Kylo Ren climbed the ruined hulk of the Death Star alone. He’d left Rey and the others back at their campsite, setting out well before dawn while they were sleeping. Rey would be furious at having been left behind, but she didn’t need to risk herself needlessly. Kylo was more than capable of defeating Palpatine on his own.
He smirked at the thought of what the ancient Sith Lord looked like now. No wizened, terrifying creature, but an angular redhead with a perpetual sour twist to his mouth. When Kylo had defected from the First Order, Palpatine—who’d anchored his consciousness to Snoke’s jagged black ring—had been forced to make do with a subpar host. Armitage Hux, newly proclaimed Supreme Leader of the First Order, was now the vessel for Palpatine’s immortal mind.
Of course, Kylo didn’t know for sure that Palpatine had been planning on inhabiting his body, instead, but really, it was the logical choice. Kylo was strong in the Force and in prime physical condition, not to mention substantially better-looking than Hux. And now that he’d been away from Snoke and his ring long enough, Kylo recognized that the Sith Lord’s dark, alien energy had been creeping into his mind for years, testing his defenses.
When he’d finally gotten to Rey and begun taking stock of who he was apart from the First Order, it had felt like standing in the midst of a thunderstorm, only for the clouds to part and allow sunlight slanting through. He could finally see clearly, and he knew the voice whispering in his head since childhood hadn’t just been Snoke. Palpatine, too, had been grooming the last of the Skywalkers, hoping to make Kylo into a vessel for someone else's legend.
Well, it hadn’t worked.
Kylo would make his own legend, and he would do it alone.
His thighs burned as he climbed, following the lodestone pull of dark energy. There was a Force nexus in orbit around Endor due to the death of Darth Vader, and as a result, this entire region was saturated in Force energy. The feel of the energy on this rocky, oceanic moon of Endor was different, though—black and rapacious, emanating from a spot now just a few hundred meters away.
Kylo shrugged his black cloak away from his right shoulder and ignited his lightsaber. The red crackle was both comforting and invigorating. He held it out to the side as he strode forward, his boots clanging solidly on rusting metal. The slope evened out—he’d reached a large, flat area, the remnants of what looked like a shuttle bay.
Palpatine stood in the center, a slim figure in head-to-toe black. His hands were clasped behind his back, and he didn’t move as Kylo approached.
“Kylo Ren,” Palpatine drawled in Hux’s voice. “Welcome.”
Kylo stopped a few meters away, settling into an easy combat stance. “Palpatine.” He could have called the man Darth Sidious, but that would have been a mark of respect.
The man’s lips curved up, and that was definitely new; Hux never smiled. “Where are your friends? You know, the ones you’ve been camping with on the plain for a week now?” At Kylo’s startled expression, Palpatine laughed. “Oh, yes, I’ve known exactly where you were this entire time.”
“So why not attack us, then?” Kylo asked. “You could have taken us by surprise.”
That smile deepened, and Palpatine’s eyes narrowed. “I wanted you to come to me. And here you are, just as I predicted.” He gestured at Kylo. “You Skywalkers are all the same,” he said with disdain. “Reckless to a fault. Overly confident. Convinced of your invulnerability.”
“It occurs to me,” Kylo said, “that reckless, overly confident Skywalkers killed you once.” He raised his lightsaber. “Why not make it twice?”
Palpatine threw his ginger head back and laughed. “Oh, you poor boy. What will your Jedi think, hm, when she realizes you abandoned her?”
“What?” Kylo hated hearing this abomination talk about Rey.
“Such a poor, lonely girl, so powerful in the Force… I’ve felt her for a long time, you know. All that heartbreak could have driven her to the dark, but she clings stubbornly to the light. Now here you are, leaving her behind like every other person she’s loved.” Palpatine’s lips curved again. “Maybe this time will finally be enough to break her.”
Kylo’s heart hammered. He hadn’t spoken of his feelings for Rey, although she must know, but he knew better than to believe she cared for him that way. No, Kylo Ren was a monster of his own making, unfit for anything but destruction. “Leave Rey out of this,” he snapped. “This is about you and me.”
“Ah, yes.” Palpatine walked a few steps closer, hands resting loosely at his sides. “Let’s talk about you, Kylo Ren. Supreme Leader of Nothing. Master of Nothing. A disappointment to your family and your former master. And now you seek to challenge me, the most powerful Sith Lord ever to live?”
“I’m not challenging you,” Kylo said with all the arrogance of Han Solo and Anakin Skywalker combined. “I’m ending you.”
“Foolish boy.” Palpatine raised his hands. “So confident in your power that you came to face me alone. So determined to atone for your sins that you wouldn’t let the Jedi bloody her hands.” He shook his head, a smirk tugging at his lips. “Perhaps if you’d brought her with you this story would have a different outcome.”
Kylo lunged, swinging the saber in a harsh diagonal chop, but Palpatine moved freakishly quickly, darting out of the way. The Sith Lord bore no weapon, but Kylo felt prickling energy building in the air. He swung again, determined to end this as his grandfather had done once before.
Kylo Ren was still the heir apparent to Darth Vader. The rage and pain, the suffering and violence… all of it had been building to this moment. He’d been baptised in the dark; this battle was his destiny.
He spun and chopped, chasing the figure that moved quick as a shadow across the pitted and rusting metal. The lowering clouds released a few drops, and then it started raining in earnest. Droplets pinged off the metal and sizzled as they evaporated in the heat of Kylo’s lightsaber. Kylo let his instincts guide him, moving with surety and grace across the wreckage of the Death Star.
He was Kylo Ren. His legend would be established today; the first accomplishment in his life that would be his and his alone.
Blue light crackled at Palpatine’s fingertips, and a bolt of Force lightning arced towards Kylo. He barely dodged, ducking and rolling to evade the jagged electricity. He’d known of Palpatine’s power, but he’d never seen anyone wield Force lightning with such ease. Branches of blue-white light flashed stark against the leaden sky, leaving imprints on Kylo’s vision.
A fork of lightning struck Kylo’s arm, and white-hot pain ripped through his body. His muscles locked from the powerful shock. He forced himself into motion again, staggering forward to swing wildly at the dark figure at the center of the electrical storm. He needed to end this now.
Another bolt seized Kylo’s chest, sending his heart lurching into a desperate rhythm. Pinpricks stabbed his arms and legs, like being stung by thousands of wasps, and this time Kylo wasn’t able to shake off the seizure of his muscles. He twitched and shuddered, his entire body locked up tight, his hand clamping so hard on his lightsaber that something inside either his hand or the hilt snapped.
Palpatine laughed and sent new bolts crackling towards Kylo. There was no respite from the blinding pain, no pause in the brutal clench of muscle on bone as his body struggled to channel an energy it had never been made to hold. An animal scream ripped out of him.
“And so it comes to pass,” Palpatine said, and the voice was inside Kylo’s head again, the way it always had been, and no, no, no, he wouldn’t be this man’s victim again—“The last of the Skywalkers is brought low by hubris.” His laugh rolled like thunder in Kylo’s head. “If only you’d brought the girl with you... But no, that wasn’t good enough for the great Kylo Ren, so determined to become a legend that he risked everything—and lost it all.”
Kylo was encased in a cage of searing light. The agony was unrelenting. Deep inside his body, things burned and broke. He stood with arms outstretched and trembling, muscles so tightly locked they would never release, like a man tied to the tracks and watching the railspeeder approach.
A final bolt of lightning stabbed forward, striking Kylo in the forehead.
During the three milliseconds the bolt took to race through Kylo’s brain and body, several things happened. Blood vessels burst all over his skin, marking him in jagged paths that mirrored the lightning strike. His eardrums exploded, blanketing the world in the silence of a new snowfall. And as his brain cooked, dying neurons flooded his brain with neurotransmitters, rewiring old pathways and opening the door to memories long-suppressed.
A flicker of a laugh, the sensation of flying, a voice in his ear.
The brain is a complicated machine, its mysteries still unknown. Perhaps it was a quirk of biology—the rearranging of Kylo’s hippocampus and striatum so he could view memories at his leisure, unrestricted by time. Perhaps it was the will of the Force. Either way, during those three milliseconds, Kylo was transported into the past.
His mind glossed over most memories at a blur. He did not think about his time with Snoke, the alien sneering “You are no Vader,” the crack of Kylo’s cheekbone as Snoke backhanded him. He did not remember slicing his mentor in half, the legacy lightsaber responding to him in his moment of need because he wanted to save a girl. He didn’t remember the relief and terror of being set free after so many years serving as another’s blunt instrument.
He did not remember Luke mocking him on the red-slicked salt plains of Crait, didn’t remember the gleam of a lightsaber overhead, nor the terror and betrayal that came with it. He didn’t remember tearing the roof of his hut down, half-praying the tumbling blocks would crush him as well as his uncle. He didn’t remember the blood that came after, nor the years of never being enough that came before.
He didn’t even think about Rey. Not the way she’d told him there was light in him, not the way she’d accepted his offer of help against Palpatine when no one else in the galaxy would have. Not the feel of her unconscious in his arms, the smell of her hair, the desperate longing that tangled in his gut when she was near. He didn’t remember taking his mask off for her when she was his prisoner, nor the way he’d felt seen for the first time in his life.
He didn’t remember years of waiting to be noticed by his parents. Didn’t remember the balls and parties where he was relegated to sulking in corners. Didn’t remember the tantrums and fits and violent outbursts. He didn’t remember how he’d been ashamed of those uncontrollable impulses, yet hungry for the attention they brought him.
He didn’t remember the crying or the shouts or the whispered conversations overheard through cracked doors. He didn’t remember the nightmares or the anger, nor the voice that came late at night to tell him of a great and terrible destiny. He didn’t remember being promised that the galaxy would one day tremble at his feet.
Here’s what Kylo Ren did remember during those three milliseconds.
Ben Solo is small, so small the entire world seems large and overwhelming, a loud, busy place in which he is insignificant. But he feels bigger in his father’s arms, laughing and laughing as Han tosses him in the air again and again, higher each time. “I’m flying,” he giggles as he nearly hits the ceiling, and Leia makes a noise of alarm from the other side of the room. “Just like you, Daddy.”
“You sure are.” Han’s smile is crooked, and if Ben had to pick a single thing that made him think of home, it would be that smirk. There’s warmth there, and wisdom. Ben’s daddy is the bravest person in the galaxy, much braver than Ben. He’s a hero, and not just Ben’s hero. A display case of medals—Do we really need that shiny junk? Han often asks Leia—proves that.
“I want to be like you when I’m big,” Ben confesses when Han finally stops throwing him and cradles him against his chest.
“You’ll be even better than me,” Han says. “A real hero. You’re gonna change the galaxy, little starfighter.”
The electricity shreds and burns; its gruesome work can’t be stopped. But for now, Kylo Ren stays in this memory, living it again and again, letting it spool out endlessly. The only thing he hears at the end is his father’s voice.
A real hero.
You’re gonna change the galaxy.