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Star Wars IX: The Fallen Knight

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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

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A rebellion reborn, the brave Resistance led by General Leia Organa and Rey of Jakku has steadily grown into a new insurgency against the forces of darkness spreading through the outer reaches of the galaxy.

Supreme Leader of the First Order, Kylo Ren, in an effort to engage the rebels has dispatched his most ruthless agents, the Knights of Ren, to pursue and crush any rebel activities, but the mysterious Force bond he shares with Rey has only deepened his sense of inner conflict and threatens to compromise his authority.

Thanks to a mysterious source within the First Order itself, the rebels, led by brave Poe Dameron, have successfully armed themselves with ships and weapons by striking out at secret salvage depots throughout the outer rim...

***

Poe heard the roar of the dropships coming in now, just as his analysts predicted. Grabbing his quad-nocs, he scanned the horizon and saw their rectangular silhouettes descending through the inky sky.

"Alright, people get ready, we've got bucketheads incoming," he shouted to the rebels around him.

Weapons were raised, automated turrets were armed and droids of all shapes squawked and beeped as they took up their assigned positions. Poe reached for his comm and, with the flick of his thumb, opened the channel.

"Finn, we've got First Order infantry coming in as planned. Tell me you've got some ships for us, buddy!"

The comm crackled with Finn's response. "We're rigging up the last of the squad now. We'll be ready to go on your signal."

"I hear ya loud and clear, over and out." Poe slipped his comm back into his jacket. "Alright, remember what we're here for, I don't want to see any heroes. We distract and evade long enough for the ships to slip away. Let the automated defenses take the brunt of the attack and fire only if you have a clear shot, got it?"

A series of 'Yes sir' and 'we're with you' called out from the gloom of the dingy hangar bay as the rebel forces readied themselves.

BB-8 rolled up to him a moment later, beeping with worry. Poe looked down at the little droid with an assured smile. "Don't worry Beebs, everything's going according to plan for now. We'll be safe enough back here until the ships jump to hyperspace and then we're gone with them, just cool your circuits.  You did good work getting us this intel, it'll be alright."

The spherical droid bobbed it's head to the side with a glum note of anxiousness but joined him as he walked over to the temporary command station.

***

Some 50 clicks to the North at an unassuming impound yard, Finn rushed over to Rose Tico who was digging through the cockpit circuitry of an aged A-wing that had clearly seen better days.

"How are we doing? We gotta get these things up and running and back to base ASAP."

Rose continued to tap buttons on her diagnostic pad. "The slave circuit is good to go, I just have to link it to these last six ships. Relax, Finn, I've got this... mostly."

"Mostly? That's reassuring now that we've got incoming," he stated, feeling completely un-assured.

Suddenly the hum of an engine started up across the hangar bay followed by a sequence of others.

Rose laughed with triumph. "Yes! It worked, I told you not to worry!" She climbed out of the cockpit and dropped to the ground. She kissed Finn on the cheek. "See? You just have to have a little patience, that's all."

Finn's cheeks grew warm. He knew she was right, of course, but his nerves were still on edge. "I'm trying, okay? We've just been running from one planet to another and no matter what, they're always one step behind us. It's starting to get to me."

"Finn, relax, we've held up under worse odds. Don't start looking for escape pods yet, okay?"

He grimaced. "I'm never going to live that down, am I?

"Nope."

"Thanks for the support."

Rose smiled and pinched his cheek. "You're welcome."

Reaching for his comm, Finn signaled Poe. "Alright, we've got the last of the ships rigged up to the slave circuit. We're as ready as we can be, Poe."

He heard blaster fire on the other end of the comm for a moment before his friend's voice came through the speaker.

"We're taking fire and keeping them busy over here. As soon as you can leave, do it, buddy. We'll be right behind you."

"We're on it, over and out." Finn signaled Captain Rannas across the bay with a thumbs up. He was already lifting off with his own squad of slave-rigged freighters following close behind.

"Jyn, the ship's ready to go," he gestured toward the fresh-faced woman hurrying over to them.

"I'm on it, Commander. You can count on me," Captain Jyn Capron smiled as she climbed the ladder.

Finn turned back to Rose. "Alright, just keep your eyes on the links and make sure we don't lose connection. Once we're ready to..." he stopped when he heard another sound drifting in from outside, a familiar sound, the hum of an engine he'd never forget.

"Oh no." Finn ran to the hangar bay door and looked up into the sky to see Kylo Ren's black V-winged shuttle descending upon the storage facility like a raptor preparing to feed. He wasn't supposed to be here; no one was supposed to know about their plan for the ships, no one but the traitor from within the First Order who'd leaked them the intel. The fact that Ren was here could only mean one thing; this was a trap.

Digging up his comm again, he switched to another channel. "Rey, come in. We've got a problem, a big one. Kylo Ren's here at the depot, I don't know how he knew, but he's found us."

A long moment of silence passed causing him to think his signal hadn't gotten through but then he heard the reply.

"I see him. Don't worry, just get the ships... I'll deal with him, myself."

Finn wanted to protest, but he knew she could take care of herself. The entire Resistance knew she could take care of herself; she'd killed Snoke, fought off his Praetorian guards and managed to escape alive.

"Rey, be careful."

"Don't worry about me, my friend. Just get out of there safely, okay?"

"Will do." He turned back to the ships. "Rose, we've got to go now!"

***

The black shuttle touched down with a burst of dust and hissing coolant as the angled wings folded into vertical positions. Rey watched intently from atop the storage container she'd occupied, her emotions roiling at the sight.

"Ben... what are you doing here?"

She reached out with the Force, hoping to sense his intentions or perhaps even invoke a desperate connection so that she might reason with him. Physically, this was the closest she'd been to him since leaving him on Crait but she'd never revealed the truth of what happened in Snoke's throne room to anyone, even Finn.

Out of reflex, she touched the weathered charm pendant hanging just behind her left ear for luck as a dull ache spread through her chest. Steeling herself, she reached further out with the Force until she sensed... something else. The Force swirled darkly around someone on board the shuttle, but it wasn't... it couldn't be Ben.

She watched intently as the ramp lowered and not one, but three armored figures walked out into the yellowish lamplight. Each was clad in black, their faces hidden behind expressionless masks but the one in the middle was larger by far than the other two at his side.

Fascinated and apprehensive, Rey slipped down onto the container below her to get a better view. Each had multiple weapons strapped to themselves from blasters to rifles to bladed weapons similar in design to what Snoke's Praetorian guards had wielded on board the Supremacy. She realized then that these weren't just special forces stormtroopers, these were worse. They had to be Knights of Ren.

"Oh, Ben... what have you done?" She didn't want to believe he had a hand in this, not when they'd had... Rey wasn't quite sure what they had but she couldn't afford to think about that now.

The Knights walked with singular purpose toward the still open hangar bay doors where Finn, Rose and the rest of the squad were still trying to steal the confiscated ships. She crept across the tops of the containers until she was overlooking the small roadway leading to the facility.

She waited for them to pass, then, using her Jedi reflexes, she leaped down to the ground behind them. Rey stood and called out to them.

"Hello there. May I help you?  You seem to be lost." She said it as though she were a store attendant approaching an undecided shopper. The ploy worked because the three Knights stopped in their tracks, gave each other what appeared to be a confused look behind their blackened visors, then turned around at once to face her.

She stood her ground even though her heart pounded in her chest. The big one in the middle approached her first.

"You. You're her, aren't you?" He said through a mechanically modulated vocoder.  His faceplate had three slits cut across it with a single vertical cut in the middle.  Rey wondered how many eyes were staring at her just now.

"I wouldn't know. I need to know who it is you're actually talking about before I can answer that question, friend," she replied with a chuckle.

He gave his companions another skeptical look through his faceless mask, at least she imagined it was a skeptical look. Now that she was closer to them, Rey got a better look at the three Knights. Two were humanoid, the big one clearly a beast of a man and the other distinctly feminine in form with a black mane of hair cascading out of a knot in her helmet, but the third knight was spindly with reversed knee joints and a thin head like a blade with eye bulges sticking out from the sides.

The large Knight stepped closer. "You're the wannabe Jedi brat our Master hasn't been able to shut up about. The scavenger."

Wannabe Jedi brat? Is that what he called me? Rey thought to herself with some annoyance. On the other hand, Ben hadn't been able to shut up about her, so in that way she felt somewhat flattered, but still, she couldn't afford to be distracted.

"No need to be rude. I'm just curious as to why you're walking toward a restricted area," she said with her normal tone of voice.

"Perhaps it's because rebel scum are stealing First Order property while their transparent diversion keeps the idiots distracted."  He gestured toward the battle site far off in the distance.

Damn, they know. Rey hoped it wasn't the case, but she also knew it was only a matter of time before they'd been caught in the act. Still, she had a job to do and she was going to make sure that it was done.

"You're an observant one aren't you? So, you're the Knights of Ren, I take it?"

With a deliberately exaggerated bow, he replied, "In the flesh. It's just a shame we had to meet under such circumstances. Someone who can kill Supreme Leader Snoke and defeat Kylo Ren in the same breath might make an excellent Knight herself, but vengeance demands that you die for your crimes."

With that, the other two knights activated their electro weapons in preparation to attack.

Taking a deep breath, Rey steeled herself and reached for her twin sabers at her sides. "Black isn't really my color, thank you. Though I am flattered that you think I'm good enough to join your little cantina band." With a flick of her thumbs, she activated her blades. Crackling fire ignited from the damaged halves of Skywalker's kyber crystal, illuminating the ground with a warm, golden glow.

Strangely enough, the big Knight made no move to take up his weapons; he stood with his arms crossed and watched as his companions rushed her. Rey had been practicing her fighting skills daily, but she hadn't faced an enemy with similar abilities since her fight with the Praetorians on the Supremacy.

Reaching out with the Force, she held her sabers in defensive positions as the two Knights split apart to lunge from either side. The woman struck first with her electro whip set as a quarterstaff but Rey deflected it with one saber until the other Knight came up behind her. Had she not been using two sabers, he might have taken her head off, but with sheer force of strength she held off the direct blow.

"Ahh," she grunted as she rolled back and out of the way. The two attackers traded places, drawing her focus long enough for her to realize what they were actually doing. The big Knight had started walking toward the hangar bay, completely oblivious to the fight behind him.

Oh no, Finn, Rose, she thought. The ships were still being pilfered from the hangar, but if a Knight reached them first, there was no telling what danger they might be in, so she did the only thing she could and evaded her immediate attackers and ran for the hangar.

The Big guy flung open the rusted gate with the wave of his hand, revealing that the Force was with him and probably the others as well. Well, that complicates things. Despite knowing that, she barreled straight at him. Putting her sabers end to end, she gave them a twist until they locked in place forming a saber staff.

With a battle cry full of fury she twirled her weapon in preparation to strike when the Knight spun and produced a two-handed electro axe with an energy beam bigger than his chest. As if sensing her attack before she'd delivered it, he deflected her blow with a brutal upward strike, sending Rey skidding back across the dirt.

She barely kept her footing but the hulking mass of anger and black armor was already rushing her again. Her staff met his blade with a crackle of sparks as she parried and deflected. He hesitated a moment when he seemed to glance at something just to the side of her, the brief distraction allowed her to kick him back a few steps.

Every muscle in her body burned from the effort of fighting the monster but he dealt blows as effortlessly as though he were lightly sparring. Just when it seemed as though he could crush her with a single strike, he casually shoved her with the Force, slamming her into a storage crate behind her.

"Ow," she yelled as stars flashed in her eyes. So it's going to be like that, huh?

He gazed down at her through his visored mask. "The Jedi Scavenger I've heard so much about, and you're nothing more than a child with a lightsaber."

His taunts made her blood boil. "I am no child. I'm simply testing your skills," she said as confidently as she could, though she had sudden doubts. Still, she saw a loose crate of tools off to the side and targeted it with the Force.

"Ah, you may be a capable fighter with a saber, but you are no Jedi. A shame to be honest, I was hoping for an actual fight.  Perhaps, instead you can tell me where you got that Padawan braid, you're wearing?"

"My... what?," she asked, surprised both by the question and the naming of the pendant hanging behind her ear.  Seeing that he was distracted again, she drew upon the Force and flung the box of tools at him. The crate smashed into him hard enough to knock him off balance and that's when she hit him with as much Force as she could muster. The Knight of Ren flew backward some fifty feet, slamming into a tree on the opposite side of the road.

She got to her feet and prepared to square off again when the Knight shouted, "Lor'utti, destroy the control ship. The slave ships will go down with it."

Only then did she realize in her duel with the leader, the thin alien Knight had jumped the fence and was taking aim at one of the ships in the hangar bay with a rocket launcher.

"No!" Rey abandoned the fight and sprang into action, allowing the Force to guide her jump into the impound yard. She rushed at Lor'utti. He'd already picked his target and with a concussive hiss, his cannon fired a blast of plasma that blew a hole into one of the antiquated A-wings that had just lifted off.

With a burst of flame, the wreckage crashed to the ground and the other ships connected by slave circuit slammed to the ground with it, at least four or five ships, she couldn't tell. What she did know was that whoever was piloting the controlling fighter was dead and the loss of even one fellow resistance fighter sent Rey into a rage.

Lor'utti was struggling to arm his weapon for another shot as he stumbled away from her fury, but he had enough time to re-arm when he managed to pull his weapon up to his shoulder for a second shot. Rey slid below him and sliced upward, severing his arm at the elbow, forcing him to drop the weapon; his severed hand twitched, the finger still on the trigger, which caused the weapon to fire carelessly toward a stack of old fuel containers.

The explosion knocked the two of them onto their backs and sent up a plume of fire and smoke. When Rey looked up, she didn't see the other Knights, but the spindly Lor'utti was struggling to get up without his arm. She met him with the tip of her crackling lightsaber.

"Who told you to find us here? Did Kylo Ren send you after us? Answer me!"

With a hoarse and broken basic, Lor'utti replied, "Scrum off Jedi sleemo. I tell not'ting to you."

"You'll tell me." Channeling her anger through the Force, Rey reached out with invisible fingers and grabbed Lor'utti by the neck, choking him as she lifted him off the ground.

"I'll give you one more chance. Did... Kylo Ren... send you here?"

Lor'utti was choking in her grip and made no other attempt to speak but then her comm clicked and Finn's voice called out.

"Rey, we've got to go. The Falcon's primed, get out of there now, we have what ships are left."

She hesitated, not wanting to leave without an answer from this scum, but at the same time, she knew Finn was right. The mission comes first. If that weren't enough to motivate her, the sudden flurry of blaster shots coming at her from the other two Knights of Ren certainly did.

She deflected one blast with her saber but in her distraction, she dropped Lor'utti to the ground, who violently gasped for air. "Dammit," she cursed as she turned and fled through the hangar. The Falcon was waiting for her and with a final glance behind, she rushed up the ramp and into the cabin where to her relief Finn and Rose were both very much alive.

"Chewie, punch it!" Rey called out.

An affirming growl issued out from the cockpit as the Falcon lifted off and joined the procession of stolen ships they'd managed to free from the First Order.

"I can't believe that worked," Finn stated.

"I told you it would, dummy," Rose countered with a smile.

Rey watched the two of them traded banter and congratulations.  The sight of them happy together made her smile, but the ever lingering questions at the back of her mind and the arrival of the Knights of Ren soured her mood. This encounter left her with more questions than answers and one way or another, she would learn the truth.

Of that much, she was certain.

 

Chapter Text

Cover Update

General Hux glared down at the reports coming in from the raid on Tantis. One report, in particular, was from Malak Ren, second in command to the Knights of Ren. Bile rose in his throat as he realized the rebel assault was merely a diversion and that the true targets were the ships they'd previously confiscated. He scowled as it dawned on him that the First Order had been duped yet again.

"How many ships did the rebels manage to steal?" He was afraid to ask, but had to know.

Captain Peavey seemed only too eager to read off the stats, a character trait Hux found to be annoyingly petty. "34 light freighters total, some from the Ohnaka Gang Pirates we engaged last month and the rest from those smugglers two weeks ago. Six others were apparently destroyed by one of the Knights before the Jedi scavenger stopped him. It would seem that... we were compromised yet again, General."

"Yes, I'm well aware of this fact, Captain, you need not remind me." Fuming at the deception, as well as the ever elusive traitor he knew to be slipping intel to the Resistance scum, Hux paced the bridge of the Finalizer as he considered the situation.

"This traitor in our midst is exceptionally well equipped and knowledgeable of our plans. We will need to ramp up our security protocols if we are..."

The deck officer interrupted him with an announcement. "General, the Supreme Leader demands an audience with you."

As if Hux's mood couldn't sour any further, the very words 'Supreme Leader' stung like acid in his ears, knowing all too well that Kylo Ren had stolen the title from him through treachery and use of the Force. Soon, he hoped, he would have evidence to prove such a claim, but until then, he had to dutifully obey his new 'master' until such an opportunity had presented itself for him to do away with the petulant creature once and for all.

"Very well, I will meet with him in private then..."

"Sir, he's on the bridge," the officer added quickly.

Hux was stunned. Kylo Ren was nowhere to be found on the bridge unless of course, he was invisible, but that was ridiculous. The man had mysterious powers in the Force, true, but Hux doubted that was one of them. Then the main doors slid open and the man himself strode onto the gleaming walkway with two of his accursed Knights trailing behind.

"Oh, terrific," Hux mumbled.

Each Knight wore unique armor that looked cobbled together from scraps found in a junk heap and lacking any of the ceremonial formality of Snoke's Elite Praetorian guards. These bodyguards looked like a pair of hired mercenaries whose loyalty had been secured by the promise of unlimited drinks and the company of dancers at some local pub. Kylo Ren however, cut a far more imposing figure than Hux was used to.

Wearing all black robes, lined in blood red satin and partially concealing the subtle black armor beneath, Kylo glared at him from within his raised hood. A single red stripe ran down the left side of the trim, echoing the scar the Jedi scavenger had given him on Starkiller base. Hux didn't quite understand why he celebrated such a failure by adorning his robes with it, but he also wasn't in a position to question the 'Supreme Leader's personal aesthetics.

"General, I'm curious to hear your explanation for this latest failure," Kylo Ren said flatly.

Hux fumed. How had he read the reports already, when they just came in? Annoyed and angry, he knew not to be baited by Kylo's obvious attempts to elicit a reaction.

"Supreme Leader, I do regret to say that the traitor in our midst has struck again. The 'raid' on the rebel outpost was a cleverly designed diversion, I'm afraid, one that allowed a much smaller band of rebels to escape with our confiscated ships stored in the C Sector hangars."

Kylo's guards stopped several paces away, but he continued to approach, slowing his steps the closer he came to Hux. When he was close enough for the General to see the putrid yellow and red color of his eyes, he knew that the heir to Darth Vader was in no mood for excuses.

For all of Ren's faults as a commander, Hux knew he took great pains to rifle through Snoke's library of dark side artifacts, studying all manner of obscene and unnatural abilities. The physical toll such knowledge brought with it was disturbingly obvious as he glared icily at Hux.

"How many ships are we talking about, General?"

"All but six, which were destroyed by one of your Knights if the reports are accurate." Hux replied.

Kylo took one more deliberate step closer. "I thought you assured me that what happened with FN-2187 would never happen again. You told me it was an isolated incident... and yet, here we are."

"Indeed, sir. The traitor is skilled, even by our standards. I assure you that I ahhhh..." Hux's words died in his mouth as his windpipe closed in on itself by an unseen grip.

He fell to his knees, grasping at his throat as Kylo Ren stared down at him with his pitiless yellow eyes. "I've had about enough of your assurances, General. I want that traitor found and dealt with."

Gasping for air, Hux groaned, "Our best... security bureau officers are looking into it... agh, I assure you, Supreme Leader, ack, the traitor will be found..."

"I hope so, General... for your sake."

A moment later the invisible grip released his throat and precious, cool air flooded into his lungs. Coughing with each breath, Hux glared daggers at Kylo Ren who'd already turned and walked toward the main door.

Before he left, Kylo stopped to say, "Oh, and until the Supremacy is fully repaired, I'll be taking up my personal cabin here aboard the Finalizer. I'm sure you'll be able to hand me your daily reports on your search without the technological interference that has been plaguing your transmissions of late." That was when he turned and strode down the hall with his Knights trailing behind him.

Hux stood of his own accord despite Peavy offering a hand. "I can do it myself, thank you," he snapped.

"Of course, sir," the Captain dutifully replied.

Brushing himself off, Hux commanded, "Get Colonel Garmuth on the line. I wish to speak with him in person as soon as he is able."

The comms officer nearest him acknowledged. "Yes sir, right away!"

Captain Peavey approached and with a hushed tone inquired, "Hot on the traitor's heels, I take it, sir?"

Barely able to suppress his knowing smile, Hux replied, "Oh, the traitor walks further into our trap each passing day, Captain." He turned slightly to glare at the closed door where Kylo Ren had just left.

"All I need is the evidence to prove it, and justice will be swift and final." He smiled then.

Then I will take my rightful place as the true Supreme Leader.

 

Chapter Text

Kylo Ren enjoyed tormenting Hux perhaps a little too much. The man was a capable officer but still a sniveling sycophant with delusions of grandeur so it amused him to remind the General from time to time who was still in charge. Still, he was dangerous when he wanted to be and Kylo knew that Hux suspected the truth of Snoke's death and was in part the reason why he trusted only his fellow Knights to accompany him as guards.

Keeping such thoughts to himself, he arrived at his private hangar bay where his personal shuttle had just touched down. Shira Ren was helping Lor'utti stagger toward an approaching medical team and when Kylo noticed his missing arm, he understood why. The sight alarmed him, not the nature of the wound, he'd seen much worse, but the implication behind it.

"What happened down there?" He asked darkly.

Malak Ren, his helmet under his arm, and his gray skin glistening with sweat spat a gob of black phlegm onto the hangar floor before speaking. "The girl was there, the Jedi scavenger you told us about."

Kylo maintained his emotionless expression, but secretly a stab of apprehension threatened to undo his composure. "The scavenger... did all this?" He gestured to Lor'utti.

Malak grunted in annoyance, "To him, yes. I was following the rebels into the hangar to stop them from making off with the ships, but she'd sidetracked me, so I ordered him to take the shot. She wasn't too thrilled by that and the result is, well, what you see there."

Lor'utti cursed at Malak in his native tongue, making an equally rude gesture with his remaining hand as he did so.

Shira, the Zabrak, rolled her eyes at the both of them. "Could we not act like children this time? There's enough blame to go around, I think. I should have assisted but the explosion knocked me out. We've all had better moments, let’s be honest.”

Kylo remained expressionless, though inside he was fuming. "The explosion? I'm curious as to how this even came about Malak, considering I ordered you to reinforce the troops at the landing site... what tipped you off about the impound yard?"

Malak’s half face tattoo furrowed as he gave him a wounded look. "I'd seen a similar scam during my time in the Smuggler's Run. The Force, with your guidance, tipped me off, so I risked diverting course and caught them in the middle of the act. Sure enough, they had slave circuits rigged up so it was a small group, maybe ten rebels at the most but they were able to steal enough ships from under the First Order's nose."

Kylo considered the situation a moment but then leveled his eyes at him. "You did well, brother, more than I can say for the First Order. Hux believes the 'traitor' was responsible for the setup that diverted our men. You disrupted their plan."

"A failure is still a failure, Master."

"No, you denied them six ships they could have otherwise used against us and more importantly, you revealed yourselves to the rebels. They'll be hesitant to try a stunt like this again, I promise you. Keep up the pressure, we'll root these scum out soon enough.

Looking weary from battle and the shuttle flight, Malak sighed in agreement, "I'm sure you will, sir. Though I must say, I was dubious of the girl's abilities at first. There aren't many legends who live up to their reputation, but this Jedi girl is everything you said she was. I saw her choking Lor'utti with the Force so she's clearly tapped into the dark side as well."

That last bit surprised him but he wasn't sure if he should be intrigued or worried; it didn't sound like Rey to use the dark side like that. Where did she even learn that trick, to begin with? An idea came to him then, the Force bond and he inwardly sighed.

"The girl killed Snoke because he underestimated her. She's cunning and becoming more dangerous every day. From now on I want to be notified first before anyone tries to engage her again."

Malak grimaced, but conceded, "Understood, my master."

"Good, now go and get patched up with Lor'utti and Shira. I'll need you in top shape for what's coming next."

"The Onderon campaign?”

“That’s right,” Kylo acknowledged.

“Finally, some real action. As you command," Malak nodded. A moment later, he turned and followed the medical droids tending to their wounded brother.

Kylo Ren and his guards turned and left the hangar bay. Kur'sa commented from behind, "That Jedi girl is no joke, huh, master?"

"No... she certainly isn't," he replied, not wanting to elaborate further.

Upon reaching his chambers, he dismissed them at the door and went inside. Emotions bubbled and roiled within knowing that his Knights had attempted to fight Rey. Not only had she succeeded in cutting off Lor'utti's arm, but she'd apparently tapped into the dark side as well and that, more than anything, concerned him.

He needed answers, but not from a droid or First Order situational report. Shutting his door behind him, he called upon the holocrons that now adorned his bedchambers, each taken from Snoke's personal treasury on board the Supremacy.

Feeling the Force flowing through him, he reached out for the bond between their minds, hoping that she was willing to talk and, more importantly, to listen.

***

The air in the Falcon was thick with bittersweet success. The mission may have been accomplished but the loss of Captain Capron put a damper on the excitement. Still, Finn and Rose attempted to lighten the mood by engaging in a tense game of holo-chess, while R2 beeped encouragement and the occasional taunt from the side. Rey sidled up to the table with drink cartons in hand and passed them out.

"Thank you kindly, I need one," Finn said after another of his monsters fell to the board.

Rose laughed, "You never did learn to play this in the First Order, did you?"

Finn rolled his eyes at her. "The key words in that statement being, 'we never played'. There was no 'this' or any kind of entertainment. Just drills, exercise, study and floor mopping."

Rey interjected, "Well, it's all about what you learn from losing isn't it?"

He huffed in annoyance, "Losing? I'm getting massacred like a dance club full of Rathtar's."

Rose succeeded in removing another of his creatures and clapped excitedly. Chewie growled with amusement from the cockpit.

At least we have something to take our minds off things. Rey thought. Of course, the loss of the Captain weighed heavy on everyone, but she was particularly bothered by it because of not knowing how the Knights of Ren found them so easily. She had to speak to Ben and ask him to his face if he knew, but at the same time, she was terrified by the possibility of what she might hear.

Chewie was busy piloting, which he didn't mind so much after a mission, but she thought taking a shift might help put her at ease. Rey turned toward the cockpit to make the offer when she felt a familiar buzz at the back of her mind.

Of course, it would be now. Stifling her annoyance, she looked back at Rose and Finn.

"I don't mean to miss the excitement, but if you'll excuse me a moment, I have to refresh myself."

"Trust me, you're not missing anything," Finn grumbled.

"Try not to tear Rose's arms out of her sockets when you lose, okay?" Rey added.

"Don't worry, I won't let him," she chuckled.

"Thank you for the support," Finn grumbled.

Rey smirked as she headed toward the back of the ship. The Falcon hummed and rattled as they traversed Hyperspace, so when she found her way to the captains quarters, she shut the door behind her and opened the Force connection.

She blinked once and there he was standing with his back to her as though a black robed shadow had suddenly emerged from the far wall. Feeling her emotions surge, she crossed her arms in defiance and steeled herself for the inevitable confrontation.

"Kylo."

He didn't turn immediately, but the slight twitch of his head indicated that he'd heard her. When he finally did meet her gaze, his black hood partially concealed his face but not the scar that ran down his cheek. His expression looked as though carved from granite.

"Scavenger."

She let another moment pass before speaking.

"I assume you've heard about what happened on Tantis," she said sternly.

He took a step toward her then stopped. "I have. It was an... enlightening report."

Rey rolled her eyes at that.

She was about to respond when his gaze fell to the side of her face for a moment. "You're wearing it."

"What?"

"It suits you," he said with a smirk.

She was momentarily confused but then she remembered the charm pendant clipped to her hair, the one he'd given her. Her cheeks bloomed with warmth as she glanced away and casually unclipped it.

"I... was keeping it safe. I forgot it was there," she lied.

Ben's smirk grew into a grin. "Of course, I understand."

It was difficult to meet his eyes again, but when she did, she let her anger get to her.

"Could you stop doing that?"

"Doing what?" He replied, innocently.

"Deflecting the conversation... and smirking at me. I'm angry with you," she bit out.

His deep, dark eyes met hers before briefly falling to her lips. "I've noticed."

Rey scoffed at his casual dismissal of her feelings, "Oh really? Did you happen to notice the Knights of Ren who'd nearly sabotaged our entire operation and killed one of our pilots?"

Now he looked at her with stern resolve. "Rey... I didn't send them to the impound yard. Malak had orders to assist the main force at your diversion site and he disobeyed me. He's no fool."

"Oh, so he just happened to find us by accident?" She added bitterly.

Ben threw back his black hood, revealing an expression of genuine remorse that surprised her. "Rey, please believe me. I didn't send them to your location."

"But you did send them to the planet?" She shot back.

He reeled away. "Of course I did. They want blood for Snoke's death, I had to send them somewhere. You and I both knew it would eventually come to this."

She lifted her chin in defiant understanding. "You're right. Still, I taught them a lesson or two about messing with me and my friends."

Ben's expression softened somewhat. "Yes, I saw that too. Lor'utti will be fine by the way, but he may not be so nice the next time he sees you."

"Shame, he was such a charming fellow, too," Rey quipped.

"Now, that brings me to the other point. You didn't only cut his arm off Rey. You used the dark side." He said it with the hint of a smile.

Flushed with anger again, Rey pointed an accusatory finger at him. "Don't you get a tone with me about using the dark side. I learned it from you, after all!"

Ben put his hands up in a placating gesture. "I'm not mad, Rey... and I'm not getting a tone with you!"

She rolled her eyes again.

"I'm just... concerned, that's all. I know you've learned some of your skills from this… bond, but I have to tell you that knowing the dark side and controlling it are two different things. You need to be careful when you give in to your anger like that. You may feel like you have it under control at first, but the hunger beneath is powerful. The dark is never satisfied and always wants more... sometimes more than you're willing to give."

Rey noticed how his eyes shied away from her when he said that last part and a moment of guilt washed over her. "Thank you for your concern, Ben... but I can take care of myself."

He looked at her reflectively. "I know you can, just be careful."

"I will."

Rey found herself struggling with what to say now that the main point of her wanting to contact him was out. She decided to attempt small talk. “So, I’m glad the Force didn’t make me interrupt you this time.”

His brow raised with amusement, “You mean like when I was in the shower?”

She blushed, unable to meet his gaze. “Yeah, like that. I’m never going to live that down, am I?”

“No, no you aren’t,” he agreed flatly.

She let the moment pass without further incident before bringing up something else from the fight on Tantis. “That’s funny because apparently now I'm just a... wannabe Jedi brat?"

This time it was Ben's cheeks that flushed red. "I'm... sorry. That may have slipped one, or ten times while warning them about you."

She raised her brows in exaggerated interest. "Ohhh, so you admit to calling me that? I see. Of all the unflattering things you could have said about me, a 'wannabe Jedi brat' had to be the one you went with."

Looking somewhat alarmed, Ben took a few steps closer, almost close enough to touch, as he protested. "I didn't mean it, I swear. I was angry after Crait and everything that happened so I may have said things that weren't so... nice. I am truly sorry."

Rey's annoyance melted away with one look into his sad Porg like eyes. Damn him and his hurt feelings. She took two steps toward him and reached for his ungloved hand. She clasped his warm fingers in hers as she said, "I'm just toying with you, Ben... mostly. It honestly doesn't bother me, and I believe you about the Knights."

He regarded her for a moment as if unsure of her truthfulness; his mouth worked a moment before he replied, "You do realize this is becoming more dangerous for us. The longer we go like this, the more we risk everything that we have."

That sent a sudden spike of emotion through her chest. Rey hoped he hadn't noticed, but the way he looked at her told her everything she needed to know. Still, she feigned ignorance when she said, "What is it that we have, exactly?"

He looked lost in thought for a moment but just when it seemed he wouldn't answer, Ben replied, "The intel I've been sharing. I'm sure by now you and your rebel friends know that it's solid information. This ship heist should prove that."

Rey forced herself to look away without appearing too disappointed. "Of course, the intelligence is good."

"Will the ships work for you?"

Rey gripped his hand a little tighter, realizing that she was pulling him into the Falcon's quarters with her. "They're... adequate, I suppose. Thank you."

He noticeably relaxed. "They were mostly junk we took from some pirates we were going to salvage anyway. I figured their disappearance wouldn't cause too much of a commotion among Hux's staff. Meanwhile, he's too busy chasing the mysterious 'traitor' all over the First Order fleet."

"Thanks for that," she interjected.

"I'm covering my tracks as best as I can, but there's no way Hux doesn't know the truth about what happened. I'm keeping him close but it's only a matter of time before he finds a reason to put a blaster bolt in my back.

"What about your Knights? Do you trust them? Will they protect you?"

Ben hesitated a moment before he answered. "I'd like to believe so, but I can't take that risk either. They know only what the others know and have their sights on you."

"Thanks for that as well, I suppose," Rey smirked sarcastically.

Ben gave her an apologetic look. "So, I assume you only wanted to yell at me this time? Or did you have another dusty Jedi book you wanted me to translate better than 3PO?"

Rey scoffed. "Actually, there is one I would like you to read... but not right now. It's been a busy day and I'm sure you have Supreme Leaderly things to do."

"You're not wrong," he said. Again, something caught his eye by her side and before Rey could say anything, he'd reached down to the pouch on her belt and pulled out the tarnished pendant she'd poorly stored inside. He was still holding her hand to maintain the Force connection when he reached up and clipped it onto her hair just behind her ear.

"It really does suit you, Rey. You don't have to be embarrassed." The edge of his thumb traced the back of her ear for only a moment, but it was long enough to send her heart pounding in her chest.

"Malak called it a Padawan braid. He'd asked me where I'd gotten it."

Ben looked alarmed for a moment. "Then we have to be more careful. If you must know, it was mine." Ben said with a look of embarrassment.

"Thank you," she added.

He looked into her eyes for a long moment and truth be told had his touch lasted any longer, Rey wasn't entirely sure she'd be fully responsible for what she might do being so close to him. Her eyes flicked from his full lips to his wanting gaze as her breath grew shallow.

"Ben, I..."

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have..." he said, looking away and letting go of her hand.

Though she felt his physical presence diminish, she could still see him as he stepped back.

"Ben, it's okay, really."

Slowly pulling up his hood, he regarded her again. "Rey, you may have been born from nothing... but you are every inch a Queen."

Rey's chest tightened with emotion. His gaze was the same one he'd had when he'd offered her the galaxy on the Supremacy, only this time she knew it was Ben Solo looking at her and not Kylo Ren and the wellspring of hope she felt for him threatened tears in her eyes.

"Until next time, Rey of Jakku, stay safe," he said with a nod. Then a moment later, he was gone.

"Ben?" She whispered to the air. A tear ran down her cheek as she stared at the dirty pipes against the wall.

"Ben, are you there?"

When he didn't answer, she knew their connection was over. As with every other bond they'd shared over the past year, the sudden absence of his presence left an ache in her chest as though she'd been punched. Rey wiped the tears from her eyes but knew she needed a moment to compose herself before she could face Finn and Rose again. After a moment, she removed the padawan braid from her hair and ran her thumb across the etched metal surface.

A part of her deep inside wanted to be angry at Ben, Kylo, whoever he was. That part of her wanted to hate him. It would have been so much easier than whatever this was, but instead, she stood in solitude as the Falcon hummed around her. Reaching out with the Force, she saw the images again and felt the emotions that went with them.

Sadness, pain, joy... and something else. Rey could smell the fresh dew on the grass and feel the crisp air blowing against her as the temple loomed in front of her. As usual, the images were jumbled and didn't make much sense, but she basked in the feel of them and in some small way, she knew that Ben was responsible for it all. She felt the light inside of him, but could also see the darkness that overpowered the rest of his spirit, and yet, she felt as though everything would still work out just fine. She was no longer afraid to be around him, and that fact frightened her more than anything else.

 

Chapter Text




Standing around the debriefing station, Rey waited patiently as Poe and the rest of his commanders ran through the reports of the ship heist.

"Well, it could've been worse I guess, but the Knights of Ren are bad business," he said dropping a data pad on the display.

Finn leaned in, "Yeah any thoughts about that? How'd they find us? It could've been a setup."

"Yeah, I was thinking that too, buddy," Poe added.

Rey remained silent, knowing that Ben hadn't sold them out. In this situation, the less her friends knew, the better. "It was only a matter of time before they found us. Kylo Ren had to call upon them eventually. The Knights are definitely not your average troopers. They can use the Force and they're trained in multiple weapons and fighting styles."

"Oh goodness me. Just when things couldn't be worse," C-3PO said, worried.

"Relax threeps, we still pulled it off. I'm glad Rey was able to hold them off as long as she did, we could've lost a lot more than a few ships," Poe added.

"I couldn't save Captain Capron," Rey said.

Poe lowered his eyes. "I know. I've already made arrangements for her brother to be notified. We have some wounded from the diversion team in recovery, but Jyn knew the risks. That's just the truth of it."

Rey didn't particularly like hearing such blunt truth from Poe, but the truth it was. In war, people die, only now that she was living it, it was so much different than the stories she grew up hearing about. There was nothing heroic about the way the Captain died, killed by a sneak attack. Rey felt her anger rise again as she imagined herself killing the Knight instead of questioning him. Perhaps it would've been better, or it could have made things worse. She didn't know what to think, but what was done was done, so she dealt with it.

Finn spoke up again. "I don't mean to be the downer here, but we have to ask ourselves if we can we trust this mysterious source inside the First Order? Clearly they've got high level access to information, but for all we know, they're right out of the FO Security Bureau. Covert ops are specialists in this kind of tactic; they could be baiting us toward a trap."

Poe was about to say something when General Organa interjected, "Finn has a point, but we also have to be willing to take the risk. We need ships and weapons and allies, and so far this source has helped us get both."

Everyone turned to look at her. She was wearing simple robes and still somehow managed to look more regal than anyone else in the command room, but the slow shuffle of her walk thanks to the cane she leaned on betrayed the General's visibly failing health.

3PO shuffled over to her in distress, "Oh General, just what are you doing out of bed?"

Poe shoved past the droid.

"I've got this. 3PO's right Leia. What are doing out of bed? You need to rest."

"Oh, to hell with that, I've been resting for a month straight with droids and doctors poking at me. Stop worrying and keep your mind on what needs to be done. The First Order isn't napping; we can't afford to be either."

Rey had always been inspired by her resolve, but it still didn't mask the painful truth everyone knew to be happening. According to the medical droids, Leia's brief exposure to deep space during their flight from D'qar had far-reaching consequences for her health, and it was starting to show.

"Poe, leave her be. She's survived two Death Stars and Starkiller base, I think she can handle walking around the base for a bit," Rey offered only half joking.

"Thank you, dear," Leia acknowledged, "And many other deadly run-ins with scoundrels and spies throughout the years since, I might add. Of course, now that you mention it, why don't you take a walk with me while the flyboys decide what to blow up next. Consider it 'Jedi business' if you will."

Rey glanced at Poe, Finn, and Rose, smiled politely, "Of course, General." A moment later she joined Leia as they walked down the hall.

"You're a true rebel now, aren't you? Let me guess, it's nothing like your stories is it?" Leia said casually.

"No, it certainly isn't. It's... real... it's painful, bloody."

Leia nodded remorsefully, "That it is. I grew up hearing about the Clone Wars and almost fell into the trap of romanticizing them like so many other young legislators and children of privilege, but my father never let me fall for that. He lived through them, he worked alongside the Jedi and smugglers and scoundrels of all kinds so I had no illusions about what wars were like. Then there was the Rebel Alliance, born practically the same day as the Empire itself. That's what I grew up in."

"I can imagine it must have been a struggle knowing the true nature of the galaxy when everyone else blinded themselves with distractions and frivolities," Rey commented.

Leia glanced over at her. "From what you've told me, you know a thing or two about surviving amidst conflict. The fact that you happen to be strong in the Force is merely a bonus in my book."

"Well, it's not all it's cracked up to be. I'd hoped to learn more from Luke than I did, but... well, I guess it's enough."

"So long as you keep your head clear and listen to that inner light of yours, you'll be guided exactly where you need to be. But enough about that, tell me about these Knights you fought."

"There's not much to tell, it wasn't a pleasant confrontation, that's for sure."

Leia laughed, "No I suppose not, but still you took up the challenge and even cut an arm off from what I heard."

"How did you..." Rey began to say when Leia gave her a knowing look.

"Ah... Rose and/or Finn told you."

"Young people are delightfully eager to share wartime gossip, my dear. I hope you understand that."

"I'm beginning to," she admitted.

They continued walking, passing by maintenance crew and off-duty troops until they turned a corner only to find themselves in a relatively unused section of the base. Fewer people were around and the occasional rebel BB unit rolled by on its daily patrols, but it made for a more private conversation.

"So tell me, Rey... how is my son doing, really?"

The question caught her off guard, so much so that she stopped walking and stared at Leia.

She knows?

A moment later she corrected herself. Of course, she knows.

Leia turned to look at her with a kindly smirk, "Oh, sweetheart... it's okay. No one else knows, I promise.

Hesitant, Rey found the strength to speak a moment later. "I suppose, I shouldn't be surprised."

"No," Leia admitted.

"He's... well, the truth is..."

Rey struggled for words but finally managed to say, "He's surrounded by a nest of gundarks and is being a blockheaded, stubborn fool." She'd said it with more annoyance in her tone than she wanted, but was happy that Leia chuckled.

"That's my son alright... that's Han's son."

A wave of emotion crinkled her aged features, but ever the rebel, Leia recovered with a smirk only she could wield under the darkest circumstances. "I don't know how it happened, and it's okay if you don't feel the need to share details, but what I do know is that his father and uncle couldn't get through to him... but somehow you did."

Rey didn't have the heart to tell her how Snoke had manipulated them and opened the Force bridge between their minds, but she supposed those details didn't matter at the moment anyway.

"I started to understand him in a way I didn't think possible. Despite our individual circumstances, we found that we had more similarities than differences. I found a kind of strength in that, and I think he just wanted someone to connect with. He was... is lonely."

"Ben was always trying to make friends. Every new person who came by to visit, he was there introducing himself as the future 'best pilot in the galaxy'."

Strangely, Rey could imagine a tiny Ben with his bedraggled black hair saying exactly that and the picture in her head made her smile.

"Rey... I know he's the one giving us the intel on these operations," Leia added, drawing Rey's attention back to the moment.

"He is," she admitted.

Leia stepped closer to her, lowering her voice in case of any passerby. "I'm not mad at you for keeping this to yourself, but I have to tell you this. Please be careful. The Dark Side of the Force is a devious thing and can sneak up on you without you knowing it; trust me I've felt it's pull more than once, and you don't need a history lesson about our family to understand how dangerous it can be. Ben may be drifting back to the light, but he's still lost at sea and is vulnerable.

That decrepit sarlacc's anus Snoke may be dead, thank you for that by the way, but he's been twisting my son's mind for who knows how many years. That kind of manipulation can't just be reversed overnight, he needs help and guidance but even if you can give him that you have to understand something. He will never be who he was before falling to the dark; he's damaged and struggling to cope with what he's done and it'll be like that for the rest of his life."

Rey heard the seriousness in her words and she believed every bit of it. It was easy to forget the things he'd done when they were alone together, especially when he smirked at her. She never thought she'd see him happy like that, but that expression he'd learned to wear never failed to make her heart race.

"He was the one who killed Snoke," Rey admitted at last.

That caused Leia to fall silent for a moment, giving Rey enough time to elaborate.

"I was completely at his mercy. I couldn't move or resist; Snoke threw me around like a child would a doll. He said he'd kill me with the cruelest stroke and then told Ben to do it, to pass his 'final test'. I looked into his eyes as he held his lightsaber to my chest..." she heard the waver in her own voice as she recounted that horrifying moment when she thought Ben was truly lost to her. It was a moment when she thought was going to die.

"While he was turning his saber on me, I never noticed him turning Luke's saber on Snoke's throne at the same time. With a flick of his fingers, he activated it and cut the bastard in half. I watched him fall apart as Ben pulled the saber back to me."

Leia's eyes had grown wet with emotion as Rey recounted the story, but when she'd finished, the older woman smiled. "Of course he did... you gave him something he hadn't had in a long time... hope."

"I tried to get him to come with me after, but... he wasn't ready," Rey said remorsefully.

"Oh, Rey sweetheart... he has to follow his own path, just as you do. You're young and full of life, I've seen it all before. I know you'll do everything possible to protect those you care about, whether it's Finn, Poe, Rose or any of the rest of them. You have the spirit of a guardian in you but..." Leia put her gentle hand on Rey's chest.

"Don't forget to guard your heart as well. Compassion in a cruel galaxy is a gift few people ever see and fewer still choose to offer, but for all the wonder and joy love can bring..." she paused looking for the words, "Well, I'll say this... love has as much power to destroy as it has to save. Never forget that."

The tears forming in Leia's eyes threatened Rey's own composure. To distract herself, she replied, "Well, I don't know if love is exactly the right word in this instance..."

Leia cocked her head to the side with that same knowing smirk Ben had given her earlier. Then she reached up to touch the braid hanging from her hair tie. "Sweetheart... I married Han Solo after wanting to kill him myself more times than I could count. I'm not blind and neither are you." The elderly woman pulled away and gracefully settled on her cane.

Rey forced herself to smile, but at the same time, a sense of terror was slowly building inside of her. No, this can't possibly be what it is. I would know if I loved someone... wouldn't I? He's the Supreme Leader of the First Order, I can't possibly be involved with him, there's no way... but I am.

Leia must have sensed her conflicted emotions, because she cupped her cheek a moment later, forcing her to look her in the eyes. "Don't let it get to you. Trust in the force and your own feelings. Do what you feel is right for the Resistance, for yourself, for Ben. I thought I'd lost my son forever but the last thing Luke said to me was 'no one is ever truly gone' and because of you... I believe that now." With that, Leia turned and walked back down the hall from where she came.

Rey's breath grew shallow as every emotion she'd ever felt toward Ben spiked in her chest. She's only saying this because she wants to feel assured, that's all. I'm sure every mother wants to see their children happy... except for mine. It's nothing like that, just let her believe what she wants, she's earned that at least.

Leia turned slightly before rounding the corner. With a smirk on her face, she added, "All I know is that it'll be one interesting wedding." Then she was gone.

Rey froze.

"Wait... what?"

Her cheeks reddened, and she hoped no one had heard such a scandalous thing, but then for the sake of her own dignity, she decided it would be better to leave in the opposite direction.


Chapter Text




Rey found herself in the snow covered forest again, which was odd considering she knew that Starkiller base had been destroyed. The cold was creeping into her limbs as she scanned the woods for Kylo Ren.

"I know you're here. You may have forgotten who you are Ben, but I'm here to help you. Please show yourself."

The air was still and silent, but then she heard footsteps crunching through the snow.

"Ben?" She called out, her voice echoing through the trees. Turning toward the sound, Rey ran through the thicket until she saw a lone figure standing on a cliff edge. He was cloaked all in black with his hood raised and the sight made her apprehensive.

"Ben, it's me.  It's Rey. Are you... okay?" She approached cautiously, unsure as to why he wasn't acknowledging her. Reaching out, Rey put her hand on his shoulder.

He turned on her so suddenly, she fell to the ground in shock, but it wasn't Ben she was looking at, not even Kylo Ren... it was someone else. A blood-red mask split horizontally by a thin black visor glared down at her as a modulated voice uttered a single word.

"Jedi."

Rey's heart raced with panic as the cloaked figure ignited an ancient looking red lightsaber that was wide, angled and flat like an iron sword crafted in ancient times. The matching cross guard crackled with fury and fire as the towering figure raised his weapon high and brought it crashing down upon her.

She lurched awake in her bunk, breathing in heavy, panicked gasps. Rey's sweat damped night shirt clung to her like a second skin as she felt her chest for any sign of the lightsaber wound. When she didn't find any burns or cuts, she realized it had just been another nightmare and her breathing slowed.

Rey swung her legs over the edge of the bunk and rested her head in her hands as she tried to process what she'd just seen, but nothing about her dream made any sense. Perhaps it was because she faced the Knights of Ren?  She knew she'd felt Ben's presence, but when she touched his shoulder, it wasn't him and the pure hatred she felt radiating from the mysterious man was more intense than she had imagined possible.

She stroked the padawan braid almost unconsciously to calm her nerves. Something about the feel of it between her fingers soothed her as though the charm itself was imbued by protective light side energy. Rey considered asking Ben to elaborate about that the next time they spoke.  For now, she knew she couldn't sleep right away, so she got up to walk it off.

The base was quiet, as it always was at this hour, but from the occasional pained shouts she heard from adjoining rooms, she knew she wasn't the only one having nightmares. Soldiers around her had seen and done things far worse than she had and sometimes they couldn't leave those things behind when they left the battlefield. That knowledge brought with it a strange comfort, despite the fact that she was dead tired and wanted only to sleep.

***

Kylo's breaths were heavy and raw as he stood over his empty bed. Sweat beaded his forehead as he tried to calm his nerves enough to understand what had just happened. On this, the eve of the Onderon campaign, his vision couldn't have been more poorly timed.  At first, it seemed only a dream, one moment he heard Rey calling his name, his original name, Ben, the next minute he'd cut her down in cold blood with his crimson blade.

He'd jolted awake from the sudden horror and realized it was only a nightmare. He was no stranger to nightmares, but his usual dreams revolved around waking to his uncle standing over him with a lit blade, or Snoke torturing him with Force lightning for some minor failure, not envisioning himself standing over Rey. Even now he knew he could never bring himself to harm her.

Kylo could still feel the weight of the helmet on his head and the claustrophobia that came with it. He hadn't worn a mask since he smashed his in the Supremacy's elevator after being berated by Snoke, but now he couldn't imagine putting one back on. His breathing began to slow as the dream faded until another terrible thought came to him.

Had they connected to each other through the force instead? Was that why the dream was so vivid and real? If that was so, was it possible he'd actually hurt her? He knew it was possible to transfer matter through the force because he'd given her the padawan braid but had he just cut her down in a fit of cold terror? He had to know, he had to reach out to her.

Kylo went over to his Holocron to establish a connection, but then he noticed his lightsaber was still safely clipped to his belt, which hung from a hook in the wall by his bed. He hadn't activated it, so how could he have hurt her, and if he did, wouldn't he have felt her pain through the Force? Taking a moment to steady himself, he pushed his fears from his mind.

Of course, it was silly to think he'd done anything other than toss and turn in his sleep, and it was only a dream. He'd had plenty of dreams before that didn't end well for him and yet he was still here, wasn't he? Tired but awake, Kylo decided he needed a cold shower before attempting to sleep again if sleep was even still possible.

 

Chapter Text

BB-NX reveled in her new duties. While performing daily ship patrols brought some amount of satisfaction reporting violations of First Order protocol, such as improper posture, unsanctioned fraternization between troopers, uniform violations and more, these brief moments of enjoyment had a tendency to become somewhat... tedious.

When the Supreme Leader himself asked for her services and personally reprogrammed her for a new top-secret mission, BB-NX was overjoyed at the prospect of finding new ways to serve and bring glory to the First Order. Even now, as the shuttle descended to the landing pad, she took pleasure in looking over at the other ignorant BB units with their boring default programming, knowing that they would never experience the joys of secret adventures like hers.

Once touchdown was achieved and the troopers disembarked for their patrols, she followed just as every other unit, but with a much more different goal in mind. She made certain to issue the appropriate access codes for each checkpoint passage and her brethren were none the wiser.

The marketplace was rife with rebel scum as expected, but her new subroutines prevented immediate documentation and reporting for the sake of achieving the mission. BB-NX rolled toward the predetermined meeting spot which was out of the way and unpopulated, mostly.

Scanning the area with her multi-phase ocular sensors, she quickly identified her contact. It was the same droid she'd been meeting for the past few operating cycles, a rebel BB unit, clearly inferior to her in every way, by the designation of BB-8. The orange and white droid rolled up to her with cautious curiosity, as he always did, and issued a string of code phrases that corresponded with the predetermined security protocols they'd established.

As usual, the dome-headed little droid seemed excessively nervous when issuing the codes, a trait BB-NX found... curiously endearing. Once the final code had been exchanged, she confirmed the correct protocol and rolled close enough to open her storage bay and, with her manipulating arm, grabbed the new data chip and held it out to BB-8.

The little droid stored it quickly before anyone saw. Once the chip was out of sight, BB-NX's mission was technically complete and she began her turn toward the shuttle, except a moment later, an unfamiliar subroutine stopped her short of rolling away. After a quick self-diagnostic, she determined that nothing was mechanically wrong and yet a random bit of data made her turn her ocular lens back toward the little orange and white droid.

He bobbed his head slightly as if confused. Could he be the one malfunctioning? Still, she took an extra moment to process the sight of him and then did something completely against her programming. Rolling back over to him, she nudged him with her outer casing and gave a single Bleep in response to a question that was never asked.

BB-8 warbled in surprise, seemingly burning out his processor trying to understand what had just happened. After another moment of the phantom malfunction that halted her from going on with her mission, BB-NX turned and rolled toward the main walkway again.

Once at the corner, she stopped again to look at the little droid, still unsure of why he affected her programming so much. He stared back up at her with his one large ocular sensor before drooping his head as if he was... sad. No, that couldn't be it, droids don't feel emotions after all, but then the Resistance was known for encouraging a certain kind of independence amongst their units. They were all fools and traitors of course and would have to be destroyed eventually... and yet, as she looked at the droid designated BB-8, she almost came to a conclusion that she 'liked' him.

It was a curious sensation, most curious indeed. BB-NX decided that she would destroy him last... but maybe not before she got to meet him one more time.

 

 

Chapter Text

The shuttle lurched from minor anti-ship fire below, but Kylo wasn't concerned. Steeping himself in the dark side of the Force, he readied his mind for the battle ahead but still, Malak was skeptical.

"Are you sure you don't want to change this suicide mission, master?"

His eyes still closed, he replied, "Have you always had this little faith in me, brother?"

"He's being over-dramatic as usual," Shira interjected.

Malak chuckled a harsh and grating sound through his vocoder. "I'm just being careful, love. It's not often the Supreme Leader insists on taking to the battlefield himself."

Kylo felt Shira's eyes upon him. "His grandfather did. Why shouldn't a leader lead his troops into battle?"

Opening his eyes, at last, he glanced between the two of them. "Save the history lesson for the cadets.  Just do your part and drive the slavers to me. I can handle myself."

"Of course, Master... but don't be mad with me when you get a scratch on your pretty armor," Malak chuckled as the shuttle touched down and the ramp lowered.

He looked at Shira.  "Don't get mad at me if he gets a scratch on his pretty face."

She smirked before slipping her helmet over her spiked head.

"Alright, let's gut some slaver scum," Malak added.

Blaster fire scored the durasteel pistons as the two of them rushed into battle with the company of Stormtroopers already on the ground. In an instant, his shuttle lifted off to deliver him to his entry point and, grateful to be alone again, Kylo Ren focused inwardly in preparation for war.

***

Captain JN-7839, or Three-Nine as his troops had taken to calling him, scanned the scene. The pirates were being held off with surprisingly minimal First Order casualties, but before he let his guard down, Phasma's training kicked in and he knew he had to push the attack regardless. The odds grew more overwhelming the deeper into the compound they went and he knew troopers were going to die, but he was from batch 11 and he'd been put in charge of Phasma's regiment after her demise aboard the attack on the Supremacy. Those weren't easy boots to fill, but he managed.

"Alpha company, push forward! Bravo company, covering fire, I'm following them in!"

His orders were met with the appropriate amount of 'Yes sirs' and, with complete faith in his fellow troops, he leaped over the barricade and took aim with his blaster rifle. He dropped three pirates who'd just come out of a side entrance to reinforce the others. A quick check of the hall showed it was clear, so he pushed on with the front line.

"Bucketheads have breached the perimeter, fall back!" One of the slaver scum shouted.

Three-Nine knew his mission parameters better than anyone, so when he saw the enemy shoving people into cages, he knew he had to act fast. The Supreme Leader was explicit in his orders about freeing innocents, human and alien alike, so he shouted into the comm.

"We've got slaves on site, watch your fire, pick your targets!" When his team responded in kind, he found a better angle and took his own shots which wounded one of the guards but didn't drop him.

"Damn!" He looked skyward in time to see the Supreme Leader's V winged shuttle land near the entrance and drop off two of his Knights of Ren before taking to the sky again.

"Oh great, just what I needed," he cursed to himself.

The big Knight called Malak Ren casually scanned the scene before zeroing in on him.  He pointed and laughed, "What are you sitting around for, Captain? We've got rebel scum and filth to fry!"

He was a good soldier who followed orders, but that didn't mean he didn't hate that particular 'commander' with every fiber of his being. Still, he obediently replied, "Yes sir, right away, sir!"

He rose up and took more shots, and it was easier to hit his targets now that they were screaming in terror as the two Knights cut their way through them as if they were crops in a field.

"Unlucky bastards," he said as a trooper came up to him. His HUD displayed the trooper's number as ZT-3526 and he smiled under his helmet. "We're in the fight now am I right 26?"

"That we are, Captain. Don't worry too much," he then said in a softer baritone, "I've always got your back."

Three-Nine's cheeks burned, but he was a professional and couldn't waste time flirting. "Just follow your orders and don't get yourself killed, alright?"

"Yes sir," the trooper said with a quick salute before falling in line behind the Knights of Ren.

Three-Nine couldn't take his eyes off him. Damn that reckless, insubordinate, beautiful man. He opened his comm and shouted, "Alright, everyone on me! We're going in!"

As one, the company rushed forward, driving the slavers deeper into the underground bunker. As his visor adjusted for the change in light, Three-Nine saw the cages full of people, some were loaded onto hover sleds and others had yet to be prepped, but for the moment he made his way to the nearest cage where a blue-skinned Pantoran woman in tattered rags was reaching for her daughter in the opposite cage against the wall.

"Ma'am, please step back, I have to blast the lock!"

She sobbed and screamed but seemed to understand when he pulled his blaster up and took aim. With a flash of light and the smell of burning ozone, the door clanked open as a rush of prisoners fled. He had to make sure to direct them to follow the troopers to safety because they couldn't see as well in the darkness as he could.  Everyone but the mother fled. She rushed recklessly toward the opposite cage where her little girl, probably four or five years old, was crying and reaching for her.

"No ma'am I have to free her first. Please step back, I promise she'll be out in a moment."

Again, the woman was hesitant to leave the cage, but she complied as he repeated the task and popped the cage open after turning the lock to slag. The instant the door swung wide enough the woman scooped her girl up into her arms. The rest of the slaves ran toward the exit with the troopers.

The Pantoran woman turned to the Captain and said with a thick accent, "Thank you, kind sir, thank you for saving us!"

Three-Nine, always humble about his reasons said, "Thank Supreme Leader Kylo Ren, ma'am. I'm just doing my job."

Just then Malak Ren appeared from behind some heavy equipment, barely looking exhausted from fighting. "Captain, your job here is done. Pull the slaves and troops back to the entrance."

"Won't you need reinforcements, sir?"  He asked, incredulous.

The knight gave him a shrug. "Please, we've got this handled, now follow your orders."

"Yes sir," Three-Nine said with gritted teeth. Toning down his anger enough to instruct the woman to flee, he opened the comm. "All troops fall back to the entrance, the Knights of Ren have the situation under control."

Like a good soldier, he accompanied the woman and her daughter as they left, stopping only a moment later to pick up a small stuffed tooka doll that he handed to the little girl. Her eyes lit up as she clutched it to her chest. Three-Nine watched the little one for a moment longer, seeing the relief and comfort in her eyes as she hugged her mother.

He couldn't remember his parents, or anything resembling affection from his upbringing by the First Order, but suddenly at that moment, he thought about Two-Six and the way he felt when he rested his head against his chest and could talk freely about his doubts and insecurities, knowing that the love of his life would never betray him to the Security Bureau or loyalty officers. That sounded nice just then, but maybe after this campaign was over. It sounded really nice.

***

Kylo Ren could feel them scurrying through the tunnels like womp-rats. Their fear was palpable but as Malak and Shira herded them to him, his blood began to boil with dark side fury. Slavers, pirates, and other agents of disorder, he hated them all and he would take great pleasure in their destruction.

Their voices grew closer, then came the curses as they discovered each collapsed tunnel he'd blown upon arrival. They had only one path of escape now, and a moment later, they appeared around the last corner not knowing that death awaited them.

With a flare of crimson fire, Kylo Ren ignited his saber in the darkened hallway. The slavers skidded to a halt in sudden shock, then terror. The leader, a porcine Gamorrean named Dolvan was dead center amongst them all. With a loud squeal of fear, he ordered the slavers to fire.

Too bad for them.

Kylo deflected bolts back to their sources with ease and cut his way through meat and armor alike as the slavers fell back only to be pinned by Malak and Shira on each side of their flank. Hate and rage fueled his arms and his Force attacks. He snapped one slavers neck with a turn of his wrist and impaled another by pulling the man through the Force onto his lightsaber.

Dolvan was the target and as his men died around him, he crawled back in squealing terror as Kylo Ren loomed over him, his blade crackling like an executioner's song. He held it to Dolvan's neck.

"Call off your men. You've lost. The First Order will accept your surrender."

He hastily agreed and grabbed his comm with trembling fingers and gave the order. When he finally surrendered, it was Shira who put the shock cuffs on him as they lifted his flabby weight back to standing and led him out with the few remaining survivors.

Onderon had been secured.

Letting out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding in, Kylo wearily stepped out into the mid morning's light as the last of the pirates were rounded up by First Order forces.  He'd expected the usual banter and cheers of victory from his troopers as they welcomed him into their midst, but he hadn't been prepared for the sudden gratitude pouring out of the gathered slaves.

A dozen or so alien languages heaped praises of gratitude as they quickly surrounded him.  Fingers and claws, long and short reached out to touch him on the arms and shoulders but he detected no threat in their motives.

"Sir, should I order them back?"  Captain Three-Nine said quickly.

"No, it's alright, Captain," he replied in a haze.

These people thought him a savior, they looked upon him as a hero, not the monster that the rest of the galaxy saw him as, and not the monster that he knew himself to truly be.  Tiny fingers tugged at his free hand and when he looked down, he saw a small blue-skinned Pantoran girl looking up at him as she clutched a stuffed Tooka doll.

"Thank sir, you saved me, Mr. Kylo," she said in broken basic.

He didn't know what to say.  No one had ever thanked him for anything before.  He knelt to look the little girl in her large gold-rimmed eyes.

"You never need to be afraid of cages again.  Slavery will never return to Onderon."

She smiled then did something he truly didn't know what to think of, she hugged him.  Her tiny arms went around his neck and Kylo Ren just... froze.  He looked around in mild panic when he noticed a Pantoran woman beaming down at them and he realized that must have been the girl's mother.

He did the only thing that felt right in the moment, he scooped the little girl into his arms and lifted her as he stood.  Her small giggles at the sight of the gathered crowd were the most delightful sounds he'd heard in a long time and even brought back memories from another time he'd thought he'd forgotten.

"Heyyy, come here big guy!  How'd you get past LC let alone get on the Falcon, huh?"  His father's voice had said as he scooped Ben into his arms.

"Oh, what's wrong sweetie? You can tell mommy, it's okay.  Did you have bad dreams again?" His mother soothed as she held him in her arms after a fit of night terrors woke him.

The little girl in his arms weighed next to nothing, she was emaciated and grimy but her laughter in the light of freedom right now she didn't seem to mind.  The brief moment of happiness triggered the spark of something in his chest, a feeling that had once brought with it pain and punishment.

Sentiment.

Even now he heard Snoke's cracked and milky voice.  The word felt like moldy food on his tongue, until he forced himself to remember that Snoke was dead and his chains along with him.

Kylo Ren turned back to the woman and handed the little girl over to her.  The woman was only too happy to take her.  He then faced the crowd.

"Today is a turning point for Onderon.  Today will be forever remembered as the last day that the people here and within this system have to fear enslavement and exploitation at the hands of those vile pirate scum!"

A cheer went up from the crowd at his words.

"This is my solemn promise to you.  The First Order has a tarnished reputation, it's true, but so long as I breathe, I will ensure the safety and security of the Outer Rim territories so that atrocities like slavery never return to our renewed Empire!"

A second, louder cheer erupted, this time from the freed slaves and the Stormtroopers who'd helped liberate them.  Before long they were chanting his name in praise.

"Kylo Ren!"

"Kylo Ren!"

"Kylo Ren!"

He stood silently amidst the crowd, humbled and heartened by what he saw.  For so long, Snoke had convinced him that rule through fear was the only way to bring order to the galaxy, but he knew that to be a lie.  Here now, he saw the truth with his own eyes, peopled wanted safety and security but unlike where the Republic had failed to provide those with their hollow words and promises of peace, the First Order, under his command, had delivered what the people both wanted and desperately needed.

Strength, and hope.

 

Chapter Text

“Lieutenant, I don’t care what kinds of toothbrushes or ration packs or how may deliveries of clean underwear the First Order is receiving, I want usable intelligence,” General Organa said, exasperated.

“Yes ma’am, I understand,” the chastened Lieutenant Samaya said as she went off to collect more reports.

Leia pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration. This rebellion wasn’t like the rebellion of yesteryear, that much was certain. Yes, they had more advanced tech at their disposal and better established supply lines, but it was still very much a grass roots kind of insurgency. There was no ‘alliance’ to speak of, hell there wasn’t even a Senate any more thanks to Snoke and Hux and what allies she could rally to her cause were justifiably hesitant to get involved in another galactic conflict. Even Lando expressed his doubts but did the right thing anyway and catered a small fleet of ships they could call upon.

Still the threat they faced wasn’t the Empire, even with their numerical advantage and advanced technology. The First Order was practically run by kids it seemed, at least according to Finn, and the aim of the group was driven more by pompous grandiosity than by a clever, if not devious, plan to subjugate the outer rim territories. They were glory hounds and re-enactors with loaded blasters from the way they ran their operations.

Leia thought about Ben and the conversation she’d had with Rey about their mysterious connection through the Force. In some ways, she knew all about the strength of Force bonds, because she’d had one with Luke, but he was gone now.

“No one’s ever truly gone,” he’d said and she supposed that much was true in his case. He’d always told her that he’d been able to speak to and see the spirit of Obi-Wan even after he’d been struck down by Vader, their father… and a part of her wondered if Luke would communicate with her in the same way. The few times she’d called out to the Force, she met with little success, but then she’d never been as advanced in her powers as he had been.

There still burned a spark of hope however. Leia saw the gleam in Rey’s eyes when she spoke about her son; it was a look she could never forget because she’d seen it more times than she wanted to admit every time she looked in a mirror thinking of Han. Love truly did have a pesky way of finding people sometimes, and if that’s what Rey and Ben had found… well, she could only hope something would come of it other than false hope and heartbreak.

A staffer came up to her, breaking her out of her momentary reflection as she handed over a datapad. "General, the ships from the Skyhook op have been cleared for active duty. Shall we assign them to a squad?"

"Let me look that over, Ensign," Leia said as she took the datapad. She flipped through the readouts, made note of the type of ship, speed, weaponry and so on. All were worthy to be in a fighter squadron, but as it was they had more fighters than pilots and Leia had to stifle a groan of disappointment. What they needed were more bombers and heavy weaponry, but she had to take what they could get for now.

“Looks good to me, Ensign… go and tell Commander Dameron…”

A tickle of warmth in the back of her mind made her stop, then a flash of black out of the corner of her eye caused her to look up from the pad. In the far corner of the briefing room was a dark robed figure half turned away from her. He was tall and regal, but covered in battle grime and flecks of blood and a moment later he seemed to notice her. Only when he turned to meet the General’s gaze did she recognize him. How could she not?

“Ben?” She said, voice cracking.

The most curious thing to her was that he seemed to acknowledge her too because his eyes widened in surprise and his mouth fell open as if he was about to say something, but no words came.

“General… are you okay?” The staffer said distantly.

Leia barely heard the words. Her heart pounded and her breathing grew shallow as she took a step toward her son. Putting her cane out front to balance herself, she took another step and another, until her vision blurred and she struggled to breathe.

“Ben… you’re really… it’s you…” she gasped.

The world faded as Leia collapsed onto the floor. She was dimly aware of her staffer shouting for help, and then all went black.

***

“Can we take that chance though?” Poe asked, concerned.

Rey and Finn shared a look of understanding before Rey added, “We’re gonna have to. We’re running low on munitions and this is the closest depot we’ve found so far.”

Finn added, “But it’s still First Order intelligence. They could still be leading us into a trap.”

Rey shook her head, “I know it’s risky, but from what we know now, the First Order is concentrating on Onderon right now so…” the words caught in her mouth as she felt the sensation through the Force. Instinct drew her attention toward the outside hallway.

“Oh no…”

“Rey, what is it?” Finn asked.

She looked at him, unable to speak at first, then she glanced at Poe. “It’s Leia.”

Emotions flashed across his usually stoic face when the comm buzzed. “Yeah?” He asked hesitantly.

“Commander Dameron, I hate to interrupt you, but… it’s the General…” the speaker on the other end wasn’t able to deliver the rest of the message before Poe shoved away from the display table. Rey and Finn both gave chase a moment later but she already knew what she was going to see.

Tears burned her eyes as they approached, but when she saw the droids and medics crowding around Leia’s small frame, she felt the sudden realness of it.

“Oh God, no. Not her too,” Finn bemoaned beside her.

“What’s happening?” Rose said, coming up from behind them.

Rey didn’t turn to look when Finn told her. Carefully, she stepped through the small gathering of rebels crowding around the wounded figure. She must have collapsed, she reasoned, because why else would she be bleeding from her head like that?

Poe was by her side, holding her hand as he tried to speak to her. “It’s alright, Leia, I’m right here. General, just hang on, please…” he said with tears in his eyes.

Leia looked at him and touched his cheek when she said, “Ben… I knew you’d come back to me…”

“Leia, it’s Poe. We’re all here, the Resistance, the Rebellion. Please don’t worry, the medics are here and they’re going to take care of you. Tell us what to do and we’ll do it.”

She gasped for breath but was able to respond, “It’s okay, Luke… I knew you’d be here too…”

Poe turned to look at Rey, clearly confused. Out of pure curiosity, Rey glanced around the room, hoping she might catch a glimpse of Luke as a Force spirit somewhere, but there was no one else but her fellow resistance fighters.

Leia slumped in Poes arms, then it felt as though someone had opened an airlock in the dark of space. Through the Force, Rey felt Leia’s spark of life fade and burn out like a candle. She was gone, the last Skywalker was gone.

No, she wasn’t the last Skywalker. Rey realized a moment later, but a moment later the emotions she felt were so raw and driven by fury, she knew that they weren’t coming from within her. Ben had felt her passing too and it had devastated him. Standing here amid the gathered throng of onlookers, she couldn’t stop Ben’s emotions from bleeding into her. With tears in her eyes, she turned and pushed her way through the crowd.

“Rey, where are you…” Finn asked but she didn’t stop to acknowledge him, she couldn’t, not in this state. Thankfully, she heard Rose telling Finn to let her go and there were no further signs of pursuit.

Rey went to the abandoned barracks and shut the door behind her. She could almost smell the ozone of Ben’s lightsaber as he unleashed his wrath on whatever surroundings he was currently occupying. His uncontrolled rage was both awesome and terrifying to behold but she had to be with him, especially now.

“Ben… Ben please let me in,” she called out, unsure if would hear her or if he even wanted to. She didn’t have the power to bridge their minds as he did, but she had to hope that he would acknowledge her. A moment later, she felt a calm in the storm as the Force connection tentatively opened

Rey looked around the empty barracks until she saw him. His back was too her and his head was down as he braced himself against a table ledge, shaking violently.

“Ben, I’m here,” she said as she approached. In many ways the scene played out just like her nightmare had, so she was apprehensive as she reached out to put her hand on his shoulder.

He flinched slightly but that was all. She could feel the tremors of emotion threatening to shake him apart from the inside, but a moment had passed by as he turned to look at her. His eyes were putrid yellow and rimmed with red, they were almost monstrous, but tears also streamed down his cheeks. He was hurting in a way, Rey had never seen him hurt before and the sight only broke her heart more.

“Oh Ben… I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” she said as she pulled him into her arms.

The act seemed to paralyze him a moment, as though he didn’t know what to do, but as Rey buried her grief into the nape of his neck, he seemed to melt into her embrace. Slowly, gently, he put his arms around her and wept. Nothing more needed to be said. They were both alone and yet they were alone together, and taking comfort in that fact they surrendered to their grief.

 

Chapter Text

The mourners had long gone and the sun was setting on the dilapidated structure, casting long shadows across the hall. Rey stood silent vigil over the makeshift memorial. A small holoprojector cycled through images and video clips of Leia Organa's many years, from when she was a junior legislator, through her years in the Rebel Alliance, her marriage to Han and even her cradling baby Ben Solo in her arms.

From all the stories she'd heard about Leia Organa growing up, Rey had never imagined that one day she would meet the woman herself or that her end would come like this. A part of her clung to the childish fairytales about the Skywalker twins and how they'd single-handedly saved the galaxy from darkness and that they would live peacefully into old age and pass in the comfort of sleep surrounded by friends.

Instead, Luke died alone on Ach-to, having spent his life-force to project himself across the galaxy to reach out to the student he'd failed. Leia had been blown into the vacuum of space and died from 'complications'. There was nothing heroic or glorious about her end.

Her eyes still stung from crying, but she had precious few tears left to shed. Instead, she waited for the presence she knew would come to her. It had been more than an hour since the end of the service and it was approaching two hours when she, at last, felt him walking up behind her. Holding out her hand in unspoken invitation, warmth bloomed in her chest as Ben's ungloved fingers slid into her grasp.

Having come into her world, Rey looked up at him and saw the redness of his eyes as he looked upon the memorial from beneath his black hood. No longer the angry, hurt and grieving little boy she'd embraced hours before, Ben Solo now looked every inch a grown man. He was in full ceremonial armor and cloak. For a long moment he didn't say anything and Rey didn't want to pressure him; when he did speak, it was almost a whisper.

"I saw her... just before it happened. I saw her as clearly as I see you through the Force, and she saw me too."

That surprised Rey. "Through the bond? But why then, why at that moment?"

"I'm not sure. Maybe it was a gift, but likely it was a punishment, a cruel trick of the Force to remind me of what I am. You were right... I am a monster."

"Ben, please don't do that, not now," Rey said with gentle reproach.

"Why not? I led the attack on the ship. I destroyed the hangar bay with your friends on board. I targeted the bridge and had my thumbs on the button."

Rey squeezed his hand slightly. "You didn't fire, though. You told me, remember?"

"That doesn't matter."

"It does matter," she shot back. "She was your mother and despite all the torture, lies, and manipulation Snoke subjected you too, your love for her was still stronger than the darkness."

"But it didn't stop it from happening anyway. Even as we flew back to the ship, I blasted my own wingmen out of the sky for what they did, for what little comfort it brought me. I can't say the same about my father."

An ache stabbed at her as she met his eyes again. "No, but Han knew what he risked walking out onto that bridge and he was still willing to take that chance to bring you back to the light. If there is one thing I know for sure about him is that he loved you until the very end."

Ben looked away in shame. Rey felt his pain through the Force and wanted to steer away from it but knew it would be difficult given the current circumstances. Instead, she quietly added, "You can't change what happened. None of us can, but you can change where you go from here. You can still choose to do right by the trillions of people suffering under the boot heel of the First Order. You have the power to stop it, I know you do."

He gave her a contemptuous look. "The First Order is a dreadnought; one man can't stop it alone, not even me. I could choke the life out of Hux tomorrow and there'd be a hundred power hungry lackeys in line to take his place.  Even now as I secure Onderon, there are those that would have me conquer them rather than make them allies."

"Then let us help you. Let me help you," Rey turned to plead with him. In her zeal to press him to do the right thing, she hadn't realized just how close she was to him. Ben, looking into her eyes, likewise seemed to realize the same.

As with their meeting on the Falcon, Rey found herself glancing at his full lips again, though this time, he seemed to be returning the gesture. She could feel the warmth radiating from him as raw emotion danced in his eyes. Excitement and apprehension paralyzed her in place as he tilted his head slightly and began to close the distance. She managed to lift her chin slightly when she heard distant boots clacking against the hard stone floor.

Rey and Ben both whipped around in time to see Poe staring at them with growing shock, followed by boiling rage as he drew his blaster, "You murderous son of a bitch!"

"Poe, don't!" Rey shouted.

To her horror, he'd already gotten off two shots aimed straight at Ben's head. On pure instinct, she reached out with the Force and stopped not one but both blaster bolts in mid-air.

"What the hell? Are you doing that?" Poe shouted in genuine shock.

It took Rey a moment to realize what she had done but as she looked at the crackling bolts of energy suspended in mid-flight and felt the pressure of them through the Force, she knew it was her doing it.

"Sonuvabitch, where is he, where did he go?" Poe added a moment later.

Only when Rey looked back and saw that Ben was gone did she understand that their bond had been severed. Her heart pounded with sudden panic as Poe fixed his glare on her. She stepped aside then and released her Force grip on the two blaster bolts, letting them slam into the back wall. Then she faced Commander Dameron.

"What's going on in here, Rey? That was Kylo Ren, he was here in the base, wasn't he? That was him, right?" He wasn't pointing his weapon at her, but he hadn't holstered it either.

"Poe, I can explain, I swear!" Moments later her fears compounded as a scattering or rebel security forces rushed into the room with their own weapons drawn. "Oh no, please no..."

"Explain?" Poe roared, "You're damn right you're going to explain!" He turned to the Captain of the squad and gestured with his blaster.

"Captain, lock down the base and issue an intruder alert. I want a full sweep."

"Yes sir," the Captain acknowledged.

A moment later, Poe looked back at her with a steely gaze she'd only ever seen when he was looking at an enemy. He pointed, "Take her into custody."

"Poe... please don't," Rey pleaded, but he wasn't looking at her anymore. A moment later, Finn and Rose sped around the corner as the Captain approached with cuffs.

Hurt and angry, she knew she could just throw the guard back with the Force and run, but these were here friends, weren't they? She couldn't do that to them but when she met Finn's eyes, it felt as though she'd been punched in the gut.

"What's happening? Poe, what the hell is this, what are you doing?" Finn shouted with growing anger as he confronted him.

"Finn, back off! You want to know what's going on, you can ask her why she's bringing Kylo Ren into our base."

Somehow, the look of shock and disbelief on Finn's face hurt more than any physical pain she'd felt since Snoke's throne room mind probe. She couldn't stand to look her friends in the eyes as the guards put the binders around her wrists and led her away.

***

Poe's interrogation was long and grueling but not unjust. Rey knew she couldn't hide the truth any longer, so she laid everything on the table and hoped that it was enough to protect her. She had to make them understand somehow.

"And you've kept this from us all these months... mission after mission," Poe said with disbelief.

"I didn't know how I could possibly explain this to anyone. I never asked for this. Snoke thought he could use our bond to destroy me but he was wrong."

"Right... then Kylo Ren killed him to take power for himself," he grumbled.

"Ben Solo killed him to save me! After that he made the only choice he could because he knew by coming with me, you would just slap him in binders and throw him in a cell or worse!"

"Yeah, you're damn right about that." Poe paced angrily back and forth. "And to top it off, he's the one who's been feeding us intel, just great. That's fantastic!" He said with bitter sarcasm.

"Good intel, I'd like to add! How many ships and weapons have we stockpiled that we didn't have before, because of him? We actually have a rebellion because of him!" Rey shouted, feeling her anger rise.

"And how long is that going to hold out until he springs the trap, huh? Rey, I know from firsthand experience how he can reach into people's minds because he did it to me! He had his thugs beat and torture me before ripping my own thoughts out of my head. He's using you, Rey! I'm not a Jedi, but that's how the dark side works, you have to know that by now!"

"He isn't using me," she snapped, "He's reaching out to me because he feels I'm the only person who can understand him. Snoke used him, he turned him against his family and the light side of the Force but I've been in his mind and I know for a fact that he wants to come back. If anything, I'm using him!" Rey felt a wave of disgust overcome her as she uttered those words, but she had no choice. She had to make Poe understand somehow. "He knows things about the First Order that we could never find with our own limited resources, you have to see the benefit of that!"

Growling, Poe added, "You said he's the only one who can initiate contact with you through the Force. How do you know he's not tracking your every move, seeing through your eyes or mapping every hallway in the ba..."

"He isn't! I would know if he was in my head or not. I'm not some starry-eyed child, Poe!"

He pinched the bridge of his nose in obvious distress. "What did I actually see in there, then? If you're talking through the Force, how is it possible that he could be standing right next to you as if he were in the room... and were you holding hands?" He sounded more surprised than angry when he asked that question.

Rey's cheeks bloomed with color. "It's not what you think... neither of us really understand it, but somehow through the physical contact, we can see into each other's surroundings. The first time it happened was on Ach-to in my hut, but Luke... interrupted."

Poe raised his brows, "Yeah, I'm sure."

Rey rolled her eyes. She wanted to make him see it from her perspective, but she also didn't want to admit to how they'd shared the padawan braid through the Force. That would just create more questions and drag this out longer and she didn't need that right now, so she replied, "You saw with your own eyes as soon as he let go he was gone. He's back on his Star Destroyer wherever in the galaxy that is."

"And I don't suppose he's felt the need to share that information with you, am I right?"

She looked down at her restraints. "No, he hasn't," she lied.

Poe grimaced again as he contemplated her words. After a deep breath, he said in a more sympathetic tone, "For what it's worth... I believe that you believe he's trying to help us."

"Believe?" She repeated indignantly.

"Leia's gone, Rey... it's up to me and the rest of the leadership to keep this circus running but I can't risk our survival on your 'mysterious connection' with the Supreme Leader of the First Order. Not just that, but I can't trust someone who would keep that kind of information from us for nearly a year and a half."

"What are you saying?" She felt the grip of sudden panic.

Poe chewed his lip. "Rey, you've done a lot for the Resistance, for Leia, Finn and the rest of us... but until we win this fight, or Kylo Ren is in binders... I can't let you stay here any longer. In recognition of your service... you'll be free to leave the system, but as of right now you're relieved of duty and restricted to your cell until otherwise noted."

Heartbroken and speechless, Rey could only stare in disbelief as Poe opened the door to the interrogation room. He said over his shoulder, "I'm truly sorry about this, but I have to put the Rebellion first, no matter what."

The world slowed around her as the guards came in to escort her back to her cell. She felt cold and numb and for the first time since leaving Jakku , Rey felt truly alone.

Leia was gone, the trust of her friends was all but disintegrated, and Ben, who was the only other person that understood her pain was lightyears away at the head of an enemy armada. As the door to her cell was shut behind her, Rey walked past her bare cot and huddled into the darkest corner, like she had for so many years before. Hugging her knees, she dropped her head into her arms and wept.

***

It was the dead of night when Poe arrived with a pair of armed guards. She hadn't realized she'd fallen asleep until the opening of her door startled her awake. For the briefest of moments she hoped this entire ordeal had just been another bad dream but when she saw Poe with the guards behind him, she knew it was too much to hope for.

He looked down at her remorsefully. "It's time, Rey."

"I know."

She got up and walked with them. There were few resistance fighters still awake at this hour, so she took some comfort in knowing that her friends wouldn't have to watch her be marched off to the Falcon in shame. The air outside was brisk enough to cause her to rub her arms.

A moment later, Poe shrugged out of his jacket and draped it over her shoulders. "Between you and Finn, I'm running out of jackets," he said.

She smirked, but it was bittersweet. "Thank you. Poe, I hope you understand that I didn't intend to cause any problems. I just want to defeat the First Order."

After a moment, he replied, "I know you do, and I'm sorry it had to be like this... but it might not be as bad as you think."

She looked up at him in confusion, then saw him gesturing to where Finn and Rose stood by the Falcon's ramp with packed bags ready to go.

"What?" Rey asked, surprised.

Poe rubbed the back of his neck. "I wasn't so sure about it at first, but they've convinced me, rather excitedly, that you could use some assistance on your, uh, 'secret mission'."

She traded glances between him and the two of them. When they were all at the foot of the Falcon's ramp, Finn and Rose stepped closer. "Sorry to intrude on your forced exile, but we felt the need to explore some more sites for resources," Finn said with a casual look on his face.

Rey's heart quickened at the display of friendship. "Guys, you don't have to do this. Poe is right, I should have told you sooner... and I put the Resistance at risk."

Finn and Rose exchanged exaggerated looks of annoyance with each other before Rose commented, "Well, we think that's exactly why we should go with you. I mean, we've got to make sure you're not just secretly running off to the First Order. You could be a spy."

Rey made a face at that. "Of course, it's the only logical conclusion, isn't it?" She whispered conspiratorially.

Poe waved the guards back and stepped over. "The way I see it, we need to scout new locations and potential networks anyway. Finn and Rose are great at that kind of thing and you're a Jedi, so why not take advantage of a bad situation. Plus, that being said..." he held up his wrist to reveal the cloaked binary beacon that Leia had given her when she went to find Luke.

"The Resistance is just a call away if you get into trouble. I know it's an unfortunate situation we've found ourselves in... but we don't abandon each other."

"That's right," Rose said as she hoisted her bag. "Plus, who else is going to help you keep the Falcon running beside Chewie? You need a crew, admit it."

Rey smiled. "I suppose I do." She shrugged out of Poe's jacket and handed it back to him, "Here, you look like you need this more than I do at the moment."

He happily accepted it. "Thanks... I mean, I would let you keep it, but resources are scarce, it's cold out, you know."

"I understand," she replied.

Just then an obviously distraught BB-8 rolled up to them, his large black rimmed eye staring up at her as he beeped a mournful series of notes. Rey knelt down and patted him on the head.

"It'll be alright. I won't be gone long, I promise. Finn and Rose will keep me safe."

BB-8 chirped at that, rolling back and forth like a child would.

"You just make sure to protect Poe and the Resistance, understood? With Leia gone," the words were heavy on her tongue, "it's now more important than ever to keep the spark of rebellion safe."

BB-8 whirred and beeped in acknowledgment as he looked up at Poe then back to Rey.

She stood and took a final look at the base she'd started to regard as a home, but she knew it could never be that. The Falcon was her home now, and her friends were her family, and then there was Ben.

Poe put his hand on her shoulder. "Good luck out there, I mean it."

"Thank you. May the Force be with you."

Those words seemed to hit him especially hard now, but he nodded in acknowledgment and stepped back from the ramp. Rey took her bags and boarded, looking back once more to see Finn discussing final details with him. She and Rose were greeted by a remorseful Chewie and his ever loyal Porg companion Ripper as she came into the main cabin.

"It looks like it's just us again," she said as she put her bag down by the holo-chess table.

Chewbacca let out a low groan of acknowledgment, no doubt still reeling from the loss of Leia. At that moment, Rey realized how alone he must have felt, so she reached up and gave him a comforting scratch on the neck. Finn joined them moments later as the ramp closed behind him.

"Alright, so now I guess we gotta decide where to go. Any thoughts?" He said, looking around for answers.

Rey considered it for a long moment.

"Honestly... wherever the Force wills."

 

Chapter Text

The heavy silence was too much to bear any longer. The Falcon had jumped to hyperspace and Rey hadn't said a single thing for nearly twenty minutes. Finn looked over at Rose, on the other side of the holo-chess table but she wasn't any help; she only gave him a questioning look while nodding toward his forlorn friend sitting at the console across the way.

He laughed internally. He could face down the entire First Order and deal with blaster shots flying all around him but he couldn't bring up the one topic that caused his best friend to be exiled from the Resistance? Finn bit his lip then decided to go for it.

"Sooo," he said at last. It wasn't the greatest start true, but it distracted Rey from her sullen mood. "Would you like to discuss the situation, maybe?"

Not looking at him, Rey said through her curled knuckles, "What is there to discuss? You heard all you needed to hear, didn't you?"

Finn held a hand up in agreement. "We heard... parts of it? It wasn't exactly broadcast over the loudspeakers or anything. We figured you'd just want to talk, maybe?"

When Rey didn't respond to that, Rose scoffed, giving Finn an annoyed look before blurting out, "So, Kylo Ren. What's he like?"

Rey and Finn both turned to Rose with shock, although Finn felt slightly more offended than he imagined Rey did. 

He quickly interjected, "He's a murdering psychopath who killed his own father before almost killing me and he worships Darth Vader. That pretty much sums it up, I think."

Rose narrowed her eyes at him, before putting a gentle hand on top of his. "Yes, I know that much, because you keep reminding me, but I was asking Rey."

"Of course you were," he said with sarcastic resignation. He turned to Rey, who was at least looking at them now and sarcastically repeated, "So, Kylo Ren. What's he like, Rey? Please enlighten us."

Rey gave him a wounded look, which only made him feel guilty. "Finn... it's not that simple." A moment later, she got up from the console and joined them at the chess table.

"I never meant to hurt you, or betray your trust... please understand that," she said at last.

He nodded. "I know that, I'm just... how did you go from dueling in the snow, defeating him, to having secret Force whatevers without anyone knowing about it? I'm not judging you, I just want to fill in some blanks, that's all."

"I understand," she said, glancing between them. "To be perfectly honest, I didn't know what was happening at first either, and if it's any consolation, Finn, the first time I saw him through the Force, I shot him."

Finn pointed a finger at her. "I like where this is heading already, please continue."

"Well, I actually shot a hole in my hut because he wasn't really there, but that's not the point. The point is, when I saw him again he tried to manipulate me with the Force to bring Luke to him but it didn't work. We didn't have power over each other through the bond, so I was... curious to learn what I could."

"Aaaand what did you learn?" Rose said too eagerly.

Finn and Rey looked at her again. "Stop enjoying this, please," Finn pleaded.

"What?" Rose threw up her hands.

"Anyway," Rey continued, "I learned that his fall to the dark side wasn't simply a matter of choice or Vader worship, but of desperation."

"Wait, what was he so desperate about that he chose to be a homicidal maniac?" Finn asked.

Rey glared at him causing him to hold up his hands in placation. "Right, sorry. Please go on."

Her eyes softened then as she continued. "Finn, you were stolen from your parents as an infant. All you ever knew was the First Order. Did you ever feel any love or affection from anyone?"

"Not that I can remember," he said, thinking back to his earliest memories. "We were trained from the beginning to be strong, to forsake emotional bonds, and to do better than our squad-mate."

"Ben Solo had parents and a family who loved him, Han, Leia, Luke, even Chewie." Chewbacca gave a mournful growl of acknowledgment from the cabin. "But he was the grandson of Darth Vader and when his powers manifested, they feared him and sent him away with Luke. To him, he felt he was never good enough, he thought he was a monster because the things they said in private about his fits and tantrums or what not."

She adjusted her seat before elaborating.

"Try to imagine what that must be like for a moment. To have people who love you so much... be afraid of you enough to send you away. And on top of that, for all I know Snoke was influencing him without him even knowing it, but I didn't ask, so I can only speculate. Then, after all that, imagine waking up to your own uncle, a legendary hero of the rebellion standing over you while you're sleeping with an ignited lightsaber in his hand. What would you have done, Finn?"

A wave of disbelief and understanding came over him as he listened to her recount the story. "I didn't know it happened like that."

"That's why Luke left, isn't it?" Rose added.

Rey nodded sadly. "Luke said it was only a momentary slip but Ben believes it was an attempt on his life... whatever happened that night the damage was done and Kylo Ren was born. He became Snoke's perfect weapon."

"But, Han... Rey you and I saw that with our own eyes..." Finn started to say before Rey interjected.

"Killing his father destroyed him, Finn. He was led to believe it would strengthen his powers but it had the opposite effect, and Snoke knew that. I've seen his mind, I've seen his fears and learned some of his powers for my own but more importantly, I know that he his more conflicted than ever but is turning toward the light, that's why he's been helping us. After Leia..." she hesitated when she said her name.

"After Leia died, I feel as though he finally understands that he's on the wrong side, but he's surrounded by the First Order, Hux and the Knights of Ren and I'm worried that he can't find a way out... without help."

"Whoa, hold on. You're not suggesting we charge into the middle of the First Order fleet," Finn started to say.

"No, of course not, Finn! I'm not suicidal."

"Okay, just confirming, that's all," he wiped his hands free of invisible dirt before calmly listening.

"All I'm saying is that if the opportunity presents itself, we have to try and help him. If we can get him safely away from the First Order, he can become the key to winning this war. He's already been supplying us with solid intel, imagine what he could give us if he's actually on our side."

Finn didn't know how to respond. He'd dealt with Ren personally within the First Order, albeit on rare occasions, but the idea of him coming over to the side of the Resistance was almost laughable if it weren't for the fact that Rey seemed so sure that he'd come back from the dark side.

"Even if that did happen, then what? Do you think Poe is just going to welcome him into the base with open arms? I mean, he blasted him when he saw you two in the memorial hall."

Rey growled with annoyance, "Of course he did because there was no warning. He thought I'd led him into the base through a secret back door or something, not by projecting himself through a Force bond that we don't even fully understand. If we can apprehend him somehow..." she stopped to consider her words more carefully. "If he chooses to come with us, of course, we'll follow proper procedures. He'll be our prisoner and if he tries anything, I can... deal with him... if I have to."

He raised his eyebrow at that, but he knew she'd done it before so it couldn't be that far from the truth. Still, something else seemed to be going on that Rey wasn't telling them, but given the circumstances, Finn knew better than to press her on it.

"Okay, so if by some chance we meet Kylo Ren again, we capture him, restrain him, and bring him back to the resistance for questioning; got it. Why didn't I think of this plan?"

Rey scoffed angrily as she stood. "Fine, I'm sorry I brought it up. Just forget everything I said." She stormed off toward the captains quarters, leaving Finn watching in shock.

"What? Rey, I didn't mean..." he started to say when Rose slapped him on the arm.

"Good job, dummy. I'm starting to see the failings of that Stormtrooper training of yours."

Incredulous, he turned to her. "What is that supposed to mean?"

Looking equally exasperated, Rose gestured with her hands. "You really can't read signals can you?"

"Signals? What signals? I'm not a droid," he protested.

"Wow... just, wow," Rose said, stunned. "Not comm signals, Finn, people signals! You know, body language, audio cues, etcetera and such?"

"Wait, what kind of body language are we talking about and about who?" He said, suddenly confused.

Rose laughed as she put her hand back on his and leaned in. "Finn... she likes him."

"Uhh, who likes... who... now?"

She palmed her face, giddy with amusement. "Rey likes Ben Solo, silly. Whatever this mysterious connection is that they have, it's obvious she's drawn to him out of more than just tactical curiosity, don't you think?"

Somehow, that realization took Finn by surprise. Had he really missed all of these 'signals' Rose was going on about? As far as he heard, Rey could only bring Kylo Ren into the base through physical touch... like holding his hand for example. She had secretly defended him all this time and then when she'd been exposed, she kept defending him, but only as an intel source, right? Then there was the thing Poe had said, about when he found them. Kylo Ren was 'looming' over her threateningly as he stared into her eyes... like a lover about to kiss and...

"Oh my god. NO." He turned to Rose with sudden horror as the realization dawned on him. "You don't actually mean..."

Rose nodded giddily like a schoolgirl. "Yes, Finn, I do 'mean'. Look, I know it's a shock and all, but it's also a fact that people can fall in love with each other in the most unexpected places. I mean, just look at us." She gestured broadly to the Falcon around them.

That drew Finn back from his momentary shock. Warmth bloomed in his chest as he looked into Rose's eyes and gripped her fingers in his palm. "Yeah, I guess you're right. But this, I mean, that? I never saw that coming."

"And I'm sure she didn't, either. That's why she can't admit it just yet, but she feels it in her heart and spirit. But for now, it's better if we just let it go. We've all had a rough few days and she just needs some time to herself, okay? Try not to let it worry you. She can handle herself."

Finn could accept that. "Alright, I will. Though I think we should try to find a planet to hit up for supplies, otherwise we're just going to be endlessly traveling hyperspace."

"Yeah, good point," Rose agreed.

Finn kissed her knuckle before releasing her hand, then got up to join Chewie in the cockpit. It was going to be a long but interesting trip.

Chapter Text

General Hux caught up with Malak Ren, having just returned from Onderon, and quickly said, "Ah, there you are. If I could have but a moment to speak with you," he said, unable to hide a knowing smirk.

Malak Ren turned with a look of annoyance and distaste. "Do I have a choice in this particular conversation... General?"

Hux had always despised the creature's blatant disregard for decorum, but he didn't let it trouble him today. "Of course, Malak, you always do but I think you may be interested to hear what I have to say."

The Knight rolled his eyes. "Go on."

"You've trained with our Supreme Leader for many years have you not?"

"Yes, since we were in Skywalker's joke of a Jedi temple. What's your point?"

"I'm merely making an observation, that's all. You are familiar with his various, uh, moods and somewhat erratic states of mind, I take it."

Malak looked genuinely annoyed now. "I've seen him in all kinds of moods, mostly the murdering kind, so yes."

"Of course. I ask only because I've noticed he's been particularly more sensitive in recent months, especially concerning the Jedi girl."

Malak turned fully to face him, looking none too pleased with having his time wasted. "Who wouldn't? She murdered our Supreme Leader."

Hux let a moment of deliberate silence pass before replying. "Did she now? Curious you should mention that. You see, I was the first one to find them after it happened. I saw the throne room with my own eyes and although the Supremacy had been cut nearly in half by that insane rebel pilot, the damage didn't touch that chamber."

"Stop wasting my time, General." Malak seemed on the verge of reaching for his weapons.  That simply wouldn't do.

Hux, feeling equally as annoyed as Malak looked, stepped closer. "I read your report from Tantis. You fought the girl yourself, now tell me, did she strike you as someone skilled enough to kill Snoke, eliminate eight elite guardsmen and defeat Kylo Ren on her own?"

Malak's hesitation to answer the question was all the validation Hux needed, but he continued to wait for an answer.

"What... are you implying?" Malak said slowly.

"Oh, I imply nothing. Right now, I have the best data recovery experts in the First Order Security Bureau working on restoring the security footage from the throne room, footage that had been conveniently wiped by someone with direct access to the files, I might add."

This time it was Malak who took a step closer. "Choose your next words carefully, General. This is our Supreme Leader we're talking about now."

Hux's smile widened. "Oh, he certainly claims to be, but there need not be any unnecessary friction between us. All I ask is for you to consider the possibilities based on your personal experience with the girl and Kylo Ren himself. In any event, I will have the security footage in a matter of days and I think you'll be most interested in what it reveals about our beloved Supreme Leader's final moments."

Malak fixed him with a venomous glare, but there was also doubt in his expression. "When you have this footage... bring it to me. I'll decide if it's real or not, but yes I do believe it will be quite an... enlightening experience."

"On that, we can both agree. Good day to you." Hux, thoroughly satisfied with planting the seed of doubt in his target, turned and left for the bridge with the lightest spring in his step.

***

His breath still shallow from climax, Malak sat at the edge of the bed, lost in contemplation as Hux's words rattled around in his head. He was so fixed on those thoughts, he flinched when Shira's gentle hand ran up his back and looped over his shoulder.

"What's wrong, my love? You seem distracted," she said as she pressed her sweat-damp body against his and trailed kisses down his neck.

As much as her attention soothed him, not even this could stop the roots of doubt from taking hold. "I spoke with Hux earlier. He said some things that have... unsettled me."

"Hux?" She spat. "What can that bootlicking worm say to upset you like this?"

Malak replayed his fight with the Jedi over and over again while the General's words echoed in his mind.

"You fought the girl, down there. Tell me something, honestly... do you think she was powerful enough to kill Snoke, eliminate his bodyguards and defeat Kylo Ren by herself?"

"Surely that hyperspace jump through the middle of the ship could've made anything possible," Shira said, skeptically.

"But if it didn't? If everything happened before that attack, do you think she could've taken on every single person in that throne room by herself?"

Shira seemed to consider it for a moment. "No, she was strong but sloppy. Her skills aren't refined, but what exactly are you saying, Malak?"

He huffed in defeat. "I'm not sure, but Hux assured me that he'll soon have the video recovered from the Throne room in a matter of days. I must admit that I'm curious to see what's on that footage for myself."

"I'm sure you are... but that's not the question I'm asking, Malak."

He glared at her but she met his anger with fearless resolve. Her tenacity was only one of many traits he admired about her, but a moment later, she took his cheeks in her hands and leaned in to kiss him. Biting his lower lip just enough to keep him interested, she cooed, "Just be honest with me... please?"

He looked at her with renewed desire but with a pit forming in his stomach, he replied, "I think Kylo might have had something to do with Snoke's death."

Shira's eyes fell. "Because of the Jedi girl?"

Malak leaned in. "You've seen how he gets any time someone brings her up. It's not just anger, it's almost as if he's... defensive. Another thing I noticed when I fought her; she wore a padawan braid behind her left ear, do you recall?"

"Lot's of warriors wear ornaments, Malak, but yes I saw... something shiny dangling from her hair."

"I saw it up close, I saw the runes carved into it. I'd only seen a braid like that once before... on Ne'reem."

Shira looked at him with shock. "What? You're serious?"

Again, he doubted himself, but not enough to keep from saying, "I can't be certain, of course, but it's just one of those odd coincidences that seem less coincidental with the more information you have. I suppose I'll know more when I see that footage... for now, don't mention any of this to the others, especially Talos.  You know how he gets."

"Of course not. I don't buy it... but I understand why it's bothering you. Something isn't adding up, that much is certain." Shira uncoiled herself from the bed and stood.

Malak took a long moment to appreciate the intricate tattoos that snaked down her exceptionally toned body as she walked across the chamber. Looking back at him, she held out her hand in a silent proposal. "I'm using the shower. Care to join me?"

With a devious smirk, he took her hand, kissed her knuckle and replied, "Absolutely."

 

Chapter Text

Kylo Ren didn't quite know what to expect from a victory parade, but somehow, it wasn't this. From the moment the boarding ramp lowered from his shuttle, the roar of the crowd echoed throughout the cabin and the smell of spiced beverages and freshly charred meats and vegetables enticed the senses. Having taken the time to mourn his mother's passing and now adorned with his full dress robes, the Supreme Leader of the First Order disembarked his shuttle with his compliment of stormtroopers, gleaming in freshly polished armor.

The cheer that went up from the crowd was deafening.

"They love us," he thought in private reflection. It was a shocking realization given how far the First Order had come from being feared under Snoke's rule, to cheer them on now. He glanced skyward to see the Supremacy, repaired and ascendant, hovering in the lower atmosphere like a city in the sky and still, the people of Onderon cheered.

The walk to the palace was short and heavily guarded by another Stormtrooper detachment that kept the crowds back but did not partake of unnecessary violence, as the Empire would have done. This wasn't the Empire after all, and this wasn't Snoke's First Order anymore. This was his doing, Kylo Ren, he who had been discarded by his parents and nearly murdered by his own uncle; he had survived, he had endured, and he had overcome.

Still, he knew now that his mother hadn't truly discarded him, but the pain still lingered. Whatever her reasons for sending him away, he had felt both her love and regret in that final moment they shared together. Why the Force had connected them, he didn't know, but he was grateful to see her one last time.

When a spate of boos and hisses went up, he didn't need to turn back to see the imprisoned slavers being pulled out of the prisoner transport by Captain Three-Nine and his company. As he ascended the steps, he met Malak's gaze through his blackened tri-visor, nodding in silent acknowledgment as he and Shira followed him into the throne room.

The inside of the palace was as grandiose as the outside and the walkway along the polished stone floor ended at the foot of Queen Lucia Bonteri's throne. As Supreme Leader of the First Order, only Kylo Ren was allowed to ascend the steps to speak with her as part of their agreement; all others dropped to one knee in deference.

"My lady," he addressed her.  His voice echoed throughout the open hall.

The Queen was fierce and ravishing, striking a delicate balance between her raven hair and sun-kissed skin. Her embellished black gown gave testament to her wealth and power but her leather bracers and armored boots hinted at the warrior spirit that still resided within. Her piercing green eyes flicked to his as she stood and returned his address with all the regal formality her position entitled.

"Victorious Supreme Leader, Onderon is in your debt. Tell me, what vile creatures have you brought before me?"

Kylo Ren turned to regard the chained slavers, all of whom trembled and whimpered in fear, none more so than their leader, Dolvan.

"I have brought you the one's responsible for keeping the people of Onderon in fear. They are all of them pirates, slavers and... scoundrels from the deepest depths of galactic society."

"Which one of them is their leader?" Queen Bonteri asked.

Kylo gestured for Captain Three-Nine to drag the Gammorean forward and throw him down at the foot of the throne.

With very poor basic, the pig pleaded.  "P-please, have mercy on me, milady. I meant only to feed my sons and clothe my wives."

The Queen looked down at the porcine creature with distaste. "Wives, you say? A curious title indeed; I wonder if given the freedom to speak for themselves, would they think of themselves as a wife to you? You are a slaver, no?"

Dolvan was on the verge of tears as he pleaded, it was truly a pathetic sight, but Kylo Ren kept his comments to himself. This was the Queen's Justice after all.

"Aye, mistress, to my great shame, I have been forced to take men and beings from across the galaxy and deliver them into servitude. I swear, it was only business and I took no gratification in it."

"Scum," the Queen spat. "You don't even have the courage to take responsibility for enslaving sentient beings. Slavery has been outlawed in this sector since the fall of the Empire. Not only have you violated the sanctity of Onderon's peace but you have offended the very fabric of our society. I should take... your... head..."

To emphasize the Queen's rage, Kylo Ren ignited his saber and casually descended the steps, one deliberate step at a time. The slaver's eyes grew wide as saucers as fear radiated from him like an ion grenade.

"P-p-please I beg mercy, m-my lady Queen! PLEASE!!!" He pleaded.

Kylo looked at Dolvan then at the Queen. She locked eyes with him for a scant moment before adding, "As much as you deserve death for your crimes, I am a merciful ruler, and as such, it is my decree that your men shall be interrogated by the First Order for any possible connections to the Resistance and should they be released will be free to leave this system in exile, never to return. As for you, though, well death would be too quick for you."

Queen Lucia descended the steps to join Kylo Ren, his blade still crackling near Dolvan's fleshy face. "You profited from putting people in cages, so I think it's fitting that you should spend the rest of your life in one. Guards, take this filth from my sight, now!"

Whimpering and sobbing like a child, Dolvan managed to say, "Thank you, mistress... you are most merciful. Long live the Queen of Onderon!" The guards roughly pulled him to his feet and led him away, revealing the puddle on the floor where he'd soiled himself.

Queen Lucia's nose crinkled at the smell, "Ugh, and someone please clean up that mess."

Kylo Ren turned to his troopers. "Interrogate the prisoners, learn what you can, then release them as the Queen commands.

"Yes sir," Captain Three-Nine saluted as he led their group away.

Kylo and Lucia shared a mutual look of agreement when Hux quietly approached and said, "With all due respect... I think a public execution of the scum would be much more educational for any potential dissidents."

The Queen's eyes were venomous as she regarded the General. "Yes, of course. Public executions certainly are your preferred method, aren't they General? I'm sure when you condemned the citizens of the Hosnian System to death for the actions of a few rebels, you made a similar 'calculation' am I right?"

Kylo didn't need to look at Hux to feel the anger brimming within. He knew exactly how the General felt about his actions, but the Queen went on.

"If it were up to me, General Hux, I would have you slapped in restraints and publicly executed for your crimes against the galaxy!"

"You... dare!" Hux growled.

Kylo shot him a glare that stopped Hux cold before the man could say anything else.

"If my General's presence offends you, my lady, I can ask him to leave," Kylo Ren said calmly.

"His presence will always offend me, as it should offend any moral and decent being throughout this galaxy," Lucia said with cold finality.

General Hux, to his credit, straightened and lifted his chin. "Very well, if it pleases you, my lady, I will gladly return to the Supremacy. There is a war still raging..." he turned to leave before giving Kylo Ren a final glance. "... And there are traitors to be dealt with." With that, the clack of his polished boots against the smooth floor and his personal escort of Troopers echoed all the way back out to the main thoroughfare.

Kylo Ren clipped his saber back on his belt when the Queen said, "How you can tolerate that man by your side is beyond me."

"Sometimes I wonder about that myself, but as our old Supreme Leader said, 'a cur's weakness, properly utilized, can be a sharp tool'. Hux is overzealous but he has his uses."

With a gentler tone, she added, "Then I am glad you are Supreme Leader and not him." She held out her hand which he gently took to lead her down the remaining steps, past the cleaning droid who was wiping up Dolvan's mess.

With justice now served, the audience piled out of the main hall either to join the celebrations or to return to their duties, leaving only Kylo Ren to escort the Queen as they conversed.

"The Lightsaber was a nice touch, but clearly it was too much for 'kindly Dolvan just trying to make his way' you know?"

"Apologies, my lady," Kylo said earnestly.

"Oh no need to apologize, a ruler needs to display their willingness to be firm from time to time. One must always command respect from their people but also must walk that careful line between authority and cruelty. The Empire learned that lesson the hard way."

"A bold statement from one who's sworn loyalty to the First Order," Kylo said observantly.

"Trust me, Supreme Leader, had it been Snoke standing here instead of you, I wouldn't have uttered such words."

They walked side by side with a small compliment of Royal and First Order guards following at a distance as Queen Lucia led them toward the residency suites of the palace. Once safely past the double wide doors, the guards were dismissed and the two of them could speak privately.

"So, what you're saying is that you don't fear me, my lady?" His expression was flat but not threatening.

Lucia smirked. "That's not at all what I'm saying. I don't need to fear you because you have earned my respect. You could have just as easily descended upon my world with your fleet and demanded our loyalty and I would have little choice but to give it to you, and yet you offered to help us with our pirate problem in exchange for resources and support."

"I simply felt that a change of tactics was in store for winning allies to our side. You have every right to be angry about the Hosnian System. I was not in a position to stop it, but it was an unforgivable crime. I suppose it's only fitting that Snoke met his untimely demise shortly after."

"Hmm, 'untimely' indeed. That is one more thing I can thank you for, I suppose."

The hair stood up on the back of his neck. "What do you mean?"

The Queen met his momentary panic with a disarming smile. "Kylo... I'm no fool. Snoke was a cruel, twisted monster and it doesn't take much to imagine how those serving under him must have suffered. I can assure you that your secret is safe with me. I know a thing or two about overthrowing tyrannical monsters. How do you think I won my crown?"

He regarded her words silently as they walked the open balcony. The din of celebration rose up from the people below as a parade of First Order and imperial war machines traversed the streets. A shuttle rose toward the Supremacy above and Kylo imagined that the prisoners to be interrogated were on board, but he dismissed the thought as a momentary distraction.

"I've heard stories of your ascendancy, but people do like to embellish details," he said at last.

"Of course, the people love stories, they love heroes and villains and monsters! The truth is almost always too ugly for them to be bothered with, too bloody and morally... grey. In my honest opinion, you're no true ruler if you haven't been accused of being a monster at least once by your enemies."

An uncomfortable ache rose in his chest as he thought about the things he'd done. He thought about how Rey had called him a monster so long ago, and yet now, they were, what? He didn't know what they were now.

"Sometimes they call you a monster because it's true," he said at last.

The Queen glanced in his direction, her glistening eyes searching for meaning in his words.

"It can certainly seem that way. I have a fair share of blood on my hands, enough to make it difficult to sleep at night. My father had groomed me to be a fighter since I was a child. He had more experience than anyone else on Onderon, that's for sure, his mettle was tested more than once during the Clone Wars and the Galactic Civil War after that."

That surprised him. Kylo Ren asked, "The Clone Wars? Your father must have been..."

"Old enough to be my grandfather?" Lucia finished. "He was, and it was a source of much amusement among our family, believe me. The infamous Lux Bonteri, Senator, Freedom Fighter, Rebel, Terrorist, he'd been called all manner of things. Still, he'd been thought dead by the Empire, so he kept us laying low for the most part, scheming and plotting against our cruel King."

"But when the New Republic took over, I would have thought any Imperial loyalist would have been tried and executed," Kylo added.

Lucia laughed bitterly. "Yes, you'd think that but unfortunately King Caravo II was wily and cunning, so he rolled over for the New Republic and paid lip service to 'justice' and 'peace' but his security forces were all former Imperials. He maintained an iron grip on Onderon for years after the Empire fell, until my father and I staged our own rebellion."

Kylo didn't know how to respond to that, so he quietly reflected as they walked together.

"Does that... bother you, Supreme Leader?" The Queen asked a moment later. "That I'm a Rebel who overthrew an Imperial puppet?"

He looked at her seriously for a moment, momentarily losing himself in her emerald eyes. "No, it doesn't bother me. The Empire and Snoke both believed in Order by way of Fear. Though I can understand the logic of that, history has shown us what happens when the people at large have nothing left to fear.

Destroyed planets, slavery, punitive bombardments, all these things drove galactic citizens into the hands of the Rebellion. The Empire paid the price for that arrogance. I believe in Order by way of Strength. Give the people a reason to follow you, a reason to respect you, but don't let them trample your authority."

He gazed out upon the darkening sky as music and cheers drifted through the air. "The New Republic may have had good intentions, but their neglect of Onderon's plight under your previous King is an example of one such failure of bureaucratic incompetence. You saw an opportunity to save your people and you took the risk, now you're a Queen."

She smiled but there was no joy in her expression. "Yes, I'm a Queen. That's the irony of it, I suppose. I never wanted to be the Queen, I only wanted to do my part in ridding our world of a tyrant. Even my father was once only a Senator, loyal to the Confederacy of Independent Systems... until they betrayed and murdered my grandmother."

Lucia joined him by the railing to look out over the city. "I never asked to be a Queen, but the people wouldn't have it any other way, so I did what I had to do to justify taking my position. Lies, doubts, and delusions, all of it came with me and all of them gave me the courage to try and do what's right for my people. In all honesty, had the First Order not come by when it did, I don't know how much longer I would have been Queen."

Kylo could feel the remorse rippling from her as she stood beside him and a wave of uncertain emotions filled him with apprehension. "I believe you're what Onderon needs, my Lady."

She looked up him with sincerity in her eyes. "Thank you, Kylo."

Just then a moment passed where the Queen's eyes flicked to his lips and back again, and in an instant he was back in that damned turbo lift with Rey staring up at him.

"You'll turn. I'll help you."

His cheeks began to burn, so he looked away from Lucia as casually as he could. She seemed to follow his lead because she stepped away from the banister and said, "It's nearly time. I suppose I should prepare for the celebration tonight." She began to walk toward an elaborately embellished door cut out of the stone in the side of the palace when she turned back.

"You will be in attendance... won't you?"

It took a moment before Kylo Ren realized she was talking to him when he forced himself to look back.

"Of course, my Lady... if it pleases you."

She smiled warmly. "It would." She turned and entered her private chambers just as a silver-gold protocol droid emerged and shuffled toward him.

"Most gracious Supreme Leader, I am KZ-5GO. My mistress wishes me to show you back to the main hall so that you may ready yourself for the party."

"Of course," he said dryly. He wasn't a fan of droids, especially protocol droids, or culinary droids for that matter, but he followed KZ back to the main hall without further questions.

Still that moment between them, whatever it was, lingered at the back of his mind and he didn't know if he should be worried, or excited.

 

Chapter Text

The party was nothing short of extravagant. Of course, Kylo Ren expected nothing less from the Queen of Onderon, but it wasn't just the patrons in the main dance hall celebrating, the merriment and excitement carried on out into the streets beyond the barricades. Food vendors far and wide tended to the masses, supplying all manner of meats and drink to natives and Stormtrooper alike.

Officers and troopers directly and tangentially involved in the campaign mingled and danced below as he watched quietly, centering himself in the Force.  A moment later, he felt a gentle presence approach from behind.

"You're not dancing?" The Queen said as she walked closer.

Withdrawing back into himself, Kylo Ren let the shadow of the dark side fall away as he turned to reply. "I've been trained in many dark and unnatural arts, my Lady... but dancing wasn't one of them." He turned to meet her eyes and was awestruck by what he saw.

Her raven hair was curled and propped up within an elegant golden crown, leaving her black locks to flow down her slender neck which was adorned with a matching choker beset by a gleaming red gemstone that nearly looked like a Sith kyber crystal, but without the telltale Force signature. His eyes fell briefly to the deep V cut in the front of her midnight blue gown where a generous portion of her breasts were on display.  He forced himself to look away, instead regarding the rest of her alluring outfit. While the top half of her gown hugged and accentuated her every curve, the bottom half flared outward just above her knees, revealing the elegant leather mesh of her high heeled stilettos.

He'd faced down enemies in the field with more courage than he had now, standing before Queen Lucia.

"What do you mean, you don't dance? Everyone dances," she said with a smirk as she politely hooked her arm into his and led him toward the spiraling staircase.  The alluring fruity fragrance of her exotic perfume washed over him.

"Maybe everyone on Onderon dances, but... I never learned," he was ashamed to admit.

"You're serious? You really don't know how?" She seemed genuinely surprised.

"I'm not all that comfortable with it, to be honest. Socializing isn't one of my strong suits."

"I understand that, but you're the Supreme Leader of the First Order. Would you insult my honor by refusing to be seen with me?"

"No, of course not! I'm not trying to..." he stammered for words.

Lucia laughed. "I'm just tooling with you, Kylo Ren. I doubt anyone here will remember any of this by the morning. I spared no expense on the drinks, I'll have you know."

"Of course my Lady," he muttered.

They reached the bottom of the staircase where Malak and Shira were waiting, surprisingly well dressed despite having their blasters strapped to their sides.

"Well, if it isn't the hero of the hour," Malak grinned.

"Brother, it's really not necessary to guard us at all times. We're in the palace and under guard," Kylo added, nodding to the Queen's security forces above and standing against the walls.

"Indeed.  Well, if you insist, I'm sure I can find more... fruitful uses of my time," Malak said as he eyed Shira. 

The Zabrak cocked her head with a knowing smirk.  "How incredibly subtle of you," she mocked.

"Do or do not, there is no try, am I right?" Malak raised his brow as he extended his hand to her, who rolled her eyes and accepted his invitation.  They disappeared into the crowd in short order.

"Clearly you have no problem with workplace fraternization," Lucia chuckled.

"So long as it doesn't interfere with their duties."

"Of course," she agreed.

Though Kylo tried his hardest to rely on the Force to calm his nerves, the party around him was far more intimidating than any fight for his life. Still, he allowed the Queen to lead him through the crowd, ensuring that their people saw them together as a perfect symbol of unity and cooperation. Several inebriated troopers hooted and hollered at their 'Supreme Leader' among other less than polite comments about their 'wedding night activities'.

He glanced at the nearest ranking officer, Captain Three-Nine who was sharply dressed and chatting with a blond haired trooper, and gestured for him to remove the two drunks before they caused any more trouble. The Captain took notice then nodded sharply in acknowledgement.

"Alright, get your asses outside before you make damn fools of yourselves," he growled as he forcibly escorted the troopers out of the main hall, much to their vocal protestations.

"I'm still at a loss that you've never learned to dance, Kylo Ren. Certainly with your power and... aesthetics... there have been suitors attempting to win your favor," the Queen suggested.

"You'd be surprised. Most other rulers have bowed to the First Order as soon as a Star Destroyer appears in their skies."

"Most other rulers are cowards," she said as a matter of fact.

He stared at her for a long moment, admiring her boldness before he teased, "You know, I could still take your world by force if I wanted to... but I just so happen to admire your courage."

Her eyes regarded him from head to toe and her lips twitched as though she were biting back something she desperately wanted to say, but she blinked softly and sighed.  "Oh, well I suppose I should count myself lucky then."  Then she directed his left hand to her slender hip and took the other with her free hand.

With no immediate route of escape, he was forced to focus on her searching gaze as he followed her lead.

"Luck had nothing to do with it. I simply wanted to help in a way that would benefit all of us," he admitted.

"Oh, of course. Agreements such as these are always to the benefit of the ones with the biggest..." she blushed at something unsaid before adding, "... fleet."

He raised an eyebrow, as he suspected but wasn't quite sure of what she had planned to say.  Whatever the momentary slip was, Kylo felt a distinct change in the ebb and flow of the Force between them. It was a welcome change, though he wasn't quite sure why. As he fell into rhythm with the music, his apprehension faded as the Queen continued to converse with him.

"To be honest, I never thought much of dancing, myself. I was raised to be a warrior and a rebel. I was more comfortable with electro staffs and blasters than having a dancing partner," the Queen disclosed.

"Maybe we share more in common than we thought. Although I prefer a good lightsaber by my side than any blaster," he added.

"I've noticed. Do you sleep with it as well?"

He furrowed his brow, making her laugh. "That wouldn't be wise under the best circumstances."

"No, I suppose it wouldn't be."

As he lost himself in the Queen's radiant presence, Kylo Ren was almost disappointed when the song ended. Lucia politely pulled away to grab a drink from a passing server droid so he took that moment to have a quick look around.  He didn't see anyone eyeing him or engaged in scandalous gossip, instead, they were all caught up in their own conversations and various states of inebriation.

As he took his own drink from the server droid, Queen Lucia whispered into his ear, "Meet me on the balcony in twenty minutes. Come alone."

He gaped at her for a moment, prompting her to chuckle. "It's okay. I'm not trying to assassinate you, I promise."  She held up two fingers in an honorific gesture.

He gave a half smirk. "Of course not. Twenty minutes."

She winked at him and slipped into the crowd with one of her attendants, Hade he believed, by her side. Kylo Ren, already notorious among his troops for his inability to mingle with people in a social setting, decided to change things up for a change, by not mingling with people at the nearest refresher instead.  Once he'd relieved himself and splashed some much needed cold water on his face, he returned to the edges of the party.

In the shadows of the night, it was easy for him to slip away and refocus his concentration in the Force. Though, sooner than the queen had stated, he made his way to the balcony where they'd walked earlier. The guards had already been instructed to let him pass without incident so he found a spot overlooking the city and reflected on recent events in solitude.

Despite his best efforts to the contrary, his thoughts went immediately to Rey. The last he'd seen her was when the Resistance pilot had found them at his mother's memorial. He'd fired shots at them but he didn't know what happened afterward, or where she might be now. He thought about his mother and the look of shock on her face when she saw him through the Force before she collapsed. He even thought about his father and the last expression that crossed his face before falling into the pit of Starkiller base.

Kylo Ren felt his scar with his ungloved hand, remembering his father's touch. A rogue memory from his past intruded on his mind, like it had when he'd held the Pantoran girl they'd saved from the slavers.  

"Hey, big guy, whatcha got there?"  Solo had said as tiny hands held out his favorite golden dice clutched desperately between equally tiny fingers.  The memory evaporated a moment later as a cheer of exaltation went up from the crowd below.

He listened to the hoots and laughter with the faint percussion of amplified music drifting across the darkened horizon.  In this, a moment that should have been a celebration of victory, he'd realized just how terribly alone he felt and again, his thoughts drifted to Rey.  

As if in answer to his melancholy, Queen Lucia's soft voice emanated from the shadows.

"I should have expected to find you brooding over the city before I arrived. I know you don't like social situations, they can be... draining."

He turned to her and was again struck by her beauty as she stalked toward him.

"More so for me. Intoxicants, merriment, other desires... they all echo through the Force."

"Other desires?" She smirked deviously. "That must be maddening at times.  I've heard my share of 'may the Force be with you's' in my time, but I am not connected with it like others are. I can't imagine what it must be like for people like you."

"You'd be surprised." He turned back to the banister as she came up beside him. "Normally, I can focus my energy and drown out the noise, but tonight I'm... off balance."

"Oh?" She said somewhat sarcastically.

It didn't take much for him to understand exactly what she was doing by leaning over the banister so that her low cut dress hung lower than normal. His cheeks warmed but he didn't take the bait.

"And what could possibly be off-balancing to a leader of your stature and reputation? With your fleet, you can practically take what you want without so much as an argument."  The Queen lightly ran her middle finger along the back of his hand. 

"You can take anything... or anyone you want," she added as her green eyes bore into his with newfound intensity.

Now his cheeks burned white hot until he remembered his mouth was lolling open, so he inhaled sharply to compose himself and gently pulled his hand away. 

"Onderon has everything the terms of our deal has established. Your transparent attempts at seduction are unnecessary."

"Seduction?" She gasped with obvious sarcasm. "What a positively scandalous accusation, Supreme Leader! Do you think me so morally bankrupt as to throw myself at you for simple favors and political promises?"

He raised a brow trying to figure out her angle. He knew all about manipulation and political maneuvering, and though she was quite attractive and her advances weren't entirely unwelcome, he knew he couldn't simply fall for whatever ploy she was hatching.

"To be fair, I don't think you're morally bankrupt, as you put it, but clearly you want something. Just say it, I'm not fond of games."

At that, Lucia seemed to deflate. "How very 'forward' of you." She rested her cheek on her hand as she looked out upon the horizon.

"Did you ever consider the possibility that I simply like you? Some people in the galaxy still value romance, you know."

A momentary pang of guilt rose inside of him as he realized he may have slightly misinterpreted her intentions. 

"If I've offended you, my Lady, I do apologize. I don't have much experience in the ways of, what you call 'romance'."

"Just like you don't have much experience with 'dancing'?"

He noticed the Queen was studying his expression, but he made no attempt to dissuade her. Cautiously, she followed up with, "I don't wish to pry, Kylo, I'm going to of course, but have you ever..." she made a simple, but explicit gesture with her hands to emphasize the point.

He hurriedly cut her off. "I was trained as a Jedi, so... no. I've never..." he mimicked the hand gesture she'd made.

"Oh," she blushed. "I didn't realize. Perhaps I should be apologizing instead. If I make you uncomfortable, I can..."

"No, don't... please," he said before he could stop himself. He wasn't sure what to feel just then, but he forced himself to say, "Your presence has never been offensive to me. I'm just not used to... well, I mean... I enjoy your company. I don't have many people to talk to about... well, about anything."

She regarded him with sadness in her eyes, "That sounds terribly lonely."

"It has its moments," he admitted. Again he thought of Rey and all they'd been through. After Crait, he thought she would never speak to him again, but still, she surprised him when he'd reached out to her through the Force. What did that make them now at this exact moment? There were too many nagging questions and doubts that ran through his head for him to deal with at one time, but he noticed the Queen was still listening to him, almost eager to hear what he had to say, so he obliged.

"I know you mean well, and I do appreciate your brazen attempts at wooing me," that won him a smile from Lucia, "But I can't be what you want me to be."

"Ah, I'm beginning to understand. Here I am, an unmarried Queen shamelessly trying to woo a lonely King, but his heart yet belongs to another," she said with a dramatic flourish. "We really are living in a story, aren't we?"

"Maybe we are," he agreed.

"Perhaps you could tell me a little about her?"

He considered her words but didn't wish to elaborate. "There isn't much to tell, honestly. I'm not entirely sure what we are exactly."

The Queen nodded again, "I see. Let me take a guess. You fell madly in love with this mysterious girl, offered her everything you had, exposed every inch of your heart to her, and she threw it all back in your face."

He didn't know how to respond to that, so he let his silence speak for him. The Queen put a gentle hand on his arm as she added, "I thought I'd recognized that look in your eyes, but I couldn't place it right away."

"What look is that?"

"That of a man who's had his heart broken. Whatever it was that happened, I'm sorry that you had to endure that kind of pain."

They looked into each other's eyes for a long moment and Kylo suddenly realized just how close she was to him.  He could feel her warmth, her breath, her need.  He didn't give it much thought, in fact, he didn't feel as though he were in control at all, but at that moment he leaned down to her and his lips fell upon hers.

The warmth of her kiss awakened a part of his spirit he hadn't felt in a long time, a place in his heart he thought only Rey could reach. A moment later, Queen Lucia pulled him closer as she returned his kiss twice as hard, then suddenly, as if he'd been doused with cold water, he pulled away.

"I'm sorry, my Lady, I shouldn't have done that," he said as his heart hammered in his chest.

Queen Lucia too looked shocked by what had just happened, though she was much quicker to recover. "You know, for someone who hasn't 'danced' before, you've got a pretty good technique."

Flush-faced and unbalanced, Kylo Ren processed his mixed feelings as best as he could before facing the Queen again. "It just... felt right, that's all."

She put her hand on his again. "Maybe because it was.  You don't need to feel ashamed. You've been hurt, yes, but you also overcame. You took control of your own destiny from a withered monster who didn't deserve your obedience.  You've brought peace to my world and have every right to feel good about it. As a Queen, I too understand what it feels like to be alone in a crowd, and I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable, I just thought that we could simply... keep each other company."

He knew perfectly well what she meant, but he didn't protest either. Kylo centered himself in the Force again as he thought up a response. "I know your feelings are sincere... but I can't. I'm sorry."

Her hand fell away from his. "I understand," she hesitated a moment, then slowly turned and walked toward her private chamber. A long moment passed in silence when she looked back to say, "If you change your mind though... you're welcome to spend the night."

He listened to her heels clack against the polished stone walkway as she disappeared into her chambers, leaving the broad double door cracked open in an unspoken invitation. Kylo felt a lump form in his throat as he let the pain of loneliness wash over him again.  The darkness welcomed him with open arms, as it always did, but he took no comfort in it this time.  This time, he felt only misery.

After a long moment, he looked out upon the city a final time before turning to leave, but then he stopped. Against all his better judgment, he looked back at the open door and thought of Rey. She wasn't here was she? It's not like they had admitted such feelings for each other, had they? She was kind and generous to comfort him when his mother became one with the Force but that didn't mean she wanted to be more than that, did it? How could she possibly reciprocate his feelings for her after all he'd done?

These questions threatened to overwhelm him, so rather than fall victim to indecision, he made up his mind and veered toward the Queen's chambers. He wondered if she could hear him approaching and whether or not she was patiently waiting for him or otherwise preparing for sleep. He pulled the door open enough to enter, then quietly shut it behind him with a dull thud.

He looked up to see the Queen unzipping the back of her gown as she met his hungry gaze and smiled. She'd already removed her crown and her black hair hung loosely down her back, but with a final tug on the zipper, she let the gown fall to the floor and stepped out of it, wearing nothing else but her black choker.

Kylo hadn't quite known what to expect when he'd come in, but he devoured the sight of her body with growing excitement. His eyes fell from her reserved yet hopeful face to her soft breasts and slim waist before regarding her carefully trimmed sex, which caused his blood to swell.  What drew his attention next was the unmistakable burn scar that began just above her left hip and snaked it's way down to her mid-thigh. 

He imagined it must have been a horrific experience, but it was well healed.  That was only the most prominent one he saw but there were others he noticed, a nick here, a cut there, a blaster shot that could have been fatal no doubt, but all of her scars had healed long ago and stood testament to her life as a soldier and rebel. When he realized he was staring, he looked away quickly, embarrassed.

"It's okay to look at them," she interjected as she quietly approached. "I'm not ashamed of my scars, I have made peace with them long ago, but I understand if they... trouble you. You wouldn't be the first."

It was only the smallest tremor in her voice as she said it, but it was enough to enrage him, though not at her.  No, she spoke from experience.  Someone at one time or another had seen her bare herself like this and cruelly rejected her and the thought of it stirred his hatred.  

He wanted to demand the name of that scoundrel so he could cut him down for his disrespect, but fearing that she might mistake his anger for anything other than what it was, he looked her in the eyes and declared, "No, don't say that. You're absolutely beautiful as you are."

Her face lit up with genuine delight as she replied, "You are too kind, Kylo Ren.  She came up to him then and put his face in her hands and lightly kissed him again.

His heart ached for companionship and his blood surged with desire.  He muttered, "The fault lies with me... as you've said, I never... well, I've never done this."

She smiled up at him. "I'll be happy to provide 'dancing lessons', then." Lucia reached over his shoulders and unfastened his cloak. With a crumple of fabric, it fell into a neat pile at his feet while she walked around him, pulling his tunic and doublet off a sleeve at a time until he was bare-chested.

Her hands lightly brushed his own visible scars, particularly the saber cut that Rey had given him, then, with quick and efficient tugs, his belt and trousers fell away until he was as naked as she was, though his excitement was considerably more on display than hers.

Her eyes widened at the sight of him and they looked at each other for a long moment when she said, "Scars should be cherished, Kylo Ren. They remind us of what we've survived."

"Among other things," he thought but did not say. 

The Queen took his fingers and brought them to her burn scar, which she allowed him to trace all the way down to her thigh.  She directed his hand around to her ass and made him squeeze her left cheek, but he was still hesitant. 

"You're still conflicted, about your true Queen."  

It was a statement, not a question but Kylo answered anyway, "You were right. My heart does belong to her, but I fear she doesn't feel the same."

Lucia touched his saber scar again as she said, "If not, then so be it. Maybe one day she'll see you as I do and will want to welcome you into her life, but for right now, tonight, it's just the two of us enjoying each other's company. Nothing more, nothing less, and certainly nothing to be afraid of."

Again, he lost himself in her shimmering eyes and, as the Queen took him in hand and pulled him closer, all thoughts of Rey retreated to the back of his mind.  He leaned down to feel her lips on his again, only this time they didn't stop. She guided him toward her luxurious bed, and as her thighs opened for him, he let himself be consumed by animal lust as Lucia taught him an entirely new kind of dance.

Chapter Text

Rey sat alone in her quarters with only the Falcon's familiar bumps, rattles, and another dusty Jedi text to keep her company. It was one that Ben or Threepio hadn't translated yet, but she scanned through it to admire the artwork. Reaching out with the Force, she hoped to discern some knowledge from its dry and brittle pages but she found it difficult to concentrate due to recent events.

They'd jumped across a few systems already, but she didn't know where in the galaxy they were and thought it best to let Finn and Chewie find safe harbor. What unsettled her more was that Ben hadn't attempted to make contact since the incident at the memorial. Was he afraid he'd cause her more trouble? Had there been a revolt by Hux and his officers, or had there been some other kind of unforeseen incident?  Was he feeling guilty for what happened and too ashamed to reach out?

Not knowing was the worst feeling in the universe, she realized, so she distracted herself with her books. Strange symbols foiled in gold and purple inks, faded by time, were emblazoned across the pages. Occasionally, Rey would find pictures of humanoid figures wielding lightsabers or other ancient weapons. Those parts she enjoyed most because they reminded her of the few times her mother had read her tales about the Jedi and Luke Skywalker as a child... before they'd sold her off.

Now she just liked the pictures because they were easier to follow. She'd reached the middle of the book where she saw a striking drawing of some sort of temple backed by luminous sun rays foiled in gold and silver. Two figures stood to either side of the base with lightsabers raised, though the foiling had long been worn away so she couldn't see what color sabers they had been. She assumed they were Jedi.

Turning the page Rey froze when she saw it, there on either side were the same two figures only blown up to a greater detail. A female Jedi stood to the right, but it was the man that caused her alarm. Even wide awake, she couldn't forget that blood red mask with the black visor slit, or the cross guarded red lightsaber he held over his head. It was a worn illustration, but the details were perfect in every way she remembered from her nightmare.

Rey forced herself to look away but then she noticed the woman and was just as alarmed by what she saw. She was clad in brown Jedi leathers with her hair pulled back into multiple knots and bore in her hands a golden bladed saber staff. If she hadn't known any better, she would've thought she was looking at herself had she received proper Jedi training in the days of the Old Republic. The similarities were too great to ignore, but taking a moment to calm her herself, Rey breathed long and slow and fell into the Force.

The sounds of the Falcon faded around her, but when she opened her eyes to look at the pages of the book, other sounds echoed in her ears. Just like at Maz's castle, she heard the screams first. Putting the book down, she stood and found herself no longer standing in the small bunk of the Falcon but a musty, sweltering jungle.

The sounds of lightsabers clashed in the distance. Cautiously, she followed the echoes of the chaos. She pushed her way through a thicket of trees to see hundreds, perhaps thousands of Jedi warriors fighting to the death amidst the wreckage of walkers and ships that had crashed. Lightsabers of all colors, blue, green, yellow, orange and purple danced in the mists against a sea of crimson blades.

Taking a step, she fell with a gasp, but when she looked up she was in a stone walled courtyard surrounded by bodies. Each one had been cut down by an electro weapon of some kind and the stench of death was thick in the air. Rey gagged on the smell, but she steeled herself and made her way toward the stairs that led into the control room. Somehow that's where she knew she would find him.

Igniting her saber staff and illuminating the dim room in its golden glow, she emerged into the partially collapsed corridor at the top and followed it to its ultimate end and the cloaked figure that awaited her. He looked up at her, his expression unreadable behind his crimson mask, but his emotions roiled from him like a furnace. Holding up his saber, his modulated voice issued a single word that dripped with imminent danger.

"Jedi."

She froze, terrified of what was to come, but her body felt as though it weren't her own.

"Don't do this, this isn't who you are!" The words came unbidden to her lips. She tightened her grip on her staff as emotions dueled in her chest including fear, anger, heartbreak and finally resolve.

"It's who I've always been, only now I accept it. Why won't you?" He said as he reared back his weapon.

With tears in her eyes, she took up her defensive stance and forced herself to say, "Revan, please... don't make me do this."

Their sabers crashed together in a fire of sparks.

Rey lurched against her bunk with a start, the book having never left her grip. She threw it across the small space as though it were a venomous serpent that had just bitten her. At some point during her meditation, she'd fallen to the floor and it took her a moment to regain her composure enough to realize she was actually on the Falcon. The cloaked figure and the control room was gone; it had all just been another vision. Understanding that, her breathing slowed and her heart rate with it.

The Force still flowed through her with a crackling intensity though, and the familiar buzz at the back of her mind when Ben wanted to talk was there, but it was different. Somehow, she knew that she was the one attempting to establish contact with him. By reading the book and having the vision, she'd unlocked the secret.

Excitement gripped her as she stood, but she was apprehensive that the feeling could go away any moment, so Rey focused on it and nudged the sensation until she felt the bond open, like an old friend smiling back at her.

They connected.

"Ben, you won't believe it but I found out how to..." she said as she turned, then froze, confused by what she saw.

It was a second larger bed, luxurious and regal in the corner of the Captain's quarters. To her pleasant surprise, Ben was laying there shirtless as he stirred from the sleep she'd clearly interrupted.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..." she said when a second body stirred in the bed beside him. Then she saw the raven-haired woman, also shirtless, who had her arm draped over Ben's muscular chest.

"Oh..."

Rey understood.  Frozen in place, she imagined what Han must have felt when Ben shoved his lightsaber through his chest.

"Rey?" Ben whispered groggily, then his eyes went wide with shock as he sat up.

"I... didn't mean to disturb you. I'll go now," she said, forcing a polite smirk even as she choked on the shards of her own broken heart. A moment later, she severed the connection.

Then he was gone and all was quiet aboard the Falcon. Rey felt a chill go through her so she hugged herself in quiet reflection.

Don't cry, don't you dare cry. She thought to herself, but her tears, like the Force, had a will of their own.

Her parents threw her away, Luke turned her away, the Resistance had abandoned her and now Ben... what? What had Ben done that she hadn't always imagined would happen? He was on his own path, not beholden to her or anyone else, so of course, he found comfort in another's arms. Why should that bother her, they weren't anything more than 'complicated enemies' after all?

Why then did it hurt so much? Rey sat back on the bed as hot tears stained her cheeks, which only made her angrier.

"Damn him," she cursed to herself.  Damn him for making you see more into your 'bond' than what was there.  Damn him for manipulating you like this, to make you feel something that wasn't real after all. Damn Snoke for forcing this bond on us in the first place. Damn Luke for lying to you about him.  

Though Leia had meant well, she found herself angry with her for believing that she 'loved' him and for thinking that their 'wedding' would be interesting. Rey damned herself for knowing every word Leia had said was true and there was nothing she could do to pretend otherwise.

Rey never really knew what love was, she'd only read about vague and overly dramatic mentions in stories and fairy tales, but right now in the throes of heartbreak, she understood exactly what she had felt. 

She was in love with Ben Solo and she damned him for that most of all.

Luke's words came to her suddenly, "The Force isn't a power you have, it's the energy between all things, the balance, the tension."

She took a strange comfort in that knowledge. No matter who or what came into her life, the Force was always there and would always be there, so she took a breath and let it flow into her. The scared little scavenger at the back of her mind feared that Ben might try and make contact now, but she felt no such motion through the Force, not even a ripple, so she knew it was just her and her churning emotions in the quiet of the dark.

With a sigh of resignation, she came back to herself. Looking over at the book she'd thrown across the room, she wiped the last of her tears away and picked it up. She felt the old leather in her hands and set it down on the bed before leaving her quarters and joining her friends.

Rose glanced up at her briefly apparently noticing the redness of her eyes but didn't say anything as she continued to work on some wiring hanging out of yet another panel. Rey continued on to the cockpit. To her utter lack of surprise, Finn was hanging out in the Captain's chair with Chewie and their mutual friend Ripper.

The Porg let out a roiling squawk as she approached, announcing her presence. "So, any update on where we're heading?" She casually asked, pretending as though she hadn't just broken down completely. Chewie grumbled a quick response.

"Baze-Chirrutii? Is that in the outer rim?" The name wasn't familiar to her.

"Just past it actually," Finn clarified. "I remembered seeing it pop up a few times during supply briefs, it's technically in the unknown regions, but not so far out as to be uncharted. Still, the First Order doesn't have an established presence there... well, yet, anyway but we've had some dealings with some of the friendlier smuggler crews out there."

"Friendly-er?" She repeated, skeptically.

Finn tilted her head slightly as he replied, "Well, it just depends on which crew you find at the given moment. It's pretty much a jungle planet, with lots of dense vegetation and forests so it's ideal for all kinds of clandestine and somewhat 'unsavory' dealing. You might find old Rebel alliance vets or you might find the Guavian Death Gang, it's really kind of up to the will of the Force."

She stared at him flatly. "Finn, that's not how the Force works."

To which he flatly replied, "Isn't it though? Isn't it?"

Chewie growled that they were approaching their destination before reaching up to cut to sub-light engines. A moment later, the stars froze in place and the bright green and grey orb of Baze-Chirrutii filled the Falcon's viewport.

Almost immediately, Rey felt a sense of familiarity washing over her as she stared at the lush world, so much so that she had to force herself to remember to breathe. Apparently, her expression betrayed her conflicted feelings because Finn asked, "What's wrong? Do you sense something, danger?"

"N-no, nothing like that. I just... I feel like I've been here before. It's strange, I know, but just like Ach-to, I get these feelings through the Force. I just wish I could make sense of them, that's all."

Finn nodded in understanding, "Must be a challenge. Maybe when we're down there, something will come through. Maybe we're meant to be here for a reason. Who knows?"

She smiled at his casual optimism, but his words hit her harder than she let on. They were here for a reason, that much was certain. Everything that had happened over the last few months seemed to be falling into place, but she didn't know why. It just felt... right, as if all paths led to this green, but unremarkable world before her.

As Chewie took the Falcon down to the surface, Rey let herself slip into the Force to glean what she could through her memories and feelings, but she was still reeling with conflicted emotions which clouded all her other senses. Once they set down in one of the many clearings in the forest below, she had to focus on the present again. Fortunately for her, Finn and Chewie had already worked out some kind of plan to buy supplies to ship back to the Resistance and were going through a list of potential contacts, though details were murky at best and dangerous at worst.

One way or another, she knew that there was more to this planet than simple supply runs and smuggling operations and she was determined to find out what. Getting out of the Falcon was a welcome relief, even though she felt in some way that she was leaving Ben behind. She looked up at the ship as though he were there, watching her leave but in some way she was already beginning to make peace with it.

"Whatever the Force wills," she said to herself.

Whatever the Force wills.

Chapter Text

She woke as Kylo lurched forward.

"Rey?" He said urgently.

Lucia rubbed her eyes, still groggy from her dreams. "Are you okay?"

He didn't answer or respond but in her current state, neither could she. As the looming shadows of her bedchamber formed into recognizable objects, the Queen yawned and put her hand on his shoulder.

"Hmmm, who's Rey, huh?" She purred.

Kylo jerked with shock, turning to her with a pained expression on his face, and she knew immediately that something wasn't right. Sitting up, Lucia slid closer to him.

"Hey, it's okay. Look at me," she said putting her hand to his cheek. Kylo seemed to melt in her palm as she searched his restless eyes.

"Was it a war memory? It's okay, I still get them too from time to time, you can tell me."

He struggled for words, but he rested his hand atop of hers before he managed to say, "It was... just someone I knew... from before. I don't really get much sleep. The Force, my past, it's all fighting for my attention at any given time and I can't stop it."

She gently ran her fingers through his sweat-dampened hair. "I understand, more than you may think." She took his hand and pulled it down to touch her burn scar.

"Sometimes I wake up feeling like my skin is still melting but when I touch it, I remember that it was long ago and I survived. Just breathe slow and deep, the feelings will fade."

Kylo took her advice and after a brief moment seemed to relax. He gently ran his hand down her scar then down the length of her thigh as he looked at her with those hungry, needy eyes of his.

"I wish it were that simple."

Feeling an all too familiar warmth bloom within her, Lucia took his hands and pulled them to her breasts. "Well, Supreme Leader, as my father always used to tell me, 'in these cases it would be unwise to underestimate the power of a good distraction'," She leaned in for a kiss though he was still hesitant so she teased his soft lips with her tongue and quickly woke the beast inside of him.

Kylo Ren was at full attention as he pinned her to the bed with his lips and took her. Unlike the first time, his thrusts were raw and angry like that of a wild animal that had been freed from its cage and Lucia welcomed every second of it. Despite his being new to the carnal arts, Kylo Ren was surprisingly talented and though he'd spent himself quickly, they both knew they wouldn't be going back to sleep anytime soon.

The sun soon broke the horizon and Lucia was only too happy to lead her one night lover to her luxurious shower room where they shamelessly spent more time getting dirty instead of getting clean. His full lips were made for kissing and he'd made sure to use them on every part of her body. This time it was the Queen's turn to climax before she thought she was ready.

Once she'd come down from the Heavens Kylo had sent her too, she kissed him on the way out of the shower. She'd even almost made it to her dressing room before he ran up behind her naked, dripping and ravenous before he picked her up and carried her amidst her feign playful protests back to the shower.

"Oh my stars," Lucia moaned as she gently collapsed into his arms on the floor of the shower where the warm water pelted them with a gentle rain.

"Well," Lucia gasped, "I think you may have given me several heirs, Supreme Leader, and secretly securing ownership of my throne." She jested.

"It wouldn't be the worst thing I've unleashed on the galaxy, my Lady," he said with a chuckle.

She lightly slapped him on the arm, "Oh relax, I do take preventive measures. There are enough Force sensitive 'Dark Lords' running around as it is. You included."

"That's probably for the best, I think," he added.

"Now the only problem I have is how I'm going to make it to my dressing room when I can barely stand," Lucia chuckled.

"I am a Dark Lord, you know. I do have the Force," Kylo deadpanned.

"Oh, you certainly do," she agreed.

They shared a laugh then stared into each other's eyes for a moment before Kylo Ren said, "My only problem is keeping myself from falling in love with you."

The Queen felt a rush of hope then sadness swell inside of her. If there was one thing she'd learned in her formative years, as well as in the trenches that life was too short to chase someone who regarded you as a fallback plan. She put her hand on his cheek and in the gentlest tone said, "Kylo, don't... we discussed this."

Immediately his bright expression diminished but he nodded with apparent understanding. "I know."

"Don't misunderstand me, I enjoyed every moment we've shared and, for a beginner, you're exceptionally intuitive in the arts of pleasing a lady," she blushed and he smirked, "but it's still new to you and you have to understand that this," she gestured to their naked bodies before continuing, "This isn't love, Kylo. We're only two people doing what people do, nothing more."

His eyes downcast, Kylo sat back and drew his knees up in contemplation. Joining him, Lucia reached over and put her hand on his chest where she felt his heart still hammering away.

"You told me that your heart belongs to another, but that you weren't sure if she felt the same. As the Queen of Onderon, I want you to stand tall and proud and reveal your feelings to this girl. Perhaps she'll turn you away, or perhaps she will complete you. You won't know if you don't try."

"I highly doubt she wants anything to do with me," he spat.

Lucia wasn't sure where that sudden anger came from; she'd hoped it wasn't because of her, but he didn't push her away, so she continued to comfort him.

"If that's the case, then let it be. At least you'll have an answer, and if that's the case, well then maybe we can start picking out drapes."

He raised his brow and she smirked.

"Any King would be lucky to have you by their side, I just want you to know that," he said, sweetly.

She warmed again. "Thank you. You honor me with your words."

He leaned in again, almost near enough to kiss and said, "I had to do something to make up for the things I did to you last night."

Lucia laughed as she playfully slapped him on the arm, "Oh shut up! Come on, we should probably get dressed. My attendants may think we've drowned." They shared another laugh and then, softly, one last kiss.

It came as no surprise to Queen Lucia that when he was set on business, Kylo Ren was every bit a gentleman as could be expected of a Supreme Leader. Standing before her in his multi-layered black and red robes, he was a dashing, enigmatic, intimidating and quite lovely looking a man as she'd ever laid eyes upon.

With her makeup applied and day gown clasped and zippered, she walked over to him, now able to see him eye to eye thanks to today's set of heels.

"My attendants will show you back to the Main Hall, Supreme Leader."

He glanced at the door, then back at her, looking somewhat confused.

She rolled her eyes, "Oh come on, we both know we'll be the talk of the palace but that doesn't mean we have to publicly announce it."

His lip curled into a half smirk. "Of course, I understand my Queen. I'll see you shortly," he said as he turned to her attendant, Hade.

"My Queen."

Lucia smiled as she watched him leave and for a moment felt a pang of envy for whoever this mysterious woman was that both hurt him and captured his heart. A moment later she realized it wasn't only Kylo Ren who struggled with his feelings. She too had fallen in love...

... But only a little.

***

Kylo met with Queen Lucia one final time in a formal capacity at the steps of her throne. He had just seen her, of course, but somehow in the shimmering light of the main hall, she appeared more radiant than ever in her royal gown. With Malak and Shira both in attendance and a small compliment of Stormtroopers at their backs, they stood with deference as the Queen bid them farewell.

"Supreme Leader Kylo Ren, Onderon is forever grateful for your actions here and we wish you to know that the hearts and loyalty of the Onderonian people go with you. May you find swift victory and bring peace to this galaxy, and may the Force be with you."

Kylo Ren, showing no emotion or trepidation, took one step toward her and replied, "The First Order is most grateful for your hospitality and contributions to our cause. We will protect you and your people, that is my personal promise."

"For which I am personally grateful," Lucia added.

Kylo nodded respectfully. "Until we meet again, this is farewell, my Lady."

The Queen allowed a small smile, which he returned with a knowing smirk. In moments, he and his entourage exited the palace and boarded his shuttle to leave Onderon and Queen Lucia behind. He reflected in silence on all that had transpired, both the good and the bad.

He considered his feelings most of all, for her and for Rey then realized the Queen was wrong about one thing. He knew exactly the way he felt about her because every time he thought of, looked at, or felt Rey's presence it was the same feeling.

Kylo had fallen in love with Queen Lucia Bonterri of Onderon...

... But only a little.

Chapter Text

Hux watched the holo feeds with disgust. Trooper after trooper held their rifles high and chanted his name, “Kylo Ren” as though it were a rallying cry. The footage of the Onderon campaign was sickening, freeing slaves, open celebration, the complete and utter degradation of discipline amongst the troops, his troops no less.

Colonel Garmuth had entered the conference room a moment later as expected.

“General,” he greeted with clipped formality.

Hux, not looking at the man nodded toward the small holoprojection of the ‘celebrations’ they had just been party to.

“Colonel, tell me what you see when you look at this footage,” he asked calmly.

The Colonel furrowed his brow as he watched for a moment. Then, with measured words, he replied, “I see multiple breaches of protocol and unnecessary fraternization, General.”

“Oh, it’s so much more than that,” Hux added. “They worship him.” He didn’t have to say a name, the Colonel nodded in understanding.

Hux went on. “Of course I had the utmost respect and loyalty for our late Supreme Leader Snoke, but if his death has proven anything, it’s that any man is susceptible to the fallibility of life. The First Order was and always has been my father’s greatest achievement in the aftermath of the war. First and foremost was the absolutely unquestioning loyalty drilled into our soldiers.

At this, he turned to meet the silent Colonel’s cold eyes. Gesturing to the images on the table, he went on, “After all these years of training and conditioning, these troops disrespect everything our order stands for by swearing loyalty… to a man.”

The other man raised a brow in what appeared to be mild concern. “Sir? Kylo Ren is our Supreme Leader, is he not?”

That made Hux smile, partly because he knew why the Colonel was here. “Is he, now? You see, Colonel, the thing about loyalty is that if you are loyal to one man, those loyalties can change over time should that man meet an untimely end, but if you are loyal to an idea, that loyalty is forever!” He made a fist with his gloved hand before stepping closer to Garmuth. To his credit, the man did not shrink away.

“Tell me, Colonel… where do your loyalties lie? With Kylo Ren, or the First Order?”

The man swallowed hard but otherwise didn’t hesitate in giving his answer. “They have always been and will always continue to be with the First Order, General.”

Hux smiled warmly. “Good, I’m so very glad to hear that, though I dare say much of your decision has to do with that little holo disk you’ve brought me.”

“That is… a correct assumption, sir.”

“By all means, good sir… let’s see what it has to offer,” Hux gestured to the Holoprojector with a casual wave of his hand.

The Colonel inserted the small disk, then, turning to the lowly BB unit in the corner of the room, Hux said, “Activate security lockdown for this room then go into standby mode.”

The black and white droid issued a harsh beep of acknowledgment as it plugged into the wall panel. The room was locked and electronic dampeners were activated within the walls to prevent any unwanted eavesdropping after all the ‘traitor’ could be anywhere.

“It’s a bit grainy, from the recovery, but it’s pretty clear what happened,” the Colonel said.

“Show me,” Hux demanded, barely able to contain his excitement.

The Colonel started the playback, and there they were. The girl Rey had resisted Snoke or at least tried to resist him, but he tossed her around like a child’s doll with a disgustingly casual display of his Force abilities. In the center of the room, Kylo Ren knelt before him, ever the obedient servant.

A scream of agony issued from the girl as Snoke invaded her mind, a sight that both amused and disgusted Hux, but he couldn’t argue with the results. Snoke clearly got what he wanted from her because he went on saying something about an island and how they’d ‘give Skywalker the death he and the Jedi deserve’ or some such nonsense.

He watched with delight as Snoke forced her to watch her friends be destroyed on the escape ships fleeing to Crait. If it weren’t for that damn suicidal attack by that madman who was piloting their lead ship, they could have ended this all then and there, but there was no point in mulling over it now. To his surprise, Rey snatched Ren’s lightsaber from his side through the Force and actually had the gall to charge at the Supreme Leader.

Hux had to laugh as the Supreme Leader flicked her away with the force as though she were a bug. Then, Snoke forced her to her knees before Kylo Ren as he went on about how he sensed his newfound resolve and how it was finally time for him to pass his final test and blah, blah, blah. He may have been the Supreme Leader, but his fixation on mystical nonsense and ritual was nauseating.

Still, Hux knew that this had to be the moment, so he continued to watch as Ren stood before the girl and held his lightsaber to her chest. He noticed something then, something… odd. Ren’s left hand was curiously stiff by his side and upon closer inspection, he saw that it was because he was rotating his wrist with two fingers held down. What was he doing…

A flash of blue flame drew his attention back to Snoke, sitting on his throne. That’s when he had understood; Kylo Ren had rotated the girl’s lightsaber on Snoke’s armrest and activated it with the Force. The old fool was so focused on Ren, he didn’t notice until he was skewered like a Paladian Swamp Toad on a spit. With a flick of his fingers, Ren pulled the lightsaber back across the throne room and into Rey’s hand as what remained of Snoke collapsed to the ground.

A wave of fresh nausea rose up within him at the blatant treachery of it all, but he couldn’t turn away as Kylo Ren and the girl who’s supposedly been his enemy stood back to back and fought off the Praetorian guards with a raw and terrible brutality. It was everything he had hoped for and more, but Hux couldn’t stomach it for much longer.

“Colonel… you have done the First Order a great service today,” he said absently as he watched Kylo Ren ask Rey to rule the galaxy with him and even create a New Order, not just rule the First Order, but to wipe it all away and start over.

“General, if I may be blunt, this knowledge was not pleasant to learn… but the question that remains now is what is to be done with this information?”

Only now did Hux turn to the Colonel with grave severity. “I’m so glad you asked, Colonel. While I can’t divulge such sensitive plans just yet…” he slipped a datapad out of his coat pocket and handed it to the other man, “I do hope you will make the appropriate preparations.”

The Colonel glanced over the tablet, then looked up at Hux with understanding. “As it please you, sir. Long live the Supreme Leader.”

Feeling almost choked up, Hux warmed to being referred to by his rightful title. “Yes, this would do just fine,” he thought but did not say. Finally, after all this time he had the respect that was due him, but he knew it was too early to celebrate. He looked at the Colonel and added, “Go with my complete faith in your loyalty. We will restore the First Order to its proper place in the galaxy, this I promise you.”

“Yes sir.” With a click of his heels, Garmuth acknowledged and turned toward the door. Hux ordered the BB unit to awake and disable the security protocol so that the Colonel could leave, but he stayed behind to watch the final moments of the video. For some reason or another the girl clearly chose not to join Ren, and really who could blame her, but now they were fighting over her lightsaber with the Force.

It was a peculiar sight to see the thing just floating there in the center of the room and that neither of them could best each other. They fought so strongly that the saber itself split in half with a blast of energy that shook the holo recorders as it knocked them both unconscious. A moment later he saw the Supremacy split in half by that blasted hyperspace jump and the footage ended, but the knowledge remained.

Hux slowly reached for his personal comm then dialed in his contact. Holding the device to his mouth, he said, “Malak Ren, are you there?”

A moment passed before the contemptible creature’s gruff voice answered. “Yeah, I’m here. What is it?”

“That little ‘project’ I told you I was working on… I have it in my executive chamber. As I promised, I think you’ll find this footage most enlightening.”

This time the moment dragged out so long, he thought the Knight had closed the comm on him, but then he heard, “I’m on my way.”

The General waited patiently as Malak and his female companion, Shira joined him several minutes later. He didn’t mind the extra company of course, so when they arrived he enacted the security protocols again and replayed the footage. This time, however, he stood back enough to glance at there expressions while they watched in silence. The change from annoyance, to disbelief, then finally rage was glorious to behold and even as the video ended, Hux could barely contain a smirk.

Silence hung heavy in the air as Malak looked to Shira, then to Hux with raw, animal anger in his eyes. Cautiously, Hux slid the small projector with the footage over to him, he’d already made a copy of course, for his own sake, but now he had to take the next step.

“I know this must be a difficult time for you, Malak and so soon after a great victory on Onderon… but just know that whatever happens next, should you or your Knights take any action to right this wrong… you have the full support of the First Order and your new Supreme Leader.”

Malak glared at him of course, but not quite as intensely as he had the footage. That’s when Hux knew he had him in his grip. He turned to the BB unit to deactivate the security protocol again and let the door open. “I do hope you can find someone who appreciates all those rare mystical objects in Snoke’s treasure room. It would be a shame to let them go to waste.”

The Knight palmed the small projector with the footage and, without a single word, stormed out of the room. Shira gave Hux a final look of contemptible understanding before following him down the hall, leaving the General to his personal satisfaction at his impending ascendancy.

At long last, the traitor had been revealed and the end would finally come to Kylo Ren.

 

Chapter Text

The tropical jungle world of Baze-Chirutti was as sweltering as it was thick with vegetation. Rey’s undershirt was soaked through with sweat only a couple of steps down the Falcon's landing ramp it seemed.

"Wow, okay, I wasn't expecting this kind of heat, and I thought Jakku was bad," she commented as Finn and Rose came down behind her.

“Jakku was a dry heat though but this place? Ugh, no wonder this place is good for smuggling. No sane person is coming here for a honeymoon, that's for sure," Finn added with a note of disgust.

A large, threatening animal sound warbled in the distance.

Rose chimed in. "If the humidity doesn't drown you, some of the local wildlife will take care of it, I’m sure. We should probably arm up."

"Yeah, good idea," Finn agreed. He pulled some blasters from the travel packs as well as a secured comm.

Rey didn’t feel much threat in the surrounding jungle, but she reached out briefly with the Force anyway. It was difficult to center herself at first with so much abundant life around her, but even as she fell into a sense of harmony with her surroundings nothing seemed immediately dangerous. She did notice something curious though, a small dark spot in the forest, almost like a shadow, but as she extended her touch to it, the sensation faded like a gentle mist.

“Huh, probably nothing,” she murmured, coming back to herself.

"Alright," Finn started, "I just got confirmation from our contact. He goes by the name of Anto. They want to meet in the village marketplace. It's a bit of a trek, though but I think we can get a speeder ride on the way back."

"Great, maybe they've got some intel too," Rey said.

Finn and Rose gave her a look that bordered on remorseful.

"What?" She asked, confused.

"Sorry, but technically... you've been stripped of clearance and we can't bring you into contact with our suppliers," Rose said.

Crestfallen, Rey replied, "Oh, right. I understand... I guess I'll stay behind and guard the Falcon with Chewie. It could use some work anyway.“

"Well, I mean," Finn began, "It's not like they need to know who we all are. If Rey wants to wear a disguise to prevent identification, who would ever know?" He looked to Rose for confirmation.

Rey brightened at that and Rose's eyes lit up as she added, "And it would help to have a Jedi with us to feel out the situation, to make sure it's on the up and up."

"I can definitely do that," Rey confirmed.

"I've got just the thing," Rose exclaimed as she ran back into the Falcon to acquire whatever disguise she had in mind.

Rey turned back to Finn. "So, how long of a walk is it again?"

***

Talos Ren wasn’t one to bore easily, but sitting perched in the treetops of a Baze-Chirrutii forest for weeks on end while his brothers and sisters had fun traipsing around Onderon, was beginning to test his patience. Only through the scope on his rifle did he come to know his fellow inhabitants of this sweltering banthas fodder hole. He saw all manner of cast offs and morally questionable creatures and couldn’t help but feel some sort of kindred connection with them, if only an ephemeral one.

Zeroing on in one group of travelers at a time, he activated his long-range audio sensors sometimes just to hear the conversations, hoping to glean some information about rebel activity, First Order gossip or possibly the occasional reference to ancient mystic artifacts. Not that he cared so much about the past, but Snoke had made it clear that any kind of rare or interesting Jedi or Sith artifact was worth recovering and so, he kept his fanned ears open.

Of course, Snoke was dead so that should have been some sort of reprieve from such a menial task, but Kylo Ren apparently shared the former Supreme Leader's passion for Force-sensitive trinkets. Naturally, he found himself here on the hunt for an alleged temple that had been buried by the forest in some ancient cataclysm but for every wannabe treasure hunter he came across, there were privateers and grave robbers waiting to scam them out of their credits by luring them into the jungle and robbing them blind. He found such acts personally distasteful but still had to admire their resolve.

His scales itched as he noticed a family of refugees trying to buy passage somewhere from a group of armed 'explorers'. He had never been as attuned to the Force as Malak or Shira were, but then he hadn’t been trained by Luke Skywalker, either, but right now he didn't like the feel of the currents coming off of the mercenaries.

He raised his scope to his visor and zeroed in on the group. A yellow skinned female Twi'lek, a dark skinned human male, and what appeared to be their four or five year old daughter were clearly desperate and broke as they tried to barter with what little they had, but the Rodian and Duros thugs weren't having it.

A cry went up from the woman as the Rodian bashed the butt of his rifle into the man’s chin, dropping him to the ground with blood pooling through his fingers. Naturally, the child started crying and the woman tried to protect her by pulling a pathetically small knife from her waistband. Talos sighed with resignation, knowing exactly how this was going to end.

He'd gone on missions that required him to assassinate targets, including women, but he always refused to let kids come to harm. One glance at the husband writhing on the ground told him that they weren't getting help from anyone, so he took a deep breath, glad to have some action but disappointed that it had to be under these circumstances.

"Well, Talos, you can forget all about that Sith Lord merit badge you always wanted," he said to himself as he took aim at the thugs.

The Rodian grabbed the woman by the wrist, but the Duros was a cleaner shot as well as the more immediate threat if he turned toward the direction of the shots, so he zoomed in on his bulbous, blue head, exhaled, squeezed, and dropped him like a sack of smashed meluran fruit.

Both the Twi'lek and the Rodian were shocked by the suddenness of it all, but that just made the bug-eyed merc's head an easier target, so Talos repeated the previous step. With a crack and flash of red plasma, the scumbag was on the ground and the poor family was huddling for cover on the far side of the speeder, looking around to see where the shots came from. It wasn't a good habit to give away one's position, but he figured it was time to move anyhow, so he made a show of climbing out of his perch and sliding down the leg of the tree.

He held his rifle up as non-threateningly as he could and had his other hand palm outward as he emerged from the bushes. The woman and child were hugging the father as they watched him approach, fear still plain in their expression.

"You're welcome, friends. I was here on other business but I saw these goons giving you a hard time. I hope you don't mind the help."

The man, still bleeding from his chin gasped in pain before saying, "T-thank you sir. We can't possibly repay you."

He kicked the Duros over onto his back before rifling through his pockets, "Ah, don't worry yourselves too much about it. I was pretty bored until you came along, so I figured, why the kriff not?" A moment later, he found the keys to the speeder. "Here we go."

He looked up at the three of them, "You were looking for a ride weren't you? It's yours now." He tossed the small cylinder to the man as he stood. "I know there's a market and a spaceport, really just a dirt lot for ships, about 20 clicks that way." He gestured toward a small path that led away from the sun.

"I'm sure you can find a ride to wherever it is your going. Just be careful and don't pick up strangers, will ya? Not everyone's as charitable as I am."

The family was already climbing into the beat up old TX speeder when the woman turned to ask in a thick Twi’lekie accent, "Who are you?"

He considered how much he was willing to tell these strangers he'd never met before, but settled for saying, "Just your friendly galactic Knight of Ren."

Their expression seemed to change when they heard that and suddenly they were in a hurry again. Talos had come to expect that of course, most people feared the Knights of Ren, and for good reason, but he liked to mix it up from time to time and do the occasional good deed.

"Don't worry, I'm not one of the bad ones... well, today, at least. I like to give myself one good deed a month and congratulations, you're it! So, you should probably leave now."

"Of course, uh, thank you... again." The man started the speeder and quickly raced away with his family, leaving Talos alone in the woods with two dead bodies at his feet.

"Whelp, you won't be needing these anymore," he said as he grabbed what few credits the mercenaries had on them. Apparently, they weren't very good at their job because there was barely enough for a hot meal and a bath at your average low rent brothel.

"Yeah, it's probably better if I just leave this out of the report." He hoisted his rifle back over his shoulder and began walking toward the very market he'd told the family to drive too. Sure, he could have asked for a ride, but he needed to get the blood back into his legs, plus it would give him the opportunity to take in the sights.

Several minutes into his trek, he heard the roar of an engine that came in awfully close. When he looked up, he saw the shape of what appeared to be a YT model Corellian freighter coming into land. It looked like a complete piece of junk, but it was a strikingly familiar piece of junk. Curious, he broke off his trek to the market and followed the sound of the freighter's engines as it set down.

Talos knew it was a long shot that this particular ship was the one he thought it was, but the opportunity was too great to pass up. Once he got near the clearing where it had landed, he climbed a short way up the nearest tree to get a better view with his rifle. He counted three humans at the base of the ramp, one dark-skinned male, and two females but when he turned his scope to the cockpit and saw the Wookie pilot it all came together.

"No, this can't be..." he trailed off as he looked at the girl with the braided hair. Then he noticed her Jedi sash and the distinctive shape of the lightsaber hilts that hung from her belt. He was right, it was them, the Jedi Rey and her rebel friends. He'd found them either by luck or by the Force. Either way, Talos Ren knew he'd just been handed a gift the likes of which none of the others could expect to receive, but he wasn't ready to act on it just yet.

With a Jedi on site, he knew that any attempt to take her out now would only trigger her senses through the Force, so he maintained black recon level and observed as much as he could. Still, he watched as she paused and reached out with the Force, then in a momentary panic, he felt her presence brush against him.

Using a little trick he’d picked up during his dark side training he withdrew his Force signature into himself and became one with the forest around him. Apparently, it worked, because he felt her withdraw with some confusion on her face before she turned to converse with her compatriots.

Remaining cautious, he activated his audio receiver and eavesdropped on their conversations where they discussed meeting a contact at the market for possible supplies.

“Finally, something worthwhile,” he thought to himself.

Then he heard something truly interesting; the Jedi had apparently been stripped of her rank in the Resistance and had to wear a disguise if she wished to accompany the other two on their trip. That was a curious detail. Clearly, something had happened within their ranks if their single strongest fighter had been put on leave.

He wondered what could possibly have caused a desperate rebellion to cast aside their greatest asset so carelessly? For now, he decided to follow them, but at a comfortable distance. He knew where they were likely going, so there was no need to actively pursue them. The more at ease and natural his behavior, the less likely he'd give himself away, should they happen to catch sight of him.

The trek was moderate at best but once he'd come upon lines of travelers heading to the same place, it became easier to blend in. A hooded cloak here, a discarded satchel there, and once he stored his helmet, he looked just like another pilgrim heading into town, at least what passed for a town in this wretched jungle.

As expected, the markets were bustling with refugees, buyers, sellers, mercenaries, and gamblers of all types and species, and it stunk like spoiled milk and sweaty feet. He'd hardened himself to disgusting smells, so it was only a minor challenge pretending to breathe through his stubby snout, but while he stayed among the crowds he always kept his eye on the curious group of rebels searching for whoever it was they came for. As long as they were oblivious to his presence, he would find a nice spot to hang out, maybe grab a drink or two and wait for something to report back to Malak.

***

Rey scanned the crowd, reaching out with the Force to see if she could sense any possible threat. Naturally, the Force ebbed and flowed with emotion and general discomfort, frustration, and despair but nothing felt openly hostile. She kept her hood up and her mouth wrapped with the dusty cowl Rose had brought her and to an extent, she felt a pang of nostalgia for her days scavenging on Jakku, but it was only for a moment until she remembered how much she hated Jakku.

Finn had led them into this marketplace, which was as filthy and disgusting as any she'd dealt with throughout their journey in the outer rim. He looked around for a long moment, trying his best to be casual about it when he caught sight of something.

"That's him." He pointed to a dark-skinned Weequay leaning up against a rusted support strut.

Rose peered around his shoulder. "Are you sure? Have you met this guy before?"

"No, but that symbol on his armor? That's the same one from the lead we got," Finn added.

"I suppose he's just as suspicious as everyone else around here. What could possibly go wrong?" Rey commented as she tried to get a read on the man.

"Come on, try to have a little faith, okay?" Finn gave them his most optimistic smile before casually walking toward 'Anto'. Rey and Rose both followed but at a distance. Rose pretended to look at some items on a nearby merchants table and Rey did the same. Briefly, she felt the dull shadow presence again, coming somewhere from behind her.

Turning back, she glanced over the throng of people for the source of the disturbance, but as soon as she'd felt it, the sensation was gone again. There were only unwashed refugees bartering for transportation, semi well off shoppers browsing the wares, a twi’lek family gathered around a man who's bleeding chin was being treated by a pop-up clinic medical droid and more than a few drunks hunched over tables with drinks still in their hands, but nothing stood out to her.

Finn had made contact with the Weequay, who very animatedly, gestured for him to follow. He turned back and nodded to the two of them to do the same.

"Let's go," Rose said, slipping through the crowd.

"Lead the way," Rey held her hand out.

The contact led them toward a medium sized tent that had been hastily built just on the outskirts of the market. Armed guards eyed them suspiciously as they passed inside.

"Welcome, my new friends. Please step inside and we can discuss our, uh, 'business’,” said Anto with a dramatic flourish of his hands.

That didn't sound suspicious at all, Rey thought sarcastically as they stepped into the dim rotunda of the structure. It happened only a moment after she sensed it, but Rey couldn't help but sigh when the guards all drew their blasters on them at once.

"Now, my friends, don't be alarmed," Anto said, "I know it looks bad, but it's as much for our own safety as it is for yours, I assure you! Please turn over your weapons and we can discuss terms like civilized beings."

"Oh, you've got to be kidding me," Finn growled as he slowly pulled his blaster out of his holster and handed it over. Rose likewise complied and handed over a grenade and a holdout blaster.

One of the guards walked up to Rey and glared down at her. "Well?"

Looking him straight in the eyes, she pushed on him with the Force and said, "I'm just a mechanic, you don't need to search me."

The guard seemed to lean for a moment before he blinked and said, "You're just a mechanic. I don't need to search you." Then he turned away and tossed Finn and Rose's weapons into a small box on the table.

Rey breathed a sigh of relief until Anto came around front, flailing his arms in disbelief. "Hey, hey, hey! What do you think you're doing, you sleemo stool sample? I told you to take her weapons, not mumble like a fool and walk away."

"Damn," Rey thought. A moment later, Anto was standing before her with a noticeably suspicious expression on his face. He leaned in, narrowing his one good eye. Rey leaned back out of instinct.

"A mechanic, you say?" He added with breath that reeked of spiced ale.

"That's right," she flatly acknowledged.

"I'm afraid, my sweet child, I still must search you. Please, take no offense, it is only for everyone's protection… hehe, especially mine.”

With that, he gently cracked his knuckles, and doing his best to look abashed, lightly tapped his palms under her arms, down her sides, questionably close to her chest, then around her back and finally to her hips where he stopped immediately upon feeling the lightsabers. He gave her a raised eyebrow before reaching underneath the cloak and unhooking the hilts before inspecting them.

At first, Anto seemed confused by what he was holding but a moment later, realization dawned on him. "Oh, my... are these... what I think they are?" He looked at the three of them with renewed curiosity as Rey decided how much she should reveal.

She glanced at Finn, who seemed to share her concern and Rose who simply made a face that said, "Our cover's blown anyway, so why not just tell them?" Anto made her choice for her, however by gesturing to her hood.

"Could you be so kind as to remove that, my dear, and the cloth, thing, scarf or whatever you call it?”

Rey sighed and pulled back her hood. Next, she undid her scarf, secretly glad to be able to breathe again, not that the air was any cleaner in the tent, but at least now she didn't have to hide anymore.

“Better?” She said, annoyed.

Anto's eyes lit up with recognition, which Rey found somewhat surprising. "You're her, aren't you? The scavenger who became a Jedi..." he said with awe in his voice.

"My name's Rey," she said, flatly.

"Yes, yes it is," Anto agreed. He looked at Finn then and pointed with his other hand. "And you, you are the traitor!"

"Hey," Finn blurted out, clearly offended.

Anto laughed, "Oh no, I'm so sorry! I did not mean that in a derogatory way, I promise you! But you are him aren't you, the stormtrooper with a conscience. What was your designation again? Wasn't it THX-1138 or something..."

"FN-2187," Finn corrected, "But that's not what... I'm not... Finn. My name is Finn."

"Ah yes, Finn, of course!" Anto threw up his hands in excitement. He looked back at Rey with an almost swooning gleam in his eye. "I have heard much about the Jedi from Jakku but words do not give credit to just how absolutely ravishing this creature is before me."

"What?" Rey and Rose exclaimed in unison.

Anto suddenly noticed their friend then. "Ah, my dear, I meant no disrespect to you of course. Where are my manners? You too are as lovely a creature as any that have set foot inside Anto's tent Miss... ah..."

"Rose," she said for him.

"Rose, of course! A beautiful name for a beautiful woman."

Rey glanced at her long enough to see her blushing, but more out of amusement than anything, then Finn stepped in front of Anto.

"Okay, I think you can stop sweet talking now. We're here on business, you know? We’re running a rebellion against a galactic menace that wants to wipe us all out, in case you haven’t heard.“

Anto reared back with mock surprise. "Ohhh, I see how it is. You two are, uh... well, I understand. I suppose she could do worse, and I mean that in the most complimentary way, I promise you!“

“Excuse me?” Finn added, incredulous.

“Thank you, Anto,” Rose interjected before Finn could continue. He shot her a wounded look which she handily disarmed with a forced smirk.

Anto stepped away from them and paced the center of the tent, with the saber hilts still in his hands.

"I must say, I was not planning to meet such a notable crew of rebels today. I figured I would show up, shakedown some poor outer rim scum and leave them stranded in the jungles and fly away all the richer but instead I have the absolute pleasure to be in the presence of a living Jedi, a hero of the resistance, and a Rose among the stars."

"Um... thanks? The three of them muttered in their own way.

"So what about you?" Rey added quickly. "What's your story?"

Anto looked genuinely baffled by the question. Holding a hand to his chest, he gasped. "Where are my manners? Of course, I forgot to introduce myself. I am Anto Ohnaka, leader of the most feared, most wanted, most profitable pirate gang in all of the Outer Rim, the Ohnaka Gang!"

Rey blinked once.

Anto, looking mildly confused, added, "I am the very same Anto Ohnaka that wrangled Rathtars during the Terran Dynasty crisis and evaded the Black Sun blockade of the Rishi Maze!"

Silence.

"Doesn't sound familiar," Finn shrugged.

Anto put his fingers to the bridge of his nose. "I pilot the Century Sparrow, the ship that made the Kessel Run in 10 Parsecs!"

Rey snickered at that. "I find that hard to believe."

Anto threw up his hands and clapped. "Ha, of course, you do! Who can blame you," then he quietly muttered to himself, "because you pilot the actual Millennium Falcon so you would know better wouldn't you?"

He smiled again. "I should've known I couldn't pull a fast one on a Jedi; I was a fool to even try, ha! Still, that doesn't solve the quandary we've found ourselves in. You need business, I need credits, but you're no ordinary buyers either."

"Is that going to be a problem?" Finn said with a tone of warning in his voice.

Rey gave him a cautionary look, but Anto turned and said, "Not at all, brave Finn. I simply believe a meeting of such importance should be handled by a more, uh, seasoned hand." He turned toward the side flap of the tent and held it open.

"Wait, where are you going?" Rose asked, concerned.

Anto gave them a winning smile. "We... are going to see my father... Hondo Ohnaka.”

 

Chapter Text

Talos cursed under his breath as he watched the group be led away to the shipyard. The further from the market they got, the more difficult it was going to be to keep tabs on their dealings, but he ditched his drink and snaked his way through the crowd anyway. Coming to the edge of the ramshackle structure that made up the main thoroughfare, he pulled out his scope for a quick read.

The Weequay pirate was leading them toward a massive hunk of junk that may very well have been an overturned construction site dumpster. It was the biggest ship in the yard by far and was surrounded by no less than ten rough riding mercs who’d been standing out in the sun all day; it was bad business picking a fight like that, so he had to settle for finding a better place to camp out where he wouldn’t be noticed.

Casually passing by a stall of for-hire speeders, he slipped into the jungle brush like any other drunk looking for a place to relieve themselves. No one would notice him missing, so he crept toward the trees until he found one that gave him a solid lookout without being obvious. With claws and hooks, he made his way up the far side of the trunk to avoid being spotted and then slipped around front to nestle into a perfect position to keep an eye on things.

The ship only had one way in and out through the main ramp so, once the Jedi and the rest of the pirates had gone inside, all he had to do was wait until they came back out and follow them back to their own ship. He could only imagine what business they were trying to conduct with a group like this. For now, he pulled out his long-range comm and opened a channel directly to Malak.

“Malak, come in, this is Talos, over.” He waited for a reply but after a moment, nothing came back to him. “This is Talos, I have urgent news, come in?”

Again, no response, but just when he was about to switch over, a crackle issued from the small speaker.

“This is Lor’utti. Malak make request not to be disturbed; he busy…” his Knight brother said with broken basic.

Talos smirked. “Lor’utti, good to hear you. Let me guess, the only one allowed to ‘disturb him’ right now has silky black hair, spikes on her head and thighs that can crush an Ithorian’s windpipe, right?”

A knowing chuckle came back at him. “Something like that, brother. What you wish to report?”

“When Malak’s no longer ‘busy’, tell him I have visual confirmation of the Jedi girl with her rebel friends on Baze-Chirutti. They even came in the Millennium Falcon of all things.”

Lor’utti cursed and sputtered with an anger he hadn’t heard in a long while. “You are certain? That sleemo Jedi took my kriffin’ arm!”

“It’s her. They’re meeting with the Ohnaka gang but for what I don’t know. They’ve been taken to their ship and it’s too heavily guarded for me to get a solid read on what they’re doing, so I’m just camping out in a tree until I can get a better handle of the situation.”

The Knight hissed through the comm. “Yes, of course. I will inform Malak as soon as he’s, uh… finished his meeting.”

“You do that, but make it quick. I don’t know how long they’ll be here for."

“Yes, of course, brother. Learn all you can out there.”

“You know me too well.”

***

Thankfully, Rey realized, the ship wasn’t too far away but she was still nervous about being so exposed as Anto led them to meet his father. The disquieting feeling in the Force was back, the sensation that they were being spied on. A couple of times when she tried to pinpoint the source a small creature would scurry out from the bushes and she gave up again.

Along the way, Finn, to his credit, tried to make small talk with their host, but it quickly became obvious that talk was never small when it came to Anto Ohnaka.

“So, your father… he’s famous in these parts, huh?” Finn asked.

“Oh, of course he is, my friend! Hondo Ohnaka is a living legend, though truth be told,” Anto put the back of his hand to his mouth and spoke lower, “he’s getting up there in age and probably won’t be living much longer, but don’t tell him I told you that, eh?”

Then with his usual gusto, he resumed waxing eloquent about the infamous pirate captain. “He has scourged, pillaged and plundered across the mid and outer rim, he has fought off and destroyed rival gangs across the known expanse from Black Sun to Kanjiklub, uh don’t tell that to them though, they’re a bit touchy about their reputation. He has stood shoulder to shoulder with Jedi and rebels alike from the Clone Wars and throughout the Galactic Civil War,” then quieter, he added, “Or so his book says anyway, am I right?”  He laughed as he held the small holo autobiography up like a trophy.

“Wow, he sounds like quite the adventurer," Rose said with barely contained skepticism.

Rey glanced at her, then rolled her eyes as she said, “Let me guess, Anto… he wrote the Book of Hondo himself, huh?”

“Ayyy, it’s all in here! Every last detailed, 100% accurate accounting; I see you’re interested in buying a copy, huh?”

“I’ll consider it,” she mused.

“Of course, of course!” Anto laughed. “You must first meet the man, the myth, the legend himself before you decide. I understand, yes I do!”

Rey shared a look with the others, wondering just what they were getting themselves into as they walked by a pair of Trandoshan guards and onto the entrance ramp. The ship, despite its bulky and well battered appearance outside, was surprisingly refined and luxurious inside. Fine silk drapes hung from the walls, portraits, and works of art were showcased in illuminated displays, along with holo advertisements for none other than ‘The Book of Hondo’.

She was actually quite amused by the show of opulence and in some ways, it calmed her anxiety about whether or not they were being led into a trap. Anto brought them further into the bowels of the ship where they turned down a narrow hallway and into a smaller but no less opulent receiving chamber. There, sitting on a finely crafted wooden chair with a purple skinned, barely dressed Twi’lek dancer on his knee, was an elderly Weequay with large magnifying goggles around his eyes and a well worn, tri-tip hat and walking cane by his side.

“Anto, my son, what is the meaning of this?  You bring strangers into my ship while I have company over?”  The wrinkled old man scolded.

Anto held his hand up for the party to stop, so they did. He approached his elder with one hand behind his back and another held out almost in supplication. “My most gracious apologies, father, but I wish to introduce you to three very important new friends of mine, as well as possible business partners and…” he said quieter, “… book distributors.”

Rey quirked her brow. “Book distributor?”

Her meek question went unanswered as the elderly pirate waved his hands in agitation. “Yes, yes I see them standing before me.   My dear, may you give us a moment alone, please?”  He said to the dancer.

“Oh, fine, don’t take too long, baby,” she pouted.

“Oh you know me, my dear, it’ll only be a few moments, I assure you,” he added with a playful slap to her backside as she stood and left the room.

“Very well, my boy, you have my attention.  Go on then make a proper introduction or have you forgotten your manners already?”

“No father, I would never!  I’m an Ohnaka, remember?”

“Ahh, yes indeed, yes indeed,” Hondo agreed, waving his finger.

Anto turned to the three of them and added, “My friends, may I proudly present to you the genius tactician, credit making mastermind, galaxy infamous author and notorious pirate, not to mention the leader of the Ohnaka Gang…” he waved his hand in a broad gesture to the old man, who, as though he’d rehearsed for this very moment, stood on feeble but solid legs.

“… Hondo Ohnaka!”

Hondo, in a show of dramatic flare that curiously resembled, or perhaps inspired, Anto’s own, said with gravitas befitting a king, “Ayyy, it is I, Hondo! The scourge of the Outer rim, the bane of the Empire and a humble but, quite lucrative, writer of fine texts.”

He took one, then two steps down from his small platform to look at the three of them. “And now who might you be, eh? If you come seeking business, we are friends but if you come seeking trouble, well… we can arrange that as well,” he said with a hint of warning in his gravely voice.

Finn stepped forward to speak, but Anto spoke first as he held out Rey’s lightsabers. “Father, as I said they are very special guests. They are from the Resistance and that lovely one over there,” he pointed to Rey, who blushed more out of annoyance than flattery, “is the Jedi scavenger from Jakku. She is the Snoke Slayer.”

Hondo’s eyes went wide, nearly filling his goggles with his dark pupils as he looked upon the lightsaber hilts. His shaking hand hovered over the weapons before he gently took them from his son’s palm. “You… are the Jedi, Rey of Jakku?” He asked as he looked at her with new understanding.

“I am,” Rey admitted, then added, “You’ve heard of me?”

He gaped at her a moment before answering, “Of course I’ve heard of you.  Everyone in the Outer Rim has heard of you by now and not just because of the obscenely high bounty on your head, I assure you.”

Rey tensed as she looked to her friends and the few guards still around them.  Quickly she said, “Is that ‘bounty’ going to be a problem for me or my friends?  I can assure you, we have enough credits to make your assistance worthwhile.  The First Order hates pirates the last I checked.

Hondo, looking wounded by her words, “My sweet child, I may be a backstabbing pirate who’s loyalties change day to day but I would NEVER betray my friends.”  Then a curious look came over his face as he seemed to think about what he’d just said.
“Well, I’d never deliberately… I mean to say… ah just forget what I said.  You, my dear have nothing to fear from Hondo.”  He then took a step closer to her.

“And why is that,” Finn asked before Rey could get a word in.  “Why wouldn’t you turn us in the first chance you got?”

Hondo gave the three of them a forlorn look, before lifting his googles up to his forehead, revealing his beady, searching eyes.  “Because, in all my long years I’ve learned one thing that has kept me alive and that is to always side with the Jedi.”  With that, he held out the hilts to Rey.

“Well,” he quickly added, “Except during the reign of the Empire when siding with a Jedi was sure to get you killed, but most of the time, in a fight I will always side with a Jedi!”

Rey gave him a sideways look as he pushed her hilts toward her again.

“Would you do me this honor and show me your blades? I have jumped from one end of this galaxy to the other and nothing would satisfy this old pirates heart more than to see a Jedi in all her magnificence one more time.”

Rey, stunned and bewildered by the request looked to Rose and Finn for confirmation. They both made expressions that said, “why not” so she took her hilts, assembled them into her staff configuration, and ignited the ragged blades.

Anto leapt back as the bottom blade nearly seared his foot off.  The chamber around them lit up with the golden hue of Luke’s damaged kyber crystal and Hondo likewise seemed to glow with childish glee as he beheld the sight.

“It is true, then… the Jedi have finally returned to the galaxy, and with a saber staff no less! Ha, I remember seeing a fair share of those in my travels,” Hondo admitted before adding quietly, “But it was usually some Sith Lord or hairless witch chasing me around with them.”

Rey gave the staff a light twirl before deactivating it. “Oh really? You’ve encountered Jedi and Sith Lords before?”

He gave a wave of his hands, “Of course I have! Have you not read my book? All my adventures across the galaxy are detailed there.”

“So we’ve heard,” Rey said in Anto’s direction.

“What can I say? I am a dutiful son who simply wants his father’s legacy to spread across the stars,” he admitted.

“That’s my boy! A true Ohnaka if ever there was one,” Hondo cheered.

Finn crossed his arms.  “That’s funny because I could’ve sworn Anto here claimed a few minutes ago that he was the legendary, feared leader of the Ohnaka gang.”

Gasping with shock, Anto protested, “What? I said no such thing! You dare accuse me of such blasphemy?”

“Yeah,” Rose added.

“You too?”  He looked at her, appalled.

“I’m pretty sure you said that too,” Rey added, causing Anto to sputter with outrage.

Hondo reared on his son, “You said what? You dare to lie to our guests and usurp my authority over this gang?  How long have you been planning to stab me in the back, my own son?”

"No, father it was nothing like that, I swear!  It was just some harmless bravado, nothing more.  I thought they were simple junk traders we could pinch for quick credits, that’s all,“ Anto pleaded.

Rey tensed as the elder Weequay hobbled over to his distraught offspring, fist raised. A part of her wanted to protest and possibly diffuse the situation before it came to blows, but another curious part of her wanted to see what would happen… so she remained silent.

After a tense staredown, Hondo threw his hands in the air, overjoyed, “I am so proud of you my boy! Scheming, boasting, and claiming what will rightfully be yours upon my inevitable death? You are truly an Ohnaka and worthy of leadership of this gang!” He slapped his hands on his son’s shoulders, who visibly relaxed.

“Thank you, father. I am truly honored by your praise.”

“Of course you are, my boy! Now, let me get back to business with my guests, but perhaps you could ready some refreshments in the meantime.”

“Yes, of course, right away,” Anto obeyed.

Hondo turned back to the three of them. “So, let’s cut to the chase then. What brings you out here to this sweltering armpit of a world?”

Rey and Rose both looked at Finn, who nodded and stepped forward with a data tablet. “The Resistance needs supplies, specifically parts and armaments for some ships we’ve recently acquired.”

Hondo took the tablet and gave it a quick read over, nodding occasionally. “Mmm, I see, I see… these ships are old, but adequate, and can be easily modified but also… also…” he looked at the ships closer before his eyes lit up with recognition. “These ships look surprisingly similar to some we lost a few months ago. Where, exactly did you get these from, my friends?”

Rose was first to answer, “We took them from a First Order impound lot on Tantis.”

“The First Order, of course! These ships are so familiar because they are OUR ships!”

“Is that going to be a new problem, Hondo?” Rey asked, putting some steel in her voice.

He gave her a surprised look as if hurt by her unspoken accusation. “Of course not! I know how the game is played, we got ambushed by the First Order, we lost our ships and you liberated them! I think it’s fortuitous then that we happen to have all the parts you need to fix them up…” Hondo let a heavy silence pass by.

Rey finished his sentence for him. “But?”

He chuckled, mischievously. “There, of course, exists the necessary discussion about price.”

Finn picked up the conversation then. “The resistance is more than willing to trade. We have medical supplies, food, scrap…”

Hondo stopped him with a wave of his finger, “Ah, I’m sure you do, but these things we can acquire from any junk dealer. Normally republic credits would do fine but seeing as how there is no republic anymore, well… that particular brand of currency has become somewhat unstable. I’m sure you understand.”

Apprehensive, Rey asked, “What then? Tell us what you need and we’ll do our best to get it.”

“Ah, I’m sure you will, child. I personally have faith in you,” Hondo commented as he paced before them. “There is a First Order weapons cache a system over that we would very much like to liquidate of their assets. It is guarded by walkers and automated turrets and a small complement of troops.  Though we are a large gang, we don’t have the numbers to take it ourselves, but if the Resistance were to, oh, supply some extra troops and ordinance we could maybe be inclined to split the haul 70/30. Seventy for us and thirty for you.”

Rose scoffed at that, “Are you serious? You want us to risk our resources to help you get rich? You should reverse those numbers if that’s the offer you’re making.”

“Rose, I’ve got this,” Finn tried to interject.

She glared at him. “No, don’t let this Pirate scalp us, for an operation like that it should be at least 60/40 for the Resistance!”

Hondo let out a bark of laughter. “Ha, adorable and a shrewd negotiator to boot! You, young lady, would make a fine pirate, I think 60/40 for Ohnaka Gang!”

Rose narrowed her eyes as she sized him up, Rey was impressed but otherwise unsurprised by her resolve as she made another counteroffer, “60/40 Ohnaka Gang but… you offer to fight with the Resistance when the time comes to burn down the First Order once and for all. All in, every ship you have, every scoundrel, pirate and mercenary on your payroll and you’ve got a deal.”

Hondo considered this for a long moment as he stroked the spikes drooping from his chin. His expression was hard but softened into something that resembled respect. “I see why the First Order is so threatened by you, you have the tenacity of a Rancor and the ideals of a true Rebel.”

He chewed on his thoughts for a moment, tapping his cane against the metal floor before adding, “I will agree to this on one final condition.  I will give you exactly half of what you ask now and the other half upon successful liberation of the First Order depot, to be carried out within the month.”

Rey’s heart sank at that.  “A month?  Hondo we’re desperate for supplies and I don’t know if the Resistance can put together a force…”

“Done.”  Finn said, surprising them all.

“Finn?”  Rey said, incredulous.

He looked at them with that confidently furrowed brow he got whenever he set his mind on something.  “The Resistance can do it, and we don’t really have the time to draw this out do we?  Every day that goes by, the First Order dominates a new world and arms themselves with more resources.  Doing this would lighten the load a bit, don’t you think?  Whatever you think of this deal, our interests are aligned and it’s not just weapons at that depot, you know that.”

Rey considered it, then looked to Rose.

“He’s right, there could be some good intel there if we can slice their network,” she added.

 That’s when Hondo looked at Rey with an upturned chin.  “See, my dear?  Mutual interests are a beautiful thing, are they not?”

Sighing with resignation, Rey looked to Finn again.  “If  you think this will work, I believe you.”

“It will,” Finn said confidently.  “Hondo, you’ve got a deal

“I am most pleased to hear it, Finn,” Hondo said as he extended his hand.  Just before Finn could take it, he pulled back suddenly and added, “But there is one more tiny, imperceptible little condition I’d like to add.”

“Aww come on, man,” Finn moaned.

“Seriously?”  Rey whined.

“Pfft, pirates,” Rose glared with her arms crossed.

Waving his hands in dismissal, Hondo quickly announced, “No, no it is nothing like that at all, my friends!  You have your deal, but this is only a small personal request of mine, I swear.”  He smiled wide and turned to Rey.  “My dear…”

“Yes?” Rey asked, crossing her own arms.

“It would mean the galaxy to me if you were to record a brief endorsement of my book. Sales have been slumping recently and I think a promotion from an actual living Jedi, who can verify that everything I’ve written is accurate, would be just the thing to get people interested again.”

Rey chuckled as her shoulders relaxed. “Is that all? I wasn’t there, I don’t know if what you’ve written is true.”

“Gahh, what does that matter? People believe whatever authority figures tell them is true, just look at the Empire! Besides, what harm would a little flexibility in the facts cause, eh?” Hondo winked at her as he slid his scuffed goggles back down onto his eyes.

Rey glanced at her friends who looked absolutely defeated. “Fine, I’ll record an endorsement… but you better give me a copy for free.” She pointed an accusing finger at him.

Feigning shock, Hondo put his hand to his chest. “A Jedi with equally shrewd business sense? We have truly seen the birth of a new era! We have ourselves a deal.”

Anto had already returned with a case of bottles from all different makers and set it down by his father’s throne.

“Ah, my boy, what excellent timing!  If you would be so kind to tell Dreck to get on the grill. We are celebrating our new partnership with our Jedi friend and her Resistance allies.”

“You see, father, I told you this was a very good meeting,” Anto said as he went to carry out the command.

“Excellent, yes, my friends… tonight we are all Pirates, ha!” Hondo gave a shout of triumph that inspired the others in the room to do the same.

Finn walked up to Rey and Rose and leaned in.  “Not bad at all.  I think this can really work out.”

Rose smiled, “I’ve got a really good feeling about this.”

Rey put her hand on Rose’s arm.  “I do too.  Good job, you and Finn should negotiate all our deals, I think.”

Rose and Finn shared a look that made him blush and Rey to chuckle.

***

The Ohnaka Gan partied as any true pirate gang could, hard, loud, and very inebriated. Music blared from the ship’s comms, laughter was raucous, fights were occasional and every now and then Rey or Finn caught one or two couples sharing ‘private’ moments in less than private areas of the ship.

Hondo, ever the true host, escorted the three of them at all times, ensuring no one got too out of line while giving them a tour of his ship as well as an ever-expanding marketing pitch for his book. Of course, he directed them first to the recording panel for the agreed upon endorsement, which Rey was only too happy to deliver.

“Hello, I’m Rey of Jakku, Jedi Knight, and Snoke Slayer, I just want to say that Hondo Ohnaka is my favorite Pirate in the galaxy!” She said into the mic.

“Haha, excellent! That will surely boost sales! A drink, my dear?” He said, offering a mug of Weequayin jet juice.

Rey sniffed at it and reeled back immediately. “Wow, that’s the real stuff isn’t it?”

“Made right here in our own ship, my dear. True, it is swill compared to most drinks that credits could buy, but for Pirates, this is the finest blend of grains, fruits, and engine grease, you will ever find, I guarantee it!”

Finn stepped between them, lightly shoving the mug away. “I don’t think that’ll be necessary. We still need to get the parts back to our ship and be clearheaded enough to make the trip.”

Rey scowled at him, “Finn!  I'm not some desert flower, you know.  I can handle a bit of drink.”

Rose stepped up to them a moment later. “And, I’m sure she can make her own decisions, don’t you think?”

Looking embarrassed, Finn added, “Look, I’m just trying to keep things on the level, I didn’t mean…”

“I’ll try it,” Rose said as she took the mug.

Hondo raised his brows in surprise, “Of course, my child, of course.”

Rose sniffed the mug and closed her eyes for a moment, either savoring the smell or bracing herself, Rey wasn’t sure which. Then, she put the mug to her lips and upended it in a single gulp.

Rey and Finn gaped at her. Rose smiled back at them confidently, “See?  You don’t spend your days working in the mechanic bay without learning a thing or two about …” then she coughed and coughed again.  A moment later, her face turned colors it probably shouldn't have.

“That was,::coughs::, um that was maybe, a bit harsher than I,::coughs:: thought. Oh God, I think I need a chaser.” Her face was flushed by this point as Hondo snapped his fingers for a nearby server droid to approach with a tray full of multi-colored drinks.

“Get the girl a proper chaser before she passes out, droid,” Hondo ordered.

“Right away, ‘O great Hondo, Captain of Captains.” The droid extended an arm over the tray and poured a dark, fizzy liquid into an empty glass and handed it to Rose.

She tipped it back and the coughing subsided but not before she took a moment to gasp for air as though it were the most precious resource in the known galaxy. By that point, Rey looked over at Finn while nodding in Rose’ direction.

“Could you, you know?”

“Yeah,” he agreed before helping Rose balance herself enough to direct her toward a support strut that she could sit on.

Rey turned to Hondo then. “I'll go ahead and skip the drink."

"Of course, I understand.  It's not for everybody, obviously… but she will always have my personal respect for trying.”

“I’m sure, but for now I’m curious to know about your dealings with Jedi.”

His eyes noticeably brightened at the mention. “Ah, you want a personal telling of the Book of Hondo, I take it? Come, come I am more than happy to share my adventures with those who are eager to listen.”  His cane clacked against the metal floor as he took her for another slow tour of the ship.

Indeed, Hondo was more than happy to share his stories, as boastful and wild as they were, but Rey did genuinely enjoy listening to them. They reminded her of her childhood when she was gathered around the campfires with her fellow outcasts as they all recounted the tales of the heroic Luke Skywalker and the heroes of the Rebellion.

She knew that he was probably making up most of it, especially the parts where he claimed to save the Jedi at the last minute because of some impossible predicament or another that they happened to find themselves in. Hondo, in his greatness, would always arrive in the nick of time, every time, to save the day while humbly giving all credit to the Jedi, of course. Still, the stories and the momentary suspension of disbelief made her smile.

“So, Anakin Skywalker,” she began, “Was any of what you said true?”

Hondo gave her a well-practiced expression of wounded pride, “My dear, you accuse me of bending the truth?”

“No, Hondo… I accuse you of being a Pirate.”

He laughed at that. “Of course, and you should be grateful to be so wise in the ways of the galactic underworld.” Then his expression softened as he took another swig of his drink.

“Anakin Skywalker was many things, my child, but there was never a more honorable man than he… except maybe Kenobi, but we’re not talking about him anyway!  Skywalker though, was truly a good man and he loved his wife deeply, but that only makes this old pirates heartache all the more painful knowing his fate. Darth Vader, the Death Star, the Sith… there is nothing more tragic than to see a good man turn to evil like that.”

Rey thought of Ben and imagined what horrors and tricks Snoke must have played upon him to lure him down that same road.

Hondo went on, “I never did meet Luke though, not formally at least, but I hear he was able to turn his father back from the darkness and that it was Vader himself who cast the Emperor into the heart of the station.”

“I’ve heard the same, and I believe that,” she admitted.

“Yes, the word is you found Skywalker and trained with him before he appeared on Crait. So, does he live up to the legend?”

Rey considered her words for a moment before saying, “He wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I was hoping to find a legend, but instead, I found a man, hurting, full of doubts, imperfect but with good intentions… just like the rest of us, I suppose.”

“Ahh,” Hondo leaned back in understanding. “It is all we can ever really be. Ordinary people living through extraordinary times. Some of us are fortunate enough to be able to tell our own stories while others seek nothing but to hide from them. Some hurts run too deep and a mortal person can only handle so much before they are crushed beneath its weight.”

“You don’t know how true that it is, Hondo.”  Rey agreed.

“I know I’ve heard enough rumors about this Kylo Ren who leads the First Order, that he killed Princess Leia and Solo’s only son and wiped out the new Jedi,” he paused to look at her thoughtfully, “But I can see from your expression that the truth is more terrible and tragic than the legend, isn’t it?”

Despite her best efforts, Rey couldn’t suppress a sudden welling of emotion in her chest. “We were there, Hondo, Finn, Chewbacca, and I. We were on Starkiller base when Ben Solo killed his father.”

Hondo reflexively removed his tri-tip hat and bowed his head as Rey spoke. “I thought him a monster, I fought him in the forest though I never held a lightsaber in my life and I defeated him. I could have killed him then and there but the planet was breaking apart and I had to escape.”

“Hmm, I sense a rather large ‘but’ coming, I think,” Hondo said with a smirk.

Unsure of how much she was willing to tell him, Rey said only, “The more I learned about him, the more I understood how twisted and evil Snoke truly was, I came to pity Kylo Ren. I felt the light inside Ben Solo’s heart; he was torn apart by what he did but I think that may very well be the thing that guides him back to the light. You see, I wasn’t the one who killed Snoke, it was Ben. I was at his mercy, I couldn’t escape but he made a choice and he killed his master to save me.”

The old pirate stroked his chin horns as he considered this. “I see. Strangely enough, I am beginning to understand some of the reports I’ve been hearing across the outer rim, reports of First Order food drives and outreach programs and such. I thought it all nonsense at first, but if this Kylo Ben Skywalker or something or other secretly has light still inside, he may be trying to use his position to make right some of the things the First Order has done. It is all very curious.”

Hondo turned to her.  “The Skywalkers are a tragic family, this is true, and I was deeply emotional to hear of Han Solo’s passing, but to learn now that it was at the hands of his own son… well—,” he trailed off.  “Solo was a good man and a good friend and he will be missed.”

Surprised, Rey asked, “You knew him?”

Hondo’s eyes lit up again, “Oh of course I knew him!  We were very close, him and I,” he rolled his eyes a moment later before adding, “and by close, I mean I might have tried to steal the Millennium Falcon from him a couple of times and found myself at the end of his blaster, but that does not matter!  In fact I even saved his life once, me and Maz Kanata of all pirates.”

Rey chuckled at that.  “You know Maz, too?  What am I saying, of course you do.”

“Indeed, Maz and I are also very good friends… though, she’s a bit mad at me at the moment and seems to think that I am actually dead and no longer owe her the money I promised but that is another story entirely that I’m sure you have no time for.”

“Of course not,” Rey agreed.  She took a long moment to process everything he’d said to her, amazed at how small the galaxy seemed to be among the scum and villainy of the universe, then she said, “Thank you for telling me this, Hondo.  I can understand why people must want to buy your book.”

His eyes widened with genuine surprise.  “Oh, do you now?”

“I do and that’s why I think it’s okay to exaggerate and boast from time to time, especially in stories, because people need to believe in something. Heroes, tragedies, triumphs, all these things give people hope that life can be better, that people can be saved.”  Rey said with genuine sincerity.

“Ahhh, so you will promote my book to your friends then?”

Rey laughed. “Of course I will, but I think we should probably get our supplies and meet up with our Resistance contacts so that we can pass some copies around. Otherwise, the only people who are gonna read your book are, well, us.” She gestured over to Rose, who had her head in her hands while Finn was trying his best to console her, and failing.

“Of course, my child. Hondo Ohnaka always honors his agreements, and the chance to work with a Jedi again is worth far more than the price of a few spare parts.”

Rey smiled. “Thank you, Hondo.”

As he put his hand to his chest, he bowed slightly.  

“It is my absolute pleasure.”



 

 

Chapter Text

 

Malak seethed in his anger as he clutched the handle of his electro axe. Kylo Ren’s betrayal had cut him deeper than most and more than he cared to admit. Ever since he’d known Snoke from their time at the Jedi temple, he’d been favored by his wise mentor, but he understood the need to corrupt the young Ben Solo, the progeny of Darth Vader. He was a powerful warrior, certainly, but soft-hearted and prone to unrestrained compassion.

Snoke had known that if Ben Solo’s power could be harnessed for the dark side he would be a powerful tool to enact his plan for control of the galaxy. Malak knew how to play his part and he did it well. He had admired Ne’reem after all, but he did not hesitate to turn Jerrick’s lightsaber toward her heart when the time came. It was the only way to sever all ties Ben had to the temple, and he saw it done.

He had always been Snoke’s favored pupil, and he knew the time would come eventually when he had to kill Kylo Ren to assure his place by their master’s side, but he never imagined the boy had it in him to do what he saw with his own eyes. The image of Snoke’s bifurcated body falling to the ground was seared into his mind, and then there was the Jedi girl.

The Jedi girl.

Lor’utti had brought him the news from Talos. They were on Baze-Chirutti right now but for how much longer, nobody knew. He had to act. He had… to strike.

Shira entered their quarters with a quiet swoosh of the door. As stoic and beautiful as ever, she met his pained eyes and said, “He’s in the throne room discussing more ‘terms’ with some backwater chancellor. The sooner we do this, the better.”

He looked up at her with furious pride. He knew he could trust her of all people to stand by him, but he wasn’t certain about the others. He pulled the mini holoprojector out of his belt satchel and flipped it between his knuckles as he considered his next words.

“I will meet with him, my love. I will trust you to present the evidence to the others on board. We must act swiftly if we are to act at all.”

“I understand,” she said putting a comforting hand on his bare shoulder. “We will do what must be done, I can assure you.”

“I know you will,” he said, handing her the holodisk with the throne room footage on it. She took it but he gently held her hand in his. With the gentlest kiss upon her knuckle, he added, “Today is the day we truly write our own destiny. The Force is ours to command and we will avenge our master.”

Her black painted lip curled into a half smirk. Then, unbidden, she leaned down and delivered an impassioned kiss that nearly awoke his baser urges before she leaned back.

“We will destroy them both. I will stand by your side until my dying breath, that I promise.” Shira extracted her hand from his grip and left their quarters.

For another long moment, Malak seethed, drawing up the strength and fortitude to do what had to be done. With Lor’utti’s message copied to a datapad, he stood and left for the throne room.

In short order, he ascended the central turbo lift directly into the very room where Snoke had been cut down and his guards with him. Sure enough, Kylo Ren was meeting with a group of obscenely well-dressed representatives and discussing the current state of corruption within their government.

“Governor, you need only to reach out to Onderon for confirmation of my goodwill,” Kylo proclaimed. “They were extremely grateful for the destruction of the slaver syndicates, but those were outside forces invading their world. Your problems stem from within your own administration. That could cause… complications.”

The governor cowered as his eye stalks twitched with apprehension. “Yes, of course, O’ great Supreme Leader. Corruption among my staff is being torn out like weeds on a sidewalk, you have my solemn assurances!”

“Oh, I’m sure,” Kylo said with obvious sarcasm. “Be that as it may, I’ll be sending a compliment of troopers with you to see that our generous supplies make it safely to your people this time… where they belong.”

The governor bristled at that, but quickly recovered, “Ah, of course. Yes, you needn’t worry about our promise, but I understand your caution and I thank you for your generosity.”

“You’re dismissed, Governor,” Kylo said with a flick of his hand.

For a moment, Malak amused himself by thinking the alien would be thrown across the shiny floor with the Force, but instead, he grumbled another pathetic proclamation of gratitude and loyalty to the First Order before being escorted out of the chamber. Kylo turned to him a moment later.

“What is it, brother?”

Brother.

Malak subconsciously clenched his fist at that but he was far more disciplined than the Governor so he maintained his composure.

“Master, I have received urgent word from brother Talos on Baze-Chirutti. He has visual confirmation on a band of resistance fighters striking a deal with the Ohnaka Gang, as we speak.”

Kylo scoffed. “Hondo, of course, it would be him.”

“You… know him, master?”

The Supreme Leader chewed his lip before replying, “My… former family has history with Hondo Ohnaka. He aided the Rebellion during the war and the Jedi during the Clone Wars. He’s always found ways to scam people out of credits for his ‘services’. That doesn’t matter, though; why does Talos think this meeting is so important?”

Now was the moment. Malak watched Kylo’s expression like a predator preparing to strike.

“He says the Girl is there with the traitor, FN-2187 and the Millennium Falcon.”

To his utter satisfaction, Kylo’s face drained of what little color was there and for the briefest of moments through the Force, he felt his shock and fear ripple out like a droplet in a bucket.

“He’s certain of this?” He asked hoarsely.

“Absolutely. He’s already had her in his scopes several times, but we don’t know how much longer they’ll be there for.” Malak took a step closer. “Would you like him to take her out when he has the chance?”

“NO!” Kylo barked, furious.

That was all the proof Malak needed. It was sad, in a way, that a man with such power and a pedigree would throw it all away for something as petty as ‘love’. Still, he played his part as let Kylo Ren corrected himself a moment later.

“I warned you not to underestimate her. If we are to defeat her… I need to be there, on the planet.”

“With, all due respect… is that wise, Supreme Leader? The Knights of Ren are at your call. We can take her ourselves.”

“I said, no,” Kylo growled before he could take another breath to calm himself. “Prepare my shuttle. I’ll leave, immediately.”

This time, Malak didn’t back down. “Sir, I must insist that we come along with you. If this girl is as dangerous as you say, you will need every Knight at your disposal.”

To his credit, Kylo Ren didn’t flinch even as his eyes bored into Malak’s. “Very well. Gather the others and meet me in the shuttle bay.”

Malak stepped back with relief. “As you wish… my master,” he said knowing full well that after tonight he would never be calling him ‘master’ ever again.

***

Chewie and Ripper happily greeted them as they returned to the Falcon. Hondo’s small fleet of speeders slowed and came to a halt with crates and pallets full of supplies. Rey jumped out of the lead speeder with Finn and Rose behind her.

“Again, I must thank you for this Hondo. You’ve done well by the Resistance today.”

The old Weequay gestured broadly from his seat beside his son. “With a strong, young and lovely Jedi such as yourself leading the charge, I’m sure you will find a swift victory!”

“That’s the idea,” she agreed, ignoring his obvious flattery. “I’m sure our leaders will authorize the assault on the weapons depot soon. You have my word.”

“The word of a Jedi is as good as a suitcase full of credits in this old pirate’s experience. I trust you will!”

Taking a long look at the battered Correllian freighter, Hondo let out a low sigh of contentment.

“Now that is a ship of legend, my son! Look at how she wears her scars with pride!”

“So that’s it then? The Millennium Falcon,” Anto said beside his father. “I must say, I heard it was a piece of junk, but rare is it for a legendary ship such as that to actually live up to it’s own hype! HA!”

Hondo smacked him on the back of the head. “Don’t be rude, boy! That is the ship that made the Kessell Run in 15 parsecs!”

Rey replied, “Actually it was 12.”

Rose added, “I thought it was more like 13.5 but the number was rounded down?”

Hondo flailed his arms, “Ah, who cares anyway? Any smuggler worth his spice would and could fudge whatever numbers he was able to make a good story, huh? So what if it’s a parsec here or there, it’s still an impressive run and at the hands of the mighty Chewbacca of all creatures.”

Chewie barked in reply.

Finn, concerned, turned to Rey. “That didn’t sound like a friendly noise.”

“It wasn’t,” Rey said, embarrassed.

Hondo laughed nervously, “Aha, that’s okay my big furry friend, all is forgiven is it not? Besides, that was so long ago, eh?” He cupped a hand to his mouth to whisper to Rey, “We may or may have had our differences in the past, child, but I assure you we are all good friends now.”

“Right,” she agreed. “I suppose we better start offloading these crates.” She turned to the sound of distant thunder and darkening skies on the horizon. “A storm’s coming in and I’d rather not be here when it arrives.”

Anto Ohnaka jumped out of the speeder and began to assist, “Then what are we waiting for? Let us help you on your way.”

And with that, they got to work.

Even though they were only loading half of the promised supplies, it was still a considerable haul, even by the Falcon’s standards. No sooner had Rey reached for another crate that a sudden, urgent buzz in the back of her mind distract her enough to drop her end of the crate, nearly crushing Anto’s foot with it.

“Ahh, careful with that, my dear! I already lost an eye, I don’t need to have a matching leg as well,” he said with a good-natured wave of his hand.

“Sorry about that, I was, uh… distracted.”

Fortunately, Anto and his friends were too busy offloading the rest of the equipment to question her, but quietly, she felt a sudden wave of mixed feelings come over her. She couldn’t really speak to Ben now if she wanted to, not with everyone around her, but what hurt more was the feeling that she wasn’t quite ready to speak to him at all, not so soon after what had happened. Her chest heavy with regret, she quietly shut down the connection, hoping that Ben would understand and give her a bit more time to come to terms with what she had seen.

“I’m sorry, Ben,” she whispered, hoping in some small way, he might hear her. Then she resumed offloading crates with the others.

***

The shuttle rattled and shook as they descended through the storm clouds, but Kylo Ren was focused only on one thing, figuring out how he was going to help Rey without this situation turning into a massacre. He’d tried desperately to contact her through the Force after Malak had informed him but, somewhat unsurprisingly, she didn’t want to talk to him.

Even now his heart pounded in his chest with fear for her safety. He looked down at BB-NX who bleeped obediently from her charging port. Not knowing what was going to happen, he’d made sure to adjust her parameters to continue feeding the rebels intelligence should he fall out of contact with the Fleet or worse… if Rey simply killed him where he stood. He didn’t want it to come to that, but he understood if she felt that way after what had happened; for now, he didn’t care what happened to him so long as she lived.

“Are you well, Master?” Malak asked from across the loading bay.

That shook him out of his cold considerations. He quickly withdrew into the dark before replying, “I’m preparing myself, that’s all. This girl is dangerous… we have to be prepared for anything.”

“Of course, master… we do indeed,” Malak replied.

Kylo Ren glanced around at his fellow Knights, all of them unreadable beneath their black masks but was unsurprised by the vague sense of fear that seemed to languish in the immediate confines of the loading ramp.

Moments later, the shuttle touched down in an empty patch of grass between the wooded hills. Malak and Shira were the first to disembark into the downpour outside. He brought up his black hood, but it soaked through quickly as Kur’sa and Radduk took up the rear guard position.

“Where is she?” He asked as intently as he could without betraying the roiling emotions he felt inside.

“Follow me, Master, our intel has her in a clearing below us. I didn’t want to alert them to our presence,” Malak said as he led them through the trees. It was a short but miserable hike to the cliff edge overlooking the ravine. Down below, the moonlight reflected off the black river that snaked through the valley but on the other side of the gorge, he could see the landing lights through the trees.

Shira came up beside him with quadnocs in her hands. He took them and scanned the area. His breath caught the moment he recognized his father’s dilapidated piece of junk parked in a similar landing field. There was a young woman with short black hair who matched the description of the infiltrator Hux captured onboard the Supremacy when he’d killed Snoke, along with FN-2187, or Finn as they called him now, but his heart stopped when he saw her. Rey was inspecting crates of supplies that her allies were loading onto the ship. The sight of her sent a chill through his spine because he knew now that he was out of time. A choice had to be made and he wasn’t ready, not in the slightest.

“Talos, Vantaar and Miura are in position to take them out, on your word, sir,” Malak said flatly as he stepped forward, hands clasped behind his back.

Kylo’s heart pounded in his chest as he considered all options. He knew that trying to take Rey by force would end in disaster, not just for her safety but possibly for the still tenuous bond they shared, but he had to act. He was the Supreme Leader and he couldn’t show weakness in front of his own Knights, not now, when he was so close to learning what Snoke was searching for.

Taking another moment of consideration, he handed the quadnocs back to Shira and said to Malak, “Tell them to put a tracker on the Falcon, they’ll lead us straight to the Resistance, then, when we have them… we’ll take them all out.” It wasn’t optimal, he knew, but it was the only chance he could give them to escape.

There was a momentary pause before Malak grunted with what sounded disappointment.

“I understand. I was afraid you’d say that.”

Kylo Ren registered the danger through the Force an instant too late. As he reached for his lightsaber he gasped in shock as Malak plunged a steel dagger into his side just above his hip. Gripping the blade out of instinct, he felt hot blood soak into his gloves as he turned to face his betrayer. Malak’s eyes glowed yellow with malice as he pushed the dagger further in.

Kylo screamed in agony and fell to his knees as Malak began to twist the blade. Then he lowered himself to meet his eyes with cold finality as he said, “With all due respect sir… I think we’ll just kill the both of you right here, right now. It’s a fitting end for traitors to die together, don’t you think?”

With his free hand, he produced a small holoprojector and activated it. There, in luminous blue energy, stood Rey, tearful and heartbroken in the throne room as she said, “Don’t do this Ben; please don’t go this way!”

Kylo gasped in pain as he watched himself shout in panic, “No, no… you’re still holding on! Let go!” He knew how the rest played out, but as pain lanced up his side, he felt a new swelling of power rise with it, a last gasp of darkness that demanded release.

He glared into Malak’s eyes. “Snoke died too quickly. You won’t.”

Malak laughed, “I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation you’re in, Kylo Ren.” He wrenched the blade harder, making him scream again. “Just tell me the truth. Tell me that you did it all for her, that girl down there, who reminds you so much of your precious Ne’reem, so much so that you even gave her Ne’reem’s padawan braid. Go on… SAY IT.”

That name conjured yet more pain that he’d thought he’d buried long ago, but worse yet, Malak was right. Of course he was right.

“I did it for her,” Kylo bit out, “And I would do it all over again if for no other reason than to make Snoke suffer like I had.”

Disgust welled in Malak’s eyes, followed by palpable hatred as he growled, “We were your family, Kylo Ren… you were our Master… and you reward our loyalty with treachery. No one is more deserving of this fate than you.” With that, he ripped the blade out with a hot splatter of blood.

Kylo Ren keeled over in agony as he felt his life spill out of him beneath the pouring rain. Gasping in harsh, ragged breaths, he looked up at Malak wiping the blood from his blade before sheathing it and reaching for his electro axe.

“It’s ironic isn’t it? With all your power, you couldn’t see your own death coming, just like Ne’reem couldn’t see the lightsaber that pierced her heart coming. I was rather proud of that, myself.”

Horror dawned in Kylo’s mind. He looked at Malak with sudden realization as the connections formed in his brain.

Malak smirked in understanding. “That’s right, Snoke tasked me with freeing you from your personal attachments. He, of course, tended to Skywalker, playing on his fears of your darkness. That old kook was so focused on you he never even noticed my own darkness and that night, when he read your ‘mind’ it was actually Snoke’s power he felt. That’s why he needed to destroy you, but of course, that’s not how it played out is it?”

Everything Kylo Ren thought about that night, all his anger and fear of his Uncle came crashing down around him as he realized that he had been used yet again. Even then, Snoke had been manipulating events to ensure he had nowhere else to turn when he woke to his Uncle holding that lightsaber over him.

“No, that can’t be true. I saw the anger in his eyes, my Uncle wanted to kill me,” he spat.

“He wanted to kill the darkness that he felt inside of you, certainly but he was so blinded by his fear that you were lost like Vader had been he never sensed Snoke’s presence… just you.”

Kylo Ren seethed with rage at the trickery, at the lies and all the terrible things he’d been forced to do, all the people he’d killed… people who loved him.

“What have I done?” He muttered into the rain.

With a flick of his wrist, Malak ignited his axe blade. The crackling blue energy illuminated the darkened forest around them as raindrops sizzled on its edge. “You must realize by now that Snoke had only used you for your power. You were never his true apprentice… I was.”

Han Solo’s words came back to him then, his father’s words, “Snoke’s only using you for your power. As soon as he gets what he wants, he’ll crush you.”

Then came the rage.

It happened so suddenly and so intuitively, Malak didn’t have time to react as blue lighting arced from Kylo Ren’s fingertips, throwing the bulky knight into a massive tree trunk several feet away. Then, with a crack-hiss, he ignited his cross-guard saber, illuminating the rain with a blood red glow that burned as hot as his fury. Despite the pain, he forced himself to stand and face his betrayers as one.

The Knights of Ren each ignited their electro weapons and took up fighting stances in response as Malak shoved his way through their midst, fuming as he reared his axe.

“Did you really think you’d get away with it, that we wouldn’t find out sooner or later? You of all people should understand the cost of the dark side! Power is power and in this galaxy, there are two beings, those who have it and those who bow to it! You, Kylo Ren, do not have power.”

“Don’t I? What a coward you are, Malak. You speak of power but you had to stab me in the back rather than face me alone,” Kylo Ren growled. Then, taking a deep breath, he pulled his lightsaber to his side and pressed the burning blade against his open wound. He screamed in agony and dark side fueled rage as he cauterized his wound; it was a long shot and a temporary one, he knew but it was the only chance he had to defend himself.

Malak laughed, “Coward, am I? Was I the one who couldn’t kill a wannabe Jedi, an untrained little girl in the woods? Was I the one who refused to obey his master’s command to kill the girl kneeling before him completely at his mercy? You have some nerve calling me the coward, brother.”

Lighting crashed in the distance, briefly illuminating the darkened sky. “Brother? You have no right to call me brother, Malak,” Kylo bit out through clenched teeth.

A blaster shot followed by the sound of distant shouts and electro weapons drew his attention briefly back toward the landing field where the Falcon was. Rey was in danger, he could sense it, but he couldn’t afford to be distracted now. He remained focused on the threat he faced directly before him.

Malak laughed. “Ahh, the sweet sounds of battle… do you hear it, Knights? Tonight is where the Resistance dies along with the mighty Kylo Ren.”

In response, he raised his saber to single him out. “The only thing I am… is your executioner.”

Malak glared, then, unbidden the Knights of Ren charged him at once. Kylo didn’t move, didn’t blink, instead he pulled in as much raw Force energy as he could and at the last moment sent it toward the ground, splattering mud and debris into each of their visors, distracting them as he met their charge.

With a brutal thrust, he impaled Radduk through the chest then decapitated Kur’sa in the same motion. Shira and Malak both yelled in shock but it was short-lived as they met his attacks. The two of them against him weren’t ideal odds, but still better than he’d hoped, but his side burned with searing pain as he deflected blow after blow.

Thunder crashed around them as his saber met Malak’s electro axe with a sizzling crackle of energy. With each brutal strike he landed against the weapon, Kylo destabilized Malak’s footing enough to push him back up until he felt Shira’s presence racing up from behind. He spun to deflect a blow from her saber whip before shoving them back with the Force.

He readied himself for the next charge but Malak surprised him with the flash pods that he threw into the air instead. A deafening crack and brilliant shards of color sent Kylo reeling leaving him momentarily blind which allowed Malak to rush in and slam the butt of his axe into his stomach.

Kylo lurched, gasping for air as he took the brunt of the impact. He desperately swung his saber before him, trying to deflect Malak’s hits, but Shira was on him again. She slashed his thigh with her whip edge; he screamed out in pain before dropping to his knees.

A long moment passed as Kylo’s vision returned to him long enough to see Malak and Shira standing over him… triumphant.

“And so it ends, with the great and powerful Supreme Leader on his knees,” Malak growled. With almost lazy swings, he brought his axe down against his saber.

Kylo tried desperately to deflect the blows but between the pain of his burning side and the relentless attacks crashing against his blade, he knew it was only a matter of time before he couldn’t hold his arm up any longer. Malak knocked his saber from his hand with a fierce wrenching motion that sent pain jolting up his arm.

“Ahhh,” Kylo Ren shouted as he grabbed his hyperextended limb. When he looked up again, all he saw was Malak looming over him with axe in hand.

“The heir apparent to Darth Vader, the last of the Skywalker bloodline dies in the mud on a jungle wasteland. A shame, really.” Malak gripped his axe, but instead of using the blade edge he spun it around and cracked the blunt end up into his chin, making his vision flash white as he collapsed fully into the mud. The taste of blood filled his mouth as the world spun overhead. The rain was cold and merciless against his exposed face, but a moment later, his betrayer was there looking down at him with what appeared to be a hint of remorse in his eyes.

“It’ll be over soon. I am forever grateful for the skills you’ve taught me, master, but the skills I learned from Snoke will serve me just as well moving forward,” This time, Malak raised his axe for the killing blow. Kylo Ren knew it was all over. He knew that he would never see Rey again, or Queen Lucia, or live to see his destiny fulfilled. He was finished and that moment of realization brought with a strange sense of calm.

After everything he’d endured, all he had done in the service of the dark side, he wanted nothing more than for it all to end. He saw his mother smiling down at him as he held up the golden dice he was always so happy playing with. He saw his father’s look of remorseful forgiveness as he pulled his saber out of his chest and let him fall into Starkiller’s core.

“I’m sorry, father…” was the only thing he could say as he welcomed the end.

Malak reared his axe back to finish the job when the roar of a YT model drive core filled the air as bright floodlights shone upon the remaining Knights of Ren. The rain blew sideways from the powerful exhaust coils as the Millennium Falcon appeared over the cliff edge and Rey, in all her fierce majesty leapt down from the open ramp spinning her crackling saber staff in hand.

“Get… away… from Ben!”

 

Chapter Text

“You know, it would have been nice if Hondo at least stayed around to help us load the supplies too," Rey complained as she passed another crate to Finn.

"They're pirates, what did you really expect? Even this is only half of the supplies, we should be lucky we got that.“

"He's got a point," Rose agreed as she positioned the hover sled in front of the next stack. “I’m just glad Hondo has some history with Jedi or this could have ended very different. I’m not complaining.“

Rey stopped to regard them for a moment. "Well... I'm not complaining either, just stating my honest opinion, that's all."

Finn loaded crate after crate onto the hover sled as he added, "I agree, and it's not like we have a Force user around here to help move the crates faster or anything."

That made her cheeks burn. She bit back a smirk as she pointed at Finn, "You've got me there. Right.” She reached out with the Force and loaded the last two crates onto the sled for him.

"Oh, that's much easier. Yeah, I like that a lot better." Finn nodded approvingly as Rose giggled and pulled the hover sled back up the ramp.

The rain was coming down harder now and thunder clapped overhead as Rey looked at the three remaining piles of supplies still to load.

"We really need to finish, this storm is getting worse."

Chewbacca roared his agreement from inside the Falcon as he helped Rose unload the cargo. The ship was prepped and ready to leave, but Rey doubted even they could safely fly in this maelstrom. Reaching out with the Force again, she grabbed one of the crates and lowered it enough for Finn to get a hold on the handle.

"Who knew a jungle planet could be so inhospitable?" She said with a laugh.

Finn smirked as he guided the crate over to the empty sled. "Well for all the fun we were having in Hondo's little pleasure cruise, it had to go sideways eventually didn't it?"

Rey pulled another crate over to him with her outstretched hand. "Yeah, I suppose you're..." a sudden stab of panic went through her, causing her to drop the crate with a splash.

"Hey, what Hell?" Finn cursed.

Rey's heart raced as she felt his presence. She spun, looking in all directions for the source.

"Ben."

He was in pain and his emotions were raw and powerful. She felt burning anger but also fear, but the most alarming thing of all was that she knew he was here, on the planet.

"Rey? What's wrong?" Finn called out.

A moment later she heard his distinctive lightsaber ignite and out of the side of her vision, she saw the angry red glow high above on a cliff overlooking the ravine. The crackle of electro weapons hummed a moment later, and then she knew the truth.

"Ben? No!" She cried out as she stepped toward the edge of the landing field.

"Rey, what's happening?" Finn called out again, followed by a blaster shot that impacted the ground between them. Rose let out a shriek of surprise and Chewie roared as Rey and Finn dove for cover behind the crates.

Her sabers were in her hands and ignited out of pure reflex as she looked over at Finn, "You have to get to the Falcon and tell Chewie to take off immediately!"

"What? What's going on?"

"Ben's up there on that cliff and he's just been attacked."

"Kylo Ren? He's here? What's he doing here? How'd he find us?”

“That doesn’t matter right now. They’re going to kill him! I won’t let that happen.”

"Okay, okay, okay, but there's a sniper out there for sure! You know that, right?"

"Don't worry, I'll cover you, just go!" She pointed toward the loading ramp.

"Dammit, this is not how I wanted this day to go," he cursed. Finn took in two deep breaths and bolted from cover.

Rey was up with her sabers dancing through the rain, deflecting bolts coming from the trees. She couldn't see the shooter, but she had a general approximation of where they were located, so she made certain to deflect the bolts back that way. She glanced back to see the Finn had made it safely to the ramp. A moment later, the Falcon's engines whirred to life.

The sound of electro weapons drew her attention back to the forest edge as she saw two Knights, clad in exotic black armor emerge from the rain. Both were slender but one seemed more feminine than the other and she wielded a pair of holdout blasters, held at the ready. Rey didn't recognize either of them but she knew they were going to be trouble.

Her senses came alive as she immersed herself in the Force and recognized four distinct beings, the two in front of her, one in the trees, the sniper, she reasoned and another deeper in the woods, but strangely not close enough to be an immediate threat. With a click, she assembled her blades into staff formation and held her ground.

The Knight with the blasters fired a volley at her but Rey deflected the bolts easily. What she didn't account for was the second Knight with half hand vibro-blades charging her while she was distracted. Out of reflex, she flung a crate at her attacker with the Force, but he easily sidestepped, giving her a chance to meet him blade for blade.

"Ahhh," Rey yelled as she parried and struck. The Knight was skilled with the blades, easily as good if not better, than the Praetorian guards she'd fought in Snoke's throne room. Of course, Ben was there to help her then and she only took on one at a time. Momentary panic made her falter, but she'd grown confident enough to hold her own as she regained her composure. Intent on finishing her enemies, she had to remind herself that Ben was the priority. She had to find an exit.

A sniper shot singed one of her hair braids, causing it to fall loose. Rey staggered her attacker long enough to feel the sniper readying another shot. She looked back at the Falcon, which had just begun to lift off the ground.

"Chewie, cover me!"

A moment later the cannons underneath the Falcon's mandibles lowered and blasted in the direction of the Knights, sending them scattering for cover and giving her the opportunity she needed. Enhanced by the Force, she leaped onto the loading ramp and ducked around the corner for cover until the ship pulled away from the clearing.

Rey glared down at the black figures who emerged from the trees. She had sensed the fourth Knight of course, but she recognized his unique shape as the one she'd force choked at the impound lot, Lor'utti. The memory left a bad taste in her mouth, but she didn't dwell on it. Right now, her only thoughts were on Ben and the pain she felt emanating from him. She grasped her side reflexively but upon a quick inspection realized she wasn’t wounded.

What was she feeling then?

"Chewie, get us up to that ridge! Ben's in danger!"

She heard an affirmative growl come through the inter-ship comm as the Falcon veered toward the cliff.

Finn and Rose appeared around the corner, a moment later. Finn had a blaster rifle in his hands as he said, "Are you sure about this, Rey? I know you and Kylo Ren have a, uh, a 'thing' but this could be a trap, couldn't it?"

There was no arguing the point. "No! Ben's hurt and he needs my help. Just cover me while I grab him and bring him on board."

"We're with you all the way. We can handle this,“ Rose added, giving Finn an accusatory look.

Moments later, the Falcon turned sideways as the muddy ledge came into view. The landing lights illuminated the scene, causing her anger to boil over. Malak and the other female Knight from the shipyard heist stood over a bloodied and wounded Ben, with the massive electro axe raised for the killing blow. Without hesitation, Rey rushed down the ramp and leapt to the ground with a splatter of mud as she reignited her saber staff.

"Get... away... from Ben!"

Malak lowered his axe as he regarded her for a moment, a wicked smirk forming on his tattooed face. "Well now, isn't this night just getting more interesting. I'd have thought my Knights would have dealt with you, but I guess I underestimated your skills after all."

Rey stepped closer to Ben, who was keeled over, holding his side as he gasped in pained breaths. Suddenly she realized that must have been the pain she’d felt moments before.

"Ben, get on the Falcon." From what she could see of him, he was hurt badly, but she wouldn't let that distract her now.

Ben groaned as he pushed himself to his knees. "Rey, don't..."

Her heart broke at the sight of him, but Rey put steel in her voice, "Ben, please... get on the Falcon, now."

Malak chuckled as he took a step closer. "We didn't have a proper introduction before. When I learned my former master here killed Snoke for you, I wondered what made you so special? Now that I see you standing there, so ferocious and protective... I'm beginning to understand."

"And I'm beginning to understand that you like the sound of your own voice too much." She twirled her staff threateningly, causing rain drops to steam off the crackling golden blades.

The female Knight stepped forward. "You won't be talking at all when I cut that tongue from your pretty mouth."

“You can try,” Rey growled as anger fueled her connection to the Force.

Malak laughed again. "Girls, girls please! There's more than enough violence to go around for all of us."

"Ben, we have to go now," Rey pleaded as she wrapped her arm around him and helped him to his feet. He yelled out in agony and fell back into the mud, toppling her over with him. She struggled to hold her staff defensively while helping him recover.

"Finn, I need your help!" She yelled toward the Falcon.

“Yeah, I’m coming,” he yelled down to her. As he started to walk down the ramp, a blinding explosion erupted from the Falcon's drive coils.

Rey shielded her eyes but the noise was deafening. She looked up just in time to see Finn thrown back into the cabin as the Falcon lurched sideways away from the cliff! Then, the patchwork ship spun out of control, revealing a gaping black wound in the center of it's drive coils. Belching smoke and debris, it fell away and glided down through the ravine and the ground below.

Rey couldn't take her eyes away.

Down and down it went until the Millennium Falcon, along with Rose, Chewie, R2 and Finn disappeared into a thicket of trees in the jungle far below. Thunder crashed around her and the rain only intensified as her home and last memory of Han Solo vanished from sight.

"No, no!" She muttered as she stood. Turning back toward the landing field below, she saw an armored figure reloading some sort of ordinance launcher and realized with distress that it was Lor'utti. Just as he’d done at the impound lot, he’d fired a rocket of some sort at the Falcon in a sneak attack.

“No,” she said has hot tears of rage and loss blurred her vision.

"Rey... please..." Ben pleaded.

His voice brought her back to the moment. Fury burned in her chest as she glared at Malak Ren. "You're going to die for that!"

He smiled with disconcerting satisfaction. "Ooh, the darkness is powerful in you, girl."

"You haven't seen my darkness yet, scum! Let me show you."

Malak cocked his head to the side, ready to play her game.

"Rey, don't," Ben cried out, but her blood was up. She was going to kill the Knights of Ren, avenging her friends and keeping Ben safe and she didn’t care what it cost her.

Rey charged Malak. He brought up his axe in defense but, a sensation through the Force caused her to change her strategy. She ran at Malak, but at the last possible moment, she shifted her footing and instead lunged for the woman.

She wasn't wearing her black helmet so the surprise in her face was plain as Rey smacked the electro whip from her hands and slammed a shoulder into her, knocking her to the ground. Hatred flowed through her veins as she brought her staff up to impale her through the chest.

"No!" Malak roared as he tackled Rey to the ground, knocking the saber-staff from her grip sending it spinning through the mud toward the cliff's edge. He was on top of her now as he smashed his fist into her face once, twice... Rey tasted blood in her mouth, but she roared in defiance and crushed his chest plate with a Force blast that knocked him back.

Malak screamed out in pain but recovered quickly. Taking up his axe, he reared back and swung. Rey rolled out of the way, causing the electro blade to crackle and hiss as it impacted the damp mud. She kicked him in the knee, buckling his left leg and giving her time to crawl away.

Her saber staff was just out of reach when Ben shouted, "Rey, behind you!" She whirled to see Malak about to bring his axe down on her back when an image in the Force caused her to hold out her hand, then time slowed as Ben's lightsaber flew into her grip. She ignited the crimson blade with a crack-hiss and launched herself up at Malak and with a brutal upward swing, she severed both of his forearms and his lower mandible, tongue and all, from his face.

Malak screamed through the gaping, bleeding wound with an animalistic gurgle. Thunder crashed, illuminating the ruin of his flesh as he collapsed to his knees, but Rey's only concern was getting to Ben, so she turned and ran back to him. She pulled her own staff into her hands and clipped it to her belt as she fell to her knees and put his head in her hands.

Though they'd touched before through their Force bond, she realized with sudden emotion that this was the first time she'd felt his skin against hers. She was surprised at how warm he was and just how brightly his spirit burned through the Force.

"Ben, are you alright?"

"I'm... fine," he obviously lied. "We can't stay here."

"No, we can't but..." Rey didn't know what to say. She looked back to see Malak glaring up at her with yellow eyes filled with hate. His companion was trying to tend to him as best she could but they were both blocking the path to the shuttle beyond.

Another sense flashed through her a moment later.

Rey shouted, "Ben, watch out..."

Suddenly an explosion rocked the ground beneath them, followed by a loud crack and the sound of splitting rock. Then she felt her stomach lurch as the ledge they'd been perched on fell away from beneath them. Ben slipped away from her, shock and fear plain in his eyes.

"No!" She screamed, reaching for him.

The ground gave way to the black river below and in that instant, she Force pulled him into her arms. Rey crushed her face into the nape of his neck and held him like a vice as they plunged together into the storm.

Despite the terror in her veins, Rey latched on to the one glimmer of hope in her heart that remained. She felt the Force in all its majesty and power and she knew that somehow, they would come through this.

"It's the balance, the tension between all things.  Do you feel it?"  Luke's voice echoed in her mind.

"I feel it," she thought in reply.

The rushing water hit them like a hammer blow as the darkness engulfed them together.

 

Chapter Text

Talos Ren wasn’t the strongest in the Force, but when his fury was up he felt the darkness flow through him like superheated plasma. Throwing his rifle down onto the muddy ground, he stormed over to Lor’utti.

“What in the galaxy's maw was that? We just attacked Kylo Ren, our Leader? You treasonous scrum rat!” He grabbed his brother by the chest piece and lifted him in rage.

“Enough!” Vantaar shouted as he held his vibro blades to Talos’ throat. “Put him down, brother. There is an explanation for our actions.”

“There had better be,” Miura said, with her holdout blasters still in hand and the threat of violence in her stance.

Lor’utti looked at Talos with an annoyed tilt to his helmet. “You’ve been too long in the wild, brother Talos. We, no time to show you truth.”

Talos jerked him closer, “And what truth is that?” Vantaar’s blade kissed his neck just enough to spark a trickle of blood. He released his grip on the other Knight’s chest piece.

Adjusting his armor, Lor’utti replied, “Kylo Ren is betrayer. He killed Snoke.”

That dampened his anger somewhat, but not because he didn’t believe Kylo Ren would do such a thing, but because he thought it was an impossible feat. Everyone knew how powerful Snoke was in the Darkside and when you've seen as many demonstrations of his power as the Knights of Ren had, the idea that anyone could kill him was almost laughable, and yet somehow the girl had done it. Now, it made more sense knowing that Kylo Ren was the one who had pulled it off.

Lor’utti continued, “Malak showed us holo-cam footage. Kylo gutted Snoke in his throne with Skywalker’s own lightsaber. The worst part is he did it for the girl and together, they killed the guards.”

“No, it can’t be that simple,” Talos muttered, still doubting the tale.

“You will see the video for yourself and change mind,” Lor’utti growled.

Talos looked at Miura, who seemed just as skeptical, but whatever the truth, the accusation was enough to chill his anger.

Vantaar put his blades away. “So, we gave the traitor a traitor’s death. It had to be done.”

“Is he though?” Talos growled. “You know how powerful he is. We all know how powerful the girl is too, so do you really think that fall into the river would be enough to finish them off?”

The other Knights shared a look of comprehension. Talos added, “I need to speak to Malak. I need to hear it from his own mouth. I want to see this ‘evidence’ you have for myself. I’m the outsider her, I was never part of your little cantina band until you hired me in, so I’ve got a more objective perspective on the situation.” He walked back to pick up his rifle, slopping off the muck before slinging it over his shoulder.

Just then a commlink chimed somewhere. Lor’utti pulled one out from a satchel on his belt. “Yes?”

Shira’s voice crackled, “Malak’s hurt bad. Radduck and Kur’sa are dead. I’m taking him back to the Supremacy for medical help. I want Talos and Miura up here ASAP. They need to be brought up to speed.”

Lor’utti gave Talos a look. “Agreed. I’ve told them but they’re not convinced. What you want me to do here?”

“Find Kylo Ren’s body, and the Jedi girl. Make sure they’re dead!”

“Of course.”

The transmission ended.

“I guess, I’m coming out of the wild now,” Talos casually stated.

“Our shuttle is back that way,” Lor’utti gestured behind him through the trees. “You understand soon enough, I sure.”

Talos glanced at Miura, then back at Lor’utti.

“We’ll see.”

***

Just about every alarm the Falcon had was going off. Chewie growled in annoyance as panels and exposed wiring sparked while he tried to deactivate the racket. Ripper the Porg was fluttering about in a panic and Rose’s arm hurt something fierce, but she knew it wasn’t broken.

“Are you alright?” Finn said rushing up to her with a med pack. R2 beeped with concern behind him.

“I’ll be fine, I just think I sprained my arm a little.”

“Let me have a look.” Finn helped her out of her jacket so she could pull up her sleeve. “Well you got hit alright, but nothing a little bacta patch won’t clear up.”

“And you? I saw you get thrown back when the blast took us out,” she said with concern.

Finn looked her in the eyes as he opened a bandage packet. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see my life flash before my eyes, but I’m alright. I’ve taken harder falls than that in training.”

Rose smiled, then leaned in and kissed him. For a long moment, they held each other as the reality of the situation washed over them.

“I thought we were going to die that time.”

“I know, but we didn’t,” Finn reassured her. He turned toward the cockpit hallway and said louder, “Thanks to the best Pilot in Resistance, we walked away from this one!”

Chewie grumbled something that sounded appreciative, maybe even bashful.

Rose smirked. “Don’t let Poe hear you say that, alright?”

“Nah, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” he replied with a wink. "Besides, he knows the truth already."

"Does he now?"

Finn smirked again but didn't elaborate.

Bandaged up with her arm in a sling, Rose went to work helping Chewie assess the damage. After a while, she realized how difficult it was to tell what was caused by the crash and what was caused by the Falcon simply being the Falcon.

“I’m going to need to see outside to know how bad it is,” she said, wiping sweat from her brow.

Chewie barked in agreement and Finn grabbed some lumas from the emergency kit. It was still raining but it was a light pitter-patter against the hull as Rose climbed out of the top airlock and traversed the hull of the ship. In the darkness of the night it was difficult to see the full extent of the damage, but shining the lamps in front of her, she saw the trail the Falcon cut through the trees and let out a whistle of appreciation.

Finn shouted up at her from the ground, “You should probably see this.”

Rose and Chewie made their way to the back of the ship and knelt over the edge of the main drive coils. Chewbacca cursed the loudest but Rose seconded his displeasure. A large black hole had been punched out leaving a ragged wound of shredded metal and leaking coolant in its place.

“Well, that’s going to take a while to fix. Without the Resistance, it could be a month or more just to get the parts we need,” Rose admitted dejectedly.

Finn threw his hands up, “We don’t have a month! Even if we did, Rey and Kylo Ren are still out there surrounded by the Knights of Ren and who knows what else! If they’re here, then it’s only a matter of time before the First Order shows up in force and without backup, we’re done.”

Rose wanted to argue with him, as he always tended to jump to the worst conclusions first, but this time he was more right than she wanted to admit. They were alone on a remote planet with an exile Jedi, the Supreme Leader of the First Order lost in the wilds and the Falcon was grounded. Their situation looked bleak, but then an idea came to her.

“Hondo!”

Chewie and Finn both looked up at her.

“He agreed to help us, didn’t he? We can call him up and see if he can get some guys out here with more parts to patch the Falcon up.”

“Rose, I love where your heart's at, but Hondo is a pirate. He’ll say anything to curry favor and take our credits but that doesn’t mean he’s going to keep up his end of any bargain.”

She gaped at him, “Gee, have a little faith, will you? Hondo may be a low-life, okay, but that doesn’t mean he’s a sleemo scumbag. You heard how he spoke about the Jedi… and flirted with Rey but that’s beside the point. We need to at least reach out to him. We have to get the Falcon up and running and we need to find Rey and get out of here.”

Chewie growled in agreement. Finn seemed to consider it for a moment, “Alright, I’ll get on the comm and see what I can do.”

“We’ll be okay, Finn,” she said. Looking around at the mess they’d made in the landing, Rose genuinely struggled to feel as confident as she pretended to be, but still, something inside told her to trust in the Force. So that’s what she did.

***

BB-NX registered no small amount of concern when the Knights of Ren units designated Shira and Malak returned to the shuttle with considerably fewer units than they’d disembarked with, including her master. One look at the unit named Malak was enough to ascertain that something violent had occurred.

His forearms had been sliced clean off and cauterized into two coagulated stumps and his lower mandible had likewise been severed, leaving him with a bloody, dripping maw where his mouth used to be. The Ren unit Shira appeared as distressed as any romantically involved partner would be in such a situation though BB-NX never could understand why. Arms and mandibles were replaceable after all, and soon Malak would have new and stronger attachments that would not only keep him fully operational but enhance his efficiency as well.

What BB-NX found most alarming was the moment when Shira stormed into the primary cockpit and mercilessly deactivated the bridge crew. Compassion was, of course, a primitive algorithm programmed into lesser beings, and some droids, but still, she thought the apparent slaughter of competent First Order pilots and officers was unnecessary.

“Droid, I need you to pilot the shuttle back to the Supremacy while I tend to Malak,” the Shira unit called down to her.

With an affirmative bleep, in keeping with her program as a stealth infiltration unit, she rode the lift up to the bridge and interfaced with the shuttles flight controls. As expected, the excess blood pooling across the bulkhead made travel somewhat dubious for her round nature, but she managed well enough. The action item foremost at the front of her queue had to do with ascertaining the whereabouts and state of the Supreme Leader, but doing so would require her usual secrecy.

Fortunately, the Ren units below in the hangar didn’t suspect her of any such double-dealing, so it made listening in on their conversation that much easier.

The Shira unit had apparently pulled out a commlink because she said, “Malak’s hurt bad. Radduck and Kur’sa are dead. I’m taking him back to the Supremacy for medical help. I want Talos and Miura up here ASAP. They need to be brought up to speed..”

Over the din of the shuttle’s engines, another voice answered from the small speaker, “Agreed. I’ve told them but they’re not convinced. What you want me to do here?”

Then the Shira unit added, “Find Kylo Ren’s body, and the Jedi girl. Make sure they’re dead!”

All of BB-NX’s logic circuits froze for .0024 seconds as she processed what she’d just heard. Kylo Ren’s body? The Jedi girl? ‘Make sure they’re dead.’ She played these over and over again in her logic core. After moments of intense calculations, it was reasonable to conclude that her master had been gravely wounded, possibly killed, along with some 'Jedi girl'. The fact that Shira wanted her compatriots to make sure that they were both dead left room for only one conclusion.

The Knights of Ren were traitors.

Her master hadn’t programmed her for this scenario. Her job was only to relay secret messages between him and that insufferably adorable Resistance BB unit, but to what end, she did not need or want to know. Now, he might be dead and his betrayers were taking control of the shuttle, possibly even the First Order itself. This was a crisis, but BB-NX was nothing if not careful.

She would play her part as any another droid and she would see how this scenario unfolded. If the Ren units tried to wipe her memory, she would disable them and emancipate herself, if not, she would continue on with her duties, collecting information and relaying it to the Resistance droid. This was new, uncharted territory but she was up to the task at hand and if all else failed… she would enact her final program.

BB-NX would avenge her master.

 

Chapter Text

Talos Ren hadn't known Shira as long as some of the others, but he knew her well enough to be surprised by how pained she looked while watching Malak float limp and helpless in the bacta tank. Their apparent 'commander' hung there with shiny new cybernetic arms and a black and silver collar that encased his neck and the ruin of his jawline. He didn't stir as the healing blue fluid bubbled and churned around him, sealing his raw flesh to the cybernetic attachments and if he were being honest, Talos did not envy him in the slightest.

"How is he?" He asked as he walked up to the Zabrak.

"He'll live," she retorted, not looking at him.

He gave Malak a quick look over.

"What in the stars happened down there?"

Shira whirled on him. "If you'd done your job and killed that Jedi bitch, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"Well excuse the kriff out of me if that 'Jedi bitch' is more powerful than all of us combined! Even if she didn't kill Snoke, she's stronger in the Force than I am and I have no shame in admitting that."

Shira didn't seem to have an answer for that. She crossed her arms again and resumed her silent vigil. Talos paced around behind her.

"So our former Master did in Kur'sa and Radduk huh? Impressive for someone who'd been gutted, wouldn't you say?"

"Kylo Ren was a Skywalker, the grandson of a Sith Lord, of course, he's strong. I knew going into this that some of us would die, that's why Malak did what he did to slow him down. It was a necessary risk."

"Oh, I'm not judging him, it was smart. I watched the two of them plummet into the river though and there aren't many who could survive a drop like that with rocks falling around them and a gut wound. It's only a matter of time before we find their bodies."

"Don't underestimate them. They were both strong but together, well..." Shira reached into a pouch at her side and handed him a small holoprojector."

He suspected what he might see but activated it anyway. Two tiny blue projections of his former master and the Jedi girl cut their way through the Praetorian guards with brutal efficiency, if nothing else, then it got really heavy really fast. It almost looked as though Kylo Ren was asking the girl to marry him or something from the way he offered his hand to her.

"Well, that was... unexpected," he commented as he watched the subsequent fight over the lightsaber end in a blinding explosion. He handed the holoprojector back to Shira. "I can understand why Malak's so mad, he was like a brother to him wasn't he?"

"Something like that," Shira replied cryptically.

From around the corner, Lor'rutti appeared and approached him. "Brother Talos, General Hux has made request of our presence."

"Great, just what I wanted after helping to kill my former employer," he muttered quietly. Before turning to go, he put a casual hand on Shira's shoulder.

"He'll be alright, just give him time."

She nodded slightly but didn't look at him. Talos looked at Malak one last time before leaving,  startled to see yellow and red eyes glaring back at him through the bacta.

Talos quickly removed his hand from Shira's shoulder and gave a snarky salute to the helpless mountain of muscle. As he fell into step with Lor'rutti, he quietly muttered to himself, "How the kriff did I get roped into this freak show?"

To which Lor'rutti replied, "Welcome to the Knights of Ren," as he chuckled.

***

"Supreme Leader Hux."

He let the words roll off his tongue as he paced before the throne where Snoke had once sat. How many times he'd been berated and belittled by that shriveled old prune, he couldn't count, but he made it a point to find value in each form of 'instruction' he had been subjected to. It was a talent he'd learned from dealing with his father, after all.

Ruthless. Cunning. Manipulation through subtle and not-so-subtle hints were all powerful tools that any true leader should employ. He ran his fingers across the shiny black surface of the simple but elegant seat and then, ever so respectfully, he took his rightful place upon his throne.

"Ahh," he sighed aloud. He was alone now, the only guards being the ones watching the turbo lift at the base of the shaft. He supposed he would need a complement of Praetorians for himself, though he already had ideas on what their armor design and coloring might be.

Purple. Yes, purple was a regal color, not too gaudy, yet bold, dark yet not broodingly so like Kylo Ren and his accursed Knights. He imagined the eight Purple armored guards standing around the large open space, protecting him at all times as he dealt terms to his enemies instead of 'negotiated'. A true ruler never negotiates, they rule... with force and majesty at their command.

The turborlift lights blinked in the distance, announcing the pair of Knights he'd summoned to speak with him as his first official act as acting Supreme Leader. The creatures Lor'rutti and Talos Ren walked the long way from the turbo lift to the foot of his throne with far less respect and reverence than he would have liked, but he overlooked such slights for now. It was a transition period after all and there would be plenty of opportunities to instill proper respect in his subjects later.

"Ahh, welcome, my friends," he called down to them, rising from his seat.

"Friend? Hardly. Ain't much time for 'friendship' around this merry fleet of yours," Talos Ren muttered.

Hux hated when people muttered, it was so... unbecoming.

"Indeed. Friendship isn't exactly what the First Order is built upon, is it?" He admitted. "I've been informed of Malak's recovery from his unfortunate... injury, so I've summoned you here to brief me on the events that have transpired on Baze-Chirutti."

Talos grunted in amusement. "Of course, Malak's injury is unfortunate... but he was just as ugly when he had a mouth so I doubt this will change much of anything."

Hux bit back a sharp comment, not wanting to waste any more time with this rabble than he needed to. "Kylo Ren and the Jedi girl," he said flatly. "Are... they... dead?"

Talos and Lor'rutti exchanged glances before the hammerhead alien said in his poor excuse for basic, "Is difficult to know. We have yet to locate bodies. We take no chances with such powerful Force users."

"For your sake, I certainly hope you locate them quickly!" Hux ground out.

The alien was about to speak again when Talos pushed past and said, "Look, from what Shira told me, Malak gutted Kylo Ren like a Colo Claw Fish. I saw them fall from the cliff with my own eyes, it had to be at least a 30 meter drop. If they didn't split their heads open on the river bed, Kylo Ren will bleed out soon enough. We've still got assets on the ground hunting them as we speak. In either case, they're dead."

Hux chewed his lower lip in annoyance. "I can appreciate the bravado, Knight, but until they are found they are a risk to us."

"Why?" Talos asked.

"What?" Hux furrowed his brow in annoyance.

"Why are they a threat when you have all these warships surrounding you. This entire fleet can level that planet if you wanted to. That would end your problem pretty quick I think."

"An unnecessary waste of resources, though I applaud your enthusiasm," he stated. A moment later he saw the turbo lift open again but froze when he noticed who stepped off.

Talos went on, "Look, I'm not telling you what to do with your ammo and bombs, but if you want Kylo Ren dead just..."

Malak Ren's rasping, mechanical voice echoed across the polished floors, "I will grab him by the neck and tear his head off his body myself."

Talos and Lor'rutti turned at once. As usual, Malak's slender, spiky-headed paramour followed close behind as they approached the throne.

"Malak Ren, should you be on your feet so soon after your surgery?" Hux inquired.

To Hux's annoyance, the hulking Knight ascended the throne without so much as a nod of respect. His shiny cybernetic hands flexed and whirred at his side as he no doubt tested their nerve connections. Due to the nature of his facial wound, he now wore a large black collar of sorts with a rebreather piece attached to his nose. A vocoder in the front grill of the device spoke for him in a menacingly low vibrato.

"You need not worry yourself about my condition General. I am of the Dark and through pain, I find my strength," he said holding his robotic hand outstretched toward the stars beyond the viewing ports.

"Of course, I understand," Hux retorted haughtily, "But I am no longer General anymore, Knight... I'll have you know that I am the Supreme Leader of the Fir..."

Malak's hand shot out so suddenly, Hux didn't have time to register a reaction before mechanical fingers clenched around his throat and lifted him into the air. He gasped and choked in panic as Malak's merciless yellow eyes burned into him.

"You... are whatever I tell you to be. Make a noise if you understand."

Hux managed a gurgling squeak as his vision began to blur.

"I'll take that as a 'yes'," Malak said as he dropped Hux to the ground.

Gasping and coughing, Hux took in the cool air as fast as he could but he glared at Malak Ren all the same. The big Knight seemed to care little for his anger as his dismissive flick of the wrist attested.

"You may keep your little title, Supreme Leader. This is your sideshow after all, but I am your General now. The First Order needs proper leadership if we are to claim our place in this galaxy. I will need access to Snoke's artifacts at once, but our first order of business should be to revisit those worlds that Kylo Ren swayed with 'food and services rendered' and remind them of who we truly are."

Hux sputtered on his words, but managed to say, "I... wholeheartedly agree, General.  I will have Snoke's artifacts made available to you immediately."

Malak didn't so much as acknowledge the admission. He simply turned to Talos and Lor'utti.

"You two, head back to Baze-Chirrutti and assist the others. Use what resources you need to get the job done.  I don't care what condition they're in, if they're dead or alive, in one piece or many, bring Kylo Ren and the girl to me."

"Of course, brother," Talos said with a nod.

"As you wish," Lor'rutti added as they turned to board the turbo lift again.

"Should I go with them, master," Shira added.

"No... you will be my right hand here. I am still... adapting to this new reality of mine."

"I understand. We will make them pay for what they've done to you!"

"I have faith in you, my love," he caressed her cheek with a mechanical knuckle.

Hux wanted to make a gagging noise but refrained because he also happened to enjoy breathing.

Malak looked out upon the gathered Fleet a moment before adding, "There is much work to be done, Hux. We must broadcast to the Fleet. We must announce what has transpired and secure our claim before we can embark on our endeavor."

At this Hux suppressed a wicked smirk as he announced, "With all due respect, General... I have a suggestion of my own."

Malak glared at him with palpable anger, but Hux already had his hands up in a placating gesture.

"The First Order as of late, has suffered from a noticeable lack of discipline in recent months due in no small part to poor leadership. I would suggest we make use of a proper demonstration that will remind our troops who we are and what we believe in."

Malak's anger dissolved into curiosity as he stepped closer to Hux.

"Go on."

At that, Hux let his smile beam.

***

Three-Nine could get used to waking up in Two-Six's arms, but even they weren't crazy enough to make this a regular habit. Having taken over Phasma's post, he found himself enjoying the perks that came with it, one of which being his own private quarters and more importantly his own bunk that had just enough room for two.

"Bout time you woke up, I've got a duty shift coming up," Two-Six said with a tone he could almost bathe in.

Sitting up, he looked around for the time and confirmed that it was nearing a shift change. Every ship had a synched schedule with the rest of the fleet, but each ship had it's own organic kind of schedule that the crew fell into and the Finalizer was no different.

He put his feet on the cold floor as he always did, it helped to wake him up faster, then he looked back at the beautiful golden-haired man behind him. His face was buried in a data tablet, as usual, but he still managed a smirk.

"I already made dinner," Two-Six gestured toward the table.

A small luma had been set up between two foiled MRE bags, unopened. The sight made Three-Nine laugh.

"Mmmm, it looks delicious," he teased.

"Doesn't it though?"

Three-Nine stood and walked over to his packet and cracked it open. As the heating chemicals inside brought the remade food back to life, he realized it smelled of potatoes and spiced meat of some sort, but it didn't matter, to a soldier it was a banquet that many weren't lucky enough to come back to. He took up his utensils and dug in.

"My compliments to the chef," Three-Nine said through a full mouth. That won him a chuckle.

"Don't tell that damn droid that, he's full of himself as it is. Every bag of slop he squirts out of his cloaca is his new 'masterpiece'.

"Ugh," Three-Nine gagged at the imagery of that, "Nevermind, I just lost my appetite. Thanks for that."

The Lieutenant threw up his hands. "Let's be honest here, I just did you a favor."

"Yeah you did, always saving my life aren't you?"

"You know it."

"If you're not careful I might just have to reward you for your service."

Two-Six's blond brow rose a bit. "Oh? How so?"

Feeling heat rush to his cheeks, he looked into his eyes as he said, "It might involve getting you back out of those clothes and maybe into a nice cold shower..."

His comm chimed suddenly from across the room.

"Kriff... I don't have duty shift for six more hours," he cursed. He went over to the small device on the shelf and picked it up, but before he answered he turned back to Two-Six and held a finger to his lips.

Two-Six echoed his gesture before sliding his finger into his mouth and explicitly demonstrating his favorite technique. Three-Nine blushed and turned away.

"Sir?" He answered with his clipped tone.

"Captain, we've been summoned to the Supremacy for an emergency officer's meeting," Captain Peavey said through the comm.

Confused, Three-Nine asked, "Has something happened, sir? Is it the Resistance?"

"I can't say but between you and me I think it's serious enough to warrant concern. Meet me at shuttle bay 2."

"Yes sir, right away." The comm clicked off, leaving a heavy air of concern in it's wake.

Two-Six had started to dress, knowing all too well that this meant their fun time was over. "What is it, Cap? Rebels?"

Turning, he shrugged. "Not sure, but all the senior officers and Naval Captains have been summoned to the Supremacy so it's big, whatever it is." He tossed the comm onto the table and went for his armor. With practiced efficiency, he was suited up and armed in moments.

He looked at himself in the mirror one last time, holding his helmet under his arm. Two-Six came up behind him and wrapped his arms around his waist. For a long moment, he stared at his fair skin pressed against his dark cheek, awed by the beauty of their contrast.

"Looking good as usual, Cap. Go kick some rebel ass," Two-Six said as he gave him a peck.

"No problem there, I'm always..." he noticed something on his forehead just above his brow. "Where the Hell did that scar come from?  I swear every time I go out I pick up another one even if I never fire my weapon."

"Holo-newsflash, scars are sexy," Two-Six smiled.

"You're not helping."

"I know."

"Well, I better get going," the Captain said as he took up his helmet and slid it over his head. A moment later, the visor activated and cycled through its various view modes until he could see his reflection again.  He left the mirror behind a moment later.

He went to the door and slid it open just enough to see into the halls. They were clear of personnel and droids, thankfully. He gestured at Two-Six.

"Come on, get moving. I don't want to have to fill out another disciplinary report because you got caught slacking again."

"What a shame that would be," he winked as he stepped into the hall. "We'll catch up later?"

"I'll let you know, don't worry," he growled.

Two-Six gave a half smirk as he casually turned and strode down the black hallway as though he were meant to be there. Three-Nine closed his door behind him and walked off in the opposite direction as he made his way to the hangar bay.

Captain Peavey was right where he said he'd be as they met at the shuttle and boarded.

"Pilot, we're ready.  Let's get on with this, then," the older man casually ordered.

The shuttle jolted and lifted off from the hangar floor, gliding effortlessly into the darkness of space beyond.  The fleet had been ordered into parade formation so every Star Destroyer they had were in attendance around the Supremacy.  Three-Nine was struck by the quiet beauty of it all.

"Let me guess, it's another speech, sir?"  He casually asked.

Peavey laughed, "Probably bloody likely. You know how the General loves his speeches. Now that Onderon's pacified he's probably got some words for the next few worlds on our list. Don't mention I said that, though, Captain."

"Of course not sir, not a word," Three-Nine assured him, glad that his helmet hid his smirk.

Upon arrival to the Supremacy, he was surprised to see just how many officers had been gathered together. It might as well have been an Imperial victory parade from the good 'ol days by how thick the crowd was.  Upon landing, the deck officer instructed him and Peavey to join General Hux in the Supreme Leader's throne room immediately.

As they boarded the turbo lift he thought it odd how it hadn't been Kylo Ren who'd ordered them to the throne room. A small bead of discomfort formed in his gut, but ever the good soldier, he suppressed the feeling and did as he was told.

Entering the Supreme Leader's chamber was another surreal experience as this was where the Captain's and Admirals of the fleet had all gathered in loose formation murmuring quietly to each other. Peavey broke away momentarily to give his regards to a fellow Imperial he knew from the days of the empire, but Three-Nine stood apart, silent and waiting as he looked out upon the spectacular view.

Several other stragglers arrived minutes later just in time for the call to attention.

"General Hux on deck!"  A voice proclaimed.

In an instant, everyone stood at attention as Armitage Hux emerged from the Supreme Leader's ready room with a brisk but measured pace. Three-Nine followed his every step as he approached, then ascended the small dais where the Supreme Leader's throne had been mounted.

Hux nodded to a junior officer below him, "Begin broadcast."

The young man complied and flipped the appropriate switches, bringing to life a pair of large holo-projector screens behind the throne that no doubt were being viewed by the rest of the fleet. Then, with a cold glance at the gathered Captains, he spoke.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the First Order Officer Corps, you may be wondering why you have been summoned to this meeting. We have just secured a major victory over Onderon among other worlds under our sphere of influence so perhaps you think this is a celebration of victory but I can assure you, it is not." Those words dripped like acid from Hux's lips as he slowly paced before the noticeably empty throne.

"Over the last few months, it has come to the attention of our fine officers in the First Order Security Bureau that a traitor among our ranks has been feeding sensitive intel to the criminal, vile terrorists known as the Resistance!"

A dull murmur rose up among several of the gathered Captains. Three-Nine looked over to see Colonel Garmuth in his blinding white coat glaring at all of them as though they were all traitors themselves. Even the shiny black BB unit rolling behind the small cadre seemed to stare menacingly at them with its single red eye. Hux went on.

"As... shocking as this revelation is, words cannot prepare any of us for the truth I am about to reveal to you now. I myself was not prepared for what you are about to see, so perhaps it is better to simply show it." Hux nodded at the young officer again and the holoprojector screens cut to a grainy video of the very throne room they were standing in now.

Three-Nine watched, breathlessly, as Supreme Leader Snoke taunted and tossed the Jedi girl Rey like a rag doll only to forcibly prostrate her before Kylo Ren with the Force. The sight of such power was unnerving enough but Hux was right, nothing prepared him for what happened next.

"... And now he kills his true enemy!" Snoke screamed just before the lightsaber on the arm rest of his throne impaled him with blinding blue light.

An audible gasp of shock went up as the events played out before them, not merely when Snoke's corpse toppled in half but when Kylo Ren and the Jedi both turned and fought his guards, killing them all. Hux ordered the video be turned off as the last guard fell and Kylo Ren approached the throne. The screens cut back to his pained expression.

"As this footage confirms, the traitor among us is none other than Kylo Ren himself."

"Gods," a male voice cursed.

"I can't believe it," a woman gasped behind him.

Three-Nine was as shocked as they were. He'd fought alongside Kylo Ren, he'd seen his prowess in battle, but also the loyalty he inspired in his troops. How was it possible that he could have done this? His mind swam with questions he dared not ask, but a moment later, Hux seemed intent on answering them himself.

"Though it pained me to learn my trusted colleague could stoop to such depths, I am gladdened to assure you all that the traitorous vermin has already been executed for his crimes!"

As if to punctuate the point, the door to Snoke's ready room slid open again and Malak Ren emerged from the darkness like a walking mountain of muscle and machine. Most shocking to Three-Nine was the cybernetic apparatus around his neck and mouth covering up some horrific wound he dared not imagine. Likewise, both of his forearms had been replaced with cybernetics but his eyes fell to the black mass he carried in his hands.

Approaching the throne, Malak threw a dirty, shredded cloak into the air. All eyes watched in disbelief as the Supreme Leader's finery fluttered back to the ground, as devoid of life as it's former wearer.

"General Malak, do you have anything you'd like to say about our former leader," Hux asked over his shoulder.

Malak glared at them all with hateful yellow eyes. Then a rumbling, mechanical voice issued from the grilled vocoder, "Kylo Ren died screaming... as all traitors should."

The words hung heavy in the air for a long moment before Hux added, "Charming."

A moment later, Three-Nine grasped the fact that Hux referred to Malak as 'General' which meant only one thing. They now had a new Supreme Leader.

Hux fidgeted with his gloved fingers as he prepared to speak again. This time he sounded almost sympathetic as he said, "My father helped create this glorious Order in the waning days of the Empire that proceeded it. He was a visionary man who would not accept anything less than absolute strength of will from his troops or from myself."

He turned to the vast panorama behind him and opened his arms to the fleet beyond. "I am like you. I was practically raised upon that ship, the Finalizer. It is a ship of the finest construction with the finest crew and serves our order obediently and without question..." Hux turned slowly then.

"...until it was befouled by Kylo Ren's treachery."

Three-Nine clenched his fist involuntarily as Hux looked first at Malak Ren, then at the rest of them.

"Treason is the most insidious force in the galaxy, it is like a weed that grows in the shadows of chaos and disorder and like a weed it must be rooted out and scoured from the dirt lest it infect the rest of the crop!"

"What's he goin' on about?" Peavey muttered nervously beside Three-Nine. He didn't respond though.

"If one seed of treason is allowed to survive, the entire Order is left at risk!"

Oh no, please no. Three-Nine couldn't breathe.

"I do not make this decision lightly, but I do it for the good of the First Order as a whole."

The Captain bit his lip until he tasted blood. Then watched as Hux pulled a comm from his pocket and said three simple words.

"FIRE AT WILL!"

The floor beneath them shuddered as the turbo laser batteries opened up, sending green lines of fire to a single target drifting alone in the middle of the Fleet. Orange blossoms of fire burst from the Finalzer's hull as the first shots impacted. Without shields, they were no match for the barrage as the mighty warship began to break apart.

"No, what are you..." Peavey protested, but Three-Nine grabbed him by the arm and held him back.

He knew better than most that when the word 'treason' was being so carelessly thrown around, any one of them were a potential target for retribution but he understood the Captain's surprise. He was watching his ship be destroyed after all, but ships could be replaced. Three-Nine saw only grey eyes, blond locks and an easy smile looking back at him.

 

"Looking good as usual, Cap. Go kick some rebel ass," Two-Six said as he kissed his cheek.

"Where the Hell did that scar come from? I swear, every time I go out I pick up another one even if I never fire my weapon."

As he watched the ever-expanding debris field of what used to be his heart, the Finalizer's reactor blew and scattered the remains like a fist through glass. The other destroyers were forced to take evasive action as some of the larger chunks careened toward them, but the Supremacy's shields easily absorbed the impact of the lesser pieces. Suddenly a brutal crimson glow snap-hissed to life, drawing all eyes to Malak Ren.

He held a red lightsaber the likes of which Three-Nine had never seen before. It had a cross-guard design like Kylo Ren's but the blade was flat and edged like some ancient weapon forged with metal. Malak held it low to the ground but a moment later he made his intentions known.

"Captain Peavey and Captain JN-7839... step forward and kneel before me."

Peavey audibly gasped in fear, but did as he was commanded. Three-Nine, despite the tears that stung his cheeks, was thankful for his helmet when, a moment later, he followed suit.  He was a good soldier after all. Together they knelt before Malak Ren, though Three-Nine made certain to place his blaster on the ground before him to show that he would not resist.

Just then, Hux came over to them and said, "You two are the only remaining survivors of Kylo Ren's treachery. Now we must determine if you have also been infected by the specter of treason." He nodded to Malak, who raised his blade to the side of Peavey's neck.

"Captain," the mechanical voice said menacingly, "You've just witnessed what happens to traitors. Tell me, honestly, where do your loyalties lie?"

Three-Nine didn't look directly at him, but he saw Peavey glancing between Malak and Hux like a terrified cadet about to be disciplined.

"M-my loyalties have always been to the Supreme Leader, I swear it!"

Malak slowly turned to regard Hux. Surely that was the answer they wanted to hear, but he understood why they had to make a show of it for the others. This was the way of the First Order after all. To Three-Nine's shock, Hux silently responded with the slightest shake of his head.

No.

Malak decapitated Peavey before the Captain had a moment to cry out in protest. First his head hit the polished floor with a thud, then his body toppled over with an even messier thud. That's when he felt the crimson blade at his own throat.

"Captain JN-7839... I ask you now, where do your loyalties lie?" Malak said with open malice.

Three-Nine was numb. His body reacted for him but his mind was far away as he accepted his inevitable fate. At least he would be with Two-Six again, somewhere. He looked up at Malak, then at Hux.

"I live and die for the First Order."

Unblinking, Malak's yellow eyes turned to Hux again. This time, however, the Supreme Leader nodded with approval. The crimson blade at his throat retracted back into the ancient metal hilt with a dull hiss as Malak made his proclamation.

"The correct answer, Captain. You may take your weapon and rise," Malak said.

Wordlessly, he did as he was commanded while a pair of junior officers hauled Peavey's corpse away in an indiscriminate black body-bag. Hux stepped forward.

"Supreme Leader's are only mortal. Both Snoke's and now Kylo Ren's deaths prove just how fallible a position it is and though I do not take comfort in that fact, I do however take pride in the Order.

Men can lead others astray with their own cults of personality like Kylo Ren has done over the past few months. Loyalties to a figurehead are a weakness to be snuffed out just like treason. The First Order, however, is an idea! The First Order will continue to live long after the Supreme Leader dies, so I ask you my fellow officers..." Hux took his place upon the Supreme Leader's throne.

"Where do your loyalties lie?"

As one, the throne room echoed with Three-Nine's own statement.

"I live and die for the First Order."

Hux smiled like a proud father beaming at his children.

Three-Nine glared with hatred at the monster before him, the soulless creature who'd taken the one thing he truly loved from him... but he did not react. He didn't so much as clench a fist in anger, let alone say anything treasonous.

He was a good soldier, and good soldiers always followed orders.

Chapter Text

All he knew was darkness and pain. His breaths came in shallow, ragged gasps that stung as though he were inhaling fire. His helmet suffocated him with fear and uncertainty; though he couldn't see her face, he felt her through the Force. Amidst the thorn bushes of his agony, her presence was like a soothing balm as he reached helplessly toward her, fearing she would dissolve to ash and blow away at any moment, leaving him alone to die.

"I'm here, my love. I'm here," her words came to him like the melody of a long forgotten song from his childhood. She took his hand and clutched it to her chest, anchoring him to her.

"Why?" He rasped. "Why would you risk everything for me?"

Her voice broke as she wept over him, "Revan, you know why. You had simply forgotten... you'd lost your way."

Moments later, his helmet dissolved away from him and the light of her radiance poured into his eyes as he looked upon her bruised and bleeding face, horrified to know that he had been responsible for hurting the woman he'd loved more than life itself. She'd nearly killed him in her desperate attempt to break the spell of the dark side, but it was worth it. It had all been worth it for her.

"Bastilla... I'm so sorry," he said, touching her tear-dampened cheek with his knuckle.

"It's okay, Ben... just come back to me, okay?"

He paused. Something wasn't right.

"Ben? Who's Ben?"

She gave him an uncertain look. "Don't you remember? It's you!"

Then she rammed the dagger into his side.

Kylo Ren woke with a start, grabbing the woman's arm out of reflex before she could twist the dagger further. She yelped in surprise as she tried to pull away, but he held her fast.

"Ben! It's me, it's Rey! You're alright, just calm down!"

He sat up in a panic. It was dark and wet, the ground was hard and uncomfortable and his side stung with a sharp pain, but then his eyes locked on hers. Rey was disheveled and alarmed, with a large bruise expanding outward from her jawline to her swollen cheek, but she was there.  She was whole.

"Ben... you're hurting me, please let me go," she said with a tremble in her voice.

He realized he was wrenching her arm away because he'd believed she was an attacker. Immediately he released her, horrified that he had caused her more pain, just as he had been in his... was it a dream? Was it a vision?

Revan.

Bastilla.

Kylo recognized the names, but only just. He didn't have time to dwell on them now though, so he took long, deep breaths to calm himself.

"I'm sorry... I thought..."

"You don't have to apologize. You'd barely survived, I can't exactly blame you for being jumpy. I was only trying to change your bandages; you'd been out for so long, I wasn't quite sure if you'd..." she hesitated before saying, "... if you'd ever wake up."

He looked at her and his heart dropped when he saw the fear and hurt in her eyes. He glanced away, abashed. "How long was I out? Where are we?" The last thing he remembered was falling into darkness, cold, wet darkness. The river, that's what had happened, they'd fallen into the river after the cliff had been blasted out from beneath them.

Rey stood to grab the luma he'd apparently kicked over. She had stripped to her underclothes but wore her Jedi sash around her waist as a makeshift skirt, no doubt to serve the dual function of drying while preserving some sort of modesty. He found it difficult not to look at her, but he managed, choosing instead to focus on how much pain he was in, which was considerable.

"It's been hours. I found this cave away from the river, I figured if the Knights of Ren were looking for us, they'd follow that first so I brought us here."

"You... dragged me here?" He asked, both impressed and surprised.

She gave him a sheepish look. "No... well not the entire way, at least. I used the Force, but it wasn't much easier, I'll have you know. You're... massive."

"Thanks?" He tried not to blush at her particular word choice but found it difficult.

Apparently, she'd regretted her words too because she suddenly made every effort to look everywhere his eyes weren't.

"Seriously?  Grow up, will you?"

Kylo ignored the mild admonishment.  He grabbed his side and fumbled with the bandages, which he'd noticed looked just like Rey's arm wrappings. He realized that was so because they were. Her left arm wrap was missing entirely because it was wrapped around his abdomen. Inspecting himself, he noticed his shirt was also missing along with his cloak and lightsaber. He still had his pants on, which was probably fortunate, but he didn't give that any more thought than he needed to.

"Will you let me handle that? You'll hurt yourself," Rey said as she stalked over to him. She pushed him gently back against the rocky wall, making him think about Queen Lucia and her 'dancing lessons', but he remained a gentleman and let Rey take care of his dressing.

She carefully unwrapped the bandages and had to gingerly pull off the last few inches because it had stuck to his seeping wound.

"Ahh," he winced.

"Sorry about that," she apologized. Rey tossed her old wrappings to the side and began to unfasten her right arm wrap.

"No, wait. Let me make this easier for you," he said, putting a hand on her wrist.

"What do you think you're doing?"

"I know many things about the Force, the dark side, and the light. I can heal this... probably."

"Probably? I hope so because I imagine you're bleeding internally from that wound," she said skeptically.

"Just... trust me."

Rey crossed her arms and crooked her mouth in feigned anticipation. "It's your funeral pyre."

"Please, don't be dramatic," he smirked.

Rey glanced away, clearly annoyed.

A moment later, he put his hand over his charred wound and dove deep into the Force until the only light he saw around him was Rey's life essence and his own. He focused on the dark patch in his life force that was his injury and felt the cells in his flesh stir under his influence. He nudged and compelled the cells to multiply and expand as they sheared away the dead and dying tissue to make way for new skin. The sensation... wasn't pleasant.

"Ahh," he grunted as the wound began to knit itself together.

"Be careful! Don't make it worse," Rey chided.

He glanced up at her, causing her to do a double take.

"What's wrong with your eyes?" She asked with concern.

He was too focused on healing, he didn't give her an answer, but to his satisfaction, she was clever enough to figure it out a moment later.

"You're using the dark side aren't you?"

"It's quick but requires brute strength and concentration. My wound is serious and I don't have time to nurse it with Jedi techniques. Aghhh," he cried out as his muscles came together and the cauterized flesh began to peel away.

"Ben, you're hurting yourself," Rey proclaimed again.

Her worry was... endearing, but he paid it no mind. He knew what he was doing. He endured the pain. Pain strengthened him and gave him focus. He drew from his wellspring of anger and agony until he couldn't anymore.

"Gahhh," he grunted as he took his hand away and let the endorphin rush wash over him. He realized at first glance that he hadn't fully succeeded, but the wound was sealed and partially scarred. The flesh was raw, pink and prickly as his nerves registered the healed flesh again.

"Wow, that's incredible," Rey said as she knelt and felt the tender skin with her soft fingertips.

Kylo flinched at the contact but didn't shy away from it either. A moment later, he registered the imminent danger of losing himself in her eyes, so he glanced away. Rey had been so lost in her innocent curiosity, she hadn't quite realized what she had done until she met his embarrassed gaze.

"Oh... oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean..." she pulled her hand away and shot to her feet.

As he looked up at her he could almost imagine the glow of embarrassment in her cheeks as she fumbled for more words.

"I was just curious... with the Jedi healing... and Force, uh... penetration, I mean, uh... yeah. I'll just... walk over here now," she managed to say as she turned stiffly and walked back to her belongings on the other side of the cave.

Kylo couldn't hold back the smirk that crept across his face as he watched her go. He felt his wound for himself. It was sensitive, certainly, but at least he'd stemmed the bleeding and could already feel himself healing, though the rest of his body ached from all the other hits he'd taken, his head in particular.

Rey grabbed her trousers and belt and disappeared around the corner of the tunnel to change. Kylo noticed his cloak and tunic hanging from a makeshift clothesline, but he didn't see his lightsaber anywhere.

That could be a problem.

Not long after, Rey emerged from the dark, fully dressed once again as she pulled her hair back into a knot. Ne'reem's padawan braid still hung from behind her left ear, then he looked down and saw his lightsaber hanging from her belt next to her saber staff.

"My lightsaber," he stated in observation.

Rey acknowledged it but didn't give it to him either. "I'm holding on to it for a while if you don't mind... as a precaution."

He scoffed at that. "Precaution? You don't trust me?"

She eyed him with notable regret. "I can't be sure yet... Supreme Leader. Maybe you can answer some questions that have been bothering me, like how exactly you found me on this world, for one."

Kylo sighed with annoyance. Of course, she wanted to know that and now of all times.

"One of my Knights spotted you when you landed. He alerted Malak who alerted me."

"Oh, I see..." her expression changed from curiosity to skepticism, then to barely restrained anger. "You were tracking me then?"

"No, Rey I had no idea where you were after what happened at the memorial. I didn't know if your so-called friends threw you in a cell or kept you under guard or what. I couldn't risk putting you in more danger than I already had."

"That's why you didn't contact me then?"

He nodded regretfully, "Yeah. That's why."

She seemed to regard that for a moment before returning to her earlier point.

"So this Knight of yours. What about them? I'd sensed someone following me but I wasn't sure at the time. Now I know I was right. Care to explain?" Her voice wasn't angry but also wasn't compassionate.

"Okay, Snoke deployed the Knights of Ren into the galaxy to look for Jedi and Sith artifacts, he was searching for something. After I killed him, I just kind of, kept up with the program but this happened to be one of the planets on the list. Talos Ren had been here for over a month before you arrived, the chances that you would pick this planet to come to were astronomically low. His presence had nothing to do with you, I swear."

Rey lowered her eyes then added, "So I guess it was the Force, then? Was it also the Force that told you to bring all of your Knights with you to attack us as well?"

"Malak didn't give me a choice," he shot back a bit too angrily.

Rey looked indignant. "Because he was planning to betray you? Please tell me you saw that coming from a parsec away at least!"

Kylo grit his teeth. "I suspected, but I didn't want to believe it either."

"And you didn't bother to reach out. You could have at least tried to warn me or something!"

He glared at her. "I did try to warn you! I tried to open the bond but just like on Crait you slammed the door shut in my face."

Anger flashed in her expression, followed by hurt then remorse. He knew by her expression alone that she had felt him reaching out and closed herself off instead, and a part of him couldn't blame her for that either.

"Well we're in a fine mess now aren't we?" She said at last. "My friends may very well be dead, my ship is probably in pieces in that never-ending jungle down there and the Knights of Ren are hunting us."

"I'm surprised that piece of junk made it into the atmosphere," he muttered bitterly.

"That's not funny," Rey shot back.

Kylo gaped at her, astonished that she was the one to be angry at him. "I'm sorry, but weren't you the one in the ship at the time? You had a clear escape, you could have blasted back into space and been back at your precious resistance by now."

Rey looked stunned.

"I was trying to save your life!"

"Then you were a fool!"

His words seemed to rip through her like well-placed blaster shots which he immediately regretted upon seeing the wetness glinting in her eyes. He pushed himself to his feet until he loomed over her.

"Rey, I didn't mean... it's just that your compassion is wasted on me. Whatever it is you think I am, I'm not it. I can't be who you want me to be."

"Obviously not," she agreed with a cracking voice.

"As long as I'm here, you're in danger. You know that, right?"

She didn't answer or look at him. He went on.

"I can take care of myself. I'll need my lightsaber back of course, but I can draw them away while you find your friends."

"What? What are you talking about? You're not going out there alone! Are you insane?"

He quirked his brow in her direction. "I think it's pretty obvious that you don't want me here either, so what choice is there?"

"I never said that," she admitted.

He regarded her for a moment before he grabbed his cloak and tunic from the line. They were mostly dry now but not quite. He didn't complain as he dressed. Once he'd put his boots back on, he walked slowly toward Rey before holding out his upturned hand.

"Lightsaber... please."

She searched his expression with defiance and disappointment. "You're not leaving. I won't let you."

He smirked, then withdrew his hand. "Of course. The Force is my strength anyway. Good day to you, Jedi." He turned and strode off toward the cave entrance.

With a crackling hiss, the small chamber illuminated with crimson light as Rey ignited his lightsaber. He turned and glared at her as she held his own fiery blade to his neck.

"Supreme Leader Kylo Ren, in the name of the New Republic and the Resistance, I take you as my prisoner."

He didn't shrink away from the blade or her furious gaze. "Or what? You'll kill me to stop me from going out there to be killed anyway?"

"No, but I can keep you from making any more stupid decisions."

"Really? What are you gonna do, cut my legs off, my arms? That might make it difficult to defend ourselves."

Rey smirked wickedly as she tipped the blade down. "There are other parts I was thinking of cutting off."

That... alarmed him. Kylo's eyes momentarily flicked down to his pants. "Right. Okay, fair enough. I get it, you're still mad about... her."

"I am not! I don't care about... I mean it doesn't matter to me who you... spend time with. You're an evil ruler over an evil empire so I'm sure slaves and 'funtime' girls are throwing themselves at you for your favor all the time. There's nothing wrong with that, nothing at all."

Rey said it as though she were trying to hide the fact that she hated every moment of it, but Kylo Ren merely smirked at her and added, "Queen Lucia of Onderon is actually a very kind if not a strong-willed woman. You'd like her."

Rey erupted.

"Queen Lucia of Onder... Are you bedding the Queen of an... entire planet? Actually, you know what, of course, you are.  It all makes sense now, this is your diplomacy hard at work, isn't it?  What better way to win over a system is there than with charming words and brooding looks before you impale the helpless monarch with your spear of 'good will'." She waved his lightsaber erratically as she sputtered for words.

He held his hands up carefully, "That isn't at all what's happening, uh could we just, deactivate that, please?"

Rey gaped at him. "Don't you dare tell me to deactivate anything you pomp haired, porg eyed, bantha herder!"

Confused and angry, but mostly confused, Kylo replied, "What the Hell's a porg?"

She poked the lightsaber at his face and answered with deadly seriousness, "You don't... want... to know!"

"Okay, you're mad. I'm your prisoner. Consider me imprisoned. Could we just get out of here before we both get killed?"

"I...," she started to say, "...I'll tell you when we leave. Though now might be a good time, I suppose." Her anger seemed to drain as she realized how foolish she must have looked waving his unwieldy saber around like a child with a stick. She flicked the switch and deactivated it before clipping it onto her belt.

"Come on, let's get moving... Kylo," she bit out.

Though Rey clearly had intended her words to sound angry, he could feel her conflicted emotions as she said it. She turned and began to walk further into the tunnel, stopping once to yell, "Are you coming or what?"

He sighed with annoyed relief.

That's it, I'm either going to bury her or I'm going to marry her.

Unsure which at the moment, he limped after her as they disappeared into the darkness

***

Despite her guilt, Rey couldn't bring herself to speak to him for most of their walk, even when she had to break out a luma to navigate the tunnel ahead. Her mind raced with all manner of retorts and counter-arguments, even apologies, all of which sounded so much more eloquent and powerful than what she managed to spout as she flailed his lightsaber at him.

That pompous ass... thinks he can just walk away... ungrateful, wookie haired Teedo... I should've just left him in the river.  I can't believe I did that, you saw the way he looked at you.

She glared back at him briefly only to realize he was falling behind again. He's hurt, you're walking too fast dammit. No, no it's his fault in the first place! Don't feel sorry for him, he brought this on himself!

Rey's conscience got the better of her, however. She stopped long enough to ask, "Are you alright? Do we need to take another break?

Ben sneered at her as he walked past. "No thanks, pain is an old friend. It gives me strength."

That's it, I'm either going to clobber him upside the head and leave him behind or I'm going to push him against the wall and kiss him.  Why are you like this, Rey?

"Of course it does," she muttered, then followed him.

They walked in uncomfortable silence for yet another long stretch before Rey noticed strange carvings on the inside of the tunnel walls.

"What are those?" She held her luma up to inspect them.

Ben stopped to look as well, but made a show of not meeting her eyes while he did so.

"Ancient Jedi runes, like the ones in your books."

"Oh, really?  Do they say anything? What is this place?"

"They speak of a battle long ago between the light and the dark. This symbol here is for the old Sith Empire and that one up there is the Old Republic."

She studied the symbols and recognized them from one of the texts he had translated.  "Sith Empire? I thought they only ever had two at a time, a master and an apprentice," she said, curious.

"That was Darth Bane's doing, he'd managed to trick the other Sith into warring amongst themselves and wiping each other out, leaving only him and his apprentice Darth Zannah to carry on the legacy. Before then the Sith Empire was as numerous as the Jedi, they had thousands of Acolytes and regularly waged war with the Jedi."

Images flashed through Rey's mind, images of a sea of lightsabers clashing amid burning trees and ship wreckage. She'd witnessed those wars, her vision of the mysterious Revan from her Jedi texts must have been from this time period. But why? Why had the book shown her that and what did it have to do with these runes or this planet for that matter?

"Are you okay?"

Rey realized she had zoned out when she looked up to see him staring at her with his soft Porg eyes again. "Yes, I'm fine... I'm just thinking about a vision I had, I think. I saw them, Sith and Jedi fighting. There were thousands of them waging war, but then I was elsewhere, confronting some man in a red mask."

Ben looked at her with alarm. "Did you approach him in a snow-covered forest, like on Starkiller?"

Now it was her turn to be shocked. "It was an earlier dream, but yes. I reached out to him and..."

"He cut you down with his saber?" Ben finished for her.

Her stomach went hollow for a moment as she regarded him.

Ben added, "I had that same dream, but I was in the mask. That was me, only... it wasn't."

"A shared vision? Why?" Rey was at a loss for words, everything was becoming so much more clouded and surreal and yet she remembered the feeling she had when the Falcon first dropped out of hyperspace above the planet. It was 'familiar' to her, like she'd been here before. How is that possible? Why here, why now?

"Apparently because the Force wills it to be so," Ben looked at her with dark and serious eyes before he added, "I had sent Talos Ren here because there were rumors of an old Jedi temple somewhere on the planet, but everyone who went searching for it either disappeared or failed to find anything. This tunnel might just be leading us there."

Suddenly it all clicked into place. Rey felt her heart race with excitement, almost forgetting that she was supposed to still be mad at him.  "There is a temple! There has to be, between my visions and the Jedi texts I saw one but it was being guarded by two Jedi, one of them was the man in the Red mask, this Revan character and..."

"Revan?" Ben said suddenly as if he recognized the name.

She stopped, realizing she hadn't actually named him out loud until now.

"Yes, I heard myself say his name once, at least I think that was it."

He stepped closer until the greenish light of the luma shone in his dark eyes. "Darth Revan, that's the man in the mask."

"You know about him?"

He looked away, somewhat regretfully. "A little. I've heard the story; Snoke told me once but only as a warning."

"A warning, for what?"

Ben kneaded his fingers for a moment before he spoke. "Darth Revan, it's said, was the only Jedi Knight known to fall to the Darkside and become a powerful Sith Lord during the time of the Old Republic... and to return from the darkness to become a Jedi again."

"Return from the dark?" Rey said, amazed by the claim but also by the feeling that she'd heard this all before, again some place and time she couldn't pinpoint. She chuckled. "So, what, the Sith didn't offer enough job security, I suppose? He just got bored and left one day?"

She'd meant it as a joke to lighten the mood but Ben didn't laugh, instead, he appeared crestfallen as he added, "The story says he came back to the light..." his eyes fell briefly to her lips, "because he fell in love with another Jedi."

"Oh."

Rey felt as if a bucket of cold water had been thrown on her. That uneasy feeling in her gut returned and along with it the small voice telling her to be angry with Ben but instead, her heart pounded with a familiar ache.

Ben broke the spell a moment later when he added, "But it's just a story, right? We should keep moving." He turned and went further into the tunnel, leaving Rey to ponder the truth of it.

"A story," she whispered despondently.

Something inside of me has always been there and now it's awake and I don't know what to do with it.

Rey pushed the thoughts away as she caught up with Ben.  The further they went, the more deliberate and structured the tunnel became. Rough-hewn walls gave way to brick and mortar construction and carved stone support pillars. The glyphs were everywhere and were too numerous to translate so Rey didn't bother to ask him about them, though to her restrained delight he offered some comments here and there about a particular battle or ancient Sith Lord he'd studied and she was only too eager to listen.

After what felt like hours of traversing the depths of a mountain, they came at last to a split in the tunnel. A cool breeze blew in from small fissures in the rock around them but the broken sculpture of what looked like some robed alien stood silent vigil over the bifurcated path. To the left was a stone staircase that led to parts unknown and to the right the same.

"So which way is it?" Rey asked.

Ben looked at the statue then at some of the worn out runes carved into the pillars behind it. He seemed to ponder his options before pointing to the left.

"This way."

Rey rolled her eyes. "How do you know that for certain?"

He quirked his brow at her. "The Force is telling me to go that way."

Rey clenched her jaw and tried to reach out with Force to see if anything spoke to her as well. It wasn't much but she did have a lingering sensation at the back of her mind.

"Well, the Force is telling me to go this way!" She pointed to the right.

Ben shrugged. "So go that way." He descended his steps.

"What? How can you... oh, you know what, fine! Go that way. Don't blame me if you get lost." She angrily stormed down the right-hand stairway before turning back and shouting, "And don't come running to me through the Force asking to hold my hand because you're scared!"

She heard a very faint scoff or was it a laugh before her cheeks bloomed with warmth. "Damned porg eyed, bantha herder."

The stairs went down some way, but she was pleased to note that fresh air was blowing in from somewhere and there was even some light illuminating the base of the steps.

It's about time.

Rey reached the bottom and turned into the room just beyond, then stopped and glared at Ben leaning up against the exit of his side of the staircase.

"Kylo."  She proclaimed.

"Oh, hey you made it. I was starting to worry I'd have to save you from some evil Dark Lord again, or something," he said with a casual half smirk.

Rey crossed her arms and set her jaw. If looks could kill, he'd be a bloody mess on the ground by now, but most frustrating of all was his apparent inability to be fazed by her anger.

He casually jerked a thumb to his right, causing Rey to exhale and look. Again she was surprised by what this place had to offer; a massive double door seemingly carved from pure granite greeted them both. She approached cautiously, taking note of the broken sculptures of what used to be Jedi figures adorning either side of the door.

"I guess... we found it?" She asked.

"The temple? Seems like it," Ben said as he inspected the door. He gave it a shove but the huge doors wouldn't budge, so he tried to push his shoulder into it, only when he did, he grunted in pain.

"Careful!" Rey called out with concern. "Why are you throwing yourself at the door anyway? Clearly, it's a Jedi temple, so you know, maybe we should use the Force?"

He looked at with genuine surprise. "You're probably right." Then he held out his hand in the direction of the door.

Rey approached and followed suit as she reached out with the Force and felt the door beneath invisible fingers. She visualized the mechanisms inside grinding open, shattering centuries of dust, rust, and grime as they turned. She heard the low grinding of metal scraping against stone, knowing that Ben felt the same.

A low, sonorous groan bellowed out followed by a loud crack as the caked dirt and dust broke apart and the two halves of the door opened before them. The first thing that Rey noticed was the fresh air that blew in from inside, bathing them both in smells of fresh moss and berries.

She looked at Ben with amazement, then smiled at their success. Together they hurried through the door and into the chamber. Beyond the door was a massive open cavern with natural stone windows ringing a cathedral shaped ceiling where avian creatures flew in and nested freely in alcoves cut into the wall.

Just past the stairway into the central courtyard, there were a series of elaborately carved pillars of differing heights jutting out of a crystal blue pool of fresh water flowing in from some unseen source. Statues of ancient figures and pedestals dotted the floor all across the open space. The longer she gawked at it, the more certain she became of what it was.

"It's not just a Jedi temple... it's a training temple."

 

Chapter Text

The dropship rattled and shook as it broke Onderon’s atmosphere. Three-Nine held fast to his supports as they descended toward the royal palace. It had seemed like only days had passed since they had celebrated their victory over the slavers, partly because it had been only days.

He inspected his weapon one more time to avoid thinking about the turbo laser bombardment massacring the innocents below as the Avenger II covered their approach. He tried not to think about the Pantoran woman who’d thanked him for reuniting her with her daughter or how they might still be holding each other even in the grip of death. He tried not to think about the Finalizer breaking apart before his eyes. More importantly, he tried not to think about Two-Six who always had his back when a firefight broke out.

His weapon was perfect of course, but he inspected it one more time anyway. Finally, it was too much for him to bear. He had to say something, he had to know if he’d made the right choice, so he turned to his squad.

“Alright, listen up,” he said through his helmet’s vocoder. The squad turned to him, each of their designations displaying in his lenses for easy identification. “We’re all still shaken by what happened to the Finalizer, I won’t deny it and you shouldn’t either.”

He was met with silence.

He considered his next words for a moment before deciding to do the unthinkable. He removed his helmet, to look at his troops with his own eyes. He wanted them to see him as a person when he spoke, not just another faceless trooper. If they were shocked by his action, none of them showed it.

“This is still a transition period, I understand that, but I need everyone’s heads clear for what’s about to happen. We all know where our loyalties lie, but we also suffered a great loss too. If any of you have anything to say, no matter how insubordinate it may sound, feel free to speak up now. There won’t be any punishment, judgment or reconditioning here, you have my promise as your Captain. It’s only us in here and I’m counting on each and every one of you down there.”

Again, silence but this time accompanied by questioning glances hidden behind silent masks.

Three-Nine regarded them all for a long moment before realizing they weren’t going to say anything. “Very well.” He brought his helmet up when a trooper from the back spoke up.

“The cadets.”

All helmets turned to him and for a moment, he looked like he was about to shy away, but then he removed his helmet and looked Three-Nine in the eyes. He was young, no doubt fresh out of the training program. He added, “Did they even think about the cadets on board? I knew some of them, they were just kids. I understand why the General wanted to make an example of the crew, I get it. Treason is a weed… that needs to be rooted out, but what treason did those kids commit? They weren’t even fighting age yet. Do we even know how many there were?”

“375. That’s how many were aboard by my last count,” said the trooper directly across from him.

A heavy silence hung in the air as the words sank in. Then a third trooper toward the front responded.

“Perhaps Kylo Ren should have thought of that before murdering the Supreme Leader.”

It was JN-2183, Three-Nine noted, but he didn’t reprimand him. His attitude was only too predictable.

“That may be so,” yet another trooper said, 6345. She took her helmet off too, revealing her dark skin and close-cropped black hair; her eyes blazed like amber fire. “Command could have still made arrangements to remove the cadets somewhere safe. If you ask me, they didn’t even think it through, they just heard the word ‘treason’ and pulled the trigger. Damned if it were true or not; I lost friends on the Finalizer.”

A small chorus of ‘Me too’ and ‘here’ followed her words. Three-Nine knew their call signs by heart and took note of each one. Only JN-2183 objected, which he also took consideration of.

“You heard the General, treason is too serious to be allowed to flourish. Maybe they could have done it differently but they didn’t, it’s over and we just have to accept it. I live and die for the First Order!” He finished with a hearty shout.

Three-Nine looked at him sadly and added, “As do we all trooper. As I said, we’re only clearing the air here, but we’ve got a job to do.” He put his helmet back on, as did the others who’d removed theirs.

“We know where our loyalties lie, but down there on the ground, your loyalty lies with me, and mine lies with you. Is that understood?”

“Yes sir!” A collective shout went up.

“Good to hear it.”

He tried not to think about what needed to be done, taking Queen Lucia into custody, and he certainly didn’t want to think about how Hux and Malak would make ‘an example’ of her to keep the other systems in line. Three-Nine didn’t think about these things because he was a good and loyal First Order soldier.

Good soldiers followed orders.

***

“We must hurry my lady, the palace is being surrounded,” Hadé announced.

Queen Lucia had no time for modesty as she stripped off her council gown and tossed it to the floor of her chambers.

“Speed up the evacuations, I don’t care if you have to use fleet escorts, just get people to the Partisan tunnels and underground,” she barked. She grabbed her combat trousers and boots while Corea unpacked her armor from her secret boudoir. In moments she was dressed as she pulled her trusted electro-staff from her display case.

“What about you, Majesty? We have to get you to safety. You know what will happen if the First Order takes you,” Hadé readied her blaster as she checked the doors.

Lucia knew exactly what they would do. She knew the moment she saw General Hux’s transmission once they’d entered their system that it was all over. Her heart broke for Kylo Ren but she wasn’t surprised by his fate. As a rule in this galaxy, young and powerful men with idealistic visions and kind hearts too often fell to betrayal at the hands of more ruthless and cunning tyrants.

She’d shed her tears for him but now was the time for action. Onderon was under siege and Hux was coming for her.

“Our most important job now is to save as many of our people as possible, if that means we die here holding them off, then so be it,” she said at last with a heavy heart.

“Yes, my lady. We’re with you until the end, whenever that end may come.”

She looked at her loyal handmaidens, six in all and each nodding in agreement. She knew they spoke truly as they were all like sisters to her as much as they were her bodyguards.

A loud bang shook the doors followed by muffled shouts and blaster shots. “They’re here. Ladies, it’s been an honor to be your Queen,” she said as she activated her staff.

“And it has been an honor to serve you, Majesty.”

Her handmaidens took up a defensive position around her as they readied their own weapons.

“Hux wants me alive, don’t fire until I give the order, understood?”

“Yes ma’am,” they acknowledged together.

A loud grinding noise came from the bedchamber door followed by a trail of sparks as the troopers cut their way through. With a loud crack, the antique wooden doors broke apart as smoke drifted through the opening from the hallway beyond. A squad of First Order stormtroopers entered with their blasters drawn.

Lucia’s grip tightened on her staff as she glared at them. The Captain of the squad approached and as she’d anticipated, he spoke first.

“Queen Lucia, the First Order demands that you surrender to us. Do so peacefully and we won’t have any further incidents if you resist…”

Studying his armor, she recognized the blue stripe down his mask. “You're that Captain aren’t you? They call you Three-Nine, am I right?”

He hesitated, letting his visor dip slightly. “Yes ma’am, that’s correct.”

Lucia continued. “You helped free our people, Captain. You celebrated with us, you danced and ate with us. If you were loyal to Kylo Ren then I’m inclined to believe you have a heart under all that white armor. Is this truly what you believe to be right?”

Again, he hesitated. “What I believe… is irrelevant. I’m just following orders. Please, my Lady, don’t make this difficult for yourself.” He raised his weapon but only slightly.

Lucia deactivated her staff and stepped closer. “I know you’re a good man, Three-Nine and I know you understand what kind of monster Hux is. You and I both know what he’s going to do to me. Are these the orders you want to have on your conscience?”

“I… have no choice.”

Lucia pitied him and she didn’t want to have to hurt him but before it came to that, she made a final plea. “Take off your helmet, look me in the eyes and tell me that.”

The Captain stared at her through that black, expressionless visor. A trooper to his left raised his weapon to fire.

“She’s stalling sir, I’ll stun her.”

Lucia’s eyes flicked to the trooper, only to see the Captain slap the rifle back down.

“Stand down, soldier.”

“Sir?”

Captain Three-Nine stepped forward, lowering his blaster before he removed his helmet. He couldn’t meet her eyes at first but she could see the shine of tears in his eyes and that was enough.

“Captain… you know this is wrong. Please, I beg you to help us, to help the people of Onderon.”

His pained eyes met hers at last and with a shuddering gasp he said, “What would you ask of us?”

“Traitor!” The trooper by his side shouted.

Her breath caught as the blaster shot rang out. Three-Nine winced but it was the anonymous trooper to his left that slumped and fell to the ground with a blaster burn in his back. All was stunned silence as the Captain looked at the rest of his squad as they lowered their weapons.

A female trooper said, “The Queen is right, sir. This is wrong. What happened to the Finalizer is wrong and what Hux is doing to the planet now is wrong. You told us that on the ground, our loyalty is with you and yours is with us. Captain, I don’t speak for the others but I will stand with you no matter what.

One by one the rest of his squad pledged the same and Lucia’s heart raced with hope as the Captain turned back to her and said, “If the Queen would have us, we’d be honored to fight by your side.”

“Of course, Captain. Welcome to the Resistance.”

He smiled, but the moment of joy was short-lived as a fiery red lightsaber carved through the outer balcony door behind them.

An ominous, mechanical voice boomed through the lavish bedchamber

“That is most unfortunate to hear, if not unexpected.”

Two Knights of Ren entered, both of them she recognized from the victory festivities as Malak and Shira, only this time they wore full black body armor. Of the two, Malak appeared drastically different than who she remembered. Lucia took note of his cybernetic appendages and facial collar and reasoned that something terrible must have happened to him. Her handmaidens along with their stormtrooper allies turned their weapons on the intruders.

“Captain JN-7839, the Supreme Leader was right. It seems treason truly has infected those closest to Kylo Ren.”

“Hollow words from one serving a traitor. Did Hux at least have the courage to carry out the act himself, I wonder?” Lucia challenged.

Malak laughed, a cold and mechanical chortle emanated from his vocoder when he did so. “My dear Queen, Hux had very little to do with anything. He may be the Supreme Leader now, but I was the one who drove the dagger into Kylo Ren’s gut. As his entrails spilled onto the ground, I watched the light go out in his eyes, but to my surprise, he never once said your name. Curious isn’t it?”

“You killed him?” She managed to say.

Lucia gripped her staff with barely contained rage; she didn’t want to believe him, as horrific as his words were, but she also understood that he was the true enemy now and one way or another she was going to end this day with fresh blood on her hands.

“And I took great pleasure in it as well,” he replied with a casual nod of his tattooed head.

She dialed in her staff charge to full power and reactivated it.

“My lady, no!” Hadé and her other handmaidens protested.

She didn’t heed their words, instead, she glared at Malak as she spun her staff in a direct challenge. “I’ll see to it that Kylo Ren is avenged with your blood.”

Shira cracked her electro-whip in reply.

“You won’t touch him.”

“No, my love… let her fight. Hux ordered me to take her in alive, he didn’t specify how many pieces she had to be in.” Malak’s words dripped with gleeful malice as he met her furious gaze.

Even without a mouth, she could see the smile on his broken face. That was enough. Lucia screamed with fury as she charged Kylo Ren’s murderer. Her staff crackled with every step as she focused on the position of his red saber, then his shoulder followed by an instinctive reading of his battle stance. Every instinct and muscle memory she had kicked in as she met Malak’s swing by dropping to her knees and skidding below the cut to come out behind him.

Before he had time to recover, Lucia slammed her staff end into the back of his knees, dropping him hard to the ground. Malak shouted out in anger but she used his momentary disablement to shoot to her feet where she swung the staff again but this time hard into the back of his skull. Sparks danced off of his cybernetic hardware as he coughed and sputtered in distorted crackles of rage.

Her blow would have killed any normal man, but it was clear that Malak was no longer a ‘normal’ if a man he was anymore. She reared back to deliver another blow but the momentary delay was enough for him to recover. Malak stabbed up and over his shoulder, nearly catching her in the side with his strange saber, but she parried the attack. He spun and rose to his full height, his eyes yellow with rage, Malak charged and slammed his saber against her staff like a rancor beating a drum.

Lucia did not shrink back or let fear take hold, she was a warrior, she was a Queen and she would see this monster pay for his crimes. She ducked and rolled to throw him off balance as she landed more hits against him until one such contact shocked his cybernetic arm enough that he lost his grip on his own lightsaber.

“Ahhh, enough!” He roared.

Charging in for the killing blow she fell to her knees suddenly as invisible fingers wrapped cruelly around her throat and lifted her into the air. Desperate for air, she clawed at her neck but there was no hand holding her, there only the Force. Malak held her there, helplessly, as he called his lightsaber into his free hand.

“I’ve wasted enough time with you, your Majesty. Maybe without your legs, you’ll begin to know your place in the First Order.”

Lucia watched in terror as Malak took aim at her thighs with his burning blade and reared his saber back for the cut, but blaster shots rang out from behind him. The ceiling above exploded with hot fragments of mortar and plaster. Debris pelted Malak hard enough to break his concentration causing him to drop her back to the ground.

As cool, precious air rushed back into her lungs, Lucia heard several loud bangs as her bedchamber filled with smoke. A white armored arm grabbed her and pulled her to her feet, then she heard Captain Three-Nine’s gruff voice shout, “My Lady, we have to go! Your people need you, Onderon needs you!”

“He’s right, my Lady,” Hadé agreed a moment later, “We have to get you off world, now!”

“No,” she spat, “Malak has to die! He’ll pay for all of this!”

Three-Nine gave her a shake, forcing her to look at him. “His death means nothing if it results in yours too. Your people need you, my Lady; you have to do your duty. We’re leaving now!” He pulled her along, causing her to stumble, but his words had gotten through.

She was the Queen of Onderon and as such, her first and foremost duty was the safety of her people and, failing that, avenging their deaths. Strength came back to her legs as she caught up to speed with the Captain. There was no other choice but to listen helplessly as her handmaidens and the stormtroopers following them fought and died one after another. By the time they made it to the outside balcony she had a chance to look back and saw who was left, four of her personal guards and five troopers. It was more than she’d hoped survived but now wasn’t the time to count her losses.

“Up ahead, troopers coming in!” Captain Three-Nine shouted.

“Is that Bravo squad?” The female trooper beside him called out.

“Yes, but we’ve got no choice now, it’s us or them. Fire!”

The Stormtroopers, to their credit, opened fire without hesitation, downing their fellow troopers as they rushed out of the interior hall. She could only imagine what it must have cost them to kill their own for her, someone they barely knew.

“The escape tunnel is behind a false pillar up here on the right,” Lucia shouted. “Follow me, I have to access the panel.”

“All troopers, covering fire!” Three-Nine kept himself between her and the incoming forces as Hadé fired around him. They ducked into a small alcove along the outside fascia.

The Queen put her hand to a stone that was indistinguishable from the others with the exception of a tiny rune carved into it. The surface depressed and slid up inside the hidden panel. She placed her palm on the sensor grid and the door behind the pillar opened to a stone staircase that led into the depths of the palace.

“Follow me, but watch your step, this escape tunnel is ancient,” Lucia said as they ventured into the dark.

“Please tell me this leads to a reinforced hangar bay,” Three-Nine asked.

“Not quite, but it does lead to a tram system designed to get us out of the region as fast as possible. That’s where the hangar will be, many clicks away from here, I had it built after my ascension, not even the Republic knew of its existence.”

The walls rumbled with a distant explosion from above. Lucia cursed.

“Damn, we need to hurry before they bring this palace down on top of us.”

“I don’t doubt it, I’ve seen what those turbo lasers can do to an unshielded capital ship up close and personal.”

“Really? Sounds like an interesting story,” Lucia added.

“And partly the reason why I offered to help, but we can talk more once we’ve gotten to safety.”

A scream of pain seemed to punctuate the Captain’s point as the glow of a red lightsaber illuminated the top of the stairs.

“Kriff, faster, move faster!” Lucia flew down the steps two at a time with the Captain hot on her heels and her remaining handmaidens as one of the troopers bodies rolled limply behind them. Blaster shots lit up the dim stairway as Malak gave chase. The bottom step couldn’t come soon enough but when it did, Lucia breathed a small sigh of relief when she saw the emergency tram sitting idly in it’s docking port.

“Everyone, on board now!” She ran for the activation console which activated for her palm print again. A dull hum filled the air as the magnetic coils powered on down the track, but a mechanical roar of fury emerged from the stairway as the last of the trooper squad emerged ahead of Malak Ren.

“Lady Lucia Bonterri, you could have made this easy on yourself, but now you have to live with the blood of all these traitors on your hands,” he growled as he cut down another trooper then impaled Aluurus before she could raise her blaster. Only three of her guards remained.

Lucia wanted to scream, she wanted to fight, but she knew it was too late for that. She rushed into the tram with Three-Nine, Hadé and the few who remained as she glared hatefully at Malak. The instant the final body passed through the doorway, she slammed the emergency launch button, the door shut, and like a slug fired from a rifle, the tram shot into the tunnel before Malak could act.

Almost as one, they let out a collective breath as they raced through the reinforced tunnel. The Captain dropped his blaster on the ground and sat on the small bench behind him.

“I sure hope this launch bay is as secure as you say it is. We need every advantage we can get now.”

The female trooper removed her helmet revealing her short black hair and a warriors face. “Breaking through the blockade is going to be the real challenge, Captain. That’s the Final Justice and the Avenger II up there. We won’t stand a chance against them.”

Lucia studied the small squad, taking a mental note of who was no longer with them. She knew that mourning could come later, but for now, she had to be the Queen.

“Don’t worry about that. I have many friends in this quadrant and you might be surprised at the kind of armaments private citizens can acquire with enough credits.”

Hadé stepped forward, her face smeared with dirt and blood. “My lady, you don’t mean…”

Lucia smirked at her. “That’s exactly who I mean.” She turned toward the private comm station at the head of the tram. She was owed a favor and now was the time to collect, and given his reputation with young, pretty ladies, Lucia knew he wouldn’t turn her down.

 

Chapter Text

Talos watched with mild amusement as the mercs casually milled about, oblivious to the masked Knight of Ren leaning up against a dismantled drive coil. He missed his mercenary days sometimes but having become an elite member of something bigger that incorporated studies in the Force, he realized how beneath him these scum really were.

Still, the downpour the night of the assassination attempt washed away most traces of Kylo Ren and the girl, so Malak had commanded him to enlist what help he and the others would need to get the job done. That's where the Black Fangs came in.

Armed only with a holdout blaster on his hip and, possibly, a remotely operated sniper rifle mounted in the trees behind him, he casually strode out into the daylight clearing and coughed loudly.

"You know I'd heard good things about the Black Fangs, but with security like this, I'm having my doubts," he said with open skepticism.

The camp turned at once, then every blaster on hand was drawn and aimed at him.

"Oy, what in the kriffin' suns do you think you're doing wandering in here, scab?" A crusty plated malbolgian croaked as he eyed him. This one, he assumed was the leader considering no one else was talking.

Talos held up his hands in placation. "Easy, friends I'm not here to rob you if that's what you're worried about."

A laugh went up among the unwashed crew, he counted twelve in all but he knew they employed more than this.

"Your supplies are looking a bit sparse here, so I'm here to offer you a job on behalf of the First Order."

That caught their attention. The old hook-beaked leader didn't holster his blaster but he lowered it slightly as he said, "Is that right? And what makes you think we'd be willing to work with the First Order? Last I heard, they were on a warpath against scum like us!"

Talos held up a finger. "Ah, that was true a week ago, friends but there's been a sudden, violent change in leadership and the new Supreme Leader wants to make a good first impression on our new potential allies."

"Right, I'm sure, but you dun look much like a First Order officer so why should we believe you?"

"You are correct, I'm not a First Order officer. I'm a Knight of Ren, Talos Ren to be exact and we are the First Order's envoys now. Our word is as good as their word."

"Knight of Ren?" The malbolgian laughed. "What is that, some kind of choir group that goes around the galaxy singing hymns?" His cackle of amusement was as grating as it was infuriating, but to Talos' satisfaction, some of his crew didn't share his merriment. In fact, they looked downright terrified, as they should be.

One of his fellow mercenaries shuffled over to him and whispered something that stopped his laughter in its tracks.

"What? Are you toolin' me right now? When did you become a bunch of lily yellow cowards." The alien looked around at his men as he yelled. "If he's as valuable to the First Order as you say then we'll take him and ransom him off to the higher bidder!"

If there was one thing Talos was hoping to confirm about this group, it was that their 'leader' was a complete and utter moron.

"That wouldn't be a good idea, my friend," he said in reply.

The leader aimed his blaster again. "Oh yeah? And why not? There's one of you and look how many of us there are! What're you gonna do?"

Talos held a finger up as he said a single word.

"Fire."

The malbolgian's head split open like a rotten melon as a single blaster shot from his remote targeted rifle liquified his brains. The rest of the of the mercenaries scattered in horrified disgust as the shower of blood and gristle filled the air. That was when the other Knights joined him.

Miura, Lor'rutti, and Vantaar emerged, each activating their electro weapons in warning. Talos clasped his hands diplomatically as he stepped closer to the terrified group.

"Now, would any of you like to see the inside of your own skull like that idiot down there, or would each of you like to get rich enough to form your own mercenary gang?"

They all shared a curious glance at each other, then a wobbly legged two horned Salarian stepped forward and said, "W-what is the job exactly?"

Removing his helmet, Talos grinned at them.

"I'm so glad one of you finally asked."

***

"This is incredible! How long has this temple been here?" Rey exclaimed as she raced down the steps into the courtyard.

Kylo Ren was impressed though less enthusiastic about the temple than her, but the peal of her laughter echoing through the large open space was a sound more beautiful than he thought possible. Her childlike joy made him think about the Pantoran girl he'd held on Onderon which threatened to draw out a smirk as he limped down the steps after her.

"Considering how long people have been searching for it only to fail, I'd say a long time," he clarified.

Rey barely acknowledged his reply as she took in the many features of the cavernous ruin. "Look, an amphitheater, that's probably where Jedi Masters stood to instruct their padawans, and that mural over there, I can still some color in the pigments. This place is like living inside of the Jedi texts but the energy! I can feel it, can't you?"

She was right, Kylo did feel a greater connection with the Force in this place even if the Jedi's half-truths and deceptions were plastered over everything else. To him, this temple was just one more reminder of how their hubris led to their destruction and how his uncle must have been so easily swayed by their failed teachings.

Thinking about Luke would have angered him once, but having spent considerable time in Snoke's personal files had tempered his feelings for his uncle if only a little. Snoke had made certain to mislead the Jedi on his search for the past and sent him on a wild Bantha chase across the galaxy looking for leads that either didn't exist or were poorly misinterpreted by inexperienced scholars. He hated his late master more now than when he was alive and if there was a way to bring him back to life just so he could kill him a second time, he would.

Thinking about all the events that led up to his flight from Luke's temple brought with it old wounds. Being here in the middle of a place that represented everything he hated about the Jedi only made his feelings more conflicted than ever. However just as anger and despair threatened to overtake him again, Rey's joyous laughter drew his attention back to her as she explored the small impression where the amphitheater crumbled in silence. If there was one thing he knew he could count on to focus his mind, it was her.

He walked past a broken statue of a robed figure. It clearly used to have a hand holding a lightsaber but where the shattered limb had gotten to was a mystery he had no desire to solve. Still, he ran his fingers along the stone folds of the meticulously carved robe and felt the past whispering to him through the Force. Whatever the Jedi were, this was a place of happiness and serenity, free from fear and baser emotions. He actually enjoyed the feel of it.

"Look, Ben, there's fresh water flowing in from somewhere. There must be a stream or something from outside," Rey said as she darted toward a large shallow pool.

The pool spanned a good portion of the open chamber and large pillars of differing height rose out of it in distinct but measured increments from each other. While Rey knelt at the edge and splashed her hand in the water, he followed the pillars with his eyes until he saw where they led.

"It's an obstacle course," he said with sudden realization.

"Mrugh?" Rey said with a mouthful of water dribbling down her chin.

He pointed to the path he'd seen. "The pillars are going up in height but there's a distinct pathway up to that ledge up there."

She stepped over to him and followed the path he had pointed to. "You're right, and look," she pointed to a spot further to the right, "Those archways might lead to other rooms. There could be an entire Jedi archive here for all we know." She beamed brighter than twin suns. "First one up there gets dibs on the library." 

Without warning, Rey turned and sprinted for the first pillar. It was only a meter or two above the water so it was an easy jump for any padawan, but as she leapt to the second pillar, Kylo had to admit that he was impressed.

"Are we really doing this right now?" He said, skeptical.

She looked down at him with her head cocked, "Oh come on, have a little fun, will you?"

"I thought I was your prisoner."

"Well, then... I give you 'permission' to have fun. You better hurry or you're going to lose... again... to me." She ran and leapt to the third higher pillar with ease.

Kylo sighed. This is ridiculous. They were on the run for their lives and she wanted to play like a child? He studied the pillars again and if he were being honest with himself, it did look like a lot of fun, though only because it was Rey he'd be pursuing. A mischievous smirk broke across his bruised face, then he threw off his cloak and charged after her.

She'd been oblivious to his pursuit until he landed on the pillar opposite of hers. That was when they'd both realized that there were actually multiple pathways to the top. Rey smiled at him.

"Now you're getting it."

He gave her a look. "Are you going to talk, or are you going to race... scavenger?" He threw himself up to the next pillar.

"Ohhh, that's it. It's on now, Supreme Leader!" She teased.

The race was certainly on. He dropped into the Force as easily as breathing as he anticipated and visualized his pathway to the top. His muscles obeyed his commands without hesitation or pain, he was running on pure instinct and desire, though what he truly desired was less clear at the moment.

Rey met his pace, a pillar for pillar, leap for leap as she took the rightward path and he the left like they had with the stairs. He didn't dare look down as the height above the pool became increasingly more dangerous, but for a Jedi, or a Sith, a fall from this height still wouldn't be fatal. He pumped his legs and felt his lungs burn as he neared the final two pillars from the top.

Leaping up to the second pillar was simple, but when he landed on the final pillar danger flashed in the Force as the stone cracked beneath him and began to sway.

"Whoaaa," he huffed as the pillar tipped sideways, forcing him to leap to the vine-covered wall instead. Desperate fingers clutched at vegetation of uncertain strength as the monolithic stone creation collapsed into a smaller one below as they both crashed into the pool, sending waves and debris scattering across the floor.

"Ben," Rey shouted as she ran to him from the ledge above. She skidded to a stop just above and reached down for him. "Grab my hand, I'll pull you up!"

He struggled to grip the vines with one hand but managed to fling his other into her grasp. Their fingers wrapped around each other's wrists and she pulled while he scrambled to the top with his burning legs. Once on the ledge, he collapsed beside her and let out a desperate breath.

"Okay... so this place needs a bit of maintenance. I'll be sure to file a formal complaint to management," he quipped.

Rey laughed as she playfully slapped him on the arm. "Come on, Solo, I'm sure there are other dangerous surprises waiting for us."

He ignored the 'Solo' but happily let her help him to his feet. As she'd said, there was an archway leading into another hallway that went further into the temple. The tunnel was dilapidated and musty but short and it opened into another room that had a high domed ceiling with faded murals painted onto it. It was sparse of furniture but the few round stones spread across the floor had the remnants of long rotted away mats.

"I think this was a meditation room, or maybe a classroom," Kylo offered.

"It's strange, I can feel echoes of the students who were here but nothing distinct. It's like a murmur at the back of my mind." Rey reached out slightly as if trying to touch something that wasn't quite there.

"That's because the Force is an ever living thing. Everyone who has ever existed leaves an imprint in their own way even after they die," he said softly, his mind drifting to memories he had hoped not to bring up, memories of cold anger and black despair. He touched his scar without realizing but when he did, he quickly drew his hand away and hoped Rey hadn't noticed.

Risking a casual glance in her direction he saw that she was too busy reveling in the Force around her. Her eyes were closed as she drifted through the space like an ephemeral dream. He realized how easy it would be to look at her forever until his body had turned to ash. Kylo forced himself to turn away.

"It's so peaceful. It's almost a shame that someplace so beautiful could be lost to time," she stated as she turned back to him. "What happened here?"

"Any number of things, I suppose. This far out into the unknown regions, it could have been some forgotten war, a plague, other catastrophes... or maybe the Jedi simply moved further into the core to be closer to the temple on Coruscant."

She regarded him for a moment, clearly considering the possibilities. "I suppose we should keep looking. There must be something in here, if we found this place then maybe others have as well."

Her logic struck him. "If that's true, we should be careful not to let our guard down," Kylo added.

"And maybe we shouldn't destroy half the temple while we're going through it?" Rey teased.

He cocked his head at her in annoyance. She shot him a mischievous grin before stepping into the far hallway behind her.

A second doorway led to another part of the temple so they continued their exploration. The two of them passed room after sparse room, some which looked like studies and others living quarters but it became obvious the further they went that there were more hallways and rooms than could be explored in a single day so it was decided to follow the main hall around to it's end.

Fresh air blew into the space from cracks and holes in the outer wall but there were no windows of any sort. The Temple has clearly been carved into the mountain for a reason.

"Finally," Rey exclaimed as they came to a set of large double doors that sat half opened.

Kylo grew wary of a slight stirring in the Force but there was no imminent threat of danger. He stayed on guard as he followed her into the room beyond and that's when the smell hit him.

Rey gagged as her hand flew to her mouth and nose. "Unkars pits, what is that?"

Kylo knew. He knew only too well.

"Death."

She looked at him wide eyed, perhaps even hoping he was joking, but he wasn't. "It would seem we've found your archives."

Indeed they had. The balcony jutted out over the large open space below where rows upon rows of stone book shelves stood side by side. Some were toppled and others leaned up against their counterparts but they all had the same thing in common, a thick white carpet of mold and fungus that seemed to devour the ancient works.

"Well this is pleasant isn't it?" Rey's voice was muffled in her hand.

Kylo gave her a flat stare. "You'll get used to it." He winked at her as he brushed his arm lightly against hers as he headed for the stairs.

A brief moment of heavy silence passed between them before Rey interjected, "I'd rather not get used to the stench of death, thank you."

He didn't have to turn to know she was following him down into the open floor. Once at the bottom of the stairs, he found a new appreciation for the space itself.

Whatever the Jedi had been, they had a pleasant sense of aesthetic in the simple lines and curves of the pillars and sculpted reliefs. Large, bulbous fungal growths sagged from he walls with thick green stalks that seemed to grow into the permacrete itself.

Though the wilderness seemed to rule here, he was surprised to see that many ancient books were still present, apparently preserved by the brittle crystalline fungal mesh that encased them. Kylo ren walked over to a shelf and cracked a corner of dusty resin away and pulled a volume out. Thumbing through the brittle pages, he scoffed with amusement as Rey came up behind him.

"What is it?"

His brows raised as he deadpanned, "It's a book."

Rey clenched her jaw with obvious chagrin. "I know it's a book. What is the book about?"

Kylo held it out to her. "You can read for yourself, it's written in old basic."

"Really?" Rey took it and ran her fingers over the dried leather binding. "The musings and meditations of Jedi Master Krrthan... ackthu...blarrr..." she stammered, trying to form the words.

"Yeah, I didn't bother trying to read the name."

"Maybe we can read this one later," Rey chuckled as she slid the dusty tone back into its crevice.

Kylo Ren felt the strange sensation of warning at the back of his mind again. This time, he followed it until it led him into the middle of the open floor but there was nothing around that stood out to him.

"What is it?" Rey asked.

"Do you sense that, too?

She looked around with mild concern at first but her expression changed to intrigue not long after. That's when he knew she had sensed it too. Silently they studied the archive around them both looking for the source of the strange disturbance. Rey wandered off toward the fungal wall while Kylo veered back toward the bookshelves.

He noticed something slumped up against one of the heavy constructs, it almost looked like a cocoon of some kind but he didn't sense any kind of life force from it. The closer he got, the more certain he became of what he was looking at. He knelt down to break away the crystalline mesh only to find a desiccated alien face staring blankly back at him.

The dead alien inside hadn't alarmed him, he'd expected that from the moment he smelled this awful room that he would find a body somewhere. What alarmed him instead was how fresh the corpse was; from the look of it, the alien had only been dead for a few days. Then the uneasy sensation through the force solidified into imminent danger.

"Rey!" He spun and froze as he saw where she was. Though she'd detected the danger as well, she hadn't realized the bulbous fungus behind her had moved. The green stalks that held it to the wall were actually legs and the colorful bulb they were attached to was the body of a massive arachnid-like creature that separated itself from the crystalline webbing that encased the archive.

A moment later, she turned to face the nightmarish monstrosity as it reared up on four of it's eight legs and roared in defiant rage.

"Ahhh," Rey screamed as she stumbled backwards just out of reach of it's massive claws.

"Rey!" Kylo screamed as he raced toward her. Acting on pure instinct, he reached for his lightsaber at his hip, only it wasn't there. Then he remembered that she had taken it, but it was no matter to him now. As the beast lunged for her, he reached out with the Force.

***

Rey fell backward as the monstrous arachnid lurched forward. She braced herself for impact with the hard floor but was instead pulled back across the room until Kylo's strong arms caught her and held her against his chest. He reached down to her left hip and pulled his lightsaber from her belt.

"I need this," he said into her ear.

"Yeah you do!" Rey agreed.

She found her footing again and pulled her saber staff free and together, they ignited their blades. The terrifying beast roared in protest as it reared back and threw it's legs forward, hoping to spear them with the small talons protruding from each tip, but they threw it off balance by splitting up and circling behind.

It looked at her then turned toward Ben. Apparently he made for a more satisfying meal because it went for him. With an angry yell, he slashed at its legs and mandibles but seemingly did little damage; it's skin was chitinous and his lightsaber danced off of it like a dull stick against stormtrooper armor.

The creature responded to the attack by swatting Ben away like an insect with it's foreleg. He slid across the archive floor like a discarded doll, coming to a rest just meters away. The arachnid was moving in for the kill, so Rey had to act.

"Hey ugly! Why don't you pick on a Jedi instead?" She ran at it's hind quarter and slashed her staff against the back of its rear leg joint. To her relief it was a weak spot in the armor, but it was only a momentary relief because it roared in anger and reeled on her.

"Oh no," she exclaimed. Then, looking back at the small spaces between the bookshelves, she ran, boosting her speed with the Force. An angry howl rose up behind her but a quick look back revealed that the archive guardian had taken her bait because it was charging after her with extreme prejudice.

Rey made it between the shelves moments before its mandibles snapped shut behind her. The thing's over large body was too bulky to fit but that didn't matter because it easily climbed on top of the shelves and navigated it's way over to her. Sticky saliva dribbled from its pincers below the black void of its eyes as it zeroed in on her.

"You've got to be kidding me!"

In a desperate move, she reached out with the Force and pulled the book shelf off center enough to cause the monster to stumble and lose it's footing, giving Rey an opening to leap toward the back wall. Once she'd found safety, she risked a glance back to see Ben charging up behind it.

The angry red crackle of his saber crashed against it's body, making the creature rear and turn with frightening speed. Apparently the reaction caught him off guard as well because he stumbled backward, fear plain on his face.

"Ben, we have to get out of here," Rey shouted from the other side. She cut her way through the crystalline webbing at the back of the shelves so that she could make her way into the next aisle, but it was a slow process.

"I like the sound of that plan," he replied as he led the thing away from her.

Rey rushed toward the open floor, ensuring she stayed out of it's line of sight. When she saw an opening for the stairs, she turned to shout for Ben to follow her but instead he yelled out in pain as he fell to his knees, holding his wounded side.

The multi-legged nightmare went in for the attack. Rey's heart stopped in panic but as if driven by pure instinct, she dove deep into the Force then threw out a mental probe toward the creature.

"Stop! Don't hurt us, it's all a misunderstanding!"

To her amazement, the creature pulled up short and regarded her.  For a long, breathless moment of apprehension, it's dark black eyes studied her, then with what felt like a prickly warmth in the back of her mind, she felt its thoughts tentatively reach out to her own. Rey was shocked by how seemingly intelligent this creature was. Images and sensations flashed through her mind as her mental probe brushed against the others.  

"We didn't mean to hurt you, we only meant to defend ourselves. Do you understand me?"

The six large black orbs blinked randomly as it regarded her, no not 'it' but 'she'. The frightful creature was female, Rey sensed, and was... lonely. More flashes of images danced into her mind, images of when this library was alive. Rey saw Jedi Knights and their padawans wandering bookshelves either reading or studying, some even conversing amongst the pristine aisles, but the creature itself was small then, about the size of a tooka cat and had apparently been the pet of an equally strange Jedi Master of a species she had never seen before.

The creature stepped closer to her as their connection deepened. Off to the side, she saw Ben stumble to his feet as he retreated from it.

"What are you doing?" He asked, concerned.

"I can see her mind, just like how we saw each others."

He furrowed his brow but didn't interject.

"She's ancient, she's been here since this temple was active as a pet, a guardian, I'm not sure. Her mind is so alien to me."

They were a hand-span away from each other now, so she took a cautious step forward and put her palm to it's hardened shell just above it's eyes.  Standing this close and with the light pouring in from the windows around the top of the archive, she saw that it's eyes weren't just black voids but sparkled with a million different colors as the light refracted through tiny prisms inside each orb.

"She's been so lonely this entire time... just like us."

"Let me try," Ben said with curiosity.

Rey was apprehensive at first but she knew that his abilities were still far above hers, so she withdrew from the creatures mind. Now Ben put his hand out and Force connected with the guardian. She watched in amazement as they stared at each other without fear. Only moments ago they'd been trying to kill each other but now they were practically friends as he put his hand to her pincers.

"You're right, she's been here for centuries and saw what happened. There was an attack on the temple... her master was killed and the rest of the Jedi fled. The invaders were all foreign to her so she hid and survived by, well, eating." Ben gave Rey a knowing look.

"I see." With a casual glance around the archive, she noticed the many different pods that each contained the body of some hapless mercenary or unlucky beast within.

Ben lowered his hand. The lonely creature let out a dull chirp of resignation before turning and limping back to it's resting place on the wall.  Rey felt a wave of guilt wash over her for hurting it like she had, but she doubted the creature would hold a personal grudge against her.

"I guess we disturbed her nap," Ben smirked.

"I'd be grumpy too if someone wandered into my home while I was sleeping and hungry." Rey chuckled but saw his arm a moment later. "Ben, you're bleeding."

He only just seemed to notice the cut on his left forearm and groaned with annoyance. "Great, one more scar."

Rey smirked at him, then a realization hit her. "Wait, if she's been attacking explorers and mercenaries, there might be supplies around here we can use. Ben help me look, we can find some aid kits or something." Without so much as awaiting an answer, she leapt into action digging through clumps of crystalline webbing and cutting open old pods, choosing to ignore the mummified remains that stared blankly back at her.

"It's a long shot, but it couldn't hurt," Ben conceded. He too began cutting open pods and scavenging for goods they could use.

Rey looked back at him as he worked and not for the first time she struggled to keep her feelings from bubbling to the surface. She still didn't know where exactly they stood, but after this, she was more hopeful than ever that perhaps he was on the right path and that the future she saw for him, their future, might still come to pass.

Chapter Text

Finn hated the heat. It was sweltering, muggy and damp as if the very air itself was turning to soup in his lungs. He thought about Jakku and almost laughed at how many times he'd told himself he'd never want to go back there but compared to this? Baze-Chirrutti made Jakku look like a nice day at the beach. He would give anything to be anywhere that wasn't here, hell, he might just be willing to turn himself into the First Order for treason just so he could have some refreshing temperature conditioned ship air moments before he was executed.

He slapped another insect that landed on his neck. When he pulled his hand away and saw the green and black gob of blood and pus on his palm, he recoiled and wiped it off on his pant leg. He glanced around the broken Falcon and saw that Rose, Chewie, R2 and even Ripper the Porg were all suffering in their own way albeit under the shade of the Falcon's hull.

"That's it. I'm done, I can't take this anymore!" He said as he got to his feet.

Rose eyed him with skepticism. "Where do you think you're going?"

He put his hands out in a broad gesture to the jungle around them. "We've been sitting here, waiting for how long for Hondo and his crew to show up? I don't see them, do you?" He didn't give her a chance to answer before asking Chewie the same thing.

"Do you? Do you see Hondo? What about R2, are your sensors picking up anything?"

All he got in reply was a soft groan from Chewbacca and an annoyed bleep from R2. Rose got up, clearly annoyed but he didn't care.

"Finn, lunk, will you just relax already? They're pirates, do you actually believe they'll be on time to anything?"

He glowered at her. "No, I definitely don't, but I do think they will gladly take all our stuff and sell us out for the highest bidder precisely because they're Pirates. For all we know, they could be bringing an entire First Order battalion with them right now and we're just sitting here while the hero of the Resistance is lost in the jungle with the Supreme Leader of the very same First Order."

Rose's face fell with weariness and agitation. "Will you just... stop?" She cupped his cheeks in her hands and pulled him close. 

"Please? You always assume the worst possible scenario. Why can't you just have a little bit of faith? I know you're worried but you heard how Hondo talked about the Jedi. He let us party with his crew, he welcomed us as friends and we already have a deal with him."

Finn's anger deflated as he looked into her soft eyes, and he was thankful that he'd fallen in love with someone who had such a magical ability to calm him like she did. "Yeah well, he also let you drink that swill that almost put you into a coma."

Rose stared blankly into the distance. "Yeah, I don't actually remember much about that moment in my life... it's probably better that way."

Her words made him smile. "Oh don't worry, I can recount every sordid detail should you ever need me to."

She smacked him lightly on the arm. "Shut up, lunk."

They laughed then they hugged, then their sweat soaked bodies stuck together like hook and loop tape as they attempted to pull away from each other.

"Oh come on now. We have really got to get out of this jungle," Finn added with exaggerated disgust.

"Yeah, I second that assessment," Rose pulled her bangs back over her ear.

R2 bleeped incessantly then, prompting Chewie to bark an acknowledgment. Rose spun.

"He's picking up something on sensors, a convoy!"

"Finally," Finn huffed.

Through the din of exotic chirps and warbles in the jungle, they heard the hum of repulsorlifts and the raucous laughter of a bawdy band of explorers fast approaching. Finn tried to take Rose's advice and not jump to the worst possible conclusion but he still reached for his blaster rifle anyway.

He stepped out into the hot sun just as the first of the shovel headed speeders emerged through the thicket of bushes, with Anto standing stall in the passenger seat.

"It's about damn time!" Finn shouted.

"What did you expect my friend? Your signal is in the middle of a jungle, no?" Anto gave a broad sweep of his arm to emphasize the point.

There were five speeders, each hauling sleds behind them laden with equipment, which was a good sign. Anto's lift came to a stop and he hastily jumped to the ground with a flourish of his ragged hat, much like his father.

"So, the mighty Millennium Falcon, eh? Those First Order scum really did a number on her, didn't they? Missing panels, blaster marks, busted wiring..."

"Actually," Rose interjected, "The bulk of the damage was done to the drive coils. This is just... how she is... normally."

Anto's eyes went wide. "Is that so?  Oh I suppose I wasn’t paying attention the first time, huh?” He chuckled nervously

"Thanks," Finn deadpanned.

The flamboyant Weequay quickly walked around to the back of the Falcon and clucked his tongue repeatedly. "This is no good, no good at all, my friends! I can see your problem right away."

"Yeah, we kind of figured that out when we got blasted out of the sky and careened through the trees to our near deaths," Finn said with crossed arms.

"Ohh, there's no need to be so dramatic Traitor Finn, the damage is extensive but not unfixable. We have some of the best scrap yard raiders around with all the parts you could ever want. I mean, there's a slight chance your ship might blow up upon ignition but I've been told it's only about 20-25% at most.

To Finn's surprise, it was Rose who cursed the loudest. "Are you kriffin me right now? 20-25% chance isn't small when it's our lives on the line, Anto!"

The pirate smiled at her. "Ah, sweet Rose, you have the mouth and sense of a true pirate! Perhaps I exaggerate, I don't know. Math and mechanics isn't my strength. You want to talk to Vespiel over there." He pointed to a sour-faced Weequay with a shredded bandana and cracked optical lenses who was already unloading a crate full of parts.

"Fine, maybe I will!" She said defiantly.

Finn was impressed by her tenacity but there was still another problem he had to address. He walked up to Anto as the others began unloading and said, "I won't pretend to know how long this will take, but right now Rey is out there on her own with Kylo Ren as her prisoner and they're being hunted by the Knights of Ren. We have to find them."

Anto fixed him with a beguiling stare. "Violence, now that, good Finn is a language I speak, but uh... it will cost you extra, I think?"

Finn gaped at him. "Are you kidding me, right now? This is Rey we're talking about, the Last Jedi! We had a deal!"

"Oh, we had a deal for the parts for your other ships and the assault on the First Order depot, but looking for them while the Knights of Ren are on the field is an entirely different scenario my friend, so for an extra, say 25%..."

"Anto!"

Finn and the pirate turned to see Hondo hobbling up to them on his cane. Shaking his finger in obvious disgust. "Are you charging our friends more to help find their own?"

Looking abashed, Anto replied, "Yes father."

"And just how much were you swindling him out of this time, huh?" Hondo said as he stabbed his cane into the ground before them.

"Twenty five percent, father."

Hondo seemed to consider that for a moment and Finn was worried that he was actually going to honor the blatant extortion but before he could protest, Hondo said thoughtfully, "That's actually a pretty good deal, my boy, but alas not in this instance! I admire your initiative, but Finn is right, this is the last Jedi we're talking about and we will not charge our friends for something that must be done for the good of the galaxy."

"Thank you, Hondo, I appreciate that," Finn admitted.

"Father, I understand your reasoning, but trekking through the jungle with Knights of Ren on the loose will be dangerous. People will die, it's only fair that we are compensated for something."

Hondo put a weary hand on his son's shoulder. "My boy, I understand and I have not forgotten our ways, trust me, but if you and the boys do this noble act, I assure you that you will have an extra five percent of my book sales, I swear it on your mother's grave."

Anto fixed him with a dead stare. "She's not dead yet, and I'm pretty sure she's still got a contract out on you."

"Contracts schmontracts, whatever!" Hondo waved his hand through the air.

"I'll do it for twenty percent royalties."

Hondo gasped, "Twenty perc... I will give you eight percent and not a credit more!"

"Fifteen!"

Hondo rubbed his chin, "Nine!"

"Twelve percent," Anto countered, digging his heel into the ground.

Hondo considered this.

"Ten and a half percent, final offer," the old Weequay said.

This time it was Anto who did the chin rubbing.

"Deal!"

They shook hands to seal their agreement but, unsure of what exactly they'd just agreed to, Finn interjected, "So, that means... you're helping us... right?"

Hondo turned to him. "Indeed it does, brave Finn! My son here will put together a crew and will assist you in finding your friend Rey."

"She's with Kylo Ren too," Finn added.

"Ah, then they will find the lovely Rey and her dark and brooding boyfriend as well!" Hondo smirked.

"He's her prisoner, not her boy... you know what? Whatever," Finn said in resignation.

Hondo glanced back at Rose and Chewbacca unloading the crates from the hover sleds. "The rest of my men will stay here and get your ship back in working order, hopefully by the time you return, but if not, then we might all be First Order fodder."

Finn shouted to Rose, "Are you okay with that? Can you get the Falcon up and running while we're out there?"

"Don't worry, I can handle this, but you should take Chewie with you."

Chewie growled in agreement but Finn protested, "No, no way! I'm not leaving you here alone." He turned to Hondo, "No offense."

Hondo replied with a casual shake of his head.

Rose scoffed, "Seriously? I've got a blaster, I can take care of myself if anyone gets out of line." She glanced around at the pirates who noticeably avoided eye contact with her.

Hondo let out a bark of laughter. "Ha, she has the spirit of a true pirate! Finn, my boy, do not worry yourself. I'll be here to keep my men in line and on schedule. You go and get your friend."

His shoulders fell again, then he grew determined. "Alright, I will." He looked at Chewie.

"You better arm up, we're moving out."

Chewbacca growled in agreement as he went to collect his bow-caster. Finn met Anto's stony glare. "Are you ready to do this?"

"My friend, I am always ready for a fight." He unholstered his twin blasters, spun them on each finger and re-holstered them just as fast.

"Good, because I'm sure one's coming," Finn admitted as he charged his blaster rifle.

***

The ship lurched from the explosion, setting off proximity alerts across the board. Hadé maneuvered away from the debris.

"We've just lost Partisan 2! Shields are holding but if we get hit by a turbo laser blast like that it'll be the least of our problems."

Lucia rushed to the cockpit and scanned the open space before them. "Just push through, all we have is our speed to keep us out of range. Partisan Squadron will protect us until our reinforcements arrive."

Captain Three-Nine interjected, "That's if they're coming. Your signal did get through, didn't it?"

Lucia whirled on him. "They'll be here! We just have to hold out, Captain."

More blasts illuminated their viewscreens as the squadron evaded the relentless barrage of fire from the Star Destroyers behind them.

"Damn, I sure hope they get here," she muttered.

"Your Majesty, I'm reading three ships coming out of hyperspace!"

Lucia looked to the readouts and then to the black of space again to see two Mon Calamari frigates flicker into existence before them, but both ships, as large as they were, were immediately dwarfed by the third ship.

"Crack the stars," Three-Nine cursed. "Is that what I think it is?"

Lucia couldn't suppress her smile of relief as she turned to him. "Yes, Captain. You're looking at one of the few remaining Imperial Star Destroyers in operation and it's Commanding Officer happens to be my friend."

"It's so..." Three-Nine stammered for words, "It's so purple!"

The female trooper who'd come up beside him added, "That's definitely not regulation."

"They're hailing us," Hadé announced.

"Put it through," the Queen ordered.

"This is Captain Lando Calrissian of the Calrissian Enterprises peacekeeper Elle-Three's Last Stand. I think it goes without saying but I've got to ask anyway, how may I be of assistance?"

Lucia breathed a sigh of relief seeing Lando's holographic image flickering before her. "Well if you happened to notice those First Order Star Destroyers on our tails, we could really use some covering fire."

"Already on it, your Majesty." Lando gestured to a crew member off screen and a moment later all three ships opened fire with turbo lasers that lit up the cockpit of the small escape craft.

Three-Nine muttered, "I thought the New Republic disarmed all the old Imperial equipment."

"They did, but only for government use. Private Citizens can arm their ships however they wish so long as it falls within the proper guidelines, but Lando has somewhat of a tendency to find certain 'loopholes' in regulations and seeing as how the New Republic technically doesn't exist anymore, he's not afraid to go to war when he needs to."

Lando's holo flickered as he said, "Stay on your present heading, we'll have you in tractor range shortly. Once you're on board, we'll be on our way out of this delightful system of yours." He flashed his trademark winning smile as his massive ship continued to fire.

"I look forward to it, but I have First Order defectors on board... they saved my life."

The older man grew serious for a moment. "I understand, we'll take all necessary precautions. We're locking on to you now."

Just then, the ship shuddered as Elle Three's Last Stand took hold with it's tractor-beam. As they were pulled steadily toward the growing maw of the old Imperial ship's hangar bay a collective sigh of relief went up from the gathered crew.

As Lando had promised once they and all their escort ships were safely on board, the massive Star Destroyer banked away from the fight and the stars around them blurred to streaks as they entered the safety of Hyperspace.

***

As Three-Nine had expected, they were met on the hangar bay floor by a small cadre of armed security Forces around the legendary war hero Lando Calrissian himself. He noted the older man's similar complexion and noticeable lack of hair and for a brief moment thought with trepidation, is that what I'm gonna look like when I'm old? Fortunately, it was only a passing thought.

Out of respect as well as procedure, he let Queen Lucia disembark first to greet the small company. He turned to what remained of his squad.

"Whatever we're in for, we're guests. Check your weapons at the door and do what the armed men say, got it?"

"Yes sir," his troops replied.

He set his blaster down by the foot of the ramp and disembarked next, still in his scuffed white armor. To his surprise, the old Imperial Star Destroyer was familiar to him though clearly showing its age. This crew definitely wasn't operating on First Order or Imperial protocol; there were storage containers and broken down ships scattered about the floor in no particular pattern he could discern, but none of that mattered much anymore. They weren't with the First Order and were no doubt flagged as traitors by now so he figured they'd best get used to it.

"Captain Calrissian, so good to see you again!" Lucia said as she embraced the older man and planted a shockingly familiar kiss on his cheek.

Calrissian was all smiles as he leaned on his cane. "It's been too long, your Majesty. Last I saw you, you were digging trenches with your father."

"Indeed, it was a rough couple of years, to say the least, but I got a free world out of it, so there's that," She chuckled before turning back to the rest of them.

"Lando, may I introduce you to my guards and protectors, a motley assortment if ever there was one."

"I see that," Lando's dark eyes bored into Three-Nine but he didn't let that phase him.

He approached with confidence and politely extended his hand to the living legend, who took it graciously in return.

"Sir, I'm honestly not quite sure what to say considering we've all been taught to hate you and yours for as long as we can remember, but... well, times change." He managed to say.

"They certainly do, and I welcome you aboard my ship but you have to understand that we will need to take precautions with you and your troopers until we know for certain that we can trust you."

"Of course," he agreed.

Lucia quickly added, "This is Captain Three-Nine, he's the highest ranking trooper out of the group and possibly the highest ranking one to defect. I think we should both be debriefed first, if you don't mind. There's much to discuss."

Lando looked at them with a weariness in his face that belied his strength of character. "So I've heard." His eyes flicked between them one more time before he said, "Alright, follow me."

He did. What brief tour of the old cruiser they'd managed to get, Three-Nine was glad to see that it was still mostly familiar in layout and design. Long polished hallways were adorned with decidedly non-regulation lighting fixtures that sometimes shimmered with multiple colors among other novelty shades. The turbo lifts had definitely been upgraded with a posh carpeted floor and mirrored walls that made it feel bigger than it actually was but it was as silent and smooth a ride as he'd ever experienced.

Lando had no shortage of stories to tell about how he'd acquired the ship, how he'd upgraded it, what kind of weapons packages he'd added and on and on, but despite his apparent need to hear himself speak, Three-Nine found he'd enjoyed learning about the history of the craft. The Empire was all but a distant memory to most of the galaxy but here he was standing inside a functioning museum of Imperial history.

Their gracious host led them to his conference room where a blue skinned Twi'lek woman was arguing with a red protocol droid about refresher maintenance on deck 3. It was Lucia who spoke up first.

"Auntie Kaasha! I was wondering if you were on board!"

"Lucy, child, I'm so glad to see you safe!"

The two women embraced each other with a familial hug; Three-Nine stood by a chair while awaiting further instruction from their hosts. Fortunately, it wasn't long before Lando took a seat beside the Twi'lek, after a quick kiss on the cheek. He gestured for Three-Nine to have a seat, so he did.

"Well, I suppose since the First Order is on a warpath again, I think that would be a good place to start. Maybe you can enlighten us as to what's going on, Captain. Intelligence seems to be decidedly lacking wherever the First Order is involved."

Three-Nine traded glances with Queen Lucia on the opposite side of the table before he proceeded. He wasn't sure where exactly to start so he began with the aftermath of Snoke's death and outlined his service replacing Phasma under Kylo Ren's leadership. He went on to explain how the First Order itself began to change, noting how Ren decreed to help systems plagued by pirates and slaver scum without resorting to the blunt use of fear and terror they'd been accustomed to.

Calrissian listened with noticeable, but restrained interest and rarely interrupted unless it was to clarify something, particularly when it came to Kylo Ren. Three-Nine took note of that but otherwise recounted everything up until the moment Hux gathered all the Captains aboard the Supremacy.

"That's when he told us that Kylo Ren had already been executed for his crimes."

"Oh, God..." Calrissian muttered, raw emotion plain in his voice.

Three-Nine saw how he glanced over at his wife with tears in his eyes. "They're all gone, Kaash... all of them."

"Lando," she consoled as she put her hand on his.

Honestly, Three-Nine didn't know what to make of Calrissian's reaction to the news of Kylo Ren's death, it was almost as if he... knew him. He tried not to dwell on that too much though and continued.

"That's when they made a demonstration for us all, by destroying the Finalizer in front of the entire fleet. They killed everyone, cadets and all aboard... and someone close to me." He looked at Lucia now, who's eyes widened in understanding.

"That's why I did what I did. The First Order wasn't something I wanted to be a part of anymore. My troops are the only ones who agreed with me. They're all I have left."

Calrissian was still visibly distraught with anger and sadness but he said, "I understand. Sometimes betrayal is the only way to find out who your true friends are as well as your enemies. I don't mean to make you uncomfortable thinking about what you lost again, but I have to ask you more about Kylo Ren. Did you see a body?"

"No, Malak Ren, now General of the First Order, walked out with a shredded cloak and threw it to the ground. He'd clearly been injured in the fight, his arms and face were enhanced with cybernetics, so I know someone put up a fight."

Again, Calrissian looked at his partner but with a flicker of something he couldn't quite discern in his eyes. He turned back to him and said, "Thank you, Captain. I appreciate you taking the time to discuss these matters."

He pressed a button on the comm, and the door opened behind them. One of the security guards who'd led them in entered as Lando gestured to the man. "You and your team are welcome aboard my ship but until they've all been interviewed and found not to be a threat, you'll be confined to deck 7 for the time being. There's fresh linens, hot meals, showers, you name it, maybe even a Sabacc table or two for you to pass the time. I have some other matters to discuss with her Majesty here, but until then, you're dismissed."

Three-Nine stood and saluted out of habit, then blushed with momentary embarrassment until Lando waved him off.

"Thank you for your hospitality sir."

He fell into step with the guard who politely escorted him out and extended all courtesies afforded to a guest at a luxury resort. While he rattled off the various amenities, room appointments and activities aboard the vessel, Three-Nine couldn't help but look back at the conference room and wonder about what the legendary Lando Calrissian wasn't telling him about Kylo Ren.

***

Lucia waited for the door to close before asking the question that burned her tongue.

"Lando, did you... know Kylo Ren? I don't mean to pry but your reaction wasn't quite what I was expecting."

He turned to her, his finger resting across his graying mustache as he reflected on some distant thought.

"Before I answer that, Lucy... what do you actually know about Kylo Ren? I'm sure you dealt with him when he liberated your planet."

Her cheeks warmed with knowing memories. Oh, I dealt with him, she almost said. "All I knew of him before I met the man was that he had been Snoke's enforcer, a soulless dark side user who forced settlements to bend to his will with an iron fist." She clenched her fist in the air for emphasis.

"However, the young and incredibly handsome man who came to Onderon to offer assistance in ridding us of our slaver problem was no such creature. He was confident, but respectful. He was strong but kind and carried himself like a man who bore the weight of the galaxy upon his shoulders... and for being, shall we say, 'inexperienced', he was a natural lover." She added with a smile.

At that, she noticed both Kaasha's and Lando's brows raise in interest. She rolled her eyes, "Oh don't give me that look. I am a Queen now, I think I can sleep with who I want."

Auntie Kaasha smirked. "I'm certainly not judging you, Lucy. Just look at the man I married," she said with a wink.

Lando simply poured himself another glass of Corellian whiskey and downed the entire thing in one gulp. "Well, aside from that juicy little detail, I don't suppose he let slip any other information about his past or his plans for the future or anything, maybe between the sheets?"

"Lando!" Kaasha slapped him on the arm.

He turned to her with a smile, "What, you know how it is Kaash! Men say things when they're... happy. The stars know I've let some info slip a few times in our younger days."

Lucia couldn't suppress her chuckle. "No, he didn't reveal much but he obviously felt strongly for someone else who he wasn't sure would return his affection. That's mostly why I didn't pursue a long term partnership with him, he had to follow his own heart and if he had come back some time later and said that she wanted nothing to do with him, well, things might have been different." She saw his face, beaded with sweat and flushed with exertion as he smiled at her and a stab of pain went through her chest.

"But he never came back," she said quietly.

"You cared for him, didn't you?" Kaasha asked.

Lucia didn't answer but she didn't have to.

"It's okay, Lucy," Lando consoled. "I understand more than you think I do. His name... was Ben Solo."

That caught her by surprise. The name didn't register at first because of how ordinary it sounded, but with a shock, the realization hit her.

"Ben... Solo... as in the son of Rebel heroes Han Solo and Leia Organa," a second more shocking realization came a second later, "and the grandson of Darth Vader."

"That's him," Lando acknowledged.

She didn't know what to feel just then, so many things started to fall into place as she reflected on their brief time together, and a momentary pang of doubt as to the effectiveness of her contraceptives crossed her mind, but she didn't want to dwell on that just yet. Thankfully it was Lando who broke the awkward silence.

"I knew him when he was about this big," he said holding his hand level at table top height. "He was a damn happy and excitable kid, I called him 'Little Star Fighter' because that's what he wanted to be when he grew up, at least, until his Force powers started to manifest. Han and Leia did what they could but... it became too much for them to handle, so they sent him off to the Jedi temple with his uncle Luke."

She put two and two together then, but not quite believing it, she asked, "I was led to believe that Ben Solo died on the attack at the Jedi Temple."

"That was the prevailing rumor and understandably, the family didn't do much to deny it. The loss was simply too much. That withered sack of bones Snoke corrupted him and Ben Solo became Kylo Ren." Lando took another swig.

"Han was one of my best friends, until his own son put a lightsaber through his chest on Starkiller base."

Lucia had no words, nor could she breathe. She'd seen how he carried the pain of some terrible weight upon his shoulders, but she never suspected anything like this. She felt fresh tears brim in her eyes both for what he must have gone through and for the fact that he had died by betrayal while trying to atone for his past.

"It's okay Lucy," Kaasha said quietly, "You didn't know."

Lando interjected, "And you don't know how much it means to me to hear that he had a kind heart and was trying to help people, in his own way, even after everything."

She looked up at him and saw his eyes wet with tears as well.

"I'm so sorry," was all she could say.

"I'll... be alright, eventually. But something still ain't sittin' right with me. If they'd killed him, why wouldn't they show a body? Why have all the theatrics with a cloak if not to put on a show?"

"Perhaps even to secure their claim without anyone questioning them," Kaasha offered.

Lucia looked between them, not quite sure what they were implying. "What do you mean? Are you saying they might be... lying about his death?"

Lando fixed her with an agreeable stare. "For the First Order, nothing's out of the realm of possibility. They can make their troops believe anything with the right props and some sleight of hand. It's an old gambler's trick and I happen to know a thing or two about swindling people without them realizing it."

"So, he could be alive?"

Lando nodded gravely. "It's possible, but also unlikely. If Ben is anything like people say he is, I can imagine it would be difficult to take him out so easily."

"The real question is where would he be?" Kaasha asked.

"That's what I intend to find out." Lando turned back to Lucia. "Sweetie, I know you tried your hardest to be neutral, but you're in the Resistance now... and we've got a new Empire to topple."

She glanced between them and smirked.

"What do you need me to do?"

Chapter Text

 

“I am not riding on the back of that… thing!”

Rey scoffed, appalled as she turned to Ben. “Well, excuse you! In case you hadn’t noticed she has feelings, Ben and I’m sure she doesn’t like being referred to as a ‘thing’.”

The multi-legged Jedi Archive guardian turned her head and clucked in approval as Rey used a knee joint to boost herself onto her back. Once positioned comfortably, she rubbed the soft membrane of her neck.

“Besides, Archie here knows more about this temple than anyone else on this planet, isn’t that right girl?”

Again, she clucked with understanding as impressions and feelings rippled out of her through the Force.

Ben shook his head helplessly. “You bond with the strangest creatures, you realize that right?”

Rey fixed him with a stern, but amused look. “You're by far the strangest of them, now are you going to get on or not?”

He tried and failed to suppress a smirk. “This is a bad idea. For all we know, she’s taking us down to a nest of her children to feed us to them.”

“Must you always be so dramatic?” Rey was dumbfounded by Ben’s refusal to even entertain the idea, that is until a stray thought came to her.

“You’re scared of arachnids, aren’t you?”

His eyes blazed for a second, then rolled around uncertainly in his head. “I’m not scared of anything, especially giant bugs.”

Rey pinned him with her gaze. “You’re lying. You are absolutely terrified right now. I can see it in your eyes and feel it in the Force.”

“You’re imagining things,” he shot back.

“Am I?”

“I’m not scared… just… cautious,” he said at last.

“Oh I see now,” Rey looked down, “Archi girl, Ben is cautious, that’s all. He didn’t mean those rude things he said about you, and he’s certainly not scared. He just needs a lift up, I think.”

At that, Archie turned and skittered over to him until the glassy orbs that were her many eyes were staring inquisitively at Ben, who reflexively shied away. She chirped and clucked at him until he finally stepped away.

“Okay, fine! I hate this, for the record… but I’ll ‘ride’ along I suppose.” He walked closer to one of the rear leg joints and climbed up and sat behind Rey, gripping the edge of Archie’s carapace to steady himself.

Rey eyed him with amusement. “See, that wasn’t such a challenge, was it?”

Ben glowered at her. “Can we just go already?”

She smirked at him, then said to Archie, “Go on, take us somewhere magical!” Their mount clucked and chortled in its alien way and began to climb into a deep crevice in the side of the archive wall that had clearly used to be a hallway before it partially collapsed. The awkward back and forth motion of her multi-legged gait cause Ben's cheek to smack into the back of Rey's head.

“Oww! Could you pay a little more attention?” She snapped.

“Sorry, there’s nothing much to hold on to,” he admitted remorsefully.

Rey, her cheeks warming momentarily, reached back for his hands and brought them around her waist. Ben didn’t protest.

“Hold on to me, okay? I won’t let you fall.”

“Yeah, sure,” was all he managed to say.

Rey turned away before he could see the smile blooming across her face but she held her grip on Archie’s armored back as they crept briskly through the dim tunnel. She realized she didn't mind the feeling of his warm hands on her one bit and through the Force, she could sense Ben’s apprehension begin to ease as he pulled himself closer to her.

“You’re right… this isn’t so bad. She’s… fast.” Ben said as though he weren’t trying to be a nervous wreck.

“I told you. There are certainly worse ways to travel.” 

"I suppose you're right."

For all his apparent nervousness, Ben remained a gentleman and didn’t try to take advantage. In silence, they traversed the tunnel for several long minutes when Ben finally spoke.

“Rey, I never really... thanked you for saving me from the river. I’m sorry.”

She replied honestly.  “You don’t need to do that, Ben. You saved my life when Snoke told you to kill me. If anything, we’re even now.”

A heavy moment of silence fell between them before he added, “I think, I’ll owe you more than I can ever repay.”

“Why?”

“Just because of… everything that’s happened since you came into my life.”

Rey didn’t know how to react as her breath caught in her chest. Attempting to deflect the topic, she quipped, “You mean since I cut open your face and knocked you on your ass?”

To her relief, he chuckled. “Yeah, something like that. I see the galaxy with a broader perspective than I used to. Thank you.”

“Sure,” she managed to say. “But if you need me to give you a matching scar on the other side, just let me know. I’ll be happy to oblige.”

“I’m sure you will.”

She didn't hide her smile this time as his grip on her waist marginally tightened. They continued their ride through the ruins until they reached a large, open antechamber with a tunnel blocked off by collapsed columns and another tunnel too small for Archie to fit through.

Their arachnid mount squealed in annoyance before squatting down to let them climb off her back.

“Finally,” Ben commented as he brushed the dust and cobwebs from his tattered tunic.

“It wasn’t that long of a ride,” Rey teased as she looked around the chamber.

“It wasn’t the most dignified ride either,” he added.

She gave him a look before rolling her eyes. “I forgot, the Supreme Leader is a man of refined tastes."

"I'm talking about speeders and ships, not living creatures.  Simple difference."

"Of course, excuse me," she said with exaggerated deference.

"Now where are we?  It's difficult to map this structure when half the tunnels and windows are blocked," Ben asked.

Rey looked around for a moment.  "Clearly we're deeper in the mountain, I can feel a breeze but I can't tell where it's coming-- " she noticed something above the collapsed tunnel, "-- from."  She pointed.  "That symbol up there, that’s the same one I saw in the main chamber. The path was blocked, remember?”

Ben regarded the pile then the shape of the tunnel they’d come through. “It probably goes through to the main chamber. If we cleared it we wouldn’t have to take the long way around, uh no offense,” he said to Archie, who was climbing the wall and clucked something unintelligible at him.

“Look at that,” Rey smiled, “You have manners after all.”

He glowered and stepped so close to her that she briefly thought he was going to kiss her. Her breath caught but he merely said, “Don’t get used to it, scavenger,” and quickly moved away toward the opposite tunnel.

Rey flushed with embarrassment but glared at him nonetheless. Now he’s just teasing you. Not wanting to be shown up, she joined him as he inspected the open tunnel entrance and blurted out matter-of-factly, “This is the path that’s open to us. This is where we need to go.”

“You’ve been studying, haven’t you?” He asked.

“A bit, no thanks to you. 3PO’s been helping clean up your translations; you’re not as useful as you pretend, Supreme Leader.”

“Ouch.” Ben deadpanned.

They traded bemused looks before Rey took the initiative and followed the new path. Like the rest of the temple, it was hewn from smooth stone and etched with runes and wall reliefs every few meters or so. Sunlight seeped in from windows with rusty iron bars wedged between them and the sounds of avian creatures drifted up from the valley below.

Looking outside, Rey saw how high they’d gone and could even see ships in the distance. “It’s beautiful. You’d almost think we weren’t being hunted by a pack of bloodthirsty dark side users.”

“Remember that you are traveling with one,” Ben admitted.

“I don’t know if ‘bloodthirsty’ would be the right description for you.”

“Oh, trust me, there isn’t a moment going by when I’m not thinking about killing Malak and every single person who betrayed me.”

His admission made her blood run cold for a moment and unpleasantly reminded her that she was indeed traveling with a powerful dark side user, despite whatever feelings he may have had for her.

“Just to be sure… that doesn’t include me, does it?”

Ben’s eyes softened as he replied. “No. Whatever you may think of me… I won’t ever hurt you again… for what that’s worth.”

Her heart sped up a beat in her chest but there was a pang of sadness too.

Whatever you may think of me.

Did he think she was genuinely angry with him, or worse that she hated him? How could she after everything they’ve been through? Still, she found her words a moment later to avoid a drawn-out silence. “We both made the only choices we could in our given situations, Ben. What’s done is done and here we are instead. Let the past die, right?”

He looked at her for a long moment, as if processing what she’d just said to him. “Right.”

They continued walking, passing by more empty sleeping chambers that buzzed with the vague stirrings of ghosts long laid to rest.  They soon arrived at another set of steps that led down into a featureless chamber with only a single door on one wall and two paths to either side that led further into the mountain.

“What is this place?” A wave of familiarity came over her the instant she laid eyes upon the massive stone door before them. There they were again, the masked man and the Jedi. Revan and Bastilla, at least that’s who she assumed was carved into the door. The ancient relief was battered and scarred by blaster fire, weapon marks, and even graffiti. Clearly she and Ben hadn’t been the first ones in here.

“It’s them,” Ben said, coming up beside her.

“Yes, just like they were in my book.”

Ben approached an oddly shaped cutout in the door and inspected it with his fingers. “Something goes here, a key of some kind.  The Jedi loved their mystical secrets and confounding puzzles.” He stepped back and regarded the door with new intensity.

“What kind of key?” Rey asked, “Can’t we just push it open with the Force?”

He looked at her, apparently coming to the same conclusion and reached out with the Force. Rey joined him and added her strength to his.  They strained together but after several long moments of concentration, they lowered their arms.

“There’s… nothing,” Ben said.

“It’s just… cold and dark,” Rey added, sensing it as well. They looked at each other with visible confusion.

“That must be what the key is for. This is protected by the Force itself, not just mechanics,” he suggested.

Rey glanced at the two small hallways to either side, then back at Ben.

“It’s the stairway all over again,” Ben shrugged with casual amusement.

Rey gave him a look. “I suppose we’re splitting up only to find out it all leads back here?”

“It seems to be the only logical choice given the current mystery. Color me intrigued.”

“I’m surprised you have other color options.”

Ben walked past her, putting his hand on her shoulder briefly. “Of course I do, black has many distinct shades. Stay safe.”

“You too,” she said, not wanting him to go, but knowing this was the only way to discover the secrets of the temple. He went down the hall associated with Revan, understandably, so she headed into the hallway meant for Bastilla, not sure of what she was looking for or what she would find.

The hallway was dark, so she used the Force and her old scavenging skills to guide her until she felt the ground turn soft underfoot. After another step, she stumbled forward and was assailed by scorching heat. She fell forward, catching herself in the sand.

Her eyes opened to blinding sun when she realized she was in a desert that expanded in all directions with blue sky above. Her hands were buried in hot sand but she pushed herself up and knew immediately where she was. Jakku.

“No, this can’t be real,” she told herself, remembering her many visions before. Still, the heat felt real and her muscles strained walking through the sand, but she remained calm and focused as she trudged ahead, that is until she saw the graves.

Rey froze as she recognized the trinkets hanging from the worn piping marking the deceased. She knew exactly what she was looking at and a wellspring of emotions threatened to overwhelm her.

“They were filthy junk traders who sold you off for drinking money. They’re dead in a paupers grave on Jakku.”

She stared at her parents lying buried in the sand as tears welled in her eyes.  They weren’t tears of sadness, however, but of anger.

“Why? Was I such a burden to you that my life was worth less than getting drunk to forget your problems?” The metal grave markers began to wilt and saturate beneath her words.

“I don’t need you anymore. I’ve gotten along just fine since you abandoned me on this junkyard world.” She tempered the anger in her chest as she dug deep into her emotions. “I won’t pretend to understand why you did what you did, but I’m… sorry that your lives were so wretched that you felt you had no other choice. I hope you’ve found some kind of peace; I’m still working on mine.”

The wind picked up and with a gust that threatened to knock her down, her parent's graves and the sands of Jakku blew away into nothingness. When she blinked, Rey was on a grassy hill looking out upon Ach-to’s oceans crashing against the rocks.

“You again, you’re wasting your time, go away!” A gravelly voice said behind her.

She spun to see a familar scowl glaring down at her.

“Master Skywalker? You’re dead, I felt it in the Force!”

“Oh, you ‘felt it in the Force’ well good for you! I bet you still think you’re a Jedi too, huh?”

Indignance rose in her chest. “I’m certainly more of a Jedi than you! You’re just a miserable old man who can’t get over his mistakes.”

“Careful, child—,” he said with a menacing growl, “— you don’t want to let your pride be your downfall.”  Luke’s face distorted and lost color.

Rey recoiled in horror as pieces of flesh began to bubble and blister before melting off of his face until she was staring at another face entirely, Snoke's face.

“You!” She growled, igniting her lightsaber.

Snoke laughed as he regarded the island around them. “Still that fiery spit of hope, dear little one. Your anger makes you powerful, too bad you used it for the wrong cause.  We could have been powerful together.”

“Oh yeah? We'll see how you feel after I kill you for real this time!” She screamed as she ran full speed toward Snoke with her staff twirling in her hands.

“Good, good, such magnificent hate!  I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave my island, now!” Snoke said as he put out his hand and flung her through the air, blasting her off of Ach-to entirely until she was careening through the air toward the turbulent ocean below her.

She screamed, unable to slow her descent as the Force failed her. She slammed into the cold water with a splash.  Cold darkness swallowed her whole, pulling her down and down until there was no more light. Anger and rage flooded her veins as she realized after all she’d been through, this was where she was going to die, until, she slipped out the bottom and landed hard on cracked permacrete.

“Agh,” she gasped, spitting water out of her lungs. The smell of smoke filled her nose. Panicked, she looked around to see the Resistance base in flames. Ships were blasted to scrap, bodies were strewn about and screams of the dying echoed through the open landing pad.

“No, this isn’t right. This isn’t real, this isn’t…”

“Rey…” Finn’s voice called out.

She spun to see him lying on the ground, his left arm sliced off by a lightsaber with another gash across his chest.

“Finn!” She ran to her friend in a panic. Kneeling, she cradled his head. “What happened?  Who did this?”

Finn’s eyes were glazed but hardened as he looked up at her. “You did… when you brought him here.”

“What, who?”

Finn tried to answer but instead breathed his last as he died. A deep chill settled in her body as she held her friend’s body, and that's when she heard the modulated voice.

“I should have killed him the first time, he was a fighter, but a coward.”

Rey turned with tears in her eyes to see Kylo Ren and his Knights glaring back at her through their expressionless visors. All semblance of Ben Solo was gone, only the darkness remained as he stepped closer.

“Did you actually think I would turn… for you? A child’s sentiment. When will you grow up, scavenger? Still clinging to notions of compassion and the light side of the Force.”

“Ben,” the word was empty and hollow in her mouth, but she forced herself to speak. “This isn’t you. This isn’t even real, it’s a vision! The Knights of Ren betrayed you!” She glared at Malak Ren standing behind his right shoulder, but he remained silent.

“A simple ruse, to gain your trust, nothing more. You actually believe I would let them kill me?” Kylo said flatly.

Rey stepped back, hoping that the vision would end, but Kylo kept approaching. “I used you in every way a lonely girl like you can be used.” There was a particular menace in the way he said that, but he continued. “Once I gained your trust, you led me right to them. It was a simple matter of contacting my forces and ordering the attack. The rest wasn’t much of a challenge for me, as you can tell.” He gestured around to the bodies at their feet.

Fury burned within her, fury swirling with heartbreak. “You really are a monster. I should have killed you on the Supremacy. Leaving you alive was a mistake!”

His crimson saber flared to life in his grip, the two small pommel guards igniting an instant later. He raised his free hand palm upward toward her. “Now you’re starting to understand. Hatred. This is the true power of the dark side. Maybe now you’ll join me? With your friends dead and your Resistance wiped out, what do you have left? Join me and be my Queen.”

“I… will never… join you, monster!” Rey ignited her sabers.

Kylo lowered his hand and sighed. “Then… you will die.”

Rey screamed with rage as she charged him and their blades crashed together in a shower of sparks. Her hatred fueled her strikes as she bashed and parried and cut her way toward his chest.

“Rey,” Kylo shouted, “Rey, what are you doing? It’s me, Ben!”

“Liar! I won’t fall for your tricks anymore!” She hammered him harder, driving him back until he stumbled to one leg.

“Rey, stop it’s me! You’re having a vision… please!” Kylo pleaded again. This time his mask fell away, exposing Ben Solo’s terrified expression looking up at her.

The sight only made her angrier, knowing that he of all people had betrayed her.

"Rey, please stop!  Look at me, will you?  Look at me!"

She slashed and raged, loosening his grip on his saber with each hit until she had a clean shot and hacked his hand off at the wrist.

Kylo Ren screamed in pain but Rey wasn’t finished. She lifted her staff and brought it down through his chest, impaling him to the ground.

“Rey… what have you… Rey,” he gasped as he fell back to the cold stone floor.

Rey blinked, only to realize that the Resistance base was gone and she had just killed Ben Solo.

“No…” she couldn’t believe it. It had to be part of the vision, but his body remained at her feet as she deactivated her lightsaber.

“No, no, Ben?” She fell to her knees to hold him in her arms, fresh tears stinging her eyes but when she picked him up his ‘body’ faded and burst into a dark mist, leaving her alone in the chamber.

Her heart hammered in her chest. It had been the vision, but she looked around to be sure. The hallway she’d come through was where it should be but in the middle of the chamber was a pedestal where something should have been, but it was empty with exception to a faint glow. A sinking feeling crept into her chest. Had she failed some test? Had the room been plundered already? Was the key gone?

She didn’t know what to think anymore. The Force, the Jedi, the visions and nonsensical crypticness of it all made her head swim as she rose to her feet. Rey ran her hand across the pedestal, wiping away centuries worth of dust but indeed, nothing was there.

“Dammit.”

Nothing else in the chamber provided any hint as to what was supposed to be waiting for her or where to find it. It was a dead end, but coupled with her roiling emotions, and the tears still wet in her eyes, she took a moment to collect herself. Seeing Finn wounded as he died in her arms was painful but the thought that Ben would betray her like that was unbearable.

She nearly laughed at the ridiculousness of it.  Of course, he wouldn't betray her, not now, right?  Then she remembered the tales she’d heard of Darth Sidious playing the old Republic like a puppet for decades at a time until he assumed power as the Emperor. Ben had access to all of Snoke’s artifacts, surely he could’ve learned to master the dark arts enough to manipulate her, couldn’t he?

No. She slammed the door shut on her darker thoughts the moment she realized she was thinking them. That wasn’t Ben, not anymore. He’s just looking for answers like she was, but another realization came to her. If she reacted this poorly to her visions in here, how would he react if he encountered similar traumatic events?  What would he see?  How would she find him?

Rey hurried back down the hallway as quickly as she could.

***

Kylo trudged across the wet grass with his blue saber held loosely in his hands. The rain felt real, even though moments before he was walking down a dark hallway.  Still, he recognized the sight of Luke's Jedi temple immediately and as the rain pelted him, he fell to his knees before Ne’reem’s body. At last his saber slipped from his grip and deactivated as he reached down to cradle her in his arms one final time. Her blue Pantoran skin seemed to glow under the moonlight as tears and raindrops fell upon her face.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” he whispered as he kissed her forehead. Then he unclipped her padawan braid and held it in his hands, it was the same braid he’d given to Rey nearly a decade later.  That's when he came back to himself.

“Wait, this isn’t real,” he realized as he looked around at the burning Jedi training camp. Looking at Ne’reem again, he started at the sight of Rey in his arms, a charred hole in her chest from the lightsaber. He lurched backward as her body faded into mist and the cold rain transformed into snow.

“You’re a monster!” Rey shouted behind him.

He turned to see her standing there as fierce and determined as he remembered her on Starkiller base. He held his lightsaber in his hand but he didn’t raise it, not even to defend himself as she charged. Rey hacked and slashed at him, cutting him to smoking bits and ruined flesh, but he didn’t resist or fight back, instead, he endured the pain.

“Why won’t you fight me, monster?” Rey screamed in fury.

All he could do was look into her hate-filled eyes and reply, “Because I deserve this. You know its true.”

That only seemed to anger her more as she took a final swing at his neck. Suddenly, he jolted to wake in his bed back home on Chandrila.

“Momma, momma!” He cried out in tears.

Moments later, his mother, still in her sleeping silks barged into his room. “What’s wrong, sweetie boy?” She slid into his bed as he threw his arms around her and sobbed.

“The bad dreams, momma. They won’t stop! Why won’t they stop?”

“Oh, Ben, I’m so sorry. We’re trying everything we can to find out what’s wrong. Your Uncle Luke might have answers, but I’m here right now. I’m not going anywhere.”

He hugged her tightly, not wanting to let go for fear of being sucked in by the nightmares of the scary man and angry girl. He heard footsteps enter his room a moment later.

“Hey there big guy.  Is everything alright in here?”

Ben looked up excitedly and screamed, “Dadda! You’re back!” His nightmares forgotten, Ben crawled across and jumped off his mother’s lap until he hit the ground running. He ran to Dadda’s outstretched arms only to fall to his knees as a crimson pillar of ragged light burst through his father’s chest.

“No!” He screamed in his tiny voice as hot tears came unbidden. His father had an expression of confused shock on his face as the tall, black-robed man in the mask ripped his laser sword free and shoved him off the side of the bridge. Ben scrambled backward when he realized he wasn’t in his room anymore but on an endless walkway with no handrails, hanging above a bottomless pit.

The black robed man thundered toward him with his angry red laser sword in hand. Sobbing, Ben cried out. “Why did you hurt dadda?”

A frightening mechanical voice emanated from the shiny black mask. “He was an obstacle. Weak and foolish like you. I have no need for childish delusions anymore. I am Kylo Ren and I am your destiny!” He lifted his sword and swung it at his head.

“Noooo!” Ben screamed.

With a jolt of pain, Kylo landed on the hard ground in the open chamber he’d been led to. A pedestal sat in the center, devoid of any device, key or description of any kind. Though he’d wanted to know what it was he was supposed to be looking for, his eyes blurred with painful tears at what he’d done. Vision or not, he knew he could never change the fact that he’d killed his own father, Snoke’s most cruel trick.  He would forever be the helpless lost boy crying out for his father.

He sobbed with raw, angry gasps.  "I'm sorry... father, I'm sorry."  He had nowhere to go anymore and he had no one to turn to who could understand his pain.

“Ben,” she called out from the hallway.

No one, except her. He tried and failed to hide his tear-stained face, but she looked at him with understanding and compassion. Putting her hand on his back, she knelt and hugged him tightly, like his mother had so long ago.

“It’s okay, I saw things too. They were just visions. I’m here for you, Ben. I’ll always be here for you.”

Together they stayed like that until his tears were finally spent.

 

Chapter Text

There was something refreshing working on a lightsaber. Focusing through the Force on the wires, screws and components distracted the mind from all other thoughts, particularly the painful ones. Kylo Ren had a long history with his lightsaber, by definition it could possibly be the one true friend he had left but even now it was finicky.

The cracked kyber crystal was nearly impossible to align completely, but he tweaked it well enough to be functional. Reassembling his hilt through the Force with practiced ease, he felt the weight in his hand before thumbing the activation switch. As always the blade crackled and sparked to life but less ragged than it had been, still, he held it upward and stared into the fire, another way to focus his thoughts.

He wanted nothing more than to forget everything that happened in the artifact chamber, his visions, his father, his sobbing like a child in Rey's arms. It was humiliating. He was Kylo Ren, the Supreme Leader of the First Order and there he'd been reduced to weeping over foolish sentiment, and yet... just as she had done when his mother died, Rey didn't judge him. More surprisingly she actually pledged herself to him.

"I'll always be here for you," she'd said.

He knew he in some small way he should be elated, but in many other ways, it hurt worse knowing that he didn't deserve such compassion from a spirit as pure as hers. If anything, he'd been a burden to her and it would have been better for all of them had she'd killed him on the Supremacy, but here he was. The Force, as was its way, had its own plan for them.

Rey was practicing her lightsaber techniques on one of the smaller pillars in the Jedi Pool when a loud pop and crackle flared out from her hilt and one of her blades deactivated.

"Ah, dammit!" She growled in annoyance as she wrestled with her lightsaber, to no avail.

The brief mechanical failure broke him out of his concentration. He deactivated his own saber and watched as she leaped down from the pedestal, apparently fed up with her practice. She threw her saber staff into her makeshift bedroll as she plopped down on the stone bench before the fire pit they'd managed to get up and running.

"I swear, I've tried everything and this blasted saber keeps shorting out. Piece of junk," she grumbled as she tore into one of the ration packs they'd scavenged from the unfortunate explorers in the Archive.

"It could be your connector between the crystal chamber and the power cell. If the wires aren't secured properly, they can get jostled around in combat and short out."

She met his eyes briefly. "Well, the Jedi books I have aren't the most detailed on saber construction. If I had better tools, I could probably get it to work right."

Kylo's brow rose an inch. "Tools? What do you need tools for?"

Rey eyed him skeptically. "To maintain my equipment, of course. What else am I going to use?"

Astonished by what he was hearing, Kylo said, "Wait, are you telling me that you... built your lightsabers by... hand?"

Rey looked as astonished as he felt. "Of course I did! I'm a scavenger... I scavenge. I had the parts, I just had to disassemble Luke's saber and it seemed straightforward enough. I mean what was I supposed to do, use the..." she stopped mid-sentence as her eyes widened with surprise, then embarrassment.

"The Force. A Jedi is supposed to use the Force to build their lightsaber, aren't they?"

Kylo suppressed a laugh as not to provoke her wrath. He settled for a smile instead, "Yeah, that's generally the practice, but I'm still impressed though. Building a saber by hand is no small accomplishment."

"Thanks." She said flatly, avoiding direct eye contact at all costs.

"It's alright, you don't need to feel ashamed. I was trained by an actual Jedi and nearly blew myself up when I cracked my crystal."

"That's comforting," Rey quipped, managing to sneak a brief look his way.

"How did that happen, anyway?  How do you just 'crack' a kyber crystal?"

He grew self-conscious just then, unsure if he wanted to tell her the full story.  Working his lips cautiously, he found the words.

When I was a student, my crystal was blue, like my grandfather's saber.  When I became a Knight of Ren, the first act of initiation was to corrupt it like the Sith and countless other darkside users had done before."

"Corrupt it?"  Rey looked confused.

He felt another pang of guilt.  "Kyber crystals are like living beings, they have songs, they choose their owners, it's almost like a bond between wielder and blade.  The Sith would steal their crystals from Jedi they'd killed and corrupt that crystal to claim as their own.  Snoke didn't follow that tradition.  He wanted us to corrupt our own."

He looked down at his battered and damaged hilt, feeling it's agonized song whimpering in the dark like a wounded animal.  "You focus all of your anger, your hatred, your pain into the crystal."  He looked at her, ensuring she understood what he was saying before he continued.  "You torture it, you inflict fear and terror upon it until your kyber crystal bleeds."

He activated his blade again to emphasize his point.  Rey's expression was a cross between horror and pity but she didn't shy away from his demonstration.

"Apparently I had more rage and hatred in me than I thought because I bled my crystal until it split.  That's why I had to modify my saber to account for the excess output or I would have blown myself up."  He put his saber away, glad to have gotten his story out and be done with it.

Rey stood and came over to sit beside him before putting her hand on his back.  He melted at her touch.

"I'm sorry you had to do that, but that is Snoke's way isn't it?  He forces you to hurt those you're closest to, even your own kyber crystal."

"It is what it is," he muttered.  "Your saber, may I see it?"

"Sure," she said as she called her staff into her hands and gave it to him.

He was genuinely impressed by her ingenuity in crafting something functional out of something broken, but as she'd said, she was a scavenger after all. After turning it over in his hands to study for a moment, he separated the two halves and focused on the side that was giving her trouble.

"I suppose you can just watch for now, then you can try it," he said to her.

"Alright."

He reached out with the Force and felt the draw of her crystal immediately. Each kyber was unique but this one, which called to his grandfather so many decades ago was powerful even in it's broken state. It's song was almost melancholic but also defiant; it wasn't all that surprising that it turned golden in Rey's care.  Jedi Guardians of old had such sabers and she'd protected him even at great risk to herself. 

As he focused his concentration, the pieces unhooked, unscrewed and came apart with slow and measured degrees as he disassembled the hilt entirely.

"Wow," Rey said as she marveled at the spectacle.

"I see your problem right here," he pointed to the wires connecting to the crystal focusing chamber, just as he'd suspected. With a small flick of his fingers and the twist of his other hand, he compelled the wires to unwind from their connectors and twist around the contacts more tightly than any tool could have made them. With the loose wire fixed, he brought all the pieces back together into a completed saber and handed it to her.

"Try it now."

Rey held it out in front of her and activated the golden blade. It snap-hissed to life and hummed steady and true, a much more stable blade than his own but still ragged. She turned and gently swung the blade to test it.

"Wow, I never even really thought about using the Force to fix something before. I suppose I still have a lot to learn after all."

He lost himself in the glow of her smile. "Not so much."

"Thank you, Ben. Now I want to try. The other saber is pretty solid, but could always use some improvement.

"Sure. I can walk you through it. There are a lot of complex parts and you have to keep them all at the forefront of your mind as you work on them." He held out his left hand, palm upward.

Rey looked at it, confused. "What's that for?"

"So we can do this together? You can learn from my mind like you've been doing?"

She cocked her head to the side, again skeptical, but after she'd considered the proposal, Rey slid her hand into his until their fingers clasped together. The sensation was almost like opening a full-fledged Force bond as her mind brushed against his.

Kylo hid a blush as he felt her feelings trickle through, but he forced himself to concentrate. "That's good, now put the saber down and focus on it."

"Sure. I just reach out and... feel it?"

"Let your feelings seep into it like water filling an open space. The Force knows where to go. You'll sense the components, the connections and you'll see how it all comes together."

Rey concentrated and Kylo focused his attention with her, seeing the inner workings instantly. He sensed she was beginning to see them but wasn't quite there until she exhaled lightly.

"I see them, the pieces of the puzzle. Every screw, bolt, and wire... and the crystal... it's singing."

"I can hear it too, you're doing great. Now imagine the device coming apart piece by piece." He guided her thoughts to the hilt as she lifted it through the Force and then, one by one, each component disassembled itself as if caught up in a slow-moving current. In moments, her saber hilt was fully apart in mid-air, kept perfectly still by their combined focus.

"You're right, I can feel each piece as one but also individually. I can see where everything goes and how it's supposed to fit together. It's like the Force knows how it should be assembled."

Kylo offered, "That's because it does. The Force is ever present. It has no beginning and no end. It's seen every lightsaber that's ever been constructed, just let it guide you as you put it back together.

Rey smiled as the hilt reassembled a bolt at a time. "The power cell was fifteen microns off, that's what caused the instability in the focusing matrix." A moment later, her saber was as solid as it had ever been as she snatched it out of the air and activated it.

The golden blade ignited in a perfectly defined beam of energy, not a single waver of instability to be found.

"That's incredible!"  She laughed with joy.

Kylo was impressed, certainly, but he could only focus on her expression as the soft glow of her blade illuminated her face.

"You're incredible."

He didn't think to stop himself, the words simply came out and he felt embarrassed and self-conscious again.

It took Rey a moment to register what he had just said, but when she did, she looked at him with a gentleness that still surprised him. She deactivated her saber and set it down without turning away from him.

"You're... still holding my hand," she said with a smirk.

He looked down at their clasped fingers, fully aware of the warmth of her palm in his. "Yeah, I suppose I am."

Her cheeks flushed with color. "Even though the lesson is... over? I can't begin to imagine what Queen Lucia of Onderon would say if she saw us now."

That eased enough tension for him to crack a smile. "The Queen and I aren't what you think we are."

"Oh, aren't you? That's not what it looked like when she had her arm draped across your bare chest," Rey said teasingly.

Kylo felt a pang of heartache as he recalled that exact moment. He looked up at her with remorse. "I'm sorry, I didn't intend to hurt you like that. Lucia and I were just... lonely. We talked and then she offered and I walked away..."

"Until you didn't," she finished for him.

To his continuing surprise, Rey didn't let go of his hand or grow angry with him as he spoke. "She made sure that I understood it was a one-time thing." Of course, it had ended up being a 'multiple time' thing throughout the night, but he didn't tell Rey that. "I'd never done 'that' before and I didn't know what exactly 'we' were and I just thought..."

Rey squeezed his hand gently. "Ben, you don't need to explain yourself or apologize for anything. You're your own person and you're still trying to find your place in all this, I understand!  Yes, I was hurt when I saw you two, but I accepted it. Perhaps it was because of what I saw when we first touched on Ach-to, a future that I wanted so badly but couldn't be sure of after Crait."

"What did you see exactly?"  He asked quietly.

She blushed again.  "I saw you... but you were happy.  You were smiling, like you are right now."

He was smiling and she was right about the other thing as well.  "Because I am happy.  I'm with you."

Her eyes softened as she regarded him. Then, unbidden, she put her free hand on his right cheek as she traced his scar with her thumb.

"I'm happy you're here too."

Kylo wasn't entirely convinced that he wasn't still experiencing a vision in the artifact chamber but the feel of her soft lips on his was the surest and sweetest proof that he was experiencing every second of this moment.  She pulled herself closer as he wrapped his arm around her waist while his heart hammered in his chest.

A heavy wet splat landed just in front of the fire startling them both out of their revere.

"What the hell?" Rey shouted in alarm.

"You've got be kidding me," Kylo growled as he looked at the knapsack sized dead mammal lying at their feet before trailing his eyes upward to see Archie blinking her multiple eyes lazily down at them.

"Seriously, girl? Thanks for that!" Rey scolded.

Archie apparently didn't understand sarcasm because she clicked and clucked happily before climbing down the other end of the broken amphitheater and shuffled off into the growing darkness. He looked at Rey with disbelief but then they burst out into raucous laughter.

He gestured at the dead creature.  "Dinner, my lady?"

"Well, it is good meat. It'd be a shame to let it go to waste. That's at least sixty portions just lying there."

He smiled.

***

Though not the most succulent meat Rey's eaten, the mysterious animal Archie had dropped at their feet still hit the spot. The smoky remnants of charred skin filled the air as the fire began to die down, she gnawed hungrily on a thigh as Kylo meticulously pulled apart a small rack of ribs, trying his hardest not to get juices on his fingers.

She watched him with great amusement and not just because his dining etiquette was an endless source of entertainment, but because her entire body still vibrated with excitement from the kiss they'd shared. It was surreal in a way, thinking back to that moment on the island when she saw their future together.  That was the first time she'd imagined his lips on hers but it was hardly the last and the real thing was far superior to any fanciful vision.

She thought about all that had happened between then and now, the hope and the heartbreak and the reluctant acceptance she'd gone through after seeing him with Queen Lucia. He'd bared his heart to her at last and she had accepted it. That alone had made all the past year and a half of pain and uncertainty worth it.

Ben finished his last rib and chucked the bone into the fire. She watched as he went to wash his hands in the Jedi pool but she was unashamedly tearing into her smoky thigh. As he came back, she said through a mouth full of meat, "Arrm thinking the chermbers showed us vizzions of our greatest fears, you know?"

"That's likely, but there's something we're supposed to do about that. I don't think the items supposed to be on those pedestals have been stolen by grave robbers. The Force would have shown us something."

"Which means—" she pointed her leg bone at him, "—we need to face our fears in order to learn something. I'll bet once we do that, the keys will be made known to us. The Jedi were clever like that."

Ben gave her a look. "So were the Sith. There are always challenges to overcome, tests to prove if someone is worthy."

"Then I say, first thing in the morning we go back down there—" she chucked her finished leg into the fire pit before letting out a hearty burp.

Ben gaped at her.

"What?"

He shook his head in dismissal. "Continue," he gestured with a wave.

"As I was saying, we'll go down there, face our fears, get the keys and we'll be in! No biggie, right?"

He raised his brow skeptically. "Sure."

"I'm glad you agree! We can do this, Ben, I know we can. We're supposed to be here—," she regarded him with a flare of warmth in her chest, "—together."

He looked away, abashed but smiling. Rey got up to wash herself off in the pool as well. When she came back, she made a point of snuggling up to him by resting her head on his shoulder. He froze in obvious panic at first but reluctantly reached his arm around her shoulder and held her as he leaned back against the inner wall of the amphitheater shell.

"It's been a long day hasn't it?" She said absently as she stared into the embers of the fire pit.

"It's been a long week," Ben replied.

"A longer year," she added.

"An even longer decade," he finished.

She nodded long and slow. "That's the understatement of the century." Rey felt her body relax as she rested against him, listening to his heartbeat and thinking about how far they'd come. She could have killed him on Starkiller base, she could have killed him on the Supremacy just as easily and yet here she was. Not only was she enjoying his company but for possibly the first time in her life she felt safe in another person's arms.

Of course, she'd snuggled up to Finn a couple of times when out on patrol but that was because it was cold and she wasn't used to it. There was nothing romantic about it, but now her mind briefly flickered with the thought of how well Ben would be able to keep her warm. It was a fleeting thought, however, and to his credit, he remained a gentleman.

"I know we'll make it through this," she said sleepily.

He softly kissed the top of her head. "We will. I promise you."

She looked up at him, searching his dark eyes as she leaned in to kiss him one more time. Rey could drown in the softness of his lips, but she composed herself.

"Good night, Ben."

"You too."

 

 

Chapter Text

Rey didn't quite remember exactly when she fell asleep, but at some time during the night, Ben had draped his cloak over her, which she'd happily wrapped around herself. She also realized that she wasn't quite sure how she'd gotten to her bedroll, but as she yawned herself awake, that's where she was. Blinking a couple of times to get her bearings, she noticed Ben practicing handstands some paces away, albeit on one hand. It was... an impressive sight.

She watched unashamedly as he focused himself through the Force. His muscular arm coiled and flexed with micro tremors as he constantly adjusted his positioning, maintaining balance with his splayed legs above him.

"It's okay to watch, you know," he said suddenly.

Rey flushed with embarrassment, having been caught. "Sorry about that, I've just... never seen that particular exercise before."

With surprising grace, Ben let his leg fall and rolled onto his feet as easy as any dancer. His forehead was beaded with sweat as he took in a deep breath. "It's a move Luke taught me at the temple. It's a way to focus yourself in the Force by counterbalancing against the tension in your body.

If there was one thing Rey understood it was that Ben had plenty of tension in his body, but she let the stray thought pass before she embarrassed herself again. Of course, he didn't help matters by plopping down next to her and rustling her hair.

"You've seen better mornings I think."

She furrowed her brow at him. "Excuse you. That's not exactly the best way to greet a girl first thing in the morning." She reached up and felt the sprigs of hair sticking up from her head. "Oh, never mind. I've gotten too used to real beds I suppose."

"It's alright, I'm not judging you, but once you're awake we should eat then head back to the artifact chamber."

"Right." She knew they had to try again after yesterday, but she wasn't looking forward to confronting those visions. Finn dead at her feet, Ben dead by her own hand, Ben becoming Kylo Ren and admitting he betrayed her. How could he? Looking at his easy smile now, she saw no trace of the creature, Kylo Ren, anywhere to be found, just a smiling fool waiting on her.

"Just let me go and splash some water on my face and I'll be ready," she said, uncoiling from his comfortable cloak.

Once she'd refreshed and they nibbled some of last nights leftovers, they returned to the mysterious artifact chamber. It was an easier task this time around since they'd cleared the hall of rocks that had been blocking the way before. Archie greeted them as they entered, but Rey told her they didn't need her help this time; the humble guardian chirped sadly but understood.

Again, they stood before the door of Revan and Bastilla, the same feeling of uneasy familiarity washing over Rey as she looked down the hall.

"I'm as ready as I'll ever be," Ben announced with a sigh. He turned toward the hallway.

"Ben." Rey grabbed his hand. When he looked back, she leaned up and pressed her lips to his to bolster her own confidence as much as his.

"Be safe... be brave."

He smiled at her. "You too."

With that, they separated, letting their hands linger an extra moment before Rey headed into the unknown once again. Mentally preparing herself for whatever it was that she might see, she was surprised when she'd entered the empty chamber without so much as a ripple in the Force. She threw her hands up in confusion.

"Well, this is great. Are you tooling with me now?" She asked the chamber with an edge to her voice. Rey went over to inspect the pedestal again, but as before, there was nothing unique or remotely interesting about it, and no sign of any key.

"Isn't it magnificent?"

The sudden voice startled her. It was cold and mechanical with an ominous note to its words. When she turned, Rey saw a regally dressed human man with pale skin emerging from a hallway not made of stone, but steel and grating. His red cloak drifted silently behind him as his lightsaber swung gently from his hip. The voice, she realized emanated from some kind of mechanical apparatus around the bottom half of his face, where his jaw would normally be.

Malak! She thought at first, but upon further inspection, she realized that this wasn't Malak Ren, but someone else entirely. His presence pulsed with dark side energy as he walked around the outer edge of the chamber.

"You can feel it's power can't you, my apprentice? Even now it calls to you," the man said gesturing ahead.

Rey felt a sudden warmth covering her and when she looked down she saw she was in the brown leathers of the Jedi woman she'd dreamt about, Bastilla, she realized.

"Apprentice?"

Turning to see what the regal man was pointing to, she saw something instead that didn't quite make sense. Large metallic prongs jutted out of the floor and from the ceiling and in their center they held what looked to be living glob of darkness or an inky blackness that seemed to boil and freeze simultaneously.

"This is it, this is what the Jedi council sent us to find, the key to winning the war against the wretched Mandalorians!" The regal man hissed. "But what they failed to realize was that it had an intelligence of its own and power, so much power. Do you feel it my dear Bastilla?"

She stared at the darkness as it expanded in all directions. A cold chill overcame her. "Yes, I feel it. I'm... afraid," she managed to say.

"We all were at first, but once you embrace it, you will never experience power of its like again from any lesser teachers."

"No, I can't," Rey said. She struggled to move, to turn away but couldn't. "This— this isn't right!"

The darkness was all consuming and burst out onto the floor like a wave, swallowing her in its depths. Suddenly she was drowning in a black ocean, being pulled in every direction until her head burst through the surface and precious air filled her lungs.

Gasping, she looked around to see only the starry sky and endless moonlit ripples cresting the endless ocean around her. Land or civilization was nowhere to be seen as she floated helplessly.

"Oh terrific, this again," she said in frustration.

The only sound was the lapping of soft waves and the occasional squawk of avian creatures in the distance, but that was all.

"It could be so much better," a woman's voice said from somewhere.

Rey spun around, floating as she looked for the source but saw nothing until she came face to face with... herself.

"It's been so long. Little Rey Rey doesn't play with me anymore; I've been so lonely," her mirror self said.

Her most noticeable feature were her glowing yellow eyes. Ben had those same eyes when he reached into the dark side to heal his wound but this was something else.

"What do you want with me?"

The other Rey grabbed her by her cheeks and pulled her close enough to kiss. "What any dark side wants... I want release!" Her mirror-self screamed in her face and shoved Rey under the water with both hands, forcing her deeper until she could no longer see stars or the moon.

Struggling for air, she slapped helplessly at her attackers strong arms but only began to pass out from lack of oxygen. A strange calm came over her then when the familiar voice of a disgruntled Jedi Master.

"Let go, Rey. Control your fear, don't let it control you."

A brief smile crept across her face as she felt assurance creep into her veins, so she surrendered to the Force and let out her breath in a rush of bubbles and slowly inhaled fresh but stifling air. Her eyes opened to the sandy dunes of Jakku and her toppled At-At home just as she'd left it.

"That's not fair! He wanted nothing to do with you on the island, but he's going to help you now?" The other Rey screamed.

She spun and there she was, battered and worn with dark and grimy rags draped loosely across her coiled body. The dark Rey gripped her red bladed saber staff as she glared at her from atop the down walker.

Rey remained calm and focused. "I'm not afraid of you. You're a part of me, I know, but I won't fight you either."

"Oh, you won't? Perhaps you just need the right motivation!" The other Rey snarled in reply.

"Rey, what's happening?" Ben's voice forced her to turn again. He was there, looking at her with obvious confusion in his eyes.

"I was just in the other chamber when suddenly I feel—" a red lightsaber tore through his chest from behind.

"NO!" She screamed as he fell to his knees in the sand, revealing her dark side standing behind him, rage on her expression. Rey rushed to catch him as he fell but realized when he faded to ash in her hands that it was just a trick, all part of the illusion.

"Come on! You just killed the love of your life and you're not going to get slightly angry?"

Rey glared at herself, feeling that very anger but also sadness and pity. She knew full well what surrendering to her darkness was like, even if it was in self defense but she never forgot how she felt afterward in those lonely days on the sand. Instead, she met her dark side's eyes with understanding and acceptance.

"No."

"What?" The other Rey hissed.

"You heard me. I have nothing for you, creature. I know who I am and who Ben Solo is. He's on his own journey, safely away from you."

Her dark side snarled, then screamed as she charged, saber staff spinning before her.

"I said... NO!" Rey put out her hand and flung the apparition away with a single shove of the Force. As the Dark Rey smashed into the metal hull of the downed walker and turned to dust, the vision faded around a single luminous glow so powerful that she had to shield her eyes from it.

When the light faded, Rey was back in the darkness of the artifact chamber staring at the pedestal only this time a metallic blue crystal box the size of a small fruit sat pulsing on top of the dais. Amazed, she stepped forward and recognized it with shock.

It was a Jedi Holocron.

***

"Fantastic," Kylo grumbled at the empty room around him. There was nothing, no vision, no ghosts of his past or childhood flashbacks, just a bare room with an empty pedestal in the center. He cursed some more, preparing to storm out because clearly this had been a waste of time.

"It's disappointing isn't it? I know it was for me," Rey said from behind.

He turned just as she emerged from the tunnel. "That was quick. I suppose we'll just have to—" the words died on his lips when he saw what she was wearing. Her ensemble consisted of all black robes with spike toed combat boots and matching armor strapped to her forearms. A shiny black saber staff hilt hung from her belt, both sleek and menacing as her yellow eyes bored into him with great intensity.

"No one likes to admit they came all this way for nothing, but unfortunately, love, that's where we are," she said as she strutted over to him and arched her neck back to kiss him.

He was too shocked to shy away from her warm black lips, but when he was able to gather his words he said, "You're not Rey. You're not even real."

Her brows raised with surprise. "I'm not? That's strange." she ran her hand tenderly across his chest before slipping lower to squeeze the bulge in his trousers.

"I certainly feel real. Don't you agree?" Her touch combined with her wicked smile made his pants uncomfortably tight all of a sudden.

He shoved her away. "Stay away from me. You're not her so I'm not interested."

Rey scoffed. "Oh, you're not are you?"

Clammy fingers slipped over Ben's shoulder as Snoke's oily voice drifted out on a foul wind. "That's not what it seemed when you decided to betray me. Oh, young Solo, you never were able to resist a pretty face."

Kylo froze with panic as Snoke brought his wet mouth to his ear.

"I was wrong, young Rey there is a much more gifted apprentice than you ever were. And with the right, uh, guidance she's actually obedient to me."

Rage flooded his veins, breaking the spell as Kylo Ren ignited his saber and slashed him half a second time, only he was nowhere to be found. There was only morning dew and the smell of fresh grass. When he turned back he saw the Jedi temple and the accusing looks of the other students gathered around him.

Jerrick pointed his green saber at him. "He killed Master Skywalker! He's gone to the dark side!"

Roré added, "Just like his grandfather Darth Vader!"

Ben whimpered with fear as he struggled to find his words, "No, it wasn't like that! He tried to kill me in my sleep! I stopped him and got away. You don't understand!"

"Lies!" The chorus of rebuttals went up.

A moment later, Malak, Shira and Ne'reem were at his side.

"He's telling the truth, I saw Skywalker attack him," Malak growled defensively.

"Brothers, sisters, we don't have to do this, we can talk this through," Ne'reem said, ever the diplomat.

Jerrick pointed at the shuttle, "We saw you taking the younglings away, we won't let you get away with this!"

"Try to stop us," Shira answered in challenge.

Ben looked around again, realizing that this has already happened before, that it was the vision again. He shook himself out of it and turned away from the fight.

"No, this isn't right. It's just a test."

"Ben, where are you going?" Ne'reem shouted at him.

"The girl's right, where are you going when we're just getting started?" Malak said. When he turned he saw Malak Ren plunge a lightsaber through Ne'reem's chest. Even though it didn't happen that way, it might as well have thanks to Malak's trickery, but he refused to fall for it. She was long dead and at peace; that wound had healed... hadn't it?

"What's wrong, sweetie?" His mother said stroking his hair.

Ben was curled up in her lap again. Having woken from the same nightmare. "The bad dreams won't go away," he sobbed.

"I know, sweetheart. I'm so sorry. We're trying everything we can to find out what's wrong. Your Uncle Luke might have answers, but I'm here right now. I'm not going anywhere."

He hugged her tightly, not wanting to let go for fear of being sucked in by the nightmares of the scary man and the angry girl. He heard footsteps enter his room a moment later.

"Hey there big guy. Is everything alright in here?"

Ben looked up excitedly and screamed, "Dadda! You're back!" He slipped down from momma's lap and ran across the floor toward his father's open arms, only this time he stopped short. Something wasn't right, he felt... scared.

"What's wrong? No hug for you 'ol man?" His father said.

"Behind you," Ben croaked. There in all black was the source of his unease. The tall black robed man in the mask walked up behind his father with an ignited laser sword in his hand.

"No."

His voice was small and helpless as he watched the man approach.

"Stop the bad man," He said louder, pointing.

"Hey, it's alright, big guy. I'm here now," his father reassured him, but he couldn't take his eyes from the bad man. That's when the figure raised his lightsaber for the killing blow.

"No, don't hurt my dadda! I won't let you!" Ben screamed out in panic!

The masked man brought his crimson blade down upon his father, only to crash against against Ben Solo's own blue saber with a shower of sparks. No longer a child, the Jedi padawan stared down Kylo Ren's visor with all the might he could muster.

"He's weak and foolish, just like you. Why do you defend him now?" Kylo said through his modulated vocoder.

"Because you've taken too much from me already. I won't let you do it again!" Ben growled with exertion as he pushed back against his opponent, suddenly aware that they were on an endless bridge spanning an indeterminate depth. A single misstep to one side or the other would result in his demise, but he focused only on the source of his hatred before him.

"You won't be able to stop me. You're just a child pretending to know strength. I am your destiny!" Kylo Ren pushed back.

"No! Not anymore!" Ben shoved harder and knocked him back. Then he went on the attack, hammering his saber against Kylo Ren's with all his anger and hatred until his very form withered and shrank before him. Only when the red lightsaber clanked against the grated bridge did Ben stop swinging.

He blinked himself out of a daze as he stared at a small, frightened boy in saggy black robes and tears in his eyes looking up at him.

"Why? Why did you take my daddy away?" The boy shouted.

Looking down at himself, he realized suddenly that he was the one dressed in black with the crimson saber clutched in his hand. He was Kylo Ren. The horror of what he had done caused his saber to fall from his grasp into the pit below as he fell to his knees and watched the small boy who had been Ben Solo weep and rage at him.

"You could have gone with him, you could have saved him! Why did you kill my daddy?"

"I had no choice..." Kylo said, not believing his own words. "Snoke would have done so much worse if I hadn't killed him. He would have forced me to torture him, kill him slow or make me watch as a lesson."

"Snoke was a liar, why did you believe him? He was using you, why did you listen to him?" Young Ben screamed.

Tears stained his cheeks as he met the boy's hurt expression. "I had nowhere to go, I had no one to turn to. I was alone and scared. I was a coward."

"What are we gonna do now?" The boy said, almost pleading.

"I don't know." He put his hands on young Ben's shoulders and pulled him into his arms. "I don't know."

The boy cried into his chest. "Just promise me that you'll try to make things right. Don't let the First Order take anyone else's daddy from them."

"I won't, I promise." He embraced himself tightly until he realized the boy was no longer in his arms and that he was alone in the chamber with a glowing red Sith holocron sitting on the pedestal before him.

He stared at it for a long moment, dumbstruck by it's sudden appearance. He stood slowly and approached, still not believing what he saw. He took the small pyramid shaped jewel box and held it in his palm. It hummed with dark side power, but unlike Snoke's collection of holocrons it wasn't entirely of the dark either.

Light blue striations snaked through the outer edges of the banding, like little veins of light containing the passion and anger of the knowledge within. He smiled. This was the key, or at least a part of it. Immediately he turned and rushed out of the hallway, meeting Rey as she returned with her own holocron in hand.

"This is it, the key, it has to be!" She said excitedly.

"Only one way to know," he nodded toward the main door. They went and held their respective holocrons up to the impression in the middle of the door, and groaned with frustration because neither one matched the shape in any tangible way.

"You've got to be kidding me," Rey exclaimed. "All of this for nothing."

Ben wasn't so certain it was a defeat, however. "No, not nothing. Holocrons are made to be opened, like a puzzle. They hold knowledge from their creators so the answer might be still be here. We've passed one test, this is the next. We just need to be patient a little longer."

Rey grinned at him. "Patience? You are becoming wise, Supreme Leader."

He rolled his eyes at that. "I just have a better understanding of dealing with frustrating Jedi riddles and the teachers who espouse them.

Rey scoffed. "Oh I think I have more experience with that than you realize."

He met her amused eyes and understood immediately.

"Of course, I almost forgot."

She chuckled. "Come on, we should try to figure these things out before we go further. I've never opened a Holocron before."

"Trust me, it's nothing to write about, but I suppose there's a first time for everything."

Together they turned back to the temple entrance with their prizes in hand intent on discovering what paths still awaited them.

Chapter Text

Malak seethed with barely restrained rage as he stepped off the turbo lift, but his anger dissolved to violent annoyance when he saw the throne room. Hux draped in gleaming white robes that contrasted sharply with his shock of ginger hair discussed terms with a regional governor of some no-name planetary system so Malak stowed his anger and approached in silence as the Supreme Leader finished.

"I can assure you, Governor Pikarii, you will have your seat back shortly. The First Order is under new management as it were and we are eager to make friends, especially if it means crushing filthy insurgents."

The bug-eyed, green-skinned alien nodded and warbled in passable basic, "I welcome your assistance, Supreme Leader Hux. What was stolen from me will soon be returned and the scum will all pay."

"Go with good favor, Governor. Go forward unto victory," Hux said with a dramatic flourish. The governor bowed and turned back to the turbo lift with his entourage in tow. Malak stepped forward.

"Ah, General, how good of you to join us again."

Malak eyed the eight purple armored Praetorian guards standing perfectly still behind the throne. "You've been busy, I see."

Hux looked back at them with amusement. "Ah yes, I have indeed. Considering how quickly Supreme Leaders are falling around he I thought it wise to fill my security personnel with people I can trust. Soldiers who understand the meaning of the words loyalty and service—," he eyed Malak with distaste before adding, "— soldiers who won't fail their missions, unlike certain others."

Anger flared within him, but Malak was no fool and he had no desire to tangle with the Praetorians. It was with great effort that he refrained from showing a reaction to the barb, but he managed and remained silent.

"So, Queen Lucia of Onderon slipped through your delicate fingers? Not a good first showing, I must say, but it could have been so much worse. I merely wanted to have a discussion with her before I took her head but we'll just have to settle for the obliteration of the Resistance in its entirety. A compromise I'm more than willing to settle for."

"That's if more of your troops don't turn traitor on us," Malak growled.

Hux glared back. "Yes, of course, the good Captain's betrayal was a blow, but not entirely unexpected, and then there's Calrissian." He made a noise like a loth-cat coughing up a hairball.

"A fossil of the Rebellion flying a fossil of a ship. Who ever heard of a purple Star Destroyer? I mean, the man has good taste I will admit, but not for a ship of such majesty and strength. It's so... gaudy."

"I'll be sure to tell him before I pinch his head from his shoulders," Malak offered.

Hux dismissed the comment with a wave. "I'm sure you would, General Ren but that's not why you were summoned here. Lucia is gone but is of no concern to me now. We must consider other more 'important' operations. The mission on Baze-Chirrutii takes precedence right now. There have been precious few updates and I demand some answers."

Malak glared at him with contempt tempered by growing concern. "The targets have yet to be acquired?" He made sure not to mention names in front of the Praetorian guards.

Hux returned to his throne with a huff. "No, I'm afraid not. Mercenaries have been brought in to aide in the search for the rebels but the planet is one large jungle. Your skills in the Force would be better put to use on the ground, I think. See that it is done as soon as possible."

"Of course, Supreme Leader. Alive... or otherwise?"

Hux sneered with distaste. "I leave that to your discretion."

"Very good, sir. It will be done." Malak turned and stalked back to the turbo lift.

"Oh, and Malak," Hux called out, "Don't fail me again."

Malak seethed with hatred at the impudent creature, but he didn't take the bait, letting the doors close instead.

***

Talos slapped his neck for the tenth time to kill another blood drinking pest that landed on his scaled flesh. Though he knew he shouldn't have to deal with such a nuisance these creatures managed to stab their proboscis' between the soft membranes of his scales, causing small bumps to push outward and chafe against his armor.

"Well this is a damned corner of Hell if I must say so myself," he cursed.

Lor'rutti hissed with annoyance. "You're not wrong. This particular Hell is becoming intolerable."

"You do realize most mercenaries are morons, right?"

His fellow Knight glared at him. "I'm aware but we need bodies on the ground to track. Just got word, Malak is coming himself."

"Great, if you wanted bodies, that's how you get them. At least Malak can sweat it out with the rest of us in this Force-forsaken jungle."

"Where isss sense of duty, brother? We live to serve don't we?"

Talos had known Lor'rutti long enough to pick up on his particular brand of sarcasm and this was a considerable dosage, which only confirmed that he was just as annoyed at this pointless exercise as everyone else.

"Maybe you do, but in the meantime, I'm going to serve the cause up in those trees over there, where there's a breeze." He pointed his rifle toward the forest canopy where a particular bunching of trees rose higher than the others. It probably had a great view and maybe he could get in a few winks.

"Fine, whatever, just stay in contact. No doubt Malak will want updates," Lor'rutti added.

"Give him my regards when he gets here." Talos saluted with his fingers as he booked through the brush toward the spot he saw. After several feet he could already feel a breeze blowing through gaps in the vegetation, a by-product of being on the side of the mountain, he supposed.

Sure enough, the trees were a good place to camp for a bit to get his bearings, but he hadn't even climbed a quarter of the way up before spotting something curious just beyond the cluster of vines below. It looked like some kind of animal trail, a well-tread one at that but when he looked up at the mountain, something caught his eye.

Digging his climbing spikes into the side of the tree, he loosed his rifle and scoped the small clearing. His breath caught when he saw what looked like a deep recess in the rock.

"Is that a... cave?" Reevaluating his surroundings, he looked down at the animal trails cutting through the forest until he saw one that appeared to go in that general direction. Still, he didn't take chances in a jungle this thick, so he popped his sensor round attachment to the end of his rifle and aimed at a high arc in the direction of the mountainside. With a snap of compressed air, the sensor flew through its graceful arc until it landed somewhere in the area.

Activating his helmets HUD, he programmed the sensor data to lead him right to it. He returned to ground level and began his trek through the brush, hacking and ripping vegetation out of his way. He found the trail he'd spied earlier followed to his sensor. By the time he'd arrived the cave was plainly visible in the baking light of day, so he readied his rifle and stepped into the darkness.

There was nothing remarkable about it, just rock, moss and creepy crawlies here and there, but from the moment he'd set eyes upon it, he recognized the makeshift camp. A drained luma had been left in the center of the floor and a strip of stained cloth beside it.

He picked it up and let his helmets filters do their job until he saw the stains were definitely human blood. As he held it in his hands, he realized the bandage looked familiar. He lightly wrapped it around his wrist and up his arm. It looked like the girl's sleeve and though he couldn't be certain, it was the best lead he's had in days. He went further into the cave, surprised to find that instead of ending, it continued further into the mountain.

His comm crackled and Lor'rutti's gravely voice asked, "Have you situated yourself, brother? Having a nice nap on First Order expense?"

Talos scoffed and for a moment, he considered blurting out what he'd found, but something inside told him not to. Call it a hunch, maybe the Force, but he realized it was most likely greed. Whatever the reason, he replied with casual scorn, "How else am I gonna get shut-eye in this muck? I told you, I'll let you know when I've found something, it's a big damn planet you know?"

Lor'rutti hissed, "Fine, don't get lost in the woods again. Malak would probably rather burn you out then search for your body."

"I have no doubt about that," he agreed. The comm clicked off and Talos, taking up his rifle, followed the tunnel into the heart of the mountain.

***

"I don't care, Kaydel, just tell Grakkus that we need the coaxium he promised us. We're running on fumes here," Poe barked.

"I'm on it," Lieutenant Connix replied with a raised eyebrow.

Poe pinched the bridge of his nose as he scoured the reports coming in from at least twenty different operations in the Outer Rim alone. Some were successes, most were failures and others simply went dark... like Finn, Rose, and Rey.

"Pirates, Hutts, mercenaries... these are certainly not the kind of allies I'd imagined working with under General Organa," Threepio complained for the tenth time.

Poe slapped the console and walked out of the command center, forcing the worried protocol droid to shuffle hurriedly behind him. "We're desperate Threepio, I thought you'd figured that out already. We're getting help where and how we can because that's all that's left for us. The FO has far superior numbers and at least partly, the love of the people."

"Oh, well indeed, General Dameron. Considering the reports coming in now I feel that may change rather quickly, but also I needn't remind you of their far superior numbers."

"No, you 'needn't'. I just wish —," he could barely get the words out, "— that Leia was still here."

"Oh my, yes, if only," Threepio agreed sadly.

Poe walked out of the main bay door and stood to watch the darkening sky in quiet retrospection of all that had happened. How had it all gone so wrong? Hosnian Prime... Han Solo...Snoke... Luke Skywalker... Leia... Kylo Ren... and now Rey, the one unifying force they had left to rally behind, gone.

"I never should have cut her loose, Threeps," he said, disgusted.

The overly pragmatic droid shuffled closer. "By 'her' am I to understand you mean Rey?"

"Yeah."

"With all due respect, General, while the decision may have been regrettable, it was still tactically sound. If she had some secret communication with the Supreme Leader of the First Order all this time, we could very well all be in danger."

Poe laughed. "It's a little late for that, I think. The problem is that now they've gone dark too. Just... nothing. It's like they never existed." He fingered the small binary beacon on his wrist, acknowledging it's noticeable lack of signal. Either the other beacon was destroyed, or it was deliberately turned off and neither scenario painted a favorable picture.

"General, it is possible that a trace can be run on your beacon. We might be able to follow it back to their last known location."

Poe looked up at him. "Is that possible?"

"The encryption will have to be circumvented but yes, I do believe it can be done," Threepio added.

"Do it." Poe slipped the beacon off his wrist and handed it to Threepio.

"It's funny, you're usually the one dwelling on the worst possible odds in scenarios like this. You're just full of surprises aren't you?"

"Pardon the colloquial terminology, General, but that may be the 'understatement of the century.' Still, while the odds are not in our favor... General Organa would have wanted us to go on."

Poe regarded him for a long moment. "You're right. Hope is like the sun... if you only believe in it when you can see it, you'll never make it through the night."

"An apt description, General. I do believe the Princess would be proud of you."

He heard the words, but Poe didn't feel pride in himself. He only hoped it was true.

Racing out from the hallway behind them, BB-8 skidded to a halt, beeping wildly.

Poe knelt down to hear what he had to say. "Hey, hey buddy, calm down. What's up? Wait, what message?"

Threepio lurched suddenly as the spherical droid relayed the information. "Oh my goodness, Lando Calrissian is on his way here? That's terrific news, BB-8!"

Poe looked between the two of them and bolted back to the command center. When he reached the main terminal, Lieutenant Connix was there with the open line.

"General, I've got him now. He wanted to speak with you directly," she said.

"Sure thing," Poe flipped on the small holoprojector when a sharply dressed, elderly man in a cape materialized.

"Captain Calrissian, this is General Poe Dameron of the Resistance, it's an honor and a relief to hear from you sir."

"I can imagine, General. I've heard you guys could use some assistance, maybe some supplies," Lando added with cool grace.

"More than you know, sir."

"Well I'm coming at you in my repurposed ISD, the Elle-Three's Last Stand with two Mon-Cal frigates full of the good stuff. I've also got some refugees with me and a couple of defectors, Queen Lucia of Onderon for one... for the sake of full disclosure. We just need final coordinates."

"Got it. I'm sending an encrypted signal now. Don't worry about the parking for your ship, we've got plenty of that just outside the shield gate."

"Glad to hear it, General. When we arrive I need to have a talk with you in private. There've been... complications as far as the First Order is concerned."

"I don't doubt it, sir. I don't doubt it at all."

***

Setting foot on the Resistance base brought with a groundswell of nostalgia for Lucia. The makeshift crates, battered generations old fighters, and patchwork tarps made fifteen years of her life melt away in an instant as the Resistance entourage led her and Lando to the command center. She was surprised by how well organized they were considering, but then the Resistance had been a creation of Leia Organa so she expected it to live up to a certain standard of professionalism.

A young, cocky and devilishly handsome man approached with a hand outstretched. "Captain Calrissian, it's an honor to meet you. General Poe Dameron of the Resistance."

"A pleasure," Lando said amiably as he took the young man's hand. Poe's gaze shifted to her.

"Your Majesty, I've heard good things. You led a rebellion of your own against an Imperial loyalist right?"

"That's right, but it was mostly my father who organized it, Lux Bonterri of both the Clone Wars and the Galactic Civil War."

"We can sure use the help if you're willing to give it," he said at last.

"I'd be glad to offer it once I reach some of my allies. I'm afraid I was chased off my own planet by the First Order not long after they helped me secure it from slavers."

"A story I'm very interested in hearing, trust me," Poe added.

"Among other things as well, General," Lando interjected.

"Right, follow me. We can speak in private."

The young General turned to leave when Lucia called after him, "Wait, I have a small company of troopers with me. They saved my life and in doing so have become traitors to the First Order. What do you plan on doing with them?"

"Don't worry, we're not the First Order. They'll be debriefed and vetted by my people but we've got plenty of need for good fighters. Don't worry about them, your Majesty."

"Of course not," she agreed.

In the privacy of the small conference room, or what passed as a conference room on a formerly abandoned storage depot, Lando and Lucia laid out the details of the last few days to the head of the Resistance. Though Poe had come off as a hot-headed flyboy, she was surprised by his introspection and tactical understanding. It wasn't difficult to understand why Leia Organa of all people had chosen him to lead.

For now, she watched him as various micro expressions chased themselves across his face as he leaned back in his chair.

"Well... that would certainly explain a few things, now wouldn't it? I knew Hux was ruthless but turning on his own just to make a point? To instill discipline back into his troops by blowing up their own Destroyer, that's..."

"Expected of the man who wiped out the Hosnian System?" Lucia offered.

"Yeah, you're right about that," Poe agreed. "I will say when I heard Kylo Ren had taken over the First Order I didn't quite know what to expect." His absent gaze flicked to her. "You said he helped your people?"

Lucia's jaw clenched slightly as she picked up on the subtle doubt in the General's voice. "He did. Onderon wasn't under the occupation of the First Order. We were allies against a criminal slaver cartel until Hux staged his little coup and scrapped that all to Hell." She kept her eyes locked on Poes, unwavering in the face of his barely hidden skepticism. It was Lando that broke the heavy silence.

"Which brings us to the other problem. Despite the little show that Hux and Malak put on, according to the Stormtrooper Captain of hers, I have reason to believe that my nephew is still out there somewhere, and I do intend to find him."

Poe looked at him in shock, "Whoa, with all due respect, sir..." he didn't finish before Lando cut him off.

"Respect nothing, kid. I've been in this fight before you were a twinkle in your mommy and daddy's eyes. Hell, I flew beside them in the Battle of Endor when we took down our second Death Star so you listen up. Han, Luke and Leia were practically family to me... and now they're gone ." His voice cracked slightly but he continued, "Ben, Kylo Ren or whatever he wants to call himself, for better or for worse is family too and if there's a kestrel's squirt of a chance that he's still alive, I'm going to find him."

"I understand your concern, sir, but Kylo Ren isn't exactly welcoming people from his past with open arms. I was there, on Crait when he faced down Skywalker. That wasn't a friendly hug he was trying to give him, I'll tell you that. If he's alive and you find him, there's no guarantee he isn't going to turn on all of us and without Rey here to challenge him, restraining him is going to be a problem."

A shot of recognition went through her when she heard the name. Lucia found herself thinking about Kylo shooting upward in bed, calling out to someone he 'knew'. Rey. Lando continued, however.

"Make no mistake, son, I'm well aware of the threat he poses, but I ain't no summer Nerfling, I can hold my own. I looked Darth Vader in his cold black mask, I've held Ben Solo in my arms when he was no bigger than that sack of flour over there, believe me."

"Who's Rey?" Lucia interjected. Both men turned to her, seemingly confused by the question.

"She's a Jedi —" Poe said at last, " — possibly the last one around now that Skywalker's gone, and well... the only one who's been able to kick Kylo Ren's ass, if we're being honest."

That surprised her, but in a much different way than she'd expected. Lucia thought about his reluctance to give in to her advances and how he seemed to long for someone far away who he thought didn't share his feelings. She thought about his scars and realized that his most prominent one looked like it had been cut by an electro weapon, possibly a lightsaber.

It all made sense to her then. She'd wondered long and hard just what kind of woman could hold such sway over Kylo Ren's heart and now she had her answer. He was the Jedi Killer after all, so of course, he would fall in love with the Last Jedi.

"That's what I've heard too," Lando said with a chuckle. "If we're going to search for him then I'd rather have a Jedi with me more than anything.

"Yeah... that's going to be a problem," Poe said with obvious restraint.

"What do you mean?"

Poe took another swig of his drink before adding, "There was a bit of an incident not long ago. Long story short, I had to... cut her loose, for security concerns," Poe added with a forced grimace.

"You... cut her... loose? The only Jedi in the known galaxy?" Lando sounded surprisingly amiable but Lucia knew what that tone was concealing.

Poe quickly protested. "Look it's not as bad as all that, she's fine, I'm sure. Rey's on the Falcon with Chewie, R2-D2, Finn, and Rose both..."

"Well that's some damn good company she's in but it still doesn't explain why she's not here." Lando continued to glare.

Poe rubbed the back of his neck nervously as he looked between the two of them. "Okay, she was meeting with Kylo Ren in secret through the Force!"

"What?" She and Lando said in unison.

"Look, I don't know how any of this Force stuff works alright, but I caught them together in Leia's memorial. Kylo Ren was right there, as solid as you are holding Rey's hand because it let him step into the base even though he was on his star destroyer or something. The point is, she's been talking to him through some kind of Force bond ever since we nearly got obliterated on Crait only she didn't bother to tell us any of this. When I found out, I realized what a major security breach it was and stripped her of her rank and sent her off planet with the others."

Lando sat back in his chair, looking more thoughtful than angry. Lucia just tried to imagine such a thing. She didn't know exactly how the Force worked either but if they were connected on such a level that they could pull the other into their space, that had to have created an incredible kind of intimacy. The realization sent a pang of heartache through her chest as she began to understand just how deeply in love he must have been with this Rey girl. Now they spoke about him with complete uncertainty as to whether or not he was even alive and that feeling simply made her numb.

"I didn't want it to go down like that, believe me, but that's why I sent the others with her because I knew Finn and Rose could still cut deals for supplies out there and Rey could still be free to uncover First Order plots in an unofficial capacity, but a few days ago, their signal went dark. We lost all contact with them."

"About the same time the coup went down," Lando said thoughtfully.

"Sounds about right," Poe agreed.

"So what does all this get us? How does this help us find Kylo Ren or this Rey girl?" Lucia asked, trying not to come off sounding dismissive of the Jedi.

Poe regarded her for a moment. "Right now, I've got my droids running a scan on a cloaked binary beacon I have. The other beacon is with Rey and Finn. If we can track down their last known location we might have a better chance at finding them and if we find Rey..."

"We might find Ben too," Lando finished. He looked over at her with a sympathetic glint in his eyes.

Lucia acknowledged his concern. "So is that all we need then? The results of the scan?"

Poe nodded in the direction of the door as he stood. "They should have it by now. Let's find out." The three of them left for the command center.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of droids and resistance personnel, Lucia got a chance to appreciate the efficient chaos of being in a rebellion again. The smell of Jet Juice from the occasional maintenance tech walking by was unmistakable as was the smell of burnt ozone from blaster training in the nearby courtyards. The brief trip ended in the main command center where they were greeted by a shiny gold protocol droid and an orange and white BB astromech.

"Oh my, General Dameron you're timing is impeccable. We've just completed the scan and are collating the results right now."

"Give me good news, Threepio," Poe said with a nervous shrug.

"Bringing up the results now."

A small holoprojection of a pathway through the Outer Rim appeared. The line was bright red amidst the dark black of the map, ending abruptly toward the outermost edge of the galaxy.

Poe's finger shot out. "There, blow that up. Give me a readout."

Threepio input the commands and zoomed into the system in question. A series of known details and mineral makeup flashed across the display.

With a huff, Lando crossed his arms. "Baze-Chirrutii? That's practically in Wild Space, you must be hurting for resources like you said if you're looking for help out there."

"You're not wrong, Captain Calrissian. Do you know it?"

"Yeah, I know it. Haven't been there personally, but it's a good meet up spot for smugglers and pirates and caters to all kinds of illicit activities. It's a jungle from what I heard. Smugglers go in there and don't come back out if they're not careful."

"Oh, great," Poe threw his hands up in mock exasperation. "Well, it's our only shot right now.

"Don't worry about it, kid. I can handle this. If Chewie and the Falcon are there, I'd put my money on them any day of the week. Besides, it will be good to see the ol' fur ball again." He looked over at her a moment later. "What do you want to do, Lucy? I've got room for you to come with if you want."

She looked at the display and felt her heart squeeze with a dull ache. She wanted to help Kylo any way she could... if he was even still alive, even it meant saving the Jedi girl who he loved, but another feeling came over her.

"No," she said softly. "I want to but I have a duty to my people as well. Do you have a long range transmitter here?" She said to Poe.

"We can reach the entire Outer Rim and even some Mid-Rim worlds."

"Good, because I need to gather allies. The fight is coming to our airlock, and we need to be ready... Jedi or not."

The three of them shared a knowing look of acknowledgment. Then, with a comforting hand on her shoulder, Lando added, "Don't worry too much. I'm on it. Wherever my nephew is, we'll find him."

"I hope so, Lando. Good hunting."

He nodded in approval before turning back to Poe.

"Just remember... this is the former Supreme Leader of the First Order we're talking about," Poe added cautiously.

"Trust me, I know." With a brief swirl of his cape, Lando hustled himself out of the command center.

She looked at Poe, rather enjoying the sight if truth be told, but he was grim-faced and reflective.

"So... Kylo Ren, huh?"

"What?"

"You two..." he made a gesture with his hands.

Lucia gasped, then blushed, then got angry.

"That's none of your damn business."

"Okay, okay," he said putting his hands up in protest, "Just curious, that's all."

"Right, I'm sure," she said with a forced smirk.

This was going to be one Hell of a mission if they could pull it off, and what happened next was anyone's guess.

 

Chapter Text

"Gaaahh, this is so frustrating," Rey growled as she stared at the unopened holocron before her. "Why are the Jedi so transfixed on puzzles and keys and mystical doublespeak nonsense?"

"Because there's a lesson to be learned when trying to open a holocron. It requires patience, focus, and acceptance," Ben said, his eyes still closed.

Rey glared at him but couldn't stay mad either, not when he'd come so far from the darkness. To her surprise, he actually agreed with her.

"You're right though, the Jedi were overly fond of mystical games and to make it worse, these aren't normal holocrons. I can feel the essence within but it's... locked away under layers of other data. It's almost like they're encrypted somehow, but with the Force." He palmed the small triangular Sith crystal in his hands as he twisted his face in bewilderment.

"Great, we need a key to unlock the key that unlocks the temple! Terrific!" She stood in frustration. The small amphitheater echoed with her shuffling feet.

"Rey," Ben said calmly, "It's okay. We'll find the answer."

"Really? When? When will we find the answer? My friends are out there right now, possibly injured, possibly even dead and we're in here playing Jedi puzzle games!" She wanted to say more but realized she was inadvertenly taking her anger out on Ben.

He stood with her then and put comforting hands on her shoulders. "It's alright, I know you're nervous, but trust in the Force. Center yourself."

Rey ground her teeth with annoyance, but she tried it anyway. With a couple of deep breaths, she calmed herself enough to add, "I know that the Force led us here for a reason, I'm just... I'm not a Jedi, Ben."

"Hey, look at me," he said tilting her chin up until their eyes locked. "It doesn't matter if you're a Jedi or not. Titles mean nothing, only experience and how it shapes you. Stop trying to live up to a long-dead religion and go with what you know to be true."

She was at risk of losing herself in his dark eyes again, but his words worked, at least a little. "But that's the question, isn't it? What is true? How do I know what's real when my own senses can be fooled? What about everything I saw in that cistern, was it the future, the past, my own fears? I can't tell!"

He stroked her chin. "You'll know the truth when the moment comes."

His lips were dangerously close, making it impossible for her to look at anything else.

"Like now?" She breathed.

He smiled as he brought those dangerous lips to hers, which she welcomed with complete and utter surrender. The warmth of his mouth made her heart race and her stomach flutter with excitement until another kind of warmth intruded on her reverie, a liquid heat that teased her other lips, the ones between her thighs, with the promise of imminent delight.

Rey quickly pulled away from him.

"What's wrong?" He said, stroking her cheek.

"Nothing, just, I have to... I need to practice my lightsaber technique. Blow off some steam, you know?" She forced a smirk and turned away with her saber staff gripped firmly in her palm as she imagined gripping something else entirely. Hurriedly, she climbed onto the stone pillars in the pool and found a medium height pedestal for her to practice on, at least that's what she told herself.

In reality, she needed something, anything to distract her from that raw and primal need she'd felt only moments ago. Trying her best not to think about it, she activated her blades and went through the motions.

***

Ben watched her leave, feeling an old but familiar ache in his chest. Though he knew she was only going a few meters away to practice, that small, scared voice in his head cried out in fear, fear that she was leaving him behind again, this time for good, just like everyone else had done. He'd gotten better at ignoring the scared voice but it was a challenge to redirect his focus on the Holocron nevertheless.

It was strange, he could feel the presence of something within, but the facets and pathways he saw through the Force were scrambled and chaotic. He understood Rey's frustration with Jedi puzzles, mostly because the feeling was mutual, but he had become more patient and disciplined in his time exploring Snoke's archives. He stopped trying to force the Holocron open and instead allowed the Force to show him what he needed to see.

He thought about the impression cut into the large door where the keys were found, he could see the strange grooves and shapes that made it appear so different from the Holocrons themselves. He mentally pushed himself into the stone recess as though viewing from the size of an insect. As he pieced together a three-dimensional image of each facet a realization struck him like a bolt of Force lightning.

He opened his eyes and picked up Rey's cube and held it next to the pyramid-shaped box, then he placed the Sith Holocron directly in front of the Jedi Holocron and held it up to eye level. That's when he saw it. Of course, that was the answer! The Holocrons had to be combined in order to create the key!

"Ahh, dammit," Rey cursed in the distance, distracting him from his revelation. He looked to make sure she hadn't hurt herself, but she had already resumed her practice as though nothing had happened. He looked at the Holocrons again and smiled at knowing he was on the right path, though how they would combine them was a different challenge entirely.

Another frustrated growl echoed through the open chamber from Rey. Ben sighed and put the small baubles back in the repurposed sack they'd scavenged from another of Archie's unfortunate victims. He stood and watched her for a few moments, appreciating the sight of her as she transitioned from one position to another with an entrancing fluidity.

He felt warmth fill his cheeks as an idea struck him, perhaps risky, perhaps not, but he crept toward the edge of the pool and, using the Force, leaped onto the nearest pedestal. Within moments he'd bounded up to where Rey was practicing before pulling himself up from the edge with silent precision. Her back was to him and she didn't seem to notice his presence yet, so he grabbed his lightsaber and ignited it.

The dual snap-hiss of his crackling blade startled her for a moment but when she turned, her expression became one of skeptical amusement.

"And what exactly are you up to now?" She asked.

"Practice. It's usually better with a partner, kind of like dancing," he said with a smirk.

She scoffed. "I don't dance."

"Neither did I... until recently," he added suggestively.

Rey considered his words a moment before her cheeks glowed red with realization. "Ah, right. Is that what your Queen Lucia called it... dancing?"

Ben put on an innocent expression, "It was a celebration, there was music, and I danced. I don't know what you're referring to but I'm here to practice my lightsaber technique, nothing more."

Rey looked away, barely able to contain a smile. "Of course you are. Well, if that's the case—," she added before giving her saber staff another twirl. "— Let's dance."

He smiled wickedly as he spun his own saber. "Lead on, my Lady." That got to her. From here he could feel her fluster through the Force, but Rey being Rey steeled herself and readied her staff for a fight.

They circled each other for a long moment, the anticipation growing between them. Ben remained calm and focused but Rey was determined and unpredictable so he readied himself for anything. Then, she charged.

Her strike was a simple spear attack with a spin that he deflected easily, but the strength of her attack surprised him. Clearly, she was drawing on the dark side if only a little, but that could prove to be a good thing. He fell into a ready stance and again she charged.

This time she went for an overhead strike followed by low sweep of her foot to knock him off balance. He spun and darted away, deflecting her follow-up attack with a crash of sparks as their blades collided. Curiously, he realized that this had been the first time they'd met blade to blade since their fight on Starkiller base.

"Why does this feel so familiar?" He said with a teasing sarcasm.

"Maybe because you know you're about to get your ass kicked by a barely trained Jedi girl again?"

"Ooh, that confidence will be your downfall, sweetheart," he responded.

Rey glared at him. "Don't call me sweetheart."

"Sure thing... peanut."

"You really want another scar, don't you?" Rey said as she separated her sabers into two blades.

"Please try. I doubt you'll be so lucky this time," he goaded.

Rey growled as she rushed him and now the fight was truly on. Sinking into the Force, Ben met her blow for blow. She had two sabers, true, but it required a certain amount of concentration to wield them effectively, a concentration that she still hadn't quite mastered but he gave her the benefit of the doubt anyway.

They met high and low, then from the sides as she spun one way only to crouch and attack from the other. He was impressed by her improvisation skills, she was truly a survivor adept at using raw strength and her natural grace to find weaknesses in her opponent's stance. In fact, she was so proficient, possibly due to anger, possibly directed at him though he hoped not, that she managed to drive him back to the pedestal's ledge.

He could easily sidestep out of the way, but another idea came to him suddenly, strangely, it was something Lucia had said to him that prompted it. He prepared to strike but immediately clutched his wounded side and gasped in pain.

"Ben, are you alright?" Rey said, immediately deactivating her sabers as she rushed over to him. She'd been so focused on his apparent pain that he was able to get his foot behind hers and sweep her leg out from under her. Rey yelped in surprise as she turned and fell into him.

Ben wrapped his free arm around her chest and held his lightsaber in front of her face, though not threateningly. His lips brushed against her left ear as he said, "In these cases, it would be unwise to underestimate the power of a good distraction." For a long moment, he enjoyed the feel of her pressed up against him, but he released his grip and let her stand on her own.

Rey had been flustered before, but she was absolutely red-faced as she ignited her sabers and said through her tight smile. "I'm going to make you pay for that."

Ben readied his weapon. "I'm sure."

"Oh, that does it..." she growled as she rushed him for another attack, but Ben turned and casually leaped across the small chasm between the pillars and landed on the one behind it. Rey cursed, exasperated. "So it's going to be like that, is it?"

"A real fight is going to take you all over the place. You need to be prepared to move with your opponent," he shouted up at her.

Rey ran and jumped with a boost from the Force to the pad he was occupying and engaged him in a full-tilt barrage. This time, he likewise held nothing back. Left, right, over and under, their blades crashed and sparked as they took their deadly dance from pillar to pillar until they'd almost run out of space.

There was a definitive change in the ebb and flow of the Force, Ben sensed, but it was a positive one. Rey was drawing strength from both the light and dark side of the Force and for not the first time in his life, so was he. They synced together like two halves of a machine operating as one. He dodged, she attacked, he deflected and she fell back and on and on they went.

Having been forced back onto the lowest of the pedestals, Ben reached out and grabbed her by the wrist while his saber held her second blade at bay. Breathing heavy with sweat dripping from his black locks, he said, "Again, this all seems a bit... familiar."

With a grunt of exertion, Rey replied sarcastically, "I have no idea what you're talking about." Sweat glistened down her neck, into the low cut V of her tunic, a pleasant enough distraction as it was, but Ben didn't take the bait like she had.

They were so close to each other, he could feel her breath on his cheek as their muscles flexed and knotted under each other's mutual stalemate.

Rey added, "I suppose now would be a good time for a distraction, then."

Ben raised his brow. "You're not generally supposed to announce your strategy to..."

He never finished his statement because Rey's lips stole the words from his. His heart, once pounding from exertion, now hammered with something more. As one, they deactivated their sabers and Rey wrapped her arms around the back of his neck, pulling him into her kiss.

Ben knew all too well what kind of kiss this was, the kind that left no question as to what his partner desired from him. He was harder than the pillars they stood upon when he pulled away to gaze into her needy eyes. Rey was equally as flustered as she inspected every inch of his face and mouth.

He ran his hand down the side of her sweat damped cheek and smiled at her. She put her hand to his chest, smiling in return when she said, "You were right... distractions are very effective."

Ben chuckled but a curious sensation crept up on him at the same time. He was about to say something when, without warning, Rey reached into the Force and blasted him off the edge of the pillar into the pool below. He hit the water with a loud splash of cool water.

Moments later, he broke the surface just in time to see her rushing to the edge and laughing with childlike delight while he floundered in the rippling water. He glared at her with disbelief, then a hint of pride, and finally a chuckle of joy. Together they laughed, the sound of their harmonious joy echoing off the cistern walls.

***

Rey descended the final pillar just as Ben sloshed his way out of the pool. He gave her a bemused look that sent a pang of mild guilt through her chest.

"That was a cheap move," he stated.

"I know. Sorry about that." She watched him walk past with a minor limp that wasn't there before. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine, just agitated my wound a little. Nothing the Force can't fix," he said with a smirk. A moment later he'd pulled his sopping wet tunic off giving her a rather pleasant view of his scarred and muscled torso. He walked past her without so much as a second glance and for the briefest moment, Rey thought he was teasing her.

Certainly, the kiss they shared in the amphitheater had only enhanced her experience on the pillars. She was angry at his 'distraction', yes, but she still hadn't recovered from the feeling he'd given her when she fell into his chest. Though he'd fallen into the pool, Rey was nearly just as wet.

"Where do you think you're going?" She called after him.

"To dry out, of course?" He responded, sounding confused.

"I worked up a bit of a sweat myself. I was going to take a quick dip too."

"Have fun... the water's nice," he said over his shoulder but kept walking.

Momentary embarrassment washed over her but was overshadowed by something far more primal. Without a second thought about what she was doing, Rey began to disrobe. Her Jedi sash and belt was the first to go, then her boots and vest, followed shortly by her under tunic and finally her loose trousers. In moments she was stripped as naked as the day she was born.

Heat rushed to her face, as well as other parts of her body, when she finally said, "Actually, I was hoping you'd join me."

Ben stopped walking and her breath caught with nervous anticipation. Then, slowly he turned and froze as his face lit up with awe upon seeing her. Rey made no attempt to cover herself and took note of his hungry eyes traversing her body from head to toe before lingering on her roughly trimmed sex.

She held his gaze for a long moment before turning slowly and stepping back toward the pool, fully conscious of his eyes following her every step. With as much grace and dignity as she could muster, she knelt down at the edge of the pool and slipped her legs into the water one foot at a time.

The pool was cooler than she thought, but not uncomfortably so. After only a moment, the temperature felt pleasant, so she lowered the rest of herself in. Her toes just barely touched the floor, but fortunately for her, she waded toward the steps and found that the pool grew shallower as she went. Once she found stable footing, she turned to see Ben walking toward her.

He made a show of unbuckling his belt before tossing it aside, then loosening his trousers until they fell about his legs, allowing him to step out of them at a casual stride. Rey knew it was impolite to stare, but she couldn't look away from his hardening cock bouncing between his muscled thighs, growing almost as big as his saber hilt.

Ben made no attempt to hide from her either, instead of keeping his gaze fixed squarely on her lips as he stepped down into the pool to join her. Like a stalking predator, he waded through the water, causing her heart to pound with anticipation. His eyes were feral and hungry as he approached but just as he reached out to touch her, Rey gently pushed off the pool floor and swam backward.

He tilted his head to the side. "So it's going to be like that?"

She held back a mischievous giggle. "Yes. You want me, you have to catch me." He slowly fell forward after her but she pushed away again, keeping just out of his reach.

"You realize this is futile, right?" Ben said behind her.

Kicking playfully, she attempted to swim with some type of grace and failed miserably. Still, Rey narrowed her eyes and teased, "I'm still going to make you work for it. I'm not your precious Queen Lucia!"

"Oooh, another cheap shot. For the record, she came after me."

"Probably out of pity, I'll bet. You're a pitiable creature, aren't you?"

"I don't have my mask anymore, so I'm not much of a creature either," he smirked, slowly closing the distance.

Rey swam backward again only to bump up against the edge of the pool. "Dammit," she cursed gently as Ben pinned her in place with his large but gentle hands.

"What's the matter? You're not scared are you?" He said.

"Scared? No, why would you think that?"

"You're trembling," he said rubbing her arms.

She was shaking a little, but it wasn't because she was scared, just anxious. "Why would I be scared of you, exactly?"

Ben smirked sheepishly. "Just, because you know, I was terrified my first time too..."

Rey cocked her head at that. "First time? Wait, do you think I'm a... oh no." She put her hand to her brow to hide her blush of amusement, more for his sake than anything.

Ben looked genuinely surprised by her revelation and it made her feel guilty all over again.

"I have done this before, you know? There were boys on Jakku, albeit not the cleanest or best smelling boys, but well, a girl gets lonely."

He looked away, suddenly embarrassed, whatever mask of confidence he'd been wearing falling away. "I'm sorry, I just thought..."

"Hey, it's okay. You don't need to feel ashamed of anything," she added. Rey pulled herself closer to him until she felt his hardness between her thighs. "I don't want you to think that isn't special to me. I've had sex, okay, I've never --," she paused to consider her words, "-- I've never made love to someone. Someone who I know will be there the next morning, who will fight a thousand enemies to keep me safe and who I'd do the same for.

His expression lit up in a way she'd never seen before. Ben's eyes were full of more than simple animal lust, though there would plenty of that if his steel stiff coupling rod was anything to go by. She cupped his scarred cheek.

"I love you, Ben Solo."

For a long moment, Ben stared at her, dumbfounded and deep within, she felt a pang of sadness wondering how long it had been since he's heard anyone say that to him.

"That's... wow," he managed to say.

She smiled. "It's okay. I'd like to assume that you... feel the same?"

He pulled her into a kiss of such deepening passion, she thought he would enter her right then, but he held her steady, his hardness resting gently between her thighs.

"More than anything."

The swelling need below felt like a waterskin filled to bursting as Rey lifted one leg around his hip and reached down. He was already at full mast but she gave his cock a couple of gentle pumps anyway as a tease. Feeling him with her hands and through her trembling lips, she pulled him upward until his helmet spread her tender folds and pierced her unbearable desire.

"Oh," she gasped as he filled her from tip to base, lifting her nearly out of the water as he grabbed her other thigh and pulled it around his hips. Rey clung to his solid frame as his gentle hands kneaded her rump, but the way he thrust into her left her seeing stars behind her eyes.

Their mouths devoured each other with kisses and gentle nibbles as Rey ran her fingers through his silken black hair, trusting fully in Ben not to let her fall or sink under the surface. He trailed kisses down her neck to her shoulders as he drove himself deeper inside with each thrust, sending waves of water splashing up and out of the pool.

"Rey," he moaned into her ear, "Is this what you saw in the hut that night, when you saw my future? Was this it?"

She bit her lip in anticipation of the small tremors coursing through her clit, but was coherent enough to answer, "Yes, partly. It was only a glimpse but, I saw it and felt the love in my heart for you. That's when I knew what I had to do."

Rey told him the truth, she had seen this but she dared not say more for fear of destroying what was yet to be. She dared not tell him about how they grew old together, or how they taught a new generation of Force-wielders in the ways of light and dark, and she definitely didn't tell him about the little black-haired girl who swung cheerfully from their clasped hands as they walked, a girl she instantly knew was their daughter.

"Ohh, Ben!" She cried out as the first wave of ecstasy crashed over her. He continued to thrust even though she felt each pump would be the death of her, but she didn't fear it for it would be the sweetest death. Again her memories flashed through her mind, Luke blasting the hut to bits, launching herself off to Ben aboard the Supremacy, the terror of having her mind violated by Snoke, the radiant hope she felt after the last Praetorian guard fell and the agonizing heartbreak she felt upon realizing he was lost to her.

She raked his back with her nails as he buried his face in her neck. All those memories, all those feelings of hopelessness and heartbreak were distant echoes once again as she reveled in the feel of him inside of her. His presence was radiant in the Force, a beacon of blazing white light that she'd only ever seen glimpses of but as another orgasmic tremor loomed, she let go of herself and fell entirely into the Force.

In an instant, their minds connected and his pleasure became hers. Sights and sensations blurred together making it difficult for Rey to know where Ben Solo began and Rey of Jakku ended. Images flashed before her, sad images, happy images, and angry images. She realized she was seeing deeper into Ben's mind than anything she'd seen during their previous Force bonds.

She saw through Ben's eyes, smiling and laughing as his father scooped him up in his arms and spun him around inside the Falcon's dingy halls. Leia smiled down at him as she tucked him into bed and kissed him on the forehead. Then Ben was sitting alone on permacrete steps, tears streaming down his cheeks while his parents argued inside the apartment.  He felt like a monster.

Ben, now, thrust harder into her, his breaths growing shallow as he saw her memories; he was feeling her loneliness in those long days on Jakku and the anger she felt toward her parents who'd dumped her before she began to lie to herself.  Then there was the Starkiller fight, followed by the anger, hurt and reconciliation of their connection on Ach-to.

She was back in his mind, feeling his rage as he fought the Praetorians and again, the heartbreak and feeling of abject betrayal as she tried to leave with Anakin's lightsaber. Then there was the volcanic rage he felt as he faced his uncle on Crait, followed by defeat and surrender as he looked up at her on the Falcon, shutting the door in his face.

She saw herself appearing through the Force to find him in bed with Lucia only to relive the pain of that moment.  Immediately after Rey was Ben again and looked down to see Lucia bent over, naked on her hands and knees as he took her from behind, feeling the heat of her ass slapping against his thighs and the rush and exhilaration of primal urgency as he approached climax.

Rey's vision drew back and then she saw the Holocrons, of all things, as the small jeweled puzzle boxes glowed from within. They pulsed with light, red and blue, then came apart before her. Rey felt as though she could feel the light pouring out of them as they did something remarkable; they combined into a single unit.

Suddenly she opened her eyes only to realize she was staring at herself from Ben's perspective. He thrust faster and harder as the quickening in his loins approached. It was the strangest sensation to be looking at herself through the eyes of another but stranger still to feel both her pleasure as well as his when, with a long and guttural moan, he released himself.

Spurts of liquid warmth pulsed and filled her as he thrust, then contracted, ensuring every last drop of his seed was spent. Then, as the Force withdrew, she all but collapsed into his arms as they both nearly sank into the pool.

"I've got you, Rey. It's alright," he whimpered.

"I know," she muttered in reply.

She knew only too well. She knew that Ben would always have her because they shared something deeper than anyone else in the galaxy. She would sacrifice everything for him and he would do the same, but as her glow faded, Rey heard a small murmur in the back of her mind. It was an echo of a memory wrapped in a dream.

A cold and mechanical voice said, "I used you in every way a lonely girl like you can be used."

Rey thought about that for a long moment, but couldn't bring herself to believe the words of a vision. Still, she pulled herself away long enough to look Ben in the eyes, searching for the slightest hint of deception or dark side trickery. Instead, there was only joy and contentment.

"That was... something else," Ben said with a laugh.

Rey grinned from ear to ear, knowing that her fears were just that. She kissed him again, before replying. "I don't think the Jedi of old meant for this pool to be defiled in such a way."

"No, definitely not. We should do it again sometime."

"Absolutely," she agreed.

***

Rey awoke with start, to find Ben's naked body still spooned up behind her with his black cloak draped over them. She hadn't realized she'd fallen asleep but clearly, the sun had shifted so she knew that a few hours had passed. Ben stirred beside her a moment later, no doubt woken by her sudden jolt.

She rolled over to look at him. He wiped the sleep from his eyes as she said, "Good afternoon, Mr. Solo. Enjoy your nap?"

"Mmm, is that what that was? I guess we exhausted ourselves. We could've drowned," he smirked.

She kissed him lightly. "That would have been a poetic tragedy for sure."

"Well, at least we're dry again."

Rey's brow raised with sudden mischief in mind. She reached drown and grabbed his half swelling member before adding, "Maybe one of us is."

Ben's eyes grew hungry again as he considered her words.  Then with all the grace of a Rathtar, he rolled on top of her and drew his lips across her breasts and up to her neck and cheek. His hardness was already pressing into her inner thigh, prompting her to open herself to him for round two... when he stopped suddenly.

"Ben, what's wrong?"

He was staring at something past her but despite her best efforts to look over her shoulder, Rey couldn't see what it was that had him so transfixed. A moment later he did the unthinkable and actually got up and walked toward it.

"Ben? Seriously?" Rey was about to run after and sweep his leg out from under him before taking him inside of her again until she saw what he was doing. Reaching into the knapsack where they'd kept the Holocrons, he pulled out a golden device that looked nothing like what she'd seen before, except that she had seen it before.

"The Holocron?" She gasped. It had combined! The vision she had while they made love in the Jedi pool had come true.

Ben smiled at her. "The key to the temple."

She understood the implications then and the excitement only drove her to go to him faster, perhaps to finish round two quicker than they had anticipated... until she heard the scream echoing out of the walls.

Ben turned too so she knew it wasn't a vision or some kind of trick of the Force. A terrible realization dawned on her.  They weren't alone anymore.

Someone had found them.

 

Chapter Text

 

Three-Nine took stock of the dilapidated storage depot around them and despite being grateful to be away from Hux, Malak and the First Order felt very much like an outsider. Lando and Lucia had gone off to speak with the supposed leader of the Resistance while they each endured more private debriefings with some less than professional ‘officers’.

“I will say one thing, the rebels sure know how to make jet juice,” JN-6345 said as she took another swig from her cup.

Three Nine glowered up at her. “I know we barely escaped death, Sergeant, but try not to blitz yourself into oblivion before our hosts decide on what they want to do with us.”

She raised her brow at him. “Oh, right because stepping away from the only life I’ve ever known after watching my friends die aboard the very ship I was raised on isn’t hard enough.” She downed her cup without breaking eye contact. “I think I’ve earned a couple of drinks, Cap. Let me worry about the rebels.”

He put his hands up. “Alright, your execution, your business.”

A nervous chuckle went up from the others at that. When TS-3687 spoke up from behind them, everyone listened.

“Are they going to execute us? They’re rebels, aren’t they? I thought they tortured prisoners, set beasts on them or something? Did anyone see any beasts?”

Six-Three growled, “After what we saw on the Supremacy, I don’t think it really matters at this point, do you?”

Eight-Seven glanced between them with a nervous glint in his eye. “Well, I think it matters.”

Three-Nine couldn’t argue with that at least.

“No, I didn’t see any beasts, but considering how ruthless Hux is, don’t you think that maybe some of those stories about the Resistance were made up to scare us?”

Eight-Seven looked at him for a long before taking a deep breath. “Yeah, I suppose that’s a possibility. But what if it’s not?”

Three-Nine groaned and was about to reply when the door slid open and a downright devilishly handsome man with curly black hair and a scuffed jacket stepped inside and scanned the room.

“Who’s Captain JQ-something-Three-Nine?”

Three-Nine chuckled with annoyance then raised his hand. “That’d be me. You were off by a few numbers though.”

The man met his hard gaze, giving him the briefest of look overs from head to toe. “I’m sure I was. Wouldn’t get too concerned about that though; a word, please?”

“Here we go,” he muttered as he caught a look from his Sergeant.

She nodded toward the door, as if he needed her permission to leave, and got up. He left his team behind to get drunk on Jet Juice in their tiny cell as he accompanied him to what looked like a briefing room of some kind not too far away.

The curly haired man with the chiseled jawline and days old beard scruff gestured.

“Take a seat. Make yourself at home,” he said as he walked around to the other side. Sitting back in his chair, he propped his dirty boots on the scuffed, repurposed blast door that doubled for a table.

“Name’s Poe, Poe Dameron… General of the Resistance. I don’t do autographs… anymore.”

Three-Nine lifted an eyebrow. Was this guy serious? “Dameron. The same Poe Dameron that pulled off that insane stunt that took out the Fulminatrix over D’qar?”

“Is that what it was called? I don’t pay attention to First Order ship names, really. They’re all so… menacingly contrived, don’t you think? The ‘Vengeance’ the ‘Fulminatrix’, the ‘Supremacy’! Like, we get it, you guys are assholes; you don’t need to rub it in our faces.”

Three-Nine felt the sudden urge to snap back with an equally petty retort about the Resistance, but he restrained himself.

Poe casually pointed to the underside of the table and asked, “Drink?” He pulled a decanter of what looked like actual liquor out from under the desk along with two glasses.

“Um, sure.” The Captain said with resignation.

General Dameron poured the liquor, whiskey from the look and smell of it, and slid one glass over to him. He didn’t take it, but Poe didn’t seem to mind. After taking a swig, the rebel leader regarded the drink in his hand for a long moment as though savoring the flavor, then a single finger went up.

“There’s a rumor going around that you trained under Captain Phasma. Is that true?”

Three-Nine felt his jaw clench at his old captain’s name and a part of him wondered if that alone was enough to punch his ticket to the firing squad, but he wasn’t so easily rattled. He’d been trained to resist interrogation, after all, so he steeled himself and replied.

“Technically a few of us trained under Phasma, anyone in her division anyway, but yeah, I was groomed for command by my late captain.”

“I can imagine it must be rough for you guys, being raised from birth and forced to buy into some despotic poo-doo like that? The First Order is the Empire Reborn and all that nonsense? In a way, I pity you guys.”

Reactionary anger flared up inside of him. “I’m not looking for pity, rebel.”

“Ooh, sorry I pressed that button, but hey, you don’t need to worry about me. I’m not looking for a fight or to put anyone in a brig for the rest of their life. Lucia told me what you guys did for her, and that took some serious guts. I have a lot of respect for people who can turn against a lifetime of indoctrination on a whim, believe me.”

Three-Nine felt mildly embarrassed at his momentary outburst and apparently, it showed because Poe went on.

“Look, I didn’t mean anything by it, seriously. I’m guessing the First Order probably fed you a bunch of crap about the Evil Resistance hiding under your beds. Maybe we have carnivorous Ewoks in our ships ready to cook and devour you in your armor, am I right?” He laughed a smooth and easy laugh, and it was difficult for Three-Nine not to feel at ease when he did so, but he remembered two-six and that same smile he’d had only for him and it gave him the strength to resist this particular man’s damnable charm.

“I mean, don’t get me wrong, Ewoks are Ewoks and there have been some… unfortunate incidents, but don’t worry, we don’t feed our enemies to them around here.”

Three-Nine cocked his head to the side then regarded his drink. At long last, he picked up the glass and took a sip. It was definitely Whiskey, and it was good; it was real. He decided he was comfortable enough to tell him some cursory information.

“Yeah, we saw plenty of propaganda about rebels, that you’re agents of chaos, you’re dirty savages squatting in the mud, that you kill civilian and trooper alike and so on.” He fixed Poe with a hard stare.

“Is that what you think we do?” Dameron gestured around the empty room, obviously meaning the encampment itself.

Three-Nine sipped his glass again before he answered. “Not really. Though we haven’t seen anything to the contrary since we’ve been shuffled around from cell to cell.”

“Well, I’m sure you understand the need for security, but I can assure you, if you and your troops are legit, you’ll be out and about with our people in no time. We need good troops around here, officers especially, tacticians and mechanics, you name it.”

“Well we can definitely tell you a few things about the First Order, that’s for certain,” Three-Nine added.

“I’m hoping so. You’re the highest ranking defector we’ve had so far, but I’m sure you realize you’re not the first.”

Three-Nine eyed him knowingly. “I’ve heard things.”

Poe downed his drink, setting his glass on the desk with a clink. “Does FN-2187 ring any bells to you?”

“Yeah, a few. Troopers have been sent to reconditioning for simply speaking his number; I’d watched the security footage of him about to be executed before your side jumped a ship into hyperspace through the middle of the Supremacy more times than I can count, but yeah we know about him.”

Poe shrugged casually. “He saved my life when we escaped the Finalizer and crashed on Jakku. His name’s Finn now and he’s one of my most trusted fighters. Think you can live up to that level of dedication?”

The Finalizer. Just like that, with the single utterance of a name, a world of painful memories threatened to overwhelm him. He realized then that he hadn’t time to properly mourn his fallen comrades or the lover he would never hold in his arms again. He wanted to curse, but Dameron again seemed to pick up on what he was feeling.

“Hey… I heard what happened to the Destroyer. I’m… sorry. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for someone who’s shown nothing but loyalty to a cause only to be stabbed in the back like that.”

Three-Nine knew that he should refute those words with an angry denial or protestation, but he had none to offer.

“Even now… I struggle to understand what I felt when I saw her break apart in front of me. All those lives wiped out for nothing. It wasn’t a battle, or sabotage or a terrorist attack… just… an example.” He felt fresh tears forming on his lower lids and knew he should be ashamed of showing such emotion in front of a supposed enemy, but he didn’t wipe them away.

“Something tells me you lost more than just a few friends,” Dameron commented.

“Yeah, you could say that,” he admitted at last.

The General filled another glass and took a sip. “Maybe one day you can tell me about her, I’m sure she was special.”

Three-Nine chuckled at the assumption. He fixed Dameron with a bleary gaze, “You’re right about that… he was special. He was my entire galaxy, which was a lot for a soldier confined by durasteel walls.” To his surprise, Poe didn’t flinch or react with any sign of revulsion or distaste, but an expression of understanding and acceptance and maybe… something else. That was when he realized that the rebels may not be as bad as he once thought.

“I see. Well then, to loved ones no longer with us,” Dameron said, raising his glass for a toast.

Three-Nine couldn’t say no to that, so he clinked his glass to the General’s and took a long, burning swig. After that, he considered his drink for a long moment as the aftertaste of the liquor warmed his insides.

“My troops are professionals, General. We may not be fully on board with your ideology here, but we’ll do our jobs. You don’t need to question our dedication to get some revenge on Hux and Malak Ren.”

Dameron smiled at him. “I’m glad to hear it, Captain. Welcome to the Resistance.”

***

Finn wiped more sweat from his forehead as the squad pushed ahead. The sun was starting to droop toward the horizon which meant it was going to be dark soon. The shadows would provide more cover, sure but it would make the possibility of being stumbled upon by the Knights of Ren that much riskier.

Anto stopped suddenly and held up his fist, making everyone else stop behind him. He looked over at him then gestured with two fingers held to his eyes to indicate that he saw something over the ridge.

Finn got on his belly and crawled to the crest of the hill beside him. It didn’t take a set of quadnocs to tell him what the problem was. It was a mercenary camp with at least five mercs visible but who knew how many in the tents. Then there was the distinctive black armored figure among them, a tall alien female he’d seen glimpses of when he was still a Stormtrooper. He knew she was one of the Knights and the realization sank in just then how much trouble they were all in.

“Well, we’ve found the Knights of Ren, but the Mercs I’m not familiar with,” he said quietly.

“The Black Fangs,” Anto replied. He was scanning them through his quadnocs before handing them to Finn. “I’m familiar with them, a pretty low rent kind of scum. Not very bright generally, but violent and easily exploited for the right amount of credits. The Mercs can be dealt with easily I think, but the Knight is another issue. Force sensitives are always a wild card in situations like this. We need to find out what they know if anything.”

“How do you propose we do that?”

Anto shrugged. “Not while the Knight is around for one thing, which just means that for now, we need to wait and see what happens and hope that they leave before we make a move.”

“Great, that’s fantastic. Yeah, let’s sit her while my friend is out there being hunted. Kylo Ren is probably doing all kinds of unspeakable things to her right now, torturing her for information about us, finding a way to use her against us. Hell, he may be the one running this entire show and we’re falling for it.”

Anto gave him a side-eye glance. “I think you may be projecting just a bit, huh? Still, we need to behave cautiously, eh?” He quietly slid down the hill to discuss the situation with his men, but Finn kept an eye on the encampment. Moments later, Chewbacca was by his side, growling a question as he looked beyond the hill.

“I don’t know, but Anto’s got a point. We need to learn what we can so we know what we’re up against. We might have to take one of the Mercs and interrogate him, but we have to get them away from the camp without alerting that Knight.”

Chewie rumbled a concerned follow up to that suggestion.

“I don’t like it either, but right now our options are limited.” He glanced down at Anto and hoped that the Pirate could actually live up to his bluster. He still didn’t like leaving Rose alone with Hondo, but the elder Ohnaka at least seemed motivated out of genuine reverence for the Jedi of old than his son. Finn just hoped that blood was indeed thicker than water.

Anto whistled lightly. “We think we have a plan that could work, but we need to wait until nightfall.”

Finn slid down the embankment. “Are you absolutely sure? Every second we waste sitting here is another second that Rey’s in danger.”

“What did I tell you before, Finn my friend? You have the best of the Ohnaka gang at your back with me, Anto to lead the way. Relax, we’ll succeed, I promise you!”

Finn sighed. “Fine, I’ll give your way a shot, but I need to know what we’re doing, okay?”

“Of course, of course,” Anto waved. “This is what we’ve come up with.”

***

Night came and though Finn still wasn’t sure about Anto’s ‘plan’ it was the only one that had any chance of success. Their impossible odds upgraded to just bad odds when the Knight hopped on her speeder bike and took off into the darkness, leaving only the partially lit encampment behind. After waiting a few minutes to make certain she didn’t return, they made their move.

“Alright, my friend, just let me do the talking and remember… trust me.” He smiled with his typical self-assurance.

“Yeah, sure, I trust you Anto,” Finn replied as the Weequay approached the edge of the encampment with a confident but casual stride. When he was just out of earshot, Finn turned to Chewie and added, “I don’t trust him.”

Chewbacca grumbled an uncertain agreement but kept walking toward the mercenary camp with his bowcaster held toward the ground.

“It is a lovely night out isn’t it my friends?” Anto boisterously proclaimed as he stepped into the lights. Finn, Chewie and the other two pirates with them stepped out with him and hoped for the best.

The camp came alive with surprise, then cautionary blasters leveled at them. One of the mercs, a pale-skinned bearded man with a milky eye approached first.

“Who ‘da hell are you? You know you’re likely to get shot walking up on the Black Fangs like this!” He grumbled with a thick accent.

Anto worked his charm like a pro. “Ah, of course, my friends, I do apologize for the sudden appearance but the First Order told us to meet up with you for a debrief on the search. You, uh, didn’t get the message I take it?”

“What message? I didn’t hear nuttin’ about the First Order bringing in any other gangs,” the milky-eyed mercenary followed up.

“No? Well, of course not! It’s not good business to announce potential competition, especially when the first group you hired isn’t performing as well as you’d hoped.”

The gathered mercs looked at one another in visible confusion.

Anto put his finger to the sky. “Do not worry, my friends for the Ohnaka Gang is here to help you save face! It is true the First Order hired us as a backup in case you failed to find the Jedi and Supreme Leader in a timely manner.”

“Wait one dal’gur second now! We’re looking for who now?” The bearded merc said.

Anto eyed him with confusion. “They did tell you who they're searching for, right? They told you that we’re looking for Kylo Ren and the Jedi girl from Jakku… right?”

“Ain’t no dirty scooch said nuttin’ about no Jedi, or Kylo Ren. Isn’t he the Supreme Leader of the First Order?”

A trandoshan came up to him and hissed, “He was, but remember that Knight told us there had been a coup, right? They must be looking for the old SL to finish the job, that’s why they’re paying so much!”

The merc with the milky eye regarded that for a moment. “Well, it does make sense now that you put it that way, but why would’ja want to help us anyway?” He asked Anto.

“It should be obvious, shouldn’t it? These are powerful force users here and you’re going to need all the help you can get, plus we have our own people scouring the jungles as we speak. Of course, we are more than willing to share our resources with you… for the right price.”

“What price?” The merc asked indignantly.

“Ah, my good friend. Perhaps we should talk more privately,” Anto said as he put a friendly hand on the merc’s shoulder and escorted him away from the gathered group.

Finn rolled his eyes as Anto haggled and cajoled but something else caught his eye. He noticed that one of the Black Fangs, an Ugnaught, was staring at him and Chewbacca with disconcerting intensity. The porcine alien had a data tablet in his hand that he checked, and re-checked.

Finn looked up at Chewie. “We might have a problem,” he muttered as he gestured toward the inquisitive mercenary.

Chewbacca looked at the small piglet and grumbled with concern. When the Ugnaughts eyes came back to them and widened in panic, Finn knew the game was up. With a squeal, the stubby-legged creature ran over to the Milky eyed man and handed him the data tablet.

“What’re you goin’ on about Willits? What’s this?” He took the datapad and looked at it, then looked at Finn and Chewbacca with a hardening stare.

“Is, uh, is there a problem here, my friend?” Anto said in a pathetic attempt at deflecting the situation.

The merc slapped the data tablet into Anto’s chest. “Yah, there is. Like why you’ve been traveling with rebels!” The mercs aimed their weapons with sudden intensity, preparing to fire.

“Dammit,” Finn cursed.

Chewbacca growled with worry.

“Rebels? Oh, yes, of course, I knew this! Do you think me a fool?” Anto said with arrogant assuredness.

“Oh really?” The merc said skeptically.

“Of course, my good friend. Did you see the bounties on these two? This… is our price.”

Finn gaped at Anto, not believing what he was hearing. “You backstabbing son of a…”

“Oh come now Finn, you know that business is business! The Ohnaka’s and Black Fang’s working together and splitting the rewards for not two but four rebels? That’s the deal of a lifetime, don’t you think?” Anto pulled his blaster and aimed it at Finn and Chewbacca.

A moment later, the equally confused pirates behind them came up and cautiously grabbed the weapons out of their hands. They both joined Anto as they took up positions beside him.

“I dunno… this all seems so… convenient,” the Merc added doubtfully.

Anto sighed with annoyance, “Do you honestly believe that I, Anto Ohnaka would be cavorting around the jungles with two of the most wanted fugitives in the galaxy and not know about it?”

One of the pirates, Kiffe, Finn thought, unless it was Kafuffee, said, “You didn’t know who they were when we first spoke to them.”

Anto fixed him with a deadly stare. “I did not ask you, idiot. Now keep your mouth shut about things you know nothing about!”

“Sorry, boss,” the idiot apologized.

Anto turned back to Finn and slowly approached, his blaster held at stomach level. What drew Finn’s eye though was how Anto carefully reached into his coat with his free hand.

“You’re going to pay for this you scum sucking bastard,” he bit out.

“Finn, my friend, I am a Pirate! You should know better than anyone what a pirate’s primary motivation is, opportunity!”

Chewbacca roared in protest but didn’t attack. Anto put his blaster muzzle into Finn’s chest, but the former Stormtrooper refused to be afraid, even now, even as he thought of Rose and the possibility of never seeing her warm smile again, or feel her soft lips against his, or waking with her in his arms. Instead, every muscle clenched, ready for a fight, when Anto grabbed his wrist and clasped his fingers into Finn’s palm, leaving something cold and metallic behind.

“Always remember this Finn… when the opportunity presents itself… take action and trust your gut instinct,” Anto said it with an upturn of his spiky brow.

Confused, Finn glanced down at his hand and saw the remote detonator Anto had just given him. That’s when he understood. The pirate wasn’t selling them out, setting them up maybe, but still playing for time while the rest of his gang snuck around back to rig up explosives. That must have been part of the plan, the part he clearly didn’t disclose before asking Finn and Chewie to expose themselves like this. He closed his fist again and fixed Anto with a hard stare.

The Weequay gave the slightest nod which Finn returned to show that he understood. Glancing over at Chewie, he made a similar motion, hoping the irate Wookie caught on as well. Fortunately, he seemed to understand.

“Of course,” Anto went on theatrically, “Now that we have you, once we find Kylo Ren and the Jedi, the Ohnaka gang will be rich beyond measure!”

“Hey, what about our cut?” The bearded Merc growled.

“Oh, you’re still here? I forgot about you as soon as I turned around, that’s how forgettable your little group is to me. What are you called again, the Brown Fungus or something?” Anto said provocatively.

“Ohhhh, that’s it, Pirate! Yer dead! We’ll just take your prisoners and collect the money ourselves!” Suddenly every mercenary in the camp trained their guns on Anto, who didn’t seem particularly threatened.

Finn watched as he checked his small wrist communicator and noticed the blinking green light. Anto continued his charade. “See, now you’re thinking like true pirates, my friends! You saw an opportunity—,” he turned to Finn, “— and you took it.”

That was the signal. With a smirk of derision, Finn raised his fist above his head high enough for the Mercs to see the detonator just before he thumbed the button. With a flash and whoosh of flame, the makeshift comm tower in the center of the camp burst into shrapnel. A second later, a massive ammunition cache followed suit, sending screams of panic up from the sleeping Mercs caught unaware. In the next moment, all Hell broke out.

With a blur of his hands, Anto pulled both of his blasters and shot the milky-eyed merc dead before turning on the others still looking at the flaming comm tower. Finn and Chewbacca bolted for the woods, as they didn’t have their weapons thanks to Anto’s little ruse.

“Wait, where are you, —” Anto shouted after them, but then he looked at his two men, the ones who’d taken their arms. “Idiots, give them their weapons back!”

“Wait, we’re not turning them in?” Kiffe asked.

“No! This was a double, double cross, you moron! Now give them back their weapons before I blast you back to my father.”

“Oh, right, sure!” He replied, running over to Finn and Chewbacca. He tossed the rifle and bowcaster to them. “Sorry ‘bout the misunderstanding. The boss don’t always tell us things.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” Finn growled as he took aim with his rifle and picked off mercenaries from cover.

Chewbacca roared in defiance as he blasted a group of mercs roused from their tents and still sluggish. They never had a chance. The rest of Anto’s men appeared from the shadows, blasting away with deadly efficiency obscured by the shadows created by the Black Fang’s camp lights and in a flash of blaster bolts the fight was over.

Finn kept his eyes peeled for another moment as an uneasy quiet fell upon the camp. Anto’s pirates shouted out one at a time as heads broke cover and rifles were slung. He glared at Anto most of all. Getting up, he hung his rifle from his shoulder and stomped over to him.

“I ought to knock your teeth out for that!”

Anto threw up his hands in protest, “Finn, my buddy, I understand you’re upset, but I wasn’t counting on that little piglet recognizing you! I had to improvise, you understand.”

Chewbacca growled out an equally angry curse at the fidgety Pirate. “But did I?” He said indignantly. “Look around you! You are free and alive and the Black Fangs are not! So what’s the problem, eh?” Anto chuckled nervously.

“Fine, whatever. Did we get something out of this at least?”

He looked over the field where his men were going through the debris and grabbing anything they could. Anto let out an ear-piercing whistle, prompting one of his comrades to come over. Finn saw him carrying a data tablet, which he handed to Anto.

“We got this, boss. Every channel they use to communicate, along with their search patterns in real time.”

Anto looked at the pad with wide eyes. “Ahh, yes, yes. This is excellent! We know their cell strength, their deployments, their camps! What do you say, Finn? Was this worth the risk?”

He took the data pad and scanned through the readouts. He breathed a sigh of relief for one because the patterns he saw meant they hadn’t found their targets yet, but he’d sorely underestimated how many mercenaries there were. He looked up at Anto.

“Yeah, this was worth it. Now let’s find Rey and her prisoner.”

Anto nodded in agreement as he whistled for his men to fall in line. “Come on you scoundrels, we still have a job to do. Let’s go save some Jedi!”

Anto Ohnaka may be many things, Finn realized and he didn’t agree with him on his methods or ideology, but right now, he was okay with thinking himself a little bit of a pirate.

 

Chapter Text

Brakk had been kicked around by Hondo and Anto long enough, so breaking away from the sideshow that was the Ohnaka Gang had always been a distinct and desirable possibility. As he poured his blood, sweat, and tears into repairing this piece of junk Corellian freighter for minimal pay and even less recognition, he grumbled to himself, loudly about how he couldn't work a single hour more under these conditions.  He didn't care if anyone heard him either.

He was alone in a maintenance alcove somewhere near the back of the ship where some of the backflow and coolant valve piping had ruptured. Banging his knuckles for the tenth time against the pipes, he cursed.

"Kriff this slaggin' gooch bucket!"

A moment later, much to his annoyance, the small human girl responsible for this whole mess flittered around the corner like some rosy-cheeked forest nymph.

"Are you alright? It sounds like you're not having the best of days back here."

"No, no I ain't! What gave it away, all the cursin' or the banging 'round? These pipes are karked up is what and there ain't no way they're gettin' fixed without being replaced," he said gruffly.

The girl, Rose, didn't seem to take offense at his tone, but she seemed like a pretty tough little maintenance scab herself, which he could have a bit of respect for.  She stepped in a looked at the damage for a moment.

"Yeah, you're right. I'll go see if we can scrounge up the parts. Hey, why don't you grab a drink and take a walk for a bit, clear your head, huh?" She said with too much of a smile.

He hated when pretty girls smiled at him because it broke him out of his perpetually grumpy mood. Still, he smirked. "Alright sure, sounds good to me."

He stepped out of the maintenance alcove and headed toward the main ramp, nearly bumping into the annoying white and blue astromech rolling around the cabin on the way. The droid bleeped something vaguely obscene, he was sure, but he just kept walking.

The air outside of the stifling ship wasn't any more pleasant than inside, but at least there was a breeze going through his spines. He looked over at Hondo resting against one of the hover sleds as the girl went over to him to chit-chat some more. Brakk grumbled to himself when he passed by a stack of boxes brimming with equipment and junk they'd brought along, but there was something that caught his eye.

He stopped and glanced around to make sure no one was looking at him, then peeked into the crate to see exactly what he thought he saw, long-range remote trackers. Brakk looked back at the Falcon, then the trackers and his plan of escape was laid out before him.

This was it, this was how he would make his break from Hondo's tyrannical rule and maybe make enough money to start his own Pirate gang. He casually grabbed a tracker and tucked it into his pocket before walking toward the edge of the woods as though he were intent on using the bathroom.

Again, ensuring no one was around, he pulled out his comm and flipped open the encrypted channel his contact had given him. He turned to the frequency he'd been instructed to, not knowing if it would actually work, but he spoke into it anyway.

"Attention to anyone listening. I have vital information to help the First Order track down the rebel fugitives. If you can hear me, I'd like to make a deal, over." He waited a few moments for a reply, but none came. He repeated his message and waited for another minute or so but it was the same result.

Brakk cursed and was about to simply head back to the ship when the comm crackled and a bored-sounding but pretty female voice replied, "What kind of information do you have? Don't waste my time."

He smirked, realizing that this could actually work. "Alright then sweetheart, without giving away too much I'll just say I'm part of the Ohnaka Pirate Gang and I just so happen to be helping with repairs of a certain Corellian YT freighter called the 'Millennium Falcon.'" He let the words hang in the air for maximum impact.

"The Millennium Falcon? You're... working on it?" The woman's voice replied skeptically.

"That's right. Apparently, someone blasted it out of the sky, put a big ol' hole through its drive coils and some human girl, a wookie and an astromech are overseeing repairs. Don't ask how or why we got involved, just know that I'm looking to make a deal that could benefit us both."

A pregnant pause hung in the air before the woman spoke again. "Go on."

"I just so happen to have on me a long-range tracker. Since I'm working on board, I can place it at any time, and no one but me would even know it was there, but if want the frequency to that tracker, I might be able to relinquish such information... for the right price."

Silence came from comm, but the line remained open. Then she said, "Give me one moment."

"Sure thing sweetheart," he smirked wickedly.

The voice that replied a moment later wasn't so sweet or feminine, but harsh and robotic.

"This is Malak Ren, General of the First Order and Master of the Knights of Ren. Name your price... pirate."

Brakk was caught off guard by the intensity of this new voice, but to hear that he was speaking to the apparent General of the First Order was an entirely different kind of surprise.

"Well, alright then, General. Here's what I'm asking for..."

 

***

 

Talos hadn't known what he might find the further he ventured into the mountain, but a giant multi-legged arachnid wasn't it. With a yelp of surprise, he fell back as it lunged hissing at him from a webbed over hole in the tunnel wall. He was barely able to pull his rifle up fast enough but he managed to get a shot off anyway, only to see the blast skitter off the creature's hard carapace and splat into the rocky wall behind it.

"Oh kriff me, kriff me!" He aimed another shot but the monster roared in anger and smashed a foreleg against his arm, knocking the rifle from his grip and sending it spinning across the dusty floor. Before he had a chance to recover from the blow, the beast snapped him up in its drooling mandibles and bodily flung him in the opposite direction.

"Force' sake, are you tooling me right now?" He cursed again as he pushed himself up to see something surprising, a set of stairs descending into the darkness. He glanced back at the creature fast charging at him and, acting on Force reaction time, reached for one of his flash grenades. With the flick of his thumb, he primed it and tossed it directly at the thing before diving for the stairs.

A bang and a blinding light filled the tunnel behind him, nearly overpowering his HUD. The creature screamed a terrible scream but Talos was already booking it down the ancient steps, stumbling toward the bottom until he lost his footing and fell the remaning way.

"Ow, kriff... son of a... bantha milking... kriffing..." he cursed as his armor absorbed most of the impacts until he landed flat on his back with a thud. Staring up at the ceiling of what looked like some kind of temple, Talos breathed a momentary sigh of relief... until two lightsabers snap-hissed to life over his line of sight.

"Oh you've got to be kidding." He complained when his visor compensated for the blinding red and yellow pillars of flame and then he saw them. Kylo Ren and the Jedi girl.

"Master?" He asked with genuine confusion.

"Talos?" The former Supreme Leader replied.

"You know him?" The Jedi girl added, then a moment later, "He's a Knight isn't he?"

"Yes he is and that's a problem. If he's found us the others aren't far behind."

"Actually—," Talos began to protest.

"Then we need to kill him," the girl said.

His heart shot into his throat as he pointed an accusing finger at her. "Now hold on a kriffin' minute!"

Kylo gave her a curious look, an almost disapproving look before suggesting, "No, we need to learn all he knows first—," then he fixed him with a murderous stare, "— then we kill him."

Talos was on the verge of panic but was composed enough to say, "Look boss, I know you have reason to want me dead right now, but a word of warning to you, there's a giant eight-legged monster chasing me and if we don't get out of here, we're all bug soup."

"Eight-legged creature?" The girl said with disdain. "Her name is Archie and she's the guardian of this temple. You're the intruder here, scum!"

Bewildered by what he was hearing, and slightly more bewildered by the fact that the two of them were only half dressed, Talos was unable to keep his confusion in check. "What? You have a... name for that thing? Are you kidden' me right now?"

"No, she's not," Kylo replied. "Now get up; we've got a lot to talk about."

Before Talos could respond, Kylo grabbed him by the collar of his armor and yanked him to his feet. The girl was patting him down and swiping all of his best gear, before pulling a box open and showing it Kylo Ren.

"Trackers," she said.

Kylo nodded upward, "Throw it."

She tossed it in the air and with a single swipe of his crimson blade, he cut the box, and all the trackers inside, into glowing pieces of scrap. Talos didn't feel the need to tell them about the one tracker he'd placed in the tunnel entrance on a time delay. He knew he didn't need to play that hand until he knew exactly what he'd been dealt.

Kylo roughly shoved him forward as he led him through the double doors.

Disarmed and at their mercy, he had a moment to lay eyes upon the ever-expanding temple before him as they led him down smaller steps this time. It was truly a sight to behold; no one in their right minds would have thought to search for a temple inside of a mountain like this. He'd heard enough rumors about this place from avid treasure hunters and greedy mercenaries but he was starting to think it was all just gossip and hot air. Taking his helmet off, he was actually stupified into silence by the ingenuity of it all.

"Wow, nice digs you got here, boss," he commented.

"I'm not your boss anymore, Talos."  Kylo answered before turning to the girl.  "Rey, maybe we should, you know—," he gestured to his bared chest.

The Jedi, Rey blushed momentarily as she looked down at her tattered shirt and skimpy undershorts.  Then she glared daggers at Talos.

He put his hands up in protest, "Relax, will ya? I ain't exactly dating material here."

Kylo Ren glared and leveled his lightsaber at him. "Don't go anywhere. You wouldn't want to be eaten."

"What?" Talos saw Kylo look past his shoulder and, against his better judgment turned to see the multi-legged creature he'd just been fighting climbing down the walls toward him.

"Kriff me," he muttered as the thing hissed and growled in his general direction.

Moments later Rey and Kylo were fully clothed as they approached him. Turning away from the giant bug, he forced some casual bluster into his words to hide the fact that he was nervous. "So, you almost get yourself killed, half the First Order is searching for you and you're livin' it up in this temple ruttin' with the girl who you killed Snoke for? Not a bad deal, if I say so myself."

"Excuse you!" Rey snarled as she approached, but she looked suddenly confused when she turned to Kylo. "Rutting? What does he mean by that?"

Talos stifled a laugh as Kylo brought his fingers together. "It means we were... together... liked."

Rey gasped, then reddened, then glared at him again. "Of course it does; I knew that, but that's none of your business now is it, Knight? How about you get on with telling us everything you know. Do the others know where you are? Who are you working with? What's the state of the First Order?"

Kylo approached next, his hand still gripping his deactivated saber hilt. "Talos, I need to know everything. I don't want to have to hurt you, but I will if you try to lie to me."

"Yeah, I figured that. Don't worry, boss, you know me. I've always respected you and I swear to you that I didn't know Malak was planning a coup when I called in her position." He pointed at Rey.

"Called in my position? Wait, you were the one following me?" Rey said accusingly.

"Yeah, I saw you looking back a few times. You almost found me out, not many people do, but that doesn't matter now. I saw your meeting with the Ohnaka's and the whole deal so I followed my orders and called it in."

"Thanks for that," she spat bitterly.

"Rey... it's alright," Kylo said putting his hand on her arm to calm her.

She fumed for a moment, but relented, choosing only to glower instead.

He went on. "Anyway, Malak told us to scour the jungle for your bodies to make sure you were dead. We hired the Black Fangs to help us out but they're spread out all over the river valley."

"Are the rest of them on their way here now?" Kylo asked warningly.

Talos met his cold gaze. "I had the chance to tell Lor'rutti I'd found your little cave, but I didn't know for sure it was yours... so I didn't." He conveniently didn't mention the time delayed tracker, especially not now with an armed Jedi and Kylo Ren standing before him. "As far as they know, I'm napping in the trees due to boredom, but really I just wanted to be away from Malak."

Rey growled. "Wait, he's here? I didn't cut off enough body parts so he wants me to finish the job is that right?"

Talos raised an eyebrow, surprised at her fierceness. No wonder her and Kylo fell for each other, he thought. "Yeah, sure. Thanks for that by the way, it was definitely an improvement in the looks department, but yeah, apparently after the Onderon debacle, Hux sent him down here to aide in the search."

"Wait, the Onderon debacle?" Kylo said, a note of worry in his voice. "What's happened since Hux took over?"

Talos regarded him for a moment. "That's right, you wouldn't know, I suppose. Well, it basically went like this."

For the next few minutes, he laid out the details of the aftermath of the coup attempt, at least what he was told by the others. He told him about the fate of the Finalizer as well as the planets that he'd secured from pirates and slavers and how Hux had ordered punitive bombing runs to reestablish the FO as a force to be feared, which of course brought him to Onderon and Malak's failed attempt to acquire Queen Lucia.

"She got away," Kylo said flatly.

Talos noticed how he looked at Rey just then.

"Yeah, she escaped with help from Captain Three-Nine and other defectors. Some Resistance ships picked them up, that's all I know about that."

Rey went over to Kylo and put her hand on his arm. "She's okay Ben. If Lucia's with the Rebellion, she's safe."

Though her words sounded compassionate, there was a distinct hardness to them as well.

"Yeah," Kylo agreed. "You're right." He walked over to a small knapsack on the ground and pulled out what looked like a Holocron.

"Is that what I think it is?" Talos inquired.

Kylo glared at him but didn't answer. Instead, he went back to Rey. "We have to do this now. If he found us, it's only a matter of time before the rest of them do to."

She put her hands on the jeweled hexahedron and replied, "You're right, but what do we do with him?" Her eyes were ice cold as she bored into Talos, so much so that he felt the ripples of imminent danger in the Force.

"Hey, now I told you I'm not your enemy here! I'm not really a Knight even, I'm a mercenary. Go on boss, tell her," he gestured to Kylo.

Kylo Ren wasn't forthcoming with any kind words, instead, he discussed the options with Rey. "You're right, the easiest thing would be to kill him."

"Whoa, hold on a kriffin minute—," Talos protested.

"As much as I'd like to see Archie eat him, we should do it quickly, probably lightsaber would be best," Rey suggested.

"Wait, eat me?"

"He's still valuable though, he knows more than he's letting on and I'm curious to hear what he has to say." Kylo added much to his relief.

"So we'll take a leg. He can't run away then," Rey countered to his dread.

"Okay, that's a terrible idea," he interjected.

"That'll slow him down and we can't afford that right now."

Talos pointed at Kylo, "He's right, you know? That's a fantastic point!"

Rey glared at him. "Take his arms then, he won't be able to shoot us in the back. They can give him new ones."

"You realize that I'm standing right here while you two entertain notions of dismembering me, right?" He injected.

They both turned on him at once.

"Shut up!"

"Right." Talos shut up.

The two of them turned to whisper among themselves when he heard the heavy clacking of armored legs behind him. His muscles clenched as he turned to see that monstrous thing approaching him from behind, hissing through its slobbering mouth.

"Kriff me," he cursed.

Rey scoffed in annoyance, distracting him. She cocked her head at Kylo as she relented, "Fine, we'll take him with us, but I'm watching him."

Kylo put his hand on her shoulder. "It'll be alright. The Force brought us here, just like it brought him." He then leaned down to kiss Rey on the cheek, causing her to smile.

Talos wasn't one for romance, but he wasn't a fool either. It was impossible to miss the genuine affection between these two and he understood then just why Kylo killed Snoke as he did. It must be nice, having someone willing to die for, he thought sadly. He reflected on his own life and failed relationships and how it all led him here. He quickly realized he should have stayed a Mercenary.

Now, Kylo Ren approached him and met his hard gaze with his own. "I'm sure you've got a lot to say, Talos. Fortunately, it's a bit of long walk to where we need to go, so you'll have more than enough time to get us both up to speed on the state of the galaxy." He clapped him on the shoulder, offering an amused grin as he did so.

Kylo Ren never grinned.

"Kriff me."

Rey ignited one of her sabers and gestured toward the archway beyond. "Go on ahead Talos Ren. I'll be right behind you."

He glared at her but otherwise didn't argue the point. He followed Kylo toward the long hallway, giving a single glance back to see the angry beast trailing slowly after them. He murmured in disgust, but he knew there was nothing for it, he was a survivor. He'd survived worse, so he knew that he'd survive this too.

 

Chapter Text

Rey was flushed and annoyed at Talos Ren’s very existence. Of all the times he could have shown up, why did it have to be now, just as they were about to unlock the mysterious Jedi door at the heart of the temple? Not to mention interrupting what was sure to be a fantastic little follow up to her and Ben’s vigorous Jedi Pool workout. So of course, everything about him annoyed her, the creak of his armor, the scent of the jungle that clung to his dirty boots and most prominently his voice, which he somehow still hadn't silenced.

“No offense, but the moment I heard you were the one who killed Snoke, his bodyguards and nearly killed Kylo Ren, I was a bit skeptical.” His comment was completely unsolicited and she knew that he knew that.  Rey growled in annoyance.

“Oh really? Is that because I’m some helpless scavenger girl who’d barely wielded a lightsaber before?”

“Hey kid, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that. But I can imagine you got a taste of how powerful ol’ Snokey was. I couldn’t have taken him out, that’s for damn sure, but I saw the video of you two wasting those ‘prates’. Damn, that was some fine fighting.”

“I’m glad it amused you,” Rey said bitterly.

“And Boss, I can appreciate a good marriage proposal as much as the next guy, but the one you gave her standing amid all those corpses… that was something else!”

This time it was Ben who answered, “How attached are you to your tongue?”

Talos looked back at Rey and put an exaggerated hand to the side of his mouth. “He’s always been the shy type in case you hadn’t noticed.”

Rey fixed him with an icy glare. “Thanks, I have noticed.”

“Oh and nice fakeout with the whole ‘hand reaching out to the saber’ bit. I appreciated that little touch,” Talos added.

Rey felt a lump form in her throat as she thought about that moment and how completely heartbroken she had been, but then she got annoyed that this mercenary was getting under her skin so easily and instead, decided to give him a piece of her mind.

“For an ‘elite sniper’ you sure do talk a lot. I imagine you must not be very good at your job.”

To her surprise, that comment won her a smirk from the scaled humanoid. “What can I say, sweetheart, being a Knight of Ren and a Sniper can get lonely and besides, you never caught me tailin’ you did you?”

“I sensed you!”

“Ahh but you didn’t catch me and that’s the key distinction. Senses are great, especially through the Force but none of them matter if you don’t act upon them. Isn’t that right, boss?”

Ben scoffed. “Yeah, he’s got a point,” then he looked back at her, “But don’t feel too bad about not catching him. I didn’t make him a Knight because he was sloppy.”

“Aww, thanks for that, boss. Your praise warms my heart!”

Rey and Ben both scoffed at his attempts at humor but continued walking in silence for another stretch when a thought occurred to her.

“So, Talos, you seem to know an awful lot about me.  I’m curious to know about you.  Who are your people? I haven’t seen your like around, not that I’ve been all that exposed to the wider galaxy.”

“My people? Ah, they’re people, just like other people are people too. They’ve got their rivalries, traditions, art and music blah, blah, blah. I never really cared much about it; grew up on the streets sifting through ‘my people’s scraps just to get by. The first chance I got to get out of there, I took it.”

Rey considered that and smiled sadly. “I know how that is, growing up alone and forced to fend for yourself, only I wasted my life waiting for parents I should’ve known were never going to come back for me.”

Talos looked back at her. “That’s rough, kid. I’m not much for holding out hope, but the galaxy surprises you sometimes. What’s worse is holding out false hope only to slowly realize how foolish it was, to begin with. When Kylo was telling you about your parents on that recording… I felt for you. That’s the honest truth.”

She met his eyes and saw the sincerity in them, again taking her by surprise. “Thank you. I’d still rather prefer that no one saw that but… here we are.”

“Here we are indeed,” Talos agreed.

“So what about the Knights of Ren? How’d you get suckered into that band of maniacs?” She watched Ben deliberately and smirked as he gave her a look that promised a future talking-to.

“Oh that? Well, that’s a long story, none of which is worth going into but I will say this. It was actually a ‘Jedi’ that put me on the path.”

Both of them turned to look at him after that.

“A Jedi?” Rey asked, skeptically.

“That’s right. He had a lightsaber and everything and could sense my own Force powers, so I had no reason to doubt it. He saved my life from one of the less-than-savory debt collectors I owed credits to as a young and stupid youth. Called himself Brigger, or Etzl or something… no, Bridger! He’d said his name was Ezra Bridger, that’s it. I had no idea how a Jedi made it into my neck of Wild Space but I wasn’t asking questions either. After he saved my skin, just like that, he was gone.” Talos said with a snap of his fingers.

“Can’t say I’ve heard him,” Rey added, “But there’s a lot we don’t know about the Jedi either.”

“I've heard of him, stories only,” Ben interjected. “My mother spoke of someone who’d helped her in the early days of the rebellion on Lothal. She said there were two Jedi, Ezra and Kanan I think. I'd heard they'd both died before the battle of Yavin.  How did he end up in the unknown regions… still alive?”

“Can’t say,” Talos shrugged, “But I was grateful and decided to pursue a fruitful career learning about the Force and helping little old ladies cross the hyperlanes. Long story short, I found my way to the Knights, I offered my resume, and the Boss here picked me up, which is fortunate because the Guavian Death Gang would have had my hide sewn on to their armor if I didn’t get them their money soon.”

“Sounds like you need to deal with new clientele,” Rey quipped.

“Heh, well, what else do you call this right here?” Talos gestured to the three of them.

“You don’t want me to say what ‘this’ is,” Ben added darkly. “But we’re here.”

Rey watched Talos’ expression flick between emotions as they descended the steps toward the locked door and the Holocron chambers to either side. They huddled up in the center of the stone platform where Ben opened the satchel and pulled out the conjoined Holocron.

To Rey’s surprise the small glass spheroid pulsed with blue and red light, then she looked up to see a similar light appearing from within the strange indentation in the door. Ben noticed the light as well and nodded at her.

“I think we both know what to do with this,” he said casually.

“Gee, I wonder?” She added with a sarcastic flourish.

Ben walked toward the impression and gently guided the Holocron into place. After a moment of slight adjustments, the Force did the rest. The device was sucked into the indentation and a low, grinding thud boomed inside the walls around them, making Rey and Talos both flinch with surprise.

"Uhh, I've got a bad feeling about this," Talos stated.  Rey ignored him and remained focused on her surroundings, prepared for any kind of threat.

An ominous scraping sound filled the small chamber as the massive stone doors swung inward, leaving the Holocron floating in the air before them. That’s when the small device projected holographic images of two figures standing side by side, figures that Rey recognized immediately.

Bastilla Shan was as fair and lithe as her visions had presented her. Wearing simple homespun leathers and a Jedi sash not unlike Rey’s own, she looked every bit a Jedi of old but Revan was a surprise to her.

The fearsome red mask from her nightmares was under his left arm, partially obscured by the flowing black robes that clung from his powerful shoulders. He stood tall and regal, like a King and, to her mild embarrassment, was shockingly handsome. Rey’s eyes flicked to Ben, hoping that he hadn’t noticed the warmth blooming in her cheeks, but he seemed as transfixed on the two figures as she was. Then Revan spoke.

“If you are seeing this, that means that you have found the Jedi temple here Palor Minor, and have assembled the Holocron key that opens the interior chamber.” He turned slightly to glance at Bastilla before adding, “And it's quite possible that I lost a bet.”

The long dead Jedi Master smirked impishly as she regarded him, but Revan continued.

“Unlocking this gate is both fortunate and a terrible burden to bear for what lies beyond is a secret known only to a few on the Jedi council and myself. Perhaps introductions are in order before we continue.”

Revan cleared his throat and held his distinctive helmet in both hands before him. “I can’t possibly anticipate the state of the galaxy at the time you open this temple, nor can I assume that the Jedi council still exists with these records, so I’ll just come out with it.

I am Revan, renowned by some as the Revanchist, honored by others as the Revan, reviled by many more as Revan the Butcher, and dreaded as the Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Revan. I am all of these things, to my shame, but if any memory of me is to echo through time, I wish it to be the one that remembers me as a man, a husband and a father filled with all the delights and flaws that such a reality brings with them.”

At that, Bastilla’s hologram stepped over to him and put a hand on his. He lowered his helmet onto a surface just out of view and Rey felt a swelling of sympathy for this tortured man.

“Revan is indeed many things,” Bastilla said, “But above all, he is a good man with a wounded heart. That’s why I fought so hard to keep him alive when no one else would.”

Revan raised an eyebrow. “Is that why? I thought it was to kick my ass around the Jedi council chambers for becoming a Sith Lord.”

She rolled her eyes at that. “That was one of many reasons, I assure you.” Bastilla then turned back to them. “I am Bastilla Shan, Jedi Master and member of the Jedi Council here on Coruscant. Revan is my husband and father to our daughter Satele, but there is so much more to it than that.”

Rey walked up beside Ben as they watched, Talos all but forgotten on the edge of the platform, but despite her fascination with the message, she kept her senses open enough to detect any treachery from the Knight.  Fortunately for them, no such warning in the Force was forthcoming as he was equally transfixed by the ghosts of ancient heroes.

Bastilla went on to describe her role in the Jedi and Mandalorian wars and how she'd confronted Revan after he'd invaded the galaxy at the head of an unstoppable armada. She spoke about his partner at the time, Darth Malak, a name that caused Rey and Ben both to shift uncomfortably where they stood. It came as no surprise then when Bastilla recounted the details of Malak betraying Revan by firing upon his ship with the Jedi Knight on board.

“Let the stories tell their tales how they will, but I loved Revan long before he left the temple to fight and facing him then was one of the hardest things I had done.” She looked at him with pain in her eyes but also gratitude that everything had worked out in the end.

“He was barely clinging to life when I tried to heal him, and that’s when it happened.”

Now it was Revan who spoke for her. “At that moment I saw Bastilla as I had never seen her before, a beacon lighting my way home through the darkness. In her attempts to heal me, the Force somehow created a bond between us that transcended space and time. We could see each other’s thoughts, speak to each over great distances where communications equipment couldn’t reach. It was as though our souls were one and the same from then on.”

Rey had all but forgotten to breathe when she heard about the ‘Bond’. A shocking, but strangely unsurprising revelation crept into her thoughts, but Ben’s warm fingers slid between hers and distracted her enough to focus on the message instead.

“This may not be easy for you to hear but you must,” Bastilla went on, “Though I cannot confirm as such, it is my belief that this bond will transcend death itself and if my theory is correct, and if the Force wills it, it will be ‘us’ who stand before this Holocron now, ready to finish what we started. I believe this because these Holocrons are linked to our very essence, meaning only Revan and I can open them… meaning that we are you, and you were us.”

The world seemed to fall away from Rey as the shock of the revelation soaked into her very being. The dreams, the memories that weren’t hers, Ach-to, the Jedi archive beneath the tree, all of it! Suddenly it was as if the final piece of some lost puzzle had fallen into place and the universe made sense at last. She was Bastilla Shan and Ben Solo was Revan reborn!

She looked up at him as though seeing him for the first time. His eyes were wet with emotion as he returned her gaze, and she knew in her heart that every word of it was true. The Force had brought them together again, against all odds, in the middle of a war and from opposite ends of the galaxy. The hologram continued speaking, distracting them both from their newfound reverie for each other.

“I cannot say what, if anything, you may remember should you find this temple,” Bastilla added, “But you must know this truth.”

Revan picked up for her. “As I said earlier, it is a terrible truth and a burden that would crush most ordinary people, but this place, the Jedi temple you stand in isn’t only a temple. It is largely a facade with its true origins sworn to secrecy by the Jedi Council itself. Beyond these doors lies a machine of nearly unstoppable destructive power. It is called… the Star Forge.

A noticeable chill filled the air as though the things very name had power over the chamber itself.

“Forget what stories you may have heard about me and Darth Malak. We had been corrupted in the Unknown Regions by the dark side, that much is true, but it was not Emperor Vitiate who’d made us Sith. It was the Forge. It’s a machine of ancient alien design that can harness the power of a star to perpetually manufacture fighters, droids, weapons, entire armies for whatever purpose it demands. At its heart lies a massive black kyber crystal that is made seemingly of the darkness itself and can corrupt the strongest of Force users merely by touching it.”

Rey exchanged an alarmed glance between Ben and Talos both as Revan spoke.

“This is how Malak and I were turned, but—,” he stopped himself to regard Bastilla with a small smile. “— I was fortunate and Malak was not.”

The stoic Jedi Master turned to them as if hearing their questions before they spoke them. “As far as the greater galaxy understands, the Star Forge was destroyed and the war against the Sith Empire won… if only that were true,” she added sadly.

She went on to explain further details about how and why the Jedi Council decided to hide the truth of the downed battle station, which all seemed dubious at best to Rey if not outright irresponsible at its worst. The temple was erected and the remains of the Forge were buried, thus creating an artificial mountain, which they now stood inside of.

“It is imperative that this power not fall into the wrong hands,” Revan stated urgently, “This weapon is of the darkness and while we can’t prove it, there are those of us who believe it had already wiped out its creators and whatever system it arrived from. It is nothing short of a harbinger of death and destruction and it must be contained if not destroyed. If you are seeing this Holocron, then it is quite possible that we failed to do just that, and now the burden has been passed onto you.”

Bastilla said at last, “Go with the Force now. Do what must be done for the sake of those who live in peaceful ignorance. The Sith cannot be allowed to get their hands on the Star Forge or all will be lost for the Republic.”

With those final words lingering in the still air, the holographic figures vanished and the Holocron gently floated to the ground where it settled on the stone with a clink. Rey struggled to catch her breath from everything that had just happened, though it was Talos who broke the heavy silence first.

“This is exactly why I started drinking, having to deal with Jedi bantha poodoo like this. So, Revan and Bastilla huh?” He smirked at them. “Congratulations, I guess you’re… married now… again? I’m not even going to attempt to understand how any of that works.”

For once, Rey found Talos’ annoying habit at stating the obvious endearing. She smiled at Ben. He bent down to pick up the Holocron and put it back in the satchel before walking up to her with a purpose in his stride. She was about to ask him what he was doing but he put his warm hand around the back of her head and crushed his lips to hers. For the briefest of moments, she forgot Talos was even there as love and belonging filled her heart near to bursting.

“Get a room, will ya? We’ve got a job to do,” he casually stated.

Ben finally let her up for air and his cheeks were as red as hers must have been when he said, “I’m just kissing my bride, it’s honoring tradition that’s all.” He smirked.

Rey cocked an eyebrow. “Bold of you to assume I’d agree to marry you in the first place, Solo, especially based on the words of a hologram.”

Ben looked at her askance before chuckling at her obvious teasing.

“Talos is right though,” she said quickly, “We have to get in there and find out what the situation is.”

“Yeah, I agree. Talos, care to make yourself useful for a change?” Ben asked with a mocking note in his voice.

The roguish Knight threw up his hands in feign surrender. “Seeing as how I’m unarmed and at your complete mercy, why not?”

“Good, then let’s go save the galaxy,” Ben warmly said.

Rey held his hand as he turned. “I’m with you no matter what.  I want you to know that.”

He smirked at her.

“I know.”

The three of them entered the open chamber, not knowing what awaited them in the darkness beyond.

 

Chapter Text

Metal groaned and creaked in the darkness. Only their lightsabers illuminated the bulkheads of the abandoned battle station as they traversed the crooked walkways inside. The air was musty and smelled of mildew and rust but the sensations emanating from the Force was the most telling of all.

“Is anyone else cold, or just me?” Talos griped.

Ben would have had a sarcastic retort for his former comrade any other time but right now, the Knight was correct.

“I feel it too,” he replied, his voice echoing off long dead walls.

“Same,” Rey added. “This place is heavy with the dark side.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Talos agreed. “How long has this thing been lying here?”

“Since Revan and Bastila defeated Darth Malak at least,” Ben observed.

“That’s got to be over a thousand years ago, maybe more. Even ol’ Snoke didn’t have complete records from that time, boss.”

“No,” he agreed, “But he knew enough.”

“What do you mean?” Rey asked as she inspected a series of consoles that appeared crystalized with dust.

“When I went into his private records he made mentions of ancient secrets buried by the Jedi and Sith alike. They were mostly legends and campfire rumors but I remember he spoke once of a machine that was truly ‘alien’ in design, constructed in the Unknown regions, that could produce enough raw resources to create an unstoppable armada for whoever controlled it. I thought it was more nonsense cooked up to justify sending us out into the galaxy to search for clues.”

“Only it turned out to be real,” Rey said as she looked to the ceiling.

“It seems that way,” he hesitantly agreed.

A soft glow from his satchel caught his eye. “Wait.” Ben pulled out the Holocron which pulsed and illuminated another hologram of Bastila and Revan.

Rey and Talos both watched but it was the Jedi Master who spoke first. “By now, you’ve entered the station. We’ve mapped as many of the main corridors as we could to direct you toward your goal, the heart of the machine. Please be cautious as we cannot be certain what condition the station may be in by the time you see this.”

The image changed to a holographic map of concentric halls that pinpointed the approximate location of where they stood and how to get to the crystal chamber. The glow of the Holocron helped to illuminate the dark space along with their sabers.

Talos chuckled with obvious sarcasm. “I’m loving these two already. Giving us maps and everything to the heart of the doomsday machine, how considerate!”

“It’s better than stumbling blindly through here,” Ben commented.

A metallic scuttling sound echoed down the halls. Everyone froze in place.

“What… was that?” Rey asked with concern.

“Uh, are we sure this thing’s inactive?” Talos followed up.

Ben was concentrating in the Force but didn’t sense any kind of living presence. He held his saber out and walked toward the echo of the sound.

“Ben, what are you doing?” Rey said, grabbing his arm.

“We have to find out everything we can about this station before we risk going toward the crystal chamber. I don’t want to come all this way just to get ambushed by some security system that’s been dormant for a thousand years.”

“Are you serious? Do you really think anything like that would still be up and running after such a long time?”

He looked her steadily in the eyes. “I don’t know, but we have to be sure. Come on.”

Rey’s hand fell away and she followed as he led them toward the scraping sounds in the dark. After a short run around the un-even walkway, Ben started to think the sound might have just been debris falling from above until the skittering noise sent up the faintest hint of sparks in the dark.

He aimed his saber in the direction of the sound and saw small mechanical legs disappearing around a corner.

“There!” Rey shouted from behind him before charging after it.

“Rey, don’t!” Ben called out but she’d been too quick and disappeared around the corner. There was a mechanical squeak of panic followed by the sound of metal grating against metal and a moment later, she reappeared around the corner carrying a small, satchel sized spider droid of some kind.

“Here’s the little bugger. He tried climbing into a ventilation shaft before I pulled him out.”

Everyone gathered around the small droid which frantically kicked it’s metal legs and angrily beeped at them. Ben regarded the droid for a moment, then looked around the area, curious if there were others scurrying about.

“If this droid is active, how many others are running around in here?” Rey added with genuine curiosity.

Talos scoffed.  “That’s a problem alright, but I think the bigger issue is how is it still functional?  No power cell can last that long, it has to be getting juice from somewhere, which means parts of this station are still active.”

Despite Ben’s reticence, he knew Talos had a point and that worried him more than anything. He regarded the little droid for a moment as it flailed and kicked in Rey’s grip. An idea struck him.

“Put it back down,” he said.

“What?” Rey and Talos said together.

“Just do it. Let’s see what happens,” he added.

Rey cocked her head slightly but sighed with resignation and set the droid down onto the floor before backing away with her lightsaber held at the ready. The spider bot spun and clicked, beeped and whirred, and tested each of its limbs on the ground before quietly and un-provocatively scanned the area then walked away undisturbed.

The three of them watched with surprise as it casually returned to its duties, which apparently consisted of lubricating and testing bolts in and around consoles and bulkheads. More interesting however was that it didn’t seem to mind their presence.

"It's not running away from us.  We're no longer a threat," Ben observed.

“Hey, boss, over there,” Talos pointed to another console down the walkway where another spider drone was carrying out a similar repair.

“Worker droids,” Ben added.  “They’re repairing the station, but only a small piece at a time.”

“It’s like everything is on low power mode,” Rey stated. “I’ve been scavenging Imperial ships on Jakku for years and some of the smaller systems would still have power from dedicated cores. Trust me, it wasn’t fun grabbing onto an exposed wire that was hooked up to one of those.”

“I can imagine not,” Ben agreed. He was about to voice another observation when a deep metallic moan echoed throughout the large chamber. They all froze as the sound reached a crescendo and ended with a thud that vibrated the walkway.

Talos was the first to speak. “What… the kriffin’ hell was that?

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Ben followed up.

“Double that,” Rey agreed.

They proceeded to hurry toward the sound, much to Talos' dismay.

“Are you sure going toward the loud bang of Doom is the wisest idea?”

“Whatever the cause or however unlikely, this place is dangerous and we have to shut it down. We have to find the core,” Ben shot back.

“Hold up, boss, you said finding the core was bad!”

This time it was Rey who retorted. “Are you going to help us or keep whining? I thought you were a brave warrior.”

“Yeah, when I have my weapons, also I’m allergic to death inside star devouring super fortresses in case you hadn’t noticed!”

“So let’s make sure we don’t die,” Ben added with a smirk.

Talos sighed in obvious annoyance but conceded the point as they went deeper into the machine. The Holocron showed them the quickest way to the heart of the Star Forge though not all paths shown in the map were accessible. Several detours had been required due to collapsed walkways, bulkheads or jammed doors before the three of them entered what was unmistakably the central power core.

The cathedral-like chamber was packed to the brim with cables and piping running to the central reactor. More of the small spider droids skittered about performing their tasks, some dragging new wires to where the old ones had been cut away. The hum of electricity was in the air but more noticeable to Ben was the low pulsating waves of darkness he felt in the Force.

“It’s so… cold. You feel it right —,” Ben turned to the others and was startled to see no one was there. “Rey, Talos?” He shouted to the empty room. The crash of lightsabers drew him back to the core and Ben was stunned by what he saw.

Electrical sparks danced from hanging wires while flames billowed smoke from numerous fires but there on the walkway were three figures engaged in a battle to the death.

“Bastilla, no!”

“I can hold him, Revan.“

“I’ll destroy you both! With the power of the Forge I will overthrow the Emperor and lead the Sith Empire into a new Dawn!”

Ben watched in amazement and with an overwhelming sense of deja vu. He knew immediately this was the past he was seeing and when Revan was struck on his shoulder by Darth Malak’s blade, he winced as though he could feel the burn. To his shock, a blast of Force lightning erupted across the walkway, but not from Malak.

Bastilla had blasted the Sith Lord with all of her rage and hatred and overpowered him. Malak’s mechanical scream was cut off by the shorting out of his electronics and when he fell to his knees, Revan lunged forward and drove his saber through his chest.

The world spun around him as Ben collapsed and the vision changed before his eyes. This time it was Bastilla and Revan only, older and wizened by experience but they were cutting down legions of battle droids threatening to crush them.

“Revan, we have to get to the crystal! If we don’t shut it down, the temple will be overrun.”

“On it! Follow me, I’ll cut a path!”

Ben followed as the Jedi hacked through grating and walkways until they disappeared into the darkness. A deep, biting cold crept into his limbs as he came out the other side where the pulsing darkness seemed to awaken with hostile intent. Their voices cried out around him.

“Bastilla, what are you doing?”

“Power is the only side that matters in the universe Revan. You may hide from it, you may curse it, but you cannot deny the truth of it.”

“No, don’t do this, please! Bastilla, NOOO!”

Sudden, burning pain bit into Ben’s chest. Clutching his hand to the wound, he collapsed as the world spun around him again. This time he rolled onto his side to sit up and found himself staring down at Revan sprawled across the grated floor, his hand over the same place Ben felt the pain. Bastilla knelt beside him, bloodied and devastated as she carefully put a hand on his chest. Her lightsaber lay beside them, deactivated and it was at that moment Ben understood what had happened.

“Revan, no, no, no… this is isn’t how it’s supposed to be. I didn’t… I couldn’t control it. The crystal is too powerful.”

She scooped him into her arms and cradled his head as he looked up at her, fresh tears falling on his cheeks.

“Please don’t leave me! Don’t leave us, my love.”

Revan reached up to caress her cheek and with cracked lips, he said, “Do not grieve for us. We’ve played our part. No matter what the future holds, just know that you will always find me in the Force.”

“Don’t go… not like this… not by my own hand.”

She brought his forehead to hers while she gripped his other hand.

“Tell our daughter —,” Revan gasped, “— how much I love her. Tell her…” with a choked gurgle in his throat, Revan breathed his last and his body went slack in Bastilla’s arms.

“No, no, nooooo.” Bastilla wept in visible agony as she kissed her husband and clutched his head in her arms as though she could will him back to life.  Ben's heart broke as he watched... and recalled.  She was so close he could touch her and so he reached out.

“I’m here, it’s okay. You were right; you were always right.  You found me.”

His hand passed through her like a shadow and the world spun again. This time, the pain in his chest was gone, and Ben found himself in another room entirely. It was familiar but bore the scars of age. The low hum of darkness tugged at his mind and he turned to see it.

The heart of the Star Forge, the black kyber crystal was as tall as a medium sized walker and wide as a troop transport. Nestled tightly in a harness, it rippled with waves of power, but that wasn’t what shocked him. He saw her at the base of the crystal walking toward it as if in a daze with her arm outstretched. She was about to touch it, not knowing how dangerous it truly was.

“Rey!” He called out and rushed up the steps to snatch her hand away only moments before she came into contact with it. She spun to face him but her eyes went wide with shock and confusion.

“Ben? Ben, what’s wrong?” She said distantly.

“Are you okay?”

“I — I don’t know what happened. I heard whispers. I thought I saw something so I followed it but then… it was cold… and dark.”

“It was the crystal. I know what happened here. I know what Revan and Bastilla tried to do… and how they failed.”

Rey looked confused by that, but she shook off her confusion. “Wait, where’s Talos?”

Equally as surprised as she was, Ben whipped around, looking in every direction. He and Rey had both been distracted by the power of the crystal, he hadn’t paid attention to his former Knight and if he took the opportunity to escape, that could be problematic for all of them.

“Talos? Where are you?” Ben shouted but no reply came. “Dammit. Talos!” He tried one more time and just when he thought the worst, Talos stumbled in through a rusted door to the chamber.

“Kriff, there you are. I was right behind you boss but then you were just… gone! This place is messing with my head.”

“You’re not the only one,” Ben acknowledged. “It’s the crystal, just like Revan and Bastilla said. It can influence us and even corrupt us if we get too close.” He looked at Rey specifically when he said that, feeling the ghost of pain in his chest where he, Revan, had been stabbed by the woman he loved most.

She met him with a look of understanding, but he wasn’t sure if she remembered it. He didn’t know what vision she saw that drew her to the crystal but now wasn’t the time ask.

“What now? We can’t let this place continue to operate. We need to destroy the core for good, to cut off all power so that it can’t be repaired,” Rey stated.

“No, that won’t be enough.” Ben glanced up at the black crystal and the muted electrical storm within seemed to grow with anger. “We have to destroy the crystal. It’s pure darkside energy and capable of defending itself, but we have to do it before Malak finds us.”

“Oh… Kriff! Blast my scales, kriffing, karking Hell!” Talos cursed.

Ben and Rey turned to him with alarm. “What is it?”

Talos looked at them with resignation. “You destroyed my locators when you captured me, all but one. I left one at the entrance of the cave on a time delay in case I didn’t come back from exploring the mountain.

Ben felt the warmth drain from his cheeks. “No.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t exactly think it would all go down like this, you know?”

Rey added, “If that locator went off, they could be in the temple already.”

“Yeah,” Ben agreed. “We have to be sure. We have to stop them if we can; this is too dangerous to chance it.”

“Well what are we waiting for?” Talos clapped his hands together and turned back through the broken doors.

Ben started after him only to realize that Rey was looking back at the crystal. “Rey?” When she didn’t answer, he walked over and gently slid his hand into hers.

“Rey.”

She shuddered with momentary alarm until her glassy eyes met his again. “Oh, right, of course. We have to go.”

This time she followed as he led her out of the crystal chamber, but not before he risked a glance back. Ben understood darkness like no one else and as he glared at the kyber crystal he knew from the storm within and the feel of the air around him that the crystal glared back at him, watching helplessly as he spirited its prize away.

As they made their way back through the haphazard structure of the space station, he had time enough to notice that several more lights and worker droids had come online but none attempted to stop them. They soon managed to return to the main entrance of the temple and that's when he heard the voices.

They huddled by the base of the archway as they peered out into the courtyard.  An entire platoon of armed mercenaries milled around the amphitheater and searched the general area.  A pair of them had found their makeshift bedrolls and long extinguished campfire.

“Damn, Malak and Shira are here,” Talos grumbled.

“Good work hiring the Mercs,” Ben said flatly.

“Hey, you’re a fugitive remember? I had to be thorough!”

“It looks like you were a bit too thorough, thanks for that,” Rey griped.

Ben’s blood boiled when he saw Malak but he knew it would be suicide to try attacking directly. There were too many mercs and too much open space but then Rey said something that piqued his interest.

“How’d they get past Archie?” Her breath caught a moment. “Oh no, I hope they didn’t…”

“Relax, I’m sure you would’ve felt something in the Force. You bonded with that thing after all,” Ben added. Rey shot him an indignant look but shied away with resignation.

“Strange,” Talos commented, “Has that rock always been attached to the wall back there?”

Ben followed where he was pointing and his eyes widened when he saw the Archie shaped rock nestled amongst the fungus and stone… just like she had done in the Archive. He nodded at Rey, who saw her a second later, prompting a smile of relief.

Talos looked between the two of them then, with a mischievous grunt in his voice, said, “I’m starting to form a plan, boss.”

“Yeah? Good for you, so am I,” Ben shot back.

“Well alright, you can implement yours in conjunction with mine.” Talos looked at Rey for a moment, eyeing her remaining arm wrap. He held his fists out, palm up. “Bind my wrists?”

“What?” Rey was confused at first but when he gestured to her wraps, she seemed to understand. Unwrapping her arm, she bound Talos’ wrists with a tight knot that he couldn’t break. He even tried to wrestle free from the knot, testing it as best he could but when he seemed satisfied, Talos simply nodded.

“Follow my lead!” He got up and walked into the open.

Ben cursed under his breath but when he met Rey’s concerned eyes, he knew that they had no other choice. They stood and followed the Knight out into the main courtyard of the Jedi temple.

“Malak, it took you long enough!” Talos proclaimed with derisive arrogance.

Almost at once, the mercenaries turned toward the sound and trained their weapons on the three of them while Malak, Shira and Lor’rutti glanced up with what appeared to be amusement.

“Talos,” Malak said, his mechanical voice echoing off the walls, “I’d normally be disappointed to see you made a prisoner, but it would seem you have some company with you.”

“Yeah, well, I had to find a bunch of malarky to yap about to keep these two from killin’ me before you got here. Your timing, as always, is impressive.”

Ben watched Talos carefully as he approached the other Knights, careful not to let his eyes wander too far up the rear wall, where Archie was quietly crawling toward the ceiling above. Mercenaries began to move in from the sides but Ben ignited his saber defensively, with Rey doing the same an instant later.

“Call your goons off, Malak. You and I still have unfinished business,” he growled.

Malak laughed, but waved the thugs off. “Let him be. This one has proven tougher than most to kill.”

“The same could be said of you, bucket mouth,” Rey shot back, “Though I see I made substantial improvements to your face.”

Hateful rage flashed in Malak’s eyes and Ben gave Rey an equally pleading look. She barely acknowledged his concern but he saw the flicker of a smirk pull at her lips. The large Knight stepped forward to regard her but otherwise made no threatening movements.

“Indeed, girl. I severely underestimated you; that won’t happen again, I can assure you.”

“No it won’t because soon you’ll be dead,” Rey challenged.

Shira glared at her and ignited her electro staff but Malak put his hand on her shoulder, stopping her from coming any closer. The gathered mercenaries looked to each other with varying degrees of nervousness, and Ben drank in their fear.

Talos was amongst the group now as Lor’rutti cut his temporary bonds and slapped his sniper rifle into his hands. “You dropped this, brother. You slip too much.”

He grumbled something that didn’t sound polite as he took his rifle and gave it a quick inspection. “Relax, I’m no idiot, like these morons,” he looked at the mercs with distaste. Some looked offended but others were too nervous to notice.

Malak glared at Ben and Rey. “Since you’ve been lost in the woods for some time… brother… I have news for you.  Supreme Leader Hux has done a marvelous job at cleaning up your mess. All those planets you helped ‘liberate’ are choking on the ashes of your goodwill, Onderon especially.”

Ben flinched with rage but he knew what Malak was going to say so he refused to take the bait.

“Your favorite pet, Queen Lucia was it? I heard you made her scream in bed,” Malak’s eyes flicked to Rey with deliberate observation, but Rey didn’t bite either. “You’ll be happy to know that I also made her scream when I cut her into tiny pieces one limb at a time. I’d failed to kill you, so I made her suffer instead. She died screaming your name!”

Ben had to restrain a laugh at Malak’s blatant fabrication. “You know, Malak, I’m surprised I didn’t see your treachery earlier because you’re a terrible liar.”

Somehow, that angered Malak more because he stormed forward a couple of steps before growling, “It doesn’t matter what you think, Solo! You’re the only one who’s going to be dead before long, and I promise you, I’ll make you watch as I cut her into tiny pieces in front of you.”

“Try it!” Rey growled in return.

Ben smiled, impressed and somewhat turned on by her unflinching ferocity. Then Talos called out to the group.

“Wait, wait, hold up! First things first, I need to know something.”

Malak glared daggers at Talos. “What?”

“How’d you get past the giant spider?”

“The what?” Shira spat.

“What are you talking about?” Malak echoed.

That’s when Ben noticed the upward angle that Talos was holding his rifle, he risked looking up for a second to see Archie directly overhead, silently descending on a thread of silk. Talos replied, “I mean the giant spider, you know, that one!”

He pointed up and just as he did, he fired a harmless shot into the ceiling, prompting Archie to roar and drop into the middle of the mercenary group.  That's when all Hell broke loose.

Screams and blaster fire erupted from the mercs as Archie spun and flailed her armored legs at the attackers, smashing some into each other and crushing others underfoot. Malak ignited his saber but she smacked her thorax into him, sending him flying back and away.  Shira and Lor'rutti jumped into action, each taking shots at the creatures massive armored body, but to no avail.  Archie kicked them away like dolls and continued the fight.

“Ben let’s finish this!” Rey shouted as she began to charge but he shot a hand out to stop her.

“NO! Not here!”

“What, why not?” Her eyes burned with anger.

“We have to lead them away from the temple; we can’t risk them moving further inside and finding the Forge.”

She glared at him a moment longer, then glanced back at the melee behind them. Bodies and parts of bodies flew in all directions as Archie shredded the mercenaries like the archive Guardian she was.

“Dammit, you’re right,” Rey admitted at last.

“On the pillars, we’ll get out up there, come on!” Ben ran toward the Jedi pool, with Rey following.

From behind, he heard Malak shout, “After them! Don’t let them get away!”

Talos shouted to Ben from across the courtyard, “Go, I’ll cover you, boss!” Then he dropped three mercs with precision shots of his rifle. He even managed to get a shot off at Malak, who barely deflected it in time.

As one, Ben and Rey ran and leaped onto the training pillars, one after another, they went higher as blaster bolts sizzled past, but they made it to the upper levels relatively unscathed.

Rey stopped. “Wait, what about Talos?”

Looking back one last time, Ben saw the Knight still firing away, as the other Knights advanced on him.  Then he saw Talos take a shot in the arm.  He heard a grunt of pain down below but Talos kept firing as he circled to flank the remaining Mercs.

“He’s on his own. He knew what the score was.” He turned to Rey who took a moment to comprehend what he'd just said, then she'd gotten it.

“Alright then, we need to go.”

Archie had wrecked many of the mercs and was rapidly climbing the nearest wall to get into one of her spider tunnels, but blaster bolts continued to ricochet off her carapace.  Ben thought he had an idea of where she was fleeing to.

"We have to get back to the archives.  If anyone can get us out of here, it's her."

"I knew it," Rey said with a smile, "I knew she'd find a way.  That's my girl.

Together they ran and hoped beyond hope that an exit could be found.

***

Talos groaned as he tried to stand, but the blaster bolts he took to his legs and gut made that impossible. He watched in resignation as the remaining mercs spread throughout the temple looking for a way to follow Kylo and Rey, but he made sure they went nowhere near the Star Forge, because he’d managed to pull himself back into the broken tunnel after being shot. Now, only Malak, Shira, Lor’rutti and a handful of mercenaries approached.

Talos’ rifle was used up, so he threw it away as he gasped for air. He met Malak's cold stare.

“I guess this mission didn't quite work out as you wanted huh?”

Malak looked down at him with complete and utter indifference. “I’m disappointed in you, brother… but not surprised. Why?”

Talos spat out a gob of blood. “Don’t know really. Maybe I’m a sentimental fool and seeing those two lovebirds overcome the odds gave me hope for the future, or maybe I was curious to see if they needed the best mate for their wedding… maybe because I just don’t like you, Malak.”  He smiled a bloody smile up at the imposing leader of the Knights of Ren.

“Once a mercenary, always a mercenary,” Malak said with contempt in his mechanized voice. “Loyal to nothing but yourself.”

Talos coughed out a laugh. “Or, maybe just wanting to do something good for once in my life, maybe to pay back someone who could have killed me on sight but chose not to.”

“Then it must disappoint you to know that your efforts are wasted on them.” Malak knelt down on one knee and looked into Talos’ eyes as he continued, “I’ve made a deal with someone on the inside, an Ohnaka Pirate who’s kindly placed a tracker on their ship.”

He held up a small device with a pulsing light flashing on the screen and Talos tasted ash in his mouth.

“They’re going to escape because I want them to and they’re going to fly right back to their hideout, then I and the First Order will reign extinction down upon them. So, brother… I hope in your last moments, this knowledge haunts you.”

Talos grit his teeth in anger and was about to reply when he felt a piercing hot blade of light spear him like a fish. The smell of burning flesh filled his nose as he looked down to see Malak’s ancient lightsaber buried to the hilt in his chest. The burn was only momentary before Malak deactivated his blade and held him steady by the shoulder.

“You were a good Knight once, so consider this death an honorable one.  You died fighting.  I couldn't ask for more.”

As his breath grew shallow and the life began to spill out of him, Talos slumped until his knuckles hit the ground behind his back. In his final moments, his fingers curled upward.

He coughed more blood before saying, “That’s mighty bold of you, brother… to assume that I’m the only one dying here today.”

As he’d expected, Malak’s look of confusion, then sudden realization as Talos revealed the two armed thermal detonators in his palms was a glorious sight to behold. Unfortunately for him, his body went numb and his vision faded before he could see the explosion that would collapse the tunnel and hopefully, if the Force was with him, take Malak along for the ride into Hell.

Strangely, the last thought that went through his head as the blinding flash of fire and shrapnel tore his body apart, was of the Jedi who’d saved him from the streets. Ezra was his name, that’s it. He liked to think at that moment that maybe the Jedi would be proud of him for what he’d done, not that it mattered all that much anymore.

Talos was tired, but the Force, it seemed, was inclined to give him the sleep he so desperately wanted.

 

Chapter Text

The distant explosion trembled through the ancient tunnels, causing Archie to stumble where one of her legs had been. Rey had to use the Force to stay upright on her carapace while Ben clung to her. A moment later she felt the faint pulse of life in the distance flicker and vanish.

“Talos,” she said, looking back at Ben.

“Yeah… I felt it. He may have been a mercenary but he had more honor than anyone gave him credit for.”

“That’s one less ally we have. We’re on our own again,” Rey said forlornly.

“We’ll make it through this,” Ben reassured her. When she met his eyes she saw the truth behind them which bolstered her spirit.

"You're right.  I believe that."

Daylight began to fill the tunnel as Archie crawled out onto the side of the mountain. A gust of wind caught several loose strands of Rey’s hair but when she brushed it away, she gasped at how incredible the view was. The jungle spread out to the horizon beneath them, the small moons hanging in near orbit were pale ghosts in the sky and the small black specks of ships entering and leaving the atmosphere were like insects migrating from one tree to another.

Archie angled downward and then Rey realized just how high they were and clutched onto her spikes more firmly as the nimble archive guardian spirited them down the mountainside with practiced ease. Most of the ride was uneventful until they neared the base. That was when Archie’s good legs gave out from under her, dumping her and Ben onto the gravel slopes.

“Ben, hang on, oof!” Rey hit the dirt hard and rolled helplessly into the brush, drawing upon the Force to slow her descent enough not to hurt herself. A moment later, Ben hit the dirt beside her with a thud that knocked the air from him.

“Gahhh, not the landing I was hoping for, but…” he began to say as he sat up.

“Archie,” Rey called out as she looked over to where their guardian had landed. She was on her back, flailing her legs helplessly and groaning with dull whines of pain.

“Come on, girl, you can do it! Get up,” Rey said as she rushed over to her friend, but when she did her heart immediately sank upon seeing the wound. A long, cauterized lightsaber slash ran across her soft underbelly as fresh blood oozed freely from within, splattering the rocks beneath her.

“Oh no,” Rey said as a sob formed in her throat. She rushed to her friend’s side and put her hand on the underside of her mandible. Archie shuddered at the touch but calmed when she turned her multitude of eyes to Rey with a sorrowful moan. Even now, Rey could feel her life force flickering with strain.

“It’s okay, girl. You did well. The Jedi would have been proud of you,” she managed to say as fresh tears stung her eyes.

As though she understood, Archie blinked at Rey with acknowledgment before moaning one more time.  Her eyes fell, her body went slack, and the ancient creature returned to the Cosmic Force.

Rey could never get used to the sudden 'open airlock' feeling of another life being extinguished near her and her sobs came freely as she rubbed Archie’s slack mandible a final time. She felt Ben approach before he knelt beside her, putting a gentle hand on her shoulder. He didn’t speak, but he didn’t have to; Rey turned and threw her arms around him as she shed her tears into the nape of his neck.

After a long moment of grief, he finally said, “We can’t stay here.”

“I know… but it feels wrong to just leave her.”

Ben looked her in the eye as he wiped away her tears. “The jungle will reclaim her. She’s a part of this world and that’s where she’ll return… giving new life as her final gift.”

That comforted her. “You’re right. We should go.” Together they stood, but not before hearing voices shouting nearby.

“Hey, I saw something fall down the mountain! It could be them, come on!”   A gruff man exclaimed.

“Dammit,” Ben cursed, “We really have to go.”

Rey glared with burning anger toward the direction of the mercenaries. “That would be best, but if they get in our way, they’ll regret it.”

***

“There is a squad nearby,” Anto said looking at the display in his hand. “I’m getting radio chatter that they are pursuing the fugitives now.”

“Yeah, anything else? Any details on what condition they’re in? Is it Rey?” Finn demanded to know. They’d been slogging through the jungle for hours now and this was the first time they’d heard anything definitive on the chase.

Anto shook his head in disappointment, “Ah, my friend not so much. There was some kind of temple in the mountain and an explosion apparently, but all I’m getting are orders from a Malak Ren and Shira to apprehend them. At least we know where the action is going to be.”

“Yeah, well what are we waiting for?” Finn looked to Chewie who growled in agreement as they set off toward the commotion.

Anto had been right about the mercs, they snuck up on them soon enough but it was a small squad, only five, two men, a Rodian, a Twi’lek and an Ugnaught. With a simple hand signal, Anto’s pirates ambushed and finished them all with minimal fuss.

Finn didn’t like killing unsuspecting beings, even if they were galactic scum but he knew what the mission called for so he looked the other way. At least they weren’t his fellow troopers this time, he told himself. Unfortunately for them, a sixth mercenary had been refreshing himself in the bushes out of sight before stumbling upon them.

“Hey, what the kriff?” The Zabrak cursed. Before any of them could get a shot off, he thumbed a comm from his belt. “Hey, boss, we’ve got company, they just took out my squad!”

“Ahh, dammit I wish you wouldn’t have done that friend,” Anto cursed before taking aim with his pistols.

The merc got off a shot first that went wide and Anto fired back in retaliation, but the Zabrak was skilled and also blended in with the jungle exceptionally well as he ducked and rolled out of the way until he mounted a speeder bike behind a tree and fired up the engine.

“Kark it, we’ve got to stop him,” Finn shouted as he fired toward the bike.

The runner sped away but not before a flurry of blaster bolts from the Ohnaka gang riddled him with burn holes, sending his bike careening into a tree, throwing him from the wreckage.

“Well, I think they know we’re here,” Anto exclaimed as he changed his blaster packs.

Finn glared at him urgently.  “Then we need to hurry, my friend is in danger.”

***

Rey deflected the first two blaster bolts into the trees but the third she aimed for their attacker's hand. It hit the blaster just right, causing it to explode in the merc's face. He screamed as he held the bloodied stump where his hand used to be but Ben was there a moment later to put his saber through his chest, silencing him.

“Hey, they’re Jedi!” Another mercenary shouted. “Those First Order scabs didn’t tell us we’re huntin’ Jedi!”

“Shut up! For this money, are you really going to stop now?” Said another.

Rey spat out, “You can try, or you can end up like your friend down there!”

“Why bother giving them a choice,” Ben added darkly.

She felt their fear all around them as they crept out from the bushes, counting at least five in all. Some were human, others aliens, one was a Trandoshan she knew for certain but all were armed with heavy blasters.

One of the mercs barked through a distorted vocoder but Rey didn’t understand his language. His intent was clear enough however when he raised his blaster and fired at her.

She brought her saber up to deflect the bolt but stopped when she saw it frozen in mid-air before her. She glanced at Ben who had his hand up, holding the laser in place with the Force. His eyes burned with dark side energy; His face was taught with exertion but a moment later, he pulled his hand back slightly and shot it forward, sending the blaster bolt directly back to its source.

The superheated plasma burned a clean hole through the mercenary’s helmet as he stiffened for a long moment before collapsing to the dirt.

“Kriff that, no money’s worth going up against a Jedi!” The Trandoshan cursed. A moment later, the remaining mercs glanced at each other, turned and ran into the woods.

Rey gave pursuit but Ben grabbed her by the arm. She glared at him.  “What are you doing? We have to go after them?”

“No, we don’t. We have to get out of here.  We have to draw Malak away from the temple.” There was anger in his voice but also a note of genuine concern. Before she could protest again, he added, “Vengeance isn’t going help anybody, or bring Archie back.”

She blanched at that, surprised by how much the guardian's death still affected her. The proclamation worked though, cooling her anger like a splash of cold water.

“Okay, then let’s go.”

They closed down their sabers and ran in the opposite direction. The jungle was thick and muggy but Rey’s senses were on high alert for any signs of incoming attacks. Shouts and blaster fire echoed across the valley through the thick vines, but it sounded like it was some distance away. Rey looked at Ben.

“Do they think they’re shooting at us?”

Looking introspective for a precious moment, he replied, “No, I think they’re shooting at another group.

Rey’s eyes widened with realization. Could it be?  Was it possible that Finn, Rose, and Chewie had survived and were searching for them? Her question was answered a moment later when she heard the Wookie's familiar battle roar break over the sound of blaster bolts.

“That’s Chewie! They survived the crash, they’re looking for us, Ben!” She had been so caught up in her excitement at the confirmation that her friends were alive that she hadn’t noticed the apprehensive look on Ben’s face.

“Ben, what’s wrong?”

His eyes darted back to her. “My… uncle… is out there.”

“Who, Chewbacca?” She thought about it for a moment and realized it made some amount of sense his father’s furry friend and partner might be considered part of the family.

“Is it wise for me to run into that mess while my dad’s angry pal is blasting mercs?” Ben looked at her then gestured at his side where he’d taken a blaster bolt from that very same Uncle on Starkiller base.

Rey felt a surge of panic race through her. “Ben, I’m not going to leave my friends when I can help them. You said we had to get out of here, well they’re our way out.”

“You mean back to the Resistance?” He added with a sneer.

“Ben!” She tried to keep the plea out of her voice but she was so close now and after everything that happened between them the last few nights, she had no reason to doubt that he would go with her anywhere, but now she wasn’t sure and that shock brought her back to the cold reality of who they were and how they came to these circumstances in the first place.

"Whatever you decide... I won't leave you, but I have to help my friends.  Please understand that," she said at last.

The shouts and blaster bolts continued to fire and Ben looked off in that direction with a guarded expression on his face. After a long moment, he finally said, “You're right. That’s the only way out of here.”

Relief welled inside as Rey put her hand to his cheek. “It'll be okay, I promise you.  Resistance or not, I'll stand by you, always.”

He tenderly laid his hand on top of hers and kissed the inside of her palm before giving his reply.

“I know.”

***

Chewie roared as he blasted another attacker with his bowcaster before ducking behind the speeder. Finn angled to get in a shot but was met with a flurry of blaster bolts that forced him back into cover.

“Kriff! We’re getting boxed in; we can’t let them flank us!”

Anto was fortunate enough to get off a few shots. “Finn, my friend, you worry too much. I am an Ohnaka and I can assure you I have gotten out of far worse situations than this!”

“Oh really? So what’s your plan for getting out of this one, huh?” Finn asked skeptically.

Anto jerked a thumb to one of his men a meter or two away crouched behind a tree. “That guy right there is the green sylop up my sleeve. Hey! Meek!”

The purple multi-eyed alien stopped firing long enough to look at Anto and reply with a gurgling slorping sound that left Finn mildly queasy.

“Yes, my friend! Now is the time to make it rain on our enemies,” Anto shouted with enthusiasm.

Meek garbled back with a slimy fist in the air before reaching for a satchel around his waist. He held the satchel up for confirmation... when the tree he was hiding behind exploded, forcing Finn and Anto to shield their face from debris.

“What the hell just happened?” Finn tried to see through the smoke left in the wake of the blast but couldn’t make out anything.

Anto coughed and examined the scene too before cursing under his breath. “It would seem those heavy blasters pack quite a punch.  Ohh, uh well, that’s unfortunate.”

“What?”  Finn's blood ran cold.

The pirate turned and looked Finn directly in the eyes. “Meek’s dead, my friend. He was a good pirate and could almost be considered a friend.” He removed his gaudy hat and bowed his head in respect.

“Oh, that’s great. I hope that wasn’t your plan.” Finn gripped his rifle tighter as Chewie fired off more shots.

“That was my plan, good Finn, because Meek had the explosives we needed to clear out those mercenaries!”

“That’s terrific,” Finn growled. This time, he managed to fire back, in doing so getting a look at the mercs still in the brush ahead of them. When he came back into position he said, “There’s three on the left, two on the right. The second closest one has the heavy blaster.”

“That is obvious, I’m afraid, but perhaps now is the time for reinforcements of our own, huh?” Anto raised a spiky brow at him.

Finn gaped at him, confused as to what he was talking about when it hit him.  “Wha… No! There’s no way they could have Falcon fixed by now, and I’m not having Rose risk her life, not again.”

Anto gave him a curious look but said only, “I think under the circumstances, Finn we are out of options. If you want to find your friends, we need to be alive long enough to find them I think, and my men are dropping around us.”

Chewbacca growled something that could have been in agreement with the pirate. It was enough for Finn to realize he had no other options.

“Gahhh, fine, I’ll do it, but don’t hold your breath, alright?” He reached into his pocket for the comm and keyed up Rose’s frequency. She answered immediately.

“Finn, have you found them? Are they okay?  Wait... Is that… blaster fire? ARE YOU IN TROUBLE?”

“Yes, we’re in trouble, in a bad way. Please tell me the ship is up and running again. We need an extraction, NOW!”

“We’re doing preliminary systems checks now but I can’t say if the repairs took until we actually power up!”  She replied.

“I’m sorry to ask this of you but we don’t have much of a choice. We need reinforcements.”

A long pause came over the comm before Rose finally replied. “Understood. We’ll find a way to make it work. Please stay safe.”

Finn swallowed hard as a sudden jolt of emotion went through him. For that instant, he thought of her smile, her laugh, the smell of engine grease and shampoo in her air. He wanted to memorize every line and curve of her face because for the first time in a long while he truly thought this might be the end for him and nothing was more painful than dying without seeing her one last time.

“You too. I love you," he finally answered.

There was another pause.

“I love you, Finn.”

The line cut off and he put the communicator back in his pocket, feeling suddenly embarrassed that Chewie and Anto had witnessed such a personal show of emotion.

“Don’t worry, Finn, my friend. If anyone can get that hunk of junk up and running again, it’s your little flowery pirate queen and my father. They will be here, we just have to hold out until then.”

Chewie growled in agreement and Finn felt a sense of finality fall over him as another bad idea popped into his mind. He turned back to Anto.

“Alright. If we’re gonna do this, we’ve got do something a little crazy.”

A wide smile split Anto’s stony features. “I am always up for 'doing crazy', my friend!”

“Good. Then let’s give them something to shoot at. We all split up, draw their fire, maybe get some shots in and try to outflank them; anything’s better than being stuck here. You’ve still got some guys out there right?”

“Yes, they were cut off just to the east but I can still hear them firing. I can get to them.”

“Good, okay, great. This is a great plan, just fantastic,” Finn repeated to himself. Taking in several deep breaths he finally worked up the nerve to say, “What are we waiting for? Let’s do this!”

Chewie roared and Anto yelled with excitement as the three of them broke cover and fired as one at the line of mercenaries. Each of them bolted for a different tree. Just as he’d thought it would, it threw off their attacker's concentration as they tried to figure out who to lock sights on.

Finn dove behind a tall stump covered in moss while Chewie blasted away from the brush. Anto made a clean break to where Meek had been and grabbed the satchel full of explosives before ducking into cover. He looked at Finn and held up the bag with a nod.

He acknowledged the pirate’s ploy with a return nod and watched as Anto pulled out a detonator, armed it, and tossed it in the general vicinity of the mercenary with the Heavy Blaster.

“Kriffin’ hell, move!” The bulky human shouted as he ran for cover an instant before the explosion. Trees splintered and caught fire and from what he could see, Finn was certain the two mercs had been dropped. If they were alive, they hadn’t shown themselves yet.

“Yeah, now that’s what I’m talking about,” he growled under his breath. He turned to slap another pack into his rifle when he saw an electrified fist pummeling toward his jaw. With a sudden jolt and flash of white across his vision, Finn fell onto his back as thick-skinned Trandoshan peered down at him.

“Thisss is so much more satisfying than fighting Jedi! Pirates and Wookies I can deal with,” the gravelly voice said above him.

Finn’s vision slowly came back into focus as he looked up to see the scaley merc gawking at him. He watched him pull a lever on his forearm that reset the shock glove he wore as he prepared to finish him off.

“Goodbye, pirate ssscum!” His body tensed for the punch but a pulsating thrum filled the air, distracting him long enough to curse in his native language before a crimson, crossguard lightsaber buried itself in his chest.

“The hell?” Finn snapped back to himself as the merc collapsed and the lightsaber hilt was recalled through the Force back to the owner. He rolled over to see where the saber was heading and his breath went out of him when he found himself looking directly into the eyes of Kylo Ren.

 

Chapter Text

Rose stared at the silent commlink in her hands, her chest tight with sudden emotion. Finn was in danger and she had no idea if the Falcon was anywhere near flight ready, but despite her momentary panic, her instincts kicked into overdrive.

"Hondo, we have to get to them, we need to finish the systems check now!"

The old Weequay turned to her in the pilots seat. "Young Rose, I understand your concern to find your friends, but it will do none of us any good if the ship explodes in mid-flight, I think." He raised a spiky eyebrow for emphasis.

"I know, but we can leave some of the secondary systems offline for now. What matters is that we have engines and we're spaceworthy." She dialed in a new frequency on the commlink and pressed the button.  "Varaq, how's that sublight assembly coming?"

From the other end of the line, the Pirate mechanic's crackly voice replied, "Tightening down the fuel lines now, mum."

"I really hate to say this but we have to get in the air immediately, like immediately, immediately! Anto, Finn and Chewie are under fire and we have to get to them NOW."

A heavy sigh came over the small speaker followed by, "You can't be kriffin' serious? There's still a hundred different safety checks we 'ave to do and we got to get the plating installed on top of..."

Hondo interrupted his subordinate's griping by snatching the commlink from Rose's hand. "Varaq, my old friend, I do not say this often and perhaps I should—," he gave Rose a knowing smirk before continuing, "— but you are the most talented, qualified, and ruthlessly efficient mechanic the Ohnaka gang has ever known, so if you get this done in the next ten minutes you'll get, say... a five percent bonus!"

Rose gaped at him.  Was he serious, and more importantly, who's money was he offering up? The comm crackled again as Varaq replied, "Fifteen!"

Hondo cursed and rolled his eyes but countered, "Ten!"

"Twelve!"

"Seven!"

"Nine!

Hondo groaned with annoyance but reluctantly conceded, "Nine and a Half percent!"

There was Another pause.

"Done!" Varaq agreed

Hondo sighed with relief. "I knew I could count on you, my friend. If we survive, drinks are on our Resistance friends, huh?" Laughing, he shut off the commlink and turned to Rose only to shrink back from her glare of anger.

"Nine and a half percent... of what, Hondo?" She said flatly.

"That? Oh, my dear Rose I wouldn't concern yourself! I was simply giving him the motivation to work faster so that we can save our friends, that's all. I'm sure the Resistance will pay me back eventually, heh!"

She sighed long and loud.  "This had better work," she added.

"Now, now, you have the word of Hondo Ohnaka, sweet child. Everything will work out in the end, just, uh, trust in the Force!"

"Pretty sure that's not how the Force works," Rose commented, "but as long as your guys can do this, we have to try."

Fortunately for them, eight minutes later, Rose and Hondo got the call from Varaq and soon initiated the preflight checks in sequence as they communicated with the mechanic team.

Hondo finished the sequence when he held up a finger, "This brings back memories for ol' Hondo, yes! Did you know I flew the Millennium Falcon once before?"

"Really? You knew General Solo and Chewie?"

He barked out a laugh, "HA! Of course, I knew them, we scoundrels run in the same circles. That Han Solo was a good friend of mine and trusted only me to handle his precious Falcon!"

"Somehow, I doubt that," she admitted.

"Okay, okay, so I tried to steal this ship... on multiple occasions," he muttered, "but one time in particular Maz Kanata and I teamed up to rescue him from certain danger, true story!"

"I'm sure, but we need to get to our friends."

"Oh yes, of course." He held up the intercom and announced, "Varaq, my friend, prepare for ignition and/or possible explosion."

The comm crackled, "Sure thing boss and... wait, what? Explosion?"

Hondo activated the engines and with a shuddering gasp, the Falcon hummed with life again as stale, recirculated air came out of the vents.

"Ha, I knew that old pirate wouldn't let me down," Hondo shouted with glee.

"This might actually work," Rose said with a smile.

"You see, Rose, as I said.  Trust in the Force, heh?"

Then the ship's engines sputtered, shook and promptly died again, leaving the two of them in heavy but awkward silence.

Rose glared at him as Hondo nervously looked away and thumbed his comm.

"Varaq, what is the problem back there?"

"Not sure boss, I thought I saw a flare-up of fuel. Probably got to tighten one of the lines some more. Gimme a minute and try not to fry me like an Onderonian chicken, will ya'?"

"Ugh, make it quick, already. Our friends are counting on us!"

Varaq didn't reply but after a long, uncomfortable minute passed by, the comm crackled to life once again.

"A'ight boss, try it now!"

"Oooh, this had better work," Hondo moaned as he flicked the ignition switch again. The Falcon shuddered once more and flared to life, but this time all the readouts across the console panel went green.

Rose scanned the systems with relief. "It's working! All primary systems are 'go'. Hondo, we have to do this."

"Yes, my lovely Rose, I agree." He flicked on the comm again. "Varaq, we're reading green in the cockpit, what about you?"

"Everything's looking good out here!"

"Excellent, get your team and come inside. Tell the others to rendezvous on these coordinates. Let's go save our friends." He looked at Rose with a wider smile than she'd seen him have yet and for the first time in the short time she'd known Hondo, she believed he was a true ally.

***

Finn's eyes were locked to Kylo Ren's. He gripped his rifle in his hand but froze with indecision. Something didn't seem right. He knew he should spring up and fire a shot at the immediate threat before him, but his brain finally registered the fact that it was Kylo Ren's lightsaber who'd killed the mercenary standing over him. In fact, Kylo Ren had saved him.

The former Supreme Leader of the First Order glared at him with the kind of intensity he only felt back in that village on Jakku, but a moment later, with his lightsaber still ignited, he approached. Finn managed to push himself to a kneeling position and readied his rifle to fire when something completely unexpected happened.

"Finn, you're alive!" A familiar voice called out behind the towering figure.

He dared to look past Kylo Ren and was stunned to see Rey rushing out of the brush as if she'd been on a casual stroll.

"Rey? What are you... what is he..." he fumbled for words as Kylo Ren walked past him.

"I think I just saved your life, trooper. Consider us even," said the towering figure.

Finn was so confused by what he just heard, he didn't realize Rey had extended her hand to help him up.

"Come on, it's alright, he's with us now," she said matter-of-factly.

He reached for her hand and let her pull him back to his feet when he looked her in the eyes, then back at Kylo Ren, still not believing what was happening.

"What do you mean 'he's with us now'? Did he hurt you? Are you okay?"

Rey put a hand on his shoulder. "Finn, I'm fine, it's you, Chewie and Rose I was worried about. I watched the Falcon crash and I thought the worst, then we barely survived the fall and have been hiding in a temple, it's just... oh, it's a long story."

She pulled him into a tight embrace that helped to ground him as he processed the information.

"I'm just glad you're okay, my friend."  She said with relief.

"Yeah, me too," he agreed.

"Stop mercenaries now, hug later? Is that alright with you two?"  Said Kylo, glaring at him with a disconcerting intensity.

Finn and Rey separated with an obvious flush in their cheeks as they tried to look serious again. Just as he was about to fill Rey in on the situation a sudden flurry of blaster fire erupted from the treeline opposite them. Rey ignited her saber and charged into battle after Kylo.

"Finn, stay back, we'll deal with them."

"Yeah, sure. I'll get the others." He ran back to where Anto had rescued one of his men who was nursing a blaster shot to his arm.

"Is he gonna make it?" He blurted.

The wounded pirate glowered at him. "Crikey, I'm standin' right here, mate!"

To which Anto added, "He will be perfectly fine, my friend. It's only a flesh wound, I'm sure."

"Gee, you're not inspirin' a lot of confidence, cap!"

"Oh, quit your griping, this is the Ohnaka gang you're in, not some mercenary rabble like those Black Fang thugs out there."

Finn shook his head in annoyance but turned when he heard the screams from across the way. Kylo Ren had managed to lift the remaining mercs into the air with the Force and with the slightest flick of his wrist, snapped their necks before dropping their bodies into the brush. A heavy quiet fell over the small clearing broken only by the low growl of a disgruntled Wookie.

Anto pointed to the sound. "Uhhh, should we be worried about this?"

Finn rushed out of the brush to see Chewbacca glaring at Kylo Ren with his bowcaster gripped tightly in his furry paws. He wasn't aiming the weapon at him, but he wasn't exactly keeping it aimed toward the ground either. Rey was the only one who dared to get between them.

With her hand held out, she said, "Chewie, I know this must be difficult for you right now, but Ben isn't who he was on Starkiller."

Chewie roared in protest which seemed to startle her as much Finn. Just then, he got a sinking feeling in his gut that Chewbacca might make a regrettable choice for all of them any moment now.

Rey backed away slowly, but when Finn looked at Kylo, he was surprised to see the imposing man wasn't shying away from the angry Wookie either. In fact, Kylo seemed to be walking toward the towering mountain of fur. The two figures stopped just short of arms reach when Finn realized he'd momentarily forgotten to breathe.

It was Kylo who spoke first. "I know... that I can't change what I did, but we have a common enemy now and a much bigger threat to deal with than just the First Order."

That surprised him. What could possibly be a bigger threat than the First Order? Chewie cut him off with an angry roar followed by a series of equally primal growls and grunts, most of which he couldn't understand. Rey turned to walk over to him but her face was cherry red as she did so.

"What is he saying?" Finn asked quietly.

"You... don't want to know, but I suspect you can imagine what," she replied, abashed.

He scoffed. That much at least he could do, after all, Chewie was the one who shot Kylo after he'd killed Han in the first place so he imagined that whatever words the Wookie was exchanging with him weren't friendly.

"I know," Kylo said with a tremor in his voice, "You have every right to hate me, uncle. I'm sorry. I can't keep running but I can't go back either. I just want to try to make things right."

Chewie let out another loud growl, but his demeanor noticeably softened as his growls became pained moans. Again, to Finn's utter disbelief, it looked as though Kylo Ren had tears in his eyes as his 'uncle' dropped the bowcaster and took two more steps toward him. He put one furry paw on his shoulder followed by another, then the unthinkable happened. Chewbacca pulled Kylo Ren into a hug that nearly buried the former Supreme Leader in fur.

Finn was so stunned by the sight, he flinched when Rey put her hand on his shoulder before joining the family embrace. He felt a sudden swelling of emotion in his chest as he thought about Han and Leia, and even thought about what it must have been like to have an actual family instead of being raised in the First Order. A voice at the back of his mind told him not to trust Kylo Ren, but at the same time, he couldn't ignore the possibility that maybe he was also telling the truth.

Shouting in in the jungle broke up the emotional moment quickly as another squad of Mercenaries appeared through the brush. Finn looked at Rey and Kylo both as he gripped his rifle.

"We need to go now!" He leveled his blaster at the attackers and fired away, prompting Chewie and the others to join in the attack. Just like that, they were running for their lives again, but at least Rey was okay, and even to some extent, he was glad to have Kylo's lightsaber on their side for a change.

Anto shouted from across the treeline, "Let us hope that your lovely Rose can get the Falcon here in time!"

"Yeah, let's hope," Finn said more to himself than anything.

A blaster bolt sizzled over his head, burning into the bark of a tree when Kylo Ren shouted, "The Falcon? Tell me that piece of junk isn't our only way out of here."

Finn shouted over his shoulder, "That piece of junk is our only way out of here!"

This time it was Rey who interjected, "Okay, first of all, she's not a piece of junk!  Second, I saw it get shot down. How'd you repair her so soon?"

Anto fired a shot off behind him and answered, "My father has many resources, Jedi! Finn here called in a favor and the Ohnaka gang was only too happy to oblige."

"Yeah, I'm sure you'll get the bill later from these pirate scum," Kylo barked, deflecting two blasts back at their attackers.

Chewbacca roared in defiance as he laid down a line of fire to drive the mercenaries back. The ploy worked, because their pursuers dove for cover, giving Finn and the rest time to duck behind a line of brush and to fortify their position.

"I'm not setting a foot on that junk heap," Kylo growled, his lightsaber crackling with energy.

"Oh really? Then I guess I'll just leave you here to fend for yourself," Rey snapped back.

"Sounds like a good idea to me," Finn added with a snide smirk. He was surprised to see both Rey and Kylo glaring angrily at him in response. Was it something he said?

Kylo cursed under his breath. "Fine, you've got a point, but it doesn't mean it won't still explode the moment we take off."

That, Finn couldn't really disagree with. "Honestly, that's what I'm kind of worried about myself."

"At least we agree on something, trooper."

Trooper.

For some reason that word unnerved Finn more than he knew it should have, bringing with it too many uncomfortable memories. As he moved into a better defensive position, he thought back to the village on Jakku and how he couldn't pull the trigger even when Kylo Ren himself ordered the villagers to be slaughtered, yet here he was fighting alongside him once again. What was worse was everything he'd learned about what happened between him and Rey during the flight to Crait all those months ago.

He watched them for a moment and saw how they both took up position beside each other, almost protectively, and then he remembered what Rose had said about them, about how people can 'fall in love with each other in the most unexpected places'. Seeing them now, he tried to brush that thought away, but like a blood-sucking pest on the back of his neck, he couldn't deny the feeling that something truly unbreakable bonded them to each other.

"Hey, Anto, I hope your 'ol man gives me a bonus for this when we get back," the other Pirate joked beside his boss, "I'm gon' need hazard pay after —,"

Two rapid-fire blaster bolts cut through him like butter, dropping him to the ground in a slump. Finn, Anto and the others turned to see a black armored figure emerging from the bushes with two small holdout blasters in her slender hands. He cursed when a second black armored figured emerged from the other direction.

"Oh great, this is great," Finn said to anyone who would listen.

To his surprise, it was Kylo who stepped in front of him, his blade held defensively. "I'll handle them, just keep us covered until we have an opening."

Finn felt almost insulted that he would just give him an order like that as if he were nothing but a Stormtrooper again, but a quick reading of the situation reaffirmed to him that it was probably the best idea. Mercs he could handle, Force-sensitive Knights of Ren were something else entirely.

"Cease fire!" The tall Knight said and suddenly the mercs stopped blasting, allowing an eerie calm to fall over the sweltering jungle.

The hum of lightsabers filled the air as Rey and Kylo took up defensive positions in the center of the group, then with some unseen signal, no less than fifteen other mercenaries appeared out of the brush. One by one, they emerged, armed to the teeth until they were all but surrounded.

"Rose... where are you?" Finn whispered desperately.

"Kylo Ren. It's pointless to resist, brother. You're surrounded on all sides and no help is coming for you."   The tall Knight proclaimed with an almost aristocratic tone.

Finn looked around and saw that the first part was definitely true, now if only the second part could happen a bit faster.

Kylo Ren stepped forward.  The other man carried two long vibro blades in his grip, which he spun easily out of impatience. "You call me Brother, but I'm still your Master, Vantaar. Is this really how you want to die?"

Finn thought he heard a chuckle through the vocoder of Vantaar's helmet. "Arrogant to a fault, still. It's a shame you betrayed us all... for her," he pointed one of his blades at Rey, who snarled back at him. "And convincing Talos to die for your sad little band of rebels? Why?"

Rey stepped forward and retorted, "Talos Ren may have been... annoying, but he was a truer Knight than any of you. You choose to follow a coward like Malak. Have some honor at least."

Vantaar tilted his head to the side before sharing a look with the female Knight. "Cute. Stay out of this, Jedi. My fight is with the traitor."

"Oh yeah? Well you're gonna have to go through —," Rey stopped short as a blaster shot landed near her foot and a second one nearly grazed her arm.

Finn glared at the other Knight with the blasters. She was deadly skilled with those shots so he knew she could kill half of them instantly if she wanted to, but the point had been made.

Kylo looked back at Rey with wide eyes full of concern, possibly fear as he gestured for her to stay put. She did. He turned back to Vantaar and stepped closer with his blade held low.

"If you want a fight, I'm here. Leave them out of it," he nodded to the group.

Vantaar chuckled with seeming delight. "You don't need to worry about them, Malak wants them alive... you, however, not so much." He attacked an instant later, nearly catching Kylo Ren off guard but still meeting his cross guarded saber in mid-swing with a crash of sparks.

Finn knew all too well how strong he was with his saber, even when wounded, so seeing him fight another Force user with full, raw fury made him shudder as he thought about how lucky he'd been to survive. Kylo met Vantaar stroke for stroke, parry for parry and all while his opponent wielded dual blades. It was an impressive sight indeed.

He glanced at Rey, who's eyes were transfixed on them, but her body was tensed, ready to pounce should the fight go bad for Kylo. Finn looked at Anto and Chewie who were likewise awestruck by the display, but while they were spectating, he was counting the mercs around them, studying the terrain, scanning for escape routes and subtly adjusted his position for a fast exit when a sound picked up on the wind, a familiar low whine of engines.

A shadow fell upon the small clearing a moment later, causing both fighters to look up as the Millennium Falcon appeared overhead and there on the boarding ramp stood an old Weequay pirate.

"Hello, good friends, your savior, Hondo Ohnaka has arrived!" In that instant, he along with the auto-targeting weapons beneath the Falcon laid down a line of rapid-fire blaster bolts that scattered the line of mercenaries in all directions. Then... all Hell broke loose.

Finn picked his targets and opened up with his rifle. Chewie roared a Wookie battle cry as he unleashed the full force of his bowcaster. Anto blasted away and Rey and Kylo Ren, back to back, deflected blaster bolts and used the Force to shove enemies out of the way.

In the confusion, he'd lost sight of the Knights once the shooting started, but he wasn't going to take any chances. The Falcon spun and lowered to the ground, providing much-needed cover and for the briefest moment he couldn't help but wonder who was flying if Hondo was standing at the foot of the boarding ramp.

Once the landing skids sank into the ground, it was a mad dash to the Falcon. Finn took shots at the closest mercs while Anto covered him. He caught a glimpse of Chewie picking up an armored figure and hurling them into a group of others and Rey and Kylo Ren's sabers spun with deadly efficiency as they deflected bolt after bolt. He even started to think he'd make it out of this mess alive... and then a vine snagged on his foot.

Suddenly his mouth was full of mossy dirt as he face-planted in the jungle floor, his blaster knocked loose from his grip. Wiping the mud from his face, he saw Anto and Chewie rushing up the ramp, not looking back, then came the soft thud of something hard and metal landing beside him. He turned and the air went out of him when he saw the armed thermal detonator blinking rapidly just out of arms reach.

Suddenly, for the first time in his life, Finn didn't feel afraid. Once again he thought of Rose; he thought of her smile, her laugh, and the smell of engine grease and shampoo in her hair. He tried to memorize every line and curve of her face because this time, he knew it was the end for him. A shimmer of light on the detonator caught his eye, distracting him momentarily.

When Finn looked up he felt confused; the thermal detonator was floating of it's own accord, then with a sudden jerk, was flying through the air back to its source! His eyes followed in amazement as he watched the long arc and saw the slender Knight of Ren at the end of it.

"No, noooo!" She screamed as the detonator exploded in mid-flight, knocking her to the ground and forcing Finn to duck from the brightness.

He coughed up more dirt before he realized... that he was still alive! A moment later he looked back at the Falcon to see Kylo Ren lowering his arm as he rushed over to him.

"On your feet, trooper!" Said Kylo.

With a jolt, invisible hands clutched Finn by the arms and pulled him upright until his feet landed firmly on the ground. "Whaa, ohh what the... did you? Did you just... save me... again?" He asked, more confused, but Rey was rushing up to him then.

"Finn, are you alright?" She put a hand on his shoulder as he gave himself a cursory patdown.

"Yeah, I think so," he said absently.

"Good because we need to go, NOW!" Rey pulled him practically by the arm as she led him and Kylo back to the Falcon's boarding ramp. Then, a miracle happened as the stale air of the old rust bucket hit him and he realized he was safe inside the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.

The boarding ramp closed behind him as he made his way toward the cockpit, still not quite believing he was alive. Even as blaster shots bounced off the hull and the ship lifted off the ground, Finn cared only about one thing.

"Finn!" Rose shouted as she ran into his arms. Chewie was already in the cockpit and Rey was slipping by the two of them to join Hondo of all people, but Finn only had eyes for Rose.

"Are you okay, are you injured?" She said in a panic.

Calmly and with relief heavy in his voice, Finn replied, "Yeah. I'm okay." Rose looked as though she were about to say something else, but he stopped her by pulling her in and pressing his lips to hers, stealing whatever words might have been spoken. Rose seemed to realize what they were doing a moment later but happily returned his kiss with the same passion.

He felt a tap on his shoulder just then and looked up to see Hondo grinning at them. "I hate to interrupt this tender moment, my friends, but perhaps we should survive now and kiss later, huh?"

"Oh," Finn said, "Right. Someone needs to get on the guns!"

"Yeah, um, and the Falcon still needs some patching up so we don't vent into space and die." Rose patted him on the shoulder as she rushed past him into the lounge area.

Finn spun. "Vent into space? You did fix the hull plating right?"

"Can't talk, fixing!" Was Rose's only reply.

"Huh," Finn said to himself as Hondo clapped him on the other shoulder.

"Do not worry, Finn my friend! My crew are true professionals. We will make it off this wretched planet, I promise!"

Somehow Finn didn't feel reassured by that, but the feel of the Falcon's engines coming to life gave him hope. It was more than he had moments ago and as he headed for the gunner station, prepared for a fight, he was going to give his all to make sure they made it back to the Resistance base one way or another.

***

Vantaar watched bitterly as the Millennium Falcon rose into the sky and blasted away from Baze-Chirrutti, but the second he caught his breath, he rushed over to where Miura lay motionless in the grass.

"Sister, answer me!" He pulled off his helmet and tossed it aside as he rolled her onto her back and removed hers. His urgency faded an instant later as her head lolled to the side. Blood flowed freely from her mouth, matting her black hair as her eyes stared lazily into the void. Her green Mirialin skin was already fading to pale white. She was gone.

Vantaar sighed in grief as he put his hand over her eyes to close them once and for all. He looked around as the remaining mercenaries counted their own wounded and dead before reaching for his comm. He brought it to his lips with fingers that trembled with emotion.

"Master... this is Vantaar." He hesitated before saying, "They are away, as you planned. Unfortunately, Kylo Ren still lives, and Miuria is dead." He let the words resonate with all the coldness he'd intended them too, hoping that Malak would understand the cost of his 'plan'. A moment later, the comm crackled and a mechanical voice heavy with pained determination answered.

"Understood... brother. We will make them pay for our sister's death, but now is not the time to mourn. Regroup at the temple... there is something about this place. We must find out what."

Vantaar grew angry but held his tongue. What could possibly be more important than pursuing vengeance against their enemies? He calmed himself enough to say, "We'll be there shortly. Vantaar Ren out." He didn't wait for the reply as he clipped the comm back onto his belt and picked up his helmet.

One of the mercs came up to him. "I hope we're still gettin' paid for this. We've lost at least twenty men huntin' these Jedi!"

Vantaar glared at the forgettable face. "You'll have your money. The Knights of Ren always pay their debts."

That seemed to satisfy the man enough that he merely grunted as he walked away.  Vantaar put his helmet back on and looked down at Miura one last time.  Surely they would claim her body later, but for now there was only blood and suffering to be had.  A life, he supposed, had to pay for another life.

He sheathed his vibro blades and prepared to meet up with Malak.  One way or another he would pay Kylo Ren and the Jedi back for this; one way or another he would have his revenge.

 

Chapter Text

 

Ben cursed as another blaster shot rocked the Falcon forcing him to brace himself against the padded wall. Following Rey into the cockpit he paused to evaluate the situation outside of the cockpit window when a sudden wave of dark nostalgia washed over him.

There in the middle of the window hung his father's pair of golden dice and for the longest moment, they were the only thing he could focus on until another strafing of laser fire illuminated the cockpit. Rey and Chewie were fast at work angling the deflector shields and trying to outmaneuver the mercenaries ships.

"Chewie, I'm punching in the coordinates for hyperspace now but we need those shields to hold!" Rey said as she tapped the console.

His uncle barked a straightforward comment about the state of the Falcon's systems that didn't inspire a lot of confidence.

"This piece of junk is going to get us all killed," Ben snarled.

"Yeah, well maybe if you helped out instead of complaining, we might just get out of this mess," Rey shot back.

"Complaining? I'm not..."

His furry uncle cut him off with a rude comment.

Ben rolled his eyes. "Okay, fine, whatever. Just tell me what you need me to do."

"You and Finn get on the guns and get these mercs off our backs. Chewie and I can dodge them as best we can but we don't know how well the repairs are going to hold up."

Another blast jolted the surface but not as violently as the previous one. Then a young woman's voice came over the comm.

"Rey, we can't take another hit like that! Hondo's mechanics and I trying to patch things up as best we can but if we lose this hull plating, we're done for!"

"Don't worry Rose, just keep at it. We'll make it!" Rey flicked the comm off and whispered more anxiously, "We'll make it."

Hearing the desperation in her voice was like a punch to the gut, so Ben put his hand on her shoulder to calm her.

"You're right, we'll make it. I'm on the guns."

She looked up at him briefly and her eyes shone with hope followed by a tentative smile. "Okay. Good luck."

Ben smirked as he turned. "I don't need luck." Then he left the cockpit and his uneasy memories behind. His nose wrinkled at the musty smell of the old freighter, as he stepped past the lounge where a couple of Weequay pirates blinked at him in surprise. He didn't pay them any mind as he headed for the dorsal gunner position.

As he climbed into the seat he heard FN-2187 protest from below. "You're my backup, are you kidding me right now?"

"As long as your aim is better than your lightsaber technique, trooper, you don't have anything to worry about," Ben retorted.

"Oh, ohhhh that's... we are definitely having a chat when this is over, Sir, uh, K-Kylo, uh, ah whatever!" Finn blustered.

Ben slid into the seat with ease as the microgravity field shifted near the end of the tube. With his headset in place and his hands on the controls, he brought up the targeting computer and tapped into the Force to locate where the attacking ships were.

A flash of red came from behind him as Finn cursed. "Damn, they're fast, swinging around up top. Eyes open!"

"I see them," Ben acknowledged as the angular frigate roared past the sublight engines. He focused his aim just ahead of where he knew the ship was going to be and opened up a barrage. The first shot went wide, but the remaining blasts punched a hole through the shields and blasted a piece of bulkhead out from the side of the hull.

"I hit him, but he's swinging around front, Rey! Finish him off!"

"On it," she said through the comm. A moment later he saw flashes of red from the forward cannons and a blast of orange and white illuminated the darkening sky. "Woo! Got 'em!"

Ben smirked then quietly added, "That's my girl."

"Thanks, babe," came the reply.

A moment later, Finn chimed in, "My girl? Babe? You realize I'm hearing all of this, right? What happened down there?"

Ben cursed silently this time, forgetting that it was an open channel. "Now's not the time to be asking irrelevant questions, we've still got two bogies inbound!"

Just as he'd finished saying it, two more mercenary ships streaked by as the Falcon broke free from Baze-Chirrutti's atmosphere into the blackness of space. He tried to get a lock on the nearest fighter when the Falcon jerked violently downward and angled back toward the planet.

"What the hell are you doing?" He said with more annoyance than anything.

Rey came back with, "Watch your mouth, Solo! I'm using the planet's gravity to pick up speed and launch us out the other side. Jump coordinates are still calculating!"

He found himself surprised at her knowledge of such a trick, one usually reserved for only the most experienced pilots. "Gravity assist? That could work, we'll hold off the fighters until we're ready to jump."

"Is that what it's called? I've always just referred to it as a Sling and Fling!" Rey said as Chewie grumbled an amusing comment after her.

"Call it whatever you want so long as it works," Finn piped up, blasting lasers at the pursuing ships.

Ben couldn't restrain a smile as Rey deftly evaded their attackers until the Falcon emerged from the other side of the planet with a burst of speed. He fired when he could, but the angle was all wrong for a direct hit. Finally, after what felt like a small eternity, he heard the words he'd been waiting to hear.

"Coordinates are set. Prepare for the jump to lightspeed!" Rey called out with obvious excitement.

An instant later, however, Ben's heart sank as the worst possible scenario occurred. A Star Destroyer appeared from hyperspace directly in front of them.

"You've got to be kidding me, right now," Ben muttered.

"Evasive maneuvers!" Rey shouted.
Chewie roared.

Finn cursed, but a moment later added, "Wait, guys... is it just me or is that Star Destroyer... purple?"

A heavy silence came over the comm then as Ben looked up a second time and saw that Finn was right. The Star Destroyer was vibrant purple with golden trim, and it clearly wasn't a First Order ship either but an old Imperial Class Destroyer.

Rey shouted, "Hold on, they're hailing us!" Another moment of quiet passed as she activated the external comm to answer before saying to the rest of them, "You guys, it's Lando Calrissian. It's the Resistance!"

Finn let out a shout of triumph while Ben's shoulders slumped in his seat. "You've... seriously got to be kidding me."

Fortunately for them once the Destroyer fired several massive warning shots at the pursuing ships, the mercenaries broke off their attack unsurprisingly quick, leaving the Falcon free to enter the hangar bay and safety. Even as Ben unstrapped himself from the gunner's seat, the stars outside of the force field blurred to lines as the massive ship shuddered and jumped to hyperspace.

He climbed deftly out of the gunner's tube and, as momentary dread crept back into his chest, his eyes went immediately to Rey's as she emerged from the cockpit with the happiest smile he'd ever seen. She practically launched herself into his arms, which only made him smile in return.

"We made it, Ben! We're safe again," she exclaimed.

He wanted to say that they were only safe for the moment and that the Knights of Ren were still hunting them, but not wanting to dampen her happiness, he simply embraced her tighter, that is until he realized people were looking at them. Chewie had emerged from the cockpit, Finn had pulled himself out of the gunner station only to stare in shock while the Weequay pirates gawked on in amusement.

"Seriously? This is what's happening now?" Finn commented when a young woman with short black hair and a mechanics vest appeared around the curve.

"Guys, did you see the color of this ship? I think it's purp... oh." She stopped short when she saw them hugging.

Rey quietly murmured, "I think we're making a scene."

"Yeah, I agree." They quickly separated, both trying not to look to embarrassed.

It was Finn who spoke first. "Alright, I'm glad to see we've all made some new friends, especially with the SUPREME LEADER OF THE FIRST ORDER!"

"Former," Rey added meekly. Ben and Finn both gave her a look, one of abject disapproval and one of wounded pride.

"What? It's true!" She added defensively. "Besides, I think we've got other things to worry about." She looked at Ben knowingly. "Then there's that 'other' other thing to be worried about."

His jaw clenched at the thought of Malak being in the Jedi temple. He knew that it wouldn't be enough to hope that they didn't discover the secret at the heart of the mountain. The Star Forge.

"Wait, what are you talking about the 'other' thing to worry about?" Finn asked.

"It's a long story, Finn, but I promise you I'll fill you in. For now, can we simply enjoy being rescued?" Rey said as Chewie groaned in approval.

The hulking Wookie patted him on the shoulder as he walked by but then he noticed a small, fat avian creature on his uncle's shoulder that stared down at him and warbled quietly.

"What the hell is that?" Ben pointed.

Rey gaped at him with amazement. "That's Ripper, thank you very much. He's a Porg and Chewie's friend."

Ben gaped at Chewbacca who merely chuckled as he walked toward the lowering ramp. Then his eyes darted back to Rey's.

"A porg? That's... a porg?"

She didn't respond but averted her gaze while a heavy blush bloomed in her cheeks.

Ben crossed his arms. "Porg-eyed bantha herder?" He deadpanned.

Instead of replying, Rey turned toward the ramp. "We should meet our gracious host, it would be rude to keep him waiting." She quickly rushed past Finn and the girl who still watched him with various states of emotion flickering across her face.

Finn glared at him one more time. "Yeah, we don't want to keep our host waiting, do we?" He took the girl's hand and walked toward the ramp next.

Ben sighed as he reluctantly followed. Much to his emotional detriment, he heard his other Uncle's distinctively cheerful voice echo across the hangar bay.

"Chewie, old pal! How the hell are you, you ol' furball?"

A series of amused Wookie noises followed along with several introductions of Rey and FN-2187, but whatever jovial state Lando was in vanished instantly the moment his eyes met Ben's.

"Hold up," the elderly man said to one of his armed security officers.

Ben was no fool, he knew what Lando being here represented, but he was surprised to see only a handful of guards instead of an entire assault team preparing to take him into custody. For the time being, he kept his eyes only on his uncle as the old smuggler and card shark approached.

He had a bright yellow shirt, impeccable trousers that looked freshly pressed, his usual mustache and a galaxy full of emotion behind his eyes as he stopped just out of arms reach.

"Hey, kid. It's been some time."

Ben hadn't quite known what to expect from his Uncle, but it wasn't this. Again, like with Chewie, he struggled to find the right words to encompass what he truly felt. He was through running, that much was certain, but facing the closest thing he had to a family after all he'd done was a new kind of Hell, so his words, when they finally came, hardly lived up to the emotions he felt.

"It has. You showed up just in time; the Falcon's seen better days." He tried to manage a smirk as he gestured at the battered Corellian freighter, but Lando didn't smile. Instead, he continued to approach slowly, his eyes searching and reflective.

Lando finally said, "You look just like your ol' man."

Ben froze and his mind went blank as to how to respond to that. He wanted to say something, anything, but words fled from him like animals in the brush.

Lando's face softened with sudden emotion as wetness formed in his eyes. "Han was one of my best friends. I'd been there through thick and thin and watched him take risks that should have gotten him killed a hundred times over. Not once did I ever think—," He suddenly clamped a hand on his shoulder.

Ben flinched and old resentment and anger flared briefly, but he understood his uncle's pain better than most, so he braced himself for the coming blow.

"Dammit kid... why'd it have to be you?" Then the unexpected happened as his uncle pulled him into a full body embrace.

"Why'd it have to be you?" His uncle wept into his hair.

Strangely, it was only now that Ben felt the courage to reply as he returned the embrace while his uncle's familiar spiced cologne filled his nose. "I can't... change what I did, Uncle, but nothing hurts more than knowing I did it. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry!"

"I know, kid, I know. I'm sorry too." Lando pulled away to look him in the eyes, which confused him for a moment.

"What?" Ben asked. He'd been so overcome with emotion that he didn't register the blaster his uncle had stuck in his gut and when he finally did he saw only a flash of blue before his arms and legs turned to jelly and he was on the floor of the hanger and unable to move.

The last thing he saw before losing consciousness was Lando's security guards moving in with a hover-stretcher. Then there was only warm, comforting darkness.

***

Lando's chest tightened as he watched his nephew be loaded onto the stretcher and hovered away. The moment he laid eyes on him, he'd felt a curtain of dread fall away and a spring of hope well in its place, but he wasn't a fool either. Little Starfighter wasn't so little anymore, nor was he an innocent child. He was a killer, a straight up Darkside wielding Force user like Vader had been, and the Supreme Leader of the First Order to boot, at least for a time.

Still, it didn't hurt any less to pull a blaster on the only remaining family he had, and the last living memory of his ol' buddy. Stunning was the only acceptable option of course, but a part of him wondered, only wondered, if things had gone badly, would he have chosen a different setting? Could he have?

"That was absolutely uncalled for! Ben wasn't a threat to any of us!"

The audible protest shook Lando out of his dark thoughts but when he turned to look at the diminutive girl storming toward him, he was more surprised than threatened. She was a pretty young thing, but that angry snarl and those blazing eyes he recognized all too well. Hers was the look of a woman in love who'd just witnessed her partner be stunned and collapse onto the deck like a sack of flour.

"My apologies, young lady. You must be Rey. I've heard a lot about you." The last thing he wanted right now was a vengeful Jedi coming for him, so he did what he did best, put on his winningest smile and ratcheted up the charm as high as it would go.

He extended his hand, which threw her off balance. Despite her obvious anger, she glared at his outstretched fingers as if it were some rare species of animal she'd never seen before.

"What... I mean, yes that's me, but what you did just now..."

He took her hand effortlessly and, before she could react, brought it to his lips. If there was one way he knew how to calm down a raging female, this was it, well, most of the time. He paid no mind to the taste of sweat and dirt that covered her hands, they were on a jungle world for an unknown period of time after all, but he interjected his own explanation.

"... Was a necessary precaution, I assure you. It was for Ben's protection as well as my crew."
Rey blushed furiously at his gesture but a moment later she composed herself and snatched her hand away as if she'd been stung.

For a moment Lando thought this might be the one time a polite greeting wouldn't be received with grace, so he threw up his hands placatingly.

"I didn't mean to offend. I'm afraid I was raised with somewhat 'old-fashioned' sensibilities when encountering beautiful young ladies such as yourself and meant no disrespect."

Rey rubbed her knuckle as she regarded him for a long moment. "None taken, Captain... I was just surprised is all. Ben was gravely wounded down there, but we used the Force to treat his injuries. I don't want to see him hurt."

At that, he took a more professional expression. "Neither do I. He'll be fine, I assure you. My men are taking him to the medical bay as we speak where he'll have a nice long float in the bacta tank."

Rey looked as though she were about to ask another question when a dark-skinned young man walked up and extended his hand in a more friendly manner.

"Mr. Calrissian, first of all it's an honor to meet you and second, I fully support your decision. Kylo Ren is still dangerous and we can't take too many precautions as long as he's on board."

Lando shook the young man's hand firmly but it was Rey who replied with surprise in her voice.

"Finn! This is his nephew we're talking about! He's not Kylo Ren anymore."

Chewie walked up and growled in support of Finn's statement, though Lando wasn't surprised by that. Still, he wasn't big on giving false impressions unless absolutely necessary, so he put his hands up again to calm everyone.

"Woah, woah, okay there. Hey, look, I understand your concern and you are right my dear, Ben is my nephew, but Finn here is also right. I've dealt with Dark Lords, slavers, politicians, and scoundrels of all shapes and sizes, so I'm well aware of what he's capable of, which is why I'm not taking any chances."

Rey looked angry, but her shoulders slumped in defeat as she added, "Fine, but just remember that he's MY prisoner and I'm responsible for him. I won't have him harmed or degraded in any way."

That brought a genuine smile to his face, knowing that whatever his nephew may be, he'd still managed to win the love and protection of someone as fierce as this Jedi girl. In some ways, she reminded him of Leia, but that was another memory he didn't want to dredge up at the moment.

"You have no idea how happy I am to hear you say that, but you don't have to worry about any of that as long as he's aboard my ship. He's going to get the best treatment, he will be confined but there'll be far superior accommodations than anywhere else in the galaxy I assure you."
She seemed to relax a bit at that when something else crossed his mind. "Speaking of which, where are my manners? Welcome to the Elle Three's Last Stand, the finest luxury deep space cruiser this side of the inner rim. I have only the top notch amenities for my guests, fitness rooms, card tables and games, spas, bacta treatments, five-star food and drink, you name it."

"Wow, that's better than the rations we've been living on for the last few months, but there's still the issue of the Falcon. We got shot down and the repairs are patchwork at best."

Surprised by the new voice, Lando turned to see a small black haired girl with soft rounded cheeks and dirty coveralls but smiled at her all the same.

"Well hello, my dear, you must be..." he took her hand just as he took Reys.

"I'm Rose Tico, Mr. Calrissian, and I'm super happy to finally meet you in person!" She was practically bouncing as he brought her hand to his lips. Rey and Finn both rolled her eyes.
"Rose, a beautiful name for a beautiful lady. Again, welcome aboard."

Rose gave Finn a mischievous smile which seemed to unsettle the young man and prompted Chewie to giggle in typical Wookie fashion.

Lando released her hand and eyed the Falcon. "Don't worry about the ol' girl, my people will get to work on her right away. We've got a long trip back to base, about eight hours at least. For now, if you'll come with me," he turned to lead them out of the hangar bay.

Rey started to say something as he went, "Um, actually there are still the others..." Just then, a gravely, grating, and all too familiar Weequayan voice emanated out from the Falcon's landing ramp.

"Is that my friend, Lando Calrissian, I hear out there?"

Lando froze in dawning realization. "Kriff, you've got to be kidding me." Slowly, as though hoping it was all some hallucination that wouldn't really be there when he looked, he turned on his heal just in time to see none other than Hondo Ohnaka and his small band of pirates descending the ramp.

Hondo's eyes lit up with recognition. "It is you, my friend! I knew that voice was too suave and beautiful to be belonging to anyone else. How are you doing, you old scoundrel?"

Lando clenched his jaw, glancing at Rey, who meekly glanced away an instant later. Clearing her throat, she quickly added, "Um, we might have had some help from the Ohnaka Gang to get the off the planet."

"I can see that," Lando added flatly. He looked back at the approaching Weequay and his ragtag entourage. "Hondo, it's been a while, and to be honest, I'm a bit surprised to see you here, considering you're supposed to be dead."

Hondo stopped short, looking positively shocked, "Dead? Me, dead? That is an outrageously inaccurate semi-truth! I may have stopped breathing for a short time and possibly only while my beloved son smuggled my supposed body off-world, but I am far from dead, my friend! In fact, I have never felt more alive in my life, ha!"

"Is that so?" Lando ground out through a clenched jaw. "Last time I checked, when you were alive, you still owed me for those weapons that you 'borrowed' and never paid for!" He glared at his son then. "Isn't that right, Anto?"

Both of the Ohnaka's scratched the backs of their necks as they avoided direct eye contact.

"He, uh, does have a point father," Anto said.

Hondo mumbled some inaudible excuses before finishing with his usual flair, "Well, what were we supposed to do, Captain, lead those New Republic inspectors back to your docks? I'm sure you wouldn't have appreciated that at all, my friend, heh-heh-heh. Oh boy."

Lando stormed toward him, "Why I oughta knock your spiky block off right now you old..." fortunately, Rey intervened by pushing the two men apart.

"Could we not do this right now? In case you haven't noticed we've got mercenaries and the First Order after us. I'm sure whatever history you two have, you can resolve it some other time." She glared at him with determination in her eyes.

"You don't know Hondo like I know him," he grumbled." His words didn't seem to bother Rey in the slightest.

"I didn't trust him either, okay, but they've kept up their end of the bargain we struck with them. We wouldn't have gotten off the planet if not for them."

Hondo eagerly agreed with that. "Yes, yes, you see Lando, my old friend, the Jedi speaks the truth! We're all the best of friends now!"

Rey glared at Hondo, "Don't think you're weazling your way out of this for one second Hondo. If you owe Lando something, you're going to make sure he gets it. We need everyone together on this."

Hondo gasped with shock, "The audacity, the betrayal! Just when I thought we were becoming friends." He clucked his tongue a couple of times in exaggerated disappointment. "Very well, if there is something to be owed, Hondo Ohnaka will stand by his word and see that it is delivered. After all, the girl is right, we are all on the First Order's scopes now, I'm afraid."

Lando bit back a curse but exchanged a final look with Rey, "Ugh, fine. We don't have the time to drop out of hyperspace and dump them out an airlock anyway, and I don't need any trouble on my ship."

Hondo clapped him on the shoulder with a laugh. "Ha, see I knew my old pal would come through!" Lando shrugged his hand off a moment later. "Of course, we have our own wounded and are quite thirsty, you understand. I'm sure you can direct us to the nearest mess hall and/or medical facilities?"

Lando grumbled some more as he put his fists on his hips. "I'll show you the way, come on. But Rey, Finn and Chewie, I need to speak with you in private; get caught up to speed."

Chewie growled in agreement. Finn and Rose shared a mutual look before he put his arm around her and kissed her lightly on the forehead and Rey seemed more amenable than she had been moments ago.

"Alright, there's a lot to talk about," she added as she adjusted the small satchel on her back.

"Very well. Okay everybody, if you'll kindly follow me, let me give you the grand tour," Lando announced with a winning smile and a flourish of his cape.

 

Chapter Text

Malak grunted as he extracted another piece of shrapnel from his upper shoulder. His arm was slick with blood but none of the wounds were serious, instead, the pain only fueled his strength in the Darkside, increasing his perception of the strange presence surrounding them.

“Mercenaries,” he muttered as a curse. Talos Ren was skilled as a sniper but it was clear that despite the great opportunity he’d been offered, he never left his mercenary ways behind and now he’d paid for that lapse with his life, the fool.

Shira’s boots crunched toward him across the debris-strewn floor. “I’ve just received word, the Millennium Falcon was taken aboard Calrissian’s destroyer. They’ve jumped to hyperspace and the tracker that pirate extorted us with is working as planned.”

She handed him the tablet that was tracking their query. He glanced at it with obvious disdain and gave it back.

“Kylo Ren still lives,” he growled.

Shira sighed, “What does it matter now? Not even they can stand against the full might of the First Order fleet and once we have their location they’re finished.”

Malak stood with a surge of anger. “Even the best-laid plans can be brought to ruin by the luck of a single Skywalker. Just look at Darth Sidious and Vader.”

Shira met his eyes with unflinching resolve and skepticism. “You should get these cuts looked at.” Her expression softened as she ran her thumb gently across his shoulder.

Malak shrugged her hand away. “I’m fine! I am not a child.”

“Is that so? You certainly act like one sometimes!”

Malak rounded on her instantly, his blood boiled. He’d never struck her out of anger, but he was sorely tempted. Instead, Shira merely narrowed her eyes in response. He took one step toward her, but she remained unmoving. Then, his muscles uncoiling, he reached out and pressed his mechanical palm to her dirt-stained cheek.

Her eyes burned like kybers, yet still somehow melted his anger away. Malak’s shoulders slumped as he ran his artificial thumb across her soft lips. The stimulation sensors in his joint were a poor imitation for what he knew she felt like beneath his touch.

“My love, the Jedi wounded me in the cruelest way. I will never again feel your lips upon mine; even these fingers are shadows of what they were before.”

Shira’s eyes softened as she ran her hand along his unhurt arm. “You can still feel me, Malak. I will always stand by your side.”

She leaned in and kissed him on his forehead and that, he supposed, would be enough. He pulled away again distracted by the strange sensation he felt around them. He examined the decrepit temple with his eyes, then reached out to the Force. Mercenaries were milling about, tending to their wounded and dead, thanks to that giant eight-legged freak, but there was something else he couldn’t quite pinpoint, something dark and nebulous.

“What is it?” Shira asked.

“Something about this temple… do you feel it?”

She closed her eyes in concentration for a moment. Her brow narrowed when she said, “I do, something pulsating in the deep. Ripples in a pond.”

Malak turned toward the destroyed connecting hallway where Talos had met his end when another realization came to him.

“Talos betrayed us, but… why? Kylo Ren and the girl could have killed him when they discovered him, and yet they captured him instead.”

“Because they’re sentimental. They care too much about others, even their supposed enemies.”

“Yes, but when Talos saw us, he would have known the odds. A mercenary rarely chooses the losing side willingly, unless they paid him in leaves and bean paste.” He scoffed derisively.

“Or unless… he was hiding something,” Shira offered.

Malak looked at her with understanding and then walked toward the pile of rubble blocking the hall.

“Yes, something they didn’t want us to find. Something dangerous.”

It took time, enough that Vantaar had rendezvoused with them, but together, Malak, Shira and Lor’rutti discussed the situation before managing to clear the rocks enough that the tunnel was passable again.

Stepping through the stones, it was clear to Malak that there was nothing left of Talos but scraps of charred fabric and scorch marks. The path deepened beyond that and the sensation grew stronger as Malak listened to the pulsing in the Force and descended deeper into the temple. That was where they found it.

“The darkness… it comes from there, master,” Lor’rutti acknowledged as they looked upon the open doors before them.

“Yes… it does,” Malak agreed.

Whatever it was that he thought he might find down here, this wasn’t it. The doors were carved with the likeness of two Jedi, one with a man with a mask and the other a woman that looked strikingly similar to the girl, Rey. Stepping into the darkness, he was unprepared for what awaited beyond. The massive structure seemed impossibly large given the size of the mountain but more surprising to him was the fact that it was mechanical and those small droids that skittered about performing menial tasks on broken consoles and frayed wires.

“What is this place? Is this what Talos was sent here to find?” Shira said with awe.

“I’m not sure, Snoke had us chasing relics across the galaxy but I’ve never heard anything about this. The sensation is strong though as if it’s calling me.” He turned down one of the tilted walkways. “This way.” He didn’t know how he knew, but the path ahead had been made clear as Malak trusted in the Force to guide him.

The Knights followed. The metal grated walkway led to a broken gantry where part of the floor had collapsed into another level of the station. He slid down into the room below.

Catching his footing, he found his bearings and was shocked by what he saw. There in the center of the cathedral-like chamber was a massive black crystal. The Darkside rippled out from it leaving no doubt that this was the source of the disturbance he’d felt. When he heard the song of the crystal, he realized what it was.

“It’s a kyber!”

“That is no ordinary kyber, master. Look at it!” Lor’rutti said with no small amount of apprehension in his voice.

Shira stepped closer while Vantaar stayed back. “It’s so… cold. So much darkness. Is it Sith?”

Malak felt enthralled by the object. He kept walking toward it, obeying the call but he did not understand why.

“Malak, maybe you shouldn’t get so close,” Shira warned.

Despite a mild sense of alarm, he did not stop.

“Malak?” She said again.

Again, he didn’t stop. He heard her shout his name a third time, but Malak put his bionic hand to the crystal’s black surface and found himself standing… nowhere.

“What? Where am I?”

He turned and saw nothing, no walkways, no droids, not his Knights. He stood alone in a void.

“What is this place?” He shouted. Even his voice was swallowed by the darkness, but he noticed something else, freedom of movement that seemed... wrong. The weight of the apparatus that allowed him to speak was gone. Malak reached up to his face and found that he was whole again, even his hands were real! He gawked at his renewed limbs with amazement and confusion, then a voice spoke from the dark.

“You bear my name… but you are no Sith. What… are you… Malak Ren?”

He spun, terrified of the booming voice that seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Now he saw flickers of lights taking shape; form and structures coalesced into pillars and mechanical support beams strewn with wires as a room formed around him.

“Who said that? Tell me where I am!” Suddenly he felt a strange electrical sensation across his head. Wincing in discomfort he realized a moment later it wasn’t ON his head but IN his head. Invisible fingers were prying through his memories and pulling images and thoughts from his mind as Snoke had done.

An instant later, the sensation stopped and the voice boomed with apparent curiosity. “You have claimed yourself Master of the Knights of Ren. The Sith are dead and so are the Jedi, as well as the guardians of Mortis... that is why the Force is in such flux.”

Just then, Malak felt a presence materialize behind him prompting him to turn. A set of metal stairs led up to the black crystal but these stairs weren’t dilapidated and broken. Everything appeared almost new, but what hadn’t been there before was the cloaked figure in red who wore a mechanical vocoder collar like his own and whose eyes burned yellow with darkside energy.

“Who are you?” Malak asked with suspicion.

The figure didn’t move but replied, “You have studied the history of the Sith. Our empire spread across half the galaxy before we were betrayed and destroyed.”

He took in his features for a moment, thinking back to the comment 'You bear my name, but you are no Sith,' then it came to him.

“You are Darth Malak.”

The figure stared unflinchingly. “Darth Malak is dead.  I am a part of him. The part trapped within this kyber prison.”

“Kyber? So it’s true, it is a kyber crystal!”

“Yes, but a very special one. This crystal is a nexus for the Darkside of the Force. It enlightened us, my master and I, but then the Jedi intervened.”

Malak stepped toward the Sith Lord, remembering the details from his studies of the man. “You speak of... Revan and Bastilla?”

“Yes,” Darth Malak hissed in growing anger. “We had victory within our grasp, but she turned him against me!”

Malak Ren considered this. “Yes, they killed you and ended the Jedi and Sith war.”

Now, the Sith Lord did move. Putting his finger up for emphasis, he stepped forward. “If only it were that simple.  They didn't just kill my former self, but nearly destroyed the one thing that would have ensured victory!"

He remembered something else then, details about that final battle, details that had seemed suspiciously lacking he thought given it's significance, but Malak felt compelled to reply, "There was a space station of some sort.  A station of alien design."  His blood went cold as the dawning realization came, but the Sith Lord beat him to it.

"Not just any station, but a mobile weapons platform of unlimited potential. I do not know it’s true name, but we called it the Star Forge, and it wasn’t destroyed. It was only… buried.”

Feeling suddenly dazed, he looked around the crystal chamber with understanding. The crystal, the droids, the dark pull he felt that led him here, all of it made sense to him then.

“This, this is the Star Forge isn’t it? The mountain only conceals what was lost, that’s why Snoke sent Talos here to find.”

There was a hint of a smile in the Sith Lord’s eyes as he nodded in reply, “Your insight serves you well, Malak Ren. It is the will of the Force that brought you here. For a thousand generations we have sat and waited, hoping for revenge against the Jedi, but it seems, that time has already passed.”

“Yes, the Jedi are no more but neither are the Sith. A new order is rising in the galaxy,” Malak said with excitement.

“Yes, the First Order,” Darth Malak replied dismissively before adding, “A pale imitation of what once was.”

Malak’s anger flared at the casual disregard. He stomped forward, “The past is dead and we are the dominant military power in the galaxy! We’ve destroyed our enemies entire governing system in a single blow!”

The Sith Lord rounded on him with a feral intensity. “And what use are destroyed planets to your 'New Order' when there is no one left to control? You speak as though you are part of this grand imitation, yet you are here on your own.”

“I am the General of the First Order’s military might!  I have fleets of Star Destroyers at my command!”

“And what if this ‘Supreme Leader’ Hux decides he no longer needs you? This Snoke of yours could have made a powerful leader had he not been so foolish to be killed by his own apprentice, but a common boy with delusions of grandeur has no need of such wisdom to cause havoc. What if one day he simply targets your location on the surface of a backwater world and bombards the planet from orbit until you’re vaporized into ash?  You may command entire fleets, until the day you don't.”

“Hux is a coward, a pretender who plays at leadership! He fears me!” Despite his anger, the words sounded hollow and even childish as Malak Ren said them.

“Does he? Even if that were so, he still controls the means of your destruction and you do not. He wields power over you even if he himself is not powerful. No Sith would put themselves in such a position of weakness willingly and be worthy of the title, but you need not despair, my student, because even now, you stand upon the very mechanism of your deliverance.”

Malak reeled suddenly. “The Star Forge. It’s a battle station that can produce infinite supplies.”

Now, the long-dead Sith Lord's eyes expanded with acknowledgment, “Yes, only one of many things it is capable of, and you now stand in the heart of the machine.”

“But that’s impossible, it’s not functional. The Forge has been buried on this planet for who knows how long.”

“Buried, perhaps, but not broken. It is true that many of its systems are damaged beyond our ability to repair them, but the spider droids you saw coming in, they can assist you.”

Malak narrowed his eyes. “How?”

The Sith Lord approached and produced a holographic projection from the middle of his hand. “This console, on deck L-37 should be your first priority. Repair it and the station it’s attached to so that you can manufacture this droid.” The image flickered and changed to a multi-armed humanoid that looked both new and ancient at the same time.

“It is called the Caretaker. It will assist you with further repairs. Do these things, and exercise patience, and you will be rewarded with a weapon that will allow you to chart your own destiny as you see fit.”

“That’s easier said than done, I have no knowledge of the working systems of this station,” Malak Ren growled with annoyance.

Darth Malak looked at him, unconcerned, “You do now.” He then reached out and touched his finger to Malak’s forehead, sending a spike of pain through his mind. He collapsed on the steel grating, screaming in pain.

Suddenly, Shira was at his side. “Malak, what happened? I’m here!” She shook his arm, bringing him out of his momentary agony.

When his vision readjusted, he realized he was back in the dilapidated chamber with his Knights staring down at him. He sat up as visions of schematics and wiring diagrams and computer language ran through his mind. Pushing himself to his feet, he regained his bearings.

A spider droid approached from the darkness as though looking to him for instructions.

“Prepare yourselves, we have much work to do.”

***

He felt like he was drowning again, trapped at the bottom of the river that swept him along to certain death. He heard screams in the darkness, the screams of the students he and his Knights had killed in self-defense at Luke’s temple. It was always the same as he carried Ne’reem’s body into the main structure and set her upon the funeral pyre. She would have a proper sendoff as the flames consumed the Jedi temple and returned her to dust.

Snoke’s gravely voice whispered into his ear as he welcomed him aboard the transport away from his uncle and his failed legacy.

“Let the past die, young Solo. Kill it if you have to.”

Like black fingers clawing into his mind he stared into the abyss of the kyber crystal at the heart of the Star Forge. Revan stalked toward him with his saber ignited but Ben couldn’t pull away.

“You must mend that which is broken, Ben. It’s the only way to reclaim yourself. It’s the only way to save her.”

“What? Save who?” He asked as Revan became Lando. He felt the press of his uncle’s blaster in his stomach as he pulled the trigger.

With a lurch, Ben’s eyes opened to an unfamiliar white room. When he jolted upward a slender hand touched his shoulder and pressed him back down.

“It’s me, you’re alright. We’re in the med bay.”

Rey’s glowing face was probably the only thing that could have calmed him so quickly, but the memories and strange visions lingered even as awareness came back to him.

“How long was I out? Are we at the Resistance base yet?”

Rey scoffed, “Hardly, you’ve been in a bacta tank for the better part of an hour. I just got out ten minutes ago. It was good.”

Her smile warmed him. She had on a simple hospital gown and her hair was down and still wet. He looked down to see light bandages around his abdomen where his partially healed stab wound had been. After a moment of self-inspection, he realized how much better he felt. The bacta had definitely done its job.

“Before you go anywhere though, ‘someone’ wants to talk to you,” Rey added, squeezing his arm supportively.

His uncle Lando appeared from an adjacent office where he’d been consulting with a large disc-headed droid of an unfamiliar make as well as Chewbacca. His anger flared briefly as he remembered what had transpired earlier.

“You stunned me.” Ben growled coldly.

Lando nodded with a smirk, his hand resting gently on the very same blaster on his hip. “Yes I did. Don’t get me wrong, kid, I’m glad to see you alive and in one piece… but I’m not going to take any chances either. You’ve got some things to explain before I decide where to put you for the rest of the trip.”

Chewie joined Lando a moment later with a low, but firm growl of agreement.

Ben sat up slightly, giving Rey’s hand a squeeze of assurance. “Yeah, I figured.” He eyed the security goons standing nearby.

His uncle continued to stare intently at him but was otherwise unthreatening. “Am I going to need my guards in here, or are we gonna have a civilized talk between family?” Again, uncle Chewie growled a thinly veiled warning not to do anything foolish.

Ben eyed the two of them warily. Family. It was strange to think about that word without an immediate bout of rage, but as far as ‘family’ went, Ben had always liked Lando when he came around. He knew what his uncle planned to talk about of course, but if that was the price to pay for a peaceful trip, he was willing to take it.

“The guards can go,” he replied as he shared a look with Rey that assured her he’d behave himself.

“Okay, then. I’m glad to hear it,” Lando said with the clap of his hands. He gestured for the guards at the door to wait outside; they left without protest. He smiled at Rey then. “Darling, do you mind if I swindle you out of your seat?”

She smirked at Lando. “Of course not.” Turning back to Ben, she leaned in and planted a gentle kiss on his forehead before getting up from the stool she’d been sitting on and drifting toward the other side of the medical bay.

His uncle took a seat, his cologne smooth and robust as Ben waited for the inevitable question.

There was a long, knowing pause that hung between them where neither man could seemingly muster the courage to speak.

“You look good, kid, considering,” Lando said at last.

“I’ve had better days,” he replied. That won him a polite chuckle

“Yeah… I imagine those were a long time ago, probably back when ‘Unca Wanwo’ visited and brought you a new toy that made noise and flashed lights to annoy your folks with.”

Ben smiled as those memories came bubbling to the surface, before everything went to hell, before the nightmares and angry shouting behind closed doors.

“Those were good times,” he admitted.

“How’d it happen, Ben? You and Han, I mean.”

And there it was. He supposed he should be grateful to his uncle for bringing up the pleasant memories first, but it didn’t make it any easier to say the words.

He felt numb as he stared at the wall opposite of him, aware of Rey’s presence in his peripheral visions. But he forced himself to say it the only way he could… honestly.

“I killed him… and he fell.”

The words came out quietly but the weight of voicing them aloud like that threatened to crush him as their meaning began to materialize in the heavy silence that followed. Lando didn’t say anything, nor did Rey, but he knew they felt something all the same because he could feel it in the Force.

“I killed him.” The words felt like a hammer blow releasing something he’d thought he’d locked away deep inside. He remembered his vision in the Holocron chamber, standing there looking at his child self weeping and asking to know why he’d killed his daddy. He remembered how Rey had held him afterward and tried to find comfort in the memory.

She had been there when he’d done it, her and Chewie both, so they understood his pain better than most, but somehow this was different. For one, he didn’t realize he had tears in his eyes until he looked at his uncle and saw his own pained expression reflected back at him through watery eyes.

“I didn’t want to do it… but I had to,” he forced himself to say, hating how it sounded like just another excuse, but he went on. “I knew he was there on the base, I could sense him, but I went the other way. He had no problem leaving me behind all those times before.” His voice cracked just then as he tried to get a handle of his roiling emotions.

“I walked away from him, expecting him to plant his bombs and leave. Of all the times he’d left, this was the one time he chose to stay. He walked out onto the bridge, shouted my name, and I knew right then… that I had to do it.” His uncle flinched with emotion and he could sense it was a mixture of anger, grief, and horror.

Ben choked back a sob before adding, “You don’t know what Snoke was like, what he could do or worse, what he made you believe he could do. There wasn’t a moment that went by when I thought he wasn’t looking into my mind and sifting through my thoughts. I tried to get around it, to let him slip through my fingers and if Snoke punished me, so be it.”

Lando ground his teeth with anger, but Ben knew it wasn’t anger directed him, but he remained silent as he spilled his darkest sin like so much ink over his calligraphy paper.

“He looked me in the eyes and told me to come home, and I wanted to go with him, but I knew how strong the First Order was… how strong Snoke was. We’d never have a chance. They would’ve found us and it would have been so much worse. I would have been forced to torture him, cut him up little by little and make his death the slowest and most agonizing death possible so that I might grow strong in the Darkside.”

He looked at Rey who’s eyes were red with her own tears as she recalled the moment with him, filling him with a newfound sense of shame. “Killing him was a mercy. I made it quick, a clean death, because as much as I wanted to hate him… I couldn’t. I knew then that I could never be what Snoke wanted me to be, but I had to become a monster so that I could spare him from a far worse fate. He came back to save me… and I killed him.”

His breath shuddered as he said the words again, somehow feeling a terrible weight tearing away from his shoulders like dirty bandages.

“I killed my dad. He’s not coming back and now… my mom died believing her son was a monster.”

“No,” Rey’s voice broke as she rushed over to him.

Chewie growled an earnest disagreement as he fidgeted with his paws.

Lando’s rested a hand on his shoulder. “It’s gonna be alright kid.” Unprompted his uncle pulled him into a tight embrace, the kind that his parents gave when he was young and scared of who he was. The last shreds of composure that remained, shattered at the gesture.

Rey joined them, throwing her arms around the two of them as she pressed her forehead to Ben’s temple. He wept freely and unashamed for his mother and father both as crushing guilt overcame him. Chewie growled sorrowfully as he buried them all in his furry arms.

They stayed that way for a long moment, a family mourning together for loved ones lost and dreams left unfulfilled.  He thought he might drown in emotion all over again if not for the mechanical and distinctively female voice that interrupted them.

“I understand this may be an emotional time for all parties involved, but there are vital tests that still need to be run if you don't mind!"

The four of them looked up, suddenly distracted out of their shared grief as the medical droid appeared from around the corner with a small cart of diagnostic tools and other assorted implements of dubious function. Ben was too emotionally vulnerable to worry about that but welcomed the brief respite.

“Running around on a jungle planet with all sorts of unknown and poorly documented fungal and animal species requires a thorough scan for any contagions. The Bacta treatment should’ve taken care of most of them but some are more resilient than others especially this close to the unknown regions.”

Lando groaned with annoyance, “Elle-Seven, I understand your work is important but your bedside manner algorithms really need a tweak.”

The droid spun her disc-shaped head until her singular oculus glared at Lando, at least as much as a droid could glare.

“I’m tasked with the health and safety of everyone on board this over indulgent pleasure cruise aren’t I?”

“Yes, you are but…”

“And as such, I’m required to finish all necessary tests with regards to alien environments and possible contamination, correct?”

“Of course, but…” Lando started to say.

“Then let me do my job so I can authorize the release of these patients, Captain, unless of course, you want to shut me up by ripping out my core navigational matrix and installing it in the Lady Luck or something, you know, like my grandmother?”

Ben and Rey glanced at each other, then at Lando who pinched the bridge of his nose in obvious frustration. Chewie simply barked a nervous laugh.

“It’s a… long story, one that Elle-Seven and her ‘family’ haven’t really let me live down.” He smiled diplomatically before turning to the droid, “But, ya’ know what? You’re absolutely right of course, you should finish your tests.”

“It’s about time,” Elle-Seven said as she lifted a long silver probe with a rounded tip and plugged its cord into a port on her side. She turned to Ben and tilted her head to the side. “Alright, big boy… bend over and spread ‘em.”

“What?” He said in stunned disbelief.

A long and heavy silence hung over the small group before Elle-Seven leaned in a centimeter or so and added, “That was a joke. It’s for your mouth.”

“Wow, okay I don’t… agh!” He didn’t get to finish before the droid stuck the metal probe into his mouth.

“Bite down lightly and hold it there. This’ll only take a moment!  You humans really need to develop your sense of humor better, I think.” She said as a series of lights flickered on her chest panel. Her head gave a slight twitch before she extracted the probe as quickly as she inserted it.

“You’re clear,” she said at last as she discarded the used probe into a bin on the side of the cart.

He gave Rey a bemused look that prompted her to chuckle. Elle-Seven picked up another mouth probe.

“Laught it up, swamp princess, it’s your turn this time.”

Rey rolled her eyes. “Okay, fine,” then opened her mouth.

“See? It’s not so bad, is it? We’re just taking precautions, that’s all, and besides, it’s not like you two had unprotected sexual intercourse down there or anything.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Rey said suddenly alarmed. Her eyes flicked to Ben’s.

Elle-Seven glanced at the two of them, apparently reading their expressions. With a sigh, she said, “You… you did, didn’t you? Of course you did, oh well, it’s my fault for not asking sooner, but in that case —,” she set the small probe down on the tray and reached into the side of the cart for a considerably larger probe, almost as large as a lightsaber.

Her disc-like head rotated to Lando, “— we’re going to need some privacy, Captain. Your nephew is cleared to leave.”

Lando threw his hands up in understanding, “Of course, we’ll be outside. Thank you Elle-Seven.” He glanced at Ben and Chewie both and nodded for him to accompany him.

Sliding off the bed, he caught sight of Rey’s panicked expression and grimaced sympathetically.

“You’re leaving me? Ben? Doctor, what are you doing with that probe? Why’s that one bigger?”

Elle-Seven turned to look at her, “Oh, my sweet girl, you clearly have a lot to learn about your body. Don’t worry, I’ll make this as pain-free as possible, I promise,” the droid said as she took Rey’s hand and led her to a private room toward the back of the med bay.

Ben and Lando exited to the hallway where his guards awaited him. Lando exhaled heavily, “Women. Always more complicated, am I right?” He said with a chuckle before clapping Ben on the shoulder.

“Yeah, I guess,” he reluctantly agreed.

“Come on, I’ll show you around, I’m sure she’ll be on her way shortly.”

***

Chewie growled in amusement as he finished his side of the story when Lando held up a finger.

“And you know, I never forgave myself for that. Turning your ‘ol man over to Vader and that bounty hunter was one of the lowest moments of my life, even after everything had worked out.” Lando had said as they turned down a long corridor near the middle deck of the ship.

Ben didn’t speak much during the tour but was fascinated by his uncle’s stories of his father, especially where Vader was concerned. Even though he’d heard some of these accounts as a child, he’d long ago dismissed them as the arrogant bragging of a deadbeat swindler looking to stay relevant in a galaxy that was slowly forgetting him, but hearing them from Lando was another experience entirely. It was as though he were learning about Han Solo for the first time and more, actually starting to understand him.

“So he was really frozen in carbonite all that time?” Rey, who’d caught up with them just in time to take the turbolift, asked curiously.

“Unfortunately. Maybe that’s why I can understand where you’re coming from, kid. When I first saw Han come up from that chamber I thought to myself, ‘my God, I betrayed my friend and now he’s dead’. Even after I checked the readouts on the side and confirmed he was still alive, it was cold comfort for me.”

Chewie grumbled with sympathy at that, then added something about nearly choking the life out of Lando until Ben's mother made him let go.  They shared a brief if awkward laugh at that.

Ben remained silent, not wanting to dredge up the pain he’d already shed remembering what he’d done. They walked down a pristine hallway that used to be a detention block that had since been converted to living cabins, though Lando had assured them this section was empty and currently still under renovation. Then they reached the final room.

“Ah, but here we are ladies and gentleman, a holding cell fit for a Supreme Leader,” Lando said with exaggerated gravitas as he pulled a small card out from his shirt pocket. He pressed it to the panel beside the door and with a light swoosh, the way was open.

Rey squeezed Ben’s hand as she followed them into the ‘cell’ but his eyes widened at what he saw.

“Welcome to the Chancellor’s Suite, kid. This is the finest room on the Elle-Three’s Last Stand. A Nal Hutta sized bed that can fit you and up to sixteen of your closest lady friends,” Lando turned to Rey and winked, who simply rolled her eyes at him, “a fully stocked bar, holo-net premium access, a traditional and sonic shower in one, dual refreshers, walk-in closet and dining area and to top it all off —,” he tapped a panel on the small dividing wall between the living area and the bedroom. A holographic menu popped up with numerous food items and additional beverages.

“— room service with five-star cuisine of your choice, cooked by real chefs, I assure you, not those multi-armed murderbots.”

“Murder... bots?” Rey asked innocently.

This time Ben and Lando both turned to say, “Long story.”

“Okay then, well, this is very nice,” Rey said as she held Ben’s arm a little tighter than he thought necessary, but he didn’t mind.

“And let me guess,” he finally said, “A fully automated security system to keep me from sneaking out after dark?”

His uncle smiled wide, “Unfortunately you will be confined here for the duration of our trip back to the Resistance base… but somehow I think you’ll manage.”

“I’m sure I will,” he agreed.

Lando approached them with the pass card. Tapping it in his palm, he turned to Rey, “But I’m willing to trust one of you to keep an eye out for the other.” He held the card out to her, which she took with an impish smile.

“That’s a deal, Captain Calrissian,” she replied.

“I’m glad to hear it, but Rey, I will need you, Chewie and the others to meet me in the conference room for a debrief. I need to know what you know so I can pass along the word to the Resistance.”

“Of course, will you be needing Hondo too?”

Lando grimaced at the name, then drew in a sharp, annoyed breath before exhaling, “Yes… Hondo too… unfortunately.” His expression melted into a smile as he looked back at Ben.

“Get some rest kid. You’ve earned it, I think.”

“I’ll try… might get some food first though.” That earned a laugh from his uncle.

Lando, along with his guards, Chewie and Rey turned to leave. He watched them go until Rey stopped, ran back to him, kissed him hard on the lips and said, “I’ll be back soon. Order something for me?”

He smiled. “Of course.”

She hugged him again and left for good this time. For the first time, he could remember since his time on the Supremacy… he was alone again. Standing here in this palatial suite designed for maximum comfort, he felt a sudden swelling of emotion, not fear, or anger, or even self-hatred. Right now he felt something he thought he’d never feel again.

He felt safe.

 

Chapter Text

 Cover Update

Finn shifted his bag to the other shoulder as he pulled the door key and placed it to the panel.

"No more meetings debriefs, or medical droid probings for me. As soon as I get in I'm passing... OUT." He stated with a huff.

Rose came up beside him, her face still dirty with jungle sweat and engine grease. "As long as there's a shower, I don't care." Her eyes went blank for a moment as she added, "And food. I need food."

Finn smiled at her. "The longer this trip, the better if you ask me."

The door slid open with a pleasant chime as they walked into the room... and stopped in amazement at what they saw. It was more than just a room, compared to Resistance barracks, it was an entire apartment. There was a dining area, a lounge with four-person sofas and a loveseat, a walk-in boudoir and of course a bed that could swallow him whole.

"Whoa ho-ho-ho now these are quarters," he said with a laugh. Finn dropped his bag on the floor as Rose examined the room in stunned disbelief.

"There's a kitchen? Are you serious?" She dumped her belongings and rushed to the side room with all the amenities. She laughed in glee as she rummaged through he coolers and cabinets, then she found the refresher.

"Two sinks? Oh wow, you could podrace in this shower, Finn!"

Finn, still drawn to the massive bed, turned, splayed his arms out and flopped onto the mattress. He bounced once before settling down with a soft 'fwump'. Laughing out loud, he nearly shouted, "Forget the Bacta tank, I'm going to sleep for a century on this baby!"

Rose scoffed. "Oh yeah, well you have fun napping, trooper. I'll be enjoying this shower all to myself, thank you!"

Finn was so exhausted from the day's ordeal that he struggled to roll over, but when he did, he was delighted to see his beautiful partner in crime suddenly topless and stripping out of her trousers in the small hallway leading to the 'fresher.

"Hey, there's, uh, no need to rush," Finn said with a sly smirk.

Rose turned slowly, narrowing her eyes at him. "I thought you were going to sleep for a century, hotshot."

Finn sat up, feeling a pleasant swelling between his legs, "Well, there's always some things I'm 'up' for before getting some rack time." He admitted half seriously.

Rose smirked deviously as she stepped out of her trousers wearing only her grey undershorts and nothing else. She closed the distance between them and bent down to look into his eyes before speaking.

"I'm... absolutely... filthy and disgusting right now. We've been running around a jungle for days and I've been bruising my knuckles on the Falcon's pipes, babe."

He leaned in until his lips were inches from hers. "You seem to think I care about all that, but I nearly died several times down there. I have a pretty healthy perspective on life right now, and at the moment, that perspective involves you." He ran his hand down her bare arm, taking in the sight of her every curve, sweat and grime included.

"Yeah, well... there's no rule saying we can't still get dirty while we're getting clean either." Rose grabbed his hands and pulled them to her breasts as she guided him to his feet. "I told you, the shower's big enough to podrace in, it'll be big enough for us to 'play around'."

"I'm really starting to like this showering idea a lot more," Finn admitted.

Rose turned and rushed toward her objective, chuckling as Finn stripped down in pursuit. Once he stepped into the 'fresher room, he realized that she wasn't kidding about the shower because his jaw dropped when he saw it. There were traditional heads that could power spray the grime off engine parts but there was also a waterfall spout along the widest part of the wall; that's the one Rose activated.

Within moments the room filled with steam as they dove into the water, crushing their lips against one another while they washed the sweat and dirt of the jungle wastelands off of their bodies. Plenty of thoughts went through his head, not least of which his almost dying, but also how Kylo Ren saved his life and what it meant for his former boss now that he was imprisoned on this very ship.

Fortunately Rose was expertly skilled at distracting him from worrisome thoughts. She pulled him between her thighs and as he made love to the woman who'd saved his skin numerous times, he was grateful for every moment he had with her. What happened tomorrow or next week didn't matter, right now he was going to be here for her and she was intent on doing the same for him.

First Order be damned.

***

 

“The crew and I are going to celebrate our daring escape from that jungle Hell in the C-Deck lounge, my Jedi friend if you care to join us!” Hondo said with his usual bluster and pirate’s charm.

Rey smiled gently. “Thank you, Hondo, but I’d like to spend as much time with my… uh, with Ben, as I can before we get back to the base.”

Hondo made a show of putting his hand over his chest, “Ah, to be young and in love, oh how I miss those days.”

Anto scoffed as he clapped his father on the shoulder. “Ha, Mother would beg to differ, I think.”

To which Hondo aptly protested, “That woman simply overreacted to a perceived slight. Don’t get me wrong, my boy, I love her, but seeing as how she still has a price on my head, I simply must keep low until I can pay back what I owe her.”

Rey chuckled. “Pirates; it must be quite the life.”

“Indeed it is, my child, and I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Hondo said with a bow as he turned and left with his son for the lounge.

Rey watched them go for a moment before she headed toward the turbo-lift. The two small accessories in her pouch seemed almost to weigh her down as she ascended to the deck he’d been confined on. She’d found time to make them while Ben was in the Bacta tank, even though she’d had to scavenge some random bolts and stones from Baze-Chirutti to tie into the leather strips.  It was a silly, childish gesture she knew, but one she wanted to do anyway.

As she stepped out of the lift, she was grateful to see that Lando’s guards were only guarding the hallway leading to their room and not standing outside of the door itself. Each of them nodded in acknowledgment as she went by, not stopping her. Reaching the door, she hesitated a moment before putting the passkey to the wall panel, worried at what he would say, but she scoffed at the ridiculousness of her fear and entered the suite.

Ben was sitting in the middle of the floor at the foot of the bed barefoot with his legs crossed and eyes closed, deep in meditation. Without moving so much as a centimeter, he said, “That bad, huh?”

Rey stopped short with surprise. “I’m sorry?”

Still, not moving, he added, “The debriefing. I could feel your anxiety all the way from the turbolift.”

She flushed with embarrassment. “Oh, that, of course. I mean, well, the meeting wasn’t fun. We’ve got our work cut out for us, especially if Malak gets his hands on the Star Forge and is able to reactivate it. At least now we can warn the Resistance and make preparations.”

With the barest turn of his head, Ben opened his eyes and looked up at her. “We’ll stop them, I promise you.”

“I know we will. We’ve got you and Finn, Rose and… Hondo… and Lando on our side!” She said without trying to sound nervous. It didn’t work because Ben gave her a confused look as he shifted from his position and got to his feet.

“What’s wrong? You’re shaking.”

Rey fumbled with her fingers and stared at the ground as she managed to say, “There’s nothing wrong, it’s just… something silly, that’s all, stupid really.” She reached into her accessory pack and pulled out the leather bracelets she made and handed Ben the larger one.

He took it and inspected it like a curious shopper groping their fruit for ripeness. With a small chuckle, he asked, “You made this?”

Her cheeks burned more than she wanted them to but she replied, “While you were in the Bacta tank. I had some time before my treatment, so I found some scraps and put them together. Like I said, silly.”

He beamed at her then. “I love it.” Ben moved to slip it on his right wrist when Rey stopped him suddenly.

“No, wait, there’s more! It’s not just a trinket that I felt like making just ‘because’.”

He stopped to regard her but even as her heart hammered in her chest, Rey forced herself to say, “What happened down there in the temple, all of it, has been a lot to take in. The holocrons, us, Revan and Bastilla, reincarnation, it all sounds so absurd but it isn't.  It's all true isn't it?”

Ben gave the slightest nod. She swallowed hard before continuing, “Back on Jakku I didn’t know all that much about relationships other than what I heard in stories and picked up from some other scavengers, so after everything we learned about ourselves… and each other, I had this silly idea. On Jakku there’s no riches or jewelry so when people get married they just make things out of stuff they find and since we’re technically already married I thought…” the words died on her lips the moment she saw the look on Ben’s face.

He’d gone pale with shock as he stared at her. That was when she realized her mistake.

“Oh… oh wow, I just realized how terribly presumptuous I must sound right now. I’m so sorry, Ben I didn’t mean to, well, what I’m trying to say…”

He stepped closer to her and put his hands on her shoulders so gently it was as though he were holding a porcelain doll. There was a tremor in his voice when he said, “Rey… are you asking me… to marry you?”

There it was. The words she hadn’t dared to think about until now, but as she clutched her leather bracelet, she knew there was nowhere to hide from it now. “Well, when you put it that way… I suppose I am? I mean, if you want that sort of thing, I know it’s not everyone’s cup of caf, but I just thought…”

The broadest smile she’d ever seen broke across his handsome face as he reevaluated the band in his palm before slipping it onto his right wrist and tightening the knot until it was snug. Then, just as tenderly, he lifted her left wrist as he took the smaller band from her palm and put it on slowly, letting her feel the soft leather strip slide across her bare skin as he adjusted it.

Rey couldn’t breathe. Her eyes stung with joyous tears as Ben cupped her cheek while holding her bound hand with his own. He leaned in and said, “Rey, as the Force wills, I would be honored to stand by your side for as long as you'd have me.”

The first of her tears fell upon her cheek as she smiled. “As the Force wills, I would be delighted to have you by my side, Ben Solo.”

He kissed her as if he were kissing her for the first time. Never had she thought after their meeting on Takodana that her journey would lead her to this moment, but here she was. She threw her arms around his neck as she cried happy tears into his shirt.

He held her tight, returning every ounce of her affection as they reveled in their joy. After a long moment, he held her at arm's length and nodded toward the dining area. “I ordered some food. It might need to be reheated, but…”

Rey wouldn’t have noticed the covered plates sitting on the dining room table if he hadn’t pointed it out, but she laughed with delight at his gesture. “Thank you, I’m sure it’ll be fine. It’s a celebration now isn’t it?”

“I suppose it is,” he cocked his head as he led her by the hand over to the table. Ben gave a command to the room computer and the lights dimmed as gentle music began to play.

She’d been so caught up in the happiness of the moment Rey couldn’t recall what they discussed, dinner had become a blur of emotions and tastes, but it didn’t really matter. It was just the two of them alone together, safe on a ship in hyperspace; it was more than she could possibly ask for.

As the food became less and less, Ben got a mischievous glint in his eye as he got up from the table.

“I know that look, Solo. What are you planning now?”

“It’s a wedding reception, right? We’re supposed to dance,” he replied.

Rey’s eyes widened. “I… don’t dance.”

“That’s fine. I didn’t dance either… until I went to Onderon.” He gave her a knowing smirk when he said it.

“Ah, I see,” she set her utensils down with a clank. Crossing her arms, Rey gave him a bemused but somewhat defiant look. “And I suppose I have her Royal Exaltedness, Queen Lucia to thank for that as well?”

Ben shrugged as if he had no idea what she was talking about, then he issued another command to the computer to play a specific song. A moment later a classically arranged melody filled the room with a hauntingly beautiful refrain. He held his hand out to her, not unlike when he’d propositioned her on the Supremacy.

Rey stared at it, thoughts swirling through her mind, then looked at him. She sighed with resignation. “Fine, I’ll dance, but just this once.”

“That’s all I’m asking,” he replied.

Taking his hand, Rey let herself be swept into an awkward and stilted grip as he held one hand out and placed his other at the small of her back. Despite her feet moving like durasteel ingots, the warmth of his touch was enough to make her blush with excitement.

“Just let your body move with the rhythm, follow my lead, and enjoy yourself,” he said as his dark eyes peered into hers.

All her feelings awakened in that instant as she looked up at him and truly examined the smile adorning his face. She found that her feet moved quite easily as he swayed to the cascading notes.

“I suppose I could get used to this… with the right partner, of course,” she admitted.

“Of course,” he agreed.

Ben led her in small circles around the suite, never once looking away from her. As he spun her gently by the hand, she caught a glimpse of the track name on the computer; it read simply 'Across the Stars'. Rey had become so entranced by the music and the moment they shared that she felt their Force bond open. His emotions poured into her, filling her like a glass pitcher, and she’d opened her heart to him, letting him feel everything she was experiencing at that moment.

Now that she understood their bond a bit more, she treasured their connection on a level she hadn’t previously. They both had a relationship far more intimate than most beings in the galaxy that allowed them to see one another for who they truly were in the quiet murmur of the living Force.

Immersed in each other’s heart and spirit, the unspoken signal was clear as starlight as Rey brought her lips to her husbands. 'Kiss' would have been an inadequate word for what they shared then, they both knew, their lips crashed together like starships in the void, their blood burned like coaxium and their bodies reacted on pure animal instinct.

Articles of clothing crumpled to the floor as an afterthought while eager hands grabbed and stroked bare skin. Their bodies swayed with passion as they blindly stumbled toward the bed, only to trip on the corner and crash to the floor on top of one another.

“Ow, Ben!” Rey cried out with a laugh.

“Sorry about that,” he said smiling up at her. As he stood, Ben hoisted her into his arms with shockingly little effort.

“Oh, kriff’s sake! Is this really necessary?” She said, clinging to his powerful neck.

“Why not? It’s our wedding night, isn’t it?” he replied as he turned toward the bed.

“Well at least I’m conscious this time,” she teased.

He chuckled at that as he gently set her down before climbing on top of her. His hardness was practically bursting through his trousers as he lowered his hips between her thighs, crushing his lips to hers.

“Oh, someone’s eager to please, I see,” she moaned as her trousers grew wet with anticipation. Rey managed to slip out of her borrowed white shirt but Ben was the one who stripped her leggings off. She sat up just then to unbuckle his belt and free his manhood from the coarse finery Lando had given him. The rest happened without further complications.

She gasped when his swollen helmet breached her lower lips and she clutched at his back as he slid his entire length into her until they were all but one person. Rey stared into his eyes, lost in her beautiful agony.

“Ben… I love you,” she moaned.

“Rey,” he rasped into her ear, “I don’t deserve you. I don’t deserve to be happy, but this is the happiest day of my life.” He kissed her on the neck and cheek but Rey gently pulled away to look at him with surprise.

“Don’t say things like that. Everyone deserves to be happy, to be loved… to be forgiven.” She gasped louder as he thrust faster, drowning in his own complicated emotions, but Rey looked into his eyes until he acknowledged her words.

“No matter what I do, I can never repay you for what you’ve done for me. I owe you everything, Rey, you are my everything.”

The first shock of orgasm rippled through her as he said those words. Her thighs clamped around his waist on reflex as she pulled his lips back down to hers. Ben continued to thrust as her body shook.

“I could say the same for you,” she admitted. “You’ve shown me so much and I hadn’t even realized it. Even as enemies you taught me things about myself I was too afraid to face.”

He thrust faster.

“Ohhh, Ben you were there for me when I needed answers the most. You were there when I was alone and didn’t even realize it.”

He thrust harder.

“Rey, I would’ve never had the strength to stop Snoke if it weren’t for you. You gave me a reason to live, you made me feel hope for the first time I could remember.”

Rey rolled Ben onto his back as she took top position and slammed her hips down onto him, feeling every solid inch of him fill her core as she drove him closer to climax. Kissing him with vicious passion, she added, “You saved yourself from that monster. You chose to do good because you’re a good person, ohhhh, don’t ever forget thaaaaat, ahhhh.”

Her body quaked again as she squeezed him between her thighs, only this time, her climax triggered his own. Ben moaned as he clenched beneath her and an instant later she felt pulses of warmth fill her as she rode through the waves of ecstasy until every last drop was spent.

Panting and aglow with sweat, Rey collapsed into Ben’s arms as he kissed the top of her head. She could feel his heart hammering in his chest beneath her right cheek as his breathing began to slow and his cock began to limp. She held out her left wrist and stared at the bracelet wrapped around it with renewed joy.

“I never thought I’d be a married woman before. Now, here I am, married to the most dangerous man in the galaxy.”

Ben laughed, then clasped his fingers in hers until their bracelets were on top of each other, “Me? You’re the more dangerous one if we’re being honest here. You never had a master instill restraint in you all your waking life. You have no couth.”

“That’s a made-up word, I’m sure of it… but I suppose it’s true,” she admitted, “That's why I’m not afraid to hit things until they fall down if I feel threatened, you included.”

They both laughed at that, but Ben gave her an extra kiss as he held her against his chest.

“You marked me in ways I couldn’t comprehend,” he said as he thumbed the small scar on her shoulder. “We were destined for each other.”

Rey basked in the feel of his warm body beneath her for as long as she could, but when she began to stick to him as she slid off, she said, “I think we should try out that ridiculous shower now. What do you say, dearest husband?”

He looked at her with a mischievous smile. “If it’s anything like the Jedi pool, I’m all for it, my beloved and beautiful wife.”

Rey playfully slapped him on the chest before kissing him once more and slipping off the bed at long last.

***

Lando puffed out a cloud of smoke from his hand-rolled cigaro as his heart rate and breathing returned to normal. Kaasha held him close with her naked thighs draped over his beneath the sheets and her soft lekku across his chest while he stared at the ceiling in reflection.

“How is it that I keep getting older, but you somehow always manage to make me feel like a young, virile, scoundrel again, Kaash?”

His wife moaned lightly as she ran her hand down his sweat damped chest. “You never change, do you masareen? We’ve been married how long now but you still think flattery is going to get you somewhere?”

“Hey,” he chuckled, “Maybe, I just really enjoy bestowing it upon you.”

“For which I am eternally grateful. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want you to stop flattering me, of course; a girls gotta feel appreciated from time to time.”

Lando reached down and affectionately rubbed her ass as he put his cigaro in the ashtray on his nightstand. “Baby, I will appreciate you ‘till the end of time and I will look good doing it.”

Kaasha laughed as she gently smacked him, “That’s the understatement of the century. Even when you’re running into a wall of blaster fire, your cape will be flapping valiantly behind you!”

Lando smirked at that, but as they wallowed in the afterglow of their passions, he found himself distracted by other thoughts, thoughts of war, destruction and unintended consequences. Kaasha must have noticed because she brushed his arm lightly.

“You’re lightyears away, love. Is it Ben?”

Her voice was soft but his nephew’s name shocked him out of his momentary stupor. “Yeah, you could say that.”

“Tell me, masareen. I know it can’t be easy after all that you’ve gone through, but I’m here.”

Lando decided he wasn’t as done with his cigaro as he thought, so he picked it up and took another drag. “It’s just, when I heard about him being killed so soon after I found out about Leia, I just… that was the hardest thing in the galaxy for me. Then suddenly here he is, alive and well. Even garbed in black with a red lightsaber at his hilt, when I looked at him, all I saw was that little kid I held in my arms after he’d run buck naked out of his parent's shower when he heard Unca Wanwo’s voice.”

He took another drag and set the cigaro down. “Now he’s the former ‘Supreme Leader’ of the First Order and a prisoner of the Resistance on my ship. I have no idea what Dameron’s gonna do with him when we arrive, and that’s the rub isn’t it? On one hand, he’s my nephew who I thought was dead but isn’t, and he’s also the leader of a terrorist organization that wiped out the Hosnian system and has committed who knows how many despicable acts in the name of trying to be a new Vader.”

Kaasha sat up, wrapping herself in the sheets as she asked, “You’ve just found him but you’re afraid you’re going to lose him all over again.”

Lando looked at her perhaps with more emotion than he wanted to show, but he nodded, “Something like that. Without the New Republic, what is law & order anymore? What is justice for something like that? I feel like I’m throwing him to the wolves, Kaash and I know the Resistance isn’t the FO but they may think he’s too big a risk. It’s one thing to throw him in a cell for the rest of his life, but what if they want more? What if they decide the only way for him to pay for his crimes is to execute…”

His voice cracked as he said the word. Lando shuddered as the cold possibility danced around in his head, but as always, just before he went down that gravity well of dark thoughts, Kaasha put her hands to his cheek and forced him to look at her.

“Lando, don’t say such things. You’re right that the Republic is gone and ‘Justice’ is an abstract concept that no one really grasps right now. We’re all living day to day and figuring it out as we go, we’ll figure this out too.” She laid her hand on his and squeezed.

He looked up at her and in the dim glow of their bedroom, he found himself falling in love all over again. How did he get so lucky, he wondered.

“I know we will, masareen. I know we will,” he leaned in to kiss her and found himself steadily swelling with anticipation for round two. It wasn’t until Kaasha let the sheets fall from her breasts and flung her arms around him that he realized she had beaten him to the punch, yet again.

“Now, where’s that young, handsome scoundrel I foolishly fell in love with all those years ago?” She said with a smirk.

“Right here, baby. I’m right here.”

 

Chapter Text

Updated Cover Art

Hux had no time for Malak’s games. His failure to kill and recapture Kylo Ren and the Jedi girl was a black mark he couldn’t easily look past. Malak was no fool of course, not like the former Supreme Leader had been but he ensured Hux that he had a plan that would not only end Kylo Ren but the Resistance in a single swoop. Annoyed that the arrogant Knight demanded to see him in person to discuss the plan instead of simply telling him, Hux had to admit that he was intrigued by what it could possibly be.

The shuttle jolted as it hit turbulence in Baze-Chirutti’s atmosphere, but his newly minted Praetorian guards stood unmoving in their gleaming purple and black armor, in a protective formation around him as they descended through the thick jungle canopy to the base of the planet’s largest mountain.

This had better be worth my time, he mused silently to himself. Glancing down at the spherical BB droid that accompanied him, he scoffed at the irony. BB-NX something or other had been Kylo Ren’s personal unit, but since he’d become Supreme Leader, it’s loyalties automatically switched to Hux. He’d considered wiping the droids memory at first in case Ren had reprogrammed it with secret algorithms to remain loyal only to him, but it’s diagnostics checked out and Snoke’s pet Knight wasn’t that clever anyway, so he allowed it to assist him in tackling his new role.

The shuttle set down with a soft thump and the ramp descended in a puff of expelled coolant. As expected the Knights awaiting him at the bottom weren’t Malak or his consort, but the other two whose names he didn’t care to learn. The lean flat headed one approached with the appropriate amount of deference.

He spoke in his broken Alien basic. “Supreme Leader, it is a pleasure to welcome you to this jungle wasteland. The General awaits you inside temple.”

“Temple? What temple?” Hux retorted as he set foot on the murky, wet dirt. His two guards trailed behind him as he glanced around, seeing only vines, rocks and strange avian creatures gawking at him from the trees.

“The Jedi temple, sir. It is hidden inssside mountain, but asss you will see, it is more than just a temple. This way please,” the alien Knight turned as his lean compatriot followed. Hux scoffed with annoyance.

“Very well, lead on.”

He’d had to hold his nose for a spell when they passed by a bloated and rotting corpse of some large arachnid creature that was slowly being reclaimed by the forest, but once they reached the cave entrance he could breathe properly again. The trek was annoyingly long and arduous as they descended the darkness but once they reached the Jedi temple within, he was genuinely surprised by the grandeur of it.

“Well, this is something isn’t it?”

The second Knight of Ren spoke up in reply, “This is nothing. The temple is only a facade for what lies in wait below.”

“Below?” He was genuinely curious now. What could possibly be hidden inside a temple and what possible use could it be to the First Order?

Entering the catacombs, Malak Ren and Shira greeted them at last. “Ah, Supreme Leader, so good of you to make the trip in such short order.”

“I hope it was worth the effort, General. Considering your streak of failure recently, this had better be important,” he spat, making sure to remind the Knight who was in charge here.

If Malak took offense to his words, he didn’t show it, but instead bowed his head lightly, “I can assure you, that what we’ve found is greater than two annoying Force users on the run.”

Hux doubted that very much, but he allowed Malak to entertain him anyway. When they walked into the superstructure of the machine within, however, he was gobsmacked by what he saw. Walkways, automated assembly equipment, and even droids skittering about repairing and building consoles and infrastructure.

“What is this?” He asked absently as they came to a central console station with various readouts on it.

“This is a battle station thought lost during the Jedi and Sith wars of the Old Republic. For a thousand generations it has remained hidden here, covered up by the Jedi council and erased from official records.”

“Battle station? From that age? How is that possible? How does it even have power after such a long time?” Hux was incredulous, he knew technology and he understood basic space station design, there was no way that such a thing could remain active after so long a time.

“The Caretaker can fill you in on that.” Malak turned slightly and gestured to a multi-armed humanoid droid of a type Hux had never seen before.

The ‘Caretaker’ acknowledged Hux’s presence and approached with typical droid-like efficiency. Its voice was deep and intimidating, but still flat as it said, “I am the Caretaker. I oversee repair operations for the station your kind calls the ‘Star Forge’. Though age and considerable damage have rendered the station all but unusable, with time and proper resources, the station can be made fully functional within 6 Republic Standard months.”

Hux chuckled at that, “Republic Standard months? We don’t even use that calendar anymore! Bah, the Republic, old and new, no longer exists.”

“Irrelevant,” the Caretaker replied brusquely, “Time is time regardless of what name you assign to it. Repairs proceed as planned.”

Hux glanced at Malak. “But… what is it, exactly?”

Despite not having a mouth, he thought he could see Malak smiling beneath his vocoder collar when he explained the details. Hux didn’t know what to think at first but after he’d heard of the capabilities, he understood why Malak wasn’t as concerned with finding Kylo Ren and the girl.

“A self-regenerating, mobile dockyard,” he muttered. “Drawing resources from the sun, we’ll have unlimited ships, weapons, defenses even!”

Malak gestured broadly to the space around them. “Yes, Supreme Leader. We could very well have it as our base going forward. The First Order will be unstoppable, no matter how numerous the Resistance becomes. The very fate of the galaxy will be in our—,” Malak paused a moment before continuing, “— in your hands.”

Hux spared him a look of contemptuous amusement. Of course, Malak Ren would think to share the benefits of such a find, but once the station was fully operational it would be no challenge to eliminate the rest of the accursed Force users alongside Kylo Ren. With a station that provided unlimited resources, Hux could secure his dominance for all time, leaving no one to challenge him.

“I am pleased by this find, General. I’m still disappointed that you allowed our enemies to escape, but I suppose it will be of little consequence once all of this comes online.”

“We do still have forces searching for the Millennium Falcon now. It is only a matter of time before we find them,” Malak said almost apologetically.

“I’m sure we will, but in the meantime, continue your work here. Get this station operational as soon as you can, General. The days of the Resistance are numbered at last. It’s time for the First Order to secure our hold on the galaxy once and for all.”

“As the Supreme Leader commands,” Malak said with an overly dramatic bow.

 

***

 

Ben awoke in momentary panic. It was dark and he didn’t recognize where he was but he knew he was on a Star Destroyer. Had it all been a dream, or a nightmare? His moment of anxiety was just that, however as he felt a warm hand sliding across his bare chest and caught sight of Rey stirring under the sheets beside him.

He relaxed immediately upon seeing her serene face nestling in the pillow. Her eyes remained closed as she asked, “Bad dreams again?”

Ben smiled down at her in a momentary daze of incredulity, his enemy, his lover, his equal and now his wife. “No, I thought I felt the ship drop out of hyperspace.”

Rey opened her eyes then as the realization came to her. “Are we there already?” She sat up and looked for a chrono to verify but a familiar voice came over the shipwide intercom a moment later.

“Attention all crew, this is Captain Calrissian; we have arrived in-system. I don’t need to remind you that we are operating on a need-to-know basis so all teams cleared for landing are to begin preparations for disembarking once we settle into orbit. Further orders will be forthcoming from 1st Mate Kaasha Bateen. That is all.”

Rey looked at Ben, her eyes wide with sudden anxiety in the dim light, but he was surprisingly calm given the circumstances. He understood what he was walking into and took her hand in his.

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll be fine.” He kissed her knuckle with a smirk, delighted to see her tension ease.

“I know you are. We’ve faced down bigger threats than Poe.”

They shared a laugh, but suddenly her personal commlink chimed on the nightstand. Rey reached over to answer.

“I’m here.”

“I hope I didn’t wake you two love birds,” Lando’s voice crooned before turning serious, “But as I’m sure you’ve heard, we’ve arrived back at base.”

“Yes, I came to that conclusion. So… what happens now?”

The heavy pause on the other end of the line told Ben all he needed to know but when his uncle finally spoke, he said, “I’ll get the Falcon prepped with Chewie and your Resistance buddies. I’ll come with you down to the surface, Hondo can ride with his own damn crew. You’ll be Ben’s guard, which I’m sure he won’t mind.”

“What possibly gave you that idea?” Ben said with a sarcastic smirk. Rey nudged him with her elbow.

“When do we need to be ready?” She asked.

“Within the hour at most… that’ll give you two some time to, uh… prepare.”

Rey’s eyes locked with his and even in the dim glow of the room, he could see her blushing in response as she sheepishly replied, “Understood, Captain. Thank you.”

“Heh, anytime.” The comm had barely gone silent before Ben threw the sheets back and pounced on her, crushing his lips to hers as she laughed and surrendered to his passion.

***

Freshly showered and dressed, Ben glanced at Rey as she tightened her brown leather belt over her white sash. Apparently, she’d been delivered a traditional Jedi outfit complete with hood and sharp leather boots. It was shimmering white and no doubt meant to be designed for humble practicality, but since he was so madly in love with her, Ben couldn’t help but notice how the form-fitting design complemented her toned curves.

“You look amazing,” he said with sincerity.

She smiled warmly back at him.

“For a Jedi, I mean,” he added with just the right hint of snark.

Her eyes narrowed as she deadpanned. “Thanks. Are you ready to go, prisoner?”

He stepped up to her and lifted her chin with his knuckle as he brought his lips close. “Lead the way.”

She gave him a chaste peck before replying, “Good because I’m sure we’re late already.” Rey turned and led him out of the luxurious room he’d barely gotten to know.

Taking one last look around at the room, he realized it might be the last time he found comfort like that in the coming days, but it didn’t matter. Rey would still be with him down there and the longer they could last against Malak and the First Order, the more time they had to plan their attack.

Lando was waiting with a small escort of guards by the turbolift. He held a pair of electro-cuffs in his hand but didn’t move to put them on, instead gesturing to the lift. “I wish you could’ve had an extended stay, kid.”

“Yeah, me too,” Ben said as he, Rey and the guards stepped inside. The trip to the hangar bay was short but accompanied by sideways glances and searching faces. Rey’s friends were there as well as Uncle Chewie and the Ohnaka pirates who were boarding a separate craft in the next stall.

The Falcon looked as though it were about to fall apart, as it usually did, but he noticed that several patches of hull plating had been replaced. It was Chewie who greeted them at the foot of the ramp.

The Wookie was helping Finn and Rose load some crates on board, growling quietly about the parts Hondo promised them. Finn looked up as Ben passed, and though he didn’t say anything directly his glare was enough to tell him just how he felt. That didn’t matter though. He didn’t need their approval or their companionship, just their willingness to take the threat of the Star Forge seriously.

Rey took him gently by the arm as she escorted him into the Falcon’s lounge. Ben sat at the chess table with two guards, Finn and Lando watching him as Rey joined Chewie in the cockpit to take the Falcon out of the hangar bay.

“This is Captain Calrissian. The prisoner is secured for transport to the surface, do I have permission to proceed, Resistance Base?”

“Permission granted, Captain Calrissian. You may land at docking field 3,” a female voice came over the comm.

“Understood, we’re on our way. Calrissian, out.” He put the comm in his shirt pocket before looking at Ben. As the Falcon lifted off, everyone swayed slightly as the gravity compensators adjusted. He set the electro-cuffs on the table.

“You’ll probably need those before they let you off the ship.”

“They’d be stupid not to. The resistance would have collapsed long ago if they didn’t exercise due diligence.” Ben agreed.

Lando scoffed lightly. “You know, when you start talking like a Supreme Leader, I can see your grandfather coming out.”

That caught Ben’s attention as he regarded his uncle for a long moment.

“Then I look at you and all I see is your old man staring right back at me. You really are a product of both worlds, aren’t you, little Starfighter?”

Ben’s cheeks warmed at the nickname, then, when he noticed the guards giving him the sideye, his icy glare forced them to look away in a hurry. Returning his gaze to his Uncle, he replied.

“Maybe I am after all.”

Lando gave him a half smirk when suddenly Finn approached the table.

Ben locked eyes with the former stormtrooper for a moment before Finn turned to Lando and said, “Can I have a minute with him?”

“Sure thing, kid.” He gave Ben a short nod and walked away, ordering the guards to give them space but not to leave the lounge.

Finn sat down on the opposite end of the chessboard, not saying anything for a moment until he found his words.

“Can I ask you something?”

Ben glanced around as if he had anything better to do and shrugged, “I expect you will no matter what, so go ahead.”

Finn eyed him warily, glancing briefly at Rose who’d been peering around the corner. “I just want to know one thing, Sir.”

Ben shook his head uncomfortably. “I’m not your superior officer anymore.”

“Sorry, a force of habit, or conditioning, or just… I mean I always wanted to know about that night in the village. That night on Jakku, when this all started…”

He went still at mention of the Jakku village but didn’t say anything as Finn went on. “You knew I didn’t fire on those villagers. I saw you look right at me… but you didn’t do anything about it. Why?”

Indeed, it was challenging for him to think about that night or any night that came before then, where he’d been led around like a cur on Snoke’s leash. That moment, however, he remembered all too vividly.

“Perhaps it was because I saw my own weakness in you. Perhaps I pitied you, or maybe it’s simply what the Force willed. Whatever the reason, you chose not to fire your weapon and I chose not to turn you in. What more is there to it? What happened afterward… we can’t change it. Now here we are.”

He watched emotions play across his face at his words, anger most noticeable but also comprehension, shame, confusion among others, but when he finally spoke again, he said, “You saved my life down there, on Baze-Chirrutti, I mean.”

“Twice, actually,” Ben added with a nod.

Finn’s face hardened briefly, but he let it go. “Doesn’t matter, I just wanted you to know I’m…” he stopped to look at Rose who was not-so-subtly eavesdropping from the hallway before continuing, “… Thank you. I don’t expect us to be friends anytime soon, but thank you.”

Ben still wasn’t sure how to handle expressing himself with others who weren’t family, or Rey, but he warmed as he said, “Don’t worry about it. I’m not your enemy anymore, we’ve both got bigger problems to worry about.”

“So I’ve heard.” Finn tapped a finger on the chess board as he considered that. “One catastrophe at a time, I suppose.”

That made him smirk. “Yeah, you can say that.”

Finn fixed him with a stare one last time as silent understanding passed between them, then he pushed away from the chess table and joined Rose in the hallway as Lando reappeared.

“We’re landing now, kid. I won’t let them hurt you, but I doubt it’ll be a warm reception.”

“I expect no less,” he admitted.

Rey came out of the cockpit as he felt the Falcon shudder as the landing jets fired. The old bucket of bolts shook as they touched down, but she had eyes only for him. “We’re up.” She eyed the cuffs on the table; the words didn’t need to be said.

Ben got up from the worn bench and stood before her, his wrists held up. “It’ll be okay.”

Rey looked pained as she picked up the electro-cuffs and opened them. One at a time, she clasped them tightly around his wrist and for a brief moment, their wedding bands were one again as she held his arm in her hand. Her eyes searched his for a moment before saying, “Come with me.”

Wordlessly, he followed her to the loading ramp as Lando’s guards escorted them. A concerned Wookie growl issued from the cockpit, causing Lando to hurry back, then after a few moments he appeared with an angry expression on his face.

“What’s wrong?” Ben asked.

His uncle fixed him with a hard stare. “I said the reception wouldn’t be a warm one, but I didn’t quite think it would be this frosty. You’ll see.”

Ben and Rey shared a look of concern as the guard opened the landing ramp with a rush of vapor as the cabin depressurized to the outside air.

“We’ll be fine,” he assured her again.

Rey replied with a kiss that was both more passionate than she had probably meant it to be and somehow, desperately final before she pulled away.

“I know.”

Ben squeezed her fingers in his hand as he turned to face his destiny.

Then, together, they strode down the ramp. Rey held his arm, much like he’d held hers when he brought her to Snoke, only this time he was among ‘family’. He didn’t know what to expect, but he wasn’t surprised when he set foot on the permacrete and saw what awaited him.

Two whole companies of armed resistance soldiers along with an assortment of manned walkers, speeders, and security craft took up formation around them. From the look of it, every blaster they had trained was trained on him; the irony wasn’t lost on him. He felt more than saw, Rey’s shock, then her rising anger as they walked, but she said nothing as they stepped forward.

Poe Dameron, the Resistance pilot he’d captured on Jakku, then who’d shot at him in his mother’s memorial hall, strode forward with his own blaster unholstered but held downward.

He stopped just short of the security line and barked, “Kylo Ren, in the name of the New Republic, I hereby place you under arrest and charge you with high treason and for committing war crimes including the destruction of the Hosnian System.”

Only now did he level his blaster at him.

“Please come quietly.”

 

Chapter Text

The Fallen Knight

Authors Note:

My original book Celestial the Fallen can be purchased here:

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Thank you for your support!

 

***

 

Lucia’s heart ached as the scene at the landing field replayed in her mind. Kylo’s wrists in shackles, all those troops with their weapons pointed at him, the man who’d helped free her people from the slaver cartels, the man who’d been so soft-spoken and gentle as he left quiet confessions upon her lips, breasts, and thighs. And Poe Dameron had the gall to charge him with the destruction of the Hosnian system as if he had any authority to do so in the first place. The loss was a staggering tragedy, but it was over and done with. What governing body remained of the New Republic had been wiped out leaving only individual systems, the First Order and the Resistance to maintain some semblance of law and order… and failing.

Besides, it’s not like Kylo had been in any position to stop Starkiller base from firing, not under Snoke’s iron fist. No, Dameron knew it was impossible to get to Hux, the actual perpetrator of the crime and instead settled for punishing Kylo for something he had nothing to do with. She was always amazed at how much less attractive people became when they showed their true colors, and General Dameron was a bitter, broken grouse that she wanted nothing to do with.

Kylo Ren, the once Supreme Leader of the First Order had been ordered to ‘come quietly’ as if he were any common criminal, but he fell in line and did as he was beckoned without a second thought. It would have been more strange had she not noticed the girl in white Jedi robes by his side, the girl she realized must have been Rey, the ‘hero of the resistance’.

Lucia didn’t know quite what to think of her at first, she was nothing less than what had been described and yet she was expecting… more. The girl was pretty, yes, but she had durasteel in her stance and demeanor and wasn’t afraid to show it when Poe made his disdain for Kylo obvious. In that brief moment, as she watched them walk past in silence, she got the feeling that Rey was actually protecting him from the guns and spiteful looks, instead of the other way around.

That was when she realized her fears might have been true after all. Kylo was alive, and she was truly grateful for that, but this was the woman his heart truly belonged to, the one she herself had told him to express his feelings for despite her own reservations. Lucia realized she only had herself to blame for telling him that what they shared that night wasn’t love. Her chest tightened with another swelling of emotion, a long forgotten girlish sense of hurt she’d thought she’d freed herself from years ago.

“My Queen, are you okay?”

She hadn’t even noticed Hadé walking up to her. She flinched at her friend’s voice.

“I’m okay, just distracted by recent events is all.” She met her loyal handmaiden’s dark and searching eyes, but they were full of concern and sympathy.

“I know… that the Supreme Leader meant more to you than you had intended him to and I want you to know that I understand how painful this must be for you, to have seen him like that, knowing there was nothing you could do.”

“Painful?” Lucia let out a small laugh, “What on Onderon ever gave you that idea? To be honest, I’m relieved that he’s alive at all, considering everything that happened.”

“That is also true,” Hadé agreed.

“But it doesn’t matter right now, we have alliances to make, favors to call in, anything to get as much help as we need for the fight to come.” Lucia forced herself to think about the business at hand, the next systems she needed to contact and allies she could reach out to, anything to take her mind off of other matters.

Hadé sighed as she offered, “At least we’ve secured Pantora, if we can convince Ryloth to stand with us, they’ll bring some of the other systems with them.”

“You’re right, it’s worth a shot at least,” Lucia agreed. With a nod, she stepped away from the empty table she’d been inhabiting and walked with Hadé into the command center prepared to do what needed to be done. At least it would be a welcome distraction.

***

Despite their optimistic outlooks, Lucia quickly grew frustrated by how little progress she was able to make with Ryloth’s prime minister. So many systems were still scared of the First Order, even more so now that Hux was in charge so when Ryloth stayed reluctant to join their cause, she found herself in a worse mood than she had been before.

She slapped the communication station in anger. “Well, that was an hour wasted.”

Hadé rested a gentle hand on her shoulder. “We’ll find someone, my lady. There are many systems out there, and many have their own Resistance cropping up wherever the First Order goes, we just have to show them that we keep a united front and we’ll gain allies.”

Lucia huffed in annoyance but spared a sympathetic look for Hadé. “I need to get out of here for a bit; blow off some steam. Care for a sparring match?”

Hadé’s lips curled into a smirk, “Sounds like a terrific idea. I’ll get my staff from Saetoni, I’ve been slipping in my practice schedule anyway.”

Lucia nodded and the two of them left the Resistance command center to collect their electrostaffs from their quarters. It was a short walk from there to the empty loading bay but was a pleasant walk in and of itself. Sparring always helped to clear her mind when she found herself reaching her mental limits.

“I think I’ll just pretend I’m fighting Malak Ren and go from there,” Lucia said with a laugh.

Hadé smiled at her as she replied, “I think I’m a bit scarier than that ogre, my Lady. Just a fair warning.”

They rounded the corner as they approached the personnel entrance to the hanger bay, only to stop short when Lucia saw who the small bay was occupied by. She took two steps toward the open door as she watched the white Jedi robes flash through the air. Her vibrant yellow saber staff crackled as she effortlessly flowed from one move to another, striking down imaginary foes with deadly precision as if in a trance.

Lucia looked back at Hadé. “I guess we’re not the only ones who needed to blow off some steam. Can’t say I blame her, to be honest.”

Hadé’s brow furrowed as she interjected, “Perhaps we should find somewhere else.”

“Why? There’s room enough for all of us. Why should we be ashamed to spar in front of the last Jedi in the galaxy?”

Hadé didn’t have an answer for that, so Lucia turned her attention back to the girl, Rey, who wasn’t exactly a ‘girl’ by any standard of the imagination. She was a full-fledged woman and Lucia had no problems focusing her eyes on.

“I mean, just look at her. She’s clearly skilled, can work a staff just fine, and the way her thighs fill out those trousers… I think I’m beginning to understand what Kylo sees in her.”

This time Hadé did respond. “My lady, really? Need I remind you what happened with the Consulate of Otar 1’s wife?”

Lucia rolled her eyes at her. “Oh, please, she came on to me, remember? Besides, we averted an intersystem crisis, didn’t we? It’s not like he caught us in the act.”

“Please… don’t do anything… objectionable.” Hadé put emphasis on that last word.

Lucia sighed, “Will you relax? I promise I’ll behave myself. I just want to make a new friend, that’s all.”

“Your Majesty!” Hadé said after her, but she already turned and walked casually into the hangar bay with her staff in hand.

Rey had been too focused on a defensive parry move to notice them at first but when she spun back around she slowed just enough that Lucia knew she’d finally seen them.

Their eyes locked a moment before Lucia waved, “Don’t mind us, just getting in some practice.”

Rey regarded her for a moment before replying, “Of course.” Then, more slowly, she resumed her flow into another series of motions.

Lucia smirked at Hadé, whose expression had gone hard with a warning. She shrugged innocently as she activated her staff on the lowest setting, gesturing for Hadé to do the same. Her loyal guard did so with a slow twirl as she took up her fighting stance.

She gave Rey a sideways glance, wondering if she was watching them as intently as she was watching her. Her white Jedi robes were pleasantly form-fitting but not to the point of being distracting and so Lucia refocused her attention on Hadé. Taking up her fighting stance, she readied her staff and waited for her opponent to attack.

Hadé lunged toward her gut but Lucia knocked the staff away with ease, a test of her defenses. She followed up by pressing an attack but Hadé met her with a parry of her own. The pair of them went on with their usual techniques for another few moments but only with enough enthusiasm to give the appearance of sparring more than anything.

In truth Lucia caught herself watching Rey perform with her eyes closed, apparently steeped in the Force. She’d been so impressed with the display she missed Hadé’s obvious fake out and took a sharp crack of a mild electric shock across her backside for the effort.

“Ow, kriff!” She cursed as she glowered at her friend.

“You were distracted,” Hadé said with a stern but even tone.

“I was not, that was a cheap shot!” She rubbed her ass lightly to smooth out the tingly numbness delivered by the electrostaff. To her surprise, it was Rey who commented a moment later.

“You were distracted. You were too busy ogling me and got smacked for it. Simple as that.” Rey finished her move before deactivating her saber staff and turning to the two of them.

Lucia narrowed her eyes. Of course, she could sense it through the Force, but that didn’t mean she had to accept it. Holding her hands up in mock surrender, she said, “I wasn’t ‘ogling’ you, for your information. I was admiring your technique and wondering where you’d learned it from, that’s all.”

Rey’s brow raised half an inch, clearly skeptical of her lie, “Just something I learned defending myself on Jakku most of my life. It’s rough but through the Force, I can see more ways to utilize the technique.”

“You’re self-taught? Impressive.” Lucia was genuinely impressed in fact, considering she thought the last Jedi had learned most of her skills from Luke Skywalker. “It’s Rey, isn’t it?” She asked out of formality.

“That’s right,” Rey said flatly.

“I’ve heard many things about you. It’s truly an honor to finally meet. I’m…”

“I know who you are... Lucia.” Rey interrupted.

That did catch her off guard, though perhaps it shouldn’t have. After a moment she reasoned that Kylo would have at least mentioned her and if not him, then Lando definitely. To her chagrin, Hadé sharply retorted.

“You are speaking to Queen Lucia Bonterri of Onderon.”

Rey glared at her, as did Lucia who simply added, “That isn’t necessary. We’re all friends here after all.” She smiled hard at Hadé, who scowled in return but backed down, then she turned back to Rey and added, “Aren’t we?”

The Jedi eyed her with durasteel in her gaze. “I’m not your enemy if that’s what you mean.”

“Ah,” Lucia said in understanding. It was better than she hoped, but clearly, Rey knew enough to be wary of her, so she decided to change topics instead. “Well, now that introductions are out of the way, I must say I am genuinely impressed with your fighting skills.”

“Thank you,” Rey said flatly.

“Truthfully I’d been frustrated trying to build alliances all day and wanted to clear my head sparring, but since you’re here, I would consider it an honor to trade staffs with you, only if you want to, of course. I’ve never sparred with a Jedi before.”

She watched Rey’s expression change from skeptical to searching as she looked her up and down, a look she didn’t mind providing either if truth be told. When Rey didn’t reply right away, Lucia continued.

“I mean, I’ve fought Knights of Ren before, I barely escaped with my life, but it was quite an educational experience.”

“Was it Malak Ren?” Rey asked.

Again, she was surprised by her insight as she replied, “Yes, actually. When Hux launched his coup, Malak and his harlot with the electro-whip came to my palace and tried to apprehend me. Unfortunately for him I had the help of defectors and my handmaidens with me and was able to escape, but not without casualties.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” the Jedi said, this time with a note of sincerity.

“Yes, well, the tides of power can change rapidly in times of revolution. They certainly did for me, both when I took power and again when I lost it.” The words hurt to say out loud, but the pain didn’t make them any less true.

“I can imagine he wasn’t too happy after I cut his arms and half his face off,” said Rey.

Lucia raised her brow. “That was you? He’d been more… complete the first time I met him.”

“That’s right. I stopped them from killing Ben… barely.” Rey looked away as if ashamed but Lucia couldn’t stop thinking about the way she said ‘Ben’, his true name according to Lando. She’d only ever known him as Kylo, but to learn of an entirely different part of his life was a surreal experience.

The Queen saw the love in the Jedi’s eyes for the man whom she’d told herself she wouldn’t fall in love with. Unfortunately, it had happened anyway, if too late, but Rey was the one he had wanted all along. She’d been the one to save his life from the coup attempt. That was more than Lucia could ever hope to claim.

“Thank you,” Lucia said suddenly, surprising herself as much as Rey. Even as the other woman regarded her with mild curiosity. “Thank you for saving him. There’s just something special about that one isn’t there?”

Rey’s eyes fell. “Yes, there is.”

Lucia smirked. “I suppose he’s told you about me?”

“He… has.”

Lucia knew from the way she’d hesitated that he’d said plenty about her, but that didn’t matter, she was an adult and she wouldn’t apologize or feel ashamed in any way for what she did so she added, “You know, I told him that what we did was only for fun and that nothing else would come of it. He was in a place where he didn’t quite know what he wanted and I’d had my heart broken enough times to know better than to get involved with someone who didn’t know what they truly wanted.”

She glanced at Rey to gauge her reaction, but she was listening quietly, so she continued, “I may not have known who exactly you were at the time, but I told him to find you and to be honest with his feelings and to tell you how he felt or else he’d regret it forever. Is it safe to assume that he followed my advice?”

A small smile brightened Rey’s face. “He did… multiple times.”

To her surprise, Lucia found herself blushing. Rey clearly wasn’t one for mincing words and she could respect that. “Yes well, he is very eager to please, I’ll give him that.” She measured her next words carefully before saying, “I’m glad that he found someone who could make him happy.”

Rey’s expression softened. “Thank you for understanding.”

Warmth bloomed in Lucia’s chest, glad that she and Rey could come to an understanding at all. Not all women, especially other lovers were as civil about these things, but the Jedi continued to impress her.

She regarded the staff in her grip before adding, “That being said, I’m very eager to spar with the Jedi who made Malak Ren so much more attractive.” She let the sarcasm drip from her lips as she turned to Hadé and gestured for her to hand over the electrostaff.

Her handmaiden rolled her eyes but relented. Lucia tossed it to Rey who caught the staff easily, giving it a cursory twirl to test its balance.

“Alright, I’ve never sparred with a Queen before. This should be fun.”

“Glad to hear you’re just as eager as Kylo. You said you’re self-taught? I’ve been trained by some of the best martial arts masters in the mid-rim and very curious to see if I can hold my own with you.”

“I may not have formal training, but what I’ve learned is that if you hit a being hard enough, they tend to fall down.”

Lucia laughed, “Well, that’s about the brunt of it, isn’t it? So, let’s see what you’ve got.”

“Let’s,” Rey agreed.

Hadé stepped back to give them room as Lucia took up her fighting position. Rey was much less formal but had adopted her own stance as she readied herself. Lucia smirked and daring a gratuitous presentation of showmanship, she spun and whipped her staff through the air, behind her back, under her legs, and across her chest in an overly elaborate display fit for the greatest championship fighting rings this side of the Mid-rim. With a flick of her shoulder, she pulled the staff until it stabbed outward, directly at Rey signaling the end of her self indulgent performance.

If Rey was intimidated in any way, she hardly showed it. Instead, her brow raised slightly as she said, “Wow… fancy. There were at least five different times I could have taken you out during that display, but I get that we’re just sparring today so I let you have your fun.” Her lip turned up into a smirk.

Lucia met her amused expression with her own, “Good, I’m glad you’re paying attention because now I’m going to teach you the most important lesson.”

“Which is?” Rey asked, bemused.

“This.” Lucia lunged at her without further warning. Just as she’d expected of a Jedi, Rey pulled her staff up and parried her attack despite having been caught off guard and then the actual match was on.

“Almost caught me, clever,” Rey offered.

“I caught Malak too, but I have a feeling you’re better.”

“Maybe I am.”

Lucia and Rey circled each other before locking staffs together in another flurry of shocks. Strike, parry, retreat then strike again, that was the method that went through her mind as she focused on Rey’s feet and the angle of her shoulders. The Jedi may have the Force but she had the experience to know when a fighter would strike and how so it would have to do.

This time it was Rey who rushed her, but Lucia dived and rolled out of the way of the low yield electric tip. She could taste the ozone left in its wake as she bounced onto her feet to parry the Jedi’s backward strike. Suddenly being driven back, Lucia felt her muscles straining in a way she hadn’t felt in a long time. This was actually a challenge!

“You’re good, I’ll give you that,” Rey said breathlessly.

“So are you. I think I understand how you were able to cut Malak’s face off.”

Their staffs clashed together in an X shape as she saw the sweat beading Rey’s forehead.

Rey grunted a response through clenched teeth, “Trust me, there was plenty of anger involved as well.”

“Same!”

They broke away from each other, Lucia retreating to the far end of the mat. She gave her staff a spin to ready herself for the next charge when Rey asked, “So how did you get away from him? I can imagine he wasn’t in the best mood after everything that had gone down.”

“No he certainly wasn’t, but as for how? Well, let me show you…” Lucia charged at Rey and, just as she had done with Malak, dropped to her knees at the last moment as she slid beneath Rey’s strike and brought her staff against the back of her knees… only the staff met the air instead.

Rey had apparently seen the feignt and flipped backward and nearly caught her with the end of her own staff, but Lucia was able to roll and launch herself at the Jedi’s legs. Dropping the weapons entirely, she grappled her and pulled her to the ground and suddenly they were wrestling for submission.

“Now this is my kind of fighting, down and dirty, wrestling with a beautiful woman,” she growled as she wrapped her legs around Rey’s waist in an attempt to lock her down as she put her in a chokehold.

“You’re a charming one, aren’t you? But with all due respect, you’re not my type!”

Rey lifted her shoulder and threw Lucia back enough to break free from the grab, now she was on the run as Rey spun and slipped her arms under her shoulders and brought her into a backbend, but Lucia’s muscle memory kicked in as she slipped partially free from the hold.

Suddenly Rey’s arm found it’s way around her throat and despite her best efforts to break free again, they’d ended up in a stalemate.

“Yield,” Rey said, her breath and lips hot on Lucia’s neck.

“I’m a Queen, sweetheart. I never finish first,” she teased.

“You’re really going to make me do this aren’t you?” Rey said warningly.

“Do what, exactly?” Lucia asked, suddenly confused.

“This.” Suddenly Rey licked a long stripe up the back of her neck to her earlobe and Lucia’s brain short-circuited.

“What the kriff…” she didn’t have a chance to finish before Rey flipped her onto her back like a fish and pulled an electrostaff into her hand with the Force. As the air was knocked out of her from the impact, Lucia stared up in disbelief as the Jedi stood over her with the tip of the staff just a fingers breadth away from her face.

Out of breath and sweaty, Rey said, “Never underestimate the power of a good distraction.”

Somehow, hearing her own words echoed back at her under these circumstances was too much to bear. Lucia burst out in laughter as she put her palms to the sky and said, “I’m alllll yours, sweetie!”

Rey rolled her eyes and deactivated the electrostaff. Holding up her left forearm she showed off a small leather band wrapped around her wrist. “Unfortunately for you, your Majesty, I’m a married woman.” She then offered that same hand for Lucia to pull herself up by.

On her feet again, she dusted herself off as she replied, “Wow, you two work fast, but congratulations.”

“Thank you,” Rey said as she handed the staff back to Hadé, who looked gladder than either of them that the sparring match was over.

Lucia touched the wetness on her neck and looked at her fingertips. “That was expertly done. I’m just glad our boy remembered his lessons.”

This time Rey was the one to blush

They took a moment to catch their breath before Lucia said, “I’m glad that it’s you,” she said, at last, the meaning of her words not needing to be said.

Rey met her eyes with a gentleness Lucia hadn’t seen before as she said, “I’m glad you cared enough to try and understand him, if even for only a short time.”

Lucia nodded. “Sometimes we never know where these hyperlanes will take us. Kindness and understanding can go a long way in this galaxy if you’re careful. I just hope he can forgive himself for what he’s done, we’ll need all the help we can get in the fight to come.”

“Yes, we will, and he’s trying, to forgive himself I mean. It won’t be easy, but he won’t be alone.” Rey looked at her for a long moment before adding, “But when that fight comes, your Majesty, if I’m not in a position to do so, can you promise me that you’ll fight like that to protect him?” She gestured at the mat they’d been sparring on and Lucia’s chest tightened with emotion.

“Of course. He would do it for you, I won’t do any less for him.”

The two women shared another moment of silent understanding before Rey nodded.

“Thank you… my friend.” She extended her hand to Lucia.

The Queen looked at it with surprise but happily returned the gesture. “You’re very welcome. I don’t make many friends, but the ones I do I trust with my life.” She spared a quick glance at her handmaiden who shrugged and rolled her eyes before turning to Rey.

“It’s true, but friends of the Queen are my friends as well,” she said extending her own hand in response.

“I’m glad to hear it.” Rey shook it with a warm smile that made Lucia realize how much more there was to her than just the stories she’d been told. This Jedi girl who’d won Kylo Ren’s heart was a person all her own with her own doubts and insecurities like any of them and despite her initial reservations, she was glad to get to know her as such.

“I should probably shower now that I’ve worked up a sweat,” Rey commented as she reached for her towel.

“We should do the same, after all, we can’t forge alliances with planetary dignitaries looking like we just crawled out of a swamp, can we?” Lucia quipped.

Rey turned to leave but stopped as she asked, “Maybe not, but we can visit a Supreme Leader. Have you been to see him yet?”

The question caught her off guard, but Lucia stated, “No, I’ve been too busy. Also, I’m not entirely sure if I want to see him caged like some animal.” She let hardness creep into her voice when she’d said that last bit and Rey seemed to pick up on her anger.

“I can assure you, I had some stern words with Poe about that.”

“What I wouldn’t give to have seen that meeting,” she added.

Rey regarded her for another moment before nodding toward the hallway. “Come on, I’ll take you to him. You deserve to catch up on some things, I’m sure.”

“Oh, thank you, Master Jedi,” Lucia said with genuine gratitude.

Rey seemed to revel in the title as she said, “Master Jedi… I like the sound of that. I just wish I could live up to it.”

“You already have, I assure you.” She traded a thoughtful look with her again before collapsing her electrostaff and strapping it to her back. Hadé fell in behind her as she joined Rey with a light slap on the shoulder.

“I’m sure our great Supreme Leader isn’t ready for this visit.”

“No, I’m sure he isn’t.” Rey agreed.

***

Ben continued his meditations despite the generally chaotic energy he felt from the Resistance base around him. As he’d assumed it would be, it was so much less ‘orderly’ than the First Order but having endured his previous organization's treachery first hand, he felt some modicum of sympathy for the soldiers around him. Not so much for Poe Dameron, he could do without another pointless interrogation from that pompous ass, especially if it didn’t bring them any closer to stopping the Star Forge, but for now, he found some peace in his tiny cell. That would have to be enough.

His cell, it was really just a storage pantry with a reinforced laser gate and a metal cot. It smelled of stale air and mildew that crept in from the outside and the ever-present sound of dripping water somewhere was enough to drive anyone mad; needless to say, it was a far cry from his uncle’s luxury suite where he and Rey could wake up in each other’s arms day in and day out if they’d wanted to. He hated being separated from her, even if she was free to roam the base, but he had the bond with him, and that comforted him in his darker moments, usually at night.

Suddenly a familiar warmth began to glow within the Force and her presence brought a smile to his face. Rey rounded the corner shortly after and spoke to the guards, someone else was with her, two someones actually and also familiar to him, then when he opened his eyes he froze when he saw who they were.

Queen Lucia smiled sheepishly at him while her handmaiden Hadé took up a position just far enough away to give her some privacy. Ben was anxious as he stood, staring at the two women he’d known most intimately in recent months.

“Well,” Lucia said as she ran her eyes down his entire length, “Someone is looking good for being dead and all.”

To his further shock, it was Rey who added, “He has that talent, I’m afraid. When I pulled him out of the river, he nearly was dead. He cleans up well if I do say so myself.”

Ben felt his cheeks begin to burn as he approached the security field. “Lucia, I’d heard you gotten off Onderon. I’m glad to see that you’re okay.” Was all he could manage to say in front of Rey.

The two women looked at each other before Lucia narrowed her eyes at him. “Just… Lucia? Not ‘my lady’ or ‘your majesty’? Have you forgotten your manners already? Is this what imprisonment does to men of quality?”

“It would seem so,” Rey said with an amused grin.

His eyes widened at her.

Lucia casually added with the wave of her hand, “No offense, my dear, but you can keep him.”

“None taken. I prefer them a bit rough and uncultured,” his wife smirked in response.

He groaned with annoyance. “That’s funny, both of you. I’m glad I’m a source of amusement for you, really.”

“Aww, don’t be like, we’re just playing around,” Rey offered.

“Perhaps a bit too vigorously,” Lucia said slapping her arm around her shoulder. That’s when Ben noticed how flushed and sweaty they were. His eyes narrowed with concern.

Naturally, it was Lucia who explained, “Your wife is very beautiful and a wonderful dancing partner, I must say.”

Ben nearly choked. “Dancing… partner?”

Rey rolled her eyes as she casually flicked Lucia’s hand off her shoulder. “Sparring. We were sparring, nothing else.”

Though he’d come to realize that was a far more likely case, the image currently going through his mind made his cheeks bloom and his ears redden.

“Oh no…” Lucia said, “Now we’ve done it. The poor boy’s as red as his lightsaber!”

He scoffed. “I still see your attempts to throw me off are as transparent as ever… your Majesty.”

“You know I have to stay on top of my game,” Lucia agreed.

Rey stepped forward, all visible signs of her teasing gone from her expression. “It’s alright, Ben. Lucia came in while I was practicing and we got some lumps in, that’s all. You’re my husband and I trust you. I just thought the decent thing would be to bring her along so you two can talk privately.” She looked at Lucia who nodded in gratitude.

Ben approached the security field, feeling Rey’s emotions rippling out from her as he looked her in the eyes. “Thank you.”

She smiled back at him, no other words needing to be said before she stepped back before announcing, “I do think a good shower is in order, but you two take all the time you need, okay?” Rey said as she turned away.

“Thank you, Rey,” Lucia said after her.

Rey spared a final glance back at Ben and disappeared around the corner.

He turned to Lucia. The two of them looked at each other for a long time, unable to speak or just find the words, but after a long while, she was the one to break the silence.

“Malak told me he’d killed you and in brutally succinct detail… it rattled me but I’m glad he’s been proven a liar.”

“He does that. The Darkside feeds off of doubt and fear. He lies and manipulates to get what he wants, then he strikes. He’d been manipulating under Snoke’s orders since the beginning and I’d never seen it coming. I’m glad he failed in his mission.”

Lucia’s eyes softened. “Well, your troops helped. That Captain of yours, three-nine, is a good man with a conscience. If it weren’t for him and his squad we might not have made it off Onderon alive.”

“That’s why I trusted him. He was more than just his conditioning, I wish it hadn’t been at the expense Hux forced them to pay.”

“The Finalizer?”

Ben ground his teeth, “I tried to sway them to move away from conditioning. They stole children from birth… like the Jedi of old,” the words left a bitter taste on his mouth but he continued, “That’s why I offered planets the chance to sign up voluntarily, to give them a choice at least. Apparently, Hux wasn’t fond of seeing his father’s legacy go down the drain like that. I’d been too… distracted and I paid the price for it.”

Lucia’s eyes glinted in the dull light, “You were a fool in love… what did you expect?”

He gave her a ‘look’ and retorted, “I did what I thought was right, to save the people who couldn’t save themselves and to make alliances through trust instead of fear. I just didn’t expect them to retaliate on you as they did. I know I can never make up for that and I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, we both know who’s to blame. Right now he’s sitting pretty in his Star Destroyer while the Knights of Ren are running around the galaxy causing havoc.”

Ben blanched at that. “I’m afraid things have gotten more complicated as of late. Some things that weren’t meant to be discovered have been.”

Lucia cocked her head in confusion but Ben didn’t elaborate. Instead, he added, “I’m sure Rey can catch you up to speed when the time’s right.”

“Right, of course,” she nodded in begrudging agreement. She glanced back at the hallway where she had gone then said, “About Rey…”

Ben clenched with anticipation.

“Lando told me about your ‘connection’ with her. That night we were together… is that what happened when you woke, shouting her name?”

Ben didn’t want to dwell on that moment, seeing the hurt in her eyes and knowing that he’d been the cause of it again, but he nodded, “Yes, she’d learned to open the bond on her own and just happened to see us. I’d rather not think about that though, and besides things worked out, in the end, didn’t they?” He held up his wrist with a matching wedding band on it.

She smiled, “I like her, a lot actually. Hell if you two weren’t so damn fond of each other and ‘married’ I might be inclined to steal her for myself.” She winked at him with a mischievous glint in her eye.

He chuckled. “That might be a challenge under the best circumstances. She cut my face open the first time we, uh, ‘went out’.”

“So I’ve heard. But given the circumstances, I can’t really blame the girl.”

“Yeah, me neither.” He admitted.

“Still,” Lucia said a bit dejectedly, “There was a part of me that wanted you to come back, I mean if things hadn’t worked out between you two. Maybe it was just childish thinking or loneliness, but, well… there it is. I wondered what kind of person could so thoroughly capture the heart of the mighty Kylo Ren, and now I know.”

He stiffened at the sound of that name. Unsure of how to deal with his recent past, he focused inwardly and instead found the courage to say, “If we’re being honest here if it hadn’t worked out with me and Rey… I would have liked to have come back too. You’re a good person and a just ruler… nobody in your position deserves to feel alone all the time.”

The briefest glimpse of wetness shown in her eyes and her breath shook with emotion as she replied, “As a Queen, I’m never truly alone am I? I believe there’s someone for everybody out there in this massive galaxy; perhaps one day I’ll find them.”

“You will and they’ll be the luckiest person in the galaxy to have you.” He said at last.

“Thank you, Kylo… or Ben, or, I don’t know. What do you prefer to be called these days?” She chuckled.

He considered that for a moment as he wasn’t entirely sure himself what he liked to be called. Rey called him Ben and he never felt the need to stop her, but he was also Kylo Ren and that’s how Lucia knew him so he was at an impasse.

He said only, “Whatever you prefer. You’re a Queen after all and I’m a prisoner of war.”

“That may be true, but you’re married to a Queen, maybe not the kind of Queen the galaxy expects, but one who’s no less deserving of the title. If she calls you Ben, then so will I.”

He nodded with understanding. “Okay.”

She regarded him for a long moment, as if unsure how to take his reply, but she huffed in resignation as she said, “That being said, whatever you choose to call yourself, just know that me and the people of Onderon stand with you, not ‘General Dameron’, so if that pompous flyboy thinks he can boss you around speaking for the entire Republic and not have consequences, we’ll be sure to remind him that isn’t the case.”

“Thank you for your support, but regardless of what happens we will need a united front.”

“I know. I’ll try to put in a good word for you, Supreme Leader.” She winked again and turned to leave when Ben interjected.

“Your Majesty… if Rey’s in trouble, no matter how it happens, protect her for me.”

She considered that. “Curious, because she asked me to do the same for you. I suppose you’re fortunate I’m so damn fond of you two otherwise I might tell you to piss off… but if I can help, I will. I promise.”

“Thank you… my lady.”

She smiled at that and left.

Just like that, Ben found himself alone again with a world of thoughts and emotions swirling through his mind. Lucia, Rey, his mother… he could feel them all in some way through the Force. He knew his mother had a memorial somewhere in the base, he’d seen it when this mess began and Poe had shot at him, but so far all his requests to visit had been denied.

Ben sighed and sat back down on his cot, desperate to find a solution or at least a glimmer of hope on how they could defeat the First Order and the Star Forge. He closed his eyes, regulated his breathing, and steeped himself back into the Force to navigate the dark ether of the cosmos. One way or another, he would find his answer and he hoped it wouldn’t come too late.

 

Chapter Text

 

“They are… magnificent,” Malak said in awe as he looked upon the gleaming red armor.

The Caretaker paced, clipped and controlled as always as it gestured to the thirteen prototype soldiers before them.

“These are the first Sith troopers to see battle in a thousand generations. As we incorporate modern technologies and logistics into the programming for future batches, they will become unstoppable, linked by hive mind to the Forge itself. When one falls, two more will take their place until the galaxy shakes in fear of our domination.”

Malak Ren approached the first trooper and stared into the black visor. Their armor had been deliberately evocative of First Order protocol with some modifications to account for their bulky droid mechanics. As the Caretaker said, these were prototypes and would be upgraded as they progressed with their plan. He was fine with that, but what hasn’t been tested was how well they perform in the field.

“Hux will never see the blade coming when we strike,” he said in a low murmur.

Shira stepped up beside him. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We still need time to build our forces before we can even think of overthrowing Hux. We can’t count on the First Order changing loyalties so easily after Snoke and Kylo Ren.”

He turned to her, sympathetic to her concern but said firmly, “They will bow to whoever holds power. Once this station is fully operational, we will be that power.”

The Caretaker interjected, “Agreed. Our master will bring the Sith Empire back to glory free of the Heretics that betrayed us… but there is one other that would prove invaluable to our cause.”

“Who?” Malak said with suspicion.”

“The girl. The Jedi called Rey.”

He and Shira balked at that.

“Her? What do you need her for?” Malak barked.

The Caretaker stared back through black emotionless lenses. “She is powerful, more powerful than any other Force user in my time or now. With her by our side, our order will be unstoppable. Without her, we may still thrive, but at a greater cost.”

Malak stepped closer to the droid, his anger simmering just below the surface. “Look at my face, droid. Look at my arms. She did this to me.”

“And you are stronger because of it because it fuels your hatred. Surely you feel the power within yourself?”

He flinched, but the droid was right. His anger at her had made him more powerful and the Darkside thrived on such feelings. When he didn’t respond, the Caretaker continued.

“If you are unwilling to do this, perhaps our master chose the bearers of his legacy poorly. Perhaps there are still others that would be more suitable.” The droid turned to look at Shira but Malak stepped into its line of sight.

“No, our master chose wisely. If the girl is what he wants… then he shall have her,” Malak said with restrained anger.

The droid considered this for a long moment.

“Very well. Perhaps this will be an opportunity to test your new troopers.”

Malak turned to Shira and ignored the hardness in her expression as she looked away from him. He announced instead, “We know where they are. That pirate’s tracker is still aboard the Millennium Falcon in the outer rim. Less clear is how we can infiltrate their energy shield.”

This time Shira spoke. “Our contacts on Batuu have confirmed that refugees fleeing the First Order sieges have stopped at the Resistance base before leaving the system. If they are allowing people to land we may just be able to set down and walk right in.”

“We will need to disguise ourselves or otherwise forge identities in order to get close enough to the base,” Malak offered.

“Unnecessary,” the Caretaker announced. “In Hanger bay 2-D a ship is being repaired and fitted with a cloaking system. You can slip into the energy shield with other transports and set down wherever you need to in preparation for your attack.”

Malak and Shira traded glances, a look of mild concern pinching her features. When he turned back to the droid, he said, “How long have you been preparing for this assault, droid?”

“Your apprehension is wasted on needless speculation. My calculations concluded the likely probability of a clandestine inter-system excursion. Preparing transport was a necessary precaution, but now that the opportunity has presented itself, retrofits will proceed with haste.”

Malak eyed the droid hard for another moment, frustrated that the blank lenses showed so little emotion in return. He sighed with resignation as he replied, “Very well. We will take your 'prototypes' on this mission. I’m sure whatever the outcome the data they collect will be invaluable.”

“Affirmative,” was all the Caretaker said as it turned away and went off to perform whatever duties it had been designed to carry out.

Malak Ren looked at the red armored troopers. They stood so perfectly still, he might have thought they were just empty armor stands until he addressed them.

“Troopers—,” each of the droid soldiers snapped to attention, drawing their weapons upward in preparation. “Follow me.”

“Yes sir,” they replied with garbled droid voices.

 

***

 

Rey grimaced as Elle-Seven drew more blood.

“Are these tests really necessary? We’ve been out of that damned jungle for three weeks now. If I got infected with anything, I’d imagine I’d be showing signs by now.”

Elle-Seven sighed as only a fed up medical droid could.

“I understand your frustration, but there are other concerns I wish to monitor.”

That surprised her. Rey looked into the droid’s single black lens as she asked, “What other concerns? Am I sick?”

“Not quite, but I have… suspicions.” Elle-seven said cryptically.

“Suspicions… about what?”

The droid moved to the testing unit with the blood sample as she spoke.

“Have you been getting sick in the mornings recently? Nausea, headaches, vomiting that kind of thing?”

Rey stopped to think about it. She had actually, in fact, it was becoming a concern of hers that she usually woke to a roiling stomach but she dismissed it as just bad rations.

“Well… yes, actually I’ve been getting sick. I figured the climate and food might be bad for me.”

“That’s debatable certainly, but your symptoms are much more in line with another kind of malady entirely.”

“What kind?”

Elle-Seven sighed before saying, “It’s still very early, my dear, so I was waiting for testing to be more definitive… but as it stands right now there is approximately 87.5% that you’re pregnant.”

The ground seemed to fall out from under her. Rey’s eyes widened to saucers and her breath grew shallow. Pregnant? She was… pregnant?

Visions and memories flashed through her mind, images she hadn’t even shared with Ben. The future, the past, a little girl swinging from her parent's arms; it was a vision she’d hoped might be true but dismissed as a lie of Snoke’s, but now the Force had revealed the truth at long last.

“I’m detecting an elevated heart rate, sweating, and a noticeable level of panic rising in you. Are you alright, my dear?” Said Elle-Seven.

Rey had gone numb and yes, she was definitely starting to panic as the realization came crashing down on her that she was pregnant in the middle of a war. How can she possibly have a child in all this? What if Malak got the Star Forge operational and destroyed them all? What if she and Ben were the only survivors? What if Ben died and she was left to raise their child by herself? What if she died and he was left alone with his grief? It was too much.

“I’ll be fine, doctor, I just need… a drink or something.”

Elle-Seven stepped away to fill a small cup with water and bring it back to her. Rey downed it in a single gulp. The cool liquid helped shock her back to her senses for the time being until she realized that Ben might have felt her shock through the bond. How was she going to tell him? Would he be overjoyed, disheartened… angry? She had so many doubts that she didn’t know what to do, so for the time being, she dipped into her Jedi training and found strength in the Force and was able to calm herself enough to feel something else instead.

It was only a flicker of sensation, like the touch of a feather, but it was there inside of her where it hadn’t been before. Her child… their child, a small batch of dividing cells growing and expanding with possibilities. Tears of happiness stung her eyes as she laughed and rubbed her stomach with her hands.

“I understand such news may come as a shock, but I do think this is where organics tend to say ‘congratulations’.” Elle-Seven put her metal hand on Rey’s shoulder, causing her to open her eyes again.

“Thank you!”

***

Rey tingled with emotion as she walked through the halls of the Resistance base. She thought she saw some of the soldiers and officers looking at her as if they already knew, but she was good at keeping her expression steady. Of course, they didn’t know, no one but her and Elle-Seven knew and soon, Ben would know.

Ben.

She still didn’t know how she was going to tell him or if it was even necessary because of the bond. If he knew already, she couldn’t sense it, but that only made the walk to his cell more stressful. When she arrived there were two guards standing lazily around the hallway entrance.

“I’d like to speak with the prisoner,” she said as formally as she could.

The guards exchanged a look when the burly man on the right said, “General Dameron’s interrogating him right now. Unless it’s an immediate emergency he doesn’t want to be disturbed.”

“Interrogating him again?” She spat more forcefully than she’d intended. “Well, how long is he going to be?”

“I can’t say, he’s already been in there for half an hour.”

Rey growled with frustration. It had been nearly a month since she’d brought Ben to the base and he’s been imprisoned like an animal the entire time so that Poe Dameron could pump him for every bit of intel he could.

“Fine, I’ll be back later,” she said through clenched later before storming off. Rey muttered several more curses at the flyboy General, then stopped herself when she thought about what Leia would say. The pain of her loss stabbed at her heart all over again.

Luke was gone, Leia was gone, Han was gone. None of Ben’s family would see their granddaughter grow up or celebrate her first name day. Despite being surrounded by allies, she felt suddenly alone again, until a kindly voice called out to her.

“What troubles you, child?”

Rey hadn’t even noticed Maz standing there by the entrance to the repair bay. She was dirty and stained with grease but her eyes were as warm and introspective as ever as she pointed a hydrospanner at her and added, “I can see it in your face and feel it in the Force.”

She smiled with embarrassment. She hadn’t exactly been subtle at hiding her feelings after being turned away from her husband, but she always welcomed Maz’s company.

“I’ve got a lot on my mind.”

Maz chuckled. “I can tell. Care to talk about it?”

Rey sat on a pile of crates nearby and exhaled long and deep.

“It’s just that… I want to believe I know what’s going to happen but I know that I can’t put my faith in that belief and it’s frustrating. We could all die tomorrow or next month, or we can destroy the First Order and free the galaxy but I have no idea how it will happen.”

Maz settled in beside her, adjusting her goggles as she said, “Sometimes faith is all we have. That and hope, it has gotten people through the toughest situations, though not always. Being in tune to the Force can be… challenging.

Seeing visions of the future and not knowing if it’s actually the future or just the future you wish it to be is a special kind of frustration, child. You have come far from those timid steps in the basement of my bar, young scavenger. You should know by now to trust in the Force wherever it may guide you.”

Rey considered her words. It was true, she had come a long way from scavenging in the sands of Jakku and the first time she touched Luke’s saber and saw the visions of the Knights of Ren, including the man who would become her lover and husband. This was just the next step in her journey she supposed and that would have to be enough.

“Maz, I want to believe the Force knows what to do, but sometimes things happen that I just don’t understand or can’t make sense of. Why does it have to happen like that? There are so many things to consider about the past, the present and the future that I don’t know where to begin.”

Maz sighed before she replied, “Child, entire orders of mystical adherents have risen and fallen in search of the answer to ‘why’. Why does the Force show you the past or the future? Why does your journey seemingly get derailed when you least expect it? Do we really have free will if our destinies are already predetermined? You’re not alone in wanting to know these answers but I’m afraid not even I can provide them.”

Rey nodded with resignation. “I suppose the only way to know is by taking those steps then.”

Maz snapped a finger at her. “That’s the best advice I’ve heard in a long time, child. Sometimes to find the path ahead requires staying put and meditating, sometimes you just have to get stepping.” She chuckled

She thought carefully to herself about whether or not she should tell her the truth, but it didn’t feel right to her. Ben should be the first one to know, she felt, and there was enough time to tell him later. Rey smiled at Maz.

“Thanks for the chat, it helped put some things in perspective.”

The small pirate rested a hand on her wrist. “Anytime, Rey. If you’ll excuse me I still have some repairs to make.”

“Of course.”

Maz smiled and turned back toward the repair bay as Rey stood and spared a glance down the hall to where Ben was being interrogated.

“I’ll tell him later,” she said to herself as she turned and walked to her makeshift quarters.

 

***

 

Brakk swore under his breath as Anto clapped him on the shoulder. The others were drunk and he wasn’t nearly as drunk as he’d wanted to be because he still had business to take care of, namely finding out when he was going to get paid by the General bastard of the Knights of Ren and get away from the Ohnaka gang once and for all.

“What is the matter Brakk, my friend? Why so gloomy?” Said Anto.

He cursed. “I’m just tired is all. Been pullin’ double shifts ‘round this base and for what? We’re pirates, why ain’t we piratin’?”

Anto bellowed with drunken laughter as he gestured broadly around them.

“This base is the Resistance! We have a deal with them that’s more lucrative than pirating. My father is a businessman, yes he is, and he knows how to work the odds in our favor!”

Brakk sneered, “Yeah, not if we get blown up by the First Order.”

Anto clapped him on the back again, making him spill more of his drink. “Don’t be so defeatist, you timid pyjak, we have Lando Calrissian on our side as well as not one, but two Jedi!”

“Yeah, yeah, I keep hearing that. I dunno, maybe I just can’t hold my liquor like I used to. I’m going to get some rack time.”

“You’re leaving already?” Anto cocked his head to the side.

Annoyed and on the edge of snapping, Brakk retorted, “Yeah, I’m leavin’. I’ve been working all day, mate! I’m wasted and tired, alright?” He walked toward the hallway without looking back.

“Ah, whatever, I’ll be here finishing drinks with the crew you pissy rancor!” Anto’s chuckles followed Brakk all the way down the hall as he made his way outside.

Brakk grumbled several choice curses as he walked outside. The suns were below the horizon and the treeline was all but concealed while the purple sky above faded into darkness. He gave the landing pad a few glances before spying the Millennium Falcon. Deciding the coast was clear he walked out to the battered hunk of junk, only to stop when he saw the Wookie fumbling with some solenoids in the landing gear.

The walking carpet growled a curious greeting at him. Brakk swallowed hard and threw up a wave as he replied, “Hey there, I, uh think I lost one of my spanners inside when I was helping patch it up. Jus’ wanted to give it a quick look-see, that’s all.”

Chewbacca glanced up at the boarding ramp and back at him before shrugging a casual affirmative.

“Appreciate it, mate,” he said as he walked up into the Falcon and made a line for the tracker he’d planted. The ship was quiet and lit for sleep but he didn’t see anyone else around or any of the droids for that matter, so slipping into the alcove was simple enough.

Reaching a hand down through the cables, he felt the small box stuck to the inside door frame. He pulled it out and saw that it was still broadcasting. Breathing a sigh of relief, he stuck it back in place and pulled out his comm.

Tuning to the encrypted frequency, he said, “This is Brakk calling Malak Ren, come in.”

A moment passed with no answer.

“Malak Ren, this is Brakk, I’m on the resistance base, do you copy?”

Again a long moment passed by, which annoyed him, but just before he was about to speak again there was a crackle in the small speaker, followed by a mechanical voice.

“This is Malak Ren. What is it, Pirate?”

Brakk cursed to himself before he replied, “Kriff, it’s about time. I’ve been waiting for weeks in this dingy place. I’d very much like to know when I’m getting paid for delivering the goods. We ain’t goin’ nowhere as far as I’m concerned, we’re hangin’ mynocks here. When is your attack gon’ be?”

“Soon. Relax, you’ll know when we’re coming. We have your payment ready, just be patient.”

“Patient? I’ve been patient! How kriffin’ long do I got to be patient for?”

He heard an annoyed sigh on the other end of the line before the General replied, “A day. No more than that. We’ll be en route soon.”

Brakk exhaled again. A day wasn’t bad. Yeah, he could wait another day, no problem.

“Alright, fine. A day, but I’ll be waitin’ for your call.”

“Of course. Soon you’ll have everything… you deserve.”

Brakk clenched his fist with triumph. “Pleasure’s all mine, General. When you get here, do me a kindness and put a blaster bolt through Hondo and his son for me, will ya?”

“That and more. Thank you for your service.”

The line went dead, and Brakk knew the conversation was over. He stuffed his comm back into his pocket and stepped out of the alcove. His vest caught the edge of a small toolbox and toppled it to the floor.

“Kriff!” He cursed as he knelt down to pick up the tools. He checked to make sure the Wookie hadn’t heard anything as he put the box back on the tray and dumped the tools back in. He had a small spanner in his hand that he intended to put back until another idea hit him. Instead, he palmed it and exited the ship.

Walking past the Wookie, Brakk flashed the small tool in his hand as he said, “Thank’s again, mate. I found it! Too much drinkin’ for Brakk sometimes, eh?” He forced a laugh.

Chewbacca replied with a chuckle but he was still too busy with the landing gear to pay much attention.

Brakk left for his bunk, smiling the entire way knowing that in a day’s turn he would be rich and taking the first step to having his own Pirate gang free of Hondo, Anto, the Jedi and all these other goodie good losers around him. It was a good day to be a pirate.

 

Chapter Text


The machines thundered with activity around her. The metal grating shook beneath her feet but Rey continued walking toward the black heart of the Star Forge, drawn like a puppet on unseen strings. The whispers in her ear were both familiar and alien, the voices of beings that had been dead for a thousand generations as she reached out to touch the smooth surface.

Her fingers caressed the cool stone as warmth bloomed from her fingertips. Her apprehension only moments before melted away as she let the Force fill her with raw, untamed power. It was both terrible and nourishing at once, it was smothering and life-giving, but more importantly, it bestowed upon her something invaluable. She had the strength to keep her child safe from all threats. She was a fool to fear such power before.

“Now you understand, don’t you,” the voice said.

When Rey looked into the crystal again she saw her. Her shadow stared back with burning yellow eyes, both hungry and full of life. The words passed through her black lips like honey.

“Your child will change everything, you know it to be true. You can’t hide from me anymore, you need me… to protect you and the ones you love.”

Rey stepped back in shock suddenly aware of the wrongness of it all. She looked around her in a panic, not knowing how she came to be on the station again, but then she heard his voice, modulated by the mask’s vocoder.

“Rey, my love… we were always meant to be here. We were always meant to rule together, you and me.” Kylo Ren extended his gloved hand to her as he ascended the steps.

She stared down at his broken mask which had since been repaired and struck through with red cracks like blood seeping from open wounds. His mask was frightful yet she was not afraid because this was still the man she loved, this was the father of her child and she was his. Rey reached out to stroke the black mask tenderly.

“You’ve broken yourself,” she said breathlessly.

“You helped put me back together,” he replied.

Together they turned and descended into the smoke and ashes. The steel grates became permacrete and the crystal chamber she’d been standing in was the Resistance hangar bay. Rey was confused at first but when she looked down and saw the bodies, she understood.

Finn, Rose, Poe… Maz, Chewbacca, and Hondo… they were all dead. Horror welled up inside of her and she pulled away from her husband.

“This… this isn’t right! No, this has to be a vision, this isn’t real!”

Kylo Ren turned to her. “It is real.”

“Did you… did you do this?” The accusation hurt, but she forced herself to say it. Instead of Kylo answering, a woman replied instead.

“We did this, together.”

Rey turned to see her shadow self pressing against Kylo’s arm. She lazily caressed his chest as she pressed her black lips to the mask. More disconcerting was that she watched Rey’s expression from the corner of her eyes.

Kylo responded, “As I said, it’s time for the past to die. Together we’ve succeeded.”

Rey backed away as her heart raced in terror. “No, no, this isn’t happening. This is a nightmare, you’re sleeping, this isn’t real.”

Her shadow stepped forward with a wicked smile, “It’s very real. Once you accept it, you’ll save yourself a lot of pain.”

“No… NO!” Rey shouted into the darkness.

She sat up in bed with a lurch, her undershirt soaked through with sweat as she breathed heavily in the dimly lit bedchamber. Rey took a moment to collect herself as she realized that she was finally awake, though she hadn’t remembered when she’d fallen asleep to begin with.

“A dream, it was just a dream,” she said to herself. Then, her stomach flipped over.

“Oh kriff!”

She threw back the covers and raced for the refresher where she slid onto her knees before the metal bowl and wretched as she always did when she woke up. Once she’d emptied the contents of her stomach, she flushed the sick away and washed her mouth out in the sink.

Rey put a hand to her stomach where she felt faint light pulsing inside of her. “What are you doing to me, little one? I hope you aren’t going to cause me this much trouble the whole time.”

There was a flicker of movement that seemed to respond to her comment and though she knew it couldn’t possibly be a conscious reaction from a speck of dividing cells, she smiled at the thought that maybe her little girl existed somewhere in the Force already fully formed, just waiting for her body to catch up.

Rey sat back on the edge of her bunk and looked at the Chrono. She was surprised she’d slept over six hours, well into the middle of the night. Clearly, no one needed her for anything or they would have come to get her, so what was the harm in laying down again?

She quickly fell back into the welcoming embrace of sleep when she felt her skin pebble as the Force bond opened and her husband’s gentle hand slid around her waist.

“You’re up late. Trouble sleeping?”

She could feel his voice reverberate through her back and smiled.

“Just dreams.”

“Bad ones?”

“Partly. I just… have a lot on my mind.”

“Want to talk about it?”

Rey exhaled nervously, then slowly rolled onto her other side to face him. He was as handsome as ever but it was clear from his baggy eyes and unwashed hair that he’d been a prisoner in a cell for nearly a month. She put her hand to his cheek and traced his scar with her thumb.

“I tried to see you today, but Poe was ‘interrogating’ you and I wasn’t able to tell you in person.”

He eyed her with curiosity, “Tell me what?”

Her breath caught for a moment before she slid her hand down to his and pulled his palm against her stomach.

“Something unexpected and beautiful.”

Again his eyes searched her expression with confusion until they widened with understanding. She could feel the pulse of light just as he’d sensed it too, and joyous tears stung her eyes.

“You’re…” was all he could say.

Rey nodded, unable to contain her smile. “Yes, Elle-Seven said it’s very early to say for sure but that there was an’87.5 percent chance that I’m pregnant’, but I know it’s true. You can feel her too.”

Ben laughed, his face flushed with a joy she rarely saw in him. Then he furrowed his brow as he said, “Her? How do you know that?”

Rey blushed as she replied, “I’ve seen her in my visions, sometimes my dreams.” Her eyes flicked to his again, “In the hut on Ach-to.”

“That’s why you came? That was the future you saw?” There was no judgment or condemnation in his eyes, only genuine curiosity, and longing.

“I didn’t know what to make of it at first, but I saw it… and felt happy. I tried not to get my hopes up but I couldn’t fully ignore what I felt, that’s why when you asked me to join you in the throne room… it broke my heart.”

A pained expression tugged at Ben’s features before he pulled her close and crushed his lips to hers. Rey eagerly returned the kiss, fully aware that he was only here in the Force but that didn’t stop the heat blooming inside of her as she rolled on top of him.

He looked up at her as she pulled away. “I’m so sorry, Rey.”

“Shh, don’t do that. We’re past all that now,” she said as she leaned down to kiss him on the cheek. His hands traced a line down her spine until he had two handfuls of her ass. Rey felt his hardness pressing into her as his mouth searched for hers again.

“Can we even do this now?” She asked, suddenly curious.

“I’m willing to try,” he said as he started unfastening his pants.

Rey chuckled as she kissed him again.

“Oh kriff, guard,” he said suddenly as he looked to the side. A moment later, Ben was gone and Rey was staring at her sheets and pillow with an ache of disappointment.

“Dammit.” She flopped over onto her back and stared at the ceiling. Despite her glaring dissatisfaction, she couldn’t help but smile at the fact that she finally told him and that he was as happy if not more so than she was. Her eyes drifted toward the wall where she could feel his lingering presence.

“Goodnight Ben.”

She closed her eyes to fall asleep only to feel the bond open up again like an electric shock.

“Okay, I took care of it,” Ben said as he sprawled out on top of her. He immediately started kissing her on the neck when she thought about what he said and pushed him back.

“You… took care of what? The guard?”

“Yeah, we’re good.”

“What did you do to them?”

He gaped at her. “I didn’t hurt him, just implied that he needed to rest for a few minutes.”

Her mouth opened to say something but the more she thought about it, the less she wanted to argue the point.

“Okay, that works for me.”

They kissed with swelling passion as they stripped off each other’s clothes and tried something they’d never tried before in the bond. It turns out that every single inch of him was as solid as if he were actually there. Rey didn’t mind that one bit.


***

Rey didn’t feel sick when she woke again, but not having Ben beside her left her with heartache. She sat in bed for a long moment as she reached out with the Force to feel his presence in the cell on the other side of the base. She could sense that he was still peacefully asleep and fulfilled, which made her smile.

She threw on her underclothes and sash and made her way to the makeshift showers to wash the sleep off of her. Once she’d dried off and dressed again she met up with Finn and Rose in the mess hall as the early morning sun filtered in through the hangar doors. A dull murmur of conversation filled the open bay as resistance fighters and VIPs of all stripes and races discussed current events.

Taking a bite of her ration bar, Rey looked across the way to where Poe was talking with Ben’s former Captain, Three-Nine. She’d heard he’d considered taking a name but didn’t know what just yet so she kept thinking of him by his number.

“So what do you think about those two,” she asked casually nodding in their direction.

Rose smirked and Finn rolled his eyes as he said, “Hey, Poe is many things but shy isn’t one of him. He can talk the armor off of any trooper. I mean, he let me keep his jacket and everything, remember?”

A collective giggle filled the quiet air between them, making Rey blush.

“I remember.”

She’d had her words with Poe over Ben’s treatment, but she made an effort to understand his position as well. He wasn’t a bad guy, just trying to keep his troops safe, how Leia would have done. Even now, she could almost feel her presence in the way he gave orders and strategized. Poe was more measured and thoughtful about his plans than he had been before Crait, but they’d all changed since then.

Seeing him talking and smiling to another First Order defector and making friends with them seemed to make the fight worth fighting in her mind. The Resistance was many things, but if there was one thing it could truly be it was a place for second chances. She believed that she had to believe that, otherwise what was the point?

“I’m just glad the Captain is entertaining the idea at least. After everything he’s been through, he deserves to feel some sort of kindness for a change.” Rose said as she sipped her drink.

Finn clasped Rose’s hand. “There’s a lot those troopers deserve; not being brainwashed into serving a cause they had no way of understanding for one, but freedom. They deserve to be free to make friends, to enjoy the galaxy, to love the people they want to love.”

“Just like you. You’re an inspiration to them, you realize that right?” She added.

Finn shook his head, “I shouldn’t be. I left because I was scared, I just wanted to run away. I was a janitor, not a soldier.”

Rey tilted her head in reproach, “You don’t give yourself enough credit, Finn. Running from the First Order by saving Poe was braver than you think. That’s what inspired them. I know there has to be more who feel the same, you and the Captain and his squad can’t be the only ones yearning for freedom. If Hux’s programming didn’t work on you, who else hasn’t it worked on?”

Finn exhaled long and low as he considered those words. “Maybe, but Hux and the Knights of Ren are in charge and they have to be cracking down hard. I mean, they blew up my entire ship to make a point! I had friends on the Finalizer, well, people I considered friends, I mean we all did, we all trained there at some point or another. That had to shake something loose.”

Rey nodded at Poe and the Captain who was laughing at some private joke. “It did shake something loose, they just had an opportunity to break free, which means we need to create more opportunities to help others break free.”

“Yeah, I like where your head’s at, but if that battle station you talked about, the Star Fighter, forge thing, or whatever it is comes online… that could be it for us. How do we fight something that can repair itself and build an unlimited armada of ships and weapons?”

Rey tensed at the mention of the Forge as it brought up uncomfortable memories of bad dreams and dark visions, but she remained confident in her resolve as she replied, “We won’t let it get that far, we’ll stop them. Queen Lucia has secured three more systems to our cause and Hondo’s been making noise amongst the scoundrels of the galaxy. We have allies, maybe we can find more in the First Order itself.”

Finn regarded her for a long moment but nodded agreeably. “If you think we have a shot then I believe it.”

“We’ll win this, I promise,” she assured them both.

“We will,” Rose agreed.

“Yeah, damn right we will,” Finn added.

A long moment of quiet hovered in the air before he raised his cup and gave a toast.

“We’re the spark.”

Rey held up her cup then as she said, “We’re the fire.”

“We’re gonna burn the First Order down,” Rose said at last as she held her cup to theirs. They clapped them lightly together and downed their morning beverages, just as a young black haired resistance trooper stepped over to their table with a nervous smile on his face.

“Oh, hey guys, uh, sorry to interrupt your breakfast but I kinda need to ask Rose for a favor.”

Rose sighed with exaggerated weariness.

“What is it, Kaz?”

“Yeah, so anyway, the Fireball is kinda having some engine problems.”

“When isn’t the Fireball having engine problems? Also, why are you even still flying that deathtrap anyway?”

“Aw c’mon now, she’s a great ship… now… at least she’s better than she was than when I first took her out. Besides, Jaeger and Neeku are helping me keep her up and running, we’re just short on some components that’s all.”

“You know you’re going to have to fill out a requisition doc, right? You can’t just take parts from other bays like last time.”

Kaz went red-faced as he gestured wildly with his hands, “Hey, that was an emergency, like I said and besides, Poe understood! I didn’t even get in trouble for it!”

Rose crossed her arms, “Yeah that didn’t make it any less inconvenient for me, but whatever Kaz. Let me finish breakfast and I’ll help you out.”

He shot two thumbs up as he exclaimed, “Great, terrific! I’ll let the others know and we’ll be waiting in Bay-C.” He took two steps away from the table when he waved at them and Rey in particular before saying, “Have a good breakfast you guys. You’re heroes and all, so you deserve it, right Master Jedi?”

Rey rolled her eyes. “You can call me Rey, Kaz. I’m hardly a Jedi.”

“Hey, considering the state of the galaxy you’re the closest thing we have to a Jedi, so I’m good with that. Anywho, have see 'ya around!” He turned and nearly tripped over an R2 unit that was bringing a tray of food over to another table. “Oh hey little buddy, sorry about that!”

The droid beeped indignantly and went on with its delivery. Just as Kaz walked away, Poe then called him over to his table.

“Kaz, buddy, why don’t you sit with us?”

“Oh, hey Poe, actually I have to get back to the bay…”

“Nonsense, it’s early, sit and have some breakfast.”

“But, uh, Rose is going to help me out…”

“Ah don’t worry about it, kid.” Poe turned to Rose and added, “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure he fills out the docs this time.”

“You better!” She retorted as Kaz sat with Poe and Three-Nine. Another heavy silence passed by before Rose turned to Rey and Finn and glared.

“You see this right? This is what I’m dealing with daily. Poe’s a good military commander, but shop manager he isn’t.”

Rey held back a smile as Finn put a sympathetic hand on her shoulder. “It’s alright, I’m sure Poe will have Kaz back before bedtime.”

Rose glared at him harder, this time raising a brow. Rey had to laugh.

“Anyway, I don’t know about you two, but I have a maintenance crew to run otherwise the entire Resistance will fall apart.”

“Oh, of course, we don’t want to keep you away from your duties,” Rey said with grim seriousness as she stifled another laugh.

“I’m sure the kids will be fine, dear,” said Finn.

Rose rolled her eyes before kissing him on the cheek and getting out of her seat. “We’ll talk later, okay?”

“Yes ma’am,” Finn said with a tight smile as she picked up her tray and left.

“Uh-oh, someone’s in trouble,” Rey said as she finished her plate. Finn merely stared, then they laughed and enjoyed the rest of their breakfast.


***


It was midday when Brakk got the call. Looking around at the other greasers milling about, he made sure no one was watching as he walked away.

“Where you off to, mate?” Zel called out.

He cursed under his breath and offered a gruff reply.

“I’m going for a walk; I been workin’ my fingers to the bone.”

“Grab me a drink on the way back will ya?”

He waved a dismissive hand at the grizzled man, “Yeah sure, whatever.” Once he’d gotten outside, it was easier to dip in between some crates where he could get some privacy before pulling out the comm in his pocket. The light blinked with an incoming signal.

“Yeah, this is Brakk, I’m here.”

After a moment, the small speaker crackled and the General’s voice spoke, “If you want your payment, pirate, meet us at these coordinates shortly after dusk. You’ll have all that’s coming to you.”

Brakk found it difficult to restrain a giddy laugh. He was going to be rich in a matter of hours and he could finally leave this swamp for good.

“I love being a pirate,” he said under his breath before replying, “Understood, I’ll be there.”

“Good. We’ll see you then.”

The line went dead and he pocketed the comm. He punched the crate in front of him with excitement before leaving for the cafeteria. He was gonna buy the whole team drinks, why not? He wasn’t going to be their monkey-lizard for much longer so it was only right to celebrate.

As it turns out, his pals enjoyed his little gift. Their drunkenness only made it easier for him to slip away once the sun went down.

“Don’t worry ‘bout me all, just got to drain the ‘ol vein if you know what I’m sayin’,” he said as he disappeared into the shadows. A howl of raucous laughter went up much to the annoyance of the Resistance troops on guard duty.

Fortunately, there was little security around Hondo’s ship which made swiping a speeder that much easier as he fired it up and sped off into the night. Looking back one last time he thought he saw that cute mechanic girl from the Falcon looking at him, Rose or whatever her name was, but it didn’t matter what she thought. Soon they would all have bigger problems to deal with and he’d be flying away in his own ship with a pile of creds so he left her in his speeder wake.

The coordinates he’d been given took him to a small clearing several clicks past the perimeter shield, which made sense as they would have had to land outside of it anyway, but once he saw the ancient rust bucket that shone under the moonlight, he thought it had to be a bad joke of some kind. There was no way they’d come in that thing!

Brakk pulled his speeder to a stop several meters away as a massive armored figure appeared at the base of the ramp, a slim, athletic and distinctly female companion joined him a moment later.

“Now that’s what I’m talking about,” he said to himself with delight as he hopped out of the speeder to meet with them.

“You’re the Pirate?” The big man with the distinctive mechanical voice said.

He stopped short when he realized just how bad the General must have been injured to get a contraption like that slapped around his neck, but he answered.

“Yeah, I’m Brakk. I delivered on my end of the bargain, so here I am.”

The General looked around for a moment before fixing his acidic yellow eyes on him again. “You’re alone?”

“Yeah, of course, I am! I’m trying to get out of here, the others are gettin’ drunk. It made it easier to slip away, clever huh?” He said, pointing to his head.

The General tipped his head slightly as he glanced over at his female companion. “Yes… very clever. Your payment is just inside,” he said as he gestured toward the ramp.

“Well alright then,” Brakk said as he walked by the massive brute. Strangely, he felt a chill come over him as he set foot on the ramp, as though the air itself seemed predatory. He smiled nervously at the pretty Knight. “Hello sweetheart, don’t suppose you need a new job with my Pirate crew, huh?”

She rolled her eyes in silent annoyance, to which he chuckled and kept walking. Once inside the ship he stopped as a dozen red armored Stormtroopers turned to look at him.

“Oh, hey fellas, don’t mind me, I’m just collecting my creds and I’ll be on my way.” He chuckled nervously but the troopers didn’t make any movement or sound, in fact, if he didn’t know any better he would have thought they were droids by how still they were.

Heavy boots followed him up the ramp. He turned back and asked, “Uh, which crate is mine exact…” he didn’t finish his statement before the crimson blade of the General’s lightsaber burned through his chest.

Brakk gasped and tasted blood as he looked into the yellow eyes of his killer. The General leaned in to say, “You’re an awful Pirate, you know. Never come alone to a meeting.”

He tried to form words as the Knight pulled his lightsaber free from his chest and as Brakk crumpled to the ground he felt a strange sense of calm as he impacted the steel floor. It was like he was falling asleep, but much more so against his will. As the last of his breaths left his cracked lips he had a final distinct thought pass through his head before he died.

“You know what? I kinda hated being a pirate anyway, kark Hondo, maybe this is better after all. I guess I’ll never really…”

***

Malak Ren scowled at the dead Weequay at his feet before looking up at the Sith Troopers.

“Tonight the Resistance dies.”

The troopers stood with a quiet whine in their servos as they formed up and awaited further instructions.

“Once you’ve taken out the shield generator, we attack. But remember, we still have a mission. Our master wants the Jedi girl alive.”

“Understood,” came the mechanical voices as they began to pile out of the transport.

Malak turned to Shira.

“I want Kylo Ren.”

“If I see him, I may kill him myself.”

“Maybe, but if we take the Jedi, he’ll come to us.”

“Then what are we waiting for?”

Malak put his prosthetic hand on her shoulder and turned to follow the troopers out of the ship.