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Tactical Surrender

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            Kylo Ren feels her on the gentle breeze that sifts through his hair, as her fingers once did, while he waits on the crystal cliffs above Hanna City. With his face upturned to the approach of the rebel ship, he tastes her in air infused with the salt of the rolling Silver Sea, fresh and briny like her skin after sparring. He keeps a tight grip on their connection, refusing to let her flood his mind, but he doesn’t need the bond to know the shuttle bears her down to him.


            He had not known whether she would come. When they spoke of peace talks, he had only asked to broker an agreement with his mother, and she had only said that she would let his mother know. Part of him had hoped that Rey would join, a selfish part, a foolish part. He told himself that there was no reason for her to be party to negotiations: the overinvolvement of Jedi in politics and war had caused the downfall of both the Jedi and the Galactic Republic. Yet as surely as the shuttle alights before him, kicking up a glittering cloud of quartz dust, she is here.

            Thankfully, he is only allowed a paralyzing breathless moment to contemplate whether seeing her in person will be worse than through the bond. It should be simpler. She can’t help but bare her emotions when they speak across light-years; when she came to him, he felt her grief, her loneliness, her belief in the sincerity of her apology, interrupted by crackling flares of anger whenever he exposed her hypocrisy. He had not understood any of it. If she truly regretted her deception, why not tell him of it before circumstances forced her hand? Why embark upon the mission in the first place? She made her bed, as she unmade his. As she unmade him.

            Those thoughts evaporate as soon as the ramp lowers. Two infantrymen emerge first, taking up positions in front of the shuttle. Then Rey, yes, but beside her— no. Kylo hasn’t seen his mother in a decade, but the woman who emerges from the shuttle cannot be her. Her hair, still piled in an Alderaanian mourning braid after all these years, is more gray-white than brown. Deep wrinkles crease the corners of her eyes, her forehead, and she moves slowly, with one hand gripping a walking stick. Her cheeks had remained full and rosy well into her forties, but now her skin seems to hang listlessly from her bones. The youth of her companion — Rey is slim and strong like a lakeside reed — only accentuates her frailty. Rey had been truthful when she informed him of his mother’s condition, but that is only half the story.

            Leia Organa isn’t ill. She’s dying.

            This revelation isn’t enough to bring him to his knees, but it checks his yearning anger at Rey’s presence, somewhat. He motions for his own party to stay put and strides toward the approaching rebels, crystal shards crunching under his boots. When he draws near enough, he says, in a low voice, “Mother.”

            Leia looks up at him, the intelligent spark in her eyes undiminished by time even though her body falters. He sees her draw a breath. When they last stood this close, he would have been little more than an awkward, gangling, long-limbed youth. But he had taken some pains with his appearance for this meeting, and there will be no confusing the clean-shaven, broad-shouldered man he is with the boy he was.

            “Ben,” she replies, equally quiet.

            There is so much loss in her voice, so much sorrow, but always that undercurrent of strength, and conviction. He will not allow it to move him. He tells her, “That isn’t my name.”

            “I won’t call you ‘Supreme Leader.’”

            “Then don’t. It’s not my title anymore.”

            “Since when?”

            “I’m now Grand Imperator,” he says, although the moment the words leave his mouth he can’t help but feel foolish, like a child wearing his father’s too-large jacket. Even so, he does not falter. “Of the New Galactic Imperium. But you can call me ‘Imperator Ren.’”

            His mother seems unruffled by this pronouncement. “It’s a bit of a mouthful,” she says, and although she likely doesn’t mean it to, it stings. Everything is a judgment with her. “Hux took the First Order with him, then.”

            “It died. And so did the name.”

            “It’s a fancy way to say ‘empire,’” she muses. “Imperium.”

            “We are not the Empire,” he insists. “Or the First Order.”

            Leia leans on her walking stick. “That’s funny,” she says. “You all look the same to me.”

            Kylo scoffs. Getting nowhere with his mother, he finally allows himself to glance at Rey. He had felt her eyes, honey-brown in some light but nearly gray-green now, on him throughout this exchange. She, too, has rendered herself more presentable than she had appeared over their bond, with her hair brushed and pulled back from her face, her clothes unsoaked by what he assumed was rainwater. But he had liked the look of her drenched and snarling. It seemed oddly truthful. Now, at his mother’s elbow, she has adopted her usual habit: the arm wraps, the gauzy crosspiece over her torso, the leather belt. On her face she wears a carefully-studied mask of neutrality, but some emotion shines in her eyes, although he doesn’t dare guess at what. Still, she says nothing. His mother must have bid her be a good soldier, and keep silent.

            He tears his gaze from her, unable to look for too long. She’s like the sun, bright and blinding. No one ever talks about the Light’s destructive power, of fire and lightning, yet he sees it in Rey, all the time.

            “Why is she here?” he demands.

            Rey opens her mouth for what would no doubt be a heated reply, but his mother quiets her with a mere gesture. She straightens then, and if she hadn’t needed to rely on that stick, Kylo imagines she would cross her arms. “Rey is here for my protection.” She looks him over, all tempered steel. “You can’t blame me for that.”

            “I can’t,” he agrees, and that’s the end of it. Neither of them says a word about Han Solo. There is no need. They lapse into silence, and allow the moment to pass between them, without moving, without speaking.

            Then he swallows, and Leia Organa raises her head, prepared to do the work that needs doing.

            “Well, then, Imperator,” she says, and although she’s all business now, there’s a wry hint to the line of her mouth. “We have much to discuss.”

            “General,” says Kylo Ren, by way of agreement. Because it seems like the courteous thing to do, he offers his mother his arm, a gesture of support, acknowledging her infirmity without comment.

            It must be the right call. She folds her free arm through his, and, for the first time in a decade, they walk together.

            There is more to the summit talks than Kylo Ren imagined. He does not like to consider himself inexperienced in matters of war and leadership, but he had hoped they might be able to simply sign a ceasefire and head back to the front.

            As it turns out, that notion is one born of naïveté. His mother had reached out in advance to the family of the late Mon Mothma and quietly secured their stay in her dacha outside of Hanna City. It is a modest vacation home for a former Chancellor of the New Republic, although immodest by any other standard: there are enough bedchambers to host both parties with minimal doubling up, and a dining room large enough to accommodate negotiations. Servant droids prepare food and attend to other needs, but otherwise talks continue in private, with no fanfare. The fewer who know of their presence here, the better.

            Leia Organa’s retinue includes Larma D’Acy, one of the few more seasoned Resistance commanders remaining, Poe Dameron, and the traitor, FN-2187, in addition to Rey and the guards she brought along. It’s an unusual assortment, although Kylo sees the logic in most of her choices. Dameron is clearly being groomed for command, which has cooled his naturally hot head, although only to a degree. He huffs and shoots glares in Kylo’s direction occasionally — his thoughts are odious and obvious. Then Rey, ostensibly for protection; D’Acy, for experience. FN-2187 he cannot make sense of, but his mother must have her reasons there as well.

            Kylo supposes his own party must seem just as strange to her. Hux had taken many of the high-ranking First Order true believers with him when he defected, leaving him with aged ex-Imperials who thought very little of Brendol Hux’s son and young officers who feared Kylo Ren’s notorious retribution too much to defect. The ex-Imperials, he knows, are opportunists who think he can be used to advance their agenda if correctly plied, while the young officers dare not speak a word against him. But this is what he must work with, so he brings a handful from each camp, a scribe to write up the agreement, and two of his Knights. For protection.

            Rey seems to take her own protection mandate to heart. She spends most of the hours-long meetings standing behind the Resistance’s side of the table, arms folded, as his two Knights stand behind him. She is oddly muted, and does not voice opinions, although he knows from experience that she must have more than a few. Her face… He tries not to let himself linger on her face, which seems mostly closed, always faultless. She has such an enchanting, expressive face, but during the talks it gives away nothing.

            Or perhaps there is nothing to give. He dares not probe her feelings for fear of opening himself to her in turn, for fear of what he might find, or might not find. Would it be worse, he wonders idly, to learn that she does or does not love him? She had said that everything they experienced together was real, yet how can that be so when the foundation was deception? But the way she moved toward him instinctively when he would slip into bed to rouse her — surely that cannot be faked? The soft words she had spoken to him, surely those were true?

            Unwilling to ponder the answers to these questions, he avoids her, at mealtimes, after hours. From what he does witness, it seems that her brilliance is diminished, that she is spiritless and drowsy, like a sleepwalker. But he may just be seeing what he wants to see. He may be fooling himself once again.

            Negotiations take two full days. Two days of confinement to that dining room, which quickly grows hot and stuffy. It’s a miracle that talks almost fail only twice. The first time, his people argue vehemently against Resistance use of the shipyards on Kuat and Corellia, fearing that the rebels would only seek to overthrow their still-fragile New Imperium once their military capabilities increase. Kylo silences these objections by pointing out that the Resistance still has more capable pilots than ships, and that they will be of no aid if they have no craft to fly. He further asserts, without revealing their family tie, that Leia Organa may be a radical and a terrorist, but she is good for her word, and her history bears that out. Across the table, he sees her give him a small nod. He feels pride. And he hates it.

            The second stone is cast by the Resistance. Dameron stridently insists that a more representative form of government be established once the threat of Hux is dealt with, which riles the ex-Imperials on Kylo’s side of the table. Surprisingly, it is his mother who talks him down, not to decry his ideals, but to point out that the landscape of galactic politics may well shift during that time, and they will need to reconvene anyway to draw up a new constitution. Dameron agrees to this, begrudgingly, when language is inserted into the treaty to guarantee the Resistance a seat at that table. Now it is Kylo who must approve of his mother’s moderation; compromise is not a word that he associates with her. He wonders whether, in the twilight of her life, she has begun to think as so many do of what she will leave behind as a legacy.

            “And one last matter,” says Leia Organa, as talks draw to a close on the second day. “We will need to designate a liaison who will communicate with the Fir— pardon me, with the Imperium. A complete merger of our forces will be impractical.”

            “I agree,” says Kylo. His eyes immediately fix on Rey, and he says, “It cannot be her.”

            Rey scowls at him, but does not speak. Leia says, “I wasn’t going to suggest Rey. She has other duties, as you know.”


            Leia nods down the table. “Finn.”

            “Wait,” says FN. “Me?”

            “No one in the Resistance knows the First Order better.”

            “I guess that’s true, but—”

            Clever. Why hadn’t he seen it before? Kylo weighs what he knows of FN-2187: he had overcome Stormtrooper conditioning, he had successfully infiltrated Starkiller Base and the Supremacy, and he is, for whatever reason, one of Rey’s closest compatriots. Kylo has personal gripes with the man, and a part of him wants to reject the notion to be contrary, but bringing Hux to heel is more imperative, and FN-2187 may be a valuable asset. He has to start thinking that way. He has to start paying attention.

            So he says, “I accept this proposal.”

            All faces turn toward him.

            He adds, “If FN-2187 can look past our history.”

            “You mean the part where you nearly killed me?” FN asks. “Because I’m not going to forget that anytime soon.”

            “You’re still alive,” Kylo points out.

            “I’ve got the scars to—”

            “Finn,” General Organa interrupts, “I wouldn’t submit your name if I didn’t believe you were the best fit for this position. You’re free to withdraw it.”

            FN looks across the table at Kylo, then at Poe, who shrugs and puts a hand on his shoulder — interesting — and then up at Rey, who Kylo is thrilled to see gives him the slightest of encouraging nods.

            “All right,” he says at last. “Fine. I’ll do it. But for the Resistance, not for him.”

            “Don’t put that last part down,” Leia tells the scribe, who doesn’t.

            Concentration doesn’t come as easily to him as it once did, not where matters that don’t capture his attention are concerned. Perhaps that’s why his review of the final language of the treaty has proceeded so slowly. It’s not that he is uninterested in it, or unaware of its vast importance, but he cannot bring himself to give it the scrutiny it deserves when he has spent the last two days in congress with his advisors and the Resistance delegates poring over every last detail. Retreading all those steps feels redundant now. He is not nearly as devoted to the examination of words that multiple parties have already debated to death as he had been to, say, mapping the constellations of Rey’s freckles.

            He is relieved, then, by the knock on the door to his room. A break in his studies is more than welcome. He is still in day clothes, so his lightsaber is on hand should he need it, although an ambush is unlikely. One of his Knights is posted at the front of the dacha, standing guard, but there have been no disruptions; no one knows that they are here.

            When he opens the door, he finds Rey standing there, clutching a bundle of wine-red fabric to her chest. Kylo immediately recognizes his cape from the gala, the one he’d given her to cover herself. His keen eye spies a place where the fabric puckers a little, as if uneven edges had been sewn together to fix a hole or a tear.

            This is the last thing he expected, and because he had closed himself off from her he had not sensed her approach. At first, he can only stare. As can she.

            “Oh,” he says at last, his mouth dry. “Rey.”

            “This is yours,” she says, before he can close the door on her. She presents the bundle to him. “I’ve mended it as best I could. It’s a fine cape. I thought you might want it back.”

            He holds out his arms, and she gently sets the fabric down in them, carefully avoiding any direct contact. That rankles. After her days of pretense, is he now so repulsive to her that she cannot even stand to touch him?

            She begins, “The clothes you got for me—”

            “I’ve burned them,” he snaps.

            She flinches. Her eyes flicker downward momentarily before she recovers that stubborn set to her jaw. “I see.”

            A twinge of remorse. He always thinks he wants to wound her before the words leave his mouth, but after he only feels foolish. Besides, he had told her most of what he truly had to say when last they spoke.

            “I didn’t burn them,” he admits. “I don’t know why I said that.”

            Rey shrugs. “You had them made. You can do what you like with them.”

            “They’re yours,” he points out. “They were gifts.”

            She looks up at him with those large, lovely eyes. “I remember. You said that.”

            “So you can have them back. I won’t wear them.”

            There, just there— a little flicker of a smile. The first he’s seen this side of the gala. She says, “They’re not your size.”

            “They are not,” he confirms.

            Rey stands there in his doorway for a few moments more, as if she expects something more from him. But, finally, she says, “Well, that’s—”

            “Yes,” he says.

            “So I’ll—”


            “Right,” says Rey, and she turns to begin walking down the hall.

            He lets her go a few paces, but then he calls, “Rey?”

            She picks up her head, looks back at him.

            “Do you remember it?” he asks.

            A pause. He feels a shivering across their bond, a frisson. What he means, what he knows she knows, is whether she remembers it like he does. Does she remember him sweeping her around the bedroom in dance? Does she feel the ghost of his cheek resting against the soft flesh of her inner thigh, in the way her taste still lingers on his tongue? Does she think of the way his hair felt under the pads of her fingers? Does she recall his laugh as he recalls hers, clear and bright like the ringing of a bell? Before the hurt, the heartache, the betrayal, the damaging words, they shared those quiet moments of mending, in his bed, over meals, crossing staves. Does she remember how it felt to be whole?

            Rey does not answer for a long while, her focus somewhere far away, on a time that has passed. As she thinks, he loosens his grip on their bond just a little, to sense her.

            What he feels nearly sends him lurching forward. On the outside she had been muted but otherwise unscarred. Internally, she is a swirl of conflict, wholly unbalanced by longing and regret, by obligation and expectation, by love of the only family she has ever known and desire for a man who stands opposed to them. Now that his mind is clearer than it had been when she made unexpected contact, he understands the contradiction of her remorse and conviction a bit better. He also senses that she has been doing her best to wall it away and go about her life — Rey cries easily, but never devoted much time to tears over action — but he knows from experience that the tempest will not be contained forever.

            And it is a wretched storm, nearly as wretched as his, churning with forbidden longing, with doubt, with regret. Kylo gasps with it, and her eyes snap back to him. He closes the connection as quickly as he can manage, hoping she noticed nothing.

            If she did sense him, she gives no acknowledgement. She only whispers, “I remember all of it.”

            He exhales. For now, it will do as an admission. Someday that wall will have to come down, the one she erects to keep painful realities out. Unlike the wall she built around the truth of her parents, this one she must make crumble on her own. He cannot do that for her. And he has, he reminds himself, no obligation to do so.

            After all, he is cross with her.

            So he says, “Goodnight, Rey.”

            She blinks at him, a long blink, and he is momentarily captured by the slow sweep of her lashes. Then she replies, “Goodnight,” and heads back to the lower floor where the Resistance is quartered, vanishing from sight.

            Further examination of the treaty has been rendered moot. Kylo retires, but sleeps restlessly, unable to escape roiling dreams of some horrible violence being done to Rey. They come in flashes, so he can’t quite figure out what’s happening to her, but the accumulation of images are bone-chilling: her head thrashing side to side; her skin drenched in sweat; her hand reaching for his, grasping senselessly, unable to find it; her voice, howling, screaming, calling his name, Ben, Ben, BEN

            He wakes, soaked in his own sweat, gasping, and he turns over, instinctively reaching for her, but his hand finds only empty air. He sighs, pressing a hand to his bare chest as if to still his racing heart. His body tingles with adrenaline, the scar on his face and chest stinging slightly in warning. That had been a vision, he knows. But of what? A possible future, or a certain one? He may yet harbor anger toward Rey, but every fiber of his being rejects the idea of any harm befalling her. It cannot happen.

            The vision continues to haunt him, and he does not make another attempt at sleep before sunrise. Instead of joining the rest of the party for the morning meal, or taking his food in his room, as he has been, he steps onto the dacha’s vast veranda instead for fresh air. He rests the heels of his palms on the railing as he looks at the glittering spires of Hanna City rising against the distant horizon, trying to put the images of Rey in pain from his mind, trying to ignore the real Rey, very much whole, breakfasting with her friends behind him. The chatter from one of his younger officers questioning FN-2187 about his Stormtrooper past fades to an insectoid buzzing. There must be a way to avoid that future. But what way?

            “You were born there,” comes a voice from at his shoulder, and he turns his head to see that his mother has joined him, both hands resting on her walking stick. “I still remember the moment the droid laid you in my arms.”

            He is in no mood for sentimentality, but he does not raise his voice to her. “I was almost born there,” he replies, nodding at the crystal cliffs on which they’d met.

            Leia sighs. “That’s how your father always told it.”

            “Did he lie? He said you didn’t tell him you were in labor until after you put an end to the Galactic Civil War.”

            “You were in no danger of being born during the signing of the Instruments of Surrender,” Leia says, her tone leaving no room for argument.

            “Would that I had been,” he mutters. “The historians would have had a field day.”

            His mother’s mouth twitches. “It would have been ironic,” she remarks. “‘Surrender’ is not in your vocabulary.”

            “I get that from you.”

            “From both sides,” Leia corrects. “Han never surrendered. He only— swerved.”

            Kylo is quiet. He wonders if his mother views what he’s doing now as swerving. His hold on the galaxy fractured, but he has only bent, not broken, in response. He has not given up the endeavor; he will not surrender. He curls his fingers over the veranda’s railing. Perhaps she wishes he would surrender. Perhaps she wishes he would run home with his tail between his legs, instead of meeting her here as an equal.

            “Some mothers would be proud,” he says aloud, “to see what I’ve become.”

            Leia neither lectures him on the comparative virtue of representative government nor lambasts him for his many mistakes, as she might, as would be her right. She only asks, “Are you proud?”

            Kylo has a lie for her, but it dies in his mouth, rotten and sour. He glances over his shoulder into the room where Rey dines with her companions, noting the perfect form with which she dips her spoon into her porridge. He almost misses the way she used to grip utensils tightly in a fist, as though she feared someone might snatch them away from her, and wonders if she’ll lick the porridge remnants from the bottom of the bowl. And there it is, that acrid burn scorching the space between his lungs where his heart should sit.

            He turns his head to contemplate the city just as Leia looks over her own shoulder to track his gaze. He hears her say quietly, “Ah.”

            “It’s nothing,” he insists. “It’s over.”

            His mother’s eyes bore into his face, and he hunches his shoulders up slightly to hide it, like a sulking teenager. She shifts her hand to move it closer to where he grips the railing, but does not quite make contact.

            “I’m not sure it is over,” she says. “But it definitely isn’t nothing.”

            He jerks his head sharply to the side. “I shouldn’t even be talking to you about this. You sent her.”

            “And I am sorry for the pain it caused you both,” Leia Organa says. She sounds sincere, and he peeks over at her to see if she looks it, too. Her mouth is set in a grim line, her gaze soft. Unlike Rey, she doesn’t attempt to justify that choice with means-to-an-end rhetoric. She doesn’t point out that had Rey not gone, they might not be standing here today. Kylo knows that well enough, but he expects her to rub it in. She doesn’t.

            He can only think to say, “I see.”

            She looks back at the city in the distance. “As a moral person, as a freedom fighter, I cannot condone the choices you’ve made,” she says. “As your mother, I want only for you to have what you want most. Is that an empire? Or even an ‘imperium?’”

            He does not answer her.

            And it is now that he truly feels the ache of his father’s absence, because where is Han Solo, grumping at Leia to let him be a kid, or a man, his own man, to quit confusing him with the big questions? Where is he to lay a hand on Ben’s shoulder and offer him terrible advice about women? The boy still within him longs for a mother who can give him direction; the man within him longs for a father to treat him as a boy, and absolve him.

            As for what he wants? He wants to be left alone, and given the chance to control his destiny. He cannot do that, it seems, without inhabiting a place of power. If he could, he would take Rey’s hand and flee into the jungle forests of Yavin 4, where they could disappear, where no one would ever find them, where they would know freedom. He craves freedom.

            So many lonely sleepless nights after Rey broke his heart he had longed to speak to his mother, but now that she is here he wants his father back. His mother has never known a life unburdened by name, legacy, responsibility. His father would understand.

            “You still mourn him,” he says at last, nodding at her hair. “Han Solo.”

            “I love your father,” she replies, and he does not miss her deliberate choice of words. Your father, not Han Solo. Love, and not loved. “As we still love you.”

            Kylo swallows. There is no touching that now. Instead, he asks quietly, “Tell Rey to step outside?”

            “Of course,” she replies, as if this is what she expected all along. “I believe she wanted a word with you anyway.” And she moves slowly, carefully, back into the dining room.

            A minute later, Rey walks out to stand on his other side. He drinks in the sight of her, placid and healthy. Although he knows of the psychic turmoil she suppresses within, it is a profound relief not to see her in physical pain.

            If she shared his turbulent dreams, she gives no indication. Nor does she say anything to acknowledge that he wears the cloak she repaired. She just takes in Hanna City, the rolling green hills that stretch out between it and them, the clear, calm blue sky, the cottony white clouds. He wonders if she has ever been to Chandrila before. He does not ask.

            At last, she says, “It’s a beautiful view.”

            “It is,” he agrees, barely looking at it.

            A pause.

            “I have a—” They begin simultaneously, but then they stop, and instead of looking at the spires, they look at each other. Another brief smile from Rey, like the one last night, a waxing crescent moon vanishing behind clouds.

            “You go first,” she says.

            “I have a proposal.”



            “I… also have a proposal.”

            He frowns slightly. “Were you expecting something else?”

            “Not expecting, no,” she replies. But hoping, yes. She was hoping for an acceptance of her apology, or an apology from him, and he feels a simmer of irritation. Always he must go first.

            So he says, “Then, you first.”

            Rey looks out toward Hanna City. “The war’s been hard on my students,” she says. “A war is no place for learning, except lessons of the worst kind, lessons I’d rather they avoid. Loss, and suffering. They need a school, somewhere— elsewhere. We should build one.”

            “I agree.”

            She looks up at him.

            “Padawan learners fought in the Clone Wars,” he tells her. “Not only fought, but were given command of squadrons. Those wars ended the Jedi.”

            Rey folds her arms on the railing and hinges at the waist, still looking up at him, pedaling her feet. She likely doesn’t mean to draw attention to her hips when she does this, so he doesn’t look. For more than an instant. “Huh.”


            “For someone who wants to kill the past, you’re always telling me about it.”

            He shrugs his shoulders slightly, not seeing the irony. “You have to know something to kill it.”

            “I guess that’s true,” she concedes.

            “And your history is incomplete,” he continues, ignoring the frown that crosses her face, her brows drawing in toward the bridge of her nose. “You want to build a new order, but you don’t understand the flaws of the old. It blinds you to hypocrisy.”

            “You’re jaded,” she retorts, with a little more vehemence than he expected. “In your haste to burn everything down, you don’t see what might be salvaged.”

            “I never claimed to be faultless.”

            “Neither did I.”

            “Didn’t you?”

            Rey scoffs, and looks away.

            Kylo’s skin feels too tight, but he realizes that he missed this. As much as he missed holding her, touching her, he missed her companionship, thorns and all. Even their arguments felt thrilling, important, oddly rejuvenating. He wishes he knew what it was like to argue with her over small things like his parents did: his mother would sigh and roll her eyes at how Han Solo let a young Ben scatter his toys everywhere, and Solo, in turn, would accuse her of being too tightly wound. He does not consider his parents a model of marriage, but they did love each other, and somehow the little arguments were an expression of that too.

            Would that they had been true strangers, he and Rey. Would that he had not been a monster in a mask, that she had not been the girl who had absconded with his father’s ship and a droid carrying valuable intel when they met. Perhaps they could have met instead on the streets of Hanna City, or in a cantina, just two ordinary extraordinary people who lock eyes from a distance, who go on to marry and raise children and argue over budgeting and tidiness rather than the fate of the universe. The prospect is stifling. The prospect is exhilarating.

            But it is no prospect at all. For better or worse, that life is out of their reach.

            Kylo exhales through his nose. “It will take time,” he says, “to find a suitable planet, to build a school. And it will be vulnerable. It needs to be fortified.”

            “So we start looking now.”

            “Yes.” He shifts his weight from the ball of one foot to the other, and back. “But I’ll be— busy, with this war effort. I expect Hux to be a moving target.”

            “He doesn’t make anything easy for you.”

            “That means I won’t be able to devote as much time to my students. The Knights will help where they can. It won’t be enough.”

            Realization dawns on her face, and that’s more than a figure of speech, for the lift of her brow, the slight parting of her lips, the widening of her eyes together make a sunrise. “I could step in,” she says. “Temporarily.”

            “You would have to come to me,” he cautions, and because he can’t resist, he adds, “I know you’d have it the other way.”

            Rey does at least have the decency to look mildly chastened for trying to steal his pupils away. She says, “I’ve had a lot to think about.”

            He believes that, as he believes that her attempt had been grounded in genuine, if misguided and insulting, concern. She truly cares for her own students, and for the future of the Force, even if there is still much for her to understand. For them both to understand. But she had agreed, once, that a wise teacher never stops learning. Perhaps this will be an arrangement of mutual benefit.

            “Your students will be safe.” As will you, he doesn’t say. “Launching an attack on the Conquest II would be suicide, and the facilities there can accommodate them.”

            She nods, lips pressed together.

            “I won’t be around much. And you’ll have FN-2187—”

            “Finn,” she corrects.

            “—for company. My mother will likely be a frequent guest. I imagine Dameron making a nuisance of himself—”

            “Kylo,” she says. “You don’t have to keep persuading me. I agree.”

            “You… agree.”

            She nods again.

            Kylo feels rootless with relief, and with possibility. He will be able to keep Rey close. And while they are not yet where they were, they are not nowhere, either. “All right,” he says.

            “All right,” Rey echoes.

            Their agreement lingers in the air between them, hovering like a cloud of glowflies, until Dameron appears in the doorway to summon them for the signing. Rey straightens and turns her body toward him, but keeps her eyes on Kylo’s for one moment more. The look she gives him sparks of hope — for the future, for their students, or for them, he cannot say.

            But as he watches Rey stride back into the dining room to resume her post, admiring both the confident set of her shoulders and the slight sway of her narrow hips, he knows that his mother was right. It isn’t over.

            Whatever this is, it has only just begun.