed along the ridges of it. Her hand inched up higher, until she could place her palm over his heart. Since he still hadn't really moved, she nibbled at his ear.  

 

She pulled back to see he'd cracked an eye open. His thoughts were colored with interest.

 

Rey grinned. Now let's go.

 

She made to get up, got as far as putting her feet on the ground, before Ben grabbed her and yanked her back to bed. As she wriggled for freedom, he tucked her against him and pushed her hair off her neck to kiss beneath her ear. Then he pushed his hips into her rump, so she could feel the evidence of his arousal.

 

We can't, not here! Someone could walk in!

 

The pull of the Force rippled through her. Ben was using it to extend their senses, to pick up where life was. The signature of Chewie and Finn glowed brightly in the engineering bay. They were deeply immersed in wires and would undoubtedly be there for a while.

 

Rey's heartrate accelerated, and Ben gave a low chuckle behind her. The sound of it tightened her stomach, tightened… lower… things…

 

His teeth caught her ear. Call it what it is.

 

No! she squeaked. If one could squeak inside their mind. All right, so they're there, but… but they could still change their mind and come in here and—

 

She was abruptly on her back and out of breath. One: because that was quick. Two: because the sight of Ben above her did a decent job at scrambling all of her thoughts. He grinned, a rare flash of teeth that was startling.

 

I don't frown that much, do I?

 

Um… How could she answer that without offending him?

 

Just by thinking that, you could offend. You do realize that? It wasn't said with malice. He was distracted, his hands getting her trousers open and yanking them down. She squeaked out loud this time, and it was swallowed by a kiss. She let out a groan that was wanton enough to make her blush.

 

The fresh surge of arousal from him at the sound made that blush deepen.

 

You have no idea how much I want you.

 

Feeling daring, she cupped between his legs and squeezed where his cock was trapped. I think I do. I can feel what you—

 

His next kiss was devouring, and the taste and feel of his tongue on hers made her start to get his own trousers open. She wanted to really touch him. Maybe their twin desires were feeding into one another, because for a moment, they worked as a single person, mirroring each other. Finishing shoving down trousers and sliding their hands over heated, bare skin.

 

They both let out one long, ragged moan.

 

Rey was slick where Ben dragged his fingers between her folds. She hissed out a soft breath and looked up at him through her lashes. He wanted so many things. He wanted to taste her again, to touch her longer, to make this moment last.

 

But they both knew that if they wanted to do this, it had to be now.

 

His cock pressed against her entrance. She gripped the base of him and helped guide him inside of her core. As he gently rocked his hips, a stark contrast to the last time they'd done this, she moaned quietly with every inch. Finally, he was seated completely inside of her, nudged up against her cervix.

 

Ben's lips brushed over her chin, her jaw, her neck. She clutched onto his shirt, her fingers digging into his back. For a moment, they stayed still. He was reveling in how she felt around him, and she was reveling in how good it was to be so spread open. Her fingers slid further up his back to play with the feathery ends of his hair.

 

Our thoughts are too joined together like this. I feel like I'm going insane.

 

Me, too.

 

He withdrew his mind until it was only a touch. It left Rey feeling bereft, as she'd grown used to having him so close to her. But they couldn't continue to function that way, not with this. It would be too much—had already started to leave that impression. There was a danger in that if their thoughts were tangled too close together for too long, they'd begin to be unable to tell themselves apart.

 

For sleeping, it was all right, harmless. For protection, a necessity.

 

Better not to push it.

 

She couldn't read his intentions without flexing her thoughts, so it came as a surprise to her when he drew out of her slowly… and pushed in just as slowly. Their first time together had been a whirlwind of heat and exhilaration, half brought upon by how rough they'd been. This was different… gentler. She found she liked it just as much.

 

You feel so good.

 

So do you.

 

He stayed slow, bracing his elbows on the bed, keeping only a few inches between their bodies. She sighed with want and need and buried her face at his neck. She began to move with him, and he adjusted his rhythm for her to join it.

 

Some part of her, some distant, distant part, still wondered and thrilled that this was happening. She'd never been sure if she'd wanted it to, this thing that had snared them. She'd known he was too mired in darkness to make this work.

 

Rey had never expected it to come to this.

 

And she was never more thankful.

 

Ben stared into her eyes as they moved together. Her thighs cradled his hips, her hands roved over her chest, underneath his shirt. He watched her like he would lose her if he looked away too quickly. She knew how he felt. These moments were so tender, this bond spun so delicately. They weren't even balanced yet.

 

But they would be. They would be, and they would figure this out, because they loved one another, and that was all that mattered.

 

Rey had never considered herself a sappy individual. She'd never known love, and the thought of it made her skeptical. She knew that if she could hear her own thoughts, she would be furious with herself. Not only was she in love, head over heels in love, it was with Kylo Ren. Ben Solo. Anyone would think she was mad. Finn probably spent every second of his time with them questioning her inwardly.

 

But there was a change in Ben, just as there had been one in her.

 

Their friends had seen the light emerging in Ben. They hadn't noticed the quiet, rising darkness inside of her.

 

The darkness that made him hers, and hers alone.

 

Ben's hips sped up, and she muffled another moan. Like this, there was so much more friction. It sent spikes of pleasure pulsing through her. His fingers found her clit and rubbed it. That was still new enough to make her arch, to make her bite into his shoulder as her eyes rolled back and orgasm took her.

 

You're making a mess.

 

I—I'm sorry—

 

Do not be sorry.

 

Ben's breathing was ragged. Her cunt had formed a shuddering vise around him, and he was working through it. A growl escaped him. He rose up onto his knees, lifting her hips and pounding into her. Her hands clawed at his chest as she writhed, unable to stay still.

 

I feel my darkness in you. I feel your possession.

 

She couldn't answer him. The pleasure was dividing her thoughts into two camps: how amazing Ben felt and how much more amazing he did as the seconds ticked past.

 

Do it.

 

She shook her head with a strangled gasp. He'd found a spot inside of her, and every time his cock rubbed over it, lightning jolted.

 

Do it!

 

You're mine—you're mine!

 

The breath he drew was shaky. Muscles flexed, and then he was slamming into her as hard as he had their first time.

 

Tell me the rest.

 

No—

 

His fingers found her clit again, working it over and over. She came again, and still he didn't stop. A sob of pleasure latched in her throat.

 

Tell me!

 

You're mine—and—I'll hurt anyone who touches you—I'll do anything to keep you—

 

It was what he'd felt toward her these last few weeks, but now it was flipped around. She couldn't even care. It was a wellspring of headiness that was taking over her, the dark blending with the light… tethered in each of them, trying to find a balance.

 

Good. Don't you feel it?

 

She did. The gods help her, but she did.

 

They were joined in thoughts and heart. The darkness that wanted her to claim him was an undercurrent that wasn't frightening. It was so far from frightening it should have been frightening. It wasn't. It only consumed.

 

Come again.

 

Rey knew he was barely holding on. She reached down and touched her clit herself. It allowed him to move without restraint. He let go, head bowing, one hand on her hip as he rocked her across the bed with the force of his thrusts. It took only a few rolls of her clit between her fingers before the dam burst again. Her fingers and thighs quickly grew slick.

 

The clench of her core contracting around him sent him right over the edge.

 

He pulled free, giving his arousal a few desperate jerks of his wrist. His seed splattered against her lower stomach. His eyes squeezed shut, he worked himself until he was entirely spent. Then he fell beside her so he didn't crush her. She wondered how they were going to clean up this mess and not have it be noticed.

 

He grabbed her hand.

 

Can we do this? What if this thing is too powerful?

 

We're going to try using the Force while connected. He was struggling to think past the glow of climax. We need to see what we're capable of. The nature of this planet hasn't been disrupted, so it should be safe.

 

How strong do you think we are?

 

The grin he gave her was feral.

 

It should be afraid.

 

 

Chapter Text

And now people talk to me,

I'm slipping out of reach now,

People talk to me,

And all their faces blur,

But I got my fingers laced together,

And I made a little prison,

And I'm locking up everyone that ever laid a finger on me

-Yellow Flicker Beat, Lorde

 

I'm worried.

 

About what?

 

About how powerful we are.

 

Why would you be worried?

 

I… I don't know.

 

And Rey didn't know. A sort of ominous feeling had taken root deep in her belly and wasn't letting go. She wasn't afraid of the dark side, of tipping the balance. She wasn't afraid of Ben going entirely back to the dark side. But… was this all right, to have two Force users connected like this?

 

She remembered Naboo and the way it was threatening to rip itself apart. That wasn't natural. This wasn't natural. And she wouldn't take it back for anything, no. She loved Ben, she loved how they felt together, how they fit together.

 

Are you afraid we're going to destroy this planet?

 

Maybe.

 

Rey heard him make a soft puff of amusement.

 

We're not that powerful, scavenger girl. No one is.

 

Okay, but then why was Naboo…?

 

We would not have destroyed Naboo. He reflected. It would have settled. Eventually.

 

Taking a lot of lives along for the ride, she pointed out.

 

And here we are, in the Wilds, on a planet strong enough to withstand our unbalance. Once we have found that balance, things will grow more stable.

 

Don't you wonder what we need to make the balance happen?

 

I suspect it involves equalizing our light and darkness.

 

Rey thought about that, about the darkness growing within her. Creeping along when she didn't notice it, almost insidiously. It would have been if she minded. She didn't.

 

They both paused to listen. Escaping while Chewie and Finn were occupied wasn't something Rey was proud of. The alternative, however, was endangering Finn's life more than was necessary. Chewie wouldn't care so much about staying with the Falcon. If they could get away unnoticed, at least for a little while…  

 

Finished with making sure the coast was clear, they ghosted down the boarding ramp and into the sunshine. It was nice. Not muggy like a jungle, humid like the sea, or as dry as a desert. It was temperate, almost a little too cold, but that was just her preference.

 

Birds twittered morning greetings to one another. Rey closed her eyes and listened. It was peaceful in a way. They knew they had nothing to fear, and for a moment, Rey envied them.

 

The first thing we should do is sense the surrounding area. Ben's eyes were everywhere, assessing potential threats or ambushes. I'm interested in seeing how far we can expand our range. Are you ready?

 

Rey barely had time to give him her consent before she felt the Force stirring inside of her. She focused belatedly, closing her eyes again and channeling all that she could. The result was more intense than anything she'd ever experienced with the Force. Her abilities were twined with his, and their net of detection spread nearly three miles into the forest. They could have gone farther, but at that point, everything was too entangled, too hard to keep track of.

 

Nothing enormously threatening was close by. There were families of birds teeming in the trees, creatures swinging from the branches, small and friendly. Snakes coiled in the shade, worms and other things digging through the ground.

 

They're not afraid. I don't think they've ever encountered anyone.

 

They let go of the Force, and the mental sweep faded away. Rey was flushed, and Ben's eyes were bright. They looked at one another, and a moment later he had her up against the side of the Falcon, her legs around his waist as he kissed her. The remnants of their power throbbed through them, a high both unfamiliar and welcome.

 

Rey gripped his hair. He bit at her lips. She had a hand traversing under his shirt, and he grabbed onto her rear and squeezed. They both let out something close to a snarl of need and tore at one another.  

 

They struggled to get their pants down, and as soon as they had enough room to move, Ben gripped his cock and drove inside of her. Rey's teeth sank into his shoulder. His nails dug into her ass. They were practically rutting. All they cared about was this: being joined, riding the wave of power. Everything else had ceased to exist.

 

He angled his seed onto the grass. His cock was soaked from her orgasm. Rey licked her lips and tried to remember how to breathe. He was in similar shape, panting and dragging his hair off his face. He let go of her enough to let her slide back to the ground.

 

If we do that every time we use our power, it's going to be a problem. Rey's fingers fumbled getting her trousers back up.

 

We'll grow used to it. Eventually.

 

She laughed. He really liked that word. What if we're in the middle of something important?

 

He got his own trousers into place. When aren't we?

 

Ben was clearly determined not to worry about it. She supposed she shouldn't, either. They had other things to deal with. Like the entity that was trying to illusion them to death.

 

Let's go before they realize we're gone.

 


 

 

What looked like needles crunched underfoot as Rey walked. A bird flew overhead and called to its mate. In the shade of the trees, it was even cooler.

 

They'd been moving for nearly an hour now, pausing occasionally to sense for beings. They didn't put nearly as much power into it as they had the first time. They found that even with minimum effort and no concentration, they could pick up signatures several hundred feet ahead. This worked doubly as a way to ensure they weren't trapped in an illusion.

 

"What are these things? Do you know?" Rey spoke out loud because as much as she liked the mental link with Ben, she needed to practice talking the normal way now and again. She was a little concerned that she might grow out of the habit of knowing how to socialize with people who weren't in her head.

 

"Pine needles."

 

It was nice to hear his voice.

 

"Pine needles," she murmured around a smile.

 

"From pine oaks, like the ones you see here." He waved a hand at the massive tree trunks. "They're rare, but I suppose I'm not surprised. The Wilds are unpredictable. You can find anything here."

 

Why do you think it hasn't tried to attack us yet?

 

I suspect it knows we have a plan against it.

 

They continued in silence, each wary and on guard. They didn't sense anything, no, but they had no idea what this thing was or what, entirely, it was capable of. They also had no real idea of how far away the scene from the very first illusion was. They'd been walking for only about an hour, and they still hadn't reached the outskirts of the city.  

 

It was close, though. She could feel it.

 

Why are you… pulling out…? Rey didn't know how else to phrase it, and she blushed. She didn't look at him, spreading their awareness again. There was a four-legged creature nearby, about the size of those crystal wolves on Crait. It was bent over a pond, antlers rising majestically from its head.

 

"Over here," she said. She opened the pack on Ben's back that he was carrying and grabbed their water containers and the iodine.

 

The creature lifted its head. It stared at them for half a second before prancing off. It had a heavy fur coat on it, the color of dusk, and no tail.

 

Why am I pulling out? Ben waited as she knelt and filled their bottles.

 

Y-Yes…

 

The first time, we were swept up in it… I wasn't thinking.

 

Oh. Well, that made sense. Neither of them had been thinking about anything other than how they felt for each other.

 

Do you want me to not…?

 

No! No, it's okay if you do. It lost some of its intimacy, but Rey didn't want to get pregnant. Being pregnant in the challenges they faced daily would be disastrous.

 

She applied the iodine drops and rose. It would take about half an hour before it was safe. They could have grabbed hydration from the Falcon, but they didn't know how long they would be stranded on this planet. There was no use in wasting all their resources so quickly.

 

Why does it feed you illusions of Commander Dameron?

 

Rey capped the bottles and spun them closed to buy time. She didn't want to fight with him; this really wasn't the time for it. But Ben was stubborn, and she couldn't beg off anymore. He had her cornered.

 

I don't know.

 

Don't lie.

 

Her temper flared. She stamped it down and turned to face him, looking him right in the eye. I feel sorry for him. He likes me in that way. He thinks he can rescue me. She remembered Poe's words to her on the Falcon about how it was important to him that she know she was more than nothing. Whenever he advances on me, I know it can't go anywhere, and I hurt for him. He's my friend.

 

Ben arched an eyebrow. He will never stop trying to have you.

 

You don't know that. Rey angrily pushed the bottles into the backpack.

 

Why are you—?

 

I'm defensive because I know that anything I say about it doesn't matter! You don't like him, you don't trust him around me, and you want me to cut him out of my life.

 

Would that be so hard?

 

She took a breath and used the Force to help build her patience. I know you want me to need only you. But I've never had friends before, and now I do. And they could be your friends, too, if you let them.

 

Ben rolled his eyes. You are incredibly naïve at times.

 

No, just hopeful. I know you'll never be friends with Poe… or like him.

 

And you will not let me kill him.

 

No.

 

Beat him within an inch of his life?

 

No.

 

Fight him for your honor? He set his jaw.

 

Rey eyed him. That fight would have nothing to do with her honor. But she thought about how she would feel if this was the other way around, if some woman was pursuing Ben. She wouldn't be thrilled. Not pushed to murderous feelings, no. Violent, on the other hand…

 

You can fight him. Without the Force or weapons. And Ben, you know I will know if you use the Force.

 

Fine.

 

Do you feel better?

 

He made a grumpy noise. Rey took that to mean he did, he just wasn't willing to admit it.

 

They resumed their trek.

 

Rey pondered if there was anything else they needed to discuss. She already knew he wouldn't want to get into the Knights of Ren, or what the First Order was doing without him. So what was safe…?

 

"I need… a crystal. I need to be able to build my own lightsaber. We destroyed Luke's, and I wasn't able to repair it. It died. That's why you saw me scared out of my wits when I was with Finn. There was a creature there, something feline, about fifteen feet tall, more or less. It chased us down."

 

"The lightsaber died?" Ben frowned at her.

 

"Yes. It just stopped working. It ignited, and then it flickered—"

 

"Consider yourself lucky that crystal did not explode on you."

 

Alarm tore through Rey, made her pulse skip. "It could have exploded?!" She remembered to keep her voice down. Why, she wasn't sure. It wasn't as if there was anything around to hurt them, and the 'thing' knew where they were no matter what.

 

"Yes."

 

Rey was stunned. She'd had a brush with death and had been completely unaware.   

 

"Well… either way, I… I need another lightsaber," she said when she'd regained her voice. 

 

"In the past, the Jedi were fond of using crystals from Ilum. When Skywalker trained us, the planet we were on had gems. We harvested them for our lightsabers."

 

"You don't have to use the crystals?"

 

"No. They're powerful, but there are other ways, ways just as powerful." Ben touched the lightsaber at his side. Rey wondered if it was purposeful or habit.

 

"Once we have balance, I want to find one."

 

Ben nodded. "We will. Do you have a preference for a specific color?"

 

Her eyes rounded. "You can decide what color?"

 

"Generally, what you use determines the color."

 

"That's amazing…"

 


 

 

The forest had grown dense. It was quite the feat, considering how large these trees were. Finding a path grew difficult. Oftentimes, they were wandering over giant roots all gnarled together. The sunlight that had been drifting in was all but shut out, leaving the world beneath the boughs dark and uncertain.

 

Rey was tired. She wasn't used to walking such long distances, and this was more arduous than the jungle in Solaris, if she didn't count the swamp. And in that moment, she didn't. These roots were hellish to climb. Compounded with the rising incline, her calf muscles were threatening mutiny. She was too stubborn to admit she needed rest, though.

 

Her companion was handling matters with what appeared to be little to no challenge. Then again, he was much more fit. He was like a sleek feline, in that every time he moved, he was stalking, and his muscles were rippling with him. It was entrancing. Too many times she found her eyes grazing over him appreciatively. He was ahead of her now, so she had a full view. It provided a nice distraction from her screaming legs.  

 

They had just sent out another sweep when Ben took off at a dead run.

 

Ben?!

 

He didn't reply. A new type of alarm gripped her. All the aches in her body disappeared as adrenaline surfaced. She sprung into action, hot on his trail.

 

Ben!

 

What had he seen? Discovered? What had happened?

 

She leapt over roots, her legs pumping, propelling her. She never tripped, never stumbled, and could only assume it was blind luck. He was already so far ahead of her, with his long, long legs. He was barely in view, promising to vanish at any moment.

 

Rey gave up on trying to reach him with thoughts, and she didn't have the breath to shout. Clearly this was too important. She understood that. She just wished she could catch up to him, wished she had some clue as to what was going on.

 

Her lungs protested, cramping her chest. All she could hear was her blood roaring in her ears. All she could feel was the panic and the fear. It wanted to pull her under at every opportunity. She wouldn't let it. She was used to ignoring it by now.

 

The trees thinned. The soft ground was springy beneath her feet. Twigs and leaves and pine needles crunched. The long, thick, gnarled roots had disappeared. She was free to fling herself farther ahead, gaining speed. She wondered if he got to their destination first, if he could still use the Force with her not so close.

 

She was nearly even with him—he was several yards away, the space between them decreasing—she was closer—she could touch him if she wanted—

 

"REY! NO! STOP!"

 

She was so close—so close to understanding what was happening…

 

Arms grabbed her forcefully. It gave her whiplash, and she kicked her feet out. No! What had her? Was it the entity?!

 

Rey concentrated on the Force—

 

Opened her eyes and swallowed a scream—

 

"It's okay, it's okay, I've got you, shhh…"

 

The flat land she'd seen a moment ago was now a cliff face, and she was a half a step from toppling over it.

 

She sank back into Ben, and despite herself, a sob rose in her throat. She managed to swallow it before it could escape her mouth.

 

She'd nearly walked over a cliff.

 

She'd nearly died.

 

Ben stroked her hair, one arm still holding her to him. He was completely out of breath. Had he only just managed to stop her?

 

It's getting smarter. She squeezed her eyes shut. The illusion it created… it picked something I wouldn't question…

 

Ben backed them away until they were safely back within the stand of trees. He let go of her, and Rey collapsed to her knees and retched. Nothing came up. Her face was burning from exertion, and her body was shaking from it.

 

She couldn't stand this. Couldn't stand how this thing was getting into her head.

 

I've been asleep so long, she heard. I've forgotten how simple humans are. But the two of you are still a puzzle… two people, one person…

 

What do you want from me?! she yelled inside of her head.

 

It didn't reply. Of course not.

 

Rey pushed her hands over her hair and looked up. The cliff was a part of some sort of canyon. Across its chasm were more dilapidated buildings. How much of this planet had been overrun with people?  

 

Do you need to rest for a minute?

 

She shook her head. She didn't trust her voice.

 

Summoning some reserve of strength, she managed to amble into an upright position. Her hands clenched into fists at her sides. She gritted her teeth and glared at thin air. There was something boiling up inside of her, something all too eager to be let free.

 

Rey had never been this angry. When Han had died, she'd wanted to hurt Kylo Ren. Hurt him, but not murder him, even though he'd done so to his own father. They'd fought in the woods after that, with snow flying all around them, lightsabers clashing together. He'd asked her to be his apprentice. She'd given him that scar.

 

The next they met, it had been through the Force Bond. She'd taken a blaster and shot it without hesitation, aiming to kill. That was born from fear and grief. And when they'd battled over his lightsaber in Snoke's chambers, it was to save her life. Even after she was on Solaris, and he'd told her he wanted a truce, and she'd wanted to hurt him like he'd hurt her… she'd never… been so… so blindingly furious…

 

So bloodthirsty.

 

That thing was going to pay. It wasn't just toying with her emotions now—it was toying with her life. Deliberately, not born out of any sort of anguish or fury. No, it was a coldblooded attempt. She wasn't going to stand for it. She would do everything in her power to destroy it.

 

Realization crept through her thoughts from Ben's.

 

You didn't need darkness offered to you. You needed to be pushed.

 

Rey didn't have the energy to be angry at that, not when she was so determined.

 

I'm going to kill it.

 

His breath left him in a whoosh. He was silent for a moment, deliberating what to say.

 

If you kill intentionally like that… you're embracing the dark side.

 

I don't care.

 

And she didn't.

 

Not when it meant protecting herself and those she loved.

 

On some level, she knew it was his darkness that was guiding these thoughts, these urges along. If she used the dark side, it would make this easier. She would have what she needed to put an end to her tormentor.

 

And she would relish every moment of it.

Chapter Text

 

We need to be careful, Ben thought. I believe it was able to pull you into another illusion because you were tired.

 

Rey didn't like to think she was so weak. On the other hand, denying it would only exacerbate the problem. She had been tired, so tired she was still shaking from the run that had taken place once the illusion started.

 

What do you suggest we do?

 

We rest. We combine our thoughts again, and we rest.

 


 

 

The stone city.

 

Ben and Rey looked up at the skyline at the birds soaring overhead. They were circling around the top of one of the abandoned towers. Rey wondered if they had made a nest up there.

 

Her eyes swept over the rest of the city. It was exactly as it had been in the first illusion. It went miles inward. Rey couldn't see any sort of end to it, only tower after tower after tower… What had this place been like when it was thriving? It was sad to see it now.

 

The journey to the center was going to be long and arduous. They would have to rest more because their path through the trees hadn't been nearly as strenuous as this would be. Rey felt like she was holding them back and knew it was nonsense. Ben would inevitably have had to take a break, too. He projected an image of tirelessness, but he was only human.

 

And everyone grew weary eventually.

 

Rey hoped they would make it there before nightfall. They had no idea as to how long days on this planet lasted. Darkness could be an hour away, or twelve. They hadn't gotten a good sense of time here, seeing as how they'd spent most of it trapped in illusions or sleeping.

 

What do we do if it grows dark?

 

We find cover.

 

And join our thoughts?

 

Yes.

 

What if this is a trap?

 

We came here on our own. The outcome will be the same whether it's a trap or not.

 

She supposed that was true.

 


 

 

Rey stood under the shade of a crumbling building and panted. Sweat was dripping down her forehead and neck. She wiped away the former and took a swig of water from her bottle. Not too much, though. She needed to conserve what she could. She knew that much from growing up in a desert.

 

At the touch of Ben's mind, she let him in. They needed to rest for a moment and regain their grasp on their surroundings. They'd been going straight for hours, but at this point, everything looked the same. Towers, broken buildings, plant life flourishing, all of it unending. They couldn't even see the forest anymore.

 

She hoped they would be able to find their way back to the Falcon once this was over.

 

They rested for half an hour and then soldiered onward. It was hell climbing over these buildings, and sometimes the flora would be too thick to cut through easily. Ben had brought out his lightsaber, making a path for them. The sight of it always made Rey quite envious. She missed the feeling of having a lightsaber in her hand, of being able to defend herself.

 

Of having something capable of attacking the thing trying to murder her. Maybe then she'd have a fair chance.

 

Ben caught onto her rising bloodthirst. We are going to use the Force, remember?

 

Yes, he was right. She'd gotten tunnel vision.

 

The Force will be more potent than anything a lightsaber can do.

 

The Force. They'd already had a taste of their combined powers, and they hadn't even pushed them to the limit yet. Once they got there, once they reached this thing, the might of their power would eviscerate it. She had doubted this morning, but she didn't now.

 

She just…

 

She…

 

Rey bit the inside of her lip. Hard. The flash of pain reminded her of herself. Honestly, she was a little terrified of what had risen inside of her. She knew murder wasn't the way, that tit for tat wasn't what was right. She also knew that using the Force copiously could have negative impacts on her sense of self, as well as her body.

 

How do you do it? How do you resist?

 

I didn't.

 

Well, all right then.

 

I had no reason to. Now… with our connection, with what's happened… I build my resistance with what I pull from you.

 

So it still calls to you? The power?

 

The power calls to everyone. The use of it is what sets Jedi and Sith apart.

 

That made her feel a little better.

 

Gravel crunched beneath their boots. They came to a stop before a line of buildings that didn't have an immediate end. A giant tree wound through them, and Rey tilted her head back to see the roots better. She could climb those easily.

 

You are… having trouble resisting?

 

He didn't need to ask that. He could see it clearly in her mind. Which meant he was probing for something.

 

All I want to do is take our power, right now, and go deal with this thing.

 

Rey placed the sole of her boot against the biggest root. It wasn't slick, but it was also very dry. Getting a foothold might be a problem. She took a few steps back, then several more, and then crouched with one knee on the ground.

 

She exhaled.

 

Rey tore across the gravel, arms pumping at her sides, and leapt. Her feet found purchase, and she wrapped her arms around the root. With some shimmying, she was soon an easy twenty feet off the ground.

 

Has it occurred to you I may not be able to climb like that?

 

It's not as hard as it looks.

 

She concentrated and kept climbing. Some fifteen minutes later, she stood at the top of one of those ridiculously tall buildings. She put her hands on her hips and lowered her head as her heart pounded madly. Catching her breath was taking a moment; she was a little too winded.

 

Two minutes later, Ben landed next to her, frazzled and irate. That was not pleasant. He brushed his hands off, clearing away the bark.

 

Rey didn't answer him. She was too busy staring straight ahead.

 

Not questioning her, Ben stood beside her. Together, they took in the sight they'd been searching for. Bodies and bodies of petrified people, climbing over one another, fighting for something Rey hadn't been able to figure out yet. And the girl at the top, her hand outstretched, so close to grasping something.

 

"It's going to take another hour just to get down there," Rey said. They had no climbing equipment, and the side of this building was a straight shot down. They'd have to find another way to go around; probably keep walking over the tops of the buildings and tree roots until they found an easier way down.

 

There was an eerie quiet in the air. Rey hadn't realized how much wildlife was still rooting around in the buildings until it was gone. The waist high grass and the trees continued to flourish, but there were no birds, no critters…

 

It was deeply unsettling.

 


 

 

They were getting closer, and so far, the sunlight was holding strong. It had taken two hours instead of one to get there. After an hour and a half of hunting for a way down, they came upon a hole in the roof of one building. It consisted of layers of abandoned floors, and they followed them until it spat them out decently near the ground.

 

They wanted something, Rey said. She reached the first of the statues and went to touch it, but Ben gripped her hand and yanked it away.

 

You don't know that it won't spread to you.

 

Heart still racing from the sudden grab, Rey nodded. What do you think they were after?

 

The creature that is toying with us.

 

Rey's brows rose at that. What?

 

It's just a hunch.

 

She was still looking at Ben and walking forward as she slammed into an invisible wall. The force of it sent her flying a few feet back, and she grunted in pain as she landed on gravel. What in seven hells…?

 

So it's hiding in there!

 

We can probably penetrate it with the Force.

 

And then what?

 

Then we meet it when it comes for us.

 

Uneasy, Rey took Ben's hand. He waited for her to be ready this time, and then they both called upon the Force. It came swiftly to them, stealing Rey's breath. She did her best to ignore it. Now was not the time.

 

Concentrate.

 

They moved as one, their awareness stretching. They took the Force and gathered it, as if in handfuls, building it until it was brimming over. They fused it together and then launched it forward, Rey crying out, Ben standing grimly.

 

The air rippled.

 

Now what—

 

Darkness.

 

Rey could feel it, something headed straight for her. She threw up her arms, squeezed her eyes shut.

 

Nothing hit her.

 

After a few tense heartbeats, Rey lowered her arms and opened her eyes. The darkness had vanished. In its place was a sprawling metropolis, the touch of wildlife gone. There was nothing here but shininess, everything metal or plastic and completely devoid of empathy. It was an odd thing to think, and she wasn't sure how she knew that.

 

Her eyes lifted to the people climbing over one another. They were swarming, they were rushing past her to the center to join the fray. Weapons flashed and went off, lasers bouncing off metal surfaces and taking out more people. The cries of the dying and the vengeful filled the air.

 

Everyone had completely lost their minds.

 

Ben

 

She turned to him, but he wasn't there.

 

Oh, no. An illusion?

 

Rey pulled at the Force. It didn't respond to her call.

 

An illusion.

 

They'd discussed how to tell if she was in one, but not how to get out of it!

 

She was being shown the past, though… why?

 

She hadn't seen anything for the people to be warring over, but that was because she hadn't peered hard enough. Something was up there, glowing a brilliant white. It faded back into non-existence, and the air rippled. The crowd screamed harder. A child was elbowed in the face, crushed a second later by someone's foot. Rey looked away, ill.

 

What is this?

 

A voice answered her. This is what happened here. You wanted to know.

 

"Take me back!" Rey cried.

 

No. I want you to see them kill one another to get to me.

 

To… to what, the glowing white ball…? Was it saying that it was—that thing she'd seen so briefly?

 

"What are you?" Rey asked.

 

The petrification process had begun. It sprang from the ground and moved steadily upward, claiming all in its path. Faces were frozen in time—the woman at the top, reaching, reaching, fingers stilling as the stone encompassed her.

 

I am everything and I am nothing. I am energy, but I do not change. I am wanted because of what I can do, the power I represent.

 

"Don't play around!" she snapped.

 

I can feel the desire in you, the desire to kill me. That is new. I have never felt this. I have always been wanted, coveted, never hated.

 

"I'm not a doll for you to experiment on emotions with!" Rey looked round and round, but couldn't spot anything significant. If it weren't for the pulses of movement the ball sent off, she would have thought everything was petrified, not only the citizens.

 

I wonder if you could kill me. Strangely, it didn't sound like a taunt or a challenge. I think that would make me very happy. I am very lonely.

 

Lonely?

 

What?

 

Rey stepped closer to the center, her eyes now trained back on the ball. "What do you mean?"

 

I am only wanted—to be used.

 

"I don't—care about using you!" Rey shouted. "I have no idea what you are, and I really don't need to! Now take me away from this illusion and bring me back to reality!"

 

This is not an illusion. This is a memory.

 

Blasted…

 

"Memory or not, let me go!"

 

You really do not want to know what I am?

 

"If I can use it kill you!"

 

You are not intrigued by my potential?

 

"Whatever you are, I don't want it. I have everything I need. All right? So—"

 

You do not want pure, unlimited power?

 

"No! I have enough power!"

 

The voice was quiet. Just when Rey lost her patience again, it spoke anew.

 

You do not want to use me? Even if you knew what I was…?

 

She closed her eyes for strength. "If you want to tell me, then tell me," she gritted out. "But I really don't care either way. If I listen, will you free me?"

 

Yes.

 

"Fine." She crossed her arms. "Let's get this over with, then."

Chapter Text

 

The world disappeared, and Rey found herself staring at—nothing. It was black, everywhere, so complete that she couldn't even see her hand in front of her. Unnerved, she tensed. Her hand went habitually to her hip. Weeks later and she still reached for her lightsaber.

 

"What are you doing?" she called.

 

To know what I am, you must first be made to understand.

 

"What—"

 

Now the inverse, white light so searing her eyes teared up. She covered her face with her arms again and prayed it would go away soon. It was worse than the darkness, and her arms were doing little to block it out. She found she had to grind the heels of her palms into her eyes to find relief from its brightness.

 

In the beginning, there was nothing.

 

What was this, some sort of genesis story?

 

Partial darkness, and Rey could see spots whenever she blinked. She looked down and gasped. Beneath her feet, the light had transformed into a swirling galaxy. It was as though she were standing on glass, protected from falling, privy to the inner workings of something that no one could ever fully understand: life, death, destruction, creation. The link they made, continuing ever onward in a circle.

 

An ouroboros.

 

The galaxy shifted, rapidly withdrawing upon itself until it was nothing. It exploded scant seconds later, matter traveling faster than the speed of light, ricocheting around the empty pocket of space. She saw the galaxy as it was again, and it swirled closer. There was the supermassive black hole at its center. Planets and stars hung in a blanket of inky darkness, as if waiting to be plucked. She did exactly this as one of the former came near, an orangey color.

 

The planet was transparent in her grasp. She stared into it, and it took form before her. She could have been staring out a window in the Millennium Falcon for how large it was, suspended in space once more. Streamers of color swirled in the backdrop of space, the gases of a nebula playing close at hand.

 

"What is this?" Rey whispered.

 

The Wellspring of Life.

 

Rey blinked, and they were traveling to the planet, into its atmosphere. The surface was barren except for the geysers shooting up out of the crust, sparkling, radiant. As Rey eyed them, lips parting in a bit of awe, she was suddenly disappearing through the crust and into an entirely different world below.

 

Floating islands, rich with flora.

 

And—

 

"The Force," Rey whispered.

 

Yes.

 

"You're saying this is… where the Force comes from?"

 

Yes.

 

Rey couldn't seem to get air into her lungs. She wasn't even really there, just observing a phantom. But she could feel the energy surrounding her as if it were tangible. It was too much, yet not, all at the same time.

 

She didn't want it.

 

You turn away from the idea of such power?

 

"I don't need that much power. No one does."

 

The Wellspring of Life fell away into fragmented pieces, and what was left was the planet she'd been stranded on for several days. Its buildings were gone. The giant trees covered most of where the city was, and rivers, and a lake. The treetops grew closer as Rey was lowered to their boughs and then underneath.

 

On the ground, it was quiet. It was so real that Rey could feel the sponginess of moss against the soles of her boots. Something inside of her urged her to glance up, and when she did, she found a part in the trees. A flash of incredible white light that had her eyes tearing up, and then, somewhere distant, a very loud boom.

 

"What is this?"

 

My creation.

 

"What do you—?"

 

A priestess, many millennia ago, grew weary of her charge of guarding the Wellspring. She sought to take energy. Even surrounded by the light, there was darkness building in her heart. She rendered a knot in the energy. The moment she succeeded, I was flung from the Wellspring. I did not belong there anymore, and the Force cannot be dispersed.

 

Rey was trying to follow. "You were a knot in the Force? And the Wellspring booted you out, because you had to go somewhere?"

 

Correct.

 

"What happened to the priestess?"

 

I do not know. I only know that I have been hunted, used. I grew angry… I was lonely, and humans are despicable, predictable. They all crave power. They want to use this power. For thousands of years, I allowed them to use me. One day, I grew sentient…

 

"So you—what, gathered all those people there and then petrified them?"

 

I feared what they would make me do. That they would destroy this planet.

 

"Why didn't you just leave?"

 

The day they were petrified was the day I became sentient. After that, I had the planet to myself. There was no need to go anywhere. I grew tired, and I slumbered.

 

"What happened to the rest of the people on this planet?"

 

I am not entirely certain. I believe there was a plague.

 

"You make illusions… is that what happened in the city? They were reaching for something you were showing them?"

 

Their heart's desire.

 

"That's not—" Rey broke off. She wasn't sure how to word what was weighing on her mind. "How was that right?"

 

They were using me to murder each other. How was that right?

 

"And… now you're just… you woke up because we landed on this planet?"

 

Yes.

 

"You said you didn't understand us."

 

I have never seen anything of your like. You are two individuals, yet you share your essence.

 

"…Like a soul, you mean?"

 

No. Your essence.

 

Rey sighed. It didn't seem to understand what she was referring to. She could figure it out later.

 

"And you were testing us, to see how we 'ticked,' as you called it?"

 

Yes.

 

"Right. Well, this has been completely fascinating, but I'm really worried about Ben, and I want to go. In fact, we really want to leave this planet. We only landed here because of a solar storm. We just need to fix our ship, and then we'll be gone. You can read my thoughts—you know I'm telling the truth. Please… let us leave?"

 

Take me with you?

 

Rey did a doubletake. That was honestly not what she had been expecting, not even on the far end of her spectrum of thoughts.

 

"Why would I?" she found herself saying. "You've—" She shook her head. "You've got all this incredible power, power I don't want, and you've made it clear you don't want to be used. Why would you want to come with me?"

 

I am lonely.

 

"I couldn't take you with me. I—I could never trust you! I could never trust that you wouldn't use illusions on my friends and myself!"

 

I was only testing you. I left your two friends alone.

 

Rey's mouth worked silently.

 

Then she set her jaw. "Ben would try to use you."

 

She wasn't certain he'd be able to refrain from getting a hold of so much raw power. Of a knot in the Force, concentrated and primal and lethal. The first thing he'd probably do was create that universe he'd been envisioning. Yes, Ben had her light inside of him, but that didn't mean he was immune to things like this.

 

Power was a Sith's ultimate weakness. And that hadn't changed when they'd forged their bond.

 

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­I know how the two of you can achieve balance.

 

Rey hesitated.

 

If you take me with you, I promise I will not harm any you consider friend. And I promise that I will teach you how to learn this balance. You need it most, do you not? The reason this planet is unaffected is because I am here. I can set the balance.

 

"You…?"

 

Do not think I did it for you. I was protecting my home.

 

"So then why are you so eager to leave?"

 

I am so lonely. And… I like you. You do not want to use me. Please?

 

"How would I even hide something like you? You're a glowing ball of light—"

 

The forest faded. Rey was in the center of the city, and there was a creature at her feet. She had never seen its like before, and as it stared up at her, deep in its black eyes was the intelligence of the Force knot.

 

It was… cute.

 

"What are you?"

 

I have taken the appearance of a creature known as a squirrel monkey. Is this sufficient?

 

The monkey leapt, and Rey jumped despite herself. It clutched onto her bicep, and then settled on her shoulder. Its long tail looped over her shoulders. It smelled like—a creature, but not… overwhelmingly so.

 

Think of me as a very hygienic monkey.

 

Rey didn't want to do it—and then she did. She giggled.

 

No!

 

No, she had to focus.

 

"You tried to kill me," she said.

 

I woke you before you stepped off the cliff. I allowed your partner to grab you and stop you. Even if he had not, I would not have let you die.

 

"I don't believe you," she murmured.

 

I am ever intrigued by your feelings for him. So intricate… despair, longing, hope, fury, forgiveness, sadness, love—

 

"Yes, all right, I get it." She was blushing. It felt… intrusive, almost, to have someone know your thoughts so entirely. Ben did, but that was different. He was now a part of her.

 

May I come with you?

 

"What if Ben tries to use you?"

 

"What if I try to what?"

 

Rey paused. The scenery hadn't changed. She was still in the city center. But she could finally feel Ben's presence again, and when she turned, she saw he was standing directly behind her. His eyes were feverish, and he went to grab her—stopped. His gaze had landed on the monkey on her shoulder.

 

What in hell is that?

 

The Force knot? she replied weakly.

 

You were gone. For half an hour. You—you stood there, unresponsive. Nothing I did could reach you. Explain to me what is happening. He was on the verge of imploding from his temper.

 

Rey explained everything she could. She fumbled a few times, and the monkey helped her when her thoughts stalled. There was only so much she could describe with words. They were communicating mind to mind, but it wasn't with actual… words. It was with pictures, feelings.

 

Ben crossed his arms. No, he said.

 

"I don't think he's taking no for an answer."

 

He? I am a he?

 

"Oh… sorry. I suppose you don't have a gender, do you?"

 

The monkey hopped up and down a few times. He clapped his little hands. This is fine. Would you name me?

 

"Name you?" Ben hissed. It seemed the Force knot was projecting to both of them. "I want to murder you. I don't trust you. I don't buy for one second that you weren't trying to kill Rey, or drive either of us insane."

 

Then may I offer a gift?

 

"I don't want your—"

 

Something coated Rey's thoughts, something… light and fluffy. A weight had eased off her shoulders, and she could… breathe. Normally. She hadn't realized she wasn't until just then.

 

She touched her chest and looked at Ben. He wore the same expression she imagined she was wearing.

 

It took her a moment to place what was different. She had complete and total access to Ben's thoughts as always, only… the turmoil that had volleyed through her from her light and his darkness had… settled. She felt… different, yet the same.

 

Once you achieve true balance, it will feel like this.

 

"It's just an illusion," Ben snipped.

 

Only in a sense.

 

Ben opened his mouth to no doubt start a heated argument against the monkey. Rey stopped him by lifting a hand. Her thoughts weren't pounding, her chest wasn't tight. She didn't feel conflicted, like she was struggling to be one or the other and not let either overwhelm her and win. For the first time in days, she had a clear head.

 

"His name is Luke. And he's coming with us."

 


 

 

Chewie roared in question.

 

"This is Luke. He says he knows how to power the ship back up until we can find someplace to repair it."

 

Finn looked a cross between furious and relieved. His eyes let Rey know he hadn't forgiven her yet for leaving him behind. "Can we trust this thing? What is it?"

 

"A… friend," Rey replied. How true that was had yet to be seen.

 

Ben stormed past all of them and disappeared into the corridor.

 

"He's not on board yet," Rey said. "But he will be. Chewie, help me get the Falcon off the ground?"

 

He roared and ambled to the cockpit. 

 

Maybe she was mad. She could accept that. She could also accept that she enjoyed having clear thoughts, knowing where she stood in the grand scheme of things. Knowing that she held both their light and darkness inside of her, and she was as settled as she would be once they figured this out.

 

She was balanced.

 

She was gray.

Chapter Text

 

"No, Rey, I just don't understand why you're not putting the Resistance first!" Finn slapped the backs of his fingers against his open palm.

 

Rey sighed. They'd been at this for an hour already. "The Resistance can wait. This can't."

 

"How can you say that, though?! We need you!"

 

"The Resistance is less than twenty people, Finn!" Rey had been trying to keep her voice down, to not yell. She didn't like yelling at her friends. But tempers were flying, and she couldn't rein it in anymore. "It's going to take time to gather more of us!"

 

"This is just Kylo Ren talking—"

 

"No, it's not!"

 

"—or that weird—weird—monkey thing! Whatever it calls itself!"

 

"Finn, did you miss the part where we almost upended Naboo!"

 

"Because of that stupid bond thing!" Finn pointed in the direction of Ben. Ben had retired in the crew quarters five minutes into the argument, so he wouldn't rip Finn's head from his shoulders. "He's bewitched you! He's got some kinda crazy mojo over you!"

 

Now Rey staggered back a step. "That's what you really think? That this is a trap?"

 

Finn put his hands on his head and closed his eyes. He looked like he was praying for strength. After a long moment of silence, he set his jaw. "Rey… I don't know. Okay? I just don't know. There's too many things happening, things that don't make sense. And I was willing to just go along on the ride—"

 

"You begged me to take you with us!"

 

The man's eyes flashed open. "Because I was trying to protect you!"

 

"Against Ben?" Rey couldn't keep the disbelief from her voice.

 

Finn stepped close to her, his hands outstretched. Was he close to strangling her?

 

When he spoke, the words were strained. "Against Kylo Ren. Rey, he's murdered hundreds of thousands of people! Not only that, he tried to kill you!"

 

The truth of it was, Rey had no defense. She thought she'd been prepared for this, to see the looks of disbelief and distrust on her friends' faces. She'd been wrong. Nothing could have ever prepared her for this.

 

She put a hand on her hip as the other went to cover her face.

 

"Rey?"

 

"I don't know what you want me to say, Finn," Rey choked. She silently cursed herself and pulled it together. She dropped her hand, and her eyes were dry. "Anything I say won't matter, you've already made up your mind. And I understand that, I do. I respect your opinions."

 

Finn deflated. "That's…"

 

"That's what?"

 

"You're just… you're just different, Rey…"

 

"I am different, Finn. Half of me has been given over to Ben."

 

"Just like half of him is inside of you." Finn's eyes darkened. "That's why I said—"

 

"I'm not talking about this anymore," Rey interrupted. Ignoring his hurt look, she gestured at the controls of the cockpit. All the lights were fully functioning on the ship, and the void of space loomed beyond the window. "We're going back to Naboo, and Ben and I are leaving. We have to train."

 

"For a year!"

 

"Not necessarily."

 

"That's what you just said!"

 

It was what had started this fight.

 

"I said maybe a year at most."

 

"I just don't understand why I can't go with you!"

 

"I don't know, Finn, you just made this entire case about how you need to help rebuild the Resistance."

 

"So that's just it, then? You're just gonna give up on being a hero?"

 

"I was never a hero!"

 

"That's crap, and you know it!"

 

"Rescuing the lot of you off Crait doesn't make me a—" Rey couldn't do this anymore. Her head was spinning. "We're landing on Naboo in an hour."

 

"Rey!"

 

She got out of the cockpit. She couldn't stay in there a second longer.

 

"Rey!"

 

She had known no one would accept her bond with Ben. And it was like she'd told Finn, she couldn't even blame them. Ben had done all those horrible things. Rey knew he wouldn't do that ever again, it just wasn't something she could convince her friends to understand with words. How did one explain the feeling, the certainty in their heart, after knowing the complexity of Ben's heart?

 

Rey was connected to Ben; she was the other half of his whole. Rey had Luke patching their thoughts into stability with his illusions until they could train on their own without risk of harming their friends.

 

She'd spent the majority of her life on Jakku, hunting for parts to get a meager meal every night.

 

But she had never felt so alone.

 

 

When Rey came into the crew quarters, Ben had his back to the wall with his eyes closed, his legs dangling over the side of the bed he was lounging on. Luke was missing. Or rather, his monkey form was missing. On her bed was a different creature, with a fuzzy little face and black paws, a red fur coat, and a banded tail of red and gold.

 

It lifted onto its back legs and put its paws in the air.

 

Oh, gods, it was absolutely adorable.

 

I am quite cuddly!

 

Rey was amused. "You know what cuddly is?"

 

I am learning all sorts of words from your minds. Pick me up?

 

She hefted Luke into her arms and stroked her fingers through his soft fur as he rested his chin on her shoulder. "So, what is this form, then?"

 

A red panda.

 

She sighed and sat down on her bed. A glance at Ben revealed he hadn't moved.

 

"Will this really take a year?" she murmured.

 

Possibly longer. It depends entirely upon your ability to adapt to one another, to become cohesive. As you are now, your thoughts, your beliefs, are too conflicted. This bond has not been in place long, making what you might call a honeymoon period. Once it wanes, you will realize the two of you continue to hold very separate views on the world.

 

He'd explained this already, and Rey knew it made sense. So much had already happened since that fateful night with Ben. They'd never had a chance to sit down, to talk about anything other than what was ahead of them. They'd also been responding to each other's darkness and light. Things would settle eventually, and it might not be pretty.

 

The Resistance… the First Order… Ben's desire to wipe it all away, start clean…

 

If she was being one hundred percent honest with herself, she couldn't say that he'd changed his mind on it. Maybe he had, maybe he hadn't. Maybe he still didn't know.

 

Luke had figured that because this would take so long, they would need to drop their friends off on Naboo and then resume search of a planet to train on. Luke was powerful, sheer Force energy, and even he couldn't entirely contain what would happen once they put their bond up to the task. He was holding him now, while they were both stable. It would unravel very quickly, he'd warned.

 

It worried her a little. She supposed she had thought they were a little more put together, Ben and herself.

 

If you do not merge completely, you will destroy those who you come in contact with, perhaps even each other. It is only a matter of time.

 

How do you know so much about this? You didn't know what we were when we arrived on the planet. You continued to test us.

 

I have the lay of your minds now that I am here. I can see the maze of your bond. I can help you solve the puzzle, but you both must be willing to change for one another. For the better and for the worst.

 

"With the light and dark?" Rey questioned.

 

Not only that, but as I said… your beliefs.

 

Rey frowned. She was almost afraid to ask.

 

Even with the light, Ben Solo's first instinct in a fight is to destroy the enemy, any source of antagonism. As you might say, attack first, ask questions later. Rey, you are entirely the opposite. So… if you would allow me to continue to speculate… if the two of you were together in such a situation, Ben Solo would go to use the Force first, whereas you would not be ready. Conflict. With your bond, knowing how you will respond together is crucial.

 

Rey bit her lip. "Because we would be vulnerable in a fight while we struggled over the Force."

 

Or the constant fighting over the Force would ruin your bond instead of enhancing it.

 

"And that's only a small issue, isn't it?"

 

Yes. Now you see.

 

When he put it like that, they really were a complete walking disaster.

 

Fear not, Rey. I believe the two of you will be able to merge in time. The problem is overriding instincts brought upon by birth, and by the different circumstances that have affected you both. You have found similarity in your backgrounds, yet as I said before, each of you respond differently to conflict.

 

"But—that's because we're two different people," Rey protested.

 

As I said, you must change for each other, or else you will never achieve serenity with your Force Bond. The Force does not see two different personalities. The Force knows only how it is used.

 

Rey looked at Ben, who was suspiciously quiet. "What are you thinking?"

 

That I do not trust that creature, and that I will never trust it.

 

A prime example of my meaning. Your instincts are honed so very finely. Ben Solo would leave me on the planet, or find a way to disperse me, because he feels I present a threat to him.

 

Ben bared his teeth as his eyes opened to glare at the red panda. Because every single thing you've done is untrustworthy. Impatient, he lifted his eyes to Rey. Do you really think this is a good idea, scavenger girl?

 

Rey truly detests still being called scavenger girl, Ben Solo. You see this in her thoughts, yet you do it, anyway. This will house a source of conflict.

 

The two humans spoke at once.

 

"I'm not—I don't care if he calls me that! And at least pretend like you can't read my mind!"

 

Ben's words were mostly curses. He looked ready to ring the red panda's neck.

 

Luke released Rey's shoulder and cuddled up on her lap. I make sense. Rey knows it. Ben Solo is slower to the truth. His stubborn streak is blinding him.

 

Rey put her arms around the panda when Ben shot to his feet. "Ben!" she cried.

 

He gave them both a vicious look and departed.

 

She gazed down into the panda's adorable little face. "Are you needling him on purpose?"

 

It is quite fun.

 

"Yes, well, you're creating problems for me later."

 

I apologize.

 


 

 

The Falcon powered down the second it had landed safely. The red panda in Rey's arms trembled and then became a glowing ball of light… and then nothing at all. Rey reached for its presence, encountering nothing. For a moment, alarm filled her. Was it all right?

 

Very, very tired… will sleep… wake me when you are ready… I will stay in this ship and hold your Force together…

 

Rey worried for a moment, then discarded the feeling. It was the Force. It had probably just wiped itself out carting them around the galaxy. Completely understandable.

 

They ran into a pleasant surprise—for everyone but Ben—as they came out into the hangar. Rose ran forward and threw her arms around Finn, whose lingering anger melted away when he hugged her close. He was blushing, but happy.

 

Next up in the throng of people to greet them was the General. Ben ducked his head at this, making to go back on the Falcon. Rey grabbed his arm and tugged him back. His reluctance lasted but a moment—he'd seen his adversary.

 

Poe Dameron.

 

"Ben, don't—!"

 

Everyone parted with yells as Ben strode into the crowd, headed toward one person. Poe had about a moment to realize what was happening, and then he ducked in time for the first punch.

Chapter Text

 

I don't know what to say,

But I'm going to want you 'til the stars evaporate,

We're only here for just a moment in the light,

One day it shines for us, the next we're in the night,

So say the word, and I'll be running back to find you,

A thousand armies won't stop me, I'll break through,

I'll soar the endless skies for only one sight,

Of your starlight

-Starlight, Starset

 

 

The sound of blasters rising echoed through the hangar.

 

Rey acted instinctively, pulling on the Force. Shortly after that, the blasters were dangling above their owners' heads, safely out of reach. She hated the looks of astonishment and betrayal thrown her way, but what else was she supposed to do?! She wasn't going to let anyone attack Ben!

 

Even while he attempted to pummel Poe Dameron into unconsciousness.

 

"He's not going to kill him!" Rey cried. And how ridiculous did that sound, in the face of things?

 

Protests rose at once. Most of them were geared toward pointing out Ben was a bloodthirsty Jedi killer, now Supreme Leader of the First Order, who would not hesitate to mow them down—the ace pilot under his fists in particular. Choobies. How was she supposed to fix this? But that was the problem, wasn't it?

 

She couldn't.

 

"I know you don't trust him, but trust me!" she pleaded. She hated the thin note of panic in her voice she was trying to suppress. Sounding like an emotional girl clinging onto Kylo Ren wasn't going to win her any points. Ben had stolen so many people from them. "He's not going to hurt you!"

 

That went over about as well as expected.

 

"Commander Dameron—"

 

"Are you under some sort of spell?!"

 

Why was it always about a spell?

 

"This isn't—about you." Rey waved a hand toward the brawling men. "This…" Ah, sod it. "This is about me. They're… working out their differences." She winced. She was really butchering this. There was only one thing to do, and she hated it.

 

She played the Friend Card and looked at Finn.

 

Finn looked back at her. No way.

 

Rey looked harder. Come on, Finn, please.

 

He sighed and took a step forward, releasing Rose. "It's true… I was with them. He's changed. He's not… Kylo Ren anymore. He's just Ben Solo." More exclamations of distrust. "I know it's hard to believe! I'm still having trouble believing it myself, but…"

 

The general finally cleared her throat. Everyone whirled to her.

 

"I trust Rey's judgment. That is my son."

 

Ben had Poe on the ground, his fist raised. Poe's face was bloody, but Ben hadn't escaped unscathed. Rey's breath caught as she waited for one horrible moment. Would Ben lose control? Would he push it past what they had agreed was okay?

 

Hearing her thoughts, he turned his head in her direction. He was breathing hard, and she could see his mouth was puffy, blood at the corner. He curled the good side of his lip, like he'd been prone to doing lately, and got to his feet. He shook out his knuckles.

 

Poe pulled himself into a sitting position. One of his eyes was swollen shut.

 

Ben brought his eyes to hers. I am not staying here. I will go to the cottage.

 

But your mother—

 

I am going to the cottage!

 

BEN SOLO, YOU WILL SEE YOUR MOTHER! Rey thundered.

 

Ben didn't get his chance to escape. No sooner had Rey lobbied the thought at him, the general was walking toward him. The only way he could avoid her would be to shove around her, through the throng of people. Rey felt his mind contemplate it, mapping out the quickest route.

 

Leia lifted her hands and cupped her son's cheeks.

 

No one was breathing.

 

Ben's lower lip trembled. He couldn't meet his mother's eyes.

 

In that moment, he didn't look like a ruler of an evil faction. He was vulnerable, and he had no place to hide. Members of their audience began to avert their eyes, as if not wanting to witness such a private moment.

 

"Are you in there?" the princess whispered. "I thought you lost forever."

 

Her son took a breath. He was planning to object, Rey could feel it. In the end, he didn't. He squeezed his eyes shut as his lashes lined with tears.

 

Rey took this time to glare at those who lingered. Grumbling, the group dispersed, heading to either the other end of the hangar or disappearing inside the palace. Rey kept their weapons aloft in the air and began to float them gently across the hangar to land near its aerial exit. That way, if one of them reached for their weapon, she would have time to respond, to protect Ben again.

 

They were as alone as they were going to get.

 

Chewie came up behind Leia and offered his opinion on the matter. He spoke of how he hadn't wanted to believe it, either, that Ben had changed. But he had because of Rey.

 

Ben shot him a look, to which the wookie roared.

 

Rey stayed back, unsure if she was welcome. Ben didn't want to be here. He hated showing emotion like this. He hadn't wanted to run into his mother, he hadn't wanted to deal with the Resistance. Now here he was, surrounded by both. He would likely be angry at Rey, too. Misdirected anger, but anger nonetheless.

 

Do you want me to go? she asked.

 

No. Stay.

 

"Luke saw him, too," Rey offered. She had to do or say something.

 

Leia turned her head but didn't release her son. Her eyes were soft with wonder and sadness. "You saw Luke?"

 

"Yes, he was a ghost. He was… he seemed happy." Rey bit her lip. "He even picked on Ben a little."

 

Now Ben pulled out of his mother's hands. "Enough. I am not that unchanged."

 

But everyone standing there, including Ben, knew it was a lie.

 

Rey took this opportunity to come closer. "We didn't come here to stay long. We have to go back to the Uncharted Territories. We… have a problem we have to deal with."

 

"A problem?" The General looked between them. "The problem that sent you away this last time?"

 

"Yes. It didn't… well, it only got partially resolved." Rey tugged nervously at her shirt sleeve. "We shouldn't talk about it here. I don't know what to do… I don't want Ben to be attacked."

 

"I can handle myself," Ben snipped.

 

"That's exactly the problem!" Rey retorted. "They'll try to attack you, you'll kill them, and then we'll be in even more trouble!"

 

"I wouldn't kill them." The words were sullen.

 

"No, you'd just make them wish they were dead," Rey said dryly. She frowned at the General. "Ben has someplace to stay here where he won't be found."

 

Please, Rey, tell her all of my secrets.

 

Oh, hush. It's your mother.

 

"I can stay here and keep you up to date. What did they do with Ben's ship?"

 

"I had them keep it. It's farther down in the hangar," Leia replied. "It's hiding behind that ship over there." She pointed. Then she hesitated. "Ben… I really want to talk with you. Will you allow me? Will you give me a chance?"

 

He was already walking toward his ship.

 

Tell her… tell her I will speak with her later. I can't right now.

 

Meaning he needed time to prepare for that conversation.

 

Leia was staring sadly after him, and Rey touched her arm. "It's all right. He said he'll speak to you later. He just needs a little time."

 

The other woman's lips parted. "How…?" Then realization kindled behind her eyes. "Your bond has grown so strong?"

 

"Yes." Rey found herself smiling, really smiling, to the point where her cheek muscles ached. She hadn't had any idea how ridiculously happy this apparently made her, to be so connected with the raven-haired man. "We're tied together forever now."

 

Then she winced. She had not wanted to say that. It made her squirm uncomfortably, her smile fading.

 

Leia's eyes were glittering. Rey knew instinctively what she was thinking. There were wedding bells tolling in that woman's head.

 

Blushing furiously, Rey chose a spot on the horizon to glance at. It was easy, because Ben's vessel was slipping silently into the night.

 

"So where can we talk?" Rey said.

 


 

 

"And then I said she could come tomorrow, probably," Rey chatted as she took off her boots. It was with some effort, and she hopped around. Ben was in… the bedroom, it felt like. That was where the pressure of the bond was coming from, at any rate.

 

She sighed and kicked the boots beside the door. "Poe's face looked so horrible, Ben, you really did a number on it." She came and stood in the doorway of the bedroom. Her… what could she call him…? Lover seemed too… flowery. "But the good news is that we can repair the Falcon, and then Chewie is going to let me take it back out there."

 

Ben was curled up on the bed. He had an eye cracked open to glare at her with.

 

She grinned and put her hands on her hips. "Now what kind of greeting is that?"

 

"It's four in the morning," he groaned. "What are you wearing?"

 

"Some kind of 'functional' dress." Rey smoothed her hands over it. "Came with these really nice boots, but my feet hurt now." She lifted a hand merrily. "That's all right. The alcohol has taken care of most of it."

 

Ben closed his eye and pretended to sleep.

 

"Hey!" Rey giggled and bounced onto the bed, crawling over to him. She poked him in the shoulder. "I know you're awake! You can't fool me!"

 

The man groaned again. "You are lucky you are adorable when you're drunk. Go away. You're too loud."

 

"Oh, my gods, you're actually whining." Rey pushed at his shoulder.

 

"Woman, you are a menace!"

 

"A menace that you love!" she countered.

 

An arm snagged behind her thigh, and then she was on her back. Next moment, her back was to Ben's chest, and his face was buried in her hair.

 

"I have never loved anyone, Rey," he murmured. "You are certainly a first."

 

"Oh, stop," she said, in complete defiance to her pounding heart. "You're just telling me that so I'll feel good."

 

"I never tell anyone anything so that they will feel good," he mumbled tiredly. He was on the verge of falling back asleep.

 

"That's true," she agreed.

 

"I love you," he breathed.

 

Judging by the rising and falling of his chest, he'd slipped into slumber. Rey thought about how she needed to get changed, how this dress was too uncomfortable to sleep in.

 

She stayed where she was, and she couldn't stop smiling. 

 


 

 

"What is that smell? What are you doing in here? Is that… my shirt?"

 

Rey was biting her lip in concentration, brows furrowed together. She hadn't ever really cooked anything besides the slop from Jakku. But a trip to town an hour ago in that dress had netted her some eggs and some sort of meat. After that, she'd taken a bath, and the only thing she'd found to change in was a shirt of his. It fell down to her thighs, it was so large.

 

"I'm cooking breakfast," she replied.

 

"Do you even know how?" Ben sounded highly skeptical.

 

"Fine, then you don't have to eat it." Rey was pretty sure she was doing this right. The man at the stall had told her to scramble the eggs by beating them together over a heated stove. The meat she could fry on either side until it was a golden brown.

 

"I like that you're going for a real meal, lassie," he'd said. "Not any of that dehydrated shite. Though with that fancy dress, what's a wee girl like you doing out in this little village?"

 

Ben slid his hands up under the shirt.

 

"Ben!" she yelped.

 

He buried his face in her neck and shoved a finger into her core without any preparation. It made her gasp and lean into him, so he slid in another. He thrusted them slowly, scissoring to stretch her. It wasn't taking long at all for her to grow slick, for his fingers to move without resistance.

 

"The food is going to burn," Rey moaned.

 

Ben reached around her to shut off the flames and put the pan to the side. Then he grabbed her hips, spun her around, dropped to his knees, and disappeared under the shirt. A moment later, his mouth was on her cunt, and his tongue was delving between the folds.

 

She gripped into his hair, pulling tight enough it was likely hurting him, but it only made him suckle at her harder.

 

You are going to be the death of me.

 

W… Why…?

 

Wearing my shirt… His tongue plunged into her entrance. Cooking me breakfast…

 

Cooking myself breakfast, you mean.

 

The picture of a housewife, he continued as if she hadn't said anything. I never thought I would have this. I never knew it was something I wanted.

 

Then he stopped talking entirely and just worshipped her body.

 

She heard him working his trousers open. It didn't surprise her when he yanked her down and shoved her onto his cock. She sank onto it all the way, yelling, and he twisted until her back was on the floor. He started hammering into her after that, and she moaned beneath him, hanging onto his shoulders.

 

Their lovemaking tended to fall on the rough side, but that was all right. She enjoyed it thoroughly, and it felt good.

 

Every thrust stretched her wide open, and he pierced deep inside of her. It was lightning over her nerves, pleasure sparking with every bit of the friction. She could feel his share of pleasure through the connection, and it only fueled her own.

 

Rey crested, crying out his name.

 

He followed after, panting hers, spilling onto her stomach.

 

She listened to their heavy breathing in the accompanying silence.

 

Well, now I'm hungry.

 

She smacked his arm as she laughed, still giddy from the endorphins rushing through her.

 

You're an ass.

 

No, he thought as he nuzzled into her neck. I'm yours.

Chapter Text

 

And what, exactly, do you expect me to say to her?

 

Rey sighed. General Organa was probably about half an hour away from arriving, and Ben was close to having one of his infamous meltdowns. He wasn't holding his lightsaber as he prowled around the living room, but his hands squeezed at air and his thoughts centered around destroying something.

 

She couldn't tell him to relax. It would have the opposite effect. Ben was much like a girl in that respect.

 

Her other half slanted a dirty look her way. Do you even bother to hide your thoughts?

 

No, she replied serenely.

 

Ben shoved both hands into his hair. I can't do this. You don't understand. You weren't there!

 

When she sent you to Luke?

 

He said nothing.

 

"Ben, she's obviously sorry she did it."

 

"Now, after the fact, after she's seen what it made me!" Ben shouted. A vase smashed into the wall. The entire cottage rumbled, ready to break away from its foundation.

 

"You must stop that!" Rey snapped. "You like this cottage. Don't ruin it just because you're afraid to face your mother. Who, by the way, loves you terribly."

 

Ben bared his teeth. "You don't know her like I know her."

 

That kindled Rey's temper. "I don't have to! Do you know why? Because you have a mother! I have no one! I'm just a pauper's daughter, remember?!"

 

Ben had the grace to look ashamed. That was a completely different reaction from what he would have had before they finished their bond.

 

When I said those things, I didn't—

 

"You have a mother," Rey stressed more quietly. She didn't want to dwell anymore on what he'd told her: that she was nothing. "A mother who loves you, who is willing to forgive you and the things you've done. And I must say, there are not many of us willing to do that." She could count them all on one hand, herself included.

 

…I don't know what to say to her…

 

Tell her how you feel.

 

That is not something she wants to hear.

 

Maybe not, but she pushed you away, not the other way around. I think she's expecting something like that, anyway… Rey hesitated. Do you want me to go when she gets here? She hated to keep asking, but Ben was so volatile. It wasn't something that had changed from their bonding, as it was an integral part of his personality.

 

No. Stay, he said again.

 

Rey knew then that she would be the buffer between mother and son. She wasn't sure how she felt about it. It was going to be an intense exchange. Would there be yelling, crying…? Stoic staring at one another? Well, stoic on Ben's part…

 

Realizing her thoughts were running away from her, she put her hands on her hips. "Do we have any money? I want to go buy some clothes."

 

Ben's lips at last quirked in a smile. "Not comfortable with what you have on?"

 

"Not for a visit from your mother, no." Rey tugged down on the hem of the shirt, even though it more than covered the naughty bits. "Besides, she's the general. I should try to look my best as much as possible. Isn't that part of respecting her station?"

 

He looked away. I think… my mother isn't visiting in an official capacity…

 

It took her a moment to gather his meaning.

 

Then she blushed.

 

You mean, she's visiting like… family? Which there was nothing wrong with. It was just implied, in that moment, that Rey was a part of the family. As in, a mother visiting her son and her daughter-in-law.

 

She will be asking a lot of questions.

 

A given, as it were. Some about us?

 

Many.

 

Right… well, Rey had nothing to hide. The only issue she could think of was that Princess Leia was bound to ask Ben questions Rey herself hadn't asked him yet. Rey hadn't wanted to—she wasn't ready to push Ben into that quagmire. Down that path lay several answers of an argumentative, highly confrontational nature.

 

Are you ready for her to—?

 

No.

 

Will you answer her, anyway?

 

I don't know.

 

Rey nodded. Judging by the black shroud coating Ben's thoughts, that was all she was going to get from him right now. "Do we have any money?" she asked anew.

 

Some. Here—but…

 

Rey lifted her head. But?

 

It took him some time to answer.

 

Hurry back…

 

He didn't want to be alone with his mother.

 


 

 

Rey kept her outfit simple this time. A forest green shirt that clung to her small frame, with brown capris and matching brown ankle boots. She wouldn't be doing battle in it, but she didn't have a lot of money on her. She would have to make do.

 

She tied her hair into a simple braid as she made her way back to the cottage atop the hill. Villagers smiled and waved, to which she smiled and waved in return. It would be nice, she thought, to settle down here… if there weren't so many things going on in her life that weren't allowing her to.

 

Gulls screeched overhead. She watched them and enjoyed the salt on the breeze.

 

The second she got to the cottage, she knew Leia had arrived before she even opened the door. Ben's worry and anxiety slammed into her full frontal. Had he been restraining himself until she'd gotten back?

 

Rey pushed open the door, shut it behind her. The general was sitting on the couch with Ben, turned toward her, her hands clasped over her knee. Her son stared moodily into the unlit fireplace. Doom and gloom hung around him like a pale. It made Rey smile at his dramatics.

 

"I'm back," she announced needlessly.

 

The princess smiled up at her. "Good afternoon, Rey." Something in her eyes told Rey she was grateful for Rey's presence.

 

"Sorry I'm late. I needed clothes." Rey sat in a comfy chair across the room. "…Are you two catching up?"

 

She said hello.

 

Rey's mouth opened—her brows drew together. …And then what?

 

Nothing.

 

No wonder Leia looked so relieved.

 

Say something to her, Ben! You can't just leave her hanging.

 

Ire flashed in his eyes. Glaring her down, he gritted out, "Hello, Mother."

 

The general glanced between them. Rey gave her a helpless, beseeching expression.

 

"Rey tells me the two of you discovered a knot in the Force?" Leia ventured.

 

Ben grunted.

 

Trembling fingers reached out to graze her son's hair. "It's gotten so long. Do you remember when you used to let me cut it for you? I was the only one you'd let near it."

 

Ben was ready to arch away from the touch. He didn't, though. He stayed perfectly still, barely breathing.

 

There was a yawning chasm in his heart.

 

"Ben…" The general sighed and let her hand drop. "I'm afraid there is nothing I can say to make up for the past. The decisions I made were poor… and I cannot change them. I never could have imagined that—" She paused. "Well… I think of you every day. I miss my son."

 

Rey found a spot on the wall to admire. This was an incredibly private moment, but Ben wanted her there.

 

Then the silence deepened for so long that Rey had to say something.

 

"He misses you, too!" she blurted. Ignoring Ben's wrath, she hurried on, "He just doesn't know how to say it! He's afraid to let you in again. He's afraid you'll hurt him again. He doesn't know if he can forgive you—but he wants to. He wants to try!"

 

Rey—

 

Leia touched a hand to her heart. She returned to gazing at her son. "Is this true…?"

 

"No—"

 

"Don't listen to him. It is true. I know, because I can hear and feel every thought and emotion he has. He's just being stubborn." Tears filled Rey's eyes before she could stop herself from getting emotional. But they weren't really her own. They were Ben's. "I don't have a mother or a father. He knows this. And he knows how devastating it would be if he had no one left."

 

She attempted to swallow past the tight lump in her throat. It wasn't budging. "He regrets every second of the day what he did to Han." Ben rose to his feet, and Rey's voice came out in a bark. "Ben Solo, sit down! It is not a weakness to love your mother! Don't you love me? Do you consider that a weakness?"

 

He bowed his head.

 

"She's not asking for a miracle, Ben. She just wants her son back." Rey's voice was quickly growing strangled, the world a blur of water. "At least do it for me. We are all alone in the world, Ben, but we don't have to be. Snoke isn't here anymore, telling you to surround yourself with no one, to trust no one. He…" She trailed off. Swallowed convulsively. It hurt. Every single inch of her hurt.

 

It's not that easy, Rey!

 

So tell me, and I'll tell her for you!

 

She was on her feet now, too, and they stared across the living room at each other.

 

In slow increments, Ben relaxed his posture. He still wasn't looking at his mother, but it was a far cry from storming out of the room.

 

Fine. Tell her… that I don't blame her for sending me away.

 

That was a complete contradiction from an hour ago, but Rey didn't comment on it. She gestured for Ben to move and then sat beside Leia on the couch. She reached over and grabbed her hands. The lines on the backs of them stood out, telling her age. So did the laugh lines around the corners of her eyes, but Rey wondered when Leia had really laughed last.

 

"He says he doesn't blame you for sending him away."

 

Ben vanished from the room altogether.

 

The general grew upset for a moment. Rey squeezed her hands to let her know it was okay.

 

And so, carefully, it began: Leia asking questions or making remarks, Rey answering them from Ben.

 

"He… I was frightened. I didn't know what else to do. He'd grown so powerful."

 

"It wasn't so much about sending him away…" Rey tried to sort through the black ball of Ben's thoughts. They came in images and translating them for Leia proved tricky. "It was when he found out the truth. The truth about Darth Vader."

 

Leia buried her face in her hands. "I know…" Her voice was muffled—thick, as Rey's had been. "I knew that I should have told him. It was about politics. His father and I had worked so hard…" She shook her head. "But there's no excuse. I should have told him."

 

The rage that came from across the cottage made Rey flinch. She did her best to hide it from the woman sitting next to her.

 

Then it was all-consuming.

 

"You should have!" she yelled. "You always put your political career first! You never thought of me! You left me alone! You made me who I am, and then you sent me away to Skywalker! Skywalker! My uncle, but a man I barely knew, and you didn't care, you didn't even cry! And then, in the midst of it all, I'm left to find out about my true heritage!"

 

The general leaned back despite herself, her brown eyes wide. Rey hated this, hated that Ben was using her as a vessel for his grief and rage. But she was the one who had pushed him into this corner, so what could she really do about it?

 

"You weren't even there to see me off! You had some—some function to attend, something that was more important than me! Everything was always more important than me! Your own son!"

 

Rey's teeth clenched over any further tirades. Enough was enough. Ben, stop!

 

You wanted me to tell her how I feel!

 

Not through me!

 

Well, it sounded to me that was exactly what you wanted!

 

Rey pushed off the couch and strode across the cottage. She found Ben in the bedroom, grabbed him by the ear, and dragged him back out into the living room. He was unable to struggle much like this without using the Force, and he wasn't stupid enough to try.

 

She let him go and shoved him over to his mother.

 

You've had your temper tantrum! Now listen to what she has to say!

 

When he didn't budge, she put her hands on his shoulders and pressed him onto the couch.

 

"Ben…" Leia reached for her son, thought better of it. "You're all I have left. Can't we forgive one another?"

 

"Is that the only reason you're here, because you have no one else to turn to?" Ben half-snarled.

 

Rey smacked him upside the head.

 

"…Fine," Ben growled. "But I'm not joining your Resistance."

 

"Does that mean you're still with the…?" Leia trailed off as she saw Rey making big "No!" gestures behind Ben's head. "Well, there's not much of a Resistance to join, in any case."

 

Choobies, this was awkward.

 

Rey knew it wasn't something that could be fixed in one sitting, but… she really wanted Ben to make amends with his mother…  

 

Please. For me.

 

…For you.

 

Ben sighed. "…I… I can't promise I'll be any good at it, but… I'll… I'll try to let you back in…"

 

Whatever that meant, he had no idea, the thought resounding within Rey.

 

The General's eyes grew misty. She took Ben's hands into her own, much as she had done with Rey's not so long ago. "I love you, Ben. I love you more than I love myself. I know it will take time… but I want to be a family again."

 

He lowered his eyes.

 

"Now… Rey told me all about your adventures in the Uncharted Territories, but I want to hear them from you."

 

"There's not much to hear… We crash-landed on an abandoned planet, and there was this thing with the Force… I still don't trust it," he grumbled.

 

He wasn't used to talking openly with anyone except for Rey. It was nice seeing it unfold with the princess.

 

Rey plopped back into her chair. "Whether or not it's trustworthy, it got us back across the galaxy in one piece."

 

"And the two of you… you need to leave for a year?" Leia probed.

 

Ben grunted.

 

"That's what it said," Rey replied.

 

It struck her, as she sat there, that Leia and Ben weren't the only ones to have gained family back that day.

 

Rey had, too.

Chapter Text

 

Coming like a hurricane, I take it in real slow,

The world is spinning like a weathervane,

Fragile and composed,

I am breaking down again,

I am aching now to let you in

-Hurricane, Fleurie

 

Rey came awake suddenly, and panic ignited in her heart as she found herself restrained. Where was she? What had happened? The last thing she remembered was that tall figure in black, prowling after her through the woods… the figure who was across from her now, waiting silently, no doubt for her to rouse.

 

"Where am I?" she demanded.

 

"You're my guest," he replied.

 

Her mind raced. "Where are the others?"

 

"You mean the murderers, traitors, and thieves you call friends?" He paused. "You'll be relieved to hear I have no idea."

 

Rage boiled inside of her, overcoming the panic. She didn't believe him. He had to know. He was the one who had whisked her away—it was his men who had attacked Takodana. This—this bastard—!

 

"You still want to kill me." There was an inflection of surprise behind the silver and black helmet.

 

"That happens when you're being hunted by a creature in a mask," she drawled.

 

A soft hiss as his helmet disengaged, and then her captor was lifting it and exposing his naked face. For a moment, she stared at it. She wasn't sure what she had expected. Inky black hair falling in careless waves around his face… brown eyes, dark and penetrating… a full mouth, slightly lopsided…

 

He wasn't beautiful, but he was captivating nonetheless.

 

Disgust hindered her thoughts. Disgust with herself.

 

He set the helmet down in what sounded like ashes and strode forward. She stared straight ahead, unwilling to glance in his direction. He came to a stop just beside her, and those eyes of his were boring into the side of her head. After a second, she couldn't help herself. She glanced at him briefly, and then resumed her solemn determination to give nothing away.

"Tell me about the droid." It was uttered casually, as though it wasn't an order at all. And it was real, human—not the voice from whatever it was inside the helmet that distorted it, made it lower.

 

It was like chocolate, dripping sensually down her spine.

 

"He's a BB unit with a selenium drive and a thermal hyperscan vindicator—"

 

"He's carrying a section of a navigational chart," he interrupted. "And we have the rest. Recovered from the archives of the Empire, but we need the last piece. And somehow you convinced the droid to show it to you. You," he scoffed. "A scavenger."

 

Arsehole, she thought.

 

He leaned in, just a little, his voice lowering. A confident smirk spread across that wide mouth of his. "You know I can take whatever I want."

 

It was the only warning given before his hand lifted, and he began to rifle through her thoughts.

 

"You're so lonely," he murmured as she tried to fight him, tried to lock him out of her mind. But every block she put in place, he evaded perfectly, as if anticipating her next move. And it hurt—it hurt, when she didn't want her thoughts read and he was forcing them out of her. All she could think was that it was mind rape.

 

"So afraid to leave…" His face drew ever closer to hers. "At night, desperate to sleep…"

 

No! No! Stay out!

 

STAY OUT!

 

"You imagine an ocean," he stated. "I see it. I see the island." He was quiet for a handful of seconds, digesting all the information at his fingertips. "And Han Solo." His voice tightened. "You feel like he's the father you never had." Something akin to laughter touched his tone. "He would have disappointed you."

 

"Get out of my head," she hissed.

 

He obliged but for a moment, drawing away from her. His hand remained outstretched. "I know you've seen the map." He was breathless. Was he having more trouble infiltrating her thoughts than he had let on? "It's in there, and now you'll give it to me."

 

Shite. Shite, shite, shite.

 

If she had thought his interrogation was painful before, it was nothing compared to now. She heard herself groan in pain as her eyes clenched shut. There was—something there, when he stroked the pure depths of her thoughts, something that hadn't been there before…

 

"Don't be afraid," he murmured. "I feel it, too."

 

No. She had to beat this. She had to fight him. She would not give in.

 

"I'm not—giving—you anything," she gritted out.

 

His smile was brief and cutting. Knowing. "We'll see."

 

He thrust his power into her mind.

 

She let out a choked sob. Sucked in air. Sweat was glistening on her face. Her head ached as though someone had taken a bludgeon to it. She was rallying her defenses, putting everything she had into it. She would not let this bastard win. She wouldn't!

 

And that was when she began to feel it—the reverse of power.

 

It was invisible between them, pulsing back and forth. He was much more practiced—she only had her awakening. She could feel the confidence of his thoughts. He knew he had her. That shifted quickly once she took the raw power lending itself to her and pushed ever harder against him. She was trembling with the effort, but she was doing it.

 

Panic widened his eyes.

 

"You," she snarled. "You're afraid."

 

She couldn't see the entirety of his mind, but that was all right. This was all she needed.

 

"That you will never be as strong as Darth Vader!"

 


 

 

Rey stared into the darkness, her heart pounding so fast, like it wanted to race right out of her chest. She clutched it, orienting herself. She was sweating, just as she had been in that interrogation room. Her shirt clung to her in an uncomfortably sticky way.

 

She cursed softly and put her face in her hands.

 

A large hand touched between her shoulder blades, and she flinched, startled.

 

"…You really did want to kill me," Ben murmured.

 

Rey didn't bother asking if he'd seen the dream. Of course, he had. The same way she saw each of his. It was just that usually, their sleep remained empty, joined by mutual comfort, by the knowledge that they had one another.

 

"Ben." Rey's voice cracked. "We have to decide what we're going to do. I can't dodge around it any longer. I've tried… I didn't want to put pressure on you, but…" She swallowed.

 

His hand fell away.

 

"I have to know that you won't go back to that," she choked out. "That you won't be that person again."

 

"Which person?" The promise of venom. "The one who hunted you, who took your thoughts in that room?"

 

She didn't care anymore if she upset him. She was tired of tiptoeing around the issue. "Do you still consider yourself the Supreme Leader?"

 

"That's not the question you want to ask, Rey," he murmured, deceivingly soft.

 

Since it was weighing heavily between them, she turned, resting on a hand as she looked at him. Shadows shrouded his figure, but she could make out his features in the moonlight. "Do you still want to rule the galaxy together, to destroy everyone?"

 

"You can read my thoughts."

 

"I've stayed out of those!" Annoyed, she got onto her knees and faced him more fully. "You must decide, Ben. You must decide what you want. This is where we are now. We can't go further if we don't—"

 

"What do you want, Rey?"

 

"You know what I want."

 

"Do I?"

 

"What is that supposed to mean?"

 

"Just as you've stayed out of my thoughts in that regard, I've stayed out of yours." His brows pushed together.

 

She remembered how she had once thought he wasn't beautiful. He still wasn't, not in a traditional way, but she loved that face more than she could ever say.

 

"I want to be with you," she whispered.

 

"But not at my side, ruling the galaxy," he said flatly.

 

"Is that really what you still want?!" she cried. "After everything, after—"

 

"What I want is to take you and leave, and never look back!" he shouted. "I am a selfish person, Rey. I will always be selfish. That won't change, no matter how much of your light is inside of me!"

 

"Take me and leave and…?"

 

He sighed and turned away. "Yes. I want to go to the edges of the galaxy, where no one can find us, and live out our lives there, unencumbered by those who would hold us back."

 

Well… It had changed from wanting to murder everyone.

 

"But we can't," she breathed. "We have to pick a side, Ben."

 

"Do we?" He glanced at her sharply. "Why? Who said so?"

 

"It's—it's the right thing to do!" she sputtered. What did he mean, why?

 

"We don't have to do anything we don't want to." He shook his head.

 

"But that's—"

 

"Do you want to help the Resistance?"

 

"Well, I certainly don't want to help the First Order!"

 

"Neither do I," he said. Ignoring her surprise, he shrugged one shoulder. "We let them battle it out on their own and disappear."

 

"That's—Ben, we can't—"

 

"Why can't we?!" he snapped. He put his hands around her shoulders and gave her a little shake. His brown eyes were as intense as she'd ever seen them. "Rey…" He licked his lips. "The Resistance is nothing right now, anyway. You know that. You know that. We can't fight their battle for them! Not and hope to win."

 

"Well, running away doesn't seem like a better idea!"

 

He cupped her face in his hands. She always marveled at how soft they were. It had to be the gloves he'd always worn, protecting them from calluses. "I can feel what's in your heart. I know it as well as my own. You don't want to fight with them."

 

"I don't want to not fight with them—"

 

"Rey." He pressed their foreheads together. Her vision blurred as she stared this close into his eyes. "We can do whatever we want…" he whispered. She hated how compelling it was. How it made her shiver. "I'm not asking you to go to the dark side."

 

"Then what are you asking?" she whispered back.

 

"That we train… and once we finish training, we decide then what we want to do."

 

It was clear to Rey that Ben thought she wouldn't want to join the fight any longer at that point. What was worse was that she couldn't safely say she would want to.

 

"But your mother…" Rey sniffled. "I don't want to leave her behind. We're all she has. She's all we have. Do you really want to just give her up like that?"

 

Ben sighed. He drew back a little, but only to soothe her bangs off her forehead. "You love my mother that much?"

 

"Don't you?" she countered.

 

He closed his eyes.

 

"Say what you feel, Ben," she whispered.

 

Why? You can feel everything without me having to.

 

"You need to learn to communicate with more than just me."

 

He grumbled, but he answered her. "Yes… I love my mother. But I don't think I can be the person she wants me to."

 

"Ben, I don't think she expects anything, at this point. She's just glad that you're not… you know."

 

He set his jaw. "I could never hurt her… even when ordered to." He drew his fingers through his thick hair. "…It's hard to let her back in."

 

"I know. But it made her so happy…"

 

They stayed quiet for a while, hands clasped between them on the bed. The moonlight shifted into shadows as clouds drifted across the sky. The cottage was just as silent as they were, floorboards having settled for the day hours ago.

 

"…So you're renouncing yourself as Supreme Leader?" she ventured hesitantly. She braced for the whiplash of his anger at the subject.

 

It never came.

 

"I'm fairly sure Hux already did," Ben muttered.

 

"And…?" Rey pressed.

 

"And nothing." Ben fell onto his back, pulling the covers over him. He patted the spot beside him. She fell onto her side to face him, and he tucked the covers up around her, too. "I told you. I don't want to deal with either side. I want to leave and not look back."

 

"But…"

 

He kissed her forehead. "But I want to be with you. I want what we have… And I'll do what you want to do."

 

She couldn't believe her ears. "…Why?"

 

"Because I want to leave, and you don't. I don't care to be a part of the First Order or the Resistance, and you do. If I don't care, but you do… I'll follow you. For now."

 

"For now?" she repeated.

 

"I'm not getting involved with either. But I will be where you are."

 

Rey smiled and kissed him.

 

He pulled her onto his chest and kissed her hair in turn.

 

Go to sleep. And this time, try not to dream about the bad things.

Chapter Text

 

The sand was everywhere.

 

Her ears, her eyes, her mouth.

 

Each granule stung against her skin from the force of the sandstorm, and all Rey could do was keep her arms in front of her face. This wasn't unfamiliar territory to her. She just lacked the proper protective gear, like a mask and goggles.

 

She pushed onward, the sand at her feet encumbering her greatly.

 

As you are now, your thoughts, your beliefs, are too conflicted.

 

Rey shook the voice away. It didn't help any. It stayed with her, sinking into her skin, stinging as badly as the sand.

 

…you will realize the two of you continue to hold very separate views of the world…

 

Flames.

 

She shouted and leapt away. It was hot, too hot, the flames licking at her body, swirling around her in a vortex she couldn't escape.

 

If you do not merge completely…

 

She might have yelled Ben's name for help. She wasn't sure. It was lost in the bellowing of the firestorm. The flames weren't natural. They held immense heat, too immense, but they weren't harming her, weren't melting her skin down to the bone. Instead they held something more—something dark and foreboding.

 

…you will destroy those whom you encounter…

 

Sand went flying up around her, a shield against the flames. Her entire life, she'd hated sand, had wanted nothing more than to get away from it. Now she embraced it. Her mind couldn't handle this. Couldn't take the confliction. It was too much.

 

…perhaps even each other…

 

But the sand continued to hurt her, as well. She could feel her legs sinking more deeply into it. She tried to crawl out of it, only to meet more fire. No matter where she turned, crouched here on her knees, there was either the blistering sand or the consuming flames.

 

It is only a matter of time.

 

She wanted to choose the sand. It was the safest, after all. It couldn't hurt her like the so very real fire could. The sand was familiar, and in that familiarity, there was comfort. She knew how to adapt to the pain of the sand. The fire was too frightening, too foreign, even if it wasn't harming her like the sand was.

 

…willing to change…

 

Rey came back to herself. She stood with fresh resolve and held up her hand, palm outward. Her fingertips touched something cool.

 

The flames and the sand flew into a frenzy, combining, swirling around her ever faster and faster, a wider vortex than before.

 

But that was the thing.

 

When very intense fire met sand…

 

A palm pressed against her own.

 

The vortex froze in place, a sea of glittering glass. Her vision clear, she peered into her reflection. She had expected to see herself, yet Ben was there instead. He looked just as confused as she did by this revelation. Had he, too, seen the other side of him, deep within himself?

 

Rey understood, then.

 

"Those flames are yours," she whispered.

 


 

 

Rey slumped forward, and Ben's arms wrapped around her. She could feel his heart pounding beneath her ear. It matched her own. She was breathless, sticky with sweat like the night before. It was too warm in the room, too warm to be against another person, but she was too tired to move.

 

"How long…?" she rasped.

 

"Three hours."

 

"Three hours?!" She pushed upright and stared at him. "That can't be right. It felt like ten minutes at most."

 

The flickers of light from the fireplace made shadows dance over his face. "It took you three hours to find me." His eyes flicked to the clock on the mantelpiece. "I didn't feel anything until you did."

 

"Did I do anything outwardly?" She pulled at a strand of hair clinging to her mouth.

 

"No. You just maintained that meditative stance."

 

She frowned into the fire in the grate. "What happened when I found you?"

 

"It pulled me with you. I was suddenly where you were, on the other side of the glass."

 

"So I guess that exercise wasn't a rousing success…" Rey pulled a knee to her chest and wrapped her elbow around it.

 

Ben didn't trust Force Luke. They had time to kill, and he'd wanted to meditate on their own, to see if they could find one another in such a state. After all, the thing had gone on and on and on about how they would destroy each other if they couldn't find harmony. Ben had thought that it was exaggerating and that they would be fine on their own.

 

"You did find me." Ben tilted his head. "What did you see?"

 

She blinked at him. "You didn't catch any of it?"

 

"I told you, not until the end."

 

She sighed and crossed her legs on the floor. She was full of nervous energy, and she didn't know what to do with it. "I was in the desert again… I suppose that's where I go when I'm in a trance. And while I was fighting through a sandstorm, these flames appeared."

 

"That somewhat explains your comment, then."

 

"The sand and the flames battled it out…" She searched for the right words to describe what had happened. "I don't know. I remembered that I was meditating. And once that happened, everything turned to glass."

 

His eyes narrowed. "To glass?"

 

She nodded. "Yes… and all I can take from that is that… we were merging together on that… plane." Or wherever it was. "I realized the flames were from you. They felt like you."

 

"Intense heat meeting sand makes glass. But it has to be thousands of degrees of—"

 

"It was metaphorical, though," she pointed out. "Inside of us."

 

He hummed thoughtfully. "And you said these flames felt like me?"

 

She nodded again.

 

"And we created glass…"

 

"Yeah…"

 

"Okay." He assembled his long limbs into a meditative stance of his own. His eyes closed, lashes brushing over his cheekbones. "I'll try to find you now."

 

She found herself anticipating it. Maybe he would reach her more quickly? He was more experienced with the Force—with meditating in general. He had years and years of practice.

 

But Ben took longer.

 

Far, far longer.

 

Six hours had passed when she was tugged from reality into a crescendo of flames. She was able to watch from afar, from behind the sheet of glass. Ben was staggering toward her, the flames tugging at his clothes, his hair, his skin. They seemed much more insidious. She could hear their whispers but couldn't make out what was said.

 

Rey stepped closer to the glass.

 

Sand was pelting him around the fire, not making much of a dent.

 

Why was she here? When she had reached Ben, she had already realized she wasn't engulfed in reality anymore. Did she need to help him?

 

He made it to the glass. His palm slammed into it. She lifted hers and carefully placed it up against his. Their eyes met. He was heaving from the struggle and sweat streamed down his face in rivulets. His eyes were burning from fear, from panic.

 

"You're running from yourself," she told him. "You have to accept who you are. You have to—"

 


 

Rey opened her eyes in time to see Ben falling onto his back, his chest rising and falling heavily. He'd pulled them out of the meditation.

 

"Ben—"

 

"Don't," he said savagely.

 

"Ben—"

 

"I said don't!"

 

She sighed. Ben's thoughts were a quagmire of poison, so she didn't press anymore.

 

Several minutes ticked past before he rasped, "How long?"

 

Rey bit her lip. She wasn't sure if she should answer him.

 

"How long?"

 

"Six hours," Rey said. She looked at the clock. "I was in there with you for an hour before you reached me. So seven."

 

He was super quiet.

 

"I have to go. I promised your mother I'd show up at the palace tonight. Will you eat something?"

 

As she stood, she found him looking up at her, his bangs plastered across his forehead.

 

"Don't go," he said roughly.

 

"Ben—"

 

"I need you."

 

"Your mother—"

 

"I need you!"

 

She flinched as he yelled.

 

"I have given up everything for you," he said raggedly. "Don't go."

 

She sat back down.

 

He had given up everything for her… Even when all he wanted to do was go fly away to the far side of the galaxy and be left undisturbed…

 

"Don't pity me."

 

"I'm not pitying you," she replied, taken aback. "You're right… I was only thinking you're right… Ben, what's wrong?"

 

"Nothing," he said shortly.

 

She crawled over to him, between his thighs, and looked down at him, her hair swinging around her face. He cut his eyes away, which she considered interesting, as she could read and feel everything in his heart if she really wanted.

 

It was a long time before he spoke, and his throat worked as he swallowed. "You're stronger than me. You always have been, and it's… infuriating. I know so much more than you!"

 

"I'm not stronger—"

 

He scoffed. "Don't. You know it's true. Placating me—"

 

"That's not fair—"

 

"And life isn't fair, Rey."

 

They were fighting, and she didn't understand how they had gotten to this point. "Ben, if this is about… about the meditation, it's only because you have experienced more. You have more things to struggle with than I do."

 

His eyes flashed to hers. "You took my darkness that day like it was nothing."

 

"It wasn't, though! I had to—"

 

"I spent weeks preparing for that. To turn you. To bring you to my side. And for what? You absorbed it and you carried on."

 

Stung, she got up off the floor. "What do you mean, for what? Are you saying you're unhappy with our bond?"

 

"I'm saying it's infuriating to be bested again and again by a naïve little girl!"

 

Rey pressed her lips together.

 

Maybe Luke was right.

 

Maybe their honeymoon really was over.

 

"I'm done with your abuse, Ben," she said so quietly he no doubt had to strain to hear the words. "I am not your punching bag, and I never will be. You're pissed at yourself, so be pissed at yourself—don't bring it to me."

 

He was on his feet. "We're connected through this bond, Rey! You're so innocent, and at times it's sweet, but at other times, I want to take you—I want to take you and dirty you so that you can see the world as it really is!"

 

"I'm not that innocent!" she cried.

 

"There is no black and white, there is no good and bad, there is no—"

 

"All I was doing was reassuring you!" She took several steps back from him. "I said it myself, that you know more than me! I can't help how strong I am!" Tears touched her eyes, and she hated it. "You get to share this power with me! What's really the matter, Ben?!"

 

"Nothing!"

 

"It's not nothing! Something is wrong!"

 

"I SAID IT'S NOTHING!"

 

"IT'S NOT NOTHING!" she screamed back at him.

 

"I LOVE YOU MORE THAN YOU LOVE ME!"

 

"I…" Rey was stunned. "What…?"

 

"I need you more than you need me. If the bond broken today, you would be fine eventually. You'd recover. You're surrounded by people who love you. You're strong. But for me…" His voice was hoarse. "I wouldn't be able to—" He couldn't seem to finish the thought.

 

"That's what you think?" Rey whispered.

 

"That's what I know."

 

"Ben, you've seen my heart a thousand times. You know that's not true. You know that I wouldn't be able to make it if—if we were separated…" Even the thought was too painful to contemplate.

 

Rey realized what those whispers were about, the ones she couldn't hear in his meditation.

 

They had made him doubt himself—doubt her.

 

"Then why won't you go away with me?" he said.

 

"Because I have… I have friends here, I don't want to abandon them…"

 

"And what if you didn't?" He caught her gaze again. "What if you had only me?"

 

"Well, then, of course I'd go away with you."

 

"So then you don't want to be with the Resistance because it's the right thing to do. You want to be with the Resistance because your friends are there."

 

Her mouth worked several times before she was able to get a word out that wasn't garbled. "I thought… Last night, we—"

 

"I know. I've just been thinking."

 

She took a breath to speak.

 

"What if we took justice into our own hands?"

 

And choked.

 

"We can't run around the galaxy like some vigilantes, Ben!"

 

"And why can't we?" he challenged.

 

"That's the same thing as wanting to rule—"

 

"It's not," he insisted. "We keep to ourselves."

 

"Then how…?"

 

He sighed impatiently, like she wasn't cottoning on fast enough, and it made her glare at him.

 

"What do you want to happen with the war?" he asked her.

 

"I want the First Order to stop… harassing and killing everyone."

 

"You want peace."

 

"Yes."

 

"You will never see peace."

 

Anger rose. "You can't know that—"

 

"This is what I was talking about when I said you were naïve!" Ben snapped. "You will never see peace! The galaxy is too big, and there are too many powerful people. But what if you could stop things you thought were right or wrong?"

 

"You just got done saying how there is no right or wrong."

 

"To me, there isn't. But you don't feel that way. I'm saying… instead of teaming up with the Resistance, we mete out justice in our own way. We rely on ourselves."

 

"That—that doesn't even sound like something you'd want to do…" she said uncertainly.

 

"It's easier to swallow than allying with the Resistance. And you've made it clear you won't go away with me to avoid all of it."

 

She frowned. "…But you and I have different ideas of justice."

 

"We do now." His eyes were feverish. "We won't after training."

 

It still sounded so much like on the track to ruling…

 

Listening to her thoughts, he brushed the backs of his fingers over her cheek. I felt your heart flutter. He smiled slowly.

 

She had the sense of a trap rising slowly around her.

 

You like the idea of being at my side…

 

Rey shook her head.

 

Ruling.

 

No. He was wrong.

 

Ben's fingers curled under her chin and tilted her head up. You can't hide from me, Rey. You don't want to murder anyone… but it's a heady rush, thinking of how powerful we could be together…

 

You don't want to murder anyone, either. Not anymore.

 

He kissed her softly with a sigh, his hands running down the length of her back to cup over the backs of her hips. He tugged her against him.

 

After we train, then. You, by my side…

 

Don't be afraid.

 

I feel it, too.

Chapter Text

 

Soul searching was not Rey's strong suit. Not anymore. She'd spent too much time running since she'd left Jakku… Too much time running and not enough time for self-contemplation. She'd had a focus—several, in fact. Help Finn and BB-8 arrive safely, and then return to Jakku to wait for her parents. And when that hadn't worked, find Luke Skywalker. Find Luke Skywalker and ask for help in channeling the Force.

 

Bond with Kylo Ren.

 

Watch Kylo Ren kill Snoke and then spurn her when she refused his offer to rule the galaxy together.

 

Survive on Crait with the rest of the Resistance, land on Solaris, and spend time hunkered down, not using the Force for fear of attracting Ben's attention. Attracting his attention so they could leave Solaris and head for Naboo. Evading Ben's further attempts to reach her—winding up in his cottage from his mind game.

 

Fighting.

 

Bonding completely.

 

Threatening the safety of a planet, any planet, with their bond. Fleeing into the Wilds. Landing on that remote planet and meeting Force Luke. Heading back to Naboo to deposit their friends so they could leave for training…

 

Yeah.

 

"Does Kylo Ren know you're here?"

 

Rey looked up from watching the waterfalls on the pavilion. Since it had been a couple of days, Poe's cuts and bruises were at their worst, and he obviously didn't know the Falcon was repaired. "He knows I'm here for his mother."

 

"Right…" Poe came to stand beside her. He put his hands on the railing and followed her gaze to the falls. They could hear the roar of them even from here. "At the risk of that bastard attacking me again… Rey, are you sure you're doing the right thing?"

 

"But what if you could stop things you thought were right or wrong?"

 

"Rey?"

 

She pulled her attention from the falls. "I'm sorry. What?"

 

"I asked if you're sure you're doing the right thing."

 

"I'm saying… instead of teaming up with the Resistance, we mete out justice in our own way. We rely on ourselves."

 

"Rey…?"

 

Her eyes flitted to his.

 

"I have given up everything for you!"

 

Poe tilted his head, his eyes narrowing with concern.

 

Before he could call her name again, she asked, "Why wouldn't it be right?"

 

He looked at her as if he didn't know her. "You already know what I'm going to say."

 

"That it's because of Kylo Ren? I can hear and feel every thought he has, sometimes even before he has them. I'm in no danger."

 

"But the rest of us—"

 

"You aren't in any danger, either. Just as long as you don't cross him." She pushed away from the railing and began to head into the palace, so she could find Leia.

 

"That's it, then? We're not friends anymore?"

 

Rey turned. "Why would you ask that?"

 

"Oh, I don't know, because you won't stay and talk to me?" Hurt was reflected on his features.

 

She took a breath. "I have to go away soon."

 

"Yeah, I know. We all know." He leaned against the railing and folded his arms. "So?"

 

"So I may be different when I come back."

 

Poe stood up straight. "Yet you don't want me to worry about you, after a comment like that?"

 

"I have given up everything for you!"

 

"It's not your place to worry about me."

 

"Rey—"

 

"I'm sorry, Poe," she whispered. She turned back around before he could stop her, letting the cool corridors of the palace envelop her.

 


 

 

Ben had given up everything for her. And what had she given him in return? She'd taken some of his darkness, yes, but that hadn't affected her life very differently. On his end, he'd left the First Order, he'd partially come to the light side, and he'd thrown his fate in with hers. They were intertwined so completely they would never be able to be rid of one another.

 

Ben had had his own dreams, and they were ashes at Rey's feet. Even if those dreams weren't good, were evil, it didn't matter. They were still dreams. She'd been so focused on trying to redeem him for Leia—and, if she was honest, herself—that she hadn't given a single thought to how much more altered his life was because of it.

 

And what would it be like for him, should Rey decide to join the Resistance? They would never trust him. It was only Leia's orders that kept them quiet for now, and that was a select group of people. That group would grow larger, less willing to listen to a mother's concern for her son. They'd think about the common good, about ridding an evil. Destroying the man who had taken so much from the galaxy.

 

They were too hurt, too wounded, to hear reason.

 

Rey didn't blame them for it. She never had. She understood.

 

But if she knew these things, and she knew how Ben felt for her, how he'd rearranged his entire life for her… How could she expect him to fight with the "light"? The light that was still too bright, the light that shunned him, that would never forgive him?

 

Luke had talked about how Vader had redeemed himself in the end. But that was at the end… He was dead now, was dead in the act of that redemption. Ben couldn't do that, wouldn't go and sacrifice himself. Rey would never let him. Ben wouldn't want to, but that wasn't the point.

 

She took and she took and she took from him.

 

And what had she given him in return, besides her love?

 

She had to do something. She had to compromise somewhere. If she didn't, they weren't going to last. As Force Luke had said, they were going to have to change for the other. Ben was already doing this so much for her… she needed to meet him halfway.

 

Yet where to start?

 

Mentally rifling through the things he wanted, she could narrow it down to a few. Ruling together, which would never happen. Not unless—

 

She stopped herself.

 

Unless? There was an unless?

 

Fear seized her, sent goosebumps prickling over her flesh. Her mind spun as she tried to piece together what she had been feeling in that moment. She knew it wasn't the obvious: she wasn't going to murder innocent people to cut away their pasts.

 

Was it… the fusing of the vigilante idea with ruling…?

 

You could do it, a little voice inside of her whispered. She stood in the middle of a corridor, her eyes glued to the floor. Ben won't kill any innocents. It's not that he's not capable of it anymore, he just won't. For you. He'd stay his hand.

 

As for the others…

 

This galaxy was broken. There was no true leader. There was the First Order, there was the Resistance, there was the New Republic. All fighting. They were never going to see eye to eye. As Ben had said, there would never be peace. Looking back through the history of the galaxy, peace was so fleeting. A handful of years, maybe a decade or two, and then someone wanted to snatch the reins again.

 

It would go this way, on and on, well past the span of their lifetimes.

 

But couldn't they do something about it now?

 

Rey looked down at her fingers. They were giving the usual tremor when her thoughts veered unexpectedly.

 

She would never use the First Order to obtain peace. They were already too stained, too dirty, too evil. They could never inspire any sense of peace. No, people would only consider their reign a ruling, a dictatorship, no matter what Rey did to change it.

 

As for the Resistance… Well, they were numbered so few, it made more sense for Rey to be on her own, anyway. And besides, the emotional baggage from Ben wouldn't make it worth it.

 

Was this something she could really do? Or was it something her guilt was presenting, in an effort to make amends with Ben?

 

Did it matter?

 

Rey's fingers clenched into fists.

 

No.

 

She had to meet him halfway. She couldn't let doubt continue to gnaw at Ben's heart.

 

It wasn't true that he loved her more than she loved him. She loved him just as much. She was Ben's sole self-subscribed support system, so it only seemed unbalanced. If Rey didn't love him as much as this, she would never have completed her bond with him.

 

Need, on the other hand… Yes, he needed her more.

 

Both of these things were something she could do about.

 

And so she would.

 


 

 

As she continued her trek to find Leia, her thoughts wandered some more. Ben had pointed out twice now that the reason she was close to the Resistance was because her friends were there. At first, Rey hadn't understood why it mattered. But she remembered how she had felt when the Force Knot had put this temporary balance on them… she was gray.

 

If she was gray, why was she clinging so hard to the Resistance? Peeling back the layers… taking her friends out of the equation…

 

She didn't care about any of it.

 

No wonder he wanted to run off to oblivion and leave the rest behind. None of this was their problem. It was only their problem because Rey was letting it be.

 

Although gray, however, she didn't want to let the galaxy go to ruin. And it would, without interference. Her thoughts strayed toward vigilantes again, which was growing more and more favorable. If they were vigilantes, they didn't have to follow anyone's rules. They could do what they saw fit, in the way they wanted.

 

Every step she took toward Ben's mother, her reluctance to face the truth melted away.

 

Every step was freedom.

 

"You're so innocent, and at times it's sweet, but at other times, I want to take you—I want to take you and dirty you so that you can see the world as it really is!"

 

She did see the world as it really was. But she'd seen it through a shroud of desperate need she'd had for her friends. She hadn't wanted to be alone, not after she'd gotten a taste of what it was like to be surrounded by those who cared for her. But because of this bond, she would never be alone ever again.

 

It was time to let the past go.

 

She would just do it her way.

 


 

 

"Chewie said the ship was finished with its repairs… I take it you're here to say goodbye?"

 

Rey smiled. She was in Leia's quarters, which were easily double the size of what Rey's had been. It was homey here, carrying the princess' scent, her feminine touch in places, the touch of a general in others.

 

"Yes. But I wanted it to be quiet… you know the saying. Too many goodbyes, and you think twice about going."

 

"Would that be so bad?" Leia put her book aside and rose to meet Rey across the room.

 

"No," Rey replied. When the general's arms went about her, she hugged Leia in return. "I'll miss everyone. It's for the best. We'll destroy everyone with our power if we don't learn how to get it under control."

 

Leia held Rey by the shoulders. One hand lifted to touch her cheek. "You know I've come to think of you as a daughter…"

 

Rey's smile widened. She put her hand over the general's. "And I've come to think of you as a mother."

 

"Take care of Ben while you're away?" She didn't seem surprised that Ben wasn't there to say goodbye himself. Sad, but not surprised.

 

"Always."

 


 

 

Ben looked over as Rey fell into the co-pilot's chair. Her face was sticky with tears, and she scrubbed at them furiously. Luke was back in his red panda form, and he curled up in Rey's lap.

 

I feel rested, he announced happily.

 

She stroked her fingers through his soft fur. "I'm glad. Do you have any idea of where we're supposed to be going?"

 

Yes. Set course for the Wilds, as you call them. Once we arrive, I will guide you from there.

 

Ben cast the red panda a distrustful look, but he worked on the controls with Rey to get the Falcon up and going. Rey thought of how Chewie had willingly let them take the Falcon without him. It felt so much like the wookie's, and perhaps it was. On the other hand, it was technically Ben's birthright.

 

"Ben?" she whispered.

 

What? He kept his eyes on the controls. He gave off the aura of someone who didn't know how he wanted to act. Judging by his emotions, he was still smarting from the day before and his failure on his end of the meditation.

 

Face clear of tears, she twisted in her seat. She put her hand over his, and he paused. She needed to say this before they left. It seemed important somehow, to shed the past away as they left the confines of Naboo.

 

Let's do it.

 

Do what? he replied cautiously.

 

Once we finish our training…

 

His breath caught in anticipation.

 

Let's take matters into our own hands.

 

Ben's dark eyes rose to find hers. Do you mean that the way I want it to?

 

Ask me again. The—the important part. Ask me again, she urged him.

 

He straightened slowly in his seat. After a moment, he haltingly obliged. Take my hand? He lifted it from under hers, away from the controls, and held it out palm up. Be by my side? His thoughts were clamoring together with excitement. He wasn't bothering to shield much, so she could feel everything. Rule with—

 

She took his hand in hers.

 

I have conditions.

 

Ben hooked a hand around the back of her neck and pulled her into a fierce kiss. When he withdrew, they were both panting a little for breath.

 

I don't care. Whatever you want.

 

For now… no unnecessary bloodshed. The rest we figure out once we've finished training.

 

His eyes were burning brightly.

 

Agreed.

Chapter Text

 

"Tell me about the droid."

 

No.

 

Rey sighed in frustration. What do you mean, no?

 

This is not the moment. Show me the moment.

 

You can see everything in my mind! Show me yourself!

 

No.

 

Luke—

 

You must show me yourself. You must acknowledge it. And then you must overcome it.

 

"I know everything I need to know about you!"

 

"You do? Ah, you do. You have that look in your eyes. From the forest. You called me a monster."

 

"You are a monster."

 

"Yes. I am."

 

No. This was not even close, Rey. You are evading it.

 

"This will not go the way you think!"

 

No.

 

"It's time to let old things die."

 

No.

 

But Rey could see it, could see Ben's face, full of an intensity that struck her heart in a way nothing ever had.

 

Rey.

 

"I want you to join me. We can rule together and bring a new order to the galaxy."

 

Rey, you cannot balance your bond if you do not root out the true source!

 

I've forgiven him for everything, you're asking me for the impossible!

 

Nothing is impossible, only improbable. And this is far from improbable. As you said yourself, I can see the entirety of your mind. There is a buried, burning hatred, resentment, in your heart. It will fester if left unchecked. It will eat at you slowly, so slowly you may not even realize it is there. Until…

 

Rey didn't need him to finish that thought. I just… Luke, I don't know. Why aren't you pushing this hard at Ben?

 

Ben Solo has an entirely different battle to face.

 

Are you saying he has nothing he's harboring against me?

 

Yes.

 

Something entirely new struck her heart. In Snoke's chambers, it had been despair. Here, it was failure. Ben had no lingering resentment against her? Then again, she reasoned with herself, she hadn't done anything to him that would be lasting, scarring.

 

Scarring.

 

Like the scar on his face, for instance.

 

Well, clearly, he didn't hold a grudge about that.

 

The world of her mind faded away, and Rey was left staring at reality. Reality being a planet on the very edges of the galaxy. Luke had guided them here, explaining that it was a vergence.

 

"What's a vergence?" she'd asked aloud.

 

Ben's eyes had been feverish. "It's a pocket of the Force powerful enough to deny even the laws of spacetime. It can be as big as a planet… it can be as small as a stone. The Jedi Temple of old in Coruscant was built on one."

 

Rey didn't really know much about spacetime. There was relativity, or something, that had to do with time? But you had to venture outside the galaxy (theoretically) for it to be enough to take effect. Everyone in the galaxy was on a standard time. And she vaguely remembered Han casually mentioning once about how hyperspace was achieved by traveling through pockets of dimensional space, or wormholes.

 

Whatever. All she knew was that everyone in the galaxy aged the same, even if a planet's rotation was different from others, and that it made her head hurt thinking about it. A scientist, she was not.

 

In any case, the planet was pleasant and tropical. Another treat for Rey to experience—waves crashing along a beach, receding, sand sucking away at her feet. It was the only time in her entire life that she'd actually liked the sand. It was different here. Softer, not so coarse. And when muddied, it didn't cling too much, the water pulling it away.

 

Ahch-To was different. It didn't have beaches, only turbulent water, crashing against cliff faces with a vengeance much more powerful than this.

 

Trees swayed in the breeze as gulls called out to each other. Luke had identified them as palm trees. They had giant green and brown things under their broad leaves—coconuts. The first time they'd pried one open, Ben had used his lightsaber, and they'd lost all the milk. While he'd stared in frustration and embarrassed anger at the coconut, Rey had laughed so hard her sides hurt. The next attempt, they used something gentler, and the milk inside was quite different, but not bad.

 

There was a jungle here, too, as there had been on Solaris. It wasn't as dense, or as big in terms of flora and fauna. They hunted an aggressive brown creature with long tusks for meat, or they gathered fish. Freshwater was plenty, with several waterfalls and countless streams.

 

And the Force, which was always everywhere and in everything, was so vibrant here that the hairs on her arms had stood up when she'd first stepped foot on land.

 

Rey still wasn't sure how long this piece of land spread out for. They hadn't gotten to exploring all of it. Mostly, they'd set up camp in a cave, and this was where they trained daily.

 

She scoffed to herself. 'Trained.' More like mind games. The first two days had been about meditation, finding each other as they had attempted to in Naboo. Each night they went to bed mentally exhausted. Ben was far grumpier about it. He didn't like Luke being able to sift through his thoughts so easily.

 

Speaking of Ben, Rey had no idea where he was. Somewhere deep in the jungle, probably. Luke had them train in different places, to hone the bond more. She was at the beach herself, letting the waves soothe her. She was at the edge of the tidal line, her feet buried in wet sand, her elbows hooked around her knees.

 

Rey.

 

She sighed. I don't want to do this anymore.

 

You must.

 

Snow.

 

You must find the rot. You must cleanse it. You must forgive.

 

Heavy blankets of it, swirling around her, sticking to her eyelids, freezing in her hair. She'd been so incensed she hadn't been able to feel the cold at all, or appreciate the splendor of her environment.

 

Forgive…

 

A flash of red and blue. Grunts.

 

A fist slamming against a wounded chest.

 

Forgive…

 

Rey stood in the snow, her palms clammy around the metal grip of her lightsaber. Her brows hurt, they were so tightly furrowed, and breathing while physically exerted in this frigid air was hell on her lungs. She couldn't pause for a break. She had to let adrenaline drive her, or she'd fall, she'd die.

 

All she had was pure aggression, no finesse.

 

A tree crashed, and Kylo Ren was chasing her through a path between two small cliffs. She ran up the side of one, hopping away, limber as always. A roll onto the ground—she jumped up, slashing a branch between them to slow him momentarily as she raced ahead.

 

That didn't last long. With little time to prepare herself, she was once again parrying his attacks. The only problem was he was fiercely swinging, physically much stronger. Every slam of his lightsaber against hers sent her staggering back several paces. But she was blocking each one, no matter how much her body was taking a beating.

 

Abruptly trees were crashing behind her. She glanced at them briefly. They were going down fast. She whipped her head back around. Kylo Ren seemed unconcerned. He swung at her again, and they continued their dance, until she was backed up against a newly developed chasm. Sparks flew as plasma grinded against plasma.

 

His face was as soaked with sweat as her own. "You need a teacher!"

 

It was taking all she had just to fend off his blade.

 

"I can show you the ways of the Force!"

 

The rage that was running rampant through her homed in on that single moment as tears blurred her vision.

 

"The Force?" she whispered.

 

Her eyes closed.

 

The Force.

 

Peace.

 

Serenity.

 

The strength to do what she needed.

 

Her eyes opened, fresh determination inside of her. Kylo Ren had a moment to digest it before she yelled, using their momentum to swing their lightsabers to the side.

 

This time the battle was in her favor. It was she who was sending him stumbling away with every flash of her blade. A slice—part of his clothing burned away. Another—he cried out again from a wound to his shoulder. She prowled forward as he staggered away in the snow, his chest rising and falling heavily.

 

One final swing, her lightsaber behind her head with two hands and falling forward, connecting with his. She kicked him in the chest, and he fell into a drift of snow, flakes puffing everywhere.

 

She stalked him in a circle. He yelled as he got to his feet, and she screamed as he grabbed her wrist, angling her lightsaber away, but she held onto his just as fiercely. Before she knew it, she was driving his blade into the snow. He wasn't strong enough to fight her off, and as it disengaged, she brought her saber up, striking at his face.

 

As he groaned, on his back in the snow, she stared down at him, rage still roiling inside of her heart. Rage and so much damned grief.

 

He'd killed the only person who had ever been a father to her. A father she'd so desperately wanted. His own father.

 

Kylo Ren was evil.

 

She would never forgive him.

 


 

 

Tears soaked Rey's face, and she found herself sobbing. The cold of that night was gone as the balm of the tropics replaced it. She wrapped her arms around her knees and buried her face in them.

 

Yes. Again.

 

No!

 

Again!

 


 

 

Sparks flew as she stared into Kylo Ren's face.

 

Again!

 


 

 

The branch slammed into the snow, earning her a moment of freedom, but only a moment. She flew forward, as fast as she could. It didn't matter. Kylo Ren was there in seconds at her back, and their lightsabers whirled.

 

Again!

 


 

 

Rey pushed her hands into the sand, dry heaving. Tears dripped off her cheeks and chin, and her whole body tensed. She choked on a fresh sob. She tried to focus on the granules of sand between her fingers, but Luke was already dragging her back into the memory.

 

She stabbed with her lightsaber, and Kylo Ren jerked back as the cloth at his shoulder burned.

 

Again!

 


 

 

He was on his back, flakes of snow stuck to his cheeks despite the sweat on his face. The ground roared and trembled as the planet began to tear itself apart. Rey stood over him, panting laboriously but victoriously, her lightsaber at her side.

 

Kylo Ren was evil.

 

Again!

 


 

 

"I can't do this anymore!" Rey sobbed.

 

Then forgive him.

 

"I have!"

 

You have not. If you had, I would not be needlessly doing this.

 

"Then tell me how! I—I don't know! I don't know how! I don't know what you mean!"

 

It is something you must discover on your own. There is a pattern. Find it.

 

Again!

 


 

 

"You need a teacher!" His eyes burned into her own from only inches away. "I can show you the ways of the Force!"

 

Plasma hissed. The heat of it washed over Rey's face in waves. It was probably contributing to the reason she was sweating so hard. In the darkness of the night, his eyes were pure black. Black like his soul.

 

Again!

 


 

 

Snow melted away as it met plasma. Rey's fingers around Kylo Ren's wrist were an iron grip. The Force was helping her—she was overpowering him.

 

Again!

 


 

 

"What are you doing to her?!"

 

Something necessary.

 

Rey, curled up in a fetal position, wet sand sticking to her cheek, could barely make the words out. It sounded like Ben was here. She wanted to call out to him, more than anything, because in that moment, she needed him. She needed him more than he needed her.

 

But she couldn't.

 

She didn't have the strength.

 

Why…? Why couldn't she figure out the puzzle…?

 

Do not attempt to engage me, Ben Solo. You will not be pleased with the result.

 


 

 

Kylo Ren was evil.

 


 

 

"You need a teacher! I can show you the ways of the Force!"

 


 

 

Red light, blue light.

 

Sparks.

 

Snow, hissing where it met sabers.

 


 

 

"—show you the ways of the Force—"

 


 

 

…killed his own father…

 


 

 

Dark eyes, so dark, but shining with blue flickers from her blade.

 


 

 

A swing—a clash. Rey stumbled, nearly fell, got back up. Blocked another attack. Ben moved fluidly, so practiced she could tell he wasn't even thinking about his next move. He was five steps ahead of her.

 

Yes.

 

Gulls screeched. Rey watched them circle above. Yes?

 

Again!

 


 

 

"You need a teacher!"

 


 

 

Ben cried out in pain as her lightsaber connected with his shoulder. He didn't have time to clutch at it, to do anything but parry her next blow.

 


 

 

Ben's face, strained with the effort it was taking to pull his lightsaber away from her, from the snow. He panted beside her, made grunts that echoed hers.

 


 

 

"You need a teacher!" As blue sparks glittered in Ben's eyes, his face was earnest. There was something there she wasn't allowing herself to see. He didn't really want to kill her. He wanted her. He didn't know how he wanted her, but he wanted her. "I can show you the ways of the Force!"

 

Desperately pleading, hidden beneath the fervent cry.

 


 

 

Snow clung to Ben's hair, to his cheeks, his shoulders. It evaporated the second it touched the plasma of his saber. He stalked her much as he had on Takodana, patient, so patient. He knew he had her. He had only to wait until she fell, until she miscalculated, until she grew too tired to go on.

 

He hadn't known her then. He hadn't known the strength of her stubbornness. Or maybe he had, and had admired it, yet wanted to break it. Wanted to own it. Wanted it as his.

 


 

 

She stood over Ben as he lay on the ground.

 

The man who killed Han.

 

Who killed his own father.

 


 

 

Ben.

 

Ben, slashing at her with his blade, knocking out the tree she'd already struck once.

 

Ben, pushing his saber against hers as she tried not to buckle, to fall into the chasm at her feet.

 

Ben, his eyes bright with that familiar fervor, the fervor she loved, telling her to become his pupil.

 

Ben, yelling, wounded, as she struck at him.

 

Ben, crumpling after she swung her blade at his face, only the bare edge catching, just enough to create his scar.

 

Ben, staring up at her as she glared fiercely down at him.

 

Ben.

 


 

 

This world wasn't real. It was created from her memory. It was an illusion, drawn on this memory, and she was pushed into it again and again. This wasn't Starkiller Base, it was the depths of her mind. A mind where she could change things—even if she couldn't in reality.

 

Her knees buckled, and she collapsed at his side. She could have blamed it on the tremors rocking the base, but they both knew it wasn't that.

 

Ben's eyes searched hers. She knew what he was looking for.

 

It was what she had been looking for.

 

A place to belong.

 

"Ben," she whispered, and he flinched in surprise at the use of his given name. Then his features pulled tight with a snarl. She stayed still as he lunged forward onto his knees, his gloved hand around her throat. She closed her eyes.

 

Chasms were opening in the ground all around them.

 

"Don't—call—me—that!" he hissed.

 

She looked up at him through her lashes. "I forgive you."

 

He pulled back, his hand dropping, his face blank with surprise.

 

"What you did will never be okay… but you torture yourself every day. And I can't blame you for it anymore."

 

His confusion grew by the second.

 

She put her arms around his shoulders and buried her face in his hair, which was damp from sweat and snow. His body grew rigged. She pressed her lips to his ear and whispered.

 

"I love you."

 


 

 

The sun was long gone, stars strewn across the night sky. Rey took a moment to orient herself, drained in a way she'd never experienced. At the same time, her body felt light, light enough to float away on the next wave. Waves, which were lapping at her shoulder, the tide rolling in.

 

Ben's face appeared above her own. It was taut with worry. Rey?

 

A shaky hand reached up to cup his cheek. I forgive you. Fresh tears touched her lashes, and her nose burned.

 

He didn't have to ask what she meant. What happened? He blocked my access to your mind. Which, by the way, is very unpleasant. It's a potential weakness for us.

 

I wouldn't worry too much. He's the only one who can.

 

What happened?

 

He said… that there was a place deep inside of me that hadn't forgiven you. And he made me relive that moment over and over.

 

Which— He paused as her saw her thoughts from the day. I see.

 

I had to stop thinking of you as Kylo Ren. I had to stop thinking of you as evil. I had to realize you were just like me. I had to forgive you for killing Han.

 

He put an arm under her shoulders and pulled her up from the water lapping at her neck. Rey, I think—

 

She didn't get to hear what he thought.

 

Exhaustion swamped her, bringing a shroud of black over her vision, and she slumped against him, unconscious.

Chapter Text

 

It was well into the day when Rey woke up. She could hear the drip of water in the cave and the sounds of wildlife outside of it. The heat was a thick blanket against her as she sat up and examined her surroundings. Had she passed out on the beach?

 

She ran her hands through her hair. It was crinkled from sleeping with the tie in it, so she redid it, noticing the charred fish on a palm frond beside her. Ben had left her breakfast. She put her fingers to it and found it cold.

 

Her stomach grumbled hungrily.

 

It didn't care. It only knew she hadn't eaten in a day.

 

She nibbled on the fish and gazed into the jungle. It was unusual that Luke hadn't tried to wake her. He was a very stern mentor, very dedicated. Maybe he was satisfied with how she had handled her forgiveness for Kylo Ren yesterday? If so, Rey was all right with this. She still felt drained. Catching a moment of rest wouldn't be so bad.

 

It wasn't to last.

 

Rey, Luke called.

 

She sighed. She wasn't even halfway through her meal. What? She tried not to sound so churlish, but it was difficult to be in a good mood when one felt as though their entire body had crashed into a speeder.

 

I need your assistance.

 

With Ben? she questioned.

 

Yes. I have discovered the… source… of Ben Solo's troubles. He cannot handle this alone as I had thought. He needs you. As you know, I cannot be of assistance, or it will invalidate the purpose of the exercise.

 

Concern trickled through her. Is he all right?

 

Yes. But come. Quickly. I will show you the way.

 


 

 

Rey picked her way through the jungle, very mindful of the fact that she was weaponless. She supposed she could use the Force to help her. It wasn't very mollifying. She wasn't used to being so powerful with it yet, so her first instinct was to reach for the lightsaber that was no longer there.

 

You will be fine. I have soothed the forest.

 

She frowned. How often are you reading my mind?

 

Only when pertinent.

 

Yes. But how did he decide what was pertinent and what wasn't?

 

Half an hour later, she came to a small clearing, in which Ben was lying prone on the ground. His face was strangely empty, his eyes closed. Not quite peacefully… there was something very off about it. Almost like a droid that had been powered down.

 

"What's wrong with him?" she asked.

 

I have him suspended in the depths of his mind. It was the only way to root out the corruption.

 

"Corruption?" She knelt beside her lover, and she no longer blushed at the term. Her hand rested over his chest, which rose and fell slowly, deeply.

 

Yes. That is why you are here.

 

Rey looked around. Sensing the need to be seen, Luke materialized in his glowing ball form. He hovered, his light fading in and out, glowing stronger at some points, like a star. She had never noticed that before. Then again, he hadn't given her much of a chance to look at him like this.

 

"Explain?"

 

Ben Solo has a very complex mind. It is riddled with self-doubts, hatred, guilt. Most of these directed at himself. My purpose was for him to face these feelings.

 

"He couldn't?" Rey guessed.

 

Luke bobbed. Yes, but to a degree that was abnormal. After days of repeated attempts, I rendered him to this condition and searched his mind more thoroughly.

 

She tried not to think of how easily that could have been done to her. But surely if he'd wanted to hurt them, he would have by now?

 

What I found was… startling.

 

Rey's intuition prickled. "There's something there?"

 

The one you call Snoke. It would appear his seduction of Ben Solo began at a very young age. This powerful Force user was able to entangle his darkness around him very thoroughly, to the point where it tampers with his memories of events. He has twisted everything around.

 

"But he's…" Her heart skipped a beat. "He is dead, isn't he?"

 

Yes. This is lingering damage. To put it in a way you would understand… Take a white tablecloth, and pour something very dark over it. The source of the darkness spreads into the tablecloth, soiling the linen so much that it is unable to be cleaned.

 

"Are you saying we won't be able to get rid of it?" Rey couldn't quite keep the fear out of her voice.

 

Luke moved in what was unmistakably a shake of a head. Ben Solo is not a tablecloth. He will never be pristine again, but that is the same for all sentient lifeforms. However… this damage can be dealt with. That is where you come in.

 

"Me?" Rey sat on her rump to get more comfortable.

 

Yes. I am not certain where the corruption truly begins. We must go to the beginning of his most emotionally driven memories and work our way through until we find it.

 

"What then?" she asked with no small amount of trepidation.

 

I plan to pull his memories into an illusion. We are addressing his psyche, so the adjustment to the memories will be fictional, known only to us.

 

"Wait, what?"

 

I will pull forward his memories, Luke explained patiently. You will address him in each of these. His mind will not attack you—you are half of him; it will recognize that. But you will not actually be changing his memories. It is only cleaning his psyche. We will use this tool to do so.

 

Rey wasn't really sure if she grasped that entirely, but she wanted to help Ben, and that was what mattered. "So what do I have to do? I mean, how will I…?" She straightened her shoulders. "What happens when I encounter his corruption?"

 

Nothing. You will be safe.

 

The fact that he needed to point out her safety wasn't very comforting. "Right…"

 

Rest beside Ben Solo, and we will begin. I will link your minds back together, but I will pull you into his and guide you from there. Do not fight me. I must be very precise.

 

"Why would I fight you?"

 

You are being shoved into someone else's memories. It is possible you may not respond well, in an attempt to protect your sense of self.

 

"I've seen the memories of others before."

 

This will be different, I assure you.

 

"I see inside of his head all the time!"

 

Rey.

 

She sighed. "All right."

 

Doing as instructed, she settled herself beside Ben, shoulder to shoulder. She looked up at the palm trees, waving in the breeze far above them. Sunlight streamed through the fronds hard enough to make her eyes hurt, so she closed them.

 

Are you ready?

 

She took a deep breath.

 

Let it out.

 

"Yes."

 

She'd barely gotten the word out when reality melted away, much as it had in their exercise yesterday. For a moment, she was surrounded by darkness. She didn't have to wait long before a bubble of light began to materialize in the distance. It was coming quickly, growing bigger and bigger by the second. By the time it reached her, it attached to her as if she were a bubble herself, absorbing her.

 

A familiar room took shape. It was crisp, not rounded out and faded, eroded in the passage of time, as all memories inevitably were. People remembered moments, thoughts. It was never completely encompassing, not like living was. Rey had been here before… just not like this.

 

Plush carpet… beautiful coffee table… expensive sofa and couch… curtains over the windows open to reveal a city the like of which Rey had never seen. There were vehicles floating past and towers made of glass.

 

"Who are you?" The voice was sharp with distrust.

 

Rey whirled.

 

There, across from her, sitting outside his parents' bedroom door, spinning a black figurine between his fingers, was a young Ben.

 

Chapter Text

 

"Who are you?"

 

The question came again, and this time, Rey could feel the Force behind it. She doubted he even realized he was doing it. Understanding for Han and Leia's situation came to her. Of course, they were frightened of Ben's powers at such a young age. She would have been, too. They just hadn't handled it very well, and Snoke hadn't helped.

 

"I'm your friend," she answered. Appreciation at the detail to the memory kindled inside of her. Having been a part of them, she knew Luke was skilled at his illusions. But those had all been false. This had originated straight from Ben's unconscious.

 

The boy scoffed. His dark eyes were as distrustful as his voice.

 

Rey was having a hard time not picking him up and squeezing him close. His ears were too big for his face, and they were very noticeable with how closely cut his hair was. She realized with a belated pang that it was styled just like Han's had been. She could see a bit of Han peeking out at her even now, in the way the child held himself. The set of his jaw, his shoulders. The narrowing of his eyes.

 

She crossed the room and sat before him, knees tucked under her, her hands resting on them. "Why is that so hard to believe?"

 

"Because I don't have any friends," he retorted hostilely. "Everyone hates me."

 

"That's not true," she protested.

 

He crossed his arms over his thin chest. "How would you know?"

 

"Well… I don't hate you." She did her best approximation of an encouraging smile, all the while hoping it didn't appear too nervous.

 

Ben continued to eye her warily.

 

She held back a laugh.

 

Han and Leia's raised voices carried through the door a moment later, and that sobered her. "…Are they always fighting like this?"

 

He shrugged and fixed his attention on his figurine.

 

"About everything, or…?"

 

"Father hates it here. He doesn't say so, but I can tell. I can feel his emotions. I never tell him, though. They don't like it when I can do something they can't." He spoke to his hands, mostly mumbling. He had that childlike way about him, the reluctance to trust her, the desire to be heard. It was difficult to be taken seriously, or better yet, understood, when one was so young.

 

"What makes you say that?"

 

He hesitated, and it was plain on his features he hadn't meant to tell her what he had. He bit his lip for a moment. Debating on whether to talk to her? She couldn't tell here. She wasn't connected to his thoughts. She didn't like it very much.

 

How quickly she'd grown used to having access to his mind.

 

"They get really quiet. Then they won't look at me for a while…"

 

"That doesn't mean they don't like it. It just means they don't understand."

 

"They don't understand. And they don't love me anymore."

 

Brown eyes rose to hers. There was a half-frown on his face. Old defeat? And so early… How long had he been feeling this way?

 

"They're your mum and dad. I'm sure they must love you very much," she murmured, not knowing herself if the words were true. What flawed logic.

 

He bought it just as much as she did. "Having a child doesn't mean unconditional love."

 

"Ben, where did you hear something like that?"

 

"Nowhere," he muttered to his figurine.

 

Snoke.

 

Not just surveying, already acquiring.

 

It made Rey sick.

 

She couldn't do anything about it now. She had to try a different angle. Though the overall angle was eluding her. What could she do to make a difference? What could she say?

 

"Han and Leia are different," she said.

 

Any suspicion that had fled his eyes was back in an instant. "Who are you?"

 

It was time to be honest. Partially, at least. "I'm you. Well, half of you," she amended. "But still you. I know things you know. But…" She leaned close, as though she had a secret to tell. "I also know things you don't."

 

"Like what…?" It was wholly skeptical, curiosity lurking deep beneath it.

 

"Like the fact that your mother and father love you very much," she reiterated.

 

"No—" He closed his eyes and breathed with impatience. "What do you know about me?"

 

"Oh…" She hummed in thought.

 

"So you don't know—"

 

"I know you that you feel alone," she said, interrupting his smug tone. "I know that you think nobody else will ever understand you." She could tell this wasn't having the desired effect. Namely, because he shrugged. This was a given to him. "All right…"

 

She bit the inside of her cheek. She didn't know much about Ben at this age.

 

The answer slid through her, an insidious whisper.

 

"I know that when they told you you broke that boy's spine, you heard… him."

 

He didn't look up from his figurine, but his fingers stilled around it.

 

"Although it's not really a 'he' yet, is it?" she mused openly. "Just a voice. A voice in the back of your head, telling you things, protecting you."

 

Ben's jaw set. "If you're a part of me, why haven't I seen you before? Why haven't I felt you?"

 

She placed her elbows on her knees, clasping her fingers in her lap as she shifted to sit on her rear. "Haven't you?"

 

Confusion touched his eyes.

 

Rey grasped one of his small hands.

 

A familiar spark lit in the depths of her mind, and Ben's thoughts touched hers. Rey quickly moved aside the things he didn't need to know. She had much more practice, could keep him in a basic form of their connection. The way it had all started… when she was on Ahch-To.

 

He sucked in a breath. "…How…?"

 

"Ben, I have to tell you something." She clutched his hand. "People fear what they don't understand. Your parents don't understand you. Make them. Tell them how you feel, show them what you can do."

 

Doubt pulled his lips to the side. "I don't know…"

 

"You just have to—"

 

The door opened, and Han walked through. He nearly stepped over Ben, and father and son stared at each other, the latter with sad, wide eyes. Anticipating a punishment?

 

Han's face was clean-shaven, a startling contrast to how it would be over two decades later. Rey couldn't help but think that he was very attractive, this scoundrel, as Leia was fond of recalling him. She could see how once upon a time, he had been able to talk himself out of anything.

 

He sighed and put his hands on his hips. Then he jerked his head to the side, and Ben scrambled to his feet. As they left the room, his hand cupped over the back of his son's head and ruffled his hair gently.

 

"C'mon, kid," he grumbled. "You wanna go work on the 'con with Chewie and me?"

 

Ben gazed over his shoulder at Rey as he mumbled a yes. His eyes lingered on her until he was out of sight. And when he was gone, she was gone.

 

This was his memory.

 


 

 

Darkness again.

 

Rey struggled to get air. She clasped her hands under her ribcage, her head bowed forward.

 

Han. So young, so lively.

 

He hadn't even acknowledged her.

 

He couldn't see me, she thought. Which made sense.

 

It oddly still hurt.

 

The next memory will begin soon, Luke informed her.

 

"What about that last one? I wasn't able to do anything, you have to let me go back and try again!"

 

Any impact you made would have been the same regardless of how this moment ended. He is in doubt of whether he should trust the whisper. You did this.

 

She wished she could have done more.

 

You did more than you realize. In the original memory, Ben Solo refuses his father's offer. Are you ready?

 

"I am, but how sure are we that I—"

 

A bubble attached to her skin.

 


 

 

"It's you!"

 

A night breeze tugged at her hair. She couldn't see the stars, lost as they were behind a sea of smoggy clouds. She'd never witnessed such an event herself, but had heard tale from the odd traveler or smuggler at Niima Outpost. Pollutants would eventually clog up an atmosphere. That, and city lights. It kept the stars at bay.

 

Rey expected to find Chewbacca, as well. There was only Ben. He wasn't very much older, only a few years. He was sitting again, this time on a blanket over dewy grass. The cliff he had chosen to roost on overlooked the large city below. What had it been like, to grow up around so much greenery, so much life?

 

"It's me," she confirmed.

 

"I haven't seen you in a long time…" The distrust always lurking behind his eyes had been replaced by excitement. Maybe Luke was right. Maybe she had made an impression on him. "Why did you wait so long?"

 

Er.

 

Shoot.

 

"Things kept me away," Rey said vaguely. "Important things." She plopped down beside him. "Are you out here alone, then?"

 

"Chewie is—" He narrowed his eyes. "You already knew he was coming, didn't you?"

 

She'd had a strong inkling, and now it was confirmed. To Ben, she only shrugged one shoulder. "I meant to ask last time… do you and your family travel a lot?" This city was different from the last in that there weren't any vehicles zooming to and fro through the air.

 

"My mother is a senator and a princess. Father is a general." He eyed her. "How do you know some things and not others?" Ben had a very eloquent way of speaking most of the time, and it must have started young. He spoke with a grace far above his age.

 

She grinned. "How do you know I don't know them?"

 

He drew his lip between his teeth in consideration. "I don't," he conceded. "Then why ask?"

 

"Because I'm worried about you." She touched his shoulder—gasped a little when he slapped her hand away. "Ben!"

 

"I don't like it when people touch me," he mumbled to the blanket.

 

"Why…?"

 

He shrugged one shoulder.

 

"But I'm you. I'm not allowed to touch you…?" She maneuvered to try and see his expression. He kept turning his head away until she seized her hands over his ribs in a tickle. The shriek of laughter warmed her heart. He could have tried using the Force against her again, yet he let himself be at her mercy.

 

"Quit, quit," he begged from his position on the ground, doing his best to shield his sides from her attack.

 

"Only if you promise me that we're friends."

 

"Okay, we're friends!"

 

Rey relinquished her assault. Ben panted for breath, weak chuckles leaving him. She had never tickled anyone before, had only had it happen to her once, as a child. She wondered if Luke could bring her memories back from fragments and discarded the notion. It would be too painful to see her parents.

 

"You're pretty," he blurted.

 

She returned her attention to him. He was blushing but looked determined not to back down from what he'd said.

 

Her own cheeks grew red.

 

"You've never called me that before," she said. She could have kicked herself.

 

"What do you mean?" he predictably queried.

 

She couldn't answer him. Words were thick in her throat, and she was unable to detangle them. Choobies. She needed a moment to recover from that!

 

"I misspoke. I meant—"

 

"No," he cut her off. He was sitting back up, his eyes bright, burning. "I suspected it. I could feel it from that connection. You're from the future, aren't you?"

 

Of all the things to—

 

Rey burst out laughing.

 

If only he could understand the joke.

 

Time traveling… she had so many things she would do if she could…

 

"No," she wheezed.

 

He didn't find it very funny. "Then explain what I felt. I know it was something. I'm not a child."

 

"Let's just… say that I'm looking out for you," she said once her laughter had eased. "We're great friends, you and I."

 

He was dissatisfied with her answer. "Tell me the truth."

 

Judging by his expression, he was aware of putting the Force behind it.

 

"You can't use those mind tricks on me. They won't affect me. Just as I can't use them on you."

 

"You can use the Force, then."

 

She poked his stomach. "'Course I can. I'm part of you, remember?"

 

"I have so many questions—"

 

Chewie roared, and Ben broke off. Intelligent eyes fastened on her after confirming the wookie was headed this way.

 

"You're about to go, aren't you?"

 

"Probably," she replied.

 

"You don't know?"

 

"I don't."

 

"You don't have control over this?"

 

"To an extent."

 

"So then why—"

 

"Have you thought about what I said?" Rey knew their time was running out. Chewie was almost at the top of the hill.

 

He frowned. "About being more open with my parents?"

 

"Yes," she persisted. "Have you?"

 

Something shuttered over his eyes.

 

"Ben?"

 

"My parents will never understand me. No one does. Not even Chewie."

 

"But I do—"

 

"And where were you?!" he snapped. "Gone!"

 

"Ben, no. It wasn't because I wanted to be, believe me!"

 

"How can I believe anything you say? I don't even know you! You're a part of me, but you're hiding yourself from me!"

 

"Don't shout. He'll hear—"

 


 

 

Rey exhaled.

 

That had not gone well.

 

"Why didn't you take me to an earlier memory?" she demanded.

 

I am only pulling forth the memories that have Snoke's engraved signature. In the first, Ben Solo despaired as his parents fought over what to do with him. In this last, he was contemplating severing himself from them.

 

"But he wasn't even twelve…! How could he…?"

 

Ben Solo believes he grew up alone. He put his family at arm's length very early. They rarely made the time for him that he needed. Snoke was able to sew the seeds of rebellion. It is a slow game, a seduction. Too much, and Ben Solo would have been suspicious. He attached himself as a whisper, quietly fueling these emotions from the background.

 

"Well, I did more damage there," Rey said.

 

Not entirely. Though highly suspicious, a piece of Ben Solo believes in you.

 

The question Rey had wanted to ask before came to her again. "Luke… these memories are so brief. How can we be sure that what I'm doing is even lasting?"

 

These memories may feel brief, but they are not. Much time has passed in the outside world.

 

"Much time?!" Rey stared into the nothingness of the darkness. "How much is much?!"

 

It will upset you to hear, and you should be focused for this task. But I do have your bodies protected, in stasis.

 

Full-blown panic winded her. She was very much not all right with this tidbit of information. "Luke—!"

 

Which is more important to you? Ensuring your body is all right, or working the majority of the poison out of Ben Solo?

 

Rey gritted her teeth. She didn't like this at all. "Do I even want to know how much time has passed?"

 

Likely not. Are you ready to proceed?

 

"Can we get me in a closer memory?"

 

The signature—

 

"I don't care about the blasted signature!" Rey told him. "If you want this to work, he has to believe in me! I'm more suspicious than anything when I'm bouncing in and out of his 'life'!"

 

It will require more time in stasis, which you were just uncertain of—

 

Uncertain. That was putting it mildly. "If we're going to do this, then we're going to do it properly! We aren't going to rush it. He's too smart, Luke. If anything, you're making him warier of me than of Snoke."

 

This is true, Luke conceded. This is why I said I needed you, Rey. I may be able to see the entirety of his mind, but I am not human. And humans are highly unpredictable, even given their genetic code.

 

"Put me closer," she said again. "As close as you can."

 

Will the next evening suffice?

 

She nodded.

 

Very well. The memory is approaching.

 

Rey closed her eyes. When she opened them, she found herself in a bedroom. Ben was sprawled on his stomach, reading a book that was propped against his pillows. Without gazing at her, he murmured, "You're back again. Made you think, did I?" Now dark brown eyes sought out hers. "Are you going to answer my questions?"

 

He really thought of himself as clever, this one.

 

"No electronic book?" she mused.

 

"I like the smell of paper." His eyes narrowed. He closed the book over a finger. "Well?"

 

She pulled the chair in front of a handsome desk over to the side of his bed. Once she had gotten comfortable, she poked him in the shoulder.

 

"Do you think I'm evil?" she asked him.

 

"If you're me, and you're asking me if I'm evil, do you think I'm evil?" he countered.

 

"I think you're brilliant." Unlike with her, flattery worked with Ben. His shoulders were swelling, and his nose lifted. "You really are. And you're right: it was wrong of me to treat you like a child. I've decided I'll let you know something."

 

He sat up entirely, leaving his book, his eyes eager for information.

 

"I have come to help you. You bonded me to you, you made us connected. But now you're in danger."

 

"You are from the future!"

 

"In a sense. But that's all I can say."

 

"I'm in danger?"

 

"Yes."

 

"And I bonded you to me?"

 

"Yes." Only half of this was even true, but he didn't need to know that.

 

"But why—?"

 

"Ah-ah-ah," she said, raising a finger. "Remember, that's all I can tell you. Do you want to feel the connection again, so you know I'm telling the truth?" When he nodded, she found his hand. Once more, she swept everything important away, leaving only the simplicity of the connection. "Do you feel yourself?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Do you feel me?"

 

He closed his eyes. "Yes."

 

"Will you let me help you?"

 

A second passed. Another.

 

"Yes." He held onto her hand as his eyes opened. "But what do you need?"

 

"I need for you to trust me." She smiled as she brushed a finger over his eyebrow, pushing away a wavy bang. "Do you think you can do that?"

 

"Yes…" he replied more cautiously.

 

"Great!" she said, enthused.

 

Careful, careful.

 

"I need you to listen to the things that I say. No matter what happens… no matter what you think you hear. Please—believe in me."

 

"And you can't tell me anything else? Why I'm in danger?"

 

"I cannot," she confirmed. "But I can tell you that I love you more than I love myself, and I don't want anything to happen to you that I can prevent."

 

His cheeks burned as red as they had the night before, except she could see it better in daylight. He looked down at his lap.

 

"All right?"

 

He nodded once more.

 

"Good." She tried not to let her relief show. "I have to go."

 

"When will I see you again?"

 

"Soon," she promised.

 


 

 

You cannot see him every day.

 

"I know."

 

With this, you have bought yourself time until his next signature memory. I believe you will be familiar with it, as well. The incident of the birthday cake.

 

She'd only seen a flash, but she remembered. 

 

"Keep them coming," she whispered.

Chapter Text

 

It's gotta get easier, oh, easier somehow,

'Cause I'm falling, I'm falling,

Oh, easier and easier, somehow,

Oh, I'm calling, I'm calling,

And it isn't over, unless it is over,

I don't wanna wait for that,

It's gotta get easier and easier,

So come with me

-Not Today, Imagine Dragons

 

He'd grown so much.

 

Rey slid onto a stool in front of the kitchen island. Straight across from her, staring morosely at a birthday cake, was Ben. His chin rested on his folded arms. His eyes lifted as he registered her presence and then widened.

 

"You."

 

"Me," she affirmed. "You look so sad." She knew why he was. From what she'd gathered on Naboo, this was his sixteenth birthday. Chewbacca was a short time away from coming in here to say his parents weren't going to make it.

 

She held out her hand to him. He took it without question, and the tension in his body rolled out of him as the light form of their bond connected. It made him grip at her hand more tightly. His fingers, already slender and long, laced through hers. She didn't see the point in stopping him. He was only three years younger than her here.

 

"I'm never sad," he informed her.

 

They both knew it was a lie.

 

"Why did you wait so long?" he questioned.

 

"I have to pick and choose when to see you…" Rey squeezed his fingers. "When it's most important."

 

"And today is important?" Ben scoffed. His ears were still too big for his face, though he'd grown into them more. His hair was cut close to his head, probably the only thing that remained unchanging in these memories. Spots decorated his skin. She felt sorry for seeing them. She hadn't ever really had any growing up.

 

"Yes," she replied. "It's your birthday."

 

He lifted his chin from his still folded arms. "My parents…" His handhold adjusted—gripped to the point of near pain. Rey hissed as her bones ground together, but she couldn't yank away. Physically, he was stronger than her.

 

The bond twanged, badly offkey.

 

Choobies! He was trying to examine it!

 

"My parents…" he said again, trancelike. "They're not coming." As she fought to rip her hand away, he kept a steady hold on it, searching her thoughts. Despite herself, she was back in that interrogation chair, strapped in while he filtered through her mind without permission.

 

"Ben," she gritted out. "This isn't the way." She didn't want to hurt him, to push him away. If he didn't stop, she was going to have to.

 

"I did that to you?" He released her suddenly. His eyes roved over her face, searching for answers. She took her hand back and rubbed it. "I questioned you like that? Why?"

 

"Because you wanted to know something." She winced. Why did Luke have to make everything feel so real? If she hadn't known this was a memory and nothing more, she'd expect a bruise on her hand later.

 

"You hated me," he whispered. "You were strapped down with metal bonds…" As Rey had told Luke, he was too smart. "I was interrogating you. But I saw myself… I was the bad person. I was…" His eyes widened again. "I was a Sith."

 

He stumbled off the stool he was on and back up against a kitchen counter.

 

That's promising, she thought without a trace of sarcasm. If he had enjoyed the idea of being on the dark side, well…

 

"And… I… did what? I forced you to do this bond, to come back here? No, you said you were saving me… that I was in danger…" He shook his head. "Are you trying to prevent me from becoming a Sith?" Betrayal crossed his features.

 

"No!" she gasped. "No, that's not it at all. I told you, I'm—I'm not really from the future. I can't really change things like that—"

 

"Then you're changing something inside of me!"

 

Blast. Entirely too smart.

 

"Something you wanted changed!" she insisted. "Ben, you felt me… you know my intentions. You know I'm a part of you. Are you really afraid of me? Or are you afraid of yourself?"  

 

His eyes narrowed. "Tell me everything."

 

"I can't do that," she sighed. She got off the stool, circled the counter—was very dismayed to find he was already towering over her. He hadn't grown into his full height yet, however; he was rounded in the shoulders too awkwardly. "Ben—"

 

He fell away from her. "If you're hiding things from me, I can't trust you."

 

"But you can trust him, right?" It was time to play her trump card. She hadn't wanted to, had wanted to wait a while longer. He was no longer giving her room for that option.

 

He stilled. "…Excuse me?"

 

"That voice in the back of your head," Rey elaborated. "That's what I'm here for. That's what I'm here to protect you from."

 

"I don't know what you're talking about—"

 

"Don't play stupid!" She was losing patience. She realized it was because she didn't much like being on the receiving end of that distrustful stare. "Someone talks to you. Someone makes you feel better about some of the things you do."

 

He was shaking his head in protest.

 

"Maybe it still hasn't developed into a person! But there's a voice, isn't there?"

 

Ben looked away.

 

"Ben, that voice is real." She took a tentative step toward him. When he didn't back away, she came close until she could put her hands on his shoulders. She tried to see his expression, but he was refusing to let her. "You want to forgive yourself, but you can't. You don't know how. You can't do it on your own. That's why I'm here. That's the truth, that's everything!"

 

Brown eyes lowered to hers.

 

Anxiety wrung through her. "What can I do to make you trust me?" She had no idea if Snoke was working him against her even now. She thought maybe more subtly, but it was still blocking progress on this front.

 

"Kiss me."

 

That brought Rey up short. "What?" Of all the things…

 

He folded his arms. His chin rose determinedly. "Kiss me. You said you love me more than you love yourself, right? You told me that years ago."

 

She certainly had. On the other hand, she hadn't said they were lovers or—

 

"The only way I would believe that you care about me that much would be if you're in love with me." His eyes had grown unreadable, as dark and shuttered as ever. "Otherwise, it's just a gain, isn't it? Something toward a bigger picture? Fulfilling a duty?"

 

"That's the problem here? You think I'm just doing my duty? Do you really like the idea of becoming a Sith?"

 

"No!" he snapped. "But I don't like the idea of being manipulated! I told you before, I'm not a ch—"

 

Rey cupped her hands over the back of his neck and jerked his head down to hers. She meant to just give him a peck—she was half-sure this was all due to the fact that he was a teenager—but something in his eyes stopped her. Maybe the vulnerability, the loneliness, the hope, the excitement.

 

She wondered what it would have been like for them if they had been normal… if they had met under normal conditions…

 

She grazed their lips together, her lashes sliding closed. As she did so, her hands slipped down his broad shoulders and found his. She let the watered-down bond swell between them, so that he could feel everything inside her heart at that moment… could feel her love… could know this wasn't a trap, a trick…

 

Ben made a quiet noise deep in his throat. He laced their fingers back together, his head tilting as he kissed her first this time. She knew she should pull away, but then she thought… why? They were near enough in age here, and she didn't think the real Ben would mind if she was kissing some form of him inside his head.

 

The thought twitched at her lips, threatened to bring a laugh.

 

His hands left hers. They came to rest at the small of her back, pushing her against him. She hesitated only a moment before letting her fingers wind through his hair. It startled her for a second. She was used to his wavy locks. Here, all she could really do was soothe her fingers against his scalp, petting the shorter strands of hair.

 

Rey let him guide the kiss the way he wanted. She had no idea what his experience level was— doubted it was anything. His tongue traced the seam of her mouth. She parted her lips to let him in with a soft sound. She had to teach him here. He was, for once, patient, learning, exploring. He got the hang of it rather quickly, and soon, she was breathless.

 

His arms hooked under her rear and lifted. A moment later, the coolness of the island was pressing into her legs. Their lips had parted briefly for the small bit of travel. His mouth was on hers again, and she wound her arms over his shoulders. The back of her mind was prodding her, reminding her that she had a mission, that she didn't need to get swept up like this.

 

But she couldn't help it…

 

"Now do you believe me?" she whispered over her pounding heart.

 

Ben rested his forehead against hers and nodded.

 

Silence coated the kitchen.

 

"…You loved me despite… me being a Sith?" he asked. "Or… did you only love me once I wasn't a Sith anymore…?"

 

He had a way of asking the most complicated questions.

 

"I loved you," she murmured. "But I was afraid. I didn't want to go to the dark side."

 

"And I'm on the light side now?"

 

"No."

 

Ben pulled back, confusion writ stark on his face. "There's… there's only the light and the dark—so does that mean I'm still—?"

 

"No." She bit her lip. "You're gray. Well… we both are."

 

"Gray?" he echoed.

 

Rey nodded.

 

"What does that mean? Exactly what it sounds like?"

 

"Mhm."  

 

Ben's brows furrowed together. "…My uncle Luke always made it sound like…"

 

Rey strived to keep the surprise off her face. She'd only ever heard Ben refer to Luke as Skywalker.

 

"Luke was wrong about a lot of things," she said. "I mean, he was right about a lot of things, too. But on this… I… I don't know." She sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. "It's not so black and white anymore for us. I can't really say more than that."

 

"What do you do that's gray?"

 

"Nothing so far," she admitted. "We're trying to balance ourselves out. The bond I've let you feel is only a small portion of it." She reached over and dragged her fingertip through chocolate frosting. It looked incredibly enticing. She'd never had such decadence before. And in his original memory, Ben had slammed this cake into the wall. This wouldn't hurt anything. "That's why I said I had to help you learn to forgive yourself."

 

Ben was quiet for so long that Rey had to look over at him.

 

"Ben?" she asked around the chocolate smeared on her fingertip.

 

His head was bowed, his shoulders hunched in. "I do… terrible things, don't I? Why else wouldn't I be able to forgive myself?"

 

Rey chose not to answer. How could she? Ben had killed so many… he had so much blood on his hands, including his father's. And now that he was retreating from the darkness, he carried that burden every day. It was as she had said—she was here to offer succor from his worst memories. They just hadn't gotten to them quite yet.

 

She hoped they wouldn't have to.

 

"You love me despite this?"

 

"Yes." She put a hand on his chest. "Very much. But in order for us to be able to… function together, I have to do this. I'm the only one who can help you. I know I keep saying that, but it's true."

 

"What do you need me to do…?" he whispered.

 

"Ignore that voice," she breathed. "I know it's hard… I know it's hard to fight… everything inside of you. But you have to ignore it."

 

He shook his head. "I can't do it without you."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"It's… it's a part of me now. It—it shadows everything I do. I don't think…" His voice cracked. "I don't think I can do it without you."

 

Oh, the merry circle that chased itself.

 

Chewie, right on schedule, roared in the other room.

 

Rey turned her head in that direction before facing Ben again. "I have to go. Please don't smash this cake. It's really good."

 

His eyebrows lifted. "What—?"

 

"I'll be back soon."

 

He grabbed her hand. "You said that last time. Years passed."

 

Torn, she sat where she was. "I'll see you sooner than that?"

 

He brought their foreheads back together. "If you want me to do what you want, then… I want to see you regularly."

 

Rey thought of the clock working against them—of the time passing rapidly around them even now. Luke would not be happy if she made that promise. But… if this was the only way to get the younger Ben to cooperate… Well…

 

They'd just have to make do.

 

"Okay," she whispered.

 


 

 

I have no words.

 

"What was I supposed to say?!" Rey cried. "If I told him no… who knows, maybe he'd be pushed even harder into Snoke's waiting arms."

 

We have no way of knowing that for sure.

 

"It doesn't matter," she huffed tiredly. "I know you said we can't do every day. But… we need to do something sooner. I—what's once a week?"

 

How long do you mind being in stasis? The question was incredibly dry.

 

"We have to do this…" Rey replied. "Even once a month? Something."

 

I will acquiesce. I merely wanted you to be aware of the consequences.

 

"How does his corruption look?"

 

It was thinned in places. However… we are still journeying into the heart of it. Perhaps we will manage to cleanse most of it with seeing him so regularly. Are you ready?

 

"Yes."

 

Excellent. Let us proceed.

 

And so Rey spent a good deal of time diving in and out of Ben's adolescence. She had no idea how much time was passing in the real world, and she forced herself not to worry about it. What mattered was that they were slowly chipping away at Snoke's influence.

 

And it was going wonderfully until it wasn't.

Chapter Text

 

"You've closed yourself off from the Force."

 

"I've seen this raw strength only once before, in Ben Solo. It didn't scare me enough then. It does now."

 

Rey watched as Ben raged.

 

A wave of his hand, and the contents on his desk sailed across the room and shattered against the wall. The furniture began to rattle, heavy pieces threatening to float. Someone was banging on the bedroom door, shouting. It sounded like Han.

 

"I don't—" Rey didn't understand. "What happened? I was just here—"

 

"You weren't just here!" he snarled, whirling on her. He was at his full height now, twenty years of age, terrifying with his anger. It was turbulent; he was out of control. "You see me once a month!"

 

"Ben," she said in a low voice. "I told you… I've told you for years. That's all I can manage." Before he could go off on her again, she grabbed his arm. "Ben, what happened?"

 

He yanked away from her. He paced circles around the room, breathing heavily. Han continued to do everything but kick in the door. He didn't sound very pleasant himself. All she could deduce was that they'd had a fight.

 

"Kid!" Han yelled. "Your mother—she's sorry, okay?! She doesn't… we don't know what we said wrong! I can't fix things if you don't tell me what's—"

 

Grumbling. Han wasn't very good at this sort of thing. Rey hadn't known him for very long, and even she knew that.

 

Time was a precious commodity. Rey pushed Ben onto his bed, and when he tried to get up again, she shoved more firmly. His shoulders were trembling beneath her hands. Her touch seemed to inspire calm in him, and he hung his head. It made her wonder where the original memory must have led.

 

"I hate him." Ben's voice was barely more than a rasp. "I can't stand him. I can't stand either of them. All the hiding from me… they think I don't know… They're planning on sending me to Uncle Luke's… they haven't said it yet, but every time we fight…"

 

"Why are you fighting?" Maybe if she got to the root of the problem, she could do something about it.

 

"I've told you a thousand times, Rey." He leveled a baleful glare on her. "They don't understand me."

 

Rey was so lost. This… this shouldn't have been as bad as it was… He'd been doing well with his parents… They weren't holding hands, skipping through a field of flowers, but… well… they were at least somewhat social… And now he was here, saying he hated them? It could have been residue from the original memory, but Rey didn't think so. Something wasn't sitting quite right.

 

"Are you ignoring the voice?" She hadn't asked in a while. She hadn't had to.

 

Rey!

 

53 memories.

 

It had taken 53 memories for Luke to interrupt one.

 

Rey's shoulders drew back. For a moment, she thought maybe she had imagined it. But then Luke's voice came again, urgent enough for her blood to sing in warning.

 

Rey!

 

She had two seconds to be aware of it before she was choking.

 

Her windpipe was sealed shut. She clawed at her throat as her lungs protested for air. She stared at Ben, but he was puzzled. Once he saw that she was mouthing futilely for oxygen, he pushed up from the bed.

 

"Rey?"

 

Her skin was crawling. She had felt this touch before.

 

Snoke.

 

"Rey!"

 

Black spots began to dance gleefully along the edges of her vision.

 

"Rey!"

 

She collapsed to her knees. She was distantly conscious of flailing her hands. Ben's shirt was crushed in her fists.

 

Rey! I cannot free you, it will not allow me—

 

The grip on her windpipe tightened further.

 

Ben's room swam dangerously.

 

"Rey!"

 

She couldn't hold on anymore.

 

She swayed to the right, fell onto her side. Ben's worried face hovered over hers—his words were so far away, so muffled.

 

Unconsciousness claimed her.

 


 

 

Rey gulped in air by the lungful, coughing violently. She retched, her hands on her knees. Nothing came up. How could it have? Despite the realism of the illusion, she hadn't eaten in the illusion, ever.

 

We found one of the pivotal memories.

 

Once she was sure she could trust her voice, Rey shouted into the darkness. "You told me it was safe!"

 

I am to blame. I did not anticipate it… seemingly having a mind of its own. It is well-crafted, this monster that nests inside of him.

 

"I was completely powerless!" she wheezed.

 

I truly am sorry, Rey.

 

She didn't want to be angry at him. She didn't. She only… she needed a moment to process what had happened, to move past it.

 

This was a complete reversal of the time she had spent with him. And despite the passage of time outside of this… realm, so to speak, she had come to see that it was well worth it. Knowing that she was helping Ben, knowing she was making a difference, getting to know him in a way she'd never be able to otherwise—these things had all been encouraging.

 

As I said, this seems to be the tipping point of the pivotal moment we were looking for.

 

Rey straightened. "He… He knew they were talking about sending him to his uncle. Really sending him off." She shook her head as she puzzled through it. "…The second I was in the memory, it wasn't like the others. It was as if everything I had done hadn't left a mark at all. It was such a dramatic change."

 

Memories such as these are steeped in darkness, in Snoke's influence.

 

"How can I go forward without being attacked?"

 

I believe the best course of action may be to avoid mention of the voice, of anything related to Snoke. Would you like me to put you in a memory soon after…?

 

"No. We'll do the usual. A month from now." Rey wrapped her arms around herself to try to stop the shaking. She really didn't want to be attacked again. She would have to go at this from a different angle.

 

"Okay," she breathed. "I'm ready."

 

Should it happen again, I will be able to extricate you far more quickly.

 

That wasn't as reassuring as he likely thought it was.

 


 

 

She was moving.

 

It was the first thing Rey noticed as she was absorbed into the memory. A window—things flying past it. Other… vehicles, like this one.

 

"Rey!"

 

She jerked her head around. Ben was seated across from her. He was dressed nicer than she'd ever seen him. Formal black clothes, a white shirt with an origin of fabric she couldn't determine underneath. A scent wafted off him—cologne.

 

"Going somewhere?" she asked.

 

"You're safe!" Ben reached over and grasped onto her hands. His lashes fluttered as the connection zinged, and she carefully hid her fear away. Ben didn't scare her. It was Snoke. He was trying to ruin their lives even beyond the grave. "What happened?"

 

"I… had to deal with something on the other side," she lied. She hated to. She told herself it was for the best. Ben couldn't know the truth. It might tempt that corruption again.

 

He kissed her knuckles. "Are you all right now?"

 

Rey wondered if he'd have stayed this sweet even without turning to the dark side. "I'm great," she said. "Where are we going?"

 

A frown crossed his features, and he let her go. "A party," he replied. "A political junket, but they try to disguise it as something else. My parents need me to make an appearance."

 

"Well, you look very handsome." Rey dropped her eyes, feeling her cheeks heat. From the corner of her gaze, she could see a slow, almost smug smile poking that frown out of the way. "Ben, I was wondering…"

 

Hunched over, the ceiling of this thing low, Ben came to sit beside her. He put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her against him. She let him, allowing herself a moment to simply breathe him in. He never pressed for more than a few kisses, a patience she marveled at. He always let his emotions get the better of him, but in this, he'd held back.

 

"Yes?" His fingers slid into her hair.

 

"I know it's been rough with your parents. But have you thought about… being on your own?"

 

"At times."

 

"What's stopping you?"

 

He sighed, shifting uncomfortably. "…My mother."

 

"She doesn't want you to go?"

 

"My father's been leaving for longer and longer… We will go weeks without seeing him. She tries to hide it from me, but I know she's sad. I suppose… I suppose that I do not want her to think I am leaving her, too."

 

Rey had suspected it, but now she knew for sure.

 

Ben Solo was a complete and total mama's boy, and it made her smile.

 

The vehicle shuddered to a stop, and Rey climbed out with Ben onto a landing platform. Examining it from the outside, Rey could see the second half was separated from the cabin. A private cab? She knew the word, had heard it mentioned, but had never seen one. Ben went to the pilot and slid money into his palm. A moment later, the cab departed to join the other lines of vehicles.

 

Rey didn't speak. If she did, Ben would look like he was talking to himself. He gave a slight tilt of his head, and she followed him into a beautiful building of glass. Standing up while dressed in those clothes… Rey couldn't deny that it made her pulse speed a little. And with his grown-out hair, wavy and thick, he was beginning to appear more and more like himself.

 

He grabbed her hand and slid it into his pocket with his. The outside observer would notice his hand, nothing more.

 

They walked down a corridor, errant people scattered here and there, conversing over glasses of some sort of alcohol. Ben passed all of them without a second glance, and Rey began to hear strains of music. Two stiff-looking guards opened the doors for Ben. He pulled her inside, and her mouth parted despite herself.

 

The room opened onto the second floor, which was a balcony except for the edges. Below people dressed like Ben or better were mingling, laughing; some were dancing. Most of the architecture was stone, and indeed there were alcoves all along the walls, higher up, with red curtains. Rey wondered who was in them, or what.

 

So this was the political gamut?

 

"The galaxy's finest," Ben muttered sarcastically.

 

They made their way to the floor beneath them. At the far end of room, there was an elaborate staircase connecting the two. A few partygoers waved to Ben, who nodded almost curtly. Rey knew that nothing would ever change the fact that he didn't care to be around people. It was too ingrained into his personality.

 

Ben came to the center of the room. A throng of politicians surrounded Han and Leia. The former was tugging irritably at his neck, where a tie was, and the latter's cheeks were a little rosy, owing to the glass in her hand, Rey suspected. But Rey's heart was aching. She hadn't seen Leia in his memories yet, nor had she seen Han for a while. They were, of course, aging just as Ben was.

 

Leia put her arm around Ben and pulled him forward. It broke their handhold, and Rey stayed back. She didn't mind observing.

 

The princess was dressed in a golden gown that clung to her body, pooling out only a little at the knees and having a small train. Han was outfitted similar to Ben. Had that been intentional? Likely. Rey could imagine Leia planning that out.

 

"Looking good, son," Han muttered.

 

Ben nodded but said nothing.

 

Rey felt out of place. It was different from before. Through his memories, he'd mostly been alone, and if anyone had ever appeared, the memory quickly ended. But this memory seemed based around this event. What had happened here? Luke chose the memories somewhat purposefully, tugging on ones that had any stain of darkness, no matter how small. Because Rey found a way to visit him once a 'month,' it meant he had to be even more selective.

 

The tinkle of glass filled her ears over the music. Rey had seen plenty of species come through Niima Outpost. Never so plentiful as this, though. It was enchanting, watching species and races come together, no matter what their backgrounds or differences.

 

She got a warm feeling in her stomach. The only person she'd known from the New Republic was Leia. Well, and Han, but he hadn't really counted. He'd been too much a smuggler again by the time she met him.

 

Leia introduced Ben to various people. Rey tried not to let a sense of distress come over her. The time she spent in Ben's memories wasn't very much, hardly more than an hour. But here it didn't look as though she would be getting Ben back anytime soon. So why had Luke chosen this memory?

 

Then again, she mused, at this juncture, all of Ben's memories were coated in darkness. He could probably pick randomly.

 

Rey watched Han since she was free to do so. He was still cleanshaven, his hair threaded with gray. He had another nine years to go before he reached what she'd seen of him in her time. A half-smile was on the corner of his mouth as he chatted with an elderly gentleman nearby. His eyes, though, flicked here and there. What, perceiving threats?

 

Ben's hand closed briefly around her elbow. He covered it by then pushing his hair off his forehead. She took that to mean he wanted to be followed, and she did so. He led them back up the stairs, down a quiet corridor, and behind a red curtain. Judging by the balcony, they were in one of the alcoves, but Ben kept her in the shadows.

 

"Why are you always watching my father?" he whispered.

 

"I'm not," she whispered back. She didn't know why she'd lowered her voice, too. It wasn't like anyone could hear her. "I was just thinking about how similar you are."

 

Ben drew back. A moment later, he scowled. "We're nothing alike."

 

Afraid to push it too far, Rey let it go. "I'm taking it that you hate these events?"

 

He sighed with a frustrated frown thrown in the direction of the ballroom. "My mother likes to show me off. I don't know why. I do not play well with others."

 

This made Rey laugh.

 

Amusement touched the corner of his mouth. "This still holds true, I take it?"

 

"Yeah… it really does."

 

"How old am I there?" He made himself comfortable by leaning against the opposite wall. "You've never told me."

 

She hummed. "Remember when you promised not to ask me anything else about it?"

 

Ben rolled his eyes but nodded.

 

"Well… there you are, then." Rey fidgeted as her nerves grew. She had to do something… but what? She couldn't ask about it outright. This was the time, though—this was before he went to his uncle's for training. Whatever it was that she could make a difference about, it was somewhere in this chunk of memories.

 

His finger suddenly curled under her chin, drawing her from her thoughts. She looked up at his face.

 

"Rey, you asked me about the voice last time… Right?"

 

"R-Right…" Shite. She hoped nothing bad came of that.

 

"Didn't I tell you I would ignore it for you?" He tucked a few strands of her hair behind her ear. "Do you not believe me?"

 

"I do…" She rested her palms flat against his chest. She hesitated.

 

"What?"

 

"Things are going to happen. Things I can't—control or stop. And you… you may be tempted…"

 

His hand dropped from her hair. "This is about me being a Sith?"

 

"No, that's not—" She sighed. "I'm worried I won't be able to be there with you when these things happen."

 

But why couldn't she be?

 

She grew quiet. Her being there at certain events would only deescalate the situation, not prevent it. He was still going to do what he'd done in reality… he would go to the dark side. No matter how many memories she went through, that wouldn't change anything. Yes, she could keep chipping away at his darkness… It wouldn't matter.

 

She'd been here for him enough, hadn't she? Enough to go to the places that mattered? To strike at the heart of the problem?

 

Rey looked up at him. He was silent. Had he been studying her?

 

"What is it?" he asked.

 

"Ben, while I'm here with you… a lot of time passes," she said. "I have to…" How could she word this? "You may not see me for a while."

 

"Why?" Already, he was on the defensive, ready to be stubborn, to hold onto her.

 

"I want you to make me another promise." She grabbed his hands. "Promise me that whenever you see me, no matter what's happening, you'll listen to me. You love me, don't you?"

 

"Of course. Rey—"

 

"That no part of you will attack me."

 

He yanked free. "I would never attack you. That you think I would—"

 

"No—" Blast it! "You won't be able to—help it. I—when you see me, I want you go to quiet, I want you to take my hand…" She couldn't change fate. His memories, even if they weren't being altered, would all lead to the same thing. Snoke was too tightly wound through this part of him. This strategy wouldn't work anymore.

 

"Rey…"

 

She stopped. There were tears in his eyes.

 

He looked away and blinked quickly.

 

"I don't want to go without seeing you… I need you…"

 

Rey put her arms around him and buried her face in his chest.

 

Then he was gone.

 

Everything. The music, the laughter, Ben's scent, the feel of him.

 

"Luke, I wasn't ready to go," she whispered.

 

I feared if the conversation continued, it would take a dangerous turn. Ben is still highly unstable emotionally. Based on what I see in his mind, it would have resulted with him lashing out at you.

 

Yes, that was about right.

 

I sensed you had an idea?

 

"I'm buried enough in his psyche now," she said. "And besides, we're not far off from when he goes to his uncle, right?"

 

We are not, no.

 

Rey exhaled. She was so tired…

 

But it would be over soon. She would address the memories that were turning points, or close to them. She'd discovered all the ones in his childhood. There was nothing left but this.

 

Filled with fresh resolve, she spoke to the darkness around her.

 

"Take me to the night he destroyed Luke Skywalker's temple."

Chapter Text

 

In Takodana, Rey had seen this torrential downpour when she'd touched Luke's lightsaber. Now she felt it, had to blink water out of her eyes. Despite the rain, fire was consuming the structures of buildings Ben had seen to. Clothing and hair quickly becoming plastered to her, Rey sought out her other half. Since this was his memory, he couldn't be far.

 

She found him a few yards away, staring at the ruin he'd wrought. There were others with him, the friends she'd heard of. A girl, five boys. The boys were jubilant, going over the night amongst themselves. The girl was silent, standing not far behind Ben, almost as if she were his right hand.

 

Rey stepped into Ben's field of view.

 

She was scared. Scared her words wouldn't reach him. Scared Snoke's influence would try something again.

 

But no one ever got anywhere cowering in the dark.

 

His hair stuck to his face like hers. Water slid off his nose and cheeks, his chin. She was avoiding meeting his eyes just yet, but then she couldn't any longer.

 

Rage.

 

Grief.

 

Betrayal.

 

Ben's irises flashed to gold.

 

He couldn't say anything—not with his companions there. Rey took his measure, her heart pounding. Wondering if he would follow, she turned and headed across the muddy grounds. The heat from the fires washed over her, a contradiction with the coolness of the rain. Footsteps squelched behind her.

 

There was a stand of trees ahead. Rey slipped between, the rain diluted somewhat from the boughs overhead. Ben came to a stop just behind her.

 

The rain was so loud, falling harder than ever. Thunder rumbled.

 

"Why didn't you tell me?" The words were chipped ice. "Why didn't you tell me my own uncle would attack me in my sleep?!"

 

"I couldn't," Rey said, aghast. "I can't change anything, it wouldn't have mattered!"

 

Ben's hand closed over her neck, and the next thing she knew, her back was slamming into a tree, her feet dangling. He leaned in close, his lips curled back in a savage snarl.

 

"If you can't change anything, then why are you here?!" he demanded.

 

"That's not what I meant!" she gasped out around his fingers. "Ben—stop—put me down—"

 

He squeezed tighter. Bark dug into her back hard enough to leave bruises. She choked, her hands scrambling over his, trying to push it away. Just when she thought she would have to try and use the Force somehow, he dropped her.

 

"What did you mean, then?" he asked coldly.

 

"Snoke's influence… it's still here… he—"

 

"If it wasn't for Snoke, I would be dead right now!" Ben shouted. "He warned me this would happen—he warned me against you!"

 

The knees of Rey's pants soaked in mud, she lifted her head. "If he warned you against me, it's because he wants to maintain his hold on you."

 

"And Luke?"

 

"I thought I told you not to listen to the voice." Rey shook her head. "You promised me you wouldn't!"

 

"That was before," he said shortly.

 

"Before what?"

 

"Before my uncle tried to murder me!"

 

"So that's what you've been doing?! You've ignored his voice, but you haven't made it go away?!" Rey got to her feet. Her hands collided with Ben's chest, and she pushed. The only reason he staggered back a step was because she had caught him by surprise. "I'm trying to save you!"

 

"If you were trying to save me, you would have told me about Luke!" Ben snarled. "You would have prepared me!"

 

"Ben—"

 

"No! If you want me to trust you again, I need answers! Real. Answers!"

 

"Fine!" Rey was at her tipping point. Somewhere deep inside, she had hoped it wouldn't go this way. That Ben wouldn't try to kill his uncle. But it only meant she was right. All she could do was lessen the emotional damage of what was to come. 

 

"Fine?" Ben scoffed. "You hardly—"

 

Rey put a hand behind her. She gripped onto the slick bark of the tree and used it to push herself to her feet. "But then you listen to me, and you keep your promises!" she continued as if he hadn't interrupted. "Are we understood?!"

 

They glared at each other in the darkness of the night.

 

Ben looked away first.

 

"I—"

 

Choking.

 

Rey dug at the invisible fingers around her neck. It wasn't Ben. It was Snoke; she'd know that feeling anywhere. His influence was trying to kick her out again. She wouldn't let it this time. She didn't need the Force knot's help. She could do this on her own. She had to. It was the only way to make any real progress.

 

"Rey!" Despite his misgivings, Ben stepped close. "Rey, is something attacking you? Rey!"

 

She fumbled blindly for his hands. He gave them to her, and as their connection opened, that darkness burned away in the light of their love. Her face crumpled, and she bit back a sob. She had to be strong. She could fall apart later.

 

"You're attacking me, Ben," she said.

 

"What—?"

 

"The thing I'm trying to save you from… every time I get close, it… it attacks me like that… it tries to shove me out…" She sniffled and looked up at him. Maybe the rain would hide her tears. "It doesn't want you to feel better."

 

He seemed to be at a loss for words.

 

A first.

 

Ben always knew what to say, especially if it was cutting and clever.

 

"You have to save yourself, too," she said.

 

"Show me what I did!" He was holding onto her fingers so tightly, he was blocking the circulation flow.

 

"Ben—"

 

"I'll keep my promises!"

 

"I'll show you… I will… but…" Rey bit her lip. "You might not like what you see—"

 

"Me being a Sith?"

 

She nodded.

 

"You've had me wondering about it for years. Not knowing, knowing how you keep secrets from me—it is pushing me away from you, Rey."

 

"How do you feel right now?" she choked. "Do you feel good about what you did?"

 

"Of course not!" he shot back. "I was defending myself!"

 

Defending himself against the other students who refused to follow him?

 

"But what's your plan from here? To follow Snoke, even though I told you he was evil?" Rey bowed her head. "This is what happens, Ben… This is what happens when you listen to Snoke…"

 

The images poured free between them as she lowered some of her shields. Ben, stalking her on Takodana during the attack. Interrogating her. The fight on Starkiller Base, the wounds she gave him. She could have shown him more, but these were the ones she had taken part in.

 

She deliberately kept his father's death out of it.

 

"You're in his army," she said. "You and your friends. You kill so many people. You take out an entire solar system—"

 

Ben dropped her hands. His expression was unreadable.

 

"Ben, your uncle is still alive," she said. "He's not dead."

 

He started to walk away from her.

 

"Ben!" she cried. "Come back!" She caught up to him, grabbing him by the arm. "You promised—"

 

"What's the point?"

 

"What?"

 

"What's the point?" he repeated numbly. "No one wants me. Why should I care what happens anymore?"

 

Rey felt her heart break. "Ben…"

 

"And I only see you when it's convenient for you. I don't know who to trust anymore."

 

"You've seen how I feel, Ben."

 

"But it could still be a lie, couldn't it?" he challenged.

 

"What would I gain from that?" she asked, exasperated. Why did this have to be so damned difficult? "I've given you everything you've wanted from me to earn your trust!"

 

"I want to be alone," he said, pulling out of her grasp and walking away again.

 

"Ben!"

 

Rey's body was dry as the memory disintegrated. She stared around, started pacing. What could she do? What would make a difference? He was so wound up in his emotions. Snoke's influence had its own chokehold on him, and it seemed like Rey was only making it worse.

 

He still loves you, Luke informed her. That was another turning point. His thoughts were consumed with what he had done. With what he knew he would do, once you showed him.

 

"I don't know how to break through," she whispered. "Does he… does he continue like he did in real life…?"

 

As I have said before, this is not altering his memories. Every memory I show you cannot be changed, no matter what you do. The events are permanent.

 

"Then how—?"

 

Your presence is what is important here. It is making its mark. You cannot change anything, no, but you can talk to him while these things happen. You can reassure him that no matter what happens, you will be there for him.

 

"How can I reassure him it'll be all right, and then—and then he does all the terrible things despite his love for me, even in the fake memories? It doesn't make any sense."

 

That is the result of his mind. The unconsciousness of the human mind is completely clear, every memory perfectly embedded. What humans lack is the ability to pull them to the surface in a wholesome form.

 

"And?" She wasn't sure she understood where he was going with this.

 

So in this form that his memories take, they are recalled from the unconscious. And the unconscious will continue to give me his memories in which they were experienced. As they are not being altered, this will continue to be the case, no matter how you are presented to his psyche. What matters is not the events of what transpires—it is how you reach him emotionally.

 

In other words, his mind takes your presence and files it, so to speak. He will continue to follow his real memories, even in the illusion I have woven. He will adapt. For example, after this last memory, he will go to Snoke. His mind will shape the events. But what you have said to him, how you have helped him, weighs in the back of his mind. Which is precisely where Snoke's influence also weighs.

 

"And that's all I can do?" She tried not to feel defeated. "Show up and tell him I still love him, no matter what he does?"

 

Why are you upset? This is a great achievement.

 

"I… I felt like I was doing something more, that's all," she sighed.

 

You think that his love for you should have been enough to change his actions?

 

"Yes…" Even though she had known it wouldn't happen that way. Luke was right. Why was she getting upset? But knowing she shouldn't be and experiencing it were two different things.

 

If this were reality, it would have been. Think of it this way… this is history that has already occurred. Even if time were to be split and changed, two results would present themselves—the original and the new. Time is never really truly changed, Rey. The first timeline will never go away. It only appears that way.

 

"I didn't think changing time was possible—"

 

It is not. But… at times, I grow bored, and this is how I entertain myself. Ruminating over the what ifs? At any rate… nothing can be changed… But you can be there for him… it helps more than you think…

 

"How?" The question was full of derision.

 

With this memory, the stain on his mind was reduced dramatically.

 

Rey's pulse skipped. So far, they'd only managed to just keep steadily hammering away at it, and it was slow going and frustrating. "How much?"

 

You are imprinted on his mind, even if he follows the same path. Continue to be there—continue to show him you love him, even while he is in the midst of his worst-doings. Ben Solo thinks he is alone. I believe he fears your bond may be severed, or that you are somehow hiding from him deep-seated resentment.

 

"But that's not true," she gasped. "He really feels that way?"

 

It is not something he is consciously aware of. Which is why we should return to the task. You must prove to him he is not alone—that you are not going anywhere. I believe only then will he be able to forgive himself and move forward in this life.

 

"But… Luke—I did change some things. Like the cake—"

 

Those are tiny things. You must look at the bigger picture, such as the night he thought his uncle was attempting to murder him. Things such as those would not change.

 

"Why didn't you tell me this before?"

 

Would it have mattered?

 

She frowned. No. It wouldn't have. She'd still have had to do everything she had.

 

"Take me to the next pivotal memory," she said.

 


 

 

"And you, loyal of all my students, will become Kylo Ren—Master of the Knights of Ren," a terrifyingly familiar voice rumbled. A room Rey had never seen before materialized around her just after the statement, and so she wasn't surprised to see Snoke.

 

Ben lowered his head, his gloved hand over his heart. It was strange to see him like this. The black clothes, the equally black cape, the black and silver helmet. Behind him knelt six others dressed similarly, though their helmets differed enough to tell them apart.

 

Snoke sat on a throne. He seemed to like them. His grotesque features were pulled into an evil grin even now.

 

"Yes, my master," Ben said, his voice changed lower and to something not human through that mask.

 

"Good. Rise."

 

Ben obeyed with the others—tensed. He'd realized she was there. His head turned subtly toward her. Since she had his attention, she stepped close to him and took his hand. Half of her expected him to fight it. He didn't. He understandably didn't close his fingers around hers, either. It would have been seen.

 

With the glove in the way, the bond didn't open.

 

Rey observed as each of the 'knights' were given a task. She got the impression that while Ben was their leader, Snoke obviously got the final say. Then everyone was instructed to file out, and Rey jogged lightly by Ben's side to keep up with him as they went through some sort of compound. Stormtroopers jumped out of his way when they saw him coming.

 

A labyrinth of corridors. Rey stopped trying to keep up with them after the fifth turn.

 

Ben stopped in front of a door and palmed a device. It opened—he looked around twice—and then grabbed her by the shoulder and shoved her in. The door hissed closed behind him. She could tell that this must have been his bedroom, although there were so few trinkets to establish any individualism. It could have been a stormtrooper's room, if not for the fact that it clearly belonged to someone of a higher station.

 

Rey paused in looking about when she heard Ben's mask coming off. He held it at his hip, his eyes dark, distant. 

 

"I thought you gave up on me."

 

"I would never give up on you." Hells, she hadn't given up on him even when she'd wanted to. That's what had started all of this. "Why would you say that?"

 

"How we parted…" Ben drew idle designs on the surface of the helmet, watching his fingers work.

 

"You said you needed some space." Rey sat on the bed. The mattress wasn't very accommodating, stiff and uncomfortable.

 

"I said I needed to be alone." Ben carefully put the helmet on a desk and then faced her. "Rey, you can't save me."

 

"I realized that I can't change anything," Rey said. "I know I said that last time, but… I really can't change anything. All I can do is be here for you. I want to be here for you. Will you let me?"

 

Ben set his jaw, though his eyes remained conflicted.

 

"Look, I'm not going to try and talk you out of anything. I know your past. I'm still here. I know what you've done. I've forgiven you. I just want to be near you."

 

"How can I know that those words are true?"

 

She wordlessly held out her hands.

 

His chest rose and fell in a deep sigh. He lowered his eyes, then began tugging off his leather gloves. They dropped unceremoniously to the floor, and he sat beside her on the bed. He showed her his palms, and she slid her fingers against them. She always enjoyed how big his hands were, how they could nearly swallow hers.

 

"Listen to Snoke, don't listen to Snoke… just let me be here," she pressed. "It's not a trap, and if it was, it would only be to bring you closer to me. To help you with your guilt. And… to let you know you're not alone. I'm here. I will always be here."

 

Ben gazed out into the room. She cupped his cheek and turned his face back toward her.

 

"I love you." She'd never said it so directly before.

 

His eyes widened slightly. "My master says there is no room on the dark side for love."

 

"Is anything I'm doing inhibiting you from—?"

 

Rey broke off. Ben was kissing her, and she put her hands on his shoulders, her palms sliding over his neck. It was with more heat than she was used to in his memories. Before she could become engrossed in it, he pulled away to kiss her forehead.

 

"I love you," he whispered. His eyes were closed.

 

Hope sprang within her heart. "I love you, too."

 

"No matter what?"

 

"No matter what." Being with Ben, becoming his other half, completing their bond… it meant knowing and accepting what he'd done.

 

"You should go. I am expected somewhere." He kissed over her brow. "Come back soon…?" The words were fragile, uncertain.

 

"Always." She put her arms around him in a tight embrace, turning her nose into his hair. She inhaled deeply.

 

His fingers stroked the back of her head.

 

She pulled back to give him one last smile, and then the memory faded away.

 

See? The Force knot said. He needs to know he is not alone. That you will never desert him. You will be pleased to know the stain is retreating more and more quickly.

 

That did make her pleased.

 

How would you like to proceed? Interesting that he was leaving that in her hands now. I would do so carefully. The influence may grow more desperate now that it is being weeded out.

 

"The turning points," she said. "We… we'll keep doing that." As long as she could hold onto her bond with Ben in the memories, she wasn't as scared of the influence. She knew now that their bond was capable of driving it away.

 

Luke didn't ask if she was ready this time. A bubble formed, and Rey waited.

 

We're almost at the end, she thought. We can wake up soon, Ben.

Chapter Text

 

The bedroom door slid open, revealing Ben, who was decked out in his Knights of Ren attire. He paused when he saw her, but his mask was on, so she couldn't read his expression. She had only just arrived and was sitting with her back against the wall of his bed, her hands folded in her lap.

 

"Time has not caught up yet, I take it?" he asked.

 

She shrugged one shoulder. Before, seeing him like this would have sent a quiver of fear, and then anger, through her heart. With the mask on, Ben was quite imposing. It didn't help that he was so blasted tall.

 

Ben removed the mask before stalking across the room. He looked dark and broody. She missed the sweet boy who had lit up every time he saw her. But that was then… this was now. Snoke had stolen Ben from the world. All she could do was stay by his side unconditionally.

 

"I told you… we're together after."

 

One large, slender hand grabbed her ankle. She had a second to process it before he jerked it, and she yelped, sliding down the bed. He placed his hands on either side of her head against the mattress, nestled between her thighs. They gazed into one another's eyes for a moment.

 

"Have we fucked?"

 

Rey rolled her eyes.

 

"Oh, now my language insults you?"

 

"I just haven't heard you refer to it like that." She reached up and flicked his forehead. "It's a bit more than that."

 

He scowled, rubbing his sore forehead. "We've made love?" he asked scornfully.

 

She giggled a little. "No."

 

His features went blank with confusion.

 

"We haven't… had sex like… that. The kind you just turned your nose up at. But it's more than just 'fucking.'" Rey tried not to blush. Just because she didn't curse that hard that often, it didn't mean she had to be a prude. "We love one another. It won't ever be just sex."

 

Ben made a thoughtful noise. Rey had a hard time noticing—his hand was tracing over her collarbone, along the curve of her breast.

 

"I think I would be jealous of myself," he murmured. "And I would like to make things easier for whoever I am now, but…" He tsked. "You are just too damned beautiful." His hands glided over her thighs as he straightened his back.

 

She turned her face away.

 

"Do I really compliment you so little?"

 

"We've been busy." Her pulse wouldn't slow. Why was she surprised about the unfolding events? Yes, Ben hadn't done more than kiss her throughout his childhood and early adulthood… But he was an entirely different person now.

 

"That is not a very good excuse." Ben slid his hands over her hips. "Look at me."

 

Her eyes snapped to his. His lips curved into a knowing smile.

 

"Oh, don't get so cocky," she said.

 

"I just enjoy seeing you respond like that."

 

"Like what?"

 

"You like it when I give you orders."

 

She snorted.

 

"Some of the time," he amended. His fingertips toyed with her knee—slid lower, over the hard muscle of her thigh beneath her pant leg. "Take off your shirt."

 

"No," she refused him, just to be contrary.

 

"Take off your shirt." The words were soft but powerful.

 

Heat prickled over her skin, made her swallow. She found her fingers were gripping the end of her shirt, and she was tossing it off, over the side of the bed. She wasn't sure where it landed.

 

She knew she didn't need to encourage him. But he was right… sometimes, she did like it when he told her what to do.

 

"Don't let this go to your head," she breathed.

 

"It already has." He watched her from under the veil of his long lashes. He placed a hand over her stomach, his fingers spreading. "…I wait for these moments, you know. The moments when I have you."

 

"You do have me."

 

"Not the way I would like. Not by my side."

 

"Well, rest assured, I'm by your side. I'll be by your side forever."

 

"You believe in forever?" He laughed softly. "I suppose you would have to, to state that so brazenly, without a trace of irony."

 

"I didn't until our bond was completed." She shifted until her elbows were beneath her. "Things were different after that."

 

"Why? Let me guess: you can't tell me."

 

"We became a part of each other." They were close enough to the end, and it wouldn't change anything, anyway. Rey didn't mind elaborating for once. "I took your darkness. You took my light. We're inseparable now. But powerful, so I'd like to see anyone try to tear us apart."

 

"How powerful?"

 

It was her turn to laugh a bit. "Powerful enough."

 

"And that is all you will tell me?"

 

"For now. I think it's sufficient."

 

"And what if I don't?"

 

"I'd say you'll have to be patient, though I know that's not one of your strong suits." She made a face at him.

 

He huffed but only lowered his eyes. His hand trailed down her stomach. They both watched it make the trek to the waistband of her pants.

 

"You have stopped asking me what happened last."

 

"It's mostly the same to me at this point," she confessed. "I'm here to be with you, nothing more."

 

And on and on it went.

 

Watching Ben spiral away into the depths of darkness was harder to see than Rey had initially imagined. All she could do was keep a straight face, devoid of emotion on the matter. Any sign of judgment of his actions and their tenuous relationship would crumble.

 

Some days Ben was quiet, thoughtful, mulling over guidance from Snoke. (It took everything in Rey's willpower to let that go.) Other days he fell into one of his many rages, and woe the person, usually a stormtrooper, who got in his way. He never brought it to Rey—would curtly dismiss her. She had no choice but to go, then.

 

How much time had passed in the real world…?

 

Ben didn't so much as touch her sexually again. On one of his better days, he told her that he wouldn't be able to handle it—wouldn't be able to handle thinking of someone else putting their hands on her, even if it was his future self, in a sense.

 

When she arrived in some memories, he was bitter at her presence. Luke always assured her there was no reason to worry. She was doing well. The stain was shrinking, faster and faster.

 

Until…

 

Screaming.

 

Crying.

 

Pleading.

 

Blaster fire.

 

Rey stared around at the wreckage of a small village. At first, she was confused as to where they were—often they went to planets Rey had never even heard of. Not that that meant anything. She didn't know much about the galaxy. But the sand everywhere, that was familiar… she knew it by heart.

 

Jakku.

 

Flames flickered, ate hungrily at what they could. Rey dodged out of their way, trying to spot Ben. What she saw instead were two stormtroopers carrying an unconscious Poe Dameron between them. She knew then that this was recent—that this was right before she'd escaped this wretched planet.

 

There! Up ahead!

 

"Ben!" she called.

 

He paused in the act of striding onto his vessel. His head tipped in her direction, over his shoulder. A ball of plasma shot across the grounds and scorched into a wall. It made Rey jump a little. Where had that come from?

 

Red and orange chased one another over the silver of his mask, reflected form the fire. The villagers continued to cry out, and Rey's boot grew wet. Confused, she looked down to find bloody sand caked over it. She traced the source to an elderly man, dead a foot from her. But on further inspection, the blood didn't seem to be coming from him—no, it was from the pile of villagers.

 

Without a word, Ben left her.

 

The memory fell apart.

 

"This is where BB-8 finds me," she muttered to herself. "What was after that…?"

 

Snoke had been trying to get Ben to kill Han. Rey saw those meetings herself—they were the ones where he told her to go. He kept reassuring himself that he could do it, that he could take the life of his father. Rey should have told him that he would, but she couldn't bring herself to. It was too painful to even think about.

 

Which meant—

 

"Luke, no!"

 

The interrogation chamber. Rey looked around blindly. This wasn't what she was worried about—it was the pivotal moment after this. She didn't want to do it. She didn't want to watch Han Solo die again. She wasn't sure if she could stomach it.

 

The Other Rey was unconscious in the chair. Ben was doing his part across from her, waiting in the shadows for her to rise. Rey stepped forward then, hesitating only a moment as she glanced at herself. Did she really appear that way…? Choobies, this was strange. How innocent she had been… Full of the hardships of life, yet keenly unaware of her destiny.

 

"This is where I met you," Ben said from within his helmet. "In the forest on Takodana. I was wondering when it would happen." He chuckled. "I must admit it's odd. Growing up with you… and then to see you, and you're afraid of me."

 

"I didn't know who you were. Only your reputation." Rey couldn't tear her eyes away from her memory-self. "You're going to interrogate me, and I'm going to hate you even more."

 

"I don't like it," he told her. "I've known since I was sixteen that this would happen… You showed me that day. Yet here we are, thirteen years later. I am still unprepared."

 

Rey didn't know what to say to that. She didn't like it, either, but what could she do?

 

"Tell me what I found within your mind, Rey."

 

"Why, so you can spare yourself the act?" she asked, genuinely curious.

 

He inclined his head.

 

She sighed. Well, there wasn't any harm in it, was there? And if she could spare her memory self a bit of pain, then so be it. It wasn't real, but that didn't matter. When faced with herself, it was as real as anything.

 

"The droid has it. BB-8 is his name, you see." Why was she telling him that? Because she thought of BB-8 as a person, that was why. That little droid had more personality within himself than most of the people Rey had encountered. "But you know that. What you don't know is what you see from my dreams… the ocean, the island, what it means."

 

Ben was hanging on to her every word.

 

She shrugged at him. "That's it."

 

"That's it?" he asked in disbelief.

 

"I prove to be very good at the mind game torture for a novice." She flashed a grin. "I'll spare your dignity with what was said, but… you didn't acquire the information you wanted."

 

He took a somewhat menacing step toward her. His hand rose. It was trembling. He growled and turned away. She appreciated that he'd managed to grasp a hold on his temper.

 

There was a sudden gasp. The Other Rey was staring around, completely disoriented.

 

And that's my cue, Rey thought.

 

The scene dissolved.

 

Rey looked down at her hand. It, too, was shaking.

 

"Please don't make me do this," she whispered.

 

It is the most pivotal moment of all, Rey, the Force knot said.

 

Please… Please… Please…

 

She was on Starkiller Base. Luke had done her a favor—Han was already falling over the bridge. Rey couldn't make herself watch and had to turn away just as an arrow flew in their direction. Ben yelled. A moment later, he grabbed her by the elbow and yanked her around. She clenched her eyes shut—he gripped her beneath her jaw and squeezed until she opened them with a small cry of pain.

 

"Another thing you didn't want to tell me?"

 

"Would it have mattered?" she gasped.

 

The ground heaved tumultuously under their feet.

 

He curled his lip.

 

Rey stood on her tiptoes, putting her arms around his shoulders, and she buried her face against his hair. He froze for several seconds. His arms came around her, holding her close to him. They didn't have much time. Starkiller Base was being destroyed even now.

 

But she couldn't go without doing this.

 

"I love you," she choked out. Tears were on her face. She had been closer this time, closer to where Han had fallen away from the world and those who loved him. It had been its own form of torture.

 

"Even now?" he asked.

 

"Yes," she whispered. She kissed his ear and pulled away. "Even now. Now go!"

 

He didn't need to be told twice.

 


 

 

"Am I done?" Rey asked. "Is it over?"

 

Penetrating darkness.

 

"Luke?"

 


 

 

She felt her lashes flutter open. Above, palm trees swayed, and light danced through their fronds, leaving dappled spots on the ground. The ground was mostly sandy. Soft sand, no coarseness to taint it.

 

Her head… was being pillowed…?

 

Ben's face appeared over her own. The length of his facial hair was startling, not to mention his regular hair. The latter was well past his shoulders, as thick and wavy as ever.

 

"Ben?" she whispered. "Am I… are we awake?"

 

He nodded.

 

She broke into a grin. "That beard is terrifying. It does not look good on you."

 

"That's what you have to say to me?" His eyes narrowed. But then a smile touched his mouth and, shockingly, his eyes. "What happened? I woke up, and you were there beside me."

 

"Luke didn't tell you?"

 

"He said it would be best to hear it from you." Ben rolled his eyes to show what he thought of that. He sobered, his lips thinning as he pressed them together. "Rey… how long has it been?"

 

"I—I don't know," she replied. "How… How do you feel?"

 

"I…" He closed his eyes. "…I feel unburdened…"

 

She sat up at that and had the surprise of seeing how long her hair was. Ignoring it for now, she put her hands on his shoulders. It had worked, it had worked! "I'm really glad."

 

A softness she hadn't seen before entered his eyes. He wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed her. "What did you do to me?"

 

"Are you angry?"

 

"No." He kissed her again. "I'm grateful."

 

Ben, freely admitting he was grateful for something?

 

"Let's get cleaned up," she said. "And then I'll tell you everything. But—but first…" She lifted her head. "Luke?"

 

The miniature star materialized in front of her, bobbing lightly.

 

"Luke, how long has it been?"

 

Are you sure you are ready for this answer? he asked.

 

"Yes," Rey replied, a little loudly. As much as she had been up to the task of helping Ben with his burdens, that had been a long time to be trapped between darkness and memories. She had put off asking about the length of time, so it wouldn't distract her, but now she needed to know.

 

Very well. A total of three years, four months, six days, eleven hours, eighteen minutes, and thirty-six seconds has passed, according to the galactic standard time.

 

Ben and Rey were stunned into silence.

 

Shall we carry on with your training, then?

Chapter Text

 

"I feel as though… somehow… I've known you most of my life. But I know this is not possible."

 

The refresher was quiet except for snips from a pair of scissors and those softly uttered words. Rey had never cut hair before. She was getting a crash course. She only hoped she didn't butcher Ben's lovely locks too much. He might kill her for it. He was a little vain.

 

She grinned at the thought.

 

Remembering Ben was talking to her, she refocused her attention on the strands of hair in her fingers. "Well… I'll tell you the truth about what happened in your head…" Snip, snip. Snip. Damp black strands fell to the floor. "But in return you have to promise not to get angry."

 

"I already said I wasn't." He went to turn his head—she put her fingertips on his skull and faced it forward. "Sorry," he said casually, but a jolt had struck her heart. Ben never apologized for anything. At least, not without a huge to-do about it.

 

"It's all right," she replied somewhat breathlessly. She cleared her throat and shifted to another section of hair. "You said you weren't—yet."

 

"How could I be? I feel fine, better than fine." He turned his head. Rey tsked and grabbed his head once more, turning it back.

 

"Be careful, or I'll accidentally cut off a huge chunk of your hair," she scolded.

 

"And I don't think I would feel that way if you had done something wrong to me."

 

Lack of paranoia, check, Rey thought. Before The Memories, as she had taken to calling it, or BTM, Ben would never assume something hadn't been done to him. Was he in complete and total trust of Rey? Was he choosing not to hold onto the negative feelings associated with doubt, with suspicion? Likely only the former. Some part of Ben would always be paranoid.

 

"I don't feel as if I did anything wrong." Snip, snip, snip. "I just wasn't sure if we would both agree with that statement in the end."

 

"You really don't plan on telling me?" Ben shifted to look up at her. His brown eyes were curious, a warmer, lighter color beneath the direct beam of the light. His face was cleanshaven again.

 

"I don't plan on massacring your hair, but you're not leaving me much of a choice," Rey mused.

 

He took the scissors from her. "Rey."

 

"Okay," she sighed. He wasn't going to let this go. She shouldn't have expected otherwise. "I will tell you, but promise me you won't turn your head around unless I tell you to." She arched her eyebrows.

 

He smiled amicably. The sight of it arrested her heart. Would she ever get used to it, these smiles given to her so freely? After everything she'd gone through, they'd gone through, it was instinctive to memorize them. Rey didn't know if something would take them away from her, and she didn't want to find out.

 

Ben held up the scissors. His smile had formed a grin of its own, and then they were both laughing for no reason at all. Rey had an attack of the giggles so hard her side was aching. Ben's chuckles were more muted, but they grew louder the longer she laughed.

 

"What—are—we—even—laughing about?" she gasped out.

 

"I'm not sure. Take these scissors."

 

Rey did so and wondered why she was cracking up. Was it because they had been asleep and in stasis for almost three and a half years, and neither of them had any idea of what had happened in the galaxy during their absence?

 

"Please don't cut my hair until your hand is steady," he laughed, and she giggled harder. "I wouldn't want to have to go bald."

 

A few minutes later, the giggles at last ceased. She sniffled and wiped the corners of her eyes. She returned to snipping at his hair and held up her end of the promise.

 

"Luke told me that you were having trouble confronting your past. He said it was because of Snoke's influence, that it had corrupted you to the point you couldn't handle it on your own." She kept her eyes down as she worked, her voice soft. "He told me he needed me to help get rid of it. He failed to mention how much time would pass until I was already inside your mind."

 

"And… how did you go about this exactly?" Ben's voice was carefully neutral.

 

Worry stayed her hand, but she made herself go on. She owed him the truth, even if she was afraid of what would come of it. He could get it from her, anyway, if he really wanted to. Their connection was back in place, their shields low, their emotions flowing freely between them. But he deserved to hear it from her.

 

"Um… I'm not entirely sure how it all worked out… He said a lot of things that didn't make any sense to me, but… He said we would have to work on your psyche, so he took your memories of your life and sent me into them. He said they wouldn't be altered, and I mean…" She sighed. She was butchering this.

 

Forcing herself to calm, she went back to the beginning and explained everything in slow, serious detail, not leaving a single thing out. She told him about how she saw him grow up through his memories, and how she'd tried to assure him she would always be there for him. How she wanted to make it to where he didn't feel so alone.

 

She didn't know if this was the best idea, disclosing all of it. She was essentially telling him she had manipulated his psyche so that he wouldn't feel so burdened anymore. This was why she had been afraid of his response once he had all the information at his disposal.

 

Ben was quiet for a time. She didn't interrupt his thoughts, not wanting to anger him. She could feel him on the other side of the bond, pensive. It honestly felt like he was sorting through his emotions, trying to decide how he should react.

 

He drew a knee up to himself, hooking an elbow around it, moving carefully so he didn't dislodge her hand. "I'm not upset."

 

"Hmm… Are you sure?"

 

"Yes," he said. "It's… almost shameful to think that I could not handle this on my own. But if what you say is true, I suppose I never would have been able to. And that only makes the shame worse, that I let Snoke manipulate me so thoroughly. I had no idea the damage extended so deeply."

 

"Right…"

 

He caught her hand and held it to his shoulder. "I feel like I might have been angrier before this," he chuckled softly. "But there is no need for me to get upset. We needed my half clear to balance the bond, and… you succeeded, you know," he murmured. "You are in my heart. I only wish I could have returned the favor…"

 

"What do you mean?" she asked.

 

"You were so lonely like me. But you had no one," he elaborated. "I would have liked to reassure you as you did me."

 

The thought of that was sweet enough to make Rey tear up a little. She waited until her throat was clear to squeeze his fingers before withdrawing her own. "How short do you want your hair?"

 

"Like this, I think." He gestured.

 

A few snips into the task, Rey spoke again. "Thank you for the thought. And… I'm glad you feel like I was with you for so long… Because—that's how I feel now."

 

"And nothing in my memories made you doubt me at all?"

 

"No."

 

"I have done some terrible, terrible things."

 

"I was there for those, too."

 

"And you are still here."

 

"Hey." She leaned her head over his, looking at him upside down. "I will always be here. I wouldn't have said I'd be at your side if I wasn't going to."

 

"That is true," he murmured.

 

She kissed him and then straightened herself in the chair. "What do you think has happened since we've been asleep?" It was the first they'd broached the topic. Their immediate concerns had been to get clean. Then they'd addressed Ben's end of things, and now here they were.

 

"Mother's probably recruited more people to join her cause."

 

Rey kept her surprise to herself. Yet another item to catalogue. Ben was talking about his mother almost casually. "I agree. What about the First Order? Do you think Hux—?"

 

"If Hux is still their leader by now, I would be…" He shook his head. "While I know the majority of the First Order hated my existence, they despised his even more. The way he treated the senior officers, most who had been around from the Empire… Snoke only kept him around because he was easy to control and to use."

 

"You're saying it's entirely possible someone else is in charge?"

 

"Yes. And if he is still in charge, I imagine it is because he's being manipulated once again. He is as mad as his father was, or so I have heard."

 

"Do we know of any—well… do you know of any possible candidates?" she asked, correcting herself midway.

 

"The only feasible ones would be the other Knights of Ren."

 

"Do you think they might, since… you disappeared for three years?"

 

He grew thoughtful. "Two. The other four would never dare go against me." While Rey was wondering how much of that statement was ego, he explained, "They have seen firsthand what it is like to fight me, and they have lost each time."

 

"Right. I don't know, I think Deo Ren would be a contender, or Ami Ren."

 

"You know about the Knights of Ren?" he asked sharply. "You really saw so much of my past?"

 

"Lived it with you," Rey replied. "Once a month. For most of your life. I saw all the Knights of Ren, I know all their names. I know some of the missions they're on. Not all."

 

She waited while Ben processed this.

 

"They have to go," he said after a time. "They will be the first obstacles in our way, the most absolute threat." He was chewing on a thumbnail as he talked, some sort of nervous gesture. "Rey, why are we talking out loud? Not that I mind it."

 

She blinked. I… I guess I'm so used to not using this bond anymore. As she said the words, it opened the bond between them more, and a welcoming feeling touched her heart. I missed this.

 

He was closer than he ever could be physically this way.

 

It's all right. I only just realized myself.

 

We take them down.

 

Yes.

 

All six of them.

 

Yes. Does this bother you? Will it be a problem?

 

Rey had seen some of the things the other Knights had done. From a purely practical standpoint, Ben was right, they were the biggest threat. They were Force users, and powerful ones at that. They couldn't tend to their plans with those six running amok.

 

No. She lowered the scissors. All right. Go look in the mirror.

 

Ben got up and did exactly that. He pushed his fingers through his hair, which was still a bit damp. He played with it until it looked right to him. Rey stood back worriedly, hoping he didn't hate it. She liked it, but she wasn't the one who had to wear it.

 

His hair was longer than it had been before they slept. It brushed past his shoulders, heavy and thick, fluffy at the ends. He practiced pulling it up in a band. He seemed to like a style where while it was tucked back, it covered over the tops of his ears. This left the sharp cheekbones of his face visible.

 

He let it go, setting it to straights.

 

"Do you want me to cut more?" she asked.

 

No.

 

"Are you sure you like it?"

 

Instead of answering, Ben came to where she was, sliding his arms under her rear and lifting. She gasped, barely holding onto the scissors, her arm going over his shoulders to steady herself.

 

You like yours at that length?

 

Rey nodded. Her hair swept past her hips, which was where she had cut it. She had it in a high ponytail now. If she didn't like it, she could always cut it shorter later.

 

On our to-do list… Find a way to get you a lightsaber. Finish finding our balance. And… Rey squeaked as Ben left the refresher and stepped into the corridor of the Falcon.

 

And?

 

Ben entered the crew quarters and tossed her onto a bed.

Chapter Text

 

 

Rey's wrists were jerked apart and slammed against the mattress on either side of her head. The invisible hands of the Force kept her in place, though she wasn't trying to escape. Heat had just clenched her lower belly and was spreading throughout her body. Her breath came quick as she studied Ben's glittering eyes.

 

She could see everything he had planned for her, and she was already wet in anticipation.

 

Ben made quick work to the front of her pants. Not long after, he was sliding them off her hips, over her thighs, past her knees, and to the floor, her underwear with them. He made a sound deep in his throat and knelt between her legs, his tongue tracing a line up her core. She bit back a small cry, but she couldn't control her hips from arching.

 

He was someplace else, lips trailing fire over the inside of her thigh, which made her toes twitch from tingles. He rose, leaning over to place his hands by her ribs. His dark hair swung forward around his face, framing it in a veil. She wanted to reach up and touch his face. As he processed that thought, the bands of power at her wrists tightened.

 

You're not going to let me touch you?

 

He kissed her to shush her, even though she hadn't spoken the words out loud.

 

You are so damned beautiful. His lips brushed behind her ear.

 

Rey blushed a little. Had that stuck to his psyche, the disbelief that he never complimented her enough?

 

Look at me.

 

Her eyes flashed to his.

 

Tell me you want me.

 

He knew she did. Rey almost protested—closed her mouth and blushed harder.

 

Tell me!

 

"I want you," she choked out.

 

Ben grabbed the bottom of her shirt and ripped it off her body, over her restrained hands. His soft palms covered her breasts, his thumb rubbing over her nipples. She gave something close to a sigh, but when she moved into his touches, his hands fell away. Frustration filled her. She glared at him. Why was he teasing her?

 

How much do you want me?

 

Rey hooked her thighs over his hips and rocked her own up against him. His breath hissed out, and she could feel how hard he was, straining against his pants. The first time they had ever had sex, she'd been sensitive, so sensitive to everything. Her body had gone three years without it, and somehow the sensitivity was even worse.

 

Maybe it had known what it was missing.

 

Ben dragged his thumb over her lips, tugging lightly on the bottom one. His hand slipped around her neck and gripped delicately. He leaned even closer to her, by extension grinding against her and making her breath catch. She shivered from the tingles of heat spreading through her. She could feel it, and she wanted it, she wanted it inside of her.

 

He pressed his lips against the corner of her mouth. His hand slid lower, over to the right, cupping a breast again. He teased and tugged at her nipple, harder and harder, until the line of pain finally flared up. He kept her on the edge of pain and pleasure after that, watching her face as he pinched her nipple tight. He could feel everything inside of her mind and he still wanted to see her expressions.

 

Let me touch you!

 

No. Ben replaced his fingers with his mouth. She made a whimper-y noise as he suckled on her nipple. He didn't linger—he moved on, his lips just barely skimming her skin on the way down to her belly button. He bit at the faint rise of her tummy there. He rolled his eyes up to see her as he continued his quest to her core and barely mouthed at her. His tongue flicked against her clit.

 

She bucked, and his hands fastened around her hips and held her in place. She groaned in frustration and tilted her head back. Why? Why was he torturing her?

 

And then his tongue was sliding firmly between her folds. She gasped as he suckled at her clit, moaned when his tongue pushed at her entrance, dipping in for a brief taste. Wet kisses against her thigh.

 

"Ben!"

 

He stood and opened his pants so they could fall around his ankles. He ran his fingers through his hair, and her mouth went dry. Like this, she could see the perfection of his body. Long torso and limbs, but she wanted to lick over the ridges of his abdomen.

 

She pushed upright as best she could with her hands bound. She slipped onto her stomach, her elbows beneath her, and dragged her tongue over the head of his cock. She had the satisfaction of hearing his soft groan of surprise, and then his fingers seized in her hair.

 

Ben paused in the act of tugging her head forward. His eyes met hers uncertainly.

 

Do it.

 

His eyes filled with the heat of renewed confidence. He wasted little time in yanking her close, shoving his cock into her mouth without a care for her comfort. Rey wasn't sure why she liked the rough treatment. She just did. Her arousal was fanning ever higher, and abruptly the bands at her wrists fell away. This left her free to wrap her palms around Ben's sharp hipbones, which was exactly what he had intended by releasing her.

 

Rey heard herself choke. But his cock was over her tongue, and there was something so intensely erotic about having him in her throat. It didn't make much sense, but maybe it didn't have to. Maybe it was okay to like something without a reason.

 

You like it because you see it as a small sign of ownership. But you own me just as much.

 

She couldn't refute this. He saw everything in her mind.

 

Her throat was quickly growing bruised, and the choking had her eyes streaming. He fisted her hair and pulled her head away, and she sucked in a huge gulp of air. His thumb traced over her lower lip again, where it was swollen and hot. She closed her eyes. Her body was on fire, it was aching.

 

Ben grabbed her and easily twisted her onto her stomach, like she weighed nothing at all. She felt his cock rub over her wet folds, and her breath hissed in. One hand gripped her hip as the other wrapped around his erection, guiding it to her entrance. He dipped an inch inside, thrusting shallowly.

 

Ben, I swear—!

 

Take it, then. Show me how much you want it.

 

This aroused, there was no room to be embarrassed. Growling, she knocked herself back, not stopping until he was buried to the hilt. Her eyes rolled back, and her hands clenched the sheets. She hadn't been filled this way in so long, too long. Her cunt was stretched wide open, and he was in so deep.

 

Ben cursed. So damned tight. His arousal was hot enough to nearly bring her under for a moment. It was a heavy blanket over their bond. She squeezed herself around him, and that flame forged higher. It was indescribable to feel things like this, to know what it was like to be inside of herself because there was nothing hidden between them. And he knew her, was flooded with the sensations pouring in from her end.

 

He almost came undone right then and there.

 

Too much?

 

Not enough. Never enough.

 

His arm hooked under her breasts and tugged her up against him. He pulled her hair away from her ear and nibbled on the lobe, beginning to rock slowly inside of her. A frisson of anticipation tightened her nipples, made her groan quietly. She tilted her ear into his teeth, found his hand, laced their fingers.

 

Everything was so heightened from the bond. All he had to do was use his free hand to rub into her clit, and she gasped sharply, orgasm dragging her under. He moaned, burying his face in her neck as she clenched around him with sudden wet heat.

 

Fuck. Ben glided his lips over the line of her shoulder. I am not going to last long.

 

We have all night.

 

He nipped her neck. It's your fault.

 

Oh?

 

Ben hummed, working his hips harder, his thrusts going deeper. Rey tilted her head back on his shoulder, her eyes sliding closed. It was too good. Maybe after this they would have to put a partial barrier up so they wouldn't go insane from both accounts of pleasure.

 

She slid her fingers into his hair and turned his face to her. He kissed her, and she melted beneath his lips, her tongue tangling with his. The truth was that whenever he kissed her, she completely lost herself. She could admit that now.

 

Orgasm claimed her again, starting a chain. They rolled through her, had her writhing against him. He had to grip tight onto her hips to keep her still enough to move. He sped his pace up, his knees knocking her thighs wider, nearly bouncing her on him. She could tell he was close, and cries poured from her at the friction.

 

He pulled out, giving a few quick jerks of his wrist on his cock. He angled down, burying his face in the back of her neck as he panted. She listened to them breathing, her own chest rising and falling hard. She could feel his heart pounding at his chest near her shoulder blade.

 

I missed that. I missed you.

 

I am here.

 

She twisted around, enough to cup his face and bring their lips together.

 

Yes, she thought. You are.

 


 

 

A child's laughter.

 

Rey echoed the laugh, running after a little girl. She shrieked as Rey caught up with her and lifted her into the air. Rey held her high and nuzzled their noses together. The girl put her small hands on Rey's cheeks and patted them.

 

Mama.

 

The world cut away. It was just as fragile as before, blurry, muffled, never quite in focus. Snatches of color here and there, nothing more. Grainy at the corners.

 

Here, little one… Rey picked the girl up from her crib. The child was bawling, and it was the middle of the night. Did you have a bad dream? Her fingers soothed through black curls. It's all right. Mommy loves you. Daddy loves you, too. Isn't that right?

 

Give her to me. The child was pulled from Rey's arms. Ben kissed her forehead and held her close, his palm rubbing over her small back. Immediately she began to calm with sad little sniffles. There we go.

 

He looked up and smiled at Rey.

 


 

 

Rey stared at the ceiling of the Falcon. She could almost taste her pulse.

 

Maybe Ben hadn't seen it. Or if he had, he wouldn't remember in the morning.

 

Ben sat up, clearly awake, and pushed his legs over the side of the bed. He grabbed his pants. There was a rustle of fabric as he put them on. He walked out without a word, never once glancing in her direction.

 

She swallowed.

 

Ben?

 

There was no answer.

 

Ben? she asked again, telling herself not to panic.

 

I need to think.

 

The bond closed to the point where she would have to fight to keep it open. She was left alone in the dark, contemplating the vision.

 

"Ben," she whispered.

Chapter Text

The air was actually a bit chilly as Rey made her way off the Falcon. She shivered and rubbed an arm, looking for where Ben could have gone off to. It had been, by her estimate, a few hours. They had gone to bed when it was pitch black outside, and now pink was touching the horizon.

 

She'd debated on whether or not she should just wait him out. But they had never hidden anything from each other before, and she couldn't bear the idea of doing so now. It was a vision, nothing more. They could change in a heartbeat. Luke had told her that on Ahch-To, and she knew Ben must know the same. He must.

 

Where could he be?

 

The connection was still shut tight. In Rey's mind, it felt similar to a brick wall. She could climb it, if she wanted. She could plow through with a show of force. But she thought about if a time ever came where she needed privacy, how upset she would be if she was denied it. Best to figure it out on her own, then.

 

Intuition was niggling, so she followed its call to the beach. Ben wasn't in sight. For a moment, she was arrested by the sight of the colors on the choppy waves. It was so beautiful. Peaceful, too. She hadn't had a chance to relax in the sand, or even to watch the sun rise. But now was not the time. Shaking herself out of her reverie, she hunted onward.

 

Footprints! They were high enough up that the tide hadn't eaten away at them like it had the others. Legs built with long practice of scaling dunes, she easily hopped through the sand in pursuit. It looked like they were trailing away into the jungle. She would probably lose him here. She wasn't really that great at tracking.

 

But she could track him with the Force, she realized, even if she didn't open the connection.

 

Satisfied with this revelation, she closed her eyes and knelt in the sand, fingers digging into it. Once upon a time, it had taken ages to concentrate, to find the energy of the Force. Now it was like breathing, and the flow of lifeforms lit up inside of her. Their bond fueled her power, and like on the Nameless Planet, it reached far and wide.

 

The signature of what could unmistakably be Ben glowed brightly about a mile away.

 

Found you, she thought.

 

She went deep into the jungle and tried to keep quiet as she ventured. There wasn't anything particularly vicious here, no, but she didn't want to draw unwanted attention. Besides, she looked at it like a game, a way to improve her stealth skills.

 

A roaring met her ears. She tensed, crouching, hands splayed to either side of her. After a moment, she was able to identify the sound as a waterfall. Relaxing somewhat, she resumed her quest and soon came across it. Mist pressed cool kisses to her skin.

 

Nothing here indicated where Ben could be.

 

Then she saw it—past the waterfall, just behind it, in fact, some boulders marking a subtle path. A hidden cave?

 

Rey was limber and used to slippery surfaces. It was second nature to climb onto the wet boulders and make her way, careful step by step, into the waterfall. The water thinned at the side, and she slipped under it and into the cave. Her clothes and hair were damp now.

 

She walked until the roar of the falls faded and there was only the steady trickle of water. Darkness pressed in on her, made her wish she'd thought to find something to light. But it wasn't too hard to navigate the passage with the Force to guide her.

 

"Ben…?" she called, her voice catching.

 

There was no answer, and the darkness seemed to deepen.

 

Choobies.

 

Maybe she should go back…

 

But the Force was so strong here—he had to be nearby—

 

A hand wrapped around her ankle.

 

She shrieked and flailed as she was dragged down onto a lap. Her instincts warred. Half of her wanted to attack her assailant, the other half knew it was Ben and was trying to calm down. Her heart pounded, her pulse in her throat.

 

Don't do that! Then she remembered he'd shut down the bond. "Don't—"

 

He kissed her.

 

The connection opened, and the touch of his thoughts against hers made her relax.

 

I am sorry.

 

The apology caught her off guard. She pulled back to look at him and remembered belatedly it was too dark to see. She felt along him until she could cup his cheek and stroke over his cheekbone with her thumb. He leaned into her touch. She heard him exhale.

 

It's all right, she assured him.

 

I was caught… entirely off guard. We have never discussed children, and you should probably know that I never intended to have any. I never—my father—

 

It's all right, she said again.

 

Is it, Rey? He caught her hand in his. I do not want to be a father.

 

It was just a vision, Ben. It's not… it's not set in stone.

 

Frustration shot through the connection.

 

What? What is it?

 

It is not you. He exhaled hard. She heard his head thunk against the cave wall. What if that never changes?

 

Then it never changes.

 

You would do that for me? You would forgo having children?

 

I never planned on being a mother, I guess… It wasn't something I thought about. Not until now. But is that really what you want?

 

I have been trying to answer that question. I still haven't come up with an answer.

 

Rey debated on speaking her thoughts. She kept them carefully thin, so he wouldn't be able to piece them together. But she grew restless enough that she had to speak them. Ben, you're not your father.

 

I know that.

 

Do you, Ben? she echoed in a mimicry of his earlier statement.

 

Believe me, it is something I have sworn not to be since I was a child.

 

I was there. I saw. But I also saw a child who ached to belong with his family. Either way, you can learn from his mistakes, you—

 

I do not want to talk about this anymore.

 

Ben…

 

I really don't.

 

She pressed her lips together around a sigh. I don't want to leave it this way.

 

What other way is there to leave it?

 

I'm—I'm not ready for children. Not for a while. But the vision, it seemed… like a long time away. You were older. We…

 

Rey. A warning.

 

Ben! she snapped first. Their connection felt like they were mentally butting heads in a very real way. Don't shut me out. Don't do this.

 

I am not shutting you out. I have simply exhausted the subject.

 

Ooooh, he could be so stubborn

 

Are you open to… talking about this again, later down the road?

 

He was silent for a while. She could feel him genuinely mulling over his answer.

 

Later down the road. Much later.

 

Okay, she agreed. Do you want to get out of here? Someplace… dry and warm? How did you find this place, anyway?

 

The first day of our 'training,' I was exploring the jungle. I had not been able to return to it since.

 

I like it. She stretched out her legs, as they were going cramped. Ben… you know… you don't have to hide anything from me, don't you?

 

Yes. He let out another breath. Reluctantly, his thoughts spilled forth. I was—afraid to let you see what was in my head. I didn't want to upset you. I… did not want you to think I loved you any less… There was pain in the words. He hated being so vulnerable.

 

I would never think that. Her hand patted the wall until she got a good enough grip to climb to her feet without issue. Never.

 

"Okay," he whispered.

 

She smiled, even though he couldn't see it. Let's go?

 

Yes.

Chapter Text

 

Training.

 

Or pure, physical torture if Rey had a say about it.

 

From sunup to sundown, with only a small break in between for food to keep up their energy, they worked themselves to the bone. Luke had them start off with sprints in the sand. At first, it had seemed obvious what to do. Stretch and run for exercise.

 

No.

 

With longer legs, Ben was often several feet ahead of her. He wasn't as used to the sand as she was, but he made it up for it with that long stride. That was when Luke began to harangue him about how he needed to learn to be on Rey's level, at Rey's pace. Why? Because this was the goal: to move together seamlessly. It didn't matter what they were doing. They needed to be of one mind when it came to fighting.

 

It was only when they could jog beside one another without effort that they moved on to the next area. They found fallen limbs from some of the sturdier trees in the jungle and fashioned mock weapons out of them. Rey wanted to pretend it was her quarterstaff, and Ben wasn't opposed to it. They practiced on top of a fallen tree over a chasm, the river churning past below.

 

It turned out Ben wasn't as spry as Rey. The only reason he kept his footing on the log was entirely due to the Force. Did this aggravate him? A little. But Rey had stopped laughing at him two days in, which was about when the seriousness of the situation sank in. They really did need to learn together. And besides that, she had to concentrate, too, half relying on the Force herself.

 

Standing on a log was tricky, never mind sparring.

 

Sometimes they were worked up enough after practice to take it out in the bedroom. Other times, they were just too tired.

 

Rey was sore. Her legs were sore, her thighs screaming from the sprints. Her arms were sore from the jolts of Ben's mock quarterstaff knocking into her own. Sore, sore, sore.

 

As time passed, the sprints barely winded her. When she ran at Ben on the tree, she moved perfectly in sync with him. Thrust, parry, thrust, parry, parry, thrust, the two resembling a mirror and its reflection. The blisters on her hands had hardened into calluses. And when she fell asleep at night, every muscle in her body wasn't screaming in pain.

 

Some days, Luke forced them to meditate. He wanted them to find each other faster, to be able to tap into the other in a heartbeat. This still took hours, and Ben grew sullen every time he took the longest. But at least they were making progress, Rey thought.

 

The days began to blend together. The only thing that changed in their environment was that it grew slightly colder. Not cold enough to need heavier clothes, never detracting from the loss of how much time was passing.

 

And then one day, Luke told her he had a surprise.

 


 

 

Almost there.

 

Rey exchanged a glance with Ben. They had been walking for a while, but now the scenery was… different. Considering how long they'd trained over every part of the island, this was disconcerting.

 

I hid this area from you, Luke explained. You were not yet ready to face what was inside.

 

"Okay…" Rey said slowly. Luke generally didn't keep things from her, and she didn't like the idea that he had woven an illusion without her knowing.

 

I apologize, Rey. I did not do this out of ill intent. I should have asked your permission first.

 

"It's all right," Rey said. If he was punishing himself over it, what was the point in being angry? Best to let it go. "You said we're almost there?"

 

Yes. It is just ahead. The miniature star zoomed forward without waiting for them.

 

This part of the jungle was denser. The tree branches were closed tightly overhead, and the chatter of wildlife died down to the occasional call of a bird. Sweat touched the small of Rey's back as mugginess set in. It felt stale here almost. She didn't like it. Even the jungle on Solaris wasn't quite this creepy.

 

A low hissing drew her attention to a large snake wound over the bough of a tree. It had enough coils to wrap around both Ben and Rey. It stared them down but didn't move. The pattern on its hide was loud with color.

 

I don't like this, Rey thought. She remembered the cave on Ahch-To. Do you think this is where the darkness on this island is?

 

Not every planet has an obviously clear line between light and dark. I've learned to… acclimate to dark patches of the Force, and this does not feel like one. It's dangerous, but it will not trick you like the cave.

 

Why would Luke be leading them someplace like this?

 

You are safe, Rey. I would not let anything harm you, Luke promised. You are my friend.

 

Ben and Rey exchanged another glance. He scowled. She shrugged.

 

And what should appear, but a cave sitting high on a slab of rock. It was steep on all sides, mostly unclimbable, and looked like it continued that way for some time. So how did anything get up there? Probably through flight or another entrance elsewhere in the jungle.

 

In this cave, there are scales of a powerful creature you could use to build a lightsaber, Rey, Luke said. He appeared by her shoulder.

 

Despite herself, excitement lit within her heart. "How powerful?"

 

Her kind is rare on this planet. See how most of the jungle is quiet here? They are afraid to get too close.

 

"I don't have a weapon," Rey said. She could have smacked herself. "Using the Force should be fine." Ben was smirking, and she narrowed her eyes at him.

 

You can get to the cave this way. If you will follow me again?

 

Rey's heart drummed up a beat. She told herself she wasn't nervous. She'd handled all sorts of threats, after all. And with the Force, she could most likely soothe whatever it was into compliance. By herself, maybe not, but surely with their bond?

 

Luke guided her quite a ways north of the cave. Eventually, the rockface sloped down, enough for someone to climb it. Rey took a breath, backing up. Then she shot off, leaping, getting a good foothold. Her hands gripped a large tree root poking out of the rocks to hold onto. It was sturdy enough that she was able to use it to climb the rest of the way up.

 

She dusted off her pants once she was on solid ground again, panting softly. The path was straightforward back the way they had come, up to the cave. Ben was where they had left him, and she waved.

 

Do you want me to help you?

 

No, she said. I think I've got this.

 

You think?

 

She didn't reply.

 

Luke came with her inside the cave. With the way he was bobbing ahead of her, it was very much like a wobbly light. Rey tried to keep herself calm, collected. She would need to be both things if she had any hope to overcome this creature. Whatever it was. Choobies, she couldn't pretend she wasn't nervous anymore!

 

The tunnel opened into a small cavern. A beautiful creature was watching her, its eyes a deep purple. Its body was white and feathery, except at the tips of its two wings, where it looked like a light crust of rock coated them. Its tail was covered in the sparkling, crusty substance, too, and the tips of its furry ears. It had four legs, and all were tucked under it. Its face had that feline quality she associated with the giant cat in the tunnels on Solaris.

 

The creature got to her feet. Her wings spread open, and they were big.

 

Those are scales, she realized.

 

It took a menacing step toward her. Rey grabbed at the Force and began to thread it through the creature, using her own strength coupled with Ben's.

 

There was just one problem.

 

It is resistant to the Force, Luke said. This planet is a vergence. It is too familiar with the Force to be swayed by mind tricks.

 

Rey kept her temper in control, barely. With the creature advancing on her, immune to the touch of the Force, she was absolutely… going to be… screwed…

 

"Luke, why did you bring me here, then?!" she half-yelled.

 

Well, if you—

 

The creature pounced, and Rey dodged out of the way. It kept going, and something inside of Rey really panicked. She was already taking off behind it, and just as they cleared the opening to the cave, she lunged onto its back. It was a move that she would later regret.

 

Later being two seconds after launching into the air.

 

Rey held back a shriek, her hands full of feathers at the thing's shoulders. It roared angrily and began to shake itself, as if trying to dislodge an annoying fly. This consisted of rolling barrels through the air with Rey screaming and clinging it.

 

Thing, as she called it, twisted all around. It zig-zagged. It divebombed. It rocketed into the atmosphere. Rey was hyperaware of the crash of ocean waves below. She really was screwed. If she lost her grip here, she'd slam into the water and never be seen again. If it was over land, well, she'd be broken into pieces, anyway.

 

Rey tried anew to tempt Thing with the Force. She thought desperately of any calmness she had ever experienced and applied it through the Force. Warmth. Acceptance. Peace.

 

Thing raged on.

 

Pleasepleasepleasepleaselpleasepleaseplease!

 

They were spiraling toward land. The beach flashed past, their shadows growing on the treetops below. Rey tried not to look. She didn't want to watch as she splattered to her doom. The powerful wings beating beneath her thighs grew still, holding air.

 

The cave, in the opening through the trees!

 

Rey knew it was her last chance. She grabbed onto a crusty spot and yanked, and with it came a scale she crushed against her palm. Thing didn't even notice. It landed, reared backwards, and Rey began to fall with a shout. The Force gripped her, and she was in Ben's arms. Thing vanished into the cave with a last irritable roar.

 

Ben set Rey on her feet, and she opened her palm proudly. "Look! I got one!" she panted.

 

His expression was blank.

 

Why?

 

He held out his hand, and there glittered what had to be twenty scales.

 

"How—?!"

 

"They were all over the cave."

 

"But—Luke, he said—"

 

I was attempting to tell you that you had nothing to fear from her. Her species is powerful, yes, but also very shy and unlikely to attack unless extremely provoked.

 

Rey stared at the glowing ball. "Then why didn't you stop me from following it?"

 

Because it was entertaining.

 

She looked from Luke to Ben. Ben's lips were twitching.

 

Rey was soaked in sweat, her hair was standing up on end, and she'd torn some of her clothes in the tumbles through the air. She had taken on the beast to get a scale, nearly risked her life to do so, and they were telling her it had all been for nothing? That she could have just herded it off and taken a scale once it was gone, as Ben had done?

 

Furious, she stomped off.

 

Ben's laughter echoed behind her.

 

The sound was sweet, but she wasn't going to let it cool her anger.

 

Hmph!

Chapter Text

 

"No, that one."

 

This?

 

"No—that one."

 

This?

 

"No—that one."

 

T-This?

 

"You can read my mind; how do you not know what I'm pointing to?!" Rey burst out.

 

Luke drooped dejectedly. His shine even seemed to dull a bit. You are not picturing the object in your mind. I can only read clear thoughts, Rey.

 

She swallowed her frustration and envisioned more calmly what she wanted. At this point, she could have gotten it by herself twice over, but she was comfortable where she was and didn't want to move.

 

She held her hand out as Luke sent the piece of metal over to her with the Force.

 

"Thank you," she made herself say.

 

Whenever she got engrossed in building or repairing something, she forgot to control her voice—she forgot everything except the task at hand. Luke didn't know that. She needed to try to be nicer. She wasn't intentionally being mean, at least.

 

Rey was seated on the floor with her legs crossed and scrap metal all around her. Luke was helping her build her lightsaber, pulling knowledge from Ben's mind. He hadn't hesitated to state, "But here are some adjustments. Ben Solo's was hastily made." He wasn't wrong. Ben's kyber crystal was cracked, and that was why it jetted out in a cross as it did and subsequently needed vents on either side of the weapon.

 

Finding the scrap metal on the Falcon had been a pain. Chewie and Han had left everything in complete disarray. Eventually she'd rooted out a bin of scrap metal, lodged behind a stack of metal crates, containing who knew what. Some of the scrap still had wires attached to them, like they'd been given up as a bad job. The good news was that there had been enough metal for Ben, too.

 

Ben hadn't spoken at all about his decision to craft a new lightsaber. Not out loud. His thoughts were solemn—he didn't want to be burdened by the past, and that meant his lightsaber was a casualty of war. He'd quietly taken his share of the metal and disappeared into the jungle. Rey was in the main hold of the Falcon with Luke.

 

It was their second day into the project. Ben had come in late in the day the evening before, kissed her goodnight, and went to sleep. At dawn, he was gone again. Rey didn't think he was being secretive. He just needed some time alone. Since she knew it wasn't about her, she felt easier giving him that space.

 

Rey, you should eat. You have been at this for hours.

 

"I know," she replied.

 

But once she'd started a task, it was very difficult to give it up until it was completed. Only then would she be satisfied.

 

Besides, she was almost done.

 

Ben Solo finished his several hours ago, Luke said thoughtfully.

 

"He did?" This piece went there, and then this piece went there… "And he's still in the jungle?"

 

He is practicing with the new weapon.

 

Rey grunted in acknowledgement, her tongue between her teeth.

 

He has had the other one for so long, he is having to adjust for—

 

"Yes!" she whooped.

 

Ah. You are finished. Luke bobbled around in what Rey could only assume was cheer. Now ignite it.

 

Rey scrambled to her feet and held out her lightsaber. It ignited perfectly. She grinned at Luke, and then sent her thoughts to Ben. I want to spar. Luke said yours is done, too.

 

Meet me at the log, he said without hesitation.

 


 

 

Ben held his lightsaber at his side. A brilliant white beam emitted from it, sparkling almost. His eyes were locked onto her own weapon.

 

A quarterstaff?

 

Rey lifted her lightsaber. Plasma shot out from both ends. It was the length of the quarterstaff Luke Skywalker had sliced in half.

 

You have not practiced with it—you could slice off a limb—

 

She gripped the saber in the middle with both hands. A moment later, the pieces parted, and she was graced with two smaller sabers, each the same color as Ben's.

 

Ben's brows crawled up his forehead. Abruptly they lowered, and a smirk touched the corner of his mouth.

 

Don't hurt yourself.

 

These were, of course, fighting words.

 

Rey shot forward, and Ben parried. The clash of the sabers sang within Rey. When channeling the Force, there was very much less danger of cutting off one's limb. They'd been practicing together for so long, weeks and weeks, that it was almost like a dance. The only difference now was the fact that their weapons had very real consequences.

 

They leapt and darted over the log. Plasma sizzled every time their sabers collided. Though Rey had two lightsabers, Ben was somehow overwhelming her. He had the advantage of brute strength behind every blow. She was being backed up, toward her side of the river, and he was unrelenting.

 

The purpose is to move in unison, Luke reminded them.

 

Rey barely heard him. This wasn't a regular practice. This was seeing how far along they were, who was the strongest, the fastest. Rey could have dived into Ben's mind and anticipated any move he was going to make, and he could have done the same to her. But this wasn't about that. She wanted to win on her own.

 

Two out of three?

 

You're on.

 

Rey snapped her lightsabers together and spun the resulting staff. It sheered the log off, and Ben lost his footing. He struggled only a moment—he used the Force to jump, to backflip over to his side of the river. Rey had done much the same. The log crashed into the river, the larger piece jamming between the banks.

 

Ben gave her an annoyed look. She grinned. It faded as concentration took over, and she used the Force to propel herself across the river. The second she landed, she was dueling with Ben again. She kept the sabers together, fighting with the quarterstaff. Ben had said it was more dangerous, but she'd been handling staffs since she was twelve, when she'd found a place of her own in the desert to get away from Unkar Plutt. The two ends were plasma, and that didn't matter. She could fight with a staff in her sleep. She'd long learned how not to hit herself with one.

 

They tarried through the jungle. The terrain was bigger, and they were able to go all out. Ben certainly didn't hold back. Rey knew how he moved from months of training. With just their practices alone, she was able to parry every attack almost before it happened. Ben didn't bother hiding his thoughts. He knew she wasn't dipping into him, that she knew his body language. It was giving him the same advantage.

 

Ben's lightsaber went for her head. Her sabers parted, and she used both to block his, twisted uncomfortably back, almost losing her footing. Sweat poured down her face and neck, the heat of the plasma not helping at all. It was difficult to push back from this angle. He pressed forward with all his weight, and her knees buckled. His boot connected with her shoulder—just enough to tip her over—and he twirled his saber. It came to a rest just before her throat.

 

One.

 

Rey glared, pissed she'd lost the first round. She hadn't wanted to rely entirely on the Force, but now that had changed. She called to it just as she had on Starkiller Base, the last time they'd fought with sabers. Ben's saber fell away to signal the end of the round. She got to her feet, her breathing deepening away from the pants that hounded her lungs. She closed her eyes, becoming one with the Force, with her surroundings. It was even more powerful here, as a vergence.

 

Her eyes snapped open.

 

Rey pursued this time. Ben's lightsaber flashed up and down, left and right, fending off her quarterstaff. Rey came at him with everything she had, slamming her sabers into his over and over. He deflected each attack easily. In fact, he didn't seem to be perturbed at all, his expression smug. This bastard. He thought he was going to win.

 

How did he think he'd gotten that scar?

 

His thoughts brushed up against Rey's. Rey could see in his mind that he was calmer than he had been then, that he was more confident in how he knew her body. She took that to mean she needed to change it up… so she did.

 

Rey took off running in the opposite direction. While she did so, she shut down the bond as much as she was able.

 

Ben's boots pounded on the earth. She'd gotten a head start with the element of surprise. Now she was going to have to keep the lead. She was spritely, but those long legs of his…

 

She jumped, and then she was up in a tree. She pressed herself against the trunk, using the Force to restore her breathing to normal. Her pulse fluttered and then slowed. She was able to keep quiet as Ben caught up with her below. He came to a halt a few feet away, looking around. He knew she was in the area. He just didn't know where.

 

"Rey!" he shouted. "I will find you! Come out now!"

 

Fat chance, she thought.

 

Ben growled under his breath. Rey waited until she was sure he was resuming his chase and fell from the tree onto his back, slamming him into the ground. She kept her boot between his shoulder blades and separated her sabers, pointing them at the back of his head.

 

"One," she said.

 

He spat out dirt. "Who climbs trees?"

 

"Me," she said. "Final round?"

 

His hand went for her ankle as it had in the cave behind the waterfall. Rey shrieked as he tugged, and she toppled sideways. She disengaged the sabers to avoid injuring herself. She stumbled back against the tree she'd come from. An all too frequent thunderstorm roared familiarly overhead, and rain fell in heavy buckets. The drops sizzled off Ben's lightsaber. Rey ignited her own.

 

Their sabers dropped to the ground as they lunged at each other. Ben had her in his arms, where were tucked under her rear. Rey put her fingers in his hair, her lips parting under his. His hands reached for the clasps in her clothes. He got a hand around her breast and squeezed, his lips leaving hers to journey to her neck.

 

It was as Rey was closing her eyes to the rain that she saw it.

 

A vessel, through an opening in the trees.

 

Ben! she thought, the connection wide open once more.

 

He looked up, following the source of her panic. The vessel was growing more and more clear as it came closer.

 

Clear enough to see that it was from the First Order.

Chapter Text

 

Running.

 

Heavy breathing.

 

The crash of feet through underbrush.

 

Unrelenting rain and jagged streaks of lightning.

 

An enormous peal of thunder.

 

Rey didn't know how or why a First Order ship was here. It had no rhyme or reason. They were on the far edges of the Uncharted Territories. It had been nearly four years since they had disappeared off the face of the galaxy. And now, out of nowhere, their enemy had found them? It defied believability.

 

Probes, Ben said.

 

All the way out here? After this long?

 

He didn't answer.

 

That didn't bode well.

 

She was just grateful the storm was covering up any noise they made.

 

Unfortunately, they'd been across the island, and the vessel had landed near the Falcon. That was miles of land to cover in a very short amount of time. Even with the Force, Rey's lungs were burning. She was making it so far, so fast on pure adrenaline. They couldn't afford to waste time. Every second the First Order was here was an increasing threat. Why? Because they had nothing to protect the Falcon, and it was their only way off this planet.

 

Rey wasn't worried about their own well-being. They could more than handle whatever the Order threw at them. The problem was that she absolutely did not trust the Order to leave their ship well enough alone. She kept expecting to see some sort of explosion in the distance, signaling the end of Han's legacy. Then again, as much as it would pain her to depart with said legacy, they could probably take the Order's vessel.

 

Rey—it will be all right. Calm down.

 

Calm down?! she tossed back at him. If you weren't worried, you wouldn't be running as fast as me!

 

I simply meant that clogging your mind with possible outcomes will only slow you down mentally. Focus. We will handle whatever comes once we arrive.

 

Rey supposed he wasn't wrong. Knowing the paths she could take would prepare her better, but her thoughts weren't spiraling toward that. They were pure panic.

 

You're right. I'm sorry.

 

The situation was so dire that any shred of smugness didn't radiate from his end of the line at all—and Ben loved being right. He relished in each victory, no matter how small.

 

Way too much time later, they arrived at the bluff that overlooked the beach where the Falcon roosted. Rey and Ben flattened themselves to the ground and looked at what they were up against. Stormtroopers, dressed in gray, red, and black, were gathered around the ship. Their had their blasters out, clearly guarding the area. Further down was the vessel they had come in on—a small ship that had likely come from a much larger vessel in space.

 

These things were ominous, but not so much as the figure in black with a chrome mask, speaking with one of the troopers. He was gesticulating at the storm, the Falcon, and then the vessel.

 

A Knight of Ren.

 

Lightning flared dramatically with a cracking boom! of thunder fast on its heels.

 

That's Deo, isn't it? Rey asked.

 

Ben nodded, his eyes intent on the scene.

 

Rey's sense of victory felt hollow. She'd known Deo would present a threat. She just hadn't expected to run into the bastard so soon.

 

What's with the stormtroopers? What do those colors mean?

 

I have no idea. I'm assuming they are his guard.

 

Knights of Ren get a guard?

 

Not before.

 

This was growing more and more interesting.

 

All right. So what's the plan?

 

The sea was churning tumultuously. Waves were growing in height as they collided with the beach. Some of the stormtroopers shifted nervously, turning so their backs were facing the jungle. Idiots, she thought. Though she might have been uneasy, too, were she standing where they were. Water was the last thing she was familiar with.

 

Are you ready?

 

It was a question they asked one another a lot.

 

More than ready.

 

Okay. Here is what we will do…

 


 

 

Rey strolled onto the beach near their pursuers. The stormtroopers jumped nearly out of their skin, and then ordered her to halt, their blasters raised. Rey ignored them, keeping her hands behind her back and her eyes fixed on the Knight. He'd turned at the commotion. Now his mask left him impassive. Rey had no idea what he was thinking.

 

Deo Ren held a hand up. His men lowered their weapons, but only halfway.

 

She came to a stop a few yards from him. It was difficult to make out anything with the raging storm, yet she had no doubt he would hear what she said perfectly fine. She could feel his eyes on her, intent behind the mask.

 

"Hello, Deo," she said, setting the tone for the rest of the conversation.

 

He was clearly caught off guard. He looked taken aback, and a moment later, he tensed. Rey had the sense that he was attempting to read her thoughts. She laughed inwardly. The odds of that happening were akin to Ben's personality taking a complete 180: very unlikely and high in the realm of impossibilities. Their connection forged a wall that was incredibly difficult to break. They'd spent months working to make this so.

 

"Curious," he said through his mask, the modulator making his voice deep and empty. "Who are you?"

 

"Someone," she replied.

 

"Are you going to be difficult?" He tilted his head.

 

"Are you?" she countered.

 

She could feel his smile, even if she couldn't see it. He closed the distance between them, leaving the boarding ramp. Rey hadn't closed it earlier when she'd rushed to duel with Ben. Now she was regretting that decision. But how could she have expected company?

 

Luke, who had been quiet this entire time, suddenly spoke up. Rey, do you need my help?

 

No, she replied.

 

"What brings you out here?" Rey queried. "This is a quiet corner of the galaxy."

 

"Oh, I suspect you know why I'm here," he said. "Where is Kylo Ren?"

 

She kept her expression blank. Unlike him, she didn't have a mask to hide behind. "Who is Kylo Ren?"

 

"Nice try," he scoffed. He pointed behind him to the Falcon. "This is his ship."

 

"I'm afraid you're mistaken," she replied. "That's my ship."

 

"Then how did you know who I was?" he sneered.

 

"Lucky guess?" Within her mind's eye, she could see Ben systematically taking out the stormtroopers. While Deo was distracted, and in the confusion of the storm, Ben slipped up the boarding ramp and out of sight.

 

"Who are you, girl? I won't ask again."

 

"Rey," she said. "You know, it's really rude to talk to people with a helmet on like that. I might be persuaded to tell you more if you took it off, so I can see your face."

 

"Why? You already know who I am, after all," Deo drawled.

 

"Perhaps I like the way you look." Rey was not skilled in the art of flirtation. That didn't mean she couldn't try. She did so now, lowering her lashes, tilting her head to one side as he had done. She likely looked absolutely ridiculous.

 

Maybe he didn't think so, because a moment later, he was removing his helmet, the helmet Rey had identified him with.

 

Rey assessed what she already knew. A muscular man around the height of Poe. That was where the resemblance ended. Deo's hair was strawberry blond, his eyes a burning blue. Handsome in the traditional way. There was nothing special about his face, but maybe that was to his advantage. It looked trustworthy, hiding the predator within.

 

He gave her a charming smile as the rain plastered his hair to his face. "I really must know where we've met."

 

"If I told you, you wouldn't believe me," Rey muttered. And to Deo, "Let's say I used to be a member of the First Order. I admired you from afar."

 

"Let's say I believe you." Which he didn't. It was too far-fetched. As far-fetched as, say, the First Order finding them over three years later. "If you admire me so much, why are you refusing to cooperate?"

 

"How am I not cooperating?" she replied. "You said this ship was someone's named Kylo Ren. I said it was mine."

 

"If you were really a member of the First Order, you would know who Kylo Ren is." Deo's smile grew. "But I suspect you're not as stupid as you look."

 

Well, he certainly wasn't holding back, now was he?

 

Rey raised her eyebrows, expression otherwise impassive.

 

"Where is Kylo Ren, girl?" Deo demanded.

 

She needed to stall for more time. Ben had taken care of all the stormtroopers inside the Falcon except for one. He placed them near the boarding ramp, and Rey could tell whoever it was, they were still alive.

 

"How about we play a game?" The rain was falling hard enough that she was nearly squinting. She had to raise her voice to be heard over the uproar. "You answer a question for me, and I'll answer one for you."

 

Deo smirked, his amusement slanting his eyes. "I don't play games. I get straight to the point." He lifted his hand and clenched his fingers in an imitation of a Force choke.

 

Rey watched him patiently.

 

The man's brows furrowed. He threw his hand out, stronger now. She knew what he had to be feeling: some type of shield all around her. She didn't mind waiting while he tossed his hand out, again and again, more and more furiously. He shrieked, his face splotchy with his anger.

 

"What. Are. You?!" he raged.

 

She could tell he wasn't used to rejection or failure. His behavior reminded her of Ben, though Ben hadn't lost his mind over something in quite a while.

 

"The same as you," she said. "I guess I'm just stronger."

 

Deo ignited his red lightsaber. He was getting straight to the point. Probably thought he could hack her through, and it'd be over with. Rey hated to disappoint him. She held out her right hand, which was closed around the hilt of her lightsaber. She ignited it, rain crackling over the white plasma.

 

"A Jedi?" he scoffed. "I didn't think there were any left." He raised his lightsaber strangely—high above his head. His body pulled into some sort of stance Rey had never seen. She thought it looked ridiculous, but he was staring so seriously. Probably some sort of swordsmanship she didn't know.

 

"I'm not a Jedi," she yelled over the rumbles of thunder. "But you really don't want to fight me." He wouldn't listen. Of course, he wouldn't. They never did.

 

"If you're not a Jedi, then what in hells are you?" he yelled back. He stalked toward her, his other hand held in front of him. Then he was close enough, and Rey deflected his first attack. It set the fight, and stormtroopers were shouting and running. Deo looked behind him—saw the shape of Ben dealing with his soldiers. His face changed into something almost feral, some fierce satisfaction.

 

Rey swung her lightsaber around, and Deo barely blocked it in time. He fell back, and Rey advanced, slamming her saber into his, over and over. Deo was stronger, but Rey was borrowing some of the Force from Ben. They were a team now—they could work together without having to know the other's thoughts, just knowing instinctively the needs and the wants. She utilized it, the strength fueling every attack.

 

"My quarrel is not with you!" Deo shouted. "End this fight, and I will show you mercy!"

 

She knew what he considered 'mercy.' "I'm good, thank you."

 

Deo somewhat jabbed with his saber. Rey threw her own saber up, again and again, parrying effortlessly. The blades collided and grinded on each other with sparks, putting Deo's face close to her own. She observed as he realized she wasn't breathless, wasn't tired at all. Were it not for the rain, he might have seen how she'd barely broken a sweat.

 

Those eyes suddenly widened. He swung his head around and found Ben standing behind him, his own lightsaber lit.

 

"You have a lot to answer to!" Deo snarled.

 

Rey pushed on her saber. He remembered their fight in time to stagger out of the way. Rey moved around him to be by Ben's side.

 

I have one of the stormtroopers unconscious so that we can question him after this.

 

It was his way of telling her Deo wasn't valuable for information. That he was useless to them, and evil, and could be taken off the game board. Which was a shame, Rey thought. After all, Deo didn't like playing games.

 

Why did she not care if Deo died? Because through Ben's memories, she knew Deo didn't give a damn for anyone but himself. He took what he wanted, raping, pillaging on smaller, less developed worlds. His only use was to be sent as a bully to deal with Snoke's clients, dolling out death whether it was needed or not. Whatever sent a message.

 

"Kylo Ren," Deo hissed. Rey could only figure out what he said by reading his lips. "It's been far too long. I never imagined these probes would amount to anything. Maybe we should give the First Order credit for their technology where it's due. Nearly four years is a long time, but there's a lot of the galaxy to cover."

 

"You've been looking for him since he left?" Rey asked.

 

"Everyone has," Deo said. "But don't you worry your pretty little head. I have no use for you. You'll be dead soon enough, and none of this will matter anymore."

 

He really had a lot of confidence for someone who had seen firsthand he couldn't lay a mark on her.

 

Rey looked at Ben.

 

Ben shrugged.

 

Rey extended her hand, and Deo flew into her grip, his lightsaber yanked out of his hand simultaneously. It fell uselessly to the sand as he dug and slapped at her hands, his eyes rolling back as he choked.

 

"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't end your life right here," Rey said.

 

He grinned through the steady suffocation. "The rumors are true, then," he gasped.

 

Her eyes narrowed. "Rumors?" she asked sharply.

 

Rey.

 

Right. They had a prisoner.

 

Do you want me to do it?

 

"Goodbye," she said. Deo's lightsaber shot into the air, and Rey deflected it with the Force, directed it into her own hand. She showed him the crimson plasma. His eyes were locked on it as she stabbed him in the stomach, running him all the way through. He made a small choking noise and fell over, his eyes turned sightlessly upward.

 

Rey and Ben stood next to one another, looking at Deo's body. Ben was assessing her thoughts—Rey was assessing her thoughts. Was she okay with this? It was one thing to say what their course of action was, it was another entirely to act on it.

 

She reflected on every piece of news she had from Deo, delivered to Snoke. The heinous things he'd done, and he'd had no problem whatsoever bragging about them to his friends. His fellow Knights. Deo was rotten to the core, whatever shred of light that might be buried inside of him locked deep out of reach. Not all of the Knights were this way. But Deo was the worst, the most fully submersed in darkness.

 

Are you all right?

 

Rey disengaged Deo's lightsaber before setting her own down and walking to the waves. She threw his lightsaber as hard as she could, the Force propelling it. It was eaten by the sea, never to be seen again.

 

I'm fine. You said we have a prisoner?

 

Yes. He'll be far easier to manipulate. He may not know anything about the higher-ups of the Order, but he would have the gist of their mission. Let's wake him up.

 

Luke appeared, hovering by her shoulder as Ben pushed through the sand to the Falcon.

 

You are upset that you are not upset? Luke said. Humans make so little sense to me at times.

Chapter Text

 

Two Weeks Later…

 

It was a very lovely day. Temperate with just a hint of a breeze. Not a cloud in sight, the sky a bright, cerulean blue.

 

Perfect for a battlefield.

 

One stormtrooper, two stormtroopers—three, four. They went sailing through the air with yelps of surprise and landed in a nearby trench, hard enough to knock them out. Rey took this opportunity to hunker down beside Finn. His expression went from bewildered to ecstatic.

 

"Rey! You're here! You're here!"

 

A stormtrooper crashed beside them and didn't move again.

 

"And so is he," Finn said. Rey knew he meant Ben, who was just behind her. "Where the hell have you guys been? We've been looking everywhere—!"

 

Rey stood. "Don't follow me, Finn."

 

"Why are you always telling me that?!" he called after her.

 

She fell into step with Ben. They crossed the battlefield without a care in the world, never mind the orbital bombing or the people fighting on land. A Walker had trashed half of the city that stood on the edge of this grassland. It was ancient looking and would never recover from such destruction.

 

Rey, we have company.

 

Where? Rey looked behind her. Oh, good grief. "Finn, I'm being very serious! You should not follow me!"

 

"I—we thought you were dead!" Finn took her hands. "Holy crap. I just saw how long your hair is."

 

"We are standing in the middle of a battlefield!" Rey reminded him. "I need to take care of this, and I need you not to get yourself killed! Please—promise me you'll evacuate everyone out of this area. It's going to get dangerous."

 

"More dangerous than this?" The words were half-sarcastic, half disbelieving.

 

Rey said nothing.

 

"Oh, okay, see, now you've got the serious face on." Finn shook his head. "We don't—" He stopped. Someone was talking to him on his headset. "Yes! I'm on it!" On it probably being the fallen ship he'd been tinkering with before.

 

"Finn." Rey put her hands on his shoulders. "Finn, look at me." She waited until he did. "I've got this."

 

Maybe he saw what she was trying to convey in her eyes. Maybe he'd realized they didn't have any time to argue because a fresh round of bombing was on its way. Either way, he pulled away in frustrated disgust and took off, shouting orders in his headset for everyone to clear out.

 

Rey rejoined Ben. They walked forward once more, long stalks of grass brushing against their thighs.

 

The First Order's army was massive, but they hadn't brought all of it to Venia, the last supporter of the New Republic. Venia was small and had nothing to fight back with. It was the members of the Resistance who had taken a stand against the Order and sought to protect this planet. Or, more importantly, to protect the lives on it.

 

A TIE bomber soared overhead. Rey and Ben raised their left hands in unison. The pilot slumped in his seat and the ship spiraled out of control. It hit the ground a few hundred feet away and fell apart. Pieces pinwheeled into the distance. The explosion was almost enough to knock them off their feet.

 

They moved systematically over the field. The bombers, they made short work of. The grasslands were spewing smoke left and right. The ground shook every now and again. Screams of the Resistance and First Order alike rent the air.

 

It was nothing to silence the troopers. Blaster energy bounced away from them. The beams could often be manipulated to turn on their user. They left the members of the Resistance alone. Only two tried to fight them, and a look from the duo was enough to send them running. And they hadn't even accessed a fraction of their power.

 

We may draw more enemies when this is all over. We're too powerful.

 

Powerful enough to fend off those enemies.

 

They reached the city, and it was here that they began to truly tap into the Force. Walkers were sturdy, difficult as all hells to take down. It usually took several pilots to upend one of them. Fortunately for Ben and Rey, they weren't just pilots.

 

Attack the joints.

 

Rey funneled their power to the where the legs connected to the cockpit. The Force vibrated as they asked it to do their will. Steel and titanium screeched as they peeled back. Rey's hand shook. Perspiration dampened her brow. The legs collapsed, the cockpit following after in a minor explosion.

 

Blaster fire echoed everywhere, not nearly as strong as it had been. Rey knew the Resistance would quickly overpower the stormtroopers. There wasn't enough of the First Order left to pose any problem. It made Rey grin savagely. They'd thought they had it in the bag. This was the result of the arrogance.

 

Rey faced the city. Its castle stood bastion to the buildings it had lost. It was surrounded by rubble and the moans of the dying. Innocent people had been trapped. A waste of so much life in the Order's determination to wipe out the New Republic and any who stood by it.

 

It's in there, Rey said. The reason we came here.

 

I know.

 

She won't let you melt back into the shadows.

 

She will if she does not know I'm here.

 

I'm not going to lie. Not to her. She deserves more. She deserves you.

 

The journey through the city was an unpleasant reminder of how bad things had gotten while time passed. Doctors and healers rushed to and fro, attending to the victims of the attack. Citizens gathered in throngs to lift heavy rubble, freeing those trapped beneath. The cobblestone under Rey's feet was cracked, the stones worn smooth.

 

How soon do you think it will be before they send reinforcements?

 

It will take long enough that these people should be able to escape.

 

They made it to the castle grounds. A pair of men stood in front of an iron wrought fence, their expressions stony. Rey was so used to having free access to anything that it took her a moment to realize they weren't going to let her through because they didn't know who she was. She didn't have time to waste—they needed to get inside the castle immediately.

 

She waved her hand. "You will let us through."

 

"We will let you through," they mumbled, working to get the fence open.

 

Ben was studying her as they trailed through the courtyard. She raised an eyebrow in question, but he only looked ahead again. They reached another set of guards. Ben was the one who waved his hand now. The castle enveloped them, the bright day vanishing into the shadows.

 

What little security the castle did have circled them with blasters. Ben sniffed disdainfully. As he did so, the weapons flew into the air and hovered like a warped child's mobile. The sound of steel reached Rey's ears as the men next pulled out actual swords. She could see why they had been protecting the castle. They'd never have made it out there.

 

A husky, familiar voice filled the room. "Let them go, gentlemen. That is my son."

 

The men fell back, expressions ranging from disbelief to curiosity. Rey's heart swelled, and it was with real happiness that she threw herself into the princess' arms. Leia's scent overcame her, faint like flowers. She rested her cheek against Rey's hair and soothed a hand down her back. It reminded Rey of the time they had comforted each other with the news of Han's passing.

 

"Oh, your hair has gotten so long." Leia pulled back and cupped Rey's cheeks with a smile. Her eyes crinkled at the corners. "Everyone thought you were dead. But I didn't." She turned to Ben and pointed at the ground. "Get over here."

 

Her son reluctantly came forward. As soon as he was within reach, Leia enfolded him in a hug. Ben's arms hung awkwardly at his sides. Leia stood on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek and then let go of him. She took Rey's hands in her own.

 

"You have to tell me everything," she said.

 

"I will. But first, I need you to give me your prisoner." Rey stared directly into her eyes.

 

Leia released her, stepping back. Her eyes narrowed, her face closing into something distrustful. Rey experienced an unexpected pang. There was more of his mother in him than Ben would ever admit. She'd looked just like him then.

 

"What prisoner?" the General asked. "We have several, though the Order hasn't realized it yet."

 

Rey didn't hesitate. "I believe his name is Armitage Hux."

Chapter Text

 

"Dress warmly," Leia had said. "Where we're going is even colder than Hoth."

 

Alone in the cockpit of the Falcon, Ben and Rey watched the approaching planet. It was as white as Crait had been, but continents were broken up by frozen water. That was what R2-D2 had chittered at them as everyone had fled Venia for safer locales. Rey hadn't given it too much thought until Ben had explained how cold, exactly, Hoth was. He'd never been there himself. He knew the stories from his mother and father.

 

This was where the majority of the Resistance was hidden. Arna III, nestled in a tiny system past the Outer Rim. Rey had to admire Leia's spunk. If the First Order could hide out in the Wilds, why not the Resistance?

 

Rey sighed and leaned back in the co-pilot's seat. Her fingers drummed on the armrests as she thought about what had led them here.

 


 

 

"Give us the information we want, and this won't hurt," Rey said to the stormtrooper Ben had left. She knelt in front of him, where he was propped against a wall. "I'm sure you've heard of Kylo Ren's techniques. His interrogations."

 

The trooper, already pale, turned a ghastly white. To his credit, he only looked more resolved after a painful swallow. His lips pressed together. He wasn't going to talk.

 

"There's no need to be loyal," Rey insisted. "I'll even leave you alive. All you have to do is tell me what I want to know. Can you do that?"

 

He shook his head.

 

She sighed. She had to try one more time. "Look. I admire your dedication to the Order. I do. But I've been on the other end of Kylo's methods of obtaining information. And I promise you, no matter what you've heard about it, it's ten times worse in actuality."

 

"Traitor!" the man roared. "He's a filthy traitor!"

 

You are wasting your time. He is brainwashed. FN is an abnormality.

 

Rey got to her feet. A moment later, Ben came into the man's line of sight. The trooper immediately began spewing more garbage, only to choke as an invisible hand squeezed around his neck. It seemed four years had been enough for the fear of Kylo Ren to fade away.

 

Ben's gaze was cold, distant. "You are going to answer my questions," he said. "And yes. This will hurt." It was a hint of Kylo Ren without the darkness shrouding him. Ben was a powerful Force user, and it had been a long time since Rey had seen him in action. Practicing together was different. She was never his target, his enemy.

 

The man's screams echoed through the Falcon. Rey waited to feel uncomfortable, but it never came. Instead she watched and assessed the information Ben was pulling from the stormtrooper. If she were honest with herself, maybe she did find it a little… well… kind of sexy… But it was only because she could see his profile, could see what he looked like as he worked.

 

In the four years since they'd left, the First Order had developed a Council, which was spearheaded by the Knights of Ren. The first few months after Snoke's demise had been awful. The Knights quarreled among themselves to be the top of the pack. One had won in the end, and the others weren't strong enough to defeat him. He was the Supreme Leader, with the Council directly under him.

 

The Order resumed their takeover of the galaxy. This involved hunting down every member of the New Republic and any of their supporters. The Resistance was assumed dead. For years, no one had seen hide nor hair of them. Until several months ago, when they'd appeared at several of the Order's takeovers.

 

General Hux had declared himself Supreme Leader once Kylo Ren had been missing for a month. For a time, no one contested his seat on the throne. That changed with the Knights of Ren, and last anyone knew about Hux, he'd been shipped off to the planet they kept their prison on. The trooper didn't know which planet.

 

There weren't many New Republic supporters left. Most of them were being finished with in the next two weeks. The trooper had friends in his fellow troopers who knew all about it, as they were assigned this mission. These friends didn't convey which systems, which planets, however.

 

They were going to need more information from a different source.

 

After that, they put the trooper to sleep and tossed him out of the Falcon. They needed to decide where to go next.

 

Rey? Luke asked.

 

"Yes?"

 

I do not think I will be leaving with you. As Rey grew a little upset, he continued. My home is here now. And the two of you are balanced enough to not need me.

 

"Luke, I'll always need you," she whispered.

 

He materialized as a star and floated over to her face. His shine grew bright, and Rey threw up an arm to protect her eyes. When she lowered it again, she jerked in surprise and staggered across the corridor, slamming into a wall. Luke wasn't a star. He wasn't a creature, either. He was a person.

 

He was Han.

 

What was this, one last way to annoy Ben?

 

The Luke Han held out his arms. Rey stayed pressed against the wall, her lips trembling. This was vastly unfair. Why was Luke doing this? What purpose did it serve?

 

The illusion smiled, and Rey couldn't look at it anymore, she had to stare at the floor.

 

Hands touched her shoulders. That did bring her gaze up, but the illusion had changed form once more. It was Luke Skywalker, and its blue eyes were filled with fondness.

 

Rey, I cannot hold you to say goodbye without the arms made to do them.

 

"So you had to choose these forms?" she choked out. "Why not be yourself?"

 

I have no self.

 

"That's not true, and you know it. If you concentrated, I know you could take the form of a human. One of your own making."

 

Rey… Luke sounded embarrassed, something Rey hadn't thought he was capable of.

 

"I mean it. Come on, then. If you want to hug me, then you have to do it as yourself." She was speaking to the wall, unable to bear gazing at Luke Skywalker again.

 

All right… it is safe to look…

 

Rey swung her head around, curiosity getting the better of her. Her heart gave a startled thump, and she felt sorry for the workout it was receiving today. She honestly hadn't expected the person standing before her.

 

Luke smiled. Honey brown hair hung around her face in soft waves. Her eyes were the color of lilacs. She was the same height as Rey, the same build. But she had fuller lips, and her face was shaped like a heart.

 

"I admire you, Rey," she said, her voice sweet, serene. "You are honest, and that is rare for your kind. So is your kind heart. You are such a good person. You will always be my friend."

 

Rey's eyes prickled with warmth.

 

"Do not be afraid." The Force knot put her arms around Rey and held her close. Her fingers stroked through her hair. "I will always be with you."

 

Tears were trickling slowly down Rey's face. "If you say you will always be in my heart, I may have to hurt you," she croaked.

 

"But I will be. I will be with you wherever you go." The girl drew away.

 

"What do I even call you now?" Rey sniffled, wiping at her face.

 

"Breeze."

 

"That's not a real name." Rey found the breath to laugh, though it was choked. She didn't know why she was getting so upset about this. She'd known they would part ways eventually. She just hadn't expected it to be this hard.

 

"It is not. But I like the wind when it is like that the best. It is peaceful. And I want you to remember that when you feel the breeze on your face. I want you to remember me, and I hope it brings you peace."

 

"Luk—Breeze—"

 

Goodbye, Rey. Breeze was a star. She zipped around Rey's head, dusting her with little balls of light. Then she was gone, streaking into the distance.

 

Ben touched her shoulder. She jumped, having forgotten he was there.

 

That was more than a little nauseating.

 

Rey knew she should feel the same. But as she was so prone to saying, she had very little friends. Breeze had touched her heart, and Rey wouldn't forget her soon.

 

Where should we go?

 

I'm not sure. You know more about the galaxy than I do.

 

Ben sighed and shoved his fingers into his hair. I have an idea. But it could be dangerous.

 

Rey gave him a look.

 

It's Coruscant. The First Hold has a tight grip on it. I'm sure it's only gotten worse.

 

Why there?

 

Any kind of information can be bought there. You just need to know the right price.

 

All right, well where before that, so we can stow the Falcon away?

 

Do you think my ship is where I left it?

 

Rey frowned in thought. You don't think the Order will recognize it?

 

I doubt it. It is an Order vessel.

 

They won't want to know the serial number or… or something like that, to verify it? Rey asked as she followed him to the cockpit.

 

It's Coruscant, he said, as if that explained everything.

 

"Right," she muttered. "Are we forgetting anything?"

 

"Lightsabers?"

 

Rey looked. "We've got them."

 

"Clothes?"

 

"They're all here, I think. Unless you left some outside—?"

 

"No. Then we're good to go." Ben slid a hand behind her head, tilting it up so he could kiss her forehead. "It will be all right. Are you forgetting that we're very powerful Force users?" He nipped at her ear to accompany the tease.

 

"Yes," she admitted. "Sometimes."

 

He laughed, a quick little thing. It soothed Rey's worries, and they both took their seats. Rey hit the buttons to raise the boarding ramp. They were leaving those troopers marooned on the island, and neither of them much cared. It was a better fate than death.

 

Goodbye, Breeze, Rey thought. The Falcon blasted into the air. The self-destruct Ben had fiddled with in the settings of the Knight's ship exploded behind them. Metal rained down, splashing into water, rolling over sand. Then there was only the blue sky to look at as they veered mostly straight upward.

 

Goodbye, Rey.

Chapter Text

 

Ben and Rey watched their ride soar away. They looked at each other, and then at the road before them.

 

Rey pressed her lips together.

 

The seconds ticked past.

 

She sighed and folded her arms.

 

Why not make it a little more obvious you're pissed at me?

 

It's been almost two weeks, two weeks, and we still haven't seen this piece of junk!

 

It is NOT a piece of junk!

 

Oh, yeah? Well, when we have to travel the entire galaxy in search of it, when we could just give up now and take an ordinary vessel to Coruscant—

 

We need that vessel!

 

Why? Why do we need it so badly?! Sentiment?

 

When do I do anything for sentimental value?

 

Rey huffed. You could just tell me.

 

You could just read my thoughts.

 

I am trying to respect your privacy!

 

Then stop questioning me and instead trust me.

 

The two simmered at one another, steam all but shooting out of their ears.

 

Rey pointed to the road that lie ahead. Holy ground.

 

We—

 

No! she shushed him. No! Holy! Ground!

 

He rolled his eyes. I heard him—

 

HOLY. GROUND.

 

It was Ben's turn to press his lips together.

 

Twenty miles on foot! We'll be here until evening! Rey threw her hands up in the air. All because of their precious holy ground! Who in their right mind would consider proper spaceships an intrusion of faith? They were fast, they were convenient, and they didn't leave so much as a trace.

 

We'd best start now, then.

 

Rey swiveled her head around to glare at him. Is this funny to you?

 

A little. He smirked. But only because you find it so irksome.

 

Since there was no dignified response to that, Rey took that as her leave to stomp down the road. Their goal, a very tall mountain in the distance that disappeared into the clouds, wasn't going to be reached on its own. Their boots needed to get walking.

 

Choobies, it was going to be a long day.

 


 

 

"Sir! Excuse me! Sir!"

 

The wagon Rey was chasing slowed to a halt. And it was an actual wagon. Wheels and everything. Some sort of furry creates pulling it along.

 

"And I thought Jakku was pretty much nowhere," she muttered.

 

A man who seemed to be more wrinkles of skin than anything peered out at her from beneath bushy white eyebrows. The horns of his species graced either side of his head. Dark spots covered light green flesh. His teeth were dull and flat like a human's.

 

"What do you want?"

 

"We need a ride to that mountain," Rey said. "Or as close as you can get us."

 

"I don't want no trouble."

 

"Trouble?" Rey followed the driver's gaze to her companion. Ben was scowling and had been for the whole exchange. She shook her head and returned her attention to the driver. "Sir, we're not trouble, I promise you. Please give us a ride?" She fastened on her biggest smile, or as big as exhaustion would allow.

 

But the man continued to be difficult. "That there is a hooligan, miss!" He spat to the side. "No respectable man wears his hair that long."

 

Ben advanced.

 

"Okay!" Rey put her arm over his chest to keep him back. She flailed her free hand at the man. "I really didn't want to have to do this, so I'm sorry." She put the Force behind her words. "You are going to give us a ride to the mountain, and you are not going to speak the entire time."

 

While he spewed verbatim, she gave a little push on Ben's chest, and he relented. They came to the end of the wagon and hopped in. There was nowhere to sit—just the bed of the wagon. Vegetables likely indigenous to this planet were in crates all around them. Ben and Rey wiggled into spots, swaying with the wagon as it resumed movement.

 

You could scowl less, she said. At least while we're doing something important. Like flagging a wagon down.

 

You should have done the mind trick first. Creates less of a hassle.

 

I was trying to be nice. No one said I can't be nice. Rey shrugged. As far as she was concerned, being gray said nothing against good manners.

 

Fine. Discover it for yourself then.

 

Fine.

 

Fine!

 

Rey tilted her head back to watch the leaves above her. Every tree on this planet was stuck in a perpetual autumn. The reds, oranges, and yellows were new to her, but she'd heard what the season was, so she knew what that meant. Things in transition to dying, the earth of the planet taking back what it had grown. But here, on Seilenca, that meant it would sit beautifully like this forever, poised in between.

 

The trunks of the trees were white with gray chunks of bark in places. They were spaced far apart, yet their branches stretched wide. The ground was a carpet of red and orange leaves. A very small path wound through the forest, the path they were on now. And above, through the holes in the leaves, a moon that was broken apart. It was in three big chunks, the rest strewn in pieces across the sky.

 

She was just ready to go home. They'd gone to Naboo to discover Ben's ship was missing. From there, it was a scavenger hunt to narrow down its location. It had been won in a bet to a man named Skoomer. Skoomer sold it to C'hren. Laboun conned it from C'hren. Sai stole it from Laboun, who stole it back and then sold it to Preshrendu. And Preshrendu… well, Preshrendu had sold it to a monk, who had hidden it here on Seilenca.

 

Of course, no one said anything if a monk flew an aircraft by the holy mountain, but Rey and Ben were forced to hoof it.

 

Either way, Rey was tuckered out. They were having a merry chase with the ship, but they had also never been truly alone together, for a long length of time. It led to bickering. It wasn't so bad. They got over their snits relatively quickly. And Rey knew once she was used to him, and he to her, the bickering would stop. In the meantime, it drained everything out of her, the mission, the bickering.

 

Ben knocked his boot against hers.

 

Rey sat up, jarred awake. What was happening? Had she dozed off? She must have. The sky was dark, and the wagon had slowed to a halt. Not to mention that mountain was a whole lot closer. Ben climbed over the side of the wagon and told the man not to go anywhere. The man continued to stare a little stupefied into the distance.

 

She climbed off the wagon the normal way. Her bones creaked wearily. They'd already been halfway there when they found the old man. Her body did not appreciate so much walking or being jammed between crates in an uncomfortable position she then fell asleep in. She stretched her arms before putting her hands on her hips.

 

The temple is this way, Ben said. We can't take a wagon. They did not make a road past this point. See it? It's mostly overgrown.

 

How much more walking do you think it is? Rey wished she could go back to sleep.

 

Not too long. Ben took a step forward—looked over his shoulder. He came close, grabbing Rey's hand and twining their fingers together. He pulled her along with him onto the darkened path. Rey knew he wouldn't hold her hand for long, but it did make her smile.

 


 

 

The ship was parked right in the middle of the grounds!

 

Rey could feel all the blood rushing to her head in a rush of inconvenienced rage.  These little…! And if only the people down in the village knew! They would lose their minds entirely! They may even come after them with pitchforks! Because why use a new tool when you can stay with the primitive ones!

 

"I am getting all kinds of different threads of anger from you," Ben told her. "Is your head going to explode? Should I worry?"

 

Stupid sarcasm.

 

Stupid scowl-y man and stupid sarcasm.

 

"We will take the ship," Ben went on. "Look, they're entirely hopeless. No security in the least. Yet watch them get angry when they come out in the morning and their ship is gone!"

 

And I thought I was the angry one.

 

Ben stared at his ship for one second longer and then turned to her. They were on the edge of the path, hiding behind a fallen tree log, scoping out their surroundings, planning their next move. Which was going to be climbing into that ship and leaving, because as Ben had said, there wasn't any sort of security in place.

 

Besides, even if there was, they could easily handle it.

 

Are you—?

 

Yes.

 

They made a break for it. There wasn't a single light on in that temple, candle or otherwise. As Rey buckled herself into the seat behind the pilot's, Ben cooed under his breath to the controls. She rolled her eyes only a little.

 

Next stop is Coruscant?

 

Yes.

 

Ben's vessel rose higher and higher. Rey looked at the autumn world below. Billions of planets in this galaxy, and some appeared so perfect. She was sad to leave them.

 

I'm worried about your mother.

 

I am, too.

 

I'm nervous.

 

Why?

 

I've never been to Coruscant. You make it sound… challenging.

 

It is an ecumenopolis. That means the entire planet is a city. Or moon, he added thoughtfully. Do you want to see a memory?

 

Rey almost asked to. She really wanted to know. But he was also making it to where she wanted to see it for the first time with her own eyes.

 

I don't think I have ever met anyone excited to see Coruscant.

 

You make it seem exciting!

 

Hold steady. We're about to hit lightspeed.

 

Stars blurred, rushed past. When they faded away, space revealed ships of every kind coming into and leaving Coruscant. The planet itself was a brown color. She could see all the lights even from here. There were so many of them.

 

It is pretty.

 

Yes. Pretty dangerous. But I've already come up with a plan. 

Chapter Text

 

The TIE silencer had a stealth field generator, which was what had kept it hidden on Naboo—until it was stolen somehow. Ben used it now, invisibly zipping in and out of traffic, never once running the risk of hitting someone. No one had any idea they were there. It was best that way. Not only did they not have to worry about alerting the First Order, but people did not generally respond well to seeing a starfighter.

 

Coruscant was so many words, but the one that pervaded most was "overwhelming."

 

Rey stared and stared. Seeing the city from space was one thing—up close she got a better sense of how big it was. It was bigger than even the city on the Unnamed Planet. And if one was looking down, one could see that it was comprised of countless levels, as though it had built on itself for so long no one remembered what the bottom looked like.

 

Believe me. You do not want to see the bottom.

 

She had the words ready to reply when she saw it: the glass building.

 

"That's where that party was, where I saw your mom and dad!" she said thoughtlessly. "I have been here before."

 

…What are you talking about, Rey?

 

She bit her lip. She'd never went over what memories she had seen with Ben. Of course, her statement had been a little strange. "Um… when you were younger… you attended a party here."

 

I know that. I meant— He searched for words.

 

"I was with you…" she explained. "No one could see me. Only you. I saw you in your cab on the way in. We went to the party together."

 

Ben was so, so quiet.

 

"I didn't mean to make you uncomfor—"

 

I'm not. I—feel strange. I feel like I know what you're talking about, but I can't recall you there. And I want to.

 

Why?

 

He kept his attention on the controls. Because then things would feel less… alone.

 

Ben didn't open up like this very often. She didn't want to ruin it by saying or thinking the wrong thing. She was working out how to reply when he asked, Show me?

 

Are you sure? she replied uncertainly.

 

Why wouldn't I be?

 

It's not—it… She didn't know. Not for the first time, she wished Breeze was here, so Breeze could explain. She was so much better at it than Rey. You may not… like seeing yourself, like seeing me, and not… not being able to remember…

 

Damn, she was useless at psychology.

 

I disagree.

 

Of course, he did.

 

All right, but I reserve the right to say, "I told you so," if this blows up in our faces. When do you want to see? After this? They were in the middle of traffic, after all.

 

Despite her words, Rey's heart skipped a little. She'd spent nearly four years in Ben's mind, seeing everything there was to see that was pertinent to the cause. Ben recalled none of it, as Breeze had promised. He wasn't meant to. That didn't make it less… she didn't know. She didn't know how to describe that emotion inside of her. She had shared his soul, and she was the only one who had walked away with the recollection of it.

 

Yes. It's jarring.

 

Was he getting the nostalgia from being in Coruscant with her, and was unable to access what should have been memories?

 

Yes.

 

Rey leaned forward in her seat to put her arms around his shoulders. She had to rest her cheek against the back of his seat to do so. One of his hands briefly touched hers, and she could feel his emotions rise to the surface, the ones of love. She let him go and lifted so she was once again able to peer out the windshield.

 

So what's this plan you mentioned?

 

Ben lowered the craft, curving away from traffic. There's a shopping district here. We'll be able to find what we need.

 

And what's that?

 

You'll see.

 

Rey twitched her lips to the side in skepticism. It lasted only a moment. She was realizing Ben was using more and more contractions, and she was trying to figure out when that had started. But the days were such a blur now.

 

Don't you think now is about the time I get to be let in on the plan?

 

Not a word.

 

She narrowed her eyes. Well, where are going to land this thing, then?

 

Someplace.

 

I hate you.

 

No, you don't.

 

Urgh.

 

She hated it when he was right.

 


 

 

I'm pretty sure this isn't a parking space.

 

Ben activated the generator. It is now.

 

Rey looked around. They were indeed in some sort of shopping district—of the immensely shady kind. She didn't find this much of a problem. Niima Outpost was sketchy, and she'd handled that on a daily basis. She knew how to take care of herself, even without the Force.

 

It was nighttime, so the lights were neon and bright on the shop signs and storefronts. Some sort of bass thudded nearby, likely from a pub. The temperature was warm, the air humid. A man of some race Rey didn't recognize tottered about, with two droids to hold him up between them. The droids were bare minimum. Had their encasings been sold?

 

All right, look at me.

 

Ready for the plan, Rey obeyed. She found herself rocking onto the balls of her feet. They were at last in Coruscant. It was time to get things accomplished!

 

I've taken us here because there's someone I know that I can get information from. Valuable information. Ben looked intently into her eyes. But I can't take you with me.

 

Rey frowned, her elation dying. What? Why not?

 

Ben sighed. He won't tell me what I need to know if you are there.

 

Why not? Rey reiterated. You're going to use mind tricks on him anyway, right?

 

I am not. Ben saw her puzzled expression, put a hand on her shoulder, and guided her over to a quiet alley. It was just in time for a group of partygoers to stumble past, laughing hysterically amongst themselves.

 

Rey resisted the urge to ask another why not.

 

Mind tricks don't work on him.

 

Then what in hells am I going to do?

 

There's other information I need you to retrieve. Ben shoved his fingers into his hair. But first, we need… costumes. I don't know how much information the First Order has on us, but I wouldn't put it past them to recognize you. And they'll definitely recognize me.

 

Given how many stormtroopers were patrolling the city, Rey found this reasonable.

 

We split up for half an hour. We meet back here. Then I will go over the next part. Find something you could question people in… without anyone taking notice.

 

And what is that supposed to mean?

 

Ben cupped her face in his large hands and dropped a kiss to her forehead. It means you look like a goody-goody. Even if you use mind tricks, someone is bound to notice.

 

So I'm suspicious looking? Rey didn't sulk often. She indulged herself now.

 

Very much.

 

This was such a blow to the ego. After growing up amongst ruffians and vagrants, Rey would have thought she had a more badass mien.

 

Half an hour, Ben reminded her before taking off.

 

Rey almost asked how she would buy things without money.

 

And then…

 

Right. Mind tricks.

 

It was almost funny how years ago on Naboo, she'd been so upset with Ben for making her use mind tricks on a shopkeeper. Now she didn't so much as bat an eyelash.

 


 

 

Ben was waiting for her as she made her way back to their meeting spot. It had been more like forty minutes. Rey hadn't been able to decide what she wanted. There had surprisingly been so many good options.

 

She frowned. His "costume" consisted of pulling his hair off his face and sharper clothes, the kind that said he had money and wasn't afraid to use it. He looked handsome, but it made her feel silly. People only knew Kylo Ren from a mask—very few people knew what his actual face looked like. It gave him an advantage on the costume front.

 

Ben's eyes ran over her getup. I knew you would go for a bounty hunter.

 

Yes, well, that's not surprising when you can see my thoughts. It wouldn't have been exactly difficult to look in on her while she was shopping. Why didn't you tell me not to?

 

Because this works for you. He flashed a rare grin. There's a casino several blocks from here. It's… dodgy, but a reputable source of information. You don't even have to slick palms with the Force at your disposal. Just don't be too obvious about it.

 

Rey folded her arms, wine colored leather creaking. She was decked out in it, and her boots came up to her knees. A half cape she didn't understand the function of hung from one shoulder. In her blaster holster she'd stuck her lightsaber. The ensemble was completed with gloves and a head piece. A cloth masked the lower half of her face.

 

What am I looking for?

 

Find out what the Order knows about us. Find out anything you can that happened while we were away.

 

Your source won't tell you?

 

My window with him will be brief, and I need to ask more pointed questions.

 

Rey wasn't sure how she felt about this. It sounded more like Ben could do everything on his own, and he was just giving Rey busywork. It rubbed her the wrong way. But they couldn't be at each other's sides constantly, and it was information they needed. The stormtrooper's intel in the vergence was limited. He knew who Kylo Ren was and had no idea about anything concerning Rey, and his knowledge about events only pertained to what happened at the base.

 

I will tell you when I'm done, and we can meet back here again. All right?

 

"All right," she grumbled.

 

He kissed her cheek and left again.

 

Rey slowly began walking in the direction of the decrepit casino. Under her breath, she practiced all sorts of voices. If she looked innocent, then it only followed that her voice sounded innocent, as well. Sadly, she wasn't very good at this. Nothing sounded right, and in the end, she started mocking Ben's voice, remembering how he'd sounded in his helmet. It was deep and exaggerated, and she was having some fun.

 

"My window with him will be brief, and I need to ask more pointed questions," she mocked. So self-important!

 

Someone cleared their throat.

 

Rey whirled and almost died on the spot from embarrassment.

 

Ben held up an object. …I forgot to give you your voice modulator.

 

Had he heard everything? Was it possible he hadn't?

 

He fastened the modulator to her head piece, under the cloth to be near her mouth. His movements were slow and pointed, and he never once let his gaze drift from hers. She stood there in increasing discomfort, beyond mortified.

 

Ben finished toying with the device and leaned close to her ear.

 

"I do not sound like that," he whispered.

 

She swallowed. Her face was ten shades of crimson.

 

He smirked and kissed her cheek again, lingering. You should really work on your imitations.

 

As he turned to go, Rey grabbed his hand. Ben, wait. She had to do this now, while she had the courage.

 

She closed her eyes and found the memory he'd wanted. The cab ride, the things said, being dropped off at the glass building, making his appearance with his parents, taking her aside, the conversation in the alcove.

 

"I don't want to go without seeing you… I need you…"

 

Ben inhaled sharply. The memories had been fast, but clear.

 

Ben, I—

 

He lifted her half-mask and kissed her, his other hand snagging around her waist to pull her closer. She made a soft noise that he devoured with his mouth, his tongue prying her lips open. She let herself be lost in the sensations, her hands gripping his arms.

 

We'll talk about it more later. I have to go. He drew his lips away, brushed them along her eyebrow. …Thank you.

 

She watched him leave.

 

After a moment, she took a breath to steady herself and then headed to the casino.

 


 

 

The place was seedy enough that Rey made a face. It stank like choobies, was extremely dark, and the carpet was sticky. The clientele ranged from sketchy to extra sketchy. Rey was glad she wore a mask. It wouldn't be good if people saw how disgusted she was. There were denizens in here worse than Unkar Plutt, and Plutt was often covered in his own drool, among other things.

 

Where to start?

 

Someone yelled in outrage, and a table went flying, chips and money raining down. Rey was proud of herself when she didn't flinch. Appearing jumpy wouldn't help her cause. Three very angry gentlemen were clobbering the hells out of each other. A beefy alien broke them up and made them leave.

 

Well, at least there were some standards to this place.

 

"Hey there, miss," a customer slurred. He grabbed her hand. "Want to give me a—" He cut off with a screech when she broke two of his fingers and thrusted his hand back at him. It was deep enough in the casino that security hadn't noticed, so she drifted off before they could.

 

If she were being honest with herself—and she always tried to be—she was shaking just a little bit. Plutt had been very clear that the moment he got her alone, he would do whatever he wanted to her. Every day, she dreaded stepping up to his hovel to get her portions. He breathed heavily, nasally, and let his eyes rake over every inch of her. It was like being raped by his gaze.

 

It was ten times worse here.

 

Finally she made herself shake off the feelings and focus on the goal. She could freak out about it later, if it came to that. This was more important. Despite this, she avoided the unsavory people, resolving to only question them if she had to.

 

The casino was several floors. She drifted through foul-smelling smoke, the exchange of chips audible even over the low music playing. By the time she'd made it to floor beneath this one, she was more in command of her posture. She radiated confidence, she knew. She didn't try to do anything else. She didn't have enough prowess to pull off sexy.

 

Or maybe she did. Some eyes tracked her.

 

It wasn't until she'd found her way to the lowest floor that she found her prey.

 

She knew immediately that he would be mostly immune to tricks. He was far too cunning. She also knew that maybe if she got his guard lowered first, she'd be able to pick through his head.

 

The man's company departed from the table they were at. A hologram figure cursed and blinked out. That left her new friend, and he ran his eyes over her appreciatively as she stepped up to him. His hair was dark brown, his eyes a shade of gold. A small scar crossed through an eyebrow, down to his eyelid, barely visible. From a distance, he'd looked human. Up close, she could see two horns protruding out of his hair, black.

 

She sat across from him.

 

"Well, now, what's a bounty hunter want with me?" he asked. He had a charming way about him—if you didn't see in his eyes that he had no qualms with killing someone. "I'll tell you now, I have a steep price." He crossed one leg over the other and leaned back in his seat.

 

Rey hadn't tried the modulator yet, and had to cover being startled when her voice came out deep, electronic. "I'm looking for someone," she said.

 

"Yes, that's evident."

 

Rey flicked her gaze over the room. No one was so much as looking in their direction. No one cared.

 

"The only question is who?" the man grinned.

 

Rey decided to call him Scar. "Have you heard the name Rey?"

 

"Who hasn't?" Scar grabbed his drink, ice clinking as he took a sip.

 

Her heart squeezed into a vise.

 

"The rumors are true, then."

 

Damn. She'd hoped Deo only meant within the First Order.

 

"Now if you're looking for information on her, no one knows that." Scar didn't seem to have a problem outlining what he didn't know. "But I do have something about the man she disappeared with." Scar's grin grew into the realm of feral.

 

He had something on Ben?

 

"It'll cost you, of course."

 

"How much?" Rey didn't have the first clue about being a bounty hunter. Getting straight to the point seemed like something one might do.

 

"Oh, lass." Scar set his glass down and straightened the cufflinks on his sleeves. "I haven't dealt with currency when it comes to a woman in ages."

 

Was he suggesting what she thought he—?

 

Scar smiled deviously, an eyebrow cocked.

 

Yes. He most definitely was.

 

Disgusting.

 

Rey reached up to turn off the modulator. She wasn't sure she could use the Force through it. She lowered her hand to her lap, her fingers spread, and spoke softly. "You are going to tell me everything I need to know." If he knew as much as he let on, this venture wouldn't be a complete waste. Half the customers here could barely see past their liquor, or whatever some of them were drinking.

 

Scar laughed. "What do you think you are, some sort of Jedi?"

 

Rey tried again, her voice firmer. "You are going to tell me everything I need to know."

 

His face darkened. "My race is immune to such tricks. Funny, I didn't think there were any Jedi left in the galaxy."

 

"People keep saying that," she agreed. This was unfortunate. She was going to have to be rough. "That doesn't make it true." Not that she had any idea, but she couldn't let him know who she really was.

 

She stood, and Scar rose with her. He reached for her. She grabbed him and pinned him on the table with a headlock. He grunted, struggling.

 

"You're going to tell me everything I need to know," she hissed, grateful that people continued to pay them no mind. Probably didn't want the trouble. "Or this is going to get very, very ugly." And she found she meant it.

 

"I'm not afraid of a scrawny lass like you," Scar spat.

 

Rey grabbed onto his balls and squeezed.

 

Scar screamed bloody murder. Rey tossed him around, until his back was on the card table. She kept one hand on the family jewels, her other fingers snagging into his tie and yanking. He choked, his face red and sweating.

 

"Bitch," he gasped. Predictably, a weapon appeared in his hand. Rey sent it flying with barely a thought, and any others on his person. A total of three spiraled out of range. "You're her, aren't you? The woman who disappeared with Kylo Ren."

 

"You are going to tell me everything you know," Rey promised. "If you know of Kylo Ren, you know he can torture information out of a person's head. Guess what? I know the same trick, and you're not immune to that one."

 

"Fuck off!" Scar retorted. "I'll never tell you anything!"

 

Rey concentrated, staring into his eyes. She'd never done this before. She remembered how Ben had done it to the stormtrooper, remembered how she herself had deflected Ben's attack back on himself. It was all about exerting their will.

 

Scar screamed.

 

This method was so much more effective.

 

She relented enough to let him go and take a step back. She'd already gained a nugget of information. She just needed the rest. "Are you going to cooperate?"

 

He made a run for it.

 

She sighed.

 

The Force grabbed him and yanked him back to Rey. They were drawing a little attention now, so she carried him over to a dark corner dedicated to storage. Everyone went back to what they were doing. Maybe they thought their eyes were deceiving them. Most of the galaxy thought the Force was a myth or legend.

 

"Please, please, I'll tell you anything!" Scar begged, the man reduced to desperation and tears. Rey kept him pinned against the wall while she decided what to do next.

 

He couldn't be swayed by the Force, and he knew who she was. She had no doubt in her mind that the second she let him go, he'd tell the First Order. The First Order, which was crawling all over this damned city.

 

She knew what Ben would do. Ben would kill him.

 

But maybe there was another way…

 

"Do you want to live?" she asked him.

 

"Y-Yes!"

 

"Then I want you to listen very carefully." Rey gripped onto the man's chin. "You are going to let me manipulate your mind."

 

"I-I-I-I don't even know how!" he sobbed.

 

"You'll figure it out," she flatly assured him. "Or I'll have to take it out of you the hard way. And you saw what the hard way was like."

 

Scar whimpered and closed his eyes.

 

"Great start," she said. "Now open up your mind."

 


 

 

Rey emerged into the cleaner air of the city. She had liked the role she'd played in the casino maybe too much. She knew it was nothing more than a power trip. But at least Scar was still alive. Alive, and mind tricked into thinking he never saw her. She'd buried that deep into his psyche.

 

I take it you're done?

 

Yes. I'm headed to the meeting place. Do you still need time?

 

No. I'm here already. I was waiting for you to finish. I didn't want to interrupt.

 

She turned her modulator back on. Who knew who they would encounter in the city?

 

Ben was leaning against the alley wall. He lifted his eyebrows when he saw her.

 

We need to get going. Quickly. He took her hand and pulled her behind him. Her mind flashed to Jakku, when she'd yelled at Finn to stop dragging her around like that. With Ben, she found she didn't mind it as much.

 

Why are we hurrying?

 

I sold the ship.

 

What?! she exclaimed.

 

We'll find passage out of here. But we need to do it fast.

 

Ben, what aren't you telling me?

 

Do you remember the fact that this ship passed from hand to hand?

 

Yes…?

 

Well, there was a reason for that.

 

Aha.

 

That ship is a prototype. And I believe I told you a long time ago that its controls are set to my specifications.

 

Right…

 

He waited for her mind to catch up.

 

Her eyes widened. Those con artists were foisting the ship off to one another, on the premise that it worked properly. They didn't talk about how they couldn't get it to operate fully because they didn't know the control system. And now Ben had done the same to his informant?

 

Yes. And when he realizes I fooled him, it will be difficult to leave Coruscant.

 

Who is he?

 

A powerful man.

 

And you got the information we needed?

 

Yes. And I saw that you did.

 

Yeah…

 

How did it feel, Rey?

 

You know how it felt, you were in my head.

 

I want you to tell me in your own words.

 

I liked it too much, she admitted, trying not to squirm.

 

But you kept control. That's the important part. Savoring the power trips, yet keeping them in check.

 

Rey didn't reply. Her face was hot again.

 

I knew when I asked you to be by my side, I knew it wasn't a mistake. And every day, I see that more and more. He gave her a dark smile over his shoulder.

 

How far are we away from real transit? She couldn't meet his eyes. She was still processing everything that had happened. But… she… she liked that he liked it…

 

Not too far. We'll leave here, get the Falcon on Naboo, and then go to our next destination.

 

And what destination is that?

 

Fierce, savage joy emitted from his end of the bond. My mother is alive—and she has something we desperately need.

 

For once, she couldn't take it anymore. She had to know. She reached into his thoughts, and what she found certainly caught her attention.

 

General Hux? But our information from the trooper said he was in prison. For years. He wouldn't know what we needed to know.

 

He has been. But he has an admirer. Someone who fed him information. Someone who visited him frequently.

 

Admirer? she echoed.

 

One of the Knights of Ren.

Chapter Text

 

The Present

Resistance Base on Arna III

 

It was so cold, Rey felt certain that at any moment she would turn into a block of ice. And she wasn't even outside. She was deep underground, with insulated walls, and was dressed in enough clothes to outfit a small family. Yet still her teeth chattered, hard enough to threaten her tongue's safety.

 

Are you okay? Ben couldn't quite hide his amusement, though she appreciated the thought.

 

I'm fine. Okay, so… I promised your mother I would spend time catching her up. I need to waddle that way.

 

Ben tensed.

 

What?

 

Nothing.

 

It's not nothing. Say it.

 

I said it's nothing.

 

Ben—

 

It's. Nothing.

 

Rey huffed around her impatience. She knew exactly what it was. The more she persisted, the stronger his feelings on the topic grew. He was uneasy about the fact that she was going to be around his mother for an extended period of time.

 

You don't have to be there, so why—? She cut herself off as more of his thoughts circulated. The truth was, he wished he could talk to his mother, too. He just didn't know how to. And while it was tempting to coax him into visiting the General, all of Rey's energy was dedicated to not dying from the cold.

 

I'll be back.

 

I'll be here.

 

Rey kissed his cheek—he turned his head and caught her lips. She closed her eyes and leaned into him. He nipped playfully at her mouth and nudged her away.

 

She left the room and entered the busy hallways of this underground base. Places of the walls were old, with patches of ice showing through. The rest was new, shiny, doing its best to keep the cold out and the warmth in. Lifts carried people to and fro. Other people bustled around her, all with expressions intent on their task.

 

Despite the cold, this place was amazing. The base was completely invisible from the surface. There was a small opening in the mountains, which one had to know was there, as the constant blizzards were whiteouts and greatly hindered sight. (Or so she was told.) Rey could only draw the conclusion that the General must have known about, or at least heard of, this place beforehand.

 

There was enough tech underground to make Rey wonder where it all had come from. Leia had mentioned a wealthy investor, so likely it was that. Rey had seen the hangar when they'd landed the Falcon, and it was loaded with ships, half of them X-wings. That had been about an hour ago. They'd been taken on a brief tour, and no one had really paid them much mind. This wasn't surprising. There weren't a lot of people who had known Ben and Rey before they left.

 

"Oh! Rey!"

 

Rey blinked and looked around. Rose was headed in her direction, her eyes bright.

 

"Hey," Rey replied with a smile. "How are you—? Oof!" Her arms were full of the technician. Rey readily hugged her back. When she'd initially left Jakku, it had taken her a little while to adjust to being touched. But it was also something she'd craved, and she never had a problem reciprocating affection with a friend.

 

"The General mentioned you were coming here! It's so good to see you!"

 

Rey caught sight of the ring on Rose's finger and raised her eyebrows. Rose, already in mid-ramble, paused to follow Rey's line of vision. She blushed prettily, her smile so bright it made Rey's strengthen, too.

 

"When?" Rey asked.

 

"About six months ago," Rose said. "We're in danger everyday… We decided we didn't want to waste anymore time, you know?"

 

"That's so sweet," Rey replied. And it was. "I'm really happy for you."

 

"Thanks!" Rose beamed. "Hey, you look lost. Are you looking for someone, something? It took me weeks to figure out my way around here. It's a maze."

 

"The General," Rey said. "I have an… appointment with her."

 

"Oh, sure! Right this way!" Rose started forward, and Rey fell into step with her. "Finn was telling me about what the two of you did on the battlefield." Her voice had grown hushed. "No one can believe it, especially the ones who didn't see it. Is it really true? Did you really dismantle the First Order's taskforce like it was nothing?"

 

Rey considered what to say. She hadn't anticipated discussing this with anyone but the General, and now she wasn't sure why. Of course, people would be interested. "It wasn't nothing," she said.

 

"You're being modest, aren't you?"

 

"Maybe," Rey said around her chattering teeth.

 

"You'll get used to the cold, too," Rose assured her. "Just remember to always have your skin covered if you go aboveground. We had a real problem with frostbite when we first came here. It can hit easily in about five minutes if you're not careful. Everyone has to go outside in pairs, and we have to be super diligent about making sure there's no red spots on anyone's faces."

 

"Frostbite?" Rey queried. It was a term she hadn't encountered yet.

 

"Um, it's like… Well…" Rose rooted around for a definition. "The easiest way to explain it to you is like this: the lower the temperature is, the higher you have a chance of your exposed skin getting frostbite. And frostbite is like… Do you know how burns work?"

 

Rey nodded. The duo ducked under a low pipe sticking out of the ceiling.

 

"With first degree, second, third?"

 

Another nod.

 

"Frostbite works in the same way. It's basically destroying the tissue in varying degrees. And if it gets bad enough, it'll turn black and… Well, you get the idea."

 

"Frostbite very bad," Rey said, and Rose giggled. "It sounds painful."

 

"It is! Just be careful. Watch your nose, your ears, your fingers, your cheeks, those are the most common places."

 

"Got it."

 

Rose grinned. "I missed having you around, Rey."

 

"Awh," Rey gushed before she could help herself. "I missed you, too, Rose."

 

Another hug was exchanged.

 

Women.

 

Mind your own business, Rey tossed back.

 

Ben was notably quiet, and the bond tightened enough that his thoughts weren't immediately accessible. Rey didn't take offense at this. She would have done the same thing.

 

"So what's it like being married?" Rey asked.

 

"Oh, honestly, I wish I could say it's been great, but it's really just been the same. We're so busy!" Rose looked around in a way that made it obvious she didn't want to be overheard. Then she lowered her voice. "But the sex is amazing."

 

Rey laughed. She hadn't had nearly enough girl talk in her lifetime, and she was enjoying it immensely.

 

"W-Well… how are… you two?" Rose was so nervous to ask the question that she couldn't even look at Rey.

 

"We're great," Rey said with another easy smile. "And don't worry: the sex is amazing."

 

Rose and Rey grinned.

 

Rose stopped at a door. "Okay, the General is in here." She grabbed Rey's hands tightly. "Please find me later! Finn wants to see you, too!"

 

"I will," Rey promised.

 

Rose hurried off with a wave.

 

In a considerably better mood, Rey knocked on the metal door.

 

"Come in," the General called gruffly.

 

Rey opened the door and poked her head around it.

 

Leia was bent over a desk. When no one said anything, she looked up. Her work face melted away at the sight of Rey. "Come in, come in!"

 

Rey obeyed, shutting the door behind her. She noticed it was considerably warmer in here and spotted some portable heaters placed around the room. It wasn't enough to make her want to vacate her clothing, but it made the cold more bearable.

 

"I'm glad you got here safely. Did you get settled in?"

 

"Mostly," Rey replied.

 

Leia left the desk to come over to Rey. They embraced. On Venia, it had been brief. Here, Rey sank into the other woman's arms, clinging. Leia touched the back of her head, and her other hand rubbed over Rey's back. Rey rested her cheek on Leia's shoulder and closed her eyes.

 

She'd never had a mother. But like she'd told her on Naboo, she saw Leia as one.

 

Finally Rey drew away, and if she sniffled a little, the General didn't comment on it. Instead she drew her over to the only bed in the room, and they sat on the edge of it. Aside from the desk and bed, along with a mirror on the wall, there wasn't any other furniture in here. Rey understood why it was sparse. The Resistance was constantly on the move and might have to evacuate at any time.

 

"Your hair is so long," Leia said. "I know I said that the last time I saw you, but it's still surprising." She chuckled. "It looks good."

 

"Thanks," Rey replied. "I'm still getting used to it myself."

 

Leia raised her eyebrows in question.

 

Rey smiled ruefully. "How much time do you have to listen? It's a long story."

 

The princess placed her hands on her knees. "I cleared my schedule for the evening. No one is supposed to bother us unless it's an emergency." She hesitated. "…Is Ben—is he all right?" Pain tightened her eyes. "I can't ask him myself. And he closes himself off from the world."

 

"He's great," Rey assured her. It was getting warm enough that she shed her outer layers. It still left her in three shirts and a jacket. "He… He wants to talk to you himself, he just doesn't know how."

 

The other woman sighed. "We were so close once. He began to pull away early on, and I was so wrapped up in the New Republic, I didn't…" She trailed off and then shook her head. "Well, you know the rest."

 

Rey took her hand.

 

Leia smiled and placed her other hand on top of Rey's. "I'm just glad to see the two of you again. I knew you were alive, but I was so worried. You could have let me know you were all right, you know."

 

"I would have, if I could have," Rey said. "Something happened that we didn't… anticipate."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"Well…" Rey took a breath. Let it out. "Let's get comfortable, shall we?"

 

In the end, comfortable meant sitting on the floor while Leia played with her hair. Rey might have been able to sit on the bed, but she was six inches taller than the General, and it would have made it difficult for her to reach her hair properly. Rey didn't mind so much, though. She had a pillow under her rear to block the cold from the ground.

 

Why was Leia playing with her hair? Because she'd always wanted a daughter someday, and with Rey's hair being so long, she wanted to pull it into some sort of style. Apparently, this was what mothers and daughters did.

 

It made Rey feel pretty warm inside. She could sit with her knees drawn up to her chest, her arms wrapped around her shins, and talk while the soothing motions of the comb was tugged through her hair.

 

Rey didn't tell the General everything. Plans of "vigilante justice" and/or eventual "galactic domination" were between her and Ben. Partly because no one needed to know that, and partly because they hadn't really discussed in entirety what was going to happen. For now, they were moving piece by piece, eliminating threats. Such as the Knights of Ren. Once that was taken care of, they would decide their next move.

 

What she could tell the General was the rest of it: finding balance with their bond. She had to backtrack to the Unnamed Planet to talk about Breeze, and went from there, sticking to the highlights and not the personal bits. She ended with parting with Breeze and taking off to figure out what had happened to the galaxy while they were asleep.

 

When she finished, silence took the room. The only sound to fill it were Leia's fingers working through Rey's hair.

 

"And what are the two of you going to do now that you're back?" Leia asked after several minutes had passed. No doubt collecting her thoughts.

 

"We're still deciding," Rey lied. "We heard about the Knights of Ren taking over the First Order, so we're… investigating, I guess. Then we got intel on Coruscant that led us here."

 

"The same intel that must have told you about the ex-general?"

 

"Yes," Rey confirmed. "Although I don't know who it was. Ben wouldn't let me go with him."

 

"It must have been Lando," Leia muttered. "I heard he was in Coruscant. But what's more troubling is how much information he was fed. It means we have a leak."

 

"Lando?" Rey questioned.

 

"Calrissian. A close friend of ours, but just as much of a conman as Han was." She tsked. "The last I really heard from him was when the scandal came out about my real father. That was years ago."

 

"Well, Ben… conned him actually. We had to leave Coruscant fast."

 

"Just like his father," the General muttered.

 

"I think so, too. Did you know Han was teaching him that stuff?"

 

"I knew Han took Ben with him on the Falcon," Leia confirmed. "However, I was under the impression they weren't doing anything dangerous. I should have known better."

 

Rey giggled a little.

 

"You were right to leave Coruscant quickly. Lando is not someone you want to cross." The General hummed. "I'm really concerned about that leak now."

 

"Do you want me to go?"

 

"No, no. Do you know what information he gave Ben?"

 

"He told him about how you have General Hux, and how Hux had an informant from the Order. He told him where the Resistance would be next. That was it. He didn't know anything else. Not even how you got General Hux."

 

"That was a conversation I was planning on having with the two of you," Leia said. "It could be worse. It's not Lando I'm concerned about, though I'm surprised he told Ben anything given what happened with his father…" She trailed off. "Let's not worry about that right now. Here, I'm almost done with your hair."

 

Rey chewed her lip, lost in thought.

 

She badly wanted to discuss something with Leia. She was only uncertain of how it would be received. But surely not so terribly…?

 

"General?" Rey asked, her voice quavering a little.

 

"Please call me Leia," the other woman insisted. "Really. I mean it."

 

"Okay," Rey said a little shyly. "I… I can't really talk about… this with Ben. But—I do need to talk about it, and I don't know… I don't know who else I could…" She cleared her throat. This was more difficult than she had thought it would be.

 

Leia was quiet, waiting patiently.

 

Rey let out a puff of breath. "I had a vision," she said.

 

"All right."

 

"And in this vision…" Rey wet her lips. "Ben and I had a child, a little girl."

 

Leia's fingers stilled in her hair.

 

Rey turned her head to see her for the first time in nearly an hour. She knew her eyes were wide and vulnerable because that was exactly how she felt. "He didn't take it well. He never… he said he never wanted to be a father. And—and I understand that. And I believe him. But in the vision, he was so…" Rey resumed looking forward. "He was a great father. And visions don't necessarily mean anything, I just…"

 

She just? What was she trying to say?

 

"…I wanted… I wanted you to know… I thought maybe—you'd be happy, or—"

 

"I am happy." The words were a little choked. There was a moment of silence. When Leia spoke again, she had her voice under control. "I'm very happy. I want that for the two of you. And… ah, hells, I'll say it. I never thought I'd get to be a grandmother. The thought that maybe I will be…"

 

Rey smiled to herself. She was glad she had told her.

 

"I have a lot to thank you for, Rey. For my son especially. If not for you…" She sighed. "He would be lost."

 

"I'm glad you pushed me to save him," Rey whispered.

 

Leia kissed the top of her head and then patted her shoulders. "I'm done. Go look in the mirror."

 

"Okay." Not knowing what to expect, but cheerful nonetheless, Rey climbed to her feet. Her limbs protested, and her foot was asleep. The tingles were uncomfortable as she made her way across the room to see her reflection.

 

Uh oh.

 

"You don't have to keep it," Leia said from behind her. "I just wanted to know what it would look like."

 

It did look pretty. It did.

 

That wasn't the problem.

 

When Ben saw this…

 

"I saw you wear your hair like this in his memories," Rey said.

 

"I did for a long time," Leia replied. "Do you like it?"

 

Rey touched her gloved hands to the braided buns on each side of her head, over her ears. She liked it, yes. Would Ben? Not a chance.

 

"Yes," Rey said. Damn. Well, she couldn't undo it now. Not when Leia had bonded with her over it. She'd figure it out later, probably pull it out before she saw Ben again.

 

Rey turned to the general. "May I ask you something?"

 

"Sure," Leia replied, blinking in curiosity. "Do you want to take the braids out? I'll understand."

 

Ah, double-damn. That wasn't what she had been about to ask, but now she was going to have to carry the hairstyle at least for a day. Leia's happiness weighed more than Ben's discomfort in that moment.

 

"No, I love the braids." Rey came back over to her. "Are you… Are you okay with—… Ben and I being together?"

 

Leia laughed in surprise. "Of course. Why wouldn't I be?"

 

"I don't know." Rey lowered her eyes.

 

Leia sighed fondly and took Rey's hands in her own. How her hands weren't cubes of ice, Rey had no idea. "You have my full-hearted approval." She squeezed Rey's hands. "I couldn't be happier about it."

 

"Okay." Rey smiled shyly again. "Thanks." She wondered how full-hearted her approval would be once her plans with Ben unraveled. She'd cross that road when she came to it.

 

"Don't mention it." Leia released her. "I wish I could get you in to see Hux sooner, but it's a bit of an ordeal. You'll see him tomorrow, first thing."

 

"Great." Rey was halfway across the room when she turned again. "Leia… I want you to have a family again. I'd like to give that to you."

 

And like Leia had pretended she hadn't seen Rey's tears earlier, Rey now extended the same courtesy. She gave one last smile and headed out of the room.

 

She was relatively certain she could find her way back. She even managed to get halfway there before she ran into another familiar face.

 

"Rey!"

 

"Oh! Poe!" Rey swallowed as she came to a stop.

 

"I heard you were here. I almost didn't believe it." Poe's eyes took in her hair buns, assessing. He flashed his usual grin. "You were with the General, huh?"

 

"Maybe," Rey chuckled.

 

"You look good."

 

Rey hesitated.

 

"I didn't get to see what happened at Venia. Are the stories true?"

 

"Maybe," she said again.

 

She felt… awkward. She didn't know why. They hadn't parted well, and it had been years. But Poe's brown eyes were filled with his usual roguish good humor and confidence, and his curls were still tousled around his head. He had on civilian clothes, bundled up just like the rest of them.

 

"About what happened—"

 

"I'm sorry I was such an ass—"

 

They blinked at each other as they spoke at once, and then laughed. The sound broke the tension.

 

"It's okay," Rey said good-naturedly.

 

"Look, it was good to see you. I'll have to catch up with you later, I need to meet with my team. Don't freeze to death, okay?"

 

"I'll try. I can't make any promises."

 

They waved and parted ways.

 

Rey wondered who else she would bump into on the way back to her room.

 

It turned out to be Ben. They almost crashed into each other coming around a corner. Had he been searching for her with the bond?

 

She looked at him. He looked at her. His eyes migrated to her hair.

 

She waited for his head to explode.

 

Keep it, he said after a few more moments fraught with tension.

 

You don't hate it?

 

I feel as though I should. But I don't.

 

Well. That was good. Right?

 

Did you find anything out about Hux?

 

She said we can go see him in the morning. What were you looking for?

 

You.

 

Oh?

 

You seemed… I don't know what you seemed. Upset, I suppose. And you had the walls up. I was coming to see if you were okay.

 

I am. Your mother and I had a heart to heart.

 

Ah, he said, like that explained everything. Perhaps it did.

 

Well, now what?

 

Now we go back to our room.

 

And?

 

We practice handling a power trip.

 

Rey swallowed. What does that mean?

 

You know exactly what it means.

 

We don't have anyone to—

 

This place is full of people.

 

Innocent people.

 

Do you really think every person on this base is innocent?

 

No, but how would we tell the difference?

 

There are ways. Trust me. Now follow me.

 

Rey watched his back as he took off. She wasn't sure how she felt. She didn't want to torture anyone for no reason at all. Or beat them up. Or cause them unwarranted pain in general.

 

He sighed and showed her his thoughts, his intentions.

 

Her breath caught.

 

Oh.

 

Why are we doing this?

 

Because I found it immensely arousing watching you on Coruscant. His eyes glittered at her. And you're half a step away from sliding into darkness if you don't learn control.

 

I had control! she protested, even as her body flushed.

 

Barely.

 

Damn, but she hated it when he was right.

 

It wasn't even going to be that big of a deal. Find someone susceptible to mind tricks and manipulate them. It didn't require anyone getting hurt. Yet he wanted to watch her do this. He'd said because he found it attractive, but it was so small a thing…

 

Fine, but that means I get to watch you interrogate Hux.

 

Ben narrowed his eyes. He stepped close until he was in her space again, looking down at her. Her pulse thudded at her throat.

 

You like that?

 

M-Maybe…

 

He pulled her against him and brought his lips to her ear. She could hear his quickened breathing, could feel the outline of his arousal against her stomach.

 

Which part do you like?

 

She couldn't believe they were having this discussion. She couldn't believe she was humoring him!

 

I… It was difficult to think like this. I like watching you… I like the way you look…

 

Tell me the rest.

 

No. She couldn't.

 

Tell. Me.

 

I like the way—… Rey clenched her eyes shut. She was afraid, afraid to say it to him.

 

Tell me! His hand squeezed over her hip.

 

She had been so cold, so cold she couldn't stand it, but now she was on fire. She almost resented him for it.

 

I like the way—I like the way you make them scream.

 

Ben's mouth crashed onto hers. He pushed her against the wall, his body hiding hers from view. His kisses were rough, heated. His teeth sank into her lips. She did her best to keep up with him, her hands fisted in his coat.

 

Ben—

 

He broke away. He was breathing hard.

 

Don't forget.

 

Forget what? she asked in a daze.

 

That half of us is darkness. We toe the line. Nothing more.

 

She nodded quickly. It wasn't like she was telling Ben to go interrogate people. She just kind of enjoyed it when he did. Damn, what in hells was wrong with her?

 

Nothing is wrong with you. Nothing. I love you. He kissed her forehead. It's okay, Rey. I won't let you fall. I promise.

 

O-Okay.

 

Do you believe me? He looked into her eyes.

 

"Yes," she whispered.

 

We're balanced. And these things were already inside of us when we found that balance. That's why I said we toe the line. Do you trust me?

 

"Yes."

 

You need to practice more, or it will catch up with you and spiral out of control. That's how the darkness works. He gathered himself, actively slowing his breathing. Pulled himself from the threshold of temptation. We'll wait. You're right. It's better that way.

 

For?

 

Hux.

 

Rey smiled. Now that, she could do.

Chapter Text

 

"You came to me on your own." Leia set her tablet down, shifting figures around. She was seated at her desk. She wouldn't lift her eyes.

 

Ben tried not to fidget. He hadn't been alone with his mother in years. Rey had been at his side each time he'd encountered her. Not that he minded. He preferred it really. But he couldn't sleep, and he was restless, and it was his mother…

 

He blamed the light inside of him. Before, he would have said it made him weak. Now he would say that it had its downsides. Either way, he couldn't ignore it. The darkness wasn't there to submerse him, to make him pretend he didn't love her.

 

After a few minutes of silence, Leia finally glanced at him. She sighed, and a small smile touched the corner of her mouth. Ben remembered how she would play with his hair before he went to sleep at night, soothing him into slumber. She wouldn't leave his side until then. He barely saw her, saw either of his parents, but before she went out to parties or meetings, she did at least that much.

 

"I don't know what you want me to say, Ben."

 

"I don't want you to say anything," he replied.

 

"Then why are you here? On Naboo—"

 

"Because I—" He frowned and lowered his eyes.

 

He didn't know why.

 

"I'm sorry," he found himself saying.

 

He heard her chair move over the floor. A moment later, her footsteps shuffled until she was right in front of him. Her hands cupped his face, and his eyes burned, and he closed them because he didn't want her to see. He was still so weak. He wondered if that would ever change. But Rey was slowly teaching him that emotions weren't bad. That they meant something—that they meant he was alive, not dead inside.

 

"I know," Leia said. "I know you are."

 

His lips trembled. His nose burned. He blinked fast and turned his face away.

 

"I'm not…" He trailed off. Frustration was building at his inadequacy. He'd never opened up easily, not even to his own mother. "When you were on the bridge… I didn't—I didn't shoot. I couldn't."

 

Her hands slipped away. "I thought you had. I almost died."

 

Agony tore at him anew. "Someone else shot. If I had known they were going to, I would have… stopped it. I would have frozen it. I wouldn't have let you be hurt." He looked her in the eyes, uncaring of the desperation he knew was in his gaze, his voice.

 

She placed her hands against his chest. She was so tiny, his mother. Once, he had been the tiny one. He had fit in her arms, on her lap. And she was strong, fierce. Everyone took her seriously, no one doubted her. How many times had he been on the other end of that stern glare? How many times had she called out to him, telling him to stay out of trouble? He was haunted by the decisions he had made, the actions he had taken. His mother was alone now, and it was his fault.

 

"Ben," she said softly. "You are my son. You are a part of me. I still remember carrying you inside of me." Her smile was rueful. "I love you. I will always love you."

 

They hadn't been able to talk like this on Naboo. Ben had still been unfamiliar with Rey's light inside of him, had been unwilling to face anyone from his past. He'd done it to make Rey happy. It had been good seeing his mother, but he hadn't been ready. He wasn't even sure if he was ready now.

 

"Thank you for telling me," Leia said. Then she put her arms around him and rested her cheek against his chest. Every other time she'd hugged him, he had stood awkwardly. Now he tentatively wrapped his arms around her in turn.

 

His voice came out in a hoarse whisper. "I… I love you, too, Mom."

 


 

 

Rey's eyes slipped open. It took her a moment to orient herself. Her thoughts were still tangled with Ben's. She had to breathe and put herself back in her own mind. She sat up in bed, looking around, already knowing Ben was gone. The "dream" must be happening right now, then.

 

She was freezing. She tugged her boots on, shoved her arms into her coat. She'd pulled it off to take a nap. She wondered what time it was. Would Finn be awake?

 

The hallways weren't as busy as before, but they weren't empty, either. Rey sniffed, still shaking sleep away. She hated naps. It left her feeling so drained. This one had caught her by surprise, and she'd surrendered to it. Maybe it was a good thing, though. Ben had gone to his mother, and that was more important.

 

"Excuse me?" Rey reached out to a passing technician. Her voice was still thick with sleep. "Do you know—do you know who Finn is?" The Resistance was much bigger now. It was entirely possible not everyone was familiar with every single member.

 

"Yeah. He's a few hallways over, just keep going right, you'll get there eventually."

 

"Thanks."

 

If Ben was occupied with Leia, then Rey would seek out Finn. She had missed him terribly, so what better time to catch up?

 

The hallways were a little more difficult to maneuver when one was drowsy. Rey peered around, trying to shake the grogginess off. She eventually did, and when she made it around the third hallway, she could hear voices.

 

"Well, tell him I'll be there soon!"

 

Bweeeep whooo.

 

"I will be!"

 

Whooommmm.

 

"BB-8, I swear—Rey!"

 

"Finn!"

 

They ran at each other, knocking the breath out of one another as they collided and embraced tightly. Rey had seen him on the battlefield, but that hadn't been a proper place for a reunion. She clung onto her best friend, her eyes shining with tears. Then she pulled away, sniffling around a laugh.

 

"It's so good to see you!" she said. "See you when I'm not dealing with the First Order, I mean."

 

"Rey, I'm just so glad you're alive. I know I said it then. But I can't say it enough." Finn held her by her shoulders. "Are you going to tell me what happened?"

 

"We were training on this planet that was a vergence in the Force. It didn't follow the laws of space-time, I guess, because when we got back, four years had passed." Rey may have told Leia the truth, but that didn't mean she wanted everyone else to know, not even Finn.

 

Oh, but how would she explain her long hair?

 

"Okay," Finn said slowly. "I'm going to pretend I understood half of that."

 

Good, he wasn't giving it a second thought.

 

"But at least you're here now! We need your help now more than ever!"

 

Rey had been a little afraid of this. "The Resistance has really gotten so big," she said.

 

BB-8 rolled into her legs.

 

She grinned and knelt in front of him. "Hey, there, BB-8."

 

He whistled merrily.

 

"I missed you."

 

A series of beeps and clicks.

 

"You missed me, too? I would hug you if I could."

 

Beeeeeeeep.

 

Rey laughed and put her arms around the spherical droid. Then she rose, and BB-8 rolled away, whistling all the while. Finn muttered gloomily.

 

"You were fighting with BB-8 when I got here. What about?"

 

"Nothing. Poe's just being really demanding right now. We have a lot going on."

 

"Oh, so… so you're on his team, then?"

 

"Yeah, I'm a pilot." Finn grinned proudly. "Have been for a while. One of the best."

 

"That's great. I saw Rose. She said you two were married!"

 

"Oh, that…" Finn's grin grew a little shy. It was an expression she hadn't seen on him before. "Yeah, we got married about six months ago."

 

"That's really great," Rey said again. "You two are good together." She experienced a strange pang. After a moment, she was able to identify it as sadness. No one would ever tell Rey that Ben was good for her. No one would ever approve. She didn't need their approval at all, it just…

 

Nothing in her life would ever be normal again.

 

"You think so?" Finn fished.

 

Rey smiled. "I know so."

 

Rey?

 

She withdrew inwardly. Ben?

 

Where are you?

 

I'm with Finn.

 

No response.

 

That about figured.

 

"I keep seeing you do that," Finn said.

 

"See me do what?" Rey tilted her head.

 

"Your face gets all weird." Finn mimicked what he must have thought she looked like. "Like this. And you go super still. Then you relax again."

 

"Oh, um…" Rey chuckled nervously. She wasn't sure what she should tell him. But surely a smidgen of the truth was harmless? "Didn't you see me do that when we were together before?"

 

"Uh huh. It was weird then, and it's weird now."

 

"Ben was talking to me," she said.

 

"Like… telepathically?"

 

"Yeah, um… so I'm not keeping you from Poe?" Rey shoved her gloved hands into her coat pockets. Everyone hated the cold here, but she had it worse. She'd grown up in a very hot, very dry desert, and she now regretted every wish she'd ever had that she could experience the cold just once.

 

"He can wait just a minute."

 

"Or I could walk with you?" Rey offered.

 

"Yeah, okay," Finn said agreeably.

 

They made it an entire hallway without talking. It was highly unusual. Finn was a chatterbox. Maybe he just felt strange being around her after so many years? The thought made her sad again. She loved Finn. He was the first friend she'd ever had.

 

"Speaking of Poe…" Finn began.

 

Oh, no.

 

"Kylo—" He saw her look. "…Ben really did a number on him."

 

"Uh huh," she agreed. This was not what she wanted to talk about.

 

"You didn't even try to stop him."

 

"They were going to fight eventually," Rey said. "It was better it happened when Ben wouldn't use the Force on him. Or a lightsaber." Really, it could have been much worse. Ben could have killed Poe. He would have, if it wasn't for Rey.

 

"But—"

 

"Finn?"

 

"Yeah, Rey?"

 

"Is this really what you want to talk about after four years?"

 

"No, I guess not," Finn muttered. "So is… Ben any different?"

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"Is he going to help us fight the First Order now?"

 

All the awkward topics, rolled into one package.

 

"Are you?" Finn pressed.

 

"We're going to fight the First Order," Rey said. Hopefully that would be enough.

 

It was. Finn gave a whoop of delight.

 

"But keep that to yourself for now, okay?" Rey stressed.

 

"Why?"

 

"The First Order doesn't know we're here," she said. "And… it needs to stay that way." They came to a stop in a corridor outside the hangar. "Please just take my word for it?"

 

"Yeah, sure, okay…"

 

"It was good seeing you."

 

Finn gave her one last hug, which she returned. She smiled as he waved and disappeared into the hangar.

 

That was touching.

 

I didn't realize it would be so hard.

 

He didn't need to ask what she meant. He already knew.

 

Are you hungry?

 

So hungry.

 

I figured out where the cafeteria is.

 

You're going in there? Rey asked, surprised. Ben desired to be seen by as few people as possible.

 

I'm hungry.

 

Fair enough.

 

I'll meet you there. Show me where it is?

 

Rey mused to herself as she made her way to the cafeteria. Her hands were warm enough to take off her gloves, so she tended to her hair, which she knew was likely standing up. It gave her fingers something to do while she tried to figure out how she felt about what had happened earlier that day. When Ben had told her he was going to teach her to toe the line.

 

Oftentimes, Ben's darkness was buried, fueling the balance between them. It rarely rose to the surface in obvious ways. So he was right, in that regard. She had absolutely zero practice with handling it. And she did need to learn. It wasn't like it was ever going to go away. Trying to master control over it to some degree was better than letting it run amok and tipping her over.

 

Four years ago, she would have readily said that she would never be tempted to go completely over to the dark side. Even when she'd bargained with Ben, back before they'd completed their bond, some part of her had known she could prevail in the face of his darkness. It was different now. That darkness was a part of her and had begun to show itself like the creeping, insidious thing that it was.

 

She remembered what it was like being on the other end of Ben's interrogations. Yet now she enjoyed his methods on others? It didn't bother her. Should it have? Before it would have. Was questioning this futile, creating more trouble than it was worth? It seemed like a waste to mourn the loss of her innocence when it wasn't going to change how she felt presently.

 

Ben would help her get it under control when it occurred. She trusted him.

 

The smell of food reached her as she hit the cafeteria. Ben was propped against a wall, arms folded, looking imposing as usual. When Rey saw him, the rest of her worries melted away.

 

Waiting for me?

 

He nodded.

 

What are the chances this food is really awful?