Chapter 1: The Debrief
Rey sat in the cockpit of the millennium falcon, a blanket draped across her shoulders at Finn's insistence. The millennium falcon now held more people within its hull than it ever had before, yet it had fallen silent. Throughout the corridors the survivors of the battle of Crait succumbed to their exhaustion, resting where they had stood with no care for personal space. They slept in groups, huddled together for comfort.
Only the cockpit was awake. Awake but just as silent as the rest of the ship. Chewie piloted the falcon, leaving Rey to rest in the co-pilot seat. She was trying not to feel as though she was in an interrogation. Finn, Leia and Poe – at Leia's insistence – stood, watching her silently, expectantly. They were waiting for her to speak.
What was she supposed to say? So much had happened in such a short time. It felt like years since she'd stood before Leia, though it couldn't be more than a few days. Rey didn't know where to begin. Exhaustion had entered her bones and taken root there; she doubted it would ever leave her. Her heartbeats were steady and she named them, though it made each beat feel like glass splintering within her chest.
Ben. Ben. Ben.
Rey took a shaky breath. How was she going to explain it? The force bond, the vision, the decision she'd made, Snoke's death, how was she going to explain any of it? Or the ease at which she'd fought beside him, as though they were not two opponents momentarily in agreement, but two halves of a whole, dancing around each other but always, always connected. How was she supposed to tell them that Ben's offer had split her soul in two, that she hadn't been able to put an end to his life, even after he'd cemented his place in the First Order?
“Rey?” Leia's voice pulled her from the muddled, chaotic maze of her mind. “What happened?” Rey took a second deep, shaky breathe and began.
She told them about her first encounter with Luke. How he had been so difficult, so unwilling to help. She told them how he had cut himself off from the force, determined that the Jedi were more of a hindrance than a help. He'd eventually began to trust her – and train her – though she left out her embarrassing blunder on the cliff edge. It was easier to talk about him. He brought pain to neither her head nor her heart.
She couldn't dance around him forever though.
Rey told them about the force bond – making sure to explain that it had never been a threat to them, it couldn't be used to hurt them or find their location. It couldn't be used to control her. They had only been able to see and hear each other. She told them that it had been Snoke who had forged the bond, though neither of them had known it. Finn made a face, but stayed silent. Rey told them how anger and hate had slowly simmered away, and in it's absence – and faced with the notion that the link between their minds might be permanent – they had begun to talk. She didn't tell them that they had once linked while he was... less than presentable. They really didn't need to know that.
Rey explained her experience in the cave. How the island had held places of light, but also of darkness. She had been called there, it had reached out to her and pulled her into the icy pool. She told them what she had seen there, what she had experienced. How she had reached into it, and it had responded in a way she hadn't expected. Faced with the truth that she might never know who they were or how to find them, she had been distraught.
She couldn't tell them about the hut. She couldn't tell them how Ben had comforted her, how they had comforted each other. She had reached for him, and him for her, and for a moment she'd seen a sliver of the boy behind the mask. Trying to explain might be dangerous. They might never trust her again.
“He was kind”. It was all she could say. She couldn't meet their eyes, not while she defended the man who had taken so much from them.
“Kind?” Finn's voice pulled her eyes away from her knees, but it was Leia's eyes she saw. The general. The princess. They mother. What she found there brought strength to her tired bones.
“In Kylo Ren” Rey mewled “I saw your son”. She blinked away the tears that threatened to expose themselves, to expose her. She needed to be strong. She needed them to not see how their enemies kindness had brought her so much pain.
Luke was refusing to help, she told them. He had told her that he'd come to the island to die, and that's exactly what he was going to do. Ben's decision had not been yet made. She told them what she had seen; his future, with the resistance. With the light. With her; she held herself back from saying it, from admitting the truth. From admitting that Snoke had lured her in with the same promise that Ben had given her; that they would never be alone. That they would always have each other.
It had been Snoke. It had always been Snoke, and in her desperate hope she'd taken the bait.
She admitted to them that in her hope, she'd gone to him. There was no point in lying; if she had Chewie would have told them the truth anyway. Snoke had dangled Ben's future in the light in front of her, and she had gone to him. She told them that Ben had taken her to Snoke, that Snoke had tortured her for Luke's whereabouts. Her hands shook before her, remembering the pain that even now seemed unable to leave her entirely.
“I wasn't strong enough” she told them. She didn't notice the tears quietly trailing tracks down her cheeks, not until Finn wrapped her quietly in his arms. He smelled like rust and machinery and smoke and leather. He was comforting. He wasn't Ben. It was as though she'd built a damn around her pain, and the touch of another person had broken it open. She sobbed. She couldn't help it; she didn't seem to be in control of herself any more. She cried for the pain she'd felt when Snoke had tortured her. She cried for the future that had never been real. She cried for the boy – light years away by now – that had broken his promise just as surely as she had broken her own.
When she regained her composure Finn released her slightly, keeping an arm wrapped over her shoulders like the blanket he'd insisted upon. She pulled her thoughts together and began again,
“Snoke knelt me in front of Ben. He ordered him to kill me”. She looked into Leia's eyes, loving and hating the hope that she found there in equal measure.
“He tricked Snoke. He used my execution as a distraction, and killed Snoke instead”. The reaction was small, but it was there. Finn's arm tightened on her arm. Poe dropped his arms from where they'd been crossed against his chest. Leia drew in a sharp breath. Rey tore her eyes away from the general. She couldn't bare to see the hope that burned there.
“He gave me back Luke's lightsaber, and we fought Snoke's guards together” Rey said. The words tasted bitter on her tongue.
“When they were dead, I asked him to stop the First Order from firing on you. He didn't want to join us; that had never been his intention. He didn't want to destroy the First Order. He wanted to rule it. I guess he's their Supreme Leader now.”. She tried to tell them that Ben had asked her to join him. She tried to tell them that he'd offered her a place by his side, as his equal. She opened her mouth, but couldn't make herself speak the words. How could she? He had used her to advance his position. She had been manipulated; first by Snoke and then by the man she had shared her soul with. So why did this manipulation, this attempt to make her join him, feel more like the plea of a lost and hopeful boy than the calculated decisions of an enemy?
They had fought. She told them that. Their battle for control of Luke's lightsaber – Kylo had been disarmed in the fight against the guards – had torn the weapon in two. Her eyes drifted to the two halves of the weapon that lay in her hands. If there was a better metaphor for the shoddy state of her heart she had yet to find it.
The destruction of the saber had caused an explosion that had knocked her unconscious. When she came to, the room was on fire and Ben was gone. She gave them this lie, this small lie. Telling them the truth would have been too much. She was already breaking; the truth would have ripped her completely in two.
“I found an escape shuttle and met up with Chewie on the falcon. You know the rest”. She couldn't meet Leia's eyes, couldn't let her see the lie written across her face, nor the events that she'd kept hidden from them. If Leia suspected anything she didn't voice it.
“Thank you, Rey” the general's voice was soft. “For trying to save my son”. It was obvious that she was hurting. She had lost her brother and her husband in a matter of days, this woman who had already lost so much. Rey wanted to pull her aside, to tell her of her brother's betrayal. She wanted to tell her that her son had not gone to the darkness willingly, but he'd fled there, when he had nowhere else to go.
She couldn't do it.
Not so soon after her brother's death. To taint Leia's memory of her brother so soon after he'd become nothing more than a memory... Rey couldn't be that cruel. It wasn't as though it would do the general any good to know the truth now; her son was not coming back. Ben had been lost to her. He was lost to them both.
The truth still needed to be told. Leia deserved that much. Just not today, not while the pain was still raw and the wound was still fresh. Rey quietly excused herself, making her way through the bodies that slept peacefully around her, to the main hold of the ship.
Digging through Han's things made her feel terrible, but it wasn't long until she found what she was looking for. Rey carried the paper and pen to the table nestled in the corner of the room, trying not to wonder if it had been Ben's when he was a boy. There had been a variety of pens available, and she couldn't see Han as the type of man to sit down and colour in.
Rey took a seat at the table. She drew a deep breath into her lungs to steady her hand, and began to write.
Chapter 2: Ice and Crystal
Six months after the battle of Crait, Rey continues her search for a kyber crystal to replace the broken lightsaber. Her search leads her far away from those that she loves, and into the icy caves of the planet Ilum.
Edit: I had written Rey's journey to Jedha to search for the crystals. However, after re-watching rogue one I'm not sure how I could have explained away the remains of the temple surviving the blast and actually being accessible. Plus, Ilum is such an important piece of the Jedi history that I think it would be interesting if the next movie covered that a little.
Six months later.
Rey lay on the floor, desperately taking breath back into her lungs. Her muscles, her bones, everything ached. She was on fire, burning even as she bit back against the urge to scream once more. Pain danced sharply across her spine. It dug itself into her skull. She ignored Snoke's chuckle as it echoed in the back of her mind and pulled the fractured pieces of her brain together, turning over to face him. Ben.
“Well, well, I did not expect Skywalker to be so wise” Snoke chuckled. Ben wouldn't meet her eye, instead looking to Snoke with an expression that sent pinpricks of worry across her skin. She couldn't read him, she couldn't sense anything from him anymore. Was it possible for Snoke to not only bridge their minds, but close that connection too? Snoke had dangled the force bond before them like bait. He hadn't needed to do anything else; they had gone to each other willingly. Snoke had set the stage, but she and Ben had been the one to set their own trap. Now the resistance would end. Her friends would die and the fate of the galaxy would fall into the hands of the first order. All because she had found comfort in this beautiful, desolate man.
Snoke was still talking.
“We will give him and the Jedi order the death he desires. After the rebels are gone we will go to his planet and obliterate the entire island”. Rey pulled herself to her feet – ignoring the pain that shot down her spine – and reached desperately for her lightsaber. Her last hope, her only remaining option. She would have to fight Snoke if she wanted to survive.
Snoke tilted his head, as though he was pitying Rey. Even as the lightsaber shot towards her, he made no move to stop it. He didn't need to. The lightsaber shot passed her, rebounding against her head in its path back to Snoke.
“Such spunk” he mocked her. “Look here now”. Rey felt her body freeze as Snoke took her over once more, pulling her to the side even as she fought viciously against him. It made no effect. Her body was no longer her own. He pulled her towards a large round contraption, a viewing scope. The sharp movement only worsened the pain coursing through her. The red screen parted, allowing Rey a close view of the battle outside.
There could be no more than a dozen ships that she could see. They were tiny vessels, more escape shuttles than anything else. Was this what the resistance had been reduced to?
“The entire resistance, on those transports” Snoke confirmed. “Soon they will all be gone”. As he spoke the first order fired another shot towards the resistance. It made contact with a transport ship, leaving nothing more than a blast of light and pieces of debris behind. Rey's stomach lurched horribly. They had to be the ship's escape pods. They were unshielded. They had no weapons. They were dying. Snoke could no doubt read her mind; his voice echoed her own hopeless thoughts back to her.
“For you” he teased. “All is lost”.
Defiance flared within her. If this really was their last stand, then she would go down fighting. She had known battle and defiance and war for as long as she could remember – did she really expect her last few moments to be any different? She reached out to Ben, grateful even as she prepared to die, that at least somewhere in her bleak life she had found what it was not to be lonely. Ben. Finn. Han. Leia. Chewie. Rey gathered her strength and tore Ben's lightsaber from his side, pulling it to her.
She hadn't expected it to work. She hadn't expected to pull it into her waiting, open hand. She hadn't expected it to feel as though it belonged there. She ignited the weapon, pulling herself into a fighting stance and preparing for battle.
Ben's expression was unreadable as he watched her wield the weapon he had created. He seemed to be a chaotic mix of emotions. Rey told herself – unlikely though it was – that she saw a hint of awe, a small smirk that said he was proud of her. His weapon was larger than she'd realised, built for the man that stood over a head taller than her. Rey adjusted her hands and stance accordingly.
“Oh” Snoke grinned. “And still that fiery spit of hope. You have the spirit of a true Jedi!” Rey ignored her opponent's praise, gathering what strength she could to strike him down. With a flick of his wrist Snoke pushed Rey away and off her feet, leaving her to fall broken to the floor. Ben's lightsaber left her hand, though she doubted she had the strength to hold onto it.
She was going to die.
Snoke was too strong. She couldn't defeat him. She doubted she would have been able to even if she had faced him with Ben at her side. She felt his absence as though she were missing a piece of herself. Since when had he ceased being a distant, unreachable opponent, and become an intimate and essential piece of her soul? Her heart had cracked within her broken and beaten body, and in each splinter of it she'd found him.
“And because of that, you must die”. Snoke's words were said simply, softly, but he pulled Rey onto her knees with venom. She felt as though her body were crumbling around her. How much pain could a body withstand before it stopped functioning, like a piece of machinery that had been surged with too much electricity? A pained cry slipped from Rey's mouth as Snoke twisted her, until she was face-to-face with the man who had once been her only comfort.
Ben did not meet her gaze, fixing his eyes firmly on his master. Why could she no longer read him? Had Snoke broken off the link between their minds? Was Ben shutting her out? Rey reached desperately for him with her mind, but felt nothing.
“My worthy apprentice” Snoke praised him. “Son of darkness, heir apparent to Lord Vader”.
He was none of those things, not to her. Snoke may have forged their link, he may have fabricated the vision that Rey had seen in her mind, but he had not forced her to speak to him. He had not forced her to see beyond the mask, beyond the monster that he pretended to be. He had not forced her to reach out to him, to find comfort in his presence, his voice, the touch of his hand. He had not forced her to comfort him as he had comforted her. She had not forced her to feel this swirling mix of emotions that she felt now. She reached out to him once more, begging him to see, to understand. If this was going to be her final moment, the final few beats of her heart, then she wanted him to know that those things at least, had been completely and entirely real.
“Where there was conflict, I now sense resolve” Snoke continued. “Where there was weakness, strength”. Ben dropped his gaze, meeting her own. His eyes were open, his pupils seeming to engulf his irises completely as he looked at her. If he was the last sight she was going to see before she died, she couldn't think of anything more beautiful.
“Complete your training and fulfil your destiny!” Snoke's voice was firm as he addressed Ben, ordering him to end her life.
Ben reached for the lightsaber with a gloved hand, knotting Rey's stomach tightly. Did she really believe that Ben was going to kill her? Her mind warred with her heart. Knowing all the things he had done, all the people he'd killed, and yet feeling the ghost of his hand against hers, hearing the echo of his promise to her, that she would never be alone.
Ben stood over her – he seemed even taller than usual, now that she was positioned for execution – gripping the saber firmly. His eyes remained fixed on hers.
“I know what I have to do” his voice was soft, quiet, empty of hate. “Rey, I have to kill you”.
Fear gripped her heart with an icy, cold fist.
“Ben” she choked out. “Please. Don't do this”. Snoke's laughter ricocheted through her head.
“Foolish, pathetic child. You think you can turn him? I have not been the only mind to deceive you”.
“No”. She pleaded. Tears ran hot trails across her skin. “Ben, tell me it's not true. Tell me it was real”.She begged him with her voice, begged him with her mind. She didn't care that Snoke was present. She didn't care that at any moment Ben might ignite his lightsaber and cut through her heart as quickly as he had cut down his own father. Her heart was splintering anyway.
“It wasn't real” Ben murmured. “It was just a dream. Now it's time for it to end”. Rey felt the pieces of her shattered soul grind into dust. It had seemed that she had been wrong; there really was no limit to the suffering that she could endure while her heart still beat. Her body simply wasn't kind enough to kill her, to save her from the torment.
“It was real to me” she said simply. She could do it. She could admit that. What was one more sorrow against so much more? No hint of surprise betrayed the calm in Ben's eyes. He'd known, he'd expected her weakness all along. It simply didn't effect him.
“I know” he said quietly, the saber held towards her in his unwavering hand. Rey closed her eyes tight, fighting against the urge to scream, the urge to sob, to beg for her life. Her parents were never coming for her. Her friends were either dead or dying. Ben had only ever been manipulating her, using her lonely, tired soul to his own advantage, to bring her to his master and further their cause. What use was the air in her lungs, the beat of her heart, when she had nothing left to hope for?
Ben's lightsaber crackled into life, and as it shot through her chest Rey felt almost warm.
Rey's body jerked upright, her chest heaving as she drew in a gasp of cold air. She was shaking, her skin covered by a cold, wet sheen of sweat. She brushed her hair back and away from her face, taking several deep breaths to calm her racing heart. There was blood on her nails from where she'd dug them into the skin of her chest during the night.
Rey gathered her senses together, looking around at the small, nondescript freighter that had become her home. It was rusted and had a tendency to groan even when it wasn't moving; as though the ship itself were begging her to leave it behind.
She had made a nest from a few thin blankets. It wasn't enough to keep the chill from her bones, nor was it enough to keep the hard metal floor from leaving bruises across her body. Rey pulled herself to her feet, stretching painfully. She wasn't used to sleeping on such hard ground; at least on Jakku she had the sand to carve out her bed.
She looked around the freighter, at the small selection of books she'd brought with her – the same books that she had stolen from Luke six months before – that rested in a carefully constructed pile. There was an old, dried out ink pot perched on top. Rey did her best to ignore it, giving the pot a wide berth as she moved around the freighter.
Dressing quickly, Rey shoved her rations hungrily into her mouth. She keyed the control panel and the screen wheezed into life. The picture was grainy and terrible, but it was all she had.
“Good morning, Rey”. The picture was terrible, the sound crackled, but Rey couldn't help but smile.
“Morning, Finn”. Finn yawned loudly, or maybe the speaker was playing up again.
“Have you reached Ilum yet?” He asked.
“I landed last night” Rey replied.
“Is that Rey?” A voice called out. A second man stepped into view behind Finn, smiling when he saw her. Her conversations with Poe had been brief, but he seemed to have decided that any friend of Finn's was a friend of his. Rey had been warmly welcomed.
“Good morning! How are you holding up?” There was a high-pitched chirping sound across the speaker, like an over-excited bird.
“I'm telling her, Buddy!” Poe looked down, no doubt to the droid at his feet. “BB-8 says he misses you”.
“We all miss you” Finn interjected.
“I miss you all too” Rey smiled. Having friends was new and unusual, but it was something she enjoyed immensely.
“Is everyone okay?” She asked.
“Everyone is great, Rey. We've secured a trade route with some of our supporters. They've been shipping supplies to us through Myto's arrow”. Rey nodded. All good news.
“And... Leia?” Poe's face fell, as she knew it would. Leia had taken a back seat since the battle of Crait, leaving Poe as acting general. The loss of her husband and her brother within mere days of each other had been too much for her, this woman who had already lost so much. Leia was a fighter, and she had struggled through for a while, but she had taken ill on one of the missions to secure supplies and had never fully recovered.
“Leia is... Leia” Poe replied. “But Finn has good news about Rose!”
“Yeah, Rose is walking now. She can't do it for more than a few minutes at a time, but she's getting better every day”. Finn smiled proudly.
“That's great! Tell her that I'm thinking of her”.
“I will. When are you coming home?”
“If I find a kyber crystal here, I should be home in a few days”. Rey's heart ached as she spoke. She longed to be back with the rebels, in the safety of the thick forest of Dantooine.
“We'll see you, and your new lightsaber, soon”. Poe assured her, waving goodbye. He stuffed a half-eaten sandwich into his mouth as he left.
Finn turned back to her, his brow creased in worry.
“Are you okay, Rey? Really?”
“I'm fine, Finn”. Rey assured him. He didn't look convinced.
“Are you still having the nightmares?” He asked.
“No. They seem to have stopped now”. Rey did her best to sound convincing, but she would never be able to deceive Finn. After all, he was her room mate whenever she returned to the resistance. She felt bad for him, but Finn never complained about being woken up in the middle of the night by his screaming, crying room mate. Even when – on rare occasions – he'd woken to find inanimate objects in his room and once even himself hovering in mid-air.
“Rey? Did you hear me?” Finn's voice brought Rey out of her reverie.
“I said that we picked up First Order ships on Ilum two months ago, so be careful. We don't know for sure if they've left anyone behind”.
“I'll be careful, I promise”. Rey's heart raced. She could feel something calling out to her. Something was telling her that it was time.
“Finn... I need you to do something for me”.
“What do you need?” Finn's reply was immediate.
“There's a letter in the drawer of my room. It's addressed to Leia. I need you to give it to her, and only her. Nobody else can know about it”. Finn nodded, looking over his shoulder.
“I'll pass it onto her, I promise. I have to go. If you don't find a crystal on Ilum - “
“Then I'll speak to you at the same time next week” Rey finished. Finn nodded.
“Good luck, Rey”.
“May the force be with you, Finn” Rey countered. The image on the screen turned to static as their connection was severed.
Rey wrapped herself in thick clothes, pulling goggles over her eyes in an attempt to further conceal her identity. Not that she would need to conceal her identity, Rey silently scolded herself. Ilum was inhospitable, it was a broken rock of a planet, with massive pieces of it carved away by mining teams many years ago, leaving gaping wounds of rock and lava. The damage was so extensive that it was visible from space.
Gathering what equipment she required, Rey prepared herself for the icy, frozen climate of the planet. Her hand stretched out to pull the book that sat open at the top of the pile, but instead brushed against the cold glass of the ink pot. She hesitated. For such a small, insignificant object, it left a sharp crack of pain in her chest. She pushed away the memories that threatened to flood into her mind, slipping the pot into her pocket and placing the book carefully into her bag. Rey adjusted the hood of the thick jacket she had been given, pulled the staff to her side and headed out into the bitter cold.
The planet was in darkness, the air crisp and clear. From orbit the planet had appeared to be a chaotic mess of deep canyons, icy cliffs and fields of sharp, icy spikes that stood far taller than she. The sky was clear, the stars bright and far above her. A thick band of stars cut through the sky, seeming to call out to Rey. It was as though it were calling her home.
The trek to the Jedi temple was long and arduous. Rey huddled herself tight into her jacket, thinking longingly of the warm waters of Dantooine. Finn had taught her to swim, while Poe had dived deep into the lake and appeared only to take large gulps of air or to grab at their ankles like a hungry sea creature. Rey thought longingly of her friends. She sparred with Poe whenever they both had a spare moment, allowing Rey to further her training with a variety of weapons. Poe never seemed too tired or too sore to help her, and the resistance members had started taking bets on how soon Rey could knock him off his feet.
Finn had taught her how to refine her aim with a blaster. Their bond had only grown with time, and especially after Finn had found her at Rose's bedside, keeping watch over the sleeping girl. Rose had barely been conscious in the few short weeks that Rey had spent with the resistance, but Rey had grown to love the girl entirely. She had saved Finn's life, after all.
Regrettably, as Rose had grown stronger Rey had found herself passing over the medical bay whenever Finn was visiting. It wasn't that she wasn't happy for Finn; on the contrary, Rey didn't think there was anyone that deserved happiness more than him. It was just that seeing the two together, catching glimpses of their gentle smiles and their soft expressions, gave Rey a hollow ache in her chest that she couldn't quite explain. Rose and Finn clearly made each other happy, and Rey loved them both, but her nightmares never ceased, and each night Rey awoke with tears in her eyes and the taste of a name against her tongue.
Rey pushed the thought from her mind, focusing on the snow beneath her feet and the stars above her. It was no use; how could she look up at the stars that called out to her without thinking about where they called her to? It had been six months. She had heard nothing, seen nothing. The link between their minds remained closed, presumably forever. Rey felt its absence as if she were missing a vital piece of herself.
What little she did know came from the resistance scouts, relayed to her from Poe or Finn. It wasn't very specific. The First Order had established itself as the governing force of the galaxy. Each planet in turn had fallen under its rule. Rumours had reached the resistance that the First Order had – for the most part – ceased the stealing of children from their beds. Instead, each planet was ordered to supply a certain number of troops. It was largely a recruitment procedure, providing each planet reached its quota. In return the First Order had been supplying food and medical supplies to those who required it.
Planets who did not fulfil the quota – or had been slow to yield to the First Order – had spoken to the resistance of the bases built on their territory. They took the youngest children, as they had done for many years. They withheld supplies, let whole planets slowly starve until their governments gave in to the demands. Other planets had been mined for various resources, against the wishes of the inhabitants. It appeared that the First Order could be amenable and even considerate, where it's wishes were fulfilled and it's orders met, but those that still resisted were met with the same iron fist as had existed under Snoke's rule.
The data-pad in Rey's pocket bleeped, pulling her mind back into the present. She didn't need to check it to know that she was nearing the location of the Jedi temple. It was evident enough from her surroundings. The field of towering spikes was drawing to an end, and before her stood a wall of ice that stretched upwards for at least a few miles. It was solid and impenetrable, or it would have been before the First Order had visited.
In their wake they had left a gaping hole in the wall, much like the hole they had left in the door of the resistance base on Crait. White, sharp pieces of debris were scattered nearby. Rey picked up a piece to examine it in her gloved hand. It was plasteel; the same material used for the stormtrooper armour. This was far too thick to have been a piece of armour though. Rey had heard that the entrance to the temple had been covered with this substance, many years ago. It seemed that the First Order had sought to remove that cover.
Rey approached the entrance to the temple with caution. It appeared to be empty. There were no footprints, no tracts from transport, nothing at all to suggest that anyone was here. Rey readied her blaster anyway, taking a deep breath as she stepped into the darkness of the Jedi temple.
Chapter 3: The Consequence of Betrayal
Six months after the battle of Crait, Ben Solo reigns the Supreme Leader over the First Order. Sitting on the secret of his betrayal and temporary alliance with the enemy, Ben must face the consequences of his decisions, even as he wrestles with his broken, wretched heart.
Chapter three is here! I have quite a few chapters either half-written or planned out, as I'm currently snowed into my house (it's Scotland, we're not very prepared). I've decided to move away from Rey for the moment, to give you a peek into the life of the new Supreme Leader. It turns out that Ben isn't quite as satisfied with power as he expected.
The Consequence of Betrayal
Ben sat up suddenly, gasping for breath. Where the room beneath his eyelids had been feverishly bright and bloody, the one before him now was entirely dark. He squinted through the inky blackness, searching in spite of himself. There was nobody else in the room. He was alone.
Ben pulled himself from the bed, running his hands through his hair – damp from the sweat of his nightmare – and tried desperately to steady his racing heart. He was in his quarters, not in the throne room. He had been asleep, not standing before her with a lightsaber in his hands, preparing to put an end to the only heartbeat in the galaxy - but no. He really shouldn't.
He sat on the side of the bed, head in his hand, trying desperately to keep at bay the wave of emotions that threatened to drown him. It had been six months. She was gone. He remembered that he'd once caused himself pain just to convert it into power. Pain had been his power. Now it was his tomb.
He walked over to the basin in his bathroom, still unsteady from the vividness of his dream. The water was ice cold against the back of his palm. Hadn't he stood here before, in the early hours of the morning, and contemplated his reflection? He should have given himself more credit the first time; if he had thought he looked terrible then, it was nothing compared to what he looked like now.
He should go back to bed. He should wait for more sociable hours. He should, but he didn't. Instead he showered quickly, cleansing himself from the cold sweat that had taken him over as surely as his nightmares. He dressed even quicker. The clock by his bedside told him that it was five in the morning. Of course, he was in the depths of space and not a planet with its own rotation to dictate the daylight hours. Still, he'd managed only three hours of sleep last night. Compared to his usual routine it was practically a lie-in.
Ben tapped the keys on his control panel. The speaker buzzed harshly. The reception was terrible now that the resistance had moved to Dantooine. Ben blamed the trees. Eventually, the voice of an older man greeted him.
“Supreme Leader” it said. “Early as usual, Sir”.
“Caluan Ematt” Ben greeted the man. “Are you prepared for your weekly check-in?”
“I am, Sir” the man replied.
“Then hurry up”.
“The resistance have finalised their agreement with Sinsang. They should begin the transport of ships and weapons within the week. I'm afraid that if the invasion is scheduled later than the end of the week you'll find the resistance considerably more armed than they are at the moment”. Caluan Ematt's voice was rough with static over the speaker.
“Are you advising me, Ematt?” Ben asked stonily. He was right, of course, not that Ben was going to tell him that. If they delayed the attack on the rebels any further then he risked heavier losses for the First Order. Still, it was not the place of his spies to advise him.
Caluan seemed to have realised his mistake.
“No, Sir” he answered quickly.
“Continue with your report”.
“Well... There's still been no sighting of any of the defected stormtroopers. Wherever the traitors are fleeing to, it's not the resistance. The resistance still haven't organised an attack, they seem to be laying low, gathering their resources and recruiting new pilots. If you check your datapad, I've sent you a list of the latest shipment from their supporters. It's mostly consumables, but they've acquired an additional five bombers since we last spoke”. Ben didn't bother checking the datapad. The last thing he needed to know was how many ration packs or loaves of bread the resistance went through each week.
“Do you have an update regarding General Organa?” Ben asked, keeping his voice carefully neutral.
“Her condition hasn't changed, Sir. She still remains in her quarters. Dameron is still acting General in her stead. From what I've heard on the bugs I've planted, General Organa is still very weak and barely leaves her bed”.
“What else have your bugs told you?” Ben asked.
“Nothing of importance, Supreme Leader”. Ben sighed. The man's answers were useless at best.
“Leave me to decide that, Ematt” Ben said sharply.
He knew what he was looking for, even though it pained him to admit it. It was the same thing he'd been wondering each day for the last six months.
“Where is the Jedi, Ematt?” Ben asked sharply.
“She still hasn't returned, Sir” Caluan replied. “I did as you asked, and placed bugs in all the areas you requested, including the bedrooms of her acquaintances. They haven't mentioned her once”.
This only infuriated Ben further. Of course they mentioned her. They were her friends, weren't they? It was more likely that the resistance had worked out that there was a spy amongst them, and were being overly cautious. It didn't matter whether they knew or not. The resistance would never work out that it was Calcuan Ematt – one of their own generals – who was the informant.
“I want the Jedi's location” Ben demanded. “I don't care how you get it, just get it. Bug every stock room and restroom and General Dameron's damn droid if you have to, just get me that location. Understood?”
“Understood, Supreme Leader. What are your orders regarding General Organa?”
“Keep me updated on her condition”. Ben could sense Ematt's hesitation. “Unless you have a better idea?”
“Sir, I think it would be best to dispose of General Organa while she is still weakened. I am capable, Supreme Leader, I swear”.
Dispose of Leia? Conflict warred within Ben's mind. Here was an informant prepared and willing to carry out his order. So why was he hesitating? He'd already believed her dead once before – when tie-fighters had taken out the bridge of the Raddus – so why was it any different now that he'd have her death confirmed?
“No, Ematt. If General Organa dies your position will be compromised”.
“Sir, Leia is weak. Her death won't be suspicious, and I can make it look -”
“No, Ematt” Ben cut him off sharply. “That is an order. I expect an update in seven days”.
The transmission was cut off. Ben sighed, holding his head in his hands. Leia weakened and vulnerable, the resistance primed to restock their weapons, ships and crew. Rey, lost somewhere in the galaxy. Both his godfather and the millennium falcon were still in the resistance base, as was the traitor. Had she ventured out on her own? Ben suspected as much; he doubted that she would have wanted to remove any members of the resistance from their posts, especially now their numbers had been reduced so dramatically. She was out there somewhere, amongst the stars, alone once more.
He felt a familiar presence behind him and sighed. If this was his company, he'd rather be alone.
“Bad dreams again, Kid?” Luke asked.
“I don't suppose it would be worth me telling you to leave?” Ben asked tiredly.
“If I left I wouldn't be able to pass on the message from your grandfather”. He was teasing, Ben knew he was. He wasn't going to fall for Luke's jokes and ridicule.
“Enlighten me” Ben replied sourly.
“He says you're a terrible grandson and you should go home and apologise to your mother” Luke said cheerfully.
Ben shut his eyes, wishing that there was a way to make his old master disappear. Could you get a restraining order on force ghosts? Was there some sort of Jedi court? A force legal service? If only.
“Tell him that his son is a pain and his daughter is a terrible mother”. Ben replied sourly.
“Tell him yourself”.
“Maybe I will”. Ben shot back. He might have meant it, if his grandfather ever appeared to him. In the light of Snoke's death Ben had begun to realise that his communications with his grandfather were false, as fabricated as his link was to Rey.
“Bring him to me” Ben commanded. Luke responded with a noise that was somewhere between a laugh and a snort. It was clear that he didn't think too highly of Ben's command.
“Do you think we have days out? Go on field trips to haunted houses, have dinner at each other's graves? Play cluedo on Sundays?” Luke's voice rose, though Ben knew that nobody else would hear it. “It was Darth Sidious on Death Star two, with a bolt of lightening!”
Ben fought the urge to swear at him, to try and swing at him with his lightsaber once more. It never did any good. It wasn't like Luke could feel it. He seemed to have decided that his purpose in the after-life was to be an eternal annoyance.
Ben could do nothing to stop him – a fact that irritated him greatly – but he didn't have to stay here and endure it. Luke rarely appeared to him outside the confines of his quarters, so it was outside that he went. The night shift had not yet been replaced and wherever Ben went stormtroopers nudged each other awake and snapped to attention. He might have reprimanded them if he'd cared.
Instead, he made his way to the conference room. It was early; there was unlikely to be anyone there yet but he may as well wait. It was better than the nightmares. It was better than sitting in his quarters too, although at least Luke offered a distraction – albeit an irritating one – from the feeling he seemed to carry with him, as though he were missing something.
He had heard the tales of stormtroopers who had lost limbs and survived, only to find that they could still feel the pieces of them that they had lost. He had never understood how that was possible. Not until he found himself scanning the room for her, reaching out with nothing to hold onto, or waiting on a reply that would never come. Her presence still lingered next to him, nothing but a hollow ache where she used to be. Shaking the thought from his head, he opened the door to the conference room, too distracted to realise that he could feel a presence behind it, already in the room.
It was Hux.
He looked surprised to see Ben, as though he'd been caught doing something that he shouldn't.
“What are you doing here, so early?” Ben asked him.
“Preparing for the report, Supreme Leader” Hux replied coldly. “You're early. Again”. Ben glanced at the datapad in Hux's hand. Had he been communicating with someone?
“You should find somewhere else to conduct your dates, General. Though I suppose you won't have to, now that Nateira is on her way here”. A darker shade of pink lightened the General's pale face. It didn't suit him.
“Supreme Leader, I assure you -” Ben cut him off abruptly.
“Give me your report, General” he commanded sharply, enjoying the hesitation that crossed Hux's face.
“We're both awake”. Hux sat back down in the chair. Ben took the chair opposite him.
“Well, Supreme Leader. Supplies are holding, weapons and transport too. All of our bases are operating as usual. The first shipment of troops from this quarter has already been delivered by twenty nine systems, with more reportedly on their way”.
“All good news, General” Ben replied. “Give me the bad news”.
“The bad news, Sir?” Ben waited silently.
“We've had another five defectors this week. They were part of the squadron we sent out to Christophsis. It appears that the defectors engaged in a fight with the remainder of their squadron during their escape”.
“How many dead?” Ben asked.
“None, Sir. All seven were wounded, but not killed”. Ben sighed.
“How many have defected in total, General? Over the last six months?” He asked.
“One hundred and eighty three, Sir. One hundred and five of them were killed during their escape, forty eight of them were imprisoned. Twenty seven of them have escaped. Our sources tell us that they headed for inhabited planets resistant to our rule. It doesn't seem that any of them have joined the resistance”.
“Yet” Ben replied. “It's only a matter of time before our forces begin bleeding into their own”.
“Should I send for a mass reprogramming, Sir?”
It was obvious that his response had surprised the General. He was expecting Ben to explain himself.
“We don't want a military full of stormtroopers who want to leave. Loyalty is not built on hate”.
“Loyalty? We want an army of soldiers, not a group of over-emotional prepubescents who need to feel special in order to handle a blaster!” Hux's voice rose and Ben smacked his hands viciously against the wooden table.
“If you want a band of emotionless killers who will do what you order them to and no more, might I suggest a droid army? People think, people go beyond orders, beyond expectation. People are how we will win this, General. People who will adapt to a situation and fight for what they believe in”.
“Then what do you suggest, Supreme Leader?” Hux's tone was scathing. “Should we hold movie nights? Sit around braiding each other's hair?” Ben reached out instinctively with the force, taking hold of Hux's throat. He wanted to much to put an end to his General. It would be so easy... and yet he couldn't. The general was as useful as he was dangerous. Reluctantly, he released him.
“We find out who the defectors are. We begin with the ones fanning the flames, the ones organising the escapes, communicating with the sympathetic systems. Right down to each and every stormtrooper who has had even a fleeting notion of defecting. Once we have located them all, we dispose of them. Use the knights; turning stormtroopers against each other will only serve to expand the number of defectors. It must be done quickly, quietly. We find the most loyal troopers in each division and promote them to Captain. We establish a hierarchy within the troopers, something for them to aspire to, and promote only the most loyal to our cause”.
Hux's eyes narrowed, but he said nothing. For once, he had no cutting remark.
“And just how will you distinguish these defectors from the remaining stock?” He asked eventually.
“We're about to have six more force-sensitives on board this ship, General. I suggest you make use of them”.
The door opened abruptly. It was Officer Unamo. The sight of her made Ben feel uneasy, hesitant. Why?
“Supreme Leader, General” Officer Unamo bowed stiffly. “The Knights of Ren have arrived”.
“Already?” Hux asked. She responded, but Ben barely heard her. There was something about the woman... it set him on edge. She was a plain thing, a familiar but uninteresting face aboard the ship. He must have walked passed her countless times. Why was she now only drawing his attention?
It was the force. He could sense something through it. Unsurprising; the force passed through each person regardless to whether they were sensitive to it or not. What was it trying to tell him about her?
“Supreme Leader?” Hux's voice drew his attention away from the woman.
“I'll handle the debrief. I'm sure you'll want to...” Ben trailed off. It didn't usually take him this long to insult Hux.
“I don't know, brush your hair” he finished lamely. He didn't know what it was Hux did, and frankly he didn't care.
“Officer Unamo, isn't it?” He said, turning to the woman. She bowed again, with perhaps a trace of fear.
“Yes, Supreme Leader” She said.
“Take yourself to the medical bay immediately”. The woman's face was coloured in surprise.
“Immediately, officer” he commanded.
Ben left Hux and officer Unamo to exchange a quizzical glance, heading for the landing bay. He should be grateful for the distraction, but instead he felt uneasy. The arrival of his knights did little to comfort him. They were powerful force-sensitives, and ruthless killers. He was far weaker than he had ever been; a traitor on the throne of the master he had murdered. Would they discover the truth about his betrayal? Would they discover the truth about her?
The landing bay was cold. Various tie-fighters, AT-ATs, AT-M6s and small freighters crowded the bay. It reminded Ben of a heard of creatures sleeping silently, or maybe a field of corpses. A small freighter sat in the midst of the other ships, its ramp dropped to allow for disembarking. There were voices coming from the ship. Ben took a deep breath as he prepared himself to be reunited with the other Knights of Ren.
Chapter 4: A Trial of Ice
Rey is inside the Jedi temple and one step closer to finding a kyber crystal and returning to her friends in the resistance. The crystal caves though have a force all of their own, and Rey must face the demons of her past to carve out her path into the future.
So we're back with Rey inside the Jedi temple on Ilum. Don't worry though, Kylo's part in this is far from over, and we'll reunite with the Supreme Leader and his knights soon enough. Let me know what you think of what I've done so far, criticism is always welcome!
Rey was inside the Jedi temple.
The inside of the temple was just as cold as the outside. Here stone seemed eternally covered by ice or snow. Rey pulled her goggles off and her hood down to get a better look at the structure before her. She followed the corridor down to a wide triangular door. It was sealed shut. Rey could feel the force, so strong here that it seemed to be a tangible, living being. It called out to her.
Rey removed her gloves, placing her hands on the icy surface of the door. She reached within her, recalling how Luke had once asked her to do the same. The force was like a wave, moving through her constantly. She followed it, allowing it to carry her through the door and into the room beyond.
The heavy door swung open, exposing the room behind it. Rey stepped into it with awe, looking up at the grand structure before her. The room was wide, a cavernous building that seemed to stretch upwards into the heavens. The walls seemed to be composed of rows of pillars stacked on top of each other, stretching up to a contraption above that housed a large crystal. It was far larger than what she was looking for, but she was glad nonetheless that the First Order hadn't taken it.
There were several huge sculptures standing watch in the circular room. They were cloaked, their faces hidden from view, and seemed to be holding lightsabers. They stood silently on guard around a large circular area dotted with spikes made of stone instead of ice. The perimeter of the circle was outlined by small pyramids no taller than she. Seated on an icy stone in the centre of the room, was a small green creature.
It wasn't a species that Rey recognised. It – he? – wore a robe not too dissimilar from the one Luke had worn. He regarded Rey with a look that suggested he was expecting her. Rey's hand tightened on her blaster, but she didn't raise it. Something told her that this creature was not with the First Order.
“Hello” Rey greeted the creature, wondering if he would be able to understand her. “I'm Rey. What are you doing here all alone?” She edged closer to the creature, noticing as she did so that he seemed to shimmer slightly with a blue light. It was as though he wasn't entirely corporeal.
“Are you... Are you a ghost?” Rey asked hesitantly. She had read about them in the books she'd taken from Ach-To. It made sense that a powerful force sensitive ghost would exist in this place.
“Perceptive, you are”. Rey jumped as the green creature spoke. “Luke Skywalker's master, I was, many years ago”. Rey cast her mind back, to the few conversations she'd had with Leia after the battle of Crait.
“You're Yoda” she said. “The Jedi Master”. Yoda nodded.
“Searching for a crystal you are. Too late you may be”. Rey pushed aside the fear that gripped her heart at the Jedi's words.
“What do I do?” She asked. “The crystal in Luke's lightsaber is too broken to function. The First Order are taking over the galaxy. Luke is gone and Ben...” she trailed off, eyeing the Jedi nervously. She'd heard great things about him from Leia, but she didn't know him. For all she knew, he could be some projection left here by the Order.
Yoda seemed to study her, watching the emotions that rippled across her face.
“Gone, no-one ever really is” he said finally. “Mistakes, the Jedi have made, yes. No more Jedi there are. No more Sith there are. Gone are the old ways. Time, it is, for a new Order to begin”. Rey shook her head.
“I don't understand. How can we protect the galaxy without the Jedi?” Yoda regarded her thoughtfully.
“All you need, you already have” he explained. “Two sides, the force has always been”
“Two sides... you mean the light and the dark?” Rey asked.
“A balance, there must always be”. Yoda raised his hands towards the ceiling, drawing Rey's gaze up to the crystal at the top. There was a noise like stone grating against stone and a small window opened. Outside, dawn had finally come.
The light flooded the ceiling, falling onto the crystal that rested there. The contraption at the top twisted with a sharp creak of metal gears needing oiled and the light rebounded from the crystal, sending a small beam to the top of what Rey had assumed was a wall of ice. The ice cracked and groaned, melting and sending the water flowing quickly down the cracks, until the ice was gone and a door stood in its place.
“Enter the crystal cave you must” Yoda explained. “Freeze over the door will, once the sun sets. Hurry you must”.
Rey took a deep breath, gathering together what courage she could muster.
“Will you come with me?” She asked. Yoda shook his head.
“Find your crystal alone, you must. Know, you will, when you have found it”.
“If you say so”. Rey pocketed her blaster, keeping a tight grip on her staff instead.
The cave began as a narrow corridor, stone pillars on either side covered in fine detail. Rey would have liked to examine it more closely, but she didn't have the time. Further ahead the corridor became more icy, more organic. Spikes seemed to jut out at random. Rey fought to keep her footing, unused to the slippery surface the ice provided.
The corridor opened into a small circular room. It had eight exits, counting the one she'd walked through. How was she supposed to find anything in here? She shut her eyes, reaching out with the force. It was all around her, almost audible with energy. She felt herself pulled in all directions, but there was only one whose call seemed louder than the rest. In fact, it almost had a voice.
She followed the sound down one of the icy corridors. There was something about that voice, she knew it well, yet she couldn't place it. It called out to her, leading her deeper into the cave.
“Rey? Where are you?”
She didn't know how long she spent, wandering through the cave network. Maybe it was leading her in a circle. Maybe she would never get out. Eventually though, the path she followed lead her to a dead end. Rey sighed in frustration. She had probably imagined the voice. It was wishful thinking, nothing more. She turned her back on the wall of ice, her mind already fixed on which cut-off she should take.
“Rey?” She heard the voice once more and turned back to the wall of ice, her breath catching in her throat.
It was impossible.
A woman stood before her, so entirely recognisable that it brought tears to her eyes. Yet it couldn't be.
“You're dead” Rey whispered to the woman. “You can't be”.
“Rey” the woman pleaded, her eyes shining with tears. “You're her, aren't you? You're my little girl”. The woman stepped towards her, arms outstretched as though she wanted to wrap Rey in her arms. Rey retreated from the woman's grasp, staff raised in defence.
“You're dead” Rey cried out. “You sold me, and then you died”.
“That's not true” the woman said. “You were stolen from us. Your father, he's here too. He's injured, I had to leave him to look for supplies. Come with me, Rey, we can-” Rey's sharp voice cut through the woman's words.
“That's not my name!” She said. “I took that name from a resistance pilot's helmet I found on Jakku. I gave myself that name. Now who are you?” The woman looked at her with pain in her eyes. She was hurting. Rey remembered her, remembered her voice singing to her as she brushed her hair, remembered her mother's arms wrapped around her. She remembered the bottles that sometimes broke underfoot and left her sore and bleeding. She remembered the screaming, the terrible screaming, when her parents were withdrawing. She remembered.
The woman's pained expression didn't affect her. Rey adjusted her grip on the staff for a better aim.
“You are not my mother” she said viciously. “And if you were I would still leave you here”.
“Rey” the woman whispered. “Please, dear. Come with me. We can be a family again”.The woman stretched out her hand gently for Rey, her hazel eyes so familiar, so warm, so real. Rey took a deep, shaking breath.
“Let the past die” she whispered to herself, even as her eyes burned with tears, with the memory. The woman's eyes were wide with fear.
“My daughter” she whispered.
Rey lunged viciously at her with her staff.
There was a loud crack and Rey blinked in surprise. The woman was gone. It was as though she had never existed. Rey's staff had hit the solid ice of the wall, passing right through the apparition of her mother. The ice had cracked beneath her blow. Rey could see something glimmering, shinning, beneath it. She pulled her staff from the wall, pulling the broken pieces of ice from the wall.
There it was.
It was beautiful. Rey pulled it from the wall. A small crystal, the perfect size for a lightsaber and warm beneath her touch. It glowed softly. Rey tucked it into her pocket, securing it firmly. Now she just had to find her way out.
The way back was difficult. Rey hadn't made more than a mental note on which paths she'd taken. She shut her eyes tight, focusing on the sensation of the force as it passed through her, hoping that the cave had no more tricks for her. She found her way back to the room with eight exits and cursed. If only she'd marked it down! She focused on the force once more, her brows drawn tight in concentration.
“Please” she found herself whispering. “Please show me the way”. She felt her fingers – of the hand she'd left in her pocket – brush against cold, solid glass.
It was just a moment. Just a fleeting moment, just a whisper carried on a wind, but it ripped the floor from beneath Rey's feet. Surprise, fear, pain, it washed over her, swept her away. For just a fleeting moment, she wasn't alone. It was gone as soon as she'd felt it, as though in the darkness, a light had been lit and immediately extinguished. Rey's vision blurred. Her mouth framed a word; the word, that brought an ache to her chest.
It was no use. The connection was severed. It had died the same day that Snoke had. And yet...
“Ben?” Rey whispered. Had the cave tricked her again? No, it had to be true. She wanted it to be true. The exit to the cave forgotten entirely, Rey turned, searching for the link as though it was physical; something she could see, and reattach. She didn't care that it was wrong, she didn't care that it would bring her pain. She had to see him again.
“BEN!” She cried out, searching for him desperately. If the cave really was tricking her, she would be here forever. She had given up the notion of survival the moment she'd felt the link again. She was dizzy. The ground seemed to sway underfoot. There was a loud crack and the ice – no, the stone – under her feet cracked. The crack carried on, only ending at one of the doorways leading out of the room.
Taking as a sign, Rey sprinted through the door and down the corridor. She recognised the room that the corridor lead into. It was the entranceway to the caves. The exit was close. Rey ran towards the exit, wondering how much time she'd already spent here. Daylight came once every nineteen days on this planet. If the exit had already shut, she was going to be trapped here for good. The entryway was almost entirely covered with ice; the force-bond would have to wait. Rey sprinted for the exit, dropping to the floor and rolling beneath the ice. It solidified behind her, shutting entirely.
Yoda was waiting for her. Rey turned to the Jedi master.
“Ben!” She cried out. “My parents. The cave-”
“-Distractions, the cave provides” Yoda replied. “Tests you, the cave does, to see if you are worthy”.
“It showed me my parents” Rey told him.
“Holds onto us, the past does. A hindrance it can be. Move past it you must, if stronger you are to become”. Rey sighed. Was it true then? Had Ben's voice only been a distraction, conjured by the cave?
“I heard Ben's voice” Rey admitted. “I felt the force-bond again. I thought it died not long after Snoke”.
“Strange, the force can be” Yoda told her. “Plans it has, yes, for us all”.
“Was it real?” Rey asked. “Does the link still exist? What do I do?” Yoda looked at her, studying her face.
“The crystal, do you have?” Rey searched through her pocket, her fingers finding the warm, hard surface of the crystal easily. She held out her hand to Yoda, showing him the crystal.
“Well done” he said. “Time, it is, for you to build your own lightsaber”. Rey pocketed the crystal again.
“Know, I do not, what the force has planned” Yoda said softly. “Flows through us all, it does. Balance, it brings, to the galaxy”.
“What am I supposed to do, Master Yoda?” Rey asked. Yoda looked up, to the window, where darkness was rapidly falling. Flakes of snow were beginning to float down through the window.
“Go, you must” Yoda replied. “And quickly. Waiting for you, someone is”. Rey looked to the exit. Did he mean Ben? She didn't think so. Wherever he was, whatever he was doing, she was sure that he wasn't waiting. She looked back, to bid Master Yoda goodbye. The stone was empty. The ghost was gone.
Chapter 5: A Baptism of Fire
The Knights of Ren have arrived aboard the repaired Supremacy, posing another problem for Ben as he attempts to hide his treachery from them. Little does he know that there are far more sinister agendas at work, and the appearance of some old artefacts from the depths of Maz's castle provide an insight into both the past and the future.
This chapter is about twice the length of some of my others. I'm very excited to share with you my version of the Knights of Ren. I admit I have their entire backstories worked out with details on their appearance, preferred weapons, personalities and more, and plenty of it may not make it into the future chapters. Still, I hope you like what I've done with them.
Ben stood silent as the Knights of Ren disembarked from the freighter. The first to hit the landing bay was Teeana. She was in the middle of pulling her bubblegum-pink hair from where it had sat in a bun at the back of her head. Her blood-red eyes met Kylo's and she grinned, exposing the canines that she'd sharpened into points as a teenager. She was both the shortest and the youngest of the knights, but she didn't let her height bother her as she reached up, pulling Kylo down to her height with surprising strength to plant a light kiss on his cheek.
“Kylo!” She said cheerfully. “How's life as the Supreme Leader treating you?” Ben resisted the urge to rub away the residue of her kiss on his cheek.
“Well enough, Tee” he replied quietly.
“Carry your own stuff, Tee!” The voice was a welcome distraction and Ben followed it to it's source, to the man that was stepping down the ramp, a heavy rucksack in hand. Dalrik sported a tan that never seemed to leave him and Ben noted that he'd let his hair grow out slightly since he'd last seen him. It was almost messy. He'd also shaved, leaving nothing but a rough stubble across his face. The man dropped the rucksack into Teeana's waiting hand.
“Oh hush, Dal” Teeana teased him. “You've been glad of my explosives on more than one occasion”. The man rolled his eyes, greeting Ben with a strong handshake.
“It's good to see you, Dal” Ben said politely. Dalrik grinned.
“Sure” he replied. “Where's the food?”
“Did someone say food?” Ben glanced away from Dal, to the twins that were next down the ramp. They looked eerily similar for being brother and sister. Both Jaxon and his sister Jazlynn were an average height, slim and pale, with hair as white as snow that was shaved short on all sides but left a long fringe brushed to one side. Jazlynn's fringe was longer than her brother's. Ben could only see one of her icy blue eyes as she nodded stiffly to him and disappeared into the ship.
Jaxon, by comparison, greeted Ben with warm blue eyes and an even warmer smile.
“I was told there'd be food” he said simply.
“I've already sent for breakfast” Ben replied. “You can eat while you debrief me”. His eyes found the next man off the ship; Zefrik.
“I've had yours sent to your quarters, Zef” Ben said. Zefrik's head seemed to be eternally turned to the floor, his long blonde hair hiding his face well, helped by the black hood he'd pulled up over his head. Zefrik nodded vaguely in Ben's direction, disappearing into the ship like Jazlynn.
Jaz at least would be at the debriefing, once the pleasantries were over. Not that he minded Zefrik's absence; he was use to his quirks now, after so many years spent learning and fighting at his side. To force Zef to be around the rest of the knights would do more harm than good. That left Teeana, Delrik and Jax, who were all gathering their bags together to be taken to their quarters. Five knights accounted for; where was the sixth?
“Kylo”. Natiera's voice was deceptively soft. She stepped off the freighter's ramp, her rucksack thrown over one shoulder. She regarded him with icy blue eyes set in her pale, heart-shaped face, her blood-red lips stretched into a slight smile. Her black hair hung loose across both shoulders in soft, gentle waves.
“Natiera” Ben replied, his voice carefully neutral. Natiera walked over to him as fluidly as a cat, like a predator stalking its prey. She was tall – six foot, by Ben's approximation – but stood even taller in black, high-heeled boots. Ben regarded it as part of her training that she was able to walk in them.
She leaned in towards Ben, to plant a kiss on his cheek. Ben couldn't help himself, he stepped back. The proximity to her was uncomfortable.
“You let Tee kiss you” Natiera said sourly. Ben bit back against the retorts that flooded his mind.
“Tee's boyfriend doesn't mind” was all he said.
“I don't have a boyfriend” Tee mumbled. No-one took notice of her. Natiera's eyes narrowed, but she held out her hand anyway.
“Ky” she said coldly. Ben shook her hand.
“Nat” he replied, his voice just as icy.
“So this is awkward” Jaxon said cheerfully, his voice pulling away Ben's attention.
“Freshen up and meet me in the conference room in an hour” Ben commanded. Nat was already leaving. “I want a full debrief, and I have a new task for you”. Jax nodded as the rest of the knights dispersed, heading for their quarters.
“So...” Jax said, looking around the landing bay. “Are you going to tell us what happened with Snoke and the girl?”
“I thought I already had” Ben replied, ignoring the knotting sensation in his stomach.
“Your correspondence was... interesting” Jax said, hoisting his rucksack over his shoulder. “I'd like to hear about it in more detail”.
“After the debrief” Ben conceded.
Natiera followed the familiar path to Hux's quarters, the metal floor echoing beneath her boots. Stormtroopers snapped into attention as she passed them. Natiera smirked; she could get used to this. Hux was waiting for her in his quarters, as she'd expected. He was even paler than when she'd left him. Kylo's rule must be affecting his health, she surmised. She stepped into his quarters, dropping her rucksack onto the floor.
“General” she said sweetly. Hux bowed to her.
“Natiera. It's good to see you a-” Natiera pulled him towards her, her lips eager against Hux's. He was cold, as if he was made of ice. It stopped him talking, at least. She released him and he stepped back, out of her reach.
“Your communications were very... explicit” she told him. “Some might think you didn't enjoy your new leader”.
“Our new leader murdered his predecessor” Hux replied darkly. “He helped the Jedi scum kill Snoke and his guards, and then he let her escape. He's been working with the resistance from the start”.
“Do you have any proof?” Natiera asked, seating herself in the chair at Hux's desk.
“One of our spies is a general in the resistance” Hux replied. “He told Ren where the resistance was hiding six months ago, and still he's done nothing. This morning on my orders the spy asked him for permission to kill General Organa, and Ren refused. He seems to be playing for time, waiting until the resistance regain their strength”.
Natiera pulled her gloves from her hands, watching Hux as she did.
“All useful information. Not proof though. We need absolute proof if we're going to turn the First Order against him”. She crossed her legs as she thought. What proof could she obtain?
“Have you bugged his quarters?” She asked.
“I can't” Hux replied sourly. “He replaces everything in his room every few days. Even the walls aren't safe from his tantrums”.
“And Snoke had no surveillance in the throne room. So we have nothing, for the moment” She said flatly.
“Not nothing, Natiera” Hux replied. “We have his mother”. Natiera smirked at Hux. So they did.
“Give the order, General” she commanded.
“It's already been given”.
Natiera went to the general, lifting his face to hers with one hand.
“Be careful, Hux” she advised him. “I'm beginning to like you”.
“Don't be ridiculous” he replied.
“When we take down Kylo Ren, when I become the Supreme Leader of the First Order-”
“I will be your second-in-command” he finished coldly. “I'm aware of the plan”.
Natiera smirked, her hand still holding Hux firmly in place.
“I might just marry you” she told him.
“Or you might kill me” he said coldly.
“Or I might kill you” she agreed, planting a kiss firmly against his lips. This time, he returned the affection.
Ben had returned to the conference room to await his knights. As he'd requested, breakfast was brought in for them. There was enough for many more than the six that were planned, but still Ben could not will himself to eat. Nausea had taken over. He wasn't sure whether it was the stress of his rule or the fear that one of the knights would discover his treachery, but it was enough to keep his appetite at bay.
Jazlynn had returned from the depths of the ship and was sitting silently beside her brother as he engaged in an arm-wrestling match with Dalrick, again. He had probably run out of people to challenge; Jax was far stronger than his slight frame suggested, and most people did not agree to it twice.
Tee was rewiring a proton bomb on the conference table. Had it been anyone else Ben might have been worried, but Teeana wasn't called the technician for nothing. No doubt there were more explosives in the heavy rucksack that never seemed to leave her side. In the hands of anyone else, that amount of fire power was positively unstable, and could easily destroy the ship.
Only Zefrik and Natiera were missing from the group. Ben wasn't surprised. Zefrik was probably hiding out in his quarters, where he didn't have to be amongst the crowds. Even isolated from the rest of the crew, the sensation of so many bodies close by could be too much for him. Natiera was another matter entirely.
“Contact her” Ben ordered. “She's two hours late”.
“You know what she's up to” Teeana replied lightly, her eyes never leaving the bomb in front of her.
“I don't care what she's up to. She's the second-in-command. We can't start without her”.
“Oh, she knows” Jax said, as he pushed the back of Dalrik's hand against the wooden surface.
“Can you two quit it?” Tee asked. “I'm handling explosives here”.
Jaxon shrugged, loosening his grip on Dal's hand. His eyes slid over Ben, and not for the first time today.
“So, Kylo” Jax said lightly. “Why don't you tell us what happened with the Jedi?” Jazlynn's eyes quickly slipped to Ben's face and away. Teeana and Dalrik shared a quiet glance.
This was exactly what Ben had been worried about. His tale might have fooled someone as dim witted as Hux, but the knights could not be fooled. They had each experienced Snoke's power, and his rage. Convincing them was going to be far more difficult. Ben swallowed thickly.
“I saw her murder Snoke” Ben told them. “He'd stolen her lightsaber, but he was distracted. She managed to turn and ignite the lightsaber while he was busy threatening her life”.
“How did she get passed you, though? I thought you couldn't be beaten” Jaxon asked him thoughtfully.
“Everyone can be beaten” Ben replied. “She knocked me out. By the time I came to, the guards were dead and she was gone”.
“Why did she leave you, though?” Jaxon asked. “You were unconscious, right? So why not kill you while she had the chance?”
“I don't know, why don't you ask her?” Ben replied sourly. This was exactly what he'd been afraid of; the knights picking holes in his tale. At least Nat wasn't here yet.
“Maybe she likes him” Tee said, her quiet voice cutting through Jax and Ben's conversation. Jax laughed.
“Yeah, okay Tee”.
“Well, that's the only reason I'd leave my opponent alive” Tee replied. Jax nodded thoughtfully.
“That's true, I guess. But is she pretty, Kylo?”
Ben was saved from having to answer by the appearance of Natiera. She seemed to have swapped her usual tunic for one of Hux's black shirts. She also seemed to have left behind her trousers.
“Kriff sake, Nat”. Jax said sharply. “Couldn't you have waited till after the debrief? We've been waiting for you for hours”. Nat didn't even spare him a glance.
“Ky” she said coyly. “Can you please tell Jax not to belittle his superiors?”
She passed behind Ben's chair; he felt one of her fingernails drag across his shoulders through the fabric of his tunic.
“Jax is right, Nat” Ben replied sharply. “You can't hold us up while you reunite with Hux”. Nat pouted, but sat down in the chair beside him. She was so tall that Hux's shirt barely seemed to cover her.
“So begin” She said simply, with an innocent smile in Ben's direction. He took a deep breath to calm his nerves.
“Tell me what happened on Takodana” Ben commanded.
“So, we arrived there roughly... oh, seven, eight months ago” Nat replied. “Of course, Maz was less than happy when we demanded she sign over her allegiance to us, and even more so when we asked her to let us bug the kriff out of her cantina, especially when we said we'd trade her the supply drops we've been disrupting for the privilege”. Ben didn't doubt it; Maz could be difficult to negotiate with, and she seemed to take a disliking to the knights ever since his grandfather's helmet went missing from her basement.
“It was disastrous; we ended up in an all-out shooting match with Maz and some of Maz's more loyal regulars. That went on for quite a while, but they eventually dispersed and we've been going through her 'antiques' ever since”.
“And Maz?” Ben asked. Nat rolled her eyes.
“Your little orange godmother escaped us. Again” she replied. Ben wasn't sure if he was relieved or irritated. Maz was an odd woman, sensitive of the force in ways that Ben did not understand. It was always she that he would go to for advice, and it was to her that he had fled after his uncle's betrayal, though he'd only stayed long enough to steal a cracked kyber crystal and his grandfather's helmet from Maz's collections and agree transport for himself and his companions.
Still, he could not bring himself to hate her. Not after all she had done, all she had taught him in his youth. She had been a far better help than Luke had when his parents had been unable to control their son's force-fuelled outbursts.
“Did you find anything of interest?” Ben asked.
“A few bits and pieces” Nat said dryly. “I've had them delivered to your quarters for you to inspect”.
“Now what do you need us to do?” Jax interjected.
“I need you to search the minds of our stormtroopers” Ben explained. “We've had an unfortunate amount of defectors. I want the names of each and every stormtrooper with plans to defect, regardless of how fleeting it is”.
“What do you want us to do once we find them?” Tee asked. Her eyes gleamed with excitement.
“Gather them all together – only after they've all been found – and then cull them. I'll let you decide how you'd like to do that”. A murmur of excitement passed through the knights. Even Jaxon – whom Ben considered to be the easiest of the lot to get along with – seemed eager about the prospect of a mass murder. Teeana was positively beaming.
Teeana was the youngest, the shortest and by far the most harmless-looking of all the knights. With her bright pink hair and small stature, passers by often assumed that she was a child. She was nearly a foot shorter than Ben. She was living proof that looks could be very deceiving. When she left the academy with the rest of the knights at only sixteen years of age, she sharpened her canines to points and had someone chemically alter the colour of her eyes. Teeana thrived on inflicting pain on others, and specialised – when she wasn't making bombs or setting them off – in torture. Whether it was for information or fun, it didn't matter to Tee.
Each one of the knights had killed more people – most of them innocents – than any of them could remember. Whether it was inflicting pain, the pursuit of power or simple, mindless blood-lust, each of them genuinely enjoyed their work. They were Ben's colleagues, they were his knights, under his control, but they would never be his friends.
“Split yourselves into groups, take a set of divisions and work through them. I expect you all to be finished within the week” Ben commanded. He stood up, drawing an end to the meeting, and made his way back to his quarters.
He had left his quarters this morning with the hope of finding peace outside the walls of his home. Now he retreated back within them in search of peace once more. Mercifully, the ghost that haunted him seemed to have grown tired of waiting. Ben removed his cape, draping it over the chair at his table, and sank into the comfort of his bed. His façade removed, he allowed himself to feel the panic that was steadily building within him.
It had taken the knights less than four hours to find holes in his story, to question why he was still alive. It was something he often asked himself. Maybe she likes him, Tee had suggested. A ridiculous notion. He was alive because of the bond that he'd shared with her. He was alive because she had seen through his vicious exterior and he'd seen through her happy, confident shell. He was alive because he knew her, just as intimately as she knew him.
Ben took to the crates that had been delivered, as a way to distract himself. Maz had amassed a large collection of antiques, but it was the ones with a connection to the force that he was most interested in. It took him hours to work his way through the crates. There were very few things of interest. Ben suspected that for the most part, Natiera had given him the crates to spite him for making her search through Maz's castle.
He had found a few items though. There was a box in the bottom of one of the crates. Curious, he pulled it out, setting it carefully on the floor. It was more like a small suitcase than anything else, and when he opened it he found it lined with soft fabric, yellowed with age. There was a bundle of fabric inside, a mix of yellow and pink. Ben reached out, brushing the fabric gently with his fingers.
The sun was bright, too bright, after the dim room in which he'd been standing. It was light and warm and gentle. The scent of flowers hung in the air, carried on the breeze. He was standing on a large stone balcony, overlooking the lake. Ben recognised it immediately, though he'd only been there once before, nearly five years ago. It had been almost in a state of disrepair, nothing compared to the grandness that it showed here. He spun around, noting the flowers that grew in stone pots across the balcony, the tree that brought shade to the quiet corner. There could be no doubt as to where he was.
It was his grandfather's home, on Naboo.
The gentle breeze ruffled his hair as he gazed up at the grand structure. Why was he here? Why was the force showing him this? He heard footsteps against the stone and turned to watch. It was a man and a woman, walking down the path towards him. Could it be? Ben stepped backwards in shock, making way for the couple.
The girl was beautiful. Ben recognised the dress she wore as the one he'd found in the suitcase. Her hair had been pulled up and into an extensive design that he guessed was fashionable for the time. The man with her wore the robes of a Jedi and a lightsaber at his belt. Ben felt a sickening jolt as he recognised the weapon, as it confirmed his suspicions. The man standing before him... could it really be?
It was his grandfather.
He sported a braid that had been common for Jedi at the height of their power. The beads in the braid were supposed to mean something, but Ben did not dare get close enough to check. The woman beside him was leaning against the balcony, looking out across the lake. Her back was bare in the dress, but then he supposed, Nabboo had a warm climate. There were talking, but he was not close enough to hear.
He knew very little about the woman before him. Her name had been Padame Amidala. She had been a diplomat, first as an elected queen of Naboo, and then as it's senator. This he knew, but no more. What she had been like to those who knew her, he didn't know. How she had died, he didn't know either.
Ben felt foolish, for never having wondered. Of course, Darth Vader had been only part of his lineage. He'd never bothered to discover who his grandfather had been before he had joined the dark side, nor what kind of person had taken his heart.
He could see it in his grandfather's eyes as they met the gaze of his grandmother. It was so powerful it was practically tangible. Darth Vader may have been powerful with the dark side, fuelled by hate and anger and his will to survive, but the power that Ben saw in the eyes of the man standing before him... That came completely and entirely from his love for her.
His grandparents came together then, and when she pulled away from him abruptly, Ben recognised the pain in his eyes as surely as he recognised his own reflection. It was the same pain that he felt every time he turned around to realise that there was no-one else in the room, no voice to answer. It was the same pain he felt cross his face every time he realised just how alone he was.
The vision ended abruptly. Light turned to darkness, warmth turned to cold. Ben was back in the confines of his quarters, his grandmother's possessions still in his hand. He shook off the image that had been burned beneath his eyelids. He was not his grandfather. He would never feel the momentary cessation of the loneliness in his heart, as surely as he would never feel Rey's lips softly against his own.
Ben removed the dress from the case, checking for anything else beneath the fabric that might have belonged to either of his grandparents. There was only a necklace. It was a japor snippet, carved with a design. Ben recognised it as an old talisman, for good fortune. Gently, carefully, he picked it up.
It was ice cold.
He felt it then; a sensation so familiar to him, and yet one he had not felt in so long. It was the hair on the back of his neck standing on end. It was the shiver that shot down his spine. It was the knowledge that once again, he was not alone.
She was here.
He spun quickly, his eyes searching the room. A name escaped his lips, one he had only said aloud in the early hours of the morning, when he awoke from his terrible, vicious nightmares.
The feeling was gone the second it had arrived. Ben swore, closing his eyes tight and reaching out through the force, searching for her, for the broken end of the link, for anything that might bring her back to him once more. It was no use; she was gone.
No. She couldn't be. He had come so close. He had felt her presence by his side. The connection had never been severed. Desperate, Ben's eyes scoured the room. She couldn't be gone. She couldn't be. Fury engulfed him, fuelled by panic and pain and loss, Ben could hold it within himself no longer. She had disappeared once more.
He slammed his fist viciously into the metal wall, if only to distract one pain with another. He was right, it was painful. His anger had caused a loud bang that threatened to shatter his eardrums. It had left a crack that ran along the wall from the origin of his punch.
Ben blinked in surprise, and the crack vanished. The wall was damaged, certainly, and covered with the blood from his bruised, beaten knuckles, but not cracked. Maybe he had imagined it. Ben swore, seating himself in the chair at his desk. His glove had not survived his rage. The blood from his hand had seeped through the thick fabric. Ben pulled it off and stretched out his hand, wincing in pain. It wasn't broken, but it was definitely going to hurt him for a very long time.
Chapter 6: A Legend's End
Back in the cold, empty hull of the freighter, Rey receives a message from the resistance, from Finn, that will change everything.
A short chapter for you after last week's long one. If everything goes to plan I'll be getting the next one to you within the next day or two!
Outside the temple, the clear, bright sky had clouded over. Snow fell fast; a blizzard so thick that Rey could see nothing. Retracing her steps back to the freighter took longer than it should have and by the time Rey was back within its hull she was exhausted and shivering violently. Ice and snow hung in clumps to her clothes and hair.
Rey peeled off the outer layer of her clothes from her shaking, numb body as best she could, retreating back into the blankets that were all she had to keep warm. Her frozen, shaking fingers once more sought out the smooth glass of the ink pot. She held it tight, concentrating on the feel of the cold glass against the skin of her fingers. The connection was real. She'd felt his presence in the cave. She'd heard his voice, calling out her name. That couldn't have been her imagination, could it? If is was, then she really was going insane.
The light on the control panel flickered a bright red, catching her attention. Rey was used to flashing lights on control panels; she had been around ships since... well, since before she could remember. Ordinarily a flashing light would not indicate anything important. This light however, told Rey that someone had left her a message. She hoped for a moment that it might be from him, but that was ludicrous. Ben didn't know where she was, and if he did she doubted he would leave her a message. Rey gathered the strength into her icy, shivering bones and crawled across the cold metal floor, keying the control panel.
“Rey, Rey, are you there?” It was Finn's voice, crackled by the ancient equipment. Even with the terrible reception, she could tell that Finn sounded worried. Rey heard him take a loud breath.
“If you get this” Finn continued. “You have to come home, immediately. Leia's condition has deteriorated in the last few hours. I don't think she has long. Please, Rey. Come home”.
Rey hung her head in exhaustion and blinked away the tears that threatened to escape the confines of her eyes. She couldn't waste time crying like a child. Leia was deteriorating. Rey understood Yoda's warning now. What else could it mean but that Leia was waiting for her on Dantooine, in the resistance base? Rey needed to get home.
She struggled to her feet, pulling herself into the freighter's cockpit. The leather was unwelcoming against her skin, and idly she wondered if she should change her soaked, icy clothes before she flew. She decided against it; there was no time. She needed to get back to Leia. Wiping away the ice that was melting its way down her forehead, Rey started up the freighter. It wheezed and shook as Rey ignited the propulsion system, pulling the landing gear back into it's belly.
The ship mercifully remained in place, not dropping to the floor as Rey had feared. She pushed the freighter across the snow drifts and up, into the planet's atmosphere. The freighter shook as it passed through the thick band of cloud that was the source of the blizzard. The topside of the clouds looked like snow, darkened in the ever-fading light as they rotated out of the sun's light.
Safely above the planet's atmosphere, Rey kicked the freighter into hyperdrive. What if Leia had never received her message? What if she died thinking that Ben had gone to the dark side willingly? Rey squeezed her eyes tight, fighting back against the tears. It was nonsense. She wasn't going to die. Not the General. Not Leia.
The stars that passed in a rush of light looked very much like the blizzard that Rey had escaped from. It was hauntingly beautiful, to see each star as nothing more than a flash of white. It did nothing to calm her. Fear gripped Rey's heart with an icy cold fist as she brought the freighter out of hyperdrive. Dantooine was a wonderful mix of deep greens and blues beneath her. Rey pulled the freighter into the planet's atmosphere. It wasn't a sight she was ever going to be used to, even if her heart was pounding too fast to appreciate it.
Dantooine was covered in a beautiful, thick green forest, held back by deep blue lakes. Rey had decided when they first arrived that she would never get used to the sight of the lush greenery. It was so different from what she had been used to in her youth.
The freighter shook once more as it passed through the atmosphere. Rey made a mental note to ask Poe to decommission the ancient ship. It was clearly no longer fit for purpose, and Rey had been unable to properly hone her piloting skills in it.
The resistance base came into view and Rey banked to get a proper angle in which to land. The metal bunkers had been painted long ago in a dark green to disguise them from overhead scouts. Over time the bunkers had become covered in vines and greenery as the planet had claimed them. When they had landed on the planet Rey had found herself thinking that they looked more organic than man-made.
The landing bay was the only thing that couldn't be disguised, and so was kept away from the base. The landing bay was nothing more than a patch of short grass, leading to a massive bunker in the same state as the rest of them, where the ships were hidden away.
Rey landed the ship, leading it as it hovered mere meters from the ground. The natural sunlight was replaced with artificial lighting as she pulled the ship into the bunker. There were people watching the ship as she released the landing gear. It didn't surprise her; she'd expected her ship to be noticed by their scanners.
In her hurry, Rey left behind all of her possessions except from the crystal and the ink pot. She could see Finn at the front of the crowd, pushing through to rush over to her. The sight of her room-mate's eagerness brought the echo of a smile to her face. Rey hurried to the landing ramp, still shivering from the cold.
Then she felt it.
It was like the snapping of a cord in her hands. Shock flooded her system, made the floor sway beneath her feet and the air leave her lungs. Something was heavy against her chest, against her face. Her mouth opened, but Rey couldn't force air back into her lungs. Her chest hurt, like a hot metal rod piercing her heart. It brought tears to her eyes, sent them drifting down her cheeks. The cold of the metal ramp disappeared from her feet as she fell. In it's place were a pair of warm arms holding her tightly, Finn's voice loud as he called her name. Rey couldn't answer, couldn't get enough air to reply. She felt the sting of her cold hands gripping onto Finn's hot arms tightly.
The sensation left her. Rey gasped the air back into her system, felt the pain in her chest lessen into a dull ache. Her eyes stung as tears fell from them. She looked up, into Finn's panicked face. Her friend, calling her name.
“Rey? Rey? GET ME A MEDIC!” She felt his fingers, warm against her neck. He was checking her pulse. Clearly, whatever he had found disturbed him greatly. His calls for a medic became more panicked. Weakly, she raised her hand towards him. He encased it within his own.
“You're frozen, Rey” he said softly. “What happened?” Rey took another deep gasp of air, and found that she could talk.
“I felt it” she whimpered, still reeling from the realisation that crashed over her. “Leia's gone”. She saw pain cut through Finn's expression. Then worry.
“Where's Poe?” Rey asked. She didn't need the answer; she already knew. Where else would he be?
“Come on” She pulled herself to her feet, ignoring Finn's protests that she needed a medic first. His hand was warm against hers as she pulled him away from the crowd, away from the landing bay. She knew exactly where Leia had been, like a cold spot in an otherwise warm room. The shouts emitting from Leia's quarters only confirmed her suspicions.
She pulled herself through the large crowd that had gathered in the corridor leading to Leia's quarters, dragging Finn along with her. There was a chaotic mix of noise, from the murmurs and whimpers of the crowd to the screaming of the man within the room. Rey shoved the door open, passed R2D2, who had been guarding the door.
Poe was held back from the body on the bed – covered entirely with a white blanket – as he wrestled viciously against four resistance members. She rounded the chaos to the front, standing between Poe and Leia's body. Rey grabbed Poe's face in both of her hands, holding him still, holding his eyes firmly against hers.
“Poe? Poe?” She said softly, willing him to look at her. “She's gone. I felt it, Leia's gone”.
Poe stilled. The resistance members stepped back, releasing their hold on Poe. His eyes were clouded with tears. It was an unsettling sight; to see the man who was a constant source of determination and cheer, now looking so much like a lost young boy.
Poe's strength gave in. No longer held back by his peers, Poe collapsed onto his knees. Rey followed him, holding him tightly as he sobbed, his grip tight against her shoulders. She felt his body shake against her own. He was burning hot and damp in sweat, and Rey knew without asking that he'd found her, that he'd fought to revive her, even when she was passed reviving and he'd had to be restrained by the very people he'd called on to help. Finn was at her side, one hand on Poe's back. Rey met his sorrowful expression with one of her own. Finn's message must have been sent shortly after she'd left for the cave. She'd been away for too long, spent too long searching for the crystal. Leia was gone.
Chapter 7: An Open Wound
In the shocking aftermath of Leia's sudden demise, the resistance must come together to continue their fight for the freedom of the galaxy. Yet Rey's attention is pulled in a different direction; to the grieving son of the resistance's most beloved general.
Sorry for the absurdly long wait between this chapter and the last! I've been very busy, and I'm currently posting this from my bed in hospital. I hope that the chapter is worth the wait, and if you have any ideas for improvement I'd be delighted to hear from you!
The conference hall was packed. Everyone in the base had been summoned and sat in mournful silence. Even Rose was here, sitting silently next to Finn, their hands clasped tightly together. Rey tried to ignore the nauseous feeling the sight gave her; now was not the time for jealousy. Poe sat on Finn's other side, his red-rimmed eyes fixed on the ground. He had cried a wet patch into the shoulder of Rey's tunic until she'd begun to wonder how a person produced so many tears. They'd sat in a silent embrace, and – much later – when Poe was finished crying he'd gotten to his feet without a word and left the room robotically, as if he was on auto-pilot.
He hadn't said a word to Rey when she'd taken the seat next to him in the conference room. It frustrated Rey; she had no idea how to help him. She wasn't used to having to comfort people, and hugging Poe had seemed to reduce him to a crumbling wet mess. She was going to have to ask Rose for some help later.
She recognised the woman who stood up, taking the space in the centre of the room as Commander D'Acy. The commander's eyes scanned the room and she took a long, deep breath.
“Leia is gone” she said quietly. The room was silent. Poe's head hung lower. “A few days ago, she gave me this letter -” she explained, pulling the letter from the inside pocket of her jacket “- and instructed me not to open it until after she... after she... died” D'Acy finished quietly, the pain raw across her face. At the mention of the letter Poe's eyes lifted towards the commander.
D'Acy opened the sealed envelope and pulled out the letter, her eyes scanning the words.
“My dear friend” she said quietly. “If you have opened this letter then it is likely that my life has ended. I would like to remind you, and all the members of the resistance, that even though I am gone, hope remains. It remains in the hearts of each one of us; each person grown into a life of poverty, war, slavery and suffering. Hope prevails, and now it is your job to carry it on. So dry your eyes; there's no time for tears, not when the galaxy is still at stake”.
It was typically Leia, Rey thought. Leia had always been a symbol of strength and hope, as fierce and determined a woman as Rey had ever known. Commander D'Acy looked around the room once more.
“With that in mind, the resistance will be needing a new General” she read. “I name General Dameron as my successor, unless I've had to slap him again recently”. There was a quiet, soft smile that drifted through the crowd. Poe's eyes were fixed on Leia's letter, his face still empty of expression.
“With that in mind, please tell General Dameron that he has the full confidence of his predecessor, and may the force be with you all” D'Acy finished. All eyes turned to Poe.
Slowly, he stood up, but made no move to the centre. His eyes still lingered on Leia's last communication.
“I... I...”. His hands tightened into fists, his knuckles whitening. Rey placed her hand around his silently. He seemed to draw strength from her touch, his fist loosening slightly.
“I took on the role of general because Leia asked me, because I thought... I thought she was coming back. I know in the past I've been reckless. I've made decisions that got people killed. I led a mutiny and nearly killed us all, so I wouldn't blame anyone who didn't want my position to be permanent”. He took a deep breath, steadying himself.
“I call a vote” he told the crowd.
There was a moment of complete silence. D'Acy's eyes scanned the crowd again.
“Who agrees that General Dameron's position be made permanent?” she called out. The resistance members began to raise their hands. Seeing that this must be how to vote, Rey raised her own hand. On Poe's other side, Finn and Rose did the same. Poe looked around the room. The vote was unanimous.
“My sister was one of the people who died” Rose cut through the silence, her eyes darting between D'Acy and Poe as if she expected someone to stop her. Poe turned to her, his eyes shining.
“Everyone makes mistakes” she said softly. “You're no different. You forget that you also saved lives; all of our lives. You fought Holdo's authority because she didn't tell you what her plan was, she didn't tell anyone. You did what you thought was right to save us. It was your idea to fight when it looked like we were all going to die, and your idea to not fight when there was a chance we could escape. That's why Leia asked you to take her place. She believed in you, and so do we”. She looked nervous, Rey thought. Rose wasn't used to speaking to more than a few people; she was almost as socially inept as Rey was.
“Thank you, Rose” Poe said quietly, nodding slightly to her. He turned back to D'Acy.
“I want Finn to be my second” he said firmly. Finn looked up at him, his mouth open in shock. Poe ignored him.
“He risked his life time and time again for us. He's smart, determined, he knows the First Order. There's no-one I trust more”. Poe stood firm, looking to the members of the resistance around him. Nobody challenged him, no-one objected. It was done.
“Take today off” Poe instructed to them. “We'll come back tomorrow, with the strength that Leia believed we could”.
The crowd dispersed. Rey met Finn's eye as Poe walked over to D'Acy, trying her best to look pleased for him. The grief from Leia's death had washed through Rey, leaving her empty and cold.
“Welcome back, Rey”. Her attention was pulled away at the sound of Rose's voice.
“Rose, you're standing!” She wrapped the girl in her arms, squeezing her tight. Rose looked tired, as though the effort that it took to stand had exhausted her.
“Yeah, I have a physio session in a minute, but we could catch up later, if you want?” Rose's voice rose slightly as she spoke. Rey nodded eagerly, more to calm Rose's nervousness than anything else.
“Sure, I'll catch up with you later” she replied.
Rose disappeared into the corridors of the base, Finn at her side. Left by herself, Rey shifted uneasily from foot to foot. She knew what she wanted to do. She wasn't sure if she should. The wave of nausea threatened to crash over her. Rey gathered herself together and headed for the corridor leading to the storage bays.
“Rey!” She turned to the source of the call, behind her. It was Finn. He regarded her with the same worried expression that he always did.
“Where are you going?” he asked her.
“I was going to grab some breakfast-”
“-Lunch” he interjected.
“Lunch” she agreed. “I was going to grab some lunch from the... you know, the place where they keep the things that go bad more quickly”.
“You can eat our regular stuff, you know” Finn replied. “You don't have to eat the stuff that goes out of date soon”.
Rey nodded; she'd heard it all before. Finn must have noticed her eagerness to get away, because his eyes narrowed in concern.
“Come with me” he told her. “I'm taking Rose to her physiotherapy, and after we can get in a few laps before lunch? You look like you could use the freshening up”. His eyes sparked mischievously and Rey fought the smile that began to cross her face.
“I'm fine, really” she protested.
“No-one should be alone today” he replied softly, his eyes dimming as he looked behind her, no doubt to Poe's tensed shoulders as he spoke quietly with the commander. Rey nodded, giving up for the moment. She followed Finn and Rose to the medical bay.
When she'd arrived on Dantooine with the resistance, Rey had been delighted with the planet's lush greenery and the massive lake not too far away from the resistance base. It's waters were refreshingly cool after the planet's hot, humid climate. It was crystal clear, and Rey had quickly learned how to open her eyes under the water. She'd spent many sleepless nights swimming laps in the lake, until she'd pulled herself from it with tired and aching muscles and collapsed on the bank, willing exhaustion to keep the nightmares at bay. It never did.
It was to the lake that Finn had taken her. The sun was a fierce heat in the sky, but the water was deliciously cool. Rey and Finn had stripped down to their undergarments and taken to the water. They weren't the only ones. They had raced each other in laps across the lake, until they collapsed, exhausted, on the bank of the river and allowed the sun to dry them. Rey wasn't fooled, she knew that Finn was working her deliberately, trying to take her mind off Leia's death and the inevitable battle. It was something she appreciated greatly.
Once more dried and dressed, they joined Rose for dinner in the canteen. Rey had worked up an appetite and quickly devoured her meal. It still seemed strange to her that she was freely given food, but it was something that Rey enjoyed regardless. In the time she'd spent with the resistance Rey had discovered that she had a voracious appetite. Finn and Rose were discussing Rose's physiotherapy sessions and it took a while for Rey to find a large enough gap in the conversation to excuse herself. By the time she had slipped away under the pretence of using the bathroom, night had fallen on Dantooine.
Rey headed once more to the storage bays, squeezing between boxes and crates of supplies to the smallest room the farthest away from the main hum of the resistance. The room was rusted and old, but it was complete. No vines or fauna had slipped through here; there was no window to let in natural light or give a view of the forest outside. There was nothing to suggest that the forests of Dantooine lay outside its walls.
Rey shut the door quietly, stacking crates up against the door until it was impossible for it to be opened from the outside. The ground was rusted tin underfoot. Rey took a deep breath, calming her racing heart. This was all kinds of wrong. This was a terrible idea and she should leave and head back to the canteen and to Finn and Rose and Poe who needed her so very much...
Rey felt her fingers brush the smooth surface of the ink pot and drew it from her pocket. It was warm now. She held it tight, shutting her eyes. Could she do it? Should she? Nausea threatened to wash over her. She reached out with the force, searching for the link she'd felt in the Jedi temple. She pulled herself towards it, drawing up the image from her nightmares, the boy who had brought her so much pain.
She felt his presence before she saw him. He was the dark cloud in the corner of her mind, a pocket of pain and grief. Rey opened her eyes, turning to the back of the storage room. He was on the floor, his back resting against the wall and his long legs drawn up against his chest. His deep brown eyes burned slowly into hers.
“She's really gone, then?” He asked quietly, his voice thick. Rey nodded, unable to tear her eyes from his. Ben looked away from her first, raising his eyes to the ceiling as he pulled a ragged breath into his lungs. His eyes were rimmed with red, traces of tears drying into his skin.
Rey didn't know what to do; she didn't know how to comfort him. Ben seemed so incredibly far away, like a distant star she'd often gazed at from her desert prison. She went to him, taking a seat beside him with her back against the wall. She was as close as she dared, but still she could not bring herself to touch him.
Ben cried like many of the children Rey had met on Jakku. He cried silently, like a child who had long ago realised that no-one was coming to comfort him. The sight brought Rey immeasurable pain; as though someone were tearing her heart from her chest. Still she sat in silence beside him. He deserved to know, she thought. He deserved to be told that his mother was gone. He must have felt it, so much more than Rey had. So why had she felt the need to confirm it to him?
They sat together in silence, Rey didn't know how long for. The only sound was the ragged breathing of Ben's otherwise silent sobs. She felt his pain; she felt his grief deep within her chest. It brought tears to her own eyes, to know that the connection was indeed open once more, and that her emotions were as intertwined with Ben's as ever. She felt his pain, felt his tears run down her skin as if they were her own. She felt his sharp breath in her chest and his ache in her heart. Snoke was long dead, and yet still the connection remained as strong as ever.
Eventually Ben's ragged breaths grew more infrequent, replaced instead with his usual quiet breaths. Rey didn't dare look at him. She couldn't bring herself to see the anger that was no doubt returning. She couldn't bare to see him hate her. It took her by surprise when Ben's voice was quiet; soft, even, and empty of malice.
“Did you come to save my soul?” His quiet tone took her by surprise. She turned her head, to find his face empty, his eyes fixed ahead.
“No” she replied quietly.
“Then why?” he asked her. His hand rested in the space between them, his palm against the floor. It drew Rey's eyes, as she remembered in spite of herself that the last time she'd reached for him his skin had been soft and warm. The skin around his knuckles were heavily bruised with splotches of purple and yellow, beneath a network of sharp interlocking cuts and dried blood. He was injured.
“I made you a promise” Rey replied, pulling her eyes away from his hand. He was looking at her, she realised, as her gaze was caught by his own. Her heart raced painfully in her chest.
“You're not alone” she said softly, her tongue tasting the echo of the promise they'd made on Ach-To.
“Neither are you” he replied, his voice almost gentle.
Slowly, silently, Rey placed her hand over his. He burned too hot, as though she'd placed her hand into a fire. His skin was just as soft, just as smooth as she'd remembered. She felt the tendons, hard beneath his skin. She felt the sharp ridges of the cuts across his knuckles, the crusted remains of the dried blood between them. Rey took an icy breath as her surroundings gave way to his.
The room that he was in was dark, the walls and floor both black and the only light coming from a lamp on the floor. It explained the soft orange light that brushed against his face and was reflected in his eyes. The rest of the room was a mess; the furniture broken into splinters or sharp shards of metal. His bed was nothing more than a mattress on the floor, next to what was most likely the charred remains of his metal bed-frame. Pieces of glass and mirror lay scattered across the floor like snow, some of them smeared with blood. He must have hit them, Rey guessed. Mirror. Glass. Broken beneath the force of his grief.
The metal walls had been burned, deep cuts seared into them. They were everywhere; dark gashes of molten metal. She could see it as vividly as if she already had; his lightsaber ignited, his pain burning scars deep into the metal. There was only one wall that had escaped his wrath. Instead of the path left by the lightsaber, there were a series of thin white lines scratched into the metal. A breath caught in Rey's throat as she recognised them. She'd left her own lines scratched into the interior of the AT-AT that had been her home. On Jakku they represented the number of days she had waited for the family that would never come home. Here, they marked the number of days since the battle of Crait; since Ben had killed Snoke and she'd rejected his offer of a place at his side.
Jakku had been her prison, but this room was his. He'd burned it and cut it and destroyed it, reducing it to a shattered representation of his own heart. Seeing the room was like looking into his mind, Rey realised. He was hurting.
“Ben” she murmured. Tears spilled over her eyes, leaving trails down her skin. Ben watched her silently. His fingers parted beneath her hand, intertwining her fingers between his own. His skin was soft, so soft, and Rey drew comfort from the feeling. He didn't squeeze their hands together or move; he only let her fingers fall quietly between his own.
They sat together in silence as tears fell from their faces, neither looking at the other. In the silence they were not the Jedi and the Supreme Leader; they were not the resistance and the first order, only a boy grieving for his mother and a girl who felt his pain as surely as her own.
They might have sat there for days, the presence of each of them bringing comfort to the other. Rey wasn't sure she would have minded if it had been days, rather than hours. How was she supposed to close the connection when all she wanted was to keep it open, to not be alone once more?
“I grew up on Chandrila”. Ben's voice quietly pierced the silence. “Leia... My mother, had a house in the middle of Hanna City, but I preferred the one away from the city, on the banks of the silver sea. I had a swing in the back garden, tied to the branch of a tintolive tree. The city was always too loud for me, too crowded, but my mother needed to be there for her work”. Rey watched him wordlessly. He kept his eyes from her, looking only ahead.
“When my parents fought, their arguments could shake galaxies” he explained. “They hated and loved each other equally in a chaotic, messy tangle. My father was called to the sky as if he needed it to breathe, he could only stay on a planet for two weeks at a time before the urge to fly drove him mad. My mother was married to the senate, she was an advocate for peace. I think she knew that her peace efforts were turning her home into a war zone, yet still she stayed. She was a politician. She used to bring me with her to the senate's meetings, until I turned seven and had a tantrum over the lack of chocolate pudding in the canteen. Apparently I set the building on fire”.
Rey could imagine it vividly; a young Ben Solo creating havoc in the senate canteen. It didn't surprise her in the slightest.
“After that I was left with C3-PO, or my father on the rare occasions that he was home. C3-PO would teach me whatever had caught my interest at the time. I was a quick learner, and became fluent in most of the languages used in Hanna City. I would climb onto the roof and shout profanities at anyone who walked by, when I wasn't stealing books from the local library. I used to spend hours on the rooftops, keeping watch for the Falcon returning home”. Ben swallowed thickly. It was painful, Rey realised. These memories were painful for him, and yet still he wanted to share them with her.
“I was a difficult child” he admitted. “Snoke was a parasite in my ear, whispering to me since before I can remember. I was the son of a high-ranking diplomat; I had no friends. Only Snoke. He was there when I had no-one else, when my parents were arguing or when they simply weren't around. He made sure to cut me off. He made sure that when I had nobody else, I had him. I grew up lonely, and Snoke twisted that loneliness into anger. He sent me spiralling. My parents couldn't control me. I couldn't even control myself sometimes. I was a live wire, a ticking bomb ready to go off at any moment”. He hesitated. Rey wondered what he was seeing. It certainly wasn't the room before him.
“When they realised how... unstable I was, my parents turned to Luke in their desperation. They sent me away. It hurt them to do it, I know that now. It hurt them to admit their failings. It hurt them to push me away. They had loved me. I was a monster living in their home, I was too weak to fight Snoke, and still they had loved me”.
“No” Rey interjected. Ben tore his eyes from the memories that played before him, instead meeting Rey's firm gaze.
“It wasn't your fault” Rey said firmly. “You're not a monster; you were a child, you couldn't possibly have defeated him. He was powerful, manipulative. He stole your childhood, there was nothing that you could have done”. Ben's eyes were unreadable as they met Rey's defiance. Whatever expression he had hidden within his eyes, it wasn't a look Rey had seen anyone else give her. It was a look that made her stomach knot tight.
“Wasn't” he corrected quietly. “You meant to say that I wasn't a monster”.
“No, I didn't” Rey replied, her voice soft but clear. Her heart was racing – what was she doing? - but she remained firm.
“You can't change me” he murmured. “I won't join the resistance”.
“I don't want to talk about that” she admitted. “The first order, the resistance, that's not... I don't want...” she trailed off. What did she want? Why was she here at all, sitting with a man who had murdered so many, holding his hand and trying to comfort him as if he were Poe or Finn or someone worthy of comfort. He wasn't... was he?
Ben's expression was unreadable, entirely foreign to her. Whatever he was thinking, he didn't seem willing to share.
“Have you ever met an Ewok?” He asked her. Rey blinked in surprise.
“An Ewok?” she asked. The conversation had taken a sudden change of subject.
“It's a small furry creature, no taller than a droid” Ben explained. “They live on Endor. My mother thought they were cute, but they're vicious towards strangers, and they have no problem killing those that cross them. My mother brought me to see them once, but she caught me teaching them how to improve their traps and scolded me. It may not have helped that at the time I was wearing the helmet of a trooper they'd killed”. Rey smiled. She couldn't help it.
“Ewoks” she said. “They sound great”.
“I was always getting into trouble” Ben explained. “I once hid in the crawl space of the Falcon for a week when my father visited Takodana. Maz found me in her canteena, playing Sabacc with some of her regulars. My mother was furious at him, he had no idea that I'd ever been aboard, and he was already off-planet by the time Maz had found me. My mother had left me with C3-PO that week, and I'd convinced him I was playing an elaborate game of hide and seek”.
“When I was five” he continued. “Leia kept me tied to C3-PO for three days after she'd taken me to a senate meeting and I'd ran away. I'd tinkered with the hall's power generator and overpowered it, blowing out all the lights at once. I only wanted to make the generator more efficient, but it didn't matter to Leia. There was another time where I'd built a personal propulsion system and attached it to C3-PO for testing. When I was six we had a rare visit from Luke and his droid – R2-D2 – which led to the senate proceedings being halted for four days because R2 had taught me to swear fluently in binary”.
“Why are you telling me this?” Rey asked him, her mind whirring. She could see it, as clearly as if the memories were her own. Ben's soft brown eyes turned on her own.
“I was a difficult child” he explained. “With difficult parents. I've caused so much pain and suffering – I'm not denying that – but years ago I was still just a child, falling asleep to the sound of my parents calling me a monster”.
He let his explanation hang in the air. Rey felt it between them; the admittance of Ben's wrongdoings, and his parents'. He was right – though Rey wondered if it was right for her to agree with him. He had done terrible things, made awful mistakes, but he wasn't the only one.
“I told her, Ben” Rey told him. Ben's eyes drifted back to her face in wonder. “I told your mother what really happened at Luke's academy. She died knowing that the mistake wasn't entirely your own”. The expression in Ben's eyes was unreadable; a deep pool of emotion. Rey pulled her gaze from his, frightened by what she might see in them.
“She was the only person I could talk to about you”. Rey's stomach knotted tight as she wondered if she was making a terrible mistake admitting that she spoke about him at all. Yet still, she couldn't bring herself to stop.
“She would find me sometimes. She liked it when I told her how you turned on Snoke, how you fought beside me. She said you were free at last, to make your own choices. Leia knew well enough the mistakes you made, but she was proud of you all the same”. Ben took a quiet, shaky breath, but said nothing.
“When I got to the resistance, after I left the starkiller base, Leia found me” Rey murmured tiredly. “I'd never met her before but she seemed to know me anyway. She held me. She asked about you too; about whether or not you looked well, if you had grown since she'd seen you last. She wanted to know if you were still growing your hair to cover your ears...” Rey trailed off sleepily. She hadn't slept the previous night at all, and every night in the past six months before that one had been plagued with nightmares. Ben seemed to be in no better condition. His shoulder brushed her own; a closeness that brought a tightness – almost nervousness – to Rey's stomach.
“I have... large ears” Ben murmured quietly to her, his eyelids fluttering shut. Rey made a quiet noise of disagreement. It was the most she could manage. Tiredness had taken its toll on her, Ben's hand was warm against her own and his shoulder was surprisingly comfortable... Rey felt the weight of Ben's head against the top of her own and closed her eyes. Sleep came to her, and for the first time in six months she slipped into it dreamlessly.
Chapter 8: Aftermath
In the wake of his mother's death Ben Solo turned to the one person in the galaxy who brought him comfort. In the cold light of day, will he regret his decision?
Another long chapter for you folks! I'm out of hospital and have spent most of my recovery time writing, so I'm excited to say that I have another chapter ready for you which will be posted at 10:30pm GMT tomorrow! I'm really excited to know what you think of where I'm taking these characters, and if you have any tips or criticisms for me I would love to hear them!
The first noise that Ben heard was the beeping of the communicator on the control panel. It roused him from the depths of his dreamless, peaceful sleep. Ben rubbed the sleep from his eyes, scanning the room in spite of himself. Rey was not here. The link between their minds must have ended some time in the night. He recalled his wild ramblings with a growing sense of horror. Had he really left himself so open, so vulnerable, to the only person in the galaxy with the power to break him?
Yet she hadn't broken him. Even more surprising; she'd sought him out to comfort him in his grief. Even after he had tried to destroy what little family she had found, she'd taken his side and his hand and given him her soft, gentle words. Ben replayed the words in his head, though they made the ground sway beneath him.
Not a monster, she'd said. Not alone, she'd promised.
She'd listened to his wild ramblings. She'd told his mother the truth about Luke and the academy. Leia had died knowing that he wasn't solely at fault for the mistakes of that night, and when she'd heard that he'd shrugged off the chains of his former master... She'd been proud of him.
The knowledge would have tasted sweet, if it wasn't for the incessant beeping.
Ben groaned, climbing to his feet, his head spinning after so long spent on the floor. He keyed the control panel, perhaps a little harder than was necessary.
“What is it?” He growled. Hux's voice responded smoothly, with perhaps a hint of smugness.
“Supreme Leader, your presence is requested in the conference room, if you could bring yourself out of your chambers to meet us”. Ben checked the time on the control panel. He was indeed late; the clock indicated that he had slept well into the afternoon. Rey's presence must have quietened his mind, kept his nightmares at bay. He couldn't remember the last time he'd slept without disturbance. Maybe he never had.
Ben filled the information away for further investigation. He had things to do, and his knights would notice a lapse in concentration.
“I'll be there shortly” he replied. “Schedule my quarters for repair, General”.
“Yes, sir”. Hux's reply was hesitant, and Ben knew why. Any attempt to enter his quarters in the last six months – by droid or by personnel – had been met with instant, vicious hostility. Eventually not even the droids dared to venture there. Ben had been free to take out his sorrow and frustrations on the surrounding furnishings and had told himself that if he had no place to rest that wasn't covered in debris of glass and metal, well, he had no-one but himself to blame.
Ben changed quietly, on autopilot, his mind too focused on the events of the previous night to be of much use. He still felt the weight of her head against his shoulder, the soft warm of her hair against his face. He could still feel the echo of her small fingers intertwined between his own. In her – rather successful – attempts to comfort him they'd been closer than Ben would have dared imagine, yet in his grief he had forgotten his... nervousness? Embarrassment? Ben tasted the words against his tongue, but nothing seemed to fit. Still, the thought of Rey's soft form against his own brought a heat to his skin that was rather unfamiliar.
It really wouldn't do to be thinking of her now; not when he had to face powerful force-sensitives. It would be a disaster, he thought grimly. No, he needed to focus his attention on the first order, on his duties as Supreme Leader. Ben left the destruction of his quarters behind, treading the familiar path to the conference hall. Stormtroopers snapped to attention as he passed by. Today their presence seemed to unnerve him; any one of the troopers could be a potential defector, quietly preparing to escape into the outer rim of the galaxy or to the resistance base.
And if his mind was aching to travel with them and escape from his life of leadership into the dense forests of Dantooine... well, that was something he was going to have to keep to himself.
In the conference room he found only Hux, Nat and a stormtrooper. Nat had seated herself sideways in Hux's usual seat, her long legs stretched out and her heels leaving scratches in the metal of the table. She paid no attention to Ben's presence – not that he'd expected her to – as she flicked the screen of her data pad. The stormtrooper was seated between Nat and Hux, his helmet removed and brows drawn tight in nervous hesitation.
“Supreme Leader, joining us at last?” Ben ignored Hux's jibe, taking his preferred seat at the opposite end of the table.
“Why did you call me here, General?” Hux had a face which would contort into the most unusual expressions of disgust, Ben noted. He wore one of those expressions now.
“RA-2711 has a message for you, Supreme Leader. He refused to deliver it to anyone but yourself, at a considerable waste of his superior officer's time”. The contempt was clear in Hux's voice, but Ben ignored it.
“If I am the only one to hear the message, then so be it”.
Hux's jaw twitched, but he must have decided against the confrontation. Ben would have hoped that it was a sign that his feral dog was learning his place, but he knew General Hux better than that. Hux got to his feet, fixing his already-impeccable jacket, and made a quiet exit.
“You too, Nat” Ben said sourly. Nat looked up from the data pad in disinterest, as if she'd forgotten all about the meeting. Ben wasn't fooled.
“Of course, Ky” she answered sweetly. Ben held up his hand as she passed.
“Leave the data pad” he ordered. Nat's eyes tightened in response, but she did as she was told, and left the room.
RA-2711 was visibly perspiring from his forehead. Ben noted this, noticed the trooper's hands as they gripped his helmet tightly. He was probably doing it in an effort to keep his hands from shaking, from betraying his fear. He was one of their younger recruits; he looked no older than Rey did, but lacked the wisdom that aged her eyes. He was like any other trooper in Ben's army.
None of the others had dared to come to him directly. It was almost enough to intrigue him. Ben tapped the controls on the data pad, turning on the scrambler to interfere with any listening devices Hux had no doubt hidden in the room.
“Deliver your message, RA-2711” Ben commanded. The trooper nodded low enough that it was almost a bow. It looked unusual from his position seated at the table.
“Supreme Leader” the trooper fumbled. “Please forgive me for disturbing you, but I didn't know who else it was safe to turn to. I've been hearing things – rumours – amongst my squadron. These rumours detail a large group – thirty or so – preparing to defect, and it is said that at least one member of the group is a commanding officer”. The trooper's hands shook against his helmet and he placed them under the table to hide them from sight. Ben understood the trooper's hesitation now; anyone he turned to could be a potential conspirator, who would no doubt attempt to kill him to keep him silent.
“Do these rumours give any further detail?” Ben asked the trooper.
“Yes Sir, I believe the defectors plan to leave by the dissident-class light cruiser in hanger C, tonight at twenty-three hundred hours”. The stormtrooper's head was hung low, his face no longer visible from where Ben sat.
“That's a very specific rumour” Ben said. The trooper could not look at him.
“One of the guys in my squadron... RA-2460... he's one of the defectors” the trooper admitted. “He wanted me to join them. I won't, I won't turn my back on the first order. I was living in a bad way on my home planet. If not for the recruitment drive on Tatooine I would have probably died there. I owe you my life, Supreme Leader”.
“Your loyalty will be justly rewarded” Ben replied. “I will see that you are promoted to a more worthy position. Squadron leader perhaps, where your passion may inspire others?” The trooper's face flushed as his eyes returned their focus on Ben.
“Thank you, Supreme Leader!” He gushed. “I will do you proud, I swear!”
“I'm sure you will, RA-2711” Ben replied. “If Phasma's condition does not improve we will be searching for a suitable replacement, and I shall be viewing your progress with interest”. The trooper flushed, standing up to offer Ben a firm salute.
“Thank you, Supreme Leader” he replied, perhaps a little too enthusiastically.
“If you have nothing else to tell me, you may be excused” Ben commanded. The trooper nodded, leaving the room with his head held high.
In the quiet, Ben wondered what to do about the information. He should stop them from leaving, obviously. He could have them rounded up and interrogated. They might expose the network of defectors that infected the population. It would be the right thing to do, yet Ben found that he lacked the enthusiasm for torture. He was not Tee; the notion of interrogation had always been an unwelcome but useful tool in his arsenal. A horrible thought came to him; what if the defectors knew the location of the resistance base, and could not keep it from Hux's enthusiastic form of interrogation? No, he must cull them quickly, mercifully, on his own. It was the only way to ensure that Rey be kept safe for now.
He still had six hours until the supposed escape attempt. What was he to do for six hours? He needed nourishment, that much was certain. More than that, he needed the quiet escape of meditation, of training. Ben headed to the training room nearest to his quarters. It was a favourite of his, with a wall of glass that overlooked the vastness of space.
The training room was empty as usual; the only items present were the variety of weapons that adorned the wall. Ben ignored them, unhooking his lightsaber from his belt. The metal felt cold in his hands, and he dimly recalled that he'd removed his gloves at some point in the night. His weapon was perfectly sized for his grip, yet it was not his hands but another, smaller pair, that he remembered enclosed around the metal casing.
Ben ignited the saber, swinging it expertly in his grasp. The cauterised flesh on both his arm and shoulder had long since healed over – as much as could be expected, anyway – but still he felt the echo of both as he carried out his manoeuvres. It was like stretching out an overused muscle, he decided. The pain was a small reminder of his previous failings, a minuscule annoyance that served to ensure he was not bested in combat again.
He tried not to imagine who he might be fighting, instead preferring to generalise his imaginary opponent. Ben carried out the manoeuvres that both his previous masters had taught him, perfectly. He was nothing if not a dedicated student.
“You've gotten better since the academy”. Ben turned at the sound, to the man at the doorway. It was Jax, his long blonde fringe brushed haphazardly to the side, his warm blue eyes transfixed on him. Ben sighed, extinguishing his saber.
“You watch too often, and do too little. You've always had a thing for watching me train” Ben told him. Jax shrugged, neither in agreement or disagreement.
“Sometimes the easiest way to learn about someone is to observe” he replied. “For instance, your opponent is what, six foot? Slightly above average build? You might as well be fighting yourself, and opponents like you are hard to come by”. He walked over to the training weapons, gazing up at them absent-mindedly.
“What do you want, Jax?” Ben asked, his irritation growing.
“Train with me, Ky” Jax answered, turning to look at Ben, his hands in the pockets of his trousers. They were the same soft material that Ben often wore for training.
“You could have just asked, you know. Flattery is beneath you”. Jax grinned in response.
“Not for my benefit, Supreme Leader. For yours. I lack strength, but I'm small and quick. You should be practising against opponents similar to myself if you hope to best young Rey in battle”.
Ben gritted his teeth against the accusation. Of course, it was true. He should have been training with Rey's stature in mind. Yet the thought of imagining her before him, teeth bared with the same vicious glare as she had in the forest of the star-killer base...
“I'm sorry, Ky, about yesterday”. Jax pulled two training sabers from the wall, throwing one to Ben. He clipped his own saber onto his belt, twisting the training saber in his grasp to get a feel of its balance.
“Don't mention it” Ben replied coldly. Jax held out his hand as Ben pulled himself into a fighting stance, readying himself for the battle.
“Hold on, hold on” Jax said. “Before we start, I want to know that you're not angry at me. I shouldn't have called you out about the girl. What happened to Snoke was... unfortunate. I was only trying to say, it's difficult for anyone to imagine someone with enough power to defeat him. And then she wiped out all of his guards and managed to knock you unconscious!” Jax let out a low whistle, swinging the training saber in his hand.
“I need to meet that girl, you know? If she's as powerful as you say she is, we won't stand a chance unless we face her together”.
The idea of Jax anywhere near Rey was abhorrent. The idea of any of the knights near her, threatening her...
“You're forgiven, let's get back to training” was all that Ben could manage. Jax nodded, pulling himself into his usual stance. It had been so long since Ben had fought against a real opponent, he relished the challenge. Jax swung for him and Ben deflected it, sending Jax spinning against the force of his blow. Jax lunged for him again. He was right; he was small, and fast. Ben gritted his teeth as he battled, trying not to notice how similar in height Jax was to Rey.
Rey was a distraction in his mind, one he needed to overcome. Ben was glad for the many nights he'd spent training – trying to exhaust his nightmares away, in truth – for they had honed his skills enough to match Jax, even with the added distraction. Jax's lunges became more desperate as he tired and Ben found enjoyment in blocking each attempt to injure or disarm him.
Was it his comment about Rey that was bringing rage to Ben's fore?
Ben brought his training saber down before him in a mighty swing. Jax's saber was no match against the strength of his opponent. The metal dented under the blow and short-circuited, leaving Jax defenceless. He swore, holding up his hands.
“Okay, okay” he said. “I yield!” Ben extinguished his own saber, his breathing heavy. Jax's gaze was fixed on him, his expression no different from a prey species watching a predator closing in.
“Ky, for Kriff sake” Jax huffed, dropping the broken saber onto the ground between them. “Do you know how expensive those things are to replace?” Ben laughed, returning a wary grin to Jax's face.
“Remind me not to get on your bad side” Jax said sullenly.
“I'll remind you not to question me in front of anyone again” Ben replied. It was the friendliest warning that he would get from him.
The communicator by the door panel whistled shrilly.
“Supreme Leader, Sir” an officer's voice called out. “A message for you”.
“Go on” Ben replied coldly. The message was crackled, the signal was bad, but the voice was undoubtedly his informant, Caluan Ematt.
“Sir, I have an urgent update for you”. Ben swore under his breath, drawing an amused look from Jax.
“A moment, and I will take your message”.
Ben left the training room and Jax behind, thankful that his quarters were not far. The mess he'd left behind in the morning had been removed, the burnt-out metal panelling replaced. His quarters had returned to an orderly, clean state. Ben keyed to communicator, remembering to turn on the scrambler to interfere with any bugs in the room.
“Proceed, general” Ben commanded.
“Thank you Sir. I am happy to report that Leia Organa is deceased. The resistance have named general Dameron as her replacement, with FN-2187 as his second. The Jedi girl has also returned to base. There were rumours of an argument between her and Dameron, though I don't know it's subject. The resistance is falling apart after Leia's death, they are weaker now than they ever have been. What would you like me to do, Supreme Leader?”
Leia is deceased. The words brought back the sensation of her light extinguishing from the force, it washed through him, leaving him aching and cold. Leia was dead. His mother was gone.
“How did she die, Ematt?”
“How did she die?” Ematt's reply was hesitant.
“I'm not aware, Sir” he replied. “I believe that it was a natural death, in her sleep”. Ben's eyes widened.
He was lying.
Ben could sense the deceit that lined his voice, like a bad smell that had somehow reached him across the galaxy. It was the force. The force was telling him the truth, Ben was certain of it. Ematt had killed her.
What was he to do? His informant was taking orders from someone else. Who had given him the orders? Ben suspected Hux, but Natiera could be equally to blame. It could be any of his knights or officers. The list of people who thought he was handling the first order incorrectly was incredibly long. Any one of them may have thought to take matters into their own hands.
Caluan Ematt was more than an informant; he was a weapon, wielded by an undisclosed enemy. How soon until his aim would be turned to Rey, the only real threat the first order had left?
“Sir? Is the connection still open?” Ematt's voice brought Ben from his thoughts. He needed to do something, and he needed to do it now.
“Yes, Ematt” Ben replied smoothly. “I am disappointed to know that Leia's death was painless, in the end. I had hoped to make her death public; a statement to the last remaining pockets of resistance in the galaxy”. It tasted foul on his tongue, but he said it anyway. Let Ematt's master think that Ben had been holding off for tactical advantage.
“What would you like me to do now, Sir?” Ematt asked. “I believe that the girl plans to remain with the resistance for the time being. It would be easy enough to dispose of her”.
“I want to know why she is arguing with the general” Ben replied. “Any rift in the resistance is open to exploitation. The girl is strong with the force – far stronger than Leia – and disposing of her will not be easy. I want to know everything that happens in that base, you will contact me each evening with an update”.
The connection died, the communication coming to an end. Ben sat on the newly-replaced sofa, his mind a whirl. He was calculating. Hux would know immediately if he left the ship, even for mere hours. His absence would be noticed. There was simply no way for him to travel to Dantooine.
What if he didn't need to travel? The link between their minds still existed, didn't it? What if he could force it open, will it to pass along his warning? Ben shut his eyes, forcing his breathing to steady as he reached out from himself, searching for her light. Finding her was easy; she burned brighter than all the stars in the galaxy. Reaching her was another thing entirely.
The doors to his quarters opened. Ben looked up, breaking his concentration hurriedly. Nat stalked into the room, her long legs bare beneath her tunic and a bottle and a pair of glasses in her hand.
“How did you get in here?” Ben demanded.
“Your door's just been fixed, the droids reset it to the default code” Nat answered.
“Get out” Ben spat, glaring at her. Nat was the very last thing he needed. If she'd noticed his irritation she ignored it, taking the seat next to him on the sofa and placing the glasses on the table.
“Hush, Ky” she purred. “We're celebrating. I wanted to be the first to tell you, the resistance have started broadcasting on old ma Solo's frequency. She died last night! We're trying to track the signal of course, but it's bouncing off about sixteen different planets in this sector alone”.
“She was an old woman, her death is no surprise” he replied, as coldly as he was able. Nat seemed to have taken his hesitation as shock. She poured two large glasses of wine, offering one to Ben. He almost struck it from her hand, but decided against it. Had she been the one behind the assassination, it would be better if he didn't give her cause to act rashly. Reluctantly, he took the glass.
“My quarters are better than this” Nat said, looking around the room. “Though I'm pleased to see that everything is in one piece still. I'm surprised you didn't take master Snoke's dwellings?”
“I am not Snoke” Ben replied sourly. Nat regarded him with interest, taking a sip from her glass.
“No, Ky” she said. “You're not Snoke”.
Ben drank from his glass – the sooner it was gone the sooner she would leave – and set it on the table before him.
“Why are you here, Nat?” he asked her sharply.
“We're celebrating. This is what people do when the leader of their opposition dies”.
“Celebrate with Hux” Ben snapped. His anger brought a smirk to Nat's face. She set her glass on the table next to his.
“Jealous, Ky?” she asked coyly. “I always thought that you preferred my sister”. The memory brought a sharp pain to Ben's chest. The forest... the tree... he could still remember it in vivid, sickening detail. Ben's hands curled into fists.
“You know exactly how I feel about you” he snarled, his voice lined with venom. Nat smirked at him, her red lips stained even darker than usual by the wine. They were the colour of fresh blood.
“Yes, Ky” she replied. “I do”.
With a motion so quick it was almost a blur, Nat pulled him forward, planting her lips firmly against his own.
Ben's first response was shock. He froze, his mind unable to comprehend the path the situation had taken. Natiera's lips were cold. He could taste the wine, but also her. She tasted metallic and bitter. His second response was revulsion. He pushed her viciously away from him, he pushed everything away. The table, the glasses of wine, even the sofa beneath him. The force sent them scattered outwards, with Ben on his feet in the epicentre of the destruction. The force was enough to throw Natiera across the room, where she crumbled against the wall.
She looked up at him, her eyes tightened in anger and a thin line of blood running from her forehead.
Her anger was nothing compared to his. Ben pulled his lightsaber instinctively into his hand, igniting it instantly. His anger boiled and churned in his stomach, as though it were threatening to burn through his skin onto the outside world. He held the lightsaber out before him, threatening her. Daring her.
“Don't” he spat. “Ever, touch me again”. She climbed to her feet, her dominant hand twitching as though she wished to make a move for the lightsaber strapped to her belt.
“Get out” he snarled. She didn't make a move for her lightsaber, instead straightening her tunic. She looked at him with venom, leaving his quarters without a word.
Ben let out a sigh, only now realising that he'd been holding his breath. He surveyed the destruction around him. His sofa and table were still in one piece but the bottle and the glasses were smashed, their contents dripping down the far wall. Everything in his quarters that hadn't been bolted to the ground had either moved or was broken. It was as though an explosion had happened, with him at the centre. Even his bed had moved, its furnishings in a crumpled heap. He extinguished his lightsaber and swore.
What Natiera had been thinking, Ben had no idea. Never in the furthest corners of his mind had he ever considered... had he ever wanted... Of course, that was exactly why she'd done it. He was tempted to wipe his mouth with his sleeve, to rid himself of the cells of his skin that had come into contact with her. The fresher would do it. Or perhaps acid. He shook his head, clearing his mind of the revulsion that threatened to drown him.
Natiera's thoughts aside, the hour of the stormtrooper escape was fast approaching. Ben had very little time left. He clipped the lightsaber back onto his belt, venturing from the safety of his quarters. The corridor outside was empty. Natiera was gone. Ben sighed in relief, taking the quieter route to the hanger that the trooper had mentioned. Hanger C was an overflow storage facility and landing bay. It would be staffed by only a maximum of two troopers; easy pickings for a group of thirty.
Ben headed to the dissident-class light cruiser, lowering the ramp to allow him aboard and shutting it behind him. He switched on no lights – he didn't want to alert the defectors to his presence – instead taking the pilot's seat. He could be patient. The minutes ticked by. Ben tried not to think of Natiera, or the bitter after-taste she'd left behind. He tried not to think of Rey, amongst the people she thought were safe, unaware of the malevolent intent of one of the resistance generals. He would try again to reach her through the force, once the defectors had been justly dealt with.
Eventually the sound of hushed voices reached him. He heard footfall, too many to be as quiet as they would like. The ramp whirred into life, seeming loud in the silence. Ben unclipped the lightsaber from his belt and waited. The cockpit was separate from the main ship; no-one would notice his presence. He waited – scarcely allowing himself to breathe – until the ramp was raised and the door shut once more.
Ben turned on the controls, sealing the door shut. There was a shout of alarm and Ben ignited his saber, stepping into the main body of the ship. The stormtroopers raised their weapons, firing off several rounds of blaster fire. Ben deflected them with ease. He pulled one of the group – officer Unamo, he recalled – to him, clutching her neck in his force-grip like a vice.
“Stop! Stop! Everyone lower your weapons!” One of the stormtroopers cried out, dropping his weapon. He pulled his helmet from his head, exposing his face, his brows tightened in worry. The other troopers held their weapons fixed on him, none of them daring to fire while the officer was in his grasp. The trooper without his helmet held up his hands in defence, his voice taut with worry.
“Please” he begged. “Let her go. Kill me, you can have me, just let her go”. Ben was in no mood to compromise.
“None of you are leaving here alive” he promised. He was surrounded by blasters, yet he knew that he could stop each shot they made. He was in a small room with thirty opponents, yet they were the ones hopelessly outmatched. He tightened his grip on the officer's throat and she clutched at it, her nails digging into her neck uselessly.
“Please!” the trooper begged. “Please don't hurt her! She's my wife, she's pregnant!”
Ben released his hold on the woman.
Of course, he thought. He'd been able to sense her pregnancy when she'd interrupted his meeting with Hux. He could sense it now, little more than a tangle in the force, a growing flicker of light. Hadn't he sent her to the medical bay? Hadn't he sensed the nausea rolling off her in waves? Here it was again, the same uneasy feeling, the presence of two where he could see only one.
The trooper pulled his wife away from him as she coughed and spluttered, her slight hands gripping her husband's arms tightly.
Ben had a choice to make. It had become much more difficult now.
“Drop your weapons and remove your helmets” he commanded. “Or I will kill each one of you, and I will make it hurt”. The stormtroopers looked at each other in what Ben assumed was unease. One by one the weapons were dropped onto the floor, the helmets along with them. They were a wide variety of species, colours and ages. Each of them watched him with fearful, cautious eyes.
“Where are you headed?” Ben asked. The troopers exchanged a hesitant glance.
“We just want to go home” one of the troopers – a humanoid – replied. “You took us by force, from our families and our homes. We won't fight you, we swear. We just want to go home”.
“Speak for yourself” a blonde female hissed. She held her gaze firm and her jaw tight. “The first order is evil, you are evil, and if you want me to stop fighting you, you'll have to kill me yourself”.
Ben looked around the room, at the faces that surrounded him. All of them were frightened. Some of them were crying. The pregnant officer had recovered and was being held by her husband, tears falling from her face as she held a tentative hand across her abdomen.
Ben's mind had been made.
“You're going to Dantooine” he said. Surprise rippled through the group.
“The resistance base is there” Ben explained. “They will be glad of the new recruits, but if you want to escape the war they'll help with that too. They have trade routes set up with neighbouring systems; they'll be able to smuggle you back to your home planets”. The stormtroopers exchanged hesitant glances.
“You're going to let us go?” one asked.
“No, if I let you go you would be dead before you hit light-speed. The shield was converted to keep ships in as much as to let them out. I'm going to give you the code to disable the shield. I'm going to help you escape”.
“Why?” The officer's husband asked, getting to his feet. His eyes were wide, and empty of malice.
“You're going to deliver a message for me” Ben replied. He relayed the message to the troopers, watching the fear turn to wonder in their eyes. Officer Unamo climbed to her feet, taking her husband's offered hand.
“Thank you” she mumbled thickly. “Thank you, so much”. Ben nodded curtly, reaching out with the force to disengage the ramp locks. The ramp descended at his will and he departed the ship.
“You used the default code on my new door to gain access to my chambers and take the security code from my personal terminal” Ben instructed the officer's husband. He nodded in response; the man practically smiled.
“Also, you took the time to steal my credit chip from the first drawer of the desk” Ben said, throwing the chip to the man, who caught it in bewilderment.
“It will expire seventy two hours after I report it missing, which will be the same time they discover that you are no longer at your posts. Use it wisely. Buy fuel and provisions, and anything else you need. Nothing that the first order can track, remember”.
“Thank you, Supreme Leader” the man smiled. “I believe we might have been wrong about you”.
“You are right about the first order, soldier” Ben replied. “You have my code, you have my credit chip, get out of here while you still can. Remember, the message can only be given to the Jedi, Rey. You'll find her somewhere in the vicinity of FN-2187. He goes by the name Finn, now”.
“Yes Sir” the trooper replied, giving a last salute to Ben. The ramp ascended, the propulsion system firing. Ben walked back to his quarters a little lighter than he had left.
Chapter 9: Fallout
Rey wakes to find herself returned to a planet in mourning. In an effort to understand the storm brewing within her, she reaches out to those closest to her. With Leia gone and her communication with Ben Solo perilously close to exposure, what they have to say will surprise her.
Another long chapter for you folks, and if you enjoy it I'm putting up another chapter tomorrow at 10:30pm GMT! Happy reading.
Ben's shoulder was solid, but the tunic he wore was soft, so soft. He radiated heat. It was a warmth she had found herself craving after her time spent alone on the icy planet of Ilium. It was a warmth that reached into her very bones, lifting away a weight that had been with her for so long, she couldn't remember life without it. Even the heaviness of Ben's head as he rested it against her own did nothing to keep her from feeling lighter than she ever had. Rey felt her eyelids grow heavier, flutter closed. It was all she could do not to fall asleep. She looked down at their hands, their fingertips intertwined gently. He was holding her. His grip was gentle, his hand resting with his palm flat to the floor, but there was no mistaking the pressure of the tips of his fingers between her own.
What did it mean? What was she supposed to do? Rey didn't have an answer. She was so tired, so very tired. They had been talking, hadn't they? Something about ears?
“I like your ears” Rey whispered to him. At least, she tried. Exhaustion washed through her. Perhaps she hadn't even made a sound. Rey could no longer feel the solid metal floor beneath her, only the comforting warmth of his arm against her own. There was something so incredibly peaceful about being drawn up beside him, listening to his breathing deepen and slow into a gentle rhythm. He was far taller than she, yet she fit against him perfectly, as if she was meant to be there all along.
Rey had never done this before; never sought out the company of another in the night. Even when she'd stayed at the resistance base, when she'd woken from nightmares night after night with her pillow dampened by her tears. Finn had been there. He'd held her, smoothed down her hair, dried her tears. His presence was soothing, but here she felt safe, here she felt peace at last.
What did it mean? For her, for Ben, for the resistance, for the galaxy? What was she supposed to do, when her greatest adversary was the one person who brought her such peace? How was she supposed to stand against him, when each cell in her body told her that where she was right now was where she was exactly where she was supposed to be?
At some point during the night Rey's quiet fretting settled. Sleep came to her gently, it crept upon her so that she barely noticed it's arrival at all. She noticed his absence first. His shoulder had been replaced with a harder, colder metal floor. Rey stretched out her hand, still expecting to feel his fingertips between her own. There was nothing but air. She opened her eyes, their lids impossibly heavy. Ben's quarters were gone, replaced once more with the storage room on Dantooine. She shut her eyes, shielding them with her hand from the harsh artificial lights.
Had they been there a few moments ago? She'd been sure she'd been in darkness. She scanned the room in spite of herself, but nothing of Ben's surroundings remained. The link had been closed. Her chest was heavy, she realised. It was raw and open and vulnerable. She was vulnerable. The peace she'd found at Ben's side was draining away fast, leaving her with an unmistakable ache in her chest.
She was missing him.
Rey pulled herself to her feet, shaking off the stiffness that had grown in her joints in the night. Metal floors were some of her least favourite places to sleep, she decided. How long had she been asleep? There was no way to tell. A few hours, Rey guessed. Her absence would be noticed; she needed to rejoin the other resistance members. Maybe it was still night, maybe Finn was asleep in their room, or more likely than not waiting there for her anxiously.
Rey pulled the crates – her make-shift barricade – away from the door, peering out into the corridor. It was empty. She gathered herself together, stepping out into the corridor and following the path back the way she had came, towards the living quarters, and the room that she shared with Finn. The quarters were little more than boxes of metal with a few small furnishings. Each room contained two single beds, with enough room for a storage box for each person's belongings. Rey's room was the ninth door on the right in the corridor. She opened the door slowly, expecting to see Finn asleep in his bed, her own one welcoming her home.
Instead, the room that greeted her was vastly different than when she'd left it. The single beds had been placed together, the storage boxes had been moved together in the corner of the room. There was a potted flower sitting on one of the boxes, a knitted throw placed across the floor as a make-shift rug. It had been entirely changed whilst she'd been gone.
Where were her things? Not that she had many, but she'd left behind a small box of clothes at least; things she'd been given by Leia, things she had made herself. Rey left the room, shutting the door tight. She did not wish to disturb someone else's possessions.
She found Finn in the mess hall, with Rose at his side as always.
“Rey! Where have you been?” Finn pulled her into a tight hug.
“What do you mean?” she asked. “How long was I gone?” Finn and Rose exchanged a look of confusion.
“Rey, it's four o'clock” Finn replied. “In the afternoon”.
Four o'clock. She had slept far longer than she'd ever thought possible. Even when she had sliced her leg with a rusted piece of machinery and the fever had set in, she hadn't slept as long. Of course, on Jakku sleeping had meant starvation. Here it meant that people grew concerned.
“I was training” Rey explained. “I guess I lost track of time”. Finn's expression changed from confusion to relief. There was a weariness about him that Rey found discomforting. It was the same weariness that she saw in the rest of the resistance, the same hollow look in their eyes. They missed Leia. She'd been so preoccupied by Ben's grief that she'd forgotten that she was returning to a planet in mourning.
“Do you know where my things are?” Rey asked. It was more to distract herself from the weight of the grief she could feel pressing down on her through the force. Finn dropped his rations back onto his plate.
“Yeah” he replied. “Rey, I'm sorry. I wanted to tell you last night, but you disappeared...” his eyes met hers hesitantly.
“Rose and I...” he began. “Well... we thought it would be best if we moved in together, what with Rose not being fully recovered and all”.
“Oh!” Rey understood now. The beds pushed together, the homely rug on the floor. Finn and Rose were coupling. She tried her best to look happy for them.
“That's lovely!” she said, trying to ignore the hollow ache in her chest.
“I can always stay over, if your nightmares get too bad” Finn said, quietly enough that only the three of them could hear it.
“No, really, I'm fine” Rey protested. “My nightmares are gone now”. Finn didn't look convinced.
“I still think you should have a room-mate” he insisted. “Just in case”.
“Really, Finn. I'm okay”.
“I could do it”. Rey turned towards the source of the voice. It was Poe, BB-8 peeking out from behind his legs. Even from here Rey could see that Poe had taken Leia's death hard. His skin had taken on a sallow tinge, the skin under his eyes becoming darker and more pronounced. He looked old beyond his years.
“Thanks, Poe” Rey replied quietly. “But I don't need someone to look after me”.
“I know, but it'll be nice to have a room-mate again, and you're technically getting two room-mates for the price of one”. BB-8 chirped happily, rolling over to bump lightly against Rey.
“I know” she said to him softly. “I've missed you too”.
“So it's settled”. Poe threw her a key. “It's the second room on the left, your belongings are already there”. BB-8 beeped excitedly, happy to have Rey staying with them. Rey managed a small smile in the droid's direction. Poe could use the company as much as she did. If her nightmares returned tonight she would be grateful of his presence, even if it wasn't the one she truly wanted. She tried not to think about it; about how peaceful she had slept last night, nor how much better her sleep would be if each night was like the last.
Poe vanished into the crowded mess hall, BB-8 close at his heels. Finn and Rose shared a small glance, a slight smile.
“I have a meeting soon with Poe and the other generals” Finn said quietly. “We're discussing Leia's funeral”.
“I'll see you after” Rose replied. Finn planted a soft, tender kiss on her lips. Rey looked away, her stomach knotting tightly.
“Don't go vanishing again” Finn said to Rey, a little light restored to his eyes as he gave Rey a one-armed hug.
“I won't” Rey promised. Finn held both thumbs up as he sped off into the crowd, after Poe. The resistance had more than doubled in members since Rey had last been here. She had taken only seventeen survivors from the battlefield of Crait. Now there were more than fifty. It was more noise than Rey was used to.
“Do you want to get out of here?” Rose asked her. Rey nodded, thankful. Her isolation had left her unused to large groups of people. That was something that was going to need to change.
Rose took her to the garden at the back of the resistance base, where they grew a portion of their food. For the moment, it was empty. The wind whistled through the trees, carrying with it the scent of pine. Rey breathed deeply, glad to be out in the open air. She and Rose took a seat on a large wooden bench that had been crudely carved from a fallen log. It was several minutes before Rey found the courage to speak.
“Can I ask you something?” she said softly. Rose's eyes widened, but she nodded nonetheless.
“When did you first know, how you felt about Finn?” Rey met Rose's eyes quickly, not daring to linger her gaze.
“On Canto Bight” she replied. “We escaped the guards, riding on the back of a Fathier. I was certain we were going to die; we couldn't see a way out, the guards were so close. Finn turned to me and told me that it had all been worth it, to destroy the town that preyed on the vulnerable and profited from war and suffering. That was when I knew. Why, do you have someone in mind?” Rey shook her head, focusing instead on the garden before them.
“No” she replied. Rose smiled at her. It was a smile as gentle as her name; a knowing smile.
“Poe?” she asked. Rey shook her head.
“It's not like that” she explained.
“Then what?” Rey kept her eyes fixed to the ground, not daring to read the expression on Rose's face.
“Finn told me that before you kissed him, you told him that we would win the war not by fighting what we hate-”
“But by saving what we love” Rose finished.
“Do you really believe that?” Rey's question hung in the air between them. Eventually, Rose answered.
“I do” she said softly. “Why do you ask?” Rey shook her head. No-one would believe her if she tried.
“Finn told me how strong you are with the force, how you lifted those rocks without touching them and saved all our lives” Rose told her. “He also said that you were on the Supremacy while we were there. He said that you and Kylo Ren took down Snoke and his guards. What was he like?”
“Snoke?” Rey asked hesitantly.
“Kylo Ren” Rose replied. “He killed Snoke, didn't he?”
Rey took a deep breath, nodding. Rose didn't respond, her question left unspoken between them.
“He's not what I expected” she said at last, looking down at her hands. She still felt the slight pressure of his fingers intertwined with hers. It was like an echo, as if he was a ghost that she carried with her.
“What happened?” Rose asked. “Finn told me a lot, but it's not the same as hearing it from you”.
Rey told her. Not the whole truth, of course, but everything she had told Finn and Poe and Leia. Still she couldn't bring herself to admit that Ben had asked her to join him. It was her secret to keep, her memory to guard. It was something she simply couldn't share; what if they lost all trust in her? What if they realised that the decision to stay had split her spirit in two?
There was one thing she could tell Rose, one thing that she had divulged only to Leia.
“Luke wasn't the legend I believed he was” Rey admitted. “Luke told me himself; he looked into his nephew's mind. He saw that Snoke had taken root there, but instead of believing in him – instead of trusting that his fight hadn't yet been lost – he gave up on him. Luke drew his saber on him while he slept, and Ben woke to find his master – his uncle – prepared to murder him. There was nothing left for him to turn to but Snoke”.
“Woah” Rose said quietly. “Luke Skywalker... helped create Kylo Ren?” Rey nodded.
“I haven't told anyone else” She admitted. “Only Leia; I wanted to give her time to mourn her brother first”.
“Kind of makes you feel sorry for him” Rose said. “Having to put up with Snoke poisoning his mind all his life, then having the very person who was supposed to help him fight Snoke, turn on him instead”. Rey turned to stare at Rose, examining her face for a sign that the girl was mocking her. She wasn't.
“He was kind” Rey told her, her voice dropped to a whisper. “I was so upset, after all I'd seen in the cave. He comforted me, he told me that I wasn't alone. When he killed Snoke I thought...” she trailed off. What had she thought? That he would join her, join the resistance? That they would bring down the first order? That he would stay by her side and they would train a new generation of Jedi? Was that what she wanted?
“Saving what we love” Rose whispered back. Her eyes were wide and gentle, a warmth to their brown hue.
“I was jealous of you” Rose admitted. “In the beginning. The last Jedi, the war hero. I thought that you and Finn...” Rey shook her head, smiling softly. It was a smile that Rose returned.
“Rey!” She turned towards the source of the call. Poe was walking towards them along the narrow path that led back to the resistance base. Rose got to her feet, perhaps a little unsteadily.
“I'll see you at dinner” she whispered with a smile, heading back down the path. Poe greeted her warmly as they passed each other, taking the space where she had sat on the bench next to Rey. He looked paler than usual. It was a sight that discomforted Rey. How was she to help him?
“Where's BB-8?” She asked, looking around for the droid.
“He's setting up the freighter. We're doing a supply run” Poe explained.
“You're going?” Poe nodded.
“I need to be in the air” he explained. “I don't know; everything seems so much simpler from a cockpit”. Rey understood. She had often longed to be in the pilot's seat, the ground disappearing beneath her. There was a certain peace that came from flying.
“How did the meeting go?” Poe pulled a face.
“Leia deserves better than to be buried in this place. It's nice, but it's not home”. Rey examined his expression carefully, mindful of his grief. Could she? Should she?
“Leia's home planet was destroyed, wasn't it?” Rey asked.
“Yeah. She made a home for herself on Chandrila for a time. She was a senator there”.
“What is it like, Chandrila?” Poe shrugged in response.
“It's mostly cities, with small pockets of rural areas. Chandrila has always been largely neutral. It hasn't supported the resistance effort, but it hasn't favoured the first order either”.
Rey's heart raced. If she was going to ask, she had to do it now. The notion had taken root in her mind since Leia's death; it's growth hadn't been hindered by common sense or reason. Maybe there was a reason for it's persistence. Rey took a deep breath, calming her frayed nerves. It had to be now.
“Leia's life was about bringing peace” Rey said softly, her eyes wandering Poe's face, waiting for a quick rejection.
“It was what she worked her whole life towards” Poe agreed.
“What if, in her death, we could strive for the peace that she fought for?” Poe's eyes were wide as they searched hers.
“It wasn't just the resistance who loved Leia” Rey insisted. “She inspired hope throughout the galaxy. She had people who loved her, people who believed in her, who hadn't yet made themselves part of this war. They should be able to say goodbye”.
“It's a nice idea, but Rey, we'd never manage it without the first order finding us”.
“What if they couldn't hurt us?” Rey asked. “What if we found a way to give Leia a proper funeral, on Chandrila, with all those that loved her, without fearing that the first order might hunt us down?”
Poe's eyes met hers. He looked at her as if he was seeing her anew. There was hope in his eyes. There was fear, but there was hope. Rey prayed that hope would remain, after she told him what she wanted to do.
“It would be... peace” Poe murmured. “A little bit of the peace that Leia worked so hard for. I agree – that the people who care about her should know that she's gone – but how could we manage it without the first order intercepting it, and waiting for us on Chandrila?”
“We invite them” Rey explained. “Give Ben Solo the chance to be there, to say goodbye, but only if he comes in peace. A temporary truce”.
Poe's expression froze. His eyes searched Rey's face. Rey held herself as still as she could, waiting for the outburst.
“I hear you” Poe said slowly. “But I don't think you heard yourself”.
“He's her son. If you offer him the opportunity to say goodbye-”
“No”. Poe's refusal was empty of anger, but it was firm. “I'm sorry Rey, but you've gone mad”.
“I'm not mad” Rey insisted. “This could be the closest thing to peace that the galaxy has had in a long, long time. It could be the beginning of real, solid change!”
Poe held up his hands, getting to his feet. Rey was out of options, she couldn't possibly back down now. She knew that she was right; the force hummed and throbbed around her, almost audible. This was what it wanted.
“Peace will come when the first order dies” Poe said simply. “If I offer to let Kylo Ren come to the funeral, I would be putting the lives of every resistance member at risk. Am I supposed to just expect that he wants to come to the funeral? He killed his father, he's probably glad that she's gone”.
“He isn't!” Rey hissed. Poe froze, his eyes fixed on her own. “His name is Ben Solo, and he is not glad that she's gone” Rey said to him, as softly as she could.
“How do you know?” Poe asked. He held his voice low, but there was a tension – a warning – to it that was unmistakable.
“I told him that she was gone” Rey explained, her voice even and measured. Poe shook his head.
“I thought that... mind... link, bond, whatever. I thought it was gone?” He asked. Rey shook her head. Poe looked at the ground, taking a deep breathe. He looked like he wanted to be anywhere else in the galaxy.
“How many times?” He asked.
“HOW MANY TIMES!” Poe's voice rose in anger. “HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU PUT US IN DANGER?”
“I didn't!” Rey insisted. “There was never any danger! I swear, he doesn't know where we are!”
“How. Many. Times?” Poe seethed. “In the last six months”.
“Once. Just once. He's hurting, Poe. This could be our chance. If we reach out to him - “ Poe shook his head.
“No. No, you do not get to talk to me about – you do NOT GET TO TALK TO ME ABOUT LEIA'S SON! You don't get to tell me that”. Poe backed away, expanding the space between them. Rey was losing.
“Poe, please. Just hear me out”.
“No. You don't get to do that, Rey. I loved her. I loved her! She took me on after my mother died and I was a better son to her than that fratricidal piece of shit ever was. So you do not get to tell me that now she's dead suddenly he's having regrets!”
“Poe!” Rey reached for him but he stepped back, out of her way.
“If you see him again you come to me” Poe seethed. “If you speak to him again I don't want you on this base”.
“Poe, please!” He turned to leave her. Rey's eyes burned with tears as she reached for him once more. Her hand brushed against his.
It was like lightening.
Rey saw everything. It was as though she were back in the throne room, with Snoke sifting through her memories, but all in an instant. From the very first moment she could remember – sitting on the sand on Jakku, cleaning a rusty piece of one of the fallen warships – to standing before Poe now. She saw herself scratching lines in the metal hull that had become her home, one after another after another, until there were too many to count. She saw herself rescue BB-8 from Teedo, saw Finn and the stormtroopers who had come after them. She saw Takodana, with it's lush green forest. She heard the deep thrum of Ben's lightsaber as she rose her blaster in desperation.
The force seemed to linger on the memory of Ben, as if it was important somehow. It lingered on all of her memories of him. From the forest of Takodana to the one on Starkiller base. From Ach-To, from the hut, from the throne room. Each and every piece of her life was laid bare and exposed, but her moments with Ben most of all. She saw everything.
So did Poe.
Rey realised quickly that she was no longer standing. Both she and Poe were on the floor, as though thrown from each other with force. Rey looked up, holding her hair against the deep ache that had taken root there. Her eyes nervously fixed on Poe, fearful of his anger.
Poe was looking at her. It was an expression she didn't recognise, one she couldn't put into words. It made her stomach twist and churn almost to the point of nausea. Whatever the look was in his eyes, it was obvious to Rey that he had seen what she had. Poe knew everything.
“What did you do to me?” Poe asked, gasping for breath. There was a sheen of sweat to his skin, a faint flush to his cheeks.
“I don't know” Rey replied. It was as though she couldn't take in enough air into her lungs; every breath hurt.
Poe stood up, backing away from her. Rey tried to climb to her feet, but to no avail.
“Poe!” she called out for his help, but it never came. “Poe, I'm sorry! I don't know what happened, I didn't mean to!” She tried to look up, to call out for him. He was gone. He had left her there. Rey's eyes burned with tears. She had failed. Worse than that, she had turned her own friend against her. Poe would make her leave, or imprison her for her link to Ben. All that had happened, all the friends that she loved, she would lose them all.
Poe had seen everything. He'd seen her argue with Ben, seen her faux pas at finding him under-dressed. He'd seen her offer Ben her hand and promise him her help. He'd seen Ben offer her a place by his side, seen her refusal. Had he also felt what she felt? Had he felt the way that rejecting Ben's offer had ripped her heart from her chest? Had he felt the emptiness, the loneliness that worsened in his absence? Did Poe know how she felt about Ben?
It took Rey under half an hour to pull herself to her feet. It took longer to bring herself to walk back into the resistance base. She expected a search party with burning torches and angry, fearful faces. Instead the corridors were quiet. Rey followed the path to the mess hall, her head hung low.
The mess hall was as busy as it ever was. Rey couldn't see Poe, nor Finn or Rose. She was hungry, she realised. When had she last eaten? Not today at any rate. Rey took a plate of food, trying to ignore how it made her stomach twist into knots. If she was going to be forced to leave, this food might be the last she'd get freely. She had better refuel while she still could.
Finn found her sitting at the far end of the mess hall, away from everyone else. He sat down next to her with his own plate of food.
“Hey” he greeted her.
“Hi” Rey returned the greeting. She looked around the room. Poe was still absent, as was Rose.
“Have you seen Poe?” she asked. Finn nodded, swallowing a mouthful of food before he replied.
“He went out on a supply run” he explained. “He'll be back in a few hours. Why?” Rey shook her head. So Poe had felt safe enough to leave her amongst them for now. How long would that last? Finn's eyes watched her carefully, examining her face. It was no different to how he normally looked at her, Rey told herself.
“Are you okay?” Finn asked. “You have grass in your hair”. He reached out, pulling a blade of grass gently from her.
“I... No, I'm not okay” Rey answered. “Poe and I... we argued”. Finn's brows creased in concern.
“What about?” Rey shook her head. How was she supposed to explain it, without giving Finn cause to mistrust her too?
“Leia's funeral” Rey replied. Finn frowned sympathetically. He squeezed her hand tight in his own.
“I'm sure it'll be okay. By the time Poe gets home he'll have forgotten all about it, you know what he's like when he flies”. Rey nodded, scrapping the last of the food from her plate miserably.
“Oh yeah, I wanted to tell you. Before he left, Poe sent out a message about Leia's death on her personal frequency. By now half the galaxy will know that she's gone”.
He'd taken her advice. Rey was surprised. He hadn't done as she'd asked and reached out to Ben, but this small thing, this tiny victory, it was better than nothing. Did it mean that he'd forgiven her? Did it mean that she would be allowed to stay after all? She didn't – couldn't – allow herself to hope. If Poe returned and ordered her to leave it would be more than her heart could bear.
Where would she go? Certainly not back to Jakku and a life of slavery. Perhaps to Takodana; she could work for Maz while she continued her Jedi training. Perhaps to Ach-To, to utilise the connection to the force there? Not Ach-To; Rey dismissed the idea immediately. She'd had enough of that island to last her a lifetime. She couldn't go to Ben, no matter how much she wanted to. She couldn't stand with him and watch those she loved die. No, she couldn't do that.
“I need to go”. Rey didn't bother with an excuse, just squeezed Finn's hand as she left him to finish off his meal. Poe's room was the last place she wanted to go, but it was where her things were. Rey followed his instructions, finding Poe's room easily. It looked like any other bedroom in the resistance base, except that Poe had covered the wall parallel to the side of his bed with resistance posters and technical blueprints of light aircraft. Rey spotted both an Incom T-70 x-wing blueprint and one of a TIE/FO tie-fighter. Next to the tie-fighter he'd scribbled in pen the words know thine enemy.
The opposite wall – against which rested the bed that was supposed to be hers – was blank. There was a photo frame perched precariously on top of the storage box at the end of Poe's bed. Rey picked it up, examining the faded picture inside. The woman in the photo was undoubtedly Poe's mother. She held onto a boy no older than nine or ten; a boy with the same deep brown hair and wide, happy smile.
It had been so long since she'd seen Poe smile, Rey almost didn't recognise this young, happy boy before her. The Poe she knew today was lined with grief and the strain of leadership. Rey placed the frame back in it's place, turning to examine her own storage box.
Someone had gathered her things from the freighter. Luke's books were there, as were the two halves of the lightsaber. Rey held them in her hands, her fingers gliding over the cold steel. The broken edges were jagged and sharp, and within one half rested the pale blue crystal that had been the source of the blade's power.
In the morning she would begin working on her new saber. For now, sleep called to her. It was ridiculous; the sun was only just setting on Dantooine, yet still she tired. The events in the garden had taken its toll on her in a way that a full day's work in the Jakku desert never had.
With nowhere else to sleep, Rey lay curled up on top of the bed that was supposed to be hers. She made no move to undress – if Poe returned to her angry then she might have to make a quick get-away. The mattress was old and smelled of damp but it was a luxury in comparison to the cold metal floors she was becoming used to. Rey rested her head on the cold fabric of the pillow, her hand clutching the warm glass of the ink pot in her pocket.
What would she do if he appeared to her again? What would he do, now that they had reconnected and found that in their absence they had only grown closer? Would he regret baring his soul to her, or would he do it again? Rey shut her eyes, trying her best to clear her mind. Thinking about him wouldn't do. Wondering about him, worrying about him, it wouldn't do. She had best keep her emotions in check in future, if she was going to convince Poe to let her stay.
Tired though she was, it took Rey over an hour before sleep finally claimed her. When it did it claimed her entirely. Rey did not stir, even when her room-mate returned many hours later.
Chapter 10: The Winds of Change
Facing the consequences of allowing defecting stormtroopers to escape the First Order, Ben throws caution to the wind in his attempts to prove to Rey that he is deserving of her presence by his side.
Three in a row! I either have nothing else to do, or my procrastination skills are the stuff of legend. Either way, I hope you enjoy the latest chapter, providing nothing changes the next one should be up on friday!
Ben stood in the middle of a wide meadow. The long grass that grew almost to his knees swayed in the wind, carrying along with it the smell of earth and pine. The sun was warm above him, the air was humid. It was a beautiful place. Ben wanted to wander through the woods, taking in the soft autumn breeze. He would have done.
If he hadn't been in restraints.
He stood before the resistance general, Poe Dameron, restrained by two men and a pair of stuncuffs. The resistance had grown since the battle on Crait but even so, it was a poor gathering. Ben was pushed to his knees in the dirt, forced to kneel before the general.
“Ben Solo” the general said solemnly. “You are charged with crimes against the galaxy. War, murder, enslavement. Your list is extensive. How do you plead?” Ben spat at him, glowering at the general. Dameron paid him no mind, nodding to the resistance to bring forth the next prisoner.
It was Rey.
She looked slightly thinner than he'd last seen her, her skin pale and sickly. Her clothes were ragged and over worn. She too was restrained. They forced her onto her knees, next to Ben in the dirt.
“No” Ben snarled, looking from Rey to the general and back again. “She's not part of this”.
“Your mind is linked to hers. She assisted in your attempts to overthrow the first order and take the galaxy for yourself. She is too dangerous to be left alive”.
Ben's eyes ran over Rey's weary face. Her eyelids were shut, tears falling silently down her cheeks. She'd given up hope. Ben pulled against the guards restraining him, snarling like the monster they all thought he was.
“Let her GO!” he roared. “She was on your side! She picked you! Let her go!” Rey sobbed quietly beside him.
“You are judged guilty, and henceforth sentenced to execution” the general replied. Ben struggled viciously.
“No!” He cried out. “She picked you! She picked you!”
It was no use. The general approached Rey, a blaster held unwavering in his hand. Finn stood impassive in the crowd, his arms crossed silently. Ben struggled, he fought against the guards with all that he had. His legs had turned to lead, immovable against his desperation.
“Kill me!” he cried out to the general. “You can kill me, just let her go! She's done nothing wrong. Please, kill me”. Rey's expression was hopeless as she looked up at Poe, her eyes shinning bright with tears. Ben's breath came in ragged, desperate gasps.
“Rey” he gasped. “Rey, look at me”. She turned her eyes away from her executioner, fixing them firmly on Ben's. A lone, solitary tear rested against her cheekbone.
“That's it” he said. “No-one's going to hurt you. I'm going to get you out of here. I'm going to keep you safe”. Rey looked at him as if she could see straight through to his soul. It was a look he saw only ever in her eyes. It was beautiful.
“I'll keep you safe” he promised. “I won't let anyone hurt you, ever again. Rey, I... I-”. His voice caught, unable to say the words. Those words were for the beginning, not the end. Not like this. Rey shut her eyes, sending more tears cascading down her cheeks. When she opened them again they were bright and endless, like staring into the stars.
“I know” she whispered. Ben could feel her heart racing next to his own; he tasted the adrenaline in the back of his throat as it coursed through her body. He felt the warm, humid air fill her lungs.
Poe pulled the trigger, and everything stopped.
Ben sat up with a jolt, gasping for breath. His hand had gone to his scar in a move almost instinctual by now. He shut his eyes against the torrent of emotions that threatened to overwhelm him. Fear. Longing. Relief. It was a dream, only a dream. He wiped the sweat from his brow, cursing his nightmares. He had hoped that his night with Rey had been enough to stave off the nightmares for good. Alas, it had been a temporary fix.
He needed to see her. Even if she was on Dantooine with her friends scarcely thinking of him at all, he needed to know that she was okay. He needed her to be okay, or he might never get the air back into his lungs. Ben shut his eyes tight, searching out before him for the bright burning light that was her presence in the force, calling him home.
There she was. Her presence flickered before him, warm and strong and inviting. His heart settled into a more gentle rhythm, calmer now that he could sense her. He did not reach out to her. He did not need her to see how the prospect of her in danger undid him so.
Besides, he had other things to do. Ben pulled himself from the soft sheets of his bed, walking over to the control panel built into the wall. He'd successfully manufactured a communication between his own terminal and the main computer that showed an unauthorised entry into his room while he'd been training. That would be his explanation for why his credit chip had disappeared. All he had to do now was register the chip missing and wait for Hux to inform him about the escape.
Ben reported the missing chip, his mind still fixed on Rey's presence. How long would it take the stormtroopers to reach Dantooine? A few hours more, he guessed. He hoped that the stormtroopers remained true to their word. The communicator buzzed into life.
“Ren, we've had a security breech. Come to the conference room immediately”. Ben felt his jaw tighten. Hux was still ordering him around; that was something that would need to be taken care of. Nevertheless, Ben dressed and headed for the conference room, his face arranged carefully into a mask of what he hoped was calm leadership.
Hux and Natiera were already waiting for him, seated at one end of the table. Ben took his usual seat opposite them. Natiera's face betrayed no hint that she'd registered his presence. She'd washed the blood from her face and was in her usual attire. Ben was relieved to see her wearing trousers once more. His meeting with Natiera had unnerved him; clearly her attempt to kiss him had a darker ulterior motive. She'd deliberately tried to unsettle him, to what end he didn't yet know. He would have to keep a closer eye on his second-in-command.
If Hux knew what his supposed girlfriend had attempted the previous night he made no mention of it. Hux looked as if he'd tasted something particularly unpleasant. Then again, Hux always looked like that. He regarded Ben like something unsightly that had become attached to the bottom of his boot.
The door behind him opened as Jax, Jaz, Dal and Tee arrived and took their seats. Jax's hair was not brushed; he'd clearly been woken up. He gave a small supportive nod to Ben as he took his seat beside him. The meeting had begun.
“We've had another breech” Hux snarled. “Thirty troopers – Thirty – escaped last night, aboard one of our light cruisers. Officer Unamo was among them”. Ben listened to his general's hissing, his face impassive.
“Congratulations, General Hux. You've let slip the largest group of defectors this order has ever seen”. Hux flushed darkly.
“Be careful who you point blame at, Supreme Leader” Hux warned. “Especially when it was your own code that was used to bypass the security”. Ben grit his teeth. He expected this insubordination by now, but sooner or later he was going to have to put Hux in his place.
“I have already reported a break in at my quarters, general. Your droids reset the code on my door back to default”. Hux locked eyes with him, staring him down. Ben wasn't going to let himself be challanged.
“If you have something to say I suggest you say it, General. Or learn to hold your tongue”. Hux drew himself up to full height, his eyes flashing with menace.
“I think it is your tongue you need to worry about, Supreme Leader. Your past is getting to you, to say nothing of the scavenger scum you let esc-”
Ben stood up, his hand raised, willing the force to clamp down on Hux's windpipe. It responded dutifully, squeezing Hux's throat tight. He paled, hands grasping at his throat with nothing but his own skin for purchase. Ben leaned towards him over the table, his anger boiling in the pit of his stomach.
“Say that again” Ben snarled. Hux shook his head feverishly, his eyes falling on Natiera for support. She rolled her eyes, pushing herself to her feet and approaching Ben. His anger boiled furiously at the mention of Rey, at Hux's blatant accusation. The general's usefulness forgotten, he had every intention of putting Hux down once and for all.
“Ky”. Natiera's icy cold hand enclosed around his own. The touch brought back a flash of memory; the taste of her lips, the sound of children laughing. It was like venom in his veins. Ben dropped Hux, lashing out at Natiera. Unprepared for his rage to be turned on her, Natiera staggered and fell under the force of his fist. Her cheek was flushed, blood already beginning to pool and bruise there. Her eyes tightened in rage, her hand moving to the lightsaber at her belt.
“STOP!” Jax stood, his arm raised out to freeze Natiera where she knelt. It wouldn't hold her for long, but it was enough to control the situation. Hux was coughing and spluttering on the floor at the other end of the room, his skin a sickly shade of grey. Ben met Jax's eyes, grateful for his intervention. He'd had a moment to chose sides, and he'd stood with him. The other knights were dumbfounded, watching the fight unfurl before them.
Ben took several deep breaths, trying to reign in his anger. He grabbed hold of Natiera's jaw, forcing her face upwards, forcing her to look him in the eye.
“I warned you last night not to touch me again” Ben snarled. “Next time you disobey my orders I will remove you from your post. Permanently”. He released her jaw, leaving behind red marks where his fingers had grasped her.
“General Hux” he snarled. The general had pulled himself to his feet, still looking a little worse for wear.
“Next time you have an accusation for me, bear in mind that your position is entirely dependant on the continuation of your miserable existence. It would bring me great pleasure to change that for you”.
Ben turned, leaving behind the conference room and his knights. He needed air if he was going to keep himself from killing them all. He needed to calm down, or he would make mistakes, allow his knights to slip through the cracks and into the chaos of his mind. As he followed the familiar path to the training room he heard the unmistakable sound of footsteps following him.
Jax didn't catch up to him until he was already in the training room, swinging viciously with his practice saber. Ben ignored him. He shouldn't be letting Jax see him in such a wild state, yet for the moment he didn't care. Jax was a polite spectator; he didn't try to calm him down or talk him out of it, instead letting him tire himself out. Eventually – his muscles burning painfully, his breath mere ragged gasps – Ben stopped, throwing the saber to the ground.
“Are you done?” Jax asked him simply.
“I think so” Ben replied.
“Are you going to tell me what Nat did last night?” Ben met his gaze. Jax had unsettlingly blue eyes, they always seemed so young, so full of mischief. Could he really be trusted?
“She kissed me” he admitted. Jax raised his eyebrows.
“Yikes” he said. “I feel sorry for you”. Ben nodded.
“I don't trust her. Or Hux”.
“Of course you don't; you're not an idiot”. He took a seat on the floor, his back against the wall.
“I heard about your mother” Jax murmured. “I'm sorry”.
“She was the resistance general. She gave up on me and handed me over to Luke”.
“She was still your mother”. Jax said. He wasn't looking at Ben; his eyes were turned on the window, gazing out across the stars. Ben knew what he was seeing; Jax's mother had died long before he was able to remember her. To the twins, it was as if they'd never had a mother at all. Ben swallowed thickly.
“I need your help” he admitted. Jax's eyes snapped away from the window, back to Ben.
“With what?” he asked. Ben's heart was racing. He knew what he wanted to do, but he wasn't going to be able to do it without Jax's help. Was now the time for this kind of rash, emotional decision? Could it be done, with the first order in the shambles that it was?
“I made you a promise, back at Luke's academy” Ben reminded him. “It's time for me to keep it”. Jax's eyes were wide and the deepest, purest blue. He looked so much like the lost twelve year old boy who'd stood before Ben, his face a mixture of fear and awe. Jax climbed to his feet, standing firmly before him.
“Anything you need” he promised.
Hux's throat still ached from the force of Ben's grip. It was a painful reminder to him of his power, and why he needed to be stopped. Hux resisted rubbing it in front of the stormtroopers around him – who would undoubtedly guess why he was in pain. He would not show weakness to these pawns; he would not give them any further reason to disrespect him.
Hux walked the metal corridors to captain Phasma's suite, the heels from his boots echoing off the floor with a sharp ring. He needed to be away from the force-wielders for the moment, for the sake of his own sanity, and it would not be the first time he had collaborated with Phasma. He pressed the intercom button on the control panel to her quarters, waiting for the door to unlock. It buzzed after a few moments, the doors sliding open to let him through.
Phasma's suite was minimal, empty of personal possessions. Hux agreed with Phasma on the subject of possessions; they were cluttering, and sentimentality had no place when commanding an army. The only furnishings in the room were a built-in wardrobe which housed her stormtrooper armour among other things, her computer terminal and her bed. Phasma prided herself on military-grade cleanliness, a fact that Hux was sincerely grateful for.
He found Phasma on the floor, doing push-ups in her standard-issue nightwear. There was a sheen of sweat across her back. Even from here, Hux could see the burns that covered her arms.
“You're supposed to be resting, Captain” Hux told her. She scoffed, pulling herself to her feet.
“Rest is for the weak, General” Phasma replied. “I'm ready for active duty”.
“That's not what the medical droids say. You have third-degree burns across forty percent of your body, they're not yet fully healed”.
“I'm aware of that” Phasma shot back. “Have you located FN-2187?”
Hux sighed. The stormtrooper had been at the forefront of the captain's mind since he'd bested her in combat on the supremacy. The obsession had taken route there, with no sign that it would dissipate anytime soon.
“I believe he's on Dantooine, but I haven't – hey! I haven't got proof yet!” Phasma strode passed him, to her wardrobe.
“I don't need proof” she said firmly. “I just need a ship”. Hux reached out, holding the wardrobe door closed.
“You can't run off to Dantooine” he explained. “As much as I'd enjoy the sight of you bringing back the heads of the resistance scum”. Phasma's expression was one of determination. Hux had long ago learned to appreciate her strong presence, her will to survive above anything else. She was one of his greatest assets, and he needed her here.
“You had better be offering me something worth my trouble, General” she said stiffly.
“What if I offered you a place at my side, second in command of the entire first order?” he asked her. Phasma blinked in surprise.
“I would ask if Supreme Leader Ren knows that you're working against him” Phasma replied cooly.
“Ren is an imbecile” Hux spat. “He's immature, reckless, overly sentimental. He has no right to command my army. He has no military talent. He's a fanatic, a sorcerer. Nothing more”. Hux fixed his gaze on her, certain that she would stand with him as she had in the past. That was what he appreciated about Phasma. She would do anything it took to climb to the top, no matter who she had to take down as she did.
“You want to kill Ren?” she asked, her voice impassive.
“I want to wipe the knights of Ren and the Jedi scum from the galaxy” Hux answered. “Sorcerers and fanatics have no place in an empire”. Phasma nodded, agreeing with him.
“Do you have a plan?” She asked.
“The wheels are already in motion” Hux confirmed. He lifted his hand from the door. Phasma's eyes flickered to the wardrobe, where her armour resided.
“I think FN-2187 can wait a while longer” She remarked smoothly. Hux almost smiled.
It took Ben and Jax an hour to hone their plan. By the time they returned to the conference room Hux and Natiera were gone, leaving only the other knights of ren. Tee and Dal had brought it upon themselves to order lunch direct to the room and there were half-eaten plates of food covering the table. Tee looked up at the sight of them, her mouth tightened into a scowl.
“It's about time” she said sourly. “Can we call Nat and Hux back now?” Ben took his seat once more, nodding to Tee. She sighed, keying the datapad to send the transmission to Nat.
“What's the deal with you and Nat?” Tee asked curiously. “You'd think some point in the last twenty years you guys would have learned co-habitation”.
“Is it not enough that I let her live, you want me to be civil to her too?” Ben asked cooly.
“Nat kissed him” Jax interjected. Ben shot him a sharp glare, which he returned with an innocent shrug.
“You and Nat?” Dalrik laughed. “I didn't see that happening. Does Hux know?”
“There's no me and Nat” Ben growled. “She disrespected me as her superior, that's all”. Jaz frowned, her eyes meeting her brother's momentarily.
“Nat hates you” she said quietly. “After what happened between you and her sister”.
“The feeling is mutual” Ben assured her.
The door opened, Hux and Nat taking their positions at the other end of the table. The time had come. Hux placed his hands on the table, eyeing Ben warily.
“Shall we continue?” He asked coolly.
“I am implementing a new piece of legislation” Ben announced. Even Tee's ears perked up; she shifted from her position with her head on her arms, one blood-red eye watching him with interest. Hux and Nat shared a glance, but said nothing.
“I'm making slavery illegal across the galaxy” Ben said firmly. Hux's face paled even more than usual. All eyes rested on Ben, but he kept his face firm.
“Do you realise how much that would cost?” Hux replied. “Who do you think we have working in our mines? Everything we've built has been done on the back of slaves”.
“It's time for that to end” Ben replied stiffly. “We have enough resources and finances not to need slaves. Under this law anyone owning slaves will be ordered to give them their freedom and pay them a suitable wage. We'll introduce a minimum wage to guarantee this. Anyone found resisting this order will be suitably punished”.
“It can't be done” Hux snarled. “Who do you suppose will cover the work of the slaves, while you're busy giving them their freedom?”
“They will work” Ben demanded. “They will work for themselves. In addition, people will be able to rent a suitable work force from the first order – comprised of those in our prisons who have been given life sentences. It will drive down the crime rate and give the slavers suitable cause to stick to our laws”.
Hux looked to Natiera for help. She shrugged.
“It's a terrible idea” she complained. “A very expensive, terrible idea”.
“We can afford it” Ben said stiffly. “We have more than enough resources to cover the cost”.
“But why should we, when it's cheaper and easier to let them keep their slaves?” Nat demanded. Her remark drew sharp glances from Jax and Jaz. Only Ben knew the true extent of Nat's childhood, but it wasn't difficult for anyone to guess that she'd come from a wealthy family. Ben knew for a fact that she'd had slaves working for her back on Chandrila. It was something he could agree with his mother on; Leia had never had slaves on Chandrila, unless one counted the protocol droid that had often been Ben's tutor.
“Call a vote if you must, my word is final”. Ben looked away from Nat and Hux, to Jax. He could count on his vote, at least. If it came down to it, he could always just massacre those who voted against him.
“Fine” Hux spat. “I vote against this ridiculous notion. It would cost us dearly, and there's no reason to put ourselves at a disadvantage”.
“I vote against” Nat said dryly. “Because sentimentality is a disadvantage in our leadership”.
“I vote for” Ben stated. “There's no reason not to free the slaves. We have the finances and the power for that kind of ruling. Let's not forget that some of us in this room were subject to slavery laws themselves”. Nat scoffed.
“Don't pretend you're doing it for us” she hissed. “This has everything to do with the scavenger girl who supposedly murdered Snoke”. Ben's eyes tightened, his anger flaring to the surface.
“I vote for” Jax said quietly. “As an ex-slave, I can say that financial viability means nothing when it comes to improving lives”. Jaz shot him a sharp look.
“Financial viability is important in an empire, Jax. Personal feelings aside”. Jax inclined his head towards her. Ben had seen it too often to be surprised; everyone knew that the twins could speak to each other without making a sound. Their minds were intertwined to the point that they could hear each other's thoughts.
“I vote for” Jaz said coldly. “I was only making a point”.
Attention turned to the final two members of the conference. Ben was winning three to two; everything rested on Tee and Dal. Ben knew that whatever they voted, their vote would be the same. Neither of them had been a slave, or particularly wealthy. There wasn't much that would sway their vote. Ben supposed that Tee preferred him over Natiera, but simple things like that wouldn't be factored into Tee's vote.
Tee and Dal shared a look. They may not be able to hear each other's thoughts like the twins, but their bond was enough that words often weren't necessary. Ben often wondered if they were really as entirely oblivious to how they felt about each other as they seemed. Dal shrugged.
“What the hell” he said. “Let's free the slaves”. Tee nodded.
Ben had won.
His heart racing, Ben barely heard Tee's comment about the anti-slaving rules offering more opportunities for hunting and interrogation. He had done it. What he'd been dreaming of ever since he'd sifted through the memories of Rey's pitiful existence as a scavenger on Jakku.
It was all for her; all of it. If he used his power in ways she would approve of, would he earn her appreciation? Would she change her mind and join him, so they could make the galaxy a better place together? Hux and Nat shared a quiet, telling glance.
“It's settled” Hux seethed. “I'll inform the representatives”. He stood up, walking away stiffly; the air of a man who hated being beaten. Nat followed him out, sparing Ben a sharp, hateful glare. For once Ben paid his adversaries no attention.
He was winning, and he was doing it for her.
Chapter 11: Against the Current
Rey faces a monumental task before her; repairing the lightsaber that was broken in her fight with Ben. It would be easier if she had help, but her fight with Poe has left her at odds with the rest of the resistance. Will a transmission from an ally bring them together once more, or drive them further apart?
New chapter! You know the drill; any constructive criticism is greatly appreciated!
Rey stood in the middle of a large, grassy meadow. It was one she'd discovered the first time she'd come to Dantooine with the resistance. It was a beautiful place, with long grass the height of her knees that smelled sweet and earthy all at once. The scent of pine was carried on the gentle breeze from the forest edge. The sun was warm, the air damp. If this was where she was going to die, it was a beautiful place to rest.
Most of the resistance had come to see her. The majority of the faces that watched were strangers, but with a sharp pain in her heart Rey spotted her friends; Finn and Rose, hand in hand, their faces solemn but unchallenging. Poe stood at the front of the crowd, his face weary. Rey had been knelt before them like a beast for slaughter, her head hung low in defeat.
“Rey” Poe called. “You stand accused of five counts of accessory to murder, four counts of murder and accessory to crimes of war. How do you plead?” Rey raised her head to meet Poe's eyes, her heart hammering fearfully in her chest.
“Poe, please don't do this” she pleaded softly. “I'm not your enemy”. Poe ignored her, signalling for the next prisoner to be brought before them. Two of the resistance crew dragged a lifeless body before the crowd. Rey looked up, her heart squeezing painfully in her chest.
It was Ben.
If anyone had spoken, Rey couldn't hear it over the sound of the blood rushing passed her ears. She pulled herself desperately away from the men that restrained her, to where Ben's body lay bleeding into the grass. He'd been tortured, his face heavily bruised, his lips cracked and stained with dirt and blood. Rey felt a sharp, ripping sensation in her chest, but it took several minutes before she realised she was screaming.
“Ben! Ben! What have you done to him?” Rey held onto his body, feeling the weight of his head on her lap. His hair was soft between her fingers and she recalled distantly how she'd once ached to reach out and touch him, his hand, his face, his hair. This was a bitter irony.
“No less than what he did to others” was Poe's reply. The men restraining Rey – neither one she recognised – moved to drag her away from him, but Poe held up his hand to stop them.
“He has committed far worse atrocities than you” Poe told her. “Let him go, Rey. Let's end this”.
“No”. Rey couldn't tare her eyes from Ben. It was as if her brain was trying to commit every minuscule detail to memory, as if this would be the last time she saw him. The slight curl of his hair just behind his left ear, the length of his long, thick lashes, the soft,gentle shape of his lips; she took it all.
“The galaxy won't be safe until he's dead” Poe said firmly, his voice echoing through Rey's skull. Safe. Dead. Ben looked anything but dangerous, especially unconscious and injured as he was. Rey remembered the first time she'd seen his face, how she'd thought that he hadn't looked like the monster she'd expected. He could have been someone she'd met on Jakku, yet his eyes had been so deep and expressive and sensitive in a way she'd never seen anywhere else. In one glance in her direction she'd seen more anger, fear, misery and longing than she'd thought possible.
“Rey”. Strong hands were pulling her away now, trying to separate her from him. Rey held on tight, unashamed to let the tears flow freely from her eyes.
“No. No, please! Please don't hurt him!” She called out. It was no use. Poe stood over him, a blaster tight in his hand. Rey fought viciously against the guards, her heart racing as though determined to beat for them both.
“NO!” she screamed. “Ben, wake up! Ben! Ben!” His eyelids flickered softly, his head tilting in the direction of her voice. Relief flooded her. He was still alive, but only just and not for long.
“You can't! Poe, please! Please don't hurt him! Poe, please, I-”
Rey's breath caught in her chest. Poe's finger tightened on the trigger and the blaster fired.
Rey was aware of a pain in her chest, a tightness around her wrists. She blinked, the world around her sharpening into focus. Gone was the meadow, Ben's lifeless body. She was back in the resistance base and the body pressed against her wasn't Ben, but Poe.
“Rey! Rey, It's me!” She stopped struggling. Poe released her wrists and she pulled herself up into a sitting position, the blanket falling from around her shoulders. At some point in the night Poe must have covered her up.
She shouldn't, not in front of Poe, not after their argument and the memories that she'd unwittingly shared with him. She tried to stop, but it was no use. The dam that she had built around herself to keep her emotions in check had crumbled, and nothing would hold back the torrent of emotions that flooded her. She cracked and splintered under the pressure. Poe wrapped her tightly in his arms, drawing her against his chest. He was warm; he smelled of oil and rust. It reminded her of being in amongst a ship's machinery, taking things apart as she had a thousand times. This time it was her who came apart. Rey clung to Poe, her body shaking from the force of her tears. He held her in silence, rocking her gently as she had comforted him in Leia's room.
The sight of Ben's body was etched into the inside of her eyelids. She couldn't remove it, nor the image of Poe's face as he'd pulled the trigger. Rey cried. She cried for the fear she'd felt in the nightmare, she cried for the pain of seeing Ben's body. She cried for the friends she feared she was losing, and the man she had already lost. She cried for Leia, for Luke, for the perilous situation she'd found herself in. Poe let her cry into the fabric of his nightshirt, until she had no tears left to shed.
It took a while, but Poe didn't seem to tire of holding her. BB-8 had rolled over to them, beeping in low, worried tones, and rested his head gently against her knee. Rey stretched out, her hand brushing the droid's head affectionately.
“I'm okay now” she promised, her voice still thick from crying. BB-8 looked up at Poe for confirmation.
“Same nightmare?” He asked, his voice quiet and gentle.
“Different nightmare” she told him, remembering that he'd seen her dreams of Snoke and the throne room.
“Was it Snoke?” he asked. Rey shook her head, glad that from her position in his arms she couldn't see his face.
“It was you”.
Poe didn't respond. Rey feared his reaction, but Poe simply held her, his hands resting gently on her back. He didn't seem angry at her any longer, and Rey relaxed into his arms.
“I'm not sure that I'm very good at this” he admitted. “But I'm sorry for yelling at you yesterday. I shouldn't have done that”.
“I'm sorry” Rey whispered to him. “I know that we can't reach out to the first order, I know what we'd be risking. I just thought...” she trailed off, unsure how to put it in words that wouldn't make him angry again.
“You thought that Leia's son could be saved” Poe finished for her. “You thought that letting him come to the funeral would be the start of it; that it would bring us peace, end the war. I know”. He pulled back slightly, enough that he could look down at her, see her face.
“You know why I said no, right?” Poe asked. “You know that if it was possible to bring back her son... that I would try, right? For Leia”.
“I know” Rey murmured.
“He can't be saved, Rey. I'm sorry, but he's gone too far, done too much. Ben Solo is gone”. Rey didn't agree, but arguing with Poe would only make things worse.
Poe released her, giving her one last affectionate squeeze. There were things that needed to be done.
“What are you doing today?” he asked her. She wiped the remnants of the tears from her face.
“I'm going to read through the Jedi texts, if I can. I need to start rebuilding the lightsaber”. Poe nodded.
“If you need anything, let me know” he said softly.
“What are you doing today?”
“I have a conference with a rather prickly arms dealer this morning, then I need to start going through Leia's things. She kept maps in her room that could be useful to us”. Rey nodded, noting how tense Poe seemed as he gathered together his clothes for the day. Looking through Leia's possessions would be hard for him.
“Let me know if you need a hand” she offered. He smiled quickly back at her, but the smile did not reach his eyes.
Rey left him to dress, heading for the lake. This early in the morning there would be no-one around, and she needed some time alone. The lake was as empty as she'd expected, the water deliciously cool after a night in Dantooine's humid air. Rey stripped and bathed, cleaning off the dirt and sweat from her skin and hair. The cold water chilled her bones, but it was a refreshing cold, as though it were washing out the muddle of emotions that had begun to fester within her.
She dried herself with an old towel she'd acquired amongst her possessions – the sun not yet high enough to offer much heat – and dressed quickly, walking back to her room. Rey changed into fresh clothes – trousers and a tunic not unlike those she'd changed into after she'd left Ach-To and Luke – and made a mental note to wash the clothes she'd worn.
Breakfast was an upbeat affair. Poe's supply run had brought back the usual rations, but also an assortment of foods that would perish quickly, and needed to be eaten soon. Rey had never eaten so well, though she often felt guilty when she thought back to her life on Jakku and how much work she'd had to put in. Here food was given freely, regardless of one's workload.
Rey chose a quiet area in the forest, away from the main resistance base. The trees kept away the rising heat of the sun, filtering through a soft green light onto the forest floor. Rey sat on the soft, dry moss that covered the ground, pulling the texts and a datapad from her bag.
The books were written in a language that Rey didn't recognise. She looked through them anyway, hoping to gleam some small piece of information from the faded pictures. There was an image there of a lightsaber, but it wasn't in nearly enough detail to assist her in rebuilding Luke's.
That left only one other option. She began on the top half of the lightsaber; the piece that did not hold the crystal. She examined it first, carefully detailing the outer mechanics. There were two small dials, one on either side of the saber, that she supposed must fine-tune the crystal, and thus the blade. She hadn't noticed them on Ben's saber, and she wondered if this was why he required the cross guard to vent some of the crystal's power. Removing the outer casing, the top half of the saber was comprised of two circular pieces of metal which she guessed was the field generators, with a space in the middle for an energy channel. She noted it down, drawing out each piece as well as she could.
The lightsaber was more complicated than other machinery Rey had worked on, and it took her several hours to disassemble the top half of the saber, map each piece's original positions and reassemble it. She had only a vague guess at best at each part's function, and recorded this in the drawings. She wasn't going to fix the saber anytime soon, nor ever if she couldn't find someone to help her. Who was there left who knew how to build a lightsaber?
The answer came to her quickly. Ben. She couldn't ask him. She didn't even know if he knew that his uncle's lightsaber was broken, and informing him that he had the only one left would leave herself vulnerable to attack. She tried not to think about it. The time would come when Ben would decide whether he stood beside her or against her; she had best prepare herself for whatever choice he made.
Rey had finished reassembling the top half of the lightsaber, yet felt no closer to fixing it. The sun was high in the sky, a soft breeze rustling the canopy of leaves above. There was a sound carried on the wind; it sounded almost like a voice.
It was a voice. Finn's, specifically.
“Rey!” She hurriedly stuffed the lightsaber and data pad into her bag, slinging it over her shoulder.
“Finn?” He was nearby. Rey scanned the forest for him, straining her eyes in an effort to spot him. There he was. At the sight of her Finn slowed down, bending over in an effort to catch his breath. Rey hurried over to him.
“What's wrong?” she asked, her voice tight with fear. Had something happened?
“You need to come back” Finn gasped. “We've had a transmission relayed from one of our allies. It's the first order”.
Ben. Rey's stomach knotted tight.
“What did it say?” Finn shook his head.
“I didn't hear it. Poe just told me I had to find you, and quickly”. Rey took off in the direction of the base, pulling an exhausted Finn along behind her. Her heart raced ahead, faster than her feet that flew along the soft forest floor. She barely noticed the forest around her; she could see only Ben and the meadow from her dream. Could it have been a vision from the force? What if Ben was in real, serious danger and she'd dismissed it? Her mind raced.
She found Poe in the command centre. BB-8 was first to spot her and beeped excitedly to Poe. He turned at the noise, his eyes finding hers. She couldn't read the expression in them; was he pitying, or just deep in thought?
“I need to start working out again” Finn huffed beside her. Rey didn't respond.
“What happened?” she asked, gasping still from her run through the forest. Poe looked to Kaydel, his expression unreadable.
“Play the transmission” he instructed her. She nodded, pressing the keys on the command panel that would start it. Rey and Finn moved over to the speakers, to better hear it.
“Representatives of the galaxy” the voice called out. It wasn't Ben's voice. Rey looked at Finn in wordless panic.
“Hux” Finn mouthed to her. Rey had heard enough about the First Order General from Finn and Poe. Her heart raced.
“Our Supreme Leader has introduced a new piece of legislation” Hux's voice continued. “It is effective immediately. Make no mistake; anyone found not complying will be met with the harshest of punishments. The law is as follows; anyone who is in ownership of a slave must grant them their freedom immediately, and offer them a suitable wage in exchange for labour. The First Order will enforce a minimum wage of ten credits per hour of labour, but governing planets are encouraged to increase their wage in accordance to increased living costs”.
The words rang and echoed in Rey's mind. Freedom. Ben had freed the slaves. Her eyes stung with tears that threatened to fall. She saw the desert horizon of Jakku and wondered what the scavengers she'd left behind would make of the news. No more would they have to fear starvation. Ben had saved them.
“The punishment for non-compliance will be severe” Hux continued. “A minimum of five years imprisonment per slave that is refused their freedom. In addition to this, corporations will be able to rent a workforce from the First Order comprised of prisoners who have been given a life-sentence. Any questions you have should be directed to myself. I trust you will implement this legislation immediately on your own planets, or the cost to you will be severe”. The transmission ended on that ominous note.
“Thank you, Kaydel” Poe said quietly. “Can you give us a minute?” The girl nodded, switching off the transmission and leaving only the three of them in the room. Rey opened her mouth, ignoring a tear as it fell across her cheek.
“I know what your going to say” Poe interrupted her, raising his hand. “My answer is still no”.
“Ben just ended slavery”. She felt as though a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. It was more than she could have ever hoped for.
“Um... Ben?” Finn interjected, casting his gaze uneasily between them.
“Rey's been having the mind link thing again” Poe explained.
“That was one time” Rey insisted.
“She thinks that she can save Ben Solo. She thinks she saw the light in him. They've been having conversations”.
“Poe!” Rey tightened her jaw. He was making it sound sordid. As if she and Ben -
“Conversations?” Finn asked, eyeing Rey hesitantly. “Why am I the last to know?”
“They've been holding hands” Poe said sharply. “She gave me her memories”.
“I did not give them to you!” Rey cried out. “I told you, it was an accident!” Finn looked from Poe to Rey and back again, his face uncertain.
“Okay” he said slowly. “So... Rey's been having secret hand-holding conversations with the leader of the First Order?”
“No” Rey insisted, shooting a sharp glare at Poe. “That wasn't even... it's not what it sounds like!”
“She told him about Leia. She comforted him”.
“YES I DID!” Rey cried out. “He was crying over the death of his mother, what was I supposed to do? So yes, I held his hand while he cried. Ben Solo is alive, and he just ended slavery across the galaxy, so don't talk to me about him being irredeemable because that is happabore shit!”
“Okay, okay!” Finn stepped between them, hands raised to keep them apart. Poe's jaw tightened. Rey took a deep breath, trying to calm her racing heart. Her emotions had gotten the better of her; she'd promised herself she wasn't going to get angry at Poe anymore, and yet here she was yelling at him.
“Rey” Finn looked at her. “You think Kylo – Ben, is still salvageable. You've spoken to him once – once” he said, eyeing Poe sharply to indicate that he wasn't to interrupt.
“He was upset when he heard about Leia. Poe, you don't think he's savable?” Poe shook his head, opening his mouth to speak. Finn clamped a hand across his mouth.
“I'm not finished” he told Poe, turning back to Rey. “Are you... are you friends with this guy?” Rey crossed her arms. Poe shot her a sharp glance. Was she? She wasn't sure. Finn removed his hand from Poe's mouth.
“Okay, now speak. Nicely” he told the general.
“No, I don't think he can be saved” Poe said sternly. “You saw him when you were a stormtrooper. Do you think he's savable? I'll tell you another thing”. Poe's eyes were hard when he fixed them on Rey. “I don't trust you. No, Finn, I don't, and I'll tell you why. He asked her to rule the galaxy with her – seriously! He asked her to rule with him, begged her in fact, and she hesitated”.
Finn looked from Poe to Rey, his eyes soft, but cautious. Her friends were pulling away from her.
“Yes” she said softly. “I hesitated. Not because I want to rule the galaxy; I don't. I hesitated because I knew that if I agreed I might stand a chance at bringing home Leia's son. He wanted me to let you all die, and I couldn't do that. I fought him, and I left him there and I came to Crait to save you all”.
Rey looked firmly back at Poe. If she was going to lose her friends, he'd have to remove her from the planet himself. She wouldn't back down without a fight. She wouldn't run to Ben, to the first order. She wouldn't prove him right.
“Poe” she said softly. “I want Ben to come to his mother's funeral. I want him to be offered the chance. I want to offer the first order a truce with the resistance. Ben just set free billions of slaves across the galaxy; can't you see that it's not too late? We might be able to end the war, with his help”.
Poe shook his head. Finn looked between them, his face uncertain.
An alarm rang shrilly through the base. Rey winced at the noise, looking to the screen as it flashed a warning. It was an incoming vessel, and it wasn't one of theirs. Poe swore under his breath.
Chapter 12: Changing of the Tide
The alarm has been sounded. A First Order ship lands on Dantooine, crewed by a group of defecting Stormtroopers. They carry a message with them that will bring chaos to the Resistance.
Another long chapter for you guys. Thank you all for sticking with me through Poe's difficult time! A little side note: I can't claim credit for Finn's epic nickname. I'm afraid I don't know where the idea came from originally, but it's a wonderful idea nonetheless.
The alarm was a dreadful, shrill noise, like that of a screaming child. It pierced Rey's ears as she raced towards the landing bay, Poe and Finn hot on her heels. Her heart pounded against her chest with each stride she took. There was already a gathering in the landing bay; Rey pushed her way through to the front, to the transmitter, where Commander D'Acy was signalling the ship.
“Identify yourself” she ordered. “You do not have clearance to enter orbit”. The ship had done more than orbit; the screens showed that it was descending steadily through the outer atmosphere. The radio buzzed and hummed, a woman's voice barely audible over the interference.
“Resistance, this is Officer Unamo, formally with the First Order. We're carrying refugees, we come in peace and are prepared to surrender on landing”. Rey searched out Poe in the crowd. He was calculating.
“Ello, you and C'Ai follow the ship down” he commanded. Ello and C'Ai raced to ready the X-wings. Poe took the microphone from D'Acy.
“Officer Unamo this is General Dameron. Land your ship in the hanger you'll find in the east quadrant. I have two pilots ready to bring you down if you try anything funny”.
“Copy that General. No funny business here”. Poe met Rey's gaze, his eyebrows drawn tight in worry. He was probably trying to work out how long it would take to evacuate the base if the first order had indeed found them, Rey surmised. The answer was too long.
Tension crackled through the air. The resistance in the landing bay drew their weapons, awaiting the ship. Rey had no weapon; only her staff. She'd been lured into a sense of security on Dantooine; now she was bringing a staff to a blaster fight. She grit her teeth. The chance of the ship carrying refugees was slim at best. After all, how had they known to come here?
The ship was a Dissident-class light cruiser. It landed slowly in the bay, flanked by the two x-wings Poe had sent out. The cruiser filled up a good portion of the remaining space in the landing bay. The ramp descended, the resistance readying itself for battle.
“Don't shoot!” The call came from a man in a general stormtrooper uniform, minus his helmet. He held his hands above his head in surrender. Behind him came more stormtroopers, a variety of species. There was more of them than she'd expected; maybe thirty or so. One of the refugees – Rey guessed her to be Officer Unamo – was the only one not in stormtrooper uniform. She held one of the men's hands tight.
One by one the stormtroopers descended the ramp, hands raised in surrender. Poe lowered his blaster, walking over to the officer. The woman saluted him slowly.
“General Dameron” she gasped. “Thank you for receiving us”.
“Officer Unamo, I presume?” The officer nodded.
“Yes, Sir. I need to speak to you urgently. I have - “
“Where's the stormbreaker?” A blonde stormtrooper called out, her eyes searching the crowd.
“What?” Poe asked her, his attention drawn away from the officer.
“The Stormbreaker, the trooper that started the revolution. He was the catalyst; now stormtroopers are defecting left, right and centre. Is he still here?” Rey looked back at Finn. He was still, his expression frozen. He must be in shock. Rose squeezed his hand affectionately, a proud smile spreading across her face. Poe gestured to Finn.
“That's the man you're looking for”.
The blonde girl approached him, kneeling at his feet.
“It's an honour to meet you, Sir” she said quietly.
“I'm not... I'm not a Sir” Finn stuttered. Rose clapped him gently on the back.
“No, you're not” she said softly. “You're General Stormbreaker”.
The other defectors saluted, walking over to Finn to shake his hand in turn. The resistance lowered their blasters. Only Unamo remained beside Poe; Rey saw her speaking to him in quiet urgency. He nodded to her, gesturing her away from the crowd. The stormtrooper who Rey had seen holding her hand fell in behind. Poe met Rey's eye and she didn't have to read his mind to know what he was thinking; keep an eye on them.
The stormtroopers weren't difficult to keep an eye on; they seemed unwilling to leave Finn. The sight of her friend's confusion brought a smile to Rey's face. The fight in the command centre could be put aside for now. In the midst of the first order Finn's story was inspiring a new wave of rebels. Stormtroopers were refusing to follow orders, gathering together in secret to escape. She'd always known that there was something special about Finn; it was nice to see him slowly begin to realise that too.
The troopers were given a change of clothes and food. Their numbers had increased dramatically with the new additions but no-one complained. There were a handful of troopers who had requested assistance getting to their native planets, but the vast majority of the group were intending to stay. Rey would have been ecstatic at the news, but there was something nagging at her that she couldn't quite identify. She noted the troopers positions, how they seemed to be more comfortable in groups with the other troopers. That was perfectly normal, but was it normal that they kept glancing at each other? It was as if they were watching, waiting.
“Rey?” She turned at the sound. Poe stood at the door of the canteen. The sight of him brought a tight knot to her stomach. He wasn't smiling, but he didn't seem angry either. Rey cast a final look back at the troopers before she headed over to him.
“I need to speak to you in the command centre, urgently”. She nodded.
“What's wrong?” Poe shook his head.
“Not here” he muttered.
Rey followed him to the command centre in silence. She tried not to wonder why Poe needed her; she tried not to imagine him dismissing her for fighting him again, ordering her off planet. Still, she worried.
The Officer and her trooper were sitting side-by-side at the command desk, her hand tucked tightly into his. Rey sat down opposite them, trying her best to smile politely. Her gut was horribly twisted; she wondered if it was actually possible to vomit from nervousness.
Poe took the seat beside her, nodding to the couple opposite.
“This is Rey” he introduced her. “Please tell her what you told me”. The officer looked at the trooper, who squeezed her hand gently.
“You're the Jedi?” Unamo asked. Rey nodded, not wanting to correct her. She was hardly practised enough to call herself that. The woman smiled at her.
“The Supreme Leader saved our lives” she said softly. Rey felt her heart squeeze tight.
“Ben?” The officer's eyes widened.
“Is that his name?” she asked. “We know him as Kylo Ren”.
“What do you mean, he saved you?” Rey asked. The officer told her. They'd been planning the escape for a while, but a few days ago Ben – she called him the Supreme Leader – had sent her to the medical bay rather unexpectedly. She was pregnant. Fearing for their lives and that of their child's, she, her husband and their group of defectors had brought forward their plans to escape. Somehow word had got back to Ben and he was waiting for them on the ship that night.
The officer's voice trembled. Ben had deflected their blaster fire with ease; he was even stronger than they'd feared. He had taken hold of her and her husband had pleaded for her life. To their surprise, Ben had let go of her rather than killing her. Even more surprising; he'd assisted in their escape. He'd given them the code to lower the shields, and his credit chip to buy any supplies they needed.
“He told us to come here” Officer Unamo said softly. “He told us where to find you all. Most of the troopers want to stay and fight for you, but he said if we wanted to go back to our homes you would be able to help us”. She looked from Poe to Rey, her eyes wide in desparation.
“We owe the Supreme Leader our lives” she insisted. “If it weren't for him we would have burned up against the shield, if we even made it that far. He saved us”.
Rey looked to Poe. How could he possibly continue to insist that Ben was irredeemable in face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary? Poe looked away from her, to the Officer.
“Ben has a message for you” he said stiffly. “He instructed it to be given only to you”.
“Oh”. Rey flushed against the warning in Poe's voice, turning her face away from him. This wasn't what she'd expected at all. Poe's warning was clear; he was going to hear the message whether Rey wanted him to or not. Just what would be so important that Ben wouldn't wait out the next time the link between them opened?
“General Dameron can be trusted” Rey told the officer. “Give me the message”. The officer and the trooper exchanged a cautious glance.
“He said... there's a spy in the resistance, and he's been taking orders from someone other than myself. I think he killed Leia. I want you to know that I had nothing to do with it, and whoever gave him the order will pay with their lives”.
Rey looked to Poe. He had paled, a sharpness in his eyes that Rey hadn't seen before; even when they'd fought. There was pain in him too.
“Holdo wouldn't tell me her plan” he said quietly, more to himself than to Rey. “She wouldn't tell anyone. What if she suspected someone, a spy in our midst?”
“Did he say who the spy was?” Rey asked the officer. She nodded.
“His name is General Caluan Ematt”.
Poe shook his head, getting to his feet.
“No” he said sternly. “Ematt's been with us since the beginning. He's been a part of the resistance far longer than I have. There's no way he'd... he wouldn't”.
“Poe” Rey reached out for him. This time he didn't pull away. “Poe, we don't have any proof. We need to be careful. If we're wrong we're accusing an innocent man, but if we're right we have no idea how long he's been an informant”. Poe shook his head wordlessly.
“Poe” Rey said softly. She had to make him listen. “He might have killed Leia”. Poe took a deep breath.
“We need to go to the medical bay” he murmured. “I need... I need to see her”.
“Okay, I'm coming with you”.
The medical bay was dark and empty. Poe locked the door behind them, switching on the lights.
“Where is she?” Rey asked softly. Poe nodded towards the far door. Beyond the door was the morgue. It was as white and clinical as the base could be, yet even here vines still wrapped around the exposed pipework. Rey activated the medical droid. He whirred into life, bright eyes lighting up.
“How may I be of service?” the droid asked.
“Leia Organa” Rey replied. “I need to see her body”.
The droid looked at her, seeming to evaluate her request.
“Just a moment” he replied. He unlocked the steel door with a harsh scrape of metal. Poe's hand found hers and held it tight. Leia's body was covered in the same white cloth Rey had seen in her room. Poe moved closer slowly, the hand that wasn't holding Rey's gripped in a tight fist. Rey could see the whites of his knuckles.
“I need an autopsy” he said stiffly. “I need to know how she died”.
“That will take several hours” the droid responded.
“Do it”. The droid nodded, whirring off into the main room of the medical bay.
“I need a minute” Poe whispered. “Find Ematt. Don't let him out of your sight until I get there”. Rey nodded, squeezing his hand one last time before she left.
The medical bay was silent. The droid had disappeared to prepare for the autopsy. Rey had gone to find Ematt. Left alone with Leia's body, Poe reached out to hold her hand one last time, as he had every day when she'd been ill. He stopped himself. He couldn't bare to feel her cold, lifeless skin.
“I'm sorry” he whispered to her. “I failed you. I couldn't save you”. Tears raced quickly down his face.
“I don't know what to do” he sobbed. “I was never as good at this as you. I'm a pilot, not a leader. I don't... I don't know how to do this without you”.
His confessions left unanswered, Poe straightened up once more, wiping the tears from his eyes. Leia would have told him to save his tears for later. He still had work to do.
He didn't seek out Rey immediately, instead following the familiar path to Leia's quarters. How many times had he walked these halls? How many times had he sat with her, sometimes throughout the night, listening to the quiet bleep of the medical equipment they'd moved into her room? He'd lost count.
Leia's room hadn't been touched since they'd moved her body. Poe had been intending to pack up Leia's things but it didn't feel right; going through her belongings. Who would he give her things to anyway? The closest thing to family she'd had left was Chewie and the Wookie had taken up residence in the falcon and refused to be moved. He certainly wasn't going to give it to her son; though he wondered how long it would take Rey to start requesting he do that as well.
Poe gathered what little strength he had left, taking a deep breath. He needed to do this. He needed to see where she'd died. Maybe there had been a clue; something they'd missed in their grief. Poe placed his hands on the chest of drawers that had housed Leia's things. Her hair brush still rested on top, beside hairpins and various pieces of jewellery. He picked up a necklace from her desk, examining the two rings that hung from the chain, not unlike his mother's ring that hung from a chain around his own neck. These rings were Leia and Han's wedding rings. Han must have left his behind when he'd left, after Ben had destroyed the Jedi academy and fled to the dark side.
He gathered together the blueprints and maps that Leia had been looking over during her moments of strength. She'd been searching for a second base to expand into, or escape to if the first order found them here. Many of the maps she had been looking at were old bases from her youth. There was an envelope buried amongst them. It carried just one name; Rey.
Ordinarily Poe wouldn't have considered reading a communication between Leia and Rey. That had changed when her memories had become his. Now he knew the extent of her bond with Kylo. Now he knew that it was more than a mysterious force connection, but an emotional one as well. Now, he had no choice but to withhold her privacy, for her safety and the safety of all the resistance. It wasn't going to make him feel any less guilty about it, but he'd do it all the same.
Thank you for telling me the truth about Luke's academy. I know it must have been hard for you all these months, to keep my brother's mistakes from me while I grieved for him. I can only thank you for giving me that time. I never knew why Ben turned to the dark side and Snoke. It's a relief to finally know why.
I was never the perfect mother. I never wanted a child, and Ben was born at the height of my involvement with the senate. I didn't give him the time he needed from me, and it helped make him who he is today. Han and I were not good parents by anyone's standards. We missed the signs, we weren't there for him when he needed us most. We allowed Ben's outbursts to worsen and grow stronger until it was too late, and when we couldn't control him any more we sent him to Luke instead of supporting him like the family we should have been. It's our fault; mine and Han's and Luke's. Ben needed us, and we didn't try hard enough to help him. I know that now.
I know that this must have taken you great courage to tell me all that you have. I'm grateful that you did. I'm grateful that you reached out to my son, that you were there for him like we should have been long ago.
You must be worried what I'll think of you now that I know the bond that you share. You needn't be afraid, Rey. I believe you. I think that you stand a chance of bringing him home. My dear boy has always been emotional, his spirit has always been easily broken. I'm happy to hear that he has opened it to you. You might disagree, my dear, after everything that has happened between you. You might think that he hates you, or that you disappointed him. I know my son well enough to know that you needn't worry.
You must do what you believe is best. I will not stand in your way if you believe Ben to be beyond help now. I only hope that you can find it in yourself to forgive me for my mistakes. I know you grieve for your family, but I would like you to know that as long as you live you will always have a place with me and mine. The resistance is your family now. I hope we can make up for the one you lost.
May the force be with you always,
Poe stared down at her name, written in her elegant hand-writing. Reading the letter had made him feel just as awful as he'd suspected, but a new guilt had settled in his stomach. Leia had believed in Ben. She hadn't given up on him, even after all he'd done. Leia had hope. She'd believed in Rey, in the bizarre hold she had over the man. He'd been blinded by his grief, too angry to care what Leia had thought of her son. He'd taken it out on Rey, who had only been doing her best to bring the peace that Leia believed she could. Instead of listening to her he'd made her cry, given her nightmares and threatened her with losing the only family she'd ever really had.
Poe wondered what Leia would have said, if she'd been here to see her son's recent decisions. No doubt her resolve in him would have only gotten stronger. Poe tucked the letter into the inside pocket of his jacket. Leia's medical droid was stationary in the corner of the room. Poe tapped it lightly on the head, watching it blink into life.
“Hey buddy” he said softly. “I need you to access your command history. Has anyone in the last six months overridden your commands with a security clearance?” The droid beeped in surprise, searching back before confirming that yes, his commands had been overridden on a monthly basis. It hadn't been reported because the clearance code given was high enough that it had passed the droid's alarm systems.
“What was your first command after you were given the code?” Poe asked urgently. The droid searched through his database, ticking quietly. His supply port had been opened after each override.
“Open your supply port, please, and give me your storage list”. The droid complied, beeping back that it still had three doses of the pain medication that had been prescribed to Leia. Poe popped the lid of the supply port, peering into the storage tank.
The tank was empty. The doses were gone.
Keeping an eye on Ematt was no easy task. He'd slipped away from the rest of the resistance, taking refuge in the landing bay. Fearful that he would try to escape, Rey had no choice but to come out of hiding under the pretence of learning more about the x-wing propulsion system. If Ematt was suspicious of her he didn't show it; he'd been positively delighted by her presence.
“How is General Dameron?” he'd asked her nicely. “The poor boy was like a second son to Leia”.
“He's doing okay” she'd replied neutrally. “So Poe's asked for a boost in his propulsion system?”
“Yeah, just like he had with his previous X-wing. None of the other pilots would dare mess with a system like this. It's strictly experimental. Dameron only gets away with it because his reaction time is quick enough to survive it”.
Rey was certain that she could handle any ship just as well as Poe could, but now wasn't the time for bragging.
“What do you think about these stormtroopers?” Ematt asked. “Do you believe that they're here to help?”
“It would appear so” Rey said casually. “I overheard one of them say that there's a second group on their way. We might need to expand our living quarters”.
“Is that so?” Ematt replied, rubbing the grease from his hands onto his trousers. “We might stand a chance yet”.
“Yeah, maybe” Rey replied. Ematt pulled himself out of the inner workings of the x-wing and Rey made a mental note to check it thoroughly before she allowed Poe anywhere near it. Ematt gathered up his things.
“Is it dinner time yet? I'm hungry”. Ematt shook his head.
“I don't know, maybe. I'm not feeling too good myself. I think I'd better have a lay down”.
“Oh no!” Rey exclaimed. “I should take you to the medical bay”.
“I'm fine, it's nothing a sleep won't fix”. Rey followed him out of the landing bay.
“At least let me walk you back to your quarters” she offered. “Like you said, we don't know if the troopers are really our allies. You shouldn't be alone”. Ematt nodded.
“Thank you, dear. That's kind of you”. It wasn't the reply Rey had expected. She'd given him that small lie as a test. She'd been almost certain that he was going to speak to whoever had given him his orders, but if he was going to do that he wouldn't let her walk him back, would he?
They took the corridor back to the living quarters, discussing the propulsion system that Poe had requested. It was an interesting piece of machinery and Rey found herself intrigued in spite of herself. She barely noticed when they neared the door to his quarters.
“Would you care for a drink?” Ematt asked. “I have a cooler in my quarters. It's the coldest place on this damn humid planet”. Rey nodded; it was an excuse to stick with him after all.
Ematt's quarters looked very much like the standard resistance rooms. He did indeed have a cooler. He opened a bottle of water, pouring it into two glasses.
“It's not exactly wine, but it'll have to do” he called over his shoulder.
“I've never had wine” Rey said, her eyes searching the room for anything that might point to Ematt as the spy. “It's not a good idea to get dehydrated in the Jakku desert”.
“True, that” Ematt chuckled, passing her a glass. He raised his own slightly.
“To Leia” he said softly. Rey raised her own glass too.
“To Leia” she said. Ematt drank his glass of water, pouring a second for himself. Rey brought her cup to her lips, wondering how best she might get Ematt to reveal himself as the spy.
There was a loud bang, as the glass shattered in Rey's hand, inches from her face.
She responded instinctively, ducking out of the way. Poe stood at the doorway, blaster raised and unwavering. He turned it towards Ematt, his face impassive as he squeezed the trigger. The blast hit Ematt in the shoulder, sending him backwards to crumple onto the floor. Rey ran over to the fallen General, checking his pulse.
“You could have killed him!” she cried.
“It was set to stun” Poe replied. “Hasn't anyone told you not to accept drinks from spies? He could have poisoned you”. Rey looked back at the debris of the glass Poe had shot from her hand. His first instinct had been to protect her, she realised.
“We need to take him to an interrogation room. It's too dangerous to have him wandering around the base until we have proof that he's the spy”. Rey shook her head.
“An interrogation room? What happened to innocence until proven guilty?” she asked. Poe's tense expression softened.
“I'm not going to torture him” Poe promised. “We're not the First Order. Now help me with him, before he wakes up”.
Getting him across to the interrogation room wasn't going to be an easy task either.
Chapter 13: Judgement
The First Order informant revealed, the truth about Leia's death is finally revealed. What will this mean for the life of the informant, currently held prisoner and awaiting interrogation? Will the secrets he holds forever change the course of the Resistance?
HAPPY STAR WARS DAY!!! I have a little something special for you today. I hope you enjoy it! As ever, comments and criticisms are warmly welcomed. May the fourth be with you!
The results of Leia's autopsy had arrived by the morning.
The medical bay had never looked so grim. It's chipped white tiles left the room feeling cold, even with the Dantooine sun already high in the sky. The vines that grew through the broken windows waved slightly in the breeze from outside. Poe was leaning against one of the cots, his arms crossed tightly. Finn and Rose had taken seats on the cot, listening to Poe as he gave them their updates. They were holding hands tightly.
Rey took a deep breath, stepping into the medical bay. Poe looked up at the sound and met Rey's eye, looking quickly away.
“The droid is nearly finished” he told her. Rey took her place beside Finn and Rose.
“What are we going to do?” Rey asked. “If Ematt really is a mole?” Poe shook his head wordlessly.
“We found listening devices in the command centre, Poe's room and mine” Finn murmured. “Even if it isn't Ematt, someone planted those devices. Someone's been listening to our conversations-”
“They were probably looking for you” Poe said quietly. “That's why Finn's room was bugged”. Rey met Finn's eye. Did they blame her somehow? Finn squeezed her hand affectionately.
The droid whirred into the medical bay. Poe stood up straighter as the droid bleeped a greeting.
“I have completed the autopsy on General Leia Organa” the droid announced.
“Tell me” Poe commanded. The droid nodded.
“There were massive amounts of ixetal cilona extract in her bloodstream. I also found signs of emphysema of the lungs and haemorrhaging of her internal organs”.
“So what does that mean?” Poe asked sharply.
“The cause of death appears to be asphyxiation. Due to the amount of cilona in her system it is unlikely that she would have been conscious”.
Poe shook his head, turning away from the droid. Finn reached out to him but he stepped out of the way.
“Is it possible that Leia's medication was switched with this cilona thing six months ago, and she was getting it instead of her prescribed medication?”
“Certainly” the droid replied. “In fact, she would have had to be receiving the drug across many months for her systems to have withstood the quantity I found”. Finn looked from the droid to Poe, his brows drawn tight in confusion.
“Sorry, what is this extract thing? What does it do?” he asked hesitantly.
“It's the main ingredient in death sticks” Poe replied quickly. He was pacing. “People take it to get high, but it causes hallucinations and shortens a person's lifespan”.
“Sir” the droid interrupted. “My data bank has a list of side effects of this drug. It seems that it has an increased potency to force-sensitive individuals such as General Organa. Prolonged use of the drug limits connection with the force”.
“That's why he was giving her it?” Finn asked. “Leia survived the explosion on the Raddus; he gave her the drug to make sure she couldn't use the force to survive again?” Poe's eyes were shut tight, a pained expression across his face. Rey reached out to him, pulling him into a tight hug.
“We've got him” she whispered to him. “We've got him”.
Poe's arms wrapped around her tight. His breath hitched as he buried his face in the shoulder of her tunic.
“I should've known” he gasped. “I sat with her every night. I should've known that something was wrong, I should've realised that her medication had been swapped. I should've known”.
“You couldn't have known” she told him softly. “Nobody knew. You said it yourself, Ematt's been a part of the resistance from the beginning. Nobody could have suspected him”. Poe pulled himself out of her arms. His eyes were dry, his jaw set firmly.
“It's time to speak to Ematt” he said.
Ematt was in the interrogation room in the resistance base, well away from the rest of the resistance. The interrogation room was damp and filthy. Ematt had been strapped firmly onto a large chair in the middle of the room. He looked up as they entered, his head hung low, his silver hair partially hiding his face. There was a medical droid beside him, fitting something into his arm.
“What is that?” Rey asked. Poe's jaw twitched.
“It's a venal port” he told her.
“Poe, you said we weren't going to hurt him”.
“I'm not” he replied, crossing his arms. He turned back towards Ematt, his arms crossed tight.
“You have one chance, nothing more. Have you been working with the First Order?” Ematt glared at Poe, his lip curled upwards in a snarl. Poe nodded to the medical droid.
“Begin” he commanded.
“What are you giving him?” Finn asked, as the medical droid began injecting into the venal port.
“Sodium thiopental” Poe replied. “It'll get him talking”.
“Poe, you can't hurt him!” Rey stood firmly in front of Poe, her heart racing. “We're better than this. You're better than this!” Ematt's head was shaking, slowly.
“You're all the same” he murmured, his speech beginning to slur slightly. “It's all just... the same”.
“Increase the dose” Poe ordered. The medical droid complied.
“It's not hurting him, is it?” Finn asked hesitantly. “We're not causing him pain?” Poe shook his head, but said nothing.
“Did you kill Leia?” he snarled. Ematt laughed.
“No. No, I love Leia. She's... ha!” He smiled broadly, laughing at Poe. It only served to infuriate him more.
“More” Poe commanded. “More!”
“Poe, you could kill him”. Finn's voice called out. “Too much will cause an overdose”.
“What is it?” Rey asked. “What is he giving him?”
“It's a truth drug” Finn explained. “I've heard of it before, but never seen it. The First Order prefers more violent forms of interrogation”.
“The First Order!” Ematt gasped, grinning at them like a loon. “What a bunch of idiots! Kylo Ren, our Supreme Leader. Ha!” Poe pushed Rey roughly aside, planting his hands firmly on the restraints wrapped around Ematt's wrists.
“Did you murder Leia?” he hissed. “DID YOU KILL HER?”
“Yes!” Ematt laughed. “I'm good, so good. None of you realised it was me”. Poe's hands tightened, his knuckles turning white.
“Have you been working for the First Order?” he snarled.
“Oh yes. Kylo is... he's so funny! What a little worm, so weak”. Rey swallowed thickly. In his drug-addled state, what might he have to say about Ben?
“How long have you been working for them?”
“Um... years. Many many... many many years. So many”. Poe stood up, his hands curling tightly into fists.
“Who have you been passing information to?” he asked. Ematt laughed.
“I'm a double. Double trouble. I pass information to Ren. Lots of information. Boring things; stock lists, supplies, weapons. I pass things too... to the real Supreme Leader. The one who really pulls the strings, you know?”
“What did you tell Kylo Ren?” Poe's eyes were hard, fixed on the formal general. Rey shared a worried glance with Finn.
“Lots of things” Ematt laughed. “Where you are, who your allies are, what you've been up to. He's so funny. Always worrying, all the time. Every time we talk. Where is she? Where is the girl?” Rey felt her face flush with heat. There was only one person he could be talking about. Ematt wasn't finished.
“Always, how's my mother? How's she doing? Have you found the girl? He wanted every little piece of information I had about her, couldn't get enough. He made me bug your rooms... told me to bug your damn droid if I had to. So funny! So dramatic!” He laughed. Poe grabbed him firmly by the jaw, forcing his face upwards to meet his hard gaze.
“Who gave you the order to kill Leia?” he snarled.
“I suggested to Ren” Ematt smiled. “Just as I was told, I offered to kill her. The boy wouldn't have it, not his precious mother, oh no. He refused, just as we'd expected”.
“Who is we?” Poe hissed. “WHO GAVE YOU THE ORDER?” He ignored Rey's hand on his shoulder, her futile attempts to pull him away. Ematt grinned, seemingly delighted with himself.
“General... Supreme General whatever... Hux”.
Poe stilled, his eyes fixed on Ematt. He was calculating, Rey guessed. Calculating what?
“Increase the dose” Poe ordered, his voice quiet but steady. “Until his heart stops”.
“No!” Rey grabbed hold of the medical droid, wrestling the syringe from its hand. The droid whirred angrily at her. She pushed the plunger of the syringe, sending the contents dripping onto the steel floor. Victorious, she whirled to face Poe, grabbing him roughly by the arms.
“Don't let the droid kill him” she barked to Finn. He nodded.
Poe was heavier than he looked, but Rey had the strength of her anger behind her as she pulled him out of the interrogation room. Was it her imagination, or were Poe's eyes darker than they were usually? He allowed her to drag him outside, offering no complaint or retort. She pulled him into an adjacent room, standing firmly between him and the door.
“We do not kill our prisoners” she said firmly.
“He murdered Leia” Poe seethed.
“If we kill him we become no better than he is”. Her voice softened. “I know how much she meant to you, but this isn't the way. This isn't what she would have wanted-”
“SHE'S DEAD!” he yelled, his hands curled tightly into fists. Was he going to hit her? Fear fluttered in her chest. He must have seen it in her eyes. He sat down in the only chair in the room, his hands covering his face. Rey gave him that, gave him the space to breathe, to calm down.
“She called me Ben” he said, so quietly that Rey wasn't sure that she'd heard correctly.
“What?” Poe removed his hands from his face, looking up at her, his expression haunted.
“She called me Ben” he repeated. “Towards the end, her hallucinations were getting worse. She thought I was him, her son. After a while I just went along with it. It seemed to calm her, I think”. Rey knelt before him, hands clasping his own.
“She loved you” she whispered. “You were like a son to her, you know that”. He nodded, his eyes bright with tears.
“She was so happy” he whispered. “When she thought I was him. When she thought he'd come back to her. She would hold my hand so tight I'd think she was going to break my fingers, and whisper his name”. He shook his head, as if trying to shake the memories from his brain. He pulled his hand free of hers, reaching into his pocket to pull out an envelope.
“I found this amongst her things” Poe told her. “She seemed to rally a little after your message. It was one of the few times she recognised me”. He handed her the envelope gently.
Rey pulled the letter from it's envelope, her eyes scanning over the words. Leia's last words to her. Even in the end, she'd been full of hope. She looked up from it, to Poe. Somehow he looked both old beyond his years and impossibly young and vulnerable all at once. Her willingness to push against him – to confront him once more about Ben – died in her throat. Poe was her friend. He needed her. She held her tongue and wrapped her arms gently around him.
In the end Rey and Finn had managed to persuade Poe to keep Ematt prisoner until they could work out what to do with him. Poe had found BB-8 and taken to the air in one of the spare x-wings. Rey had forbidden him from taking his own until she'd checked that Ematt hadn't tampered with the experimental drive. She'd escaped to the quiet solitude of the garden. The wind rustled softly through the grass, gently tickling her skin as she lay on the ground and watched Poe's ship circle above.
The Jedi texts and her data pad were resting beside her, but she found that she had no will to search through it. The day had left her drained. Her mind was in a whirl, processing all that had happened. Ben had brought an end – at least in legislation if not in practice – to slavery. The stormtroopers had arrived, bringing with them a message of hope, and another of betrayal. Ben had saved them, he'd given away his spy in the resistance. He'd given them Ematt, confident that they would do on their end what he was no doubt doing on his.
Rey squinted up at the faint wisps of cloud that passed overhead. Hux had ordered Leia's death. Was Ben in danger? Undoubtedly. What was she supposed to do; just sit by while somewhere out in the galaxy Ben surrounded himself with his enemies? Hux would hurt him if he could, that Rey was certain of. When Finn had spoken of Hux he'd always painted the General as a ruthless leader, a fanatic of war and all the suffering it brought. He'd said that Hux delighted in the suffering of others. The thought made Rey nauseous.
In an effort to distract herself, Rey turned on the data pad, searching for the attempt she'd made at drawing the lightsaber. It was a poor attempt, and not one that she thought would help in rebuilding the saber. The wind whistled gently through the trees, caressing the bare skin of her neck. She shivered.
It wasn't the wind.
She knew instinctively where to find him. He was seated several feet in front of her, stretched out across the wooden bench. Ben seemed not to notice her at first; levitating a small metal ball several meters above him. Up and up it went, before dropping quickly, hovering mere inches from his face and beginning to climb again. She sat up quickly, her sudden movement drawing his attention. His eyes flickered over to where she sat, his attention drawn away from the metal ball hovering above.
The ball fell, hitting him squarely in the face.
He stood up quickly, walking towards her. From her position on the ground he looked far taller than she'd seen him last.
“Ematt is a spy” he breathed. “General Caluan Ematt, he-”
“I know” she interrupted, not wanting to hear the panic in his voice. He stilled, stopping only a meter or so from her.
“The stormtroopers arrived yesterday. We're holding Ematt. He... he gave us everything”. She looked away from him, not wanting to strain her neck to see him.
“Did he tell you who gave him the order?” Ben asked quietly. He took a seat on the grass in front of her.
“Hux” she answered, meeting his eye again.
“I suspected as much”. She looked at the garden around her, wondering if he could see her surroundings.
“You're sitting on the floor in my quarters” he told her.
“Are you reading my mind?”
“I don't have to”. She sighed. It was true; she couldn't feel his presence invading her mind. Instead it was like opening a door and finding him in an adjacent room. They existed peacefully, for the moment.
“You've been busy” she said lightly, letting her eyes scan the trees and the path between them for any resistance members who might be in earshot. They were alone.
“Where are we?” he asked. “I can't see your surroundings. We're outside, aren't we?”
“In the garden” she replied. “Nobody bothers me here. I spent so long in the desert, it's nice to be amongst so much greenery”. He nodded slightly, his eyes fixed on her. “How did you know I was outside?”
“The sun... on your hair” he said quietly. She shied from the intensity of his gaze.
“What is that?” she looked down, to where her hand lingered on the data pad.
“It's nothing, just something I've been working on”.
“May I?” she shouldn't pass him the data pad. She shouldn't let him see that she was researching the lightsaber. Yet here he was, the one person left in the world that might have the knowledge to help her. Wordlessly, she passed him the pad. He looked down at the screen, his lips parted slightly as he read her jumbled writing.
“This is a lightsaber” he said quietly. “Did something happen to yours?”
“You don't know?” Realisation hit her. “We... we broke it. It was torn in two... after our fight”. His eyes flickered to her and away again, an emotion there she couldn't put into words.
“Can I see it?”
Telling him about the lightsaber was a terrible idea. Showing him it was an even worse one. She drew the two halves from her bag, passing them over to him in return for her data pad. He examined the half that contained the crystal.
“This has been in my family for over fifty years” he murmured. “Before my mother was born. It was wielded by my grandfather, Anakin Skywalker”.
“Darth Vader?” Rey asked softly. Ben shook his head, handing the pieces back to her.
“Before he was Darth Vader” he explained. “He was born into slavery on Tattoine. He was a Jedi, one of their most powerful”.
“Why did he turn to the dark side?” Rey asked him gently. Ben's eyes met her own.
“He was manipulated by a stronger power. A Sith Lord”.
“You mean like Snoke manipulated you?” The words had left her mouth before she'd realised she'd thought them. Rey expected his anger, his glaring defiance of his weakness. Instead, he was calm.
“A little” he confessed. “There isn't much information regarding who he was before he became Darth Vader. What little I have came from rumour or whispers. My godmother, Maz, helped fill in the rest”.
“Maz is your godmother?” Rey asked in wonder. She hadn't mentioned that on Takodana.
“She told me a story” he murmured. “A powerful Jedi, the supposed chosen one. He was supposed to bring balance to the force, peace to the galaxy”.
“So what happened?” She felt Ben's eyes flicker to her face and quickly away again.
“He fell in love” he said simply. “My grandmother was an elected queen, later a senator for her planet. She was a politician, not too unlike my mother after her. Maz told me that they met young and married in secret. If the Jedi had discovered them, my grandfather would have been exiled. The Sith Lord came to learn of their secret. He used it to turn my grandfather turned from the Jedi and their constrictive ways, but he lost my grandmother in the process. My mother and uncle were separated to keep them from him, and he came to be known as Darth Vader”.
“He came back though, didn't he? He turned from the darkness to save his son”. Ben nodded gently.
“And now we've torn his lightsaber in two”. Rey looked down at the two halves in her hands.
“I've been trying to fix it” she admitted. “I took the Jedi texts from Luke and used the coordinates I found in them to get a replacement kyber crystal. The texts aren't in a language I recognise though. I can't translate them enough to work out how to fix the saber”.
Ben's eyes flashed excitedly.
“You don't need the Jedi texts to fix the saber... Hold on”. He got to his feet, walking over to something that Rey couldn't see. When he turned back he had a book in his hands. Wordlessly, he handed it to her. The book was dusty and old. It smelled a little like the Jedi texts – a smell she was beginning to define simply as 'old book' scent. It wasn't unpleasant. She flicked through the pages, marvelling at the detail. The drawings were exquisite, labelled with the most delicate, beautiful cursive writing.
“It's all here!” Her voice rose in excitement. “All of it. The diagrams, the descriptions... It's amazing!” Shaking her head in wonder, she flicked back to the beginning of the book. There on the first page, written in the same exquisite style as the rest of the book, were four words.
Property of Ben Solo.
Rey looked up from the book in amazement.
“You wrote this?” she asked.
“It's my notes, from my time at the academy” he explained. There was a faint tinge to his usually pale face.
“Calligraphy” she murmured, remembering the ink pot tucked into the pocket of her tunic. His eyes widened in surprise.
“Why are you helping me?” she asked hesitantly. “You're the only one left with a lightsaber”.
“I'm not the only one left with a lightsaber” he said firmly. “You need to be able to defend yourself against them, if... when, the time comes”.
“Rey!” She whirled around in surprise, instinctively hiding the book behind her. Finn waved to her in the distance, calling out to her from across the garden.
“Poe wants you to meet him in the hanger!” he called out. Rey swore, turning back to Ben.
“Someone's calling you?” he guessed.
“I have to go” she murmured, shielding the book from where Finn was standing as she offered it back to Ben. He shook his head.
“Keep it” he said. “Use it”. She nodded, packing it into her bag with the rest of her things.
“Rey, come on!” She ignored Finn's call, catching Ben's eye as she slung the bag over her shoulder.
“Stay safe” she whispered.
“You too” he whispered back.
She didn't want to leave him, but Finn was coming ever closer and Rey didn't know if the bond was strong enough that others might see Ben too. She turned, feeling the connection close like a cord being severed. It was almost a physical pain in her chest. Pushing it aside, she headed towards Finn, praying that he had seen only her presence in the garden.
She found Poe in the hanger, alone apart from the droid that chirped affectionately by his knee.
“You wanted to see me?” He nodded, gesturing to one of the supply cases next to the one he sat on. Rey took the seat, smiling at BB-8. He chirped a happy greeting.
“I wanted to apologise for how I've been acting”. Poe seemed calmer, more like the man she'd met six months ago aboard the falcon. The flight had done him good, she guessed.
“You've been grieving” she said softly. “We all have”.
“I still shouldn't have taken it out on you. I do trust you, you know. I know what you sacrificed to save us, to be with us. I know it's been difficult for you, and I've not made it any easier”. He sighed, looking out into the forest beyond the open hanger doors.
“Leia was like a second mother to me” he said quietly. “Knowing how she felt... She never stopped believing in you. She never stopped believing in her son”. Rey watched him carefully, searching his expression for a clue into his mind. Poe took a deep breath, as if he was readying himself.
“I trust you, but not him” he said quietly. “Leia wanted him to have a chance. I can't offer anything more than that. I won't risk the lives of our people on a chance. So if we're doing this, it has to be a vote. We have to give everyone the chance to decide. If we do this, he doesn't get to speak to you without either myself or Finn present. If this force thing opens you have to tell me, immediately. I don't want to give him the opportunity to manipulate you. If we do this... we don't do this for him. We do this for Leia, okay?” He held his breath, waiting on her response.
“We're doing this?” Her own voice sounded strange to her ears. She couldn't believe it.
“I'm doing this” he corrected her. “I have to be the one to extend the invitation, not you. This has to be done properly, politically, if it's going to work at-”
Rey wrapped her arms around him, squeezing him tightly. Her heart was racing, each beat hopeful and bright.
“We're working towards peace” she told him. “Leia would be proud”.
Chapter 14: An Invitation
As the Resistance deals with recent revelations, Ben uncovers the stormtroopers at the heart of the latest escape attempts. These stormtroopers aren't the only ones with a surprise in store for him, and Ben soon faces a decision that will shape the First Order forever.
I've got a special chapter for you tonight! My longest chapter so far, with a mixed POV. Warning, things get just a little bit darker towards the end. I'm curious to see what you all think of it!
The resistance gathered in the grassy area surrounding the camp; their numbers now too great for any of the rooms within the base to accommodate them. They sat cross-legged in a half circle on the grass, many of them looking at each other in confusion. They'd been called here by Poe, but that was as much as any of them knew. Rey caught Finn's eye from across the crowd. He didn't look pleased. Poe turned to the crowd, BB-8 faithfully by his side.
“Thank you for meeting me here” he said quietly. “I have a few things to update you on, but first I'd like to welcome our thirty guests. Many of them have already agreed to stay on with us. Welcome to the family, guys”. A firm clap rippled through the crowd. The stormtroopers grinned in response. Poe waited quietly until the clapping had stopped.
“I have some bad news” he said. “It will be difficult for many of you to hear. It's...” Rey caught his eye and nodded, hoping that Poe would draw strength from her support.
“Our new friends brought a message with them from Kylo Ren” Poe explained, ignoring the confused expressions in the crowd.
“General Hux of the First Order intends to overthrow him, and had control of a spy within the Resistance. Ren discovered the plot when the spy he thought was his – against his orders -” Poe stopped, his eyes fixed on Rey, his hands curled into fists. There was pain in his eyes. Rey longed to go to him, to offer what little comfort she could, but this was his arena. He'd made it perfectly clear to her that she wasn't to interfere.
“The spy... he killed Leia”. Shock swept through the crowd. Rey could see – feel, almost – their grief, their pain, their anger.
“When I was given the message I ordered an autopsy on Leia's body. The tests proved that she was murdered”.
“Did he tell you who the spy was?” Connix asked.
“He did” Poe replied. “The spy was Ematt. We apprehended him and he confessed to everything”. Many in the crowd gasped. Commander D'Acy raised her hand to her mouth in shock.
“Why would the Supreme Leader help us?” one person asked.
“If he's on our side, who are we fighting?” a second called out. Poe held up his hands, the crowd falling silent.
“I don't know why he helped us” he admitted. “It's true that the lines are blurring. The First Order is beginning to fragment. It's time for us to make our next move. I'm sure you have all heard by now the recent changes in the galaxy. Starvation, poverty, they're on their way out. Aid is being delivered to those who need it, slavery has been banned throughout the galaxy, the stormtrooper program is no longer forcing people to join. Things are improving, little by little. Kylo Ren helped the stormtroopers escape; he gave them his code to bypass the shield and he let them go”.
Rey looked nervously around at the faces that surrounded her. They were confused. Rey didn't blame them. Who are we fighting, someone had asked. Rey wasn't sure. Poe nodded to her, taking a deep breath.
“I don't want anyone else to die” he told them. “Not if we can help it. We've lost so much. If there is another way, a better way, I want to find it. Now, the First Order is wrong. One man ruling over the galaxy is wrong. We are not giving up the fight for democracy, for fair and equal power. We would simply be taking a new approach”.
“What new approach?” D'Acy asked hesitantly. “General, what are you talking about?”
“I'm talking about sitting down with the Supreme Leader and asking him nicely to give governing power to the people. He's shown that he can be reasoned with”. Poe shrugged. “And if not, we can always just blow him up”. Rey pushed aside the sensation of something squirming within her stomach. She needed to be calm.
“I'd like to take the first step towards speaking to Kylo Ren. I want to ask him for a ceasefire so we can hold Leia's funeral in the closest place to home for her – Chandrila – and make her funeral open to all those who loved her, all those who grieve for her as we do. Including her son”.
There was a moment of silence, then the shouting started.
“You want us to meet with the First Order? They'll kill us all!”
“Reason with the Jedi Killer?”
“He's killed so many people, he murdered his father!”
“ENOUGH”. Rey sprang to her feet, staring down the crowd with hard eyes. They stilled under the force of her anger. Rey turned her back on Poe, facing the rest of the resistance.
“Leia has allies, friends who haven't committed themselves to the First Order. They have the right to say goodbye. Leia has the right to have her funeral in a place closest to her home, not on a random chunk of rock on the fringes of the galaxy. We do not have the right to deny her that. Leia would want us to do this; leaving her funeral open for everyone to pay their respects could bring us one step closer towards securing peace for the galaxy. If this is what it takes to bring the First Order to the table and get us talking instead of shooting each other then why shouldn't we?” She looked around the crowd, watching anger simmer and fall away to doubt.
“You're all ready and willing to die for our cause. Now you need to be willing to speak for it too”.
Rey turned to look at Poe, fearful of his anger. She had promised him that she wouldn't interrupt. Poe smiled slightly at her, as though he was grateful of the support. Rey turned back to the Resistance, spurred on by the hope in his eyes.
“This could be it” she said. “This could be how we win. It's worth a try, isn't it?” Finn looked at Rose, whispering something to her that Rey couldn't hear from this distance. Rose nodded, squeezing his hand tight.
“I won't ask you to join us” Poe said, stepping in beside Rey. “We will hold a ceremony here, for us. Then I'm taking her to Chandrila. Anyone who wants to come with us may do so, the rest are free to stay behind. I won't force you. Either way, we should evacuate the base. We know that both Kylo Ren and General Hux are aware of our position, I don't know how long Ren will be able to keep the general from attacking us”. Poe's eyes scanned the crowd.
“I want to call a vote. I won't ask who wants to come to Chandrila with us yet. All in favour of holding a funeral for Leia there – present or not – and opening it to everyone who loved her, raise your hand”.
The stormtroopers raised their hands in unison. Rey had expected their support, but it brought a smile to her face nonetheless. She and Poe had raised their arms, and about a dozen others. Even BB-8 showed his support, extending an arm from his internal port and igniting the attached lighter. Rose had her hand raised. Finn looked from Poe to Rey to the troopers. He raised his hand, slowly. Poe counted, nodding his head as he did.
“Majority wins” he declared. “Leia is going home”.
Ben was reading through his notes from the academy. He was almost certain that Luke had spoken of the ancient Jedi language. Maybe his notes would help Rey decipher the texts. His dinner left uneaten on the table, Ben had left his books open and scattered through his quarters. He was flicking over a particular section on ancient Jedi holocrons when the alarm for the door to his quarters sounded.
“State your business” he called out dryly.
“Sir, your presence is requested in the conference room immediately”. Ben looked up from the book, towards the screen. There was a stormtrooper outside. It was unusual of Hux to send a trooper when he could have contacted him directly. Hux had a comm-link to his quarters after all. Ben closed the book, getting to his feet and unhooking the lightsaber from his belt.
“Open the door” he commanded. The computer buzzed in response, opening the door for the trooper. The trooper stepped cautiously into the room. His weapon was holstered.
“Why didn't Hux inform me himself?” Ben asked the stormtrooper. He could sense the fear rolling off the trooper in waves. The trooper stood to attention, saluting him.
“General Hux was not informed of the meeting, Supreme Leader”.
“Then who is running the meeting?”
“A few of the stormtroopers, Sir. It's not really a meeting, Sir, they would like to speak with you, if possible”.
Stormtroopers. Was this some sort of union rally? A protest for fairer treatment? If it were just that then Ben could comfortably refuse to meet with them. Suppose it had something to do with the stormtroopers he'd helped escape? If he refused to speak to them they might speak to Hux, and that would be a disaster. Ben clipped the saber back onto his belt.
“If you're wasting my time I'll make sure you regret it” he said dryly, motioning for the trooper to walk ahead. Ben wasn't going to let him walk behind, where he might only have a moment to respond to blaster fire. The trooper nodded, walking obediently through the metal corridors to the conference room.
Ben could feel the anxiety radiating from the room. There had to be more than a dozen troopers – almost two dozen – beyond the door. The trooper knocked sharply, waiting for it to swing open and let them through. Ben thought he was right in his estimate; there was indeed two dozen troopers in the room, filling it to almost half its capacity. The trooper that had brought him there removed his helmet. It seemed to be a cue for the rest of them to follow suit.
One of the troopers – a girl with bright blue hair – stepped forward.
“Supreme Leader, we apologise for the interruption” she said softly. “We received a message from officer Unamo. She told us what you did for her, for the troopers she was with”. Officer Unamo. Ben looked around the room, to the faces staring back at him. Fear was giving way to something else. It was hope.
“You want me to help you escape too?” he asked. The girl shook her head, pushing her large glasses back up the bridge of her nose. They made her eyes look huge, like some sort of owl.
“No, we don't want to leave” she replied. “We are the defection program. We're the ones who stay behind to organise the escapes”.
“The defection program?” Ben asked hesitantly. Here were all the troopers responsible for the defectors. They were the ones who passed along the security codes, the shift change information, perhaps even supplies and weaponry for the journey. Here they were, all in one room.
“Why have you come to me?” he asked. “I could stop the defectors right now, by killing every person in this room. So why have you come?” The girl looked hesitantly back at one of the other troopers – a girl with mousy brown hair and the greenest eyes Ben had ever seen. Her friend smiled in response and the blue haired girl turned back to Ben, her confidence restored.
“You are not the monster we believed you were” she said simply. “We know better now. It's all over the holonet news; slaves are being freed and given fair pay, aid is being delivered to the planets who need it, arguments are being settled with conversation instead of war. Since you began your rule the galaxy has been closer to peace than we have been in so long. We're here to offer our assistance, however you might require it, so that we can continue to bring peace to the galaxy”.
She fell to her knees, the rest of the troopers close at her heels. Twenty five troopers, kneeling before him. They were hopeful; they believed in him, in what he was trying to do. Ben cleared his throat.
“Stand and give me your name” he said quietly. The trooper got to her feet.
“HJ-1733, Sir. The other troopers call me Blue”.
“Blue” Ben said, earning an amused smile from the trooper. “I may have need of your services, as it happens”.
“Anything, Supreme Leader” she replied quickly. Ben cast his eye over the group. Should he trust them?
“Someone is working against me, trying to bring the principals of the First Order back to the days of Snoke. I need you to keep an eye out for anyone acting suspiciously, anyone who might be helping the mole. Can you do that?” The girl stood tall, looking back to the other defectors. Their eyes were hard, their expressions firm.
“We can do that” she agreed.
“Continue your work. Contact me only if things are urgent, and only when I am alone. Our situation is dangerous. The mole has been responsible for one death already”. Blue nodded, motioning for the other stormtroopers to disperse. They re-attached their helmets, nodding to the girl as they passed. Ben watched the way the others responded to her, how she commanded their respect. She was very much the leader of the group, and not through force or fear. They each looked to her instinctively to guide them.
“Blue” she turned back to Ben, her helmet tucked under one arm.
“I have need of an assistant” he told her. “Are you interested?” Her eyes widened in surprise, as blue as her hair. It was her firm belief in him that had him feel compelled to reach out to her.
“It would be an honour” she replied.
“I need someone I can trust, someone I can have absolute faith in. I would need proof of your loyalty”. Her face stiffened; she looked at him hesitantly.
“What sort of proof?” she asked.
Ben stepped towards her. He was testing her, if he was being honest. It wasn't something that gave him any joy.
“With your permission” he murmured, doing his best to sound non-threatening, “I would look into your mind. If I see no evidence of you working against me, I would be happy to hire you as my assistant”. The girl swallowed thickly.
“Will it hurt?” she asked.
“It might feel uncomfortable” he admitted. “I'll be as gentle as I can”. She nodded, her jaw set.
Ben extended his hand towards her. There was no need to touch her as he pressed gently into her mind. She gave very little resistance. He remembered attempting to breach Rey's mind, how she had hissed and kicked her way into his brain, fighting against every glimpse he stole into her life. Blue's memories came easily to him, like flicking through a book. She stiffened, but didn't complain.
He could see her home, smell the salt carried on the air from the sea. He recognised the planet well enough; he'd been there shortly after he'd escaped Luke's academy. She was from Naboo. He saw her trials in the stormtrooper training program, the gruelling nights she'd spent honing her skills with a blaster. He saw the mousey-haired girl with the brilliant green eyes. He felt her mind soften, her resolve grow firm. Here was the one person she was tethered to, the one person for which she would make no exception.
She'd sat on the balcony overlooking the canteen, smiling as the girl named her. She'd named the girl in turn – Jade, for the colour of her eyes – and they'd promised to keep their names. Ben felt the panic in his heart as he watched Blue tear through the halls of the ship as another escape pod arrived from the wreckage of Starkiller base. She was screaming for Jade, until finally she'd found her and wrapped her arms around her tight, pulling away only to plant feverish kisses against her lips. Ben drew away from the memory. This was hers to keep, he was not to be privy to her affections.
He searched forward, through her memories of the stormtroopers and her generals. She'd carefully kept under the radars of most of them, performing her duties in silence. She was the best shot in her team, not that she let on. It was easier to be invisible if her skills were average, if she was just another stormtrooper. It was easier to avoid punishment or blame when she was just another helmet in the crowd.
Ben pulled himself from her mind, satisfied that her intentions were honest. She wasn't working for Hux.
“Did I hurt you?” he asked. She shook her head.
“I'd rather you don't do that again” she said quietly.
“Agreed”. He shifted his mind back into focus, looking around the conference room.
“Come with me” he said. “If you're going to be my assistant, we should get you something more comfortable than armour to wear”.
She followed him faithfully to his quarters, looking around his room with interest.
“What are all these books and scrolls?” she asked.
“Jedi teachings” he replied. “I'm searching for information on the ancient Jedi language”. He keyed the control panel, requesting one of the tailor droids. The droid whirled into the room.
“Take this woman's measurements and arrange for some new clothes to be made for her. Let her pick from the company catalogue”. The droid chirped happily back.
“Use the room furthest down the hall” he told Blue. “Come through when you're finished”. She nodded, following the droid. The corridor led to his sleeping quarters, the bathroom and his study. The room furthest down the hall was more of a large wardrobe than a room, but it would suffice.
The alarm to his door sounded. Ben sighed; it didn't look like he was going to get peace today.
“State your business” he ordered.
“You've really got to think of a better opening line” a cheerful voice chirped back. “Would it be too friendly of you to just say who is it?”
Ben didn't need to ask who it was; he'd recognise the voice anywhere.
“Open the door” he commanded. The door hissed open, letting Jax into the room. He whistled at the sight of all the books and scrolls strewn across the furniture.
“Hey, at least nothing is broken this time. You're improving”. Ben ignored his sarcasm.
“Do you want to train with me?” Jax asked, taking the seat beside him.
“I'm a little busy”.
The door to the hall opened. Blue stepped hesitantly out. She had redressed into her stormtrooper uniform but had chosen to forgo the helmet. Her eyes widened in surprise when she saw that Ben had company.
“I'm sorry to disturb -” Ben held up his hand to stop her.
“You aren't disturbing” he said kindly. “Make us a cup of caf, and one for yourself too”. She nodded, heading for the kitchen. Jax followed her movement with his eyes, only turning to Ben when she had disappeared into the kitchen.
“And you tell Nat off” he teased.
“She's my new assistant” Ben explained quickly.
“So you're not...?” he trailed off. Ben shook his head.
“Well then, Supreme Leader” he grinned. “Permission to ask your new assistant to dinner? She's hot”.
“Permission denied. I'll save you the trouble; she's not into men”. Jax raised his eyebrows.
“You hired an attractive assistant who you have no hope of sleeping with? I'm starting to worry about you, Ren”. He patted Ben on the back.
“I'm not interested” Ben said sharply.
“You must have your eye on someone” Jax replied. “It's a big galaxy out there, and you're sort of the most powerful person in it”.
“Precisely, I have more important things to think about”. Ben tried to ignore the squirming sensation in his stomach. This line of interrogation was getting uncomfortable.
“Here we go!” Blue put the cups down on the table before them.
“Thank you, Blue” Ben said, taking the cup into his hands. It was pleasantly hot.
“Blue, huh?” Jax asked. “Nice name. I'm Jax”. He held out his hand for the girl to shake, smiling warmly.
“Pleased to meet you, Jax”. She took a sip from her cup. “So what's the story?” Jax's eyes turned to Ben with interest.
“General Hux is a mole” Ben told them. “I don't have any proof yet, but I know it's him. He had one of my spies murder Leia, though I had ordered him not to”.
“One of your spies?” Jax asked. “You've known where the resistance is all this time?” Ben swallowed thickly.
“Yes”. Jax looked between Ben and Blue, his brows drawing together.
“Okay” he said. “We'll come back to that. Hux murdered your mum. What are you going to do about it?”
“Kill him, obviously” Ben replied. “If I can tear him from Nat. She's his personal body guard at the moment, and we're not strong enough to take her”.
“I can totally take her” Jax snorted. “Plus, Jaz will stand with us. It'll be four against two”.
“I can't guarantee that Tee and Dal won't join her. If they did, we would be in trouble”. Blue was looking between them both, her expression puzzled.
The control panel in the wall beeped. Ben got to his feet, checking the system.
“What's wrong?” Jax asked. Ben flicked the screen on, checking his communication system.
“We've received a transmission” he said. “It looks like it's been bounced around a few of our command centres. I can't see who it's from”.
“Do you want us to leave?” Ben shook his head. There was only one person whose messages he needed to keep protected from Jax, and she had a more direct method of communication. He opened the transmission. The screen buzzed with static before settling. The transmission showed a dim metal room, a man sitting at a rusted out desk. Ben recognised the man immediately.
“General Dameron” Ben said dryly. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Kylo Ren” Poe replied surly. “Or do you go by Ben Solo now? It's not Ben Ren, is it?”
“Supreme Leader will do fine” Ben growled.
“Yeah, not gonna happen”. The droid he'd been looking for so many months ago chirped in the background. It was laughing. Ben scowled; what could he possibly be contacting him for? Was Rey alright?
“I assume you're calling to surrender” Ben said, his voice thick with sarcasm.
“You assume wrong” Poe replied. “I wanted to speak to you about your mother”.
Ben felt Jax stiffen beside him. He was expecting Ben's anger, he guessed.
“As you know, she died a few days ago” Poe continued. “We're holding a small ceremony tonight in her honour, but we wanted to take her home for a proper funeral”.
“She has no home” Ben said sourly. “Alderaan was destroyed years ago. The only place left for her is -”
“Chandrila” Poe finished. Ben regarded the general with interest. It was a bold move for the resistance.
“Am I to understand that you are coming out of hiding?” he asked.
“I'm offering you a truce, Ren” the general replied. “Temporary, of course. I want to hold an open funeral for Leia on Chandrila. You're welcome to attend, providing you don't try to kill us while we're there”.
“A truce?” Ben's heart quickened. “An odd tactic, given your reputation”.
“Yeah, well, there are people out there that think you might be open to discussion. If that's the case I'd like to avoid any more fighting”. Ben looked to Jax, who was watching the exchange with wide eyes.
“If I was to allow the funeral to go ahead, what would the terms of the truce be?” Ben asked.
“An immediate ceasefire. We can meet on Chandrila the morning after tomorrow. We'll need some time to arrange the funeral, get the word out. Give us five days. Five days on Chandrila, we can come to the table, talk and pay our respects to Leia. After that – if we haven't come to an agreement – I want safe passage to go on our way... and we can go back to trying to kill each other”.
Ben's heart was racing, the blood thundering passed his ears. This was more than he had dared hope for, more than he'd even dared consider. There was no doubt that Rey had had a hand in persuading Poe to come forward. She was working away behind the lines of the resistance, doing her best to bring the First Order and the Resistance together. Maybe she'd decided that the First Order wasn't so bad after all. Perhaps the changes he'd made to the order had been enough to change her mind about him.
You're not a monster, she'd told him. She had been the one to seek him out, she had been the one to first take his hand, to offer him her comfort. Was it possible that maybe she had faith in him after all?
“I will discuss it with my generals” Ben replied. “You'll have your answer by tomorrow”.
“You can contact me on Leia's personal frequency” the general said. “I assume you still remember it”.
“I remember” Ben said. Poe nodded.
“Until tomorrow then” he said quietly. The screen switched off.
“Did that really just happen?” Jax asked. Ben turned back to him.
“The Resistance just offered us a truce” he said lightly. He felt numb. Maybe he was in shock.
“The Resistance just invited you to your mother's funeral” Jax replied. “In exchange for not blowing them up. What are you going to do?”
Ben took a seat on the sofa, looking down at the caf that he'd left on the table.
“What do you think I should do?” he asked. Jax's eyes widened. “You're my advisor, right?” Ben pressed. “Advise me”.
“I don't... I mean... If it were my mother, I would go” Jax replied. “If you feel like it we can finish the Resistance after the funeral, they wouldn't make it off the planet”. He shook his head. “And if you and this general can work out your differences... well, wars don't always need to be won on the battlefield”. Ben turned to Blue.
“What is your opinion?” he asked. She looked startled.
“I... I would agree to the truce” she responded. “You've changed the First Order so much. We're not the same force that we were under Snoke – which is a good thing. Maybe the Resistance are beginning to realise that you're not a power-hungry tyrant like Snoke was. Sir” she finished, her face flushing. Jax glanced from her to Ben and back again.
“I don't want to be a power-hungry tyrannical organisation either” Jax said quietly. “I've been on the wrong side of that, and it's not pleasant. If there's a better way, we should do it”.
Ben nodded. He'd never been more grateful for Jax's support. He turned to Blue.
“Summon your troopers” he ordered. “We're going to need all of them”. She pulled the comm-link from her belt.
“Come to the Supreme Leader's quarters immediately” she breathed, switching it off again. “What are we going to do?” Ben's hand found the safety of the hilt of his saber.
“We're going to tell the council that we're going to Chandrila” he announced. “I'm expecting the negotiations to be deadly”.
Hux lay on his bed, examining the financial spreadsheet for the second quarter that was displayed on his data pad. It was a necessary part of his job, but one he found rather boring. It was especially tedious now that he had something more interesting to look at.
Nat was pulling on her trousers, her long black hair loose and rippling like water over her shoulders. Her exceptional beauty was an added bonus in Hux's opinion. It was a shame that he was going to have to kill her, eventually. Not that he was going to let that stop him, but he guessed he'd feel a little bad about it afterwards. Nat glanced over to him, her head tilted to the side.
“Why are you staring at me?” she asked coldly. There was nothing in her tone to suggest that mere minutes ago they'd been tangled together, her lips hot and gasping against his own.
“How long are we going to keep doing this?” he asked. Nat shrugged, pulling on her tunic.
“Why?” she asked with a grin. “Are you beginning to enjoy my company?”
“That was the idea, wasn't it?” he asked. She merely grinned in response.
“I'm going to train” she said, clipping her lightsaber to her belt. “I'll be back in an hour or two”. She leant over, planting her lips softly against his.
“Have fun with your spreadsheet” she joked.
Hux put the data-pad on the duvet next to him, watching her leave. She didn't glance back at him. He took comfort from it; that her resolve was as strong as his, her emotions just as controlled. It would make killing her easier, knowing that if he didn't then she'd surely turn on him herself. There was no room for weak sentimentality in his visions for the future.
The buzzer sounded. Hux sighed, pulling his trousers on quickly and walking over to unlock the door. Nat had forgotten something, probably. Maybe there was a defect in the gender that allowed for such mistakes; a hormonal imbalance. That was the good thing about clones, his father had told him. Their genes had been expertly manipulated to eliminate most of the errors of humanity. Hux pressed the panel, allowing the door to open.
It wasn't Nat.
Kylo grabbed Hux roughly by the neck, not bothering to use the force. Hux's heart spluttered in response as Kylo lifted him completely off the floor, stepping into the room. His grip was tight against the skin of his neck, his nails dug deep into the side. Hux panicked, clawing at Kylo's hand in a desperate attempt to breathe.
Kylo dropped him, letting him fall, spluttering, to the floor. He hit his head against the cold metal, sending a bolt of pain through his skull. This didn't seem to be enough for the Supreme Leader. Hux raised his hand in retaliation, but it was no use. Kylo stretched out his hand. Hux hated the sensation the force gave him; the sharp pain as he stretched out his hand and held Hux in a vice-like grip. Hux tried to move his arms, tried to struggle against the will of the force, but to no use. The Supreme Leader stood over him, his eyes wickedly sharp and lit with an inferno greater than Hux had ever seen.
He straddled Hux's body as the general fought against the binding. It was as if he were trapped in his own mind, paralysed. Fear was a metallic taste at the back of Hux's throat. Kylo struck out viciously, punching him hard enough to make Hux's ears ring. He shut his eyes against the pain, the room swaying beneath him. His heart raced and protested as Kylo hit him again and again, each time harder than the last. It felt like slamming his head into a concrete wall.
Kylo grabbed him by the throat, his face seething with anger inches from Hux's. The world didn't seem to exist outside the borders of Kylo's eyes. They burned with a fury unlike Hux had ever witnessed. They were predatory-like, no longer human.
“That was for my mother, bastard” Kylo snarled. His hand tightened on Hux's throat. Free to move once more, Hux tried desperately to claw Kylo's hands from his throat. It was useless; If he was causing the younger man any pain at all he didn't show it.
“Your usefulness is dwindling, General, and I am not a man you want to make an enemy of” he growled. “The next time you disobey my orders I will make you wish you were dead, do you understand?” Hux nodded frantically. His chest burned from the lack of oxygen.
“I'm going to call a vote tonight” Kylo spat, his voice lined with venom. “You are going to vote in my favour, and if you don't want my use for you to run out you are going to continue to vote in my favour. The next word you speak out of line will be your last”. Hux nodded desperately, his jaw quivering as he tried to find enough air to beg for his life.
Kylo looked at him in disgust and released his hold on Hux. He gasped the air urgently back into his lungs, clutching his aching neck. His head swam as he coughed and spluttered, each cough ricocheting through his skull. Kylo climbed to his feet, standing over the general as he delicately investigated his face. It was swelling already and stung under the slightest touch. There was a horrible, sickening grating sound, a sharp pain. Kylo had broken his cheekbone – at least on one side, possibly on both. His hands were bruised, scratched and bloody from Hux's desperate attempts to survive, but he seemed to barely notice them at all. Fury scorched through Hux's core. Hate wasn't a strong enough word, he decided.
“I trust we have come to an understanding, General?” Kylo asked coolly. Hux spat a mouthful of blood onto the floor, nodding grimly.
Chapter 15: In Loving Memory
As the feud between Ben and Nat reaches boiling point, Ben gathers his forces in a show of strength against her. Will it be enough to stop the plans that she and Hux have set in place? As the pieces are lined up for battle, Rey and the Resistance hold a memorial for Leia; a chance for the members of the Resistance who are opposed to Poe's plan to pay their respects to the General they hold dear in their hearts.
Second chapter of the weekend! I've recently discovered Kylo Ren's and Rey's playlists on spotify, and have taken great inspiration from them. I love new canon content! I have a countdown to the release of episode IX on my phone. I hope you enjoy the direction I'm taking the characters. As per usual, comments and criticisms warmly welcomed!
Ben walked through the cold halls, the heel of his boot ringing against the metal. Blue was faithfully at his side, data-pad in hand. The two dozen stormtroopers she had summoned to his quarters marched silently behind, their weapons drawn and set for the kill. Ben's pulse pounded in his ears like a drum, calling out to war. The conference room was ahead, the knights and Hux already at their positions. He took a deep breath and stepped into the room.
Tee and Dal looked up with interest as he entered. Jax caught his eye and nodded. He was ready. Jaz looked at him surly, her mouth twisted into a frown. Only Hux and Nat did not turn to him. Nat was examining Hux's face. Large bruises had spread across the general's cheek, a mottled mix of purples and reds. His lip was split; it looked like it was still bleeding. Ben looked over his handiwork with satisfaction. Hux seemed intent on not meeting his eye. The stormtroopers spread out across the room, surrounding the table where they sat. Nat stood up, turning on Ben.
“If you ever raise a hand to him again-” she hissed.
“I would pay more respect to your superiors if I were you” Ben warned. “Or you may find yourself next”. Nat raised her head in defiance, stepping up to him.
“Lets go” she spat. “I'm not afraid of you”.
“You should be”. He clicked his fingers. The troopers raised their weapons, aiming for Nat. Two of the troopers stepped forward, removing her lightsaber from her belt. Ben clipped it onto his belt, next to his own saber. Nat scowled at him.
“You have a choice” Ben advised her. “Your pathetic playmate has already paid the price of his betrayal. Your skills are significantly more useful, which is the only reason that your fate hasn't been the same as his. You are my second-in-command, the leader of my knights. You can continue to serve me, or you can get on an escape pod and go back to where you came from. I'm sure your father would be pleased to see you”. Nat's eyes narrowed, her hands curling into fists.
“Do I get my saber back if I do?” she asked, in a tone that suggested strongly that she wanted to turn the weapon on him.
“No” Ben replied. “You and Hux are charged with treason of the highest order. You went against my orders and murdered a vital pawn in this war”. Nat glanced at Hux sourly.
“I wasn't part of that” she protested.
“I find that difficult to believe”. She glanced to Tee and Dal, who were watching with wide eyes. They made no move to help her.
“I'm not going back” she snarled.
“Then pledge your loyalty to me” Ben replied. “And know that the next time you step out of line I'll run you through with your own saber”. Her nose wrinkled in disgust as she glared at him, but she complied.
Natiera dropped to her knees before him, the stormtroopers following her movement with their blasters.
“I pledge myself to you” she declared. “Until my death, I will forsake my will for your own. I am – and always will be – your faithful servant”. Ben motioned that she stand.
“Take a seat” he commanded. She sat back down, her sharp eyes never leaving his. Ben took his seat at the head of the table.
“Before we begin, does anyone else wish to declare their treachery?” he asked lightly. The other knights shook their heads.
“You didn't need to bring the troopers” Tee said quietly. “We're on your side, Ky”.
“These troopers are some of my most faithful” Ben explained. “I have made each of them leaders of their own squadrons. They are here for my protection”.
“We're supposed to be the ones protecting you” she complained. Ben nodded to her.
“Indeed” he agreed. “Yet it's been proven that I can't trust some of you”.
“Not me” Tee said firmly, her arms crossed.
“So anyway” Jax interjected. “Nat and Hux are traitors, the rest of us are still trustworthy, you've got a new legion of faithful stormtroopers, and an attractive personal assistant” he grinned at Blue, who smiled back.
“You do realise I'm not into men, right?” she asked gently. Tee laughed at him.
“I had been informed” he said with a smile. “Lets get down to business”. He turned his gaze onto Ben.
“A few hours ago Jax and I received a transmission from the Resistance” Ben informed the knights. Hux scowled.
“The Resistance grow weak, their own soldiers are losing faith in their cause” he continued. “The changes we've made have quelled their fire. Many of them wonder if their cause is still just. Their general has come forward and asked for a temporary truce, no more than a week. He requests that we meet and discuss our opposing views. If we can't come to an agreement we simply return to our original plan to snuff them out”. Dal nodded.
“They sound like they're losing hope” he noted. “They'll surrender to us soon”.
“What are they offering us?” Nat asked sourly. “In exchange for not slaughtering them the minute they come out of hiding?”
“They want to meet us the day after tomorrow, on Chandrila” Ben answered. “We'll be there for five days, during which time we'll hold our discussions... and their late general's funeral”. Tee and Dal exchanged a worried glance.
“Hold up” Tee said. “We're going to your mother's funeral?”
“That's the idea” Ben agreed. “They've offered me a chance to pay my respects”.
“Do you have any?” Dal asked. Jax scowled at him.
“She's his mother” he snapped. “Being on the opposite sides of the war doesn't change that”.
“But you were prepared to kill her, right?” Dal enquired. Ben nodded.
“I would have done whatever necessary to further our cause. Leia was no obstacle in that. Nevertheless, I can't change my heritage. I am attending the funeral. The Resistance has requested that if we don't come to an agreement we give them an opportunity to leave peacefully. I have agreed to this -” he held up his hand as Tee and Dal opened their mouths to complain.
“- we will, of course, use the opportunity to wipe them out. I suggest that we track them to their base and put an end to them once and for all”. He met Jax's eye nervously. If they didn't go for the idea, they were about to be in trouble. Tee and Dal looked at each other. Ben eyed Nat cautiously. She had turned to Hux. Whatever she had said to him, he was shaking his head.
“I don't see why we don't just kill them the moment they get to Chandrila” Tee remarked. “You actually want to reason with these people?”
“I do” Ben replied stiffly.
“I don't see the point” she said. “We have nothing to gain by listening to their demands”.
“Me neither” Dal said quietly. “If this is what you want, go ahead, but I don't agree”.
“You and your precious Resistance can go to hell” Nat snarled.
“Well I agree with Kylo” Jax said stiffly, before Ben could reply to Nat. “We lose nothing by hearing them out. We don't always have to resort to violence”.
“You call it violence, I call it sport” Tee snapped.
“I agree with Ren” Jaz said quietly. She offered no explanation; Ben knew that her support was for her twin, not for him. He was grateful nevertheless. All eyes turned to Hux. He met Ben's gaze briefly. The fire had gone out of the man, leaving him deflated and pathetic. He nodded, avoiding both Nat and Ben's sharp glares.
“I vote to go” he mewled.
“Majority wins” Ben said quickly.
“If majority decided not to go would it have made a difference?” Tee asked sourly.
“No” Ben admitted.
“So who's coming with you? Who's staying?” Nat asked.
“You're all coming with me” Ben replied. He'd thought about leaving Nat or Hux here, where they wouldn't have access to the Resistance members. Eventually he'd decided that it would be too risky to leave either one unattended.
“Who is running the First Order while you're away?” she asked.
“Phasma will take care of things” Ben replied. “Zef will oversee any major details and be here in event of an emergency”. Nat snorted.
“Zef? Nobody's seen him since we landed. He's useless”. Ben scowled at her.
“His understanding is different to yours. That doesn't make him useless. He'll feel more comfortable here than in a new environment, and he's proven himself to be an effective strategist when it counts”. Nat crossed her arms but said nothing.
“Pack your things. We leave early the day after tomorrow”. Ben got to his feet, leaving the conference room without a word, his stormtroopers close on his heels. Blue followed him silently. They didn't speak until he'd thanked the troopers, given them their leave and returned to his quarters.
In the privacy of his quarters Ben breathed a sigh of relief, dropping himself onto the couch.
“That was amazing” Blue gushed. “The way you took on Nat and Hux. They won't dare to cross you now”.
“I wish that were true” Ben sighed. “If anything I've just riled them up. We'll have to keep a close eye on them”. He rubbed his temple. Hux was no match for him, but Nat was causing him a headache. As soon as his mother's funeral was out the way he'd see that Nat was sent on a mission as far away as he could manage. Hux would be powerless without his bodyguard.
“I'll need help planning my mother's funeral” he told Blue. She nodded.
“I'll help” she replied softly.
“I appreciate it, but I think an event of this magnitude might be beyond just the two of us. Bring your girlfriend to me; have the droids measure her for a less military uniform. Jade, is it?” Blue blinked in surprise.
“Really? You mean it?” She smiled. Her joy seemed to light up her eyes, Ben noted. They were the colour of the sea on a clear day.
“I won't part you from her” he said softly. Her expression softened, her excited grin fading as she sat on the sofa next to him.
“Tell me about her” she said gently.
“The girl, whoever she is”. He watched her warily.
“I don't know what you're talking about it”. Blue shook her head, ignoring his dismissive tone.
“Six months ago you barely left these quarters. The troopers were scared to relay anything to you; there was rumours that you slaughtered anyone who tried. The First Order was a war machine, churning out fear and suffering to the galaxy. You fixed a lot, gave aid to those who needed it, softened our approach with the stormtrooper program, but the galaxy still feared us. Now they respect us, they trust us with their future, look to us for guidance. You've ended slavery, ensured that no planet faces poverty and famine, you've made us proud to be stormtroopers, happy to serve you. You've let go the ones who wanted to be free. Now you're staring down Hux and Nat and those other knights, putting them in their place and telling them the way things should be instead of asking” she smiled softly.
“You've changed” she noted. “Yourself, the First Order. It's only really been in the last week or two, but I can see it and so can everyone else”.
“You think a girl has tamed me?” he asked dryly. She grinned.
“No. I think a girl has shown you who you've really been all along”. Ben sighed.
“She's... my balance” he conceded. “She's fury and fire, she's stubborn and reckless. She's determination and might personified, and yet she's also calm, gentle and kind. She was the first person to ever look at me and see beyond the monster Snoke made me out to be. She looked at me and saw hope”. Blue smiled softly.
“Where is she now?” she asked gently.
“I pushed her away” he replied. It was a weight off his shoulders, telling the truth. “I was selfish; I thought only of what I wanted; what I wanted her to want. I didn't stop to think that maybe her priorities differed from mine. It tore us apart”. The words tasted bitter on his tongue.
“Did you apologise?” Blue asked. “Does she know that you've realised your mistakes?”
“I haven't apologised” he admitted. “I think she knows, that I regret what I did”.
“Maybe you should tell her anyway, just to make sure, since you haven't actually apologised” Blue suggested. Ben glanced at his assistant.
“You're rather helpful on this subject” he noted. She shrugged.
“What can I say? I know women” she said with a grin.
“Go and get Jade” Ben said. “At least one of us needn't be parted from the object of our affections”.
Hux winced, his left eye twitching as he stared into the mirror. He was applying a salve onto his bruised and aching cheek. It wasn't helping much. Behind him, he could see Nat pacing back and forth, her hands curled tightly into fists.
“Arrogant” she hissed; not for the first time. “Pathetic. Just like his mother. How dare he take my saber. How dare he!”
“Pacing won't do any good” Hux said dryly. She turned on him.
“Some help you were!” she hissed. “He put you in your place. You were a whimpering musk-hound following its master”.
“He broke my face!” Hux spat. “Actually, genuinely broke the bone. What was I supposed to do? You were the one who allowed yourself to be de-clawed by that freak! Or was handing over your lightsaber part of your brilliant plan?” Nat grabbed him by the throat, forcing him violently against the wall.
“Say that again” she dared him. “I'm not as merciful as Kylo, I promise”. He glared at her, but said nothing.
“Remember who you serve” she snarled.
“You have very few allies here” Hux snapped back. “You need me”. She glared at him, but released his throat.
“The plan was to turn the troopers against him” she said sourly. “How are we supposed to do that now that he's planted his allies in the trooper leadership?”
“Two dozen stormtroopers won't make a difference” Hux assured her. “They answer to Phasma, remember. You handle Zefrik; I'll put Phasma to work once we've set for Chandrila”.
“How am I supposed to handle Zef without my saber?” she hissed.
“I'm sure you'll find a way”. She shook her head.
“Too much of your plan relies on chance” she complained. “What are we going to do when we get to Chandrila? Kylo will surround himself with exactly the kind of people we won't want getting in the way”. Hux placed his hands reassuringly on her arms. It was an unusually kind gesture for the general, Nat noted. Perhaps he was more invested in her company than he was willing to admit. It would be his downfall.
“You need to view the war like an elaborate game of chess” Hux advised her. “Each player is a piece, each action a move”.
“I have no time for your metaphors” she scowled. “Tell me how to win”. Hux smiled at her. It was a cold, predatory smile. It was the kind of smile that reassured her that she'd picked the right pawn to flatter and fool. It was the kind of smile that left her with an urge to taste the greed and ambition that lined his lips and danced across his tongue.
“If you want to bring down the king” Hux purred “you must first take his queen”. Nat smirked.
“Maybe there's hope for you yet, General”.
She pulled Hux to her by the back of his neck, until his lips were against her own. Hux had taken to drinking a large glass of whisky each night since Kylo had taken up leadership. She could still taste the hint of it on his tongue. She pushed him away.
“I'm going to take care of Zef” she told him. “Update Phasma on the plan. The First Order must be under our control the moment Kylo steps off this ship”. Hux nodded, putting the lid back on the tube of ointment he'd been applying to his cheek. He placed it back into the cabinet and left Nat in his quarters.
She changed quickly, into a short dress, the colour of blood. Seduction was a well-used tool in her arsenal; she'd known of it's power since her days on Chandrila, when her father had squandered their fortune in the casino in Hanna city and sold her to cover his losses. She'd spent five years under the watchful eye of her tormentors, learning how to utilise the only weapon she had; herself. When she'd finally developed her force abilities enough to turn them against the men that called themselves her owners, Luke had been close enough to feel her anger, to feel the men's lives flicker and die. He'd taken pity on her and brought her to his academy. His pity had not been enough to give her back as privileged a life as she'd had as the daughter of a senator, nor was it enough to light the darkness that had festered within her.
She took the path to Zefrik's room, ignoring the heads she turned along the way. Zef had taken up residence as high in the ship as he could get, in a small room at one end of the ship, on the top deck. He liked to be away from the crowds; the sensation of so many sentient beings surrounding him was too much for him. He was a genius with a staff and more connected to the will of the force than anyone she'd ever met, but that was as far as his usefulness stretched.
She pressed the buzzer on his door. It was set to a low, dull tone; one that wasn't too overwhelming for his delicate state of mind.
“Come in” came the quiet response. The door opened, letting her into the room. The walls of his quarters were entirely covered in bookshelves, giving the room the appearance of a library. He was resting on his bed, his eyes pouring over a book.
“What are you reading?” she asked him, feigning interest.
“The Mandalorian Crusades” he replied. “Five thousand BBY to four thousand BBY”.
“Fascinating” she said, sitting down on the bed beside him. He looked up at her with interest.
“It really is” he said. “Would you like me to teach you about the destruction of Ubduria?”
“Maybe another time” she replied sweetly. “I need to borrow your lightsaber”.
“Why?” he asked. “Where's yours?”
“Ky took it off me” she said sourly. “I beat him in our training session and burnt his hand”. Zef looked down at his belt. His saber wasn't attached.
“Kylo's the Supreme Leader now” Zef remarked. “That means you have to do what he says. If he took away your lightsaber that means I can't give you mine”.
“He never said that I couldn't borrow yours” Nat pointed out, her hand resting gently on his thigh. “Please, Zef. It'll be our secret”. He bit his lip, a confused expression across his face. He was trying to work out if her request conflicted against the rules he'd created in his head.
“It's in the top drawer” he told her finally. She sprung to her feet to get it. “But you have to open the drawer three times like I do, okay?” She nodded, complying with Zef's odd habits. She lifted the saber from the drawer, walking back over to Zef and switching it on. It burned red, like her own. That was where the similarities ended.
Zef fought with a dual saber, the hit of which was carved from the wood of a Bylark tree; as strong as any metal she'd seen. She balanced it in her hand, feeling it's weight.
“It's got good balance” she told him. “Though I prefer to fight with a single blade”.
“I can teach you, if you'd like”. Nat smiled at him.
“Thank you, Zef” she said softly. “You're really helpful”. Zef grinned in response.
He was still smiling as Nat plunged one of the saber's blades through his heart.
His smile slipped from his face, his eyes falling to where the blade had pierced him. Nat switched off the saber, tucking the hilt between her breasts where it wouldn't be seen. Zef fell to one side, his hand still clutching the book that he was reading. There was no blood; the lightsaber had cauterised the wound. Nat pulled the book from his hand, leaving it open on his bedside unit. She raised her hand, focusing on the force passing through her fingertips.
Zef's body rose steadily. She pulled back the covers, allowing his body to fall before she covered him. She shut his eyes, as if he was sleeping. It wasn't a mercy, nor guilt on her part. It was merely a tactic, in the unlikely event that Kylo visited him. If one didn't look close enough it almost appeared as if he were sleeping.
Her task complete, Nat stopped by his bathroom to reapply her lipstick before she left the dead man's quarters.
They had gathered in the grassy meadow from Rey's nightmare. There was a soft breeze, carrying the scent of pine through the air. The sun had taken refuge behind a thick blanket of cloud, keeping its heat at bay. It wasn't enough to bring a chill to the air, but Rey shivered all the same.
The Resistance had split itself in two, making room for an isle between them. Someone had scattered soft white petals down the isle. They stood in silence, listening to the soft melody carried on the wind. Rey had never heard the sound of a piano before. It was beautiful, even if it was only a recording.
There was a noise through the trees; the sound of a ship landing. The Resistance waited patiently. Through the trees, Rey could see it. Leia's coffin was a pale white wood with silver handles that shone like small mirrors. It took six members of the resistance to carry it down the isle to the alter that had been set out for it. Poe and Finn were at the front on either side, their expressions respectful and solemn.
Poe had forgone his usual attire for an outfit almost entirely in black, like most of the other members. Rey had found the darkest tunic she had in compliance with their traditions. They rested the coffin on the alter, surrounding it with white flowers. They waved in the breeze, almost as if they were saying goodbye. Poe and Finn silently lifted the lid of the coffin and placed it behind the alter.
Leia had been dressed in a white, long-sleeved gown of silk. It ran right up to her neck, for which Rey was grateful. She had dreaded having to see the incisions that had been made for Leia's autopsy. Someone had applied cosmetics to her face, a soft blush to her cheeks and a pale pink hue to her lips. It brought warmth back into her skin. If Rey hadn't known better she might have thought that the general was merely sleeping.
Leia's hair had been removed from her usual hairstyle and left to flow softly over her shoulders. The same small white flowers had been tied into her hair here and there. Her hands were clasped together and Rey knew that they held Han's twin dice between them; some months before, Chewie had gone to Ach-To to find Luke's body and come back only with the dice.
Poe took his place before the Resistance, his eyes rimmed with red and shining bright with tears.
“Leia was more than a leader” he murmured, the microphone clipped onto his jacket increasing the volume of his voice so they could all hear him.
“She was a legend – though she wouldn't admit it – and a dear friend. She was like a mother to many of us, myself included. She was family. She...” he paused, his breath catching in his throat.
“She was a storm” Finn said, his voice breaching the silence. Poe looked up at him with grateful eyes.
“She was a force to be reckoned with” he agreed. “You didn't want to get on her bad side”.
“She was hope” Rey added. Poe's eyes were soft as he turned to her. “She was the flame that never stopped burning, no matter how dark it got”.
Poe reached out his hand to her. Rey went to him, taking her place at his side. She squeezed his hand tight, hoping to provide some small amount of comfort.
“The Jedi believe that no-one is ever truly gone” Rey said, addressing the crowd. “They live on in the force. They return to it, as we all must in the end. Leia will live on in the force, carried on the wind, scattered amongst the stars. We carry her with us always, in our hearts and in our minds and in the tears that we shed. We will each have a moment to say goodbye, but she will never truly leave us. Keep the fire burning. We are our own flames now. Pass on the hope that Leia had, as she passed it on to us”.
Poe squeezed her hand, pulling her aside to allow the other members of the resistance to step forward and pay their respects. Each one placed a flower on the alter. Some of them touched her cheek, held her hands in their own. Finn saluted her; the binary beacon he'd taken from her worn around his wrist. The stormtroopers saluted respectfully or bowed to her.
Eventually it was Poe's turn. Tears falling thick down his face, he leant over her, his lips brushing her forehead softly. He moved aside to allow Rey to say goodbye. She stepped up to the coffin, her heart hammering away in her chest. She'd seen bodies before, but they'd been in a far worse state than Leia's. They'd cooked under the heat of the Jakku sun, stinking out a wide area and attracting predators for miles. Leia had been perfectly preserved and given the appearance of life. She even smelled the same as she had in life. It was a soft scent that brought to Rey's mind the gentle sensation of fleece through her fingers, the warmth of Leia's skin as she'd hugged her tight.
Delicately, Rey placed her hand on Leia's. Her skin was cold, the tendons and bones more prominent than they had been in life. Rey swallowed thickly.
“I'll do my best, not to fail you” she whispered. Maybe somewhere out in the depths of the galaxy, woven between the threads of the force, Leia might hear her.
“I'll do my best” she promised “to bring your son home”.
Chapter 16: Lah'mu
With the memorial service behind them the Resistance turn their focus towards finding a new base and preparing for their trip to Chandrila. Rey delves deeper into the pages of Ben's book in her attempt to understand the lightsaber, but a surprise visitor proves more useful to her than Ben's writing.
This is a double chapter weekend! I doubt I'll have enough time to post a third one, but there will be a second chapter posted tomorrow (the 19th of May) at the usual time of 10:30pm GMT. I hope you all enjoy it, I love reading your comments! I've been going back through my comments and reading some of your amazing works and I'm quickly becoming a massive fan! I'll be posting comments of my own when I'm finished reading. As always, comment and criticism warmly welcomed!
Morning was a quiet affair. The memorial service the previous night had cast a solemn air over the base. When Rey arrived at the canteen for breakfast barely anyone glanced her way. Conversation was held in quiet, hushed tones. Rey got the impression that many of the conversations featured her. The hair on the back of her neck prickled as she took her tray, casting her eye across the room.
“Rey!” One of the stormtroopers waved to her, calling her over. Rey went gratefully to the girl's side, taking the only seat left at the table. The other chairs were taken by more of the stormtroopers – though it had been days since they'd cast aside their uniforms in favour for the clothes in the Resistance supply closet. The blonde girl that had called her over was wearing a jacket that looked identical to the one both Finn and Poe wore.
“Your speech last night was beautiful” the girl told her.
“Thank you” Rey cast her eye across the room. Several people in the canteen were watching her.
“Pay them no mind” the girl whispered. “Not everyone is as supportive of your trip tomorrow as we are”.
“Will you be coming with us?” Rey asked hesitantly, deciding that she'd feel a lot better to have people around her who believed in Ben as she did.
“Myself and Elias will be accompanying you” she nodded to a dark-skinned man who sat across from her. His mouth was full, so he simply smiled in response.
“Thank you”. Rey moved the fried egg across her plate with the tip of her fork. Usually she was ravenous; was it the stares that had diminished her appetite, or her nervousness at the thought of the impending meeting?
“Can I ask you something?” Elias enquired, having swallowed his breakfast. Rey nodded.
“Why did Kylo Ren give us your name to pass the message onto, and not General Dameron? I've heard that he was aware that Poe had been chosen for general”. Rey looked down at her plate, her stomach squirming. It seemed that breakfast would be beyond her today.
“I don't know” she lied. “Maybe because I'm sensitive to the force, like he is?”
“I heard that you fought him twice, and kicked his ass both times” the blonde girl remarked.
“No” Rey said quickly. “I mean, I did beat him on Starkiller base”.
“What happened in Snoke's throne room then?” The girl asked. The other troopers seemed to have forgotten about their meals, watching Rey with interest.
“We heard that you killed Snoke” Elias whispered. “At least, that's what we were told by Hux. You killed Snoke and his guards, and knocked the Supreme Leader unconscious in the fight. It never made sense to me, because if you had, why would you leave him alive?”
Rey looked at the stormtroopers at the table. They were watching her intently, hanging on her every word.
“I did leave him alive” Rey admitted, her mouth dry. “I wasn't the one that killed Snoke, he did. We fought the guards together”. The blonde girl turned to Elias excitedly.
“I knew it!” she whispered. “I told you that it was Ren that killed Snoke, didn't I?”
“Tali” he warned her, turning back to Rey.
“Would you tell us?” he asked. “How it happened?” Rey swallowed thickly.
“Snoke was torturing me” she whispered, feeling the echo of the pain that had shot like lightening through her veins. The troopers leaned closer, their eyes widened.
“He ordered him to kill me. Ben turned his lightsaber on me, but while Snoke was gloating to me about my death he turned my lightsaber – the one Snoke had stolen – and ignited it, cutting him in half. We fought the guards together. When it was over I asked him to stop the First Order from firing on the Resistance escape pods, but he refused. He wanted the throne for himself. We fought. There was an explosion and we were both knocked unconscious. When I came round I left him there and took Snoke's shuttle to join the Resistance”.
The troopers glanced among themselves, their eyes wide in awe.
“You called him Ben” Elias noted quietly. “When he joined us Snoke forbade anyone from calling him that. I'd almost forgotten that that was his real name”. Rey bit her tongue. Damn it! She should have been more careful.
“His name is Ben Solo” she said firmly. “He's the son of General Leia and Han Solo”.
“He's the grandson of Darth Vader” one trooper said.
“And the nephew of Luke Skywalker” Rey replied. “None of which matters. Darth Vader died thirty years ago. Luke, Leia, Han, Snoke, they're dead too. Ben's actions are his own, they have been ever since he made the decision to end Snoke's life”.
“For what it's worth, I don't think his decisions have been all that terrible since he took over” a trooper opposite Rey admitted.
“We've been treated a lot fairer since Snoke died” a second trooper remarked. “But maybe that's just because old Chrome-dome's been too burnt up to bark orders at us”. Several of the troopers laughed.
“Chrome dome?” Rey asked.
“Captain Phasma” Elias explained. “She commands the stormtroopers. One of the surviving troopers overheard Stormbreaker calling her Chrome-dome while they fought on the Supremacy. It's become a bit of a joke amongst the squadrons; a way to stick it to the boss”.
Rey laughed. The delight the troopers had taken to Finn's casual slur brightened the dreary morning. They had taken it for themselves, whispered it among them squadron to squadron, passed it along in the canteen during mealtimes, perhaps joked about it during boring night shifts. Finn was an idol to them, a legend like Luke had been to her. Rey had far more faith in Finn living up to the legend of the Stormbreaker than she'd had in Luke living up to the legend of the Jedi. Finn was far less likely to wake someone up with attempted murder.
“I love that you call him Stormbreaker” she grinned. “I think we should get him to take it on as a second name. Finn Stormbreaker; it sounds great, doesn't it?”
“What surname would you have?” Tali asked lightly. “Rey the Jedi from Jakku is a little too long”.
“Solo” one trooper quipped. The trooper opposite threw a chunk of bread at his face. Rey felt her cheeks burn.
“I don't have a surname” she said quickly. “If I'm honest, Rey isn't even my real name. I took it from a helmet I found in the Jakku desert. I don't remember my real name”.
“You named yourself, like we did” Elias said with a smile.
Once breakfast was over the Resistance set about packing up to move base. It wasn't just their personal items, but equipment and supplies, down to the very last detail. They were leaving nothing behind. It made sense; Ben knew exactly where they were. Even if Rey trusted him not to bring the might of his army upon their heads, it didn't mean that they weren't risking their lives by staying on Dantooine. Hux could have arranged a strike against Ben's orders, like he'd ordered Leia's death from under Ben's nose.
Rey helped out as best as she could, preparing the various ships in the hanger for the journey. It was a comforting feeling, crawling in amongst the various wires and pieces of machinery in the belly of the freighters. It felt like coming home. Rey was soon streaked with dirt, oil, rust and grime. It stained her clothes, left long marks across her skin and stuck to her hair. She didn't mind; on the contrary, she couldn't be happier. This was what she was good at, what she'd done all her life. This was her contribution to the Resistance effort.
By the time she was finished packing up what little things she had and preparing all of the ships for the journey, the Dantooine sun had crept out from behind the clouds. The air burned feverishly hot. Rey packed a bag with a clean change of clothes, the broken lightsaber and Ben's notes from the academy and headed to the lake. It was busy – half the resistance seemed to be in the water – so Rey headed further along, to a quiet part of the forest where she would have privacy. She tucked the bag safely away from the water's edge and stripped, leaving her bindings on the shore.
The water was cool against her skin as she waded in until the water engulfed her completely. She scrubbed the dirt from her skin with a sharp brush that was all she had, determined to be clean at last. She drew her breath and held it, pulling her head under the icy waves to wash the sweat and grime that had taken refuge in the layers of her hair. Her clothes were next. She doubted that they would ever be truly clean again, but she removed what she could and hung them over a branch to dry.
Clean at last, Rey let the warmth of the Jakku sun dry her. The light stroked softly against her eyelids as they drifted closed. The grass was soft and warm beneath her, the blades gentle against her skin. When she was dry she dressed in the clean clothes she'd brought with her to the lake, leaving her damp hair loose around her shoulders. It was getting longer since she'd joined the Resistance, the improved nutrition allowing it to grow quickly until the ends curled around her breasts.
Rey took Ben's book from her bag, pouring over the contents. As a teenager Ben's handwriting had been rehearsed and elegant, so much so that at times it was difficult to read the flourish of loops and curls in the ink. She marvelled over his words. His knowledge of the lightsaber was far beyond anything she'd worked towards in the months she'd poured over the weapon. She wondered what the boy between the lines would have thought if he'd known that not too far in the future he would be using the same knowledge to craft a weapon of the dark-side.
She felt the air still around her, as if the forest were holding it's breath. She looked up from the pages, her eyes finding his immediately.
“Ben”. Her lips framed his name, she tasted it like honey across her tongue. He was sitting cross-legged on the grass, his pale lids closed softly in meditation. On hearing her voice his eyes opened, his long lashes framing the deep molten pools that she found there.
“It's getting more frequent” he noted, in the same studious tone he'd used when he first asked her why the force was bonding them. His eyes drifted to the book in her lap. His book. He met her gaze again, his eyes flickering over her damp hair.
“You're working on the lightsaber?” he asked.
“I was reading your notes” she admitted. “Your handwriting isn't the easiest to read”.
“My handwriting is impeccable”.
“That's why it's difficult to read”.
She looked down at the book, at the open diagram of the saber.
“What does this say?” she asked, turning the book to him. He stood up, stepping closer to her to sit down by her side. His proximity made the hair on the arm that was closest to him stand on end, as if he carried his own electric current. She pushed the thought aside.
“It's the diatium power core” he explained. “It's at the base of every lightsaber. See here, it's surrounded by the power field conductor and the insulator. My lightsaber has an additional reserve power cell in the base, here, above the cooling vanes”.
“So your insulator doesn't stretch the length of the conductor?” she asked, remembering the warmth from the hilt as she'd wielded it in the throne room.
“No” he agreed, drawing his lightsaber from his belt. “It's beneath the reserve power cell”.
“Is that why the hilt heats up?” she asked curiously. He nodded. She pulled the lower half of Luke's lightsaber from her bag, opening up the covering. He leaved over her, until he was close enough that she could feel the heat from his body reaching out to her between the small space between them. He smelled of iron and sweat and something darker, more potent, that seemed to beckon her closer.
“See here” he said softly “You have the primary crystal's mount between the energy gate. It's a more modern design; it will be more difficult to replicate. I only needed a brace for the power cells, to keep them in position, and a focusing shunt to pull the power to a centralised area of the crystal”.
“But your crystal sits in it's cradle, right? To make it more stable? You must have a conductive plate to carry the power across the shunt”. He nodded.
“So this second crystal” she continued, taking the second half of the lightsaber from her bag and removing it's covering.
“-is the focusing crystal” Ben finished. “It negates your need for the cross-guard. The crystal in my saber is cracked, it's unstable. If I hadn't included the guard it would've overloaded the main vent. See, here?” he asked, pointing to the gold section on either side of the saber.
“It's a cycling field energiser” he explained.
“Of course!” Excitement built in the pit of Rey's stomach. She could see it now, the weapon taking shape before her.
“So this must be the energy modulation circuit. And these two adjust the length and power of the blade. With the right equipment I can repair the energy gate and replace the crystal with the one I found on Ilium”. Ben was examining the other half of the lightsaber; the half in which the broken crystal rested.
“Rey” he said quietly, her name almost lyrical in the depth of his voice. “I think this crystal is still viable”. Rey looked up in surprise.
“So I have two working crystals?” she asked. He nodded.
“You know what this means?” he asked, his eyes alight. “If you acquired another set of materials you could forge a second saber. It would be simple from there to develop an interlocking system that lets you use both blades as a dual lightsaber staff. It plays to your strengths; you've spent your life honing your skills with the quarterstaff”. Rey met his gaze, their expressions bright and hopeful. Ben's eyes were thin pools of molten rock as he looked at her, his pupils seeming to engulf the rest of his eyes. Rey wondered for a moment if it was possible to get lost within them; to be pulled helplessly into him as she'd been pulled into the depths of the cave on Ach-To. His expression simmered. There was a look to him that frightened her, though it promised no violence. It was a look that twisted her stomach into a tight knot; a look she had never seen pass anyone's face but his.
“Thank you” she murmured, her dry throat thickening her voice. The heat from his proximity sent her heart racing, fluttering beneath the bone cage of her ribs like a bird.
“Thank you” he murmured, his voice deep enough that it resonated within her bones. “I know what you did for Leia”. It wasn't a question. The assumption left a sharp splinter in her heart. After all this time, did he really think so little of himself to believe that she'd done it all for Leia? Or was it that he thought her – a scavenger, a nobody – so beneath him that her intent hadn't even crossed his mind?
“I didn't do it for Leia” she said softly – as dangerous as it was to admit – willing him to understand. “I didn't come to you for Leia. I didn't fight by your side for her”.
“You thought I would save the Resistance”. His voice was thick, each word lined with grief. “I'm not the Chosen One, Rey. The prophecy doesn't apply here”.
“That wasn't it either” she said firmly, aware of how dangerous the path was that she was taking. “I was wrong to make the assumption. I was wrong to think that the light and the Resistance are one and the same. I was wrong not to separate the First Order from the dark side, and I'm really, truly sorry for that. I failed you, Ben. But I didn't do it for them”.
Ben swallowed thickly, his eyes never straying from hers. His pupils were the black holes pilots used to shudder at over their drinks on Jakku, securing her tight within their margins. He was like gravity, drawing her ever closer.
“I'm sorry” he murmured, his voice barely a whisper. “I tried to take you from the only home you've ever known, the only family you could remember. I didn't take into account your attachment to those that have taken you into their lives; I thought only of how vital it felt to have you at my side”. His eyes burned with a ferocity that seemed to melt away what little darkness she found there.
“I'm coming to Chandrila” he told her. “And this time we'll find our balance”. There was a gentle firmness to his voice. This wasn't a request; it was a promise. She tore her eyes from his, glancing out over the surface of the lake. The sun was already beginning its descent beyond the mountain range in the horizon, casting a rosy orange glow across the still surface of the water. She was aware of Ben watching her, his eyes gently roaming her face, searching for answers to questions neither of them dare voice.
“What can you see?” he asked softly. She wondered if the view across the lake was reflected in her eyes.
“Dantooine” she murmured. “It's the last sunset I'll ever see on this planet”. His eyes followed hers, out across the expanse of the water. Was he seeing the dark confines of his quarters?
“Show me” he asked. “Please”. She met the velvety softness of his eyes. Slowly, delicately, she crossed the space between them, brushing the back of his hand with the tips of her fingers, tracing the tendons that danced beneath his skin.
He seemed to stiffen under her touch. He looked out across the water with wide eyes, as if he were taking in the view and committing it solidly to memory.
“It's beautiful, isn't it?” she asked. He nodded.
“I've seen better” he said quietly. Rey opened her mouth to ask what sort of view could possibly be better than this one, then decided that maybe she didn't want to know what his answer would be.
“Tell me about Chandrila” she asked. “What is it like there?” He swallowed thickly.
“It takes about two days to cross the length of Hanna city” he said. “And probably twice that in width. It's always busy, with a layer of smog that forms during the peak hours of the day. Beneath the smog speeders race through the sky. On the ground all manner of life-forms buy and sell their wares; some in shops, others in markets. There's a park not too far from the senate building with a huge fountain at the centre and a garden filled with the most beautiful flowers from across the galaxy. The seeds were delivered by the senators as a sign of peace, many years ago. Certain parts of the city are best left untravelled, but if you know your way around it's safe enough”.
“It sounds lovely” Rey murmured. “I've never been to a city. The busiest place I've been that wasn't a resistance base was Maz's castle”.
“I used to hide in amongst all her antiquities as a kid” he recalled. “That's how I found the remnants of my grandfather's helmet, taken from his remains on Endor. Not that I knew he was my grandfather at the time”.
“When did you find out?” Rey asked hesitantly.
“Seven years ago” Ben murmured. “My mother was up for a promotion when the opposition got wind of who her biological father was. They exposed her in the middle of the galactic senate. I was twenty three, and in all those years not once did she tell me. Instead I heard it first from the holonet news in the cantina close to Luke's academy. Things got more difficult after that, but I stayed, I fought Snoke for as long as I could. It was a little over a year later that Luke betrayed me”.
Rey was dimly aware that her hand still rested on the back of Ben's. His skin was feverishly hot and smooth. Ben's eyes were cast across the water, lost in the memories he carried. Rey longed to squeeze his hand, to reach out and comfort the beautiful enigma sitting before her. She could practically see it; how she would reach up and take hold of him, let the tip of her thumb dance across his cheekbone, curl a lock of his hair gently around her fingers. She could wipe the tears from his eyes. Perhaps in time she might even earn his smile. She wondered how long ago it had been since he'd smiled, since he'd been genuinely happy and content. She wondered if she would ever get to see that side of him.
“Rey!” She turned sharply at the sound, pulling her hand from his as he vanished, their bond severed. Rose stood a little down the path, her mouth open in shock as she realised who it was that had been sitting beside Rey, who it was that had just disappeared.
“Rose, I can explain!” Rey pulled herself to her feet, her knees aching after so long spent sitting on the ground.
“He was here!” she gasped. “That was him, really him, through your force bond thingy?” Rey snatched up her things, hurrying over to her.
“Please don't tell Poe” she begged. “He'll be furious if he finds out that it happened again. I swear, there wasn't any trouble”. She pulled his book from her bag, opening it at the page that held the diagram of the saber. She held it out in earnest for Rose to look at.
“He's been helping me rebuild Luke's saber” she explained. “Look at it, at the first page on the inside. I know how to fix the saber, and I couldn't have worked it out without him. You have to believe me”. Rose's eyes softened as she took the book from Rey, turning to the front page, where Ben Solo had written his name with an elegant flourish.
“Did he really do all this?” she asked quietly. “The diagrams, the notes... is this all him?” Rey nodded.
“I've never even seen this sort of writing before” Rose murmured. “This is ink. Do you know how archaic this form of writing is? I've never seen it in real life before”. Wordlessly, she touched the trails of ink on the page. She handled the book like glass; like something that was unequally precious. Rey's voice thickened.
“Please, Rose” she begged. “I have no control over this link. It waxes and wanes at random. Poe will be furious that I've spoken to him again. He threatened to make me leave, if I don't do as much as I can to get rid of this”.
“Do you want to get rid of it?” Rose asked. Rey blinked back against her confusion.
“I... I-I...” she stammered, taken unaware by Rose's line of questioning. Did she want the bond to be severed? A small portion of her said yes. It would have been humiliating had the bond chosen to open at an inopportune moment; like when she'd been swimming or had lain out across the forest floor to dry.
Every other cell in her body violently rejected the idea. She'd come to feel his presence through the force. It was a welcome reminder that neither of them would ever be truly alone again; nor did they want to be. Rey had gotten used to the sensation of his mind brushing gently against her own, his heart racing in perfect synchronisation with hers. To tear apart the bond, to pull him from her would be to tear out a precious, vital piece of her soul.
Rose watched her wrestle with the question she had given her. She didn't ask again; she had her answer.
“I won't tell him” she promised. Rey let out a breath she hadn't realised she'd been holding, squeezing her friend in the tightest hug she'd given.
“Thank you” she murmured. Rose hugged her back, her grip more gentle than Rey's.
“Poe says we're ready to move. He's taken your things to the Falcon, we're to meet him there”.
Poe was waiting on the Falcon just as he'd said. Chewbacca had taken the co-pilot seat and roared a greeting to Rey when she entered the cockpit. She took the pilot seat with a smile. Since Han's death, Chewbacca had given up the pilot seat to Rey. She supposed it must be difficult for him to sit where his friend had.
“Where are we going?” She asked Poe.
“Lah'mu, co-ordinates L-3”.
“Never heard of it” Rey replied.
“It's a nice place; decent weather, a fair amount of greenery. It's good for farming”. Rey nodded, her mind only half focused on what Poe was saying to her as she pulled the Falcon out of the hanger, the rest of the ships following her closely.
Flying always felt like freedom to Rey. Maybe it was that she'd spent so long on the ground, her eye always turned to the sky with the same desperate yearning. She'd yearned for her family, so she'd thought. Now she wasn't so sure. She'd grown up dreaming of Ach-To, of the library and the water, and hearing a gentle voice in her head. The voice disappeared for months at a time, but it always returned. In her youth she'd assumed that the island had been her home, the voice her father's. Now she knew that wasn't the case. The island had undoubtedly been Luke's island, but the voice had not been him.
She'd recognised the deep tone to the voice the moment she'd heard him speak, free from the modifier in his helmet. The voice had undoubtedly been Ben's. Whether by premonition or by the bond they shared, he'd called out to her for as long as she was able to remember, always promising her that she was not alone. She wondered if he had ever felt her presence or heard her voice, long before they were destined to meet.
Rey forced herself to focus on the ship's controls as the Falcon flew free of Dantooine's atmosphere. She kicked the ship into light-speed, keying the co-ordinates for the planet.
As they dropped out of light-speed the planet rose to meet them. It had a ring of debris around it, a solitary moon in orbit. The atmosphere below them was clouded but Rey thought she could make out a dark green land mass beneath. She pulled the Falcon into the planet's atmosphere, descending through the cloud. Rey wondered if it would rain during their stay; they'd landed on Dantooine during the planet's drier season and Rey had not felt the rain since her stay on Ach-To.
She passed over a mountainous area, guided by Poe's instructions. The planet was indeed green, but where Dantooine had been mostly forest, Lah'mu had mountain ranges separated by areas of flat grass. The sand here was unlike that she'd seen on Jakku. Here it was black. She didn't have time to wonder at the cause; Poe guided her down to a flat area sheltered by the side of a mountain. The other resistance ships followed her.
“We're here at the invitation of the planet's residents, so be nice” Poe warned. “Their parents and grandparents first settled here to escape the war; they're doing us a great favour by giving us refuge here”.
“Where are we staying?” Finn asked, peering out at the buildings in the distance.
“The village there is abandoned. We've been given permission to settle there. It was overrun by imperial forces over thirty years ago. We should find some useful equipment there; the village once housed Galen Erso and his family”.
Rey looked to Chewie for answers. Galen Erso – he explained – had been the man who designed the first Death Star, though he'd been forced into completing the work. He'd built a flaw into the weapon and given it's whereabouts to the rebels, and in doing so had saved them and countless others. Poe nodded in agreement, though Rey doubted he'd understood much. She'd been teaching him to speak and understand Shyriiwook in their spare time and Poe had been an eager student, but he hadn't been very good at it and their spare moments had been few and far between.
“We'll unpack and get everyone settled here” Poe ordered. “Tomorrow we fly to Chandrila”.
Chapter 17: Chandrila
The Resistance spend the night on Lah'mu and prepare for their trip to Chandrila. In the heart of Hanna City they ready themselves for the arrival of the First Order and the Supreme Leader, Ben Solo.
Second chapter of the weekend! Just as promised. I've set this up in advance, as I have family visiting from London (I'm in Scotland) this weekend. I hope you all enjoy it. Please let me know what you think of where I'm taking the characters and if I'm keeping to their personalities or not. If you have any suggestions I'd love to hear them too. If all goes as planned I'll be posting at least another chapter next Friday!
The move to Lah'mu had been arduous. When they'd eventually settled into the cluster of huts that were to be their home, night had fallen and Rey was exhausted. She, Poe, Rose and Finn were sharing one of the smaller huts. It was a self-contained home with two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom and living room. Rey had collapsed into the large bed before she'd even realised that it was the only one in the room. Poe looked at her nervously.
“I can sleep on the couch tonight, if you want” he asked her. “I'll get one of the ones staying behind to bring in the other beds from the freighter tomorrow”. Rey shook her head, wrapping the duvet tight around her.
“Don't be silly, Poe” she murmured sleepily. “Both of us can fit on this bed easily”. He opened his mouth to say something, but seemed to think better of it.
“Alright” he said quietly. “Night then”. Rey tried to speak, but it came out as a yawn instead. She closed her eyes while Poe removed his jacket and was asleep before his head had hit the pillow.
Poe draped his jacket over the chair in the corner. BB-8 looked up at him with a quiet chirp.
“Nothing” he whispered back to the droid. “I'm fine”. He looked back at the bed. Rey was curled up on one side, facing away from him. Her hair curled around her cheek, flowing across the pillow. Poe swallowed thickly. His suggestion that he sleep on the sofa had passed right over Rey, but then he supposed she had been tired. He guessed that Rey had seldom encountered a bed for two people, and therefore was unaware of the social implications of such a thing. It was something he appreciated in her; she looked at things from an entirely practical point of view like the scavenger she had been, with little care for how others saw it.
He decided against removing any more of his clothes – Rey had only kicked off her shoes after all – and lifted the covers carefully so as to not disturb her. The covers were softer than he'd expected, already beginning to warm from the heat of her body. He turned away from her, aware that he was perched on the edge of the bed. It was an uncomfortable position, but not one that he felt willing to change. Her breathing fell into a quiet rhythm.
He counted the seconds, holding his breath as he waited. On Dantooine Rey had been reluctant to sleep, often staying out into the night, taking herself off to swim in the lake until she'd fallen into her bed exhausted and he'd woken up at her presence. There had been several nights where she'd simply not slept at all. He had seen the nightmare that had haunted her night after night for months on end; the one where Kylo Ren turned on her instead of killing Snoke as he really had. He'd felt her pain at those moments, as if someone were ripping his insides out. That nightmare seemed to have faded for her ever since she'd returned. He wondered what she dreamed of now.
The night after they'd argued, after he'd taken out all of his grief and rage on her, she'd returned to the room later even than usual. He'd been waiting up, wondering if she would pack her things and vanish into the night. He'd been relieved when she'd gotten into bed instead, but that relief had been short-lived. It hadn't been long until she'd begun to twitch and turn in distress. She'd called out for him – not Kylo Ren, not Ben Solo, but for him – and he'd buried himself beneath the covers to keep his sobs from waking her. She'd spoken his name as if she were begging for her life, as if he had become the latest monster to haunt her nightmares.
That had faded in the most recent nights, thankfully. She no longer called his name, grief-stricken or otherwise. The change had left him wondering if he had only ever appeared in her dreams as the villain. Behind him, he felt her shift her weight on the bed. It felt oddly intimate to share her space; he was close enough that he could feel the heat from her body, hear each inhale and exhale. He felt his hand reach for the ring he wore around his neck; almost instinctual now, he'd done it so many times.
It took a long time for him to fall asleep, listening to the sounds of Rey breathing beside him. When sleep eventually found him, it was with his hand still wrapped around his mother's ring.
It took Rey a second to remember where she was. The light coming through the window was dreary and grey, not the bright Dantooine sun she was used to. The bed was different too. Her pillow was solid and warm. Rey could feel something like metal between her fingers. She stretched out her legs, feeling her bare toes brush against something that felt like thick fabric. It felt like a foot.
Rey opened her eyes, recalling that she wasn't alone in the bed. At some point in the night she seemed to have tucked herself under Poe's arm, resting her head on his shoulder. His arm was curled around her waist. He was warm and comfortable, yet she cringed away from his proximity, worried at what he would say if he woke to find her there. She took out a fresh set of clothing from her bag – there was no need to unpack when she was taking everything she had with her to Chandrila – and changed in the bathroom. When she returned neither Poe nor BB-8 were in the room. She added her satchel and it's contents – her books and the lightsaber – to the larger bag. She was ready to go.
She found Poe at the table in the kitchen with Rose and Finn. He looked up when she entered, glancing at her quickly.
“So yeah, I think we should take it with us” he dived back into his conversation with Finn. “She's the fastest ship we have, and I trust that old rust bucket more than I trust any other ship in the fleet”.
“Won't that just make him mad?” Finn asked. “He hates that ship. The last time he saw it he sent every tie fighter he had after it. I don't think landing in that thing is going to do us any favours”.
“We're taking the Falcon” Rey said firmly, pulling out a chair to sit on.
“Morning” Finn greeted her with an affectionate smile and a plateful of food. “I made you breakfast”.
“Thanks, I'm starving”. It was true; she'd gone with only a few mere mouthfuls yesterday. Her appetite had returned with a vengeance.
Finn had anticipated her appetite, and filled her plate high. She wolfed it down.
“So what time are we leaving?” she asked between mouthfuls of food.
“Soon” Poe replied. “There's twenty of us going. Us four, Chewie, two of the troopers and thirteen of our original Resistance troop”.
“Thirteen” Rey said quietly. “That's more than I expected”.
“Kaydel was able to whip up some of the undecided ones” he explained. Rey nodded. Kaydel had a fiery spirit and a heart of gold. There was no-one better to spur the stragglers into action.
“I want you and Rey with me on the landing bay” Poe said to Finn, who gulped in response.
“Why?” he asked nervously.
“I've had word that the First Order will be arriving in the afternoon. We'll be expected to meet them”.
“Can I come?” Rose asked sleepily. Poe shook his head.
“I don't think that's a good idea” he replied. “I need Finn because he's my second, but I'd like to keep you out of it as much as possible. If they realise you're together they might target you to get to Finn. It's nothing personal, I'm just trying to keep you alive”.
“If that's the case, why are we bringing Rey?” Finn asked. Poe eyed him sternly.
“Because I'm trying to keep us alive too”. He explained.
Rey eyed the two men, watching the expressions between them. She had the nagging sensation that there was something she was missing.
“Fair enough” Finn said finally, relaxing in his chair.
“It's your job to persuade Kylo Ren not to kill us on sight” Poe glanced at her quickly. “If it goes south you might be the difference between us walking away from this or a lightsaber through the chest”. Rey winced.
“He's not going to hurt you” she said quietly.
“All the same, I'll feel safer having you with us”.
Rey nodded, seeing that Poe wasn't about to change his mind. The thought of seeing Ben again – really seeing him, not just through their bond – gave her a queasy stomach. Maybe she shouldn't have eaten so quickly. The thought of standing on the platform, having to meet him face-to-face in front of the First Order and the Resistance...
“Rey? Are you alright?” Finn squeezed her hand tight.
“I'm fine” she replied. “I'll be there”. Finn shot a nervous glance at Rose, who shook her head silently.
Poe stood up, throwing a large bag over his shoulder.
“We should go” he said quietly. “The others are meeting us there”. Rey nodded, spooning the last of her breakfast into her already-full mouth and swallowing thickly. Poe raised an eyebrow at her.
“You've got sauce on your face” he quipped. Rey rubbed the side of her face.
“No, other side”. She rubbed the other side of her face. Poe shook his head, sighing, and leant forward, his eyes melting like caramel. His hand was pleasantly warm as he brushed against her cheek, wiping away the remains of her meal.
“Right, let's go”.
Rey brushed her cheek, ignoring the tight sensation in her stomach, and threw her bag over her shoulder, following them out the door. The sky was already beginning to cloud over and she found herself hoping that it would rain on Chandrila. She hadn't stood in the rain since her time on Ach-To, when she had argued with Ben. She'd wanted to push him off the cliff into the swirling, icy water below, if that was even possible.
The Falcon was already full by the time they'd arrived. Chewie roared a greeting to her as she slid into the pilot seat, starting up the ship's propulsion system.
“Is everyone ready?” she called out to the other Resistance members. If she was honest, it was an attempt to delay their journey. Her stomach was squirming, and it wasn't Finn's cooking.
“Kick it, Rey”. She nodded, pulling the Falcon up and off it's landing gear. The deep green of the ground below faded from view as they rose into the cloud cover and then above it, upwards and upwards until they were out of the planet's orbit.
Chewie keyed the co-ordinates for Chandrila. She wondered how many times he'd travelled there with Han, returning home to Leia and Ben. How many times had Ben looked up at the sky, wishing desperately to see his father's ship race across the sky. Had he ran to the landing bay and thrown himself in his father's arms? She pulled herself from the image, willed herself to stop imagining a tiny dark-haired toddler clinging to Chewbacca's back and shoulders.
Rey kicked the ship into light-speed.
“How long till we reach the planet?” she asked Chewie. He grunted back.
“That's not long” she noted. They would be in orbit soon. Chewie looked back at Poe, whining, his expression worried.
“Um... help me out here, Rey?” Rey answered without looking back.
“He wants to know if you're sure about this”.
“Oh. Yes, yes I'm sure”. He didn't sound overly convincing.
Rey disengaged the hyper-drive, switching over to manual. Chandrila appeared beneath them. Rey looked down at the planet below in awe. It seemed that no matter how many planets she visited, she wasn't going to get bored of seeing them for the first time. Chandrila was a little smaller than some of the planets she'd visited; a swirling mix of blue and green. She dropped into its orbit.
“We're going to Hanna City” Poe instructed her. Rey nodded, pushing the Falcon through the planet's atmosphere.
From this distance Rey could make out large areas of urban land nestled between large areas of green. She headed for the largest urban area, following Poe's instruction. The city rose to meet them. What Rey had first thought of as clouds was actually a thick layer of smog. Beneath the smog a variety of ships and speeders followed set lines of traffic, heading in every direction Rey could see. There was more people here than she had ever seen in her lifetime. Ben was right; Hanna City was busier than anything she'd ever comprehended, let alone experienced.
Poe pointed to one of the larger buildings.
“There's where we're staying. See the landing platform on the east side?” Rey nodded, pulling the Falcon into position. The building was massive and oddly rectangular, with a spire on one side that seemed to be mostly composed of glass. The top two floors had large balconies, but they seemed to be the only ones. Rey looked around with interest as she descended onto the landing platform on the east side of the hotel.
A small crowd had gathered to greet them. Poe pointed out a few of the people he knew.
“They were senators once. Now I guess they're representatives of their planetary systems”. He frowned, spotting a group of people armed with cameras, already giving off bright flashes as the Falcon landed.
“Holonet news” he said grimly. “Our faces are going to be plastered all over the galaxy by tomorrow”. Rey gulped, looking out across the platform.
She engaged the landing gear, setting the Falcon on the tarmac. There was a man standing by himself, in front of the barrier that was keeping back the crowd. He was dressed smartly, in a black suit and tie.
“I think someone's waiting for us” Rey muttered. She dropped the ramp, grabbing her bag from behind her seat.
“Right, guys” Poe called out. The resistance members stilled, waiting for his word.
“Thank you all for coming here. I know it wasn't an easy decision. We're in a dangerous place, so I want you to travel in pairs at least. Nobody goes anywhere alone. Keep your eyes and ears open, in case the First Order decides to go back on the truce. May the force be with us all”.
A few of the resistance members nodded approvingly. Poe took a deep breath, his hand finding Rey's and squeezing it tight.
“Lets do this” he murmured. Rey nodded. He released her hand, slinging the bag over his shoulder and descending the ramp.
The cameras were blinding, the people holding them calling out questions as they passed. The man in the suit shook Poe's hand, his smile wrinkling the corners of his blue eyes. He seemed undisturbed by the crowd that had gathered, nor the wind which whipped at his silver hair.
“General Dameron, I presume? My name is Erik, I'm the manager of this hotel. I hope you'll find it comfortable, but if you need anything please don't hesitate to contact me”.
“Thank you, Erik” Poe replied, shaking the man's hand firmly. Erik's eye turned to Rey with a warm smile.
“Lady Rey” he offered his hand to her. When she reached out to shake his hand, he pulled it gently to his lips, kissing the back of her hand. Rey looked warily at Poe, but he seemed unsurprised at the manoeuvre.
“It's a pleasure to meet you, my dear. I am at your service”. Rey opened her mouth to speak, but found her words failing her. Erik had returned her hand, turning back to Poe.
“Is that what people do here?” Rey whispered to Finn.
“That's what men do when they greet women” Finn whispered back. “Some shake hands, some do that. I've seen others kiss each of a woman's cheeks, but that doesn't happen often. It just depends”.
“What do women do when they greet men?”
“Just shake hands”. Rey pulled her focus back to the conversation Poe was having with Erik.
“I'll have her moved into the temple. Princess Leia was loved by so many, we'll take good care of her. If you follow me I'll show you to your rooms”. Poe nodded and the man turned, walking swiftly into the hotel. Thankful to be away from the flashing cameras and screaming crowd, Rey hurried after them, the rest of the Resistance following close behind. The hotel was pleasantly warm and welcoming inside. Rey turned her head back and forth, trying to catch sight of everything as they moved.
“How long have you been working here?” Poe asked conversationally.
“This is my second day, Sir” Erik replied. “The Supreme Leader requested that I transfer here immediately after he purchased the hotel”.
“Wait, Kylo Ren owns the hotel?” Poe asked. Rey glanced nervously at Finn.
“As of two days ago, yes Sir”. Erik replied lightly.
“So you work for him then?”
“I've worked for Master Ren for five years now. I manage his properties”. Poe looked back at Rey, his brows drawn together in worry. Rey understood why; they had been under the impression that they would be landing on neutral territory. Ben had changed the game.
“How many properties does Ren have?” Poe asked. Rey expected him not to answer, but Erik didn't seem to mind the general's questioning.
“Master Ren has three properties on Chandrila – this hotel being one of them – a property on Mustafar and one on Naboo. I maintain them for him”. He pulled to a stop at the elevator, pressing the button to call it.
“The entirety of the thirty fifth floor has been reserved for you. Master Ren was unaware of how many people you would bring. There'll be more than enough rooms for you all”. They stepped inside the large elevator. Rey's stomach flipped as it pulled to a stop on the thirty fifth floor.
It looked like all the other floors, with ivory walls and a dark wooden floor. Erik pulled a set of cards from his pocket, handing them to Poe.
“These are your key cards” he explained as Poe passed them along. “If you need anything please let me know. General Dameron, a suite has been set up for you on this floor, this way. Master Ren was insistent that you have one of our best rooms”.
“How nice of him” Poe said dryly. He looked back at Rey, gesturing that she should follow him.
The room set aside for Poe was lovely. The furniture was a delicate white wood, the floor a soft grey wood. Rey looked around the room in wonder. There was a living room with a large sofa and coffee table, a massive screen set into the wall. On Rey's right sat a solid table that she guessed was for dinning, with enough chairs to seat six. There was two doors on the back and side walls. Rey guessed they led to the fresher and the bedroom.
“This is great” Poe said lightly, turning to Rey. “What do you think?”
“Amazing” Rey gushed. “I've never seen anything like it. We're really staying here?” Erik's expression froze.
“Um, Lady Rey” he said quietly. “A suite has been selected for you by Master Ren”.
“She's staying here” Poe said firmly.
“Of course, if the Lady wishes. I only mentioned it because Master Ren said it would be preferable to the Lady, better for her meditation he said”. Poe met Rey's eye warily.
“Well, it would be rude of us not to go see it” He said. Rey nodded.
“This way then”.
Erik led them back to the elevator, to the floor above. The elevator didn't immediately open. Instead, Erik pulled a key card from his pocket, holding it over the sensor on the wall.
“No-one will be able to get in without the key card” he explained. “If you have visitors, they will need to press the call button once they reach this floor”. Rey nodded. The doors opened and Erik handed her the card.
The room was less of a room, and more an entire floor. It was immense. The walls seemed to be mostly comprised of glass, the floor a dark – almost black – wood. The skyline stretched out before them. On this side there were no buildings higher than the room. Rey walked through the suite in a daze. The bedroom featured a grand four-poster bed in the same dark wood as the floor, bigger than Rey had ever seen. She guessed that it could have fit five people on it, with room to spare. The bathroom was bigger than her room had been on Dantooine.
“Poe!” She called out. “There's a real water fresher in here, not a sonic one!” She'd never had a fresher with water. In the corner there was a tub big enough for at least three people. Rey inspected it curiously, touching the metal circles in the side with wonder.
“It's a jacuzzi, my Lady” Erik explained politely. “It makes the water bubble. It's supposed to be good for your muscles, especially after training”.
The next stop in her whirl around the suite was the kitchen. Beyond that lay a room with a large table in the middle, with enough seats to fit ten people. Rey reached out for one of the chandeliers above the table, examining it's delicate design.
Back through in the living room, Rey noticed the balcony beyond the sliding glass doors. There was another tub here that looked like a wooden version of the jacuzzi in the bathroom, only this one was massive. It looked big enough for ten people at least. There was seating on the balcony and something that looked like a large bed with a roof to protect from the sun. Most of the balcony was empty, giving it a large free space.
“Master Ren said that the balcony would be useful for your meditation” Erik said gently. He was right; there was a feeling of peace out here, looking out across the horizon. Rey noted where the sun was, realising that the balcony was positioned to give a view of the sunset.
“How many rooms are there above this one?” Poe asked.
“Just one” Erik replied. “That one is reserved for the Supreme Leader. A few additional things; he wanted me to inform you that all of the Resistance's expenses will be covered by the First Order. We have a large spa, gym and pool on site, as well as an excellent restaurant, bar and arcade. You will all have unlimited access to all of our facilities. The First Order arrives in about three hours, Master Ren requests you all dine with him in our south dining room during your stay. Lastly, Lady Rey, the Supreme Leader wishes me to inform you that he's had several outfits made for you. I've put them in your wardrobe. He said that if there was anything else you required there's a catalogue in the top drawer. Your orders will of course be covered as part of the expenses”.
Rey turned away from the view in surprise.
“Outfits?” she asked hesitantly. Erik nodded. Rey went to the bedroom, to the wardrobe behind the sliding doors. It was full of clothes; far more than she could possibly wear in just five days. There was a variety of dresses in every imaginable colour, jackets, shawls, trousers, skirts, everything that Rey could possibly imagine, and many that she couldn't. At the far end was a few sets of tunics, exactly like the ones she was used to. Rey sighed in relief at the sight of them.
“This is ridiculous” she said quietly.
“He wasn't certain of what style you preferred” Erik said. Poe was staring at the wardrobe.
“This must have cost a fortune” he muttered, hands in his pockets.
“He was insistent that you all be treated well, General Dameron. Additionally, he said the clothes are yours to take home after your visit”. Rey shook her head. How was it possible to have this many clothes? The sight of it all was giving her a headache.
She turned away from the wardrobe, to Poe.
“This is a really nice suite” she said. Poe nodded, his eyes drifting upwards towards the ceiling.
“A pity about the neighbour” he said dryly. Rey looked up, realising what he'd meant. Ben would be just one floor above, right above her head. The thought of him in such close proximity sent a shiver down her spine.
“What do you think?” She asked. Poe looked around the room.
“We'll take it” he said with a grin.
“General Dameron!” Erik's face had gone pale. “Sir, I mean, your suite -”
“Give it to my second, Finn, and his girlfriend” Poe replied with a grin.
“I'm not sure... I don't think Master Ren -”
“If Ren has a problem with a little room change” Poe interjected “Tell him he can speak to me directly”. Erik looked quite worried. Rey felt bad for the poor man – how many times had Ben's rage been turned on him? Though, why the change in rooms would bother him, Rey wasn't sure. Eventually, Erik nodded.
“Of course, Sir” he said quietly. “If that is everything, I'll go and prepare for the Supreme Leader's arrival”. Poe nodded, letting Erik escape back down the elevator.
“I bet you fifty credits that he's gone to squeal to Ren about me”. Rey grinned.
“Don't be so hard on him, he's only doing his job”. Poe dropped his bag onto the bed, pulling out his data pad.
“Yeah, and apparently his job includes putting us in very specific rooms” he said dryly.
“What are you doing?” she asked, peering over his shoulder. He was turning on the scrambler, searching for any listening devices or cameras. It came back negative.
“Well, now we know nobody's listening in, I'm taking the fresher”.
Rey locked herself in the bathroom, smiling to herself. Her first actual fresher. The hotel had provided toiletries and towels that were impossibly soft. Rey ran her fingers along it as she changed and brushed out her hair. Now she just had to figure out how to work the fresher. She examined it carefully, searching for clues as to how to work it. There was a screen on the door. Rey flicked it warily and it turned on, displaying the temperature of the room. She pressed the button with the plus on it, increasing the temperature. As soon as she pressed it the fresher switched on, sending dozens of jets of water out of the head of the fresher, like a particularly powerful rainstorm.
Having found a temperature she liked, Rey stepped into the fresher, shutting the door behind her. The glass was already beginning to steam. It was delightful; the spray of water soothing the muscles of her back. She read the instructions on the back of the bottles. One of them was to be used on her hair, the second to be used after the first. The last bottle was for her body. Rey had only ever washed in the sonic fresher or the lake on Dantooine. These bottles of liquid were entirely new to her.
She followed the instructions, marvelling at how the liquid turned to foam. It smelled sweet, like the fruits she'd eaten with Finn by the side of the lake. Rey took deep breathes of the steam that filled the fresher, determined to drown in the scent if she could.
Eventually though, she'd completed all the steps on the bottles. Her shower was finished. Regretfully, she turned off the shower, ringing the excess water from her hair. The towel was softer than any bed she'd slept in, almost caressing her skin. She dried her hair and body as best as she could, dressing in the same clothes she'd changed out of.
Poe was waiting for her in the living room, Finn and Rose sitting with him on the couch. Rey smiled at them, running her hair through the towel.
“That was amazing” she gushed. “I've never felt so clean”. Rose smiled at her, getting up.
“Come on” she said gently. “I'll dry your hair”.
“I am drying it” Rey said curiously. Rose held up a small device. It looked a little like a gun, but instead of a trigger there were a number of buttons. She pressed one of the buttons and the machine roared into life. Curiosity overriding her confusion, Rey sat and let Rose dry her hair. The machine she held blew out hot air, and soon Rey's hair was dry and as smooth as silk.
“Where's BB-8?” Rey asked. Poe replied from his seat on the sofa.
“Checking himself into the hard drive. Soon he'll have all the data on the hotel's system”.
“What are you going to wear for meeting the First Order?” Rose asked her casually.
“Isn't this okay?” She squeaked. She hadn't the first idea what people wore to political meetings.
“It's fine, if that's what you want to wear” Poe called over. “Though I think Ren's expecting us to be a little better dressed. Perhaps one of the outfits in your wardrobe?” Rose nodded excitedly.
“I've had a look. I can't believe that Ren had all of those made for you! I've already ordered a whole load of clothes from the catalogue. It is paid for by the First Order, after all”.
“We definitely have to try out that hot tub on the balcony” Finn called out.
“Oh!” Rose gasped. “We need swimsuits!” Poe held up his hands.
“Hold on” he said loudly. “Don't get carried away. This place is great, sure, but remember who we're meeting. The same guy who decided to buy the very hotel I told him we were staying in”. He scowled.
“He's right” Finn replied. “Kylo Ren could be leading us into a trap”. Rey bit her tongue, but said nothing.
“So are you dressing up?” Rose asked her quietly. Rey shook her head, her voice firm.
“I don't dress up for Ben Solo”.
“You're going to need to dress up for dinner” Poe walked over to the girls, appraising Rey's hair.
“Do I have to?”
“Yeah. Sorry. I've ordered a few suits for myself and Finn. Everyone's wearing something fancy”.
“I've never been to a fancy dinner” Rey scowled. “What am I supposed to do?”
“I'll help you out” Rose promised her, brushing out her hair. “My sister and I used to serve for the parties the First Order used to hold on our planet. While they were making us mine our own planet for resources”. Rey patted her hand gratefully. Poe looked up at the clock on the wall.
“It's nearly time” he said grimly. “We should head to the landing bay”.
“I haven't put up my hair”. Rey looked at her reflection in the glass. Her hair was sleek and smooth after the fresher; in much better condition than it ever had been. She'd taken to only putting it in one bun recently, favouring it over the three buns she'd been accustom to wearing in the hope that her parents would recognise her. That hairstyle had died with the hope of finding her parents. She supposed having it down didn't look bad either.
“Your hair looks great, come on”. Rey stepped aside to let Finn wrap his arms around Rose. She planted a kiss firmly against his lips.
“Be careful” she whispered.
“I promise” he whispered back. He released her. Rose squeezed Rey tight. Her hug said what she didn't; that she wanted Rey to be safe, that Rey had better bring Finn back to her. Rey hugged her back, trying to convey to her that she would do her best. She still had no saber, only the blaster holstered to her side.
“Let's go” she nodded to Poe. Her voice was firm; it didn't betray the nervousness that knotted her stomach tight.
Chapter 18: Meeting in the Middle
Rey, Finn and Poe gather on the landing bay, waiting for the arrival of the Supreme Leader and the First Order. Ben's arrival comes with a surprise and Rey finds that her presence sparks more interest than she'd expected.
Another weekend, another double-post! The second chapter this weekend will be posted tomorrow (Saturday) at the usual time of 10:30pm GMT. A Ben/Rey face-to-face has been on the cards for a while and I hope this chapter doesn't disappoint! As always, comments and criticisms are welcomed. Reading your lovely comments makes me so happy; I love hearing your reactions to the characters and their actions!
The wind had died down on the landing platform, reduced to a pleasant breeze. The sun was as warm as it had been on Dantooine, but it was less humid. The smell of the city was carried on the breeze. The city smelled like smoke and sewage. Rey's nose wrinkled in response, but she supposed she'd get used to it.
They stood on the landing platform, several feet in front of the crowd that had gathered behind the barrier. Rey recognised the people Poe had pointed out as representatives of their planetary systems. The people from the holonet were still here with their cameras. Erik had gathered together the managers from each of the departments in the hotel, arranging them in a uniform line down the platform in preparation to greet Ben. The crowd behind the barrier was immense; as if everyone in the hotel had gathered in expectation. It was nothing compared to the crowd in the streets below. As far as Rey's eyes could see, people had gathered in expectation. First Order flags were flying, many of them held by children. They waited excitedly to see their Supreme Leader.
For a moment, Rey found herself wishing that she'd changed her clothes like Poe and Rose had suggested. Everyone seemed to be dressed in outfits far fancier than hers. Even the hotel staff wore suits. She wondered what she, Poe and Finn looked like, standing in amidst all this finery. She saw Erik check his watch. He seemed to feel the weight of her eyes on him; he looked over at her. His expression was almost gentle as he held up three of his fingers. Three minutes to go.
Poe nudged her side with his elbow, pulling her gaze upwards. Her stomach lurched. Far above them a Upsilon-class command shuttle – the same one she'd seen lead the battle on Crait – was descending through Chandrila's atmosphere. She heard Poe take a deep breath.
“We can do this” he muttered under his breath. “We can do this”.
“We can” Rey said firmly. She clasped his hand, squeezing it tight.
“You can do this” Rey told him. “Leia would be proud of you”. His eyes softened when he looked at her, reminding her of the forests on Dantooine, the soft earth after the rain. He nodded, a gentle smile across his lips.
The command shuttle landed, drawing its wings into an almost vertical angle. Rey squeezed Poe's hand one last time and let go.
“Deep breaths” she reminded him.
“I don't think I can breathe” Finn muttered, on Poe's other side. The ramp descended, the metallic clang against the platform silencing the crowd. It was as though the entire planet were holding its breath. Rey's heart leapt into her throat, her stomach knotted to the point of nausea. Which version of Ben would she come to them; the vengeful leader they'd fought on Crait, or the gentle man who had helped her understand the workings of her lightsaber? She shut her eyes, recalling with vivid memory her hand against his skin, how she'd yearned to reach out and curl her fingers around his hair, how he'd gently intertwined their hands, holding her fingers between his...
If Ben Solo the Supreme Leader walked off that command shuttle, she was going to be sorely disappointed.
Poe nudged her gently and she opened her eyes. Her blood raced through her veins, each beat like the bang of a drum in her ears. He was here. Ben was stepping off the shuttle. He cast an imposing figure in an entirely black suit – he seemed to have forgone his usual tunic – with a black shirt to match. A lock of his hair curled gently against his cheekbone, but the rest of it was immaculate, just as she'd seen him when he first removed his helmet. Seeing him before her, Rey realised with a lurch of her heart that her hands were shaking. It wasn't from fear.
He seemed to pay no attention to the crowd waiting for him, nor the Resistance standing before him. He walked over to the edge of the platform, the toe of his boot resting over the edge as he looked down into the crowd below. He raised his hand slowly, his mouth twitching as he gave a mock salute down to the masses below.
The effect was immediate. The crowd erupted into a mighty cheer, a roar loud enough to rattle Rey's ears. Beside her, Poe grimaced.
“Show off” he hissed. Rey nudged him sharply. Erik walked over to Ben with confident strides. From this distance it was impossible to hear what they said, but Erik looked undisturbed as he shook Ben's hand and gestured to the line of staff he'd summoned to the platform. Ben nodded to them as they spoke, no doubt introducing themselves to him. Cameras flashed and people called out in an almost constant cacophony. Another figure made their way down the ramp. Rey heard a sharp intake of breath from where Finn stood, pulling her gaze from where Ben was greeting his staff.
She was beautiful.
Rey's stomach gave an unpleasant churn. The woman that stepped off the ramp reminded Rey of the Angels of the moons of Lego that she'd heard other scavengers whisper about; tales they carried with them from snippets of conversation they'd overheard in the local cantinas. They were said to be the most beautiful creatures in the galaxy, so Rey had heard. The woman stood as tall as Ben, with long black hair framing her heart-shaped face, her skin the colour of cream. She moved like a cat, like a predator in the midst of a hunt, her movements impossibly fluid. The woman was perfection; it brought pain to Rey's eyes just to look at her.
The woman walked swiftly over to Ben. She was dressed in black, the neckline of her gown impossibly low. Rey noticed the heel of the shoes the woman was wearing; thin and sharp as a blade. She wondered how the woman was able to walk. Her leg was exposed as she walked, through a slit in the side of the dress that ran almost up to her hip. The woman leaned in close to Ben, her blood-red lips moving softly as she whispered to him.
Rey swallowed thickly, wishing she'd had the courage to take a second look at the wardrobe in her room.
Only when he was finished speaking to the staff did Ben turn his attention to the Resistance. He and the woman strode over to them, seemingly entirely comfortable in their surroundings. He didn't so much as glance at Rey.
“General Dameron” he said coolly. “Not flying so much these days”. Rey's hands shook; she clasped them behind her back. Had Ben gotten taller, or did he just seem taller in front of Poe? He shook Poe's hand. By the look of his face, Ben's grip was a little tight.
“Ben Ren” Poe said affectionately. “Stab any paternal figures recently?” The girl beside Ben smirked, her lips a deep bloodied red. Ben scowled down at the General.
Poe seemed indifferent to his anger, gesturing casually to Finn.
“This is my second, Finn. Your troopers have an interesting name for him, I hear”.
“So I've heard”. Ben extended his hand to Finn, who shook it firmly. His jaw twitched sharply, as if he was in pain.
“I hope you're a better General than you are a stormtrooper, or I pity the resistance” Ben said dryly.
“And I presume our resident Jedi needs no introduction” Poe said quickly, before Finn could reply to his remark.
Ben met Rey's eyes, though he seemed reluctant to do so. It was almost painful to meet his gaze. Rey felt a spark work its way down her spine. His eyes looked wrong, as if he had closed himself off to her. She looked into his eyes – usually so deep, she thought that they must have no end – and saw nothing.
“I believe we've met before” he said coldly. Rey took a deep breath.
“I think so” she replied lightly. “Weren't you the man I beat twice in the space of a week?” His eyes brightened in amusement, but only just. He extended his hand to her. She looked down at it, at the fresh cuts and bruises across his knuckles. He'd been fighting, and recently. Her heart raced.
“I believe so” he said coyly. “I'm so rarely bested; you've left your mark on me, Lady Rey”. She heard the double meaning to his words and smirked, taking his hand. He was warmer than the sun that burned into her back, his hand gentle and smooth.
“You should thank me” she said smoothly. “It's improved your looks”. He squeezed her hand slightly, a glint to his eye.
“Thank you” he murmured. He sounded sincere.
The moment was over immediately. He dropped her hand and turned his gaze to Poe.
“Allow me to introduce my second” he said. “This is Lady Natiera, Commander of the Knights of Ren”. Natiera extended her hand. Rey didn't like the icy glint to her cold blue eyes; nor did she trust the coy smirk to her lips. Poe took her hand, kissing the back of it softly.
“Lady Natiera, I hope you're better company than your boss. I can't say I enjoyed his hospitality”. Natiera smiled.
“You'll find I'm much better company than Ky” she purred. Rey looked away from her. Ky. She'd called him Ky.
“Finn” Natiera smirked. “Do you have a surname, or do I just call you Finn?”
“Your troopers call me Stormbreaker” Finn replied. “I'm beginning to think the name's pretty cool”.
“Stormbreaker” Natiera said slowly, letting her lips frame the word. “That's a powerful name. I like it”. She extended her hand to Finn. He glanced quickly at Poe, as if he was going to ask what he should do, but seemed to think better of it. He placed a quick, soft kiss against the back of her hand, releasing it quickly.
Natiera's eyes turned to Rey. Her smile gave no warmth.
“And you” she purred. “Ky, you didn't tell me she was cute. Such a small thing, it's a wonder she managed to beat you”.
“Why don't I give you a demonstration sometime?” Rey said coldly. Her sharpness only made Natiera smile more.
“Such fire” she teased. “I'd happily go a few rounds with you”. Rey's hands curled into fists. There was something so infuriating about this woman! Was it the way she spoke, the silly whine to her voice that she clearly – wrongly – thought was seductive? Was it the icy glint to her eye, a look that seemed to hide something far colder and crueller beneath? Was it the ridiculously impractical way the woman was dressed, with a neckline so low that her breasts seemed ready to fall free of the dress at any moment?
It was none of those things, Rey thought viciously. Though it didn't make her like her any more.
Natiera offered her hand to Rey, smirking. She was delighting in Rey's fury, she knew. Rey took her hand, shaking it politely. Natiera's hand was larger than hers and unnaturally cold, like some sort of dead creature. She gripped Rey's hand with surprising strength, as if she intended to grind the bones within it to dust. Rey was ready for her. Years of scavenging had hardened her hands. Years of fighting for survival had given her an unusually high tolerance for pain. She gave as good as she got, if the twitch to Natiera's jaw was anything to go by.
“Nat” Ben snapped at her. Rey's stomach plummeted. Natiera released her hand, turning to Ben with wide, innocent eyes.
“Yes, Ky?” she said sweetly. Ben didn't reply, instead turning to Poe.
“Where is she?” he asked quietly.
“In the temple” Poe replied. He glanced at Rey, a worried expression across his face. He was concerned about her, Rey knew. She nodded slightly, trying to signal to him that she was fine.
“I expect to see you at dinner tonight” Ben said, his voice firmer now. “And I'd like to go over the plans for the funeral with you afterwards”. Poe nodded. Ben's eyes drifted above his head, to the crowd behind Poe.
“Now if you have a moment, General, I believe the holonet wishes to speak to us both”. He pushed roughly between Poe and Finn, towards the crowd. Poe smiled quickly, nervously, at Rey, falling in behind Ben. Finn's hand found Rey's and he pulled her away from Natiera, away from the crowd and into the depths of the hotel. He didn't stop until they were in the elevator.
He rested his head against the wall of the elevator, breathing heavily.
“That was scary” he sighed.
“Have you ever seen Natiera before? When you were a trooper?” Rey asked. Finn nodded.
“Not very often” he said. “She only appears every few months or so, and not for very long. I guess she leads the Knights of Ren while Ren himself is busy. The troopers have always been rather fond of her”.
“I wonder why” Rey scowled.
“There was more on that ship than them” Finn murmured, almost to himself. “I spotted at least another three, maybe four people. I wonder why they didn't come out?”
“They probably didn't want their faces on tomorrow's front page of the holonet news” Rey frowned. Finn stabbed the button on the elevator that led up to the thirty sixth floor. The elevator stopped but the doors didn't open. He pressed the call button, waiting for Rose to let them in.
“I'm going to find somewhere to train” Rey said quietly. Finn held the elevator door as it tried to close, his eyes wide with worry.
“Poe said we're not to go anywhere alone”.
“I'll be fine, Finn. The First Order are wrapped up with greeting people and settling in. Now is probably the best time for me to be on my own”.
“Are you sure you don't want me coming with you?” Rey shook her head. It didn't seem to appease Finn. His eyes still creased with worry as he nodded to her.
“Okay then” he said. “Keep your comm-link on. I'll be here if you need me”.
As the elevator door closed, Rey tried to keep her expression neutral.
The gym was brightly lit and cold, a massive white room with mirrors on one side and a variety of equipment she didn't recognise. There were a few people using the equipment, but otherwise the room was empty. It was just as she'd expected; almost everyone had gathered in the landing bay to greet the First Order. She kept her head down as she walked through the gym, seeking out one of the empty training rooms.
It was empty but for the weapons that hung along the wall. Rey ran her eyes over them. There were many that she recognised, but many more that she didn't. She pulled a staff from the wall, testing its balance. She swung it, imagining an opponent before her. The fury that had been boiling away within her threatened to spill over, and she swung harder. She imagined the staff as a double-bladed saber, as Ben had suggested. There would only be a small section in the middle that she could hold. She spun it in her hands, keeping her movements within that area.
Her opponent began to take shape within her mind. It was taller than her, lightening quick. It moved like smoke. It had bloodied lips and the palest blue eyes, set into a creamy heart-shaped face framed by the blackest hair. Rey grit her teeth, releasing the venom that seemed to rush through her veins. She felt the stretch of her muscles, the sweat against her skin as her body began to protest to the workout. She ducked low, blocking the imaginary lightsaber that burned a bright, vicious red. She twisted, grabbing her weapon in a reverse grip to cut underneath the opponent, through its defences.
There was a sharp noise, pulling Rey from her imagined battle. It took a second for her to realise that the noise was clapping.
She turned sharply on her heel, to the doorway and the source of the noise. A man rested against the side of the doorway, half of his face hidden beneath a long fringe, the colour of snow. The rest of his hair was cropped short. He couldn't be much older than her, or much taller. He wore a simple training outfit; soft black trousers and a black top without sleeves. He was muscled but lean, in a way that made Rey think he'd been malnourished at some point in his life.
The man grinned at her, his clapping ceasing now that he had her attention. His eyes – the one eye that she could see – reminded her of the sun reflecting off the warm Dantooine lake. There was a warmth to them despite the sharpness of his face as he ran his eyes over her body.
“You have good form” he told her, brushing his fringe from his face. “Your stance could use a little work though. Remember to fight side-on to give your opponent a smaller target”.
“Who are you?” She asked the man, her grip tight on the staff. It wouldn't do to threaten a neutral guest, but she wasn't prepared to let her guard down. He stepped inside the room, strolling over to the wall of weapons.
“My name is Jaxon” he said lightly. “But you can call me Jax; everyone else does”.
“Who do you fight for, Jax?” She asked. He lifted a staff from the wall, swinging it slowly, almost lazily.
“I consider myself freelance” he replied. “I fight on the side of karma”.
“That's not a proper answer” she said stiffly, earning a mischievous grin.
“It's not really, is it?” His eyes ran across her form once more.
“I'd ask your name, but I think it's fairly obvious. You're the Lady Rey, the Jedi working with the Resistance, right?” Rey's eyes narrowed warily. He seemed to take it as a challenge, a devilish grin across his face. She was almost certain he had fangs.
“I'm a bit of a fan” Jax confessed. “They say you're one of the most powerful Jedi in history”.
“I doubt that” Rey replied. “What else do they say?” There was a glint to his eye as he answered.
“They say you single-handedly killed Snoke and his guards. And you kicked his apprentice's ass. Twice”.
Rey's hand tightened on the staff. Was that really what people believed? That Snoke was dead at all was a miracle. She certainly couldn't have done it herself, nor could she have taken out the guards on her own. And Ben...
“That does make me sound pretty powerful” she said carefully. Jax held up his hand; the one not holding the staff.
“No more political questions” he promised. “Would you like to train with me, Lady Rey?”
She refocused her weight on her front leg, placing the other foot behind her in preparation for an attack.
“You want to fight me?” she asked warily.
“No no no” he said. “I would never fight you. I'm offering to train with you. First hit wins?” Rey eyed him cautiously, evaluating the man before her and the situation he presented. It had been so long since she'd trained against a real opponent...
“Okay” she agreed, shifting into a fighting stance, side-on. He grinned, spinning the staff in his hand.
“Go easy on me” he said lightly. “It's been a while since I've fought with a sta-”
Rey grabbed her staff in a reverse grip, swinging for Jax. He moved with surprising swiftness, jumping out of her way. She lunged for him and he forced her blow upwards, above his head. He spun, using the momentum to swing out at her. She raised the staff to block the blow.
He was surprisingly good with a staff, considering his comment about a lack of training. Rey's muscles burned as they fought. It wasn't long before they were both drenched in sweat, dragging air into their lungs in sharp gasps. She grit her teeth tight as she fought him, doing her best not to let the grin on Jax's face distract her. He seemed to be enjoying the battle.
She pulled the staff down with all the force she had, baring her teeth as she did. Jax raised his staff horizontal to block it, but her swing was too strong. The staff snapped between his hands and her staff hit him squarely on the head.
He dropped the broken weapon, stepping back and clutching his head. Rey dropped her staff in surprise.
“I'm sorry!” she gasped. “I didn't mean to hit you that hard!” He rubbed his head, drawing his hand away to examine it for blood. He wasn't bleeding. He was laughing.
“Would you believe it, that's not the first time someone's done that to me” he chuckled. “I'm fine, though your concern is appreciated”.
Rey let out a sigh of relief. He was going to be fine.
“I guess I won” she noted.
“I guess you did” he laughed. She inclined her head, unable to pull her eyes from the site of her attack.
“I really am sorry” she said quietly.
“I'm okay” he promised. “Though if you're so worried about me, maybe you should keep me company at the dinner tonight. To check up on my well being, of course”.
Rey regarded him warily.
“So you are a member of the First Order?” she asked, though she needed no answer. The dinner was exclusive to the Resistance and the First Order. He nodded.
“I am” he confessed. “But wouldn't it be in the spirit of the truce to sit with me?”
“I... I don't think I can” she told him. “I'm expected to sit with Poe and Finn. I don't think I can change seats”.
Jax smiled. It was gentler than the other smiles he'd given her.
“It was worth a try” he said, shrugging half-heartedly. “I don't suppose you'd let me walk you down to the dinning room?”
“Why?” she asked. Jax's insistence had left a sharp knot in her stomach.
“I find you interesting” he told her softly. “If it's okay with you, I'd like to get to know you better”.
Rey regarded him warily. He was unknown to her, this strange man with warm blue eyes and a gentle smile. He was a little too friendly, if she was honest. Yet wasn't it in the spirit of the truce to integrate with the First Order, and have them integrate with the Resistance? Having trained with him, she was fairly sure that she could handle him if he did overstep the line. Even if she didn't currently have a lightsaber.
“Okay” Rey gave in. Jax's eyes brightened.
“I'll pick you up at six” he said. “Which room are you?”
“The thirty sixth floor” she told him.
“Ah, one of the penthouses. Lucky; I'm on the ground floor. It's a nice suite, but it's no penthouse”. He offered her his hand. She took it, shaking it gently. He was refreshingly cold.
“I'll see you at six” she told him.
Poe, Finn and Rose were waiting for her in the penthouse. Rey readied herself to face their concern, their anger. Poe stood up when the elevator doors opened, his eyes narrowing as he looked at her.
“I told you not to go anywhere alone” he hissed.
“I'm okay” Rey reassured him.
“We're surrounded by the First Order. Anything could have happened to you!”
“But it didn't” Rey reminded him. He huffed, turning away from her.
“How did the meeting with Holonet news go?” Poe shook his head.
“He's got the press wrapped around his finger” Poe scowled. “They couldn't get enough of him”.
“The Holonet is paid for by the First Order” Rey remembered. “Of course they're on his side”.
“He's infuriating” Poe growled, his hands curled into fists. Rey reached out to him, turning him to face her.
“Breathe” she reminded him. “The treaty isn't going to work if you let him rile you up”. Poe nodded, his eyes lingering on her own. Rey looked to Rose, pushing away the tight sensation in the pit of her stomach.
“Would you help me?” She asked her, squirming uncomfortably. “I don't know what I'm supposed to wear”. Rose nodded, squeezing Finn's shoulder as she got to her feet. Rey turned to Finn, suddenly recalling what she had to tell him.
“Oh!” She said. “I met someone from the First Order, he offered to walk me down to the dinning room. Something about it being in the spirit of the truce. I was going to ask you about him”. Finn's eyes narrowed.
“I hope you refused. What was his name?” Rey opened her mouth, her breath caught in her throat. She hadn't gotten his second name. What if he was a stormtrooper, and had no surname? What if he did have one, and without it they wouldn't know who he was?
“He said his name was Jaxon, but everyone who knew him called him Jax. I didn't get his surname”. Finn's brow creased. He was casting his mind back to his days as a stormtrooper.
“I don't remember anyone called Jax” he said finally. “I mean, he could be an officer, but they prefer being referred to with their surnames. If he's one of Ren's higher-ups I probably didn't see him, I only really saw Ren and Hux, and occasionally this Natiera woman”. Rey's shoulders dropped in disappointment. Rose grabbed her by the shoulders, steering her away from Poe and Finn, and into the bedroom.
“We need to sort out your dress” she told her, closing the door to the room. “And you need to tell me about this Jax guy”. Rey shrugged, opening the wardrobe.
“There's not much to tell” she said.
“What did he look like?” Rey skimmed her hand across the dresses, feeling the difference in the delicate materials.
“He was about my age and height” she told Rose. “With short white hair, but a long fringe. He offered to train with me; he's pretty good with a staff”. Rose smiled.
“Did you agree to let him walk you to dinner?” she asked.
“Yeah” Rey admitted. Rose pulled out a long black dress.
“What about this one?” she asked. Rey shook her head.
“Was he attractive?” She asked Rey, returning the dress to the wardrobe.
“Uh...” Rey thought back. Had he been? She hadn't really noticed; too preoccupied with protecting herself in case he had been a threat.
“I... guess?” she replied lamely. Rose smiled, pulling another dress from the wardrobe. Rey shook her head quickly, so she put it back.
“All these men” she joked.
“I don't know what you mean”.
“Well, this Jax guy asked to walk you to dinner. Finn said that Ben was flirting with you on the landing bay, and P-”
“What?” Rey squeaked, her cheeks warming. “He wasn't. He wouldn't”.
“That's not what Finn said” Rose said with a smile.
Rey thought back to her meeting with Ben, the way he'd squeezed her hand lightly before he'd released her. You've left your mark on me, he'd said. There had been an odd glint to his eye, but his eyes had been cold. There'd been nothing of himself in them.
“He definitely wasn't” Rey replied firmly. “Besides, his second was with him”. Rose nodded, searching through the dresses.
“Yeah, Finn told me” she scowled. “She sounds delightful”.
“She's really pretty” Rey frowned. “I've never seen anyone like her. But she puts on a funny voice, like she's trying to be seductive, and she dresses like she wants her breasts to fall out of her dress”. Rose laughed.
“Finn said she was popular with the stormtroopers. Some of them used to rearrange their shifts so they could work on her floor or the conference rooms, whenever she was due to be on the ship”. Rey scowled. She knew exactly why the troopers had done it.
“She's second in charge of the First Order” she bit her tongue, keeping back the words that seemed to want to leave her lips. Ben had found someone to join him after all. She wondered how long it had been after she'd refused to join him that he'd reached out to Nat. Maybe if she'd taken his hand in the throne room she would be there in place of that woman.
Where had that thought come from? Rey shook her head, dismissing it from her mind. If Ben was shallow enough to want someone like Nat at his side... then Rey was glad not to have accepted his offer.
“What about this one?” Rose pulled another dress from the rail. It was made of an ivory lace, with long sleeves and a high neck. A slit in the neck ran all the way down to her breasts, but it was held shut with a button. It had a belt across the waist, made of the same lace material. Rey reached out, feeling the texture of the dress beneath her fingers.
“It's beautiful” she said in surprise. It was long, but not long enough to touch the floor. She wouldn't embarrass herself by tripping over the dress. Rose nodded.
“This is definitely the one” she said. “I'll sort out some shoes to go with it, you get in the shower and I'll dry your hair when you get out”. She wrinkled her nose slightly. “No offence, but maybe don't train right before dinner”. Rey laughed.
“I'll remember that next time” she said.
The fresher was just as delightful as it had been this morning. Rey increased the heat, allowing the water to scorch her skin. It reminded her of the Jakku sun. She closed her eyes, imagining herself back inside the AT-AT she'd made her home. If she'd managed to get enough to salvage to Plutt, she'd mix some of her rations with a little water and sit out on the sand to eat. She'd look up to the stars, always hoping that her family would come back for her.
It had all been a lie. Her parents were dead.
She tried not to think about it, just as she'd tried not to think of Ben and Natiera. She'd called him Ky, her nickname for him she guessed. Ben, even when he'd been sharp with her, had called her Nat. She wondered if they'd known each other for long, or if they were just... familiar.
The dress fit perfectly. It was odd, all things considering. She wondered when it was that he'd decided to have the clothes made for her, and how he'd gotten her measurements so perfect. He must have guessed at some point during one of their force bonds. The thought was enough to squirm her stomach and bring a heat to her skin.
Rose was applying cosmetics to her face, using some of the make up she'd brought with her. It had belonged to her sister, she'd said.
“Paige was much better at this kind of thing” Rose admitted. “I never paid much attention to it. She was the one working with people. I didn't need make up to work behind the pipes all day”. Rose smiled sadly at the memory.
“Paige had a thing for Poe” she told Rey. “Her and everyone else”.
“You're doing great” Rey assured her.
“You haven't looked in the mirror yet” Rose joked.
She applied the cosmetics delicately, examining her work as she did. Rey wasn't concerned; any experience Rose had with this was more than she had. There was no doubt that she was doing a better job than Rey ever could.
“Thank you” Rey murmured, trying not to move her face as she spoke. “I mean it”. Rose smiled softly.
“You don't need to thank me” she said. “We're family”. Rey smiled.
“I remember you” Rose said softly. “I heard your voice, when I was in the medical bay. I used to look forward to your visits. I remember you'd tell me what the resistance was doing, what Finn was doing. You told me to hurry up and get better, because Finn was becoming a hazard to himself and everyone else, wandering around like a lost pup”. Rey laughed.
“You heard all of that?” she asked. Rose nodded.
“Thank you” she said quietly. “I mean it. You didn't know me. You'd never met me, but you came to visit me every day you were with us. You looked after Finn, when he wouldn't look after himself. I remember you bringing him meals, making sure that he ate and slept”. She took a deep breath, her eyes bright and moist.
“I know that you've never really had a family” she told Rey. “But you have one now. Finn and I... Poe, we all love you, Rey”.
Rey reached out, squeezing her hand tight.
“I love you too” she told her. Rose smiled, squeezing her softly back.
“You're finished” she said. Rey got to her feet, thanking Rose again and putting on the shoes she'd found. They were the same colour as the dress. She checked her reflection in the mirror, marvelling at Rose's handiwork. She didn't recognise herself without the layer of dirt across her skin, the grease from the engines that seemed to get all over her hands. The girl looking back at her had tanned skin, unmarked and flawless in a way that she'd never seen. Whatever Rose had done had made her cheekbones look more prominent, her face leaner and pleasantly flushed. Her eyes looked larger, her lashed longer and thicker than she'd ever seen them. Her lips were a deep, dark red, glimmering slightly in the light.
“Wow” she said. “Rose, you're amazing”. Rose laughed, changing into her dress. She wore a floor-length gown the colour of the Dantooine sky, with only one shoulder strap. She'd applied her own cosmetics while Rey was in the fresher, and pulled her hair up in a bun. Two strips of hair framed her face, hanging loose and brushing her collarbone. Rey smiled warmly.
“You look beautiful” she told her friend. Rose smiled back.
“Oh!” She gasped, walking over to one of the drawers. “I nearly forgot. Poe left this out for you, I think he was a little embarrassed to give it to you, but he said that you needed to have it with you”. She handed her a short vibrodagger, in its sheath. Rey examined the belt on the sheath.
“Uh... This doesn't go on your waist, does it?” she asked hesitantly, examining the belt. It was far too small for her waist.
“No” Rose agreed, “Put it around your thigh, under your dress. That way, if things get nasty you have something to defend yourself with. Poe wanted to give you a blaster, but I talked him down. It would've been far too bulky under your dress”.
Rey imagined Poe, steeling himself to have this conversation with her. It brought a smile to her face. Rose held up her dress for her while she attached it above the widest part of her thigh, making sure the belt wouldn't slip during dinner. She checked the dress in the mirror, but Rose had been right. The blade was hidden perfectly under it.
A loud buzz sounded throughout the apartment. Rose winced, heading for the elevator. She pressed the intercom.
“Who is it?” she asked.
“Jax. I'm here for the Lady Rey”. Rey glanced at the clock in the room. It was six o'clock exactly. She walked into the living room to see Rose raise her eyes questioningly.
“It's alright” Rey assured her. “Let him in”.
Rose pressed the button to open the door. Rey straightened her dress, taking a deep breath. It was time.
Chapter 19: Striking a Balance
Ben lands on Chandrila, prepared to face the Resistance and put his mother to rest. The General of the Resistance has a surprise for him, and his mother's memory may not be so easy to rest after all.
Second chapter of the weekend! Please share with me any opinions you have on the work and any suggestions you have for me. I'll be back next weekend with another chapter or two for you!
“Sir, a message for you”. The officer's voice woke Ben from his reverie, his mind fixed on his last meeting with Rey. She'd been pouring over his notes, the Dantooine sun reflected in the light from her caramel eyes. She'd thanked him, with those soft doe eyes and parted lips, and he'd felt as though someone had pulled his guts from his body.
What had the officer said?
“Supreme Leader?” he asked. “A message?” Ben nodded, walking over to the communication panel. He'd brought nineteen people with him in total, including Hux, his knights, Blue and Jade. The other eleven First Order operatives were part of the stormtrooper defection program, hand picked by Blue herself for their loyalty. Still, he didn't trust anyone here enough to let them listen in on his conversation. He placed the earpiece in his right ear.
“Supreme Leader, I have an update for you regarding the Resistance”. Ben let out the breath he'd been holding.
“Erik” he replied. “Go ahead”.
“The Resistance have landed and are settling into their rooms. It appears that your godfather wishes to remain with their freighter”.
“The Falcon?” The word tasted foul on his tongue. “How many did the General bring with him?”
“Twenty, including the General himself” Erik answered. Coincidentally, the same number that he'd brought with him.
“Is there anything else?” he asked. Erik was his favourite in his service. He was intelligent, resourceful and polite. He knew when to ask questions, and when to hold his tongue. He could count on him to tell him what he needed to know.
“Yes Sir” Erik replied. “As you expected, the members of the resistance seem to prefer to sleep in pairs or groups. Some of them have moved beds from adjacent rooms to accommodate. They currently occupy rooms one through to five. Room two has four people in, room three and five has three. The rest sleep in pairs.
“What about the Generals?” Ben asked. Erik seemed to hesitate; unusual, for this often infallible man.
“The... General... Finn, Sir, has moved into the room you set aside for General Dameron. His partner – a woman by the name of Rose – shares the room with him. The Lady Rey accepted the penthouse suite, though she shares it with General Dameron”.
Dameron. Fire scorched through the pit of Ben's stomach. He'd looked inside the pilot's mind, enough to see that Leia had had an almost maternal fondness for the man. He seemed to worship her in response. From the memories that Ben had gathered from his mind, Poe Dameron had seemed to be like a second son to Leia; a fact that irritated Ben greatly. He'd seen other things too; sly glances from across the landing bay, eyes that seemed to follow the pilot wherever he went. Whatever set of physical qualities that seemed to attract a woman to a man, Dameron seemed to fit the bill.
His rage boiled over at the thought of the man sharing a bed with Rey. How long had that been going on? He burned to think of him seeing her at her most vulnerable; asleep and unprotected, her fierce mahogany eyes hidden beneath their lids, her soft hair – like swirls of chocolate with lighter hues of caramel – curled against her face and across her pillow, her chest rising and falling with each breath-
“Sir?” Erik's tone was one of concern and Ben silently cursed himself for letting his mind wander.
“Thank you, Erik. That will be all for now”. There was another question that wanted desperately to fall from his tongue, but it wasn't safe to speak it now, with the company he was in. That would have to wait until he landed.
“In that case, Sir, I will see you shortly”.
“What did Erik want?” Ben turned to Jax, who was watching him carefully.
“He was giving me an update on the Resistance” Ben replied, looking around the shuttle. “They match us in number, but we have six knights to their one Jedi. They've underestimated our strength”.
“We'd be a whole lot stronger if you'd give me back my lightsaber” Nat scowled. Ben shook his head.
“You'll get it back when you can be trusted” he replied coldly. Jax leaned over to her, a grin across his face.
“Which is never” Jax added. Ben shook his head.
They would be out of light-speed in mere minutes. Ben tried to ignore the writhing in his stomach, but it threatened to overwhelm him. In just a few minutes he would be closer to her than he'd been in six months; no longer relying on the erratic nature of their bond to bring them together. The thought was enough to make him sick. Jax got to his feet, walking over to him, his voice kept low.
“You look a little pale” he said, quiet enough that no-one else would hear him.
“I'm fine” Ben snapped. Jax shrugged.
“If you say so”.
He looked around the shuttle, his eyes straying to Nat and Hux.
“Are you sure it was a good idea to bring them?” he asked.
“I had no choice”.
“Well, you could've just killed them and be done with it”. Ben shook his head.
“They're more useful to me alive than dead. Plus, if I got rid of Nat how long would it be before the rest of you started wondering if you were next?”
“I know you wouldn't hurt me” Jax replied, his voice softening. “Not unless I really pissed you off”.
He glanced back at Nat and Hux, who were sharing a datapad. Probably going over figures, Ben guessed.
“I don't think it's a good idea to let those two out with you. One is manageable, two could cause a disaster”.
“Agreed” Ben murmured. He'd been thinking the same thing.
“Why don't you bring one of them, and take me with you? You know, a little charm to balance out their sourness?” His eyes were wide and innocent as he looked up at Ben. He didn't trust that look for a second.
“I'm going out alone” Ben said sternly.
“It's too dangerous to go alone. Take me”.
“I'll be fine, Jax. The Resistance wouldn't dare attack us”. Jax's eyes were creased with worry, his teeth chewing slightly at his lower lip.
“What about the Jedi girl?” Jax asked. “If she's as strong as you say she is, you should have one of your knights with you. Just in case”. Ben shook his head.
“You're insistent on meeting her” he noted, his guts tightening. Jax shrugged.
“Yeah, okay” he admitted. “She took down you, Snoke and eight Praetorian guards, of course I want to meet her. She might be the strongest force-sensitive we've ever heard of”.
Ben's hands tightened into fists.
“If she's as powerful as we think she is, I don't want anyone approaching her” he said sternly. “I mean it, Jax. You're not to have any contact with her while the truce is still active. None of you are”. Jax's face fell, but Ben had an uneasy feeling that he'd been expecting the order. Maybe it was his imagination; an artificial undercurrent on the air, a product of his anxiety at the thought of having Jax and Rey in the same room. He trusted Jax more than any of his other knights, but not enough to have him near her. The thought of him analysing her, watching her and breaking down each passing movement, each expression that danced across her face... He would crawl beneath her skin and examine her inner workings as if she was a piece of machinery that needed repair or a corpse on a table. He'd be damned if he was going to let Jax wrench away what privacy she had.
“I hear you boss” Jax replied, his voice thick with sarcasm. “Leave well alone”.
“I mean it” Ben growled. Jax gave him a mock salute, his blue eyes glinting.
“Sir” the pilot called out. “We're exiting hyperspace”.
Ben turned back to the cockpit. Below their small shuttle the planet rose to meet them. It had been nearly two decades since he'd called Chandrila his home, but still the sight of the planet brought his memories to the fore. He'd recalled long summer nights on the bank of the silver sea by his mother's country house, the scent of the tintolive tree carried on the wind. He recalled the grand library of their home in Hanna city where he'd hidden for three days and examined the older, rarer texts the library had to offer until he was dragged from his hiding place and forced to eat, drink and bathe. The last time he'd seen the planet it had been through watery, glazed eyes, as Luke had taken him from all that he loved and flung him into the midst of his Jedi training. He'd sobbed until there were no tears left to cry, until his throat was ripped to shreds and he'd found himself wondering if his heart were failing. Now here it was, below him once more in the view from the cockpit, absent of the family he'd loved so dearly but with an entirely new promise for him, a new potential even sweeter than the one he'd lost.
She was down there. He could feel her presence reaching out to him through the force, calling him home.
Ben turned back to his crew, his heart thundering in his chest loud enough that he wondered why only he could hear it. He gathered his wits together, speaking firmly in his attempt to display the leadership that was required to control them.
“We have a truce with the Resistance” he said sternly. “Be mindful of that. I will not protect anyone who violates that truce. If communication with them in unavoidable it should be done in pairs. Political conversations will take place in the conference room. I don't want anyone discussing their political views outside that room. Is that understood?” The stormtroopers nodded firmly, his knights a little slower to respond. Hux said nothing, his cheekbone a distinctly blotchy purple colour. Ben felt a wave of satisfaction each time he looked at it. That alone – he'd decided – made it worth bringing Hux with him to Chandrila, if only to see the reluctant submission in the General's eyes.
“We're landing” the pilot said stiffly. Ben leaned over the pilot chair, looking out onto the landing bay beyond. A crowd had gathered in the streets below, as far as the eye could see. They waved flags for the First Order, their faces full of cheer and excitement, not the fear and loathing he'd been used to. There was another crowd on the landing bay, held back by a metal barrier. He saw a few faces that he recognised, but the rest was blurred and insignificant.
There, on the landing platform, stood Rey.
He was anchored to her presence, helplessly reeled in. She looked just like she had when she'd come to him aboard the Supremacy, only this time her hair was longer and loose, brushed by the breeze and curling softly over her shoulders. The sight of her lifted a weight from his shoulders that he hadn't taken notice of in her absence, it was like icy water after a day under a desert sun. He drank in the sight of her. It was almost a physical pain to realise that he would have to meet her in the landing bay as her opposer. Ben took a deep breath, submitting to the sharp cracking sensation in his chest. It was more than worth it to be in her presence once more.
“Is that her?” The voice ripped him from her, severing the hold she seemed to have taken over his eyes. He glanced over to Jax, who was looking out of the cockpit with casual interest.
“Standing in front of the barrier?” he asked, feigning that he hadn't seen her. “On the left we have General Finn, the Resistance's second in command and former stormtrooper, now traitor. In the middle is General Poe Dameron, leader of the Resistance and supposedly their best pilot. The woman on the right is the Lady Rey of Jakku, the Jedi”. Jax nodded thoughtfully, his eyes never straying from Rey.
“She's more attractive than I thought she'd be” he whispered; quiet enough that Ben was the only one who heard it. He leaned towards Jax, lowering his voice so that no-one else would hear.
“She's an enemy of the First Order” he whispered. “A powerful enemy, who is not to be underestimated. Say one word to her, and I'll throttle you with my bare hands”.
“Kinky” Jax joked, winking at him. “Don't worry, you have my word”. Ben glowered, but he trusted that his threat had been noted.
“Are you sure you don't want me to come with you?” Jax asked, his voice hesitant.
“I'm going alone” Ben replied firmly.
The sun beat down across his shoulders as he stepped off the ramp and onto the landing platform. His heart was racing, his breathing rapid, but he took care to completely avoid looking over to Rey and her companions, instead walking over to the edge of the platform. He stepped partially over the edge of the building, peering down at the crowd below.
Holy shit, that was high.
He saluted the crowd, smirking when they erupted into cheer. His people were happy, safe in the knowledge that he would provide what they needed. He had brought them safety, security, freedom from war and slavery and poverty, and they were grateful for it. He was no longer a feared and hated dictator, but a benevolent leader, bringing them hope. It was everything that he had wanted.
Ignoring the object of his attention, he looked to Erik, who was making his way towards him. Erik's eyes glinted with a spirit far younger than his body as he shook his hand warmly.
“It's good to see you, Sir. Please accept my condolences on the death of your mother. Leia was very dear to all of us in the core worlds, and many beyond”.
“Thank you, Erik” Ben replied softly. “Has the package been delivered?” Erik shook his head.
“No, Sir” he said quietly. “There was an issue with the delivery. It was much more difficult to procure what you asked for. I believe the package is en route as we speak, and should be with you early tomorrow”.
“Thank you” Ben replied. “I know that I can count on you to oversee the delivery”.
“Of course, Sir. Might I introduce you to this establishment's managers? They're looking forward to serving you”.
Ben nodded, allowing Erik to lead the way towards the line of staff he'd brought with him. He could feel eyes watching his every move as Erik introduced him to the staff, the hair on the back of his neck prickling in response. The staff were very polite and professional, seemingly thrilled to be in the presence of the First Order.
Ben shook the last staff member's hand. There was a familiar presence approaching him; he didn't need to turn to know who it was. Nat leaned in far closer to him than he was comfortable with, her breath soft against his ear.
“I got bored” she whispered. Irritated, he turned to her.
“I thought I told you to stay on the ship until I'd spoken to the Resistance”. Nat smiled.
“You didn't say that, only that you were going alone”.
“Exactly. Alone” he snapped.
“You were alone, and now you're not” she said lightly. “Lets go introduce ourselves to the Resistance, shall we? General Fly-boy looks delicious.
Ben regarded her with narrow eyes, unsure if she was kidding. Knowing Nat, she probably wasn't. Her comment had annoyed him more than he'd expected it to, but then he supposed she had been complimenting the man sharing a bed with Rey. He pushed the thought from his mind; he needed to control his temper or the truce would be over before it had really begun. He took a deep breath, steeling himself for the meeting.
“Fine” he snapped. “We'll introduce ourselves”.
The lights from the cameras held by the holonet news were blinding to Ben as he stood in front of them. Reporters called out questions, their voices muddled together into a chaotic roar. Ben answered what he could, but he grew impatient, raising his hand for quiet. The crowd fell silent.
“One at a time” he said firmly. He could hear the General's footsteps behind him as he caught up. A reporter – a short, red-headed girl – raised her hand.
“Supreme Leader” she squeaked. “What is the situation between the Resistance and the First Order?”
“The First Order will be hosting talks with the Resistance this week” Ben replied, keeping his voice carefully neutral.
“Sir, is this your protocol for dealing with terrorists?” another reporter called out. Poe's hands curled into fists.
“The Resistance is not a terrorist organisation” Ben said quickly, before Poe could insult the reporter. “They are a political party with a different policy than the First Order. We are prepared to discuss our opposing ideas to bring an end to this conflict”. Cameras flashed and blinked at him.
“General Dameron” another reporter shouted over the hum of the crowd. “What is your opinion on these developments?”
The General barely glanced at him, seemingly happier to pretend he didn't exist.
“I look forward to these discussions” he stated. “And the opportunity to give more power back to the people”. Ben kept his face steady, his expression a mask of politeness. Several reporters were hastily typing into their data pads.
“Can we have a picture of you both shaking hands?” One reporter asked. “For the holonet news”. The General nodded and extended his hand. Ben took it firmly. Cameras flashed and they broke off the contact. Ben turned his back on the crowd, walking far enough away for him to be out of earshot of them. The General followed him, standing at his side as they watched his crew disembark from the shuttle.
“You didn't tell me you were bringing General Hugs” Poe growled, his hands curled into tight fists. Ben raised his eyes at the General.
“I like to keep General Sucks and the rest of my dogs on a short leash”.
“General Ducks killed Leia”.
“I'm aware” Ben replied coldly. “General Clucks will be disposed of in time”.
“Not soon enough” Poe said quietly.
Poe was watching the knights descend from the shuttle. Ben knew that his eyes would be scanning for weapons, evaluating for threats.
“How many did you bring with you?” He asked.
“Twenty”. Poe nodded slightly, almost to himself.
“So did I”.
“So I've heard” Ben replied, looking over to his knights. Jax nodded quickly to him from across the platform, disappearing into the hotel.
“What else have you heard?” Poe asked, his voice carefully controlled. Was he asking if Erik had told him that Poe was sharing the quarters with Rey?
“Nothing that concerns me” Ben replied carefully.
“I won't be finding any devices in my room, will I? It would ruin the mood”.
Ah, there it was. The insinuation sparked a rage within him. His hands curled into fists. Breathe.
“There are no devices in any of your rooms” Ben growled. Poe nodded.
“I forgot, you can just use your force-link for that”. Ben looked to Poe in surprise, his nonchalant façade abandoned.
“Oh yeah, she told me” Poe said smugly. “I know about the link between your minds. I know about the conversations you've been having with her. I know that you begged her to join you, and she turned you down”.
Was it possible to hate someone he'd spoken to only twice? It seemed so; his rage was an inferno within him. His hands itched to lay into the General as they had Hux after discovering his betrayal. He was sure that it would be incredibly satisfying to wipe that smirk from the General's face.
“How interesting” he said quietly. “She's never mentioned you”. Poe's smirk froze, slipping slowly into a scowl.
“It would be a shame if the people opposing you found out about your... fondness... for Rey”.
“You wouldn't” Ben snarled, all pretence of politeness forgotten. “She'd be in danger”. Poe nodded slowly.
“Stay away from her, Ren” he replied quietly. “I'll see you at dinner”.
The General turned his back on Ben, heading for the hotel. Ben grit his teeth. This was going worse than he'd expected – why had Rey confided in him? Was it possible that she and the General –
“Oh” Poe said sharply, turning back to Ben. His eyes glinted in the light as he looked over at where Nat stood with the remainder of the knights.
“One more thing” Poe said lightly. “My girl is far better than yours. I have a better second than you too”. Ben grimaced, though he had to agree. Still, he resented the assumption that Nat was his girl. Poe grinned.
“Seriously” he called out. “Get her some underwear. Or a dress that she can't fall out of”. He gave Ben a mock salute, turning back towards the hotel.
The temple was a grand structure, rising from the southerly side of the hotel in a huge spire. Looking up made Ben dizzy, but the exquisite stained glass windows were worth the vertigo. The temple was affiliated with no religion, so the windows depicted beautiful landscapes rather than religious events. He appreciated it's honesty. His mother had believed in the Jedi – of course – but she hadn't been particularly interested in training as one. She was more of a non-practising Jedi; her religion was her politics.
The place was empty when he entered, locking the door carefully behind him. The last thing he wanted was for Nat, Hux or someone with a similar skill in irritating him to find him here. He approached the alter slowly.
Her ghostly white casket was open, her body perfectly preserved by the systems built into the casket. She was thinner than when he'd seen her last, her face shallower. She looked old beyond her years and he found himself wondering if he'd been the cause. Of course he'd been the cause. She was dressed in the white dress – one of her favourites, he remembered – with her hair long and loose over her shoulders in a way she'd never had time for when she was alive. There were white flowers nestled amongst her hair; the same flowers that were both inside and outside her casket. It was in line with the traditions of her mother's planet; Naboo. He reached out, his hand lightly brushing the flower. It was cold against his skin.
Ignoring the pain of the deep cuts and bruises that covered his hands, Ben reached into the casket. His hand brushed her hand lightly. She was cold. Her hand was more skeletal than he remembered, when she used to hoist him to his feet and lecture him about the pros and cons of hijacking the neighbour's speeder and driving it into a tree. He remembered her face, pale with worry and so young. Next had come her anger, when she'd made sure that he wasn't hurt. She was a hurricane, a force of nature all by herself. Just like Rey.
“I don't know what to do” he whispered to her. “I don't want to be this way. I want to find my balance. I want to earn her trust, her forgiveness, but I don't know how”. He let his head hang.
“You've used the force before, use it again” he begged. “Come back. Luke will teach you. Come back to me, please”. He didn't realise that he was crying until he felt the dampness of the knee of his trousers. His throat ached, his chest hurt, his eyes stung with tears.
“I never apologised” he whispered. “I never got to tell you that I'm sorry”.
“She knew”. Ben shut his eyes, hoping that he'd heard wrong, that there'd been no voice to answer his call.
“I was wondering when you'd show up” he said bitterly. He didn't turn to face the ghost of his uncle.
“Getting lonely, kid?” Luke asked. Ben shook his head.
“She knew that you were sorry” Luke continued. “She knew how much you loved her”.
“No she didn't” Ben snarled. “She knew that I'd turned on Snoke and taken over the First Order. That's not the same”. He turned to his uncle, his eyes searching.
“Tell her”. He begged. “If you can do that. If it's even possible. Tell her”. Luke nodded, his face impassive.
Ben turned back to his mother's corpse, holding her icy hand gently.
“It's not the same” he said. “It's not her. I can't feel her here, just her body”.
“I know, kid” Luke replied sadly. Ben wiped the tears from his cheeks with his free hand.
“I'm trying to make things right” he insisted. “Will it ever be enough? For her, for Rey. Will she ever forgive me?”
“I don't know” Luke answered. “But I tell you one thing; a girl who turns her lightsaber on her master for you isn't likely to give up on you easily”. Ben huffed, almost laughed.
“She turned on you?” he whispered. “She never fails to amaze me”. Luke laughed.
“You two remind me of your parents” he said softly. “Your mother was a force to be reckoned with. She was stubborn, fierce. She was a fighter. When Rey came to me on Ach-To, she reminded me so much of Leia”.
“And my dad?” Ben asked, his voice barely a whisper. Luke looked pleased with himself.
“Your father was devoted to Leia” Luke answered. “He loved her entirely. She drove him crazy – they drove each other crazy – but they loved as fiercely as they fought. He would have done anything for her”.
“Except give up the falcon” Ben murmured. “He wouldn't keep his feet on the ground”. Luke shrugged.
“Some people can't. Your father was one of them. Flying was his exception, so what's yours?” Ben looked into his mother's face. She looked peaceful, as if she were sleeping. Luke was right; his father had been devoted to her. It just wasn't enough to keep him by her side. That was where he and Han differed.
“Rey is my exception” he said softly. “I'm doing everything I can to bring peace to the galaxy, to set things right, yet still she calls me. I'm as unable to refuse her as my father was unable to refuse the call back to the stars”. Luke smiled in satisfaction, reaching out to rest his hand on his nephew's shoulder.
“If that's the case” he said smugly. “What's keeping you?”