There is a weakness within him.
A fault line, and the motion of his tectonic pain sends low reverberations up through his spine, from the thick soles of his boots to the base of his neck, shielded under the mask he’s come to trust more than his own face.
Because his face betrays him.
His eyes are too wet, his mouth too soft. He clenches and grinds his teeth, biting back the howl of rage and fear that claws at his throat.
The man approaches him, walking slowly across the catwalk. The pair of them, suspended over the perilous ravine. Above him the sun slips away. Inside of him, the light struggles to emerge.
He will conquer it. He will devour it, and consume it, and when it is gone he will be purified.
Only one will walk away; Kylo Ren knows this, as sure as he knows his own name. Either this man will fall, or he himself will go. Toppled over, falling, falling, to blissful death below. Maybe that would be easier, falling himself, rather than doing what he has to do. What he has been called to do.
He has no father. He is alone. He is something beyond weak flesh; he is being perfected. Snoke is seeing to it, has seen to it, through his training. Where once a pathetic crying mess might have stood, Kylo Ren stands strong. He is renewed by Snoke’s training. He is grateful for the Supreme Leader’s guidance.
And Ben Solo is dead. Long dead, dead and buried and desiccated. Bones turned to dust in the wind.
He has to be.
Now this weakness, this memory… this man, this father--he must die too.
(But Ben remembers, deep in the recesses of his brain, being held by loving hands. Calling ‘Higher! Higher!’ as his father would toss him into the air. His father hadn’t always been there, but when he was, Ben had never doubted that he’d catch him before he fell.)
He shakes off this memory, draws deeply on his training.
This weakness, this memory, all of it, it must be excised. Like a tumor, like a cancer.
He must be strong. And there’s no strength without sacrifice.
“Take off that mask,” Han Solo calls, “You don’t need it.”
If he takes it off, he’ll see. Kylo can’t breathe, doesn’t know why his shaking hands obey his father.
He has no father.
He has nothing. He has Snoke.
He knows what he has to do.
“What do you think you’ll see if I do?”
“The face of my son.”
(He’s crying in the darkness; a dream again, a nightmare, tendrils of oil-slick fear reaching for him, crawling up his legs and pulling him down the bed to be devoured by the monster beneath it. Crying, incoherent, in the darkness. The mouth, the teeth, the hunger that wants him. And his father, the smell of ozone and gun oil and dirt and dad… Ben burying his face in his father’s chest, wetting it with tears. It’s alright, little guy. It’s okay. It’s okay.)
Weak, he thinks. Weak, pathetic, child. Cut it out. Strike at the light.
“Your son is gone,” Kylo declares (but he’s bare-faced now; everyone can see, they can see, he can’t hide) “He was weak and foolish, like his father. So I destroyed him.”
“That’s what Snoke wants you to believe. But it’s not true. My son is alive.”
“No. The supreme Leader is wise.”
“Snoke is using you for your power. When he gets what he wants he’ll crush you. You know it’s true.”
It is true.
And he does know it.
But perhaps there is a second, deeper truth: It is good, and worthy, and righteous to be crushed. To have the last shards of a clinging boy cut away. No sentiment, no tenderness. Nothing diverting him from his purpose. The pain, that’s what he deserves.
(Dad, dad, I heard it, I heard it, it called my name and it wants me, it’s here, it’s looking at me, two red eyes in the darkness and he can’t breathe, he’s a child and he’s alone and even in his father’s arms he’s adrift on a sea of unthinkable fear.)
He hears himself speak. Hears Ben Solo speak, a dead man: “It’s too late.”
“No it’s not. Leave here with me, come home. We miss you.”
Home. He has no home. One house to another, one place to another, one ship to another. Home is people, not places. Home is the shaking of the Falcon when it almost-not-quite skips and shudders right before the lightspeed engines kick in. How is it fair, his father’s deft hands could repair anything, even the most useless hunk of junk, but they can’t hold his breaking heart together.
“I’m being torn apart.” He gasps. His chest aches. He is weakweakweak he is a failure he is nothing, broken, worthless, and he can’t even stop himself. “I want to be free of this pain… And I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it. Will you help me?”
(Help me, help me, dad, please, hold me together, fix me, make me fly again, bring me home.)
The mask falls to the ground with a thud.
He unclips his lightsaber from his belt.
It would be so easy, he thinks. So easy.
But there is no home for him.
There is no peace. There is no wholeness.
There is only the voice, the power, the strength he need only reach out and claim.
There is only the bitter heart of him, the pathetic weakness he must cut away.
He is being perfected.
He is strong. He is not weak.
His bloodline is one of power, and his father’s sentiment will not cloud his vision.
He is his mother’s son.
He is a murderer, a monster, a creature in a mask.
He is a little boy, crying in the darkness.
He is the heir of the darkness.
He's scared, so scared, but he can't stop the shattering. Inside of him, all around him. He's holding himself together, hands cutting on the shards.
He is the tool of the dark side, the inheritance now made real in the deed he has done. He is glory and strength. He is a worthy apprentice.
And his face, and his father’s, are, for one painful moment, bathed in the same glaring, sparking red glow.
“Thank you,” he whispers.
Because this must be it. Won’t it feel better, when the pain is cut away? When the wound is cauterized? When will it feel better, or at least numb? When will it stop hurting? The darkness swells around him, filling him. It is good and right, this deed. He's done as he has been commanded.
His father falls.
He falls, and falls.
There is no one there to catch him.
And the light itself cries out.