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Tactical Alliance

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Poe shows up to bring Rey to Akaanas, the collector from Tactical Surrender and the person who has the kyber crystals that Kaela senses. Kylo butts heads with the group, worried for Rey’s safety, but ultimately lets them go.

“Well, this is irregular,” Akaanas says once she’s finished, stirring a cube of sugar into his caf. “Highly, highly irregular.”

“I know it is,” Rey says. “And I know it’s a lot to ask. I’m sure they’re extremely valuable.”

Akaanas hums. “Quite, quite. Jewels of my collection, really. And you’ve no idea the lengths to which I had to go to get them, my dear lady. None at all.”

Rey frowns. She knows that Akaanas believes that he owes her a life debt, and that the slightest amount of pressure, the smallest reminder, will be enough for her to get what she wants. But using that sort of leverage makes her skin crawl. It feels too much like something Hux would do. In her eyes, this Chagrian owes her nothing. He was innocent of the crime for which he would have been punished, and she only did the decent, obvious thing in pointing it out.

So she says instead, “When we met, you said you were a student of history.”

“Quite so, quite so,” he says with a smile, seemingly pleased that she remembers.

“And you said you specialize in…was it Imperial—”

“Imperial-era and pre-Imperial-era artifacts.”

“Right.” Rey nods, and takes a sip of her caf. It is a bit smoother than what they brew on the starships. Less acidity. She closes her eyes for a moment, then opens them. She can savor her drink later. She has a purpose here. “Given your field of study, would it interest you to watch my student assemble her lightsaber?”

Akaanas’ brow ridges jump on his forehead. “Well, that would be quite the opportunity, my dear lady, if you would allow it. I had assumed you would simply take the artifacts and go about your business.”

Rey looks out over the placid surface of the lake. “I wouldn’t mind staying for a while,” she says.

Akaanas takes Rey and Kaela to the crystals, which are in Ahsoka Tano’s old twin lightsabers. There are two crystals, one for her and one for Tamar.

But it’s an ambush! Hux’s Stormtroopers had already gotten to Akaanas first, since he’s one of Rey’s known associates. Akaanas buys time for Rey, Kaela, and Poe to escape the planet, but loses his life in the process. On the Conquest II, where Kylo is keeping vigil over the comatose kids, Tamar wakes up.

Tamar’s mouth works, but no sound comes out. Kylo keeps his arms stiff at his sides, resisting the urge to shake her. “Tell me!” he demands, and he puts some power of suggestion behind it.

She blinks once, twice, then stares up at him, realization dawning on her. But she doesn’t cower from him. That is to her credit.

“Something happened,” she says. “They’re in trouble.”

Rey, Kaela, and Poe are intercepted and escorted to safety by Kylo’s forces: he had been warned by Tamar and Simon, awakening from their slumbers, that Rey was in danger.

Afterward Rey and Kylo have an argument about her recklessness that leads to sad angry makeouts, which is physically satisfying but emotionally unfulfilling because Kylo keeps the bond shut tight. He leaves; Rey cries, allowing herself to feel how much she messed up with him. He goes and sulks in his room and wishes to hold her. Rey wishes to be held too — she goes to Finn’s room, which is near hers, and asks to sleep there, platonically. They’re best friends, so this should be fine, right? She just doesn’t want to be alone.

In the middle of the night, Poe sees Rey emerging from Finn’s room and blows up at her for leading Finn on, telling her that her coping mechanisms shouldn’t harm other people. Rey explodes at him in turn and admits her feelings for Kylo and that their relationship was consensual. Poe’s stunned, and not really approving, but he concedes that it explains a lot.

Poe realizes now, a gradual and uncomfortable realization that feels like a flight suit zipped too tightly, that he had been putting Rey in his place, in that chair on the Finalizer. When he thought of her in Ren’s clutches he thought of her straining against her restraints, back arched, toes curling, thrashing in agony as her brain threatened to rip itself from her skull. Or, worse, he thought, more abstractly, of worse fates— of Kylo Ren putting his hands on her. He didn’t like to meditate too hard on it, but when you try to shake off a thought like that it returns more persistent than ever. It was the simple answer, and the one that suited his view of the galaxy best.

But it didn’t quite add up. Sure, during peace talks Rey had seemed diminished, but Ren hadn’t exactly gloated in her presence. And yeah, his eyes kept finding Rey, but not with the gleam of someone reliving a triumphant conquest. No, in retrospect he’d looked serious, and sad. Wistful.

Poe cocks his head. He’d always found Kylo Ren ridiculous with the mask on, and not too handsome with it off. Somewhat funny-looking. He wears his hair long to conceal his large ears, but they don’t always consent to being hidden. There’s no hiding that proud nose, nor the too-full mouth, nor the ugly scar bisecting his cheek, although from a distance it’s not too bad. Still, it’s like someone took the most incongruous features from his parents and haphazardly mashed them together. Kylo Ren had the opportunity to be the most stunning person in the galaxy, and instead…

But it’s not all bad news, he guesses, straining to find another point of view. Ren’s tall, broad-shouldered, and Poe has no desire to imagine what’s under all those layers but considering how much he trains there probably isn’t much softness there. And the height, plus the size of his feet and hands… Anyway. The lips could be a plus or a minus, depending on the context. Poe is begrudgingly forced to admit that his cheekbones are enviable. And his eyes are dark and intense, with a spark of intelligence behind them and a way of narrowing in on his point of focus.

“When he looks at you that way, it’s like you’re the only person in the galaxy,” Rey had said, with that little sigh, with that little smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. And yeah, Poe knows what that expression means. He doesn’t want to believe it, although Rey likely wants to believe it even less. She’s not brainwashed, or traumatized.

She’s smitten.

Poe confesses his own feelings for Finn and encourages Rey to tell him what really happened. Rey agrees, and apologizes, and confesses the truth about Kylo to Finn. Finn knows that Rey doesn’t have romantic feelings for him, and although he’s uncomfortable with the Kylo thing and doesn’t get it, he does acknowledge that he’s seen changes in Kylo too, attributing them to Rey’s influence. Rey’s not sure about this, but at least this isn’t another Poe incident.

Meanwhile, through holograms, Rose walks Rikaj through how to fix his busted weapon. Rose is understandably wary of anyone affiliated with the other side, but she and Rikaj bond over older sisters. He flirts with her, but Rose is generally no-nonsense about it… outwardly.

Poe seeks out Kylo to tell him he still doesn’t like him, but thanks him for saving Rey’s life when she was poisoned. Rey and Kylo begin to make up, too.

“Everyone’s getting hurt, Ben,” she says. “And it’s because of me.”

“No,” he says, firmly.

She doesn’t look at him. If she did, she would know how sincere he was. “With you,” she says. “You spent years hunting me. You destroyed—” She rubs her eyes. “And now I can’t step out of the Conquest II without Hux sending troops to bring me in. Me or the kids, it doesn’t— matter. People just die.”

“Rey,” he says. She doesn’t turn her head. So, again: “Rey.”

She presses the heel of her palm to one of her eyes. “I’m not wrong, Ben.”

“What’s happening now isn’t about you,” he says. “It’s about the war. You and the students— Hux only sees them as weapons. He must think you’re arming them to use them against him instead of arming them to protect themselves. And any weapon we have that he doesn’t, he fears.”

Rey sniffs. “Sure.”

“It’s not personal.”

“It was with you, though,” she murmurs.

“Yes,” he agrees. “With me it was always personal.”

She exhales. “You have a lot to answer for, you know.”

Something aches in him: longing or regret. Is one so different from the other? “I know.”

Their heart-to-heart in his chambers is interrupted when Hux’s forces engage the Resistance-Imperium faction in combat and all fighters are scrambled. Poe and Kylo, showboating, are caught in a tractor beam when trying to rack up a higher TIE count. Rey and Finn have to save them on the Falcon by swooping under the Dreadnought and shooting it off. Although of course, where did Hux get another Dreadnought? Well, he might have any number of secret projects brewing, which makes everyone very nervous. Luckily, they manage to capture a First Order attache who was fleeing the battle.

But more importantly, when Kylo and Rey return from their dangerous jaunt, she runs to him and kisses him for being so stupid. Yes, in front of everyone. And before they take care of other, war-related business, they sneak away to really make up.

Reluctantly, he pushes up out of his bed to fetch a pair of clean trousers. When he emerges from his closet, clothes changed, Rey is there, holding out his cloak. “I missed you too,” she says. Then, after the briefest hesitation, “I’ve known what it’s like to be alone. Obviously. But seeing you so near, and being unable to feel you, to touch you… that was a new sort of loneliness for me. One I don’t want to experience again anytime soon.”

He rests his hands on her hips and pulls her into him, pressing his face to her hair. He feels her now, the brightness of her like the cool light of a distant sun, occasionally obscured by passing clouds. This warm, ever-changing, complicated woman under his hands. He wonders what he feels like to her. A storm that rages above a wild and tempestuous ocean? If he is the storm, his clouds have parted, for now, giving way to calm seas, glittering waves. He feels alive with possibility.

“I know what you mean,” he murmurs.

She shifts her weight from foot to foot and says, “I’m sorry.”

“I know.”

“If I thought your feelings—that they were—”

“Rey,” he says. They don’t need the words. Truth be told, those words still frighten him a little. How strange that he would so willingly put his life in her hands, and not his heart. But he had been so hasty, the first time. “I know.”

She falls quiet for a moment, then shakes her head. “I need to say it. I need to be clear.”

“All right.”

Rey swallows. “I wasn’t thinking of you, when I made that choice. I was thinking of everyone who wasn’t you. And now I think of you all the time. I think of how I hurt you, all the time.”

He stands still, stroking one thumb up and down her side.

“I don’t regret the alliance,”

“You asked if I forgive you. It’s different,” he says, bringing his hand up to cup her cheek.

She leans into his palm, eyelashes fluttering slightly. “What is it, then?”

“I know you,” he explains. “I’ve seen you with your friends, with your pupils. The way you fight for them.” He pauses. “You’ll do anything to protect your people.”

Rey is quiet for a moment. He notes the slight twitch of her nose as she inhales, the way she, too, swallows just before she admits, “It’s all changed around. Now you’re my people, too.”

He leans forward to press his lips to her forehead.

Unfortunately, there is a war to attend to. The captured attache yields valuable intel under light pressure: that Hux makes infrequent but regular visits to certain establishments that have been set up in the Unknown Regions and enacting some, uh, Kylo-and-Rey roleplay fantasies. (Pleonexia sets this up.) Rey in particular is pretty freaked out by this, but has an idea — you see, if one of them can just put themselves in Hux’s path — prompting everyone, especially Kylo, to go REY, NO! Rey points out that Hux isn’t Force-sensitive; she could capture him and bring him in without laying a finger on him. But no, of course it’s a terrible idea.

So of course Rey, the death of Akaanas and suffering of her students still weighing on her conscience, goes to the Unknown Regions, using some of Ordula’s contacts in that region of space to point her in the right direction and smuggle her there. At first it seems like her allies don’t know about this plan, but they do. There are a lot of ways it could go wrong, but so long as Rey and Ben share their connection in the Force, they can communicate, no matter the distance between them.

Which is to say that Tactical Surrender Round Two is ON.

Meanwhile, Rose arrives on the Conquest II, and not a moment too soon — she picks up weird energy readings coming from the prison sector. She is eventually able to pinpoint the readings to the attache and manages to relay an evacuation order before like ten floors surrounding the cells collapse. Some kind of weird gravitational anomaly? It’s not good, but more than that, it means that this was all planned, and Rey is heading into a trap.

But before Ben can warn Rey, the trap is sprung. Yes, she manages to find Hux, and he doesn’t seem to resist when she compels him to come with her, but then she’s gassed in the same way that the students are. She realizes what strange drug he’s been developing: a Force-dampener.

“Dreadful smell,” Hux says, wrinkling his nose.

Rey heaves on her knees, gasping for breath. Somehow she’s the only person in the room affected by the gas. How can that be? It feels as though something has grabbed her lungs and squeezed them. It feels as though her senses are dimming. No, not—not all her senses. Her stomach churns. Not all her senses.

Just the one that matters.

“The Force,” she gasps, panicked. “I can’t—”

“I’ll admit, I was afraid you would figure it out,” says Hux, crouching down by Rey where she fights gravity to stay upright, swaying on her hands and knees. “After we hit your pupils with that experimental version, I thought you might realize what we were trying to do.”

So when Ben reaches out for Rey in the Force, he finds only dead air. And everyone handles that super well — especially Ben, who thinks his Force visions of Rey in peril have come true. Finn and Poe strike out on their own undercover op to try to track her down, and Ben insists on joining them. He proves much more adept at blending in with unsavory cantina types than they expect, and is exceedingly good in a bar fight even when just using his fists, no Force. They don’t come away with a lot of new information, but they do gain respect for each other. Meanwhile, Rikaj and Rose meet in person.

Ben, not knowing Rey’s fate, takes over the training of the students in her absence, to Taylin’s particular dismay. Ben senses the dark side brewing around him and makes an effort to reach out and teach him to channel it, but is mostly rebuffed. At about the same time, Rey is having a not-so-great vacation with Hux in the Unknown Regions.

Rey is confident in her ability to escape this prison, not because of arrogance, but because she knows her opponent discounts her. Even knowing of her physical strength, her power, her cleverness, he still thinks she’s weaker than Kylo Ren.

“How are you feeling?”

“Pretty stupid,” Rey admits.

“Why is that?”

“This was a trap you set for me. You knew I wouldn’t be able to resist the opportunity to bring you in.”

Hux’s eyes narrow, but he nods.

“You realize you’ve only made things worse for yourself.”

“What, because Ren will come for you? Let him come.” Hux smirks. “We’ll be ready.”

“If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about Kylo Ren.” Rey keeps her eyes on his. “Worry about me.”

Hux is trying to hone his Force-dampening drug (which is only temporary) so that it doesn’t cause so many adverse side effects. See, he really wants to use it on Kylo Ren, to have Ren be aware when Hux finally beats him, and he can’t do that if he’s passing out or getting sick. But Rey is not responding as theorized to tests, and further medical scans reveal that she is pregnant. They have to lower her dosage of the drug, but that’s music to Hux’s ears — extra bait for Kylo Ren. Meanwhile, Rey becomes more determined to escape and manages to break out of her lab for a bit, and even though she’s recaptured she manages to learn the location of Hux’s new superweapon.

A taunting broadcast is sent out, with Hux dangling a captive Rey in front of the Resistance but not mentioning her pregnancy, yet. During the broadcast, meant to drive the rescue party toward the superweapon, Rey manages to silently signal her true location to Poe and Finn. They, Ben, and Rose set out to go rescue Rey.

Hux invites Rey to a villain dinner where he tries to convince her (meant to be a direct contrast to Kylo and Rey’s in TS, as Hux could not be less interested in Rey’s personal autonomy) they are More Alike Than They Are Different and Resistance is Futile.

“I am nothing like you,” she spits.

“Oh, but that’s not true. You’re willing to make difficult choices for the greater good. You proved that when you went to Ren.”

“The greater good,” Rey repeats, affronted. “When’ve you ever served anyone but yourself?”

“I am the greater good,” he tells her. “Because I’ll succeed where Ren and your precious Resistance have failed. I will bring order to the galaxy.”

He lays a hand on her shoulder, almost friendly. She stiffens. “You’re wrong.”

“When everything else is gone, when there’s finally peace, will you die pointlessly for your ideals, or will you bend to stay alive?” He chuckles. “I posed this question to you before, but the stakes are higher now.”

Rey says nothing.

“You’re going to have to learn to cooperate,” he says, “if you want to see your child grow up.”

Obviously Hux cannot convince her to defect, but dinner is interrupted by a sneak attack by Resistance light fighters anyway. Poe is outside doing what he does best: flitting around and antagonizing First Order flyers. And— is that the Falcon?

Hux leaves Rey, who realizes her friends have come for her and she needs to escape. To her great surprise, the two Stormtroopers assigned to guard her set her free and escort her to the escape pods. They’ve received Finn’s message of dissent and want to help— they want to know what life is like beyond the First Order. They manage to get her to the pods, but one is killed. The other, Jannah, leaves with Rey. They’re picked up by the Falcon (with Ben in the captain’s chair) and get the hell out of First Order space.

Aboard the Falcon, Rey reunites with her friends and Ben, with whom she sneaks into the captain’s quarters. Ben finally explains to Rey that he had been so overprotective of her because of his visions of her screaming for him while in pain, and Rey says, “Well, that makes sense. I’m pregnant.” He is stunned, cautiously joyful, scared as hell— and asks Rey what she wants to do. They’ve only really gotten along for so short a time, and the Skywalker line seems so cursed… but Rey wants to have the child, and he’s relieved. At some point on the way back, Rose tells Ben about the havoc the First Order wreaked on her planet, and Ben begins to really consider the consequences of the military machine he was part of.

The Resistance-Imperium faction convenes to figure out what to do about Hux’s new weapon, a super-sized version of the gravity bomb that carved a big hole in the Conquest II. (Giant lasers are so overrated, am I right?) They agree on a plan of attack and set out for the final confrontation. Poe confesses his feelings to Finn, who reciprocates with a kiss and a “Don’t you die on me” before they split up.

Poe leads the aerial assault, while Finn and Jannah try to convince the other Stormtroopers to defect. They are successful, and many of the Stormtroopers turn on their officers and evacuate the base. Rose and Rikaj sneak inside the weapon to try to destroy it in what could potentially be a suicide mission. Ben, on the ground with Finn and Jannah, leaves to go confront Hux inside the weapon.

Rey doesn’t agree to sit the battle out, but she compromises by staying away from the center of the action… until she hears that Ben has gone off on his own. Then, knowing that he’s planning to do a self-sacrifice to take out Hux, she lets loose a totally badass display of Force powers (freezing her environment and/or time), which has the side effect of allowing most people to get off the base, including Rikaj and Rose who were otherwise going to be in a pretty tight spot. But now they're alive, and can go on a date after this is all over.

Down in the core of the weapon, Hux hits Ben with his now-perfected Force-dampening drug, rendering him unable to fight. Unfortunately for Hux, he spends so much time wounding and taunting Ben (was toying with cutting off Ben’s hand as is Skywalker tradition, but was never 100% on that— although, unlike in Anakin and Luke’s cases, they probably save the hand via space medicine) that Rey reaches them in time and stabs Hux from behind, killing him. Ben feels Rey coming unbalanced and they comfort each other (not like that).

Ben wishes he could feel her. All he feels is the void, cold and empty.

But somehow he presses up to his feet, and he stumbles to Rey, who stands there, arms limp at her side, saberstaff still ignited. He doesn’t need the Force to know her, he finds. He knows what she must be feeling: the conviction, that what she did was right; the uncertainty, that a Jedi should not feel this conviction; the dread, the fear, that there may have been another way. And the pain, panic, terror— he sees those things in her eyes. All of the torment she’d suffered because of this man, a man now dead by her hand.

“Rey,” he says, and he wraps his arms around her, pressing his hand to the back of her head and nuzzling his nose against her temple. “My love. Stay with me. It’s over now.”

Rey’s next breath is shaky and hot against his neck. “Your hand,” she says.

He shakes his head. “It’s nothing.”

It isn’t nothing, and they both know it. Rey hiccups and says, “I was too late.”

“I’m alive,” Ben says. “You arrived just in time.”

Rey and Ben escape and rejoin the rest of the Resistance, only to be confronted by Taylin, still full of rage and grief and prepared to kill the man he blames for his mother’s death. Rather than trying to fight the child, Ben repentantly submits himself to whatever the Force wills, and Taylin is unable to strike a killing blow with his stolen lightsaber and breaks down crying instead. Ben embraces him, apologizing for his loss and breaking the cycle of violence.

Six months later, Ben is coordinating the transfer of galactic power to a new representative government as a way to put right the harm he’s done when he feels a stirring in the Force. He arrives on an unknown planet to be greeted by Ahsoka Tano, who tells him he still has a lot to learn. She brings him to the new school for Force-sensitives, where Rey has gone into labor. The story ends with Ben and Rey holding their newborn daughter.